Reasons Why One Should Accept the Traditional Authorship of the Gospels

The Four Gospels are the primary documents that describe the life and teachings of Jesus. Traditionally since the earliest times of the church, the Evangelists[1] have been ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Modern critical scholarship has been more critical of the traditional authors. Many scholars will claim either that the Gospels were pieced together by various writers, or that the writings were pseudonymous but given the names of the Four Evangelists to propel their apostolic authority.

Despite the cynicism of critical scholarship, good reasons exist to hold to the traditional view of authorship for the four canonical Gospels (that is, that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the Four Evangelists). This article will provide five such reasons.

 Internal Evidence of Authorship.

 Within the four Gospels, one will find internal evidence of authorship. That is, the Gospels give clues who the writers were within the text itself. For instance, Matthew was a tax collector who was called by Jesus while sitting in the tax collector’s booth. The First Gospel notes that “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at a tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Matthew 9:9).[2] Matthew’s Gospel goes into more detail on his calling (Matthew is called Levi in the other Gospels). Additionally, the Gospel provides a great deal of monetary details. Even if Matthew did borrow material from Mark’s Gospel (which would make sense since Mark obtained his information from Simon Peter), there is no reason to deny Matthean authorship to the First Gospel.

Mark’s Gospel, who wrote down the words of Simon Peter, provides internal evidence that one who closely knew Simon Peter wrote the Second Gospel. Peter’s life experiences with Jesus is the prime focus of the Second Gospel.

Luke writes a detailed biography of Jesus in the Third Gospel. Luke was not an eyewitness as admitted in the opening verses of the Gospel. The detail and level of complexity in the Greek validates that a highly-educated man wrote the Third Gospel. Luke was a physician. Thus, it stands to reason that Luke was the author of the Third Gospel.

The Fourth Gospel provides great internal evidence that John the apostle wrote (or at least dictated to another) the text. Strewn throughout the text, one will find the beloved disciple passages. The Fourth Gospel indicates that the author was an apostle (1:14; 2:11; 19:35), one of the Twelve Disciples (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20), and John the son of Zebedee is associated as the beloved disciple who accompanies Peter (13:23-24; 18:15-16; 20:2-9; 21:2-23). The evidence is so strong for Johannine authorship that I feel like I am taking crazy pills when someone denies that John wrote the Fourth Gospel.

External Evidence of Authorship.

External evidence for traditional authorship is quite strong. The early church unanimously accepted traditional authorship for the Four Gospels. Matthew is accredited with the First Gospel by Papias, bishop of Hieropolis (c. A.D. 120) and Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul (c. A.D. 175). John Mark is accredited with the Second Gospel, Luke is credited with the Third, and John is ascribed with the Fourth Gospel by Papias and preserved by Eusebius of Caesarea (A.D. 260-340).[3] In addition, John is ascribed with the Fourth Gospel by Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies.[4] The church unanimously accepted Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the authors. If one is to claim otherwise, there should be a great deal of evidence.[5] No such evidence exists outside of modern skepticism.

Expense of Documents.

 Interestingly enough, documents the size of the Gospels were quite expensive in antiquity. John Walton and Craig Keener note the following:

  “Writing material was expensive; for example, a copy of the Gospel of Mark may have required the equivalent early twenty-first-century buying power of $1000-$2000 U.S…Works as large as these were major literary undertakings, requiring so much papyrus that in terms of early twenty-first century buying power the larger Gospels may have been worth thousands of dollars of U.S. dollars…Normally in antiquity readers knew who produced such major works, whether by information on the outside of the scroll or by knowledge circulated only by word of mouth. In a work this size [speaking of the Gospels, mine], authorship would be one of the last details forgotten.”[6]

If Mark is noted to have cost around $2000, then larger works like Matthew, Luke/Acts, and John were probably around $4000 (Luke and Acts could have been $6000 a piece). This would have been a major undertaking. No one is going to forget the writers of the Gospels in the early church, especially if the early leaders request the works. It should be rightfully assumed that the church must have raised the funds in order to have the canonical Gospels written.

Early Manuscript Attestation.

 It has been noted that nearly all early manuscripts would have the authors name written on the first page or the exterior of the text (see footnote #6). Thus, the authors’ names would have followed the text. There are reasons to believe that the names were associated with early manuscripts. Thus, here is another reason to hold to traditional authorship.

Oddity of the Four Writers.

 It seems somewhat bizarre that if the early church were going to make up four writers for the Gospels that the four writers that we were given were chosen. John the apostle would make sense as he was one of the inner circle disciples. Yet, John did not hold the prominence of a Simon Peter or James. Even more bizarre is the choice of Mark. Mark is an odd choice as he does not appear in the Gospel story, except for a possible odd inclusion in Mark 14:51-52. If John Mark had nothing to do with the Gospel and only served as an amanuensis, why not attribute the Gospel to Peter? The acknowledgement of Mark verifies the early church’s focus on getting the information correct.

Luke is an oddity also. For one thing, Luke was not an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life. So, why have Luke as the author if one is merely passing authority onward? Second, it is possible that Luke could have been a Gentile, or at least half-Gentile. If this were the case, it makes it even more bizarre that the church would invent Luke as the writer of the Third Gospel.

Lastly, Matthew is an extremely bizarre choice. “Wait!,” one may postulate, “wasn’t Matthew one of the apostles? Would that not make his claim all the more probable if the church were to invent an author?” Not really. Matthew was a tax-collector. Tax-collectors were hated in ancient times. Tax-collectors were considered the lowest of the low. In other words, they are loved as much now as they were back then. Tax-collectors were notoriously known for charging far more than what the government required so that they could pocket the additional revenue. Furthermore, Matthew is a fairly obscure disciple. He is not one of the inner circle disciples.[7] If the church were to invent an author for the First Gospel, why not accredit it with James or Andrew? Why Matthew, an obscure disciple with a former hated occupation?

Conclusion

The early claim that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the Evangelists only make sense if in fact they were the writers of the Four Gospels. It is possible that Matthew, Luke, and John dictated their Gospels to appointed disciples (particularly John). Well and good. But that does not demerit the claim that they were the authors. If a person is going to dismiss early testimony to the authorship of the Gospels, that person had better possess strong reasons to overturn such a claim. While critical scholars have every right to believe as they wish, the data does not support their claim. This article has demonstrated five strong reasons to hold to the traditional authorship of the Four Gospels. While I appreciate the works of critical scholarship, the data strongly supports the claims of the early church. Until it can be proven otherwise, this writer will continue to adhere to the testimony of the early church as it pertains to the identity of the four canonical Evangelists.

 

© November 14, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] That is, the authors of the Four Gospels.

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

[3] See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 3.39.14-16.

[4] See Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.2.

[5] To the degree of evidence needed to overturn a touchdown in the NFL.

[6] John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, “Introduction to the Gospels and Acts,” NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 1603.

[7] That being Peter, James, John, and perhaps Andrew.

Advertisements

Demons: Their Identity and Demise

Halloween is upon us. For this week’s entry to Bellator Christi, I decided to discuss a group of beings that are often veiled in mystery and fear. Those beings are demons. Hollywood often presents demons as being entities that are nearly impossible to combat. Recently, interesting figures have been presented in music videos and films that finds parallels to some of the demonic entities found in the Bible. This article is all about demons as we ask: who are demons; how do they operate; and what is their fate? Are demons creatures to be feared? How do we combat them? Hopefully, this article will provide some answers.

Who are Demons?

Demons are angelic beings. Therefore, they are spiritual creatures. Demons are former angels who have fallen for the lies of Satan. While the Scriptures do not provide a lot of information pertaining to their fall, they are noted in Revelation 12 as being deceived by Satan, depicted as a great red dragon (Rev. 12:3), who sweeps “down a third of the stars of heaven [angels] and cast them to earth” (Revelation 12:4).[1] To my surprise, I discovered that Scripture depicts a few categories of demons.[2]

Sedim

One category of demons are mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37. In Deuteronomy, Moses notes that the people had “sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known” (Deuteronomy 32:17) and that they were “unmindful of the Rock that bore you” (Deuteronomy 32:18). The psalmist notes that they “sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood” (Psalm 106:36-37). These demons, in Hebrew, are called the Sedim (Sed, singular).

Se’irim.

The Se’irim are goat-like demons. Leviticus 17:7 states that “they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.” The Se’irim are also referenced in 2 Chronicles 11:15 as goat idols. The Se’irim bear a striking resemblance to the Church of Satan’s statue Mephisto, which has been erected in several locations in the continental United States.

satanstatue_1437931159040_22035430_ver1-0_640_480
Statue of Mephisto from the Church of Satan. Notice the goat-like features.

Lilith

Some see the “night bird” (Heb. “Lilith”) of Isaiah 34:14 as a category of demon. If so, Lilith is a female demon associated with unclean animals and desolate places.

Azazel

Some see another demon known as the Azazel noted in Leviticus 16:8, 10, 26. A lot was cast by Aaron, one for Yahweh and one for Azazel (a demon). The demon Azazel represented impurity and uncleanness. The lot that fell on the goat for Yahweh was presented as a sacrifice for God. The lot that fell on the goat representing Azazel was cast into the wilderness in representation of the separation of sin from the people. In a sense, the demon was cast into the goat and cast away from the people of God. As noted in footnote 2, there is a lot of speculation concerning this demonic entity.

Evil spirits

On several occasions, evil spirits were sent to torment individuals (1 Sam. 16:15-16; 18:10). This is especially true of King Saul.

Beelzebub

Beelzebub is noted as a prince of demons, but lower than Satan. He is often associated as the lord of the flies. Beelzebub is noted in 2 Kings 1:2-3 and 6. Ahaziah inquired of Beelzebub whether he should live instead of appealing to God. Jesus is accused by His opponents for casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub (Mark 3:22).

How do Demons Operate?

Demons are opposed to the working of God. They manifest themselves in various ways throughout the Scriptures. They bring the inability to speak (Matt. 9:32; 12:22); the inability to hear (Mark 9:25); the inability to see (Matt. 12:22; John 10:21); convulsions (Mark 1:26; 9:26); amazing, nearly superhuman strength to the individual they possess (Mark 5:4); and destructive habits and behaviors (Matt. 17:15). They can also bring diseases to individuals. While there are natural occurrences of the previously noted attributes, demonic presences can add or amplify those patterns.

What is the Fate of Demons?

As fearsome as demons are, it must be remembered that they are powerless compared to God. Jesus cast out demons on several occasions, even by simply issuing a command (e.g., Mark 1:25). So, how does one combat demonic presences? Quite simple, demons are defeated by faith in Christ Jesus. If a person has the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit-filled individual can be annoyed by demons, but they cannot be possessed. They may be afflicted, but not overtaken. It is also important for an individual to equip themselves with the spiritual armor of God (Eph. 6:10-20).

A person needs to remember that the final outcome for demons is defeat. God will be victorious as “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). All of the demonic powers will be destroyed.

Conclusion

This Halloween, one will be inundated with horror films that depict demons as irresistible beings of evil. Films like Poltergeist capture the imagination and present demonic entities as fearsome beings. Rest assured, demons are fearsome and they are powerful. But their power ceases before the awesome presence of Christ. More fearsome than the demons is the One who has flames of fire, who will ride upon a white horse bringing judgment to the world. Who is this white horseman? It is Christ Jesus Himself. Before Him, all the world will bow the knee and confess with the tongue. Christ—the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Prince of Peace—holds authority over all. If you are afflicted by the forces of the demonic realm, turn to Jesus.

For more information, see Joe Cathey, “Demonic Possession,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Chad Brand, Charles Draper, et. al., eds (Nashville: B&H, 2003), 412.

 christ-riding-white-horse

© October 31, 2016. Brian Chilton.

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

[2] It must be noted that some scholars debate whether these categories truly reference demonic beings. However, I lean towards the idea that they do, especially considering other passages that reference goats and spirit beings being demonic in nature.

3 Manifestations of God’s Love

Not long ago, we had our cat declawed and fixed. He had to be declawed because he would have destroyed our couches otherwise. Our cat’s name is Boo. We named him that because he is jet black and arches his back when he is scared like the Halloween cats you see depicted. Living in town as we do, we have to let him roam around with a harness. It may seem odd to have a cat on a harness. But with him being declawed and living in an urban area, he would quickly be killed either by the neighborhood animals or the ongoing traffic. While I was preparing this message, he was begging to go outside. A few minutes after being out, a truck stopped at a local store unloading supplies. Boo went crazy. He wanted inside badly. He was scared! He tried everything possible to get inside. But he would never by his own power make it. So, I had to go out to him and let him inside. The manifestation of God’s love is very similar. God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. God’s love is a moral attribute. We sometimes use the word omnibenevolent recognizing that God is fully love and fully good. The apostle John puts quite aptly, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). But how do we see God’s love manifested? We see God’s love manifested in three ways. But first, let’s look at S. S. Smalley’s “three observations about John’s description of God as love:

  1. Its background is the Jewish (OT) understanding of God as living, personal, and active, rather than the Greek concept of deity which was abstract in character.

  2. To assert comprehensively that “God is love” does not ignore or exclude the other attributes of his being to which the Bible as a whole bears witness: notably his justice and his truth.

  3. There is a tendency in some modern theologies (especially “process” thought) to transpose the equation “God is love” into the reverse, “Love is God.” But this is not a Johannine (or a biblical) idea. As John makes absolutely clear in this passage, the controlling principle of the universe is not an abstract quality of “love,” but a sovereign, living God who is the source of all love, and who (as love) himself loves (see vv. 7, 10, 19).”[i]

 1. God’s love is manifested in God’s REALITY (4:8b).

 John demonstrates the great reality of love. John is not saying that love is God. There are several varieties of love. Love is not God. Rather, God is love. We must note that “The same construction is found in 1:5 (“God is light”) and in 4:2 (“God is spirit”). The noun love, referring to a process, is the predicate of the sentence; it says something about God’s quality, character, and activity. The translator must take care not to give a rendering that equates God and love. This would imply that the clause order is reversible and that God is love and “love is God” are both true propositions—which is certainly not what John meant to say.”[ii] In other words, John is showing that God is the source of love as love emanates from the person of God.

Wayne Grudem defines love as “self-giving for the benefit of others.”[iii] Norman Geisler defines love as “willing the good of its object.”[iv] Geisler goes on to say that “love and goodness can be treated synonymously. Literally, the word omnibenevolence means ‘all-good.’”[v] Thus, God’s goodness indicates God’s moral excellence and virtue. God’s love denotes God’s desire for the good of others. Goodness and love are moral standards. One must first know love before one can know hate. One must first know good before one can know evil. The only way we can know love and goodness is if we know God. God is the source of goodness and love.

2. God’s love is manifested in God’s RESPONSE (4:9-10).

John’s argument continues in showing the manifestation of God’s love in his response to human sin. John argues that God’s love was made manifest in this way: “God sent his Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).[vi] God ultimately showed his love for us by making a way for us to enter into heaven. John demonstrates that God loved us first before we could ever even know what love was. God’s act through Jesus freed us from the penalty of sins (1 John 3:5) and to defeat the power of Satan (1 John 3:8).[vii]

We must understand that God was the first mover as it pertains to creation. But, God was also the first lover. All of humanity is the beloved. God loved the world and made a way to save it. Often in modern times, people want to take the credit for God’s love. However, such is not the case. God loved us first so that we could love him. Augustine said, “You cannot therefore attribute to God the cause of any human fault. For of all human offences, the cause is pride. For the conviction and removal of this a great remedy comes from heaven. God in mercy humbles Himself, descends from above, and displays to man, lifted up by pride, pure and manifest grace in very manhood, which He took upon Himself out of vast love for those who partake of it.”[viii] In other words, Augustine is saying that if God had not intervened, humanity would succumb to the depravity of its own pride and sin. God demonstrated his love for you by giving of himself in the ultimate display of love. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

3. God’s love is manifested in God’s RELATIONSHIP (4:7-8a, 11-12).

John provides two powerful points as it relates to God’s manifestation of love in relationships. First, John says, “love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (4:8a). But look what he also says in verses 11-12. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (4:12). What does John mean by that no one has seen God? Akin explains that “No man has seen God in his unveiled essence, glory, and majesty. Indeed, we are incapable as finite sinful creatures of looking on God. It would certainly be our death. He can be seen, however, in the lives of those who demonstrate his love to others.”[ix] So while we do not see the full essence of God, we do see the moving of God in our lives and in the lives of others. In addition, this love will spill out into a person’s relationship with others.

 John argues that since God is love and manifested his love through his Son, then a relationship with the God of love will produce love in the life of the recipient. A person cannot physically see God. For one, God is spirit and immaterial. Two, God’s great power would not allow one to see God and live. God told Moses, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). However, we can see God in our relationship with him. We can feel his embrace. We can experience the joy from the Holy Spirit. Do you want to annoy a hypocrite? Be genuine. That will annoy the hypocrite worse than anything.

Some of you may have heard this story. It is supposedly a true story although I cannot verify that it is. It is a story of a young man who, while quite athletic and considered a “jock,” notices another young man who was the victim of bullying. The victimized boy, who was somewhat nerdy, wiped tears from his eyes and was in the process of picking up his belongings off the sidewalk when the jock came by to help. The jock began talking to the nerdy fellow while assisting him. The jock walked the nerdy boy home. As they reached the nerdy boy’s home, the jock invited the so-called nerd to play football with him and some of the fellas over the weekend. The nerdy fellow agreed. Over time, the nerdy fellow developed and built up his bodily strength. In high school the former nerd actually began to have more dates than the jock, much to the chagrin of the jock. As expected, the so-called nerd graduated as valedictorian of his class. During graduation, the former nerdy fellow gave the valedictorian speech. Much to the surprise of the jock, the former nerdy fellow thanked the jock for his friendship. He later revealed that on the afternoon when the jock befriended him, the nerd was planning to take his own life. He took all of his possessions home from school that day because he did not want force his mom to come back to school after his suicide. The now valedictorian said that his friend’s act of love and kindness saved his life. The jock, stunned, began to wipe tears from his eyes when he noticed he valedictorian’s mother look at him and say, “Thank you so much!” You will never know the damage that is done from a heart full of hate. However, you will also never know the great blessings and benefits that come from random acts of kindness that truly demonstrate the love and compassion of God.

Notes

[i] S. S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1984), 239-240, in Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, vol. 38, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 178.

[ii] C. Haas, Marinus de Jonge, and J. L. Swellengrebel, A Handbook on the Letters of John, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 121.

[iii] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 199.

[iv] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 585.

[v] Ibid.

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

[vii] Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, vol. 38, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 179.

[viii] Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 55.

[ix] Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, 181–182.

God’s Big Plan Found in the Hymn of Christ (Philippians 2:6-11)

I have, among many other issues, a medical problem. I have what is called “myopia.” Myopia is the technical term for “near-sightedness.” I can see close up, but I cannot see far off. I grew up in foothills of North Carolina, close to the Virginia border. It’s an area where the mountains are nearly always in view. When I was about seven or eight years old, I began to notice that the mountains began to look fuzzy. At some times, it appeared that there were two sets of mountains when in reality only one existed. The ophthalmologist helped my problem by prescribing glasses for me. To this day, I have to wear either glasses or my contact lenses to see properly. Otherwise, I cannot see except for things nearest to me.

Often, we suffer from spiritual myopia. We see things that are closest to us and those things taking place in the world. Such a focus may leave us feeling overwhelmed. When we feel such emotions, we know it is time to put on our spiritual lenses. This Easter, we need a special reminder of God’s really big plan found in and through the life of Christ. Today, Paul provides to us an ancient hymn. The majority of scholars believe that this hymn predates the writing of the New Testament. The hymn, popularly called “The Hymn of Christ,” dates back to the earliest church. Along with other early confessions (Romans 10:9) and creeds (1 Corinthians 15:3-7), Paul likely received the hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 in AD 35 when he met with the apostles in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18), particularly Simon Peter and James the brother of Jesus, to confirm the gospel message that he was preaching.[1] What do we find of God’s big plan found in Christ? We find a five-point plan.

 1. Christ’s PREEXISTENCE is evidence of God’s ETERNAL plan (2:6).

Paul first notes that Christ was in the form of God. Though Christ “was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (2:6).[2] In other words, Paul is saying that Jesus was divine. Jesus existed before he was born. This is a tough concept to imagine. However, Paul further shows that Christ did not use his divinity as a means of praise or adulation. Rather, Christ humbly left the throne of heaven to fulfill the Father’s plan. Due to God’s omniscience, God realized that if he made individuals with free will that eventually humanity would choose wrong. Why allow humanity to choose? It was to allow for perfect love to be exemplified. The sheer logic of it all dictates a salvific plan. God chose from the foundation of the world to save you! Writing of God’s salvific plan, Paul notes that “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:11-12).

 2. Christ’s HUMANITY is evidence of God’s HUMBLE plan (2:7).

The hymn goes on to say that Christ did not use his divinity to escape any of the human attributes he possessed. While Jesus was 100% God, he was also 100% human. Christ left the portals of heaven to be born in a manger with stinky animals. Jesus could have chosen to have been born to a ritzy, flashy family. Rather, he was born into a family of faith: Joseph and his precious mother Mary. Jesus could have used his divinity to override his humanity. The Gospels note that there were times where Jesus could not perform miracles due to the lack of faith by the people (Mark 6:5). Jesus could have overridden their faith, could have chosen to not be tempted by Satan, and could have called down legions of angels for protection from the cross (Matthew 26:53); however, Jesus never did so because he chose to humbly fulfill the Father’s plan. Some commentators have noted that there is a distinct difference between Adam and Christ. Adam was the first created human being who desired to be God for his own glory. In stark contrast, Christ is God who became human in order to save humanity for the Father’s glory.

 3. Christ’s SACRIFICE is evidence of God’s SALFIVIC plan (2:8).

The hymn goes even further with God’s plan. God’s Messiah would leave the portals of heaven, would humbly take on flesh, and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8). Richard Melick writes, “The impact of crucifixion on the Philippians would be great. No Roman could be subjected to such a death, and the Jews took it as a sign that the victim was cursed (Gal 3:13).[3] Christ chose to die on the cross out of his great love for you and out of his great obedience unto God the Father. He could have chosen any other means of death, yet Christ chose to die one of the most excruciating deaths possible to demonstrate his great love towards you. But why did Jesus choose the cross? Fleming Rutledge, I think accurately, states that “The horrible death envisioned for the Suffering Servant and the horrific death suffered by Jesus Christ respond to the gravity of sin.”[4] But I think Christ’s sacrifice also demonstrates another reality: that good people must sometimes suffer. Without the cross, there is not a crown.

 4. Christ’s RESURRECTION is evidence of God’s EXALTING plan (2:9).

In verse 9, the hymn alludes to Christ’s resurrection by the phrase “highly exalted” (2:9). By the resurrection, Christ was given a name that is above all others. G. Walter Hansen notes four ways we can understand Christ’s exaltation.

First, the hymn does not view the reward as the motive for Christ’s obedience. Thus, Christ’s obedience does not exemplify obeying in order to deserve a reward. Second, the hymn does not present the reward as redemption from sin…The reward given to Christ was vindication by God: God vindicated Christ’s death on a cross by exalting him to the highest place. Third, the hymn views the reward as a gracious gift. God gave the name above every name not as compensation for Christ’s work, but as proof of divine approval of his work. Fourth, the hymn views the reward as divine confirmation of Christ’s true identity, not as an acquisition of a new position. The true identity of the one existing in the form of God and equal to God was hidden by the humiliation of death on a cross, but was revealed by God’s act of exalting him and giving him the name of Lord. As long as these four qualifications of the concept of reward are kept in mind, God’s exaltation of Christ may be properly understood as God’s way of graciously rewarding Christ by vindicating him after his death on a cross and by revealing his divine nature after his humiliation.”[5]

 In other words, the resurrection reveals to the world Christ’s divine nature and his plan. Without the resurrection of Christ, people would have thought that Christ’s death was merely a tragedy. The resurrection of Christ reveals that our sins had been atoned and that death had been defeated. The resurrection shows the object through which salvation has been given.

 5. Christ’s ASCENSION is evidence of God’s VICTORIOUS plan (2:10-11).

In verses 10 and 11 of “The Hymn of Christ,” the hymn notes that eventually “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 God the Father” (2:10-11). This passage of Scripture indicates that at some point in time every person will acknowledge the identity of Jesus Christ. In ancient times, divine names were given to the Roman Caesars as it was believed that they ruled over all the land. However, this hymn notes that the true ruler of all is Christ Jesus the Lord. Isaiah writes speaking for God, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee will bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance” (Isaiah 45:23). Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father after appearing to the disciples multiple times over a 40 day period…once even appearing to more than 500 people at one time (more likely 1,500 to 2000). As Christ has gone, Christ will return. While things may seem chaotic, understand that Christ rules supremely.

 A few weeks ago, my wife went on a business trip to Orlando, Florida. The week was awful while she was gone. I came down with the flu. My son had to stay out of school one day of the week. I had to take him to the doctor. We were so glad when Mommy came back home. We kept anticipating her arrival. We missed her motherly instinct. Most of all, we missed her! We tracked her flight as she was heading home. As she flew overhead, my son and I went outside to wave at her as her jet passed by our home. My son jumped up and down saying, “Mommy’s home!” Mommy’s home!” As the world gets crazier and crazier, I think it is like tracking the flight plan of King Jesus. We know that these signs tell us that soon we will be shouting, “Jesus is taking us home! Jesus is taking us home!” It’s all part of God’s big plan!

 

So here are a few principles we can take home.

  1. God’s plan is much bigger than our perceptions. Many people mistook what the Messiah would do. God’s plan was far bigger than what anyone expected. You may not understand what God is doing today, but understand his plan is far better for your ultimate and eternal future.
  2. God’s plan included the utmost humility. Live humble lives. Christ took on the humblest role than anyone could. Can we think that we can live any differently? In a world of self-entitlement, self-gratification, and self-promotion, the Christian should step back and remember that Christ did not choose to be born in Herod’s palace, but rather a manger to faithful people living in poverty.
  3. God’s plan included suffering for the Messiah. Our lives may include suffering for the glory of God. As mentioned earlier, we live in a self-entitlement generation. However, we should understand that there is often a cross before a crown. If the perfect Son of God had to suffer in this life, what makes us think that we are any different?
  4. God’s plan includes an end result that is far greater than anything that occurs here on earth. Christ’s resurrection and ascension assures us that his promises are true and steadfast. There is a life far greater than anyone can ever imagine awaiting those who are in Christ Jesus. The pains of this body will be replaced by the ultimate glorified body in the resurrection. It is a body that “is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-43, NIV).[6]

 

Keep working for Christ! God’s plan is far greater than the problems of this life.

 

© March 30, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] If one accepts the later dating for Christ’s crucifixion (April 3, 33AD) and resurrection (April 5, 33AD), Paul would have received this information a mere 3 years after the actual crucifixion and resurrection of Christ (that is if one accepts that the term “year” used of Paul in Gal. 1:18 refers to parts of years). Even if one accepts the earlier dating for Christ’s crucifixion (April 5, 30AD) and resurrection (April 7, 30AD), we are still only speaking of 5 years after the events of Christ took place. The information found in these early creeds, confessions, and hymns make up the bedrock of the earliest church’s belief system.

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

[3] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 105.

[4] Fleming Rutledge, interviewed by Mark Galli, “Why Did Jesus Choose the Cross? The reason he died a bloody, horrible death.” ChristianityToday.com (March 25, 2016), accessed March 25, 2016, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march/why-did-jesus-choose-cross.html.

[5] G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 161.

[6] Scriptures marked NIV come from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 6: Eyewitness Testimony–The Case for the Gospels)

As we have engaged in our evaluation of Jesus according to the historical method, my previous articles have demonstrated that the historical Jesus passes the historical method with flying colors. However, we must continue our quest in asking, “Do we have eyewitness testimony concerning Jesus of Nazareth?” That is, do we have the accounts of Jesus from those who personally knew him? If someone is investigating a person or an event of history, the investigator will want testimony from those who actually knew the person, or witnessed the event.

Admittedly, this area of study pertaining to the historical Jesus is among the most controversial. Many prominent New Testament scholars hold that the accounts that we have of Jesus come from second-hand sources, which would eliminate any eyewitness account that one possesses of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

But hold on! Not so fast! There are just as many scholars who hold that the testimonies in the New Testament come from eyewitnesses. This article will examine the reasons for holding that the Evangelists record eyewitness testimony. The second installment will look into the weight of this eyewitness testimony as it tells us who provides the witness. For this investigation, we will examine the Four Gospels. Since at least 7 letters of Paul are undisputed and since I have previously discussed the pre-NT traditions found in Paul’s letters, we will not focus on proving the eyewitness nature for his material.[1]

Internal Evidence of the Gospels

Within the Gospels, one can find reasons to hold that the testimony comes from eyewitness testimony.

Internal Testimony of Matthew

Matthew has traditionally been ascribed to the disciple Matthew who was a former tax-collector. It is odd that the church would ascribe the Gospel to one who was a tax-collector if it was not true. Tax-collectors were hated in ancient times. Internally, one finds reasons for holding Matthean authorship. Blomberg writes,

This author, at least of an original draft of this book (or one of its major sources), seems quite probably to have been the converted toll collector, also named Levi, who became one of Jesus’ twelve apostles (cf. 10:3; 9:9–13; Mark 2:14–17).”[2] In addition, Cabal adds that “The Gospel also contains clear evidence that the author possessed a strong command of both Aramaic and Greek, something that would be a prerequisite for most tax collectors. Furthermore, the author of Matthew used the more precise term nomisma for the coin used in the dispute over tribute (Mt 22:19) than Mark’s and Luke’s denarion (Mk 12:15; Lk 20:24).”[3]

This would have been something that a tax-collector would have known.

Internal Evidence of Mark

The church unanimously agreed that John Mark had recorded the eyewitness testimony of Simon Peter in the Second Gospel. The internal nature of Mark’s Gospel seems to indicate that John Mark was indeed the author. Grassmick notes that

“Several features also point to the author’s connection with Peter: (a) the vividness and unusual detail of the narratives, that suggest that they were derived from the reminiscences of an “inner-circle” apostolic eyewitness such as Peter (cf 1:16–20, 29–31, 35–38; 5:21–24, 35–43; 6:39, 53–54; 9:14–15; 10:32, 46; 14:32–42); (b) the author’s use of Peter’s words and deeds (cf. 8:29, 32–33; 9:5–6; 10:28–30; 14:29–31, 66–72); (c) the inclusion of the words “and Peter” in 16:7, which are unique to this Gospel; and (d) the striking similarity between the broad outline of this Gospel and Peter’s sermon in Caesarea (cf. Acts 10:34–43).”[4]

The tradition that Mark records Simon Peter’s testimony is affirmed by the internal nature of the Gospel as well as the external witness which will be given later in the article.

 Internal Evidence of Luke

The physician Luke is normally ascribed to have been the author of the Third Gospel. Internally, one finds evidence for this association. While Luke was not an eyewitness, Luke acknowledges his use of eyewitness material by saying, “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us” (Luke 1:2).[5] Thus, Luke never claims to be an eyewitness but uses eyewitness material.

Internal Evidence of John

The Fourth Gospel is normally ascribed to the apostle John. John is nearly universally agreed to have been the last Gospel written. While some may disagree, the episodes of the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20) within the Gospel points to an inner circle disciple. Peter and James are mentioned in such episodes, but never John. The Gospel ends by saying, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know his testimony is true” (John 21:24). In addition, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is assigned by Jesus to care for Jesus’ mother Mary (John 19:27). The letters of early church leader Ignatius confirms this report. Thus, the internal evidence is clear. John the apostle wrote the Fourth Gospel either by his own hand or dictating the information to a student.

Now that we have considered the eyewitness testimony of the Gospels by the internal evidence, let us consider the eyewitness testimony of the Gospels given by external testimony.

 External Evidence of the Gospels

The early church was unanimous in their acceptance of the four canonical Gospels. Early on, church father Papias provides a glimpse at how the Gospels were written.

Testimony of Papias of Hierapolis (c. AD 95-130)

Papias may not have personally known John the apostle, although he may have heard John speak.[6] Nevertheless, Papias knew Polycarp and others who knew John well. Papias recorded the following pertaining to the writings of the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew that he received from the presbyter (presumably John, but perhaps Polycarp):

“And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements…Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.”[7]

It must be remembered that we do not possess the entirety of Papias’ writings. However, we are benefited by the documentation of those who knew Papias’ writings well.

Testimony of Irenaeus of Lyons (c. AD 175)

Irenaeus of Lyons probably knew the writings of Papias well. Irenaeus describes the writing of all four Gospels by documenting the following:

“Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”[8]

 These testimonies would find further corroboration by church historian Eusebius.

Testimony of Eusebius of Caesaria (c. AD 325)

Eusebius of Caesaria was a church historian writing around AD 325. He writes the following pertaining to the writing of the Gospels:

“But Luke, who was of Antiochian parentage and a physician by profession, and who was especially intimate with Paul and well acquainted with the rest of the apostles, has left us, in two inspired books, proofs of that spiritual healing art which he learned from them.”[9]

“For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence.

And when Mark and Luke had already published their Gospels, they say that John, who had employed all his time in proclaiming the Gospel orally, finally proceeded to write for the following reason. The three Gospels already mentioned having come into the hands of all and into his own too, they say that he accepted them and bore witness to their truthfulness; but that there was lacking in them an account of the deeds done by Christ at the beginning of his ministry.”[10]

 Evidence from Dating

We mentioned in a previous article that good reasons exist for holding that the three canonical Gospels were all written before AD 64. Primarily, it was argued that Luke does not record the death of Paul and Peter, quite odd if Acts was written after Peter and Paul’s execution. Some scholars hold that Peter and Paul died around AD 64. If this is true, then Acts must have been written before AD 64, forcing the Gospel of Luke and the borrowed material from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark prior to the 60s. An early dating bodes well for claiming that the Gospels hold eyewitness testimony because the time-frame puts the writings well within the time of the eyewitnesses.

Conclusion

While there are many who deny the authenticity of eyewitness testimony in the four canonical Gospels, I feel that the evidence strongly supports the assertion that the Gospels are based upon eyewitness testimony. If the findings of this article are true, then Matthew and John provide first hand eyewitness testimony, whereas Mark and Luke provide documentation of eyewitness testimonials. In the next section of this article which will be published next week, we will look at the number of eyewitnesses we have in the New Testament alone. The historical Jesus continues to pass the historical methodological test.

Copyright February 1st, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

 Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. The New American Commentary, Volume 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.

Cabal, Ted, et al. The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

Eusebius of Caesaria. “The Church History of Eusebius.” In Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Volume 1. Second Series. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890.

Grassmick, John D. “Mark.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985.

Irenaeus of Lyons. “Irenæus against Heresies.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Papias. “Fragments of Papias.”In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Endnotes

[1] In addition, we are looking for material for those who knew Jesus during his earthly ministry.

[2] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 44.

[3] Ted Cabal et al., The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 1402.

[4] John D. Grassmick, “Mark,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 95–96.

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

[6] This is an area of dispute. It depends on one’s understanding of Papias’ testimony.

[7] Papias, “Fragments of Papias,” 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), 154–155.

[8] Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” 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), 414.

[9] Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 136.

[10] Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 152–153.

Does Paul Condemn Philosophy in Colossians 2:8?

Philosophy is defined as the “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence” (Soanes and Stevenson 2004). Advocates of Christian anti-intellectualism will criticize the use of philosophy within Christian circles due to Paul’s supposed admonition against philosophy. Such individuals charge that philosophy is antagonistic to the faith due to Paul’s so-called warning against philosophy in Colossians 2:8. But what exactly does the apostle claim? In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he warns the Colossians that they should “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).[1] According to philosophical antagonists, Paul’s warning against philosophy should dissuade anyone from participating in a philosophical endeavor. However, one should ask, is Paul actually condemning the use of philosophy or is Paul using the term “philosophy” to address another issue?

A closer examination of the Colossians text affords one the opportunity to evaluate Paul’s actual intention. When one examines the text, one will find three reasons why Paul does not discredit philosophy as it is popularly understood in modern times. Rather, one will discover that Paul actually advocates the use of good philosophy.

Paul’s Intention Behind the Word “Philosophia.”

As I was preparing this article, I had the chance to discuss the issue of Colossians 2:8 with Dr. Leo Percer. Dr. Percer is a New Testament scholar who teaches Greek, Hermeneutics, and New Testament studies at Liberty University. Dr. Percer stated, “‘Philosophy’ in Colossians is probably a reference to religious ideas more than what we mean by the word today. If memory serves, Josephus uses the word to describe the various views of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and such” (Percer 2015). Is Dr. Percer correct? It appears so for two particular reasons.

First, Louw and Nida note that “φιλοσοφία (philosophia) may be rendered in some languages as ‘the way in which people are wise’ or ‘the way in which people understand things’ or ‘the manner in which people reason’” (Louw and Nida 1996, 384). Paul’s use of the term philosophia does not indicate that he is speaking of philosophy the way modern individuals understand the term. To understand what a writer is saying, one must not force the writer into one’s time-frame, but must rather examine the writer’s literary style during the period in which the author pens their work. This leads us into another defense for Percer’s claim.

Second, while looking into Percer’s claim pertaining to Josephus’ usage of the term “philosophy,” I discovered an example of what Dr. Percer was saying in Josephus’ writings. Josephus, in the first-century, writes, “The Jews had for a great while three sects of philosophy peculiar to themselves; the sect of the Essenes, and the sect of the Sadducees, and the third sort of opinions was that of those called Pharisees; of which sects although I have already spoken in the second book of the Jewish War, yet will I a little touch upon them now” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.11). Note that Josephus uses the term “philosophy” to describe the religious viewpoints of three religious groups: the Essenes, Sadducees, and the Pharisees. This is not the only time Josephus uses the term “philosophia” to describe religious ideas. Josephus also writes, “But of the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was the author. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty; and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord” (Josephus, Antiquities to the Jews 18.23). Again, Josephus uses the term “philosophia” to describe a religious viewpoint. If this is the case, could it be that Paul uses the term “philosophia” to describe religious groups and religious ideas rather than philosophical concepts? To answer such a question, one will need to consider the theme of Colossians chapter 2.

Paul’s Theme in Colossians 2.

Paul’s letter to the church of Colossae was written to combat heretical viewpoints in the area. In chapter one, Paul presents what is normally recognized as an early Christian formulation denoting the incarnation of Christ (that the divine God had took on fleshly imbodiment) in writing that Christ is the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:15-18).

Paul then in Colossians 1:24-2:5 speaks of his persecutions and how through them God made his presence known to the Gentiles. In that passage, Paul writes that “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Note that Paul indicates the importance of teaching individuals the truth with wisdom. Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom. Paul then turns his attention to the importance of one’s “knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ” (Colossians 2:2). Paul says that he notes this so that “no one may delude you with plausible arguments” (Colossians 2:4). How does one decipher plausible arguments from implausible arguments? It comes from knowing the truth (theology) and knowing how one can know the truth (philosophy).

It is after such a discussion that Paul then writes that the Colossians should “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Instead of warning the Colossians against philosophy, Paul is actually warning the Colossians against well-argued false doctrines. Ben Witherington argues that “In v. 8 Paul characterizes the false teaching not only as “philosophy,” which in itself would not be a problem, but as philosophy built on merely “human tradition” and on what Paul calls “empty deceit.” The verb sylalageō is rare, found only here in biblical Greek, and means “kidnap” or better “carry off as booty” (Witherington III 2007, 154). Douglas Moo would also agree as he notes that “The word ‘philosophy’ was applied to a wide range of belief systems in the ancient world, so it tells us little about the origin or nature of the teaching. It does suggest, however, that the teaching involved a somewhat coherent system” (Moo 2008, 50). Thus, Paul’s warning is not against philosophy. Rather, Paul’s warning is against cleverly argued false doctrines. Instead of negating philosophy, proper philosophy seems to be promoted by Paul due to the incredible way Paul argues in favor of the truth.

Paul’s Use of Philosophical Argumentation.

Paul was not only a master theologian; Paul was a master philosopher, as well. Paul was a master rhetorician. In fact, Douglas Moo writes, concerning Colossians 2:8 and following, that “This key paragraph begins with a warning about the false teachers (v. 8) but is then dominated by a theologically rich explanation of why the Colossians should reject this teaching (vv. 9–15)” (Moo 2008, 184). Witherington explains that

“Paul is speaking into a rhetorically and philosophically saturated environment. When someone puts those two things together and the philosophy is false, there is a grave danger to Christians who are prone to listen to such powerful persuasion and to be influenced by it. Paul therefore is in the awkward position of not being able to speak directly and in person to his audience, thus losing a good portion of the rhetorical arsenal (gestures, tone of voice, etc.). Yet still he must offer an even more powerful and philosophically substantive act of persuasion than is given by those who are beguiling the Colossians” (Witherington 2007, 154).

Thus, Paul is using philosophical methods to argue in favor of the truth despite being at a disadvantage as he is unable to physically deliver his well-argued and well-reasoned defense for the Christian faith. Paul is not dismissing philosophy. For it was Paul who was able to hold his own defending the Christian faith to the intellectuals at Athens. So what can we take from this study?

Conclusion

Does Paul condemn philosophy in Colossians 2:8? The short answer is “no.” Paul does not demerit or condemn philosophy in Colossians 2:8. Rather, Paul eloquently warns the Colossians against false philosophical and false theological concepts. Such false concepts were considered by Paul to be teachings that “have indeed an appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23). So what was the false philosophy being presented to the Colossians? It appears that the likely problem for the Colossians was a form of syncretistic doctrine, similar to the modern day New Age movement,that blended Christianity with Jewish mysticism and pagan religions into a systematized form of belief.  Instead of condemning philosophy in general, Paul instead argued that the Colossians needed a stronger Christian theological and philosophical construct to stand against the cleverly devised falsehoods being purported in their town. Such a warning needs to be heeded among modern Christians as well.

Sources Cited

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

Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

Moo, Douglas J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008.

Percer, Leo. Interviewed by Brian Chilton. (Thursday, September 10, 2015). Online Interview. Information used with permission.

Soanes, Catherine, and Angus Stevenson, eds., Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Witherington III, Ben. The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

© September 13, 2015. Brian Chilton.

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

3 Attributes Critical for Effective Persuasion

Aristotle, the famed ancient Greek philosopher, wrote On Rhetoric in the 4th century BC. Aristotle writes on how one can build a strong case that will be coherent, persuasive, and winsome. In Christian apologetics, it is imperative that one build a strong case for Christianity. Often, apologetic antagonists will claim, “No one was argued into the kingdom.” Yet, it seems that more and more people are being illuminated by the Holy Spirit through the use of arguments stemming from the apologetic renaissance. In fact, the pages of Scripture, one will find Christian case-makers arguing for the truths of Christ.

In On Rhetoric, Aristotle provides three important aspects of persuasion. These three aspects are called the ethos, pathos, and logos. Interestingly enough, Jesus himself demonstrated these attributes as he led people to faith. This article will examine Aristotle’s three attributes of persuasion and will show how Jesus used these attributes to powerfully argue for his identity as Messiah.

Ethos: Having Character Persuasion

The first attribute of persuasion is that of ethos (literally “character”); that is, the moral integrity of the speaker. English contrives its word “ethic” from the term “ethos.” Aristotle writes that the “orator persuades by moral character when his speech is delivered in such a manner as to render him worthy of confidence; for we feel confidence in a greater degree and more readily in persons of worth in regard to everything in general, but where there is no certainty and there is and there is room for doubt, our confidence is absolute” (Aristotle, On Rhetoric I.2.4).

To have value, the speaker must demonstrate authority and character. These two attributes are found in one simple term—integrity. By what authority does the speaker present his/her case? Why should I listen to such a person? Does a person live by what he/she speaks? Many a great communicator has lost value because their ethos does not support their theses. In this regard, a persuasive speaker must have authority to speak on the manner in which they address and they also must have the moral character that supports their speech. Carter and Coleman note Aristotle’s categories of ethos in that of “Phronesis—practical skills and wisdom. Arête—virtue and goodness. Eunoia—goodwill toward the audience” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 67). In this regard, the audience determines the ethos of the teacher.

In this regard, Jesus demonstrated ethos par excellence, although his adversaries chose to disregard this aspect of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus exemplified phronesis as he consistently outsmarted his opponents. Zuck writes that “Jesus knew the minds of three groups: inquirers, his disciples, and his enemies” (Zuck 1995, 51). Jesus was so good at answering his opponents that after a certain point, “no one dared to ask him any more questions” (Mark 12:34).[1] Jesus also demonstrated arête. Jesus did not provide a commandment which he did not himself keep. He told his disciples to “love their enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Jesus exemplified this commandment as he prayed while being crucified “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus also demonstrated great eunoia by the multiple healings provided to the sick and helpless.

If one is to have an impact for God’s kingdom, then such a person will need to demonstrate a strong ethic. A person must have integrity. Without it, nothing that is said will leave an indelible mark on anyone. A great communicator without a strong ethos will fade into the shadows of failure.

Pathos: Having Connected Persuasion

The second attribute is that of pathos (literally “suffering,” “experience”); that is an emotional connection with the audience. English contrives its words “sympathy” and “empathy” from the term “pathos”. Aristotle writes, “The orator persuades by means of his hearers, when they are roused to emotion by his speech; for the judgements we deliver are not the same when we are influenced by joy or sorrow, love or hate; and it is to this alone that, as we have said, the present-day writers of treatises endeavor to devote their attention” (Aristotle, On Rhetoric I.2.5).

While it seems that many have been captivated more by emotionalism rather than intellectualism in modern times, emotionalism is still important. On a side note, let it be known that many a danger has come by speakers who manipulate the emotions without demonstrating the other two components. Hitler, Mousseline, and others have persuaded by appealing to negative emotional aspects (i.e. racism, nationalism, et. al.) without adhering to the other two cornerstones of effective persuasion. That being said, it would behoove the speaker to note the great power found in one’s emotions. If one is to connect with the audience, they must be willing to connect with the listeners emotionally.

Much could be said of Jesus’ use of pathos. However, such a treatment extends beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, Jesus’ use of pathos is demonstrated most clearly through his use of shared artifacts. “Jesus often made use of shared artifacts by utilizing his knowledge of Scripture, geography, and Jewish history” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 26). If the speaker is to connect with the audience, he/she must find a point of contact just as Jesus did through his parables and Paul did through his missionary ventures. If there is no connection, the most throughout intellectual treatment of a topic may fall on deafened ears. Never negate the power of a good illustration.

Logos: Having Coherent Persuasion

For the Christian who knows his or her Bible well, the third term will strike a chord, for it is the “logos” (literally “word,” or “from which a thought is expressed or delivered”). English contrives its word “logic” from “logos”. The third attribute considers the logic of an argument. Aristotle writes, “Now, since proofs are effected by these means, it is evident that, to be able to grasp them, a man must be capable of logical reasoning, of studying characters and the virtues, and thirdly the emotions—the nature and character of each, its origin, and the manner in which it is produced” (Aristotle, On Rhetoric I.2.7).

Here again, a full treatment is not possible in this article. I would suggest one interested in this topic pick up a copy of Carter and Coleman’s book which is referenced in this article. However, it should be noted that those who argue against logic will be surprised at the great use of logic used by Christ. Consider Jesus’ use of the following forms of logic:

Enthymene: an incomplete syllogism made to allow the “audience to ‘connect the dots’ and discover the insight on their own” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 49). Example found in Matthew 10:40, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (Matthew 10:40).

Syllogismus: “the use of a remark or an image that calls upon the audience to draw an obvious conclusion” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 52). Example found in John 3:14-18, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the only Son of God” (John 3:14-18).

A fortiori: (Latin: “to the stronger”) the use of a commonly held truth to argue for a stronger truth. Exemplified in Jesus’ defense of his healing on the Sabbath, “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:15-16). Also exemplified in Matthew 18:12-14.

Reductio ad absurdium: “a type of logical argument where one assumes a claim for the sake of argument, derives an absurd or ridiculous outcome, and then concludes that the original assumption must have been wrong, as it led to an absurd result” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 55). Jesus’ rebuttal to his adversaries considering him demon-possessed is an example of reductio ad absurdium. Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand” (Matthew 12:25-26)?

Appeal to Evidence: noting the evidence supporting one’s claims. This is incredibly important for apologetics. Jesus used this type of logic masterfully. Jesus would say, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) then go out and raise the dead to prove his statement (as he did in the case of Lazarus). Jesus appealed to several pieces of evidence in John 5: the evidence from the Father (John 5:30-31); evidence from John the Baptist (John 5:32-35); the miracles performed by Jesus (John 5:36); God the Father’s witness (John 5:37-38); and evidence from Scripture (John 5:39-47).

As I have noted several times on this site, one must hold intellectual reasons for holding to the faith if one is to be effective in communicating the gospel. This comes by knowing WHAT one believes and knowing WHY one believes it.

Conclusion

This somewhat lengthy article has noted three important attributes that should accompany one’s presentation of the truth. One must hold a strong ethos (character), pathos (emotional connection), and logos (coherent argument). It may be possible that one can influence another without all three in place. For the one who holds character without the other two may be a beloved person whose beliefs are held because of the person’s character. Yet, such adherents will not hold a strong connection with the beliefs themselves. They simply inherited the beliefs. One may influence another by strong emotionalism to the detriment of the other two. This is most dangerous as the person may captivate a crowd by one’s charisma. Yet, the adherents will not have a defense for their position and, if the speaker is of low moral virtue, may be captivated by what could quickly escalate to dangerous cultic practices. One may also have high intellectual prowess and may convince others. Yet, without a strong ethos and pathos, the speaker may come across as cold and calloused. A blend of all three attributes is necessary if one is to be both persuasive and winsome in their approach. As noted, Jesus was a master of all three.

Sources Cited:

Aristotle. On Rhetoric. Acheron Press. Kindle.

Carter, Joe; and John Coleman. How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. Wheaton: Crossway, 2009.

Zuck, Roy B. Teaching as Jesus Taught. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1995.

© August 30, 2015. Brian Chilton.

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

Did Christianity’s View on Hell Stem from Judaism or Zoroastrianism?

Recently in the Winston-Salem Journal, a columnist named Earl Crow wrote a piece entitled “Concept of hell as eternal punishment is retributive.” Crow argued for a Universalist understanding of hell, being that eventually everyone would be saved and that hell was not a true reality. No one likes the notion of hell save those who have a sadist complex. Let us be forthright in saying that some preachers preach on hell as if they had rather prefer that some people go there. In stark contrast, others, like Crow, are so put off by the notion of hell that they would rather deny its existence. To deny the merit of a place known as hell, Crow argues that the idea of hell is untenable to biblical understandings.

Crow argued his case by proclaiming the following: “Judaism had no doctrine of hell…The Christian concept of an eternal punishment may have been adopted from Zoroastrianism…Can you fathom a God so vindictive that he would relegate some of his children to eternal burning?…The whole idea of hell is retributive while Christ is about redemption…Some scholars note that the addition of hell as everlasting punishment for the wicked was added by St. Jerome…translations can render different interpretations” (Crow 2015). This argue will address the various arguments that Crow presents and will demonstrate that his arguments are unfounded and found lacking.

Crow’s First Argument: Does Judaism (OT) possess a doctrine of hell?

Crow first argues that Judaism did not possess a doctrine of hell. Is he correct? Well yes and no. The Old Testament does not present as complete a doctrine of hell as does the New Testament. The intermediate state of a heaven and hell was not clearly defined in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament. The concept of Sheol (Hebrew for the place of the dead) was a place where all deceased individuals lived, both good and bad. Yet, as R. P. Lightner argues, “Jacob, at death, went down into Sheol (Gen. 37:35), but so did the wicked Korah and Dathan (Num. 16:30). Such teaching has led to the view that Sheol had two compartments—an upper and lower level. It is thought that Christ delivered the righteous in the upper level at the time of his resurrection (Eph. 4:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:19)” (Lightner 2001, 548). Lightner’s argument is supported by such statements as “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man full of years, and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8).[1] The two compartment view of Sheol is supported by Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.

While the intermediate state of hell is not as explicit as such a doctrine is in the New Testament, the Old Testament is clear that at the resurrection some will experience an eternity of God’s curse. In fact Prophet Isaiah—and note there are good reasons for holding that one writer wrote the book although it may have been edited by redactors—writes a strong message pertaining to the existence of a hell in that after the judgment of God is delivered that “they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24). Note that the phrases “worm shall not die” and “their fire shall not be quenched” denote an eternal state for such individuals. Therefore, the conclusion is simple: the doctrine of hell belongs in Old Testament Judaism every bit as much as it does in the New Testament. Jesus presented a thoroughly Jewish understanding pertaining to God, the afterlife, and the like. The Pharisees and Essenes held to the idea of the afterlife, resurrection, angels, and the like just as much as Jesus.

Crow’s Second Argument: Was the concept of hell borrowed from Zoroastrianism?

The previous section demonstrated that Christianity took its idea of heaven and hell from Judaism and not Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism was a Persian dualist religion which was most likely a state religion that Judaism could have encountered during the exile. Could Christianity have accepted tenets of Zoroastrianism in its doctrine? Not likely according to biblical scholar N. T. Wright. N. T. Wright, a New Testament scholar, former professor at Cambridge, and the former Bishop of Durham, notes that people have sought to link Christianity’s message pertaining to the resurrection to Zoroastrianism, just as Crow does for the concept of hell. But, Wright denotes, borrowing from John Day, that “since Daniel, the main biblical exponent of the doctrine, is clearly echoing not only Isaiah but also Hosea, this takes the stream of thought back behind any likely influence from Persia; and that, when Ezekiel speaks of the dead being raised from their graves, this cannot be related to Zoroastrianism, since the Persians exposed, rather than buried, their dead” (Wright 2003, 125). Some could even argue that an explicit reference to resurrection and an implicit reference to the afterlife are mentioned in Job 19:25. Job is thought by many to be the oldest book in the entire Bible.

Crow’s Third Argument: Can you fathom a God of love being vindictive?

While the first two arguments, as well as his fifth argument, deal with historical arguments against the belief in a place called hell, the third and fourth arguments are theological in nature. Crow queries, “Can you fathom a God so vindictive that he would relegate some of his children to eternal burning” (Crow 2015)? Crow even seems to oppose such a concept against the United States Constitution in saying that “Even the United States Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment” (Crow 2015).  I find it a bit odd that Crow would seemingly restrain God by a human document known as the United States Constitution. Before anyone claims, isn’t that what you are doing with the Bible, I would note that evangelical Christians hold that the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity—in other words, what God tells us about himself.

With that being said, it is a sad commentary to think that justice and holiness have been attributed to vindictiveness. I would answer such a charge with a question. Say a person has been charged with murdering his entire family. The man took the time to kill his spouse and kill his children. The evidence for such a crime was so strong that the husband killed his family in that the investigation was over almost before it started. The man is found guilty. Would the judge trying the man’s case be viewed as a good judge if the judge simply said, “Well, I love you. I am going to let you go free and kill again”? Of course not!!! God is not only a loving God, but God is also holy and just. If a person is unrepentant (meaning that the person is not sorry for his guilt), then what kind of God would God be if he simply allowed unrepentant sinners into his heaven? God’s heaven prepared for repentant would become hell for everyone if God simply allowed everyone—even those unrepentant—in his heaven. Remember, heaven is God’s to give. Pertaining to God’s children, Jesus says to his condemners, “He who is God hears God’s words. Therefore, you do not hear them, because you are not of God” (John 8:47, MEV).[2]

Crow’s Fourth Argument: Can a retributive hell coexist with a redeeming Savior?

This argument is easy to dismantle. Crow writes that “The whole idea of hell is retributive while Christ is about redemption” (Crow 2015). If this is so, then what did Christ come to redeem humanity from? If Christ came to redeem humanity from sin, then what about those who refuse Christ’s forgiveness? John’s Gospel says it best in that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, MEV).

Crow’s Fifth Argument: Was the idea of hell added to the biblical text by St. Jerome?

Crow’s fifth argument is so innately erroneous that it is surprising that it was published. Crow argues that “Some scholars note that the addition of hell as everlasting punishment for the wicked was added by St. Jerome, who in the fourth century was commissioned by Pope Damascus I to create a Latin translation” (Crow 2015). WHAT?!? St. Jerome was born around 347AD. It is true that Jerome did translate the Greek texts of his day into what is known as the Latin Vulgate. However, Jerome translated from previously known biblical Greek texts. The Vulgate was completed around 405AD. Here, one must understand that over 6,000 manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered that have dated to within 3 centuries of the events they record. Perhaps some of the more intriguing finds are complete, or nearly complete, New Testament codices (ancient Greek books). The Codex Sinaiticus dating to 325-330AD, the Codex Alexandrinus dating to around 400AD, and the Codex Vaticanus dating to 300-325AD provide complete documentation for the New Testament with some nearly a century before Jerome’s Vulgate. Do these documents provide the concept of hell? Certainly!!! In fact, most modern translations (e.g. NIV, ESV) use these ancient texts for the basis of their translations. Thus, Crow’s argument is laughably in error.

Crow’s Sixth Argument: Do translations demerit the biblical doctrine of hell?

head on keyboard

At this point, you may hear the sound of my beating head against a keyboard. How is it that translations muffle clear teachings on hell? Revelation 20:15 provides a clear teaching on hell. The ESV reads, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). The NIV reads, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15, NIV).[3] Another translation reads, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15, NASB).[4] An older translation reads, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15, KJV).[5] One of the newest translations on the market reads, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15, MEV). So tell me, how can a translation afford one the opportunity to dismiss the biblical teaching on hell?

Conclusion

Hell is not a pleasant topic. In fact, hell is so uncomfortable that many have turned the mere mention of hell into a curse word. Nevertheless, one must face the reality of hell. Many charge God with being unloving for allowing such an existence. However, it has been demonstrated that a holy God must allow for such a place due to the lack of repentance found in the hearts of many. Yet, let us turn this around for a moment. How loving is it for a person to deny the existence of a place that has been so clearly taught in Scripture? How loving is it for one to coerce others to live as if hell were not a reality? Jesus was the most loving and yet the strongest teacher ever to step foot on the planet. Jesus spoke on hell quite a bit. Why did Jesus teach about hell? Jesus did so because he loved people so much that he did not want to see them go there. But understand this: you don’t have to go to hell. Jesus loves you so much that he is willing to take you where you are, regardless of what you have done, and forgive you, change you, and mold you into a much better person while offering you the greatest gift in the entire world: redemption from hell and admittance into heaven. What will be your response to his offer?

Sources Cited

Crow, Earl. “Concept of hell as eternal punishment is retributive.” Winston-Salem Journal (July 18, 2015). Accessed July 26, 2015. http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/everyday-religious-questions-concept-of-hell-as-eternal-punishment-is/article_23d037c2-2cef-11e5-a98a-d70a1e5aab67.html.

Lightner, R. P. “Hell.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

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

© July 26, 2015. Brian Chilton.

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

[2] Scriptures marked MEV come from the Modern English Version (Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014).

[3] Scripture marked NIV comes from The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).

[4] Scripture marked NASB comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[5] Scripture marked KJV comes from The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009).

The Future Implications of the Resurrection of Christ

Normally, I do not write about topics that are covered in previous messages. However, today I must make an exception. This past Easter I delivered a message by the same title of this article. The message centered around the future implications that come from Christ having been risen from the dead. It seems to me that many do not contemplate the great impact that Christ’s resurrection has made. Many try to imagine what it must have been like to have been at the tomb on the first Easter morning. What would it have been like to have watched the motionless body of Christ animate with life anew? Would there have been a spectacular light shining about his body or would it have just involved Christ getting up as if He had been slumbering? Such questions are important, however one often forgets what such an occurrence means for the future. Paul and John provide answers in 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 20-22.

1.     The Resurrection of Christ Indicates the Future Resurrection of Humanity.

Some think that only believers will take part in the future resurrection. However, the New Testament makes it clear that everyone will take part in some form of a resurrection at the end of time. Paul writes “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).[1] In the book of Revelation, John notes that two resurrections exist. The first resurrection consists of those who are in Christ. John writes that “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:6). The second resurrection consists of individuals who are not in Christ. Nevertheless, all individuals will have a similar resurrection experience as Christ had. Some, however, will experience a resurrection unto life eternal, whereas others will experience a resurrection unto a tormented eternity. As Paul denotes, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). If Christ has risen, then death is already defeated.

2.     The Resurrection of Christ Indicates the Future Defeat of Evil.

This point I have taken straight from my message. Easter promises the future defeat of evil. In fact, evil has already been defeated. How so? Isn’t there still evil in the world? Yes, however it is only momentary. For the resurrection of Christ ensures us that eventually “the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24). In Revelation, John notes that “the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). How do you defeat evil? You must destroy the root cause of evil. Case in point, have you ever had a boil? Boils are painful sores that are caused by an inflammation of a hair follicle. Anyone who has ever had a boil knows that they are pesky and sometimes painful. The boil may burst and one may think that they have cured the problem. However, if the seed of the boil is not removed, the boil will return. Similarly, if the symptoms of a disease are treated and the disease itself is not cured, no true healing can ever transpire. The root cause of evil in the world is Satan, the adversary of God and the faithful. The only way to permanently rid society of evil is to eliminate the presence of the evil one. Easter promises that good will eventually win and evil will be defeated.

3.     The Resurrection of Christ Indicates the Rewards of Heaven.

Paul writes that “no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived–the things that God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; see also Isaiah 64:4). Due to the eternal life promised through Christ’s resurrection and the future defeat of evil, one can conclude, as does the New Testament, that Easter ensures the future established reward of the faithful. In Revelation 21, John writes that God will “wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The One sitting on the throne even states “I am making everything new” (Revelation 21:5)! Easter provides the great hope that a better life awaits the faithful of God.

Conclusion:

Many have often said, “You Christians focus on the afterlife and do not live in the present.” That is not necessarily the case. For the Christian knows that he or she has a purpose here on the earth. They are called to do a particular task. Yet, because of the resurrection of Christ, the Christian has the hope in knowing that this life is not all that there is. There is a better day coming. As Bob Dill wisely said in Bible study, “The Bible tells us things are going to get bad, then get worse, but things will eventually get better.” That is so true. Easter provides us with the hope that we do not have all of our eggs in one basket (pun intended) in that this life is all there is. Rather, we have the hope in knowing that the things done on this earth really matter and hold an eternal significance. Life is tough. But heaven awaits! As a t-shirt I once saw noted, “Keep working for the Lord, the pay isn’t much, but the retirement plan is OUT OF THIS WORLD!!!”

Happy Easter!!!

Pastor Brian

Copyright April 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

An Enduring Call for Christian Maturity: An Exegesis of Hebrews 6:1-8

A summary statement of Hebrews 6:1-8 could be stated as the following: in Hebrews 6:1-8, the writer of Hebrews described the importance of maturity in the believer’s life and the curses of one that joined the ministry of the church, but apostatized. Perhaps no other passage of Scripture has been enveloped by so much controversy as Hebrews 6:1-8. Recently, this writer had a former congregant to contact him concerning the text of Hebrews 6. The woman had been involved in a debate with a person who claimed that Hebrews 6 demonstrates that one could lose his or her salvation. This woman, as well as this writer, comes from the Baptist heritage which accepts the doctrine termed perseverance of the saints, otherwise known as eternal security. The woman wanted to know if the text implied that salvation could be lost. This paper will offer an exegesis of Hebrews 6:1-8. First, the historical and cultural context of Hebrews will be evaluated. Then, the paper will examine the exegetical content of Hebrews 6:1-8. It will be demonstrated that the passage of Hebrews 6:1-8 can be broken into three categories: the maturity of doctrine, the maturity of devotion, and the maturity of deeds. Finally, an application will be given at the end of this paper. Does the text imply that a believer can lose one’s salvation or does it address the maturity of a true believer? The forthcoming section of the paper will evaluate the historical and cultural elements of the book of Hebrews.

 Historical-Cultural Context

As difficult as Hebrews 6:1-8 is to understand, it is eclipsed in its difficulty by the authorship of the book. David Allen rightfully notes that “Many have conjectured, some have conjured, but very few have been convinced in the search for the author of Hebrews.”[1] The trouble behind this enigma is that neither the internal nor external evidence of Hebrews leads to any convincing indication of who the author could be. Many hold that Paul is the writer of the text. Barker and Kohlenberger note that the “earliest reference to authorship is a statement of Clement of Alexandria that Paul wrote this work in Hebrew and that Luke translated it into Greek. When it was accepted as part of the NT, this was partly because contemporaries held Paul to be the author.”[2] Thomas D. Lea notes that “Eastern Christianity viewed Paul as the author, even though those who supported Pauline authorship knew that the language did not resemble Paul’s other letters. Western Christianity did not accept Pauline authorship until the fourth century.”[3] One thing that is certain, as Charles Ray notes, the author of Hebrews was “well educated, skillful in the use of language, and methods of argumentation…[and] had a passion for people.”[4] One of the better candidates for Hebrews authorship is none other than Luke, the associate of Paul. David Allen notes that “When one considers the lexical, stylistic, and theological similarities between Luke-Acts and Hebrews coupled with the way in which a theory of Lukan authorship can be historically reconstructed from the texts themselves, there is impressive evidence that points to the Lukan authorship of Hebrews.”[5] While this writer concedes that the best evidence supports Lukan authorship, it is best to accept that the authorship of Hebrews is an enigma that will not be conclusively solved on this side of eternity.

Who were the recipients of the book of Hebrews? The writer provides a clue towards the end of the text, as he denotes that the recipients were to “Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Those from Italy send their greetings” (Hebrews 13:24). Either the recipients were being addressed from Italy or the recipients were those in Italy, particularly Rome. Ray notes that the latter option is preferable as “the earliest quotations from and references to the book of Hebrews are found in the Letter of 1 Clement, which was written from Rome near the end of the first century.”[6] If this is the case, then the author of the text clearly was writing to a group of Christians that faced intense persecution. Others have suggested locations that include Jerusalem or even Antioch.[7] Regardless, the writer of Hebrews notes that the recipients of the book had endured being “publically exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated” (Hebrews 10:33). That the recipients suffered some degree of persecution is evidenced in the call that the recipients would “persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:36). The previous section evaluated the historical and cultural aspects of Hebrews; the forthcoming section will examine the text of Hebrews 6:1-8.

 Exegetical Content

Hebrews 6:1-8 is part of a larger discourse that begins in Hebrews 5:11 and extends through Hebrews 6:12. Prior to the text at hand, the writer of Hebrews notes the difference between the one that “lives on milk, being still an infant” (Hebrews 5:13)[8] and the mature who “consume solid food” (5:14). It will be of particular interest to this paper that the writer of Hebrews notes the promises of God concerning salvation immediately after the text in question. The writer denotes that “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help him” (6:10) and that “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (6:19). Thus, the flow of the text denotes the idea of authentic faith that leads toward maturity compared to the inauthentic believer that withers and eventually apostatizes. The first section of Hebrews 6:1-8 is found in the first three verses as the writer addresses spiritual maturity as it pertains to doctrine.

 Maturity of Doctrine (vs. 1-3)

 The writer of Hebrews addresses the issue of doctrinal maturity in a couple of ways. First, the writer notes that this maturity is initiated by moving “beyond the elementary teachings about Christ” (6:1). Then, the writer of Hebrews denotes six essential doctrines that relate to mature Christianity as identified in verses 1 through 4. First, one must consider the initiation, or ignition, that leads one towards maturity.

Doctrinal Maturity Initiated (v. 1a)

 The writer of Hebrews uses two particularly important terms in the first portion of verse 1. The writer notes that the recipients were to move past the “ἀρχῆς τοῦ Χριστοῦ λόγον.”[9] The term ἀρχῆς is translated as elementary and is defined as “elementary and preliminary aspects defining the nature of something—‘elementary aspect, simple truth.’”[10] The recipients of the letter are instructed to move past the introductory aspects of the faith. David Allen notes that “To ‘leave’ connotes the idea of leaving something behind in order to pass on to something else.”[11] Thus, the writer of Hebrews does not indicate that the recipients were to neglect or forsake the essentials of the faith. Rather, the writer is suggesting that the recipients were to move past the introductory essentials of the faith, those things that infants need (5:13), and move towards the more advanced aspects of the faith, the “solid food” of 5:14.

The author notes that the recipients were to move “ἐπὶ τὴν τελειότητα.”[12] Louw and Nida define τελειότητα as “maturity in thought and behavior.”[13] One would imagine that either the recipients were behaving in an immature fashion or the recipients were struggling over particular doctrines. A third option exists in that some may have struggled in both avenues, a view that this paper supports. Since the author spells out the essentials of the faith, one might be compelled to think that the primary problem was theologically motivated which influenced the behavior of the recipients. The initial move towards maturity not only involves one’s entrance into the family of God, but it also involves growth past the fundamental doctrines of the faith. But what were the foundational doctrines that the writer considered to be essential?

Doctrinal Maturity Identified (vs. 1b-3)

The writer of Hebrews identifies six main essentials of the faith. The six essentials are grouped together in three couplets. The first couplet consists of “repentance from acts that lead to death and of faith in God” (6:1b). The recipients were to leave their life of sin while placing faith in God. Both are essential aspects of the Christian walk. Perhaps notions of the Old Testament prophets were brought to mind as they called for repentance. Messianic Jew David Stern, pertaining to repentance and faith, rightly denotes that “Both aspects are necessary: claiming to trust God without leaving one’s sins behind is hypocrisy, because God is holy. Attempting to turn from sin without trusting God either fails, leads to pride in self-accomplishment, or both.”[14] Stern’s thinking is verified in the New Testament. The apostle John denotes that “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them” (1 John 5:18). John implies, as does the writer of Hebrews, that a believer will live a life of repentance and possess a faith in God. Whereas faith and repentance mark the first couplet, the second couplet involves baptism and laying on of hands. The NIV translates the following couplet as “instruction about cleansing rites” (6:2) and “the laying on of hands” (6:2). The former has been the center of great discussion and a hotbed of dispute among translators. The NLT differs from the NIV in its translation of verse 2. The NLT uses the term “baptisms” (6:2, NLT).[15] But which translation is correct? Or, do both have a semblance of truth?

The Greek term employed is baptismwn. The question revolves around whether the term only indicates the Christian baptism ceremony or a series of ceremonial washings which could include baptism. The plural usage of the term, as Guthrie notes, “shows that not simply one act, but several ritual cleansings are in mind…It is not impossible that the writer used the plural to suggest a comparison of the Christian practice of baptism with the Jewish idea of washings, as the word is used elsewhere in the general sense of cultic washings (Heb. 9:10).”[16] Some tend to think that the plural version of the term references something other than Christian baptism altogether, as the term is “usually used of purification ceremonies other than Christian baptism (9:10; Mk 7:4).”[17] However, it must be noted that these washings could include baptism, as the Didache (c. A.D. 100) lists “different forms of baptism [that] were practiced in the early church, but with evident preference given to immersion.”[18] Thus, one could claim that the various forms of baptisms could have been included in the writer’s view of washings, especially since this practice was listed among some of the more important issues of the day. Keener would seemingly concur as the term “probably refers to the various kinds of ceremonial washings in Judaism, of which the most relevant to Christianity was proselyte baptism as an act of conversion washing away the former impurity of a pagan life.”[19] It would appear that the NIV is justified in its use of “cleansing rites” (6:2). Suffice it to say, such rites were important among the recipients of the book of Hebrews and one could rightfully claim that baptism was part of the ceremonial washings addressed in this particular passage. But what of the “laying on of hands” (6:2); what does one make of this practice? The practice of laying one’s hands upon a convert, or one being commissioned for the cause of Christ, is not nearly as problematic as its’ coupled counterpart. In Acts 8:17, one finds that the apostles laid their hands upon new believers following baptism. While the text indicates that the “Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16, NLT), it appears that the practice was continued at the time that Hebrews was written. The text continues with the third couplet.

The third couplet involves doctrines of eschatological importance, mainly the “resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment” (6:2). The resurrection of the dead addresses the end time judgment. Parallels can be found in Jesus’ messages, particularly in John 5:25. Paul placed a great deal of emphasis on the resurrection of Christ and the final resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Thus, it is not surprising that the writer of Hebrews stressed the vast importance of the final resurrection to the recipients of the letter. In addition, the writer stressed the final judgment. Paul also stressed the importance of judgment in his writings by teaching on the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10) and the individual accountability of each person on the final day of judgment (Romans 14:14). Eschatology played an important role to early Christians and it should not be surprising that one finds such an emphasis on eschatological doctrines in Hebrews. So how do these couplets fit in the overall scheme of maturity?

The writer of Hebrews emphasized that the mature believer would adhere to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, one reason why this paper holds that baptism is referenced at least in part in verse 2. It is not that these rituals and activities save a person. Rather, it is as John writes that “this is the love of God: to keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3). Orthodoxy influences orthopraxy, orthopraxy is indicative of genuine Christianity, and genuine Christians grow towards maturity. Christian devotion is addressed in the forthcoming section.

 Maturity of Devotion (vs. 4-6)

 In verses 4-6, the writer of Hebrews discusses the importance of enduring devotion in the believer’s life. These verses are among some of the most hotly contested in the entire Bible. Traditionally, Arminian believers and Calvinist believers have taken very different interpretations pertaining to this passage. Yet, David Allen rightly notes that “biblical theology must precede systematic theology.”[20] Thus, this paper will seek to evaluate the text within the context of the passage and offer a proposed interpretation of the passage.

Devotion’s Impossibility (v. 4)

 In the Greek text, one sentence comprises what English translations segment into verses 4 through 6. Thus, before engaging the more controversial aspect of this section, one must first evaluate the verb and the adjective that set up the sentence. However, it must be noted that the sentence itself is very complicated as the “subject of the sentence actually does not appear in the text until v. 6 with the infinitive translated “to be brought back.”[21] Nonetheless, the verb “enlightened” is the term photosthentos which is defined as “to cause light to shine upon some object, in the sense of illuminating it—‘to illuminate, to shine upon.’”[22] Thus, the writer identifies the individuals in question as those who have “shared in the Holy Spirit” (6:4) since the Holy Spirit is the one who illuminates the heart and mind (e.g. Matthew 16:17ff; John 14:17ff). The verb is offset by the adjective adunaton, which is translated as “impossible” (6:4). This term is indicative of something that is “pertaining to being impossible, presumably because of a lack of power to alter or control circumstances—‘impossible.’”[23] The term is also used later in the chapter where it is stated that it is “impossible for God to lie” (6:18). Whereas the writer uses absolute certainty in the positive sense in verse 18 as it relates to the character of God, absolute certainty is used in the negative sense as it relates to the impossibility of one being “brought back to repentance” (6:6). What is it that is impossible? This will be examined in the next subsection.

Devotion’s Antithesis (vs. 5-6)

One must accurately interpret the bookends of this elongated sentence, remembering that the subject of the sentence is found in verse 6, “repentance” (6:6), coupled with the verb parapipto translated “fallen away” (6:6), while also connecting the terms photisthentos and adunatos from verse 4. The term translated “repentance” (6:6) is no stranger for one knowledgeable in theology; it is the term metanoia. The word was used, as described by Louw and Nida, to specify “the total change, both in thought and behavior, with respect to how one should both think and act.”[24] Whatever state from which the person has fallen, connecting metanoia to adunatos demonstrates the hopeless impossibility of one in such a state being transformed. But what state does the writer address? The aforementioned question is central to the text.

To understand the state of the person who finds oneself in the state in which it is impossible to find repentance, one must first evaluate the phrases found between the two bookends of the elongated sentence. Then, one must evaluate the term parapipto in verse 6. Considering the phrases found between the two bookends, the key question is whether these phrases describe one who has experienced salvation or one who is disillusioned concerning one’s salvation. The phrase “tasted the heavenly gift…shared in the Holy Spirit…tasted the goodness of the word of God” (6:4-5) seem to imply that the person in question has in fact experienced salvation. John Calvin, however, would disagree. Calvin, due to his strong belief in election, writes “That God indeed favours none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image.”[25] Thus, Calvin suggests that only the elect could be saved genuinely saved. Some find contradictions to Calvin’s viewpoint within other statements of Scripture, particularly Paul’s statement in that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). David Allen argues for another position.

David Allen writes that “There is a growing consensus crossing the Calvinist/Arminian divide that the language of Heb 6:4–6 describes genuine believers.”[26] But if these are genuine believers, does this not necessarily mean that one can lose salvation? The writer of Hebrews seems to counteract such a notion by saying that “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help him” (6:10). Some have suggested, since it appears that believers are addressed, that the writer is addressing the loss of rewards. Allen notes that “The Loss of Rewards view best explains the immediate context of failure to press on to spiritual maturity…and the broader context of the other four warning passages in Hebrews, all of which warn genuine believers of the same danger.”[27] Yet, one must ask, is the so-called Loss of Rewards view completely honest with the term parapipto? To answer this question, one must offer a definition of the term.

Louw and Nida define parapiptw as “to abandon a former relationship or association, or to dissociate (a type of reversal of beginning to associate).”[28] This is problematic for the so-called Loss of Rewards view as parapiptw references one who has abandoned someone or something. Relating this abandonment back to the orthodoxy, and perhaps orthopraxy, that we referenced in the first portion of the text, one must consider the fact that the writer is in fact addressing one who donned the title “follower of Christ” only to fall back into the old life. As previously noted, some would claim that this falling denotes that salvation can be lost. Yet, does such a view not relate salvation back to a result of works instead of grace? Such finds difficulty with Paul’s clear teaching that salvation is a matter of grace given by God (e.g. Ephesians 2:8). So how should this be settled?

Calvin’s view is much more tenable than one might expect, even for one who is not a hyper-Calvinist.[29] Derek Cooper explains Calvin’s overall viewpoint was that “God saved the elect but God allowed the reprobate to slip and fall in the mud of apostasy. All sins that the elect committed were pardonable; they could not ‘lose’ their salvation, in other words, because they had not participated in it any way. God saved them. The reprobates, by contrast, necessarily lost their ‘salvation.’”[30] This fits within the overall context of Hebrews. The writer of Hebrews stresses Christian endurance while, at the same time, noting the enduring promise of God. In verse 9, the writer of Hebrews notes that “though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation” (6:9). Thus, the contrast would seem to indicate that the loss of salvation is not the issue in verses 1-8. In addition, the writer notes the character of God in that it is “impossible (adunaton) for God to lie” (6:18). That is to say, the promises of God are irrevocable because God cannot go back on God’s word. Also, an interesting parallel can be found in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23). In the parable, Jesus notes that various seeds, representing the gospel message, are received in various ways. Jesus noted that there would be many who would receive the message, but not necessarily receive him. He noted that the “seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (Matthew 13:23). Therefore, the teachings found in Hebrews 6:4-6 finds a home in the Parable of the Sower. One must wonder if the writer of Hebrews had this particular parable in mind when writing the text. In the end, the writer may be stressing that not everyone who claims to be in the body of Christ truly holds a relationship with the risen Christ.

The true Christian will desire to mature through endurance. Their salvation will be demonstrated by their fruits and their growth towards maturity. While a loss of rewards may be referenced as it relates to the lack of maturity, the essence of the Hebrews 6:4-6 message is actually contrary to the view that one could lose salvation. If one tasted the benefits of the work of God and did not maintain one’s status in the church, then there is no hope that such a person would ever be saved. Did one who lacks endurance think that he or she was saved? Assuredly, such a person would. However, Jesus reminds individuals in a haunting fashion in Matthew 7 that not everyone who claims him as Lord is a true believer, and in the end, Jesus will say to such a one, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers” (Matthew 7:23)! The writer of Hebrews denotes yet another way in which maturity is evaluated, and in turn, false believers are identified through their fruit. Thus, one’s transformed heart will lead towards transformed deeds.

 Maturity of Deeds (vs. 7-8)

 The writer of Hebrews provides an agrarian parable that denotes the blessings found by the one who faithfully endures and matures in the faith which lead to good deeds, in contrast to the one who is unfaithful and has one’s deeds burned.

 Deeds that are Blessed (v. 7)

 As noted earlier in the paper, the writer of Hebrews references, at least implicitly, the Parable of the Sower as found in Matthew 13. In the parable, Jesus refers to seeds that fall on bad soil and seeds that find rest in good soil. The good soil represents those who receive the gospel message and “who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (Matthew 13:23). The writer of Hebrews alludes to the production of the blessed one and that such a one will produce fruit “useful to those for whom it was farmed” (6:7). Concerning the text’s reference to the blessing of God, Allen denotes that “Because of what Christ has done in his atoning work, the new covenant is eternal (Heb 10:18). He is a priest forever. An eternal inheritance is every Christian’s promised blessing.”[31] Therefore, instead of promoting the lack of eternal security, the writer provides assurance to the one in Christ, the one who endures and is growing towards maturity. But the same cannot be said for the one who lives in rebellion.

 Deeds that are Burned (v. 8)

Verse 8 demonstrates the end result of a person who does not grow towards maturity, or endures in the faith. Again, the writer references the Parable of the Sower. Jesus notes that the seed “falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:23). The writer likewise compares the unfruitful person to one who “produces thorns and thistles is worthless and in danger of being cursed” (6:8). Clear parallels exist between the two passages. Has such a one truly received the salvation of God, or are they simply playing church? Barker and Kohlenberger evaluate the teaching as one of “warning to professing Christians whose lives produce only the equivalent of weeds.”[32] This paper agrees with Allen that “Were it possible for a Christian to remove himself from the covenant of salvation by apostasy, then Christ’s death is not eternally saving.”[33] The key is found in Hebrews 10 where the writer notes that “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left” (10:26). Such are those who have received the tenets of the Christian life intellectually, but have failed to receive Christ relationally. So, how might one apply these truths?

 Application

Three principles can be extracted from the text. The primary principle in Hebrews 6:1-8 is that the true Christian should strive to mature in the faith. Christians cannot remain stagnant. Stagnancy results in one simply “going through the motions” of church. The Christian life is to be a vibrant, relational walk with the risen Lord Jesus. Also, endurance is critical for the true Christian. Like the recipients of Hebrews, modern Christians find themselves among a growing antagonism towards Christianity. The true Christian will remain standing regardless of what may come, whereas the one falsely claiming to be of Christ will fall from one’s faith and will leave the church. Finally, the true Christian will produce fruit. Fruitfulness is an extension of relational obedience. Often, modern Christians are bombarded with unfruitful mentalities such as easy believism and the health and wellness gospel. True Christianity does not promise flashy objects, but rather produces fruitful obedience which leads to the transformation of the Christian, and service to others for the glory of God.

 Conclusion

This paper has provided an exegesis for Hebrews 6:1-8. Throughout the paper, it has been noted that the writer of Hebrews has demonstrated a strong need for Christian maturity. The historical-cultural section of the paper noted that while Luke could strongly be attested to be the author of Hebrews, the evidence does not provide a concrete answer to the author’s identity. It was also revealed that the recipients of the letter were Christians who had faced some form of persecution. The paper provided an examination of the text, providing the focus of the writer upon a believer’s maturity in doctrine (6:1-3); that is, the intellectual assent of the core fundamentals of the faith as evidenced by three couplets of six beliefs and/or practices. Also, the paper evaluated the author’s focus on Christian maturity as it relates to a Christian’s devotion (6:4-6). It was demonstrated that while several viewpoints envelop this controversial passage, no should not think that the writer had claimed that one could lose one’s salvation, nor does the evidence suggest that the writer is only addressing the rewards of a believer. Rather, the text suggests that many, who claim to be Christian, are Christians in name only. That is to say, such individuals have accepted intellectually the claims of Christianity, but have not truly encountered the risen Jesus relationally. Finally, the paper evaluated the writer’s focus on how maturity will provide fruit. In relation to Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, the writer addressed that the faithful will produce fruit and will be blessed, whereas the false believer will not produce fruit and will be found to be cursed. Many other issues should be evaluated as it pertains to Hebrews 6:1-8. Lukan authorship deserves further evaluation. If Luke is the author of Hebrews, could this explain the connection of Hebrews to the apostle Paul? In addition, could Paul have played a role in the information that was provided? Finally, the connection between the Parable of the Sower and Hebrews 6:1-8 deserves further attention. The most powerful truth extracted from the text is that not everyone who claims identity with Christ is a genuine believer. True Christianity is found in dedication to Christ, which lends towards growth, which in turn provides endurance for the believer. One who knows the truth of Christ and rejects his grace is one whose heart has become severely hardened, perhaps beyond repair.

The contents of this article represent the academic work of Brian Chilton. Any use of this content without proper documentation can lead to charges of plagiarism.

Copyright 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

Bibliography

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

Barker, Kenneth L., and John R. Kohlenberger III. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament, Abridged Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Calvin, John, and John Owen. Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.

Cooper, Derek. “Reformation Responses to Novatianism: 16th-Century Interpretations of Hebrews 6:4-6.” Journal of Theological Interpretation 3, 2 (September 1, 2009): 261-279. ATLA Religion Database with ATLA Serials, EBSCOhost (Accessed January 31, 2015).

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

Guthrie, Donald. Hebrews, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Leicester; Grand Rapids: InterVarsity; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996.

Harris, W. Hall, III. The Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament: SBL Edition. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2010.

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

Lea, Thomas D. Hebrews, James, Holman New Testament Commentary, Volume 10. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.

Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

Ray, Charles A. “Hebrews, Letter to the.” In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition. Edited by Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1998.

Stern, David H. Jewish New Testament Commentary: A Companion Volume to the Jewish New Testament. Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.

[1] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 29.

[2] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament, Abridged Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 941.

[3] Thomas D. Lea, Hebrews, James, vol. 10, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 1.

[4] Charles A. Ray, “Hebrews, Letter to the,” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition, Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England, eds (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1998), 737.

[5] Allen, Hebrews, NAC, 61.

[6] Ray, “Hebrews, Letter to the,” HIBD, 737.

[7] David Allen offers a compelling case that Hebrews was written by Luke, from Rome, to converted priests who were abiding in Antioch. See Allen, Hebrews, NAC, 70.

[8] Henceforth, quotations from Hebrews will be identified only by the numerical address.

[9] W. Hall Harris III, The Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament: SBL Edition (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2010), Hebrews 6:1.

[10] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 587.

[11] Allen, Hebrews, NAC, 339.

[12] Harris III, The Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament, Hebrews 6:1.

[13] Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 753.

[14] David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary: A Companion Volume to the Jewish New Testament, electronic ed. (Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996), Hebrews 6:1.

[15] Scripture noted by NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).

[16] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996), 139.

[17] Barker and Kohlenberger, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 963.

[18] Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 537.

[19] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1993), 660.

[20] Allen, Hebrews, NAC, 344.

[21] Ibid., 345–346.

[22] Louw and Nida, Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 172.

[23] Ibid., 668.

[24] Ibid., 509.

[25] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 138.

[26] Allen, Hebrews, NAC 353.

[27] Allen, Hebrews, NAC 393.

[28] Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 448.

[29] This writer holds to the view coined “congruism” as presented by Millard J. Erickson. That is to say, human response and/or free will fit within the foreknown plan of God. See Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd Ed (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 448.

[30] Derek Cooper, “Reformation Responses to Novatianism: 16th-Century Interpretations of Hebrews 6:4-6,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 3, 2 (September 1, 2009): 277.

[31] Allen, Hebrews, NAC, 392.

[32] Barker and Kohlenberger, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 965.

[33] Allen, Hebrews, NAC, 392.

The 5 Minimal Facts Concerning the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth

Someone once said that if you have three Baptists, you will have four opinions. The statement alludes to the fact that it is difficult for Protestant Baptists to find common ground (being a Baptist I can say such a thing). Let’s face it; it is difficult to find common ground on anything. The same holds true for scholarship. However when general consensus is held, it generally confers that the evidence is strong for a given thing or event.

Individuals may find it interesting that there exists a general consensus among biblical and historical scholars concerning certain events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. One may find it even more surprising that there is a general consensus among said scholars concerning the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Gary Habermas and Mike Licona have presented what they term the “minimal facts approach” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 46). Minimal facts are those things that which “nearly all scholars hold, including skeptical ones” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 46). Therefore the minimal facts data only presents data that are “strongly evidenced…[and] granted by virtually all scholars on the subject, even the skeptical ones” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 47). There are at least five minimal facts concerning the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The minimal facts are:

12-the-crucified-christ-rubens

Minimal Fact #1:       Jesus died by crucifixion by the order of Pontius Pilate

It is universally held that Jesus was crucified under the order of Pontius Pilate. The only individuals who would ever deny this fact are those who are deluded by the “Jesus Myth” ideology (those that hold that Jesus was a fictional character). No serious scholar would deny the existence of Jesus. During a debate with John Lennox, even skeptic Richard Dawkins conceded that Jesus was a person of history (see the confession at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5EjA-JNiVk). Along with the fact of Jesus’ existence, one must admit that Jesus was crucified under the order of Pontius Pilate.

Crucifixion was a torturous form of execution that was implemented by the Romans to quiet rebels and dissenters. Cicero writes that crucifixion was “that most cruel and disgusting penalty” (Cicero, Against Verres 2.5.64). The fact that Jesus was crucified in this manner is attested by the fact that all four gospel accounts proclaim that Jesus died in this fashion. Matthew writes, “Then [Pilate] released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified” (Matthew 27:26). Mark writes, “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (Mark 15:15). Luke writes, “So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will” (Luke 23:25). John writes, “Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’…So he delivered him over to be crucified” (John 19:15-16). In addition, extra-biblical citations from Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian of Samosota and others identify Jesus as having been crucified. So much is the evidence for Jesus’ crucifixion that even skeptic John Dominick Crossan wrote, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be” (Crossan 1991, 145). It is for this reason that Jesus’ crucifixion is one of the minimal facts.

 risen Jesus

Minimal Fact #2:       The disciples claimed to have seen the risen Jesus

As surprising as it may sound, Habermas and Licona write, “There is a virtual consensus among scholars who study Jesus’ resurrection that, subsequent to Jesus’ death by crucifixion, his disciples really believed that he appeared to them risen from the dead” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 49). Again, all the gospels present Jesus as risen from the dead. While the authenticity of Mark’s ending after 16:8 is disputed, Mark still presents Jesus as risen and assumes that Jesus would…and in fact did…meet with the disciples after the resurrection. For instance, Mark writes that the messengers of God told the women at the tomb, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:6-7). So even if Mark’s longer ending is not authentic, the first 8 verses of Mark still presents Jesus as risen from the dead and that He would appear to the disciples. Since Mark is writing after the fact, Mark implies that Jesus did in fact meet with the disciples.

Perhaps the most important biblical creed that supports the resurrection is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. The creed dates back to the time of Christ. The creed states 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, and that he appeared to Cephas [Aramaic term for Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7). Paul then records that he himself saw the risen Jesus. A multitude of other creeds exist in the New Testament that supports the resurrection of Jesus. Clement of Rome, a first-century Christian who apparently knew the apostles of the Lord wrote,

Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand” (Clement of Rome, “First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” XLII).

Therefore, Clement provides additional evidence for the appearance of Jesus to the disciples. That is why that the apostles’ belief that they had seen the risen Jesus is a minimal fact.

4_paul-conversion

Minimal Fact #3:       Paul converted from an antagonist of Christianity to an apologist for Christianity after having claimed an experience with the risen Jesus

While one may wonder what Paul has to do with the resurrection of Jesus, when one understands the reason behind Paul’s transformation, one will understand its association. Paul was a well-educated Jew. Paul said that he had lived “according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee” (Acts 26:5). Paul even said that he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6). Yet, something happened to Paul. Instead of persecuting the church, Paul was an advocate for the church. It all changed due to Paul’s experience with the risen Jesus. Paul’s transformation, says Habermas and Licona, is “well documented, reported by Paul himself, as well as Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth, and Origen. Therefore, we have early, multiple, and firsthand testimony that Paul converted from being a staunch opponent of Christianity to one of its greatest proponents” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 65). The evidence is also found in the establishment of several churches by Paul. For this reason, Paul’s conversion after having seen the risen Jesus is listed as a minimal fact.

 st james

Minimal Fact #4:       James, the brother of Jesus, converted to Christianity after having an experience with the risen Jesus

Like the third minimal fact, the fourth minimal fact concerns the conversion of a skeptic turned believer. James was one of the brothers of Jesus. John records that the brothers of Jesus did not believe in Jesus during Jesus’ earthly ministry. John writes, “For not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5). Yet, James became a believer and a strong, influential leader of the early church. The early creed in 1 Corinthians 15 lists James as one who had encountered the risen Jesus. James is listed as an early church leader. For Paul writes of his trip to Jerusalem, “But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19). James would believe strongly in the Lord Jesus. James even writes that “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). James’ works would prove that his faith was very much alive as he was eventually martyred. Habermas and Licona report that James’ “martyrdom is attested by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 68). James’ conversion was so strong that it is listed as an indisputable minimal fact.

 Empty-Tomb-Picture-02

Minimal Fact #5:       The Empty Tomb

Surprisingly, the final minimal fact is not as well-accepted as the first four. However, there is strong evidence that Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty by the earliest disciples. While this fact is not universally accepted by scholars, it is strongly affirmed by most scholars. Gary Habermas shows that “roughly 75 percent of scholars on the subject accept the empty tomb as a historical fact” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 70). Habermas also reports that “There were apparently reports in Palestine that caused the emperor to issue an exceptionally strong warning against grave robbing, which was punishable by death (Nazareth Decree)” (Habermas 1996, 185). Not only does archaeology imply an empty tomb, the Bible states that there was an empty tomb. Mark writes that the angel said, “He has risen; he is not here…And they went out and fled from the tomb” (Mark 16: 6, 8). John also reports that “Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself” (John 20:6-7). Therefore, the biblical evidence strongly supports an empty tomb.

Justin Martyr refers to the empty tomb when he writes in his response to Trypho,

And though all the men of your nation knew the incidents in the life of Jonah, and though Christ said amongst you that He would give the sign of Jonah, exhorting you to repent of your wicked deeds at least after He rose again from the dead, and to mourn before God as did the Ninevites, in order that your nation and city might not be taken and destroyed, as they have been destroyed; yet you not only have not repented, after you learned that He rose from the dead, but, as I said before you have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilæan deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven” (Justin Martyr, Trypho, CVIII).

Since archaeology, biblical, and non-biblical records support the empty tomb, in addition to the tradition that Constantine’s mother Helena successfully found the tomb which was still venerated by Jerusalem Christians despite Rome’s defilement of the site, provides a strong case for the historicity of the empty tomb, thus making it one of the five minimal facts supporting the resurrection of Jesus.

 

Conclusion

A great deal of consensus exists for these five facts concerning the resurrection of Jesus. This does not necessarily indicate that consensus indicates that something is correct because at one time consensus held that the earth was flat. However, scholarly consensus along with the archaeological evidence, and biblical and non-biblical references that were provided provided presents one with a strong case for the authenticity of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. One may be inclined to claim, “Yeah, but there are SOME scholars who deny that Jesus existed.” Well, there are SOME individuals who claim that the Holocaust did not occur. But if one is going to be a seeker for truth, one must accept not only Jesus of Nazareth’s historical existence, but one must also accept the crucifixion, burial, and apparent resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It is in my opinion that the resurrection itself is one of the most verifiable historical events of antiquity. If the resurrection is true, then there is great hope that our deaths do not serve as the end of our history, but the exciting beginning to a new level of existence…that is, if one has faith in Jesus of Nazareth.

 

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Cicero. Against Verres 2.5.64.

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.

Crossan, John Dominick. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991.

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

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

 Martyr, Justin. “Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew.” 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.

 

© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

Does the ‘Four Blood Moon Prophecy’ Biblically Remain in Orbit?

blood_moon_03_05_151

From April 2014 to October 2015, the world will experience an unusual phenomenon. During this time, the moon will turn blood red. This is caused by the earth standing between the rays of the sun and the moon. The atmosphere of the earth casts a red hue upon the moon giving the moon the “blood” color. But what does this mean if anything? This article will examine the possible link between the four blood moons and biblical prophecy. Do these blood moons hold any significance biblically speaking? What about the Scriptures used to purport the significance? Do they mean what they are purported to mean?

  

The Tetrad of Blood Moons

The four blood moons mark four times between April 2014 and October of 2015 when the moon turns blood red. This is caused by a lunar eclipse. Fraser Cain writes,

  During a lunar eclipse, the Moon passes behind the Earth’s shadow, which darkens it. If you could take a look at the Earth from inside its shadow, you would see that the atmosphere around the edge of the entire planet glows red. Once again, this is because large amounts of atmosphere will scatter away the blue/green light and let the red light go straight through. During a lunar eclipse, the Moon passes fully into the shadow of the Earth and it’s no longer being illuminated by the Sun; however, this red light passing through the Earth’s atmosphere does reach the Moon, and shines on it (Cain 2008, Universe Today).

While this writer holds a great deal of respect for John Hagee, Hagee’s biblical interpretations concerning the four blood moons is questionable. For Hagee, these four blood moons represent occasions when something big happens with Israel. According to Hagee, there have only been four occasions in history when there have been four blood moons and they all correspond to big events in history. For instance, according to Hagee’s website http://fourbloodmoons.net/, over the past 500 years four blood moons occurring at a particular time has only transpired four times.

4 blood moons

The Four Blood Moons of 1492 announced the Edict of Expulsion in which Jews were given 14 days to leave Spain forever. It was the crescendo of suffering for people who’d watched their friends get tortured on the rack and burned alive for refusing to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition. Soon, however, their tears ended in triumph. That October, Christopher Columbus, funded by Jewish money and maps, found a haven for Jews around the world—America.

Following the unspeakable anguish of the Holocaust, 1948 Four Blood Moons heralded in the triumphant birth of the State of Israel. After the nearly 2000 year Diaspora, God gathered the Jewish exiles from the nations of the world and brought them home to the land of covenant as prophesied by the Old Testament Prophets God sent us a signal that history was about to change forever…and it did.

The Four Blood Moons of 1967 occurred around the Six-Day War when Jerusalem was won and reunited with the State of Israel. Today, Jerusalem is more than the country’s “undivided capital.” It’s where Christ was crucified for the sins of the world and where He will return to rule a global kingdom that shall never end. This event shows history being changed forever. God sent the revelation in Four Blood Moons.

The next Four Blood Moons begin April 2014 and September 2015. History is getting ready to change forever!  ARE YOU READY?
And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. -Joel 2:30-31 NKJV (Hagee 2003, fourbloodmoons.net).

There are a few problems with this interpretation. In a moment, this article will examine the biblical references mentioned by Hagee and others closely aligned with them. But first, let’s examine the instances listed. While the 1948 and 1967 blood moons do correspond with big events in the history of Israel, the 1492 reference is a bit of a stretch. While it is true that America has become a safe haven for Jewish individuals, to say that Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America directly corresponds to Israel’s history is problematic. Israel in its present state was non-existent at that period of time. In fact, it was ruled by the Mamluks until the 1500s. There was a great time of persecution of Jews in Europe and in the Middle East. In addition, it has been debated as to whether Columbus was the actual discoverer of the Americas. Nordish sailor Leif Erikson discovered the Americas earlier than Columbus in the 900s who had in turn heard about the land from Bjarni Herjolfsson. If true, this blows a substantial hole in Hagee’s interpretation of the four blood moons.

Another problem relates to the fact that Hagee only goes back 500 years in his interpretation concerning the four blood moons. Certainly other appearances of four blood moons must have existed before 1492 as the earth is at least 6,000 years old according to young earth creationist models. Therefore, the possibility certainly exists that there may have been tetrads of blood moons prior to the 1400s. Did those appearances correlate to Israel’s history in any way? If not, then why are we to suspect that this series of blood moons will indicate something big, if in fact anything at all?

Some have taken Hagee’s interpretation of the four blood moons even further than Hagee does in suggesting that the final blood moon marks the return of Christ. In Hagee’s teachings on the four blood moons, he lists Joel 2:30-31, Acts 2:19-20, and the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. This article will now examine the context of these Scriptures in addition to Jesus’ teaching in Luke 17:22ff. Do these Scriptures suggest that the blood moons indicate anything pertaining to physical Israel?

 

Biblical Texts Concerning Blood Moons and End Times

The Context of the Prophecy of Joel

“And I will cause wonders in the heavens and on the earth—blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and terrible day of the Lord arrives” (Joel 2:30-31).

There is a problem with the identification of Joel’s prophecy to some point in the distant future. Joel was addressing a time in which He would “pour out (His) Spirit upon all people” (Joel 2:28). This would be a time in which “Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days (God) will pour out (God’s) Spirit even on servants—men and women alike” (Joel 2:28b-29). In fact, this prophecy has already been fulfilled as seen in the next passage of Scripture. But the yom YHWH (Day of the Lord) can refer to many things. It could indicate the final day of the Lord just as it indicated the coming of the Spirit of God. However, to use the passage of Scripture to indicate something big with Israel alone is somewhat misleading and misguided. In fact, it takes the text out of context. There is no evidence that the blood moons that Hagee suggests took place at this time. Only that the Spirit of God was unleashed upon God’s elect.

 

The Context of Peter’s Quotation

“And I will cause wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below—blood and fire and clouds of smoke. The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives” (Acts 2:19-20).

The text in Acts is taken out of context if intended to refer to the end times because Peter does not relate the signs presented by Joel to predict a future point in time, but the current situation. Peter was not looking toward some future point being the end times, he was saying that the end times had already come. The end times are identified as a period of time beginning at Christ’s resurrection lasting until the return of Christ. In other words, God had stepped on the scene through His Son Jesus. The Spirit of God had come and rested upon God’s people.

 

The Olivet Discourse

Immediately after the anguish of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven…Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear. However, no one knows the day or hours when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows (Matthew 24:29-31, 35-36).

Jesus gives great insights concerning the end times in what is called the Olivet Discourse. For one, Jesus indicates that the sun will be darkened and the moon will give no light. It’s not that the moon turns red. This indicates a divine judgment upon creation. The sun will be on the verge of collapse (darken) and the moon will give no light as it receives no light from the sun.

Secondly, society will be overrun by corruption (as seen in the following passage of Scripture). People will not rejoice to see the Son of Man’s return. The world will mourn. What will this sign be? Jesus doesn’t say. But it will be a sign that everyone will recognize.

Third, Jesus suggests that He will return visibly for all to see and the angels of heaven will gather the elect from every land. Could this be what is termed the Rapture? It could if one holds to an eschatological system that allows such an event. Whatever one’s interpretation, it will be noticed that everyone will know that Christ has returned when He does.

Finally, Jesus presents a CRITICAL point. No one will know when Christ returns. No one. Everyone will see when Christ returns, but no one will know when He returns. Only the Father in heaven is privy to that information.

 

The End Times Teaching

The time is coming when you will long to see the day when the Son of Man returns, but you won’t see it. People will tell you, ‘Look, there is the Son of Man,’ or ‘Here he is,’ but don’t go out and follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other, so it will be on the day when the Son of Man comes…And the world will be as it was in the days of Lot. People went about their daily business—eating and drinking, buying and selling, farming and building—until the morning Lot left Sodom. Then fire and burning sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Yes, it will be ‘business as usual’ right up to the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day a person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return home (Luke 17:22-24, 28-31).

Jesus gives additional pointers in His end times teaching found in Luke 17. For one, notice that Jesus mentions that people will desire to see Christ’s coming but the time will not yet come. Jesus refers to the times surrounding His return to a time of great moral corruption much like Noah’s days and the days of Sodom. In other words, Jesus is saying, “It’s bad now…but it will get worse.” For this reason, this writer feels that the gauge of moral corruption is a far better test than the four blood moons as to when the possible appearing of the Lord.

Secondly, Jesus states that His return will be quick and thunderous. People will go about as if everything is normal. There are signs that Christ will return as listed in the previous passage, but people will not heed to those signs. People of the final time will be in love with their lives. In other words, signs will exist that the end is near, but no one will expect when the return of Christ actually transpires. Again, no one knows when this will happen…only God alone.

 

 The Focus and Conclusion

There is nothing wrong in having a heart focused on the return of Christ. The problem really comes when one spends all their time looking to the heavens for the return of Christ. The church has a mission. If one refuses to partake in this mission, that person will have to answer on the Christian day of judgment. But many times modern Christians become like the disciples on the day of the ascension. They were looking up as Jesus entered the heavenly realm. The angels accompanied them and said, “Men of Galilee…why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go” (Acts 1:11)! While it is good to anticipate the Lord’s return, we need to remember our calling. We are called to go forth making disciples for the cause of Christ.

While Hagee presents some interesting information concerning the four blood moons and the nation of Israel, this writer is unconvinced that these moons represent what it is purported to indicate. It is very possible that God will do something big with Israel in the next few years. However, this does not indicate that Jesus will return during this period of time, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate that Jesus won’t return either. In fact, Jesus could return as you finish reading this article. Or, Jesus could return while you are asleep. The fact is that Jesus is going to return at a time when no one expects His appearance. This day will be great for the one who is an ardent disciple of Christ, but a time of great mourning for the one who is not. That is why Joel calls the day of the Lord a “great and terrible day” (Joel 2:31).

 

 

Bibliography

New Living Translation, 3rd Ed. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2007.

Cain, Fraser. “Red Moon.” UniverseToday.com (October 23, 2008). http://www.universetoday.com/19969/red-moon/#ixzz32lgcz6dT. (Accessed May 25, 2014).

 

Hagee, John. (2003). http://fourbloodmoons.net/. (Accessed May 25, 2014).

Does the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Affect One’s Understanding about Jesus?

Image

Recent tests reveal that the fragment from what has been termed the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is an authentic find and not a modern forgery as many have suggested. The fragment contains a reference to Jesus speaking of His wife and claiming that she was one of the disciples. It is the scandalous type of stuff that one would expect from a Dan Brown novel. Karen King, the person who discovered the fragment, said “’The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ doesn’t prove that Jesus was married but sheds light on early Christians’ discussions about whether ‘the ideal mode of Christian’ life was a celibate one” (Boorstein 2014, Washington Post).

Of course when a discovery like this is made, the skeptics come out of the woodwork. For instance Hal Taussig, a New Testament professor who worked with King, took the issue a step farther than King when he said that “he believes the document is ancient and ostensibly as important as documents that make up the accepted New Testament…’Everything we have is a copy of a copy of a copy. We have no original documents…what you have are traditions of writings'” (Boorstein 2014, Washington Post). A few things need to be addressed concerning non-biblical writings and their comparison to the New Testament manuscripts.

 

Date of New Testament Manuscripts vs. Non-Canonical Manuscripts

Without going in great depth pertaining to the comment of Hal Taussig, it should be noted that the New Testament manuscripts date well within the first-century, some including the Gospel of Mark and 1 Corinthians, date well into the early part of the first-century. Concerning the issue of copies and dating, Norman Geisler writes,

New Testament manuscripts are now available from the third and fourth centuries, and fragments that may date back as far as the late first century. From these through the medieval centuries, the text remained substantially the same. There are earlier and more manuscripts for the New Testament than for any other book from the ancient world. While most books exist in ten or twenty manuscripts dating from a thousand years or more after they were composed, one nearly entire manuscript, the Chester Beatty Papyri, was copied in about 250. Another manuscript with the majority of the New Testament, called Vaticanus, is dated to about 325 (Geisler BDCA 1999, 93).

The fragment of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife dates to the “eighth-century” (Harvard.edu) which is far removed from the texts of the New Testament which date to the first-century. Even if the text came from an original dating to the fourth-century, it is far removed from the time of Jesus as opposed to the New Testament manuscripts which preserve early traditions and sayings of Jesus which some, as in the case of the formulation found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, date to the time of Christ.

 

Sects Surrounding New Testament Manuscripts vs. Sects Surrounding Non-Canonical Manuscripts

The key behind this discovery is learning more about early Christian sects…or those who claim to be “Christian.” In reality, the idea that Jesus was married is not a new. In an interview conducted by Kevin Emmert, non-canonical gospel scholar Nicolas Perrin states,

In the Coptic, the phrase really says, “Jesus said to them, ‘My woman…'” It could mean “woman” in the generic sense, but I think it just means his wife. The word is chime, which in this context, I think, means “wife.” And then it goes on to say, “she will be my disciple.” To me, this seems most reminiscent of another text dated to the third century AD, called The Gospel of Philip.

 

In the Gospel of Philip, there are intimations of Jesus being married, or at least having a partner. The Coptic term is a little ambiguous, at least regarding Mary. It’s a mysterious text, but what’s going on, to the best of our knowledge, in the Gospel of Philip is that Jesus and Mary are reconstituting a kind of mythic primeval androgyny. What the folks behind the Gospel of Philip are saying about Jesus is that he is the new Adam and Mary is the new Eve. And the whole point about redemption is to get male and female together once again (in my interpretation), but this time without sexual intercourse.

 

I believe the Gospel of Philip represents a sect where men and women cohabitated and followed Jesus, but forbade sexual intercourse within what would otherwise be a marriage relationship. So the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment could give theological warrant to that (Emmert 2014, CT).

 

Everett Ferguson points out in his textbook on the history of Christianity,

 Asceticism in varying degrees of self-denial (in matters of marriage and diet) had been practiced by some Christians from the earliest days of the church…In contrast…early asceticism did not regard matter as evil…Many females adopted the ascetic life, something obscured by the fact that most of the literature was written by males for males (Ferguson 2005, 228).

With this knowledge, it would seem that groups less inclined to orthodoxy would pseudonymously write books that would verify their practices. This would seem to be the case with The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife as well as The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Thomas, and so on.

 

Conclusion:

Nothing is really proven by this finding other than the fact that there existed unorthodox versions of Christianity early in Christian history. What becomes problematic is when scholars and individuals purport such finding as the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife as being on equal par with the New Testament documents. Note that Karen King, the discoverer of the fragment, never makes such a claim. It is only those who wish to gain notoriety or lots of money from a scandal that ever claim as much. One must wonder about the level of scholarship and honesty from those who make such assertions. Someone once said, “Controversy creates cash.” It is unfortunate when such a mentality enters the realm of biblical scholarship. Perhaps the most scandalous of all is the reality that Christianity is built upon a firm foundation. For some, confirming the Christian message brings more ire and annoyance than claiming that defacing the American flag.

 

Bibliography

Boorstein, Michelle. “Harvard journal says ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ is ancient, not a modern forgery.” Washington Post.com. (April 10, 2014). http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/harvard-journal-says-gospel-of-jesus-wife-is-ancient-not-a-modern-forgery/2014/04/10/7b172910-c0f7-11e3-bcec-b71ee10e9bc3_story.html. (Accessed April 14, 2014).

 

Emmert, Kevin P. “How to date Jesus’ wife: New tests suggest a manuscript fragment is ancient after all…” Christianity Today.com. (April 11, 2014). http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/april-web-only/gospel-of-jesus-wife-nicholas-perrin.html?paging=off. (Accessed April 14, 2014).

 

Ferguson, Everett. Church History: Volume 1—From Christ to Pre-Reformation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

 

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

Harvard University. http://gospelofjesusswife.hds.harvard.edu/QA. (Accessed April 14, 2014).

The Case for the Ascension of Christ

ascension-jesus

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

Introduction

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

 

Views Concerning the Ascension of Christ

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

 The Secular View of the Ascension of Christ

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

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

 The Evangelical View of the Ascension of Christ

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

 

The Historical Necessity

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

 Internal Evidence

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

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

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

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

 External Evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Theological Necessity

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

 Paul’s Reference to the Ascension

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

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

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

 John’s Reference to the Ascension

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

 The Writer of Hebrews’ Reference to the Ascension

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

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

 Peter’s Reference to the Ascension

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

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

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

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

 

The Eschatological Necessity

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

John 14:3

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

1 Corinthians 15:20-23

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

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

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

Philippians 2:9-10

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

 

Conclusion

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

 

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

[3] Ibid, 26.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[10] Ibid, 49.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[23] Wilson, 50.

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

[25]N. T. Wright, 334.

[26] Farnell, 33.

[27] N. T. Wright, 33.

[28]Wilson, 49.

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

[30] Brasfield, Logos Bible Software.

Essential Doctrines (Part 10): The Return of Christ

jesus-2nd-coming-pics   The final essential doctrine on our list is the doctrine of the return of Christ. The return of Christ may have various interpretations as to when the return will occur, but there is no debate that the return of Christ will occur. Let the reader know that this writer does not support any date-setting by any person be they orthodox in their beliefs or be they of a cult. As one will see, the time of Christ’s return is unknowable by the human mind. I have said more than one time that even if someone were to accurately date the moment of Christ’s return that God would probably delay the return of Christ just to prove that person wrong. This article will seek to present the details of the doctrine concerning the return of Christ, give reasons why the doctrine should be believed, and why the doctrine is essential in nature.

What is the doctrine?

 The doctrine of the return of Christ, or the parousia, speaks to the physical return of Jesus upon the earth. Theologians differ on the events surrounding the return of Christ. Certain variations exist around the thousand year reign of Christ as mentioned in Revelation 20 where Satan will be bound. Amillennialists believe that the thousand year reign is allegorical and refers to the time between Christ’s ascension and the final return to earth. Millard Erickson states that amillennialists believe that “there will be no millennium, no earthly reign of Christ…it is a simpler view than any of the others that we have been considering” (Erickson 1998, 1218). Millennialists believe that the millennial reign is a literal reign of Christ on earth. Millennialists differ as to when Christ will return around this reign. Post-millennialists believe that Christ will return at the close of the millennium. Like amillennialists, post-millennials believe that the millennium is the reign of Christ found in the church between the ascension of Christ and the second advent of Christ. Post-millennials are optimistic. Post-millennials believe that the world will finally embrace the gospel message and become better and better until Christ returns. As far as the millennial reign, somewhat like amillennials, post-millennials believe that the church age is the millennial reign of Christ.

Pre-millennials are not so optimistic. Pre-millennials believe that Christ will return before establishing the earthly millennial reign on earth. Pre-millennials believe that the world will become more and more perverse before the return of Christ. Traditionally, pre-millennials are divided into three camps based on their interpretation of Christ’s return around a period of time called the Great Tribulation. The Great Tribulation is a period where the anti-Christ (Satan’s representative on earth) will arise and lead a massive rebellion against the church. The division among Christians stems from when the coming of Christ will occur around this time of tribulation.  Pre-tribulationalists believe that Christ will return to “rapture” (from Latin “raptura”), or rescue the church, from the time of tribulation (a time when the anti-Christ will reign and the judgment of God commences) which will be followed by the return of Christ ushering in the millennial reign. For pre-tribulationalists, the rapture will resurrect the saints of God while the Second Coming of Christ will usher in the resurrection of the unbelievers. So in essence, there is a second (rapture) and third (advent) appearances of Christ. Post-tribulationalists believe that the rapture and return of Christ are the same event which will occur following the time of tribulation and ushering in the millennial reign of Christ. Post-tribulationalism is much darker than pre-tribulationalism. For post-tribulationalists, the church will endure extreme persecutions towards the end of time. Mid-tribulationalists believe that Christ’s rapture will occur during the middle of the tribulation.

 While theologians differ as to when the return of Christ will occur, all Christians will agree that the return of Christ will occur. The New Testament speaks in great depth as to the return of Jesus Christ. Contrary to what many date-setters would have you believe, the gospels state that the time of return of Christ is unknown (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32). It is also said that Christ will restore all things (Acts 3:21; Romans 8:21). Jesus will appear visibly (1 Peter 1:7). Jesus’ return is foretold by the prophets (Daniel 7:13; Jude 1:14), by Jesus Himself (Matthew 25:31; John 14:3), the apostles (Acts 3:20; 1 Timothy 6:14), and angels (Acts 1:10, 11). Jesus tells of signs that will precede His return (Matthew 24:3-51).

 Of Jesus’ return, it is said that Jesus will come in the clouds (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7), in the glory of the Father (Matthew 16:27), with power and great glory (Matthew 25:31), with the shout of the archangel (1 Thessalonians 4:16), joined with angels (Matthew 16:27), and with the saints (1 Thessalonians 3:13). Jesus’ return will take place at a time when no one expects (Matthew 24:44) and would take place suddenly (Mark 13:36) like a thief in the night (2 Peter 3:10) and as the lightning (Matthew 24:27) in which everyone will see (Revelation 1:7) Christ in His glory.

  

Why should the doctrine be believed?

 Four particular reasons exist, among others about why a person should believe in the return of Jesus Christ to earth.

 The Ascension of Christ

 One of the reasons that a person should believe in the return of Christ is due to the ascension of Christ. Luke writes, “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9-10). The ascension of Christ indicates that Christ passed into the heavenly dimension. A recent paper that I wrote will be posted on this website soon. The paper presents a case for the ascension of Christ as a real event. Look for it on the website soon. What will be said in the brief portion we have in this article is that if the ascension is true in that Christ passed into the heavenly realm, then it can be expected that Christ will return in like manner. The disciples were left with the promise that this “Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11b).

 The Promises of Christ

 If a person is proven to be trustworthy, then it is easier to trust that person’s promises. Jesus made several promises which were fulfilled. Jesus told the disciples that He would be crucified and resurrected. For instance, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The apostle later explained that Jesus was “speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:21-22). Jesus fulfilled the amazing promise of His resurrection from the dead. If Jesus fulfilled what seemed to be an unlikely promise, than Jesus can be trusted when He claimed that He would “go and prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2b-3). Since Jesus went to heaven with a resurrected body, the promise of Jesus includes the resurrection of the believer (1 Corinthians 15). Therefore, Jesus promised to return and bring a new form of existence. This will be fulfilled in the ascension which adds one more reason to accept the ascension as a real event.

 The Proof of an Afterlife

 Is there evidence for an afterlife? Due to recent indications, it seems so. The resurrection of Christ is one such evidence and the evidence of those He brought back from death. But, is there any modern evidence that supports such a claim? Near-death experiences seem to provide such evidence. Near-death experiences (NDEs) are experiences that a person has outside the body. Several accounts exist where individuals have experienced God and loved ones in heaven and came back to tell about the experience. But, as Gary Habermas suggests, “the experiences of heaven and hell cannot be proven scientifically. What we are looking for is evidence to suggest that people witness things in this world while out of the body. That is verifiable” (Habermas, 2013). Of such cases, the evidence is strong. Habermas and Licona state that, concerning NDEs, “the amount of verification is sometimes staggering. People blind from birth have correctly recalled visual details of things around them and outside their presence. Many of these near-death details were of events occurring when the individual had no heartbeat or brain wave activity, as indicated by ‘flat’ EKG and EEG readings, sometimes over lengthy periods of time” (Habermas and Licona 2004, 146). Some have dismissed NDEs due to philosophical and theological problems such as atheists experiencing heaven. What must be remembered in such cases is that the atheist experienced something while it was known…at least to God…that the atheist would return to his/her body. Would the same result have occurred if the person were to remain apart from the body? It would not according to the Bible. The fact is; God may use different means to reach people. For instance, Paul was not a believer when he experienced the Risen Jesus on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-19). Jesus, in fact, told Paul, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6, NIV). Most individuals who have these NDE experiences are changed for the good after having experienced them. Some would ask, “Yeah Pastor Brian, but what of all the differences between the experiences? Doesn’t that negate the experience’s validity?” Those are great questions. However, there may be reasons for the differences. While all the claims of Eben Alexander are not agreed upon by this writer, nonetheless Alexander, a man who had a phenomenal NDE in Virgina, gives a possible explanation as to why there are differences in the experiences. Alexander said that “because I experienced the nonlinear nature of time in the spiritual world so intensely, I can now understand why so much writing on the spiritual dimension can seem distorted or simply nonsensical from our earthly perspective” (Alexander 2012, 143). It would seem that it would be difficult for a person to relay the information found in the heavenly dimension to the earthly sphere. Perhaps this is why one finds so many symbols in apocalyptic literature such as the book of Revelation. Nonetheless, the evidence for an afterlife is so strong that the naturalist may find it difficult to explain away all the cases of NDEs. Furthermore, while NDEs do not prove the return of Christ as a reality, it does demerit the naturalist’s claim that the return of Christ is impossible.

 

Why is the doctrine essential?

 The doctrine is essential due to the promise of glorification. Glorification refers to the “time, when, at the parousia, those who died in Christ and the living believers will be given resurrection bodies” (Grider 2001, 484). Also, the doctrine is essential due to the establishment of a new physical order of creation. In other words, it is at the return of Christ that the resurrection of humanity will take place (for pre-tribulational, pre-millennial theologians; the resurrection of the righteous will take place at the rapture and the resurrection of the wicked will take place at the second coming of Christ). Also, it is at this time that God will make all of creation new (Isaiah 65:17). Erickson, perhaps, puts it best as he writes that the “doctrine of the second coming is sometimes made a topic of quarreling among Christians. It is instead, as Paul indicated, an encouragement to hope and comfort…” (Erickson 2001, 1083).

 Jesus Second Coming-06

Conclusion

 Since Jesus has lived up to all of His promises, the promise of Christ’s second return should be trusted as well. For Christ has made the impossible…possible and the unbelievable…believable. For the believer, the return of Christ completes the circle of essential doctrines. The return of Christ will prove the existence of God to all of humanity forevermore; will rectify the problem of sin forevermore; will complete the work of the incarnation, atonement, and justification of faith found in the work of Christ; will bring forth the final resurrection as Christ was raised; will demonstrate the triune nature of God as the Spirit brings people from the dead, are confronted by the Risen Son, while being ushered into the Father’s presence; the church will be perfected in the kingdom of God; and the kingdom of the Devil will be quarantined forevermore. This concludes our list of essential doctrines. These essential doctrines make up the crux of classical Christian orthodoxy. While there may be differences of opinion on precise matters, these general doctrines comprise the primary beliefs that make Christians Christian.

  

Bibliography

 Alexander, Eben, M.D. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012.

 All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from The New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

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

 Erickson, Millard J. “Second Coming of Christ.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

 Grider, J. K. “Glorification.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

 Habermas, Gary. “Ten Reasons for the Fall of Atheism.” Lecture. National Conference of Christian Apologetics. Southern Evangelical Seminary. Charlotte: First Baptist Church of Indian Trail. (October 2013).

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

 Many references were obtained from Torrey, R. A. The New Topical Text Book: A Scriptural Text Book for the Use of Ministers, Teachers, and All Christian Workers. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001.

 Scripture quotations marked as (NIV) come from The New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.