Combating Independence Day Anxieties

On Monday, July 4th, 2016, Americans will celebrate the 240th annual Independence Day. On July 4th, 1776, the United States declared its independence from England. Americans will gather in various locations to watch fireworks and cook outdoors to celebrate their freedoms. However, this Independence Day is marked by various anxieties. Americans have watched many of their cherished freedoms diminish at the altar of political correctness. Many are uncertain about what lies ahead for their beloved nation which has served as a bastion of freedom for 240 years. Bible-believing Christians comprise many who hold such concerns. How is it possible to truly relish in Independence Day with such anxieties tormenting us? I would like to suggest four ways to combat anxiety on Independence Day.

1. Combat Independence Day anxieties by trusting in
God’s sovereignty.

The sovereignty of God is more than a doctrine of a solid systematic theology. God’s sovereignty provides a distinguished trust. When a person acknowledges that God is in control, worries and concerns tend to fade away. Divine sovereignty is tied-in to God’s omnipotence. John S. Feinberg notes that God’s sovereignty means that “God is the ultimate, final, and complete authority over everything and everyone…God’s sovereign will is also free, for nobody forces him to do anything, and whatever he does is in accord with his purposes and wishes” (Feinberg 2001, 294). If we were to understand that God is moving to bring about a certain end in mind, saving as many people that He knows would be saved, then the anxious times we currently experience would lose the power of uncertainty. For nothing is uncertain with God.

2. Combat Independence Day anxieties by remembering the Church’s past redemptions.

If you are like me, then you have a long-term memory problem. By that, I mean to indicate that I often find myself forgetting about the ways that God has moved in my life before this time. I eventually worry about things that God has already delivered me from in the past. A classic example of this behavior is found with the disciples. Jesus had fed 5,000 men along with countless women and children with a few loaves of bread and fish (Matthew 14:13-21, ESV). The sum total of those fed that day probably ranged in excess of 20,000 people!

Interestingly enough, the disciples were met with another instance where their food supply had dwindled. Jesus told the disciples again, just as He had previously, to feed the crowd. The disciples, yet again, said, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place” (Matthew 15:33, ESV)? I can imagine Jesus saying, “Seriously?!? Are you kidding Me?!?” Well, that would be my response nonetheless. It’s easy for us to forget about how God has moved in the past.

As the modern Church faces restrictions in religious freedoms, it is important to note that the Church has experienced situations like this in the past. In fact, the Church was born in a hostile society where believers comprised the vast minority. God has delivered the Church in uncertain time. Naysayers who claimed that the Church would not make it 100 years from their time have been greatly disappointed countless times over. Voltaire is such an example. Before worrying about your present, remember the Church’s past.

3. Combat Independence Day anxieties by working the present calling.

Many modern Christians are tempted to become calloused and angry over the situations arising. While it is imperative that we stand up for religious freedoms and take our voting responsibilities seriously as Americans, we must not forget the primary calling upon our lives. We are not called to be patriots first, Christians second. Rather, we are called to be Christians first, patriots second. Often believers are tempted to focus more on the things we oppose than the things for which we stand. It must be remembered that the entire law of God can be summarized into two commandments, as Jesus masterfully put it, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT).

Our first love must be for God and God alone. But in addition to this, we must remember that we are called to love our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? It is the Christian: both conservative and otherwise. It is the Arab and the Jew; the Muslim and Hindu. It is the Buddhist and Sikh. It is the Wiccan, the Atheist, the Agnostic, and Secularist. It is the Republican and the Democrat. It is the Liberal and the Conservative. It is the White person, the Black person, the Asian, and Latino. It is the American, the Canadian, the Russian, and the Mexican. It is those who live like you and those who do not, those who share your values and those who do not. All of the aforementioned individuals are made in the image of God…even if the person mentioned doesn’t realize that fact.

This brings us to the issue of calling. What is the primary calling for the Church united? Jesus has told us from the beginning that our primary calling is to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT). Does this mean that we still stand for the truth uncompromisingly? Absolutely we do! But one’s stand must never be allowed to waver one’s commitment to love others the way Christ instructed. If we remember to see others through the lens of Christ, then we will be better focused on the task at hand.

4. Combat Independence Day anxieties by acknowledging future victory.

Beloved, I was reminded of a great truth the other day in my devotions. I came across Paul’s reminder to the Church of Rome where he notes that “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are…And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:18-19, 28, NLT). Russell D. Moore tells us that a good way to remember the future coming is to walk around in an old graveyard and while doing so, he writes,

“think about what every generation of Christians has held against the threat of sword and guillotine and chemical weaponry. This stillness will one day be interrupted by a shout from the eastern sky, a joyful call with a distinctly northern Galilean accent. And that’s when life gets interesting” (Moore 2014, 721).

Undoubtedly, we live in uncertain days. But the promise that our heavenly Independence Day brings us is that we are redeemed to live a life without worry and anxiety. Our sins have been forgiven. We have a purpose and a high calling upon our lives. So, this Independence Day, instead of mourning the things we have lost as Americans, why not focus on the things we have gained through our risen Lord Jesus?

© July 3, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Moore, Russell D. “Personal and Cosmic Eschatology.” In A Theology for the Church. Revised Edition. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014.

Scripture marked ESV comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013.

Advertisements

The Graces of God (1 Corinthians 15:10-11)

During the building of the Golden Gate Bridge over San Francisco Bay, construction fell badly behind schedule because several workers had accidentally fallen from the scaffolding to their deaths. Engineers and administrators could find no solution to the costly delays. Finally, someone suggested a gigantic net be hung under the bridge to catch any who fell. Finally, in spite of the enormous cost, the engineers opted for the net. After it was installed, progress was hardly interrupted. A worker or two fell into the net but were saved. Ultimately, all the time lost to fear was regained by replacing fear with faith in the net. God has given us a net of protection. His net is called salvation. One of the attributes of God that emanate from his loving nature is that of grace. God’s grace is defined as “God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment.”[i] God is never obligated to show such grace. Rather, it is an act completely done of his own free will.

I am a congruist, meaning that I believe that God’s sovereignty and human freedom completely work in harmony. Thus, I accept terms concerning God’s grace that come from both the Calvinist and Arminian. I have a friend on social media from New Jersey, named Jose Nieves. He calls this “Calminianism.” There may be something to his claim. Millard J. Erickson says that congruism “holds that God works congruously with the will of the individual; that is, God works in such a suasive way with the will of the individual that the person freely makes the choice that God intends.”[ii] Congruism “gives primary place to God’s sovereignty, while seeking to relate it in a positive way to human freedom and individuality. This theology is a dualism in which the second element is contingent on or derived from the first.”[iii]

Side Note: The system of congruism, in my opinion, is not so much found in Calvinism or Arminianism. Rather, it is the admonition that God’s sovereignty and human freedom work in harmony. I think I noted this in a previous article. I had a professor who once said that salvation was like walking through a door. When one entered the door, they would notice over the door frame the words “Whosoever will, let him enter.” After one has passed through the door and looks back upon the frame, one would find the words written “Only the elect will enter.” I think this sums up the system quite well. Nevertheless, I digress. This article is about the graces of God, not congruism.

1. God’s PREVENIENT grace (15:10b; Romans 5:6, 8; Matthew 5:45; Heb. 1:2-3).

In the second section of 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul notes that “his grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:10b).[iv] Paul has just given an ancient creed dating from the time of the earliest church (1 Cor. 15:3-7). Some scholars believe that this creed may have found its root just from a few weeks to year after the actual resurrection took place. Gary Habermas notes that the early creed found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 “links the historical life of Jesus, and the central Christian message of the gospel, in particular (vv. 3-4), with those eyewitnesses who testified to his resurrection appearances, beginning on the third day after his death (vv. 5-7). In addition, Paul had not only met some of these witnesses personally (Gal. 1:18-19; 2:9), but he explains that his message concerning these facts is identical with their eyewitness testimony (1 Cor. 15:11; cf. 15:14, 15).”[v] Paul explains that this historical event made him who he was and that God’s reaching work to save was not in vain.

Prevenient grace is “God’s grace given to all humans indiscriminately.”[vi] Some refer to prevenient grace as common grace. Some identify prevenient grace in differing ways. Prevenient grace holds the idea that God knows what free people would do in particular circumstances. Erickson argues that “God has a foreknowledge of possibilities. God foresees what possible beings will do if placed in a particular situation with all the influences that will be present at that point in time and space.”[vii] In other words, God issues grace to all people. Jesus said that the Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). The writer of Hebrews states that Christ “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). All of us have experienced God’s grace in one way or another. Our existence is an example of God’s great grace.

We often have a tendency to look for the negative. However, we all have reasons to be positive. Regardless of where we are in life, God has bestowed his grace upon us. Just being here to listen to this little message demonstrates the great grace of God that is upon us.

2. God’s EFFECTUAL grace (15:11; John 6:37, 39).

Paul shows that God’s effectual grace, or persuasive grace, is often brought forth through the preaching of the gospel. Paul notes that “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (15:11). Thiselton notes that “whether we are talking about how God’s grace became operative through other apostles…or we are considering Paul as an example of one who received grace and witnessed Christ’s appearance, the apostolic keryma retains the common basis to which the common tradition (vv. 3b-5…) bears united witness.”[viii] In other words, God persuades us to faith much as he did the apostles.

Effectual, or effective, grace indicates that it is “efficacious, that is, effective, to those to whom it is given.”[ix] Norman Geisler compares this to a courtship. “God will woo and court so persuasively that those willing to respond will be overwhelmed by His love.”[x] This is the compelling of the Holy Spirit that we experience when we come to faith. In fact, the entire process of God’s wooing us is a matter of grace. God could have left us as we were. However, God loved us so much that he wanted us to have life eternal. The atonement is brought through the work on the cross, but is applied by the wooing of the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus said that “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).

When you courted your spouse, you were in the process of trying to woo that person. God demonstrates his effectual grace by persuading, but not forcing, you into a covenantal relationship with himself.

3. God’s SUFFICIENT grace (15:10a; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:22).

In the first part of verse 10, Paul says that “by the grace of God I am what I am” (15:10a). He has been made what he is by the salvific grace that he experienced through Christ Jesus. Christ’s grace made him both a child of God as well as an apostle.

Sufficient grace, or saving grace, is “God’s grace extended to us to establish a spiritual relationship with God and to grow believers in that relationship.”[xi] God brings us into this relationship. This relationship is sufficient to do the task. You see, salvation is not about a one-time prayer. Many hold the idea that you come to Christ, say a little prayer, and that’s all she wrote. That’s not the case. God regenerates us by this faith. He makes us into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). He also justifies us in the faith. This means he claims us as forgiven (Rom. 2:24). God also sanctifies us. This means God works in our lives to make us more into the image of Christ (Rom. 15:16; 1 Cor. 6:11). Eventually, this salvation also means that we will be glorified by God’s grace (Rev. 21:2-3). God does not give us a partial salvation. He goes all the way with his grace.

The writer of Hebrews states, “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus said, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:39-40). Jesus also says, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:29-30). God will save us and he will keep us in the faith.

Craig Groeschel tells the story of being pulled over for an expired tag. He was taken in front of the judge in traffic court. Before him, there were several individuals who would say, “It’s not my fault. I shouldn’t be required to pay the fine.” The judge called Groeschel in front of the court. He said, “What’s your story?” Groeschel responded, “I was driving without a tag.” The judge asked, “What did you say?!?” Groeschel said, “Yes, Your Honor. You heard me correctly. I…am…guilty…I am an idiot.” Groeschel goes on to say, “The judge announced mockingly, loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘We’ve got this guilty person standing in a room full of innocent people. I’ve got to quickly get this idiot out of here before he corrupts the rest of you innocent people. Craig Groeschel, you are free to go. You don’t have to pay the fine. It’s all forgiven.”[xii] We often accuse God of being unfair. However, we really don’t want God to be completely fair. I repeat, we do not want God to be completely fair. Because if he were completely fair, we would not be going to heaven. Grace is a gift given to those who are undeserving. We did not deserve heaven. But God, being gracious as he is, gave heaven to us of his own free will!!! Praise God for his grace today!!!

Copyright, April, 29, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[i] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 200.

[ii] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 385.

[iii] Ibid., 448.

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

[v] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 30.

[vi] Erickson, Christian Theology, 933.

[vii] Ibid., 387.

[viii] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1213.

[ix] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Bible Publishers, 2008), 346.

[x] Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will, 3rd ed (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010), 104.

[xi] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 355.

[xii] Ibid., 103-104.

7 Questions from “Who is God”

This past Sunday, the third episode of Morgan Freeman’s show The Story of God: The Story of Us as aired on the National Geographic Channel. The third episode dealt with how God is understood to be in various cultures and religions. Again, I am profoundly surprised at how well this show has been made. The show has not attacked any particular worldview, as I feared that it would. Rather, the show has taken a fairly neutral position while evaluating some major topics. This episode was no different. The third episode dealt with the issue “Who is God?” This article will seek to answer 7 questions that were raised during the show from a Christian perspective.

 

  1. Is there one God or several gods?

By sheer necessity, there is only one ultimate uncaused cause. If there were several gods or goddesses, one would have to ask “How did such a number of gods arise?” It seems to me that one would be forced to accept a first uncaused cause. While it is possible to accept a multiplicity of gods and goddesses, it makes better sense to accept that only one God exists. Why? Well, I think Thomas Aquinas answers this well. Aquinas states,

 “When the existence of a cause is demonstrated from an effect, this effect takes the place of the definition of the cause in proof of the cause’s existence. This is especially the case in regard to God, because, in order to prove the existence of anything, it is necessary to accept as a middle term the meaning of the word, and not its essence, for the question of its essence follows on the question of its existence. Now the names given to God are derived from His effects; consequently, in demonstrating the existence of God from His effects, we make take for the middle term the meaning of the word ‘God.’”[1]

From sheer necessity, only one God must exist. Thus, God could manifest himself in several ways, but in the end there is but only one God.

 

  1. How does one connect to God?

If by connecting, one means relating to God, then one can connect with God in various ways. Morgan Freeman is right when he notes that it is sometimes difficult to relate to a transcendent God. However, God has given us means to relate to him. One way people connect with God is through prayer. Prayer is a means by which we can communicate with God and a way that God communicates with us.[2] Another way a person connects to God is through the written Word of God. The Scriptures are God’s revelation to all humanity. A third way a person can connect with God is through the intellect. A person can connect with God by learning more about God. Fourth, a person can connect with God through nature. As the psalmist notes, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).[3] Lastly, a person can ultimately connect with God through a relationship with Christ. When one receives Christ, the Bible tells us that the believer is filled with the Holy Spirit of God (John 14:15ff).

 

  1. Has God revealed himself to several people throughout the world?

There is but only one ultimate truth. However, this is not to say that God has not been trying to reveal himself to various peoples throughout the world. Solomon writes that God “has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). So, I am not saying that all religions are the same. Such is not logically possible. However, I feel it is quite possible that God has been trying to reveal himself throughout all of history. Ultimately, the full revelation came through Jesus of Nazareth, the “only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16).

 

  1. How do we know what’s divine?

Only God is truly divine in the purest sense. However, human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1-2). Thus, human beings bear the mark of divinity (although we are not divine). But in fact, all things bear the mark of God in reality because “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). So, only one person is truly divine (God), yet all things bear the imprint of the divine as God created all things.

 

  1. Can we imagine God?

In a way, yes. In a way, no. I think Norman Geisler puts it best. Geisler notes that “Although God can be apprehended, He cannot be comprehended.[4] Paul writes, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:9). Thus, we cannot say that we know everything about God. If we could, we would be God.

 

  1. Does God indwell us?

We all bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26). However, God indwells each person who receives Christ as Savior. This person is known as the Holy Spirit.

 

  1. Can we experience God?

Yes! Absolutely we can! We experience the blessings of God every day. However, the only way to fully experience God is through a relationship with Christ Jesus. See also the answer to the second question.[5]

 

Much more could be said about God. In reality, the third episode of Freeman’s documentary as well as this article has focused more upon how humanity knows God. Such a knowledge of God is called revelation. God has revealed himself both through natural revelation (available to all) and special revelation (delivered to those of faith). If a person has not experienced God, it is highly advised that the person seek God and ask God to reveal himself.

 

© April 18, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.2.2., in Thomas Aquinas, Summa of the Summa, Peter Kreeft, ed., Fathers of the Dominican Province, trans (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 59.

[2] Some individuals have argued that God does not communicate with a person through prayer. With all due respect, I have found such arguments greatly lacking. God has spoken to a vast array of individuals in the Bible through the means of prayer (e.g. Habakkuk, Job, Elijah, Isaiah, and so on). To claim that God cannot speak to a person in prayer discredits the power and personal nature of God. However, I agree that one should always “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) to ensure that one is truly hearing from God.

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

[4] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 529.

[5] Also, check out the discipleship program Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, and Claude V. King.

6 Questions about Death Answered by the Bible

On the National Geographic Channel, Morgan Freeman hosts a documentary called The Story of God: The Story of Us. I must say that I did not know what to expect going into this series. Would this documentary serve as an attack on the Christian faith? Would the documentary serve a hidden agenda? While I do believe that the documentary (like any documentary, show, book, or movie) does hold to a particular worldview that it holds in place, I was pleasantly surprised that the first installment of the show was well done and not confrontational towards the Christian faith. Over the next few weeks, I wish to evaluate the topics presented on the show from a Christian worldview.

The first episode of The Story of God confronted the idea of death. Freeman’s documentary brought six questions to mind. This article will provide those six questions and brief answers. For each of these questions, we could devote an entire article to each. Thus, to say that these answers are abbreviated is indeed an understatement.

Question 1: Why do people die?

Death is defined as the cessation of life. Human death (Heb. “mawet;” Gk. “Thanatos”) is a direct result of sin. Solomon writes, “The wages of the righteous is life, but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death” (Proverbs 10:16).[1] The apostle Paul states more explicitly that the “wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Paul also states that “just as sin entered the world through one man (referring to Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The Bible also acknowledges two kinds of death: physical death (Romans 5:12) and spiritual death, or “second death” (Rev. 20:14). The second death refers to an eternal existence in an abode apart from the eternal presence of God (Rev. 20:14-15; Mark 9:47-48), otherwise known as hell.

Question 2: How did Jewish believers up to the time of Christ view life after death?

In Freeman’s documentary, it was noted that the Jews of Jesus’ day did not hold a clear perception of what happened after death. However, this is not necessarily true. Whereas Old Testament is not as explicit concerning the afterlife as is the New Testament, the lack of the OT’s explicit nature of the afterlife does not indicate the absence of any teachings on the matter. The OT describes the afterlife as a shadowy place called Sheol. It is not non-existence, but it is not the same as life on earth either. Many scholars hold that the Jewish people in the OT and of the time of Second Temple Judaism[2] held to a two-tiered view of Sheol. This is clearly seen in Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). However, this view did not originate with Jesus. The commentators of the Faithlife Study Bible denote that “The ot more broadly contains definite hints of a hope beyond sheol for the righteous.”[3] Asaph notes in Psalm 73 that God will “guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me to glory” (Psalm 73:24). N. T. Wright also suggests that the Pharisees of the Second Temple Judaism period “held to a belief in resurrection in this period…had also developed regular ways of describing the intermediate state.[4] In that world, nobody supposed the dead were already raised; resurrection, as we have seen, describes new bodily life after a present mode of ‘life after death’.”[5]

It appears that there may have been an idea of a type of heavenly and hellish existence compartmentalized in the Sheol concept. Wayne Grudem states that “it seems likely that Old Testament believers also entered immediately into heaven and enjoyed a time of fellowship with God upon their death. However, it may well have been true that additional rich blessings and much greater rejoicing came to them when Christ returned to heaven at his ascension.”[6] In my estimation, while I do feel that the believers of the OT period entered into a paradise (a conscious existence with God), I do not feel that they had full access that would have been available until after Christ’s death.

Question 3: Does the Bible teach reincarnation?

No. Reincarnation finds its home in pantheistic (Buddhist) and panentheistic (Hinduism) worldviews. Reincarnation is the view that a soul passes from an earthly mode of existence to another mode of earthly existence until one becomes pure energy (like God). If a person lives a bad life, they may come back as a rodent in the next life. If someone lives a righteous life, they may continue to escalate the human experience until they exit the wheel of reincarnation and enter into the abode of God (pure energy). In stark contrast, the Bible teaches that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

Question 4: What does the Bible teach will happen to a person after they die?

The NT expounds upon the base work given in the OT concerning the intermediate state and the resurrection. The Bible teaches that once a person dies he or she will be taken into the presence of God in what is called an intermediate state. Evidence of this doctrine is found in Jesus’ promise to the repentant crucified victim (Luke 23:43) as well as Paul’s teaching that one who leaves the body goes to the direct presence of God (2 Cor. 5:8). After the intermediate state, God will resurrect all people at the end of human history. Some will be resurrected to eternal life with God (Rev. 20:6) and some will be resurrected with bodies to face eternal punishment (Rev. 20:11-14).

Question 5: Does the Bible teach the doctrine of purgatory?

The issue of purgatory was not examined in Freeman’s documentary; however, purgatory is a doctrine held in some Christian denominations. Purgatory is the idea that righteous individuals will have to face a period of time in fire for unconfessed sins. Those in purgatory serve their time and then are ushered into heaven. But, is there any biblical evidence for such a view?

No. The only comparable teaching that is similar to the doctrine of purgatory is that of the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). While one’s deeds are tested by fire, it does not appear that the person is in the fire (1 Cor. 3:13), rather one’s deeds are tested. Good deeds are offered as rewards. Bad deeds are destroyed by the fire. Thus, one can assume that purgatory does not hold a biblical basis, whereas the Judgment Seat of Christ does.

Question 6: What is the resurrection and why is it necessary?

Resurrection is the final reunification of soul and body. The body will be a glorified body which will never more die (1 Cor. 15:35ff). While the Bible teaches a duality of soul and body, it is clear that both soul and body are meant to be unified in a holistic fashion.[7] Therefore, while the soul is saved and the mind transformed, the body will be the last to be redeemed. The body will be redeemed at the resurrection of the dead.

This article has examined some of the questions that arose from watching Morgan Freeman’s documentary The Story of God: The Story of Us. Each of these questions deserve greater examination which we may do in future articles.

 

(c) April 4, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

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

[2] The time leading up to the first century AD.

[3] John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012).

[4] That is, the period between death and the final resurrection.

[5] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 133.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 822.

[7] Norman Geisler calls this view “hylomorphism” which “holds that there is a form/matter unity between soul and body.” Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 736. This does not mean that there is not some form of dualism between soul and body and neither does it negate the existence of a conscious existence in the intermediate state. Rather, it holds that the soul and body are meant to be unified and will in its complete recreation.

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).

A Case for the Empty Tomb (Part 3-The Biblical and Theological Arguments)

For the previous couple of weeks, we have looked into the veritability of the empty tomb hypothesis; that is, that the tomb of Jesus was literally found empty on the first Easter Sunday morning. We have already confirmed historically that the tomb was found empty due to the burial practices of the first-century Jews and also due to the numerous times that Romans allowed clemency for the families to bury the victims of crucifixion especially during the days of Emperor Tiberius (things radically changed in this regard with Emperor Caligula). We have also noted the failure of alternate viewpoints in explaining away the empty tomb. In this article, we will conclude our research as we investigate the biblical and theological arguments for the empty tomb. The biblical argument will ask the question, “Did the early church really believe that the tomb was found empty the first Easter Sunday?” The theological argument will weigh how much Christian theology revolves around the empty tomb hypothesis. Why would the early church value these important attributes of Jesus if the tomb still held the body of Jesus?

The Biblical Argument for Accepting the Empty Tomb Hypothesis

Did the early church believe that the tomb was empty? Scholars hold that strewn throughout the pages of the New Testament are ancient traditions. These ancient traditions predate the writing of the New Testament and represent the beliefs of the earliest church. Gary Habermas notes that some of the passages considered to be ancient traditions in addition to 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 “receiving scholarly attention are 1 Corinthians 11:26…Acts, especially 2:22-36, 4:8-10, 5:29-32, 10:39-43, 13:28-31, 17:1-3, 30-31; Romans 4:25; Philippians 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:6; [and] 1 Peter 3:18.”[1] In addition to these passages, Habermas also notes that “Matthew 27:26-56; Mark 15:20-47; Luke 23:26-56; [and] John 19:16-42”[2] represent ancient traditions that date to the time of the earliest church. Licona adds Romans 6:4 to the forum.[3] Of the numerous traditions listed, the paper will evaluate only two that pertain most directly to the empty tomb: the original ending of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:1-8),[4] and 1 Corinthians 15:3-7.

Scholarly consensus along with evidence in the earliest manuscripts indicates that Mark’s Gospel ended at Mark 16:8. Whereas Mark 16:1-8 does not enjoy the consensus that some of the other traditions hold, Licona notes that there “appear to be close similarities between the four-line formula in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 and other passages such as Mark 15:37-16:7 and Acts 13:28-31.”[5] If Licona is correct, then one can argue that Mark 16:1-7 holds nearly the same force, being an early tradition, that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 seemingly enjoys. Seeing 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 enjoys strong consensus that the text relates a tradition that dates back to the earliest church, a fact that will be addressed later in this section.

Nevertheless, Mark 16:1-7 provides evidence that Mark believed that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the first Easter Sunday. Mark notes that the women “went to the tomb” (Mark 16:2). The women wondered who would roll away the large stone from the tomb (Mark 16:3). The women noticed that “the stone had been rolled back—it was very large” (Mark 16:4). The women “entered the tomb” (Mark 16:5). The women had an angelophany where an angel announced they sought “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6). The women left the tomb with great fear (Mark 16:7). Review the information provided in the text. The women came to the tomb, acknowledging that Jesus was indeed buried in a tomb. The women entered the tomb expecting to see the body of Jesus. The women had an angelophany in the tomb where it was announced that Jesus had risen, noting that the tomb was empty. The women left with great fear because the tomb was empty. Thus, Mark’s original ending demands the existence of an empty tomb. It was noted earlier that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 holds universal scholarly consensus as being an ancient tradition. Does 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 afford any insight to the existence of an empty tomb?

1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is a tradition that Paul received from the church “within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion and from the disciples themselves.”[6] Thus, 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is of great historical value. The tradition also allows for the empty tomb hypothesis. The tradition notes 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, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3b-5). The structure of the tradition assumes that the tomb of Jesus was empty. Craig notes that the reference to the burial of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 makes “it very difficult to regard Jesus’ burial in the tomb as unhistorical, given the age of the tradition (AD 30-6), for there was not sufficient time for legend concerning the burial to significantly accrue.”[7] It notes that Jesus physically died. Jesus was physically buried. Jesus physically raised from death. Jesus physically appeared to the disciples, demanding that the previous place of burial was left empty. Therefore, the empty tomb holds biblical support with early church traditions demonstrating that the early church believed that Jesus’ tomb was empty. So, what theological value does this hold?

The Theological Argument for Accepting the Empty Tomb Hypothesis

Thus far, the paper has evaluated the evidence for the empty tomb hypothesis. William Lane Craig notes that the evidence for the empty tomb “is so compelling that even a number of Jewish scholars, such as Pinchas Lapide and Geza Vermes, have declared themselves convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus’ tomb was found empty.”[8] However, one must ask, what value does the empty tomb hypothesis hold for the overall scope of Christian theology?

First, the empty tomb serves to demonstrate the divine nature of Christ. The empty tomb serves as evidence for the resurrection. The resurrection serves as evidence of Jesus’ deity. Millard Erickson denotes that “to Jews of Jesus’ time, his resurrection would have signified divinity, we must ask about the evidence for it.”[9] Norman Geisler states that “while the empty tomb in and of itself is not proof of the resurrection, it is an indispensable prerequisite to the evidences (the physical appearances of Jesus).”[10]

Also, the empty tomb provides evidence that God will fulfill the teachings and promises given through Christ, especially that Christ will one day return. Perhaps Paul says it best when he notes that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Theologically, the entire basis of the Christian faith rests upon the resurrection of Christ. If Christ has been raised from the dead, then the Christian faith is verified. Furthermore, if Christ was raised from the dead, then obviously one clearly concludes that the tomb which housed his body was emptied of his physical presence.

Conclusion

The empty tomb hypothesis holds great weight historically, biblically, and theologically. Secular naturalism does not offer any appropriate alternatives. If one is to follow the evidence where it leads, one must note that the disciples encountered an empty tomb on the first Easter Sunday. While it is impossible to know anything with absolute certainty, it is highly probable that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the first Easter Sunday. Yet, the empty tomb did not transform the disciples. The encounters the disciples had with the risen Jesus empowered the disciples with great courage and boldness. The empty tomb serves as a reminder that Christ has been raised from death and that each person can have an encounter with the risen Jesus by simply calling upon his name. The empty tomb also reminds humanity that Jesus came, Jesus left, and one day Jesus will return.

 Copyright, March 28, 2016. Brian Chilton.

  Notes

[1] Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 39, 65n.

[2] Ibid., 39, 66n.

[3] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, 222.

[4] While the ending of Mark is not listed among the early traditions, scholars generally hold to the primacy of Mark’s Gospel as it represents the earliest of the Gospels. Thus Mark represents the earliest tradition in the Gospel narratives.

[5] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, 321.

[6] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 53.

[7] Davis, Kendall, and O’Collins, eds. The Resurrection, 253.

[8] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 371.

[9] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 710.

[10] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 1512.

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Resurrection of Christ Will Change Everything for You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Happy Easter everyone!!!

 

© March 24, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright, March 21, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Ibid., 75-76.

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review of “How God Became Jesus”

 

Bird, Michael F., ed. How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014. $16.99. 236 pages.

Michael Bird is joined by Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling to offer a rebuttal to Bart Ehrman’s work titled How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. Ehrman, professor in NT studies at UNC-Chapel Hill and self-professed atheist leaning agnostic, argues that the early church did not accept an incarnational view of Jesus, but rather an exalted view of Jesus, much like an angel. In other words, Ehrman does not hold that the early church believed Jesus to be divine in nature, but rather a human being elevated to an angelic or god-like status. Ehrman also thinks that the church came to accept a divine view of Jesus over a messy course of events. Bird and his colleagues combat Ehrman’s thesis in the book How Jesus Became God.

Bird and company successfully and systematically decimate Ehrman’s thesis in in their book How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature while acknowledging that Ehrman does bring some interesting points to the discussion. After an introduction to the issues in chapter 1, Bird illustrates the error that Ehrman makes as he attempts to paste Greco-Roman and Jewish mystic thoughts upon the early church. In chapter 2, Bird successfully proves that early Christianity is rooted in Jewish monotheism.

In chapter 3, Bird offers evidence that Jesus viewed himself as divine, demeriting Ehrman’s claim that Jesus’ divinity was imposed upon him by later followers. Bird uses the synoptic Gospels (particularly that agreed to have come from theoretical Q–believed to have been the earliest material in the Gospels) along with Johannine testimony to prove that Jesus accepted a divine title, even with the title “Son of Man.”

In chapter 4, the best chapter of the book and the most destructive of all to Ehrman’s thesis, Craig Evans spoils Ehrman’s view that Jesus was never buried. Ehrman holds that the Romans would never have allowed Jews to bury their dead after crucifixion. Evans offers outstanding and overwhelming evidence to prove that the Romans not only allowed burials after crucifixions, but that it was common for them to do so (especially around times of Jewish festivals) even to the families of the deceased. Evans shows that this was common practice up until the time of Emperor Caligula in AD 37 (4-7 years after Jesus’ crucifixion). Chapter 4 is worth the price of the book alone!

In chapter 5, Simon Gathercole demonstrates the error in Ehrman’s thesis by showing that Jesus’ exaltation refers to his intensification of authority rather than his being. Gathercole uses the Synoptic Gospels to illustrate this point.

In chapters 6 and 7, Chris Tilling shows the errors in Ehrman’s category of development from exaltation to incarnation all christologies. Tilling challenges Ehrman’s usage of Galatians 4:14 as an interpretive key as well as a piecemeal usage of other early NT texts.

In chapter 8 and 9, Charles Hill examines the views of early church father’s and argues, successfully, that orthodoxy did not stem from a process over time, but rather stemmed from proper understandings of the Christian Scriptures. While admitting that some Christian doctrines are paradoxical, it doesn’t mean that they are in error. Hill also opposes Ehrman’s understanding of the Ebionites, Moralists, and Tertullian’s beliefs and practices. Bird affords a summary in chapter 10.

I highly recommend this book to anyone ho has been challenged by Ehrman’s writings. “How God Became Jesus” is an excellent read for Christians and skeptics alike. Parts of this book are more challenging to read than others, but it is worth the time to invest. Due to the overwhelming nature of their rebuttal to Ehrman’s work, I give this book 5 stars!

how God became Jesus

Copyright, March 16, 2016. Brian Chilton.

How Does God’s Immutability Affect Me?

I have told many before that I am a walking Murphy’s Law. If something is going to happen, it will likely happen to me. A few days ago, I was sick. To make matters worse, my wife was about to leave on a business trip to Orlando. I was so sick that I feared that I might land in the emergency room. I feared that my digestive system was again disturbed. I went to the doctor and they confirmed that I had the flu. I was actually happy that it was the flu rather than my digestive system. My mother-in-law kept my son for me that afternoon and evening. However, my night was about to become bizarre. I took my nausea medicine which makes me woozy. The medicine had just entered my system when our neighbor called and told me that the brake lights were left on. How was that possible? So, I went out in the dark, while woozy, trying to figure out why the lights were on. So, I eventually had to move the truck towards the garage light, take off the battery cables, while becoming increasingly drowsy. Needless to say, my night had changed from strained to downright bizarre. Things often change at dramatic pace. Often, faster than what any of us would like. However, we can find comfort in the attribute of God known as immutability.

 Immutability means that God does not change. Wayne Grudem defines the immutability of God as that “God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations.”[1] Norman Geisler adds “That God is unchangeable in His nature has solid support in biblical, historical, and philosophical theology. Despite many anthropomorphic expressions, the Bible has clear and repeated references to God’s immutability.”[2]

 In Numbers 23:19, we find Balaam presenting his second of four oracles to Balak. These oracles come after Balaam had the bizarre incident where God spoke through a donkey. The miracle is not so much that God spoke through a donkey, but rather that Balaam spoke back to the donkey! Personally, I have never found a donkey to which I particularly cared to speak. Nevertheless, God used this means to set Balaam straight. Balak wanted Balaam to condemn God’s people. Yet in his second oracle, Balaam responds to Balak’s critique by noting the immutability of God. God does not change. If God chose to bless his people, who was Balaam to say otherwise? So what do we find in Scripture pertaining to the immutability of God? We find four ways that God does not change.

 1. God’s immutable ATTRIBUTES do not change (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 102:26-27).

Beginning with our passage, we read Balaam stating that “God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and he will not fulfill it” (Numbers 23:19)?[3] Also, the psalmist states that “They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end” (Psalm 102:26-27). Both Balaam and the psalmist acknowledge that God’s attributes do not change. Meaning that the attributes that we have discussed and will discuss are unchangeable. God is not one day omnipotent and the next day limited in his power. God remains the same forever.

2. God’s immutable CHARACTER does not change (Hebrews 6:17-18; Hebrews 13:8).

The writer of Hebrews notes that “when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17-18). The writer also notes that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The writer of Hebrews shows us that we can find hope and encouragement in the steadfast character of God.

One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a woman who told me, “Brian, do you know the thing I appreciate most about you?” Anytime a preacher receives a compliment, the preacher’s ears perk up. I inquired, “No, what?” She said, “I appreciate that you are the same every time I see you. Whether in church or out of church, you are the same.” While I appreciate the kind woman’s compliment, we find that it is truly God who completely remains unchanged in his character. Such is the mark of integrity. God most certainly has integrity.

3. God’s immutable PURPOSES do not change (Ephesians 3:8-13; 1 Peter 1:20).

Paul writes in Ephesians that he was to preach “the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:9-10). Peter also writes that Christ “was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20). Paul and Peter teach us that God’s purposes do not change. The plans of God are set before time began. God doesn’t change his purpose one day to the next. God’s plans are set from eternity past.

4. God’s immutable PROMISES do not change (Titus 1:2; James 1:17).

Paul writes to Titus that “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2). James also notes that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Paul and James both teach their readers that since God’s character and attributes do not change, therefore God’s promises do not change. Thus, if God promises you something, it is as good as done.

I read a story about a pastor who met with an elderly man at the point of death. Due to his medication, the older gentleman said, “Pastor, I am ready to go. But I wish I could have peace.” The pastor said, “Sir, why do you not have peace?” The gentleman said, “I would have peace if I could simply remember the promises of God.” The wise pastor replied, “Do you think God has forgotten? It doesn’t matter if you remember them. As long as God remembers his promises, he will fulfill them.” The gentleman lying in the hospital bed found peace that night because he realized that God will always fulfill his promises seeing that God is unchanging.

So, how does God’s immutability affect you? Here are five ways.

  1. God will always be faithful, despite the unfaithfulness we experience with others. Nearly all of us have experienced unfaithfulness from time to time. Your experience of unfaithfulness could come from a spouse who discontinued their promised love for you. Your experience of unfaithfulness could have come from a friend who promised to have your back, only to stab you in the very back they proposed to protect. Your unfaithfulness experience could have come from an employer who fired you days before you were set to retire. While we experience unfaithfulness in life, due to his character, God will always be faithful to us.

 

  1. God will always fulfill his promises, in spite of our experiences of worldly lies and manipulations. While some people seek to manipulate you for profit or gain (others just enjoy getting one “over on you”), God will fulfill his promises due to his unchangeable character. Jesus promised that he would never leave you nor forsake you. That is a promise you can take to the bank.

 

  1. God will never change truth, despite society’s promotion of skepticism and doubt. Since God is unchangeable, his truth is unchangeable. Societies have come and societies have gone. But God’s truth still remains. It is said that Voltaire claimed that a hundred years after his death that the Bible would be no more. Ironically, it is said that Voltaire’s home was turned into a Bible translation facility around a hundred years after his death. From his home, a particular Bible society distributed the very Word that Voltaire claimed would be doomed. God’s immutability means that his truth remains forever.

 

  1. God will always be with you, despite the seeming chaos you experience. God’s steadfastness provides order in the midst of our chaos. God will provide order when no one or nothing else can.

 

  1. God will be your rock in an ocean of turbulence, an ever present help in times of trouble. Due to his steadfastness and unchangeable nature, God is an anchor and rock in the midst of the turbulent times in which we live.

Lighthouses_csg007_Kereon,Brittany,France

Turn to God—our unchangeable hope!!!

 

© March 15, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited

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

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Notes

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 163.

[2] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 444.

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

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

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

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

Arguments Against the Empty Tomb Hypothesis

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

Conspiracy by the Christians

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

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

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

No Burial

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

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

Wrong Tomb

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

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

Copyright, March 13, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

 [2] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

[9] Ibid, 111.

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

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

[12] Ibid., 142.

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

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

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

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

My Top 5 Recommended Study Bibles

As a pastor and a student of the Word, people often ask me which study Bible is best. For those who may not know, a study Bible is a Bible that contains scholarly and/or popular notes at the bottom of the page. These notes serve as a commentary for the biblical text. Some of these notes may provide historical information that provides insight for the passage at hand. Other notes may give a cross-reference to other passages of Scripture. Even other notes may try to explain more difficult passages of Scripture.

But many people will ask, “Pastor, in your experience, which is the best study Bible?” Such a question is good and completely understandable due to the massive number of study Bibles on the market today. Therefore, I would like to present you with my personal top 5 list of recommended study Bibles. I may revise this list in a future article as more study Bibles are published. I gauge these study Bibles according to the quality of notes and articles provided along with the usefulness of the study Bible in question.

life application study bible

  1. Life Application Study Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale. 2004. Avg. price $39.99.[1] 2448 pages.

The Life Application Study Bible comes in a wide array of translations. For those who love the NIV or the KJV, you will find this study Bible for your preferred translation. The Life Application Study Bible (LASB) offers a chart harmonizing the Gospels along with over 10,000 notes. The downside to this study Bible is that the LASB offers more of an application of the text rather than scholarly notes. Thus, if you are desiring a study Bible that serves as a devotional Bible, then the LASB will be for you. In contrast, if you are looking for a more scholarly treatment of the text, then you will want to consider some of the other study Bibles given in this article.

hcsb study bible

  1. HCSB Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2010. Avg. Price: $49.99. 2100 pages.

The HCSB Study Bible is the recipient of the 2011 Christian Book Award Winner. And for good reason. The study Bible offers around 15,000 study notes, 315 word studies, 141 color photographs, 62 timelines, 59 maps, 24 articles, 16 illustrations, 15 charts, and even a one-year Bible reading plan. The notes are scholarly and well-written. The only problem is that this study Bible is written from a particular perspective within evangelicalism. It is a perspective that with which I am in great agreement. However, I do not feel that it offers a fair treatment on some issues, particularly issues pertaining to the age old debate surrounding divine sovereignty and human freedom. Also, I have a love-hate relationship with the HCSB text. The HCSB is very easy to read. The HCSB is a conservative translation as well. However (and it may be where I am too traditional), it is difficult for me to get accustomed to the number of times the HCSB uses the personal name Yahweh in the Old Testament. Most translations keep the tradition in translating the personal name of God to “LORD.” Regardless, if you can get past some of the nuances with the translation, the HCSB Study Bible may be for you.

apologetics study bible

  1. HCSB Apologetics Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2012. Avg. Price:$39.99. 2048 pages.

The HCSB Apologetics Study Bible is a must have for anyone interested in apologetics. The Apologetics Study Bible offers 5 full-color maps, 11 charts, and a timeline of Christian apologists and their works. The downside to this study Bible is that it does not have many in-text notes. If you are looking for historical information pertaining to particular passages of Scripture, then you will need to look at other study Bibles in this list. However, this study Bible excels in its articles. The Apologetics Study Bible features 132 articles written by individuals such as the late Chuck Colson, Norman Geisler, Hank Hanegraaff, Josh McDowell, Albert Mohler, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel, and 90 more contributors. The Apologetics Study Bible is one that the serious student, pastor, and layman alike will want on their shelves.

niv zondervan study bible

  1. NIV Zondervan Study Bible. Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan, 2015. Avg. Price: $49.99. 2912 pages.

The newest study Bible on our list was released in August of 2015. This Bible is chock-full of information from some of the most notable scholars in our day. Drs. D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University), Richard Hess (PhD, Hebrew Union College), Douglas J. Moo (PhD, University of St. Andrews), and Andrew David Naselli (PhD, Bob Jones University; PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) are among the top contributors to this work. The study Bible offers approximately 20,000 comprehensive verse-by-verse study notes; hundreds of color photographs, maps and charts; over 35,000 verse concordance; section introductions, over 60 scholarly contributors; dozens of full length articles; and to top it off—free digital access online for those who purchase the Bible. The only downside is that the NIV 2011 updated text has come under scrutiny since the update was released (something that I feel has been both unjustified and unfair).[2] However, the fact that conservative leaders such as Joni Eareckson Tada, Tim Keller, and R. Albert Mohler have added their endorsements to this study Bible should relieve any hesitations that one may possess. The study Bible is MASSIVE which indicates the voluminous contributions that the study Bible will hold for your personal study of the Scriptures. The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is a hot-contender for the number one spot.

esv study bible

  1. ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. Avg. Price: $49.99. 2752 pages.

To say that the ESV Study Bible is the king of the mountain when it comes to study Bibles is an understatement. I have many friends in graduate school and teachers alike. I often hear praises from them concerning the value of the ESV Study Bible. It is also telling that one version of this study Bible was out of stock and waiting to be refilled on Amazon.com at the time this article was published. The ESV Study Bible provides 25,000 verse-by-verse notes, over 200 full-color maps, over 80,000 cross-references, over 200 charts, section summaries, book introductions, and a massive collection of articles in the back of the Bible. The study Bible was created by a diverse team of 95 leading scholars from 9 countries, 20 denominations, and 50 institutions of higher learning. The study Bible also holds the English Standard Version (ESV) text which has been praised for its accuracy and readability. Dr. Daniel Wallace (Greek expert and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts) even praised the ESV at a recent conference for its translational accuracy from the original biblical languages. For any serious student of the Bible, the ESV Study Bible is a must-have. I recommend it as the best study Bible up to the point that this article has been published.

 

© March 11, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] All prices given are for the hardcover editions. The list prices are also given. Bibles may vary from the price listed. Leather bound study Bibles will hold a higher cost, whereas softcover editions may be somewhat cheaper.

[2] The controversy stems over the NIV’s use of gender inclusive language where masculine pronouns are intended for both men and women. However, other translations such as the ESV, NLT, and HCSB all do the same. Contrary to the hype, the NIV does not change the divine pronouns. While the NIV does make some changes that I do not like (holding that John 3:16-21 is a teaching of John rather than a quote of Jesus, and italicizing the script of the two controversial passages in Mark 16:9ff and John 7:53-8:11), the NIV is a good translation. It may not be as literal as the ESV and NASB, but many find it to read easier than others listed.

How Does God’s Aseity Affect You?

One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked up one scientist to go and tell God that he was no longer needed. The scientist walked up to God and said, “God, we’ve decided that we no longer need you. We’re to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things through science. So, why don’t you go and get lost?” God listening patiently said after he was finished speaking, “Very well, how about this? Let’s say that we have a man-making contest?” “Okay, fantastic!” replied the scientist. “But,” God said, “we have to do it just as I did back at the very beginning.” “Sure,” the scientist replied. The scientist bent down and grabbed some dirt and chemicals. God looked at him and said, “No, no, no. You go and create your own dirt, air, water, chemicals, and universe.” The scientist conceded their defeat.[1]

In Exodus 3:13-14, we read God’s response to Moses. Moses was a Hebrew growing up in Egypt. Egypt had a multiplicity of gods. Here, God had asked Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of bondage. It was natural for Moses to ask, “Who should I tell them is sending me?” God gave his personal name, “Yahweh.” The name Yahweh is a complicated name which means “I AM WHAT I AM.” In other words, it means the “self-existent One.” Theologically, this attribute of God is known as “aseity.” Aseity comes from the Latin term “aseite” or “a se” which means “to exist from oneself.” What does this mean? Due to the complexity of today’s topic and to simplify the issue, many of our points today were borrowed from the section of Norman Geisler’s book Systematic Theology dealing with aseity.[2]

God’s aseity demonstrates God’s ACTUALITY (Exodus 3:13-14).

Looking back at today’s primary text, Moses said to God, “’If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:13-14).[3] Here, we find the name “Yahweh aser Yahweh.” The name Yahweh is defined by Strong’s Dictionary as “to exist, be in existence.”[4] In other words, the name of God demonstrates that God is self-existent. Theologically, this is called God’s “actuality” which means that God is independent and self-existing.

God’s aseity demonstrates God’s UNCAUSALITY (Psalm 90:2).

Psalm 90 is a psalm written by Moses. Moses writes, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’ For a thousand years in your sight are but yesterday when it is past or as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:2-4). In other words, Moses, in his psalm along with Genesis 1:1, teaches that God is the uncaused cause of all things. God had no cause. He is eternal, timeless, in nature.

God’s aseity demonstrates God’s NECESSITY (John 1:3; Romans 11:36).

John writes “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Paul writes, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). In other words, they tell us that God’s existence is necessary because of the existence of anything.

God’s aseity demonstrates God’s Immutability (Malachi 3:6).

The prophet Malachi, speaking for God, writes, “For I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6). When we speak about God’s immutability, we mean that God is unchangeable.

God’s aseity demonstrates God’s SUSTAINABILITY (Colossians 1:17).

Paul writes in Colossians 1:17 that God is “before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). In other words, God’s self-sustaining existence demonstrates the need for God to hold and sustain all of creation together.

So, how does God’s aseity affect you?

  1. God does not need us, we need him!

So often we feel that God needs us in some form or fashion. God could have existed just fine without creating us. Our existence was never necessary. God’s existence is. Thus, we should realize that God should be the center of our worship and adoration. Worship is God-centered not man-centered.

  1. The universe does not revolve around you, it revolves around God.

Living in a time of self-entitlement, this reality may serve as a blow to the ego as we post on social media to see how many “likes” we can obtain. Often people seek to brag about their accomplishments to obtain approval from another. However, God’s aseity reminds us that the world and the universe really does not revolve around us. It revolves around God.

  1. If we refuse to be used by God, God will use someone else.

A person should be humbled to realize that their existence is not necessary. Yet, the believer should be further humbled to realize that it is a great privilege to serve Christ. If the believer refuses to serve God, God will simply use someone else. God’s mission to extend salvation to humanity is not stopped by one person’s obstinacy.

  1. God speaks his love to us by deciding to create us.

The psalmist writes that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Yet, God’s aseity also demonstrates God’s love for all of humanity. God did not have to create any of us. The fact that we can experience life is a demonstration of God’s great love. God gave us life. Life is a great blessing!

  1. It is unspeakable to think that God would also desire to save us!

If you are humbled by the fact that God demonstrated grace to create you, it is mind-boggling to think that God went out of his way to save you! God would have been perfectly justified in condemning all of humanity to an eternal hell. However, God didn’t. God chose, rather, to save those who would receive his grace. God’s aseity should humble us and cause us to desire to worship God with every morsel of our being.

 

© March 9, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited

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

Hodgin, Michael E. 1002 Humorous Illustrations for Public Speaking. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.

Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995.

Notes

[1] Michael E. Hodgin, 1002 Humorous Illustrations for Public Speaking (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 280.

[2] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 436.

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

[4] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995).

The 5 Views of Morality

I recently read Gregory E. Ganssle’s book Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy. In his book, Ganssle provides 5 particular views pertaining to morality. As one examine these views, it becomes clear that one view of morality stands above and beyond the value of the other moral opinions. Many of these lesser viewpoints have invaded the mindset of many modern individuals. However, it becomes clear that only one is valid. So, what are the five views of morality?

The Error Theory

Ganssle describes the error theory as one that “holds that there are no moral facts. This theory denies them altogether.”[1] This theory holds that it is factually wrong to claim any form of morality. Thus, one could not say whether it is wrong or not to torture an animal or person. The error theory, while held by some philosophers, could be attributed to some Eastern religions which claim that good and evil are just illusions and not real.

From the outset, one should be able to deduce the great problems found in the error theory. For instance, the one who claims that the error theory is correct will dismiss such a theory the moment the advocate claims some form of act (i.e. racial discrimination, the Holocaust, terrorist acts, etcs.) as wrong. Thus, the error theory collapses upon itself as most everyone will acknowledge the existence of good and bad behaviors.

Individual Relativism

Individual relativism is best explained by the classic phrase, “What’s good for you may not be good for me.” That is, individual relativism is the belief that the individual sets forth his or her own morality. Thus, one person cannot tell another person what is right or wrong according to this theory as each person must decide good from bad themselves.

Upon careful examination, anyone can see the great problem with this theory. For example, if person A (we’ll call him Adam) is driving along and person B (we’ll call him Bob) steals Adam’s car, Adam may say, “Hey, that’s not right.” But according to individual relativism Bob would be justified in saying, “Hey man, it’s not right for you but it is for me!” However, we all know that it is morally wrong for anyone to steal another person’s car. A judge in a court of law will let Bob know quickly about the failures of his philosophy when sentencing him to jail time.

Why do so many jump on board with this philosophy? I think Ganssle is correct in saying that “I…think that people do not want other people to tell them what to do and that people do not want to tell others what to do. If morals are individually relative, then no one can tell you that something is wrong.”[2] Passivity, however, do not justify wrong thinking. Neither does a prideful heart. Individual relativism implodes the moment the individual relativist is a victim to an immoral act.

Cultural Relativism

Cultural relativists try to correct the problems of individual relativism while maintaining to the idea of moral relativism. The cultural relativist does so by claiming that morality is set by the cultural mores of an area. That is, “What is right or wrong is determined by one’s culture or society.”[3] While cultural relativism holds more of a base than does individual relativism, the theory still holds a major flaw.

Most people are horrified by the ruthless brutality of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and extremist terror groups. However, if one accepts cultural relativism, then there is no basis for condemning such actions. For Hitler, he felt that he was doing the right thing according to his flawed moral viewpoint. Yet, cultural relativists hold no ground to condemn beheadings, gas chambers, and mass bombings if each culture establishes their own moral code. The cultural relativist begins to think more objectively than relative in such cases, as they should.

The Evolutionary Theory of Morality

The fourth theory is called the evolutionary theory of morality. According to this theory, it is held that treating other people in good ways rather than bad helped the human species to survive. Thus, the theory holds that morality falls in line with Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” philosophy. However, it is apparent that the theory holds some flaws.

Ganssle rightly notes that the evolutionary theory of morality “does not explain morality.”[4] Setting aside one’s acceptance or rejection of the evolutionary theory, this moral theory does nothing to define morality. For the evolutionary theorist, morality coincides with survival of the human species. This brings us to another flaw. Many societies have sought to destroy other groups of human beings. Catastrophic wars do not seem to help the human race survive. Rather than helping the species survive, war often threatens human existence. Wars are fought with both sides thinking they are correct. Therefore this theory tends to find itself in a form of cultural relativism which we have already denounced.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us with the final theory of morality which appears to be the clear choice.

Objective Morality

Thankfully with the failures of the first four models, a fifth option exists. There is the objective morality theory. Norman Geisler defines objective morality as the following:

“Morality deals with what is right, as opposed to wrong. It is an obligation, that for which a person is accountable.

An absolute moral obligation is:

an objective (not subjective) moral duty—a duty for all persons.

an eternal (not temporal) obligation—a duty at all times.

a universal (not local) obligation—a duty for all places.

An absolute duty is one that is binding on all persons at all times in all places.”[5]

Thus, objective moralists view morality as transcendent reality which applies to all individuals and societies. An objective moral is held by all people. This seems to be the case. While different tribes and societies hold different outlooks on peripheral matters of morality, the core morals are the same especially among those of their own tribe. It is wrong to murder. It is wrong to steal. It is wrong to commit adultery. And so on. Even so, we can conclude that objective morality is the correct viewpoint. Furthermore, we can deduce as did Norman Geisler in that

“Moral absolutes are unavoidable. Even those who deny them use them. The reasons for rejecting them are often based on a misunderstanding or misapplication of the moral absolute, not on a real rejection of it. That is, moral values are absolute, even if our understanding of them or the circumstances in which they should be applied are not.”[6]

Objective morals, thus, point towards the necessity of an objective law (or moral) giver. That objective lawgiver is none other than God.

 

© March 7, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 Sources Cited

 Ganssle, Gregory E. Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

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

Notes 

 [1] Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 90.

[2] Ibid., 92.

[3] Ibid., 92.

[4] Ibid., 95.

[5] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 501.

[6] Ibid., 502.

Review of “Thinking About God”

Good Reads Rating: 4 stars (Personal 4.5 stars)

Ganssle, Gregory E. Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004. 187 pages. $15.98.

I first heard about Gregory E. Ganssle’s book on Greg Koukl’s podcast “Stand to Reason.” Ganssle offers an introductory treatment of the philosophical issues pertaining to God. Ganssle, in the first section, introduces some of the reasons one should engaged in philosophy when thinking about God. Chapters 2, 4, and 5 were especially good.

The second section provides reasons to believe in God’s existence. I must say that while Ganssle provides the most popular evidences for God’s existence, his treatment of the issues is mediocre at best. Ganssle was especially weak in the cosmological and design arguments for God, even leaving open some doors which have been demonstrated to have been closed by other apologists such as William Lane Craig. However, Ganssle provides an excellent treatment of the moral argument for God, as well as giving the four major beliefs pertaining to morality. (I feel this was the strongest area of the book.)

The third section discusses God and evil. Here again, Ganssle does an excellent job treating the issues of theodicy. While I am a compatibilist, Ganssle offers a compelling case for libertarian freedom.

The fourth section deals with God’s attributes. Ganssle again excels in this section, especially with his treatment of God and time, as well as revelation. For those interested in the issues of time, Ganssle’s treatment of the issue is worth the price of the book.

Ganssle’s book is especially good for those who want a beginner’s guide to theological philosophy. I would recommend that the book be used, however, as a launch pad for further inquiry. Stronger apologetic cases for God’s existence have been given in other works such as Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig and New Proofs for the Existence of God by Robert Spitzer. I was also advise a deeper study of design by advocates of intelligent design. All-in-all, I would highly recommend Ganssle’s book. It serves its intended purpose as an introduction to theological philosophy. While I did not leave satisfied with his treatment of apologetic issues (which disallows me from providing a 5 star rating), Ganssle’s treatment of God’s attributes and God’s relationship to time inclines me to give a 4.5 stars. Since I cannot give half points, I will have to settle for 4 points out of 5.

Copyright March 3, 2016. Brian Chilton.