5 Views Pertaining to the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus

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

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

The Enlightenment View: The Resurrection as a Non-event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The View of Wolfhart Pannenberg: The Resurrection a Historical Event

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

 

© December 5, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

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

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

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

[4] Ibid.

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

[6] Ibid.

[7] McGrath, 312.

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

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

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

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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.

 

 

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 4–Early Testimony: Pre-NT Traditions)

In our first three articles which have examined Jesus by the historical method, we have seen that, thus far, Jesus of Nazareth stands up to historical scrutiny. However, this fourth article confronts an issue that many skeptics present concerning one’s knowledge of the historical Jesus: early testimony. Early testimony is important because the closer a text is to the events that it describes, the more reliable the testimony. Longer spans of time allows for the introduction of legendary material. Early testimony allows for correction among historical records and other eyewitnesses who can corroborate or deny the details presented by a text.

Some are skeptical to the dating of some New Testament texts. Part of this skepticism stems from extreme liberal beliefs concerning the biblical texts originating from textual criticism gone wild. However, unbeknownst to many, such skepticism is far from unanimous in biblical scholarship. In fact, the scholarly world is coming to the understanding that the texts of the New Testament may be much earlier than previously anticipated. In fact, two radical scholars, John A. T. Robinson and W. F. Albright, have accepted an early dating for the New Testament writings. Albright noted that “We can already say emphatically that there is no long any basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80, two full generations before the date between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today.”[1]

This article will not address every early document that we have pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, this article will examine some of the earliest testimonies we have pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth. We will begin with, perhaps, the most important testimony we possess.

Pre-New Testament Traditions

Throughout the New Testament, one finds early Christian documentations that predate the New Testament writings. These documentations date to the earliest times of the church.  Habermas notes that “It is crucially important that this information is very close to the actual events, and therefore cannot be dismissed as late material or as hearsay evidence. Critics not only admit this data, but were the first ones to recognize the early date.”[2]

Several of these early traditions are documented throughout the New Testament writings. It is important to note that these traditions date to the earliest church. For your consideration, I have attached a formulation (listing out key historical events), a hymn (a song relating theological information), and a confession (listing out a statement to be said in confessing a belief).

Formulation:   1 Corinthians 15:3-8

In this formulation, perhaps one of the most important historical pre-NT traditions, Paul relates what he received when he first became a Christian and met with the apostles. This is what Paul records:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: 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. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”[3]

In this formulation, one will note the emphasis placed upon Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and resurrection appearances. This tradition provides HUGE historical support for resurrection claim.

Hymn: Philippian 2:6-11

In his letter to the Church of Philippi, Paul recounts an early hymn that predates his writing. This hymn records several important Christian beliefs pertaining to Christ.

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

Here again, one will find early testimony for the crucifixion of Christ and implicitly for the resurrection. Also of great importance is the early attribution of divinity that the church placed upon Jesus of Nazareth.

Confession:     Romans 10:9

To the Church of Rome, Paul provides an early confession that predates his writing. Paul notes that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Paul’s confession notes, again, the death and resurrection of Jesus.

These early testimonies are so important that NT historian Michael Licona noted that “Paul and the oral traditions embedded throughout the New Testament literature provide our most promising material.”[4] Therefore, these traditions which number far more than the three listed are of extreme value to the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Author’s Note: So much information was compiled for the early testimony of Jesus that the article had to be broken into two sections. Next week, our examination of early testimony will continue as we take a look at the dating of the Gospels and the three earliest Epistles in the New Testament. As they say on television and the movies…

…To be continued.

© January 18th, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Featured image from the movie Passion of the Christ, portrayed by actor Jim Caviezel. Fox Studios and Icon. February 2004. All rights reserved.

 

Bibliography for Complete Article

Albright, W. F. Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1955.

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

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

Richardson, Kurt A. James. The New American Commentary. Volume 36. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.

Rydelnik, Michael, and Michael Vanlaningham, eds. The Moody Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.

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

 Endnotes

[1] W. F. Albright, Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1955), 136.

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

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

[4] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010), 275.

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

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

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

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

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

 

huh

  1. Disciples’ Inability to Understand Message.

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

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

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

questionmark

  1. Jesus’ Ignorance of Certain Events.

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

garden of gethsemane.gif

  1. Jesus’ Fear in Facing the Cross.

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

peter-denies-christ-bloch-carl_1167438_inl

  1. Cowardice of Key Leaders.

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

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

 joseph_arimathea

  1. Joseph of Arimathea’s Burial of Jesus.

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

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

 women.jpg

  1. Testimony of Women.

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

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

thomas-2

  1. Doubt of Some Pertaining to Jesus’ Resurrection.

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

Conclusion

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

YES!!!

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

 

© January 11, 2016. Brian Chilton.

  

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

Endnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Resurrection Denying Pastor: If the Resurrection Doesn’t Constitute Christianity, then What Does?

jim-rigby.jpgJim Rigby is not a name that will resonate with many. However, Rigby represents far deeper than just the person behind the name. Rigby represents that which is wrong with certain branches of so-called Christianity. Jim Rigby, the teaching elder at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of Austin, Texas wrote the following on his social media page on Christmas of 2015: “Apparently, because I don’t believe in a literal resurrection, I’m not really a Christian…This also means I won’t be going to Heaven with many of you.”[1] Mocking the traditional gospel message, Rigby continues his rant in saying, “All that matters is that we admit that we are worthless trash, but that Jesus likes us anyway. Oh, and we have to LITERALLY believe Jesus’ corpse got up…So, anyway, if you believe the ‘good news,’ your physical cadaver will get up too. Hopefully, someone will remember where you are buried and come dig you up.”[2]

 Shocking as it may be, Rigby—a supposed Christian leader—treats the gospel message with more contempt than most atheists would. Houston, we have a problem!!!

There are many things I would like to say about Rigby’s comments. However, I will contain my comments to one general area.

Must one believe in the literal resurrection of Christ to be a Christian?

Well, let’s examine this with four points.

1. Every religion possesses qualifiers.

Norman Geisler writes that “The only alternatives to analogy are skepticism or dogmatism: Either we know nothing about God, or we assume that we know things in the same infinite way in which he knows them.”[3] Only the atheist would assume that one can know nothing about God. Thus, nearly every other worldview would accept that certain things are knowable about God.

Every religion holds qualifiers. For Islam, the Muslim is expected to say the Shahada, an Islamic creed which holds the oneness of God and that Muhammed is God’s prophet. Buddhists are expected to accept the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Jews are expected to hold to the Shema (from Deuteronomy 6:4).

These qualifiers help distinguish the core fundamentals of the particular belief system. Without the qualifiers, the belief system would become non-existent.

 2. Christianity is a religion.

Christianity is a religion and thus possesses qualifiers. Meaning, Christianity is a system of beliefs. These qualifiers distinguish the Christian worldview from other worldviews.

3. One of the earliest qualifiers for Christianity was the belief in the literal resurrection of Christ.

Without exception, Christianity was built upon the belief that Jesus of Nazareth walked out of the grave that first Easter Sunday. Paul writes, “if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless…And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins…And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17, 19, NLT).[4] Scholars universally consider 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 as a pre-New Testament formulation that dates to the earliest church. The text reads,

 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV).[5]

Thus, from the very beginning the church focused upon the literal resurrection of Jesus.

4. Therefore, the belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ is a qualifier for Christianity.

If the literal resurrection was a building block of the earliest church, then to say otherwise would be to dismiss one of the cornerstones of the Christian message. Thus, if one denies the cornerstone of the Christian faith—the literal resurrection of Christ—then one would not find oneself within the parameters of the Christian worldview.

Conclusion

The apostle Paul provides an excellent synopsis to this problem. Paul wrote to the Galatians,

 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-10, ESV).[6]

It seems to me that Paul pegs the problem quite nicely. One must choose whether God or humanity will be served. Denying the core essentials of the gospel places one outside the boundaries of Christianity. I fear Jim Rigby finds himself in such a position. It is my prayer that Rigby will find himself back into the fold of orthodox Christianity.

On another note, it concerns me how several people are attempting to stretch the boundaries of what constitutes Christianity, making Christianity into something that it was not intended.

Jesus did not come to help us feel good about ourselves. Jesus came to save us from ourselves–to save us from our sin. Which leaves us with this question…

 If the Resurrection doesn’t constitute Christianity, than what does?

 

© January 5, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

 Clark, Heather. “‘I’ll Try to Keep Down My Screams of Agony’: Resurrection-Denying ‘Pastor’ Mocks Being Hellbound.” ChristianNews.net (January 2, 2016). Accessed January 4, 2016. http://christiannews.net/2016/01/02/ill-try-to-keep-down-my-screams-of-agony-resurrection-denying-pastor-mocks-being-hellbound/

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

 Endnotes

[1] Jim Rigby quoted in Heather Clark, “‘I’ll Try to Keep Down My Screams of Agony’: Resurrection-Denying ‘Pastor’ Mocks Being Hellbound,” ChristianNews.net (January 2, 2016), retrieved January 4, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 22.

[4] Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2013).

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

[6] Scripture marked ESV comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Challenging Humean Presuppositions

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

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

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

 

Sources Cited

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

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

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

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

 

Copyright, November 23, 2015. Brian Chilton.

The 5 Minimal Facts Concerning the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth

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

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

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

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

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

 risen Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 st james

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

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

 Empty-Tomb-Picture-02

Minimal Fact #5:       The Empty Tomb

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

 

Bibliography

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

Cicero. Against Verres 2.5.64.

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

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

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

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

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

 

© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

Top 5 Embarrassing Details Concerning the First Easter

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Everyone has a story that they may not appreciate being told. One would not want the particular story being told because the story is embarrassing to them. Most everyone has some embarrassing story in their life. For instance, I missed a step walking down the staircase of my porch and tripped. Before I checked to see if I was okay, I looked around to see if anyone witnessed my not-so-graceful fall. Isn’t it amazing how much we are concerned about looking good to others?

In the gospels, there are embarrassing stories that are presented concerning the events surrounding the disciples. These embarrassing stories hold great historical impact. Craig Evans writes,

Embarrassment: This criterion is easily misunderstood. All it means is that material that potentially would have created awkwardness or embarrassment for the early church is not likely something that a Christian invented sometime after Easter. ‘Embarrassing’ sayings and actions are those that are known to reach back to the ministry of Jesus, and therefore, like it or not, they cannot be deleted from the Jesus data bank (Evans 2006, 49).

I enjoy lists. David Letterman has his top-10 list. We will present a top-5 list. Let us now examine a top-5 list of embarrassing details concerning the Easter story.

 

Embarrassing Detail # 5:      Ignorance–The Disciples’ Ignorance Concerning the Scriptures

Several times in the Easter story, the disciples (the first proclaimers of the resurrection story) were presented as being somewhat dense concerning the things of God. For instance, Luke records,

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:45-49).

It would not be wise for someone promoting a story to present themselves as ignorant concerning the Scriptures, especially if the truths are based in the Scriptures. This embarrassing element promotes the authenticity of the Easter story.

 

Embarrassing Detail #4:       Doubt–The Disciples Struggled to Believe that Jesus Had Really Risen

The gospel writers present another embarrassing trait: the disciples doubted that Jesus had risen. Matthew writes, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Matthew 28:16-17). John records the doubts of Thomas, the most famous doubter. But, it should be remembered that Thomas’ doubts subsided after seeing the risen Jesus. As a matter of fact, Thomas is said to have died “a martyr’s death on a mountain now called Mount Thomas in Mylopur, a suburb of Madras. His death was accomplished by piercing with a lance. A shrine erected by the Portuguese marks the sacred site” (McBirnie 2004, 124-125). While embarrassing, it is of enormous significance that none of the early Christian leaders denied having seen the risen Jesus. They were convinced as Jesus “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

 

Embarrassing Detail #3:       Burial–The Disciples Could Not Give Jesus a Proper Burial…Joseph of Arimathea Did

There is another embarrassing detail recorded by John.

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there (John 19:38-42).

Jesus had been condemned by the Sanhedrin. It appears that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, secret disciples of Jesus and members of the Sanhedrin, were probably not in attendance when Jesus was condemned. Even though they were secret disciples, the high priest probably only gathered enough to condemn Jesus and gathered the high priest’s closest constituents. Here is the embarrassing point: the disciples were unable to give Jesus a decent burial. Those from the very council that had condemned Jesus were the individuals who were able to grant Jesus a proper burial.

 

Embarrassing Detail #2:       Cowardice–The Disciples were Cowards…Except the Women

There is an extremely embarrassing truth presented in the Bible concerning the male disciples. Mark records,

But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” And they all left him and fled (Mark 14:47-50).

 The male disciples fled when Jesus was taken by the guard. However, the same is not true concerning another group of disciples…the women. Mark also records,

 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem (Mark 15:40-41).

Now wait! We are speaking about a patriarchal society in which women were not valued very highly. Women held more worth in Judaist culture than in Greco-Roman culture. In the Greco-Roman culture, women were valued only slightly higher than a piece of cattle. Even in Jewish culture, the testimony of two women was necessary to validate something as true. A male testimony was held valid even if there was only one present. The early Christian men confessed that they had run in terror while the women stood strong…a most embarrassing detail for men of the first-century.

And the most embarrassing detail concerning Easter…

 

Embarrassing Detail #1:       Worst First Eye-Witness–A Woman Was the First to See Jesus Risen from the Dead

Who was the first person to see Jesus alive from the dead? It was a most unlikely person. John gives us the details.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her (John 20:11-18).

 A woman was the first to see Jesus alive from the dead? Wait…wasn’t the testimony of one woman held in question in the first-century? Yet, this woman was chosen to be the first to see Jesus alive from the dead. Mary…a woman who perhaps held some form of past (Luke 8:2). Yet, this woman was the first to see Jesus alive from the dead. This was an incredible embarrassment for the church. However, it…like the rest of the embarrassing points…was presented in the gospels because it was true.

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Bibliography

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

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

McBirnie, William Steuart. The Search for the Twelve Apostles, Revised Edition. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2004.

The Case for the Ascension of Christ

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

Introduction

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

 

Views Concerning the Ascension of Christ

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

 The Secular View of the Ascension of Christ

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

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

 The Evangelical View of the Ascension of Christ

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

 

The Historical Necessity

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

 Internal Evidence

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

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

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

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

 External Evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Theological Necessity

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

 Paul’s Reference to the Ascension

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

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

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

 John’s Reference to the Ascension

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

 The Writer of Hebrews’ Reference to the Ascension

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

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

 Peter’s Reference to the Ascension

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

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

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

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

 

The Eschatological Necessity

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

John 14:3

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

1 Corinthians 15:20-23

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

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

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

Philippians 2:9-10

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

 

Conclusion

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

 

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

[3] Ibid, 26.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[10] Ibid, 49.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[23] Wilson, 50.

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

[25]N. T. Wright, 334.

[26] Farnell, 33.

[27] N. T. Wright, 33.

[28]Wilson, 49.

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

[30] Brasfield, Logos Bible Software.

Essential Doctrines (Part 6): Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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

 

What is the doctrine?

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

resurrection of christ 

Why should the doctrine be believed?

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

Early attestation and chain of authority

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

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

 

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

 Skeptics became believers

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

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

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

Psychological reasons

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

Numerous resuscitations

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

 

Why is the doctrine essential?

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

empty tomb

 Bibliography

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

Clement. The First Epistle of Clement.

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

Ignatius. Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans.

Irenaeus. Against Heresies, 1.10.1

Justin Martyr. On the Resurrection, Fragments.

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

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

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

 


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

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

30 Abbreviated Arguments for the Existence of God

universe 2  Many apologists focus on a few arguments. But did you realize there are multiple arguments for the existence of God? Understand that it would be impossible for one to post an in-depth article on each of these arguments without having written a book. It is not the purpose of this article to present an in-depth look at these arguments. Rather, it is the purpose of this article to open the eyes of the reader to the wealth of arguments that exist for the existence of God. One will note that some arguments, or proofs, are stronger than others. It is not the intent of this article to defend each argument. However, the article does intend to show the strong case for God’s existence when taking all the arguments together as a whole. Most of these arguments were taken from the works of Peter Kreeft. Please see the bibliography and check out his works as he gives a much more detailed explanation of these arguments than what was sought in this article. There may be many more arguments that are not listed in this article. However, the arguments presented are among some of the more popular arguments. The last three arguments are those of this writer, as strong or as weak as they may be. In addition, this article was created to be a quick reference for those seeking popular arguments for the existence of God.

1. Ontological: Anselm’s Argument (Anselm)

One of the more controversial arguments is that of Anselm’s ontological argument. The argument goes like this:

“1. It is greater for  a thing to exist in the mind and in reality than in the mind alone.

2. ‘God’ means ‘that than which a greater cannot be thought.’

3. Suppose that God exists in the mind but not in reality.

4. Then a greater than God could be thought…

5. Therefore God exists in the mind and in reality” (Kreeft and Tacellli, 1994)

In other words, God is that which nothing greater could be conceived. If God is this, then God must exist in reality as well as in the mind.

2. Ontological: Modal Version of the Ontological Argument (Hartshorne and Malcolm)

Charles Hartshorne and Norman Malcolm developed an additional version of Anselm’s argument. Kreeft and Tacelli define it as:

“1. The expression ‘that being than which a greater cannot be thought’ (GCB, for short) expresses a consistent concept.

2. GCB cannot be thought of as: a. necessarily nonexistent; or as b. contingently existing but only as c. necessarily existing.

3. So GCB can only be thought of as the kind of being that cannot not exist, that must exist.

4. But what must be so is so.

5. Therefore, GCB (i.e., God) exists” (Kreeft and Tacelli, 1994).

It would seem that this version accepts God’s existence as a necessity and continues from there. Since GCB is consistent and the highest thing that could necessarily be, GCB must exist.

3. Ontological: Possible Worlds Argument (Alvin Plantinga)

The following is a difficult argument constructed by Alvin Plantinga and simplified by Kreeft and Tacelli:

“1. There is a possible world (W) in which there is a being (X) with maximal greatness.

2. But X is maximally great only if X has maximal excellence in every possible world.

3. Therefore X is maximally great only if X has onmipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection in every possible world.

4. In W, the proposition ‘There is no omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being’ would be impossible–that is, necessarily false.

5. But what it impossible does not vary from world to world.

6. Therefore, the proposition, ‘There is no omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being’ is necessarily false in this actual world, too.

7. Therefore, there actually exists in this world, and must exist in every possible world, an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being” (Kreeft and Tacelli, 1994).

In other words, if God is possible in one world, God is possible in all worlds. God’s existence far exceeds the rationality of God’s non-existence.

4. Cosmological: Argument from Motion (Aquinas)

Nothing can essentially change itself (i.e., grow wings or grow gills by one’s own power). Therefore, one must be changed or created from something beyond the scope of oneself. Ultimately, this leads to a prime mover (God).

5. Cosmological: Argument from Efficient Causality (Aquinas)

Nothing can create its own existence. One’s existence requires something beyond the scope of oneself. (Even the universe came from something beyond the scope of itself. Quantum physics show how things already in existence can appear to pop into existence. However, this is viewing the physics after it has been created. It should be considered that at the beginning, before physics even existed, even these things have to possess a first cause.) Ultimately, the prime Creator is God.

6. Cosmological: Argument from Contingency and Necessity (Aquinas)

There are contingent beings (beings that exist because of something else) and a necessary being (a being that is necessitated by the existence of contingent beings…in other words a being that must be, or a being that cannot not be). Contingent beings…beings that are here depending on a necessary being…are here because of a necessary being (God). In other words, our existence demands that God must exist.

7. Cosmological: Argument from Degrees of Perfection

Degrees of perfection demand that there be a standard of perfection. A standard must exist before the imperfections of a standard can be known. That standard is found in the person and being of God.

8. Teleological: Argument from Design (Teleological)

Teleological arguments discuss the design in the universe and how such design shows the need for a designer…God. William Lane Craig explains this argument as:

“1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due either to physical necessity, chance, or design.

2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

3. Therefore, it is due to design” (Craig 2008, 161).

Check out Craig’s work Reasonable Faith for more information on this argument.

9. Teleological: Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (Leibniz)

Gottfried William Leibniz also had an argument for the design and/or origin of the universe. This is considered a cosmological argument, but is added here due to the influence of design on the implications of Leibniz’ argument.

1. Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

3. The universe exists.

4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence. (From 1, 3).

5. Therefore, the explanation of the existence of the universe is God. (From 2, 4)” (Craig 2008, 106).

10. Teleological/Cosmological: Design (Kalam) Argument

We have addressed this argument before in a previous article. The argument goes: 1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause. 2. The universe began to exist. 3. Therefore, the universe has a cause. This argument is short, sweet, and stout in its implications.

11. Psychological: Argument from Absolute Truth (Augustine)

Augustine purported that we are in contact with objective absolute truths that transcend us. These absolute truths (such as mathematical formulas) are superior to the human experience and on par with the divine. The divine God is the only acceptable explanation for such truths.

12. Psychological: Argument from  Origin of Idea of God (Descartes)

Descartes seems to make an argument for revelation. Descartes argues that our idea of God could not have originated by the effect (us), but must have originated by the cause (God). Some may write this off. However, it is plausible especially understanding that one cannot know another unless introduced. Animals have no concept of the divine. If humans are merely a product of animalistic adaptations, then why should humans think of the divine? Superstitions would lead to animism, but not to the divine unless the divine introduced Himself to humanity.

13. Psychological: Argument from Morality (Kant)

The argument from morality goes: 1. God is the best answer for the existence of objective morality. 2. Objective morals exist. 3. Therefore, God exists. There are variations of this argument, but we have presented the general gist of the argument. Objective morals are those morals that transcend culture (e.g., wrong to rape, wrong to murder those of one’s community, and et cetera).

14. Psychological: Argument from Consciousness (Newman)

The argument from consciousness argues the existence of God as the explanation of consciousness. Kreeft and Tacelli post the argument as:

 “1. We experience the universe as intelligible. This intelligibility means that the universe is graspable by intelligence.

2. Either this intelligible universe and the finite minds so well suited to grasp it are the products of intelligence, or both intelligibility and intelligence are the products of blind chance.

3. Not blind chance.

4. Therefore this intelligible universe and the finite minds so well suited to grasp it are the products of intelligence” (Kreeft and Tacelli, 1994).

Consciousness comes from consciousness. Ultimately, consciousness must come from an eternal, conscious being…God.

15. Psychological: Argument from Innate Desires (C. S. Lewis)

C.S. Lewis popularized the argument that people have desires for real things (desire for money, desire for power over something, etc.). People have, at least unconsciously, a desire for God and heaven. Therefore, God must exist.

16. Psychological: Argument from Aesthetic Beauty (Von Balthasar)

Peter Kreeft explains, “Beauty reveals God. There is Mozart, therefore there must be God” (Kreeft 1990, 64).

17. Psychological: Argument from Existential Meaning

Without God, everything is meaningless. Since life has meaning, that meaning must be found in God.

18. Psychological: Argument from Mystical Experiences

Individuals have had visions of the divine and other such experiences that could only come from God. This gives credence to the existence of God as many of these experiences are not explainable by hallucinations and the like.

19. Psychological: Argument from Religious Experiences

Individuals all across the globe have had similar experiences of the divine. Most of these experiences can only be attributed to God, especially among those who were adamantly opposed to the faith in the beginning.

20. Psychological: Argument from Love and Value

Without God, no absolute form of love is possible or conceivable. Absolute love is possible and conceivable. Therefore, absolute love is found only in a loving God’s existence. Add to this the value of life found in love.

21. Mental: Argument from other Minds (Alvin Plantinga)

It is just as difficult to prove other minds exist as it is to prove the Mind of God. Since other minds exist, it is conceivable that God exists and God is the source of the mind.

22. Practical: Pascal’s Wager

There are two options: God exists or God does not exist. There are two choices: choose God or reject God. If one is wrong about the existence of God, there is nothing to lose. If one is correct in that God exists, then the only choice to insure eternal happiness is God. So, there is everything to gain with God and everything to lose without God.

20-arguments_pascal

23. Historical: Argument from Miracles

Miracles are understood by supernatural works by God. If miracles occur at any point in history, God must be the cause. Multiple miracles have occurred over the course of human history. Therefore, God exists.

24. Historical: Argument from Providence

God’s working can be seen in history, through the working of Scripture, and through the working of individuals. God’s existence is the only possible explanation of these occurrences.

25. Historical: Argument from Authority

As Kreeft explains, “Most good, wise, reliable people believe in God” (Kreeft 1990, 64). If this is the case, then the common link is God.

26. Historical: Argument from the Saints

If something is positively different about authentic religious people than those who are not, there must be a reason. If the positive results are shown to be from God, then God must exist. Authentic religious people are different than unbelievers. Many show changes and possess strength that could only be attributed to the divine. Therefore, God exists.

27. Historical: Argument from the Resurrection

If the resurrection of Christ can be shown as a real event in history, then the existence of God is demanded as an explanation for the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ is and can be shown as a fact of history. Therefore, God exists.

28. Additional: Information Argument

Processes and programs require information to operate. Information requires intelligence. The universe consists of processes and programs. Therefore, the universe requires programming intelligence. In other words, since there are processes in the universe, there must be a grand programmer of all things…God.

29: Additional: Transformation Argument

This is similar to the argument from the saints. There are several individuals throughout history who have experienced a 180 degree turnaround. Atheists and antagonists to the Christian faith have become Christians due to personal encounters with God. God’s existence is the only rational explanation for these occurrences.

30. Additional: NDE and OBE Argument

Since there are several occasions where people have experienced God after death, and there have been occasions where these experiences have been medically confirmed (for example, individuals who have witnessed and confirmed events and objects after being pronounced dead, then being allowed to come back to confirm the events and objects), the existence of God and the afterlife are the only rational conclusions. See the works of J. P. Moreland and Gary Habermas for greater detail of such occurrences.

Conclusion:

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, some of these arguments may be more convincing than others. However, when one examines the entirety of these arguments as a whole, one is left with a compelling argument for the existence of God. Ultimately, the greatest apologetic is when one is open to an experience with God. All in all, there is, in this writer’s mind, good, solid reasons for believing in God.

Continuing to argue for and experience this powerful, holy, loving God,

Pastor Brian

Nuckolls_County_Courthouse_courtroom_2

Bibliography

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith, 3d Ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

Kreeft, Peter and Fr. Ronald Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1994. From http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm. Accessed October 21, 2013.

Kreeft, Peter. Annotated Notes in Thomas Aquinas. Summa of the Summa. Edited and Annotated by Peter Kreeft. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1990.

 

Copyright. Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

The Importance of Doctrine, Part 1 (Article by Drew Payne, foreword by Pastor Brian Chilton)

Foreword by Pastor Brian Chilton

In our postmodern culture where everything has seemingly become relative, doctrine has become a byword for many Christians.  The term doctrine is paralleled by the term “orthodoxy” which means “right belief.”  The term “doctrine” itself is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief” (www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/doctrine).  So, why is doctrine important?

I would add that doctrine is important because right doctrine should teach “right truth.”  Before a person could know right doctrine, the person would have to concede that there are absolute true things.  When someone says, “There is no truth,” they are giving a self-defeating statement because they believe that it is true that there is no truth.  So, truth is essential.  Why is truth important for doctrine?

For doctrine to be valid, it must relate to truth, that which is in accordance to reality.  If one holds that I have a Bradford Pear tree in my front yard and another holds that I have a Red Maple in my front yard, only one can be correct as I only possess one tree in my front yard.  Those who hold that I have a Bradford Pear would have right doctrine because it is true that I have only a Bradford Pear tree in my front yard.  The same is true of doctrine.  If there is a God, then those who hold to an atheistic position cannot be correct.  If Jesus can be shown to have literally raised from the dead and was the Messiah that the Hebrew Bible prophecies, then those who hold that Jesus was not the Messiah cannot be correct.

As you read the following article by Drew Payne on the importance of Christian doctrine, keep this in mind.  Doctrine is important.  With false doctrine, several problems can and will emerge.  So now, we present for your reading pleasure “Christian Doctrine, Part 1” by Drew Payne.

CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE, Pt. 1
by J. Andrew Payne

We live in a time of doctrinal illiteracy throughout the western world. This was no sudden thing but rather something that came about over the last one hundred years. Perhaps it was simply cultural annoyance at what initially seemed to be the squabbling of eccentric scholars, endlessly debating things that no layperson would ever even consider. Perhaps it was just a byproduct of our culture’s failing public education system. Whatever the reason may be, it for the moment is irrelevant.

It has become a common sentiment amongst churchgoers today to say something along the lines of, “We’re not going to let petty squabbling about doctrine divide our church.” I’ve heard this expressed by countless Christians and, sadly, expressed in dozens of pulpits and by many popular figures in the Protestant Church in America. The debates over doctrine are seen as being over things that don’t matter and will only ultimately cause division. As unity is to be desired, they seem to be anathema to what should be pursued by Christendom. Now to be fair, those who typically express these sentiments rarely go so far as to dismiss all doctrine as being worthless. Obvious things like the death and resurrection of Christ, the Trinity, or even something as simple as the belief in the existence of a God are easily conceded as essential doctrines of the faith. All those other things don’t seem to matter as much and so we can afford to not be so dogmatic about them. At least this is the commonly held view.

And yet even these basic, elementary doctrines are now at stake. After years of Christians taking a rather derisive view of their own doctrines, expressing popular platitudes as “we don’t divide over doctrine,” the very identity of Christianity is all but lost. Being a Christian can mean anything from simply being a good person and holding to Jesus’ command to “Do unto others” (Mat. 7:12) regardless of a belief in God, to someone who believes there is a God, to someone who holds that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord, the promised Savior of mankind who sits know at the right hand of God the Father. So much has the identity of Christianity been lost, that many of the core doctrines that would seem to be undeniable to a Christian’s identity are denied. Not to be too biographical, but within this last week, I have been told of a pastor who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, who is openly an agnostic, leaning towards atheism. Further, it is not just Rob Bell who denies the existence of an eternal hell wherein those who are not called to the Father are damned for all of eternity. In fact, this author’s grandparents attend a Methodist church presided over by a pastor who does not believe in the existence of hell. She also openly supports homosexuality. Most Christian colleges (to say nothing of secular ones) are given to teaching that the Bible is not infallible, and that it in fact never claimed to be. One of my New Testament professors during my undergrad (and it is worth noting that I attended a college that called itself a “Christian college”) declared that it is an ignorant mistake to suppose that the Synoptic Gospels themselves were the inspired word of God. Further, none of them, according to this professor, even claimed that Christ was divine. That was said to not be an aspect of Christianity that even came about until the Apostle Paul’s writings. And finally, I know personally an ordained Lutheran minister who is an atheist. I could go on, but this list is already guilty of being self-indulgent.

The point of that rant was to establish that the importance of doctrine is no longer reserved for the things that are esoteric, but now engulfs that which would seem most obvious. Christianity, though it is something so simple that even a child can understand it, is also something so profound that even the most brilliant scholars known to history are lost to its majesty. What is essential, though, is that these two opposite poles are not opposed to each other. One end is not the antithesis of the other, but rather they are united, and it is in them that the Church must be reunited.

The Road to Orthodoxy

Road

Dr. Robert George once said that Law, far from being the enemy of freedom, was the condition of freedom.” If I may steal from him and modify his statement only slightly, for Christendom, far from being the enemy of unity, Christian doctrine is the condition of unity.  Doctrines are simply the body of beliefs that the Church holds to. Now do not mistake what I am saying. I am not saying that doctrine usurps Christ Himself as that which should be at the center of our beliefs. What I am saying is that how it is that we as Christians come together to follow Christ as a unified body is through a unity of belief.

It is not unity or doctrine, but unity through doctrine. If not, what else is there wherein we are unified? Merely proclaiming that we are unified in Christ is meaningless unless there is some doctrine to explain the meaning of such a statement. So how is one to know what is most important to the Christian faith; that which is so essential that the very identity of ‘Christian’ could not be ascribed of it if it was lacking? Before the question can be properly answered, one comes to find that it is philosophy as much as theology which answers this question. For example, the infallibility of scripture can still lose its power if one does not hold to the objectivity of meaning in the text. But that is a philosophical issue, namely that of semiotics. However, if the objectivity of meaning is not firmly held to, then any passage can be made to mean anything, wherein infallibility gains us nothing.[1] This point itself, though, is not held to by the vast majority of contemporary Christian Biblical scholars (again, to say nothing of the secular ones). In Christendom today, it is common for the subjectivity of Christian experience to outweigh the objectivity of the text. Postmodern thought has so permeated the culture that even in Church held Bible studies, proper etiquette demands that one begin with the prefix, “What this means to me is…”, ensuring that we eliminate all possible dogmatism.

Such a problem is nothing new. In the preface of his most excellent work, Christian Doctrine, St. Augustine wrote:

Augustine

To those who talk vauntingly of Divine Grace, and boast that they understand and can explain Scripture without the aid of such directions as those I now propose to lay down, and who think, therefore, that what I have undertaken to write is entirely superfluous. I would such persons could calm themselves so far as to remember that, however justly they may rejoice in God’s great gift, yet it was from human teachers that they themselves learnt to read.[2]

What Augustine is pointing out is that we are merely fallible human beings. If all Christians were divinely bequeathed a perfect understanding of the scriptures, there would be no need for this essay as there would be no disagreements in the Church over what the Bible teaches. The objectivity, however, is most certainly not lost in the fact that humans are fallible. After all, just because a runner stumbles and falls while running a race, does not mean that he cannot get back up and finish the race. It is the same with objective meaning. Just because we can err, does not mean that the final goal of obtaining an objective meaning is lost. It just takes a lot of dedication and hard work, and when truth is found, it is to be held ardently.

What follows out of this commitment to objective truth, is that the truths with which we pursue must exist apart from us. This is the very reason why we pursue them. Such a commitment alone is necessary if one is to begin the journey down the right path which leads them to orthodox doctrine. This journey will be filled with no shortage of discoveries which are likely to jolt the believer, perhaps causing them some insecurity, but will ultimately lead them to their ultimate goal, which is truth. This is antithetical to the popular beliefs that hold to an elevation of man and his insight. G.K. Chesterton once pointed out that, “Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason.”[3]

In Christendom, it has become that man pursues the truths man desires, and will achieve them after finagling with the truth, warping it until it conforms to his will. It is no new phenomenon. Early Church father Irenæus spoke of the bewitching nature of false doctrines, writing, “Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself.”[4] The road to true, orthodox Christian doctrine is one that requires that the pilgrim cast aside his selfish desires, and rather turn to seek after God with unadulterated abandon. The road to God demands purification, and the Christian gospel was not meant to be light as a feather to the backs of those who embrace it. It is no easy task, that of being a Christian, for it is of necessity that at some point the gospel of Jesus Christ breaks the believer. It is for this reason that Augustine says early in his Christian Doctrine, “Let us look upon this purification as a kind of journey or voyage to our native land. For it is not by change of place that we can come nearer to Him who is in every place, but by the cultivation of pure desires and virtuous habits.”[5]

Orthodoxy

            There are two important ways that one can fall into heresy which I wish to address here. The first was chronicled above with ones approach to the scriptures, and the second is found in a warped view man takes in his relation to God, predominately in relation to soteriology and the direct doctrines of God. Concerning the second way, let us turn again to St. Irenæus, whose place as an Early Church father was won out of his persistent intellectual assault against the voluminous heresies that had arisen in his day.

The word ‘heresy’ is one that is uncommon to hear bandied about in casual conversation today. However, with the complacency towards Christian doctrine that has won out, a cacophony of heretical ideas has begun to ring out with ever growing persistency. Repeatedly it is that we seek to remake God in our own image to make Him something more easily digestible. Sometimes this is due to good intentions; sometimes it is merely human pride. With regard to pride, it was reported to me by a pastor that a North Carolina preacher had recently stated that Jesus was wrong on the stance He took regarding homosexuality. The preacher went on to claim that had Jesus been living now, He would have seen the error of His ways and changed His views. In order to believe this, one has to begin with the belief that God is Himself fallible. This is a common teaching that has arisen out of Neotheism and is consistent with it. If you begin with a mutable God, it is not hard to derive a fallible God as many Neotheists do.

The doctrines of God are what separate Christianity from all other religions. And it is a delicate and narrow path that must be traveled. St. Irenæus wrote, “For almost all the different sects of heretics admit that there is one God; but then, by their pernicious doctrines, they change [this truth into error], even as the Gentiles do through idolatry.”[6] Irenæus did not teach this above and beyond the examples provided for us in the scriptures. The moment one deviates from what is outlined in the scriptures, their worship is credited as idolatry.

Consider the example of Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12 – 14. Jeroboam was selected by God and given largely the same set of promises that David was given. God came to him and told him, “If you obey all I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight in order to keep My statutes and My commandments as My servant David did, I will be with you. I will build you a lasting dynasty just as I built for David, and I will give you Israel.”[7] (1 Kings 11:38) Initially Jeroboam did as God commanded. After some time, though, he began to grow insecure in the truth of God and began to reason that if the people continued to worship God as God had commanded that they do – that is, journey to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices there – they would grow more attached to his enemy Rehoboam than he. To prevent this from happening, Jeroboam set up two separate places of worship within his own kingdom so that his people would not have to travel to Jerusalem. What is striking is his dedication to the two alters. He states of them, “Going to Jerusalem is too difficult for you. Israel, here is your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:28) He did not declare that this was a new God, but that it was one and the same God as they had been worshiping. What is explicitly stated, however, is that this new method of worship was expedient – both for Jeroboam and the Israelites. They worshiped the same God in name, but in their own way, in effect denigrating God to be what they wanted Him to be. Though 2 Chronicles does not record the account in as much detail, the majority of Jeroboam’s perversion is summed up in just a few verses. “The priests and Levites from all their regions throughout Israel took their stand with Rehoboam, for the Levites left their pasturelands and their possessions and went to Judah and Jerusalem, because Jeroboam and his sons refused to let them serve as priests of the Lord. Jeroboam appointed his own priests for the high places, the goat-demons, and the gold calves he had made.” (2 Chronicles 11:13-15)

What must be recognized as unmistakable from this example is that when approaching God, He does not conform for us into what we want Him to be. Rather we must conform to Him, putting his ways truly above our own. Still further along these lines, consider that Jesus states that the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mat. 22:37) What is first, and most important in a Christian’s life is that they pursue God above all else. Seeking anything else above God is idolatry. Orthodoxy must begin with this: the pursuit of God above all else. Not the pursuit of what is expedient, not the pursuit of what we want God to be, and certainly not the pursuit of a God who is in line with the times, but purely God as He is.

Just because one starts at the right point, however, does not guarantee that he will finish at the right place. The Early Church father Tertullian is a good example of this. Nevertheless, this point of origin will doubtlessly help evitate many needless, petty arguments that arise from the insertion of self-interests, and refocus the debate back on what matters most, namely the pursuit of rightly knowing God. This is not a debate of competing human interests, but one born out of the proper pursuit of God.

Often it is the case that with Neotheists, they approach the scriptures and their corresponding philosophy, if one can stomach calling it that, with a particular set of agendas that are desired: the freedom of man, the sinlessness of God, and the idea that the love of God conforms to the understanding humans ascribe to it. From that point, no matter the cost, they attempt to bring about a systematic synthesis of these ideas and before they are through, many have denied the Simplicity of God, the Immutability of God, and in Infinity of God, as well as most every other essential doctrine of God, and God comes to be judged by man, not the other way around. God’s justice is reduced and man’s freedom is increased. God is merely an all loving being who simply wants us to be happy, and will do whatever it takes to make it so we can be. Thus things as blatantly denied as homosexuality are blithely shrugged off in this inane pursuit of happiness, and the things of God are exchanged for the whimsical desires of man.

How to Respond/Conclusion

Christianity requires that one whole heartedly follow Christ. As Spurgeon put it, “to be Christian is to be an imitator of Christ.”[8] That is precisely what we find in Acts 11:26 when the name “Christian” was first used. Thus if our doctrine is not rooted in our dedication to the infallible word of God, through our dedication to Christ, it is simply not Christian doctrine. Anything else is a waste. As Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard once put it, “How the truth is accepted is as important as the truth itself, even more so. It does no good to convince millions of the truth if the way they accept it turns it into falsehood.”[9]

Soren Kirkegaard

If one does not conform to the objective truth of the Bible and seeks after a plethora of other things above and beyond God, then such a view as they possess is not rightly known as Christian. This may seem harsh to the mind of one who has grown up in our contemporary times, and truly it would deny a large portion (perhaps even the majority) of those who claim the name of Christ. Regardless of how it may appear, the reality is that the Church must be reformed from within, and that reformation entails a substantial pruning, or rather, refining.

There is an undeniable problem with regard to the state of the Church in the west. Christians behave in horrendously immoral ways, blatantly acting against everything that they ought to stand for. Still worse, it has become common and acceptable to reject certain things that the Bible clearly teaches, should one feel so inclined. Doctrine has become optional, and in that state, Christianity has lost its identity. But why has all this happened? I can answer no better than to paraphrase Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and say, “men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”


[1] Perhaps the best book available on the subject is Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation by Dr. Thomas Howe.

[2] St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, vol. 2 of The Church Fathers – Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1887), 519.

[3] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 37.

[4] St. Irenæus, Against Heresies, vol. 1 of The Church Fathers – Ante-Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1887), 315.

[5] Augustine, 525.

[6] Irenæus, 347.

 [7] All passages taken from the HCSB.

[8] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Christ’s People – Imitators of Him”, Vol. 1 of Spurgeon’s Sermons (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011), 253-255.

[9] Søren Kierkegaard, God Seekers: Twenty Centuries of Christian Spiritualities (Cambridge: Eerdmans Publishing, 2008), 241.

Does Suicide Condemn Someone to Hell?

Does Suicide Condemn Someone to Hell?

By: Pastor Brian Chilton

Click here to hear the radio broadcast to this show at “Redeeming Truth Radio.”

 

This past week, we heard of a tragedy.  Pastor Rick Warren and his family suffered a great loss as his son died from suicide.  Suicide is the killing of one’s self.  It is a crime and a sin since there is a life taken which was made in the image of God.  Certainly, our thoughts and prayers are with the Warren family.  This post is done in sincere respect for the family.  That is why I felt led to cover this issue now, as there are many who have been affected by suicide.  With that in mind, many have theological issues with suicide.

Many ask if suicide can be forgiven.  The common thought is that suicide cannot be forgiven and immediately condemns someone to hell because the person committing the crime would not have time to ask for forgiveness after committing the sin.  Is this true?  Even more than this, is this the way we should view salvation?  In order to answer the question about suicide and salvation, we must first examine salvation itself.  So, before we answer the question of whether suicide condemns someone to hell, we must first answer the following questions: how is a person saved?  Who is it that saves?  What is the depth of salvation?  What about sins not yet committed?  After answering these questions, it will be our goal to answer the question using the fundamentals from the Bible concerning salvation of whether suicide automatically condemns a person to hell.  First, we must ask, how is a person saved?

How is a Person Saved?

What does it mean to be saved?  Theologically speaking, it means that we have access to God and have a promise of a heavenly existence after we die.  We call it being “saved” because we recognize that we have been rescued from the penalty of sin and a rightful eternal destination in hell.  So, being saved means that one has a promise of eternal life with God in heaven.  So, how is one saved?  To answer that question, let us look at a powerful piece of Scripture by Paul written to the Ephesians.  Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”[1]  We will examine more of the passage that comes after this text later in the article.  But first, let us ask, how is it that a person is saved?

Paul makes it quite clear that salvation comes “by grace…through faith.”  The word “grace” or “charis” represents “favor,” “good will,” or “kindness.”  So, Paul is saying that it is by the good-will or charity of God that we are given salvation.  More on this in a moment.  But, what does Paul mean “through faith”?

The words “through faith” in the Greek text are “dia pisteuos” or “through faith.”  “Faith” does not mean a blind leap in the dark, but a thing that can be trusted and known with certainty.  Therefore, the text indicates that it is through a person’s dependency upon God’s gift through Christ Jesus that one can be “saved” or enter into a right relationship with God.  In other words, it is through a trust and dependency upon God through Christ Jesus.  But, who is it that saves?

Who Is It that Saves?

If you followed the previous question, you can clearly see that it is God who saves.  Salvation is God’s gift to us.  We can especially see this as Paul continues to state, “and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”[2]  In the Greek text, the statement ends “Theos to doron” or “God the giver.”  Paul makes this clear, even more so in the Greek text.  God is the one who gives the gift.  I cannot save myself.  You cannot save yourself.  There is only one who can give the gift of salvation…God alone.  This is critical in understanding our issue at hand.

If it is God that saves, then it is not by the actions of humanity.  It is God who calls a person to salvation.  It is God who enters a receptive heart.  It is God that cleanses.  It was God who bore the penalty of our sin.  And, it is only God who can proclaim us justified “or innocent.”  This salvation is not something that I can give you.  It is not something that you can give yourself.  It is a free gift offered by God.

Think of it like a Christmas gift.  If you were to buy a loved one a Christmas gift, you would buy the present.  You would put it in a box.  You would wrap the present (unless you can’t wrap or are just lazy).  You would give the present at the opportune time.  The only thing the person receiving the gift would do would be to open the gift and receive it.  It is the same with this salvation in which we speak.  So, we are brought before another question, what is the depth of that salvation?

What is the Depth of that Salvation?

When we ask about the depth of salvation, we are asking, how deep does salvation penetrate?  Does it cover all sins or is it a partial kind of forgiveness?  Well, let us look at some key passages that will help us understand this issue better.

The writer of Hebrews writes,

Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.  For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. [3]

 This passage is of critical importance.  The writer of Hebrews shows that Jesus is a High Priest who was sinless.  He did not have to offer up a sacrifice for Himself.  Rather, He offered up a sacrifice once for all.  This one time sacrifice covers a multitude of sins in the penitent believer.  Also, look at what is written in the first verse.  The writer of Hebrews wrote that “He is also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him.”  If this salvation is forever, then what could take it away?  Jesus gives us another hint of the depth of salvation.

Jesus Himself even states, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.  30    “I and the Father are one.”[4]  Two things stand out in this passage, as well.  One; God is greater than all.  If God says one is forgiven, who can claim otherwise?  Nobody.  Two; no one or nothing can take away one from the hand of God.  In the issue at hand, this is HUGE in understanding the outcome.  But, we must also ask, is there anything that is unforgivable?

Is there Anything Unforgivable?

Does the Bible list anything that is considered “unforgivable”?  By “unforgivable,” we are indicating something for which there is no forgiveness.  With the issue of suicide, some have elevated the crime as an unforgivable sin.  But, what is listed as unforgivable?  Do we know?  Actually, yes we do.  We know from Jesus Himself.

Jesus states, “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.  32“Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”[5]  What is this unforgivable sin?

If you look at the context of the passage, earlier the Pharisees had attributed the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus to the work of Satan.  Jesus shows that attributing the work of God, more specifically the work of the Holy Spirit, to the work of the Devil is unforgivable.  Can someone reproduce this sin today?  From the text, it would seem that the only way that this sin could be reproduced is if one dies without acknowledging the Spirit’s work of salvation in and through Jesus Christ.  Therefore, the unforgivable sin is the rejection of the Spirit’s work through Christ Jesus unto death.  Notice that Jesus says that all other sin and blasphemy will be forgiven save this one.  Is suicide the unpardonable sin?  It isn’t according to the words of Jesus.

We are getting a clearer picture on the issue now.  But, we have one question that must be tackled before we formulate a conclusion on the issue of suicide and salvation.  Some would argue that suicide cannot be forgiven because the person committing the act was not able to ask for forgiveness after committing the deed.  So, what about sins not yet committed?  Are we forgiven for future sins or must we ask forgiveness after committing every specific sin?

What about Sins Not Yet Committed?

The writer of Hebrews gives us a clue to this question in the previous Scripture that we quoted in Hebrews.  Paul writes in Romans,

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9          Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.  So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

         19        For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

         20        The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

         21        so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. [6]

 Okay, this was a lot.  But, let us look at some important principles.  First, sin entered all of humanity through the one rebellious act of the first two human beings (Adam and Eve) against God.  From that moment, all of humanity was cursed with sin.  The moment sin enters a holy race it is tainted.  It is like one spot of black paint in a gallon of white paint.  It will not be pure white anymore.  (It is like my wife trying to explain to me the difference between white and off-white.  I still have difficulties determining between the two, but there is a difference.)  Second, through Christ all human beings can be saved by His action on the cross.  Third, the righteousness that came through Christ’s actions on the cross resulted in salvation to everyone open to receive.

So, what about sins not yet committed?  When Christ died, none of us were yet alive.  Therefore, none of our sins had yet been committed.  Yet, through the action of Christ on the cross, He died for all of our sins yet to be.  When a person thinks that every minute sin must be accounted for by the asking of forgiveness by the person, it places the emphasis on human actions instead of the divine act given for us.  Anytime the emphasis is placed on human actions over God’s forgiveness, it takes away from the work on the cross and places it on human actions.  Let me illustrate why this is problematic.

Suppose a man is on his death bed.  Perhaps he has had an estranged relationship with his brother.  Even though he has accepted Christ as his savior, he still has hard feelings with his brother.  He wanted to make things right as his brother lived in another part of the country, but never was able to do so.  Let me ask you this; suppose the man dies without making things right with his brother.  Does this action keep him from entering heaven because he has an estranged relationship with his brother?  Or even worse yet, perhaps the man told a little white lie before getting in his predicament and forgot to ask forgiveness.  Does this keep him from heaven?  You see how complicated this could become.  But, you should also see where the emphasis lies.  The emphasis is not on Christ’s work on the cross, but our actions as believers.  So, what can we make of the issue of suicide and salvation?

Conclusion:

Does the act of suicide condemn someone to hell?  Suicide does not condemn a person if the person had a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  The answer depends on whether the person who committed the act was in a right relationship with Christ Jesus.  The work of Christ on the cross atones all our sins.  That is not to say that this gives us a license to sin.  Heaven forbid.  It should bring about a transformation in one’s heart.  However, this salvation does not mean that the “saved” individual will not have troubles and trials.  It also does not promise that the Christian will always do everything right.  (By the way, this is why the Christian MUST regularly attend a Bible believing church.  When you slip from regular Christian fellowship, the likelihood of slipping and falling increases.)  For some, depression can become an obsession.  When depression becomes an obsession, it can become an oppression for which trouble may occur.  Let’s be honest.  If you are a Christian, you strive to do what is right.  But, it is not always easy.  This happened to Paul, as well.  Paul wrote, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.  20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.”[7]  So, no one is immune to bad deeds.  Even the strongest of us can slip and fall.  So, why would we think that a bad decision would nullify one’s salvation?

This issue is very important to me.  When I had just graduated high school, I was called home from the Bible college that I was attending at the time.  I was told that my very own grandfather, of whom I was very close to, had committed suicide.  My grandfather had some medical problems where he suffered from a lack of blood-flow to his brain.  He began to have delusions and had great problems with depression.  I will never know why this happened.  However, I cannot believe that God would negate the power of his forgiveness on the cross because of one major lapse in my grandfather’s decision making abilities.  To make matters worse, I was about to be confronted with this issue even harder.

When I returned to Bible college, a student attending there had heard of the incident with my grandfather.  Do you know what he said to me?  He said, “You know your grandfather is in hell don’t you?”  Really?  You are really going to tell someone that?  Even if it were true, what kind of sick perverted person says that to someone while they are grieving?  But, was he right?

No!  Some may claim that this issue has slanted my beliefs.  However, if you research the essentials of salvation which we just presented, I think you will find that suicide is not the unforgivable sin that some have purported.  Is it the result of bad decisions and faulty thinking?  Yes.  Is it serious?  Yes.  Is it wrong to commit?  Absolutely.  Is it unforgivable?  No, the grace of God is stronger.  But, this information comes with a warning.

Just because suicide is not the unforgivable sin, this does not give someone the freedom to use this as an out.  If you are contemplating suicide, get help NOW!!!  You may think that things are bad.  But, let me tell you this; you will make matters horrific for your loved ones if you take your life.  There is help that is available to you, but you have to be willing to use it.  We are a triune person made in the image of God: body, mind, and soul.  To get spiritual help, see your pastor.  To get physical help, see your doctor.  But if you are having mental issues or bouts of depression, see a counselor or a psychologist.  There is no shame in obtaining help.  If you are contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.  Remember, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem!!!

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK(8255) | suicidepreventionlifeline.org


[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ephesians 2:8–10.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hebrews 7:25–27.

[4] John 10:27–30.

[5] Matthew 12:31–32.

[6] Romans 5:8-9, 18–21.

[7] Romans 7:19–21.