Elisha and the 42 Children

He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.  From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

2 Kings 2:23-25

Taken at face value, this seems excessive. I mean it was just a bunch of kids just acting like kids, right? And yet Elisha the prophet thought it was appropriate to kill them all just because his feelings were hurt. In fact, in cursing them in the name of the Lord, it was ultimately God who sent the two bears. Most people will see this as unjust killing which further illustrates that God is evil and capricious. But is that in fact the case in this scenario? Was Elisha (and ultimately God) just in his actions against these innocent kids who were just acting like kids? That is the objection I will be dealing with in this blog post.

First, the Hebrew word used for children in this text is also used for young men. The Hebrew word used for “children,” is also used to describe Joseph in Genesis 37:2, who was 17 years old at the time, and refers to army men in 1 Kings 20:14-15. In addition it was used to describe the baby Moses in Exodus 2:6 but that’s the only time it refers to a baby. At other times it refers to a servant of unknown age. Instead of children, it’s more appropriate to say mature adolescents or young men.

Second, The Hebrew word for “little” is the word most critics hang onto in order to justify the view that these are actually children. While the word will frequently refer to size, it also refers to quality of significance. For example: It is used to compare the moon to the sun (Genesis 1:6); it refers to insignificant legal cases (Exodus 18:26); as well as “lesser” weights (Deuteronomy 25:13). It is also used to mean “young” when referring to persons who are obviously old enough to be mature (such as those surrounding Lot’s house and demanding to rape the visitors, Gen. 19:11).

Third, there was over 42 young men taunting Elisha. Does that not seem like an odd scenario? It seems rather odd that a crowd of over 42 young men only banded together for the sole purpose of insulting someone. Could it be that this crowd of young men could actually mean physical harm after their insults? I don’t see why it wouldn’t. Unfortunately we don’t know exactly how many young men. We know its over 42 but out of of how many people? 42 out of 50? 42 out of 100? 42 out of 500? There’s no evidence that these young men were innocent and only intended to insult God’s prophet after which they peacefully left. Also there’s no evidence that these young men were intending to rob/beat/kill Elisha after their insults as well. So if the critic is going to just assume that they are innocent young men only intending to insult and then peacefully leave why should I not assume that they were intending to harm Elisha? I don’t know. God knows though. And He thought it was an appropriate to act to protect Elisha.

Fourth, there is not enough biblical evidence to suggests that the crowd of over 42 young men were actually killed. There are two main points I want to make in this area:

Point 1: These were most likely Syrian Brown bears. These bears would typically weigh between 400-500lbs. For a comparison, female American black bears weigh between 150-300 lbs. and female American Grizzly bears weigh 290-440 lbs. The point is that 42 young men being injured or killed from just two of these bears is hard to imagine unless the crowd of men fought back instead of running away, seeking safety.

Point 2: The Hebrew word that was used to describe the action the two bears did to the 42 men does not mean “killed,” “devoured,” or anything similar. It means to “break open” which is used for chopping wood (Genesis 22:3), ripping garments (Joshua 9:13), an egg hatching (Isaiah 34:15), or breaking through an army (2 Kings 3:26). The use in this passage in 2 Kings could possibly be a way of saying that the bears scattered the young men, not that they killed them.

Fifth, it’s important to keep in mind that it wasn’t Elisha who is responsible for the injuries or deaths (if there were any) of the 42 young, aggressive men, it was God who was responsible. God is the creator, designer, and sustainer of the universe. His very nature is the standard of holiness, righteousness, and justice. And He is ultimately the very source of all life. If He wants to take your life, He has the right and authority to do such an action whether directly or indirectly and for whatever reason He deems necessary. It’s important not to think of God as a super-powerful human being but an all-knowing and all-powerful being who keeps the universe in being by his sovereign will. For God, it is not murder or killing when he takes someone from this life. He’s merely moving you from one plane of existence to another plane of existence…and no matter how much we might not like that, God, as the source of life, has the authority to do that and we do not.

Maybe these were not 42 innocent little kids. They were more likely a crowd of over 42 young men who wanted to do more than just insult God’s prophet and then peacefully leave. In showing aggression toward Elisha, God acted to protect his prophet. Even if deaths or injuries occurred, there is nothing evil and unjust in what God or Elisha did in this scenario.

Notes: I owe some of my insights on this tough passage to this article:
http://www.tektonics.org/film/elisha2bears.html

Did Jesus Believe Himself to be God?

Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship (proskyneō) the Lord your God and serve Him only.'”

Luke 4:8

Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship (proskyneō) the Lord your God and serve Him only.'”

Matthew 4:10

The idea that there is one God and that He alone should be worshiped is shown throughout the Jewish scriptures (Deuteronomy 4:35, 6:4, 6:13-16, and 32:39, 2 Samuel 7:22, Isaiah 8:13, and Isaiah 43:10-11). The New Testament has provided several examples of people worshipping something or someone other than God and then being immediately corrected to worship God alone (Revelation 22:8-9, Acts 10:25-26 and 14:11-15). This can be clearly seen through the use of the greek word proskyneō, in the examples below:

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship (proskyneō) at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. But he said to me, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship (proskyneō) God.”

Revelation 22:8-9

When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped (proskyneō) him. But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.”

Acts 10:25-26

Jesus’ disciples, like many religious Jews at that time, clearly understood only God is to be worshipped. To worship someone other than God would make that person an idolater and a violator of the first commandment.

What’s most amazing is that Jesus was worshipped at various times throughout his earthly ministry. The fact that he accepted worship and did not condemn it (as in the cases above) gives us strong reason to believe Jesus considered himself God. Below I’ve listed a host of examples:

The wise men worshiped Him from the moment He was born

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped (proskyneō) him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

Matthew 2:10-12

The leper worshiped Him at his healing

And behold, a leper came to Him, and bowed down (proskyneō) to Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Matthew 8:2

The synagogue ruler worshiped Him

While He was saying these things to them, behold, there came a synagogue official, and bowed down (proskyneō) before Him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.”

Matthew 9:18-19

The disciples worshiped him in the boat

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped (proskyneō) him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:32-33

The Canaanite woman worshiped Him

But she came and began to bow down (proskyneō) before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

Matthew 15:25-26

The mother of James and John worshipped Him

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him with her sons, bowing down (proskyneō) , and making a request of Him.

Matthew 20:20-21

The blind man worshiped Him at his healing

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped (proskyneō) him.

John 9:35-38

The women worshiped Him at the empty tomb

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped (proskyneō) him.

Matthew 28:8-10

The disciples worshiped Him at the Ascension

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped (proskyneō) him.

Matthew 28:16-17

End Notes

*Much of the material for this post was taken from Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek’s book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist (Crossway, 2004) and Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ by Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski (Kregal, 2007).

Why Explore Christianity First?

So you’re a non-religious skeptic and you’ve just received a flyer in the mail from a local church about coming to one of their Easter services.  You’re tempted to just throw it in the garbage.

Your mind says that you should explore this religion first before just rejecting it out of hand.  To reject it without having properly investigated its claims or at least going to a few church services, would be intolerant.  

But if you’re going to explore this whole religion thing, why start with Christianity?  Why not start with Islam?  Why not start with something like Confucionism?

Before looking at the other religions, it makes perfect sense to check out Christianity first. In fact there are five reasons why you should consider checking Christianity out first.

It Makes Good Sense to Start with Christianity 

The first reason you should start exploring Christianity before any other religion is it is falsifiable. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, we have a verse that is abnormal in comparison to other religious texts.

and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is without foundation, and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

-The Apostle Paul

This is the toughest way to start a false religion. If I were going to start my own religion, I would set it up to where the divine knowledge is found in you. After all that would be subjective and there’s no real way to falsify that way of thinking. Many of the world religions have followed a similar line of thinking. Hinduism, Buddhism and especially Mormonism rely on experience. Islam is slightly different because its truth claims actually rely on objective fact, however, Muhammad never gave his followers a way to verify his own claims. The closest thing we have to evidence in the Qur’an is that Muhammad said the Qur’an is so beautiful when read aloud that its beauty is self-authenticating. But even that claim relies on a subjective way of thinking and therefore doesn’t work.

A second reason a sincere seeker after truth should start with Christianity before any other religious tradition is grace. Why not check to see if Christianity is true if the easiest way to heaven is just by grace through faith? In the other religious traditions, you have to work and work and you may not even get into heaven after that. You could spend a lifetime working your way to God and never succeed. While on the Christian view, you receive forgiveness for the sins you have committed against God by turning from those sins and placing your trust in Jesus.

In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey relates a story about C.S. Lewis that I think is relevant. He writes:

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods’ appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. ‘What’s the rumpus about?’ he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, ‘Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.'[1]

-Philip Yancey

A third reason you should consider the truth claims of Christianity first is that Jesus is the very focus of it. So many of the world’s religious groups have an opinion on Jesus Christ and Jesus even appears in the sacred writings of many faiths. When you look at the early traditions of some of the great world religions, they almost always have an opinion on Jesus (this is true of their modern adherents too). We’ll put aside the theological cults of Christianity that have Jesus in there in some form or another. Ancient Jewish believers described Jesus in the following way: He was the son of Mary;[2] had many disciples;[3] was a miracle worker;[4] claimed to be the Messiah;[5] was crucified on the cross;[6] and his followers reported he rose from the dead.[7] Jesus is even mentioned in the Qur’an more times than Muhammad and Muhammad is supposed to be more important than Jesus according to Muslims. According to the Qur’an, Jesus: was born of a virgin;[8] was to be revered;[9] was a prophet;[10] was a wise teacher;[11] was a miracle worker;[12] ascended to Heaven;[13] and in addition to that, Muslims generally believe Jesus will return in judgment.

But what about the varying views of Jesus within Hinduism? The variations within Hinduism are a product of the complex and divergent set of views within Hinduism itself and so for this reason, there is no one set of beliefs that all Hindus adhere to when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ. Hindus may see Jesus in one or more ways: a holy man, a wise teacher and/or a “god”.

Like Hinduism, Buddhism provides no singular unified view of Jesus although a number of Buddhists will describe Jesus in one or more ways: an enlightened man, a wise teacher, and/or a holy man. There are even some Buddhists who will talk about Jesus as if he and Buddha would have been close spiritual brothers had they lived in the same time period. While others will openly claim that the Buddha reincarnated as Jesus. These portraits given by the different world religions are merely shadows of the very center of the Christian faith. Why not just start with Jesus in the search for truth?

 A fourth reason to consider exploring Christianity first is because it has the best worldview fit. Let’s take evil and suffering in the world as an example. While Christianity readily admits that there is evil and suffering in the world, most if not all eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism deny evil exists. Evil is just seen as an illusion in these worldviews. Western New Age adherents have a similar view on evil. Their worldview, provided by their religious beliefs, does not fit with what is actually true in the real world.

A fifth reason to consider Christianity before any other religion flows from the fourth reason. In the Christian worldview, you live a non-compartmentalized life. You’re not a Christian on Sunday and an atheist the rest of the week. It’s because the Christian worldview actually corresponds to reality that you can be a Christian every day and you don’t have to change your worldview when interacting with the real world. Buddhists and Hindus have this problem. While denying evil, Hindus and Buddhists have to live a compartmentalized life; denying evil religiously while interacting and even acknowledging it in everyday life.

Methodologically speaking, this is not a way to determine that Christianity is true but merely a few reasons why a reasonable and sincere truth seeker should consider looking into Christianity first.

End Notes

  1. Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 45.
  2. The Toledot Yeshu
  3. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a
  4. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a; t. Shabbat 11.15; b. Shabbat 104b; The Toledot Yeshu
  5. The Toledot Yeshu
  6. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a; The Toledot Yeshu
  7. The Toledot Yeshu
  8. Qur’an 19:18-22
  9. Qur’an 4:171
  10. Qur’an 6:85; 3:49-51; 5:75
  11. Qur’an 57:27; 61:14
  12. Qur’an 2:87; 3:49; 3:46
  13. Qur’an 3:55; 4:159

Why Do Prayers Go Unanswered?

Matthew 7:7: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

John 14:13: Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

John 15:16: You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.

John 16:23: In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.

Jesus evidently meant business when he said he would answer our prayers, which is really great! The problem arises when we pray for something to happen but it doesn’t happen. Every Christian has faced the dilemma of unanswered prayer at some point in their walk with God. Sadly, some folks who once believed even turn away from God because they pray for something they deem very important but it never happens.

Why would God not answer our prayers even if we pray in Jesus’ name?

Here are a few reasons that apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig gives in his book Hard Questions, Real Answers:

Contradictory prayers. One common sense reason that God cannot answer our prayers is because Christians pray contradictory things. Examples abound. Two guys praying they will marry the same girl. Thousands of people praying their favorite football team will win the game. Millions of people praying they will will the same $60 billion lottery. God couldn’t answer them all because they contradict each other.

Sin in our lives. One of the most basic reasons for unanswered prayer is unconfessed sin in our lives. Jesus’ promise of answered prayer presupposes that the Christian is living in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian who is living in unconfessed sin can have no confidence that his prayers will be answered.

Psalm 66:18: If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear.

1 Peter 3:7: You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

Wrong motive. Many times our prayers go unanswered because of wrong motives. Often times our motives are selfish. Even though Jesus said: Ask and it will be given to you, James, Jesus’ half-brother, elaborates:

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:3).

Self-centered prayer does not fall under Jesus’ promise. The correct motive for prayer should be God’s glory. This should be our motive in prayer: to request things of God, not for our selfish desires, but that His name might be glorified (John 12:28).

Lack of faith.* Jesus made clear that only believing prayer can be assured of an answer. He told his disciples: Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). James, speaking of someone’s prayer for wisdom, says:

When he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does (James 1:6-8).

It would not be right, however, to suggest that in every case, a person who has doubts in their heart cannot receive the answer they desire to their prayer. Take the man with the son with the unclean spirit in Mark 9. The man acknowledges his lack of faith and yet Christ still is willing to do what the man asked him to do.

Lack of earnestness. Sometimes our prayers are not answered because, quite frankly, we don’t really care whether they are. We casually pray in our prayer meetings for a request but then shortly after we forget about it. In the end we don’t really care. Read the prayers of the many prophets and biblical figures in the Bible. Were they flippant in their prayer requests? What about Jesus? Read Jesus’ prayers in the Gospels and determine for yourself if he cared at all for his prayer requests to God.

Lack of perseverance. Our lack of persistence may be one reason our prayers are not answered. We pray once and then we give up too easily. Some Christians believe that all you have to do is pray once and you’re done. But that is not a teaching of Jesus. Remember the parable Jesus told his disciples about the friend coming at midnight to borrow some bread from his neighbor. The neighbor wouldn’t get up at first but because the friend kept pounding on the door and wouldn’t give up, the neighbor gets up and gives him the bread (Luke 11:5-8).

Or recall the parable of the widow and the judge (Luke 18:1-8). The unrighteous judge did not want to grant the woman’s request but she kept pestering him so much that he would grant his request. The point of the parable is we should always pray and not give up (18:1).

Finally, and most significantly, our request must be in accordance with God’s will if it is to be granted. The apostle John highlights this in 1 John 5:14-15:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.

As much as we may not like this at times, a big reasons our prayers often go unanswered is because God knows better than we do what ought to be done. We may believe we know the best way forward or the best solution to a thorny problem, but we are limited in time, space, knowledge, and insight. But the transcendent God sees the end from the beginning and knows what outcomes and solutions work together best for our good and for His glory. Sometimes it is for our own good for us not to have our prayers answered.**

Notes

*Be careful not to confuse this point with the teaching of some proponents of the Prosperity Gospel which says that blessing comes in proportional measure to your faith. The bible does not teach the Prosperity Gospel. Read this excellent article titled “‘Just Have More Faith’: How Bad Theology Hurts the Suffering” for a balanced perspective regarding the connection between faith and answered prayer.

**I borrowed heavily from the book, Hard Questions, Real Answers by William Lane Craig, Chapter 2 to write this post and I recommend reading that if people want a more in depth look at this issue.

The Dawkins Delusion

Richard Dawkins is a globally celebrated evolutionary biologist, skeptic, and atheist who most well know for his famous books, The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion. In his book, The God Delusion,he summarizes what he calls “the central argument of my book.” The syllogism goes like this:

Premise 1: One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.

Premise 2: The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.

Premise 3: The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.

Premise 4: The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

Premise 5: We don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics.

Premise 6: We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.

Conclusion: Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist.

The argument is surprising, not because its a knock-down argument that disproves God’s existence, but because the conclusion doesn’t come from the premises. William Lane Craig notes that Dawkins’ argument, at best, shows:

“[T]hat we should not infer God’s existence on the basis of the appearance of design in the universe.”

-William Lane Craig

But that conclusion is still compatible with God’s existence and is even compatible with us having justification for believing in God’s existence. What if I believe in God’s existence not based on the appearance of design but on the evidence that the universe had a beginning? The fact that a finite time ago, there was no universe, which means there was no time, space, and matter–that in itself cries out for an explanation and points to some kind of transcendent cause that is timeless, spaceless, and immaterial. Or, to give another example of belief not rooted in the appearance of design, what if I believe in God’s existence based on the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Dawkins’ logic does nothing to dismantle a firm belief in the existence of God.

Not only does Dawkins’ argument fail because the conclusion is not incompatible with the existence of God, but because there are some issues with some of his premises as well. First, take the third premise, which looks at the idea of “Who designed the designer?” This is a very easy question to answer. The answer is God never had a beginning. No argument for God’s existence implies God had a beginning and nowhere in Jewish or Christian scriptures does it implicitly or explicitly say that God had a beginning. If you want to read more on this, I go more in-depth with this premise in another blog post.

A second premise in which we find problems is premise 6. The premise amounts to an appeal to the future fallacy. If I were to say to an atheist that, “We don’t have any arguments outside of scripture that God exists, but we shouldn’t give up hope because we know those arguments are out there and one day we will discover them.” I think most people would see that as a highly inadequate response. In premise 6 Dawkins is essentially doing that very thing, saying, “Don’t give up hope. Just have faith. Soon enough we will come up with an explanation in physics for the apparent design in the universe.” That’s not a good enough explanation when you’re giving an argument for your position.

So this is what Dawkins’ “central argument” in his book The God Delusion amounts to: the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises and there are problems with some of the premises themselves. In the end, his argument does not do what it seeks to do, namely, to show that there are purely natural explanations for the appearance of design and/or disprove the existence of God.

How Could Jesus Be Tempted?

Could God sin?

If God has the potential to sin, then he would not be essentially or necessarily good. But God is necessarily or essentially good. He cannot be otherwise. This means that it is impossible for God to commit acts of evil and therefore God cannot even be tempted to do wrong just as it says in James 1:13:

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”

The skeptic may ask in response: Wasn’t Jesus himself tempted in the wilderness? (Matthew 4:1-11). What about Hebrews 2:18 which says that since Jesus himself “was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” Doesn’t this verse imply that Jesus could, in fact, have sinned? If Jesus could not have sinned then wasn’t he pretending to endure temptation?

The Bible certainly portrays the temptations of sin as real.  For some, this realistic portrayal of Christ’s temptations casts into doubt the doctrine of his divinity.  Yet, if we press his perfection (divinity), others suggest that Jesus could not have been fully human since “to err is human”.  This presents a problem since the historic church going back at least as far as the mid-5th Century at Chalcedon (modern day Turkey) has officially taught that Jesus is fully God and fully human.  

So how do we explain this apparent conundrum?

First, the ability to sin does not make a person essentially human. This should seem obvious to Christians because after we die we will go to heaven and heaven is a place without sin. So because of that, having the ability to sin may not be an essential attribute to being human. It is not an attribute that we must have in order to be human. Jesus, therefore, did not need to have the ability to sin to be fully human.

Second, when Jesus came to earth, he voluntarily set aside access to certain things; one item of knowledge he gave up was being aware of his inability to sin. The skeptic will often ask: If Jesus is God, why was he ignorant of certain things? As an example, he was ignorant of his second coming (Matthew 24:36). It appeared that Jesus’ knowledge was limited when he asked for the name of a demon in Mark 5:1-20. It could very well be the case that not only was he ignorant of the timing of his second coming, he was also ignorant that he could not ultimately deviate from the Father’s will.

Was Jesus able to sin? No. Why not? Because Jesus was not merely human. He is also God and therefore could do no wrong. At the same time, Jesus’ struggles and temptations were real. Even though Jesus was not able to carry out a sinful act as a result of temptation, for the temptation to be meaningful, he had to be ignorant of the fact that it was impossible for him to sin. This temporary ignorance was part of Jesus’ earthly mission.

Some Christians and skeptics alike might ask: How could Jesus know he was divine yet not know that he could not sin? However, we could ask the same thing about Jesus not knowing the time of his second coming: How could Jesus know he was divine (which would entail omniscience) yet not know this fact? If we understand it as Christ voluntarily limited access to this knowledge as part of his mission to earth, then we can affirm both that Jesus understood he was standing in the place of God and that he temporarily gave up access to certain truths about his capacities.

Third, since Jesus did not know he could not sin (being God), this made temptation very real for Jesus; although his being God would have prevented him from actually carrying it out, acting on the temptation seemed a possibility for Jesus. Let’s imagine a scenario that might make more sense of this: You enter a room and close the door behind you. You do not realize it, but the door immediately locks with a two-hour time lock. You consider leaving once or twice, but in the end you freely choose to stay in the room for the full two hours. After you read your Facebook feed and watched some Youtube videos, you decide to leave. By this time, the lock has automatically been released by the timer and you freely choose walk out the door only later finding out that you were incapable of leave during those two hours. Why did you stay in the room and not try to leave? Because you freely decided to stay. Would you have been able to leave? No. This is similar to what Christ had to go through when he took a human nature.

Christ freely chose by his human will to resist temptation; that is, his divine will did not overwhelm or impose itself upon his human will. This is the difference between being and knowing: In Jesus’ nature or being, it was impossible for him to sin; yet the temptation was very real to him because he did not know that sinning was impossible for him. Christ in his human awareness voluntarily limited access to his divine knowledge so that he could suffer real temptation; Christ did not know that he could not sin. Christ freely chose by his human will to resist temptation; that is, his divine will did not overwhelm or impose itself upon his human will.

Jesus lived his life in dependency on the empowering of the Spirit and, therefore, is an example for how we too can live victoriously over sin. Just as Jesus was “led by the Spirit” (Luke 4:1), we too as believers are to be “led by the Spirit” (Romans 8:14). Just as Jesus needed the Spirit’s empowering to rise above the limitations of human weakness and frailty, so too do we as believers need the Spirit’s empowering. His temptation was not artificial and his victory over it was real.*

*I borrowed heavily from the book, That’s Just Your Interpretation: Responding to Skeptics Who Challenge Your Faith by Paul Copan to write this post and I highly recommend reading the book for a more in depth response to this specific subject.

Who Made God?

The question “Who made God?” is often moaned about by theologians as a nonsensical question because it is a question that has been answered time and time again and could only be asked by children and confused teenagers. Nonetheless, this question continues to pop up in the minds of adults who have never received that answer and that is why I’m talking about it today.

The famous atheist Bertrand Russell wrote about God and the universe in his essay, “Why I Am Not a Christian.” Having read the philosopher John Stuart Mill’s autobiography, Russell was struck by what Mill wrote: “My father taught me that the question ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, ‘Who made God?’” Reading this, Russell concluded, “If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause.”1

The Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking said something similar in his best-selling book, A Brief History of Time. He begins by asking questions about what started the universe and what makes the universe continue to exist. What theory exists to unify everything? “Or does it need a creator, and if so, does he have any other effect on the universe? And who created him?”2

While we’re used to children and young adults asking “Who made God?” it is surprising to hear sophisticated philosophers and scientists ask the same questions! So how do we respond when the average person on the street asks us, “Who made God?”  Here are a few things you could say:

First, the theist does not claim that whatever exists must have a cause, but whatever begins to exist must have a cause. This confusion comes in part because of the various cosmological arguments that are used by Christians and other theists to prove God exists.3 A more defensible variant of the cosmological argument is known as the Kalam Cosmological argument:

Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

Premise 2: The universe began to exist.

Conclusion: Therefore the universe has a cause.

As the above syllogism states, the theist is not asserting the proposition that everything that exists has a cause but that whatever begins to exist has a cause. This is a very important distinction.  If the skeptic is asserting the proposition that everything that exists has a cause, he’s making a questionable assumption that has no legitimate argument behind it. Not to mention its question begging or assuming what one wants to prove. It’s kind of like saying: All reality is physical; therefore God can’t exist. That statement is obviously wrong because logic and moral truths are not physical but are obviously real. Similarly, it is not self-evident that everything must have a cause.

Second, we must begin with a non-question-begging starting point, and “everything that begins to exist has a cause” does just that. Thinkers in the past like Plato and Aristotle assumed the universe was eternal and needed no caused explanation for its origin. Just 200 years ago, atheists assumed the universe’s eternality and that it needed no cause or explanation. So if the universe can hypothetically be self-explanatory, then why can’t the same be true for God? Let’s have a call for intellectual consistency on this matter.

Third, we are acquainted with immaterial realities that don’t have a beginning like mathematics and the laws of logic which do not have a beginning. Why should God be different? If the world did not exist, would the statement 1+1=2 still be true? Of course! Would the law of non-contradiction (A cannot be equal to non-A) still be true? Yes! Such truths are real but there’s no reason to think they have been caused into existence. The same could be said about God.

Fourth and finally, the question “Who made God?” commits the “category fallacy.” It is another form of begging the question. In other words, it eliminates from the outset any possibility of God being the explanatory cause of the universe. How so? The question assumes that everything must be a contingent (dependent) entity and that there can be no such thing as a self-existent and uncaused entity like God. But God is in a different category than caused entities; to put them in the same category is unfair. It’s like asking, “Can blue sleep faster than Wednesday?” or “Can a married bachelor find a squared circle?” If we reframe the question “Who made God?” to clarify our categories, we will find that the question answers itself. Let’s rephrase the question in this way: “What caused the self-existent, uncaused Cause, who is by definition unmakeable, to exist?” Any questions?4

End Notes

  1.  Quoted by Bertrand Russell, “Why I Am Not a Christian,” in his Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Topics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 6.
  2.  Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief of History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), 174.
  3. For an explanation of the cosmological argument see https://carm.org/cosmological-argument.
  4.  I got most of this information from the book, That’s Just Your Interpretation: Responding To Skeptics Who Challenge Your Faith by Paul Copan.  I highly recommend reading this book for a more in-depth response to this subject.

Why Are Christians So Divided?

Countless denominations cause many people today to associate Christianity with division and religious rivalry. The past lends some merit to this association.  Back in the 16th and 17th century, Europe experienced severe religious conflict, one would even say warfare, between Protestants and Catholics. Back then denominational differences were a matter of life and death.

This brings to mind the question: Doesn’t Jesus pray to his Father that his followers “may be one, even as We are” (John 17:11,22)? Doesn’t Paul write that “God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:24-25)? Though the early Jerusalem church “had all things in common” (Acts 2:44), what has happened to this ideal?

Denominations seem to indicate Christian disunity and thus diminish our witness for Christ in the world. But is this necessarily so? Does this call into question the validity of the truth claims of Jesus? How should we think about Christian denominations? Here are some considerations.1

First, not all who declare themselves Christians are true or consistent followers of Christ. A lot of things that have been done in the name of Jesus–the Crusades, the Inquisition, anti-Jewish persecution, neglect of social responsibility, hatred of homosexuals–hardly resemble the attitude of Christ or reveal the Spirit’s fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus has said in the Sermon on the Mount: You will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16). He also says later that “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Just because some people claim to be Christians, that doesn’t mean they are Christians. 

Second, denominations remind us of a common denominator–a “mere Christianity” that different Christian groups share. Think of it in terms of fractions instead of factions (Unfortunately I can’t claim this joke as my own) and the notion of the common denominator. You can have ⅕, ⅖, or ⅗ but the denominator is still the same – 5. When we recite the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed or read books by C.S. Lewis, we are reminded of the basic commonalities that Christians share–despite differences in secondary doctrines.

Third, denominations don’t imply disunity (just like uniformity doesn’t equal unity). Denominational affiliation is not division. Indeed, a spirit of unity and charity that goes beyond external labels is to permeate our dealing with fellow Christians. As an example, Paul chided the Corinthian church for its divisiveness: some aligned themselves with Paul, others with Apollos, some with Cephas (Peter) and apparently the “super-spiritual” ones with their nose in the air aligned themselves with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:1-9). The problem was not doctrinal differences but prideful attitudes and an unwillingness to reconcile that Paul criticizes.

When Christians are dealing with other Christians, we should major on the majors and minor on the minors when it comes to biblical teachings. The church should be, as Kevin Vanhoozer writes, a commentary on God’s Word and a witness to Scripture that is lived before God and a watching world.2

 

  1.  More could be said in this post but I would encourage everyone who wants a more in-depth response to this issue, to consider reading When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics (2008), by Paul Copan. That was the main resource I used to write this post.
  2.  Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, 237.

Who wrote Luke-Acts?

A couple of weeks ago we looked at who wrote the Gospel of Mark, and before that we looked at who wrote Matthew’s Gospel.

Now we will take up Luke’s Gospel.

Who wrote Luke? Was the person in a position to record what he recorded? Can we know anything about this author? Did this person have contact with any of the apostles?

External Support that Luke wrote Luke

Irenaeus of France (120–190 A.D.)

Now the Gospels, in which Christ is enthroned, are like these…That according to Luke, as having a priestly character, began with the priest Zacharias offering incense to God. For the fatted calf was already being prepared which was to be sacrificed for the finding of the younger son.1

Clement of Alexandria (150–215 AD)

In Clement’s Hypotyposes, he gives the tradition of the earliest church leaders, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner:

“The Gospels containing the genealogies [i.e. Matt and Luke], he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.” This is the account of Clement.2

Muratorian Canon (around 190 A.D.)

In the earliest orthodox list of books dated to around A.D. 190 known as the “Muratorian Canon” we read:

“The third book of the gospel is according to Luke. This Luke was a physician who Paul had taken after the ascension of Christ to be a legal expert. Yet he had not seen the Lord in the flesh. So, as far as he could, he begins his story with the birth of John.”3

Tertullian in Carthage (160-220 A.D.)

“The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage–I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew–whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was. For even Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul. And it may well seem that the works which disciples publish belong to their masters.”4

Origen (185-254 A.D.)

“And the third by Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, and composed for Gentile converts. Last of all that by John.”5

Internal Evidence

Reasons for Common Authorship between Acts and Luke

Some scholars believe that it was Luke’s intention to write two books from the beginning when he first penned the Third Gospel,6 while some others will go so far as to say that they were originally a single unit—one book7

Whether Luke had Acts in mind from the beginning or not, there is a strong case to be made that he was the author of both works.  The connection is important because if Luke was also the author of Acts it would establish that Luke was a companion of Paul and other apostles.  Here are a few solid reasons for the belief that Luke wrote both works:

(1) Both books are dedicated to the same man, Theophilus.

(2) Acts refers to the first treatise, which is most naturally understood as the gospel (of Luke).

(3) The books contain strong similarities of language and style.

Evidence that the Author was a companion of Paul

The “we” passages in Acts (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1–28:16), prima facie, suggest a companion of Paul.

Internal Reasons a Physician wrote Luke-Acts:

First, Colossians 4:14 calls Luke ‘the beloved physician.’ In 1882 W. K. Hobart wrote his celebrated The Medical Language of St. Luke in which he argued that where Matthew and Mark use common, everyday terms, Luke often used medical terms in describing Jesus’ healings. This perspective was challenged by H. J. Cadbury three decades later (1920), who pointed out that Luke’s language was no different than that of any educated person.  As Caird quips, if we should now appeal to Hobart’s tome: This would make doctors of almost all the writers of antiquity.  Nevertheless, one should admit that Luke’s terminology is compatible with an educated person and that a physician would fit this picture well. In his New Testament Introduction the German scholar Alfred Wikenhauser notes that: “… the author displays familiarity with medical terminology,”8 and he undisputedly describes maladies and cures from the point of view of a medical man.9

Second, Luke has more healing and exorcist stories than all the other Gospel writers.10 At the same time, there tends to be more unique healing and exorcist stories in Luke than in the other Gospels.11

Third, when one compares Mark 5:26 with Luke 8:43, it is interesting that whereas Mark mentions that the woman had spent her life’s savings on doctors and only grew worse under their care, Luke omits the jab at physicians…probably because he was a physician.

Fourth, the only Gospel to mention of Jesus quoting a proverb “Physician, heal yourself.”12 Fifth,  Luke is the only Gospel to mention the healing of Malchus’ ear when Peter chopped it off.13  These slivers make sense if Luke the physician is the author.

Sixth, Luke is the only Gospel writer to mention why the disciples kept falling asleep. It was because of exhaustion from grief that they fell asleep.14 Leave it to a physician to diagnose people’s physiological condition.

With additional information from external testimony from the early church leaders as well as the what we know from Scripture,15 Luke seems to be the most likely person behind the composition of Luke-Acts.

End Notes

 

  1.  Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 3.11.8.
  2.  Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.5-7
  3.  Muratorian Canon quoted in Alister E. McGrath, The Christian Theology    Reader, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2006), p. 77.
  4.  Tertullian Against Marcion, 4.5, 207 AD.
  5.  Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.6.
  6. D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo in their An Introduction to the New Testament state “Luke almost certainly had both books in mind when he began to write…” (An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 203); I. H. Marshall in his New Testament Theology says, “Luke, unlike the other evangelists, saw his Gospel as the earlier part of a two-volume work.  This verdict stands firm regardless of whether Luke had the second volume in mind at the time he compiled the first (as I believe to be the case) or decided later that the Gospel needed to be complemented” (New Testament Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 155); Werner Georg Kummel in his Introduction to the New Testament, asserts: “Acts is not a literary work that can stand on its own: as the dedication to Theophilus shows, it constitutes the carrying forward of Luke and belongs with it as the second part of a complete historical work (Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: Abingdon, 1975), 156.
  7. Robert Maddox states in The Purpose of Luke-Acts “By phrasing the subject of our inquiry as ‘the purpose of Luke-Acts,’ we imply that the two volumes are indeed a single work, which therefore can be regarded as sharing a common purpose…” (The Purpose of Luke-Acts (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1982), 3); David A. DeSilva, says “The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are two volumes of a single written work…” (An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods and Ministry Formation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 298).
  8.  Luke 4:38; 5:12; 8,44; Acts 5:5 10; 9:40.
  9. Luke 4:35; 3:11; Acts 3:7; 9:18.
  10.  Luke-14, Matthew-12, Mark-11, John-4.
  11.  Luke-4, Matthew-1, Mark-0.
  12.  Luke 4:23.
  13.  Luke 22:51.
  14.  Luke 22:45.
  15.  Colossians 4:14 – “Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas.” 2 Timothy 4:11 – “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” Philemon 1:24 – “as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers.”.