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

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.

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.

Why We Need John the Baptist

If you’re like me, you pass by your intended destination from time to time.  Just the other day I was taking my second daughter to the eye doctor for an appointment and drove right past the entrance.  Why?  Because I’m so easily mesmerized by everything else.  The Christmas lights, the clouds, the song playing on the radio, or even just my own thoughts.  My mind often wanders.

So I need a sign.  I need a big sign that says, “Turn here!”

In Vermont, this is a rather unfortunate struggle to have because there are strict laws about signs.  Vermont was the first of four states to ban billboards altogether.  So big signs like the ones I need are in short supply.  While this is nice for viewing the beautiful natural wonders all around me up here, it doesn’t help me when it comes to not missing my destinations1.

My need for signposts helps me to understand the importance of a guy like John the Baptist.

I would say John was something like a living, breathing signpost, pointing to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel (not John the Baptist, another John… I know, it’s confusing), when John the Baptist first sees Jesus he shouts out:

“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

You have to close your eyes to imagine this guy in his camel skin outfit and scruffy beard (with a little locust juice running down it), shouting loudly and pointing at Jesus, saying, “There He is!”2

Signs Change Our Focus

When we first moved to Vermont, we were surprised to see these signs along the roads here and there that said, “MOOSE.”

For a while, we would kind of look around, wondering if we would catch a glimpse of one of these rarely seen beasts (we’ve still yet to see one).

Those signs, however, get your attention–they change your focus.  You might have been thinking about that pizza you were about to tear into when you got home and suddenly you are thinking about moose.

If John were such a sign, it would say, “Messiah, up ahead.”  Or, “Stay alert, Christ up ahead.”  He pulled people out of their daily distractions and said, the Messiah is coming, pay attention lest you miss him.

A Good Working Sign

When Jesus finally arrived on the scene and others were flocking to him, John did not fret.  He knew that was the way it should be.  For John, it was only solid evidence that he had fulfilled his ministry; that the signpost of his life was working.  When his disciples came to him and said:

“Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan–the one you testified about–look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” (John 3:26).

John simply replied:

“He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)

When people went to Jesus, John rejoiced, for his entire ministry was one of preparation, to make the people ready for the Lord who was coming (see Mark 1:1-8; John 1:19-28).

The Signpost Is a Gift

John was a gift.

God sent John so we wouldn’t miss Jesus.

We were all on the highway to destruction, distracted by the lusts and cares of this world.  Were it not for loud, scruffy signposts like John, pointing us to the exit, we would all miss it.  At least, I know I would have.

Is there a John the Baptist in your life right now?  Is there someone pointing you to Jesus?

These signposts are precious gifts.  Thank God for them.

 

  1. I’m speaking hyperbolically here–Vermont does a good job at providing travel signs, exits, popular destinations, etc.
  2. Yes, the Bible says that John lived in the wilderness, was dressed in camel’s skin, and ate locusts and honey.  See for yourself in Mark 1:6.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

Jesus nailed hand on cross on marble stone

One of the reasons people disbelieve in the resurrection of Jesus is because they don’t believe he really died. Sometimes when we’re defending the idea that Jesus rose from the dead, we have to give reasons that he died in the first place. In order to do this we must introduce the idea of multiple attestation. For those who do not know what that is, multiple attestation is used when you are trying to validate whether a historical event actually happened. The basic idea is this: the more independent sources you have of an historical event the more likely it actually happened.  In the case of the death of Jesus, we happen to have five independent sources (not including biblical or Christian writers) for his crucifixion/killing.

Josephus, first-century Jewish historian

When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned to be crucified… 1

Tacitus, first-century Roman historian

Nero fastened the guilt [the burning of Rome] and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators Pontius Pilate. 2

Lucian of Samosata, the Greek satirist

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. 3

Mara Bar-Serapion, the prisoner

Or [what advantage came to] the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them. 4

The Talmud

“…on the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged.” 5

In response to this overwhelming evidence, the atheist New Testament scholar of the Jesus Seminar, John Dominic Crossan writes:

“That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” 6

There is a common objection thoughtlessly tossed around, however, despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary.  That objection questions whether Jesus died at all. Maybe he swooned or faked his death, they suggest. It’s not uncommon for someone to be declared dead, only to start breathing again a few hours later. If this could happen in our modern society why think that this could not have happened in ancient times? Perhaps Jesus’ death wasn’t really a death but he just fainted on the cross. After being taken down and placed in a cave-like tomb, the cool air revived him and he was able to escape the tomb.

There are three main reasons why this isn’t a viable objection. This is often called the Apparent Death Theory or Swoon Theory.

First, such an occurrence would be highly unlikely given our understanding of crucifixion, thanks to modern science. 7 The main problem with crucifixion is that it slowly kills the crucified through asphyxiation which means the victim will have a hard time trying to breathe. Once the victim is on the cross they would have to push down on their pierced feet in order to move their body up, releasing the pressure on their lungs, allowing them to get more air to breathe. After which they slide back down while breathing out. This is an exhausting process. While it’s been known for crucifixion victims to remain on the cross for days, Roman guards standing to the side can speed up the process by using a heavy club or mallet to break both legs. With both legs broken the crucified cannot push down on the legs for the purpose of taking in more air. The cause of death would be simple: the victim could not breathe.

Moreover, a spear wound that is described in John 19:34-35 would have done Jesus in. The Roman author Quintilian (35-95AD) reports of this procedure being performed on crucifixion victims. 8

Second, the critique by one liberal nonChristian German scholar D.F. Strauss puts another nail in the coffin of this swoon theory. 9  Strauss wrote that the whole situation is very implausible. Here we have Jesus, having been whipped and crucified, pushing the heavy stone away from the tomb with pierced hands and walked blocks or even miles on pierced feet. Oh and let’s not forget about the contingent of armed guards guarding the tomb that Jesus would have to fight through. Were the disciples to see him in this pathetic and mutilated state, would this really convince them that Jesus is the Prince of Life? Alive? Barely. Risen? No.

Upon seeing a swooned Jesus who was limping, bleeding, pale, and stooped over in pain, Peter would not have responded with, “Wow, I can’t wait to have a resurrection body just like that!” Rather the disciples would have said, “Let’s get you a doctor. You need help!” Could you imagine Jesus grimacing as Thomas touches him and responds, “Wait! That still hurts! Ouch!”

Seeing Jesus in that kind of state would not inspire these scared disciples to give their lives for the gospel.

Third, the Swoon Theory cannot account for Paul’s dramatic reversal of worldviews. Paul, who handed out death sentences to Jews who said Jesus was their Messiah, claimed that his conversion was the result of experiencing a glorified appearance of the risen Jesus. A blinding light that both he and his companions saw on the road to Damascus. A merely healed Jesus would not be able to give such a glorified appearance.

Therefore, the Swoon Theory is dead and has no hopes of a resurrection. We can confidently say that based on the historical evidence that Jesus was killed by crucifixion.

  1.  Josephus, Antiquities 18.64. Josephus in Ten Volumes, Vol. 9, Jewish Antiquities, Loeb Classical Library, Louis H. Feldman, trans. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981.
  2.  Tacitus, Annals 1544 (c. 115 AD)
  3.  Lucian of Samosata, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13 (c. mid-second century)
  4.  This document is currently at the British Museum, Syriac Manuscript, Additional 14,658 (c. late first-third century). The translation is from Logos Protestant Edition of the early church fathers, A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, and A.C. Coxe, eds. and trans., The Anti-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325 (Oak Harbor, Ore.: Logos Research Systems, 1997).
  5.  Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a (c. late second century).
  6.  John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991), 145, see also 154, 196, 201.
  7.  William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 255.11 (21 March 1986): 1457, 1460, 1461, 1463.
  8.  Quintilian, Declarationes maiores 6:9
  9.  David Strauss, A New Life of Jesus, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1879), 1:412.

I Will Never Divorce You

Have you ever been to an awkward wedding?

Recently I heard a story of a man who, despite his deep social anxiety, decided to write and memorize his own wedding vows. Unfortunately, the wedding was held in front of a very large group of people. Things went as expected—horribly! Cringe-worthy doesn’t begin to describe it. But after stumbling and fumbling with his words for what seemed like an eternity, he ditched what he’d memorized and began to speak off the top of his head and from the bottom of his heart. Because he was so nervous, he forced himself to stare deep into the eyes of his new bride,. His stare wasn’t romantic—it was desperate. In short and intense bursts, he professed his love for her. And his vows culminated with one sentence that got right to the point:

I will never divorce you.”

That kind of love is powerful. Do you think God loves you like that?

On the night before his death, Jesus was all too aware of what torment he would undergo at the hands of evil men. More terrifyingly, though, he knew the suffering the Father would lay on him as the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. So it’s no wonder that he “was troubled in spirit” (John 13:21).

But the terror of the coming day didn’t dissuade the Lord Jesus from his plan. His love for us brought him into the world; his love for us sustained him in the world; and his love for us saw him through to the cross and the grave. As his beloved disciple John put it decades later, Jesus’ last night on earth shows the essence of his true feelings toward us: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (NIV). Or, as most other translations read, “he loved them to the end.”

Will Jesus stop loving you because of your deep discontentment over your job situation?
Will Jesus stop loving you because you know better than to do what you’re doing anyway?
Will Jesus stop loving you because your physical and mental weakness keep you from being productive (whatever you think that means)?

This brings us to one of the most important things for Christians to remember—and the more people I serve in pastoral ministry, the more people I think need to hear this—is that Jesus will not give up on you. Even if you are sick of yourself, he isn’t sick of you. And you don’t have to lean on wishes and empty hope. The cross, which actually happened whether we feel like it or not, shows that Jesus saw his love for us through to the bitter end. His love for us doesn’t depend on our fears or doubts—it never did.

The cross shows us something else, too. It proves that sin and abandonment and denial couldn’t end Jesus’ love for his people. It shows that love really is stronger than death. The cross reveals to us that there really is a God, and that he really doesn’t divorce those he’s committed to—even if it means he has to die for us. You can—you must—follow this Jesus, who will never leave or forsake you (Matthew 28:20), though he was forsaken for us (Mark 15:34).

This Easter, may you realize that Jesus, the Bridegroom of his church, will see you through to the end.

What’s In a Name?

2 Peter 1:16 – For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

Skeptics will often charge that the gospels were not written by people with first-hand knowledge of the life and ministry of Jesus but were myths which were fabricated generations later by people who weren’t familiar with the area or time period they were describing. High-profile textual scholar Bart Ehrman, who has wrote many books trying to disprove the many beliefs in Christianity (see a list on Amazon.com here), believes that the authenticity of the Gospels are seriously in question and should not be trusted because they were written late, away from good sources, and derive mainly from legends that grew out of stories told in corruptible fashion around campfires for decades.

All of the gospel writers described a large number of people and described these individuals by their names. As it turns out, these names provide us with important clues to help us determine if the writers of the Gospels were actually familiar with first century Palestine.

In 2002 an Israeli scholar by the name of Tal Ilan did some seemingly boring work that has yielded important fruit for the authentication of the New Testament. She sorted through documents, engravings, scraps of papyrus, ossuaries and the like from the time period surrounding Jesus and the apostles in order to make a list of over 3,000 personal names It was as if she were compiling a phone book from ancient trash heaps.

Because of her work, it became possible for the first time to find out what personal names were the most popular during the time of Jesus and how those names were used. Why is this important you ask?  Well, if the Gospel writers really had no solid contact with the characters in the stories, if they were writing decades later and had never visited the lands about which they were writing, getting the names right would be unlikely to the point of impossible. It would be as if a person, who had never set foot out of Vermont, were attempting to write a story about people living in Sweden 60 years ago and the writer perfectly captured all the details of the personal names of the day without traveling, without the Internet, without encyclopedias or libraries. Clearly, guesses and intuitions about Swedish names from over a half-century earlier are exceedingly unlikely to match the real history.

But this new research shows that the Gospel writers were “spot on” in regard to the popularity, frequency, proportion and usage of personal names in the text of Scripture, indicating very deep familiarity with life in the exact area and time frame of Jesus and his earliest followers.

Richard Bauckham, in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, examined all the names discovered by Ilan 1, and he found that the New Testament narratives reflect nearly the same percentages found in all the documents Ilan examined:

Popularity of Names Cited in Palestinian Literature of the Time

15.6% of the men had the name Simon or Joseph

41.5% of the men had one of the nine most popular names

7.9% of the men had a name no one else had

28.6% of the women had the name Mary or Salome

49.7% of the women had one of the nine most popular names

9.6% of the women had a name no one else had

Popularity of Names Cited by the New Testament Authors

18.2% of the men had the name Simon or Joseph

40.3% of the men had one of the nine most popular names

3.9% of the men had a name no one else had

38.9% of the women had the name Mary or Salome

61.1% of the women had one of the nine most popular names

2.5% of the women had a name no one else had

If the gospel writers were simply guessing about the names they were using in their accounts, they happened to guess with remarkable accuracy. Many of the popular Jewish names in Palestine were different from the popular names in Egypt, Syria, or Rome. The use of these names by the gospel writers is consistent with their claim that they’re writing on the basis of true eyewitness testimony.

When names are very common, people find themselves having to make a distinction by adding an extra piece of information. When you see the addition of a descriptor, you can be sure that the name being amended is probably common to the region or time in history. We see this throughout the gospel accounts. The gospel writers introduce us to Simon “Peter,” Simon “the Zealot,” Simon “the Tanner,” Simon “the leper,” and Simon “of Cyrene.” The name Simon was so common to the area of Palestine in the first century that the gospel writers had to add descriptions to differentiate one Simon from another. This is something we would expect to see if the gospel writers were truly present in Palestine in the first century and familiar with the common names of the region (and the need to better describe those who possessed these popular names). The same could be said of Jesus and how others in the Gospel narratives identify him versus how the narrator identifies him.

The approach the gospel writers took when they referred to people (using the names and descriptors we would expect in first-century Palestine) corroborate their testimonies internally. The gospel accounts appear authentic from the “inside out.” The words of the Gospels themselves are consistent with what we could expect from eyewitnesses reporting historical events. 2

  1.  For more information, refer to Tal Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Palestine 330 BCE-200CE (Philadelphia: Coronet Books, 2002).
  2.  Another popular book that explores using names in the Gospels as eyewitness evidence, take a look at Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels by J. Warner Wallace.

Wow, That’s Really Embarrassing

Imagine working outside trimming the bushes in your front yard on a hot sunny day. After much trimming you enter your house so you can get an ice cold glass of water. You enter the kitchen where you find the cookie jar shattered on the floor with the cookies scattered everywhere. You call your six-year-old son to come into the kitchen.

You ask him: Did you knock over the cookie jar?

Your son looks down and mutters: Yes, I thought I could get a cookie without dropping the cookie jar.

Here’s an interesting question: Why would you believe him? Maybe because he has nothing to gain by telling the truth and everything to gain by telling a lie.

This is one of many ways historians use to verify whether a historical document is speaking truth on a particular subject or is truthful as a whole. Historians refer to this as the principle of embarrassment. This principle assumes that any details embarrassing to the author or embarrassing to their goal in writing a document are probably true. Why is that? It’s because the tendency of most people is to leave out anything that makes them look bad or make their cause look bad. What do the gospels look like in light of this revelation?

The gospel writers include embarrassing details about themselves and the other disciples:

They are dim-witted: Mark 9:32; Luke 18:34; John 12:16

They are uncaring: They fall asleep on Jesus twice when he asks them to pray for him in his time of need (Mark 14:32-41). Moreover, they don’t even have the courage to give their rabbi a proper burial and instead it was a member of the Sanhedrin (Joseph of Arimathea) who is in the very court that sentenced him to death.

They are rebuked: Peter is called Satan by Jesus (Mark 8:33). Can you imagine Mark saying to Peter: Hey Pete! I’m going to have the Lord call you Satan, what do you think about that? Peter would rightly say back, Have him call you Satan, why do I got to be called Satan! This is certainly not something you would make up off the top of your head.

They are cowards: All of the disciples abandoned Jesus (except one) when he was crucified. Peter denies him three times after saying to Jesus’ face he would never disown him (Matthew 26:33-35). While the male disciples were hiding for fear of the Jews, the brave female disciples stood by Jesus at the cross, during his burial, and visited the tomb on Sunday morning.

They are doubters: Despite being taught several times that Jesus would rise from the dead, they still doubted after being told by the women that he resurrected. Thomas doubted until he saw Jesus for himself and some even doubted after he was risen (Matthew 28:17).

The gospel writers included embarrassing details about Jesus:

Jesus:

  • is considered out of his mind by his family (Mark 3)
  • is thought to be a deceiver (John 7:5)
  • is deserted by many of his followers (John 6:66)
  • turns off Jews who had believed in him to the point that they want to stone him (John 8:30-31, 59).
  • is called a drunkard (Matthew 11:19)
  • is called demon-possessed (Mark 3:22; John 7:20; 8:48)
  • is called a madman (John 10:20)
  • has his feet wiped with the hair of a prostitute (an event that had the potential to be perceived as a sexual advance – Luke 7:36-39)
  • is crucified by the Jews and Romans despite the fact that anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13)

The gospel writers include difficult sayings of Jesus:

Jesus:

  • declares “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28)
  • says no one, including himself, knows the time of his second coming (Matthew 24:36)
  • is seen cursing a fig tree for not having figs even though it was not the season for figs to be on the tree (Matthew 21:18)
  • seems unable to do many miracles in his hometown (Mark 6:5)
  • makes a morbid claim about how eating the Son of Man’s flesh and drinking his blood will give you eternal life (John 6:53)

While there are reasonable explanations for these sayings and others 1, it doesn’t make much sense that the gospel writers would complicate things by leaving these statements (and many others) in there.

The gospel writers left in many demanding sayings of Jesus:

  • Jesus speaks about just having sexual thoughts about someone is equal to committing adultery against your spouse (Matthew 5:28)
  • Jesus talks about not divorcing your spouse unless it’s because of sexual infidelity. (Matthew 5:32)
  • Jesus talks about when someone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other cheek to him. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:39-41)
  • I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… (Matthew 5:44-45)

I’ve only highlighted some of the many embarrassing moments in the gospels.2 It would appear that there is a lot of embarrassing material in the gospels and so that should tell us that the gospel writers are habitually truth tellers and that we should give them the benefit of the doubt when talking on subjects we aren’t able to verify. This is one of many reasons why the gospels are considered to be eyewitness testimony.

  1.  When trying to understand alleged contradictions or errors, books like The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation (formerly known as When Critics Ask) by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe and the New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason Archer.
  2.  A lot of the content from this post was taken from the book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be An Atheist by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004).