Archive for the ‘Christian History’ Category

Twilight Zone Obsolete with words

In case there is any doubt being “tolerant” can actually mean being highly in – tolerant, take a look at someone getting berned by Mr. Sanders merely for espousing the exact same beliefs Christianity has held since its inception.  Be reminded, also, the accused was merely defending the statement of beliefs of his Alma Mater – Wheaton College – which is similar to most orthodox, evangelical Christian churches worldwide. The article he wrote defending Wheaton may be found at this link. You can watch the video of B. Sanders’ interrogation on Youtube right here. If there is any doubt about the historic, exclusivity of Christianity, read Jesus’ own words in John 3:16-18 and 14:6, which include a reference readily made known via the end zones of American football games. Besides being Biblically illiterate, I suppose Sanders isn’t much of a sports fan either.

John-3-16- end zone  John 3 16 baseball

I guess in Bernie’s world, people who hold to basic Christian beliefs are unqualified to hold public office in this country. This scenario is eerily reminiscent of the dystopian Twilight Zone episode where a man is declared “obsolete” by the totalitarian state – partly for still owning and reading a Bible.

Twilight Zone Obsolete

It’s a bummer someone like John Hancock (1737 – 1793), president of congress and one of the most famous signers of the Declaration of Independence – would likely not get a passing grade in Bernie’s inquisition (see below excerpt from Wallbuilders.com).  By the way, if you’d like for the Bern to apologize, you can put your own John Hancock right here. -E

John Hancock - signing image

John Hancock

SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE; PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS;
REVOLUTIONARY GENERAL; GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTSSensible of the importance of Christian piety and virtue to the order and happiness of a state, I cannot but earnestly commend to you every measure for their support and encouragement.37

He called on the entire state to pray “that universal happiness may be established in the world [and] that all may bow to the scepter of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the whole earth be filled with His glory.”38

He also called on the State of Massachusetts to pray . . .

  • that all nations may bow to the scepter of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that the whole earth may be filled with his glory.39
  • that the spiritual kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be continually increasing until the whole earth shall be filled with His glory.40
  • to confess their sins and to implore forgiveness of God through the merits of the Savior of the World.41
  • to cause the benign religion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to be known, understood, and practiced among all the inhabitants of the earth.42
  • to confess their sins before God and implore His forgiveness through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.43
  • that He would finally overrule all events to the advancement of the Redeemer’s kingdom and the establishment of universal peace and good will among men.44
  • that the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be established in peace and righteousness among all the nations of the earth.45
  • that with true contrition of heart we may confess our sins, resolve to forsake them, and implore the Divine forgiveness, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, our Savior. . . . And finally to overrule all the commotions in the world to the spreading the true religion of our Lord Jesus Christ in its purity and power among all the people of the earth.4637. Independent Chronicle (Boston), November 2, 1780, last page; see also Abram English Brown, John Hancock, His Book (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1898), p. 269.38. John Hancock, A Proclamation For a Day of Public Thanksgiving 1791, given as Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, from an original broadside in our possession.39. John Hancock, Proclamation for a Day of Public Thanksgiving, October 28, 1784, from a proclamation in our possession, Evans #18593.40. John Hancock, Proclamation for a Day of Public Thanksgiving, October 29, 1788, from a proclamation in our possession, Evans #21237.41. John Hancock, Proclamation For a Day of Fasting and Prayer, March 16, 1789, from a proclamation in our possession, Evans #21946.

    42. John Hancock, Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise, September 16, 1790, from an original broadside in our possession.

    43. John Hancock, Proclamation for a Day of Fasting and Prayer, February 11, 1791, from a proclamation in our possession, Evans #23549.

    44. John Hancock, Proclamation for a Day of Fasting, Prayer and Humiliation, February 24, 1792, from a proclamation in our possession, Evans #24519.

    45. John Hancock, Proclamation for a Day of Public Thanksgiving, October 25, 1792, from an original broadside in our possession.

    46. John Hancock, Proclamation for Day of Public Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, March 4, 1793, from a broadside in our possession.

So I watch a brief “blurb” of this documentary about Jesus – which is standard fare for this time of the year. Within thirty seconds the narrator “historian” says something in the vicinity of… Why is there not one reference to Jesus Christ in any place in all of Roman history?”

Statements like this amaze me. It reminds me of the title historian and professor Rodney Stark uses for his conclusion chapter in the book “Cities of God” – being “Why Historians Ought to Count” (Rodney Stark, Cities of God, Harper Collins, c.2006, p.209). Seriously? “Not one?” I consider an appropriate subtitle for this instance to be “Why Historians Ought to be Historians.”

For lack of time, and because this is the umpteenth time I’ve addressed this with inquirers (see here), I’m going to utilize some pasted notes from an excellent article on the DOXA Christian apologetics website (Note: I could personally do without the cheesy wall and wallet replica of Jesus, but I do find this article to be solid and well-researched, nonetheless):

In abbreviated form – here are a list of non-biblical sources – all of which I’ve personally read before – either directly, or indirectly:

Thallus (c. 50-75AD)
Phlegon (First century)
Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, c.93)
Tacitus (Annals, c.115-120)
Suetonius (Lives of the Caesars, c. 125)
Galen (various writings, c.150)
Celsus (True Discourse, c.170).
Mara Bar Serapion (pre-200?)
-Talmudic References( written after 300 CE, but some refs probably go back to eyewitnesses)
Lucian (Second century)
Numenius (Second cent.)
Galerius (Second Cent.)

At least one more many would add is from Pliny the Younger in a letter written about AD 111 to the emperor Trajan

I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution…the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this:they met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honour  of Christ as if to a god ” (from Pliny the Younger, Letters, 10.96; as referenced by Dr. Edwin Yamauchi from Jesus Under Fire, Wilkins/Moreland Gen eds; p. 217).

Yes, there will always be those who will challenge who these references are “really” talking about, hypothesizing about various contrived individuals who went by a similar title, functioned in similar ways, did similar things, and had a similar following (and with all these similarities, couldn’t possibly be referencing the person most assume – although virtually nobody prior to the 19th century assumed anything different)but the following is the DOXA site’s summary by Luke Timothy Johnson (New Testament scholar and historian of early Christianity who is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Candler School of Theology and a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University). This is roughly the same consensus a myriad of others (including historian/professor Edwin Yamauchi from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio) and gives a brief, yet apt, description of the difference between science and historiography:

“… certain fundamental points when taken together with confirming lines of convergence from outside testimony and non-narrative New Testament evidence, can be regarded as historical with a high degree of probability. Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus worked as a teacher and wonder-worker in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, was executed by crucifixion under the prefect Pontius Pilate, and continued to have followers after his death. These assertions are not mathematically or metaphysically certain, for certainty is not within the reach of history. But they enjoy a very high level of probability” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus, San Francisco: Harper, 1996, p.121)

DOXA also utilizes the following references from librarian and apologist J.P. Holding:

“Greco-Roman historian Michael Grant, who certainly has no theological axe to grind, indicates that there is more evidence for the existence of Jesus than there is for a large number of famous pagan personages – yet no one would dare to argue their non-existence. Meier notes that what we know about Alexander the Great could fit on only a few sheets of paper; yet no one doubts that Alexander existed. [Meier, John P.A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. New York: Doubleday, 1991, p. 23]. Charlesworth has written that “Jesus did exist; and we know more about him than about almost any Palestinian Jew before 70 C.E.” [Charlesworth, James H. – Jesus Within Judaism. New York: Doubleday, 1988., 168-9] The well-respected Jewish New Testament scholar, E.P. Sanders, echoes Grant,saying that “We know a lot about Jesus, vastly more than about John the Baptist, Theudas, Judas the Galilean, or any of the other figures whose names we have from approximately the same date and place.”[ Sanders, E.P. –The Historical Figure of Jesus. New York: Penguin Press, 1993., xiv.]
On the Crucifixion, Harvey writes: “It would be no exaggeration to say that this event is better attested, and supported by a more impressive array of evidence, than any other event of comparable importance of which we have knowledge from the ancient world.” [Harvey, A. E. Jesus and the Constraints of History. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982., 11] The main proponent of the view that Jesus never existed has been the German Professor G.A. Wells (NOT an NT scholar). Referring to Wells’ thesis, Dunn writes:
“The alternative thesis is that within thirty years there had evolved such a coherent and consistent complex of traditions about a non-existent figure such as we have in the sources of the Gospels is just too implausible. It involves too many complex and speculative hypotheses, in contrast to the much simpler explanation that there was a Jesus who said and did more or less what the first three Gospels attribute to him. The fact of Christianity’s beginnings and the character of its earliest tradition is such that we could only deny the existence of Jesus by hypothesizing the existence of some other figure who was a sufficient cause of Christianity’s beginnings – another figure who on careful reflection would probably come out very like Jesus!“[ Dunn, James G. D. The Evidence for Jesus. Louisville:Westminster, 1985., 29]

Morton Smith, a hardened skeptic of Orthodox Christianity and an Emeritus Professor of History, wrote of Wells’ work:”I don’t think the arguments in (Wells’) book deserve detailed refutation.”
“…he argues mainly from silence.”
“…many (of his arguments) are incorrect, far too many to discuss in this space.”
“(Wells) presents us with a piece of private mythology that I find incredible beyond anything in the Gospels.”[Hoffmann, R. J. and Larue, Gerald, eds. Jesus in History and Myth. Buffalo: Prometheus, 1986, 47-48.]
Encyclopedia. Britannica says, in its discussion of the multiple extra-biblical witnesses (Tacitus, Josephus, the Talmud, etc.):”These independent accounts prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time and on inadequate grounds by several authors at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20th centuries.“(Article on “Jesus”, 1990)

To his credit, G.A. Wells has now abandoned the Christ-Myth hypothesis…[See G.A. Wells, The Jesus Myth (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1999).]

___________________________________________________________________

Interestingly, even the prominent antagonist to orthodox Christianity John Dominic Crossan (who not long ago debated against Christian Oxford Scholar N.T. Wright at one of my alma maters – New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) is quoted on DOXA as conceding that the Jesus never existed argument is bogus. Crossan even goes so far as to compare this sort of thinking with that of the Americans never really landing on the moon:

_______________________________________________________________________ 

If I understand what Earl Doherty is arguing, Neil, it is that Jesus of Nazareth never existed as an historical person, or, at least that historians, like myself, presume that he did and act on that fatally flawed presumption. I am not sure, as I said earlier, that one can persuade people that Jesus did exist as long as they are ready to explain the entire phenomenon of historical Jesus and earliest Christianity either as an evil trick or a holy parable. I had a friend in Ireland who did not believe that Americans had landed on the moon but that they had created the entire thing to bolster their cold-war image against the communists. I got nowhere with him. So I am not at all certain that I can prove that the historical Jesus existed against such an hypothesis and probably, to be honest, I am not even interested in trying.

It was, however, that hypothesis taken not as a settled conclusion, but as a simple question that was behind the first pages of BofC when I mentioned Josephus and Tacitus. I do not think that either of them checked out Jewish or Roman archival
materials about Jesus. I think they were expressing the general public knowledge that “everyone” had about this weird group called Christians and their weird founder called Christ. The existence, not just of Christian materials, but of those other non-Christian sources, is enough to convince me that we are dealing with an historical individual. Furthermore, in all the many ways that opponents criticized earliest Christianity, nobody ever suggested that it was all made up. That in general, is quite enough for me.

___________________________________________________________________

Using Holding’s references, it’s even pointed out that the likes of highly liberal and skeptical authors Bultmann, Russell, and Voltaire refused to posit this along with their rebuttals against Christianity:

_____________________________________________________________________

The arch liberal Rudolf Bultmann, who doubted the authenticity of much of the Gospel traditions, concluded: “Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the Palestinian community.”[Jesus and the Word (2nd ed.; New York: Scribners, 1958).p.13]

“The non-historicity thesis has always been controversial, and it has consistently failed to convince scholars of many disciplines and religious creeds. Moreover, it has also consistently failed to convince many who for reasons of religious skepticism might have been expected to entertain it, from Voltaire to Bertrand Russell. Biblical scholars and classical historians now regard it as effectively refuted.” [Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament, (Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), p. 16.]

_______________________________________________________________________

In conclusion, historians should count – and historians should really make a concerted effort to be… historians.

-Eric

As we approach Thanksgiving and Christmas, I find these words from a very old anonymous work that was an influence on Martin Luther to be very poignant:

“If peace were to be had in external things, the devil himself wold have peace when everything goes according to his will and pleasure. But he does not. (Christ left us) the inner peace that comes in the midst of hardship…”
(The Theologica Germanica of Martin Luther. New York: Paulist Press, 1980, originally written around 1350)

Augustine on Time

Posted: May 22, 2012 by pastorerichann in Christian History, Theology
Tags: , ,

 

“God’s mind does not pass from one thought to another. His vision is utterly unchangeable. Thus, He comprehends all that takes place in time – the not-yet-existing future, the existing present, and the no-longer-existing past-in an immutable and eternal present. He does not see differently with the eyes and the mind, for He is not composed of soul and body. Nor is there any then, now, and afterwards in His knowledge, for, unlike ours, it suffers no change with triple time – present, past, and future. With Him, ‘there is no change, nor shadow of alteration'” (James 1:17) … “His knowledge of what happens in time, like His movement of what changes in time, is completely independent of time.”

from City of God (book XI chapter 21) – AD 410

With the Easter season quickly approaching, I thought it would be timely to post this 3rd part of the “IS” Articles series:

*Previous “IS” Articles can be located here (part 1) and here (part 2)*

We left off in the previous “IS” article with an exploration of the historical reliability of the New Testament. Based on the foundation of many of the previously mentioned arguments, respected historian R. T. France presents this summary point of view regarding the NT Gospels:

“We have seen above sufficient reason to be confident that the gospels not only claim to be presenting fact rather than fiction, but also, where they can be checked , carry conviction as the work of responsible and well-informed writers” (RT France as referenced by JP Moreland Scaling the Secular City) 

To further the summation of the case for the New Testament events being historical, scholar Luke Johnson at Emory University writes the following: “Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus worked as a teacher and wonder-worker in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, was executed by crucifixion under the prefect Pontius Pilate and continued to have followers after his death” (Luke Johnson, referenced by William Lane Craig, Leader U resource Center)

Dr. Craig also presents these insights which can be utilized as a summary of our previous focus on the Gospels as “reliable” history: 1) There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the historical facts. The interval of time between the events themselves and recording of them in the Gospels is too short to have allowed the memory of what had or had not actually happened to be erased (see I Cor. 15:3-4) 2) The gospels are not analogous to folk tales or contemporary “urban legends”(see Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3; 2 Peter 1:16a). 3) The Jewish transmission of sacred traditions was highly developed and reliable. In an oral culture like that of the first century Palestine the ability to memorize and retain large tracts of oral tradition was a highly prized and highly developed skill. From the earliest age children in the home, schools and the synagogue were taught to memorize faithfully sacred tradition. The disciples would have exercised similar care with the teachings of Jesus (we will explore this further along the lines of spiritual “help” for remembrance – John 14:26 ) 4) There were significant restraints on the embellishment of traditions about Jesus, such as the presence of eyewitnesses and the apostles’ supervision. Since those who had seen and heard Jesus continued to live and the tradition about Jesus remained under the supervision of the apostles, these factors would act as a natural check on tendencies to elaborate the facts in a direction contrary to that preserved by those who had known Jesus (see 2 Peter 1:16b) 5) The Gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability. Classical scholar Colin Hemer applied his knowledge and expertise to the New Testament studies in his book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Hemer goes through the book of Acts with a fine-toothed comb, pulling out a wealth of historical  knowledge, ranging from what would have been common knowledge down to details which only a local person would know. Again and again Luke’s accuracy is demonstrated: from the sailings of the Alexandrian corn fleet to the coastal terrain of the Mediterranean islands to the peculiar titles of local officials, “Luke gets it right” (William Lane Craig, Leader U Resource Center)

Whereas the specifics of the story of Jesus cannot be “proven” in the purely scientific sense of the word, the normal historiography (or the science of historical investigation) arguments based on manuscript evidence, internal evidence, internal consistency, and time proximity when applied to the New Testament scriptures, overwhelmingly support the position that we have no reason to doubt their basic, historical credibility. Lest we’re skeptical of the importance of “history” when applied to the topic of verifying the activity or revelation of God to humanity, let’s be reminded that in a technical sense, any event which takes place in our time/space existence becomes “history” once the event is over. If Jesus’ cross and resurrection event took place last week, we would face most of the same questions about verification (Are there reliable witnesses? How many? How committed are they? Are the testimonies corroborating? What were their motives?).

The place of historicity of the New Testament scriptures for Christian apologetics is once again seen in the breakdown by Dr. Winfried Corduan. Simplified, it is: 1. The New Testament as history shows that… 2. …it is reasonable to believe in the deity of Christ, who… 3. …taught us to accept the Bible as the Word of God.

Moving on to numbers two and three, we will first turn to external (extra-biblical) evidence which bears witness that the earliest Christian believers worshiped Jesus as “divine.”

Extra-biblical friends of New Testament Christianity:

The Early Church “Fathers

The following is a list of examples of those known as the “Church Fathers,” their profession to believing in the “deity” of Christ, and the approximate dates of these professions:

  • Ignatius: “God Himself was manifested in human form”  (AD 105)
  • Clement: “It is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God” (AD 150)
  • Justin Martyr: “The Father of the universe has a Son. And He.. is even        God” (AD 160)
  • Irenaeus: “He is God, for the name Emmanuel indicates this” (AD 180)
  • Tertullian: “…Christ our God” (AD 200)
  • Origen: “No one should be offended that the savior is also God…” (AD 225)
  • Novatian: “…He is not only man, but God also…” (AD 235)
  • Cyprian: “Jesus Christ, our Lord and God” (AD 250)
  • Methodius: “…He truly was and is… with God, and being God…” (AD 290)
  • Lactantius: “We believe Him to be God” (AD 304)
  • Arnobius: “Christ performed all those miracles… the… duty of Divinity” (AD 305) *   **

*(from David Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, 93-100, as referenced by Dr. Peter Jones, Cracking Da Vinci’s Code , 94)

**Something notable about the above collection of quotes is how it radically contradicts the fallacious idea promoted by author Dan Brown and the “DaVinci Code” conspiracy people that Constantine around AD 325 suddenly came up with the idea of “Jesus as Divine”

Extra-biblical “antagonists” of New Testament Christianity

The Talmud (AD 400-500 collection of writings by Jewish rabbis) states that “Yeshu” was put to death on “the eve of the Passover ” because he “practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy ” (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 107b as referenced by Edwin Yamauchi in Jesus Under Fire, eds Wilkins / Moreland 214)

Tacitus (in a passage written in 115) writes “Christians” named after the person “Christus”… “suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of… Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of evil, but even in Rome.” 

Pliny theYounger – governor of Bithynia in northwestern Turkey early in the second century – from a letter written about 111 to the emperor Trajan (AD 98-117) in reference to the blossoming of Christianity: “…they met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honour of Christ as if to a god ” (from Pliny the Younger, Letters, 10.96; as referenced by Dr. Edwin Yamauchi from Jesus Under Fire, op cit, 216).

The attestation of the N.T. scriptures and Jesus as divine

There have been those who will attempt to use the NT itself to marginalize Christians and their profession of the deity of Christ as being not only “placed upon him” but even “placed upon the NT” itself. The subjects below labeled “A” through “D” present evidences much to the contrary:

A. Usage of theos: NT and Greek language expert Dr. Murray J Harris (Ph.D., University of Manchester) catalogues the usage of the specific Greek word theos “God” in relation to Jesus in the New Testament. Based on the wording/structure of the Greek text, Harris notes the following verses present the case for theos being used in reference to Jesus: John 1:1; John 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1; John 1:18. Harris also notes that any concern the usage of theos is restrained can easily be attributed to the fact that the first century struggle was not against atheism/agnosticism, but was instead a counter to polytheism (Acts 17:22-23) and even docetism (John 4: 1-3). (Murray J. Harris, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in reference to Jesus, 271-273)

 B. The “I Am” Sayings (John 8:58-59; John 10:11)

 C.  Son of God, Son of Man, Christ, Lord (Matt. 16:13-17; Daniel 7:13-14; Isaiah 9:6-7)  

 D. Further Implications of Christ’s Life and Teachings

– He claimed to be one with the Father (John 10:30)

– He claimed to be sinless (John 8:46)

– He forgave all sins (Mark 2:5-12; Luke 24:45-47)

– He accepted proclamations such as “My Lord and My God” and accepted worship from people (John 20:28) (compare to Matt. 4:10; Rev.19:10)

– He claimed to have pre-existed and yet was clearly different from the “angels” (John 8:58; Matt. 13:41)

– He claimed He could grant eternal life (John 3:16; 5:39-40)

– He claimed authority over the Mosaic Law (Matt. 5:21-48; 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12)

– He said at the end of time He will judge the world (Matt. 25:31-33)

– He said we will be judged by how we have treated him (Matt. 25:31-46)

– He claimed to be the Messiah, and fulfilled numerous prophecies*(see below)  (Matt. 2:5-6; Luke 4:16-21; Zechariah 9:9 / Luke 19:28-31; John 19:24, 36-37)

– He performed miracles including raising the dead (John11), and ultimately rising from the dead himself* (* These two will be explored further along in this article)

 Keep in mind, all of this is in reference to a monotheistic Jew teaching monotheistic, Jewish Followers (Deut. 6:4)

The uniqueness of His claims

As Peter Kreeft asserts, there are people who have claimed to be God, but they are in insane asylums. Without giving in to overstatement, Christ’s unique claim of divinity compared to his reputation as a good (and sane) teacher is truly foundational to the standout characteristics of His identity. Whereas founders of particular religions which still exist today have the reputation of being “good / moral” individuals, wise teachers, or even prophets – none of them even made the same claims that were made by Jesus. Ravi Zacharias writes:

 “At the heart of every major religion is a leading exponent. As the exposition is studied, something very significant emerges. There comes a bifurcation, or a distinction, between the person and the teaching. Mohammed, to the Koran, Buddha, to the Noble Path. Krishna, to his philosophizing. Zoroaster, to his ethics. Whatever we may make of their claims, one reality is inescapable; They are teachers who point to their teaching or show some particular way. In all of these, there emerges an instruction, a way of living. It is not Zoroaster to whom you turn, it is Zoroaster to whom you listen. It is not Buddha who delivers you, it is his Noble Truths that instruct you. It is not Mohammed who transforms you, it is the beauty of the Koran that woos you. By contrast, Jesus did not only teach or expound His message. He was  identical with His Message. ‘In Him,’ say the scriptures, ‘dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’ He did not just proclaim the truth, He said ‘I am the truth.’ He did not just show a way, He said ‘I am the Way.’ He did not just open up vistas, He said ‘I am the door,’ ‘I am the Good Shepherd,’ ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ “I am the I AM.’ In Him is not just an offer of life’s bread. He is the bread. That is why being a Christian is not just a way of feeding and living. Following Christ begins with a way of relating and being”   (Ravi Zacharias: Jesus Among Other Gods, 89-90)        

The historicity of His death by crucifixion is seriously contested by relatively very few. The event is even spoken of by ancient secular sources. For the ancient culture in which Jesus lived, claims of Divinity is the only reasonable explanation (put in human terms) for Jesus’ crucifixion. As many have noted, including John Meier and Leander Keck (Yale University), holding that a good moral teacher, or wise sage would be crucified by capital Roman punishment is inexplicable and even ridiculous. As Keck writes, Jesus’ claims of “Son of God” divinity is the NT witness and is congruent with the charge of blasphemy and intense reaction. Insanity is an option, but an insane person wouldn’t have been a threat or had any kind of real following to the degree Jesus did during or after his death. C.S. Lewis’ famous “trilemma” – or “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” argument states “either this man was, and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 56)

Let’s now look at two more indicators of Jesus Christ as Divine:

*The fulfillment of prophecy

The chances of one person fulfilling just a small percentage of the Old Testament prophecies are ridiculously improbable. Biblical Scholar John Phillips describes it in the following way:

 “It has been said that there were some 109 Old Testament detailed predictions literally fulfilled at Christ’s first coming, and that, of the 845 Quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament, 33 refer to Christ. There are some 25 prophecies concerning the betrayal, trial, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus uttered by various prophets over a period of some five hundred years. These were literally fulfilled although the chances again of such fulfillment have been shown to be one chance in 33,554,438. If the law of compound probabilities is applied similarly to all 109 predictions fulfilled at Christ’s first coming, the chances that they could accidentally be fulfilled in the history of one person is one in billions(John Phillips, Exploring the Scriptures, 124, as referenced by Geisler / Hoffman op cit)

Barry Leventhal, a Jew turned Christian remarks about an experience he had when pondering why Isaiah 53 was so similar to Jesus. His local rabbi, responded to his inquiry by saying “Barry, I must admit that as I read Isaiah 53 it does seem to be talking about Jesus, but since we Jews do not believe in Jesus, it can’t be speaking about Jesus” (Barry R. Leventhal, from Why I Am a Christian, Geisler/Hoffman eds. op cit. 213)

The supreme miracle

Along with the claim of Divinity by this obviously sane and “good” teacher, we look now at what is known as the “supreme nature miracle.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ is deemed to be not only the most documented “miracle” in ancient history, but it is perhaps also the most documented, verifiable event in all of ancient history. Dr. J.P. Moreland outlines what he describes as the “undisputable facts” of history surrounding Jesus’ death and the message of the resurrection:

Exhibit 1 – The Disciples died (or were severely tortured) for their Beliefs

Exhibit 2 – The Conversion of the Skeptics

Exhibit 3 – Changes to key Social Structures

Exhibit 4 – Communion and Baptism

Exhibit 5 – The Emergence of the Church

Keep in mind this person we are considering had more of an impact on the history of humanity than anyone who has ever lived. Yet, as Kreeft points out, he “never entered politics, never fought a battle, and never wrote a book. He lived in a backwater nation, never went more than one hundred miles from his home, and was executed by crucifixion as a dangerous criminal.” There have been moral teachers, wise sages, and even religious leaders who have taught some similar ideas. Why then, His impact on human kind? Simply put in historical terms: The claim of divinity and the historical, bodily resurrection.

W.L. Craig notes the following facts surrounding the death and resurrection event: Fact #1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in the tomb. Fact #2: On the Sunday morning following the crucifixion, the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his women followers. Fact #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead. Fact #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus had risen from the dead despite their having every reason not to (The willingness for the disciples to take the “hard road” of the bodily resurrection as well as being willing to die for a hoax/stolen body, etc. extinguishes the possibility of them conspiring the event. What would be their motive? Personal suffering and death? If someone else stole the body we’re hard-pressed to explain the appearances)

What impact would poorly attested/evidenced “resurrection” stories have on our world?

Appolonius of Tyana: The one reported “appearance” was a “vision to a sleeping man in the year 273 , nearly two centuries after his death.”

Sabbatai Sevi: After his death in 1676, it was reported many years after his death that his brother found his tomb empty. Some refused to believe he had ever died. Whatever the case, it was never reported again that anyone had seen him.

Rabbi Judah: While the Rabbi died in 220, the first reference to his appearances came in the fifth century. There is only one witness cited, two centuries after he died. Imagine if someone in our time began proclaiming “George Washington rose from the dead – I saw him.”

Kabir: A 15th century religious leader, who, following his death in 1518, is said to have appeared to stop a Hindu/Muslim controversy.  J.C. Archer writes “Little or nothing is extant from contemporaries of Kabir. Some of his teachings may have been written down about fifty years after his death, but these contain nothing about a resurrection” (J.C. Archer, The Sikhs (50-53). As Gary Habermas notes “simply to report a miracle is not sufficient to establish it, especially if that miracle is going to be used to support a religious system” (Habermas; Resurrection claims, 177, as a referenced in ECA)

Compare the above “charlatans” to this summation of the record of Jesus’ resurrection, remembering that the NT scriptures have the strongest manuscript support of any comparable writings in ancient history, and how this event is also verified by its impact on all of history:

                                         Saw            Heard          Touched                 Other Evidence

1. Mary Mag.                          X                 X                   X                 empty tomb

    John 20:10-18

2. Mary/women                     X                 X                   X                empty tomb

     Matt. 28:1-10

3. Peter                                  X                  X                         empty tomb/clothes      

      I Cor. 15:5                                                                                      

4. Two Disciples                     X                 X                                        *ate with him

     Luke 24:13-35

5. Ten disciples                     X                X                **X         saw wounds/ate food

     Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23

6. Eleven disciples                X                X                **X                        saw wounds

     John 20:24-31

7. Seven disciples                 X                X                                                *ate food

       John 21

8.  All disciples                      X                X                                     commissioning

      Matt. 28:16-20

9.  500 brethren                  X                 X  

      I Cor. 15:6

10.  James                              X                 X  

         I Cor. 15:7

11.  All apostles                     X                 X                                  ate food/ascension  

        Acts 1:4-8

12. Paul                                   X                 X

       Acts 9:1-9; I Cor. 15:8

       *Implied                **Offered himself to be touched

Because the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so convincing people have even concocted borderline “silly” alternative explanations. Dr. W.L. Craig, while debating the subject on the resurrection of Jesus Christ with a professor at UC Irvine, was confronted with the hypothesis of Jesus having an “unknown identical twin brother who was separated from him at birth, came back to Jerusalem just at the time of the crucifixion, stole Jesus’ body out of the grave, and presented himself to the disciples” (Craig, Evidence for Jesus leader U).     

Let’s reflect again on this person: He made radically unique claims; His life fulfilled prophecies against monumentally significant odds of probability; His supreme resurrection miracle is the most attested event in all of ancient history in terms of comparable written documentation and the amount of reliable witnesses; His life has had more impact on recorded humanity than anyone else in history.

What is the record of what this “person” thought about our scriptures?

The Old Testament:

– Jesus referred to the Old Testament continuously, and spoke of it as being written “in the Spirit” and that it should be “believed” (Matt. 22:43-44; John 5:46-47).

– Jesus referred to the Old Testament scriptures as the “Word of God” and in doing so differentiated between the “Word of God” and traditions that were handed down (Mark 7:8-9, 13) (*Note that it is common for people to point out Jesus countered the “religious Pharisees” of his day. While this is true, note also that he did so by appealing to the authority of the word of God. Even His “turning the tables” action was an appeal to the “for it is written” authority of the Old Testament – Matt. 21:12-13)

– Jesus referred to the Old Testament scriptures as “divine authority and the final court of appeal” concerning all questions (Resurrection: Matt. 22:29-33) (Marriage: Matt. 19:4-5) (The Identity of the Messiah: John 5:39, 46; Luke 4:16-21; Luke 24:27, 44)

– Jesus referred to Old Testament people/events as being literal people, including Noah (Matt. 24:37-39) and Jonah (Matt. 12:39-41)

– Jesus quoted from the OT scriptures during his own spiritual trials (Matt. 4:1-11)

– Jesus specifically described what the Old Testament scriptures entailed (Matt. 23:35; Luke 11:51; Luke 24:27, 44 – Genesis through 2nd Chronicles was the order in which the OT books were placed during Jesus’ time)

The New Testament:

– Jesus spoke of the apostles as having a spiritually inspired memory (John 14:25-26; John 15:26). John 15:26 reveals the context of this as being those with Christ from the beginning. Peter affirmed Paul’s writings as scriptures (2 Peter 3:14-16). Writings without apostolic authority were rejected. Peter affirmed this issue of  inspiration/authority/eyewitnesses which applied to both the Old and New Testament writings (2 Peter 1:16-21), and contrasted it with that which is false (2 Peter 2:1-2).

John spoke of the serious consequences of adding / taking away from the inspired writings of an apostle (Rev. 22:18-19).

I could go on to elaborate on the survival and impact of the Bible in history. Bernard Ramm outlines the subject matter in the following way: a) Its survival through time b) Its survival through persecution c) Its survival through criticism d) Its influence on culture.

Thus, to accept the basic historicity of the New Testament is to 1) Accept Christ as Divine and 2) To accept the whole of the Bible as being inspired by God and authoritative. Of the many ways we can express our “reason” (I Peter 3:15) for accepting the Bible as the inspired Word of God, one of the ways we express it is simply by stating “because we affirm the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His authority over this matter.” 

Final conclusions

For the sake of balance, I’m going to end with a quote from Bernard Ramm regarding the role of apologetics in Christian life. Interestingly, Bernard Ramm is a Christian theologian my father had the privilege of personally studying under during his time in seminary. Dr. Ramm states:

“If one could be reasoned into faith, then Christianity would have sacrificed its moral and spiritual dimension. But if there were no evidences at all, then our faith could not be differentiated from gullibility. Because Christianity is in part an historical and in part a spiritual decision, Pascal reasoned that God gave enough evidences to satisfy the mind of the man whose heart was surrendered to Christ, but not enough to tempt a man into Christianity by pure reason alone…Christian evidences posses a strong witness value. They are arrows pointing toward the truth; they are credentials for Christian doctrines; they inform the unbeliever that although Christianity is of the heart, it does not ask for stultification of the intellect” (Dr. Bernard Ramm; Protestant Christian Evidences, 251)

Now, if you haven’t yet, be challenged to make the most important decision of your life. Take the step of faith to repent of sin and personally trust Jesus Christ as your Savior and “Lord.” The name “Jesus” (Grk yesous, Heb. yeshua) means “Savior.” Know for certain that He died and rose to “save” people from their sins (Matt. 1:21; Luke 24:45-48) 

Here’s some guidance on making that decision.

Also, here’s another way of putting it.

Sources:

J.P. Moreland; Scaling the Secular City

Michael Wilkins / JP Moreland eds. Jesus Under Fire

Ravi Zacharias: Jesus Among Other Gods

Murray Harris: Jesus as God

Dr. Peter Jones: Cracking Da Vinci’s Code

Norman Geisler ed.: Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics

Norman Geisler /Hoffman eds.: Why I am a Christian

William Lane Craig: The Evidences for Jesus

Bernard Ramm: Protestant Christian Evidences

America: Christian, Not, or Otherwise?

Posted: November 19, 2010 by pastorerichann in Christian History, Social Issues

As we approach Thanksgiving, there continues to be growing dialogue about America and its beginnings. Should America be considered a “Christian nation” – not a Christian nation – or something else? I found this article by Gregory Koukl which I consider to be an excellent  summary of my own thoughts on the subject. I’ve reprinted the article below (note – for further reading on this subject, I recommend “The Case for Civililty” by Oz Guinness, and “The Divided States of America” by Richard Land):

America’s Unchristian Beginnings?

Gregory Koukl

Greg responds to an L.A. Times Op-Ed article by this title (sans question mark), subtitled “Founding Fathers: Despite preachings of our pious Right, most were deists who rejected the divinity of Jesus.”divider

There has been a lot of confusion on the issue of whether or not we’ re a Christian nation, and I’m not exactly sure why. But it is hotly debated in our culture right now. The reason I say I’m not sure why is because the historical record is quite clear. I think that Christians, though, often make inappropriate, unfounded, or inaccurate applications of some of the information, and I want to speak to that in just a moment.As to the faith content of those who were our Founding Fathers, there can be absolutely no confusion about the fact that virtually every single one of them shared a Christian, biblical world view. There is some question as to whether every single one of them held to all the orthodox teachings of classical Christianity; but it seems to me that there is very little question as to what their religious persuasions and world views were.There was a piece in the L.A. Times on the third of this August on the Op-Ed page entitled “America’s Unchristian Beginnings.” It is subtitled “Founding Fathers: Despite preachings of our pious Right, most were deists who rejected the divinity of Jesus.” There are a couple things that trouble me about this article, the biggest thing is the word “most” in the subtitle. “Most of our Founding Fathers” apparently were deists, according to this person’s assessment. This is a canard that’s been tossed around even by some Christians who ought to know better. This piece was written by Steven Morris who is a professor of physics at L.A. Harbor College and he is also a member of the L.A.-based Atheists United.Some might say, what does a physicist know about history? Just because he is a physicist doesn’t mean that he can’t have an accurate opinion about this particular issue. I take issue with his research. It’ s simply bad.He goes on to reply to the Christian Right, who he says is trying to rewrite the history of the United States in its campaign to force its view of religion on others. His approach is to quote seven different people: Thomas Paine, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ethan Allen, James Madison, and Ben Franklin. His point is to quote these individuals who he thinks apparently are, first of all, Founding Fathers, and secondly, characteristic of the lot of them in rejection of Christianity and in acceptance of deism.I am frustrated by this because it is characteristic of the way a lot of people want to treat this issue. They think that they can take names that we associate with that period and are well known, sift through their writings and find some things that they think are hostile to Christianity, and therefore conclude that not only these people are anti-Christian, but all of the rest of them are anti-Christian, as well.It’s an example of Steven Morris turning the exception into the rule. Since he can find what he thinks are seven different people that are important personalities during this period of time, who at some time in their lives may have written something that can be understood to be non-Christian, then that characterizes the whole group of them as deists, ergo the subtitle “Most were deists who rejected the divinity of Jesus.”Morris’ sightings are simply specious. Thomas Payne and Ethan Allen, for example, were in no- wise intellectual architects of the Constitution. Rather, they were firebrands of the Revolution. Was that important? Sure, they made an important contribution, but they weren’t Founding Fathers. Period.Now, as for Washington, Sam Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. If one looks at the literature of the time–the personal correspondence, the public statements, the biographies–he will find that this literature is replete with quotations by these people contrary to those that Mr. Morris very carefully selected for us. Apparently, he also very carefully ignored other important thinkers: John Witherspoon, for example, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, John Adams, Patrick Henry. All individuals who were significant contributors to the architectural framework of this country and who had political philosophies that were deeply influenced by Christianity, especially Calvinism.But there is another thing that he completely overlooks in this analysis. Something that makes a mockery out of his analysis, and also answers the question quite simply and directly and in the affirmative for us about the Christian beginnings of our Republic.This issue is actually very simple. The phrase “Founding Fathers” is a proper noun. In other words, Founding Fathers refers directly to a very specific group of people (although I think you could be a little bit flexible and include a little wider group of people). Those who intellectually contributed to the Constitutional convention were the Founding Fathers. If we want to know whether our Founding Fathers were Christian or deists, one needs only to look at the individual religious convictions of those 55 delegates of the Constitutional convention.How would we know that? We look at their church membership primarily, and also at their correspondence. Back then church membership was a big deal. In other words, to be a member of a church back then, it wasn’t just a matter of sitting in the pew or attending once in a while. This was a time when church membership entailed a sworn public confession of biblical faith, adherence, and acknowledgment of the doctrines of that particular church.Of those 55 Founding Fathers, we know what their sworn public confessions were. Twenty-eight were Episcopalians, eight were Presbyterians, seven were Congregationalists, two were Lutheran, two were Dutch Reformed, two were Methodist, two were Roman Catholic, one is unknown, and only three were deists–Williamson, Wilson, and Franklin.To heap more fuel on the fire of my point, of the 55, the Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, and the Dutch Reformed (which make up 45 of the 55) were Calvinists, for goodness sake! In other words, these weren’t just Christians, these were among the most extreme and doctrinally strict Christians around. Of the 55 delegates, virtually all of them were deeply committed Christians. Only three were deists. Even Franklin is equivocal because, though not an orthodox Christian, Franklin seems to have abandoned his deism early in life and moved back towards his Puritan roots. Indeed, it was 81 year old Franklin’s emotional call to humble prayer on June 28, 1787, that was actually the turning point for a hopelessly stalled Constitutional convention. We have his appeal on record thanks to James Madison who took copious notes of the whole proceeding. His appeal contained no less than four direct quotations from Scripture. This does not sound like a man who was hostile to the Christian religion.But this assessment doesn’ t answer a more fundamental question: Are we a Christian nation? It seems clear that most of the Founders were Christians, not deists. But what about the question “Are we a Christian nation?” I think the answer depends entirely on what is meant by “Christian nation.”Are the theological doctrines of the Bible explicitly woven into the fabric of government? The answer is no. The non-establishment clause of the First Amendment absolutely prohibits such a thing. However, was the Biblical view of the world–the existence of God who active in human history, the authority of the Scripture, the inherent sinfulness of man, the existence of absolute objective morality, and God-given transcendent rights–was that the philosophic foundation of the Constitution? The answer is, without question, yes. The American community presumed a common set of values which were principally biblical. Further, the founding principles of the Republic were clearly informed by biblical truth.A question can be asked at this point. Given the fact that most of the Founding Fathers–either those who are among the 55 delegates to the Constitutional convention or those outside of that number who were significant architects to the Constitution–were in fact biblical Christians and had sworn to that, and those that weren’t were at least deeply moved and informed by a biblical moral view, one could ask the question, “So what? What does that have to do with anything today?”I think that Christians may be a little out of line on this part of the issue, and I want to bring it into balance. Regarding the question, Is America a Christian nation?, if we mean by that that Christianity is the official, doctrinal religion of this country, the answer is of course not. That’s prohibited by the exclusion clause of the First Amendment. If we mean that we were founded on Biblical principles by Christian men who had a deep commitment to the Scriptures by and large, the answer is certainly yes.But then the question is, So what? How does what happened 200 years ago influence what is going on now? I actually have two points to make.This fact doesn’ t give Christians a trump card in the debate on public policy, in my view. Just because Christians were here first doesn’t mean that their views should continue to prevail. Within the limits of the Constitution, the majority rules. That’s the way this government works, ladies and gentlemen.But let’s not rewrite history to relegate those with religious convictions to the sidelines. That is the other half of this. The privilege of citizenship remains the same for all despite their religious convictions. Everyone gets a voice and everyone gets a vote. Christians don’t have a leg up on everyone else because we were here first. Even the Christians who wrote the rules didn’t give us that liberty. They didn’t give us that leg up. They made the playing ground even for everyone, every ideology, every point of view.Having said that, though, in writing the First Amendment and the non-establishment clause, they did not have in view this current idea of separation–that the state is thoroughly secular and not informed at all by religious values, especially Christian. This view that is popular now was completely foreign, not just to the Founders, but to the first 150 years of American political thought. It’s absolutely clear that the Fathers did not try to excise every vestige of Christian religion, Christian thought, and Christian values from all facets of public life. In fact, they were friendly to religion in general, and to Christianity in particular, and encouraged its education and expression.As to the durability of this tradition, I suggest that anyone who has any doubts about this simply read Lincoln’s second inaugural address, which is etched into the marble of the northern wall of the Lincoln Memorial. Go there and read it. Face Lincoln, turn right, and there it is. It contains no less than three or four biblical references.After that you can reflect on Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of October 3, 1863. It begins this way: “It is the duty of nations, as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions [By golly, how did that get in there?] in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon. And to recognize the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.”I think that pretty much settles it.

This is a transcript of a commentary from the radio show “Stand to Reason,” with Gregory Koukl. It is made available to you at no charge through the faithful giving of those who support Stand to Reason. Reproduction permitted for non-commercial use only. ©1995 Gregory KouklFor more information, contact Stand to Reason at 1438 East 33rd St., Signal Hill, CA 90755
(800) 2-REASON (562) 595-7333 www.str.org

(*Note: It’s rare that I would lead a Bible Study based purely on notes from my personal, daily devotional readings – but in a recent Sunday class I decided to do just that. What is presented here is by no means a comprehensive study on this subject from the Bible. In fact, there are numerous obvious passages which could also be presented here, including verses like John 16:33in the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” and countless famous Psalms. This is merely a beginning database of somewhat random passages with a few introductory thoughts, and then some scribbled concluding thoughts for consideration. Many of these verses and passages are ones I was personally drawn to in reading through the entire Bible in my times of daily devotion. This is not the kind of study I would attempt to lead someone through who was in the middle of an immediate crisis – see Romans 12:15 – but when the “smoke clears” and the pain lingers, I see the truths here as shots of realism from the Christian scriptures. Since Lee Strobel in his book and video “The Case For Faith” stated the number one issue skeptics have with belief in God is the subject of “suffering” – and since many Christians seem to have a skewed perception about what the Bible really says on the subject, I pray the following Bible snapshots will minister to some readers who are currently struggling in these areas – Pastor Eric Hann)

A Beginning Data-Base on Trials and Suffering

Romans 8:18-23; 2 Cor. 5:1-2

or… “Does the Bible Really Give us a Faith-Driven, Earthly, Health, Wealth, and ‘Fairness’ Guarantee?”

Abel: Perhaps the earliest example of faithfulness and hero of the faith in the Bible was Abel, who was murdered by his own biological brother (see Genesis 4:1-4; Hebrews 11:4)

Joseph (see Gen. 37 – 50): Thrown in a well by his own brothers, then sold into slavery. I’ve always considered this a fascinating story. It’s interesting that even though Joseph eventually rose up to 2nd in command in Egypt, because of his forgiveness there really never was any “just” retribution served against his brothers (You might remember that little thing about them attempting to murder him and then selling him into slavery).

Elijah (see I Kings 19:4-18): Could an iconic prophet ever get… down?

David (see Psalm 6:6-7 and Psalm 31:9-15)

Uriah: Uriah, was faithful to God and faithful to his nation/king as a soldier, and yet his wife was taken to appease a king’s lust and he was eventually conspired against and murdered (2 Samuel 11-12)

Ahijah: A faithful prophet of God – in his old age was going blind (see I Kings 14:4)

Asa: A Southern Kingdom King loyal to God – in his old age was “diseased in his feet” (see: I Kings 15:23)

Naboth: A Godly man of integrity – falsely accused by Jezebel’s cronies of blasphemy, and then put to death because of it (see I Kings 21:8-14). In this instance, there were some resulting consequences.

Jeremiah: A prophet of high regard who spent forty years preaching faithfully – and suffering (Jer. 38:6; Jer. 9:1; 20:7-18; 29:7, remember the famous vs. 11 which is so commonly printed on coffee cups and t-shirts is written in the context of 70 years of captivity in Babylon. If you don’t think an iconic prophet ever gets “down” read Jeremiah 20:18 along with the whole book of Lamentations. Do remember to include 3:14-24)

Job: Enough said. An item of note is that even after Job’s possessions are restored at the end of the book, his loved ones who died, aren’t – at least not during his earthly life.

Habakkuk’s conclusion: (see Hab.3:17-19)

Jesus’ passion – suffering (see Matt. 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; John 17019). Yeah, that little experience known as the cross event. Just think, if we were all exactly like Jesus, we’d all… (see John 15:20)

A little note: After Jesus’ ascension, all of the disciples were martyred or severely persecuted – beginning with James (Acts 12:2). If you’re a true disciple of Jesus, what is it that you’re expecting? (see 2 Tim. 3:12)

Stephen: A Christian evangelist put to death by stoning (see Acts 7:54-60). Think about it: “They’ll stone you when you’re preaching for the Lord. They’ll stone you even if they don’t get bored… (so) you don’t have to feel so all alone… “)

Peter’s input on sufferings (see I Peter 4:12-19)

Paul (see Acts 9:15-16; Acts 16:22-25; Acts 20:22-24; 2 Cor.1:3-10; 2 Cor.12:7-10; Philippians 1:12; Philippians 2:16-18; Philippians 4:11-13). A tid-bit of note: One of Paul’s co-workers was unable to travel with Paul at a certain juncture because he was “sick” (see 2 Timothy 4:20).

Hebrews 11:30-40 (Recorded in the “hall of faith,” some are delivered physically/circumstantially – some aren’t. Note vs. 37 – there must be nothing quite like being “sawn in two“)

A sprinkling of examples from Christian history: Foxes Book of Martyrs (circa 1563) Summary: Faithful Christian servants die in horrific ways; D.L. Moody (1837-1899): Faithful Christian leader, preacher, evangelist, philanthropist, a key component of the “3rd Great Awakening” – in the 1871 Chicago fire fled with his family while his newly erected church building and home burned to the ground. He also lost two grandchildren at very young ages (Dwight at age one of spiral meningitis, and Irene, at age four, due to Pneumonia). Moody himself died at the age of 62 with heart problems.  Horatio Spafford (1828 – 1888): Christian friend of DL Moody, author of the hymn “It Is Well” – also lost all his possessions in the 1871 Chicago Fire and in 1873 lost all four of his daughters in a ship accident. Later, in 1880, their only son died at the age of 4 to Pneumonia. In 1888, Spafford himself died in Jerusalem of Malaria at the age of 60.  Corrie Ten Boom (1892 – 1983): Faithful Dutch Christian who suffered at hands of Nazi Germany for attempting to save the lives of those fleeing from Nazi oppression. She watched two family members die in German concentration camps; The list could go on, including Richard Wurmbrand; Ecuadorian missionaries  Jim Elliot and friends; Joni Eareckson Tada – etc, etc, ad-infinitum.

So what can Christians make of all this? Here are a few notes on what the Bible reveals:

Sometimes sufferings are allowed for disciplinary (or chastening/refining) reasons (I Cor. 11:29-30; Hebrews 12:5-11); Sometimes it has nothing to do with discipline (John 9:1-3); Sometimes we find out why the sufferings have been allowed (Genesis 50:20; Philippians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 1:3-6; 2 Cor. 12:7-10); Other times we don’t (Ecclesiastes 3:11; Isaiah 55:8-9; I Corinthians 13:9, 12); Sometimes it’s only God, Himself that’s revealed (Job 42:1-6)

What are some things Christians should do when facing trials and suffering in their own lives? The Bible tells us to…

Not think it strange when we face trials (I Peter 4:12)

Take everything up in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7); .

Also have others pray – including prayer for healing – because there are times when God heals and changes other circumstances as well (James 4:2; James 5:13-18; John 15:7);

Pray for wisdom (James 1:2-8);

Examine our Christian walks and confess / repent of all known sin (I Peter 4:15-16; I Cor. 11:31-32; James 4:3);

Consider Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-4; Matt. 26:38-42; Matt. 27:26-46; Acts 22:8);

Know that Christ sympathizes with us in our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:14-16); 

Come unto Jesus (trust Him as Savior if you haven’t!) and learn from Him (Matt. 11: 28-30);

Be strengthened “according to God’s Word (Psalm 119:28);

Acknowledge the abiding Helper (the Holy Spirit) who is with us (John 14:15-18); …

Recognize that as Christians God gives us the ability to find a “way out” from temptation and “bear” whatever comes our way (I Corinthians 10:13)

Trust in God’s providence that He’s working even if it doesn’t seem like it (Proverbs 3:5-6; Romans 8:28;37-39; I Peter 4:19)

Rest our hope fully/patiently in Christ as the anchor for our souls, and for the promised final justice, healing, and understanding (Romans 8:18; I Peter 1:13; Hebrews 6:15,19; Romans 2:16; 2 Cor. 5:9-11; Revelation 21:4; I Cor. 13:12)…

Acknowledge that when our flesh is weak we can experience even more spiritual strength (2 Cor. 12:7-10) 

Affirm that when the “outward” person is decaying, the “inward” Christian person is being “renewed” day by day (2 Cor. 4:16)

Count it joy, knowing the testing of our faith is producing something in our lives (James 1:2-4)

Remember that whatever afflictions are faced in this lifetime, they are both “light” and “short” compared to the Christian’s future “eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17-18; Romans 8:18)

“Rejoice” looking forward to the future glory revealed (I Peter 4:13)

Use the experience of our own sufferings to help comfort and alleviate the sufferings of others – so that others might know God, His comfort, and Jesus Christ as Savior through our witness and ministry to them (2 Cor. 1:3-7)

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness no matter what we’re facing (Matthew 6:33-34)

Seek to magnify Christ in the midst of all things – even death(Philippians 1:20-21).

A Beginning Database of Questions to Contemplate Concerning the “Justice” of God for Allowing Suffering:

“Since suffering/evil exists – there “can’t be a God” – so I don’t believe in any “God.” First off, does simple theism require that this “god” be “moral” – or completely moral? Is there any room within general revelation principles for at least a concept of an immoral, unjust “god”- type of being? Just a thought.

“Since suffering/evil exists – I can’t believe in the God Christians claim to believe in”(with attributes describing God as… all-powerful; all-loving – etc)

Without any framework of theism (etc) how are you defining “evil,” and on what basis? How is “love” defined, and on what basis? Why even pose the question on moral grounds if there is no meta-ethical grounding for morality – love / evil / good / bad? (Example: If we can’t adequately define “love” – how can we dogmatically declare God to be unloving?)

When complaining that God isn’t “just” – what sort of justice are we asking for – Egalitarian Justice? (All parties “equalized”) Distributive Justice? (What we deserve?). Do we really want what we truly deserve? Why is God required to “equalize” everyone and all things according to our understanding?

More Questions: What is life? What is death? Consider…

If no human beings had ever lived longer than 16 years, would this “short” life “allowed/caused” by God be considered “evil/wrong” on God’s part? If every person in history lived to be exactly 70 years old at their time of death, wouldn’t one person dying at the age of 69 be considered “unloving/unjust/immoral” by skeptics/critics of God? If everyone lived to be 300 years of age, and a couple of people died at the age of 70, wouldn’t that be used by skeptics/critics as a complaint that God is unloving/unjust/immoral? Does God being “all-loving” and “all powerful” require God to be perfectly – materially/physically – egalitarian with all people all the time? Are there any deeper issues to consider?

If we’re all “terminal,” is the problem of “death” merely an issue of “length of life” before death – or are there deeper issues? (John 11:25-27; I Cor. 15:54-58)

Is a long, “meaningless” physical life really preferable to a short, meaningful life?

(Ecclesiastes 4:1-2; 6:3-4; Matthew 6:25-33; Matthew 16:25-27; Acts 20:24; Philippians 1:20-21)

What can be gleaned about “meaning” even from Victor Frankl, let alone Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, the life of Corrie Ten Boom, Jim and Elizabeth Elliot, Joni Eareckson Tada, or an old friend Stephen Ruff.

What’s the philosophically consistent outcome of a “no god” worldview?

Consider the philosophical worldviews of… Dostoevsky (his characters playing out atheism consistently), Nietzsche, Stalin, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Roger Waters, Kurt Cobain, the O’Hares. Question: Was Hitler morally “wrong” (?) Why?

May God’s grace and strength be known to you in all your present and future times of need.

-Pastor Eric Hann

For Further Reading: Corrie Ten Boom “The Hiding Place”; C.S. Lewis “The Problem of Pain”; Ravi Zacharias “Can Man Live Without God”; Lee Strobel “The Case for Faith