Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What does the Bible mean by "worship"?

“Ancient Mediterranean societies tended to be very hierarchical. It was a world where everyone knew their place in relation to countless superiors and inferiors. Those who neglected or forgot this stratification of rank would be readily reminded by those around. In the highest place stood God or the gods. Below that in the Roman Empire ranked the emperor, followed by senators, governors, and a very complex system of local officials, priests, and landowners. The very bottom was occupied by slaves who might be owned by the lowliest of peasant.

Social convention dictated gestures of deference and respect from inferior to superior at every point along this hierarchy. In the presence of someone of high rank, low bows or prostrations were expected. The Greek verb that expresses making such a prostration was proskuneo. In the modern world the best example of a prostration can be seen in the prayers of Muslims. Dropping to your knees, you bend forward and lower your head to the ground.

In the time of Jesus, prostrations were common throughout the eastern Roman Empire, both in official circles and in the less formal daily dealings of people of widely different rank…proskuneo gradually expanded its meaning to include a wide variety of formal gestures of respect. It even came to be used colloquially with the meaning ‘kiss’ or a welcoming embrace.” Jason D. BeDhun, Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament, University Press of America, 2003, p41-49.

BeDhun goes on to make the point that “worship”, in its Old English sense, still retained the “range of meaning” that was closest to that of the Ancient world. But that today, those meanings have been lost to the extent that they do not cover the same function of meaning. He argues for better, modern translations of the Bible which reflect this social and cultural change since translators “mislead their readers into thinking that every greeting, kiss or prostration in the Bible is an act of worship directed to a god” [ibid, emphasis added].

In the case of Jesus, “they are gestures of respect made to a superior, in either the spiritual, social or political sense”. With this in mind “we can see how theological bias has been the determining context for the choices made by [translators of today]”[ibid, BeDuhn].

So, what does the bible mean by the term “worship”?

General “worship

In the bible “worship” was offered to both God [YHWH] and human beings. This is reflected in the OT Hebrew words: sahah, (Gen 47.31; 1K 1.47; 1Ch 29.20; sahah, Gen 24:26; Gen 37:7; Jdg 7:15; Jos 23:7; Zep 2:11); and the Aramaic verb segeed, corresponding to the Hebrew sagad (Dan 2:46; Dan 3, 28; cf. Rom 12:1).

The NT uses the koine Greek proskuneo, for “angels” [Rev 19.10; 22.8], human beings [Mat 8.2; 18.26; 20.20; Acts 10.25] and false gods or idols [Act 7:43; Rev 13:8; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4].

“Some indefiniteness attaches to this subject, partly owing to the two senses in which the Greek word proskuneo is used, and partly owing to the ambiguous usage of the word kurios [lord]…But it cannot be proven that in any of these cases…more than an act of homage and humble obeisance is intended. Josephus uses the word proskuneo of the high priests…The physical act of prostration in profound humility, and as rendering great honor, is all that can be meant…The homage offered to Christ would vary in its significance from the simple prostration of the leper before the Great Healer to the adoration of Mary Magdalene and Thomas in presence of the risen Christ, its significance depending wholly on the idea of His nature that had been attained, and therefore not to be determined by the mere statements of the outward acts which we find in the Gospels.” Hastings, A Dictionary of the Bible, 4:943.

“The examples of proskuneo which have been discussed do not greatly strengthen the evidence for the worship of Christ. The ambiguity of the word proskuneo, which can be used of oriental obeisance, as well as actual worship, makes it impossible to draw certain conclusions from the evidence.” Wainwright, The Trinity and the New Testament, 104.

“Divine” service and worship

The bible uses other words to indicate the exclusive “worship” and external or official divine service spoken in reference to the one God of Israel, YHWH. The OT uses the Aramaic palach, applied generally to Daniel’s vision [7.14, 27; cp. 6.16-17, 20-21; 3.28; 7.24] and translated as “servants” of the Jewish Temple [Ezra 7.24]. In the Greek Septuagint this is translated as latreuo ["divine" worship; Cp. latreai=service worship, Ex 3:12; 7:16; Deu 4:28; Jdg 2:11, 13], the version most in use during the 2nd Temple period.

This word is also used in the same context in the NT, reserved for God alone:

  • in a religious sense to worship God (Mat 4:10; Luk 1:74; 2:37; 4:8; Act 7:7; 24:14; 27:23; Rom 1:9; Phi 3:3; 2Ti 1:3; Heb 9:14; 12:28; Rev 22:3);
  • used in an absolute sense (Act 26:7; Sept.: Deu 6:13; 10:12; Jos 24:15);
  • “worshipping creatures [other] than the Creator”, in other words, assuming Deity (Rom 1:25; Sept.: Deu 4:28; Jdg 2:11, 13);
  • particularly to the performing of the Levitical service (Heb 8:5; 9:9; 10:2; 13:10);
  • of the celestial temple (Rev 7:15);
  • to offer sacrifice, to worship (Heb 9: 9; 10:2; cf. Sept.: Ex 3:12; 7:16).

    “…there is no instance of latreuein [to do religious service to] which has Christ as its object.” Wainright, The Trinity in the New Testament, p 103.

    “It is equally notable that [the Apostle Paul uses] the normal prayer terms (deomai, deesis)…to God and never to Christ… [He] is neither simply the content of the thanksgiving (the phrase is dia with the genitive “through”, not dia with the accusative “on account of” [cp. Col 1.16]), nor its recipient…Such uniformity in Paul’s usage should certainly make us hesitate before asserting that Paul [divinely] 'worshipped’ Christ [as Deity], since the evidence more clearly indicates otherwise.” Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, p 257-260 [emphasis added].

A derivative of latreuo is the feminine noun thrēskeúō, to worship God, which is from threskos, religious, pious worshiping or worship [Col 2:18, mentions the worship of angels]. This is probably a genitive of association and alludes to the false, Gnostic doctrine of celestial exaltation in which human worshipers were permitted to share in the worship activities of various grades of angelic beings. It also refers to the true worship of God (Act 26:5; Jam 1:26-27).

Thrēskeía is contrasted with theosébeia, external worship, meaning reverential worship, and eusébeia, piety or godliness, and eulábeia, devotion arising from godly fear or acceptance of what God directs or permits. Thrēskeía may thus refer only to ceremonial service or worship as Paul refers to the religion of the Jews (Act 26:5). James refers to "pure religion" (katharos threiska, Jam 1:26-27), indicating there is also an impure religion which would be external worship but not the practice of that which God demands of man.


It is presumptuous to suggest that early Christians were under some kind of “obligation” to render the same type of worship to the Son as to the Father. This is in view of the conclusion by some modern scholars[N. T. Wright, Challenge of Jesus; Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ; JDG Dunn, The Theology of Paul] that a “stunning adaptation [“mutation”, Dunn] of the Jewish prayer known as the Shema [1Co 8.1-6; Phil 2.5-11; Gal 4.1-7; Col 1.15-20; cp. Deu 6.4] somehow took place. This moving away from Jewish monotheism cannot be justified in view of Jesus’ own use of the Shema in the NT, where it remains consistent with the unchanging and unitarian monotheistic believe he taught.

As a result, we should not make the mistake this last quote states:

“…in the Christian understanding of Christ as being one with the Father, there is a constant possibility that faith in God will be absorbed in a ‘monochristicism’—i.e., that the figure of the Son in the life of faith will overshadow the figure of the Father and thus cause it to disappear and that the figure of the Creator and Sustainer of the world will recede behind the figure of the Redeemer.” The New Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 16, Christianity Macropaedia article, p 274.

Monday, April 27, 2009


A lot of people who are not familiar with the facts think that Christianity is simply a blind leap of faith. This is just not the case. God does ask that we have faith in His promises, but He has left us a good amount of hard core evidence to prove that what He has told us is true. God does not want His family to be a bunch of brainless robots who worship Him because that is what they were told to do from childhood. He wants His family to consist of people who voluntarily and intelligently choose to follow Him. People who see the truth in His words and in His deeds, and because of them come to believe in Him and His promises. Mark 12:29 says:

"You shall love the LORD with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength."

Use your mind. As the saying goes, "It’s a terrible thing to waste."

In the Old Testament God performed many miracles, people could also listen to God’s word through the prophets and then watch it come true. Nowadays, people do not see the Red Sea part down the middle, or people being raised from the dead. I do believe God still does miracles, but I think they are more on a personal level and not for the whole world to see. Why is this so? I think it is because in the old days God performed miracles in order for people to believe that He is the ONLY true God, as was the case with the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, or with Daniel and the den of lions, etc. In today’s world we do not need miracles in order to believe in God and His promises because He has left us the greatest proof of all, the resurrection of His son, Jesus the Messiah.

Everything hangs on the resurrection. It is the single most important fact in Christianity. If the resurrection of Jesus is true, then we must accept that Jesus is whom he said he was, the Messiah of God, which logically gives validity to the existence of God.

If we accept that Jesus is the Messiah by proof of his resurrection, then this also confirms the validity and accuracy of the Old Testament because Jesus himself states that everything in the Law, in the prophets, and in the Psalms must be fulfilled (Lk 24:44).

"These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled."

The New Testament is also validated because it was written primarily by those whom Jesus chose personally.

Without Jesus’ resurrection there is no way to know that the Bible is actually the word of God as opposed to stories of a particular people. It all comes down to the resurrection. If it is true, then Christianity as it was taught by Jesus is true. If it is not true, then Christianity is the most successful hoax in the history of mankind. The big question is, can we prove the resurrection of Jesus Christ almost 2000 years after it happened? The answer is, absolutely yes! You just have to use what God gave you in the first place, your mind.

A successful businessman once said,
"Do not accept any deal until you have all the facts, but do not reject any deal until you have all the facts."

Well, here are the facts.

Nobody seriously disputes that a man named Jesus of Nazareth actually existed. The few that do fall into the same category as those that claim that there was no holocaust in WW2. It is really just ridiculous. There is more written about Jesus than any other individual or event in the history of mankind. If Jesus did not exist then how can we say that Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington or anybody else for that matter ever really existed. He is mentioned by Roman Historians Suetonius in AD 49 in Claudius, 25,4, and by Tacitus AD 115-117 in Annals, XV,44, and by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in the first century AD in Josephus Antiquities, XX,200. Roman historians had absolutely nothing to gain from mentioning him in their records and neither did Josephus who was a Jew.

The dispute is in whether he actually resurrected, thus proving that he was the Messiah, the Son of God.

Atheists will say that he was just a good man. Other religious groups will claim that he was just another prophet. During his ministry, Jesus performed many miracles, from healing the sick and the blind, to raising Lazarus from the dead. But miracles are not sufficient to prove that you are indeed the long awaited Messiah, many Old Testament prophets also performed great miracles such as Moses and Elijah. Performing miracles does not prove that you are the Messiah, but defeating death does. No prophet, religious leader, or any other person in history has ever predicted that he would come back from the dead, and then actually returned form the dead. None except Jesus. Let’s take a look at the groups of people involved.

In Jerusalem after Jesus’ death, there were three main groups that were interested in his body. They were the Sanhedrin, which were the Jewish political and religious government of Judea, the Romans, and Jesus’ disciples.

After his death on the cross, Jesus was placed in a tomb that was closed off by a huge stone. Jewish tombs of that time had an entrance of 4 1/2 to 5 feet high. Modern engineers have taken the type of stone used in that time and calculated the size of the stone needed to roll against a 4 1/2 to 5 foot doorway. Their calculations estimate that a stone of those proportions would have to weigh a minimum of 1 1/2 to 2 tons. These stones were placed in front of the tomb in a slight incline and were held in place by a wedge. When the wedge was removed the stone rolled slightly forward and sealed the tomb (Evidence that Demands a Verdict). In order to enter the tomb after it had been sealed required that the stone be removed, which required a lot of effort and man power.

The Sanhedrin was aware of Jesus’ claim that he would return from the grave after the third day. They definitely did not want to find an empty tomb after three days. They wanted to open the tomb up after three days and produce Jesus’ body and end all the talk of Jesus being the Messiah. Since they did not believe (for the most part) that Jesus was the Messiah, their biggest fear was that Jesus’ disciples would come during the night and take his body away and then claim that he had indeed resurrected. In order to prevent this, they went to the Roman Governor himself, Pontius Pilate, and asked him to place a guard detachment at the tomb so that nobody could remove Jesus’ body. The Governor agreed, and a guard detachment was placed at the tomb and the Governor’s seal was then put on the tomb’s entrance (Matthew 27:62-66).

The penalty for anyone breaking the Governor’s seal was by upside-down crucifixion. This form of death was even more gruesome than the regular crucifixion because death was caused by your internal organs eventually dislodging from their normal places and then moving towards your throat causing you extreme pain, and eventually choking you to death slowly. There would have to be an extremely good and desperate reason for someone to break the Governor’s seal and risk upside-down crucifixion.

Before going on, something must be said about the Roman guards. The Romans at this point in history controlled much of the known world. Their armies were considered to be the best in the world because the Roman soldier was considered to be the best in the world. This was due mostly to excellent training and harsh discipline. The Roman guards that were placed at Jesus’ tomb were probably the Governor’s Custodian Guards, which were the elite of the elite in the Roman army. It would be today’s equivalent of the Green Berets or Navy Seals. (Smith, RE., Service in the Post-Marian Army (Manchester, 1958). These were the ones that were usually chosen for special assignments such as this, but any Roman unit would have been a most formidable force, especially for men such as the disciples who were not trained in the art of war.

One of the customs in the Roman army as well as in most armies of that day, was that if you were ordered to guard a prisoner and he escaped, the penalty was death. In Acts 12:19 when Peter escapes from jail, Herod questions the guards and then has them executed. This might sound harsh, but it was just the way it was in those days. In the Roman army, the penalty of death for this offense was carried out by stripping the guard of his clothes, and then burning him alive with a fire started with his own garments (Speidel, MP., Guards of the Roman Armies, Bonn, 1978). This was a harsh punishment, but it produced incredible vigilance and also discouraged bribery. After all, you cannot spend bribery money if you are dead.

These guards were ordered by none other than the Governor himself, so one can deduce that these guards were highly motivated to perform their duty. They knew their lives depended on it!

Roman procedure required each Roman guard to be able to defend 6 feet of ground. Using this fact, and knowing the size of most Jewish tombs, there were probably about sixteen Roman guards assigned to guard Jesus’ tomb. Sixteen very disciplined, and very motivated Roman Custodian Guards. Roman procedure for standing guard at night was the following: with sixteen guards, four guards would stand in front of the tomb’s entrance, while the other twelve would sit six to each side in front of the entrance, forming a sort of parenthesis in front of the tomb. These twelve would sleep while the four in front of the tomb would stand watch. Every hour they would rotate the guards that were in front of the entrance so that there would always be four alert guards, with all the others a few feet away in case of trouble (Speidel, MP., Roman Armies Studies 2 (Stuttgart, 1992), MAVORS 8 reviewed in JRS84 (1984).

Out of the three groups that were interested in the body of Jesus, the disciples were definitely not interested in taking his body. They were themselves skeptic. They were waiting to see if what Jesus had predicted would happen. It seems highly illogical that the Apostles would want to take his body and thus deny themselves of that certainty. The Apostle Thomas (now known as doubting Thomas) did not believe that Jesus had resurrected even after the other ten Apostles told him that they had seen the resurrected Jesus. When they told him, he said in John 20:25:

"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

A week later he got his chance.

The Romans wanted to find his body after three days and put all this behind them, they definitely did not enjoy all this talk of a Jewish King and his kingdom. To the Romans, talk of a kingdom and king sounded too much like rebellion.

A resurrection would also compromise their whole belief system of multiple gods, which in time, is exactly what happened.

The main argument against the resurrection is that the disciples took Jesus’ body from the tomb. This argument is very weak to say the least. Let us review the facts.

The Bible states in Matthew 28:2-15 that the guards at the tomb felt an earthquake and saw an angel of the Lord roll back the stone. It says his appearance was like lightning and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid, they shook and became like dead men (maybe paralyzed with fear). It then states that afterwards some of the guards went into the city and reported what had happened to the chief Jewish priests. When the priests had devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money and told them to say that Jesus’ disciples came in the night while they were sleeping and stole the body. Also in return, the chief priests would talk to the Governor and keep the guards out of trouble. Remember that this is exactly what the Pharisees were trying to prevent by having guards placed at the tomb.

This argument is logically flawed from every direction. If the disciples had indeed decided to take Jesus’ body for whatever irrational reason, how could they have gotten past the Roman guards. They would have had to wait until ALL the guards had fallen asleep, which because of their training and procedure for standing watch at night makes this option almost impossible. Let us suppose for arguments sake that all the guards somehow did fall asleep, I would then have to believe that the disciples quietly stepped past the guards, and moved a two ton stone without the guards waking up. This possibility is almost laughable!

A final contradiction to this argument is that if we use the excuse that all the guards did fall asleep, then how do the guards know that it was the disciples that took the body. It would stand to reason that if one of the guards had awakened and seen the disciples, he would have sounded the alarm and awakened the rest of the soldiers. You can’t have it both ways.

It would have been a much better argument if the guards had been found dead. Then one could argue that the disciples had killed the guards and taken the body. But that is not what happened, all the guards were perfectly alive.

And what about the Governors seal? Do you honestly think that a group of ordinary men would risk death at the hands of the guards, or worse, by upside-down crucifixion for breaking the Governor’s seal for the sole purpose of stealing his body? For what purpose? To create a hoax?

So basically, if you do not believe that Jesus resurrected, you are left with the choice that sixteen Roman Custodian Guards placed personally by the Governor under a penalty of death for failure to carry out their duty, all fell asleep, and did not wake up as the Apostles moved a two ton stone, or did wake up to see them, but did nothing to stop them. I personally find these options extremely hard to believe, if not just plain insulting to one’s intelligence.

But there is still one more piece of evidence that is even more convincing then what has already been presented. This is the Apostles themselves. Not in what they said or wrote, but in what they did.

The Bible tells us that in a period of forty days, Jesus appeared to his apostles together and individually nine times. The lives of the Apostles has been documented by Roman and Christian historians. Nobody disputes their evangelistic journeys. You can still go to Rome and see where Paul was imprisoned and later beheaded.

The proof of the resurrection is in the lives of the Apostles. It is in how they lived and in how they were treated. I use to ask myself, "Why didn’t God help the Apostles during their journeys?" They went through such hardships. All of them were beaten, tortured, imprisoned, and all except John were brutally killed. Let us take a quick review of some of their lives starting first with Paul.

Paul is probably the most powerful witness to the resurrection of Christ. One must carefully analyze the steps that he took after that fateful day on the road to Damascus. You MUST ask yourself WHY? Why what, you might say?

WHY would someone who was openly against the followers of Jesus Christ to the point of standing by and condoning the stoning of another human being (Stephen), someone who as a Pharisee held an esteemed position among his people, WHY would this person suddenly want to be one of those people that he was persecuting, knowing that because of his choice to follow Jesus he would be considered an outcast by his family, friends and the community. That his choice would be socially and economically devastating.

Imagine if that happened to you today. You must ask yourself,
What would it take for me to be willing to give up my family, all my friends and my livelihood?

Let me put it in an easier way to understand. If you were at a criminal trial in which a defendant was accused of murder and the defense attorney came up to you and said that the defendant was not guilty, would that convince you? Of course not, defense attorneys are supposed to say that, that is their job. But what if the defense attorney came up to you and said that his client was really guilty, would that convince you? It would me, the reason is because the defense attorney has nothing at all to gain by saying this. On the contrary, he has everything to lose by saying this. This is why it is so believable. And this is the same reason Paul’s testimony is so powerful. Paul had everything to lose and nothing to gain (except salvation) by suddenly switching sides. Do you have any alternate suggestions as to why Paul did what he did? I have none. Let us now take a look at some events in Paul’s and the other Apostle’s lives.

(1Corinthians 4:11-13) Paul - To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment.

Paul was whipped at least five times, beaten countless times (2 Corinthians 11:23), imprisoned at least twice for years (2 Corinthians 6:4), left for dead after being stoned (Acts 14:19), and finally beheaded during the persecution under Emperor Nero.

Peter was also martyred during Nero’s persecution. He was crucified upside down at his request, because they were going to crucify him the same way as Jesus, and he did not feel he was worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.

Andrew went to the "land of the man eaters," in what was formally known as the Soviet Union. Christians claim him as the first to bring the gospel to their land. He also preached in modern-day Turkey, and in Greece, where he is said to have been crucified.

Thomas was most active in the area east of Syria. Tradition has him preaching as far east as India where the ancient Marthoma Christians revere him as their founder. They claim that he died there when he was pierced through with the spears of four soldiers.

Philip had a powerful ministry in Carthage in North Africa and then in Asia Minor, where he converted the wife of a Roman proconsul. In retaliation the proconsul had Philip arrested and cruelly put to death.

Matthew the tax collector and writer of a gospel, ministered in Persia and Ethiopia. Reports say that he was stabbed to death in Ethiopia.

Bartholomew had widespread missionary travels attributed to him by tradition: to India with Thomas, back to Armenia, and also to Ethiopia and Southern Arabia. There are various accounts of how he met his death as a martyr for the gospel.

James the son of Alpheus is one of at least three Jameses referred to in the New Testament. There is some confusion as to which, but this James is reckoned to have ministered in Syria. The Jewish historian Josephus reported that he was stoned and then clubbed to death.

Simon the Zealot, ministered in Persia and was killed after refusing to sacrifice to the sun god.

Matthias was the apostle chosen to replace Judas. Tradition sends him to Syria with Andrew and to death by burning (Christian History Institute, Whatever Happened to the Twelve? Glimpses Issue #8).

It stands to reason that if the Apostles had stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb, then they would surely have known that he had not resurrected. Why then would they go through years of incredible hardship for? Because they enjoyed getting a beating or being imprisoned? Do you think they would have done it for a lie? Would you (as Paul did) be ostracized by everyone you know and love, and then go into towns for about thirty years, getting whipped, tortured, stoned, and imprisoned every time you preached the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ if you knew it was a lie?

Would you, like Peter watch your wife be killed and then request to be crucified upside-down because you did not feel worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus, if you knew that he had not really resurrected and thus was not truly the Messiah? Of course not!

I cannot think of any reason why these men did what they did unless what they claim is true, that Jesus Christ after his death appeared to them. Would you go through what they went through if you knew it wasn’t true? I for one would not! If I went into a town knowing that Jesus Christ had not resurrected and said to the people, "Jesus of Nazareth has resurrected," and someone put me to the whip, you can bet your life that I would never say that again.

The reason that the Apostles lived such a hard life, and died such gruesome deaths is because they had to. It was part of God’s plan. This is the indisputable proof that God left for future generations. You see, if the Apostles had walked into towns and people had welcomed them in, fed them, given them money, and treated them as important and distinguished people, then people in the future would look back and say that they did it for their own selfish reasons, because it was a good way of life.

God designed it so that the Apostles would live the kind of lives that they for our benefit, in order for us to have proof of the resurrection in the years to come. There was absolutely no human reward for what they did. There is no logical explanation of how you could get these men to do what they did for so many years unless they had really seen the risen Jesus. Think about it, what would it take to get you to do what they did? I certainly would not do it for a lie! Can you think of another reason why they did what they did? I have tried, and I have come up with zero. As a matter of fact, nobody that I have ever asked this question to has been able to come up with a plausible explanation.

This is the beauty of God’s plan, a natural act proves a supernatural act. Have you ever wondered why Jesus appeared to only a few men? Why didn’t he just appear to all of Jerusalem and end the argument once and for all? There are two reasons why.

First, if had appeared to everyone in Jerusalem, then everyone in Jerusalem would have believed in him as the Messiah. Their proof would have been their own eyes. The Apostles would not have been necessary, anyone could have spread the news to other Jews living outside of Jerusalem. This would have eliminated the proof for future generations that we mentioned above, the lives of the Apostles.

Now as soon as a few generations pass and there are no more people left alive who actually witnessed the supernatural event of Jesus’ resurrection, people will start to question it. They will say, "Can you prove it really happened?" Or, they will say that it is just a myth like the Greek myths of old. It is basically impossible to prove a supernatural act in itself. Can you prove the Red Sea actually parted? Unfortunately no. This is what would have happened had Jesus appeared to all of Jerusalem. It would eventually have become a myth with no concrete proof that it actually happened. In order to believe it people would have to have blind faith, which is a very weak faith.

The second reason is that if Jesus would have appeared to all of Jerusalem, then all the Jews would have become Christians. Judaism would have evolved into Christianity. Christianity would therefore have been a Hebrew religion. The world would never have accepted a Hebrew religion as their own. If the world had never accepted Judaism why would they have accepted Christianity?

By the Hebrews rejecting Jesus and Christianity, it made Christianity a non nationalistic religion. It was not considered a Hebrew religion so it became acceptable to the world at large.

These are the reasons why the Apostles had to live such harsh lives, it was necessary for us and for all future generations. This proof has no time limit. It is plain to see today as it will be plain to see in 50,000 years. God’s plan is truly perfect. Everything has been worked out to the smallest detail.

Conclusion: God through the prophets, the Apostles, history, and logic, testify to the fact that God resurrected Jesus Christ. Christianity is based on faith, but a faith that is based on hard evidence. The Bible itself is full of fulfilled prophecies, and prophecies that God will fulfill in the future. This is where faith comes in. We know that God is true because of what he has shown us, therefore we believe (have faith) in his promises for the future.

Jesus Christ did resurrect from the dead, and the secular evidence agrees with this fact. And if Jesus resurrected from the dead, then so will his followers. See you at the resurrection!

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact us at: 767juan@compuserve.com

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Intense Reflections on the Bible in 2009 by Anthony Buzzard

Anthony Buzzard, Theological Conference, Atlanta, 2009

The Gospel has become cloudy and vague in the minds of churchgoers. This is a national disaster. A random survey shows that the public think that the Gospel means “we should love each other,” or “keep the commandments,” or “believe Jesus died for sinners” or anything else deemed to be “a good thing.”

This situation is alarming to say the least. The Devil is a master of what is vague and uncertain. Christians cannot afford the risk of having a vague Gospel. The Gospel in the New Testament, as Jesus preached it and as Paul preached it, is firstly about the Kingdom of God, that is God’s restoration program which is to culminate in the return of Jesus to this earth, in a single arrival, to raise the faithful dead from the sleep of death. With the faithful who happen to be still alive when Jesus arrives, we will all go up into the air to meet the arriving royal personage and accompany him back to the earth where he is headed. There is no prior coming seven years earlier. If there were the second coming would become a second and third coming. Jesus will come back once and for all and he will inaugurate the Kingdom of God as an all-pervasive revolutionary government. Christians are to prepare now with daily urgency to be “counted worthy” (Paul’s phrase in 2 Thess. 1:5) to assist the Messiah in the government of that future Kingdom of God on earth. Revelation 5:10 and Matthew 5:5 say it all in beautiful summary. The Christian faith is also encapsulated in the statement with which Mark starts his Gospel: “Repent and believe God’s Gospel about the Kingdom of God” (1:14-15). It is the habit of the writers of the Bible (says Gordon Wenham in his Word Biblical Commentary on Genesis 43:17) to open with a summary statement and then develop that summary, unpacking it in more and more detail. This is exactly what the NT does. There is no foundation to the faith apart from that foundation about the Kingdom laid down by Jesus, the first preacher of salvation (Heb. 2:3). With this clarion cry to the human race to believe God’s Kingdom program, Jesus burst on the world and continues to proclaim through his body the same message. Indeed this (well-known, i.e. to them) Gospel of the Kingdom is to be preached in the whole world, and then will the end come (Matt. 24:14).

It is essential that we get a firm grasp on that Gospel of the Kingdom, repeated over and over again by a number of synonyms, notably the word/word of God. I will not tire of pointing out that “word of God” means the Gospel of the Kingdom and is not just a synonym for the Bible. By “word” is meant the creative activity of God in Jesus to recreate us and make us fit for immortality. Indeed in that thunderclap verse in 2 Timothy 1:10, Jesus came to “bring life and immortality to light by means of the Gospel” — “he made unending life come to light through the good news” (BBE). That is quite a statement and needs to be meditated upon several times a week, if not several times a day!

A few of the leading authorities and commentaries have noted the brilliant summary by Peter of his master’s immortality message. The words of Peter echoing Jesus in his parable of the sower are found in that spectacular passage in 1 Pet. 1:22: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obedience to the truth,” he begins. Had not Jesus said the same thing: “You are cleansed, pure through the word I spoke to you” (John 15:3). “The truth” is another way of saying “word” or word of the Gospel, or word of the Kingdom (Matt. 13:19). Then, Peter goes on, we are to love each other sincerely from that purified heart (note that the love is based on a prior acceptance of the Gospel). Now the basis for Peter’s whole point: “For, you see, you have been born again, not of mortal seed but of immortal seed, through the living and abiding word of God…and that is the word which was preached to you as Gospel” (see 1 Pet. 1:23-25). Now Barclay: “The Christ-filled life is the life of brotherly love…The Christian is a man who has been reborn not of mortal but of immortal seed.” John spoke of Jesus urging exactly that necessity of rebirth, in conversation with Nicodemus. John also spoke of Christians as “those who were born not of blood, nor of the will of man but of God” (John 1:13). Barclay goes on to observe that “the Christian is remade [cp. a ‘makeover’] by the entry into him of the seed of the word and the picture is that of the parable of the sower” (Matt. 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8).

Peter has directed us right back to the source of all good Gospel preaching, namely the Kingdom Gospel preaching of Jesus and the Master’s brilliant account of how everything in the quest for immortality depends on our intelligent reception of the Gospel/word of the Kingdom. It is that Gospel which contains the germ and seed of immortality, which when allowed to grow and bear fruit will result in our immortalization at the Parousia. Without this center to the Gospel, the Gospel is vague and is failing to attract my colleague Brits to the tune of 98% in London who do not darken the door of a church except to pay lip service to the system when they are hatched, matched and dispatched.

The death rate, I have observed, is 100% in every nation. One death per person is standard. The only remedy available is the Gospel of the Kingdom, which can result in our eventually beating death altogether, by being given indestructible life at the return of Jesus. You would expect the whole world to be beating down the doors to hear about this promise of living forever. But it is not so.

It is not “all about money” as one local preacher maintains. It is all about getting a grasp of the seed/word of immortality. It is all about being reborn by having imparted to us the divine nature (1 Pet. 1:4) via God’s seed, as preached by Jesus in the parable of the sower. Paul and Jesus spoke of those who are “born of the spirit,” and Peter and Jesus of those who are born of the word. “The words I have spoken to you,” Jesus said, “they are [i.e. they contain] spirit and life” (John 6:63). “Where else are we to go?” Peter inquired. “You have the words of life” (John 6:68). What else counts? “The Christian cannot continue relentless in sin because the seed of God dwells in him and he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). As newborn babes (not fetuses, as Herbert Armstrong said, not understanding the word beget in English or the Greek) — as already “newborn babes” we are to seek the milk of the word. James echoes the same teaching — all the writers are on the same page — “You have been brought forth from a pregnancy by the word of God” (James 1:18). The image here is of the birth of a child from a mother.

The Oxford Bible Commentary: “Life springs from God’s word…Rebirth by the word comes about through entering the new community that is the redeemed people of God constituted by the word.” So Christian rebirth is derived from the word of the Kingdom preached by Jesus. We hear much about being “born of the spirit,” but how rarely do we hear about being born of the word, the word as properly defined as the Kingdom Gospel word? Speaking of the spore, seed (1 Pet. 1:22) which produces our rebirth to immortality, Charles Bigg, Regius Professor at Oxford, wrote in 1910: “The better explanation is found in the parable of the sower; compare Luke 8:11 ‘the seed (sporos) is the word of God’” (ICC). This is a brilliant observation, but it never reached the public with any clarity. The Hastings Dictionary of the Bible noted briefly in its article on “regeneration”:

The parable of the sower implies that the specific life of the Kingdom arises in the human heart by the sinking in of the gospel [of the Kingdom] and its producing as it were a new root of personality; and it is intimated, though only in private to chosen disciples, that the true faith is dependent on a divine factor at work behind the human (Matt. 16:17). This latter case suggests that the merely implicit form of the profound truth of regeneration occurs at least in the ministry of Christ’s ordinary preaching is due, partly at least, to its popular character, as adjusted to the needs of the poor and the simple, in contrast to theologians like Nicodemus…. St. Peter: While yet the idea of regeneration and that of individuals by the ‘divine seed’ or ‘word of God’ is firmly grasped (I Pet. 1:23. cp. v 3 .CP. PARABLE OF THE SOWER)[1]. The apostle seems possessed by his Master’s teaching as to the child like spirit and the divine fatherhood (2:2; 1:17). The divine parentage involved in the new life is appealed to as the reason for the love of the brethren. Being regarded as a congenital law of their new being, an idea which recurs in II Pet. 1:4, where renewed human nature is set forth as ‘in a true sense not God-like merely, but derivatively Divine’ (Hort. Cp. I John 3:9). The word by which this comes about is clearly that of the Gospel (I Pet. 1:25).[2]

James represents the fundamental Christian experience in one great, simple declaration: “He, that is God of His own will begat us through the word of Truth, so that we would be a kind of firstfruits (aparche) of His creatures—you know it my beloved brethren” (1:18, 19). It is almost the only direct declaration of the epistle concerning the salvation experienced in Christ; but it is significant enough. It is the fact of a new life from God on which the Christian consciousness rests; not the mere fact of forgiveness of sins, or justification [which is the same thing] but an inner transformation, a spiritual renewal from the bottom of the heart, such as Jesus set before Nicodemus as the fundamental condition of sharing in the Kingdom of God (John 3:5) and such as was already required in the synoptic introduction to the Sermon on the Mount when that is rightly understood, metanoeite [repent]. This fundamental condition is fulfilled in the author and his readers, not by their own doings and performances, but by God’s free goodness ‘Of his own will, having willed this, he gave birth to us.” James immediately before had reminded them that none but good and perfect gifts could come down from the Father of lights, the pure goodness of heaven; and of that, this the best and the most perfect gift which he and his readers could receive is the full and sufficient proof. And this greatest favor of God is enhanced by the fact that in it, they have been privileged above innumerable others — that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. God of His free goodness has chosen them before other nations, before the mass of their own people, and made them an aparche [firstfruits], consecrated to Him out of His whole rational creation. In them as firstfruits He has initiated humanity into the Kingdom of God. And He has done so by the logos aletheias, by the word of Truth, by which we are of course to think of the Gospel as the word of God’s perfect revelation.

This second birth by the word has sometimes been described as a mystic element peculiar to James; but in this the fact is overlooked that the same view, only somewhat more diffusely stated, is repeated in the first letter of Peter (I Pet. 1:23-25), and also that both authors only repeat a fundamental thought of Jesus. When, in the parable of the sower, Jesus compares the word preached by him to good seed which he scatters in the heart, and wherever it finds good soil, it brings forth a new development of life leading to good fruits, what is that but the new birth through the word of Truth? It is just a cognate image when James (1:21) describes the word of Truth as the logos emphutos, the implanted word which is able to save their souls, in the final judgment, as the word implanted in the heart of the readers, whose final result is their ultimate salvation (soteria).

The same fact of salvation is described in another way in James 2:5: “Listen, my brothers and sisters, has not God chosen the poor of this world, that they may be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom which God has promised to those who love Him?”…This confirms our idea that the word of truth through which God has regenerated the poor was Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom. In the words “heirs of the Kingdom which he has promised,” we have echoes in the word “Kingdom” of the main theme of Jesus. We recognize an unmistakable echo of the introductory words of the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:20; Matt. 5:3). But we see at the same time that James, like the first apostles, conceives of the Kingdom as still future. It is promised, they are chosen to inherit it, but they have not yet inherited it; they are rich but only in faith. The predominating tendency of the primitive apostolic Christianity to dwell in the future meets us here again, and will still further meet us. The idea of the Kingdom as already present is not yet formally appropriated, though being born again and rich in faith the present possession of salvation is fully felt. Besides the idea of the Kingdom, there likewise appears that of life, true eternal life, as a designation of salvation, and it is also conceived as in the future and is described as the very substance of the Gospel (cp. crown of life which he promised to those who love Him, with 2:5, the Kingdom which he has promised to those who love Him). This corresponds to the kindred meaning of the two words which we have noted in the synoptic teaching of Jesus. As salvation, proper, is regarded as future, the Gospel of Jesus in this respect appears under the OT idea of the promise (1:12. 2:5). On the other hand, which is still more remarkable evidence of the OT form of his Christian thought, the author conceives it, in order to emphasize what value it has for the Christian even now.

Next in importance to the great Kingdom Gospel idea of Jesus, so excellently I believe recovered by the early Abrahamics (cp. Wiley Jones’ Gospel of the Kingdom available at our website) is the question of who man is. One of the very significant events of the recent past is the help we are getting from the ubiquitous Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, a brilliant writer. If he were not part of the establishment I think he would be even clearer, but listen to what he has to say about the confusion (“muddle” is his politer word) on what happens to the dead when they die. From his book For All the Saints (2003): “What happened to the soul?...Many readers will get the impression that I believe that every human being comes already equipped with an immortal soul. I don’t believe that. Immortality is a gift of God in Christ, not in an innate human capacity (see I Tim. 1:16)…We do not agree with particular theories (Plato’s for example) but such an entity as the soul” (pp. 71, 72). The bishop then recommends an idea which he heard from a Cambridge physicist and theologian: At death God will download our software onto his hardware until the day when He gives us new hardware on which to run our software once more. The bishop then says, “This leaves vague the question of what lies exactly in the intermediate state, before the resurrection.” The bishop’s complaint has been the cry of Abrahamics and others and unitarians from the Reformation time:

I have been increasingly aware of a mismatch between what the earliest Christians believed about life after death…and what many ordinary Christians seem to believe on the subject today…I have come to the conclusion that what we do and say in church is increasingly at odds with anything that can be justified from the Bible or the earliest Christian traditions…My fear is that we have been simply drifting into a muddle and a mess, putting together bits and pieces of traditions, ideas and practices in the hope that they will make sense. They don’t…I think it is time to speak clearly and decisively (xiv).

I take my cue from the Anglican bishop and want also to speak decisively. He then reminds us of the huge edifice of error erected by the Roman Catholics: “Souls enjoying the beatific vision now are according to Catholics still awaiting eventual resurrection, but this aspect [resurrection] has played very little part in most official and popular accounts of the ‘saints.’ Indeed sometimes the resurrection has even come to be used as a synonym for ‘going to heaven at death’ which is about as misleading as it could be” (p. 2). I add this comment: such a view, i.e. that the faithful dead are already in heaven, embodied, is a dangerous flirting with what Paul called a cancer in the church, naming Hymenaeus and Philetus who say that “the resurrection has already happened and are disturbing the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:18). It is true that Protestants offer no alternative route to heaven, via a post-mortem purgatory, but they nevertheless arrive at the same anti-biblical point of view when they posit “heaven at death” and thus reduce the all-important future resurrection of Christians to an almost never-mentioned footnote! There are ways of denying that resurrection by just making nothing of it.

The bishop at one point traces all this confusion to what he calls “a loss of confidence in the biblical promises.” How true that is. But lack of confidence in the Bible’s promises is more accurately called unbelief, and needs attention urgently.

Then the bishop refers to some of the early fathers as believing that Jesus, while in Hades for three days, released the pre-Christian faithful from Hades and took them to heaven. But please be aware that this is just another antedating device to diminish the need for the resurrection scheduled for the future Second Coming of Jesus. The release of people from Hades before that resurrection is based on a popular fable circulating under the title “Gospel of Nicodemus.” 1 Peter 3:18-20 was then pulled in for support. But this does not work at all. Jesus was put to death as a human and as we know was dead for three days. Then he was made alive as a spirit, resurrected person. Following that he announced his astonishing return to life (forever) to the demonic spirits who disobeyed at the time before the flood.

When it comes to the word “hell” scholars admit that the King James Version introduced a very serious confusion by translating two entirely contrasted words, Hades/Sheol, the place of all the dead, good and bad, when they die, and Gehenna, a place of destructive fiery punishment to be brought into existence as the second death at the Parousia of Jesus (Rev. 19).[3] Wright is perfectly correct to point out that “the Protestant Reformers achieved a remarkable coup by abolishing the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory but they left untouched and unreformed much of the traditional picture of heaven and hell…and never really explained how either of them fitted into the New Testament’s language about resurrection” (p. 18).

This is where Wright begins to be really incisive. He titles a chapter “Resurrection Is Still Future.” He then refers to the “bodily resurrection.” But that shows his deep-seated attachment to the very tradition he partially tries to correct. There is no need to say “bodily resurrection.” In the Bible resurrection is always a person or body “some-body” coming alive after being dead in Hades/Sheol/gravedom. It is rather like what seems odd to some English speakers when they hear Americans speak of “horseback riding.” How else would you ride a horse? Or in connection with a bicycle, a foot pedal. Where else would you put your foot but on the pedal? In the Bible resurrection automatically means the return of dead persons to life, and without a body they are no-bodies. They are not anybody. But Wright rams home the verse which should be standard conversation in all Christian circles, 1 Corinthians 15:23. Those who are Christians will be made alive at his Parousia. And not before. “They will be raised as Christ has been raised.” We will all be raised from death by resurrection (unless we survive to the future coming). And this will happen when Jesus comes back. This ought to, but it has not, supply the mental furniture of every Christian. But a totally different concept has prevailed — that of immediate heaven and hell at death.

Again, Wright is with us. Listen to this, enough to provoke a few hallelujahs as truth struggles to be heard:

We should remember especially that the use of the word “heaven” to denote the ultimate goal of the redeemed, though hugely emphasized by medieval piety and mystery plays and the like and still almost universal at a popular level, is severely misleading [What is the church doing teaching “severely misleading” things on basic issues?]. Heaven does not begin to do justice to the Christian hope.

Wright is very honest here: “I am repeatedly frustrated by how hard it is to get this point [about heaven] through the thick wall of traditional thought and language that most Christians put up.” (Did not Jesus say that worship was in vain when based on misleading tradition?) But may I express my own frustration that Wright cannot get rid of his own tradition about a two-stage journey to the Christian’s ultimate goal. He thinks that we are to get “life after life after death.” That is entirely misleading. We are going to be made alive once, after being dead! Wright’s main prop is Paul’s line in Philippians 1:22, where he hopes “to depart and be with Christ.” But what Wright does not see is that in the New Testament death is sometimes, though rarely, viewed from a subjective point of view. If you are thinking about your own death, and if you know that you will be sleeping in the grave until Jesus comes, you can very reasonably and naturally hope to “depart and [in the next second of your conscious awareness] be with Christ” when he comes back. After all we have exactly this model in the statement in Hebrews 9:27 that “it is appointed to all men once to die and after that the judgment.” Exactly. But how long “after that”? We all know that judgment belongs to the events of Jesus’ future coming when rewards and judgments are meted out. Wright is kind enough to give some nodding approval to our view here: “Some have thought that Paul must mean [by his frequent use of sleep for death] an unconscious state from which one would be brought back to consciousness at the resurrection, so much so, perhaps, that it will seem as though we have passed straight from the one to the other.” That is exactly what Paul means when he speaks of departing to be with Christ.

But when Paul speaks, with vast numbers of Bible verses, of what he is looking forward to, it is “to be with Christ forever.” And how is this possible? Simply by expecting, believing and hoping for the resurrection and catching up to the meeting in the sky, as Jesus approaches the earth at his return. This is an exceedingly simple picture of the saints all being caught up to meet and greet the approaching royal personage as he makes his way towards the earth and the throne which will belong to him in Jerusalem.

The beautiful doctrine of the Second Coming of Jesus has become the subject of endless pointless debates. It has been cut in two, made into two stages. All this is unnecessary confusion. Paul is quite clear: Those who are alive and remain will be caught up together with the rising dead in Christ for the meeting (1 Thess. 4:17). This is Paul’s unpacking of his immediately preceding statement that the Lord Jesus will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. Paul explains: Just as Jesus died (went down) and rose up again so it will be with the Christian faithful. Some of them will have died (gone down) and they will all be raised so that Jesus can bring them with him as he comes to the earth. How do you get Christians to come with Jesus if they are dead? Quite easy. You resurrect them from the sleep of the dead and catch them up to meet Jesus so that the whole Christian entourage can come to the earth with Jesus, accompanying him.

This precious passage has been abused to smuggle in the notion that Christians are really not dead (just their bodies) so that the “resurrection” is no longer a biblical resurrection but the riveting on again of a disembodied soul to a spiritual body. The “rapture/resurrection” event has been cut in half or even in three (i.e. pre-trib, post-trib — or worse — pre-trib, mid-trib and post-trib). But all this is simply to ignore Jesus’ words to the Church through the apostles:

“Immediately after [post] the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened… and he will gather the elect from the four points of the compass.” Jesus here quotes Deuteronomy 30 where Israel is to be gathered from one end of the sky to the other, the Hebraism for north, south, east and west. There is no secret pre-trib coming of Jesus which would make a second and third coming, just as speaking of Jesus as God makes a second God. In every case we see division and multiplication causing chaos out of simplicity. There is one who is God; man is one whole being, not divisible into two at death; and we are to expect one future second coming of Jesus to raise the dead and bring us all into the Kingdom of God as our inheritance.

Psalm 110:1 to the Rescue

The mother of all muddles which has afflicted the church system is undoubtedly the issue about who Jesus and God are. Look at a typical reading into Matthew of the traditional Incarnation doctrine. On Luke 1:35:

The child she shall conceive is a holy thing, and therefore must not be conceived by ordinary generation, because he must not share in the common corruption and pollution of the human nature. He is spoken of emphatically, That Holy Thing, such as never was; and he shall be called the Son of God, as the Son of the Father by eternal generation, as an indication of which he shall now be formed by the Holy Ghost in the present conception. His human nature must be so produced, as it was fit that should be which was to be taken into union with the divine nature.

[On Matt. 1]: It is Biblos Geneseos — a book of genesis. The Old Testament begins with the book of the generation of the world, and it is its glory that it does so; but the glory of the New Testament herein excels, that it begins with the book of the generation of him that made the world [!]. As God, his outgoings were of old, from everlasting (Mic. 5:2), and none can declare that generation; but, as man, he was sent forth in the fullness of time, born of a woman, and it is that generation which is here declared.[4]

Note the typical and extraordinary misinformation offered by the MacArthur Study Bible. This is an unprecedented false fact offered by source after source. Commenting on Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 110:1, which surely must rank as the most important verse in the Bible, cited and alluded to in the NT more by far than any other verse of the OT, the 88th verse of book 5 of the Psalms, MacArthur says:

In this quote from the Hebrew text (Ps. 110:1) the first word is Yahweh, which is God’s covenant name. [So far so good.] The second word for “Lord” is a different word that the Jews used as a title for God. Here David pictures God speaking to the Messiah whom David calls his “Lord.” David would not have called one of his descendants “Lord.” Thus the Messiah is more than the son of David — he is also the Son of God. Jesus was proclaiming the Messiah’s deity…The inescapable implication is that Jesus was declaring his deity…Using this passage Christ also declared his deity in the gospels (Matt. 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42, 43), by arguing that only God could have been Lord to King David.[5]

Will someone write urgently to the producers of this Bible? The second “lord” is absolutely not the “word that the Jews used for God” (which would make two Gods!). It is in fact the title adoni, not Adonai, which in all of its 195 occurrences denotes man and not God! We need a revolution when the public sees how it has been so badly misinformed. This Psalm 110:1 defines the relationship of the Son to the Father, as the one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5).

The Bible is not just a book about “being a good person.” It is a book about getting one’s eyes open to truth and believing what is true. Christian evangelism must always be dedicated to saying what is true and denying what is false. Knowledge in the Bible has a strong moral dimension. “You are mistaken,” Jesus said to the Sadducees, “not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). And in Paul’s famous words: “They are perishing because the love of the truth they did not accept in order to be saved; so that all might be judged who took pleasure in evil” (2 Thess. 2:10). Failure to love and teach truth is called evil here. If they accepted the word (of the Kingdom), Jesus said in Mark 4:11, 12, they would repent and be forgiven. How far removed is this from popular ideas about salvation. “It is all about heaven,” they keep saying. But it is not: It is all about the restored Davidic Kingdom when Jesus comes to reign on earth — and preparing now for that great day. We must be careful that our language does not betray us as advocates of Plato, rather than of Messiah!

[1]The parenthesis is part of the article, not mine.

[2] Salvation that is in Christ: the second birth. Willibald Beyschlag, Halle, 1891. New Testament Theology, Vol. 1, p. 350.

[3]Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. II, p. 243: “In our KJV the word ‘hell’ is unfortunately used as the rendering of three distinct words with different ideas…It is now an entirely misleading rendering, especially in the NT passages.” RV substituted Hades for “hell” in the NT. This improves the NT. The American revision wisely put Sheol always in the OT and Hades in the New. “Hades/Sheol is the common gathering place for the departed, into which all alike go down” (p. 275, my emphasis).

[4] Called the Father here, not in contradistinction to the other persons of the sacred Trinity, and to exclude them from the Godhead, but in contradistinction to all creatures that were made by God, and whose formation is attributed to each of these three in other places of scripture, and not appropriated to the Father alone. God the Father, as Fons et fundamentum Trinitatis — as the first person in the Godhead, and the original of the other two, stands here for the Deity, which yet comprehends all three, the name God being sometimes in scripture ascribed to the Father, kat exochen, or by way of eminency, because he is fons et principiam Deitatis (as Calvin observes), the fountain of the Deity in the other two, they having it by communication from him: so that there is but one God the Father, and yet the Son is God too, but is not another God, the Father, with his Son and Spirit, being the one God, but not without them, or so as to exclude them from the Godhead. 2. There is to us but one Lord, one Mediator between God and men, even Jesus Christ. Not many mediators, as the heathen imagined, but one only, by whom all things were created and do consist, and to whom all our hope and happiness are owing — the man Christ Jesus; but a man in personal union with the divine Word, or God the Son. This very man hath God made both Lord and Christ, Acts 2:36. Jesus Christ, in his human nature and mediatorial state, has a delegated power, a name given him, though above every name, that at his name every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that he is Lord. And thus he is the only Lord, the only Mediator, that Christians acknowledge, the only person who comes between God and sinners, administers the world's affairs under God, and mediates for men with God. All the lords of this sort among heathens are merely imaginary ones. Note, It is the great privilege of us Christians that we know the true God, and true Mediator between God and man: the true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent, John 17:3.

[5] Study Bible, pp. 1457, 1404, 831.

Friday, April 10, 2009

How does the Sermon on the Mount address faulty Jewish beliefs and practices of that time?

The way the Sermon on the Mount addresses faulty Jewish beliefs and practices of that time was to go beyond “the letter of the law” and into “the spirit of the living God” [2Cor 3]. This was a restoration of the morality inherent in the Mosaic Law, requiring a discipline and behavior of faith by the believer that went beyond a mere external practice of Jewish faith and into the hidden nature of the human heart [Mat 6.1-18]. The established Jewish system had created a strict legalism that had crept into the Law, something Jesus spiritualized in his Sermon. By doing this he claims to be morally superior to Moses, as his personal sacrifice on the cross proved more valuable than the thousands of sacrifices which the Law had previously required[1]. This was a view that the Jewish religious teachers of the Second Temple period would time and time again object to.

The Sermon begins with Jesus blessing the downtrodden, the meek [humble] and the “poor in spirit” [Mat 5.3-12]. This section introduces us to the Jewish theme of righteousness not just applicable to our outward person but within “the hidden person of the heart” [1Pe 3.4]. This theme would take centre stage in Jesus’ later debates with the Jewish leaders [Mat 15.1-20; Mar 7. 1-23; Lu 11.37-54]. Jesus then introduces “the central section of the Sermon which runs from Mat 5:17; 7:12”[2], where Jesus identifies himself as the fulfiller of the requirements of the Law [Mat 5.17]. This is the catalyst to the rest of the Sermon, revealing Jesus not only as the unique representative of the Law [cp. Rom 10.4], but as its one and only executor. Jesus was the prophet whom Moses predicted and admonished Israel to listen to, since he would fulfill not only God’s Law but also that of the prophets [Deut. 18.15-19].[3]

In Mat 5.17-18, Jesus rejects the Jewish accusation that he was doing away with the Law. For him, the Law served only a temporary purpose [cp. Gal 3.19; Eph 2.15], something not to be eternally observed [Mat 5.18; cp. Rom 3.31; 8.4]. As a covenantal system of the Palestinian pact with Israel [Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10], the Law ended with Jesus’ death on the cross [symbolized by the tearing of the Temple curtain] thus, establishing a new priesthood [believers replacing the Levitical Jewish system].

The Greek word translated “fulfill” [pleroo] points to the understanding that “in Christ” is the limit at which the Law ceases to be [as opposed to teleo, an end], for the Law leads up to Christ who is the fulfillment of its types, and “in Christ” the purpose which it was designed to accomplish is fulfilled. That is, the purpose of the Law is fulfilled in Christ [cp. Rom 10.4, Amplified Bible Version].

The Jews had ignored the justice of God, as dictated in His Law, because they failed to understand the true function and purpose for which God had made it. The Law came in order to teach people what sin was and to point towards the coming Messiah who would fulfill it [as opposed to those who could only try to keep it, cp. Rom 7]. So in Mat 5.17, Jesus marks himself out as the Anointed One of God, the promised Messiah who has freed all believers from everything from which they could not be freed by the Law of Moses, a Law based on “works” [cp. Acts 13.39; Rom 3.20; Gal 2.16].

In this introduction “Jesus is not laying down a new code of legal regulations” [4] but stating great ethical principles inherent in God’s initial commandments. Even so, the question of how exactly Jesus fulfills the Law, whilst not abrogating it, remains a tenuous one. The answer lies in the structural sequence that follows the Matthean account of the Sermon where Jesus uses the saying: “You have heard it said…But I tell you that…” [Mat 5.21-48] in reference to specific Mosaic commandments. The appearance of each is followed by what can only be described as a spiritualizing of the Law in regard to murder, adultery, marriage and religious practices. In doing this, Jesus corrects the faulty beliefs and practices of these commandments, which the Jews had obscured with their own set of rules and traditions [making “void the word of God” [Mat 15.1-20; cp. Mal 1.6; Gal 3.17[5]; Rom 3.23].

In turn, the Jews criticized Jesus because his redefinition of the Law instigated the people to start questioning and oppose long held traditions and beliefs instituted by their greedy, hierarchical legal system. But in reality, Jesus warned the people to avoid the hypocrisy read into the Law by the Jews and not to do away with its inherent “glory and splendor” [cp. 2Cor. 3.7, 9]. The Sermon, then, uncovers this ‘cutting of ethical corners’ by the Jewish leadership in order for them to manipulate the people to their evil plans [cf. Mat 15.3-6].

In Mat 5.17-20 Jesus turns this false interpretation of the Law upside down by appealing to the very same Law and using it as his moral compass, explaining the original purpose and meaning God had intended for it. Jesus, as the promised prophet [Deut 18.15-19] and Messiah, who has been sent to “explain everything” [John 4.25], is the only one able to address this faulty belief system.

For the early followers of Christ this showed that, even though God no longer required the type of strict adherence and observance to specific regulations of the Law instituted by the Jews, He nonetheless expected His people to “observe and practice” all that it teaches [Mat 23.2-3; cp. Deut 17.10-11]. For example, in Deut 17.14-20, the king the Lord God will give to His people is instructed not to lift his heart “above that of his brothers”, due to his keeping a copy of the book of “all the words of this law and these statutes” [v.19-20]. The Jews of Jesus’ time had been guilty of this very act which the Jewish king is warned against.

“…through six concrete examples, (i) what sort of attitude and behavior Jesus requires and (ii) how his demands surpass those of the Torah without contradicting the Torah. … The letter of the law does not give life. All things lawful may not be helpful. One may refrain from murder and still hate, refrain from committing adultery and still lust in the heart, and it is possible to follow the OT’s provisions with regard to divorce and oaths and yet be found in sin. … Purely legal norms, such as those cited in Mt. 5.21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43, can never convey how life is to be lived by those who are genuinely poor in spirit, pure in heart, and full of mercy (5. 3, 7, 8).”[6]

In the first of these examples [Mat 5.21-23] Jesus tackles the faulty Jewish teaching of how to deal with murder: cultivating love from a pure heart in order to abstain from murderous acts. Jesus makes it a crime to desire such things in the heart as it is to commit the act itself. This meant that whoever gets angry with someone will be judged and whoever insults another will suffer condemnation [the second death]. The one who does not repent of these “crimes of the heart” is called a murderer by Jesus. Clearly the morality which Jesus exhibits here is far higher than that of the Law of Moses [cp. Ex 20.13], since it does not tolerate hypocrisy. This is a fulfillment of the prophecy of the “new covenant” where God would write His laws “in our hearts” [Jer. 31.33; Heb 8.10]. This contrasts the giving of the Law by Moses on Mount Sinai [Ex 20] with Jesus on the Mount of Olives.

The same technique is applied to the wrongly held belief of adultery in Mat 5.27-28, where Jesus once again lifts a Mosaic commandment [Ex 20.14] to where God expects it. The one who commits adultery is not only the one who acts upon it, but anyone else who harbors such desires in their heart. We see, therefore, that Jesus, far from abrogating the law, is making it more stringent and pure. This is symbolic of the fact that the Law of the Spirit is “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” [2Cor 3.3-11; cp. Rom 2.29; 7.6; 8.2]. This will become a necessary requirement for citizenship into the Kingdom.

God has begun to enact His plan of creating a “nation of kings, priests and saints…a true people of God” [Ex 19.6; Deut. 7.6; 1Pe 2.9] to be [in the future earth] citizens of the heavenly City of God that everyone who died in faith looked forward to [Heb 11.16]. This is a “new law” as far as the world is concerned but one that has been “hidden in Christ before the ages began” and until now revealed by God to His chosen people [cf. Eph 3.9; 1Cor 2.7; Rom 16.25-26; Col 1.26; 2Tim 1.9].

In the parallel passage of Luke 16.16-18, Jesus reiterates the importance of the Law by stating that it will never be abrogated. And later on he uses the word “Law” in reference to the commandments of God. This is verified by the fact that anyone who divorces commits adultery, yet under the Mosaic Law this was allowed. Later in Matthew Jesus explains why this was so [Mat 19.8] using Gen 2.24 to further establish a link between the current Jewish belief and practice of man leaving his parents for a wife “so they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate” [Mat 19.3-9]. This passage showcases the way the Jews had wrongly introduced divorce and by doing so, broke one of the central tenets of God’s Law.

“On this basis it was plausible to think that in his exposition of the law…Jesus reestablished the pure teaching of the logos. The other regulations of the law that later came to be distinguished as ceremonial and judicial were viewed as added precepts that came after the worship of the golden calf. The ‘new testament of freedom’ abrogated them while extending and sharpening the ‘free and universal commands of nature’…The ‘new law’ is thus represented as a restoration and consummation of [Mosaic Law]”.[7]

This “teaching of the logos” is furthered reinforced in Mat 5.38-42, where Jesus once again exerts a rigorous demand on the “eye for an eye” commandment [cp. Ex 21.24; Lev 24.20; Deut. 19.21]. From now on people are called to be peacemakers [Mat 5.39-40] and “give to anyone who asks” [5.41-42], a reference to what true acts of justice require. He explains that the Law dealing with public reprisals has been wrongly used to justify personal vengeance over and against the only judge and jury, the Lord God. The erroneous rabbinical application of the Law led to people ‘taking the law into their own hands’. Once again, the morality Jesus exemplifies in this passage seeks to do away with this faulty belief and practice.

Yet, at the same time, some circumstances did require people to resist and defend themselves [cp. Ex 22.2; Mat 24.43]. But the manner in which it was applied was all wrong. Jesus corrects this teaching in the episode where the soldier slaps him [John 18.22-23]. But note that Jesus did not hit him back, something maybe expected within the old interpretation of the Law [cp. Ex 21.12-14; cf. Gen 9.6]. The lesson here is against the use of violence since “those who use the sword will die by the sword” [Mat 26.52], particularly when it comes to personal vendettas. This is further exemplified by what Jesus suffers at the hands of the Jewish judicial system. Jesus knew that resistance could have resulted in further injury or death and revenge in bloodshed. So while introducing a new statute Jesus upholds a central OT tenet where revenge belonged only to God [Deut. 32.35; Rom 12.19-21], the only one who can personally intervene or use “agents of wrath to bring punishment to wrongdoers” [Rom 13.4].

Throughout Mat 5.17-48 Jesus himself uses strong language such as hyperbole and sharp contrasts in order to give an added emphasis to his teaching. The key points being made here include: doing good instead of evil; love not hate; forgiveness not vengeance. This typifies Jesus’ moral standing in relation to the Jews.

Yet ultimately, the Sermon message is about the Kingdom of God, a kingdom whose origins come “from above and not below”, governed by a spiritual Law that in essence fulfills the earthly Law [cp. John 18.36; 8.23]. This was hard for the Jews to understand since it spoke about more than just the rudiments and legality they had introduced into it. The essence being both ethical and moral, following a style of life that is in accordance with those people who intended to enter into the future Kingdom of God. As in the “beatitudes” [Mat 5.3-12], true happiness comes from seeing life from the perspective of God, a view that is always at odds with humanity. The morality of the kingdom Law [Mat 5.17-48] is directed to those Jewish leaders who held onto faulty traditions and customs, written down as code over the centuries by further legitimization.

Jesus ends his Sermon with a challenge to reject the ways of unrighteousness brought on by the replacement laws of the Jewish institution. The alternative is clear: to live a style of life that is in tune with the coming Kingdom, one of peace and joy; or to ignore the Torah of Messiah Jesus, resulting in disaster and eternal death [Mat 7.24-27].

Works Cited

Andrej Kodjak, A Structural Analysis of the Sermon on the Mount, M. de Gruyter, 1986.

Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Oxford Press, 1993.

Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Liturgical Press, 1991.

Green, J. B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I. H. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1992.

Harvey K. McArthur, Understanding the Sermon on the Mount, Harper, 1960.

Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church: The biblical period, Eerdmans, 1998.

James D. G. Dunn, Jews and Christians: the parting of the ways, A.D. 70 to 135: the Second Durham-Tübingen Research Symposium on Earliest Christianity and Judaism, Siebeck, 1992.

James D. G. Dunn, John William Rogerson, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, 2003.

William R. G. Loader, Jesus' attitude towards the law: a study of the Gospels, Siebeck, 1997.

Wolfhart Pannenberg, Geoffrey William Bromiley, Systematic theology, Eerdmans, 1998.

Wood, D. R. W., New Bible Dictionary, Intervarsity Press, 1996.

[1] The result was the establishment of a new priesthood made up of Christian believers, with Jesus at the centre as the High Priest and only mediator between God and humans, since he himself was human. See Heb 7-8.

[2] Green, J. B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I. H., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, p 741, 1992.

[3] Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church: The biblical period, Eerdmans, p 172, 1998.

[4] Wood, D. R. W., New Bible Dictionary, Inter Varsity Press, p 1080, 1996.

[5] "It does not appear accidental that the 2 principal witnesses for the earlier corruption of Rom 9.5 [“Christ who is God over all”] also attest a similar change here [in Gal 3.16-17]...the textual tradition of [v. 16] preserves a change that appears to achieve the same end...In Gal 3.17, where Paul speaks of the (Abrahamic) covenant that was 'ratified by God', several scribes have made the connection of Christ to Israel's covenant more explicit by adding the words eis Christon: 'the covenant ratified by God unto Christ' (D F G I Byz OL Syr al)." Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Oxford, p 241, 1993.

[6] Green, J. B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I. H., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Downers Grove, Ill., Intervarsity, p 742, 1992.

[7] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Geoffrey William Bromiley, Systematic theology, Eerdmans, p 71, 1998. Emphasis added.