Theology

Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Nature

Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Nature

Only the biblical understanding of human nature can account for both the evil of the Holocaust and the compassionate response of the world community after the fact.

“What a freak, what a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a marvel! Judge of all things, and imbecile earthworm; possessor of the truth, and sink of uncertainty and error; glory and rubbish of the universe.”

Blaise Pascal

Selections from The Thoughts

 

As Blaise Pascal recognized, human beings are a paradox, capable of both great nobility and horrendous evil. Today, April 8, 2013, a day designated as a day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust, we come face to face with one of the starkest reminders in our time of the human capacity for great evil.

A recent New York Times article reveals new research that only heightens the reality of the shocking levels of violence and oppression of which humans are capable. The new findings show that during the Holocaust there were some 42,500 Nazi camps and ghettos throughout Europe, including 30,000 slave-labor camps, 1,150 Jewish ghettos, 980 concentration camps, 1,000 prisoner-of-war camps, 500 brothels containing sex slaves, and numerous other camps for euthanizing the weak and elderly, performing forced abortions, or shipping victims from camp to camp.

It can be difficult to comprehend how human beings could possibly descend to the depths of evil that we see in the Holocaust. Faced with this uncomfortable reality, many attempt to rationalize genocide as somehow deriving from outside forces. Thinkers as diverse as Gustav Le Bon, Sigmund Freud, and Reinhold Niebuhr explained genocide as a result of the evilness of the collective, believing that while individuals are capable of goodness and morality, groups are inherently selfish and uncaring. Others attempt to explain genocide on the basis of ideology alone or as resulting from leaders with an authoritarian personality type. However, none of these explanations can fully account for the existence of genocide and mass killing.

The most realistic conclusion is that reached by leading genocide scholar James Waller in his book Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing, which concludes that all people share a human nature that includes the capacity for both extraordinary good and extraordinary evil under the right circumstances.

The Bible on Human Nature

As uncomfortable as it is, this diagnosis fits with what the Bible teaches about human nature. The Bible begins with God, the sovereign, good Creator of all things: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God’s creative handiwork, everything from light to land to living creatures, is called “good.” Humanity, being the image of God, is the crown of God’s good creation—“behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). As the pinnacle of God’s creation, human beings reveal God more wonderfully than any other creature—as they were created to be like God, by God, for God, and to be with God (Gen. 1:26–27; 2:15).

In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make man in our image.” In the very beginning, our Creator gave us a remarkable title: “in the image of God.” This expression reveals the inherent dignity of all human beings, because it designates human beings as representatives of the supreme King of the universe. As God’s image-bearers, human beings are imbued with dignity and worth beyond that of animals. Speaking to Noah after the flood, God emphasizes that human life is to be highly valued, and that violence against any human being is to be rigorously punished (Gen. 9:5–6).

But Genesis 3 records the terrible day when humanity fell into sin and the peace God intended was violated. In a moment of cosmic treason, Adam and Eve violated their relationship with God by rebelling against his command. Instead of trusting in God’s wise and good word, they trusted in the crafty and deceitful words of the serpent. In response, the Creator placed a curse on our parents that cast the whole human race into futility and death. The royal image of God fell into the severe ignobility we all experience. The Bible sums up the bleak condition of human nature after the Fall in Genesis 6:5, as “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Human evil is described as being characterized by intensity (“great in the earth”), inwardness (“thoughts of his heart”), pervasiveness (“only evil”), and constancy (“continually”).

As fallen human beings, all kinds of evil now comes out of the human heart: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, false testimony, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly (Matt. 15:17–20; Mark 7:20–22). As Jesus tells us, “All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:23). In Galatians 5:17–21, Paul follows Jesus’ lead and tells us that inherent within us is sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

The Hope Amid the Evil

The only explanation that can account for both the evil of the Holocaust and the compassionate response of the world community after the fact is the biblical understanding of human nature. The reason we react with horror to the Nazi atrocities is because we are made in the image of God, which includes the conscience that God has given us and our capacity for compassion and love. Yet the ultimate reason such atrocities could be carried out is the same reason every one of us is capable of evil: human nature is fallen under the curse of sin.

Because of sin, human beings do evil, but we are not as bad as we could be. In his mercy, God restrains human evil from always reaching the depths that it could. Yet our true hope for change is ultimately in God’s power.

The Holocaust is a sobering reminder of the capacity for evil present in the human heart. It should lead us to look to God for deliverance not only from the evil of others, but from the evil in our own hearts. It should remind us that we need rescue and that Jesus is our ultimate hope.

Fake It Till You Make It

Fake It Till You Make It

Jesus promises us tribulation in this world (John 16:33). Not only will there be suffering, but we are also called to give, serve, live on mission, love God, love others, and lay our whole life down as a sacrifice. This can be overwhelming at times.

In some seasons of life, we don’t “feel God.” We question our salvation. We know all the right answers, but our heart isn’t always there. How does a Christian handle times like that?

You Have To Fake It Till You Make It

You need to turn loving God into a habit. Discipline should be your best friend. Work out of your own strength to pray, read your Bible, and do more for God. When in doubt, just follow your heart. God will surely honor and help those who help themselves. In no time at all you should feel closer to God and right back in step on the Christian walk.

Even if your heart isn’t any closer to God, faking it will keep others from seeing your flaws, sins, and doubts. If everyone around you is convinced that you too are living a victorious, successful Christian life, that positive energy will eventually lift your spirits and allow you to “mount up with wings like eagles” (Isa. 40:31).

If you start to feel beat down and depressed, don’t give up; it just means you’re doing something wrong. Don’t ever relax or rest; you’ve got to give 110% if you want to get to the top. Besides, depending on the grace of God for your spiritual growth is for second rate Christians.

Don’t ever admit sins or failures. It’s essential that you appear spiritual, or at the very least, always improving. Repentance is important at the beginning of your Christian walk, but once you’ve been a Christian for a few years, you should be free of most sin.

If this is you, then remember: fake it till you make it.

 

I hope your theological radar was going off as you read this post. It’s all bad news (April Fools’). If you want good news on this and not just terrible advice, then I’d recommend my interview with Paul Tripp. At about 44 minutes in, he talks about how people can change through grace. 


The Resurrection Is Not Just A Metaphor

The Resurrection Is Not Just A Metaphor

For Christians, resurrection isn’t just a way of expressing a spiritual truth. We believe that something completely unique in human history happened.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a central tenet of the Christian faith. One of the earliest creeds (concise summaries of Christian beliefs), the Nicene Creed, declares that Jesus “for us . . . and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.”

More Than A Metaphor

Resurrection is often misunderstood as merely a metaphor for a spiritual afterlife. But as prominent New Testament scholar N.T. Wright explains, the word “resurrection” had a very specific meaning in the ancient world:

“Resurrection” denoted a new embodied life which would follow whatever “life after death” there might be. “Resurrection” was, by definition, not the existence into which someone might (or might not) go immediately upon death; it was not a disembodied “heavenly” life; it was a further stage, out beyond all that. It was not a redescription or redefinition of death. It was death’s reversal.

For Christians, resurrection isn’t just a way of expressing a spiritual truth. We believe that in the first century something happened that was completely unique in human history up to that point: a man actually, physically died; he was buried in a tomb for three days; and then he actually, physically was raised back to life, never to die again.

Without the resurrection, there would be no Christianity, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). Paul saw the Resurrection as the lynchpin of the Christian faith.

Put bluntly, if Jesus Christ claimed to be the Savior but remains dead in a tomb after a brutal crucifixion, his claims were, and are, meaningless. However, if Jesus did rise from death, then his claims to be God, his bearing the penalty of our sins in our place on the cross, and his teachings about the kingdom of God and life after death are vindicated.

Suffered, Crucified, & Buried

Throughout his ministry, Jesus predicted numerous times that he would be killed and then rise from the dead:

  • “As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.’ And they were greatly distressed.” (Matt. 17:22–23)
  • “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22)
  • “And taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’” (Luke 18:31–33)

Around A.D. 33, Jesus’ prediction came true. He was captured, put through a series of false trials under cover of night, and sentenced to death. He was executed by crucifixion, and when the Roman soldiers had verified that he was dead, he was buried in a nearby tomb, with a heavy stone covering the entrance and a Roman guard posted to ensure no interferred with his body.

A New Era Of The Kingdom

His followers gave up hope. But on the morning of the third day, they returned to find the guards gone, the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty. Soon, Jesus began to show himself to his followers, fully and physically alive again. As Paul records, Jesus showed himself to Peter, to the twelve disciples, and even to hundreds of his followers at a time (1 Cor. 15:3–8).

Unlike the pagan religions of the ancient world, Judaism had a belief in bodily resurrection. But it was a resurrection that would occur at the end of time. There was no expectation in Jesus’ culture that one man would be resurrected as a precursor to the general resurrection. Even when Jesus himself predicted his own resurrection, his followers were confused (Luke 9:44–45).

When Jesus was crucified, they were devastated; when he rose from the dead, fully present in flesh and blood again, their whole world was changed. Empowered by the belief that Jesus’ resurrection signaled the start of a new era of God’s kingdom, they went out preaching the good news about what Jesus had accomplished by dying for sins and rising in victory over death.

Death Is Not The End

Jesus’ resurrection is the central miracle of his life. In triumphantly rising from death, just as he promised, he vindicated his claim to be the Son of God, sent to deliver the world from sin and death. His resurrection showed that he had successfully paid the penalty required for human sin and had overcome the curse of death that has held humanity in bondage since the Fall.

His resurrection paves the way for all those who trust him to look forward to a resurrection patterned after his. As Paul writes, “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20–21).

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, Christians live with the hope and expectation that death is not the end for us, because we look forward to being raised like Jesus was and living forever with him.

The Ethics of Personhood

The Ethics of Personhood

Human history is tragically full of examples of the persecution and oppression that arise when those in power create their own definitions of human personhood and rights so as to exclude and misuse certain groups of people. However, Scripture is clear that all human beings have dignity, personhood, and rights given to them by God. The biblical understanding of personhood provides the essential foundation for ethical decisions about how to treat other people.

 

The Biblical View of Personhood

The Bible begins with God, the sovereign, good creator of all things: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God’s creative handiwork, everything from light to land to living creatures, is called “good.” But humanity, being the very image of God, is the crown of God’s good creation—“behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). As the pinnacle of God’s creation, human beings reveal God more wonderfully than any other creature—as they were created to be like God, by God, for God, and to be with God (Gen. 1:26–27; 2:15).

In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make man in our image.” In the very beginning, our Creator gave us a remarkable title: he called us the image of God. This reveals the inherent dignity of all human beings, because the expression “image of God” designates human beings as representatives of the supreme King of the universe. As the image of God, humans, both male and female, are given special dignity and dominion and are commissioned to care for God’s good creation (Gen. 1:28–30).

 

Consequences of the Biblical View of Personhood

As God’s image-bearers, human beings are imbued with dignity and worth beyond that of animals. Speaking to Noah after the flood, God emphasizes that human life is to be highly valued, and that violence against any human being is to be rigorously punished (Gen. 9:5–6).

In Genesis 1 and 2, we see that God’s plan for humanity was for the earth to be filled with his image-bearers, who were to glorify him through worship and obedience. This beautiful state of being, enjoying the cosmic bliss of God’s intended blessing and his wise rule, is called shalom. As Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., writes, “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”

Shalom means fullness of peace. It is the vision of a society without violence or fear: “I will give peace (shalom) in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid” (Lev. 26:6). Shalom is a profound and comprehensive sort of well-being—abundant welfare—with its connotations of peace, justice, and the common good. Nicholas Wolterstorff argues that shalom means harmonious and responsible relationships with God, other human beings, and nature. In short, biblical writers use the word shalom to describe the world of universal peace, safety, justice, order, and wholeness God intended, in which all human beings enjoy freedom, security, and peace.

 

Unbiblical views of personhood

Genesis 3 records the terrible day when humanity fell into sin and shalom was violated. Adam and Eve violated their relationship with God by rebelling against his command. This was a moment of cosmic treason. Instead of trusting in God’s wise and good word, they trusted in the crafty and deceitful words of the Serpent. In response, the Creator placed a curse on our parents that cast the whole human race into futility and death. The royal image of God fell into the severe ignobility we all experience.

This tragic fall plunged humanity into a relational abyss. Paul Tripp writes, “What seemed once unthinkably wrong and out of character for the world that God had made now became a daily experience … For the first time, the harmony between people was broken.” God’s image-bearers were created to worship and obey him and to reflect his glory to his good creation. After the fall, humanity was enslaved to idolatry (hatred for God) and violence (hatred for each other). Sin inverts love for God, which in turn becomes idolatry, and inverts love for neighbor, which becomes exploitation of others.

As Ashley Null points out, “What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” The fallen human heart finds ways to justify its hatred of other people and its desire to exploit them. The result is the multitude of unbiblical views of personhood found throughout human history which dehumanize and exclude people who are made in the image of God. Greg Bahnsen examines several major non-Christian views of the nature of humanity, such as the rationalistic dualism of Plato, the materialist economic determinism of Marx, the psychic determinism of Freud, and the environmental conditioning determinism of B.F. Skinner. Myriad other unbiblical ideologies of personhood have existed, such as tribalism, Social Darwinism, racism, Nazism, and views of superior personhood based on religion, wealth, gender, age, intellect, heredity, and so on.

Arguably, all unbiblical views of personhood can be divided into two sorts: (1) views that are reductionistic, that is, they reduce people to merely material beings, not made in the image of God; and (2), views that are gnostic, that is, they downplay the material aspect of people, so that suffering is seen as no more than an illusion. Both paths open the way to dehumanization, violence, and exploitation.

 

Consequences of unbiblical views of personhood

Without the biblical understanding of human personhood and dignity as image-bearers of God, society is free to degenerate into violence, oppression, and exploitation of the weak by the strong. The Old Testament clearly depicts the cruelty and violence that results from the Fall: cannibalism (2 Kings 6:28–29), violence against children (Ps. 137:9), women (Amos 1:13), and the unborn (2 Kings 15:16), rape (Judges 19:22–30), massacres (1 Sam. 22:18–19), and enslavement (Amos 4:2).

Throughout human history, we see again and again how unbiblical views of personhood are used to exploit and oppress people. The strong eat the weak, and there is injustice against disliked and lesser-valued groups, from the unborn to the elderly. There is abortion, infanticide, child abuse, and child labor. There is slavery, gender violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking, labor trafficking, racism, genocide, and ethnic warfare. There is class warfare, disenfranchisement, age discrimination, oppression of the poor, and discrimination against the disliked, the disabled, the uneducated, the weak, and the powerless. That which should be held sacred is commodified, bought, and sold. The examples of injustice and exploitation that occurs when human personhood is redefined are innumerable and heart-breaking.

 

The Biblical call to justice and mercy

Though it does not hesitate to depict the harsh reality of violence and oppression, the Bible clearly calls us to fight for justice and mercy for all people as God intended.

The prophet Zechariah portrays a God-given role for God’s people as a nation that practices justice & mercy in their society: “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart” (Zech. 7:9–10). When Israel fails and continues to rebel against God’s law, God threatens judgment, but then pours out grace and restores them. Zechariah envisions God’s grace leading to true repentance and a people who fervently pursue justice and mercy for all people. The result is that the nations of unbelievers will come asking about the Lord (Zech. 8:20–23). God’s people thankful, worshiping God, and working for justice and mercy will be a light to the nations (Isa. 49:6), a hope which culminates in the coming of the Messiah.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and declared that these words of Isaiah were fulfilled in him: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:17).

In making this declaration and in his ministry, Jesus showed that bringing freedom for captives and relief to the poor and oppressed is at the very center of his divine mission. His ultimate act of liberation was his substitutionary death and victorious resurrection, which set his people free from slavery to sin and death. Yet his teachings and his example show us that the proclamation of the good news of Christ’s saving work should be accompanied by tangible acts of love, service, and mercy toward our neighbors if the gospel message is to be recognized in its full power.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus’ actions contradicted the dehumanizing assumptions of his culture. Jesus spent significant amounts of time with children, women, the poor, the diseased, Samaritans, and other outcast and disliked groups, valuing and loving those considered less valuable by the culture of his day. This paradoxical approach to the value-systems of the world is echoed by Paul when he writes, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:27–29).

The Christian church has, at its best, been known for exemplary love and sacrificial service to “the least of these”—the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Such service has provided a powerful apologetic for the gospel. By upholding the dignity of all human life as the image of God and tangibly expressing the biblical ethic of personhood that flows from it, the church has the opportunity to be a light to the nations and to participate in God’s mission by welcoming the weak and powerless to find grace, mercy, and rest in Jesus Christ.

A Theology of the Last Supper

A Theology of the Last Supper

Maundy Thursday, which remembers the Last Supper, is a celebration of the new covenant.

In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:25–26

As we progress through Holy Week toward Easter Sunday, one of the traditional Christian feast days is “Maundy Thursday” (also known in various traditions as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, or Thursday of Mysteries). Coming before Good Friday, this day commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

Jesus’ Last Supper provides the basis for one of the most important observances of the Christian church: the Lord’s Supper, also known as Eucharist or Communion in different traditions. From the earliest days of the church, Christians have re-enacted the Lord’s Supper in accordance with Jesus’ instruction that his followers “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

The New Covenant

The significance of the Last Supper is seen in the fact that it is when Jesus instituted the new covenant with God’s people, as he explained, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). The Mosaic covenant, which God had made with Israel, was constantly broken because of the sin of God’s people. In the Old Testament, God’s prophets declared that someday God would institute a new covenant with his people and put his law into their hearts: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:31–34).

As he broke bread and passed around the Passover cup, Jesus was being very intentional. The broken bread foreshadowed his body being broken in death, and the cup foreshadowed the shedding of his blood and the absorbing of God’s wrath against sin.

Christ’s death is the basis for the redemption of all God’s people through the new covenant relationship with God that had been promised. The old Mosaic covenant was replaced with the new covenant through the work of Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection, which provided complete atonement for all the sins of God’s people: past, present, and future (Rom. 3:25–26; 2 Cor. 3:1–4:6; Heb. 8:6–13).

Past, Present, and Future

There are many differences in the way various Christian traditions understand and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but at the core is a basic unity in celebrating God’s redemption in the past, the present, and the future. We see all three of these elements in the Apostle Paul’s explanation of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:25–26.

 

The Past

As Jesus instructed, we take the Lord’s Supper “in remembrance” (Luke 22:19) of Jesus’ finished work of salvation through his life, death, and resurrection. The bread broken and the wine poured out serve as concrete, tangible reminders of Jesus’ real, physical life and sacrificial death, which occurred once-for-all in the past. As Hebrews says, “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10). The work of salvation is finished (John 19:30).

The Present

Yet when Christians celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it’s not only a way of remembering something past, but also proclaiming something that is present and looking forward to something that is future.

The Apostle Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:25–26, emphasis added). When Christians come together for the Lord’s Supper, we are celebrating and joyfully proclaiming the new covenant and the redemption through Jesus’ blood that is offered to all people. It proclaims the present power of the death of Christ and celebrates that we “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). And as we eat and drink the elements Jesus said is his body and blood, we acknowledge our constant dependence on Jesus as the “bread of life” who came down from heaven (John 6:35–59).

 

A Future Hope

Finally, the Lord’s Supper looks forward to the future, because Jesus is coming again—“you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” As he gave his disciples the cup, he pointed them to his future return: “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29). The book of Revelation portrays a great feast for “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:6–10), which was anticipated in the prediction of a messianic banquet in Isaiah 25:6–8, Matthew 22:1–14, and Matthew 25:10. Jesus intentionally points his followers toward this future hope at the Last Supper.

When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we remember God’s work of redemption in the past, we proclaim his grace in the present, and we look forward to Jesus’ return in the future. It’s a joyful, thankful, hopeful celebration as we reflect on and experience God’s grace to us through Jesus.

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Book Highlights)

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Book Highlights)

A Jewish PerspectiveThe Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective

by Pinchas Lapide, translated by Wilhelm C. Linss

Augsburg Publishing, 1983

 


 

The resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith. Without the resurrection, there would be no Christianity, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Historically, Jesus’ resurrection (along with his claims to be the Son of God and the Son of Man) has always been the point of contention that separates Christians and Jews. However, the Orthodox Jewish theologian Pinchas Lapide (1922–1997), in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, turns that expectation on its head. Though he does not believe Jesus is the Messiah, Lapide does believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event. Recognizing that Jesus and his disciples were faithful Jews, he seeks to understand it from a Jewish perspective.

Foundational Faith

According to Lapide, belief in resurrection was common in Judaism of Jesus’ day. He points out that not only does the Old Testament record several resurrections (or resuscitations; 1 Kings 17:17–24; 2 Kings 4:18–37; 13:20–21), it alludes to the future resurrection for all people in a number of places (Job 19:25–27; Hosea 6:1–2; Ezek. 37:11–14; Dan. 12:2). Individual resurrections provided the basis for the final, general resurrection. Lapide claims, “This certainty of a future resurrection of all and of a possible earlier resurrection of some people especially graced by God was the precondition of the Easter faith of the disciples” (p. 64). Thus, the Jewish faith of the apostles was the foundation of their faith in the risen Christ.

Lapide does see the cross “as a definite pledge of God.”

Though he believes the New Testament embellished some of the facts, Lapide argues that the oldest accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are simple and unexaggerated, which contributes to their reliability: “Instead of exciting Easter jubilation we hear repeatedly of doubts, disbelief, hesitation, and such simple things as the linen cloths and the napkins in the empty tomb” (p. 100). Furthermore, “The best proof for the solid faith in the resurrection is probably the realistic way in which the two oldest Gospels describe the painful death and Jesus’ cry of despair on the cross: ‘And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last’ (Mark 15:37)” (p. 110).

Only 3 explanations

In Lapide’s mind, Jesus’ resurrection and appearances have only three possible explanations. They were either:

  1. A religious myth,
  2. A series of individual personal experiences, or
  3. Historical events.

Though formerly a skeptic of Jesus’ resurrection, re-examining the evidence led Lapide to accept the resurrection as historical fact: “If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception—without a fundamental faith experience—then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself” (p. 126).

Resurrection, Lapide argues, is a hope Christians and Jews share.

Modern explanations of the resurrection that de-historicize the event appear to Lapide “as all too abstract and scholarly to explain the fact that the solid hillbillies from Galilee who, for the very real reason of the crucifixion of their master, were saddened to death, were changed within a short period of time into a jubilant community of believers” (p. 129). If God truly was active in the miraculous events of the Old Testament, then Jesus’ resurrection is not inconceivable.

While Lapide does not see Christ’s work on the cross as accomplishing redemption, he does see it “as a definite pledge of God, as a down payment of further hope for the longed-for complete redemption which we all are still expecting” (p. 136). Moreover, though he thinks Christianity has misinterpreted it, Lapide believes Jesus’ resurrection has “helped advance the divine plan of salvation” because it has “carried the faith in the God of Israel into the whole Western world” (p. 142). The resurrection of Jesus can still provide hope of God’s faithfulness to Jews who are waiting their messiah, Lapide asserts.

A Common Hope

Jesus’ resurrection does not have to be miraculous, according to Lapide. The works of God “do not arbitrarily skip the natural chain of cause and effect like the works of the sorcerer in a fairytale” (p. 150). Resurrection is no more miraculous than is the creation of life through natural birth: “Why should the resurrection of a personal ego after passing through death be more miraculous than the gradual awakening of a human being out of the lifeless matter of a fertilized ovum?” (p. 151). Rather than a supernatural event, the resurrection is a natural event that gives meaning to all of life, and “the hope of resurrection is a reasonable faith which should be sufficient for a meaningful, fulfilling life on earth” (p. 151). Resurrection, Lapide argues, is a hope that Christians and Jews share.

Lapide does not believe the resurrection proves Jesus is the Messiah.

It is unique for a Jewish scholar to accept the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event. Yet as Carl Braaten writes in the introduction, “It is the contradictory interpretation placed on the final 48 hours from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, the decisive events—cross and resurrection—on which the whole of Christianity is based” (pp. 13–14). Christians (and the New Testament) see in these events the revelation of the messianic identity of Jesus, while Jews still look for the Messiah who will establish God’s kingdom. Lapide accepts the resurrection as thoroughly historical, yet he is not a Christian because he does not believe it proves that Jesus is the Messiah.

For Lapide, Jesus is just a member of the great line of patriarchs and prophets who pave the way for the full salvation to be brought about through God’s kingdom. For Christians, the resurrection is God’s miraculous testimony that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:26), “the Holy and Righteous One . . . the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:14–15). We as Christians believe that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).

The Necessary Ministry of the Holy Spirit

The Necessary Ministry of the Holy Spirit

The below is an abridged excerpt from “The Ministry of the Holy Spirit,” a chapter that Mike Wilkerson and I co-authored in the new book Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, which was just released yesterday.

It’s About Engagement, Not A Process

Life is a mess of sin and suffering. When people find themselves in over their heads, they come to us the counselors, and quickly we’re in over our heads with them.

What do they want? Often they want relief from the pain or practical advice for how to break sin patterns. Sometimes they’re aware that there’s more to it, something deeper.

We can’t go far without prayer and Scripture.

What do we want for them? If we’re thinking biblically, then we’ll want to provide some immediate, practical help. But we also know that the roots of their problems are likely deeper than they are aware, and that God is often up to something greater than merely cleaning up the messes as we see them and in the ways that we would clean them.

We know that biblical counseling will involve prayer and Scripture—we can’t go far without those. Yet if we’re not careful, even prayer and Scripture can be deployed in the counseling process as mere techniques (the technologies of biblical counseling) rather than as means of engaging with the living God, who alone is sufficient for the needs at hand.

It’s The Holy Spirit’s Counseling

Rather than asking about the role of the Holy Spirit in counseling, we should be asking about the counselor’s role in the Holy Spirit’s counseling! Yes, there will be Scripture. Yes, there will be prayer. Yet, it is good for us to focus on the Holy Spirit’s personal presence, agency, and efficacy. We should not reduce him to the topic of “prayer in counseling,” nor to “Scripture in counseling.”

By taking this more personal approach, we’ll be reminded that prayer is not just a technique of spirituality—it is conversation with our Redeemer, a person.

The Holy Spirit is the primary counselor.

Further, the Spirit is at work even before we pray and in ways for which we may not even know how to pray. He does more than we ask or think (Eph. 3:20). We’ll also be reminded that the Scriptures are not magical formulas that work apart from our understanding; they are meaningful communications from a personal God about himself that we might know him. It is the Spirit who opens our hearts and minds to know God through the Scriptures.

Counseling that lacks this dependence on the Holy Spirit ceases to be Christian. Jay Adams is emphatic here:

Ignoring the Holy Spirit or avoiding the use of Scriptures in counseling is tantamount to an act of autonomous rebellion. Christians may not counsel apart from the Holy Spirit and his Word without grievously sinning against him and the counselee.

 

Siang-Yang Tan agrees:

The role of the Holy Spirit in counseling is therefore a crucial one. He is the ultimate source of all true healing and wholeness. All true Christian counseling needs to be done in the Spirit, by the Spirit’s power, truth, and love, under the Lordship of Christ, and to the glory of God

It’s A Trialogue

If the Holy Spirit is the primary counselor, then biblical counseling is not merely a dialogue between a counselor and a counselee. Rather. It is a trialogue in which a counselor participates in the Spirit’s work already underway with the counselee. The Spirit is actively engaged in counseling, working directly on the counselor and the counselee, and through each to help the other.

 

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Copyright © 2013 abridged expert from Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, James MacDonald, Bob Kellemen, and Steve Viars, eds. 

 

Is The Bible Trustworthy?

Is The Bible Trustworthy?

There have been many challenges brought by critics who doubt the reliability and trustworthiness of the accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible. How can we be sure that the Bible we read can be trusted as accurate?

It is common to see the argument that the Scriptures we have today are not the same as what was written by the apostles in the first century. Arguments like this attempt to portray the Bible as unreliable and therefore irrelevant. As we will see, however, these challenges do not stand up to scrutiny.

What About All The New Testament Textual Variants?

The Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were probably written during the second half of the first century. Unfortunately, we do not actually have any of the original documents (called autographs) in our possession today. Instead, what we have are copies, often hand-written by scribes to preserve and circulate the words of the apostles so they could be passed around and used in worship services. The fact that the original manuscripts were copied shows how important these writings were to local church congregations. However, in the process of copying the manuscripts, the scribes often made small changes, some of them unintentional and others intentional.

For example, early copies of the Greek New Testament were written in an ancient style in which words were written in all capital letters with no spaces, punctuation, or paragraph divisions. A classic illustration of this style is the phrase “GODISNOWHERE.” A copyist would have to decide whether the phrase meant “God is now here” or “God is nowhere.” Context would have to determine the meaning of the phrase, so it is not unsurprising that a scribe could occasionally get things wrong. Furthermore, scribes sometimes wrote the same word twice when it should have been written once (or once when it should have been written twice), skipped over sections of text because the same words occurred later down the page, or misspelled words. These are all examples of unintentional changes.

Other times, however, the scribes changed the texts they were copying on purpose, for a variety of reasons. They might make grammatical improvements or liturgical changes (such as adding a doxology), or they might eliminate apparent discrepancies, harmonize passages, or even make doctrinal changes. However, even Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar who argues that the Bible is not reliable, recognizes that “most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another.”

Because there are a large number of variations in the New Testament manuscripts, some argue that the words of the New Testament are unreliable. But the vast number of New Testament manuscripts actually enables us to figure out what the originals said with a great deal of certainty. As Mark Roberts puts it, “having many manuscripts actually increases the likelihood of our getting back to the original text.” Scholars are able to compare the various manuscripts containing the same passages of Scripture and determine, on the basis of internal and external evidence, which of the manuscripts most likely gets the original wording right.

How Do New Testament Manuscripts Compare To Other Ancient Documents?

The earliest manuscripts of the works of first-century historians such as Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius are dated from the 9th–11th centuries, which is over 800 years after the originals were written. In terms of the number of manuscripts that have survived, there are 200 manuscripts of Suetonius, 133 of Josephus, and 75 of Herodotus.

By comparison, when we compare these ancient works to the New Testament, the difference is astonishing. For instance, the earliest New Testament manuscript is from around 125 A.D., while significant portions of the Gospels are represented in manuscripts from the late second- and early third centuries. So, whereas the best ancient historical works have a period of 500–800 years between the actual date the work was written and the date of the earliest surviving manuscript, there is less than a 100-year gap between the writing of the Gospels and the manuscripts we possess.

In addition, the number of manuscripts of the Gospels is staggering in comparison to other ancient works. As Roberts notes, “The number of Gospel manuscripts in existence is about 20 times larger than the average number of extant manuscripts of comparable writings.” This figure does not even represent the hundreds of thousands of quotes from the Gospels in the writings of the early church fathers. We have nearly 2,000 manuscripts of the Gospels alone. This means that to doubt the reliability of the Gospels is to doubt the reliability of nearly every ancient text that we have.

Scripture Is Trustworthy And Reliable

Because of who God is, and because of what God has done to preserve his word, we can have confidence that the events described in Scripture are accurate and historical. This is important because Christianity, unique among world religions, is not primarily founded on principles but on the historical events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. As John Gresham Machen writes, “Christianity is based upon an account of something that happened, and the Christian worker is primarily a witness.” Scripture reveals the central climax of history: God’s gracious act of bringing salvation through Jesus Christ.

What Is Grace?

What Is Grace?

“The very center and core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God.”

J. Gresham Machen

 

“Grace” is the most important concept in the Bible, Christianity, and the world. It is most clearly expressed in the promises of God revealed in Scripture and embodied in Jesus Christ.

Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favor of God.

What are some ways people have defined grace?

“Grace is free sovereign favor to the ill-deserving.” (B.B. Warfield)

“Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.” (John Stott)

“[Grace] is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against Him.” (Jerry Bridges)

“Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it.” (Paul Zahl)

Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness. We live in a world of earning, deserving, and merit, and these result in judgment. That is why everyone wants and needs grace. Judgment kills. Only grace makes alive.

A shorthand for grace is “mercy, not merit.” Grace is the opposite of karma, which is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and not getting what you do deserve. Christianity teaches that what we deserve is death with no hope of resurrection.

While everyone desperately needs it, grace is not about us. Grace is fundamentally a word about God: his uncoerced initiative and pervasive, extravagant demonstrations of care and favor. Michael Horton writes, “In grace, God gives nothing less than Himself. Grace, then, is not a third thing or substance mediating between God and sinners, but is Jesus Christ in redeeming action.”

Christians live every day by the grace of God. We receive forgiveness according to the riches of God’s grace, and grace drives our sanctification. Paul tells us, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11–12). Spiritual growth doesn’t happen overnight; we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Grace transforms our desires, motivations, and behavior.

In fact, God’s grace grounds and empowers everything in the Christian life. Grace is the basis for:

  • Our Christian identity: “By the grace of God I am what I am.” (1 Cor. 15:10)
  • Our standing before God: “this grace in which we stand.” (Rom. 5:2)
  • Our behavior: “We behaved in the world … by the grace of God.” (2 Cor. 1:12)
  • Our living: those who receive “the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:17) by the “grace of life.” (1 Pet. 3:7)
  • Our holiness: God “called us to a holy calling … because of his own purpose and grace.” (2 Tim. 1:9)
  • Our strength for living: “Be strengthened by the grace that is in Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:1) for “it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” (Heb. 13:9)
  • Our way of speaking: “Let your speech always be gracious.” (Col. 4:6)
  • Our serving: “serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Pet. 4:10)
  • Our sufficiency: “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Cor. 12:9) “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)
  • Our response to difficulty and suffering: We get “grace to help in time of need,” (Heb. 4:16) and when “you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace…will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Pet. 5:10)
  • Our participation in God’s mission: As recipients of grace we are privileged to serve as agents of grace. Believers receive grace (Acts 11:23), are encouraged to continue in grace (Acts 13:43), and are called to testify to the grace of God (Acts 20:24). Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). God’s mission is to the entire world.
  • Our future: God, and his grace, is everlasting. “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:13)
  • Our hope beyond death: “grace [reigns] through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 5:21)

The gospel is all about God’s grace through Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul calls it “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) and “the word of his grace” (Acts 14:3).

The gospel of the grace of God is the message everyone needs. The word of grace is proclaimed from every page of the Bible and ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ. The last verse of the Bible summarizes the message from Genesis to Revelation: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all” (Rev. 22:21). Through Jesus “we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16)—the gratuitous and undomesticated grace of God.