Thursday, July 28

Answering Objections Concerning Jesus As God

The deity of Christ is one of the most essential doctrines within the Christian faith. The concept of the Trinity - three in one, much like a pyramid (one pyramid, three sides) has been part of Christianity since its inception, contrary to popular belief. The preservation of Scripture, particularly the New Testament, has been remarkable, and the eyewitness accounts of the events of Jesus' life described in the Gospels provide a historically and archaeologically attested record of His life. Writings of the early church fathers along with the writings of Pliny the Younger (Governor of Bithynia in 112 AD) shows that, as opposed to the view that Christ's deity as God developed at the Council of Nicaea in the third century, that this belief has actually been around since the very beginning. (Photo credit: No copyright infringement intended, all rights belong to Visual Bible International and THINKFilm - The Gospel of John (2003) starring Henry Ian Cusick as Jesus)

In two past entries, "Is Jesus Really God?" and "Did Jesus Claim To Be God?", many internal and external evidences were provided which, this ministry believes, demonstrates that Jesus did indeed claim to be God, that He received and accepted worship as God, and that after research done on the different empty tomb theories, the resurrection is the only valid explanation. "But if Jesus was God," some ask, "what about this passage... or this phrase... or this verse..." In the two aforementioned entries, many such objections concerning Jesus as God were answered, such as His names as the "Son of Man" - actually a reference to Daniel 7, which the Jews knew would be their Messiah, or the "Son of God," meaning that He was not the Father's Son in the biological sense, but in relationship sense, or rather "in the same nature of" (see Philippians 2, Hebrews 1), or "Son of David," showing that He was fully God and fully human at the same time, descended from the line of King David.

However, in this entry, there have been questions about other such objections, and we will attempt to answer these in an orderly, logical, and coherent fashion.

Objection 1: Jesus is called the "firstborn" over Creation in Colossians 1:15. Doesn't this mean Jesus is a created being, and therefore not God?
The text in question, 1st Corinthians 1:15-17, says, "The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." To say that the phrase "firstborn" indicates that Jesus is a created being, as certain cults and denominations do by citing this verse, is unbiblical. John 1 clearly claims that Jesus is the Creator God. To say that Jesus is a created being not only conflicts with John 1, but with much of Scripture. Take John 17:5, which illustrates the pre-existence of Jesus, "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began" (emphasis mine).

Note that verse 15 says, "The Son is the image of the invisible God." The word "image" means likeness or copy, and when compared with Hebrews 1:3 we read, "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word..." Though Jesus took on human likeness, Jesus is "in very nature God" (Philippians 2:6). When we see the phrase "firstborn over all creation," it is referring to Christ's pre-existence as God. Jesus is not called the "first-created," but the "firstborn." The Greek word for firstborn, "prototokos," designates priority. Jesus is the eternal Creator, and as noted in Hebrews 1:2-4 and John 1:10, the world was made by Him and through Him. In Near East culture of the time, the firstborn was not always specifically the eldest child. Firstborn, more often than not, referred not to birth order but to rank. The firstborn in a family was the one who possessed the inheritance and leadership.

Psalm 89:27 says, "I will appoint him to be my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth." Five times aside from Colossians 1:15, Jesus is called the firstborn of God the Father, in Romans 8:29, Hebrews 1:6 and 12:23, Revelation 1:5, and Colossians 1:18. Evidently, the term, or phrase "firstborn" proclaims the sovereignty and priority, as well as authority, of Jesus, not a created nature, but an eternal one. Recall that Jesus is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus is God, not a created being.

Objection 2: Jesus said in John 14:28, "The Father is greater than I." Doesn't this mean He is not God?
Henry Ian Cusick as Jesus
John 14:28 says, "You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I" (emphasis mine). Understand the verse in its context: this was spoken by Jesus during what is known as the upper room discourse - before His resurrection. Jesus made similar statements in the Gospels, but does this show that He is not God, if the Father is greater than He? To understand the basis of these statements, the incarnation of Christ needs to be recognized. Hebrews 2:9 says that Jesus was temporarily "made lower than the angels," and Philippians 2 reveals that Jesus "limited," or "emptied," Himself of particular things, such as limited omniscience (touched on later in this entry). However, simply because Jesus, who is God, did not utilize His attributes at every moment does not negate His deity as God. If God does not continually create, He is still the Creator. When this happened, when Christ "limited" Himself, and allowed Himself to be subject to the Will of God the Father during His time on earth. Once Christ was resurrected, He was then given "all authority in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). 

"Another thing to consider is the fact that subservience in role does not equate to subservience in essence. For example, consider an employer/employee relationship. The employer has the right to make demands of the employee, and the employee has the obligation to serve the employer. The roles clearly define a subservient relationship. However, both people are still human beings and share in the same human nature. There is no difference between the two as to their essence; they stand as equals. The fact that one is an employer and the other is an employee does nothing to alter the essential equality of these two individuals as human beings. The same can be said of the members of the Trinity. All three members (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) are essentially equal; i.e., they are all divine in nature. However, in the grand plan of redemption, they play certain roles, and these roles define authority and subservience. The Father commands the Son, and the Father and the Son command the Holy Spirit."[1]

Indeed, Jesus had "made himself nothing" (Philippians 2:7) while on earth, and when He rose from the dead, His full deity was restored. Once we understand the nature of Jesus' incarnation, similar statements and other such things said by Christ are much clearer, such as another objection we will examine later in the entry. 

Objection 3: If Jesus is God, why did He pray to the Father?
To understand the answer to this objection, consider John 5:19-27, which says, "Jesus gave them this answer: 'Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.'"

Verse 23 conveys that the Father sent the Son, and we understand that Jesus did not become the Son of God the moment He was born in Bethlehem, but has always been the Son of God, since before the universe came to be (Isaiah 9:6; John 17:5, etc.) As with the prior objection, Jesus was subject to the will of the Father while on earth, because Jesus had been temporarily "made lower than the angels" (Hebrews 2:9) and had "limited" Himself while on earth, and was therefore subject to the will of the Father. Note also that no theological or biblical issue exists with the Son praying - or rather, communicating with, the Father. The example set by Jesus concerning prayer is one we ought to follow. If Jesus, who was sinless, prayed/communicated with/to the Father - how much more we, who are in very nature sinful, ought to pray! The praying of the Son to the Father demonstrates the relational sense of the Trinity. There is no issue with the Son, in His position while on earth, praying to the Father - Jesus' claim as God still stands firm.

Objection 4: If Jesus is God, why was He called the only "begotten" Son of God in John 3:16?
The text in question is John 3:16 which reads in the KJV, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (see also 1st John 4:9). This phrase, "only begotten," occurs in the King James Version, the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the NKJV. The phrase translated as "only begotten" is the Greek "monogenes," which is also translated in English as "only" or "one and only." The TNIV says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (emphasis mine).  

According to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, the Greek "monogenes" has two essential definitions. The first, "pertaining to being the only one of its kind within a specific relationship," used in Hebrews 11:17, for example, when the text calls Isaac the "only begotten son" of Abraham, even though the Biblical record clearly shows that Abraham also had Ishmael (Genesis 16) as well as the six children from Keturah (Genesis 25:1). However, the phrase "only begotten son" is used in Hebrews 11:17 because Isaac was the only son born to Abraham and Sarah - the only child born under the covenant with Abraham. The second definition from the Greek-English Lexicon is defined as, "pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique in kind." This is the definition generally attributed to the "monogenes" found in John 3:16.

Note that John is also the only writer in the New Testament who refers to Jesus with this word (see for example: John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1st John 4:9). In his Gospel, which early tradition says was written or dictated (possibly to Ignatius or Polycarp) in Ephesus, St. John was writing to answer the claims of early Gnostics that Jesus was not God, and that He was not God the Son, hence the reason for the Johannine emphasis on the deity of Christ. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) do contain references to the deity of Christ, but it was not their focus, and as such is not as heavy in references. Jesus was the Son of God in that He is in very nature, God, yet Christians, who are called the "sons and daughters of God," are only so because of faith through God the Son. There is no issue, the deity of Christ, as with the previous objections, continues to stand firm.

Objection 5: Why was Jesus baptized, if He was God and sinless?
This is a common question and objection, and an understandable one. Why, if Jesus was sinless as the New Testament claims (Hebrews 4:15, for example), would He need to be baptized, as John baptizing others was baptism of repentance? St. John the Baptist asked the very same question in Matthew 3:14, "I need to be baptized by you, and you are coming to me?" To which Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Note that in neither Matthew, Mark, Luke or John's account is it said that the baptism of Jesus was for the purpose of repentance of sins. There are a variety of reasons, however, why Jesus was baptized. 

For example, it signified the start of Christ's ministry. We read in Luke 3:21-23, "When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.' Now Jesus Himself was about thirty years old when Jesus began His ministry." It was also important that Jesus was publicly recognized by His forerunner, John, through John's ministry. John the Baptist was the "voice of one calling: 'In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD...'" (Isaiah 40:3), the one whom God said, "I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me" (Malachi 3:1a). John acknowledged Jesus as the one promised to Israel as the Messiah, the Lamb of God. 

The baptism of Christ also demonstrated His approval of John's baptismal ministry, which was certainly needed when the authority of John was called into question after his arrest at the hands of Herod. But perhaps the most significant point is the fact that the fullness of the Trinity is embodied within this event: the Father speaks from heaven of the Son, and the Spirit descends upon the Son, who then begins His three and a half year ministry. Jesus was not baptized for sins, as He was sinless. He was baptized as a signifier that His ministry had begun, He was baptized to show the embodiment of the Trinity, He was baptized to show His approval of what John was doing, as well as several other reasons. Christ's baptism in no way negates His status as God.

Objection 6: Jesus said, "Why do you call me good? None are good - but God alone." Does this mean Jesus is not God?
Mark 10:17-19 says, "As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this, the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth." Did Jesus try to rebuke or correct the man for calling Him good? No, Jesus never says, "I am not good." He says, "Why do you call me good? No one is good - except God alone" (see also Matthew 19:16-17).

Jesus had announced that He was fully God as well as fully human - and in fact was killed for claiming to be God (see John 5:18; 10:33, etc.). Having been "made lower than the angels," as previously noted, Jesus was technically in a lesser position to the Father, so the verse can also be taken within that context. It can also be looked at as a rhetorical question, essentially, "Do you think I am God?"  By asking the young ruler to give up what he had, Jesus is calling the man to follow Him, therefore following the commandment: Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Matthew 22). By following Jesus, who is God, we are putting Him first, which is in keeping with the first commandment, "Do not have any gods before [God]." If we put something, be it a god, a material possession, or the like, before our Creator, then we are breaking this commandment. Thus, when Jesus brought up the commandments, the final commandment the man had yet to fully achieve was following Jesus - keeping the first commandment, essentially. Mark's narrative is seen in the context that he shows a progressive revelation of Christ's deity, culminating in Mark 14-16.

In John 10:11 Jesus declares Himself the "good shepherd." If Jesus declared Himself good, and He has also declared Himself God (see John 10:30, among other references), therefore, logic dictates that since Jesus did not deny He was good, but asked in the rhetorical sense, it follows that Jesus claimed to be good, as well as claiming to be God, and since only God is good, Jesus was also indirectly claiming deity.

Objection 7: If Jesus is God, why did He call God "My God?"
Though answered in a previous entry, it may be best to once again address this question. While on the cross in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, Jesus cries out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Many believe that here, Jesus is demonstrating that He is not God. However, this is not the case. Jesus is actually quoting from Psalm 22:1, a Psalm of David written nearly 1000 years before the birth of Christ. By citing Psalm 22, Jesus knew that we could later go back and check the entire Psalm, and indeed the New Testament writers quoted from this particular Psalm elsewhere for a good reason: parts of it depict the scene of the crucifixion! For example, "they pierce my hands and my feet...", "They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment," "All who see me mock me, they hurl insults..." and the passage, "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me" (Psalm 22:14), many believe refers to the fact that Jesus' heart burst, or ruptured, and when the soldier speared His side, John 19:33-34 records that it brought "a sudden flow of blood and water," showing that His heart had ruptured. 

Aside from this, when Jesus cried out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?", it also signified that the Father, for the first time in all of eternity, had to turn away from the Son, and for the first time, both were disconnected, and not only did Jesus experience extreme loneliness because of this, but all of the sins of mankind - past, present, and future - were placed upon him then. Elsewhere, such as John 20:17 and Revelation 3:2 and 12, when Jesus calls the Father, "My God," this is also not a claim that He is not God. Though Jesus is God incarnate, He is still separate from the Father. The Father is the God of the Son, and this does not negate the fact that each is part of the whole, as stated prior, much like a pyramid - one pyramid, but three sides, though each one may be different. Indeed, the Father even calls Jesus "Lord" and "God." In Psalm 110:1 we read, "The LORD says to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."

Also, when the Father is quoted as speaking of Jesus, we read that "...about the Son He says, 'Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever...'" (Hebrews 1:8). The Father calls the Son - God, and the Son calls the Father - God. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. Though the Trinity is a rather complex and difficult to understand relation, it is still biblical, and it is what we know of the nature of God. God is not a human, and since, aside from things such as multiple personality disorder, one person is normally not three, it is difficult for our fallible minds which are tied to linear time and not eternity - to rationalize that God is one yet three (Although eternity has been set in the human heart, see Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Objection 8: Jesus said, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Doesn't this mean that Jesus does not know everything, and therefore is not God?
First of all, it is important to note that not every manuscript has the phrase "nor the Son." Second, as noted in previous objections, Hebrews 2:9 and Philippians 2 teaches that Jesus limited particular characteristics of His deity when He took on human flesh, and thus was at times limited in His knowledge, though not always. Although Jesus was fully God at the time He said this in Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32, Jesus had emptied Himself of some of His attributes, and as such did not - at the time - know the day or hour of the first phase in His second coming. Much like the Father, the Son has the ability to restrict His omniscience at certain times (take the testing of Abraham, for example). When Jesus was resurrected, however, He knew the day and the hour, and once again had "all authority" (Matthew 28:18; Acts 1:7). Jesus is now fully aware of when He will return - but at the time He had said that He did not know the day and the hour, His omniscience had been restricted.

Objection 9: Colossians 3:1 says that Jesus sits at the "right hand of God," and therefore cannot be God, correct?
Not necessarily. God is called the Father, God is called the Son, and He is also called the Spirit: the Trinity. Jesus (who is God the Son), sits at the right hand of the Father (who is also God). This is not a polytheistic teaching, anymore than saying that a 3-in-1 container is three separate containers. Following the line of previous objections, if the Father calls the Son, "God," and the Son calls the Father, "God," there is nothing wrong with one calling the other "God," as both are one part of the whole. Succinctly put, St. Paul clears up any misconceptions in Colossians 2:9, a few verses before, in which he states, "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." 

Objection 10: 1 Timothy 2:5 says, "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." Doesn't this mean Jesus is merely a man, and not God?
Jesus Christ was unique in history, and will forever remain so. Jesus, when He became flesh, was both fully God, and fully man. Consider: a man can be both a father and a son at the same time. Likewise, Jesus was both man and God, and His humanity did not negate His deity. In fact, latter in 1st Timothy 3:16 we find that Jesus' incarnation (God in the flesh) is affirmed by St. Paul. 

"The acknowledgement of one God is not only in this text, but also in several others (Deuteronomy 6:4; Malachi 2:10; Mark 12:32; 1 Corinthians 8:6, etc). Not one in person (for there are three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who are God). The word "God" should be understood as a form of being, not a particular person. Just as there is only one "mankind", there is only one "God". This is not a denial of Jesus' Godhood, but an affirmation of the exclusivity of Godhood."[2]

It is clear, after examining the deity of Jesus in three separate entries, including this particular one, that Jesus was called God by others, He claimed to Be God, He was condemned for calling Himself such, His resurrection validated His claim as God, it is therefore reasonable to assume that Jesus is God. He was worshiped and received worship, He forgave sins, He raised Himself to life, and He will return again one day. 

Troy Hillman

Sources
[1] "If Jesus was God, why did He say "The Father is greater than I" in John 14:28?." Got Questions.org. Got Questions Network, n.d. Web. 27 Jul 2011. .
[2] "Is Jesus God?." Answering The Atheist. Looking Unto Jesus, 5 October 2003. Web. 28 Jul 2011. < http://www.lookinguntojesus.net/ata20031005.htm >.

Saturday, July 23

Is The "Snyoptic Problem" Valid?

The Bible, written by about forty men who claimed that God was writing through them, over a span of 1600 years, writing on three different continents, at many different locations - from prison and the wilderness to the palaces and sleepy little towns, the Bible has been the most controversial work in all of history, the most hotly debated and researched work, the most beloved yet the most hated by many, the most read, among other things. One such claim involves the first three books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These are called the Synoptic ("to see together with a common view") Gospels, and the claim is that the similarities between these three Gospels leads some to believe that the authors derived their material and information from a common source, known as the hypothetical "Q" document, essentially showing that God did not write through men, but that the Bible is nothing more than a collection of false history. But does this claim hold any water? (Photo credit: [a]John Rylands, Papyrus: 2nd Century CE. From JRUL; [b] Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland. 3rd century.)

The "Q" source is called such for the German word quelle, which means "source." This claim is usually made because it would indicate that the account of Jesus' resurrection was a much later tradition as was His worship as God and Savior, but as we have seen in recent entries such as, "Early Christianity: The 1st Corinthians 15 Creed", the account of the resurrection has been around since day one of Christianity (See also: "Did Jesus Claim To Be God?"). As we can determine from early writings such as Pliny the Younger, Governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor in 112 AD, writing to Emperor Trajan, Pliny affirms that these early Christians "were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god..."[1] Lucian, a satirist of the second century AD, said that Christians followed Jesus and denied "Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living under [Christ's] laws."[2]

But what of the "Synoptic Problem?" The argument states that these three Gospels are so similar that they must have used each others Gospels, or a common source, the "Q" document. First of all, there is no evidence for the existence of such a document, we have never discovered a portion, fragment, or whole document that would ever qualify as "Q." Also, none of the early church fathers ever mentioned such a document or Gospel, but they did mention Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In fact, if we did not have the 24,600+ copies of the New Testament from the early centuries, we could still reconstruct the New Testament from the writings of the church fathers alone, since they so often quoted from it, and in no writings are there any references to another Gospel such as this hypothesized Q document.

The "Q" document is a postulation, an invention, of secular and liberal "scholars" and "historians" who seek to deny and destroy the credibility, reliability, accuracy, and inspiration of Scripture, who believe that the Bible is merely another work of literature from antiquity, that has been changed over time and that it is subject to the same kinds of criticism applied to works of literature. In past entries, we have established the Hebrew Bible and New Testament to be archaeologically attested, we have provided evidence for the historicity of Jesus (though minimalists claim it proves nothing), we have shown that the Bible has not changed over time and is actually the most reliable and accurate work of antiquity we possess (see entries: "Does Archaeology Support the New Testament?", "Does Archaeology Support the Hebrew Bible?", "Did Jesus Really Exist? Is There Any Historical Evidence?", and "Is The Bible Reliable? Has It Been Altered?").

John Rylands - John's Gospel (Fragment)[a]
As noted, there is no historical evidence for the existence of this "Q" document, nor is there theological, biblical, or archaeological evidence for its existence. It is little more than the invention of liberal scholars seeking to undermine the validity and veracity of God's Word. There have been wonderful, in-depth studies on why the "Q" document is an incorrect hypothesis, and how the Gospels are reliable, trustworthy documents and accounts of the events of the life of Jesus, and it is not the intention of this entry to delve into a lengthy, technical analysis or specific research on the topic, but merely to answer the question for the layman seeking answers about his or her worldview. The question remains, however: if Matthew, Mark and Luke did not use a "Q" document, why are they so similar?

It is possible that the Gospel which was written first (typically thought to be Mark's Gospel) was available for both Matthew and Dr. Luke to utilize, both likely had access to it. It is also likely that Dr. Luke used material from both Matthew and Mark for his gospel, which he had written after checking the facts - for example, some believe Dr. Luke interviewed Mary mother of Jesus, and derived his information concerning Jesus' birth from her - or from Jesus' brothers and sisters (Jude and James are likely candidates). The New Testament also shows that both Mark and Luke knew one another and were ministering together on more than one occasion. Luke 1:1-4 conveys, "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled [or been surely believed] among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught."

Here, Dr. Luke (we refer to him as such because he was a physician, see Colossians 4:14 for example) notes that many have written accounts about Christ's life - likely Mark and Matthew - and after investigating these things for himself, as a careful historian,[3] he wrote his Gospel. There is no theological, biblical, or historical problem with Luke utilizing Matthew and/or Mark's Gospel(s) - why not use the resources available to you, given by firsthand witnesses? "Ultimately, the explanation as to why the Synoptic Gospels are so similar is that they are all inspired by the same Holy Spirit, and are all written by people who witnessed, or were told about, the same events. The gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew the apostle, one of the twelve who followed Jesus and were commissioned by Him. The gospel of Mark was written by John Mark, a close associate of the apostle Peter, another one of the twelve. The gospel of Luke was written by Luke, a close associate of the apostle Paul. Why would we not expect their accounts to be very similar to one another? Each of the gospels is ultimately inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Therefore, we should expect coherence and unity."[4]

The question also stands: why do we have four Gospels, and not merely one? The answer is three-fold: 1) Having four Gospels by four distinct writers - Matthew, Mark, Dr. Luke and John - gives us a more complete picture of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus (and provides us with "undesigned coincidences," which we will examine later in this article); 2) To provide multiple eyewitness accounts and the results of careful investigation - multiple attestation of the events of the first century and give more credence and credibility; and 3) For those who seek answers or knowledge, aside from a better understanding of Christ, much can be learned from individual study of the four Gospels, particularly when reconciling the alleged "contradictions" (of which there are none). 

Though the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke record similar passages, they also include what we call peculiarities, or rather, events, teachings, the like distinct to that Gospel. If all four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - included the exact same material, there would be no reason for four Gospels but only one. Also, it would throw into question the reliability and accuracy of their accounts even more, because it would show that the four writers likely sat around a table and copied off of each others work, showing a conspiracy type of scenario. Yet this was not the case. Though the Synoptic Gospels contain similar passages, this merely shows not only the internal consistency and accuracy of the Gospels, but also shows as noted prior: multiple eyewitness attestation. 

Let us take into consideration Deuteronomy 19:15 which records, "One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." Though the Gospels were not written to accuse Jesus of a crime, this passage can be applied to the Gospels: one witness is not enough to demonstrate the veracity and reliability of the account, but the matter is established by the witness of two or three, or in this case, four Gospels. Simon Greenleaf, an infamous and reliable authority on evidence in the courtroom, examined the four Gospels and found them to be reliable, stating that the alleged "contradictions" between the accounts and differences in certain events actually attest to the independent nature of the account, illustrating that, when the issues are reconciled, we not only see a clearer picture, but we also see a reliable testimony and record, a factual account.

John James Blunt (J.J. Blunt) wrote a work now out of print in 1869 titled "Undesigned Coincidences." "An undesigned coincidence occurs when one account of an event leaves out a bit of information that doesn’t affect the overall picture, but a different account indirectly supplies the missing detail, usually answering some natural question raised by the first. Forgers do not want to leave loose ends like this that might raise awkward questions; they take care to tie everything together neatly. But these are just the sort of things we would expect to find in authentic and at least partly independent records of the same real event told by different people. William Paley pioneered the argument from undesigned coincidences in his Horae Paulinae (London: Religious Tract Society, 1850), which provides an extended argument for the veracity of the book of Acts and the Pauline epistles. Blunt’s work, inspired by Paley, applies the method of undesigned coincidences to both the Old and the New Testaments and then extends it to the coincidences between the New Testament documents and the works of the Jewish historian Josephus"[5] (You can read this work of J.J. Blunt here).

These "undesigned coincidences" provide compelling evidence for not only the reliability and veracity of both the Old and New Testaments, but also demonstrate the independent nature of the four Gospels. The more these examples are found within the context of Scripture, the more of a case is built for the reliability of the Bible, and the harder it becomes for the skeptic to refute these undesigned coincidences. Let us briefly examine a few of these, which, once examined, provides a cumulative case for the Gospels. Mark 6 and John 6 document the feeding of the five thousand. It is not the intention to establish whether or not this miracle actually occurred (though it is the view of this ministry that it truly did), but rather to point out a few things.

Mark 6:31 conveys, "Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat..." The question arises, why were so many people "coming and going?" A further detail is found in Mark 6:39, "Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass." This is significant, not because Mark's Gospel mentions the people sitting on the grass, because Matthew 14:19 records that people sat "down on the grass," and Luke 9:15 records that "everyone sat down," with John 6:10 recording that "There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down...", but this is significant because Mark records that the grass was "green." At first glance, this may seem trivial or unimportant, but when we consider that in Israel, particularly in Galilee, the grass is brown, this appears to present a scientific contradiction, since it could not have been green.

At the same time, we consider the facts: people were coming and going, and they sat on the "green grass." The following is an example of an undesigned coincidence: in John 6:4, which is in the passage describing the feeding of the five thousand, we read that "The Jewish Passover Festival was near." This explains why many people were "coming and going," and an interesting fact presents itself: during the Passover season, a small window of opportunity arises where we find that the grass in the area... is green. Mark provides the detail that people were coming and going, and that the grass is green, which by itself makes little sense - but when the detail from John is added, that Passover was near, much like a puzzle, the picture becomes clear. This is merely one example of an undesigned coincidence, with one detail provided in a Gospel that makes little sense until we find another detail in a separate Gospel. 

The cumulative case of these undesigned coincidences is rather remarkable, and establishes a case for the truth of Scripture. Consider another example found also in John 6. John 6:5 says, "When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming to him, he said to Philip, 'Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?'" This is significant because Philip, unlike Peter, John, James, and others, Philip is not mentioned often in the Gospels, and would be considered a bit of a supporting character in a work of literature. Earlier in his Gospel, John reveals that Philip is from Bethsaida (John 1:44). Here is another example of an undesigned coincidence: Luke 9:10 says that this miracle took place in Bethsaida. Philip was asked in John 6:5 about food - why? - because Philip was from that area, and Jesus knew that Philip was familiar with the location, hence the reason he asked him, although John 6:6 reveals, "He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do." Interestingly, John does not mention the location of this miracle, but Luke does - Luke mentions the location of the miracle, but unlike John, does not mention Philip.

Papyrus 45 - Earliest Gospels and Acts[c]
There are many other examples, and we would recommend that you examine the work of J.J. Blunt by following the link mentioned earlier, or by going to the Library of Historical Apologetics website and reading the book from there. Indeed, "Much can be gained by an individual study of each of the Gospels. But still more can be gained by comparing and contrasting the different accounts of specific events of Jesus' ministry. For instance, in Matthew 14 we are given the account of the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on the water. In Matthew 14:22 we are told that 'Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.' One may ask, why did He do this? There is no apparent reason given in Matthew's account. But when we combine it with the account in Mark 6, we see that the disciples had come back from casting out demons and healing people through the authority He had given them when He sent them out two-by-two. But they returned with 'big heads,' forgetting their place and ready now to instruct Him (Matthew 14:15). So, in sending them off in the evening to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus reveals two things to them. As they struggle against the wind and waves in their own self-reliance until the early hours of the morning (Mark 6:48-50), they begin to see that 1) they can achieve nothing for God in their own ability and 2) nothing is impossible if they call upon Him and live in dependence upon His power. There are many passages containing similar 'jewels' to be found by the diligent student of the Word of God who takes the time to compare Scripture with Scripture."[6]

The case for the "Q" Gospel is scant on evidence, yet the internal evidence, archaeological evidence, historical data and scientific evidence affirms the veracity of the Synoptic Gospels, and demonstrates that they were written independently by different authors. Consider the following: Matthew, a former tax collector, was attributed the authorship from the earliest traditions of Christianity. He was writing to a Hebrew audience, and as such, tended to focus on the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1 provides Jesus lineage through Joseph, his legal, not biological father) and showing the fulfillment of prophecies, and emphasized that Jesus is the promised Messiah, and the "Son of David" (descendant of David) who was promised to David nearly one thousand years before the birth of Christ.

The Gospel of Mark, written by John Mark, ("John" is the Jewish name, "Mark" is the Latin) was attributed as such by Papias, who wrote no later than 140 AD and said, "Mark, who was the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he remembered, whether of sayings or doings of Christ, but not in order. For he [Mark] was neither a hearer nor companion of the Lord." Not much later, Irenaeus stated that the Gospel of Mark was written "when Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the church there." After their deaths in Rome, "Mark, Peter's disciple, has himself delivered to us in writing the substance of Peter's preaching."[7] John Mark himself was like a son to Simon Peter (1st Peter 5:13), he was a cousin to St. Paul's companion, Barnabas, and though at one point had a falling out with St. Paul, ended up staying with St. Paul while he was in prison (Colossians 4:10) - as did Dr. Luke (Colossians 4:14), also allowing for the possibility that Dr. Luke had direct access to Mark's original Gospel from Mark himself (see also Philemon 24).

John Mark was an eyewitness to the events of the life of Christ and a close friend of Peter, who founded the church. Mark was evidently writing for a Gentile audience, as is seen by the exclusion of things such as many prophecies from the Hebrew Bible, Jesus' genealogy, Jewish controversies and the like. The vivid account relayed by Peter to Mark focuses on Jesus as the suffering servant (Isaiah 53) who came into the world not "to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). What of Luke? Dr. Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, a type of sequel to his Gospel, both addressed to Theophilus. Dr. Luke shares details not found in the other Gospels, usually to demonstrate that Christianity was founded upon reliable and verifiable facts.

Though not a Synoptic Gospel, it is worth mentioning John's Gospel. "The gospel of John, written by John the apostle, is distinct from the other three Gospels and contains much theological content in regard to the person of Christ and the meaning of faith. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the 'Synoptic Gospels' because of their similar styles and content and because they give a synopsis of the life of Christ. The gospel of John begins not with Jesus' birth or earthly ministry but with the activity and characteristics of the Son of God before He became man (John 1:14). The gospel of John emphasizes the deity of Christ, as is seen in his use of such phrases as 'the Word was God' (John 1:1), 'the Savior of the World' (John 4:42), the 'Son of God' (used repeatedly), and 'Lord and...God' (John 20:28). In John's gospel, Jesus also affirms His deity with several I Am' statements; most notable among them is John 8:58, in which He states that '..before Abraham was, I Am' (compare to Exodus 3:13-14). But John also emphasizes the fact of Jesus' humanity, desiring to show the error of a religious sect of his day, the Gnostics, who did not believe in Christ’s humanity. John's gospel spells out his overall purpose for writing: 'Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name' (John 20:30-31)."[8]

While scholars tend to differ on agreement of the date of the Gospel's, many believe that Matthew, Mark and Luke were written between the 40's and early 60's AD, with John's Gospel having been written between 80-95 AD. The early church held that the aged apostle John wrote or dictated the Gospel in Ephesus in present-day Turkey.[9] The Gospel of John seems to assume that the audience is already familiar with certain events and facts about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This is likely because the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke had already been in public circulation for a few decades, and John saw no need to repeat much of the information already presented to the public, but instead to demonstrate the deity of Christ (which, contrary to the claims of some, is also present in the other three Gospels, but simply not as frequently), to provide details and information on certain events that were not yet on record (such as the raising of Lazarus), and to answer to Ebionites of his day. 

Together, the four Gospels provide a clearer picture of Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, who preached for around 3 and a half years, was beaten, flogged, crucified, died and was buried in a new tomb, and three days later the tomb had been found empty - and Jesus proceeded to appear to over 513 people over a span of forty days. The Gospels are a reliable and accurate testimony and record of the life of the Messiah, and when examined, particularly with the strength of the cumulative evidence from the numerous undesigned coincidences - only two of which were mentioned - coupled with the eyewitness testimony, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the Gospels are what they claim to be. 

Men were "carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2nd Peter 1:21), and, spanning 1600 years, God's Word was written to mankind, so that we may have hope. The accounts of the men and women of the Bible - such as Noah, Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon, Jonah, St. Peter, St. Paul, and many others - helps us to look at certain situations in their lives and compared to ours, these accounts can help us not to make the same mistakes, or to understand life better, among many other things. The Word of God given to mankind records God's plan of redemption for mankind. The four Gospels are not derived from a non-existent "Q" Gospel, but from the Holy Spirit, who "carried along" men to write His Word. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this entry of "The Truth." We understand that there are those who will disagree with our beliefs, conclusions, and our methods of defending Christianity, yet it is our hope that you take the information presented to you into consideration. We can only provide the information, it is up to the individual to decide what to do with it. Feel free to email vexx801@yahoo.com or thetruth.ministryweb@gmail.com with any questions, comments, concerns, or prayer requests that you may have - but we ask that you remain civil, or we will exercise the right to not respond. Also feel free to visit The Truth Ministry's facebook page or the main ministry website. Take care, and God bless you, reader. Troy Hillman
 
Sources
[1] Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Younger). Epistles X.96. 112 AD.
[2] Lucian. The Passing Peregruis.
[3] Sir William Ramsey, one of the greatest archaeologists to have ever lived, once questioned the reliability and historicity of the New Testament, but after researching for many years, a much-quoted statement about Dr. Luke was made: "Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense; he fixes his mind on the idea and plan that rules in the evolution of history, and proportions the scale of his treatment to the importance of each incident. He seizes the important and critical events and shows their true nature at greater length, while he touches lightly or omits entirely much that was valueless for his purpose. In short, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians." (From Ramsey's The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915. Print.)
[4] "What is the Synoptic Problem?." Got Questions.org. Got Questions Network, n.d. Web. 18 Jul 2011. < http://gotquestions.org/synoptic-problem.html >. 
[5] "Blunt, John James." Library of Historical Apologetics. Library of Historical Apologetics and the Institute for Digital Christian Heritage, 2010. Web. 18 Jul 2011.
[6] "Why did God give us four Gospels?" GotQuestions.org. Got Questions Network, n.d. Web. 18 Jul 2011. < http://gotquestions.org/four-Gospels.html >.
[7] Alexander, et al., David and Pat. Zondervan Handbook to the Bible. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999. 577. Print. 
[8] Ibid, [6].
[9] Ibid, [7]. pp. 621

Saturday, July 16

Early Christianity: 1st Corinthians 15 Creed

Skeptics have claimed for decades that events referred to in the Bible, such as the death and resurrection of Jesus, are nothing more than myths or legends that developed over time. In an April entry, "Is The Resurrection a Myth?", we concluded that it takes around two centuries for myth and legend to develop about a historical event and be accepted as fact, since the eyewitnesses who lived during the time of Jesus never countered the historical facts found within the New Testament. The New Testament itself was written ca.45-95 AD, well within limits. But do we have anything earlier, perhaps an early creed which Christians spread? (Photo credit: Bible Places - Apollo's Temple at Corinth; LostSeed - 1st Corinthians 13)

Christian scholars and secular scholars alike have found such a creed. The creed is in St. Paul's first letter to the Church at Corinth, which he wrote ca.54/55 A.D. Many a time, people have read past this creed, which is actually one of the most important passages about the resurrection in the New Testament. Before we continue, let us look at this passage, and then proceed to determine whether it was a creed or not. 1st Corinthians 15:3-9 conveys, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers or sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born."

We may now proceed to break down this passage. Let it be noted that, as aforementioned, both Christians and secular historians, philologists, and scholars believe this passage to be an early, Pre-Pauline credal statement, though there are some who disagree.[1] Upon examination, we find that the phrase "received," or "delivered" are used in such as way as to specify the passing of a tradition, meaning that St. Paul received this creed from another source, save for verse 8, "and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born," in which St. Paul is speaking of himself. Also, phrases such as "the twelve," "for our sins," "according to the scriptures," "he has been raised," "he was seen," and "third day" were not part of St. Paul's usual vocabulary, demonstrating that these are likely non-Pauline phrases. The parallel form also seems to indicate an oral confession.[2]

Certain Hebrew indicators such as the phrase "and that," along with other fulfilled Scripture references, seem to indicate an Aramaic origin. More interesting is the use of Peter's name in Aramaic, Cephas, and the Aramaic itself may indicate an early origin.[3] Paul himself, apart from the conveyance of this creed, corroborates several historical details of Jesus' life, that Jesus was born in as a Jew (Galatians 4:4), that Jesus was betrayed (1st Corinthians 11:23), that Jesus was crucified (Galatians 3:1; 1st Corinthians 2:2; Philippians 2:8), and that Jesus was buried and rose again (1st Corinthians 15:4; Romans 6:4). CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry) make a good point:

"We must note here that some critics of the Bible claim that there is no extrabiblical evidence of Christ (not true) and that because of it, He didn't exist. The sword cuts both ways. If they can say that Jesus' events aren't real because there is no extrabiblical evidence mentioning them, then we can also say that since there are no extrabiblical accounts refuting the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, then it must be true. In other words, lack of extrabiblical writings does not prove that Christ did not live and did not die."[4] There are several extrabiblical sources that affirm the historicity of Jesus Christ, as examined in the entry, "Did Jesus Exist? Is There Any Historical Evidence?".

Corinth (BiblePlaces)
This creed has been called by Joachim Jeremias as "the earliest tradition of all," and by Ulrich Wilckens, who conveys that it "indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity."[5] Why do Biblical scholars believe that this creed is so early? It is recognized that St. Paul's first visit to the Church of Corinth transpired ca.51 AD, and that, as noted, 1st Corinthians was written ca.54/55 AD, so when Paul writes that he had given them this creed upon his first visit orally, he must have been given the creed prior to 51 AD. In Galatians 1:18-19 we read, "Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles - only James, the Lord's brother."
Here, Paul records that three years after his conversion on the road to Damascus, which itself occurred about two years after the death and resurrection of Christ, he went to Jerusalem to verify what he knew of Jesus, and it is widely accepted that this was when Paul was given the creed from Peter and James found in 1st Corinthians 15:3-7. In Galatians 2:1 St. Paul writes, "Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also." Galatians 2:9 shows that Paul, Barnabas and Titus met with St, Peter, James, John and the elders at that time, which they again confirmed the creed which they received. We find that Paul was given this creed ca.36/37 AD, a mere few years after the death and resurrection of Christ, adequately demonstrating that the resurrection of Jesus was not a myth or legend that later developed, but has been proclaimed by Christians from the very beginning, as we can also see in the first message delivered by Peter in Acts 2.

Epologetics Ministry said of this, "It's possible that Paul received the creed even earlier, perhaps while in Damascus 3 years earlier than his trip to Jerusalem. However, as mentioned above, the creed contains a number of items which indicate Semitic origin, making Jerusalem a more likely location... So Paul's reception of the creed was no more than 8 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. However, the creed must have been in circulation before Paul received it. What's more, the individual assertions in the creed must have been accepted before the formulation of the creed itself, and this likely happened at the time of the events themselves (the death and resurrection of Jesus)."[6]

The words “received” (Greek “parelabon”) and “delivered” (Greek “paredoka”) "are the Greek equivalents of the technical rabbinic terms qibbel min and masar le,”[7] terms, as noted earlier, used for the passing on of tradition. William F. Orr said, “Here the correlation with delivered in vs. 3 points to a chain of tradition: Paul received the facts that he is relating from Christians who preceded him, and in turn he delivered them to the people of his churches.”[8] In 1st Corinthians 11 there is a passage which contains the phrase "received" or "delivered," indicating that St. Paul has made use of other traditional material.

"Joachim Jeremias, the chief proponent of the Semitic origin of the creed, argued that the linguistic evidence favored a Semitic rather than a Greek original for the creed. He supported his thesis with several arguments.  First, the structure is a synthetic parallelismus membrorum:

that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures

and that he was buried

and that he was raised on the third day

in accordance with the scriptures

and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

According to Jeremias, the first and third lines correspond to each other. Each clause 'warrants the previous statement.' Second, he argues that there is an absence of particles, except kai, which demonstrates an independence from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 53. Instead, he argues there is a dependence on the Hebrew original. The absence of particles, except kai, demonstrates this independence from the Septuagint. Fourth, there is an adversative kai at the beginning of the third line. Fifth, the placing of the ordinal number after the noun in te hemera te trite is 'the only possible order in a Semitic language.' Sixth, the text uses ophthe instead of ephane, since the Hebrew nir’ah and the Aramaic ‘ithame have a double meaning ‘he was seen’ and ‘he appeared.’ Seventh, the text introduces the subject in the dative Kepha after a passive verb instead of the normal hupo with the genitive. Since Jeremias notes that Paul prefers to use Kepha over Peter, one should not presume that the reference to Kepha indicates an Aramaic original. Therefore, Jeremias states, 'These semitisms show that the kerygma was formulated in a Jewish-Christian milieu.'"[9]

While in Jerusalem three years after his conversion, it is evident that Peter, James and Paul were not simply sitting around socializing. Peter and James were likely still wary of Paul, who, under his original name Saul, had been a persecutor of Christians until his conversion on the road to Damascus. Now, it should be noted that Paul was not actually converted on the road to Damascus, but became a Christian a few days later, after Ananias had cured Paul of his temporary blindness. When I state that his conversion occurred on the road, I am referring to the event which ultimately led to his conversion, not the conversion itself. You may read the account of the road to Damascus in Acts 9, recorded by Dr. Luke ca.60/61 AD. 

Let us once more examine the creed in 1st Corinthians 15:3-7 which says, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles." What can we glean or summarize from all of this? The creed states that Jesus died for our sins, was buried and rose on the third day, that he appeared to Peter, the Twelve, more than five hundred people at once (likely on a Galilean hillside) - some of whom have "fallen asleep" (died), then appearing to James brother of Jesus and the apostles.

One point to note is that the New Testament records that James, son of Mary and St. Joseph, was a skeptic during Jesus' ministry, and did not become Christian until after the resurrection. As evaluated in the April entry, "Were The Disciples Hallucinating?", if the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus were nothing more than hallucinations, for what reason did St. James and St. Paul, hardened skeptics, see Jesus, since they would likely not have it in mind that He actually rose from the dead? At the same point in time, how do we explain more than five hundred people having seen Christ "at the same time?" It is one thing for two people to hallucinate the same thing, at the same time, saying the same thing. This in itself is unfeasible and implausible. 

But to venture that ten to eleven disciples, and even five hundred people, all hallucinated the same thing, could be likened unto a husband and wife waking up in the middle of the night. The husband turns to his wife and says, "wasn't that a good dream I had?" To believe that more than five hundred and thirteen people (the disciples, James and Paul included) saw Jesus at the same time and also at separate occasions merely hallucinated these appearances is as unbelievable as the wife turning to the husband and agreeing with him. James was a hardened skeptic (Mark 3:21-25; John 7:1-5), and for James to be converted (as can be clearly seen in his letter in the New Testament) and truly believe that Jesus was resurrected and ascended, is remarkable, in that he would have no reason for supporting what he knew to be a lie, nor would he have any reason for hallucinating the risen Christ.

1st Corinthians (LostSeed)
Another point to make is an answer to the skeptic's claim that this creed contradicts the Gospels. The Gospels make it clear that the women were the first to see Jesus, likely Mary Magdalene, yet skeptics claim that 1st Corinthians 15 shows that Cephas (St. Peter) was the first person Jesus appeared to. Dr. Gary Habermas tackled this claim and answered, "First of all, look at the creed carefully: it doesn't say Jesus appeared first to Peter. All it does is put Peter's name first on the list. And since women were not considered competent as witnesses in first-century Jewish culture, it's not surprising that they're not mentioned here. In the first-century scheme of things, their testimony wouldn't carry any weight. So placing Peter first could indicate logical priority rather than temporal priority."[10]

Indeed, it is interesting to consider the fact that the Gospels cite the women as the first witnesses to Christ's resurrection, which gives further credence to their historical eyewitness. If the disciples were attempting to perpetrate a lie, citing women as the first witnesses would not have, in any fashion, aided their cause to further Christianity, likewise with showing Peter's denial of Christ, Thomas' skepticism, the disciples at their worst moments, etc. The Gospel record accurately depicts the historical account, and by demonstrating that many of these things, along with the "hard" teachings of Jesus, would not have necessarily helped further Christianity, but instead these things were not removed because of the fact they were accurate, historical records.

Concerning Paul's visit to Jerusalem, Habermas had an interesting point, "I would concur that the scholars who believe Paul received this material three years after his conversion, when he took a trip to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and James. Paul describes that trip in Galatians 1:18-19, where he uses a very interesting Greek word - historeo... this word indicates that he didn't just casually shoot the breeze when he met with them. It shows this was an investigative inquiry. Paul was playing the role of the examiner, someone who was carefully checking this out. So the fact that Paul personally confirmed matters with two eyewitnesses who are specifically mentioned in the creed - Peter and James - gives the extra weight. One of the very few Jewish New Testament scholars, Pinchas Lapide, says the evidence in support of the creed is so strong that it 'may be considered as a statement of eyewitnesses."... and later, in 1 Corinthians 15:11, Paul emphasizes that the other apostles agreed in preaching the same gospel, this same message about the Resurrection. This means that what the eyewitness Paul is saying is the exact same thing as what the eyewitnesses Peter and James are saying."[11]

William Lane Craig, Ph.D., one of the leading apologists and philosophers in the world (along with the likes of Dr. Gary Habermas), spoke of the trip of Jerusalem three years after St. Paul's conversion that the text in Galatians implies that, "...Paul’s visit to Cephas and Jerusalem was for the purpose of gaining information about the faith from first-hand witnesses."[12] It has been established that the text of 1st Corinthians 15:3-7 (there is disagreement about how much of the text is creed, which verses that is) is very likely an early pre-Pauline credal statement given to Paul by Peter and James within five-eight years of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This demonstrates not only eyewitness testimony, since by citing these appearances people could personally ask these eyewitnesses about the historical events which took place, but it also demonstrates that the account of the resurrection of Jesus was not a later tradition, as some skeptics claim, but actually a very early belief, held from the very beginning of Christianity. The creed itself was formulated before it was given to Paul, so the creed was in use possibly from the very first year.

Troy Hillman

Sources:
[1] Neufeld, The Earliest Christian Confessions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) p. 47; Reginald Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (New York: Macmillan, 1971) p. 10; Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus—God and Man translated Lewis Wilkins and Duane Pribe (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968) p. 90; Oscar Cullmann, The Earlychurch: Studies in Early Christian History and Theology, ed. A. J. B. Higgins (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966) p. 64; Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, translated James W. Leitch (Philadelphia: Fortress 1969) p. 251; Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament vol. 1 pp. 45, 80–82, 293; R. E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1973) pp. 81, 92
[2] Habermas, Gary. The Historical Jesus, 153-54. Print.
[3] Ibid.
[4] "1 Cor. 15:3-4 demonstrates a creed too early for legend to corrupt." Christian Answers & Research Ministry. CARM, n.d. Web. 16 Jul 2011.
[5] Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. 1st ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998. 230. Print. 
[6] "1 Corinthians 15, the Gospel in early creed." epologetics.org. epologetics, 23 Dec 2007. Web. 16 Jul 2011.
[7] Joachim Jeremias,  The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, trans. Norman Perrin (London: SCM Press, 1966), 101.
[8] William F. Orr and James A. Walther. 1 Corinthians: A New Translation (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976), 320.
[9] Turner, Ryan. "An Analysis of the Pre-Pauline Creed in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11." Christian Answers & Research Ministry. CARM, n.d. Web. 16 Jul 2011.
[10] Ibid, [5]. pp. 233.
[11] Ibid, pp.230-231.
[12] William Lane Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1989), 6-7.

Thursday, July 14

Who Was Cyrus the Great?

Throughout history, many men and women have accomplished great things, soared to new heights, conquered kingdoms, participated in world-changing events, and have played out their role in history as if on a stage in which we must all play a part. One such man is Cyrus the Great (Koresh in Hebrew; כורש‎), the founder of the Persian Empire under the Achaemenid dynasty. Born ca.599 B.C. in Anshan, Persis, Cyrus conquered much of Southwest Asia as well as most of Central Asia, along with parts of Caucasus and Europe. Reigning between 29-31 years, he had great respect for the cultures which he conquered, from the Median empire and Lydian empire to the Neo-Babylonian Empire. A giant in history (figuratively), Cyrus also has a significance expounded on in the Biblical record. (Photo credit: Iran Chamber Society - Cyrus the Great Portrait; (c) 2001, M. Benoist - Tomb of Cyrus; Marco Prins and Jona Lendering - Cyrus Cylinder)

Very little is known of Cyrus' early life, as few sources elaborate on this time, and those that are known to have either been lost or damaged extensively. According to works of antiquity, he was born to Cambyses and Mandane. Cyrus claimed that he was preceded as King of Persia (modern-day Iran) by his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. It is highly possible that "Cyrus" was a dynastic rather than personal name, after his grandfather Cyrus I king of Anshan, contemporary of Ashurbanipal king of Assyria. Cyrus became King of Persia ca.559 BC. Around 550 BC, Cyrus conquered the Medes and united them into an alliance, which clashed with Croesus of Lydia and proceeded to capture Sardis. In October of 539 BC, Cyrus defeated the Babylonians at Opis.

His troops took control of the capital, Babylon, and upon entering the city, was greeted as a man of peace. Cyrus adequately demonstrated his tolerance of religious freedom when he decreed the return of the Jewish exiles to return home to rebuild, as well as supporting the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. "The 'first year of Cyrus' (Ezra 1:1) is not the year of his elevation to power over the Medes, nor over the Persians, nor the year of the fall of Babylon, but the year succeeding the two years during which “Darius the Mede” was viceroy in Babylon after its fall. At this time only (B.C. 536) Cyrus became actual king over Palestine, which became a part of his Babylonian empire. The edict of Cyrus for the rebuilding of Jerusalem marked a great epoch in the history of the Jewish people (2 Chr. 36:22, 23; Ezra 1:1-4; 4:3; 5:13-17; 6:3-5). This decree was discovered “at Achmetha [Revised Version marginal note, ‘Ecbatana’], in the palace that is in the province of the Medes” (Ezra 6:2)."[1]

"A chronicle drawn up just after the conquest of Babylonia by Cyrus, gives the history of the reign of Nabonidus (Nabunahid), the last king of Babylon, and of the fall of the Babylonian empire. In B.C. 538 there was a revolt in Southern Babylonia, while the army of Cyrus entered the country from the north. In June the Babylonian army was completely defeated at Opis, and immediately afterwards Sippara opened its gates to the conqueror. Gobryas (Ugbaru), the governor of Kurdistan, was then sent to Babylon, which surrendered “without fighting,” and the daily services in the temples continued without a break. In October, Cyrus himself arrived, and proclaimed a general amnesty, which was communicated by Gobryas to “all the province of Babylon,” of which he had been made governor. Meanwhile, Nabonidus, who had concealed himself, was captured, but treated honorably; and when his wife died, Cambyses, the son of Cyrus, conducted the funeral. Cyrus now assumed the title of “king of Babylon,” claimed to be the descendant of the ancient kings, and made rich offerings to the temples. At the same time he allowed the foreign populations who had been deported to Babylonia to return to their old homes, carrying with them the images of their gods. Among these populations were the Jews, who, as they had no images, took with them the sacred vessels of the temple."[2]

Cyrus' edict is recorded both in 2nd Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1. 2nd Chronicles 36:22-23 records, "In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also put it in writing: 'This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: 'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you - may the LORD their God be with them, and let them go up.'" The first chapter of Ezra provides more details as to this edict and the proceeding events:

"In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also put it in writing: 'This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: 'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you - may their God be with them, let them go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem. Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites - everyone whose heart God had moved - prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings."

The Tomb of Cyrus
Verses 7-8 conclude, "Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god. Cyrus king of Persia had them brought by Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah." To note, archaeological evidence gives credence to these events as well as affirming the historicity of King Cyrus the Great of Persia. Consider the Cyrus Cylinder, for example. The Cyrus Cylinder was a a clay cylinder in 1879 which was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform that includes an account of Cyrus' conquest of Babylon in 539 BC. This confirms the historical event of the conquest. The Cyrus Cylinder also confirms the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:30-31).[3]

Another example is the tomb of Cyrus. "Cyrus was buried in a simple gabled stone tomb outside his capital of Pasargadae in modern Iran. According to the historian Strabo, this inscription once graced the structure, "Oh man, I am Cyrus, the son of Cambyses, who founded the empire of Persia, and was king of Asia. Grudge me not therefore this monument" (Geography xv.3.7)." [4] Cyrus is also depicted on a monument in Susa.[5] There are also several other archaeological finds which give credence to the historicity of Cyrus. Now, one of the most fascinating prophecies found in Scripture is found in Isaiah 44 and 45, and involves Cyrus. The problem arises between Christian scholars and Secular scholars because these predictive prophecies were, according to Christians, recorded nearly two centuries before the birth of Cyrus. Did Isaiah accurately predict the freeing of the Babylonian captives - and specify by name the one who freed them - nearly two centuries before his birth?

Though secular historians will strongly deny it, citing an unfounded theory called the "Deutero-Isaiah theory," which postulates that more than one person wrote Isaiah, with the passage referring to Cyrus being recorded after the events actually took place, the Bible has shown that predictive prophecy is fulfilled time after time, and that the Bible has accurately recorded down history even before it occurred. The reason for that is simply this: "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning from ancient times, what is still to come" (Isaiah 46:9b-10a). It is completely reasonable and logical to believe that God, who declares the end from the beginning, can most certainly reveal the name of the one who would free His chosen people nearly two centuries before the event actually occurred.

The prophecies are as follows: Isaiah 44:28 conveys God's message,"who says of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, 'Let it be rebuilt,' and of the temple, 'Let its foundations be laid.'" Isaiah 45:1 continues, "This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of the armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut," along with Isaiah 45:13, "I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty." (For an example of fulfilled predicate prophecy, see entry: "Fulfilled Prophecy: Tyre") Regardless of whether this was a prophecy recorded before or after the life of Cyrus, the fact remains that the Bible is the most reliable work of antiquity we have. (See entry: "Is The Bible Reliable? Has It Been Altered?")First century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus also mentions Cyrus the Great:

"I have given leave to as many of the Jews that dwell in my country as please to return to their own country, and to rebuild their city, and to build the temple of God at Jerusalem on the same place where it was before. I have also sent my treasurer Mithridates, and Zorobabel, the governor of the Jews, that they may lay the foundations of the temple, and may build it sixty cubits high, and of the same latitude, making three edifices of polished stones, and one of the wood of the country, and the same order extends to the altar whereon they offer sacrifices to God. I require also that the expenses for these things may be given out of my revenues. Moreover, I have also sent the vessels which king Nebuchadnezzar pillaged out of the temple, and have given them to Mithridates the treasurer, and to Zorobabel the governor of the Jews, that they may have them carried to Jerusalem, and may restore them to the temple of God."[6]

The Cyrus Cylinder
"Now their number is as follows: Fifty chargers of gold, and five hundred of silver; forty Thericlean cups of gold, and five hundred of silver; fifty basons of gold, and five hundred of silver; thirty vessels for pouring [the drink-offerings], and three hundred of silver; thirty vials of gold, and two thousand four hundred of silver; with a thousand other large vessels. (3) I permit them to have the same honor which they were used to have from their forefathers, as also for their small cattle, and for wine and oil, two hundred and five thousand and five hundred drachme; and for wheat flour, twenty thousand and five hundred artabae; and I give order that these expenses shall be given them out of the tributes due from Samaria. The priests shall also offer these sacrifices according to the laws of Moses in Jerusalem; and when they offer them, they shall pray to God for the preservation of the king and of his family, that the kingdom of Persia may continue. But my will is, that those who disobey these injunctions, and make them void, shall be hung upon a cross, and their substance brought into the king's treasury."[7] 

The details surrounding the death of Cyrus the Great vary - Herodotus, a Greek historian, records that Cyrus met his end at the hands of the Massagetae, a tribe from the deserts of modern-day Kazakhstan,[8] however, Greek physician and historian Ctesias, in his work Persica, documents the longest account of his death, conveying that Cyrus died in a battle against the Derbices infantry.[9] Xenophon, another Greek historian, soldier and mercenary reported that Cyrus died peacefully at his capital,[10] whereas Berossus, a a Hellenistic-era Babylonian writer, priest of Bel Marduk as well as  astronomer writing in Greek, who lived in the third century B.C., wrote that Cyrus met his death while fighting against the Dahae archers in Syr Darya. Both Berossus and Ctesias record the death of Cyrus transpiring at the headwaters of Syr Darya.[11] Though the details of his death are vary greatly, it has been established that Cyrus died ca.530 BC.

From these sources, we can conclude that, indeed, Cyrus the Great of Persia is a historical figure, and played a major role in Judaism in that he freed the captives and decreed that the should return home, and not only return home, but rebuild the Temple that was destroyed seventy years prior. This is another remarkable attestation to the historicity of the Biblical record, and demonstrates the validity of predictive prophecy. "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2nd Peter 1:20-22).

Thank you for taking the opportunity to read this entry of "The Truth." Feel free to email vexx801@yahoo.com or thetruth-ministryweb@gmail.com, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website. As noted in previous entries, we recognize that not all readers will agree with our position concerning Isaiah's predictive prophecies of Cyrus, but it is the position of The Truth Ministries that the predictive prophecies found within the confines of the Bible are valid, verifiable, and accurate. In any case, one may examine the life of Cyrus the Great and find a truly remarkable account of one man's rise to power, and the way in which he went about utilizing it. Thank you, take care, and may God bless you. Troy Hillman

Sources:
[1] "Cyrus." WebBible Encyclopedia. Christian Answers Network, n.d. Web. 13 Jul 2011. .
[2] Ibid.
[3] Wilson, Clifford, and Ken Ham. The New Answers Book 1. 12th ed. 2. Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2009. 315. Print.
[4] Lanser, Rick. "Have the burial sites of any people in the Bible been found?." Christian Answers Network. Christian Answers Network, 2002. Web. June 2011. .
[5] Metzger, Bruce M., and Michael D. Coogan. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. 145-146. Print.
[6] Flavius Josephus. The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Herodotus, The History, George Rawlinson, trans., (New York: Dutton & Co., 1862). Print.
[9] A history of Greece, Volume 2, By Connop Thirlwall, Longmans, 1836, p. 174. Print.
[10] Xenophon, Cyropaedia VII. 7; M.A. Dandamaev, "Cyrus II", in Encyclopaedia Iranica, p. 250. Print.
[11] A political history of the Achaemenid empire, By M. A. Dandamaev, BRILL, 1989, p. 67. Print.