Wednesday, October 26

An Examination of the Words of Jesus on the Cross

According to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live." While some may contend that there are problems with this, it does not negate the truth that is contained within this statement. Other have said, in some variation, "If you do not stand for something, you will fall for anything." Jesus Christ of Nazareth, born to Mary in the city of Bethlehem c.6 BC, grew up in Nazareth in northern Israel. Joseph became the adopted father, if you will, of Jesus, and raised Him as a carpenter (Mark 6:3). Joseph and Mary, contrary to the claims of some, had children, including James, Judas, Simon, Joseph, as well as sisters of Jesus. Having grown up in the first century Palestine under Roman rule, Jesus, at the age of thirty (Luke 3:23) began His earthly ministry. Jesus performed many miracles during His lifetime, some of which are mentioned in ancient sources outside of Scripture. The most important miracle was His resurrection, in which Jesus, who is God, rose from the dead after a brutal death: crucifixion. Jesus stood for something, and certainly died for something. While Jesus was on the cross, He said several things of import. What were these things, and what can we glean from these sayings? (Photo attribution: [a] Cristo crucificado by Diego Velázquez, 1632; [b] an illuminated manuscript, from the Syriac Rabbula Gospels, 586 AD)

Jesus, having claimed to be divine, the Jewish authorities claimed it was blasphemy, and as such "all condemned him as worthy of death" (Mark 14:64). We are told that the "high priest tore his clothes" (v.63). Jesus had claimed to be the "Son of Man," (some manuscripts "Son of God," though Jesus could have claimed both titles when asked) which was understood by the Jews of this time to be a claim to divinity, and a claim to the title of the Messiah. If they believed He was claiming to be a mere man, why would they have found Him worthy to be condemned to death, and why would the high priest have torn his clothes? You see, in the historical context, if you tore your clothes, it was an outward expression of grief or anger. This can be seen in Genesis 37:29, when Reuben found his brother gone, another instance when a Benjamite tore his clothes after running from battle (1st Samuel 4:11-12), along with other occasions.

The tearing of clothes also sometimes signified the rejection of something. If the Jews understood Jesus claim to be the "Son of God" and "Son of Man" as a mere man, why did they believe him worthy of death, and why did the high priest tear his clothes? This makes sense if Jesus had claimed deity. Psalm 80:17, which refers to the "Son of Man" in the highest possible authority (the right hand) and Daniel 7:13-14 also demonstrate that this claim was one of deity. While Ezekiel was called "son of man" in the Old Testament, he was understood to be a mere man. Jesus clarified, saying that He would be "coming with the clouds of heaven" (Daniel 7:13), and was clearly meant to be understood as a claim to deity.

[a] Cristo crucificado by Diego Velázquez, 16
After several back and forth questionings, Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea under Emperor Tiberius Caesar, sentenced Jesus to be flogged and crucified. Sometimes, individuals did not survive flogging. Flogging, however, was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution.[1] Detailed studies of the Greek text of 2nd Peter 2:24, which refers to the wounds Jesus bore for mankind's sin, imply that His scourging was particularly brutal.[2] After experiencing several agonizing hours, expressed elsewhere in spiritual and medical terms and not explored in detail in this article, Jesus was nailed to a Roman cross, and was placed in the middle of two thieves, who also hung on separate crosses. The crucifixion by Pontius Pilate under Emperor Tiberius is a historical fact attested to by Flavius Josephus, first century historian, by Tacitus (another Roman historian), and by Lucian (Greek satirist and traveling lecturer), as well as others. While Jesus was on the cross, He said the following things: (listed in no order of appearance)
  • Matthew 27:46, "About three in the afternoon, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' (which means 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?')."(TNIV) *Some manuscripts, "Eloi, Eloi...". The HNV reads, "Yeshua cried with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, 'Eli, lima shavakhtani?'" Other manuscripts say, "About the ninth hour..." The BBE reads, "My God, My God, why are you turned away from me?"
  • Mark 15:34, "And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' (which means 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?')." 
  • Luke 23:34, "Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.' And they divided up his clothes by casting lots."
  • Luke 23:43, "Jesus answered him, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'"
  • Luke 23:46, "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he has said this, he breathed his last."
  • John 19:25-27, "Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, 'Woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' From that time on, this disciple took her into his home."
  • John 20:28-30, "Later, knowing everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.' A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. When he has received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."
What do these things mean? The next course of action is to examine each passage individually, its implications, and in some cases, its cultural and historical context. In Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, Jesus says, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Almost immediately, there are those who may wonder, "If Jesus claimed to be God, why does he say 'My God?'" This quotation of Christ at Golgotha can be understood in numerous ways. First of all, Jesus is not conveying that He is not God. Jesus claimed divinity on several occasions, and therefore, we rightly conclude that Scripture must interpret Scripture. When we look at this quotation, we recognize that it is actually in and of itself a quotation of a psalm of David, written approximately one thousand years before the birth of Jesus. This is Psalm 22:1, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my words of groaning?" When Jesus quoted this, He cited Psalm 22, with the knowledge that it was in fulfillment of Scripture. "Anyone can quote Scripture," one may protest, "why is this any different?" It is because, when we look at the entirety of Psalm 22, it refers to circumstances surrounding Jesus' crucifixion. It notes, "they pierce my hands and my feet" (v.16), "people stare and gloat over me" (v.17), "They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment" (v.18), the medical condition of Jesus' heart (v.14), among other things.

When Jesus cited Psalm 22, He was citing evidence that we could later go back and check to demonstrate that this quotation was a fulfillment of prophecy, and the very manner of His death was the fulfillment of this. This is not the only reason that Jesus said this, however. At this moment, all of the past, present and future sins of humanity were placed on Jesus, and because the Father cannot be in sin's presence, He turned away from Jesus, cutting off a connection that has existed for eternity, and for the first time in all of eternity, the Son was cut off from the Father, and God the Son cried out. Charles Spurgeon said of this passage, "This anguish of the Savior on your behalf and mine is no more to be measured and weighed than the sin which needed it, or the love which endured it. We will adore where we cannot comprehend... God had forsaken him. Grief of the mind is harder to bear than pain of body. You can pluck up courage and endure the pang of sickness and pain, so long as the spirit is hale and brave; but if the soul itself be touched, and the mind becomes diseased with anguish, then every pain is increased in severity, and there is nothing with which to sustain it. Spiritual sorrows are the worst of miseries."[3]

According to Matthew Henry, "Christ's being forsaken of his Father was the most grievous of his sufferings. Here he laid the most doleful accents. When the Father stood at a distance, he cried out thus".[4] God the Father was absent for the first time. Jesus did not cry out, "Judas, why have you forsaken me," or "Peter, why have you forsaken me" - the Father had forsaken Him because He could not be present where all sin had been placed on Jesus. It was for this purpose that Christ came, and at any moment he could have called down over 72,000 angels at once (Matthew 26:53). The prophecy of old was fulfilled, "he will bear their iniquities" (Isaiah 53:11). He was made a curse for us, for it is written, "his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God)" (Deuteronomy 21:23) and "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole [or tree]'" (Galatians 3:13). Even when his disciples had scattered in the Garden, the Father remained. Now, even if Jesus called, the Father could not answer. Communication had been cut off. The passion of Jesus regarding mankind is clearly seen in the crucifixion. At any given moment, He could have come down from the cross, but He did not. He endured.

The next quotation we will examine is found in Luke 23:34, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." It should be noted that some early manuscripts do not contain this sentence, though there are those that do. As Jesus took in what was going on around Him, with the Romans casting lots for his clothing (Luke 23:34, John 19:23-24), the crowd was blaspheming Him (Matthew 27:39), the religious leaders were mocking Him (Matthew 27:41-43), as did the criminals on both sides, though as we will see, one of these criminals ended his reviling. In His mercy, Jesus prayed to the Father, whom He was subject to while on earth, having been "made lower than the angels for a little while" (Hebrews 2:9) and "taking the very nature of a servant" (Philippians 2:7), praying for the forgiveness of these people. The soldiers who had mocked, spat on, beaten, flogged, and crucified Jesus, were now being forgiven. Although these soldiers were simply doing their duty, and as they did not understand He was God the Son, for "None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (2nd Corinthians 2:8). Nevertheless, Jesus still forgave them.

It needs to be understood that neither the Romans, nor the cross, ended the life of Jesus. While these certainly brought Him to the point of death, Jesus gave up His life on His own (Ephesians 2:8-9), as He made clear, "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again" (John 10:18). Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12, "he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors." Jesus was also carrying out His own command to "love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44). The first recorded Christian martyr, Stephen, followed Christ's example when he prayed for his enemies. In Acts 7:60 we read, "Then he fell on his knees and cried out, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.'" After this, Stephen died. That Christ forgave those who considered themselves to be His enemies while He was at the point of death speaks volumes to us. Jesus was consistent in His message to forgive others, as He spoke about forgiveness on numerous occasions. 

In Luke 23:34, we also read, "And they divided up his clothes by casting lots." This is also referred to in Matthew 27:34, Mark 15:24, as well as John 19:23-24. With this multiple attestation, St. John's text reveals, "When the soldiers crucified Jesus [He was still alive], they took his clothes dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in place from top to bottom. 'Let's not tear it,' they said to one another. 'Let's decide by lot who will get it.' This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, 'They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.' So this is what the soldiers did." The scripture quote comes from Psalm 22, which is also the Psalm Jesus quoted a little beforehand. Historically, we know that there was more than one form of casting lots, but the game called "Nine Men's Morris" was quite popular in the Roman empire at that time, and was probably played by these soldiers to determine who would take the undergarment of Jesus. It is an ancient strategy game which is generally played by two players, but of course the winners between these four soldiers could have played different rounds.

Prior to examining the next quote, it may be best to establish Jesus' sacrifice. For the universe to have been created by a single God, who is outside of space and time, it would then follow that God is infinite. Why did it have to be Jesus who died for our sins? For those who consider Him a mere man yet express faith as a Christian, consider the following. If an individual simply walked up to a street sign and crucified him or herself upon it and said, "I am dying to pay for mankind's sin," their death would not meet the requirement for the redemption of mankind. This is because we are created, finite beings. As finite beings, we cannot die for the sins of other finite beings and expect redemption. If Jesus was a mere man, He would have also been finite, and His death would not have brought redemption. If, however, Jesus was God as He claimed, and as He was called by others, then He would be the infinite being. As an infinite being, He gave up His infinite spirit, whereas His finite body which contained the infinite spirit redeemed mankind. 

The next quotation is found in Dr. Luke's gospel, in Luke 23:43. After a brief conversation with one of the criminals, who had rebuked the other for reviling Jesus, and though he also originally did so, evidently changed his opinion of Jesus, Jesus says to the man, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise" (cf. 2nd Corinthians 5:8, Philippians 1:23). The Greek word paradeisos is used again in 2nd Corinthians 12:4 when St. Paul is referring to the heaven, where God's abode is, as well as again in Revelation 2:7, where Jesus is also referring to heaven. Given the context, however, we understand that after death Jesus descended to the lower earthly regions (Matthew 12:40; Ephesians 4:8-10, cf. 1st Samuel 28:13), and before the death and resurrection of Jesus, those who accepted God entered into a heavenly paradise, also called "Abraham's Bosom," where those such as Samuel, Saul, David, Moses, Abraham, and others went after death. Jesus was clear in His teaching that until He rose from the dead, the way to heaven was "closed," if you will. Jesus, much like a key, has now opened the door to heaven and through Him, we are allowed entrance (John 14:6; Romans 10:9).

Also, when we understand that this criminal was previously insulting Jesus (Matthew 27:44), and then came to defend him mere hours later (Luke 23:39-43), since Jesus accepted the man's faith and conveyed that he would be with Him in paradise; this brings us to an important point. There are those who believe in a legalistic form of Christianity where the law must be kept. Understand that none can truly keep the law. Even if an individual follows the Ten Commandments but breaks it a any one point, he or she has broken the entire law (James 2:10). This is not unreasonable, given that, in the court system (U.S. Court), if you break a law, you have, as they say, "broken the law." What is unreasonable is to assume that we can truly keep all of the Commandments, including those delivered by God in the flesh. 

While we need to be certain to try our best to follow these laws, they also serve as a reminder that in our sin, as we cannot keep these for "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23), and therefore the law serves its purpose to drive us toward God, seeking redemption and freedom from the law. The point is this: the fact that Jesus told the criminal that he would be with Him in paradise demonstrates that faith alone - not baptism, not good deeds or good works, not following laws, not having others pray for our salvation - is what saves us. This man had no time for baptism, nor did he have time for other such things. Baptism is important for a variety of reasons, but it is not necessary for salvation (see article, "Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation?").

The next quotation of Jesus on the cross is found in Luke 23:46, in which we read, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." From this, we understand that Jesus was willingly giving up His eternal soul into God the Father’s hands, implying that He was near death, and that the Father had accepted the sacrifice of Jesus. He had “offered up Himself unblemished to God” (Hebrews 9:14). Clearly, Jesus was obedient and submissive to the Father, a model which we ought to follow. Christ likely then uttered the phrase, "It is finished," as we see that He gave up His spirit and breathed his last not long after. However, it is not the intention of this article to discuss which order these sayings were spoken in, but to examine some of their meaning, and their implications. Interestingly, much like with beforehand, Jesus was again quoting Scripture. Psalm 31:5 says, "Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, LORD, my faithful God." Jesus had quoted the first part of this passage. Also like Psalm 22, this psalm is a psalm of David, and was likely written approximately 1000 BC. Even for those who do not accept this date, around thirty-nine copies of the Psalms were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the three most popular books (the other two most popular was Deuteronomy with thirty-six copies, and Isaiah had twenty-two), which demonstrates that at the least, we have copies from before the birth of Jesus.[5]

Then, though not particularly in order, John 19:25-27 says, "Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, 'Woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' From that time on, this disciple took her into his home." Many contend that this disciple is St. John. As Mary went to live with this disciple, who is usually identified as John, and since Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum and Eusebius of Caesarea, a Roman historian and Christian polemicist, wrote in their histories that St. John later went to Ephesus (located in modern-day Turkey), this may explain why there was an early belief that Mary lived with John in Ephesus. This is likely based on historical memory, though the New Testament does not specify what happened to Mary after the ascension of Jesus, aside from a mention of Mary in Acts 1:14 and 26, though some speculate that she could be the "elect lady" of 2nd John 1:1.

This passage then brings up the question: why did the brothers of Jesus not take in their mother? That James, Judas, Simon and Joseph are the brothers of Jesus and not mere cousins or stepbrothers will be explored in a future article, but with the premise that Jesus had brothers, why did Mary not go to live with them? While we know that St. John very well could have been a cousin of Jesus, the son of Mary's sister Salome (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25), why was it His cousin, and not His brothers or sisters? We know that James went on to convert from a skeptic to a believer after a resurrection appearance from His risen brother (1st Corinthians 15:7), and we know that "the Lord's brothers" had taken "a believing wife" (1st Corinthians 9:5), but why did they not take their mother in? Even if the reader disagrees and believes that they were not brothers but actually stepbrothers or cousins, they were still likely close with Mary (see Mark 6:3, for example). After his conversion, James went on to become the leader of the Jerusalem church (Fragment X of Papias, etc.), and was called one of those "esteemed as pillars" of the church by St. Paul (Galatians 2:9). Where was Jesus' brothers?

[b]6th century illuminated manuscript
While we cannot conclusively say, some believe that, as Jesus and James both taught that riches were a dangerous temptation and a trap for everyone (James 2:6, 5:1-5; Matthew 6:19), then perhaps James could not afford to have his mother live with him. This does not account for several factors, however, yet these will be explored elsewhere. Though there are several speculations as to why James, Judas, Simon and Joseph did not bring their mother to live with them, perhaps the most obvious reason is that none of Jesus' brothers are recorded as being present at His crucifixion, while John, who may have been his cousin and was one of the twelve disciples, was present. Since he stayed with Jesus until His death, Jesus imparted the responsibility of taking care of Mary onto John, whom He knew He could trust, and also, as God, knew that John would live well beyond the years of the other disciples. This is another possible reason, as James, according to the Roman historian Flavius Josephus in the 1st century, James, the brother of Jesus Christ, was stoned (Antiquities of the Jews 20.9). Eusebius, Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria and Fragments from the Acts of the Church; Concerning the Martyrdom of James, the Brother of the Lord, from Book 5 also mention the death of James, though later traditions. From Josephus' account, we know that James was martyred c.62 AD. Though speculation will continue, we can be sure that Jesus had a reason for putting Mary in the disciple's care.

The final quotations can be found in John 19:28-30,"Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.' A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge on it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." Psalm 69:21 says, "They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst," and this is the Scripture which Jesus fulfilled. When Jesus said that He was thirsty, it prompted the Roman soldier to give Jesus vinegar, as was the custom at crucifixion, though he had refused it a few hours earlier, though when it had been offered previously it was wine mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23). Of all of the sayings on the cross however, the final saying we will examine is "It is finished." Translated from the Greek word tetelestai, an accounting term which means "paid in full," Jesus literally bore the sins of mankind, and at this moment, Jesus had fulfilled what He had come to do, which was to "seek and save the lost" (Luke 19:10) and to provide atonement for the sins of mankind (Romans 3:23-25).

It was finished. The work that the Father had sent Jesus to do, preaching the Gospel, healing the sick, raising the dead to life, curing the blind, fulfilling several hundred prophecies, and ultimately, the sacrifice which would redeem mankind, and through faith in Jesus, man would have salvation, was finished. The work on the cross was finished, and the beginning of a new life for all who had once been “dead in trespasses and sins” but who are now made “alive with Christ” is now possible (Ephesians 2:1, 5). God the Son took on "the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:7-11).

The Truth Ministries would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article of "The Truth." Feel free to email us at or, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website.  It is the mission of this ministry to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:5). We understand that many will disagree with our position, our claims and our ministry, and we recognize the individual's right to believe what he or she wills, and that some will disagree on our position regarding this particular topic. However, understand that we stand firm upon the Bible as God's Word, which we believe to be historically accurate and reliable, and hold to our conviction that this conclusion was arrived at based on what His Word tells us, and through a Biblical worldview, and hope that if you have not already, will come to faith in Jesus. Take care, and God bless you reader. Troy Hillman, Christian Apologist

[1] Hengel M: Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross Bowden J (trans). Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1977, pp 22-45, 86-90.
[2] Wuest KS: Wuest Word Studies From the Greek New Testament for the English Reader Grand Rapids, Michigan, WB Eerdmans Publisher 1973, vol 1, p 280.
[3] Charles Spurgeon.  Sermon No.2133, March 2, 1890. 
[4] Henry, Matthew. The Matthew Henry Commentary. 18th ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan Publishing House, 1977. 
[5] Shanks, Hershel. The Dead Sea Scrolls - What They Really Say. Biblical Archaeology Society, 2007, pp 18.

Thursday, October 20

Is Christianity Derived From Mithraism?

There is a popular concept in many circles which postulates that Christianity is based off of pagan religions. The idea that Jesus, His birth, life, death and resurrection is based off of pagan mythology, has been answered in a previous article, "Is Jesus A Copy Of Pagan Gods?" Perhaps one of the more prominent claims involves the religious cult of Mithra (or Mithras) known as Mithraism. Allegedly, Christianity borrowed the concepts of baptism from Mithraism, along with birth and resurrection, and the celebration of the birth of Mithras on December 25. At face value, this sounds similar to Christianity, and has persuaded more than a few individuals to believe that Christianity is false because it borrows from Mithraism. In this article, we will examine Mithraism, its teachings, and whether or not Christianity borrowed from it. (Photo credit: CristianChirita, October 2008 permission under GFDL)

First off, it should be noted that simply because similarities are found in different religions does not mean that Christianity copied - or borrowed - from any religions any more than a similarity between two paintings would mean that one painting was copied from another. Second, simply because an individual makes an assertion or postulates something does not make it true. Great claims require evidence, and if such claims about Christianity are made, a case would first have to be established. With this understanding, what was Mithraism? Now called Mithraism or Roman Mithraism, the Mithraic mysteries was a mystery religion practiced within the Roman Empire from the first to the fourth century AD. Mithra was a Persian god who featured prominently in Zoroastrianism, with a Hindu parallel, Mitra, adapted to the Greek Mithras. This religion was called the Mysteries of Mithras or the Mysteries of the Persians by the Romans.[1] The religion itself was rather popular among the Roman military.[2]

What do we know about Mithraism? What sources do we have? Frankly, there are no written works from the religion which survive to yield insightful information, though there are a few brief references in Greek and Latin works.[3] According to David Ulansey, Ph.D. Religion, "in the absence of any ancient explanations of its meaning, Mithraic iconography has proven to be exceptionally difficult to decipher."[4] We do have about four hundred and twenty archaeological sites from which we have gleaned information related to this religious cult. There have been approximately 1000 inscriptions, 700 examples of tauroctony, and about 400 other related monuments, according to Manfred Clauss in the work, The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and his Mysteries. The Romans also considered the mysteries as having some Persian and Zoroastrian sources.[5] Tauroctony likely comes from the Greek ταυροκτόνος (tauroktonos) meaning, "slaughtering bulls." It can be difficult to interpret some of the material on Mithras, because most of what we know about Mithraism comes simply from the reliefs and sculptures.

Now, what of the claim that Jesus and Mithras are similar due to their "birth date?"  The birthday of the "Sun of Righteousness" was the "birthday of Mithras, the sun god worshiped by people in what is now Iran - and by many Roman soldiers. Mithraism was a bloody cult, which may have been one of the attractions for solders."[6] It was celebrated on December 25, as adherents of the Christianity-Mithraism connection have pointed out. While it is true that the birth of Mithras was celebrated on December 25, it is also true that it was also celebrated on the Winter solstice. None of the available records show that the pagan god was ever claimed to be a teacher, Mithras did not have twelve disciples, and he also had no bodily resurrection.[7] Along with this, a historical and religious issue arises, since Mithras was born out of solid rock, and not of a virgin woman. Mithras is also recorded as having battled first with the sun and then a primeval bull, which was thought to be the first act of creation. Mithras proceeded killed this cosmic bull, which then became the ground of life for the human race.

2nd-3rd century relief portraying Tauroctony
In sculptures and reliefs, Mithras is shown as having been born of the rock as one already in his youth, emerging with a torch in one hand and a dagger in the other. He is also portrayed in the nude, showing holding his legs together and wearing a Phrygian cap.[8] There are variations, however. For example, in one instance, he has a globe in one hand, and other cases he is holding a thunderbolt, a bit reminiscent of Zeus in Greek mythology, whose Greek counterpart was Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart was Tinia. In Mithraism, Mithras was the god of war, battle, faith, justice, and contract. Allegedly, Mithras also rose from the dead on the third day, was called the "Son of God," along with baptism having been borrowed from the Mithras religion. But is this actually the case?

As aforementioned, what we know of Mithraism essentially comes from archaeology, though there are a few recorded mentions of it. The Thebaid (c.80 AD), an epic poem by Statius, makes reference to Mithras in a cave, wrestling to a being with horns.[9] The context of this struggle is a prayer to the Phoebus, one of the most important Greco-Roman gods. Another reference is from the Greek biographer Plutarch (46-127 AD), who says that the "secret mysteries... of Mithras" were practiced by pirates of Cilicia. He goes on to say that "They likewise offered strange sacrifices; those of Olympus I mean; and they celebrated certain secret mysteries, among which those of Mithras continue to this day, being originally instituted by them."[10] The historian Dio Cassius (2nd-3rd century AD) conveys that the name "Mithras" was spoken by Tiridates as he was about to receive the crown, telling the emperor that he honored him as Mithras.[11] The philosopher Porphyry (3rd-4th century AD) gave an account of the origins of the Mysteries in De antro nympharum (The Cave of the Nymphs). Some consider it to be an inaccurate depiction of the mystery religion, for various reasons, but nevertheless, Ulansey points out that Porphyry "confirms... that astral conceptions played an important role in Mithraism."[12]

There are a few other references to Mithras and the religious cult. For example, the Mithras Liturgy presents the idea that Mithras is the sun god Helios.[13] Evidently, then, we know a few things about said cult. But did Christianity derive baptism from Mithraism? In his book, The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel interviewed Gregory A. Boyd, Ph.D., who is well known for his criticism of the Jesus Seminar along with his written works against their thinking and finds, including several other books. When Boyd was asked about the "mystery religions" and ancient pagan gods which some believe Jesus is based off of, which includes Mithraism, Boyd replied:
"While it's true that some mystery religions had stories of gods dying and rising, these stories always revolved around the natural life cycle of death and rebirth. Crops die in the fall and come to life in the spring. People express the wonder of this ongoing phenomenon through mythological stories about gods dying and rising. These stories were always cast in a legendary form. They depicted events that happened 'once upon a time.' Contrast that with the depiction of Jesus Christ in the gospels. They talk about someone who actually lived several decades earlier, and they name names - crucified under Pontius Pilate, when Caiaphas was the high priest, and the father of Alexander and Rufus carried his cross, for example. That's concrete historical stuff. It has nothing in common with stories about what supposedly happened 'once upon a time.'"[14]
Boyd continued, "And Christianity has nothing to do with life cycles or the harvest. It has to do with a very Jewish belief - which is absent from the mystery religion - about the resurrection of the dead and about life eternal and reconciliation from God. As for the suggestion that the New Testament doctrines of baptism or communion come from mystery religions, that's just nonsense. For one thing, the evidence for these supposed parallels comes after the second century, so any borrowing would have to come from Christianity, not the other way around. And when you look carefully, the similarities vanish. For instance, to get to a higher level in the Mithra cult, followers had to stand under a bull while it was slain, so they could be bathed in its blood and guts. Then they'd join the others in eating the bull. Now, to suggest that Jews would find anything attractive about this and want to model baptism and communion after this barbaric practice is completely implausible, which is why most scholars don't go for it."[15]

Indeed, according to Stephen M. Miller, "As the story goes, Mithras was born with a knife. He later rode and killed the cosmic bull, whose blood fertilized all vegetation and gave life to the planet. Cult members worshiped Mithras by killing bulls and standing in a put below the corpses to let the blood wash over them. They were literally washed in the blood of the bull. Christians, on the other hand, thought of themselves as 'washed... in the blood of the Lamb' (Revelation 7:14)."[16] Regarding the celebration of Christ's birth of December 25 and how it related to Mithraism, "Christians argued that their celebrations on December 25 had nothing to do with trying to Christianize pagan sun worship. As one anonymous Christian explained in the AD 300s, 'We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it.'"[17] Though mere speculation, perhaps part of the reason December 25 was used as the day to celebrate the birth of Christ was partially to counter the celebration of the birth of Mithras. To note, the birth of Jesus was very likely not in December, but more than likely in one of the spring months. This is one of the common misconceptions surrounding the birth of Jesus - that He was born on December 25. From what we can glean from New Testament documents, Jesus was not born on December 25, and the argument for similarity between Christianity and Mithraism on this point is therefore without basis, as is the claim concerning baptism.

What of the claim that "Son of God" comes from Mithraism, and not Christianity? This is a fallacious claim, and is historically inaccurate. Christians believe that there are references to Jesus, who is called "the son," found not only in Psalm 2, but also in Proverbs 30:4, "Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know!" Luke 1:32 and Matthew 3:17 also demonstrate that the Son who is being referred to is Christ, with other points of the passage further clarified by John 3:13, Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9-11, and Ephesians 4:9-10. Another passage to consider is Hosea 11:1, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." This is quoted as a fulfillment of prophecy concerning the young Jesus in Matthew 2:13-15, which also implies that there is a Father. Other references include Exodus 4:22 and 2nd Samuel 7:14. Certainly the phrase "sons of God" also appears in both Testaments, however, this simply means that those who accept Jesus as savior are adopted as sons (and daughters) into God's family (John 1:12-13).

The above passages have been mentioned to demonstrate that there are Hebrew Bible references to this "son" which pre-dates Mithraism by several centuries. While it is true that there are several similarities between Christianity and Mithraism, if there was any borrowing, it was Mithraism borrowing from Christianity. Christianity teaches that Jesus came to die for the sins of mankind, and in doing so, initiated the New Covenant. The major doctrines of Jesus as the son of God (Zechariah 12:10), who is born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), was crucified (Psalm 22), the doctrine of blood atonement (Leviticus 17:11), the resurrection (Psalm 16:10), and salvation by faith (Habakkuk 2:4), among other things, are found within the Hebrew Bible, which predates Mithraism. 

For those who are not satisfied with the utilization of the Hebrew Bible as evidence, however, perhaps it would also be beneficial to examine one of the Dead Sea Scroll fragments. The Dead Sea Scroll fragment 4Q246 says, "Affliction will come on Earth... He will be called great... 'Son of God' he will be called and 'Son of the Most High' they will call him... His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom... He will judge the earth in truth and all will make peace." This fragment was written c.100 BC, which still predates Mithraism. This also indicates that when Jesus claimed to be the "Son of God," which the Jews understood as equality with God the Father (John 5:18), was also a claim to divinity. The early Christian apologist, Justin Martyr (103-165 AD), said of this cult, "Wherefore also the evil demons in mimicry have handed down that the same thing should be done in the Mysteries of Mithras. For that bread and a cup of water are in these mysteries set before the initiate with certain speeches you either know or can learn."[18] Another apologist, Tertullian (160-220 AD), wrote that the "baptism" in Mithraism was a diabolical counterfeit of Christian baptism, essentially a distortion.[19]

A final point to consider is historicity. Mithras, regardless of which religion we speak of - whether in Zoroastrianism, in Persian or in Mithraism itself, is a mythological being, and is not a historical person. On the other hand, Jesus is a historical person. Along with the twenty seven New Testament documents, which are continually affirmed by historical data and archaeological research, we have the testimony of the early church fathers, along with quite a few non-Christian sources, such as Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Flavius Josephus, Thallus, and others. We have more historical documents which make mention of Jesus and the events of His life and death (along with references to His follower's claim of His resurrection) than we do for Emperor Tiberius Caesar. If you remove Dr. Luke, who wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts in the New Testament, this leaves only nine sources for Tiberius. Another example is Julius Caesar's "crossing the Rubicon," which is reported in two ancient sources, one of which is quoting the other. When compared to these and other examples, if we throw out the historicity of Jesus, we have to throw out a great deal of history as well. 

Is Christianity derived from Mithraism? "Allegations of an early Christian dependence on Mithraism have been rejected on many grounds. Mithraism had no concept of the death and resurrection of its god and no place for any concept of rebirth -- at least during its early stages...During the early stages of the cult, the notion of rebirth would have been foreign to its basic outlook...Moreover, Mithraism was basically a military cult. Therefore, one must be skeptical about suggestions that it appealed to nonmilitary people like the early Christians."[20] As Christianity spread throughout the known world, we find that other religions adopted certain Christian concepts. As noted by Bill Wilson, "While there are several sources that suggest that Mithraism included a notion of rebirth, they are all post-Christian. The earliest...dates from the end of the second century A.D."[21] It is unlikely, then, that Christianity was derived from Mithraism. Rather, it was Mithraism which borrowed concepts from Christianity, as is the case with a few other religious systems of the time.

The Truth Ministries would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article of "The Truth." Feel free to email us at or, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website.  It is the mission of this ministry to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:5). We also understand that many will disagree with our position, our claims and our ministry, and we recognize the individual's right to believe what he or she wills, and that some will disagree on our position regarding this particular topic. However, understand that we stand firm upon the Bible as God's Word, which we believe to be historically accurate and reliable, and hold to our conviction that this conclusion was arrived at based on what His Word tells us, and through a Biblical worldview. Take care, and God bless you reader. Troy Hillman, Christian Apologist

[1] Beck, Roger. "Mithraism". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition. 20 July 2002.
[2] Geden, A. S. (15 October 2004). Select Passages Illustrating Mithraism 1925. Kessinger Publishing, 2004. 51.
[3] Ulansey, David (1991). Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries. New York: Oxford UP. p. 3.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid, [1].
[6] Miller, Stephen M. The Jesus of the Bible. 1st ed,. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing Inc., 2009. 48-49. Print.
[7] ""Is Jesus a myth? Is Jesus just a copy of the pagan gods of other ancient religions?"." Got Got Questions Network, n.d. Web. 7 Jul 2011. 
[8] Vermaseren, M. J.. "The miraculous Birth of Mithras". In László Gerevich. Studia Archaeologica. Brill. pp. 93–109
[9] Statius: Thebaid 1.719 to 720
[10] Plutarch. Life of Pompey 24.
[11] Dio Cassius 63.5.2
[12] Ibid, [3]. p18.
[13] Meyer, Marvin (2006). "The Mithras Liturgy". Qtd. in A.J. Levine, Dale C. Allison, Jr., and John Dominic Crossan. The historical Jesus in context. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 180.
[14] Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. 1st ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998. 121-122. Print.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid, [6].
[17] Ibid.
[18] Qtd. by Francis Legge. Forerunners and rivals of Christianity: being studies in religious history from 330 B.C. to 330 A.D. 1950.
[19] Louis Bouyer. The Christian Mystery. pp. 70–.
[20] R. Nash, Christianity and the Hellenistic World as quoted in Norman Geisler, Baker's Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, p. 492.
[21] Bill Wilson, compiled by, The Best of Josh McDowell: A Ready Defense, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993, p. 167.

Saturday, October 15

Are Jesus and Michael the Archangel the Same Being?

Jehovah's Witnesses teach that Jesus Christ was once Michael the archangel, before becoming flesh during the first century.[1] In the Bible, Michael appears in the book of Daniel, and is referenced in the New Testament books of Jude and Revelation. The name "Jesus" appears approximately 900 times in the Greek New Testament - six of these in Jude, and fourteen of these in the book of Revelation.[2] This numbering does not include for the many times "Lord," "Christ," "Son of Man," "Son of God," or "Son of David," among other titles, are used of Jesus. Suffice to say, the archangel Michael is referenced three times in Daniel, once in Jude, and once in Revelation. The Seventh Day Adventist church also teaches that Jesus is Michael the archangel, though a bit different from Jehovah's Witnesses teaching in that Adventists still believe that Jesus has been God for eternity. Does this claim agree with what the Bible teaches? (Photo credit: Michael the archangel, from the Monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai, dated from the 13th century) 

Just as St. Paul writes in 2nd Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (TNIV). As such, if a denomination and cult taught that Jesus was Michael, against the express teaching of God's Word, it ought to be examined, rebuked, and corrected. This article will address the question of Jesus' relation to Michael the archangel, and is not intended to address every doctrine and aspect of Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses. Ellen G. White (1827-1915), who formed the Seventh Day Adventist church, taught that "Moses passed through death, but Michael came down and gave him life before his body had seen corruption. Satan tried to hold the body, claiming it as his; but Michael resurrected Moses and took him to heaven. Satan railed bitterly against God...but Christ did not rebuke His adversary... He meekly referred him to His Father, saying, 'The Lord rebuke thee.'"[3]

White also conveyed, "When Jesus stands up; when his work is finished in the Most Holy, then there will be not another ray of light to be imparted to the sinner....The light is made to reach far ahead, where all is total darkness. MICHAEL stands up."[4] "As Christ and the angels approached the grave, Satan and his angels appeared at the grave, and were guarding the body of Moses, lest it should be removed. As Christ and his angels drew nigh, Satan resisted their approach, but was compelled, by the glory and power of Christ and his angels to fall back. Satan claimed the body of Moses, because of his one transgression; but Christ meekly referred him o his Father, saying, 'The Lord rebuke thee.'"[5] "Just before going into the meeting, I had a revival of some interesting scenes which had passed before me in vision...It seemed to me that the angels were making a rift in the cloud and letting in the beams of light from heaven. The subject that was presented so strikingly was the case of Moses....The angels buried him, but the Son of God soon came down and raised him from the dead and took him to heaven."[6] "As a people we must stand as did the world's Redeemer. When in controversy with Satan, in regard to the body of Moses, Christ durst not bring against him a railing accusation."[7]

Essentially, this is in reference to Jude 1:9, which says, "But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you.'" As for the Jehovah's Witnesses teaching, Watchtower teaches that "The foremost angel, both in power and authority, is the archangel, Jesus Christ, also called Michael."[8] Evidently, both the Seventh Day Adventist Church and the Jehovah's Witnesses teach that Jesus is (or was) Michael the archangel. The Witnesses believe that Christ is the incarnate Michael. They believe that Jesus was the first creation of God, and that Jesus made "other things" in creation, but not "all things." Along with this, they teach that when Jesus returns, it will be as Michael. Before we continue, however, it is necessary to establish what "angel" means.

In Hebrew, the word for angel is mal'ak, meaning a "messenger, representative, an angel" (BLB Lexicon), or "one sent, [as in] a messenger" (Gesenius's Lexicon). The Greek word for angel is aggelos, meaning "a messenger, envoy, one who is sent, an angel, a messenger from God." In the context of Michael the archangel, however, we are referring not to an earthly, human messenger as in the "angel of the church of Ephesus" (Revelation 2:1) or as in "the angel of the church of Sardis" (Revelation 3:1), but as in a heavenly being, such as those described in Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4. A description of a heavenly angel, which generally comes to mind when someone is speaking of angels, can be found in Hebrews 1:7, "In speaking of the angels he says, 'He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire,'" as well as Hebrews 1:14, "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" With this knowledge in mind, we can further examine aforementioned claims about the relation between Jesus and Michael.

Philippians 2:6-7 declares, "[Jesus,] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature [or form] of a servant, being made in human likeness." Jesus "took the form of a servant," and as such, was not a servant prior to His birth in Bethlehem. This is because an angel is a servant, according to Hebrews 1:7, 14. This is one demonstration of the fact that Jesus is not an angel, nor was He. He took on the nature or form of a servant, He was not a servant prior to His birth. In regard to the Jude 9 text, note that Michael is probably the head of the angels, hence his title as "archangel" (some suggest that Satan was once head of the angels before his fall), a title which is attributed only to Michael in the Bible. He is, however, merely an angel, and not God. In Matthew 4:10, Jesus rebuked Satan by his own authority, whereas in Jude 9, we read that Michael "did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, 'The Lord rebuke you.'" Jesus was surely not afraid to rebuke Satan, but Michael was. Clearly, Jesus was more authority than Michael, if nothing else. Jesus also rebuked Satan in Matthew 16:23.

Some may argue that Jesus did not attain authority until after His resurrection, because He says in Matthew 28:18, "All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me." This is an inaccurate claim, however, because Jesus rebuked the devil long before His crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. If Michael and Jesus were the same being, why did Michael defer to the Lord? Romans 10:9 says that "Jesus is Lord," along with Philippians 2:11, "Jesus Christ is Lord," along with several other references. St. Paul calls Jesus, "Lord," numerous times, such as in Romans 1:4, "Jesus Christ our Lord," in 1st Corinthians 1:3, He is called the "Lord Jesus Christ," as well as throughout St. Paul's letters. James also called Jesus "the Lord Jesus Christ" (James 1:1), along with St. Peter, who calls Him "our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2nd Peter 3:18). John also calls him the "Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:21).

Significantly, Jude calls Jesus "Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord" (Jude 4), yet Jude does not call Michael "Lord," but relays the account of Michael, who defers to the Lord. Not once in Scripture is Michael called Lord, or Michael called Jesus. If Michael were Jesus, why are both mentioned in Jude with a distinction made, and why do both appear in Revelation? To be clear, Jesus Himself claimed to be "Lord" on more than one occasion (see John 13:13, for example), yet Michael did not. It is true that "Lord" can also mean a master or ruler, but evidently, the Bible is clear that Jesus is more than a mere master - He is also called God. However, Michael is called neither Lord nor God. Daniel 10:13 calls Michael "one of the chief princes," Jude 9 calls Michael "the archangel," and the reference in Revelation 12:7 says, "...Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back."

Taken as a whole, Scripture is clear that Jesus is Lord and God, whereas Michael is the archangel, and not God. Jesus is called God (Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1-3, 14, 18; 10:33; 20:28; Colossians 1, 2:9; Philippians 2; Hebrews 1, etc.), Jesus claimed to be God (John 10:30, 13:19, 14:8-11, etc.), and even the Father calls Jesus, "God" (Hebrews 1:8). Nehemiah 9:6 says, "You alone are Lord." 1st Kings 8:60 says, "the LORD is God [and] there is no other," along with Isaiah 45:5, which says "I am the LORD, and there is no other" (see also 45:6, 18; Ephesians 4:5, etc). When Jesus returns in Revelation 19:16, on his robe and thigh is written the name "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS." God's Word is also clear that there is one God. Yet Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, are all called God. Isaiah 43:10 is clear that no god was formed before God, nor will there be one after Him - He is eternal. This monotheistic concept is seen throughout both Testaments. In fact, another point to consider is worship. Though Michael is a powerful being, he is not to be worshiped. 

Hebrews 1:6 says, referring to Jesus and quoting 2nd Samuel 7:14 and 1st Chronicles 17:13, "Let all God's angels worship Him." This can also be seen in Revelation 19:10 and 22:8-9, where John bows to the heavenly messenger, who in response says, "Don't do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to Jesus' testimony. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy." St. Paul calls the "worship of angels... unspiritual" (Colossians 2:18). Surely, then, we are not to worship angels. However, Jesus is to be worshiped. Jesus said to worship God alone (Matthew 4:10), and yet Jesus is worshiped, in Matthew 2:2 and 11, 14:33, 28:9; John 9:35-38, 20:28, Philippians 2:10-11, and Hebrews 1:6. Hebrews 2:5 states, "It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking," and 2:9 says, "But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone." Hebrews 2 teaches that God has not subjected the world to come to the rule of angels, but to Jesus. This demonstrates that Jesus is not, nor was He, an angel.

Jehovah's Witnesses claim that 1st Thessalonians 4:6 supports their position, which says, "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first." Since the verse has the phrase, "with the voice of the archangel," this allegedly supports the position that Jesus is Michael. In actuality, the verse teaches that when the Lord descends from heaven, it will be the archangel, in his own voice, who accompanies him. Those who hold to this doctrine will also have to answer Daniel 10:13, which, as noted earlier, calls Michael the "one of the chief princes." Does this mean that Jesus has equals in heaven that are angels? What would their names be?

According to The King Messiah Project, "the Jehovah’s Witnesses think that Jesus will return as the archangel Michael. Keeping this in mind, Revelation 19:11-12 describes the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Will He be coming as Michael? Not according to verse 12, which states that 'he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself:' 'And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. (12) His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.' Since Revelation 19:12 teaches that Jesus will have 'a name written, that no man knew, but he himself,' the Jehovah’s Witnesses must be incorrect by thinking that Jesus is Michael. After all, according to this verse, Jesus cannot be Michael because nobody will know His true name at His Second Coming."[9] 

From the Monastery of St. Catherine, Sinai (1200's)
It should be noted that in the Hebrew Bible, when Jesus Christ appeared as God manifested, it was as the "angel of the Lord," but not as Michael. The angel of the Lord, or rather messenger or representative of the Lord, claimed to be God (Exodus 3), and claimed to be the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt (Judges 2:1-4). In some early manuscripts, Jude 5 read, "Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that Jesus at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe." Also, Jesus claimed more than once to be the "I AM" who appeared to Moses in the burning bush (see John 8:58). This messenger of God is also called God by Manoah and his wife (Judges 13:22). Exodus 33:20-23 and John 1:18 make clear that the Father cannot be seen (unless you are in heaven, as is the case in Isaiah 6 and Daniel 7), but God appears physically several times in the Hebrew Bible. The "messenger of the Lord" is further explained and examined in articles such as, "Who Is 'The Angel of the Lord?'" and "The Holy Trinity (Part Two)," but when God physically manifested in the Hebrew Bible, it was usually God the Son, who is Jesus. There is a clear distinction between this messenger of the Lord and Michael, as Michael never claimed to be God and is never called God. Michael and the Messenger of the Lord are not the same being, as Jehovah's Witnesses contend.

The author of Hebrews, which was likely written c.62-68 AD, seemed to have been attempting to relay Jesus' divine nature. In Hebrews 1:4-14 we read, "So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, 'You are my Son, today I have become your Father'? Or again, 'I will be his Father, and he will be my Son'? And again, when God brings forth his firstborn into the world, he says, 'Let all God's angels worship him.' In speaking of the angels he says, 'He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.' But about the Son he says, 'Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.' He also says, 'In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.' To which of the angels did God ever say, 'Sit at my right hand [a position of authority] until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?' Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?"

From the above text, it is clear that Jesus is not an angel. In the New World Translation of the Bible, which the Jehovah's Witnesses use, many of the verses cited in this article may be different. The NWT of the Bible is an inaccurate translation, and noticeably, when verses are found which contradict a particular Witness doctrine, that verse is changed, and a new edition of the New World Translation is published. We cannot pick and choose what to accept from Scripture. Allow Scripture to speak for itself, and it speaks of Jesus as Lord and God. Change it to fit your doctrine, and it speaks of Jesus as Michael. This is a fallacious and unjustified way to handle God's Word. Phrases, such as in Colossians 1:16, are inserted into the NWT. Also, indefinite articles, such as in John 1:1 are added to make it seem as if Jesus is merely "a god," and not "God" - yet three verses later, they translate the same phrase as "God." "A" or "an" is not an indefinite article in the Greek, so it must be added by the translator. There are no textual grounds for their tampering of Scripture, only theological. A committee of anonymous editors has put forth the New World Translation, and this gives little credence to their claim of authenticity. There are several other inconsistencies and problems with this translation.

One last consideration: we also need to account for the fact that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), and as God, does not change (Malachi 3:6; Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Isaiah 46:9-11; Ezekiel 24:14). If Jesus was once Michael or is Michael, then we would have to account for these passages. Jesus is Lord and God (John 20:28; Titus 2:13; 2nd Peter 1:1), and is uncreated, and eternal, whereas Michael the archangel is a created being, and had a beginning. Since all Scripture is useful for rebuking and correction, we can stand firm upon God's Word and make the determination that Jesus is God, and not Michael the archangel, as taught by Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists, though the teachings of the Seventh Day Adventist differ from the Witnesses view of God, for you see, Seventh Day Adventists teach that "Michael" is simply another name for Jesus. Yet what has been written in this article applies to that teaching as well. The Jehovah's Witnesses have similar teachings to Arianism, a heretical group in the fourth century AD which taught that Jesus is not equal in nature to the Father, but is a created being. Other teachings of Arianism are found within Jehovah's Witness doctrine (For further information about Arianism and its influence, see here). Therefore, is Jesus Christ the same as Michael the archangel? We hold that Jesus is not the same as Michael, but that Jesus is God, and is separate from Michael, who is simply the archangel. 

Troy Hillman

[1] The Watchtower, May 15, 1963, p. 307; The New World, 284. 
[2] Slick, Matt. "Is Jesus' name really Yeshua?." Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, n.d. Web. 15 Oct 2011.
[3] Early Writings, p. 164
[4] Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 276
[5] Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4a, p. 58
[6] Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 659
[7] Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 239.
[8] The Watchtower, November 1, 1995, p. 8
[9] "Is Jesus Michael the Archangel?." The King Messiah Project. The King Messiah Project, October 2003. Web. 15 Oct 2011.

Thursday, October 13

Investigating God the Father

In Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity is a vital one. There are denominations and cults which hold that the Bible does not support this doctrine, but many Bible-believing Christians strongly oppose this, and contend that the Trinity is taught in Scripture. The Trinity is essentially the teaching that God exists as one, but in three persons. Since this is hard to grasp, many claim that it is an illogical, irrational, and polytheistic claim. But simply because one does not understand it does not make it illogical or irrational, and certainly not polytheistic. The Bible is very clear in its monotheistic teaching throughout both Testaments, and anytime "gods" appear, it is evident that God's Word is speaking of authorities, such as the priests. Satan is called the "god of this world" (2nd Corinthians 4:4), but this does not mean that Satan is a god. Satan is a created being (Ezekiel 28:13, 15), and is called the "god of this world" solely because of his influence on this world. He turns the hearts of unbelievers away from God and toward other desires, and as such as influence, or "authority." In this article, we will be examining the role of God the Father in the Old and New Testament. (Photo credit: Cima da Conegliano in 1510-17; Wikimedia Commons)

Of special interest, "The word 'God' does not appear in the original Hebrew or Greek manuscripts of the Bible. 'God' is an old English word which developed from an Indo-European word, meaning 'that which is invoked,' which is also the ancestor of the German word Gott and the Danish 'Gud,' both meaning 'God.' 'God' is the translation of... 1. the Hebrew: 'El, from a word meaning to be strong; 2. the Hebrew: 'Eloah, plural 'Elohim. The singular form, Eloah, is used only in poetry. The plural form is more commonly used in all parts of the Bible. The Hebrew word yehovah (Jehovah), another word often used to denote the Supreme Being, is usually translated in the King James Version as 'LORD,' printed in small capitals."[1] As for the Trinity, "The word 'trinity' is not found in Scripture. It is a word used by Christians to express the doctrine of the unity of God as consisting of three distinct Persons. This word is derived from the Greek word trias, first used by Theophilus (A.D. 168-183), or from the Latin trinitas, first used by Tertullian (A.D. 220), to express this doctrine."[2] Both are certainly found in Scripture, but are merely words we now use to describe YHWH (God) and His nature as a Trinity.

As arguments for the Trinity and certain objections have been answered in past articles, there is little use of restating them here (to read these, see the recommended articles at the bottom). Recently, I paid a visit to a local book store, and was perusing through a book on the shelf in the religious section. The work concerned certain "interesting facts" about the Bible, and one of them caught my attention: it claimed that God the Father was essentially not present or mentioned in any form in the Hebrew Bible. This peaked my curiosity, and to be sure, even if no references were found to the Father in the Hebrew Bible, this would not undermine the doctrine of the Trinity, because God revealed His nature over the course of time, so that we may better understand Him. If He had appeared to Abraham or Moses and said, "I am three but I am one," this would have left said persons rather confused. Though the very concept still confuses us today and likely will continue to, yet God has provided us with sufficient information to understand a bit about His nature.

Oil painting attributed to Cima da Conegliano (c.1510-17)
During interfaith discussions, I have been asked more than once, "Do you not think it misleading to say that God cannot be fully understood? If God wanted us to have a relationship with Him, should we not be able to understand Him in every way?" Frankly, no. If we were to fully understand the relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit, then we would also likely understand everything about the universe, which displays the triune nature of God (time, space, matter), and if we understood everything about God and everything about the universe, we would be "like God." In the Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted Eve to disobey a direct command of God's and eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, saying "when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). While this is partially true, the incentive was clear: to "be like God." This temptation, a prideful act, was committed by Satan in heaven (Isaiah 14; Ezekiel 28), which he in turn used to tempt Eve in Eden, and has been seen again throughout history. The Tower of Babel, in which we attempted to "make a name for ourselves" and ascend to heaven, the teaching of Mormonism wherein individuals can become gods, the New Age movement, which teaches that we all have a "Christ-consciousness," among other examples, demonstrate that we still repeat this mistake.

Candidly, we should not be able to fully understand God. This can be likened unto marriage. If a husband and wife fully knew one another, knew everything about them, down to every minute and intricate detail, they would no longer need to "get to know them." It would not be a relationship, but a tolerance. This can be argued, of course, but the analogy is simply that you can never truly understand your spouse 100%. You may believe that you know everything that there is to know about them - and in many cases, couples know one another very intimately, but if couples knew each other 100% - all of their memories, all of their "pet peeves," all of their behavior and thoughts, then there would be little need for a relationship, and if this were the case, there would be little to no arguments between two people. We can surely intimately know the person we marry or are dating, however, we can never fully know them. If we knew everything there was to know about God and the universe, we would be God, and it is difficult to imagine two separate infinite beings, for this would suggest that one of these infinite beings is anything less than perfect, and therefore would not be God.

Now, regarding the claim that God the Father does not appear in the Hebrew Bible, I found this a rather curious statement (or rather that God is never called "Father"), and decided to investigate. Indeed, there are actually several references to God as a Father, both by an author calling God "Father," and God calling Himself "Father." Here are a few examples from the Hebrew Bible:
  1. "...Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?" (Deuteronomy 32:6)
  2. "You are my son today I have become your Father." (Psalm 2:7)
  3. "He will call out to me, 'You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.'" (Psalm 89:26)
  4. "...And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)
  5. "But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name." (Isaiah 63:16)
  6. "Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." (Isaiah 64:8)
  7. "...I am Israel's father..." (Jeremiah 31:9)
  8. "'A son honors his father, and slaves honor their master. If I am father, where is the honor due me? If I am master, where is the respect due me?' says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 1:6)
  9. "Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another." (Malachi 2:10)
The fact that there are more than two references to "the Father" ought to be sufficient enough. References to Jesus, who is called "the son," are found not only in Psalm 2, but also in Proverbs 30:4, "Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know!" If there is a son, it certainly implies a Father. Luke 1:32 and Matthew 3:17 demonstrate that the Son who is being referred to is Christ, with other points of the passage further clarified by John 3:13, Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9-11, and Ephesians 4:9-10. Another passage to consider is Hosea 11:1, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." This is quoted as a fulfillment of prophecy concerning the young Jesus in Matthew 2:13-15, which also implies that there is a Father. Other references include Exodus 4:22 and 2nd Samuel 7:14.

What of New Testament references to God the Father? Aside from the many time Jesus refers to God as His Father, we find several distinct references to God the Father: 
  • "Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God" (John 8:41).
  • "He said to them, 'It is not for you know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority" (Acts 1:7)
  • "Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear" (Acts 2:33).
  • "...Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Christ Jesus" (Romans 1:7, 1st Corinthians 1:3, 2nd Corinthians 1:2). 
  • "yet for us there is but one God, the Father..." (1st Corinthians 8:6) .
  • "[Jesus,] who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father" (Galatians 1:4).
  • "one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:6).
  • "Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 6:23).
  • "and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:11).
  • "the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ" (Colossians 2:2)
  • "For to which of the angels did God ever say, 'You are my Son, today I have become your Father'? Or again, 'I will be his Father,, and he will be my Son'?" (Hebrews 1:5).
The Tetragrammaton, the Hebrew name for God the Father
There are many other references to "God the Father," "God our Father," "our Father," etc. Jesus called Him "my Father," and claimed to be the one and only "Son of God" - not in the biological sense, but in the relational sense, so that we may understand the relationship between God the Son and God the Father easier. You see, Jesus had called "God his own Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:18). Several Hebrew Bible documents include God the Father, as do most of the New Testament documents. Due to the numerous references to the Father in the New Testament, all have not been aforementioned. Suffice to say, however, God the Father is certainly mentioned throughout both Testaments, as is the Holy Spirit, who is also called the "Spirit of God," the "Spirit of the Lord," God calls Him "my Spirit," others called Him "His Spirit," or even the "Holy Spirit," in both Testaments. God the Son, who is Jesus Christ, is also mentioned throughout both Testaments. Jesus, who appears as the physical manifestation of God (the angel, or rather, "messenger" of the Lord) in the Hebrew Bible, makes frequent appearances. 

In fact, this "angel of the Lord," also translated as "messenger of the Lord," claimed to be God (Exodus 3), and claimed to be the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt (Judges 2:1-4). In some early manuscripts, Jude 5 read, "Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that Jesus at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe." Also, Jesus claimed more than once to be the "I AM" who appeared to Moses in the burning bush (see John 8:58). The "son" is referred to copious times throughout both Testaments, though obviously more so once God became flesh in the 1st century (John 1:14). Does "God the Father" appear in both the Old and the New Testament? Certainly. God's fatherhood is eternal, because He has been in an eternal father-son (not literal or biological) relationship with Jesus, who is God the Son. As such, this provides us with a way to relate to God, in that once we accept His Son as Lord and Savior, we become God's "children." If you have not accepted Christ, you are not "God's child" as some claim. Jesus made this clear: if you are not following God, you are following yourself, or a false being, and according to Christ, "you belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desires" (John 8:44). 

Just as the Lord said, "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money" (Matthew 6:24). In this case, we cannot serve both God and man. We can help man, we can love one another, but we cannot - and should not - serve man as if we were a god. God makes it abundantly clear in His Word that, in terms of how we understand the Father, by accepting Christ, God gives us the right to become "children of God" (John 1:12). There are several concepts that have been presented in this article. Be aware that it is not the intention or purpose of the article to argue each point, but essentially to provide the information that there does exist some references to "God the Father" within the Hebrew Bible, and certainly in the New Testament. Some may claim that the Trinity is unreasonable, or not possible, because we should be able to relate to God. It is not unreasonable, and of course, if God was greater than man, we would expect Him to be a little different. This is not unreasonable. As for our relationship with God, this is why God has provided us with the image of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit - we can relate to the Father, we can relate to the Son, and the Spirit dwells within us. Truly this deals with theology, but the idea is this: by God putting Himself in a position as "Father," we are able to relate to Him better. 
Troy Hillman

[1] "God." WebBible Encyclopedia. Christian Answers Network, n.d. Web. 12 Oct 2011.
[2] "Trinity." WebBible Encyclopedia. Christian Answers Network, n.d. Web. 12 Oct 2011.

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