Jun 252013
 

This review is of the second edition of True For You But Not For Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith in which several adjustments had been made including the addition of roughly half a dozen chapters, the addition of the further reading section of each chapter and the move of the study guide to the authors website.

tfybnfm CoverIt’s safe to say that those of us interested in apologetics have heard many of the same retorts thrown against Christianity.  Statements like “Christians are intolerant of other viewpoints” or “You can’t legislate morality” are frequently lodged against the believer in conversations about faith and all too often the believer is left without much to say.  Regardless of the accuser’s intentions, many see these as conversation stoppers and the average person may not be equipped to handle them appropriately.  But what if these remarks could be used as opportunities to further the discussion instead of stifle it?  In True For You But Not For Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith, that is just the starting point that Paul Copan uses in order to help guide the conversation in a much more meaningful direction.

In his book, Paul Copan addresses 29 of these common statements by organizing them into 5 main categories.  These categories progress from the concept of relativism, which is kicked off with the chapter entitled “That’s True For You, But Not For Me” to the final section which deals with the question of the unevangelized.  Each of these parts contain an introduction to the main category which will include some discussion of any terms that may need to be defined, followed by the chapters themselves.  Since the chapters are typically just a few pages in length, each addressing a particular statement, the reader will be able to get through one in a matter of a few minutes.  This allows the book to be handled in rather small chunks so even if your current reading plate is full, True For You But Not For Me won’t take up a lot of extra room.

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits to having this book on the shelf is in its ability to function as a reference tool.  It’s certainly not necessary to read this book cover to cover, although that shouldn’t be discouraged; but simply being familiar with its content and organization will allow the book to be used as needed.  Many of the comebacks and retorts discussed are seen regularly in conversation and even if you are used to handling them, Paul Copan will likely offer some new perspectives to how they should be viewed and responded to.  In fact, having a good grounding in some of these responses will likely help the reader to recognize how many of these suppositions pervade society through various avenues.  And since each chapter is concluded with a summary of chapter highlights and a list of further reading material, True For You But Not For Me can serve as a gateway into deeper study as the reader sees fit.

The Books Structure

As I mentioned, the book is organized by means of 5 major parts.  In Part One: Absolutely Relative, Paul Copan introduces the concept of relativism along with the reality of truth.  He establishes the fact that relativism is ultimately self-defeating and shows that many of the retorts that are encountered in this section are as well.  Chapters in this section include “Who Are You to Judge Others?”, “It’s All a Matter of Perspective.” and “That’s Just Your Opinion.”

Part Two: The Absolutism of Moral Relativism deals with the various issues of moral relativism.  Here, the author not only demonstrates that moral relativism is logically flawed but that the consequences of moral relativism actually demean humanity by treating ourselves as “victims, not responsible moral agents” (p. 68).  Chapters in this section include “Why Believe in Any Moral Values When They’re So Wildly Different?”, “You Can’t Legislate Morality.” and “We Can Be Good Without God.”

While Western culture may think that religious pluralism is somehow all inclusive, in Part Three: The Exclusivism of Religious Pluralism, Paul Copan shows how it is actually resistant to any “one religious faith alone bringing salvation or liberation” (p. 111).  It is in this sense that religious pluralism practices the very thing it claims to deny.  Chapters in this section include “All Religions Are Basically The Same.”, “All Roads Lead to the Top of the Mountain.” and “If You’d Grown Up in Thailand, You’d Be a Buddhist.”

A very common accusation these days is that Jesus is simply a myth or legend.  Part Four: The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ: Myth or Reality? deals with various claims made in this regard.  Chapters in this section include “You Can’t Trust the Gospels-They’re Unreliable.”, “Jesus Is Just Like Any Other Great Religious Leader.” and “People Claim JFK and Elvis Are Alive, Too!”

Finally in Part Five: “No Other Name”: The Question of the Unevangelized Paul Copan deals with the exclusivity of Christianity and the various views on salvation for those who have never heard the Gospel.  This final segment of the book only deals with two comments specifically; they are “It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe-as Long as You’re Sincere.” and “If Jesus Is the Only Way to God, What About Those Who Have Never Heard of Him?”  The latter is actually dealt with over the course of four chapters that discuss three different responses – the agnostic view, the inclusivist / wider-hope view and finally the accessibilist / middle-knowledge view.

Options For Individual Or Small Group Study

A nice advantage to this book is a study guide that is available on Paul Copan’s website.  This study guide, which can be used individually or for small groups, contains roughly a handful of questions for each chapter of the book.  My wife and I led a small group through this book over the course of about a year (with various breaks throughout) and found the questions available in the study guide to be much more thoroughly thought out than most study guides we come across.  The questions force you to interact with the content and since the chapters themselves are relatively short it is very easy for the group to collectively go back and read through particular items that are being addressed.  This allows the information to be readily available and fresh in the minds of the participants.

The book will allow itself to be molded a bit for your particular small group.  We found that some chapters dealt with some heavier items that many people are going to be unfamiliar with.  In those instances the group leaders may wish to skip them entirely or deal with them over the course of a few meetings.  Since there are times that Paul Copan takes the familiarity with certain topics for granted, group leaders may find they need to be ready to introduce and further explain what is being discussed.

Conclusion

It’s not uncommon for people who find themselves on the receiving end of the comments addressed in this book to desire some sort of script to use.  But as anyone familiar with apologetics will tell you, a script is going to be worthless when you think you need it most.  One way a Christian can be prepared to give their defense is by learning how to think properly about these common objections.  By doing so you won’t need to memorize a bunch of facts but rather will be able to detect the underlying suppositions of these objections and handle them in a manner that can steer the discussion in a positive direction.  That being said, True For You But Not For Me may be just the right balance because it will offer responses to very specific and common objections in a way that will teach you how to think about and engage the content of the objection at hand.

May 282013
 
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series The One Who Is To Come

The response that Jesus gives to the disciples of John the Baptist is one that points back to numerous Old Testament passages with an emphasis on Isaiah.  They asked Jesus if he was indeed the one who is to come and so it only makes sense that the answer, being in the affirmative, is one that is going to settle the issue in regards to what was being expected.  Matthew 11:2-6 reads:

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”1

The first part of the response presents the start of what will become somewhat of a chiastic answer.  He says “tell John what you hear and see” and then answers based on what would be seen and then heard.  But it should also be noted that there is much more than sense perception being discussed here.  As far as Scripture is concerned, seeing is somewhat baseless.  The Pharisees saw the “deeds of the Christ” just the same as anyone else and yet they simply couldn’t understand what was being presented to them.  So also, the disciples heard Jesus preach the good news to the poor, quite possibly on numerous occasions and yet Jesus still had to “open their minds to understand” that he would be killed, buried and rise again in Luke 24:45.

What You Hear And See

Jesus emphasizes this issue in Matthew 13:13-15.  He quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 in the LXX saying:

13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’

Notice that in the opening line Jesus says they see but they don’t see, they hear but they don’t hear and finalizes it with the fact that they do not understand.  This is further specified in the Isaiah passage where the order of hearing and seeing is the same that Jesus gives in Matthew 11:4, “tell John what you hear” – you will indeed hear but never understand – “and see” – you will indeed see but never perceive.  I don’t say this to condemn John’s disciples.  We have no way of knowing what the disciples took away from Jesus’ answer.  The point is that simple reliance on our senses for understanding is not biblical and Matthew 11:2-6 hints at this issue.2

And so Jesus begins his answer which he gives as 3 pairs of items capped with a beatitude – 7 elements in all.  We have the blind receiving their site, the lame walking, lepers cleansed, deaf (or mute) hearing, dead raised to life and the poor hearing the Gospel finalized by a blessing to those who are not offended by Jesus.  Each of the initial 6 items are echoes from miracles that were performed in the previous few chapters and further predicted in the Old Testament.  All of them together can look back to Isaiah 6:9-10 in that they are things that are to be seen, heard and understood.

The Authority Of The Messiah

What each of these miracles should invoke isn’t so much the capability of Jesus to do the miracle, but that Jesus has the authority to do them.  In all of these items, Jesus is demonstrating divine authority and yet he is clearly a human being.  Again this looks back to what has already been discussed in this series – that the one who is to come, or the coming one, was to be God in human form.  After Jesus heals the lame man (the lame walk), in Matthew 9:2-8 the crowds were astonished and acknowledged that God had to have given the authority to do this.  Matthew 9:8 reads:

8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

This authority is directly linked to the authority to forgive sin.  That is what the healing of the lame man was all about.  The crowds glorified God who had given such authority to men through the Son of Man.  The language in this passage is somewhat difficult but the idea isn’t simply that men in general have been given authority to forgive sin, but that the representative of mankind, the Son of Man, has been given this authority.3

Conclusion

And in each of the accounts of these miracles the people making the requests have already put their trust in Christ.  They request it as though they already understand that he can do what they are asking.  This should certainly be a point to take away from all of this.  When we, as Christians, speak of faith, we are not using some stupid idea of blind belief in spite of evidence to the contrary, like the rest of the world does.  Faith for us is trust that Christ is who he said he was.  In the final three parts of this discussion I will look at the miracles themselves and how they relate to the authority of the Messiah and the promises given about him in the Old Testament.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. This is one of those topics that just can’t seem to be exhausted. The possibility of knowledge is logically prior to sense perception which Scripture acknowledges and I’ve discussed in The Johannine Logos. Also, the series of posts on our Innate Knowledge of God is worth taking a look at in light of this topic.
  3. Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew (167). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
May 212013
 
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series The One Who Is To Come

Part 3 of this series looked specifically at the title of “the one who is to come” along with its implications found in Psalm 118:26.  For this next part of the series I will take a look at how the title appears in Daniel 7:13-14.  As we will see, the one who is to come was not only to be God himself, but God in human form.

Daniel 7:13-14 is a part of the visions that the prophet Daniel receives of the four beasts.  Chapter 7 in its entirety deals with these visions along with their interpretations given to Daniel by one of the angels in attendance, possibly Gabriel.1  Since our purposes here are only dealing with the title of ‘the one who is to come’ I will simply be focusing on verses 13 and 14.  The ESV reads:

13 “I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.[Emphasis mine.]2

The Greek erchomenos (ἐρχόμενος) is behind the bold in verse 13.  This particular instance lacks the definite article ho (ὁ) but is no less important.  Both the Septuagint and MT rendering offer very little variance but I’ll note that the LXX has the one like a son of man coming on the clouds rather than with them.

Identifying The Son Of Man

Much is debated over the identity of who this person is that is coming on the clouds and is presented to the Ancient of Days but there are 3 primary views that should be addressed.  The first is that this being is the archangel Michael and the “holy ones” or saints in verses 18 and 27 are his followers.3  While the angel view as a whole simply doesn’t work as will be presented, the idea that the “holy ones” are angels is specifically defeated by the text in Daniel 7:27 which reads:

27 and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;
his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey him.

The bolded item there would be better translated as “holy people.”  The saints, or “holy ones” are not distinct from the people in this verse.

The second view is that the one like a son of man is the personification of the Jewish nation.  The reasoning is given primarily due to the believers receiving the kingdom in verse 27 as was quoted just above.  While there are several difficulties with this view the primary one stems from verse 14 itself.  In that verse it states that “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.”  The problem is that him (can be he/she/it) is singular and all people are to serve, or worship, the singular him.  But Revelation 19:10 is very clear, one shouldn’t worship anyone but God.  This not only gives us further implications of this beings deity but also hints at the nature of the Godhead.

And that brings us to the third view which has the one like a son of man as none other than Jesus Christ.  This view is not only the oldest but is the most prevailing in historical Christian opinion, not to mention Jewish commentary which attributes the being as the Messiah himself.4  That the New Testament holds this view is undeniable from numerous sources but perhaps the most important one comes from John 12:34 which reads:

34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”

In this verse both “the Messiah” (the Christ) and “the Son of Man” are used interchangeably.  This demonstrates that the most common view at the time of Christ would have been that “the Son of Man” was a title for the Messiah.  Further emphasis can come from Mark 14:61-62, 64 which reads:

61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” … 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.

Many argue that this passage is one of the strongest passages demonstrating that Jesus not only ascribed Deity to himself, but that this would have been the earliest Christian view.5  We can see this because Jesus affirms the question – he is the Messiah, the Son of the Most High, attributes himself as the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds.  Their response was that this was blasphemy and punishable by death.  He can be referring to no other Old Testament passage of Scripture but Daniel 7:13-14.6

The Son of Man

While the title “The Son of Man” is no doubt messianic with divine implications it also foreshadows something that many might incidentally overlook.  The title itself is one that demonstrates the humanity of Jesus.  The Messiah was to be God himself, as I’ve already demonstrated both here and in Part 3 of this series.  But he would also be the human representative.  The “one like a son of man” is alluding to the human form of this being but also that he is a representative of mankind.  In fact, the LXX renders the line as “a being like a son of mankind.”7

This is important for numerous reasons, not the least of which is the nature of the Godhead.  If the “one like a son of man” is Christ and Deity and the Ancient of Days is clearly Deity, why are they presented as distinct and yet the same?  The Messiah is God in human form.

But as a representative of mankind, Christ is then the just judge as Jesus alludes to in Matthew 16:27-28.  This is only solidified in Matthew 19:28, Matthew 24:30 and Matthew 25:31.  And this authority to judge is not exclusive to the New Testament.  It can be seen in Isaiah 2:2-4, Isaiah 9:6-7, most of Isaiah 11 and Ezekiel 34:23-24.  Hebrews 4:15 notes specifically that our High Priest is one who was in all ways like us, but did not sin.

Conclusion

The title “the one who is to come” is rooted in Psalm 118:26 and hinted at in Daniel 7:13-14.  Through these passages we can see that the Messiah was to be God himself in human form.  Jesus clearly associates himself as the “one like a son of man” who is to rule as the righteous judge under full authority of God the Father.  In the next few posts I’ll look specifically at the deeds which Christ points to as the witness of who he is.

  1. See Daniel 8:16 and Daniel 9:21.
  2. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  3. This view is presented by J. J. Collins in “The Son of Man and the Saints of the Most High in the Book of Daniel,” JBL 93 (1974): 50–66.
  4. Miller, S. R. (1994). Vol. 18: Daniel. The New American Commentary (209). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  5. Mark is regarded as the earliest written Gospel narrative and a source text for both Matthew and Luke.  See Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
  6. Ibid. footnote 4.
  7. The Lexham English Septuagint. 2012 (R. Brannan, K. M. Penner, I. Loken, M. Aubrey & I. Hoogendyk, Ed.) (Da 7:14). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
May 072013
 
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series The One Who Is To Come

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series I established the probable reasons for John the Baptists question concerning Jesus’ Messiahship.  For the next few parts of this discussion I want to look into the specific title that John the Baptist uses.  In Matthew 11:3, he asks Jesus if he is “the one who is to come,” making specific usage of an Old Testament idiom that shows up in several passages.  Matthew 11:2-3 reads:

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”1

To get a sense of how this applies to the messianic expectations at the time we can look at John 6 and the feeding of the 5,000.  In that passage once everyone had eaten and the disciples had gathered the leftovers, the people proclaimed Jesus to be “the Prophet who is to come.”  John 6:14 reads:

14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

As we will see, this title has its roots in the Old Testament and in its usage the connotation that the coming Messiah was to be God himself.

Establishing the Sources

One of the quickest ways to get a good feel for particular thoughts that the author of a given passage is dealing with is to look at a good concordance.2  Most English Bible’s today will have a concordance available in the margins.  The ESV has a pretty extensive one built into the translation.  For example, if you look at Matthew 11:3 in the ESV for the “the one who is to come” you will find that it provides you with references to John 4:25; 6:14 and John 11:27.

Going to the original Greek, however, can also provide quite a bit more information.  The Greek for “the one who is to come” is ho erchomenos (ὁ ἐρχόμενος) where ho is the definite article (the one) and erchomenos is the deponent verb for “coming.”  Put together it can be “the one who is coming” or “the one who is to come.”3  This is helpful for all sorts of reasons but for this purpose, it is primarily sought for assistance in getting to some of the Old Testament passages that relate to this title.

Our English Bible translations are primarily based off of the Masoretic Text (MT) which is the Hebrew translation of the Old Testament achieved somewhere around 800 AD4 and while the Old Testament was predominantly written in Hebrew originally, the Hebrew was not what the New Testament authors were using most of the time.  Rather, they were making much use of the Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Old Testament which was derived from much earlier copies, roughly 2-300 years before Christ.5

I point all of this out because it can sometimes be confusing to know why one might be inclined to jump back and forth from the LXX to the MT and all of my initial searches are done using the LXX.  I do this for two reasons.  The first is that, as I said above, the LXX was, more often than not, what the New Testament authors were using at least in their quotations of the Old Testament.  That means we can look to the LXX as an authoritative translation of the Old Testament that we know was in use well before Christ.  One thing that will be noted, however, is that there are times where the LXX is used right alongside another version of Scripture that the New Testament authors had as will be the case in one of the passages we’ll be looking at.  The second reason I am starting with the LXX is that the LXX provides us with the Old Testament in the same language as the New.  There isn’t much of a need to try to figure out the most probable Hebrew equivalent of a given word but instead you can get to that rather quickly by starting with the LXX.  In this case, a search for ho erchomenos in the LXX will bring us to Psalm 118:26.6

Song of Praise

In one of my English translations of the LXX Psalm 118:26 reads:

26 Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord: we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord.[Emphasis mine.]7

The bolded text is ho erchomenos.  Anyone who has read through significant sections of the Gospels will recognize this.  It is part of the Hallel and likely one of the songs of Praise that was sung during the Last Supper in Matthew 26:30.  Psalm 118:26 is specifically quoted in Matthew 23:39, Mark 11:9, Luke 13:35, 19:38 and John 12:13.

This entire Psalm can be understood as heavily Messianic but because this series of posts is focusing on Matthew 11:2-6, I’ll be looking specifically at Psalm 118:21-27.  This passage of Scripture reads:

21 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save us, we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27 The LORD is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!

One of the primary themes of Psalm 118 is salvation.  Salvation is mentioned 3 times total in Psalm 118:14, 15, 21.  In fact, Psalm 118:14 is a quotation of Exodus 15:2 which is also quoted in Isaiah 12:2.  The Hebrew word for Salvation in all of these verses is yeshua (יְשׁוּעָה) which is the name for Jesus.  For each of these verses you could essentially replace salvation with Yeshua and you have “my Yeshua” in Psalm 118:14 and Psalm 118:21, and “Glad songs of Yeshua” in Psalm 118:15.  All of this sets the stage for what is arguably one of the most well known idioms for the Messiah, the stone in Psalm 118:22.

The Stone of Offense

Psalm 118:22 is quoted and alluded to throughout the New Testament.  In Acts 4:12 Peter states specifically that Jesus is “the stone” and the leaders of Israel are “the builders” who rejected the stone.  This is also what Jesus states in Luke 20:17.  In that passage, the Great Logician is handling the inquiring chief priests and scribes who seek to entrap him.  Jesus tells the parable of the wicked tenants who maintain a vineyard for its owner while he is away.  The owner sends several servants to obtain some of the fruits of the vineyard but the tenants beat and cast out all of them.  Finally the owner sends his own son whom the tenants decide to murder so that they can obtain the inheritance.  The conclusion of the parable has the owner destroying the wicked tenants and giving the vineyard to others instead.

Of course the chief priests and scribes understood what was being said and were aghast at the thought that God would destroy them and give his inheritance to anyone else.  Christ then asks them what is meant by Psalm 118:22, quoting it specifically and alluding further to Isaiah 8:13-15.  That Isaiah passage again alludes to the stone and those who are crushed by it.  I’ll come back to that passage in a moment but first it’s worth noting the quotation in 1 Peter 2:7-8.

In 1 Peter 2:7-8, Peter quotes Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14.  In both of those verses Peter uses the Greek word lithos (λίθος) for stone.  This is different from petra (πέτρα) which is used in Matthew 16:18 for “this rock” in reference to the faith of Peter and the story of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27 where petra is “the rock” that the wise builders built their house on.  In both of those instances, petra is used as an idiom for trusting in the Word (or Wisdom) of God.8  Lithos, on the other hand, and specifically in these passages, is dealing with Christ himself.

The reason all of this becomes important is in the choice that Peter makes for his quotation of Isaiah 8:14.  Comparing 1 Peter 2:8 with the LXX and MT we see that 1 Peter 2:8 reads:

8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.[Emphasis mine.]

However, in the LXX, Isaiah 8:14 reads:

14 And if thou shalt trust in him, he shall be to thee for a sanctuary; and ye shall not come against him as against a stumbling-stone, neither as against the falling of a rock: but the houses of Jacob are in a snare, and the dwellers in Jerusalem in a pit.[Emphasis mine.]9

The LXX is quite a bit different than what Peter used but looking at the MT and most of our English versions it reads:

14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.[Emphasis mine.]

I’ve put in bold the relevant sections of the verse.  What becomes obvious is that Peter is quoting something that resembles the MT much more closely than the LXX, however, Peter had quoted the LXX exactly for his quotation of Psalm 118:22 in the previous verse.10  Because of this, in looking at Isaiah 8:13-15, it is worth going directly to the MT.  Isaiah 8:13-15 reads:

13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.

Paying close attention to verses 13 and 14 you have the LORD as the one who should be honored and feared and he is the stone of offense.  He is the one on whom any falls is broken.  Recall that in Luke 20:17-18 Jesus alluded to the fact that he was the stone, the lithos, and any who fell on him would be broken and any on whom the stone fell would be crushed.  In both Isaiah 8:14 and Psalm 118:26, the word used for stone in the LXX is lithos.  How this comes back around to Matthew 11:2-6 and “the one who is to come” is this.  In 1 Peter 2:8, Peter is quoting something that resembles our Hebrew copy of the Old Testament but translating it into Greek.  He chooses lithos for stone and skandalon (σκάνδαλον) for offense.  When Jesus closes his statement to the disciples of John the Baptist he makes an interesting comment.  He says in Matthew 11:6:

6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”[Emphasis mine.]

The Greek word for offended is skandalizo (σκανδαλίζω), the verb form of skandalon.

Conclusion

What we end up with is this, the title “the one who is to come,” is not only firmly rooted in Old Testament Scripture, but it is prophetic in that it points to God himself being the one who is to come.  Jesus establishes that it is he who is this “one.”

To finish up with the rest of the section of Psalm 118 we see that the placement of the rejected stone as the cornerstone is the work of the LORD and that those who are not offended by him recognize that it is marvelous.  They rejoice and are glad in this work of the LORD and recognize the stone as the one who is to come.  Finally in Psalm 118:27 it reads “The LORD is God and he has made his light to shine upon us.”  This echoes back to the Aaronic Blessing of Numbers 6:24-26 where it reads “The LORD make his face shine upon you…”  Although in that passage it is a request, in Psalm 118:27 the request has been granted.  In John 8:12 Jesus says he is “the light of the world.”  And what is the response?  The festal sacrifice in Psalm 118:27, the acceptable sacrifice – that is Christ.  Is it any wonder this Psalm is sung at Passover, the hymn they were most likely singing during the last supper in Matthew 26:30?  In the next post I’ll take a look at the one who is to come referenced in Daniel 7:13.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. A concordance is basically a reference to lists of words or thoughts that are used throughout a given text giving you the ability to cross reference them with their usage elsewhere.
  3. Black, D. A. (2009). Learn to read New Testament Greek (3rd ed) (152). Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.
  4. The consonantal MT was notably completed around 200 AD with vowel markers and accents added around 800 AD.
  5. Michael Rydelnik presents a very concise and easy to follow demonstration for why the MT should not be considered the received text, but rather “as the top layer of a distinct postbiblical exegetical tradition” in Chapter 3 of The Messianic Hope: Is The Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? (2010). Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.
  6. Psalm 117 in the LXX.
  7. Brenton, L. C. L. (1870). The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament: English Translation (Ps 117:26). London: Samuel Bagster and Sons.
  8. This Matthew passage destroys the claims of Catholicism which tries to insist that Peter is “the rock”.  Jesus says specifically that the rock is the Word of God and equates the building of the house on rock or sand to those who either “trust and do” or “hear and do not” “these words of” Christ.
  9. Brenton, L. C. L. (1870). The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament: English Translation (Is 8:14). London: Samuel Bagster and Sons.
  10. Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (1027). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.
Apr 232013
 
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The One Who Is To Come

In Matthew 11:2-6, John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he is indeed the one who is to come.  Jesus’ response is one that confirms he is the one they were to be looking for, not by a simple admission but by pointing to the deeds he was doing.  In the previous post for this series I had noted that I didn’t accept the common accusation of doubt that many commentators seem to attribute to the Baptist though I basically held that supposition.  After some further study this week I realized that I’m not the only one who disagrees with that interpretation.  In fact, it seems, at least several of the early church fathers had quite a different view as to why John was asking Jesus this question.  I think their view makes much better sense of the passage as a whole and thought it would be worth spending another post on before getting into the main purpose of this discussion.

The Doubt Of John The Baptist

To start, I want to take a look at how some of the commentators handle John’s questioning.  John Nolland, in his commentary on Matthew writes:

John speaks through the mouthpiece of his disciples: the words are his and not theirs … It is not clear how we are to relate John’s confidence about Jesus’ identity implicit in 3:14 with the present questioning, but a certain discomforting tension between John’s expectations and what Jesus did is common property to Matthew 3:14, 9:14, 11:3. John needed to come to terms with the fact that the one of whom he had now been hearing such remarkable things was, despite the quite unexpected form of his ministry, the one whom he had heralded as eschatological judge and deliverer—‘the one coming after’ John (Mt. 3:11).1

Nolland brings up Matthew 3:14 and Matthew 9:14 as demonstrative of a “tension between John’s expectations and what Jesus did.”  One of the things I would point out here, however, is that there is more relationship between Matthew 9:14 and Matthew 11:3 than there is with either of those verses and Matthew 3:14; primarily because in both 9:14 and 11:3 we have John’s disciples in the picture.  We can see that Nolland fully attributes this doubt to John the Baptist, specifically noting that the words are John’s and not his disciples.  Craig Blomberg writes similarly:

Here Matthew notes only John’s doubts, which lead him to send his followers to question Jesus. He has heard specifically of the works of the Christ (NIV lacks the article). The “works” presumably refer to Jesus’ entire ministry thus far but focus specifically on his miracles as illustrated in chaps. 8–9. These mighty deeds should have reinforced John’s confidence in Jesus’ messiahship. Why then does one who had such a high view of Jesus (3:11–14) now question him?2

For a look at one more, Stuart Weber’s commentary on Matthew also attributes the doubt specifically to John.  He writes:

Matthew is not saying that John knew Jesus was the promised Christ (“anointed One,” equivalent to the Heb. “Messiah”). In fact, while John suspected this to be true, the fact that he sent his disciples to inquire of Jesus revealed his doubts. Perhaps John, in the hopelessness of his imprisonment, was swayed by the popular expectations of the promised Messiah-King—that he would come to rescue Israel from political oppression. John may have been genuinely asking. “If you are the king and I am your ambassador, how is it that I am in prison and opposition to you is growing?”3

So the modern view seems to be that it is indeed John’s doubt that is needing to be assuaged in this passage.  So John, while in prison, sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask him if he is the one who is to come.  But what I couldn’t help noticing was that while this view on the surface would seem to make the most sense, that isn’t how many of the great scholars of old had interpreted the passage.

Giving The Benefit Of The Doubt

For example, Augustine goes through great lengths explaining that the problem was that John’s disciples were doubting Jesus was the Christ so John told them to go ask him themselves.  He writes:

Therefore because John’s disciples highly esteemed their master, they heard from John his record concerning Christ, and marvelled; and as he was about to die, it was his wish that they should be confirmed by him. For no doubt they were saying among themselves; Such great things doth he say of Him, but none such of himself. “Go then, ask Him;” not because I doubt, but that ye may be instructed. “Go, ask Him,” hear from Himself what I am in the habit of telling you; ye have heard the herald, be confirmed by the Judge. “Go, ask Him, Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” They went accordingly and asked; not for John’s sake, but for their own.4

Augustine, throughout this homily, writes from the point of view that John the Baptist is the herald of Christ and Christ is the Judge himself.  The disciples of John are witnessing their rabbi in prison and wonder why the herald would be meeting this demise and are likely doubting John’s own claims of Jesus.  It’s amazing what this starting point does for the passage as a whole since Jesus then goes on to, not only confirm who John is, but to praise John as the greatest of those born of women!  The basis of this starting point is that of Matthew 11:6 which reads “and blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  Augustine states quite plainly of this “[d]o not suspect that John was offended in Christ.”5

Chrysostom takes this same position and further reiterates the point of Matthew 11:6, writing:

Wherefore also He covertly added His reproof of them. That is, because they were “offended in Him,” He by setting forth their case and leaving it to their own conscience alone, and by calling no witness of this His accusation, but only themselves that knew it all, did thus also draw them the more unto Himself, in saying, Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” For indeed His secret meaning was of them when He said this.6

In fact, when Chrysostom was preaching on this he built what I think is probably the most surefire case of this interpretation.7  He notes this same John was heralding the coming of Jesus even before he was born in Luke 1:41-44. I’ll add that John had the Spirit of God prior to birth in Luke 1:15.

But know that what is often claimed, and I held to this in the previous post, is that John the Baptist was likely having doubts due to missed eschatological expectations.  Chrysostom brilliantly writes that in the proclamation that John the Baptist gives in John 1:29, that Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” he couldn’t possibly be confused with what that title meant for the Messiah.  What’s more, in Matthew 3:11, John says of Jesus that He will baptize with the Spirit.  This is a post-resurrection event.  In these statements, John foretells both the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Chrysostom also makes some observations about John’s disciples.  In John 3:25-30 the disciples go to John and inform him “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”8  And John’s response is most telling.  He says “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’”  At least some of John’s disciples didn’t like the idea that Jesus must increase and John must decrease.

Earlier in Matthew 9:14, John’s disciples ask of Jesus why they and the Pharisees fast but Jesus and His disciples do not.  From this we can know that at least some of John’s disciples needed clarification and went to Jesus for the answer.  Because of the evidence we have regarding some of John’s disciples, Chrysostom surmises the disciples are jealous of Jesus, that he is getting the attention they think John deserves.  So John sends them for their own benefit.  He writes:

What then doth he? He waits to hear from them that Christ is working miracles, and not even so doth he admonish them, nor doth he send all, but some two (whom he perhaps knew to be more teachable than the rest); that the inquiry might be made without suspicion, in order that from His acts they might learn the difference between Jesus and himself. And he saith, Go ye, and say, “Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?”9
Conclusion

There are others who held this view, from Origen to Calvin10 and I do believe it makes more sense in light of the passage itself and the testimony of the Gospels as a whole.  It is not unreasonable that John would send his disciples for their own benefit, so they could hear for themselves from the mouth of Christ.  At any rate, John was now in prison, soon to be executed and if John realized that his time on earth was up, it would only make sense that he would want any of his disciples that were still unsure to understand, for certain, that he was not the Christ and Jesus was.  In the next post I’ll start looking into the deeds that Christ gives as testimony of who He is.

  1. Nolland, J. (2005). The Gospel of Matthew: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (450–451). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.
  2. Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (184–185). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  3. Weber, S. K. (2000). Vol. 1: Matthew. Holman New Testament Commentary (161). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  4. Augustine of Hippo. (1888). Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament (R. G. MacMullen, Trans.). In P. Schaff (Ed.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume VI: Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels (P. Schaff, Ed.) (310). New York: Christian Literature Company.
  5. Ibid.
  6. John Chrysostom. (1888). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople on the Gospel according to St. Matthew (G. Prevost & M. B. Riddle, Trans.). In P. Schaff (Ed.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume X: Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew (P. Schaff, Ed.) (240). New York: Christian Literature Company.
  7. Ibid. (239-240).
  8. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  9. Same as footnote 6, page 239.
  10. Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew (203). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
Apr 092013
 
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The One Who Is To Come

One of the questions often raised by believers and unbelievers alike is how Jesus is predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures.  It is very easy to read through the Old Testament and wonder where the Messiah, or the expectation of the Messiah fits in.  Meanwhile, there is little to no doubt that Jesus came onto the scene and changed the course of history at a time when the Jewish community was eagerly waiting for, and expecting, their redeemer.  So where did this understanding come from?

Part of the problem we run into when investigating these issues is our own mindset.  We bring to the table presuppositions that have been influenced by our own culture and upbringing.  Like it or not, our own thinking often clouds our judgement when it comes to approaching the Scriptures.  We fail to read the Scriptures on it’s own terms and instead insert ours into the mix.  Granted, there are many other factors at stake but it seems reasonable to me that we can hardly start to discuss those factors until we’ve removed some of our own misunderstandings.

One of those misunderstandings is the idea that we should expect our definition of prophecy to be demonstrated when it comes to Christ in the Old Testament.  The western way of defining prophecy is a very strict and narrow view of prediction and fulfillment.  Of course, the Scriptures do indeed demonstrate this in some incredible ways but when the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 40:8 in Hebrews 10:7 he writes “the volume of the book is written of me.”  The Greek word kephalis (κεφαλίς) for volume speaks literally of the roll of a scroll.  It can be understood idiomatically as the entirety of the writing or the whole purpose of the document.  There are varying ideas as to just what document is being referred to but we could safely presume the Torah itself, the first five books of the Bible.  Jesus, after his resurrection, taught from the entire Old Testament “the things concerning himself” in Luke 24:27.

The One Who Is To Come

I note all of this to say that instead of simply looking for Jesus in the Old Testament we might, at times, take a slightly different approach by looking for the Old Testament in Jesus.  What I mean by this is that the Old Testament provides us the means by which we can recognize, or identify Jesus as the true Messiah.  In Matthew 11:2-6 John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to inquire if Jesus is indeed the one who is to come.  Jesus responds by offering his deeds as evidence that he is the Messiah who was promised.  All of these deeds come out of the Old Testament, primarily the book of Isaiah, and had been accomplished by Christ in the previous chapters of Matthew.  The passage reads:

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”1

This passage stuck out to me recently as one that is telling of John the Baptist’s humanity while offering an opportunity to dig deep into what the Scriptures have to say about the Messiah.  I thought it would be enjoyable to take each of the items that Jesus gives as identifying characteristics with both their actual fulfillment in Matthews Gospel and the passages alluded to in the Old Testament.

Among Those Born Of Women

In Matthew 11:11 Jesus says of John that of every human being there is none greater.  That is quite a statement and much could be said about it, but for the sake of this initial post I simply want to look at a couple of things that can be offered in regard to John the Baptist and his question.  John had baptized Jesus in Matthew 3:13-17.  In John’s question for Jesus he uses the same term “the one who is to come” (ὁ ἐρχόμενος) that he used in anticipation of Jesus in Matthew 3:11.  This is also the same word used in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament in Psalm 118:26, one of the Psalms of assent sung at Passover where it reads “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!”  John is quite clearly intending the question to refer to the Christ, the Messiah.

John’s expectations of Jesus may very well have been similar to the expectations that everyone else seemed to have.  The Jews were expecting a conquering king, a political figure that would throw the occupiers of first century Israel out and subsequently restore the throne of David.  In Luke 4:18, Jesus is to proclaim liberty to the captives and now the one who baptized Jesus and proclaimed him to be the Messiah is in prison.  Many accuse John of doubt, and in one sense I think they are correct but it may not be the sort of doubt that we tend to think of.  I’m inclined to give John a bit more benefit than that.  His question doesn’t in the least presume that John was doubting the coming Messiah.  John is likely wanting clarification at this point.  His question “are you the one who is to come” doesn’t end there.  The followup “or should we look for another” tells me he never doubted the Scriptures.  In his mind, Jesus wasn’t fitting the expectations that he had.

I really like what Craig Blomberg has to say about this.  He writes:

The flow of thought of [Matthew 11:7–15] may be summarized in this fashion: despite John’s questions, he should not be seen as weak or vacillating. In fact, he is the greatest in a long succession of prophets. But great as he is, something greater is here, namely, Jesus and the kingdom.2
What You Hear And See

Jesus’ response in Matthew 11:4-6 is also telling.  Jesus doesn’t rebuke John.  Nor does Jesus give some simplified answer such as “you just have to have faith” like so many do today.3  Instead, he responds by pointing to his deeds, what they have heard and seen, ultimately letting John put the pieces together.

And as I hope to present, Jesus’ deeds that he answers with are hardly arbitrary.  They fulfill the messianic expectation, the hope, that the Scriptures foretold in numerous ways.  But in order to demonstrate that, we may need to get to know our Old Testament a little bit better.  Hopefully the next few posts will help with that.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (189). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  3. These same people will often not be able to give an appropriate definition for said faith.  I firmly believe that answers like this should be avoided entirely.  They do nothing more than evade the issues that are being brought up.
Mar 262013
 
This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Why Christians Should Celebrate Passover

The answers to why Christians choose to celebrate or observe Passover are certainly many and varied.  But once it’s stated that the celebration should be done, the reasons become much more focused.  In the first part of this discussion I undertook the biblical relevancy of celebrating Passover, along with the demonstration that the early church was indeed participating in a Seder of some form.  In this final post, I will respond to some of the common objections to observing Passover and show that doing so can, and should be, an expression of worship.

Answering The Objections

Just as the reasons to celebrate are many, so are the reasons given not to.  But one common element that can be said for most of the objections is the discussion of legalism.  As I mentioned in Part 1, legalism is largely understood as the use of the law (the Torah, or the 10 commandments) as a means to obtain and retain salvation.1  There is always going to be a fine line between what we do and why we do it.  Legalism, most certainly, is a matter of the heart.  It is presumptive to suggest that every time we refrain from telling a lie when we really want to tell a lie, that we don’t because we are afraid it will somehow change the status of our justification.  In the same sense, it is presumptive to suggest that the annual observance of Passover is in any case done for the same reason.  Because the answer to the objections that pertain to legalism may largely be discussed overall in this post, I will be addressing the objections that are a bit more complex.

Everything The Passover Pointed To Has Been Fulfilled

The argument is typically that because everything the Passover pointed to has been fulfilled, there is no need to observe Passover.  There are two primary issues found with this objection, first, that the observance of Passover was done because it pointed toward a future fulfillment, and second, that even if the first were true, there should be no memorial observance.  As we’ll see, both of these items hinge on what the Passover was originally given as and what Christ’s fulfillment subsequently provided.

There is no doubt that Christ fulfilled the Passover but to suggest that its observance was done to look forward to the accomplishment of Christ is a bit misguided.  The institution of the Passover holy week was given to the Israelites in Exodus 12 and Exodus 12:14 specifically states:

14 “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.2

Since, in its very command, it is explained that it is a memorial, why would we suggest that its ancient observation had anything to do with what it pointed toward?  Of course this has nothing to do with the fact that the Passover ultimately finds its fulfillment in the crucifixion of Christ as our Passover Lamb but the instructions specifically state that it is a memorial and its keeping is as a feast to the LORD.  The Hebrew for “memorial day” in this verse is zikkaron (זִכָּרֹון) and signifies a time of remembrance.  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes that the subject of the verb is often “internal mental acts”.  It states:

Most examples of the Qal of zākar refer to inner mental acts, either with or without reference to concomitant external acts. Examples of internal mental acts are the Jews’ recollection of Jerusalem (Ps 137:1) and their remembrance that they had been slaves (Deut 5:15).3

And so we can determine that the Passover was, for the ancient Israelite, to be a time of internal reflection and a celebration, or feast to the LORD.  But the passage in Exodus further continues, in Exodus 12:24-27:

24 You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. 25 And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’ ” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.

In verse 24 we read that the observance of Passover is as a statute, that is a custom or ordinance.  It is an act of service to God and is to be taught to the children of Israel forever.  There is no indication at this time that its observation was to look forward to Christ’s fulfillment.  To the contrary, it was observed in remembrance of the event that freed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and an opportunity to teach their children about God.  Because of this, we can see that the objection to celebrating Passover “because everything it pointed to was fulfilled” is ultimately flawed due to its presuppositions.

The Seder Has Been Shaped By Times And Circumstance

This objection largely claims that because the Seder has probably changed between the time of Christ and the earliest haggadah4 in existence it would be impossible to know for sure what the Passover feast and order of events were that Christ and His disciples observed.  The claim is indeed true.  There is roughly 1,000 years between the Passover observed by Christ and His disciples and our earliest copies of a written Haggadah.5  The problem with this objection is in what it presumes.  First, it presumes that there was no liberty with the observance of the Passover and second, it presumes that what was being observed as recorded by the Gospels and other extra-biblical writings can’t be pieced together.

In addressing the second issue, the truth of the matter is that we can piece much of the evening together and have done so.6  Using the four Gospels in the new Testament and how they record the events leading up to the crucifixion along with what we know of the observance of Passover in the 2nd temple period and the earliest references to the Seder we can put together an order that isn’t incredibly different from what most observe today.

Of course, times and circumstance have certainly played a role in the various customs of the Seder and it would be impossible to know everything that is observed today that wasn’t observed 2,000 years ago.  It may be claimed that because we don’t have the order written down precisely, we shouldn’t attempt to reconcile it.  But this idea presumes that families in the 2nd temple period had copies of the order of events like we do today and that presumption is unlikely.  The truth of the matter is that the information that the Torah gives along with the oral tradition of what was developed would have been more than enough for families to shape their festivities in a format that went along with the legal and religious customs while allowing for their own traditions.  That leads to the first issue with this objection, the idea that there was no liberty with the observance of the Passover.

The idea that there would be no liberty for family traditions in the observance of Passover is itself flawed.  While there were indeed legal items that had to be followed, they could not encompass the entire night let alone the week long events.  Just as today, it is quite reasonable to conclude that families would have come up with many traditions that were unique for themselves.  The observance of Passover, or any feast for that matter, was never meant to be a burden for the Israelites.  They were celebrations that commemorated events in their history.  Passover was, and is, looked forward to by the Jewish people just as Christians look forward to Christmas or Easter which themselves are used to commemorate events in the history of our faith.

So, in order to properly observe Passover must we know exactly what Christ and His disciples did?  The answer is “certainly not.”  The Torah, along with the Gospels, provides some basic information of what Christ and His disciples observed.  When put together with some extra-biblical data, the night, and week for that matter, can be given a basic outline for the Christian to participate in along with the liberty to introduce some of their own traditions for the family to follow.

We Don’t Need Another Sacrifice

Indeed, we don’t.  But in the framing of this objection it is presumed that the celebration of Passover is to offer another sacrifice other than the one true sacrifice offered by Christ.  And this is where the issue becomes thorny.  The Christian church participates in the Eucharist or what most protestant evangelicals call Communion or the Last Supper.  This comes from Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24 and Luke 22:17-19 where Jesus breaks the bread and pours the wine at the Last Supper and tells the disciples to do this in remembrance of Him.  But just what is this that he’s referring to?

Well, what this is in Luke 22:19 is the Passover feast.  As Jesus says in Luke 22:15, just a few verses earlier:

15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”[Emphasis mine.]

Incidentally, this is also specified in Matthew 26:17-19 and Mark 14:16.  It is of my opinion that Jesus was not creating anything new for His disciples to participate in.  Communion as we know it may not have been a regular practice until the 4th century AD.7  In fact, there is strong reason to believe that what Paul was responding to in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 was the participation of Passover in an irreverent and haphazard manner and not communion as is so often discussed.

Rather, what Jesus was declaring in these passages when He instructs His disciples to “do this in remembrance of me” is a new focus for our “inner mental acts,” our remembrance, our memorial.  It is to be about Him, His sacrifice, His completed work on our behalf.  It is as though He were telling His disciples that their observance of Passover was previously in remembrance of their freedom from Egyptian slavery, but now the observance of Passover is the celebration of His accomplishment, His fulfillment of what Passover was, in a concealed manner, looking forward to!  And it is from this understanding that the parallels are brought into focus.

Once the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, but they were freed by God so that they could come into the land that God had given them and worship Him just as Exodus 12:24-27 states.  So once were we, as unbelievers, slaves to sin, but as Christians, freed by God and His incredible sacrifice on our behalf so that we too could come into right standing with God and worship Him.

Christians Should Celebrate Passover

And all of that brings us back to the third and most important reason Christians should celebrate Passover and that is this: it is an expression of worship.  To participate in the prescriptions that have largely been put into practice for some 3,500 years, instituted by God Himself, and given ultimate focus for us by Jesus Christ on the night of His betrayal could be nothing more and should be nothing less than an expression of worship to Him.  Exodus 12:28 reads in part “And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.”

Is it any wonder that when Moses and Aaron gathered the elders of Israel to tell them what was about to take place that the peoples response was worship?  Exodus 4:31 reads:

31 And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped. [Emphasis mine.]

As the New American Commentary on Exodus notes, bowing and worshiping says “I submit, I agree, I cooperate.”8  Participation in the observance of Passover is more than just an opportunity to learn about what happened on the night of Christ’s crucifixion.  It’s more than simply getting together with friends for an order of service and a meal.  As good and worthwhile as those things are, it is, rather, a way prescribed by God to say “I submit, I agree, I cooperate.”  And that is precisely what Jesus commanded of us, to do this in remembrance of Him.  He is now our focus for worship at Passover.  His accomplishment.  His work on our behalf.

In modern Christianity we have managed to put our worship into a box.  We have largely confined it to going to church on Sunday morning and spending a few minutes singing songs together.  And there is nothing inherently wrong with that, but I think we’ve managed to limit what worship is about.  We’ve fooled ourselves into worship being largely about us, even though we would rarely ever admit this.  But God didn’t necessarily allow the Israelites to determine how they would worship Him.  Instead, He gave them very specific instructions that they were to follow, instructions that permeated every facet of their lives.  In Christianity we have largely brushed them aside.

But with the action of brushing aside much of the prescriptions God gave to the Israelite community is the idea that these commands were simply arbitrary, that there was no other reason to follow them than simply the fact that God commanded it and since we’re free in Christ, any attempt to is to burden yourself with the law.  I think this is a naive and shallow view.  Do we really think that God had no reason to give the Israelites instructions on what to eat other than to burden them with His commands?  Is there any possibility that maybe God actually knew what food was good for them and what wasn’t, and that the act of obeying such commands was a form of worship, a demonstration of trust?

Legalism is indeed an item that needs to be kept in check in the Christian life.  That issue should not be minimized.  God cannot be bought.  We have been set free and as Hebrews 4:16 states, we can come boldly to the throne of grace.  What is grace but unmerited favor?  Therefore it is unreasonable to do anything in thinking that it somehow merits our salvation or makes us holier another.  And just as we don’t keep from telling lies in order to gain the blessings of God, the same should be true for the observance of a feast.  Rather, we do it because His ways are perfect and our obedience is an expression of worship.  A way of saying “I submit, I agree, I cooperate.”

In the Seder there is fellowship.  There is Scripture, prayer, song and the breaking of bread.  We can literally “taste and see that the LORD is good!”9 and it’s because of all of this that I think every Christian should celebrate Passover.

Conclusion

In these two posts I have submitted what I think are 3 primary reasons for why Christians should celebrate Passover.  They are biblical relevance, the leading of the early church and the expression of worship.  I have also worked to correct some of the problems that underlie the objections that come about regarding Passover observance.

  1. For a great discussion on legalism, see What Is Legalism? on CARM.
  2. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  3. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 1999 (R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (241). Chicago: Moody Press.
  4. Haggadah is the Hebrew word for “telling” and typically refers to the liturgical texts that are used for the order of the Passover Seder.
  5. See the Haggadah entry at the Jewish Encyclopedia site.
  6. Since this discussion is not about what the Seder entails, I won’t address it here.  There are many sites that do this in a much better way than I could.  For how the night of the Last Supper has been reconstructed, please see the article Passover And Last Supper by Robin Routledge.
  7. I am basing this on the writings of Theodoret of Cyrus, which was discussed in Part 1.
  8. Stuart, D. K. (2006). Vol. 2: Exodus. The New American Commentary (290). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  9. Psalm 34:8
Mar 192013
 
This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Why Christians Should Celebrate Passover

In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest for Christians to celebrate Passover and participate in a Passover Seder.  This has naturally caused a lot of questions and confusion over the what, why’s and how’s that come along with the observance of particular rituals and services in Christianity.  The reasons for this are numerous and any attempt to discuss them will leave many items out but I thought it would be a worthwhile endeavor to present my own case in a short, two part series, for why Christians should celebrate Passover and respond to some of the criticisms against it.

Fear Of Legalism

Because Christianity itself is, most simply, trust in a message system, it spans across all cultural, geographical, ethnic and generational boundaries.  That being said, we tend to bring with us cultural, geographical, ethnic and generational baggage.  Questions will always abound as to whether something is permissible because that something may very well be questionable when broached by others with quite different perspectives that have been formed by the places and times we’ve grown up in, among other things.  At the same time, that something may otherwise be what we might consider morally neutral as far as Scripture is concerned.  Even so, that doesn’t mean it is necessarily a good or bad for all people in all areas throughout all human history.

But what about when that something is specifically prescribed in Scripture, commanded by God even, but has centered itself around a specific people group?  Because Christianity has severed ties with Judaism in certain ways,1 when it comes to something like celebrating Passover, particularly by participating in a Seder, the argument will almost always center around the question of legalism.  Legalism is largely understood as the use of the law (the Torah, or the 10 commandments) as a means to obtain and retain salvation.2

Certainly, the concern over legalism is a valid one in regards to anything we do.  As Paul writes in Galatians 2:21 “… if righteousness were [obtained] through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”3  Of course any idea of obtaining salvation through means of some form of works, prescribed or not, is entirely counter to most Protestant or Evangelical teaching.  After all, Christ died in order to complete the work, that is, pay the price, that we never will be able to pay.  The moment you add something to that completed work, you are taking something away from it.  It is as good as saying it’s not enough.

But the discussion of legalism itself presumes something that largely never gets addressed, namely the why of celebrating Passover to begin with.  It presumes the answer to the question of why is to obtain some sort of merit and subsequently, that desire takes us back under the burden of the law; something that Christ freed us from.

Of course, if that was an answer to the why question then the argument of legalism would certainly be valid but I surmise this would be in the extreme minority of reasons.  In truth, there are numerous reasons why Christians should celebrate Passover but I think we can focus on three reasons as primary, they are biblical relevancy, the roots of the early church and finally worship.

Biblical Relevance

Asking the question “Is celebrating Passover biblical?” almost sounds silly since the story of Passover, the history of Passover, the celebration of Passover and the commands about Passover come directly from the Bible.  If it were not for the narrative of Scripture, there would be no Passover to speak of.

Furthermore, just what is it about Passover that Jesus fulfilled?  Why was Jesus crucified on Passover?  Where does communion come from?  What do we refer to when we speak of the ‘Lord’s supper?’  Again, without Scripture there would be no answers to these questions, but there are answers to these questions and they are all answers pertaining to the celebration of Passover.

And when we think in terms of biblical relevance, what then should be thought regarding Easter?  Easter is nowhere to be found in Scripture, not the celebration of it, the discussion of it, the narrative of it or even the thought of Easter is seen anywhere in Scripture.4  Rather, what you do see is the very denunciation of its pagan sources which have basically been adopted by Christianity and given Christian meaning.  While I don’t believe there is anything necessarily wrong with celebrating Easter as a placeholder for the resurrection of Christ for the reasons I mentioned above, when it comes to biblical relevance there is simply no comparison.

The question of biblical relevance leads to the question of whether or not the celebration of Passover is forbidden in Scripture.  I believe it would be very hard to make a biblical case against celebrating any of the seven feasts of the Lord.  There is simply no command, even to be implied, that anyone was to cease celebrating the feasts.  To the contrary, the New Testament actually encourages us to keep Passover.  1 Corinthians 5:6-8 reads:

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Some may be inclined to claim that Paul was only speaking in some spiritual sense but I have simply not heard any decent arguments to demonstrate that that’s all Paul had in mind.  Rather, I believe Paul is intending this to be interpreted in a very literal manner while giving it’s spiritual implications.  There are a few reasons for this.  The first is the idiom of cleansing out the old leaven.

Searching For Chametz

Throughout most of Scripture, leaven is a picture of sin.  Even here, in verse 8, Paul compares “old leaven” to malice and evil and “unleavened bread” to sincerity and truth.  Further, in Galatians 5:9, Paul likens leaven to the hindering persuasion that was keeping the Galatians from obeying the truth.  Jesus likewise, in Matthew 16:11-12, warned his disciples to “beware the leaven of the Pharisees.”  Verse 12 specifically addresses the fact that Jesus was speaking figuratively; the leaven was a symbol of their false teaching.

Bioor Hametz, the burning of leavened bread

After searching for leavened bread, according to Jewish tradition, one must burn it so there will be nothing left for the whole holiday of Pessach.

God commands the Israelites in Exodus 12:15 to remove all leaven from their homes on the first day of the seven day feast of unleavened bread.  Customs have come about from this, much like a game the families would play, in the days leading up to Passover.  In “the searching for chametz,” Mom typically hides 10 pieces of leavened dough around the house and Dad subsequently leads the children to find the leaven with a candle, a feather and a wooden spoon.  Once all the leavened pieces have been found, they are swept up into the spoon with the feather and wrapped in a white linen cloth.  The leaven is later burned in a ceremony called “the burning of chametz.”  Today this ceremony often takes place by means of a community bonfire.5

In John 2:13-15, Jesus cleanses the temple after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem just as the Passover week is about to begin.  He marches into the courtyard, fashions a whip and proceeds to drive out the money-changers.  He demands that His Father’s house not be a house of trade.  In fact, in Mark 11:17, Jesus says His Father’s house had been made into a den of robbers.  Jesus was getting the leaven out of His Father’s house.  Is it any wonder that Jesus was later nailed to a wooden cross and subsequently wrapped in white linen garments?  Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that Jesus, who “knew no sin” was “made sin” for us.  This should start to sound familiar.

Of course, we cannot say with certainty that Paul has all of this in mind in 1 Corinthians 5:7 but we have to remember that Paul is using Jewish idioms in his writing to a gentile community of believers.  In my view, it makes the most sense to me that they, at the very least, knew well of these ceremonies, if they weren’t participating in them already.

The second reason I believe Paul is writing of Passover in a literal manner is that Paul calls Christ “our Passover Lamb” who “has been sacrificed” and uses that as the reason to “celebrate the festival” with “the unleavened bread…”  Again, these are symbols of Passover being spoken of in a very literal manner to gentile Christians.

Other Direct References

Finally, in Acts 20:6 Luke writes that Paul and his companions waited to sail to Troas until after the feast of Passover which he was celebrating with the Philippians.  The Philippians are thought to be mostly gentile converts6 and so again, we have good reason to believe that the apostolic church was celebrating Passover.  But it doesn’t stop with Passover.  In Acts 20:16, Paul is hastening to get to Jerusalem in time for Pentacost and in 1 Corinthians 16:8 Paul explains that he intends to stay in Ephesus until Pentacost.

Apart from the biblical, we also have extra-biblical material that suggests the early church was indeed celebrating the feasts.  The Epistle of the Apostles (Epistula Apostolorum) from the 2nd century discusses the need to keep the Passover, calling it the agape (love) feast, even though Christ had fulfilled it.  Theodoret of Cyrus, from the 5th century, discusses that even Emperor Constantine had a problem with the thought of believers keeping Passover multiple times a year.7  It is clear that the early church kept the feasts, likely having been taught by the disciples themselves.  This went on for some time, but eventually the gentile influences probably drowned out the Jewish roots of the faith.

Conclusion

Celebrating Passover is indeed a biblically relevant practice, one that was probably utilized by the early church for several hundred years.  That should inform us enough that there is nothing wrong with celebrating Passover and that it should be encouraged.  Nevertheless, there will always be detractors.  In the next post I’ll take a look at common objections and finally demonstrate that the Passover Seder is worship that should not be deterred.

  1. I use this idea somewhat loosely.  Judaism today is not the Judaism of the 1st century or the Judaism outlined in the Torah; How can it be when there is no temple, no priesthood and no sacrificial system? In that sense Judaism was forced to sever ties with it’s concrete structure at the same time Christianity was birthed.
  2. For a great discussion on legalism, see What Is Legalism? on CARM.
  3. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  4. Due to the poor translation choice of “Easter” in Acts 12:4, those who hold to KJVO might be inclined to object but the Greek word is pascha (πάσχα) which comes from the Aramaic pesach (פסחא) which is essentially the same as the Hebrew pesach (פסח), the very word used in Exodus 12:11.  It’s usage often encompasses the entire Passover week-long celebration.
  5. See the following links for more information: Leaven – Jewish Encyclopedia, Preparing for Passover, Passover – History & Overview
  6. Freed, Edwin D. (2005). The Apostle Paul And His Letters. London, UK: Equinox Publishing.
  7. Theodoret of Cyrus. (1892). The Ecclesiastical History of Theodoret (B. Jackson, Trans.). In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume III: Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius, Rufinus: Historial Writings, etc. (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Ed.) (48). New York: Christian Literature Company.
Mar 122013
 
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Innate Knowledge In Romans 1:18-23

This series of posts is intended to be a progression from The Johannine Logos which deals with the Christian God as the necessary precondition to epistemology and will naturally presume much of that content. Those posts are linked here so that they may be referenced as needed.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
– Jeremiah 9:23-24 (ESV)

This series of posts has looked at man’s innate knowledge of God as laid out in Romans 1:18-23 in that man was created in God’s image, as God’s image-bearers and with the light referred to in John 1:9 that gives every man the ability to interact with the world in which he lives.  But man continually works hard to hold down that sense of Deity, to suppress it in a manner that denies the Creator and subsequently leads to the wrath of God revealed.  It is this revelation of God’s wrath that takes us back around to Romans 1:18, the same verse with which this series began.  But before looking at the revealing of God’s wrath, we should look at the revealing of God’s righteousness and for that, we need to go a little further back, particularly Romans 1:16-17.

The Righteousness Of God Revealed

Romans 1:16-17 reads:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”1

When Paul says that he is “not ashamed of the gospel” he essentially lists two reasons for why he is not ashamed, the first, that it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe it and the second that it reveals the righteousness of God.  But how is it that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God?

There are certainly numerous views as to exactly how the gospel reveals the righteousness of God but for sake of this post I want to look at the aspect that was raised in Part 2 of this series.  In that post I discussed the relationship to God that every human being has, that it is a position of right-standing with God.  In this sense the gospel reveals the righteousness of God for those who believe by changing the recipients status of righteousness.  Mounce clearly notes that “[t]he result is that people of faith are declared to be righteous.”2  Of course, this is through no work of our own.  One of man’s greatest problems is that he insists on becoming righteous by his own means.

Contrast Christianity with every other system of thought and you will find that every other system of thought has at least one thing in common that Christianity does not.  It is that non-Christian systems demand that you can do something to merit righteousness.  Christianity, however, insists that this is impossible.  In fact, our standing before God is entirely determined by our faith in Him – it is “by faith for faith” in that our right-standing begins in faith and is subsequently carried out through faith.  We can do nothing but trust in God.  As I wrote in my Salvation page “If our current predicament could be described as our current world and God being separated by a great chasm, the thinking of our current world desires a way to get to God on our own, that is, we as humanity must find a way to bridge the chasm.  Christianity, on the other hand says that only God can bridge that chasm and provide a way to Him.”

But if we can only be declared righteous through trust in the gospel then without that trust we are by definition unrighteous.

The Wrath Of God Revealed

And about this unrighteousness Paul writes in Romans 1:18:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

It is in this unrighteousness that the pagan man suppresses the plain innate knowledge of God and it is against this unrighteousness that the wrath of God is revealed.  The contrast between the righteousness of God being revealed from the gospel and the wrath of God being revealed from heaven needs to be stressed.  Man is subject to God’s wrath which is a direct result of man’s unrighteousness, that is to say, God’s wrath is revealed because man has suppressed his own nature that was given him by God.

The importance of God’s wrath in a discussion of the righteousness of God being revealed cannot be overemphasized.  If God is righteous3 then by nature He cannot let sin go unpunished or simply tolerate any acts of wickedness.  Any judge who does such things is considered a crooked judge.  The JFB commentary defines the wrath of God as “righteous vengeance against sin.”4  The first part of Proverbs 11:21 reads “Be assured, an evil person will not go unpunished”.

All of that being said, Jesus commands us to preach the Gospel!5  Why?  Because the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God.  The Gospel is what allows a person to be in right-standing with their Creator again.  That man would go so far as to suppress the truth they’ve been given, God goes farther to reveal His righteousness again.  In Romans 10:4 Paul asks:

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

Think about that.  Mankind, left to his own devices will do nothing but suppress the truth of God.  Surely, how can anyone call on the name of the Lord if they have suppressed their innate sense of Him?  It follows they must be told, but if they are never told, then how can they hear?  The answer is that Christ crucified must be preached.  God has provided a way in which man may be declared righteous and it is up to us to preach it to those who are perishing.  Think of what 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  That “power of God” leads us right back to Romans 1:16 and the first reason Paul gives for not being ashamed of the gospel.  As the second half of Proverbs 11:21 reads “but the offspring of the righteous will be delivered.”

Conclusion

Mankind was created with an innate knowledge of God.  We were made in God’s image, as God’s image-bearers.  But mankind has suppressed, that is held down or imprisoned that innate knowledge in order to go his own way.  Even the creation testifies to the Creator, but man has chosen to deny this and instead go so far as to worship the creation itself.  Therefore our position to God is one that is an object of wrath.

But as 2 Peter 3:9 says God is not willing that any should perish and has chosen to reveal His righteousness through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is, though we are objects of God’s wrath, we can be declared righteous by faith in the message of the cross.  But because mankind is suppressing the truth, this message must be preached.  This is why Paul says he is not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for all who believe.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. Mounce, R. H. (1995). Vol. 27: Romans. The New American Commentary (73). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  3. Righteousness may be thought of as just, as we would think of a just judge.
  4. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Ro 1:18). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  5. See Mark 16:15
Mar 052013
 
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Innate Knowledge In Romans 1:18-23

This series of posts is intended to be a progression from The Johannine Logos which deals with the Christian God as the necessary precondition to epistemology and will naturally presume much of that content. Those posts are linked here so that they may be referenced as needed.

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
– 1 Corinthians 3:20 (ESV)

One of the primary examples the Bible uses to describe a fool comes from Psalms 14:1 which says that “the fool says in his heart there is no God.”  While this comes as a surprise to many, it really shouldn’t.  As I’ve shown in the previous posts of this series, we are given an innate knowledge of God and to deny this goes against the natural order.  Even by man’s own wisdom we would consider anyone denying the natural order of the world a fool so if an innate knowledge of God is a part of the natural order, then it follows that a denial of such is foolishness.  Scripture goes on further to note that that which is wisdom in the worlds eyes is foolishness as far as God is concerned, but that which is foolishness to the world, particularly the Gospel, is the power of God.1  We can see this thought taking shape in Romans 1:21-23 which reads:

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.2

Many of the most popular English translations have done much to water down not just the message of Scripture as a whole but even specific words that are utilized in the original Greek and Hebrew.  One such word is moros (μωρός) which is the word used here in Romans 1:22 for fool.  The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament lists “stupid”3 as a suitable rendering for moros and the Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon explains it as “nonsense, thoughts devoid of understanding”4 but what few tell us is that moros is actually the Greek word from which we get the English word moron.5

A Moron By Any Other Name

Vincent Cheung notes that “[a] moron by any other name is still an idiot, and there is really no reason to use other words and expressions unless it is to hide our true meaning and to reduce the offensiveness of the biblical message.”6  I agree and I don’t think we should be willing to compromise what the Scriptures say.  This is important for numerous reasons but for the sake of the topics being dealt with in these posts the problem isn’t that the unbeliever, in particular the atheist, needs more information but that the unbeliever has made the subsequent choices that has rendered his intellect inept.  In other words, his mind is broken.  This can be seen much clearer in Romans 1:22 when we translate it as “claiming to be wise, they became morons” and we are perfectly justified in doing so.

The exasperation in trying to discuss any of life’s tough questions with the atheist is due to the completely polar starting point.  In the case of the atheist the starting point “there is a God” is broken.  This is what the Scripture says and the sooner we are able to recognize that the easier our discussions with our non-Christian friends will become.  This doesn’t mean we adopt their starting point for sake of argument, but rather, we reduce their worldview to the absurdity that it is and only after it has been destroyed are we able to start putting it together in a proper fashion.

For example, when someone wants to bring about a moral accusation against the Bible, such as the typical but misguided “the Bible condones genocide”, the Christian usually wants to run to the Bible’s defense and explain in a rational manner why certain things in Scripture had to come about.  While this is perfectly acceptable and fruitful to learn about, it really is meaningless for the unbeliever.  Rather, the Christian needs to turn it around on his accuser.  He must demand a standard by which the non-Christian is bringing about the accusation to begin with.  The atheist is in a predicament; he is making a moral judgement without a standard to judge by.  Unless the accuser can show the ultimate and objective moral standard by which he is accusing Scripture, there is no reason to bother answering his accusation because the accusation itself is nonsense.  What business does anyone have claiming that someone’s moral values are wrong unless he subscribes to objective moral values?  In this instance the non-Christians accusation is as misguided as claiming that Drew Driver didn’t stop properly at a stop sign while denying that there is a proper way to stop at a stop sign.

Futile Thinking

And it is in this same manner that Paul states the pagan man has become “futile in his thinking.”  If we know God, then we are obligated to honor Him as God and give thanks to him for not only is it that we live and move through Him7 but also that He has graciously provided everything we need.8  By ignoring, or suppressing this knowledge, the pagan man is forced to come up with his own version of reality, one by which he ends up worshiping the creation instead of the Creator!  Worshiping the creation is nothing more than idolatry, no matter how the act itself eludes the atheist.  Incredibly, Paul is able to describe the modern day Epicurean with startling accuracy, indicative of the fact that even with all of the supposed knowledge modern man has, nothing has really changed in 2,000 years.

The idea of becoming futile in thinking is one that needs to be stressed.  First, the word thinking (διαλογισμός) is one that denotes deliberation, reckoning, rational thought.9  Being able to correctly perceive anything requires the capability of proper reasoning.  John 1:9 states that the Wisdom of God gave light to all man and from Genesis 1:27 we know that we were created in the image of God.  It is this light, I believe, that gives us the capability to reason or make use our senses effectively at all.  Without the light, nonsense results since we have no means by which to determine and correctly use input from sight or sound or touch if we are relegated to the senses alone.

Second, the word futile (ματαιόω) connotes worthlessness in that it serves no purpose, things are simply done in vain.  Paul is quite literally speaking of worthless rationality.  But notice that they became, that is they have fallen into futile thinking.  In other words, this worthless rationality was never the way it was supposed to be but rather, a direct result of the failure to give honor and thanks to the Creator God.  Mankind was made in the image of God and the Wisdom of God gave light to every man.  Part of that light was an innate knowledge of God but man suppressed that knowledge, refused to give thanks or honor to their Creator and subsequently became futile in their reasoning faculties as a result.10

Conclusion

Futile thinking is a direct result of the suppression of the innate knowledge of God in Romans 1:18-23.  Because the starting point necessary for a proper understanding of reality is wrong, the pagan man’s intellect is basically broken.  He is forced to come up with his own version of reality leading ultimately to the worship of creation rather than Creator.  All of this comes right back around to Romans 1:18 where, because of all of this, the wrath of God is being revealed.  The final post for this series will discuss the revelation of God’s wrath.

  1. See 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
  2. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  3. Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990-). Vol. 2: Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament (450). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
  4. Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  5. HELPS Word Studies copyright © 1987, 2011 by Helps Ministries, Inc., Entry available here.
  6. Cheung, V. (2005). A Moron By Any Other Name. Boston, MA. www.vincentcheung.com
  7. Acts 17:28; also see Part 2 of this series.
  8. See Matthew 5:45 and Acts 14:17.
  9. Vol. 2: Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (96). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  10. Much more could be said of the contrast between light and darkness, wisdom and foolishness in Romans 1:21 leading even further into the discussions of John 1:9 but for sake of brevity I would recommend The Johannine Logos series, particularly Part 4.