Saturday, April 23, 2011

Resurrection Sunday 2011

Resurrection Sunday is not about what Jesus can do for you or your broken dreams, but it is about what Jesus did for you. Romans 4:24-25 says, " who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification." This is what Jesus' death and resurrection accomplished for Christians. There are a number of pastors out there that will not be teaching this tomorrow. Instead they will be teaching about a phony Jesus whose death and resurrection has only temporal benefits. They teach this sort of resurrection message because they are not interested in teaching the sheep, but attracting goats (Matthew 25:32). The reason is simple, too many pastors are concerned about having "mega-churches" and million dollar budgets. They fixate on "five-star" amenities, not to benefit the sheep, but to make the goats comfortable. The problem with this is that it is unscriptural. One of the marks of a healthy church is not the amenities, but the teaching.

Too many of these pastors that are fixated with numbers (attenders & finances) do not preach the Gospel. Instead they preach about how the problems (they don't preach about sin) in their lives are the fault of others who damaged them emotionally, or the fault of the white man. The Bible teaches, however, that the main problem with humanity is that it is radically fallen into sin. Paul, in Romans 3:9-20, clearly states the facts regarding humanity's internal malady and the symptoms that this malady manifests. Paul concludes this chapter by stating in verse 19, that all the sins he listed in the previous nine verses were manifestations of humanity's lawlessness which shuts their mouths, and for which they will be held accountable to God.

This message is not palatable to the unregenerate. They prefer to blame the evil they do on damaged emotions, poor environment, lack of education or something else. The problem with this blame shifting is that it makes no difference if a person has damaged emotions, a poor environment or is uneducated because we see example after example of people coming from good environments, with ample education, and with healthy emotions doing horrible things. The problem is not rotted in these issues, but instead rooted in the fact that humanity is radically fallen into sin.

Humanity's sinfulness is described in a number of Bible verses. Genesis 6:5 states that humanity's wickedness was great and that every intention of humanity's thoughts was only evil continually. You may say that this verse describes pre-Flood humanity, and does not apply to us after the Flood. I simply point you to Genesis 8:21 which says that the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the human heart, the seat of reason in Hebrew thought, "is deceitful above all things and desperately sick".

Humanity's sinfulness is so insidious that it even infects our good works. Isaiah 64:6 states that our righteousness is like filthy rags to God. The reason why God sees them as filthy is that humanity uses its good works to justify itself before God. In other words, because I have done A, B & C good works, then God will over look X, Y & Z sins. The problem is that God does not weigh our sin against our good works. God is a holy God and as such He cannot overlook sin. He must deal with it in a manner that reflects His holiness. Therefore, He gave laws in the Old Testament and repeated them in the New Testament and demanded that this law be kept in deed, word and thought. In other words, the law must be kept with 100% accuracy, 100% of the time. Anything less than that is sin. God must punish sin, and He will do so by assigning all those that sin to eternity apart from Him. This is God's justice. Everyone of us has sinned, and therefore everyone of us deserves eternity apart the God who created us and demands that we worship Him.

This is the bad news. It is the black velvet. It is where every presentation of the resurrection needs to begin. It is because of our sin that God in his omniscience predestined that He would send His Son to die the death we should have died after living the life we would not live. This is the ultimate manifestation of God's love, mercy and grace. This is the diamond that is placed on the black velvet background of our sinfulness. That blackness enhances the beauty of the diamond. It makes the diamond shine brighter as it reflects God's love, mercy & grace. Jesus' death of the Roman cross, while ugly and sinful, was the manner in which we could have our sin blotted out.

The redemption story does not end there. Three days after Jesus' death He resurrected from the dead. The resurrection according to Paul was for our justification. In other words, it is the resurrection of Jesus that makes us truly righteous before God. Jesus' resurrection is the seal of approval that God placed on Jesus' death.

OK, so what? What does all of this mean now? Simply, God has provided a way out of your sin, and the subsequent eternal damnation you justly deserve. All you need to do is repent and believe. Now you have heard the real message of Easter, repent and believe in the only person who claimed to be God and proved this claim by raising from the dead. Are you willing to repent and believe?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bible Abuse - Introduction

I have been thinking about doing this series for quite a while, and had begun doing research and outlining. I wanted to start this after I finished the Resurrection series. My laptop crashed, however, and with it all my notes on the resurrection. Yes, I know I should have backed up the files, but I didn't. So why I go back and get my research for the Resurrection series I have decided to start this new series entitled Bible Abuse.

In this new series we will be looking at various Bible verses that the cults, non-Christians and Christians use in a manner that does violence to the Scriptures. What this series will do is teach you good principles of hermeneutics by showing you how bad hermeneutics is done. It is important to understand that most misinterpretations of the Bible can be remedied by "never reading a Bible verse." I got this principle from Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason. I will be pointing this out to you as we go through the various verses when it is applicable. There are, however, other problematic issues that so many people apply to their method of Bible hermeneutics that cause faulty interpretations to surface, and we will identify them as we progress.

Before I begin, I want to define what hermeneutics is. It is both the art and science of interpreting the Bible. Hermeneutics is also something that we do everyday with all the information we read and process, from newspaper reports, to op-ed and editorial articles, to biographical works, to fiction, to non-fiction, to legal documents, etc. The genre of the literature determines the manner in which we interpret the literature. In other words, we do not interpret a legal document in the same manner as we would a comic book. The same applies to the Bible which contains a number of different genres, such as, poetry, prose, historical narrative, biography, Jewish apocalyptic, etc. The Bible is not one book that is to be interpreted in one literal and wooden manner, but rather is a collection of 66 books that are composed in different literary styles.

Secondly, the Bible was written in languages (Hebrew, Aramaic & Greek) that posses vocabulary and grammar that must be observed and followed in order to be understood. Examples of these grammatical rules are the ellipsis, and the way the writers of the New Testament would emphasize a word in the letter they were writing.

Thirdly, there have been errors in how various translating committees, especially with the King James Version, have rendered various Bible verses from the original languages into English. Because of the esteem that the KJV is held, these errors have not been corrected, though many of the modern English Bible translations have footnotes that indicate that there is a problem with the traditional rendering of a specific text.

Lastly, there has been an insertion of modern or cultural concepts into the hermeneutic style of many Biblical scholars and pastors that were completely foreign to the writers of the Old and New Testaments. An example of this is the attempt by old earth creationists to insert the concept of billions of years into the creative day.

One thing I wish to point out before I begin looking at specific Bible verses is that you, the reader, may get your interpretation of your favorite Bible verse or promise slain. Sometimes Christians, myself included, have faulty interpretations that need to be corrected. It is my prayer that you would be humble and reject faulty interpretation rather than erect an idol of your interpretation of a Bible verse. You are not alone in having faulty Bible interpretations. I have had many. Not just from my days as a Jehovah's Witness, but also from the various faulty interpretations I heard in the various churches I attended.

One last point, I do not think that I have all the answers, nor do I think that I have arrived and my knowledge of the Scriptures is complete. I have much to learn, and perhaps I have made an error in my own hermeneutics that you readers can see and correct me. I am not averse to being corrected. In fact, if I am corrected and I can verify that that I was wrong then I will change my position and post it prominently on this blog, as I have done in the past.

I also want to encourage you to post comments. I post all comments, even anonymous comments. There are one exception to the above rule, I will not post anything with profanity. Please feel free to criticize my posts, however, if you cannot express yourself without using profanity then your post is not worth reading or its author worthy of interaction.

I am looking forward to this new series, and I pray that it will be a benefit to you.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Part Four

Opposing Theories to the Resurrection

In these next few posts I will be looking at some of the opposing theories critics and skeptics use to counter the claim that Jesus actually rose from the dead. In this post, however, we will be looking at whether or not the resurrection was legend. Are the claims of the resurrection legendary embellishments from later Christians? Were the writers of the Gospels actually writing history or a non-historical account of Jesus? Do the claims of resurrections that are found in other religions discredit the claim that Jesus rose from the dead? These are the questions we will be looking at in this post.

The Resurrection “Legend”

Is the resurrection story merely a legendary embellishment that was inserted to the story over time? The problem with this claim is that is discounts the fact that the resurrection account can be traced to the original disciples. While critics and skeptics can accuse the original disciples of lying or hallucinating, they cannot claim that the resurrection was a legend that developed after the time of the disciples. The reason is that the disciples made the claim to the resurrection.

Both Paul and James came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection apart from the testimony of the disciples.

While it is true that embellishments can occur over time with stories, the issue is whether or not embellishments occurred with the resurrection claim of Christianity? Without any supporting evidence of said embellishments this theory is merely an assertion.

Non-Historical Literary Genre

Did the writers of the Gospels write in a literary style to honor their teacher as opposed to actually writing an historical account of a literal resurrection? First, the empty tomb has attestation from outside the New Testament. Second, the skeptic Paul was hostile to Christianity and a Pharisee. As a Pharisee, Paul would have been familiar with Jewish fable, and he would not have been persuaded by what he would have rightly as a feeble attempt by Christians at Jewish Midrash, nor would he follow someone he considered a false Messiah (thereby placing his own soul in jeopardy). The same issues are true with James. According to Hegesippus (as quoted by Eusebius) James remained pious towards the Jewish Law even after becoming a Christian. It would then be extremely unlikely that he would convert over a mere story he would have considered fiction, change his worldview, follow a false Messiah who was cursed by God (since Jesus was crucified), and jeopardize his soul.

We concede that the fable genre existed, we also know that historical genre existed. Merely pointing out that mythical accounts exist does nothing to demonstrate that the Christian accounts are of the same genre. When one looks at the resurrection accounts it appears that the historical genre is the most likely genre that the authors wanted to write in. For example, in Acts 2:13 David is contrasted with Jesus. In this account David’s body decayed but Jesus’ did not.

It is clear from the responses of the early critics of the church (such as Celsus and the Jewish leaders) that the primitive church believed in the resurrection of Jesus as an historical event. The responses of these critics present arguments against the view of a literal and bodily resurrection. Why argue against a literal and bodily resurrection if such was not claimed?

Resurrections in Other Religions

The accounts of rising gods in other religions are vague and unclear. Scholars do not regard these stories as parallels since the details of the accounts are vague and not similar to Jesus’ resurrection. Aesculapius was struck by lightning and ascended to heaven. Baccus and Heracles and a few other sons rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus, having died violent deaths.

The first clear parallel is 100-plus years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. That a resurrection was reported in the earlier accounts of pagan deities is questionable. There is no clear death and resurrection of Marduk. In the earliest versions of Adonis no death or resurrection is reported. There is no clear account of Osirus rising from the dead. Further accounts rising gods in other religions lack evidence and can be easily accounted for by opposing theories. In contrast, there is no opposing theory that can explain away the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

In our next post we will look at another opposing theory, the “fraud” theory.