Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

The Nativity According to John

December 23, 2016

Like Mark, John does not include a narrative of the nativity. Instead, John chooses to go all the way back to the beginning.

 1.In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-4)

“The Word” is the usual translation of the Greek word λογος (logos) but logos means more than just “word” Logos means something like speech or discourse or reason. Hence the word logic is derived from logos, as well as “ology” as in geology or biology. The Stoic philosophers used the word logos to refer to the divine Reason in their pantheistic belief system while the Hellenistic Jews identified logos with the wisdom or spirit of God. John follows the Jewish view by identifying the logos with God. Notice he also identifies light and life with God this is a theme found throughout his gospel and in the first letter of John.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8)

John the Baptist was not the Word. He was only a messenger.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:9-14)

The Word became flesh. But who was the Word or the Son.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:15-18)

The Word made flesh was Jesus Christ. Of the four gospels, John most emphasizes the divine nature of Jesus, even to the  point of omitting incidents that show any weakness on the part of Jesus. John does not mention Jesus’s temptation in the desert by the Devil after being baptized by John the Baptist nor does he show Jesus’s agony at the Garden of Gethsemane. There is no cry of despair from the cross. Jesus is alway shown as being calm and in control of events.

It may be that John wanted to emphasize the divinity of Jesus as a rebuttal to those who either believed that Jesus, while the Messiah was merely human and those who held that Jesus  was born human but had been adopted as the Son at his baptism or at some other time. John states that Jesus has existed since before time began as the eternal Word of God. At the same time, John firmly rejects the other extreme that Jesus did not really have a body made of matter but only seemed to be flesh. This idea was held by many Gnostics who taught that physical matter was an inferior substance to the spiritual realm, created by an inferior, and perhaps evil, deity. Jesus Christ, being a emissary from the higher God could not have a body made of mere flesh. John asserts that the the Word was made flesh and that really did have a body and really did eat and sleep.

It is curious that both these heresies are still found today, clothed in modern garb. Many liberal theologians cannot believe in the divinity of Jesus and insist that he was merely a great moral teacher. There are some Atheists who insist that Jesus never really existed in the physical realm but only as a myth. Maybe there really is nothing new under the Sun.

Tomorrow we celebrate the Word made flesh, the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

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The Nativity According to Luke

December 20, 2016

Here is what Christmas is all about

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke. There are two accounts of Jesus’s birth in the New Testament, the account that Luke gives and the account that Matthew gives. Mark ignores the question of Jesus’s birth entirely, preferring to begin with Jesus’s public ministry while John actually begins his account before the nativity and moves from there to Jesus’ career. Here is Luke’s account.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.(Luke 2:1-21)

There is a considerable amount of skepticism about the census, both on the dating and the procedure. Most skeptics regard it as extremely improbable that the Romans would make people travel here and there to register in their home towns. As a matter of fact that is just how the Romans conducted their censuses.

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery.
But registration meant freedom. A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor’s list as a citizen (manumissio censu).
Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized. Fathers registered their sons, employers their freedmen.
Primarily the census served to count the number of citizens and to assess the potential military strength and future tax revenue. Most important, the census transformed the city into a political and military community.
But the census performed a highly symbolical function. To the Romans the census made them more than a mere crowd, or barbarian rabble. It made them a populus, a people, capable of collective action.
To the Roman the census was one of the foundation stones of their civilization.

As the Roman Empire expanded and citizenship was given out to other cities in Italy and around the Mediterranean, I would imagine that every Roman citizen had to go to his native city to register. Presumably there were lists of citizens kept in major cities and in Rome. Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen at various times in Acts and you might wonder how he was able to prove it. Well, every Roman citizen had a sort of ID or diploma which would have been issued in his city.

But with the steady extension of the citizenship by individual grants to provincials isolated in peregrine communes, and with the informal settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the provincial territories, a more effective means of registration became necessary. Formal documentation of the grant of citizenship to provincial soldiery appears first in 89 B.C., in the shape of a bronze tablet recording the decree of a proconsul enfranchising a unit of Spanish cavalrymen in the Social War, who are all named in a general list. Presumably each soldier received a copy. The cities of persons of higher status enfranchised by Octavian in c. 40 B.C. received a copy of a decree detailing all the privileges of their new status, while his auxiliary veterans could acquire copies of the enabling edict that enfranchised them. But it is only with the regularization of the grant of citizenship to the all time-expired auxiliaries by Claudius that a standardized document appears. This is the small bronze diptych known as the diploma civitatis, containing a brief and uniform formula conferring the Roman citizenship on the holder and his descendants, who is indicated by his name and military unit. These documents were not normally used for civilians, who received instead a copy in libellus form of the brief imperial warrant authorizing the registration of their enfranchisement in the archives at Rome.

Diplomata and libelli provided for new citizens. For the mass of the citizenry, for whom censorial registration at five-yearly intervals was an inefficient instrument, adequate provision was finally made by the creation of an official system of compulsory birth registration under the social legislation of Augustus (A.D. 4)… The Roman citizen was required to register the birth of his children within thirty days before a Roman official, and he received a wooden diptych recording the declaration, which acted as a certificate of citizenship for the child for the rest of his life. Like the military diplomata this contained the names of seven witnesses, and provided a presumptive proof of citizen status… Similarly the enfranchisement of freedmen, which depended upon a formal act, was recorded in a documentary tabella manumissionis. Citizens of diverse origins thus came to have some form of documentary evidence of their status.

Presumably Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census; obviously Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses, but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that in this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. There would have been no need for her to travel. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much.

 

The Nativity According to John

December 24, 2014

Like Mark, John does not include a narrative of the nativity. Instead, John chooses to go all the way back to the beginning.

 1.In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-4)

“The Word” is the usual translation of the Greek word λογος (logos) but logos means more than just “word” Logos means something like speech or discourse or reason. Hence the word logic is derived from logos, as well as “ology” as in geology or biology. The Stoic philosophers used the word logos to refer to the divine Reason in their pantheistic belief system while the Hellenistic Jews identified logos with the wisdom or spirit of God. John follows the Jewish view by identifying the logos with God. Notice he also identifies light and life with God this is a theme found throughout his gospel and in the first letter of John.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8)

John the Baptist was not the Word. He was only a messenger.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:9-14)

The Word became flesh. But who was the Word or the Son.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:15-18)

The Word made flesh was Jesus Christ. Of the four gospels, John most emphasizes the divine nature of Jesus, even to the  point of omitting incidents that show any weakness on the part of Jesus. John does not mention Jesus’s temptation in the desert by the Devil after being baptized by John the Baptist nor does he show Jesus’s agony at the Garden of Gethsemane. There is no cry of despair from the cross. Jesus is alway shown as being calm and in control of events.

It may be that John wanted to emphasize the divinity of Jesus as a rebuttal to those who either believed that Jesus, while the Messiah was merely human and those who held that Jesus  was born human but had been adopted as the Son at his baptism or at some other time. John states that Jesus has existed since before time began as the eternal Word of God. At the same time, John firmly rejects the other extreme that Jesus did not really have a body made of matter but only seemed to be flesh. This idea was held by many Gnostics who taught that physical matter was an inferior substance to the spiritual realm, created by an inferior, and perhaps evil, deity. Jesus Christ, being a emissary from the higher God could not have a body made of mere flesh. John asserts that the the Word was made flesh and that really did have a body and really did eat and sleep.

It is curious that both these heresies are still found today, clothed in modern garb. Many liberal theologians cannot believe in the divinity of Jesus and insist that he was merely a great moral teacher. There are some Atheists who insist that Jesus never really existed in the physical realm but only as a myth. Maybe there really is nothing new under the Sun.

Tomorrow we celebrate the Word made flesh, the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Atheist Christmas Specials

December 20, 2014

I am not sure that this story I read in the Washington Times really counts as part of the War on Christmas while the atheists involved are not trying to stop any one from celebrating the Christmas holiday.

Conservatives have been mocked for insisting there’s an ongoing war on Christmas, but now it looks like they may have simply been ahead of their time.

Anyone who doubts that there has been a war against Christmas either hasn’t been paying attention or is being disingenuous. These days, not a holiday season goes by without the Freedom from Religion Foundation or the American Atheists or some other militant secular group suing some town for putting up a nativity scene or somehow acknowledging that Christmas is a Christian holiday.

American Atheists unveiled Wednesday the “War on Christmas” line-up on its television channel, AtheistTV, featuring “original programs proclaiming the truth about Christmas on December 24 and December 25, featuring scholars and celebrities from the atheist community

“Christmas is hard for many atheists, so we will provide programming free from superstition and fairy tales that allows families to watch together and not worry about being preached at,” American Atheists President Dave Silverman said in a statement.

Conservatives like Fox News talk-show hosts Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly have long warned of a “War on Christmas,” citing moves by retailers, public schools and local governments to remove references to Christmas from displays and celebrations.

The network’s annual Coverage of anti-Christmas happenings has drawn taunts from “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, such as last year’s “War on Christmas: S***’s Getting Weird Edition,” while the liberal online magazine Salon weighed in with a sarcastic article titled, “9 reasons Fox News thinks there’s a war on Christmas.”

AtheistTV’s slate of “holiday-inspired specials” probably won’t make anyone forget “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” They include a speech by Council for Secular Humanism Executive Director Tom Flynn and an episode of the atheist viewpoint titled, ‘Is Christmas a Religious Holiday?

There’s also the “Xmas 2009” episode of The Atheist Experience and episodes of The Atheist Voice with The Friend Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta, according to the press release.

The AtheistTV channel was launched worldwide on July 29 and can be accessed via Roku set-top boxes or as a free online stream at www.atheists.tv, the release said.

Somehow I don’t think that these shows will replace classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas or Frosty the Snowman as the sort of thing families will gather around and watch. Indeed, it might be a form of child abuse to force young children to watch lectures by prominent atheists during the Holiday season.

I don’t have any objection to AthiestTV or to any of these shows. Why should I? Unlike the more litigious atheists, I do not care how, or even if, other people want to celebrate any holidays they wish in any way that they wish. I will gladly leave them alone. I just wish they would leave the rest of us alone.

I have to wonder why Christmas is hard for many atheists, as secularized and de-Christianized as the holiday has become. Why can’t they celebrate Christmas without Christ? And why do they have to refer to the beliefs of others as “fairy tales” and “superstitions”? I don’t have to put down other religions if I talk about the birth of the Savior. Here again is an example of the negativity of Atheism. The Atheist does not have a positive message to spread. He can only tear down others.

I don’t think I will have much of an opportunity to see any of these Atheist Christmas Specials. Most likely they will be a waste of time. I imagine that they will showcase the usual bad arguments on how Jesus never existed and Christmas is really a pagan holiday, arguments long since debunked. Hardly worth the trouble.

The Party of Jesus

November 30, 2014

A friend posted an interesting link from Salon, Why Conservative Christians Would Have Hated Jesus, on his Facebook page.

Jesus never could have been the pastor of a contemporary evangelical church nor a conservative Roman Catholic bishop. Evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics thrive on drawing distinctions between their “truth” and other people’s failings. Jesus by contrast, set off an empathy time bomb that obliterates difference.

Jesus’ empathy bomb explodes every time a former evangelical puts love ahead of what the “Bible says.” It goes off every time Pope Francis puts inclusion ahead of dogma. It goes off every time a gay couple are welcomed into a church. Jesus’ time bomb explodes whenever atheists follow Jesus better than most Christians.

Put it this way: Godless non-church-going Denmark mandates four weeks of maternity leave before childbirth and fourteen weeks afterward for mothers. Parents of newborn children are assisted with well-baby nurse-practitioner visits in their homes.

In the “pro-life” and allegedly “family friendly” American Bible belt, conservative political leaders slash programs designed to help women and children while creating a justifying mythology about handouts versus empowerment.

In “God-fearing America” the poor are now the “takers,” no longer the “least of these,” and many conservative evangelicals side with today’s Pharisees, attacking the poor in the name of following the Bible.

So who is following Jesus?

Confronted by the Bible cult called evangelicalism we have a choice: follow Jesus or follow a book cult. If Jesus is God as evangelicals and Roman Catholics claim he is, then the choice is clear. We have to read the book–including the New Testament–as he did, and Jesus didn’t like the “Bible” of his day.

Confronted by bishops protecting dogma and tradition against Pope Francis’ embrace of empathy for the “other” we have a choice: follow Jesus or protect the institution.

Every time Jesus mentioned the equivalent of a church tradition, the Torah, he qualified it with something like this: “The scriptures say thus and so, but I say…” Jesus undermined the scriptures and religious tradition in favor of empathy. Every time Jesus undermined the scriptures (Jewish “church tradition”) it was to err on the side of co-suffering love. Every time a former evangelical becomes an atheist in favor of empathy she draws closer to Jesus. Every time Pope Francis sides with those the Church casts out he is closer to Jesus. Every time conservative Roman Catholics try to stop the Pope from bringing change to the Church they are on the side to those who killed Jesus.

These are all valid points and it may well be that Conservative Christians do not follow the teachings of Jesus as well as they ought to. Nevertheless, I believe that liberal Christians would hate Jesus more. Jesus had very strict views regarding marriage, divorce and adultery. He opposed divorce with the sole exception of sexual immorality. He taught that even looking at a woman with lust was adultery. (Matthew 5:27-32) Jesus almost certainly would have opposed the concept of same se marriage. (Matthew 19:3-9)  Actually, when Jesus”undermined” the Jewish Scriptures it was more often in the direction of greater rigor. Jesus loudly condemned the sophistries and the technicalities of the Pharisees. (Matthew 23:13-36)

Jesus did not preach any sort of post-modern relativism. He confirmed the authority of the Law and the scriptures ( Matthew 5:18)and when he did make alterations, he did so under his divine authority. He taught that the truth is real and that he was the Truth. Jesus did not preach that there are many paths to salvation but that He was the only way the Father.(John 14:1-6) Jesus forgave sinners, but he insisted they give up their sins. He did not tell the adulteress to continue her lifestyle but to go and sin no more. (John 7:53-8:11) Most liberals would condemn Jesus as being judgemental, narrow minded, prudish, bigoted, homophobic, and possibly racist. (Matthew 15:21-28) They would prefer the Jesus of the Jesus Seminar over the Jesus of the Gospels.

I am not arguing that Jesus is a conservative, liberal or anything else. The issue here is that people have been trying to recruit Jesus into their party, whether political or religious denomination, since the beginning of Christianity. Paul wrote about this very problem in his letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians. Jesus is not a Republican or Democrat, a conservative or liberal, a Catholic or Baptist. Jesus is Himself. He is not asking to join any of our parties. He wants us to join His party, and He insists that once you join, you put His party ahead of any other concerns.This means,among other things, that if another member of the party emphasises different aspects of His teachings than you do or if they serve in a different fashion than you, you ought not to argue or boast over who is the better servant. We all have our orders.

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Don’t try to define Me. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

But, we ought to be sure we are following orders from the right source. The only information we possess about the life and teachings of Jesus are the Gospels. Our guide, or orders, on how to behave as Christians is the Bible. The writer of this article seems to be deprecating the role of scripture.

“Worship in the Spirit and in truth,” is not about a book, let alone “salvation” through correct ideas or tradition. For people who call Jesus “the Son of God” you’d think they would also reject the veneration of the book he’s trapped in and church dogma that has crucified him again each time a gay man or divorced couple are refused the sacraments.

Evangelicals struggle to conform Jesus to a book, not the other way around. And the conservative bishops have aligned themselves with the American neoconservative wing of their church against not just the Pope Francis but against the emancipating logic of Jesus’ empathy time bomb. If Jesus isn’t the “lens” evangelicals and Roman Catholics read the Bible and their traditions through then whatever they say to the contrary they do not really believe Jesus is the son of God.

At present, scripture is the only way we can come to know who Jesus really is and what He expects of us. Naturally, we should take care, when reading the Bible, not to allow our own preconceptions to cause misunderstanding, and we should always consider the historical and social contexts. But, if we try to go beyond, or even against, the Jesus of the Gospels, we may find ourselves serving an imaginary Jesus. This has also been a problem throughout the history of Christianity among many denominations. If the Jesus you worship happens to be a Republican, Democrat, Catholic, American either White or Black, New Age hippie, environmentalist, capitalist, communist, or any other faction, then there is a real danger that Jesus is imaginary. You had better read the Gospels to find the real Jesus. Don’t worry. He is patient and really wants you to find Him.

Surprised by Joy

November 23, 2014

I am not quite sure how to classify C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy. It is an autobiography, of sorts, but Lewis only wrote about his early, pre-Christian life. He had quite a lot to write about his childhood and adolescence and his early loss of his faith. He seemed to have less to write about his adult life, his service in World War I, and his career at Oxford and the narrative ends when he became a Theist. He seems to have ended just when many readers might want to know more.

 
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Lewis’s journey was not primarily a spiritual one. There was no conversion on the road to Damascus for Lewis. His journey was largely an intellectual one. His faith was shaken by the death of his mother but destroyed by his intellectual pride and a too ready acceptance of the materialist philosophies of his time. C. S. Lewis became a Theist when he realized that many Christians were quite intelligent men. He found that he could no longer believe that a writer like G. K. Chesterton or George MacDonald was brilliant despite his faith.

Lewis’s journey was also a lifelong search for what he called Joy, an indescribable longing for something not found in this world and that can never really be satisfied by the world. Lewis describes his search for Joy in pleasure, the world’s philosophy, and other such vanities. He got snatches of Joy in Nordic mythology, a feeling he called “Northerness”, in music, friendships, etc but it was never the real thing. Ultimately, Lewis found Joy after he stopped looking for it, in his Christian faith. He didn’t expect to find Joy there. Lewis described himself as a reluctant and miserable convert. Lewis’s lesson seems to be that you cannot find Joy by looking for it. If you seek for other things, especially the Ultimate Source of Joy, Christ, you may surprise yourself by finding Joy.

I do not believe that C. S. Lewis was ever really an Atheist. He was not being dishonest, except with himself. For a very long time, Lewis tried to convince himself to be an atheist, but it never really stuck. He never fully accepted the materialist, naturalist worldview that is necessary for true atheism. By his account here, Lewis always had a somewhat mystical bent, a feeling that there is more to the world than meets the eye. One of the temptations he faced in his youth was a fascination with the occult and Lewis admitted that if he had run into the right (wrong?) sort of people he might have ended up a magician or even a Satanist. This seems hardly the sort a Richard Dawkins is made of, but a Dawkins would never have responded to Christ’s call.

Surprised by Joy is one of Lewis’s better books. Some of his best lines, the ones people are always quoting can be found in this book. Lewis recounts his early life with good humor and the result is a very readable story. There are too many typos in the Kindle edition of this book which are very annoying. I hope this can be corrected.

 

Jesus Never Existed, Religion is False

September 29, 2014

Those are the conclusions made by one Nigel Barber writing at the Huffington Post. He bases this claim on a recently published historical survey by Michael Paulkovich in a magazine called Free Inquiry.

 

As someone raised in a Christian country, I learned that there was a historical Jesus. Now historical analysis finds no clear evidence that Jesus existed. If not, Christianity was fabricated, just like Mormonism and other religions. Why do people choose to believe religious fictions?

Given the depth of religious tradition in Christian countries, where the “Christian era” calendar is based upon the presumed life of Jesus, it would be astonishing if there was no evidence of a historical Jesus. After all, in an era when there were scores of messianic prophets, why go to the trouble of making one up?

Various historical scholars attempted to authenticate Jesus in the historical record, particularly in the work of Jesus-era writers. Michael Paulkovich revived this project as summarized in the current issue of Free Inquiry.

 

I am sure the article is thought provoking, but unfortunately I cannot read it. Access to the articles at Free Inquiry is limited to print subscribers only. So much for Free Inquiry.

 

Paulkovich found an astonishing absence of evidence for the existence of Jesus in history. “Historian Flavius Josephus published his Jewish Wars circa 95 CE. He had lived in Japhia, one mile from Nazareth – yet Josephus seems unaware of both Nazareth and Jesus.” He is at pains to discredit interpolations in this work that “made him appear to write of Jesus when he did not.” Most religious historians take a more nuanced view agreeing that Christian scholars added their own pieces much later but maintaining that the historical reference to Jesus was present in the original. Yet, a fudged text is not compelling evidence for anything.

Paulkovich consulted no fewer than 126 historians (including Josephus) who lived in the period and ought to have been aware of Jesus if he had existed and performed the miracles that supposedly drew a great deal of popular attention. Of the 126 writers who should have written about Jesus, not a single one did so (if one accepts Paulkovich’s view that the Jesus references in Josephus are interpolated).

Paulkovich concludes:

When I consider those 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus but did not – and Paul and Marcion and Athenagoras and Matthew with a tetralogy of opposing Christs, the silence from Qumram and Nazareth and Bethlehem, conflicting Bible stories, and so many other mysteries and omissions – I must conclude that Christ is a mythical character.

He also considers striking similarities of Jesus to other God-sons such as Mithra, Sandan, Attis, and Horus. Christianity has its own imitator. Mormonism was heavily influenced by the Bible from which founder Joseph Smith borrowed liberally.

 

There is more on the origins of Mormonism which is irrelevant to the question of whether Jesus existed as a historical person, so I’ll let it go and go straight to the question.

 

I have to wonder that the Huffington Post sees fit to waste the time of its readers with such nonsense. The idea that Jesus is a mythical construct from pagan deities is one that few, if any, historians familiar with the first century Roman Empire would endorse. Skeptical historians naturally do not believe that Jesus was the son of God, but even the most skeptical concedes that there was a person named Jesus of Nazareth who lived during the time of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. The mythical Jesus concept is an example of pseudohistory, on par with Dan Brown’s ideas about Jesus’s descendants or or whether the lost continent of Atlantis really existed.

 

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Yes, he really existed.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The truth is that the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is better attested than many figures of ancient history. Josephus did mention Jesus, even if the statements claiming his divinity were added by later Christian copyists. Tacitus and Pliny the Younger both referred to the early Christian movement, writing around AD 100, within 70 years of his crucifixion. Even better we have biographical material written by his followers, the Gospels, from perhaps AD 70-100, although the Gospel of Mark may have been written before 60 and the passion narratives were certainly composed before the rest of the Gospels. Paul refers to Jesus as a historical person in his letters which were written from around 50-65. in other words, we have materials written about Jesus within living memory of eyewitnesses to his life. That is far better than we have for many historical figures of ancient times.

 

The earliest biography of Mohammed was written about 150 years after his death. That work has been lost but is extensively quoted in later biographies of the prophet. Because much of what is known of Mohammed is from the oral transmission of his sayings and deeds,we cannot be certain to what extent the traditions of his life are accurate or if Mohammed even existed. The earliest biographies of the Buddha were not written down until 500 years after his death. His teachings were also not written down for centuries and there is no way to know to what extent the Buddhist religion actually reflects the teachings of the historical Buddha. Even a secular figure like Alexander the Great had to wait about two hundred years before a biography was written about him. We are lucky to have as much material on an obscure person like Jesus as we do.

 

But perhaps Mr. Barber would counter that the Gospels ought not to be relied upon. They were clearly works of fiction written by the early Christians. But, on what basis should we dismiss the historicity of the Gospels? Much of what we know of many persons of ancient times is derived from the writings of their admirers. We know of Socrates from the writing of his pupils Plato and Xenophon. We know if Confucius by his successors. These writings may be biased but no one would suppose that Socrates or Confucius were fictitious. Ought the New Testament be held to a different standard simply because billions of people consider it to be a sacred text? Why?

 

The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles do not seem to be fictitious. There are no major anachronisms. Many of the people mentioned; the various Herods, Pilate, Gamaliel, Festus, Felix, Annas, Caiaphas,and many others were real people, attested in non-Biblical sources and the depictions of them in the New Testament seem to be accurate. The places mentioned are real locations that one can visit today. If you take away the miracles and the resurrection, you have a completely credible account of a Jewish preacher who managed to offend the religious and secular authorities and ended up being crucified, and whose followers somehow believed, had risen from the dead. The men who wrote the Gospels really believed what they were writing. This does not make the Gospels true, but they are not forgeries or fiction. If it were not for the prejudice against Christian scripture shown by certain secular humanists, no one would doubt they were as reliable historical documents as any produced by Herodotus or Plutarch.

 

It is understandable that someone wouldn’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I wouldn’t expect anyone but a Christian to believe that. After all, believing in the divinity of Jesus Christ is what makes a Christian. I do not understand why this idea that he never even existed crops up about every twenty years or so. It seems like overkill to me. Perhaps they hate Jesus, and by extension God, so much, they would rather he not exist at all.

 

I want to say something very briefly on the related idea that Christianity borrowed the idea of Christ from pagan myths, like Horus, Attis, Mithra, and the like. If you really examine these myths, you find only the most superficial resemblances between these mythological figures and Christ. The god who dies and comes back to life is rather common in mythology, but none of these gods suffered a humiliating death by crucifixion, nor do the stories of their lives resemble the story of Jesus in detail. I should also note that much of the historical information we have about these ancient cults derives from sources after Christianity began to be established so there is some question which way the influence really went.

 

 

 

The Lamb and the Fuhrer

July 26, 2013

Adolf Hitler committed suicide as his Third Reich collapsed around him. He was never tried for his crimes against humanity. The only time Hitler ever was on trial was after his unsuccessful coup in 1923. Then, he managed to beguile the judge and German public opinion and only received a sentence of five years for the minor crime of trying to overthrow the government. Even so, he only served nine months of his sentence.

What if Hitler faced a judge who could not be beguiled by charm, sophistry, or histrionics? What if Hitler had to account for himself before a judge who knew Hitler better than he knew himself and could see through any lies or justifications? What is the man who preached war and genocide had a face-to-face discussion with the Prince of Peace? What would the Lamb of God and the Fuhrer of Nazi Germany have to say to each other?

 

These are the questions that Ravi Zacharias seeks to answer in The Lamb and the Fuhrer. Like his other books, The Lotus and the Cross, and New Birth or Rebirth, Zacharias presents a conversation between representatives of imagesdiffering worldviews. In this case, Jesus Christ questions and ultimately judges Adolf Hitler. It is a short, little book but very profound and I do believe that Zacharias did an excellent job imagining how Hitler might seek to justify himself before Jesus. Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes an appearance as a sort of witness and the discussion between Hitler and Bonhoeffer over the morality of the pacifists’ attempted assassination of Hitler is interesting and illuminating.

 

I do have one or two quibbles. First, this is a very short book, only about 90 pages in print, yet the price is $10.99, which seems a bit steep. Secondly, the end was not as clear as I would have liked. Hitler asks about repentance and whether he would have been forgiven if he had repented just before his death. There seems to be an implication that he would be forgiven but then he is condemned. I think Zacharias ought to have made it clear that Hitler, being the person he was, could not have sincerely repented for his sins and was justly condemned. Despite these minor flaws, I greatly enjoyed reading The Lamb and the Fuhrer.

 

 

 

Racial Tensions

July 17, 2013

Dennis Prager shares a few thoughts about “racial tensions” in his latest column.

The greatest hope most Americans — including Republicans — had when Barack Obama was elected president was that the election of a black person as the country’s president would reduce, if not come close to eliminating, the racial tensions that have plagued America for generations.

This has not happened. The election, and even the re-election, of a black man as president, in a country that is 87 percent non-black — a first in human history — has had no impact on what are called “racial tensions.”

In case there was any doubt about this, the reactions to the George Zimmerman trial have made it clear. The talk about “open season” on blacks, about blacks like Trayvon Martin being victims of nothing more than racial profiling and about a racist criminal justice system, has permeated black life and the left-wing mainstream media.

I put quotation marks around the term “racial tensions” because the term is a falsehood.

This term is stated as if whites and blacks are equally responsible for these tensions, as if the mistrust is morally and factually equivalent.

But this is not at all the case.

“Racial tensions” is a lie perpetrated by the left. A superb example is when the New York Times described the 1991 black anti-Semitic riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn as “racial tensions.”

For those who do not recall, or who only read, viewed or listened to mainstream media reports, what happened was that mobs of blacks attacked Jews for three days after a black boy was accidentally hit and killed by a car driven by a Chasidic Jew.

He has some more to say about “racial tensions”, but it is the conclusion of his column that I am interested in.

Once one understands that “racial tensions” is a euphemism for a black animosity toward whites and a left-wing construct, one begins to understand why the election of a black president has had no impact on most blacks or on the left.

Since neither black animosity nor the left’s falsehood of “racial tensions” is based on the actual behavior of the vast majority of white Americans, nothing white America could do will affect either many blacks’ perceptions or the leftist libel.

That is why hopes that the election of black president would reduce “racial tensions” were naive. Though a white person is far more likely to be murdered by a black person than vice versa, all it took was one tragic death of a black kid to reignite the hatred that many blacks and virtually all black leaders have toward white America.

Let’s put this in perspective. Ben Jealous of the NAACP, Al Sharpton of MSNBC, Jesse Jackson, and the left-wing media compete to incite hatred of America generally and white America specifically. Over what? A tragic incident in which a Hispanic man (regularly labeled “white”) said, with all physical evidence to support him, that fearing for his life, he killed a black 17-year-old (regularly labeled “a child”).

The very fact that George Zimmerman — who is as white as Barack Obama — is labeled “white” bears testimony to the left-wing agenda of blaming white America and to the desire of many blacks to vent anger at whites.

And that is why the election of a black president has meant nothing. Indeed, to those whose lives and/or ideologies are predicated on labeling America and its white population as racist, it wouldn’t matter if half the Senate, half the House and half the governors were black.

It is an inconvenient truth, and one that is racist to acknowledge, but it is the Black or African-American population in the contemporary United States that is the most racist, at least in terms of being race conscious and of openly expressing their hatred of other races, especially Whites. It is not uncommon for Black public figures to make hateful statements that if said by a White would make him a pariah very quickly. White, except for unreconstructed racists, tend not to be very race conscious at all. Of course, this is because, in large part, Whites are still the majority and the norm in American society. Still, there is also the fact that Whites have been taught that racism in any form is evil and paying too much attention to race, except in a liberal, politically correct way is dangerously close to racist heresy. So, to the extent that many Whites are race conscious, they often despise their own race.

Justice demands that we treat everyone decently regardless of race and Christ commands His followers to treat everyone as a child of God. With that in mind, I can’t help but think there is something deeply unhealthy about a person railing against people who look like her.

Jared Taylor at American Renaissance has written about this quite often. He seems to believe that the best way to fight Black racial consciousness is to encourage White racial consciousness. This opinion often gets him labeled as a racist, perhaps with some justice. I think he is wrong, though. As I have already stated, Jesus Christ forbids us to be conscious of nationality race, sex or any other distinction except for Christ, as Paul writes,

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Col 3:11)

For a more practical reason, if the demographers are correct and whites are going to become a minority in the next century, than the last thing we need is race consciousness of any sort. A nation composed of  about three or four “tribes”, each jealously conscious of its prerogatives can only lead to continuing and uncompromising conflicts and perhaps civil war. A multi-racial race conscious America would most likely resemble the former Yugoslavia then the country we are familiar with.

It would seem, then, that the only way to reduce racial tensions would be to reduce race consciousness for everyone. This would be the sensible thing to do, and perhaps the most just. It is too bad that the liberal media, the Democratic party, and the likes of Al Sharpton and Ben Jealous are not the least bit interested in doing what is sensible or just.

 

Obama the Anti-Christ

April 5, 2013

According to a recent poll, some 13% of Americans believe that President Obama is the anti-Christ. I read about it in USA Today.

It’s official: Americans love their conspiracy theories. Public Policy Polling asked voters to weigh in on 20 more infamous ones, and the results show that a not-insignificant number of people believe that President Obama is the anti-Christ (13%), Big Foot exists (14%), and the planet is secretly ruled by the New World Order (28%). Four percent think our societies are actually ruled by “lizard people.”

  • 21% believe the government covered up a UFO crash in Roswell; 29% believe in aliens
  • 6% believe Osama bin Laden is alive
  • 5% think Paul McCartney has been dead for decades
  • 15% think there’s mind-control technology hidden in TV signals
  • 37% think global warming is a hoax
  • 7% think the moon landing was faked
  • 15% think Big Pharma develops new diseases as a way to make money
  • 14% see the CIA’s hand in the 1980s crack epidemic

I think that the idea that 13% of the American people believe that Barack Obama is the anti-Christ is simply ridiculous. Whatever I might happen to think of the President’s policies, I could hardly believe that he is some sort of end-times figure of ultimate evil, opposed to God and whatever is good.

Then again..

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Well, maybe he is the Anti-Christ.

There seems to be a whole system of beliefs that have grown up over the years regarding the Anti-Christ which do not necessarily correspond to what the Bible teaches. The Anti-Christ is mentioned only in the first and second letters of John.

18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:18-23)

I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we  have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. 11 Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work. (2 John 7-11)

The Greek prefix “anti-” means “against” or “opposed to”. An antichrist, then, is someone or something opposed to, or against Christ. In the context of the verses I quoted, it would seem that rather than a mystical figure of evil, John is referring to one or more persons who are denying  the divinity of Christ, or perhaps heretical teachers. Given the probable date of composition of these letters (AD 90-100), he may also be referring to the persecuting Emperor Domitian or to the Roman government generally.

The Anti-Christ is often identified with the Beast of Revelation.

And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?”

The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world. (Rev 13:1-8)

It is this Beast that is represented by a number that everyone must be marked with.

11 Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. 14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.That number is 666. (Rev 13:11-18)

Again, this seems to be a representation of the Roman Empire and its requirement, so odious to Christians, that everyone must worship the Emperor. Thus the Beast could be seen as an Anti-Christ, perhaps the ultimate Anti-Christ, a person so evil and corrupt as to be under the direct influence of the Dragon or Satan. The author of Revelation could have had Domitian in mind, or Nero, or the Roman Empire generally.

Paul wrote of a “Man of Lawlessness” in Second Thessalonians.

2 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. (2 Thess 2:2-11)

The identity of the Man of Lawlessness is not clear. Paul didn’t often write on eschatology and perhaps thought less about the subject than John. He could have had an end times figure of ultimate evil in mind, of he could have been anticipating the coming persecution of the Christians under Nero.

So, is Obama the Anti-Christ? If you consider the seeming contempt he has for Christian values and institutions and his apparent indifference to the idea of religious freedom, both here in the US and abroad, he could well be considered an Anti-Christ, that is someone opposed to Christ, if not the Anti-Christ.

 

 


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