WE CAN LOOSE OUR FREEDOM: Years ago when I was much younger I use to hunt. In the 1950's it was almost a right of passage for a young boy. However, it has been a long time passing and I no longer hunt or even have an interest. But, all the talk about gun laws and control under the 2nd amendment has absolutely nothing to do with a constitutional right to hunt with a gun. Our fathers were not talking about sport shooting or hunting. The 2nd Amendment was placed in our Bill of Rights to protect the people from the overbearing and oppressive control of a central government, be it England or the United States government. I see that the issue is one of Freedom. If our government should gut our Bill of Rights we may in fact find ourselves under a king, dictatorship or like Russia. The problem as I see it is bad people doing bad things. We need to focus on the character and nature of the people that are doing the bad things. Our country was formed under God. Sadly the people have removed God from the character and focus of our laws. As a result the people no longer have a standard or guide to follow regarding right and wrong. We have and continue to follow a downward slippery slope. We allow all kinds of trash in the media and call it freedom of speech or art. The reality is that gun laws will not stop bad people from killing people. We promote killing in many forms in our media, TV, Movies, etc. But do not speak out against this, or stand up for Godly principles. Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. [ISAIAH 5:20 NIV] All this that our nation is experiencing reminds me of the judgment on Israel in the prophet Habakkuk. A judgment in time that may well be what we in America are heading toward unless we hear, learn and repent as a people. Habakkuk’s Plea: 1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received. 2 How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, "Violence! "but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. 4 Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. The Lord’s Reply: 5 "Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. 6 I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own. 7 They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor. 8 Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like a vulture swooping to devour; 9 they all come bent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. 10 They deride kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them. 11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on — guilty men, whose own strength is their god." Habakkuk’s Response – How can this be? We are bad but they are worse! 12 O Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, we will not die. O Lord, you have appointed them to execute judgment; O Rock, you have ordained them to punish. 13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? 14 You have made men like fish in the sea, like sea creatures that have no ruler. 15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad. 16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by his net he lives in luxury and enjoys the choicest food. 17 Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy? [HABAKKUK 1:1-17 NIV]
"THE EPISTLE TO TITUS" Introduction To The Epistle (1:1-4) INTRODUCTION 1. As the apostles of Christ fulfilled their ministry, it lead to the creation of churches... a. Initially established by the preaching of the gospel - cf. Ac 14: 1-21 b. Further established by following up - cf. Ac 14:21-23 2. From Ac 14:21-22, we learn that the process of follow up involved... a. Strengthening the souls of the disciples b. Exhorting them to continue in the faith c. Appointing elders in the church 3. The apostles did not always do the follow up themselves... a. Paul left Timothy in Ephesus - 1Ti 1:1-3 b. He also left Titus on the island of Crete - Tit 1:5 [By studying such epistles as Titus, we learn what was expected for churches to becoming established. With that in mind, we begin this series of lessons based on Titus, starting with a basic introduction...] I. THE AUTHOR OF THE EPISTLE (1:1-3) A. PAUL... 1. Known formerly as Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of the church - Ac 9:1-2 2. Who became known as the "apostle to the Gentiles" - Ac 9:15 3. Author of half of the books of the New Testament B. HIS SELF-IDENTIFICATION... 1. A bondservant (slave) of God a. So James described himself - Jm 1:1 b. Also Peter and Jude - 2Pe 1:1; Jude 1:1 c. Paul normally identified himself as a bondservant of Christ, only here does he describe himself as bondservant of God - cf. Ro 1:1; Php 1:1 2. An apostle of Jesus Christ a. apostolos - a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders - Thayer b. An apostle chosen by Christ Himself - Ga 1:1 3. Paul expresses his objective as an apostle - Tit 1:1-3 a. Proclaim the faith of God's elect (chosen people) b. Preach the truth that leads to holy living c. Nurture hope for eternal life 1) Which God promised before time began 2) And has now made manifest through preaching, as God commanded Paul [The epistle itself was written toward fulfilling Paul's objective as an apostle. Assisting him in fulfilling his objective will be the one to whom the epistle was written...] II. THE RECIPIENT OF THE EPISTLE (1:4) A. TITUS, A TRUE SON IN OUR COMMON FAITH... 1. Calling him "a true son" suggests he was a convert of Paul - cf. 1Co 4:15 2. There is no mention of Titus by name in the book of Acts 3. But we can glean some things about him from the epistles of Paul B. HIS BACKGROUND... 1. He was a Gentile by birth - Ga 2:3 2. He accompanied Paul to Jerusalem during the controversy over circumcision - Ac 15:1-2; Ga 2:1-5 3. During Paul's third journey Titus became his personal emissary to the church at Corinth a. First seeking to learn how they received his first letter 1) When Titus did not return to Troas as expected, Paul went on to Macedonia - 2Co 2:12-13 2) There Paul and Titus finally connected, much to Paul's relief when Titus reported how well he was received by the Corinthians - 2Co 7:5-7,13-15 b. Paul then sent Titus and two others back to Corinth - 2 Co 8:16-9:5 1) Bearing the letter we call Second Corinthians 2) Exhorting the brethren to complete their collection for the needy saints in Jerusalem C. HIS PRESENT AND FUTURE MINISTRY... 1. At the time of Paul's epistle to Titus - Tit 1:5 a. He had been left on the island of Crete by Paul b. To "set in order the things that are lacking" 2. If Paul's plans as expressed in this epistle materialized... - Tit 3:12 a. Titus left soon after the arrival of Artemas or Tychicus b. He met Paul at Nicopolis in northwest Greece 3. We last read of Titus that he had gone to Dalmatia (in modern Croatia) during the final days of Paul's life - 2Ti 4:10 [Titus proved to be a true son to Paul, also a "partner and fellow worker" (2Co 8:23). Now let's consider what we can about...] III. THE TIME AND PLACE OF WRITING A. THE TIME AND PLACE IS UNCERTAIN... 1. Not all are in agreement as to when and where it was written 2. It really doesn't matter in the final analysis B. ONE POSSIBLE SCENARIO... 1. Following his first imprisonment in Rome the apostle Paul was released and allowed to travel for several years before being arrested again 2. The following itinerary has been proposed by the
Ryrie Study Bible: a. Paul was released from his house arrest in Rome (where we find him at the end of Acts - Ac 28:30-31), probably because his accusers did not choose to press their charges against him before Caesar b. Paul visited Ephesus, left Timothy there to supervise the churches c. He went on to Macedonia (NE Greece) and from there he wrote 1 Timothy - 1Ti 1:3 d. He visited Crete, left Titus there to supervise those churches, and went to Nicopolis in Achaia (NW Greece) - Ti 3:12 e. Either from Macedonia or Nicopolis, he wrote this letter to Titus f. He visited Troas (2Ti 4:13), where he was suddenly arrested, taken to Rome and imprisoned g. During this second imprisonment, he wrote 2 Timothy before he was finally beheaded 3. It cannot be established with certainty, but it possible that Paul wrote this letter from Corinth, sometime around 63-66 A.D. [Now let's examine...] IV. THE PURPOSE AND CONTENT OF THE EPISTLE A. THE PURPOSE... 1. This letter is written to a young preacher assigned a difficult task 2. The churches on the island of Crete were in need of maturation, and this letter is designed to assist Titus in that work 3. Therefore, Paul wrote to encourage Titus: a. To see that qualified elders were appointed in every city - Tit 1:5-9 b. To preach things befitting "sound doctrine" - Tit 2:1 c. To exhort the brethren to be "zealous for good works" - Ti 2:14; 3:1,8,14 B. THE CONTENT... 1. The epistle is unique in that every chapter includes the phrase "good work(s)" - Tit 1:16; 2:7,14; 3:1,8,14 2. Here is a brief outline of the epistle: a. Introduction - 1:1-4 b. Instructions concerning church organization - 1:5-16 1) Qualifications of elders - 1:5-9 2) Dealing with the insubordinate - 1:10-16 c. Instructions concerning Christian conduct - 2:1-3:11 1) For older men and women - 2:1-3 2) For younger women and men - 2:4-8 3) For servants - 2:9-14 4) For brethren in general - 3:1-11 d. Conclusion - 3:12-15 CONCLUSION 1. With such an emphasis on good works, an appropriate theme for this epistle would be: "Maintain Good Works!" 2. In keeping with such a theme, I offer the following passage as the key verse of the epistle: "This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men." - Tit 3:8 3. As we proceed through this epistle, it will be my prayer and aim that our study will help... a. To "set in order the things that are lacking" b. To encourage one another to be "careful to maintain good works" Note finally Paul's greeting to Titus: "Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior" (Tit 1:4). Are you lacking in that wonderful grace, mercy, and peace...?
The Age of Accountability
|by||Dave Miller, Ph.D.|
Calvinistic teaching claims that all humans have inherited a corrupt spiritual nature due to the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Due to this marred and perverse nature, the human heart is desperately deceitful, and man’s nature is evil. This doctrine generally is referred to as “total depravity.” Calvinists insist that “[e]vil pervades every faculty of his [man’s—DM] soul and every sphere of his life. He is unable to do a single thing that is good” (Palmer, 1972). He cannot do, understand, or desire the good: “[t]he corruption extends to every part of man, his body and soul” (Steele and Thomas, 1963, emp. in orig.).
Calvinism further maintains that, due to this inherited spiritual depravity, babies are born with a corrupt nature. Babies, therefore, are born depraved and, by definition, are in a “lost” state. The only way for babies to be saved is for them to be one of the elect—a predetermined few whom God arbitrarily decided to save while condemning all others. Hence, free will does not enter into the question of salvation. The Calvinist maintains that people cannot choose to receive salvation from God. They are in a lost condition due to their corrupt spiritual nature, and do not have the ability even to desire salvation, let alone to attain it.
While several lines of argumentation from the Bible can be advanced to refute the Calvinist’s viewpoint with regard to depravity, one in particular merits notice: the Bible’s teaching regarding the spiritual condition of children. Long ago, the prophet Ezekiel, after contrasting the behavior of a father with his son, stated unequivocally: “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son” (18:20; cf. vss. 2-19). Jesus, Himself, demonstrated the spiritually safe condition of children when He stated: “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Adults must become like children if they wish to be saved! Children hardly can be spiritually depraved! Christ followed up this declaration with a comparable observation: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).
Since all people are the “offspring of God” (Acts 17:29), they come into this world innocent of sin. That is why Paul, in pointing out that God preplanned to bring Christ into the world through Jacob rather than Esau, stated that the decision was made prior to the birth of the boys: “[F]or the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil” (Romans 9:11, emp. added). Likewise, God declared that the King of Tyre, like everyone else, had come into the world guiltless, but had become sinful due to his own choices: “You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you” (Ezekiel 28:15). If, at conception, God “forms the spirit of man within him” (Zechariah 12:1), why would anyone wish to insist that man’s spirit is, nevertheless, corrupt?
Another interesting realization is gleaned from Paul’s argumentation in Romans—a book unquestionably designed to expound the foundational premise of salvation available in Christ through the Gospel. In chapter seven, Paul contrasts the pre-Christian condition of the sinner with the post-cross availability of full forgiveness. The Law of Moses was, in fact, a tremendous law. It was authored by God Himself. It was specifically designed for the perpetual good of the people to whom it was addressed, i.e., the Israelites (Deuteronomy 6:24; 10:13). Like all law from God, it enabled people to recognize sin as sin (Romans 3:20; 7:7). In short, the law was “holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12). However, law did/does not contain within itself the ability to absolve those who violate its precepts. An outside force, one that is above and beyond the law, is necessary to rectify the effects of law infractions (i.e., sin). The Bible refers to this force as “propitiation” (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10) or “atonement” (Romans 5:11, KJV). Of course, this propitiation is the blood of Jesus.
As Paul expounded these spectacular spiritual realities, he imparted a significant truth regarding the innocence of children, i.e., their non-depraved status. Paul stated: “For apart from the law sin was dead” (Romans 7:8). He meant that prior to him becoming subject to the law, he was not guilty of any sin. He continued: “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Romans 7:9). When was Paul “alive once without the law”? The only time in a person’s life when he or she is spiritually alive in the absence of law is before he or she is a responsible, accountable adult. A person is not subject to the law of God until he or she is mature enough to understand and to be responsible for behavior. Here is the “age of accountability” to which so many have made reference over the years. Paul was saying that at the time he was a child he was “alive,” i.e., spiritually safe. But when he reached adulthood, and had to face the law’s assessment of his adult decision-making, sin “revived,” i.e., it sprang into existence in his life (see Arndt and Gingrich, 1957, p. 53), “began to live and flourish” (Alford, 1852, 2:380), and he “died,” i.e., he became spiritually dead in sin. This “age of accountability” is not pinpointed in Scripture as a specific age—for obvious reasons: it naturally differs from person to person since it depends upon a variety of social and environmental factors. Children mature at different rates and ages as their spirits are fashioned, shaped, and molded by parents, teachers, and life’s experiences.
It is imperative that every person of an accountable mind and age realize the responsibility that exists. Current culture is characterized by a tendency to evade responsibility for one’s action. Lawbreakers blame parents, genes, and society for their actions. But if the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that every single accountable human being will one day stand before God and give account for his or her own actions. “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” and “each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10,12).
Alford, Henry (1852), Alford’s Greek Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980 reprint).
Arndt, William and F.W. Gingrich (1957), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
Palmer, Edwin (1972), The Five Points of Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Steele, David and Curtis Thomas (1963), The Five Points of Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
The Adulterous Woman
|by||Dave Miller, Ph.D.|
One of the most misused, mishandled, and misapplied passages in the Bible is the narrative of the woman caught in adultery, recorded in John 8:1-11. [For a discussion of the technical aspects of this passage as a textual variant, see Woods, 1989, p. 162; McGarvey, 1974, p. 16; Metzger, 1971, pp. 219-222; Metzger, 1968, pp. 223-224]. This passage has been used by situation ethicists (e.g., Fletcher, 1967, pp. 83,133), libertines, and liberals to insist that God is not “technical” when it comes to requiring close adherence to His laws. The bulk of Christendom has abetted this notion by decontextualizing and applying indiscriminately the remark of Jesus: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (vs. 7). The average individual, therefore, has come to think that Jesus was tolerant and forgiving to the extent that He released the woman from the strict restrictions of Bible law that called for her execution. They believe that Jesus simply waved aside her sin, and granted her unconditional freedom and forgiveness—though the Law called for her death (Leviticus 20:10). After all, isn’t it true that Jesus places people “in the grip of grace” (Lucado, 1996)?
Those who challenge these conclusions are derided as “traditionalists” who lack “compassion,” and who are just like the “legalistic” scribes and Pharisees who cruelly accused the woman and wanted her handled in strict accordance with Mosaic Law. Did Jesus set aside the clear requirements of Mosaic legislation in order to demonstrate mercy, grace, and forgiveness? A careful study of John 8:1-11 yields at least three insights that clarify the confusion and misconception inherent in the popular imagination.
First, Mosaic regulations stated that a person could be executed only if there were two or more witnesses to the crime (Deuteronomy 19:15). One witness was insufficient to invoke the death penalty (Deuteronomy 17:6). The woman in question was reportedly caught in the “very act” (vs. 4), but nothing is mentioned about the identity of the witness or witnesses. There may have been only one, thereby making execution illegal.
Second, even if there were two or more witnesses present to verify the woman’s sin, the Old Testament was equally explicit concerning the fact that both the woman and the man were to be executed (Deuteronomy 22:22). Where was the man? The accusing mob completely side-stepped this critical feature of God’s Law, demonstrating that this trumped-up situation obviously did not fit the Mosaic preconditions for invoking capital punishment. Obedience to the Law of Moses in this instance actually meant letting the woman go!
A third consideration that libertines overlook concerning this passage is the precise meaning of the phrase “He who is without sin among you….” If this statement is taken as a blanket prohibition against accusing, disciplining, or punishing the erring, impenitent Christian, then this passage flatly contradicts a host of other passages (e.g., Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5; Galatians 6:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14; Titus 3:10; 2 John 9-11). Jesus not only frequently passed judgment on a variety of individuals during His life on Earth (e.g., Matthew 15:14; 23; John 8:44,55; 9:41; et al.), but also enjoined upon His followers the necessity of doing the same thing (e.g., John 7:24). Peter could be very direct in assessing people’s spiritual status (e.g., Acts 8:23). Paul rebuked the Corinthians’ inaction concerning their fornicating brother: “Do you not judge those who are inside?… Therefore put away from yourselves that wicked person” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13, emp. added). Obviously, Paul demanded that Christians must judge (i.e., make an accurate assessment regarding) a fellow Christian’s moral condition. Even the familiar proof text so often marshaled to promote laxity (i.e., “Judge not, that you be not judged”—Matthew 7:1) records Jesus admonishing disciples: “…then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye” (vs. 5). The current culture-wide celebration of being nonjudgmental (“I’m OK, you’re OK”) is clearly out of harmony with Bible teaching.
So Jesus could not have been offering a blanket prohibition against taking appropriate action with regard to the sins of our fellows. Then what did His words mean? What else could possibly be going on in this setting so as to completely deflate, undermine, and terminate the boisterous determination of the woman’s accusers to attack Him, by using the woman as a pretext? What was it in Jesus’ words that had such power to stop them in their tracks—so much so that their clamor faded to silence and they departed “one by one, beginning with the oldest” (vs. 9)?
Most commentators suggest that He shamed them by getting them to realize that “nobody is perfect and we all sin.” But this motley crew—with their notorious and repeatedly documented hard-heartedness—would not have been deterred if Jesus simply had conveyed the idea that, “Hey, give the poor woman a break, none of us is perfect, and we’ve all done things we're not proud of.” These heartless scribes and Pharisees had the audacity to divert her case from the proper judicial proceedings and to humiliate her by forcibly hauling her into the presence of Jesus, thereby making her a public spectacle. Apparently accompanied by a group of complicit supporters, they cruelly subjected her to the wider audience of “all the people” (vs. 2) who had come to hear Jesus’ teaching. They hardly would have been discouraged from their objective by such a simple utterance from Jesus that “nobody’s perfect.”
So what is the answer to this puzzling circumstance? Jesus was striking at precisely the same point that Paul drove home to hard-hearted, hypocritical Jews in Rome: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1). Paul was especially specific on the very point with which Jesus dealt: “You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery?” (vs. 22). In other words, no person is qualified to call attention to another’s sin when that individual is in the ongoing practice of the same sin. Again, as Jesus previously declared, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). After all, it is the “spiritual” brother or sister who is in the proper position to restore the wayward (Galatians 6:1).
Consequently, in the context under consideration, Jesus knew that the woman’s accusers were guilty of the very thing for which they were willing to condemn her. (It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the man with whom the woman had committed adultery was in league with the accusing crowd.) Jesus was able to prick them with their guilt by causing them to realize that He knew that they, too, were guilty. The old law made clear that the witnesses to the crime were to cast the first stones (Deuteronomy 17:7). The death penalty could not be invoked legally if the eyewitnesses were unavailable or unqualified. Jesus was striking directly at the fact that these witnesses were ineligible to fulfill this role since they were guilty of the same sin, and thus deserved to be brought up on similar charges. They were intimidated into silence by their realization that Jesus was privy to their own sexual indiscretions.
Observe carefully that with the withdrawal of the accusers, Jesus put forth a technical legal question: “Woman, where are they? Did no man condemn thee?” (ASV), or “Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” (vs. 10, KJV). The reason for Jesus to verify the absence of the accusers who had brought the charges against the woman was that the Law of Moses mandated the presence of eyewitnesses to the crime before guilt could be established and sentence passed. The woman confirmed, “No man, Lord” (vs. 11). Jesus then affirmed: “Neither do I condemn you….” The meaning of this pronouncement was that if two or more witnesses to her sin were not able or willing to document the crime, then she could not be held legally liable, since neither was Jesus, Himself, qualified to serve as an eyewitness to her action. The usual interpretation of “neither do I condemn you” is that Jesus was flexible, tolerant, and unwilling to be judgmental toward others or to condemn their sinful actions. Ridiculous! The Bible repudiates such thinking on nearly every page. Jesus was declaring the fact that the woman managed to slip out from under judicial condemnation on the basis of one or more legal technicalities. But, He said (to use modern-day vernacular), “You had better stop it! You were fortunate this time, but you must cease your sinful behavior!” Jesus did not condemn the woman legally--He had no grounds to do so. But He most certainly condemned her morally and spiritually!
Incredible! The scribes and Pharisees were trying to catch Jesus in a trap. Yet Jesus, as was so often the case (e.g., Matthew 21:23-27), “turned the tables” on His accusers and caught them in a trap instead! At the same time, He demonstrated a deep and abiding respect for the governing beauty and power of law—the law that He and His Father had authored. Jesus was the only person Who ever complied with Mosaic legislation perfectly. He never sought to excuse human violation of law, nor to minimize the binding and authoritative application of law to people. Any interpretation of any passage that depicts Jesus as violating God’s law in order to forgive or accommodate man is a false interpretation, as is any interpretation that relegates law to a status of secondary importance (cf. Deuteronomy 6:24; 10:13; Psalms 19:7-11; Romans 7:12). Any interpretation of any passage that contradicts the teaching of other clear passages also is false. Jesus was not in sympathy with the permissive mindset of today’s doctrinally lax thinkers who soften doctrine and the binding nature of law in the name of “grace,” “freedom,” or “compassion.”
Fletcher, Joseph (1967), Moral Responsibility (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster).
Lucado, Max (1996), In the Grip of Grace (Dallas: Word).
McGarvey, J.W. (1974 reprint), Evidences of Christianity (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Metzger, Bruce (1971), A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Society).
Metzger, Bruce M. (1968), The Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press), second edition.
Woods, Guy N. (1989), A Commentary on the Gospel According to John (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
The “Problem” with Miracles
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
Using empirical data, some have decided what is and is not possible in this world, and miracles like the ones recorded in the New Testament do not fall into their “possible” category. Since they never have seen anyone rise from the dead or be healed instantaneously of a terminal disease, and since no scientific experiments can be carried out today that would verify the truthfulness of these miracles, then they assume that the miracles reportedly performed by Jesus must have some natural explanations. In an essay titled “Why I Don’t Buy the Resurrection,” Richard Carrier embodied the gist of this argument in the following statement:
No amount of argument can convince me to trust a 2000-year-old second-hand report, over what I see, myself, directly, here and now, with my own eyes. If I observe facts which entail that I will cease to exist when I die, then the Jesus story can never override that observation, being infinitely weaker as a proof. And yet all the evidence before my senses confirms my mortality…. A 2000 year-old second-hand tale from the backwaters of an illiterate and ignorant land can never overpower these facts. I see no one returning to life after their brain has completely died from lack of oxygen. I have had no conversations with spirits of the dead. What I see is quite the opposite of everything this tall tale claims. How can it command more respect than my own two eyes? It cannot (2000).
Although this argument at first may seem plausible, it runs into two insurmountable difficulties. First, there are things that took place in the past that no one alive today has seen or ever will see, yet they must be accepted as fact. The origin of life on this planet provides a good example. Regardless of whether a person believes in evolution or creation, he must admit that some things happened in the past that are not still happening today, or at least that have not been witnessed. To the evolutionists, I pose the question, “Have you ever personally used your five senses to establish that a nonliving thing can give rise to a living thing?” Of course, the evolutionist must admit that he never has seen such happen, in spite of all the origin-of-life experiments in the last fifty years. Does that mean that he does not accept the idea that life came from nonliving matter, just because he never has witnessed it personally? Of course not. Instead, we are asked to look at all the “evidence,” such as the geologic column and the fossil record, that he believes leads to such a conclusion. Yet the hard fact remains, no one alive today has ever seen life come from something nonliving.
Following the same line of reasoning, those who believe in creation freely admit that the creation of life on this planet is something that has not been witnessed by anyone alive today. It was a unique act that happened once, cannot be duplicated by experiment, and cannot be detected currently by the human senses. As with the evolutionist, the creationist asks us to look at the evidence such as the fossil record, the laws of thermodynamics, and the Law of Biogenesis, which he believes leads to the conclusion that life was created some time in the distant past by an intelligent Creator. Yet, before we drift too far from our discussion of a miracle such as the resurrection, let me remind you that this brief paragraph concerning creation and evolution is inserted only to prove one point—everyone must admit that he or she accepts some ideas and notions without having inspected them personally using the five senses.
Second, it is intellectual bigotry to assume that the first century people did not understand the laws of nature enough to differentiate between an actual miracle and other occurrences with natural explanations. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that the first-century onlookers did not know that rising from the dead or being healed of leprosy was unnatural. As C.S. Lewis explained:
But there is one thing often said about our ancestors which we must not say. We must not say “They believed in miracles because they did not know the Laws of Nature.” This is nonsense. When St. Joseph discovered that his bride was pregnant, he “was minded to put her away.” He knew enough about biology for that….When the disciples saw Christ walking on the water they were frightened; they would not have been frightened unless they had known the Laws of Nature and known that this was an exception (1970, p. 26).
The apostle Paul underlined this point in Romans 1:4 when he stated that Jesus Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” The entire point of the resurrection was, and is, that it was not naturally or scientifically repeatable and that it proved his deity. As the blind man healed by Jesus so accurately stated, “Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing” (John 9:32-33).
Lewis, C.S. (1970), God in the Dock, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Carrier, Richard (2000), [On-line], URL: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/resurrection/1b.html.
The "Paying-a-debt Theory"
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
It never ceases to amaze me that, even though our society “talks religion” on a regular basis, the one place we, as a society, neglect to go for real answers is the only place that has the answers—the Bible. On the cover of the April 12, 2004 edition of Time magazine, an artist’s depiction of Jesus grabs the readers attention and directs the reader to the question written in a large font across the right side of the cover: “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?” The lengthy six-page spread discussing the question is filled with quotes from theologians, ministers, and preachers, with an occasional Bible verse gratuitously inserted to give the article a hint of “religious authenticity.”
The six different authors of the article focused on two primary “theories” as to why Jesus died on the cross. One theory they attributed to Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1098. This theory they called the “paying-a-debt theory,” in which Christ’s death on the cross paid a debt for sinners that those sinners had no way to pay. This idea they termed “substitutionary atonement.” The idea pitted against the “paying-a-debt theory” was the theory of exemplary atonement. According to the idea of exemplary atonement, Jesus came to show humans an example to follow, and His death was not necessarily accomplished to pay some kind of debt.
“Experts” for both theories were interviewed. John Dominic Crossan, in his discussion of the theory of substitutionary atonement, called this idea “the most unfortunately successful idea in the history of Christian thought.” His reasoning for that was: “If I can persuade you that there’s a punishing God and that you deserve to be punished but I have some sort of way out for you, then that’s a very attractive theology” (as quoted in Chu, et al., 2004, 163:60). Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention Southern Seminary, spoke against the idea that Jesus’ sacrifice was purely for example, with no payment of debt attached.
The most disturbing aspect of the article was the fact that the Bible—the only resource that could actually answer the question at hand—was given scant attention. In the six pages of writing, one short verse from Isaiah was quoted, one verse from the Psalms, a brief six-line discussion about Paul’s letter to the Romans, a single paragraph quoting a verse from Hebrews, one from Mark, one verse from 1 Peter, and one verse from Colossians. The verses quoted from Hebrews (9:12) and Mark (10:45) explained that Christ was ransomed for many, and that with His own blood He attained their eternal redemption.
Not only were the Bible verses in the article few and far between, they were put on par with the quotes from the “experts” and given little, if any, authoritative value. They were presented, not as the Word of God, but simply as another voice to be heard in the discussion. Furthermore, Anselm was credited with “developing” the “theory” of atonement—an idea that the biblical writers had “developed” through inspiration almost a thousand years before Anselm.
The real question of the article should have been: “According to the Bible, why did Jesus die on the cross?” A complete catalog of every verse pertaining to this question is not feasible in this brief article. But a few of the more direct statements make it clear that the Bible clearly depicts Jesus’ death on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for sinners who could not pay their own debt. Hebrews 9:22 explains that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission” of sins. Later in the chapter, the Hebrews writer remarked that “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (9:28). The prophet Isaiah wrote: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for out peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed…. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When you make His soul an offering for sin” (53:4-6,10).
John wrote that Jesus is “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The word propitiation means a satisfactory sacrifice or a sacrifice of appeasement. In a discussion with the elders from the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul exhorted the leaders “to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). The verse in Hebrews referred to in the article sums up the idea of atonement quite well: “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place, once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (9:12).
It is true that several verses in the Bible explain that Jesus’ death was also accomplished to provide an example of how to behave when persecuted (1 Peter 2:21-25). It is not true, however, that this example detracts in anyway from the fact that Jesus was the satisfactory sacrifice Who paid the debt of sins and was offered as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Anselm did not develop the “theory” of atonement in 1098. The fact of atonement was in God’s mind even before time began (1 Peter 1:18-20), and eventually was accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ. The article in Time magazine shows a fundamental problem with religion in America. Our society has stopped going to the Bible for definitive answers, and looks to the “experts” to answer questions that can only be answered correctly via the Bible. Until we, as a people, decide to go back to the Word of God for our answers, we will continue to meander aimlessly in philosophical and religious mire. We must adopt the attitude recorded by the psalmist in regard to God’s Word: “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts” (119:97-100).
Chu, Jeff, et al. (2004), “Why Did Jesus Die?”, Time, 163:54-61, April 12.