Christ, The Cornerstone

On the Thursday night before Jesus's crucifiction, Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples in what we have traditionally called the Last Supper. During this supper, many interesting (and even paradoxical) things happen – Jesus washing the disciples' feet; Judas being identified as Jesus's betrayer, apparently without the other disciples realization of it; and Jesus's radical changes to the traditional Passover customs in instituting the Sacrement of the Lord's Supper – but there has always been one seemingly normal thing that has stuck out to me. The singing of a hymn.

Both Matthew and Mark tell us that at the end of their meal together, Jesus and eleven of his disciples (Judas had left earlier) sung a hymn and departed to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). The main reason I think this small verse has stuck out to me is because of it's sheer normalcy in the midst of the chaos of Jesus's final week. Jesus had entered into Jerusalem triumphantly, he had clensed the temple, and he was about to be brutally crucified, yet Jesus knew the importance of singing with his disciples. Why? Why was it important? Why were we even given this little detail? Even though I've always found this verse to be interesting, I've never given much thought to these questions.

Thanks to a book that I have been reading this week, The Final Days of Jesus:The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived by Andreas J. Kostenberger & Justin Taylor, I've been given a glimpse into some possible answers. Kostenberger, who is credited with most of the content of the book, gives  extra detail and insight about the singing of this hymn. First, included in the normal Jewish tradition of celebrating Passover was the singing of Psalms 113-118. Therefore, it is very likely that these very psalms were the ones sung by Jesus and his disciples during the Last Supper. They contain many themes that relate to the Passover: praises to God, rememberances of what God has done for his people in rescuing them from Egypt, exaultations of God's deliverance from both sin and enemies, and reassurances of God's future redemptive promises.

Second, if these were the psalms that they sung then it is also very likely that Psalm 118, traditionally the final psalm, is the hymn that is referred to in the scripture and is likely the last hymn that Jesus sung before dying on the cross. For me, this brings new significance to this psalm and has caused me to think deeper about its words and what they meant to Jesus as he, himself, sung them.

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Psalm 118:22-23

Third, as we put extra focus on Psalm 118, we are naturally drawn to verses 22 and 23, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” From these verses we see that Jesus sung of himself and what he was about to go through, that he is The Cornerstone that was soon to be rejected (within hours), that it would be his own Father's doing, and yet it would also be a marvelous thing. As a side note, we, in fact, have no doubt that this passage was on Jesus's mind because he used these very verses while telling a parable just a couple of days earlier (Matt 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19); a parable in which he describes himself as the cornerstone which the builders rejected.

Finally, I think of the comfort and encouragmenet that these psalms brought Jesus. Knowing that he was going to be betrayed, that he was going to die, that it was going to be brutal and horrific, Jesus sung praises to God about God's faithfulness, God's deliverance, God's soverignty, God's goodness, and God's redemption of his people in Christ, The Cornerstone. This gave Jesus comfort and encouragement. Jesus was reassured that in God's soverign plan of redemption, it was he who would fulfill all of God's promises to his people. God's love for his own glory and his love for a people that needed redemption was Jesus's strength, encouragement, and motivation.

Sometime over the next three days, I would encourage you to sit and read through Psalms 113-118. This would be a great thing to do with your family or close ones, as well. The psalms are short, so it won't take long, probably around 15-20 minutes, and as you read them, think about Jesus singing them and what they meant to Jesus and how they likely affected him. At the same time, though, don't read them as the Jews do now, as something that has yet to be accomplished, but read them as Christians, with comfort and encouragement, because of the fact that the promises contained therein have already been accomplished by Christ, The Cornerstone.

The Influence of a Worldview

There are thousands of things that influence the way we look at the world. Every experience we have, every book we read, every conversation we engage in, even down to every sensory input that is processed by our brain, can have some degree of effect, whether very large or extremely minuscule, on the way we view the world and interpret the events around us. However, underneath all of these things stand a small number of primary ideas that each one of us holds on to. These primary, foundational concepts have the most influence on our worldview, and, even though no one is truly consistent in applying these concepts, they have a large effect on one's understanding of the world.

In fact, out of these primary concepts, did you know that how you answer two questions defines a majority of how you view life? These two questions may seem innocuous at first since they are questions that everyone probably thinks about at one time or another, but their importance is far reaching. You've probably already guessed the first question: “Does God exist?” This question is an obvious one to start with, but it doesn't mean as much without the second question, the follow-up to the first. “If God does exist, is God directly and personally involved in the world?”

Why are these two questions so pivotal? Because the answers to these two questions lie at the nucleus of every person's worldview. Whether a person consciously considers and decides their answers after much thought and contemplation, or they subconsciously assume the answers and lives their life ignoring the questions, everyone's view of the world begins to be defined by these two questions. No one is exempt. Our answers to these two questions, which become our presuppositions as Cornelius Van Til would call them, mold everything else that follows.

So, how do people answer these questions? Well, the atheist answers the first question “no,” rendering the second question moot. The agnostic answers the first question “I don't know” and the second with a “no.” And the deist answers the first with a “yes” and the second with a “no.” Now, even though there are differences in how these three groups of people answer the first question, their unanimous answer to the second question means that they essentially have the same worldview: an impersonal worldview. This is the view that God, if he even exists, doesn't personally involve himself in the events of the world, but that the world runs on mechanical laws and natural instincts that are independent of God. Man is autonomous and life just reduces down to matter, energy, and motion.

However, the person that answers “yes” to both questions has a personal worldview. The personal worldview doesn't deny the laws of nature, natural instincts, or the reality of the effects of matter, energy, and motion, but it sees them all as secondary causes which are subordinate to the primary cause of all things, the foreknowledge and decree of God. The Christian worldview, as established by the Bible, is a personal worldview. (Just to be clear, there are a few other religions that answer both questions as yes, but the number that answer that way is far fewer than you would think, and other primary worldview questions quickly make a distinction between those religions and Christianity.)

Now, the impersonal and the personal worldviews may share many understandings, views, and interpretations at the surface, but they are in direct opposition to each other at the core. Let me give you an example. Modern science, influenced by materialism, promotes an impersonal worldview. It tells us that nature is made up of laws that govern elements and the interactions thereof. What we observe is all that there is, and even we, ourselves, are just built up from complex electrical and chemical signals that were arranged and constructed through a random, natural process over billions of years. But, modern science doesn't stop there. It not only says that this physical world is all there is, but it also presses the negative side – that any claims to things outside of what we can observe are patently false. Scientists “are tempted to think that materialism is at the bottom of the world, and much of the rest arises from human creation of meaning” (Vern S. Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview, p. 29).

In contrast to this modern scientific impersonal worldview is the Christian personal worldview. At the surface, we would agree that nature is made up of matter, energy, and motion and is governed by laws that we can observe and approximate. But, deep at the core we don't see this as the base of all things. We see these things as secondary causes, completely dependent on and subordinate to the true foundation and primary cause, God. “In contrast to impersonalism, the Bible indicates that God is involved in the world. God is personal, and he governs the world by speaking – by issuing commands” (Poythress, p. 31). Therefore, the Biblical worldview understands that science is an exploration of the creative and sustaining speech and mind of God who works through secondary causes that he instituted, but if God, in his providence, chooses to act outside of secondary causes then he is free to do so at His own good pleasure.

The impersonal worldview doesn't just have influence in modern science, though. It has a far reaching influence into almost every professional discipline such as historical criticism, linguistics, philosophy, sociology, and psychology. In fact, you are likely to run into an impersonal worldview every day. So, when you come into contact with an opposing worldview that challenges your thinking, try to get to the root presuppositions of this view. Think about the differences between an impersonal and a personal worldview. It will likely end up that this is where the real conflict is born. Remember that our God, the God of the Bible, is personally involved in the world and is the governing foundation for everything that was, is, and is to come.

Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter V - Of Providence

I. God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

II. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.

III. God, in His ordinary providence, makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure.

Recommended Reading:

Series

Lifted By The Resurrection

This post is part of the the resurrection series (click to view the other posts in this series).

I started this series discussing the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This Christian belief is founded in the truth of the New Testament documents. It is a simple belief – that Jesus died, was buried, was raised on the third day, and then appeared to many (1 Corinthians 15:3-5) – yet, even though it isn't complex, believing it is very difficult for so many.

In the next post, I covered the theology of the resurrection, answering the question, “What did Christ accomplish in the resurrection?” Of first importance is that the resurrection is the foundation of Christianity. If the resurrection didn't happen, then Christianity falls. I also listed several things, both in general and specific to our union with Christ, that Jesus accomplished in the resurrection.

After that, I spent several posts discussing the historical evidence for the resurrection (i.e., evidential apologetics). We looked at the witnesses to the resurrection, the four main responses to the resurrection that have now become dead ends, and the most popular anti-resurrection view today – the legend theory. Hopefully the evidence presented in these posts helped clear out some obstacles of misunderstanding, bad history, bad logic, and possibly even some willful deception. What one does with the evidence, though, is up to them and their presuppositions.

And so now, to close this series on the resurrection, I'm going to share four resurrection implications for the Christian life. To be sure, there are many more than four, but these four are primary implications which have been discussed by Sam Allberry in his recently published book, Lifted: Experiencing the Resurrection Life.

Assurance

First, the resurrection gives us assurance of who Jesus is and what he has done. Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). The resurrection shows that Jesus is exactly who he claimed to be. The Son of God. The Messiah.

By Jesus' resurrection, we also have assurance that he was victorious over sin and death. Christ took our sin upon himself in death was raised for our justification (Romans 4:24-25). Those that are in Christ have been forgiven of their sins and are now clothed in his righteousness, so that they will be delivered from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Christ accomplished exactly what God sent him to accomplish.

Transformation

Second, the resurrection transforms. It regenerates. It gives new life, and that new life bears spiritual fruit. It means that we who believe will begin to look at life with a new perspective. Our own selfishness will start to lose its stranglehold on our lives, and instead we will begin to live for God and for others because of the power of the Holy Spirit that now lives in us (Romans 8:9-11). This new perspective is a heavenly one focused on eternal things instead of worldly things.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1)

Hope

Third, the resurrection gives hope. Now, this is not a hope for something that might happen, but it is a hope that looks forward to something that will to happen. Our hope does not rest in ourselves but in an event that has already occurred and an event that will occur. Our hope is founded in the resurrection of Jesus and it looks forward to our own resurrection on the last day. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 says that Christ's resurrection is the firstfruits of the future resurrection to come. Those that are in union with Christ will share in his resurrection.

Additionally, the resurrection gives hope that all of creation will be restored. We are to live lives of holiness and godliness, because “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). A new heavens and earth has been promised for which we can hope because God's plan of redemption was made complete in Christ's resurrection.

Mission

Finally, the resurrection is both the reason for and the power behind our mission. Christ has been exalted by God in the resurrection and is now seated at God's right hand (Ephesians 1:19-23). Because of this, Jesus is Lord and is to be worshipped. And when Jesus is worshipped, honored, and exalted by us, God is also worshipped, honored, and exalted.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he gave us our mission in the world. This mission is to be witnesses to the world, creating disciples, baptizing them and teaching them what Jesus commanded. Essentially, our mission is to share Christ in all facets so that more and more will worship and glorify him.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

I pray that this series has been as helpful to you reading it as it has been to me writing it. May the resurrection be ever greater in your soul as you believe in it, rest in it, and are lifted by it.

 

This post is part of the the resurrection series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Series

Alternate Theories To The Resurrection – The Legend Theory

This post is part of the the resurrection series (click to view the other posts in this series).

So far we've looked at the belief in, theology of, witnesses to, and alternate “dead end” theories for the resurrection. This post will tackle the most common argument against the resurrection of Jesus Christ that is heard today.

The Legend (Myth) Theory

The Legend (or Myth) Theory states that the biblical account of Jesus' resurrection is a legend that grew over time. It admits that Jesus was a historical figure and some things in the Bible really happened, but the more unbelievable events are embellishments or legendary accounts that were later additions replacing the actual truth. This theory encapsulates a wide swath of variation in belief, and some who believe the legend theory also hold to parts of the hallucination or conspiracy theories.

Surprisingly, this theory was first proposed by a theologian and not a historian. D. F. Strauss, a German theologian from the 19th century, is credited with originating the claim. Strauss, influenced by the post-Enlightenment rationalism that permeated his era, couldn't reconcile the prevailing ideas of his time with the miracles described in the Bible. This led to his denial of the Biblical version of Jesus' life and directed him in his search for the true “historical Jesus.” Out of this came his belief that the various miracles in the Bible were just myths created to convince people that Jesus was the Messiah.

Strauss' legend theory then grew in popularity parallel to the rise of naturalism and materialism, supported by the common link of the denial of anything supernatural. Since these theories are complimentary, the atheist has no problem adopting both, but also the deist, because of his belief that God doesn't intervene in the world's affairs, tends to accept them as well. Therefore, the proponents of the legend theory range from both ends of the religious spectrum – from the strict atheist to those that claim to be Christian (e.g., Strauss, Rudolf Bultmann, the Jesus Seminar).

As we walk through the arguments against the legend theory, one important thing to remember is this: legendary accounts are not deliberate lies. Legendary accounts occur because of many reasons (e.g., embellishment, hyperbole, limitations of oral history), but they are not outright lies. As soon as we get into a claim that a NT author is deliberately falsifying their testimony, then it is no longer the legend theory, it is the conspiracy theory and should be treated as such.

On to the arguments.

1) There was not enough time for a legend to develop. Ever since D. F. Strauss first proposed the legend theory, it has been met with intense criticism. One of the most significant critiques of the legend theory is that the time between the actual events and the subsequent documentation of those events is too short to allow any kind of substantial legend to be established. Julius Müller, a contemporary of Strauss, stated:

Most decidedly must a considerable interval of time be required for such a complete transformation of a whole history by popular tradition, when the series of legends are formed in the same territory where the heroes actually lived and wrought. Here one cannot imagine how such a series of legends could arise in an historical age, obtain universal respect, and supplant the historical recollection of the true character and connexion of their heroes' lives in the minds of the community, if eyewitnesses were still at hand, who could be questioned respecting the truth of the recorded marvels. Hence, legendary fiction, as it likes not the clear present time, but prefers the mysterious gloom of grey antiquity, is wont to seek a remoteness of age, along with that of space, and to remove its boldest and more rare and wonderful creations into a very remote and unknown land.

This critique has never been answered.

So, how long does it take for a significant legendary account to be established? Other ancient Greek and Roman writings, such as those of the Greek historian Herodotus, enable us to test the rate at which legend accumulates. In these cases, “even the span of two generations is too short to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical fact” (The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, William Lane Craig). This minimum timespan for the accrual of legendary accounts plants us, at the earliest, firmly in the mid-2nd century, well after the NT documents were written, yet, interestingly enough, exactly within the correct timeframe for the apocryphal gospels. In other words, if you want a legendary account then look no further than the apocryphal gospels.

2) The living eyewitnesses would have been a controlling factor preventing significant legendary development. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul mentions that over 500 people witnessed the resurrected Christ. In addition to that, there were eyewitnesses to his death, burial, and to the empty tomb. So, when the gospel accounts were formed, most of these eyewitnesses were still alive and could attest to their truthfulness. These people would have been a controlling factor in verifying what did and didn't happen, keeping in check any myths that might arise.

3) The disciples would have been an authoritative factor preventing significant legendary development. The book of Acts makes it clear that the disciples primary role was to be witnesses to the truth of the resurrection. Therefore, it was their mission to prevent any legendary addition to the account of what really happened. Given their authoritative office and role in the early Christian fellowship, their influence and purpose provides them the means and motive to guard the historical account. (Remember, any claim that the disciples intentionally misconstrued their account does not fall under the legend theory, but under the conspiracy theory.)

4) The stories themselves do not show signs of significant legendary development. In general, the NT accounts of the death, burial, and post-burial appearances show reserve and lack embellishment that comes with the mythologizing of a text. Instead, we see simple, straightforward factual statements.

The clearest example of this is the early Christian creed Paul includes in his first book to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:3-7), but we also see it in certain gospel accounts of the events, such as Mark's description of Jesus' burial (Mark 15:42-47). Yet when we look at the accounts in the apocryphal gospels, we see what a legendary account would look like. The so-called Gospel of Peter describes a resurrection where Jesus is being helped out of the tomb by two men whose heads are “reaching to heaven” and where “a cross [is] following them.” Another apocryphal writing, The Ascension of Isaiah, has Jesus coming out of the tomb sitting on the shoulders of the angels Michael and Gabriel. In these apocryphal stories, there are symbolic and theological slants that have tainted the accounts. Again we should take note that these apocryphal gospels were not (and could not have been) written until after all the apostles had died, and even then they were all rejected by the early church.

In addition, legendary development begins in the details and slowly morphs into bigger things over time. However, the resurrection of Jesus is not a mere detail, but is the core fact of the NT documents. Therefore, it is the least likely historical claim that would be susceptible to legendary development, especially within the necessary timeframe and locale.

5) The lack of a “non-legendary” account. We have at least seven accounts of the resurrection whose sources are eyewitnesses and all of them agree to the historicity of the event (the four gospels, Acts, Peter's letters, and Paul's letters). On the other hand, not one single account exists from anyone of that time that refutes the narrative of the NT documents.

Besides the lack of an extra-biblical refutation, some claim that the events described within the NT agree because the New Testament documents were harmonized by the early church. However, “variations in the resurrection narratives tend to support, rather than undermine, their authenticity” (In the Fullness of Time, Paul L. Maier). It demonstrates that each narrative wasn't copied from the others. Further, it shows that the early church resisted the temptation to edit out or harmonize the variations and that there wasn't a conspiratorially agreed upon “official” version.

6) It would have been impossible for the disciples to proclaim the resurrection in Jerusalem if the tomb had not been empty and Jesus' post-burial appearances had not happened. If the resurrection were a myth, there is no possible chance that any of the sermons or events that happened in Jerusalem (as described in Acts and other NT letters) could have happened. Not only would the Jewish authorities have marched down to the tomb, opened it up, and crushed Christianity from the very beginning, but no one would have believed them anyway. They would have been lunatics. Yet Christianity's seed was planted and began growing right in Jerusalem. This means that the people of Jerusalem received the disciples' preaching and witness to the resurrection as truth.

7) The origin of Christianity hinges on the belief of the early disciples that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. If the resurrection of Jesus is a legendary fabrication, then how could Christianity have been established at all? The very fact that Christianity exists attests to the earliest followers of Christ believing in the resurrection and not that it was a later addition to the Christian faith. Why else would they live and die the way they did? Why else would anyone believe them? How else would it have spread so early and so quickly if their primary belief, the resurrection of Jesus, wasn't true?

Conclusion

With such strong arguments against the legend theory, why does anyone hold to it? I believe it is simply because there is no better alternative for the non-believer. Yet, as hard as it may be to believe, the simplest, most comprehensive, and most coherent theory that can account for all of the evidence is that Jesus was really resurrected from the dead. There is no other alternative.

So, for the non-believer, the naturalist, the materialist: is there even a chance of belief? Yes, most certainly! But it won't be from a simple acceptance of the supernatural. Accepting miracles doesn't necessitate the acceptance of the reason behind those miracles. It will be because of God-given faith that they will come to believe. A faith that reveals the reality of the supernatural. A faith that resides in the one who is the power behind the supernatural. A faith that is founded upon the historical events of the resurrection.

Some will say, perhaps, that [Ayosha's features] are quite compatible with both fanaticism and mysticism, but it seems to me that Alyosha was even more of a realist than the rest of us. Oh, of course, in the monastery he believed absolutely in miracles, but in my opinion miracles will never confound a realist. It is not miracles that bring a realist to faith. A true realist, if he is not a believer, will always find in himself the strength and ability not to believe in miracles as well, and if a miracle stands before him as an irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own senses than admit the fact. And even if he does admit it, he will admit it as a fact of nature that was previously unknown to him. In the realist, faith is not born from miracles, but miracles from faith. Once the realist comes to believe, then, precisely because of his realism, he must also allow for miracles. The Apostle Thomas declared that he would not believe until he saw, and when he saw, he said: “My Lord and my God!” Was it the miracle that made him believe? Most likely not, but he believed first and foremost because he wished to believe, and maybe already fully believed in his secret heart even as he was saying: “I will not believe until I see.” - The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky

* There are many solid critiques of Strauss, Bultmann, the Jesus Seminar, and the legend theory. Here is a list of just a few contemporary works:

This post is part of the the resurrection series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Series

Alternate Theories To The Resurrection – Dead Ends

This post is part of the the resurrection series (click to view the other posts in this series).

In the previous post in this series, we established that the historical evidence for the resurrection, from eyewitnesses to secondary witnesses to hostile witnesses to archeology, have all supported the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus. However, throughout history this belief in the resurrection has been critically met by skeptics and cynics alike. To a certain extent, those critics have recognized that at least some of the historical evidence is trustworthy. In most cases, they don't deny that Jesus really lived, that he was crucified, and that he was buried. In fact, rarely do they even deny that the tomb was empty! What they do deny is that Jesus was resurrected, so there have been many theories posited as to what really happened to Jesus' body.

In this post, we will look at the four most prominent alternate theories for the resurrection that are now labeled “dead ends.” The reason these are dead end theories is because, since the eighteenth century, they have been so soundly refuted that none of them have gained the consensus of scholarship and intellectually honest scholars no longer hold to them.

So, why would we spend time on theories that are no longer tenable? First, because many people (non-scholars) still hold to them. They haven't heard the overwhelming evidence against these theories, and so it is good for us to know the arguments. Second, it will help us clear the way for the next post where we will be investigating the most popular alternate theory alive today.

The Conspiracy (Stolen Body) Theory

Our first alternate explanation is not only the most commonly held dead end theory, but it is also the oldest. Proponents of the Conspiracy (or Stolen Body) Theory hold that someone, usually the disciples, but sometimes Joseph of Arimathea or Pontius Pilate, stole the body and that all of Christianity is rooted in a conspiracy. The theory first originated the day after Jesus' crucifixion and burial by the Jewish chief priests and Pharisees (Matthew 27:62-66) and was reinforced after the tomb was found empty on the third day (Matthew 28:11-15).

The holes in this theory are numerous. Primarily, there are the issues of motive, execution, and consistency. The disciples certainly didn't have the motive to steal the body. They were in despair, hiding and even denying that they knew Jesus. They were fearful of what might happen to them and so the last thing they would want to do is draw more attention upon themselves. Joseph of Arimathea was in a similar position. He brought enough attention to himself when asking for the body of Jesus and was therefore likely suspected by his Sanhedral colleagues and wouldn't take any more risks. And then there is Pilate. Realistically, Pilate would have been the last person to disturb the body. He wanted to be rid of the problem altogether and had no reason at all to steal the body.

The next issue that the conspiracy theorist must face is the execution of stealing the body. First, we know that the tomb was still sealed on the second day when the guards got there because of the fact that they stayed there to guard it. If the tomb had already been broken into, the guards would have simply turned around and gone back to report it. Second, how could anyone have stolen the body when the area was crawling with guards? We don't know how many guards there were, but we do know that Peter was guarded by four squads of four men each when he was imprisoned by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12), so it is reasonable to conclude that there were at least a couple of squads with four soldiers each. It would take a complex plan with skilled professional thieves to incapacitate the guards, roll away the stone, steal the body, and disappear without being caught - far from anything of which the disciples were capable.

The third primary issue is one of behavioral consistency. Was the disciples' behavior consistent with a conspiracy? Absolutely not. Something happened to change the disciples' behavior so that they became bold in their faith and belief even to the point of horrible deaths. Sincerity and moral character was of utmost importance to them, and they wrote about these events and their belief so early that all the other witnesses to these events could have easily refuted them and effectively shut down Christianity from the start. If they had stolen the body, why would they have lived they way they did and then died for their belief?

In summary, for one to hold to this theory they would have to believe “(1) that twelve poor fishermen were able to change the world through a plot laid so deep that no one has ever been able to discern where the cheat lay, (2) that these men gave up the pursuit of happiness and ventured into poverty, torments, and persecutions for nothing, (3) that depressed and fearful men would have suddenly grown so brave as to break into the tomb and steal the body, and (4) that these imposters would furnish the world with the greatest system of morality that ever was” (The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, William Lane Craig, p. 27-28).

The Apparent Death (Swoon) Theory

In the second alternate theory, the Apparent Death (or Swoon) Theory, it is believed that Jesus didn't die on the cross, but just seemed to die. Then, after Jesus was buried in the tomb, he recovered from his wounds, regained his strength, managed to escape from the tomb, found some clothes, and was nursed back to health by the disciples. The first mention of this theory is from Celsus in the 2nd century AD.

This theory suffers from a lack of understanding of Roman crucifixions. The Romans were vigilant about their crucifixions. Victims did not escape with their lives. Roman soldiers made sure that criminals died because if they survived then the soldiers themselves would likely be killed. They were brutal and torturous and no one survived. (The only exception I am aware of is from Josephus where he discovered that three of his friends were being crucified. Josephus intervened and had them pardoned so that they were quickly taken down from their crosses. Even then, two of the three still died. Clearly, though, their crucifixions were not completely carried out since their death sentence was overturned.)

The NT description of Jesus' crucifixion fits well with other Roman crucifixions, so many have used it to gain additional information about the physiology of the victim. In 1986, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article entitled On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ. In this article, the authors meticulously studied the historical and medical evidence given in the NT to see, from a modern medical perspective, if Jesus was really dead when he was taken down from the cross. Their conclusion, and I want to remind you that it comes from a decidedly non-Christian publication, is that Jesus died from either cardiac rupture or cardiorespiratory failure before the spear was thrust into his side. In their professional medical opinion, there is no possibility that Jesus survived the cross.

However, even if we grant that the Roman soldiers failed in their crucifixion of Jesus and that he only appeared to be dead, how would a crawling, wounded, almost dead man unwrap himself from his death shroud, have the strength to move the stone covering the tomb, make it to his disciples, and then inspire them to found their faith on his triumphal and victorious resurrection? Would that be the foundation to any faith?

The Wrong Tomb Theory

The third alternate explanation is the Wrong Tomb Theory. This theory posits that early Sunday morning the women went to the wrong tomb and that it was the gardner or grave worker that startled the women. However, Matthew 27:61 clearly shows that the women directly observed where Jesus was buried. Even if they had the wrong tomb, this is an issue that would have been quickly resolved. The disciples, Joseph of Arimathea, or even Pilate would have corrected the error. In fact, at any time the Roman or Jewish authorities could have led a crowd down to the correct tomb, opened it up, and displayed the body of Jesus for all to see. They had the means, motive, and opportunity to do it, but they never did because the tomb – the correct tomb – was empty.

The Hallucination Theory

The final dead end theory is the Hallucination Theory. Believers in this theory hold that the multiple visions or appearances of Jesus after his death were merely the psychic effects of the deep distress that the women felt when they went to the tomb. Then, this effect became contagious and so many after that saw Jesus too.

This theory would have more substance if only one person, or just a few at the most, had the hallucination. This type of experience is usually an individual experience where the person is anticipating and hoping that the person would come back to life. However, a collective, group hallucination at various times, in various places, and with various people has no historical precedent and is virtually impossible, especially considering they were sorrowful and in despair, exactly the opposite condition needed to bring about a hallucination. This doesn't even address the issue surrounding the abrupt stop to the visions. Why did all of these hallucinations suddenly stop 40 days after they began. Why wouldn't they have continued?

Conclusion

These four alternate theories to the resurrection are the historically classic responses that attempt to explain away the Christian belief that Jesus was truly and bodily resurrected from the dead. We have seen, though, that these theories fail when put under even mild scrutiny which has led modern scholars to reject these theories for the last 200 years. However, there is still another theory that most non-Christian scholars hold to today. This will be the topic of the next post.

This post is part of the the resurrection series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Redemption Accomplished, Redemption Applied

This was very helpful to me, so I thought I'd pass it along. In this video, Dr. Lane G. Tipton from Westminster Theological Seminary describes the distinction between redemption accomplished (i.e., historia salutis - the history of God's activity regarding salvation) and redemption applied (i.e., ordo salutis - the steps to an individual's salvation), and how they are both part of the gospel.

 

Series

Witnesses To The Resurrection

This post is part of the the resurrection series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Now that we've covered what Christians believe about the resurrection and the theology behind that belief, let's move to the apologetic of the resurrection and, specifically, to the witnesses of the resurrection.

I usually classify the witnesses into two categories: eyewitnesses and secondary witnesses. Eyewitnesses are self-describing. They are the ones who were with Jesus and witnessed his ministry and, with respect to this series, his death, burial, and  subsequent appearances after his resurrection. Secondary witnesses are those witnesses who either gained information from the eyewitnesses or give supporting testimony to the eyewitnesses.

The Eyewitness of the Holy Spirit

Typically I don't think of the Spirit as a “legal” or “forensic” witness, but this is exactly the way the Bible describes the Spirit in certain places. John 15:26 says, “but when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” God bore witness to those that believed in him “by giving them the Holy Spirit” (Acts 15:8). It was the Holy Spirit who gave that witness and declared Jesus to be the Christ.

From the previous post, do you remember which events the disciple to replace Judas was required to have witnessed? It was the baptism of Jesus all the way to his ascension. It is fascinating to me that, as a witness, the Holy Spirit also fulfilled this requirement. At the baptism of Jesus, we see that the Holy Spirit specifically descended upon Jesus like a dove and never left him.

It is because of the witness of the Holy Spirit that we can believe. The Holy Spirit testifies to us that the biblical account is true and gives us confidence and assurance of the events of Jesus' life. This is why we can believe that the Bible is trustworthy and this is why we, and our children, can believe without having all the facts of the case. It is because of the strength and power of the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

The Eyewitnesses of the Apostles and Followers of Jesus

The apostles and other followers of Jesus were also eyewitnesses. After Jesus told them that the Spirit would bear witness to them, he then said, “and you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:27). These eyewitnesses were the ones who would testify to the world, all through their lives and some through their writing.

Those that wrote down their eyewitness, or told it to others to write it down, consistently form their story as a historical claim. As an example, let's take a detailed look at 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-8 ESV)

Notice how there little in the way of embellishment in these verses. It primarily consists of factual historical statements. In addition, Paul gives a challenge to those reading it to get proof from the other witnesses. He tells them of the five hundred plus men (not counting women and children) who saw Jesus after his resurrection. In essence, Paul is saying, “you don't have to believe me; feel free to ask the others!” There is no way that Paul could write such a statement at that time and in that place if it wasn't true because it would have been too easy to disprove, discrediting his entire ministry.

A section of the 1 Corinthians 15 passage, at least verses 3-5, is considered to likely be one of the earliest Christian creeds. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians somewhere around 53-55 AD, but notice that this creed is one he had already preached to the people at Corinth and it is one which he received even before that. This means that the creed would have been formulated based off of the events themselves, then Paul would have been taught this creed, then he would have traveled making use of the creed including preaching it to the Corinthians, then he would have traveled some more, and finally he would have written it in this letter to the Corinthians. This timeline reveals that quite a bit of time had elapsed between the formulation of the creed and Paul's inclusion of it into his letter to the Corinthians, especially considering the cultural factors of that time (e.g., a relatively large amount of time for travel and long-distance communication).

In fact, it may be possible to trace this creed to within the first few years just after Jesus' resurrection and ascension. I believe there are at least two reasons for this. First, when we compare this creed to some of the earliest preaching (what we see in Acts), those sermons have the same structure of the creed. As an example, Paul's sermon at Antioch includes this, “and though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.” (Acts 13:28-31). Christ died, he was buried, he was raised, and he appeared to others. 1 Corinthians 15 contains a perfect outline for this sermon.

Second, in Galatians 1:18-19, Paul says that he spent 15 days with Peter and James in Jerusalem three years after his conversion (around 36-37 AD). It is very possible that this is where Paul learned the creed that he eventually preached to the people in Corinth and then later reinforced to them in his letter that we now have. Both Paul's timeline and the early date of the creed fit this well. On top of this, the two people that Paul mentions with regard to this creed in 1 Corinthians 15 are Cephas (Peter's Aramaic name) and James; the very two disciples he met with in Jerusalem who would have shared this creed with Paul. So, if this is the case, and I believe it is, then this creed would have been formed even before Peter and James taught it to Paul, which would have been within the first five years after the resurrection. Very early, indeed.

The Witness of Written History

When it comes to written history, we have both eyewitness and secondary witness testimony coming from the New Testament and external sources. A mountain of books have been written discussing the reliability of the NT documents, so I'll leave that for some other time, but the presupposition for this article is that the NT documents are valid and truthful historical documents. In the NT, we have already looked at some of Paul's testimony. He is a unique form of eyewitness who saw the resurrected Jesus in his conversion but also witnessed Jesus' ministry and early Christianity from the perspective of a hostile witness. After his conversion, Paul had deep relationships with the apostles and other eyewitnesses. But, of course, Paul is not the only eyewitness to write down what happened. Other NT eyewitnesses, such as Matthew, John, Peter, and James, all gave testimony through their writing as well.

As NT secondary witnesses, we have Mark and Luke, who both spent a significant amount of time with the eyewitnesses. Papias tels us that Mark was the writer for Peter and accurately wrote down everything he possibly could. This fits with other references to Mark as Peter's companion. Luke was a companion of Paul, spent time with the other disciples, and was even involved in some of the events of the early church that he recorded in Acts. Eusebius reports that Paul would quote from the book of Luke saying, “according to my gospel,” showing that Paul was the force behind Luke's writing.

In addition to the NT secondary witnesses, we have witnesses to early Christianity that are from external sources which were often hostile to Christianity. The Roman writers and historians Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny, as well as the Greek historian, Thallus, and the Jewish historian, Josephus, all make reference to Christianity at a very early date. Then there are the secondary sources that come from the early church fathers such as Papias and Polycarp, and early extra-biblical writings like the Didache and Shepherd of Hermas. In fact, in the first 200 years we have over 150 different books, documents, or fragments that have a reference to Jesus or early Christianity. And these are just the documents we know about. There are likely tenfold that amount that has been lost over time. While some of these extra-biblical secondary sources don't always directly reference the event of the resurrection of Christ, they do give credible witness to the early beginnings of the Christian faith which resulted from the resurrection, as evidenced from the actual eyewitness accounts.

The Witness of Archeology

Finally, we have the witness of archeology. Archeology has powerfully and consistently supported and proved the biblical account of history time and time again. There are thousands of little pieces of archeological evidence that support the biblical narrative. For example, for centuries scholars said that Luke was wrong in saying that Lysanias was the tetrarch of Abilene in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1), because the only Lysanias that was known was from one that ruled Abilene in the 1st century BC and was put to death by Mark Antony in 39 BC. However, in the 1940's, William Ramsey found an inscription about Lysanias that pointed to him being the tetrarch of Abilene during the time Luke referenced, revealing that there were likely two different rulers of Abilene named Lysanias (which shouldn't be surprising since we have multiple examples of presidents with the same last name). It took over 1900 years to show that there were actually two rulers named Lysanias and that Luke was, in fact, correct!

Here are four more examples of archeology that support the biblical record.

  • Capernaum SynagogueThe existence of first century synagogues was debated for a time since none had ever been found. However, three have now been found with the possibility of a fourth and fifth. The picture to the right is the fifth possibility in Capernaum. The ruins on top are not from the first century, however the dark stones seen at the bottom are the foundation of the first century synagogue.
  • Also found in the fishing village of Capernaum is a unique room joining two courtyards that was given special attention when created. Its walls were covered with Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, and Latin inscriptions, its floors were covered in plaster, and no pieces of domestic pottery were found even though many lamps were discovered. This is thought to be an early meeting place for Christians and possibly even the home of Peter.
  • Before 1961, many scholars refused to believe that Pontius Pilate was a historical figure. However, in 1961 a stone containing an inscription with Pilate's name was found in Caesarea where he likely had his base of operations proving that he really existed.
  • Finally, my favorite archeological find is the ossuary of Joseph Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest identified by Matthew, Luke, John, and Josephus. In November 1990, a crew of construction workers working on a water park uncovered a burial cave with twelve ossuaries inside. One of these ossuaries was magnificently carved and decorated, far more than most ossuaries at that time. This ossuary was twice inscribed with the Aramaic name “Yehosef bar Qayafa,” or “Joseph, son of Caiaphas.” Inside this ossuary were the bones of a 60 year old man. Taking into account the time frame, the age of the bones, the lavish decoration, and the double inscription, this is most certainly the ossuary and bones of Joseph Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest that was involved in the trial of Jesus. If this is the case, then this is the first remains of a biblical personality ever discovered!

Taking all of these witnesses into account, we have an established historical record in which each different witness corroborates the testimony of another. This isn't to say that there aren't some inconsistencies that still need to be worked out, however the large amount of agreement overwhelms the small amount of disagreement.

This post is part of the the resurrection series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Series

Theology Of The Resurrection

This post is part of the the resurrection series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Is the resurrection important? What was the purpose of the resurrection? What did it mean? Why did it have to happen? In this post I'll be discussing the theology behind Christ's resurrection.

Is the resurrection important?

It is an understatement to say that the resurrection is important. The resurrection is the linchpin of the Christian faith. In fact, it is the most important event in the life of Jesus, in Christianity, and in the whole scope of history. Without it, the whole course of history, both secular and redemptive, would be completely different.

“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19 ESV, emphasis mine)

These are strong words from Paul. He understood that if the resurrection didn't happen, then our “faith is futile.” To be even more blunt, without the historical, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christianity is a lie. I admit that I don't particularly like writing that, but this is exactly what I meant in the previous series post where I said that Christianity is based on historical facts. The implication of this (on the “negative” side) is that if these historical events, especially the resurrection, didn't happen, then Christianity falls. In other words, if someone delivers up the bones of Jesus tomorrow, then we are sunk and are to be pitied for our failed belief. This is how important the resurrection is!

The Purpose and Preaching of the Disciples

The importance of the resurrection can also be seen in the purpose and preaching of the disciples. First, what were the requirements and the goal of adding an apostle to replace Judas? Acts 1:21-22 tells us that Judas' replacement had to have been with Jesus and the disciples beginning at Jesus' baptism all the way to his ascension into heaven. The replacement had to be there for Jesus' entire ministry. Why? Because he must become with the other disciples a “witness to his resurrection.” This is the primary purpose of not just Judas' replacement, but of all the disciples. That they would be eyewitnesses to the resurrection and that they would share what they witnessed – they would give their testimony – with everyone they met.

The disciples knew how important their witness was and so they guarded it carefully. They likely realized how hard it was to believe in any resurrection (e.g., the Sadducees), so when it came to replacing Judas, they needed to find someone with the best witness possible. It had to be someone who was there for every part of Jesus' ministry. In all of history, only a select few could be eyewitnesses and give testimony to these events for the rest of the world and for all time, so it was important that the witness experienced the whole of Jesus' ministry so they would be a trustworthy voice to the resurrection.

We also see the importance of the resurrection in the preaching of the disciples. They knew that what they witnessed was not only important for their time, but for all time. When Peter preached in Solomon's Portico, he said, “and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15 ESV). Acts 4:33 says that “with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” Again, in one of Peter's sermons, he said, “but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:40-43 ESV). Paul also knew of the importance of his witness. In Antioch he preached, “But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus” (Acts 13:30-33 ESV).

There is no question as to the importance of the resurrection. Peter knew it, Paul knew it, and the rest of the disciples knew it. It was their purpose and it was central to their preaching. First and foremost, the resurrection really happened and they were witnesses to it.

What did Christ accomplish in the resurrection?

What was the purpose of the resurrection? What did it mean? Why did it have to happen? All of these questions are closely tied to one another and have similar, if not the same, answers. John Piper wrote a book called Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came To Die. A similar book could probably be written for the reasons Jesus was resurrected. But instead of exhausting fifty plus reasons, I'll hit the primary ones, dividing them into two groups. The first group describes overall things the resurrection accomplished and the second group refers to more specific things that affect an individual believer's life. First, the general reasons.

The resurrection...

  • declared Jesus to be the true Son of God. Romans 1:4 says that Christ “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” It was the resurrection that proved Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God.
  • fulfilled what was promised to the OT fathers. All the promises that God made to the fathers (e.g., Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, etc.) were fulfilled in the resurrection. “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus” (Acts 13:32-33 ESV). These promises are ones of salvation, blessing, redemption, and the spread of God's glory.
  • gives assurance to all of the final judgment. God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man [Jesus] whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31 ESV). In the resurrection all people have been given assurance - have been put on notice - that one day there will be a final judgement.
  • enabled Jesus to sit at the right had of the father to rule over his kingdom.  “The working of [God's] great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:19-23 ESV). When Jesus was raised from the dead and then ascended into heaven, God seated him at his right hand to rule over everything. Christ's resurrection signified that he is king over all.

Next are the more specific reasons which all fall under the category of “union with Christ.”

Union With Christ

When I say “union with Christ,” I am talking about the central reformed doctrine surrounding soteriology (i.e., salvation). Scripture continually and consistently points to Christ as the mediator of our relationship to God. Therefore, if we are in Christ, then we gain the benefits of a relationship with God where he is pleased with us and we are righteous before him. Because of the resurrection, the benefits to those who are in union with Christ have been made complete.

The resurrection...

  • enables Christ to intercede on our behalf. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34 ESV). It is a simple enough concept that if Christ was still in the grave, there is no way he could intercede on our behalf. But because he has been resurrected, he is able to intercede for us.
  • is the basis for believing in our future resurrection and glorification. “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Corinthians 6:14 ESV – see also 2 Corinthians 4:14 and Philippians 3:10-11). It is because of the resurrection that death has lost its victory and has lost its sting. We can now believe that we will be resurrected to glory because of Christ's resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
  • gives us a living hope. Because we are in Christ and he has been resurrected, we have hope that we will receive “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:3-5, 20-21). And if that couldn't get any better, we also have assurance that our hope is living because Christ is living.
  • is an incentive for us to turn from sin and live rightly. Our sanctification, the continual work of God's grace in us so that we will more and more die to sin and rise to newness of life, is made possible by the resurrection. “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:9-11 ESV – see also Colossians 3:1-4).
  • is for our justification. The basis for our justification, where the wrath of God towards our sin is satisfied and the righteousness required is supplied, is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Righteousness “will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25 ESV – see also Romans 10:9-10 where we are justified by belief with our heart that Jesus has been raised from the dead). The resurrection is part of the basis for our justification; it plays a vital role in saving us!

Another way to look at all of these reasons is from the negative side of it. If Christ wasn't raised, there would be no proof that he was the son of God. If Christ wasn't raised, the promises to the OT fathers would not have been fulfilled. If Christ wasn't raised, no one would have assurance of final judgment. If Christ wasn't raised, Christ wouldn't be king over all creation. If Christ wasn't raised, he could not intercede on our behalf. If Christ wasn't raised, we would have no reason to believe in our future resurrection and glorification. If Christ wasn't raised, we would have no living hope. If Christ wasn't raised, we would have no sanctification. If Christ wasn't raised, we would not be justified before a holy God. Thank God that Christ was raised!

This post is part of the the resurrection series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Series

Belief In The Resurrection

This post is part of the the resurrection series (click to view the other posts in this series).

What do Christians believe about the resurrection of Jesus Christ? It's a very simple belief. There isn't much complication to it and there is only one nuance that I can think of (i.e., that it is a bodily resurrection and not just a spiritual one), yet there seems to be a casualness about the event and its importance even among Christians. Why is it that, outside of Passion Week, the resurrection tends to be put on the back burner when compared to the conversation surrounding Jesus' life and death? Why do we take it for granted?  Why do we tend to talk of being at the foot of the cross, but hardly ever continue on to the empty tomb?

I'm really pointing the finger at myself. I am guilty of this just as much as anyone. Why is it that I know the theology of the substitutionary atonement and imputed righteousness of Christ, but I hesitate when discussing exactly what Christ accomplished in the resurrection? Why has it been difficult for me to articulate exactly why Jesus had to be resurrected? In the past I haven't had much to say beyond “Victory!”, which is a great answer, but is not really complete enough for me. In this series, we'll discuss the belief, theology and apologetics surrounding the resurrection.

Christianity is NOT a Blind Faith

"It seems to me a fundamental dishonesty and a fundamental treachery to intellectual integrity to hold a belief because you think it's useful and not because you think it's true." - Bertrand Russell

When Bertrand Russell said this, the religious academic institutions that had influence on him denied the resurrection. These academic circles believed that Christianity was primarily about becoming a better person and positively influencing society. They didn't need any “supernatural” event to forward this belief, so they allowed their worldview to be heavily influenced by the naturalistic/materialistic worldview that said that nothing could happen outside of nature. Their belief, therefore, was only in the fact that they felt Christianity was useful and not because they really believed it was true.

Russell saw through this logical inconsistency. How could anything that was not true be the basis for anything really useful? Even more so, these men were promoting a strict moral code, but how could this code be followed when the foundation of it is false?

The truth is that God does not call us to a blind faith. God does not tell us to believe, even if the story that establishes that belief is not true. God calls us to a faith that is based on history, on events that really happened, on events that are grounded in historical truth.

What Do Christians Believe About The Resurrection?

Christians believe that the resurrection is true, that it really happened. We believe that the New Testament documents are reliable and trustworthy, and that the story they tell about Jesus is true history. We believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and he did so bodily.

Our belief about the resurrection is summarized in the Apostles Creed:

“The third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty”

and, in more detail, in the Westminster Confession of Faith (8.4 - Of Christ the Mediator):

“This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake; which that he might discharge, he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfill it; endured most grievous torments immediately in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died, was buried, and remained under the power of death, yet saw no corruption. On the third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered, with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world.”

What we believe is very simple, but believing it is difficult for so many. Today we are being bombarded from all sides that deny Christ and his resurrection, usually reaching it's peak during Holy Week. Hopefully this series will combat that and give you confidence in what you believe and why you believe it; that what you believe is really true and trustworthy; that the faith God gave you in Christ is the only faith worth having. In the next post we will discuss the theology of the resurrection.

This post is part of the the resurrection series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Does God Control The Weather?

Now that we are in tornado season, I've been seeing more and more blog posts, articles, and comments about natural disasters and God's role in them. Last week John Piper wrote about a recent string of very destructive tornadoes and how God is in complete control of those tornadoes and all of nature. Piper supported his view with several verses, yet I found more than a few posts on other blogs questioning Piper's view (see examples here and here). Granted, there was more to Piper's post and the subsequent rebuttals than just God's control over natural events, however the objections to Piper's view underscored the belief that God does not cause natural events, especially natural disasters. In light of this, I want to discuss the doctrine of providence which will guide us to a scriptural understanding of God's role in nature (for simplicity's sake, I won't talk about God's interaction with men and women - we'll leave that beast for another time when I have more courage).

The Doctrine of Providence

The doctrine of providence concerns God's relation to and activity in his creation. It describes how God continually upholds all of creation, works through and with all things in creation, and guides all things towards his ultimate purpose. These elements of providence are called preservation, concurrence, and government, respectively, and, while I will discuss these three as distinct elements in providence, they are never separated from each other in effect. Rather, they reference three parallel views of growing scope in God's providence. Starting with the narrowest point of view, preservation refers to the existence and being of an element in creation. Then, widening our point of view, concurrence describes the action or activity of those elements in creation. Finally, at the widest point of view, government is concerned with the guidance of all things toward a specific purpose.

It would be remiss of me to mention God's providence without mentioning Christ. “In Jesus Christ, God has set up the relationship between himself and his creatures, promising to carry through his purpose in creation to its triumphal conclusion” (T.H.L. Parker, “The Providence of God,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology). The relationship between creation and God, as defined by God's providence, is made possible only in Christ and his mediation. Christ was active in creation and he is now active in sustaining that creation. Furthermore, from the widest view of world history to any individual event within history, things only have true, biblical significance in the light of Christ. And so, because of Christ, the ultimate direction of God's providence is towards the redemption of his people for the glory of God.

Deism and Pantheism

Before I discuss the three elements of providence, it is appropriate to say something about what providence is not. First, providence is not simply the foresight or foresight plus foreordination of God. These actions have to do with the prior activity of God, but providence is primarily concerned with the present and continual action by God to sustain and direct his creation. This isn't to say that these concepts aren't related to each other; they are related, but they are not the exact same thing. Second, misconceptions of God's providence generally fall, in varying degrees, towards either deism or pantheism.

Deism, elements of which I believe are far more prevalent in Christian circles today than pantheism, is the belief that God created the world and all of it's physical laws and then sat back and let it run. In other words, God wound up the world clock in creation and then left it to tick away under it's own devices. Technically, absolute deism can't be held by Christians (God could not have intervened in the world's affairs through the person and work of Jesus), but elements of deism often are. Many Christians believe that God only intervenes in the natural order of things when it is truly necessary (e.g., Jesus), or only when we would judge it as a positive action (e.g., a tornado dissipates just before it reaches your house). The view usually culminates in the understanding that God created everything with certain properties and features, set laws to govern creation, and then left creation to work out it's own destiny while only providing general oversight of these laws, but rarely, if at all, interfering with the specific elements in creation. In this belief, God does not direct or control a large majority of events that occur in the universe, but that the laws of nature are in sole control when causing events to happen.

Pantheism views God and nature as one. In this belief, there is no distinction between God and creation at all so that creation and providence are essentially the same thing. In other words, a tornado is God, an earthquake is God, the laws of nature are God, etc. There is no separation of creation and creator. This belief is held more by eastern mysticism and new age followers than Christians, but some elements of pantheism have still crept into some Christians' beliefs in more extreme forms of the doctrine of the immanence of God. But this belief leaves no room for anything separate from God. Anything seen as independent, in any sense of the word, from God is an illusion. The effects here mainly have to do with moral actors, which I'm not addressing in this post, however it must be said that pantheism has serious issues when attempting to address the problem of evil (i.e., theodicy).

To give you an example, we can see elements of both deism and pantheism in Piper's post and the rebuttals. First, I believe Piper's metaphor regarding the fingers of God being tornadoes could be confused as a pantheistic view. If there is no distinction between the creator and the creation, between God and the tornadoes, then we begin to walk down a path that isn't supported by scripture and runs into the problems of pantheism. From all accounts, Piper is not a pantheist and I don't believe it would be a stretch to say he would refute a pantheistic worldview with great resolve. However, with the limitations of impersonal blog posts and the time required to write them, the metaphor Piper used didn't give the nuance that a complete picture of God's providence deserves (nor do I believe it was his intention to create said picture). Regardless, you can see what pantheism would look like if Piper's metaphors were to be taken literally.

On the flip side, the reactions to Piper's post reflected elements of deistic views which, as opposed to Piper's post, I believe are in fact held by the authors as well as many other Christians. Their objections centered around their view that God can't be a part of something if any form of destruction, death, sin, or evil is involved. The tendency when defending deism is to quickly move towards the more difficult subject of God's providence with regard to us as moral agents, as the rebuttals do so when mentioning 9/11 and child predators, and to put responsibility solely upon the world's fallenness. Understandably, the effort here is to separate God from evil. The problem, though, is that this invites more serious issues regarding God's sovereignty and a lack of support from the Bible.

These two alternate views speak more to a world determined by fate on the one hand (pantheism), or by chance on the other (deism). But, as we will see, there is neither randomness nor impersonal deterministic fate with God. God is never surprised as to what happens, he is in control of all things, yet there are also secondary causes in play. When we step back and look at the biblical view of God's providence, we will see that the contrasting views of deism and pantheism are inconsistent both logically and scripturally.

Preservation

In preservation, God's providence continually keeps and maintains all of the things he created, holding together the properties, abilities, and powers to which he gave them. These properties, abilities, and powers are real things and have real effects in and of themselves, and God upholds them so that they can continue in the way they were created. For example, this means that an apple continues to be an apple because God chooses to continually sustain and keep it so that it has all the properties of an apple. Additionally, even though God is the one who upholds those properties of the apple, they still remain the properties of the apple and are not properties of God (e.g. God upholds the taste of an apple, but the taste itself still belongs to the apple – you are not tasting God). However, if God ever withdrew this sustaining power, the apple would cease to exist.

Preservation is supported scripturally by numerous passages; here are a few. Nehemiah 9:6 says, “you are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you” (emphasis mine). Matthew 10:29 says, “are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” For “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27). After describing creation, Paul follows with God's providence in Colossians 1:17; “and he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Hebrews 1:3 says that Christ “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

The deist would disagree with preservation because they would say that God does not need to uphold anything. As described above, from their point of view God gave all the elements of nature their properties, placed the elements under laws, and then left everything to run on its own with full independence. This is wrong for three reasons. First, the foundation of this view is that God gave all elements in creation the ability to exist on their own apart from God and to be self-sustaining. However, these are incommunicable characteristics of God and have not been given to the created object. Second, this view separates God from creation and renders communion with God virtually impossible. Yet, Christianity can not exist without communion with God – God's continual presence in our lives and in the universe. Third, it is simply unbiblical. This view completely ignores scripture that directly addresses God's continual upholding of his creation.

Concurrence

Where preservation upholds the elements of creation, concurrence causes those elements to act. In concurrence, God's providence is the cooperation of God's power with all powers that he gave to creation, directing their distinctive properties so that they will act as they do. This implies two things. First, the powers of nature do not act by themselves independently, for God is also active in every action of creation. Second, “second causes” are real and should not be confused with the operative power of God.

This is a good place to introduce the idea of “primary cause” and “secondary causes” (sometimes called “first cause” and “second causes”). The primary cause is always God. It is God who first directs and causes all things to occur and it is God's will that supersedes all secondary causes. Secondary causes come from the properties given to the object by God in creation. These are the powers and properties that we see within the natural world. So, while the primary cause is not evident to us, the secondary causes usually are.

Let's return to our apple example. When an apple falls to the ground, who or what caused it to do so? God, as the primary cause did so, and the mass of the apple combined with the force of gravity, as secondary causes, did so. Both are 100% involved. As we discussed earlier, God continually preserves the secondary causes, the mass of the apple and the force of gravity, and thereby works through the secondary causes to bring about events. However, the mass of the apple is still a property of the apple and not of God, and the force of gravity is still a force of nature and not a force of God. So when an event in nature happens, we know immediately who is responsible. God is responsible as the primary cause, and the forces of nature are responsible as the secondary causes.

Is concurrence scriptural? Absolutely. Paul says that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). In Psalm 148:8 we read of “fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!” And Psalm 135:6-7 says, “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings froth the wind from his storehouses.” God causes the grass to grow (Psalm 104:14), the sun to rise, and the rain to fall (Matthew 5:45). Birds will not die apart from the will of God (Matthew 10:29), and even seemingly random or chance events are not outside of God's direction. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33).

“For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’
likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour...
By the breath of God ice is given,
and the broad waters are frozen fast.
He loads the thick cloud with moisture;
the clouds scatter his lightning.
They turn around and around by his guidance,
to accomplish all that he commands them
on the face of the habitable world.
Whether for correction or for his land
or for love, he causes it to happen.”
(Job 37:6,10-13)

Concurrence is not a general providence where God doesn't determine the action of the created object but just stimulates the object to act, leaving it up to the object to determine it's specific action. If this were the case, then the created object would be superior to God and able to frustrate and override the plans of God. Created objects would be in control and divine providence would not exist. Also, concurrence is not a joint effort by God and creation. As mentioned in the apple example, an event is entirely of God and entirely of the created object. There is nothing that happens independent of God's will or independent of the activity of the object. Finally, in concurrence there is not an equality between the primary and secondary causes. The primary cause, God, always has priority over the secondary causes.

Government

Preservation describes God's maintenance of all things, concurrence defines how God cooperates with secondary causes to bring about events, and government is how God directs those events towards his divine purpose. In government, God's providence continually rules over all creation to fulfill his eternal purpose, the glory of his name. God is king of his kingdom, which is the whole universe, and has complete divine sovereignty over it. His government of his kingdom is formed around the nature of all the things he has created so that the laws of nature act in a way that is shaped by his will. God has a purpose, and all things are directed towards that purpose. In the apple example, the apple falls for a reason and that reason is aligned with God's ultimate purpose. No matter how small the event, yes, even an apple falling from a tree, God has a purpose.

The idea of government is also evident in scripture. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). God “does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'” (Daniel 4:35). Acts 17:24-27 describes God as “Lord of heaven and earth, [who] does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” Paul declares that “from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36) so that “God has put all things in subjection under [Christ's] feet” (1 Corinthians 15:27).

Conclusion

Hopefully now you have some direction as to how to answer our original question, “Does God control the weather?” The answer is yes, although a simple yes is not sufficient (as is the case for all questions surrounding God's providence). God continually sustains the laws of nature that cause weather. Whether it is a peaceful spring rain or a devastating natural disaster, God upholds the forces that cause these things. Additionally, God directs the complex forces of nature in such a way that those forces combine to produce the weather event. God is the primary cause, and all the meteorological forces are the secondary causes. Both God and those meteorological forces are completely involved. Through this action, though, the properties of the weather event remain attributable to that event. A hurricane is not the breath of God, an earthquake is not the shove of God, and, yes, a tornado is not the actual finger of God. Just as the taste of an apple remains the property of the apple, the destructive properties of natural disasters are their own properties and are not properties of God. And finally, God directs all things, which certainly includes the weather, towards his eternal purpose and for the glory of his name.

 

Topics: providence

Related Posts: The Influence of a Worldview

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