Friday, January 30, 2015

Part 2 on Hell: Is Unbelief Really That Bad?

Last post I talked about eternal punishment is justified because there is good reason to think the damned are in hell because they have voluntarily made themselves into an eternally unrepentant person.

I essentially stated that it is not unjust that "there is a hell, and some people go there." However, when most people object to the doctrine of hell, they say "Why would a loving God send people to hell for not believing in him?" I answered the first part of the question in the last blog post. In this second blog post, I answer the second part of the question.

It is my job to show that "unbelief" in the Gospel is not primarily an intellectual activity, but an act of the will that manifests itself in the intellect. (1) Furthermore, I need to demonstrate that unbelief is at it's core, a lack of repentance.

Unjust to Not Believe?

Why would Jesus send people to hell for not believing in him?

At first glance, this seems a very arbitrary standard, especially in matters of justice. What if someone doesn't think there is enough evidence? What if someone simply is misinformed about Christianity?

But as we shall see, I don't think this is arbitrary at all, especially from a justice standpoint.

Human Beliefs Are Peculiar 

Some beliefs people universally agree upon. For example, the color of the sky, the truth of mathematics, etc. etc.

But beliefs are very malleable, not just through deception, but by conflicts of interest. This is easy enough to prove. Take political beliefs for example. People sharply disagree on matters of great importance. Some of this is due to insufficient research or honest misinformation. But mostly, this has to do with preference.

Notice how on the whole, people tend to politically align with the parties that benefit them. They don't just support people who benefit them. They actually believe that those who benefit them are truly correct. Moreover, have you ever met a liberal who prefers to be a conservative, or vice versa? I doubt it.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say that humans are totally devoid of any rational capacity, even in politics. People have both rational and emotional faculties. What I am saying is that politics is a minefield that is absolutely littered with conflicts of interest, and not just financial ones.

I'm sure you may have also observed in politics, that when people are presented with evidence against their position, they don't necessarily change their mind. In fact, they usually don't. They usually get angrier and more hostile to the other point of view, hardening their own stance.

The Apex of the Pyramid 

If political beliefs are a minefield of conflicts of interests, then beliefs about ultimate questions are even more notorious. People have political views that align with some of their most important and cherished personal values. That is why there is so much yelling and hurt feelings in politics.

But matters of religious import are even worse. Your religion isn't just "one of your most cherished values." It is your MOST cherished thing. Your god is the thing you value most in life. You may feel strongly about your personal values as they relate to politics. But the thing in your life that is the object of your utmost affections is, by definition, the thing you worship. For some, it is a supernatural Being. For others, its their kids. For others, their sex life, or money, etc. Everyone has something that is most important to them.

Atheists of recent times have claimed to be rational actors in this process. But emotions run especially high when atheists debate Christians. Some of them even hate the religion altogether. Those who claim that religious people are heavily biased by wishful thinking may be correct (as I've argued above). But this is also the perfect opportunity for them to look themselves in the mirror, and see how passionately they desire atheism to be true.

Beliefs and Preference

We have already established that many beliefs people hold are mostly determined by preference.  Beliefs with 1) any kind of plausible deniability at all that have 2) major conflicts of interest attached to them tend to be very malleable beliefs.

Now not all beliefs are determined by preference. Some beliefs are so forceful that they basically knock you down if you don't believe them. For example, the belief that a semi truck is about to crash into me, is a very imposing belief without much deniability. Things with immediate consequences are more likely to command belief and mental acceptance.

Historical beliefs don't hit you in the face if you don't believe them. For example, believing the Holocaust really happened is not a belief that will hit you in the face if you don't believe it. And some people really hate Jews. Thus, denying a historical fact that gets Jews any kind of moral sympathy is the route they choose to take.

No Consolation to God

Now, I'm certainly not saying that people who hold religious beliefs other than Christianity are the only people who have strong preferential biases that influence their beliefs. Clearly, everyone does this. Atheists wouldn't be so angry and passionate if preference didn't influence their choice. Christians also would not be so passionate if it was entirely influenced by logic. 

Which merely proves my point. Those who hate the Christian God will not console him by telling him on judgment day that they thought he didn't exist! Nor will those who worship and serve other gods console him by saving they merely believed the other god was the true one. Many beliefs at that high of a level in a person's set of values are determined and biased heavily by preference. So those who hate the Christian God or refuse to give him allegiance, purely based on preference, will be in quite the unenviable situation. 

Furthermore, when Christ returns, those who already disbelieve him out of loyalty to other things will not magically feel more in love with him. In fact, as I mentioned in the previous post, it seems they will hate him more. Like I said before, when people who have strong beliefs and feelings about a topic are presented diconfirmatory evidence, they often get angrier. So it makes sense they would get especially angry when Jesus returns!

Gambling on Judgment Day 

Humans are both emotional and rational creatures. Though we may choose religion based on preference, we still are accountable to the truth of our choice. Imagine that objectively speaking, one religion has a lot more evidence than another. But let's just say I choose to believe the one with less evidence, ultimately out of preference. (I wouldn't admit this to myself, but let's say that was the underlying bias). 

Imagine that God, the one that had more evidence, returned to judge the world. He would search my hidden motives, and know that I failed to give him allegiance, because I preferred some other god. That would be a pretty embarrassing and frightening quandary to be stuck in. That is a situation and fate I wish on no one. 

As far as Christianity is concerned, I would hate to get caught on judgment day not believing in Christianity because I didn't like it. Christianity offers a clean slate and forgiveness for all sins. It doesn't just pardon the sins. God was so loving as to take the penalty we deserved for our sin, on himself on the cross. Not only a forgiving God. But a very loving and sacrificial God who actually cares about you and is willing to go to great troubles to help you. This willingness to help you goes so far as to include undergoing a death by torture in order to reconcile the broken relationship.

In addition to this, Christianity offers eternal life in a resurrected body, patterned after the resurrection body of Jesus. All humans experience moral guilt. And I have yet to meet a happy person who wants to die. So the idea of all of our wrongdoing expunged in God's courtroom, coupled with eternal life in an indestructible body seems too good to pass up. All of this is presented as a gift, and not as something that is earned.

Preference and Evidence

We have already seen that preference has a strong influence on beliefs. I fully include Christians in this assessment. After all, I just got telling you the compelling benefits Christianity has to offer, if true. Clearly, preference would play a strong role here! Look at all the perks!

Even if it had pretty shaky evidence, like 40% chance of being true, some people would still accept it with great enthusiasm, because preference influences religious belief so strongly. 

But I contend it has enough evidence that it is quite frankly weird that anyone at all rejects it. The fact that the entire planet isn't wildly psychologically biased towards Christianity is rather confusing to me. Most people on earth are not Christian and don't intend to become one anytime soon.

But why do they do this? Is it because they have refused to succumb to the powers of wishful thinking? Is it because they express cautious agnosticism over the Christian God's existence, or a healthy skepticism, not wanting to rush into something without examining it first?

Hardly. Oddly enough, people choose to believe in religions that not only have less evidence but are actually less appealing. In terms of evidence Christianity has a more compelling offer and more evidence than many of the worlds major religions. And when presented with the gospel of Christianity, most humans on earth react with a mild awkwardness, apathy or frustration.

Enough Evidence to Make Everyone Badly Biased

Let us run with the contention, often made by atheists (and by me in this blog post) that preference massively influences religious belief in a very profound way. Consider these two facts:

1) DNA has more "information" in it than a novel.
2) The resurrection of Jesus has an equal amount and earlier primary source documentation than Julius Caesar's assasination (according to "liberal" and atheist Bible scholars).

This is not ironclad evidence, though for two sentences, it is quite decent. But from a psychological standpoint, what does it matter? Compared to other religions, this is much stronger evidence. And the offer of Christianity is much more compelling. So we would then predict that the infinite magnetism of wishful thinking would drive almost everyone on the face of the earth inexorably to some form of Christianity.

Even for atheists and agnostics, this would be true. Even compared to "nothing at all" Christianity has "decent" evidence. After all, the two facts above do not contrast different religions, but attempt to use some kind of objective, non-religious standard (i.e. DNA has more information than a book and, Jesus' resurrection has more historical primary sources than Caesar's assassination).

Agnostics and atheists are not immune to wishful thinking. In fact, they seem to wish pretty badly that Christianity would stop being a force in the world. The way some of them act, either through extreme apathy, or by reacting in anger, one would think that it wouldn't make them happy if it was true. So here they have lots of emotion and wishful thinking as well.

But why anger and hate against Christianity, by people in all religious or non-religious groups? That's like someone offering you 600 billion dollars, and wishing that it wasn't so. "Just please. Let it not be so!"

If it's true that people's beliefs about ultimate questions are strongly driven by preference, then why isn't almost everyone Christian?

I think the Bible has the answer. 

A Special Kind of Idolatry
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. Romans 1:18-19
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. John 3:19-21

There are a lot of Christians who do bad things. They say to themselves "Yeah I know God doesn't like it. But I do it anyways." This un-reprentant sin is risky and very bad thing in and of itself. But imagine an alternative scenario. Imagine someone saying "I love X so much I can't imagine even admitting that it is wrong in God's eyes, and thus I will not believe in a God that does." In this situation, a person would even reject forgiveness, because that means they have to admit the thing they are doing is wrong. 

This is not far fetched at all. There are numerous people who heap abuse on Christianity because they don't want to follow it's rules. And don't think for a second that the only "sins" in Christianity  are your stereotypical sexual restrictions and loving your neighbor type rules (though these are most certainly included). Romans 1, in the passage above, says that one of the primary sins that is the consequence of unbelief is idolatry.

If a person thinks something in their life is more important than Jesus, then they are not going to follow a religion that forgives them for loving that thing too much! They don't wanna admit that loving that thing too much is a sin in God's eyes.

This involves the admission that serving and worshiping that thing is wrong. If you love your kids too much, you won't take too well to a religion that says you should love Jesus more than your family (Matt. 10:37). If you love money too much, you won't want to follow a God that makes you love God more than money (which would naturally entail giving some of it away).

Aren't Some Believers Unrepentant?

But perhaps my thesis proves too much. It seems logical that some believers have some kind of unrepentant sin when they die. After all, many people get involved in sin, but then die suddenly. So what differentiates these people from the eternally unrepentant people, mentioned in the previous blog post? 

People who accept Christ now give him an inroad into their lives and hearts, effectively consenting to God's influence on their lives. So God can bring about a change of heart, in this life or the next. There is no such recourse for the nonbelievers, who love their sin so much they refuse to so much as even acknowledge the truth about God. They can't even stomach the idea that he doesn't like something they do. They don't just say "yeah he doesn't like it, but I do so I'm gonna do it." They hate the thought of him to such an extent that they block him out entirely, even though "preference" should dictate the opposite. This seems to be a very resistant form of idolatry. Those temporal, short term benefits of wickedness outweigh the benefits of a guilt free and eternal existence with the Creator of the universe.

A Second Chance at the Second Coming?

Such is the case when Jesus returns. When Jesus returns, people who worship other gods won't suddenly want to worship Jesus for his own sake. Their will might be hardened. Furthermore, those who propose that God gives a second chance after death forget that every moment of every day is our "second chance" to turn to him. Because if we don't worship him now, it is unlikely we ever will when faced with his wrath. Giant hailstones and even hell itself are going to have a hardening effect on someone who already doesn't believe in Christianity.

So that is why unbelief is so bad. Unbelief shows up in a persons intellect, but is a product of their will and intentions. Indeed, those who refuse to believe in Christianity do so out of preference, and more evidence for him will just harden their will against him. And those who never believe in this life are demonstrating the ultimate lack of repentance, which will not be even remedied for all eternity.

I don't think its a very extreme contention to say that those who disbelieve in Christ for their entire life, simply out of loyalty to other things, will want to repent at the Second Coming of Christ.

A Word About Those Who Never Heard?

But what about small children or people in distant countries who haven't heard the Gospel, nor have had it clearly explained to them. Heck, what about those in the U.S. in this situation?

Based on the Bible, it seems God judges people by the amount of evidence available to them. Those who turn their hearts away from monotheism, and embrace idolatry, will not escape the wrath of God, despite not knowing of Jesus. But of those who have never heard the Gospel, God will base his judgment on how they responded to the truth he provided. (2)

In Conclusion

I have talked about a very somber topic that is a rather large "buzzkill" to me and about everyone else. Of all the doctrines of Christianity, I dislike hell the most. Though emotional appeal has extreme sway over myself and all humanity, I must admit that the emotional appeal of this doctrine is very very minimal.

But I must remind the reader that it is not too late. God became a human being, died a torturous death at the hands of the Romans, and rose from the dead. To trust in this Jesus for forgiveness of sins is the way to salvation. And the door remains wide open.

But why isn't their a stampede to the door?


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hell: Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

The Book of Revelation

I read Revelation a couple days ago. And quite frankly that book really packs a punch if you read it all at once! Very intense stuff in there. 

Naturally, one of the scarier elements of the book includes the awful and horrific descriptions of the judgments, as well as the Antichrist’s kingdom and the awful reign of terror it will have. 

But none of these really compare to the unspeakably terrifying depictions of hell in Revelation. 

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14: 9-11; ESV)

Eternal Punishment: Does it Fit the Crime?

One of the biggest objections to Christianity is the doctrine of eternal punishment. How could a just God condemn someone to an eternal punishment, with no possibility of relief, for finite crimes? On the surface, this seems extremely disproportionate to the crime. 

Furthermore, wouldnt a loving God just kill the unbelievers after punishing them in proportion to their crimes? Why make them suffer for all eternity?

The idea of hell bothers me, as it should any person with any ounce of compassion for others. (Same goes with God, who is more compassionate than anyone. Hell bothers him too). 

Different Attempts at Reconciliation

I have analyzed different suggestions to reconcile the eternal nature of hell with the justice of God. Some of them help. But in my opinion, only one of them fully stands up to scrutiny while also aligning with the Biblical text. Here are some of the major theories: 

  1. Hell as punishment for the infinite crime of rejecting God
  2. Hell as separation from God and/or God giving people what they really wanted
  3. Hell as ongoing punishment for ongoing rebellion against God
  4. Hell as experiencing the full effects of sin forever
Still a Liar?

I think there is some truth to all of these. But I only think one of them (or a modification of one of them) addresses the issue of proportionality. But before I tell you which one I think works best, lets go back to Revelation:

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8; ESV)

Notice it does not say all the people who used to be cowardly, or murderers, or sexually immoral, or idolaters, etc. It speaks in the present tense. So in some sense, the people thrown into the Lake of Fire still are detestable, murderers, sorcerers, idolaters, etc. or whatever they were during their lives. 

Philosopher William Lane Craig, when analyzing different alternatives to show the justice of eternal punishment, points to this:
“I find it striking that when in the book of Revelation the bowls of God’s wrath are poured out in judgment upon mankind, those judged are not repentant but curse God all the more:” (1)
Repeatedly, in the face of all of the plagues, the people just hardened their will and did not give glory to God or repent of their sins. This seems to be one of the motifs/recurring themes throughout Revelation. 

The Apex of Human Foolishness

Furthermore, this theme of unrepentance seems to continue to bear itself out. 

19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. (Revelation 19:19; ESV)

How insane! Jesus has returned, they know he is God. But yet, the kings of the earth have the foolish audacity to try to go to war with him. They do not admit they were wrong and try to make amends. But instead, like blind fanatics, are silly enough to bring tanks and guns to a fight with God. They bring a toothpick to a gunfight, so to speak.

Character Formation 

Over the course of our lives, we make free moral choices. Through these choices, we form ourselves into the person we will become. After all, according to philosopher Richard Swinburne, if we do something good, it gets easier every time we do it. And likewise if we do something bad, it gets easier. (2)

Clearly, young people are more “malleable” than older counterparts. A 65 year old man who has been a die-hard Republican his whole life is more likely to stay Republican than a die-hard college kid who is a Republican.

What if there is a tipping point, at which the probability of a free creature changing its mind about how it wants to live, finally tapers off and approaches zero? Surely we all know people have “made up their mind” about something. And we know, even after a million years, they would never change. 

But what is God supposed to do with someone who has formed their character to the point of no return? After all in 1 Timothy, it says God has “perfect patience.” But what if the human in question has already crossed the event horizon in the character formation process? 

God’s “Perfect Patience”

Now, according to God’s “perfect patience” as it says in 1 Timothy 1:16, it seems logical that if God could somehow reverse their fate, he would. But it seems after this character formation process, they have literally made themselves into who they have wanted to become. They have made themselves into the person they are permanently going to be. 

There comes a point where any “repentance” that takes place would be entirely under duress. They would repent, not because they turned their affections away from sin, but because they got caught. It is my contention that those in hell are in the latter category. And St. Thomas Aquinas seems to agree:
Accordingly the wicked will not repent of their sins directly, because consent in the malice of sin will remain in them; but they will repent indirectly, inasmuch as they will suffer from the punishment inflicted on them for sin. (3)
But it seems even some who get “caught” don’t even repent under the duress. And I believe those who worship the beast in the end times are in such a category as well. And it is not unfair to say that they will likely be punished worse than others, hence the very vivid descriptions of torment for the beast worshipers.

As one prominent theologian, D.A. Carson, recently said:
Hell is not filled with people who are deeply sorry for their sins. It is filled with people who for all eternity still shake their puny fist in the face of God almighty in an endless existence of evil, and corruption, and shame, and the wrath of God. (4)
Now this may seem outlandish to some. After all, wouldn’t everyone repent under duress!?

But think of it this way. God isn’t actively pouring out his wrath on people for sin at the moment. If people already don’t like God, will him taking these actions make them love him more? 

On the contrary, they will likely hate him more. The Second Coming is not going to magically make all of the people who hate the Christian God suddenly like him more. It will simply intensify their frustration in many cases.

Divine Justice and Proportionality

So it seems we have come to the conclusion that at least in some cases, the damned never repent. But what is Divine Justice supposed to do with someone who has irreversibly decided to never repent? Surely God will not just choose to “agree to disagree” with them on matters of sin.

It does not seem unjust, that God would continue to make that person suffer, in proportion to their rebellion against him. As their rebellion continues, so does their suffering. It is only just that they suffer, to know that they are wrong, even if it is for all eternity. 

Another way to look at this is that the people who have decided to make themselves into evil people forever have an external state (pain) that forever reflects their internal state (i.e. an evil heart). 

Un-Modern View of Justice?

Now this doctrine of justice may seem terribly barbaric and against modern themes of justice and human rights. After all, if someone stole something, and doesn’t regret it, we don’t keep them in jail for eternity until they are sorry. We just fine them proportional to the offense, and it is done. 

But is it? In fact, it is more in line with modern ideas about justice than we might think on the surface. For if a thief is truly unrepentant, he will steal again, when set free. And is thus experiences the penalty again when caught again. So theoretically, his punishment lasts as long as the mal-intention continues.

In contrast to real life, no stealing will take place in hell. But the intention could forever remain, and thus suffering forever remains within them. 

C.S. Lewis compares the pain of punishment to a flag of truth planted in the soul. 
Pain) removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul. (5)
Lewis also explores the possibility that even in response to the pain, the soul does not repent. 
I said that Pain plants the flag of truth within a rebel fortress. We were then discussing pain which might still lead to repentance. How if it does not—if no further conquest than the planting of the flag ever takes place? (5)

God's Compassion

Of all the doctrines of Christianity, I dislike the doctrine of eternal punishment far more than any other. But this does not mean it isn't just. 

In fact, I would expect anyone with any ounce of compassion to feel the same. But we know, that God is the most compassionate person in existence. So it follows, he would take great pains for people to avoid this fate. 

And it seems he has. That the Being of his status would allow himself to be tortured to death to open salvation to all humanity is quite compassionate indeed.

Two Questions in One

This post addressed the proportionality issue of hell. It answers the question "does the punishment fit the crime?"

But it doesn't answer another objection. Most people phrase the question "how could a loving God send people to hell for eternity for not believing in him?" It seems this post answers that first question as to why there is a hell at all and why it is eternal. But the second question, I will answer in a subsequent post. 


  2. What is God's Judgment, Speaker: Richard Swinburne. Closer to the Truth TV Show

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Part 1: The True Origins of Christianity

This is the first part in a series on Christianity. The first part of truly understanding Christianity is understanding its Jewish roots. So today's post is about the true origin of Christianity. 

The True Origin of Christianity

The most fundamental belief in early Christianity is that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. This is what is meant by the word "Christ" (Christos in Greek). The Jewish Messiah was a political and religious figure who was predicted throughout the Old Testament. His predicted roles were to: 1) defeat Israel's enemies, 2) lead the world to worship Yahweh, 3) bring world peace and, 4) rule the entire world. Furthermore, some Old Testament passages suggest that the Messiah might be God himself (Zechariah 12-14). 

As you may have noticed, such a figure is worthless if he is dead. You simply cannot be both dead and King of the world and militarily defeating Israel's enemies. This is why the death and crucifixion of Jesus was so initially disappointing to His disciples. Like all other Messiah claimants, he appeared to have simply come and gone, failing at his mission, dying at the hands of the Romans. 

But a radical and unexpected dis-confirmation of this disappointment occurred during Jesus' resurrection. Due to the 1) appearances and 2) empty tomb, the disciples came to believe that Jesus had once again risen to life. No long was all hope lost. Because of his resurrection, he really can fulfill all these Messianic perogatives in the end times. 

The fact that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, who was crucified and resurrected from the dead is the starting point for what Christianity really is. 

But if Christianity is so Jewish as I claim it is, why don't Christians follow the Old Testament? Why was Jesus subversive to the current Jewish leadership of his time? 

The answers to these questions are a key part in understanding Christianity, and will be explored in Part II. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What did the first Christians mean by the word "resurrection?"

In my blog post on resurrection I got carried away with the post on the physical resurrection of Jesus (as opposed to some other kind of resurrection that isn't physical, even though that would seem to be an oxymoron). But here is the short summary of my blog post. For more details and back up for the stuff here go to the long post at:

The apostles believed in bodily resurrection of Jesus for several reasons:

1) The empty tomb - if the scholarly majority (70%) is right about the empty tomb, then the disciples would have necessarily believed in bodily resurrection.

2) The meaning of "raised" in Greek is often the same word for to "stand up" or to "wake up" or to "arise" to a certain occasion. Greek for "resurrection" also has the root for "to stand up." The word itself corresponds with the traditional view of resurrection.

3) The Old Testament portrays resurrection as dead people waking up from the dust of the earth. Since the disciples frequently cite the Old Testament as such a high authority, one would think they would share the Old Testament view of resurrection.

4) Second Temple Jews had many sub-groups including Pharisees, Sadduccees, and Essenes. However, it was known that the Pharisees disagreed with the Sadducees, not on the nature of the resurrection, but on whether or not it actually happened. So Jews in 1st Century Palestine who affirmed resurrection were affirming a bodily notion. We shouldn't expect any different from a Pharisee like Paul or Jews like the disciples.

5) Greco-Roman revulsion at resurrection. Many pagan beliefs actually repeatedly repudiate the notion that a dead person can return to life. This is often due to their Platonic view of afterlife. So resurrection is a bodily notion for the Greeks as well. The only difference is that they disagree with it.

6) Proclaiming Jesus as raised from the dead is like shouting "fire" in a movie theater. The disciples would know how people would interpret the phrase "raised from the dead," but chose to use that phrase anyway, despite the negative (and positive) reactions.

7) "Resurrection" in New Testament writings other than Paul clearly affirm a bodily notion, especially because the Gospels report an empty tomb and Acts strongly implies one.

8) Resurrection and "raised from the dead" in Paul (outside Corinthians) very clearly enunciate the traditional Christian belief of bodily resurrection.

9) Resurrection and "raised from the dead" concepts in Paul (in 1 & 2 Corinthians) work strongly against alternate interpretations but work best with the traditional resurrection. Furthermore, only an anachronistic reading of these passages would lead us to believe in a non-bodily resurrection.

10) Resurrection belief in apostolic fathers is very consistent with the traditional Christian view of bodily resurrection. This is significant because many of these people are purported to have spoken with or learned under the apostles.

11) Most arguments against a non-bodily resurrection depend on the idea that every single one of the traditional authorships for the Gospels is false. However, in many cases good arguments can be made for traditional authorship. Furthermore, arguments against Paul believing in a non-bodily resurrection collapse with an early dating of Acts, which is very likely.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Did Paul Think Jesus Was God?

Here's a good video from the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry:

Here is the accompanying article that quotes the verses he is referring to:

This is significant because Paul is supposedly the earliest Christian writer, writing about 50 A.D. or so.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Why Did The Disciples of Jesus Come To Believe He Resurrected?

A Dead Messiah Is No Messiah

To summarize, at the very very minimum, the earliest Christians believed that Jesus was the Messiah (Christ) predicted in the Old Testament. However, the Messiah was not a metaphorical concept in 1st Century Judaism.

There was controversy about his exact role. However, everyone seemed to agree that he was a human king who would 1) conquer Israel's enemies, 2) become king of the world, 3) lead the whole world to worship Yahweh. This was such a literal belief at the time that it caused a degree of political upheaval in 1st Century Palestine.

As you can see, it is pretty hard to vanquish Israel's enemies and rule the world when you are dead. This is why the concept of a "dead Messiah" is absolutely contradictory. It's about as contradictory as saying "Barack Obama is President but is also dead."

This is why Christianity didn't start when Jesus died. The death of Jesus was immensely disappointing to his followers, who believed he was the Messiah. It pretty much smashed all the hope they had of him rescuing their nation from Roman occupation, or anything else associated with being the Messiah.

Christianity didn't actually start until Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus was a very unexpected surprise which reversed this disappointment.

Stop Right There...

Most people (including myself) don't appreciate the full weight of this fact I just said.

Let it sink in for a moment...

All of Jesus disciples were obviously hugely discouraged from the death of their best friend. Who wouldn't be?! Furthermore, he wasn't just their best friend, he was their king and rescuer. His death would be a pretty tough emotional blow to take.

But for some odd reason. All of this disappointment just vanished 3 days after he died. It reversed into absolute excitement that Jesus was now alive. This led to very enthusiastic preaching of his resurrection throughout the Roman world.

Let me ask you. What would it take to convince you that your best friend rose from the dead, after being depressed about it for a day and a half or so? What would it take to convince ten of your other friends of the same thing at the same time?

Quite a lot I might imagine. Which is what makes this situation so peculiar...and a strong evidence for the resurrection as well.

Second Coming Predictions: An Important Comparison

Lots and lots of Christians have become convinced that Jesus was going to come back within a certain time frame. When this prediction failed, extreme disappointment ensued. This resulted in them twisting the meaning of their predictions to fit the uneventful situation they were facing.

We do find them adjusting the meaning of the prophecy to fit their circumstances. However, we do not find them adjusting their circumstances to fit the prophecy. Meaning, they did not come to believe that Jesus actually descended from heaven in flaming fire to judge His enemies.

Extreme anticipation of the Second Coming of Jesus does not cause hallucinations of his descent from heaven, nor does it develop the belief that he actually did come back. It only causes them to readjust their interpretation of the prophecies.

This is analogous to the resurrection of Jesus. Even if the disciples had an extreme anticipation of his resurrection (they actually didn't), this would not be enough to convince them he actually did rise from the dead. You can't believe so hard you start seeing things like they are real.

This is why it's so unusual, and so powerful, that all the disciples came to believe Jesus rose from the dead after he had died.

Chabad Messianism

There is a group of Orthodox Jews who hold that Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson is the Messiah. The problem is that Rabbi Schneerson died in 1994. However, orthodox Jews are keenly aware that he cannot actually perform the functions of the Messiah while dead. This is why many of them anticipate his future resurrection, in which he will be revealed as the Messiah.

The interesting thing is that their mere heartfelt anticipation did not engender a seismic change in belief 3 days after his death that he was somehow alive once again.

To Summarize...

The fact that the disciples came to believe Jesus was the Messiah who resurrected, despite their grieving, is strong evidence for the resurrection. While it's not a "knock down" argument, one needs an explanation for how 11 men suddenly came to believe that their best friend who had been executed by the Romans had conquered death itself.

33% of Mainline Pastors Deny the Resurrection of Jesus

33% of Mainline Pastors Deny the Resurrection of Jesus

A 2001 study shows that 33% of mainline Christian pastors deny the physical resurrection of Jesus. Here is the breakdown by denomination:
  • American Lutherans: 13%
  • Presbyterians: 30%
  • American Baptists: 33%
  • Episcopalians: 35%
  • Methodists: 51%

The word "Christian" doesn't just mean whatever we want it to mean. Like the words "atheist" and "Hindu" the word "Christian" has clear boundaries. The fact that "Christian" pastors explicitly deny the resurrection of Jesus doesn't mean they are "open minded." It means they aren't Christians at all.

As I will demonstrate below, Christians have always believed Jesus is the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament. But I will quickly show that a "dead Messiah" is a blatantly contradictory concept. Furthermore, the idea has been rejected by thousands of years of Christian theologians. We will soon see that to call oneself a "Christian" but deny the resurrection is both dishonest and corrupt. 

Jesus is the Messiah...But What Is a Messiah?

At very absolute minimum, all Christians throughout history have believed that Jesus is the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament.

In 1st Century A.D. "Messiah" wasn't some metaphorical loose meaning for "Messiah in all of us" or "heaven in our hearts." It was a very concrete term that caused a degree of political upheaval in 1st Century Palestine. While there were disagreements on his exact role and identity, there was virtually unanimous agreement on these points:

  1. he would be a human man who would defeat Israel's enemies
  2. he would become king of the whole world
  3. he would guide the world to worship Yahweh
This is why you couldn't say that a dead guy is the Messiah. It just doesn't work. You pretty much have to be living to vanquish Israel's enemies and become king of the world. Saying that someone is the Messiah but also dead is as ridiculous as saying that "Barack Obama is President but he's also currently dead." 

This is why Christianity absolutely did not start when Jesus died. The death of Jesus was obviously very discouraging to Jesus' followers. It pretty much ruined any possibility that Jesus would be the Messiah. 

There Are No Dead Messiahs 

Only after Jesus awoke from death did Christianity actually start. The resurrection of Jesus was a shocking and very unexpected surprise to Jesus' followers. It re-instated their belief that he was actually the Messiah. 

Without a very literal resurrection, Jesus is utterly disqualified from being the Messiah. Remember: Messiah is a very human king who is supposed to rule the world. So anything less than a real, live, tangible resurrection is not going to make the cut. 

Of course, just because he came back from death does not make him "off the hook" from fulfilling the end time prophecies about the Messiah. This is why early Christians had a very literal belief in the Second Coming of Jesus.  Again, a "spiritual second coming" is not going to cut it here, for reasons described above. 

For Thousands of Years...

This is why you have quote after quote of early Christian writings (inside and outside the New Testament) affirming all of these beliefs in very literal terms....very early on. Early writers made a special point to enumerate the literal nature of these teachings, and refute "heretics" who would distort these teachings. Verbally speaking, they weren't too polite about it either. 

The Bible is full of metaphors, but early Christians made quite clear that these beliefs were nothing of the sort. These were core beliefs that gave them the hope of eternal life that they had. Such a strong hope that they underwent lots of persecution because of it. 

These literal beliefs have been considered core beliefs of Christians for thousands of years. Historically, anyone who called themselves a Christian but distorted these beliefs was considered an impostor. Theologian after theologian affirm these beliefs up until the present day. Since the very earliest Christian apologists, Christians have painstakingly contrasted their views with those they consider to be heretical.

Don't get me wrong. The above 3 beliefs are not sufficient to become a Christian. But the first two are absolutely necessary to be one in any meaningful sense of the word. 

Wolves: 33%

Back to the 33% of pastors who deny the resurrection. 

My question is, why are they still "Christian" pastors?!?!?

Can we say they are just ignorant of Christian theology? No we cannot. Most pastors have seminary degrees!

Can we say they are just struggling with doubts like we all do? No we cannot. The survey seems to entail an explicit denial of the resurrection. And besides, if they changed their mind about the resurrection, they had plenty of time to quit seminary. 

Can we say they are being dishonest about their views? Yes, yes absolutely. Every Easter they go to church, read the empty tomb story, and talk about the resurrection in their liturgical presentation. Yet, it seems they don't clarify for the congregation that what they mean by resurrection is TOTALLY DIFFERENT than what everyone else means by it.

They also use the pulpit to advocate their agenda (whatever that may be). Whatever their "agenda" is, it seems pretty dependent on keeping a pretty important secret from us....their beliefs about Jesus resurrection.

It seems we have some "wolves" on our hands. 

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves." - Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:15)