False Dichotomy: God of the Old and New Testaments

The God of the Old and New Testaments is frequently thought to not be one in the same, as critics have argued. But God of the entire Bible is the same, therefore the goal of the post will be to show how God established Himself in the Old Testament and is revealed in Christ in the New Testament. Regarding the perceived issue of the God of the Old Testament being vengeful and immoral compared to the God of the New Testament, in the eyes of some critics, a link to a previous blog of mine can be found here. Now, a number of important items will be discussed: the God of Abraham, Jesus Christ, faith, prophecies, and God’s judgment. An exegetical analysis of Genesis 12:1-7 will provide a foundation for the role of faith in the Old Testament and it will be tied to the measures of faith proclaimed by Jesus Christ in the new Testament  The key will be to properly extract the information that provides a full, albeit not entirely comprehensive, view of God through the promises made by Him, as fulfilled in Christ, and the role of faith for Abraham and for believers who call on His name today. The final touch will tie-in God and Jesus Christ as One, effectively declaring the righteous God of the Old Testament as the same God in Jesus Christ.

God of the Old and New Testaments

The God of Abraham

When the God of Abraham is discussed, the typical identification that comes to light quickly is Abraham’s unwavering faith to God. The nature of Abraham’s faith is shown through a good deal of Genesis. God asked Abraham to follow Him, that He would make great nations from His seed, and Abraham obeyed (Genesis 22:18).[1] Abraham’s trust in the Lord was evident, not only in his journey to a new land for his people, promised by God, but especially in the following verse, when God said, “‘take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22: 6-7). The faith of Abraham was indeed unwavering. Of course, God did not intend for Abraham’s son to be sacrificed, but this was proof of the trust that Abraham placed in the Lord. God also gave Abraham a son, bore by his barren wife, Sarah, and Abraham again trusted in God to do so (Genesis 15:6), and again God delivered on His promise (Genesis 21:2).

The ever-important prophecy that God fulfilled that He gave Abraham comes from the following, “On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites’” (Genesis 22:18-20). This was fulfilled through the events in the book of Joshua. This provides a good foundation for allowing God to be seen as a God that performs those things that He says He will. Therefore, God is faithful to those who are also faithful to Him–those who believe in the Word of God.

When discussing faith. We might also be tempted to discuss the Holy Spirit, Hamilton believes that “under the old covenant. God’s Spirit caused people to experience spiritual life. God supernaturally opened the spiritual ears and eyes of people who were spiritually dead in the trespasses and sins, enabling them to believe.”[2] This makes sense, if there was no indwelling without the Helper that Jesus Christ refers to in the New Testament Scriptures. Some would like to discount the historicity and actual accounts of most of the events of the Bible as part folklore, myth, and partial historical significance. However, Muddiman writes, “the character and intention of Genesis as a completed book cannot be deduced from the wide miscellany of materials which constitute its sources.”[3] Critics instead must believe that a single author(s) strung together bits of sources to create something new. This would seem to take a great “faith” as the evidence for this is not abounding, in the least; a hypothesis without positive support. Since this (historicity) is not the focus of the paper, there will be no further mention of it; in regards to faith, we shall see that the evidence for faith in the Old Testament, regarding Abraham, is abounding.

Jesus Christ

Although there is so much that could be said of our Lord Jesus, we will instead focus on the commands of Jesus to others to stand in faith, paralleling the importance of faith in the Old Testament. A fine example of this is in the book of Mark, Jesus says to His disciples, after Peter discovered the withered fig tree that Jesus had cursed, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them’” (Mark 11:22-24).

Jesus exuded faith in everything He did. He performed many acts in accordance with the will of the Father: He gave Himself up to the cross; cast out demons; healed the sick; raised the dead; prayed to the Father; spoke prophecy; and more. Jesus’ faith was tested through temptation, but He fended it off, using Scripture as the powerful Word of God against the evil one (Luke 4:1-13). The command by Jesus to love God is yet another instance for all to have faith; to love God with all of our heart, mind, and soul is to trust fully and completely in God. In the matter of sight versus sound, Thompson writes, “as the miracle is a concession to the weakness of man, so is the appearance of the Risen Jesus a concession to the weakness of the disciples.  Fundamentally it ought not to be the sight of the Risen Lord that first moves the disciples to believe “the word that Jesus spoke,” for this word alone should have the power to convince them.”[4] This is an example that makes sense if we deduce what the disciples had already seen: Jesus performing many healing miracles, casting out demons, walking on water, etc. But, this was also before the Spirit came those who believe; it wasn’t until Jesus was ready to ascend to heaven before He could leave the Holy Spirit with His disciples (John 16:7). The exact timing of the arrival of the Holy Spirit is debatable, but nonetheless.

God in the Old Testament: Exegesis of Genesis 12:1-7

Historical-Cultural Analysis

The time which Abraham lived and dwelled before and during the course of his tribe’s travels is part of the Patriarchal, pre-Mosaic period of the Old Testament. From a strictly biblical account, it is said that Abraham had lived in Harran, where he had lived via Terah’s travels, from Ur.[5] Life was reliant on having crops and animals as food sources, therefore it was not very often that movement occurred (in Mesopotamia) that was permanent. Kitchen writes that Oppenheim remarks, “there seem to have been very few periods in the history of the region [= Mesopotamia] when … (as in the Old Babylonian period) … a private person could move around freely.”[6] It was typical for families to have children for the very reason of having heirs to their belongings. Those who could not have children naturally would instead adopt[7], thus the importance of having an heir to an inheritance is easily seen. This concept had theological implications: God Himself could recognize this as a motivator for those God called to do His will.

The monotheistic origin of religion is shown to be favored highly from a biblical perspective—there is no mention of Baal, as Kitchen writes, “from the patriarchal tradition indicates its antiquity (…).”[8] The practice of building altars to gods was frequent and not indistinct to the God of the Abraham (evidenced in Egyptian archeology).[9] Finally, when it comes to travel, camels themselves were used sparingly, used more for travels of a person or smaller group. Many travels were performed on foot, which would also allow the slower, but more efficient, travel of animals such as sheep and cattle on more permanent journeys.

Grammatical Analysis

v.1 “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country,

From your family

And from your father’s house,

To a land that I will show you.

Here, God Himself speaks to Abraham (Abram), at the time when it is ready for Abraham and his family and people to leave his home. His father’s house refers to the area / land and home of dwelling. God is now going to show Abraham the land of promise; providing evidence of His faithfulness for Abraham’s trust.

v.2 I will make you a great nation;

I will bless you

And make your name great;

And you shall be a blessing.

God will make a great nation for Abraham and increase the value of his name. God intends to bless this nation on behalf of Abraham. Thus, the increase that Abraham will gain will be a blessing for not only Abraham, but for others as well.

v.3 I will bless those who bless you,

And I will curse him who curses you;

And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

He will give Abraham and his descendants, blessing those who do good to him, and cursing those who do wrong. God finally tells Abraham that blessings will come and last for many who come after him, yet it does not say that the “families of the earth” will or must all be descendants (of bloodline) relation to Abraham.

v.4 “So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Here we see tat Abraham is now obeying the words spoken to him by God. Abraham now leaves Haran, his home, in search of the place that God has promised him. He is aged at seventy-five at the beginning of the journey; an old age for travel.

v.5 “Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan.”

Abraham has taken his wife Sarah, his nephew Lot, among other belonging and the people of Haran to embark on the journey. They then reach the land of Canaan.

v.6 Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.

This verse recounts the lands that Abraham and his people passed through on their way to Canaan, through Shechem and Moreh.

v.7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

They reach the land of Canaan, the land that God had promised Abraham. Then, Abraham builds an altar to God, of which was used for worshipping the Lord.

Authorial Intent

            The author here is explicitly describing the commands by God to a man (Abraham) who is embarking on an ever-important journey of faith, even greater than the physical journey, but for the resultant promises of God to Abraham and his descendants. The intent is to explain the trust necessary for Abraham to leave and embark on God’s mission, forgoing the land that was already had, the security that the land provided, for nothing more than the promises of God—of which is ultimately much more important than the desire of any man.

The Importance for Today

The main theological point that arises from this passage is the trust, the faith, that one must have in God in trusting Him to guide. Abraham’s example of faith here shows that he was willing to leave what he knew to receive the promises of God. Abraham, although aged, endures the journey for God. The takeaway is that faith, trust in God, should be the ultimate guiding factor in all that is done. Ultimate purpose for God is always more important than what people desire. The journey for God may not be easy, nor may it be desirable, but is of utmost importance if believers are to follow God’s will and commands, as did Abraham. The passage is a display of the faithfulness of God for those who trust and obey Him.

God in the New Testament: Prophesies Fulfilled in Christ

His Birth

The prophecies that are fulfilled in Christ are numerous! However, the few that are focused on here are more specifically tied to the coming of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross. But, who is Jesus Christ? Is he God incarnate? Jenson writes, “the concept of ‘incarnation’ may not appear in Israel’s Scriptures, but we need only ask what a God would be like who would not incarnate himself, a God of ‘pure spirit,’ to see that it would be the precise antagonist of Israel’s God.”[10] Let’s keep this in mind as the Scriptures are searched further.

Looking to Isaiah for the foretelling of Christ’s birth, Scripture tells us, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Christ’s birth is fulfilled and Joseph speaks with the angel of the Lord: “but while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20) and further discussion about the fulfillment follows in verses 21-23.

His Ministry (Parables)

Jesus famously spoke in parables, those such as the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23), parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32), etc. But, this was also foretold in Psalm 78:1-2: “Give ear, O my people, to my law; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old.” The fulfillment follows in the passage of Matthew 13:34-35: “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them,  that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.’”

His Death and Resurrection

Isaiah 53 is perhaps the most telling prophecy about the Lord Jesus as a minister and sinless man, born to take away the sins of the world. Isaiah 53:7 tells us, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.” And so this verse is entirely telling of His death without defense for His actions that the Pharisees accused Him of, blasphemy against God. In the New Testament Jesus is captured by the pharisees and as He is martialed: “And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing” (Matthew 27:12). Thus, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah in this manner, although the entire book of Isaiah contains many more prophesies that Jesus fulfilled.

Considering His resurrection, Jesus foretold this Himself when He was confronted by those in the temple after He had turned it upside-down in anger for their sin: “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’” (John 2:19). This was fulfilled when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary (mother of James) went to the tomb on the third day. They found two men gleaming instead and the rock moved, and when they inquired about Jesus, they responded saying, “He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’” (Luke 24:6-7).

Now, these things that were prophesied and that were fulfilled all give testimony to the faithfulness of God fulfilling those things that were foretold. Faith is a central component to the Christian religion. Through faith, the Holy Spirit abides in a believer. Gabriel says that, “in the Christ event, the Spirit touches Jesus as the Spirit affects the incarnation, anoints Jesus at his baptism, and empowers Him for ministry. Beyond this, Christ sends the Spirit from the Father and the Spirit comes and empowers the church.”[11] Although we have touched on faith a good deal in this paper, Jesus must be tied to God firmly through further evidence, and so we will move on to the trinity, but with focus on Jesus as God.

Jesus as God

Because Jesus was firm in His commands and convictions and acted justly as would the God of the Old Testament, the need to defend the fact of Jesus Christ as God incarnate is also necessary if we are to display the truth of Christ correctly. We are told that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” (John 12:1) and further, “‘He was in the beginning with God’ And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). These verses seemingly tell how Jesus is part of the trinitarian God, consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, some have argued against Jesus as God until later on, such as once He was baptized or after his resurrection.

Geddert argues, “Bird’s book reads at points as though the burden of proof must self-evidently lie with those who claim there was an early adoptionism.”[12] Geddert explains how the comparison between Father and Son is used by Bird strengthens his (Bird’s) argument. Lacking, though, is the very distinction of God as Jesus Christ in the beginning, as I have already referenced. Adoptionist Christianity simply has no place in early of late theology as a possibility unless we are ready to cut and chop the words of John, reducing them to meaning less than (and something different from) what was written.

Jenson writes, “The Resurrection concentrated God’s identification with Israel in this one Israelite; primal Christianity’s habits of discourse enforced that identification—the singularity of the Spirit needed no such special enforcement,”[13] When Paul speaks of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, the equality expressed is easily seen, using the terms as interchangeable in authority and divine relation (“gospel of God” as the gospel of Christ); see Romans 1:1-4. Silva writes that from Koperski’s “very introduction she claims that there are ‘only two possible interpretations’ of v. 8: ‘Either Paul is willing to give up God for Christ, in which case he would be guilty of blasphemy, or Paul believes Christ to be divine, and Philippians is thus one of the strongest Christological statements in Christian Scripture’”[14] This specific verse reads, Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philemon 3:8). Indeed, this verse speaks to Paul’s high Christology; if Christ not be God Himself, then this is high blasphemy, rendering many theological issues that cannot be reconciled or trusted.

Finally, the just judgement of Christ is one that He spoke of often yet did not judge while on earth. However, Jesus as God, can be confirmed in His ability to judge justly, as God has in the Old Testament. Taking a look at Revelation, we read, “He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND
LORD OF LORDS.”
(Revelation 19:13-19).

            It is through verses such as this that we know the Word of God (Jesus Christ) will return to judge the nations as Almighty God. The terms “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords” do not leave any room for a greater “King” or “Lord” to take His place. He is, in fact, the God of the Old Testament and new New Testaments. Koester remarks, “the beast and false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire, and their allies are slain with the sword from Christ’s mouth (19:11-21). Instead of the festive “wedding banquet of the Lamb” (19:9), readers find “the great banquet of God,” in which the birds feast on the corpses on the battlefield (19:7).”[15] Thus, the God of Abraham is revealed in Christ Jesus; taking on the sins of world, rescuing those who believe from their transgressions, and justly judging all who do not. A final note of ending: He (Jesus) says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8).

Conclusion

In this post I sought to show how the God of the Old Testament was the same God found in Christ Jesus. This was done by reflecting on an exegetical analysis for the role of faith in the Old Testament, showing the faith commanded by Jesus, and referencing other theological positions on prophecy and judgment. The Scriptural evidence in support of the thesis was displayed as concisely as possible. The resultant evidence supports the fact that God, who established His covenant with Abraham, became the One known as Christ Jesus, revealing Himself as God.

 

References

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages are referenced in the New King James Version.

[2] Hamilton Jr., James M.. God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2006.

[3] Muddiman, John and John Barton. The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

[4] Segal, Alan F., Larry W. Furtado and David B. Capes. Israel’s God and Rebecca’s Children: Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007.

[5] – [9] Kitchen, K. A.. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003.

[10] Jenson, Robert W.. Systematic Theology: Volume 1, The Triune God. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

[11] Gabriel, Andrew K.. The Lord is the Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Divine Attributes. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2011.

[12] Geddert, Timothy J.. “Jesus the Eternal Son: Answering Adoptionist Christology.” Journal of the Evangelical Society 61, no 1. (03, 2018): 203-5.

[13] Jenson, Robert W.. Systematic Theology: Volume 2, The Works of God. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

[14] Silva, Moisés. “The Knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: The High Christology of Phillipians 3:7-11.” Journal of Biblical Literature, no. 1 (04, 1998): 155-6.

[15] Koester, Craig R.. Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2014.

God and the Destruction of the Canaanites: Was He Immoral?

Introduction

Many curious ponderers of Christianity, including Christians, skeptical agnostics, and atheists (but not limited to), have questioned the command of God when he instructed the Israelites to utterly destroy the Canaanites (among other nations).

Deuteronomy 7:1-2

“When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Gir’gashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Per’izzites, the Hivites, and the Jeb’usites, seven nations greater and mightier than yourselves, and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them; then you must utterly destroy them; you shall make no covenant with them, and show no mercy to them.” 

This post will attempt to shed light on God’s moral behavior and motives, which become clearer as the post progresses. There are some who simply mock Christians for their belief in a moral God, with some asserting points such as “I am more moral than your God,” or “if your God was real, I wouldn’t worship him anyway, just look at this [insert verse]!” If we take a deeper, less superficial look, we can see what God was doing and why it was part of His ultimate revelation, which He made manifest in Christ.

The problem for those who judge God as immoral is two-fold:

  1. If one claims that God was objectively immoral, they must have a foundation for objective morality that is justified by their own worldview.
  2. If one judges God’s actions by His own moral standards (in our case, Christianity), then they must show how he is being immoral by His own standards.

Of course, many times the assertion that God is immoral has no sufficient evidence to back up any of these possible arguments. This is because many do not attempt to dig deeper to understand the context of the text, but rather to use the text as a proof-text (using out of context) to support their feeling about God. So, let’s dig in.

Objective, Subjective, Absolute, and Relative Morality

In determining the meaning of morality, we should discern, first, what ‘being moral’ is and also what the concept of morality is; we can then contrast the difference between objective, absolute, subjective, and relative morality. We must remember that in order for God to have committed an objectively act, He would need to act immoral on the basis of objective morality. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘moral’ as “of or relating to principles of right and wrong behavior.”[1] And, the term ‘morality’ is defined as “a doctrine or system of moral conduct.”[2] So, what we find is that the foundation for a doctrine of morality deals with the carrying out of morals (that which is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’).

Morality as Objective

Argument from Christianity

If morality is objective, this means that we have moral standards to live by – this being known by all peoples. Objective morality is sometimes confused with absolute morality – which is to say that in any case, we should behave a certain way (i.e. never kill, never steal, etc.). However, would you ever say that you should not steal a would-be murderers gun in order to keep a criminal contained? If a criminal broke into your home, would it be well to allow the criminal to do as he/she wished with whatever/whomever they wished? If we do not protect those we love, we are not being loving, which was Jesus’ second commandment “love your neighbor as yourself.” Of course, we can go to the extreme and say that we should never protect anyone from harm if it means we are committing a violent act, but is this really what Jesus meant when he said “live by the sword, die by the sword?” Think about it, the context of this passage refers to what Peter did to one of the Romans (cut his ear) who was among those capturing Jesus. However, Jesus knew that all of the things He spoke must come to pass, therefore Peter was not to protect Jesus this day – the Scriptures had to be fulfilled.

So, we are using our objective morality in determining ‘right’ vs ‘wrong’ behavior (e.g., it is better to protect, by force, than to allow evil). However, this is not to say that under normal circumstances, of which we are not being threatened, we should simply steal or threaten others with guns, knives, etc. This is obviously against the teachings of Jesus. So, although absolute morality would suggest that one would have to always keep with absolute morals, objective morality is what we know is ‘right’ to do depending on the situation. But, what about objective moral values without Christianity?

Argument from Humanism – Sam Harris

The humanist believes that objective moral values exist without these objective moral values having been given by God. This is an area of which Sam Harris has done a good deal of research, and he is the biggest name that we can attach to the concept for researched belief in humanism. This is just a touch on the concept of humanism here, but I think this deserves an entire post to really get into it. Now, to believe in what Sam Harris says is true, that we can have objective moral values when we derive the need for said values using human ‘well-being.'[3] So, a basic good for the mind and body of a person. Sam Harris attempts to explain the basis of this foundation: he claims that if we think of the worst case scenario, a case in which all people have tremendous pain and suffering, this is a ‘bad,’ thing that we can all agree on. The concept of ‘bad’ is used as a basis, a given, for our well-being, thence our moral values can be derived in such a way. This does not dig deep, but is of merely superficial value. This is more of a feedback loop in which we must construct a belief of right and wrong based on the implication of an action.

Its epistemological basis is based on the result of said actions – those ‘good’ and ‘bad’ measurable outcomes. This method still lacks meaningful reason for objective moral values. Think about this example: we are all different in many ways, but to assert that we all have objective moral values, in the absence of a moral law giver, is to assert that this hard-wiring / enabling our development for morality, was done by nature itself; this reasoning begins to show how the foundation for this concept falls apart. Without a moral law giver, there is no arbiter of truth for our foundation of morality. Morality in this sense ends up being an idea of no meaningful value – we cannot know that being good is what we ought to do, or that being bad is what we ought not to do, this is the concept of right and wrong. This does not mean we do not have objective moral values, but rather that this explanation for morality fails to find a foundation for its belief system.

Morality as Subjective

If morality is truly subjective, then this would mean that our external environments and our genetics completely shape our morals. However, those that support violence and hate does not prove that objective moralities do not exist, it merely proves that with time, even those who know ‘wrong’ can do things that are evil in order to fulfill a desire (think of radical brainwashing, or plain evil). So, knowing good and evil does not prevent anyone from doing either, but we still have these moral compasses to guide us, when we are willing to listen – we cannot simply say they do not exist, though. In essence, the subjective type of morality can be ever-changing, it is individualistic, never amounting to any real objective and true morality. This is where the problem for proponents of subjective morality lies, because the have no grounding in morality, nothing can truly be said to be good/bad or right/wrong. There is simply no way to judge good or bad. Concerning the concept of subjective morality: if the moral beliefs of a given group of people coincides, this can feed the concept known as moral relativism. Many times, the Nazis are used as an example as for the concept of moral relativism. This means that because the Nazi’s decided to destroy another group (the Jews), then it is not wrong on their behalf, simply because as a group they were able to believe this was a good thing. Clearly, this seems wrong to nearly all of mankind; thus the idea of moral relativism is not one that many folks should peddle as truth.

Truth of Morality

Morality can be seen as objective when we look around at the things we do. Such as helping those in need, caring for children, looking after older parents, etc. These things cannot be explained by the simple concept of “greater good,” for many things that we do for people will not always end up giving us any real positive return; we do things even when we know we can’t / won’t be reciprocated for our deeds. So, again, we need an objective system of values if we are to claim God as immoral, in any way, which simply does not turn up if we are discussing this in terms of morality as a mere product of the notion of well-being. We can, however, discuss this rationally when we consider a moral law giver (God), as this gives us a reasonable explanation as to why we would have objective moral values.

Was God’s Command Immoral?

God’s Promises to Israel

The Israelites were God’s chosen people, He elected them to show the world that He is God and that He delivers His promises. He delivered Abraham and his descendants into a new land, rescued them from the hands of the Egyptians, and established His kingdom in the 12 nations of Israel. However, en route to establishing the 12 nations of Israel, God commanded the Israelites to destroy many others, as they occupied the land that God was giving to them:

Deuteronomy 7:1-6

“When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Gir’gashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Per’izzites, the Hivites, and the Jeb’usites, seven nations greater and mightier than yourselves, and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them; then you must utterly destroy them; you shall make no covenant with them, and show no mercy to them.” Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

Canaanites and History

The Canaanites were not a people that were full of goodness. On the contrary, the Canaanites were a people that worshipped false gods, committed sacrifices of their own babies to a false god known as Molech (Lev. 18:21), and had perversion and sexual impurity written in their culture. So, when Josiah renewed the Old Covenant of the God of Israel, we can see what occurred thereafter, which shows the nature of their previous doings:

2 Kings 23:4-5

“Then the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the doorkeepers, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. He did away with the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah and in the surrounding area of Jerusalem, also those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and to the moon and to the constellations and to all the host of heaven.”

v.7

“He also broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes which were in the house of the Lord, where the women were weaving hangings for the Asherah”

v.10

“He also defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech”

v.13-14

“The high places which were before Jerusalem, which were on the right of the mount of destruction which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the sons of Ammon, the king defiled. He broke in pieces the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with human bones.”

In essence, these were people that were performing murderous, perverted, and abominable activities, while worshipping false idols. These people did receive a high punishment, no doubt. But, why kill them all? Women and children included? Let’s take a look at what God had said would occur, if they had not entirely destroyed them, which is what Saul had actually failed to do when he ruled the Israelites:

Deuteronomy 20:16-18

“Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you,so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the Lord your God.”

So, we see that they had indeed perverted those who once followed God, hence when Josiah had renewed the Old Covenant, he had to remove all of the idolatrous themes and perversions of the land.

God’s Perfect Nature

God, being all-perfect, cannot tolerate those who do evil in his sight. This sounds contradictory, to kill those who do evil, since God’s sixth commandment to Moses and the Israelites was to not kill. The seeming contradiction is actually justified because we know that God’s will takes precedence, always, in that He is creator of all things (Rev. 4:11) and His larger purpose for the Israelites was to bring them, and all nations, the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. This was accomplished through the many victories that He promised the Israelites when they would keep Him and not reject Him, as their sole God. A moral and just God has a right to do things that we may have difficulty in understanding, but we must realize that we are all imperfect beings, and all have sinned (Romans 3:23). He is not subject to us, but rather, a just God must punish those who sin, if there is no repentance for wickedness; we are all subject to Him. Do we know if those innocent children who were killed were saved to Christ? I would imagine so, as they had no part in the sin of their parents. A just God does what He does, we can only ponder when we don’t fully understand everything.

Thankfully, God’s plan included the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! God incarnate; who died for the sins of those who will believe in Him. Our Savior has came and conquered to take away the sins of those, such as the Canaanites and all those who do live!

John 1:1-3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

References

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/moral

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/morality

[3] https://youtu.be/Mm2Jrr0tRXk

The Minimal Facts Argument of the Resurrection: Applying Occam’s Razor to the Explanations

Introduction

To begin, the amazing thing about Christianity is the claim of Jesus Christ; Matthew 16:21 tells us:

“…Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.”

Wow. Who makes such claims?! Well, Jesus…Son of God. Ok. Next, I’ll present, with some background info, what is only one argument in defense for Christ’s resurrection.

Scholars use specific methods to determine historical manuscripts for textual reliability, such as how closely oldest manuscripts match later ones (more here on textual criticism). The Gospel accounts contain a wealth of information that biblical scholars actually agree on, regardless of theistic or atheistic belief. So, to say we cannot use any of the Gospels accounts or any other book in the Bible as a source for historical purposes is a fallacy. That’s not to say that I can personally prove events of the Bible. However, some factors used, that can attest to high probability of truth – establishing facts – are historical confluence; independent, early attestation; embarrassment; dissimilarity; semitisms; coherency. I won’t get into details, but more here on these types of qualifiers, according to William Lane Craig.

Habermas uses some facts based on criteria, that we have briefly touched on, to suggest that these specific events (as written below) can indeed be considered factual. Habermas goes on to say that these facts are agreed upon and “almost every religious and philosophical persuasion recognize as being historical.”[1]

Now, let’s discuss only 6 of the many (14 or more) minimal facts about Jesus’ claim to be raised from the dead. The list of minimal facts can be as long or short as wanting, considering the long list of facts that have been established. So, what are the minimal facts that virtually all of said scholars accept? The following list is slightly different from the ones I gave in my first blog, titled “Evaluating Scientific Naturalism and Christianity.” Anyhow, here is the list, given by Gary Habermas, PhD., whose beginnings for the Minimal Facts argument grew from his dissertation topic: “The Resurrection of Jesus: a Rational Inquiry,” at Michigan State University (1976):

Minimal Facts for the Resurrection of Christ

1. Jesus died by crucifixion

2. His disciples believed to have seen a risen Jesus

4. His disciples had a transformation; they were ready to die (and some did) for their beliefs

5. Jesus’ brother, James, became a Christ follower after believing he saw a risen Jesus

6. The Apostle Paul, former Christian persecutor, became a Christian after having an experience attributed to Jesus

The Minimal Facts argument for the resurrection of Christ posits that the best explanation for these events occurring is that Jesus was, in fact, resurrected from death and showed himself to His disciples, along with others.

Let’s attempt to remove that which is least likely, using Occam’s razor. What is Occam’s razor? It’s a philosophical principle that says within a number of hypotheticals, the best explanation is the one with the least assumptions (leads to increased probability). Typically, this has been used in order to refute God as Creator of all things, but here we will see how the resurrection might stand up.

Premise: The disciples preached the gospel of Jesus, many falling unto martyrdom or being willing to as confessors of Christ Jesus.

Hypothetical Explanations

1. Assumptions:

  • They didn’t see Jesus or have any Jesus experience
  • Made up claims about seeing and/or experiencing Christ

Refutation:

  • You may believe that we should assume these 13 people (11 original disciples + James & Paul) lied without motivation, but why would they do so? Considering many ending up martyred or at least were willing to confess Christ as savior – knowingly putting themselves in danger?
  • Think of Watergate: Charles Colson famously described the cover up that didn’t last more than two weeks between 10 members (including himself) of the Nixon era. Not likely at all a lie would stick, especially without worldly motivation – riches, power, etc. – which they clearly didn’t have, though those involved in Watergate did, but with the end result of martyrdom for some of the apostles.

2. Assumptions:

  • They all hallucinated
  • All believed their hallucination enough to preach Jesus

Refutation:

  • Modern psychology does not support this theory at all, nor do most serious skeptics of the resurrection of Jesus (albeit there are a few). If hallucinations occurred, this would assert that each disciple believed in a risen Christ because of the use drugs, dementia, etc. But there is simply no evidence of this nor could the claim of the same hallucination be anywhere near plausible.
  • If they were simply deluded (believed they saw Jesus as product their own “wishful thinking”) then this would even more so contradict why so many touched Jesus and spoke to Him and, as Groothuis states, “…the disciples gave Jesus up for dead and were quite shocked at the first reports of his resurrection (Luke 24:1-11; John 20:24-26).”[2] To simply see Him as a result of hoping would be one thing, but to have His appearance as an unexpected occurrence and preach the gospel of Christ? That is simply another! So, this one is one of the least plausible arguments against the resurrection.

3. Assumptions:

  • They all saw who they thought was Jesus
  • Who they saw was not Jesus

Refutation:

  • This does not make sense considering his wounds (died by crucifixion): nail holes in his hands; wounds in feet; lashes upon his back; pierced in His side. Jesus’ answer to our doubting Apostle Thomas would indeed make sense, as we read in John 20:27:

Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.

  • Think about how much it would take for you to believe in a person who has risen from the dead; they would have to literally be raised from the dead! Yet, that’s just what these apostles believed…why?

4. Presumption: They each truly saw and/or experienced a risen Jesus.

The word “presumption” is used, and not “assumption,” because this is what the available evidence tells us occurred. Although those that are die-hard naturalists will continue to deny, we simply cannot refute this one in the same way that we have the others. Explanations 1-3 have been refuted simply based on our observations of human nature. This is to say that we have evidence that supports the refutations listed.

Occam’s razor would say to go with the theory that has the least amount of assumptions – if we go with what the disciples said, we are presuming truth in what God’s apostles asserted, yet you could say we are assuming a supernatural event. However, this doesn’t sound so far fetched when we think about claims of the naturalist (and many Christians), of whom many believe in a Big Bang model which created the universe – hardly a natural occurrence! Correct?!

We have to think about those who were there and what they believed they observed. A risen Jesus implies the power of God, which if we cannot give any real positive likelihood for the other possible natural hypothetical arguments, we ought to highly consider. If we cannot disprove God’s existence, then it is entirely possible He exists; Occam’s razor seems to make this all the more probable, ironically, regarding the resurrection of Christ. Considering the context of the argument, this seems more likely than the other alternatives that have been offered, even if we have not witnessed a resurrection ourselves.

If we take a plainly scientific approach, we can’t validate any case for a legitimate 3-day long death, followed by a resurrection. Hence, if he was raised from the dead, there was indeed a supernatural power that was at work. But, if we simply allow only the natural to be considered, not at least considering the supernatural that may exist (the scientific method cannot deny the supernatural, it can merely confirm the natural; also remember the Big Bang model, of which necessitates a supernatural cause), then essentially the argument for or against, based on the scientific method, is unwarranted on grounds that we have no method for testing a supernatural hypothesis (would need to conform to the natural).

What can we do?

Well, we can consider each argument, evaluate the cumulative evidence for each case, and decide for ourselves. Which is what we all have done to some degree, if we consider ourselves theists, atheists, or agnostics (we all believe something). Truly, all we really need to is accept the gospel and repent as He tells us to – He is the revealer of truth.

Let’s end with an anecdote: Two men, both professing Christians, desiring to serve and learn more about God, graduate from university and go on to further their knowledge in subjects with specialties in the resurrection of Christ and the other in New Testament textual criticism. One increases his faith, the other decides that he no longer believes. These two men are William Lane Craig and Bart Erhman. William Lane Craig being a very popular Christian apologist, and noted as one of 50 greatest living philosophers, and Erhman as a notable author on various books regarding New Testament and Jesus studies. The point is, with the same information, we choose to either trust or distrust in Jesus. Which is to say we have faith that he did do as he said he would, or we have faith that he did not.

We have to ask ourselves, where does our faith lie?

In the end, if I personally had never had a transformational experience through Christ, I couldn’t for the life of me profess to be, and remain, a Christian. It is only because of Him that I have become a new creature. No brainwashing, but some “washing of the brain,” as I so heard recently from Pastor Sam just a couple of weeks ago! God reveals Himself when one exercises their willingness to trust in Him and let Him do as He says He will.

Be in Christ.

1 Peter 3:15

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”

References

[1] Habermas, Gary R. “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity.” In Southeastern Theological Review 3.1 Summer 2012, 15.

[2] Groothuis, Douglas R. Jesus In An Age Of Controversy. Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock Pub., 2002, 278.

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