Monday, May 2, 2016

Trusting God with tomorrow

I was listening to someone on the radio this morning telling listeners to trust God more with the events in their lives. The message seemed to be that if we just trust God enough he will make everything turn out OK for us. I’ve heard this message numerous times from well-meaning Christians.

My question is: So how did that work out for Jesus? Didn’t he trust the Father enough? Is that why he was mocked, beaten, and tortured to death?  What about Paul? He was flogged, stoned, shipwrecked, beaten with rods, threatened with death and often went without adequate water, food, shelter and clothing. Wasn’t he trusting God enough?  What about the Christians who were imprisoned, starved, tortured and eventually killed in Nazi prison camps? Didn’t any of them trust God enough?

So what happened? Did God fail them?

Not at all! I just think many American Christians have an unbiblical, Pollyanna, view of trusting God with the future. Trusting God with our future is not about trusting hard enough that God will make our life turn out better from our perspective. God never promised that this life would be easy. In fact, tomorrow may turn out terribly from our perspective (First Peter 1:6; 4:12)!

But—and this is where trust comes in—we should pray earnestly and trust God to strengthen and empower us to get through whatever tomorrow may bring—good or bad, wonderful or terrible! We must also trust that, regardless of appearances, we serve an all loving, all powerful God who will make all things ultimately (if not in this life, then in the next) work out for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).

In the meantime, Jesus taught that we should concern ourselves first and foremost with the Kingdom of God and not to worry about tomorrow—“each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 7:25-34). This doesn’t mean that we should stop planning for tomorrow or that we shouldn’t take necessary precautions (see, for example, Proverbs). But when it comes to worry, we should take one day at a time.

In a recent reality-based movie starring Tom Hanks, a spy had been captured and was facing possible death. Tom Hanks’ character asked the spy—three separate times throughout the movie, as I recall—if he was worried. The matter-of-fact response each time was, “would it help?” 

Of course not! We can plan or take precautions for the possibilities of tomorrow—we can even try to influence how tomorrow may turn out—but it just will not help in any way to worry about tomorrow (so easy to write, so hard to do—I’m still working on it).

But don’t trust God to make this life easier. He never promised he would, in fact, quite the contrary (e.g. 2 Timothy 3:12).

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Has Science Dis-proven the existence of Adam and Eve?

Dr. Ann Gauger is a senior research scientist at Biologic Institute. She has a BS in biology from MIT, a Ph.D. in developmental biology from the University of Washington, and was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University. Her work has been published in such journals as Nature, Development, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry ( The following is a summary of an article written by Dr. Ann Gauger on “The Science of Adam and Eve” (chapter 5 of Science & Human Origins. Seattle : Discovery Institute, 2012).

Some scientists, and even groups like BioLogos, have insisted that scientific evidence has disproven the existence of Adam and Eve. In Gauger’s words, “Using population genetics, some scientists have argued that there is too much genetic diversity to have passed through a bottleneck of just two individuals. But that turns out not to be true” (105).

Gauger focuses on one of the strongest scientific arguments supposedly disproving the existence of Adam and Eve, i.e. “the argument based on genetic variation in human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes, some of the most variable genes in the human genome” (106). These HLA genes “bind and present foreign peptides on the surface of immune cells (leukocytes), in order to trigger a response by other immune cells” (106).

“In the 1930s and 40s, Darwin’s theory of evolution and Mendel’s theory of genetics were combined, creating what is now called the Modern Synthesis” which focused on “how genetic variation spread through populations.” These “‘population geneticists’…developed mathematical models to extrapolate from existing genetic variation in populations to what may have happened to those populations in the past” (108). They determined that it is not possible that the amount of genetic variation seen in humans today came from just two human beings.

Gauger argues that generally speaking, these genetic models assume 1) “a constant background mutation rate, with no strong selection biasing genetic change” 2) “a constant population size with no migration in or out” and 3) that “common descent is the underlying cause of sequence similarity” (108). Gauger demonstrates that all of these are questionable assumptions.
More specifically, Gauger challenges the research of Francisco Ayala, a biologist who set out to disprove the idea that all humans came from Adam and Eve. He used “sequence information from one of the HLA genes” called HLA-DRB1 (109) and concluded that there was “just too much ancestral diversity in HLA-DRB1” for “the human population to have passed through a bottleneck of two” (111).

Gauger argues that Ayala’s “explicit assumptions include” 1) “a constant background mutation rate over time” 2) “lack of selection for genetic change on the DNA sequences being studied” 3) “random breeding among individuals, 4) “no migrations in or out of the breeding population,” and 5) a constant population size.” Guager says that if any of these assumptions turn to be unrealistic, the results of a model may be seriously flawed” (112). Not only that but Gauger argues that “the particular DNA sequence from HLA-DRB1 that Ayala used in his analysis was guaranteed to give an overestimate, because he inadequately controlled for two of the above assumptions” (112).

In addition, Gauger says “There are also hidden assumptions…For example, “The population genetics equations…assume that random processes are the only causes of genetic change over time, an assumption drawn from naturalism” (112). Second, Ayala’s “algorithms assume that a tree of common descent exists.” It assumes an evolutionary model in which all animal life including humans descended from a common source [In other words, if swimming, flying and walking creatures are separate creations by God as Genesis 1 claims, Ayala’s model fails. Just to be clear: Ayala’s model denies the truthfulness of Genesis 1 and then uses this assumption to refute the biblical account of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2]. As Gauger says, Ayala’s “assumptions rely upon the very thing they are meant to demonstrate” (112).

Gauger doesn’t just point out the faulty assumptions. She also demonstrates why they are faulty. Gauger concludes, “…one thing is clear right now: Adam and Eve have not been disproven by science, and those who claim otherwise are misrepresenting the scientific evidence” (121).  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Following Jesus


In his “Great Commission,” Jesus taught, “go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt 28.19-20). I was taught in a Christian tradition known as Dispensationalism. My dispensational pastors and professors tended to focus on Paul and paid very little attention to the ethical teachings of Jesus. They focused on the grace of God in salvation to such an extent that any emphasis on the commands of Jesus would almost certainly have been viewed as “legalism.”

My pastors and teachers were very zealous about Jesus’ “Great Commission” to go into all the world and make disciples (and rightly so). But they seemed to ignore or downplay the rest of the Great Commission which says “teaching them to obey all that I [Jesus] have commanded you.” I was taught that Matthew, Mark and Luke really belonged to the Old Testament which applied to Israel, not to the church. One of my dispensational pastors even told me that “there is very little gospel in the Gospels.”

I was not persuaded. First, it didn’t seem very consistent to emphasize the part of the Great Commission about making disciples, but to ignore the part about teaching disciples to obey Jesus.

Second, it didn’t seem very consistent to insist that the Gospel of Matthew was written to Israel and not to the church—and yet at the same time to insist that Matthew 28:19-20 was the top priority for the church.

Third, even my dispensational pastors and professors recognized that the Gospel of John was written for the church and yet the Gospel of John emphasizes the importance of obeying Jesus!

Fortunately, Dispensationalism has evolved since those days. It would almost seem silly today to have to insist that obeying Jesus should be a major goal of everyone who calls themselves Christian. In fact, I would suggest that it is an oxymoron to call someone “Christian” who really does not want to obey Jesus.
But exactly what does obeying Jesus entail? When Jesus taught that we are to make disciples, teaching them to obey all things he commanded, exactly what was it we were to obey?

To answer that question I copied and pasted the Gospels to a Word document. Next, I deleted everything that was not related to the ethical or moral teachings of Jesus. I then organized these teachings and wrote them up in narrative form, citing chapter and verse at every point. The result is contained in the essay below. It is not exhaustive but I think it is a good 30,000 foot overview of what Jesus’ expected of his followers.

Sin and repentance

Jesus was all about love and compassion, but it may come as a surprise to some that he also had a lot to say about sin. Jesus taught that sin does not consist of outward actions alone, but begins in the heart. He said that out of the heart comes “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, folly, and false testimony (Mk 7.20-23; cf. Mt 15.10-20).

Similarly, in Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount” it was not just those who murdered who were guilty—Murder began with hatred in the heart. It was not just those who committed adultery who were guilty—Adultery began with lust in the heart (Mt 5.21-30). Jesus taught that since the mouth speaks what is in the heart, people one day would give account of every idle word they have spoken, (Mt 12.33-37).

For Jesus, sin did not just exist in the hearts of those who were greedy, envious, hateful or immoral, etc. Sin also existed in the hearts of religious leaders who loved to draw attention to themselves in order to make themselves look good, but didn’t practice what they preached. Among other things, Jesus called them hypocrites, blind guides, vipers, and even sons of hell (Mt 23.36; Lk 11.43-44)!
While Jesus insisted that we should let our “light shine before men, that they may see [our] good deeds and praise [our] Father in heaven” (Mt 5.16), he also taught that we should be careful never to do these good deeds for the purpose of self-glorification. For example, when (not if) we give to the poor we should never do so for the purpose of drawing attention to ourselves (Mt 6.4). Jesus warned of severe punishment, for example, to those who loved to flaunt their religious status but oppressed widows (Lk 20.45-47).

Jesus pointed out that, generally speaking, it was the religious leaders, not tax collectors and sinners, who refused to repent at the teaching of John (Mt 21.32).The religious leaders, however, were not the only ones Jesus condemned. He characterized his entire generation as wicked, adulterous, and sinful (Mk 8.38; Mt 12.39; 16.4; Lk 11.29). If he thought of his relatively moral first century Jewish culture as wicked, we can only imagine what he would say about modern western culture!

Jesus warned that sin was a serious issue that should not to be taken lightly. He used the hyperbole of cutting off hands and feet, or plucking out eyes to make the point that people should take drastic action to avoid sin (Mt 5.27-30; 18.8-9). He warned that those he called “evil-doers” and “wicked”—presumably those whose lifestyles are characterized by unrepentant delight in sinfulness—would be cast out of his presence and consigned to a place where there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 7.21-23; Lk 13.24-30, 47-50).

It should not be surprising, therefore, to learn that the very first words Matthew and Mark record of Jesus’ public ministry are a call to repentance (Mt 4.17; Mk 1.15)! Jesus taught that unless we repent we will perish (Lk 13.1-6) but he said that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who need no repentance (Lk 15.3-31). Obeying Jesus, therefore, must begin with repentance.

Love the Lord your God

Jesus taught that the first and greatest commandment was to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind (Mt. 22.35-40; Lk 10.27-28). As such this command should be considered the foundation of Jesus’ ethical teaching. But in Jesus’ teaching there was a bit of a twist. Jesus made claims for himself that could only be true of God and insisted that people should value him, Jesus, above all else. For example, according to the Gospels, Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sin and said he was lord over the Sabbath—characteristics only true of God. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus taught that “I and my Father are one.” Jesus’ enemies understood precisely what he meant because they tried to stone him saying, “you a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33). In the Ten Commandments God taught, “You shall have no other gods before me,” so Jesus, viewing himself as “One with the Father,” commanded that people value him (Jesus) above everything else.

For example, devotion to Jesus was to outweigh our love of money. Jesus taught that ultimately, people cannot serve both God and money (Lk 16.13). And as much as Jesus cared for the poor—and demanded that we do so also—Jesus insisted that devotion to him should even outweigh our commitment to help the poor (John 12.4-8).

Even more than that, however, Jesus taught that anyone who loved their family—father, mother, sister, brother, wife, husband, children—more than they loved him, was not worthy of him. Anyone who would not take up their cross for him—a metaphor for being willing to die—was not worthy of him (Mk, 8.34-37; Mt 10.27-39; 16.24-27; Lk 9.23-25; 12.48; 14.25-27).

In Matthew 8.22 someone said he wanted to follow Jesus but that he had to bury his father first. Jesus told him to “let the dead bury their own dead,” apparently meaning that allegiance to Jesus even trumped important and necessary family obligations. Jesus warned that such allegiance to him would bring division in families (Lk 12.51-53), and that some would even be betrayed to death by family members (Mt 10.16-23). That being the case, he warned people to count the cost before following him (Lk 14.28-30). Following him could be deadly. On the other hand, he said that people should not be afraid of those who can kill the body but rather to fear the One who has authority to throw them into hell (Lk 12.4-5).

This ultimate allegiance to Jesus, however, didn’t mean that people should neglect family members. Jesus taught that people should honor their parents (Mk 7.10; 10:18-20; Lk 18.20) as commanded by the Law of Moses, and as Jesus himself did (Jn 19.26-27). He condemned those who contrived to deprive their parents of financial help (Mk 7.9-13; Mt 15.3-9). He taught that we should be faithful in marriage (Mt 5.31-32, 19.4-6; 19.8-9; Lk 16.18) and he warned of dire consequences for those who caused children to stumble (Mt. 18.6; Mk 9.42; Lk 17.2). Indeed, loving the Lord even above family often gives a depth and permanence to familial love that doesn’t exist in many relationships.

An important expression of love for the Lord is worship. Jesus taught to worship God and “serve him only” (Mt 4.10; Lk 4.8), which must be interpreted in light of Jesus’ claim to deity. Jesus said this worship was to be “in spirit and in truth” apparently meaning that worship should not just be by empty rituals or rote but should be sincere, from the heart and according to biblical truth.

Another expression of love for the Lord is prayer. Jesus both taught (Mt 6.6-10; Mt 14.23; Mk 11.25) and exemplified prayer in his life (Mk 14.32-39; Lk 5.16; Jn 17)—sometimes rising early in the morning or praying all night (Mk 1.35; Luke 6.12). Jesus taught that God, like a loving father, wants to answer prayer (Lk 11.5-26; Mt 7.7-11) so people should pray persistently (Mt 11.5-26), in faith with an attitude of expectancy (Mt 21.22). Jesus was clear, however, that public prayer should never be for show or for the purpose of bringing honor to oneself (Mt 6.5-8).

It is important to emphasize that loving Jesus is more than just warm fuzzy feelings. Loving Jesus involves a heart attitude that encompasses such words as devotion, dedication, commitment, and allegiance (Paul would call this attitude “faith”). Such an attitude cannot help but produce a change in one’s life. In fact, a life that produced fruit was one of the characteristics of a genuine love for and allegiance to Jesus. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep [or you will keep] my commandments” (Jn 14.15) and “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (Jn 14.21) and “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching” (14.23). In Jesus’ parable of the sower, those who heard the word of God and fell away, or got choked out buy the cares of this world, were not true followers of Jesus. The true followers of Jesus were those who remained in Jesus and produced fruit (Mt 13.1-9; 18-23).

Bearing fruit involves, among other things, being good “stewards” or managers of the abilities, talents, opportunities and resources entrusted to us by God. The Lord expects us to use these wisely. Failure to do so would result in being thrown into a place of darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 25.14-30; cf. Luke 18:11-27).

Bearing fruit was to be so characteristic of Jesus’ followers (Lk 8.4-15, 21) that Jesus said those who did not bear fruit would be cut down like a fig tree (Lk 13.6-9) and “thrown into the fire” (Mt 7.15-20; John 15.1-17). If someone deeply loves and is genuinely committed to Jesus, this cannot help but produce a change in our life that increasingly bears the fruit of obedience to Jesus.
Jesus’ followers were to be characterized by having a hunger and thirst for righteousness, by being merciful or compassionate, being pure in heart, meek, and making peace (Mt 5.3-11). No one is perfect, of course, but sincere love for and genuine commitment to Jesus cannot help but to produce fruit. That fruit may include numerous aspects of loving our neighbors, as explained below.

Love your neighbor as yourself

Jesus said the second most important command was to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Mt 22.35-40; Lk 10.27-28). But who is our neighbor? Certainly our neighbor would include fellow Christians. Jesus taught that we should love fellow believers as he has loved us. In fact, Jesus said this love for fellow believers would be how people would know we are his disciples (John 12.34). Just as Jesus laid down his life for us, so we should be prepared to lay down our lives for others (John 15.12, 17).

But loving neighbors involves more than just loving fellow believers. In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus seemed to imply that our neighbor was the person we happened to come upon who was in need and whom we were in a position to help. But even more than that, Jesus’ command to love others was to include love even for our enemies.

This love, whether for believers, neighbors or enemies, was not just affection or warm feelings, it involved looking out for the well-being of others. In Luke 6, Jesus explains this love in terms of concrete actions—“do good to those who hate you, bless (speak well) of those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you,” “turn the other check” to insults, give to those in need, lend without expecting re-payment (Lk 6.27-36, Mt 5.38-43).

Loving others meant doing “to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk 6.31). It meant showing compassion to people. Jesus taught to “Be merciful (or compassionate) just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6.36 cf. Mt 5.7). In fact, Jesus’ ministry embodied compassion (e.g. Mk 8.1-13; Mt 15.32-38; 11.4-5). His teaching, feeding, healings and exorcisms were, among other things, expressions of compassion (Mt 9.36, 14.14; 15.32; 20.34; Mk 6.34; 8.2).
Loving others also involved forgiving those who have sinned against us. Jesus commanded that if our brothers or sisters repent we must forgive them repeatedly (Lk 17.3) and that our refusal to forgive would result not only in God’s refusal to forgive us (Mt 6.14), but in eternal judgment as well (Mt 18.21-35).

On the other hand, Jesus was clear that if the offender was a believer, we should confront them personally. If the offender doesn’t listen, we should bring one or two others to help resolve the dispute and if that didn’t work, we could take it before the church (Mt 18.18). Jesus warned, however, that before we judge someone else for their sins we should be sure we are not guilty of the same sins—remove the plank from our own eye first. Jesus warned that the same standard we use in judging others will be used against us (Mt 7.1-5; Lk 6.27; 41-42).

Central to loving our neighbor was caring for the poor. Jesus taught that people should even sell their possessions and give to the poor, thus building up treasure in heaven (Lk 12.32-34). It seems probable that Jesus was using hyperbole here since he did not seem to require everyone to sell everything they had (e.g. Mk 2.11; Mk 5.19; Mk 8.25-26; Luke 8.38-39; Lk 10.38; 19:1-10; Jn 19.27; cf. Acts 2.46; 18.26; 21.16). Jesus’ point was that helping the poor should be very high on the priority list of those who claim to follow him.
In fact, Jesus taught that people who did not care for those who were sick, hungry, thirsty, in prison or poorly clothed were really not his disciples at all and would be sent into eternal fire (Mt 25.31-46). Jesus taught, however, that with God it was not the size of the gift that counted, but the size of the sacrifice (Lk 21.3) and Jesus’ followers should be known for their generosity (Mt 5.42; Lk 6.38).

Jesus warned, therefore, to “Be on guard against all kinds of greed” (Lk 12.14) and not to “store up treasures on earth” because a person’s heart would be where their treasure was (Mt 6.19-24). He strongly condemned self-indulgence (Mt 23.25) and said people should stop worrying so much about the future or cares of this life but to focus first on the kingdom of God (Lk 12.22-31; Mt 6.25-34).

Jesus was clear that his followers were not to be overbearing tyrants who “lord it over others,” rather we are to serve (Lk 22.24-27). In fact, Jesus said that whoever wanted to be great among you must be serve others (Mt 20.26-27; 23.8-11; cf Mt 18.2-6). Jesus actually got down on his knees and washed his disciples’ feet, saying he was setting an example that they should go likewise and serve others (Jn 12.12-17, cf. Luke 22.26). Servanthood necessarily involves meekness (the opposite of being an overbearing loud-mouth), and humility (Lk 14.7-11; Mt 18.4; 23.12) which certainly characterized Jesus’ life and which he expected from his followers.

On the other hand, while Jesus’ followers must generally be characterized by humility and meekness, loving others does not necessarily preclude the occasional possibility of direct confrontation or even harshness. After all, the same Jesus who taught and embodied love, also called self-righteous religious leaders hypocrites, blind guides, fools, white-washed tombs, snakes, vipers, and sons of hell! He compared his whole generation unfavorably to Sodom and Gomorrah and called them to repent (Mt 12.39-42; cf. Mt 17.17). Loving others does not rule out righteous anger against sin.

Finally, loving others involves leading them to repentance and drawing them to Jesus. Jesus’ called his followers to be fishers of men, to let their light shine by their good works (Mt 5.16) and to make disciples (Mk 1.17; Mt 4.19; Lk 5.10). He urged his followers to pray that God would send more workers out into the harvest (Mt 9.37; Lk 10.2).

What are these laborers to do? In his “Great Commission” Jesus says we are to make disciples, baptizing them (as the initial expression of faith) and teaching them to obey everything he commanded (Mt 28.18-20). Making disciples is not just about teaching the doctrines of the Christian faith—as important as that is. Making disciples is about teaching people to “obey everything” Jesus commanded. We are not really making disciples unless we are teaching people to obey Jesus.

Obedience and grace

This discussion on obeying Jesus must be placed in the context of what Jesus taught about grace. For example, in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee prayed, “God thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” The tax collector, on the other hand did not appeal to any good works but threw himself on God’s grace, beating his chest and pleading, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus said it was the tax collector who was “justified” not the Pharisee. In other words, the man who humbly threw himself on God’s mercy and grace was declared to be right with God, not the man who self-righteously thought he was good enough to earn God’s favor.

Another example of grace is found in Luke 7.36-50 which tells the story of a women who came to a dinner attended by Jesus and a group of religious leaders. The woman was crying, apparently over her sin since this little story describes her as a sinner four times! She ignored the religious leaders and went right to Jesus, kneeling down as she kissed Jesus’ feed, anointed them with ointment and wiped them with her hair. Jesus said to the Pharisee who hosted the event that this woman’s “sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.” He then turned to the woman and said that her faith had saved her.
The story leads readers to understand that this woman’s sorrowful repentance over her sin, coupled with her loving devotion to Jesus, is the very definition of the kind of faith necessary to enter the kingdom about which Jesus had so often preached. The woman was not saved because she was such a good person or because she had done some wonderful good works. She was saved by grace through her repentance and faith or loving devotion to Jesus.

The stories of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32) and the landowner who hired people in the marketplace (Mt 21.1-16) are also stories of God’s grace. The point is that obedience to Jesus is never to be understood as something we do to earn God’s favor or salvation. Obedience should never be thought of as the means of gaining a right status with God. It is out of a heart of faith, i.e. loving devotion/commitment/dedication/allegiance to Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit that our obedience flows.

I am convinced that Jesus would agree completely with what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2.8-10: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Jesus and politics

It is important to note that Jesus was addressing how his followers should personally love those with whom they come in contact. He was not directly addressing government policy. Judea had been ruled by kings and tyrants for a thousand years before Jesus’ time so the idea that Jesus’ servant-followers would vote in elections or “serve” as senators, governors or presidents was not even a remote hypothetical possibility when Jesus was teaching.

I see no reason to believe, however, that Jesus would have disagreed with Hebrews 11:32-34 which applauds godly Jewish leaders of faith, not for turning the other cheek but for administering justice, routing foreign armies and conquering kingdoms! For example, Jesus cites both Moses and David approvingly with no hint of disapproval for being men of war. In addition, according to John 10.22, Jesus was in the Jerusalem Temple for the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) which celebrates the violent re-taking of the Temple from a Syrian ruler who had desecrated it and had committed atrocities against the Jews. If Jesus was in the Temple protesting the fact that these rebels had not "turned the other cheek" it seems odd that the Gospel of John gives no indication whatsoever of Jesus' disapproval. We cannot interpret Jesus apart from his Jewish context and his own affirmation of Jewish scriptures, e.g. Matthew 5:17-18) and we must be careful about trying to apply all of Jesus' teachings directly to government policies.

Jesus was addressing personal behavior and was not directly addressing government policies. In other words, by way of application, Jesus was not teaching that Christian police officers should literally turn the other cheek when they are assaulted while lawfully administering justice. Jesus was not saying that the President of the United States should have metaphorically turned the other check by offering the Empire State Building after the Twin Towers were destroyed. He never taught that governments should disband their armies and leave themselves defenseless (note that John the Baptist did not even require Roman soldiers to leave the military: Luke 3:14).

On the other hand, exactly how government officials who are Christians should apply Jesus’ teachings on personal behavior to government policies (e.g. on war, poverty, immigration or other social issues) is a matter of endless debate among Christian voters.


Jesus condemned the sin of his generation and called people to repentance. Among other things, he preached against sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, folly, false testimony, evil thoughts, lust, hatred, self-righteousness, self-indulgence, and hypocrisy. For Jesus, sin did not consist merely in outward actions but began in the heart.

Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was to love God above all else—and he claimed to be one with the Father. That being the case, he taught that people should be more devoted to him than they are to their own families or even their own life. Such devotion involves worship, prayer and obedience or bearing fruit.

Jesus taught that the second greatest commandment was to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This involves looking out for the well-being of others and treating others as we would want to be treated. It involves serving others, being generous, compassionate and forgiving. Jesus even commands loving our enemies—doing good to them, praying for them and refusing to retaliate against their insults.

Jesus taught that we were to be fishers of men—making disciples which involves teaching them to obey Jesus. Jesus taught that we are not justified before God by our good works, but by God’s grace.

Finally, Jesus’ teachings were primarily addressing how his followers should personally love those with whom they come in contact. How those teachings should be applied to government policies is a matter of debate among Christians—but that debate should never keep us from loving God more than we love life, relying on his grace, and from loving neighbors and even enemies as we love ourselves.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Defend Religious Freedom!

Increasingly in America we are finding that Christians are losing jobs, losing businesses, being sued, being fined, etc. simply because they are living out their Christian convictions regarding marriage or abortion. Unfortunately, all too many Christians (those who have not yet been affected) respond with a big yawn, saying that Christians should expect persecution. They are absolutely right—we should expect persecution. But that doesn’t mean we should always just sit idly by an accept it.
For example, Paul charged the magistrates of Philippi with violating his rights as a Roman Citizen and demanded that they personally escort him out of jail (Acts 17:16-40). Paul used his rights as a Roman citizen to avoid flogging in Jerusalem (Acts 22:25). It was Paul’s status as Roman citizen that got him transferred from Jerusalem to Caesarea in Roman protective custody (Acts 22:12-22, cf. 23:27). And Paul used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to Caesar (Acts 25:10-11).
Isaiah commands readers to “defend the oppressed” (Isa 1:17) and to “lose the chains of injustice” (Isaiah 58:6; cf. Jeremiah 22:3). As hard as it is to believe—more and more people in America are now being oppressed because of their Christian faith!
So what can you do?
1) Pray
2) Support and vote for people who will stand for religious liberty
3) Support organizations that are defending your freedom, e.g. Alliance Defending Freedom or the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), et al.
4) Let your Senators and Representatives know that you are not happy with what is going on.
5) Ask your Representative and Senators to support the First Amendment Defense Act (S. 1598, H.R. 2802) which would, “prevent discriminatory treatment of any person on the basis of views held with respect to marriage.”
6) Re-post Twitter and Facebook articles on this issue in order to raise awareness of the problem
7) Encourage your family and friends to get involved too. Pastors, start informing your congregations on what is happening and pray!
You don’t have to do it all—but please don’t just sit back and watch your children’s freedom get flushed down the drain on your watch!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Shut up and Dance!

There is a very popular song--number 4 on Billboard's top 100 this week--called “Shut up and Dance” by a group called “Walk the Moon.”  As I was listening to this song recently, I started thinking of the story of how Jesus called to Peter to come out of the boat and walk on the water with him--and the words below came to mind (go figure)! To the tune of “Shut up and Dance:”

Oh don’t you dare look down
Just keep your eyes on me
I said “But I might drown”
He said, look up and walk with me
This Savior is my destiny
He said, “I’ll rescue you…
Look up and walk with me”

On the sea in fading light
The wind was blowing
Lightening flashing bright
Tossed around and helpless in the night
But, He’s stronger than weather
Much stronger than weather

He took my hand,
I don’t know how it happened
He pulled me up and He said,

Oh don’t you dare look down
Just keep your eyes on me
I said “But I might drown”
He said, look up and walk with me
This Savior is my destiny
He said, “I’ll save you-ou…
Look up and follow me”

(If you don't know "Shut up and Dance" you can find the video on YouTube).

I think I would be on shaky, even dangerous ground (or in over my head?) to say that God gave the these words to me. The entire thing didn't just pop into my head--I did spend some time editing and tweaking it. More importantly, in the OT God strongly condemns those who say God spoke when God did not speak.

But on the other hand, I have no musical talent or song-writing ability whatsoever (some readers will say, "Amen!"), and "Shut Up and Dance" has absolutely nothing to do with Peter or Jesus, so where did the words come from? 

Some Christians might say that God never directly speaks to us today. Other Christians seem to assume that almost any random thought, feeling or inclination they have is God speaking to them.

The point of my post is this: How can we know when or if God is speaking as opposed to when our thoughts are just our own thoughts? 

Monday, March 23, 2015

The origin of human beings: One Adam or many "adams"

Last Sunday someone asked a great question about whether Adam could have been just one of many early people on earth--in other words, the idea that humankind did not all originate from Adam but from many "adams.'  Below is a slightly edited version of my e-mailed response:

You asked whether Adam could have been just one of many early people on earth.
The idea that "Adam" was just one of many does not come from the Bible but from science. 

Most scientists operate from the philosophical presupposition that if God exists at all, he would never involve himself in human events. They, therefore, believe that any idea of God must be completely ruled out of any scientific inquiry (In other words, IF God had anything to do with the origin of life, most scientists would never know about it because they have ruled God out their research as a matter of methodology).

These scientists conclude that if life just happened to originate from non-living material in one instance, there is no reason it couldn't have done so independently in multiple instances.

To say that this hypothesis is scientifically flawed is a huge understatement. That is because even the very simplest organism (one-cell organisms) are so incredibly complex it is scientifically impossible for them to have evolved in only 15 billion years (the supposed age of the universe). I once read that even the simplest one-cell organism is more complicated in some ways than a modern computer!

Even the DNA in those single-celled organisms is too complex to have originated and evolved in 15 billion years just by chance and random selection alone-the DNA is quite literally similar to a chemical computer code. This was the conclusion of a world-renowned atheist philosopher named Antony Flew. He eventually came to the conclusion that atheism was scientifically impossible (he hasn't become a Christian yet-he's still looking for an explanation).

There is another philosopher who is also a scientist who studied the origin of life at Cambridge University-one of the most prestigious universities in the world. He studied every single theory of the origin of life ever proposed and concluded that not a single one of them is scientifically valid-ALL of them are flawed. None of them can adequately explain the origin of life from a purely naturalistic (i.e. ruling out God) perspective.

All this doesn't prove God did it, of course, but it does give scientific reason to believe that the origin of a single living creature on earth is extremely improbable if not outright scientifically impossible. And if that is true, the independent origin of multiple living creatures is exponentially impossible!

Some of us, therefore, choose to believe the Bible's explanation over science's deeply flawed explanations. And the Bible is very clear-in Genesis and elsewhere (e.g. Romans 5)-that all human life came from Adam who was created directly by God

Anyway, I guess the bottom line with regard to Adam and Eve and the origin of life is that I could 1) believe some scientific theory that many scientists and philosophers argue is scientifically impossible, 2) believe the Bible's explanation that God created a human being in his image and all others came from that one or 3) throw up my hands and say we just don't know.

In my humble opinion, the first option takes more faith than I have. The third option is an honest option but is, I think, a head-in-the sand approach. The second option makes the most sense to me.

If you'd like to read more, I've written some short articles on my blog about science and the origin of life:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Did Jesus Exist? The Jesus Myth theory

Did Jesus exist? The Jesus myth theory

The idea that the Jesus of the Gospels was just a myth was first propagated by Bruno Bauer (1809-1882). The evidence for Jesus’ existence is so extensive that even the theological liberals in Bauer’s day dismissed him. Unfortunately, with the rise of militant atheism, the Jesus’ myth theory seems to be back with a vengeance, being propagated both by serious writers like Robert Price and G.A. Wells, as well by flood of internet advocates. Their method often involves dumping a ton of scholarly-sounding “evidence” on their readers—much of which, upon close examination, turns out to be illogical, irrelevant, taken out of context or, in the case of some internet websites, outright fabricated. Nevertheless, they overwhelm their readers with data the reader is not prepared to process, and sound so convincing that many have been misled. This chapter will attempt to address a few of the issues.
Part I
In the DVD entitled, The God who wasn’t there, Brian Flemming attempted to make the case that the Jesus of the Gospels was a myth. As mentioned above, the Jesus myth theory has been around since the days of Bruno Bauer (1809-1882) and has generally been dismissed as nonsense. Since, however, the Jesus myth theory appears to be gaining popularity, the arguments deserve a response. Flemming’s case can be summarized in seven points. Each point will be stated and answered below.
First, according to Flemming, the Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel written, the other three being derived from Mark. Scholars believe that the Gospel of John was written independently of the other Gospels, but otherwise, most scholars would agree with Flemming on this point.
Second, Flemming points out that the Gospel of Mark records the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but according to Flemming, since Jesus couldn’t possibly have predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, the Gospels must have been written after AD 70. That means there is a 40 year gap between Jesus’ death in AD 30 or 33, and the Gospel of Mark in AD 70.
Flemming is right that most scholars think the Gospels were written between AD 70 and AD 100, and that these dates are largely based on the assumption that Jesus couldn’t possibly have predicted the fall of Jerusalem.
Contrary to Flemming, however, many critics today—even some of the more radical critics—are now starting to recognize that Jesus really did predict the fall of Jerusalem 40 years before it occurred! They have reluctantly come to this conclusion because the majority of New Testament scholars believe in a “Lost Gospel of Q” which was supposedly written before AD 70 and in which Jesus alludes to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple which occurred in AD 70.
What many critics don’t seem to realize, however, is that this undermines a primary reason for dating the Gospels after the fall of Jerusalem in the first place! There is actually much more evidence that Matthew, Mark and Luke were written before AD 70 than after. But if Matthew, Mark and Luke were written before AD 70, the case for the 40 year gap is destroyed along with the case for the mythical Jesus.
Even if there was a 40 year gap, however, that proves nothing. Ancient historians (and modern ones too) often write about events that occurred much longer than 40 years before their time, but scholars don’t automatically assume the events, therefore, never happened. For example, the vast majority of what we know about Alexander the Great was written about 400 years after he lived and is recorded in only one source![1] By contrast, what we know about Jesus comes from multiple sources written as early as 20 to 70 years after he lived.
Third, Flemming argues that all we know about this 40 year time gap comes from the letters of Paul, and that Paul did not think of Jesus as a real person who lived in the recent past. This is clear, Flemming says, because Paul never mentions Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, John the Baptist, Jesus’ miracles, Pilate, Jerusalem, Jesus’ trials or anything Jesus ever said.
First, many scholars would disagree with the contention that Paul is our only source for this 40 year time gap. As mentioned above, some scholars believe that Matthew, Mark and Luke were written during this time.[2] But aside from that, most scholars, including some of the most radical Jesus critics, believe that there was once a gospel about Jesus we now call Q that also would have been written during this 40 year period.[3]
But the idea that Paul doesn’t know anything about the historical Jesus is simply wrong. Paul tells us that Jesus was a Jew,[4] and that he had a brother named James who was still alive in Paul’s time[5] (The existence of both Jesus and James is also confirmed by the first century Jewish historian, Josephus). Paul knows that Jesus had 12 disciples[6] and he knows of some of them by name.[7] He also knows that Peter was married.[8] Paul knows that Jesus had a last supper with his disciples on the night of his death,[9] that he was betrayed,[10] and was executed by crucifixion.[11] Paul also knows that Jesus’ apostles were centered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death.[12]
In other words, by pointing out the things in Jesus’ life that Paul doesn’t mention, Flemming concludes that Paul doesn’t know anything of a historical nature about Jesus’ life.[13] Flemming’s conclusion is factually in error.[14]
Fourth, Flemming argues that the only thing Paul knows about Jesus is that he died, rose, and ascended into heaven. According to Flemming, Paul doesn’t place these events on earth but in the “mythical realm” just like the other savior gods of the time. There are numerous points that can be made in response:
1. As seen above, the assertion that the only thing Paul knows about Jesus is that he died, rose, and ascended into heaven is factually in error.
2. The theory that Jesus fits the pattern of ancient dying and rising savior gods is a view propagated by Sir James Frazer in his 1911 classic, The Golden Bough.[15] Eddy and Boyd argue that since 1911 Frazer’s views have been thoroughly and almost universally discredited.[16]
3. The myths about Mithras, Osiris, Dionysus and others really don’t look anything like Jesus at all and some were not even written until long after the Gospels had been written! This will be discussed at greater length below.
4. Far from writing in the “mythical realm” Paul argues that if Jesus did not really rise from the dead, his whole ministry was in vain.[17] That hardly sounds like someone who is basing his ministry on a myth.
Fifth, Flemming argues that since the Gospels are filled with outrageous improbabilities, the Gospels cannot be understood as historical. The DVD includes clips of Robert Price, a noted proponent of the Jesus myth theory, saying the gospels are filled with “outrageous improbabilities.” Price gives only three examples. The first one is the slaughter of the babies during the time of Herod the Great. Price asserts that the story is mythological, being derived from the book of Exodus. But this is like arguing that the assassination of John F. Kennedy must be mythical being derived, perhaps, from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln!
Of course, Price would agree that it would be nonsense to argue that the story of the assassination of Kennedy was derived from that of Lincoln, but so is Price’s dismissal of the killing of the babies simply because the book of Exodus has a story about the death of the firstborn. The fact is that Herod even had members of his own family killed, so there is nothing improbable about Herod ordering the death of a few babies in order to eliminate one who might one day threaten his throne.
Another “outrageous improbability” mentioned by Price is the Jewish supreme council meeting on Passover eve to get rid of Jesus. Although holding trials was one of those things Jews were not supposed to do on feast days,[18] Jesus may well have been viewed as a special exception. The Jewish leaders knew full well the potential danger involved in having someone believed to be a Messiah at such a huge feast as Passover. If rebellion broke out, the Romans may step in and kill people by the thousands as that had done before. When Jewish leaders heard of Jesus’ “triumphal entry,” they may well have concluded that this was (as we would say) a matter of national security that required immediate attention. When viewed from this perspective, the story doesn’t seem improbable at all.
The final “outrageous improbability” mentioned by Price is the story of how Pontius Pilate released Barabbas, “a killer of Romans,” and turned Jesus over to the crowds after trying to get Jesus released. Three responses:
1. Price is right that the idea that Pilate would show any kind of concessions to the Jews is unusual, but Pilate’s career depended on keeping peace in Judea, and even military men often make political concessions when it is to their advantage.
2. We don’t know who instituted the custom of releasing a prisoner on Passover. It may be that Pilate was just carrying out a custom begun by a previous governor and that to drop the custom now could just add fuel to a potential fire.
3.  Pilate’s attempt to release Jesus was probably not because he felt any compassion toward Jesus, but simply because he hated the Jewish leaders and was not above denying their request to kill Jesus for no other reason than spite.
Price’s “outrageous improbabilities” are not nearly as improbably as he imagines. They are certainly no reason for rejecting the historical reliability of the Gospels.[19] But even if they were improbable, N.T. Wright, once noted, “History is filled with improbabilities, but my goodness, they happened!”[20]
Sixth, Flemming argues that since allegorical literature was extremely common back then, and since the story of Jesus fits the pattern of ancient mythical heroes, it is clear that the Gospels take Paul’s myth and make it appear historical, just like many stories on the internet which start out as fiction and are eventually believed as actual, historical events. Four responses:
1. Just because allegorical literature was common back then says nothing about the genre of the Gospels since biographies and histories were also common.
2. Flemming lists 22 supposed characteristics of the “hero tradition” and argues that Jesus has 19 of the characteristics while Romulus and Hercules only have 17 and, Zeus only has 15. A closer look at these characteristics, however, will show that the whole thing is artificially contrived. When the actual similarities are counted, Jesus doesn’t even make the list[21] (see the footnote).
But on the other hand, even if the Gospel writers had conformed their stories to some accepted “hero pattern” that would not necessarily mean the stories were unhistorical. For example, some have shown that Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Napoleon also fit the ancient “hero pattern.” In fact, Abraham Lincoln fits the hero pattern better than Oedipus, who is at the top of the list![22]
3.  The historical reliability of the Gospels has been confirmed over and over again. Eddy and Boyd apply to the Gospels “six broad diagnostic questions historians routinely ask of ancient documents in order to assess their historical reliability.[23] They convincingly demonstrate that the Gospels pass every test.[24]
4. Barbara and David Mikkelson (from were interviewed in the DVD to show that fictional stories can become believed as actual history. That’s true, but no one dismisses Herodotus, Josephus, or Tacitus on that account simply because fictional stories can become believed as actual history. We should remember that few of those who spread internet rumors would be willing risk their life for their rumors. Everything we know about early Christians supports the fact that they were so convinced that what they believed about Jesus was true, they were willing to face beating, imprisonment, torture, and even death. Besides, as seen above, the broad historical reliability of the Gospels has been verified over and over again.
Seventh, since there were ancient Jews and Jewish Christians who thought Jesus had been killed a century earlier under Alexander Jannaeus or Herod, this diversity of opinion about Jesus supports the idea that Jesus of the Gospels was a myth based on earlier stories that circulated before the time Jesus was supposed to have existed.
The idea that early Christians had significant disagreements about when Jesus lived is simply not true. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, First Timothy (all first century AD), and even early church fathers like Ignatius (d. AD 98/117), Justin Martyr (AD 100-165), Tertullian, (AD 160-220) and Irenaeus (Fl 175-195) all agree that Jesus was executed during the reign of Pontius Pilate who ruled Judea from AD 26-36.[25] That Jesus was executed during the reign of Pontius Pilate is also confirmed by non-Christian historians like Josephus and Tacitus.
On the DVD Price doesn’t say where he gets the idea that Jesus lived during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BC), but in his book, Deconstructing Jesus,[26] he says that this fact is attested in both the Talmud and in the “Toledoth Jeschu.” Price doesn’t bother to mention that the Talmud and “Toledoth Jeschu” weren’t compiled until the fifth century AD or later.[27]
So essentially, Price is throwing out the testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, First Timothy, Ignatius, Josephus and Tacitus—all less than 100 years after Jesus death—in favor of two documents written 400 or more years after Jesus’ death! Some might say that something other than objective scholarship is going on here.
Not only does the Jesus myth theory fail miserably, the evidence for Jesus’ existence is so strong that it appears that those who promote it are engaging in something other than objective scholarship. In fact, I would put them in the same general category as those who deny the holocaust.
Part II
Borrowing from ancient myths
Proponents of the Jesus myth theory often argue that Jesus fits the pattern of ancient Greco-Roman heroes or Middle-East dying and raising savior gods.  The theory that Jesus fits the pattern of ancient dying and rising savior gods is a view propagated by Sir James Frazer in his 1911 classic, The Golden Bough (followed by Joseph Campbell). In the Jesus Legend, Boyd and Eddy argue that since 1911 Frazer’s views have been thoroughly and almost universally discredited by reputable scholars. That doesn’t keep such ideas from being propagated widely on the internet, however. What many Jesus myth theorists don’t bother to tell their audience is that much of the evidence for the supposed parallels come from long after the time of Jesus! If there are parallels at all it may be because pagan authors are borrowing from Christianity!
The idea that Jesus fits some supposed pattern of dying and raising savior god’s looks impressive at first but falls apart when you start examining the imagined parallels more closely. For example, the myths about Mithras, Osiris, Dionysus and others really don’t look anything like Jesus at all! The supposed parallels are arrived at by ignoring the vast differences and cherry-picking the stories for imagined similarities—and even then the imagined parallels are often quite a stretch. For example, Mithras was not born of a virgin, he was born out of solid rock (perhaps the rock was a virgin).
The “resurrection” of Osiris was not so much a resurrection as a reconstruction. His body was reassembled and rejuvenated after being dismembered. Far from being a resurrection, however, he never returned to this life but remained in the underworld (To use this as an imagined parallel for the resurrection of Jesus borders on the dishonest).
Dionysus was born when his mother was impregnated by Zeus (hardly a virgin birth!!!) who disguised himself as a lightening bolt (the old lightening bolt trick :-)   When Dionysus’ mother was burned up by Zeus, Zeus rescued his unborn son by sewing him into his (Zeus’s) thigh. Dionysus was then born out of the thigh of Zeus.
The birth of Adonis occurred when the gods turned his mother into a myrrh tree and Adonis was born from that tree (must have been a virgin tree!)
According to another myth, Attis was conceived when his mother gathered the blossom of an almond tree which had grown from the castrated sex organs of the god Cybele!
Augustus’ “virgin birth” occurred when his father’s wife was said to have slept overnight in a pagan temple during which time a snake crawled up inside of her and impregnated her!
Horus was not the son of a virgin either, but rather the mythological son of Osiris and Isis.
The idea that these are really parallels to the birth of Jesus is absurd, but even more absurd is the idea that pious Jewish Christians would borrow from such bizarre pagan (idolatry) stories to fabricate a story about the birth of their Jewish Messiah, and that they would then be willing to suffer for the fictions they knowingly created!
Further, many of those (especially on the internet) who propose such parallels rarely offer documentation and many of the supposed parallels are fabricated out of thin air. The internet authors just assume everyone will believe them.  Before any parallels are accepted, documentation should be requested—not on some internet website or some New Age occult book—but from primary resource documents—like ANET, Ancient Near Eastern Texts--where the entire context can be read.
This, of course, is not to deny that there are parallels. Of course there are! The very nature of Egyptian religion, for example, was that the Pharaoh was supposed to be the incarnation of a god. And of course many religions tell miracle stories. But to think that just because there are some imagined parallels, this proves the Gospel writers used those parallels to fabricate their story of Jesus is absurd.
Using the same kind of logic we could argue that John F. Kennedy was a fictional character because he fits the pattern of other American heroes—war hero, President, assassinated, etc. Some have shown through extended parallels that Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Napoleon actually fit some ancient “hero pattern” as well as some of the ancient heroes or gods! It is not enough to show some imagined parallel. Some actual connection must be demonstrated between the two people or events that are supposedly parallel! In other words, just because John F. Kennedy was assassinated does not mean the story was fabricated based on the assassinations of earlier presidents!
But even if there were genuine pagan parallels, pagan myths would likely have been disgusting to Jewish authors of the Gospels or to a former Pharisee like Paul: The idea that Horus was born when his mother, depicted as a Falcon, was hovering over an erect phallus! That Augustus was born when his mother was impregnated by a snake in a pagan temple! The dismembering and reassembling of a pagan god’s body parts! The idea that Paul’s whole life changed dramatically and he started borrowing from non-Jewish or pagan myths to create some kind of mythical Jesus, and that he was then willing to suffer numerous beatings, imprisonment and even stoning for the myths he knew were fictional—would be laughable were it not for the fact that people are believing it!
Far from creating a Jesus from pagan myths, Paul argues that many people actually saw Jesus alive after his death and that if Jesus did not really rise from the dead, his entire ministry was in vain (1 Corinthians 15). It is understandable that many people would not believe Paul’s message, but it borders on dishonesty to argue that Paul did not really believe what he was writing, but was just creating Jesus’ myths based on some ancient pagan dying and rising savior god parallels!
Paul and the historical Jesus
Some Jesus-myth theorists argue that Paul really knew nothing about the historical Jesus, since Paul doesn’t mention anything about Jesus life. This is factually in error. Paul tells us that Jesus was a Jew (Galatians 3:16; Romans 1:3), and that he had a brother named James who was still alive in Paul’s time (Galatians 1:19. Since no reputable scholar doubts that Paul wrote Galatians, this alone should be enough to confirm the existence of Jesus). Paul knows that Jesus had 12 disciples (First Corinthians 15:5) and says that he met personally with three of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, James and John (Galatians 2:9). He also knows that Jesus’ disciple, Peter, was married (First Corinthians 9:5). Paul knows that Jesus had a last supper with his disciples on the night of his death (First Corinthians 11:23-25), that he was betrayed (First Corinthians 11:23) and was executed by crucifixion (First Corinthians 1:23). Paul also knows that Jesus’ apostles were centered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death.
The existence of Jesus is also confirmed in the Gospels. Although Jesus-myth theorists simply dismiss the Gospels as myth, C.S. Lewis once made the point that his whole life focused on the study of myth, and the Gospels simply do not fit the genre of myth! This is confirmed by more modern scholars like Richard Burridge, David Aune, and others who have done extensive comparison studies of genre in ancient literature.
That the Gospel writers were not intending to write myth is clearly shown in the Gospel of Luke. The writer of Luke implies that he is getting his information from written sources as well as eyewitnesses of Jesus (Chapter 1). He says Jesus’ birth took place during the reign of Caesar Augustus (Chapter 2). The writer then places Jesus ministry “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…” It is hard to understand how the writer could have been any more clear about the fact that he was intending to write about a real historical character in an actual historical context. The general historical reliability of Luke (and his sequel “Acts) has been extensively confirmed by Greco-Roman scholars like Sherwin-White,[28] Colin Hemer[29] and others.
The existence of Jesus is also confirmed by Matthew, Mark, John, the rest of the New Testament writings, and even writings outside the New Testament, e.g. Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Clement, Ignatius, mention Christ or Jesus.[30] It is amazing that Roman authors like Tacitus, Josephus or Pliny would mention Jesus at all because to a Roman, Jesus was a mere peasant in the backwater province of Galilee or Judea—one of many religious leaders of the time.
The Roman historian, Tacitus (AD 120) writes about Christians who get their name from Christ “from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate…”  There can be no doubt that Tacitus is talking about Jesus even if Tacitus doesn’t mention Jesus’ mother or father.
Pliny the Younger was a Roman governor who writes a letter to Emperor Hadrian in about AD 112 telling about how Pliny had tortured Christians to find out about their religion. He says that what he found was that “on a fixed day” these Christians “were accustomed to come together before daylight and to sing by turns a hymn to Christ as a god, and that they bound themselves by an oath, not for some crime but that they would not commit robbery, theft, or adultery, that they would not betray a trust…” Lucian, the satirist (early 100’s) writes about Christians who worship a crucified sage. The Jewish Mishna talks about how Jesus practiced sorcery and led Israel astray (remember, I said that not even Jesus enemies denied that he did miracles—they just attributed them to magic, sorcery, demon possession etc). But the Mishna does acknowledge Jesus’ existence.
Clement of Rome (AD 97) writes about Jesus by name as does Ignatius (AD 110) who not only calls Jesus by name but even mentions his mother: “
Jesus Christ, who was of the family of David, who was the son of Mary; who really was born, who both ate and drank; who really was persecuted under Pontius Pilate, who really was crucified and died…who, moreover, really was raised from the dead…” (to Trallians 9).
Ignatius (d. 98/117), reputed to be a disciple of the Apostle John, certainly believed that Jesus was a historical person and not just a mythical fabrication. Ignatius, by the way, was so convinced he was willing—even eager—to be eaten by lions as a personal sacrifice to Jesus, his Lord.
Papias (late first to early second century) who seemed to delight in talking to those who had known the disciples of Jesus personally (of course, Jesus had to be a real person for Papias to have talked with his disciples).
Justin Martyr (100-165) who wrote, “Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the times of Tiberius Caesar…”  Justin is certainly talking about a real historical person.
Probably the most famous reference to Jesus outside the New Testament comes from the first century AD Jewish historian, Josephus. Some Jesus’ myth theorists attack Josephus saying that his writings about Jesus have been proven to be a forgery but this is factually in error. Neither Josephus, nor his passages on Jesus have been proved to be a forgery, though virtually everyone—Christians and non-Christians alike—agree that a few phrases have been added to what Josephus wrote by later scribes. The following passage appears in Josephus:
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.  He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day”.
No one—not even Conservative Christians—denies that the parts underlined were added by a later scribe, but most scholars seem to think the rest of the passage is genuine. The reason for this is because Josephus also mentions Jesus in another later passage when Josephus talks about Jesus’ brother James. That passage says:
“Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”
This second passage seems to assume that Josephus’ readers have already been introduced to this Jesus called the Christ (Josephus says, “called the Christ” to distinguish this Jesus from many other Jesus’s Josephus mentions). Of course Jesus myth theorists argue that both passages were entirely added by later scribes but this begins to look more like the skeptics are just manipulating the evidence to justify their denial of Jesus’ existence.
So in order to deny the existence of Jesus you have to explain away Matthew, Mark, Luke/Acts, John, numerous reference in Paul’s letters, the rest of the New Testament, Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, Lucian, Clement of Rome, Papias, Polycarp, Justin, and others. To deny the existence of Jesus, or to say that we don’t have enough evidence, begins to look suspiciously like holocaust denial in the sense that no amount of evidence would suffice to convince the skeptic.
Nonsense on the internet
Some web sites try to make a big deal out of the fact that Jesus was not born on December 25 and that this was only added by the later church to conform to a pagan festival. The fact is that the Bible says nothing about Jesus being born on December 25. Why 4th century (and later) Christians chose to celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25 has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the historical study of Jesus.
Second, some argue that the Christian cross or the Celtic cross actually comes from the Cross of the Zodiac which pre-dates the time of Jesus. While different churches in various ages have portrayed the cross in different ways, the fact is that the New Testament says absolutely nothing about the type of cross on which Jesus was crucified. For all we know, he may have been crucified on a literal tree on which a crossbar had been attached. It just doesn’t matter.
Romans had been known to crucify literally thousands of people and they would often use whatever was available. So let’s just assume, for a moment, that generations of Christians living hundreds of years after Jesus designed the Christian cross based on the Zodiac (frankly I think that is absurd, but bear with me). Even assuming that this is what happened, it has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the historical crucifixion of Jesus which is attested not only in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and Paul’s letters, Hebrews, and First Peter, but also in non-Christian sources like Josephus, Lucian and the Mishna. In fact, Jesus’ crucifixion is even mentioned in New Testament apocryphal books like the Kerygma Petri, the Acts of John and the Ascension of Isaiah and the Apocalypse of Peter.
Third, some argue that the use of terms like “light” and “darkness” shows that the New Testament writers were borrowing from contemporary culture which also used such terms. This is actually true to some extent. The ideas of good=light and evil=darkness is found in the Jewish documents known as the Dead Sea Scrolls which were written long before Jesus was born. When John talks about light and darkness (especially in First John) or Jesus being the light of the world (Gospel of John) he is using categories that Jews would have been very familiar with.
When John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word (Logos) and the Word (Logos) was with God and the Word (Logos) was God,” John is probably thinking of how “in the beginning” in Genesis, God created everything by speaking it into existence. The Greek Stoics understood Logos to be “the rational principle by which everything exists” (Carson, 114). In either case, John is using terminology that he expected his readers to understand—he was basically saying, this Logos is a real flesh and blood person (John 20-21), let me introduce him to you. His name was Jesus! This was similar to what Paul did when he came to Athens and said, I’ve seen your statue to the unknown god. Let me introduce him to you (Acts 17:22ff, my paraphrase).
So, did the apostles and New Testament writers use words, phrases and categories (like “light, darkness, Logos” that would have been familiar to their hearers and readers? Of course! How else could they communicate? But it is a huge difference between saying that the New Testament writers occasionally used familiar words and examples to communicate truth, than it is to say they fabricated the entire story based on previous pagan myths! Jesus’ myth theorists may disagree on John’s interpretation of Jesus being the light of the world, but there must have been an actual historical Jesus for the writer of John’s Gospel to have made that interpretation in the first place!
Fourth, some argue that Jesus was represented by the sign of the fish because Christians were following the astrological Age of Pisces. The letters in the Greek word for fish are the first letters for Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior. Some have suggested that back in the days when you could lose your life for being a Christian, Christians would meet someone who they suspected to be a Christian and draw one half of the fish symbol and if the other person was a Christian, he or she would respond by completing the sign. On the other hand, you could choose to believe that Christians just chose to use an idolatrous pagan religious symbol for their Jewish Lord and savior. Which seems more probable?
Fifth, some internet writers assert that every religion has their own miracles as proof of the divinity of their gods and of their religion. That’s not exactly true. Next to Christianity, the next largest religion in the world is Islam with over a billion adherents. Many Muslims are fond of saying that the only miracle of Muhammad was the Qur’an itself—which non-Muslims don’t think is a miracle at all.
It is true, however, that there are miracle stories in other religions. Some internet writers seem to assume that since other religions use miracles to substantiate their claims, all the miracle claims are irrelevant or even worthless. That assumption decides the case before even looking at the evidence and pretty much throws the baby out with the bathwater. A better approach would be to look at the miracle claims on a case by case basis. For example, take the Hindu miracle claim that the goddess Parvati (what evidence is there that this “goddess” even existed?”) created a boy of our her own body dirt, just so the boy could guard her bathroom! To comfort her, the god Shiva brought back the severed head of an elephant which was then attached to the boy’s body!
And we’re seriously going to compare this mythology with the miracles of Jesus? Jesus’ more spectacular miracles like walking on water or turning water into wine may be hard for some to believe but they are certainly not as bizarre as attaching a severed elephant head to a boy’s body as a comfort to the mother!
A better example may be the miracles of Apollonius of Tyana who, like Jesus, also lived in the first century AD. His miracles are attested in only one source written over 100 years after his death (if he even existed at all!). By contrast, the miracles of Jesus are attested in multiple sources (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and possibly Josephus) all less than 70 years after Jesus died. Not even Jesus’ enemies denied that he did miracles. They said that his amazing signs and wonders were magic tricks, sorcery or the work of Satan, but no one denied that Jesus did amazing signs. And since Jesus’ miracles were one of the reasons his followers believed in him, it is unlikely that they would have willingly faced such persecution if they knew all the miracles were just fabricated stories. Taken together that at least provides reason to believe that there was some historical event(s) that gave rise to the stories and that they weren’t simply fabrications.
I once had an e-mail discussion with a Jesus’ myth advocate who argued that there were literally thousands of “holy men” in India who did magic tricks. I pointed out that since he recognized that there are holy men of India who do things that people think are magical or miraculous, why not concede that Jesus did things that others considered miraculous also? Why assume that the stories were all made up based on ancient myths?
When it comes to evidence, which makes more sense: 1) that after Jesus died his Jewish followers just fabricated a life of Jesus based on pagan myths, even though the evidence suggests that they suffered for propagating their “gospels and, as we have seen, the life of Jesus they supposedly fabricated would have been very offensive to most people in the Greco-Roman world OR 2) that Jesus’ followers continued to believe in him after his death because they were sincerely convinced that he had done genuine miracles and had risen from the dead! Even if I were an atheist, the second option would make much more sense to me.
Let me press this point a bit further. Most Jews in Jesus’ day were expecting the coming of an “anointed one”, a Messiah who would restore the kingdom to Judea. In other words, in Jesus’ day most Jews were looking for a Messiah who would kick the Romans out of Judea! There were numerous would-be-messiahs both before and after Jesus, but in every case when the “messiah-wannabee” died, their movement died out with them. It was always assumed that a messiah who died was a contradiction in terms. A messiah who died couldn’t possibly be the true Messiah!
The only exception to this rule is Jesus. Now as a historian, I would want to know the reason for this exception. One option is that Jesus’ followers—rather than disbanding like every other messiah group—just decided to totally re-write the story of Jesus based on pagan myths—and then, according to virtually all ancient sources, they suffered severely for propagating the gospel they created.
Another option is that Jesus really taught that he was the Jewish Messiah and that his followers continued to believe him even after his death because 1) they genuinely believed he had fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, 2) they genuinely believed he had done miracles by the power of God and not, as Jesus’ enemies asserted, by the power of Satan, and 3) they genuinely believed that Jesus had physically come back to life after his death.  Even if I was an atheist, this second option would seem much more plausible to me because it better explains the evidence.
Sixth, some internet writers assert that the number 12 is used repeatedly in the Bible because it represents the 12 constellations of the zodiac, for example 12 disciples, 12 tribes of Israel, etc. But which is more historically probable, 1) that Jesus chose twelve disciples to make the point that his disciples were symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel or 2) Jesus (or the Gospel writers) were borrowing from pagan Zodiac myths which they would have seen as sinful and idolatrous?
The truth is the even the most skeptical “Jesus scholars” like John Dominic Crossan, Burton Mack, Robert Funk, and Marcus Borg believe that Jesus actually existed.
E.P. Sanders, one of the foremost Jesus scholars—not an Evangelical Christian-- in the world is writes about the historical things we can know about Jesus which he believes are about as certain as anything in history can be.[31] Those things are:
·         Born about 4 BC
·         Spent early childhood in Nazareth
·         Baptized by John the Baptist
·         Called disciples
·         Spoke of there being twelve of them
·         Confined his activity to Israel
·         Taught in towns and countryside of Galilee
·         Preached the kingdom of God
·         Went to Jerusalem c.a. 30 AD for Passover
·         Created a disturbance in the temple
·         Had a final meal with his disciples
·         Arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, particularly the High Priest
·         Executed by Romans on orders from Pilate
·         Jesus’ disciples fled
·         Jesus’ disciples “saw” him after his death—though in what sense in not certain
·         As a consequence, they believed he would return to found the kingdom
·         They formed a movement to await his return and win others to faith in him
·         Some Jews persecuted some parts of this movement
That doesn’t tell us everything there is to know about Jesus, but it’s not a bad start. That fact is that even among non-Christian scholars who specialize in the historical study of Jesus, the Jesus-myth theory is pretty much the academic equivalent of holocaust denial or the flat earth society.
Making Christianity more palatable
Some Jesus-myth theorists argue that Paul and the Gospel writers created the story of Jesus largely based on Greco-Roman myths and other Middle Eastern myths for the purpose of making their new religion more palatable to the Greco-Roman world. This argument is unconvincing on several counts.
First, if Paul and the Gospel writers were really trying to make Jesus more palatable to Greco-Roman readers for evangelistic purposes, why would they not make him look more like the warrior-heroes that the Greco-Roman world admired—Hector, Achilles, Odysseus, Jason, Aeneas, Ajax, etc. The Gospel’s portrayal of Jesus as a non-violent prophet of love, compassion and turning the other cheek would be the exact opposite of the role model idolized by most Greeks and Romans.
Second, if Paul and the Gospel writers were really trying to make Jesus more palatable to Greco-Roman readers for evangelistic purposes, why not downplay the Jewishness of Jesus. Jews were not generally viewed highly in the Roman world because of their “intolerant” view that there was only one God and because of their unpatriotic refusal to sacrifice to the emperor. But the Gospels portray Jesus as thoroughly Jewish to the core! According to the Gospels, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, a descendant of David, was circumcised according to Jewish law, and as a young boy, learned from Rabbis in the Jewish Temple. Jesus frequently quoted from the Jewish Bible as authoritative Scripture (never from any literature respected in the Greco-Roman world!).
Jesus held up Jewish heroes like Abraham, Moses, Jonah, David and the Jewish prophets as positive examples, but he is never once portrayed as showing any respect for or even acknowledgement of Greco-Roman heroes (why is that, if the Gospel writers were so eager to make their “Jesus” palatable to a Greco-Roman audience?). 
According to the Gospels, Jesus healed a leper and told him to present himself to the priests in accordance with Mosaic Law. Jesus taught very Jewish-sounding teachings in the Jewish synagogues of Galilee. He attended the Jewish feasts of Dedication (Hanukkah), and Passover. He instructed Peter to pay the Jewish Temple tax. When someone asked him how to have eternal life, Jesus’ initial response was to keep the Ten Commandments which he elsewhere summarizes by citing the Jewish
Shema of the Old Testament: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Jesus’ last supper was a celebration of the Jewish Passover and his “new covenant” was an allusion to the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31.
According to the Gospels Jesus taught that he was the fulfillment of Jewish prophecies of the Jewish messiah. He says he was sent to the Jewish people and when a Greek woman from Sidon asked for healing he challenged her by suggesting that it was not proper to give the “children’s” food to “dogs” (not a very good way to make Jesus palatable to a Greek audience!). 
Finally, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in deliberate fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy about Israel’s king (which, in the context of Zechariah, is God himself) coming to His people.  So the question again is, if the Gospel writers were so concerned to fabricate a story about Jesus based on pagan myths so they could make their gospel more palatable to the Greco-Roman world, why did they make him so “Jewish”? Why didn’t they make him more like the Greco-Roman heroes?
Third, the core of the Christian message as presented by all four Gospels as well as Paul’s writings et al. was that in Jesus of Nazareth, God became human and died an atoning sacrifice for our sins. The death of Jesus, according to the Gospels and Paul, was a human sacrifice. But according to mythology expert, Edith Hamilton whose book on mythology has been used as a textbook on mythology for decades, the Greeks thought human sacrifices “were abominable.” Hamilton writes that “Any deity who demanded them was thereby proven to be evil.”[32]
So if Paul and the Gospel writers were fabricating a story about Jesus to make it evangelistically palatable to the Greco-Roman world, it would be hard to imagine a worse way to do it than to present Jesus as a human sacrifice of atonement to the Jewish God. The very idea would have been thoroughly and terribly offensive to the Greeks! Even Paul acknowledges that his gospel is considered “foolishness” to the Greeks! (1 Cor. 1:23).
Fourth, according to the Book of Acts, when Paul (the Jewish former Pharisee) and Barnabas healed someone in Iconium and the people conclude that Zeus and Hermes have come to them, Paul and Barnabas not only commanded them to stop worshiping them but told the people to “turn from these worthless things to the living God who made the heaven and earth…”(Acts 14:11-15). That hardly seems like a good way to make the gospel palatable to Greeks!
When Paul arrives in Athens and sees all their idols he does not affirm their polytheism, but preaches to them about the one true God who created the heavens and earth and everything in it (Acts 17:16-31). His message was not well received by the Greeks. When Paul came to Ephesus he almost caused a riot when his opponents charged that Paul says, “that man-made gods are no gods at all” and as a result of Paul’s gospel, “the great goddess Artemis will be discredited” (Acts 19:23-27). This hardly seems like a good way to make the gospel more palatable to the Greeks!
Of course, Christianity’s critics will challenge (without valid reason) the essential historical reliability of Acts, but even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that the Book of Acts was not historically reliable, the fact still remains that the Book of Acts is a first century Christian writing that presents Paul as being thoroughly opposed to Greek polytheism. That seems like a very strange position to take if the Christian writer of Acts—who also wrote the Gospel of Luke!—was just fabricating a story about Jesus supposedly based on Greek myths for the purpose making his gospel evangelistically palatable to the Greco-Roman world. No, the idea is not just strange, it is laughably absurd!
The view of Paul presented by Luke in the Book of Acts, is also backed up by Paul’s own letters in which he specifically tells his readers to flee from idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14, cf. Gal. 5:20; even the most skeptical critics agree that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians and Galatians). In fact Paul repeatedly condemns the worship of idols and even says that when the pagans (Greeks/Romans) sacrifice to idols they are sacrificing to demons (1 Cor. 10:20-21)! If Paul is trying to make his gospel evangelistically palatable to Greeks and Romans, he has a very strange way of doing it!
So in other words, the monotheism of the Gospels would have been offensive to the Greeks. The Jewishness of the Gospels would have been offensive to the Greeks. The concept of Jesus as an atoning sacrifice would have been offensive to the Greeks. The non-violent “turn the other cheek” prophet of love and compassion view of Jesus would have been unimpressive (to say the least) to the Greeks. And Paul’s whole presentation of the Gospel was thoroughly antagonistic to the Greco-Roman worldview.
The idea that Paul and the Gospel writers were fabricating a story about Jesus in order to make him more evangelistically palatable to the Greco-Roman world is just plain silly.
Faith and evidence
After much discussion with a Jesus myth advocate he finally said that he would only believe evidence but even then, he said, he never believes anything 100% because better evidence might one day emerge.
He was probably surprised to know that I agreed with him to some extent. I don’t think we can know anything with absolute certainty (we live by faith, not by sight). What often happens, however, is that while people believe all kinds of things with very little evidence, they often demand absolute certainty before they will believe Paul or the Gospels. The truth is that many people really don’t want to believe Paul or the Gospels and will grasp at anything that gives them an excuse not to believe.
It is also a fact that people are rarely consistent with the amount of evidence it takes to convince them. For example, I’ve never heard of anyone who doubts the existence of Alexander the Great, yet almost all the evidence for his life wasn’t written until four hundred years after he lived! But there are many people who are skeptical about Jesus even though we have about a dozen sources affirming the existence of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke-Acts, John, Paul’s letters, Hebrews, the letters of Peter, Jude, Josephus, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and possibly Papias and Polycarp) all written from 20 to 100 years after Jesus died.[33]
Some of the scholars who are so skeptical about what we can know about Jesus, write books telling us all about the religion, culture and society of early first century Judaism largely based on just one source—Josephus—who wrote around the same time that these critics say the gospels were written. The critics are often very selectively skeptical.
The theory that Jesus was just a myth or legend based on earlier Greco-Roman heroes or Middle-Eastern dying and raising savior gods, is just plain silly. Yet there are numerous Jesus myth advocates who are propagating their myth, especially on the internet, and convincing many.

[1] The source is Arrian’s Anabasis of Alexander written in the early second century AD.
[2] See, for example, J.A.T. Robinson. Redating the New Testament. Philadelphia : SCM Press, 1976. John Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke. Downers Grove, IL : IVP, 1992.
[3] According to Q (if Q existed), Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, was tempted in the desert for 40 days, was called the Son of God, healed people of diseases and performed exorcisms, claimed to have a unique relation with the Father, had strong conflicts with the Pharisees, and predicted the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. If Q existed, as most critics believe, it would be a crushing blow to the Jesus myth theory. Flemming argues that the Gospel writers were just historicizing Paul’s “myth.” But if Q existed, it would date from about the same time that Paul writes his letters, making it extremely unlikely that Q was historicizing Paul. So in other words, we would have two independent sources for the existence of Jesus that both date to the time of Flemming’s 40 year “gap.”
[4]  Galatians 3:16; Romans 1:3.
[5]  Galatians 1:19.
[6]  First Corinthians 15:5.
[7]  Galatians 2:9.
[8]  First Corinthians 9:5.
[9]  First Corinthians 11:23-25.
[10] First Corinthians 11:23.
[11] First Corinthians 1:23.
[12] Galatians 1:17-18; 2:1.
[13] Flemming also argues that Paul never quoted from Jesus. While Paul doesn’t quote Jesus verbatim, scholars have demonstrated that Paul was to a great extent simply passing on and contextualizing the teachings of Jesus. The evidence for this is documented and discussed extensively in David Wenham’s book, Paul; Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity?” The idea that Paul didn’t know anything about the real historical Jesus is just factually wrong.
[14] Scholars call Paul’s letters “occasional” letters, which means that Paul was addressing specific problems and issues in specific churches. He was not writing to re-tell the story of Jesus any more than a missionary might repeat the story of Jesus when they write a letter back to their home church from the mission field. Paul’s letters were primarily about exhortation, not historical instruction. Paul was not intending to have to prove his point by citing sources.
[15] Frazer, Sir James. The Golden Bough. London : Macmillan, 1911-1915.
[16] Eddy, Paul and Gregory Boyd. The Jesus Legend. Grand Rapids : Baker, 2007, 142-143.
[17] First Corinthians 15.
[18] Philo, Migration of Abraham, #91.
[19] What Flemming and Price really mean by “outrageous improbabilities” undoubtedly has to do with Jesus’ miracles and resurrection. It is not that there is anything really historically suspect about the Gospels. It is just that some people cannot or will not believe in the Jesus portrayed by the Gospels. This is the core issue. Most of the other arguments against the general reliability of the Gospels are pretty much smoke and mirrors.
[20] Interview on the ABC News Special, The Search for Jesus, 2000.
[21] The 22 characteristics are listed below with an asterisk (*) next to the ones the DVD says are true of Jesus and an X next to those in which the story of Jesus does not fit the pattern. 1) The hero’s mother is a royal virgin*, 2) The hero’s father is a king*, 3) The hero is often a near relative of his mother*, 4) The circumstances of his conception are unusual*, 5) He is reputed to be the son of a god*, 6) At birth an attempt is made often by his father to kill him*, 7) He is spirited away*, 8) And reared by foster parents in a far country X, 9) We are told nothing of his childhood *, 10) On return he goes to his future kingdom*, 11) After victory over a king or Jinn or dragon X, 12) Marries a princes X, 13) He becomes king*, 14), King reigns uneventfully* 15) The king prescribes laws* 16) He later loses favor with his subjects* 17) He is driven from the throne of the city* 18) He has a mysterious death* 19) Often at the top of a hill* 20) His children if any do not succeed him* 21) His body is not buried* 22) He has one or more sepulchers* The DVD argues that when Jesus is compared to other mythological heroes, Oedipus and Thesius meet 22 of the characteristics, Jesus meets 19, Romulus and Hercules meet 17, Zeus and Jason meet 15, Robin Hood meets 13 and Apollo meets 11. A closer look at these characteristics, however, will show that the whole thing is contrived. While Jesus' mother was a descendant of David, she was a poor peasant, hardly a "royal" virgin. Jesus’ adopted father was not a king, he was also a peasant—unless you count God as his father but that is counted under his reputation as son of God. To count this twice is stacking the deck. To say that the hero is often a near relative of his mother is also contrived. Most people are near relatives of their mothers! Jesus adopted father made no attempt to kill him as the fathers of heroes in other hero stories. It is true that we are told almost nothing of his childhood, but that is a characteristic on ancient bios, or biography, not just of heroes. Jesus’ future kingdom is not just Galilee or Judea, but the world. The whole story of the Gospels is how Jesus will one day be the king, but he was never an earthly king and never ruled, eventfully or uneventfully. Jesus certainly taught the crowds, but not in the sense of an earthly king prescribing laws. He did not loose favor with his subjects, but with those who never were his subjects to begin with (unless you count Judas). He couldn’t be driven from the throne of the city because he never sat on the throne. There was nothing mysterious about his death and his body was in fact buried. The whole thing was contrived to make it look like Jesus was just like ancient mythological heroes, but when you count up the actual similarities, Jesus doesn’t even make the list of “heros.” If you actually read the Gospels and then read the stories of these mythological characters, you will find that they are as different as night and day!
[22] Eddy and Boyd, 149.
[23] Ibid, 407ff.
[24] See also Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, 2006.Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL : IVP, 1987. Evans, Craig. Fabricating Jesus. Downers Grove, IL : IVP, 2006. Perrin, Nicholas. Lost in Translation; What can we know about the words of Jesus. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 2007.Roberts, Mark. Can we Trust the Gospels? Wheaton : Crossway, 2007. Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Minneapolis : Fortress Press, 1992.
[25] Contrary to Price, the Gospel of Peter is no exception. The Gospel of Peter says that Jesus was tried under Herod. Far from being a disagreement about when Jesus lived, the Gospel of Peter actually agrees with the Gospel of Luke which affirms that Jesus was sent to Herod by Pontius Pilate, who then sent Jesus back to Pilate. This Herod is Herod Antipas, a contemporary of Pontius Pilate and the son of Herod the Great.
[26] Price, Robert M. Deconstructing Jesus. Amherst, NY : Prometheus Books, 2000, 249.
[27] Fifth century AD for the Toledoth Jeschu and Palestinian Talmud. Seventh century AD for the Babylonian Talmud.
[28] Sherwin-White, A.N. Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. Grand Rapids : Baker Book House, 1978.
[29] Hemer, Colin J. The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Winona Lake, IN : Eisenbrauns, 1990.
[30] See Habermas, Gary. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO : College Press, 1996; or Van Voorst, Robert E. Jesus Outside the New Testament. Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, 2000.
[31] Sanders. E.P. The Historical Figure of Jesus. New York : Penguin, 1993, 10-11.
[32] Hamilton, Edith. Mythology; Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. New York : Mentor, 1969, 248.
[33] Although Polycarp died in the mid second century, what he wrote can be dated to about AD 110.