Douglas Jacoby on Answering Skeptics: Jesus Christ (Part 1) Featured

Thursday, 15 October 2015 15:58

wooden crossFollowing the customary recap of last week's article, we will begin a new topic, Christ. In particular, we want to gain wisdom in answering skeptics who dispute Jesus' claims, resurrection, and significance for our lives.

The Answering Skeptics series: Hypocrisy, Scripture, Morality, Nonsense questions, God, Science, Suffering, Miracles, Christ, and Religion

Recap: Miracles

  • Of course, the skeptic is correct that miracles are impossible by definition -- if you define them that way. 

  • Reality is composed of two "storeys." The downstairs is the empirical world, subject to the examination of science. The upstairs is the invisible, non-physical, spiritual world. There is ample evidence for the reality of bothstoreys

  • Miracles don't violate natural law. It may well be that God accelerates natural processes, or works around his laws.

  • Pre-modern people weren't stupid; not all miracle claims were passively accepted. For instance, they knew as well as we do that people don't walk on water -- but God might (Matt 14:25; Job 9:8). 

  • Few modern claims of the miraculous measure up to scrutiny, or the quality level, of biblical miracle. Yet some do (1%?). We should be skeptical, though not excessively so.

Jesus Christ: Skeptic Challenges 1-6

Today and in the following two weeks we'll provide answers to eighteen claims skeptics have made about Christ. If you learn these responses, you will be well equipped to defend the truth about Jesus Christ in nearly any situation.
  1. There's no proof Jesus even lived, apart from the Bible, which as we know is biased. Actually, a number of ancient non-Christians refer to Jesus. Check out Jesus: Historical Evidence, one of our recent podcasts. But is it fair to rule out the Bible's words about Jesus, merely because they are favorable? Such thinking would lead us to reject any book written in praise (or censure) of anybody. 

  2. Jesus' original words were lost by his disciples. No one can remember perfectly after a period of decades. Ancient peoples, like a handful of modern ones, are transmit the learning, wisdom, and culture through oral tradition. Jewish disciples were known to be adept at preserving a rabbi's teaching, especially through memorization. Though of course no one's memory is always perfect, information is preserved well enough. For example, the blind poet Homer's Iliad and Odyssey -- hardly short works! -- have come down to us in this way. While there was a short oral phase in the transmission of the Jesus tradition, things were written down soon enough. And as along as his first followers were still alive, they were able to serve as a check on any significant errors in telling the gospel story.

  3. The New Testament was written too long after Jesus' life to be of historical value. There was a period of about 20 years between the ascension of Christ (30 AD) and the first N.T. documents (Gal, or possibly 1 Thess). That's a pretty short time. For comparison, the definitive biography of Churchill did not come out in 1966 (the year after he died)! Some excellent volumes appeared in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact the passage of a few years was necessary to allow for perspective. But we can get even closer than 20 years. Some sources about Christ cited in the N.T. go back to as close to Pentecost as two years, give or take (1 Cor 15:3-4)! 

  4. Jesus' limited knowledge, as seen in Matthew 24:36, shows that he was not truly the Son of God. Jesus was limited in various ways during his incarnation, so this should not surprise us. For example, he could now be in only one place at a time; he grew tired, and had to eat in order to keep on going (apart from times of fasting); and he had presumably a normal human brain -- no external hard drive for instant access to all the data in the universe. At times he uses his divine powers, most often when he is helping others, but for the most part he seems to have lived without any unfair advantage that would remove him from the category of human being. The incarnation entailed an emptying of himself (Phil 2:7), including, apparently, a portion of his knowledge. 

  5. Jesus taught the same things as Muhammad, Confucius, and all the other founders of world religions. Not so. Careful scholarship has shown us that the differences between religions far outweigh the similarities. Have you ever read the Qur'an, the Hadith, or the Analects of Confucius? No one who has studied these works side by side with the Gospels can pretend that his message was he same as theirs. Rather, he claimed to present and to be the exclusive truth (John 14:6). Others pointed to what they thought was the way; Jesus confidently proclaimed that he is the way.

  6. In the "missing years," Jesus traveled to India, sat at the feet of the Buddha and found enlightenment. Not so. As a dutiful Jewish eldest son, in the "missing years" (age 12-32, years for which we have no information about his life), Jesus was would have learned his father's craft. Once Joseph died, Jesus, as the eldest of five brothers (Matt 13:55), would have had family responsibilities -- no time for a trip to India. Besides, the Buddha died nearly five centuries before Jesus was born! The teaching of Christ was not a form of eastern mysticism, nor is it compatible with the views of other Asian religions, or the popular New Age Movement. Attempts to flatten the revolutionary teaching of Jesus, or homogenize the teachings of the world's religions, are misguided. To hear the voice of Christ, we must listen to him, not to those who would reinterpret him (2 Tim 4:3). 

To be continued...

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