Apologetics: February 2004 Archives

Who Killed Jesus?

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I've commented before on issues related to this, but I hadn't addressed this question directly because I think many have done so adequately throughout the blogosphere, and I didn't have anything special to offer beyond what was already being said. What I would have said was that there are many different questions involved in that question, and people might mean different things by it. Who did the actual deed? Who else was causally responsible for the deed? Who was morally responsible for the deed (which may involve different degrees or even levels of moral responsibility)? Most importantly, if you accept a divine purpose for it, then you have the question of who is the Aristotelian final cause of it (i.e. whose purposes were being fulfilled in it?).

Then Sunday, in the midst of a sermon on John 6:60-71, the head teaching elder of my congregation presented a simple biblical argument for exactly the sort of complicated picture that I thought would have had to trace out all the complex issues involved in all those questions. It's much easier than that. One expression occurs throughout the New Testament. Jesus was delivered up to be killed. It's worth looking at the specific statements about his being delivered up. Since the sermon was in a continuing series on John, the list begins there and eventually expands outward.

John 6:71 says that Judas was going to deliver him up. (Not every translation puts it that way, but that's the expression in the Greek, and the rest of the examples I give are also the same expression.) John 18:30 says that the high priestly leadership delivered him up. John 19:6 says that Pilate, against his own judgment, delivered him up (representing the Gentiles), which the gospels record alongside a fake ceremony of handwashing. Romans 4:25 says that our sins delivered him up (well, he was delivered up for our sins, but that amounts to the same thing when assigning responsibility). More strikingly, Romans 8:32 says that God delivered him up for us all. Finally, Galatians 2:20 has Paul describing the life he now lives by faith in the Son of God who "delivered himself up for me".

So who killed Jesus? The Bible teaches quite explictly that Judas of Iscariot, the Jewish leaders of the time (representing their people and the crowds calling for his death), Pilate (representing the chief Gentile authority of the time and the rule of Gentiles over Jews), every sinner, God the Father, and Jesus himself are all responsible (albeit in different ways). Those who deny that the Jews as a people are responsible for his death are denying the Christian scriptures, but that has to be taken in context with all the rest of this. It was part of God's plan, something Jesus himself willingly submitted to, because he wanted it to happen (as much as he dreaded it). As Mel Gibson realizes and expressed by having his hands do the nailing of Jim Caviezel to the cross in the film, every sinner is morally responsible for the killing of the Son of God.

This doesn't minimize the level of responsibility the Bible does assign to the Jewish people of the time (who had a communal sense of a people's responsibility for the moral failings of that people, as the prayers of Ezra and Daniel, in the ninth chapters of their respective books, reveal). Yet the perspective provided by the variety of ways the Bible talks of his being delivered up counterbalances any of that when it comes to how any Christian today should view Jewish people. Paul's heart crying out to his Jewish brethren in Romans 9 should make that obvious.

Sola Scriptura

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By reader request, I have some comments on some arguments against Sola Scriptura, as presented by Daniel Silliman. Here are the arguments:

1. Neither the creed-like phrase nor the doctrine of sola scriptura are found within scripture and thus must be rejected by the doctrine itself. Sola scriptra is internally unsustainable.

2. Scripture does not posit it's authority alone, but does tell us to obey the unwritten teachings of the apostles and that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth.

3. The apostles never taught such a doctrine. Indeed, it was no part of Church teaching before the Reformation.

4. The historic touchstone of Church teaching and Christian belief was not scripture but liturgy.

5. We cannot have a canon without canonization.

6. Sola scriptura is a product and a perpetuation of individualism, contorting the reading of scripture from a place within the Church and Christian community to a private, solitary and self-authoritative act in contradiction with the communal nature of the Christianity Church.

7. No heresy has ever been stopped by sola scriptura. Legions have been started by it.

I'll work my way through all the arguments but in a different order, starting with the most glaring errors and then seeing how thinking more carefully about those will help with the more subtle problems.

I've been in a discussion with someone about the Gospel of John and whether his use of 'the Jews' in a largely negative way is anti-Semitic. See Hyleninja's post on Mel Gibson's upcoming film for a good discussion from someone with absolutely nothing at stake about why it's pretty silly to say the Synoptic gospels are anti-Semitic. [For some reason I can't get the link to work to go to the post itself. If this happens to you, scroll down to the post directly above Feb 13. Oh, and Mark at Hyleninja is not the same person I've been discussing John with, though he was at least less willing to defend John on this matter and may have similar views.]

Here's my response to the charge against the Fourth Gospel, with specific reference to the comments of the person I'm responding to:

C.S. Lewis' trilemma

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C.S. Lewis famously presents a Lord-Liar-Lunatic trilemma in Mere Christianity. I've long been familiar with some of the responses to that argument, and I've given my own version of it that deals with at least some of those problems (among the other things I deal with in that piece). What I didn't know is that Lewis himself had a more sophisticated development of the argument that includes some responses to the most common reasons I've heard from people who think his argument is fallacious. It's even in God in the Dock, which I have on my shelf but never got around to looking at very carefully due to being thoroughly unimpressed with his arguments in Mere Christianity and one view he made clear at the end of The Last Battle.

Well, a friend of mine was looking for his essay "What Are We to Make of Jesus?", and I found it for her, figuring it might be worth reading. I was actually fairly impressed. Check it out.

By tying the argument that Jesus claimed divinity to a wider range of sayings and actions in the gospels (though not wide enough, given what he could do), he makes a stronger argument that Jesus really did claim to be God, which some people have tried to undermine to get out of the argument. He also makes clearer what issue is at stake -- if Jesus really said these things and meant them, and it wasn't true, he was nuts, but that doesn't seem very likely given how insightful his moral teachings were about the human condition. That means either he made it up, which is also unlikely for someone with such great moral sensitivity, or he had good reasons for thinking it's true, which is hard to fathom unless it is true. I don't think all those steps were filled in in the Mere Christianity version of the argument.

God and Morality

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I've been recruited to talk about God and Morality at a Christian conference for college students this weekend. I've consolidate and updated some of my previous class notes on this issue on Moral Arguments for God's Existence for an introductory course dealing in part with God's existence and then a more ethics-focused discussion of issues about God as a Basis for Morality in an introductory ethics class. So here are my newly organized, though largely not new, notes consolidating the two, sometimes simplifying and sometimes expanding.

Old Earth and Death

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I've often heard young-earth creationists complain to old-earthers that their view doesn't fit with the biblical chronology of sin and death. After all, death came as a result of sin in Genesis. Yet the old-earth view that our best science teaches says that animals were around and dying before there were any humans. Rusty Lopez and New Covenant addresses these concerns in an even-handed way that seems to me to be faithful to the scripture.

Romans 5 talks about human death as a result of human sin. It talks about the death that comes from sin entering the world through, of all things, sin. It doesn't necessarily mean that death for anything other than humans came that way. Death spread to all humans because all sinned. The topic is sin and justification. Then he turns to Romans 8, where Paul says that all creation was subjected to futility by God. It doesn't say this was an effect of sin after sin occurred. It just says that God did this and that the hope of the gospel is looking forward to a time when that is over. Given God's foreknowledge of sin and sovereign plan to restore all things at the end, the futility implied by the laws of physics could very well have been in place even before human sin.

So it seems the theological objection from animal death before human sin does little to outweigh the clear scientific reasons to believe the earth is much older than young-earthers want to admit.

It's nice to see someone expressing my thoughts so well. David Heddle has a good post on why the insistence on what too many people in Reformed circles call "literal six days" is just silly. (Side note: for why I think this phrase is inappropriate, see my comments on David's blog. There's more on that in the extended entry below, but I suppose an explanation of my choice of words is important here if you just want to see a briefer picture and then continue reading.)

Quick summary (from the post, the comments, and the follow-up post):
1. Reformed thought generally frowns on what is often called over-literalness (though I would question that term) in other places.
2. Some of these people take it so far that they would have to exclude revered church fathers and Francis Shaeffer from being deacons.
3. It's a "misguided attempt to combat evolution" but not necessary and relatively modern as a plank of legalism.
4. Old-earth views don't necessarily (or even usually) deny inerrantism but are too often treated as if they do.
5. "Regarding the literality of Genesis: Perhaps the most important verse in Genesis is the first Messianic prophecy of Gen. 3:15. That critical verse, as we all know, was not fulfilled literally. Christ defeated Satan on the cross, but He did not literally crush Satan's head nor did Satan strike His heel." (Though, again, I would say that within the account of the prophecy the terms are being used literally -- i.e. it really is a picture of one person crushing someone else's head, but the prophecy itself isn't trying to describe physical events but spiritual realities.)
6. Then he gives some reasons not to bother wasting your time with the so-called creation science sites, which I won't bother wasting my own time (and yours if you, like me, don't need further reason to distrust them) by repeating here. If you're interested in his reasons, read his post.

I'm largely in agreement with all that. I do want to give some more depth (than my above-linked comments gave) to my big pet peeve with virtually everyone who comments on this issue.

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