Ever Wonder How the Bible & Canon of Scripture Came to be?

canon-of-scripture

William Klein et al. demonstrate, “The word ‘canon’ comes from the Greek kanōn, meaning ‘list,’ ‘rule,’ or ‘standard [and] the canon of Scripture refers to the collection of biblical books that Christians accept as uniquely authoritative.”[1] It is important to note, the canon, as it exists today, developed over time as God divinely inspired authors through a historical process. Early Christians relied heavily on the Old Testament and the early church fathers recognized the necessity to define exactly which texts should be considered as being divinely inspired and authoritative. Leo Percer illustrates, “The process of canonization was lengthy, asking questions such as: Was the book tied to an apostle? Did it come from Paul or Peter? Did the church generally accept it? Was it orthodox in its teaching about Jesus? And was it divinely inspired?”[2] All of these factors led to the early church adopting the twenty-seven books, which exist in the New Testament today by around AD 300. Klein et al. explain, “Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in his Easter festal letter of AD 367, is the earliest-known Christian writer to endorse without hesitation the twenty seven books that now comprise the New Testament.”[3] Of the factors that determined which texts made it into the canon, it is this writer’s opinion the most important factor would be whether the text affirmed God’s nature and pointed to Jesus being the fulfillment of humanity’s redemption. The least important factor would be definitively assigning authorship and while this is one of the first factors in determining the legitimacy of a text, there are many examples in the Bible of texts that are either anonymous, later added to, or edited.

Lee Fields, when addressing the issue of no known autographs/original manuscripts of the Old Testament existing today, makes the statement, “The preservation of God’s Word involves two processes: inspiration and providence.”[4] While conservatives hold that the autographs are inerrant and infallible, due diligence is still needed when making this broad declaration, and one must also ask themselves, “Does this mean Scriptures only in their original manuscript form are inerrant and infallible, and if so, does what scholars possess today meet this standard?” Within Field’s two process approach, inspiration points to God miraculously inspiring and directing the authors to write exactly what He wanted them to; while providence assumes that God works in and through His chosen and faithful people, despite any flaws they may have. Fields then asserts, “God is absolutely perfect and, though infinitely beyond humankind in His being, is perfectly able to communicate to us.”[5] An often-quoted Scripture from the apostle Paul is cited when dealing with the infallibility and inerrancy of the canon. Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”[6]  However, Philip Towner reveals how:

All Scripture is God-breathed, (TNIV); or All scripture is inspired by God, (NRSV), have received a great deal of attention as a fundamental doctrinal statement (or theologoumenon) about the inspiration of Scripture. But this approach to the text has sometimes been only minimally alert to its function within the discourse and has perhaps returned certain results that exceeded the purpose of the argument. From the standpoint of methodology, the present discourse should determine the limits of Paul’s intention in making the statement. Paul’s insertion of the adjective at this point is intended to underline the authority of the OT, text by text, on the basis of its derivation from God.[7]

Given this information, Fields poses the question, “How can conservatives claim to have God’s very words?” In today’s skeptical world, tangible proof is required, and even then, when it relates or points to God, resistance still abounds. Christians maintain God’s Word cannot contradict itself, so to aid in establishing exactly what passages of text are truly God’s very words, Fields cites two declarations that aid in textual criticism and divine inspiration. First, Fields demonstrates, “The reliability of the Old Testament is very high, [and that] only ten percent is disputed at all. And of that ten percent, the vast majority of variations are matters such as spelling that have no significant affect on the meaning of the text.”[8] Fields second claim illustrates, “Though the study of textual criticism may affect the meaning of an individual passage, no major doctrine of Scripture rests solely on any disputed text.”[9]

One of the major issues the early church faced was false or uninspired writings being circulated, which led to Irenaeus stating, “False teachers were perverting Scriptures.” Among the most prevalent were the heretic Marcion, who believe Jesus and the God of the Old Testament were opposites and the rise of Gnostic teachings and writings, which alluded to secret revelations from Jesus.[10] Using Field’s model in figure 4.5[11] on textual criticism and inspiration, he shows the progression of exactly what text was divinely inspired and how it has been passed down through the generations. This is a dangerous area, because as most people know, there are many books that did not make it into the canon, based on the wisdom of the early church fathers, so Field’s model begins by showing the authors had to have perfect morals,[12] perfect works,[13] and perfect words.[14] From this platform, Fields illustrates the inspiration originated from Yahweh, through the Holy Spirit and was miraculous, therefore, whoever and whatever was inspired is inerrant and infallible. The Word was then given to the authors[15] for the faithful people[16] to know their God and obey the Law. Then God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to reveal Himself through creation and His Word, so immense care was given in producing the autographs, copies, and the various translations available today. God’s providence thus assures that while people are flawed and fallen, He still chooses to work through them in the metanarrative’s plan of redemption.

These assertions lead to a translation as close to the original text as possible, but considering written Hebrew did not exist until the time of Moses and that most of its contents were passed down by oral tradition, proving its accuracy is no small task. Over the course of time, textual variants began to surface. Some of the variants were common intentional changes, which Field explains, “Had to do with correcting spelling and adding vowels around 1000 BC and these changes were not meant to deceive, but to clarify the text.”[17] Fields warns, “It is the unintentional text that should cause concern as these errors may result in omission of text, addition of text, substitution of text, or wrong word division.”[18] While scribes were professionally trained, they were also not beyond making errors. To aid the scholars in choosing the correct text, Fields suggests four principles: (1) Manuscripts must be weighed and not counted; (2) the best reading is the one that explains all the others; (3) the shorter reading is to be preferred; and (4) the most difficult reading is to be preferred.[19] Ultimately, this meant the longer the translation was, the smoother it read, and the more details that were added pointed to a translation, which was farther removed from the original text.

In today’s world, there will always be people who refute the Word of God, but one day, “Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”[20] Currently, there exists a veil that shrouds the truth claims of God, but just as the veil was torn, in the temple, following the crucifixion of Christ, so too will the veil be lifted from the eyes of skeptics and unbelievers. Disbelievers doubt the Word of God, demonstrating a lack faith, but followers of Christ understand, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not yet seen.”[21] One final hurdle is the debate whether the canon is closed, meaning whether or not new books can be added. Klein et al. illustrate, “While it is true that one cannot prove either Christian or Jewish canons ever to have been conclusively closed as to preclude all further discussion, it is abundantly clear that no later sectarian literature could ever pass the early Church’s criteria for canonicity.”[22] Klein et al. make a valid point, but the question whether the canon is definitively closed is still a grey area. For the Mormon Church, the canon is still considered as being open, as new formative documents are still being added. However, Bruce Metzger seems to offer the best explanation of the canon being closed:

We must say that the canon theoretically remains open – if some additional document        could meet all the criteria for canonicity. But practically, the canon is closed, since a     work that had not been used for nearly twenty centuries could not meet the criterion of     catholicity and would almost certainly not command the acclaim of more than a minority of Christians today.[23]


[1] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation: Revised and Updated (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2004), 103.

[2] Leo Percer, “The Canon and Translations,” Filmed [2012], Liberty University Website, NBST 610 Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 14:43. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327796_1&content_id=_14931619_1 (accessed November 7, 2016).

[3] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 112.

[4] Lee M. Fields, Hebrew for the Rest of Us, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 43.

[5] Ibid., 43.

[6] II Timothy 3:16 (ESV)

[7] Philip H. Towner, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Letters to Timothy (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 589.

[8] Fields, Hebrew for the Rest of Us, 44.

[9] Ibid., 44.

[10] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 111.

[11] Fields, Hebrew for the Rest of Us, 44.

[12] Psalms 18:25; 92:15; & Mark 10:18

[13] Deuteronomy 32:4

[14] Numbers 23:29 & Titus 1:2

[15] II Peter 1:20-21 & II Timothy 3:16

[16] Psalms 25:4-5; 8-9 & Ephesians 4:13-15

[17] Fields, Hebrew for the Rest of Us, 41.

[18] Fields, Hebrew for the Rest of Us, 42.

[19] Fields, Hebrew for the Rest of Us, 44-43.

[20] Romans 14:10 & Philippians 2:10-12

[21] Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

[22] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 113.

[23] Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc.), 271-275.

Psalms of Lament

psalm-13-lament

Fifty or one-third of the Psalms are classified as laments. Gary Yates further explains, “Laments are times when the psalmist prays to God in times of trouble, distress, sadness, and in life-threatening situations.”[1] Walter Brueggemann classifies laments as psalms of disorientation as the relationship between the psalmist and God is conducted in an honest engagement, and where pain and hurt are acknowledged rather than denied and avoided.[2] The basic elements of the laments consist of: (1) an opening address or an introductory cry out to God in a very personal way; (2) a lament where the psalmist gives a description of present troubles, often in a very figurative, extreme, and over the top way, to make God aware of the dire circumstances; (3) a petition or prayer, which consists of what the psalmist is actually asking God to do; (4) a confession of trust and faith that God will act; and (5) a vow of praise where thanksgiving and sacrifice are offered when the Lord delivers the psalmist from his trouble.  Logan Jones describes the depth of pain in laments, “was the characteristic way of expressing and voicing the hurt, [but] the distinctive movement from plea to praise [demonstrated] an act of boldness. This movement does not stay stuck in the plea of brokenness and grief; [it] moves beyond to praise and unparalleled transformation with joy, wisdom and hope.”[3] This transformation did not deny the reality of brokenness or grief. Instead, the lament provided trust, confidence, and gratitude towards God.

Yates also illustrates, “The Bible does not command us to fake joy; it promises us a deep and real joy that is so satisfying because we know God is with us, regardless of what we are facing in life, [enabling us to] come to Him with complete honesty, especially in times of desperation.”[4] Jones adds, “By praying the laments, Israel had a way of directly facing the hurtful dimensions of human life. Israel did not try to explain them away, deny them, or avoid them. Instead, Israel held to the premise that all of life – even the hurtful dimensions – was embraced by it covenantal relationship with God.”[5] The psalmist’s relationship with God is deep, personal, and authentic. In Psalm 13, Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. explain:

The prayer is spoken from a situation of severe crisis… The original crisis may have been a physical, emotional, social, or economic crisis. But two things are clear. First, the psalmist definitely understands the crisis as a spiritual and theological crisis — the relationship with God. Second, the psalm is now available to any believer for reuse in a variety of life situations.[6]

Craig Broyles further demonstrates, “This psalm allows believers to voice the mixed emotions often felt toward God while in the midst of hardship, namely complaint and trust.”[7] In Psalm 79, the lament depicts a community crying out for help and most likely refers to the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. Everything the nation of Israel had believed and trusted in was gone and the people had no hope. However, in every lament, there is a wonderful transformation that occurs, where heartache, pain, and misery turn into joy, thanksgiving, and praise.

Laments are cries for help and Yates makes a valid point that “Part of dealing with pain is being able to express it.”[8] As Roland Murphy demonstrates, “The psalms are about honest dialogue where nothing is held back. The words of the psalms speak to the very core of human experience in ways other language cannot begin to approach. In this way, the psalms teach us how to pray, how to stand faithfully before God, asking and even demanding response, action, and answers.”[9] The psalms also teach us to bring our hopes, praise, and joy to God and they call us to bring our fear, pain, and sorrow before God. In desperate times, Jones illustrates “the psalmist gives voice to the anguished part of our human experience, [where] questions are asked that have no answers: How long will God forget? How long will God be hidden? How long must pain be born? How long will the enemy be exalted?”[10] These are valid questions, which every believer has wrestled with. Jones suggests some of the greatest reasons for the laments are to help believers make it through seasons where there is no hope and a cry for deliverance, for healing, for life, for mercy, for forgiveness, for help, for vengeance, for relief, for hope, for attention, for presence, and for strength.[11]

Jones then explains, “bad things happen, circumstances change, loss occurs, and grief and sorrow break the heart, [which] leads to the first movement [as] the cry of lament speaks of the terrible truth of disorientation.”[12] However, when the pleas and petitions reach God, Jones illustrates disorientation does not last forever. Instead, the laments petition God to be true to His character and as a new orientation emerges, blessings and breakthroughs in life are witnessed and praise and worship are given for all God has done. However, spiritual growth does not happen over night; it is a life-long pursuit of trusting and praising God, despite the circumstances.

By praying the laments, individuals will be able to face any hurt, betrayal, or anxiety, by looking to God and embracing the covenant relationship he or she has with Him. Jones explains, “The movement from orientation to disorientation to new orientation… is a way to move deeper into a faith which is transformative, where God indeed makes a difference.”[13] Laments illustrate why it is important to lift one’s petitions before God because as Jones explains, “Our pain can be spoken and named, our hurt can be lifted up and heard, our cries can come from our heart, and we can rest assured nothing, nothing at all can separate us from the love of God.”[14] The believer must simply understand and trust that God hears every prayer and He is continually working in the lives of His children, according to His perfect plan.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Jones, Logan C. “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow.” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47-58. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

Murphy, Roland. “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235-238.

Yates, Gary. “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

________. “The Lament Psalms: Part 2.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

 


[1] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[2] Logan C. Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

[3] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 48-49.

[4] Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.”

[5] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 49.

[6] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 158.

[7] Craig C. Broyles, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999), 87.

[8] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 2,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[9] Roland Murphy, “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235.

[10] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 52.

[11] Ibid., 52.

[12] Ibid., 51.

[13] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 50.

[14] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 54.

Use of Imprecatory Psalms in Prayer Today

imprecatory-psalms

The use of Imprecatory Psalms, as a model for prayer, requires proper context. As John Day explains, “These psalms express the desire of God’s vengeance to fall on His [and His people’s] enemies and include the use of actual curses, or imprecations.”[1] At first glance, these psalms seem to stand in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus who called His followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Several implications result from this assumption: the Old Testament only involved cursing enemies, the New Testament only involved loving enemies, and the morality of Scripture evolved over time. Each of these false assumptions are self-refuting because the nature of God cannot change, as Day suggests, “The tension between loving and cursing [must] be harmonized, [since] the character of God does not change, so the essence of God’s ethical requirements does not change. Therefore, as the imprecatory psalms were at times appropriate on the lips of Old Testament believers, so they are at times appropriate on the lips of New Testament believers as well.”[2]

The psalms remain relevant because “They rooted their theology of cursing, of crying out for God’s vengeance, in the Torah – principally in the promise of divine vengeance expressed in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-43), the principle of divine justice outlined in the lex talionis,[3] and the assurance of divine cursing as well as blessing in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:2-3).”[4] To fully comprehend the imprecatory psalms, Day demonstrates four crucial truths:

First, the vengeance appealed for is not personally enacted; rather God is called on to execute vengeance. Second, these appeals are based on God’s covenant promises. Third, both testaments record examples of God’s people justly calling down curses or crying for vengeance.[5] Fourth, Scripture further records an instance in which God’s people in heaven, where there is no sin, cry out for divine vengeance and are comforted by the assurance of its near enactment[6] (Rev. 6:9-11).

Day illustrates the Book of Psalms contains nearly one hundred verses with imprecations, each one containing the cries of God’s people for vengeance for unspeakable atrocities against them as God’s people were oppressed, persecuted, and ultimately carried off to exile in Babylon. In Psalm 58, David is appealing to Yahweh to act justly against the unjust rulers. As Frank E. Gaebelein demonstrates, in this Psalm, “It may well be classified as a prophetic type of lament in which David speaks prophetically of God’s judgment on evil.[7] He charges the earthly system of justice with unfairness, commits his case to the Lord’s justice, and is confident of God’s vindication. The psalmist’s prophetic understanding is a comfort to God’s people[8] whenever they are harassed or maligned.”[9] The theological foundations are developed in the Pentateuch, but as Day furthers establishes, “The expression of exultation over the destruction of the enemies of God and His people is seen throughout Scripture. It begins in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:43), finds utterance in the Psalms (58:10), is proclaimed in the prophets (Jer. 51:48), and climaxes in the Book of Revelation (18:20).”[10] Given these precedents, should a Christian follow David’s example? This writer believes David’s passionate cries should be emulated as David continually demonstrated immense faith in his God. Day then reminds the reader what is being voiced here is poetry, which often used vivid imagery and where a concept in narrative form may be described dispassionately; in poetry, it may well be expressed emotively. G. L. Peels perceives that the phraseology of Psalm 58:10b “Employs a powerful image, borrowed from the all too realistic situation of the battlefield following the fight (wading through the blood), to highlight the total destruction of the godless.”[11] Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. illustrate “If God removes the rulers’ power, then they will be like toothless beasts.”[12] This shows David’s first wish was for the rulers to become powerless and ineffective, but ultimately, in the end, David knew the only way to end the suffering of the righteous was “bathing his feet in the blood of the wicked.”

Psalm 109 is an imprecation against a personal enemy and reads much like an individual lament. Day recognizes this psalm as being, above all others, highly criticized in its harsh and explicit appeal to the Lord. With the language found in this psalm, it is initially difficult to see any relation to the New Testament’s commands to love our enemies (Matt 5:44), turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29), and to pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44). However, in this psalm, David’s enemies had continually returned hatred for his sustained love, so David called out to the divine Judge, as Day puts it, “to extend to his enemy the demands of the lex talionis, [but] David did not react in private revenge; instead, he released the retaliatory demands of justice to the One in whose jurisdiction it rightfully lies. He voiced his cry for vengeance to God – a cry that would transform to public praise when divine deliverance was revealed.”[13] David looked to the Abrahamic Covenant and then appealed to God to curse those who had shown him only hatred. Now the question becomes: is this covenant promise of divine cursing relevant to Christians today? In this writer’s opinion it is and (Gal 3:6-29) makes it clear, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants – heirs according to promise.” Here, Day demonstrates “the dual-edged promise blessing was not merely a spiritual abstraction; it applied as well to the physical life of God’s people in their times of extremity… [And] this psalm is the cry of the child of God who has no other recourse for justice…”[14]

Jesus felt the same oppression the psalmist and Israelites faced, but He called for one another to love his or her neighbor. This apparent contradiction in actuality shows the harmony that exists when one understands the character of God further demonstrating, Christians should use imprecatory psalms as a source of strength and honor, in their worship of God.[15]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

Day, John N. “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics.” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 634 (April 2002): 166-186. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2016).

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Gaebelein, Frank E. ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

Peel, G. L. The Vengeance of God: The Meaning of the Root NQM and the Function of the NQM-Texts in the Context of Divine Revelation in the Old Testament. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers, 1995.

Footnotes

[1] John N. Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 634 (April 2002): 166. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2016).

[2] Ibid., 168.

[3] The principle or law of retaliation that a punishment inflicted should correspond in degree and kind to the offense of the wrongdoer, as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; retributive justice.

[4] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 168.

[5] Mark 11:14; Matthew 21:19; Galatians 1:8-9; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Acts 8:20; and Revelation 6:10

[6] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 169.

[7] Psalm 14

[8] The righteous.

[9] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 405.

[10] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 171.

[11] G. L. Peels, The Vengeance of God: The Meaning of the Root NQM and the Function of the NQM-Texts in the Context of Divine Revelation in the Old Testament (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers, 1995), 218.

[12] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 495.

[13] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 178.

[14] Ibid., 179.

[15] Ibid., 186.

Art & Science of Biblical Interpretation – Hermeneutics & Challenges

hermeneutics

Leo Percer explains, “Hermeneutics is the art and science of understanding Scripture, [which then helps] provide historical and literary background, allowing for modern-day understanding and application.”[1] As believers, it is vital to be able to interpret God’s Word, so the original author’s intended purpose is revealed. Through this process, the role of the author is supreme and deciphering the context is critical to uncovering the honest meaning of the text. William Klein et al. demonstrate, “Hermeneutics describes the principles people use to understand what something means, to comprehend what a message – written, oral, or visual – is endeavoring to communicate.”[2] The art and science of interpretation is especially important when looking at the roles of the author of the text, how the original audience responded, and the role of the interpreter. In regards to the role of the interpreter, Klein et al. demonstrate, “while hermeneutics must give attention to the ancient text and the conditions that produced it, responsible interpretation cannot ignore the modern context and the circumstances of those who attempt to explain the Scripture today.”[3] Regardless of what role is being played, it is impossible to interpret any passage of Scripture without some prior knowledge of contextual data.

When looking at the role of the author, Klein et al. illustrate, “When general living conditions and specific life circumstances are known, [it] can provide helpful information for interpretation. Knowing all the conditions that surround the recipients of the original message provides further insight into how they most likely understood the message at the time of writing.”[4] It is important to note a passage of Scripture cannot mean something today, that was it was never intended to mean for the original audience. Klein et al. also warn against seeking to understand the meaning of a given text through a lens based upon a later revelation. Thus, the ultimate goal of hermeneutics will always be to understand the original author’s intent and how the original audience or first time readers would have responded. While it is often difficult to remain completely objective, Klein et al. cite any valid approach to interpretation must concern itself with two crucial dimensions, “(1) An appropriate methodology for deciphering what the text is about, and (2) a means of assessing and accounting for the readers’ present situation as we engage in the interpretative process.”[5]

Another important piece to proper interpretation comes from understanding while the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible, God still chose man to write it. It is then by combining the science and art of interpretation, and by allowing the Holy Spirit to aid in a person’s understanding of the text, the reader is best positioned to decipher the author’s true message. J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays caution against an over-emphasis of the Spirit’s role in the process of interpretation. Duvall and Hays explain, “Having the Holy Spirit does not mean the Spirit is all you need, [because] the Spirit does not make valid interpretations automatic; the Spirit does expect us to use our minds, proper interpretative methods, and good study helps to interpret the Bible accurately; and the Spirit does not create new meaning or provide new information.”[6] In the end, the role and purpose of the author provides the most valuable information in deciphering the meaning of the text and without this knowledge, it would be very difficult to apply the message in a modern-day application. Klein et al. further demonstrate hermeneutics is, “Essential for a valid interpretation of the Bible, [in order to] discern God’s message, to avoid or dispel misconceptions or erroneous perspectives and conclusions about what the Bible teaches, and to be able to apply the Bible’s message to our lives.”[7]

Distance is the ultimate adversary for biblical interpretation. The distance of time proves difficult since over 1900 years stand between when the last ancient texts were written and today. William Klein et al. explain, “We may be at a loss to understand what a text means because it involves subjects beyond our time span. [Additionally,] another time span that must be considered in interpreting the Bible involves the gaps that existed – more or less in various places – between the time the Bible events occurred and the time when those events were actually written down in today’s text.”[8] There is little question both Jewish and Christian traditions were held in high regard and were preserved as accurately as possible. Many of the stories were eyewitness accounts and written by the author who witnessed the events. However, some used additional sources and others edited preexisting material, so it is vital to understand the motivations behind such actions. Klein et al. demonstrate, “The authors’ unique perspectives and their goals for writing would influence what they felt was important, what deserved emphasis, or what might be omitted. In this process, the writers would consider their readers and the effects they hoped to produce in them.”[9]

The distance of culture is the next challenge that must be addressed, as Klein et al. illustrate: “On the pages of the Bible we encounter customs, beliefs, and practices that make little sense to us, [so] our understanding of ancient customs might be so colored by what we think they mean that we miss their significance.”[10] A person’s individual customs, values, and traditions play a significant role when reading Scripture and without a clear understanding of cultural conditions which existed at the time of the writing, one may inadvertently misinterpret the text. For this reason, this writer believes the cultural distance and by default, the distance of language are the most difficult distances to traverse. Historical criticism is a great tool to use when analyzing written works because it takes into account: its time, its place, the place of composition, when it was written; in order to comprehend who wrote it, when it was written, to whom it was written, and why it was written. By employing this method, the interpreter is then able to decipher what the author said, why he said it, and hopefully the reaction or response of the intended audience or first-time readers.

The geographical distance is the third challenge, which must be addressed. Having had the opportunity to visit Israel, this author has a much deeper appreciation for many of the stories found in the Bible. In many cases, the text now jumps off the page as images, tastes, smells, and feelings come to mind. Despite having visited Israel, as Klein et al. illustrate, “Even if we could visit all the accessible sites (and many Christians have), few of them retain the look (and none, the culture) they had in biblical times.”[11] Klein et al. use a great example of traveling up to Jerusalem. This journey was called the Ascent of Adummim and was considered a day’s journey from Jericho, but the elevation change was 3,500 feet. Traveling up this road the temperature dropped by fifteen degrees; so only by traveling to the places recorded in the Bible can one truly grasp the underlying themes behind the text. However, as previously mentioned, despite walking where Jesus, the disciples, and patriarchs did, the culture is no longer the same. For this reason, this writer believes the geographical distance is the easiest distance to overcome. Even if one is unable to travel to the Holy Land, with the Internet and technology that is available, there is much that can be vicariously learned, regardless of where someone lives. That being said, traveling to Israel is a life-changing experience every believer should embark on, given the opportunity.

The distance of language is the final challenge presented to those engaged in biblical interpretation and E. Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien believe, “Language is perhaps the most obvious difference between cultures.”[12] Because the Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, this final challenge has many obstacles to overcome and despite having scholars who have dedicated their life and work to this task, there are still areas that are debated over. Fortunately, as Leo Percer explains, “Where differences exist, none of them are theological issues and ninety-five to ninety-seven percent of the Greek New Testament is valid.”[13] One of the major hurdles of the language difference is the fact no known manuscripts have survived. However, there are over 5,500 copies of the New Testament, and within these copies, textual criticism allows scholars to come as close to the original text as possible. In the end, the distance of culture and language seem to be intertwined and prove the most difficult, especially for those in the Western world. As Richards and O’Brien further explain, “The most powerful cultural values are those that go without being said. Ironically, this is as true of language as of any other aspect of culture – and perhaps more so. Behind the words that make up language is a complex system of values, assumptions, and habits of mind that reveal themselves in the words we use and leave unsaid.”[14] This can lead to profound misunderstanding, and for this reason, Richards and O’Brien both believe language is the most obvious cultural difference that separates us from the Bible and this author ascribes to this view as well. On this premise, there are significant misinterpretations and ultimately misunderstandings that occur when there is a failure to recognize cultural context and all that goes without being said. Only by reading multiple translations and by understanding the culture and intended audience can a reader fully comprehend how a specific passage can speak in a modern-day application.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Duvall, J. Scott and J. Daniel Hays. Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, Third Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

Klein, William W., Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation: Revised and Updated. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2004.

Percer, Leo. “Introduction to Hermeneutics.” Filmed [2012], Liberty University Website, NBST 610 Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 02:22. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327796_1&content_id=_14931609_1 (accessed October 26, 2016).

______. “Modern Approaches to Hermeneutics.” Filmed [2012], Liberty University Website, NBST 610 Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 09:45. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327796_1&content_id=_14931609_1 (accessed October 27, 2016).

Richards, E. Randolph and Brandon J. O’Brien. Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012.


[1] Leo Percer, “Introduction to Hermeneutics,” Filmed [2012], Liberty University Website, NBST 610 Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 02:22. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327796_1&content_id=_14931609_1 (accessed October 26, 2016).

[2] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation: Revised and Updated (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2004), 4.

[3] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 7.

[4] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 10-11.

[5] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 13.

[6] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 229.

[7] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 19-20.

[8] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation: Revised and Updated (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2004), 13.

[9] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 14.

[10] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 15.

[11] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 16.

[12] E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 25-26.

[13] Leo Percer, “Modern Approaches to Hermeneutics,” Filmed [2012], Liberty University Website, NBST 610 Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 09:45. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327796_1&content_id=_14931609_1 (accessed October 27, 2016).

[14] Richards and O’Brien, Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes, 70-71.

An Apologetic Approach to Postmodernism

postmodernism

INTRODUCTION

This paper will demonstrate how postmodernism is a self-contradicting illusion of spiritual apathy, which attempts to eclipse the fundamental truth claims of God and Christianity, by claiming all roads lead to God and everyone’s version of truth is acceptable. By contrasting postmodernism’s attempts to erode religious certainty, in the formation of spirituality lacking certainty, or sustained convictions, with the biblical view of truth found only in Christianity, the end-goal will be to formulate a sound defense of the Christian faith against this worldview and the existence of evil, through the proof of God’s existence and sovereignty.

SUMMARY OF WORLDVIEW

Without absolute truth and objective reality, postmodernists believe everyone should equally embrace the beliefs and perception of others. Douglas Groothuis illustrates, “The inconsistencies of postmodernism pose a direct challenge, since the irresolvable diversity of truth claims has no reliable criteria to test these claims against.”[1] One plus one should equal two, but for a postmodernist, even this truth does not exist. Graham Johnston furthers explains, “Truth by definition will always be exclusive, so the most important questions and tests of truth any worldview must meet are: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.”[2] For modernists, the issue in promoting Christian faith was credibility, but in postmodernism, the key issue has become desirability. It is no wonder postmodernism is thriving as the default setting among the most prevalent alternative worldviews. Everyone just wants to get along, forming an abomination of syncretistic beliefs. All roads may have led to Rome, but all roads do not lead to God, as postmodernists contend, and only Christianity provides logical proof about humanity’s origin, meaning, morality, and eternal destiny, which are found in God.

History of Worldview

From the ashes of modernity during the Enlightenment, postmodernism was conceived as the illegitimate offspring. It came out of a time of scientific certainty, where reason trumped faith, ultimately leading to an abandonment of God in the pursuit of knowledge. Some scholars date the modern age beginning in 1789, while others prefer an earlier date starting with René Descartes’ famous incorrigible truth statement of cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”). In essence, postmodernism is simply a reversal of modernism. Johnston reveals, “Reason supplanted the role of faith and where modernity revealed in reason, science, and the human ability to overcome, postmodernity wallows in mysticism, relativism, and the incapacity to know with any certainty both what is true or the answers to life’s great questions.”[3]

Basic Tenants of Modernism

Modernity was based upon true knowledge, which was good and the world existed in a cause and effect relationship. Progress was ultimately used to produce a better world, through technology and scientific discovery. Additionally, as Johnston explains, “The world was perceived on two levels: the objective, physical, and scientific realm, (which was open to public debate,) and the subjective, spiritual, and moral realm, (which was a matter of personal conviction).”[4] This is a radical departure from the present postmodern worldview, which no longer believes knowledge to be inherently good. Instead, postmodernists reject objective truth, are skeptics, blur the lines of morality, and search for the transcendent in a material world.

Categories of Postmodern Belief

Worldviews are made up of a comprehensive system of beliefs that shape every area of life. However, a statement or belief cannot be true and false, at the same time, so there are multiple contradictions found within postmodernism. First, ultimate reality fails, as Groothuis demonstrates, “No one “metanarrative” (or worldview) can rightly claim to be a true and rational account of reality. That would be arrogant and impossible.”[5] Despite this, postmodernists still assert there is no knowable objective reality. Secondly, postmodernist’s source of morality is skewed due to the absence of objective judgment and objective moral facts. Groothuis adds, “Sociology of knowledge is not about knowledge in the philosophical sense, but merely about how beliefs gain plausibility in various cultural settings.”[6] Thirdly, absolute truth becomes a matter of perspective only; it is something that individuals and communities construct through language.[7] Groothuis further develops this point, by showing, “Postmodernism holds that truth is not determined by its connection to objective reality, but by various social constructions devised for different purposes.”[8]

 Additional categories of belief, which contradict a biblical worldview, are postmodernists’ views on the authority of Scripture, mankind’s creation, original sin, redemption, the nature of God, the nature and purpose of man, and religion in general. Postmodernists claim perfect agreement with fact is no longer an issue, maintaining the Bible is only used to provide great stories and to motivate spiritually. On some level, everyone has a worldview or take on how the world is and how it works. These views may or may not be oppressive toward those who do not hold the same worldview. When dealing with the nature of God, Groothuis explains, “There is no “God’s-eye view” of anything; therefore, there is no objective truth. This is a direct contradiction to God being a God of truth, whose word is also truth.[9] Postmodernists’ faith and beliefs are not comparable, since everyone is entitled to his or her own views. God is the source of objective truth and for truth to be objective; it simply means the truth is fact, independent of a person’s say-so. This self-contradicting characteristic of postmodernism claims, one need not worry about intellectual consistency, spiritual fidelity to an ancient tradition, or revealed authority by the combining of different faiths together in a syncretistic way.[10] However, even this approach lacks intellectual integrity because it makes religious belief into something to use instead of something to discover and live by. Truth is the property of propositions and knowing is having reasonable justification or confidence about said truth. While knowing is a human enterprise, truth is an extra-human exercise.

If there is no such thing as truth, or truth is open to interpretation, postmodernism fails the law of self-contradiction, because agreement to the law is necessary to deny it. The nature of man then becomes individualistic, as Groothuis illustrates how, “The ancient philosopher Protagoras said, ‘Man is the measure of all things,’ instead of being measured by them. [Protagoras meant] each man is his own measure and there is no measurement apart from each person’s measuring.”[11] This concept ties right back into the distorted concept of man’s purpose and why postmodernists view religion as being too structured. Groothuis further demonstrates the shift from religion to spirituality is rooted in religion being, “Too authoritative, exclusive, and rigid. Spirituality on the other hand, is more customized, subjective, inclusive, and open to pragmatic experimentation.”[12] David Clark suggests several strategies to address these beliefs:

First, we must learn both to distinguish and to connect knowledge and truth. Apologists   must then reaffirm the reality of absolute truth while recognizing their limitations in knowing that truth. Second, we should recognize that we live in a pluralistic culture, not a monolithically postmodern culture. Third, we can use vivid analogies to express the unliveability of postmodernism in its deconstructive mode. Fourth, it may be helpful to retrieve elements of tradition without attempting to recreate the past. Fifth, who we are counts most. The life of covenant relationships in Christian community is potentially postmodernism’s total liberation from tradition.[13]

EVALUATION OF WORLDVIEW

Rachel Fischer demonstrates how, “Postmodernism’s precursors include linguistic theory, semiology, phenomenology, and modernism, and were closely associated with German philosophers like Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger.”[14] Postmodernism seeks to blend beliefs together in a syncretistic way producing internal logical inconsistencies. There are also no clear ways to test any truth claims and due to the wide array of beliefs maintained, not everyone can be accurate. In terms of practicality, postmodernism is not a viable worldview, since just because a person claims a certain worldview works for them does not mean it is existentially viable. This is clearly seen in the shift from religion to spirituality, by mixing and matching elements of various religions to form what works for the individual. Additionally, a collection of non-contradictory ideas is not sufficient to form a coherent worldview. This is apparent in the conflict between science and religion. However, as Ravi Zacharias illustrates, “Only Christianity puts truth on the line, which affords it the possibility of verification of any theological truth claims.”[15] In terms of intellectual and cultural fecundity, postmodernism fails to inspire cultural and intellectual discovery, creativity, and productivity, and it is difficult to embrace and master, since truth is only relative. It also fails to motivate others due to internal inconsistencies. By asserting there is no knowable objective reality apart from our languages and concepts, Groothuis further shows, “To say we know the objective truth about ultimate issues is to set up a metanarrative that is intrinsically oppressive and exploitative.”[16] Because each person’s view of truth alters the postmodern worldview, radical ad hoc readjustment is continually present, in an attempt to modify the essential principles to coincide with others. This creates a perpetual self-contradictory wheel. As a result, postmodernism is faced with a multiplicity of self-defeating counter-evidence and deep philosophical issues. If all things are equal, simpler explanations are preferable to unnecessarily complex ones; yet postmodernism continually appeals to extraneous entities more complex than what are required. Ernest Gellner believes, “On questions of faith, three ideological options are available to us today. One is the return to a genuine and firm faith in a religious tradition. The other is a form of relativism, which abandons the notion of unique truth all together… The third upholds the idea that there is a unique truth, but denies that any society can ever possess it.”[17] A genuine return to firm faith seems unlikely and relativism is too much of a middle-ground position, leaving only rediscovering truth found only in Christianity.

Further evaluation of postmodernism will center on coherence, pragmatism, and cosmic impiety. Coherence theories of truth create what Groothuis defines as a “web of truth,” because what makes a statement or belief true is its coherence or consistency with other beliefs.”[18] The problem Groothuis identifies is two worldviews can be internally consistent logically, but still contradict one another, especially in postmodernism’s view of relative truth claims. Pragmatism proves not to be a useful theory of truth, since this belief is only true if it produces a positive outcome. Groothuis reveals, “The pragmatic view of truth is a metaphysical claim, [which] maintains that truth is what works.”[19] Postmodernism also contradicts the correspondence theory of truth, which establishes truth is what coincides with reality. Lastly, cosmic impiety ignores reality, much like pragmatism does, but then adds the concept of truth being dependent upon human will and something, which can be created and controlled.[20]

Chris Altrock offers seven faces of postmodernism, which are vital to understanding the individual qualities behind this worldview. He suggests: “Postmoderns are uninformed about the basics of Christianity, [making] them the first generation with little to no Christians memory; they are interested in spiritual matters, they are anti-institutional, they are pluralistic, they are pragmatic, they are relational, and they are experiential.”[21] Knowing these traits helps explain how to reach them on a deep and personal level. As Altrock demonstrates, most postmoderns are more concerned with life before death, rather than life after death and trust must be earned through experience and relationships. The cultural shift that has taken place in postmodernism is evidence of the need to repackage how the gospel message is communicated and lived out.

CHRISTIAN ALTERNATIVE

 Maintaining a biblical worldview is something George Barna cites only nine percent of “born again Christians” possess. Barna then explains what a biblical worldview looks like:

 A biblical worldview is defined as believing that absolute moral truths exist; that such truth is defined by the Bible; and firm belief in six specific religious views. Those views are Jesus Christ lived a sinless life; God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He still rules it today; salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned; Satan is real; a Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people; and the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.[22]

In addition to these fundamental truths, a biblical worldview also explains the creation of the world, which points to a supreme God and Creator. This general revelation is crucial to understanding the nature and character of God. God’s nature is further revealed through the reading of Scripture. This is where believers discover God is a relational God and He is eternal, infinite, absolute, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Only a God with all these traits is worthy of devotion, service, and faith. Christianity is also the only religion where God reaches out to mankind in the form of a relationship. All other religions, the roles are either reversed, or there is no relationship to be had. The love and compassion of God for His children cannot be put in mere words and His sending of the only Son to die for humanity’s sins is proof. Absolute truth only exists in Christianity. However, the postmodernist says there is no truth, which is self-contradicting, since each person’s version of truth is supposed to be valid. Perception may be reality, but absolute truth can only be found in God. Christianity is also based on absolute moral truths laid out in the inerrant and infallible Bible. All Scripture is God-breathed. Unfortunately, the world has come to know more what the church is against, leading people to seek out more tolerance, which is the highest virtue of postmodernism.

Jesus Christ is also the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and He came as the suffering servant and the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. Christ then passed on the Great Commission to mankind in order to restore unity and fellowship between God and His children. Christianity is based on the ministry and supernatural life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All other religions lack one thing: an empty grave and a risen Lord. The sacrifice Jesus made, as a substitutionary atonement for sin was the final one, as He became the temple. Internal and external evidence further supports biblical claims and are historically accurate and trustworthy. There is no other religion or worldview that has the historical roots of Judaism and Christianity. In fact, the earliest recorded words were God’s to mankind. Through Scripture, it is proven, man was created in the image of God and the Lord’s love for mankind is unconditional. Additionally, the truth of the law of non-contradiction corresponds to the very nature of God and the working of His mind. Groothuis reinforces this notion, adding, “God is a God of truth and not of falsehood and God does not contradict Himself and He cannot deny Himself.”[23]

However, mankind is fallen through the sin of Adam, and Jesus Christ, the second Adam was humanity’s only hope for redemption. Now, only a relationship with Christ will restore fellowship with God. As Christians become saved, he or she is invited into the Godhead. Groothuis illustrates how, “God is a personal being who created humans in His image. The metaphysics of God and humans are closely related on this account. Humans fell into sin against God, but God provided atonement through His own actions in Christ.”[24] Christianity is the only religion in which death is truly conquered. Only the risen Christ has control and authority over death. A fact many fail to believe or recognize is every human has everlasting life, but only a relationship with Jesus Christ will ensure it is spent in heaven and not in eternal separation from the Father. This new view and mindset should change the way Christians interact with the people in their lives. Whether non-believers know it or not, each of them is a prisoner of war, and the spoils of victory are his or her eternal soul.

In an effort to reach the postmoderns, Rick Warren provides an effective tool using the five basic purposes of the church to meet the five basic human needs:

1. A purpose to live for (outreach)

2. A power to live on (worship)

3. A people to live with (fellowship)

4. Principles to live by (discipleship)

5. A profession to live out (service)

Warren then adapts the above needs to target important things in the postmodernist’s life:

1. A focus for living (outreach)

2. A force for living (worship)

3. A family for living (fellowship)

4. A foundation for living (discipleship)

5. A function for living (service)

Lastly, Warren offers how the church can meet the fundamental needs of postmodernists:

1. Significance (outreach)

2. Stimulation (worship)

3. Support (fellowship)

4. Stability (discipleship)

5. Self-expression (service)[25] [26]

 A new creative and biblical approach, like the one above, is needed if the church is going to be able to reach postmodernists. The gospel message has not changed; instead, what must change is how it is communicated.

DEFENSE OF CHRISTIANITY

The Problem of Evil

Some contend the existence of evil in the world counters the existence of an all powerful God and creator. The question, “If God is good and powerful, why does He allow evil to exist?” must be answered. Despite any level of sophistication or technological breakthroughs, the basic moral problems with humanity still exist. Mankind is in desperate need to be reconciled with God, and this only happens through a relationship with Jesus Christ, who suffered substitutionary atonement for the sins of mankind. Köstenberger further illustrates, “The challenge is therefore not to explain evil but rather to accept its reality and to resist it whenever possible.”[27]

Logical Problem of Evil

Why God allows evil in the world can be traced back to Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, which led to the fallen state of humanity. Evil is inherent in a fallen world where free will allows choices, which are contradictory to God’s nature. Norman Geisler explains, “The ultimate goal of a perfect world with free creatures will have been achieved, but the way to get there requires that those who abuse their freedom be cast out.”[28] Evil will not last forever and one day soon; God will make all things new. To justify the existence of evil with an all-powerful and all-good God seems on the surface like a paradox, but when properly analyzed can be summarized as:

1. If God is all-good, He will defeat evil.

2. If God is all-powerful, He can defeat evil.

3. Evil is not yet defeated.

4. Therefore, evil still serves a purpose and God can and will defeat evil.[29]

The Greater Good Defense

Strengths

In an effort to address the presence of evil in the world, some theists offer the Greater Good Defense, to suggest there exists a morally sufficient reason why God allows evil in the world. The defense proposes two premises: (1) Any instance of evil will result in a greater good; and (2) Eliminating evil would result in some worse evil. Proponents of this view often demonstrate the presence of human virtues, which would not be possible without the presence of evil and often refer to Genesis 50:20, “What you meant to harm me, God meant for good.” If this theory holds true, there would be no pointless instances of evil, which would mean God only allows evil to bring about a greater purpose.

Weaknesses

Upon further investigation, it becomes apparent the Greater Good Defense is susceptible to the evidential problem of evil, which undercuts social justice, and implies God would cause evil. The major breakdown occurs by simply proving any instance of evil was pointless, which would be evidence there is no God. Despite atrocities and genocide, this defense maintains God permits evil to bring a greater good, making the evil necessary. A further breakdown in this defense occurs when analyzing what happens if the required evil does not occur through random chance or by human means, essentially making God, out of necessity commit the evil Himself. No where in Scripture is this defense supported and there are a multiplicity of philosophical, theological and biblical reasons, which counter any strengths this defense has to offer.

Christianity’s Answer

Free will defense

This defense argues God has determined a world containing free creatures is better than one not containing freedom. Sadly, humans used their freedom to rebel against God, which allowed moral evil to enter into the world. Ultimately, human responsibility implies and leads to human freedom.

Sin and the Fall

Adam and Eve used the free will given to them by God to rebel and sin against God. This act would have permanent consequences for all who would ever live. The Fall in the Garden of Eden explains both: moral evil, which comes from the moral choices humans make, and natural evil, which is evidenced in natural disasters and pain and suffering.

Redemption

While free will and the Fall explain the existence of evil in the world, the question of why God allows evil to exist still must be addressed. Ultimately, it is the divine judgment of sin and the clearest expression of God’s goodness was found in His provision of redemption and restoration for mankind, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. The shedding of blood was required for the remission of sin.

Pastoral care

Christians are called by God to share His love and grace with others. The existence of evil is a stumbling block for many, especially when it seems like bad things are continually happening to good people. Here, it is important to know God’s creation was initially good, until Adam and Eve sinned, and despite mankind’s rebellion, God provided redemption through Jesus Christ and He continually provides grace and comfort through His Holy Spirit.

Proof of God’s Existence

The existence of the world requires an explanation and the most plausible explanation is the existence of God. Theistic arguments provide many opportunities to persuade people towards a biblical worldview and the use of an abductive moral argument for God’s existence best explains many moral facts: duties, obligations, values, intrinsic human worth, dignity, human rights, and freedom. It is interesting to note only things that have a beginning need a maker and God has always existed. Thus, God is the cause of everything, as Andreas Köstenberger explains, “It seems ironic that postmodernism denies the very possibility of access to ultimate reality and the existence of God. Postmodernists believe only in what can be seen and anything that is invisible or intangible can only be comprehended by religious instincts, not by human reason. Because all human knowledge is subjective and objective, absolute knowledge is impossible.”[30] Instead, postmodernists believe in only what makes sense and works for the individual. Fortunately, as Köstenberger clarifies, “The preexistent Word became flesh in the form of Jesus, who made His dwelling among humans, and has revealed God, [through both general and special revelation].”[31]

Defense of Objective Truth and Moral Values

Christianity is based on absolute moral truths laid out in the inerrant and infallible Bible. All Scripture is God-breathed and Christians are called to be Christ-like. When there is no absolute truth, it can be twisted and distorted to suit those who are in control. Morality, like belief then becomes a matter not of principle, but of what works for the individual. The search for morality can incur profound pragmatism, dismissing what is right and true, and simply settling for what works. As Johnston demonstrates, “We do not live in an immoral society – one in which right and wrong behavior is chosen; we live in an amoral society – one is which right and wrong are categories with no universal meaning, and everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes.”[32]

Biblical Basis

  The Great Commission clearly identifies mankind’s purpose, but as Johnston explains, “One reason the Christian worldview is so highly criticized in a postmodern context lies in the apparent Christian unwillingness to coexist with any other viewpoint… [Thus] the privilege of speaking God’s truth into someone else’s life will not be granted; it must be earned.”[33]

Jesus is the Truth

 When Pilate stood before Jesus and asked, “What is truth,”[34] he had no idea he was talking to the very embodiment of truth and the only person truly qualified to answer this profound question. Christians are called to be Christlike and this is portrayed as Jesus instructed His disciples it would be by their love the world would know they were His disciples. Köstenberger makes it clear, “In our highly pluralistic, postmodern culture, it will be increasingly unpopular to proclaim the biblical message that ‘there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved’ but Jesus. [The real question becomes] are we willing to suffer socially, economically, or otherwise for our faith?”[35]

All Roads Do Not Lead to God

Groothuis explains, “There has been a drastic shift from religion to spirituality because religion is deemed too structured, authoritative, exclusive, and rigid. Spirituality, on the other hand, is more customized, subjective, inclusive, and open to pragmatic experimentation.”[36] However, the Bible is clear that Jesus the only road that leads to God: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[37]

Atheism

The logical problem of evil is a challenge many atheists use to form his or her worldview. Despite this version of evil not enjoying overwhelming success, it still must be addressed:

            1. An omnipotent God would be able to eliminate all evil, so is God really all-powerful?

            2. An omnibenevolent God would want to eliminate all evil, so is God really all-good?

            3. Evil exists, therefore God is either not omnipotent or not omnibenevolent.

            4. Because Christianity requires both, the Christian God does not exist.

If this argument were true, then there is no God, but as long as it is possible that God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing the evil in the world, then the logical argument fails.

Polytheism

The claim that all roads lead to God is not a new philosophy. However, Christianity states there is no other name by which mankind is saved. The way, the truth, and the life are found only in Christ Jesus. Good works are not enough to earn salvation and the worship of anyone and anything above God is idolatry. Monotheism is then left as the only viable option and worldview.

CONCLUSION

This paper has demonstrated how postmodernism is a self-contradicting illusion of spiritual apathy, by revealing how individuals create multiple versions of truth. These beliefs are façades, which attempt to eclipse the fundamental truth claims of God and Christianity. Additionally, the theory of all roads leading to God and everyone’s version of truth being acceptable has been debunked. Upon analyzing and contrasting postmodernism’s attempts to erode religious certainty, and sustained convictions, the biblical view of truth was found to be the only sound hypothesis. Lastly, Christianity and the belief God is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful were proven and the existence of evil was explained, using a biblical worldview.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Altrock, Chris. Preaching to Pluralists: How to Proclaim Christ in a Postmodern Age. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2004.

Barna, George. “A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical Effect on a Person’s Life.” Barna Group, December 1, 2003. https://www.barna.com/research/a-biblical-worldview-has-a-radical-effect-on-a-persons-life/ (accessed October 20, 2016).

Beilby, James K. Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Butler, Christopher. Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed September 30, 2016).

Clark, David. “Narrative Theology And Apologetics,” – Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36, no. 4 (December 1993), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 511-514. (accessed September 15, 2016).

Cooper, John. “The Current Body-Soul Debate: A Case For Dualistic Holism,” – Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 13, no. 2 (Summer 2009), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 45-46. (accessed September 15, 2016).

Elbert, Paul. “The Globalization Of Pentecostalism: A Review Article,” – Trinity Journal 23, no. 1 (Spring 2002), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 95-101. (accessed September 15, 2016).

Fischer, Rachel K. “Postmodernism.” Reference & User Services Quarterly, Fall 2014, 29-30. General OneFile. GALE|A408784915  http://p2048-ezproxy.liberty.edu.ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA408784915&sid=summon&asid=4b06c417dbfd2c67b292ed042b074172                               (accessed September 15, 2016).

Geisler, Norman L. and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1990.

Gellner, Ernest. Postmodernism, Reason and Religion. London: Routledge, 1992. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed September 26, 2016).

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Johnston, Graham. Preaching to a Postmodern World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001.

Köstenberger, Andreas. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013.

Leitch, Vincent B. Postmodernism: Local Effects, Global Flows. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1996. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed September 26, 2016).

Malpas, Simon, and Paul Wake. “5 Postmodernism.” Year’s Work In Critical & Cultural Theory 12, no. 1 (January 2004): 75-88. Humanities International Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed September 15, 2016).

Michener, Ronald T. “Book Review: Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against The Challenges of Postmodernism.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48, no. 3 (September 2005), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 659-661.

Morawski, Stefan. The Troubles With Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1996. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed September 26, 2016).

Robinson, Michael. “The Contours and Issues of Contemporary Apologetics.” Review & Expositor: An International Baptist Journal. 111, no. 3 (August 2014): 227-237. doi: 10.1177/0034637314535967. (accessed September 15, 2016).

Siniscalchi, Glenn B. “Postmodernism and the Need for Rational Apologetics in a Post-Conciliar Church. Heythrop Journal 52, no. 5 (September 2011): 751-771. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed September 15, 2016).

Stiver, Dan. “Baptists: Modern or Postmodern?” – Review and Expositor 100, no. 4 (Fall 2003), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 525-545. (accessed September 15, 2016).

Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1995.

Wicks, Marshall. “Toward a Missions Hermeneutic,” – Journal of Ministry and Theology 04, no. 2 (Fall 2000), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 53-55. (accessed September 15, 2016).

Zacharias, Ravi and Norman Geisler. Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.


[1] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 130.

[2] Graham Johnston, Preaching to a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2001), 99.

[3] Johnston, Preaching to a Postmodern World, 27.

[4] Ibid., 25.

[5] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 119.

[6] Ibid., 121.

[7] Ibid., 119.

[8] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 128.

[9] Hebrews 6:18 and John 17:17

[10] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 131.

[11] Ibid., 128.

[12] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 131.

            [13] David Clark, “Periodical Reviews,” – Bibliotheca Sacra 154, no. 614 (April), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 225.

            [14] Rachel K. Fischer, “Postmodernism.” Reference & User Services Quarterly, (Fall 2014), 29. General OneFile. GALE|A408784915 (accessed September 15, 2016).

[15] Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Questions of Faith. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 52.

[16] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 128.

            [17] Ernest Gellner, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion (London: Routledge, 1992), 12. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed September 26, 2016).

[18] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 132.

[19] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 133.

[20] Ibid., 137.

            [21] Chris Altrock, Preaching to Pluralists: How to Proclaim Christ in a Postmodern Age (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2004), 9-10.

[22] George Barna, “A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical Effect on a Person’s Life,” Barna Group, December 1, 2003. https://www.barna.com/research/a-biblical-worldview-has-a-radical-effect-on-a-persons-life/ (accessed October 20, 2016).

[23] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 125.

[24] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 54.

[25] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1995), 119.

[26] As cited in: Altrock, Preaching to Pluralists, 81.

[27] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 119.

[28] Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1990), 59-60.

            [29] Zacharias and Geisler, Who Made God?, 38.

[30] Andreas Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013), 86-87.

[31] Ibid., 87.

[32] Johnston, Preaching to a Postmodern World, 40-41.

[33] Ibid., 78-79.

[34] John 18:38

[35] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 153.

[36] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 131.

[37] John 14:6 (ESV)

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman Encounter

jesus-and-samaritan-woman-by-well

An analysis of the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well reveals Jesus’s Messiahship, it unveils His primary mission and purpose, and it also provides fundamental truths about worship, salvation, and the gift of eternal life, all of which are found only in and through Jesus Christ. Even more profound is how and why these truths were passed on to a woman, considered an outcast among her own people. It was through this divine encounter, Jesus overcame immense racial and cultural barriers, demonstrating a clear personification of the love He had for all people. It also opened the door to share the gospel with the Samaritans, leading to the salvation of many, and revealing the Messianic status of Jesus to a multitude of people.

GOSPEL OF JOHN OVERVIEW

Andreas Köstenberger demonstrates, “At the very outset, John’s Gospel claims to represent apostolic eyewitness testimony regarding Jesus’s earthly ministry,”[1] yet only eight percent of John’s Gospel is found in the Synoptic counterparts. The differences between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel are overwhelming, but perhaps the biggest difference is John’s interest in drawing out the theological implications of Jesus’s ministry and proving He was the Messiah. T. C. Smith demonstrates, “The author of the Fourth Gospel used the term Christ as a title for Jesus with two exceptions,[2] both referring to the name of Jesus similar to the way Paul used the expression Christ… and perhaps this is why he gives such a noticeable place for questions concerning Messiahship.”[3] John the Baptist’s denial that he was the Messiah further evidences this.[4] However, in contrast, Andrew ran to tell his brother Simon Peter/Cephas that he had discovered the Messiah.[5] Again, this revelation is seen after the encounter with the woman of Samaria, as she went to the people in her village, saying, “Is not this the Christ.”[6] Given proper context, it is important to understand that claiming to be the Messiah was punishable by excommunication or worse by the Jewish rulers, so this declaration was not taken lightly, however the people of the time anxiously awaited the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy[7] and Jewish officials would regularly ask Jesus if He was the promised Messiah.[8]

Two further points are important to note: first, the Samaritans did in fact believe in the future coming of the Messiah prophesied about and secondly, the poor relations between Jews and Samarians cannot be understated. The animosity dates back to the fall of the northern kingdom to the Assyrians. As a result, many Jews were taken off in bondage to Assyria, and outsiders were then brought in to tend the land and help keep the peace.[9] As a result, the intermarriage between the outsiders and the remaining Jews create a mixed race, an abomination in the eyes of Jews who still lived in the southern kingdom. The pure-blooded Jews hated this mixed race and considered them less than dogs, because they believed those who had intermarried betrayed God, their people, and the nation of Israel.[10]

Purpose of Signs

John’s use of signs highlighted the divinity and high Christology of Jesus and John 20:30-31 reveals the purpose of his Gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” Unfortunately, the unbelief of the people was tragic as John writes, “Though He had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him.”[11] Despite seeing miracle after miracle, the people were still spiritually blind, causing God to harden the hearts of the people who chose not to believe Jesus had come to save the world and restore Israel. Despite changing water into wine,[12] clearing the temple,[13] healing the nobleman’s son,[14] healing the lame man,[15] feeding the multitude,[16] healing the blind man,[17] and raising Lazarus from the dead,[18] the Jewish people and leadership rejected Israel’s Messiah and perpetrated His death. However, John’s recording of two drastically different encounters provides a clear lens to illuminate the Messianic status and mission of Jesus.

Purpose of Encounters

Chapters three and four in the Gospel of John record two very different encounters with Jesus. In chapter three, Jesus meets with Nicodemus, and in chapter four He speaks with a Samaritan Woman. Köstenberger explains and contrasts these encounters by pointing out that, “He was a Jew, she a Samaritan; he a respected member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, she ostracized from society to the extent that she must draw water at the communal well in the heat of the noon hour when no one else would be there; he a rabbi, a Jewish religious teacher, she steeped in folklore and ignorant about religion; he a man, she a woman.”[19] Despite the vast differences, it is Nicodemus, the respected Jewish leader who fails to grasp Jesus’s words. Jesus was emphasizing the need for spiritual rebirth and regeneration, which only came through being born again/from above. Following the light and darkness theme John uses throughout his Gospel, he places this first encounter late at night, and then reveals how it ends only in doubt and misunderstanding. It is evident this encounter had no immediate impact on Nicodemus or any of his friends. During dealings with the Pharisees and Jews, Jesus would often speak in veiled terms, but during the second encounter, Jesus chooses to provide one of the clearest statements of His true identity to the Samaritan woman.[20]

The second encounter took place during the middle of the day and as Thomas Lea illustrates, “shows Jesus exhausted after His long journey,”[21] which highlights the humanity of Jesus. Then, immediately after Jesus reveals His true identity and purpose, the Samaritan woman goes back to her village to share her testimony, which led to the Samaritans receiving the Messiah as the Savior of the world.[22] Despite her past and present sin, it was she who saw Jesus with unveiled eyes as the Messiah. It is interesting to note, since both the Jews and the Samaritans awaited the coming Messiah, what stands these two encounters apart was the Samaritans were not looking for the coming Messiah to be a politician or military leader. This allowed Jesus to reveal His true identity as the “I Am” to the Samaritans.

The Interview with the Samaritan Woman

The most direct route from Judea to Galilee went through Samaria, but strict Jews, like the Pharisees, avoided Samaritan territory as often as possible. However, even though most Jews and Samaritans did not get along, Galilean Jews still would travel through Samaria rather than taking the longer route through Perea. In this account, John writes that Jesus “must” or “had to” travel through Samaria, which as Leon Morris illustrates shows, “The necessity lay in the nature of the mission of Jesus. John often uses the word ‘must’ of this mission.[23] The expression points to a compelling divine necessity. Jesus had come as ‘the light of the world.’[24] It was imperative that this light shine to others than Jews.”[25] Although Jesus initially focused His ministry on the nation of Israel, He did not exclude Gentiles. In fact, Jesus revealed Himself as the Messiah to this Samaritan woman very early in His ministry. Thomas Smythe demonstrates, “For a Jew to speak socially with a Samaritan would have been considered scandalous during Jesus’s day. The fact that this Samaritan was ‘immoral’ and a woman further strained the boundaries of acceptable mores.”[26] Frank E. Gaebelein further explains some other key details in this account, “the well of Jacob was located at the foot of Mount Gerizim, which was the center of Samaritan worship and the ‘sixth hour’ would probably have been about noon, which was an unusual time for women to come to a village well for water, so in consideration of her general character, the other women may have shunned her.”[27] Theologically, it is also important to note the Samaritans only regarded the Pentateuch as being divinely inspired and authoritative. Despite this fact, it was still a Samaritan who recognized Jesus as the prophesied Messiah.

All people are valuable to God

Ben Witherington III explains the customs of this time period insisted that, “Jewish men should speak little or not at all with women, especially strange women, in public places. This was all the more so in regard to women of ‘ill repute,’ [especially] Samaritan women who were regarded by rabbis as ‘menstruants from the womb’, i.e., unclean, untouchable, outcasts.”[28] Despite any customs, Jesus had left Judea out of a necessity to share His mission with Samaria and to declare Himself as the Messiah. It mattered little to Jesus what sins the Samaritan woman had committed, or the cultural divide that existed between Jews and Samaritans, so when Jesus spoke to her at the well asking for a drink, she was stunned and asked in return, “How is it that you, a Jew a for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” The implications are profound, but Jesus uses this opportunity to discuss one of the greatest truths of spiritual life: that of living water.[29] When the disciples return Witherington explains how in the disciples’ eyes, “Jesus had no business talking with this woman at the well. Jesus, however, not only speaks to her but also refuses to treat her as unclean, engaging her in one of the most significant theological discussions in the whole of the Fourth Gospel.”[30] This lesson further demonstrates while Jesus’s male disciples were busy scurrying for food that only temporarily satisfies, this woman would receive and proclaim the message from Jesus of a food and water that offers eternal life.[31] Witherington believes, “The Fourth Evangelist then sees the Samaritan woman as one who properly models the role of disciple — to the shame of the Twelve, [so] this implies that even such a woman, as she was a proper recipient of theological information and indeed a proper candidate for discipleship.”[32]

Jesus as living water and eternal life

When Jesus claimed He would provide living water, which would forever quench a person’s thirst, He was proclaiming Himself to be the Messiah. Initially, the Samaritan woman did not understand, which makes sense given most Old Testament references of thirsting for God as one thirsts for water occurred outside of the Pentateuch.[33] However, Jesus’s interaction with the Jews at the Feast of Tabernacles also came from the image of living water found in Numbers 28:7, Isaiah 58:11, and Isaiah 12:3. Wandering in the desert for forty years made water a necessity for survival, so when Jesus says, “Anyone who believes in Him will have rivers of living water,” it had deep implications of not mere survival, but overflowing abundance. Köstenberger shows these passages point to Jesus being the dispenser of the Holy Spirit, through whom those who come to Him for salvation will become abundant blessings to others.[34]

The Samaritan woman asked two important questions about this gift of living water: first she wanted to know where He would get this water and second, she wanted to know if Jesus considered Himself greater than Jacob, the very person who dug the well. To the first question, Köstenberger explains, “It is not so much that Jesus gives certain gifts – He Himself is the gift, [and] only He can satisfy people’s hunger, and only He can quench their thirst, not merely for material food and drink, but for spiritual sustenance.”[35] Jesus being “greater than” is a common theme in John’s Gospel,[36] but in this occurrence, Jesus was not only claiming to be greater than Jacob; He was also claiming to be the only way to quench thirst forever. This brings to light humanity’s physical needs being different from spiritual needs and how living water gives life. John Polhill demonstrates how, “Many interpreters would see this as a discourse on baptism, as an example of Johannine sacramentalism, but verse 14 rules out any reference to a mere external rite of water baptism. The ‘living water’ Jesus brings is a spring within one’s inner being, a life-renewing stream. The water is not literal but a metaphor for the new life that Christ brings.”[37] Matthew Henry then illustrates how, “Christ shows that the water of Jacob’s well yielded a very short satisfaction. Of whatever waters of comfort we drink, we shall thirst again. But whoever partakes of the Spirit of grace, and the comforts of the gospel, shall never want that which will abundantly satisfy his soul. Carnal hearts look no higher than carnal ends.”[38] The Samaritan woman was very interested in obtaining living water, if it meant she did not have to travel to the well everyday, but Jesus was speaking of so much more.

Need for true worship

After bringing the woman’s sins into the open, Craig Blomberg demonstrates how the woman, “On her own manages to call Jesus a ‘prophet’ and given the overlap in Samaritan theology between the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18 and the Messiah, she may have begun to suspect something even more exalted about Jesus. This would certainly explain the transition to her next topic of interest in, which explicitly deals with the role of the coming Messiah.”[39]  Blomberg advances this belief explaining, “Still, it remains reasonable to infer that John sees the Samaritan woman as inside the kingdom, despite some ambivalence concerning her faith, whereas Nicodemus remains outside, however close to the truth he may have come.”[40]

After this declaration, the issue of where to worship is brought up as Jesus says, “You worship what you do not know.” Morris explains, “Though they worshipped the true God, the Samaritans did so very imperfectly. When we consider that they rejected the writings of the Prophets, the Psalms, the historical books of the Old Testament, and much more, we realize that their knowledge of God was, of necessity, very limited.”[41] Here, Jesus’s concern is with the nature of worship, meaning it is more important what is worshipped than where the worshipping occurs. This truth becomes even more evident upon the glorification of Christ, as He becomes the temple. Smith explains, in the controversy between Jesus and the Samaritan woman concerning the true place to worship, “Jesus responded with an affirmation that He was the Messiah. [This] aligned with the Samaritan concept of Taheb, which sets forth a future prophet like Moses who would speak about the commands of God. The Taheb[42] would be the prophet predicted by Moses and would be like Moses, whose function was to restore God’s pleasure to the Samaritans.[43]

 Now, Jesus is foreshadowing how worship will look after His atoning death. It must be done in spirit and truth as Morris explains, “True worshipers worship ‘in spirit and truth.’ Here, it is the human spirit that is in mind. One must worship, not simply outwardly by being in the right place and taking up the right attitude, but in one’s spirit. The combination ‘spirit and truth’ points to the need for complete sincerity and complete reality in our approach to God.”[44] Thus, worship centers both on doctrinal truth and complete devotion, which are guided by the Holy Spirit. Right on the heels of worship comes the topic of Messiahship, as the woman says she knows the Messiah, who is called Christ, is coming and when He comes, He will reveal all things. It is here Jesus makes several bold claims: (1) He claimed to be the Messiah; (2) He claimed to the great “I Am,” which was the name reserved only for God; and He claimed to be the One who would reveal all things. As proof, Jesus exposes the sin in her life and explains the only way to take care of the sin is to worship God in spirit and in truth. This meant dealing with God honestly and with an open heart.

Jesus’s explanation of evangelistic ministry 4:27-38

This seems to be the climax of the encounter as Jesus has just boldly proclaimed Himself as the Messiah saying, “I who speak to you am He.” Morris demonstrates, “There remains to be recounted only the effect of all this on others. John shows us both the surprise of the disciples and the evangelistic zeal of the woman. She bore such an effective testimony that people went out of the village to meet Jesus.”[45] Two things stand out here: first, the woman was an outcast to her own people, but the encounter with Jesus changed her to the point where the people of her village looked, listened, and believed what she said. Second, she was successful in her witness to the people and as a result many set out to see the Messiah. This is evangelism in its purest sense.

Disciples’ response to interaction

Upon returning, the disciples were marveled to see Jesus engaged in conversation with a woman, as this went against all customs and teaching, but as Morris explains, “Though the disciples were astonished, they did not question the action of the woman (the first hypothetical question) or that of their Master (the second). They had learned enough to know that, while Jesus did not always respect the conventions of the rabbis, He always had good reasons for what He did.”[46]

Work of Jesus and will of God

A common occurrence in John’s Gospel is the use of misunderstandings to teach profound lessons. In this scenario, the disciples have just returned from town where they most likely went to buy food. Upon arriving back at the well, Jesus says, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” This must have been difficult to comprehend, just as the principle of living water was initially beyond comprehension for the Samaritan woman. Jesus then says to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.” In this example, D.A. Carson illustrates, “Jesus is almost certainly echoing Deuteronomy 8:3, where Moses addresses Israel and seeks to explain God’s way to them: ‘He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.’”[47]

The important concept Jesus is teaching here is every believer’s life should be centered upon the will and work of God. In day-to-day life, losing focus of the spiritual and being consumed by the physical causes a divide between earthly things and heavenly things. Jesus had just told the Samaritan woman about spiritual living water, and He also told the disciples He had food from another source, but they are still only concerned with the physical needs of Jesus. This demonstrates their lack of spiritual depth at this point in the metanarrative and clearly shows a lack of focus on Christ’s mission of salvation. Christ wanted His disciples to seek spiritual nourishment before tending to His physical needs, and this could only happen by seeking and doing the will and work of God. On the cross, Christ finished the work He was sent to accomplish and now He calls all believers to live in obedience and perseverance until the work and will of God is fully realized.

Köstenberger further demonstrates, “When the Samaritan woman leaves to tell the townspeople about Jesus, this creates a window of opportunity for Jesus, which He promptly uses to instruct His disciples about their role in the Messianic mission.”[48] In this discourse, Jesus is demonstrating the important principles of sowing and reaping. When doing the work of the ministry, Jesus demonstrates the importance of meeting the most basic needs first. In the disciples’ case, this was purchasing food and in the Samaritan woman’s case it was retrieving water. Upon meeting the physical needs, the door to meeting the spiritual needs opens. During the interaction, as Köstenberger illustrates, “Jesus develops water symbolism in the direction of His ability to give eternal life (evangelism); in talking with His disciples, He talks about His mission and how they have entered it (discipleship).”[49] One sows and another reaps, so here Jesus is explaining the spiritual harvest season has arrived and every believer has been sent to play a part in sowing seeds, producing fruit, and reaping the harvest.

The response to Jesus in Samaria 4:39-42

John writes many Samaritans from the town believed Jesus to be the Messiah and this was largely because of the woman’s testimony. The Samaritans believed the coming Messiah would reveal all things[50] and since Jesus had told the Samaritan woman all she had ever done, many believed. Gaebelein indicates two necessary and interrelated bases for belief:

(1) The testimony of others, and (2) personal contact with Jesus. This woman’s witness opened the way to Him for the villagers. If He could penetrate the shell of her materialism and present a message that would transform her, the Samaritans also could believe that He might be the Messiah. That stage of belief was only introductory, however. The second stage was hearing Him for themselves, and it brought them to the settled conviction expressed in “we know.”[51]

This progression clearly shows the development of the Samaritans’ faith. Initially the Samaritans’ belief was rooted in the testimony of the Samaritan woman, but it soon advanced based upon their own personal encounter with the Messiah.

Messianic status of Jesus shown

The proclamation of Jesus’s Messianic status was a lengthy process, one in which Jesus frequently kept out of the public, especially in the Synoptic Gospel accounts. Despite this, Everett Harrison illustrates how, “Andrew’s use of Messiah in reference to Jesus stems from his association with the Baptist and Jesus’s use of Messiah in the presence of the Samaritan woman creates no real difficulty, since the barrier between Samaritans and Jews would prevent the saying from being heralded abroad.”[52] John the Baptist openly denied he was the Messiah when questioned by Pharisees, but it is clear from John 3:26-28 that John knew Jesus to be the Messiah and John the Baptist clearly understood his role as being the forerunner for Christ.

Merrill Tenney shows, “Jesus affirmed His Messiahship when He told the Samaritan woman, “I who speak to you am He.” When she announced to the town her belief, they listened to Him, and then believed, saying, ‘Now we know; this is the Savior of the world.’ Their equation of Messiah and Savior indicates their estimate of Him was theological, not political.”[53]

Smith then shows, “It was the intent of the Evangelist to prove to his readers that Jesus was Messiah [because] among the Jews ‘The Messiah’ had a definite meaning. They looked for a descendant of David who was a powerful person, a warrior and a hero who would deliver them from their oppressors, the Romans, and usher in an era of prosperity and peace.”[54] This was in sharp contrast to what the Samaritans were looking for, since their core doctrine came only from the Pentateuch. The Jews of the time could not understand the concept of a suffering Messiah, which caused many to be spiritually blind.

Mission and purpose of Jesus

Matthew Poole emphasizes, “What our Savior spoke metaphorically, comparing His grace, or His Spirit, or the doctrine of His gospel, to living water, this poor woman [initially] understood as being literal. So ignorant are persons of spiritual things, till the Holy Spirit of God enlightens them.”[55] The Samaritan woman moved from thinking of things strictly on the physical level to being able to comprehend them on a spiritual level. This allowed her to see the spiritual counterpart of eternal life and she then leaves her water jar at the well. Robert Hughes shows how, “The gift of living water relates to the gift of life-giving bread from heaven and the ongoing theme of Israel in the wilderness. Spiritual thirst and hunger are only satisfied by the living water and bread from heaven.”[56] D.A. Carson further demonstrates how this gift was to be spread:

Those who read John in light of antecedent Scripture cannot help but think of the prophecies that anticipate the extension of the saving reign of God to the farthest corner of the earth. It was appropriate that the title ‘Savior of the world’ should be applied to Jesus in the context of ministry to Samaritans, representing the first cross-cultural evangelism, undertaken by Jesus Himself and issuing in a pattern to be followed by the church: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”[57]

There was a sense of urgency as Jesus revealed His mission, which would soon be passed on to His disciples. Morris explains, “The disciples must not lazily relax, comfortable in the thought that there is no need to bestir themselves. The fields are ready for harvest. There may even be the thought the kind of harvest in which they were engaged there is no necessary interval between sowing and reaping. The disciples must then acquire a sense of urgency in their task.”[58]

Power of testimony

Regardless of the Samaritan woman’s past, she immediately shares her testimony with others. This transformation and action is the model Jesus is passing on and Scripture indicates, by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony[59] believers’ willingness to proclaim the message overcame even the natural fear of death.”[60] It is evident that at some point in the Samaritan woman’s past a seed was sown for her to have knowledge of the Messiah, and during her encounter, Jesus reaped her soul, which led to the further reaping of many others.

Samaritan’s Response and Salvation of a City

Köstenberger recognizes but rejects the possibility that the Samaritan story can function as a romantic picture of Yahweh’s wooing back to Himself wayward Samaritans, but some of the similar characteristics are undeniable. He cites several elements reminiscent of a wayward Israel:

(1) Jesus is called a bridegroom in the pericope immediately preceding this incident;[61] (2) the well (v. 6), Jesus’s request for a drink (v. 7), and the reference to food afterward (v. 32) frames the story as a betrothal type-scene;[62] (3) the Samaritan woman is depicted as sexually wayward, with five husbands, much like the Samaritans who prostituted themselves with the gods of five nations;[63] and (4) the story ends with a reunion—the Samaritans embrace the bridegroom (vv. 39–42).[64]

Samaritans “believed”

To “believe” here means the Samaritans put their faith in and entrusted their spiritual well being to Christ.[65] Initially, the people believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, but after the Samaritans went out to meet Jesus and invited Him to stay with them, many more believed because of His word. When the Samaritans heard for themselves what Jesus had to say, they proclaimed Him to be the Christ and the Savior of the World. Further evidence of real and lasting transformation is revealed when Philip’s ministry takes him to Samaria[66] and as F.F. Bruce shows, “Philip would be able to build on this hope when he began to preach Christ to them. Jesus, it appears, was already identified by His followers in Jerusalem, both ‘Hebrews’ and ‘Hellenists,’ as the promised prophet like Moses.”[67]

Savior of the world is revealed

 It is interesting to note the words “Christ” and “Messiah” are the same word. Messiah is the Hebrew word and Christ is the Greek word, but both words refer to the same person and mean the same thing: the anointed one.[68] The Samaritans recognized the Messiah as the anointed one of God and as the Savior of the world. Savior here means deliverer and as Morris explains, “They had been impressed by what she had said, though their faith was not fully formed. The woman might introduce them to Jesus, but faith is not faith as long as it rests on the testimony of another. There must be personal knowledge of Christ if there is to be an authentic Christian experience. Their belief about Jesus is crystallized in the expression ‘the Savior of the world.’”[69]

CONCLUSION

The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman is a profound encounter as Jesus breaks down cultural and racial barriers to proclaim Himself as the Messiah to an outcast among her own people. Francis Hayes reveals, “The evangelism of the future will depend less on sermons than on the prayers and testimonies of the many and its burden is like that of Andrew’s to Peter, and that of the Samaritan woman to her fellow-villagers, “I have found Him.” The new evangelism is the old in this particular, that it is preeminently the testimony of experience.”[70] Upon revealing Himself as the Messiah, Jesus then unveils His primary mission and purpose, and passes on to His followers the mission to engage in evangelism and discipleship. Lastly, Jesus shows how to remain “in Christ” through worship rooted in spirit and truth. This encounter is relevant to the church today, in that it shows how to break down racial and cultural divides to communicate the fundamental truths about salvation, and the gift of eternal life, all of which are found only in and through Christ Jesus.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Blomberg, Craig. “The Globalization Of Biblical Interpretation: A Test Case John 3-4.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 05, no. 1 (1995), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 10-11.

Bruce, F. F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991.

Chan, Frank. “John, by Köstenberger.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48, no. 3 (September 2005), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 649-650.

Gaebelein, Frank E., ed. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Harrison, Everett. “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel in Relation to the Synoptics Part III.” Bibliotheca Sacra 116, no. 464 (October 1959), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 308-309.

Hayes, Francis. “The Effective Blend Of The Old And The New Evangelism.” Bibliotheca Sacra 064, no. 256 (October 1907), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 733-735.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Hughes, Robert B. and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Köstenberger, Andreas. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013.

Lea, Thomas D. and David A. Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003.

Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Mounce, Robert H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Polhill, John. “John 1–4: The Revelation of True Life.” Review and Expositor 085, no. 3 (Summer 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 454-455.

Poole, Matthew. Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1985. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Smith, T.C. “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel.” Review and Expositor 071, no. 1 (Winter 1974), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 23-28.

Smythe, Thomas. “The Character Of Jesus Defended.” Christian Apologetics Journal 05, no. 2 (Fall 2006), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 114-116.

Strong, James. Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007. WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4100”.

Tenney, Merrill. “Literary Keys to the Fourth Gospel Part I: The Symphonic Structure of John.” Bibliotheca Sacra 120, no. 478 (April 1963), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 121-122.

Witherington, Ben III. “Women in the Ministry of Jesus.” – Ashland Theological Journal 17, no. 0 (1984), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 24-25.


[1] Andreas Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013), 4.

[2] John 1:17; 17:3

[3] T.C. Smith, “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel,” – Review and Expositor 071, no. 1 (Winter 1974), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 24-25.

[4] John 1:20 and 3:28

[5] John 1:41

[6] John 4:29

[7] 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Isaiah 7:14, 9:7, 53:3; Zechariah 9:9; and Psalm 45:6-7, 69:8

[8] John 7:25–31, 40–3; 12:34

[9] 2 Kings 17:24

[10] Kenneth Kantzer, Life Application Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 1757.

[11] John 12:37 (ESV)

[12] John 2:1-11

[13] John 2:13-22

[14] John 4:46-54

[15] John 5:1-15

[16] John 6:1-12

[17] John 9:1-41

[18] John 11:1-44

[19] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 68.

[20] John 2:18-22 and John 4:26

[21] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message 2nd Edition, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), 188.

[22] John 4:42

[23] John 3:7, 14; 9:4; 10:16; 12:34; and 20:9

[24] John 9:5

[25] Leon Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 226.

[26] Thomas Smythe, “The Character Of Jesus Defended,” – Christian Apologetics Journal 05, no. 2 (Fall 2006), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 115.

[27] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 54.

[28] Ben Witherington III, “Women in the Ministry of Jesus,” – Ashland Theological Journal 17, no. 0 (1984), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 24.

[29] John 4:11-12

[30] Witherington III, “Women in the Ministry of Jesus,” 24.

[31] John 4:39

[32] Witherington III, “Women in the Ministry of Jesus,” 24.

[33] Psalm 42:1; Isaiah 55:1; Jeremiah 2:13; and Zechariah 13:1

[34] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 92.

[35] Ibid., 85.

[36] Greater than Jacob: John 4:12; Greater than Moses: John 6:30-31; and Greater than Abraham: John 8:53

[37] John Polhill, “John 1–4: The Revelation of True Life,” – Review and Expositor 085, no. 3 (Summer 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 454-455.

[38] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Chapter 4”.

[39] Craig Blomberg, “The Globalization Of Biblical Interpretation: A Test Case John 3-4,” – Bulletin for Biblical Research 05, no. 1 (NA), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 10.

[40] Ibid., 11.

[41] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 238.

[42] Restorer or one who returns

[43] Smith, “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel,” 28.

[44] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 239.

[45] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 242.

[46] Ibid., 248.

[47] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991), 228.

[48] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 74.

[49] Ibid., 74.

[50] John 4:25

[51] Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts, 58.

[52] Everett Harrison, “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel in Relation to the Synoptics Part III,” – Bibliotheca Sacra 116, no. 464 (October 1959), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 308-309.

[53] Merrill Tenney, “Literary Keys to the Fourth Gospel Part I: The Symphonic Structure of John,” – Bibliotheca Sacra 120, no. 478 (Apr), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 121-122.

[54] Smith, “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel,” 23.

[55] Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Chapter 4”.

 [56] Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 470.

[57] Carson, The Gospel According to John, 232.

[58] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 246.

[59] Revelation 12:11

[60] Robert H. Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 238.

[61] John 3:29

[62] Genesis 24:1–61; 29:1–20; and Exodus 2:15b–21

[63] 2 Kings 17:24, 30–31

[64] Frank Chan, “John,” – Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48, no. 3 (September 2005), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 649-650.

[65] James Strong, Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary (Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4100”.

[66] Acts 8:5-8

[67] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 164.

[68] Leadership Ministries Worldwide, The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible – John (Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1991), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Deeper Study 2”.

[69] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 250-251.

[70] Francis Hayes, “The Effective Blend Of The Old And The New Evangelism,” – Bibliotheca Sacra 064, no. 256 (October 1907), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 733.

The Resurrection of Jesus

garden-tomb

The resurrection of Jesus is the most fundamental and foundational evidence of the truth of Christianity. Douglas Groothuis explains how, If Christ has not been raised, then: “(1) Christian preaching is useless; (2) Christian faith is useless [and] futile; (3) Christians are false witnesses about God; (4) Christians are unforgiven and left in their sin; (5) those who have died in Christian hope are lost; and (6) those who in in Christ are supremely pitiable, since their hope ends with this life.”[1] If the resurrection of Christ did not take place, life becomes meaningless and there exists no future hope, since Christianity is premised upon the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This miraculous event separates Christianity from every other false religion and it provided its early followers new meaning and gave them a new mission. N.T. Wright explains, “There is no evidence for a form of early Christianity in which the resurrection was not a central belief. Nor was this belief, as it were, bolted on to Christianity at the edge; it was the central driving force, informing the whole movement.”[2] Groothuis supports this theory by further illustrating how, “The church’s institutions of baptism and the Lord’s Supper presuppose the resurrection of Christ and the Gospel accounts… [And] these sacraments have been used to instruct and disciple new believers since the middle to later first century and are primary to the story of Jesus.”[3]

The reliability of the New Testament is a vital component in proving the death and resurrection of Jesus truly took place and offers many historical facts about His crucifixion, the empty tomb, and His postmortem appearances. Additionally, studies like that conducted by William Edwards et al., with The Journal of the American Medical Association cite and counter the swoon theory[4] by demonstrating, “The weight of historical and medical evidence indicate Jesus was dead before the wound to His side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between His right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung, but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured His death.”[5] Edwards et al. also explain, “The time of survival for Roman crucifixions ranged from three or four hours to three or four days and appears to have been inversely related to the severity of the scourging.”[6]

The burial of Jesus in a known tomb was also critical, since the disciples would later claim to have witnessed an empty tomb. Most scholars agree, Joseph Arimathea, who was a member of the Jewish court owned this tomb.[7] This is an important fact because if the disciples did not know the location of Golgotha, none of them would later be able to proclaim the risen Lord. Groothuis holds to this theory and adds, “First, no other burial traditions exists as a competitor. Second, the account is well established through multiple attestations in Mark, Matthew, and John. Third, that Jesus was buried is also corroborated by Paul’s early report in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. Fourth… Joseph Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention.”[8] The empty tomb is mentioned in all four Gospels and is an absolute necessity in proving the resurrection account.

The postmortem appearances of Jesus occurred under multiple circumstances to a multiplicity of people. As Groothuis points out, it is interesting how women were among the first witnesses, especially considering the testimony of women in those days were not highly regarded. This important detail leads to the conclusion the account was not made up by Christians, because if the church were going to invent a resurrection story, it would have surely listed a much more prominent male character to lend credibility.[9] In all, the New Testament lists twelve separate appearances over a forty-day period leading up to Jesus’s ascension. Jesus would appear to: Mary Magdalene;[10] Mary and the other women;[11] Peter;[12] two disciples on the road to Emmaus;[13] ten apostles;[14] eleven apostles;[15] seven apostles;[16] all of the apostles;[17] five hundred brethren;[18] James;[19] again to all the apostles;[20] and finally to the apostle Paul.[21]

The transformation of Jesus’s disciples was clearly evident, after seeing Him with their own eyes. Groothuis demonstrates how the disciples, “Went from being dejected, dispirited, and grieving followers of a crucified rabbi to apostles, those who had beheld the risen Christ and who, on that basis, preached Him as the Lord of life and the Judge of history.”[22] Even Paul, the great persecutor of the early church, would have a divine encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus, which would transform him to becoming a great champion for Christ and the early church. However, if the resurrection had not occurred, there exists no rational argument for the radical change found in the disciples’ behavior and that of Paul. Groothuis illustrates why “The actual resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the disciples’ transformation from cowardice, despair, and confusion to confident proclamation and the willingness to suffer persecution, hardship, and even martyrdom for the sake of Jesus and His gospel.”[23] It is also hard to fathom the spread of Christianity across the world if the resurrection had not taken place. Noting the origin and rise of Christianity cannot be explained without the resurrection, C.F.D. Moule affirms, “The birth and rapid rise of the Christian church therefore remains an unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the only explanation offered by the Church itself.”[24] Another distinct transformation exhibited by the disciples and the early church was the worship of Jesus as being divine. Paul even speaks of Christ’s preexistence, His incarnation, and His exaltation in his letter to the Philippians.[25]

The final transformation is evidenced by three practices of the early church. The first practice involved believers being baptized to symbolize the death to old sinful ways and being raised to a new life in Christ. The second practice was the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, which was a symbol of Jesus’s life given for all who would believe.[26] Neither of these observances would serve a point, without the resurrection, leading to the third practice of observing Sunday as the new holy day. Groothuis explains, “Very quickly after the death of Jesus, the early church began meeting on Sunday, the first day of the week,[27] [which] went against the religious grain of Jewish observance that honored Saturday, the seventh day, as the Sabbath ordained by God.”[28] Because of the resurrection, the early church chose to meet on Sunday in honor of the risen Lord.

Alternative naturalistic explanations for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus all fail, as Francis Schaeffer demonstrates, “For the supernatural was so intertwined with the rest [of Jesus’s life] that, if they ripped out all the supernatural… no historical Jesus remained; [and] if they kept the historical Jesus, the supernatural remained as well.”[29] Thus, Blaise Pascal presents the dichotomy of: “If Christ be not raised, the disciples were either innocently deceived or culpable deceivers.”[30] The most common argumentation, according to Groothuis is, “The resurrection appearances were hallucinations of some kind and not objectively real, which meant this visionary encounter needs to be explained supernaturally (Christ is risen) or naturally (the disciples were deceived.)”[31] With so many appearances to so many different people, this theory seems hard to defend, especially given the empty tomb. Nonetheless, hallucination theory has seen a recent renewal in some scholarly circles.

A second explanation rests on the existence of a Christian conspiracy. For such a thing to exist, there must be both motive and the means to carry it out. While there could conceivably be motive, there would be no means by which the disciples could carry out such a deception and as Pascal noted, “The human heart is too weak to perpetuate a known falsehood under such intense pressures to recant.”[32] Another conspiracy theory rests on the tomb being empty due to the disciples stealing the body of Jesus or from grave robbers. Once again, this theory of a corpse heist fails due to the Roman guards who were positioned to stop just such a thing from happening. As Groothuis further demonstrates, “Even if theft could explain the empty tomb (which it cannot), the appearances of Jesus still demand a sufficient explanation.”[33]

The alternative naturalistic explanation, which presents the greatest challenge, is always going to be one rooted in the will to disbelieve. Some scholars any many atheists argue over discrepancies found in the Gospel accounts, maintaining these are grounds that they are fiction. The best response according to Groothuis is, “Some minor differences in the telling of this story indicates authenticity, not substantial error and if each account perfectly mirrored the rest, this would likely be a sign of collusion, not accurate history told from differing perspectives.”[34] The best way then to handle any naturalistic explanation opposing the miraculous resurrection of the risen Lord is to first find common ground, address various differences, and then present the gospel and all the documentary and circumstantial evidence available in a loving and caring way. It is important to remember “Only the fool says in his heart there is no God,”[35] but it is equally important to remember all were once lost and that Christ gave His life when all were still sinners.

Bibliography

Edwards, William D., Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association. 255, no. 11 (1986): 1463.

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Moule, C. F. D. The Phenomenon of the New Testament. Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, 1967.

Pascal, Blaise. Pensées 322/802, Ed. and Trans. Alban Krailsheimer. New York, NY: Penguin, 1966

Schaeffer, Francis. The God Who Is There, 30th Anniversary Edition. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. San Francisco, CA: Harper One, 2008.


[1] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 528-529.

[2] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (San Francisco, CA: Harper One, 2008), 67.

[3] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 535.

[4] Swoon theory is belief that Jesus either was not crucified, or that He survived and is buried in India.

[5] William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 255, no. 11 (1986): 1463.

[6] Edwards et al., “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” 1460.

[7] Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; and John 19:38-42

[8] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 543.

[9] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 548.

[10] John 20:10-18

[11] Matthew 28:1-10

[12] Luke 24:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:5

[13] Luke 24:13-35

[14] Luke 24:36-49

[15] John 20:24-31

[16] John 21

[17] Matthew 28:16-20

[18] 1 Corinthians 15:6

[19] 1 Corinthians 15:7

[20] Acts 1:4-8

[21] Acts 9:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 15:8; 9:1

[22] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 551.

[23] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 551.

[24] C. F. D. Moule, The Phenomenon of the New Testament (Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, 1967), 13.

[25] Philippians 2:5-11

[26] Translates as to trust or to surrender completely.

[27] Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2

[28] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 554.

[29] Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 30th Anniversary ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 72.

[30] Blaise Pascal, Pensées 322/802, ed. and trans. Alban Krailsheimer (New York, NY: Penguin, 1966), 127.

[31] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 556.

[32] Pascal, Pensées 310/801, 125.

[33] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 561.

[34] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 562.

[35] Psalm 14:1