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Christ “emptied Himself” (Philippians 2:7).
Resources for understanding, defending and advancing the Biblical, orthodox view of our Lord’s glorious humility. An apologetic.
Dan Musick, Editor
M.A. in Theology
Wheaton Graduate School, 1978
It is not uncommon to hear godly radio and television speakers, pastors and teachers making statements such as: “Jesus was fully God but He gave up the voluntary use of His Divine attributes while on earth.” Or, “Jesus was certainly not omnipotent when, in His own hometown, he was not able to do mighty works because of their unbelief.” Or, perhaps you have heard the question raised, “How could Jesus be omniscient if He did not know the exact day of His return?
These are questions many thinking believers have raised over the ages. The early Church fathers also wrestled with these issues and have handed down to us thousands of pages of Biblical debate regarding the nature of Christ.
How God became man is an impenetrable mystery, but the Biblical, orthodox declaration of the early fathers regarding Christ’s Divinity and humanity is crystal clear: “We declare that the one selfsame Christ, only begotten Son and Lord, must be acknowledged in two natures, without any co-mingling, or change or division or separation, that the distinction between their natures is in no way removed by their union, but rather, that the specific character of each nature is preserved, and they are united in one person and one hypostasis” (Creed of Chalcedon).
Jesus was and is true God and true man. From the earliest days of the church there have always been those who distort the nature of Christ. In his first letter the apostle John had to contend with Gnostics who thought that since the body is evil, God certainly would not have united himself with human flesh. So they denied our Lord’s humanity (1 John. 4:1-6).
Denials of Christ’s full Divinity have also abounded through the ages, most of which were condemned by the early Church councils. Since Gottfried Thomasius in the 1800’s, however, distorted views of the kenosis have arisen which deny that Christ’s retained His full Deity during His ministry while on earth. This web site has been created to address these views because they have found their way into the thinking of conservative Evangelicals and Catholics alike.
In his excellent work on Philippians 2, Rodney Decker lists the following false views of the kenosis.
1.”Christ had a human soul, to which the Logos imparted his divinity, little by little until he became completely divine” (Dorner).
2.Christ “laid aside his deity which was then restored at the ascension” (Gess and Beecher).
3.He “abandoned certain prerogatives of the divine mode of existence in order to assume the human,” e.g., omniscience” (Gore).
4.”He surrendered the external, physical attributes of omniscience, though retaining the attributes of love and truth (A. M. Fairbairn). This was also held by Thomasius, Deilitzsch, and H. Crosby.”
5.Christ “lived a double life from two, non-communicating life centers. As God, he continued his trinitarian and providential existence, and as man he was united with a human nature. He did not know consciously anything of his divine, trinitarian existence” (Martensen).
6.”He disguised his deity and attributes, not by giving them up, but by limiting them to a time-form appropriate to a human mode of existence ... His attributes could only be expressed in relation to the (human) time and space that his human form could experience” (Ebrard).
7.”He gave up the use of the attributes (cf. Carson, FD&FPJ, 35).”
8.”He gave up the independent exercise of the divine attributes (Strong, ST, 703).”
9.”He limited himself to the voluntary non-use of the attributes (Walvoord).”
These views have surfaced in conservative Evangelical and Catholic thought, and they have dangerous implications.
The implications of distorted views of the kenosis:
As you research the links attached to this web site, you will find at least five serious problems with these distorted views.
1. They destroy the vital doctrine of the immutability of God (Buntin). “If God laid aside one of His attributes, the immutable undergoes a mutation, the infinite suddenly stops being infinite; it would be the end of the universe” (Sproul).
2. They destroy the integrity of the atonement (Buntin). The redemption of all creation and everyone who would ever believe in Christ required an infinite sacrifice that was also a perfect human being. Limiting Christ’s Divinity would leave all of humanity, and all of creation hopelessly subject to God’s curse and to His eternal wrath.
3. They promote a polytheistic view of God. Many Christians today believe that Jesus was fully God and that His Deity was undiminished, but that He simply did not exercise the full use of His Divine attributes when on earth. This belief is based on a misunderstanding of the Trinity. The early fathers have clearly stated that there are three Persons in the Godhead, but only one God. “We distinguish among the Persons, but we do not divide the Substance... There are not three omnipotent Beings, but one Omnipotent Being” (Creed of Athenasius). The only way to limit the use of attributes of one person without limiting the attributes of all three members of the Godhead is to divide the substance into three Divine beings for each of the three Persons. This heretical view of the Trinity would then allow Jesus to suspend His omnipotence, for example, while the Father and Holy Spirit would continue to exercise dominion in the universe.
4. They undermine Christ’s perfect intercessory work for us. Christ’s current ministry for each of us is based not only on perfect knowledge of us, but also on perfect knowledge of all the times He was tempted in every way as we are, but without sin. Jesus is anywhere and everywhere any time and all the time. As our high priest He prays for us with perfect, omniscient, transcendent knowledge. He transcends space and time (John 8:58) and links our every temptation to His own temptation (Heb. 4:12-16) to come to our aid, to sanctify us (Heb. 2: 10-18), that in the end He might present us before the Father “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Col. 1: 22).
5. They defy the authority of Holy Scripture and of the Church. In addition to the flagrant violations above, a study of the links to this site will reveal that the distorted views of the kenosis also ignore the following motifs - themes, scripture clusters - extending from Genesis to Revelation and into the history of the Church.
(1) Old Testament prophets foresaw not only a Spirit-anointed human Messiah, but also the coming of very Yahweh Himself (Zaspel, Catholic Encyclopedia).
(2) Jesus’ words about Himself - Jesus identified Himself as God (Zaspel, Catholic Encyclopedia).
(3) The testimony of the Gospel writers - Jesus is identified as God (Zaspel, Catholic Encyclopedia).
(4) The testimonies of other NT writers - they recognize the full Deity of Christ while Christ was on earth (Zaspel, Catholic Encyclopedia, Buntin).
(5) The “Son of God” motif identified Christ as fully God (Catholic Encyclopedia).
(6) The testimony of Jesus’ enemies who accused Him of blasphemy - Jesus was crucified because He claimed to be God (Christian Think Tank, Catholic Encyclopedia).
(7) The testimony of Jesus’ friends affirms His Deity (Zaspel).
(8) The transfiguration and Christ’s affirmation before His captors - Jesus did not empty Himself of His Divine glory; it was merely veiled (Buntin).
(9) Pagan writers confirmed that early Christians believed in the Divinity of Christ (Catholic Encyclopedia).
(10) The issue of worship refusal - Unlike other Biblical figures, Jesus did not refuse to be worshipped (Zaspel, Christian Think Tank).
(11) The miracles support His claims to be God (Zaspel).
(12) Evidence from the NT interpretation of the OT - NT writers saw Jesus as the incarnation of Jehovah (Zaspel).
(13) The kenosis passage (Phil. 2:7) leaves Christ’s full Deity intact. (Decker, Buntin)
(14) The full, free expression of human and divine attributes affirms the Creed of Chalcedon (Buntin, C.A.R.M.).
(15) NT uses of the word “name” affirm the deity of Christ (Christian Think Tank).
(16) The Nomina Sacra of the Early Church reveals the reverence ascribed to Christ’s Deity (Christian Think Tank).
(17) The humiliation motif - full Deity is an absolute necessity for humiliation to make any sense (Christian Think Tank).
(18) The “Pattern Identification Issue” - At least 25 attributes, titles, actions of OT Yahweh are ascribed to Jesus in NT (Christian Think Tank, Zaspel).
(19) False views of the kenosis defy the Creeds of the Church: Chalcedon, Athenasius, and others.
(20) Modern distorted views of the kenosis are alien to the perspective of the Reformers (Luther, Calvin).
(21) Apparent “contradictions” and questions about the full Divinity of Christ have been more than adequately explained by the early fathers (Augustine).
Fred Zaspel, in the article linked at this site, has rightly noted, “Doctrines subjected to neglect soon give way to heresy.” Each of us is admonished, as was Timothy, to “study to show ourselves approved unto God, workmen that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). The great crisis in conservative, Bible-based teaching comes from a failure to be taught, and a failure to study the core doctrines of the Christian faith.
Infidelity to God’s Word is also tempting - no less than is infidelity to a marriage partner. New “truths” entice the faithful, as do new illicit relationships. Heresy is no respecter of godliness.
Purpose for this web site
This web page has been established for three purposes: (1) To help those who have not studied the Divinity of Christ to understand the proper Biblical view of His humility, (2) To provide resources for those who understand the proper Biblical view to defend it, and (3) To provide resources for advancing the truth in a Christian world of ignorance, misinformation, apathy, and heresy. Corresponding to the purposes you will find in these links information to understand, inspiration to defend, and motivation to advance the truth wherever God has placed you.
As you read the articles and books attached to this site, please remember that truth is not conservative or liberal. There is sound doctrine and there are false teachers. There is the Gospel and there is another gospel. There are those who have given their necks - they have been beaten, fed to lions and exiled for the truths we take for granted; and there are those whom our Lord said would be better off in the bottom of the sea with a millstone around their necks. There are the pure in heart who see Jesus, and there are those who, while seeing, do not see Him.
The effort to separate the “Jesus of History” from the “Christ of Faith” is one of the hallmarks of theological liberalism — and a point of contact between liberal theology and postmodern secularism. Made famous by successive “quests” for a merely historical Jesus, this effort represents an attempt to recover Jesus as a figure in history, stripped of all claims to deity.
The Jesus presented by those committed to this methodology is not the incarnate Son of God, deity in human flesh. To the contrary, he is a Judean folk philosopher, a radical religious reformer, or a teacher of enlightened morality.
The miracles, claims to deity, and supernatural dimensions are simply denied — relegated to those who believe in the “Christ of faith.” Out are the virgin birth, all miracles and healings, the resurrection, and the forgiveness of sins. What remains is a secularized and humanized Jesus — a religious teacher whose teachings may still retain value — not the Christ of historic biblical Christianity.
This effort began with the emergence of Enlightenment thought and the elevation of human reason above divine revelation. Early figures such as Hermann S. Reimarus and David Friedrich Strauss argued that the early church had constructed a supernatural Christ as a figure of faith and creed who bore little resemblance to the simple figure of Jesus. The four canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were dismissed as contaminated with this supernatural bias.
Later, figures such as Albert Schweitzer criticized the “questers” for their lack of concrete results and their denial of the eschatological focus of Jesus’ teachings. Rudolf Bultmann, one of the paragons of liberal theology in the twentieth century, argued that relatively little could actually be known about the real, historical Jesus. He argued that the Bible and the Christian message must therefore be “demythologized” in order to find meaning that would relevant to the questions of modern human beings.
Shortly after Bultmann, a new series of “quests” for the historical Jesus emerged, beginning with Ernst Kasemann and continuing down to what has been recently known as the “Jesus Seminar.” This group of academics has once again attempted to “discover” an historical Jesus out of the gospels and other biblical materials. Using a system of colored beads, these self-appointed “experts” sought to determine which sayings of Jesus are authentic. The participants in the seminar voted with colored beads. A red bead indicated that the saying was probably authentic. Pink indicated that a saying was only possibly said by Jesus. Grey indicated serious doubt about a saying, and black was used to signal that a saying was almost surely not, in the participant’s opinion, an authentic statement of Jesus.
Unsurprisingly, there is very little red in the Jesus Seminar’s red-letter New Testament. As Albert Schweitzer noted over a century ago, those looking for a merely historical Jesus are like persons who are staring into a well, thinking that they have “discovered” an historical figure, but are in truth seeing only their own reflection.
Most Americans would probably be surprised to know that one of our founding fathers was involved in a similar quest — and for many of the same reasons. Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the Declaration of Independence and the nation’s third president, twice experimented with editing the New Testament in order to “liberate” Jesus from the supernatural beliefs of the early Christians.
As a matter of fact, his second experiment, known popularly as ‘The Jefferson Bible,” was Jefferson’s attempt to cut out all supernatural references in order to reveal the Jesus Jefferson preferred — a moral teacher, but not the Son of God.
In a letter to John Adams written in 1813, Jefferson described his effort: “In extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves. . . . We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led . . . . There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”
Jefferson also related just how he had gone about editing the Gospels: “I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.” In the end, Jefferson’s first effort resulted in a forty-six page cut-and-paste edition of his own making.
Almost two decades later, Jefferson would produce his final effort in this line, completing The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth by 1820. In a letter to his friend William Short, Jefferson again stated full confidence in his ability to extract the “real” Jesus from the Gospels: The difference is obvious to the eye and to the understanding, and we may read as we run to each his part; and I wil venture to affirm that he who, as I have done, will undertake to winnow this grain from the chaff, will find it not to require a moment’s consideration. The parts fall asunder of themselves, as would those of an image of metal and clay.”
Jefferson’s confidence in his ability to extract a “real” Jesus from the Gospels is supreme evidence of hubris and arrogance. As historian Jaroslav Pelikan noted, Jefferson “was apparently quite sure that he could tell what was genuine and what was not in the transmitted text of the New Testament.” In the end, Jefferson excised the miracles, all claims to Christ’s deity, and supernatural events such as Christ’s virgin conception, resurrection, atonement, and ascension.
Why would he do this? Jefferson rejected the teachings of orthodox Christianity, but he considered the moral teachings of Jesus to be the most elevated ethic the world had ever seen. His exact religious convictions are difficult to determine, since Jefferson insisted that his personal beliefs were not of public significance. Nevertheless, it is probably safest to assume that the younger Jefferson was a fairly radical deist, while the older Jefferson moved toward Unitarianism. What Jefferson’s writings do clearly reveal is what he did not believe — that Jesus was the Son of God.
Pelikan rightly explains that Jefferson saw the Apostle Paul as the great enemy, blaming Paul for transforming the simple Jesus into a supernatural redeemer. Jefferson’s Jesus is to be admired and followed, not worshipped. As the late Daniel J. Boorstin, a former Librarian of Congress, remarked, ‘“The Jeffersonian God . . . was not so much to be worshipped as to be imitated.” Jefferson believed that belief in some deity was required for the maintenance of morality, and he saw Jesus as the most insightful teacher of the morality Jefferson wanted to see maintained.
Erik Reece, author of the cover story in the current issue of Harper’s Magazine, applauds Jefferson’s effort. A lecturer in English at the University of Kentucky, Reece describes himself as a “lapsed son of a Southern Baptist preacher.” He suggests that, by removing all claims of deity and the Resurrection, “Jefferson portrayed an ordinary man with an extraordinary, though improbable, message.” Like Jefferson, Reece sees orthodox Christianity as a distortion of Jesus’ teachings.
Unlike Jefferson, Reece can find a presentation of Jesus more to his liking in the Gnostic documents discovered since 1945 — especially the so-called Gospel of Thomas. As Reece argues: “Like Jefferson’s gospel, Thomas’s ignores the virgin birth. Thomas’s Jesus never performs a miracle, never calls himself the Son of God, and never claims that he will have to die for the sins of humankind. Instead he tells parables, he issues instructions, and, most alarmingly, he locates the kingdom of God in that one place we might never look — right in front of us.” In sum, the Jesus presented by the Gospel of Thomas “is obviously no savior, certainly no messiah.” But the Gospel of Thomas is no authentic gospel. It was rejected by the early church as false and incompatible with true Christianity.
In the Gospel of Thomas Reece “was shocked to find a version of Christianity that I could accept.” No savior, no redemption, no supernatural Christ. As Reece explains his approach: “My main focus is to look at the actual teaching of the reformer we call Jesus, and not be burdened with sin, sacrifice and salvation . . . . I rather focus on his teachings in this world and relocate the kingdom of God, which raises ethical questions about how we can be good stewards in this life.”
The message Reece finds so acceptable is, as he describes the meaning of the Gospel of Thomas, “a realization on the part of each individual that he or she still possesses a divine light lodged within the heart, and that light can reveal the world to be a beautiful, undivided wholeness.”
Our postmodern age demands the deconstruction of every truth and the right of every individual to determine his or her own reality. Biblical Christianity is to be deconstructed even as each individual is liberated to construct whatever vision of Jesus the individual may find compatible with his or her own worldview and philosophy of life. Jefferson’s personal quest becomes a cultural mandate — edit your own gospel. Or, if you would rather, simply adopt one of the false gospels rejected by the Church and consider it your own Bible.
Erik Reece’s article is a reminder that Thomas Jefferson’s project is not over. It is now undertaken by those who would redefine Christianity in terms of a postmodern vision of an elevated and enlightened humanity. In one sense, Jefferson’s private project has gone mainstream — perfectly fitted for the spirit of this age.
True Christianity stands or falls on the historical veracity of the Gospels and the truthfulness of the entire biblical text. Without the foundation of biblical Christianity, we are left without any definitive understanding of who Jesus is and why He came to earth in human flesh. We would have no understanding of why Christ died or how our sins can be forgiven. Without the Resurrection we are, as Paul reminds, of all people most to be pitied.
We can accept no distinction between the “Jesus of History” and the “Christ of Faith.” They are one and the same — and Jesus is indeed, as Peter testified, “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Those who claim to “discover” a Jesus who is not the Christ may claim to do so in an attempt to rescue Jesus’ moral teachings from any claims of divinity, but in the end they do not find the real Jesus of history. Instead, they see only their own faces at the bottom of the well.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
The French positivist philosopher Auguste Comte once told Thomas Carlyle that he planned to start a new religion to replace Christianity. “Very good,” replied Carlyle. “All you have to do is be crucified, rise the third day, and get the world to believe you are still alive. Then your new religion will have a chance.”
The cross and the resurrection stand as the pivotal events at the heart of the Christian faith. Christianity stands or falls with the substitutionary atonement wrought by the death of the incarnate Son of God on the cross and the resurrection of the Son of God on the third day. If Christ did not die in our place, then we are still under the divine verdict. If Jesus was not raised, He was merely a victim, and not the Victor.
The church comes each year to this celebration of resurrection because we must constantly remind ourselves and the world of the resurrection hope, and of the reality of the risen Christ. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ must always remain a company of resurrection witnesses, speaking the Gospel of the cross and the risen Christ to a world desperate for genuine hope.
Yet, the world is not always ready to hear the challenging clarity of the Easter message. Words such as sin, guilt, redemption, atonement, and salvation are often seen as intrusive, impolite, and unsophisticated. Individuals who flee from the admission of their own sinfulness know that the word of the cross and the witness of the resurrected Lord come as judgment, as well as grace.
Some within the church have decided to help the Easter message conform to cultural expectations. David Jenkins, the former bishop of Durham (England) prompted an outcry in the Church of England over his suggestion that the resurrection was “real,” but not an historical fact. Christ’s resurrection was real, in the sense that the disciples experienced the “livingness” of Jesus. Nevertheless, says the bishop, the resurrection of Jesus was not a bodily resurrection.
Bishop Jenkins’ rejection of the biblical doctrine of the resurrection is, as is most often the case, nothing new. The resurrection has been a focal point of theological compromise throughout the history of the church, though some in the contemporary era seem determined to reach new depths of resurrection “redefinition.”
The modern flight from the reality of the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ is but another example of the revolt against classical Christian orthodoxy seen in some segments of the church. But the biblical message will not allow such compromise. The gospels record the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the appearance of the risen Christ to the disciples and to others.
Paul left no door open to misunderstanding when he stated: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17) If Christ was not raised “we are of all men to be pitied.” But, Paul proclaimed, Christ has been raised, the firstfruits of the resurrection of the believers.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the vindication of the Gospel and the eternal sign of the atonement accomplished on the cross. The resurrection was recognized by the disciples as God’s sign that Jesus was indeed the incarnate Son, that His messianic claims were true, that His preaching of the Kingdom of God would be realized, and that His sacrificial death was sufficient for the salvation of sinful humanity. The resurrection is also the sign of his return.
Furthermore, the Scriptures make clear the fact that Jesus’s resurrection is the promise of our own resurrection and the concrete hope of life beyond the grave. The reality of the resurrection prompted Paul’s triumphant cry: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
The church must never apologize for its celebration of the resurrection. Indeed, though Easter is celebrated as Resurrection Day, each Lord’s Day is a resurrection day, and each congregation is a body of believers united in the hope and witness of the resurrection.
The two great annual festival celebrations of the church provide for worship and witness. Churches must be faithful witnesses to the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and bold to speak the truth of His resurrection as both judgment and sufficient hope.
Carlyle was right. The unprecedented and objective historical events of the cross and resurrection stand in judgment against all human pretensions and against religion as mere religion. He is Risen! He is Risen indeed.
The foolishness of the cross underlines the scandalous nature of the Christian ministry. In 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, the apostle Paul reminds us of the fact that the Christian ministry is a scandalous business. It always has been and it always will be. If you are looking for a non-scandalous life, if you hope to preach a non-scandalous message, then the Christian ministry is the wrong place for you. You have heard the wrong call. In this particular passage, Paul’s great theme is the foolishness of the word of the Cross. Paul’s language is familiar to us because we have read and heard these words so many times. In fact, we have probably become too familiar with them, because what Paul says here, as the Corinthians would have heard it, is a revolutionary message, a counterintuitive message, a counter-cultural message, and in all probability, the Corinthians were not quite prepared to hear this. For what Paul says is that the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God.
Rhetorically, Paul is up to something here. Martin Hengel is no doubt right when he suggests that the word translated in English here as foolishness, might be more properly understood as something like madness or insanity. The word of the cross, the very substance of the Christian gospel, is absolute madness to those who are perishing. It is irrationality. It is insanity. It makes no sense whatsoever. It is not just that this message is a little off balance; it is not simply that it is in need of a bit of polishing. It is sheer madness. And yet this message of the cross, for all its foolishness, is the very essence of our identity. This is who we are. It may be foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.
In verse 19, Paul reaches back to Isaiah 29:14, where the Lord says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” This indictment of human pretentious wisdom or human pretentious intelligence is crucial for us in this age of information.
What kind of wisdom are we looking for? What kind of wisdom should we represent? What kind of wisdom are we teaching? It is not the wisdom of the scoffer, nor the wisdom of the wise man. It is not the wisdom of the scribe or the debater of this age, nor the wisdom of the professional intellectual. It is the wisdom of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is but one wisdom, for the Lord says He will destroy all other wisdom, all other artificial, creative, pretentious, humanistic wisdom. “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” One of the most dangerous and besetting sins that can fall upon a Christian is the belief that he or she is clever. Cleverness is a danger. Cleverness is a trap which can lead us to re-translate the cross into something a little less offensive, a little more sophisticated, and thus rob it of its power.
In verse 20, it is as if the apostle Paul is looking around the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and saying, “Where are they—the intellectual, the cultural elite, the wise man, the scribe, the debater of this age?” They are not here. And why? Because God has made foolish the wisdom of the world.
In verse 21, the apostle explains, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” We read these words, and yet as we look around the world, it does not much look like this has happened. In all honesty, it does not yet look like God has made foolish the wisdom of the world, or at least the world does not think so. The fact is, the wise men of the world are not lined up outside our churches to apologize. No one is saying, “We were so wrong—how did we miss all of that?” What Paul gives us here is a word of faith, and yet it is not merely an eschatological promise. Of course it is that, but it is also a present reality, because we must have the gospel audacity to affirm that from inside the arena of faith—to those who are in Christ Jesus—the wisdom of the world does look foolish.
This is also a process of what we might call intellectual sanctification. Over time, as we come out of the world and into the church, we are increasingly and embarrassingly aware of just how foolish our previous thoughts really were. How could we have bought that? How could that have looked so enticing, so exciting?
In verse 21, Paul reminds us of an essential gospel understanding: God did not save the world through its own wisdom. It was not through cleverness or wisdom or intelligence that anyone has come to Christ, including any of us. It is often tempting to think that we were simply smart enough to understand this gospel. When the gospel was preached, we were intelligent enough to grasp it, smart enough to recognize it for what it was. As tempting as such thoughts may be, however, none of us came to the gospel by intelligence. We came because of God’s power working in “the foolishness of the message preached.”
Look a bit more closely at verse 21: “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” Many a bad sermon has been launched from a mistranslation of this verse. The King James Version translates the verse to say “the foolishness of preaching.” But it is not the act of preaching that is said to be foolish. It is the message of what is preached. It is the preached Word, the preached gospel that is foolishness. God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached—that is, the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ—to save those who believe. This is what is well pleasing to God.
There is no “gifted program” in heaven. There is no fast track. There is no special education class. When we get to heaven, we will have a perfected knowledge. We will no longer see through a glass darkly, but once glorified, we shall see Him face to face. But until then, we have to recognize that God uses intelligence, God uses wisdom, but only the intelligence that He would sanctify and only the wisdom He would give. It is a counter-intuitive wisdom—a wisdom that runs entirely counter to the wisdom of the age.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 1, Paul argues that God’s purposes in the world are accomplished “through the foolishness of the message preached.” The message that the cross of Jesus Christ saves those who believe—this is what is well-pleasing to God. There is no “gifted program” in heaven. There is no fast track. There is no special education class. When we get to heaven, we will have a perfected knowledge. We will no longer see though a glass darkly, but once glorified, we shall see him face to face. But until then, we have to recognize that God uses intelligence and wisdom, but only the intelligence that He has sanctified, and only the wisdom He himself gives. It is a counter-intuitive wisdom—a wisdom that runs entirely counter to the wisdom of the age.
Paul sets all this in his own historical context in verse 22, “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness.” We must look at this sympathetically. First of all, from the perspective of the Jewish mind, the cross was not the answer to their theological equation. They did not see what we can see, and in humility we must admit that we are looking with 20/20 revelation hindsight. We do not read Isaiah without already having read the gospel of John. We must understand that what we now clearly see, they did not understand.
In John chapter 6, after the feeding of the 5000, the crowd comes to Jesus and demands that He give them signs. In response, Jesus tells them there would be no signs, because they were all looking for the wrong kind of sign. According to their own messianic expectations, the Jewish people were looking for One who would come in power, One who would come in glory, One who would make Rome tremble—not one who would die upon a cross.
Similarly, the Greeks were searching for wisdom—but again, it was not the wisdom manifested in the cross of Christ. For most in our culture, it is this Greek pattern of thought that is the major stumbling block. So far as the sophisticates and the philosophers of our age are concerned, the cross is foolishness. It is madness. What kind of sophisticated philosophy of life is this? Compared to Socrates and Aristotle, where is the ethos, the sophisticated intellectual structure of this message of the cross? Besides, Socrates had world famous disciples, including Plato. Even Aristotle was a tutor to Alexander the Great. But who followed Jesus? Fishermen, almost assuredly illiterate ones. Surely, they thought, this message of a cross is simply ridiculous.
And yet it is not only Corinth in the first century, but also America in the post-modern age which thinks in such terms. A stumbling block and foolishness—to so many, even today, that is all the Gospel of Jesus Christ represents. But in verse 24, Paul says, “But to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
It is not only the foolishness of the word of the cross Paul proclaims, but also the witness of the church: “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
Have you ever considered the fact that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a witness to the power of the gospel? For what but the gospel could explain how we got here? What but the gospel can explain who we are? The church is a witness, and it is so in a very strange way. According to worldly wisdom, if you want to do something great, if you want to transform the world, you go after the “A” list. You go after the rich and the powerful and the beautiful. You go after those with social status and standing. You go after people who have a constituency—a following. You go after celebrities.
And yet Paul proclaims here that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not the fellowship of the rich, powerful and beautiful. It is not a convention of the celebrities of the age. Consider what Paul says in verse 26: “Consider your calling, brethren.” Similarly in verse 24, he says, “But to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” And back in verse 2, he says, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling.” Here is the doctrine of the effectual call, and it is so important for our understanding of the church, as well as of the gospel. We are the ones whom God has called. We didn’t bring ourselves here. We didn’t see a recruiting poster and sign up. We were called. And to those who are the called, brethren, consider your calling. There were not many wise, mighty, and noble. Not here. Not in the church.
In the Greco-Roman world, beauty, brains, and brawn were considered the ways to success. It is still pretty much that way today. It is interesting here that we have a clear reference from the apostle Paul back to the Old Testament, to Jeremiah, chapter 9, verse 23-24: “Thus says the Lord, let not a wise man boast of his wisdom and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
Jeremiah’s trio here is the wise, the mighty, and the wealthy. Paul’s trio is the wise, the mighty, and the noble. In Roman culture, nobility was virtually everything, even more than wealth. In fact, there were those who were able through their expertise or skill or craftsmanship to amass money, but they could not buy status. They could not get on the inside or buy a name. They could not buy a family heritage. Of course, this is still very important. We still have our dynasties. We still have names. Heredity still counts for something. An yet Paul says here, “As I look around at the church, I don’t see many who are the wise, according to the flesh. I don’t see many who are powerful, not many who are noble.” And why? Because God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God calls the church and then says to the world, “Look at that,” and for all its wisdom, might, wealth, and nobility, the world is shamed.
Of course, understanding this truth rightly does take an eschatological vision. We look forward to that day of judgment when the mighty will be told that they are not mighty after all. Those who consider themselves wise will see the emptiness of their false wisdom, and those who were noble will discover that there is no social status in heaven. God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God has chosen the base things of the world, and even the despised things of the world, and even things that are not, in order to shame the things that are.
In verse 29, the reason for all this is made clear: God chooses the weak to shame the strong “so that no man may boast before God.” This boasting was at least a part of the factional sin and conflict in the Corinthian church. When they said, “I am of Paul,” “I am of Cephas,” “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Christ,” they were boasting in their brand name, in their team colors. Paul retorts that you really cannot boast in anything but the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. You can boast only in God. You can boast only in that which undercuts any human boasting all together.
The word boasting that is used here is unusual. In the Greek world, there are some who suggest that it should be more understood as trust, rather than as boasting in the traditional way we think of it in our English parlance. Actually, it probably means both of these. And in either case, if we boast in ourselves, that is sin, and it is obvious nonsense. But to boast in God, on the other hand, is altogether different. “Let not the rich man boast in his riches,” Jeremiah said. “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom. Let not the mighty man boast in his might, but let us boast in the one true and living God.”
The church is not the “A” list. We are not here by clique, by elite, or by hierarchy. We are not the beautiful people, the philosopher kings, the titans of industry, or the cultural elite. The Forbes list? Not here. People Magazine doesn’t have a weekly column on the church. No, God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.
Every person will be one kind of fool or the other. We are going to be one variety of fool—the fool who rejects the knowledge of God—or the other kind of fool, who is foolish before the world because of allegiance to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Which is better? To bear the scorn of the world as a fool and to know the wisdom of the cross, or to embrace worldly wisdom and be shown to be a fool on the day when every act and deed and thought will be revealed and all things will be made known to all?
We will be one kind of fool or another. That is a liberating knowledge, because most of us would like to look foolish only when necessary, and hopefully not at all. Paul seems to think that this foolishness is right at the heart of the Christian gospel, that this is not just some episodic experience of occasional embarrassment, but rather the constant ongoing foolishness of those who will not be deterred from preaching the message of the cross. We need to hear this. God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. He has chosen us in order to shame the powerful. He has chosen fools for Christ’s sake out of those who are fools in the world.
In verses 30 and 31, there is a final theme. Here is where boasting in the Lord is made clear. As we are reminded, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” By His doing. We need to know that. It is His doing. It is not our doing. God is the actor. We are not merely passive participants, but we are the ones who are the called. It is God’s doing. He didn’t submit the plan of the cross to us for our ratification. He did it. In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son. It was God’s doing. It was God’s doing in the beginning, God’s doing in the middle, God’s doing in the end—it was His doing. By His doing, you are in Christ Jesus.
For Paul, this understanding of the mystical union of the believer in Christ is so important. We are in Christ Jesus by His doing. By our redemption we are in Christ Jesus. And who is He? This is Christ Jesus who became to us, and who is wisdom from God. He is not wisdom as the world would understand wisdom, not wisdom as the sophisticates would expect, not wisdom as handed down from the elite universities in the ivory tower, but wisdom that is handed down from heaven—the logos of God—the one who was the Lamb born to die. He has become our wisdom, and that wisdom is demonstrated in three very profound realities.
First, our righteousness. It is the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to the believer. He has become unto us righteousness. Second, sanctification, which is work that Christ is even now doing within us to call us unto holiness, to transform us, to call us into obedience to the Word and to conform us to His image. Third, redemption. And all of this is in the cross. We are redeemed, we are saved, we have escaped the wrath that is to come by the redemption that is His wisdom.
All this adds up to an affirmation of the scandalous nature of the Christian ministry. This is a message of irreducible wisdom and tremendous urgency to those who will be ministers of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to be agents of scandal. The foolishness of the cross means that the ministry is essentially and irreducibly scandalous, and there is nothing we can do about that. There is nothing that we should try to do about that. We can’t manage scandal. We must bear it. The cross of Christ stands at the center of our ministry.
Paul was concerned not only with the church at Corinth, but with the church throughout the world and throughout the ages. This is a crucial insight for understanding the Christian ministry, and for understanding its temptations. Not long after the apostle Paul wrote this, Celsus, an early enemy of the church argued that if you look at the church, you will notice that they are not attracting the smartest people, nor the noble, nor the mighty. The philosophers aren’t becoming Christians, he said, and that should tell us everything we need to know.
Fast forward to Friedrich Nietzsche. His disdain for Christianity was directed at two things. First, the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and second, the church. Look at whom they worship, Nietzsche said. Look at this God whom they worship. How foolish and imbecilic to follow one who died, and then to claim that that death is victory! There is foolishness and there is foolishness, Nietzsche argued. There is madness and there is madness, but to call death victory is the ultimate madness of all. This is a pathetic deity and he is followed by a pathetic people.
The temptation comes to us to think that perhaps we can undo some of this. Perhaps we can negotiate some of this and come up with a formula for reducing the shame and removing the scandal. Friedrich Schleiermacher subtitled his seminal work on religion as Lectures to the Cultured Despisers of Religion. I think that we can understand the apologetic impulse behind what Schleiermacher was trying to do. He wasn’t trying to eviscerate Christianity—he was trying to save it. He wasn’t trying to replace Christianity with something else—he was just trying to update Christianity so that it would make sense in a post-Enlightenment world. And yet, what Schleiermacher did was to rob the cross of Christ of its power. He said to the culture despisers of religion, You know, it looks pretty messy, but we can make it less messy. These doctrines are pretty rough, but we can sand them down. This whole system of revealed truth is pretty demanding, but we can lessen the demand. You can still be cultured and not have to despise the cross. And yet, that move ends in theological tragedy—the abandonment of Christianity—all in the name of removing the reason for the despising.
For the called, it is very different. We must bear the scorn, the dishonor, the scandal. If you are unwilling to bear this scandal for the rest of your earthly lives, if this is not what you think you signed up for, then go home. Paul was called an idle babbler in Acts 17:18, and he was called worse, and he was treated worse. If you do what God has called you to do, you are going to be called worse and treated worse, too. We can address ourselves to the cultured despisers of religion, or we can preach the gospel. We cannot do both. We can negotiate the faith or we can proclaim the faith. Those are the choices. We can try to maneuver our way through doctrine or we can simply teach the faith once for all delivered to the saints. That is our choice.
If you go to Wittenberg, that great seat of the Lutheran Reformation, and you go into the Wittenberg church, you will see one of the greatest pieces of art of the Reformation—the altar piece in the Wittenberg Cathedral. Looking at that altar piece you will see three different panels. But the central panel, when it is all closed, visible to the congregation at virtually all times, you see a beautiful painting of Luther preaching. On the far right of the panel, Luther in his pulpit preaching, and he looks like Luther in full Lutheran mode: Arms out, mouth open. On the other side, the far left, there is the congregation. What is fascinating is to see how the artist painted them with such eagerness to hear. They are leaning forward over the rail. They are inclining their ears. They are wide-eyed and alert. And in the middle between Luther and the congregation there is a cross, and on that cross there is a depiction of Christ. Luther is dressed up. He is in his teacher’s robe. The people are in their congregational finery and the cross is there in its crudity and (humanly speaking) in its ugliness.
The artist explained that he painted the work in that way because of Luther’s doctrine of the preaching of the cross, which, I believe was Paul’s doctrine of the preaching of the cross. The preacher of the gospel is to preach the Word so that what becomes evident to the congregation is the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to present it just as it was and just as it is and let it just be there, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Brothers, if you preach such a message, you will be scandalous. If you teach and hold to such a gospel, you will be come a scandal to the world. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong. God has chosen the things that are not so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. By His doing, we are in Christ Jesus, who has become to us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
JERUSALEM — Archaeologists and clergymen in the Holy Land derided claims in a new documentary produced by the Oscar-winning director James Cameron that contradict major Christian tenets.
“The Lost Tomb of Christ,” which the Discovery Channel will run on March 4, argues that 10 ancient ossuaries — small caskets used to store bones — discovered in a suburb of Jerusalem in 1980 may have contained the bones of Jesus and his family, according to a press release issued by the Discovery Channel.
One of the caskets even bears the title, “Judah, son of Jesus,” hinting that Jesus may have had a son. And the very fact that Jesus had an ossuary would contradict the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven. [KH: why would Jesus use his betrayer’s name?]
Speakout: Do you think it’s possible that James Cameron discovered the skeleton of Jesus?
Most Christians believe Jesus’ body spent three days at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City. The burial site identified in Cameron’s documentary is in a southern Jerusalem neighborhood nowhere near the church.
In 1996, when the BBC aired a short documentary on the same subject, archaeologists challenged the claims. Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television.
“They just want to get money for it,” Kloner said.
The claims have raised the ire of Christian leaders in the Holy Land.
“The historical, religious and archaeological evidence show that the place where Christ was buried is the Church of the Resurrection,” said Attallah Hana, a Greek Orthodox clergyman in Jerusalem. The documentary, he said, “contradicts the religious principles and the historic and spiritual principles that we hold tightly to.”
Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem who was interviewed in the documentary, said the film’s hypothesis holds little weight.
“I don’t think that Christians are going to buy into this,” Pfann said. “But skeptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear.”
“How possible is it?” Pfann said. “On a scale of one through 10 — 10 being completely possible — it’s probably a one, maybe a one and a half.”
Pfann is even unsure that the name “Jesus” on the caskets was read correctly. He thinks it’s more likely the name “Hanun.”
Kloner also said the filmmakers’ assertions are false.
“It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave,” Kloner said. “The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time.”
Archaeologists also balk at the filmmaker’s claim that the James Ossuary — the center of a famous antiquities fraud in Israel — might have originated from the same cave. In 2005, Israel charged five suspects with forgery in connection with the infamous bone box.
“I don’t think the James Ossuary came from the same cave,” said Dan Bahat, an archaeologist at Bar-Ilan University. “If it were found there, the man who made the forgery would have taken something better. He would have taken Jesus.”
Although the documentary makers claim to have found the tomb of Jesus, the British Broadcasting Corporation beat them to the punch by 11 years.
Osnat Goaz, a spokeswoman for the Israeli government agency responsible for archaeology, declined to comment before the documentary was aired.
WASHINGTON – Less than a year after debates raged over National Geographic’s “Gospel of Judas,” another archeological finding is being lifted as “evidence” to challenge traditional Christian beliefs on the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The new documentary by Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron and Emmy-winning documentarian Simcha Jacobovici claims that Jesus Christ is the husband of Mary Magdalene and the father of their son Judah based on ossuaries found in Israel with names etched on them.
Christian theologians, however, have quickly voiced their opposition to the documentary’s assertions, dismissing it as sensationalism without strong scientific evidence.
“You are talking about a tomb that was discovered well over two decades ago,” said Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on CNN’s Larry King Live Monday night.
The ossuaries were unearthed in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot in 1980.
“You are talking about frankly trying to dress up an old documentary, the BBC did something like this over a decade ago, with this kind of supposed statistical research and DNA testing.”
Mohler criticized the new DNA evidence offered by the documentary’s creators for its failure to make sense when compared to what the filmmakers claim it proves.
The SBTS president argued that the creators cannot justify the conclusion that the people in the Mary Magdalene and Jesus tombs are married just because DNA testing indicates that they are not blood-related. Mohler also contends that there is no DNA evidence to prove that the bones were of Jesus.
Meanwhile, Dr. George Guthrie, the Benjamin W. Perry professor of Bible and the chairman of the department of Christian Studies at Union University, queried why the Apostle James and Jesus’ other family members did not know of this family tomb.
“As believers, his family members confess the resurrected Jesus,” said Guthrie, in a statement. “No opponent of Christianity points to the tomb. No followers of Jesus revere the tomb. There is no evidence – beyond the circumstantial evidence of exceedingly common names – that point to this as being the tomb of Jesus’ family.”
Other scholars expressed the peculiarity of the tomb considering Jesus’ background.
“You’re talking about a poor, peasant family from Nazareth with an ancestral heritage in Bethlehem. There’s no logical reason why their bones should end up in a middle class tomb in Jerusalem,” highlighted Mohler.
Dr. Paul Rainbow of the North American Baptist Seminary also remarked during an interview with The Christian Post that the tomb’s location in Jerusalem counters where experts have long-held the tomb of Jesus to be located.
“In a word, the argument that we have ‘found’ the family tomb of Jesus is an argument interested more in media attention than serious scholarship,” concluded Dr. Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College to The Christian Post. “When the professional archaeologists of Jerusalem independently validate such a finding, then we should take note.”
WASHINGTON – Prominent non-Christian experts, using many of the same arguments as Christian scholars, have dismissed recent claims of the discovery of Jesus’ family tomb as a publicity stunt without scientific backing.
In the new documentary, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” award-winning film makers James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici provide a seemingly compelling argument that ossuaries (boxes used to contain human bones) with inscriptions of “Jesus son of Joseph,” “Judah son of Jesus,” Mary Magdalene, and Matthew are part of the family tomb of Jesus Christ.
The film’s claims, if true, could challenge some Christians’ belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Yet leading secular archaeologists, without a religious motivation, are giving the same arguments as Christian scholars why the film’s claims are false.
One of the first heard arguments from the Christian arena was that the names etched on the ossuaries are extremely common place.
For example, the name Mary was the most popular female name during that time and place, while the name “Jesus” was popular in the first century and appeared in 98 other tombs and on 21 other ossuaries, according to Dr. Ben Witherington, New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary.
A retired archaeology professor at the University of Arizona has also emphasized the commonness of the names found on the ossuaries as reason not to take the purported new discovery serious.
“I’ve know about these ossuaries for many years and so have many other archaeologists, and none of us thought it was much of a story,” said William G. Dever to The Washington Post, “and none of us thought it was much of a story, because these are rather common Jewish names from that period,” he said.
Dever has worked on ancient sites in Israel for 50 years and is regarded by many as the leader of biblical archaeology among U.S. scholars.
“It’s a publicity stunt, and it will make these guys very rich,” he added, “and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don’t know enough to separate fact from fiction.”
Another archaeologist – Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – questioned why Jesus, who is known to come from a poor family, would be found in a tomb for middle class and wealthy families.
Moreover, she noted that if for some reason his family could afford the tomb, his bones should be found in Nazareth not Jerusalem, according to the Washington Post.
What Magness found illogical about the Jesus tomb claim echoes what Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on CNN’s Larry King Live Monday night.
“You’re talking about a poor, peasant family from Nazareth with an ancestral heritage in Bethlehem,’ said Mohler. “There’s no logical reason why their bones should end up in a middle class tomb in Jerusalem.”
Magness also said the vast majority of archaeological scholars specializing in the time period have “flatly rejected” the idea that the tomb found in Talipot, Israel, could be Jesus’ family tomb.
“This whole case [for the tomb of Jesus] is flawed from beginning to end.”
Other arguments given by leading biblical scholars opposed to the film’s claims include that the earliest followers of Jesus did not call him “Jesus, son of Joseph” and the body of James, the brother of Jesus, was buried alone near the temple mount - making it highly unlikely that the tomb in the film is Jesus’ “family tomb.”
“In light of all the incredible number of problems with the recent claim that Jesus’ grave has been found, the time-honored, multi-faceted evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus is more convincing than ever,” said Dr. Gary Habermas, an expert on the resurrection of Jesus at Liberty University and author of The Case for the Resurrection, in a statement.
“Even the early opponents of the Christian message acknowledged that Jesus’ tomb was empty. And the evidence for Jesus’ bodily resurrection appearances has never been refuted.”
Director James Cameron’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning Titanic was a documentary about the wreckage of the doomed ship. The film contained so many shots of Cameron in a deep-sea submersible that one critic named him “Captain Nemo.”
Well, Captain Nemo has surfaced again.
In an upcoming Discovery Channel special, Cameron claims to have found an ossuary containing the bones of Jesus. How does he know? Through a combination of Sesame Street and The Da Vinci Code.
The ossuary is inscribed “Joshua, son of Joseph”—names that are not exactly rare among first-century Jewish males. So Cameron also points out the nearby ossuaries bearing names of people associated with Jesus—most importantly, “Mary,” as in “Magdalene.”
Actually, it doesn’t say “Mary” but “Mariamne,” which—according to some people—was what other people called the Magdalene. This is good enough for Cameron, who considers it natural that Jesus would be buried alongside his so-called “wife.”
See what I mean about The Da Vinci Code? If you do, you are not alone. Archaeologist Amos Kloner, who “did extensive work and research on this very tomb and its ossuaries” ten years ago, said “it’s a beautiful story but without any proof whatsoever . . . “ Lawrence Steigler of Harvard told National Public Radio that Cameron’s claim “sounds rather preposterous.”
When even Harvard and NPR call your bit of revisionism “preposterous,” you know that you are way out on a limb. Then again, Cameron is far from the first person to dash his credibility to pieces against the stone that was rolled away that first Easter.
Like others, his ultimate explanation for what happened that Sunday morning is a cover-up. Like others, he has no explanation for why the Apostles would be willing to die for what they presumably knew to be a lie. I know a thing or two about cover-ups and conspiracies: No conspirator willingly dies for what he knows to be untrue—or, in the case of Watergate, even go to jail. The closest men around the president of the United States testified against him to save their own skins. You’re going to tell me the Apostles maintained their story at the cost of their lives? Impossible.
What’s worse than Cameron’s “preposterous” claims is the credulous reaction of the media.
At the website Get Religion (which analyzes the media’s coverage of religion), Daniel Pulliam put it this way: Many “news organizations [are] reporting [Cameron’s] words as gospel truth.” He’s right. A headline in the New York Times’s blog read “Raising the Titanic, Sinking Christianity?” Time followed, proclaiming that “this time, the ship [Cameron’s] sinking is Christianity.”
While Newsweek magazine did manage to quote Cameron’s critics, as Pulliam pointed out, “their words [were treated] as equal to that” of the moviemaker—who, by the way, admits he’s not a “theologist or an archaeologist,” just a filmmaker.
Pulliam is right when he says that “at this point” the coverage of this story “is an embarrassment to reporters.” And they wonder why they are held in low esteem among believers?
Stories like this and the fuss over the “Gospel of Judas” are slickly packaged revisionism. After the revisionism has been shredded, the only thing sinking beneath the waves is the media’s credibility.
A new DVD documenting evidence for the Christ’s resurrection was recently released by Grizzly Adams Productions, a corporation that releases family-friendly films, television series and specials.
In the production, called The Case for Christ’s Resurrection, experts will explain new discoveries that will substantiate the claims that Jesus resurrected from the grave nearly 2,000 years ago. Among the many methods, the specialists looked at the past historical record, explored current medical knowledge, investigated evidence in the lives of the Apostles, and researched about ancient Jewish burial practices to establish their claims.
The film is in stark contrast to The Lost Tomb of Jesus, a documentary by Jewish archaeologist Simcha Jacobovici that claims the discovery of Jesus’ body as well as a wife (Mary Magdalene) and son (Judah), which received a barrage of criticism after its release. While The Case for Christ’s Resurrection is using the same kinds of research as Jacobovici’s film, it has been much more overlooked.
“The news media is irresponsible for not covering both sides of the resurrection story,” noted Bill Wilson, editor and publisher of the Daily Jot, in a commentary piece. “The hype that Christianity is false plays into the hands of a biased and secular media that seeks daily to discredit people of the Christian faith.”
The pro-resurrection film attempts to use scientific inquiry, which is often seen as completely unlinked to religion, to prove Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Some of the methods include carbon dating and forensics.
“There is growing proof that the events depicted in the Gospel accounts are true, with more evidence being revealed regularly, thanks to modern research, analysis and scientific advances,” noted Dr. Gary Habermas, research professor and chair of the department of theology at Liberty University, in a statement. “Science, combined with written descriptions, by non-Christians, of the events of Jesus’ life and death, make it clear that Christian beliefs are grounded in fact.”
The film also contends that Jesus was seen by numerous people, Christian and non-Christian, following his death.
“There were at least 500 eyewitnesses in and around Jerusalem who actually saw or talked with Jesus after his resurrection,” explained senior producer David Balsiger in a statement. “Beyond the Bible, there are more than 20 non-Christian sources written between 30 and 130 A.D. that refer to Jesus of Nazareth as a historical figure. Twelve mention his death and provide details on how he died. Ten of these refer to his resurrection.”
In addition to Christ’s resurrection, the documentary will also examine the Shroud of Turin, the believed burial cloth of Christ.
From it, the filmmakers have even created a 3-D holographic image of Jesus’ face. Authentic 3-D viewing glasses will be included with the DVD.
Wilson added in his commentary, “Instead of giving credence to a 2,000 year-old box of bones that bear the most common names of the time, the news media ought to focus on the results of true scientific and historic research that gives proof that their souls are in need of salvation.”
By John J. Miller
Apparently moviemaker James Cameron wishes he had obtained the film rights to The Da Vinci Code.
What else could explain his association with The Lost Tomb of Jesus? This much-hyped show makes a series of provocative claims about the Christian messiah and his kin: Jesus was betrothed to Mary Magdalene, they had a son named Judah, DNA testing of their remains proves it, and so on.
Yawn. Haven’t we read this novel?
As the mastermind behind Hollywood blockbusters such as The Terminator and Titanic, Cameron knows a catchy story when he sees one. For The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which debuts on the Discovery Channel this Sunday at 9:00 P.M., he’s credited as an executive producer.
“I think it’s the biggest archaeological story of the century,” Cameron has said of this current project. “It’s absolutely not a publicity stunt.”
No, of course not. That’s why its wild assertions are scheduled for unveiling on a breathless television program rather than in a scholarly journal. We all know that genuine publicity hounds would risk eternal hellfire for the chance to submit an academic paper to a low-circulation quarterly that’s peer reviewed by professional archaeologists and scientists. Television is for losers, right?
Cameron and his director, Simcha Jacobovici, describe The Lost Tomb of Jesus as a documentary. But it’s not. It’s a “documentary” — just as Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 is a “documentary” on the Bush administration. They both actually fall into the genre of conspiratorial advocacy.
At the crux of the program is the assertion that a tomb discovered in Jerusalem in 1980 and reopened only recently contained a group of intriguing ossuaries — i.e., limestone coffins that were popular burial devices two millennia ago. Their chiseled exteriors bear names such as Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. In an inadvertently hilarious segment, the show hauls out a Canadian statistics professor who scribbles numbers on a chalkboard and proclaims that the odds are precisely 600 to 1 that this confluence of names in a single tomb means that Team Cameron has unearthed the final resting place of the holy family.
Yet the filmmakers’ methods are highly questionable. Harvard’s Frank Moore Cross, for instance, makes several on-screen appearances, mostly to read the inscriptions on the ossuaries. The presence of Cross, a distinguished scholar at a top-notch university, is meant to provide intellectual heft to the program. Yet Jacobovici merely has him read the words on the ossuaries. As it happens, nobody denies that they carry these names. But are they actually the ossuaries of the son of God and his earthly parents? Jacobovici doesn’t get around to asking Cross, this eminent professor, for an opinion.
So I did. Here’s how Cross replied in an e-mail:
I am skeptical about Jacobovici’s claims, not because of a faulty reading of the ossuary which reads yeshua’ bar yosep [Jesus son of Joseph] I believe, but because the onomasticon [list of proper names] in his period in Jerusalem is exceedingly narrow. Patriarchal names and biblical names repeat ad nauseam. It has been reckoned that 25% of feminine names in this period were Maria/Miryam, etc., that is variants of Mary. So the cited statistics are unpersuasive. You know the saying: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
For some reason, Cross doesn’t have a chance to say this on camera.
The Lost Tomb of Jesus runs perilously close to Erich von Daniken territory — no prehistoric astronauts, but definitely a flight of fancy. It runs for 90 minutes (with commercials stretching it to two hours). Views that dissent from its relentlessly uncritical presentation of a madly speculative theory — which is to say, the opinions of Cross and virtually every mainstream Biblical scholar who has examined the film’s central contentions — receive almost no air time.
The show tries to dress up its half-cocked conjectures with clips of archaeologists using Q-tips and paint brushes to flick debris from ancient ossuaries. These scenes, which are supposed to convey a sense of authenticity, were almost certainly faked. There’s also a heavyhanded appeal to modern feminism: a reference to how the “male-dominated church” has suppressed the true story of Jesus and his lady love, Mary Magdalene.
Say what you will about Dan Brown, who certainly volunteered a few thoughts about woman-hating Catholics in The Da Vinci Code. At least bookstores continue to stock his novel on their fiction shelves.
Yet The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Tomb of Jesus approach the traditional Christian narrative in essentially the same way: They expose it to a severe, Torquemada-like scrutiny and then propose to replace Western civilization’s foundational story with a newfangled alternative that’s based on a flamboyantly credulous reading of a few cherry-picked Gnostic texts.
It doesn’t take a religious skeptic to understand what this requires: A gigantic leap of faith.
My advice to James Cameron is to quit documentaries and go back to what he does best, which is to make hugely entertaining movies such as True Lies. It turns out that most lies, even when they’re presented as the gospel truth, are in fact false.
By Frank Pastore
I’m assuming you’ve already heard all about Da Vinci Code II? Only this time it isn’t Dan Brown, Tom Hanks, Ron Howard and Sony Pictures that are responsible for the predictable just-in-time-for-Easter-Jesus-isn’t-really-divine tale that comes every year at the beginning of Spring Training. The networks always run the specials and the tabloids always put it on the covers. It’s the requisite hit piece on Christianity that we’ve all grown accustomed to. No, this year, the respon-sibility has fallen to James Cameron of Titanic fame with his The Lost Tomb of Jesus.
Poor James Cameron. He wanted some of that Da Vinci Code action so badly that he jumped on a 27 year old story line that everyone else in Hollywood had wisely passed on. He ignored so many early warning signs, too. When he was hav-ing trouble early on finding A, B, or even C list “scientific experts” who were willing to throw their careers away if they would only validate his silly theories – and they all continued saying no – he didn’t let that slow him down one bit. He pressed on and signed the minor league guys. And later, when the best he could come up with for his advance publicity hook was to claim statistically similar names and unrelated DNA samples – He still didn’t pull the plug – even though any-one who has ever seen just one episode of CSI is sharp enough to spit out the bait. More astute critics simply repeated what the original archeologist on the scene had pointed out: that a poor family from Bethlehem could never afford a mid-dle-class tomb in which to place the ossuaries in Jerusalem, especially during a famine, and that the names on the boxes were far too common to jump to any conclusions about having found The Jesus Family Tomb.
Well, where fools rush in…
So Cameron has lost all credibility, you don’t respect him, and you think it’s somewhat sad, right? Don’t be. He and the Discovery Channel are laughing all the way to the bank. This was never about “discovering” anything, it was about “sell-ing” something.
He doesn’t care what you think, and apparently neither does the Discovery Channel.
Shame on you if you ever trust the Discovery Channel to teach your kids anything ever again.
The whole channel needs a disclaimer: “Caution: the events you are about to see are fictional and are of no scientific or historical value. This broadcast is solely for the financial interests of our owners. Please be entertained just long enough to watch all the commercials during the breaks so that our revenue stream will remain strong. We are not responsible for any grade given by any educational institution to any paper or essay anyone is foolish enough to write based upon our broadcasts. We are not a legitimate academic source. We exist solely for the entertainment of our audience as long as it makes us money – we will tell you anything as long as you buy the products and services of our sponsors. View us at your own risk.”
Things you’d have to believe to believe James Cameron.
1. Jesus didn’t die on the cross. The entire Roman cohort, knowing the penalty for bungling an execution was exe-cution, conspired together to only pretend Jesus had died on the cross. Rather than being convinced that Jesus had al-ready died when they chose not to break His legs as He hung on the cross (Jn 19:31-33), the real reason was to ensure that He would be healthy enough to escape from their custody later on. The real trick was getting just the right mixture of blood and water to pour from His side when He was pierced in the ribcage with that spear while everyone was watch-ing, since only a corpse can produce such separated blood and pericardial fluid (Jn 19:34-37). After the scourging, the nails in His hands and feet, the hours on the cross, and the spear in the side, they allowed His limp but alive body to be taken down by his followers, wrapped in 100 pounds of embalming sheets and goo (Jn 19:38-42), and taken away to the tomb. All the while, every single Roman guard on duty was risking his own life to save the life of this lowly Jew. Not a single Roman guard ever revealed the secret to their families – or at least we have no record of them doing so.
2. Jesus escaped from the tomb. After the real scourging but the faux-crucifixion, Jesus was laid to rest – literally – in the tomb, under the authority of an official Roman seal and guarded by elite Roman troops. The guards, knowing the penalty for falling asleep while on duty – or for allowing that wax seal to be broken – was execution, were all still willing to risk their own deaths by claiming they had in fact fallen asleep while on duty and for admitting they had allowed Jesus to escape. They all had pretended to overlook the provisions that had been secretly placed in that small tomb that Jesus used to revive Himself, the food, water, salves, and various medicines. In just three days, by Himself in that tomb, Jesus healed from all His many wounds, gained sufficient strength to escape, and fled – all under the watchful eyes of Roman guards who themselves were each under the threat of execution should the conspiracy be revealed. In an especially de-tailed act of deception, Jesus was able to remove the embalming sheets in such a perfect manner that they resembled cloths that had once been wrapped around a once-inflated balloon, and now remained as though the balloon had been deflated – just as though the body had miraculously passed through the material, which was very helpful in perpetrating the myth of Him rising from the dead.
3. All post-resurrection appearances were hoaxes. After escaping the tomb, Jesus made His way back to His family and disciples undetected by anyone but co-conspirators. Though still smarting from the physical challenges of the last few days – and with a lot of help from makeup and special effects – Jesus and His troupe immediately began their big 40-day “He’s Alive!” promotional tour to kick off the birth of the new religion that would bear His name. Travel, lo-gistics, and crowd-control were pretty tough throughout the tour, with the many appearances in obscure and often simul-taneous locations, the quick ins and outs so as not to be followed, the ongoing difficulty of appearing before big crowds – sometimes numbering around 500 at a time – and the constant nuisance of keeping His ever-depleting energy level up, were all difficulties born equally by everyone. But the great challenge, of course, was the overwhelming pressure of passing Him off as having risen from the dead, with all of His wounds appearing healed, the magic stunts He had to pull off, and the whole, well miraculous tone of the whole thing.
4. The New Testament is a lie, Christianity is false. After the promotional tour, the great challenges continued. The myth of the risen Messiah had to be sold to people who had actually seen Him, touched Him, witnessed His miracles, and been with Him for 30 plus years. If any part of the stories they would later fabricate were not true, there would be plenty of people to point out the discrepancies. The problem was, this whole ruse – from the early days with His cousin John to the overseeing of the writing of the New Testament – had to be coordinated while the leadership team lived un-der the greatest self-imposed Witness Protection Program in history. Jesus could never show Himself again – except that one time to Saul on his trip to Damascus. None of the First Family were allowed contact with the outside world – espe-cially little Judah, Jesus Jr. Every member of the conspiracy – and all their progeny for centuries! – lived their whole lives carrying the lie to their deaths. Judas, the Jesus Team CPA, was especially heroic – he chose rather to die for a lie, than to out the story to authorities. As did other so-called “martyrs.” No doubt the Romans and the Jews would have paid big money over the next several decades (even centuries!) to anyone who could have exposed the hoax. But not a single person ever did. Not one member of the Royal Family. Not son Judah. Not a single Roman. Not once. Ever. There’s not a single piece of evidence supporting the hoax, until now.
You know, when man invents a religion it’s all about the money, sex, and power. But, with Christianity, there’s none of that. The early perpetrators of the alleged myth – for generations – never enjoyed any earthly success at all. No one in their right mind would invent Christianity – there’s nothing to gain by doing so.
Which brings us back to Cameron and the Discovery Channel.
I can’t wait to see what they do with the sequel, “The Lost Tomb of Mohammed.”
By Gregory Koukl
The documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” hadn’t even aired yet and many Christians were already in a panic. Just the suggestion that someone found Jesus’ bones in a limestone box had believers by the droves shaking their fists or sticking their heads in the sand in a don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts posture.
Apparently, many Christians don’t even need to see the evidence to pass judgment. When one Evangelical web site polled its visitors with the question, “Do you believe the ‘Tomb of Jesus’ documentary, which denies the resurrection of Christ?” 97% said no. This was three days before the documentary even aired. Blind faith is so convenient, isn’t it? You never have to actually confront your critics.
Then there’s the bullies. One media watchdog demanded Discovery “cancel this slanderous ‘documentary.’” Another prominent Evangelical organization composed this letter for their constituents to hammer Discovery with:
I resent the Discovery Channel’s attempt to demean and belittle Christianity by saying it is based on a lie. It is hard for me to believe that The Discovery Channel would dare do such a “documentary” on any other religion.
It may turn out that you have done Christianity a favor by awakening millions of Christians to your anti-Christian bias and bigotry. Perhaps they will no longer stay silent.
This kind of bullying is profoundly embarrassing to me, a follower of Christ, and should be discomfiting to every thoughtful Christian. It is not only a dismal retreat from a legitimate challenge that must be answered; it’s obscurantist.
Look, if the Bible says it and you believe it, that might settle it for you, but it doesn’t settle it for millions who might be interested in your ideas and are waiting to hear a thoughtful response to what appears on the surface to be a fair challenge.
There are good reasons to doubt the conclusions of this documentary, but no one will ever know them if Christians pull up the drawbridge and bellow from the parapet. Having seen the documentary, here are some problems that quickly come to mind:
• Scholars have known about these tombs for over 25 years. There’s a reason they haven’t taken these names seriously. Only three have any direct biblical significance: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And that cluster of names is statistically unremarkable. In fact, it would be odd if a family with those three names was not found in a tomb together, given their common use (there are at least four ossuaries discovered inscribed “Jesus, son of Joseph,” and one in four women were named Mary, so it’s even money that one of these tombs would have that combination). And connection of Jesus to any of the other names? Wild speculation. So what you have here is a creative guessing game.
• The entire argument is based on the statistical significance of the names in a cluster. If Jesus was married, and if Jesus was married to a woman named Mariamne, and if Mariamne was also a nickname for Mary Magdalene, and if Jesus had a brother named Matthew, and if Jesus had a son named Judas, and if the now-famous James ossuary belonged to James the brother of Jesus, then you’d have all the members of Jesus’ family together in one tomb. But that’s a lot of “ifs.”
• Even though this is called the “Jesus Family Tomb,” there is no hard evidence that any of these so-called “family members” is even related. The only DNA testing that’s been done—between Jesus and Mariamne—came up negative. Let me repeat that: The DNA test came up negative. That is fact. The rest is speculation.
• The documentary claims, “Jesus and Mary were married, as the DNA evidence suggests.” This is nonsense. Think about it. How can DNA evidence suggest someone is married? DNA can’t “suggest” anything about legal relationships, only biological ones. In this case, the DNA evidence showed Jesus and Mary were not related by a mother, not that they were husband and wife. The truth is, she could have been married to any one of the males in the tomb, or to none of them for that matter. The DNA “suggests” nothing.
• The researchers claim they’re just trying to connect the dots? Fair enough. But why connect the dots the way they did? I’ll tell you why. Because it tells their story. There are many other legitimate ways to connect those same dots—some much more probable than the way the documentary connects them, but won’t give the story they’re promoting. But, of course, that wouldn’t create breaking news, would it?
• Jesus’ family was a poor family from Nazareth, not a middle- to upper-class family from Jerusalem. So this tomb is the wrong kind of tomb located in the wrong city.
• The documentary claims Jesus spoke in codes. This is false. Jesus spoke in parables, like many of the teachers of His day, not in codes that needed to be deciphered. They say Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ most trusted apostle. But you have to wait 400 years before this evidence pops up in any alleged historical record. They said that Jesus’ family members were executed because He was a pretender to throne of Israel. This is pure fiction. Notice what this accomplishes, though. All of these little exaggerations and inaccuracies make an unlikely tale sound more plausible when, on its own unembellished merits, it is not.
• What we have here are two different characterizations of what happened to the body of Jesus of Nazareth 2,000 years ago. One is based on artifacts—the ossuaries—and one is based on documents—the historical records of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter and Paul. Now granted, these kinds of things are not entirely exact science, but all things being equal, which do you think gives us more precise information, bone boxes or written records? The written records, obviously.
• The claim of Jesus’ resurrection, was part of the earliest, most primitive testimony regarding Jesus. And it was made by those very same people that the documentary suggests knew Jesus’ bones were actually secretly buried in Jerusalem. Why would so many of them die for this lie when they knew it was a lie? It doesn’t add up. But that’s what you must believe if you take seriously the conclusions of this documentary.
If Christianity stands or falls on the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection, as the Apostle Paul said, then Christ’s followers have no liberty to retreat behind blind faith or hide behind an angry scowl.
No, if you’re a Christian you shouldn’t run, whine, scream, or have a religious tantrum. Instead, you should be thanking the Discovery Channel for giving you the chance to step up to the plate and knock this soft ball out of the park.
JERUSALEM (AP) - A prominent scholar looking into the factual basis of a popular but widely criticized documentary film that claims to have located the tomb of Jesus said Tuesday that a crucial piece of evidence filmmakers used to support their claim is a mistake.
Stephen Pfann, a textual scholar and paleographer at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, said he has released a paper claiming the makers of “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” were mistaken when they identified an ancient ossuary from the cave as belonging to the New Testament’s Mary Magdalene.
Produced by Oscar-winning director James Cameron and directed by Simcha Jacobovici, the documentary has drawn intense media coverage for its claims challenging accepted Christian dogma.
Despite widespread ridicule from scholars, it drew more than 4 million viewers when it aired on the Discovery Channel on March 4. A companion book, “The Jesus Family Tomb,” has rocketed to sixth place on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list.
The film and book suggest that a first-century ossuary found in a south Jerusalem cave in 1980 contained the remains of Jesus, contradicting the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven. Ossuaries are stone boxes used at the time to store the bones of the dead.
The filmmakers also suggest that Mary Magdalene was buried in the tomb, that she and Jesus were married, and that an ossuary labeled “Judah son of Jesus” belonged to their son.
The scholars who analyzed the Greek inscription on one of the ossuaries after its discovery read it as “Mariamene e Mara,” meaning “Mary the teacher” or “Mary the master.”
Before the movie was screened, Jacobovici said that particular inscription provided crucial support for his claim. The name Mariamene is rare, and in some early Christian texts it is believed to refer to Mary Magdalene.
But having analyzed the inscription, Pfann, who made a brief appearance in the film as an ossuary expert, published a detailed article on his university’s Web site asserting that it doesn’t read “Mariamene” at all.
The inscription, Pfann said, is made up of two names inscribed by two different hands: the first, “Mariame,” was inscribed in a formal Greek script, and later, when the bones of another woman were added to the box, another scribe using a different cursive script added the words “kai Mara,” meaning “and Mara.” Mara is a different form of the name Martha.
According to Pfann’s reading, the ossuary did not house the bones of “Mary the teacher,” but rather of two women, “Mary and Martha.”
“In view of the above, there is no longer any reason to be tempted to link this ossuary...to Mary Magdalene or any other person in Biblical, non-Biblical or church tradition,” Pfann wrote.
In the interest of telling a good story, Pfann said, the documentary engaged in some “fudging” of the facts.
“James Cameron is a great guru of science fiction, and he’s taking it to a new level with Simcha Jacobovici. You take a little bit of science, spin a good yarn out of it and you get another Terminator or Life of Brian,” Pfann said.
In Israel Tuesday for a screening of the film, the Toronto-based Jacobovici welcomed Pfann’s criticism, saying “every inscription should be re-examined.”
But Jacobovici said scholars who researched the ossuary in the past agreed with the film’s reading. “Anyone who looks at it can see that the script was written by the same hand,” Jacobovici said.
Jacobovici has faced criticism much tougher than Pfann’s academic critique. The film has been termed “archeo-porn,” and Jacobovici has been accused of “pimping the Bible.”
Jacobovici attributes most of the criticism to scholars’ discomfort with journalists “casting light into their ossuary monopoly.”
“What we’re doing is democratizing this knowledge, and this is driving some people crazy,” Jacobovici said.
While Christians and documentaries try to prove the resurrection of Christ this Easter, a surprising new study reveals they may not need to. Many already believe Jesus rose from the dead 2,000 years ago.
According to recent research by the Center for Missional Research of the North American Mission Board – the Southern Baptist domestic mission agency – 75 percent of Americans who say they are not born-again Christians still believe the biblical account of Jesus literally coming back to life in his physical body.
“It really stunned us to learn that 75 percent of those Americans claiming not to be born-again still believe in the resurrection,” said Phillip Connor, research missiology manager for the Center for Missional Research, according to Baptist Press.
Moreover, 59 percent of those who rarely attend church believe in the resurrection of Christ and 39 percent of those who never attend also believe. Among non-Protestants, 67 percent still believe in the resurrection.
“Apparently, our contemporaries are less skeptical of scriptural events like the resurrection than we may often realize,” stated the study report.
Nearly 100 percent of those identifying themselves as born-again Christian believe in the resurrection of Jesus.
The research center went further to measure the influence of the controversial Jesus Tomb documentary in which filmmakers claimed to have discovered the ossuary containing the skeletal remains of Jesus.
According to the study, 57 percent of the population either read about, heard about, or watched the documentary – “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” – which recently aired on the Discovery Channel. Still, familiarity with the documentary had no impact on the public view of the resurrection, the study reported.
About 75 percent of both those with and without knowledge of the documentary believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ.
Although the documentary received wide criticism with both Christian and secular scholars rejecting the evidence presented and calling it sensationalism, churches are likely to see higher attendance this Easter.
The recent study found that 35 percent of the population said they were more likely to attend an Easter service after hearing or watching about the documentary. Among those who do not claim to be born again, 23 percent said the same. Only 7 percent of the population said it decreased the likelihood they would attend church this Easter.
“We should not always be quick to judge the apparent influence of secular films concerning Christ, such as this documentary or the Da Vinci Code, but instead see the missional opportunities that emerge in their wake,” the study reported.
Based on response from the study, the research center suggests Easter messages may not require a defense of the physical resurrection. Instead, the preachers may want to focus more on the meaning and redemptive power for the individual.
Results are based on a telephone survey conducted among 1,204 randomly selected American adults by Zogby International March 22-26.
Dr. Tony Beam
Before the Discovery Channel decided to air his “mockumentary” about the startling news that the actual tomb of Jesus (complete with His remains) has been discovered, James Cameron was best known for his role as director of the blockbuster movie Titanic. The Tomb of Jesus is a figment of Cameron’s imagination, which he hopes to pass off as a documentary. But close examination of Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici’s tale of the Jesus family tomb being discovered has more holes than the real Titanic after it struck the iceberg and is likely to sink with the same speed and finality.
Cameron hypes this film saying, “This is the biggest archeological story of the century. It’s absolutely not a publicity stunt.” I agree with the last part of Cameron’s statement because while The Tomb of Jesus is certainly designed to bring Cameron and Jacobovici publicity, the ultimate goal of the archeologically and theologically flawed film is to make money and undermine Christianity. It is no accident that this so-called documentary is being aired close to Easter, when Christians all over the world celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Last year in the weeks leading up to Easter we had the release of the supposedly newly discovered “Gospel of Judas” which made Judas out to be the good guy in the story. The fact is, the Gospel of Judas was not a new discovery but one resurrected from 1978 and repackaged just in time for Easter 2006. It is an example of heretical Gnostic literature written sometime after 180A.D. The date means it was written nearly 110 years after the four gospels, which in contrast, were all written within the life span of the eyewitnesses.
Likewise, the so-called family tomb of Jesus, originally discovered in 1980 was immediately dismissed as to it authenticity by credible archeologists and biblical scholars. It took two filmmakers looking to make a buck and take a slap at Christianity to bring this story back to life. When the tomb was discovered in 1980, a team of archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority was dispatched to examine its authenticity. Archeologist Amos Kloner summed up the findings of the team saying, “It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave. The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time.” Commenting on Cameron and Jacobovici’s “documentary” Kloner says, “It’s impossible, it’s nonsense. There is no likelihood that Jesus and His relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem.”
Don’t miss the power of Kloner’s statement. The fact the burial cave belonged to a middle class family excludes the possibility it belonged to Jesus. Every shred of biblical and extra-biblical information we have concerning the life of Jesus confirms that He lived and died as a virtual pauper in the material sense of the word. There is no way His remains would ever be found in a middle class burial site.
The names at the burial site also cannot be used to confirm anything. The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. Simply finding a tomb with the name “Jesus”(or Yeshua) and assuming this must be the Jesus of the New Testament would be like finding a grave today marked “John” and assuming you had discovered the true grave of President John F. Kennedy. I have seen Jesus Alou, baseball player for the Oakland Athletics, play on T.V. but I didn’t assume that because his name was spelled like the Jesus of the Bible that Jesus had returned to earth and joined the American League.
Jacobovici claims to have DNA evidence to back up this fiction. That’s interesting since in order to verify the claim he would have to have a viable, preserved sample of DNA from Jesus or one of His family members. Concerning the DNA evidence, Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary says, “In order for them to establish a positive claim that these are Jesus’ relatives, you have to have control samples to compare it to, but we have no such objective control samples.”
Gary Burge is a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. His quote in Christianity Today serves as a fitting final commentary on Cameron and Jacobovici’s work. Burge says, “This is really a brilliant example of archaeological sensationalism. It happens again and again in the Holy Land that people win their 15 minutes of fame by discovering some new burial cave.” Part of the collateral damage caused by the loss of the idea of absolute truth in our culture is the rise of ideologically driven pseudo-science masquerading as fact-based truth. Claims made by the scientific community concerning the absolute fact of evolution, global warming, and the so-called “gay gene” which causes people to be born homosexuals, and the communities utter disdain for any dissenting voice demonstrates the total ethical bankruptcy of their discipline. I guess we can now add some archeologists to the growing list of scientists who resemble the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz who kept his standing in the community by projecting an overblown and totally made up image.
This latest attempt to roll the stone back in front of the tomb of Jesus is nothing new. It began with a conspiracy hatched up by the chief priests and elders of Jesus’ day when some of the guards told them the body of Jesus was no longer in the grave. The elders gave the guards a large sum of money and told them to say, “His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep” (Matt. 28:13 NASV). But the lie of the priests and elders could not stop the early church from echoing the words of the angel at the tomb, “He is not here for He has risen, just as He said.” As for me, if you ask me how I know He lives I will simply add my voice to the millions upon millions who have sung through the ages, “He lives inside my heart!”
Dr. Tony Beam is Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.
A majority of Americans believe in God’s power and miracles, according to a new survey.
Furthermore, most accept well-known Bible stories as literal truth, including the biblical account of Jesus Christ rising from the dead, The Barna Group found.
Three out of four adults (75 percent) said they interpreted the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Christ as literal truth. An earlier study also found that 75 percent of Americans who do not identify as born-again Christians believe Jesus literally resurrected, according to the Center for Missional Research of the North American Mission Board – the Southern Baptist Convention’s domestic mission agency.
Although the more highly educated respondents were less likely to take the story literally, two-thirds (68 percent) of college graduates said they believe the resurrection is literally true, The Barna Group showed.
Non-mainline Protestants were more likely to accept the resurrection as fact (95 percent) compared to mainline Protestants (83 percent) and Catholics (82 percent).
Two-thirds of adults (65 percent) also deemed the account of prophet Daniel surviving in the lion’s den as literally true. Catholics were less likely to take this biblical account at face value with only 51 percent interpreting it as literally true.
When surveyed about Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, two out of three (64 percent) Americans took a literal view of the story. Four out of five Protestants (79 percent) and three out of five Catholics (60 percent) embrace a literal interpretation of the Red Sea account.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) accept the story of David and Goliath as literal truth. While 86 percent of non-mainline Protestants take the story literally, only 68 percent of mainline Protestants and 46 percent of Catholics believe the story happened just as described in the Bible.
Mainline Protestants are those associated with the American Baptist, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Presbyterian Church in the USA denominations, according to The Barna Group.
“Not only do most Americans believe in the existence of God, but they believe in His power and in the miracles He performs,” said researcher George Barna, who directed the study. “Holding back the seas, walking on water, rising from the dead, surviving in a lion cage, and killing a skilled and armed warrior with a sling shot are examples of God doing extraordinary things in the lives of ordinary people. These and other Bible stories inspire people to believe that their personal trust in that powerful God is warranted. Although some people may dismiss such writings as fairy tales for children, the data indicate that the typical American has adopted these accounts as the foundation of a valued faith in God.”
Fewer Americans, meanwhile, embraced the account of Apostle Peter walking on water as literally true. Overall, 60 percent of adults interpret it as literal truth. And 75 percent of all Protestants, 53 percent of Catholics believe the story is literally accurate.
Regarding the story of Creation, which has become increasingly challenged in schools, 60 percent of adults believe God created the universe in six days. The more highly educated Americans were much less likely to believe the creation account as literally true. While 73 percent of adults who did not attend college believe this story is literally accurate, only 38 percent of college graduates hold that view. Also, 74 percent of Protestants have a literal interpretation of creation compared to only 52 percent of Catholics.
Among ethnic groups, blacks were most likely to interpret biblical stories as literal truth.
Barna noted a disconnect between belief and practice.
“While the level of literal acceptance of these Bible stories is nothing short of astonishing given our cultural context, the widespread embrace of these accounts raises questions about the unmistakable gap between belief and behavior,” he stated.
“On the one hand we have tens of millions of people who view these narratives as reflections of the reality, the authority and the involvement of God in our lives. On the other hand, a majority of those same people harbor a stubborn indifference toward God and His desire to have intimacy with them. In fact, a minority of the people who believe these stories to be true consistently apply the principles imbedded in these stories within their own lives,” Barna continued.
“It seems that millions of Americans believe the Bible content is true, but are not willing to translate those stories into action. Sadly, for many people, the Bible has become a respected but impersonal religious history lesson that stays removed from their life.”
Results are based on a nationwide survey conducted in August 2007 among 1,000 adults, age 18 and older.
The majority of Americans believe the Biblical story of Jesus Christ being born to the virgin Mary literally, according to a survey released Monday.
Three out of four adults (75 percent) said they believe in the gospel narrative of the birth of Jesus Christ, found a nationwide survey conducted by The Barna Group.
Out of the sixty population subgroups in the research, there was only one group where a majority of respondents did not take the virgin birth literally. The exception was atheists and agnostics – among whom only 15 percent said the event happened literally.
Surprisingly, a solid majority of self-described liberals on political and social issues (60 percent) believed in the biblical view of Christ’s birth.
The Christian polling organization surveyed over 1,000 adults on a half dozen biblical stories to find out if they view those stories to be factually accurate or to be narratives that were not factually accurate but rather meant to teach principles.
Most of the respondents indicated that they accepted five of the six stories – the virgin birth story being the most widely accepted.
The next most literally accepted story is the turning of water into wine. Seven out of ten adults (69 percent) believe Jesus literally turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
Yet there was a large discrepancy in subgroups, with born-again Christians most likely to accept the story (94 percent), compared to unchurched adults (42 percent). Protestants, African Americans, conservatives, and residents of the South were also more likely than their counterparts to embrace the story.
The story of Jesus feeding the crowd of 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fishes, and then collecting 12 basket full of leftovers was accepted literally by 68 percent of respondents.
Meanwhile, a smaller but still majority of Americans believe in Noah’s flood (64 percent) and the story of the serpent tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit (56 percent).
More than four out of five born again adults embrace the story of Eve while less than half as many among the non-born again subgroups believe in it. Only eight percent of atheists and agnostics accepted the story.
Americans were least likely to accept literally the story of Samson’s strength being derived from his hair and Samson losing strength when Delilah cut his hair. Only half of the population (49 percent) accepted the story as completely accurate.
Born again Christians (72 percent) were the most enthusiastic in accepting the story at face value. Interestingly, females were more likely than males to accept this story as the truth.
In general, born-again Christians, Protestants, residents in the South, and those who describe themselves as politically conservative were more likely to accept the biblical stories in question as literally true.
“Americans are clearly knowledgeable about many of the key Old Testament stories, but they are also more comfortable accepting the stories drawn from the life of Jesus and the New Testament,” concluded researcher and author George Barna, founder of The Barna Group.
“Many people seem to divide the Bible into two separate and unequal portions: the Old Testament, with what they perceive to be allegorical stories, and the New Testament, with what they believe to be factual history,” he said.
The telephone survey was conducted by The Barna Group in December 2007 among a random sample of 1,005 adults, age 18 and older.