Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Why Don’t Christians Celebrate the Day of Atonement?

If God commanded the Day of Atonement to be a lasting ordinance, then why don’t Christians, who regard the Book of Leviticus as the inspired word of God, celebrate this holy day?

The reason, quite simply, is that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is seen as the fulfillment of the purpose of the Day of Atonement by the New Testament writers. In the Gospel of Matthew, the author refers to the curtain in the temple being torn in two when Jesus died, thus destroying the separation between God and man that was remembered every year on the Day of Atonement.

In the Book of Hebrews, the central theme is the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement in Jesus Christ. There are several passages in Hebrews that compare Jesus’s death to the rituals of the Day of Atonement.

Hebrews 7:26-27 reads, “For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do — first for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all when He offered Himself.”

As the perfect high priest, Jesus did not need to repeat sacrifices for himself and for his people, as Aaron did. Once was enough for Jesus.

Hebrews 9:11-14 reads, “But the Messiah has appeared, high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), He entered the most holy place once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God?”

The blood of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, is so much more powerful than the blood of goats and cows.

Hebrews 9:25-26 reads, “He did not do this to offer Himself many times, as the high priest enters the sanctuary yearly with the blood of another. Otherwise, He would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”

Jesus’s one sacrifice is all that was needed for the removal of mankind’s sins. When his sacrifice was made, he declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Hebrews 10:11-12 states, “Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins. But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.”

What does all of this mean for the believer?

God says, “I will never again remember their sins and their lawless acts. Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer an offering for sin” (Heb 10:17-18). The writer of Hebrews adds, “Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh), and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water” (Heb 10:19-22).

Were the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ invented in the 4th and 5th Centuries?

Post Author: Darrell

(This post originally appeared on Darrell’s Thoughts and Reflections and is being reposted here for the benefit of TQA readers.)

One of the charges I often hear leveled against Christianity today is that both the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ were “invented” by the Church in the fourth and fifth centuries, during the Ecumenical Councils.  Proponents of these charges claim that the Church prior to the Ecumenical Councils believed neither in the Trinity, nor in the Dual Nature of Christ.  I freely admit that the language by which the Church codified these doctrines was fortified in the Ecumenical Councils.  However, I believe those who charge that the Church invented the doctrines themselves in the Councils and that the Church prior to the Councils did not hold to them are gravely mistaken.

One of the earliest Church Fathers to articulate a basic understanding of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ is Saint Ignatius.  Saint Ignatius was the third Bishop of Antioch, serving from 70 AD to 107 AD.  He was a disciple of the Apostle John, and Church Tradition teaches that he was the child Christ held in His arms when He said, in Matthew 18:3, “. . . unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Shortly after the turn of the second century, Saint Ignatius wrote several Epistles while in captivity on the road traveling to his martyrdom.  Seven of these epistles have survived to our day.  In the seventh chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians, he says:

But our Physician is the only true God, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son.  We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For “the Word was made flesh.”  Being incorporeal, He was in a body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.

There are several aspects of this passage which demonstrate that Saint Ignatius held beliefs consistent with the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ.  First, he refers to two separate Persons, God the Father and Jesus Christ, yet he calls both of them God.  This is completely consistent with Nicene Theology, which teaches that both the Father and the Son are God by nature/essence.  The Nicene Creed calls Christ “true God of true God”, saying He is “of one essence with the Father” as God.  Had Ignatius been an Arian or had he held to a non-Trinitarian Doctrine that teaches Christ to be something less than or other than God, He would not have referred to Him as God.

Second, Ignatius refers to Jesus Christ as begotten “before time began”.  This is almost word for word identical to the Nicene Creed, which says, “I believe in. . . one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. . .”  Some today claim that the Early Church believed Christ’s being ”begotten” of the Father was in relation to His birth from Mary (specifically, this is an LDS claim).  However, Ignatius’ comment here demonstrates that the Early Church’s understanding of Christ’s nature as “only-begotten” was a relationship with the Father that was “before time began” and has nothing to do with His earthly incarnation.  It is interesting to note that the Greek word translated as “only-begotten” both here and in the New Testament is ”monogenes”.  Monogenes literally means “one of a kind,” and to the Church Fathers it connoted Christ being of the same nature as the Father. . . something that was entirely unique to Him.

In addition to calling Christ God and claiming Him to be the “only-begotten” of the Father “before time began”, Ignatius tells us that “afterwards” Christ “became man”.  Ignatius then goes on to point out some aspects that Christ’s becoming man added to His nature.  He says that although Christ was incorporeal, He was in a body; although He was impassible, He was in a passible body; although He was immortal, He was in a mortal body;  although He was life, He became subject to corruption.  These differing aspects of Christ’s nature, aspects that are polar opposites to one another, speak to Christ having two natures, one as God and one as man, and demonstrate that Saint Ignatius understood Christ in this manner.  As God, Christ was incorporeal, impassible, immortal, and life itself.   However, as man He was corporeal, passible, mortal, and subject to corruption.

Last, Ignatius explains that Christ took on our nature in order to free our souls from death and corruption, heal us, and restore us to health.  This speaks to the true reason for the Doctrines of the Trinity and Dual Nature of Christ.  Rather than being doctrines for doctrine’s sake, created as purely intellectual pieces of information to be discussed by dry theologians over coffee and tea, they are doctrines directly tied to our understanding of how Christ redeemed us.  He was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, true God of true God.  Yet He chose to take upon Himself our nature, becoming man for our sakes, so that He could unite our nature to the Divine Nature in His Person, giving us a rebirth in Him.  Had He not been God and had He not taken on our nature, He would have been unable to redeem us.  The Church understood this from the earliest times, and as the writings of Saint Ignatius show us, it is not an understanding created in the fourth and fifth centuries.  It is Apostolic Doctrine that has been handed down to us and is a product of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church.

How Do You Love Your Neighbor?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

For each of us there is one person who we always forgive every time they do something wrong.

There is one person who we always give the benefit of the doubt.

There is one person who we always judge with their intentions in mind rather than just their actions.

There is one person who we continue loving, even when they sin.  We hate this person’s sin, yet we keep loving them.

There is one person who we always wish to be happy.

There is one person who we always wish the good for.

Who is this person?  Who else but ourselves.  Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Of course the word neighbor includes both our friends and our enemies, as was illustrated in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  So how do you love your neighbor?  Just insert them as the “one person” described in all the sentences above.

It is absolutely possible to hate the sin and love the sinner.  We do it every single day, with ourselves.  We just need to extend that to all those around us.

What Was Jesus’ Birth Really Like?

Post Author: Bill Pratt (re-posted from last year)

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III has written a brief  article that discusses the birth narrative as conveyed in Luke 2.  Witherington reminds us that the modern version of Jesus’ birth is not exactly faithful to the biblical account.  “Like works of art that have been lacquered with coat after coat of varnish, the original stories are hardly visible any more.”

Some the key differences are the following:

  1. “Today, it is difficult to conceive the Nativity without an ox and ass, for example, although neither Matthew nor Luke mentions animals. (Rather, St. Francis, the great medieval lover of animals, is credited with building the first manger scene complete with live animals.)”
  2. “The three wise men are also permanent fixtures in our image of the Nativity, although they don’t arrive, according to Matthew 2, until several days after the birth of Jesus (the epiphany to the shepherds does, however, take place the same day).”
  3. “It is not the case that Mary and Joseph were forced to stop somewhere beside the road because Mary suddenly went into labor. Rather, Luke 2:6 tells us that ‘while they were there,’ that is, in Bethlehem, ‘the time came for her to deliver her child.'”
  4. “Luke never suggests that this birth was in any way miraculous or unusual. (The miracle is said to have happened, rather, at Jesus’ conception.)”

One of the greatest differences has to do with the actual birthplace of Jesus.  Here an extended quote from Witherington is warranted:

Where did they stay in Bethlehem? Luke tells us that after the birth, Mary put the baby in a “manger,” or corncrib, because there was “no room for them at the kataluma” (Luke 2:7)—a Greek term he uses elsewhere to mean “guest room” (see Luke 22:11). When Luke wants to speak about an inn, he calls it pandocheion (see Luke 10:34). Thus, Luke says nothing about the Holy couple being cast out of an inn and Mary having to bear the child in a barn. Historically, it is far more likely that Mary and Joseph had their child in the humble back portion of the ancestral home where the most valued animals were fed and, in the winter, housed, because the guest room in the family home was already occupied. In any case, Bethlehem was such a small village, on a minor road, that it is not even clear it would have had a wayside inn. Admittedly, Jesus’ beginnings were humble—but we don’t need to mythologize them into some story about a baby being cast out by the world.

There are lots of other interesting historical tidbits in the article, so make sure you read the whole thing.

Do Mormons Worship the God of the Bible? Part 3

Post Author: Darrell

As discussed in the last post, the Mormon Church teaches that God the Father has a body of flesh and bone. Unfortunately for Mormons, there are biblical problems with this teaching. John 4:24 says, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” This verse has long been held as a declaration regarding God’s nature as spirit. The Bible Knowledge Commentary has this to say regarding this verse: “God is Spirit is a better translation than the KJV‘s ‘God is a Spirit.’. . . . This is a declaration of His invisible nature. He is not confined to one location.” In addition, Col. 1:15 teaches that Christ “is the image of the invisible [emphasis mine] God,” and 1 Tim. 1:17 says, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible [emphasis mine], the only God.”

The understanding that God is invisible and spirit lines up perfectly in a metaphysical sense with the biblical declaration that God is omnipresent. For, if God were embodied in flesh and bone, He would be metaphysically incapable of being in more than one place at a time. However, scripture testifies repeatedly of the fact that God is everywhere present. Ps. 139:7-8 makes it very clear that no matter where we go, God is always there: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” In addition, 1 Kings 8:27 testifies that there is nothing that can contain God, for He is everywhere: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” Furthermore, in Jer. 23:23-24, God Himself testifies of His omnipresent nature, making it one of the clearest passages of scripture to testify of God being everywhere: “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.”

These passages leave Mormons in a quandary, for the nature of their God is wholly incompatible with the above descriptions. In contrast, the Mormon God is not simply spirit, rather he is a spirit that is contained in and embodied in flesh. As a result, the Mormon God is limited, e.g., He is limited by his body to a here rather than a there. In addition, the very nature of having a body means that He is contained by that body and cannot fill heaven and earth. Instead, He can fill only His flesh and bone.

It appears that James E.  Talmage recognized these problems and simply chose to admit that the God of Mormonism cannot be everywhere. He said, “It has been said, therefore, that God is everywhere present; but this does not mean that the actual person of any one member of the Godhead can be physically present in more than one place at a time. . . . His person cannot be in more than one place at any one time. Unfortunately for Talmage and all other Mormons, the writers of the books of the Bible, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have clearly testified to the contrary. As a result, the nature of the Mormon God does not simply contradict a late developed teaching of an apostate Christianity; rather it contradicts the Bible itself.

Do Mormons Worship the God of the Bible? Part 1

Post Author: Darrell

In its short 180 year life, the Mormon Church has had a curious relationship with traditional Christianity. A quick look through Mormon history will demonstrate that the LDS Church has a long history of degrading Christian teachings. As a result, it is somewhat odd to find modern day LDS leaders referring to their church as a Christian denomination, for their desire to be denominated among groups they believe to be in utter error seems illogical.

Mormonism is founded upon the belief that it is not simply a Christian denomination, but is, rather, the restoration of true Christianity.  This belief is based upon the claim by the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him and called him as a prophet. Smith relates that in the course of their visit, Christ and the Father had some rather terse words regarding traditional Christianity:

I was answered that I must join none of [the Christian churches], for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” [emphasis mine].

The belief that God holds the Christian creeds to be an abomination and all the Christian professors to be corrupt has led to some rather interesting statements by Mormon leaders. On July 26, 1857, second Prophet and President of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young, said that the Christian world is “like the captain and crew of a vessel on the ocean without a compass, and tossed to and fro whithersoever the wind listed to blow them. When the light came to [him], [he] saw that all the so−called Christian world was groveling in darkness.” On September 13, later the same year, Young said, “Ask them where heaven is? − where they are going to when they die? − where Paradise is? − and there is not a priest in the world that can answer your questions. Ask them what kind of a being our Heavenly Father is, and they cannot tell you so much as Balaam’s ass told him. They are more ignorant than children.” On September 16, 1860, he said, “The Christian world, so called, are heathens as to their knowledge of the salvation of God.”

Third Prophet of the LDS Church, John Taylor, also had some rather crude remarks regarding traditional Christianity. On January 17, 1858, he called Christianity “a perfect pack of nonsense.” On November 1, later the same year, he said, “Are Christians ignorant? Yes, as ignorant of the things of God as the brute beast.” In addition, he shared what is perhaps his most stinging comment on May 6, 1870, when he said, “What does the Christian world know about God? Nothing; yet these very men assume the right and power to tell others what they shall and what they shall not believe in. Why, so far as the things of God are concerned, they are the veriest [sic] fools; they know neither God nor the things of God.”

While the LDS Church appears to have toned down its rhetoric in recent years, the basic belief that it is the one and only true church on earth and that traditional Christianity was and is apostate remains unchanged. LDS Apostle James E. Talmage said in his 1965 book A Study of the Articles of Faith, that after the ministry of Jesus Christ “the Church was literally driven from the earth,” and that it remained in this state until the “restoration was effected by the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith.” In a 1972 Ensign article, LDS Apostle LeGrand Richards said, “At the time that Joseph Smith had his marvelous vision, there wasn’t a church in the world worshiping the God who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and the fountains of waters, and created man in his own image.”

As these comments demonstrate, the LDS Church continues to hold the longstanding belief that traditional Christianity is in utter error and that the Mormon Church is the only true church on the earth today. In addition, the comments demonstrate that even the leaders of the LDS Church realize the utter gulf that exists between the teachings of traditional Christianity and the teachings of the LDS Church. Because of these stark differences, traditional Christian teachings and LDS teachings cannot both be true, for if Mormons are correct about the nature of God, then Christians are in complete error. However, if Christians are correct about the nature of God, Mormons are in complete error. Consequently, the question left for discussion is exactly which teachings are correct. Are the teachings of the LDS Church correct? Are they in alignment with the Bible? I will explore these questions in the next few posts by highlighting three specific areas where the God of Mormonism differs from the God of the Bible.  Stick around.

Who Is the Real Superman?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If you’ve ever listened to Ravi Zacharias, you’ve noticed he likes to quote from English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge.  One of my favorite quotes from Muggeridge has to do with his description of the frailty of nations and empires, with particular attention to those of the 20th century.  In a gripping message, he contrasts the temporality of the world’s powers with the eternality of one person.  Please enjoy the quote below!

We look back upon history and what do we see?  Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another.  Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’

I look back on my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’  I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own ascension to power.  I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as a wiser than Solomon, more humane than Marcus Aurelius, more enlightened than Ashoka.  I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that had the American people desired, they could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.

All in one lifetime.  All in one lifetime.  All gone with the wind.

England part of a tiny island off the coast of Europe, threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy.  Hitler and Mussolini dead, remembered only in infamy.  Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped found and dominate for some three decades.  America haunted by fears of running out of those precious fluids that keep her motorways roaring, and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam, and the victories of the Don Quixotes of the media as they charged the windmills of Watergate.

All in one lifetime, all gone.  Gone with the wind.

Behind the debris of these self-styled, sullen supermen and imperial diplomatists, there stands the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind might still have hope.  The person of Jesus Christ.

If Jesus Is God, Why Did He Get Tired?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If Jesus is God, and God is uncaused, immaterial, omniscient, omnipotent, and eternal (and lots of other things), then don’t we have a problem with Jesus being a real man who lived in 1st century Palestine?  After all, Jesus grew tired, but God doesn’t get tired; Jesus sometimes didn’t know things, but God knows everything; Jesus died, but God can’t die; Jesus has a human body, but God doesn’t have a body.  I think you get the point.  How does the Christian church deal with this problem?

Well, before we get to the Christian church, one approach that has been taken by some religious groups over the last two millennia is just to give up on the idea that Jesus is God.  If he is less than God, then all these questions go away.  Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are two groups that took this approach, but they are just the latest in a long line.  The problem with this approach is that it contradicts the Bible’s clear teaching that Jesus is God (see the series of posts on how we know Jesus is God).  So this approach fails to take seriously the biblical data.

The approach that the Christian church has taken is to accept the fact that the Bible teaches that Jesus is both God and man.  In the early church, there was a couple centuries of debate about how this works, until the Council of Chalcedon came together in AD 451 to settle the issue.  Here is the creed that resulted from the Council:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

What does all that mean?  It means, among other things, that Jesus is one person composed of two natures: human and divine.  The creed repeats the words Godhead and Manhood several times to hammer the point home.  So, whenever we ask any question about Jesus, we have to specify whether we are asking about his divine nature or his human nature.  In his divine nature, he is omniscient, eternal, and uncaused.  In his human nature, he was tired, he needed food, he didn’t know everything, and he even died.  Two natures, two sets of questions about Jesus.

The church never went so far as to try and explain how exactly Jesus’ two natures interacted; they set boundaries around what was acceptable, based on Scripture, and captured it in the above creed.  Many theologians have attempted to go further with this doctrine and explain in more detail how this is possible, but these details, to my knowledge, have never been formally adopted into creeds of the church.

Did Paul Invent Christianity? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

We pick up from part 1 of this post to see why Paul could not have invented a version of Christianity foreign to Jesus’ teachings.

McFarland continues making his case:

The point is this:  the key teachings of the Gospel (Jesus is the sinless Son of God; He died for our sins and rose again; we receive Him as Savior through repentance and faith) pre-date Paul.  Paul taught these things, expounded on these things, and was used by God to write much of the New Testament.  But the core of the Gospel was being widely spread even before Paul was a believer.  In the final words of I Corinthians 15:8, Paul seemed to acknowledge that he was late getting to the party!

Look at Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, found in Acts 2:14-40.  Peter presents the core facts of the Gospel, including Jesus’ Deity, death, and resurrection.  Peter preaches the same truths again in Acts 3:12-18.  In Acts 5:29-33, Peter addressed Jewish leaders, and again gives the key facts of the Christian message.  By Acts 5:42, we read, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”

So what can we conclude?  The core teachings of Christianity predated Paul’s conversion and his later writings.  Paul did not invent Christianity.

But there is one more important point to be made.  If Paul’s teachings contradicted those of the other disciples, the disciples that spent 3 years under Jesus’ tutelage, then surely they would have called him out.  In fact, just the opposite occurred.  The apostle Peter, who was one of Jesus’ closest companions and a recognized leader of the early church, had this to say about Paul in 2 Pet. 3:15-16: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

Take note of the fact that Paul is a “dear brother” and that his words are compared to “other Scriptures.”  Peter is effectively endorsing Paul’s teachings, so the idea that Paul hijacked Christianity from the true followers of Jesus is refuted.  We can be confident that the entire New Testament, including Paul’s writings, were inspired by one and the same God.

Did Paul Invent Christianity? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Recently I’ve run across people who believe that the apostle Paul effectively hijacked Jesus’ teachings and invented most of what we today call Christianity.  Even though this seems to be a view with few advocates, it is still an important charge that is being made.  How do we answer this question?

Southern Evangelical Seminary President Alex McFarland wrote about this very topic in a December 2009 newsletter.  I will quote heavily from his article, as he did an excellent job of analyzing this issue.  McFarland’s approach is to show that the essential truths of Christianity were established before Paul began to write his epistles.  McFarland begins:

Saul of Tarsus–a passionate persecutor of the church–became Paul the believer about AD 35.  The book of Acts (written by Luke) records Paul’s salvation experience in chapters 9, 22, and 26.  In his own writings, Paul also explains his conversion to faith (I Corinthians 9:1, 15:3-8, and Galatians 1:11-18).  From about AD 48 until his death around AD 68, Paul wrote at least 13 of the New Testament’s books.

The fact that Paul had originally opposed and persecuted the church proves that he could not have “invented” Christianity.  Paul’s use of the words “received” and “passed on”–rabbinical terms for the handing down of teachings–is significant in I Corinthians 15:3-8.   In relating these facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul is saying that what it presents is existing truth that he himself had received.  Scholars recognize that this passage contains an early church creed (or statement of belief) that was recited by believers in the days before the New Testament had been written down.  Other Scriptures that preserve the early, verbal Christian creeds include I John 4:2, Philippians 2:6, II Timothy 2:8, and Romans 1:3-4.  Another notable passage is I Timothy 3:16.  Not only is this a confession of belief, it may have actually been part of a hymn that was sung by early believers.

In part 2 of this post, we will conclude McFarland’s argument and look at some additional evidence that he does not cover.  See you next time!