Tag Archives: Norman Geisler

Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Physical Resurrection? Part 2

Some skeptics of orthodox Christianity argue that the New Testament writers never meant to communicate that Jesus physically rose from the dead. Instead, Jesus rose in a spiritual and immaterial sense. But can this point of view be defended from Scripture? Theologian Norman Geisler does not think so. He continues his case from the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics :


Jesus’ Body Was Recognized. The usual words for ‘seeing’ (horao, theoreo) and ‘recognizing’ (epiginosko) physical objects were used over and over again of Christ in his resurrection state (see Matt. 28:7, 17; Mark 16:7; Luke 24:24; John 20:14; 1 Cor. 9:1). Occasionally Jesus was not initially recognized by some of the disciples, some perhaps supernatural. Luke says of one occasion that ‘their eyes were prevented from recognizing him’ (24:16) and later ‘their eyes were opened and they recognized him’ (vs. 31). However, often there were purely natural factors, such as their perplexity (Luke 24:17–21), sorrow (John 20:11–15), the dimness of the light (John 20:14–15), the visual distance (John 21:4), the suddenness of Jesus’ appearance (Luke 24:36–37), the different clothes he had on (John 19:23–24; 20:6–8), or their spiritual dullness (Luke 24:25–26) and disbelief (John 20:24–25). In every case the difficulty was temporary. Before the appearances were over there remained absolutely no doubts in their minds that Christ had arisen in a literal, material body.

Jesus’ Body Could Be Seen and Heard. Jesus’ resurrection body could not only be touched and handled, it could also be seen and heard. Matthew says that ‘when they saw him, they worshiped him’ (Matt. 28:17). The Emmaus disciples recognized him while eating together (Luke 24:31), perhaps from his bodily movements (cf. vs. 35). The Greek term for recognize (epiginosko) means ‘to know, to understand, or to recognize.’ It is a normal term for recognizing a physical object (Mark 6:33, 54; Acts 3:10). Mary may have recognized Jesus from the tone of his voice (John 20:15–16). Thomas recognized him, probably even before he touched the crucifixion scars (John 20:27–28). During the forty-day period, all the disciples saw and heard him, and experienced the ‘convincing proofs’ that he was alive (Acts 1:3; cf. 4:2, 20).

Resurrection Is Out from among Dead. Resurrection in the New Testament is often described as ‘from (ek) the dead’ (cf. Mark 9:9; Luke 24:46; John 2:22; Acts 3:15; Rom. 4:24; 1 Cor. 15:12). Literally, this Greek word ek means Jesus was resurrected ‘out from among’ the dead bodies, that is, from the grave where corpses are buried (Acts 13:29–30). These same words are used to describe Lazarus’s being raised ‘from the dead’ (John 12:1). In this case there is no doubt that he came out of the grave in the same body in which he was buried. Thus, resurrection was of a physical corpse out of a tomb or graveyard. As Gundry correctly noted, ‘for one who had been a Pharisee, such phraseology could carry only one meaning—physical resurrection’ (Gundry, 177).

Sōma Always Means a Physical Body. When used of an individual human being, the word body (sōma) always means a physical body in the New Testament. There are no exceptions to this usage in the New Testament. Paul uses sōma of the resurrection body of Christ (1 Cor. 15:42–44), thus indicating his belief that it was a physical body. The definitive exegetical work on sōma was done by Gundry (ibid.). As evidence of the physical nature of the resurrection body, he points to ‘Paul’s exceptionless use of sōma for a physical body’ (Gundry, 168). Thus he concludes that ‘the consistent and exclusive use of sōma for the physical body in anthropological contexts resists dematerialization of the resurrection, whether by idealism or by existentialism’ (ibid.).

For those who think Paul should have used another word to express physical resurrection, Robert Gundry responds: ‘Paul uses sōma precisely because the physicality of the resurrection is central to his soteriology’ (Gundry, 169). This consistent use of the word sōma for a physical body is one more confirmation that the resurrection body of Christ was a literal, material body.

The Tomb Was Vacated. Joined with the appearances of the same crucified Jesus, the empty tomb provides strong support of the physical nature of the resurrection body of Christ. The angels declared, ‘he is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay’ (Matt. 28:6). Since it was a literal, material body that was placed there, and since that same physical body had come alive, it follows that the resurrection body was that same material body that died.

The Grave Clothes Were Unwrapped. When Peter entered the tomb he ‘saw strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen’ (John 20:6–7). Certainly, if thieves had stolen it, they would not have taken time to take off and fold the head cloth. Nor if Jesus had vaporized through the grave clothes would the head cloth have been in a separate place all folded up by itself. These details reveal the truth that the material body of Jesus that had once laid there had been restored to life (Acts 13:29–30). John was so convinced by this evidence of a physical resurrection that when he saw it he believed Jesus had risen, though he had not yet seen him (John 20:8).

More can be said, but it seems abundantly clear that the New Testament writers definitely had a physical resurrection in mind. Making the opposite case requires a person to ignore or distort numerous New Testament passages beyond recognition.

Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Physical Resurrection? Part 1

Some skeptics of orthodox Christianity argue that the New Testament writers never meant to communicate that Jesus physically rose from the dead. Instead, Jesus rose in a spiritual and immaterial sense. But can this point of view be defended from Scripture? Theologian Norman Geisler does not think so. He presents his case in the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics :

Jesus Was Touched by Human Hands. Jesus challenged Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side’ (John 20:27). Thomas responded, ‘My Lord and My God!’ (vs. 28). Likewise, when Mary clung to Jesus after his resurrection he commanded, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father’ (John 20:17). Matthew adds that the women clasped Jesus’ feet and worshiped him (Matt. 28:9). Later, when Jesus appeared to the ten disciples he said, ‘look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see’ (Luke 24:39). Jesus’ resurrection body was a physical body that could be touched, including the nail and spear prints.

Jesus’ Body Had Flesh and Bones. Perhaps the strongest evidence of the physical nature of the resurrection body is that Jesus said emphatically ‘Touch me and see; a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have’ (Luke 24:39). Then to prove his point he asked for something to eat and ‘They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence’ (vss. 41–42).

Paul correctly noted that corruptible ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor. 15:50), but Jesus did not have corruptible flesh; he was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15). He was fleshy but not fleshly. He did not have sinful human flesh (Heb. 4:15); nevertheless, he died and rose from the dead in actual human flesh (sarx, Acts 2:31). John stressed Jesus’ continuing incarnation in flesh, when he warned: ‘Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming [and remaining] in the flesh, have gone out into the world’ (2 John 7). The use of the present participle in Greek means Christ remained in the flesh even while this was written. The claim that it was physical flesh before the resurrection but non-physical flesh after is a form of Gnosticism or docetism.

Jesus Ate Physical Food. Another evidence Jesus offered of the physical, tangible nature of his resurrection body was the ability to eat, which he did on at least four occasions (Luke 24:30, 41–43; John 21:12–13; Acts 1:4). Acts 10:40 indicates that Jesus ate often with the disciples after his resurrection, speaking of the apostles who ‘ate and drank with him after he arose from the dead.’

Unlike angels, Jesus’ resurrection body was material by nature (Luke 24:39). Given this context, it would have been sheer deception by Jesus to have shown his flesh and bones and offered his ability to eat physical food as proof of his physical body, if he had not been resurrected in a physical body.

Jesus’ Body Has His Wounds. Another unmistakable evidence of the physical nature of the resurrection body was that it possessed the physical wounds from Jesus’ crucifixion. No so-called ‘spiritual’ or immaterial body would have physical scars (John 20:27). Indeed, in this same physical body Jesus ascended into heaven where he is still seen as ‘a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain’ (Rev. 5:6). And when Christ returns, it will be ‘this same Jesus, who has been taken away from you into heaven’ (Acts 1:11). These same physical scars of his crucifixion will be visible at his second coming, for John declared: ‘Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’ (Rev. 1:7).

Geisler continues his analysis in part 2.


How Did Roman Crucifixion Kill Jesus?

James A. Brooks, in Mark, vol. 23, The New American Commentary , writes:

Crucifixion seems to have been invented by the Persians, who transmitted it to the Carthaginians, from whom the Romans learned it. It was the ultimate Roman punishment for slaves and provincials, but it was not used for Roman citizens. It was one of the most horrifying forms of execution ever devised. After having been stripped and flogged, the victim was lashed and/or nailed to a pole. John 20:25 certainly implies that Jesus’ hands at least were nailed (cf. Acts 2:23; Col 2:14). Evidently there were different styles of crosses including a single upright pole and two crossed poles in the form of an X, but the most common seems to have been a vertical pole and a horizontal one in the form of a T with the crossbar either at the top or near the top of the vertical piece. The usual practice was for the condemned to carry the crossbar to the place of execution where he was affixed to it and where it was hoisted upon the vertical stake that was permanently fixed. Death usually came slowly as a result of exposure and exhaustion. Inasmuch as no vital organ was damaged, it often took two or three days for the subject to die, although death could be hastened by breaking the legs (cf. John 19:31–33).

Norman Geisler writes in the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics :

The nature of the crucifixion assures death. . . . Jesus hung on the cross from 9 in the morning until just before sunset (Mark 15:25, 33). He bled from gashes in his hands and feet and from the thorns that pierced his scalp. These wounds would have drained away much blood over more than six hours. Plus, crucifixion demands that one constantly pull up by the hands and push on the injured feet in order to breathe. This caused excruciating pain from the nails. . . .

Beyond these injuries, Jesus’ side was pierced with a spear. From this wound flowed a mixture of blood and water (John 19:34), a proof that physical death had occurred. This detail alone, and its confirmation by modern medical experts, strongly validates the claim that this narrative is an eyewitness account. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (21 March 1986) concluded:

‘Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right rib, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.’

Jesus said he was dying when he declared on the cross, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’ (Luke 23:46). And when ‘he had said this, he breathed his last’ (vs. 46). John renders this, ‘he gave up his spirit’ (John 19:30). His death cry was heard by those who stood nearby (Luke 23:47–49).

The Roman soldiers, accustomed to crucifixion and death, pronounced Jesus dead. Although it was a common practice to break the legs of the victim to speed death (so that the person could no longer breathe), they did not believe it necessary to break Jesus’ legs (John 19:33).

Pilate double-checked to make sure Jesus was dead before he gave the corpse to Joseph to be buried. ‘Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph’ (Mark 15:44–45).

Jesus was wrapped in about 100 pounds of cloth and spices and placed in a sealed tomb for three days (Matt. 27:60; John 19:39–40). If he was not dead by then, the lack of food, water, and medical treatment would have finished him.

There is simply no way that Jesus did not die on the cross. But let’s pretend that somehow he was only near death when he was put in the tomb. What would have happened next? Michael Licona, in The Resurrection of Jesus, describes the scene:

D. F. Strauss’s critique is every bit as pertinent today as it was on the day he offered it. He asked us to suppose that a man was removed from his cross half dead, buried in a tomb and somehow reenergized after a few days. Having awakened from his stupor and wanting out of the dark tomb, he places his nail-pierced hands on the very heavy stone blocking his entrance and pushes it out of the way. He then walks blocks on pierced and wounded feet in search of his disciples. Finally, he arrives at the place they are staying and knocks on the door, which Peter opens only to see a severely wounded and dehydrated Jesus who is hunched over and looks up at Peter and through his extreme pain grimaces and says, ‘I’m the firstfruits of the general resurrection!’ Such a Jesus would never have convinced his disciples that he was the risen prince of life. Alive? Barely. Resurrected? Never. Allison comments, ‘How a flagellated, half-dead victim of the hideous torture of crucifixion could impress others as triumphant over death is hard to envisage.’

What Are the Roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Verses like John 14:28, where Jesus says, “The Father is greater than I,” have led to confusion in the church. The Bible seems to clearly teach that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all equally divine. They all possess the same attributes of deity. Then how can Jesus say the Father is greater than him?

The early church developed the doctrine of functional subordination to clarify the roles of the three members of the Trinity. Theologian Norman Geisler explains this doctrine in Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation :

All members of the Trinity are equal in essence, but they do not have the same roles. It is a heresy (called subordinationism) to affirm that there is an ontological subordination of one member of the Trinity to another, since they are identical in essence . . . ; nonetheless, it is clear that there is a functional subordination; that is, not only does each member have a different function or role, but some functions are also subordinate to others.

The Function of the Father

By His very title of ‘Father’ and His label of ‘the first person of the Trinity,’ it is manifest that His function is superior to that of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father, for example, is presented as the Source, Sender, and Planner of salvation.

The Function of the Son

The Son, on the other hand, is the Means, Sent One, and Achiever of salvation. The Father sent, and the Son came to save us; the Father planned it, but the Son accomplished it on the cross. This is why it is a heresy (called patripassianism) to claim that the Father suffered on the cross—only the Son suffered and died.

Further, the Son is eternally ‘begotten’ or ‘generated’ from the Father, but the Father is never said to be ‘begotten’ or ‘generated’ from anyone.

The Function of the Holy Spirit

According to orthodox theology, both East and West, the Holy Spirit is said to ‘proceed’ from the Father, but the Father never proceeds from the Holy Spirit—that is, the Father sends the Spirit, but the Spirit never sends the Father. . . . Many Eastern Orthodox theologians are willing to say that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father indirectly through the Son, but they deny that the Son has authority to send the Holy Spirit on His own. Be that as it may, all agree that there is a functional subordination of the Holy Spirit to the Father.

In brief, the Father is the Planner, the Son is the Accomplisher, and the Holy Spirit is the Applier of salvation to believers. The Father is the Source, the Son is the Means, and the Holy Spirit is the Effector of salvation—it is He who convicts, convinces, and converts.

One final word about the nature and duration of this functional subordination in the Godhead. It is not just temporal and economical; it is essential and eternal. For example, the Son is an eternal Son (see Prov. 30:4; Heb. 1:3). He did not become God’s Son; He always was related to God the Father as a Son and always will be. His submission to the Father was not just for time but will be for all eternity. Paul wrote:

‘Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom of God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power … When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:24, 28)’

Commentary on Luke 10 (The Good Samaritan)

Jesus is teaching and, within the crowd, an expert in the Old Testament stands up to challenge him. He asks Jesus a common question among Jews of the day: What do I do to guarantee I will be accepted into the kingdom of God when the end of the age arrives?

This question most likely references the description of the end times in Daniel 12:2. Daniel wrote, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” The lawyer wants to see how Jesus will answer this question, probably hoping to catch Jesus in an error.

Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer and asks the lawyer what his reading of the Law is on this important subject. The lawyer quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, which effectively command a person to love God and love his neighbor. Jesus commends the lawyer for his answer. Robert H. Stein, in vol. 24, Luke, The New American Commentary, provides some interesting background:

The expert’s answer consisted of two OT passages. The first (Deut 6:5) was called the Shema because it begins ‘Hear, O Israel.’ A devout Jew would repeat it twice each day (Ber. 1:1–4). In the Shema three prepositional phrases describe the total response of love toward God. These involve the heart (emotions), the soul (consciousness), and strength (motivation). The Synoptic Gospels all have ‘heart’ and ‘soul,’ Matthew omits strength, and all add ‘mind’ (intelligence). The second OT passage in the lawyer’s answer is Lev 19:18. It is found also in Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; and Jas 2:8. In Luke the two OT passages are combined into a single command, whereas in Mark 12:31; Matt 22:39 they are left separate. Whether these two OT passages were linked before Jesus’ time is uncertain. They appear together in the early Christian literature. That this twofold summary was basic to Jesus’ teaching is evident by its appearance in his parables (Luke 15:18, 21; 18:2; cf. also 11:42, where ‘justice’ equals ‘love your neighbor’).

Some Christians mistakenly believe that Jesus is advocating a salvation by works in this passage, but the commands to love God and love your neighbor are completely compatible and consistent with salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Stein expands on this topic:

To love God means to accept what God in his grace has done and to trust in him. Faith involves more than mental assent to theological doctrines. Similarly, love is not just an emotion. Both entail an obedient trust in the God of grace and mercy. The response of love to God and of faith in God are very much the same. This intimate association between love and faith is seen most clearly in Luke 7:47, 50. For Luke, as for Paul, salvation was by grace (Acts 13:38–39) through faith (Luke 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42), but this faith works through love (see Gal 5:6). At times the aspect of faith may need to be emphasized and at other times love.

Theologian Norman Geisler reminds us, in Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation, that

True faith involves love, which is the greatest commandment: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matt. 22:37). Unbelievers ‘perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved’ (2 Thess. 2:10). Paul speaks of ‘faith working through love’ (Gal. 5:6).

The lawyer, however, demands clarification from Jesus on who exactly counts as a neighbor. Instead of giving the lawyer a direct answer, Jesus delivers a parable. In brief, a Jew traveling alone from Jerusalem to Jericho is accosted by robbers and left for dead. An Aaronic priest and a Levite both pass him by without helping, but a Samaritan stops to help him. The Samaritan also transports him to an inn and pays for him to stay several weeks until he heals.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was remote and dangerous. It was a 3,000 feet descent along a 17- mile road. There were plenty of places for robbers to hide.

Once the man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead, a temple priest (a descendant of Aaron) happens by. Why did the priest fail to help the man? Leon Morris, in vol. 3, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, speculates:

Since the man was ‘half dead’ the priest would probably not have been able to be certain whether he was dead or not without touching him. But if he touched him and the man was in fact dead, then he would have incurred the ceremonial defilement that the Law forbade (Lev. 21:1ff.). He could be sure of retaining his ceremonial purity only by leaving the man alone. He could be sure he was not omitting to help a man in need only by going to him. In this conflict it was ceremonial purity that won the day. Not only did he not help, he went to the other side of the road. He deliberately avoided any possibility of contact.

A man from the tribe of Levi then comes upon the man, but he also continues without helping him. Robert Stein explains:

The Levite was a descendant of Levi who assisted the priests in various sacrificial duties and policing the temple but could not perform the sacrificial acts. Luke was not suggesting that since the Levite’s duties were inferior to those of a priest he might have been more open to help because the problem of becoming defiled was less acute. Rather he was emphasizing that neither the wise and understanding (10:21) nor the proud and ruling (1:51–52) practice being loving neighbors.

Finally, a Samaritan man arrives and has compassion on the injured Jew. He binds his wounds and treats them with wine and oil. Wine was used for cleaning wounds, due to the alcohol in it, and the oil was used to provide pain relief.

The Samaritan goes even further, though. He places the man on his donkey and carries him to an inn where he can rest and heal. He offers enough money to the innkeeper for the man to be able to stay for several weeks.

The fact that Jesus uses a Samaritan as the hero in the parable is shocking to his audience. It is worthwhile to remind the reader of the history between the Jews and Samaritans. Stein writes:

The united kingdom was divided after Solomon’s death due to the foolishness of his son, Rehoboam (1 Kgs 12). The ten northern tribes formed a nation known variously as Israel, Ephraim, or (after the capital city built by Omri) Samaria. In 722 b.c. Samaria fell to the Assyrians, and the leading citizens were exiled and dispersed throughout the Assyrian Empire. Non-Jewish peoples were then brought into Samaria. Intermarriage resulted, and the ‘rebels’ became ‘half-breeds’ in the eyes of the Southern Kingdom of Judea. (Jews comes from the term Judea.) After the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, the Samaritans sought at first to participate in the rebuilding of the temple. When their offer of assistance was rejected, they sought to impede its building (Ezra 4–6; Neh 2–4). The Samaritans later built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, but led by John Hyrcanus the Jews destroyed it in 128 b.c. (cf. John 4:20–21). So great was Jewish and Samaritan hostility that Jesus’ opponents could think of nothing worse to say of him than, ‘Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?’ (John 8:48; cf. also 4:9).

When Jesus finishes the parable, he asks the lawyer who was the true neighbor to the Jew who had been robbed. The lawyer, without being able to say the word “Samaritan,” nevertheless identifies the Samaritan as the true neighbor.

The message is clear. The command to love our neighbor crosses ethnic, religious, and national boundaries. Stein comments:

For most Jews a neighbor was another Jew, not a Samaritan or a Gentile. The Pharisees (John 7:49) and the Essenes did not even include all Jews (1QS 1:9–10). The teaching of the latter stands in sharp contrast with that of Jesus.

Jesus commands us to love everyone as we love ourselves, including those whom we consider our enemies.

Is Jesus Claiming to Be Eternally Preexistent in John 8:58?

Not according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe that Jesus is not God, but the archangel Michael. Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes frame the issue well in their book When Cultists Ask: A Popular Handbook on Cultic Misinterpretations.

In John 8:58 (nasb) we read, ‘Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”’ By contrast, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation reads, ‘Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to you, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.”’ This indicates that Jesus was preexistent but not eternally preexistent (certainly not as the great I Am of the Old Testament).

Has the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) correctly translated verse 58? Have Christians been misunderstanding this verse for two thousand years? Geisler and Rhodes explain:

Greek scholars agree that the Watchtower Society has no justification for translating ego eimi in John 8:58 as ‘“I have been’ (a translation that masks its connection to Exodus 3:14 where God reveals his name to be I Am). The Watchtower Society once attempted to classify the Greek word eimi as a perfect indefinite tense to justify this translation—but Greek scholars have responded by pointing out that there is no such thing as a perfect indefinite tense in the Greek.

The words ego eimi occur many times in John’s Gospel. Interestingly, the New World Translation elsewhere translates ego eimi correctly (as in John 4:26; 6:35, 48, 51; 8:12, 24, 28; 10:7, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5; and 18:5, 6, 8). Only in John 8:58 does the mistranslation occur. The Watchtower Society is motivated to translate this verse differently in order to avoid it appearing that Jesus is the great I Am of the Old Testament. Consistency and scholarly integrity calls for John 8:58 to be translated the same way as all the other occurrences of ego eimi—that is, as ‘I am.’

Finally, as noted above, I Am is the name God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14–15. The name conveys the idea of eternal self-existence. Yahweh never came into being at a point in time, for he has always existed. To know Yahweh is to know the eternal one. It is therefore understandable that when Jesus made the claim to be I Am, the Jews immediately picked up stones with the intention of killing Jesus, for they recognized he was implicitly identifying himself as Yahweh.

To Which Coming Did Jesus Refer in Matthew 16:28?

In Matthew 16:28 Jesus promises his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” What did Jesus mean? To which coming was he referring, because his Second Coming still has not occurred?

Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe offer three alternatives in When Critics Ask : A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties:

First, some have suggested that this may be a reference to the Day of Pentecost where Christ’s Helper, the Holy Spirit, came to descend upon the apostles. In John’s Gospel (14:26), Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, and, in the beginning of Acts (1:4–8), He tells them not to leave Jerusalem until they have received the Holy Spirit. But this hardly seems to fit the description of seeing Christ coming in His kingdom (Matt. 16:28).

Second, others believe this might be a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70. This would mean that He would return to bring judgment upon the city that rejected Him and crucified Him. While this is a possible explanation, it does not seem to account for the fact that Jesus appears to be coming for believers (those ‘standing there’ with Him), not simply coming in judgment on unbelievers. Nor does the judgment on Jerusalem in A.D. 70 adequately express seeing the ‘Son of Man coming in His kingdom’ (v. 28), a phrase reminiscent of His second coming (cf. 26:64). Nor does it explain why Jesus never appeared in A.D. 70.

A third and more plausible explanation is that this is a reference to the appearance of Christ in His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration which begins in the very next verse (17:1). Here Christ does literally appear in a glorified form, and some of His apostles are there to witness the occasion, namely Peter, James, and John. This transfiguration experience, of course, was only a foretaste of His Second Coming when all believers will see Him come in power and great glory (cf. Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7).

The authors of Hard Sayings of the Bible differ somewhat from Geisler and Howe. Here is their approach to the question:

With the death and exaltation of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost following, some of those who were witnesses of his mighty works in Galilee and elsewhere saw the power of the kingdom of God manifested on a scale unmatched during his ministry. Within a few weeks, the number of his followers multiplied tenfold; his kingdom was visibly on the march.

This, at any rate, is an interpretation of his saying about the kingdom of God having come with power which makes it intelligible to us. Whether or not this interpretation coincides with his intention when he spoke in this way is a question to which it is best not to give a dogmatic answer.

The three Evangelists who record the saying (in varying terms) go on immediately to describe Jesus’ transfiguration, as though that event bore some relation to the saying (Mt 17:1–8; Mk 9:2–8; Lk 9:28–36). It cannot be said that the transfiguration was the event which Jesus said would come within the lifetime of some of his hearers; one does not normally use such language to refer to something that is to take place in a week’s time.

But the three disciples who witnessed the transfiguration had a vision of the Son of Man vindicated and glorified; they saw in graphic anticipation the fulfillment of his words about the powerful advent of the kingdom of God. Matthew, strikingly, in his report of the words speaks of the Son of Man instead of the kingdom of God: ‘there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom’ (Mt 16:28 RSV). This is an interpretation of the words, but a true interpretation. And Matthew follows Mark in saying that when the disciples had seen the vision, Jesus forbade them to speak about it to anyone ‘until the Son of man should have risen from the dead’ (Mk 9:9 RSV). His rising from the dead would inaugurate the reality which they had seen in the vision on the mount of transfiguration, and would at the same time herald the coming of the kingdom ‘with power.’

In my research on this question, most scholars follow Geisler and Howe: the transfiguration is the coming to which Jesus refers. However, a significant minority also note that Jesus’ resurrection and the Day of Pentecost are better answers to this question. We can agree that it is “best not to give a dogmatic answer.”

#1 Post of 2016 – Does Solomon’s Hundreds of Wives Mean That the Bible Promotes Polygamy?

In 1 Kings 11, verse 3, we read that Solomon, the king who ruled at the pinnacle of Israelite power, had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Other great men of the Old Testament also had more than one wife. Are we to conclude that God encourages polygamy?

Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, in When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficultiesargue that the Bible unequivocally teaches that monogamy is God’s standard for the human race.

This is clear from the following facts: (1) From the very beginning God set the pattern by creating a monogamous marriage relationship with one man and one woman, Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:27; 2:21–25). (2) Following from this God-established example of one woman for one man, this was the general practice of the human race (Gen. 4:1) until interrupted by sin (Gen. 4:23). (3) The Law of Moses clearly commands, ‘You shall not multiply wives’ (Deut. 17:17). (4) The warning against polygamy is repeated in the very passage where it numbers Solomon’s many wives (1 Kings 11:2), warning ‘You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you.’ (5) Our Lord reaffirmed God’s original intention by citing this passage (Matt. 19:4) and noting that God created one ‘male and [one] female’ and joined them in marriage. (6) The NT stresses that ‘Each man [should] have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband’ (1 Cor. 7:2). (7) Likewise, Paul insisted that a church leader should be ‘the husband of one wife’ (1 Tim. 3:2, 12). (8) Indeed, monogamous marriage is a prefiguration of the relation between Christ and His bride, the church (Eph. 5:31–32).

How do the biblical texts treat the practice of polygamy?

Polygamy was never established by God for any people under any circumstances. In fact, the Bible reveals that God severely punished those who practiced it, as is evidenced by the following: (1) Polygamy is first mentioned in the context of a sinful society in rebellion against God where the murderer ‘Lamech took for himself two wives’ (Gen. 4:19, 23). (2) God repeatedly warned polygamists of the consequences of their actions ‘lest his heart turn away’ from God (Deut. 17:17; cf. 1 Kings 11:2). (3) God never commanded polygamy—like divorce, He only permitted it because of the hardness of their hearts (Deut. 24:1; Matt. 19:8). (4) Every polygamist in the Bible, including David and Solomon (1 Chron. 14:3), paid dearly for his sins. (5) God hates polygamy, as He hates divorce, since it destroys His ideal for the family (cf. Mal. 2:16).

Geisler and Howe summarize the argument for monogamy:

In brief, monogamy is taught in the Bible in several ways: (1) by precedent, since God gave the first man only one wife; (2) by proportion, since the amount of males and females God brings into the world are about equal; (3) by precept, since both OT and NT command it (see verses above); (4) by punishment, since God punished those who violated His standard (1 Kings 11:2); and, (5) by prefiguration, since marriage is a typology of Christ and His bride, the church (Eph. 5:31–32). Simply because the Bible records Solomon’s sin of polygamy does not mean that God approved of it.

#2 Post of 2016 – Is the Story of Jonah Fictional?

Some Bible scholars believe that the Book of Jonah is a fictional tale written purely for teaching purposes by its original author. They argue that the original author never meant for the story to be taken as real history. While it may be impossible to know just based on the contents of the book itself, there is one important person who seems to have considered the events in Jonah to be historical: Jesus Christ.

Billy K. Smith and Franklin S. Page write, in Amos, Obadiah, Jonah: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary):

Finally, there is the witness of Jesus Christ, which apparently was the basis for the early church’s linking the historicity of Jonah’s experience with that of Jesus, especially his resurrection. Although it would be conceivable that Jesus might have been merely illustrating in Matt 12:40 when he associated his prophesied resurrection with Jonah’s experience in the fish, it is much more difficult to deny that Jesus was assuming the historicity of the conversion of the Ninevites when he continued in v. 41 (cf. Luke 11:32).

‘The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.’

This is confirmed in the following verse (cf. Luke 11:33) when Jesus parallels the ‘men of Nineveh’ with the ‘Queen of the South,’ whose visit to Jerusalem is recounted in 1 Kings.

‘The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.’

Clearly Jesus did not see Jonah as a parable or an allegory. As J. W. McGarvey stated long ago, ‘It is really a question as to whether Jesus is to be received as a competent witness respecting historical and literary matters of the ages which preceded His own.’

Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, in When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, add:

[T]he most devastating argument against the denial of the historical accuracy of Jonah is found in Matthew 12:40. In this passage Jesus predicts His own burial and resurrection, and provides the doubting scribes and Pharisees the sign that they demanded. The sign is the experience of Jonah. Jesus says, ‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’ If the tale of Jonah’s experience in the belly of the great fish was only fiction, then this provided no prophetic support for Jesus’ claim. The point of making reference to Jonah is that if they did not believe the story of Jonah being in the belly of the fish, then they would not believe the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. As far as Jesus was concerned, the historical fact of His own death, burial, and resurrection was on the same historical ground as Jonah in the belly of the fish. To reject one was to cast doubt on the other (cf. John 3:12). Likewise, if they believed one, they should believe the other. . . .

Jesus went on to mention the significant historical detail. His own death, burial, and resurrection was the supreme sign that verified His claims. When Jonah preached to the unbelieving Gentiles, they repented. But, here was Jesus in the presence of His own people, the very people of God, and yet they refused to believe. Therefore, the men of Nineveh would stand up in judgment against them, ‘because they [the men of Nineveh] repented at the preaching of Jonah’ (Matt. 12:41). If the events of the Book of Jonah were merely parable or fiction, and not literal history, then the men of Nineveh did not really repent, and any judgment upon the unrepentant Pharisees would be unjust and unfair. Because of the testimony of Jesus, we can be sure that Jonah records literal history.

#5 Post of 2016 – Why Did Elisha Curse a Group of Young Men?

In 2 Kings 2:23-24, the prophet Elisha curses a group of young men, seemingly just for calling him names. Even worse, some translations indicate that these were small boys. What is going on here?

First, Hebrew scholars tell us that the words used to describe the boys can indicate an age anywhere from 12-30 years old. It is highly likely, given the context, that these were adolescent young men, at a minimum, and maybe even older than that.

Second, they weren’t simply calling him names. What they said was, “Go on up, you baldhead!” This was a direct reference to Elijah’s going up to heaven, and thus an insult to Elijah and Elisha’s ministry. The term baldhead could be a reference to the hair style worn by prophets of the day, but scholars aren’t sure. It could also refer to lepers who would shave their heads, indicating Elisha was an outcast just as lepers are outcasts.

In the end, God decided that the threat to Elisha and his ministry were serious enough to warrant an attack on the young men, causing 42 of them to be seriously injured and possibly even fatally wounded by two bears.

Norman Geisler and Tom Howe, in When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, add these thoughts about the passage:

First of all, this was no minor offense, for these young men held God’s prophet in contempt. Since the prophet was God’s mouthpiece to His people, God Himself was being most wickedly insulted in the person of His prophet.

Second, these were not small, innocent children. They were wicked young men, comparable to a modern street gang. Hence, the life of the prophet was endangered by their number, the nature of their sin, and their obvious disrespect for authority.

Third, Elisha’s action was designed to strike fear in the hearts of any other such gang members. If these young gang members were not afraid to mock a venerable man of God such as Elisha, then they would have been a threat to the lives of all God’s people.

Fourth, some commentators note that their statements were designed to challenge Elisha’s claim to be a prophet. They were essentially saying, ‘If you are a man of God, why don’t you go on up to heaven like Elijah did?’ . . .

Fifth, it was not Elijah who took their lives, but God who alone could have providentially directed the bears to attack them. It is evident that by mocking this man of God, these young men were revealing their true attitudes toward God Himself. Such contempt for the Lord was punishable by death. The Scriptures do not say that Elisha prayed for this kind of punishment. It was clearly an act of God in judgment upon this impious gang.