is the avoidance of covid19 the greatest good for our nation?

After one month into the North Carolina covid19 lockdown, my mother (who is 78 years old, has multiple comorbidities, and lives alone) said something to me on the phone. She said, in essence, “I would rather die from covid19 than be isolated from my friends and family.”

She was on to something important, but it’s taken me a few months to put together my thoughts. C. S. Lewis wrote a famous essay called “First and Second Things” where he argued that whenever a person or society places lesser goods ahead of greater goods, they will lose both as a result. He uses a couple of simple examples:

“The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping. The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels of intoxication.”

He makes the further point that many British during the decade leading up to WWII wanted peace at all costs with Hitler and Germany. But their desire for peace at all costs brought them war instead.

How can we apply Lewis’ maxim to covid19 and the lockdowns? What human good has been prioritized before all others? It seems to me that the proponents of lockdowns believe the following: “We must stop the spread of covid19 at all costs to keep people from getting sick and dying.” Most other human goods must be subordinated to this good.

Is this a worthy goal? Yes. Is this an authentic good for the people of our nation? For sure.

Most people just stop there, but Lewis asks us to take a step further. Should this good (or goal) of stopping the spread of covid19 at all costs be prioritized above all other human goods? Should it be our First Goal?

To answer that question, we need to rank human goods. Many philosophers have ranked human goods, but I am going to follow the writings of Thomas Aquinas, the greatest Christian philosopher who ever lived. Aquinas considered eight popular candidates for what constitutes the greatest good for a human being and ranked them in order of most foolish to most wise.

The eight goods are:

  1. Wealth
  2. Honor
  3. Fame
  4. Power
  5. Bodily Health
  6. Pleasure
  7. Goods of the Soul (wisdom and virtue)
  8. God

Notice that the goal of “stop the spread of covid19” fits under the category of bodily health. Bodily health, according to Aquinas is not the most important good for human beings. In fact, he ranks pleasure, goods of the soul, and God as all being higher than bodily health.

What this means practically is that if a person prioritizes bodily health (not getting ill, being physically healthy) above all else, they will ultimately miss out on the goods of pleasure, wisdom, virtue, and God. How so?

Let’s take pleasure. There are many things that give us pleasure that we have lost because of lockdowns. Playing or watching organized sports. Going to movie theaters. Having dinner parties with groups of friends. Going to amusement parks. Traveling. Working (yes, some people get pleasure out of their occupation). I could go on, but you get the point. By prioritizing bodily health, we are now missing out on many of the very things that make life pleasurable! Missing out on so many of life’s pleasures brings depression, anxiety, and stress, all of which hurt our bodies.

Let’s take goods of the soul, wisdom and virtue. Here I want to focus on the virtue of love. The classical definition of love is “acting for the good of another person.” Because of our covid19 lockdowns, our ability to love other people has been severely limited. Why? Because the most powerful and poignant acts of love usually require face-to-face contact. We love others by touching them, embracing them, talking to them in person, giving them our full attention. We need human contact to feel loved.

“Remote love” is inferior to in-person love. We all intuitively know this. Receiving a text from a friend just doesn’t compare to talking to that same friend face to face. You can’t hug people remotely. You can’t embrace a loved one remotely.

Some of us work because of love. We work to generate income to provide food, shelter, and clothing for our family. This is an act of love that lockdowns have prevented for many people.

If we are unable to give or receive in-person love (the highest kind of love), we are undoubtedly harming ourselves physically and psychologically. People die from lack of love. People die from loneliness. People suffer greater stress when they don’t receive love. So by placing bodily health above love, we end up losing both. This is what my mother sensed so early in the lockdown.

What about the perfect good of God? For the Christian, there are many ways to know God in this life. Two primary ways we grow closer to God are corporate worship and service to the needy. Corporate worship consists of gathering together with other believers to sing, pray and talk about God. The lockdowns have prevented corporate worship from occurring.

What about service? Christians are called to serve those who are in need. This tends to be a hands-on activity! It is certainly most effective when done face-to-face. Can you imagine Mother Teresa serving the sick and poor in Calcutta by Zoom calls? The whole image is ridiculous.

For the person who is not worshipping corporately or serving the poor, they are not enjoying God as they should. Much like the loss of love, the loss of worship and service is devastating to the physical, mental, and spiritual health of a person.

Let me bring this home. I realize that there is a time element that mitigates the damage of the lockdowns and we can debate how long a lockdown is warranted given the suffering covid19 or any other infectious disease may cause. My point is broader. What I am saying is that my mother had it right. There comes a time when the avoidance of a disease ruins your life. By trying to save your life, you end up destroying it.

Lockdowns drain the world of pleasure, love, and service to God. If you become obsessed with the lesser good of bodily health, you will end losing the greater goods. Bodily health is a means to end. It is not the end itself. It is a means to enjoy your life, to love others, and to worship God. If you don’t understand that, then you have placed the second thing first and you will lose both.

You can’t remove statues unless you believe in god

There are a lot of activists wanting statues of people who lived 100, 200, or more years ago to be removed. The argument is that the people represented by the statues believed that white races are superior to black races, and this is wrong.

I am not interested in debating whether removing statues is a good idea or not. But I do want to point something out that I think is being missed.

The statement, “Racism is wrong,” is a statement of morality. By saying that racism is wrong, you are saying, “You ought not think that one race is superior to another,” or “It is morally or ethically wrong for you to think one race is superior to another.”

Nowadays most people in western society think moral laws come ultimately from one of two places. Either humans/societies create moral laws or moral laws come from a supernatural, timeless God.

If you think that there is no supernatural, timeless God, and that human beings/societies ultimately create all moral laws, then you cannot judge racism to be morally wrong for cultures that disagree with you. If the majority of people of the late 1700’s in America believed that whites are superior to blacks, than a person living in that era was morally obligated to agree with that belief. That was their morality, created by them, at that time. Whether our culture today believes racism to be morally wrong is completely irrelevant. If you believe humans create moral laws, then we must judge humans by the moral laws in existence at the time they live. To do otherwise is irrational.

However, if you believe moral laws ultimately come from a supernatural God who is timeless and unchanging (this is the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), then moral laws are also timeless and unchanging. In this case, you can judge people who lived in the past by the unchanging moral laws which come from God.

If you believe in God, feel free to judge past cultures for racism. If you do not believe in God, you cannot rationally judge any culture for racism except your own.

Risen jesus april 6-7

I am excited to announce that Dr. Mike Licona (Risen Jesus Ministry) will be visiting my church, Cornerstone Baptist Church, on April 6-7, 2019.

Mike will be be delivering five talks. Here is the agenda:

April 6, Saturday Evening: 6:30-8:30 with 15-minute break in between talks, Q&A after each

Should We Trust the New Testament?

How certain can we be that the Bible we have today is not a corrupted version of the original? Why were certain books excluded from the Bible and who made the decision? In this lecture, Mike Licona wrestles with these questions and provides authentic answers.

The A, B, Cs . . . Ds & Es of Defending the Gospels.

Whether one is talking to an atheist or agnostic, Muslim or Mormon, an attack on the Gospels is often the primary assault. Mike Licona addresses the 5 most common objections to the historical reliability of the Gospels.

April 7, Sunday Morning: Two services (9-10:15, 10:30-11:45)

The Historical Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.

Why should others believe Christianity is true in the face of so many worldviews? Can we know for certain? Are there any hard-core facts? In this lecture, Dr. Licona provides a powerful yet simple historical case that Jesus’ resurrection was a historical event.

April 7, Sunday Evening: 5-6:15 with Q&A

Are There Contradictions in the Gospels?

Alleged contradictions in the Gospels is the most common and powerful objection to the Gospels being historically reliable sources about Jesus. Mike Licona discusses how ancient literature was written and provides fascinating insights pertaining to how ancient literary devices often resulted in the types of discrepancies we observe in the Gospels and in much of ancient literature.

The address of Cornerstone is 5736 Inman Road Greensboro, NC 27410 .

We hope to see you there!

What Is the Christian Story?

Here is a summary of the Christian faith in the form of a narrative. Note that the bold text indicates primary doctrines of  Christianity.

God, who is perfectly good, just, and wise, created the universe (all time, space, and matter). Human beings were the greatest part of His creation, for He made humans to represent Him on earth.

The first human beings rebelled against God’s leadership. As a result, all of their descendants are in revolt. Pain, suffering, and death became a part of human existence because of human disobedience.

God desired to reconcile with mankind, so he sent human messengers (prophets) to convince people to stop their rebellion. These messengers were often confirmed by supernatural signs (miracles).  Some of these messengers had limited success for short periods of time, but ultimately failed to convince humans to submit to God’s leadership.  Many of these messengers were persecuted, tortured, and murdered by the communities they were trying to convince.

After dozens of these messengers failed over a millennium, God came to earth Himself, as a man. This man is named Jesus and he is the Son of God. Jesus was born of a Jewish virgin named Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in a town called Bethlehem about 2000 years ago.

At this point in the narrative, we can now see that God is one God who exists as three persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus grew to be an adult in the Roman province of Galilee, and around his thirtieth birthday, he began a public ministry.

Jesus called his fellow Jews to stop their rebellion against God the Father. Jesus told them that if they would dedicate their lives to him (the Son of God), if they would treasure him above everything else, he would stand in for them on Judgment Day. Judgment Day occurs at the end of human history. It is the day when God judges each person for how she obeyed Him during her time on earth.

Jesus explained how he would be able to stand in for those who dedicated their lives to him:

He planned to sacrifice his life so that God the Father would punish Jesus (the Son) for human rebellion instead of the people who deserve it (all of us). In other words, every person who dedicates her life to Jesus (the Son) will not have to face the consequences of her rebellion against God (the Father) on Judgment Day.

To convince his listeners that he had God’s authority, that he was indeed God Himself, Jesus offered three lines of evidence: 1) throughout his life, he always obeyed God the Father’s will, and thus never once made a moral error, 2) he performed miracles, 3) he predicted the circumstances of his death and he predicted that he would physically come back to life on the third day following his death.

About three years into his ministry, Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem and sentenced to be executed by Jewish and Roman authorities in collaboration. He was executed by crucifixion and three days later his dead body came back to life (resurrection).

Over the next 40 days, he appeared physically to hundreds of his followers. He then returned to heaven, where he has been continuously acting on behalf of his followers.

During those 40 days, Jesus commanded his followers to spread his message. He promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to help everyone who sought to follow Jesus. Very rapidly, thousands of people were heeding the message and the Christian church was born.

While Jesus was with his followers on earth, he told them that he would return someday in the future.  He will return as a ruler and he will usher in a kingdom of paradise that will never end.  Every person, whether alive or dead,  will receive a transformed physical body, just as Jesus did when he returned from the dead. All those who treasured Jesus and his sacrifice above all else will live with God in paradise (heaven) and enjoy Him forever.

Commentary on Luke 10 (The Good Samaritan) – #1 Post of 2017

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.

What Are the Roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? – #2 Post of 2017

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 :

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 John 11 (Raising of Lazarus) – #3 Post of 2017

Jesus and his disciples have previously left Jerusalem to escape the hostility Jesus was facing there. Many scholars believe that they are staying in the region of Batanea, which is about one hundred miles northeast of Jerusalem. Jesus receives word that his friend, Lazarus, is ill. Lazarus lives with his two sisters, Mary and Martha, in a town called Bethany, which is about two miles east of Jerusalem. When Jesus hears about Lazarus, he assures his disciples that through Lazarus’ illness, God will be glorified.

Two days later, Jesus announces that he is going back to Judea, the province in which Jerusalem and Bethany are located. His disciples, fearful for his safety, ask him why he is returning. He answers that Lazarus is dead and Jesus wants to go to him. Jesus adds, mysteriously, that he is glad he wasn’t there with Lazarus before he died, so that his disciples might believe. Thomas (one of Jesus’ disciples), not understanding what Jesus is talking about, resigns himself to go with Jesus, even though he fears that all the disciples may be killed by the Jewish authorities.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, he learns that Lazarus has been dead for four days. The fourth day after death is an important milestone for Jews at this time. Jews believed a person’s soul would hover over the dead body for three days, trying to return to the body. After three days, when decomposition had set in, the soul would depart. In other words, there was no question that Lazarus was dead four days after he was buried. If it had been one to three days, there would have been some doubt as to whether he was actually deceased.

Martha, one of Lazarus’ sisters comes to meet Jesus and bemoans the fact that Jesus did not arrive before Lazarus died. She has presumably seen Jesus heal sick people and she assumes he would have done the same for Lazarus.

Jesus tells Martha that her brother will rise again, but she thinks he is referring to the future resurrection of all believers when the messianic kingdom begins. Jesus responds by saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Jesus asks Martha if she believes what he just said, and she replies, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” Martha affirms her belief in Jesus as the promised Messiah, and as a man who has a unique relationship with God.

What does Jesus mean by saying he is the resurrection and the life? D. A. Carson, in , writes:

Jesus has repeatedly mentioned resurrection on the last day (5:21, 25–29; 6:39–40). In this he has been in line with mainstream Judaism. But these references have also insisted that he alone, under the express sanction of the Father, would raise the dead on the last day. The same truth is now repeated in the pithy claim, I am the resurrection and the life. Jesus’ concern is to divert Martha’s focus from an abstract belief in what takes place on the last day, to a personalized belief in him who alone can provide it. Just as he not only gives the bread from heaven (6:27) but is himself the bread of life (6:35), so also he not only raises the dead on the last day (5:21, 25ff.) but is himself the resurrection and the life. There is neither resurrection nor eternal life outside of him.

Note that as soon as a person believes in Jesus, eternal life begins. That is why Jesus can refer to a person physically dying, but yet still living. Eternal life does not start after death, but immediately upon believing in Jesus. The person who has eternal life will never experience a permanent death.

Martha then returns to her home to get Mary, her sister, and bring her to Jesus. The mourners who are comforting Mary rise and follow them. Apparently Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were wealthy because quite a few people had come from Jerusalem to mourn with Mary and Martha.

Mary repeats what Martha had said to Jesus, that Jesus could have healed Lazarus if Jesus had arrived while Lazarus was alive. This time, however, Jesus reacts to her weeping, and the weeping of the mourners, with indignation and then weeping of his own. Why did Jesus react with anger and indignation, and then weeping?

Carson offers two interpretations:

Some think that Jesus is moved by their grief, and is consequently angry with the sin, sickness and death in this fallen world that wreaks so much havoc and generates so much sorrow. Others think that the anger is directed at the unbelief itself. The men and women before him were grieving like pagans, like ‘the rest of men, who have no hope’ (1 Thes. 4:13). Profound grief at such bereavement is natural enough; grief that degenerates to despair, that pours out its loss as if there were no resurrection, is an implicit denial of that resurrection.

Notice that nobody, including Jesus’ disciples, Martha, Mary, or the Jewish mourners understand who Jesus is and what his mission is. They accept that he can heal, but they do not even consider that he can raise a man from the dead. They do not fully understand that he has been sent by God to conquer sin and death. Gerald Borchert, in , agrees:

The other places in the Gospels where such a depth of Jesus’ emotions were expressed are specifically places related to his mission: the places where he groaned over the failure of Jerusalem to come to him (cf. Matt 23:37–39; Luke 13:34–35), where he prayed for his disciples’ safety and future (cf. John 17:9–26), and where he wrestled with his death and the disciples’ weaknesses (cf. Matt 26:37–41; Mark 13:33–37; Luke 22:40–46; John 12:27–28). Accordingly, I would maintain that Jesus’ weeping here is directly related to the failure of his followers to recognize his mission as the agent of God. God’s Son was in their midst. They really missed the point.

Jesus arrives at the tomb of Lazarus and instructs the crowd to remove the stone which is covering the entrance to the tomb. Martha, not understanding what Jesus is about to do, warns Jesus that removing the stone is a mistake because Lazarus’ decaying body will stink.

Jesus reminds her that because she believes in him, she will see the glory of God. Jesus speaks a short prayer to God the Father, thanking Him for hearing Jesus. He then yells at the tomb, “Lazarus, come out.” Lazarus comes out of the tomb, and the onlookers unbind him from his graveclothes.

Carson explains that the

corpse was customarily laid on a sheet of linen, wide enough to envelop the body completely and more than twice the length of the corpse. The body was so placed on the sheet that the feet were at one end, and then the sheet was drawn over the head and back down to the feet. The feet were bound at the ankles, and the arms were tied to the body with linen strips. The face was bound with another cloth (soudarion, a loan-word from the Latin sudarium, ‘sweat-cloth’, often worn in life around the neck). Jesus’ body was apparently prepared for burial in the same way (cf. 19:40; 20:5, 7). A person so bound could hop and shuffle, but scarcely walk. Therefore when Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth, and the dead man came out, Jesus promptly gave the order, Take off the grave clothes and let him go.

explains the significance of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead:

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the turning point in John’s Gospel. Not only is this miracle the last of the ‘signs’ emphasized by John . . . , it is also the climax of Jesus’ public ministry. Repeatedly John mentions how this miracle revealed Jesus and led people to believe (11: 4, 15, 25– 27, 40, 42, 45). Raising Lazarus from the dead dramatically concluded Jesus’ public ministry among the Jews (11: 54). While some came to believe in Him because of this great miracle, His opponents, alarmed at Jesus’ growing popularity, resolved ‘to put Him to death’ (11: 53). A threat of execution had already hung over Jesus (11: 8, 16), but now the religious authorities decided that His popularity threatened to provoke intervention by the Roman military. The priest Caiaphas advised that Jesus must die so that the Romans would not take away the privileges of the Jewish nation (11: 48). But John interprets the priest’s political calculation as an indirect prophecy that Jesus would die for the salvation of the Jews and of people everywhere who would believe in Him (11: 51, 52).

Why Don’t the Synoptic Gospels Recount the Raising of Lazarus? – #4 Post of 2017

Some critics have cast doubt on the veracity of the raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel because it is not recorded in the other three Gospels. John’s Gospel is believed to be the last Gospel written, so the critics allege that John invented the story to further his particular agenda. Andreas Köstenberger, in , argues against this viewpoint.

This critique is part of a larger argument against the historicity of John’s Gospel based on its omission of many events found in the Synoptics and its inclusion of material absent from the other Gospels. However, this critique is ultimately unconvincing. For no matter one’s theory as to how John composed his Gospel, it is apparent that he had a large amount of material from which to choose. If John was aware of the Synoptics as he was writing, which is probable (see Bauckham 1997a, esp. 147– 71; Köstenberger 2009, 553– 55), then he could reasonably be expected to assume much of the material they contain.

On the other hand, if John wrote without knowledge of the Synoptics, then it is likely that at least some of the differences can be attributed to the large amount of material from which he had to choose. This corresponds with what John later writes: ‘Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book’ (20: 30). Craig Blomberg rightly notes, ‘Any two ancient historians’ accounts of a given person or period of history differ from each other at least as much as John does from the Synoptics, when they do not rely on common sources for their information’ (Blomberg 2007, 207).

In addition, it stands to reason that John had his own theological emphases and unique perception of the significance of the events surrounding Jesus, not to mention his own individuality, style, interests, and distinctive eyewitness recollection from which to draw.

If the raising of Lazarus really did occur, why would the other Gospel authors fail to include it in their biographies? Surely an event of this significance would necessitate inclusion, the critics argue.  Köstenberger disagrees:

Why does an event require multiple attestations in the Gospels to be considered historical? Throughout the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus performs a host of miracles, including raising people from the dead (an admittedly rare feature), so critics certainly cannot legitimately argue that Lazarus’ resurrection fails to comport with the general Synoptic portrait of Jesus. Although it is impossible to know for certain why a given author selects or omits particular material in his or her account, one possible reason for the omission of the story of Lazarus in the other Gospels is their focus on Galilee (the raising of Lazarus takes place in Judea). Also, in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Bauckham (2006, 184– 87) cites favorably G. Theissen’s theory of ‘protective anonymity,’ according to which the evangelists sought to shield individuals who were still living from persecution by not naming them. If Lazarus was still alive when the Synoptic Gospels were written, but died in the interim between their publication and the composition of John’s Gospel, this, likewise, may account for the Synoptic non-inclusion of the account and John’s inclusion of it. Lazarus’s death would have meant he no longer needed protection from persecution, so that John was free to include the account of his raising from the dead by Jesus.

What Happened to Verse 37 in Acts 8? – #5 Post of 2017

If you’re reading the NIV, ESV, or other modern English translation of the New Testament (NT), you will notice that Acts 8:37 is either omitted or bracketed. There will be a footnote saying that early manuscripts do not contain this verse. So what’s going on here? How could there be a verse 37 that once existed, but now has been deleted?

The first thing to understand is that verse numbers were not assigned to the biblical texts until the year 1551. One hundred years earlier, the printing press had been invented, and there was a subsequent explosion in printed copies of the Bible. At that time, the scholars who were producing printed Greek NT’s or translating the Greek NT into other languages only had a small number of ancient manuscripts to use in their translation, and these documents were primarily dated from the ninth through twelfth centuries.

These manuscripts from the ninth to twelfth centuries contained the text that was assigned to Acts 8:37. Here is the reading: “Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ The eunuch answered, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” For the next five hundred years, verse 37 was included in most Bibles.

As we fast-forward to the twentieth century, archaeologists began discovering much older Greek NT manuscripts dating as far back as the second century. The older documents dated from the second through fourth centuries did not contain the text from Acts 8:37 (the text first shows up in a Coptic translation dated to the late fourth and fifth century). So, given the discrepancies between the earlier and later manuscripts, scholars must decide which variant most likely represents the original Book of Acts written in the first century. The consensus seems to be that the original version did not contain the words from verse 37.

Darrell Bock explains that verse 37 “appears to be a scribal addition, likely motivated by the fact that the original text of Acts does not recount the eunuch making a confession of faith.” Bruce Metzger adds that the phrase “Jesus Christ” is not a Lukan expression and thus must have been added by someone else.

Even though scholars don’t believe Luke wrote these words, they do believe that the contents of verse 37 likely reflect the practice of second century Christians.

Did James and John, the Sons of Zebedee, Die for the Gospel? – #6 Post of 2017

In Matthew 20, Jesus confirms that his cousins, James and John, will suffer, and possibly die, for his sake. This raises the question of whether we have any historical documentation about the deaths of James and John.

With regard to James, the book of Acts, chapter twelve, actually records his death around the year AD 44.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.

Given that there are several Herods mentioned in the Bible, which Herod killed James? According to,

Herod Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great (Acts 12). It was he who persecuted the church in Jerusalem and had the apostle James, the brother of John and son of Zebedee, put to death by the sword. By the hand of Herod Agrippa I, James became the first apostle to be martyred.

With regard to John, the historical record is less clear. According to, here is the most plausible account of what happened to John:

According to John’s Gospel (19:26-27), it was probably John who took Mary, the mother of Jesus as his adopted mother. He preached in Jerusalem, and later, as bishop of Ephesus, south of Izmir in western Turkey, worked among the churches of Asia Minor. During the reigns of either Emperor Nero (AD 54-68) or Domitian (AD 81-96), he was banished to the nearby island of Patmos, now one of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. He was subsequently freed and died a natural death at Ephesus c AD 100.

John likely was assigned to slave labor in the mines of Patmos, so he did indeed suffer greatly. There is also a church tradition which claims that, at one point, John was thrown into a basin of boiling oil.

Both brothers, then, suffered greatly for proclaiming the gospel. James was the first apostle to be martyred and John, although he lived several more decades than his brother, was banished to work the mines on the island of Patmos.

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