Why We Know New Testament Writers Told the Truth

“Why would the apostles lie? If they lied, what was their motive, what did they get out of it? What they got… was misunderstanding, rejection, persecution, torture, and martyrdom. Hardly a list of perks!” —PETER KREEFT

I came to know Christ at a critical time in my life. I was just thirteen years old, in dire straits, always at odds with my father. You could say I had a difficult time with obedience, controlling my base impulses, telling the truth, and keeping my hands off other people’s property. The more my father tried to correct and redirect me, the more I rebelled. We were a church-going family. I thought the message from the pulpit made sense. I basically fell in love with Jesus. I responded to an alter call, accepting Him as Lord and Savior. I was baptized shortly after.

Unfortunately, my walk with Jesus was rather short. My family had a falling out with the church, and I strayed. By age eighteen I was smoking weed, drinking, and committing petty crimes. Before I could grasp what was happening to me, I got caught up in some serious felonies. I served three years in a state prison, followed by seven years on state parole. I had only been out of high school a year and a half before my whole world fell apart. Even after jail time, I continued to struggle with active addiction for over forty years before renewing my relationship with Jesus Christ. It was only through the power in the Name of Jesus that I was able to turn away from that life and break the chain of active addiction.

I have  completed my undergraduate degree in psychology at Colorado Christian University. In addition to classes in my major, I also took courses on worldviews, integration of Christian theology and psychology, Christian doctrine, church history, Pauline literature, and ethics. I developed a passion for apologetics and Christian doctrine. Many of my recent blog posts have focused on this topic. Although I remain focused on  my ministry counseling teens and young adults struggling with mental illness and addiction, I will always have a particular affection for Christian apologetics.

SOME RATHER POWERFUL EVIDENCE

We have seen very powerful evidence that the documents comprising the New Testament were written by eyewitnesses and their contemporaries within 15 to 40 years of the death of Jesus. Moreover, secular documents and archaeological evidence has established that the New Testament is based on historical fact. Yet many skeptics ask how we know the authors didn’t exaggerate or embellish what they say they saw?

Lee Strobel, in his seminal book The Case For Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, recounts his interview with Craig Blomberg, one of the country’s foremost authorities on the biographies of Jesus—which we know as the four gospels. Blomberg’s books include Jesus and the Gospels, Interpreting the Parables, and How Wide the Divide? and a commentary on the gospel of Matthew. Blomberg told Strobel that Matthew (also known as Levi, the tax collector and one of the twelve disciples) was the author of the first gospel in the New Testament; that John Mark, a companion of Peter, was the author of the gospel we call Mark; and that Luke, known as Paul’s “beloved physician,” wrote both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Blomberg said there are “no known competitors for these three gospels.”

According to Papias, a Christian writer from A.D. 125, early testimony is unanimous that John the apostle—the son of Zebedee—wrote the gospel of John. Blomberg also informed Strobel that Irenaeus, writing about A.D. 180, confirmed the authorship of the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke. He said Irenaeus wrote the following words,

Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his Gospel while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.

THE CONSISTENCY TEST

Skeptics of the gospels like to point out that they are hopelessly contradictory with each other. They say, “Aren’t there irreconcilable discrepancies among the various gospel accounts? And if so, then how can we trust them?” Strobel said Blomberg acknowledges these inconsistencies, ranging from very minor variations in wording to the most famous apparent contradictions. He said, “My own conviction is, once you allow for the elements I’ve talked about earlier—of paraphrase, of abridgment, of explanatory additions, of selection, of omission—the gospels are extremely consistent with each other by ancient standards, which are the only standards by which it’s fair to judge them.” Interestingly, Strobel admits if the gospels mirrored each other word-for-word, it would seem to hint at collusion, which would give us pause. Blomberg agreed.

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It’s important to note that each Gospel writer had a particular intention and focus. They set out to accentuate a unique aspect of the ministry of Jesus. Through their individual gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—they focused on particular elements of Christ’s ministry and message that they felt illuminated their narrative. Despite their varied focus, the gospels exhibit a remarkable and important cohesiveness. They all bear witness to Jesus and his ministry, but approach the story from an individual perspective. These four viewpoints take nothing away from our understanding of Jesus. Rather, they give us a richer, deeper, clearer look into the mystery of Christ.

There were a number of languages spoken during the 1st century when Christ walked the roads of the Holy Land spreading the Good News and calling on men to follow Him. You were likely to hear Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin. Jesus likely spoke Aramaic, which was thought to be the primary language spoken by most Jews throughout Palestine during this era. So when we consider the fact that the gospels were written in Greek, the fact that Jesus probably spoke Aramaic becomes quite significant. Most of his words had to be translated into Greek—making every quote an interpretation. Languages don’t necessarily have equivalent words or phrases to support transliteration. Each gospel writer had to interpret Jesus’ words and sayings in order to find equivalents in an entirely different language. In other words, translation is interpretation.

This is the basis for scholarly claims that we have the authentic voice (ipsissima vox) of Jesus but not necessarily his exact words. We can trust the essential meaning of the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels even though we never know precisely how He said what He said. The writers of the four gospels, as interpreters of Christ’s message, meant that their translation—paraphrase, if you will—would focus on the theology of the Gospel. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is quoted as saying “Blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20), but Matthew records him saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3). Now it could be Jesus said both of these things at different times, but it’s likely that Matthew felt it was extremely important to clearly communicate the spiritual significance of Jesus’ words.

RELIABILITY OF NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

It is paramount that we consider the historical reliability of the New Testament separate from its inspirational properties. Such reliability should be judged by the same criteria used to evaluate all historical documents. Because the Christian faith is intimately connected to very specific historical events, those who are determined to prove or disprove Christianity outside the realm of faith find the historical soundness of its documents is an appropriate starting point.

Stetzer (2012) writes in an article for Christianity Today titled “A Closer Look: The Historical Reliability of the New Testament,” that “…we have over 5,700 Greek manuscripts representing all, or part, of the N[ew] T[estament]. By examining these manuscripts, over 99 percent of the original text can be constructed beyond reasonable doubt.” Stetzer also remarks that the authors of the gospels and the Acts were in an excellent position to report reliable information. It is also important to note that these five books were written in the first century, within sixty or seventy years of Jesus’ death—most likely A.D. 30. The amount of time separating the historical events and the composition of the five books is very short as compared to most ancient historical and biographical accounts, where many centuries could intervene between events and the books that narrated them.

Other tests for historicity have been used to test the accuracy of the New Testament. For example, a document written as a personal letter has a high probability of reliability; it is also likely accurate if it is intended for small audiences, written in unpolished style, or contains trivia and lists of details. The absence of such features does not necessarily mean the document is unreliable; however, their presence makes the prima facie acceptance of the document stronger. Much of the New Testament, especially the apostolic letters and some of the sources behind the Gospels, is made up of personal letters originally intended for individuals and small groups. In addition, much of the New Testament is in unpolished style, containing examples of inconsequential detail in the Gospels. These considerations show when general tests for historicity are applied to the New Testament documents, they pass them quite well.

ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE NEW TESTAMENT

Strobel interviewed John McRay, author of Archaeology and the New Testament. McRay consulted on the National Geographic Network TV special Mysteries of the Bible. McRay studied at Hebrew University, Ecole Biblique et Archeologique Francaise in Jerusalem, Vanderbilt University Divinity School, and the University of Chicago. He has been a professor of New Testament archaeology  at Wheaton for more than fifteen years. McRay told Strobel, “Archaeology has made some important contributions, but it certainly can’t prove whether the New Testament is the Word of God. If we dig in Israel and find ancient sites that are consistent with where the Bible said we’d find them, that shows that it’s history and geography are accurate. However, it doesn’t confirm that what Jesus Christ said is right. Spiritual truths cannot be proved or disproved by archeological discoveries.”

It’s Strobel’s contention that if an ancient historian’s incidental details check out to be accurate time after time, this increases our confidence in other material that the historian wrote but that cannot be as readily cross-checked. Strobel asked McRay, “Does archaeology affirm or undermine the New Testament when it checks out the details in those accounts?” McRay quickly responded: “Oh, there’s no question that the credibility of the New Testament is enhanced, just as the credibility of any ancient document is enhanced when you excavate and find that the author was accurate in talking about a particular place or event.” As an example, McRay recounted his own digs in Caesarea on the coast of Israel, where he and others excavated the harbor of Herod the Great.

There is an obvious allure to archaeology. It’s a discipline I’d considered as I neared the end of high school. I can see no better useful tool for uncovering and proving aspects of ancient civilizations, their origins, and their religions. Ancient tombs, cryptic inscriptions etched in stone or scribbled onto papyrus, pieces of broken pottery, old coins—these are clues for persistent scholars and investigators. Perhaps on of the most tantalizing clues of the biblical past are the Dead Sea Scrolls. In 1947 in an obscure cave west of the Dead Sea, Bedouin shepherds discovered some scrolls carefully placed in ten tall jars. They did not know what they had come upon, but they sold the scrolls to a nearby dealer. This was the opening chapter to an astonishing archeological find; eventually some 800 different manuscripts would be found in eleven caves near the valley called Wadi Qumran. In all, some 60,000 fragments, portions, or complete scrolls of these 800 manuscripts were retrieved, covering many subjects.

Many of the documents contained biblical texts. Either fragments or complete copies were found of every book in the Old Testament except Esther. They had been placed in these caves around the middle of the first century A.D., and the amazing fact is that they had lain there undisturbed for 1900 years! But why are these Dead Sea Scrolls so important for us? The reason is that before this discovery the earliest manuscripts of biblical texts dated from the ninth century after Christ. They were copies of earlier copies which were long lost. The majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in Hebrew, with some fragments written in the ancient paleo-Hebrew alphabet thought to have fallen out of use in the fifth century B.C. But others are in Aramaic, the language spoken by many Jews—including, most likely, Jesus—between the sixth century B.C. and the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In addition, several texts feature translations of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which some Jews used instead of or in addition to Hebrew at the time of the scrolls’ creation.

It has been said that it would be foolish to hold on to the illusion that the gospels are merely fictional stories like the legends of Hercules and Asclepius. The theologies in the New Testament are grounded on interpretation of real historical events, especially the crucifixion of Jesus, as a particular time and place. Beyond the manuscript evidence, archaeological evidence helps to authenticate the gospel narratives. Frankly, if the New Testament gospels were nothing more than fictions and fables about a man who never lived, one must wonder how it is they possess so much verisimilitude and why they talk so much about people we know lived and about so many things we know happened. After all, the gospels say Jesus was condemned to the cross by a Roman governor named Pontius Pilate. Not only is this man mentioned by historical sources outside the New Testament but there is an inscribed stone on which his name appears. Indeed, it appears archaeologists have found the name of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest who condemned Jesus, inscribed on a bone box. It seems these people were real.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Both Christian and secular scholars from a large cross section of theological schools have concluded that the evidence uncovered over the centuries provides an adequate basis to affirm with confidence that Jesus truly existed. It seems every single author who mentions Jesus—pagans, Christians, or Jewish—was fully convinced that He at least lived. Even the enemies of the Jesus movement thought so; among their many slurs against the religion, His non-existence is never one of them… Jesus certainly existed. And most historical scholars (Christian or not) find the attempt to explain away all apparent references to Jesus in Roman writings, much less New Testament espistles, to be an unconvincing tour de force that lapses into special pleading.

From the historical evidence, we can reject the critics charge that the gospels are mere legends about the life of Jesus Christ. There is an abundance of internal and external evidence that support an early date of the gospel writings. There are numerous archaeological and historical records corroborating the events of Jesus’ life. Finally, the manuscript evidence assures us that we have a copy accurate to the originals. Having established the historical and archaeological soundness of the gospels, we are now free to examine the theology of the Gospel.

Mental Illness and the Christian

Most of us know someone who is in counseling, on medication, or who has even taken or attempted to take his or her own life as a result of mental illness. Among the many topics high on the list that trouble Christians today, mental health would most likely be at or near the top. Ed Stetzer wrote an article for Psychology Today (2018) in which he asks, “Why is it uniquely challenging for us to address issues often associated with mental illness?” girl gazing at sunset

It seems whenever the topic of mental illness or suicide comes up at church or among our Christian friends, we automatically wonder, Why? Aren’t we saved from these types of issues? Aren’t we healed and set free? Yet this is a conversation the church truly needs to have. Thankfully, my church does not shy away from topics like mental illness and addiction. Admittedly, suicide and addiction may be two of the most complex and demanding topics of all. Joyce Meyer and Max Lucado have written several good books on the issue of mental health. Meyer (1995) began with her seminal Battlefield of the Mind. Lucado (2017) recently published Anxious for Nothing.

Meyer notes that daily emotional ups and downs are one of the major struggles we have in life. Instead of riding the emotional roller coaster, it should be our goal to become stable, solid, steadfast, and determined. If we let our emotions rule over us, we’ll never be the person we were meant to be. Of course, we can never be completely free of our emotions, but we must learn to manage and control them rather than let them control us. Let’s be honest: Life is no fun when we’re ruled by our emotions.

It’s important to realize that emotions lie to us. They paint an inaccurate picture, typically convincing us that all is lost based on one bad day. Without any effort on our part, our brain takes in and evaluates information throughout the day. Our emotions are regulated automatically in the limbic system. The center of emotional processing and mediation of resulting behavior—defensive versus aggressive—is the amygdala. The limbic system is also responsible for memory. The amygdala has been the focus of study for decades. It’s been stated that emotional memory (how we respond to pleasant, unpleasant, fearful, and painful situations) occurs long before we develop language skills. I believe the formative years of 0 to 5 are critical relative to formation of our personality and to how we handle situations in the future that remind us of painful experiences from our past. This is, perhaps, the very basis for emotional baggage.

Anxious for Nothing

Lucado (2017) describes anxiety in a manner worth repeating here:

“It’s a low-grade fear. An edginess, a dread. A cold wind that won’t stop howling. It’s not so much a storm as the certainty that one is coming. Always… coming. Sunny days are just an interlude. You can’t relax. Can’t let your guard down. All peace is temporary, short-term. It’s not the sight of a grizzly but the suspicion of one or two or ten. Behind every tree. Beyond every turn. Inevitable. It’s just a matter of time until the grizzly leaps out of the shadows, bares its fangs, and gobbles you up, along with your family, your friends, your bank account, your pets, and your country.”

Lucado calls anxiety “a meteor shower of what-ifs.”

The word anxious defines itself. It comes from the Latin words angere (to choke) and anxius (worried, distressed). The earliest sense of anxious is from the 17th century, meaning “troubled” or “worried.” Lucado notes that fear screams, Get out! Anxiety ponders, What if? Fear results in the response of fight or flight, as it should. Fear is the pulse that pounds in your ears when you’re being followed by a hooded figure late at night just after you withdraw $300 from the ATM. Anxiety, on the other hand, creates a general sense of doom and gloom that you can’t quite figure out. Anxiety robs us of our sense of safety and security. It steals our energy. Our well-being.

Meyer (1995) says anxiety and worry are both attacks on the mind intended to distract us from serving the Lord. These are primary tools used by Satan to press our faith down so deep that it cannot rise to the occasion and aid us in our times of trouble. She says worry is definitely an attack from the devil upon the mind. She adds, “It is absolutely impossible to worry and live in peace at the same time.” She believes some people have such a problem with worry that they might be addicted to it. I’ve heard it said that a person will continue doing something as long as they get some type of benefit from it. So what might a person get from worrying?

To determine if you’re addicted to worrying, take the following quiz:

  • Do I worry about many things every day?
  • Is it difficult to stop watching anxiety-provoking news on TV or the Internet, though I try?
  • Do I experience separation anxiety when I can’t access my smartphone or computer?
  • Do I make problems larger, not smaller?
  • Do I worry about things that no one around me worries about?
  • When one anxiety is solved, do I immediately focus on another?

If you answered “yes” to all six questions, worry plays a very large, addictive role in your life. Four to five “yes” answers indicate a large role. Two to three “yes” answers indicate a moderate role. One “yes” indicates a low level. Zero “yes” answers suggest that you’re more warrior than worrier!

Meyer believes life is intended to be of such high quality that we enjoy it immensely. I’m not implying that bad things never happen to good people; that’s a topic for another day. Jesus was clear, however, in John 10:10 when he says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (NIV). Eugene Peterson calls it “…more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (MSG). Worry is one of the many ways Satan steals the good life. Paul echoed this sentiment in Phillipians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (NIV).

God Heals

We can love God with our whole heart, follow His commands, even put Him first, yet still be struggling with anxiety or depression. We can find ourselves face-to-face with the grim reaper, a gun or a bottle of pills in hand, no longer wanting to be alive. Wondering, How did I get here? For me, it started with marijuana and beer. Once addiction took hold, I lost sight of God, His love and grace, and all hope. My uncle, in recovery now for decades, told me several times, “You’ve lost all hope. You can’t even see the horizon anymore.”

Theologians and philosophers call man a tripartite being. That is, we’re made up of a body, soul, and spirit. It’s in our spirit that we find meaning and purpose in life. It’s in our soul—that is, in our mind—that we suffer mental illness. Anxiety and depression begin there, but spread throughout the body and quickly affect the spirit. In fact, mental illness causes us to doubt God’s grace and healing power. It cuts us off from the sunlight of the Spirit. This is critical because it’s through the Spirit that we learn discernment and intuition. It is through the Spirit that we’re able to love one another. There’s an interchange involved: our spiritual health impacts our mental and physical health, and our mental and physical health impacts our spiritual health.

We are impacted—either good or bad—by how we handle the stress that life brings. If chronic stress is left unchecked, over a period of time it will take a toll. A strong faith can help us cope with the stress that we experience and enable the impact of that stress to be less significant. Without a strong personal faith, we’re left to our own devices. Often we attempt to cope with stress through addiction, sexual promiscuity, shopping, gambling, and other methods of escape. Such behavior can further exacerbate the effect of stress on our physical health. A strong personal faith can be a resource that helps manage stress before it manages us.

Matthew 9:35 says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (NIV) (Italics added). Jesus had compassion and healed those besieged by mental illness, many of whom had been despised, rejected, persecuted, and feared by their community. Interestingly, the history of psychiatric treatment has its roots in the Christian church. The Quakers in Philadelphia opened the first inpatient psychiatric facility in 1752. John Wesley and the founders of The United Methodist Church practiced a faith grounded in the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ, with a focus on healing the whole person: physical, spiritual, emotional and mental. 

All aspects of health—physical, mental, and spiritual—were of equal concern to Jesus whose healing touch reached out to mend broken bodies, minds, and spirits. His intention was to restore well-being and renew communion with God and neighbor. Interventions are needed to heal mental illness. If you or someone you know or love are struggling with mental illness, especially as a believer, do not hesitate to pray with them and to suggest meeting with a minister. Also, there are many faith-based counseling services available today. It is God’s intention that you are fully restored. Christ is the Great Physician. Jesus came that we might have life, and that we might have it abundantly. That includes being of sound mind, free of anxiety and depression.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

References

Lucado, M. (2017). Anxious for Nothing. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing.

Meyer, J. (1995). Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind. New York, NY: Time Warner Books.

Justification versus Sanctification

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Justification and sanctification are not the same thing. The basic dictionary definition of justification is “the action of showing something to be right or reasonable.” The theological definition is “the action of declaring or making righteous in the sight of God.” Sanctification is an ongoing process. It comes from the Greek word hagiazo, which means to be separate or set apart. As we’ll see later, sanctification is not the same as salvation. We’ll also see that justification is a transaction and sanctification is a transformation.

Justification is a Transaction

In Christian doctrine, justification is God’s act of removing the guilt and penalty of sin, and imputing His righteousness through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:22-24 says, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (NIV).

Eugene Peterson provides the following translation of Romans 3:21-24: “But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ” (MSG) [Emphasis added].

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We are justified, declared righteous, at the moment of our salvation. Justification does not make us righteous, but rather pronounces us righteous. Our righteousness comes from placing our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice covers our sin, allowing God to see us as perfect and unblemished. Certainly, it should be obvious that this is something we simply cannot accomplish on our own. Martin Luther, in his Commentary on Romans, says, “St. Augustine writes in the ninth chapter of his book Concerning the Spirit and the Letter: ‘He does not speak of the righteousness of God, by which God is righteous, but of that with which He clothes a person when He justifies the ungodly.’ Again in the eleventh chapter he comments: ‘But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested; that is, God imparts it to the believer by the Spirit of grace without the work of the Law, or without the help of the Law. Through the Law God opens man’s eyes so that he sees his helplessness and by faith takes refuge to His mercy and so is healed.'”

Reach For God

Romans 5:18-19 sums up this concept quite nicely. “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the one man the many were made righteous” (NIV). It is because of justification that the peace of God can rule in our lives. It is because of justification that believers can have full assurance of their salvation. It is the fact of justification that enables God to begin the process of sanctification—the process by which God makes us in reality what we already are positionally. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2, NIV).

Sanctification is a Transformation

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The very moment we are saved in Christ we are also immediately sanctified and begin the process of being conformed to the image of Christ. As God’s children, we are set apart from that moment to carry out His divine purposes. Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (NIV). Peterson’s translation says, “It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process” (MSG).

Sanctification is different than salvation. It is important to differentiate between the two concepts. Jesus gave his life on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. His blood washes away our sins and frees us from eternal suffering and damnation. Believers are save because of what Christ has already done. We can do absolutely nothing to earn salvation. Sanctification occurs as a result of salvation. But sanctification does not stop there. Instead, it is a progressive process that continues in a believer’s life. This is because even as Christians we still have the capacity to sin. We find ourselves in a spiritual battle the moment we confess Christ as Messiah and decide to follow Him. Paul describes this inner battle in Galatians 5:17: “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not [able] to do whatever you want” (NIV).

Paul notes in Romans 15:16 that through the grace of God he became a minister of the Gospel to the Gentiles so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Paul’s ministry was not merely to win converts to Christ; he intended to see people become sanctified. He says, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done…” (v. 18). Obedience leads to sanctification. Romans 6:17 says, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (NIV).

Sanctification is the Key to Spiritual Growth

Sanctification is both a matter of position and progression. Indeed, we’re told to work toward perfection—that is, maturity in Christ. We’re to move from milk to solid food. We are sanctified because Jesus Christ has saved us and yet sanctification continues to work within to transform us into the likeness of Christ. Sanctification is the responsibility of every believer in Christ. When we choose to pursue sanctification in our life, positive growth occurs. It is important to remember this is a process, and cannot be rushed. Like a newborn baby that gradually matures unto adulthood, so is the work of sanctification in the life of a new Christian. The work of sanctification will ultimately be completed in every believer’s life when Christ returns.

Paul writes, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

 

The Encounter in the Desert

He stood, sweating, gazing over the vastness
of what looked like nothingness; hot, glaring,
monochromatic landscape, broken only by an
occasional dune. His eyes batted against the
stinging bits of sand encircling his head as He
tried to catch His breath. He was, after all, Jesus
in a mortal body.

He was hungry. He had not eaten for the past
forty days. He caught sight of an approaching
figure surrounded by piercing light. The desert
floor began to vibrate. The figure was enormous
in size, and seemed to exude tremendous power.

As if reading His mind, the figure said, “Tell
these stones to become bread.” In response,
Jesus took a confident breath and said, “It is written:
‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every
word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
Although Jesus stood his ground, the figure reached
toward Him and whisked Him away.

Now, Jesus and the figure were at the Holy City,
standing on a steeple. The figure said, “If you
are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is
written, ‘He will command his angels concerning
you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that
you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

Jesus answered, “It is also written: ‘Do not put
the Lord your God to the test.'” The figure was
persistent in his provocation, reaching toward Jesus
again, spiriting Him away to a very high mountain,
where he showed Him all the kingdoms of the world
in all their splendor and beauty and majesty.

“All this I will give you,” said the figure,
“If you will bow down and worship me.”
“Away from me,” Jesus said, “For it is written:
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'”
Jesus could not be tempted or drawn away,
nor did He lose His faith in God, as a result
of his encounter with the devil in the desert.

©2016 Steven Barto

It’s a Thing Most Wonderful

Jesus Crucifixion

Newsweek Special Issues recently published “100 People Who Shaped Our World,” featuring individuals who changed our world, for better or worse, through their actions, inventions, and (at times) their mistakes. With insight from historians in the fields of science, religion and pop culture, the 100-page issue explores the impact of the world’s most iconic leaders—from Jesus Christ to Mark Zuckerberg, Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln to Nelson Mandela. Unfortunately, the article did not show Jesus Christ in a good light. Interestingly, we are expected to be respectful in what we say about any other religion or revered religious leader—except Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, people feel free to malign, disfigure, and re-imagine Him as they choose.

The impact of Jesus of Nazareth, the itinerant preacher whose teachings became the basis of one of the world’s most practiced religions, is irrefutable. Today there are approximately 2.2 billion Christians in the world—this is nearly 31% of the total population. The nature of Christ has been debated time and time again as we view Him through the lenses of scholars. From a Christian perspective, the central contention set forth is that the Jesus of history is the Christ of faith. The Christian faith goes beyond simply declaring God exists—it claims that God became man in Christ Jesus, lived among us, and ultimately sacrificed His life in order to atone for our sins. Three days after His death, He would rise again, proving that He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and the Savior of the world.

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Christianity is the only religion that places the entire weight of its credibility on a singular event, the resurrection. If Christ had not been raised, then Christianity would be completely discredited and unworthy of even a moment’s consideration. As the apostle Paul stated, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17, NIV). Conviction about the reality of the resurrection is the only foundation that can withstand the onslaught of skepticism and unbelief. It is this fact that points to other critical truths, such as the authority of Scripture and the unique role of Jesus as Messiah and Savior.

No one’s life or death in the history of the world has been studied, analyzed, debated, and heralded to the world as much as Jesus. It’s definitely a daunting task to respond to all the theories and claims made by critics. During my research and writing, I felt a great sense of drama and significance regarding what’s at stake when studying whether the story of Jesus is true—or, as skeptics assert, merely a collection of tales attempting to propagate the Christian faith.

Answering the Great Question

The collective task of proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ has been called the Great Commission, a term coined by Christian theologians to describe the charge that Jesus gave His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). In addition, the Great Commandment describes the premier commandment Jesus gave us to love one another (John 13:35). Jesus asked His disciples the Great Question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)—without a doubt, history’s greatest question, the answer to which affects everything. If we focus so heavily on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, shouldn’t we be giving equal attention to the Great Question?

defending the faith

Preparing believers to give the reasons for their faith—this is the very essence of apologetics—should be the highest priority of all the efforts of those engaged in Christian ministry (1 Peter 3:15). If the truth of the message is in doubt, the whole doctrine of Christianity is in jeopardy. Of all the human rights we should be fighting for, foremost should be the right of every living person to hear the Gospel and have the opportunity to know Jesus. While there is amazing work being done around the world by people of faith to help the needy and heal the hurting, we are falling dramatically short in preparing people to have faith that thrives in the media-saturated, anti-faith twenty-first century. People are flooded with messages suggesting faith in God is at best irrelevant.

The end result is a large number of Christians being dazed and confused about how crazy the world has become, and how their values and beliefs are not just out of touch with mainstream society but to some are framed as bigoted and ignorant. This helps explain why only 3 percent of churches in America are growing through evangelism.

Faith or History?

When it comes to Jesus Christ, there has definitely been a higher standard, unreasonably high at times, for establishing the facts surrounding His life, works, and words. The specific criteria used by many of today’s leading scholars to verify the authenticity of Jesus have been so demanding that if applied to ancient history most of what is currently accepted would dissolve into oblivion. Imagine asserting, as skeptics do for the biblical records, that we could only know about ancient Rome from what we learn from non-Roman sources. In contrast, scholars who use trusted approaches fairly and consistently recognize that Christian beliefs about Jesus are solidly grounded in historical fact.

Historians use reliable criteria to establish the probability that an event happened in the past. For instance, claims are more likely true if they are reported by multiple, independent sources. By this standard, our knowledge about Jesus is superior to that of virtually every other ancient historical figure. Scholars have discovered more literary sources for the historical Jesus within the first hundred years after His life than all of the primary literary sources for Socrates, which, incidentally, are in far less agreement with each other than the Gospels.

When the historical process is arbitrary and inconsistent, the past becomes something people with a hidden agenda or bias can manipulate. This type of mindset leads to disregarding the miraculous accounts given by Jesus’ followers in the Gospels. Those accounts are replaced with historical profiles of what someone living at the time of Jesus would have probably been like. Others go so far as claiming that the followers of Jesus merely borrowed from the mythology of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians. As for the miracles? Scoffers simply say they didn’t happen because everyone knows there’s no such thing as miracles.

The roots of this culture of skepticism can be traced back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This period—known as the “Enlightenment”—could better be described as the age of skepticism. The mindset of this era is best summed up by René Descartes. He said, “In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life, to doubt, as far as possible, of all things.” For Descartes, the foundation of reality is our own thoughts (albeit doubts) about the fact of our existence. The seeds that Descartes planted grew over the next century into the Enlightenment era, which promoted the concept that “reason replaced revelation” in terms of the source of the culture’s epistemology.

The Resurrection Changes Everything

The claim that Jesus was resurrected three days after His death is not just an article of faith, but a statement that can be examined historically. Of course, if Jesus was not really raised from the dead, then the resurrection of Jesus has no meaning. Christianity is based on this central claim and is thus open to critical historical inquiry. In the same way that Charles Darwin in his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection sought to establish the past history of living things through what he called inference to the best explanation, we can look at this event using the same process. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote that if Christ was not raised from the dead then the Christian faith would be false (1 Corinthians 15:14). Critics have long maintained that religious claims are simply statements of faith that have no basis in fact. Claims of science, they say, are more credible because they can be proven false. Yet this is exactly what Christianity declares. No other religion bases the entire weight of its credibility on a single event or miracle.

It was the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead that prompted the dedication and sacrifice of His followers. At the top of the list was Jesus’ command to love our enemies. It is highly unlikely that His followers would have remained faithful had Jesus’ life ended permanently at the cross with no resurrection. In fact, New Testament scholar N.T. Wright points out that none of the many self-proclaimed messiahs of the ancient world continued to have a following or influence once they died. It begs the question, What happened to make Jesus’ followers, from the very start, articulate such a claim and work out its implications? For us today, the desperate need is to recover the same conviction of the truth of the resurrection that the early disciples possessed.

Concluding Remarks

When it comes to the central issues of the Christian faith, the biggest dispute is not with the facts of history but with the presuppositions and worldviews of those who interpret those facts. As you hear and weigh the evidence, you will be able to know with confidence that He is the Son of God. There is overwhelming evidence that Jesus was truly a man of history, who was crucified, died, and was buried, and then rose from the dead. The Gospels are reliable historical accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teaching.

Up until the last few years, the verdict of historians has been virtually unanimous that Jesus was a person of history. The rise of atheism in the last decade has seen the upsurge of prominent skeptics who simply assert their “doubts” that Jesus really existed without providing any credible evidence. For example, Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist and author of The God Delusion, is noted for saying, “Jesus, if He even existed…” It’s important to note that these men are not historians and simply assert this contention in apparent hopes that no one will challenge them because they are scientists. Dawkins, for example, is an evolutionary biologist. Incidentally, Dawkins has recanted and admits Jesus existed.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives authenticity to the Christian faith. Jesus remains the only figure in history who died and rose from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a revolutionary event in human history. It is what sets humanity free from sin; it is what gives humanity daily victory over Satan to live above struggles of life and achieve their destinies and goals; it is what will finally usher humanity into heaven to live forever with Jesus in that glorious kingdom awaiting those who believe, despite “critics” of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen, then is our preaching in vain, and your faith is also in vain. And if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain, ye are yet in your sins. If in this life only, we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” 1 Cor. 15:13-19.

 

 

Christ Suffered and Died: To Reconcile Us to God

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I have presented seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating today with To Reconcile Us to God. Of course, there are countless more reasons for Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection: To show His own love for us; to become an ransom for many; to bring us to faith and keep us faithful; to give us a clear conscience; to obtain for us all things that are good for us; to heal us from moral and physical sickness; to secure our resurrection from the dead; to disarm the principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world; to destroy the hostility between races and religions, and others.

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life. (Romans 5:10)

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THE RECONCILIATION THAT NEEDS to happen between sinful man and God goes both ways. Our attitude toward God must be changed from defiance to faith. And God’s attitude to us must be changed from wrath to mercy. But the two are not the same. I need God’s help to change; but God does not need mine. My change will have to come from outside of me, but God’s change originates in His own nature. Which means that overall, it is not a change in God at all. It is God’s own planned action to stop being against me and start being for me.

The all-important words are “while we were enemies.” This is when “we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). While we were enemies. In other words, the first “change” was God’s, not ours. We were still enemies. Not that we were consciously on the warpath. Most people don’t feel conscious hostility to God. The hostility is manifest more subtly with a quiet insubordination and indifference. The Bible describes it like this: “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7).

While we were still like that, God put Christ forward to bear our wrath-kindling sins and make it possible for Him to treat us with mercy alone. God’s first act in reconciling us to Himself was to remove the obstacle that made Him irreconcilable, namely, the God-belittling guilt of our sin. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

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Consider this analogy of reconciliation among men. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). When he says, “Be reconciled to your brother,” notice that it is the brother who must remove his judgment. The brother is the one who “has something against you,” just as God has something against us. “Be reconciled to your brother” means do what you must so that your brother’s judgment against you will be removed.

But when we hear the Gospel of Christ, we find that God has already done that: He took the steps we could not take to remove His own judgment. He sent Christ to suffer in our place. The decisive reconciliation  happened “while we were enemies.” Reconciliation from our side is simply to receive what God has already done, the way we receive an infinitely valuable gift.

 

Christ Suffered and Died: To Absorb the Wrath of God

FOR THE NEXT SEVEN days I will present seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating on Easter Sunday with To Reconcile Us to God. Today we look at Christ suffering and dying to absorb the wrath of God that should rightly have been poured out upon all of mankind.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'” (Gal. 3:13).

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IF GOD WERE NOT JUST, there would be no demand for His Son to suffer and die. And if God were not loving, there would be no willingness for His Son to suffer and die. But God is both just and loving. Therefore his love is willing to meet the demands of His justice. God’s law demanded, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). But we have all loved other things more. This is what sin is—dishonoring God by preferring other things over Him, and acting on those preferences. Therefore, the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We glorify what we enjoy most. And it isn’t God.

Since God is just, He does not sweep our sins and offenses under the rug of the universe. He feels a holy wrath against them. They deserve to be punished, and He has made this clear: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). There is a holy curse hanging over all sin. Not to punish would be unjust. The demeaning of God would be endorsed. A lie would reign at the core of reality. Therefore, God says, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 27:26).

But the love of God does not rest with the curse that hangs over all sinful humanity. He is not content to show wrath, no matter how holy it is. Therefore God sends His own Son to absorb His wrath and bear the curse for all who trust Him. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). This is the meaning of the word propitiation in the text quoted above (Romans 3:25). It refers to the removal of God’s wrath by providing a substitute. The substitute is provided by God Himself. The substitute, Jesus Christ, does not just cancel the wrath; He absorbs it and diverts it from us to Himself. God’s wrath is just, and it was spent, not withdrawn.

Let us not trifle with God or trivialize His love. We will never stand in awe of being loved by God until we reckon with the seriousness of our sin and the justice of His wrath against us. But when, by grace, we waken to our unworthiness, then we may look at the suffering and death of Christ and say, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the [wrath-absorbing] propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Join me tomorrow for “Christ Suffered and Died: To Cancel the Legal Demands of the Law Against Us.

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward: Conclusion

answering jihad

This is the final installment in a 19-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through eighteen covered eighteen questions people have most commonly asked Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

CONCLUSION—ANSWERING JIHAD

HOW SHOULD WE ANSWER JIHAD? This question is proving to be one of the more pressing and problematic of our time. If we avoid the truth about jihad, we leave the door open for innocent people to be killed in attacks like Paris and San Bernardino. If we lack compassion, we close the door to innocent people who need refuge from places like Syria and Somalia.

Responses to jihad recently have been far too polarized. Some leaders have asserted that radical Islam has nothing to do with Islam, while others have seemed to assume that radical Islam is the only form of Islam. Both are dangerous responses. Qureshi writes, “As I have made clear from the beginning of this book, I am not a policy expert and I do not know how to end our struggles with jihad. But I believe I do know where we should begin, with the truth about Islam and with compassion for Muslims.”

The Truth About Islam

Islam is a complex religion composed of many facets and layers. The expression of Islam that shaped Qureshi’s young life taught him to love his family, serve his country, pursue a relationship with his God, repent of his sins, and strive for a moral life. In addition, he was dogmatically taught that Islam is a religion of peace. He said, “But despite the many positive teachings and qualities, the reality is that Islam’s foundations contain a tremendous amount of violence. The life of Muhammad and the text of the Qur’an are the two pillars of the Islamic worldview, and the traditions of each progress from peaceful beginnings to a crescendo of violent jihad.”

Muslims are justified in moving away from the foundations of their faith either through centuries of accreted tradition or through an intentional re-imagining of the religion. If they do so, they may be able to express Islam both peaceably and with internal consistency. However, as long as Islam continues to place primary emphasis on emulating the person of Muhammad and following the teachings of the Qur’an, without successfully supplanting the canonical texts and traditions, the end result will be the same. Islam will direct its adherents to its violent foundations with violent results.

Qureshi says, “Therein lies the problem, as almost all Muslims, whether violent or peaceful, believe they are following the original form of Islam. Muslims who study the canonical texts carefully will ultimately be faced with the inescapable conclusion that their foundations are quite violent, which is exactly what happened to me. I fought the conclusion for years, but when the reality became unavoidable, I was faced with a three-pronged fork in the road and had to choose apostasy, apathy, or radicalization.”

The Accelerated Polarization of Muslims

This problem did not pose as much of a problem in past centuries or even decades. For the average Muslim it would have been a herculean effort to find and study these traditions, and most were shielded by received traditions. But the Internet has changed that, and any who wish to study the traditions of Islam can do so easily now with the click of a button. That is the major reason why Muslim polarization has been accelerating: We have been seeing more apostates, more nominal Muslims, and more radical Muslims than ever before.

And with the click of a button, radical elements and recruiters can also present the violent traditions of Islam to zealous or curious young Muslims, compelling them to follow. When perusing the propaganda of ISIS, one can see that they lure Muslims through many avenues, but the means of radicalizing them is nothing other than encouraging them to fulfill their Islamic duty by following the teachings of Muhammad and the Qur’an. Radical Islam’s interpretations of these traditions are the most straightforward, with the most consistent use of the original texts and the most coherent perspectives in light of early Islamic conquests and formulations of doctrinal jihad.

Even though Muslims are often raised with the teaching that “Islam is the religion of peace,” when they study the texts for themselves [as Qureshi has done], they are faced with the reality that Muhammad and the Qur’an continually call for jihad. They will stand at the crossroads for only so long before they choose what path they will take—apostasy, apathy, or radicalization.

Compassion for Muslims

As Muslims make that choice, it would benefit the whole world if they did not make it alone, or worse, with radical recruiters. We need to show compassion for Muslims and befriend them, not only because they are people who are inherently worthy of love and respect, but also because we can only speak into their lives and decisions if we have earned the right. Qureshi is not sure there is any way to intercept a Muslim at the three-pronged fork in the road, as there appear to be no markers or signs revealing the stage of a radicalized Muslim’s journey until after he or she has made their choice. We have to be walking with them before they arrive at the crossroads.

This means being proactive, not reactive. It means living life with people who might be different from us. It means integrating communities and social circles. It means stepping out of our comfort zone and loving people unconditionally, perhaps even loving our enemies. And it means doing all this from a place of genuine love, not ulterior motives. Only then can we stop fearing those who are our neighbors, and conversely, only then can we identify those who actually do pose a threat. Otherwise, we will remain behind a veil of suspicion and fear.

Fear is not a solution, as it will only alienate those we hope to deter from violence and serve as positive reinforcement to those who want to use terror. Fighting will not work, as it will only further convince those at the crossroads that the radicals’ cause is just. Also, some specific radicals, such as ISIS, actually want us to fight back. Their hope is that they will sufficiently anger the world such that we fight them on the field of Dabiq, ushering in the end of the world, as the tradition of Muhammad foretells.

Fear and fighting fuel the radical fires. We need something that breaks the cycle—and that something might be love. Not love as wistfully envisioned by teenagers and songwriters, but love as envisioned by Jesus [see 1 Corinthians 13], a decision to engage others as image-bearers of God, to put their needs and concerns above our own, even at the cost of our own.

Qureshi writes, “I am not advocating naïve pacifism in the face of genocide and murder. Many Christians believe it is the duty of the state to fight for and protect its people, as defending the oppressed is an expression of loving one’s neighbor. They often refer to passages such as Romans 13:1-5 and 1 Peter 2:13-14 to suggest that Christians should play active roles in such state-led efforts.” Qureshi adds, “I am not promoting pacifism, but neither am I advocating a violent response. I am, in fact, not advocating any particular course of action, but rather a frame of heart and mind that will, in turn, shape the way we respond.”

That frame of mind is truth and love, and both elements are essential. Without truth we will not be able to identify the real problem, and without love we will not be able to formulate an enduring answer. Regarding the latter, the Apostle Paul was correct: Even if we can fathom all mysteries and have all knowledge, it will not ultimately work without love. Qureshi notes, “Yes, I do suggest we share alternative worldviews with Muslims as one of our methods to address radicalization, especially the Gospel. The Gospel does not succumb to the pitfalls of fear or fighting, which only fuel radicalization, and it gives Muslims an appealing direction at the three-pronged fork in the road.”

Qureshi  said, “That is what happened to me. As I faced the reality of the violent traditions of Islam, I had a Christian friend who suggested that Islam did not have to be my only choice, that there was excellent reason to accept the Gospel. Apart from the appeal of the foundations of Christianity, I can say from my own experience that atheism and secularism offered little draw as an alternative to Islam as they were not spiritually robust, a reality to which many Muslims are finally attuned.”

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward

The Muslim world today has, by and large, rejected violent jihad in modern contexts. Expansive jihad, as it was envisioned in the foundations of Islam and practiced in the early centuries of the Islamic Empire, is a relic of the past. But radical Muslim groups such as al-Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram, will continue using jihad because of its expediency and the explicit mandates in the foundations of Islam.

Muslims today have unprecedented accessibility to the foundational texts of their faith, the life of Muhammad and the teachings of the Qur’an. Within those texts, they encounter a call to violent jihad. Unless Islam is re-imagined and emphasis is drawn away from these traditional foundations, Paris and San Bernardino might be our new normal. Sadly, it is not likely that Islam will be re-imagined soon, so we have to answer jihad as best we can.

Qureshi concludes, “My suggestion is that we engage Muslims proactively with love and friendship while simultaneously acknowledging the truth about Islam. This is not the final step in answering jihad, but it is the correct first step, and it offers a better way forward.”

Selective Timeline of Jihad in Islam

THE DATES LISTED BELOW are extrapolated from either Islamic traditions or from modern historical sources.

570: Birth of Muhammad
610: Inception of Islam
622: Flight to Medina/ Starting Point of the Islamic Calendar
623: Muslims Begin Raiding Meccan Caravans
624: Nakhla Raid
624: Battle of Badr
625: Battle of Uhud
627: Battle of Khandaq
629: Battle of Muta
629: Conquest of Medina
630: Battle of Hunayn
630: Battle of Tabuk
632: Death of Muhammad
632: Apostate Wars
633: Invasion of Persia
637: Conquest of Syria-Palestine
639: Invasion of Egypt
643: Incursions into India
670: Incursions into Cyrenaica
711: Conquest of Spain
732: Muslims Defeated in the West by Charles Martel Attempting to Conquer France
1099: First Crusade
1187: Salah al-Din Defeats the Crusaders
1258: Mongols Sack Baghdad
1453: Byzantine Empire Falls to Ottoman Empire
1492: Spanish Inquisition and Beginning of the Colonial Era
1683: Ottomans Defeated at Vienna
1918: End of World War I and the Colonial Era
1922: Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire
1928: Establishment of Muslim Brotherhood
1945: End of World War II
1948: Establishment of Israeli State
1966: Execution of Sayyid Qutb
1967: Six-Day War
1979: Egyptian-Israeli Peace Accords
1988: Establishment of Al-Qaida
1993: Bombing of World Trade Center
2001: September 11 Attacks Against the United States
2005: July 7 Bombings in London
2014: ISIS Establishes Caliphate
2015: Boko Haram Pledges Allegiance to ISIS
2015: November 13 Attacks on Paris
2015: December 2 Shooting in San Bernardino

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #18 – What Does Jesus Have to Do With Jihad?

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This is the eighteenth in a 19-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through eighteen will cover eighteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week nineteen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION # 18 – What Does Jesus Have to Do With Jihad?

JESUS IS SURPRISINGLY PROMINENT in Islamic eschatology. Not only do Muslims believe Jesus is a miracle-working prophet, he is also the Messiah who will return from heaven at the end of days.

THE MUSLIM JESUS AND JIHAD

The Qur’an underlies these beliefs in two passages. First and foremost in the mind of many Muslims is the understanding that Jesus did not die on a cross. 4:157-158 states, “[Jesus] was not killed, nor was he crucified, but so it was made to appear… Allah took him up to Himself.” Yet the Qur’an also shows Jesus asserting his own death. In 19:33, Jesus says, “Peace is on me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I rise alive.” If Jesus did not die on the cross and was instead raised directly to heaven, how can he say “peace is on me the day I die?” Only if he will return to earth once more and die that time.

On account of these verses, the Qur’an is understood to teach that Jesus is currently in heaven, awaiting his return to earth, after which he will initiate the latter days and then die before the final day of resurrection. This belief is nearly universal among Muslims.

Furthermore, in the hadith Muhammad says:

[S]urely Jesus the son of Mary will soon descend amongst you and will judge mankind justly; he will break the Cross and kill the pigs and there will be no Jizya (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.55.657).

Also prominent in Muslims’ view of the end times is a battle between Jesus and the anti-Christ, the Dajjal. According to Sahih al-Muslim, “The Last Hour would not come until the Romans would land at al-Amaq or in Dabiq.” After this battle with the Romans, the anti-Christ will challenge Muslims and even have the upper hand against them until Allah sends Jesus back from heaven. Then, “Allah would kill them by his hand and he would show them their blood on his lance [the lance of Jesus Christ]” (Sahih al-Muslim 2897).

Beyond this point, Islamic eschatology begins to vary widely, depending upon one’s denomination of Islam. Many Muslims believe Jesus will fight alongside Muslims, who will be fighting Jews, and even the stones will cry out against Jews on that day. Muhammad said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say, ‘O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him'” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.52.177).

Some believe Jesus will appear with another apocalyptic figure, the Mahdi, either equal to or superior to Jesus, but details vary among Muslims on these matters, and apart from these two figures are many other signs of the end of days. You might consider reading David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature, for more information. Regardless of the specifics, however, it is a common Muslim view that Jesus will engage in jihad at the end of the world.

THE CHRISTIAN JESUS AND JIHAD

The Christian message, called the Gospel, is this: God entered the world out of love for us, paid the penalty of our sins by dying on our behalf, and then rose from the dead as proof that he had defeated death. The word gospel means, “good news,” and it is the message that, on account of what God has done, we will live forever with him.

Since Christians will live forever, they are told not to fear in the face of death. Paul says, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Since we know we will be with God forever, there is no more fear of death for the Christian of true faith. In fact, death is even beneficial to a Christian, because it sends him to God, with whom he is longing to be. Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). The security of salvation is what liberates Christians to follow difficult teachings of Jesus and to self-sacrificially love one’s enemies, even being ready to die for them.

That is why some Christians have been willing to go to tumultuous Muslim contexts and serve those who could do nothing for them, even in the face of death. Ronnie Smith was a Texan science teacher who decided to move his family to Benghazi when the Libyan revolution was under way. For a few years, he taught chemistry to high school students in the war-torn country, bringing them hope when they had little. He wanted to serve people just as Jesus had, and just as people killed Jesus, so a group of radical Muslims killed Ronnie Smith.

A short time before his death, Ronnie Smith answered a survey indicating that the Gospel is what encouraged him to serve people despite the risk of death. He knew his life was in danger before moving to Libya, but Jesus enabled him to answer jihad with compassion. Through the message of the Gospel, Jesus made Ronnie Smith invincible. He was able to love without fear.

Japanese journalist Kenji Goto went to syria to rescue a new friend, Haruna Yukawa. Goto had met Yukawa six months prior, when Yukawa was trying to turn his life around after a failed suicide attempt following the death of his wife. When ISIS captured Yukawa, Gogo believed there was a chance he could help rescue him. In an interview he said it was “necessary” for him to try and rescue Yukawa, and that his faith gave him the courage to go. Goto had accepted the Gospel in 1997, enabling him to answer jihad with compassion. Jesus made Kenji Goto invincible. He was able to live without fear.

In February 2015, ISIS beheaded twenty-one Christians on a beach in Libya. In a video the men are seen moments before their execution, calling out to Jesus and mouthing prayers. Most of them were migrant laborers working in Libya to provide for their families in Egypt. Although ISIS slaughtered the men to shock the world with terror, the response of their families sent an altogether different message. In an interview with VICE News, the mother of twenty-four-year-old Abanoud Ayiad said, “May God forgive ISIS… [but because of them] I gave the best gift to God: my son.” The mother of twenty-five-year-old Malak Ibrahim said, “I’m proud of my son. He did not change his faith till the last moment of death. I thank God… He is taking care of him.” The mother of twenty-nine-year-old Samuel Abraham said, “We thank ISIS. Now more people believe in Christianity because of them. ISIS showed what Christianity is.” The wife of twenty-six-year-old Malid Makin said, “ISIS thought they would break our hearts. They did not. Milad is a hero now and an inspiration for the whole world.”

As with Ronnie Smith and Kenji Goto, these twenty-one men had been transformed by the Gospel, as had their families. They were able to live and die with confidence, and their families were able to rejoice in their deaths because they are now truly alive. Bishop Felobous, himself related to five of the slain men, even expressed sadness upon hearing that the Egyptian military was retaliating against ISIS. “I was very sad when I heard the news of the air strikes led by the Egyptian military against ISIS. God asked us to even love our enemies.” Even after they had slaughtered five of his relatives, Bishop Felobous was able to answer jihad with compassion.

According to numerous reports, one of the men on the beach in Libya was not an Egyptian Christian, but a citizen of Chad. It was not until he saw the faith of the men around him that he was moved to trust in Christ. When the time came to make his decision, asked whether he would denounce Christianity and live or proclaim the Gospel and die, he said, “Their God is my God.” He chose to live for one minute as a Christian rather than for the rest of his life after having denied Jesus.

CONCLUSION

Jesus has much to do with jihad, both in Islam and Christianity. In common Islamic eschatology, he personally wages war on behalf of Muslims, breaking all the crosses and killing all the swine. In this war Muslims will kill Jews and defeat them, and Jesus will destroy the anti-Christ for their sake.

In Christianity, Jesus shows Christians how to answer persecution with love. Although this suggestion might seem impossible to some and ridiculous to others, Jesus’ teachings were always radical, and they are only possible to follow if the Gospel message is true. If we will live eternally with God in bliss, then we can lay down this life to love even our enemies. In the face of jihad, the Christian Jesus teaches his followers to respond with love.

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward- Question #17 – How Does Jihad Compare With the Crusades?

answering jihad

 

This is the seventeenth in a 19-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through eighteen will cover eighteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week nineteen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION # 17 – How Does Jihad Compare With the Crusades?

QURESHI RECALLS WAKING UP one morning to a tweet in which a disgruntled individual accused him of criticizing Islam inconsistently. If Christians fought in the Crusades, does that not show that Christianity is violent? If it doesn’t, then how could Qureshi accuse Islam of being violent?

crusades

Of course, this individual did not have the advantage of reading the previous sixteen chapters of Qureshi’s book before asking his question. By now [for those of you who have read the book, or have been following this weekly series] it should be clear there is a great difference between jihad and the Crusades. Jihad was commanded by Muhammad and the Qur’an, both in principle and in reality, whereas Jesus commanded no such thing as the Crusades, neither in principle nor in reality. Therefore, jihad reflects the religion of Islam, whereas the Crusades do not reflect the Christian faith. There is a significant difference between the two.

HOLY WAR

As was mentioned at the end of the previous chapter (Question #16), Jesus’ teachings on peace and violence were so clear that no Christian force entered into battle until after Christianity was assimilated into the Roman Empire in the fourth century. At that time, much that was culturally Roman coalesced with the Christian faith, and warfare began to gradually enter the Christian perspective.

By the turn of the fifth century, the question had become a serious one: Were Christians prohibited from all warfare, or might they engage in battle under certain circumstances? It was at this time that the Christian theologian Augustine began formulating a framework that would allow Christians to fight a just war. Providing stringent conditions, Augustine argued that fighting could fall within the will of God, but only as a necessary evil, an act that required penance. Many Christians adopted Augustine’s view, and for the next few centuries some fought under the banner of their faith with the understanding that they would have to repent as a result.

map of the crusades.jpg

So it was approximately four centuries after Jesus that Christians formulated a theology of acceptable warfare, but it took another seven centuries before Christians developed a concept of holy war. Just after the First Crusade was launched, the contemporary historian Guibert of Nogent remarked in his work, On the First Crusade, “God has instituted in our time holy wars, so that the order of knights and the crown running in their wake… might find a new way of gaining salvation.” No longer did warriors see themselves as committing sin when they fought; instead they saw their actions as meritorious, even salvific [i.e., leading to salvation].

salvationist

By contrast, Muhammad himself taught his warriors that fighting was salvific. According to Sahih al-Bukhari, “…the first army amongst my followers who will invade Caesar’s city will be forgiven their sins” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.56.2924). As Qureshi demonstrated in his answer to Question #4, Allah essentially made a bargain with Muslims. Death in battle would secure a mujahid’s station in heaven (9:1110).

So it was not until Christians were a thousand years removed from Jesus that they developed a theology of holy war, whereas Muhammad and the Qur’an themselves taught Muslims that fighting could lead to salvation. Holy war is in the very foundation of the Islamic faith.

THE NATURE OF THE CRUSADES

Some records of the Crusades depict Christians committing abominable acts. An example is Count Emicho’s slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland. A rogue Christian leader, Count Emicho systematically slaughtered and plundered innocent Jews against the behest of multiple Christian bishops. He asserted that his zeal was on account of the Jews’ mistreatment of Jesus, ignoring the fact that Jesus himself was a Jew.

Also jarring is the description of what crusaders did to Muslims after scaling the outer fortifications of Jerusalem, as recounted here in a translation of the Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolimitanorum collected in R.G.D. Laffan’s Select Documents of European History:

Our men followed and pursued them, killing and hacking, as far as the temple of Solomon, and there was such a slaughter that our men were up to their ankles in the enemy’s blood… Entering the city, our pilgrims pursued and killed the Saracens [Muslims] up to the temple of Solomon. There the Saracens [Muslims] assembled and resisted fiercely all day, so that the whole temple flowed with their blood. At last the pagans were overcome and our men seized many men and women in the temple, killing them or keeping them alive as they saw fit… Then the crusaders scattered throughout the city, seizing gold and silver, horses and mules, and houses full of all sorts of goods. Afterwards our men went rejoicing and weeping for joy to adore the sepulchre of our Savior Jesus and there discharged their debt to Him.

At then end of the fighting, the archbishop of Pisa and the count of St. Gilles wrote a letter to the Pope, an English translation of which has been produced by the University of Pennsylvania, boastfully describing their victory: “If you desire to know what was done with the enemy who were found there, know that in Solomon’s Porch and in his temple our men rode in the blood of the Saracens [Muslims] up to the knees of their horses.”

Qureshi writes, “Please allow me to be clear: I denounce these atrocities unequivocally. I am utterly against the courses of action that the crusaders took, as they demonstrated a disregard for the value of human life, a demonization of Jews and Muslims, and no grounding whatsoever in the teachings of Jesus. That said, the description in these accounts are clearly exaggerations, as there were not enough people in the entire world to create a knee-deep lake of blood in Jersusalem. We should not view this florid language as a precise fact.”

hands of peace

Qureshi believes it is important to be accurate about the historical context of the battle. John Esposito, professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, has denounced the First Crusade in his book, Islam: The Straight Path, using these terms: “Five centuries of peaceful coexistence elapsed before political events and an imperial-papal power play led to centuries-long series of so-called holy wars that pitted Christendom against Islam and left an enduring legacy of misunderstanding and distrust.” Professor Esposito’s sentiments may be admirable, but they’re based on fiction, a fiction that has taken hold of the popular understanding of the Crusades.

The reality is that Muhammad proclaimed war against Byzantine Christians, and his companions undertook the work of conquering Christian lands. Muslims had been subjugating Christian lands ever since the inception of Islam, just as the Qur’an commanded them. According to Crusade scholar Thomas Madden, in an article he wrote for the National Review shortly after September 22, 2001, “The crusades were in every way a defensive war. They were the West’s belated response to the Muslim conquest of fully two-thirds of the Christians world.”

This may bear repeating: Muslims had conquered two-thirds of the Christian world before the First Crusade. Islamic conquests were also often brutal. Qureshi shared one account of Muhammad’s companion ordering his soldiers to slaughter defenseless women and children in the chapter on Question #4. Here is another example from the Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu as Muslims were conquering the Bishop’s people:

[W]hen with great toil and exertion [the Muslims] had cast down the walls of the city, they forthwith made themselves masters of it, and put to the sword thousands of its inhabitants and soldiers, and they gained an enormous booty, and took the women and children captive and divided them amongst themselves, and they made that city a desolation.

This slaughter of men and enslavement of women and children follows Muhammad’s example in his treatment of the Quraayza Jews. Qureshi said, “Let us also not forget that Muslims often enlisted the captured boys in their slave armies, starting with the ghilman in the middle of the 800s, and later the mamluks. This practice became so deeply rooted in Islamic custom that, according to Daniel Pipes, sixteen of the seventeen preeminent Muslim dynasties in history systematically used slave-warriors.”

CONCLUSION

When we condemn the Crusades, we ought to do so in light of what they actually were: a defensive effort after much of the Christian world had been conquered by Muslims. Yet Qureshi does condemn the Crusades. The slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland and Muslims in Jerusalem was, in Qureshi’s opinion, unconscionable, especially since crusaders had taken on the name of Christ. If their efforts had represented the state and not the church, and had they been much more humane, Qureshi believes he might have felt differently. But instead he believes taking the symbol of the cross, on which Jesus died for his enemies, and turning it into a symbol for killing one’s enemies deserves to be condemned.

Qureshi said, “As a Christian, I am thankful it took a millennium for Christians to so distort Jesus’ teachings to support holy war. Had Christians engaged in such wars one hundred or two hundred years after Jesus’ death, perhaps the matter would be less clear-cut. As it is, there is little question. Jesus did not commission any concept of holy war, and it took Christians a thousand years to depart from the foundations of Christianity radically enough to engage in it.

By contrast, violent and offensive jihad is commanded in the Qur’an and we find corroborating traditions in the life of Muhammad. The foundations of Islam command Muslims to engage in holy war, offering them salvation if they die while fighting. It took Muslims 1,300 years to depart from the foundations of Islam so radically as to insist that Islam is a religion of peace.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #18–What Does Jesus Have to do With Jihad? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.