Archives For Jesus Christ

Two Myths Busted About Mary

Greg Strand – December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Each Christmas season, not only are questions raised about Jesus but also Mary, His earthly mother. Today we have a guest post from Ernie Manges*, addressing a couple of myths about Mary.

Two myths busted about Mary

Mary is not an unwed mother, nor is she “engaged” to Joseph.

The word “pledged” (mn‘steuein, Matt. 1:18; Luke 2:5) means Joseph and Mary had already exchanged public vows, but were not yet living together as a couple.  In first-century Judaism the gap between the vows and living together was often as long as a year.  However, they were considered more than merely “engaged” in modern terms, they were actually legally married, which is why Matthew twice calls Mary the “wife” of Joseph (gyn‘, Matt. 1:20, 24), and why Joseph considered divorce (Matt. 1:19).

The biological connection between Jesus and Mary does not make Jesus a sinner.

Some assert that Jesus cannot be physically descended from Mary because this means he would inherit the sin nature.  To avoid this, some have erred by teaching the human nature of Jesus must somehow be different than ours (e.g., the “celestial body” of Jesus taught by Menno Simons).  These types of solutions are dangerous because they disconnect the humanity of Jesus from ours, contradicting the clear teaching of Scripture.

However, this problem disappears if we examine the underlying assumption: sinfulness is an essential element of being human.  Scripture teaches that in the new heavens and the new earth we will no longer sin.  Will we then be somehow less human?  Were Adam and Eve pre-fall somehow incomplete humans?  Rather we ought to say that in our glorified state we will enjoy the fullness of being human – as God originally designed us.

*Manges is a missionary with EFCA ReachGlobal, and after having served 20 years in the Philippines, now leads the training of new missionary candidates for ReachGlobal.  He also is the professor of theology and church history at the Cebu Graduate School of Theology in the Philippines. Additionally, he serves on the EFCA’s Spiritual Heritage Committee. He has an M.A. in Church History and an M.Div. from TEDS, and his Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) was awarded on the basis of his research into the patristic views of the Virgin Mary.

What Do We Know About the Historical Jesus?

Greg Strand – December 17, 2012 2 Comments

As I have stated a number of times, most every major celebration of the Christian year, there are articles in major publications about some aspect of the Christian faith that is being questioned or denied. We can add this year to the list. Newsweek included an article by Bart D. Ehrman, “What Do We Really Know About Jesus?,” (December 17, 2012).

Most will already know what to expect from Ehrman. At one time a number of years ago he professed a Christian (Evangelical) faith. Now he claims to be agnostic, and much of what he writes he attempts to deny the Christian faith and to undermine the truth of it.

Ehrman begins by addressing the controversy over the so-called translation and claims made regarding the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” He acknowledges that many consider this document a forgery. But that was his entry point into calling the New Testament into question as well. Appropriately and rightly, he debunks some of the myths surrounding Christmas and the historicity of Jesus and His birth. But sadly, and yet expectedly, he ends up throwing the baby out with the bathwater, at least Jesus Christ, the incarnate God-man.

The New Testament documents “are not historically reliable descriptions of what really happened when Jesus was born,” Ehrman claims. He continues by claiming there are many scholars who recognize that Matthew and Luke simply cannot be trusted to convey accurate historical information. He notes:

there are problems with the traditional stories as they are recounted for us in Matthew and Luke, the only two Gospels that contain infancy narratives. However valuable these writings may be for theological reflection on the meaning and importance of Jesus—and why should anyone deny that they are tremendously valuable for that?—they are not the sorts of historical sources that we might hope for if we are seriously engaged in trying to reconstruct the events of history.

Ehrman does believe that Jesus was a historical person, who did actually exist. But he does not believe that Jesus was God incarnate in human flesh, the God-man born of the virgin Mary through the miraculous conception of the Holy Spirit.

It simply will not do to claim a Jesus of history, from whom we can gain much useful theological knowledge and information, from the Christ of faith. The Jesus of history is the Christ of faith! This is the amazing truth we celebrate at Christmas, and the truth we believe, embrace and celebrate not just for the Christmas season, but for now and eternity.

In an interesting irony, at the end of this year Newsweek will cease a print edition. As noted by Al Mohler, “Readers should note carefully that it is Newsweek, and not the New Testament, that is going out of print.”

The Humanity of Jesus Christ

Greg Strand – December 12, 2012 Leave a comment

The biblical teaching and orthodox truth regarding Jesus Christ is that He is fully God and fully man. He is, as stated in Evangelical Convictions (pp. 98-99),

one Person in whom two distinct natures are united. Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man. He is fully and completely both at the same time, showing us the true nature of each. . . . The Son of God remained God – he never gave up being God, but he added to his divinity real humanity. As God incarnate, the divine subject made real human experience his own, and since the incarnation, the Son of God will forever be human. . . . [Jesus was/is] one Person and in this one Person are two distinct natures, which are divine and human in all their fullness.

This truth is especially pondered during the Christmas season, the time at which we are reminded that Jesus is fully God and fully man, with a special focus on His humanity in the incarnation.

Bruce Ware, Professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theology Seminary, formerly Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Biblical and Systematic Theology TEDS, has written a new book on Christology, focusing on His humanity: The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

D. A. Carson writes the following about this recent publication:

This delightful study of Jesus Christ the man probes deep and complex truths with a lucid clarity designed for ordinary Christian readers. I’m tempted to say that this is Warfield’s christology re-written for the devout layperson who wants to understand Jesus better and thereby trust, obey, and love him more whole-heartedly. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter promise that the book will be used widely in churches where one of the passions is to understand historic Christian truth in a fashion that is biblically faithful and spiritually nourishing.

Justin Taylor posted an interview with Ware about his new book, which is conducted by Dane Ortlund.

Taylor helpfully lays out the interview questions and identifies where they occur in this recorded interview:

00:30: What drove you (Bruce Ware) to write this book?

01:50: You start the book with a discussion of Philippians 2. Why did you choose to reference Philippians?  Help us especially understand what it means when Paul says that Jesus “emptied himself” and became a servant.

03:57: When I (Dane Ortlund) think about the supernatural things Jesus did, my default mode is to think that Jesus is “falling back on his deity.” Help us understand the way you deconstruct and provide a corrective to that logic.

06:23: You have a chapter in the book that discusses Christ’s impeccability. What does it mean that Jesus was impeccable and how does that connect to his humanity? What does that mean for believers today?

09:25: Why did Jesus have to come as a man and not a woman?

11:43: What would you say to a woman who says to you, “Ok Dr. Ware, Jesus came as a male. Is it not true then that Jesus doesn’t really understand me as a woman?”

14:00: Why did Jesus have to come and be a man to save us? I can understand why only God could save me, but why did the second person of the trinity also need to become fully human and, it seems, do what Psalm 49 says can’t be done?

18:13: Is Jesus still a man today?

20:08: Why is knowing that Jesus’s incarnation is not a “parenthesis” cause for worship?


Why We Need the Gospels

Greg Strand – December 10, 2012 2 Comments

Jonathan Pennington* has written an extremely helpful book on reading, understanding, teaching and preaching the Gospels: Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction (Baker Academic, 2012). Early in the book Pennington gives “Nine Reasons We Need the Gospels” (pp. 38-49, italics original).

  1. First, we need to study the Gospels because they have been central to the Church throughout its history.
  2. A second reason we need the Gospels is because Paul and the other New Testament writers presuppose and build upon the story and teaching of Jesus.
  3. Third, another closely related  reason we need a healthy diet of the Gospels is because although the written form of the Gospels is subsequent to most of the Epistles, the traditions behind them are not; they go back to the time of Jesus himself and the immediately following years, passed down through oral (and eventually written) repetition.
  4. A fourth reason we need the Gospels is that in them we get a more direct sense of the Bible’s great story line.
  5. Closely related to the preceding point, the fifth benefit of the Gospels is that they offer a concentrated exposure to the biblical emphasis on the coming kingdom of God.
  6. Sixth, we need the Gospels because there are different languages or discourses of truth.
  7. Seventh, pushing this even further, I would suggest that not only are the Gospels a different discourse of truth; they are in many ways a more comprehensive and paradigmatic type of map.
  8. An eighth reason we need the Gospels is because encountering Jesus in narrative helps us grow in experiential knowledge and realize that reality does not always fit into neat little boxes of “truth.”
  9. Finally, we need the Gospels because in the Gospels alone we have a personal, up-front encounter with Jesus Christ.

Many/Most Evangelicals are Pauline in the sense of preaching from his Epistles and emphasizing justification and righteousness. These are essential truths! But we pay less attention to the Gospels and the key teaching of Jesus, the kingdom. This, too, is an essential truth and is foundational for understanding Paul’s teaching! Both emphases are necessary as they make up the one New Testament. Not only will this book help you to understand Jesus and the Gospels, it will also enable you to understand the rest of the Bible, with the Old Testament preparation for Jesus and the Gospels, and the application of Jesus’ person, teaching and ministry after His death, burial and ascension as recorded in the rest of the New Testament. This book fills a much-need gap for Evangelicals.

*Pennington received his M.Div. from TEDS, his Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews, and presently serves as Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

What Happened with Jesus’ Wife?

Greg Strand – December 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Peter Williams, Warden, Tyndale House, Cambridge, follows up the claim made in September that Jesus may have had a wife with a provocative title, “Jesus’s ‘wife’ found dead,” Evangelicals Now (November 2012).

The translation of this document was titled “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” and it created an incredible response in the media. Many focused on the title and made certain assumptions and claims, while others were much more cautious in their assessment of this document. As is often the case with these sorts of sensational stories, there was an immediate buzz, and then it faded into obscurity. It is helpful to take a look at something like this once the dust has settled a bit. That is what Williams does in this brief article.

Williams traces the response to this document and concludes that “after nearly a month of scrutiny by scholars on the blogosphere, it appears that the fragment is almost certainly a fake.” Rather than letting this go and losing the opportunity for learning lessons, Williams concludes by stating some things we (Evangelicals) learned:

First, we see a number of layers of spin in this tale. Dr. King’s original decision to call the media and to label the fragment a ‘Gospel’ just set the ball rolling. Soon media reports copied each other, and started to suggest that this was a discovery to revolutionise or challenge Christian teaching. By the time this arrived at popular perception, the transformation was complete: a piece of historical evidence suggested that Jesus actually had a wife. The majority impression given by the media was that this was an authentic piece, and the message that, even if genuine, the fragment was of little historical consequence was not heard. Public attitude will have been affected for the worse.

So we are reminded that the secular media appear incredibly powerful at getting false messages across which it is hard for us to redress.

Secondly, it could have been worse. To her credit, from the beginning Dr. King released high resolution photos and the technical information she had. This enabled quick scrutiny. Had the person responsible for the fake been better at his or her job the story could have had yet more negative impact. As it was, it’s noteworthy that British and British-educated scholars like Watson, Bernhard, and Goodacre mentioned above, along with evangelicals Simon Gathercole and Christian Askeland, played a significant role in exposing the problems with the manuscript and claims about it on blogs and in the media. Andrew Brown of The Guardian was commendably quick to notice and publish the doubts being raised.

It is worth reflecting on the progress here. Evangelicals now make up a significant proportion of those with the technical expertise to tackle a subject like this, and some of them had an intellectual firepower on the subject considerably exceeding that of the Harvard professor. I was contacted by Christians in touch with the media and was able to refer them to Simon Gathercole, a leading evangelical expert on apocryphal gospels. The rapid and informed response by Christians probably went a considerable way to deflating the story.

It is now well known by many who are not believers that there is a vigorous conspiracy-theory industry propagandising against the Christian faith. If Christians are seen as standing on history while others follow spin, even what seems like adverse publicity will ultimately end up glorifying God’s name.

What are we to make of these lessons learned? First, it is encouraging to know that Evangelicals, those who affirm the inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures, and who also affirm the historicity of the God-man, Jesus Christ, are on the front-lines of defending the faith once for all entrusted to the saints.

Second, that Evangelicals have the “technical expertise” and the “intellectual firepower” to engage in these subjects is what people like Carl Henry, Ken Kantzer and others, including our own Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, moved towards in the 1940s when they pursued a new direction, different from the anti-intellectualism of the fundamentalists. It was/is also at the heart of numerous Evangelical seminaries, including our own Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Third, even as these Evangelical scholars can engage in and provide leadership to these academic discussions, humility is absolutely essential. That attribute is a mark of both the Lord Jesus and those who truly understand, proclaim and defend the gospel. Apart from humility, one can win an argument, displease God (cf. Isa. 66:2) and undermine the gospel we proclaim.

Fourth, our ultimate aim as we defend the faith is that God would be glorified. Our goal is to make much of God, not of self. This can and ought to be done in all situations and circumstances, even like these in which a claim is made that Jesus had a wife.