December 25th, 2011
April 2nd, 2013
The Main Themes of Jesus’ Teachings:
The Kingdom of God
Most New Testament scholars, liberal and conservative alike, believe the main theme of Jesus’ teachings is the Kingdom of God (also called the Kingdom of Heaven). Both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed, “The Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). But, what exactly is the Kingdom of God? First, a kingdom is the domain (or sphere of rule) of a king. Second, since God is the King of His Kingdom, then the Kingdom of God is wherever God rules.
To be more specific, we need to look at what Jesus said about God’s Kingdom. Jesus often taught in parables. Parables are true to life stories that teach spiritual truth. In Matthew, chapter thirteen, Jesus taught the people parables about the Kingdom of God, telling them what the Kingdom would be like. In the parable of the sower, Jesus said that people could accept or reject the word of the Kingdom. Those who accept the word of the Kingdom would bear much fruit (Matthew 13:18-23). In the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven, Jesus explained that the Kingdom of God would start out small but would grow to the point of filling the earth (Matthew 13:31-33). In the parables of the tares and the net of fish, Jesus preached that, in God’s Kingdom, the unsaved would mingle with the saved until the harvest on the last day when the Son of Man would send God’s angels to separate them, sending the unsaved into a “furnace of fire” (Matthew 13:36-43; 47-50). In the parables of the pearl of great price and the hidden treasure, Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was worth more than everything a person owned (Matthew 13:44-46).
These parables teach us that the Kingdom of God has two distinct phases or stages. First, the Kingdom of God apparently has a present stage in which God’s Kingdom (the church) is growing throughout the world. During this stage, God’s Kingdom grows until it fills the earth. Still, nonbelievers live side by side with believers during this stage. Second, the Kingdom of God has a future stage in which the Son of Man will come and send His angels to separate the unsaved from the saved, sending the unsaved into eternal torment.
The Apostle Paul spoke of the present stage of God’s Kingdom when he wrote, “For the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Hence, the present stage of God’s Kingdom is a spiritual stage—God ruling in the hearts of believers.
The future stage of God’s Kingdom is spoken of in the following manner: “And the seventh angel sounded [his trumpet]; and there arose loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever’” (Revelation 11:15). Revelation, chapters nineteen and twenty, tell us that Jesus will bring God’s kingdom to earth by reigning on the earth and shepherding the nations with an iron rod for one-thousand years (Revelation 19:11-20:15). Hence, the future stage of God’s Kingdom is when God’s Kingdom physically comes to earth when Jesus returns to rule on earth (Matthew 24:29-31; 25:31-32). Jesus taught the apostles that they would sit on twleve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel in the coming Kingdom (Matthew 19:28), and that many Jews would not make it into God’s Kingdom, whereas some Gentiles would sit and feast with the Jewish patriarch Abraham (Matthew 8:10-12). Jesus told Nicodemus that “unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). To be born again, a person has to believe in Jesus for salvation (John 3:16-18).
From these passages we can gain insight into God’s Kingdom. In its present stage, God rules in the hearts of believers—those who trust in Jesus alone for salvation. But, in the future, Jesus will return and bring God’s Kingdom to earth, and He will reign on the earth for one-thousand years. The Kingdom of God coming in all its fullness was prophesied in the Old Testament and will be fulfilled by Jesus at His return when He conquers the enemies of Israel and establishes God’s Kingdom on earth (Zechariah 14:1-5, 9-21; Isaiah 2:1-4; 9:6-7; 11:4-9; Zechariah 9:9-10). Jesus instructed believers to pray for God’s Kingdom to come to earth (Matthew 6:10).
March 3rd, 2013
IBD Vice President Matthew Coombe begins his new series on apologetics by discussing our need for apologetics.
February 28th, 2013
by IBD conributor Kyle Larson
After his arrest in Gethsemane, the guards dragged Jesus before the Jewish nation’s supreme court: the Sanhedrin. The high priest, Caiaphas, had arranged for an impromptu trial of the controversial rabbi. Being held at night an in secret, the legality of the trial was already in doubt. As a line of false accusers came forward, each contradicting the last, all hope of a fair trial faded away; Jesus’ was guilty no matter how long it took to prove it.
Eventually, Jesus admitted his unique status as the son of God. Caiaphas, unable to make his sham trial effective, jumped at the opportunity to condemn Jesus as a blasphemer. The sentence was death!
Unfortunately for Caiaphas, the Jewish nation was living under Roman occupation and no man could be executed without the permission of Rome. So the Jewish leaders waited until early Friday morning to bring Jesus before the Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. After a short interview, Pilate could not find any real basis for a charge against Jesus, so he sent him to Herod.
Herod could find nothing in Jesus’ worthy of death either, so Pilate, never a fan of the Sanhedrin or or the Jews, decided to release Jesus. Not because he cared for Jesus or because he was particularly worried about justice, but because the Sanhedrin was jealous of Jesus. Releasing Jesus would make them angry … and in some place in Pilate’s heart that thought pleased him.
However, after several attempts to release Jesus, Pilate found himself faced with a riot. What on earth had this man done to so enrage the Jewish leaders? After his wife came to him, begging him to have nothing to do with Jesus, Pilate washed his hands of the matter. He finally gave in to the will of the people and sent Jesus to the cross.
Before a condemned man was taken to the cross, it was a preliminary procedure to have that man scourged. The type of whip used by the Romans was totally different than the kind used during the days of slavery in the Southern United States. The Romans used a kind of whip that had long leather strips. At the end of each of these leather strips were pieces of sheep bone and other VERY sharp objects. Thus, when this whip came down upon upon a man’s back, it also wrapped around the chest of the bent over man. This whip ripped through skin, muscles and nerves. This caused intense pain. As the whip came down on the man’s back and wrapped around his chest. severe bruising on the rib cage and the lungs would occur. Thus, when a man took a breath, it was extremely painful. Thus, during and after this brutal scourging, Jesus had to be careful to take shallow short breaths because if he attempted a normal deep breath, he would be in extreme agony.
If we had been there to view the scourging of Jesus, we would see his entire back broken open. Not only would the top layer of skin be totally ripped open, but also deeper layers of the back that would have ripped apart muscles and nerves. Large pieces of flesh came flying off of Jesus back, chest and legs.
The pain must have been agonizing not only on the back but also on the chest. Jesus would continuously slump down on the ground, only to be jerked back up again so that the scourging could continue. Many people died at the whipping post. Many people called the scourging at the post “the half death” because most victims, including Jesus, already half dead before even being nailed to the Cross.
As the scourging continued, the man would experience nausea and vomiting as well as severe dizzy and fainting spells. Yet the Roman soldiers showed no mercy as the scourging continued. When the scourging of Jesus was finished, he had huge black, blue and purple bruises all over the front and back of his body. He could hardly stand up.
The Crown of Thorns
In the case of Jesus, he claimed to be a King. Thus, the Roman soldiers chose to mock the Kingship of Jesus. In order to do this, the soldiers took part of a thorn bush and formed a “cap” that covered his entire head. These thorns probably came from the “Syrian Christ thorn” plant. These thorns were as hard as nails. When the Roman soldiers rammed down the crown of thorns on the head of Jesus, the thorns went the two major nerves that covered the entire head. When the crown of thorns came down upon Jesus, he experienced “trigeminal neuralgia” There would be agonizing pain all over the front and sides of his face. There would also be agonizing pain on the insides of his ears. It would have been the equivalent of having someone come up with a knife and stabbing a person all over the face.
I have a friend who has experienced trigeminal neuralgia. She writes:
“There are different levels pertaining to the pain of trigeminal neuralgia. I personally experience most of the time the pain on both sides of my face called bilateral pain. Besides feeling like a toothache I experience a severe amount of pressure around my whole lower jaw. It feels as though someone is squeezing your cheeks and jaws together with a piercing pain going on at the same time. Also, every so often I experience sharp, electric shocks to the side of the face like someone stabbed me with a sharp needle or knife. The pain can extend up the side of the face where your temples are and keeps going around to the top of my eyes and forehead like an excruciating, unbearable migraine in your entire face.There are times when the pain can get so severe that you feel like your face is on fire and there is nothing you can do about it; where you cannot get any relief”
Most movies on Jesus do not emphasize the severity of the scourging and the crown of thorns. Remember these things as you meditate on the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
February 20th, 2013
By Kyle Larson – Contributor to the Institute
It’s late on a Thursday night. Jesus and his disciples have just finished eating the Passover meal. During this traditional gathering, the Rabbi, Jesus, had revealed some extraordinary things to his disciples. So extraordinary, in fact, that it would be some time before even they fully grasped their meaning.
The meal completed, Jesus and his disciples now make their way to a garden called Gethsemene. It’s a place they’d been many times before, but this evening Jesus expresses an unusual urgency to pray. Why tonight? Why here? After what was revealed at the Passover feast, what did the Rabbi has in mind?
Along the way, Jesus’ urgency only grows. In this urgency, the disciples see something they’ve not seen in their master before; They see fear. As he travels, Jesus’ mortal body is nearly overcome by apprehension and foreboding; As he approaches the gates, The fear center in his brain causes his heart to begin to race.
Upon reaching them, he halts and turns to speak. With his mind and body near a state of total emotional collapse, the words are difficult. Jesus informs his Disciples that he is engulfed in extreme sadness and fear. He and three of his disciples must travel further on to pray.
After a short distance, he stops again, telling the three disciples with him to wait while he goes further to speak with his Father. Now, as he settles into deep prayer, from his forehead come sweat like drops of blood. The blood in his body seeped into his sweat glands as he poured forth bloody sweat. This condition is known as Hematidrosis and is triggered by an unimaginable sense of fear and horror.
Jesus is not the only one in history who has experienced the of sweating blood. Aristotle mentions this condition in one of his writings. Long after the time of Jesus, this condition would be reported widely.
In 1884, for example, a Dr J.H Pooley noted the emotional trauma of 6 condemned prisoners on their way to execution. In another case, the attempted rape of a woman caused her sweat to become like blood. In yet another case, a sailor caught out in a terrible storm at sea proceeded to sweat blood because of the extreme and unimaginable fear that he felt in that storm. During World War 1, a child in London during bombing raids was so overcome with fear, that she sweated great drops of blood.
As Jesus continues to pray, he becomes so overwhelmed with fear, that the Father sends an angel to comfort him. Jesus starts shivering and trembling in the cold night air. It seemed as though the overwhelming emotional agony of Jesus would never end. Yet as he kept sweating blood, as his heart kept beating rapidly, his shortness of breath along with all the other symptoms that goes along with extreme emotional agony, he slowly started to accept the reality of the Father’s Will for him.
As he accepted his Father’s Will for him, he slowly started to relax over his whole body. His heart rate started to slow down and his skin becomes less and less pale.
Jesus has won a mighty victory as he finally and willingly accepts his Father’s Will to go to the cross.
February 14th, 2013
An excerpt from Hijacking the Historical Jesus
The True Jesus of the Bible—Four Key Doctrines
It is now time for us to examine the biblical portrait of Jesus, the traditional Jesus. The Bible teaches that Jesus always existed as God, the second Person of the Trinity (John 1:1, 14; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1). At a point in time, He became a man by adding to His Person a human nature (John 1:14; 1 Timothy 2:5; Philippians 2:5-8). He did this without ceasing to be God. Four key doctrines proclaimed by the early church may help shed light on the biblical perspective of Jesus. It is important to note that these doctrines were not “created” by church leaders, nor did these doctrines slowly evolve into existence. The components of these doctrines were clearly and originally taught in the New Testament, but had to be systematized in a coherent fashion in order to refute false views of Jesus.
The Doctrine of the Trinity teaches that there is only one true God, but that this one true God exists throughout all eternity as three co-equal Persons (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity. Only He became a man. The Father did not become a man, nor did the Holy Spirit become a man. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons; yet they are only one God. They are not each one-third God; they are each fully God. Still, though they are one in nature, they are three in Personhood. Throughout all eternity, they existed as three distinct Persons, yet as only one God.
Though no single passage of Scripture exhaustively teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, the sub-points that comprise the doctrine of the Trinity are clearly taught throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament. The Bible repeatedly and unambiguously teaches us that there is only one true God (Isaiah 43:10; 44:6; 46:9; 1 Timothy 2:5). The Father is called God (Galatians 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1-2). The Son is called God (Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1; Philippians 2:6; Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; John 1:1; 20:28; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Zechariah 14:5). And, the Holy Spirit is called God (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor 3:16). Yet, they are spoken of as three distinct Persons (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; Matthew 3:16-17; Isaiah 48:16). Therefore, the one true God exists throughout all eternity as three equal Persons. It would be a contradiction to say that God is one God, but three Gods. It would also be a contradiction to say that God is one Person, but three Persons. But, it is not a contradiction to say that God is one God, but three Persons. God is one in nature, yet three in Personhood. Hence, according to the Bible, God is three Persons, and Jesus is fully God, the second Person of the Trinity.
The Incarnation is the doctrine of the Bible that teaches that God the Son became a man. Several passages mention this truth (Philippians 2:5-8; John 1:1, 14; 1 Timothy 3:16; Luke 1:35; Matthew 1:22-23; Galatians 4:4). It is not a contradiction to believe that God the second Person of the Trinity, while retaining His infinite divine nature, became a man by adding a finite human nature.
The Hypostatic Union teaches that Jesus is one Person with two distinct natures forever. In other words, He is fully God and fully man. To be fully God, Jesus continues to have all the attributes or characteristics that are essential for God to have. To be fully man, Jesus has to have all the characteristics that are essential for humans to have.
It is not possible for God to cease to be God. We know that Jesus retained His divine nature while becoming a man, since Scripture commands us and the angels to worship Him even after He became a man (John 5:22-23; Hebrews 1:6), and He continued to be called “God” after He became a man (Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1). As a man, He still claimed to be equal to the Father (John 5:17-18; 10:30-33). He also claimed to be omnipresent (Matthew 28:20). The Biblical portrait of Jesus clearly indicates that He is fully God.
Still, Scripture also declares Jesus to be fully a man. He is called a man (1 Timothy 2:5), was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4), and experienced the limitations of human existence (Mark 13:32; Luke 2:52; John 4:6; 19:28); yet, He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
Therefore, Jesus had two natures: one human and one divine. These two natures remained distinct; they did not blend. If His natures blended, He would not be fully man or fully God; He would be a hybrid. Jesus is not half-God and half-man, but fully God and fully man. Was Jesus limited? Yes, but only in His human nature (Mark 13:32). Was Jesus unlimited? Yes, but only in His divine nature (Matthew 28:20). Jesus is one Person with two distinct natures forever.
The Kenosis is the doctrine that teaches that Jesus veiled His glory and humbled Himself by becoming a man (Philippians 2:5-8). Though Jesus did not cease to be God when He became a man and though He retained all of His divine attributes, He voluntarily chose to refrain from using some of His divine attributes while on earth. Instead, He depended on the Father for any supernatural assistance He needed (John 5:19-21, 30). Jesus did not use His divine powers to His advantage while on earth. In His human nature He could learn things and grow in knowledge (Luke 2:52). Even though He continued to be the all-knowing God, He chose to not tap into His divine wisdom while on earth.
These four doctrines are biblically based. They help us to understand the true identity of the Jesus of the Bible. The Bible teaches that there is only one God, but this one God is three Persons (the Trinity). God the Son became a man (the incarnation) to save mankind by dying for our sins. The Son added a human nature without losing His divine nature. Therefore, Jesus is fully God and fully man (the hypostatic union). Still, He veiled His glory by choosing to not utilize some of His divine powers while on earth (the kenosis). Instead, He lived a life of total reliance on the Father and the Father’s will.
August 30th, 2012
On September 11th, 2001, Islamic extremists hijacked American commercial airplanes and flew them into the twin towers and the Pentagon. Another hijacked plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Many commentators claimed that these terrorists had “hijacked” the Islamic faith. In reality, these Muslim terrorists seemed to take the violent commands of the Koran very seriously. They had not hijacked the Islamic faith; instead, they passionately obeyed the unethical commands uttered by Muhammad in the Koran.
However, the past few generations have witnessed a real hijacking: the hijacking of the historical Jesus. The historically reliable New Testament portrait of Jesus has been replaced with varieties of a politically-correct Jesus, New Age Christs, and other false Christs. In most cases, these false Christs were created in the image of the people who promote them.
Was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene and did He appoint her to lead His church? Or, was Jesus merely a man who never claimed to be God? Maybe Jesus was merely a legend or myth—He never really existed? In short, is traditional, biblical Christianity a perversion of first century Christianity? Today the traditional view of Jesus has been replaced by a myriad of false conceptions of Christ that look nothing like the true Jesus of the Bible. The traditional view of Jesus has been hijacked, and the Christian church needs to respond. We need to defend the true Jesus of history—the true Jesus of the Bible.
Today, two of the leading false pictures of Jesus in the Western world are being proclaimed by Dan Brown, author of the best-selling novel The DaVinci Code, and by the radical left-wing scholars who comprise the Jesus Seminar—a think tank dedicated to presenting an alternative, politically correct Jesus to the world. The next two chapters will examine their work and refute the false Jesuses they promote. Other false portraits of Jesus will be refuted as well.
In this chapter, we will examine ancient Christological heresies (i.e., ancient false views of Jesus), the liberal “Christian” view of Jesus, the cultic views of Jesus, and the mistaken views of Jesus found in the world religions as well as in postmodern circles. We will then briefly discuss the true biblical view of Jesus. In later chapters, after refuting the work of the DaVinci Code, the Jesus Seminar, and other recent attacks on the historical Jesus, we will build a strong case that the true Jesus of the Bible is identical with the real Jesus of history.
The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is fully God and fully man. He always existed as God the second Person of the Trinity, but at a point in time He added a human nature. Throughout the history of the church there have been those who have rejected this biblical view of Jesus and have instead promoted false Christs who cannot save.
An excerpt from “The True Jesus of the Bible”, chapter one in the Institute’s latest book: Hijacking the Historical Jesus.
August 7th, 2012
By IBD Vice President Matthew J Coombe
Originally Posted on mjcoombe.com
Incumbent to the duty of the apologist is to be prepared to not only defend the essentials of the faith (the existence of God or the resurrection) but also issues that tend to have a strong grasp on the emotions of people—the seemingly incompatibility of evil and the existence of God is one of these issues. In this paper I will address five questions and that can hinder the intellectual capacity of people to discern aspects of God (be it His goodness or even His existence) and formulate a theodicy. The questions are, 1. Why is there any evil at all? 2. Why are there the types and kinds of evils that there are? 3. Why is there the amount of evil that there is? 4. Why is there the particular evils that there are? 5. Why does God allow moral evils, and, natural evils, as He does?
Before attempting to make compatible the existence of God and the existence of evil, it should be examined from purely a neutral standpoint (if this is even possible)This is a crucial step as it sets the table to answer each of these questions. For the purposes of this paper, suppose we argue that the neutral position consists of a world that is nearly identical in every respect from this world save one major difference, there are no purported religious experiences or in fact no religions at all—no one believes in God and for all intents and purposes God does not exist. In this sense, I will refer to religion as a belief in a being or reality that transcends earth and its inhabitants. In this scenario I would like to ask the question, does this world have a problem with evil? The answer is both yes and no. Yes it has a problem with evil in the sense that people would still kill each other, still commit hate crimes, and commit all sorts of atrocities; or that moral evil would still be as equally prevalent in this world as it is in ours. Further, on top of the problems with moral evil there also the remaining problem of natural evil; earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes still ravage the land leading to death and people losing homes and property.
In another sense, even though it is clear to the inhabitants of our world that the neutral world is full of evil, it is impossible for these events and actions to actually be considered evil (from the neutral perspective). Simply put, if there is no absolute moral law (the ability to claim that certain things in all cases are evil) then there could be no breaking of those moral laws. At best, without the use of a universal standard, one could merely hold to preferences and nothing else, i.e. “I prefer to not be murdered” as opposed to “all incidences of murder are evil.” The only means of having a universal law is through a universal law giver (God), without which universality is impossible.
Any normative system of ethics would deny subjective morality as it pertains to person to person morality. Or that, it seems that a robust ethical system could not be stemmed from the preferences of any given person—there are too many limiting factors between people. Education, culture, mental faculties, past trauma, presupposition, socio-economic status, and upbringing all affect one’s view concerning the morality of any given event. Further, if person to person morality follows, what happens if a conflict occurs? What if Dwight thinks it is perfectly fine to murder but Gareth does not like the idea of being murdered at all. What then? Obviously the scope must be bigger then a given individual.
If person to person morality fails what about having morality decided by a given group of people (such as a country)? The problem with this possibility fails for the same as the previous, different countries have different cultures, educations, socio-economic status and so on. On top of this, if a country or a culture decides what is evil or wrong, then one culture could not tell another culture that their actions are wrong—who could then, by moral grounds rightly stand up against Nazi Germany? Thus far, the neutral world has no means of proclaiming the evil of anything.
This neutral world could, via universal consensus decide that everything on vice list A(which contains things like rape, murder, and stealing) is evil and conversely everything on virtue list A ( which contains things like charity, hospitality, and bravery) is good. If this occurred, would it be possible then for universal objective evil and good to exist? The answer is still no. Even if the entirety of the world were in agreement on the morality of a given action, this would not entail objective morality, but merely subjective morality but with a high degree of agreement.
Further, if the neutral world began to exist (and by however means it did) based on an irrational cause (for there is no rational causer such as God) how could the people of this world ever hope to even formulate words about evil let alone be able to clearly delineate it; or that one could believe that the world is merely a product of an irrational cause, but if that was case, they would have no rational grounds in believing that (or anything at all).
It is only in a world that has a rational cause and an objective moral law giver that one is not only able to make coherent claims about anything in general, but also about what is right and wrong. Even when people deny the existence of absolute morality he will still act upon it. For example, Richard Dawkins has said on numerous occasions that if atheism were true that there would be no universal morality, however he has also stated on numerous occasions that he would not debate William Lane Craig because the God that he is defending committed genocide. If Dawkins were to be consistent his reason for not debating Craig would be a non- sequitur.
Therefore, it would not follow to claim that the existence of God and evil to be incompatible for evil could not even exist without an objective moral law giver in the first place. The next obvious question is, if there exists an objective moral lawgiver (such as God) why does God allow evil to exist at all? There have been several possible answers given to this question. The first is the free will theodicy, which states simply, humans have been given the ability to choose good or evil and he has chosen evil and therefore this is the source of evil.
Several key criticisms of this view are as follows. Why did God (if is omnipotent) create beings who are capable of doing evil? Is God inept in creating such a being (then He could hardly be considered omnipotent) or then is He merely the author of sin and evil (and therefore not good himself). There are three primary responses to this line of thinking. 1. From a metaphysical standpoint, the skeptic might be desiring God to do something that is logically impossible, namely, it might be beyond the capability, even of an omnipotent being), to create free willed beings that never sin. Of course God could create beings who never sin, the same way an architect could design a building with no widows. The crux of the issue is freedom. If freedom was truly given and holds, could God ensure such a being never sins? If the answer is “yes” then perhaps one would wonder “is man truly free?” It boils down to, God could create beings who never sin or commit evil, but it seems He cannot (by definition) create free willed beings who always act in a certain way.
2. There is also the notion of “trans-world depravity.” This considers the actions of free willed beings to always be one of a propensity to do evil. For example, some have claimed something like, “If I was in the Garden of Eden, I would never have sinned.” The concept of trans-world depravity would entail that not only were the actions of Adam and Eve normative, but in any possible world any two sentient and free beings would have eventual succumbed to her baser depraved desires and sinned.
3. Though freedom is able to bring about evil, without freedom there are certain goods that could never be achieved otherwise. For example, a man may wish to be told he is loved by someone. He decides that he is capable of bringing about this desire by one of two means. The first is he could create a robot that is programmed to affirm its love for him. The second option is, he could romance a woman and give her reason for her to decide for herself freely if she loves him. Suppose the man decided to do both, which scenario do you think would have made the man most satisfied, the robot doing as was contrived or the woman freely choosing? Of course as with any scenario of two people in love, there is bound to be fights and difficulties (none of which would be possible with the robot) but obviously anyone who has been in love would not hesitate to maintain that the various problems or ruts by no means entail that the love was not worth it.
On top of this, I do not think there is anyone in the world that would maintain that freedom (even if it at times can lead to evil) is itself an evil thing, I have yet to see people marching in protest on their capital with signs donning things like “Take away our freedom.” Or “More oppression, less choice!” No, in fact the opposite is usually the case, people usually are demanding more freedom. So then, freedom is a good thing, even if it brings about limited bad things.
In sum, evil exists because free will beings exist. And while people maintain that evil is bad, she will also maintain that freedom is good. It could even be noted that the unjust limited of freedom is likewise an evil.
The next question is, why are there the types and kinds of evils that there are? (In answering this question I shall also answer question 5). Generally speaking there are two main types of evil, moral and natural. Moral agents or people commit moral evils, these are willful (but not necessarily intentional) actions done by a person towards another person. Non-moral agents such as hurricanes and tornados commit natural evils.
Often atheists criticize God for either being impotent in preventing evil or evil Himself for allowing it. Richard Swinburne’s argument circumvents this line of reasoning by arguing that there exist certain goods, which cannot be achieved unless there is evil. Or that, God is justified in allowing certain types of evils because it can bring about a good, which could not come about, by any other means. Atheists often claim the best possible world created by God would be one without pain or evil. This line of thinking is misguided.
First of all consider the elements of the best possible movie. What elements would be in the movie? A good or peace is disrupted by an antagonist or natural evil. A hero triumphs over the evil. These two elements are almost always universally found in movies. Would people be willing to spend money to see a movie in which nothing happens? If there is no conflict then there is no intrigue, if there is no intrigue it could never be considered the best possible movie. Further, consider video games. What elements would be in the best possible video game? Would kids or adults be willing to spend 50 dollars on a video game in which there was no journey to take, or princess to save, or enemies to defeat? How much fun would it be to control a character that simple sits in room? Who would think that this could be considered the best possible game?
If the video game and movie analogies follow it could further be argued that the best possible world would be one that likewise had the same type of intrigue. Without pain or difficulty there could be no triumph. On top of this, evil in smaller amounts seems to bring about goodness in larger amounts (and even prevents more evil.) For example having an illness or a disease is an evil, but the having of the disease would create antibodies that could in the future prevent further diseases in the future.
Swinburne mentions a very interesting thought experiment. This thought experiment is as follows; suppose you were given the opportunity for only a few minutes of life. This life is not an immature one or one in which the person has no awareness of his surroundings, but rather that of full cognition and understanding of the environments and surroundings. Then in those precious minutes available you were given a choice. You could either have this time spent in pure felicity in which no pain or malice entered your body or mind. Or, you could warrant this time in pain and agony. The catch is, if you chose the later or the pain, it would not be in vain but rather people would benefit from your minutes of anguish. It would be very strange that people would choose the limited felicity with no lasting effect as compared to allowing limited evil with lasting effects of good.
Both in the animal world and with humans altruism is at times necessary and always seen as admirable. Perhaps animals lack the cognitive faculties to truly appreciate another of its kind when altruism occurs, but humans have the ability to appreciate the deed and see the good in it. Considering both fictional and non-fictional examples, sacrifice for the greater good is always commendable by people. In fiction, when a hero fights to his dying breath to save people who are unable to save themselves, this is universally considered a very meaningful gesture. In war people are considered heroes if they die for others, especially if it is for a group of people. If a solider is wounded or even killed in the defense or for the safety of his kinsmen, he is often rewarded with the highest honors.
In each of these scenarios the goodness of altruism and sacrifice could only be considered good, if there existed evil or conflict in the first place. Without the conflict the goodness could not be achieved. This is the primary thesis and presupposition of Swinburne in his essay. While atheists claim that God is evil or inept for allowing evil they fail to see three primary things. The first is, that there are a certain level of and types of good that could only be achieved in a world in which evil exists. These things would be (to name a few) forgiveness, medicine, reconciliation, and repentance.
Atheists also fail to recognize that not only is the evil that is allowed by God utilized for his (and other people’s) good but also the world in which they claim would be the best possible world (free from evil and pain) actually does exist and is found in the Christian notion of heaven. Everyone would agree that evil or pain is permissible if it can bring about a greater good. For example, suppose a dog with rabies bit a boy, and to save his life the boy would have to endure a series of painful injections to prevent him from contracting rabbis and dying. The pain of the injections would then be considered acceptable because the pain and evil of the injections is of far less consequence then the pain or evil associated with death. So then, God is justified in allowing certain evils, because there are certain goods, which are only possible in a world that has evil in it.
Another possible reason for God allowing evil is seen with Hick’s Soul making theodicy. In general Hick argues that humans are not created complete. Just as a child is born with the need to grow cognitively and socially so too man is in need of certain degrees of growth. There seems to be an underlining theodicy found throughout the Scriptures that feeds this line of thinking. This theodicy is based on the superseding of God on the realities of pain and suffering, that the glimpses of pain are but shadows to the pleasures and comfort, which are found in Him.
Human thinking becomes distorted when she considers God to be something of a Hotel manager whose job is to make her feel as comfortable as possible—comfort has never been the aim of God. Just as it is good for a parent to teach her child to delay gratification, “finish your homework and then you can watch tv,” so also humans must realize the immediate pleasure or happiness is in no way the sum of human experience. Further, if immediate pleasure is not the goal, then it could rightly be applied that immediate pain is likewise not the goal.
Pleasure and pain are a part of the human life and experience and yet neither of them are meant to be the sum of human experience. What then does this tell us? Namely that, the pleasure we feel or can feel is meant to be a taste of what one experiences in ultimate reality (which is heaven) and pain is meant to help refine that person as to groom himself and others for that same ultimate reality. Then question becomes, why would God allow evil and pain, even if it was for the purpose of an ultimate reality such as heaven? The answer to this is, God is in the business of soul winning. The ultimate reality, is the ultimate goal of man. If this is the case then God is justified in allowing evil if it could bring about the condition that a person’s soul is won.
While moral evil has been heavily addressed and given several plausible theodicies, what about Natural evil? While a man choosing to hurt or a kill another man might escape the fault of God, who but God would be responsible for a hurricane? Before answer this question it should be noted that Hick’s soul making theodicy and Swinburne’s theodicy could apply to natural evil as well. Just as a human can only learn forgiveness through being wronged, perhaps a man can only learn the power of fellowship by a group of people fighting together to build a wall of sandbags to save a community from an impending flood.
Further, while many natural evils (disasters) are given the title of “act of God.” Perhaps they should more rightly be called “act of Adam” and natural evils should be reduced to nothing more then the moral evil perpetrated by Adam. If the Jeudeo-Christian tradition is true sin and death entered into the earth when Adam sinned. His free choice cursed the planet. Before his decision to sin occurred there were no natural evils at all. So then, it should follow that essentially there is essentially only is one type of evil, moral evil.
Question 3 asks, why is there the amount of evil that there is? The logical problem questions the compatibility of evil and God, whereas the Evidential problem of God questions the amount of evil in the world. The problem with this style of argumentation is, (especially William Rowe’s formulation of the argument) is, Rowe does not necessarily have a problem with evil but rather the amount of evil. For example, he says “There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.” So then he does not have a problem with evil existing, per se, but rather to the degree and kind it exists today. This is troubling. For example, if Rowe really held to this thesis, then if God removed all evil from the world and decided to place it all on one man, lets call him “Carl” (this would entail that if any evil happened it would happen to Carl, disease, accidents, and so forth). Rowe would have to be satisfied with allowing a much lesser evil to occur (because no one else on the earth would feel the grip of evil except for Carl) for a greater evil. But it seems, even If God did allow this, Rowe would not recant his statement but would rather argue something such as, “why is God doing this to Carl?”
So then the evidential argument fails because it seems like no atheist would consider God a just being, even if he removed all the sin and death and evil from the world and put it on one person and that person suffered it all. Most likely the critics would merely shift the question to Carl’s suffering and not the worlds. Thus the problem would be shifted back to the logical problem of evil, of which no one really advocates to be a problem.
So then, the evidential problem is not really what is at issue. This being confirmed does not entail that the apologist should not be ready with a response. Consider the action of stepping on a nail. Obviously the pain from such an event is a good thing. At first one might be inclined to consider, “How can the pain of being impaled at all be considered good?” Suppose that Bob’s (the man who stepped on the nail) foot had no feeling and there was no reaction to the nail. Further, since his foot has no feeling he did not realize the nail was in there. Because he was unaware of it being inside of him he did not think to pull it out or go to the Doctor to receive a tetanus shot. Eventually the wound becomes infected and since Bob cannot feel the pain, it goes undiagnosed. This could result in an amputation or even death through infection.
So then, it seems pain is good because it can let one know when something is wrong. The next question one should consider however, is why are there varying degrees of pain. For example, if a man slowly dies of dysentery could not he just feel the pain associated with a needle prick or a slight headache instead of the constant agony? Why the excruciating pain? There are several answers to this. 1. Degrees of pain are necessary to affirm severity. Suppose that all pain was equal to that a pin prick. If this was the case then, how else would one be able to differentiate an “ice cream headache” and a migraine cause from a brain tumor? Varying degrees of pain are required for discerning varying degrees of severity. It is for this reason doctors and medical professionals use what is called a pain scale. Via the pain scale and other diagnostic tools the doctor is able to make a determination as to the best course of treatment.
2. If everything was the same sensation there likewise then could be no pleasure either. Pain is important because it can tell a person when something is wrong. Pleasure is important because it can (biologically speaking) tell us when something is right.
3. In cases of severe pain, such as previously mentioned it might be the case that if anything the more pain someone is in, the more deviant the event is from the way things are meant to be. For example suppose you saw a glass vase with the handle broken. Clearly you would be justified in maintaining the handle is meant to be connected to the vase, however, this is a relatively small deviation from the fully functional and connected vase. Further suppose that the next day the same vase was seen but this time it had shattered into a thousand pieces, it could quite easily be noted that the vase as in it is in its current state is a greater deviation from its original state. The same could be said of a person. A broken hand is a deviation from the way it should be, further a shatter or mangled hand is an even further deviation from the way it should be. Incumbent to this line of thinking actually results in evil as evidence for the existence of a meta-narrative. If there exists in humans, a way things should always be, there must exist a meta-narrative and it would follow from this there is likewise a meta-narrator. So then, extreme pain can, if anything else tell humans that the current state of affairs that resulted in the massive pain was not the way things were meant to be. Enter once again Swinburne’s greater good theodicy, as well as Hick’s Soul making theodicy as further evidence.
The amount of evil need not only be considered in terms of severity, but also in terms of quantity. It might be of greater urgency to give a theodicy for one hundred children living in malnutrition then one dying of dysentery. How does the apologist respond to this? The first means is as already mentioned. “Charity” is a good that can only exist in a fallen world. Every opportunity of the pains associated with starvation could be quenched with compassionate people acting upon that compassion. Further, the amount of (moral) evil is invariably limited to the free actions of free people. Or that, God could force people to murder less and feed starving people more, but then the goodness associated with people freely choosing to do the good would lose its potency. Again, God is in the business of making refined souls, not comfortable living.
To answer succinctly, pain is good in limited amounts. In larger amounts if anything it can assure one that the pain is a result of the deviation of a meta-narrative. Further, much of the moral evil can be eliminated if people freely chose to limit it.
And finally 4. Why is there the particular evils that there are? The types of evils that exist are in direct correlation with the free beings that likewise exist. If the Judeo-Christian notion of God is true, God cannot commit evil. Evil is often defined as a deprivation of what is good. Other examples of things that only exist as deprivation are darkness and coldness— neither of these things actually exist but rather are deprivations of something else. If light is completely removed from a room then there is darkness. And while machines exist that can create light, there are none that can create darkness, but rather only things that can remove light.
Further, theoretically with infinite energy there could be infinite heat. Conversely there is no such thing as infinite coldness—coldness is merely the removal of heat. Since coldness is the removal of heat this is why there is such as thing as absolute zero, this is the point of which no more heat can be removed and therefore the coldness is limited. However, the same cannot be true of the possibility of limiting heat.
If evil and God work like this, then the further one removes himself from God and His standards the more evil there is to likely come about. So then, the types and varieties of evils that exist do so because humans have freely rejected the moral consciousness written on her heart. Since this is the case the types of evil that are possible for humans are limited only by their imagination and physical limitations.
Even though God allows humans to continue on with the sin and evils, it should be noted that this is by no means a passive continuance. If God is omniscient it would follow that He would know the consequences of creating a world of free willed beings and if He is good, had even before creation, a plan of redemption. This plan is through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ represents the greatest theodicy that could ever be given.
August 6th, 2012
Hijacking the Historical Jesus: Answering Recent Attacks on the Jesus of the Bible.
In it, IBD President Dr. Phil Fernandes, IBD Vice President Ph.D candidate Matt Coombe and IBD researcher Kyle Larson each take turns refuting recent, outlandish attacks on the historicity of Jesus. After hearing so many of your questions and concerns, the Institute felt it was about time to respond in a complete way.
As many of you know, over the past decade or so, a number of anti-Jesus books have been published by leading atheist thinkers. In each, the author attempts to argue that, even if a “Jesus” did exist in the first century, that he was certainly not the Jesus of the Bible. The Bible is either a totally forgery, religious fiction or a story so exaggerated and full of legends that the truth in it was long since been lost.
We disagree wholeheartedly and can provide good evidence to the contrary. Interested in the full story?
April 18th, 2012
As you can probably guess, this Institute receives a number of Theological questions. Recently, I ran across the following question and decided it merited a public response.
“I was recently asked about the the Isaiah verse that Matthew quotes. I’m being told it was a mistranslation. I tried to tell the person that he needed to read it all in context. He said I can’t call for context amongst all the books then ignore the context in which the book of Isaiah was written.”
“So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, ‘A virgin will have a baby boy, and he will be called Immanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us.’”
Matthew here is quoting from Isaiah chapter 7.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.”
The Lord is giving the people of Israel a “sign” as a pledge that He will deliver them; In the time it takes a young women to conceive and her child to grow to the age of accountability, Israel shall be delivered from her enemies. That is the straight forward meaning.
We can read the fulfillment in Isaiah, chapter 8, verses 3 and 4.
“And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hashbaz; for before the boy knows how to cry ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.””
So why did Matthew apply this fulfilled prophecy to Jesus? Did he hear about Jesus’ virgin birth and go searching for a some verse justify it? Does the verse in Isaiah actually refer to a “virgin” or just a young woman? Can we justify both the near fulfillment and Matthew’s application of this verse to Jesus? The only way to solve this is to look at the text itself.
In context, the word used by Isaiah (almah) merely means “young maiden of marrying age”. The word “betulah” means “virgin”. Of course, it was expected that a young maiden be a virgin before marriage … but that is only implied. So, “almah”, in context, could either mean young maiden or virgin (or both). Since we know the context and have Isaiah’s writings, we could make a determination ourselves. However, I think consulting pre-Christian, Jewish interpretations would appear less biased on our part.
Long before Christ’s time here on earth, the Greeks decided it was in their best interest to understand those rebellious Jews. Perhaps if they understood why they rebelled, they’d be able to better rule them. So, the rulers asked that a Greek translation of the Jewish holy book, the Old Testament, be made. It was called the LXX (the 70), as legend says that 70 elders were involved in the translation process.
Now we have an unbiased translation into a more literal language. Looking at the verses in question, we turn to Isaiah and find that the phrase (ha’almah) was translated into Greek as “the virgin”. This means that decades before Christ was born, Jewish scholars decided that “virgin” was correct in context. It wasn’t until after Christ’s time that some Jews sought to change the meaning to “young woman” (not necessarily a virgin). Before and during Christ’s time, there is strong evidence to believe that few Jewish scholars doubted the translation in the LXX.
So why did the Jewish scholars translate the phrase “ha’almah” as “the virgin”? The word “almah” is only used 10 times in the entire Old Testament; That isn’t a large number of times. In 6 of the 10 cases, the LXX translators chose the Greek word for “virgin”: Genesis 24:43, Exodus 2:8, Psalm 68:25, Song of Solomon 1:3, 6:8 and Proverbs 30:19. In no case is the word ever translated as “young woman” or anything other than an unmarried maiden of marrying age (which implies virginity). So to an ancient Jew, the idea that this could not mean a virgin young maiden was out of the question.
That said, I believe something clever is going on here; I believe that God’s choice of the word “almah” was not an accident. In the near fulfillment, Isaiah married a “young maiden” and a child was born. However, since young Jewish maidens were expected to be virgins until marriage, the word can also be properly translated “virgin”. So God used the word “almah” knowing that the dual meaning of the verse could be applied to both prophecies.
But wait! How did I come up with this concept of a “dual” fulfillment or a “dual” meaning? Looking at Isaiah 14, we see God humiliating Babylon and its arrogance. But then, starting in verse 12, we see this:
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’“
Either the king of Babylon made some wild, inhuman claims of becoming God, or this section is referring someone else. Even in Jesus’ day, Jewish scholars agreed that this passage was about Satan, the spiritual power behind Babylon. So this section refers both to the king of Babylon and to Satan at the same time. Wow! God is clever.
So, in Isaiah we see God predicting a natural birth (as a sign), at the same time, predicting the birth of Jesus the Messiah.
March 3rd, 2012
We often receive questions as the Institute. Most of the time we merely respond to the question without posting in to the site. After some thought, I’ve decided to posted some of our email correspondence on the site. Maybe someone else has the same question. Maybe our answer will help.
To that end, let’s begin with a question about the Sabbath day.
“Do you believe in keeping a day unto the Lord set apart from work to honor and worship the Lord and hear his word in fellowship with other believers every week? Or don’t you think this is necessary?”
Excellent question. Here at the Institute, we definitely believe in setting apart a day to worship the Lord and spend time in fellowship. As the author of Hebrews encourages us:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” – Hebrews 10:24,25
That said, there are some who believe in honoring a specific day: the Old Testament “Sabbath” observance given to the Hebrews. According to scripture, however, the sabbath rest was fulfilled in Christ; He is our Sabbath rest, that we may rest from the constant struggle to meet the requirements of the law.
“For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest …” – Hebrews 4:2,3a
Now, some may disagree, saying that the Sabbath day was never specifically abolished by God (as the dietary laws were). Following scripture, we find our answer in the words of the Apostle Paul:
“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” – Romans 14:5
So if some wish to honor the Sabbath day, they honor God in their hearts. If others do not wish to do so, they honor God on a different day. Either way, God is honored. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 14:6:
“He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.”
Because of our increasingly complex world, however, sometimes the local church must adapt to circumstances, customs or cultural differences. For example, many Churches have Saturday night services aimed at college age students. This keeps them from the temptation of going out and getting drunk and also provides them with fellowship that lasts well beyond the end of the service. Also, in some places where Christianity is outlawed, meeting on Sunday would attract the local authorities. Meeting on another day is safer and allows more freedom in worship.
So, although we meet on Sunday’s to worship and hear the Word of God, neither you nor we are obligated to meet on the day. As long as we set aside time for fellowship and worship, God is honored in it. God is pleased whether we worship at night, hiding from the authorities in secret, worship loudly on Saturday night with modern praise, or worship openly and traditionally on Sunday morning. In all, let God receive the glory.