Problems with Jesus

Through the cross

By Spencer D Gear

Some provocative things have been said about Jesus Christ down through the years.  These are but a few examples:

3d-shinnyblue-star-small “Jesus’ burial by his friends was totally fictional and unhistorical.  He was buried, if buried at all, by his enemies, and the necessarily shallow grave would have been easy prey for scavenging animals” (Crossan 1994, p. 160).
3d-shinnyblue-star-smallThis is some of the mass media publicity in recent years (from Johnson 1996, p. 20):

3d-shinnyblue-star-small “Scholars Say Jesus Was Often Misquoted” (San Francisco Chronicle, 9 March 1987);
3d-shinnyblue-star-small“Jesus Didn’t Claim to Be Messiah, Scholars Say” (San Francisco Chronicle, 18 October, 1987);
3d-shinnyblue-star-small“Lord’s Prayer Not Jesus’s, Scholars Say” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 15 October 1988);
3d-shinnyblue-star-small“Jesus Never Predicted His Return, Scholars Say” (Atlanta Constitution, 5 March 1989);
3d-shinnyblue-star-small“Jesus Didn’t Promise to Return, Bible Scholars Group Says” (Los Angeles Times, 5 March 1989).

3d-shinnyblue-star-small Others think of Jesus this way:

3d-shinnyblue-star-small  “The Talmud places Jesus in hell, where ‘he is being boiled in hot excrement,’ and the Kabbalah characterizes both Jesus and Mohammed as ‘dead dogs'” (Hoffman 2002).

3d-shinnyblue-star-small  Bertrand Russell:  “Historically, it is quite doubtful whether Christ every existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about him” (Russell 1957). 

3d-shinnyblue-star-small Stephen Jay Gould, palaeontologist, “There may be no final answer to Pilate’s inquiry of Jesus (John 18:30), ‘What is truth?’ — and Jesus did remain silent following the question” (Gould 1990, cited in Shermer 2002).

3d-shinnyblue-star-small  In the midst of all this negativity about Jesus, there is also the other side.  Chuck Swindoll put it well:

If our greatest need had been information,
God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology,
God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money,
God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure,
God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness,
so God sent us a Savior
(in Swindoll 1998, p.315).

Recently I was in dialogue with a doubting person who engaged me in discussion on lots of issues about Christ and Christianity. [1]  His questions (indicated as Q red below) are followed by my responses.

Jesus being God

Q. 1    The Jewish people, who started all of this, NEVER expected that the Messiah, when he came, to be the Almighty God.

This is an untrue statement.  Let’s take a look at the Old Testamet (OT) evidence:

3d-shinnyblue-star-small  Psalm 110:1, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

Jesus confirmed that this referred to him in Matt. 22:41-46. 
In Ps. 110:1, two different words are used for “Lord.”  The first is Yahweh (Jehovah) and the second is Adhoni.  The latter could mean “lord” (as in Gen. 23:6; 1 Sam. 22:12; 2 Sam. 12:32) when it is a “respectful form of address between man and man, or a word that may refer to the Lord in the highest sense of the term. . .  In what sense it is to be understood must be determined from the connection” (Leupold 1959, p. 775).

In what sense is it in Ps. 110?  “Sit at my right hand” indicates Adhoni ranks as an equal with the Lord and is thus regarded as divine.  Adhoni’s sceptre will be extended “from Zion” and he “will rule in the midst of [his] enemies” (v. 2).  “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”  If the Jews did not see this as a reference to Messiah’s deity, they were blind and devoid of spiritual wisdom.

3d-shinnyblue-star-small  Hundreds of years before Christ’s birth, Isaiah declared that the Messiah would be uniquely the Son of God (deity): “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). 

That the divine character of the “child” is here asserted appears also from the fact that Isaiah uses the same title unequivocally for God in 10:21.…  The Hebrew literally, ‘God’s hero,’ using a title for God (‘el) that signifies “the Strong-one” (Leupold 1971, p. 186).

3d-shinnyblue-star-small  Isa. 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  

This verse is a more controversial example because Immanuel, even though it means, “God with us,” does not necessarily mean that the child is divine.

This name could merely stress that in the prevailing emergency God would not forsake his people.  Yet the other possibility must be cheerfully conceded, namely this, that in his own person this child could embody this truth [of divinity].  He himself would be God among his people.  It is impossible to say with any certainty in which direction the word points.  No explanation of v. 14 will ever be entirely satisfactory (Leupold 1971, p. 158).

However, Matt. 1:22-23 confirms that Immanuel refers to Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

Q. 2    Most Christians have made a god out of Jesus and in so doing realise that they have forfeited the unique monotheism of the OT.
Jesus proclaimed himself as God.  Jesus Himself jettisons the idea that his deity is a fabrication of Christians.  Listen to the words from Jesus’ mouth:
cubed-iron-sm “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30);
cubed-iron-sm “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9);
cubed-iron-sm “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:10);
cubed-iron-sm “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11);
cubed-iron-sm “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19);
cubed-iron-sm “He who hates me hates my Father as well” (John 15:23);
cubed-iron-sm “That all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him” (John 5:23).
cubed-iron-sm “Whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:37);
cubed-iron-sm “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58).
cubed-iron-sm Jesus took on himself the title of “Son of man” (Mark 14:62), which was an accepted Messianic title from one of Daniel’s visions.
cubed-iron-sm He accepted the description of  “Son of God” when challenged by the high priest (Mark 14:61);

Others confessed Christ as God.

cubed-iron-sm  When Simon Peter confessed his faith in Jesus, he said, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29);
cubed-iron-sm  After Christ’s resurrection, Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28);
cubed-iron-sm  John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  John 1:14 confirms that this Word was Jesus because he “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
cubed-iron-sm  John 5:18 records how the Jews were trying all the harder to kill him, “Not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
cubed-iron-sm  Note that in John 8:58, the identical terms are used by Christ as are used by Jehovah in God’s discourse with Moses (Ex. 3:14, “I am who I am.”).  Cf. John 8:24 where Jesus said, “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”
cubed-iron-sm  The Jews stated clearly what they understood Jesus was saying about himself: “‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God'” (John 10:33).
cubed-iron-sm  Heb. 1:3, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”  Heb. 1:2: “Through the Son he made the universe.”
cubed-iron-sm  Paul to the Colossians said, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9);
cubed-iron-sm  Phil. 2:10-11, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

It is, therefore, an invention to say that “most Christians have made a god out of Jesus.”  Jesus clearly declared himself to be God.  Others, including his enemies, understood he was stating his divinity.  The OT Jews expected the Messiah to be God.

There have been plenty of detractors who have tried to reconstruct the above evidence, but it will not wash.  The evidence is in.

C.S. Lewis got to the core of the challenge for a logical thinking person:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool; you can spit at him and kill him for a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to (Lewis 1952, pp. 55-56).

Jesus as the Messiah & the  Second Coming

Q.3    Jesus could not have been the Messiah, for the Old Testament (OT) clearly states that the Messiah would usher in world peace etc.   The opposite happened.

Yes, the OT does state that the Messiah is the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).  But what does that mean and how will it be fulfilled?  We tend to think of peace as tranquillity, an absence of hostility.  The basic idea of the biblical word, “peace’ [OT Hebrew shalom; New  Testament (NT) Greek, eirene] is

completeness, soundness, wholeness. . .  Peace has reference to health, prosperity, well-being, security, as well as quiet from war (Eccles. 3:8; Isa. 45:7). . .  Peace is a condition of freedom from strife whether internal or external. . .  In the NT the word has reference to the peace which is the gift of Christ (John 14:27; 16:33; Rom. 5:1; Phil. 4:7.  The word is used many times to express the truths of the mission, character, and gospel of Christ.  The purpose of Christ’s [first] coming into the world was to bring spiritual peace with God (Luke 1:79; 2:14; 24:36; Mark 5:34; 9:50).  There is a sense in which he came not to bring peace, but a sword (Matt. 10:34).  This has reference to the struggle with every form of sin.  Christ’s life depicted in the gospels is one of majestic calm and serenity (Matt. 11:28; John 14:27).  The essence of the gospel may be expressed in the term ‘peace’ (Acts 10:36; Eph. 6:15), including the peace of reconciliation with God (Rom. 5:1) and the peace of fellowship with God (Gal. 5:22; Phil. 4:7) [Feinberg 1984, p. 833].

The gospel is one of peace (Eph. 6:15).  Christ is our peace (Eph. 2:14-15).  God the Father is the God of peace (I Thess. 5:23).  It’s the tremendous privilege of every Christian to experience the peace of God ((Phil. 4:9).  This is because Christ’s death on the cross left a legacy of peace (John 14:27; 16:33).

The benefits of this kind of peace are experienced by the believer NOW as well as in the eternal glory to come (see Rom. 8:6; Col. 3:15).

This led Greek lexicon (dictionary) compiler, Joseph Thayer, to say that peace in the Greek accusative case is “a conception distinctly peculiar to Christianity, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatever sort that is” (Thayer 1885/1962, p. 182). See Rom. 8:6.

The unbeliever fails to see that the Messiah’s coming means peace in two stages.  His first coming and death on the cross provided peace with God for the believer.(Rom. 5:1).  In fact, one can have peace with God and still experience  a sword (Matt. 10:34) and persecution (John 15:20).

With Christ’s first coming into the world, there is a sense in which he brought division and strife between one person and another, one race and another, one church and another, even between family members.  This is because faith in Christ causes people to support or denigrate Christ and Christians.  This can divide one from another.  The life of the believer is often filled with storm and stress and for some it ends in martyrdom, as for missionary, Graham Staines, and his two young sons, Philip, aged 10, and Timothy, aged 6, in the east Indian state of Orissa in January 1999 (The Courier Mail 1999, p. 1).  See the details in the Graham Staines Murder Case.

In this [20th] century, an average of 300,000 Christians has been martyred each year, according to David Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia. . .  Martyrdom, Barrett wants to show, is not an “outrageous exception, but a part of a surprisingly regular 2,000-year pattern where persecution and suffering are the normal lot of the body of Christ” (Christianity Today 1990, p. 12).

Ultimate peace will only happen at Christ’s second coming when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:9).  At that time, “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. . .” (Isa. 11:6).  This will be fulfilled in the millennium (Rev. 20) to be followed by “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21). 

At that time, when Christ shall reign on the earth, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.  He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new” (Rev. 21:4-5).

There are two stages of peace that the Messiah will bring.  At his first coming, it was peace with God through Christ’s death and resurrection.  At his second coming, there will be peace over all the earth forever. 

Q. 4    But Christians thought they had saved the day with their doctrine of the “second coming.”  Without it, Christianity would have died long ago. The parousia teaching is simply that we are to be patient, all the things that Jesus never fulfilled will be taken care of when he comes again.  And there is clear evidence that Jesus and his followers thought that he would return in the lifetime of his followers.  2000 years have just about passed and they’re still expecting it!!! I consider this is fanciful thinking. Christianity would have died in the water without the death and resurrection of Christ. The Bible is crystal clear:

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so it your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God. . .  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. . .  If only in this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (I Cor. 15:13-15, 17, 19).

Christians are encouraged by the message of the second coming of Christ because it will be the consummation of their salvation: “So we will be with the Lord forever” (I Thess. 4:17), but ultimate hope for the believer comes through Christ’s resurrection which guarantees their own resurrection.

So that we will not be “ignorant” about life-after-death issues, God inspired the apostle Paul to write about what happens at death for believers (I Thess. 4:13 ff).  The second coming of Christ is based on the surety that “Jesus died and rose again” (I Thess. 4:14).  For the Christian the future is glorious with the promise of Christ’s second coming, but the crux is the death and resurrection of Christ.  There could be no “second coming” hope without this foundation.

There could have been an anticipation of Christ’s imminent second coming by early Christians, but Peter corrected this.  In fact, it was the scoffers who were taunting the believers, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” (2 Peter 3:4).  So, it was the message of the scoffers in the first century and the scoffers today who are sceptical about Christ’s second coming.  The taunts are as contemporary as ever.

There’s a definite reason for the delay in Christ’s coming: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

It is the Lord’s patience that delays his second coming!

The line from questioners today, “2000 years have just about passed and they’re still expecting it!!!” is similar to the message of scoffers of the first century.  They need to get serious with the real reason for the delay – Christ’s patience in reaching scoffing rebels.

The historical evidence is that the early church lived in expectation of Christ’s return, as I do today.  Clement of Rome, an early church father after the close of the NT, wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians (dated about A.D. 96):

You perceive how in a little time the fruit of a tree comes to maturity. Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, “Speedily will He come, and will not tarry;” and, “The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom you look (Clement I.23).

However, according to the NT, the early church did not live in anticipation of an any-moment coming of Christ.

The expectation of the coming of Christ included the events which would attend and precede His coming.  The early fathers who emphasized an attitude of expectancy believed that this entire complex of events – Antichrist, tribulation, return of Christ, would soon occur.  This is not the same as an any-moment coming of Christ (Ladd 1956, p. 20, emphasis in original).

George Eldon Ladd examined the writings of the church fathers up to the third century.  He reached this conclusion:

In this survey of the early centuries we have found that the Church interpreted the book of Revelation along futurist lines; i.e., they understood the book to predict the eschatological events which would attend the end of the world.  The Antichrist was understood to be an evil ruler of the end-times who would persecute the Church, afflicting her with great tribulation.  Every church father who deals with the subject expects the Church to suffer at the hands of Antichrist.  God would purify the Church through suffering, and Christ would save her by His return at the end of the Tribulation when He would destroy Antichrist, deliver His Church, and bring the world to an end and inaugurate His millennial kingdom.  The prevailing view is a postribulation premillennialism.  We can find no trace of pretribulationism in the early church; and no modern pretribulationist has successfully proved that this particular doctrine was held by any of the church fathers or students of the Word before the nineteenth century (Ladd 1956, p. 31).

Dave MacPherson documents how the pretribulation rapture position that is taught by some evangelical and fundamentalist churches today does not originate with the Scriptures, but with a Scottish lassie, Margaret Macdonald, who had a “revelation” in 1830 of a two-stage rapture.  She influenced the founder of the Christian Brethren, John N. Darby, who became an ardent promoter of the pretribulation rapture (MacPherson 1983, p. 64ff).  However, this view has not been the historic position of the church.

A misunderstanding often occurs over Christ’s call for “watchfulness” in light of his second coming.  Christ’s own words were:

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. . .  Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. . .  Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants of his household to give them their food at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.” (Matthew 24:36-37, 42, 45-47).

The context of this passage makes it clear that Christ is not asking believers to be ready for an any-moment coming.

The true meaning of the command to watch is not to watch for Christ’s return.  Scripture does not use this language.  Nowhere are we told to watch for the coming of Christ.  We are exhorted, rather, in view of the uncertainty of the time of the end, to watch.  ‘Watching’ does not mean ‘looking for’ the event; it means spiritual and moral ‘wakefulness.’  We do not know when the end will come.  Therefore, whenever it happens, we must be spiritually awake and must not sleep.  If we are awake and Christ comes today, we are ready.  If we are awake and Christ does not come until tomorrow, we will still be ready.  Whenever it happens, we must be ready (Ladd 1956, p. 115, emphasis in original).

Jesus’ Death

Q. 5    Why did Jesus have to die?  God’s creation turned out bad, we are told.  So what to do!  In order to make things right, someone had to be murdered!!  If we believe the Trinity doctrine, we are left to believe that God arranged to have himself murdered in order to placate himself!  Patently absurd!!

cubed-iron-sm The idea of substitution of one person taking the place of another to bear pain and save life is known even today.  In the 20th century, we heard of the heroism of such an action with Polish Franciscan, Father Maximilian Kolbe, in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.  A number of prisoners had been chosen to be executed when one of them shouted that he was a married man with children.  Father Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take the condemned man’s place.  The offer was accepted by the authorities, he was placed in an underground cell and was left there to die of starvation (Stott 1986, p. 136).

Here’s the problem: we are guilty and need forgiveness.  We know it internally from our conscience which convicts us.  But how is that possible when we understand the gravity of sin and the majestic holiness of God?  We are faced with the realities of who we are and who God is.  How can the holy love of God come to grips with the unholy lovelessness of human beings?
Because God cannot contradict himself, he must be himself and “satisfy” his just requirements – all in absolute consistency with his perfect character.  The problem is not outside of God, but within his own being.

James Denney got to the point:  “It is the recognition of this divine necessity, or the failure to recognise it, which ultimately divides interpreters of Christianity into evangelical and non-evangelical, those who are true to the New Testament and those who cannot digest it” (Denney 1903, p. 82, in Stott 1986, p. 133).God in his mercy willed to forgive human beings; he wanted to forgive them but had to do it righteously so that it was obvious he wasn’t condoning sin.  How did he do this?  Instead of aiming the full weight of his righteous wrath against sinful human beings, in his sovereign will it was God’s purpose to direct this wrath against himself in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.  This is strange language to human beings who don’t fully understand God’s righteous nature and the abhorrence of sin.
How are we to understand this substitute?

The New Testament

The NT is unambiguous: “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2).  In other places there are allusions such as, “gave himself” (Gal. 1:4), “offered himself” (Heb. 9:14).

The background is the OT sacrificial system.  He died “to be a sin offering” (Rom. 8:3, NIV) or “for sins” (1 Peter 3:18, NIV).  The Book of Hebrews in the NT shows Jesus’ sacrifice to have perfectly fulfilled the OT “shadows.”

What did the OT sacrifices signify? [2]  Two basic notions stand out: first, the sense that human beings have of a right to belong to God; second, the sense of alienation we also have because of our sin and guilt.

To deal with the first, God instituted the “peace” and “fellowship” offerings (see Lev. 7:12; Ex. 23:14-17).  To deal with the second, the sin offering and guilt offering were provided, thus demonstrating the need for atonement.

The clearest statement of how the blood sacrifices of the OT had a substitutionary significance is in God’s explanation of why the eating of blood was prohibited: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Lev. 17:11).

Three things stand out about blood:

cubed-iron-sm  It is the symbol of life.  This goes back at least to Noah (see Gen. 9:4) and was repeated in, “the blood is the life” (Deut. 12:23);
cubed-iron-sm Blood makes atonement.  Only because “the life of a creature is in the blood” is it possible that the blood “makes atonement for one’s life.”  Life was given for life.  The life of the innocent victim was given for the life of the sinful offerer.
cubed-iron-sm It was God who gave the blood for this atoning purpose.  God said, “I have given it to you.”  Why?  “To make atonement for yourselves.”

Q. 6    The doctrine of the atonement is nothing but a replay of previous PAGAN religions with their angry gods, need for sacrifices and bloody altars.

Atonement from the pagans??

The Christian’s insistence that the gospel of Christ’s cross is the only basis for forgiveness of sins perplexes people.  Why should forgiveness depend on Christ’s death?  Before we forgive each other on the personal level, no death is needed.  Why the big deal about forgiveness coming through his Son’s “sacrifice for sin.”  It sounds very primitive and doesn’t seem reasonable for rational modern people.  It is not surprising, therefore, to see an unbeliever link the OT (and NT) sacrificial system to “pagan religions.”

Nowhere does the Bible tell us how sacrifices originated.  We simply find Cain and Abel (Gen. 4) already offering sacrifices and God favouring Abel’s sacrifice (Gen. 4:4, confirmed by Heb. 11:4).  Thus it is confirmation that sacrificial practices go back to the dawn of civilisation.  Some of the controversy has developed because


certain schools of Biblical criticism have asserted that the ritual system embodied in the Pentateuch cannot be earlier than the postexilic period.  However, archaeological discoveries pertaining to the sacrificial systems of Mesopotamia and the Levant in the 3rd and 2nd millenia B.C. have shown that very complex rituals were practiced all across the Fertile Crescent long before the entry of the Israelites into Canaan.  Since the Biblical claim is quite explicit to the effect that the patriarchal culture esp. in the sphere of religion, sprang from the great centers of civilization, Mesopotamia and Egypt (cf. Joshua’s unequivocal statement, Josh 24:2, 14), there is no reason to doubt that even the Israelites could have known and also practiced a sophisticated order of ritual (Rainey 1976, p. 195).

Let’s briefly look at a few examples:

cubed-iron-sm  The parallel between the biblical account of the sacrifice after Noah’s flood and the Babylonian account is striking, but the differences are even more noticeable.  Noah built an altar and sacrificed burnt offerings on it.  “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma . . .” (Gen. 8:21, NIV).  It is bold indeed to speak of the “pleasing aroma” since “the Babylonian version crudely made the hunger of the gods, ravenous without man’s gifts, a reason for their ending the flood” (Kidner 1967, p. 93).

This led Kidner to conclude that

the specific similarities between the Genesis story and most others are utterly outweighed by the differences, and it is only the Babylonian legend that shows any close resemblance to the story of Noah. . .  By common consent this [Babylonian] version of events is altogether put to shame by Genesis.  Even the incidentals, the dice-shaped ark and the sequence of the birds, suffer in the comparison, while the theology flounders from one ineptitude to the next (Kidner 1967, pp. 96-97).

cubed-iron-sm  The parallel between the Mesopotamian ritual of the “scapegoat” and the OT can only be made in general.  It breaks down when one gets to the details.  “There was no act of confession for sin; instead, the expulsion of demons was the goal of this rite, as is clearly seen in the incantation that follows it” (Rainey 1976, p. 196).

cubed-iron-sm  Hittite rituals have suggestive parallels with OT passages.  One ritual involved the sacrifice of a dog that was cut into pieces and placed on either side of a kind-of gate, through which the participants were required to pass.  Whether there is any connection between this sacrifice and that of Abraham (Gen. 15:10-11, 17) or the leaders of Judah (Jer. 34:18-20) ”is impossible to say (cf. Ezek 16:3, 45) (Rainey 1976, p. 198).

cubed-iron-sm  In Mesopotamia, “the sacrifices were necessary to the gods as essential food (cf. Deut 32:37, 38), the God of Israel is only said to enjoy the ‘pleasant odor’ of certain specific kinds of offering” [see Num. 28:2; Ezek. 44:7] (Rainey 1976, p. 200).

Many nations besides Israel practised sacrifices (see Judges 16:23).  In Ugarit (ca. 1400 BC), there was a developed ritual system with names similar to the OT.  Some scholars want to conclude that the Jewish sacrificial system owes its “origin to Babylonian, Canaanite or ancient nomadic rituals and fellowship meals.  However, throughout its history, Israelite practice had many distinctive features of its own” (Williams 1989, p. 485).

The prophets reacted against abuses and pagan elements brought into Israel (see Isa. 1:11 ff; Amos 4:4 ff).  This is a crucial point.  The Jewish prophets, especially with Israel, condemned these foreign elements in a forthright manner.  See Amos 4:4-5; Hos. 2:13-15; 4:11-13; 13:2.  This was also the case for Judah (see Jer. 7:17-18; Ezek 8; etc.)

There are parallels between Israel’s sacrifices and offerings and the contemporary cultures of the ancient Near East, but this does NOT confirm that OT sacrifices are an imitation of the neighbouring pagan cultures.  “It is the ideology expressed in the ritual complex as a whole that makes the Israelite religion unique” (Rainey 1976, p. 194).

Atonement from God

The sacrificial, substitutionary atonement, as detailed above, does not originate with people trying to appease pagan gods and transferring this ritual across to Judaism.  Its origin is with Jehovah God.

The OT helps to give background for an understanding of Heb. 9:22, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness,” and Heb. 10:4, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”  OT blood sacrifices were the “shadows.”  Christ was the substance.

The OT Passover [3] demonstrated the concept of “sin-bearing.”   The NT identifies Christ’s death as the fulfilment of the Passover.  John the Baptist promoted Jesus as “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 36).

In the original Passover story, Yahweh (God) revealed himself as:

cubed-iron-sm  the Judge;
cubed-iron-sm  the Redeemer;
cubed-iron-sm  Israel’s covenant God.

Since Jesus clearly fulfilled the Passover in his sacrifice, we know that:

cubed-iron-sm  The Judge and the Saviour are the same person;
cubed-iron-sm  Salvation is by substitution;
cubed-iron-sm  God had to “see the blood” before there could be divine provision;
cubed-iron-sm  Each family rescued by God is purchased for God.

There is a second major illustration of sin-bearing demonstrating the principle of substitution.  1 Peter 2:24 points to it: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.”  This refers back to the annual Day of  Atonement  (see Lev. 16:5 ff) when two male goats were taken as a sin offering to atone for the sins of the Israelite community.  One goat was killed and its blood sprinkled in the usual way, while the high priest would “lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites – all their sins – and put them on the goat’s head” (Lev. 16: 21).  The priest then drove the goat into the desert to “carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place ” (v. 22).  Thus reconciliation was possible only through substitutionary sin-bearing.

The NT letter to the Hebrews makes clear that Jesus was both “a merciful and faithful high priest . . . (to) make atonement for the sins of the people” (2:17).  Christ did not enter the Holy of Holies “by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). For the Jews, the scapegoat who carried away the people’s sins had to be offered over and over again.  While this is a “type” of Jesus’ sacrifice, Christ’s sacrifice took place “once” to take away sins  (Heb. 9:28).

The non-Christian may ask, “Why did Jesus have to die?”  He “died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  The “one (Christ) died for all” (2 Cor. 5:14).  What happened to Christ on the cross?  The most outspoken statements are that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21) and Christ has “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).
The sinless One bore the penalty of our sin instead of us.

John Stott summarised it:

When we are united with Christ a mysterious exchange takes place: he took our curse, so that we may receive his blessing; he became sin with our sin, so that we may become righteous with his righteousness. . .  What was transferred to Christ was not moral qualities but legal consequences: he voluntarily accepted liability for our sins.  That is what the expressions ‘made sin’ and ‘made a curse’ mean.  Similarly, the ‘righteousness of God’ which we become when we are ‘in Christ’ is not here righteousness of character and conduct (although that grows within us by the working of the Holy Spirit), but rather a righteous standing before God (Stott 1986, pp. 148-149).

When we pull all of this OT material together, we can clearly conclude that the shedding and sprinkling of blood, the sin offering, the Passover, the meaning of “sin-bearing”, the scapegoat, and Isaiah  53 (which I haven’t discussed here) are applied in the NT to the death of Christ.
The biblical material clearly draws the conclusion that the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice.  Christ died for us; he died instead of us.  The sacrificial imagery has the clear purpose of stating that the sinless Jesus died in substitution for our sins (Stott 1986, p. 149).  This view offends many.  But the Bible expected this by speaking of the “offence of the cross” (Gal. 5:11).

As for the substitutionary atonement being “a replay of previous PAGAN religions with their angry gods, need for sacrifices and bloody altars,” that is not based on biblical evidence.  As stated above, God is very clear: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Lev. 17:11).

The one thing God could not do in the face of human rebellion was do nothing!  The substitutionary atonement is “God’s demand on God, God’s meeting his own demand” (Forsyth in Stott 1986, p. 152).  God had two options: he could either inflict punishment on human beings (which we deserve) or he could take the punishment himself.  He chose the latter to honour his own law but save the guilty.  God himself took his own judgment for those who want to receive it.

Who died?  Did God die?  That’s not what the Bible teaches.  Suffice to say that our substitute, the one who took our place and died our death on the cross was neither Christ alone nor God alone.  But it was God in Christ, who was truly and fully both God and man, and was uniquely qualified to represent both God and human beings and to mediate between them.

In order to save us in such a way as to satisfy himself, God through Christ substituted himself for us.  Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice.  The cross was an act simultaneously of punishment and amnesty, severity and grace, justice and mercy (Stott 1986, p. 159).

Q. 7    The Christian religion should really be called PAULIANITY, because Paul was the one who tied in the untimely murder of Jesus with the temple sacrifices of the Hebrews.

Yes, Paul strongly associated Jesus’ death with the Hebrew sacrificial system (Rom. 5:8; 2 Cor.5:14, 21; Gal. 3:13 ).  So did Peter (1 Pt. 2:24), the writer to the Hebrews (2:17; 9:22, 28; 10:4), and John the Baptist (John 1:29, 36).  But there was nothing “untimely” about the killing of Jesus.  It was right on schedule, according to God’s plan, “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).  “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Gal. 4:4).

“When the time had fully come”, or, “in the fulness of the time” (NRSV, NASB, KJV), refers to the moment in which the previously determined time-limit was reached. . .  The picture is that of a vessel that is being poured full and at a given moment is brimful.  The pleroma [fulness] is not merely that last bit that fills the vessel but the whole brimful content of the container. . .  This carries with it the implication that the moment of the pleroma was the most suitable for what was now about to happen. . .  Nor can we prove on convincing grounds why this time was the most suitable for the coming of Christ (Ridderbos 1953, pp. 154-155).

William Hendriksen agrees with this conclusion.  While this was a time when the Greek language spread throughout the civilised world, when there was a network of Roman roads, and Roman peace was enforced, thus making it a more ideal environment for the spread of the gospel, “it is God alone who fully knows why, in his inscrutable decree, he had decided that the long period of time (chronos) is which all the preparatory events were to occur would run out at that specific moment” (1968, p. 158, emphasis in original).

Paul was used by the Lord to pen a large portion of the New Testament, but there would be no “Paulianity” if it were not for the life and death of Jesus Christ.  It must always be remembered that this Paul (formerly Saul) was “giving approval to [Stephen’s] death” (Acts 8:1) and “began to destroy the church.  Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3).  He had a reputation for vicious persecution of the Christian believers (see Acts 9:1, 13, 21; 22:4, 19; 26:10-11).

Paul himself admitted his previous malicious history of persecution against the church and his attempts to destroy it (I Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13, 23; Phil 3:6).  His explanation was: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 1:13-14).

It started when this violent sinner against God, Christ and the church, was confronted supernaturally on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9).  When Jesus confronted him with, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4), Saul knew who it was who was calling him.  His response was, “Who are you, Lord?” (9:5).  The Lord’s response was: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…  Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (9:5-6).

It should not be surprising that this remarkable conversion and calling of Paul should see him embark on a special ministry.  “Paulianity” is Christianity.

Every unbeliever should be confronted with this question from this very perceptive inquirer:

What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?

D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe addressed this critical issue in their book by that name (Kennedy & Newcombe 1994). Chapter titles include:

  • Christ and Civilisation: A Quick Overview of Christ’s Impact on World History;
  • In the Image of God: Christianity’s Impact on the Value of Human Life;
  • Passion and Mercy: Christianity’s Contribution to Helping the Poor;
  • Education for Everyone: Christianity’s Contribution to Education;
  • Government of the People, for the People, by the People: Christianity’s Impact on the Founding of America;
  • Freedom for All: Christianity’s Contribution to Civil Liberties;
  • Thinking God’s Thoughts after Him: Christianity’s Impact on Science;
  • Free Enterprise and the Work Ethic: Christianity’s Impact on Economics;
  • The Beauty of Sexuality: Christianity’s Impact on Sex and the Family;
  • Healing the Sick: Christianity’s Impact on Health and Medicine;
  • The Civilising of the Uncivilised: Christianity’s Impact on Morality;
  • Inspiring the World’s Greatest Art: Christianity’s Impact on the Arts and Music;
  • Amazing Grace: Lives Changed by Jesus Christ;
  • The Sins of the Church: Negative Aspects of Christianity in History;
  • A Cruel World: What Happens When Christian Restraints Are Removed?
  • Where Do We Go From Here?  Fulfilling Our Purpose.

James Russell Lowell, the literary man who was Minister of State for the United States to England, was at a banquet where the Christian religion, particularly the mission enterprise, was being attacked by scoffers (this was over a century ago).  He spoke up with these words:

I challenge any sceptic to find a ten-square-mile spot on this planet where they can live their lives in peace and safety and decency, where womanhood is honoured, where infancy and old age are revered, where they can educate their children, where the Gospel of Jesus Christ has not gone first to prepare the way.  If they find such a place, then I would encourage them to emigrate thither and there proclaim their unbelief (Schenck 1910, p. 85, cited in Kennedy & Newcombe 1994, p. 299).

Problems with the Trinity

Q.8    But, hold on. . . they [most Christians] thought they could solve the problem of their celestial mathematics, stating that one plus one plus one is NOT three, but one!

Let’s admit up front that the doctrine of the Trinity “is difficult and perplexing to us” (Sproul 1992, p. 35).  Another has said that “no man can fully explain the Trinity. . . the Trinity is still largely incomprehensible to the mind of man” (Martin 1980, p. 25).

The word, Trinity, does not appear in the Bible. Neither do the words, “total depravity”, but they are well supported biblical doctrines.

It comes from the Latin word trinitas, which means ‘threeness.’  But even though the word is not in the Bible, the trinitarian idea is there, and it is most important…  In the minds of some, the difficulty of understanding how God can be both one and three is reason enough to reject the doctrine outright (Boice 1986, p. 109).

Christianity does not teach the absurd notion about God that 1+1+1=1, which an unbeliever described as “celestial mathematics.”  That is a false equation because the term, Trinity, describes a relationship, NOT of three Gods, but of one God in three persons.  It is NOT tritheism (three beings who are God). Trinity is an effort to define God in all his fullness, in terms of his unity and diversity.

Historically, it has been described as one in essence and three in person.  “Though the formula is mysterious and even paradoxical, it is in no way contradictory” (Sproul 1992, p. 35).  Essence is used to describe God’s being, while the diversity is to express the Godhead in terms of person.

God’s unity is affirmed in Deut. 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  God’s diversity is declared in Gen. 1:26, “Then God said, ‘let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”  After the sin of Adam, “The Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us…” (Gen. 3:22).  Concerning the tower of Babel, God said, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language…” (Gen. 11:7, emphasis added). 

The OT prophets later confirmed this mysterious relationship within the Deity.  In telling of his call to the office of a prophet, Isaiah tells of how God asked, “. . . And who will go for us?” (Isa. 6:8, emphasis added).  The use of the plural, “us” and “our,” must be noted.  It is a significant issue. 

God could have been talking to himself (even Jewish commentators reject that interpretation), to the angels, or to other Persons who are not identified.  He was not talking to angels because the next verse (Gen. 1:27) gives the context.  While referring to the creation of human beings, the Bible declares, “So God created man in his own image.”  Human beings were not created in the image of angels, but in God’s image.  So the Father, in Gen. 1:26 is addressing His Son and the Holy Spirit. 

This diversity in the Godhead is clearly identified in Matt. 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

Historically, the heresy of modalism has attempted to deny the distinction of persons in the Godhead, claiming that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are just different ways in which God expresses himself.  On the other hand, tritheism, another heresy, has tried to affirm that there are three beings that together make up God.

All persons in the Godhead have all the attributes of deity.

There is also a distinction in the work done by each member of the Trinity.  The work of salvation is in one sense common to all three persons of the Trinity.  Yet in the manner of activity, there are differing operations assumed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The Father initiates creation and redemption; the Son redeems the creation; and the Holy Spirit regenerates and sanctifies, applying redemption to believers (Sproul 1992, pp. 35-36).

The Trinity does not refer to parts of God.  It cannot be associated with the roles of God.  All analogies break down.  We can speak of water as being liquid, steam and ice, but all being water.  To speak of one man as father, son and husband does not capture the full mystery of the nature of God.  R.C. Sproul has rightly summarised:

The doctrine of the Trinity does not fully explain the mysterious character of God.  Rather, it sets the boundaries outside of which we must not step.  It defines the limits of our finite reflection.  It demands that we be faithful to the biblical revelation that in one sense God is one and in a different sense He is three (1992, p. 36).

God tells us why we cannot adequately express or explain certain dimensions of His nature: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'” (Isa. 55:8-9).

Why the Need for Apologetics?

“Apologetics is the discipline that deals with a rational defense of the Christian faith.  It comes from the Greek work apologia which means to give a reason or defense” (Geisler 1999, p. 37).

Q. 9    And I could never accept the Bible as the inerrant word of God, because I believe that the all-knowing god could, and would, have caused to be written a book that did NOT need endless apologetics! 

The discipline of apologetics is needed because of seeking and searching unbelievers like yourself.  If we didn’t “suppress the truth by [our] wickedness” (Rom. 1:18), there probably would be little need for an apologetics’ ministry.   I thank God for people who ask sincere and deep questions about the Christian faith.  There are answers, good answers, to your questions if you are prepared to examine the evidence impartially.  However, here’s the rub: When we “suppress the truth by our wickedness,” we block out God’s message to us.

Apologetics helps with clarification and explanation of the Gospel message, the nature of God, the nature of human beings and other questions about life and faith.  Peter declared that apologetics will always be the Christian’s responsibility, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer [apologia] to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

But it is God’s proclamation through Christ that leads to salvation.  Please do not put off seeking God.  He declares, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (Isa. 55:6-7).

As long as God leaves the proclamation of the gospel with human beings, apologetics will be a necessary part of evangelism.  Would you like to be a robot for whom there is no need for an explanation about anything?  Or would you prefer to be a free-will human being?  Since the latter is God’s design for humanity, explanations of many things, including the Divine, will always be necessary.  Yes, it is a challenge, but apologetics is one of God’s ways of confirming your free will.

I recommend a read of Norman L. Geisler’s (1999, p. 37ff) article, ‘Apologetics, Need for,” in which he gives these main reasons why it is needed:

cubed-iron-sm  God commands it.
cubed-iron-sm The world needs it.

Also see Norman Geisler’s article, “The Need for Defending the Faith.”

“The real issue is, what happened after the crucifixion of Jesus that changed the minds of the disciples, who had denied, disobeyed and deserted Jesus? . . .  We have to ask, Why is there no other first-century Jew who has millions of followers today?  Why isn’t there a John the Baptist movement?  Why, of all first-century figures, including the Roman emperors, is Jesus still worshiped today, while the others have crumbled into the dust of history?  It’s because this Jesus–the historical Jesus–is also the living Lord.  That’s why.  It’s because he’s still around, while the others are long gone” (Ben Witherington III, in Strobel 1998, p. 141).


[1]  Here, NT = New Testament; OT = Old Testament.  Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (1978).
[2]  For a more complete description of “sacrifice in the Old Testament,” see Stott 1986, pp. 134 ff.
[3]  Read the original Passover story in Exodus chs. 11-13.


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Rainey, A. F. 1976, ‘Sacrifice and Offerings’, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 5), gen. ed. M. C. Tenney, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 194-211.

Ridderbos, H. N. 1953, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Thayer, J. H. 1885, 1962, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Note: The first Zondervan printing of this edition was in 1962, but Thayer’s preface in the lexicon was written in 1885.)

Williams D. (ed.) 1989, New Concise Bible Dictionary, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England.

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21, NIV).

Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 7 October 2015.