Category Archives: Apologetics

Who Wrote the Gospels?

Seminary can be hazardous to your faith. Author and speaker Bart Ehrman attended seminary, and became an agnostic. He is the darling of secular humanists who buy his books; and university intelligentsia who bow before his seat as the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Educated at Princeton Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, Ehrman is a prolific writer and New York Times best-selling author. Forged, published in 2011, claims that the Gospels were not written by their designated authors, but anonymous writers many years removed from the actual events.

Ehrman makes simplistic claims like his assertion that the genealogies found in Matthew and Luke are glaring examples of the Bible’s contradictions.

Who can argue with a distinguished professor?

I will say that Ehrman is correct on this point — the genealogies do differ, but whether that is a contradiction we shall examine in a moment.

While researching Ehrman’s contentions I found a rather lengthy article defending his bullet points. Written by a doctoral student, the 36,000 word essay is an exhausting treatise that begins with a false premise — that the Gospels were forged.

The argument goes that the Gospels were written no earlier than 40 years after the fact — that they were not firsthand, eyewitness accounts, but were composed by anonymous authors who referenced a common source document known only as “Q”. Wasn’t he an enigmatic villain on Star Trek?

However, there is no fragmentary evidence of a mysterious “Q” document. It is simply assumed by academicians to have existed — much like the spark that ignited the Big Bang.

It is argued that the disciples were illiterate and could not have penned Greek manuscripts. Matthew was a tax collector so it’s a given that he was multilingual — Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin (since Rome conducted civic business in Latin). Luke, the physician, was surely educated in the language arts. Alexander the Great had conquered Palestine 300 years before the birth of Christ, and though he permitted a measure of autonomy with regards to the priesthood, the general public was immersed in the Hellenization of Greek language and culture. It is indefensible to suggest that the New Testament writers were illiterate. But these are the arguments by which the left deceives many — sort of like when they say that uneducated people voted for Trump. How often does common sense trump a college education?

Some skeptics will agree that Luke-Acts was probably composed as one book, but it was written late in the first century, or early in the second century; and they will say that Luke, whom Paul wrote of in Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11 and Philemon 24 is not the same Luke. As this position is hard to defend you will find arguments that the three cited books were not authentic to Paul, but forged by pseudonymous authors.

As far as dating the Gospels there are no extant copies absent authorship citation. For example, the oldest manuscript of Luke is inscribed The Gospel According to Luke. Skeptics will argue that the original autographs had no authorship citation, but like the “Q” document they cannot provide fragmentary evidence.

It’s like saying the earth is flat, or man never went to the moon. You can make any number of claims, but without evidence …

That Luke-Acts, for example, was written late and, therefore, could not have been penned by the physician, all we need do is examine the internal evidence. The Book of Acts closes with Paul imprisoned in Rome — alive and well, writing letters and receiving guests (Acts 28:30).

We know that Nero had Paul beheaded, and we know, too, that Nero committed suicide on June 9, 68 AD — the first Roman emperor to take his own life.

So, that means Paul was executed before 68 AD, and Luke-Acts was written sometime earlier. I believe that the whole of New Testament was written before 70 AD for similar reasons. There is not one reference, after the fact, of the most catastrophic event — the Apocalypse of 70 AD that brought a climatic end to the Jewish age.

Skeptics need to posit a late-date for the Gospels, in particular, because of the prophecy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:2. Agnostics have to be able to discredit the authority of Jesus Christ so it is essential that they sow doubt as to the authorship and dating of the New Testament canon. If written late, the skeptics could argue that Jesus was a false prophet.

In the remainder of this post I will present my counterpoints to Ehrman’s specific claims against the Gospel record.

Ehrman, like many of his institutional colleagues, refutes a whole index of Christian orthodoxy even disputing that Christ was born in Bethlehem:

Only in this Gospel (Luke) do Joseph and Mary make a trip from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to register for a census when “the whole world” had to be enrolled under Caesar Augustus. The whole world? Luke must mean “the whole Roman Empire.” But even that cannot be right, historically. We have good documentation about the reign of Caesar Augustus, and there never was a census of his entire empire. Let alone one in which people had to register in their ancestral home. In this account Joseph and Mary need to register in Bethlehem (which is why Jesus is born there) because Joseph is descended from King David, who came from Bethlehem.

Ehrman contends that the Gospel accounts recorded in Matthew and Luke are full of irreconcilable contradictions. It is hard to argue with a learned professor unless you are well enough studied to know that his contentions are false.

Archaeology discredits the assertion that there was no census under Caesar Augustus. Two unearthed bronze plaques titled the Acts of Augustus reveal that there were, in fact, three census registrations during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD).

One need only refer to the writings of Roman historian Tacitus and Jewish historian Josephus to corroborate the historical account.

More contentious is Ehrman’s dismissal of the genealogies as recorded in Matthew and Luke. Here we need keen discernment of scriptural context and meaning. Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience while Luke was writing to a Gentile audience.

Luke’s genealogy traces backwards from Jesus to Adam for the purpose of conveying to the Gentiles that the Christ was born for all people. Matthew’s record goes forward from Abraham to Jesus for the purpose of revealing to the Jews that Christ was their Messiah born of the seed of David.

From Abraham to David, the gospel records concur; but after David the genealogies diverge substantially with only Zerubbabel and Shealtiel appearing in both lists. This should not sow doubt, however, but reveal a greater understanding of the inspired Word of God in context of the culture and age in which the Bible was written.

When we look carefully at the two genealogies it is markedly clear that Matthew is chronicling the life of Joseph while Luke is highlighting the ancestry of Mary. Indeed, the record splits at David with Matthew’s genealogy tracing forward through David’s son Solomon while Luke records the ancestry through David’s son Nathan. Clearly, there are two ancestral lines recorded — one for Joseph and the other for Mary thus proving that Jesus Christ had both legal claim and birthright to the throne of David.

That should be sufficient to end the discussion except that Joseph is listed in both records due only to Roman custom and tradition (remember that Luke is writing to Gentiles) that dictates the mother’s ancestry be traced through her husband (thus Luke writes):

… Jesus, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Heli (Mary’s father) … (Lk 3:23).

Luke is recognizing that Joseph — as was supposed — was not the biological father of Jesus, but the son-in-law of Mary’s father Eli for it was custom and tradition for a son-in-law to have the recognition and status of a natural son through whom the mother’s genealogy is recorded.

We might point out that Luke was a meticulous historian and keeper of records. It is absurd to suggest that he would author a Gospel account that was factually inconsistent, or even contradictory to the synoptic testimonies — or that the church fathers would canonize books that were so disagreeable with historical records.

Agnostics take issue with the lineage of Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel) in that both names appear in the post-Davidic genealogies. Zerubbabel was the grandson of outcast Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) whom God placed a curse upon during the Babylonian exile — no man of his descendants will prosper, sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah (Jer 22:30).

How, then, is it possible that Christ has legal claim to the throne of David since Joseph was a descendant of the cursed Jeconiah? The simple answer is that Christ was not of the natural bloodline of Joseph by Jeconiah since He was miraculously conceived through the virgin Mary, but we then have the problem that Zerubbabel is also an ancestor of Mary.

The answer to that can be found in the Book of Haggai. The word of the LORD came to the prophet instructing him to tell Zerubbabel (who was governor of Judah upon the return from exile):

I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant, and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you (Hag 2:23).

The LORD explicitly conferred authority upon Zerubbabel, and renewed the covenant line of David which had been removed from Jeconiah, but now resumed through both Mary and Joseph thus confirming that the baby Jesus is the Christ of both Jew and Greek.

But how could the Messiah descend from an illegitimate ancestor? Recall that Judah had relations with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, who gave birth to Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38). Now look carefully at Matthew’s record:

Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king (Mt 1:3-6).

The law is given in Deuteronomy that no illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the LORD. That’s a pretty strong case that the agnostics lay charge against the authority of Jesus Christ. However, let’s examine the complete text:

No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of his descendants, until the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the LORD (Dt 23:2).

Now scroll up and count the highlighted names in Matthew’s record and note how many generations passed from Perez to King David — ten generations. Our God is an awesome God — faithful and true.

In this season I would encourage you to remain faithful and true to Him; and be always prepared to give an answer to those who doubt.

Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Lk 2:10-11).

Suggested reading: Newsweek vs. the New Testament

Copyright © 2016 Messiah Gate

Feature Film: The Atheist Delusion

Ken Ham recently premiered Ray Comfort’s The Atheist Delusion at the Ark Encounter. The producers of this 2016 film summarized:

Having to prove the existence of God to an atheist is like having to prove the existence of the sun at noon on a clear day. Yet millions are embracing the foolishness of atheism. The Atheist Delusion pulls back the curtain and reveals what is going on in the mind of those who deny the obvious. It introduces you to a number of atheists who you will follow as they go where the evidence leads, find a roadblock, and enter into a place of honesty that is rarely seen on film.

Ken Ham said after the screening:

I introduced the film by talking about our Ark, which is the largest timber-frame structure in the world. In many ways we built the Ark for the same reason that Ray and his team made The Atheist Delusion: to teach apologetics to people who don’t know how to defend the Word of God and to share the gospel with skeptics and unbelievers.

Voted Best Science Film at the 2016 International Christian Film Festival, the movie runs about 62 minutes so plan to schedule an hour when you can sit and watch. (The HD video is stunning.)

Be blessed, and thank you for visiting Messiah Gate.

Copyright © 2016 Messiah Gate

Creation Times Two

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Brothers and sisters put on your full armor of God because we are about to go for a wild ride in apologetics. The following quote, found on the Internet, presents a smarmy interpretation of the creation story found in Genesis.

Most people don’t realize it, but there are two (yes, count ’em TWO) different and contradictory stories of Creation in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. The first story runs from Genesis 1:1 thru Genesis 2:3; the second story picks up at Genesis 2:4 and runs to the end of the chapter at Genesis 2:25.

In the first story, Creation takes six days and man (and woman) are created last after all the plants and animals are created. In the second story, Creation takes one day, man is created first, then all the plants and animals are created, and finally woman is created.

Warning: Most Creationist’s faith is not actually very strong – learning that the Bible has serious internal contradictions may lead to their ill-being – use this knowledge with caution! And the next time a Creationist tries to foist some Intelligent Design poppycock on you, ask them if the world was created as described in Genesis; then ask ’em “which version?”

Christian, do you know how contemptible you are in the eyes of the world?

Okay, let’s examine the creation account to see if it is, in fact, contradictory. Here is the complete text of Genesis 1:1 – Genesis 2:25.

The first thing we have to understand is that Scripture is the inspired revelation of God, but it was chronicled by human hands reflecting not only the personality of the author, but also the literary style of the culture. Ancient Semitic literature commonly utilized the method of recapitulation, or summarizing (often restating) what had previously been written.

In short, the creation story in chapter one is a chronological presentation (Days 1-7), while the account in chapter two details the central purpose of God’s handiwork, that is, the creation of man on Day 6.

To the casual reader, or one who is predisposed to finding Scriptural errors, it might appear that there are contradictory accounts — some will assert multiple authors.

Jean Astruc, a 19th century French physician, claimed that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch, but that the first five books of the Bible were a compilation of several authors identified only by the letters “J”, “E”, “P” and “D”.

“P” (a priestly author) supposedly penned the chapter one creation story prior to (or during) the Babylonian captivity (ca. 586 BC), while the second account was written 300 years earlier by a divine author, “J” (Jehovah).

This is nothing more than a far-fetched liberal attempt to cast doubt on Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch, and to undermine the credibility of the Genesis account.

Let’s now examine the specifics. In Genesis 1:11, God created vegetation — literally, let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees

This was the third day before God created man. But in Genesis 2:5 we read that no shrub or plant had sprung up prior to the creation of man. What are we to do with this seemingly awkward discrepancy? Somehow we must reconcile what clearly appears to be a valid contradiction.

Quite simply, the chronological account (Days 1-7) ends at the beginning of chapter two. (Be mindful that chapter breaks were inserted by translators.) Beginning, then, at Genesis 2:4 is the recapitulation of the creation story:

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the (proverbial) day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

In summary, this is the detailed history of God’s creation.

Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground (Genesis 2:5).

That concurs with the chronological record. There was, at first, nothing — no vegetation, no rain upon the earth and no man to till the soil.

But a mist rose up from the earth and watered the ground (Genesis 2:6).

This verse is the transitional key to unlock the meaning of chapter two. The necessary presumption is that vegetation then sprouted from the irrigated land.

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).

Again, the account concurs with the chronological record, as the succeeding verses provide additional details about the Garden of Eden and the creation of Eve which were not disclosed in chapter one.

We have, then, not a contradiction but a clarification of the creation story.

There is only one remaining disagreement found in Genesis 2:19:

Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.

But didn’t God create animals before man in Genesis 1:24-26?

Remember, now, that chapter two is not a chronology, in the strictest sense, but a recapitulation. William Tyndale (1494–1536) was the first Bible scholar to edit an English translation directly from the Hebrew and Greek text. He noted that the Hebrew usage of formed ( וַיִּצֶר֩, way·yî·ṣer) should be interpreted in the pluperfect rather than perfect tense so that the verse should read (as it does in the Tyndale Bible, the NIV and ESV):

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky.

So we understand the verse to mean that God brought to Adam the animals He had made in order for man to give them a name.

Consider, finally, that vegetation in chapter one does not exclusively refer to farmable plants. Referring to the 1917 translation of the Tanakh by the Jewish Publication Society we see that the Hebrew word that is translated vegetation (דֶּ֔שֶׁא, de·še) literally means grass. Whereas, in context of the Garden of Eden in chapter two, we find that the wording there refers to cultivated plants.

It is often claimed that Genesis 1 and 2 contain two different creation-narratives. In point of fact, however, the strictly complementary nature of the “two” accounts is plain enough: Genesis 1 mentions the creation of man as the last of a series, and without any details, whereas in Genesis 2 man is the centre of interest and more specific details are given about him and his setting (i.e., the Garden of Eden). There is no incompatible duplication here at all. Failure to recognize the complementary nature of the subject-distinction between a skeleton outline of all creation on the one hand, and the concentration in detail on man and his immediate environment on the other, borders on obscurantism. [1]

Critics have other issues with these passages of which you should be aware. They nitpick that Elohim (God) is used in chapter one while Jehovah (Yahweh) is used in chapter two. Not really an issue when you consider there are 16 names for “God” in the Hebrew Bible each reflecting a specific trait or character of the Holy One of Israel.

This has been a difficult and tedious study in the Book of Genesis that I hope has strengthened your faith in the word of God, and equipped you to defend the Bible against a deluge of lies and deception.

I pray that you have a desire to go deeper into Scripture to uncover those hidden truths which can only be known by those who are called by His name.

Credits:

1. Ancient Orient and Old Testament, Kenneth Kitchen, pp. 116-117, (London: Tyndale, 1966).

Are There Two Creation Accounts in Genesis?, Wayne Jackson, M.A., Copyright © 1991 Apologetics Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

Why are there two different Creation accounts in Genesis chapters 1-2?Got Questions?.org

Two Creation Accounts?Paul F. Taylor, Answers in Genesis, June 15, 2009.

Do Genesis 1 and 2 Contradict Each Other?, Tim Chaffey, Answers in Genesis, September 3, 2010.

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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From Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? [1 Co 15:12]

Every Sunday, Christendom celebrates the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. What is the historical proof and evidence that Jesus Christ did, in fact, arise from the dead? From the viewpoint of apologetics we can easily present our case that the Son of God was crucified, buried and physically resurrected.

By apologetics we don’t mean to make apologies for our faith, or to apologize to those who disagree, but to present a systematic defense (apologia) of our stated position. You might be interested in our list of resources under Apologetics that link to a variety of recommended partners who faithfully defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And be ever mindful of Peter’s exhortation:

… but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence … [1 Pe 3:15]

Many people don’t feel equipped to bear witness of their faith, but you don’t need a degree in theology to give testimony. Consider the account in John’s gospel regarding the man who was born blind. Christ opened the blind man’s eyes so that he could see, and when questioned by the Pharisees he answered, “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and I received sight.” [Jn 9:11]

Not satisfied with the man’s answer the Pharisees questioned his parents who insisted that their son was old enough to speak for himself. When asked a second time the man responded, “One thing I do know, that I was blind, and now I see. I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again?” [Jn 9:25-27]

Our witness can be as simple as that. I was a drug addict (or alcoholic), but now I am clean and sober. I was addicted to pornography and sexual immorality, but now I am delivered. Christ Jesus has healed me, and cleansed me of all unrighteousness. To God be the glory!

Of course, your testimony may not satisfy the modern-day Pharisees. Understand that apologetics is an intellectual defense of things that are spiritual; and though the Gospel can be defended successfully in a court of law, the Pharisees, being very legalistic, were lacking in faith. They simply did not believe.

We, therefore, can lay out our defense of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but unless a person’s heart is receptive it would be like sowing seed in rocky ground. Some will deny that Christ was even born, or they will simply refute the authenticity and veracity of the Bible. Others might even agree that Jesus was a great man, but they reject His claim to be the Son of God. We pray the Lord to heal the spiritually blind even as He healed the eyes of the man who was born physically blind.

In the case of the assembly at Corinth, there were members who did not believe in the resurrection of the body. The city of Corinth was populated with every type of paganistic and hedonistic Greco-Roman philosophy including Stoicism and Epicureanism. They believed human fulfillment could be achieved by either denying or gratifying the flesh, but the body was too corrupt to exist beyond this world.

When Rabbi Saul (Apostle Paul) was in Athens he was confronted by that city’s philosophers:

And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,” — because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. [Acts 17:18]

While some in Corinth could believe the Son of God was raised from the dead, it was commonly held that the mortal body was destined for death and decay. Also, there were Jews of the Sadducees in Corinth who denied even the teachings of the Tanakh:

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes will see and not another. [Job 19:25-27]

Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. [Ps 16:9-10]

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. [Da 12:2]

The Pharisees (who believed in the resurrection of the body) had little in common with the Sadducees who believed not in the supernatural, but they were united in their hardened opposition to Jesus Christ.

The Romans, on the other hand, perceived the dissension to be nothing more than a dispute over matters of Jewish mysticism, or as Governor Felix told King Agrippa at Rabbi Saul’s tribunal, “They simply had points of disagreement with him (Paul) about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.” [Ac 25:19]

The evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ can be found in the extra-biblical writings of ancient historians including Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Maimonides and the Jewish Sanhedrin; but we prefer to use the Bible as our proof-text. It is, at first, the Holy Word of God. It is both literature and Law, poetry and prophecy; but, pertinent to this discussion, it is a historical record substantiated by eyewitness accounts kept with meticulous detail.

Luke was Rabbi Saul’s personal physician and travelling companion, and author of the Gospel that bears his name. In the forward to his gospel, Luke writes to Theophilus:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.  [Lk 1:1-4]

Luke was a learned, well-educated man who kept detailed records of all that he had witnessed including first-hand testimony of the events surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

On the day of preparation (Friday) Jesus was laid in the tomb for the next day was the Sabbath, and the women planned to prepare His body on the first day of the week. At dawn on Sunday they arrived at the tomb and found it empty.

Doubters will quote the following passage from Matthew:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and [yet] no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” [Mt 12:38-40]

Skeptics will say that Christ was not in the grave three days and three nights, but they would be wrong in their interpretation. The Bible is replete with Jewish idioms, and it is a manner of speaking for Jesus to say that He will be in the grave three days and three nights. We also must consider that it was Jewish custom to count a portion of the day as a full day; and that one day is calculated from sunset to sunset thus Jesus was buried on Friday which actually began at sunset on Thursday. Sound confusing?!

Mattityahu (Matthew) clarified that Yeshua would rise on the third day:

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. [Mt 16:21]

Jesus was buried on Friday, and He rose on the third day, Sunday. It isn’t complicated.

Doubters, again, will say that the women arrived Sunday morning at the wrong tomb though Luke records that after the body of Jesus was removed from the cross they followed and saw where His body was laid:

Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. [Lk 23:55-56]

On Sunday morning the women found the stone rolled away, and the tomb was empty. An angel of the LORD said to them:

Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. [Lk 24:5-7]

The presence of angels at the tomb should not be surprising. Angels announced to Mary and Joseph the conception of the baby Jesus. When does life begin?! An angel proclaimed to the shepherds at Bethlehem the birth of Christ; at the Nativity an angel led a multitude of heavenly hosts in songs of praise to God Most High; an angel ministered to Christ during His forty days of testing; and an angel strengthened Him during His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

So, then, the angel told the women to report to Peter and the disciples, but they would not believe the women’s report. In that day, a woman’s testimony was not even allowed in court. But Peter and John, perhaps moved by the Spirit, ran to the empty tomb and found the burial linens neatly folded. Luke records that Peter went home marveling at what had happened. [Lk 24:12]

Afterwards, Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb where she encountered the risen Christ. [Jn 20:11-18]

It is notable that the women were the first to arrive at the empty tomb, and that Jesus first appeared to Mary. In God’s evolving plan of salvation we see the important role of women beginning in the Book of Genesis when the LORD said He would put enmity between Satan and the woman; and that her seed shall bruise [him] on the head. Jesus Christ is the seed of the woman, and the One who, upon the cross, defeated Satan.

Skeptics will say that the body of Jesus was stolen from the tomb. By whom? It was not in the interests of the Jews (or the Romans) for the body of Jesus to disappear:

Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I [am to] rise again.’ “Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it [as] secure as you know how.” And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. [Mt 27:62-66]

A Roman guard consisted of two or more soldiers, and these were under orders of death to secure the tomb of Jesus. We can understand this more clearly by studying the arrest of Peter as recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts.

Herod had sent four squads of soldiers to seize, deliver and guard Peter. At night, Peter was chained between two guards while a squad of soldiers kept watch at the door. On the night he was to appear before Herod an angel appeared in Peter’s cell, broke his chains, led him out of the cell past two sets of guards and through iron gates that miraculously opened by themselves. Peter was so amazed that he thought it was all unreal and only a vision.

When he arrived at the house of Mary (mother of Mark, the gospel writer) a servant girl recognized his voice and ran to tell the disciples who did not believe her. Does this story sound at all similar to the empty tomb?

Luke records:

Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. [Acts 12:18-19]

Well, there was no small disturbance when the tomb of Jesus was found empty:

Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ “And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, [and is] to this day. [Mt 28:11-15]

Of course, no one believed that the disciples were capable of stealing the body of Christ. The Gospels depict them as being demoralized and dispersed — not to mention cowardly, and afraid for their lives.

And if anyone had the wherewithal to break into a heavily guarded and sealed tomb would they take the time to neatly fold the burial cloth? No, this was simply an exclamation point to the underlying truth that Christ overcame death and defeated Satan.

Our neighbors at the local Kingdom Hall invite us every year to attend their Easter celebration which, of note, they do not celebrate on Easter Sunday. They deny the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ but, instead, celebrate the spiritual resurrection of Messiah. Their teaching is based on this passage from Peter:

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit … [1 Peter 3:18]

This passage would require a devoted commentary to refute their misunderstanding of the Greek text, but it is heretical to suggest that Christ arose a spirit creature. Jesus said on the cross:

Father, into your hands I commit my spirit! [Lk 23:46]

The Kingdom Hall teaches that the body of Christ dissolved into a gaseous vapor, but they have trouble explaining His appearance to the disciples:

See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have[Lk 24:39]

And to Tau’ma (Thomas):

Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing. [Jn 20:27]

The physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ signifies the Father’s acceptance of His sin sacrifice, and the assurance that we have been forgiven and reconciled to the Father:

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life[Ro 5:10]

When Christ stood before the tomb of Lazarus He said:

I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. [Jn 11:25-26]

The affirmation of our Lord’s resurrection is recorded in His revelation to Y’hochanan (John):

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” [Rev 1:17-18]

The world is burdened with anguish and grief for it does not know Him; but we can be assured and know that He is the Christ — HaMashiach Yeshua — our eternal hope and faith.

As Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” [Jn 20:29]

Editor: Court cases are routinely decided on the testimony of fewer than three witnesses. Over 500 people saw the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 15: 1-11).

Suggested Reading: The Best-Proved Fact in History

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Contend for the Faith

From the Word of God:

… I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3).

We have, on occasion, mentioned a thorn in our side — a nemesis, if you will — who vigorously condemns the Christian faith as being a collection of myths and fairy tales. This unnamed antagonist is also an atheist who vehemently hates God and religion.

The background of our foe might help you to understand their resolute hatred of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (S)he has a lifelong history of alcohol and drug abuse; is socially and politically left-leaning; and considers themself to be an intellectual. (S)he contends that the Bible is full of contradictions that no rational person with even a small measure of intelligence could believe.

Friends, we have not only had to contend with doubtful, hardened hearts outside the church, but also from within. Liberalism long ago pervaded even our most hallowed halls of education — institutions that were founded to equip and train reverent men and women. In the passing years, God has been banished from the public arena and our public schools. Children are not allowed to pray in class, but they are taught how to use a condom, and celebrate alternate lifestyles. As we have learned all too often we cannot protect our young from the poisonous indoctrination of secular education, nor the assault of a corrupt and violent world.

The church is not immune to the cultural diseases that plague our nation. Seminary professors cast doubt on bedrock doctrinal issues. They deny the Virgin Birth, debate the resurrection and discredit the Deity of Jesus Christ. Mainstream congregations even reject the inviolate, God-ordained and defined, social and cultural foundation of marriage.

Apostasy is a cancer that ravages the body of Christ.

Messiah Gate is a vocal proponent of Christian apologetics. No, we do not apologize, but contend for the faith. Apologetics means just that — to defend Christian doctrine as Peter exhorted:

… sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you … (1Pe 3:15).

But you must be more than a once-a-week Christian. It means turning off the television and spending quality time in the Word of God; listening to Christian radio or ministry tapes while driving to work, exercising or doing household chores; equipping yourself to teach your children and defend your faith against the attacks of unbelievers. Be sober, and do not be prey to the adversary as Peter warns:

… the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith … (1Pe 5:8-9).

… faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Ro 10:17).

It is our Christian duty to be immersed and well-versed in God’s Word so that we can defend the faith and give an answer to the world’s objections.

Newsweek magazine published an article by Bart Ehrman, What Do We Really Know About Jesus?, in which the author disputes the story of Christmas.

Ehrman is the Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was an evangelical Christian turned liberal before converting to agnosticism.

Now he preaches from the pulpit of higher education, proudly sowing seeds of doubt in our otherwise faithful sons and daughters leading many of them astray as they innocently succumb to Ehrman’s heretical persuasion.

Be mindful of God’s instruction:

Train up your child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it (Pr 22: 6).

Ehrman, like many of his institutional brethren, refutes a whole index of Christian orthodoxy even disputing that Christ was born in Bethlehem (as we read from the Newsweek article):

Only in this Gospel (Luke) do Joseph and Mary make a trip from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to register for a census when “the whole world” had to be enrolled under Caesar Augustus. The whole world? Luke must mean “the whole Roman Empire.” But even that cannot be right, historically. We have good documentation about the reign of Caesar Augustus, and there never was a census of his entire empire. Let alone one in which people had to register in their ancestral home. In this account Joseph and Mary need to register in Bethlehem (which is why Jesus is born there) because Joseph is descended from King David, who came from Bethlehem.

Ehrman contends that the Gospel accounts recorded in Matthew and Luke are full of irreconcilable contradictions. It is hard to argue with a learned professor who makes a credibly sounding point unless you are factually equipped to realize that his contention is false.

Archaeology discredits the assertion that there was no census under Caesar Augustus. Two unearthed bronze plaques titled the Acts of Augustus reveal that there were, in fact, three census registrations during the reign of Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.).

The only problem with Luke’s account is his statement that Quirinius was governor at the time of Christ’s birth. We believe that Jesus was born between 4 and 7 B.C. [due to the fact that there was a census in 28 B.C., 8 B.C. and 14 A.D.], but Quirinius was not installed as civil governor until 6 A.D. — eleven years late.

The solution to this problem, found in historical records, is that Quirinius was military governor of the region at the time of Christ’s birth, and the census of 8 B.C. would have been for the purpose of collecting taxes to support the Roman army and thus would have been conducted by the military governor.

One need only refer to the writings of Roman historian Tacitus and Jewish historian Josephus to corroborate the historical account which is a problem for someone like Bart Ehrman who is intellectually dishonest in suggesting that we accept the discrepancies rather than seek to conciliate what are concrete Biblical truths.

It is worthy to note that when Luke mentions the first census of Quirinius it is probably the registration of 8 B.C. since there was a second census taken when Quirinius was civil governor which led to an uprising as recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts (Ac 5:37).

But Ehrman doesn’t stop there. He nitpicks on whether Christ was born in a manger or a cave; whether shepherds were in the field; the number of wise men; and the implausibility that Christ was born on December 25th — a pagan holiday.

More contentious is Ehrman’s dismissal of the genealogies recorded in Matthew and Luke. Here we need keen discernment of scriptural context and meaning. Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience while Luke was writing to a Gentile audience.

Luke’s genealogy traces backwards from Jesus to Adam for the purpose of conveying to the Gentile world that the Christ was born for all people since the beginning of time. In comparison, Matthew’s record goes forward from Abraham to Jesus for the purpose of showing that Christ was the Jewish messiah born of the seed of David.

From Abraham to David, the gospel records concur; but after David the genealogies diverge substantially with only Zerubbabel and Shealtiel appearing in both lists. This should not sow doubt, but reap a greater understanding of the inspired Word of God in context of the culture and age in which the Bible was written.

When we look carefully at the two genealogies it is markedly clear that Matthew is chronicling the life of Joseph while Luke is highlighting the experience of Mary. Indeed, the record splits at David with Matthew’s genealogy tracing forward through David’s son Solomon while Luke records the ancestry through David’s son Nathan. Clearly, there are two ancestral lines recorded — one for Joseph and the other for Mary thus proving that Jesus Christ had both legal claim and birthright to the throne of David.

That should be sufficient to end the discussion except that Joseph is listed in both records due only to Roman custom and tradition (remember that Luke is writing to Gentiles) that dictates the mother’s ancestry be traced through her husband (thus Luke writes):

… Jesus, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli (Mary’s father) … (Lk 3:23).

Luke is recognizing that Joseph — as was supposed — was not the biological father of Jesus, but the son-in-law of Mary’s father Eli for it was custom and tradition for a son-in-law to have the recognition and status of a natural son through whom the mother’s genealogy is recorded.

We might point out that Luke was a meticulous historian and keeper of records. It is absurd to suggest that he would author a Gospel account that was factually inconsistent, or even contradictory to the synoptic testimonies — or that the church fathers would canonize books that were so disagreeable with historical records.

On a lesser account, agnostics take issue with the lineage of Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel) in that both names appear in the post-Davidic genealogies. Zerubbabel was the grandson of Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) whom God placed a curse upon during the Babylonian exile — no man of his descendants will prosper, sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah (Jer 22:30).

How, then, is it possible that Christ has legal claim to the throne of David since Joseph was a descendant of the cursed Jeconiah? We surmise that most people reading this cannot answer the objection. The simple answer is that Christ was not of the natural bloodline of Joseph by Jeconiah since He was miraculously conceived through the virgin Mary, but we then have the problem that Zerubbabel is also an ancestor of Mary.

The answer to that can be found in the Book of Haggai. The word of the LORD came to the prophet instructing him to tell Zerubbabel (who was governor of Judah upon the return from exile):

I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant, and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you (Hag 2:23).

The LORD explicitly conferred power upon Zerubbabel, and renewed the covenant (or messianic) line of David which had been removed from Jeconiah, but now resumed through both Mary and Joseph thus confirming that the baby Jesus born in the manger (or cave, and does that really matter?) is the Christ … the Messiah of both Jew and Greek.

One final thought to ponder is why did Newsweek publish a Christmas article written by an agnostic unless to promote a secular agenda while antagonizing the faithful? We, of course, maintain that agnosticism is, in itself, a religion — certainly the religion of the world — and Newsweek (and its kind) bows to the altar of Ba’al.

A faithful steward must put on the whole armor of God recognizing that the world system — education, economic, political, and cultural — is subservient to the antichrist.

Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son (1Jn 2:22).

Do you celebrate the worldview of Christmas (which even the pagans worship) or do you faithfully hold fast to the true reason for the season?

Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Lk 2:10-11)

 Suggested reading: Newsweek vs. the New Testament

(We love the tag line in the suggested reading: It is Newsweek, and not the New Testament, that is going out of print.)

Next: Who Do You Say I Am?

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