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Commentary on recent archaeological discoveries, current issues bearing on the historical reliability of Scripture and other relevant news concerning the Bible.

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Earthquakes play a role in Bible prophecy. They are mentioned in the Book of Revelation (6:12-17; 8:5; 11:13,19; 16:16-21) as well as the books of Isaiah (2:19,21; 5:25; 24:19), Ezekiel (38:19,20), Joel (2:10; 3:16) and Zechariah (14:4,5). A number of prophecy teachers point to what they assume to be an increase in the number of earthquakes and associate these quakes with the words of Jesus to show we are in, or near, the last days (cf. Matt. 24:7)... 

Is the Resurrection historically reliable? The writers of Scripture, particularly Paul and the gospel writers, seem to have thought so....

 

This article was first published in the Fall 2009 issue of Bible and Spade. It has been slightly edited, April 2010.

Is the Resurrection historically reliable? It depends on whom you ask. The human writers of Scripture, particularly Paul and the gospel writers, seem to have thought so. In fact, Paul went so far as to suggest that if Jesus did not rise, Christianity is nothing but a blind alley-a fool's hope (1 Cor 15:14). To be sure, a good number of people think Christianity, along with its tale of resurrection from death, is precisely that-a tale. These routinely suggest that the Resurrection did not happen, and that the existing records (especially the gospel accounts) are themselves the problem. These records, it is claimed, are simply the late and largely fictitious creations of that strand of Christianity eventually dubbed 'orthodox' (much to the chagrin of the competitors it snuffed out).1 Therefore, we must ask, can the history Scripture teaches be trusted, or has this alternative view gotten things right?

Evidence

The alternative view has gotten things wrong, because it erroneously assumes two things about Scripture's account.2 First, it wrongly assumes the accounts of Jesus' resurrection were written long after the death of the historical Jesus (i.e., the Jesus nearly everyone admits lived and died in the first century). Second, it mistakenly assumes these later writers fabricated the accounts of Jesus' resurrection, so that the historical Jesus would match the Christ they were already worshipping. To deal with these false assumptions, we must show that the records are both early and filled with details not likely to have been invented by later Christian groups. We will do this by noting three firm facts.3

Fact 1: The Empty Tomb

This fact is supported by three considerations. First, Jesus was buried in a well-known tomb. This is important, because if the location of Jesus' tomb was uncontroversial, the claim by the early Church that Jesus had vacated His tomb could have been easily verified (or, for that matter, discounted).4 That Jesus' tomb was well known is attested by material both early and non-legendary. Mark's gospel, written no more than 30 years after Jesus' crucifixion and itself based on even earlier sources, mentions that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Mk 15:43). This early detail was not likely a fictitious insertion by later Christian authors. After all, Joseph was a member of the Jewish Council (or Sanhedrin; Mk 15:43).5 In other words, why would later Christians invent a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist helping Jesus? Had the early Christians created this detail, the Jewish authorities could have disproved it easily. They could have checked the records to find out whether or not Joseph had been a member of the Council and/or whether or not his tomb had been used, not to mention vacated, by Jesus.6

Second, not only was Jesus' tomb well known, it was also found empty. This detail is also found in very early sources, this time not only in Mark's report (16:1-8) but also in Paul's (implied in 1 Cor 15:4).7 In fact, many scholars date the tradition Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 15:3 to within five or six years after Jesus' death. Moreover, Mark's report of the empty tomb contains obviously non-legendary material. It indicates that the tomb was found empty by women. In Jewish society at that time, the testimony of women was considered unreliable.8 As Josephus, the early Jewish historian (ca. AD 31-100), notes, women were not allowed to serve as credible witnesses in Jewish courts.9 To this, N.T. Wright adds, 'If [the early Christians] could have invented stories of fine, upstanding, reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb, they would have done it.'10

Third, Matthew's still relatively early account itself adds to the historicity of the empty tomb. Matthew records what the early Jewish response was to the apostolic preaching of Jesus' resurrection. Significantly, it was not: 'These fellows are out of their minds-here is Jesus' body!' Rather, the Jewish authorities invented a tale that suggested the disciples had stolen away the body (Mt 28:13). In short, the earliest Jewish response was itself an attempt to explain why the body was missing and the tomb was empty.11

The Nazareth Inscription

The Nazareth Inscription is one of the most powerful pieces of extra-biblical evidence that the resurrection of Christ was being preached right from the beginnings of Christianity. It is a Greek inscription on a marble tablet measuring approximately 24 inches by 15 inches. The exact time and place of its discovery is not known. The text records an abridged decree by Emporer Claudius (AD 41-54), instituting the death penalty for robbing bodies from tombs, a very unusual act of theft and level of punishment for such an act. This inscription strongly supports the assertion that the belief in the resurrection of Christ was widely known almost immediately after His crucifixion. In other words, the story of the resurrection of Christ must have been a story that was circulated by his Apostles themselves, and it was not a later invention by Christians of the post-apostolic period, as some scholars argue. The Nazareth Inscription does force modern scholars into making a choice of either believing in the resurrection of Christ or of believing that His disciples stole His body from the tomb in order to perpetrate a great religious fraud. Since its original publication in 1930 by M. Franz Cumont, no scholar has published evidence to disprove its authenticity.

Fact 2: The Resurrection Appearances

Paul's early account speaks of hundreds of witnesses who claim to have seen Jesus risen (1 Cor 15:5-9). This detail is not only early, but it is also non-legendary. Timothy Keller explains,

Paul indicates [in this text] that the risen Jesus not only appeared to individuals and small groups but he also appeared to five hundred people at once, most of whom were still alive at the time of his writing [ca. 56] and could be consulted for corroboration. Paul's letter was to a church, and therefore it was a public document, written to be read aloud. Paul was inviting anyone who doubted that Jesus had appeared to people after his death to go and talk to the eyewitnesses if they wished. It was a bold challenge and one that could easily be taken up, since during the pax Romana travel around the Mediterranean was safe and easy. Paul could not have made such a challenge if those eyewitnesses didn't exist.12

Fact 3: The Rise of the Early Church's Belief in the Resurrection13

Three considerations demonstrate that the early Church's belief in the Resurrection was not something they simply created. First, the majority of Jews did not believe in a resurrection in the middle of time (i.e., before the final judgment), and they would not have called a non-bodily appearance a resurrection.14 Rather, for a Christian Jew (as the disciples were) to proclaim, 'He is risen' meant that Jesus was indeed bodily risen.15 Therefore, we must ask, from whence did this belief in a bodily resurrection before the final judgment come, if not from the reality of Jesus' Resurrection appearances?

Second, resurrection, though important, was central to neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor Jewish thought in the time between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament period (often referred to as Second Temple Judaism). In contrast, resurrection moved to the center of Christian belief (see Paul's 'first importance,' 1 Cor 15:1-6). Again, we must ask, what made resurrection so central to early, largely Jewish, Christianity?

Third, we must remember the disciples were so convinced of this event that they were willing to risk their lives testifying to it. One must explain therefore, what happened to the disciples between their fearful flight (Jn 20:19) following Jesus' arrest and crucifixion and their bold preaching soon thereafter (Acts 2:24; 3:15; 4:2). (We might add to these the conversions of Paul and James; see Acts 9:1 and John 7:5 respectively.) In short, we must ask, what caused these remarkable transformations?

In the end, the alternative view's assumptions simply do not account for these three facts. The empty tomb, the appearances, and the rise of the early Church's belief in the Resurrection are details that come from early sources and cannot be satisfactorily explained as the creation of later Christian writers. Still, these three facts do not automatically prove the Resurrection, since any number of explanations could be and, in fact, are given, given for them (e.g., someone stole Jesus' body, the disciples hallucinated, Jesus did not die on the cross).16 Presently none of these alternative explanations has gained much traction, since each stretches the bounds of credulity. It is, however, important to point up (1) that alternative explanations of these facts are offered, something which provides a certain amount of confirmation of the firmness of these facts, and (2) that incredible alternative explanations are given, since believing in a resurrection, it is claimed, is even more incredible. After all, for some skeptics the Resurrection would be a miracle and miracles, it is routinely asserted simply do not and cannot happen.

Worldviews

To evaluate whether something can or cannot happen brings one to a consideration of worldviews. As postmodernism helpfully reminds us, everybody has one of these. It is the lens through which each of us interprets reality.17 It is the thing that tells one to expect what goes up to come down or to expect things in motion to stay in motion. It is what tells us to expect 'y' to not equal 'non-y' or 'y y' to always equal '2y.' The question, then, is not whether or not someone has a worldview, but whether or not one has the correct worldview.

The mechanism for evaluating worldviews and attempting to locate the correct one involves criteria such as coherence (internal consistency), scope (comprehensive explanatory power), efficacy (livability), and simplicity (simplest is often the best explanation), among a few others.18 The trouble that those run into whose worldview denies the possibility of the miraculous is that their worldview falls short on a number of these criteria. For instance, the miracle-denying worldview is founded upon the basic premise that all human knowledge is gained by either sense experience or reason (e.g., inductive reasoning). However, neither of these explains the near-universal belief in moral obligation (e.g., it is always wrong to rape, sex-traffic, torture children, etc.). In other words, nothing from sense experience or reason suggests that something ought not to happen or that something ought to happen, yet most people are deeply committed to knowledge of this sort.19 Can a worldview be sufficiently comprehensive if it is unable to explain some nearly universal phenomenon? Other examples could be given. Suffice it to say that this worldview comes up short time and again. Therefore, to reject the possibility of the miraculous on the basis of a largely inadequate worldview is, at the least, bad form.

Decisions

If the facts are patiently considered and one's worldview is not illegitimately predisposed against the miraculous, then Scripture's claim that Jesus rose from the dead is at least a possible conclusion. In other words, the Resurrection could be historically reliable. We might even say, for the moment, that since no better alternative explanation of the facts has arisen, Scripture's explanation is presently the most satisfactory or plausible. The trouble is, Scripture, not least its divine Author, is not content with the Resurrection being deemed 'possible' or 'most satisfactory.' In fact, Scripture is not even content with 'definite' and 'best,' because its purpose points beyond belief in historical events. Scripture's goal is not simply assent to history but, rather, conversion. As such, Scripture not only demands the events it records to be recognized as historical, it wants the explanations it gives those events to be believed (e.g., 'Jesus was raised for our justification,' Rom 4:25). For this to occur, more than evidences are required, since forces, some supernatural, are at work that prevent the proper functioning of the human mind (see Rom 1:18-32 and 2 Cor 4:4). In the end, how one views the evidence for the Resurrection is inextricably bound up with how one views its significance. Since this is the case, historical proof must be accompanied by divine illumination. This sort of thing, at other times called faith, comes only by hearing and reading Scripture (see Rom 10:17).

Footnotes

  1. Bauckham (2008: 506) calls this attitude toward the gospels' testimony 'epistemological suicide,' since ancient eyewitness accounts are normally not assumed to be guilty (i.e., unhistorical) until proven innocent (i.e., historical).
  2. For a similar categorization, see, e.g., Blomberg 2007: 137, 323 and Keller 2008: 98.
  3. For a similar presentation, see the material by William Lane Craig, especially that which is available at http://bethinking.org.
  4. Craig 1989: 194-95.
  5. Craig (1985: n.p.) notes the opinion of the eminent Roman and Greek historian A.N. Sherwin-White regarding the historicity of Mark's (and the other gospels') account(s):
    According to Professor Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman history are usually biased and removed at least one or two generations or even centuries from the events they record. Yet, he says, historians reconstruct with confidence what really happened. He [then] chastises NT critics for not realizing what invaluable sources they have in the gospels. The writings of Herodotus furnish a test case for the rate of legendary accumulation, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts. When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospels, he states for these to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be 'unbelievable'; more generations are needed. All NT scholars agree that the gospels were written down and circulated within the first generation, during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. Indeed, a significant new movement of biblical scholarship argues persuasively that some of the gospels were written by the AD 50's. This places them as early as Paul's letter to the Corinthians and, given their equal reliance upon prior tradition, they ought therefore to be accorded the same weight of historical credibility accorded to Paul.
    Cf. also Sherwin-White (1963: 187): 'It is astonishing that while Graeco- Roman historians have been growing in confidence, the twentieth-century study of the Gospel narratives, starting from no less promising material, has taken so gloomy a turn.' Also, Blomberg (1994: 206) furthers Craig's point, demonstrating a terminus ad quem of ad 60-62 for Luke-Acts. This date then puts Mark, whom (most agree) Luke used in his own composition, sometime in the middle to end of the 50s. Cf. also Bauckham 2006: 155-82.
  6. Craig 1989: 354.
  7. Craig 1989: 363. Brown (1970: 980) agrees, saying, 'The basic time indication of the finding of the tomb [viz., Mark's: 'first day of the week'] was fixed in Christian memory before the possible symbolism in the three-day reckoning had yet been perceived.'
  8. 'Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women' (Talmud, Sotah 19a). 'The world cannot exist without males and without females-happy is he whose children are males, and woe to him whose children are females' (Talmud, Qiddushin 82b).
  9. Ant. 4.215. Cf. Craig 1989: 366.
  10. 2003: 608.
  11. Craig 1989: 377. As Craig (369) further remarks, 'The fact that the Christian fellowship, founded on belief in Jesus' resurrection, could come into existence and flourish in the very city where he was executed and buried seems powerful evidence for the historicity of the empty tomb.'
  12. 2008: 204.
  13. For an extensive treatment of this particular point, see N.T. Wright 2003. Craig (2006: 148) calls Wright's book, 'The most extensively developed version of [this] argument.'
  14. As Jeremias (1974: 194, quoted in Craig 1989: 409) has observed: 'Ancient Judaism did not know of an anticipated resurrection as an event of history. Nowhere does one find in the literature anything comparable to the resurrection of Jesus. Certainly resurrections of the dead were known, but these always concerned resuscitations, the return to the earthly life. In no place in the late Judaic literature does it concern a resurrection to doxa as an event of history.' Cf. also Reymond 1998: 565.
  15. Cf. Wright 1998: 4.
  16. See, e.g., Geisler 1999: 644-47.
  17. E.g., Wright (1992: 123) describes them in this way: 'Worldviews provide the stories through which human beings view reality.'
  18. See, e.g., Herrick 1999:791-92.
  19. Frame (1987: 117-18) says, 'Statements about sensible facts do not imply anything about ethical goodness or badness, right or wrong, or obligation or prohibition.'

Bibliography

Bauckham, Richard
2006 Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Blomberg, Craig
1994 'The Historical Reliability of the New Testament' in Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, ed. William Lane Craig. Wheaton: Crossway.

2006 'The Historicity of the Resurrection' in The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright in Dialogue, ed. by Robert B. Stewart. Minneapolis: Fortress.

2007 The Historicity of the Gospels, 2nd ed. Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity.

Brown, Raymond
1970 The Gospel according to John. Anchor Bible Reference Library. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.

Craig, William Lane
1985 'Contemporary Scholarship and the Resurrection of Jesus,' Truth 1. Pp. 89-95.
http://bethinking.org/bible-jesus/advanced/contemporary-scholarship-and-the-resurrection-of-jesus.htm (accessed July 7, 2008).

1989 Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus, Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity 16. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen.

Frame, John
1987 The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed.

Geisler, Norman
1999 'Resurrection, Alternate Theories of' in the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, ed. Norman Geisler. Grand Rapids: Baker.

Herrick, Paul
1999 Reason and Worldview: An Introduction to Western Philosophy. Orlando: Harcourt.

Jeremias, Joachim
1974 'Die älteste Schicht der Osterüberlieferungen,' in Ressurrexit, ed. Edouard Dhanis. Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Keller, Timothy
2008 The Reason for God: Christian Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton.

Reymond, Robert L.
1998 A New Systematic of the Christian Faith. Nashville: Nelson.

Sherwin-White, A.N.
1963 Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon.

Wright, N.T.
1992 The New Testament and the People of God, vol. 1: Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress.

1998 'Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem,' Sewanee Theological Review 41/2. Pp. 321-37. Cited 7 July 2008. Online: http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Historical_Problem.htm

2003 The Resurrection of the Son of God, vol. 3: Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress.

ABR Director of Development, Henry B. Smith Jr., discuss the Nazareth Inscription and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

At Easter you may have unique opportunities to share your faith with others who otherwise pay little attention to the Christian creed. Are you prepared to provide them reason to believe?.

According to James Tabor, after John was executed by Herod, Jesus went to Jerusalem and confronted the Jewish religious leadership with their corruption, demanding a return to righteousness and the kingdom of God. Jesus expected God’s help and protection in this mission, but was instead crucified. Jesus did not rise from the dead—an idea Tabor argues developed much later...

A March 2, 2010 press release by the official Syrian news agency, SANA, and a March 4, 2010 AP article by Albert Aji provide information about the discovery of 252 silver coins from the time of Alexander the Great. A man in the Manbej area of northern Syria found them while digging the foundation for a new house. Youssef Kanjo, head of the excavations department at the Aleppo Department of Archaeology and Museums, confirmed there were 115 silver drachmas and 137 silver tetradrachmas found in a bronze container...

On Friday morning, February 26, 2010, on CBN's 700 Club program, Chuck Holton submitted a report about a man who believes he found an 'amazing Biblical discovery' on Malta. This nine-minute video segment featured Robert Cornuke presenting his theory about the location of the Apostle Paul's shipwreck on the island of Malta...

The indefatigible skeptic is at it again. His most recent polemic is entitled: Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them). Easily identified and refuted by committed Christian scholars and apologists who take Biblical authority seriously, this book targets the unsuspecting layman in the pew. And THAT makes it worth critiquing.

The mission of the Associates for Biblical Research is primarily geared toward the defense of the reliability, authority and inerrancy of God's Word, the Holy Scriptures. A deeply tragic natural disaster such as the earthquake in Haiti is a time of serious reflection for all who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is a time of thoughtful prayer, action to help those in need, and a time to think rightly about the condition of the world.

The staff, board and volunteers of ABR are praying for the people in Haiti, and for those who are called by God to go to Haiti to help those in need. We support efforts by ministries and individuals who are providing both physical needs and, most importantly, the desperate need for the Haitian people to hear and receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the only answer in a world devastated by the oppressive and tyrannical effects of sin.

Those Who Can Help

The mission and by-laws of ABR preclude us from directly raising funds for aid in Haiti. However, we would like to encourage our supporters and web visitors to consider helping through ministries with whom we are familiar. Currently, we are gathering a small list of ministries we believe will most effectively assist the people of Haiti in this devastating catastrophe.

One such organization is LifeChurch of Allentown, PA. In 1997, the ministry of Senior Pastor Randy Landis and his wife Maribel led to my own personal conversion and acceptance of the Lord Jesus as Savior and God. I am indepted to them for their faithfulness to God and ministry to those in need. Because of their obedience and sacrifical service to the Lord, my life has been transformed and I have been delivered from certain destruction and eternal death. Without Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I am worthy only of God's judgment and eternal damnation.

LifeChurch has been in Gospel ministry in the Lehigh Valley, PA region since 1990. LifeChurch runs an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, where 11 children are cared for. Pastor Randy and his team have departed for Haiti and have arrived there to tend to the needs of these vulnerable and needy orphans. A second LifeChurch team has departed and is currently trying to enter the country. We ask that you humbly beseech God to sovereignly open the doors for them to provide physical and spiritual needs for the orphans, and others who cross their paths.

We support the efforts of LifeChurch, and if you would like to help them in their outreach in Haiti, please visit their website at: http://www.lifechurchlv.org/portal.html

See a video of Pastor Landis on MSNBC. (requires Adobe Flash Player):

 

Biblical Reflections

A tragedy such as the earthquake should not only cause followers of Jesus to be deeply moved to pray and provide the physical and spiritual needs for the people in Haiti, it should also admonish us to think Biblically about this disaster. Fallible, autonomous human wisdom does not, indeed, cannot give hope to those in need. The Word of God contains the answers and the solution to the terrible state of the world. We should soberly reflect on the following teachings found in God's infallible Word:

1. The Big Picture

The general, "big-picture" reason why earthquakes happen, an event sometimes referred to as "natural evil", can ultimately be traced to man's rebellion against a Just and Holy God. The most succinct teaching on natural evil can be found in Romans 8:19-23. The Apostle writes:

19 For the eager expectation of the creation eagerly awaits the revealing of the sons of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but on account of the one who subjected it in hope 21 because the creation itself also will be liberated from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans together and suffers together until now; 23a and not only this, but ourselves also, 23b who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.1 (My translation).

Note that the whole creation groans and suffers. Not only man, but the animal kingdom as well. There is something intensely wrong with the world as it currently exists. As a divine act of judgment, God subjected the universe to futility. Let us not "blame" God here. Let us blame ourselves. God acted rightly and justly (as He always does), in judging our rebellion. But also note: the creation was subjected to futility in hope. The hope of which Paul speaks is the hope of redemption in Jesus Christ. A great deliverance from the bondage of corruption will occur at the end of the age. The new heavens and new earth will be free of death, disease, and yes, earthquakes that maim and destroy.

The condition we find in the created order is traced directly to Adam's rebellion against God. Effectively, Adam (and the whole human race), declared that it could live without reference to our Creator. In Adam, we shook our fist in God's face and declared our arrogant autonomy. The utter foolishness that a created being can live without its Creator speaks for itself.2

2. Non-Christian philosophy is futile

Non-Christian, evolutionary teaching will tell us that death and destruction are normative. In fact, death is seen as a creative process. Death is the creative force that drives life. Survival of the fittest includes man, since man is just a fortunate, accidental by-product of random chance. Man is no better than an amoeba. The world made itself, and catastophes such as earthquakes are part of the natural order of things. Therefore, death is completely normal, and if evolutionists would be completely consistent, they would not be bothered by earthquakes. But of course, they are intensely bothered by the Haitian earthquake, demonstrating that their philosophy is grossly in error. The evolutionist is borrowing from the Christian worldview and wrongly importing it into his philosophical framework. We here at ABR are also intensely bothered by the earthquake, and rightly so. Non-Christian philosophy cannot rationally account for their reaction to this catastrophe.

As an atheist prior to his conversion, C.S. Lewis' biggest gripe against the idea of God was that the universe seemed so unjust to him. Lewis, along with many other atheists, reacted violently against the state of affairs in the universe. Indeed, he was making a moral judgment about the condition of the world around him. But if God did not exist, and Lewis was just another collection of random particles in the long chain of mindless cause and effect,

...why did I...find myself in such violent reaction against it?3

If Naturalism/evolution were indeed true, then the condition of the world would be perfectly normal. Lewis would simply be one minute link in a long chain of causes and effects, and therefore he should accept the universe as it is. In fact, it would be the only choice possible.

G.K. Chesterton's anecdote is a blistering indictment on evolution:

A cosmos one day being rebuked by a pessimist replied, 'How can you who revile me consent to speak by my machinery? Permit me to reduce you to nothingness and then we will discuss the matter.' Moral. You should not look a gift universe in the mouth.4

The evolutionary fairy tale cannot be substantiated. Moral actions by those who reject God are inconsistent with their unbelieving philosophy. The moral image bearing imprint it so strong, it compels humans in general to help those in need. The Triune God of Scripture is the author of morality and conscience.

3. Why do Non-Christians rush to help those in need?

Non-Christians cannot philosophically justify their benevolent response to the people suffering because of the earthquake in Haiti. However, they do, in fact, respond with kindness, concern, and help. Christians are often confused by non-Christian benevolence. Why do those who are in spiritual darkness do good deeds? The spiritual and psychological individual consitutution of any particular person can be difficult to evaluate. But, there are truths about all humans found in Scripture that explain this.

First, man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-7; 5:1-3; 9:6; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10; James 3:9; Luke 3:38). He is not a product of evolution, but rather is an image bearer who is descended from Adam (Genesis 3:20: Luke 3:38; Acts 17:26), who was created directly and supernaturally by God on the sixth day of creation (Genesis 1:26-7). As an image-bearer, man has moral responsibility, reflecting the moral nature of God Himself. The non-Christian response to the earthquake in Haiti flows from the moral character man has been given as an image bearer. The non-Christian also responds as an image bearer, because imbedded in his very being is the knowledge of God and his righteous requirements. (Romans 1:18-28,32). All men know that God requires us to help our neighbor in need. However, non-Christians will always attribute the requirement to help neighbors to some other erroneous source other than God.

As a result of sin and the Fall, the image of God has been grossly distorted, but not eradicated. Man, though fallen and hostile to God, remains an image bearer. Unsaved, fallen man is in a desperate spiritual condition. A few Scriptural references are pertinent. Many more could be cited:

Ephesians 4:18: "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts." (NIV)

Romans 8:7: "The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." (NIV)

Romans 1:21: "Because, although they have known God, they did not glorify him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless hearts were darkened." (my translation).

Romans 1:28: "and since they did not consider it worthwhile to retain God in their knowledge, God delivered them up to a worthless mind, to do what is improper." (my translation).

Although man is in this darkened condition, in this life, God continues to strive with man, restraining the evil principle within him from acting out to its full measure. The ability of man to "do good" only persists because of God's non-saving, "common grace" towards man. The very Creator and Lord that non-Christians slap in the face by vociferously denying His existence is the One who mercifully equips them with the ability and desire to help people who are in need.

The doctrine of common grace was first exposited extensively by John Calvin, and is excellently defined by Cornelius Van Til as follows:

Common grace is an attitude of favor of God toward men as men, as creatures made by him in his own image. Common grace is the giving of good gifts to men though they have sinned against him, that they might repent and mend their evil ways. Common grace provides for the doing of relatively good deeds by sinful men who are kept from working out to its full fruition the principle of total depravity within them. Common grace is thus a means by which God accomplished through men his purpose in displaying his glory in the created world, in history before judgment day.

For it is not till after the consummation of history that men are left wholly to themselves. Till then the Spirit of God continues to strive with men that they might forsake their evil ways. Till then God in this common grace, in this long-suffering forebearance, gives men rain and sunshine and all the good things of life that they might repent. The primary attitude of God to men as men is one of goodness. And even then God prevents the principle of sin from coming to its full fruition. He restrains the wrath of man.5

It is immensely important for the Christian to remember that "acts of goodness" by non-Christians never have the glory of God in view. When a non-Christian helps his neighbor, in one sense, he is doing "good", but in another sense is not doing good in its full measure and depth. Because God is to be glorified in all that man does, and because God is the source of all goodness, man falls far short of 'doing good' when he attempts to 'do good' without reference to He who is omnigood. This is best described by the Westminster Confession of Faith 16.7:

Although the works done by unregenerate men may in themselves be things which God commands and things which are useful to themselves and others, yet—because they do not come from a heart purified by faith, are not done in a right manner according to the Word, and are not done for the right purpose, which is to glorify God—they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God or make one suitable to receive his grace. Yet, neglecting them is even more sinful and displeasing to God. (MESV)

With this in mind, we should not denigrate their attempts to help those in need. We ought to properly understand their deeds for what they actually are, as God tells us what they are. No doubt the non-Christian would strongly bristle at this assertion. However, we cannot ignore the teachings of Scripture. Now, this is important for us to understand, but not necessarily say to a non-Christian. This reflects the true state of affairs theologically. Care and wisdom must be exercised by those in Christ when we engage in a discussion with our non-Christian friends and colleagues.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we must understand what true goodness really consists of. And we must be challenged ourselves to have the glory of God in view in everything that we do. "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (II Corinthians 10:31). When we help those in Haiti, do we do it for our own glory and our own hidden and selfish desire to feel important, or do we do it for the glory of God because he commands us to help those in need who have been created in His image?

4. Christians must exercise great caution in interpreting this event in detail

Christians fall into a dangerous temptation by trying to provide detailed explanations why catastrophes like the Haiti earthquake occur. Speculation as to the exact reasons that God sovereignly permitted this event is unwise and presumptous. We do not know God's ultimate purposes in these tragedies. We cannot know the mind of God, except from Biblical Revelation. And Biblical Revelation does not tell us exactly why the Haiti earthquake occurred.

Scripture connects the sins of man to God's judgment. Examples from the Bible are many. For example, we can confidently say why Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed (Genesis 18-19), or why Annanias and Sapphira suddenly dropped dead (Acts 5). But, we can confidently say why because God has told us why in the pages of Scripture. God has not revealed to us the specific reasons why this earthquake happened.

It is our responsibility to pray, act with compassion towards the Haitian people and instruct the church on Biblical teaching generally about the state of the world. We should take Jesus' words very seriously when he commented on the sudden collapse of the Tower of Siloam and 18 people were killed in Luke 13:4-5:

Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. (NKJV).

We ought not be like Job's friends, who wrongly tried to explain his suffering and ascribed it to some moral failure on his part. It was hurtful and insulting to Job, and God strongly rebuked them for it. The terrible error of attempting to explain the specific purposes of the omnipotent, Almighty God are foolish. David Garner writes:

Lazy-boy analysis exposes a superficial view of God. Is the Creator God, the Almighty One who superintends all things, reduced to our futile speculations about why He acts and why He allows certain catastrophes? Do evangelicals, or anyone else for that matter, have the right or ability to draw specific lines of conclusion about the mind and purposes of God in His providential activities?

We dare not do so. And such action by the Church raises its own set of piercing questions. Who do we think we are? Who do we really think God is? 5b

5. Jesus is the ONLY solution

The central Biblical truth of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only solution to the problem of evil. God has not stood back in the heavens in aloof indifference but has acted in history in the person of the God-man, Christ Jesus, to deal with evil, and will return in judgment to complete the full eradication of evil on the Last Day. God, in the great mystery of the incarnation, took on human flesh, and lived as a man amongst his very own creation in a fallen world.

According to theologian Wayne Grudem, Jesus suffered in several profound ways:

1. Jesus endured being tempted by all sorts of evils during his life, including intense opposition and hatred from the Pharisees, his temptation in the wilderness, and rejection by many of his own people, including his own family.

2. Jesus suffered the physical horrors of flogging and crucifixion. (Mark 15:24)

3. Jesus endured the pain of the psychological guilt associated with untold trillions of human sins (Isaiah 53:6; Galatians 3:13). Whenever we meet a person who is afflicted with guilt due to their sin, it is often very painful to see how they torture themselves psychologically. Now, let us imagine that experience being magnified several trillion-fold in the psychological experience of Jesus.

4. Jesus bore the pain of abandonment by his disciples, and most significantly, complete and absolute abandonment by God the Father (Matthew 27:46). There was no one with him as he took on the guilt of trillions of human sins. He was utterly and completely alone.

5. Jesus received the full fury of the wrath of a just and holy God against sin. "Jesus became the object of the intense hatred of sin and vengeance against sin which God had patiently stored up since the beginning of the world."7 Of all his sufferings, this appears to be the most horrific of all. Pondering coming face to face with the wrath of an infinite and holy God for just a few moments is positively bone-chilling. Jesus suffered this unimaginable horror for hours on end.

Jesus' identification with human suffering can be examined from many angles, but I would like to expand upon two points here. First, Jesus not only suffered as humans do in varying ways, but he suffered more horribly than any human has ever suffered in the history of all mankind. I am not referring to being flogged and crucified, though only a small minority of people in the history of the world have ever suffered worse than that. Jesus' greatest suffering was in enduring the sum of all the guilt, all the abandonment, and all of God's furious wrath upon his own person, as a perfect substitute for humanity.

Second, C.S. Lewis pointed out an important point about suffering in the world. That is, people do not suffer 'collectively' in their being. A horror like the Holocaust, for example, is not literally experienced in anyone's being as a collective event, rather each individual suffers within that context. Now, an individual indeed suffers immensely, and suffers from the misery that is around him, but that affliction is only experienced in the being of one person at a time. (There is solidarity in this experience as well, but, solidarity does not equate to a person suffering in any real collective sense.) And that experience of suffering indeed has finite limits within the character and nature of any particular human being.

When we see another person suffer, we can experience empathy (which is genuinely painful), but we do not literally experience the same level of anguish as that other individual. So, the objection that God cannot exist because of 'all the suffering in the world' is misleading. Collectively, there is a great amount of suffering, but no one person ever experiences that collective suffering. Collective suffering is not a real experience. The suffering only occurs in each person, one at a time, and is therefore experienced only finitely and in a limited sense. Summarizing, Lewis writes: "There is no such thing as a sum of suffering, for no one suffers it."6

This point is important because Jesus suffered in a way totally unique in the history of the world. Not only did he suffer from flogging and crucifixion, but he suffered on behalf of literally billions of human beings, experiencing the collective guilt and the fury of God's wrath that would have been visited upon every single person whom Jesus was dying for. Jesus suffered the collective agony of humanity that no human being can even begin to comprehend. If, for a moment, we could just imagine the greatest sufferer from all human history (whoever he or she may be), and measure the sufferings of that person in comparison to the sufferings of Jesus Christ, we would find the difference infinitely staggering. Jesus is the quintessential sufferer, par excellence. For all the horrible suffering that is going on in Haiti, Jesus suffered infinitely more, and promises to one day alleviate the suffering of all those who put their trust in Him for eternal life. God has 'put his money where his mouth is'.

Lastly, it should be reiterated that God is above reproach and was under no obligation to 'come down and suffer'. Human beings would still be guilty in their sins and would be rightly condemned by God, and their appeals to their sufferings (or any other appeal for that matter) would not relieve them of their guilt. However, by His own sovereign and good will, God chose to take on human flesh and participate in the sufferings of man. And, His unique suffering was more horrific, more dreadful, and more severe than anything any human has ever suffered or could ever come close to suffering.

Conclusion

George Eldon Ladd rightly explains how evil can only be removed by the triune God:

Evil is not merely absence of the good, nor is it a stage in man's upward development; it is a terrible enemy of human well-being and will never be outgrown or abandoned until God has mightily intervened to purge evil from the earth.8

Although the ultimate origin of evil escapes us, the ultimate answer lies in the sovereignty and justice of the triune God of the Bible. We can rest in that truth. Justification by faith in Jesus Christ rescues humans from the ravaging effects of evil, such as the Haitian earthquake. Upon entrance into the glorious state, Christians are fully released from this age of evil, and are guaranteed participation in the eschatological eradication of all unrighteousness in the new heavens and the new earth.

Henri Blocher eloquently expresses how God has defeated evil:

Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The manoeuvre is utterly unprecedented. No more complete victory could be imagined. God responds in the indirect way that is perfectly suited to the ambiguity of evil. He traps the deceiver in his own wiles...God's answer is evil turned back upon itself, conquered by the ultimate degree of love in the fulfillment of justice.9

While we pray for the Haitian people and tend to their immense needs, ministers of the Gospel must share Jesus Christ with them so they will know eternal life. We want them to become our brothers and sisters, so they too will long for that Day when Jesus returns and completes His annihilation of all evil. It will be a glorious Day, indeed.

Come Lord Jesus, and come quickly...

Notes:

A more detailed discussion and interaction with objections to God's existence in the midst of tragedy can be found in this excellent pamphlet in PDF: Where Was God on September 11th?, by John Blanchard. It is an excellent theological and apologetic piece that you can print off and give to non-Christians who are sincerely seeking answers. (pdfBlanchard_September_11.pdf)

Further in depth articles:

"Lost" Without Genesis by Ken Ham

Why Does God's Creation Include Death and Suffering? by Tommy Mitchell

To Whom Shall We Go? by Dr. David Garner

The Doctrine of God and the Philosophical Problem of Evil by Henry B. Smith Jr.

The Moral Argument for the God of the Bible by Henry B. Smith Jr.

The Glorious Groan of the Gospel by Dr. Scott Oliphint

1. For a detailed exposition of Romans 8:19-23, see my PDF article: pdfCosmic and Universal Death from Adam's Fall: An Exegesis of Romans 8:19-23a.

2. For a detailed exposition of how all humanity participated in Adam's rebellion against God's direct and clear divine command with respect to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, see: John Murray, The Imputation of Adam's Sin, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1977).

3. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (New York: Harper Collins, 1940), 3.

4. Masie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton (London: Sheed & Ward, 1944), 48.

5. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith: Fourth Edition, ed. K. Scott Oliphint (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), 188, 191. For an excellent exegetical exposition of the doctrine of common grace, see: John Murray, The Collected Writings of John Murray: Volume II (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth of Trust, 1977), 96. Murray cites the following Scriptures to support the doctrine of common grace: Gen. 3:22-23; 4:15; 6:3; 20:6; II Kings 19:27-8; I Peter 3:20; Romans 2:4; 13:3-4; Acts 14:16-17; 17:30; Psalm 65:5-13; 104; 136:25; 145:9,15-16; Matthew 5:44-45; I Peter 2:14; I Timothy 2:1-2.

5b. To Whom Shall We Go?  David Garner,2009. Westminster Theological Seminary.

6. Lewis, 116.

7. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 575.

8. George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1974), 333.

9. Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1994), 132-3.

image.axd182Henry B. Smith Jr. currently serves as the Director of Development for the Associates for Biblical Research. In 1992, he graduated with a B.A. in Economics from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. With a 13 year business background, he also earned an M.A. in Theology with an emphasis in apologetics from Trinity Seminary in Indiana in 2005. He is currently enrolled in the M.A.R. program at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA.

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ABRT 28 | 8/1/2019