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Why Did Many Jewish Leaders Hate Jesus Christ and the Apostolic Church?

Some people have the impression that Jewish hostility for Christianity began only after Jews experienced persecution by Christians. Actually, Jewish hostility toward Jesus Christ and His church began long before Jews experienced persecution by Christians. Biblical scholar N. T. Wright summarized the reason for Jewish rejection of Jesus and the church:

What evokes persecution is precisely that which challenges a worldview, that which up-ends a symbolic universe. (N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Fortress Press, p. 451) 1

Jesus taught that Jewish nationalism and commitment to the “oral law” (“traditions of men”) distorted the purpose of the written law (Torah) (Mark 7:1-20). He declared that Israel’s dominant religious leaders were not in the tradition of Moses, David, and the prophets, but were servants of Satan (John 8:37-44). Their “Judaism” depended on legal righteousness based in “oral law” (the “traditions of men”; see Mark 7:1-23) and “works” that artificially distinguished them from the Gentiles whom they regarded as ritualistically unclean. Adherents of this perspective believed that their legal righteousness would assure them of the future Messiah’s approval when he appeared on the scene to cast off the Roman yoke and institute worldwide Jewish rule.

John the Baptist proclaimed the worthlessness of legalistic righteousness (Matthew 3:1-12), and Jesus declared that the legalistic righteousness of the Pharisees was pitted against the genuine law of God He had come to uphold.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20 NIV).

Instead of leading them toward fulfillment of the promises God had given Israel, their legalistically based self-righteousness motivated them to reject and kill the Messiah and His followers (Matthew 21:23-46; John 8:42-59; Acts 4-5; 7-9; 12:1f; 13:42-51; 14:2-5; 14:19; 17-18; 24:5; 26:9-11; Galatians 1:11-16; 4:29; Philippians 3:5-7; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).

Jesus called into question the meaning of the primary Jewish symbols—Sabbath, food taboos, ethnic identity, ancestral lands, and ultimately the Temple itself.2

The quotation below is by a modern Jewish man who, like the religious leaders of the first century, misunderstands what Jesus came to offer His people. It vividly illustrates the radical effect Jesus’ teaching must have had on His contemporaries.

John’s Gospel abolishes what is sacred for Judaism and replaces it with “Christ”. Everything that was held to be important by “the Jews” is dismissed in John as insignificant. Christ replaces or supersedes Judaism. The Church expresses this idea today by claiming to be the “New Israel.” According to John, Christ replaces the Temple (John 2:18-22); the Law (John 5:39-40) and Israel itself (John 15:1-17)—the “vine” being a symbol of Israel (Psalm 80:8; Ezekiel 15:1-6 and Hosea 10:1). There is no room left for Judaism as an expression of God’s will. This has led to what one author has called “a theological vendetta” against the Jews. Too often in history those who have concluded that Judaism is obsolete, have also concluded that the Jews are equally obsolete, with tragic results. Christology is the study of the nature of “Christ.” In Johannine Christology, Christ is portrayed as a divine man who fulfills prophecy and reveals God in his own flesh. This was and still remains, pure anathema to Jews. From a Jewish perspective the Johannine god-man vision of Christ is a repulsive paganism. By virtue of their innate inability to accept such a vision of the Messiah, Jews are automatically condemned by Johannine Christology. It is inherently antisemitic (“Anti-Semitism and John’s Gospel,” by Tom Macabi from Web site “Holocaust Understanding and Prevention”).

A Jewish scholar and Bar-Ilan University academic makes it clear that in some Jewish minds today, orthodox Christianity is “the root cause of 1500 years of the Christian idolatrous anti-Semitism which led to the holocaust.” He declared that Christians have a choice:

Either retain their present belief system and be anti-Semitic or form a partnership with the Jewish people. . . . As long as Christians keep Jesus as God, they will be anti-Semitic because that belief must lead them to believe that those who reject Jesus reject God. (Rabbi Dr. Pinchas Hayman, Australian Jewish News, Melbourne Edition, Vol. 62, no. 43, p. 9)

Obviously most Christians wouldn’t agree with this rabbi’s conclusion that faith in Christ is anti-Semitic. However, the fact that he sees the issue in these terms demonstrates that some Jews today still have the mindset of Jesus’ enemies in the first century, and to those with this mindset the challenge of Jesus Christ and the gospel remain a call to war (Matthew 10:32-42).

  1. Jesus was claiming to be speaking for Israel’s god, her scriptures, and her true vocation. Israel was trusting in her ancestral religious symbols; Jesus was claiming to speak for the reality to which those symbols pointed, and to show that, by her concentration on them, Israel had turned inwards upon herself and was being not only disobedient, but dangerously disobedient, to her god’s vision for her, his vocation that she should be the light of the world. Jesus’ contemporaries, however, could not but regard someone doing and saying these things as a deceiver. His agenda clashed at every point with theirs. In symbol, as in praxis and story, his way of being Israel, his way of loyalty to Israel’s god, was radically different from theirs. (N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Fortress Press, p. 442) Back To Article
  2. The clash between Jesus and his Jewish contemporaries, especially the Pharisees, must be seen in terms of alternative political agendas generated by alternative eschatological beliefs and expectations. Jesus was announcing the kingdom in a way which did not reinforce but rather called into question, the agenda of revolutionary zeal which dominated the horizon of, especially, the dominant group within Pharisaism. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that he called into question the great emphases on those symbols which had become the focal points of that zeal: Sabbath, food taboos, ethnic identity, ancestral lands, and ultimately the Temple itself. The symbols had become enacted codes for the aspirations of his contemporaries. Jesus, in challenging them, was not ‘speaking against the Torah’ per se. He was certainly not ‘speaking against’ the idea of Israel as the chosen people of the one true god. Rather, he was offering an alternative construal of Israel’s destiny and god-given vocation, an alternative way of telling Israel’s true story, and alternative to the piety which expressed itself in nationalistic symbols. He was affirming Israel’s election even as he redefined it. (N.T. Wright,  Jesus and the Victory of God, Fortress Press, p. 390) Back To Article
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Why Didn’t Paul Quote Jesus?

Doesn’t the fact that Paul didn’t quote Jesus show that he wasn’t interested in Him as a real person but only as a means of promoting his new faith in a (metaphorically) “risen Christ”?

Christians have long assumed that Luke’s Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters were written to illustrate and apply the things Jesus taught through His words and deeds. Both Acts and the epistles of Paul are Jesus-centered and consistent with all that Jesus taught. Acts describes the emergence of the apostolic church and Paul explains the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that made them easily accessible to the diverse Gentile communities of the Roman Empire. In neither case would it have been practical for Luke or Paul to duplicate the detailed records of Jesus’ teaching and ministry that were cherished and carefully preserved by the church.

This argument that Paul must not have been concerned with Jesus as a real person because he didn’t quote Him is based on the underlying assumption that the Gospels’ description of Jesus isn’t accurate. Assuming that a miracle-working Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God with the authority to forgive sin could not really have existed, it offers an alternative explanation for how the Jesus tradition came into being. It claims that Paul created an entirely new religion about Jesus based on his own religious experience expressed in terms common to the religious and philosophical language of his day, transforming a popular teacher into a godlike mythological figure. It postulates that the whole Christian community eventually began to view Jesus in Paul’s mythologized way so that when the four Gospels were eventually written they didn’t contain accurate historical recollections of Jesus’ real life and deeds, but a collection of stories constructed around Paul’s imaginary Jesus.

To hold this view requires a number of closely related, highly questionable assumptions. A number of ATQs have been written that relate to the practical question of whether first-generation disciples and followers of Jesus would have been willing to view Him as worthy of worship and “resurrected from the dead” if His body remained decomposing in its tomb.1 But there are other reasons the idea that Paul invented Christianity doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a common reason given for questioning the accuracy of the Gospel accounts was that a semi-literate, primarily oral society wouldn’t be able to preserve an accurate group memory of an historic event like Jesus’ life and ministry. In recent decades, studies of how historical traditions are passed along in oral societies have demonstrated that group memory is capable of equaling or exceeding the accuracy of modern historians.

Orality studies have confirmed over and over again that [oral traditions] can, in fact, be examples of intentionally transmitted historical material. Indeed, as we have already shown, such studies frequently have confirmed that these traditions are capable of reliably transmitting historical material as well as (some would claim even better than) modern literate historians (The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, p. 390).

The gospel was important to the first Christians. Their identities and lives’ purposes depended on it, and they were willing to die for it. They based their lives on its underlying story, a narrative that formed the cognitive basis of their faith.

We know that the gospel, the “good news” (defined by Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 15:1-7), was attracting believers to the apostolic church at a rate that alarmed the Jewish leadership group to which Paul originally belonged. Paul doubtlessly knew what Christians believed even before he began persecuting them. He was a “special agent” specifically chosen to combat the new Christian sect. A man of his capacities would hardly have gone to the trouble of eradicating Christians if he didn’t know—and intensely oppose—what they believed.

Paul’s conversion occurred only two or three years after Christ’s ministry. Recent orality studies (studies of how group memories and traditions are preserved in predominantly oral cultures) have also shown that when a group considers a tradition worthy of preservation, it selects individuals to be the official representatives (tradents) of the tradition. These tradents are the experts entrusted with the responsibility to preserve and transmit the tradition. In the case of the early church, tradents listed by Paul himself in his epistles were apostles and eyewitnesses of Christ’s ministry. They included Peter, John the son of Zebedee, the rest of the Twelve, Jesus’ half brother James, Barnabas, Andronicus and Junia, and Silvanus. All of these eyewitnesses would never have allowed Paul to begin teaching something that changed or distorted the Jesus narrative.

When Paul’s allegiance suddenly switched to the group he had been persecuting (Acts 22), he spent three years adding knowledge to what he already knew. He then met with Peter and Jesus’ brother James, spending 15 days with Peter in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18-19). After 14 years of ministry to the Gentiles, he met with the Jerusalem elders and received their formal endorsement (Galatians 2:1-9).

Paul’s knowledge of Jesus’ story, as well as his ongoing endorsement by the key eyewitnesses of the apostolic church, indicate that Paul was a faithful adherent to the body of preserved knowledge, not someone who started a new Christian tradition that the apostolic church eventually came to accept. But even though there is overwhelming evidence that Paul was faithful to the accounts of Jesus’ life, stories, and parables that were preserved by the witnesses in the Christian community, why didn’t he refer to Jesus more often and use quotations from Jesus when they would have strengthened his case?

This is an interesting question, and it helps put things in perspective to consider that the author of the Gospel of Luke followed a similar pattern of seldom quoting Jesus in his Acts of the Apostles. An overwhelming majority of biblical scholars—whether conservative or liberal—acknowledge that both The Acts of the Apostles and The Gospel of Luke were written by the same author. Yet, in spite of the fact that the author of Acts was intimately acquainted with the events and teachings of Jesus, he seldom quoted Jesus directly in Acts.

The fact that the author of Luke—which contains hundreds of quotations of Jesus—included very few quotations from Jesus in Acts is interesting, but it hardly implies that he questioned the significance of Jesus’ ministry and teachings. Another thing to bear in mind is that letters can’t be considered completely representative of Paul’s spoken teaching. After all, he spent long periods of time establishing and training churches, and verbal teaching would be more likely to include even more allusions and partial quotations than brief epistles painfully written with the implements of his time.

Today, few Christians familiar with Jesus’ teachings quote chapter and verse in discussions of issues with other Christians. Familiar with Jesus’ teachings as well as principles from the Scriptures as a whole (including the Old Testament), they allude to general principles based on a common understanding. This was what Paul did.  Paul made dozens of allusions to the teaching of Jesus without quoting Him directly, just like Christians do today.2When Paul wrote his epistles, the Gospels hadn’t yet been written, but the stories, parables, and teachings that would be eventually written down on papyrus and parchment were already a treasured common possession of the apostolic Christian community. There still were hundreds of eyewitnesses of the events of Jesus’ life adding to and correcting the store of common knowledge and providing the contextual background for everything Paul and other Christian leaders said or wrote.3

In his epistles, Paul made frequent reference to Jesus as a real historical person (Romans 1:3; Romans 4:24-25; Romans 6:4-9; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 9:5; 11:23-25; 15:3-8; 2 Corinthians 4:14; 10:1; Galatians 1:1,19; 4:4; 6:12; Philippians 2:8; 3:18; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15; 4:14). Paul referred or alluded to the Jesus tradition on numerous occasions, a few examples being 1 Corinthians 7:10-11; 9:14; 11:23-26; and 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. He even used “ the technical terms for handing on a tradition.” 4

As mentioned earlier, to accept the argument that Paul created an entirely new religion based on his subjective religious experience requires a willingness to ignore an overwhelming amount of evidence. Craig Evans expresses the only conclusion that can be reached when the Gospel accounts are read with minds open to the actual evidence:

Christian faith began with the resurrection of Jesus, whose death was interpreted (in Jewish terms) as atoning and saving and in fulfillment of prophecy. There was no disagreement on this point. All who believed in Jesus and were numbered among his followers concurred on these essential beliefs. There was no other “Christianity” that thought otherwise. The Gospels written in the first century, that is, the New Testament Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), narrate the discovery of the empty tomb and appearances of the risen Jesus to His followers. The resurrection of Jesus and its saving power become the central truth of Christian preaching and missionary activity, to which Peter and Paul give emphatic witness. There simply is no evidence of any other Christian movement in the first generation following Easter that preached something else (Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels, p. 191).

The fact that Paul didn’t quote Jesus frequently implies nothing about how important he considered Him to be.

  1. See the ATQ articles, Was Jesus Just a Wandering Philosopher? and Do the Gospels’ Miracles Make Them Legendary Accounts? Back To Article
  2. Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd provide a list of “distinctive parallels between Paul and Jesus” (The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, pp. 226-28). Back To Article
  3. “In the early Christian movement we may suppose that the authorized tradents of the tradition performed this role of controllers, but among them the eyewitnesses would surely have been the most important. We must re-mind ourselves, as we have quite often had occasion to do, that Vansina and other writers about oral tradition are describing processes of transmission over several generations, whereas in the case of the early church up to the writing of the Gospels we are considering the preservation of the testimony of the eyewitnesses during their own lifetimes. They are the obvious people to have controlled this in the interests of faithful preservation.

    “In favor of this role of the eyewitnesses, we should note that the early Christian movement, though geographically widely spread, was a network of close communication, in which individual communities were in frequent touch with others and in which many individual leaders traveled frequently and widely. I have provided detailed evidence of this elsewhere. First or secondhand contact with eyewitnesses would not have been unusual. (The community addressed in Hebrews had evidently received the gospel traditions directly from eyewitnesses: see 2:3-4.) Many Jewish Christians from many places would doubtless have continued the custom of visiting Jerusalem for the festivals and so would have had the opportunity to hear the traditions of the Twelve from members of the Twelve themselves while there were still some resident in Jerusalem. Individual eyewitnesses of importance, such as Peter or Thomas, would have had their own disciples, who (like Mark in Peter’s case) were familiar enough with their teacher’s rehearsal of Jesus traditions to be able to check, as well as to pass on, the traditions transmitted in that eyewitness’s name as they themselves traveled around” (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, p. 306). Back To Article

  4. “We have unequivocal evidence, in Paul’s letters, that the early Christian movement did practice the formal transmission of tradition. By ‘formal’ here I mean that there were specific practices employed to ensure that tradition was faithfully handed on from a qualified traditioner to others. The evidence is found in Paul’s use of the technical terms for handing on a tradition (paradidomi, 1 Cor 11:2, 23, corresponding to Hebrew masar)and receiving a tradition (paralambano, 1 Cor 15:1, 3; Gal 1:9; Col 2:6;1 Thess 2:13; 4:1; 2 Thess 3:6, corresponding to Hebrew gibbel)These Greek words were used for formal transmission of tradition in the Hellenistic schools and so would have been familiar in this sense to Paul’s Gentile readers. They also appeared in Jewish Greek usage (Josephus, Ant. 13.297; C. Ap.1.60; Mark 7:4, 13;Acts 6:14), corresponding to what we find in Hebrew in later rabbinic literature (e.g., m. ‘Avot 1.1). Paul also speaks of faithfully retaining or observing a tradition (katecho, 1 Cor 11:2; 15:2; krateo, 2Thess 2:15, which is used of Jewish tradition in Mark 7:3, 4, 8, corresponding to the Hebrew ‘ahaz)and uses, of course, the term ‘tradition’ itself (paradosis, 1 Cor 11:2; 2Thess 2:15; 3:6, used of Jewish tradition in Matt 15:2; Mark 7:5;Gal 1:14; Josephus, Ant. 13.297).

    “Paul uses this terminology to refer to a variety of kinds of tradition that he communicated to his churches when he established them. These certainly include ‘kerygmatic summaries’ of the gospel story and message (for which the best evidence is 1 Cor 15:1-8), ethical instruction, instructions for the ordering of the community and its worship, and also Jesus traditions (for which the best evidence is 1 Cor 11:23-25). It is obvious that Paul took over the technical terminology for tradition from the usage with which he would have been familiar as a Pharisaic teacher. But it is therefore important to note that there is sufficient evidence of this terminology in early Christian literature outside the Pauline letters to show that it was not peculiar to Paul or solely derived from Paul’s usage (Jude 3; Luke 1:2; Acts 16:4; Didache 4:13; Barnabas 19:11). The terminology is of considerable importance, for to ‘hand on’ a tradition is not just to tell it or speak it and to ‘receive’ a tradition is not just to hear it. Rather, handing on a tradition ‘means that one hands over something to somebody so that the latter possesses it,’while receiving a tradition ‘means that one receives something so that one possesses it.’ While this need not entail verbatim memorization, it does entail some process of teaching and learning so that what is communicated will be retained. Moreover, it is clear that the traditions Paul envisages require an authorized tradent to teach them, such as he considered himself to be. In one case where Paul speaks of traditions, he makes clear that his authority for transmitting at least some of them to his churches was not his apostolic status as such, but the fact that he himself had received them from competent authorities (1 Cor 15:3). He thus places himself in a chain of transmission (Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, pp. 264-65). Back To Article

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Why do Christians Believe God is Triune?

Christianity isn’t founded in a philosophical perspective that evolved into a religion. Christian faith resulted from the revelation of God to the human race through Jesus Christ.

The Gospels make it clear that Jesus’ disciples misunderstood Him throughout His life. They thought that, as the promised Messiah, He would use supernatural power to set up an earthly kingdom. Consequently, when He was arrested and crucified, they lost hope (Matthew 26:56, 69-75). But at this point of despair and hopelessness, God revealed His redemptive plan. Jesus rose from death and physically appeared to His disciples in a glorious form (Luke 24:36-49; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

In the face of such a stupendous event, the disciples no longer had doubts regarding Jesus’ identity. Thomas, who was absent when Jesus first appeared, believed the testimony of His resurrection was too good to be true (John 20:24-26). But when he found himself face-to-face with Jesus, his response was simply: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

The apostles believed that Jesus is divine, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 1:33-34; 14:16, 26; 16:13-15; 20:21-22). They believed in the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without ever questioning the foundational biblical truth that God is One (Exodus 20:2-3; Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29; 1 Corinthians 8:4, 6; Ephesians 4:3-6; James 2:19).

The starting-point of the Trinity is, naturally, not a speculative one, but the simple testimony of the New Testament. We are not concerned with the God of thought, but with the God who makes His Name known. But He makes His Name known as the Name of the Father; He makes this Name of the Father known through the Son; and He makes the Son known as the Son of the Father, and the Father as Father of the Son through the Holy Spirit. These three names constitute the actual content of the New Testament message. This is a fact which no one can deny (Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God, “Dogmatics,” vol. 1).

Although the biblical writers don’t use the terms Trinity or triune God, the Bible clearly teaches that God exists in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16-17; 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 2:18; 1 Peter 1:2). Each of these divine persons has His own personal characteristics and is clearly distinguished from the other persons (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-15). Each divine person is equal in power, being, and glory, and each person is called God (John 6:27; Acts 5:3-4; Hebrews 1:8). Each has divine attributes (Hebrews 9:14; 13:8; James 1:17), and each performs divine works and receives divine honors (John 5:21-23; Romans 8:11; 2 Corinthians 13:14). In regard to His being or essence, God is one; but with respect to His personality, God is three.

This issue is basic to Christian faith. The doctrine of the Trinity (like the doctrine of the incarnation to which it is closely related) expresses some of the most profound and mysterious truths about God and His relationship to His creation. As the great church leader Athanasius pointed out, our salvation depends upon the incarnation. If Jesus were not both truly God and truly man, His death wouldn’t be sufficient to atone for our sin.

The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell, gives the following concise definition of the Trinity:

Within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three “persons” who are neither three Gods on the one side, nor three parts or modes of God on the other, but co-equally and co-eternally God.

Although this theological definition is helpful, it is important to realize that none of us can have direct knowledge of God. His characteristics can only be described by analogy, and no analogy is perfect.

 

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Why do Christians disagree so much about the Bible?

The Bible is an ancient and complex book, and not always easy to understand. That is why so many people have differing views about subjects as foundational as the Lord’s Table and baptism, and even more variation on topics like church government, spiritual gifts, and end times. Entire denominations and church movements have been formed around a collective understanding of what they believe the Bible teaches on these subjects.

Many assert that disagreements are a result of others who are unwilling to follow what the Bible “plainly” teaches. “Those churches,” they may think, “just don’t take their Bible seriously.” The problem with this kind of thinking is that it is often not true. The closer we get to the people we disagree with, the more we find that they are often godly, sincere, and informed individuals who desire to do and believe what the Bible teaches just as much as we do.

“It’s clear we just have two different opinions on this topic,” my friend jested. “You have yours and I have His.” Watching his finger point to the heavens, I couldn’t help but think how this humorous gesture communicated so much about how I often mistake my understanding of what the Bible says for what the Bible actually does say.

If we really listen to those we disagree with, we might not only start seeing their biases, but ours, as well. Our beliefs—like theirs—are affected by culture, economic status, family, place in history, and even our own denomination’s emphasis on certain doctrines and issues. Is it possible that we often don’t see another person’s perspective because we are looking to ourselves, not Christ, as the ultimate source of truth? Perhaps a way forward is to humbly and honestly admit our own imperfections and shortcomings. Then we can begin to work through our disagreements together with a focus on Jesus Christ.

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Why do Christians sometimes seem fake to the outside world?

Not only do Christians seem fake to the outside world, they can also seem fake to other Christians, too.

The reason for fakery in the lives of those who claim to follow Jesus often comes down to expectations of perfection within church communities and a lack of authentic humility among churchgoing people. Courage and humility can begin to correct the pandemic of fakeness in the church.

Christians often feel a cultural pressure to appear as holy and perfect as possible to one another and to the world. The trouble is that we are neither holy nor perfect. This can lead to a fake witness. We are strongly motivated by two impulses to try to keep up this front: fear and pride. For example, I fear what others may think of me if I behave authentically, or show a little of the everyday-still-in-need-of-a-Savior-self to others. I’m afraid that somehow I might be judged by others if I don’t act like I think a “good” Christian should. Yet, oddly, I’m proud, because acting this way usually results in compliments and admiration for me because of my good behavior.

What am I to do?

Jesus calls his followers to tell others about his work in the world. He is our redeemer and the fullest expression of a life faithfully lived. Personally, I am far from the fully faithful person Christ is calling me to become; however, as his redemption is being worked out in my life, I can point to him and what he is doing rather than trying to fake my own holiness. The tools available to bear this witness are two deeply Christian virtues: courage and humility.

It takes great courage to be truly humble. True humility leads, almost automatically, to authenticity, and the ability to be authentic will bear a great witness to the One who invites us to become more like him.

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Why Do Many Western People Doubt the Accuracy of the Gospels?

There is an old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt.” The Gospels are so familiar in Western culture, and were so deeply influential in its shaping, that Westerners often fail to think about them objectively. Because they are so close and familiar, most people don’t value them enough even to know what they contain. In his book Ring of Truth, Oxford scholar and longtime friend of C. S. Lewis, J. B. Phillips, wrote:

So long as a man confines his ideas of Christ to a rather misty hero figure of long ago who died a tragic death, and so long as his ideas of Christianity are bounded by what he calls the Sermon on the Mount (which he has almost certainly not read in its entirety since he became grown-up), then the living truth never has a chance to touch him. This is plainly what has happened to many otherwise intelligent people. Over the years I have had hundreds of conversations with people, many of them of higher intellectual calibre than my own, who quite obviously had no idea of what Christianity is really about. I was in no case trying to catch them out: I was simply and gently trying to find out what they knew about the New Testament. My conclusion was that they knew virtually nothing. This I find pathetic and somewhat horrifying. It means that the most important Event in human history is politely and quietly bypassed. For it is not as though the evidence had been examined and found unconvincing: it had simply never been examined.

But beyond the tendency to take the Gospels for granted, many Western people unknowingly reflect the unexamined assumptions of their generation. Unaware of their bias, their denial of the reliability of the gospel tradition is usually much stronger than the reasons they give for doing so. (See the ATQ article Recent Media Have Claimed Jesus Christ Is Legendary: Is It True?)

The emotional power of untested assumptions reflects some of the natural inclinations that the apostle Paul wrote about in his first New Testament letter to the Corinthians.

“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one”
(1 Corinthians 2:14-15 NKJV).

The inability of unbelievers to recognize their bias is a striking example of spiritual blindness. But along with a spiritual blindness that unconsciously distorts reality so that truth becomes invisible even when in plain view, there may be an element of intentional hostility (Matthew 13:11-17; Romans 1:18-22).

Yet Christians are in no position to “judge” modern unbelievers who seem to grasp at straws to avoid the truth. They are probably no worse people than we are. The New Testament makes it clear that apart from God’s grace, everyone—including Peter (Matthew 16:23), Paul (Acts 9:1-6), Jesus’ own family (Mark 3:21; John 7:5), Jesus’ townspeople (Mark 6:1-5), and others who should have known better (John 20:24-29) were inflicted with spiritual blindness and infected with doubt.

For many people in the West, Christianity has become a convenient scapegoat. This shouldn’t surprise us. Just as pagan intellectuals like Julian the Apostate once blamed the gospel for the deterioration of the Roman Empire, unbelieving Western intellectuals today blame Christian faith either directly or indirectly for the Western cultural failures and offenses of the past 2,000 years. The world’s hostility toward Christ isn’t incidental, and the same hatred that was directed toward Him and His message can be expected to be directed against the genuine story of His life, death, and resurrection.

See the ATQ article What Are Some Arguments Used to Downplay the Significance of the Gospels?

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Why Do Morally Unprincipled People Prosper?

An ancient writer asked the same question:

Behold, these are the ungodly, who are always at ease; they increase in riches. Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued and chastened every morning (Psalm 73:12-14).

It’s not surprising that unprincipled people have a degree of success in this world. Jesus said, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Because self-centered people have little concern about harming others, they have an initial advantage. Their options aren’t limited by conscience. They are single-mindedly focused on their goals. Their lack of guilt even lends them a counterfeit appearance of innocence, making them effective deceivers.

It is painful to see morally bankrupt people exploit others who tend to be gentle, honest, and meek. But their success is short-lived. The personal qualities that give them immediate success bring about their eventual destruction (Psalms 64, 73)

The inability of self-absorbed people to identify with the needs of others makes it easy for them to manipulate and deceive, but it also prevents healthy relationships and spiritual growth. Their brazen self-centeredness repels people of conscience. Unable to develop loving relationships and lacking inner moral control, they remain like emotional children, passing through life’s stages untouched by maturity and spiritual growth.

“…having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children” (2 Peter 2:14).
“The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble” (Proverbs 4:19 NIV).
“The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast” (Proverbs 5:22 NIV).

Because of their moral blindness, the children of darkness judge others’ deeds by the same standards they judge their own (Matthew 6:22-23; Ephesians 4:17-19; 1 John 2:11). Projecting their own self-centered motivations on everyone else, they even hate those who care about them and are trying to rescue them from their moral blindness and self-destruction (Matthew 13:15; 23:37-38; John 12:40). If you tell the truth to a liar, he suspects a lie. If you offer friendship to a schemer, he questions motives. If you offer love to a betrayer, he expects a trap.

“Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse. Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:7).
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6 NIV).

Worst of all, without the intervention of God, those who are committed only to themselves are unable to comprehend the message of the cross, the only message that can transform, heal, and save them.

“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:18).
“For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 NIV).

So, while unprincipled people prosper in the short-term, in the long-term they are headed for ruin. Jesus said that those who follow Him have a cross to bear (Matthew 16:24), and His cross involves forgoing the temporary and short-lived pleasures of a self-absorbed life. Jesus gave up earthly power, wealth, and security, even to the point of directly confronting Satan’s entrenched power in the political and religious systems and authorities of His day. Although the immediate result of His self-sacrifice was persecution, torture, and death, the lasting result was His resurrection and vindication, and the fulfillment of Israel’s hope.

Those who seek eternal life will experience some short-term pain that others may avoid. But the rewards far outweigh the costs (Proverbs 3:13-24; Matthew 6:33; 11:28-30; 19:29; John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 1:5).

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Why do some church people seem so “phony?”

One answer is fear. Every church is comprised of ordinary human beings, but we often refuse to acknowledge our similarities to each other. We feel as though we ought to rise above our problems—especially temptations.

Yet so often we don’t. And so we regularly fake it for fear of what people will think. We fear that others might pull away from us if they knew the worst about us. This, of course, leads to hypocrisy.

While Jesus hates hypocrisy, he loves us. And so he told us: “Don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly … where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”[1] He also said, “When you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do.”[2] Jesus was warning us about religious people who valued how they looked more than they valued their relationship to God and to each other.

Can we get past the fear that isolates us and turns us into hypocrites? Yes, but it starts with dangerous honesty.

One of the remarkable things about the Bible is its honesty about its “heroes.” Noah got so drunk he passed out. Abraham was willing to let another man take his wife (twice!) until God intervened. Moses’ anger turned into murder. David had an affair with a married woman and then orchestrated her husband’s death in battle. Yet Hebrews 11 points to these individuals as heroes of the faith. They were ordinary people with big flaws and genuine faith.

The apostle Paul wrote openly about his struggles. “‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’” he wrote, “and I am the worst of them all.”[3] In another letter he admitted, “I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”[4] This caused him to exclaim, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”[5]

Our faith should be public, but it shouldn’t look “religious.” We are called to be followers of Jesus, even though we won’t follow Him perfectly. And church, of all places, should be a safe environment where we can admit our imperfections, our struggles, our addictions, and our tendency to fail. In other words, it’s a place where we hypocrites can be honest—even about our hypocrisy.

This question Why do church people seem so fake? is rooted in a stereotype. Surely many church attenders are fake. But most of us realize we are on a spiritual journey that started when we turned to Jesus in faith. Our part is to admit our own hypocrisy, ask God to change us, and let our own example of honesty become part of the solution, not a perpetuation of the problem.

[1] Matthew 6:5

[2] Matthew 6:16

[3] 1 Timothy 1:15

[4] Romans 7:15

[5] Romans 7:24–25

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Why do women stay with abusive men?

The reasons women stay in abusive relationships are varied and complicated. If we are going help those who suffer in domestic abuse situations, we must first recognize that these women need someone who will listen to their story, not re-victimize them with questions and innuendos. Sometimes we do more harm than good when we say things like:

  • Why doesn’t she just leave?
  • Why would anybody in their right mind stay with him?
  • She must like the abuse; she keeps going back!

A woman who is being abused may leave several times in her mind and actually attempt to move out more than five times before she is finally successful. Often it is dangerous for a woman to leave an abusive relationship, but there are also many other reasons that she doesn’t just walk or run away.

Sometimes women stay because they are afraid. She fears:

  • Greater physical danger to herself and her children if she tries to leave.
  • Being hunted down and suffering a worse beating than before.
  • Negative responses or lack of understanding from family, friends, police, ministers, counselors, courts, etc.

Sometimes women stay because they do not have the resources to leave. They do not have:

  • Employment or a source of income.
  • Knowledge of shelters, advocacy groups, or support.
  • Spiritual strength, wisdom, discernment, or a loving community.

Sometimes women stay because they believe things will get better if they just try harder. They think:

  • “I need to keep the family together no matter what. Kids need a father.”
  • “I swore to stay married till death do us part. I promised to stay with him in sickness and in health, for better or worse. I can’t just leave him because he has a problem.”
  • “I can help him get better if we stay. No one understands him like I do.”
  • “It’s really not that bad. Other people have it worse.”
  • “I am the cause of the violence and it’s all my fault.” She may feel as though she deserves the abuse.

And sometimes she stays, as strange as it sounds, because she loves her abuser.

  • Often the abuser is quite loving and lovable when he is not being abusive.
  • He really does make her feel good and he knows what she likes.

She remembers what he used to be like, especially during the makeup phase.

(adapted from Live Right Now)

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Why Does the Bible Tolerate Slavery?

The slavery tolerated by the Scriptures must be understood in its historical context. Old Testament laws regulating slavery are troublesome by modern standards, but in their historical context they provided a degree of social recognition and legal protection to slaves that was advanced for its time (Exodus 21:20-27 ; Leviticus 25:44-46).

In ancient times, slavery existed in every part of the world. Slaves had no legal status or rights, and they were treated as the property of their owners. Even Plato and Aristotle looked upon slaves as inferior beings. As inhumane as such slavery was, we must keep in mind that on occasion it was an alternative to the massacre of enemy populations in wartime and the starvation of the poor during famine. It was to the people of this harsh age that the Bible was first written.

In New Testament times, slave labor was foundational to the economy of the Roman empire. About a third of the population was comprised of slaves. If the writers of the New Testament had attacked the institution of slavery directly, the gospel would have been identified with a radical political cause at a time when the abolition of slavery was unthinkable. To directly appeal for the freeing of slaves would have been inflammatory and a direct threat to the social order. 1 Consequently, the New Testament acknowledged slavery’s existence, instructing both Christian masters and slaves in the way they should behave (Ephesians 6:5-9 ; Colossians 3:2 ; Colossians 4:1 ; 1 Timothy 6:2 ; Philemon 1:10-21). At the same time, it openly declared the spiritual equality of all people (Galatians 3:28 ; 1 Corinthians 7:20-24 ; Colossians 3:11). 2

The gospel first had the practical effect of doing away with slavery within the community of the early church.3 It also carried within it the seeds of the eventual complete abolition of slavery in the Western world.

The fact that the Bible never expressly condemned the institution of slavery has been wrongfully used as a rationale for its continuance. In the American South prior to the Civil War, many nominal Christians wrongly interpreted the Bible’s approach to slavery and used their misunderstanding to justify economic interests. The terrible use of African slave labor continued in spite of those who argued from the Scriptures for the spiritual equality of all races.4 Today the Christian message of the spiritual equality of all people under God has spread throughout the world, and it is rapidly becoming the standard by which the human values of all nations are measured.

  1. By the time of Christ, there had been several large slave rebellions. The rebellion led by Spartacus in 73 BC terrorized all of southern Italy. His army defeated the Romans in two pitched battles before it was defeated and its survivors crucified.  Back To Article
  2. Also in direct contradiction to pagan values, both the Old and New Testaments clearly denied that there is anything demeaning about physical work. Jesus and His disciples were “blue collar” working men, and Paul was a tentmaker by trade (Mark 6:3 ; Acts 18:3 ; Acts 20:33-34 ; 1 Corinthians 4:12 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:8,11). Back To Article
  3. Already by the second century, a former slave named Pius was the Bishop of Rome. Back To Article
  4. William Wilberforce is a prime example of the influence of the gospel. An unlikely candidate for conversion, he was a high-living member of the upper classes and a rising star in English politics. His conversion to Christianity led to his lifelong dedication to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. His dream was fulfilled just before his death in 1833 when the House of Commons passed a law that abolished slavery.
    Another example is John Newton, the author of the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.” Newton was a slave trader prior to his conversion. Afterwards, he became a crusader for the abolition of slavery and an important influence in the life of William Wilberforce. Back To Article
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