Tag Archives: Christ

Does the Bible Show Contempt for Women When it Refers to God as Father?

The Bible presents God as Father and uses masculine pronouns to refer to Him. But God isn’t limited by the sexual distinctions of His creatures. God is eternal Spirit, and should not be perceived in an anthropomorphic way. He may be conscious, personal, and masculine in some significant way, but His consciousness, personality, and masculinity so far transcend our experience of these things that we should always be on guard against thinking of Him in merely human terms.

Many people believe that since the Bible was written in an age when women were often perceived as being of less worth than men, they automatically portray God in a way demeaning to women. However, since the New Testament teaches clearly that women and men are equal in the sight of God (Galatians 3:28), this premise is questionable.

Scriptures written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit cannot be assumed to express a bias against women. It is unlikely that when the Lord Jesus instructed us to pray, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9), He was expressing contempt or disrespect for mothers and women in general. Jesus demonstrated high regard for women (Matthew 9:22; 28:1-10; Luke 8:1-3; 10:38-42; John 4:7-29).

Is it safe to assume that inspired Scripture has no reasons for referring to God in masculine terms? And if so, why then is the church described in feminine terms in relation to God (Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 21:2; 22:17). Does this metaphor of the church (obviously including both sexes) as “wife” and “bride” also bear unnecessary “cultural baggage”?

C.S. Lewis outlined the dangers of such a perspective in his brief article “Priestesses in the Church”:

Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. . . .  Without drawing upon religion, we know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit; that a child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in Heaven would have a religious life radically different from that of a Christian child. And as image and apprehension are in an organic unity, so, for a Christian, are human body and human soul.

We should not think lightly of altering the figures of speech used by the prophets, apostles, and our Lord. Judging from the metaphors of Scripture, God clearly relates to us in a masculine way (a masculinity uncontaminated with human flaws), but this doesn’t mean that femininity (including the feminine role of the church) isn’t based in and created by Him as well!

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What View Did Early Christians Have of Involvement in the Military?

At the time of Christ, Roman power had neared its peak. Roman troops controlled a vast area stretching from England to the Black Sea and from the Rhine River to the deserts of North Africa. Though it was the most powerful government in the world, the Republic had fallen and been replaced by military dictators. Rome was notorious for its decadence and corruption. In spite of Roman corruption, the apostle Paul clearly set forth the principle that secular government is God’s agent to maintain the rule of law on earth (Romans 13:1-7). Because Paul addressed this principle to the Christian community in Rome, it is clear that the fact of governmental corruption doesn’t overrule the need for governmental authority. Human nature as it is, it’s hard to imagine civilized life without the influence of governmental power through police, courts, and legislatures. In fact, it was Roman justice, as flawed as it was, that protected Paul from certain death at the hands of his fellow Jews (Acts 23).

It is interesting that in spite of Rome’s corruption, her centurions were widely respected as men of competence and integrity. Polybius wrote that centurions “were chosen by merit, and so were men remarkable not so much for their daring courage as for their deliberation, constancy, and strength of mind.” All of the centurions mentioned in the New Testament are praised as Christians, God-fearers, or men of good character (Matthew 8:5,8,13;27:54; Mark 15:39,44-45; Luke 7:2,6;23:47; Acts 10:1,22;21:32;22:25-26;23:17,23;24:23;27:1,6,11,31,43;28:16).

Although honorable men of a pagan background served as officers in the Roman army, the early church was opposed to Christians in the military. Kenneth Scott Latourette wrote:

For the first three centuries, no Christian writing which has survived to our time condoned Christian participation in war. Some Christians held that for them all bloodshed, whether as soldiers or as executioners, was unlawful. At one stage in its history the influential Church of Alexandria seems to have looked askance upon receiving soldiers into its membership and to have permitted enlistment in the legions only in exceptional circumstances (A History of Christianity, pp. 242-243).

Adolf von Harnack summarized the reasons for Christian opposition to involvement in the military:

The shedding of blood on the battlefield, the use of torture in the law-courts, the passing of death-sentences by officers and the execution of them by common soldiers, the unconditional military oath, the all-pervading worship of the Emperor, the sacrifices in which all were expected in some way to participate, the average behaviour of soldiers in peace-time, and other idolatrous and offensive customs—all these would constitute in combination an exceedingly powerful deterrent against any Christian joining the army on his own initiative.

The early church, having a realistic view of the necessity for governmental authority but no illusions about its primary loyalty to Christ, didn’t approve Christian military involvement. Only after Constantine’s conversion made Christianity the favored religion in the empire did a destructive process begin that merged the religious authority of the church with the political and judicial power of the state. Soon Christians could no longer easily distinguish between the authority of Christ and of Caesar–usually with tragic consequences

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

The arguments used by unbelieving scholars to discredit the Christian Gospels and downplay their significance have changed through the decades as they were shaped by contemporary thinking. Because they conform to the perspective of people who already assume that the story of Jesus can’t be true and welcome any “evidence” that undermines it, they typically get a considerable amount of publicity and attention. (See the ATQ article, Why Do Many Western People Doubt the Accuracy of the Gospels?) In time, evidence accumulates that makes their arguments ineffective and untenable, so that old, discredited arguments are abandoned and new arguments formulated. The following is a list of some of the most common arguments against the trustworthiness of the Gospels that are being used today:

  • The fact that the Gospels contain accounts of supernatural miracles and healings by Jesus imply they aren’t trustworthy.
  • The Gospels contain only fictional stories about a legendary “god-man” who sprang up out of the group imagination of a Hellenized population of Palestinian Jews who were deeply influenced by paganism and polytheism.
  • The “Jesus legend” is just one of many “dying god” legends contemporary to the rise of the apostolic church.
  • The fact that few ancient non-Christian sources refer to Jesus shows that He either never lived or was mostly legendary.
  • The fact that Paul didn’t directly quote Jesus implies he didn’t consider him a real person. Paul only used the Jesus “myth” to promote his new faith in a (metaphorically) “risen Christ.”
  • The earliest Christians were illiterates who couldn’t have been the source of the Gospels.
  • Since the Gospels were mostly based on oral recollections of witnesses, they can’t be expected to accord with the genuine facts of Jesus’ life.
  • The accounts of Jesus’ teaching and ministry in the Gospels aren’t based on actual historical events as much as they are on the cultural and theological needs of the first generations of Christians.

It is good for Christians to be aware of the kinds of attacks that are being made against the New Testament and the Gospels.

“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16 RSV).

If Christians are unprepared to give an account for their hope, they will be ineffective and hesitant witnesses. They might even find that their own confidence in the records left by the witnesses of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is undermined.

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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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Do Their Miracles Imply The Gospels Are Legendary?

When, as the story goes, Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree and saw an apple fall, he already believed that God was ultimately responsible both for the apple’s existence and its fall from the tree. Newton discovered the principles of classical physics because he wanted to know the means by which God made apples fall.

Science assumes that all natural phenomena have natural causes that can be discovered if we look for them. This assumption is called methodological naturalism. There is no inherent contradiction between the use of methodological naturalism and belief in miracles and the supernatural. Isaac Newton formulated the laws of classical physics while holding passionate faith in Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible. Many scientists share Newton’s Christian worldview.

Unfortunately, some people have been so deeply impressed with the power of science that they make methodological naturalism the standard for judging all truth and value. This misapplication of methodological naturalism results in the dogmatic rejection of miracles. Most people today have a sense of the importance of methodological naturalism for science. But they also know that science has little bearing on their most important decisions. No one depends on science to choose a spouse or select a career. (See the ATQ articles, Why Believe in God’s Existence, When It Can’t Be Proven Scientifically? and How Can I Prove to Someone that God Exists?) Trying to do so would be like an orchestra replacing a concert pianist with a piano repairman.

Different subjects call for different evidence. If we want to examine historical events, we need more tools than the scientific method can provide. A murder trial, for example, attempts to reconstruct historical events. Every murder is unique, involving specific people and circumstances that can’t be reproduced. Science may be used in the process of clarifying and presenting evidence, but no murder can be repeated and scientifically tested so that guilt can be established with absolute certainty. A judgment of (legal) guilt or innocence is reached on the basis of cumulative evidence, including circumstantial evidence and subjective factors like motive.

Historical evidence, like the evidence in a trial, is not strictly “scientific.” Nevertheless it requires rational standards for analysis and verification. A juror who ignores a vast array of evidence for guilt, because he assumes from the start that the defendant is innocent, violates standards of truth just as much as a scientist who ignores evidence that doesn’t support his hypothesis.

The New Testament skeptic has to account for the sudden rise of a group of believers who centered their lives and hopes in a man they proclaimed was raised from the dead, the Son of God, worthy of worship.

What is the sufficient historical explanation for how a band of first-century Palestinian (predominantly Galilean) Jews came to abandon some of their most deeply held religious convictions—indeed, the central tenet of their traditional faith—and worshipped a Jewish contemporary of theirs as, in some sense, “Yahweh embodied”? Of course, one explanation—the traditional Christian explanation—begins by appreciating how extraordinary the Jesus event must have been to inspire such a radical shift in the faith in his followers. If Jesus made the claims, lived the life, and performed the miracles the Gospels attribute to him, and if Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead as the Gospels claim, and if his earliest Jewish followers personally experienced these momentous events—particularly the resurrected Jesusthen the radical worldview reorientation these followers experienced begins to make sense.” (Eddy and Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition, p. 99.)

Although skeptics have dedicated themselves to finding an explanation, they have failed. (See the ATQ article, What Are Some Arguments Used to Downplay the Significance of the Gospels?)

In fact, their attempts to account for the evidence have often deteriorated into self-deception and transparently weak arguments. (See the ATQ article, Why Do Many Western People Doubt the Accuracy of the Gospels?)

The vast majority of Western people have never stopped believing in miracles.1 The paradigm of metaphysical naturalism is weakening, and there is growing pressure on scholars to look at the actual historical evidence rather than making metaphysical assumptions about what can or cannot happen. As decades pass and evidence accumulates, it becomes more and more clear that the most reasonable conclusion is that miracles actually occurred in connection with Jesus and His ministry, and that the historical tradition contained in the Gospels is reliable.

  1. For example, in 1989, George Gallup Jr. reported that 82 percent of the American populace affirmed that, “even today, miracles are performed by the power of God.” So too, a 1998 Southern Focus Poll found that 83.1 percent of its respondents believed that “God answers prayers,” with 33.6 percent reporting that they had personally experienced having “an illness cured by prayer.” Not only this, but it is undeniable that Western culture at the present time is experiencing a significant surge of people publicly reporting experiences of healings, angelic or demonic encounters, and so on. Whatever else one makes of this, at the very least it suggests that the “modern, Western worldview” is not nearly as committed to naturalism as scholars such as Bultmann, Harvey, Funk, and others have suggested.
    The stark clash between what naturalistic scholars say the Western worldview should entail, on the one hand, and what the majority of Western people in fact believe and experience, on the other, suggests that when scholars proclaim that the Western worldview is incurably naturalistic, their intent is not so much to describe what the Western worldview is as it is to prescribe what the Western worldview should be. (The Jesus Legend, p. 74)  Back To Article
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