Tag Archives: gospel

Do those who reject the gospel understand what they are rejecting?

Rejection of the gospel isn’t necessarily conscious rejection of Christ. Some people reject the gospel because they misunderstand it or because it has been misrepresented to them. This is partly why Jesus, Paul, Peter, and other biblical authors warned so strongly against hypocrisy and causing a truth-seeker to despair (Matthew 18:6; 1 Corinthians 8:9).

But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:9)

Scripture implies that rejection of the good news of Jesus Christ is often the result of ignorance and misunderstanding rather than conscious evil intent. Jesus doesn’t refer to unbelievers as “snakes,” “dogs,” “jackals,” or “scorpions,” but as “sheep” (Matthew 9:36; Luke 15:4; Isaiah 53:6; 1 Peter 2:25). We can assume that the image of “sheep” (known for harmlessness and herd instinct) was chosen for a reason. Scripture also refers to unbelievers as “ignorant” and “wayward people” (Hebrews 5:1–2), “poor,” “oppressed,” “blind,” and “captives” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18).

Even when the gospel hasn’t been misrepresented, a world marked by disease, competition, and violence makes the gospel sound improbable to many people (1 Corinthians 1:18–25). Harsh life experiences make us wonder how a loving God can be in charge. Even Hebrew believers who lived in the time before God “made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:10), had an ambivalent view. They believed their departed loved ones were at peace with God in some sense, but considered them unable to join in the joyous worship of the Lord’s people in the same way as when they were living (Psalm 88:10; 115:17; Isaiah 38:18; Ecclesiastes 9:3–6).

Jesus knew the obstacles to faith and understood His role in revealing God’s love to us. We should pattern our response to the lost on His compassion.

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. (1 Timothy 1:13 NIV).

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Do those who reject Jesus really understand what they are rejecting?

Let’s face it. Jesus has been badly misrepresented by both friends and enemies. In the centuries following his ministry, his enemies described him as a sorcerer and false prophet. His followers, on the other hand, misapplied his teachings in ways that would have been deeply offensive to him. It really isn’t surprising that when people reject Jesus today, they are usually rejecting a misrepresentation of him.

Even those of us who follow Jesus have moments of doubt. There are times when we are so oppressed by the suffering, injustice, and chaos we see in the world around us that it is hard to believe his description of God as a loving “heavenly Father” is really true.

Jesus himself understood the difficulty of faith. In Matthew 8 he was surprised at the faith of a Roman centurion and noted that he hadn’t yet met even one of his fellow Jews who had such faith. He was painfully aware of the superficiality of the faith of his closest disciples and friends and wasn’t surprised when they all abandoned him at the time of his arrest (Matthew 26:56). Even after Jesus had met with a number of his disciples after his resurrection, Thomas refused to believe Jesus was alive until he saw him for himself. Jesus said, “You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” (John 20:29).

In his teaching, Jesus made it clear that most unbelievers are not his enemies. He described them with the metaphor of “sheep” (Matthew 9:36; Luke 15:4). His listeners were familiar with the harmlessness, helplessness, and herd instinct of sheep. Scripture also refers to unbelievers as “ignorant” and “wayward people” (Hebrews 5:1–2), “poor,” “oppressed,” “blind,” and “captives” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18). Jesus used much harsher terminology (“serpents”; “whitewashed tombs”) to describe the self-righteous religious hypocrites who genuinely hated him and rejected the Truth he represented (Matthew 23). But even some within this group of hardcore enemies, like the apostle Paul, rejected him out of ignorance (1 Timothy 1:13).

So it’s pretty clear that we sometimes find it hard to believe in Jesus, even if deep down we really want to. It’s a good thing he is who he is because he loves us. He understands our struggle for faith.

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Can the Gospels be trusted since they are based on oral recollections?

Skeptics have long questioned the trustworthiness of the Gospels. They contend that the Gospels cannot be reliable since they are based on oral recollections of the events surrounding the life and teaching of Jesus. As political satirist Bill Maher quipped, the Judaism of his mother and the Christianity of his father are based on “a long, 2,000-year-old game of telephone.”[1]

Nearly all scholars agree that the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry were passed along by word of mouth for at least 20 to 60 years before being written in what we commonly call the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).[2] But does this fact mean that they are filled with half-truths, misrepresentation, and fabrications?

More than a century has passed since popular and highly publicized scholars first began to wonder if the gospels were fairy stories based on faulty memories and exaggerations that are part and parcel with oral transmission. Today, however, studies confirm that complicated and nuanced narratives can be faithfully passed along orally. Folklorists have found examples in cultures all over the world where long oral narratives were accurately passed down over many generations. These narratives typically contain a longer plot line together with various smaller units that compose the bulk of the story. In fact, when the subject matter is highly meaningful to a community, everyone in that community—not just the storyteller—is concerned with accurately and faithfully preserving it.[3]

Additionally, memory studies tell us that people are much more likely to accurately remember events when they are unique, consequential, and image-rich—just the kinds of experiences shared by the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry.

There are two final points to consider. The first is that the Scriptures themselves tell us that the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry were codified and established before the first four books of the New Testament were penned (Luke 1:1–2). Second, the historical distance between the original events and actual text is so short compared to other ancient texts—less than 100 years—that it seems to render this point moot.[4]

[1] In an NPR interview in 2008 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95210724

[2] The oldest existing biblical text fragment is dated to the 2nd century AD with places it within 100 years of the original events it describes.

[3] See The Jesus Legend (252-254) and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (305-306).

[4] The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts http://www.csntm.org/manuscript;

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Do Those Who Reject the Gospel Understand What They’re Rejecting?

No. Unbelief is not necessarily the result of conscious rejection of truth. While some people may not accept Christ because they are not ready to submit to His authority, others reject Him because they misunderstand Him or because He has been misrepresented to them. This is partly why Jesus and biblical authors such as Paul and Peter warned so strongly against hypocrisy and causing a weaker person to stumble (Matthew 18:61 Corinthians 8:9 ).

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:6 NKJV).

Beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak (1 Corinthians 8:9 NKJV).

Scripture implies that rejection of Christ is often the result of ignorance rather than conscious evil intent. For example, it refers to unbelievers as “sheep” ( Matthew 9:36 ; Luke 15:4 ; Isaiah 53:6 ; 1 Peter 2:25 ). The lost could have been referred to as “snakes,” “dogs,” “jackals,” “scorpions,” or any number of other animals, but Jesus and the Bible writers chose sheep. It is fair to assume that they chose the simile of sheep (known for their stupidity and herd instinct) for a reason. Scripture also refers to unbelievers as “ignorant” and “going astray” (Hebrews 5:1-2 ), “poor,” “oppressed,” “blind,” and “captive” ( Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18 ).

Many also unintentionally reject the truth because from a natural perspective, the gospel sounds wildly improbable ( 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 ). How could a loving, forgiving God be in charge of this merciless, dark world? Many who long to believe in the resurrection, the possibility of salvation, and ultimate justice, are convinced by life experience that such hope is probably in vain. Even Hebrew believers living in the ages before God “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” ( 2 Timothy 1:10 ), had an ambivalent view of the condition of the dead. They believed their departed loved ones were in Sheol, at peace with God, but unable to join in the joyous worship of the Lord’s people in the same way as they did when living ( Psalm 88:10; 115:17 ; Isaiah 38:18 ; Ecclesiastes 9:3-6 ).

The New Testament clearly portrays the fragile beginnings of the apostles’ faith. The apostle Paul said:

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief (1 Timothy 1:13, NIV).

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What Are the “Gnostic Gospels”?

Prior to the 20th century, the main source of information about gnostic writings were the church fathers (Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others), who referred to gnostic beliefs in the process of refuting them. In 1945, however, at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, a peasant discovered a large earthenware jar that contained a large number of ancient documents in the Coptic language. Among these were Christian gnostic documents that may have been among those mentioned by the church fathers.

Some of these documents are called “gospels” because they contain a few stories about Jesus and some of His (purported) sayings. However, they lack the detailed chronology and description of events in the canonical gospels, and while they borrow heavily from the canonical gospels, there is no corroborating evidence showing that they date earlier than the second century.

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