The Law and Gospel, What’s the Big Deal?

 

Being good is important, right? God gave the 10 commandments as some sort of guide for how we should behave, didn’t He? Jesus said the whole Law would be fulfilled and warns those who “annul the least of these commandments” and teaches others to do so will be the least in the kingdom (Matt 5:17-19). That is a pretty strong statement about the importance of the Law. So, what does it mean to when Paul says we are no longer “under law” (e.g., Rom 6:14, Gal 4:21) or “under the law” (e.g, 1 Cor 9:20, Gal 3:23)? This seems contradictory and at least on the surface leaves one confused as to what to do with the 10 Commandments. Not surprising, this is a controversial topic within Christianity and is not just an academic exercise in theology. Rather it ultimately effects how we relate to God and grow spiritually, i.e., sanctification. Should we just behave, which would be the safe route I guess. But if we do that are we missing out on something God wants to give us: freedom (Gal 5:1)?

The role of the Law as it pertains to spiritual growth polarizes Christians. Many Christians, if not most, view the Law as a means of growth for the Christian. Sort of a continuation of what God started with Moses and Israel that will be followed for eternity. This view is most prominent, but not exclusively, in reformed theology: the view that God’s covenants build upon one another and are more or less binding from when they were given and forward into history. The other camp holds that Christ ushered in a New Covenant (NC) that replaced the Old Covenant (OC) that he had given through Moses to the nation Israel. Part of this new covenant is a break from the Law as it applied to Israel, the practical outworking of their faith. Instead, we are now to follow Christ in relationship with a focus and emphasis on following the Holy Spirit with the practical outworking being to love others. This view is most prominent, but not exclusively, in dispensational theology, the view that God has operated in different dispensations throughout history to bring about His plan for salvation. In this case the dispensation of the Law being replaced by the dispensation of grace, the former age being the time when God worked through Israel and the latter age being the time that God works through the church.

So, what does the Bible say? What should be our focus? In the book Five Views of Law and Gospel (ed. S.N. Gundry; Zondervan, 1996), five different views of the law and it’s relation to the gospel of Christ are presented covering a wide range of perspectives. Five different authors give their views:

· William VanGemeren presented “The Law is the Perfection of Righteousness in Jesus Christ: A Reformed Perspective”

· Greg L. Bahnsen presented “The Theonomic Reformed Approach to Law and Gospel”

· Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. presented “The Law as God’s Gracious Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness”

· Wayne G. Strickland presented “The Inauguration of the Law of Christ with the Gospel of Christ: A Dispensational View”

· Douglas Moo presented “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View”

I have already commented on the first two views in an earlier blog which present the reformed view. Kaiser, though not a reformed theologian per se, also sides with the reformers in large part on this issue. The latter two authors take the opposing view that the Law as a means of growth or a guide was discontinued in the NC for the Christian, Strickland coming from the dispensational viewpoint and Moo, though not claiming to be a dispensationalist, presenting a similar perspective. I will draw from the last two articles and the interaction and debate between the authors in response to one another.

Everyone agrees with the fact that the Law is good, pronounces God’s morality, conveys God’s character, shows us what sin is, and convicts us of our sin. But is the Christian still to follow the Law today as a means of growth or not?

As I read through this book, a number of questions and issues were raised in my mind:

· How does one account for the passages that advocate discontinuity between the OC and the NC? Does it pertain to ceremonial and civil parts of the Law or the whole law? (see my earlier blog)

· What exactly is the Law? Is it just a summary or is it precisely the eternal, binding unchanging moral law of God? Is the New Commandment to love one another (John 13:34) the same as the 10 Commandments or different?

· Is the Law something that we must follow or can we just learn from it? If we don’t follow the Law or if we are not under the law, can we still apply it and if so, how?

· When I obey a moral command, am I following the law or am I trusting in God in what He says is right and trustworthy? Is there a difference?

· Where does a law-focus or law-emphasis in sanctification lead you? Can a law-focus ever not lead to legalism?

The Law as a Means of Growth View

The reformer seems to think that without the Law a Christian will not know how to behave. The focus or emphasis in their arguments, whether admitted or not, is on the need for moral living, rather than life by the Holy Spirit[1]. For example, VanGemeren asks in response to Strickland’s discontinuous position, ‘how do you live out Micah 6:8?’:

“… O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”.

The reformed answer he says is we still need the 10 Commandments “as the revealed summary of God’s will”. In this light 1 Tim 1:8-10, to use the law “lawfully”, should be applied to our hearts (p. 287). Since we are not in our eternal state, we experience the struggle of Paul (Rom 7:21-25, p. 288). But I am to look to God’s grace and serve people in the Spirit in preparation of His coming. This is conveyed by Peter in 1 Pet 1:13-16 which confirms the relevance of the law in our daily life since Peter quotes from Lev 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7 (p. 289).

However, is it not odd that the law is not for the righteous in 1 Tim 1:8, but for the ungodly and lawless (vs 9-10)? The passage is not applied to sanctification. Is Paul’s struggle in Rom 7 because he is not trying to follow the Law hard enough or because he does not know the Law well enough? Paul probably knew and followed the Law better than any other sinful human (Phil 3:6). Or is it because he is focused on the Law and trying to do God’s morality on a performance basis, and it does not work (see Gal 3:21)? Is Peter’s emphasis on “being holy” (vs 15)? Or is it to “focus your hope completely on grace” (vs. 13), not on the Law. When we focus on grace, then we will experience something outward that sets us apart from the fallen world.

Reformers also see or desire a continuous approach or God-imposed moral unity to adhere to that extends from OT to NT. For example, Jesus’ “new commandment” is not something really something new or different, it represents the finalized form that brings greater “moral clarity” to the original Mosaic Law (Bahnsen, p. 103). Also, the NC prophecy of Jeremiah that “I will put My Law within them and on their heart I will write them” (Jer 31:31) is the Mosaic Law, according to VanGemeren, that Israel failed to follow and was rebuked for in Jer. 6:19, 9:13, 16;11 (p. 285).

However, is that how the NT describes Jer 31:31? The NT quotes Jer 31:31-34 five times:

– Luke 22:20 and 1 Cor 11:25 in reference to the Last Supper (communion) – “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”. It’s obvious that the NC came about because Jesus shed His blood for us, opening up the opportunity for relationship with intimacy established through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13).

– 2 Cor 3:6 – contrasting “the letter” presumably the law, i.e., a performance-based approach to God, with live in the Spirit through which Christ gives us life (e.g., John 4:10; 7:38; 10:10)

– Heb 8:8-12 – here Hebrews brings out the fact that Israel failed in being able to carry out the Law. Will we fare any better? Not by focusing on the Law. Rather because we will “know the Lord” intimately. We will not have need for a teacher or at least be completely dependent on one as in the OC, rather we are led directly by Christ (our High Priest – Heb 8:1). Though not explicit in the passage, I think this is of course through the HS in the context of the Body of Christ. We still learn from one another and some are gifted at disclosing God’s truth, but it’s different because we have the Spirit. The OC is obsolete (vs 13).

– Heb 10:16,17 – Here the HS testifies to us (vs 15) and he quotes Jer 31:33-34. Again signifying the NC was because our sins were dealt with through Christ and now we have confidence to boldly enter into intimate relationship with Him (vs 19ff).

Where is there any hint that this is the same as the 10 Commandments? Again, it’s certainly not that the 10 Commandments are bad or useless, but they are not the focus in the Christian life!

The Law as a Means of Growth, Discontinued

Though Strickland and Moo had much to say on the role of the Law throughout history, I found two arguments, one from each, most compelling as to the role, or rather lack thereof, of the Law in the believers life.

Strickland’s section on “Arguments for Discontinuity” (pp. 262-275) brought out the strong emphasis in the NT that the OT role of the Law in the believer’s life was discontinued for the NT believer. Many passages make this point clear. Strickland emphasizes these (some of which I’ve already used above):

· Heb 8:8-9,13 – quoting Jer 31 the author explicitly states that the OC was abrogated

· Rom 6:14-15 – Paul presents a contrast between being under law and under grace (see below in Moo’s study of “under law”)

· Rom 10:4 – “Christ is the end of the law”, i.e., law-based righteousness is now replaced with righteousness that comes from Christ so that the law is no longer necessary for this purpose

· 2 Cor 3:3, 6-18 – though not explicitly arguing about the Law, Paul clearly contrasts that written in stone with that which is now written on our hearts

· Phil 3:7-9 – Paul contrasts two different types of righteousness: either from adherence to the Mosaic Law or by faith. Paul’s old way, the way of the OC, was replaced by the new way in Christ through a relationship with Him because of what He has done for me.

Moo’s approach was to follow the role of the Law in Salvation-History much of which was very enlightening[2]. The one thing I will bring out here was the very emphatic reference of Paul to Christians no longer being “under law” or “under the law”. Paul uses these phrases eleven times: Rom 6:14,15; 1 Cor 9:20 (4 times); Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, 21; and 5:18. Moo goes through all of them and clearly shows that the context of each passage views the “law” as the Mosaic Law. Reformers have to dance around this and make a big deal that the definite article wasn’t used (e.g., in Rom 6:14 – Bahnsen, p. 106). However, in all the other passages the “the” is used with the exception of Gal 4:21. In my earlier blog I make reference to the lack of importance of the definite article from Moo’s comments on Bahnsen’s article. The other thing reformers try to do is say that the reference to the law really is a reference not to the 10 Commandments but to misuse of the 10 Commandments by the Judaizers. But again, that is not what Paul is referring to when he quotes from the Law in the context of those passages (see the earlier blog on this point as well). The fact is “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” (Gal 5:21).

Concluding Thoughts

Has the Law continued into the church as a focus for Christian living or was it abrogated with the New Covenant? I think it pretty obvious that role has been abrogated. What then of the Law? Is it still useful? Of course, it is the Word of God! Like all Scripture (2 Tim 3:16) it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”. We do learn much of God’s morality and character from the Law and it plays an important role in God’s dealing with Israel and shows us clearly of our sin and need for God. It seems to me that there is either some kind of fear that if we don’t emphasize the Law we will circle the drain morally or we are not giving glory to God as we should. But “perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). And that is the focus, the commandment that Christ has now given us (John 13:34, 15:12,17), which can only come about from having our hearts turned inside out from a self-serving, self-seeking approach to a Spirit led dependence-on-God approach (i.e., the flesh – see Rom 6 through 8).

For example, “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13). I can go about on my own and make that happen for the most part, at least so far I have. But have I? Christ of course enlightens us to the heart attitude to show us that is what God sees.

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. – Matt 5:22

Now I’m in trouble. I’m in need of either some help or I deserve hell, because I have done that… many times. In fact, I still do. And that is the real dilemma, we still do sin and we still experience “death”. Like Paul says:

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. – Gal 3:21

The “life” that Christ gives can only come from a focus on Him and His provision through an empowering relationship of the Spirit. What a waste to focus on “morality” when morality can only be obtained when my heart gets changed.

So what do I do with a commandment to not murder or covet or commit adultery? Should I ignore them? No, but we should recognize that “just doing it” or even concentrating on it doesn’t work and typically leads to more and more guilt and sin. We need to go to the Lord and recognize our sin nature and apply who we are in Christ, dependence in Him and His power – and then step out in faith and live (love – e.g., Gal 5:13ff or Phil 3:12ff). This will bring glory to God.


[1] Even Kaiser, who is critical of the Reform view for replacing Israel with the church is critical of the dispensationalist for replacing the character of God as found in the Law with the character of Christ. “Love will never tell us what we are to do in order to live and behave as God wants us to” (p. 303). Bahnsen’s article is almost focused on the importance of being and preserving the morality of God in our lives and our government.

[2] One point that I am critical of Moo on and which actually caught me by surprise was his view that Romans 7 refers to Paul as a non-Christian. All of the other authors were also critical of him on this as well.

Greg and Lina’s Excellent Adventure Part II: China

Shanghai:

Well China is quite the place. We arrived in Shanghai and I was taken for a ride. This guy conned me into a cab ride that cost about $50 when I should have paid only about $20. There are also thousands of street salesmen who come up to westerners wanting to know if you would like to buy a watch or a bag. I’ve never seen so many “Rolex” watches in all my life. Welcome to the big city.

And a big city it is. Immense! Modern skyscrapers make up this city of about 20 million people (nearly as many as in all of Taiwan). I guess the Chinese government decided about 25 years ago they wanted to make Shanghai the most modern city and they pretty much did it and there is still a lot they are still doing. Everyone you meet seems to be very proud of Shanghai. One gentlemen at the conference, from another province, informed me that “Shanghai is much more modern than Taipei” when he heard I was in Taipei the week before.

… and the subways… We went on the subway at rush hour one evening with our new found friends Tom and Mellanie from California (formerly of Richmond Heights) and were utterly amazed at the masses of people. There are no orderly rules as to right of way or “personal space”. You just have to go and cram into the subway as best you can. Being smaller does have its advantages here.
I mostly was stuck in the conference. Lina was able to go on several tours got to know Shanghai much better then I.

What most amazed me though was the appeal of the cosmos. Here you do not see temples or many forms of worship. Mao cleared out the great majority of them. Instead, they have been replaced with the god of prosperity and materialism. In some respects, Shanghai is the most capitalistic environment I’ve ever seen. People are really chasing the “American Dream” and at the moment seem to be getting it. It’s all about progress, and yet are they just replacing, or mixing, the ideal of the state with the ideal of the individual. Both leave you lonely and ultimately fulfilled without a relationship with the creator of the universe.

I wonder how this will affect the progress of the church. There are few outward expressions of religion on the streets of Shanghai. We only saw one old church. When we brought up Christianity, Jesus or the Bible there really was not much response at all.

Xi’an:
The last few days we spent in Xi’an, the ancient capital of China. We arrived Saturday night after a long delay at the Shanghai airport due to bad weather in Xi’an. Sunday we toured the city with “John”, a graduate student from Northwest Polytechnic University. Even though it was cold we had a great time seeing the Terracotta Warriors (thousands of ceramic warriors prepared for Emperor Qin, the first emperor to unify all of China). It was truly impressive. Too bad Emperor Qin couldn’t take all those guys with him into the next life. We also had some great food and toured the Museum of Shanxi province. Later that evening we visited the Tang Paradise with Prof Hui Mei and his wife Feng-Li Peng. They were great fun. The Tang Paradise is a replica of the Tang dynasty palace. We also saw a “Chinese Opera” or perhaps ballet that was quite colorful as well as a “Water movie”. The water movie was pretty amazing as they actually projected a movie in water spouts on this lake at night.

Xi’an is a city of only a few million. It was more industrial and was overcast or foggy most of the time, but it did have more of a feel of real China I think compared to Shanghai. Things were not quite as advanced as Shanghai, but this city as well has much construction going on.

The last day I visited the university and gave a talk. It was well received and there were many questions from the students … so I must have made some sense. I was impressed with the English of many of the Chinese, it seems much better than most other East Asians I meet.
In Xi’an there wasn’t a hint of the church as far as we could see. I wonder how it’s doing. Our hosts didn’t really have much to say or didn’t want to say anything on the matter.

Greg and Lina’s Excellent Adventure Part I: Taiwan

Well the first leg of our adventure is over :(. We arrived in Taiwan late last Wednesday, dealt with jet lag the next couple days in the Taipei area and spent the last three days with the Gibsons in Chiayi Taiwan … and thoroughly enjoyed it! What cool servants of the Lord the Gibsons are and how they fit in to the Chiayi scene. It was a blast to tool around town on scooters, eat interesting food, see how the Gibsons have mastered the language and can converse/joke around with the locals, hear about what they are doing, meet some of their team and the people they are reaching out to, and fool around with their high school group.

Taiwan, not surprisingly, is so different than the West. The language of course is so different and takes a major effort to master (2 years of dedicated study says Seann). Though we have many Chinese restaurants in the US, seeing the fish and various other animal and plant life displayed and cooked in a number of different ways is fascinating… and the variety of dishes (or bowls) we tried were delicious! Most unique and very dark is their dedication to the worship of different gods of their region and their enslavement to ancestor worship. We were able to see a large celebration of several of the local temples and even attend a “banquet of the gods”. The gods had not yet shown up to the banquet. But the spread for them was quite impressive. Who will eat all the delicious deserts, booze, and smoke the pipes that were laid out for them?

The most hideous of their beliefs, though is ancestor worship. They believe that if their children do not worship them after they die then they will drift around in the ghost world. Consequently, every subsequent generation is enslaved to worship their parents after they die; otherwise they will cause their parents to live in this awful state. So much is tied to this including some messed up family relationships and especially abusive men. If any place needed love ethics, this is the place! How Christ could free them from this enslavement if they are willing to turn to Him. But, it’s so difficult for them to see their need for Christ alone because they are predominantly polytheists and they have no concept of sin and the need for forgiveness. Nearly the whole country (at least 98%) is caught up in this dark and evil worldview and even higher percentages in the working class with whom the Gibsons are working.

Interestingly, many similarities are shared with the US. This is a capitalistic country and they are relatively wealthy. There are few poor, food is plentiful, and the country has most modern amenities. They can thank the US for that. What was interesting was that even though they have adopted the worship of the almighty dollar (dollars are also the national currency, but a Taiwan $ is worth about 0.33 US $), they did not adopt the worship of the Christian God. Some have thought that the spread of democracy and capitalism should result in the adoption of other Western beliefs and morality. Instead, their wealth has emboldened the people to adhere more strongly to their ancestral beliefs and cultural practices. The mob rules, especially in Chiayi which results in a relatively “safe”, low crime environment, but prostitution and gambling rackets are the norm for society and are the playground for the men in particular. One result of the prosperity is that women are more educated now and in some cases able to make it on their own. Amy leads a Bible study group with a few single ladies who have come to the Lord. One problem is that there really aren’t too many Christian guys to marry which leaves them in a somewhat precarious position… something to pray about.

An interesting aspect of their culture is the way schools are run. Jr high and high schools meet from about 7:30AM to 5:00PM for school (11 months of the year, six days a week). Then they have to go to “cram school” an hour or two later for another few hours to help study for exams. You high schoolers think you have it rough! As a result you just have kids roaming the streets for an hour or two. This is where a great opportunity for the gospel exists. The Chiayi team was essentially given a store front in the city and opens it up each evening in between regular school and cram school to high schooler’s they are reaching out to. We were there Friday night and about seven kids showed up which was low because that was one of the off nights. Although they are only there for about an hour, it’s a pretty cool scene and the kids really seem to enjoy hanging out. Out of this social scene Seann has been able to get a group of high school guys to meet Tuesday nights for a Bible study at his house. .. something else to pray about.

We also enjoyed many great conversations about more stuff going on with the mission in Taiwan, about NEO Xenos, and about our efforts to learn more about missions and be a sending church in the not too distant future. Maybe next month we can talk about some of these things at the Missions Prayer Meeting. Well, that’s enough for now… it is on to Shanghai.

Law and Gospel: The Reformed View

I’ve been reading the book, Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. S.N. Gundry (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI – 1996) which presents five different views of the Law and in some cases and to varying degrees it’s relation to the gospel. The authors and topics covered are:

* Willem A. VanGemeren – The Law is The Perfection of Righteousness in Jesus Christ: A Reformed Perspective
* Greg L. Bahnsen – The Theonomic Reformed Approach to Law and Gospel
* Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. – The Law as God’s Gracious Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness
* Wayne G. Strickland – The Inauguration of the Law of Christ with the Gospel of Christ: A Dispensational View
* Douglas J. Moo – The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View

This book is part of the “Counterpoints” series put out by Zondervan. It compares, contrasts, and critiques the views of a certain theological issue, the Law and Gospel in this case, by having leaders of different views each submit their explanation and defense of their own view after which the other authors commend or critique the defense. This is done for all five of the above authors. I find this series to be very informative and enlightening as to different views on specific theological topics or issues. Kyle McCallum also recently blogged on a book from this Counterpoints series for his LTC book report on the topic of sanctification [http://kyle.neoblogs.org].

Up to this point I have read the first two sections dealing with two Reformed positions, the classical (VanGemeren) and the theonomic or reconstructionist (Bahnsen). The former espouses to be the traditional reformed view whereas the latter is more extreme in that the view of the Law is not merely applied in the personal moral sphere but also to the political (secular government) sphere as well.

Though these guys have much to say, it seems to me that the essential view of the reformed camp is that:

a. God is good,

b. His Law reflects His morality the best if not completely (at least for us), especially in the 10 Commandments (Ex 20:2-17) which is essentially viewed as general apodictic laws that are timeless (p. 30, 53),

c. His Law still is in force (continuity of Covenantal Theology), and

d. We should or must follow the Law in order to obey God and grow in a relationship with Him.

The classical reformed view applies this to the individual believer whereas the theonomist extends this to the civil sector, i.e., the Law should be the basis for secular government in a creation where the Creator God is Ruler of all. There certainly is no argument with (a).With regard to (b), Jesus definitely interprets and expounds on the Law in order to bring out that which is most important to God: love God and love your neighbor (Matt 22:37-39) and to go even further by giving a new commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). More will be said on this in a future blog as we explore the other views. However, I am going to focus on (c) and (d) in this little blog.

What Part of the Law Still Applies Today?

Now, no one believes the entire Law of Moses is directly applicable today. At the very least all accept that the ceremonial (e.g., sacrificial system) has been fulfilled in Christ. This leads to one of the more confusing aspects of the reformed argument, what part of the “the Law” is “the Law” when referred to in the New Testament? Typically, the Law is divided into three sections by the Reformed school: moral, civil, and ceremonial. The classical reformed view views the civil (that applying to the government of nation Israel) and the ceremonial (circumcision, temple, priestly service, & sacrificial system) as being abrogated (p. 53). The theonomic view holds that much of the civil still applies today (Bahnsen’s article). However, one can see the difficulty not only practically but theologically as well in trying to apply theocratic-based laws intended solely for God’s select nation Israel to a secular democracy (Kaiser does a good job of pointing this out in his critique of Bhansen).

It’s pretty obvious then that deciding on what part of the Law continues on and what ends in Old Testament times is largely arbitrary. I think Moo (p. 88) cleverly brought this out in his critique of VanGemeren’s article by bringing up the issue of the Sabbath commandment (number 4 of 10). VanGermemen never did mention the Sabbath commandment but was clear that the Ten Commandments (10C) are viewed as eternally moral and binding (p.53ff.). But what of the Sabbath? Traditional reformed teaching is that the Sabbath is celebrated on the first day of the week rather than the “seventh” (as prescribed in Ex 20:11) to commemorate the resurrection. But Moo astutely points out, “worshipping on the first day of the week is not what the fourth commandment requires: It explicitly requires cessation of work on the seventh day” which is certainly not being applied. Clearly then, either the 10C are not “the eternal moral law of God” or the “eternal moral law of God” is subject to revision. Obviously the former must be true. In other words, the 10C, in their Mosaic form, were not eternally binding on all people everywhere.

The role of the Law in the Believers life

According to the reformed camp, there are three uses of the Law: (1) as a pedagogue it instructs sinners concerning the will of God, usus elenchticus (2) power to restrain us by reminding us of the consequences of our disobedience (1 Tim 1:9-10), usus politicus and (3) an instrument of the HS to teach believers to understand and do God’s will, sometimes as a ‘rigorous enforcement officer’ to bring us into conformity w/God’s will, usus in renatis or usus normativus which is considered the most important use of the law (p. 52-53). Interestingly, very little Scripture reference is given for the latter use, the role of the Law in the Believer’s life. Most of the references in this section are to Calvin’s Institutes (CI), the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), or commentators on the two. For example here is a quote from page 52 of VanGemeren’s article in Five Views:

God is Spirit, and his law is by definition spiritual. His purpose was to lift the minds of the saints before Christ from the ceremonies and institutions to himself, because only “spiritual worship delights him” [CI 2.7.1]. Moreover, the Spirit of God is the “inner light”, who works in the believers to make the law a joy. The demands of the law are such that they require a love for God and the power of the Holy Spirit: “The love of the Law thus created in our hearts by the Holy Spirit is a sure sign of our regeneration and adoption.” [Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life, 1959 p. 121]. Otherwise the law becomes a burden and unprofitable.

What then is the power of the moral law since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? … Positively, the law has the power to exhort believers to “shake off their sluggishness, by repeatedly urging them, and to pinch them awake to their imperfection,” [CI, 2.7.14]. As such the law remains inviolable. By its teachings, admonishments, reproofs, and corrections, the law is the instrument of growth in faith and sanctification (2 Tim 3:16-17). [CI 2.7.14]

The only Scriptural reference is 2Tim 3:16-17:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. [NASB]

It doesn’t say “The Law” or “All Law”, it says “All Scripture”, i.e., all of the Bible, the revealed Word of God. This certainly includes the Law, but everything else as well. The Law certainly is good for teaching, reproof, correction and training, as is the rest of Scripture, since it contains God’s truths and eternal principles, but not as a code of ethics to be followed for the purpose of sanctification. In fact the passages in the New Testament concerning the Law focus on our getting out from under the Law and rather focusing on Christ. Consider Paul’s argument in Gal 3 through 5:

Gal 3:24-25 = “no longer under a tutor” (i.e., the Law)

Gal 4:8, “no longer a slave, but a son”

Gal 5:1-4 “It was freedom that Christ set us free… do not be subject to a yoke of slavery… if you receive Circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you… he is under obligation to keep the whole Law… severed from Christ you who are seeking to be justified by law … For in Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love”.

The focus we are to have is on faith in Christ and the working of His Holy Spirit in our lives to transform us (Gal 5:5, Rom 6-8 and 12:1,2) from the inside out, not an external code to follow. Now to be fair, the Reformed camp would say they are not saying that focusing on the Law is for justification and that Paul is arguing against the legalists of his day. But where in the New Testament are we ever called to follow the Law as a means of spiritual growth? We are called to focus on the New Commandment (e.g., Gal 5:13,14; 1 Thes 4:9; Heb 13:1; 1 Pet 1:22; 1 John 3:23, 4:7) and take part in the New Covenant (Hebrews 7-10), which replaces the Old Covenant (Hebrews 7:22, 8:6, 8:13, 9:15). More will be said on the “New Commandment” and the role of the Holy Spirit in future blogs as we get into the other views.

If we don’t follow the Law will we just plunge into immorality and worldliness?

This fear is mostly brought out in Bahnsen’s article. It seems that most of his focus is on doing good and not doing bad and how necessary and binding the Law is in order to show what good and bad is. Bahnsen seems to rely on many straw-man type arguments to portray potential extremes if we don’t follow the Law. His main point throughout is that the Law is binding today as it ever was to individuals (moral part of Law) and governments (civil part of Law).

Much of his argument is to show how Paul does not mean the whole Law when he refers to us not being under law or free from law, but merely the ceremonial part of the Law. It then follows that the law (moral + civil) continues in force today. Bahnsen’s arguments are really not very convincing. For example in Rom 6:14 Paul says we are “under law”, not “under the law”. He seems to think the technical reference to the Law of Moses requires the “the” (p. 106). The lack of a definite article in Rom 6:14 indicates Paul is not referring to the law of Moses. Instead he interprets it to mean being “under the dominion of sin” (p. 107), because Rom 6 teaches us not to be controlled by sin (vs. 1-2, 6, 11-13), that we know what sin is from the Law (Rom 7:7 – note the “the”), and therefore, Rom 6:14 teaches that believers should not transgress the law and thereby sin (p. 107). Christians have the mind of the Spirit, who leads and enables them to meet fully “the requirements of the law” (Rom 8:4).

There is much to be said about this goofy interpretation. First, the “the” is very arbitrary, in fact other passages that have the “the” (e.g., Gal 2:19, Gal 3:23,24, 1Cor 9:21-22) he argues as only referring to the ceremonial part of the Law due to context? Isn’t the focus of Romans 6 showing us how we have been freed from sin through Christ? The reason we are not controlled by sin is because we are identified with His death on the cross (Rom 6:3-6, we need to “know” this), our freedom which comes through Christ’s death and our new life in Christ now that He is raised (Rom 6:4-5, 7-11, we need to “consider” this), and our presenting ourselves to Christ in faith in order to trust in His power in our life rather than our own (Rom 6:13ff) as opposed to the old way we used to live prior to coming into a relationship with Christ (Rom 6:12). And am I wrong, but isn’t the phrase in Rom 8:4 “so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us” in reference to the prior verse: “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” and not those “who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” in verse 4 which follows. Christ fulfilled the law in us, not us!

Another odd interpretation is that of Gal 2:19, “through the law I died to the law”, i.e., Paul died to legalism according to Bahnsen’s (p. 96). Both words in for law in Gal 2:19 are the same, nomos and both are without the definite article. Why is one one-way and the other the other-way? Moo points out this “illustrates the tendency evident in his essay: to give the word “law” a limited or nuanced meaning on the basis not of exegetical evidence but on the basis of the logic of his general position.” (p. 167)

Again, I think Moo critiqued this view well when he dissected Bahnsen’s argument into it’s simplest form (p. 170):

God’s moral law is found in the Law of Moses
God’s moral law is universally applicable
Therefore, the Mosaic Law is universally applicable.

Now it is clear that this argument works only if an “only” is supplied in the first line. For if God’s moral law is found in other than the Mosaic form, then the argument fails. Yet Bahnsen never tries to prove this “only”. And, in fact, the presence of God’s law in other than Mosaic forms seems clearly to be argued or assumed by Paul in texts such as Romans 2 and 1 Corinthians 9:21-22… This point is fundamental in my disagreement with Bahnsen. He assumes that “law of God” is equivalent to the Mosaic law; therefore to be without the Mosaic law is to be without any divine imperative and to fall into subjective and humanistic autonomy… but I see God’s moral imperatives for human beings coming in various forms: through the law of Moses, for the Jewish nation, through nature and the conscience for all human beings, and through “the law of Christ” for Christians. Theonomy is misnamed… A better name for Bahnsen’s position would be Mosonomy. (Moo in Five Views, pp. 170-171)

…. more to come on this topic as I finish the book.

Blood, Sweat and Tears… and Grace

A few weeks ago I was out doing some karaoke with some friends and sang “And When I Die” by BS&T. It’s a great song… but it got me to thinking. The poor guy in that song is really lost, and it’s such a shame because God has shown us so much about Himself and wants to grant us His beautiful grace and an eternal relationship with Him. So, I decided to teach on this more or less and as I’m going through it, I thought I’d reflect on some things in preparation for my teaching.

I’m not scared of dying,
And I don’t really care.
If it’s peace you find in dying,
Well then let the time be near.

Really, you don’t really care? Perhaps people have gotten to the point where they really don’t care about dying and they’ve been numbed to the significance of it. The irony in this is that, without Christ, you’re already dead, dog:

Ephesians 2:1-3 – And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Maybe it does make sense. After all, we are born into death in this universe. Ever since Adam and Eve decided they wanted to be their own gods, they experienced death… i.e., what we would call spiritual death but what is to God real death… alienation from Him. As a result we’re just slaves of our selfish desires carrying on according to the course of this world which is authored and led by Satan. What a sad state. I think BS&T sense this in the next verse of their song:

Now troubles are many, they’re as deep as a well.
I can swear there ain’t no heaven but I pray there ain’t no hell.
Swear there ain’t no heaven and I pray there ain’t no hell,
But I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell.

There sure are troubles in this world. But we can’t figure anything out about eternity until we die? Is that true? How tragic would that be if it were true? But the fact is we can know, and it’s pretty straightforward too. God is a personal God who invented communication and has communicated clearly with us by coming here Himself and explaining it all in His Word:

Eph 2:4-9 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), [6] and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; [9] not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Look at that! God loved us so much that he came and did what we could not do for ourselves.

He reconciled us (restored unity by removing root cause of alienation, our sin by dying the death we deserve). I like the way Chuck Smith puts it in his “Why Grace Changes Everything” book:

First, all of your sins have been taken care of, washed, and forgiven because of your faith in Jesus Christ. Second, God looks at you as righteous because of your believing in Jesus Christ. Apart from what you are doing or not doing, apart from keeping any code of ethics, God is imputing righteousness to your account because you believe upon Jesus Christ.

It means that God has granted us a standing before Him just as if we had never sinned.

He raised us up from our spiritual death state to be with Him now and forever in eternity, including a seat of rulership in His eternal kingdom.

And probably the underlying current is that He restored a relationship with us, something that was lost in the garden and has now been reestablished. A real relationship where we experience the grace, peace, provision, and leadership of the God of the universe as was always intended. And all of this simply comes by trusting in Him.

That’s tripped out. It means we are a “new creation”. What a blessing to now come into this relationship which isn’t about “salvation insurance” as I used to think of it when I first got saved. But it’s a new life of love that means real impact in others life and most importantly being part of building God’s kingdom.

This is so clear and explicit in Scripture, how is it that we ever lose sight of this? I do though, and I’m so glad we have the Word to remind us when we turn to it. Otherwise I get caught up in basing my relationship with Christ on how I feel , or my circumstances, or the arbitrary sorts of self-righteous standards that I make up to make me think I’m doing good… never experiencing the flip side of grace: peace.

None of my efforts or self-derived perspectives is worth anything in a relationship with God. He’s done everything we need to relate to Him… why should we try and add anything else? Isn’t what He has done good enough?

What truly is cool is that we now can experience true freedom:

Eph 2:10 – For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (NLT)

A relationship with God where we now can choose to trust Him, grow in Him and love others. Before, all we could choose was either to be enslaved to our selfish selves and follow the course of this world or to choose to enter into a relationship with Christ. Now after doing that, freedom is wide open to us. It’s too bad that what BS&T seem to desire so badly at the end of their song:

Give me my freedom for as long as I be.
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me.
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me,
And all I ask of dying is to go naturally.

is not freedom at all. But what real freedom is, is open to all when we trust Jesus for it.

Loosening Your Ties to the World

I am so thankful for our Body of Christ and the fact that we have this “radical” aspect…

  • A priority on love relationships, not performance, rituals, or even corporate worship… Our ability to relate starts with Jesus. I am so blessed by Him and filled with love from Him that enables me to love others and experience the relational “image of God” we were uniquely created to have.
  • A priority on the Word as the preeminent objective source for God’s revelation and discernment –> fuels and objectifies love; a document – preserved for centuries, having been tested time and time again only to stand stronger than ever through the gristmill of history – that is living and active, able to speak as clear as ever into the here and now
  • A focus on serving others –> most important outcome of love, our ability, calling, privilege to emulate our Lord, to reach out to those who don’t know Christ and serve those in need.. and experience what it means by “it is better to give than to receive”

But there is one area of “service” that will undermine all these aspects that make us a vibrant BOC and my life meaningful …

Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

How true it is that I can easily get caught up in the demands for “services” on me by the world. What an opportunity I have to invest in the world. That’s what it seems to be all about. I may be able to shrewdly make lots of money (or at least dream or always try to). I get paid … I can then gain some control, some fun, some comfort… But what does that really get me? How can I free myself from serving the pursuit of the American Dream to the pursuit of building the Kingdom of God?

Let’s go back to Luke 16 and see if there are any keys to be had…

Luke 16:1-13 Now He was also saying to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. [2] “And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ [3] “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. [4] ‘I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’ [5] “And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ [6] “And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ [7] “Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ [8] “And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. [9] “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.

[10] “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. [11] “Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? [12] “And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? [13] “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The elements of the parable:

  • – A manager who’s messing up
  • – A rich owner who’s pissed at the manager
  • – The manager freaks out and decides to bail by settling the owners debtors in a very favorable way for them
  • – The owner praises the manager for his shrewdness in setting himself up for the future

Christ’s applications:

  • sons of this generation are shrewder than sons of light – a slam on Christ-followers … we’re too naïve and enamored with the bright lights of wealth to realize what we are really dealing with
  • make friends with money for eternity – money is a means to an end, but it is only that … it always leads to something, what will that something be?
  •  faithfulness with the insignificant money demonstrates trustworthiness if given more significant things – isn’t that what we ultimately want, something or at least to be part of or involved in something, or someone, that is really significant?
  • you don’t really own anything – this is a shocker… what do you mean it’s not my money?
  • you can’t really serve both God and money – this is a stunner … who do you serve?

These are the things that we need to take stock in. It seems to me that the bottom line here is one of a reality check. If what Christ is saying is really true… is that working itself out in my life? Or, am I blind to my allegiance? It’s not very hard to figure that out. What are you spending your money on? How big of a priority is it to “make friends for eternity” with your money? Is money an insignificant thing or not so insignificant thing? Are those my possessions?

Christ is saying, if you want to follow Me, you have to release your ties to the world’s values. Christians just don’t seem to get it (do we really look that different than others in the world who do not know Christ in the area of our finances?). Yet, we are in such a position to really score for the Kingdom with the unrighteous mammon we have. It’s really quite an opportunity. As Paul says:

1 Tim. 6:17-19 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. [18] Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, [19] storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.

We can invest our silly money in building our fellowship by supporting those who minister, are burdened, are effective at following God’s lead, teach, and establish a vibrant ministry.

Just as important are the greater ramifications of the Great Commission, to reach all the people groups of the world for Christ. The opportunities to support missionaries in this endeavor are many. This is only becoming a bigger issue. As our American $ drops like a rock, it costs more to minister overseas.

Related to this, but perhaps even more significant is that the same amounts of money we spend on cable TV, CDs, candy, fast food, cigarettes, etc… could go a long way with the brothers and sisters working in the less developed if not impoverished parts of the world where Christianity has wide open doors and people are under severe hardship. I’m not saying just throw your money somewhere to make yourself feel better. One needs to look into how ministries are making a difference and is it just social relief or is the Kingdom of God being built.

But in this ever shrinking world, we have a responsibility to share with those brothers and sisters less fortunate than us (2 Cor 8:13-14) … and why not, I got to believe it will go to building the Kingdom of God way more than what I would have spent it on.

Related to this is the fact that the pressure on the poor countries of the world is only increasing. The price of staple foods (rice, corn, wheat, etc…) has recently skyrocketed 50%. Countries that were already spending over 50% of their income are going to be devastated.
We spend less than 10% of our income on food, on average. It’s going up for us to, but the thing is, we for the most part buy processed foods, like Corn Flakes. I heard on an NPR article that the cost of the corn that goes into a bowl of delicious Corn Flakes has gone up from about 10 cents to 20 cents, a fraction of the total cost since most of the cost is in the processing (which has not increased in price too much). However, poor people do not buy Corn Flakes, they buy corn or rice… which has gone up 50%… if it was costing them at least ½ of their income to buy food, now it will cost them at least 75% of their income. This is very disheartening.

    We are a culture with all it’s energy focused on “making it”. And we have for the most part. From an article in 2001 (http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2001/12/wade.htm) referring to data from the United Nations which dates back to 1989, the 20% richest people in the world possessed nearly 83% of the wealth of the world. I couldn’t find how much it’s changed since then, but I can’t imagine it’s changed that much in the opposite direction.

    We’re in that 20%. The reality is that the rich clip_image001get richer at the expense of the poor; that just ain’t right. Why are we so fortunate? Why is the child born in Rwanda who has nearly a 20% chance of not making it to his or her 5th birthday because of very treatable diseases caused in large part by malnutrition born there? I don’t know why, but it certainly is not because I deserve to be born here. If I really look at things the way they are, I sure as hell shouldn’t take it for granted.

    But the fact is we have an amazing opportunity. Since we have wealth, one thing we know is we have a ministry of sharing it!

    Did Jesus survive the crucifixion?`

    Let’s begin responding to Kersten’s elaborate and speculative explanation that Christ traveled and ultimately died in India with the key question, did Jesus survive the crucifixion? The other lines of “evidence” that Kersten brings up: the relationship between Buddhist and Jesus’ teaching, the perversion of Paul’s theology, and the travels of Christ before his public ministry and then after his crucifixion are all based on extremely speculative explanations which are based mostly on legends that are many hundreds of years removed from the actual events. However, Christ’s crucifixion and what happened afterward is regarded by all as a historical event with several reliable accounts in the Gospels where the facts can be subjected to scrutiny.

    Jesus’ ordeal  

    In order to survive the crucifixion, Christ after going through several trials before Jewish authorities (Mk 14:55ff, 15:1), Herod (Lk 23:8-12) and Pilate (Mk 15:2; Lk 23:2-5; Mk 15:6ff), which included scourging (Mk 15:15), beatings with fists (Mt 26:67) and rods (Mk 15:19), and a crown of thorns forced on his head (Mk 15:17)… then crucified…  somehow has to be able to recover after having appeared to die and then go and appear to his followers.

    An excellent explanation of Roman crucifixion in general and Jesus’ trials, beatings, and crucifixion in particular can be found in the article by Edwards, Gabel, and Hosmer: On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ in JAMA, V. 225, March 21st, 1986 pp. 1455-1463. 

    Now, the beatings and scourging at the hands of the Jewish and Roman guards was severe to say the least. Scourging was performed with a short whip of several strands that had either pieces of metal or glass tied at the end and was applied to the back while the victim was tied to a post or object. The whipping consisted of 39 lashes and the person administering the blows was well trained to execute maximum pain and damage by dragging the embedded metal or glass across the back shredding flesh and muscles often exposing the skeletal structure. It was not uncommon for people to die from this beating alone.

    Jesus’ crucifixion involved having your body stretched out across the perpendicular beams, wrists and feet were nailed to the cross severing nerves and resulting in burning pain. In order to breathe, Jesus had to raise himself up by pushing on the nail through his feet, scraping his back against the raw wood. The body would drain of blood as the heart is forced to beat faster as energy is expended to breathe. Jesus would be dehydrating resulting in intense thirst. And the heart would have to beat at an extreme rate in order to compensate for the loss of oxygen due to the lack of blood. This was significant for Jesus because the soldiers did not need to break his legs (in order to hasten death by asphyxiation – Jn 19:33) because they thought him to be dead already. Jesus “premature” death was probably due to cardiac rupture or cardiorespiratory failure.  The fact that “blood and water” poured out when Jesus was pierced by the Roman guard (Jn 19:44) would have certainly insured the death since it would have “probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart” (JAMA, p. 1463). This led the authors of the JAMA article to conclude:

    “However, the important feature may be not how he died but rather whether he died. Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side… Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.” – JAMA, p. 1463 

    Kersten’s explanation 

    Kersten believes that Jesus did not die after being crucified. In order to survive, he was drugged with a narcotic in his wine which put Christ in a comatose state after which he was revived by Joseph of Arimathea (a supposedly secret member of the Essene community and part of the plan) who helped in the resuscitation.  This is essentially a variation of the “swoon theory”, one of several alternative resurrection-theories.png

    theories to Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  It’s important to note that other than Christ dying and then rising, this theory is the only real explanation that allows Christ to appear after the crucifixion because the historical details presented in the Gospels regarding the beatings and process of crucifixion are really not disputed. 

    So, how does Kersten come to these conclusions since there is no evidence in the text that Christ was drugged?

    His first line of evidence is that when it says that the “sour wine” sometimes translated “vinegar” in John 19:29 that Jesus was given was actually not vinegar-wine at all. After all, if it was vinegar, it should have the same effect as smelling salts and should have temporary stimulating effect (p. 152).  But instead, it had the opposite effect… Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:30). Kersten argues that the Latin word for vinegar is “acetum” which comes from “acidus” which means to be sour. And that what Jesus was probably given was a drink from the soma plant, asclepias acida, which was used by Persians and Indians and was considered a symbol of divine life, a drink of the gods, and the drink of immortality which had the effect of the appearance of death for several days after which one awakes to an elated state of higher consciousness (p. 153).  Then to help Jesus revive… “If one assumes that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were secret lay members of the Essene Order, it is logical that they would have been well suited for the task of treating Jesus’ wounds and helping the healing process. As experienced healers, the Essenes were familiar with exotic drugs and remarkable methods of treatment.” (p. 171)

    Several aspects of this explanation are hard to believe. First, what does a Latin rendering of “vinegar” have to do with anything in a Greek text? Second, there is no indication at all from the text that what was administered had any narcotic value at all or that any real amount was actually taken in. It is at best, an argument from silence.  Third, there is no basis for Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to be secret Essenes. “If one assumes” in this case is a real stretch and strays so far away from evidence and continues a pattern of conjecture and speculation that is throughout the book.

    Kersten’s second line of evidence is the Shroud of Turin which he feels is “more tangible than such speculation” (as to the question of whether Jesus really died) and believes to be the impression of Christ. He goes through many pages of explanation of how the wounds show that the victim was still bleeding after being wrapped up, which implies the heart is still beating, though blood loss would have been minimal so that it would not have been that bad for Jesus after all.

    Now, there are also several highly questionable aspects to this explanation as well. First and foremost is the fact that NO ONE KNOWS WHO’S IMPRESSION IS ON THE SHROUD! One cannot place any confidence in the Shroud for anything pertaining to anyone. Second, the views he takes of the impressions on the shroud are highly contested in and of themselves. (See the “Wikipedia” site for a good overview of the controversy) Third, in order to make his argument for the fact that the Shroud is Jesus, he has to rely on controversial legends about the travels of the Shroud prior to the thirteenth century which is the earliest known reference to the Shroud.

    I would have to say that Kersten offers an extremely complicated and speculative explanation for the crucifixion which goes way beyond the clear accounts given in the Gospels and held within Christianity since 33 AD. The crux for Christianity is whether or not Christ rose from the dead or not. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). It is not surprising then that the largest sections of the Gospels concentrate on Christ’s final week before his crucifixion, the crucifixion itself, and the resurrection.  The gospel of Mark is dated to about 30 years after the crucifixion (50’s AD) and Luke and Matthew maybe 10 years after that. John of course was written near around the turn of the first century (60+ years at the most after the event).  These accounts have withstood scrutiny for nearly 2000 years without any convincing argument or refutation against them. This is orders of magnitude more reliable than the impractical arguments Kersten raises and his reliance on speculation and legend.

    Did Jesus Live in India?

    An Indian friend of mine at work asked me if I had ever heard of a book about Jesus living in India. I hadn’t. He knew of this book and said it sounded historically based so I said I’d be interested in reading it, found a used copy on Amazon (Jesus Lived in India by Holger Kersten; Element Books Ltd.; Dorset, England: 1986) and read it.

    Needless to say, I had my doubts about the idea that Jesus lived in India. Before getting the book I did a few internet searches and found that this idea of Jesus being in India was first brought up by a Russian journalist, Nicholai Notovitch in the late 1800’s who claimed he found documents in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery that referred to Jesus’ life in India after the age of 12 where he studied the Vedas, upset the local Brahman priests because he questioned the divinity of the caste system, and then hooked up with some Buddhist priests and mastered the Buddhist Scriptures before returning to Israel to take up his public ministry. Notovitch didn’t actually read the documents himself, he had to have a monk read them to him which he transcribed and later assembled into a historical order. In addition, Islam, especially by Hazrat Ahmad (1835-1908 A.D.) the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement (www.alislam.org/library/books/jesus-in-india/index.html), purports Jesus to have survived the crucifixion and traveled to the Kashmir region (Srinagar) where he died many years later and where his tomb can be found today. Although, Ahmad discounts Notovitch’s version of Jesus living in India as a young adult. The idea Jesus’ lost teenage and young adult years in India was also propagated in the early 1900’s with the release of the “Aquarian Gospel”, a transcription of The Akashic Records by fellow Ohioan Levi Dowling while in a meditative state, which includes Jesus life in India between the ages of 12 and 30 (the “lost” years). Ironically, the account of Jesus in India based on the Aquarian Gospel and Notovich is being made into a movie directed by Drew Heriot set for release in 2009 (http://movies.ign.com/articles/823/823030p1.html). So maybe this is more relevant than I first suspected. It’s important to note that there is no evidence that the documents Notovitch cites do or ever existed (see Johnson, http://answering-islam.org.uk/Ahmadiyya/notovich.htm).

    Kersten essentially melds the two views described above of Christ in India (before and after his public ministry and crucifixion) along with many other linkages between the Kashmir region and Abraham, Moses, and the Lost Tribes of Israel. These are based mainly on local lore written in documents many hundreds if not more than a thousand years after the fact and names of places related to the post-crucifixion names for Christ in the East: “Yuz Asaf” (leader of the healed) and “Isa-Masih” (Jesus the Messiah). Most convincing to Kersten, is the evidence for Christ surviving the crucifixion which comes from “physical” evidence in the form of the “Shroud of Turin” and the supposed tomb of Jesus in Srinagar (note the carved “footprints” on the side of the tomb which were meant to prove the identity of the deceased, much like fingerprints? – p. 208).

    Kersten has to sweep away or negate the reams of historical evidence in the New Testament and other sources. He essentially equates much of Christ’s teaching with being influenced by Eastern teaching: “far more than a hundred passages which give a clear indication that their roots go back to the older Buddhist tradition” (p. 74) andalmost everything that has ever been said about Jesus has parallels in ancient Indian legends” (p. 120). He has to ignore Christ’s Jewish and OT basis for his teaching and ministry, including prophetic references. He has to come up with an alternative account of how Christ survived the crucifixion via a drug-induced comatose state. And, he has to discredit Paul’s theology and distance Jesus’ teaching from Paul.  

    I will discuss these issues and evidence for and against in the next blog installment. Initially I thought this is a rehash of the swoon theory to explain the resurrection of Christ. But, since this is now being made into a movie, perhaps in response to Mel Gibson’s Passion, it will be good to go through and makes for a good Easter topic anyway.