Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Resurrection of Jesus

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared (Luke 24:1). 

Matthew tells us that all Jesus’ disciples who had accompanied him to the Garden of Gethsemane deserted him and fled upon his arrest. We don’t know what they were up to during the time between Jesus’ arrest in the garden and the time when they first received word of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday morning. We only know that by Sunday morning they had all gathered together again. We are told only that Peter followed Jesus and the arrest party at a distance, monitoring the proceedings in the High Priest’s house as surreptitiously as possible from the courtyard. After Peter is reminded by the crowing of a rooster that Our Lord had said Peter would deny him, we are given no more account of Peter until Sunday morning. Mark gives us a detail unique to his Gospel account; that a young man, dressed in nothing but a linen cloth, followed Jesus to the Garden as well. Mark writes, “And a young man followed him with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51-52). Some commentators believe that this “young man” was Mark himself, though there is nothing in the text to support or refute this view. His departure from the scene of Jesus’ arrest, however, indicates the urgency of the situation and the haste with which Jesus’ friends abandoned him. The young man was so frightened and desperate to save himself that he ran away naked, leaving Jesus to his fate (Engelbrecht, et al., 2009). 

Evidently, however, a group of Jesus’ friends and disciples did gather some distance away to watch Jesus die. This group included John, Jesus’ mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee[1]. Joseph of Arimathea may have also been among the band of on-lookers as well. It was he who went to Pontius Pilate and requested Jesus’ body. Scripture tells us that Pilate was shocked to hear from Joseph of Arimathea that Jesus was already dead[2]. Joseph took the body of Jesus and laid him in the tomb while the two Marys – Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” – watched. They would have to come back the next day to carry out the burial customs of anointing the Jesus’ body as the Sabbath would begin shortly. It is here that Luke continues the story, on Sunday morning, with the same two Marys bringing the required supply of spices to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. 

And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb (Luke 24:2), 

Tombs were often cut into the rock of the hillside. Their entrances would have been blocked by a large, disk-shaped stone, rolled into a channel cut in the ground in front of the tomb. This stone disk would have been several feet in diameter, and would have required several men to move (Engelbrecht, et al., 2009). This was certainly in the thoughts of the women as they made their way to the tomb with their supplies[3]. When they arrive, however, they are greeted with an earthquake, at least one angel, and some very frightened guards. Matthew writes that there was an earthquake as an angel rolled the stone away from the grave’s entrance[4]. The guards posted at the tomb were frightened so badly that they fainted – they “became like dead men”[5]

but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24:3-7). 

This is the heart of Easter, the climax of the story of mankind’s redemption. Jesus’ tomb was empty. He rose from the dead and left the grave. Immanuel, God with us, who had looked to his enemies so defeated on the cross the previous Friday afternoon had, in reality, defeated sin, death, and the devil. The grave could not hold him. St. Paul tells us that this fact is of supreme importance. He writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve[6].” 

Without Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, we have nothing more than the tragic story of the murder of a Jewish teacher and philosopher who crossed the leaders of the religious establishment, and paid the ultimate price for his challenge to their authority. We have no forgiveness of sins, if we have no risen Jesus. St. Paul understood this as well. He continues in his first letter to the Corinthians, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied[7].” 

To the dismay of Satan, however, Jesus’ tomb is empty. C.F.W. Walther put it this way, in his famous Easter hymn: “O, where is your sting, death? We fear you no more; Christ rose, and now open is fair Eden’s door. For all our transgressions His blood does atone; Redeemed and forgiven, we now are His own[8]” (The Commission on Worship of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, 2006). 

A common objection to the resurrection story made by many non-Christians is that Jesus’ body was simply stolen by Jesus’ followers so that it would look like he rose from the dead. This is, in fact, said by Matthew to be the case[9]. He writes that the Roman guards reported to the Chief Priests what had happened. The Chief Priests, in turn, told the guards to circulate the story that Jesus’ disciples stole his body while they slept on duty. Matthew says that the guards were paid a tidy sum and assured that the Chief Priests would smooth everything over with Pilate, should he ever get wind of their story. 

The story that someone removed Jesus’ body from the tomb, though, just doesn’t make sense to me. If the disciples took his body, they would all have known that the Gospel they were proclaiming was no Gospel at all. Being disappointed that Jesus was just another false messiah, the story goes, they were reluctant to undergo the public humiliation, ridicule, and persecution that was surely coming their way, so they stole Jesus’ body and claimed he rose from the dead, thus saving face. One might put some stock in that, if it were not for what happened to the disciples of Jesus next. 

All of the Apostles, with the exception of John, were martyred for their faith. That is, they went to their death rather than deny their risen Lord and Savior Jesus. If all they faced was ridicule and derision, I might give this thesis of the resurrection-deniers some more thought. The Apostles and other first generation disciples of Christ, however, faced not only ridicule, but death, and that in some of the most gruesome ways imaginable by man. I have not met the person who was willing to die for that which he knew to be a lie. Men have been willing to die for ideas in which they believed but only later found out were false; I have never heard of anyone who willingly submit to a horribly painful and humiliating death rather than renounce a belief or idea that they knew for a fact to be false. The apostles and early followers of Jesus were beheaded, crucified, stoned, burned alive, and fed to wild animals for the entertainment of bloodthirsty crowds, all because they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus. They stood steadfast in their faith because they knew it to be true first hand. 

And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:8-11). 

The women who went to the tomb, discovered it empty, and heard the first proclamation of the resurrection from the angels there went joyfully to inform the Apostles. The Apostles, however, were still mourning Jesus' death. The angels had reminded the women about how Jesus told them all beforehand how he would die for the sin of mankind at the hands of sinful men and rise again. At this Gospel proclamation their faith blossomed forth. when they told the men that Jesus had risen, their minds could not yet grasp it. They considered the women's account an "idle tale". After all, they were only lowly women. Their testimony was not even valid in a court of law. This is another reason that seems to lend more credibility to the Gospel story. If the Gospel writers wanted to make up a story, surely they would not have scripted it so as to have women discover the empty tomb. Their testimony would be considered unreliable in First century Israel (Packer & Tenney, 1980). Furthermore, the Gospel writers do not paint the Apostles in a particularly flattering light, especially in the resurrection accounts. They are disbelieving and even mock the women, being mired firmly in their mistaken belief that Jesus was a political messiah struggling to establish an earthly kingdom. 

Why would God choose to use these women, who were so despised by the culture in which they lived, to deliver the news of the resurrection to the Apostles? Surely he would choose some person more worthy and esteemed in the eyes of the world to carry such news, in order to make it more credible to the world. To the contrary, God was mocking the unbelieving world and its governing authorities, which subscribed to such nonsense as the inferiority of women. In using these women as the vehicles for bringing the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the Apostles, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”[10]

But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened (Luke 24:12). 

Peter reacts in his typical brash and impulsive fashion. Earlier in the garden of Gethsemane, when the temple guard came to arrest Jesus, Peter impulsively, and a little clumsily, attempted to stand and fight, cutting off the high priest's servant's ear with his sword[11]. He was going to meet force with force it seems, but Jesus stopped and rebuked him. He, like the others, did not understand that Jesus' kingdom was not of this world[12]. Peter, along with all the rest of the Apostles, felt defeated and were afraid of their religious/political adversaries who had murdered their leader. But when Peter heard the women's story, he reacted by running to the tomb to see what was going on for himself. John records that he also went with Peter. John says that he ran ahead of Peter, but only looked into the tomb upon his arrival, apparently too awestruck at what he found to enter[13]. Peter was the one who actually entered the empty tomb first. He saw the linen cloths that had been wrapped around Jesus' corpse, and the cloth that had been on Jesus head, folded neatly. This was no case of grave robbery. Why would grave robbers strip the corpse and take the time to fold the linen cloths they left behind? We know that the Apostles didn’t have Jesus’ body. Surely, if the Pharisees had taken Jesus’ corpse away, they would have produced it and put it on display when the Apostles began preaching that Jesus rose from the dead. 

After Peter went inside the tomb, John then also entered. John writes that he saw and believed[14]. They may not yet have understood but, by the power of God's Holy Spirit, faith was kindled in them they believed. During the following 40 days Jesus would show himself alive to his disciples, and equip them for their mission of spreading the Good News of Jesus' atonement for man's sin to the world. 

Jesus’ resurrection proves that he is the Christ, the Son of God, and that the things he taught were true. The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross was accepted by God the Father for the reconciliation of the world (Luther, 1991). The resurrection of Jesus is proof of this. Because of our sins we deserve nothing but God’s wrath, displeasure, death, and eternal damnation. Christ, by his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, redeemed mankind on the cross. His victory was confirmed by his resurrection from the dead, and we receive the forgiveness Christ won on the cross by faith in Him. Christ’s resurrection is the basis for the new life that Christians begin to experience now, and will receive fully on the Last Day (Engelbrecht, et al., 2009). Because Jesus lives, we who believe in him will live also[15]

Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! Alleluia! 

Works Cited 

Engelbrecht, E. A., Deterding, P. E., Ehlke, R. C., Joersz, J. C., Love, M. W., Mueller, S. P., et al. (Eds.). (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis, Missouri, USA: Concordia Publishing House. 

Luther, M. (1991). Kleine Katechismus, English. (C. P. House, Trans.) Saint Louis, Missouri, USA: Concordia Publishing House. 

Packer, J. I., & Tenney, M. C. (Eds.). (1980). Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible. Nashville, TN, USA: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 

The Commission on Worship of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. (2006). Lutheran Service Book. St. Louis : Concordia Publishing House. 

End Notes

[1] Matthew 27:55-56 
[2] Mark 15:44 
[3] Mark 16:3 
[4] Matthew 28:2 
[5] Matthew 28:3 
[6] 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 
[7] 1 Corinthians 15:13-19 
[8] "He’s Risen, He’s Risen", LSB 480, Text: C.F.W. Walther, 1811-87, abr.; tr Anna M. Meyer, 1867-1941, alt. 
[9] Matthew 28:11-15 
[10] 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 
[11] Matthew 26:51; John 18:10 
[12] John 18:36 
[13] John 20:3-4 
[14] John 20:8 
[15] John 11:25-26; 14:19

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Death of Jesus

Isenheim Altarpiece Detail
Matthias Gruenewald
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things (Luke 23:44-49).
People love a show. More accurately, people love to gawk at a spectacle and, the gorier the better. I don’t know why this is, but we know it to be true. Think about the times you have been driving down the highway and traffic slows to a crawl. There has been an accident, and a particularly gruesome one at that. In the distance you can see the smoke, and perhaps even the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles that have responded to the scene. As you get nearer, though, you realize that the crash happened, not on your side of the expressway, but on the opposite side. Traffic on your side had been free to travel all the while you were delayed, but people slowed down just to get a look at what had happened. Traffic reporters even have a name for this phenomenon. They call these “gapers delays”. It was always frustrating to me, when I had experienced a so-called gaper’s delay on the expressway, to find that there was no good reason for the hold-up. My first thought was, “Wouldn’t people rather get to where they were going faster, than slow down to look at a traffic crash?” Apparently not. People will go out of their way to gape at a spectacle.
This is what happened on Calvary the day Jesus was executed. Scripture tells us that crowds had assembled to watch the spectacle. There was plenty of “spectacle” for the people to gape at. At least three men were being put to death in a most gruesome fashion. Certainly the Roman government wanted the people over whom they ruled to come out and watch the crucifixion. That is the whole point of a public execution. Not only do they appeal to that grisly thing inside of us that makes even modern-day motorists stop to look at an accident on the road, but they are intended also to keep people in line. Public executions, like those administered by the Romans, showed people the consequences of breaking the law, and that they could not escape the government’s justice. These displays of the government’s power were intended to show that the arm of the Law was, indeed, long, and that one could not escape its reach.
The crowds, however, seem to get more than just the show. A number of other happenings are recorded by Luke, and the writers of the other gospels, which seem to cause the people watching to understand that something momentous was taking place. Luke writes that it was about the sixth hour, which would be 12:00 noon. He says that, “…there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour (3:00 PM).[1]” For Luke to note this darkness in such a manner indicates that it was something more than the result of a cloudy day. The darkness could also not have been the result of a solar eclipse, as some have suggested. The Passover, which would begin at sundown, occurs during a full moon, and this would prevent a solar eclipse (Engelbrecht, et al., 2009). This darkness is supernatural. As the death of Jesus approaches, darkness over the land indicates God’s judgment, just as the sight of the crosses on the hill indicated Roman judgment. Kretzmann describes the meaning of the darkness recorded by Luke this way:
“Suddenly, not only in Judea, but over the whole earth that was just then enjoying the blessing of sunlight, an abnormal, inexplicable darkness fell, one that was mentioned even by heathen writers[2]. The sun simply failed the people of the world; his light was shut off. All nature was mourning at the climax of the suffering of Jesus. This darkness was a picture of the greater, deeper darkness that had fallen into the soul of the Redeemer. He was literally forsaken by God, given over into the power of the spirits of darkness, to suffer the indescribable agonies of hell. Christ, in these three hours, had to bear and feel the full strength, the full terror of the divine wrath over the sins of the world” (Kretzmann, 1921).

Luke records also that, upon Jesus’ death, the curtain of the temple in Jerusalem was torn in two, from top to bottom. Matthew writes that there was also an earthquake that accompanied this event[3]. If the abnormal darkness had not gotten the people’s attention, these two things surely would have. The curtain mentioned here was the curtain of the Most Holy Place. This was the part of the temple where God’s presence resided. No one except the high priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place, and he could only go into it once a year on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice and make atonement for the sins of Israel as God had commanded in the Old Testament. The curtain of the temple, sometimes referred to as the veil, separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. It separated the people from God and could only be circumvented by the high priest, and only according to God’s prescription. It wasn’t a curtain such as modern minds might conceive. This curtain was tall and thick, not simply piece of fabric. The curtain of the temple was described in Talmudic sources in the following manner:
“Three hundred priests were told off [sic; the idea is that they were designated] to draw the veil (of the Temple) aside; for it is taught that Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel declared in the name of Rabbi Shimon the Sagan (or high priest’s substitute), that the thickness of the veil was a handbreadth. It was woven of seventy-two cords, and each cord consisted of twenty-four strands. It was forty cubits long and twenty wide. Eighty-two myriads of damsels worked at it, and two such veils were made every year. When it became soiled, it took three hundred priests to immerse and cleanse it” (Harris, 1901).

A handbreadth is four inches. That means the curtain was four inches thick. A cubit is approximately the length of a person’s forearm, typically about 18 inches. That makes the curtain 60 feet long and 30 feet wide. The word myriad comes from classical Greek and means 10,000. That would mean that, according to this source, 820,000 young women worked on its fabrication. The point is, this was a big, thick curtain. It would not have been easily cut or torn.
The people witnessing the crucifixion would not have immediately known that the temple curtain had been torn, though, as they were outside the city. Matthew, however, writes that there was an earthquake:
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split (Matthew 27:51).
This earthquake sort of puts God’s stamp on the events of Good Friday. Earthquakes were often associated with manifestations of God, and considered a sign of the end and the final judgment (Engelbrecht, et al., 2009). Though they may not have realized it at that moment, this was the end and final judgment of sin, death, and Satan.
Luke writes that, after witnessing Jesus’ death and the other strange happenings at the site of the crucifixion, the people returned to their homes “beating their breasts”. This action would be considered a sign of repentance or mourning. Luke differentiates between the people, and the people who knew Jesus (his acquaintances). This indicates that, rather than repenting of their sin and unbelief and becoming followers of Jesus, the people who were beating their breasts were mourning because of the appalling nature of what they had seen. Kretzmann describes it this way:
“And likewise all those that had come together near the place of the crucifixion and had remained to see this climax of the work of Christ, beat upon their breasts and turned to go back home, moved in a way which they could hardly explain to themselves. God had spoken, and men were filled with dread” (Kretzmann, 1921).

We living today should be filled with dread at this scene as well. We are guilty of breaking God’s law. We, like criminals under the sentence of death, cannot escape the long arm of the Law. Because of our sin we deserve what Jesus endured on the cross. All human beings have inherited from Adam a nature that is inclined in every way against God. We are infected with a “horrible, dreadful hereditary sickness” that causes us to flee from God and commit all manner of actual sins[4] (McCain, Baker, Veith, & Engelbrecht, 2005). Left in this natural state we are all in God’s displeasure and are, as St. Paul writes, children of wrath:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:1-3).
No one wants to hear or believe this about themselves. We like to think that we are basically good people. Scripture paints a far bleaker picture of mankind and human nature, however. God’s word teaches us that our human nature, created perfect by God in the beginning, has been so deeply and utterly corrupted by sin that nothing good remains in us, nor are we capable of doing any good to please God:
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me...None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes (Psalm 51:3-5; Romans 3:10-18).
Left on our own, we could not make up for our total lack of fear, love, and trust in God. God, however, has not left us alone. He has come after us. He has done the work that needed to be done for us. The author of life was executed in our place. Before we were even able to do anything good – while we were still dead in our transgressions, enemies of God – Jesus, true God, took on human flesh and became man[5]. He reconciled the whole world to God by living a perfect, sinless life under the law. And, after fulfilling the law, the sinless Son of God bore the guilt and punishment that rightly belonged to mankind as he hung on the cross. Jesus was declared guilty of all sin and evil in the world (Engelbrecht, et al., 2009). He was made to be sin[6]. Scripture says:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil...For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Hebrews 2:14; Romans 5:6).
As our sins were credited to him, so is his righteousness credited to we who believe. As God’s law reveals your sin and shows your good works to be nothing but filthy rags, look at Jesus on the cross, and repent. Christ himself calls us all to repentance; to faith in the Gospel. That is, to become different, act differently, and believe his promise[7] (McCain, Baker, Veith, & Engelbrecht, 2005). Through Jesus there is forgiveness of sins, and the hope of eternal life with God.
End Notes
[1] Luke 23:44
[2] Thallus wrote a history of the eastern Mediterranean world since the Trojan War. Thallus wrote his regional history in about AD 52.6 Although his original writings have been lost, he is specifically quoted by Julius Africanus, a renowned third century historian. Africanus states, ‘Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away the darkness as an eclipse of the sun—unreasonably as it seems to me.’ Apparently, Thallus attempted to ascribe a naturalistic explanation to the darkness during the crucifixion (Anderson, 2007).
[3] Matthew 27:51
[4] FC SD I 5, 12
[5] Galatians 4:4-5
[6] 2 Corinthians 5:21
[7] SA III III 4
Works Cited
Anderson, D. (2007, April 06). Darkness at the crucifixion: metaphor or real history? Retrieved March 16, 2013, from
Engelbrecht, E. A., Deterding, P. E., Ehlke, R. C., Joersz, J. C., Love, M. W., Mueller, S. P., et al. (Eds.). (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis, Missouri, USA: Concordia Publishing House.
Harris, M. H. (1901). Hebraic Literature: Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim and Kabbala. Washington: M. Walter Dunne.
Kretzmann, P. E. (1921). Popular Commentary of the Bible (Vol. 1). St. Louis, MO, USA: Concordia Publishing House.
McCain, P. T., Baker, R. C., Veith, G. E., & Engelbrecht, E. A. (Eds.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. (W. H. Dau, & G. F. Bente, Trans.) St. Louis, MO, USA: Concordia Publishing House.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

His Master's Voice

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3: 14-16).

Alexander the Great, also known as Alexander III, was one of the most successful military commanders in history. By the time of his death, one month shy of his 33rd birthday, Alexander managed to conquer most of the known world. He was the child of Phillip II of Macedonia, and his exploits and conquests far exceeded those of his father. He was educated by Aristotle and had a thorough grasp of science and medicine, and was a master of rhetoric and philosophy. Alexander defeated the Persian Empire and invaded India. He was courageous, compassionate to his men, loyal to his friends and ambitious. In short, Alexander truly lived up to the “Great” name ascribed to him.

How do we know all of this information? The first answer might be that some middle aged professor of world history, with tortoise shell glasses slipping off his nose, taught it to us from a 40 pound text book at eight AM while we were in college (such was the case with me). That, however, only deals with one dimension of the question. How do we collectively, as a society, know this information? Where did the pointy-headed academics find it, so that they could put it into their textbook that cost us $64.50 at the campus bookstore?

They got it from Plutarch and Arrian, the two earliest biographers of Alexander. Archeology has been used to validate their record, but everyone who has written about Alexander has used Plutarch and Arrian as their source material.

Historians consider Plutarch and Arrian to be trustworthy and we speak about Alexander the Great using definitive statements of fact. However, would it effect your perception of the facts of his life to know that Plutarch and Arrian wrote their biographies more than 400 years after Alexander’s death? These are, by no means, eyewitness accounts.

Why the history lesson? I recently caused a dear friend of mine to temporarily loose all ability to speak when I told him that, yes, I believe that Scripture is the inerrant, divinely inspired word of God. He was completely flabbergasted that I, a seemingly intelligent and college-educated individual, would ascribe truth to something as obviously unreliable as the Bible.

Many people, who have no reservation quoting Plutarch in order to give a factual account of the life of Alexander the Great, scoff at the record Holy Scripture provides us of the life of Jesus Christ. Secular scholars put just as much faith in the writers of antiquity as Christians place in the Writer of Holy Scripture – and with much less historical evidence to justify that faith – and are unapologetic. We Christians must also be bold in giving the reason for the hope we have; for proclaiming the life-giving message of Scripture: that God has redeemed fallen, sinful man as he has promised, by the work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

In her book, “A History of God: The 4,000-year Quest of Judaism, Christianityand Islam”, Karen Armstrong has this to say about the Gospels:

“We know very little about Jesus. The first full-length account of his life was St. Mark’s Gospel, which was not written until about the year AD 70, some forty years after his death. By that time, historical facts had been overlaid with mythical elements which expressed the meaning Jesus had acquired for his followers. It is this meaning that St. Mark primarily conveys rather than a reliable straightforward portrayal,” (Armstrong, 79).

In other words, the Gospels were written after the fact, preserve no reliable, meaningful historical information, and paint a portrait of Jesus that was a product of imposed religious belief. They do not record the true Jesus; merely Christianity’s evolved mythology of him.

Christianity teaches that Holy Scripture is the divinely inspired, inerrant word of God, written by Him through men under inspiration by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christianity teaches that the original autographs of Scripture are completely free from human error or inconsistency. Any typographical and/or copy editing errors in the manuscripts we possess today are the result of sinful, fallen man.

Let us, though, set the theological aside for a moment. Is there any reason to believe that Scripture, particularly the Gospels, is not simply a collection of mythology, or have they been hopelessly compromised and fallen victim to the ravages of time?

By the standards of a historian, there is logical reason to trust the Gospels. Compared to Plutarch, we have many more manuscripts from diverse locations that can be compared so as to find any deviation. Also, whereas Plutarch and Arrian are 400 years removed from the events they chronicle, the Gospels are dated to within 20-30 years of the crucifixion. Craig L. Bloomberg, an authority on the Gospels, concurs, in an interview recorded in the book, "The Case for Christ":

“[The Book of Acts] cannot be dated any later than AD 62…Since Acts is the second of a two part work, we know the first part – the Gospel of Luke – must have been written earlier than that. And since Luke incorporates parts of the Gospel of Mark, that means Mark is even earlier…we’re talking about a maximum gap of thirty years or so,” (Strobel, 34).

It seems as though 30 years is much smaller of a window for discrepancy to creep in, compared with 400 years. Yet, Plutarch is not questioned, St. Mark is.

Consider other works of antiquity. The more copies of a work that exists, the more opportunities there are to cross check for errors, deviation, and discrepancy. Approximately 650 Greek manuscripts of Homer’s Iliad survive, and they date from 900 to 1,000 years after the work was originally composed.

By contrast, more than 5,000 Greek copies of original manuscripts have been found dating back to about 100 – 150 AD. Among these second generation manuscripts, only a relative handful of textual discrepancies exist, none of which effect doctrinal issues. In the book “The Case For Christ”, Biblical scholar Bruce M. Metzger comments on this:

“The quantity of New Testament material is almost embarrassing in comparison with other works of antiquity…Next to the New Testament, the greatest amount of manuscript testimony is of Homer’s Iliad, which was the bible of ancient Greeks. There are fewer than 650 Greek manuscripts of it today. Some are quite fragmentary. They come down to us from the second and third century AD and following. When you consider that Homer composed his epic about 800 BC, you can see there’s a very lengthy gap,” (Strobel, 60).
From an historical point of view, the Holy Scriptures have a much more consistent, solid foundation on which to base claims of accuracy than the other works of antiquity. In short, we can be confident that what we have today in the Holy Gospels is what the author intended to record.

Whether or not one believes what is written, well, that is a separate issue.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:8).
For the Christian, the only rule and guiding principle according to which all teachings and teachers are to be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments alone. We who study Holy Scripture should not concentrate our efforts on the men God used to write His words, or how He accomplished this, but we should focus on the words and content of the Scriptures, since they are what were inspired. Peter and Paul are dead, but the Scripture God wrote through their pens is still alive and accomplishing God’s purpose perfectly. Most importantly, since God, the author of all Scripture, is without error, God’s word is also inerrant.

Lutherans, in order to discern God’s intended meaning, read the Scriptures as historical, literary documents. This method, the Historical-Grammatical approach, seeks the meaning of Scripture in the text itself, not from some special revelation or extra-biblical source. Scripture is the written word of God – not a primarily human witness to revelation, and thus not subject to human failings. Scripture, like Our Lord, has two natures – the human and the divine – and has them equally and fully.

I am reminded of the ad campaign for RCA Victor records. Their advertising icon was a little dog sitting in front of a victrola, with its head cocked to one side as though listening to a recording. The caption under the picture was, “His master’s voice”, implying that the recording was so lifelike that the dog could recognize the call of his master, even though it was artificially reproduced from scratches on wax plates.

Over time, as we all know, the stylus of the record player will scratch and pit the grooves of the record, causing static and popping noises to obscure the recording. However, through those imperfections, the pure recording still exists and can still be heard. Such is the case with Scripture. Though while in man’s stewardship, God’s record may have become slightly scratched and pitted, the original perfect recording still remains, and can still be known.

Through all the human static, we can still hear our master’s voice.