Category Archives: Christology

“Qui Creavit Coelum.”

This is a translation I have produced of an Advent hymn called “Qui Creavit Coelum.” As I understand it, the earliest manuscript in which we find it is from around 1425 A.D.; the hymn is also known as “The Song of the Nuns of Chester.” The original Latin text can be found here. I added some notes at the bottom. Nothing here is particularly scholarly; it’s simply a little devotional exercise that I wanted to share.

Happy Advent, friends.

The King who is ruling the ages,
He who created Heaven,
is being born in a stable.[1]

Joseph brings some rushes;
Mother wraps up the Child,
and places him in the manger.[2]

There among the animals
they place the Joy of the World.
He is fragrant beyond all.[3]

The Mother of the Lord suckles
and embraces the Little One;
she worships the Lord.[4]

Ask, Mother of the Lord,
that He give us Joy
in everlasting glory[5]

 


 

[1] I’ve taken the last line of this stanza first, for two reasons: (a) grammatically, “rex” as the subject fits naturally when rendered first in English, which makes good sense of the two relative clauses, each introduced by “qui;” and (b) by first emphasizing the transcendent nature of this King who is ruling time (present tense) and created matter (perfect tense) , the humility of His lowly birthplace is magnified in English. That this tiny Babe is ruling the centuries is a great mystery.
[2] “Paniculum” here is not a common word and means something like a tuft of reeds used for thatching a roof. I like the poetic image of Jesus being wrapped in rushes. It reminds me of Moses’s basket being placed in the rushes; so here, a rush-wrapped Baby Jesus is “ponit in praesepio.” The whole of Scripture – indeed, the whole of the world – is the story of Jesus Christ coming to save sinners like you and me.
[3] I like fragrant as a gloss for “dulcis” here: the Lamb of God is laid down next to animals He created, incarnate to do what they never could. He is here to take away the sins of the world. Thus He is “dulcis super omnia;” as an offering to God, He is “fragrant beyond all.”
[4] Mary worships God through her vocation as mother. What is done in faith, even the changing of diapers, is service to God. I think this stanza does a beautiful job of honoring the vocation of Motherhood. It also continues to emphasize the mystery of the Incarnation: That God could be breast-fed! How highly favored is Mary, the Mother of God?
[5] I do not believe in prayers to the saints. I have here translated the text as it is, not as I think it ought to be. I think this language could be understood apart from praying to the saints, but considering that this text comes to us from the nunnery of St. Mary, in 1425, I assume the author was indeed intending this as a prayer to Mary. Instead, I believe that scripture teaches that “rogat nobis mater domini” – that is, “The Mother of God is praying for us.” But that is another discussion, which I do not wish to participate in here.

I hope this was in some way a blessing to you this Advent.

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If it’s Saturday, it must be Arians [Trinity Misconceptions]

This is a post in a series about the Trinity. The introduction is here, and part two is here.

It’s a Saturday morning. Two well dressed guests knock on your door. They introduce themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and ask if they can show you what the Bible really teaches. They deny that Christ is the second person of a Trinity, and say instead that He is the first of God’s creation, who created everything else.

Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a very recent development, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes got it right: There is nothing new under the sun. The teachings of the Witnesses about Jesus are an ancient heresy known as Arianism.

The History

Early in the history of the Christian Church, a young man named Arius was studying in Alexandria. From the work of earlier teachers (perhaps Paul of Samosata) he concluded that the Son was created; that is, there was a time when the Son, the Logos in John, did not exist. The teaching of Arius was very popular among the Alexandrian schools, and his theology spread fast.

Proponents of orthodoxy initially won out, led by Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria. The Emperor Constantine, a catechumen in the church at the time, called a council at Nicaea in 324 A.D. and all but two of the bishops there agreed that the Scriptures taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit are “consubstantial” (i.e. they share the same substance, or essence, or being). They composed the Nicene Creed, to put into a succinct statement of faith what the Scriptures teach.

Many have criticized the political power with which Constantine upheld orthodoxy. Often there are myths such as “Constantine determined the canon of Scripture at Nicaea,” or other such silliness. Those improper understandings of the council aside, Constantine did use his power inappropriately (in my estimation) when he ordered the destruction of Arian documents and the death penalty for those who did not volunteer Arian documents in their possession.

Ironically, Constantine later exiled Athanasius, the hero of orthodoxy, in an attempt at conciliating Arian sympathizers. At any rate, when Constantine’s son, Constantius II, assumed power, he used it to spread Arian doctrine throughout the Roman Empire by force. The point being, political force was used inappropriately on both sides of this issue. What we must look at, then, is the doctrines themselves.

The Theology

For a good starting point in discussion with any Jehovah’s Witnesses you may meet, I don’t suggest John 1:1. In their New World Translation of Scripture, they twist this verse to read “and the Word was a god.” Unless you speak Greek fluently, and are able to teach them Greek fluently, it won’t be much use to tell them that their translation is wrong. They simply won’t believe you.

Rather, I’d suggest jumping over to John 1:3. Even in the NWT it reads “[a]ll things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.” When I read this with them, I’ll change the “all” to “some” and “not even one thing” to “almost nothing.” So I will (mis)read “some things came into existence through him, and apart from him almost nothing came into existence.”

When I misread it, they will usually correct me. When the answer comes from their own mind, instead of being supplied by someone with whom they disagree, it is much more effective at communicating the point.

That point is that, according to the grammar of John 1:3, Jesus cannot have come into existence. Why? Because all things that came into existence came through him. Can a man be his own father? His own cause of being (in other words, his own efficient cause)? Of course not. So also, if not even one thing came into existence apart from the Word (that’s Jesus, remember? see Jn. 1:14) then Jesus can’t have come into existence, because then at least one thing came into existence apart from Jesus.

If you’re more of a visual learner, you’ll appreciate this very helpful blog post by Greg Koukl. It is essentially no different to what I outlined here, but he has a visual aid that make the point very clear.

Like I mentioned before, I’ll only be posting on Thursdays for a while during my summer intensive at school. I hope to get back to a regular Monday post soon, but I may edit the schedule further to allow for all of my obligations. God’s blessings on your week!

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Trinity Misconception: Modalism.

Last week I wrote up a brief introduction to the doctrine of the Trinity. Over the next several Thursdays I’ll tackle some of the different misconceptions and myths about the Trinity. Up first: Modalism.

One of the ways that people talk (incorrectly) about God is to say that just as one man can be a father, a son, and a husband, for instance, God also reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. The result of this analogy is Modalism: The belief that there is one God who reveals Himself in three different modes. It is as if God plays three different roles; in Modalism, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all the same person.

Modalism is also known as Sabellianism, as Sabellius espoused the doctrine in the third century. In fact, it found its origin in earlier teachers, such as Praxeas [see especially Tertullian, Adversus Praxeas, ch. 1]; Sabellius simply popularized it.

In contrast to Arianism, which also taught that there was only one God but denied that Jesus was divine, Modalism does teach that Jesus Christ is fully divine. What Modalism denies is that there are distinct divine Persons. Modalism is also sometimes referred to as Patripassianism (the belief that the Father was crucified in the Son) because Modalists deny that the Father and Son are co-existent persons; thus they teach that the Father is incarnate in the mode of the Son and suffers on the Cross.

The closest modern expression of modalism is found in the Oneness Pentecostal movement. There are some significant differences, but they both deny the persons of the Trinity.

The Athanasian Creed (the best explanation of the Trinity, bar none) shows us the two errors one may fall into regarding the Trinity: “[W]e worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.” All Trinitarian heresies have their root in one of these two errors. In the case of Modalism, the Persons are confounded – they are not seen as distinct from each other.

To refute Modalism, all that must be demonstrated from Apostolic teaching is that the three Persons of the Trinity are co-existent; that is, that the Father, Son, and Spirit exist side by side at the same time. This is done simply: At the Baptism of Jesus, the Father speaks from heaven with approval of the Son, who is standing in the water, and the Spirit descends in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:13ff; Luke 3:21-22). Thus all three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, are present (i.e. they exist) at the same time. The alternative, if Modalist doctrine is upheld, is that Christ was throwing His voice to speak from heaven!

You may not run into Modalism tomorrow (unless you’re reading the Book of Mormon), but it certainly functions as a good example of bad teaching. It’s still useful to us because it helps us to dig into Scripture and see what God reveals about Himself.

Next week I tackle Arianism. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do! Also, check out the blog on Facebook or follow me on Twitter for updates. 

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God has fixed this.

My earlier post on this matter left one crucial question unanswered: In the face of tragedy, what comfort does Christianity offer? The answer is simple: God has fixed this.

We do not know how. It certainly doesn’t look like God has fixed this. But we know that He has fixed this. We know this because He went to the cross for us.

When Jesus hung on the cross, it didn’t look like God was fixing anything. In fact, the one who claimed to be God, who made Himself equal with God, was the one suffocating to a very public and very humiliating death. We could, like the unbelieving thief, say “Are you not the messiah? Save yourself, and then us!”

But we are not unbelievers. We, like the second thief, recognize that we have justly incurred any punishment that befalls us. But Jesus was an innocent man, hung on the cross for sins that He did not commit. And like the second thief we realize that the cross is not a defeat, but it was a victory: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

So the eyes of faith look at this tragedy and realize that Jesus has hung on the cross. God has died and risen from the dead. The God who is so full of love as to shed His own blood for us will not abandon us. A small child may not understand why a doctor must give him a shot, but he trusts his father who says the pain will be worth it in the end.

Christians, we know that the joy of the new creation will not compare to the suffering we have here. Jesus even promised that we would have trouble in this world. But he also promised that when we stand with Him on that day, and see what it means that He has overcome this world, then the veil will fall away — then this tapestry will take a new hue, as joy unspeakable winds its way through the warp and weft of suffering, and redeems it all for the glory of God.

Take heart. God has fixed all of this.

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Christ is Risen! Why I believe in something as crazy as Jesus’ physical resurrection.

Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen indeed! Happy Easter!

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the definitive apologetic for the Christian faith. If Jesus is not alive, St. Paul tells us, our faith is in vain. Alternatively, if Christ is raised from the dead, then all else must certainly be counted as vanity. After all, if the Christian faith is true, God offers us Christ’s victory over death as our own.

Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, put it this way: If, at the end of my life, I find out that, say, atheism was true instead of Christianity, it won’t matter. I’ll be dead, the universe will go on, and I’ll be none the wiser. But if someone who doesn’t believe in Christianity finds out it is true, then they lose everything. As Jesus said, even if they’ve gained the whole world that will not profit them if they lose their soul eternally. This isn’t an argument for Christianity, per se, but I hope you see why it’s important to think about things that have potentially eternal ramifications. And in an effort to help you think about these things, whether you’re a believer or an unbeliever or somewhere in between, I want to present you with several reasons you ought to believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

The empty tomb.

It seems a pretty basic argument: If the tomb isn’t empty, Jesus isn’t raised from the dead, right? I mean, if you have a body, you don’t have a resurrection. So why didn’t the earliest opponents of Christianity just produce the body and be done with it?

Well, the Christian response has always been that they can’t! The tomb is empty and they can’t find Jesus’ body because He’s ascended into heaven! Let’s look at a few lines of evidence for the empty tomb. A lot of people summarize them with the acronym JET: Jerusalem, Enemies, Testimony of Women. Let’s start with Jerusalem.

The Gospels and Acts tell us that the Apostles began preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem, where Jesus had just been crucified. Can you imagine how hard it would be to preach Peter’s Pentecost sermon about how the Lord of Glory had been crucified, and raised from the dead, if the Jews could produce a body and shut you down immediately? And yet that’s exactly what happens: Peter preaches a powerful message within walking distance of the tomb, saying “David’s tomb is still here, but God raised Jesus up!” If the tomb wasn’t empty, Christianity would never have gotten off the ground.

Now the point comes up again: Why didn’t the earliest enemies of Christianity just grab His body? If the tomb was still full then the Jewish leaders could have just strung up the body and paraded it through the streets. Instead they pay off the guards to say they fell asleep and the disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:11-15). This is precisely because the tomb was discovered empty that first Easter Sunday, and they couldn’t produce the body! It speaks volumes when your strongest opponents confirm your point; John Stott said the silence of Christ’s enemies is just as eloquent a proof of the resurrection as the apostles’ witness.

Finally, the fact that women discovered the tomb would have been an embarrassment to any self-respecting first century male. If the disciples were trying to start a religion, they wouldn’t have had women be the first people to discover Jesus had risen. The Talmud, a collection of Jewish teachings from the time, says “Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women” (Talmud, Sotah 19a). Many more quotes could be piled on to demonstrate the low view of women that first-century Judaism took, especially in regards to legal matters: “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex…since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 4.8.15). So for the Gospels to record such a stark reality — that the male disciples are still cowering in fear and unbelief, while the female disciples go to see Jesus at the tomb — smacks of truth! If you’re going to start a religion in the first century, you don’t do it by painting yourself as a coward compared to a lowly woman.

So based on the nearness to Jerusalem, the silence of the Enemies, and Testimony of Women (JET), it certainly seems like the tomb was empty that Easter morning. And this is only a superficial exploration of the very rich collection of evidence. If this was the end of the case, there would still be compelling reason to consider the claims of Christ further. But there’s still much more.

The appearances of Christ

The Apostle Paul records that after He was raised Jesus “appeared first to Cephas, then to the twelve, then to more than five-hundred people at once, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep; then to James, then to all the apostles…” (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). We see Jesus appearing to individuals and groups, both friendly and hostile. This variety shows us that Christ did indeed appear to His church.

Often people object that the apostles probably had some grief hallucinations. Despite the fact that hallucinations would probably have fit preconceived notions of Jesus resting in Abraham’s Bosom (where faithful Jews awaited the general resurrection at the end of the world), and hallucinations generally don’t give rise to life-altering beliefs, people persist in this particular objection. But Jesus did not just appear to individuals alone; He appeared to groups of people, and groups of people do not have shared hallucinations. That’s why we pay attention when two or three eyewitnesses say they saw the same thing. Not only that, but it wasn’t just friendly sources who saw Jesus: Hostile sources like James (Jesus’ brother who had previously disbelieved his Brother’s claims to Godhood) and Paul (then called Saul, and a murderer of the Christian heretics) both saw Jesus raised from the dead!

The change in the apostles.

Read Luke 22:54-62, then read Acts 2:14-36. Both passages deal with Peter, both are by the same author, and yet the Peter who denies Jesus is very different to the Peter who stands up on the day of Pentecost and preaches a powerful sermon about Jesus’ authority and victory over death. What changed this coward into a bold preacher? He told you, if you read the Acts account: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32). Meeting the risen Jesus completely changed Peter — there’s just no other way to put it. And what could possibly change a man from being so fearful of death to preaching to those who could kill him? Again, he told us: Death has no power over Jesus (See verse 24). So Peter no longer feared death because he had met death’s match; he had met someone who walked straight into the belly of Death and punched a hole in it’s side. That’s why when Peter was faced with death, rather than recanting what he had said, he boldly confessed Christ and received martyrdom for it.

But it wasn’t just Peter or John or the close friends of Jesus who were changed. As I mentioned above, Jesus’s appearance changed people who had been hostile to the faith. James, Jesus’ brother, went from unbeliever to apostle when he met Jesus, even writing the letter bearing his name. And Saul of Tarsus, who was basically a hit man the Jewish leaders hired to kill Christians, said he met Jesus on the way to a murder-for-hire in Damascus. From then on Saul went by Paul, and went from one of the top persecutors of the church to one of it’s chief advocates, writing roughly half of the New Testament, being shipwrecked, stoned, and persecuted in various means as he tried to spread the Gospel. Paul, too, received death as a martyr, choosing to bear witness to what a great hope Christ’s resurrection had given him rather than to live. Becoming a Christian early on in the history of the church generally ended with your own blood being shed. Ask yourself, what would compel a man to leave a successful, stable, and relatively cushy life as a traveling persecutor of heretics, only to be persecuted himself, and ultimately die as a result? Doesn’t the conversion of Paul invite us to take a second look at this whole Easter thing?

So what?

I’m sure that as you’ve reached the end of this post you have questions, and perhaps objections. I’d love to hear them. But I think perhaps the most pressing question is “so what?” What does the fact of the resurrection mean for you? That depends on how you respond to it. If you respond in faith then the resurrection is fantastic news — and faith is not a blind and reasonless ignorance but a trust that is willing to step beyond the evidence, as one might trust that there is something casting a shadow though you cannot see anything but the shadow cast. If you trust that Jesus’ work on the cross, His death, and His resurrection were for you, then this whole Easter thing means so much: Peace with God, forgiveness of your deepest sins and guilt, the strength to fight against sin in your self, and so much more.

Responding in unbelief, however, and rejecting Jesus’ work means that you will have none of that. You will continue to be at odds with God and the universe, you will continue to deal with your guilt on your own, you will continue to be a slave to all of your sinful desires. C. S. Lewis put it nicely: “Some people say to God, ‘thy will be done,’ and there are some people to whom God says ‘thy will be done.'” In other words, if you continue to reject Jesus’ work, and God’s invitation back into right relationship with Him, He will, one day, say “depart from me, I never knew you.”

So this is what the resurrection means: Eternal life, joy everlasting, and freedom from sin, death, and the Devil. I hope you have found a few compelling reasons to believe that the resurrection did indeed happen: If the tomb wasn’t empty, how’d Christianity even get off the ground? If Jesus didn’t convert the Apostle Paul, why did he go from killing Christians to being killed as one? And if these things are true, then why do you delay? It was for your sins that Christ died: Repent of your sins, trust in Him, and His victory this day is also your victory. May God grant it.

Share this post via the links below! God’s blessings on your Easter! 

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How I discovered the ultimate Bible code, and what it means for you!

Now I know a lot of ink has already been spilt, both digital and otherwise, on this topic. So many people have claimed to have cracked the Bible code, from William Tapley to Perry Stone, that another claim to have discovered a Biblical code is rightly viewed with some skepticism. But I have, in fact, discovered the ultimate Bible code: The grand key to unlocking all the wisdom of the Scriptures. This code will change your life. Continue reading

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Psalm 93 and Advent.

During our Advent vespers last Wednesday my church joined in singing Psalm 93. The first verse really caught my attention for its contrast to how I used to think of Advent and Christmas.

The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength[.]

Why is this such an appropriate Psalm to sing during Advent? After all, it doesn’t describe the Christmas story at all. Jesus isn’t robed in the majesty that the Son of God deserves; He’s born in a humble stable, wrapped in rags, and laid in a repurposed feeding trough — from the beginning the God-man experiences suffering and rejection from His people. And “armed with strength?” An infant, cooing for His mother’s milk? Strength is not the word that springs to mind.

And yet this is the perfect Psalm to remind us that things are not always as they seem. God is not always in the whirlwind, or the fire, or the earthquake. God is in the still and the small — in the quiet burbling of the newborn Christ-child, God is robed in majesty and strength, for “He will save His people from their sins.” This baby will bring an end to all of the principalities and powers of darkness. He will deliver us from death, hell, and the devil. He will go to the cross, and there, veiled in suffering, God will set aside the record of our debt, our sin, by nailing it to the cross. This little boy, sleeping in the lap of the Mother of God, is the undoing of all of our evils, for He is the righteous one.

The Lord is robed in majesty, and armed with strength. Amen.

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Where is your God now?

I heard an atheist at a local debate challenge the Christian apologist thus: “Where is your God when I see 14-year-old children dying of cancer?” And to be honest, I identified with his sentiment. There is something existentially revulsive about suffering.

A family loses their children to a drunk driver; a single father who has never smoked is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer; even a family dog suffers long with some undiagnosable disease before finally being put down. Where is your God when these things and more, too heinous to recount here, happen?

Throughout the years people have tried to answer that question in a myriad of ways. Some say that suffering is the result of sin. This is, in my estimation, not a very helpful answer. It’s true that, given Christianity, all suffering is the result of sin. Adam sinned, and all of creation was cursed — we live in a fallen world. But knowing that we live in a fallen world offers little comfort when staring death in the face.

Neither is saying that suffering is the result of particular sins very helpful. Sin certainly could be the cause, but when we start to peer into the unrevealed will of God we tend to get things wrong. Think Westboro Baptist Church, here: 9/11 was God’s judgement on America for our sins. While it may be true that sin brings about punishment, this answer tends to go the way of Job’s comrades: Often unhelpful and of little comfort.

In fact, Jesus warned about this kind of speculation in Luke 13 when He said that those on whom the tower fell were not worse sinners than the rest, but that we should repent or likewise perish. According to Christ, the proper response to suffering is not to blame the victim for their own sins but to take a long, hard look at our own sins and repent of them. But this is not, in itself, an answer to the problem of suffering, as much as it is a personal response to tragedy.

So in what way does Christianity offer a satisfactory answer to the problem of evil? What comfort does Christianity offer to those who suffer? What do you say to the child with cancer, or to her parents? For me the only satisfying answer to suffering is Jesus: The Crucified God.

Christianity teaches “the Word became flesh.” That is, the divine Logos, who was God, assumed a human nature and dwelt here among us. He ate and drank and laughed and cried here as a human being. And then He willingly went and suffered a terrible, senseless death. His death was the only time a bad thing happened to a truly and perfectly good person. And He, for the joy set before Him, for the sake of His people, the sheep of His pasture, chose it.

God chose to go to the Cross and die. The Author of Life came to an ignominious end hung from a tree “made through Him.” Death was filled up with the very source of life. This is God’s answer to all human suffering and evil — both the evil we do and the evil done to us. That He Himself suffered with us, and suffered for us, redeems suffering in a way that no other answer can.

I no longer need an answer to specific instances of pain or suffering in my life. If I find out tomorrow that I have two weeks to live, I know that I have nothing to fear. Why? Because the God who hung Himself on the Cross for love of His enemies can be trusted. If God allows suffering in my life, it is to draw me closer to Him.

Of course, why should I expect to understand something as complex as human suffering in the first place? As Alvin Plantinga put it, why should we expect the justification for human suffering to be big and in your face like a Saint Bernard and not more like the no-see-um bug? In fact, the idea of gratuitous suffering is incredibly presumptuous — to assume that if our very limited human perspective is unable to discern what we consider to be a good reason for suffering then such a reason must not exist is, to be charitable, quite arrogant.

Given Christ on the Cross, we cannot call any suffering gratuitous. I cannot tell you how the suffering of an animal trapped in a forest fire will be redeemed by Christ, but I know that He has said “Behold I am making all things new,” and I trust the God who subjected Himself to the curse to save those under the curse. In fact even death itself has been redeemed by the dying God, for death could not and did not hold Him. He did not remain in the grave, but rose again, as the firstborn from the dead, and one day He will come again to undo our deaths as well.

On the contrary, atheism offers no such hope. Atheism must say to the 14-year-old “Even if we find a cure for your cancer in time, you will still suffer and eventually die.” That is it. There is no redemption of the brokenness, no great un-telling of the stories — just suffering and eternal death.

Tim Keller, in his book “The Reason for God” sums up the Christian position quite nicely:

Just after the climax of the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee discovers that his friend Gandalf was not dead (as he thought) but alive. He cries, “I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue?” The answer of Christianity to that question is yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost. (pg. 33)

Where is your God now? He is not here, but He has risen. He has ascended bearing the marks of His passion and He will return in the same way He left. And when He comes again, we will not have to ask “Was it worth it?”

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In Defense of Young Marriage.

Any time I meet someone new, whether they be a guest at work or a friend of a friend, as soon as they find out that I am married there is a 90 percent chance that I will be asked “Aren’t you a little young to be married?” Now many who ask me this question are genuinely interested in my story, such as why we chose to get married so young. But there is a certain strain of person who asks me this question condescendingly, with that half-smirk so common amongst the particularly enlightened members of our society. These men (it is so rarely a woman) pose the question already knowing the answer: Of course I’m far too young to be married! And I always respond to this question from these people the same way: “Says who?”

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Don’t be so juvenile, Johnny. After all, you are quite a bit younger than the average married couple.” But this isn’t a juvenile question at all, it’s a very serious inquiry. Without a clear understanding of what the standards are for marriage we cannot answer questions like “what is marriage?” and “who is marriage for?” or “is there an optimal age to get hitched?” So the question “says who?” is one of authority: Who defines a marriage?

Now I have had various and sundry answers to this question, but most boil down to this: Marriage is primarily defined by the desires of the self. This is not surprising. We’ve been culturally catechized by everyone from The Beatles to Taylor Swift to Eminem to Kanye West to Justin Bieber that love, relationships, and interaction is primarily about me, myself, and I. Our culture has perverted love from being a verb — a giving of oneself for the good of another person — to being primarily a feeling — the biochemical high I get from being near someone attractive. Even worse, love and lust have become synonymous. And if marriages are based on this definition of love, of course I’m far too young to be married. After all, I haven’t had enough sexual partners to know what I really like in the bedroom. And I haven’t known my wife long enough to know for sure that she’s not going to contradict my personal preferences at some point down the line.

And maybe I am relatively young, but I’ve realized something: The world doesn’t revolve around me. This is why I don’t seek to redefine marriage to suit my preferences. Marriage is not a casual relationship I can cast off in divorce if I don’t like how it’s going. It’s not an institution I can disregard by participating in sexual activity outside of the marriage bed. Marriage is not about finding a mate who caters to our every whim. Marriage is about finding someone to love — not shallow pop-song love, but to truly love them every day in the giving of ourselves to and for them. It’s a formative relationship, maturing both individuals in the relationship. It’s the foundation of the family unit, preparing the way for children.

And so we meet with two opposing views of marriage. The first, marriage is about who I am and what I want. It’s my right to marry who I want, when I want, without question (except, ironically, when you’re as young as I am). Marriage can be between whoever, for whatever amount of time, and it can end for whatever reason. You’ll notice that this definition of marriage rests squarely on the shoulders of each individual. We could call this relativistic marriage.

The second view, and the view I hold to adamantly, is that marriage is not about me getting what I want but about giving someone what they need. Marriage is a responsibility to which I am called, not a right that I demand. Marriage is about serving others, not about being served. Marriage is not primarily about love as a rush of chemicals to the head, but about love as an action word. On this view, the definition of marriage rests beyond us, in something greater than us. I would point to Ephesians 5:25 which paints marriage as a picture of the love of Christ and His Church. We could thus call this revealed marriage.

On the first view, I admit, young marriage doesn’t make much sense. I doubt anyone could argue that the best way to serve their sexuality or independence would be by getting married young. But I would submit that the first view of marriage as defined by the self is deeply flawed. And, on the second view, because marriage is not about me or my desires but about best serving God, my wife, my future children, and my community, young marriage becomes just as normative and advisable (if not more so, in some cases) than later marriages.

Because relativistic marriage holds that marriage is ultimately defined by our expectations, desires, and ideals, and because these things vary from person to person, on the first view the word “marriage” actually becomes meaningless, simply because it means too much. It is very interesting then to hear someone who holds this view of marriage condescendingly question my age. After all, why shouldn’t I get married young, especially if it makes me happy? This instinct belies the fact that ultimately, people recognize the truth of revealed marriage even if they prefer relativistic marriage. People inherently understand that for marriage to mean anything it must mean a specific kind of thing; they even have a vague idea of what that kind of thing is. But we reject revealed marriage because it means that this specific kind of thing will not necessarily be what we wish it would be — it’s easier just to remake marriage as we would have it, rather than as it is.

But if marriage is primarily a formative, others-centered relationship of active love, does it make sense to enter into such a relationship at a young age? Of course it does. First, the sooner any character building event takes place in life, the deeper the character that is built. If in my marriage I will experience a depth of maturation that only this kind of relationship produces, why wait? Second, if marriage is about children, family, and society, then by entering into a young marriage my wife and I will have more opportunity to mature and prepare ourselves as parents. Young marriage allows us to prepare to raise a family together, rather than risking a child out of wedlock or having less time to prepare for children once we’re married later in life. And finally, and most importantly, marriage iconifies Christ and His Church. As such, it is a strong cause of spiritual formation and maturation, through which the Father forms us ever more into the image of His Son.

I will probably deal with this question for the rest of my life. And each time I am asked, I will challenge the premise that there’s such a thing as “young” marriage. What do you think?

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That Christ Died. (or, an introduction to the resurrected Lord, part 2.)

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures[.]

— 1 Corinthians 15:3

It may seem an unnecessary point to begin a series on the resurrection on: Doesn’t almost everyone almost everywhere know that the man called Christ died on a Roman cross? Isn’t that a properly basic fact of history? Well…no, and yes, respectively.

You see, while there is overwhelming historical evidence that Jesus Christ was indeed put to death on a Roman cross, there are still those who deny that this happened. The Swoon theory of the resurrection accounts denies that Christ actually physically died. Rather, in an effort to deny the resurrection, proponents assert that He just passed out, and was buried alive. He revived, rather than resurrected, in the tomb.

Muslims also dismiss the historicity of the death of Jesus. Sura 4:157 says:

And [for] their saying, ‘Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .’ And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.

In other words, Christ was not crucified, but someone else was made to look like Him, and was crucified in His place, while He was taken up into heaven. We’ll come back to refuting both of these notions. For now let us ask: What do we know about Jesus’ death?

An examination of hostile sources — both pagan and Jewish — will render us able to confidently state that Jesus was indeed put to death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. Cornelius Tacitus, the “great historian” of ancient Rome, records in his acclaimed work Annals, “Christus…suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out…” (XV). As F. F. Bruce famously pointed out, Tacitus ironically joined hands with the Creed, affirming that Christ “suffered…[under] Pontius Pilate.” The extreme penalty is synonymous with capital punishment, which was most often crucifixion. Lucian of Samosata twice references the crucified Christ whom we “misguided creatures” follow (The Death of Peregrine). And finally, the Babylonian Talmud records how Jesus was “hanged on the eve of Passover” (Sanhedrin 43a). “Hanged” is used throughout the Talmud to refer to crucifixion. All of these — and more, excluded for the sake of brevity — bear independent and hostile witness to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth died on a Roman cross — a very good start!

But for more detail, we must turn to the eyewitnesses of the life of Christ: His disciples. However, I’m sure that the objection will be raised “well of course they’re going to say He died and rose again. After all, they’re Christians!” Eyewitness bias is indeed to be taken into consideration. That’s one reason I appealed to hostile sources. No one can accuse Tacitus of Christian proselytizing! But consider this: The disciples were not previously Christians who wrote down what they saw; rather, they became Christians because of what they saw, and then wrote it down for others. In other words, the accusation of bias doesn’t make sense.

We will begin the night of Jesus’ betrayal. After the Last Supper, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus bowed to pray. Here, Luke records that Jesus, “in an agony,” began to sweat great drops of blood (Luke 22:44). This was, for a very long time, regarded as a legend that had accumulated into the Christian tradition. Sweating blood? Unbelievable! As medical science has advanced, however, we now know of hematidrosis: Sweating blood! This incredibly rare medical condition is most often precipitated by “[a]cute fear and intense mental contemplation” (1). The details of Luke’s account testify to the thoroughness of his research (Luke 1:1-4)! The rarity of this condition makes this an unlikely legendary accretion.

After His flesh had been sensitized by the hematidrosis, Christ was taken from the garden to the high priest’s home (Lk. 22: 54). Here those who had captured Him — or rather, those with whom He went willingly — blindfolded and beat Him (Lk. 22:63-65). From here, Jesus goes to see Pilate, and Pilate has Him scourged (Lk. 23:16; cf. Jn. 19:1).

Roman scourging was a terrible thing. From history we know that a Roman flagrum was a terrible tool of torture. It had multiple cords, with bits of glass, bone, and stone woven into it. Each cord was weighted at the end, causing the scourge to bite into the flesh; the woven teeth tore out huge chunks of the victim’s body. Eusebius records how “sometimes the scourges tore into [the] innermost veins and arteries, revealing [entrails] and organs” (Ecclesastical History, 4:15). Unlike the Jewish authorities, who only permitted 39 lashes, the Roman authorities had no such limit. In the case of capital punishment, it seems they encouraged lengthy whippings, so as to ensure a timely death. So Christ was stripped of His garments, tied to a post, and stripped of His skin. The damage inflicted by scourging alone was known to cause death.

Hypovolemic shock occurs when you lose %20 or more of the normal amount of blood in your body. At the end of His scourging, Christ was almost certainly undergoing hypovolemic shock. The kidneys shut down to save fluid; your heart starts to pound because your blood pressure drops. After a long night without sleep or food, Christ endures the agony of a Roman scourging, but just barely. Carrying His cross proved too much, so the Roman guards press-ganged Simon of Cyrene into carrying the cross for Him (Lk. 23:26; Mk. 15:20-21; Matt. 27:31-32). In Mark 15 we read that “they brought Him to the place called Golgotha” (22). The phrase “they brought Him” indicates that Christ had collapsed — they carried Him to His execution.

Although the method of crucifixion has come under fire, recent archaeological findings at Giv‘at ha-Mivtar have shown that perpetrators were indeed nailed to the cross through the hands and feet. The fact that this practice was known indicates that this was not a later Christian invention, but John faithfully recording what he saw.

Another interesting inference from the Giv‘at ha-Mivtar findings: Because wood was sparse in the Ancient Near East, it is likely that crucifixions were carried out with olive wood. Because olive trees are not very tall, this would mean that crucifixions would have taken place at or just above eye-level. With a crowd of people gathered around to see Christ’s punishment, those more cowardly disciples in the back row would have a different perspective than that of John the Beloved at the feet of his Lord. Thus the different perspectives in the Gospel narratives.

Crucifixion may kill in a number of ways. Because crucifixions were known to last for days, some victims passed of sepsis, dehydration, starvation, or any of a number of other horrific reasons. However, in the case of Christ, death was the combined result of asphyxiation and cardiac arrest caused by hypovolemic shock. This is evidenced by the record of “blood and water” flowing out of Christ’s spear wound (Jn. 19:34).

As previously mentioned, hypovolemic shock raises the heart rate. This constant pounding away at next to no blood wears the heart down rapidly. Fluid begins to collect around the heart and lungs; a pericardal and pleural effusion, respectively. As the heart fails, the blood slows through the veins and begins to clot. As the soldier’s spear pierced Christ’s side, this mixture of dark red semi-coagulated blood and watery clear serum would have been very obvious to the closer bystander John. His credibility as an eyewitness is increased by the fact that he would have not understood nor been able to explain the “blood and water” that he saw, and yet he recorded it. This phrase is definite evidence that Jesus Christ died on the cross.

In spite of all the demonstrative medical, historical, and archaeological evidence to the contrary, — in spite of the mental anguish, the multiple beatings with fists, the scourging, the crown of thorns, the long walk to Golgotha in His pitiful state, and the sufferings of crucifixion so great that they had to come up with a new word (excruciating, or “out of the cross”) to describe the horrors — some still insist that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. To the Muslim we must ask, do you really believe that John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was confused about what or whom he saw? As he stood near the cross, did he suddenly forget what his rabbi of three and a half years looked like? How could he be so pinpoint accurate about a forensic detail he had no knowledge of, and yet so mistaken as to the identity of a man he had given his life to?

And let us indulge for a moment, against all odds, the strange notion that Christ did not, in fact, die on the cross. First, the idea that He could recover in the tomb unaided is absurd. Josephus had the emperor Titus remove three of his friends from their crosses and got them the best medical help available. Two of them died within a few days (Autobiography, ch. 76; Wars of the Jews, IV v.2). But suppose Jesus’ did all of this: Survived the scourging, the crown of thorns, the various beatings, and the cross itself, and awoke in the tomb. How did He, in His doubtlessly pitiful state, move the stone, pass the guard, walk whatever distance back to Jerusalem, and convince His disciples that they would one day have a resurrection body just like His, and that this was a thing worth dying for? No, the swoon hypothesis clearly falls apart as soon as it faces the facts of history; “that Christ died” is a sure and certain thing.

Stay tuned for part 3: For your sins. As of right now, this series is on hold. I will revive it eventually. Read part 1 here. Questions or comments are both welcome and expected in the form below! 

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Filed under Apologetics, Christology, Theology