Tag Archives: Jesus

The Same God?: a look at Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism

A firestorm ensued at Wheaton College this past December when a professor, citing Pope Francis, declared via Facebook that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.[i]  Her evangelical employer suspended her, which in turn somehow turned into a national story.  What probably should have been left as an in house debate among Evangelical Christians has turned into quite a controversy, eliciting commentary spanning a multitude of religious beliefs and ideologies.  Most of what I’ve read has been unenthusiastic toward Wheaton, to say the least.  Despite the unfortunate tone and rancor, it’s not necessarily a negative situation that this issue is now public.  What I’m seeing and hearing leads me to this: in these often heated discussions comes clarity.  Clarity of doctrine and beliefs.  Clarity of hearts.  Painful though some of the talk is to hear,[ii] it gives us as evangelicals an idea of where the culture stands on this issue and, more importantly, where fellow Christian leaders and organizations stand.

Before moving on, let me state that I’ll be discussing several major belief systems: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Mormonism.  The reason I include the latter two is because the exact same question arises in regard to these religions from time to time, particularly Mormonism.

On to the question: Do Christians worship the same God as Muslims, Jews, and Mormons?  Personally, I don’t like the way the question is framed.  It leads to varying interpretations of what is meant by “worship” and “same God.” Upon reading and listening to the various discussions on this topic, it’s clear more questions need to be raised to clarify the debate.  Here are but a few:

  1. Is the God of the Quran and the Bible the same? In other words, is God described differently in the Bible, Quran, or various LDS texts?
  2. Do Christians and Muslims have in mind the same God?
  3. If Christians, Muslim, Jews, and Mormons have in mind the same God, is it appropriate to state that they worship this God based on the totality of their beliefs?
  4. What is meant by worship? Is it merely a devotion to a set of beliefs?  Is there a true worship that goes beyond asceticism, what Jesus called worshiping “in Spirit and in truth”?

How the above questions are answered directly affects the central question.  With that in mind I’ll describe three main approaches to this question.  Next, some key Scriptures will be cited along with some comments.  After examining what the Bible has to say on the matter, we’ll return to the approaches and ascertain which approach best fits each faith – in relation to the central question.

Approach One: the same God is in view & the same God is worshiped.

From all appearances, this view is the most popular, and pairs well with Inclusivism.  The reasoning is that all four belief systems accept the biblical view of God, for the most part.  So Islam, for instance, is considered one of the Abrahamic religions because it accepts Abraham, as well as Moses, as true patriarchs.  Since the God of Abraham is the God of the Bible, then Muslims must have in mind the same God.  Whether they call this deity “God” or “Allah” is immaterial.  These are just language based terms for the same being.  Furthermore, their worship of God is evident in their strict devotion to the sacred texts.  While there are certainly differences in theology and practice, who are we to say that Muslims, Jews, or Mormons are not truly worshiping God?  Nobody has perfect beliefs, so charity should reign.[iii]

Approach Two: the same God is in view, but the same God is not worshiped.

This view actually has some evangelical support.  There is a realization that the major Abrahamic religions based their identity in the Patriarchs.  This alone indicates that the same God is in view.  However, that doesn’t mean that true worship is occurring.  Though one can have right beliefs about who God is, it does not follow that one is showing true devotion regardless of additional theological ideas and practices.  As Paul noted in Romans, one can have a “zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.”  The meaning is clear: one can have in mind the right God, but not be a true worshiper of that God.

Approach Three: different gods are in view; therefore, worship is of different deities

This view acknowledges that the major religions trace their origins back to Abraham.  Therefore, a great deal of similarity is to be expected.  However, there is also a great deal of difference.  With the introduction of new sacred texts (i.e, the Quran) has come a redefinition of God.  And when God is redefined, God is no longer God.  A new deity has been imagined.  The evidence of this is seen in the type of devotion given, as well as how God is spoken of.  In other words, there is enough variation to warrant the belief that Christians, Muslims, and Mormons have in mind a different God.  Therefore, when each group worships, it is directed toward the God of their sacred texts, the God they have in mind.

Scripture Examined

With these three approaches now defined, it’s necessary to look at a few Scriptures that have a bearing on this subject (with some comments following):

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:23-24)

There’s not only a differing view of God in play, but also a differing understanding of worship.  We must realize that when others talk about “worship” they have in mind something else, typically any type of devotion or acceptance of a religion, either in whole or in part.  Since the definition is greatly broadened, it behooves us to use this opportunity to clarify what Jesus said about true worship.  In biblical Christianity, it’s not merely about following right practices.  True worship is a matter of the heart, not a rote memorization of some text, or a daily prayer ritual.  Biblical worship is based on a correct understanding of God’s nature and revelation (truth), in addition to a deep and abiding love of God and his ways (spirit).  Without these two in unison, true worship cannot be accomplished.

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.  For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.  For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (Romans 10:1b-3)

In these verses Paul is speaking of the unbelieving Jews of his day.  They rejected Jesus as their Messiah.  What is significant for the present discussion is that he assumes that they have in mind the same God, despite them rejecting Christ and, by extension, all of the theology that comes with him.  The Jews have the right God in mind, but their knowledge is now deficient and cannot save them.  As further discussed below, this passage lends support to applying Approach Two to Judaism.

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. (John 8:42-44a)

These verses are sometimes cited as proof that Jews who reject Jesus are not worshiping the same God.[iv]  This would put them in Approach One, the same boat as Islam and Mormonism.  But recall that there are two main points we are considering: (1) what God is in mind, & (2) if the same God, is he truly being worshiped?  In reading the passage above along with its wider context, Jesus isn’t dealing with question one.  Rather, it’s all about worship.  The Jews in conversation had the right God in mind, but their hearts were far from him.  Their hearts had become so calloused in fact, that not only were they not worshiping God, they had even turned into servants of Satan himself.  The devil had become their “father,” even while they diligently worked to keep every jot and tittle of the Law.  Taking these verses in accord with what Paul writes in Romans 9-11, it becomes clear that unbelieving, religious Jews know who God is, but they are not worshiping him since they have rejected Jesus.

With the above thoughts in mind, let’s revisit the three approaches and apply the truths of Scripture to the present topic and central question.  Restated again: Is the God of Christianity the same as the God of Islam, Judaism, and Mormonism?

Approach One: Same God, Same Worship

The only religious groups that would fall into this category would be the various Protestant denominations.  These are the Christian groups who hold to the Bible as the true and only word of God, and seek to live by it.  Much of liberal Protestantism would be excluded since they reject large sums of biblical revelation about God, and in some cases radically redefine both his being and his character.  Arguably some sects of Roman Catholicism could squeak in – or, at least many individuals within the Catholic church – since some have a higher view of the Bible than of tradition.

Approach Two: Same God, Different Worship

Much of Judaism falls into this category.  While religious Jews utilize tradition and some other texts, their ultimate guide to theology is the Torah.  Therefore, as explained above, they have in view the right God.  However, in their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah, they are not worshiping him according to knowledge.  A large segment of Roman Catholicism falls into this category.  Rome has placed tradition at such a high level that it has become equal to the Scriptures themselves.  As a result, the pontiff of Rome is given undue adulation (the “vicar of Christ”), Mary, the mother of Jesus is exalted far beyond what is acceptable, the saints are prayed to, and the gospel itself is muddied.  This being said, I’m not stating that all Catholics are unsaved. Rather, Rome’s man-made traditions have so obfuscated the gospel that it’s hard to know the truth to be saved.[v]  And that is tragic.

Approach Three: Different God, Different Worship

This category involves both Islam and Mormonism.  When comparing the God of the Bible with the God of Islam, it’s evident that Allah is a different God.  Since a new text has been introduced with new ideas about God, we must conclude that a different deity is in view.[vi]  In the case of Mormonism the differences are even starker.  God has been completely redefined into something, or someone else.[vii]  In both cases, Muslims and Mormons do indeed practice devotion and worship, but the object of that worship is not the God of the Bible.[viii]

Conclusion

Christianity is both inclusive and exclusive, albeit in different senses.  It’s inclusive in that anyone, anywhere, regardless of ethnicity, upbringing, or past actions, has access to salvation through Jesus Christ.  It’s exclusive in that salvation only comes through Jesus, meaning that neither one’s ethnicity nor good actions plays any part in obtaining eternal life.  It’s this exclusive aspect of biblical Christianity that so offends.  And, oh does it ever ruffle feathers.  But it always has.  And it always will.  Jesus himself said as much, and his Apostles encountered this opposition in force.  Despite this, we are to proclaim the truth: there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ. He is God’s prophet, priest, and king.  He is the God-man, who came to die a sinner’s death to save sinners.  We must trust in his provision – there is no other provision available.  To reject the Son is to reject eternal life.  We must worship this same Lord in spirit and in truth, and we must testify of his truth to others, in the hope that they might do the same.

Notes:

[i] Smietana, Bob, “Wheaton College Suspends Hijab-Wearing Professor After ‘Same God’ Comment.”  From: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/december/wheaton-college-hijab-professor-same-god-larycia-hawkins.html.  Posted 12 Dec 2015.  Accessed 11 Jan 2016.  The professor at the center is Dr. Larycia Hawkins, who wrote: “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”  Regarding what the Pope said, it should be noted that he was merely affirming what has become standard church doctrine: “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their desserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.” Emphasis mine.  From Nostra Aetate 3, in the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Second Vatican Council, 28 Oct 1965.  Found here: https://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/v2non.htm.  Accessed 11 Jan 2016.

[ii] One could choose from over a dozen articles from The Huffington Post.  The anti-Christian sentiments at that site are legendary, so it’s no wonder a story like this led to such outrage.  Here’s one: Gilberson, Karl, “The Strange Theology of Wheaton College.”  From: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karl-giberson-phd/the-strange-theology-of-w_b_8939466.html.  Posted 08 Jan 2016.   Accessed 11 Jan 2016.  As others have done, Gilberson, a professor at Stonehill College, accuses Wheaton of anti-Muslim bigotry and asserts that their position is illogical.  For a refreshingly fair non-evangelical opinion piece on the situation, and why Wheaton did what they did: Laats, Adam. “Elite Wheaton College Still a School of a Different Sort.”  From: http://chicago.suntimes.com/opinion/7/71/1234531/elite-wheaton-college-still-school-different-sort.  Posted 08 Jan 2016.  Accessed 11 Jan 2016.

[iii] As an example a professor at Louisville Seminary, Amy Plantinga Pauw states: “No one is in a position of saying, ‘Well, we know exactly how God works in the world, and my particular group has a monopoly on that,’” as quoted here: Gjelten, Tom, “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?”  From: http://www.npr.org/2015/12/20/460480698/do-christians-and-muslims-worship-the-same-god. Updated 21 Dec 2015.  Accessed 11 Jan 2016.

[iv] Mohler, R. Albert. “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?”   From: http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/12/18/do-christians-and-muslims-worship-the-same-god/.  Posted 18 Dec 2015.  Accessed 11 Jan 2016.

[v] The parallels between the traditions of Rome and the traditions of the Pharisees and scribes are hard to miss.  Both add to the written word multiple new rules; both place tradition on an equal footing with the scriptures; both have enjoyed much “pomp and circumstance”; both have placed undue burdens upon their followers; both have been guilty of the deaths of God’s servants.  The list could be longer.  Listen to Jesus’ biting words: “You have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering” (Luke 10:52b ESV – for a more in depth context: Luke 10:37-53, Matt. 23:1-35).  For an example from Judaism describing the “Two Torahs” (written and oral): https://www.templeinstitute.org/oral_tradition.htm.  Accessed 13 Jan 2016.  For an example from Catholiscism: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/scripture-and-tradition.  Accessed 13 Jan 2016.  The similarities between the two approaches to the Bible and tradition are striking.  It bears stating that Jesus himself never criticized the Torah.  He did, however, repeatedly criticize tradition.  In fact, he never said anything good about it.  The problem, it seems, is that tradition inevitably undermines the truth of God’s word.

[vi] While there are many similarities with the Judeo-Christian understand of God, the differences should not be underestimated.  As an example, Allah in Islam could never be called “Father” as in Christianity.  See: Hosein, Imran Nazar. “Islam Rejects the False Doctrine of the Fatherhood of God.”  From: http://www.imranhosein.org/articles/understanding-islam/87-islam-rejects-the-false-doctrine-of-the-fatherhood-of-god.html.  Accessed 11 Jan 2016.  Hosein misunderstands, for the large part, what is meant by biblical reference to God as “father.”  He isn’t a father in the literal, technical sense of intercourse/pregnancy/birth, as Hosein (and the Quran) asserts.  Rather, he is father in a more metaphorical, though real way as our Creator who loving treats us as sons.  But even this Hosein seems to reject:  “Neither is Allah Most High father, nor can He be even compared with father, since He is incomparable. Indeed elementary common sense reveals that He cannot be father since, although He created both the male and the female, He is neither male nor female.” It seems inescapable that Allah is capricious and distant.  Therefore, there can be no dynamic relationship between Allah and man, even though Allah is said to answer prayers and offer mercy.  Yet this isn’t the same as the relational God of the Bible.

I should also note that Islam is not a monolithic movement.  There are varieties of thought regarding these issues.  However, the traditional concept of Allah in Islam is as noted here.  Additionally, most conservative Muslims (if that’s the term to use) like Hosein would almost certainly agree that Allah is not the same as the God of the Jews and Christians.

[vii] I’ve spoken with several Mormon missionaries (“elders”) about this very subject.  They tend to be cagey when it comes to Joseph Smith’s “revelations” that God is an exalted man who was once was much like us.  But pressed on the subject, they capitulate – though the subject is quickly turned elsewhere.  The confusing part is that Mormons use virtually identical theological terminology.  But as I pointed out to them, if I describe my wife to someone, yet my physical description of her is different than what she looks like, and my description of her personality is different, then I’m not talking about my wife.  I’m talking about someone else.  It matters not one bit that I call her by her correct name.

[viii] For another interesting take on the controversy, and a defense of the fact different Gods are in view: Cochran, Matthew. “Wheaton is Right: the Christian and Muslim Gods are Different.”  From: http://thefederalist.com/2015/12/21/wheaton-is-right-the-christian-and-muslim-gods-are-different/.  Posted 21 Dec 2015.  Accessed 11 Jan 2016.

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Christianity and Homosexuality, pt 1: Jesus and homsexuality

Question: Jesus never condemned homosexuality.  Rather, he showed love and acceptance to everyone.  Shouldn’t Christians follow his example?

Most everyone claims to know Jesus.  Depending on your outlook, he is one or more of the following (in no way an exhaustive list): liberator, rebel, magician, great teacher, good man, miracle worker, hippie, leader, Lord.  Corresponding with many of these views is a pervasive tendency to rescue the true Jesus from a corrupted Bible and the insanity of his followers.  But my aim here is not to give an apologetic for the view that the Bible is trustworthy and reliable, nor to defend the “crazy” Christians.  Though important, that is a lengthy discussion going well beyond the present topic.  Besides that, the question above assumes the Bible is correct in reporting the words of Jesus.  Therefore, the answer given below will answer in kind.

I’m going to list some general points, in no order of importance.

  1. Jesus always affirmed the OT Scriptures, which clearly condemn homosexual behavior.  The burden of proof lies with anyone who argues otherwise.
  2. The culture he was in (1st C. Judea) universally rejected homosexuality so there wasn’t a pressing need to address the subject.
  3. We only have a limited amount of Jesus’ sayings.  He could have (and probably had) talked about the subject, but these things have not been recorded because.  As John wrote: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ,” (Jn. 20:31) and, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (21:25)
  4. If Jesus gave such strict understandings of other areas of sexuality, it is extremely unlikely he would have wavered on homosexuality.  For instance, to look at a woman lustfully was on a par with adultery; divorce and remarriage = adultery; in other words, he upped the ante on sexual behavior.  In fact, if someone says that Jesus only (or even primarily) taught on love and forgiveness, then they have not read the Gospels very closely.  Some of the hardest sayings of the Bible were from the lips of Christ.  He was uncompromising on the subject of sin.  Yes he spoke of love and forgiveness, but this is never to be divorced from the repentance demanded from those seeking God’s love and mercy.
  5. We cannot create a dichotomy between Jesus and the rest of the NT.  The same Jesus who died and rose again commissioned the apostles to write under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  By Jesus’ own words, he was present in and through the HS.  Thus, the words of Paul should be considered worthy of scripture – as even Peter affirmed.  Paul condemned homosexual behavior.
  6. True, Jesus told the woman caught in adultery: “Neither do I condemn you.”  But we went on to say: “Now go and sin no more.”  We can surmise from this that he would have told a practicing homosexual something similar.
  7.  Jesus also never spoke in the Bible regarding polygamy or incest.  If threesomes (or more) are committed to one another, then why deny them the right marry?  If father and daughter or brother and sister want to be married, why not?
  8.  Jesus only spoke of marriage in terms of a man/woman relationship.

So, what about Jesus’ love and acceptance of all people?  Certainly, Jesus did show compassion to the downtrodden, and ended up talking and dining with society’s undesirables.  But his message to them was the same: repent and turn to God and you will inherit the kingdom of God.  Jesus was inclusive in that he welcomed all regardless of race, gender, status, or past sins; he was exclusive in that he only welcomed those who believed in his name and turned from their sins.  The same is true today.

More could be fleshed out of each of these points.  Suffice it to say, it is stretch to use the Gospel’s silence on the topic of homosexuality as a license from Jesus to practice the same.

**All scripture taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

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How Shall We Then COEXIST?

Scarcely a day goes by that I don’t see the popular “COEXIST” bumper sticker gracing the back of somebody’s car.  It usually accompanies other stickers of a similar ilk, but often stands alone.  I can’t help but wonder about the decision process of the folks who apply this sticker to their bumper.  There seems to be a couple of possibilities:

  1. They simply want people of differing views to get along without violence.  There is no pronouncement of religions being all the same, or of some desire to see a one-world religion.  It is primarily a view of peace.
  2. They want a world of peace and understand that the best way to accomplish this is to promote the view that there is no religion that is better than any other.  Not only war, but any kind of verbal disagreement is seen as the enemy.

Before weighing in on which is the more likely true message, here’s how the website http://www.coexistbumpersticker.org describes the meaning of the sticker and its purpose:

The letters that spell coexist use different religious symbols to represent the different religions. Here are the letters used and what religion they are for.

C – This is a crescent moon that represents Islam

O – This is the peace symbol or pagan/Wiccan pentacle.

E – It is the male/female symbol or a scientific equation.

X – This is the Star of David and represents Judaism.

I – It is a pagan/Wiccan symbol used.

S – This is a Chinese yin-yang symbol.

T – The cross is used to represent Christianity.

Now that you have been enlightened to the coexist bumper sticker meaning, you can see how it is designed to promote peace and coexistence among different people, no matter what your religion is.

Many people don’t think that this is a good idea, but if you think about it, when people start to coexist with each other, the problems in the world will become less. If you believe that coexistence is a good idea, then this could be the right type of sticker for you to add to your vehicle.” (emphasis mine)

While the makers of the bumper sticker promote the message in a non-threatening and winsome way, there’s good reason to think they have in mind a message more in line with (2) than (1).  The line I’ve italicized betrays this: “when people start to coexist with each other, the problems in the world will become less.”  While the statement on the surface seems innocuous enough, when we consider what it takes to accomplish a lessoning of the “problems in the world” we see that it cannot merely refer to physical or verbal fighting – there are many, many other things wrong with the world: hunger, disease, racial inequalities, environmental issues, etc.  With each religion and/or philosophy comes a differing view about how to approach each problem.  And some problems are viewed as worse than others based upon the particular worldview examining it.  For instance, a New Age person might view environmental issues as the most pressing problem of the day, since in that worldview the earth is all we have and we must treat it (or, her, as the case may be) with much care.  On the other hand, some Muslims (and some Christians, I’m sorry to say) don’t really care about these issues at all.  With such divergent worldviews, it’s a pipe dream to imagine universal agreement on fixing the world’s problems.

With that line of reasoning as our base, let’s think about this for a second.  There’s only two ways, theoretically, to bring about peace and harmony among all peoples, and to cure the world’s ills.  In one, the realization must emerge that only one way is correct.  When the masses understand this, harmony will ensue since there will be a common belief system, and with that common worldview will come a common purpose and outlook.  In the second, the realization must emerge that either there is no true religion or philosophy, or that all religions and philosophies lead to the same ultimate goal, or god.  This too leads to a common worldview and purpose and outlook.

Guess which view the COEXIST crowd is most likely to espouse?  The first is intolerable, since having only one way is viewed as narrow and bigoted.  It almost goes without saying that you would be hard pressed to find someone with the COEXIST bumper sticker holding this first view.  The second must be the choice.  But with the second comes the view that true peace and coexistence can only take place once religion is relegated to the realm of non-importance.  After all, it is supposed, any claims on religious truth leads to discord, and disagreement is not harmonious.

Compare the message with the famous song “Imagine” by John Lennon:

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Lennon’s song has become something of an anthem for the New Age worldview.  It lays out in strikingly unambiguous words what it takes to achieve true peace, true oneness.

But the Christian who holds the Bible as the infallible word of God, and Jesus as the only way of salvation, will understand the COEXIST message in a different way.  There will only be true harmony when every knee is bowed to the one true and living God.  Yet this doesn’t mean that we cannot “coexist” in a more biblical sense.  Here are some guidelines:

  1. As Jesus commanded, we should love our neighbor (i.e., everyone – cf. Mt. 5:44-47)
  2. While we may disagree with the views of others, and may even engage in discussion and debate, we must do so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15).
  3. We must seek to “live at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18; cf. Heb. 12:14).
  4. We must pray for a peaceful existence with all people (2 Tim. 2:1-2).
  5. We must do good to all people (Gal. 6:10)
  6. We must understand and teach that biblical coexistence is not about differing belief systems; instead, it is about divergent peoples coming together under a common belief, namely that Jesus is the Messiah who died for sins and rose from the dead.

What we must not do is compromise our message.  If Jesus truly is the Messiah, we must preach it – yes, with respect and gentleness – but also with clarity and boldness.  True love for all people demands nothing less.

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The Resurrection: Objection 2: Jesus’ burial place was forgotten

Of the various objections to the resurrection, this is one of the weakest.  But it has been seriously proposed and on occasion it will rear its ugly head.  It therefore demands an answer, but I will keep the response short on this one.

According to this argument, since it was the preparation time before the Sabbath, Jesus was buried immediately.  Being in such a hurry to keep from any Sabbath violations, Jesus was quickly laid in a tomb and the ‘buriers’ – whoever they were – left in such a hurry that they forgot where they had laid him.

There are some serious flaws in this theory.  For one, in order for the objection to hold up, Jesus must have died an ignominious death.  If he was just another victim of Roman cruelty and few people cared about his death, it is possible his actual place of burial could have been forgotten.  But this goes against all available evidence.  Jesus was a highly controversial figure and his body would therefore not be forgotten.  And if he had been unknown and nobody cared?  Then one would need to explain the explosion of belief afterwards.  Not likely.

Next, some might argue that the 1st Century was a different era, meaning that they did not keep up with gravesites the way moderns do.  In this view, the ancients were bungle heads who could not be counted on to do anything right.  But this is simple chronological snobbery.  It is very easy to thumb our noses at foregone societies without ever really getting to know what they were all about.  Contrary to this view, past cultures and ancient civilizations were quite sophisticated in many ways.  People were not just buried haphazardly.  On the contrary, people planned their own burial places and those of their loved ones.  Are we to suppose that Jesus’ family, friends, and disciples all forgot where he was laid?  This is not a credible argument.

Finally, Jesus’ enemies had a lot invested in getting him arrested and executed.  Having his body come up missing – even if  by mistake – had the potential to ruin their plans.  Jesus’  burial place was not about to be forgotten.

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The Resurrection: Objection 1: The disciples stole the body

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the first objection to Christ’s resurrection was that the disciples stole the body.  The guards at Jesus’ tomb went to the chief priests and elders with startling news involving angels and an empty tomb.  We read a brief account of what transpired at this meeting:

And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  So they took the money and did as they were directed.  And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. (Matt. 28:12-15 English Standard Version)

Earlier the chief priests had requested of Pilate that Jesus’ tomb be made secure.  Knowing that Jesus had taught he would rise in three days, they feared his body would be taken by his followers, who would then proclaim him raised.  So Pilate granted they use the temple guard (Roman soldiers assigned to the temple) to put a seal on the tomb and to watch it. (cf. Matt. 27:62-66)

Amazingly, the stolen body theory continues to prevail as a favorite among skeptics.   Indeed, it is the most natural objection considering the circumstances of the crucifixion.  After all, it is supposed, since dead people do not come back to life, and since Jesus’ followers considered him the Messiah, and considering Jesus himself spoke of being raised again, it is most probable that after Jesus’ death the disciples came and took his body and then proclaimed him alive. 

To most, this is a reasonable explanation.  But it is only reasonable because those who put forth the argument have not considered the evidence carefully.   When the facts are weighed, it becomes clear that it is highly improbable that the disciples stole Jesus’ body.  The naturalistic assumptions behind the disbelief in resurrections will be dealt with in a later post.  For now let’s consider why the objection at hand is faulty.  First, I will lay out some facts relevant to the discussion, and then proceed to build my case.

Fact #1:  Jesus of Nazareth was crucified under Pontius Pilate.  

Fact #2:  Jesus was buried in a tomb.  

Fact #3:  This same tomb was found empty.  

Fact #4:  The disciples immediately began proclaiming Jesus to be resurrected.

These facts are well established and affirmed by virtually all NT scholars.  With these in view as a foundation, the following arguments will be offered:

 1.       The Roman guards would have never allowed the disciples to steal the body.  In addition to being highly trained soldiers, falling asleep on the job or being otherwise derelict in duty was punishable by death.  No amount of cleverness or bargaining would sway the soldiers.  One could posit that the disciples came in such numbers and force that the guard was overpowered.  But this fails for three reasons.  First, such an occurrence would likely have either greatly injured or killed the guard, making their later report to the chief priests unlikely.  Second, such an act would have been met with swift and severe punishment by the Roman authorities.  The ‘Jesus movement’ would have been squashed immediately.   Third, violence neither marked Jesus’ teachings nor the teachings of his earliest followers.  It is incredibly unlikely his followers could commit such an act and then turn around and spread his love.

2.       A stolen corpse does not inspire people the way the disciples were inspired.  Let’s follow the logic here.  If the disciples did somehow manage to retrieve Jesus’ body, what do we assume they did with it?  Did they just move it someplace else and bury it in secret?  And how would this act of deceit cause them to go from fearful, cowering followers of a condemned Messiah, to the fearless preachers of a risen Messiah?  If Jesus was not raised, and they knew this to be true, it would be insanity to willingly die for what one knows is a lie.  People will sometimes willingly die for what they truly believe, even if it is actually untrue; but people will not willingly die for what they know to be false.  The writings and teachings of these men indicate they were completely convinced that Jesus had risen from the grave.  The tomb was empty and the disciples had nothing to do with it.

3.       A mere empty tomb would not inspire the disciples the way they were inspired.  Is it possible that someone else took the body of Christ?  Perhaps some fanatical wing of Jesus’ followers stole the body, the disciples found the tomb empty yet never found out who did it.  Well, this argument fails from the start since it cannot overcome the objections above regarding the guard.  But assuming such an event did occur, would the disciples’ reaction be one of elation and empowerment?  Rather, would it not more likely be bewilderment and sadness that someone stole the body?  They would be beside themselves wondering who would do such a thing.  In fact, the initial reaction of the women at the tomb was that someone took Jesus’ body, and it greatly upset them.

4.       If the disciples’ took the body, they would not have women as the first witnesses.  In 1st Century Palestine, a woman’s testimony was next to worthless.  It is highly unlikely that the conniving disciples would concoct a story about the resurrection that allows women to be the first witnesses.  If they had wanted to attract their fellow Jews, this was not the way to go – unless it really happened that way.

5.       If the disciples’ took the body, they would not have portrayed themselves the way they did.  Throughout the Gospels accounts, and even to the end, the disciples are portrayed in quite unflattering ways.  They doubt, say stupid things, do stupid things.  If they made the whole thing resurrection account up, would they really portray themselves this way?  I suppose someone could object that the Gospel writers’ were using some kind of ploy.  They intentionally used these unfavorable accounts to make the whole story more believable.  But such an argument projects modern ways of writing onto 1st Century writers.  People back then simply did not write that way.

It is telling indeed that the earliest argument against the resurrection of Christ was this one.  The religious leaders did not pretend to offer up arguments of mass hallucinations or argue that Jesus did not really die.  They knew better, though it seems probable they still were not convinced of the resurrection.  Perhaps they thought the soldiers were exaggerating the whole angel story, or maybe they thought that the disciples had help from magicians of some sort.  But it is certain that they knew the tomb was empty.  We must not fail to see what these religious men failed to see – the best answer for the empty tomb is the resurrection

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