Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of John)

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The point of this short blog series is simple. (Read Part 1: Mark and Part 2: Matthew.) Some Christians, whether they be theologically conservative or liberal, don’t see the Old Testament (OT) as important or relevant. So, we decided to see how Jesus thought of the OT.

If you read the first two parts of this series on Mark and Matthew, I think you’re beginning to see a pattern here: throughout the Gospels, the OT is referred to constantly, and much of those references are made by Jesus himself.

THE GOSPEL OF JOHN: THE DATA

  • 21 Chapters

  • 52 References to OT

  • 24 References to OT made by Jesus

  • 46% of OT references are made by Jesus

Keep in mind this a quick count done in one reading of John’s Gospel and does not include the numerous times Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man,” which is an OT reference to Daniel 7 (which he does 12 times in John’s Gospel).

Compared to the other two Gospels we looked at so far, John has the smallest percentage of OT references made by Jesus of the OT references. In Mark, Jesus makes 83% of the OT references, and in Matthew, Jesus makes 68% of the OT references. Yet, Jesus’ 24 references compared to 21 chapters gives us a rough idea that Jesus made such references regularly in John’s Gospel. And, with this, as you’ll see below, quantity does not effect quality.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS

As most know, John includes a lot of material the other three Gospels do not. Yet, in John, we find more of the same that we found in Mark and Matthew. As in the other Gospels, in John there are many OT references made by both the writer of the Gospel (John) and Jesus himself (and even by other people who appear in the narratives).

And, as in the other Gospels, there are many statements about how the events recorded of in the Gospel fulfill OT Scripture. In John, these statements certainly increase in the later chapters surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, such as:

Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. (John 20:8–9)

Some other interesting highlights where Jesus alludes to the OT include:

39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life… There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”… 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 5:39–6:14). 

Here, Jesus plainly states that the OT bears witness about him and that Moses wrote of him. Some of the people listening to him understand Jesus to be “the Prophet who is to come,” which could only be a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15-22, where God promises to Moses to rise up in Israel another prophet.

In 10:35, Jesus makes an interested argument based on one word in Psalm 82 and then states, “Scripture cannot be broken.”

“I AM”

A much more subtle allusion to the OT that many may miss is Jesus’ constant use of the phrase “I am.” In Exodus 3, when God first appears to Moses (as a burning bush), Moses asks for God’s name. Scripture tells us, “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: ”’I AM has sent me to you”” (Exodus 3:14).  So, “I AM” is God’s name, which is pronounced “Yahweh” in Hebrew (often pronounced incorrectly as “Jehovah.”). In the Greek of the New Testament, “I AM” is “Ego Eimi.”

Jesus makes “I AM” statements throughout John to subtly imply to those with ears to hear that he is God in the flesh, and John uses these to not-so-subtly show his readers of that exact idea:

John begins his Gospel with a prologue that tells us right away that Jesus is God (1:1) and became a man (1:14). After the prologue, John goes on to show this with the narrative of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection. One way John does this is giving us many times Jesus refers to himself as “I AM.” Some of these in English are translated as “I am he” or even “it is I,” which are acceptable translations, but if you look at the original Greek, they are all written in the same way: “Ego Eimi” (“I AM”).

In 6:20, when the disciples are on a boat in the storm and see Jesus walking on the water, Jesus says, “I AM. Do not be afraid.” In 13:19, Jesus says to his disciples, “I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I AM.”

But this is most clearly seen throughout John 8. Jesus states, “…unless you believe that I AM you will die in your sins” (8:24). He goes on to say that when he is “lifted up” (which may be a reference to him being lifted up on the cross, his ascension into heaven, or him being lifted up in glory, or all of them – which is how I understand it because they are all related) that his audience “will then know that I AM” (8:28).

And if you think I’m stretching it here to prove my point, the people listening to Jesus in his day don’t think so because in 8:58, Jesus makes the grammatically-odd statement “before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus’ listeners finally get it: This guy is calling himself the God who appeared to Moses! And that’s blasphemy! So, they pick up stones to stone him to death (8:59).

John brings this theme to its climax by concluding his Gospel in Chapter 20 with “doubting Thomas,” upon meeting the resurrected Jesus, declaring “My Lord and my God!” (20:28). (For those of you following closely, Chapter 21 is John’s epilogue. Just as he started with a prologue, he closes his Gospel with an epilogue.)

Thus, one of the ways Jesus communicated to his fellow Jews that he was God-in-the-flesh was by referring to their holy writings – what we call the OT.

TWO LAST (TRINITARIAN) PASSAGES WORTH NOTING

In the same vein – and in another subtle reference to the OT – Jesus says in John 7,

38 [Jesus said,] Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:38–39).

It’s interesting that John tells us that Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, here when he speaks from Scripture of “living water.” When we turn to Jeremiah 17:13, we read this:

“for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water.”

So, John 1:1 establishes that the Father and Son are both God, and here we find that the Holy Spirit is also God. Thus, we find the Trinity – three unique personalities sharing one divine identity.

All of this is good stuff to point our to Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny the Trinity.

Let me point out one last interesting passage; though we are primarily concerned with the OT references made by Jesus himself in John’s Gospel, this last one – made by the author, John, one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus, is worth noting.

In John 12:37-40, John quotes from Isaiah twice to show that what is happening during Jesus’ ministry is fulfilling Scripture. He then states, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him (12:41).”

Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory? What an intriguing thing to say! So, we turn to Isaiah and search through it. Where could have Isaiah possibly seen Jesus’ glory? The only option is found in Isaiah 6:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (6:1–5).

Thus, in this vision of God – Yahweh, I AM, the Lord of hosts – Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory.

NEXT: Final of the series: LUKE’S GOSPEL.

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Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Matthew)

 

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The concept of this short blog series is simple: We’re simply asking, Is the Old Testament relevant to the Christian faith? and then reading through the Gospels and seeing what Jesus’ attitude towards the Old Testament tells us.

In the first part of this series, we looked at the Gospel of Mark, the shortest Gospel. We found…

THE GOSPEL OF MARK

  • 16 Chapters.

  • 18 References to the Old Testament (OT).

  • 15 of those references to OT were made by Jesus.

  • Thus, 83% of OT references in Mark are made by Jesus.

This time, with the Gospel of Matthew, again we read and counted OT references, excluding again many of the times Jesus calls himself the Son of Man, which is an OT reference.

Matthew has 28 chapters – noting that these chapters are not part of the original text but give us a rough idea of a Gospel’s length compared to the other Gospels. I counted 65 references to the OT. Matthew’s Gospel, the most Jewish of the Gospels, has the major theme of Jesus being the Jewish Messiah; thus, it’s not surprising that the author, Matthew, includes many references to the OT, especially in the first three chapters, to support this idea.

Yet, again, like Mark’s Gospel, we find the majority of OT quotes and references – 44 of them – belong to Jesus.

This means Jesus makes 68% of the OT references in the Gospel of Matthew.

THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

  • 28 Chapters

  • 65 References to OT

  • 44 References to OT made by Jesus

  • 68% of OT references are made by Jesus

In these references, Jesus speaks of Solomon, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Sodom and Gomorrah, Elijah, Jonah, Isaiah, the Ten Commandments, Abel, Zechariah, Daniel, and Noah and the Flood. He quotes from the books of the Psalms, Deuteronomy, Zechariah, and others.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS

Many of the highlights we looked at in the previous blog on Mark also appear in Matthew. Let’s look at some highlights we don’t find in Mark…

#1 – JESUS VS. SATAN: Matthew 4:1-11

We’ll start was a popular episode, which is also recorded in Luke but only briefly summarized in Mark: Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

We’re told of three ways the Devil tried to temp Jesus to sin, and all three times Jesus shuts Satan down by stating “It is written…” and then quoting from the OT book of Deuteronomy.

One thing particularly interesting to note is that Satan quotes the Psalms to Jesus to manipulate him, but Jesus counters Satan’s use of Scripture with more Scripture:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

This is something we see all the time: someone rips a quote from Scripture out of context for his own selfish gain. Jesus, thus, models for us how to respond: by properly using Scripture, by understanding and using it in its proper context!

Lastly, it’s interesting that Jesus rebukes Satan by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3:

“ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

For Christians today, “every word” from the mouth of God includes both the New and Old Testament.

#2 – I Came to FulFill the Law: Matthew 5:17-19

What Matthew has that the other Gospels do not is the amazing Sermon on the Mount (though some of the teachings are also found spread throughout Luke’s Gospel). Jesus concept of the OT is clearly seen within it, so we’ll briefly look at several passages from the Sermon. The first, perhaps being one of the most important quotes by Jesus for giving Christians insight into how they should understand the OT, states:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 

The phrase “The Law and the Prophets” is often how Jesus and others in his day referred to what we call the OT. If there is one big idea from this passage that can’t be ignored, it’s that Jesus is explicitly teaching that the OT is NOT irreverent – “not an iota, not a dot”! How much more clear can Jesus be?

But this leads us into a theological question (which we also addressed in other blogs): Why do Christians follow some of the OT commands and not other? Jesus gives us the answer above: became he came to fulfill the OT. How? Through his life in perfect obedience to it and his atoning death on the cross. Because of this, Christians no longer make sacrifices or follow other OT religious laws, which all point forward to the Christ’s atoning sacrifice, yet Christians still do follow the OT moral law, because morality is based in the nature of God and God’s nature doesn’t change.

#3 – The 6 Anti-Theses: Matthew 5:21-47

Immediately after the above quote, Jesus gives what is sometimes called “the six anti-theses,” where Jesus starts each section by saying, “You have heard… But I say to you…”

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’… 

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart…

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely… 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all… 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil….

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…

In each of these, Jesus is first referring to a passage in the OT (“You have heard..”) and then drawing out its deeper significance (“But I say to you…”) or citing a misunderstanding or abuse of an OT passage and correcting it. Take note, by saying “I say to you” Jesus is not speaking as a prophet speaking on behalf of God but as God himself. By doing this, Jesus is showing the importance of studying the OT and understanding it correctly.

#4 – The “Golden Rule” – Matthew 7:12

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

This final verse we’ll look at from the Sermon on the Mount is a famous one. Often called “the Golden Rule,” it’s a personal philosophy of conduct many people – even non-Christians – are familiar with: Treat other like you want to be treated. But where many people – both Christians and non-Christians – know the first part of this verse, they don’t know the second part: “for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Interestingly, Jesus is summing up the whole of the OT (“the Law and the Prophets”) in a terse command. It’s interesting that many believe there is a disconnect between the “harshness” of the OT and the teachings of Jesus, yet Jesus himself affirms again and again that his teachings are simply a continuation (and fulfillment) of the OT.

#5 – From Abel to Zechariah: Matthew 23:35

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! … 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

This is one of those passages that I would’ve never picked up the significance of if someone hadn’t pointed it out to me. Here, Jesus condemns the religious hypocrites of his day with those hypocrites that came before them, who claimed to be godly people but persecuted and killed the prophets and other righteous men of God starting with Abel all the way to Zechariah.

The fact that Jesus says from Abel to Zechariah is profound. As many know, Abel was the first victim of murder in history. He was devoted to the LORD and a son of Adam and Eve, but his brother Cain, in jealousy and rage, murdered him (Genesis 4:8-11). Zechariah, too, was righteous and murdered (2 Chronicles 24:20-22).

Now, the ordering of our books in the modern Bible is not inspired by God or inerrant; they could just as easily be organized in another way. In the ordering of the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament), Genesis is the first book and Chronicles is the last book. (And Chronicles is not split into two books like in the Christian Bible.)

Abel (in Genesis) is the first person murdered and Zechariah (in Chronicles) is the last person murdered within the Hebrew canon of Scripture. By saying from Abel to Zechariah, Jesus is basically saying from Genesis (first book) or Chronicles (last book) of the Jewish Scripture.

Thus, Jesus confirmed all the books of the OT – from the first book to the last.

 

READ PART ONE: The Gospel of Mark & the Old Testament

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Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Mark)

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THE OLD TESTAMENT CHALLENGED

Recently, megachurch pastor Andy Stanley has received a lot of pushback from the Christian community for telling Christians to “unhitch” their faith from the OT: “[First century] Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures,” said Stanley.

I wasn’t a Christian long when I realized I preferred to spend my time of Bible study in the New Testament (NT) rather than the Old Testament (OT), which isn’t surprising. After all, we call ourselves Christians because of Jesus Christ, so it’s natural to want to spend more time in his teachings and the letters of his disciples in the NT. With this, the OT is much more ancient, longer, and more difficult to grasp than the NT. Frankly, many Christians don’t know what to make of much of the OT and when considering challenging issues concerning the Bible, many Christians find themselves wishing the OT simply wasn’t there.

Where Stanley still claims the OT is the inspired word of God, those who hold a less-traditional view of Scripture assign the OT lesser status than the NT, some even dismissing much (or all) of the OT as not part God’s divine Word. In fact, many – whether they realize it or not – chop up the Bible and create a hierarchy of biblical authority. According to this thinking, the four Gospels – and particularly Jesus’ actual words in those Gospels – are more authoritative than both the OT and other NT writings.

The church’s traditional, historical view of the Bible is that it’s all God’s Word. Whether it’s Moses’ words, Jeremiah’s words, Matthew’s words, Paul’s words, or Jesus’ words, it’s all “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) and holds the same level of authority: the authority of God.

But the fact remains, many Christians do their best to simply avoid the OT. Yet, the longer I study the Bible, the more I have realized that one cannot make sense of the NT without the OT (and vice versa). The Bible is not two separate, unrelated revelations of God, but one continuing revelation.

The OT is important for all Christians to wrestle with and gain a better understanding of, and I want my brothers and sisters in Christ to understand this.

So, to get this point across, I will NOT be arguing for a traditional view of Scripture or explaining why the canon is divinely-inspired or laying out biblical theology so one sees the logical connection between the OT and NT.

No, we’re simply going to look at Jesus’ attitude towards the OT. We’ll work through one gospel per article, starting with Mark.

I think you’ll see that Jesus’ thinking and theology are all perfectly in line with the OT and that Jesus considered what we call the OT anything but irrelevant.

THE DATA: MARK’S GOSPEL

I decided to start with the Gospel of Mark for one simple reason: it’s easily the shortest of the four. How much will Jesus refer to the OT in it?

Mark contains 16 “chapters.” As I read through, I simply jotted down every reference to the OT I came across (excluding most of the times Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man,” though this is a title adopted from the OT). Though chapters were not part of the original manuscripts, they give us a rough idea of the length of each Gospel as compared to the others.

I counted 18 OT references.

Of these, 15 were said by Jesus himself. So, all but 3 came from Jesus’ mouth.

Thus, 83% of OT references, allusions, and quotes in Mark’s Gospel are Jesus’ words.

THE GOSPEL OF MARK:

16 Chapters

18 References to OT

15 References to OT made by Jesus

83% of OT references are made by Jesus

SOME HIGHLIGHTS

Let’s look quickly at 5 significant passages from those 15 OT references by Jesus:

#1

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:2–9).

When questioned about divorce, Jesus without hesitating points his opponents to the Jewish Scripture (what we call the OT). Not only does he refer back to the creation story in Genesis 1-2, but he quotes directly from it (while indirectly referring to Adam and Eve). With this, Jesus refers directly to Moses (and his writings on divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

It’s interesting to note that Jesus clearly teaches that not all OT commandments by Moses are universal. (For a more on why certain OT commandments are still followed by Christians and other are not, click here.) But what is most significant is that Jesus uses Genesis 1-2 – pointing way back to creation before the fall into sin – to give his definition of marriage: one man and one woman becoming “one flesh” for life through God.

#2

24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.” (Mark 12:24–27).

Here, Jesus is challenged by the Sadducees, who don’t believe in the future resurrection of the dead. Again, it’s striking how Jesus immediately refers back to the OT to argue his stance, even chastising them for not knowing Scripture and plainly telling them “you are wrong.” Once again, he refers to Moses, mentioning specifically Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush in Exodus 3, as well as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from Genesis.

But what is most interesting is that Jesus bases his whole argument on the tense of a single verb! As proof of a future resurrection, Jesus quotes God’s words to Moses at the burning bush: “I am the God of Abraham…Isaac… Jacob.” From a human standpoint, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were long dead at the time of Moses’ life, yet God is – not was – their God. Jesus is using the present tense Hebrew word for am to prove that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still experiencing life with God. To those on earth, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were gone, but Jesus says it’s not so; God is still their God because they still live.

What kind of confidence in the authority and preservation of the OT must Jesus have to base his whole argument of the tense of one verb?

#3

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28–31)

This passage is important because it shows Jesus’ understanding of the continuity of the OT and NT. Many Christians shy away from the OT because, they think, its teachings do not fit well into NT teachings. Jesus clearly doesn’t think there’s any disconnect between the OT and NT. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18; thus, the greatest commandments, according to Jesus, come from the OT. As I said above, the OT and NT are one continuos revelation from God.

This should motivate us all to work for a better understanding of the OT. Yes, some of it seems strange and harsh to us, but Jesus did not think so. This should motivate us to wrestle with the tough passages to understand them as Jesus did.

Furthermore, understanding the difference between the OT moral law and the OT religious law and why Christians continue to follow one and not the other is essential. (To start, again see here.)

#4

35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord,

“Sit at my right hand,

until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’

37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly. (Mark 12:35–37)

I love this passage because, again, we see Jesus using the specific wording of an OT passage to astound his listeners. This is also significant not only because Jesus quotes Psalm 110 and confirms David as the author, but also Jesus states that David wrote this by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus basically asks, if the Messiah will be David’s descendant (“son”), how can the great King David call him his Lord? Jesus is dropping a loud hint that the divinely-inspired Psalms are telling them that the Messiah will be much, much greater than King David.

#5

49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” (Mark 14:49).

This final passage we’ll look at in this article is from Jesus’ arrest before his crucifixion. Though he doesn’t make a specific reference to an OT passage, he refers to “the Scriptures” – which to a Jew of Jesus’ day could only be what we call the OT today – and that they are being fulfilled through these events. Thus, Jesus says his arrest and execution actually fulfill the OT.

One comes to understand through Jesus (and the NT revelation) that the whole of the OT is a foreshadowing and preparation for the coming of the God-man and his atonement for sins by his death on the cross. Where it’s beyond the scope of this article to explore how Christ fulfills the OT law, it’s enough to note here that Jesus in Mark 14:49 (and other places in the Gospels) confirms that he does.

But if that’s not satisfying to you, take a moment and read Isaiah 53. Here’s a taste:

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Did Jesus consider the Old Testament relevant? He clearly did.

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Christianity Through Roman Eyes: The Absurdity of the Cross – What Does a Piece of Ancient Graffiti Tell Us About Christianity?

Alexamenos Graffiti

The above photo is of the earliest known visual depiction of Jesus of Nazareth. Interestingly, it doesn’t come from an ancient church or even from Christian hands. It’s a piece of ancient graffiti scratched into a wall in Rome, dated to just before 200 AD. In it, a man looks upon a naked man with a donkey’s head crucified on a cross. The Greek reads, “Alexamenos worships god.”

When studying history, what is sometimes called “enemy attestation” is considered the strongest sort of evidence. The idea is that all historical writings have the bias of the authors, so a historical record from a certain people about themselves will likely have a positive spin. On the other hand, historical writings about those same people by those who opposed them will likely have a negative spin. Thus, enemy attention is valuable when it affirms the same information as the other side. Such harmony is of high value to the historian.

The ancient graffiti above appears to have been created by a Roman mocking Christian beliefs. The graffiti artist degrades the beliefs of the Christian Alexamenos for worshipping a crucified man, going so far as to portray Alexamenos’ God with the head of an ass.

This piece of enemy attestation from just before 200 AD not only confirms the crucifixion of Jesus, but also confirms that ancient Christians worshipped Jesus as a God. (This is confirmed in the earliest Roman writings about Christians as well.)

This is significant to Christians today because many modern skeptics often explain away Christian beliefs about Jesus as legends that developed long after Christ walked the earth. A popular claim (which is not argued in the academic world but lives on thanks to the internet and the book The Da Vinci Code) is that Jesus was deified at the Council of Nicea over 300 years after Jesus’ ministry or, at least, some time after Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 312 AD and – as the dead theory goes – mixed pagan beliefs with Christian beliefs. This simple piece of scratched slander on a Roman wall alone disproves that theory.

Another point of interest about this piece of crude ancient art is that it gives us a glimpse into what the ancient Romans thought of this strange new cult that worshipped a crucified God-man.

In this series, we’ll look more at what the Romans thought of Christians and see how it helps us to understand our faith today.

NEXT: The folly of the Cross continued…

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The New Paganism (Part 3) Exclusivism: Why is Jesus Needed for Salvation?

New Paganism Blog_02

Read Part 1: The New Paganism (Part 1) Pluralism: Are There Many Paths to God?

Read Part 2: The New Paganism (Part 2) Inclusivism: Is Knowledge of Jesus Needed for Salvation?

Inclusivism VS. Exclusivism

In article #2 of this series, we started exploring the idea of inclusivism – the idea that salvation can be attained apart from the knowledge of Jesus (though Jesus’ work was necessary for salvation to be available, even if through a faith other than Christianity). So, we asked, “Is this idea biblical?”

We concluded inclusivism does NOT hold up under biblical scrutiny and concluded that the clear stance of the Bible is exclusivism: salvation is only found in faith in Christ alone.

Before we move on in this series, I wanted to quickly give one more explanation why Christianity is an exclusivist religion.

It comes down to this: Christianity isn’t exclusivist because certain verses say so; Christianity is exclusivist because the whole biblical explanation of reality leads to exclusivism. Those verses we looked at in the last article are simply confirming the exclusivist storyline of the Bible.

And it comes down to three things:

the nature of God,

the nature of humankind, and

the nature of Christ.

If what the Bible says about the nature of God and the nature humankind are true, then the ONLY hope for salvation is Jesus Christ.

 

THE NATURE OF GOD

First, God is perfectly good, righteous, holy, and just.

 

THE NATURE OF HUMANKIND

Secondly, all of humankind has sin. Thus, all of humanity – every individual human being – is separated from our perfectly good, righteous, holy, and just God. To deny this is to not have a high enough view of God or a low enough view of sin.

Separation from God due to sin is the current state of every human (apart from Jesus Christ), and once they die, they will continue to be separated from God. Thus, we need a savior.

This answers a common misunderstanding I hear often from those who are offended by the exclusivism of Christianity. The mistaken idea is that God condemns those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ because they don’t believe in Jesus, as if God chose belief in Jesus as some random reason for condemning people to hell. But humankind is ALREADY condemned because of sin. Jesus Christ is NOT the CAUSE of damnation but the CURE.

So, then the question is: WHY? Why must one believe in Jesus Christ to have salvation? Why can’t someone follow another spiritual teacher? Or, why can’t someone even follow, say, Moses instead – after all, both Moses and Jesus serve the same God?

 

THE NATURE OF CHRIST

Jesus Christ is exclusively the God-man. The second person of the Triune God took on flesh and became a man. He is completely God and completely man.

This God-man lived a perfect life that none of us can and died a death he didn’t deserve. As fully man, he can represent humankind. As fully eternal God, his sacrifice can cover us all and all our sins.

The separation between God and humankind could only be bridged by Jesus Christ, the only God-man. The exclusive gift of salvation could only be won by the exclusive God-man.

This is why Christianity is exclusivist.

The gift of salvation can be attained alone by faith in the only one who could attain it.

Thus, if all that the Bible says is true – about the nature of God, man, and the God-man – then Christianity must be exclusivist.

NEXT: Is the Holy Spirit needed for salvation?

Read Part 1: The New Paganism (Part 1) Pluralism: Are There Many Paths to God?

Read Part 2: The New Paganism (Part 2) Inclusivism: Is Knowledge of Jesus Needed for Salvation?

Learn more about Who Jesus Ain’t here.

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The New Paganism (Part 2) Inclusivism: Is Knowledge of Jesus Needed for Salvation?

Read Part 1: The New Paganism (Part 1) Pluralism: Are There Many Paths to God?

The New Paganism

As our culture becomes more post-modern—as well as post-Christian—in mindset, both traditional religions and unambiguous atheism are being rejected by many and an undefined spirituality—a fuzzy spiritual agnosticism—has been embraced, which lives by the axiom, “I’m spiritual, not religious.”

For all practical purposes, they live as atheists within secular society but still embrace some self-defined form of spirituality. In many ways, Western Christians are living in a culture that is increasingly like the culture the first Christians lived in: a pagan culture. The only thing forbidden in this new paganism is believing your faith is the only true faith.

In the first article, we examined pluralism and its close cousin universalism to see if they were compatible with the Christian worldview. In the following articles, we’ll be looking at the claims of inclusivism, another cousin of the new paganism.

The Nuanced View: Inclusivism

As we saw in the last articlepluralism and universalism are clearly not Christian beliefs; the only way a Christian can subscribe to either view is to disregard much of the Bible. But what about the less extreme view of inclusivism?

Inclusivism is the belief that Jesus Christ’s life and work achieved salvation, but one does not have to believe in Christ to be saved. One can be saved by faithfully following another religion or through general revelation. General revelation is the idea that we can know certain things about God through nature and/or our innate senses.

Inclusivism is a much more conservative view than pluralism and universalism, and an inclusivist often holds to a higher view of Scripture. The inclusivist believes Jesus when he said “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) and Peter when he says “there is salvation in no one else” but Jesus (Acts 4:12). Yet, the inclusivist diverges subtly from the traditional exclusivist view and says, Yes, salvation is only possible because of Jesus, but one does not have to specifically believe in Jesus to benefit from his salvation.

One of the most respected scholars for presenting an argument for inclusivism is Clark Pinnock; therefore, his arguments will be considered for the rest of this series.

We will address Pinnock’s inclusivism by addressing 4 questions throughout the articles in this series:

(1) Is knowledge of Jesus needed for salvation? 

(2) Is the Holy Spirit needed for salvation? 

(3) Are there pagans in the New Testament who gained salvation through other faiths?

(4) Are all the faithful people in the Old Testament damned to hell simply because they lived before the life and work of Jesus Christ?

 

Saved Apart From Christ

“The saving grace of God can be effective through a person’s relationship to God as creature in advance of conversion to Christ,” Pinnock states in his chapter on inclusivism in Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. 

He is careful to point out that inclusivism does not blindly cast a blanket over all religions as equally valid or even good. He admits there are certainly negative aspects, untruths, errors, and dangers in other religions. Contra pluralism, Pinnock confirms that all paths to God are not equally valid and a criterion is needed to discern truth and error (1 John 4:1). Political correctness and blind tolerance, he writes, are not always virtues. He confirms that Jesus is Lord of all and the standard of truth in all religions.

Yet, according to Pinnock, God may use other religions to bring a person to salvation. Christianity is not just the fulfillment of Judaism, but “in some way” the fulfillment of “all religious aspiration and the human quest.” At one point, he refers to religious non-Christians as “’not yet’ Christians.” 

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The Need to Know

The validity of Pinnock’s inclusivism can be determined by answering one question: Is knowledge of Christ required for salvation? 

Interestingly, in his chapter in Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, Pinnock cites 1 John 4:1 (“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.“) when stating that we must test all religious claims. Yet, if we continue reading, 1 John 4:2–3 stands in clear opposition of his inclusivist views:

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist…”

John goes on to explain in 4:6 that this is the ultimate test of whether one knows God or does not:

“We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (4:6)

Immediately, we find Pinnock’s case at a biblical disadvantage!

Pinnock clearly believes that the Holy Spirit can give saving faith to someone who has never heard of Christ. Pinnock differentiates between the work of Christ for salvation and the knowledge of Christ for salvation; Christ’s work made salvation possible, but one does not have to know of Christ’s work to benefit from it, according to Pinnock.

Conversely, as we saw above, 1 John 4 states one must confess belief in Jesus Christ to truly know God. Clearly, in order to confess Christ, one must know of Christ.

An inclusivist may dismiss verses like Romans 10:9 (“because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved“) by saying that the verse doesn’t state one must confess and believe to be saved or Romans 10:9 doesn’t say only those who confess and believe are saved, yet 1 John 4:2-3 makes a clear contrast.

Likewise, 1 John 5:12 states, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Both 1 John 4:2–3 and 5:12 are clearly “either/or” statements, not “both/and” statements.

Commenting on the exclusivity of 1 John 5:12, John Stott explains, “We cannot escape its logic. Eternal life is in God’s Son and may be found nowhere else. It is impossible to have life without having Christ as it is to have Christ without thereby having life also.”

Furthermore, one does not have to read far after Romans 10:9 to find 10:13–14, which lays out that the gospel must be preached, heard, and believed in order for someone to be saved:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:13-14)

Paul concludes in 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Additionally, shortly after one of the most famous proclamations of salvation through belief in Christ, John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”), we find John 3:18. Again, an inclusivist may say John 3:16 never explicitly says that belief in Christ is the only way to salvation, but John 3:18 states, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

The key phrase here is “condemned already.” Christ is the only solution to the state of condemnation. Since all people are sinful and separated from God by that sin without exception (Romans 3:23), without specific belief in the Son of God that condemnation remains.

Furthermore, in John 3:33–34, 36, we read, “Whoever receives his [Christ’s] testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure… Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

The Gospel Call

When ordering the teachings of the Bible into a systematic theology, what is often referred to as the gospel call is placed immediately before regeneration (i.e. being born again). The gospel call is – of course – communicated, which means it’s a clear exchange of giving and receiving information about Christ so the non-Christian hearer may be saved.

Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology states, “Anyone who comes to Christ for salvation must have at least a basic understanding of who Christ is and how he meets our needs for salvation.” Grudem cites the following three pieces of knowledge as essential for salvation:

(1) All people have sinned (Rom. 3:23);

(2) The penalty for sin is death (Rom. 6:23); and

(3) Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins (Rom. 5:8).

Along with this information comes a personal invitation to receive the free gift of salvation through Christ, and thus a personal response, based on the knowledge received, is needed (John 1:11–12; Rev. 3:20, 22:17). 

Grudem, citing Romans 10:14 (How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”), emphasizes the absolute importance of the gospel call because if a person never hears, how can he be saved? In other words, without the knowledge of Christ, there is no salvation. In the same way, John Frame in his Systematic Theology places the gospel call before regeneration.

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The Big Picture of the Bible

Along with the explicit verses we looked at above, which are enough to discount inclusivism, exclusivism — the belief that there is only one true faith — is taught throughout the Bible. Throughout both the Old and New Testament there are many warnings against following false gods, false prophets, and false faiths.

In Exodus 20:3, the first of the Ten Commandments says there are to be no other gods worshipped other than the one true God (Isa. 43:10, 44:6), and the second commandment forbids worshipping idols (Exod. 20:4-5). The Shema, arguably the most important group of verses to Jews, states God alone is to be worshipped (Deut. 6:4), which is echoed by Paul about the Father and the Son in 1 Corinthians 8:6. In John 4:22, Jesus bluntly tells the Samarian woman “salvation is from the Jews,” instead of saying something, like “salvation is found in many faiths.”

Yes, general revelation appears to have instilled some truths in non-Christian faiths (and even secular thought) as we see in Paul’s interaction with the Athenians in Acts 17, but the overall view in Scripture of other faiths is overwhelmingly negative.

For instance, Romans 1:18–2:5 explains that faiths apart from the gospel of Christ are the result of sinful rebellion against God’s clear revelation in nature. We are told that because of the sinful suppression of God’s truth, adherents to false faiths have become “fools” (1:22), and they are “storing up wrath” against themselves (2:5).

Nowhere in Scripture do we find confirmation that the partial truths found in other faiths can lead to saving faith.

Why Evangelize? Why Missions?

Furthermore, if the inclusivists are correct, one has to ask why Jesus commands the spreading of his gospel and why his commands for evangelism hold such prominent places in Scripture.

The Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations is the culminating climax of Matthew’s gospel (28:18–20), and Luke records Jesus’ words about the Spirit empowering his disciples to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth as his final words before his ascension (Acts 1:8).

Moreover, if inclusivism is true, much of the book of Acts, which tells of the first Christians’ work to spread the gospel, can be discarded as a waste of time – as well as all evangelism and missions. If knowledge of Christ is not needed for salvation, evangelism and missions are pointless, but this is clearly not the stand Jesus and his first followers take.

Finally, throughout Scripture, correct doctrine is emphasized (1 Tim. 1:3–4; Eph. 4:11–14; Gal. 1:6-8, 11–23; Deut. 6:7), confirming again that knowledge is important to faith. Stephen Wellum writes in Faith Comes By Hearing, “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Scripture is concerned that one’s theology is correct.”

Proper knowledge of Christ cannot be separated from saving faith.

So, faith comes from hearing, and salvation comes from knowing and believing.

NEXT: Is the Holy Spirit needed for salvation? **The 1st two articles in this blog series were long! The last 3 will be short and sweet!** 

Read Part 1: The New Paganism (Part 1) Pluralism: Are There Many Paths to God?

Sources:

Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013. Kindle.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Morgan, Christopher W. and Robert A. Peterson, ed. Faith Comes By Hearing. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008. Kindle.

Pinnock, Clark H. “An Inclusivist View.” In Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic Worldedited by Stanly N. Gundry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996. Kindle.

Stott, John R. W. The Letters of John. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009

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