Because of the Incarnation: Hope For Today and Forever

Piero de Cosimo, The Incarnation of Jesus, circa 1485/1508, Public Domain

Atheist, mythicist scholar Richard Carrier claims that Jesus Christ was a mythical person based mostly on the accounts of the resurrection that he views as coming from ancient, pagan gods. In addition to Carrier’s musings, American Atheist President David Silverman quips that The Christmas Story is “Fake News.” What do these skeptics rely upon for their views? After looking into what they are saying about the Birth of Jesus Christ, do they have a rational basis for denying the incarnation of Jesus Christ? For a Christian, this is a very important question to consider. In evaluating the reality of the historical Jesus, we have to start with the incarnation of Jesus Christ. After looking into things, the incarnation of Jesus Christ is something that is reasonable to place my faith in. In opposition to the opinions of Carrier and Silverman, I find that the historical incarnation of Jesus Christ is a reasonable conclusion from the evidence we have.   Furthermore, in contrast to the mythical figures that Carrier tries to join Jesus Christ with, the historical incarnation of Jesus Christ forms the basis of God’s intentional plan to have fellowship with humanity throughout time and also into eternity. Because of the incarnation of Christ we have hope for today and for eternity.

Romulus and Remus by Pietro de Cortona, circa 1643. Public Domain.

Among the mythical characters that Richard Carrier uses to promote his theory of a mythical Jesus are Romulus, the legendary Roman ruler and Zalmoxis, the Thracian mythical god (et al.). He makes comparisons between these “dying and rising gods” and Jesus Christ and based on his comparisons, he makes the leap that these preceding gods must have been the progenitors for the resurrection accounts of the Gospels.[1] The American Atheists are a bit glibber than Carrier in their annual holiday billboard advertisements. In keeping with Trump’s recent campaign against the mainline media, the American Atheists have trumpeted that the Christmas story is “fake news” and encourage people to “just skip church.”   Of this campaign, David Silverman, their leader, suggests that the Christmas story is not true and that religious people ignore the truth so they can enjoy the fellowship in churches.[2]

In my recently completed PhD thesis, I analyzed Carrier’s “mythical Jesus” claim and found that his comparisons do not match up to the data coming from the New Testament about Jesus Christ nor do they match the data coming from the mythical accounts Carrier draws from. Furthermore, I also found that Carrier does not understand what evidence is nor does he realize that his whole thesis is based upon a logical fallacy (post hoc ergo propter hoc- assuming causality just because one event precedes another). In addition to this, I found that the Gospel narratives were actually based upon accepted principles of evidence. It seems that Carrier and Silverman cannot accept the evidence supporting a supernatural yet historical event.[3]

If Jesus is not a reformulated pagan deity, then where does the idea of Jesus, and more specifically the Christmas story come from? We have no further to look than the Old Testament. As borne out in the Old Testament, the advent of a promised deliverer was known for a long time.   In Genesis 12:3, Abram has an encounter with God who tells him that all of the people’s of the Earth will be blessed through him. Even though Abram is recognized as the founder of the house of Israel (and also claimed by the Arabs as their founder), how is it that one man could bless all of the nations of the World? Even though this verse does not mention Jesus per se, two early Christian leaders, Paul and Peter as recorded by Luke point to Jesus Christ as the person who fulfills this promise.[4] Moreover in Acts 3:22, Peter refers to Jesus as the fulfillment of a prophecy given by Moses in Deut. Chapter 18 when Moses foretells of a prophet who will be raised up from Israel. Regarding the widespread blessing of Abraham’s lineage, Genesis 49:10 discusses a ruler from out of the tribe of Judah whose reign includes all nations. Matthew (ch. 1) and Luke (ch. 3) both discuss how Jesus was descended from Judah. Continuing further on in the Old Testament, the eternal aspect of Abraham’s blessing is discussed by Nathan the prophet when he is instructed to tell David that his throne “will be established forever (2 Sam. 7:16, 17).” It is clear that the Old Testament speaks of a future eternal king and that New Testament writers saw the origins of Jesus Christ in many prophetic Old Testament passages, not in pagan gods.

Specifically regarding the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Old Testament gives references to a divine son whose father is God himself. Psalm 2:7 refers to a son born of God whose inheritance is the entire Earth. Isaiah 7:14 is the oft quoted reference to a future and virgin born baby whose name is called Immanuel or “God with us.” Continuing the theme of a child of divine parentage, Isaiah 9:6 refers to a child who will have all authority over the Earth, who will reign forever, and also who has the names of God. As Mentioned in Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospels, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of this verse (Luke 1:32-33; 3:23-28; Matt. 1:1,6-7). Moreover, Micah 5:2 speaks of a ruler “whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” who is born in the City of Bethlehem. Here in these Old Testament passages is envisioned a divine ruler born of a virgin and naming a specific region where he will be born. The idea of a virgin born Son of God comes from Old Testament prophecy and not pre-existing pagan myths.

Not only is it known from Old Testament scripture that there would be a virgin born God in the flesh, but this was also testified to in the nativity accounts of the Gospels as well. We read of the lowly, yet noble birth of Jesus.  Matthew, a disciple of Jesus, and Luke, a close associate of Paul who had access to the early Christian community and several of the original disciples, wrote the Nativity accounts. As with Luke, Matthew, by virtue of his close association with Jesus, would have access to this information as well.

In addition to the Old Testament and the Nativity accounts’ attestation of a virgin born Son of God, it is observed that Jesus clearly viewed Himself as God incarnate. Jesus clearly gains the wrath of the Pharisees when he proclaims that before Abraham was “I Am.” In this short proclamation, Jesus Christ clearly names Himself as God. Jesus also speaks of his unity with God the Father in Matthew 9: 27 and in the same chapter also confirms his status as the promised Messiah (v. 4-6). In Mark’s Gospel (2: 1-8), Jesus heals the paralytic and then forgives the man of his sins. Who alone but God can forgive a man of his sins? Moreover, when Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man (he does this many times) in the Gospel accounts, he is associating himself with God (Daniel 7:13). There are many other examples of his self-proclaimed deity as well throughout the Gospels.

This short survey of Old and New Testament passages reveals the intentionality of God in His plan to enter the world which would eventually lead to the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. These deliberate, divine actions guarantee our future as God’s family forever. The Nativity account is not a rehash of pagan myths but a well-attested narrative of the birth of the Messiah. So, when I go to church this Christmas season, I will not be there to pay tribute to a mythical being whose virgin birth was merely a fable. The American atheists are right in one sense because I will enjoy the fellowship at church. However, I am motivated to go to church not just to fellowship. My main aim for going to church this Christmas season is to give worship and thanks to the one and only eternal God who knowingly humbled himself and took on flesh to give us hope for each day. As the words of a well-known, old anthem state, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.” Not only should I daily strive to follow his example of humility, but I also have daily assurance that God is still with me every moment of every day. Not only does he promise to be with me each day, but he also guarantees my eternal destiny. Because of God’s intentional actions of humbling Himself to take on flesh, dying, and arising from the dead, I have these assurances for now and forever. Because of the birth of that little baby over two millennia ago, I have hope for living each day and hope for eternal life with him.

1 Carrier, R. 2014. On the historicity of Jesus: why we might have reason to doubt [Kindle ed.]. Sheffield: Sheffield University Press (pp. 249, 302). Available: http://www. amazon.com

2 Atheist’s Holiday Billboards Say ”Skip Church” to Avoid Fake News, American Atheist website- https://www.atheists.org/2017/11/holiday-billboards.

3 Hickling, S.R. 2017. An Evidentiary Analysis of Doctor Richard Carrier’s Objections to the  Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Doctoral dissertation).

4 Paul views Jesus as the fulfillment of this promise as Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3:16); Peter also recognizes Jesus as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant (Acts 3:25-26).

 

OMG! Jesus’ Words in Light of Publicized Scandals

Doubting Thomas, Guercino, First Half of 17th Century, Public Domain

In my last blog post, I reflected on the proclamation of Thomas after encountering the risen Jesus Christ eye-to-eye. His oft-quoted proclamation, in essence saying “OMG,” is a brief but powerful testimony of the reality and world rocking implications of that face-to-face experience. In addition to Thomas’s well-known journey from skepticism to faith, it also struck me that upon looking at the few words of Jesus that are recorded in the New Testament, these words were radical when they were spoken and are still radical today. With the recent sex scandals that proliferate our media today, would following the words of Jesus have helped those who are currently embroiled in these scandals?

In addition to the revolutionary implications of His words, they are also good advice for daily living. When measuring the viability of a worldview or religious dogma, this is an important matter to consider. When followed everyday, does the perspective under study cause the practitioner to flourish in a holistic sense? How does an examined belief system fare when compared to the existential realities of daily life? Paul D. Feinberg offers that any religious system should stand up to “tests for truth.” Feinberg offers a list of these tests to consider when investigating any faith position. Among these criteria, Feinberg offers a test for livability and a test for fruitfulness. Is a belief system livable and is it beneficial when followed? [1] In light of recent media reports, I believe that the words of Jesus as written in Matthew’s Gospel in his fifth chapter (mentioned below) will enhance the lives of all if heeded. So, not only are the words of Jesus a radical departure from cultural norms of yesterday and today, but I believe they also contribute to the well being of the individual and society as well. For these reasons (among others), I believe that Jesus’s words are a convincing argument for his deity.

According to several Internet sources, there are 2,026 words of Jesus Christ recorded in the New Testament. So very few words recorded for someone who had and still has such a great impact on the world. For a moment, imagine the Roman backdrop when Jesus ministered on the earth. The Roman Empire was noted for its decadence. We see from the writings of that time an obsession with sexual debauchery of almost every sort. One author, Paul Chrystal gleans these details from looking at Roman literature, ancient graffiti, and the visual arts.[2] As part of this depravity, Roman cult worship often had temple prostitution as a mainstay of religious rites.   Everett Ferguson observes the widespread use of prostitutes in the fertility cults of that day in areas such as Asia Minor, Syria, and Phoenecia. He mentions the existence of one thousand prostitutes at the temple of Aphrodite in Corinth. [3]  Looking back at this ancient culture with its emphasis on sexual indulgence, it is easy to see how radical it was when Jesus spoke his words.

In recounting the words of the Old Testament, Jesus expands on the prohibition against adultery. He teaches in Matt. 5:27-30 that if one even lusts after someone else, then that person has already committed the sin in his mind. Furthermore, Jesus states in these verses that one would be better off without eyes and hands instead of using them to indulge in destructive, sexual behavior. In addition to this teaching on moral impurity in Mark 7: 21-23, Jesus further discusses that all types of immoral behavior, to include sexual immorality, are germinated within a person’s mind.

With all of the recent focus in the media regarding the various sex scandals, the aforementioned words of Jesus Christ seem now more than ever to be good advice. With each passing day, sordid details of men improperly forcing themselves on women emerge. From Hollywood to Washington, D.C. and in between, there is an ever-growing list of the “mighty” that have fallen. Would a man improperly touch a woman if he had not conceived of doing it beforehand? It stands to reason that if one did not think about ways in which to sexually misbehave, then the improper act would not be committed. Furthermore, if one did not fixate oneself upon a particular person in a sexual manner, then one would not determine in one’s mind to commit a lewd act.

An interlocutor may reply, “It is too simplistic to suggest that one should just not engage in the thought or activity. It is also against human nature to expect one to always be pure in their thoughts and deeds.” In reply, I would agree that being pure in mind and for that matter, being a Christian is not always easy. Furthermore, Christians will often struggle with these issues throughout their lives. But there is a difference between someone who is serious about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and someone who is not so serious or does not follow Jesus Christ.   Those who are committed to Jesus Christ will actively struggle against giving into temptations of this sort (1 Cor. 6:18). It is not to say they will never give in to temptation. Rather, they are fighting against it. Fortunately, when Christians do give in to temptation, they can re-align themselves with these principles and also receive help in time of need (Heb. 2:17-18). In many cases, a person who is not committed to Jesus Christ may not struggle (Eph. 4:19). This stands in contrast to somebody who is serious about abstaining from sexual temptation. When an opportunity presents itself, this class of person (the one not struggling) is more apt to give in to temptation or more willing to exploit a perceived weakness in someone else. It stands to reason that a person who is committed to employing the words of Jesus would be more determined not to succumb to temptation (Eph. 5:5).

In addition to the benefit of a reduction in reported sex scandals, another obvious effect of these words of Jesus is a higher view of women. Instead of thinking of women as merely an object to satiate one’s desire for pleasure, these words guide men to a healthy respect for women. In a holistic and meaningful way, a man and woman can bond in marriage and enjoy each other in a relationship of mutual trust/commitment (Eph. 5:25-33). Men would not be seeking improper liaisons with women if they were not imagining in their minds ways to accomplish them. So again, heeding the teachings of Jesus regarding purity of thought has great implications for not only the individual but also for society in general. Moreover, these few words of Jesus, if followed, would also curb many destructive behaviors (pornography, prostitution, and any number of deviant sexual behaviors that are known to cause, psychological dysfunction or physical distress).

In addition to these benefits, adhering to purity of the mind would also enable a person to lead a fuller life, as they would not always be weighed down with the burden of always trying to fulfill baser desires (1 Cor. 5:17). Rather, if one is more concerned with living one’s life focused on God and his goals for you, then one’s natural impulses will be subject to this higher value. These aforementioned words of Jesus are mentioned in several verses yet if one would only follow them, then men would find that they would be able to live more noble and fulfilled lives. They would not have to worry about the possibility that their thoughts may lead them into troubling circumstances. After observing the positive benefits of maintaining a pure mind, in these words of Jesus I see great advice that could not only transform individual lives but also change culture as well. In a society that glorifies sensual themes today, these words of Jesus Christ are radical, are good advice to follow, and convince me that they are the very words of God.

[1] Paul D. Feinberg, “The Nature and the Case for Theism and Christianity,” in Five Views on Apologetics, eds. Stanley Gundry and Steven Cowen, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 148-155.

[2] Paul Chrystal, In Bed with the Romans, (Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing, 2015).

[3] Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 64.

Happy Man at the Beach CC0 From Wikimedia