Well, I was scheduled to preach this Sunday anyway, and since I had prepared for the two RevelationTV debates, I figured it would be wise to stay with what is fresh upon your mind (and in your preparation). Besides, I didn’t exactly get to express myself as fully as I would like, of course, in the brief time allotted to us in Spain. So, here are two sermons, the first on healing, the second on the atonement, from PRBC today. Our members are very patient with their weird traveling elder, and seemed to enjoy them a great deal. I hope they can be a blessing to others as well.
I hurry to finish my response to the article published by Dr. Shabir Ally shortly after our debate at the University of Pretoria in South Africa in early October. This is the fourth, and thankfully, final portion of my response. Dr. Ally continued:
James was clearly in a bind. He could not answer my points, and I had answered all of his main points. As I pointed out, James’ thinking was not precise: he had missed the topic. His thinking was not historical: he did not show that the evidence he was adducing really go back to the disciples. And his reasoning was circular: for example, he cited Mark 10:18 to show that Jesus was claiming to be God. But his proof only works if he starts out by assuming that Jesus is God. Thus he argues that when Jesus asked: “Why do you call me good?” Jesus was alerting his listener that he is actually God. But if we do not assume that Jesus was God, which is the disputed point, James’ proof does not work. It is then obvious that Jesus was distinguishing himself from God.
1) I am in hopes that the videos of the debates will be made available soon so that the interested observer can find out if, in fact, I was in a “bind,” if I could not answer these points, and if Shabir actually provided a compelling response to my own presentation. I obviously differ with his interpretation of the events, and believe the information I have provided thus far shows why.
2) I had not, of course, missed the topic. In any scholarly discussion of the earliest sources of the Christian faith, I had, in fact, “nailed” those sources in my opening statement. It is Shabir’s insistence upon dismissing the Markan material as the earliest gospel material (what is earlier even from his viewpoint?) based upon the bland observation that Mark was not one of the Twelve that places him well outside the scholarly realm of doing “history” at this point. Further, the even earlier tradition I identified in other sources, including pre-Pauline sources, proved my case. Shabir’s flight to the Old Testament and to presuppositional insistence that the “Jewish monotheist” simply could not accept what had happened in the Incarnation is, of course, a classic example of begging the question. It fits every published definition of the term.
3) Dr. Ally’s radical skepticism (which I must again point out is utterly outside of his own Muslim worldview—the standards he seems to demand for material to go to the early disciples of Jesus would preclude him from accepting the vast majority of the Islamic story of Muhammad, the Sunna, the origination of the Qur’an, etc. and etc.) precludes anyone, let alone me, from providing data from the original disciples of Jesus because Shabir doesn’t believe we have anything from them at all! He dismisses Matthew, dismisses John, dismisses Peter—is this the only way the Muslim critic can win the debate is by simply eliminating all possible sources of information and then saying, “See, I win”? Hopefully not!
4) Dr. Ally does not properly understand circular reasoning if he thinks my comments on Mark 10 are, in fact, circular. The question is, “What do Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler indicate concerning Himself?” Shabir assumes, again against his own Muslim heritage, that Jesus is denying goodness, something that again requires him to isolate this text from the rest of Mark and from the rest of the Gospel account. Is this circular reasoning? I allow the text to stand in the context of Mark and of the rest of the Gospel accounts, and recognize that Jesus is fully aware of the man’s idolatry from the very start. Hence His question makes perfect sense in the full context of the encounter. Shabir does not exegete NT texts in this fashion. His conclusions are already fixed by a document that would not be written for another half a millennium.
5) Notice Shabir’s statement, “Jesus was distinguishing himself from God.” Assumption: unitarianism. Jesus distinguished Himself from the Father, repeatedly. Jesus worshipped the Father as God. Such would be necessary for the Perfect Man. But to miss the repeated testimony of the entirety of Mark, especially, as we will see below, Jesus’ own self-identification as the Son of Man, is to again allow an external source to determine your conclusions. It is not fair or scholarly exegesis of the text.
Dr. Ally continued:
Something happened during the cross examination which I am still trying to fathom. I asked James if Jesus in Mark’s Gospel clearly says, “I am the Son of Man,” while using the title for the one who was to come in the future. James replied in the affirmative. The passages in question were Mark 13:25-27 and 14:61-63. As I pointed out, anyone reading these passages can see that Jesus did not clearly say, “I am the Son of Man.”
We both have a hard time fathoming the other at times, and this is surely one of those times! There are few things more clearly laid out in Scripture than Jesus’ self-description by the title “the Son of Man.” Once again, only by ignoring the intention of the authors and cutting the texts up into isolated chunks can the obvious teachings of the Scriptures be missed.
We note that the phrase “son of man” is not uncommon in the Scriptures, and in particular, in the Tanakh. But there is a particular usage of the Son of Man language that is vitally important:
“I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
“And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve (יִפְלְח֑וּן , λατρεύουσα) Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13–14)
Let’s look at the texts:
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” (Mark 2:9–11)
Comment: Who is the Son of Man here? Obviously, Jesus, unless you are going to try to theorize that the Son of Man is someone else and Jesus is his representative, or some such idea. But the obvious reading is that Jesus is saying the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins—and He then does what? Forgives the man’s sins.
And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27–28)
Comment: Once again Jesus is clearly self-identifying as the Son of Man in light of His actions on the Sabbath. Of course, this text likewise indicates the divine nature and power of the Son of Man, for God Himself is Lord of the Sabbath.
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)
Comment: Here, too, the self-identification is beyond question. Who else in the Gospel of Mark is rejected by the elders and chief priests and is killed and then rises again? So clearly, Jesus is the Son of Man.
For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)
Comment: This is only a few sentences after v. 31 where we have a clear identification of Jesus as the Son of Man. If this text were to be isolated (as it often is by critics) you could argue Jesus is referring to someone else, but in context, that is not possible. This is another self-identification passage, but again one that points to the exalted nature of the Son of Man, who bears the glory of the Father and is accompanied by angels (no mere prophet here!).
And as they were coming down the mountain, He charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (Mark 9:9)
Comment: After Jesus appears in glory in the presence of the Father He once again self-identifies as the Son of Man in light of His previous prophetic word about His coming death and resurrection.
And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that He should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? (Mark 9:12)
Comment: Once again, in light of the prophetic announcement of His coming death and resurrection these words can only be applied to Jesus, hence identifying Him as the Son of Man.
For He was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.” (Mark 9:31)
Comment: Another prophetic self-identification passage in harmony with the preceding texts. I note only in passing that Surah 4:157 makes Jesus a false prophet in these passages.
“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock Him and spit on Him, and flog Him and kill Him. And after three days He will rise.” (Mark 10:33–34)
Comment: The repetition of the prophetic message where again Jesus is the Son of Man makes it painfully clear that, if one simply allows for Mark to have any authorial intentions at all, he intends to communicate Jesus’ own self-identification as the Son of Man.
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
Comment: The interweaving of the crucifixion/resurrection narrative with the Son of Man narrative will come to full fruition at Jesus trial, as we will see. There is also an echo from Isaiah 53 here, again in contradiction to common Islamic argumentation.
And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. (Mark 13:26–27)
Comment: Even before the signal text in Mark 14 Jesus uses the Daniel and Psalms passages together to present the glorious appearing of the Son of Man. His own claiming of this identity in Mark 14 will be the pinnacle of this narrative. Note as well, though, the further solidification of the identity of the Son of Man as divine, for He “sends out” the angels to “gather His elect from the four winds.” The elect of God belong to the Son of Man.
For the Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” (Mark 14:21)
Comment: Again, it is simply impossible to miss the obvious fact that Jesus is self-identifying as the Son of Man in His own betrayal and crucifixion.
And He came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (Mark 14:41)
Comment: Even as the betrayal takes place Jesus uses the Son of Man designation of Himself. The idea that this is some eschatological figure is refuted by the simple observation that the betrayal is happening right then. Jesus is clearly the Son of Man.
But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned Him as deserving death. (Mark 14:61–64)
Comment: This is the pinnacle, the finale, of the narrative crafted by Mark and which runs throughout his gospel, as we have seen by just this brief survey. In direct contradiction to Islamic beliefs, Jesus affirms that He is “the Son of the Blessed” (compare the words of Surah 19:88-92), but then immediately identifies the Son of the Blessed with the Son of Man, quoting from Psalm 110 and Daniel 7. There is no argument about the meaning of His words, as the high priest immediately recognizes the claim and its implications. He tears his garments, identifies the words as blasphemy (which, if Dr. Ally is right, and Jesus is a “mere rasul,” would be correct!), and condemns Jesus to death based upon the law.
So we simply must ask, how can Shabir miss this clear, consistent testimony from Mark? If we added in Matthew and Luke, the list would be overwhelming, the consistency irrefutable. So how he cannot “fathom” the plain, clear reading of the text is very hard to see, until one realizes that Dr. Ally and the skeptical critics he depends upon are not seeking to fairly handle the text of Mark or the New Testament as a whole. No, it is presuppositional with them all (for very different reasons) to take the NT text as a play thing, a ball of wax to be formed into whatever they see fit, depending upon the goal that is theirs. This is the fundamental difference between believing exegesis which allows the text to speak for itself, and the interpretations so common today that do not even make a pretense of so doing.
And so we await the provision of the video of the debates from South Africa with eagerness, hoping that the interested viewers will find in them much that will edify and will assist in their understanding of these important issues.
A few years ago, I applied at a Christian high school that promotes “Classical Christian Education.” I applied to the job because I wanted to encourage them to change their curriculum to teach their Christian youth Koine Greek, the Greek the New Testament writers used. The school insisted that I teach classical Greek or Latin, and was not interested in my recommendations or philosophy of Christian education.
But my Christian compunction does not sit well with Christian youth spending their formative years learning to read Plato instead of Paul in the original Greek language. What is the point of having our Christian youth “well cultured” if they are biblically illiterate? What better way to induce biblical literacy into our Christian youth than having them learn Koine Greek and be able to read the New Testament in its original language? In addition, this would lay a solid foundation for a life-long practice of interpreting the Bible.
I am not against classical education. I learned Latin in college and received a B.A. in philosophy. But I think the Lord’s money and the time he has given us is better spent first on having our Christian youth learn to read in the original language the literature of the Septuagint, Gospels, Paul, General Epistles, Josephus, and the Early Church Fathers (and Philo if they are having sleeping disorders).
Perhaps we need more biblical education in our Christian high schools and less classical—fewer pagan authors and more inspired authors.
Food for thought…
In our constant attempt to meet the needs of the Christian community for sound theological material, we are making available this translation and commentary on the sixth chapter of John. Our reasons for doing so are to bring the powerful light of Scripture to bear upon two rather distinct issues. First, Jesus’ words in John 6 are vital for our understanding of the doctrine of God’s election of the saints. John 6:38ff is one of the clearest expositions of the Lord’s doctrine of salvation that we have. Hence, the proclamation of the truth will go far to correct the many errors, both within as well as outside of, the Christian community. Secondly,. John 6:48ff is an important passage in dealing with sacramental theology, specifically the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in regards to transubstantiation and their entire doctrine of salvation. It is hoped that this literal translation (done by Ministry Director James White) and commentary will be helpful in the ministry of the saints.
The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John it a fascinating piece of literature – seemingly woven together with great purpose. It is twice the length of the average Johannine chapter. It narrates two great miracles (the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus’ walking on the water) and ties these together to form the introduction to a very important Christological dialogue. This dialogue then ends in the confession of faith of the true disciples of Jesus.
1. After these things Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberius). 2. And a great crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs which He was doing concerning the sick ones.
Commentary: Much of Jesus’ ministry is connected intimately with the Sea of Galilee. John gives what it probably the official “Roman” name for the body of water, though this name appears infrequently. The town of Tiberius (named for the Emperor) had born that name for only a few years at the time of Jesus’ ministry, hence the secondary mention of the name by John. John tells of a large crowd that follows Jesus, presumably by land rather than by sea, because of Jesus’ healing abilities. No mention is made of their being sick amongst this crowd; they seem more attracted by the possibility of a miracle than by anything else.
3. And Jesus went up into the mountain, and there He was sitting with His disciples. 4. Now the Passover was near – the Feast of the Jews.
Commentary: There it possibly some imagery in verse 3 that is reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (5:1). Seemingly the Lord and His disciples have arrived by themselves, and have gone up into “the” mountain alone. If Jesus was wishing to privately speak to the disciples John does not mention it. What he does mention, however, is the fact that the Passover was near. Bearing in mind the non-Jewish character of his audience, John mentions that the Passover is the feast of the Jews – an item that would be surely unnecessary were his audience primarily Jewish. John may just be placing the events in their historical setting. Or, he may be attaching importance to Jesus’ actions in what is going to follow. Is Jesus setting Himself up as the bringer of the true Passover? If the Passover was near, why were these people not going up to Jerusalem? Was Jesus pointing to Himself as the fulfillment of the Passover? The next chapter begins with the Feast of Tabernacles – which would be nearly six months after the Passover itself. Hence, there seems to be a time gap between the two chapters, and a real purpose behind John’s mentioning of the Passover Feast.
5. Then when Jesus raised up His eyes and beheld that a great crowd was coming to Him, he said to Philip, “Where will we buy bread in order that these may eat?” 6. But this he said testing Him, for He Himself knew what He was about to do.
Commentary: John pictures Jesus seeing the multitude coming to Him from a distance. It would seem that He realizes that they will be hungry, for they would have traveled a long distance. The synoptics, however, indicate that a period of teaching intervened, and by the time the teaching was over, it was too late for them to return to their homes – hence the need for food.
Philip seems the best choice for the Lord’s question, as Philip was from Bethsaida, and if this took place “across the sea” from Capernaum, Bethsaida would be somewhat close by. Hence, turning to the local boy, Jesus asks about sources of food in the neighborhood. But John is quick to point out that Jesus knew all along what He was going to do – the question was to test Philip’s understanding of His own person and His power.
7. Philip answered and said to Him, ‘Two hundred danarii would not be sufficient to buy bread in order that each might receive a little portion.” 8. One of his disciples, Andrew, brother of Simon Peter, said to Him, 9. “There is here a little boy who has five barley loaves and two fishes; but what is that amongst so many?”
Commentary: Philip’s response is one of surprise – the entire apostle band’s treasury probably did not contain enough money to purchase such a vast amount of food, even had such supplies been available. Not catching onto the Lord’s purpose as yet, Andrew (who seems to have been one observant person, always bringing people to Jesus) brings to the Lord’s attention the seeming only source of sustenance – a young boy who had five barley loaves (poor man’s food) and two little fishes. But even Andrew has to add, “but what is that amongst so many?” He does not yet know the sufficiency of the little in the hands of Jesus.
10. Jesus said, ‘Have the men recline.” Now there was much grass in the place. Therefore the men reclined, their number being about 5,000. 11. Therefore when Jesus received the bread and gave thanks, He gave unto the ones reclining; likewise also from the fish; howsoever much they wished.
Commentary: John roots this, the most popular of Jesus’ miracles (judging by the inclusion of this story in every gospel) firmly in history – Jesus gives mundane commands (Luke the historian notes that they were to be grouped by 50’s) and John remembers visual details – there was much grass in the place. The image is striking – a cool spring day – a large group of men and women – well over 5,000, reclining upon the green grass, the harried disciples wondering what in the world their Lord was going to do now. One can see John’s smile as he writes (or dictates) this part of his book – what a longing he must have had to be there again.
Jesus took the bread, and, as was His custom, He gave thanks for it. Unfortunately the exact wording of this prayer is not given to us – we might wonder just how Jesus gave thanks over those little loaves and dried-up fishes. John attaches importance to this act, for he mentions it again in v. 23.
In typical style, the miracle it narrated without flash and fancy. It is simply stated that the food was distributed to the ones reclining – each one taking his fill. The miracle is implied rather than directly stated, though the fact of the miracle is not left in doubt.
Continue Reading →
Doing a two week series answering those who constantly assert that the Gospel of Mark presents a “simply human Jesus” over against, say, John. Here are the first two installments.