We – Muslims and Christians – need to learn to dialogue like this.
I was given the opportunity at my church to share some of the things I learned in India. Given the fact that I’ve spent a lot of time comparing belief systems – and cultures – I thought it would be a great idea to teach my class about Muslims, and how to relate to them.
Well… I was wrong. I wrestled with God in preparing for that class. Like the Lord God wrestles with Jacob – and God wins – I think God led me to talk about something deeper that just information. The truth is – I told my group – that if they really want to know what Islam is or isn’t, they can go find out on the internet. And even then, information is so widely available that they would go insane trying to figure out who is representing Islam correctly and who is not.
My Muslimah would tell me, “Well, if you want to know about Islam, learn from me. I am a Muslim.”
Well, yeah… then again, I see other Muslims, and they practice Islam very differently than her. So who is being really faithful to their religion? And the same goes for Christianity. I’m not being a hypocrite here. Therefore, I decided not to talk about these issues in my class. Instead, I decided to talk about HONOR AND SHAME cultures.
Most of you know that I am from Mexico. My society – my people – is very similar to the Muslim society. And for all I know, very similar to Eastern cultures. So I shared basic examples to help them understand how Honor and Shame look like in real life – specially because this is a church in which the majority of people are white. Their culture is totally different than mine. You can adapt to a culture – I believe – but there has to be a basic understanding of the dynamics of a culture (other than your own) if you want to be effective in sharing the Gospel with them.
So what I’m planning to do with the next series of posts is to share the things I talked about in the class, and after that I hope I can shed more light into the issues of salvation from the Muslim perspective, and how it relates to my perspective. I never really grasped why Muslims would say Inshallah.
A Muslim could explain to me that they try to please Allah, and that their salvation is based on whether or not their scale is tilted to their good deeds at the end of their lives. But they would also tell me that even if the scale were tilted to the bad deeds, Allah in His infinite mercy, could still grant them paradise. The point is Muslims do not know. And so when I asked, “So are you going to heaven?” They always replied, “Inshallah, I will”. And that really confused me for a while. I’m learning new things about my own faith, and I’d like to share them.
More and more, I am letting go of myself and really running into His arms. He will keep me. He is amazing. He deserves all the glory, and all the praise, and all the honor. My prayer is that these posts would shed light into what has happened in my life lately. God, through these situations, has enabled me to see Him for who He is – The Greatest name, The All-Compassionate, The All-Merciful, The Inspirer of Faith – and I submit to Him.
NO. I’m not a Muslim at heart. Let me make that perfectly clear.
So just to make sure we are on the same page: I bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of my faith. Christ died on the cross. I believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, for by Christ all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Christ and for Christ. Christ is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together.
I am not a Muslim, but I deeply love Muslims. I pray earnestly to My Father in Heaven that He will bring His chosen ones from Islam into a relationship with their Creator. If you are Muslim, I encourage you to keep reading. Hopefully, you will get to see for yourself why it is so difficult for you to reject Islam as your identity. You might have no idea of Honor and Shame in your society. Oh, but it is real… so real.
Rest assured though, when Allah calls you to faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, you will dare to call Him Father.
I’ve been hesitant about whether or not to write this post. There’s pain involved – my pain and others’ – and I’m not sure I will be able to communicate exactly how I feel. But being Ramadan, I felt compelled to write this piece. It will be long for sure. I wanted to share this for the sake of my own memory keeping. It’s easier to write down my thoughts once they’ve been processed.
I know some things about Ramadan. I spent a Ramadan in India. I wanted to fast with my friends, but I just didn’t seem to have the guts. I know it is one of the pillars of Islam. I know it is a time to get closer to Allah, and that Muslims abstain from food, drink, and sex to purify their souls. They feed the poor and the homeless. They make a big deal out of family. They help each other and the community. They pray. They give.
If you’re Muslim, I say to you, “Go for it”
Fast. Pray. Thank God for what He has given you. I love the idea of you wanting to please the Lord of the universe – The Creator of this world who is above all names. The God who made this Earth – so immense and full of glory. I love the idea of celebrating Him and Him only. I love the idea of worshipping Him with all our might.
Make no mistake, though, you will never be able to earn God’s favor. So watch your motives this Ramadan. I pray the LORD will reveal His glory to you this month. That’s exactly why I want to share what has been of me during the past few months: I’ve been in counseling.
I’ll skip you the details of how I got there, but there were some behaviors towards my spouse, and my children that were not right, or good, or healthy. I did not know this, of course. I thought my spouse was the only one in the wrong, and I wanted his behaviors to change. I was angry, but mostly sad – heartbroken. A friend who came alongside me encouraged me to get some help. So I did.
I was terrified of going to counseling. I think I had a panic attack while driving one night. I couldn’t take a deep breath. What am I gonna do? That is all I could think of. I had no idea about my future or my children’s future. I could only see what my fear was allowing me to see – a divorce. I mean, what else, right? If you go to counseling, and your husband doesn’t ever change… What did that mean? It obviously means he doesn’t love you enough to change.
I cried myself to sleep some nights thinking I was a liar. I had lied to my children… All those times in which I had told them Mommy and Daddy would be together forever might not be fulfilled. But what was I going to do as a divorced woman? I did not work. I had forsaken every single thing that could have allowed me to work. Plus, I was in a country that was not even my own. If I divorced my husband, that meant I was getting out of the country. Would I then stay with him just for my children? And I was so fearful of everything. Of every possible outcome. Then, if we divorced… my parents, his parents.
Oh, God! What was I going to do?
Why would God be doing this to me? Maybe I didn’t pray enough. I always said I’d pray more for my marriage or my children, but I end up forgetting to pray more. Maybe I didn’t have enough faith. Maybe God was just testing my faith. Maybe I just had to persevere… Persevere? Doing what? I didn’t like my situation…
I just read an article this morning so full of everything I am feeling. You can read the original article here.
You might be feeling that if Jesus really cared so much for your comfort, then you would not be dealing with such pain. But that is not true. What is true is that you likely prefer the comfort that comes from the absence of discomfort, while Jesus prefers you to have the ultimate comfort of your holiness.
So while you might feel frustrated over a very uncomfortable situation you’re being forced to deal with, Jesus is actually pursuing your long-term comfort through that very situation.
That did not make sense six months ago. That Jesus wanted to achieve something in me through pain. Yet, in my counselor’s office, there’s a plaque that says:
Every true strength is gained through struggle.
The article continues:
If you’re a Christian, you are a disciple of Jesus. And by necessity, a disciple undergoes discipline. If a disciple is a student, then discipline is training. Jesus’s discipline for you, however severe (and it is severe at times), is not God’s wrath against you. If you are tempted to believe that, don’t. It’s your unbelief or the Enemy talking to you.
No, discipline is training. Training in what? Training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). The unique training course that Jesus has designed for you (he designs a unique course for each disciple) has one great aim: to teach you to trust him in everything. That’s his goal for you. Jesus wants you to learn to trust in him in all things at all times. For the more you trust Jesus, the holier you become.
And this is horrible. It has felt terrible at times. To trust God in everything…
Fearful, yes, but I went to counseling. Alone. I thought my marriage needed help. I needed help. I needed perspective. Hands down, it has been one of the best decisions of my life.
Of course, I wanted my counselor to tell me if I was gonna end up having a divorce. Or for her to tell me if the situation that had led me to finally look for help was really that bad. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, you know? Maybe I was overreacting, or maybe I was making a big deal of something that was not a big deal.
During my very first session I learned that I am prone to make idols of things or people. And that was so weird. My counselor said, “If you cannot say NO to something or someone, you have made an idol out of that thing”. She then told me to go, and ask the Lord to reveal things to me. I was supposed to do that for the next week. Just to ask the Lord.
“Why do I make idols, God? Why do I get in these kind of relationships? Why do I feel the need to rescue or care for people?”.
I kid you not, the word CODEPENDENCY came to my mind. I am familiar with the word because my sister has always said my mom is codependent. I had no idea of what that word entailed, though. And, of course, I never thought it would involve me. But after reading about it, I realized the condition fits me quite well. Like a 100%
I have always felt that I’m stupid. That I am unworthy. That I am a failure. That I am not enough. I have always felt the need for approval and recognition, the need to control people, and how dreadful it is to make a simple decision. I know about low self-esteem, and compulsive behaviors like trying to be the best mom, or the best cook, or the best wife. Always trying to find purpose in something outside of myself because it helped me to avoid dealing with myself. Pleasing people.
It’s taken me some time to read about codependency, and the reasons that drive my behaviors – specially with my husband and my children. My family of origin played obviously a big part on that. My dad is an addict, and my mom has always enabled him. I can’t generalize a whole culture based on my childhood experiences, but my culture revolves very much around shame.
I lived in a very dysfunctional family where pain, and anger, and fear – feelings in general – were not to be expressed. There was never confrontation. I learned to repress my emotions, and disregard my own needs. I became a survivor. I developed behaviors that helped me deny, ignore or avoid difficult emotions. I don’t think I had every trusted anyone for real – not even my husband. Just until recently I thought self-control was meant to be swallowing what you were feeling. Stuffing it deep down inside you, and you never talk about it. That was not right.
But that’s how I learned to do life. I asked my counselor, “Where is God in all this? Where has He been?”. She said, “What do you mean? He is in the middle of it…”
I did not understand what she meant at that point, but little by little it’s beginning to make sense that God IS the One revealing all these things to me. He is the One guiding me through all this process. And I’ve been given the opportunity to face who I am – to know who I really am. I heard a sermon the other day in which Rich Nathan said that we really are worse than we think. But God loves us more than we can ever imagine.
Why are you striving these days? Why are you trying to earn grace?
Why are you crying? Let me lift up your face. Just don’t turn away.Why are you looking for love? Why are you still searching as if I’m not enough?
To where will you go child? Tell me where will you run, to where will you run?
Idols. My husband. My children. My friends. It all made sense. I am always trying to make people happy. Somehow I grew up like this. Trying not to rock the boat. It has become clearer than water that all I have ever wanted is for someone to love me. And the need for love has been so great that I went way too far in so many relationships to make that happen. I would lose myself – if that makes sense – so that other’s would love me.
It was painfully obvious with my husband. He never asked for this, but I put him on a throne. The throne that God deserved. I was expecting my husband to fulfill something that God did not create him to fulfill. I was setting my husband for failure really – expecting him to make me happy and to satisfy my most deepest need for love.
Dear God, won’t you please… Could You send someone here who would love me?
Who would love me for me, not for what I have done or what I would become. Who would love me for me… ’cause nobody has shown me what love really means.
I know you’ve murdered, and I know you have lied… And I watched you suffer all of your life. And now that you listen, I will tell you that I – I will love you for you. Not for what you have done or what you will become. I will love you for you, I will give you the love, the love that you never knew.
After my first session – that obviously rocked my world – I told my husband that I was going to start making changes for me, and that I hoped that we could really have a good relationship, and work through the challenges that lied ahead. I said I did not want to be afraid anymore of anybody or anything. I was going to follow God wherever He would lead, even if that meant that our relationship would have to come to and end. I never felt that God was telling me to divorce my husband – let me be clear about that.
The Lord has been very gracious to me, showing me that it was not my husband who needed to change, but me. Mainly ME. It was liberating to see that this person I thought was perfect, was so imperfect. It opened my eyes to the fact that I had been trying to get my worth based on my husband, or my children, or my friends. On what people thought of me. Counseling has really changed my life. The Lord is changing my life through it.
God has shown me that even when I had been so unfaithful to Him (basically breaking the Shema Yisrael, and the first three commandments since EVER), He still wanted ME. God wanted ME. He was pursuing me. He was like a husband in love with His Bride.
And I was His Bride!
I have always wanted someone to love me like this. And I was so angry at God, because this love that He was offering to me, I wanted it. Yes. But I wanted it from my husband. I wanted to be everything to my husband. God showed me, very gently, that I would always be disappointed if I kept on expecting this from my spouse. That was not my spouse’s role. He was not meant to make me happy. That was not what marriage was all about. Marriage meant something much deeper. Marriage was about intimacy.
An intimacy that I had never had – not even with my husband. Intimacy meant more than sex. Intimacy meant feeling wholly accepted just the way I was. Marriage was a mirror, like a reflection of the intimacy God wanted to have with me. But all those dreams, and hopes and expectations were for the Lord to fulfill – not my husband. I would keep hitting a wall if I expected somebody else to fulfill them. Only the LORD was perfect to meet and surpass my expectations of love.
Another thing was I didn’t even know who I was. And I’m still learning. I know this might sound weird, but it’s difficult for me to know what I like or dislike. I was raised to mirror everybody else. I am afraid of making mistakes, I’m afraid of being rejected. I was rejected as a child. I felt rejected by the people who were supposed to love me the most – my parents. I was abused emotionally. It’s difficult to say those words because maybe it wasn’t that bad. I’ve tried to find memories – good memories – but it is so difficult. I cannot remember my dad telling me he loved me while sober. And I cannot remember my mom not being worried, or angry, or crying, or yelling, or taking care of him. And it hurts.
But it was bad. Yes, it was that bad. It was not okay. It was not normal to go through what I went through. No child should ever need to hear a parent calling her stupid. No child should ever have to beg for forgiveness from a parent. No child should ever have to wake up in the middle of the night, and decide if she should stay with her dad or go with her mom. I think I faced these feelings and for the first time I said, “Yes. It hurts. And no, it was not okay.”
I had never done that before.
Do you dream of a home you never had?
An innocence that you cannot get back
The pain is real. You can’t erase it. Sooner or later you have to face it down. Down.
You have to face it down.
You are loved.
Do you keep your thoughts inside your head? Will you regret the things you never said? You have a voice. You have to use it. You have a choice. Don’t let them shut you down. Down. Don’t let them shut you down
You are loved
Do you feel the ache inside your soul? You know you’ll never make it on your own.
Sorrow is too great for you to hold it. You’re gonna break. Why don’t you lay it down?
Freedom comes in letting go. Open up the window to your heart.
Freedom comes in letting go. Open up your heart.
Why would you want to be with me, God? Don’t you know who I am?
I cannot relate to a loving father. Let me be fair. I know my dad loves me – in whatever his idea of love is. I give him that. But then you tell me about a Heavenly Father who loves me. Uh… I know what the Bible says. I know. It is the very first time that I am experiencing this kind of love, though.
God also has revealed to me that I know nothing about unconditional love. I grew up learning behaviors, and I made them my own to survive. Making people feel guilty, putting people down in order to feel better myself, I manipulated and controlled others. I basically knew emotional blackmail very well. I have blamed others for my lack of self control, and I have let others abuse me. I have tried to fill my need for love and acceptance the best way I had known so far. I don’t forgive. I always remember so that I can bring it back.
God has been been so very gentle and sweet while giving me a reality check of who I am now. I feel like I should not use these corny terms to describe the Maker of the Universe, but He has been so very gentle. Like if I was dating somebody for the very first time, He would be the perfect date. He has shown me that He has loved me forever. That even though I have rejected Him, He is still waiting for me to come back. That now that I had a clear picture of who I was, I was able to walk towards the woman He made me to be. And all this, He does because He loves me. Nothing else.
God is not codependent, that’s for sure. He doesn’t need me. And He loves me. Unconditionally. So it began to make sense. This intimacy thing. This is what it means. It means that God knows who we really are, and He loves us. There’s acceptance. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. It meant that I didn’t fear divorce anymore. Becasue the truth is that my husband is a gift God gave me. He is my husband, and I want to know him, and I want him to know me. So I’ve been open in sharing with him these feelings and issues, and he says he loves me. It means conflict and arguments are there. It means I don’t need perfection. It means I feel accepted. And I also need to work on being accepting.
God loves me. I wanted this with God. Yes, with my husband, too. But God. With God. This is the relationship God wants with me. Why would I say NO to that?
I bought myself a ring. I married God. My other marriage is fine, by the way. We are learning to communicate better, and I’m not stuffing my feelings when I am angry. I’m learning to be assertive, and we are not divorcing – this goes beyond divorce. God is changing ME.
I am the Lord’s wife first. He is the one that will fulfill ALL the expectations of love I have. He is actually showing me what love really means. He has been faithful to me even when I have been a spiritual prostitute. He has shown me what a Covenant Keeper He is. He does not leave nor forsake me based on my performance. He has lived with me the book of Hosea. Even after I had gone after my Baals, my lovers, and forgotten Him; He has betrothed me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy.
He is a devoted husband.
Your love is devoted like a ring of solid gold,like a vow that is tested like a covenant of old.
Your love is enduring through the winter rain,
and beyond the horizon with mercy for today.Faithful You have been and faithful you will be.
You pledge yourself to me, and it’s why I singYour praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips
You Father the orphan. Your kindness makes us whole.
And you shoulder our weakness, and your strength becomes our own.
Now you’re making me like you, clothing me in white.
Bringing beauty from ashes, for You will have Your bride
Free of all her guilt and rid of all her shame
And known by her true name and it’s why I sing
Your praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips
You will be praised. You will be praised.
With angels and saints we sing worthy are You Lord!
You see it? It is LOVE. It is nothing else. If you know what I am talking about, if you have struggled with acceptance and your self-worth, you understand the need to be loved. And you understand that you would give yourself to people, and do things in order to get a tiny crumb of love. You may not be aware of it, but you stay in relationships that deep down you know they are not good for you, or you don’t even like to get something – acceptance, praise, whatever it might be.
I have given myself to get something in return. Always. Becasue I want to be loved. But God? What does He need? He doesn’t need anything. Why would God give Himself to me like this?
He wants me to be FREE…
All my Christian life, I have been a slave. To my idols. I had failed to see that Christ died to set me free from my sin, but also from the things, and behaviors, and patterns of thought that have entangled my earthly life. This is what it means to walk with Christ. Yes, I get heaven, but I also get to enjoy my life here and now. My Lord and my Savior died so that I could be free to choose Him.
That’s what God’s more interested in – my freedom. I understand slavery. I have been a slave to my anger, and to these behaviors that I’m working on changing. Along the way, I had been raising little slaves… They don’t deserve this. No child deserves what I went through. And while I am not and will never be the perfect mother, I do want to change my family history. Without realizing it, I had been encouraging the same patterns of family disfunction that both my husband and I were raised in. It is so clear now.
On my last session I was so very happy to share with my counselor some changes that I’ve made, and some tough conversations that I had with people I was afraid of. I felt different. I turned around, and I read a verse that meant a lot to me:
Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
This is in the context of the prophet Isaiah speaking to the Israelites. God is telling them He will deliver them AGAIN from Babylon – another “exodus”. Where there is no clear path ahead of me, God will create one. He is always a step ahead of me. He knew about all this. He knew about my fears, and about my shame. He has covered it all.
I am learning a lot about being a parent in counseling. I am learning to show my children who they are, and who God is. To show them, not to teach them. I was teaching them one thing, but showing them a completely different one. I was being harsh, laying down the law. If they did something, they paid. Again, God is changing ME.
I am being more patient. More forgiving. I think that can be mistaken as if I’m letting them off the hook many times, but I don’t think I am. I am just showing my children what I have been learning myself. I am showing them how to regulate their emotions, and really, how to manage them. I just feel that I haven’t been very gracious to them in all these years. I have been expecting a behavior that it is right -like obedience – but I don’t think I have taken enough time to cultivate what it takes for that behavior to develop.
Basically I haven’t been a very good listener. It’s taking a whole lot of help from the Lord to wait fifteen minutes by my son’s side while he cannot stop crying. Waiting until we can talk about what triggered that anger explosion. It was easier to spank him because he pushed his sister, and then make him apologize. And then he would cry more and more. And sometimes I do think, “You know, all this emotional Let’s-talk-about-it-crap takes a lot of time, and a lot of effort…”
And the truth is I don’t want to deal with it. I don’t. Then I close my eyes, and I’m like, “Yeah, well… nobody showed you how to deal with your emotions. You have stuffed them all your life and when they explode, it has been disastrous – in family, in friendships, in marriage… “
The Lord reminded me of this the other day at the library:
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
I have been treated so tenderly by my heavenly Father. He is showing me how forgiving He is. I deserve the worst, but I don’t get what I deserve. He loves me. Are there consequences? Yes. Is there discipline? Yes. But I am just happy that God is working something in me through both my children and their strong will. He is showing me how to be more like Jesus. Isn’t that the point of the Christian life anyway? Jesus will not leave me alone…
So yeah, feelings are not being stuffed anymore. I think it is being particularly difficult for my husband. Sometimes I think that what I do here at home does not really have an impact on anyone. But I am realizing, basically, that God is helping my husband and I to get closer to each other, and also to potentially change future generations. God is helping me to break away from the cycle of abuse and codependency of at least four generations on my side.
I’ve been swimming, so this next song means a lot to me. I’ve never swam before, so learning to breathe correctly and all that was very challenging for me. All those feelings of inadequacy, of being a loser, would continually come to my mind. But I kept on trying and I’m getting much better. In my class, sometimes we practice drafting for triathlons. When there is a lot of people swimming next to you, the water gets really choppy. And even though I know how to breathe correctly, sometimes when I open my mouth all I get is water inside. No air. I have to put my head back in the water, then lift it up again, and try harder.
This time in my life has felt a little bit like that – like swimming in choppy water trying to get air. But God has been with me every step of the way. We are not done yet. I’m sure He will keep on revealing things to me, things that as of right now I have no idea about.
I like swimming because God showed me that I can swim. When I see a lake or a pond, I feel like swimming there, even though I have never swam in open water before. The idea of drowning in an open-water swim terrified me, but I can’t wait to try it now.
One final thought. I began this post with Muslims in mind. If you are Muslim, and you are reading this, I think you can relate to a lot of the issues I talked about. We do share honor and shame societies. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have been treated like this. I pray that one day you will be able to relate to God in this forgiving, accepting, and unconditional-loving way. There is no other way, but through Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
Life gets choppy at times. Being Ramadan I know you want to please Allah. I know. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Ask Him for a dream. Test Him on that. Dare to call Him Father. And always remember that if God calls you to swim, He will keep you breathing above the waves.
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep. My faith will stand
And I will call upon Your name. And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise. My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
Oh, Jesus, you’re my God!
I think I’ve written on this subject before, but why not to keep on writing? This post was originally written here.
Suppose you own a Bible, but it’s translated in a style that’s difficult to understand. Or maybe your Bible has simply worn out from years of usage. If so, you can easily walk into any Christian bookstore and pick up a different version of the Bible.
The earliest Christians couldn’t do that.
There was no “Polycarp Standard Version” or “Saint James Study Bible with Limited Edition Camel-Knee Binding” on anyone’s bookshelf, and there were no printing presses or photocopy machines. Early Christians read the Scriptures from codexes and scrolls. These copies of the Scriptures were hand-written from whatever manuscripts the copyists happened to possess when a copy was needed. And so, it was crucial for copyists to reproduce these texts accurately.
But did they? What if the copies of the New Testament were corrupted over the centuries?
Certain skeptics give the impression that ancient copyists changed the biblical texts in ways that ought to worry Christians today (this is certainly the case with Muslims).
Here’s how Bart Erhman describes the status of the New Testament manuscripts:
Not only do we not have the originals [of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament], we don’t have the first copies of the originals.… What we have are copies made later—much later. … These copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are. … Christianity … is a textually oriented religion whose texts have been changed, surviving only in copies that vary from one another, sometimes in highly significant ways.
Such statements suggest that the process of copying the Scriptures worked something like the Telephone Game (much like skeptics have depicted the oral histories you learned about in a previous chapter). In the Telephone game, of course, you might start with “I like pepperoni pizza” but end up with “Don’t let the purple aliens build pyramids when the zombies attack.”
Could it be that the verses in the New Testament have been similarly corrupted by careless copyists? If so, even if the original New Testament texts told the truth, how can we be sure that what we read in the New Testament today is true, since it may have changed over the centuries? Has the message of Jesus been lost in transmission?
Truth be told, the skeptics’ claims are overblown. The New Testament has not changed significantly over the centuries, and nothing essential to the message of Jesus has been lost in transmission. In the first place, manuscripts weren’t copied a single time and then tossed aside, like the individual sentences whispered around the circle in a Telephone Game. Manuscripts were kept, repeatedly copied, and sometimes used to check later copies.
What’s more, textual critics today don’t start with the manuscripts left over at the end of the copying process, like the last sentence uttered in the Telephone Game. The Greek text that stands behind today’s New Testament is the result of careful reconstruction using the earliest surviving manuscripts, not a few leftovers at the end!
So, yes, copyists made mistakes, and some copyists even altered texts. And yet, such lapses were relatively rare. Copyists worked hard to keep their copies correct and, for the most part, they got it right. Even when they didn’t get it right, most of their mistakes were mere misspellings or slips of the pen—variants that are easy to spot and easily corrected. When it comes to more difficult variants, so many manuscripts and fragments of the New Testament have survived that scholars can almost always reconstruct the original reading of the text. In those few instances where uncertainty about the right reading remains, none of the possibilities changes anything that Christians believe about God or about his work in the world.
So did copyists make changes in the manuscripts? Of course they did!
The copyists were human beings, and being human means making mistakes. Since God chose not to override their humanity as they copied the New Testament, these human beings were every bit as prone to short attention spans, poor eyesight, and fatigue as you or me. They had no eyeglasses or contact lenses to sharpen their vision, and they relied on the flickering light of lamps to see.
Since God did not “re-inspire” the text each time it was reproduced, sometimes the copyists miscopied their sources. Once in a while, they even tried to fix things that weren’t broken by changing words that they thought a heretic might misconstrue. The result is hundreds of thousands of copying variants scattered among the New Testament manuscripts.
One popular skeptic’s much-repeated soundbite is that “there are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament”; this statement is technically true but—unless his listeners are aware of the vast number of New Testament manuscripts that survive today—it’s also a bit misleading.
There are around 138,000 words in the Greek New Testament, and hundreds of thousands of variants can be found scattered among the Greek manuscripts— but that number of variants comes from adding up every difference in every surviving manuscript from the Greek New Testament. Well over 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts have been preserved as a whole or in part—more than any other text from the ancient world! With so many surviving manuscripts, it doesn’t take long for the number of variants to exceed the number of words in the Greek New Testament.
If only one manuscript of the New Testament had survived, there would have been zero variants (and this single manuscript would probably have become an idol to which people would make pilgrimages today!). But early Christians believed that all of God’s Word should be accessible to all of God’s people. And so, every church seemed to have possessed its own codexes of apostolic texts—and that’s why more than 5,000 whole or partial manuscripts survive today.
Spread across millions and millions of words in more than 5,000 manuscripts, the variations represent a small percentage of the total text. According to one scholar, the New Testament text is 92.6% stable. In other words, all these differences affect less than 8% of the New Testament text! What’s more, the overwhelming majority of these differences have to do with words that are misspelled or rearranged—differences that have no impact on the translation or meaning of the text.
What this means practically is that the text of the New Testament has been sufficiently preserved for us to recover the words that God intended and inspired. What’s more, several portions of the New Testament survive from the second century—a century or less after the time when God first inspired eyewitnesses of the risen Lord to write!
The New Testament is, in fact, the best preserved text from the ancient world. Greek scholar D.A. Carson sums up the issue in this way: “The purity of text is of such a substantial nature that nothing we believe to be true, and nothing we are commanded to do, is in any way jeopardized by the variants.”
Portions of this blog post were contributed by Elijah Hixson.
We know (if you are familiar with what the Muslims claim) that every single book in antiquity has been corrupted. By corruption, I mean that people used to keep on copying the manuscripts, and therefore some errors happened. This is certainly the case with the New Testament. There was never an intention to control the text (check out the debate about the Quran with James White that I posted below). The text needed to get out of Jerusalem so that everybody knew what had happened.
Every single person had a different book (either the letter to the Romans, or to the Corinthians) and they made a copy for themselves or for their family. Nobody was trying to alter them on purpose. It is impossible to think that people would get so victorious at changing the doctrines in the New Testament so perfectly, at the same time – without even being organized. The New Testament Manuscript tradition has thousand and thousands of manuscripts.
The Muslim claim is that the Quran we have now has always been the same ever since Gabriel dictated it to Muhammad. But if we are to apply the same standard – not a double standard – on how we treat the Quran and the New Testament, then the Quran is also corrupt. And if it is corrupted – just like any book of antiquity is – then the doctrine of perfect preservation of the Quran is false. That would mean… many things, I guess. No eternal tablets in heaven, no assurance of what Muhammad and his companions wrote down were actually Allah’s words. No hope that Allah’s language is Arabic or that Islam is the religion that pleases Allah or actually true… The Quran is just another book.
If the perfect preservation of the Quran fails… how can Islam survive? Listen to the questions White raises. Where are the manuscripts of the Quran? There are variations in the text of the Quran? How do you know what the original said? Muslims say there are 450 thousand Quran manuscripts. Fine. Where are they? We want to see the list. We can give you all the list of the New Testament manuscripts, and you can go online and find the entire catalog right now. Where is that for the Quran?
You might also want to read Dr. James White’s What every Christian needs to know about the Quran. It’s very a well documented research on the history of how the Quran came to be from the main Islamic sources. But if you watch the top two debates, I’m sure you’ll get the idea.
 Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 7, 10–11, 69, 132, 208.
 See also Daniel B. Wallace, “Lost in Transmission,” Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011), 31–33; Darrell Bock, (Nashville: Nelson, 2010), 71.
 See Bart Ehrman’s scholarly work The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). In those relatively few instances where the text has been intentionally altered, it was not primarily heretics altering New Testament texts to fit their beliefs; it was often the orthodox altering texts for the perceived purpose of preventing misuse of the text by heretics. While one may take issue with some of Ehrman’s specific applications, his overall case is well-argued.
 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 90.
 Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus, 89) places the high end of his estimate at 400,000. Careful statistical analysis by Peter Gurry has resulted in an estimate between 500,000 and 550,000, not including misspellings (“Demanding a Recount,” presentation, Evangelical Theological Society, 2014).
 The listing in 2003 included a total of 5,735 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament represented in whole or in part (Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament 4th ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 2005], 50).
 K. Martin Heide, “Assessing the Stability of the Transmitted Texts of the New Testament and The Shepherd of Hermas,” The Reliability of the New Testament, ed. Robert Stewart (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011), 138. This percentage coheres well with the seven percent figure for variants suggested by Paul Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006), 231.
 Wallace, “Lost in Transmission,” 20–21.
This article picks up where the last article left off. We continue our glimpse at the early testimony for Jesus of Nazareth.
The Argument for the Early Dating of the Synoptic Gospels
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are all said to be the “Synoptic Gospels.”
“Synoptic” means that they are seen through the same eye. These three Gospels tell the story of Jesus in a familiar fashion. Some have claimed that the Gospels all should have been written after AD 70 due to a prophecy given that relates to the destruction of the Temple (occurring in AD 70). However, many scholars are beginning to change their mindset concerning these dates.
J. Warner Wallace makes a compelling argument, an argument held by some NT scholars, that all three Synoptic Gospels must have been written prior to AD 63. Wallace argues that “The New Testament fails to describe the destruction of the Temple…The New Testament fails to describe the siege of Jerusalem [70 A.D.]…Luke said nothing about the deaths of Paul and Peter…Luke said nothing about the death of James [62 A.D.]…Luke’s Gospel predates the Book of Acts…Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel in his letter to Timothy.”
Therefore, since Acts is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke and does not mention the details that Wallace has noted, then it only stands to reason that Acts was written before AD 64 with Luke being written sometime prior to Acts. Since Luke uses Mark and Matthew, then it is feasible to claim that Mark and Matthew predate the writing of Luke. If Wallace is correct, then the Synoptic Gospels were all composed within 30 years of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. It would be comparable to currently writing about an event that transpired in 1986. With several eyewitnesses and with fond memories of the 80s, one could write a trustworthy account within that timeframe.
Even if one is not persuaded by Wallace’s argument, suffice it to say that there exist several early traditions in the Gospel texts that predate the NT. Even with the Gospel of John which is normally attributed to the late first-century, many scholars—including some liberal ones—hold that John reports traditions that fit well within the early the time of Christ. This includes the inclusion of a miracle by Jesus at one Pool of Bethesda. The Pool of Bethesda was destroyed prior to AD 70.
Earliest New Testament Letters
In addition to the previously listed material, one should note that many of the epistles listed in the New Testament canon are considered early. Consider the Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Gerald Peterman writes concerning Galatians that “Probably the letter should be dated to AD 49…Paul came to Christ probably around AD 35 and the events described in Gal 2:1-10 must have occurred before the letter was written. Therefore, the reference to ‘fourteen years’ (2:1) must be all-inclusive—that is, the ‘three years’ previously mentioned (1:18) plus 11 more. This yields AD 49 (35+14).”
The letter of James is another early manuscript. While some date the letter to the latter first-century, an idea based upon the skepticism that James, the half-brother of Jesus, would not pen a work; many Bible scholars hold that James not only was written by the authentic James, the half-brother of Jesus, but that the work was extremely early.
Kurt A. Richardson writes that “If the epistle’s author is James the Lord’s brother, then it was written before a.d. 62, perhaps in the previous decade. James is the only likely candidate for authorship, as, indeed, Christian tradition has affirmed.” John F. Hart takes the date a step further. Hart holds that James was written extremely early since that the Epistle of James does not indicate any reference to the Jerusalem Council. Thus, Hart notes that “If the book was written before the Jerusalem Council (AD 49), the date of writing could be as early as AD 45-48 (most evangelicals). If the dispersion in 1:1 refers to the scattering of Jewish believers in Ac 8:1, dated at about AD 34, the book could have been written as early as AD 35-36. James is probably the first NT book written.”
If Hart is correct, then we have a reference to Jesus of Nazareth, that is “the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1), as early as 2-5 years from the time that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and resurrected!
3. 1 Thessalonians
1 Thessalonians is another work that provides early testimony to Jesus of Nazareth. 1 Thessalonians, like Galatians, Romans, and the Corinthian letters, is one of the letters universally attested to Paul. 1 Thessalonians, the book that provides the eschatological concept of the Parousia, was most likely written around AD 51, a mere 18-21 years from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Kevin D. Zuber denotes that “Paul probably arrived before Gallio began his tenure in AD 50. He probably wrote 1 Thessalonians in early AD 51 and 2 Thessalonians later that same year. Although these two letters are among the earliest of Paul’s ‘canonical correspondence’ (only Galatians is earlier), the themes and issues reflect a mature faith and a consistency of doctrine.”
This article has only scratched the surface of early testimony that one finds for Jesus of Nazareth. No other person in all of antiquity holds the early reliable testimony that Jesus of Nazareth enjoys. Those who are skeptical of the Christian faith may not accept the claims made about Jesus of Nazareth. However, if one is to be honest with the evidence, then one must admit that not only was Jesus of Nazareth an authentic person of history, but also that He was crucified and was thought to have resurrected from the dead from the outset of the Christian movement.
This evidence holds such power that it was used by God not only to bring Pastor Brian back to a strong Christian faith, but also led him back into the Gospel ministry. For me, it stopped me from becoming Muslim. It grounded my Christian faith on the evidence I never knew we had as Christians.
Thus far, Jesus of Nazareth has passed the historical test with flying colors. Will Jesus continue to pass the historical test when we investigate eyewitness testimony?
January 25th, 2016. Brian Chilton.
Albright, W. F. Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1955.
Habermas, Gary. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.
Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.
Richardson, Kurt A. James. The New American Commentary. Volume 36. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.
Rydelnik, Michael, and Michael Vanlaningham, eds. The Moody Bible Commentary.Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.
Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.
 J. Warner Wallace, Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013), 161-163.
 In the 19th century, many scholars dismissed the Gospel of John as a late invention over this Pool of Bethesda. That is, until the Pool of Bethesda was excavated and discovered in the late 19th to early 20th century.
 Gerald Peterman, “Galatians,” in The Moody Bible Commentary, Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1827.
 Kurt A. Richardson, James, vol. 36, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 39.
 John F. Hart, “James,” in The Moody Bible Commentary, Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1947.
 Kevin D. Zuber, “1 Thessalonians,” in The Moody Bible Commentary, Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1877
When it comes to messianic expectations at the time of Jesus, Christians can be unaware that other names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.”
Two of these names are “Son of God” and “Son of Man.”
The “Son of Man” (bar nash, or bar nasha) expression is seen in Jesus’ earthly ministry (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37). But even in His earthly ministry, Jesus speaks of His authority on earth because the Son of Man has received his authority from God in heaven (as depicted in Dan. 7:9–14). For example, Jesus says to the scribes who question His presumption in declaring the paralyzed man’s sins forgiven: “… that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mk. 2:10). 1
Having received His authority from heaven, Jesus now exercises it in His ministry on earth. Even authoritative claims such as, “the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mk 2:28) would cause a Jewish hearer to remember that God is the only one who commanded his people to respect it (Exod. 20:8–11).2 While Son of Man is used to refer to the the suffering, death, and and resurrection of Jesus (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33), it also refers to eschatological judgment (Matt. 25:31-36; Mk.14:60-65).
Jesus spoke of this function in the following texts:
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with him, then He will sit on his glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations , and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father , inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…’ Then He will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels….’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt. 25: 31-36).
You, who have persevered with me in my tribulations, when the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne will also sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Matt. 19: 28; Lk. 22: 28-30).
One of the most pertinent issues is Jesus’ use of Son of Man in the trial scene in Mark 14.
We DO NOT want to minimize why Jesus earned the charge of blasphemy here.
According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal or capital offense. If this is true, why was Jesus accused of blasphemy? Jesus affirmed the chief priest’s question that He was not only the Messiah but also the Coming Son of Man who would judge the world and would sit at the right hand of God.
This was considered a claim to deity since the eschatological authority of judgment was for God alone. Hence, Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Daniel 7:13-14, and Psalm 110:1 to Himself. Let’s look at Daniel 7:13-14
I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
In this text, the figure is given a rule over God’s kingdom. All people groups are seen as seen as serving and worshiping this figure. Yet, in some sense the figure is divine yet in human form who is a second divine figure who reigns alongside the Ancient of Days (the term for God in the text).
Son of God and Son of David
When it comes to the question as to whether Jesus is the Messiah, both Christians and Jewish people agree that the Messiah has to be a descendant of David. The area of disagreement is when Christians make the claim that Jesus is the divine, Son of God. What Christians tend to forget is that when Jewish people think of the Davidic King as the Son of God, it has very little to do with thinking the Son of God is the second person of the Trinity.
In other words, at the time of Jesus, “Son of God” didn’t necessarily denote divinity. Even though divine sonship appears in the Jewish Scriptures with regards to persons or people groups such as angels (Gen 6:2; Job 1:6; Dan 3:25), and Israel (Ex. 4:22-23; Hos 11;1; Mal. 2:10), the category that has special importance to the Son of God issue is the Davidic king. While God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17: 6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15), he also promised David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam.7:12-17; 1 Chr.17:7-15). In other words, David’s line would eventually reach it’s climax in the birth of a person who would guarantee David’s dynasty, and throne forever.
In Psalm 2 which is a coronation hymn, (similar to 2 Kings 11:12) is the moment of the king’s crowning. God tells the person to whom He is speaking that He is turning over the dominion and the authority of the entire world to Him (v 8). While David did have conquest of all the nations at that time, (Edom, Moab, Ammon, Philistia, Amalek, etc-1 Chron. 14:17; 18:11) in Psalm 2, one day God will subjugate all the nations to the rule of the Davidic throne.3
In Psalm 89, the Davidic King is elevated over the rivers and seas (v.24- 25) and is the most exalted ruler on earth (v. 27). He also will be the “firstborn” and enjoy the highest rank among all earthly kings. In Psalm 110, the Davidic King is invited to sit at God’s “right hand” (vs.1) and his called called “lord” (vs.1) and called a “priest” after the pattern of Melchizedek.
Keeping this in mind, let’s look at Romans 1:1-5
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In this text, Paul says through the resurrection, Jesus is installed (by God) as the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). Paul is not saying Jesus is being appointed as The Son of God is a change in Jesus’ essence. Thus, Jesus is “designated” or “declared” as the Son of God, the Lord—the anti-type of the previous “sons” in the Old Testament (Adam, David, Israel).”4 Paul’s goes on to reference Jesus as the incarnate Son who dies and is raised from the dead (see Rom. 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32; Gal. 1:16; 4:4–6; Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 1:10).
To summarize, Jesus did consider Himself to be both the unique Son of God and the Son of Man. When we understand the cultural context of these names for the Messiah, it becomes evident that Jesus is both divine and human. Because of this, He is the only one who can provide both atonement for our sins as well as a covenantal relationship with God through his death and resurrection.
REMEMBER THIS WHEN YOUR MUSLIM FRIENDS TELL YOU JESUS NEVER CLAIM TO BE DIVINE, OR THAT THE NEW TESTAMENT NEVER PORTRAYS JESUS AS GOD.
1.Craig A Evans, From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 49.
3. Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darrell L. Bock, and Gordon H. Johnston, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing The Promises, Expectations, And Coming of Israel’s King ( Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2012), 80.
4. C.W Morgan and R.A. Peterson, Theology in Community: The Deity of Christ(Wheaten: Crossway, 2011), 119.
Some people are skeptical to the dating of some New Testament texts. Part of this skepticism stems from extreme liberal beliefs concerning the biblical texts originating from textual criticism gone wild. However, unbeknownst to many, such skepticism is far from unanimous in biblical scholarship. In fact, the scholarly world is coming to the understanding that the texts of the New Testament may be much earlier than previously anticipated. In fact, two radical scholars, John A. T. Robinson and W. F. Albright, have accepted an early dating for the New Testament writings.
Albright noted that “We can already say emphatically that there is no long any basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80, two full generations before the date between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today.”
This article will not address every early document that we have pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, this article will examine some of the earliest testimonies we have pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth. We will begin with, perhaps, the most important testimony we possess.
Throughout the New Testament, one finds early Christian documentations that predate the New Testament writings. These documentations date to the earliest times of the church.
Habermas notes that “It is crucially important that this information is very close to the actual events, and therefore cannot be dismissed as late material or as hearsay evidence. Critics not only admit this data, but were the first ones to recognize the early date.”
Several of these early traditions are documented throughout the New Testament writings. It is important to note that these traditions date to the earliest church. For your consideration, I have attached a formulation (listing out key historical events), a hymn (a song relating theological information), and a confession (listing out a statement to be said in confessing a belief).
In this formulation, perhaps one of the most important historical pre-NT traditions, Paul relates what he received when he first became a Christian and met with the apostles. This is what Paul records:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
In this formulation, one will note the emphasis placed upon Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and resurrection appearances. This tradition provides HUGE historical support for resurrection claim.
2. Hymn: Philippians 2:6-11
In his letter to the Church of Philippi, Paul recounts an early hymn that predates his writing. This hymn records several important Christian beliefs pertaining to Christ.
“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).
Here again, one will find early testimony for the crucifixion of Christ and implicitly for the resurrection. Also of great importance is the early attribution of divinity that the church placed upon Jesus of Nazareth.
3. Confession: Romans 10:9
To the Church of Rome, Paul provides an early confession that predates his writing. Paul notes that “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” (Romans 10:9). Paul’s confession notes, again, the death and resurrection of Jesus.
These early testimonies are so important that NT historian Michael Licona noted that “Paul and the oral traditions embedded throughout the New Testament literature provide our most promising material.” Therefore, these traditions which number far more than the three listed are of extreme value to the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.
So much information was compiled by Pastor Brian for the early testimony of Jesus that the article had to be broken into two sections. Next week, his examination of early testimony will continue as we take a look at the dating of the Gospels and the three earliest Epistles in the New Testament.
For my own writing’s sake, I just want to address one more thing – although I am almost sure Pastor Brian will mention it. These early testimonies are EXTREMELY important when it comes to Muslim-Christian apologetics. There’s a myth surrounding the apostle Paul.
He is charged by the Muslims to have made Jesus into a God. The Gospels – according to Muslim apologists – never show Jesus as God (never mind Jesus saying He is the Son of Man of Daniel 7, or Jesus receiving worship by Thomas and not rebuking him, among other examples).
If someone is to blame, it has to be Paul. There’s an excellent debate here on who gives us the truth about Jesus – Paul or Muhammad?
But the datings of this early testimonies are extremely important. The book of Romans, for example, was written around A.D. 57. Phillipians was written around A.D. 62, and 1 Corinthians around A.D. 53-55. Why is this important? It is important because this means that the disciples of Jesus were alive when Paul wrote his letters to the different churches.
The Gospel of Matthew was written in the late 50s or early 60s. The Gospel of Mark – although not a disciple of Jesus, but a friend of Peter – was written in the late 50s. The Gospel of Luke was written by a physician (and Paul’s companion) sometime before A.D. 65. The Gospel of John was written between A.D. 70-100.
All the people associated with Jesus – the eyewitnesses – were still alive by the time Paul’s letters were in circulation. Galatians was written in A.D. 48. Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians were written around the same time of Phillipians – A.D. 62. Besides all this, the epistles mention the other apostles. Paul knew Peter and James personally (Galatians 1).
If Paul was making all this stuff up, CERTAINLY the disciples would have said something. Don’t you think?
Jesus’ own brother James wrote his letter around A.D. 40-45 – way before Paul’s writings. And seriously, what did it take for James to accept that his half-brother was actually God in the flesh? James turned from being a skeptic to a leader in the church based on his meeting with the resurrected Christ.
My point is this: Paul did not make up the divinity of Jesus. Everybody who knew Jesus personally was still alive, and could have called Paul out on this, but they didn’t. Why? Because Paul was telling the truth even before the synoptic gospels were written.
Stay tuned for next week 🙂
Bibliography for Complete Article
Albright, W. F. Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1955.
Habermas, Gary. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.
Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.
Richardson, Kurt A. James. The New American Commentary. Volume 36. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.
Rydelnik, Michael, and Michael Vanlaningham, eds. The Moody Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.
Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.
 W. F. Albright, Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1955), 136.
 Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 30.
 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).
 Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010), 275.