WHY ARE CHRISTIANS & MESSIANICS TURNING TO GOD?
DID JESUS RISE FROM THE DEAD? WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION?
Dear Rabbi Singer:
I’m doing a project on missionary and counter-missionary groups. There is a very large section in my project that deals with theology. I have read your site as well as the Jews for Jesus site, and I must say that the information is both deep and extensive. I must commend you. Your site offers many good counter arguments to the validity of Jesus being the messiah. I have, however hit a stumbling block.
I checked your Q&A section on the web pages, but found very little dealing with “Jewish” explanations of the resurrection. I found that quite odd, as any Christian will tell you that Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of the Christian religion. I assume that we as Jews do not believe in Christ’s resurrection, so how do we explain the resurrection? Did a bunch of crazy people decide to create a story about a resurrection? This story was passed on to the time when the Gospels were written, so how inaccurate can they be? The memory of someone 40 years ago isn’t considered faulty today, so accounts from 40 years may have been altered, but all adhere to a resurrection story. What is the Jewish take on the resurrection?
You certainly did not overstate the centrality of the Christian claim that Jesus resurrected from the dead. As Paul concedes,
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
In essence, the validity of Christianity stands or falls on this astounding claim. Because of the importance of this topic, I have dedicated an entire segment on the audio recording,Confused Texts and Testimonies, to this subject.
Bear in mind that Christianity is not the only religion to have declared that its savior or demigod was resurrected from the grave. The story of a deity who defeated the grip of death is one of the most common themes embedded in the plethora of religions that have emerged since time immemorial. Your question, therefore, should be expanded even more widely because the claim of a divine savior who is born of a virgin, suffers a brutal death, and ascends to heaven was widespread among pagan and Gnostic religions during the first century (this was especially true for the regions around Tarsus, Paul’s hometown). Mythologies throughout the Roman Empire and beyond contained popular beliefs that notable mortals and god-men were born of virgins and returned from the dead. See accounts of Romulus, Apollonius of Tyana, Drusilla, Claudius, Dionysus-Bacchus, Tammuz, Mithra, Osiris, Krishna, and Buddha.
The question for the Jewish people is simple. Should we accept the numerous claims made by widespread religions of miraculous resurrections from the dead simply because their zealous defenders promoted them? Claims of biased followers need to be particularly scrutinized, especially if they are the only claims that exist.
Since the belief in Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of Christianity, we should certainly examine the credibility of this story. What is the evidence for the belief that Jesus rose from the grave? Aside from the accounts in the New Testament, there is no independent supportive documentation, nor is there any circumstantial evidence. There is not even one contemporaneous historian who mentions one word about Jesus’ resurrection. The entire claim hangs exclusively on the New Testament texts. Moreover, it was the creators and defenders of Christianity who promoted the stories of the resurrection. Their biased testimony must therefore be examined more carefully. Is this testimony reliable? As a seeker of truth, you are the judge.
Obviously, a judge must be impartial, and objectively weigh all of the relevant evidence. Realize this is not a routine case; your relationship with God is at stake. As an individual examining the case for the resurrection, you should not be swayed by conjecture or hearsay, but demand clear proof.
If you were the judge presiding over a murder case, you would want to be absolutely certain before convicting the defendant. If the prosecutor called his key witnesses, but each told a different story, his case would be very shaky. The defense attorney would argue for the acquittal of his client by demonstrating the weakness of the prosecutor’s case. He would impeach the state’s witnesses by showing how their accounts are contradictory.
The resurrection narratives in the Gospels may be convincing testimony for people who have not read them very carefully. As a responsible judge, though, you can’t be satisfied with just a casual examination of the evidence, especially if biased witnesses gave the testimony. The stories told in the New Testament, and the passion narratives in particular, are so inconsistent, that the resurrection story collapses under careful scrutiny. The conflicting testimonies of the evangelists are so unreliable, that they would not stand up to critical cross-examination in any court of law. In fact, there is virtually not one detail of the crucifixion and resurrection narratives upon which all four Gospel authors agree. Yet, it is upon this story that the entire Christian religion stands or falls.
I have prepared the following three-part study to help you critically evaluate the case of the alleged resurrection of Jesus. This analysis consists of the crucial date of the crucifixion and the events that allegedly followed the resurrection.
Study the CRUCIFIXION/RESURRECTION CHART, which maps out the vast number of widespread inconsistencies in the Passion Narratives throughout the four Gospels and the letters of Paul. Let’s begin this examination of the resurrection stories by studying the date of the crucifixion as told by the four Gospels.
The Crucifixion Date:
On Which Day Was Jesus Crucified?
When examining the four crucifixion accounts as they are presented in the New Testament, it is difficult to identify a single event upon which all four Gospel writers agree. Even the date of the crucifixion is an issue of contention among the four Gospels.
A perfunctory examination of New Testament texts reveals that the Books of Matthew 1 Mark 2 and Luke 3 all agree that the Last Supper was actually a Passover Seder. Bearing in mind that Jesus was crucified on the very next day following the Last Supper, that would mean that according to all three synoptic 4 Gospels, Jesus was crucified on the first day of Passover, or the 15 day of the first th Jewish month of Nissan (for example, if tonight were a Passover Seder, tomorrow would then be the first day of Passover).5
The author of the Book of John, however, completely contradicts this crucial element of the crucifixion story as they are presented in the first three Gospels. The author of the fourth Gospel maintains that Jesus was crucified on the eve of Passover, or the 14th day of Nissan. The Book of John identifies the date of the crucifixion in the following manner:
“Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover… Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.”
The implications of this stunning contradiction cannot be overstated. Both claims cannot possibly have occurred. These conflicting claims cannot be explained away with the well-worn assertion that each Gospel writer expressed his own unique perspective. Jesus was either crucified on the eve of Passover, which is the 14th day of Nissan, as John contends, or on the first day of Passover, which is the 15th day of Nissan, as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke maintain. Jesus could not have been crucified on both days.
Was the first Good Friday the first day of Passover? According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it was; according to John it was not.
As a result of the Gospel conflict over the crucifixion date, numerous other aspects of John’s Passion Narrative differ radically from that of the synoptic Gospels. Therefore, the details in John’s description of what transpired during the Last Supper had to be entirely different from the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
For example, John could not include a Passover Seder in his version of the Last Supper because according to his reckoning of the date of the crucifixion, the night of the Last Supper fell on the night of the 13th day of Nissan, which means Passover had not yet begun. Accordingly, no aspect of the Seder ceremony occurs in John’s Last Supper. In fact, in John’s Gospel, no Communion takes place during the Last Supper (John chapter 13) – no eating of the matzo or drinking of the wine occurs. Because according to his version of the story the festival of Passover began Friday evening, the night of the crucifixion. Therefore, John’s account of the Last Supper contains no ceremonial holiday supper at all; he only describes Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples.
Moreover, the opening words of John’s 13 th chapter begins, “Now before the festival of the Passover…” This is a striking introduction to John’s Last Supper narrative because it contradicts Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s account, which all claim that the momentous night wasn’t “before the festival of Passover.” Rather, according to the synoptic Gospels, it was the first night of the holiday of Passover.
What is more, according to John, when Judas Iscariot mysteriously leaves the Last Supper with the moneybag, the disciples immediately assume that he is taking money to purchase food for the “festive meal” (13:29). Why would the disciples presume that Judas is going to purchase food for the holiday feast if, according to the first three Gospels, they had just eaten the festive meal?
Furthermore, John’s story describes how, when the Jews were handing Jesus over to Pontius Pilate to be crucified on the morning of the crucifixion, “They [the Jews] themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.”6 (John 18:28) Why were these Jews concerned about not being able to eat the Passover? According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke they had already consumed the lamb the night before because the Passover Seder took place the previous evening. This is not a problem for John because the fourth Gospel states that Jesus was crucified on the eve of Passover, so that this statement is only consistent with his story. In contrast, the synoptic Gospels never mention in their accounts the fear the Jews had of entering the home of Pilate. Such concern would be preposterous because in Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s crucifixion story, the Jews had already eaten the Passover lamb the previous night.
The first question that immediately comes to mind is why would John change the crucifixion date from the 15th day of Nissan to the 14th day? Why did the author of the fourth Gospel feel compelled to have Jesus crucified on the eve of Passover rather than the first day of Passover, as the synoptic Gospels claim?
The answer emerges when the message John’s Gospel sought to convey is understood.
Because the Book of John was the last of the four Gospels to be written, the author was trying to appeal to a Church that had quickly become predominantly gentile. The author of the fourth Gospel had the task of appealing to and thoroughly satisfying the pagan mind of the Greco-Roman world. This was accomplished by carefully integrating heathen practices with elements of the Jewish faith.
The notion that an animal was to be revered and sacrificed as a god was well known and widely practiced throughout the Roman Empire,7 in Mystery Religions such as Mithraism, which flourished during the time that the Book of John was written.
John was keenly aware of this rapid transformation, and seamlessly fused the Mithraic sacrifice of the redeeming bull with the Jewish sacrifice of the Paschal lamb.
For this reason, John the Baptist proclaims of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (1:29, 36) only in John’s Gospel. Of the four Gospels, only John equates Jesus with the Passover lamb. If Matthew, Mark, and Luke agreed with the fourth Gospel that the Passover lamb represented Jesus, why in the synoptic Gospels’ Last Supper does Jesus raise the matzo saying, “This is my body”? Instead, according to Jewish tradition, he should have raised the Paschal lamb. At Communion, priests should be feeding their parishioners lamb chops rather than a wafer!
In addition, the story told in the Book of John of the Roman soldiers who pierced the side of Jesus rather than break his legs on the cross (John 19:31-37) is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament. This brief narrative is only consistent with the theological story line of the fourth Gospel. Only the author of the Book of John was eager not to have Jesus’ bones broken so as not to violate the Torah’s prohibition of breaking the bones of the Paschal lamb (Exodus 12:46).
Therefore, John places the crucifixion on the 14th day rather than the 15th, because the Torah commands Israel to slaughter the Paschal lamb on the eve of Passover or on the 14th day of Nissan (Exodus 12:6), John’s Jesus was also “slaughtered” (i.e. crucified) on the eve of Passover or the 14thday of Nissan.
|Both of these Conflicting Resurrection Stories Could Not have Occurred
|After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2.And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
|Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” which means Teacher. 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Why are Matthew and John’s passion narratives incompatible? If read independently, the resurrection accounts presented by either Gospel appears fancifully viable, if all the other New Testament stories are ignored. When read side by side, however, the varsity of these two narratives becomes indefeasible because it would have been chronologically impossible for both accounts to have occurred. In fact, the crucial elements of the crucifixion story presented in these two Gospel narratives are so manifestly contradictory that even liberal Christians, who allow for the occasional mistakes that appear in the New Testament, should become alarmed by these conflicting stories.
This brief study will probe several unreconcilable contradictions of the resurrection chronology, as they are conveyed by Matthew and John. The following discrepancies have been selected because they cannot be harmonized or explained by tired arguments such as “each Gospel writer is giving us his own personal perspective.” Such a defense is untenable because the these Gospel conflicting narratives are so utterly irreconcilable that no explanation can account for the stark differences between them.
Matthew presents us with a post-resurrection story where an angel who had just rolled away the stone from the tomb’s entrance greets Mary Madeline and “the other Mary.” After revealing to both women the empty place where Jesus’ body once laid, the angel informs them that Jesus had already risen from the dead. The angel then instructs both Marys that they are to tell the disciples that Jesus had gone before them to the Galilee to meet them.
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for 2 an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
If that encounter wasn’t convincing enough for the two women, Matthew claims that after leaving the tomb, both Marys unexpectedly encounter the resurrected Jesus himself, whom they both worship. Jesus then essentially repeats the angel’s instructions, and sends both women to inform the disciples that they are to go to the Galilee to meet Jesus.
So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Like Matthew’s account, John’s resurrection narrative also contains the story of an empty tomb. That is, however, where the similarities between the first and fourth Gospel come to an end. In John’s version of the first Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene arrives alone at Jesus’ tomb, there is no angel to greet her with information about Jesus’ whereabouts, or instructions about a rendezvous in the Galilee, as we find in Matthew’s account (Matthew 28:5-7). On the contrary, in John’s story, after Mary finds the empty tomb, she concludes that someone had removed the body from the grave. Mary certainly had no reason to believe otherwise. She therefore quickly runs back to the disciples and reports,
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him!”
This account in the Book of John could not have occurred in Matthew’s post-resurrection narrative. How could Mary have not known that Jesus’ body was not laid anywhere? In Matthew’s story, the angel had already revealed to her that Jesus rose from the dead and had gone to the Galilee. It would have been preposterous for her to think that someone had moved the body when the angels had already informed her that Jesus’ resurrection had occurred.
Moreover, if the angel’s instructions to her were not convincing enough, Matthew claims that Mary also met the resurrected Jesus himself immediately after leaving the tomb (Matthew 28:9) – and all this transpires before Mary ever sees the disciples! Why then in John’s Gospel is Mary clueless as to where Jesus’ body was moved, when according to Matthew, the angel at the tomb and Jesus himself had already informed Mary that Jesus rose from the dead?
Further contradicting Matthew’s post-resurrection account, John’s story lacks the Roman guards whom Matthew places at the tomb to prevent anyone from removing Jesus’ body. How could John’s Mary have thought that someone removed the body, when according to Matthew, Roman soldiers were placed at the tomb for the specific purpose of preventing just such an occurrence? Obviously, the author of the fourth Gospel has no need for Roman guards at the tomb, so in John’s crucifixion account they simply do not exist.
This Gospel problem of the missing Roman soldiers in the Book of John raises another important issue. Missionaries often contend that it would have been impossible for anyone to have surreptitiously removed Jesus’ corpse from the tomb because there were guards posted at the tomb who would have prevented such an occurrence. Therefore, they argue, without any possibility for the body to have been quietly whisked away, the only other logical conclusion is that Jesus must have truly arisen from the dead.
The argument completely collapses in John’s account because according to the fourth Gospel, this is precisely what Mary thought had occured. Mary clearly didn’t feel as though the scenario of Jesus’ body being removed was unlikely. In fact, according to John, that was her only logical conclusion. Clearly, Matthew’s guards didn’t dissuade John’s Mary from concluding that someone had taken Jesus’ body because Roman guards do not exist in John’s story.
To further compound the problem of the conflicting resurrection accounts, John’s Gospel continues to unfold with Mary returning to the tomb a second time, only to find two angels sitting inside the tomb. Mary is still unaware of any resurrection as she complains to the angels that someone had removed Jesus’ corps. As far as John’s Mary is concerned, the only explanation for the missing body was that someone must have removed it, and she was determined to locate it.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying12 , one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Although in Matthew’s account the angel emphatically tells Mary about the resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7), in John’s Gospel the angels do not mention that anyone rose from the dead. The angels only ask Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary responds by inquiring whether the angels removed Jesus’ body. Then, Mary turns and sees Jesus standing before her, but mistakes him for the gardener. Mary is still completely unaware of any resurrection, and therefore asks the “gardener” if he was the one who carried away Jesus’ body. It is only then that Mary realizes that she was speaking to the resurrected Jesus.
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” which means Teacher.
It is at this final juncture of the narrative that the accounts of Matthew and John become hopelessly irreconcilable. The question every missionary must answer is the following: When Mary met Jesus for the first time after the resurrection, had the angel(s) already informed her that Jesus had arisen from the dead? According to Matthew, the angels did inform Mary of the resurrection, but in John’s account they did not. As we survey the divergent New Testament accounts of the resurrection, we are not just looking at contradictory versions, we are simply gazing at two entirely different stories.
Christian apologists frequently argue that the inconsistent resurrection accounts are analogous to a traffic accident viewed by four different witnesses – each who sees it conveys a distinct perspective. This might be a tenable idea if the evangelists were actually on the scene and watched the story unfold as the women approached the tomb. Yet, this was not the case. Not only were the Gospel writers not eyewitnesses, they didn’t even write their accounts of the story until at least 40-70 years after it allegedly took place. Moreover, inconsistencies in the resurrection narratives, e.g. date, time, and place cannot be dismissed as differences in perspective.
Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C.E.-50 C.E.), a renowned philosopher and a contemporary of Jesus, wrote extensively about his time. Yet, nowhere in his entire corpus of works does Philo mention a word about Jesus or his alleged resurrection. Josephus’ silence on this matter is deafening as well. Consequently, the only information we have of this 2,000-year-old tale is the New Testament. However, the moment our finger begins to navigate its verses, we are confronted and appalled by the plethora of glaring irreconcilable inconsistencies. Every element of the resurrection narrative is recklessly contradicted by another.
There is, however, a more significant issue here – the source. When a number of people in different places and at different times write a description of an event that occurred in the significant past – whether a year ago, a decade ago, or a half a century ago – we expect many contradictions. Why would we anticipate conflicting accounts? Because humans are fallible, and are therefore likely to make all sorts of errors for a variety of reasons. Accordingly, when we read descriptions of what transpired during a historical event, such as the assassination of JFK, disparities will inevitably exist among the accounts. Therefore, when various individuals witness a traffic accident and then attempt to clearly transmit the information they saw, errors will be made. This is what we expect from imperfect humans!
The Church, however, does not make this claim. Its authors and those who promoted the Christian religion claim that its content was divinely inspired, i.e. every word is from God! Christendom insists that the authors of the Christian Bible were inspired by the Holy Ghost. With this assertion, we must hold the Gospels to an entirely different standard of accuracy – that of perfection. Well over a half century passed from the time that Paul wrote his first letters until the last words of the Book of Revelations were penned. Moreover, these books were written from one end of the Roman Empire to the other. Thus, if we are to assume they were written by mere mortals, without Heavenly inspiration, mistakes and inconsistencies are expected. God, however, is inerrant.
There is another significant difference between conflicting accounts of a traffic accident and contradictory stories of the resurrection narratives. The testimonies of a traffic accident are believable because they are likely to have occurred, and make sense in our world. The resurrection story, on the other hand, is a biological and scientific impossibility. Thus, the only reason for believing the numerous fantastic claims of miraculous occurrences in the New Testament – defying all natural laws – is the believer’s total reliance on the credibility of the divine author. Since the stunning contradictions clearly establish the human origins of the resurrection stories, we can no more accept their testimony than we can that of the Book of Mormon. Moreover, the resurrection story is a self-serving rationalization to account for a messianic failure.
I know that many frantic attempts have been made to explain away some of the countless inconsistencies that exist in the four canonical Gospels. These answers, however, are so plainly contrived that even a perfunctory examination of these rationalizations cast serious doubt on the claim that they were divinely inspired. God doesn’t suffer from human fallibility and certainly wouldn’t present such a garbled account of what Christians consider the most crucial event in world history.
Very truly yours,
Rabbi Tovia Singer
- Matthew 26:20-30. <-
- Mark 14:17-25. <-
- Luke 22:14-23. <-
- The synoptic Gospels are those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The word synoptic comes from two Greek words that mean “the same view.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the synoptic Gospels because these three Gospels tell a similar story, and there is a strong literary relationship among them. <-
- Suggesting that the Last Supper might have been the second Passover Seder would not hold true in the land of Israel, but only in the Diaspora where it is customary to hold two Seders. Secondly, a second Seder would create a 48-hour problem instead of a 24-hour problem. <-
- Kohanim, priests, avoided entering the homes of gentiles because it was a common practice for non-Jews to bury their dead in their homes. <-
- This is particularly true of the pagan god Mithras. Belief in this deity flourished throughout the Roman Empire during the second and third centuries C.E. Similar to Christianity, Mithra was called the “Mediator” (see I Timothy 2:5), and one Mithraic hymn begins, “Thou hast redeemed us too by shedding the eternal blood.” <-
DID JESUS CLAIM TO BE GOD?
I have heard Christian missionaries claim that Jesus deliberately screened or veiled his divine nature on earth, so when he is asked a question by one of his disciples about the time of the end he can honestly answer, that no man, not even the Son knows the time of the end, only the Father. Then, when he says elsewhere that he and the Father are One, he is speaking about his ontological identity with the Father.
If the one God of the universe, Creator of the heavens and the earth, wanted to convey to His people that He alone was God and there was no other who shared this unique distinction with Him, what words would He use so that there would be no possibility for error? What phrase could He have selected so that there would be no chance of misunderstanding? If you or I wanted to describe the unique oneness of God in a way that could not be misinterpreted, how would we express this? Would we not have used the words that Moses reported God to have said in Deuteronomy 32:39,
“See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides Me . . .”
As a result of this and many other inspiring affirmations throughout the Jewish Scriptures, (Click here for a list of texts.) faithful Jews to this day will only worship the One life-giving God of Israel – alone.
No prophet in Tanach ever remained silent on this foundational teaching. As if with one voice, they pleaded with their often-wayward nation never to compromise their faith for anything other than the unwavering monotheism that they tirelessly preached. Over and over again, the Hebrew Bible declared with deliberate clarity in its most celebrated creeds that the Almighty alone is God, and there is no other. Nothing could ever be “screened” or “veiled” because the very survival of the Jewish people depended on it. The Torah intimately connects the faith in one indivisible God with the national experience of the Jewish people throughout their long history. Dreadful suffering was the consequence for any defection from the uncompromising monotheism that the Almighty demanded of His people.
Throughout the Jewish Scriptures, God never “screened or veiled his divine nature.” In fact, Isaiah unequivocally proclaimed that the Almighty did not reveal Himself in darkness or in a hidden or veiled fashion. The prophet, speaking in the Almighty’s name, declares that,
I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, “Seek Me in vain.” I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right.
Although the belief in the unity of God is taught and declared on virtually every page of the Jewish Scriptures, the doctrine of the Trinity is never mentioned anywhere throughout the entire corpus of the Hebrew Bible. Moreover, this doctrine is not to be found anywhere in the New Testament either because primitive Christianity, in its earliest stages, was still monotheistic. The authors of the New Testament were completely unaware that the Church they had fashioned would eventually embrace a pagan deification of a triune deity. Although the worship of a three-part godhead was well known and fervently venerated throughout the Roman Empire and beyond in religious systems such as Hinduism and Mithraism, it was quite distant from the Judaism from which Christianity emerged. However, when the Greek and Roman mind began to dominate the Church, it created a theological disaster from which Christendom has never recovered. By the end of the fourth century, the doctrine of the Trinity was firmly in place as a central tenet of the Church, and strict monotheism was formally rejected by Vatican councils in Nicea and Constantinople.1
When Christendom adopted a triune godhead from neighboring triune religious systems, it spawned a serious conundrum for post-Nicene Christian apologists. How would they harmonize this new veneration of Jesus as a being who is of the same substance as the Father with a New Testament that portrays Jesus as a separate entity, subordinate to the Father, and created by God? How would they now integrate the teaching of the Trinity with a New Testament that recognized the Father alone as God? In essence, how would Christian apologists merge a first century Christian Bible, which was monotheistic, with a fourth century Church which was not?
This task was particularly difficult because throughout the Gospels and Paul’s letters Jesus never claims to be God. On the contrary, the New Testament makes it clear that he is not God, but rather an agent of God, entirely subordinate to the Father. For example, in John 14:28, the author of the fourth Gospel has Jesus declare,
“I go unto the Father, for my Father is greater than I.”
The example you mentioned illustrates this particularly well. In the Book of Mark, Jesus is asked by four of his disciples when the Tribulation period will occur. Jesus responds,
But of that day and that hour knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the son, but the Father
The problems this verse creates for Trinitarians are staggering. If Jesus were coequal with the Father, how could the Father have information that Jesus lacked? That is to say, if Jesus were God manifested in the flesh, as missionaries contend, how can God not know something? If somehow the second Person of the godhead didn’t know, how did the first Person find out? Moreover, if, as some Trinitarians persist, the son was limited by his human nature, why didn’t the Holy Spirit know?
Christians cannot simply explain away this verse by insisting that it was Jesus’ human or humble nature that did not know. This is because the doctrine of the Trinity does not hold that Jesus was half God and half man. Rather, Jesus was one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man. His substance as God was not diminished because of his human nature. As the ecclesiastical Athanasian Creed2 explicitly states:
The divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal. What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has.
Few statements defining the nature of the triune godhead have so plainly spelled out the nature of the doctrine of the Trinity as does this durable fourth century creed.
Some missionaries will argue, as you point out, that Jesus’ statement in John 10:30, “I and my Father are one,” demonstrates that Jesus considered himself God. The Greek word ?? (hen), meaning “one,” however, does not imply being a part of the same substance. We see this clearly in John 17:11 and 17:21-22 where Jesus prays to God that the disciples may be one (??) as are Jesus and God. Clearly, Jesus is requesting that the disciples be of one unified purpose, not of the same substance or part of the Trinity.
Moreover, John 10:30-34 is particularly revealing. The fourth Gospel describes how when the Jews heard Jesus proclaim, “I and my Father are one,” they immediately wanted to stone him. When Jesus asks them why they wanted to kill him, the Jews responded because “you claim to be God.” Upon hearing this, Jesus asked, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’?” This response is one of the most important statements in the Book of John, and should at least give Trinitarians pause.
The verse is found in Psalm 82:6 where the Bible refers to judges who teach God’s divine law as gods. This title was bestowed on them because they were teachers of the Almighty’s divine Law and sacred Oracles, not because they were actually God in any way. This usage is quite common in the Jewish Scriptures. For example, in Exodus 7:1 Moses is called a god because he was God’s representative to Pharaoh. In essence, Jesus’ reply is inconsistent the proposal that missionaries are seeking to advance. Jesus, as depicted by John, is explaining that his identification with God is comparable to that of a Jewish judge.
The fact remains that no author in the New Testament ever advanced the doctrine of the Trinity. Many years passed from the time the last Gospel was published for the Church to promote this alien creed.
- The Council of Nicea and Constantinople were convened in 325 and 381 C.E., respectively. At the Council of Nicea the nature of Jesus was determined to be of the same substance (Gk. ????????? – homousios) as the Father, and at the Council of Constantinople this doctrine was ratified and the doctrine of the Trinity was expressly declared to be a foundational Church teaching. (See Question and Answer entitled, Isaiah 53: Did Jesus have long life?) <-
- While the authorship of the concise Athanasian Creed is widely speculated, it is a Post-Nicene, Church-sanctioned, litergacle declaration of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. <-
COULD JESUS DEATH ATONE FOR ANY KIND OF SIN?
Dear Rabbi Singer,
Would it not be possible for the death of Y’shua to apply as an unintentional sin sacrifice with His death applying when an individual asks Him into his/her life initially? Thereafter, sins would be forgiven as intentional sins through repentance. I hope you are able to make sense of my question.
Thank you for your time.
There is nothing silly about your question. First, I will explain your question more clearly so that those unfamiliar with this subject will have a better grasp of what you are asking.
Missionaries claim that the blood sacrificial system is man’s only hope for atonement; they insist that there can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood. They maintain that the Bible sets forth only blood atonement to expiate sin.
Evangelical Christians assert that for the past nineteen centuries, since the destruction of the second Temple in 70 C.E., the Jewish people lacked the essential and indispensable animal sacrificial system for atonement. Consequently, they maintain, God must have provided a blood atonement in place of the animal sacrifices of the past. This sacrifice, they insist, is the death of Jesus on the cross.
In support of their claim that atonement can only be achieved through the shedding of blood, missionaries cite the following verse:
This is because the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.
The Church appeals to this verse to prove that the blood of the cross is man’s only hope for salvation and the assurance that God will forgive his sins.
In response to this argument, I have explained that contrary to the missionary claim that blood sacrifice is the only method of atonement, the Bible clearly prescribes three methods of atonement: the sin sacrifice, repentance, and charity. Moreover, the sin sacrifice (called in the Jewish Scriptures as korban chatat) did not atone for all types of sin, but rather, only for man’s most insignificant iniquity: unintentional sins. The sin sacrifice was inadequate to atone for a transgression committed intentionally. The brazen sinner was barred from the sanctuary, and had to bear his own iniquity because of his rebellion against God. The Torah teaches this fundamental principle:
If a person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one-year-old female goat for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven …The person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people, because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be on him.
Your question is excellent: “If the sin sacrifice was necessary in order to atone for unintentional sin, didn’t Jesus then have to die for those sins committed unwittingly?”
The answer to your question is simple. Jesus could not die for anyone’s sins, whether they were committed intentionally or accidentally. To begin with, the Jewish people were strictly prohibited from offering human sacrifices under any circumstances. There is not one place throughout the entire corpus of the Jewish Scriptures where human sacrifices are condoned. In fact, over and over again, the Bible warns the Jewish people that it is a grave sin to bring a human being as a sacrifice. In the Book of Leviticus, only distinct species of animals are permitted for use in blood sacrifices.
The ancient pagan religions promoted the same idea about atonement as Christendom continues to preach today (e.g. Molech). They would joyfully offer a child into the fires of their sacrificial offering in order to expiate their sins and appease the gods. Why would a child sacrifice be used in this pagan ritual rather than an adult? The reason is that a child is a moving portrait of one who is innocent of sin. A child, they reasoned, could not have committed iniquity and thus mirrored the animal sacrifice which also had to be unblemished. The Torah therefore condemned human sacrifices, and forewarned Jewish people of terrible consequences if this commandment were violated.
This message was conveyed at Mt. Moriah, where Abraham prepared to offer up his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice. At that epic moment in history, as Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac, the Almighty admonished him that He did not desire human sacrifice, and directed Abraham to sacrifice the ram caught in the thicket instead. The Almighty’s directive – He only wanted animal sacrifices rather than human sacrifices – was immediately understood. This teaching has never departed from the mind and soul of the children of Israel.
Furthermore, the prophet Ezekiel warned the Jewish nation that a righteous man could not atone for the wins of the wicked. Wouldn’t we consider a father cruel if he punished an obedient child for the misdeeds of another? Only an unjust society would pardon its criminals while imprisoning the innocent. The prophet therefore warns that no innocent person can die for the sins of the wicked!
The soul that sins, it shall die! The son shall not bear for the sin of the father, nor the father bear for the sin of the son. The righteousness of the righteous person shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked person shall be upon him. 21As for the wicked man, if he should turn away from all his sins which he did, and safeguard all My decrees, and do justice and righteousness; he shall surely live. He will not die. 22All his transgressions which he committed will not be remembered against him. For the righteousness which he did, he shall live. 23Do I desire at all the death of the wicked man — the words of my Lord, God — is it not rather his return from his ways, that he might live?
Moreover, if missionaries want to use Leviticus 17:11 to bolster their claim that blood sacrifices are indispensable for procuring an atonement, they must use all of the verse, not just a part of it. Leviticus 17:11 specifically says that the blood of the sacrifice must be placed “upon the altar to make atonement for your souls.” That is to say, Leviticus 17:11 explicitly declares that blood can only effect atonement if it is placed on the altar. Jesus’ blood, however, was never placed on the altar. If the Church is going to take the “blood” part of the verse literally, they must also take the “altar” part literally as well. Jesus’ blood was never sprinkled on the altar, and therefore his death could not provide atonement for anyone.
Finally, the prophets loudly declared to theJewish people that the contrite prayer of the penitent sinner replaces the sacrificial system. Therefore, atonement for unintentional sins today is expiated through devotional supplication to God, the Merciful One.
In fact, in the third chapter of Hosea, the prophet foretold with divine exactness that the nation of Israel would not have a sacrificial system during the last segment of Jewish history until the messianic age. Hosea declares,
…for the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days.
In the words of the Bible, this period of time would last for many days. Yet, despite the repeated proclamations of the Church that the crucifixion of Jesus serves as a sin sacrifice today, the words of Hosea were meticulously fulfilled, and we remain without an animal sacrificial until this day.
Given the spiritual magnitude of this remarkable prophecy, Hosea was compelled to reveal how the ecclesiastical Temple functions were it to be replaced. In essence, if the prophet is testifying that the nation of Israel will indeed be without a sacrificial system during their long exile until the messianic age, what are we to use instead? How are the Jewish people to atone for unintentional sin without a blood sacrifice during their bitter exile? What about all the animal sacrifices prescribed in the Book of Leviticus? Can the Jewish people get along without animal offerings? Missionaries claim they cannot.
The Bible disagrees.
For this reason, the teaching highlighted in Hosea 14:2-3 is crucial. In these two verses, Hosea reveals to his nation how they are to replace the sacrificial system during their protracted exile. The prophet declares that the Almighty wants us to “render for bulls the offering of our lips.” Prayer is to replace the sacrificial system. Hosea states,
Take words with you, and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will render for bulls the offering of our lips.”
The prophets never instruct the Jews to worship any crucified messiah or demigod; nor does Scripture suggest that an innocent man could die as an atonement for the sins of the wicked. Such a message is utterly antithetical to the teachings of the Jewish Scriptures. Rather, it is the prayers of the sinner that would become as bulls of the sin offerings.
King Solomon echoes this sentiment as well.
In I Kings 8:46-50, King Solomon delivers a startling prophetic message as he inaugurates the newly constructed first Temple. In his inauguration sermon, King Solomon forewarns that one day the Jewish people would be driven out of the land of Israel, and banished to the land of their enemies, near and far. During their exile, many would fervently desire to repent of their sins. King Solomon then declares that they are to face Jerusalem from their diaspora, confess their sins, “and God will hear their prayers in heaven, and forgive them for all their transgressions.”
If they sin against You, for there is no man who does not sin, and You will be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, and their captors will carry them away captive to the land of the enemy, far or near. And they shall bethink themselves 47in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of their captors, saying,‘We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness.’ 48And they shall return to You with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies, who led them away captive, and pray to You toward their land, which You gave to their fathers, the city You have chosen, and the house which I have built for Your name. 49And You shall hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven, in Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause. 50And forgive Your people for what they have sinned against You, and all their transgressions that they have transgressed against You…
(I Kings 8:46-50)
There was no mention of a cross or a dead messiah in King Solomon’s prophetic message. Only the contrite and repentant prayer of the remorseful sinner can bring about a complete atonement. Although King Solomon’s timeless message stands out as a theological impossibility in Christian terms, it remains the warm, centerpiece of the God’s system of atonement throughout his long and bitter exile.