Friday, July 06, 2012

Please explain

Lately, at least partially in reaction to my recent encounter with a Jehovah's Witness, I've been listening to a series of podcasts from the Institute of Biblical Defense on the deity of Jesus Christ. The Institute is an apologetics ministry based in Washington state in the United States. If you're a Christian who wants to learn more about the key doctrines of your faith, then these podcasts are a great resource. If you can get past the bad sound quality, you'll find some meaty teaching there.

The deity of Jesus Christ is one of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. Believing that God became a man and lived among humanity, ultimately sacrificing his life to break the curse of sin, which made it possible for humanity to reconcile with God, is what makes a Christian a Christian. Without it, Christianity is useless and has nothing to offer anybody.

In theology, you cannot feasibly build a doctrine around a single verse of Scripture. Christ's death and resurrection is an essential part of how he proved that he was God, and there are numerous passages that provide satisfactory proof to the diligent reader that this actually happened, for example, John 20: 24-28.

The section of the gospel of John tells us of how Thomas, one of the disciples, responded when the other disciples came to him with the news that Jesus was alive. Thomas was a broken man. He had spent three years of his life following Jesus, and it had cost him everything. He mourned deeply over the loss of his friend, and wanted to be alone. The other disciples came to him saying, "We have seen the Lord."

Thomas replied, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hands into his side, I will not believe it."

Imagine his astonishment when Jesus came to Thomas and invited him to touch his wounds. He suddenly realized that it was true. Jesus had risen from the dead, just as he said he would. Overcome with emotion at this awesome miracle, he cried out to Jesus, "My Lord and my God!" You can find similar confessions elsewhere in John's gospel in John 1:34, 1:49, 4:42, 9:33, 35-38, 11:27, and 16:30.

What does Thomas's confession mean? My friends in the Watchtower Society try to explain this away as Thomas expressing astonishment, but this is not consistent with the text, and it is unlikely that as a devout Jew, Thomas would speak like that, taking God's name in vain. Clearly he is making a statement of faith in Jesus as his Lord and God; one of the most powerful affirmations that an apostle made of Jesus as God. Since this gospel was originally written in Greek, John uses the titles Kurios and Theos. These are equivalent to the Hebrew names Yahweh and Elohim, which in the Jewish mindset are understood to be names and titles of God.

>As John explains a few verses later (20:30), he wants all of his readers to confess Jesus as their Lord and God in the same way that Jesus did. As John makes clear in the prologue of his gospel (1:1, 14, 18), his purpose in writing was to show that Jesus is Messiah and God. If you want to deny these facts, you have the formidable task of explaining away reams of Bible passages, and beliefs that Christians have held since the beginnings of the church in the first century AD.

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