Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Was Lazarus Resurrected?


Recently, I enjoyed watching a debate between skeptic Dr. Richard Carrier and apologist Dr. Justin Bass titled, "Are There Reliable Sources for the Resurrection of Jesus?"  It was an interesting and thought-provoking exchange.  

One point that Dr. Bass made throughout the debate was that Jesus' resurrection was a unique event that the disciples did not expect.  During the Q and A, one questioner asserted that Lazarus was also "resurrected" in an apparent attempt to argue that Jesus' resurrection wasn't all that unique after all.  This is a mistake that I often hear skeptics make.  But if our desire is to be precise, it is important for both believers and unbelievers to understand that Lazarus was not resurrected.  As Dr. Bass pointed out in his reply, Lazarus will die again.  In other words, he did not experience a resurrection as Jesus did, but a revivification.  What is the difference?  Dr. William Lane Craig explains:

"Resurrection is the raising up of a dead man in the space-time universe to glory and immorality...Revivification is the return of a dead man to the mortal life...John 11:1-44 describes the revivification of Lazarus by Jesus."1

When one is revivified, they will die again.  However, when one is resurrected (Jesus being the first; 1 Cor. 15:20-23), they will receive a new, glorified body that will never perish.

And because of Jesus' resurrection, believers can look forward to His return and receiving their own immortal, resurrected body.  As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 (NLT):

"But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.  He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.  So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man.  Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.  But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back." 

Thanks be to God!

Courage and Godspeed,

1. William Lane Craig, On Guard, Kindle. 

Related Posts

N.T. Wright on the Necessity of the Resurrection

Video - Learn to Make a Maximal Case for the Resurrection

Gary Habermas and Mike Licona Answer the Claim that, "There is a Huge Mountain of Probability Against an Event Ever Being an Act of God."

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Why was it all right for the Magi to follow the stars when the Bible condemns astrology (Matt. 2:2)?


In their helpful book Bringing Your Faith to Work, Randy Douglass and the late Norman L. Geisler, address the above question:

"The Bible condemns astrology (Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10; Isa. 8:19), yet God blessed the wise men (Magi) and seemed to even guide them with the stars to show the birthplace of Christ.

First, astrology is a belief that the study of the arrangement and movement of the stars can foretell events whether they be good or bad.  Second, the star (singular) in the biblical story was to announce the birth of Christ, not to foretell it.  God gave the star to the Magi to let them know that the Christ child had already been born (Matt. 2:16).  Third, there are other instances in the Bible in which the stars and planets are used by God to reveal his desires.  The stars declare God's glory (Ps. 19:1-6); creation reveals his existence (Rom. 1:18-20) and will be affected at the return of Christ (Matt. 24:29-30).  So the star guiding the Magi was not used to predict, but to proclaim the birth of Christ."1

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Norman L. Geisler and Randy Douglass, Bringing Your Faith to Work, p. 169.

Related Posts

Five Reasons You Can Trust the Story of Christmas is True by J. Warner Wallace

Christmas- Pagan or Not?

Theologian R.C. Sproul on Christmas

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Christmas- Pagan or Not?

Does Christmas have pagan origins or not?  Today's post features 3 short and concise articles by apologist and speaker Lenny Esposito that consider this question historically and with up-to-date scholarship.

Esposito writes:

"The claim that the roots of Christmas are pagan is one I hear over and over again, especially in December. The idea isn't even new. The New England Puritans, who valued work more than celebration, taught such.  Puritan preacher Increase Mather preached that "the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that 'Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian.'

When one digs into the actual history however, a much different picture arises. There are two ways to approach the question: one is to see how December 25 became associated with the Nativity, which is how the early church would have referred to the day of Christ's birth. The other one is to look at the celebrations of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus. Either approach shows the dubious nature of the claim that Christmas has pagan roots."

The articles are as follows:

Pt. 1- No, Christmas Is Not Based on a Pagan Holiday

Pt. 2- The Date of Saturnalia Doesn't Line Up with Christmas

Pt. 3- Christmas, the Solstice, and December 25th

For more on the date of Christmas, see this article by Andrew McGowan, originally published in Bible Review, December 2002.

Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Courage and Godspeed,

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Paul Copan on the Driving Out of the Canaanites in the Old Testament


"The removal of the Canaanites from the land was not without justification (Canaanites were disobedient); it was not due to ethnicity or tribalism.  Nor was it extermination; it was more like disabling raids.  Many Canaanites remained in the land.  Indeed, the biblical text commonly uses exaggerated or hyperbolic language to express defeat: 'To read Joshua as extermination is to misread the text.'"1

To learn more about this topic, check out Dr. Copan's recent dialogue on Unbelievable with Justin Brierley here.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Just How Big was Goliath?


Of all the accounts recorded in the Old Testament, without a doubt one of the most beloved is David's titanic clash with the Philistine giant Goliath recorded in 1 Samuel 17.  

The text records of Goliath:

"And a champion went out from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.  So, just how big was Goliath?  The Chronological Study Bible explains:

"The height reported for the Philistine Goliath, 'six cubits and a span' (1 Sam. 17:4), indicates a very big man: approximately 9 feet, 9 inches tall.  If such a height seems tall now, it was much taller in ancient times.  Biblical people averaged about 5 feet in height, judging from skeletons uncovered by archaeologists.

Other Old Testament sources offer a different measurement for Goliath's height.  Some manuscripts of the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) and one of the Samuel manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls read 'four cubits and a span' in 1 Sam. 17:4.  This height-about 6 feet, 9 inches-would still make Goliath a giant for David's time.  It is difficult to know what caused the differing numbers of six cubits (9 feet) and four cubits (6 feet).

Some scholars have noticed a possible explanation in the Hebrew text.  The Hebrew words for 'six hundred' (17:7), a few lines below the 'six cubits' line, look very similar to the Hebrew words for 'six cubits.'  They suppose that the eye of an early copyist accidentally caught sight of 'six hundred,' and the similarity of those words in Hebrew caused him to write 'six' instead of 'four' with 'cubits.'  In this way, 'six cubits' may have replaced 'four cubits,' making Goliath appear to be 9 feet, 9 inches tall, when he was still a giant at 6 feet, 9 inches.

It cannot be know which of these manuscripts preserves the original number.  Nevertheless, the youth David (1 Sam. 17:33) faced an opponent who, at either height, was truly a giant among warriors of his day."1

So, whether 6 feet or 9 feet, Goliath was a big dude!

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Chronological Study Bible, How Big Is a Giant?, p. 313. 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Our Daily Bread Devotional: The Socratic Club

In 1941, the Socratic Club was established at England’s Oxford University. It was formed to encourage debate between believers in Jesus and atheists or agnostics.

Religious debate at a secular university isn’t unusual, but what is surprising is who chaired the Socratic Club for fifteen years—the great Christian scholar C. S. Lewis. Willing to have his thinking tested, Lewis believed that faith in Christ could stand up to great scrutiny. He knew there was credible, rational evidence for believing in Jesus.

In a sense, Lewis was practicing Peter’s advice to believers scattered by persecution when he reminded them, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Peter makes two key points: we have good reasons for our hope in Christ and we’re to present our reasoning with “gentleness and respect.”

Trusting Christ isn’t religious escapism or wishful thinking. Our faith is grounded in the facts of history, including the resurrection of Jesus and the evidence of the creation bearing witness to its Creator. As we rest in God’s wisdom and the strength of the Spirit, may we be ready to share the reasons we have for trusting our great God.

By:  Bill Crowder

How can you be confident in sharing your faith with others? In this booklet, Mart De Haan helps prepare you to share the hope that is in you , as he presents converging lines of evidence for belief in the Christian faith. Discover how you can effectively convey the message of God’s love to nonbelievers with these excerpts from the “10 Reasons To Believe” brochure.

God Bless,

Friday, November 18, 2022

Book Preview: Counterfeit Kingdom - The Dangers of New Revelation, New Prophets, and New Age Practices in the Church by Holly Pivec and R. Douglas Geivett


About the Authors

Holly Pivec is a blogger, author, and speaker, as well as a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mom. She has a master’s degree in apologetics from Biola University, where she also served as university editor for nearly a decade. She has co-authored two books about the New Apostolic Reformation: A New Apostolic Reformation? and God’s Super-Apostles. She operates a popular blog, which has followers from around the world, and she has spoken and written for several audiences and outlets.

Doug Geivett is a husband, father to two grown children, professor, author, and speaker. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy from USC and teaches at Biola University and Talbot School of Theology. Doug has written or edited several books and spoken on issues related to the New Apostolic Reformation, Christian apologetics, and the Christian life to audiences all over the world.

About the Book

Is there a new reformation happening in the church? It depends on who you ask.

The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is a popular and fast-growing new movement of Christians who emphasize signs and wonders, and teach that God is giving new revelation through new apostles and prophets. But is this biblical Christianity?

In Counterfeit Kingdom, apologists and NAR experts Holly Pivec and Douglas Geivett show how the NAR’s key tenets distort the gospel, twist the Scriptures, are influenced by New Age practices, and lead faithful Christians to shipwreck their faith. They also offer practical suggestions for readers who are already influenced by the NAR, curious about it, or concerned about loved ones who have been swept up in the movement.

What used to be on the fringes of the church is now mainstream, and many are being influenced by it unaware. This book is a wake-up call.

Notable Recommendations

“Just as sound doctrine transforms, unsound teaching deforms. Written with victims in mind, this book is a powerful and compassionate antidote. I am grateful to the authors for enlightening me about this dangerous movement. Careful in argument, backed up by documented cases, Counterfeit Kingdom is a wake-up call to discernment.”

—Michael Horton, Professor of Theology, Westminster Seminary California

"The Bible warns that wherever the truth advances, error will soon follow; it warns that where there are teachers committed to the historic Christian faith there will be teachers committed to new and novel nonsense. Those who love the Lord and are committed to his cause are right to be concerned by the rise of the New Apostolic Reformation. In Counterfeit Kingdom Doug Geivett and Holly Pivec helpfully expose its theological errors, spiritual abuses, toxic worship, and failed predictions. They expose it for what it is and call Christians to a faith that is far better, far purer, far more fulfilling, and far more consistent with God's Word."

—Tim Challies, author

“Many churches are unaware of the questionable theology of the cult-like movement that inspires much of the worship music they sing every Sunday. I have personally witnessed the destructive impact of the teachings and practices of the NAR and have long hoped that a book would be written to inform the church of its pervasive influence. Counterfeit Kingdom is the book I’ve been waiting for. Holly Pivec and R. Douglas Geivett have combined careful scholarship, a deeply theological gospel-focus, and a charitable tone to give the church a resource that is not only thorough but easy to understand. My honest prayer is that every Pastor in America will read this book. It’s the warning the church desperately needs.”

—Alisa Childers, author of Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity

Learn more about the book here.  You can get your copy here.

You can checkout our interview on the Apologetics315 Podcast with Pivec and Geivett here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Related Posts

R. Douglas Geivett on the Hiddenness of God

Apologetics315 Podcast: The Enneagram with Marcia Montenegro

Article: The New Age Worldview- Is It Believable? by Doug Groothuis

Monday, November 07, 2022

What is Love? Considering Jesus' View of Love


Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to a thoughtful sermon on the importance of love in the Christian life.  And this is undeniable.  Consider the words of Jesus when asked, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"1 Jesus replied, "Love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind...Love your neighbor as yourself."2 Elsewhere, He said, "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."3 Surely, love is paramount in the life of the Christ follower. 

However, it is also worth noting that the Christian concept of love is quite different from the culture definition that many hold today.  As Sean McDowell explains in his recent book A Rebel's Manifesto:

"One reason it is so challenging to love our neighbors today is that our culture operates under a different definition of love than held by Jesus.  Today, love means affirming someone's behavior and beliefs.  It means accepting someone for who they believe themselves to be.  And it means agreeing with however someone feels about themselves.  If not, you're hateful."4

One can obviously see this type of love played out in our culture daily.

But what was Jesus' view of love?  McDowell continues:

"...Jesus held a different view of love.  The apostle John said, 'By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers' (1 John 3:16).  According to the example of Jesus, love involves a willingness to sacrifice for the good of another.  It is commitment to the well-being of another person, even if he or she does not recognize or accept the reality of the good.  Love does not necessarily imply that others recognize we are acting in their best interest, which is why many confuse loving actions for hateful ones.  After all, people jeered at Jesus on the cross, thinking they were doing what was right.  Biblically, love involves being committed to the objective good of others regardless of how they feel."5

In other words, biblical love requires that we tell someone the truth even if it is difficult for them to hear.  We see Jesus doing this very thing throughout the gospels.  And it is for this reason that it is critical for the Christian to understand and practice biblical love in a manner modeled after Jesus.

Courage and Godspeed,

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Natasha Crain on why Christians have varying views on how and when God created the world

The age of the Earth/Universe is one of the hotly debated topics amongst Christians.  It is also a topic that has received attention in my own household as my kids have asked me some very relevant questions about this topic.  

For me, my focus has been more on informing them of the different views that exist among Christians.  One of the resources that I have found most helpful is Natasha Crain's book, Keeping Your Kids on God's Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith.  

Question 33 asks "Why do Christians have varying views on how and when God created the world?"  In this section, the author presents the views along with a helpful diagram (p. 201) which I have referred to frequently.

So why should you and your kids understand the different views on origins?  Crain provides a response based on an email she received from one of her readers-

"My son is 18 and just announced that he no longer believes in God.  We brought both of our children up in church, and he alone made the choice to be saved and baptized.  When he got older, he started hanging out with several kids who were atheists.  He started changing his views on religion.  I fought back with truth but felt like I was in a fight I couldn't win.  I was defeated by all the scientific arguments I couldn't answer.  I need stronger knowledge for the fight yet before me."1

"The science involved in the origins debate is very frequently the sole dividing line between Christian faith and atheism- for kids and adults alike.  Whether in a public middle/high school, a secular university, or everyday life as an adult, our kids will eventually hear that evolution is simply a fact and that the Earth is unquestionably billions of years old.  Our kids will also hear that those statements are irreconcilable with the Bible (in reality, some Christians would agree and some would not).  Therein lies the question of the day:  What will your kids do when they encounter these claims?"1

God Bless,

1- Keeping Your Kids on God's Side pg. 202

Friday, October 28, 2022

Video: I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist with Frank Turek

Often in conversations with people about Christianity, certain non-essential topics can sometimes derail the discussion.  While questions like, "Where did Cain get his wife?" or "What about all those Old Testament Laws?" are certainly important and/or interesting, they are not central in demonstrating Christianity is true.

In this featured video, Dr. Frank Turek unpacks the following four questions:

1. Does Truth Exist?
2. Does God Exist?
3. Are Miracles Possible?
4. Is the New Testament Reliable?

He contends that if one can answer all four of these questions with a, "Yes," then Christianity is true!

Learn more about Frank and his ministry here.

Our recent podcast with Frank on Apologetics315 is here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Related Posts

"Mere Christianity" Made Simple

Apologetics315 Podcast: Frank Turek and Hollywood Heroes

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Friday, October 21, 2022

Video: The Gospel Explained

I recently picked up a tract at the church my family and I have been attending by Evantell.  I so appreciated the clear and simple explanation of the gospel message.  I also found many great resources on their website that you may want to check out here.  

This video features a clear and concise presentation of the gospel that would be ideal to share online.  

Enjoy and consider sharing!


Monday, October 10, 2022

Book Preview: Uninvented Why The Bible Could Not Be Made Up, and The Evidence That Proves It by Mike D'Virgilio


About the Author 

Mike has a B.S. in Communication from Arizona State University and an M.A. in Systematic Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary Philadelphia. He has worked in public relations, sales, and marketing for over three decades. His first book was an exploration of apologetics for parents called, The Persuasive Christian Parent: Building an Enduring Faith in You and Your Children. He also wrote a love letter in the form of a short book to his wife and children called, Our Story: Mike & Sarah D’Virgilio's Excellent Adventure (Courtship). He has also written for various blogs over the years and is currently working his way through the Bible, posting his thoughts at mikedvirgilio.wordpress.com. He also blogs on apologetics and a variety of topics at mikedvirgilio.com.

About the Book

You may be familiar with the phrase, “You just can’t make this stuff up!” but few of us apply it to the Bible. The default position of our secular culture is that the Bible is made up in whole or in part. Most Christians do not realize this thinking can be challenged by a simple question: Could it be? The answer from the secularist is, of course, it could! But as you’ll learn in Uninvented, the answer is not so simple. When we read the stories in the Bible, they don’t read like made-up stories or the myths and legends the critics claim. In Uninvented: Why the Bible Could Not be Made Up, and the Evidence that Proves It, readers will learn:

- Why it is easier to believe biblical stories are true than to believe they are made up, and that it takes more faith to believe the latter than the former.
- How this helps Christians effectively challenge skeptics and critics of the Bible and put the burden of proof on them.
- How to identify the arbitrary nature of most biblical critics’ arguments because they assume biblical stories could easily have been made up.
- Why the anti-supernatural bias of the Bible’s critics is arbitrary and causes them to dismiss the textual evidence for the Bible’s veracity.
- Why Christians can have every confidence the Bible is exactly what it claims to be, trustworthy eyewitness accounts of historical events.

And much more!

The critics and skeptics are mistaken, and Uninvented will show you why.

Notable Recommendations

"The saying goes that in the 18th century the Bible died, in the 19th century God died, and in the 20th-century mankind died. Whether true or not, one thing is certain: The historic Christian faith is grounded in an inspired, inerrant Word of God. Even though we are experiencing a renaissance in Christian philosophy and apologetics, too little focus is on making a solid case for the Bible. That is why D'Virgilio's book is so important and timely. As a bonus, his approach is unique and refreshing—nobody could make this stuff up! I highly recommend this important book and pray it gets a wide readership."

- JP Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and author of A Simple Guide to Experience Miracles

"By examining Old Testament histories from Abraham to David and New Testament reports about Jesus and Paul in cultural context, Mike D'Virgilio makes a robust and readable case against the view that these stories are invented fictions."

- Peter S. Williams, author of Getting at Jesus: A Comprehensive Critique of Neo-Atheist Nonsense about the Jesus of History (Wipf and Stock, 2019)

To order your copy, go here.

To learn more about Mike, and his work, go here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Related Posts

Article: Is the New Testament Reliable? by Sean McDowell

Apologetics315 Podcast: Apologetics for Parents with Mike D’Virgilio

Ten Basic Facts About the NT Canon that Every Christian Should Memorize by Michael Kruger

Friday, October 07, 2022

Book Preview: Is God a Vindictive Bully? by Paul Copan


About the Author

Paul Copan (PhD, Marquette University), a Christian theologian, analytic philosopher, and apologist, is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. For 6 years, he served as president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He was a visiting scholar at Oxford University in 2017. Copan is the author or editor of more than 40 books, including Is God a Moral Monster?; True for You, But Not for Me; That's Just Your Interpretation; When God Goes to Starbucks; and A Little Book for New Philosophers.

About the Book

Critics outside the church often accuse the Old Testament God of genocide, racism, ethnic cleansing, and violence. But a rising tide of critics within the church claim that Moses and other "primitive," violence-prone prophets were mistaken about God's commands and character. Both sets of critics dismiss this allegedly harsh, flawed, "textual" Old Testament God in favor of the kind, compassionate, "actual" God revealed by Jesus. Are they right to do so?

Following his popular book Is God a Moral Monster?, noted apologist Paul Copan confronts false, imbalanced teaching that is confusing and misleading many Christians. Copan takes on some of the most difficult Old Testament challenges and places them in their larger historical and theological contexts. He explores the kindness, patience, and compassion of God in the Old Testament and shows how Jesus in the New Testament reveals not only divine kindness but also divine severity. The book includes a detailed Scripture index of difficult and controversial passages and is helpful for anyone interested in understanding the flaws in these emerging claims that are creating a destructive gap between the Testaments.

Notable Recommendations

"Do you have a problem with something, or a lot of things, in the Old Testament? Paul Copan has provided a virtual encyclopedia of helpful answers to frequently asked questions that trouble many readers. He tackles a whole range of objections that arise both from those who claim broad Christian allegiance to the Bible as a whole and from those who make no such claim whatsoever and use the Old Testament as a major reason for their hostility. This is a thoroughly detailed reference work that those of us who teach or preach the Old Testament will turn to frequently, or point others to, when such questions are aired. An excellent resource indeed!"

- Christopher J. H. Wright, global ambassador and ministry director, Langham Partnership; author of Old Testament Ethics for the People of God

"People are inclined to think that the Old Testament God is like the Taliban and the New Testament God is a comfort animal. Dr. Copan takes on that kind of view with passion. I can't imagine that there are any misapprehensions about the Scriptures, particularly about the Old Testament, that aren't covered by this book. You may not agree with everything in Dr. Copan's study, but you will be dazzled by the range of issues he covers and the range of material he offers."

- John Goldingay, senior professor of Old Testament and David Allan Hubbard Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Many books have been published that suggest that the Old Testament describes God not as he really is but rather as Israel depicted him from their rather primitive, tribal perspective. One prominent evangelical voice has even suggested that Christians 'unhinge' themselves from the Old Testament. In this well-thought-out and accessible book, Paul Copan takes on these critics 'from within' the church. He does so with grace yet conviction. I highly recommend this book for all Christians who are tempted to ignore the Old Testament."

Tremper Longman III, Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, Westmont College

You can pre-order you copy here.  

To learn more about Dr. Copan, and his work, go here.

Thursday, October 06, 2022

Bible Scholar Edwin Yamauchi on the Non-Christian Sources for the Historical Jesus


"Even if we did not have the New Testament or Christian writings, we would be able to conclude from such non-Christian writings as [Jewish historian] Josephus, the Talmud [a collection of Jewish sayings from the fifth century AD], [first-century Roman historian] Tacitus, and [first-century Roman politician] Pliny the Younger that: (1) Jesus was a Jewish teacher; (2) many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms; (3) he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; (4) he was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius: (5) despite this shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by AD 64; (6) all kinds of people from the cities and countryside-men and women, slave and free-worshiped him as God by the beginning of the second century."1

Courage and Godspeed,

1. As quoted by Eric Johnson in Introducing Christianity to Mormons: A Practical and Comparative Guide to What the Bible Teaches, p. 114. 

Related Posts

Book Preview: Introducing Christianity to Mormons by Eric Johnson

Neil Shenvi on Non-Christian Corroboration for the Gospels

William Lane Craig on Jesus' Personal Claims

Sunday, October 02, 2022

The Legend of the Social Justice Jesus by Greg Koukl

I want to tell you a story of an ancient sage who changed the world.

This wise man fought for justice, championing the cause of the poor and the oppressed. He rejected organized religion, showing tolerance—not judgment—for the outcast and the socially marginalized. He promoted universal love and the brotherhood of man. His unflinching commitment to speak truth to power cost him his life, but his legacy lives on. He is a model for us today of love, acceptance, and inclusion. His name is Jesus of Nazareth.

That is the story, in sum. It’s a noble tale, to be sure. But it’s a falsehood, a fiction, an urban legend. Though the story is parroted like a mantra by multitudes—even echoed reflexively by otherwise sound spiritual leaders who ought to know better—no such Jesus ever existed. Rather, taken as a whole, this version of Jesus is just another example of another Jesus bringing another gospel like the ones the apostle Paul anathematized to the Galatians.[1]

A Myriad of Myths

This is not the first legend about Jesus, of course. Paul chastised the Corinthians—somewhat sarcastically—for their own cavalier embrace of teachers fabricating a false Christ generated by a false spirit bringing a false gospel:

For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully. (2 Cor. 11:4)

The Corinthians were being led astray by the serpent’s crafty deceptions, Paul said, just as Eve was (v. 3)—abandoning simple devotion to the genuine Jesus for an alluring invention, an alternate Christ.

The trend would continue in the future, Paul warned, with the church turning their ticklish ears from truth to myths—legends—choosing man-made fictions over doctrinal facts (2 Tim. 4: 3–4). Jesus himself warned of future interlopers, imposters masquerading as messiahs who would mislead many (Matt. 24:24).

Times have changed, but the trend has not. New “Jesus legends” abound: the legend of Jesus, the (mere) itinerant moral teacher; the legend of Jesus, the prophet of Allah; the socialist Jesus legend; the legend of the Gnostic Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas; the legend of Jesus, the universal Christ; the LDS legend of Jesus, the spirit brother of Lucifer; the New Age Jesus-the-Hindu-guru legend. Et cetera, et cetera.

The remaking of the Jewish Messiah from Nazareth into a progressive advocate of social justice is just the latest example of the tendency people have to fashion Christ in their own social/spiritual/political image.

Of course, in one sense that shouldn’t surprise us. Most folks have a genuine respect for Jesus—as they should. It’s understandable, then, that on weighty matters they’d want Jesus on their side.

Here the tail wags the dog, though. The point is not for any of us to get Jesus on our side, but for us to get on Jesus’ side—hands to the plow, not looking back, fit for the kingdom.[2]

What precisely is “Jesus’ side,” though? Given the mishmash of myths, how do we separate wheat from chaff, fact from fiction, legend from history? We cannot follow Jesus if we do not have a clear idea of who the real flesh and blood Jesus of history was and which direction he was heading. But how do we know with any confidence?

Searching for Jesus

There is a reliable, uncomplicated method I employ to get an accurate, balanced, big-picture take on any topic in any section of Scripture, and it’s perfectly suited for this task.

Say, for example, I want to know everything about how God supernaturally guided the early church, or what Proverbs teaches on leadership, or what the New Testament instructs on prayer, or how the disciples of Jesus preached the gospel in the book of Acts, etc.[3] I simply read every word of the biblical material I’m interested in, isolate every passage that’s germane to my topic, then collate the passages in an orderly way to create a thorough, complete, precise portrayal of the topic. It’s a simple—if labor-intensive—technique anyone can use to get the full counsel of any section of Scripture on any topic.

This approach might be problematic for some, though—particularly the more progressive types who favor the social justice Jesus version. They simply do not trust the record. To many of them, Scripture is not an authoritative account of what God revealed to man, but simply one version of what certain ancient people believed about God. The Gospels are humanly “inspired,“ not divinely inspired—man-made, not God-breathed.

No matter. That distinction makes absolutely no difference to my assessment. Here’s why. Nothing about my case has anything to do with whether or not the Bible is divinely inspired. Though that is my view, it’s a separate issue for now.

Here’s the real issue. We have one body of detailed information about Jesus: the canonical Gospels. We can accept them as divinely inspired or not. We can accept them (as many scholars do) as non-inspired human documents that are, on the main, historically accurate. We can even accept them as error-ridden musings by primitive people about God and Jesus. What we cannot do, though, is reject the Gospel accounts out of hand and then advance our own personal opinion of the Jesus of the Gospels, since there will be no Jesus left to have a personal opinion about.

Reject the record, and you forfeit your opinion of the man of the record. It’s that simple. Of course, if you cherry-pick verses to fashion a Jesus in your own image, then I have nothing to offer you. If that’s your project, you are welcome to your fantasy, but do not mistake the views of your make-me-up Christ for the views of Jesus of Nazareth. That legend will reflect your opinions, not his.

Jesus and “Social Justice”

Our question here is simple: What did Jesus come to do? Preach a socialistic redistribution of wealth? Introduce New Age Hinduism to Torah-observant Jews? Prophesy for Allah? Teach us how to attain personal godhood or accomplish Christ consciousness? Advocate for the poor, the marginal, and the disenfranchised in a campaign for social justice? Let’s see.

To separate the real Jesus from legendary christs of any sort, I simply employed my system. I carefully read every line of every Gospel and isolated every passage that spoke of Jesus’ purpose—references either from Jesus himself, from clues in the birth narratives, or from statements from Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist. I also isolated every reference to the poor.

My search regarding the poor revealed something surprising, considering the breadth of the record. It turns out that Jesus almost never spoke of the poor. He made only ten specific references to “poor” of different sorts,[4] not counting parallel passages. Even this small number overstates the issue because of an interesting pattern my search revealed, one I have noted elsewhere:[5]

In the vast majority of cases where Jesus mentions the poor, he does so not to commend the poor as such, but to make a point about something else—hypocrisy, a widow’s generosity, Zacchaeus’s repentance, the rich young ruler’s confusion, or a lesson about the afterlife.[6]

Jesus did care about the financially destitute, of course, and enjoined charity and compassion for them through kindness and voluntary giving to the disadvantaged (Lk. 12:3314:13–14), a point John the Baptist emphasized as well (Lk. 3:11). Campaigning for the poor, however, was not part of his project.

In one case, Jesus actually was dismissive of the poor when compared to something else that was his greater concern: “For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me” (Matt. 26:11, cf. Mk. 14:5–9Jn. 12:8).[7]

What was it about Jesus himself that defined his mission in a way that completely eclipsed a legitimate and appropriate concern for the financially destitute? Jesus’ three remaining references to the poor answer that question.

In only two instances did Jesus identify anything about his mission with those people he considered “poor.” When preaching on the Sabbath at the synagogue in Nazareth he said:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. (Lk. 4:18–19)

When John the Baptist sent word from prison questioning in his dark moments whether or not Jesus was indeed “the Expected One,” Jesus responded to his doubts by reporting the fulfillment of his earlier claim:

Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. (Matt. 11:4–5, cf. Lk. 7:22)

Note two important things about the poor and oppressed from these passages. First, it is clear in both references that foundational to Jesus’ ministry of mercy—giving sight to the blind, healing the lame, cleansing the lepers, raising the dead—was preaching the gospel to the “poor.”

Second, Jesus’ sermon on that Sabbath in Nazareth is the only place he makes mention of concern for the “oppressed.” Peter, however, gives us insight into the kind of oppression Jesus had in mind:

You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went about doing good and healing all who are oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.… Of him all the prophets bear witness that through his name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins. (Acts 10:3843)

Taken together, these passages about the poor paint a clear picture of Jesus’ intent. The poor were to receive the gospel, have their sins forgiven, and be released from the devil’s power—that last point underscored by Jesus’ consistent practice of freeing people from demon possession.

What kind of “poor” would receive this gospel message of forgiveness and thus be freed from the oppression of the devil? Not the proud, pharisaical self-righteous, but rather those who understood their spiritual poverty—which is precisely the point Jesus makes in his sole remaining reference to the poor: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3, cf. Lk. 6:20).

Clearly, contending for the financially destitute as such was not his concern, nor was campaigning on behalf of the marginalized, the disenfranchised, or the socially oppressed.

Jesus’ central concern was bringing forth a kingdom in a way that secured liberty for the captives[8] through forgiveness of sin—a fact that every one of my remaining Gospel passages about Jesus’ mission makes manifestly clear.

On this point, I will simply let the record speak for itself.

In the Beginning

From the outset, the Gospels paint a clear picture of Christ’s purpose. The earliest reference comes from the prophet Micah:

And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. (Matt. 2:6, cf. Micah 5:2)

Zacharias weighs in next when he prophesies at the birth of his son, John the Baptist:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare his ways; to give to his people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Lk. 1:76–79)

At the annunciation, the angel Gabriel told Mary not to be afraid, since she had found favor with God and would be given a matchless gift:

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end. (Lk. 1:31–33)

Joseph, grieved and alarmed by the strange turn of events he faced, received counsel from an angel of the Lord in a dream. The angel said:

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son; and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matt. 1:20–21)

At Jesus’ birth, an angel appeared suddenly before shepherds in the field, saying, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:10–11).

When Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the temple soon after his birth, they encountered a righteous and devout man named Simeon and a prophetess named Anna who served continuously in the temple with fastings and prayers.

When Simeon took the infant Jesus into his arms, he said, “Now Lord, you are releasing your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:2628–30).

Anna spoke next: “At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk. 2:38).

At the outset of Jesus’ public ministry, the forerunner John the Baptist fulfills his father’s prophecy by giving “the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” He points to Jesus and says: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). He also says that this Jesus would baptize with the Spirit and with fire, with salvation or with judgment (Matt. 3:10–12).

In these initial Gospel passages, a precise profile emerges.

A savior named Jesus, who is Christ the Lord, the Son of the Most High God, will be born in Bethlehem to shepherd Israel. As the sacrificial Lamb of God, he will bring salvation and redemption through the forgiveness of sins, baptizing some with the Holy Spirit and others with the fire of judgment. He will be given the throne of His father David and rule over an everlasting kingdom.

Something seems to be missing here, though. There is nothing in these descriptions of Jesus by any of his various forerunners that suggests a single element of the social justice Jesus described earlier. As it turns out, there is nothing like that in Jesus’ own claims about himself, either.

Jesus on Jesus

Jesus had much to say about his own mission. He said he came to preach the good news of the kingdom of God (Lk. 4:43). He made clear, though, that his kingdom was not of this world (Jn. 18:36), at least initially. It was not a physical kingdom bringing social justice, wealth redistribution, or political and cultural equity. Rather, it was a spiritual kingdom bringing forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Listen:

  • Luke 19:10—The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.
  • John 3:17—For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him[9] (cf. Lk. 9:56).
  • Luke 5:32—I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (cf. Mk. 2:17Matt. 9:12–13).
  • Matthew 20:28—The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (cf. Mk. 10:45).
  • John 6:38–39—For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. This is the will of him who sent me, that of all that he has given me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

For Jesus, salvation was not economic prosperity, equal distribution of goods, or sexual liberty without judgment or shame. Instead, salvation came through belief in him, bringing forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

  • John 3:16–17—For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
  • John 3:36—He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
  • Matthew 9:6 —“But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home” (cf. Mk. 2:10–11).
  • Luke 5:20—Seeing their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”
  • Luke 7:47–48—“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.”

Jesus knew that in order to accomplish this mission, he must suffer, die, and be raised again, just as Moses and the prophets had foretold.

  • Luke 12:51—Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division.
  • Matthew 16:21—From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.
  • John 12:27—Now my soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, “Father, save me from this hour”? But for this purpose I came to this hour.
  • Matthew 26:28—For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins (cf. Mk. 14:24Lk. 22:20).
  • Luke 24:44–47—Now he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled…. Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (cf. Lk. 24:25–27).

There you have it—the complete record of Jesus’ own statements about his purpose and mission. Once again, something is missing—any evidence of any kind that Jesus saw himself as an advocate for social justice. It’s not there. Not a word.

To be clear, there is no question that God in Scripture has a heart for the genuinely oppressed and destitute, and Jesus as God shared that concern as did his church.[10] When Jesus encountered deep human need, he responded with compassionate action—characteristically healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, and in two instances, physically feeding multitudes.[11] Even so, Jesus’ principal purpose was redressing spiritual poverty, not rectifying social inequities.

“Who Do You Say that I Am?”

Reading through that plethora of Bible passages may have been a bit taxing, but there’s a point here.

Near the end of Jesus’ life, he asked his disciples the most important question anyone can consider: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). The answer any person gives to that question seals his fate for eternity. We dare not be mistaken on this issue.

What I have tried to do here is to put Jesus in his proper place for those who have become confused by the cultural noise. I have done that by letting the record—the entire record—speak for itself.

Though I isolated every verse in the Gospels identifying Jesus’ purpose, I could not find a single sentence where Jesus championed the cause of the poor, the outsider, or the disenfranchised as such. There is not even a hint of it—in the sense that it’s commonly understood—in the entire historical account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Did Jesus care about the poor, the downtrodden, and the marginalized? Yes. He also cared about the rich, the powerful, and the socially advantaged. Jesus cared about everyone, and he helped anyone who came to him—poor beggar or prostitute, wealthy tax collector or Pharisee.

The right answer to Jesus’ question is Jesus’ own answer, one that fits hand in glove with the message of each of his forerunners. He is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior, the Lamb of God, the living sacrifice who secures forgiveness of sins and eternal life for anyone who bends his knee and beats his breast in penitence before him.[12]

It is the right answer because no other Jesus saves souls—and that, as it turns out, is what he came to do. Any other Jesus—Jesus the mere moral teacher, Jesus the prophet of Allah, the socialist Jesus, the Gnostic Jesus, the universal Christ Jesus, the spirit brother of Lucifer Jesus, the Hindu guru Jesus, even the social justice Jesus—is a falsehood, a fiction, an urban legend.


[3] These are all studies I’ve done. Find “Divine Direction and Decision Making in the Book of Acts,” “New Testament Prayer,” and the “Preaching God’s Love in Acts?” at str.org.

[4] Poor in spirit vs. poor financially, for example.

[5] Gregory Koukl, The Story of Reality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 114.

[6] Hypocrisy (Matt. 6:2–3), a widow’s generosity (Lk. 21:1–4), Zaccheus’s repentance (Lk. 19:8), the rich young ruler’s confusion (Matt. 19:21Mk. 10:17–27Lk. 18:18–27), a lesson about the afterlife (Lk. 16:2022).

[7] Note, by the way, that Deuteronomy 15:7–811—the passage Jesus may be alluding to here—does enjoin God’s people to care about the poor. In the context, though, this was not Jesus’ point.

[8] That Jesus probably had spiritual captives in mind here is clear from his short discourse on freedom and slavery in John 8:31–36.

[9] Judgment would come, as John promised, but later, at the end (Matt. 25:31–46; cf. Jn. 9:39).

[10] The New Testament Christian community readily responded to poverty—not as an expression of justice, however, but as a voluntarily demonstration of charity (love) and mercy (cf. Acts 11:2924:17Rom. 15:26Gal. 2:101 Cor 16:1–4).

[11] Notice, though, that Jesus’ largess in feeding the masses became a distraction for them. He had to rebuke them for continuing to seek physical bread from him instead of hungering for Jesus himself, the bread of life (Jn. 6:26ff.).