Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Jews and Jesus

I think it is far more plausible to think that God has the sovereign freedom to do something new and unexpected in Jesus than to think that He has the character of a Deceiver such as you describe. How confident are you that you’ve got it all sewed up so nice and neat that you know that God would not bring along a Messiah like Jesus? Maybe you’re mistaken about that. How can you be so sure? 

That's a variation on the same bad argument Craig used in his dialogue with Ben Shapiro. But the messiah is supposed to correspond to OT paradigms. The messiah might do some new and unexpected things in addition to OT paradigms, but not as a substitute. 

Part of the difficulty here is that I don’t think we have any good reason to think that the God of the Hebrew Bible exists apart from Jesus and his resurrection. It’s because I believe in Jesus that I believe in the Jewish God. For that reason, it’s not correct to equate Jesus with a false prophet who says “Let us follow and worship another god” (Deuteronomy 13.1), for the God worshipped and proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth was the God of the Hebrew Bible! It’s because of Jesus that I believe in the Jewish God. But take away Jesus and his resurrection, and what’s left? Then we must ask, why believe that the God of the Old Testament exists? There just aren’t many proofs of Judaism apart from Jesus. So it’s hard to see why, if Jesus was a deceiver or a fanatic, one should be Jewish.

i) Now that's a marked improvement over what he told Shapiro. That's a powerful argument. Pity he didn't challenge Shapiro with that argument. 

ii) At the same time, we'd need to distinguish between the epistemic situation of pre-Christian Jews and post-Christian Jews. Surely Jews during the OT period and Inter-testamental period had good reason to believe in Yahweh's existence.  

On the other hand, to admit that God, the God of the Hebrew Bible, actually raised Jesus from the dead but was just testing people strikes me as rather desperate. It reminds me of saying that God placed the alleged fossil remains of prehistoric life in the rocks in order to test our faith in a 6,000 year old creation. Neither the God of the Bible nor of natural theology is that kind of Deceiver. Think of what you’re implying about the character of God! Would God mislead billions of the world’s people to believe in Jesus by raising him from the dead, knowing that they thereby be alienated from the life of God and His covenant? 

i) It would be better to argue that Deut 13 can't be used to subvert OT theism. That would be self-defeating. That's the opposite of what was intended. 

ii) So one issue is whether, even if billions are deceived by a false religion, it's possible to discern the true religion. Has God left evidence sufficient to make that discrimination? The issue is not confined to Judaism. What about Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Mormonism (or Catholicism)? 

iii) Another issue is whether those who adhere to a false religion because they were in some sense divinely deceived (it might be indirect) are still culpable? We might distinguish between those who were already blameworthy on other grounds, so that religious delusion is punitive for their prior culpability. 


  1. Craig does a lot of good work, but holds too high a view of the significance of that work and too low a view of the significance of what he doesn't specialize in. We have good evidence for Jesus aside from the resurrection, and we have good evidence for the Old Testament that's independent of Jesus. We've provided many examples in our posts on Biblical prophecy, for example. See here, and notice that some of the prophecies of Ezekiel, Isaiah, Daniel, etc. have substantial evidential value independent of Jesus. Furthermore, the non-resurrection evidence for Jesus is far better than Craig suggests. Think, for example, of how Jesus has fulfilled many prophecies in ancient and modern times in ways that even most non-Christians would acknowledge, as I discussed in a recent post. Or think of the significance of his fulfillment of prophecies that are more disputed, for which we have good evidence of his fulfilling them, even though they're more controversial (Davidic ancestry, the Bethlehem birthplace, the Suffering Servant prophecy, etc.). Or the cumulative effect of Christian miracles documented by Craig Keener and others. I'm only giving a few examples here, but they're more than enough to make the point. There's a large amount of evidence for Christianity (and pre-Christian Judaism in particular) outside of Craig's areas of specialization, evidence Craig often underestimates. He could focus on Jesus' resurrection, and try to give people more assurance and help them in other ways by discussing the resurrection, without making the resurrection out to be more significant than it is and without underestimating other lines of evidence. There's nothing wrong with specializing in the resurrection. But that's not all that Craig is doing.

  2. I didn't see the debate with Shapiro, and I often criticize Craig, but I would actually defend the phrase "new and unexpected in Jesus." Craig doesn't have to be saying here that Jesus *didn't* fulfill OT prophecies but simply that he was to some extent understandably unexpected in terms of the OT. And I think that's true. In fact, I think it's better than strained attempts to support the idea that the OT Messiah would be God--something that occasionally Craig himself succumbs to in an attempt to find cryptic high Christology in just the "son of man" phrase of Jesus. That's a very popular thing to do now--to imply that the Jewish son of man was sort of "almost God" anyway, so Jesus was not really doing anything new--or only a little bit new, or something--by teaching his own deity.

    That seems very dubious to me. So I think it's actually correct to say that it was new and unexpected for the Messiah to be God and hence one kind of does need to say what Craig says--that it was somewhat understandable that the Jews of Jesus' time took him to be a blasphemer, but that God seems to have vindicated him by raising him up, and this was why the early Jewish Christians did shift their ideas and accept that a real man could be both God and the Messiah. That to my mind is better than some other places where Craig tries to make Jesus sound "more Jewish" (as scholars conceive of it) by downplaying the explicitness of his claims to deity. And also, it was not far-fetched for the Jews of Jesus' day to expect the Messiah to found an immediate earthly kingdom. That was an understandable reading of the prophecies. So it was rather unexpected that Jesus didn't do so.

    1. Lydia McGrew wrote:

      "Craig doesn't have to be saying here that Jesus *didn't* fulfill OT prophecies but simply that he was to some extent understandably unexpected in terms of the OT."

      Craig has gone further than that. See the thread here, where Steve and I respond to Craig's interview with Ben Shapiro. I also wrote a Facebook response here.

      You wrote:

      "So I think it's actually correct to say that it was new and unexpected for the Messiah to be God and hence one kind of does need to say what Craig says--that it was somewhat understandable that the Jews of Jesus' time took him to be a blasphemer, but that God seems to have vindicated him by raising him up, and this was why the early Jewish Christians did shift their ideas and accept that a real man could be both God and the Messiah."

      Whether the Old Testament refers to a Divine Messiah and whether Jews just before and during Jesus' day recognized that fact are two different issues. We've argued in depth that the Old Testament does refer to the Messiah as God.

      The resurrection is a major, foundational vindication of God, but it was accompanied by many other lines of evidence, which people were accountable for recognizing (e.g., Luke 24:25, Acts 2:22).

      You write:

      "That to my mind is better than some other places where Craig tries to make Jesus sound 'more Jewish' (as scholars conceive of it) by downplaying the explicitness of his claims to deity."

      Yes, it's important to not downplay that.

    2. Wd. you concur then (setting aside the question of what the OT really *should* be interpreted as saying and what the Holy Spirit was saying in those passages) that the Jews of Jesus' day did not expect the Messiah to be both God and man? Because quite frankly, I think that's obviously true.

    3. If I may, I have a question for clarification, though maybe it should be self evident. Of course, the Jews of Jesus' day seemed to have had different expectations about the Messiah depending on the Jewish group in question. I guess you'd say none of the Jewish groups had the expectation that the Messiah would be God and man? Would that include "groups" like Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph? Jesus' own disciples before his resurrection (e.g. Mt 16:16)?

    4. Lydia,

      I think the large majority of Jews didn't expect a Divine Messiah, though we can't say that all of them didn't.

      As you mentioned, that's a different issue than what they should have expected. Given what Jesus says about his generation's corrupt nature, false priorities, ignorance of scripture, failure to understand the signs of the times, etc., it seems that he considered their faulty view of Messianic prophecy highly culpable.

      And it should be noted that Messianic expectations aren't all that's relevant here. We use terms like "Messianic prophecy" today to designate material that could be divided into a larger number of categories. Ancient Jews wouldn't have to have known that a passage was referring to the Messiah, or even that there would be a Messiah, in order to have been responsible for recognizing how evidentially significant it was that Jesus' life aligned so well with the passage in question. I often make that point in response to modern skeptics. If they want to deny that Isaiah 9 is Messianic, claim that the Servant Songs were about Israel in their original context, deny that Daniel's Seventy Weeks prophecy is Messianic, etc., they still have to explain why Jesus' life lines up so well with those passages. It's not the sort of thing you'd expect to happen by naturalistic means. So, part of the issue here is what ancient Jews considered Messianic predictions to begin with. Even if the passages they identified as Messianic didn't refer to the Deity of the figure in question, we'd have to go on to ask what those Jews made of other passages they didn't identify as Messianic, which seem to predict some sort of Divine figure.

      And agnosticism would have been one of the options on the table for ancient Jews, as it is in any generation. I wouldn't assume that every ancient Jew, or even a majority, had reached a conclusion, much less a confident conclusion, about every relevant Old Testament passage. Many would have been undecided on some issues while having opinions with differing degrees of confidence on other issues. Widespread confidence that the Messiah would be a descendant of David or rule over a worldwide kingdom, for example, could be accompanied by less confidence, or even agnosticism or wavering, about the different implications of a passage like Isaiah 9:6 or the Suffering Servant prophecy. We see that with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, for example. It can be misleading, then, to refer to the more widespread and more confident opinions of ancient Jews as representative of the entirety of ancient Jewish Messianic views. Even some post-Christian Jewish sources acknowledge that there seems to be a higher figure involved in some of these Old Testament passages, a figure like what Christians see there. If even post-Christian Jews would sometimes acknowledge that fact, surely Jews at the time of Jesus and earlier were even more open to it.

  3. Hawk, yes, that's right. I don't think any of those groups you name had the expectation that the Messiah would be both God and man--a man, born to a real mother, etc. I don't think that theophany-like passages in the OT (e.g, the three figures appearing to Abraham) give this expectation, since none of those figures had a human history, even if one of them was a theophany.

    I think this was something that they had to learn.

    I realize that that means that we probably disagree about how clearly God had taught this in the Old Testament.

    I think this is useful, btw, in countering certain misimpressions about historical probability. Example: It's often said that if Jesus told people not to tell others that he was the Messiah, he "wouldn't have" said that he was God as clearly as he does in Jn. 8:58 and 10:30. Michael Licona has made this arg., tho' he's shown ambivalence about whether he wants to endorse it outright or not. It's a kind of armchair history argument against the historicity of the unique Johannine claims to deity. Once we recognize that the people in Jesus' audiences would have been far more likely to get a confused idea about his intentions from a claim to Messiahship than from a claim to deity and would have reacted far differently, this arg. collapses. In fact, we see it right in John 10. In vs. 24 they *want* him to make a plain claim to Messiahship. In vs. 31 they try to stone him for making a claim to be one with the Father. That was not what they wanted. They clearly don't think the former entails the latter. Jesus had some justifiable concern that a plain claim to Messiahship in various places would lead to an attempt to make him an earthly king (John 6:15). He didn't have to worry about that with a claim to be one with the Father or to be the "I am." That was just an inflammatory claim that the audience regarded as blasphemous. So the a priori arg. about what Jesus "would have" done based on the Messianic secret shows a failure to make an important distinction.

    1. Thanks, Lydia. I'm traveling but might try to reply when I return. I think I agree or at least don't disagree with a lot of your points. Regardless much appreciated for the clarification!

  4. Having listened to hours and hours of Michael Heiser's material (and trust me, all those hours constitute a tiny fraction of the total material available!) regarding Jewish binitarianism, it seems belief in a divine Messiah - or else, a human who would be raised to divinity, or an angel - was present in various Jewish groups.

    The various candidates for 'Malak YHWH' and 'One Like A Son of Man' included Adam, Enoch, Moses, Elijah, Michael, Yahoel/Jehoel, Metatron and so on. The only innovation the Christians believed was that Jesus of Nazareth was the correct candidate.

    Ever wonder why the NT writers don't seem to spend any time addressing how YHWH can be embodied or multiplural? Unitarians would argue that it's because the NT doesn't actually teach those things. I would argue it's because Jews already accepted those things - for the NT writers to argue such would be like arguing that YHWH created the universe, it's preaching to the choir.