Sunday, March 18, 2012

J. Gresham Machen - Doctrine

The following is from Machen's excellent book Christianity and Liberalism and is so very worth taking the time to read and ponder.

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Modern liberalism in the Church, whatever judgment may be passed upon it, is at any rate no longer merely an academic matter. It is no longer a matter merely of theological seminaries or universities. On the contrary its attack upon the fundamentals of the Christian faith is being carried on vigorously by Sunday-School ‘lesson-helps,’ by the pulpit, and by the religious press. If such an attack be unjustified, the remedy is not to be found, as some devout persons have suggested, in the abolition of theological seminaries, or the abandonment of scientific theology, but rather in a more earnest search after truth and a more loyal devotion to it when once it is found.

At the theological seminaries and universities, however, the roots of the great issue are more clearly seen than in the world at large; among students the reassuring employment of traditional phrases is often abandoned, and the advocates of a new religion are not at pains, as they are in the Church at large, to maintain an appearance of conformity with the past. But such frankness, we are convinced, ought to be extended to the people as a whole. Few desires on the part of religious teachers have been more harmfully exaggerated than the desire to ‘avoid giving offense.’ Only too often that desire has come perilously near dishonesty; the religious teacher, in his heart of hearts, is well aware of the radicalism of his views, but is unwilling to relinquish his place in the hallowed atmosphere of the Church by speaking his whole mind. Against all such policy of concealment or palliation, our sympathies are altogether with those men, whether radicals or conservatives, who have a passion for light.

What then, at bottom, when the traditional phrases have all been stripped away, is the real meaning of the present revolt against the fundamentals of the Christian faith? What, in brief, are the teachings of modern liberalism as over against the teachings of Christianity?

At the outset, we are met with an objection. ‘Teachings,’ it is said, ‘are unimportant; the exposition of the teachings of liberalism and the teachings of Christianity, therefore, can arouse no interest at the present day; creeds are merely the changing expression of a unitary Christian experience, and provided only theyexpress that experience they are all equally good. The teachings of liberalism, therefore, might be as far removed as possible from the teachings of historic Christianity, and yet the two might be at bottom the same.’

Such is the way in which expression is often given to the modern hostility to ‘doctrine.’ But is it really doctrine as such that is objected to, and not rather one particular doctrine in the interests of another? Undoubtedly, in many forms of liberalism it is the latter alternative which fits the case. There are doctrines of modern liberalism, just as tenaciously and intolerantly upheld as any doctrines that find a place in the historic creeds. Such for example are the liberal doctrines of the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. These doctrines are, as we shall see, contrary to the doctrines of the Christian religion. But doctrines they are all the same, and as such they require intellectual defence. In seeming to object to all theology, the liberal preacher is often merely objecting to one system of theology in the interests of another. And the desired immunity from theological controversy has not yet been attained.

Sometimes, however, the modern objection to doctrine is more seriously meant. And whether the objection be well-founded or not, the real meaning of it should at least be faced.

That meaning is perfectly plain. The objection involves an out-and-out skepticism. If all creeds are equally true, then since they are contradictory to one another, they are all equally false, or at least equally uncertain. We are indulging, therefore, in a mere juggling with words. To say that all creeds are equally true, and that they are based upon experience, is merely to fall back upon that agnosticism which fifty years ago was regarded as the deadliest enemy of the Church. The enemy has not really been changed into a friend merely because he has been received within the camp. Very different is the Christian conception of a creed. According to the Christian conception, a creed is not a mere expression of Christian experience, but on the contrary it is a setting forth of those facts upon which experience is based.

But, it will be said, Christianity is a life, not a doctrine. The assertion is often made, and it has an appearance of godliness. But it is radically false, and to detect its falsity one does not even need to be a Christian. For to say that ‘Christianity is a life’ is to make an assertion in the sphere of history. The assertion does not lie in the sphere of ideals; it is far different from saying that Christianity ought to be a life, or that the ideal religion is a life. The assertion that Christianity is a life issubject to historical investigation exactly as is the assertion that the Roman Empire under Nero was a free democracy. Possibly the Roman Empire under Nero would have been better if it had been a free democracy, but the historical question is simply whether as a matter of fact it was a free democracy or no. Christianity is an historical phenomenon, like the Roman Empire, or the Kingdom of Prussia, or the United States of America. And as an historical phenomenon it must be investigated on the basis of historical evidence.

Is it true, then, that Christianity is not a doctrine but a life? The question can be settled only by an examination of the beginnings of Christianity. Recognition of that fact does not involve any acceptance of Christian belief; it is merely a matter of common sense and common honesty. At the foundation of the life of every corporation is the incorporation paper, in which the objects of the corporation are set forth. Other objects may be vastly more desirable than those objects, but if the directors use the name and the resources of the corporation to pursue the other objects they are acting ultra vires of the corporation. So it is with Christianity. It is perfectly conceivable that the originators of the Christian movement had no right to legislate for subsequent generations i but at any rate they did have an inalienable right to legislate for all generations that should choose to bear the name of ‘Christian.’ It is conceivable that Christianity may now have to be abandoned, and another religion substituted for it; but at any rate the question what Christianity is can be determined only by an examination of the beginnings of Christianity.

The beginnings of Christianity constitute a fairly definite historical phenomenon. The Christian movement originated a few days after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. It is doubtful whether anything that preceded the death of Jesus can be called Christianity. At any rate, if Christianity existed before that event, it was Christianity only in a preliminary stage. The name originated after the death of Jesus, and the thing itself was also something new. Evidently there was an important new beginning among the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem after the crucifixion. At that time is to be placed the beginning of the remarkable movement which spread out from Jerusalem into the Gentile world—the movement which is called Christianity.

About the early stages of this movement definite historical information has been preserved in the Epistles of Paul, which are regarded by all serious historians as genuine products of the first Christian generation. The writer of the Epistles had been in direct communication with those intimate friends of Jesus who had begun the Christian movement in Jerusalem, and in the Epistles he makes it abundantly plain what the fundamental character of the movement was. But if any one fact is clear, on the basis of this evidence, it is that the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of facts. In other words it was based upon doctrine.

Certainly with regard to Paul himself there should be no debate; Paul certainly was not indifferent to doctrine; on the contrary, doctrine was the very basis of his life. His devotion to doctrine did not, it is true, make him incapable of a magnificent tolerance. One notable example of such tolerance is to be found during his imprisonment at Rome, as attested by the Epistle to the Philippians. Apparently certain Christian teachers at Rome had been jealous of Paul’s greatness. As long as he had been at liberty they had been obliged to take a secondary place; but now that he was in prison, they seized the supremacy. They sought to raise up affliction for Paul in his bonds; they preached Christ even of envy and strife. In short, the rival preachers made of the preaching of the gospel a means to the gratification of low personal ambition; it seems to have been about as mean a piece of business as could well be conceived. But Paul was not disturbed. ‘Whether in presence, or in truth,’ he said, ‘Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice’ (Phil. i. 18). The way in which the preaching was being carried on was wrong, but the message itself was true; and Paul was far more interested in the content of the message than in the manner of its presentation. It is impossible to conceive a finer piece of broad-minded tolerance.

But the tolerance of Paul was not indiscriminate. He displayed no tolerance, for example, in Galatia. There, too, there were rival preachers. But Paul had no tolerance for them. ‘But though we,’ he said, ‘or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed’ (Gal. i. 8). What is the reason for the difference in the apostle’s attitudein the two cases? What is the reason for the broad tolerance in Rome, and the fierce anathemas in Galatia? The answer is perfectly plain. In Rome, Paul was tolerant, because there the content of the message that was being proclaimed by the rival teachers was true; in Galatia he was intolerant, because there the content of the rival message was false. In neither case did personalities have anything to do with Paul’s attitude. No doubt the motives of the Judaizers in Galatia were far from pure, and in an incidental way Paul does point out their impurity. But that was not the ground of his opposition. The Judaizers no doubt were morally far from perfect, but Paul’s opposition to them would have been exactly the same if they had all been angels from heaven. His opposition was based altogether upon the falsity of their teaching; they were substituting for the one true gospel a false gospel which was no gospel at all. It never occurred to Paul that a gospel might be true for one man and not for another; the blight of pragmatism had never fallen upon his soul. Paul was convinced of the objective truth of the gospel message, and devotion to that truth was the great passion of his life.

Christianity for Paul was not only a life, but also a doctrine, and logically the doctrine came first.

But what was the difference between the teaching of Paul and the teaching of the Judaizers ? What was it that gave rise to the stupendous polemic of the Epistle to the Galatians? To the modern Church the difference would have seemed to be a mere theological subtlety. About many things the Judaizers were in perfect agreement with Paul. The Judaizers believed that Jesus was the Messiah; there is not a shadow of evidence that they objected to Paul’s lofty view of the person of Christ. Without the slightest doubt, they believed that Jesus had really risen from the dead. They believed, moreover, that faith in Christ was necessary to salvation. But the trouble was, they believed that something else was also necessary; they believed that what Christ had done needed to be pieced out by the believer’s own effort to keep the Law. From the modern point of view the difference would have seemed to be very slight. Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical—not even, perhaps, the temporal—order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God’s law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern ‘practical’ Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm. What a splendid cleaning up of the Gentile cities it would have been if the Judaizers had succeeded in extending to those cities the observance of the Mosaic law, even including the unfortunate ceremonial observances! Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him; surely he ought to have applied to them the great principle of Christian unity.

As a matter of fact, however, Paul did nothing of the kind; and only because he (and others) did nothing of the kind does the Christian Church exist today. Paul saw very clearly that the differences between the Judaizers and himself was the differences between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the differences between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.

Paul certainly was right. The differences which divided him from the Judaizers was no mere theological subtlety, but concerned the very heart and core of the religion of Christ. ‘Just as I am without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me’— that was what Paul was contending for in Galatia; that hymn would never have been written if the Judaizers had won. And without the thing which that hymn expresses there is no Christianity at all.

Certainly, then, Paul was no advocate of an undogmatic religion; he was interestedabove everything else in the objective and universal truth of his message. So much will probably be admitted by serious historians, no matter what their own personal attitude toward the religion of Paul may be. Sometimes, indeed, the modern liberal preacher seeks to produce an opposite impression by quoting out of their context words of Paul which he interprets in a way as far removed as possible from the original sense. The truth is, it is hard to give Paul up. The modern liberal desires to produce upon the minds of simple Christians (and upon his own mind) the impression of some sort of continuity between modern liberalism and the thought and life of the great Apostle. But such an impression is altogether misleading. Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of Jesus; he was not interested merely in general principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its center. If Christianity is to be made independent of doctrine, then Paulinism must be removed from Christianity root and branch.

But what of that? Some men are not afraid of the conclusion. If Paulinism must be removed, they say, we can get along without it. May it not turn out that in introducing a doctrinal element into the life of the Church Paul was only perverting a primitive Christianity which was as independent of doctrine as even the modern liberal preacher could desire?

This suggestion is clearly overruled by the historical evidence. The problem certainly cannot be solved in so easy a way. Many attempts have indeed been made to separate the religion of Paul sharply from that of the primitive Jerusalem Church; many attempts have been made to show that Paul introduced an entirely new principle into the Christian movement or even was the founder of a new religion. But all such attempts have resulted in failure. The Pauline Epistles themselves attest a fundamental unity of principle between Paul and the original companions of Jesus, and the whole early history of the Church becomes unintelligible except on the basis of such unity. Certainly with regard to the fundamentally doctrinal character of Christianity Paul was no innovator. The fact appears in the whole character of Paul’s relationship to the Jerusalem Church as it is attested by the Epistles, and it also appears with startling clearness in the precious passage in 1 Cor. xv. 3-7, where Paul summarizes the tradition which he had received from the primitive Church. What is it that forms the content of that primitive teaching? Is it a general principle of the fatherliness of God or the brotherliness of man? Is it a vague admiration for the character of Jesus such as that which prevails in the modern Church? Nothing could be further from the fact. ‘Christ died for our sins,’ said the primitive disciples, ‘according to the Scriptures; he was buried; he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.’ From the beginning, the Christian gospel, as indeed the name ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’ implies, consisted in an account of something that had happened. And from the beginning, the meaning of the happening was set forth; and when the meaning of the happening was set forth then there was Christian doctrine. ‘Christ died’—that is history; ‘Christ died for our sins’—that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity.

It is perfectly clear, then, that the first Christian missionaries did not simply come forward with an exhortation they did not say: ‘Jesus of Nazareth lived a wonderful life of filial piety, and we call upon you our hearers to yield yourselves, as we have done, to the spell of that life.’ Certainly that is what modern historians would have expected the first Christian missionaries to say, but it must be recognized that as a matter of fact they said nothing of the kind. Conceivably the first disciples of Jesus, after the catastrophe of His death, might have engaged in quiet meditation upon His teaching. They might have said to themselves that ‘Our Father which art in heaven’ was a good way of addressing God even though the One who had taught them that prayer was dead. They might have clung to the ethical principles of Jesus and cherished the vague hope that the One who enunciated such principles had some personal existence beyond the grave. Such redactions might have seemed very natural to the modern man. But to Peter, James and John they certainly never occurred. Jesus had raised in them high hopes; those hopes were destroyed by the Cross; and reflections on the general principles of religion and ethics were quite powerless to revive the hopes again. The disciples of Jesus had evidently been far inferior to their Master in every possible way; they had not understood His lofty spiritual teaching, but even in the hour of solemn crisis had quarreled over great places in the approaching Kingdom. What hope was there that such men could succeed where their Master had failed? Even when Hehad been with them, they had been powerless; and now that He was taken from them, what little power they may have had was gone.

Yet those same weak, discouraged men, within a few days after the death of their Master, instituted the most important spiritual movement that the world has ever seen. What had produced the astonishing change? What had transformed the weak and cowardly disciples into the spiritual conquerors of the world? Evidently it was not the mere memory of Jesus’ life, for that was a source of sadness rather than of joy. Evidently the disciples of Jesus, within the few days between the crucifixion and the beginning of their work in Jerusalem, had received some new equipment for their task. What that new equipment was, at least the outstanding and external element in it (to say nothing of the endowment which Christian men believe to have been received at Pentecost), is perfectly plain. The great weapon with which the disciples of Jesus set out to conquer the world was not a mere comprehension of eternal principles; it was an historical message, an account of something that had recently happened, it was the message, ‘

But the message of the resurrection was not isolated. It was connected with the death of Jesus, seen now to be not a failure but a triumphant act of divine grace; it was connected with the entire appearance of Jesus upon earth. The coming of Jesus was understood now as an act of God by which sinful men were saved. The primitive Church was concerned not merely with what Jesus had said, but also, and primarily, with what Jesus had done. The world was to be redeemed through the proclamation of an event. And with the event went the meaning of the event; and the setting forth of the event with the meaning of the event was doctrine. These two elements are always combined in the Christian message. The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. ‘Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried’—that is history. ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me’—that is doctrine. Such was the Christianity of the primitive Church.

‘But,’ it may be said, ‘even if the Christianity of the primitive Church was dependent upon doctrine, we may still emancipate ourselves from such dependence; we may appeal from the primitive Church to Jesus Himself. It has already been admitted that if doctrine is to be abandoned Paul must be abandoned:it may now be admitted that if doctrine is to be abandoned, even the primitive Jerusalem Church, with its message of the resurrection, must be abandoned. But possibly we can still find in Jesus Himself the simple, non-doctrinal religion that we desire.’ Such is the real meaning of the modern slogan, ‘Back to Christ.’

Must we really take such a step as that? It would certainly be an extraordinary step. A great religion derived its power from the message of the redeeming work of Christ; without that message Jesus and His disciples would soon have been forgotten. The same message, with its implications, has been the very heart and soul of the Christian movement throughout the centuries. Yet we are now asked to believe that the thing that has given Christianity its power all through the centuries was a blunder, that the originators of the movement misunderstood radically the meaning of their Master’s life and work, and that it has been left to us moderns to get the first inkling of the initial mistake. Even if this view of the case were correct, and even if Jesus Himself taught a religion like that of modern liberalism, it would still be doubtful whether such a religion could rightly be called Christianity; for the name Christian was first applied only after the supposed decisive change had taken place, and it is very doubtful whether a name which through nineteen centuries has been so firmly attached to one religion ought now suddenly to be applied to another. If the first disciples of Jesus really departed so radically from their Master, then the better terminology would probably lead us to say simply that Jesus was not the founder of Christianity, but of a simple, non-doctrinal religion, long forgotten, but now rediscovered by modern men. Even so, the contrast between liberalism and Christianity would still appear.

But as a matter of fact, such a strange state of affairs does not prevail at all. It is not true that in basing Christianity upon an event the disciples of Jesus were departing from the teaching of their Master. For certainly Jesus Himself did the same thing. Jesus did not content Himself with enunciating general principles of religion and ethics; the picture of Jesus as a sage similar to Confucius, uttering wise maxims about conduct, may satisfy Mr. H. G.Wells, as he trips along lightly over the problems of history, but it disappears so soon as one engages seriously in historical research. ‘Repent,’ said Jesus, ‘for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ The gospel which Jesus proclaimed in Galilee consisted in the proclamation of a coming Kingdom. But clearly Jesus regarded the coming of the Kingdom as an event, or as a series of events. No doubt He also regarded the Kingdom as a present reality in the souls of men; no doubt He represented the Kingdom in one sense as already present. We shall not really succeed in getting along without this aspect of the matter in our interpretation of Jesus’ words. But we shall also not get along without the other aspect, according to which the coming of the Kingdom depended upon definite and catastrophic events. But if Jesus regarded the coming of the Kingdom as dependent upon a definite event, then His teaching was similar at the decisive point to that of the primitive Church; neither He nor the primitive Church enunciated merely general and permanent principles of religion; both of them, on the contrary, made the message depend upon something that happened. Only, in the teaching of Jesus the happening was represented as being still in the future, while in that of the Jerusalem Church the first act of it at least lay already in the past. Jesus proclaimed the event as coming; the disciples proclaimed part of it at least as already past; but the important thing is that both Jesus and the disciples did proclaim an event. Jesus was certainly not a mere enunciator of permanent truths, like the modern liberal preacher; on the contrary He was conscious of standing at the turning-point of the ages, when what had never been was now to come to be.

But Jesus announced not only an event; He announced also the meaning of the event. It is natural, indeed, that the full meaning could be made clear only after the event had taken place. If Jesus really came, then, to announce, and to bring about, an event, the disciples were not departing from His purpose, if they set forth the meaning of the event more fully than it could be set forth during the preliminary period constituted by the earthly ministry of their Master. But Jesus Himself, though by way of prophecy, did set forth the meaning of the great happening that was to be at the basis of the new era.

Certainly He did so, and grandly, if the words attributed to Him in all of the Gospels are really His. But even if the Fourth Gospel be rejected, and even if the most radical criticism be applied to the other three, it will still be impossible to get rid of this element in Jesus’ teaching. The significant words attributed to Jesus atthe Last Supper with regard to His approaching death, and the utterance of Jesus in Mk. x. 45 (‘The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many’), have indeed been the subject of vigorous debate. It is difficult to accept such words as authentic and yet maintain the modern view of Jesus at all. Yet it is also difficult to get rid of them on any critical theory. What we are now concerned with, however, is something more general than the authenticity even of these precious words. What we are now concerned to observe is that Jesus certainly did not content Himself with the enunciation of permanent moral principles; He certainly did announce an approaching event; and He certainly did not announce the event without giving some account of its meaning. But when He gave an account of the meaning of the event, no matter how brief that account may have been, He was overstepping the line that separates an undogmatic religion, or even a dogmatic religion that teaches only eternal principles, from one that is rooted in the significance of definite historical facts; He was placing a great gulf between Himself and the philosophic modern liberalism which today incorrectly bears His name.

In another way also the teaching of Jesus was rooted in doctrine. It was rooted in doctrine because it depended upon a stupendous presentation of Jesus’ own Person. The assertion is often made, indeed, that Jesus kept His own Person out of His gospel, and came forward merely as the supreme prophet of God. That assertion lies at the very root of the modern liberal conception of the life of Christ. But common as it is, it is radically false. And it is interesting to observe how the liberal historians themselves, so soon as they begin to deal seriously with the sources, are obliged to admit that the real Jesus was not all that they could have liked Jesus to be. A Houston Stewart Chamberlain,1 indeed, can construct a Jesus who was the advocate of a pure, ‘formless,’ non-doctrinal religion; but trained historians, despite their own desires, are obliged to admit that there was an element in the real Jesus which refuses to be pressed into any such mold. There is to the liberal historians, as Heitmuller has significantly said, ‘something almost uncanny’ about Jesus.

This ‘uncanny’ element in Jesus is found in His Messianic consciousness. The strange fact is that this pure teacher of righteousness appealed to by modern liberalism, this classical exponent of the non-doctrinal religion which is supposed to underlie all the historical religions as the irreducible truth remaining after the doctrinal accretions have been removed—the strange fact is that this supreme revealer of eternal truth supposed that He was to be the chief actor in a world catastrophe and was to sit in judgment upon the whole earth. Such is the stupendous form in which Jesus applied to Himself the category of Messiahship.

It is interesting to observe how modern men have dealt with the Messianic consciousness of Jesus. Some, like Mr. H. G. Wells, have practically ignored it. Without discussing the question whether it be historical or not they have practically treated it as though it did not exist, and have not allowed it to disturb them at all in their construction of the sage of Nazareth. The Jesus thus reconstructed may be useful as investing modern programs with the sanctity of His hallowed name; Mr. Wells may find it edifying to associate Jesus with Confucius in a brotherhood of beneficent vagueness. But what ought to be clearly understood is that such a Jesus has nothing to do with history. He is a purely imaginary figure, a symbol and not a fact.

Others, more seriously, have recognized the existence of the problem, but have sought to avoid it by denying that Jesus ever thought that He was the Messiah, and by supporting their denial, not by mere assertions, but by a critical examination of the sources. Such was the effort, for example, of W. Wrede, and a brilliant effort it was. But it has resulted in failure. The Messianic consciousness of Jesus is not merely rooted in the sources considered as documents, but it lies at the very basis of the whole edifice of the Church. If, as J. Weiss has pertinently said, the disciples before the crucifixion had merely been told that the Kingdom of God was coming, if Jesus had really kept altogether in the background His own part in the Kingdom, then why when despair finally gave place to joy did the disciples not merely say, ‘Despite Jesus’ death, the Kingdom that He foretold will truly come’? Why did they say rather, ‘Despite His death, He is the Messiah’? From no point of view, then, can the fact be denied that Jesus did claim to be the Messiah—neither from the point of view of acceptance of the Gospel witness as a whole, nor from the point of view of modernnaturalism.

And when the Gospel account of Jesus is considered closely, it is found to involve the Messianic consciousness throughout. Even those parts of the Gospels which have been regarded as most purely ethical are found to be based altogether upon Jesus’ lofty claims. The Sermon on the Mount is a striking example. It is the fashion now to place the Sermon on the Mount in contrast with the rest of the New Testament. ‘We will have nothing to do with theology,’ men say in effect, ‘we will have nothing to do with miracles, with atonement, or with heaven or with hell. For us the Golden Rule is a sufficient guide of life; in the simple principles of the Sermon on the Mount we discover a solution of all the problems of society.’ It is indeed rather strange that men can speak in this way. Certainly it is rather derogatory to Jesus to assert that never except in one brief part of His recorded words did He say anything that is worth while. But even in the Sermon on the Mount there is far more than some men suppose. Men say that it contains no theology) in reality it contains theology of the most stupendous kind. In particular, it contains the loftiest possible presentation of Jesus’ own Person. That presentation appears in the strange note of authority which pervades the whole discourse; it appears in the recurrent words, ‘But I say unto you.’ Jesus plainly puts His own words on an equality with what He certainly regarded as the divine words of Scripture; He claimed the right to legislate for the Kingdom of God. Let it not be objected that this note of authority involves merely a prophetic consciousness in Jesus, a mere right to speak in God’s name as God’s Spirit might lead. For what prophet ever spoke in this way? The prophets said, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ but Jesus said, ‘I say.’ We have no mere prophet here, no mere humble exponent of the will of God; but a stupendous Person speaking in a manner which for any other person would be abominable and absurd. The same thing appears in the passage Matt. vii. 21-23: ‘Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many shall say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out demons, and in thy name done many mighty works? And then I shall confess to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work lawlessness.” This passage is in some respects a favorite with modern liberal teachers; for it is interpreted—falsely, it is true, yet plausibly—as meaning thatall that a man needs to attain standing with God is an approximately right performance of his duties to his fellow-men, and not any assent to a creed or even any direct relation to Jesus. But have those who quote the passage 80 triumphantly in this way ever stopped to reflect upon the other side of the picture—upon the stupendous fact that in this same passage the eternal destinies of men are made dependent upon the word of Jesus ? Jesus here represents Himself as seated on the judgment-seat of all the earth, separating whom He will forever from the bliss that is involved in being present with Him. Could anything be further removed than such a Jesus from the humble teacher of righteousness appealed to by modern liberalism? Clearly it is impossible to escape from theology, even in the chosen precincts of the Sermon on the Mount. A stupendous theology, with Jesus’ own Person at the center of it, is the presupposition of the whole teaching.

But may not that theology still be removed? May we not get rid of the bizarre, theological element which has intruded itself even into the Sermon on the Mount, and content ourselves merely with the ethical portion of the discourse? The question, from the point of view of modern liberalism, is natural. But it must be answered with an emphatic negative. For the fact is that the ethic of the discourse, taken by itself, will not work at all. The Golden Rule furnishes an example. ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you’—is that rule a rule of universal application, will it really solve all the problems of society? A little experience shows that such is not the case. Help a drunkard to get rid of his evil habit, and you will soon come to distrust the modern interpretation of the Golden Rule. The trouble is that the drunkard’s companions apply the rule only too well; they do unto him exactly what they would have him do unto them —by buying him a drink. The Golden Rule becomes a powerful obstacle in the way of moral advance. But the trouble does not lie in the rule itself; it lies in the modern interpretation of the rule. The error consists in supposing that the Golden Rule, with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, is addressed to the whole world. As a matter of fact the whole discourse is expressly addressed to Jesus’ disciples; and from them the great world outside is distinguished in the plainest possible way. The persons to whom the Golden Ruleis addressed are persons in whom a great change has been wrought—a change which fits them for entrance into the Kingdom of God. Such persons will have pure desires; they, and they only, can safely do unto others as they would have others do unto them, for the things that they would have others do unto them are high and pure.

So it is with the whole of the discourse. The new law of the Sermon on the Mount, in itself, can only produce despair. Strange indeed is the complacency with which modern men can say that the Golden Rule and the high ethical principles of Jesus are all that they need. In reality, if the requirements for entrance into the Kingdom of God are what Jesus declares them to be, we are all undone; we have not even attained to the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and how shall we attain to that righteousness of the heart which Jesus demands ? The Sermon on the Mount, rightly interpreted, then, makes man a seeker after some divine means of salvation by which entrance into the Kingdom can be obtained. Even Moses was too high for us; but before this higher law of Jesus who shall stand without being condemned? The Sermon on the Mount, like all the rest of the New Testament, really leads a man straight to the foot of the Cross.

Even the disciples, to whom the teaching of Jesus was first addressed, knew well that they needed more than guidance in the way that they should go. It is only a superficial reading of the Gospels that can find in the relation which the disciples sustained to Jesus a mere relation of pupil to Master. When Jesus said, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,’ he was speaking not as a philosopher calling pupils to his school) but as One who was in possession of rich stores of divine grace. And this much at least the disciples knew. They knew well in their heart of hearts that they had no right to stand in the Kingdom; they knew that only Jesus could win them entrance there. They did not yet know fully how Jesus could make them children of God; but they did know that He could do it and He alone. And in that trust all the theology of the great Christian creeds was in expectation contained.

At this point, an objection may arise. May we not—the modern liberal will say— may we not now return to that simple trust of the disciples? May we not cease to ask how Jesus saves; may we not simply leave the way to Him? What need is there, then, of defining ‘effectual calling,’ what need of enumerating ‘justification, adoption and sanctification and the several benefits which in this life do eitheraccompany or flow from them’? What need even of rehearsing the steps in the saving work of Christ as they were rehearsed by the Jerusalem Church; what need of saying that ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures’? Should not our trust be in a Person rather than in a message; in Jesus, rather than in what Jesus did; in Jesus’ character rather than in Jesus’ death?

Plausible words these are—plausible, and pitifully vain. Can we really return to Galilee; are we really in the same situation as those who came to Jesus when He was on earth? Can we hear Him say to us, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee’? These are serious questions, and they cannot possibly be ignored. The plain fact is that Jesus of Nazareth died these nineteen hundred years ago. It was possible for the men of Galilee in the first century to trust Him; for to them He extended His aid. For them, life’s problem was easy. They needed only to push in through the crowd or be lowered through some Capernaum roof and the long search was over. But we are separated by nineteen centuries from the One who alone could give us aid. How can we bridge the gulf of time that separates us from Jesus?

Some persons would bridge the gulf by the mere use of the historical imagination. ‘Jesus is not dead,’ we are told, ‘but lives on through His recorded words and deeds; we do not need even to believe it all; even a part is sufficient; the wonderful personality of Jesus shines out clear from the Gospel story. Jesus, in other words, may still be known; let us simply—without theology, without controversy, without inquiry about miracles—abandon ourselves to His spell, and He will heal us.’

There is a certain plausibility about that. It may readily be admitted that Jesus lives on in the Gospel record. In that narrative we see not merely a lifeless picture, but receive the impression of a living Person. We can still, as we read, share the astonishment of those who listened to the new teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. We can sympathize with the faith and devotion of the little band of disciples who would not leave Him when others were offended at the hard saying. We feel a sympathetic thrill of joy at the blessed relief which was given to those who were ill in body and in mind. We can appreciate the wonderful love and compassion of Him who was sent to seek and to save that which was lost. A wonderful story it is indeed—not dead, but pulsating with life at every turn.

Certainly the Jesus of the Gospels is a real, a living Person. But that is not the only question. We are going forward far too fast. Jesus lives in the Gospels—so much may freely be admitted—but we of the twentieth century, how may we come into vital relation to Him? He died nineteen hundred years ago. The life which He now lives in the Gospels is simply the old life lived over and over again. And in that life we have no place; in that life we are spectators, not actors. The life which Jesus lives in the Gospels is after all for us but the spurious life of the stage. We sit silent in the playhouse and watch the absorbing Gospel drama of forgiveness and healing and love and courage and high endeavor; in rapt attention we follow the fortunes of those who came to Jesus laboring and heavy laden and found rest. For a time our own troubles are forgotten. But suddenly the curtain falls, with the closing of the book, and out we go again into the cold humdrum of our own lives. Gone are the warmth and gladness of an ideal world, and ‘in their stead a sense of real things comes doubly strong.’ We are no longer living over again the lives of Peter and James and John. Alas, we are living our own lives once more, with our own problems and our own misery and our own sin. And still we are seeking our own Savior.

Let us not deceive ourselves. A Jewish teacher of the first century can never satisfy the longing of our souls. Clothe Him with all the art of modern research, throw upon Him the warm, deceptive calcium-light of modern sentimentality; and despite it all common sense will come to its rights again, and for our brief hour of self-deception— as though we had been with Jesus—will wreak upon us the revenge of hopeless disillusionment.

But, says the modern preacher, are we not, in being satisfied with the ‘historical’ Jesus, the great teacher who proclaimed the Kingdom of God, merely restoring the simplicity of the primitive gospel? No, we answer, you are not, but, temporally at least, you are not so very far wrong. You are really returning to a very primitive stage in the life of the Church. Only, that stage is not the Galilean springtime. For in Galilee men had a living Savior. There was one time and one time only when the disciples lived, like you, merely on the memory of Jesus. When was it? It was a gloomy, desperate time. It was the three sad days after the crucifixion. Then and then only did Jesus’ disciples regard Him merely as a blessed memory. ‘Wetrusted,’ they said, ‘that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel.’ ‘We trusted’—but now our trust is gone. Shall we remain, with modern liberalism, forever in the gloom of those sad days? Or shall we pass out from it to the warmth and joy of Pentecost?

Certainly we shall remain forever in the gloom if we attend merely to the character of Jesus and neglect the thing that He has done, if we try to attend to the Person and neglect the message. We may have joy for sadness and power for weakness; but not by easy half-way measures, not by avoidance of controversy, not by trying to hold on to Jesus and yet reject the gospel. What was it that within a few days transformed a band of mourners into the spiritual conquerors of the world? It was not the memory of Jesus’ life; it was not the inspiration which came from past contact with Him. But it was the message, ‘He is risen.’ That message alone gave to the disciples a living Savior i and it alone can give to us a living Savior today. We shall never have vital contact with Jesus if we attend to His person and neglect the message; for it is the message which makes Him ours.

But the Christian message contains more than the fact of the resurrection. It is not enough to know that Jesus is alive; it is not enough to know that a wonderful Person lived in the first century of the Christian era and that Person still lives, somewhere and somehow, today. Jesus lives, and that is well; but what good is it to us ? We are like the inhabitants of far-off Syria or Phoenicia in the days of His flesh. There is a wonderful Person who can heal every ill of body and mind. But, alas, we are not with Him, and the way is far. How shall we come into His presence? How shall contact be established between us and Him? For the people of ancient Galilee contact was established by a touch of Jesus’ hand or a word from His lips. But for us the problem is not so easy. We cannot find Him by the lake shore or in crowded houses; we cannot be lowered into any room where He sits amid scribes and Pharisees. If we employ only our own methods of search, we shall find ourselves on a fruitless pilgrimage. Surely we need guidance, if we are to find our Savior.

And in the New Testament we find guidance full and free—guidance so complete as to remove all doubt, yet so simple that a child can understand. Contact with Jesus according to the New Testament is established by what Jesus does, not for others, but for us. The account of what Jesus did for others is indeed necessary. Byreading how He went about doing good, how He healed the sick and raised the dead and forgave sins, we learn that He is a Person who is worthy of trust. But such knowledge is to the Christian man not an end in itself, but a means to an end. It is not enough to know that Jesus is a Person worthy of trust; it is also necessary to know that He is willing to have us trust Him. It is not enough that He saved others; we need to know also that He has saved us. That knowledge is given in the story of the Cross. For us Jesus does not merely place His fingers in the ears and say, ‘Be opened”; for us He does not merely say ‘Arise and walk.’ For us He has done a greater thing—for us He died. Our dreadful guilt, the condemnation of God’s law—it was wiped out by an act of grace. That is the message which brings Jesus near to us, and makes Him not merely the Savior of the men of Galilee long ago, but the Savior of you and me.

It is vain, then, to speak of reposing trust in the Person without believing the message. For trust involves a personal relation between the one who trusts and him in whom the trust is reposed. And in this case the personal relation is set up by the blessed theology of the Cross. Without the eighth chapter of Romans, the mere story of the earthly life of Jesus would be remote and dead; for it is through the eighth chapter of Romans, or the message which that chapter contains, that Jesus becomes our Savior today.

The truth is that when men speak of trust in Jesus’ Person, as being possible without acceptance of the message of His death and resurrection, they do not really mean trust at all. What they designate as trust is really admiration or reverence. They reverence Jesus as the supreme Person of all history and the supreme revealer of God. But trust can come only when the supreme Person extends His saving power to us. ‘He went about doing good,’ ‘He spake words such as never man spake,’ ‘He is the express image of God’—that is reverence; ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me’—that is faith.

But the words ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me’ are in historical form; they constitute an account of something that happened. And they add to the fact the meaning of the fact; they contain in essence the whole profound theology of redemption through the blood of Christ. Christian doctrine lies at the very roots of faith. It must be admitted, then, that if we are to have a nondoctrinal religion, or a doctrinal religion founded merely on general truth, we must give up not only Paul, not only the primitive Jerusalem Church, but also Jesus Himself. But what is meant by doctrine? It has been interpreted here as meaning any presentation of the facts which lie at the basis of the Christian religion with the true meaning of the facts. But is that the only sense of the word? May the word not also be taken in a narrower sense? May it not also mean a systematic and minute and one-sidedly scientific presentation of the facts? And if the word is taken in this narrower sense, may not the modern objection to doctrine involve merely an objection to the excessive subtlety of controversial theology, and not at all an objection to the glowing words of the New Testament, an objection to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and not at all to the first century? Undoubtedly the word is so taken by many occupants of the pews when they listen to the modern exaltation of ‘life’ at the expense of ‘doctrine.’ The pious hearer labors under the impression that he is merely being asked to return to the simplicity of the New Testament, instead of attending to the subtleties of the theologians. Since it has never occurred to him to attend to the subtleties of the theologians, he has that comfortable feeling which always comes to the churchgoer when some one else’s sins are being attacked. It is no wonder that the modern invectives against doctrine constitute a popular type of preaching. At any rate, an attack upon Calvin or Turrettin or the Westminster divines does not seem to the modern churchgoer to be a very dangerous thing. In point of fact, however, the attack upon doctrine is not nearly so innocent a matter as our simple churchgoer supposes; for the things Objected to in the theology of the Church are also at the very heart of the New Testament. Ultimately the attack is not against the seventeenth century, but against the Bible and against Jesus Himself.

Even if it were an attack not upon the Bible but only upon the great historic presentations of Biblical teaching, it would still be unfortunate. If the Church were led to wipe out of existence all products of the thinking of nineteen Christian centuries and start fresh, the loss, even if the Bible were retained, would be immense. When it is once admitted that a body of facts lies at the basis of the Christian religion, the efforts which past generations have made toward the classification of the facts will have to be treated with respect. In no branch ofscience would there be any real advance if every generation started fresh with no dependence upon what past generations have achieved. Yet in theology, vituperation of the past seems to be thought essential to progress. And upon what base slanders the vituperation is based! After listening to modern tirades against the great creeds of the Church, one receives rather a shock when one turns to the Westminster Confession, for example, or to that tenderest and most theological of books, the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ of John Bunyan, and discovers that in doing so one has turned from shallow modern phrases to a ‘dead orthodoxy’ that is pulsating with life in every word. In such orthodoxy there is life enough to set the whole world aglow with Christian love.

As a matter of fact, however, in the modern vituperation of ‘doctrine,’ it is not merely the great theologians or the great creeds that are being attacked, but the New Testament and our Lord Himself. In rejecting doctrine, the liberal preacher is rejecting the simple words of Paul’ ‘Who loved me and gave Himself for me,’ just as much as the homoousion of the Nicene Creed. For the word ‘doctrine’ is really used not in its narrowest, but in its broadest sense. The liberal preacher is really rejecting the whole basis of Christianity, which is a religion founded not on aspirations, but on facts. Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity—liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.

In maintaining the doctrinal basis of Christianity, we are particularly anxious not to be misunderstood. There are certain things that we do not mean.

In the first place, we do not mean that if doctrine is sound it makes no difference about life. On the contrary, it makes all the difference in the world. From the beginning, Christianity was certainly a way of life; the salvation that it offered was a salvation from sin, and salvation from sin appeared not merely in a blessed hope but also in an immediate moral change. The early Christians, to the astonishment of their neighbors, lived a strange new kind of life—a life of honesty, of purity and of unselfishness. And from the Christian community all other types of life were excluded in the strictest way. From the beginning Christianity was certainly a life.

But how was the life produced? It might conceivably have been produced by exhortation. That method had often been tried in the ancient world; in the Hellenistic age there were many wandering preachers who told men how theyought to live. But such exhortation proved to be powerless. Although the ideals of the Cynic and Stoic preachers were high, these preachers never succeeded ._ transforming society. The strange thing about Christianity was that it adopted an entirely different method. It transformed the lives of men not by appealing to the human will, but by telling a story; not by exhortation, but by the narration of an event. It is no wonder that such a method seemed strange. Could anything be more impractical than the attempt to influence conduct by rehearsing events concerning the death of a religious teacher? That is what Paul called ‘the foolishness of the message.’ It seemed foolish to the ancient world, and it seems foolish to liberal preachers today. But the strange thing is that it works. The effects of it appear even in this world. Where the most eloquent exhortation fails, the simple story of an event succeeds; the lives of men are transformed by a piece of news.

It is especially by such transformation of life, today as always, that the Christian message is commended to the attention of men. Certainly, then, it does make an enormous difference whether our lives be right. If our doctrine be true, and our lives be wrong, how terrible is our sin! For then we have brought despite upon the truth itself. On the other hand, however, it is also very sad when men use the social graces which God has given them, and the moral momentum of a godly ancestry, to commend a message which is false. Nothing in the world can take the place of truth.

In the second place, we do not mean, in insisting upon the doctrinal basis of Christianity, that all points of doctrine are equally important. It is perfectly possible for Christian fellowship to be maintained despite differences of opinion.

One such difference of opinion, which has been attaining increasing prominence in recent years, concerns the order of events in connection with the Lord’s return. A large number of Christian people believe that when evil has reached its climax in the world, the Lord Jesus will return to this earth in bodily presence to bring about a reign of righteousness which will last a thousand years, and that only after that period the end of the world will come. That belief, in the opinion of the present writer, is an error, arrived at by a false interpretation of the Word of God; we do not think thatthe prophecies of the Bible permit so definite a mapping-out of future events. The Lord will come again, and it will be no mere ‘spiritual’ coming in the modern sense—so much is clear—but that so little will be accomplished by the present dispensation of the Holy Spirit and so much will be left to be accomplished by the Lord in bodily presence—such a view we cannot find to be justified by the words of Scripture. What is our attitude, then, with regard to this debate? Certainly it cannot be an attitude of indifference. The recrudescence of ‘Chiliasm’ or ‘premillennialism’ in the modern Church causes us serious concern; it is coupled, we think, with a false method of interpreting Scripture which in the long run will be productive of harm. Yet how great is our agreement with those who hold the premillennial view! They share to the full our reverence for the authority of the Bible, and differ from us only in the interpretation of the Bible; they share our ascription of deity to the Lord Jesus, and our supernaturalistic conception both of the entrance of Jesus into the world and of the consummation when He shall come again. Certainly, then, from our point of view, their error, serious though it may be, is not deadly error; and Christian fellowship, with loyalty not only to the Bible but to the great creeds of the Church, can still unite us with them. It is therefore highly misleading when modern liberals represent the present issue in the Church, both in the mission field and at home, as being an issue between premillennialism and the opposite view. It is really an issue between Christianity, whether premillennial or not, on the one side, and a naturalistic negation of all Christianity on the other.

Another difference of opinion which can subsist in the midst of Christian fellowship is the difference of opinion about the mode of efficacy of the sacraments. That difference is indeed serious, and to deny its seriousness is a far greater error than to take the wrong side in the controversy itself. It is often said that the divided condition of Christendom is an evil, and so it is. But the evil consists in the existence of the errors which cause the divisions and not at all in the recognition of those errors when once they exist. It was a great calamity when at the ‘Marburg Conference’ between Luther and the representatives of the Swiss Reformation, Luther wrote on the table with regard to the Lord’s Supper, ‘This is my body,’ and said to Zwingli and Oecolampadius, ‘You have another spirit.’ That difference of opinion led to the breach between the Lutheran and the Reformed branches of the Church, and caused Protestantism to lose much of the ground that might otherwise have been gained. It was a great calamity indeed. But the calamity was due to the fact that Luther (as we believe) was wrong about the Lord’s Supper;and it would have been a far greater calamity if being wrong about the Supper he had represented the whole question as a trifling affair. Luther was wrong about the Supper, but not nearly so wrong as he would have been if, being wrong, he had said to his opponents: ‘Brethren, this matter is a trifle; and it makes really very little difference what a man thinks about the table of the Lord.’ Such indifferentism would have been far more deadly than all the divisions between the branches of the Church. A Luther who would have compromised with regard to the Lord’s Supper never would have said at the Diet of Worms, ‘Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me, Amen.’ Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith.

Still another difference of opinion concerns the nature and prerogatives of the Christian ministry. According to Anglican doctrine, the bishops are in possession of an authority which has been handed down to them, by successive ordination, from the apostles of the Lord, and without such ordination there is no valid priesthood. Other churches deny this doctrine of ‘apostolic succession,’ and hold a different view of the ministry. Here again, the difference is no trifle, and we have little sympathy with those who in the mere interests of Church efficiency try to induce Anglicans to let down the barrier which their principles have led them to erect. But despite the importance of this difference, it does not descend to the very roots. Even to the conscientious Anglican himself, though he regards the members of other bodies as in schism, Christian fellowship with individuals in those other bodies is still possible; and certainly those who reject the Anglican view of the ministry can regard the Anglican Church as a genuine and very noble member in the body of Christ.

Another difference of opinion is that between the Calvinistic or Reformed theology and the Arminianism which appears in the Methodist Church. It is difficult to see how any one who has really studied the question can regard that difference as an unimportant matter. On the contrary’ it touches very closely some of the profoundest things of the Christian faith. A Calvinist is constrained to regard the Arminian theology as a serious impoverishment of the Scripture doctrine of divine grace, and equally serious is the view which the Arminian must hold as to the doctrine of the Reformed Churches. Yet here again, true evangelical fellowship is possible between those who hold, with regard to some exceedingly important matters, sharply opposing views.

Far more serious still is the division between the Church of Rome and evangelical Protestantism in all its forms. Yet how great is the common heritage which unites the Roman Catholic Church, with its maintenance of the authority of Holy Scripture and with its acceptance of the great early creeds, to devout Protestants today! We would not indeed obscure the difference which divides us from Rome. The gulf is indeed profound. But profound as it is, it seems almost trifling compared to the abyss which stands between us and many ministers of our own Church. The Church of Rome may represent a perversion of the Christian religion; but naturalistic liberalism is not Christianity at all.

That does not mean that conservatives and liberals must live in personal animosity. It does not involve any lack of sympathy on our part for those who have felt obliged by the current of the times to relinquish their confidence in the strange message of the Cross. Many ties—ties of blood, of citizenship, of ethical aims, of humanitarian endeavor—unite us to those who have abandoned the gospel. We trust that those ties may never be weakened, and that ultimately they may serve some purpose in the propagation of the Christian faith. But Christian service consists primarily in the propagation of a message, and specifically Christian fellowship exists only between those to whom the message has become the very basis of all life.

The character of Christianity as founded upon a message is summed up in the words of the eighth verse of the first chapter of Acts—’Ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’ It is entirely unnecessary, for the present purpose, to argue about the historical value of the Book of Acts or to discuss the question whether Jesus really spoke the words just quoted. In any case the verse must be recognized as an adequate summary of what is known about primitive Christianity. From the beginning Christianity was a campaign of witnessing. And the witnessing did not concern merely what Jesus was doing within the recesses of the individual life. To take the words of Acts in that way is to do violence to the context and to all the evidence. On the contrary, the Epistles of Paul and all the sources make it abundantly plain that the testimony was primarily not to inner spiritual facts but to what Jesus had done once for all in His death and resurrection.

Christianity is based, then, upon an account of something that happened, and the Christian worker is primarily a witness. But if so, it is rather important that the Christian worker should tell the truth. When a man takes his seat upon the witness stand, it makes little difference what the cut of his coat is, or whether his sentences are nicely turned. The important thing is that he tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If we are to be truly Christians, then, it does make a vast difference what our teachings are, and it is by no means aside from the point to set forth the teachings of Christianity in contrast with the teachings of the chief modern rival of Christianity.

The chief modern rival of Christianity is ‘liberalism.’ An examination of the teachings of liberalism in comparison with those of Christianity will show that at every point the two movements are in direct opposition. That examination will now be undertaken, though merely in a summary and cursory way.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Concept of Sinning in 1 John

The passage about Christians not sinning in 1 John 3:4-9 and the passage about Christians sinning a sin not unto death in 5:16-17 are related, and they clearly show that John is thinking about the issue of sin more deeply and nuanced than we might normally think. In one breath he says a Christian cannot commit sin, and then in another (as well as in 2:1) he says that Christians do sin. So what is going on here? We must think about this and seek to unpackage his thinking.

Can Christians sin? Apparently yes, according to 2:1 and 5:16. However, notice that in both these verses, a Christians' sin is not unto death. The penalty for sin is death. What we deserve for sinning is death, and our sin would be unto death if it were not for the Christ's propitiation in our place. "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 6:23) So the fact that we as Christians can sin and yet it is not unto death (we don't get what we deserve; we are not condemned for it) is because "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins..." (2:1-2) Christ died for us and bore our iniquities, taking away our sins, so that now the Father looks upon us as perfectly blameless and righteous. Just as sin brings death, righteousness brings life, and in 1 John 5:11-12 John writes: "And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that has the Son has life, and he that has not the Son of God has not life." If you believe, then you have the Son, and therefore life through the Son (5:13). Obviously these words are loaded with meaning, and are all connected to the great themes of the cross. I have life because I have the Son who died for my sins. So therefore, based upon all of this, if a Christian sins, it is not unto death.

However, John takes this truth and speaks about it from another angle. Yes, we sin as Christians, but we have an advocate with the Father... our sins are not unto death because Christ died in our place and took our sins away... God now sees us as blameless and righteous in Christ, and through that righteousness we have eternal life: therefore, another way to look at all this is that "a Christian cannot commit sin" (3:9) from the true and heavenly perspective. God does not lay any charge against His saints. If a person can commit sin - that is, if God counts a sin against him - then he cannot be a Christian, because then he would be under the sentence of death. This would prove that he is not in the Son. So in 3:4-9 John is speaking from a loftier top-down perspective rather than the more common man-to-man perspective of 2:1 and 5:16-17. This very same heavenly perspective looks and sees that we believers are "as righteous as He is righteous" (3:7). This is clearly not talking about our works as Christians, but our objective justification before God. God sees us as perfectly blameless and righteous, and John says so as well here. It is from this perspective that he is seeing that we do not sin/are righteous.

John defines sin in 3:4 as "transgression of the law" or "lawlessness", thus giving us a guide for the passage. Substitute the word "sin" in this passage for "transgressing the law". "Whoever is born of God cannot break the law", or "be lawless". It is impossible for two reasons: 1) a Christian is no longer in the flesh, under the law, and is not being judged by his legal performance - he therefore cannot break the law. His relationship to God is not based on law. He is dead to law, and cannot break what he is not obligated to obey. 2) The Christian, while not justified by law nor under the law, is fully lawful in Christ: that through faith in Christ the law has not been set aside and made void but is established (Rom. 3:31). Christ died so that "the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us" (Rom. 8:4), who do not seek to be righteous by the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, who makes us lawful "apart from law" (Rom. 3:21). That is an amazing thing! I am not under the law or judged by it, but in Christ I am perfectly lawful. If a person is not righteous and lawful in Christ, but rather is under the law, and his righteousness depends upon his obedience to the law by his own works, he therefore cannot be "righteous as Christ is righteous", and is thus a sinner. God counts his sins against him, for he is being judged by the law, proving that he is not born of God.

John is really quite simple: "You know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him is no sin. Whoever abides in Him sins not." (3:5-6) We "sin not" by virtue of being in Him, who Himself is sinless (we are sinless in Him), and who died for our sins, taking our sins away. This is John's point in 5:18 also.

Most commentators do not see the simple mystery of the 3:4-9 passage, and therefore have great difficultly trying to explain and reconcile this passage with the rest of the New Testament. The common explanation is that John is talking about "habitual" or "practicing" sin... not just an act of sin, but a lifestyle. This is an idea that is forced upon the passage in an attempt to soften the difficulty of it. There is absolutely no warrant in the Greek to interpret it this way. If John were talking about a practice or lifestyle of sin, he would have used the word prasso instead of poieo. The former literally means a practice or lifestyle, the latter the bare act of doing. It is noted that John uses the present tense, and based upon this they say that it means ongoing or habitual. But the present tense could also just mean that you presently and constantly do not commit an act of sin. Commentators are totally inconsistent about this point, because all throughout the New Testament where the present tense is used in other verses they hardly ever interpret it as habitual. For example, take 1 John 3:4: "Whoever commits sin transgresses the law." How do commentators interpret the present tense "commit sin" here, and this concept elsewhere in the Bible? Answer: one single sin causes you to be a lawbreaker/lawless (see James 2:10). It makes no sense Biblically to say that only habitual sin breaks the law... otherwise we would not be lawbreakers if we sinned once or twice, and we could make the case that we are righteous by our works... habitual goodness, not perfect goodness. In fact, that is exactly what Jews, Muslims and Mormons do - they argue that they are righteous even though they aren't perfect, because they are mostly, habitually good. But the Bible teaches us everywhere, and here in 1 John, that righteousness is absolute moral perfection, and that this is the law's standard. We must not bend Scripture; we must seek to understand Scripture honestly, and I believe that John's point is made clear when we see that he is speaking about the simple mystery of our righteous/sinless identity in Jesus Christ (another perspective from the heavenlies).

As for 1 John 5:21, it is the most perfect way to close a letter that is all about knowing God the Father through Jesus Christ. It is through Christ that we come to understand who God is: a God of grace (John 1:14-18). This is known by seeing that Christ is the revelation of the Father, and that Christ was crucified for our sins. The death of Christ reveals the amazing love of God for us sinners. That love is the ultimate attribute - the essence - of God. "God is love." (4:16) It is not contentless love, but propitiatory love (4:9-10). To know the Father through Christ is to know God. To know all sorts of true things about God but to not know Him as the gracious Father through Christ is to not know God at all (see for example, John 16:2-3), and therefore to not be born of God (Gal. 4:6)

Thus John writes: "And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, and in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life." (1 John 5:20). In the light of this, he finishes: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." (5:21) That is, keep yourselves from any conception of God other than the revelation of the Father through the Son. Don't let anyone deceive you away from the truth. Any God other than this is an idol, not the real God, but a false god. No matter how many true things one might believe about God, if one does not know God through Jesus Christ crucified, one does not know God at all, but is an idolator.

"You neither know me, nor my Father: if you had known me, you would have known my Father also." (John 18:19)

"The ox knows his owner... but Israel does not know, my people do not consider." (Isaiah 1:3)

And the whole point of the New Covenant:

"And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord': for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, says the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more." (Jer. 31:34)

The knowledge of God is based upon the forgiveness of sins.

Christianity is all about knowing God the Father through Jesus Christ. Therefore, "keep yourselves from idols" is the perfect way to close 1 John.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Is the Exodus Story Historical?

One of the most popular arguments against the historical reliability of the Bible is the argument that there is apparently no historical evidence for one of the most momentous events in the book: the Exodus. Critics of the Bible delight to point this out, though it is not only from the irreligious that we hear this argument. Liberal and unorthodox Christians like to argue against the historical reliability of the Bible, pushing forth the idea that faith is not about objective facts and historical truth, but that faith is about our subjective feelings and mystic experiences with God. To them, a blind leap in dark is the essence of faith, and the more unobjective and ridiculous a belief, the more spiritual! I recently had a Mormon say to me that believing in the Bible is the same as believing in the Book of Mormon – since both require you to believe in the preposterous. Just as the Book of Mormon contains a “history” with no evidence (or rather, with evidence to the contrary), so also does the Bible, and the example he pointed to from the Bible was the Exodus story.

However, faith is not a blind leap in the dark. It has never been defined that way until the most recent centuries, and even then it has only been defined that way by liberals and the unorthodox, not by the traditional Christian body at large. To Christians, faith has nothing to do with the absurd. It is not more spiritual to believe in something without evidence and against reason – such an idea does not come from the Bible - it is harmful and foolish. If you can believe something without evidence then you can believe anything at all. That is not Christianity. Christianity is a religion of truth, not of falsehood and unreality.

If one objects by saying that in the Bible we are required to believe all sorts of wonderful things, like God parting the Red Sea, and the virgin birth, and the resurrection of the dead - all alleged absurdities - we respond by saying: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14) “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37) “Why should it be thought a strange thing that God can raise the dead?” (Acts 26:8) Faith is about believing in God, not believing in the absurd. The greatest statement of faith is: what is impossible with man is possible with God. We do not argue that virgins naturally give birth, nor that seas naturally part, nor that dead bodies naturally rise. Of course they don’t. But that is not our faith. Our faith is that God can do anything, and we call those miracles “miracles” precisely because they lie outside the realm of natural ability. To believe that miracles naturally occur is to believe absurdity. To believe that miracles occur by the power of God is to have true faith. One need only believe in the supernatural power of God and miracles no longer are absurdities, but rather testimonies of the presence of the Almighty.

To believe in the Exodus is not preposterous. That God could deliver Israel from their Egyptian captors with great signs and wonders, dividing the sea, and bringing them through it safely while crushing their enemies behind them – this is not outside the realm of possibility. The question that faces us in this article, however, is whether there is evidence for it; or is the Exodus to be compared to the Book of Mormon, which has no evidence for its alleged history, but rather has evidence to the contrary? It is the purpose of this article to show that the Exodus cannot be compared to the Book of Mormon based upon the argument that in both cases there is equally a lack of evidence; but rather, unlike the Book of Mormon, there is in fact a reasonable basis to believe that the Exodus is true history. I contend that the popular argument which says that the Exodus is unhistorical due to a lack of evidence is superficial and hasty. Before anyone passes judgment upon the historicity of the Exodus, they must carefully consider the case.

There is an immense difference between the case for the Book of Mormon and the case for the Exodus. It is important that we recognize this major point: that when dealing with the Book of Mormon we are dealing with centuries of civilizations, but when dealing with the Exodus we are dealing with a single event. The Book of Mormon claims that great Hebrew civilizations existed in the Americas from around 600 BC to the 15th century AD – civilizations complete with walled cities, road systems, large armies, and prosperous trade. Do you not think that this would be easy to discover? Our archaeological experience in other parts of the world tells us it should be. The size of the claim means that it should be quite easy to find evidence for it if were it true. On the other hand, the Exodus story concerns a single event which is said to have happened in just a short period of days around 1400 BC: a group of slaves left Egypt after ten dramatic wonders from God. Do you not think that it would be difficult to discover archaeological evidence for a brief event like this that happened thousands of years ago? Our experience searching for ancient events tells us this is so. The size of the claim means that it should be quite difficult to find evidence for it if it were true. Yet in spite of this, what is most fascinating is that while we cannot find any evidence to support the centuries of civilizations said to have existed in the Book of Mormon (though we have found plenty of evidence to the contrary), we do in fact find a surprising amount of evidence to support the event of the Exodus said to have happened in the Bible. Thus, where it should be easy to find, we do not find, and where it should be difficult to find, we find!

Let us now consider the evidence we find for the Exodus, but let us keep in mind the nature of the evidence we are looking for. It must be noted what we are not seeking to prove. We are not seeking to prove that ancient Egypt existed, or that the physical geography of the Biblical record is as it says it was. All the infrastructure and physical geography which the Exodus story requires is in place exactly as it should be. Egypt, with its cities and terrorities, existed in the ancient world just as the story describes. The geographical locations in the story are all in place, such as the Red Sea and the wilderness of Sinai. Nor are we trying to prove that the ancient Egyptians or Israelites even existed - this too is an established fact of ancient history. So unlike the Book of Mormon, we are not seeking to prove the infrastructure, locations or people of the story. The only thing we are looking for is evidence for an event. Is there any evidence that the Hebrews lived in Egypt and left Egypt as the Biblical record describes? That is the question.

Therefore, what kind of evidence do we need, then, to discover the event of the Exodus? The answer: documentation. Literature, art, pottery, monuments, coins... anything that would indicate that the Hebrews lived in Egypt and left Egypt in the manner described in the Bible. But let us be sure to take into account the difficulty we should expect when trying to find evidence for this kind of an event. We are trying to find documentation for one event in the tide of ancient history. Just finding documentation is difficult for any event in the ancient world. Even if something was written down thousands of years ago, you still have to find it, provided it has been preserved. On top of that, we are trying to find documentation for an event that involved slaves: people of no importance in the ancient world. In the social psyche of the ancients, slaves were looked down upon as the defeated, not worthy of mention, forsaken by the gods. The Exodus story is controversial to the ancient system of thought because it is the slaves who are victorious; the slaves who are honored and cared for by God. Furthermore, the Exodus event is an event that the Egyptians would not want to broadcast or remember. This latter point shouldn’t be underestimated. Unlike today, in the ancient world such an event becoming public would mean doom for a nation. Other nations would no longer fear their gods nor their military might. Who would want to ally themselves politically with them, a nation that God was against and that was defeated by slaves? And if the Egyptian gods were defeated by the God of slaves, what more incentive could other nations have to conquer the Egyptians themselves? Thus, the Exodus event would not only be a matter of great dishonor for the Egyptians, but it would be a matter of national survival to erase the memory of the Exodus from off the face of the earth.

However, despite the obvious difficulties to finding documentary evidence for the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt, we are not without such evidence. Several surprising accounts of the Exodus occur in the histories of various Greek and Roman writers, who wrote down the prevalent traditional history of what happened long ago in the land of Egypt. It is worth quoting some of these writers. The first is Hecataeus of Abdera, a Greek historian from the 4th century BC, who visited the city of Thebes in Egypt and wrote a history of Egypt entitled Aegyptiaca. Scholars agree that his writing reflects the Egyptian understanding of their own history. The famous passage on the Exodus is as follows:

When in ancient times a pestilence arose in Egypt, the common people ascribed their troubles to the workings of a divine agency; for indeed with many strangers of all sorts dwelling in their midst and practising different rites of religion and sacrifice, their own traditional observances in honour of the gods had fallen into disuse. Hence the natives of the land surmised that unless they removed the foreigners, their troubles would never be resolved. At once, therefore, the aliens were driven from the country, and the most outstanding and active among them banded together and, as some say, were cast ashore in Greece and certain other regions; their leaders were notable men, chief among them being Danaus and Cadmus. But the greater number were driven into what is now called Judaea, which is not far distant from Egypt and was at that time utterly uninhabited. The colony was headed by a man called Moses, outstanding both for his wisdom and for his courage. On taking possession of the land he founded, beside other cities, one that is now the most renowned of all, called Jerusalem. In addition he established the temple that they hold in chief veneration, instituted their forms of worship and ritual, drew up their laws and ordered their political institutions. He also divided them into twelve tribes, since this is regarded as the most perfect number and corresponds to the number of months that make up a year. But he had no images whatsoever of the gods made for them, being of the opinion that God is not in human form; rather the Heaven that surrounds the earth is alone divine, and rules the universe. The sacrifices that he established differ from those of other nations, as does their way of living, for as a result of their own expulsion from Egypt he introduced a kind of misanthropic and inhospitable way of life.” (Bibliotheca Historica, 40.3)

This is one of the most remarkable proofs that the traditional history of the ancient world was, based upon the Egyptians themselves, that the Hebrews (then living in Judea) actually originated from the borders of Egypt, and were expulsed from Egypt on account of religious controversy, in order to divert divine displeasure manifested by pestilence!

In Book V of his Histories, the famous Roman historian Tacitus, as he is about to describe the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 AD, thinks it is worthwhile to give a brief history of the city and of the Jewish people for the sake of putting the events he is relating into context. He begins by describing various views on the origin of the Hebrews, but then concludes by writing:

Most writers, however, agree in stating that once a disease, which horribly disfigured the body, broke out over Egypt; that king [Pharoah] Bocchoris, seeking a remedy, consulted the oracle of Hammon, and was bidden to cleanse his realm, and to convey into some foreign land this race detested by the gods. The people, who had been collected after diligent search, finding themselves left in a desert, sat for the most part in a stupor of grief, till one of the exiles, Moyses by name, warned them not to look for any relief from God or man, forsaken as they were of both, but to trust to themselves, taking for their heaven-sent leader that man who should first help them to be quit of their present misery. They agreed, and in utter ignorance began to advance at random. Nothing, however, distressed them so much as the scarcity of water, and they had sunk ready to perish in all directions over the plain, when a herd of wild asses was seen to retire from their pasture to a rock shaded by trees. Moyses followed them, and, guided by the appearance of a grassy spot, discovered an abundant spring of water. This furnished relief. After a continuous journey for six days, on the seventh they possessed themselves of a country, from which they expelled the inhabitants, and in which they founded a city and a temple.” (Histories, Book V.3)

While this interpretation on the story is actually quite comical, it contains many important elements that are relevant to our case. Tacitus informs us that the view of most writers in his day was that the Hebrew people did in fact live in, and leave, Egypt. Furthermore, they were expelled from Egypt in an attempt to appease the gods, due to a horrible disease that had broken out across the land (boils? Ex. 9:8-1). Tacitus, like Hecataeus, also goes on to mention Moses, and how the Hebrews afterward settled in Judea and Jerusalem. While it is certainly an interesting interpretation of the story, the parallels to the Biblical account are impressive.

Many more ancient historians can be cited who likewise recorded the traditional history of the Hebrews coming out of Egypt and settling in the land of Canaan, but the greatest documentary evidence for the Exodus event that we possess is none other than the Torah itself: a first-hand account of the event written by Moses and entrusted to the very people who came out of Egypt. The Torah is one of the world’s most ancient books, and must not be underestimated for its historical value. According to the testimony of a people, it has been copied and preserved from the earliest days of their national history, and this fact has been attested to by its spectacular historical accuracy of the ancient world. It is used by archaeologists to discover ancient sites and locations, ancient kings and peoples. The Smithsonian Institution has stated concerning the Bible:

Much of the Bible, in particular the historical books of the old testament, are as accurate historical documents as any that we have from antiquity and are in fact more accurate than many of the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, or Greek histories. These Biblical records can be and are used as are other ancient documents in archeological work. For the most part, historical events described took place and the peoples cited really existed. This is not to say that names of all peoples and places mentioned can be identified today, or that every event as reported in the historical books happened exactly as stated. There are conflicts between present archeological evidence and historical reports that may result from a lack of information on our part or from misunderstandings or mistakes by the ancient writers.”

On the other hand, their statement concerning the Book of Mormon is not so friendly:

The Smithsonian Institution has never used the Book of Mormon in any way as a scientific guide. Smithsonian archeologists see no direct connection between the archeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book.”

As mentioned before, that we should expect to find first-hand documentation of the Exodus event outside of the Bible is highly unlikely, since the Egyptians would not have recorded it (because  it would have spelled disgrace and doom upon their nation), but it is entirely to be expected that Israel should have recorded and remembered such a monumental event if it had in fact happened - and so they did. Thus both the Egyptian silence and the account in the Torah is exactly what we would expect to find if the Exodus is historical.

One significant and often overlooked evidence in favor of the historicity of the Exodus event comes from internal evidence in the Torah itself. It has been observed by many Old Testament scholars that whoever wrote the Book of Exodus was in fact familiar with Egyptian language and culture from the required period, even on points of minutia. Intimate knowledge of Egyptian names, places, gods, court life, idioms, concepts, and theological peculiarities, reveal that the author was a contemporary of the period and was not writing a history of Egypt from an ignorant distance. This is in sharp contrast with the author of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith. While Smith’s Book of Mormon claims to be an ancient document of the Hebrew people living in the Americas, upon examination it plainly exposed itself to be a product of the 1830’s, written by one who had little-to-no knowledge of the history, setting, geography or culture of the period he was writing about. The Book of Mormon is full of anachronism  (ex. nearly every theological debate unique to the 19th century is addressed in the Book of Mormon) and factual errors (ex. the Book of Mormon claims that horses, elephants and steel weapons were used by the Hebrews in the Americas. For more information, see Gerald and Sandra Tanner, Archaeology and the Book of Mormon). In short, the internal evidence of the Book of Mormon reveals that it is not an ancient historical document and that it’s author was not familiar with the period he was writing about, while on the other hand, the internal evidence of the Torah reveals that it is an ancient document and it’s author was well acquainted with the period he was writing about. “Whoever wrote the Torah must have known Egyptian.” (Professor of Egyptology at the Hebrew University, Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out, fn. 38, p. 411) Could it be that Moses, who grew up in Egypt, indeed wrote the Torah, and was in fact an eyewitness of the events recorded?

It is also highly significant that we do not have any documentary evidence against the Exodus event. No Egyptian writer, nor other ancient writer, ever wrote a refutation of the audacious claims of the Torah. If the event were a hoax there would have been such writings, and if there were such writings, they would have been popular. In that case, we would expect ancient historians to be conscious of Torah refutations, but no ancient historian was ever familiar with any such work. On the contrary, what we find ancient historians writing about is actually what we would expect if the Exodus event were true: not denial, but reinterpretation, and with plenty of points of corraboration. However, there are a few Egyptian documents from the event period that may actually corraborate with the Biblical account (though we cannot be absolutely certain; see Admonitions of Ipuwer, and the Biography of Amenemhab).

If we are looking for documentary evidence for the Exodus event we have certainly found it in the Torah. The only reason to doubt the historicity of the Exodus is due to disbelief in the supernatural. This we have already discussed above. Why couldn’t the Torah be accurate? There is no reason to believe that the Exodus couldn’t have happened: the geography and infrastructure is all there, the power of God is well able to do all the things recorded in the Scriptural record, and we have documentation of the event in the Torah. Ancient tradition attests to the Exodus story, and no writings refuting the story can be found. The nation of Israel has an unbroken witness to the Exodus in their yearly commemoration of the event by the Passover feast. This feast has its roots in the earliest period of Israelite history. Every Biblical author believed in the Exodus and spoke of it frequently to the people throughout the centuries. Preserving the memory of the Exodus is paramount to the identity of the Jewish people, not only because it marks the formation of their nation, but because it also defines their calling as God’s people. Furthermore, for those of us who are Christian, Jesus Christ the Son of God believed in the Exodus event. Against all this testimony, if such an event never occured, where did the idea come from? Why did all these people believe in it as having literally happened? Where is the evidence to the contrary? Was the Son of God mistaken?

However, our consideration of the evidence is not yet complete, even though we already have sufficient documentation to form a reasonable basis for believing that the Exodus event was historical. There is more evidence yet to be considered. 

Archaeologists claim to have discovered a remarkable proof that the Israelites lived in the land Egypt at the time required by the Biblical record, and what they have discovered actually coincides with a very special claim in the Bible: that Joseph the Hebrew lived in Egypt and became the second-in-command to Pharaoh himself (Gen. 41:40-46). Egyptian archaeologists claim to have discovered, in Egypt, Egyptian amulets and scarabs, the dating of which accords with the pre-Exodus period, bearing the face and inscription of Joseph, the second-in-command to Pharaoh (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/133601)! Apparently both his Hebrew and Egyptian name are on these coins. If these are authentic, this is powerful evidence showing the spectacular accuracy of the Bible, and that the Hebrews did in fact live in Egypt just as the Biblical record suggests. It was because Joseph lived in Egypt and could provide for grain them that the Hebrews first came to dwell in the land of Egypt.

The apparent absence of any physical trace for the actual parting of, and crossing through, the Red Sea, with the subsequent destruction of Pharaoh’s army, stands for most people as the case against the Exodus as historical. However, such a conclusion is hasty and does not fully consider the case. In the first place, finding physical traces of the actual parting and crossing of the Red Sea is unlikely. It was a nautical event that occurred on one day which involved no buildings or cities or obvious historical markers to remember it by. Outside of documentation, the only thing one might hope to find is remnants of the drowned Egyptian army (chariots, armor, weapons, etc) that perished in the sea. Yet despite the unlikeliness of finding anything at all, a few highly interesting discoveries have actually been made.

The coastal town Nuweiba, which sits on the eastern shore of the Sinai Peninsula on the Gulf of Aqaba, is believed by many to be the historical site of the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea (see map: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuweiba). Here, beneath the surface of the waves and therefore unexposed to the eye lies the remnant of an underwater land bridge that extends itself from the beach of Nuweiba unto the opposite shore in Saudi Arabia. The land bridge is approximately 0.6 miles wide and 9.6 miles long, spanning the entire distance from one shore to the opposite shore. 3500 years of erosion has, of course, disfigured the bridge from what it once was, but a plausible reconstruction can be discerned. This land bridge is a strikingly unusual feature in the area, and without it, even if the waters were parted, the Israelites could not have been able to cross to the other shore, since there would be no way to walk across due to the untraversable cliffs. This remarkable feature accords with the description of the Exodus by Isaiah the prophet: “Thus saith the Lord, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters.” (Isaiah 43:16) If there was a historical Red Sea crossing, as the Torah and ancient traditions attest, it probably had to have been here, for this place not only fits the Biblical description, but seems to be the only geographical location ideal for such an event (although other crossing points have been argued).



Is there any physical trace of the drowned Egyptian army? The answer to this question is that at this time we cannot answer. Divers have explored the bottom of the Red Sea and some have said that they have found remains such as chariot wheels and gold artifacts, but these cannot be confirmed due to the fact that the Egyptian government does not allow anything to be removed from out of the sea (see http://www.snopes.com/religion/redsea.asp). Based upon these reports, we can say that there may indeed be physical evidence of the Egyptian army, but we cannot say conclusively either way at this time. We must also consider that this event happened nearly 3500 years ago, and many factors will create difficultly for finding such evidence. Erosion, burial, coral growth, the equipment being moved or recovered - all these factors present significant obstacles to discovery. If such remains do exist, in order to discover them underwater excavations are required, and that is something that is costly and has not yet been done. People overestimate the achievements of archaeology, but the true fact is that archaeology is a young discipline and only a small portion of archaeological excavation has actually been done on our globe (though the small portion has yielded rich results). At the end of 2002, no nautical archaeological program existed in any Egyptian university (Ruppe and Barstad, International Handbook of Underwater Archaeology, p. 533), and only as recently as December 2008 was the first course in nautical archaeology given at Alexandria University (http://195.246.47.32/cma/news4.htm). The argument that there is no physical evidence for the drowning of the Egyptian army is premature.

Lack of evidence for anything is never a proof of falsehood – to prove something false, one needs to present positive evidence against it. Regarding the Exodus event, up to this point there is proof for it and no proof against it. However, the same cannot be said regarding the Book of Mormon. Unlike the Exodus event, where we are dealing with a one-day event in history, with the Book of Mormon we are dealing with thousands of years of alleged cities and civilizations, which not only has no evidence for it, but has positive evidence against it (for an excellent introduction, see The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1mFdO1wB08).

It also shouldn't surprise us that there would be little to no evidence of the Israelites in the Arabian wilderness during their forty years of wandering subsequent to their passing through the Red Sea. A forty year span isn't a long time to leave a lasting archaeological footprint for us to discover 3500 years later, especially considering that the Israelites built no cities nor buildings during this time (the mobile tabernacle doesn't count, which was a tent, not a building). Neither did they farm nor dig wells, but were miraculously fed with manna and quail from heaven and water from rock. This is an extremely significant point. If the Biblical story is in fact true, then what we find today (or rather don’t find) in the Arabian wilderness is exactly what we would expect; but if the Biblical story was merely a legendary modification of an actual historical wandering of the Israelites in the Arabian wilderness – the real story being entirely non-supernatural – then we would expect to have found traces of the Israelites in the wilderness, which we do not. Therefore the lack of physical evidence of the Israelites' forty year stay in the wilderness actually supports the Biblical account.

However, there does in fact exist what could be the most remarkable evidence of the Israelites' temporary stay in the Arabian wilderness. The Bible records that after Israel left Egypt and passed through the Red Sea, God brought the people to mount Sinai in Arabia (Exodus 19:1-2, Galatians 4:25). There God Himself came down upon the mount and gave the people His law. This event is the most important event in the Old Testament for the people of Israel, for it is here at mount Sinai that they entered into a covenant with God to be His people forever and to obey His commandments. Of great archaeological importance, the Bible records that mount Sinai burst into flames when God descended upon it, and the mount was literally on fire (Exodus 19:18, Deuteronomy 4:11, 5:23, Hebrews 12:18). If this event was historical, there ought to be at least some trace of this phenomenon – and some scholars believe that there is. In the Arabian wilderness (which to this day remains an uninhabited desolate wilderness perfectly matching the Biblical description of the wilderness that Israel wandered in; see for yourself on Google Earth), on the eastern side of the Gulf of Aqaba, a fascinating landmark exists: a mountain that many scholars consider to be the historical location of the Biblical mount Sinai. Jewish tradition has of old described mount Sinai as the highest peak in the land of Midian (the western part of modern day Saudi Arabia); today, this peak is called in Arabic “Jabal al-Lawz”, and not only is it the highest peak in the area, located in the right place which corresponds to the Biblical record, but the most surprising things about the mount is that it appears to be charred black as if by fire. Examiners have observed that the granite rocks are coated black, as if a volcano had erupted there, but the mount is not volcanic. What is the meaning of this? Could this in fact be the result of the presence of God as attested by the ancient story?  The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence.” (Nahum 1:5) The Saudi Arabian government has fenced off the area for archaeological purposes, but do not let foreigners examine it. Amazingly, the local Bedouins call the mount the “Mountain of Moses” and carry on an ancient tradition which memorializes it as the historical mount Sinai where Moses brought the people of Israel. Due to these and many more evidences that surround Jabal al-Lawz, more and more scholars are believing that it may truly be the Biblical mount Sinai, as opposed to the traditional and less attested location in the Sinai Peninsula. “Jabal al-Lawz may be the most convincing option for identifying the Mt. Sinai of biblical tradition.” (Allen Kerkselager, St. Joseph’s University) While more investigation is needed, this is an impressive landmark that may in fact be the historical mount Sinai of the Bible, thus providing physical evidence for the ancient Torah record (for more information, see Larry R. Williams, The Mountain of Moses).

But that is not all the physical evidence that can be presented concerning the Israelites’ forty year stay in the wilderness. There still stands today in the Arabian wilderness an absolutely stunning rock that by all appearances is split directly in two, with unmistakable evidence of a once flowing stream coming out of it’s base. This rock is called “The Split Rock of Horeb”, and is located in the very same vicinity as Jabal al-Lawz. It was reported by Jim and Penny Caldwell, an American couple who lived in Saudi Arabia for 12 years employed by the oil and gas industry, who discovered it while hiking in 1992. In the Book of Exodus, the children of Israel were murmuring against God because there was no water to drink (as indeed there is no water in the Arabian wilderness today), and God commanded Moses to take his rod and strike a prominent rock named “the rock in Horeb”. “And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.” (Exodus 17:5-6) According to the Torah, this rock was a known rock even before he struck it – probably because of its immense size and impressive feature. Today this rock, besides being unusually split, is itself immense and stunning. But even more spectacular is that this one rock is ostensibly split in two down the middle, with evidence of running water coming out of it’s base. This is quite possibly the rock that Moses struck to give water to the Israelites (for more information, see www.splitrockresearch.org).


These two physical evidences, Jabal al-Lawz and The Split Rock at Horeb, lend corroborating evidence to the case that the Exodus story in the Torah is in fact historical. However, there is yet another line of evidence that needs to be considered in the case for the historical Exodus, and that is the archaeological evidence of the emergence of Israel in the land of Canaan. Archaeologists have discovered that, in accordance with the Biblical record of Joshua, Judges and the four books of the Kings, the land of Canaan became inhabited by the Israelites and that Israelite culture dispossessed Canaanite culture beginning about 1400 BC. It is an undisputed fact that the Israelites conquered the ancient land of Canaan, and what is most interesting and relevant to the case for the historical Exodus is that this conquest occurred chronologically on the heels of Israel’s departure out of Egypt. So the Torah tells the story that Israel left Egypt c. 1450 BC, and archaeology confirms that Israel began conquering the Canaanites c. 1400 BC (for an excellent treatment of the conquest of Canaan and the remarkable archaeological discoveries regarding the battle of Jericho, see Joel Kramer, Jericho Unearthed). Though the emergence of Israel in the land of Canaan does not tell us what the Israelites were doing beforehand, it does show us that the Biblical time frame is accurate. This then contributes to our trust in the Biblical record of the Exodus.

To deny that the Exodus event could have happened in history is a stance driven more by unbelief than by a lack of evidence. As we have seen, contrary to popular argument, there is much evidence supporting the historical reliability of the Exodus story: documentation, tradition, artifacts, geography, infrastructure, timeline, physical landmarks, etc. In light of the fact that we are inquiring into a single event that happened 3500 years ago, this is an impressive catalog. It is not therefore a lack of evidence that causes people to disbelieve in the Exodus story, but it is rather an a priori conviction that such supernatural phenomenon cannot happen. Such a conviction is entirely unwarranted and philosophically unsound. Yet many people choose to commit to naturalism, precluding in their mind any possibility that Biblical stories like the Exodus might be true, and therefore they argue vigorously against them. But if one does not commit a priori to naturalism, and follows the evidence wherever it leads, one can believe in the Exodus account with a reasonable historical basis. Most importantly of all, when one believes in the Exodus event as historical, one takes side with the Jesus Christ, the Son of God from heaven.

In conclusion, it cannot be said that the Bible and the Book of Mormon are comparable in that they both require you to believe in the preposterous. Such may be the inevitable Mormon position, with its obvious lack of evidence and the mounting catalog of evidence against it, but it is not the Biblical position. Faith is not believing in something without evidence, but according to the Bible’s own definition of faith: “faith is the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) That is, though one does not have a perfect knowledge of something (ie. you cannot see it), one is convinced, based upon evidence and reason, that such a thing is true. Accordingly, we each exercise faith in many things everyday. You do not know perfectly that your workplace is still there, yet you get up in the morning and drive to work because you have good reason to believe it is, though you do not see it before you get there. God calls us to such faith in Him, and He supplies us with an abundance of reasons to believe; so much so that we are without excuse if we do not believe. Therefore, let us not be content to be either doubtful or absurd. Let us hear God’s call to faith as it is recorded by the prophet Isaiah: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:18)