Category Archives: Apologetics

Revolutionary Revelation in a Cultural Package

Revolutionary Revelation in a Cultural Package

OT scholar John Walton refers to divine revelation as “revolutionary revelation” in his OT Theology

The Old Testament (OT) is a strange and foreign world to many, including many Christians. The reason for this is simple: The writings which compose the OT ( or Hebrew Bible) were written in a cultural milieu much different from ours. Yet in spite of its many similarities with the culture of the ancient Near East (ANE), the OT has many unique features and beliefs not found in any other neighboring country or region of that era. OT scholar John Walton refers to this phenomenon as, “revolutionary revelation in a cultural package” (Old Testament Theology for Christians: From Ancient Context to Enduring Belief, p. 12–see link below).

This post is about some of the unique features of the OT. Such uniqueness causes one to ask, “How did writers in ancient Israel, come up with beliefs and ideas that were so counter-cultural?” Were they a race of geniuses? Or could it be that their claim of Divine Revelation is actually true? The context in which Walton uses the expression, “revolutionary revelation in a cultural package,” explains his answer to this question and is worth quoting at length. (The bold type and italics in the quote below are Walton’s and serve as one of the subheadings in his introductory chapter):

revolutionary revelation--John Walton
OT scholar and author John Walton

“Theology is to be understood within the framework of the ancient world, yet as the result of revelation that draws the people out of those ways of thinking. The Israelites were thoroughly immersed in the world and cultural framework of the ancient Near East, just as all of us are immersed in our own native cultures. However, God’s revelation of himself, though grounded in a specific culture, is capable of transcending culture. As a result, we can be transformed by that revelation, regardless of the time and space that separate us from the original revelation. The situation with ancient Israel was no different—God’s revelation called them away from the ways in which their culture inclined them to think and to be transformed in their minds. We have, then, a revolutionary revelation in a cultural package. But it is important to note that the Old Testament’s theology is situated against the backdrop of the ancient world’s customary ways of thinking.” (Walton, OT Theology, p. 12).

John Walton is not only an OT scholar, but is a scholar of the ancient Near East. As such, he is eminently qualified to address this topic. His writings include other works on the ancient Near East such as, “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament,” and “Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context.” The rest of this article will focus on 9 aspects of this “revolutionary revelation” in the OT as revealed in Walton’s Old Testament Theology. These are not the only unique features of Israel’s religion, there are others. These are enough, however, to substantiate that Israel’s outlook  and practices were qualitatively different in many aspects, in spite of sharing a common culture with its ancient Near Eastern neighbors.

Revolutionary Revelation in the Old Testament

  1. One Supreme God–this is probably the most obvious difference between Israel and its neighbors. It’s difficult to underscore just how revolutionary this belief is. All the nations of the ANE believed in a pantheon of gods. While one god might be considered the head of the pantheon, this could change. For example, the Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish recounts how the god Marduk is elevated to the head of the pantheon. The OT reveals that God has a council of divine beings (e.g., Ps. 82:1, 1 Kgs 22:19-22). However, none of these beings are equal to God. In fact, all were created by God. God allows these beings to participate with Him, just as God allows humans to participate in His plans. Walton explains how foreign this concept was to the other peoples of the ANE. He points out that people functioned and found their identity within community. They believed the gods did likewise. Walton then states, “With this brief discussion as a backdrop, we can understand the challenge of the theology revealed to the Israelites. How could one God do it all? Why would one God do it all? It would have been difficult for them to think of Yahweh as a cosmic deity, a phenomenon deity, a national deity, and a clan deity all at the same time. It just would not have made sense” (OT Theology, p. 38). The fact is, many Israelites had a hard time accepting this belief themselves. The OT is full of examples of Israel worshipping other gods. Given the mindset of the ANE, the idea of one supreme God overall only makes sense if it was received by divine revelation. No one in that culture would come up with such an idea!

    Moses and the burning bush
    Revolutionary revelation: A God who reveals Himself! Courtesy of pininterest
  2. A God who communicates and reveals Himself–I was honestly shocked to learn this one.  In the ANE although gods did, at times, reveal answers to oracular questions through divination (Should we go to war?, Will this famine end soon?), they didn’t offer an account of their plans or their attributes the way we are accustomed to seeing the God of Israel do in the OT. Walton states, “In the ancient Near East it was more common for the gods to manifest themselves rather than to reveal themselves. Gods “manifested” themselves in objects, images, names, celestial bodies, or other things that comprised the divine constellation” (OT Theology, pp. 43-44). Revelation of the kind we are used to speaking of, simply was not a thought that occurred to an ancient person. The gods were about having their needs met (see below), not about revealing themselves.
  3. A God of relationship–Of course, one of the reasons for self-revelation is for the purpose of relationship. It appears the gods of the ANE were little concerned with developing a relationship with their worshippers. One of the aspects of the God of Israel is his desire to dwell in their midst (e.g., the tabernacle and temple). Walton states, “Other gods dwelled among people, but they were not prone to claim a people group as their own” (OT Theology, p. 65). No other ANE deity ever said anything like, “I will be your God and you will be My people” (Exod. 6:7; Lev. 26:12; Jer. 7:23; etc.). While the OT is full of expressions of God’s love for His people, and people’s love for God (Deut. 6:4; 7:7-8; 23:5; etc.), such an expression from the ANE gods is rare. Walton writes, “The gods in general are considered to love (e.g., in Akkadian râmu) people, and people likewise love the gods, though it has been demonstrated that terms such as these in the ancient world are sometimes used to express the presence of political relationships rather than emotions. But such expressions from the gods are rare and are more often directed to the king than to the people at large. Even considering the myriads of royal inscriptions wherein the kings speak at length about the relationship between themselves and a god, clear expressions of emotion in either direction are little attested” (OT Theology, p. 57).
  4. Exclusive worship–If God is the one true God then it makes sense that He would require exclusive worship. While other nations had patron deities, for example, the Moabites’ god Chemosh, or the Babylonians’ god Marduk, no one expected them to be worshipped exclusively. After all, exclusive worship would offend the other gods! When one ancient Pharaoh by the name of Akhenaten attempted to force the worship of only one god (the sun god Aten), he was considered a heretic (see wikipedia article here).  Walton says that Israel’s practice was, “an idea unmatched in its particularity in the rest of the ancient world” (OT Theology, p. 66). Even today the insistence on worshipping only one God as the true God causes offense to many. Why would Israel go against the grain of ancient society, unless, as they claim, such action had been revealed to them?

    Atrahasis Epic
    The Atrahasis epic contains one version of the Babylonian creation story.
  5. The reason for creation–Perhaps the most revolutionary revelation (besides one supreme God), is in regards to creation. In the accounts of the creation of the world and humanity, there is a significant difference between Israel and the nations of the ANE. Most people who read this blog are probably aware that other nations of the ANE had creation stories (as well as Flood stories!). Scholars have noted some similarities between these accounts with the account in Genesis 1-3. One similarity relates to the creation of humanity. Genesis states that Adam was created from the dust of the ground. The Atrahasis epic states that 7 male and 7 female embryos were fashioned from clay. However, the major difference between the ancient creation accounts and Genesis is why God/the gods created human beings. Walton refers to the ANE ideas contained in the various creation accounts as “The Great Symbiosis.” Several quotes from Walton flesh out what is meant by the Great Symbiosis, and how this contrasts with the biblical account. “According to the theology of the Old Testament, God created the world for humans. This theology, however, stands in contrast to the ancient Near Eastern idea that the gods created the cosmos for themselves. In this view, humans, as afterthoughts, were to function as slaves of the gods to ensure the cosmos would continue to serve the deities’ needs” (OT Theology, p. 71). A few pages later, Walton writes, “The other gods order the cosmos to function for themselves, and people merely function as cogs in the machinery…. But in the Old Testament, Yahweh orders the cosmos to serve people, not himself, and it is ordered to be sacred space (by virtue of his presence there) (OT Theology, pp. 83-84). One final quote from Walton emphasizes the ANE perspective on the creation of humanity: “Conventional wisdom was that the gods wanted to be pampered, and if the people succeeded in meeting their every whim, the gods might just treat them well. After all, if the gods desired all of this pampering, they had to protect and provide for those who were diligent and conscientious in their ministrations. Experience, as the people interpreted it, had taught them that the gods were fickle, demanding, capricious, and disinterested in the cares of humans; the gods were interested only in their own comforts and were concerned primarily with their own needs” (OT Theology, p. 112). I have spent extra space on this point and provided extra quotes from Walton because it is such a significant difference. The idea that humans were created as the slaves for the gods to do the work they didn’t want to do was ubiquitous throughout the ANE. The biblical depiction is clearly superior and certainly more attractive. The question once again arises, “How did Israel come up with such a radically different concept?” As a side note, I find it interesting that many people today have a more ANE view of God than they do a biblical view. The picture of a god who only wants to use people for his own purposes aligns perfectly with the ANE, but is diametrically opposed to the God of the Hebrew Bible.

    Enuma Elish
    The Babylonian tablets containing Enuma Elish, one of the ANE accounts of creation.
  6. Cosmic Conflict vs. No Conflict in Creation–We can keep this one short. The Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish speaks of conflict between the gods resulting in the creation of the world. Genesis evidences no such conflict. The Creator God is in complete control and all of the cosmos is created by his sovereign word.
  7. The image of God–The biblical creation story states that all human beings (male and female) are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28). The image is not a characteristic or quality; it is a status. Humans are to rule the earth as God’s representatives. We have already noted that, in the ANE, humans were created to be slaves to the gods. The only one mentioned as being in the gods’ image is the king. Only the king is granted the status of rulership. Walton states, “…in the Old Testament, the image of God provides the primary description of human purpose and meaning. Human dignity in the Old Testament is found in the status and function people have as God’s image (OT Theology, p. 97). Because humanity is created in God’s image, this also means that Israel was not to permit any other likeness or image of God. This, of course, is stated clearly in the 10 commandments (Exod. 20:4). Walton writes, “Aniconism is observable in various ways in other times and places in the ancient Near East….However, total aniconism in the ancient Near East outside Israel is unknown. The significance of this is far-reaching and cannot be overstated” (OT Theology, p. 150).
  8. Sin and separation from God’s presence–Walton writes, “There is nothing like the fall in ancient Near Eastern literature because there is no idealized primeval scenario (OT Theology, p. 102). Furthermore, “Even the discussion of sin is problematic in an ancient Near Eastern context” (OT Theology, p. 102). People in the ANE certainly knew what it was like to offend a deity and to suffer for it, but the concept of sacrificing for atonement to restore a relationship was foreign to them (Remember, the gods were not interested in a relationship as such. Their interest was in how they could benefit from human existence). In the biblical understanding, sin separates a person from God. An unrepentant sinner can be driven from the presence of God (Gen. 4:14), or God can remove his presence from a sinful nation (Ezek. 11:22-23). The gods of the ANE would be considered foolish for removing humanity from their presence–they needed them! Humans were created to do the work and to offer the sacrifices that fed the gods. To remove humanity would be devastating! In the Atrahasis epic the gods actually find this out when they attempt to destroy humanity with a flood. They soon realize their mistake as there is no one left to offer them sacrifices to feed them or to do their work. Fortunately, one of the gods, Enki, has saved Atrahasis in a boat (sound familiar?). When Atrahasis leaves the boat, he offers sacrifices to the gods. The story humorously states that the gods gathered around the sacrifice like flies! Although one can see a few similarities with the Genesis story of the Flood, the qualitative differences in the biblical story are undeniable.

    God makes a covenant with Abram
    The God of the OT (and NT) is a covenant-making God.
  9. A God who makes covenants with people–We have already noted that one of the distinctive features of the Bible is that God is a God of relationship, while the gods of the ANE are not much interested in partnering with people. One of the ways this is expressed in Scripture is the making of covenants between God and people. Once again we have a unique feature that is not found in the ANE. Walton states, “In the ancient Near East, the idea of a god who made a covenant with a group of people was unique to Israel—a circumstance for which we have little precedent. Gods did, however, make covenants with kings… (OT Theology, p. 105). We noted above that the image of God can apply to kings in the ANE, but not with the general public. The same is true of making covenants. But we have no record of gods making a covenant with a group of people. In the OT we read of God making a covenant with Noah and the whole earth, promising not to flood it again (Gen. 9:8-17). Beginning with Abram, God makes a covenant with an individual who will grow into a family, which will, in turn, grow into a nation. Along these lines Walton writes, “The transition from an agreement with a family to an agreement with an ethnic group/nation is paralleled by the transition of Yahweh from a family God (“personal god”) to a national God. No other examples exist in the ancient world of such a relational transition by a god” (OT Theology, p. 120). In other words, once a family god, always a family god. Once a national deity, always a national deity, etc. In the ANE, there was no need for one god to fill many roles, after all, there were plenty of gods to go around. Not so in biblical teaching. Only one God was supreme (see #1 above), and he fulfilled all necessary roles.

Conclusions Regarding Revolutionary Revelation

Very few people go against the values and beliefs that are prevalent in their culture. To do so leads to ridicule, rejection, and in severe cases, persecution and death. In fact, most of us assimilate our cultural values and beliefs without giving it much thought. Throughout this post we have noticed that Ancient Israel, while having many similarities with its neighbors, differed in significant ways. These beliefs and practices were enough to make them “stand out in the crowd.” According to Scripture, this was the purpose. Israel was to be a nation of priests to draw others to the true God (Gen. 12:3; Exod. 19:5-6; 1 Kgs. 8:43, 60). These differences, however, did come with a price (e.g., Daniel 3:8-18).

revolutionary revelation--3 men in the fiery furnace
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refused to bend to the cultural practices and beliefs of Babylon.

The OT testifies to the fact that not all Israelites were willing to swim against the current of ANE culture. We read of much compromise in its pages. This leads to the question of why a group within Israel proclaimed and clung to these radically different beliefs and practices–a question I have noted a few times above. Again, we must ask, “Where did these beliefs and practices come from?” Why Israel and no other nation? How is it that every other nation of the ANE had similar beliefs and practices, but Israel was unique? Not only that, but Israel also produced a unique literature we call the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. This characteristic is not only true of Israel in the Old Testament era, the same can be said for a group of Jewish believers in the New Testament era. Many of the beliefs and practices of early Christianity were also counter-cultural. I have noted some of these counter-cultural beliefs in an article entitled, “Evidences for the Cross and Resurrection.” Did Israelites just have a thing about being counter-cultural? Did they enjoy the ridicule and persecution of others? Why not another nation or group of people? Why always Israel? I believe Walton’s explanation is the best and most logical. Israel was gifted by God with a revolutionary revelation.

Walton’s Old Testament Theology is available at  Amazon USA / UK. A digital version is also available at Logos/Faithlife.

Revolutionary revelation

 

Evidence for the Cross and Resurrection

Evidence for the Cross and Resurrection

The message of the cross and resurrection of Jesus is so counter-cultural that it could not have been fabricated by the early church.
The message of the cross and resurrection of Jesus is so counter-cultural that it could not have been fabricated by the early church.

For anyone who desires to investigate the cross and resurrection of Christ, there are a number of solid evidences for its reality. In this article I will seek to demonstrate that there are several facts inherent in the preaching of the early Christians that, based on the society in which they lived, could not and would not have been fabricated. These facts include items that are so counter-cultural that it is not only unlikely that they would be made up, but impossible to believe that such a proclamation would be accepted by the Jewish, and Graeco-Roman society of the first century, unless there was demonstrable truth behind them. As Bible scholar Ben  Witherington III remarks, “When you know the context of the New Testament texts—the world and cultures in and to which these stories were written—you quickly realize that sometimes the incongruities and unusual aspects in the story testify to their historical veracity and authenticity” (Biblical Views: Making Sense of the Unlikely Easter Story, BAR Mar/Apr 2011).

Honor & Shame and the Cross

This graffito, found in the pagan catacombs of Rome (1st-3rd century AD) illustrates how a majority reacted to the idea of a crucified savior. It reads, "Alexamenos worshipping his god."
This graffito, found in the pagan catacombs of Rome (1st-3rd century AD) illustrates how a majority reacted to the idea of a crucified savior. It reads, “Alexamenos worshipping his god.”

The number one reason why the message of the cross could not be fabricated is because of the basic foundational values of honor and shame that pervaded all first century Mediterranean culture. I have written about the significance of this briefly elsewhere (Cross Examination: The Cross of Christ in the Roman World), and so I will only note a few important points here. Being connected with honorable people was important on every level of ancient Mediterranean culture. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that maintaining one’s honor was critical for any kind of quality of life (see the recent podcast on honor and shame by myself and Lindsay Kennedy at Beyond Reading the Bible). The cross was not only intended to torture its victim, but to shame them so that no one would want to be affiliated with them. This is why a person was crucified naked, was beaten, mocked, and spit upon and exposed publicly (e.g., Matt. 27:29-30). The shame of the cross is the backdrop for all of the passion narratives in the gospels and for passages such as 1 Corinthians 1:18 and Hebrews 12:2. Witherington states, “It was not seen as a noble martyrdom of any sort. People in that world believed that the manner of your death most revealed your character. On that basis, Jesus was a scoundrel, a man who committed treason against the state, a man who deserved the punishment used for slave revolts. The Romans called it ‘the extreme punishment,’ and no Roman citizen would be subjected to it” (Making Sense, cited above). The fact is, Roman crucifixion was so effective that it quelled every rebellion in the ancient world. Whether we are talking about the slave rebellion under Spartacus, which saw the crucifixion of 6000 men, or the uprisings of would-be deliverers and messiahs, every movement was put down and silenced by the use of the cross. Every movement that is…except for one! The fact that the early disciples went about preaching “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) is an astonishing fact, given the cultural dynamics of honor and shame. No one in this society would think, “I believe I’ll start a new religion and base it on a man who was crucified.”  Again Witherington states, “It wouldn’t make sense to create a story about a crucified and risen man being the savior of the world—unless you really believe it is historically true.” Teaching about the cross offered a life of rejection and persecution for those who proclaimed it, and the New Testament bears eloquent witness to this fact. Why would anyone make this teaching a part of their new religion unless it was true? To summarize: In a society of honor and shame, with crucifixion expressing the deepest kind of shame possible, the message of the cross and the resurrection was counter-cultural to the utmost and would never have been considered viable, and would never have been preached, if it were not true.

The Resurrection On the Third Day

Dr. Bock's mobile ed course from Logos goes into various details regarding the cross and resurrection.
Dr. Bock’s mobile ed course from Logos goes into various details regarding the cross and resurrection.

The rest of the information in this article is taken from Dr. Darrell Bock’s Mobile Ed Course entitled: “Introducing the Gospels and Acts: Their Background, Nature, and Purpose,” from Logos/Faithlife Corporation. The quotations which follow will come from this source (unless otherwise noted). Dr. Bock points out that while the Jews (or at least some of them) believed in a physical resurrection at the end of time, the idea that some would be resurrected in the midst of history was a novelty. He states, “So what causes the mutation in the normal Jewish view? One could have defended Jesus and His future and His identity by simply saying, “Well, when the resurrection comes at the end of history, Jesus will run the judgment. He will be raised and exalted and run the judgment.” That would be how to do it on the basis of Jewish precedent and expectation. You wouldn’t need a resurrection in the midst of history. And yet, what we get is the resurrection in the midst of history. Something has put pressure on creating that mutation in Jewish expectation and Jewish thought.” In other words, the disciples of Jesus must have had a reason for changing normal Jewish understanding and expectation. It is much easier to accept a new religion if it falls in line with old beliefs. Why change this expectation of resurrection? Answer: Because it must have happened that way.

Graeco-Roman Philosophy and Resurrection

One of the challenges presented by taking the gospel to the Graeco-Roman world, was not only that the cross was considered a shameful way to die, but also that the Greeks and Romans did not believe in a physical resurrection. To them it was nonsense (e.g., Acts 17:32). Regarding this Dr. Bock states, “the bulk of the Graeco-Roman hope has no resurrection in it. You either died and your body decomposed and there was no hope whatsoever, or there was a belief in some type of immortality of the soul—a spiritual form of resurrection but no physical dimensions to it whatsoever. And so Graeco-Romans either had immortality of the soul or you died at death, so the resurrection would be a completely new concept . . . . a problematic concept for a lot of the Graeco-Romans. Once again we see that the gospel message of the cross and resurrection faced an uphill battle. Anyone seeking to appeal to both the Jews and Gentiles of the time would not have incorporated so many controversial ideas into a religion that they wanted to promote, unless there was some basis for them.

Women As Witnesses

Mary tells the apostles she has seen Jesus.
Mary tells the apostles she has seen Jesus.

With all deference to any women reading this post, the testimony of women in the ancient world was considered unreliable. Here is what Bock says on this subject: “It’s very important to appreciate how crucial this idea is, because in the culture of the time, women could not be witnesses and weren’t viewed as credible witnesses. The only time a woman could testify in a court case and be involved as a witness are in some cases of sexual abuse. But otherwise, she didn’t count as a witness, and we have numerous texts both in the Mishnah and in the Talmud that make the statement that a woman’s testimony is not to be taken or trusted.” How is this significant for the preaching of the resurrection? Each of the gospels testifies that it was women who first saw and proclaimed the resurrection to Jesus’ disciples (Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-7; Luke 24:1-10; John 20:1-2, 11-18). This is not the way anyone in the ancient world would seek to establish credibility for their teaching or new religion. Bock sums it up this way: “So you’re in a PR meeting, and this is going to be the case you’re going to make: ‘I’ll tell you how we keep hope alive. Let’s talk about a resurrection because Judaism expects a physical resurrection. Let’s talk about a resurrection in the midst of history. That’s a new idea. And let’s sell that idea, which is an unpopular idea. Graeco-Romans don’t have it. Let’s sell that idea by having our first witnesses be people who culturally don’t count as witnesses.’ You would never make up the story this way if it were made up. You would figure out a different way to do it. In other words, the women are in the resurrection story because the women were in the original resurrection story.”

Criterion of Embarrassment

Courtesy of kingofwallpapers.com
Courtesy of kingofwallpapers.com

The criterion of embarrassment is one of the standards used to determine whether something is historical or not. In other words, if you are making something up (i.e., a new religion) you want to put all the leaders and their actions in the best light. You do not want to tell stories that might discredit them. Yet this is exactly what the gospels do! For example, when the women return to declare to the disciples that Jesus has risen, they refuse to believe, according to Luke 24:11: “And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.” You mean Peter’s initial reaction, along with the other apostles, was unbelief? We can understand this response. It actually has the ring of authenticity because you and I would react the same way. However, when you are trying to promote a new religion would you really want to put all of the leaders of the new movement in such a bad light? The gospels not only do it here, but in many other places! In fact, one of the statements that causes even skeptical scholars to accept that Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection is the account that immediately follows his prediction. After Jesus tells his disciples about his death, Peter takes him aside and rebukes him which causes Jesus to respond, “Get behind me Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God but the things of men” (Mark 8:33; also Matt. 16:23). Having the leader called “Satan” is certainly an embarrassing fact and would certainly never have been recorded unless it had really happened. Imagine the disciples making up Christianity and in this made up story they have Peter as the leader of the apostles preaching the first sermon on that Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2). The same Peter who denied Jesus and who Jesus also called Satan! This is not the way to begin a new religion if you want your leaders to have credibility! Therefore, the criterion of embarrassment has a ring of authenticity about it. Why would such stories be made up? Although the following quote refers to the historical nature of the Old Testament, it is applicable to our discussion here. In comparing the accounts of other ancient peoples, Hoffner states, “Part of what makes Israel’s historical records so distinctive when compared with those of Egypt, Babylon, Ugarit, and the Hittites is that the kings’ mistakes and sins are so clearly and openly described and rebuked by the prophets” (Hoffner, H. A., Jr., 1 & 2 Samuel, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, Lexham Press, 2015). In other words, it is the nature of biblical writing to be honest about its leaders and this is contrary to the written records of other peoples in the Ancient Near East.

Conclusion: The Validity of the Cross and Resurrection

When one considers the birth of the Christian message which centered around the cross and resurrection of Jesus, the deck was certainly stacked against the possibility of its success, given the social conditions of the Graeco-Roman world. The early Christians proclaimed that their Savior and God was a man who died on a Roman cross (“the emblem of suffering and shame” as one wonderful hymn puts it). This is strike one in a culture based on honor and shame–in fact, it’s really a knock-out punch all on its own. After being crucified, Christians proclaimed that this Jesus had risen from the dead, something that no Gentile in the Roman world believed in, and something that Jews only thought would happen at the end of time (for those who believed there was such a thing as resurrection!). This is strike two. “We can prove it,” say the early Christians, “because there were some women who told us it was true!” Strike number three. Your religion doesn’t have a prayer of being accepted by anyone with testimony like that. But after being down and out with three strikes, the Christians persist by saying that you should listen to Jesus’ disciples even though they all originally denied him, did not believe that he rose from the dead, and that their ring-leader was even called Satan by Jesus himself. Somebody surely needs to give these early Christians some suggestions on how to start a new religion because, clearly, they haven’t got a clue!

And yet history tells a very different story. In spite of the hundreds and thousands of other gods and religions that existed in the first century Roman empire, Christianity outlasted them all. In fact, people came to believe the message of the  cross and resurrection so fervently that they stopped worshipping other gods and all of those religions, so much more palatable to the tastes of people at the time,  disappeared. The cross, a symbol of shame and reproach, was even transformed into a symbol of victory and honor. Look at all of human history and understand that such things do not happen. The reason Christianity not only survived but thrived, was because it was true and was backed up by the power of God.