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Life, Theology & Discipleship with Wes Woodell

Why ‘Accepting Jesus into Your Heart’ is Superstitious & Unbiblical, and How Believer’s Baptism Can Be Equally So

Before you read further, please watch this video by prominent Baptist pastor David Platt:.

As David points out in the clip, the idea of “accepting Jesus” or praying a prayer unto salvation isn’t found in the Bible. While I agree with his sentiment, prudence mandates clarification.

First, the obvious – the sinner’s prayer and the idea of “accepting Jesus” simply isn’t found in scripture.

Second, I agree with Platt’s sentiment because often if not most of the time in churches that advocate the use of the sinner’s prayer as a valid form of evangelization, the prayer is offered up as a “quick fix” to heal one’s broken relationship with God without repentance. Before becoming a Christian, I was personally told by tracts and people attempting to convert me that, “If you will just say this prayer, you will be saved when you die no matter what.”

I wasn’t taught to turn from sin, to stop using drugs, to stop sleazing around, to stop doing violence with my words, to in any way submit myself to the LORD, or that I needed to change anything. All I needed to do was say a few magic words, and POOF – I would be saved, and once saved always saved.

I had been hit in the head a few times up to that point in my life, but even so their teaching didn’t sound right to me. In fact, I thought it was stupid, and later in life when I read the Bible for myself I learned for certain that it was – Jesus taught much differently.

In Luke 13:3 & 5 Jesus, speaking to a crowd who believed God’s judgment would be reserved only for the worst of people, said:

“Unless you repent, you too will perish!”

Jesus taught that’s God’s coming wrath would not be reserved only for the worst of the worst, but for anyone who refuses to repent (i.e. turn from sin and live for Jesus).

In Luke 14:27, Jesus said:

“Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

In the Bible, being a disciple is synonymous with being saved. Notice, Jesus says you must follow Him in order to be His disciple or to be saved.

Herein lies the problem with the sinner’s prayer: people are taught to pray it, then to live their lives as if Jesus were following them.

That’s not repentance, biblical, or the mark of a disciple – it’s heresy, and I do not use that word lightly at all. It is h e r e s y – teaching people repentance is optional is to speak death into their lives.

Matt Dabbs wrote a response to this video clip earlier. In his post, Matt reflects on how the early church responded to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” I’m in agreement with what he has to say. We have many examples in the Bible that the response the early church had to that question was, “Repent, be baptized, be filled with the Holy Spirit”, and of course this was understood to be the first step in one’s lifelong service to Christ.

What worries me is this: many today teach people to be baptized, but neglect teaching those same people to repent, and neglect teaching them that repentance is something that will be on-going along with teaching (as the Great Commission mandates).

While baptism is a “first step” one should take in their new walk with God, it can be just as powerless and unbiblical as the traditional teaching surrounding the sinner’s prayer if a person is not fully committing themselves to follow Jesus for life.

In addition to Romans 6, 1 Peter 3:21 is the passage that has most influenced my understanding of this:

“… and this water [speaking of the Noahic floodwaters] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”

The Greek word translated “pledge” in this verse is the same word used to describe the “pledge” a soldier was required to make to his commanding officer when joining the Roman Army. The soldier pledged to follow the orders of his commander even if it meant death – he literally had to pledge his life to his commander.

In the same way, when we decide to follow Jesus, we pledge to give our entire lives to our Commander – King Jesus. This is required to be in His army, the church.

Baptism is the biblical prescription for making that pledge, and a willing heart motivated by the love of Christ is the only prerequisite.

I truly believe it’s that willing, submissive, humble heart that God responds to – a heart that has caught a glimpse of the beauty of Jesus causing one to pour over, “You are God, and I am not!” – a heart that is willing to pledge all to living under the rule of Christ.

That being said (and this may challenge some readers): I know a lot of people whose understanding of baptism differs from my own, but I do not doubt their salvation.

Why? Because of the fruit I see that is readily before my eyes – the fruit that only comes from a heart living out faithful submission to Jesus.

On the flipside, I’ve encountered others who agree with my understanding of baptism, but the fruit I’ve seen makes me wonder where their heart really is and if Jesus has it at all.

This is truth: the New Heaven and New Earth will be filled with people who had some very different ideas and beliefs about important things while on earth, but they all had one thing in common: they lived with hearts in submission to Jesus Christ – imperfect, finite, fragile hearts relying on their Savior.

Who knows? Some of them might have even prayed the sinner’s prayer … because in the end it’s not about a prayer or baptism – it’s about hearts submitting to Jesus Christ who are in it for the long haul.

I’ll not pray for Jesus to come into my heart, but I will pray that my heart be in submission to His.

In the end, that’s what really matters.

Comments

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42 Replies

  1. Thanks Wes. Did you read Joey’s comment on my post? He said,

    “The “believer’s prayer” is part of the individualization of the Gospel that has happened in the West. “Come into MY heart” rather than, by baptism, entering into HIS Story.” You reflected some of that sentiment in your post and I think it is right on track. The problem with everything, even perfectly good and biblical things is that people are involved in the process so we are likely to mess up even the most simple of things. I am so thankful that God is full of grace. Last, we need to stop talking about baptism as if it was a work. I don’t wonder at all why various groups think we believe we are saved by works because, honestly, we have talked like we are for many years. It is time we get it straight and reflect in our teaching a biblical view of baptism as a submissive and grace-filled act where God is the one who does the saving, not me twisting God’s arm by checking all the right boxes. That doesn’t mean baptism is unimportant. It does mean it needs to be properly understood.

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    1. Thanks for the reply, Matt. This is a bit off-topic but since you alluded to works, I believe the contemporary conversation surrounding works based salvation is largely based on a false premise. I’m not sure but that Paul wasn’t speaking specifically about works of the Judaic Law each time he brought up the subject in the New Testament as opposed to “works of righteousness” as Luther, Calvin, and others understood it. I need to study this some more, but that’s my current leaning.

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      1. Depends on your view of the New Perspective on Paul (E.P. Sanders, Dunn, etc) who say the Mosaic law was not really a system of works righteousness like we have seen it in the past. Rather, that view came from reading Luther back into the Law. You can read up on covenantal nomism if you want more on that. That might inform your thoughts on that topic.

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      2. Let me explain a bit more, just the basics. The NPP says that in the Law people were “in” based on identifying markers of Judaism which included circumcision, dietary laws, sabbath and holy days. What kept you in were the laws and conventions put in place by the Law (namely sacrifice for forgiveness of sins). We have typically viewed the whole law as what get you and keeps you in and as a system of works righteousness. The NPP would say it was not that at all. Hope that helps.

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      3. Daniel W

        Wes, I think you may be right. I have been thinking about this a lot recently as I’ve been teaching an Intro to New Testament class this semester and lecturing a lot on Paul. It seems that Paul WAS consistently talking about the works of the law. Furthermore, he often tells his churches that they must do certain things to be saved. For example, look at 1 Cor 6:9-11. He lists wrongdoers who will not inherit the kingdom of God, and he is speaking to people who have presumably accepted the gospel and been baptized. It sounds like he is saying there are things people have to do to be saved. And by saying that, I am setting off the works-righteousness alarm and Luther might pop out of his grave and punch me in the face. But seriously, if Paul did not mean works of the Law when he said that works will not save us, then what kind of exegetical gymnastics do we have to do to explain away verses like the one I just cited? Also, this understanding of Paul squares better with other biblical texts such as James and Rev 20:12-13.

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        1. The Jew/Gentile division was the biggest problem Paul was facing in the church in the first century. It’s obvious he devoted tons of time to teaching about it in addition to writing about it.

          Paul states the purpose of his ministry in Romans 1:5-6 – to call people to the obedience that comes from faith. Isn’t it interesting that, even though he states that plainly in the Roman letter, people have attempted to use certain verses from the Roman letter to teach you don’t really have to obey?

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  2. I’m somewhat familiar. I read Dunn’s commentary on Romans while taking a Greek exegesis course covering Romans at Fuller.

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  3. Baptism is no more a work than believing is a work or repentance a work. When Jesus tells you to do something, obeying Him is NOT a work. Obeying is the action of belief.

    It’s NOT my place to judge who is and who is not saved. God will do that. That being said, Scripture makes it pretty clear that we don’t have excuses anymore. And Jesus said that obeying Him was loving Him. Jesus Himself make it pretty clear who was going to Heaven in Matt 7:21. “Those who DO the will of the Father”.

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  4. I have a book review of Gordon T. Smith, “Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation,” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010., in the latest issue of Restoration Quarterly. I would highly recommend this book. Smith takes to task the “Sinner’s Prayer” approach, basically exposing it as being unbiblical and unhelpful in the making of disciples. He equates Evangelicalism’s conversion process with simply being interested in saving souls rather than making disciples. In my own more crass terms, his argument is that Evangelicalism’s approach to conversion is simply about getting people their ticket to heaven (eternal salvation).

    While the Restoration Movement has insisted upon keeping believer’s baptism connected to the conversion process, it is my judgment that our function of baptism has been nothing more than the same function as the sinner’s prayer. That is, people are taught to be baptized so that they can be assured of having their ticket to heaven; rarely do we hear of baptism being taught for the purpose of disciple making so that baptism becomes a commitment to discipleship whereby it is an act of repentance as it was in Acts.

    Any ways, I am glad to see others (such as Chan, Platt, and Smith) within the broader world of Evangelicalism start to speak out about this.

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex

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    1. Thanks for the book recommendation, Rex. We must be about making disciples.

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  5. Johnny Bond

    The thought process and teaching of a “personal savior” in Jesus is akin to having a guardian angel. Think along with me, if you were drowning in a pool, or lake, or ocean and a man or woman jumped in and saved you you would be grateful. You would buy them dinner and be thankful for a period of time. However, over the course of your life, your involvement with them would wane to the process of adding them to your Christmas card list, and maybe a thank you card on the anniversary of them saving you (sound familiar?).

    However, if you were to join the service, or police force then you take an oath of office to subject yourself and obey the laws of this nation. When we repent and are baptized we are making a pledge to serve our King Jesus. Not be thankful to someone who pulls our butts out of a bad situation from time to time.

    Thank you Wes for sharing this with us. A beautiful call to be more than grateful, and begin to serve a King.

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    1. That’s what I’m talkin’ about – thanks Johnny 🙂

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  6. BigDrG

    So many excellent comments. It’s such a paradox that we could teach the right thing (baptism) but be so wrong in how we do it (not including repentance and discipleship as an integral part of the discussion). Yeah, we mouth the words and repeat the phrases, but living it out?… So sad, but that doesn’t happen as well as it should. I know of many rural churches in the north Alabama area that will staunchly stand against clapping while the church is assembled. (Mostly they mean during singing, but they would object to anyone celebrating a baptism by applause too.) They will get up in arms about all of that but aren’t bothered by “faithful members” who sit there with no expression on their face and no song on their lips. Sure, unless you’re a song leader you don’t see that since we’re all facing in one direction and no one dares look around lest they make eye contact… Point is they’re getting the forms down right, but discipleship is woefully lacking. A really disciple will be singing with a sincerity and a fervor that accomplishes the “teaching and admonishing one another” that Jesus intended.

    Another thing too is that we don’t exactly understand repentance correctly. I’ve always heard that it’s a change of heart or a change of mind that leads to a change of direction — that your mind was hellbent on sinning so that’s the direction you’re walking, but you repent and change you mind / heart and decide to do right so you quit sinning and do a 180 and head back to God. That’s close, kinda. And if that understanding actually got someone to change their sinful ways then I won’t dispute it with them, but really it’s more significant than that. Repentance in the Greek is meta-noia, which means mind-change (kinda like it instructs in Romans 12:1-2). God is omnipresent, so we don’t have to turn 180 degrees to get back to him. We don’t have to turn 360 degrees or 37 degrees or 298 degrees. We have to have a radically different mindset. We have to think entirely different. Meta-noia would be like changing our direction to something perpendicular to the plane we walk in (kinda, it’s a spiritual endeavor so dimensions and their measurements don’t apply).

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    1. Good points, G – thanks for the comment

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  7. gary

    Isn’t it odd that if the Baptists and evangelicals are correct that their “born again experience” is the true and ONLY means of salvation, the term “born again” is only mentioned three times in the King James Bible? If “making a decision for Christ” is the only means of salvation, why doesn’t God mention it more often in his Word? Why only THREE times? Isn’t that REALLY, REALLY odd?

    Why is it that the Apostle Paul, the author of much of the New Testament, NEVER uses this term? Why is this term never used in the Book of Acts to describe the many mentioned Christian conversions? Why is this term only used by Jesus in a late night conversation with Nicodemus, and by Peter once in just one letter to Christians in Asia Minor?

    If you attend a Baptist/evangelical worship service what will you hear? You will hear this: “You must be born again: you must make a decision for Christ. You must ask Jesus into your heart. You must pray to God and ask him to forgive you of your sins, come into your heart, and be your Lord and Savior (the Sinner’s Prayer). You must be an older child or adult who has the mental capacity to make a decision to believe, to make a decision to repent, and to make a decision to ask Jesus into your heart.”

    It is very strange, however, that other than “you must be born again” none of this terminology is anywhere to be found in the Bible! Why do Baptists and evangelicals use this non-biblical terminology when discussing salvation?

    Maybe it’s because…making a “decision” for Christ is NOT the manner in which sinners are saved!

    Gary

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

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  8. In relation to the “sinner’s prayer,” the study of Romans 10:9-14 here, which demonstrates exegetically that the passage has nothing to do with the lost saying a sinner’s prayer, is most valuable:

    http://faithsaves.net/exegesis-application-romans-109-14-soulwinning-churches-christians-passage-teach-sinners-prayer/

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  9. gary

    I accepted Jesus into my heart at age nine. I loved being a Christian. I loved Jesus and I loved the Bible. I loved witnessing to non-believers and loved defending my belief in (the Christian) God and orthodox/conservative Christianity. Then one day someone challenged me to take a good, hard look at the foundation of my beliefs: the Bible. I was stunned by what I discovered.

    1. The Bible is not inerrant. It contains many, many errors, contradictions, and deliberate alterations and additions by the scribes who copied it. The originals are lost, therefore we have no idea what “God” originally” said. Yes, its true—Christians can give “harmonizations” for every alleged error and contradiction, but so can the Muslims for errors in the Koran, and Mormons for errors in the Book of Mormon. One can harmonize anything if you allow for the supernatural.

    2. How do we know that the New Testament is the Word of God? Did Jesus leave us a list of inspired books? Did the Apostles? Paul? The answer is, no. The books of the New Testament were added to the canon over several hundred years. Second Peter was not officially accepted into the canon until almost the FIFTH century! So why do all Christians accept every book of the New Testament as the word of God and reject every non-canonical “gospel”? Answer: the ancient (catholic) Church voted these books into your Bible. Period.

    There is nowhere in the OT or the NT where God gives men the authority to determine what is and what is not his Word. If Second Peter was really God’s Word, the entire Church should have known so in the first century.

    3. Who wrote the Gospels? We have NO idea! The belief that they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is based on hearsay and assumptions—catholic tradition. Protestants denounce most of the traditions of the Catholic Church but have retained two of the most blatant, evidence-lacking traditions which have no basis in historical fact or in the Bible: the canon of the NT and the authorship of the Gospels.

    The only shred of evidence that Christians use to support the traditional authorship of the Gospels is one brief statement by a guy named Papias in 130 AD that someone told him that John Mark had written a gospel. That’s it! Papias did not even identify this “gospel”. Yet in 180 AD, Irenaeus, a bishop in FRANCE, declares to the world that the apostles Matthew and John and the associates of Peter and Paul—Mark and Luke—wrote the Gospels. But Irenaeus gives ZERO evidence for his assignment of authorship to these four books. It is well known to historians that it was a common practice at that time for anonymously written books to be ascribed to famous people to give them more authority. For all we know, this is what Irenaeus did in the case of the Gospels.

    The foundation of the Christian Faith is the bodily resurrection of Jesus. If the story of the Resurrection comes from four anonymous books, three of which borrow heavily from the first, often word for word, how do we know that the unheard of, fantastically supernatural story of the re-animation of a first century dead man, actually happened??

    Maybe the first book written, “Mark”, was written for the same purpose that most books were written in that time period—for the benefit of one wealthy benefactor, and maybe it was written simply as an historical novel, like Homer’s Iliad; not meant to be 100% factual in every detail, but a mix of true historical events as a background, with a real messiah pretender in Palestine, Jesus, but with myth and fiction added to embellish the story and help sell the book! We just do not know for what purpose these books were written!

    I slowly came to realize that there is zero verifiable evidence for the Resurrection, and, the Bible is not a reliable document. After four months of desperate attempts to save my faith, I came to the sad conclusion that my faith was based on an ancient superstition; a superstition not based on lies, but based on the sincere but false beliefs of uneducated, superstitious, first century peasants.

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    1. Daniel W

      Gary,

      I definitely hear your concerns, and they are not to be taken lightly. I faced similar issues during my time as an undergraduate religion major at a public university. Right now I am a PhD student in religious studies at a different public university. I will just say that there are many people like me who are trained in historical and textual criticism of the Bible, who can read the Hebrew and Greek, who have struggled with their Christian faith, yet have still maintained it.
      I have taught undergraduate students using Bart Ehrman’s New Testament textbook, and yet I still remain a Christian who holds to the Nicene Creed. And I am certainly not a lone crazy person. I know a lot of people even smarter than I am who know and respect Ehrman’s work, yet remain Christians.

      First, I will say that if someone believes that something like resurrection from the dead is simply impossible, no amount of historical evidence about the resurrection of Jesus can convince them otherwise – and that’s fine. I do have to admit that a large part of trusting in the resurrection comes from the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

      One thing that really helped me, however, is the argument made by N.T. Wright (and adopted by others like William Lane Craig) about the historicity of the resurrection. I think that Wright’s argument makes a belief in the historical resurrection reasonable (if one accepts that resurrection is even possible). Given the sources and the extraordinary nature of the events, no historical argument about the reality of the resurrection can be truly iron clad – Wright’s argument simply made it possible for me to accept the historical resurrection as a reasonable possibility rather than a ludicrous fantasy.

      The quickest and easiest way to access N.T. Wright’s argument about the resurrection is through the book “The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan And N.T. Wright in Dialogue.” Wright debates Crossan about whether the bodily resurrection of Jesus truly occurred. You can find it as an ebook or a regular book on Amazon, and it’s not too expensive.

      I have had a lot of friends who were raised as evangelicals and had their faith crumble when they were first introduced to historical criticism of the Bible. I think many evangelicals are raised to believe that if there is any issue at all with the authority of the text, the whole Christian faith must crumble. The fact is, life if complicated, so is God, so is scripture. Living with such ambiguity is hard, but it can be done. I would suggest reaching out to more liberal evangelicals or even non-evangelical Christians with your spiritual struggles. You need to find people who respect historical approaches to the Bible and will not give you dismissive or easy answers.

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      1. gary

        Hi Daniel,

        I read NT Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God”. I didn’t buy his argument that the Resurrection must have occurred because no Jew would have believed it if it hadn’t really happened. The truth is: the overwhelming majority of Jews did NOT believe it.

        I could call myself a Christian in the sense that I follow the humanistic teachings of Jesus, but, since I don’t believe he was God, I don’t see why I should both using that label and not just refer to myself as a humanist.

        Thanks for the comment.

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        1. Daniel W

          Gary,

          Congratulations on completing such a tome!

          I would say there’s a bit more to Wright’s argument than what you indicate here. Also, the fact that most Jews didn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection does not undermine the argument – in fact, it probably strengthens Wright’s argument. Wright would affirm that only Jews who actually witnessed the risen Christ would believe in such a resurrection.

          Anyway, I already conceded that the argument may not be helpful for everyone. I hope you find what you seem to be looking for, brother.

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          1. gary

            Hi Daniel,

            Thank you for the discussion.

            I have no issue with liberal and even moderate Christianity. There are many beautiful beliefs that Jesus taught that we should all follow, Christian and non-Christian. My issue is with fundamentalist Christianity: “We are right, and everyone else is wrong, and more than wrong, they are evil and wicked. And these “wicked” nonbelievers in our belief system are going to pay for their disbelief in our god’s eternal torture chamber.”

            It’s an ugly, deadly belief system that has caused enormous suffering. I sincerely hope that more Christians adopt your viewpoints, Daniel. The world will be much better place for everyone.

            Peace to you, Daniel!

            Gary

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          2. Daniel W

            Gary,

            Our conversation got me thinking a bit more, so I will make one more suggestion. You have probably heard of Alvin Plantinga, a philosopher based out of Notre Dame. He’s basically the guy who made theistic philosophy respectable among mainstream philosophers again.

            His book Warranted Christian Belief addresses the issues you are interested in more precisely. He makes an argument that theistic belief generally and Christian belief more specifically is, in fact, reasonable. He makes a philosophical argument for why a Christian has warrant for his or her belief.
            It’s a long book, but you need only read chapters 6-9. I would also read chapter 12, because it addresses why a Christian’s belief is still warranted in the face of modern historical criticism.

            Ultimately, his book sheds light on why many educated historical critics still maintain a form of Christianity that believes in things like the miracles of Jesus and his resurrection.

            You can actually access the book for free in pdf form by following the link below:

            http://www.tesfayerobele.com/docs/books_and_articles/warranted_christian_belief_alvin_plantinga.pdf

            – Daniel

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          3. gary

            Thank you for the information, Daniel.

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  10. The “Gary” here goes around posting essentially the identical anti-Christian “talking points” above on blogs and does not care about evidence that refutes his ideas. He did exactly the same thing on this blog here:

    http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-bible-teaches-permanent.html

    in comment number 23 and then ignored the replies when he was crushed by the evidence.

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    1. gary

      Hi Thomas,

      Thanks for letting me know that someone replied to my comment on Kent Brandenburg’s blog. I will respond to those comments now.

      I would be thrilled to have my faith in Christ resorted with actual evidence and not baseless assumptions, hearsay, feelings, and intuition. If you have such evidence, please provide it.

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    2. gary

      I just tried to reply to the comments on Kent’s blog (comments which told me that I am going to burn in hellfire) but my comment was blocked from being posted. I will leave it here for you:

      I apologize that I have not responded sooner. Let’s boil this discussion down to the very basics:

      1. Is there any evidence that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses?

      2. Does Paul say anywhere in the New Testament that he saw the resurrected, walking/talking flesh and blood body of Jesus? I agree that Paul believed in a bodily resurrection, but the only encounter with Jesus that Paul ever mentions is when he encountered a talking bright light on the Damascus Road…in a “heavenly vision”…as he himself states in Acts chapter 26. Just because Paul came to believe that Jesus had been bodily resurrected is not proof that Paul ever saw a resurrected body. Paul’s experience with a talking, bright light convinced him that a resurrection had occurred, and as a Pharisee, a resurrection meant a bodily resurrection. Belief in something is not proof of its veracity.

      Bright lights on not bodies, and visions are not actual experiences.

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  11. Dear Gary,

    Your comment was not blocked. It is there. All the questions you asked the first time were answered. I won’t respond to you more here because I’d rather do it over there (I’ll post this comment there also.) If you really want answers, will you admit you were wrong on what you said the first time? Should I believe you really want answers the second time you ask questions if you ignore the answers that were given to the first questions you asked? I’ll answer these questions too, but then I’m not going to reply again unless you answer what I’m asking you now and respond point-by-point to what I said on your first questions. If you really want answers, you’ll do it. You will also admit it when you are shown to be wrong.

    Answers:

    1.) Yes. “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24). That’s one example of first century evidence and testimony that John’s Gospel was written by an eyewitness. For Papias, a contemporary of John outside the Bible, here’s Fragments of Papias 19:1: “The Gospel of John was made known and given to the churches by John while he was still in the flesh. . . . Papias, a beloved disciple of John . . . wrote down the Gospel correctly as John dictated.” There’s a reason why all the patristic evidence favors Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as writing Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You can find a lot of it by reading some of the resources I gave in my reply to your first questions. Did you go to your library and Interlibrary Loan (for free) any of those books? Did you look at the links I gave you the first time and read the material there carefully?

    Here is another question for you. Is there any evidence that the gospels were NOT written by whom the early church universally said wrote them? Please give me the hard, physical evidence that they were all written very late like theological liberalism says. Or if you can’t, is it because liberalism ASSUMES that the gospels are late–all after A. D. 70–simply because of FAITH that miracles are impossible, such as Christ predicting the destruction of Jerusalem, as recorded in the Gospels? Could it be that late dates are a result of anti-supernatural FAITH, rather than evidence, because admitting the gospels were written by the people who everyone who lived in the first few centuries said wrote them would mean they were accurate and Jesus Christ was exactly who He claimed to be?

    You ought to read the two books by the liberal scholar-turned Christian scholar Eta Linnemann,

    Biblical Criticism on Trial: How Scientific Is Scientific Theology?

    Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology: Reflections of a Bultmannian Turned Evangelical

    Dr. Linnemann taught in a prestigious German university and wrote the standard textbook used in the German public schools to teach that the Bible was not true, the gospels were not written by whom they claimed, etc. She has since refuted all of those theories in her books written after she became a Bible-believing Christian.

    2.) Please tell me why, if Paul’s “have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 15), and why being miraculously struck blind after seeing Christ as recorded in Acts, and having his vision miraculously restored by Ananias, and raising people from the dead as Christ’s Apostle, and hearing Christ’s voice saying who He was, and people other than Paul eating and drinking with Christ after He rose from the dead, and people other than Paul holding on to His body, having long conversations with Him after He rose, and hundreds of people seeing Him after His resurrection, etc. aren’t good enough for you, why the sentence “I saw the resurrected, walking/talking flesh and blood body of Jesus” in Paul’s writings would be good enough for you. I suspect it is because there are no sentences with that kind of awkward grammar in Scripture, and because the normal statement by Paul that he saw Christ isn’t good enough. I would like to know why you place such weight on one of Paul’s five senses, sight, at least when it is convenient for you and when you can read into a narrative in Acts that he didn’t see Christ although he said he did, but you reject out of hand another of Paul’s senses, hearing. I also want to know why you value Paul’s sense of sight at convenient moments but you don’t value the sense of sight of the hundreds of other eyewitnesses of the resurrection, including those who “who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10). I want to know how this is objective.

    Please explain how, if miracles are impossible, Daniel predicted the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman empires, many specific details of the actions of empires for several centuries (Daniel 11), and predicted the exact year and day that Christ presented Himself as the Messiah in A. D. 33 (Daniel 9) as described here:

    http://faithsaves.net/daniel-proof-bible/

    Finally, as I noted earlier, I’m going to look for your response here:

    http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-bible-teaches-permanent.html

    rather than on this blog. If you really want answers, the way you reply will make it clear. May God make you willing to really want the truth rather than just zealously and blindly proselytize for your unproven atheist faith.

    View Comment
    1. gary

      Dear Thomas,

      I challenge you to have the courage to do the following: Take a closer look at the evidence for your belief system. To do that, I would encourage you to read Bart Ehrman’s blog. (You can google it to find it) He is not the Christianity-bashing atheist that many Christians assume. For instance, he believes Jesus was a real person, that he was crucified, and that his disciples truly and sincerely believed that he had been bodily resurrected. Ehrman also believes that Paul was a real person, and that Paul met with Peter and James in Jerusalem.

      I think you will find Dr. Ehrman’s blog a fascinating resource of information regarding early Christianity.

      Peace and happiness to each of you,

      Gary

      View Comment
  12. gary

    I’m having trouble responding on the other blog, so I will respond here.

    1. You quote the last chapter of John as evidence that the Gospel of John is eyewitness testimony:

    “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” 23 So the rumor spread in the community[a] that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”[b]

    24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

    You seem to believe that this passage infers that the Gospel of John was written by John, the son of Zebedee. Does this passage say that? Is there any passage in the Gospel of John that says that the “beloved disciple” was John, the son of Zebedee? Answer: no.

    The Gospel of John is an anonymous book. We have no idea who wrote it, where it was written, when exactly it was written, and for what purpose it was written. And the idea that the “beloved disciple” is John the son of Zebedee is based on tradition. For all we know, this book was written as an historical fiction, for the sole purpose of selling books and making a living for the author. Christians ASSUME that it was written by an eyewitness, by an apostle, and that it was written as an historical biography of Jesus. Assumptions, nothing but assumptions.

    Notice verse 24: If the author of the Gospel of John is trying to say that He is the beloved disciple he has an odd way of saying it. He clearly distinguishes himself from the beloved disciple in the second part of the sentence: “and WE know that HIS testimony is true”. What author would say that “we” (including me) know that “his” (my) testimony is true”?

    The Gospel of John is an anonymous book. The author never states that he is one of the Twelve nor that he is an eyewitness.

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  13. gary

    Your view of Papias is incorrect. Here is Papias in his own words:

    “I also will not hesitate to draw up for you, along with these expositions, an orderly account of all the things I carefully learned and have carefully recalled from the elders; for I have certified their truth. For unlike most people, I took no pleasure in hearing those who had a lot to say, but only those who taught the truth, and not those who recalled commandments from strangers, but only those who recalled the commandments which have been given faithfully by the Lord and which proceed from the truth itself

    But whenever someone arrived who had been a companion of one of the elders, I would carefully inquire after their words, what Andrew or Peter had said, or what Philip or what Thomas had said, or James or John or Matthew or any of the other disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord, were saying. For I did not suppose that what came out of books would benefit me as much as that which came from a living and abiding voice.”

    Papias does not say in this passage that he received his information directly from John or any of the other apostles. He clearly states that he received his information from associates of the “elders”. The elders were not the apostles. The elders were the young followers of the apostles. So what Papias is saying is: “I got my information straight from the associates of the elders, who got their information from the elders, who got their information from the apostles, who got their information from Jesus. In no way can that be considered “eyewitness testimony”. It is at best, fourth-hand information. It is no different than me saying, “Bob told me that Bill told him that Jimmy told him “exactly” what Randy had said”.

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  14. gary

    “Is there any evidence that the gospels were NOT written by whom the early church universally said wrote them?”

    I have a couple of responses to this comment. First, there is no evidence of ANYONE in the early church attributing the traditional authorship of what we now refer to as the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John until the end of the second century, namely Ireneaus. Yes, earlier Fathers starting in the early second century referred to passages from these books but they never attributed authorship to the books until Ireneaus. So we have a period from circa 33 AD to some time between 160-180 AD where we have no references to the authorship of these four books.

    Secondly, it is odd to ask me to prove a negative. Can you provide evidence that Joseph Smith did NOT receive Golden Tablets from the angel Moroni?

    View Comment
  15. gary

    “Could it be that late dates are a result of anti-supernatural FAITH, rather than evidence, because admitting the gospels were written by the people who everyone who lived in the first few centuries said wrote them would mean they were accurate and Jesus Christ was exactly who He claimed to be?”

    Since my deconversion from Christianity I have run into this “conspiracy theory” phenomenon quite frequently when discussing the evidence for the resurrection with conservative Christians. It seems many conservative Christians believe that the overwhelming majority of skeptics, including me, do not believe simply because we do not WANT to be. The truth is that most of us do not believe because of a lack of evidence, not a lack of willingness to believe.

    I would still be a Christian if someone had shown me convincing evidence that the Gospels had been written by eyewitnesses.

    View Comment
  16. gary

    Regarding Paul, I have come to the conclusion that Paul was either mentally ill or a liar. If you read the three accounts by Paul of what he did in the three years after his conversion there are diametrically opposed details. “I went to Jerusalem”, “I went to Arabia”. “I met with the apostles”, “I did not meet with the apostles”.

    It is odd that in his many epistles, Paul never once mentions Jesus birth place, his hometown, the names of his parents, any of his miracles, any of his sermons, the details of his crucifixion or resurrection. The “Christ” that Paul talks about bares little resemblance to the Jesus of the Gospels.

    And why would an apostle need to repeatedly deny that he is a liar? Do any of the other apostles repeatedly defend themselves from accusations of being a liar from fellow Christians? And why don’t any of the other apostles refer to Paul as an apostle in their epistles? Why would Jesus spend three years training the “Twelve”, preparing twelve thrones for them to rule with him, to then declare a Pharisee the “greatest” of all apostles, several years after his death?? And why do all the churches in Asia Minor end up rejecting Paul as Paul himself states in II Timothy? One of those churches is Ephesus, the church that the author of the Book of Revelation praises for rejecting “false apostles”, not false preachers, or teachers, but “false APOSTLES”.

    I don’t believe Paul’s story about his “heavenly vision” on the Damascus Road. He was either mentally ill or a liar, as he was often accused of in his own lifetime.

    View Comment
  17. gary

    I thought it would be interesting to look at the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus from the orthodox/conservative/evangelical Christian stand point, excluding, however, baseless assumptions. I am excluding fundamentalists in this discussion because fundamentalist Christian views are so extreme that it would be hopeless to try and reconcile them with the actual evidence. Some fundamentalists would probably believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John sat down and wrote their gospels within ten minutes of the Ascension.

    A. The Gospel of Mark

    So, let’s start with the first gospel written, as almost all scholars agree: the gospel of Mark. Most scholars believe that it was written sometime between 65-75 AD. So let’s accept an earlier date for the writing of this gospel: mid 60’s, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.

    1. Who wrote Mark: the gospel itself does not tell us. No clear assignment of authorship is given until Irenaeus in the late second century. Yes, Papias in the early second century mentions that someone told him that John Mark had written a gospel, but Papias does not identify the gospel.

    2. Where was Mark written? We don’t know. Most scholars do not believe that Mark was written in Palestine, but let’s just say that it was. So the gospel is written 30-35 years after Jesus’ death in 30-33 AD. Historians tell us that the average life span of people in the first century was age 45. How many people would still be alive in 65 AD who had been old enough to witness the crucifixion of Jesus? If you were fifteen in the year 30 AD, you would now be fifty in 65 AD, above the average first century life span. And I would bet that even most fundamentalist Christians would believe that the disciples were older than fifteen at the time of the crucifixion. So let’s say that the disciples of Jesus were between twenty and thirty years old in 30 AD. That would make them fifty-five to sixty-five years old in 65 AD, if they were still alive! We have no proof that any of the disciples were still alive in 65 AD.

    3. Even if Mark were written in Palestine, 30 years after the death of Jesus, and there were still people alive who witnessed the resurrection, how soon was the gospel put into public circulation? Maybe the author wrote it for just one wealthy benefactor. Maybe he wrote it just for his small group of Christians, none of whom were old enough to remember the crucifixion. Maybe the gospel was not put into public circulation until after 70 AD. If true, the entire city of Jerusalem has been destroyed, most of its inhabitants are dead or carried off. If there had been a tomb of Jesus, who would now be alive to point out where it was. Remember, all this is assuming that the gospel was written in Palestine or at least circulated in Palestine in the 60’s or 70’s. For all we know, the gospel of Mark was written in Rome and copies of it did not arrive in Palestine until after 100 AD or later! Who would still be alive to say, “Hey, that’s not what happened!”?

    4. Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple.

    Even if Jesus did prophesy/predict the destruction of the Temple, is this proof that he is God? If someone living in Europe in the mid 1930’s had predicted that Europe would be devastated by a second world war, that Germany would lose, and that Germany would be partitioned as punishment for starting the war, would we believe that this person was God? Just because someone predicts something that comes true is not proof that they are divine.

    5. Was the author of Mark an eyewitness to the Resurrection?

    The author of Mark never claims to be an eyewitness. He even writes in the third person. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the author was not an eyewitness but to say he was is simply a guess.

    B. The Gospel of Matthew

    1. Who wrote Matthew? The author does not tell us. The assignment of the apostle Matthew as author of this gospel is not mentioned until the late second century by Irenaeus.

    2. Most scholars believe that Matthew was written after Mark and that one can find 70% of the content of Mark within Matthew, often word for word.

    3. Where was Matthew written? We have no idea. Again, for all we know, it could have been written in a foreign country, far away from any eyewitnesses to the crucifixion. We have no idea when it was first circulated in Palestine for any elderly eyewitness to say, “Hey. That isn’t what happened!”

    4. Was Matthew an eyewitness to the Resurrection?

    The author of Matthew never claims to be an eyewitness. He writes in the third person. Again, not proof that he was not an eyewitness but to say he was is no better than a guess. The author of Matthew could simply have been writing a story he had heard third, fourth, or twentieth hand.

    C. The Gospel of Luke

    1. Who wrote Luke? The author of Luke does not say. No clear assignment of authorship of this gospel is given until the late second century by Ireneaus.

    2. Where was Luke written? We have no idea.

    3. The author of the Gospel of Luke also borrows heavily from the Gospel of Mark. Approximately 50-55% of the content of Mark can be found in Luke, frequently, word of word.

    4. Was the author of Luke an eyewitness?

    Luke very clearly states in the first few verses of chapter one that he is not an eyewitness. He states that he carefully investigated the writings of others (Mark and “Q”?) which he didn’t seem to find satisfactory, and that his sources had given him eyewitnesses testimony. However, he does not identify his sources. Were his sources eyewitnesses themselves or were his sources associates of eyewitnesses giving him “eyewitness” testimony from their source or sources, which would make Luke’s information, at best, second hand information.

    D. The Gospel of John

    Many conservative Christians believe that the author of John infers that he is John, the son of Zebedee, by using the term “the beloved disciple”. I personally (and many scholars) do not think that the author of John is referring to himself as the beloved disciple but is claiming to be recounting the story of the beloved disciple. But let’s assume that the author of the Gospel of John does claim to be John, the beloved disciple. What evidence do we have to determine if his claim is true? Do we have any contemporary Christian or non-Christian testimony that states that John, the son of Zebedee, wrote the Gospel of John? No. We do not. The assignment of authorship of this gospel is not made until the end of the second century, again, by Ireneaus. Papias makes no mention of this gospel.

    So just because someone claimed to be John, the beloved disciple, recounting an eyewitness account of the life, death, and supernatural resurrection of Jesus, should we take him at his word?? Many, many “gospels” were floating around the Mediterranean world in the late first and second centuries. The non-canonical Gospel of Peter may have been written even earlier than Mark! Yet, no one, including fundamentalists, believes that the apostle Peter wrote the Gospel of Peter. So, how do we know that the author of the Gospel of John, if he really was claiming to be John, was really John, the beloved disciple, son of Zebedee?? The fact is, that we have no more evidence that John wrote the Gospel of John than we do that Peter wrote the Gospel of Peter, other than Irenaeus’ declaration in 180 AD, in France, one hundred and fifty years after the crucifixion, that the four gospels we have today were written by the persons that he asserts, based upon evidence, that he never gives!

    E. What Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus do we have so far?

    We have four first century books describing the alleged facts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but only one, (maybe), claims to be an eyewitness testimony.

    Dozens of Romans senators claimed that the first Roman king, Romulus, was snatched up into heaven right in front of their eyes…but no Christian believes this eyewitness testimony.

    Thirteen men living in the early nineteenth century signed legal affidavits, swearing under oath, that they personally had seen the Golden Tablets delivered to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni with their own two eyes, and three of these men signed affidavits that they had seen the angel Moroni himself with their own two eyes…but yet no Christian believes this eyewitness testimony.

    Thousands upon thousands of devout, pious Roman Catholics have claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary, alive, often many hundreds or even thousands together in the same location, at the same time…but no Protestant or evangelical Christian denomination believes this eyewitness testimony to be true.

    Yet, Protestant/evangelical Christians will believe as absolute fact, that a first century dead man walked out of his tomb after three days of decomposing, ate a broiled fish lunch with his friends, and then levitated into outer space based on the testimony of…one…,possible, eyewitness’ testimony!

    F. But what about the Apostle Paul?

    The testimony of Saul/Paul of Tarsus is used by Christians as secondary proof of the Resurrection of Jesus. Christians do not allege that Paul saw a resurrected Jesus prior to his Ascension into Heaven. In I Corinthians Paul makes this statement, “Have I not seen the Christ?”

    But when Paul says he has “seen” the Christ, what did he see actually? Well, Acts chapter 26 tells us exactly what Paul saw, in his own words: Paul saw a talking, bright light that told him that it (the talking, bright light) was Jesus. And, Paul very specifically states, that he saw this talking, bright light…”in a heavenly vision”.

    Talking bright lights are not resurrected bodies and visions are not reality.

    Yes, Paul came to believe that Jesus had been bodily resurrected, but there is no evidence that Paul believed this due to seeing a resurrected body. Paul was a Pharisee, and Pharisees believed in a bodily resurrection, so if Paul believed that the talking, bright light speaking to him on the Damascus Road was the executed Jesus, then he would of course believe that he had seen the (bodily) resurrected Jesus, even if he had actually not seen a body, but only a bright light!

    Conclusion:

    The belief that a first century dead man, named Jesus, walked out of his tomb with a new, superman-like body that could teleport between cities (Emmaus and Jerusalem), could walk through locked doors (the Upper Room), and could teleport into outer space (the Ascension) is based on one alleged eyewitness who wrote a book 40-60 years after the alleged event, whose authorship was not mentioned by any Christian or non-Christian until 150 years later, at the end of the second century, when it was finally called the Gospel of John…and…on the “heavenly vision” of a vision prone Jewish rabbi, Saul/Paul of Tarsus (who also said that he was teleported to the “third heaven”. What other writer of the Bible refers to the concept of multiple heavens?)

    And we are asked to believe that based on this “evidence”, Jesus of Nazareth now sits on a throne in the far reaches of outer space, ruling as our Almighty Lord and King of the Universe??

    The Romans and Mormons have better evidence for their supernatural tall tales than this tale! It is an ancient legend, folks. A fantastic, supernatural superstition. The chances that it is true are infintisimal.

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  18. Dear Daniel W.,

    If you want to debate Gary or give him evidence, go for it.

    I would suggest that you take a look at the discussion with him here:

    http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-bible-teaches-permanent.html

    where Gary concludes that he does not need to read some of the best defenses of Biblical historicity because Christianity is dismissed a priori as “absurd” and where his response to questions that challenge his anti-Christian faith are regularly ignored or given extremely problematic answers. Just an FYI.

    I’m not planning to say more to him here based on the discussion there.

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