Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Wednesday, February 28, 2007

    Jesus' Lost Tomb Controversy - More Food for Thought

    I've heard the expression used before "SAME heresy, but just dressed up in different clothes." This one is no different and it should not surprise us any longer to see supposed discoveries and documentaries such as this just before Easter, for it's now beginning to be more the trend than the exception. (Does the Da Vinci Code bring back any memories?)

    Having not seen the documentary, but having witnessed those on the both the side of Christianity (conservative and liberal) as well as professed unbelievers express their excitement or lack thereof, as well as their opinions, let me briefly address a few issues.

    First, let me make it clear that while the scholar from UNC says that if this finding is true, it really doesn't affect Christianity all that much, that he cannot be further from the truth. This issue strikes at the heart of religion itself and the heart of the gospel. While he suggests that "when Paul says he saw Jesus, this could have just been spiritually, and this is a place where good debate lies", seeming to infer that it is enough for Jesus to have been divine in spirit only (or as he says in the sense that "his spirit lives on"), his suggestion is no different from the issues dealt with by the early church and classified as heresies. As Berkhof, the distinguished Christian theologian puts it "Belief in the resurrection certainly has doctrinal bearings. We cannot deny the physical resurrection of Christ without impugning the veracity of the writers of Scripture, since they certainly represent it as a fact." J. I. Packer, in referring to the bodily resurrection writes "Christianity rests on the certainty of Jesus' resurrection as a space-time occurence in history. All four Gospels highlight it focusing on the empty tomb and resurrection." Christ's bodily resurrection, not only reveals his passing from under the law and his victory over death, but also his full vindication in righteousness by the Spirit. Was it not important that Jesus ate with his disciples following his resurrection? Did Jesus in addressing the doubts of Thomas not show him his flesh? Does Paul not in Philippians speak of Jesus' plan to transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body? No, the assertion that the bodily resurrection of Christ is unimportant is not only uninformed but unorthodox.

    Second, if it is being asserted that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, this has never been proven. In fact, the most convincing evidence of those who espouse this is lifted from a gnostic gospel which simply states that Jesus kissed her, which can be no different than a holy kiss referred to in Scripture, common in that day. The point being this, that to accept this as fact in support of the bodies in the tomb being that of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, is to begin not only with some of the weakest of evidence but with the weakest of evidence from gnostic gospels already proven to be forgeries.

    Third, in regard to the inscription "Jesus, son of Joseph", while it might be possible that those who buried Jesus would use such an inscription (especially given the political and religious climate at the time, and perhaps the Jewish practice), it would be just if not more likely that his Christian followers, especially given the opportunity through Pilate's own command concerning the inscription to be used with Christ, would have taken the opportunity to draw attention to the fact that Jesus was not to be considered in the run of the mill way that others were simply according to human paternal lineage. While I recognize generational and cultural differences must be considered, at the same time most believers today not only see but take opportunity to distinguish between the death of Jesus and the death of others. Even so, given the significant difference between the statistical predictions and the weight held out by the history of Christian witness (witnesses to the resurrection, those willing to lay down their lives for this truth, along with the testimony of the Scripture and the history of the church, not to mention the personal and widespread testimony of people from all other the world who testify to experiencing Christ), such statistics, especially with no more certainty than they provide, should be and will prove no significant threat to the ongoing work and ministry of the gospel.

    Fourth, if Jesus actually had a son, then isn't it somewhat strange that one finds nothing of any significance in the writings of all antiquity concerning this? Nothing concerning his life. Nothing concerning his death. Nothing concerning his relation to Jesus or his beliefs or testimony concerning Jesus. Nothing of his participation or lack of participation in the church. Nothing. Yet today, because a tomb was found a few decades ago with a family including the name Jesus, are we to assume that to be clear and persuasive testimony that it is so? While one can point to statistics on one side, what do the statistics which include all the other evidence and writings suggest? It's been said before that "one can make statistics say about anything a person wants." In this case, the statistics seem to be saying what a certain set of producers want.

    Finally, while the producers are right on one level in saying "there is nothing wrong with simply reporting the discovery and findings" (though again this is an old finding simply dressed up with modern clothes), are we to suppose that given the topic, given the timing, given the slant that has already been seen in the much of the mainstream media, that this motive is the driving force behind the documentary? Are we as the public to accept this as their intent, or would it not be more honest reporting to state their position and convictions in presenting the evidence and let the people decide and respond, but this would not draw near the financial profit expected, or would it?

    Bottom line, this too will come and go, and soon be forgotten as are all other attempts to dethrone Christ and cast doubt among the uninformed and undiscerning. May this issue become a building block for God's people as we look forward and not only stand ourselves but prepare others for dealing with the next attempt, perhaps as early as Easter 2008, if not before!


    August said...

    Man, this whole tomb thing is falling apart faster than they can answer the criticisms. Before the movie has even aired the credibility is shot to pieces. There is so much wishful thinking and non-sequitors in their story it's not even funny.

    jdlongmire said...

    I am loving the show of apologetic strength! SDG!

    jazzycat said...

    Great post…. Salvation depends on believing in the Jesus as he is presented in the Bible and not the Jesus of one's imagination. IOW, to deny the deity or physical resurrection of Christ is to be an unbeliever no matter how much a person claims to be a believer. Apparently the mission field now includes our churches and departments of religion in our universities.

    Puritan Lad said...

    No Surprises here. I suspect that the intelligent non-believers wouldn't touch this.

    It's hard to support lies, even if they have academic consent :)

    jazzycat said...

    I left a comment a couple of days ago. Was it lost?

    I will tell you what I said......