Thursday, April 22, 2010

Should Christians judge?

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about Matthew 7:1 and judging:

Q: I read in my Bible that God has many moral laws for humanity, but in Matthew 7:1, Jesus says, “Do not judge , lest you be judged.” How can these two things be reconciled?

In recent years, this verse has become one of the most well-known in the entire Bible among Americans, perhaps even surpassing John 3:16 in familiarity. In our present culture, the making of moral or theological judgments is strictly frowned-upon, and anything that could be interpreted as judging is firmly denounced. This, however, is not the position of the Bible or of Jesus.

To begin, it is necessary to look, not just at verse 1 of Matthew 7, but at the entire five verses of the chapter where Jesus makes this statement. Jesus immediately follows by saying in verse 2, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” These words both assume that his hearers actually will judge in some way and reveal that it is not all judging that He warns against, but instead, hypocritical judgments which apply a different standard to another person than one follows himself.

This is further emphasized in the verses which follow. Jesus gives the example of a man attempting to remove a piece of sawdust from another man’s eye. Ironically, the first man actually has a large log in his own eye, which makes the task impossible. Jesus closes by saying, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Jesus first points out the absurdity of a person making hypocritical judgments, but with His final words, He also instructs that the person who has first gotten his own affairs in order will then assist his neighbor in doing the same. This would be impossible if all judging were unconditionally prohibited.

In addition, we never read one portion of the Bible in exclusion of the others. Instead, we look at the entire history of what God has said through its authors. When we do this, we find Jesus’ Apostles, such as Peter, James, and Paul, making frequent judgments about both doctrine and morality throughout their letters that have been recorded in the New Testament.

We also see numerous instances where the Bible actually commands, requires, or even praises certain types of judging:

  • To discipline public sins in the church (Mt. 18, 1 Cor. 5)
  • To settle disputes between people in the church (1 Cor. 6)
  • To test doctrinal teaching (Mt. 7:15-20, Acts 17:11, 1 Cor. 14:29, 1 Jn. 4:1)
  • To test qualifications for church leadership (1 Tim. 3, Titus 2)

These are merely a few of the most obvious examples where Jesus, Luke, and Paul speak favorably regarding instances of judging.

The teaching of Jesus and the testimony of the Bible as a whole are not that judging is unconditionally prohibited, but that the judgments made by Christians are to live up to certain standards. First, they are to be honest rather than hypocritical (Mt. 7, Rom. 2:1). Secondly, the standard for all valid judgments is the teachings and laws of the Bible, and not any cultural or individual opinion. Additionally, not all judgments are to be openly declared for all to hear. Depending on a person’s position of authority and the nature of the issue at hand, there are criteria which determine whether one should warn another person privately or announce a judgment publicly (Mt. 18).

There are certainly situations where the most caring and compassionate thing a person can do would actually be to judge another, for example when family and friends participate in an intervention for a loved one experiencing addictive or harmful behaviors or when police arrest those who are endangering others.

Jesus certainly did not intend that Christians are to approve of all beliefs and actions without discernment. Instead, He is warning those listening at the time and those reading today not to make judgments about others out of self-righteousness rather than compassion or out of hypocritical pride rather than sincere defense of the truth.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Jesus' Resurrection

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about the Resurrection of Jesus:

Q:  Did Jesus actually rise from the dead on the first Easter, or is it a myth intended to teach us something?  How can we know if it is true?

The  resurrection of Jesus is an actual historical event which literally occurred approximately 1980 years ago, but it is not by blind faith that we accept that this event (and the others of Jesus’ life) actually occurred, but because they have been reported to us by reliable eyewitnesses. 

Five books of the Bible report the Resurrection of Jesus and the events of the following 40 days, in which He appeared to His follower alive.  The Gospels of Matthew and John were written by men who were first-hand eyewitnesses to these events.  The Gospel of Mark was written by an associate of Peter, based on his eyewitness testimony, and the Gospel of Luke along with the book of Acts were written by a doctor, based on his interviews of the eyewitnesses. 

The four authors who wrote these books are reporting events which they witnessed or which they heard from the witnesses, much like four television stations might all report the same news event.  Although some people today would insist that these reports are mythical stories, the authors themselves do not portray their reports as mere myths.  Instead, they wrote their reports as historical fact and make it clear that they intend them to be read as such. 

In this light, it would be only reasonable to examine these four authors’ accounts by the same standards applied to other pieces of historical literature of the time.  When this is done, it is found that the resurrection of Jesus actually has more eyewitness reports than many of the major events of Greek and Roman history which we commonly accepted without objection.

Not only do we have more eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus than these other events, but we also have more copies available to verify that the reports of Jesus’ resurrection have been accurately copied than we have of the reports of the other events.  In addition, this great number of available copies are older and more consistent than those of other events of the time.  In fact, I myself have had the privilege of visiting the Special Collections Library at the University of Michigan where I was able to read from copies of Biblical books that were almost 1900 years old, and I still have a CD with images of several of these pages.

Beyond the textual evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, we also can examine the physical evidence.  The founders of every other major religion died and their tombs are visited by countless followers to this day, because their bodies are still there.  On the other hand, the location where Jesus had been buried is uncertain, and nobody has ever produced His body to refute the claim that He rose from the dead. 

The Bible records that some of Jesus’ enemies claimed that the disciples stole His body, but His disciples were as surprised as anyone when they did not find His body, and some thought it had been moved by others.  Additionally, what would be the odds that a few unarmed Jewish fishermen could overpower the trained Roman soldiers who had been assigned to guard the grave to prevent against just such an occurrence?

Other modern objectors have claimed that Jesus did not actually die, but merely passed out, but the details given in the Gospels, especially by Luke, a doctor, clearly describe a man who has died.  Beyond that, Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers—the most proficient executioners in human history, who certainly knew how to make sure that a man was dead. 

Even more, if he had merely passed out, he would not only have needed to survive two nights in a cold, sealed stone tomb, but to do so wrapped in a few dozen pounds of spices and burial cloths, and recover so well as to be able to unseal the tomb from the inside by removing a stone that would typically require at least two men to move.

If all of this were not enough evidence, His own mother and brothers, who would have known His actions most closely, as well as some of His fiercest enemies, such as Saul (later re-named St. Paul) worshipped Him as God.  Only something as miraculous as the resurrection could bring this about.  Furthermore, even under the pressure of torture, none of the disciples who witnessed His resurrection ever retracted their claims. 

There is simply no other explanation to the resurrection of Jesus than that it actually occurred, just as He predicted during His life.