Why do people hate the Jews?


Observing the rise of anti-Semitism and its many anti-Israel manifestations, I am often asked, “Why do people hate the Jews?” This is an important question. People hate the Jews because they are successful; because they have unusual customs; because they are opinionated; because they are liberal; because they are conservative; because they support Israel. These, and other explanations, are superficial and miss the real source of anti-Semitism.

In the world there is good and there is evil. There is light and there is darkness. There is truth and there is falsehood. There is love and there is hatred. There is God and there is Satan. While many people don’t believe in either God or Satan, they may recognize that there are contrasting forces at work in this world—forces that work to bestow blessing and preserve life, as well as forces at work to undermine good and destroy humanity’s life and well-being.

Long ago, God decided to choose a people whom He would use to advance the cause of blessing on His creation. He could have chosen the Eskimos, the Italians, or the Native Americans. But God chose a small group of people descended from Abraham who became known as the Hebrews. They were not better, smarter or more numerous than other people. Nevertheless, they were chosen by God to be His channel of blessing on the world.

Through this small group of people, God gave the world Abraham, Moses, the Torah, the prophets, and the great teachings of Judaism and Christianity.  We have many wonderful inventions in the fields of medicine, music and art through the Jewish people. Those who read the Bible understand God’s promise to give the world a Savior who just happens to be a descendent of Abraham.  We are in a much better place because of the Jews whom God chose as an instrument of blessing this earth.

But there are evil forces that are seeking to hinder the good that God has done and continues to do through the descendants of Abraham. These forces are influenced by Satan to stop the flow of blessing which God has for humanity through the Jewish people and the teachings of Moses, the prophets, and Jesus. These forces have made themselves evident in times past through the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian Pogroms, and the Nazi Holocaust. Today we see these forces of evil manifested through Hamas, Hezbollah, and the radical Islamic leadership of Iran.

Behind the October 7th attack on Israel by Hamas is a spiritual war that has yet to make the evening news. But those who read the Bible will understand that there is more to this conflict than is reported on CNN, NBC, and Fox News. It is not about the rights of the Palestinians, the existence of the State of Israel, the “occupation,” or the war in Gaza. These are the most popular, but superficial excuses for anti-Semitism. The real reason why there is so much hatred of the Jews is because of a spiritual conflict. Hatred of Jewish people is ultimately sourced in the evil that seeks to thwart God’s plan to bring His blessing and well-being to the world through the Hebrew people.

Did Jesus of Nazareth Really Exist?

Some years ago, Dr. Lawrence Mykytiuk, Professor of Library Science at Purdue University, published an article titled, “Did Jesus Exist?” In his search for historical evidence beyond the Bible, from non-Christian Roman and Jewish sources, he found sufficient documentation to corroborate the account of his life as recorded in the four New Testament gospels. His conclusions are worth considering.

  1. Jesus existed as a man. This is confirmed by the historical references to Jesus in the writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus, and the Roman historian Tacitus.
  2. His personal name was Jesus, as Josephus informs us.
  3. He was called Christos, a Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” meaning anointed one.
  4. He had a brother named James (Jacob), as reported by Josephus.
  5. He won over both Jews and Gentiles as his followers.
  6. The Jewish leaders of his day expressed unfavorable opinions about him, as acknowledged by Josephus’ Testimonium Flavianum.
  7. Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, rendered the decision that Jesus should be executed.
  8. Jesus’ execution was carried out by Roman soldiers by means of crucifixion.
  9. His death occurred during Pontius Pilate’s governorship of over Judea (AD 26-36) as Josephus implies and Tacitus states.
  10. No first century pagans or Jews who opposed the movement that developed after his death ever questioned or denied the historicity of Jesus.

Professor Mykytiuk concludes his review of the historical evidence stating, “Thus the birth, ministry and death occasioned claims that his birth was illegitimate and that he performed miracles by evil magic, encouraged apostasy and was justly executed for his own sins. But they do not deny his existence” (p. 51). For further study, see “Did Jesus Exist,” Biblical Archaeology Review (January/February 2015), pp. 45ff. Photo courtesy of EvidenceUnseen.com.

Paul’s Gender-Based Ministry Directives and the Church

The Apostle Paul provided churches with some ministry directives that which are intended to support the orderly and biblically-grounded worship of gathered congregations. Some of these directives, particularly those which are based on gender, have created some challenges as the church is confronted by the modern, egalitarian culture. There is debate among interpreters of Scripture as to whether Paul’s gender-based directives are applicable in the 21st century. Some say that these teachings are culturally based, reflecting Paul’s rabbinic training, and are not relevant or applicable for the church today. Others view Paul’s instructions as relevant for gathered congregations and a variety of other ministry related contexts. Do Paul’s gender-based ministry directives apply beyond the meeting of the church?

What are Paul’s gender-based ministry directives? Paul instructed Timothy, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (1 Tim. 2:11-12). In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the law also says…for it is improper for a woman to speak in church” (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

What is the meeting of the church? The crucial exegetical question for this discussion is the definition of the church. Christian theologians recognize that Paul uses the word “church” (ekklesia) to refer to the universal body of believers in Christ as well as local congregations of the Jesus’ followers. It is clear from Paul’s letters that his ministry instructions are addressed individual churches gathered in local congregations. This raises the question, “What constitutes a local church?” The New Testament reveals that five activities mark and identify a local church. First, a local church practices the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper (Acts 2:41-42, 1 Cor. 11:23-26). Second, a local church practices spiritual accountability and discipline (Matt. 18:15-18). Third, a local church gathers weekly to receive the authoritative proclamation of God’s Word (1 Tim. 4:1-2, Titus 2:15). Fourth, a local church gathers under the leadership and authority of elders/overseers (1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). Fifth, a local church shares in a collection to minister to physical needs and advance the proclamation of the gospel (Acts 2:44-45, 1 Tim. 5:3-16, 1 Cor. 16:1-2).

Does any gathering of believers constitute the local church? Not all gatherings of composed of Jesus’ followers constitute a local church as biblically defined. Mission agencies serve the local church, but they are not churches in and of themselves. Bible Study Fellow is not a local church. Christian universities, seminaries and Bible schools may share some features of a local church but are not under the authority of elders, do not gather for weekly worship, and do not observe the ordinances of the Lord’s supper and baptism. These Christian ministry organizations share in evangelism and serve to advance God’s kingdom work, but they are not local churches.

Did Paul distinguish between what is permitted in the meeting of the church and other ministry contexts? Paul recognized that some otherwise approved Christian activities are not permitted in the church. Paul wrote, “I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind…rather than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Cor. 14:18-19). Paul approves of women “praying and prophesying” (1 Cor. 11:5) and “teaching what is good” (Titus 2:3), but in the gathered congregation, they are to “keep silent” (1 Cor. 14:34). While the Corinthians “have houses in which to eat and drink” (1 Cor. 11:22), but he rebuked those who were enjoying a good meal while others were hungry when they gathered to observe the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20-22). Paul instructed believing families are to assist their own widows, while the church is to assist those who are “widows indeed” (1 Tim. 5:16). It seems clear that some of the ministries which Paul otherwise endorsed, were not permitted in meeting of the church.

Is there an exegetical basis for applying Paul’s ministry directives more broadly than the church? Paul’s ministry directives concerning women were given in the context of the meeting of the church. This is evident from his words to young Timothy who what been entrusted with spiritual leadership for the church at Ephesus. Paul wrote, “I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:14-15). In his letter to Timothy, Paul explained such important matters as the qualifications of elders and deacons (3:1-13), the care of widows (5:3-16), spiritual accountability and discipline of elders (5:17-22), and women’s participation in worship (2:9-14). It is clear that Paul was instructing Timothy about ministry activities which take place in the meeting of the church. There is nothing in his instructions to Timothy which suggests that he intended an application of these directives beyond the meeting of the church. Paul didn’t envision Sunday school gatherings, home Bible studies, evangelistic organizations, church camps, or denominational conventions. It would be unwarranted, I believe, to extend Paul’s gender- based ministry directives beyond the context of the local church to situations he did not address or foresee.

What avenues of ministry can be sanctioned for women outside of the meeting of the church? Since Paul’s gender-based ministry directives were given in the context of the meeting of the church, that is the only legitimate context in which they can be biblically applied. Beyond the limited context of the meeting of the church, there are many opportunities for Christian women to serve Christ today. Christian women can teach, evangelize, make disciples, provide health care, provide counseling, lead organizations, write books, translate Scripture, exercise hospitality, and serve on the staff of a church or a conference center. Women can serve in mission organizations, teach in Bible schools and seminaries, and minister as a hospital and military chaplains. This list is only suggestive of the many opportunities God provides for Christian women to use their spiritual gifts, serve the body of Christ, and participate in advancing God’s redemptive and kingdom work.

How can we affirm women and their spiritual gifting in the body of Christ? While there is room in the body of Christ for different views on the subject of women’s ministry, we must all acknowledge that women have been given a variety of spiritual gifts and divine enablements to minister in the body of Christ. We can affirm and value women by providing opportunities for them to serve the body of Christ in keeping with Paul’s gender-based ministry directives. I have had many gifted women in my seminary classes who are now actively serving the church of our Lord Jesus Christ’s. It has been a privilege to help prepare these gifted women for doing God’s kingdom work.

Questions of Israeli Politics

Holy Land visitors often have questions about the current political situation in modern day Israel. Scores of books and articles have been written about the issues of Israeli politics, a subject too extensive to be addressed in this short essay. Here I have attempted to distill the issues and present short answers to the basic political questions raised by travelers in Israel.

What is the “West Bank”?

After WWI, the allies divided up the Ottoman Empire and Britain was given the mandate to govern the formerly Ottoman lands on both sides of the Jordan River. The land east of the Jordan (Transjordan) was separated from the British Mandate in 1922 and became an independent country, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In 1947 the United Nations partitioned the remainder of the British Mandate into two states, Arab and Jewish. The Jews agreed with this decision and declared their independence as the Jewish State of Israel (May 14, 1948). The Arabs rejected the decision and immediately went to war against Israel in what is now called Israel’s 1948 War for Independence. The Kingdom of Jordan joined in the war, crossed the Jordan, and captured land west of the Jordan River, which has become known as “the West Bank.” The Kingdom of Jordan controlled this area until the Six Day War (June 1967) when Israel captured the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, Sinai, and the West Bank.

Since 1967, the West Bank has been disputed territory since both Israel and the Arabs claim this land. The Kingdom of Jordan has since relinquished any claim to the West Bank. The Arabs living in the West Bank claim that this land was promised to them by the United Nations in 1947. Israelis claims that this region, which they call Judea and Samaria, was promised to them by God’s covenant with Abraham. There have been many attempts to resolve the dispute over the West Bank, but none so far have been successful.

Who are the Palestinians?

Before 1948, all the lands of Israel, the West Bank, and the Kingdom of Jordan were “Palestinian.” Governing authority over these lands was entrusted to the British by the League of Nations after WWI and called the “Mandate for Palestine.” The word “mandate” refers to the official directive for the British to govern the region. The term, “Palestine” is a Latin derivation of “Philistine” which can be traced back to the first century AD. When the Romans defeated the Jews and destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, they changed the name of the land from “Judea” (land of the Jews) to “Palestine,” (land of the Philistines). The Romans were saying, “This is no longer the land of the Jews. It is the land of their old enemy, the Philistines.” The name stuck, and for the centuries that followed, the land which had been promised to the people of Israel was known as Palestine. When my grandparents visited the Holy Land in the 1960s, they spoke of visiting “Palestine,” a land that was shared by Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

More recently, the name “Palestine” has been adopted as an ethnic identifier Arab people who live in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip (the coastal region south of Israel). They claim that their rights to Palestine precede Israel’s establishment as a nation in 1948. Israel disputes this claim. Today, the terms “Palestine” and “Palestinian” have taken on such a political connotation that they are no longer useful in describing or referring to the physical land of Israel. Historically, those who embrace their identity as “Palestinians” are people of Arab descent whose Moslem ancestors invaded and conquered Israel in AD 638.

Do Arabs living in Israel have Israeli citizenship and the right to vote?

When Israel declared itself to be a Jewish state (May 14, 1948) and was recognized by the United Nations, the people living within the borders of Israel, both Jews and Arabs, were given Israeli citizenship. As Israeli citizens, the Arabs born in Israel have the right to vote and have representatives in Israel’s parliament. Arabs who left Israel before or during the War for Independence were denied the right to return and claim citizenship. Arabs living in the West Bank have separate identity cards, passports, and license plates on their cars. While their personal rights are protected by Israeli law, they do not have citizenship or voting rights in Israel.

Did the Israelis “steal” land from the Palestinians?

Israel has often been accused of stealing land from the Palestinians. This is a complicated subject. Some of the land within the borders of Israel was purchased from absentee landlords with money provided by the Jewish National Fund. In addition, much of the land within the borders of Israel was granted to them when the United Nations partitioned the British Mandate of Palestine west of the Jordan between the Jews and the Arabs (Nov. 29, 1947). When five Arab nations attacked Israel in an attempt to destroy the fledgling nation, the Israelis fought for the land which had been promised. When the war was over, Israel’s borders included some Arab lands. Israel’s borders today include land that was purchased, land that was promised, and some land which the Arabs lost during Israel’s War of Independence. The Arabs want this land returned. Israelis argue that the Arabs lost this land when they rejected the United Nation’s 1947 decision to partition the land and attacked Israel .

What is the “Land for Peace” plan?

Many attempts have been made to resolve the conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis and create a lasting peace in the Middle East. The “land for peace” was one of the peace plans that failed. The plan called for Israel to give up some of the land in the West Bank which the Israeli Defense Force had captured during the 1967 Six-Day War. In exchange, the Arabs were to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation and cease all terrorism and attacks on Israel’s borders. Israel made a good faith offer to meet the Arabs’ land demands, but the Palestinian leadership refused to reciprocate by recognizing the Jewish State and has continued to support military attacks and terrorism against Israel. Most Israelis have given up on the “Land for Peace” plan as a means to reconciling differences with their Arab neighbors.

How should visitors to the Holy Land respond to the Arab-Israelis conflict?

First, recognize that there are two sides to every conflict. As visitors and observers, we need to keep our eyes and ears open, and our mouth mostly shut. We should try to learn by listening to the voices of those engaged in the conflict and refrain from offering easy answers and shallow minded opinions. .

 Second, recognize that both the Arabs and the Jews have historic family roots in the land. Many Arabs and Jews can trace their family roots back hundreds of years.

Third, recognize that many Arabs (both Christian and Moslem) and Jews have suffered considerably as a result of this conflict. Many have lost family members as a result of terrorism and war. We must appreciate the fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict is emotional and personal, not simply political or religious.

 Fourth, remember that while God has promised the land to Israel for duration of Jesus’ coming kingdom, Israel today is a secular, unbelieving nation. When God grants the land to his believing people, it will be with justice and consideration for all residents of the land, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

 Fifth, appreciate the fact that there are no simple solutions to this issue. The problem is unbelievably complex and intensely emotional. It will take strong and courageous leadership to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict in our day.

 Finally, remember that prayer changes things. We should heed the admonition of the psalmist David who said, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6).

The Story of Moses

Moses is regarded by many as the most important figure in the Hebrew Bible. His name appears 767 times. Only King David is mentioned more often than Moses. The great codifier of Jewish law, Maimonides, wrote that belief in the primacy of “Moses our teacher” is one of the foundations of Jewish faith. This opinion is supported by Scripture where we read that since the time of Joshua, “No prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face (Deut. 34:10).

The writers of the New Testament appear to concur with this assessment since Moses is mentioned more times in the New Testament than any other figure in the Hebrew Bible. Moses is honored by three prominent religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Abraham is regarded in Scripture as Israel’s spiritual and physical ancestor.  But Moses, for his role in mediating the covenant between God and His people, can be regarded as the nation’s founder.

Having written books on the Story of Israel, the Story of Jesus and the Story of the Apostle Paul, it seemed appropriate that my next book in this series should be about Israel’s most prominent and highly regarded leader, Moses.

Moses rose to a position of leadership in Israel through circumstances that were beyond his control. It was during the dark and distressful days of Israel’s bondage in Egypt that a child was born to a humble, Hebrew couple. After the birth of their son, they sought to protect his life by allowing their child to be adopted by an Egyptian princess. Having been raised in pharaoh’s royal court, Moses seem destined for a life of privilege and luxury. But God had other plans. When Moses intervened to defend an Israelite worker being attacked by an Egyptian taskmaster, his life suddenly and dramatically changed. Moses was forced to flee from Egypt and spent the next forty years as a shepherd in the land of Midian. But God’s plans for Moses were actually being accomplished, not thwarted, by this desert experience.

It was as a shepherd in the desert, caring for a flock of sheep, that God was preparing Moses to lead the flock of His people. When Moses had been thoroughly prepared for his mission (a process that took forty years), God appeared in a burning bush and charged Moses with a challenging mission. Moses was called by God to lead His people out of Egypt and into the land that had been promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses would spend the next forty years in the wilderness of Sinai, fulfilling his divine calling. But as we will see, this undertaking was not without some serious misadventures and mistakes along the way.

In this book, I trace Moses life from his birthplace in Egypt to his death on Mount Nebo in the land of Moab. On the way, we will consider the high points and low points of Moses’ spiritual journey. As we do, we will look for leadership lessons and practical principles which can help us on our own spiritual journey through life. I invite you to join me in taking a long walk with Moses. We will learn from his actions, be guided by his leadership principles, and consider the teachings in his final sermon, the book of Deuteronomy. Pick up your walking staff, and let’s begin our journey.

The book is available on Amazon for $12.95 (paperback) and $6.95 (Kindle). Here is the link to Amazon:


Twelve Sermons Which I Love to Preach

I am thrilled to announce the publication of my new book, Twelve Sermons Which I Love to Preach. I began this project intending it to be a Christmas gift for my family. But as the book developed I realized that it might be of interest to people beyond my immediate family. I whittled my “favorite” sermons down to twelve, wrote an introduction about my own preaching experiences, added a chapter on how I prepare a message, and finally included a classic hymn appropriate for each sermon. It has been fun to refine these twelve sermons for publication and distribution with the hopes that they will encourage and edify the body of Christ.

The following is an excerpt from my book where I describe some of the interesting experiences of preachers:

Preachers can usually share some interesting experiences that happen during a Sunday morning sermon. One of my former professors, Dr. Grant Howard, had been invited to preach at a church in Arizona. He was about halfway through his message when a woman stood up and asked, “What do you want me to do, take off all my clothes?” Fortunately, she was gently ushered out of the auditorium by a kindly deacon before she could act on her mental confusion.

My most embarrassing experience as a preacher took place at my home church where I had been invited to deliver the Sunday sermon. It was a warm, summer morning and the hospitality committee had prepared lemonade and cookies for the congregation to enjoy between Sunday School and the church service. Having taught Sunday School for the previous hour, I was pretty thirsty. The chilled lemonade was so delicious and refreshing that I drank two full glasses. Thirty minutes later as I sat on the platform looking forward to preaching my sermon, I began to feel “nature’s call.” As the minutes ticked by, I realized this was a call that I could not ignore.

During the next hymn I decided to quietly leave the platform and visit the restroom during the pastor’s prayer. I returned a few minutes later much relieved. But the pastor had finished his prayer and was asking the congregation where was his guest speaker! I knew that I had to answer his question before beginning my sermon. With a face flushed with embarrassment, I briefly explained the consequence of enjoying two glasses of delicious lemonade before the service. Everyone had a good chuckle about “nature’s” inopportune call on the preacher.

Favorite Sermons promo
Carl and his new book

Twelve Sermons Which I Love to Preach is available on Amazon for $9.95 ($4.95 Kindle Edition). https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Twelve+Sermons+Which+I+love+to+Preach&ref=nb_sb_noss


Encountering Jesus in the Real World of the Gospels

Encountering Jesus in the Real World of the Gospels, by Cyndi Parker (Hendrickson Publishers, 2021). Pp. 1-172. Reviewed by J. Carl Laney

I first met Dr. Cyndi Parker in Jerusalem where she was studying at the Jerusalem University College. Her love for the land and growing knowledge of physical geography of Israel were quickly recognized by the school’s president, Dr. Paul Wright. Parker soon found herself leading short term students around the land of Israel. Her interaction with maps, along with her engaging teaching, has been an inspiration to many students first being introduced to the biblical lands.

It is rare for me to discover a book about the land of Israel that is so comprehensive and yet not overwhelming. The emphasis of Dr. Parker’s book is “the real world of the gospels.” In Part One (“Context Matters”), she demonstrates the importance of context in studying the life of Jesus. Parker begins by providing readers with a survey biblical history from Eden to the Babylonian exile. This is not the dry facts of history that you can read about in other books. Parker leads readers in a study of the biblical theology that is behind the history, showing what God is doing with His people in the Promised Land.

The book goes on to present a concise survey of Eretz Israel and shows how the international situation of surrounding nations makes this region so central in the politics and history of the Ancient Near East. The chapter on “Lifelong Learning” presents the essential cultural background for the life and ministry of Jesus.

In Part Two (“Reading Jesus in Context”), Dr. Parker applies the principles of context to the study of the life of Jesus. In the birth narrative, she demonstrates the importance of the genealogies for understanding how Jesus fits into the story of Israel. Then she skillfully introduces a number of key events in the life of Jesus providing fresh insights based on the geographical and cultural context. In chapter 8, Parker presents Jesus as a “skilled communicator,” making use of nature, parables and fables to provide insight into the development the kingdom of God. She efficiently traces the events of the last week of the life of Jesus and follows this with the implications of the resurrection.

I highly recommend Dr. Parker’s new book as a refreshing and insightful introductory study of the historical, geographical and cultural background of the life of Jesus. The book includes 21 helpful illustrations and is replete with full documentation and a supportive bibliography. For further information about Dr. Cyndi Parker’s teaching, podcasts and Israel tours, refer to her website, narrativeofplace.com.






Surprised on the Road to Damascus

Most readers of the New Testament are familiar with the life changing experience of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. His objective on this journey was to arrest followers of a “false messiah” and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial. Saul had probably been traveling for more than a week and was approaching his destination (Acts 9:3). He was no doubt weary from travel and hungry for a good meal when suddenly, about midday (Acts 22:6), “a light from heaven flashed around him” (Acts 9:3). Falling to the ground, the startled traveler heard words spoken in Aramaic (Acts 26:14), “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4).

Luke records that Saul’s traveling companions heard the voice, but saw no one (Acts 9:7). This was probably true for Saul as well. He probably looked around wondering, “Who is speaking to me?” As a learned Jew, Saul would not have been unfamiliar with the concept of a “voice from heaven” (Dan. 4:31). Jesus had heard a voice from heaven three times during His ministry. The rabbis tell of God speaking at various times from heaven with an audible voice. Now Saul was hearing a voice from heaven. No doubt puzzled and troubled by the blinding light, Saul responded with a question, “Who are you, Lord” (Acts 9:5). The word “Lord” could be as well translated “Sir,” as in Acts 16:30 and Matthew 21:29,30.

The heavenly voice answered Saul’s question with the words, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). What a shock this must have been for Saul of Tarsus! The voice from heaven was none other than the voice of Jesus whose followers Saul was persecuting! It was as if the resurrected Jesus was crying out from heaven on behalf of his body which was suffering on earth. In the seconds that followed, Saul must have come to a startling and life changing realization. It was as if God had switched on the light in Saul’s mind, giving him new and conclusive spiritual insight. Somewhere along the road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus came to believe that the God whom he had sought so fervently to serve was Jesus whose followers he was persecuting!

Saul’s life-changing experience on the road to Damascus is usually called his “conversion.” The problem with this terminology is that Saul didn’t convert from anything. He didn’t convert from Judaism to Christianity since there was no such thing as “Christianity” at this time. Saul was Jewish. Though ignorant of the fulfillment of messianic prophecy in Jesus, he had worshipped and served the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Saul had been zealous for his ancestral faith. And he continued to live as a Jewish man after his Damascus road experience. He continued to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath. He continued to observe the Mosaic law. He continued going up to Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals. Saul of Tarsus lived and died as a Jewish man. As Marvin Wilson has pointed out, “at no point in his life did Paul leave Judaism; rather he understood his relationship to the Messiah as the full blooming of his Jewish faith.” (Our Father Abraham, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989, p. 46). Krister Stendahl adds, “Here is not that change of ‘religion’ that we commonly associate with the word conversion. Serving the one and the same God, Paul receives a new and special calling in God’s service. God’s Messiah asks him as a Jew to bring God’s message to the Gentiles” (Paul Among Jews and Gentiles, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976, p. 7).

Instead of using the word “conversion” to describe what took place in Saul’s life on the Damascus road, I believe it can be more correctly labeled as his “calling.” God called Saul to embrace the messiahship of Jesus and to proclaim the good news of His offer of salvation to Jews, Gentiles and the whole Roman world. The Damascus road experience didn’t convert Saul to a new religion or give him a new theology. Rather, it supplied the missing piece of the messianic puzzle which enabled him “to integrate the message of the Cross with his understanding of the Old Testament” (Timothy J. Ralston, “The Theological Significance of Paul’s Conversion,” Bibliotheca Sacra, April-June, 1990, p. 210).

Saul of Tarsus, later to be known as the Apostle Paul, became a significant player in the spread of the gospel and advance of God’s kingdom. His travels, preaching and letters to early churches are often cited when crediting him as the “founder” of Christianity. But Saul never “became a Christian.” He was Jewish. And he lived the remainder of his life as a Jewish follower of Jesus. His surprising experience on the road to Damascus was simply the catalyst which led him to the realization that the Yeshua (Jesus) was Israel’s promised messiah.

J. Carl Laney, author of “The Story of the Apostle Paul”

Justice and Peace Now

The other day on my morning run, I saw a popular sign reflecting the protests over the tragic shooting deaths of black Americans by the police. The sign read, “No justice; no peace.” People today are calling for justice–justice for black Americans; justice for women; justice for the unborn; justice for the “Dreamers” (DACA); justice for everyone who has been oppressed. When will there be “justice for all” which is promised by the U.S. Constitution and highlighted in our nation’s Pledge of Allegiance?  American’s have looked to lawmakers, the courts and judges with the hope of getting justice. But they have been disappointed by unmet expectations. 

The Apostle Paul believed in a God of justice. The Greek word for “justice” (dike) denotes “what is right.” The Greeks believed in Dike (counterpart to the Roman Justitia), a goddess of justice, who would inflict a just punishment on the guilty. When the poisonous viper attached itself to Paul’s hand, the observer assumed that Paul was a murderer and “Justice (Dike) has not allowed him to live” (Acts 28:4). The word is used by Paul to refer to the just “penalty” (dike) for rejecting God and His provision of salvation through Jesus (2 Thess. 1:8-9). Paul used a related word (dikaios) to refer to what God has declared to be right. He told the Thessalonian believers that it was “just (dikaios) for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Thess. 1:6). On the other hand, God was “right” or “just” in acquitting believers of their guilt and consequent punishment on the basis of their faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).

When most people ask for justice, they are appealing for the rights, freedoms and opportunities they believe they deserve. But when Paul writes about justice, he is referring to God being “right” in executing judgment on those who have rejected Him and the truth of His Word (Rom. 1:32). Many people are demanding justice now! But Paul assures us that justice is coming and it is not going to be nice. God’s justice means that we get what we deserve. The wages of sin is death and eternal separation from the presence of God (Rom. 6:23, 2 Thess. 1:9). That is not the “justice” most people are looking for today.

I am thankful that the justice I deserved fell upon Jesus. He took my place and received the wrath which I deserved. As a result, I can enjoy “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1). Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. Believers in Jesus receive both peace and justice now through His gracious person and work.

I Don’t Call Myself a “Christian”

Forty years at Western Seminary (1977-2018)

You are probably surprised to read these words, “I don’t call myself a Christian.” How can someone who is an ordained minister, taught the Bible for forty years, pastored churches, written Bible commentaries and “Christian” books say, “I don’t call myself a Christian.”

I am not trying to be sensational or gain a bit of notoriety. Yet I have come to believe the word “Christian” is not the best term to identify me or describe my spiritual commitment. The word “Christian” is based on the Greek word, Christos, which is means “anointed one” and refers to Israel’s promised messiah (meshiach). When Jesus’ disciples were asked who they thought he was, Peter answered correctly saying, “You are the Christos (messiah), the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Peter was simply affirming his belief that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah.

The first time the word “Christian” appears in the Bible was when it was used by the pagan gentiles of Antioch (Acts 11:26).  In their attempt to identify the congregation that had gathered to hear the teaching of Saul (Paul) and Barnabas, the people of Antioch called them Christianos (Acts 11:26). The root meaning and cultural background leads me to translate Christianos as “Messianics.” Since the strange community of people who had gathered in their city believed that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, they were identified by the citizens of Antioch as “Messianics.”

It is helpful to point out that none of Jesus apostles ever called themselves “Christians.” Nor did Paul ever identify himself as a “Christian.” Paul was born a Jew and died as a Jew. He testified to his Jewishness even after he became a follower of Jesus (Phil. 3:4-6). After hearing Paul’s testimony about his personal spiritual journey, King Agrippa said, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). In replying, Paul didn’t use the term Christian, but simply said, “I would wish to God, that…all who hear me this day, might became as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:28). Although Paul wanted Agrippa to believe in Jesus, he didn’t invite King Agrippa to become a “Christian.”

The apostle Peter used the term Christianos to describe followers of Jesus who were undergoing persecution. He wrote, “But if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify” (1 Pet. 4:16). Peter used the term “Christian” in the same way as those who were persecuting the believers. He was saying to the persecuted, “Glorify Jesus when you are persecuted as a “messianic.”

The greatest concern I have with the term “Christian” is that it is too broad and widely used to be helpful in self-identifying as a follower of Jesus. People sometimes claim to be “Christians” because they were born into a Christian family. Many religious minded people call themselves “Christians” even though they don’t believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God and Savior of fallen humanity. They call themselves “Christians,” because they are not Jewish, Moslem or Buddhist. The heretics who darkened the church over the centuries called themselves “Christians.” The Crusaders who led a murderous spree across Europe to “liberate” Jerusalem from the Moslems and Jews regarded themselves as “Christians.” The Spaniards who carried out the Inquisition were “Christians.” Adolf Hitler and his Nazi followers identified themselves as Christians, as have members of the Klu Klux Klan.

“Christian” Klu Klux Klan members gather at their church

Years ago I was reading my Bible and praying at the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem when I was greeted by Jewish man who asked, “Are you Jewish.” I responded, “No, I am a Christian.” He turned and walked away. I wonder how he might have responded had I replied, “I am messianic.” Perhaps he would have inquired further. Perhaps we might have had a conversation. But by calling myself a “Christian,” I had conjured up two millennia of anti-Jewish sentiment and history of persecution by so-called “Christians.”

In a day when self-identifying has become so acceptable in our increasingly diverse American culture, I wonder if there is a better way for believers to speak of our relationship with Jesus. When the Lord called His first disciples, He simply said, “Follow me” (Mk. 1:17, Matt. 4:19). And immediately the fishermen left their nets and “followed Him” (Mk. 1:18, Matt. 4:20). Jesus’ invitation, “Follow me,” is found repeatedly (ten times) in the Gospels! The word “followed” is commonly used in the Gospels to refer to the crowds who attached themselves to Jesus as His disciples. They became followers of Jesus.

I suggest that “Jesus follower” is a more meaningful way to self-identify than using the traditional, but rather empty term, “Christian.” What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? First, a follower of Jesus must believe and trust that what the Bible says about Him is true (Jn. 20:30-30). A follower of Jesus believes that He is the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. Intellectual ascent to these facts is not enough. These essential truths must be personally embraced and individually relied upon. Second, a follower of Jesus must count the cost of discipleship (Lk. 9:59-61). Jesus wants followers who are moved not merely by their emotions or family background, but have thoughtfully considered the commitment they are making. Third, a follower of Jesus must be willing to sacrifice (Matt. 16:24). To follow Jesus will require the sacrifice of pleasures, habits, aims and ambitions that we have woven into our lives. This act of turning from ourselves and turning to Jesus is called “repentance.” It is an act of surrendering the leadership of our lives to Jesus. Self-surrender is never easy. It is an act of sacrifice.

Jesus was not a “Christian.” He was the Jewish Messiah of Israel. The apostles were not a “Christians.” They were first century followers of Israel’s promised Messiah. Paul was not a Christian. He was Jewish man whose life changing encounter on the road to Damascus led him to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues saying, “He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). So, I don’t call myself a “Christian.” I identify as a follower of Jesus. And I invite you to be His follower too.