There was a man born among these Jews who claimed to be, or to be the son of, or to be 'one with', the Something which is at once the awful haunter of nature and the giver of the moral law. The claim is so shocking--a paradox, and even a horror, which we may easily be lulled into taking to lightly--that only two views of this man are possible. Either he was a raving lunatic of an unusually abominable type, or else He was , and is , precisely what He said.
The Problem of Pain
The Jewish Roots of Christianity: A Sample Witness
by Dr.Gunther Juncker
Some time ago, I had the distinct privilege of conversing candidly with an Orthodox Jew. I say privilege because in spite of having been treated despicably by professing Christians in the past, she still sought the truth and wanted answers to some rather deep questions about Christianity. In a world where people generally "don't give a hang" about God, I admired her for at least caring enough to seek the truth and to be upset by the claims of Christianity. To show this admiration and to put all the cards on the table, I told her, for example, that the next time she came across anyone who, out of ignorance or malice, tries to blame the Jews for killing Christ, that she should refer them politely to Christ's own words in John 10: 17,18 and note that it was the Romans who actually performed the crucifixion.
If I remember correctly, the main problem she had with Christianity, apart from some "Christians" was that she saw a contradiction between Deuteronomy 4:12 where Moses saw no "similitude," or physical form, in the burning bush, and the Christian claim that Jesus Christ was actually God in human flesh (e.g., John 1:1,14; Col.2:9). As Christians, we must never attempt to minimize this problem; either the Christian claim is the single most wonderful truth in the universe, or it is the single most diabolical deception. All we can do is give people such as this Orthodox Jewish woman what we think the more Biblical view is and let them decide for themselves whether or not we succeed. Let us also add that Christianity, if true, will not stand or fall on any individual apologetic. For any given apologetic is neither the only nor the best one around, not to mention that it is God alone who draws people to Himself and convicts them of sin. All we can do or attempt to do, is obey the command in 1 Peter 3:15 to gently give to everyone a reason (literally an "apologetic") for the hope that is in us.
First the only thing Deuteronomy 4:12 tells us is that Moses did not himself, at that time, see a "similitude" or "image" (the words are synonymous) in the burning bush. It does not tell us at all whether or not God has or could ever have one. Even Deuteronomy 5:6-9, where the Ten commandments are given, presents no contradiction to the Christian claim because it only forbids us from making and then worshipping any kind of an image. It also does not tell us if God has an image or if He could appear in a form of some kind. But, in fact, there are images of God around. We see them everyday and it never even occurred to us that it violated God's law. What are these images? People. Genesis tells us that we are, each and everyone of us, made in the image and likeness of God. So then, for us to make anything in the image or likeness of God is sin; but for God to make something in His image is Scripture. Because we are made by God, it follows that we are valid, accurate images. Because we are made by God in His image, it follows that He, at least, does not mind the existence of images in His likeness.
Second, not only does God not mind the existence of "images," (i.e. people) He also, in spite of Jewish theology on this point, has no hesitation appearing as such an "image" Himself. Granted, he did not do so with Moses, but He did so with someone else, namely Abraham, in Genesis eighteen. Remember that we are dealing with the infallible, Holy Word of God. If it does not say what here follows in the very heart of the Jewish Pentateuch, then it does not say anything and may as well be thrown out:
Abraham saw three men standing in front of him;
These men all had washable feet;
These men all ate real food;
One of these 'men' was Jehovah God;
Abraham and Sarah personally talked to Him and called Him "the Lord" and Judge of all the earth;"
And He answered by those names; spoke audibly to them in the first person; said that nothing was too difficult for Him; claimed to be the One who chose, blessed, and would personally fulfill His promise to Abraham; and admitted to being the One who as "judge of all the earth" would not only judge Sodom and Gomorrah but would do it justly.
If it were not Jehovah Himself appearing in the image of a physical man, then He not only allowed but encouraged them to blaspheme His Name by calling something or someone else 'The Lord." Yet, not only does Abraham refer to this Person repeatedly as "The Lord" in dialogue, but what is more important by far, the narrator and author of this passage (none other than Moses) also repeatedly calls this Person by the Divine Name, the sacred Tetragrammaton, in the narrative passages of this chapter (e.g. verses 1, 13, 17, 22, 23, etc.)
Was Abraham, "the friend of God," wrong? Was Moses "who talked with God face to face" wrong? Could God and His Holy Word deceive us? Can all this be denied or explained away? Well, there are some people so contrary that they will even deny their own existence! But listen to the following authorities whose materials relate to these questions:
Strange opinions have arisen due either to people who committed errors or to people who acted with some end in view, so that professing such opinions they ran counter to the nature of existence and denied a sensibly perceived thing . . . (Moses Maimonides, Guide To The Perplexed)
You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. Jesus Christ. "Gospel of Matthew"
Thirdly, where then does this leave us? Humans are valid, accurate images of God; God is personal; and God appeared to Abraham as a person in human form. None would dare to say God was a mere man, only that He does not seem to have any problem appearing as a man: visible, audible and touchable. Note that the angels who are spirits also have no trouble appearing as men. (See Gen. 19:1 where we learn that two of the "men" who appeared with Jehovah were actually angels) Thus, it should be no trouble for God, who is Spirit, to appear as a physical man also.
Once this is understood, then we can look at the verses in which Jehovah says He is coming Himself to visit His people in a special way: Isaiah 35,40, 59:20; Jeremiah 23; Zechariah 2:10, 12:10; Malachi 3:1. Let me add that speaking through a prophet or appearing in a dream or vision would not be a new or special way of visitation--it had been done. Neither, for that matter, would it be new or special for Him to appear as a physical man, as He did with Abraham. Are there any clues as to the nature of this special way of coming to His people? There are, and the first clue is found almost at the very beginning, in Genesis. There we are told that the promised Redeemer who will crush Satan will be born of the seed of the woman. A most unusual expression. In Isaiah 7, we read further that, in fact, "the Lord Himself will give a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel." The very name Immanuel means "God with us." And in Isaiah 9 we find also that " a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."
Let us put an end to frivolous objections before they come up by noting that while the word "almah" in Hebrew means virgin, it can also mean young woman. But, in this case, it must mean virgin for one simple reason [besides the expression in Genesis 3], and that reason is as follows: hundreds of years before Christ, the Jews themselves translated their entire Bible, our Old Testament, into Greek for all the Jews scattered abroad in the dispersion --Greek being the "lingua franca" of that time. In that translation, the Septuagint, the Jews of that day translated the word "almah" into the Greek word "parthenos" which means virgin and only virgin. Now, if the Jews of that day did not even know what the Hebrew of that day meant, then we never will. Clear enough. But why belabor the point? First of all, it would not even be a sign worth mentioning if it were merely a " young woman" who was to give birth to a son. Happens all the time. Neither would it be remarkable if some young woman merely names a son "Immanuel." Anybody could call a son that. The difference is that if, according to prophesy, a virgin miraculously conceives a son without a human father, her son would be Immanuel. This is what Isaiah 9 tells us, and this would truly be a sign from the Lord Himself.
What, then, do we find in Scripture? That God is coming in a special way, that a virgin will conceive a child, and that this child will be no less than Jehovah, the Mighty God, in human flesh. And on every count the New Testament agrees. In Matthew 1:18-23, the virgin Mary conceives miraculously by the Spirit of God. In Hebrews 1, we see that Jesus Christ is "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His nature" in human flesh. The fact that Jesus is "the radiance of God's glory" is alone of great significance when passages such as Isaiah 40:5 are read in light of Isaiah 48:11 where God says that He will not give His Glory to another. Note Philippians 2 where the above material is concisely presented:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Quoting Isaiah 45:23, and applying it to Jesus.)
Fourthly, we must look at why God was coming in this special way, and what He was going to do when He was here. It doesn't take to much reading to discover that He came Himself to establish a New Covenant or "testament" which would include both Jews and Gentiles alike. This Covenant is fortold in Jeremiah 31 and is best explained in the book of Hebrews. This Covenant was absolutely necessary for the salvation of anyone, Jew or Gentile, because the first Covenant and its conditions had been broken. (Jer.31:32) The New Covenant was not sealed with the blood of mere lambs and goats, but with the precious blood of that Holy Lamb to which all the sacrificed lambs pointed, for the blood of animals itself could never take away sin, but only temporarily and symbolically. Note the prophetic words of John the Baptist in John1:29 when he says of Christ, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" And note also the words of Christ Himself at the Passover before His crucifixion, "This is My blood of the [New] Covenant which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins." (Matt.26:28; see also 1 Peter 1:18-19)
In Romans 5:6-9 the Scripture says: "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him."
And in John 3:16 it says: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
This is the Christian Gospel, the Good News. And it is all the more consistent with the Law, the Psalms and Prophets as anyone can see, if they will only open their heart and ask Jehovah to lead them into truth.
Since, in reference to my first point above, God does not mind our existence as valid images, let us briefly examine that image to further understand the Original which it reflects. But what more exactly is that image? Well, since we are made in the image of God and the living creatures are not, it follows logically that the image of God in us is whatever distinguishes us from the animals. (Especially since the Hebrew terms for "breath of life" and "living soul" in Genesis 2:7 are else where applied to animals.) Thus, we alone are persons: we think, we act, we know; we are, in the words of another, "cognizant, reflective egos" or selves. [And I might add, the only thing we know about God prior to finding out that we are "in His image" is that He is infinitely creative. Thus our creativity, art, music and literature are transcendently validated because we are made in the image of a creator. But I digress] My main point here is that God is necessarily Personal, because person hood, or personality, is the essence of the image of God which man alone of all the animals possesses. Scripture bears this reasoning out, because God's personally revealed name to Moses was " I Am That I Am" and only a person, or Person, can say "I."
But how can we reconcile the fact that God is infinitely beyond us and yet, like us, is still personal? The following analogy was suggested by a classic little book entitled Flatland: What is a point like, yet (conceptually) infinitely beyond a point? A line; What is line-like, yet by nature a dimension beyond a simple line? A square; What is like a square, yet a dimension beyond square? A cube. Now, if you were to ask what was like a person, yet a dimension beyond, and if you were to look closely at verses like Genesis 1:26; 19:24; and Isaiah 6:8, the Christian view that God revealed Himself as a Trinity might not seem quite so unusual. In this dimension, three persons are always three separate beings. But we simply do not know enough about what personhood is to apply this limitation to the next dimension, let alone to an infinite God. One God, three Persons; that is the Christian view whether fully understood or not. We Christians may be many things, but polytheists we are not. When Jesus Christ was asked what the greatest commandment of all was, He responded immediately with, "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord." [Mark 12;29] We agree, noting only that Jesus did not say, "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one Person"!
Dr. Gunther Juncker is Assistant Professor of Bible and Theology at Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa Falls, Georgia. Ph.D. in New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. This paper was written about ten years ago for Apologetics Resource Center.