Wednesday, March 21, 2007


What am I worth? Various attempts have been made to evaluate the worth of a human being. I remember reading years ago that the value of the various chemicals and materials that make up the human body is just a few dollars. Of course, now the use of various organs for transplants has hiked this price quite a bit.

And not only do our bodies have material values, our psyches do too. Pop psychologists talk much about our “self worth.”

Of course, when we look around the world, read our newspapers and watch the TV news, we may get the impression that human life is worth very little. People perish by the thousands daily in natural disasters: tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes. Literally millions are dying of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, as well as other diseases. And as if these “natural” disasters aren’t enough, mankind adds to these deaths with brutal warfare, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, murder (and its punishment), abortion and euthanasia. And then, if we look at our entertainment media, we see more of the same – movies, TV, video games all exalt murder, vengeance, war and destruction. All this makes it hard to believe that we members of the human race are of any value, especially to each other.

But the Bible shows that we are of value. According to Genesis 1:26 and 27, man – male and female – was created in the image of God. Though later (Genesis 2:7) we are told that “God formed man of dust from the ground,” we are also told that “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” Although we share our material nature with the rest of the world, especially the animal world, we share our spiritual nature with God. We are unique. And therefore we have value to God.

And even though that image of God was in some way marred by the fall of man, it is still carried by human beings today (see Genesis 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9).

Later in the book of Genesis, after the flood, God gave this command to Noah: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). It may seem odd to claim that the statement inaugurating capital punishment could be quoted as assigning value to human life. But it is because of man’s value as the image of God that capital punishment was given. To take a human life is considered, in a sense, killing God in effigy.

“Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17 – KJV) has been used as an argument against the taking of a human life in any manner. But the Hebrew word RASAH is not the usual word translated “kill.” It has the idea of taking an innocent human life, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It is translated in most modern translations as “murder,” though in many contexts it could be better translated as “manslaughter.” Elsewhere in the Old Testament, killing in war and as punishment were not only tolerated, but commanded.

However, it is in the New Testament, especially in the words of Jesus that we find out our real value to God. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus points out (almost incidentally) our value to God. “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” … “Are you not worth much more than they?”

Of course, the greatest demonstration of our value to God is shown in His gift to us: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, what whoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal Life” (John 3:16). God valued us – loved us – enough to pay an infinite price for our salvation.

I believe a biblical understanding of the value of human life – our value to God – should affect our thinking in every area of ethics. It should affect our thinking and our actions in our attitude about issues such as abortion, and also in other areas. The Christian should be “pro-life” in every area of our dealings This should affect our thinking about poverty, punishment and war. And while we may believe there are biblical reasons for war or capital punishment, I don’t see how we can ever take pleasure in them, as I hear many speaking of. As the LORD says in Ezekiel 33:11: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”

Bill Ball

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


In his newspaper column of March 14, Cal Thomas says "Conservative Evangelical Christian voters have come a long way in a short time." He goes on to tell how they have moved from their condemnation of Bill Clinton for his "extramarital affairs" to a readiness to accept Republican presidential candidates such as Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and others, whose sexual moral track records are right there alongside Clinton's.

He goes on to claim that the phenomenon is "a sign of their political maturation and of their more pragmatic view of what can be expected from politics and politicians."

Perhaps Cal is right. Or perhaps it is a sign that many on the religious right have been captured by the Republican party. Many saw this coming and now it's here. When conservative Christians began to make common cause with the Republican party, they seemed to believe that they could take control and have a political party that would espouse their moral and social causes. Instead, I believe, the opposite has happened. I hear many of my friends espousing Republican political views as though they were Christian, biblical, or moral views, and it appears that many can't tell the difference. We hear many evangelicals adding a "thus said the Lord" to political opinions that often have little, if any, moral value.

It seems that, to many evangelicals, to be a Christian is to be a Republican, and vice versa. At one time they found agreement with conservative political groups on clear moral issues, such as abortion. But that time appears to be past. Many of the prominent Republican leaders are as pro-abortion as most Democrats. Other political issues have taken on moral tones, and many political opinions have become as important as theological issues. Many seem more concerned about what one believes about global warming than what one believes about the Trinity. They seem more concerned about what one thinks about some political figure or radio talking head than what one thinks of Jesus Christ.

And as we evangelicals move farther in this direction our witness is compromised.

Over 65 years ago, C. S. Lewis in a brief essay entitled “Meditation on the Third Commandment,” dealt with a similar issue in England. Many Christians were advocating forming a unified Christian "party," or "front," or "platform," in politics. He warned of the same dangers we see today. He spoke of "...the temptation of claiming for our favorite opinions that kind and degree of certainty and authority which really belongs only to our Faith.......On those who add 'Thus said the Lord' to their merely human utterances descends the doom of a conscience which seems clearer and clearer the more it is loaded with sin. All this comes from pretending that God has spoken when He has not spoken."

The title of Lewis’ essay seems strange at first. He doesn’t even mention the third commandment. Is he implying that when we attempt to tie God’s Name to some political party we are taking His Name in vain?

Bill Ball

Monday, March 5, 2007


As I’ve said elsewhere, I read many books. I read for many reasons, but usually I read to learn new facts, or to clarify my thinking, or to find out the thinking of others, with whom I may agree or disagree. But every once in a while I read a book that causes me to ask myself why I didn’t write it.

I just finished ready Garry Wills’, WHAT JESUS MEANT (Penguin Books, 2006) and it’s one of those books.

It’s a great book! The fact that it was a New York Times’ bestseller makes it even more significant. It means people have read and are reading this book. Even our local public library featured a review of it in one of their monthly readers’ meetings.

Why would a book about Jesus be a best-seller? Usually those that are introduce some heresy, denying Christ’s deity, or sinlessness or resurrection, the latest being THE FAMILY TOMB OF JESUS by Simcha Jacobovici, which of course follows THE DaVINCI CODE, THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS, etc., etc. Many, I suppose would place Wills' book in the same category.

But it’s not! Though Wills is an iconoclast, he speaks from (I believe) the standpoint of faith. He doesn’t attempt to deny or disprove the person of Jesus. His goal is nobler. He wants his readers to see Jesus as He is presented in the Bible. Wills seems to believe that most Christians have a skewed view of Jesus because they don’t take the reports about Him in the Gospels seriously.

A few things about the author. Garry Wills, the blurb tells us, is Professor of History Emeritus at Northwestern University. The blurb also tells us he studied for the (Roman Catholic) priesthood, holds a doctorate in classics and taught Greek for many years. Pretty impressive. It is clear that he is a practicing Catholic and writes from within that faith perspective. Even though he slams some basic Catholic beliefs such as the Mass, the Papacy, apostolic succession, he does this as a devout Catholic. His comments made this protestant chuckle and say amen, but he could say things that I probably wouldn’t. He is a prolific writer. Looking at my bookshelves I find I own and have read at least a half dozen of his books.

Before I get too far, I better give a few caveats. He seems to accept some of the views of “historical criticism” – a late date for the composition of the gospels, the pseudonymous authorship of the pastoral epistles and the epistles of Peter. He seems a bit too “politically correct” in his view of homosexual behavior as a mere violation of ritual purity laws (pages 52ff). His calling the koine Greek of the New Testament a “pidgin language,” shows (I believe) a snobbery that ill-fits his other claims. He attacks the language from his point of view as a classical scholar and fails to appreciate the colloquialisms and conversational grammar of a very beautiful language. Worst of all is his view that Jesus was some sort of a frail, contemplative person.

But, enough of that. Skip “A Note on Translation,” but definitely read the Foreword. In fact, read the 17 page Foreword even if you don’t read the rest of this very brief book. He states his thesis well.

He begins by attacking the WWJD fad. He asks the question, “ … can we really aspire to do what Jesus did?” and goes on to point out a few things that Jesus did that we would not praise in anyone else – His seeming rejection of His own family, the destruction of someone else’s pigs, His chasing people out of the temple with whips, His claims of authority, even of deity. This is not the behavior of a “normal” person. Wills quotes Romano Guardini that a person such as this would be more than evil, he would be either “deranged” or “quite different, deeply and essentially different, from what we are.”

Jesus is described in this book as “subversive,” a “radical.” I love page xxi: “If He was not God, He was a standing blasphemy against God. The last thing He can be considered is a ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild.’”

But Wills is concerned that we understand Jesus. “To read the gospels in the spirit with which they were written, it is not enough to ask what Jesus did or said. We must ask what Jesus MEANT by His strange deeds and words. He intended to reveal the Father to us, and to show that He is the only-begotten Son of that Father” (page xviii).

For many years, I taught a college class on the Gospels as well as Christology (the doctrine of Christ) in a theology class. I have found that many of my students, even those with a reasonable Bible knowledge, even those brought up in church and Sunday school, have a pretty vague idea of who Jesus was and is. Perhaps this is partly because the incarnation is not that easy to grasp. After all, He is completely God and completely man.

I also believe that all the popular books and TV specials that attempt to deny His diety have brought a reaction among those who accept His deity. We are so afraid of falling off one side of the horse that we lean too far toward the other side until we fall off that side. I believe that for many Evangelicals and Catholics, the emphasis is so strong on His deity that we almost deny (or at least ignore) His humanity. We want a “nice” Jesus, who never does anything to offend, a conformist Jesus. Or maybe we have a Jesus who is sort of ethereal, in white robes, with a glow on His head or face, who talks in red letters.

But the Jesus presented to us in the Gospels (the only source of information we have) is, as one writer says, “robust Jesus.” He is a real man. He was a middle-eastern Jew, a working man – and He undoubtedly looked it. He observed the Mosaic Law, but flaunted the nit-picking rules of the Rabbis. He associated with people that “nice people” wouldn’t associate with. He showed compassion and love, even toward His enemies, and expected His followers to do the same. He was considered by the religious people of His day as a nonconformist and a radical. So they got rid of Him!

He was God, but He lived on this earth as a man, not a theophany. “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, …” (Hebrews 2:17a). “ … One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15b). “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).

So why are we, the followers of this God-man so different from what He was? Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” The imitation of Christ is not impossible.

Wills’ book should draw us back to this, I believe. We need to take our blinders off and take a fresh look at the Jesus of the Gospels, to do what the old corn flakes’ commercial asked us to do, to “taste (HIM) again for the first time.” We need to spend time reading the Gospels, meditating on the Person they picture to us. To contemplate what Jesus did, what He said and what He meant.

Bill Ball

Saturday, March 3, 2007


The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is one of the well established facts of ancient history. It is also a necessary part of the gospel, or good news about Jesus. Paul boils down this good news to four facts (1 Corinthians 15:1-8):

“ … I make known to you brethren, the gospel … that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
… He was buried,
… He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
… He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, … to more than five hundred,… then … to James, then to all the apostles, … and last of all … to me also.”

The resurrection is so essential to the gospel and Christian faith that Paul later in the same chapter says “ … if Christ has not been raised, then our message is empty, your faith also is empty … your faith is worthless, you are still in your sins, … those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished … we are of all people the most pitiful” (verses 14-19). Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection.

So when it was announced that the Discovery Channel was going to air a documentary on the discovery of Jesus’ family tomb, it grabbed the attention of many.

The film pieces together fragments of “evidence” to claim that this tomb was discovered in Jerusalem and has in it an ossuary, or bone box with Jesus’ name on it, another with Mary Magdalene’s name and another with the name of a son, Judah. DNA evidence “proves” that the human materials in Jesus’ and Mary’s boxes are different and thus (get this) were husband and wife. By the way, as far as I know, no actual bones were found.

One site I googled already had a lengthy rebuttal to all the claims and “evidence,” so I won’t bother. I can’t really say more than the experts, except to say that if claims were made about any other person in history, based on such manipulation of such slim evidence, they wouldn’t even get a hearing.

Though the news media sometimes love to make much out of things like this, to hype it as something that will shake Christianity to the core, there’s just nothing to it. The evidence is on our side. I heard one newsman draw a distinction between “facts and faith,” as though Christian faith is something that is held in spite of the facts.

But Christian faith is based on solid evidence – the empty tomb, the failures of attempts to explain it away, the 500 plus witnesses and the changed lives of Jesus’ disciples.

It is those who choose to believe this latest attempt to deny the resurrection who are really holding their faith in spite of the facts. It seems that many people are desperate to find an escape from the truth about Christ. This is just one of many attempts, that go all the way back to the first century. See the record of the first attempt in Matthew 28:11-15.

What bothers me more than the claims of unbelievers, however, is the fearfulness of believers. Many are circulating e-mails and petitions to keep this off the air. Why? What are we afraid of? I believe that while this film will convince those who want to be convinced, it will go the way of the other books, movies, etcetera, all of which have attempted to do the same. It might even get people talking about Jesus. It might be a great opportunity for witness – which should be our goal! We can present to people the truth about Jesus, that He is the Son of God who died for our sins (and rose from the dead), as well as for the sins of those who try to prove that He didn’t!!

Bill Ball