Below is the response I received today from a member of the LCMS Commission on Theology, whom I assume is an LCMS pastor or theologian. My response follows below.
The children’s song says, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” While that statement is true to a certain extent—the Bible does tell us about Jesus’ love—the song also has things a little backward. We do not believe in Jesus because we believe in the Bible. We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God because we believe in Jesus. Jesus is the foundation on which our faith is built. The apostle Paul said, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Certainly people will try to build on other foundations, including a foundation of trust in the historicity of the Exodus, or a foundation of trust in the Hebrew Scriptures, but these other foundations are not solid, something that you have already experienced.
Jesus Himself testified to the correct and incorrect understandings of the Hebrew Scriptures. To the Jews who did not believe in Him as their Messiah and Savior, Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). The Hebrew Scriptures could not give them eternal life; only Jesus could do that—and those same Scriptures pointed to Him. Because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He, by His death and resurrection, has won for us forgiveness and eternal life, we trust His testimony regarding the Old Testament Scriptures. We can also see that the historical events of the ancient Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt point ahead to the historical events of Jesus’ own life (“Out of Egypt I called my son.” Matthew 2:15) and to the fact that He is the Passover Lamb “who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7).
The Bible, of course, is divided into its two main parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. We often talk about a person’s “last will and testament,” an agreement that provides for the distribution of a person’s money or property after death. The divisions of the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, receive their titles from this idea of an agreement, or as it is more often called, a covenant. Both parts of the Bible are about an agreement or covenant that God made with people, something we might call God’s will and testament. God’s covenant is not an agreement providing for the distribution of human wealth or property and it is not an agreement between two equal parties. This agreement is the decision of God alone. This covenant or testament is His arrangement for the distribution of forgiveness and eternal life. A “last will and testament” goes into effect with the death of the person who made the agreement. That is what happened with God’s testament. It went into effect with the death and resurrection of Jesus, and all who trust in Him inherit what He guarantees—forgiveness and eternal life.
Jesus’ disciple John wrote, “We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). You have said that you want to believe again in Jesus as your Savior and that you want to believe that death is not the end. The Lord Jesus wants those things for you also—the children’s song is right about that—Jesus does love you. Death is not the end for those who trust in Jesus. He is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). The writings of Israeli archeologists are certainly interesting and worth reading, but read the Scriptures again, Old and Testament alike, and instead of trying to prove them right or wrong, read them to meet the Savior to whom those Scriptures testify. It is my hope and prayer that you will see Him there.
My Response to the LCMS:
Thank you very much for taking the time to address my concerns regarding the lack of archaeological evidence for the historicity of the Exodus.
As a member of an LCMS congregation for four years, and as an avid student of LCMS and orthodox Lutheran doctrine during that time, I am well aware that orthodox Lutherans teach that JESUS is the foundation of our Faith. However, that statement has a very big caveat: Jesus is the foundation of our Faith IF and only if he really and truly, physically, rose from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then he was simply a good, but delusional man, and I’m sure that neither Martin Luther, Phillip Melanchthon, nor you would worship a good, but delusional, dead man.
So upon what do confessional Lutherans base their belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus: Do we really base our belief in Jesus on…Jesus? No. No one can dial up Jesus on his or her cellphone and ask Jesus if he really rose from the dead. So where do we obtain our belief that on the third day after his crucifixion that Jesus’ tomb was empty due to his physical resurrection from the dead and that he appeared to more than 500 people only days and weeks later? We obtain our belief of the physical resurrection of Jesus from the Bible. Orthodox Christians, including orthodox Lutherans, believe that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God. The LCMS, in particular, believes that the Bible is the INERRANT Word of God. Specifically, the original manuscripts of the Bible contained no error whatsoever. Since no one living today has ever seen or read these originals, orthodox Lutherans believe in the inerrancy of the originals by faith, not based on dialing up Jesus and asking him to confirm that this supernatural concept of inerrancy is true, nor do we orthodox Lutherans buy the evangelical concept of Jesus speaking to us in “our hearts”. So why do orthodox Lutherans believe that the original manuscripts of the Bible were inerrant? Answer: because the existing manuscripts of the Bible tell us so.
Unlike some fundamentalist Baptists and evangelicals, the LCMS is willing to admit that some alterations, embellishments, and minor errors exist in the existing manuscripts, such as the Johannine Commae However, the LCMS believes that there is no error in any doctrine, teaching, or any historical event present in our existing manuscripts. This can be confirmed by looking at the two Doctrinal Statements of the LCMS, one published in the 1930’s and one in the 1970’s. This is the current official position of the LCMS. To say that the Exodus, the Creation, or the Great Flood, did not happen as described in the Bible would be considered heterodox teaching in the LCMS and my guess would be that any LCMS pastor promoting such positions would be in hot water with his DP.
So, our orthodox Lutheran Christian Faith is founded upon a resurrected-from-the-dead Jesus, based upon the inerrant teachings in the existing manuscripts of the Holy Bible, supported by writings and statements by early Christians in the second century who also confessed the belief that Jesus physically rose from the dead. However, we have zero contemporaneous statements or writings of this supernatural event, not even in the Bible!
The first mention of a Resurrection occurs 20-30 years later in the writings of the Apostle Paul in First Corinthians. In I Corinthians chapter 15, Paul recounts a list of the eyewitnesses to the Resurrection (in which he does not include Mary Magdalene or the other women, and he asserts that Peter was the first to see the resurrected Jesus, an assertion that contradicts the accounts in the Gospels even if we limit the list of eyewitnesses to just the men!) and at the end of this statement states that the resurrected Jesus appeared last to him. But Paul gives us no details of when or where this appearance occurred and does not tell us anything about what he saw. We must go to the Book of Acts to find this out…and assume…based on statements by late second century Christian apologists that the author of the Book of Acts was Luke, who received this information straight from Paul,…as we have no statement in any contemporaneous document or even in the Book of Acts itself, verifying who this author was or that he even knew Paul or that he had heard this story directly from Paul’s mouth.
So, if we accept, based on the statements of Christians living over 100 years after the Book of Acts was written, that the author of the Book of Acts received the story of Saul/Paul’s conversion directly from Paul, this is what we must believe as the testimony of Paul from the three accounts of this event recorded in Acts:
1. Paul only saw a light. There is never a mention of seeing a body or form of a body. He says he also heard a voice which said it was Jesus.
2. Paul seems to confuse whether or not his traveling companions heard something or saw the light, as the three accounts in Acts differ on these points. One account says that they saw nothing but heard an unintelligible voice, and one says that they saw the light but heard nothing.
3. In Acts chapter 26 Paul, speaking in the first person, states that the event on the Damascus Road was a “heavenly vision”.
Thousands if not millions of people over the last 2,000 years have claimed to have had visions of Jesus in which they see Jesus, and have conversations with him, and swear on a stack of Bibles that the event was just as real as if you and I were having a conversation with each other on the street corner!
The Emperor Constantine had a vision in which he saw Jesus and heard Jesus speak to him. Oral Roberts says that he saw a four-story high Jesus standing outside of his hospital bed window, and I have a cousin who swears he had a near death experience and met and talked with Jesus in heaven! Neither you nor I believe that these people really saw Jesus, so how do we know for sure that Paul saw the real resurrected body of Jesus?? Sincerity is not proof that a person’s claim is true. I believe Paul that he truly believed that he “saw” something.
Some people will say, “But Saul/Paul hated the Christians. He was persecuting them in Jerusalem and on his way to persecute more Christians in Damascus. There is no reason for him to have a vision of Jesus and convert to the Faith he so hated.”
My answer is: Stranger things have happened. My cousin was a sin-loving, non-religious man when he had his “meeting in heaven” with Jesus. Does that confirm his “vision” was true? No. But what we do know is that Paul himself did not describe his meeting with Jesus as an event in which he saw and touched a resurrected body. He very specifically describes it as simply a heavenly vision.
When I saw my faith fading and essentially “circling the drain”, I clung on to one last shred of “evidence”: the apostle Paul and his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. (I had not yet read Paul’s statement that this event was only a vision, as recorded in Acts chapter 26.)
So if Paul had seen Jesus on the Damascus Road, and he later met with Peter and James in Jerusalem, as he says in his epistle, he surely would have compared the physical features of the man who called himself Jesus, whom he spoke with on the Damascus Road, with the physical features of the resurrected Jesus that both Peter and James could recount to him, because they were eyewitnesses to the resurrection. Peter and James not only saw the resurrected body of Jesus, they had touched it and ate meals with it!
However, if all Paul saw was a bright light on the Damascus Road in a vision, how could he compare this “vision” with Peter and James? I believe that there are at least three possible answers:
1. Peter and James just accepted Paul’s word. They accepted Paul’s vision of a bright light as actually being Jesus.
2. Paul never discussed what he saw on the Damascus Road with Peter and James.
3. Peter and James too only saw a bright light thinking it was Jesus and the stories in the Gospels are pure fabrication and fantasy!
It is interesting to notice this: NO ONE in the Bible describes Jesus! Not one person in the New Testament tells us whether Jesus was tall, short, thin, overweight, long hair, balding, dark complexion, light complexion…etc. Nothing!
So 15-25 years after Paul’s letters, the Gospels start popping up. If you have ever read straight through the four Gospels you will have noticed two things:
1. Many of the same stories are repeated with amazing consistency among the three and sometimes even four authors.
2. The Resurrection stories in the four Gospels have a lot of “apparent” discrepancies. Who went to the tomb, was it dark or light when they arrived, was the stone already rolled back, or did an angel roll it back while they were there, was there one or two angels or one or two “men”, did the men and or angels tell the women to tell the disciples to go to meet him in Galilee or to remain in Jerusalem, does Jesus let the women touch him or he forbids them to touch him. Are the angels or men inside the tomb or sitting outside on the stone, and why in the original Gospel of Mark does the author say that the women fled from the tomb terrified and told no one, where the other Gospels have them reporting immediately to the disciples? Did Jesus first appear in Jerusalem or in Galilee? Did Jesus ascend from Bethany, Jerusalem or Galilee? Did Jesus ascend to heaven on the same day as his resurrection or 40 days later…or eight days later?
Too many discrepancies for these authors to have been eyewitnesses or companions of eyewitnesses, even though Christians do the most amazing contortions of reason, logic and the English language to make them all harmonize. They use the adage, “If any reasonable explanation can harmonize the alleged discrepancy, then there is no discrepancy.”
Imagine if the police and the courts of law followed this reasoning when evaluating flagrant discrepancies between different eyewitnesses of an alleged event! Society would be in chaos! But Christians have no problems using this line of thinking, why? Answer: It maintains their pre-conceived belief that the Bible cannot contain error, because the existing manuscripts, which admittedly DO contain some errors, state that the original manuscripts were without error, so we can chalk up any unexplainable, apparent discrepancy to a scribe alteration of the unavailable and presumed no-longer in existence original manuscripts!
And the fact that Matthew, Mark, and Luke seem to be repeating the exact same words is because…they probably were! Scholars now believe that the authors of Matthew and Luke, and maybe even John, used the Gospel of Mark as a template! And who wrote these books? They are not signed! We have an assertion by Papias in the early second century and by Iraeneus in France in the late second century that the Church-ascribed authors wrote them. So based on these two people (Papias is considered an unreliable source of information on many other issues, why trust him on this issue??) we have stated as fact that the Gospels were written by two eyewitnesses and by two companions of eyewitnesses, but we have no contemporaneous evidence of who wrote these anonymous letters, written in eloquent Greek! Did Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John take an advanced course in How to write in Eloquent Greek Prose at the local community college?
As an educated man this line of reasoning just is not believable to me. The only manner in which I could continue to believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus was to know that Paul had seen Jesus’ resurrected body and that his sighting of Jesus was compared to the known features of the body of Jesus known by Peter and James. As I stated above, this line of defense crumbled with the revelation that Paul admits he only had a vision…of a light.
So what was left to maintain my faith? Answer: I had to confirm that God’s miraculous works in the Old Testament, stated as historical fact, could be proven by modern science and archaeology. After doing a little digging (pun) I found that mainstream archaeology finds no evidence to support the Biblical accounts of the Patriarchs, the Hebrews’ slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, the Passover in Egypt, the wandering in the Sinai, the Conquest of Canaan, and the Great Kingdoms of David and Solomon. These experts, including some of the top archaeologists in Israel, state there is zero evidence for the Biblical story in Genesis of 600,000 fighting Hebrew men, plus their wives, children, and old people leaving Egypt and wandering the Sinai for forty years. Not one pottery shard of evidence!
Evangelical Christian apologists now say that the Hebrew word in the Exodus story, translated by every Bible ever printed as “thousand”, should really have been translated “household”, so only a few tens of thousands of Hebrews left Egypt, explaining why no evidence had been found of them.
When confronted with the fact that geologists have conclusively proven that there was no global Flood that covered even Mt. Everest with “15 cubits” of water, evangelical apologists now say that the Flood was only a regional flood of the Euphrates River Valley. Is the LCMS now reinterpreting the Hebrew words for “thousand” and “flood covering the whole earth” to be consistent with modern evidence? Is the LCMS going to “shift the goal posts” of proving Biblical inerrancy along with the Evangelicals?
Nope. Sorry. I don’t buy it. If orthodox Christianity must redefine words in God’s Holy Word every couple of generations to keep their “inerrant” Holy Book from looking like a collection of silly, superstitious, ancient middle-eastern old wives’ tales, then something is seriously wrong with the Christian God and his inerrant “words”.
The evidence is too great, Pastor. The Creation story is a fable. The story of the great Flood is an act of plagiarism of the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, written several hundred years before the Hebrew version, and the Exodus, the wandering in the Sinai, the Conquest of Canaan, the great kingdoms of David and Solomon are all fables, most likely created by King Josiah’s seventh century Jerusalem priests writing nationalistic stories for the ignorant masses.
And the most damning part of it all is this: Jesus, his disciples, and the Apostle Paul all believed these fables to be true. Jesus himself recounts the Flood and Noah…an event that never happened. John tells us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover…another event that never happened.
So we have Jesus, the All-knowing God of the Universe, believing in stories that have been proven false.. and…we have no evidence whatsoever of Jesus’ physical resurrection other than hearsay by anonymous writers of the Gospels written 30-40 years after the fact, and a Jewish Pharisee convert who himself states had a “vision” in which he heard a voice and saw a bright light.
This is why I can no longer believe. This is why I can no longer believe that Jesus is risen and is King of the Universe.
So, in reality, the foundation of orthodox Lutheranism is based solely on assumptions and fables about Jesus, not actually on Jesus. I wish someone could give me good evidence that proves the Resurrection really did happen, but no one has been able to do so yet. The only evidence anyone seems to be able to give me is the “presence” of Jesus in their “heart”, or that their belief proves their belief is true. Muslims and Hindus feel the presence of their gods in their hearts and believe what they believe just as devoutly as orthodox Christians. Feeling a presence and/or believing in your beliefs sincerely proves nothing.
So, dear Pastor, if there is something I missed, please let me know. I loved being an orthodox Christian. I loved being an orthodox, “quia” LCMS Lutheran. I loved my church and I loved my pastor. But the foundation for my faith fell out from under my feet. Jesus may have lived…but Jesus is dead.