“Morality and Christian Theism” by H.P. Owen was originally published in 1984 by Religious Studies. In this thoughtful and engaging work, Owen explores some reasons to think specifically Christian theism best explains morality.
By Tom ThomasWhat happened to James? James was our Lord’s brother. Sometime after Jesus’ death, James was known for being on his knees praying. Before Jesus’ death James was known for his unbelief. Before I get to James, let me ask you this: what happened to David Wood? What happened to Saul, the Pharisee hunter of Christians? What do any of these questions have to do with the resurrection?
David Wood’s dog was hit by a bus and died. His mother was terribly upset. David was not. It was just a dog. A few years later his friend died. He felt no sorrow. He saw how others were feeling and sensed maybe he should feel sorrow. David was separated from his feelings. He couldn’t empathize with others. He was diagnosed a sociopath. On top of this, David was an atheist. Right and wrong didn’t matter to him. One day David’s life came into focus. He brutally attacked his father and beat him with a hammer until he thought him dead (he wasn’t). He was imprisoned for ten years. David is now a missionary, reconciled with his father, and has an earned Ph. D. from Fordham University. What happened to him?
Before I answer this question and the one about James, let me ask you this: what happened to Saul, the Pharisee hunter of Christians? Let me refresh you regarding Saul. Saul was a contemporary of Jesus’ apostles. He was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin. From the age five Saul was strictly educated in the Old Testament law. At age of thirteen, he studied Scripture under the Jewish scholar Gamaliel. Gamaliel was the Alan Derschowitz Harvard law professor of the day. He prepared Saul to teach the law. Saul became so zealous for the law he surpassed his Pharisee peers. He would even kill for the Law.
In fact, Saul took a leading role in hounding the church. He went to Christians’ houses. He hauled them – even women – to prison. Saul said, ‘I was violently persecuting the church of God’…I ‘was trying to destroy it’ (Gal 1: 13). He took cool pleasure in the stoning of preacher Stephen. He held the coats for others to throw stones. (Acts 8:1)
Then, suddenly, something happened. People said, ‘He who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy?’(Gal 1:23)Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem…?” believers asked (Act 9:21) He now goes by the name of Paul. He testifies in the synagogues Jesus ‘is the Son of God’. He argues Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 9:22) What gives? How could one so passionately against Jesus turn so for him? This brings me to James.
What happened to James? In 2002 an archaeological discovery was made. A first century ossuary box was uncovered. An ossuary box contains the bones of a deceased person. This box had this inscription on it, ‘James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.’ Whether or not it is authentic is still being studied. No matter, Jesus had four brothers, one whose name was James. Not a lot is known about James. James was the physical son of Joseph and Mary. He, his brothers, and mother Mary traveled with Jesus early in his ministry. But Jesus did not win him over. There was conflict between Jesus, James and his brothers. They did not believe him. They thought anybody can claim to be a Messiah in the country where few see him. ‘If you do Messiah works, show the world’. Prove yourself. Do your miracles in D.C., not in Tight Squeeze! Jesus went to his grave with his brother James a skeptic.
But what happened to James? The next thing you hear James is on his knees praying. He is with his mother Mary and Jesus’ disciples in the upper room. Ancient testimony says James was frequently found on his knees begging forgiveness for people. His knees were hard like a camel’s. James is now called ‘James the Righteous’. He is the leader of the Jerusalem church. On account of Jesus, James was stoned in 62 AD. What happened to James? Once a skeptic …now a martyr.
Here’s the answer: Take Paul first: he saw the risen Jesus Christ. At midday when traveling to Damascus a light shone on him. The light was brighter than the sun and encircled him. He heard the Voice speak to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’(Acts 26: 14) Paul asked, ‘Who are you Lord?’ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ (Acts 9: 5) Paul testified, Jesus ‘appeared also to me.’ ‘Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?’ Paul asked (1 Cor 9:1). Seeing the resurrected Lord Jesus instantaneously turned Saul around. The resurrected Jesus turned Saul into Paul.
What happened to David Wood? In prison he ran into Randy, a Christian. Randy articulated his reasons for believing in Jesus. It made David’s unbelief seem silly. David wanted to refute Randy’s faith. So David began reading the Bible. Jesus’ resurrection bothered him. Why would the disciples risk death to testify to the resurrection if they didn’t believe it? He also read in the Bible Jesus is the resurrection and the life; the Son of God can set you free. David knew he had many psychological, spiritual, and moral disorders. He couldn’t help himself. Who could? Only Jesus, the One God raised, could.
What happened to James, the Lord’s skeptical brother? The apostle Paul gives the answer: ‘Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he …appeared to James…’ (1 Cor 15: 7) Our risen Lord Jesus appeared to James! The risen Lord Jesus revealed himself to his brother. Jesus Christ showed himself visibly, bodily to James and to Paul. Nothing else would reverse a James. Nothing else would reverse a Saul: not hallucinations; not delusions; not mental dreams; not a myth; not conversion disorder or any combination thereof. Jesus appeared bodily, visibly. Our risen Lord turned James the skeptic into James the Just!! The bodily risen Jesus transformed Saul into Paul. The meditation on Jesus’ resurrection in concert with the risen Jesus radically changed a sociopath into a missionary. For nothing else would they have endured and kept true: through insults, ridicule, rejection, mockery, beatings, suffering, and martyrdom: Paul beheaded and James stoned.
You too can know the risen Lord Jesus. He says, ‘Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.’ Let Him in.*
*Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona’s book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus has been an instrumental resource in the above.
Image: “Ossuary of James the Brother of Jesus” CC License.