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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes

Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Islam's Claims of Biblical Corruption Actually Impeach the Qur'an

Islam began in the early seventh century, when Muhammad supposedly received many revelations providing him with the Qur'an. Given that Christianity and Judaism had been in existence for centuries, it's easy to see why Muhammad would have found it attractive to try and co-opt these monotheistic faiths as part of his own. To this end there are many places in the Qur'an that address Christians and Jews, and their holy books.



One key passage may be found in Sura 10:94, where Muhammad writes, "But if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, ask those who read the Book before you; certainly the truth has come to you from your Lord, therefore you should not be of the disputers."1 Here, Muhammad is addressing the children of Israel, and appealing to the Bible in the phrase "the Book" as a way to authenticate his message.

There are many such passages in the Qur'an, some of which point specifically to the New Testament writings. The Arabic word for gospel is Injeel and Muhammad lifts up its authority as well:
If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course: but many of them follow a course that is evil. O Messenger! proclaim the (message) which hath been sent to thee from thy Lord. If thou didst not, thou wouldst not have fulfilled and proclaimed His mission. And Allah will defend thee from men (who mean mischief). For Allah guideth not those who reject Faith. Say: "O People of the Book! ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord." It is the revelation that cometh to thee from thy Lord, that increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. But sorrow thou not over (these) people without Faith. (Sura 5:66-68, emphasis added.)2
Another passage advocating study of the Bible is found in Sura 4:136:
O you who believe! believe in Allah and His Messenger and the Book which He has revealed to His Messenger and the Book which He revealed before; and whoever disbelieves in Allah and His angels and His messengers and the last day, he indeed strays off into a remote error.3
Notice how this verse places the Bible (the "book which He revealed before") as equal with the Qur'an ("the Book which He has revealed to His Messenger.) Clearly we are to believe both books, otherwise this verse makes no sense.

Recommending a Corrupt Guide?

The problem that the Qur'an has is that other writings of Muhammad contradict the idea that the Bible is an accurate guide to God. Sura 2:75-79 is a good example:
Do you then hope that they would believe in you, and a party from among them indeed used to hear the Word of Allah, then altered it after they had understood it, and they know (this) And when they meet those who believe they say: We believe, and when they are alone one with another they say: Do you talk to them of what Allah has disclosed to you that they may contend with you by this before your Lord? Do you not then understand?… Woe, then, to those who write the book with their hands and then say: This is from Allah, so that they may take for it a small price; therefore woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn (emphasis added).4
But why would the Qur'an itself recommend people to follow the Old and New Testaments if these are supposedly corrupt? If I receive a set of directions that promises to lead me to a destination, but I know that they've been corrupted, it would be silly for me to either follow them or provide them to another. Corrupt directions leads a person astray.

Because of the tension in the Qur'an, Muslim apologists have had to resort to a bit of double-talk in seeking to reconcile their stance. This is a good example:
The reason why the "gospels" of the bible are named as such today is because they were named after the original Revelations that Jesus had. So in other words, the real Gospel is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Everything else is a fabrication on the mouths of Jesus and his disciples. There is no such thing, in Islam, called "gospel of Matthew", "gospel of John", etc... Now whether or not there is actually a gospel out there with the name "The Gospel of Jesus", in the scriptures outside the bible, that is something I don't know, and certainly, even if it does, we still couldn't be sure that it too didn't get corrupt. The original teachings are simply lost from this earth. Only the Glorious Qur'an is the original Word of Allah Almighty. Nothing else stands. All of the other books contain corruptions and lies in them (emphasis in the original.)5
However, such an explanation is hopelessly confused. This is primarily because we know that the New Testament preceded Muhammad by some three hundred years.6 By the time of Muhammad's writing, the scriptures were firmly established and the text is the same then as what we have now. This leaves the Muslim with quite a dilemma: either the Qur'an in those verses that recommend believers to seek out the Gospel and the Bible were telling them that the Bible as it now stands is reliable or it is instructing believers to read a collection of books that simply don't exist and didn't exist even in Muhammad's day. Wither you are to gain guidance from corruption or you are to seek out guidance from a non-existent entity.

Following the Map to Atlantis

Most Muslims that I speak with take the latter choice. They claim that the true Gospel has been hidden, but one can find it in the pages of the Qur'an. However, that doesn't solve their problem. Why does the Qur'an then command people to look to the Gospels and the Bible for truth? It's like telling someone that they must find and follow the map to Atlantis. Because Atlantis is a mythical place, there's no way that any map can lead them to truth.

Altering the Words of Allah

The last problem that Muslims run into when making the claim is that they undercut their Qur'an in another way, for as Sura 2 claimed above, Go d gave His word to the prophets, but it was nearly immediately corrupted. But why would Allah allow his holy word to be corrupted at all? The Qur'an itself teaches against this idea. In Sura 6:34 we find the statement "There is none that can alter the words of Allah" and in Sura 10:64 Muhammad writes "No change can there be in the words of Allah." So, how could these people have changed what it unchangeable? How can this be?

If the word of Allah is unchangeable, then the Bible cannot be corrupted. However, if men have the ability to change Allah's word, then the Qur'an itself must be understood as under the same suspicion of change as the other books that Allah gave to his prophets. That means that the Qur'an must withstand certain scrutiny, such as whether it is internally contradictory. Given its claims on the Bible, I don't see how it could pass that test.

References

1. Shakir, M. H. The Qur'an Translation. New York: Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an, 2002. N. pag. Print. 136-137.
2. Shakir, 72-73.
3. Shakir, 61.
4. Shakir, 7.
5. "Were the "gospels" of the Bible the Original Injil?" Answering Christianity. Answering Christianity, n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2014. http://www.answering-christianity.com/injil_and_gospels_according_to_islam.htm.
6. See the section entitled "Internal Evidence for the Reliability of the Bible" at http://www.comereason.org/is-the-bible-true.asp

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What Archaeology Cannot Tell Us About the Bible

Yesterday, I began to look at some ways the study of archaeology helps support and understand the Bible. Given that the Bible is a collection of sixty-six books written over 1500 years, the study of the past can provide unique insight into the narratives. In fact, so much of what the Bible talks about has been verified by archaeology, it has inspired William F. Albright to say:
The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain phases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.1

Because there have been so many finds that directly relate to the Bible, some Christians are keen to overreach on discoveries made just as some skeptics are equally keen to hurriedly disassociate archaeological finds of any biblical importance. Therefore, I'd like to look today at some of the limitations of archaeology.

Archaeology cannot "prove the Bible true"

The first thing that we must understand is archaeology cannot provide proof that the Bible is the Word of God. There simply isn't any way to dig something up and say "Aha! Here's the find that shows God gave inspiration to Moses." Just as science has no way of testing for God residue, so archeology has no way of uncovering the source of supernatural inspiration buried in the earth. These are category errors. Science deals with the natural world and archaeology deals with whatever cultures left behind. Neither is a complete picture of all reality.

That doesn't mean we cannot use what the archaeologists' spade uncovers to lend credence to the biblical accounts. As mentioned yesterday, we can demonstrate the historical reliability of the Bible and the fact that the accounts were written with intimate knowledge of the cultures they describe. It means that there is credibility to the claim that they were written at the times of the events they record.

Archaeology cannot be understood without context and presuppositions

The second important point one must realize is that archeology is simply a snapshot of space. Stone walls, broken pottery, or even engravings are fragments of long-deceased civilizations, many times buried after they had been conquered by some foe. Thus, it requires a lot of presupposition on the part of the archaeologist to put things together. For example, those digging in Jericho may find a wall that has been flattened in the 14th century, but such a find may not immediately confirm the account in Joshua chapter 6. The next question would be "was this building destroyed because of a raid, an earthquake or Joshua's march?" That's a much more difficult question to answer.2

Another example is one that is just now making its way through the academy. According to Merryn and Graham Dineley, archeologists have been misidentifying Viking structures in Britain for some time now.3 Archaeologists have quite a bit of experience finding Roman ruins and they know that Romans were fond of their bath houses. So when they found large rooms with a central hearth and large drains, the archaeologist would assume it was a sauna or bath house. The Dineleys state that this is wrong, as such structures in Orkey and Shetland were located adjacent to drinking halls. It is well known that Vikings drank malt ale, but such brews would require a sizable brewery. The Dineleys believe that the presupposition of Roman baths from previous archaeologists is incorrect and these buildings actually were breweries!4

While the concept of bath houses versus breweries doesn't really affect the biblical accounts at all, it does illustrate just how much the interpretation of the archaeologist plays into the finds. Therefore, the Bible student needs to read through any new discoveries and hold lightly claims about finds that prove or disprove Biblical accounts unless they are definitive, such as Caiaphas' ossuary, inscribed with his name. The views of the archaeologists matter!


References

1 McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Vol. II. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1999. Print. 61.
2 Wood, Bryant G., PhD. "Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence." Associates for Biblical Research. Associates for Biblical Research, 01 May 2008. Web. 28 Oct. 2014. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/05/01/Did-the-Israelites-Conquer-Jericho-A-New-Look-at-the-Archaeological-Evidence.aspx.
3 Dineley, Merryn and Graham. "Where Did the Vikings Make Their Ale?" Orkney Archaeological Society Newsletter 10 (Nov. 2013): 1-2. Academia.edu. Web. 28 Oct. 2014. http://www.academia.edu/4991706/Where_did_the_Vikings_make_their_ale.
4 Dineley, Ibid. For more information, see https://www.academia.edu/2389058/Where_were_the_Viking_brew_houses_POSTER
Image courtesy Whithorn Priory and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Bible

Discovering long buried evidences of the past is exciting. I've had a couple of opportunities to visit places that were very old and see ruins that were put together thousands of years ago. It was amazing to think of the people who were building those structures and how they lived.


Because the Bible records events that also take place thousands of years ago, it seems that archaeology would be a natural way to investigate these stories. As archaeology has developed since the mid to late 1800's, the discipline has been used by some to corroborate the biblical accounts and by others to dismiss them. Therefore, I want to take a brief look at what archaeology can and cannot prove.

1. Archaeology Shows Ways People Lived, How They Thought, and Problems They Faced

Archaeology gives us a snapshot into the lives of people at a specific time. Sometimes a natural disaster, such as the eruption of Pompeii or the mudslide at Beit She'an freezes the area at a specific date. Other times, digs will uncover a culture that spans many years. However, by examining the houses, coins, pots and other materials, one can get a glimpse into the lives of those who lived in this period.

For example, many scholars of earlier times doubts that Moses would have been able to write the detailed laws that make up the Levitical system by 1400 BC until archaeologists found the Code of Hammuabi, which also contains many complex laws and predates Moses' writings by about 300 years.

2. Archaeology Provide Clarity to Specific Situations and Texts

Another benefit that archaeology provides is to clear up texts or customs that don't seem to make sense to us today. For example, in the book of Daniel, King Belshazzar becomes unnerved when a hand appears writing on the wall opposite him. He promises "the third highest position in the kingdom" to anyone who can read the text. This account was questioned because most ancient records showed Nabonidus as the king at this time. The offer of third highest ruler wasn't really understood, either, until the Cylinders of Nabonidus were found. There they say that while King Nabonidus was off fighting wars, his eldest son was named Belshazzar who he had left governing the city of Babylon. 1 Belshazzar's position of prince made him the second most powerful man in Babylon, so he could only offer another the third spot in the kingdom. The discovery of the cylinders clarified both Belshazzar's existence and the reason why he offered a third rulership to Daniel.

3. Archaeology Can Validate the Existence of Specific People or Events

Another thing that archaeology provides is verification that certain people, places, or events mentioned in the biblical text are real. As was shown in the example above, Belshazzar had to have existed since his father specifically mentioned him in his writings. Another person that skeptics accused of being non-existent was King David himself.2 Scholars like N.P. Lemche held that David was mythical and the biblical accounts were put together much later than the events they describe.

However, in 1993 at the site of the ancient city of Dan, archaeologists uncovered a stone engraved by an Aramaean king to commemorate his victory over the ancient Hebrews. (2 Kings 8-9). There, he boasts that he had defeated the king of "the House of David." As archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel states, "'House of David,' it means 'dynasty of David.' So we know that there was a guy called David, and he had a dynasty. Okay, so now this is absolutely clear that David is not a mythological figure. So the mythological paradigm collapsed in one moment."3 Other archaeological finds have confirmed the existence of Caiaphas and Pilate, the Jewish High Priest and Roman procurator who were responsible for putting Jesus to death.

These are just a few ways that archaeology helps bring clarity and support to the Biblical accounts. There are many more finds that I can mention, but these are illustrative of how archaeology has shown the stories told in the bible are rooted in history. Tomorrow, I'll look at what archaeology cannot achieve.

References

1. The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Belshazzar (king of Babylonia)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 17 Oct. 2008. Web. 27 Oct. 2014. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/60121/Belshazzar.
2. McKenzie, Steven L. King David: A Biography. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.10.
3. Zimmerman, Erin. "Did David, Solomon Exist? Dig Refutes Naysayers." CBN News. Christian Broadcasting Network, 7 June 2013. Web. 27 Oct. 2014. http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/insideisrael/2013/June/Did-David-Solomon-Exist-Dig-Refutes-Naysayers/.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The "Big Bang" in Jews Worshiping Jesus as God

One popular answer today among those who do not believe in Jesus as God is that the belief evolved over a period of centuries. They suggest that the earliest Christians, who were Jews, thought of Jesus as simply a rabbi or a prophet, a holy and wise man. They theorize that as Christianity spread outward and became more and more dominated by Gentile (that is, non-Jewish) believers, those Gentiles, accustomed to assigning divine honors to their heroes, did the same for Jesus.' Eventually, a form of Christianity emerged that explained the divinity of Jesus as a unique incarnation of God and dismissed all alternative views of Jesus as heresy. Some critics of the doctrine that Jesus is God claim that this belief did not appear until well after all of the apostles had died-perhaps, some say, as late as the fourth century Council of Nicea.


The facts are very much otherwise. The practice of giving Jesus divine honors—of religious, spiritual devotion to Jesus—was an established, char­acteristic feature of the Christian movement within the first two decades of its existence. Larry Hurtado, professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, described the emergence of devotion to Jesus as "a veritable 'big bang: an explosively rapid and impressively substantial development in the earliest stage of the Christian movement'? According to Martin Hengel, a New Testament scholar at Tubingen University in Germany, more hap­pened in the development of Christian beliefs about Jesus in the twenty years between his death and Paul's earliest epistles "than in the whole subsequent seven hundred years of church history:')

The apostles and other early Jewish Christians did not just lavish high praises on Jesus. They accorded him honors that in Jewish teaching, as au­thoritatively set forth in their Scriptures, were due to the Lord God of Israel and no one else…

It was in this context of exclusive religious devotion to one God, the Lord, that the early Jewish followers of Jesus were expressing the same sort of de­votion to Jesus. They worshiped him, sang hymns to him, prayed to him, and revered him in a way that believers in Judaism insisted was reserved for the Lord God alone. To make matters worse, the Christians agreed that such honors were rightly given only to God—and then proceeded to give them to Jesus anyway!

    — Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and Ed Komoszewski. Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ.
Grand Rapids: Kregel Books, 2007. 29-30.

Friday, October 24, 2014

God Outwits Ann Coulter on Ebola

At the beginning of August, the news of American missionary doctor Kent Brantly's contraction of Ebola made the headlines across the country. Some people who were incredulous that a healthy American doctor would risk his life to serve others in a foreign country. Others, like commentator Ann Coulter seemed indignant. Coulter opened her August 6 column with the following:
I wonder how the Ebola doctor feels now that his humanitarian trip has cost a Christian charity much more than any services he rendered.

What was the point?

Whatever good Dr. Kent Brantly did in Liberia has now been overwhelmed by the more than $2 million already paid by the Christian charities Samaritan's Purse and SIM USA just to fly him and his nurse home in separate Gulfstream jets, specially equipped with medical tents, and to care for them at one of America's premier hospitals.1

As I had previously responded, Coulter's article devalued human life by weighing the price tag of Brantly's treatment against the human suffering he was alleviating treating Liberians with the disease.2 I had noted that putting oneself at risk for the sake of others has always been a part of the Christian tradition.

I also wrote that Coulter also errs by taking a utilitarian approach to Christian missionary efforts. I wrote, "If God is in control, then we have faith that He may work it out for His good." Little did I realize how quickly this would be proven, for just today CNN reported that Nina Pham, the Dallas nurse who contracted Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States was free of the disease. CNN reported that Pham "thanked Dr. Kent Brantly, the American physician who also survived Ebola, for donating his plasma to her while she was sick."3 As ABC News notes, "Antibodies in the blood of a survivor may help a patient fight off the germ."4

Interestingly, Brantly himself received plasma from one of the very patients he was treating in Liberia. A 14-year-old boy under Brantly's care had recovered from the disease and donated plasma to Brantly.5

However, that wasn't the only treatment Brantly received. He was also given an experimental drug named Zmapp, which also contains Ebola antibodies. However, that wasn't an option for Pham, as “Its maker says supplies are now exhausted,” according to the ABC report.6

So, just before a Liberian traveler to the US contracted Ebola and spread it to Pham in this country, a US doctor who treated and helped a young boy recover from Ebola contracted the disease himself, was given an experimental drug rich in antibodies before supplies ran out, was flown back to the very same state at considerable expense, and ultimately overcame the disease. He was then able to donate his plasma to those like Pham who contracted the disease through a completely different contact point. And because his recovery was such a short time ago, Brantly's plasma was still rich with the antibodies that could help fight the virus.

My answer to those like Coulter who asked "What was the point?" would be "Perhaps God had a bit more knowledge and foresight in this whole situation." Brantly's plasma has helped save American lives. And that only happened because Brantly was faithful to his calling to serve the suffering people of Liberia. I had written before that "for Christians, pragmatism is not the primary model for action: obedience is. It is not to us to merely count the number of people we may touch, but to trust God and follow His will for our lives."7 God's ways are indeed higher than our own, but it sure is cool seeing how He works it all out to His glory.

References

1. Coulter, Ann. "Ebola Doc's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'." AnnCoulter.Com. 6 August, 2014. Online. http://www.anncoulter.com/columns/2014-08-06.html
2. Esposito, Lenny. " Ann Coulter is Wrong-People are More than Numbers." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2014/08/ann-coulter-is-wrong-people-are-more.html.
3. Martinez, Michael, Michael Martinez, and Jason Hanna. "What Will Nurse Do after Beating Ebola? Hug Her Dog, of Course." CNN. Cable News Network, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/24/health/ebola-nurse/index.html?hpt=he_c2.
4. Marilynn Marchione Ap Chief Medical Writer. "How Plasma Transfusions, Antibodies Fight Ebola." ABC News. ABC News Network, 14 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/plasma-transfusions-antibodies-fight-ebola-26183499.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Esposito, Ibid.
Image courtesy Samaritan's Purse.

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