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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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Showing posts with label Easter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Easter. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why the Resurrection Cannot be a Lie


Easter week is here and Christians are getting ready to mark the rising of Jesus from the grave. The Resurrection is the foundational event of Christianity and it drastically changed human history. But skeptics don't believe the accounts of the resurrection as the Gospels and Paul present them. They doubt the historicity of the resurrection, and think the Gospel writers either intentionally fabricated the tale or recorded legends that grew into the familiar story we know. However, both theories have significant problems associated with them.

Problems with Charging the Resurrection as Fraud

Some charge the Gospel writers with fraud, inventing the resurrection accounts as part of a purposeful plan to "sell" Christianity to the masses or to gain power. This charge goes all the way back to the Jewish Sanhedrin themselves, who claimed the disciples stole the body in order to claim Jesus had been raised from the dead (Matt 28:13).

First, it is very unclear how concocting a story of a crucified leader who rises physically would be more appealing to a first century Jew than perhaps a spiritual or ephemeral resurrection. I noted yesterday how the idea of a resurrection here and now created a paradigm shift from traditional Jewish thought. Further, Romans initially reacted to the story with persecution and death. Tacitus even reports that after the first couple of decades for the resurrection, Christians were "hated for their abominations" so much Nero thought they would be the perfect fall guys to blame the burning of Rome on.1

Moreover, the change in the disciples themselves and their unflinching belief in seeing the resurrected Jesus become more implausible if these early followers really knew the whole thing was a conspiracy. Not one disciple ever recanted seeing the risen Christ, even upon pain of torture or death. In fact, their behavior changed drastically. They became bold proclaimers of the risen Lord, even directly defying the very Sanhedrin from whom they ran and hid when Jesus was arrested (Acts 4:18, Mark 14:27).

What About Those Who Held Christianity in Contempt?

Also, the false resurrection theory cannot account for the conversion of those who were antagonistic to Jesus and his message. Throughout Jesus's ministry, his brothers were outsiders, not believing him to be the Messiah (ref. Mark3:21, 6:3-4). However Jesus appeared to James after his resurrection which changed him so much he became the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:12-21). What would cause James to change his beliefs? If he didn't believe the miracles of Jesus before his crucifixion, why would he believe Jesus rose unless he actually saw him as 1 Corinthians 15:7 states?

Even more amazing than James is the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Paul was trained in the ways of the Pharisees (Phil. 3:5), a highly observant and passionate follower of the Jewish faith who found the claims of Jesus and the Christians so offensive, he petitioned the Sanhedrin to capture or kill any Christians he could find (Acts 9:1). Without Jesus appearing to Paul, why would Paul abandon such deeply held and what he would only consider as righteous beliefs? As I explain here, it's like a high ranking ISIS commander, one who ordered the beheadings of Christians in Syria all at once renouncing not only ISIS but Islam and converting to Christianity and holding Billy-Graham style crusades around the world. Again, it wasn't an empty tomb that Paul offered as the reason for his conversion. It was the fact that Paul saw the risen Jesus himself (1 Cor. 15:8-9).

If the resurrection account is a lie, then Paul's conversion screams for an explanation. Paul believed it was a lie. He believed it was more than a lie, but also an affront to God himself. So, what made Paul do a 180 degree change in his beliefs and his attitude?

Where's the Alternative?

To claim the resurrection is a fraud, the skeptic is denying the testimony of Paul and the Gospel writers themselves. Therefore, the skeptic must offer some plausible explanation for the facts we do know: that Jesus died by Roman crucifixion, that the disciples so deeply believed they had experienced the risen Jesus it transformed them and they held their belief even unto death, that Jesus's skeptical brother  James became a leader in the Christian church and that one of the deadliest enemies of Christianity reversed himself in the blink of an eye and became its biggest advocate.

How does the skeptic account for these things and is their account more plausible than the resurrection itself? I don't think any alternative theory has measured up to the challenge.

References

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How the Resurrection Changed Jewish Minds



This week is Holy Week, where Christians mark the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. No matter if you're a believer or not, it is clear that Easter changed history. Christianity was the most radically transforming movement in human history; and something started that cascade of transformation.

If we are to understand the transforming nature of Easter, we need to look no further than the very beginnings of the faith. Jesus's followers were Jewish and they held to standard Jewish beliefs. They expected a Messiah, a savior, to be a political or military leader who would deliver Israel from Roman oppression and restore the glory of David's throne. They expected to observe the Jewish Levitical laws unto death and that resurrection was an event reserved for the end of time.

All those beliefs changed the day Jesus rose from the dead. As N.T. Wright explains, his resurrection was a paradigm shift for both Jesus's followers and even Paul, who would consider himself an adversary:
The first and most obvious conclusion which the disciples would have drawn, as soon as they came to believe that Jesus of Nazareth had been bodily raised from the dead, was that he was indeed the prophet mighty in word and deed, and that he was, more particularly, Israel's Messiah. This would not be because they had already believed that the Messiah, when he came, would be raised from the dead, but because the Jesus they knew had been tried and executed as Messiah, and this extraordinary and unexpected event (as it seemed to them) had apparently reversed the verdicts of both the Jewish and the Roman courts. We can see at several points in the New Testament, not least in Paul and Acts, the way in which the church scrambled to pull together biblical texts to make the connection between Messiah and resurrection, a connection which nobody had thought necessary before but which suddenly became the key move in early Christology. The texts strongly suggest both that this was a new connection and that it was the first vital link in the chain.

From that point on, our best early evidence is Paul. He had, in the senses we have explored, a different kind of meeting with Jesus, but he quickly came to the conclusion which the others, too, had arrived at: that in this Jesus, now demonstrated to have been Israel's Messiah all along, Israel's one true god had been not merely speaking, as though through an intermediary, but personally present. [1]
The paradigm shifting nature of the Resurrection coupled with its quick adoption by thousands of Jewish converts argues against its story being fabricated. It is simply much harder to believe that a Jewish culture so steeped in monotheism and Jewish tradition would give up their beliefs so easily had there not been more than the tales of a few rural fishermen. Paul's conversion screams the loudest against fabrication.

The Resurrection has been changing minds and hearts ever since that first Easter morning. Its power rests in its truth.

References

[1] Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003. Print. 576.

Friday, April 03, 2015

With Christians Dead, What's So Good about Good Friday?

The students were praying. It was Holy Thursday, when Christians remember the Last Supper and Jesus’s prayer in the garden. Then, suddenly, gunmen burst into the room and began shooting. CNN reports that 147 people were killed in the Islamic attack on Kenya University, with Somali gunmen singling out Christians for slaughter.1 After shooting some Christians and taking others hostage in the prayer service, the terrorists then proceeded to the student dorms, allowing Muslims to escape while executing the Christian students, according to witness Joel Ayora.



The news is gruesome and we mourn with our Christian brothers and sisters in Kenya, just as we mourn for Christians in other areas of Nigeria who have been slaughtered by another Islamic faction, Boko Haram.2 We also mourn for the Christians who were killed or driven from their 2,000 year old home of Mosul to the point of extinction by ISIS terrorists.3 According to Open Doors, each month 322 Christians are killed for their faith across the globe, along with 722 acts of violence against believers.4 And acts of persecution are growing.5

Islam Compared to the Cross

Today is Good Friday, and this day really emphasizes the difference between Christianity and all other faiths. It underscores the Uniqueness of Christ and his instruction to his followers. In Islam, Mohammad conquered with his armies while Jesus conquered with his blood. In Islam, Muhammad sought treatment to cure him and pleads for healing before his death6. In Christianity Jesus chooses to "lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:1, ESV). In Islam, followers are instructed to "fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)" (Sura 9:5, Yusuf Ali) when Christians are told "rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (1 Pet. 4:13, ESV).

The suffering of Christians is sobering, yet we still rejoice because what Jesus accomplished on this day will ultimately make such sufferings worthwhile. Instead of seeking to conquer by force, Jesus conquered by sacrifice. Instead of viewing enemies as people to be slaughtered, Jesus saw enemies as victims to be saved. Instead of looking to establish its dominion in this world, Jesus sought to establish his kingdom by first defeating death and sin. When Christians suffer for their faith, they are simply following the model of their Lord.

It is because of his victory over death that Christians can rejoice, even when they face death. This is why we call this particular Friday "Good." It signals that the ultimate enemy of man has been defeated and no matter what our end on earth, our destiny in heaven can never be taken from us. Remember Christ’s sacrifice this Good Friday, Pray for those who also laid down their lives for their faith in him, but also pray for those who took those lives. Christ died for his enemies; may they be reconciled to him.

References

1. Levs, Josh, and Holly Yan. "Gunmen Attack Garissa University College in Kenya." CNN. Cable News Network, 2 Apr. 2015. Web. 03 Apr. 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/02/africa/kenya-university-attack/.
2. Morgan, Timothy C. "How Boko Haram's Murders and Kidnappings Are Changing Nigeria's Churches." ChristianityToday.com. Christianity Today, 16 Oct. 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/october-web-only/boko-haram-chibok-hostages-persecution.html.
3. Esposito, Lenny. "The Atrocity Against Christians in Iraq." Come Reason’s Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 22 July 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2015. http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2014/07/the-atrocity-against-christians-in-iraq.html.
4. "Christian Persecution." Open Doors. Open Doors USA, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2015. https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/.
5. Newman, Alex. "Christian Martyrdom Doubled in 2013, Persecution Growing." The New American. The New American, 16 Jan. 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2015. http://www.thenewamerican.com/culture/faith-and-morals/item/17417-christian-martyrdom-doubled-in-2013-persecution-growing.
6. Silas. "The Death of Muhammad." Answering-Islam.org. Answering-Islam.org, 28 Nov. 2002. Web. 03 Apr. 2015. http://www.answering-islam.org/Silas/mo-death.htm.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jesus Redeems Us from the Monsters

As we approach Easter Sunday, I think it's important for Christians to reflect on various aspects of our salvation. It's too easy to think of being saved as a promise for a happy life in heaven. There's so much more to the redemption than our happiness and I think we can appreciate Easter more fully if we thought a little harder on some of the less comfortable implications of salvation.

What It Means to Be Human

ISIS has been capturing headlines consistently in the news media and across social channels for nearly two years now. There's hardly a soul alive who doesn't know about the Islamic State's terror campaign across areas of the Middle East, with gruesome YouTube posts showing the savage beheadings of those they consider enemies, those of different faiths, or those with whom they simply disagree. The pillage of towns like Mosul where ISIS warriors brought back a version of the Nazi yellow badge to mark Christians and drove them from the place they called home for nearly 2,000 years. I think all sane people agree that those in ISIS demonstrate the worst in humanity.



But, the ISIS terrorists are not the exception when one asks what it means to be human. Their actions are neither new nor novel when we survey the annals of history. In fact, as Dr. Clay Jones put it, labeling ISIS as "monsters" or "inhuman" is our attempt to separate them from ourselves and perhaps provide a bit of comfort to our consciences. Yet, as Jones states, "these horrors are precisely human. They indict all of humankind in a particular way."1 Every single one of us has the capacity to become ISIS-enabled, holocaust-enabled, or 9/11 enabled. Being human means being broken to the point of the monstrous.

This isn't just my view. Just survey the wars of history. Whether it's the burning or beheading of children as a sacrifice like the ancients did or the brutal rape and machete-hacking dismemberment of the victims in Sierra Leone's civil war, history is replete with the carnage that humans continually accomplish. In his article written for the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Jones compiles statements from historians and psychologists as well as holocaust survivors like Elie Wesel who all say that evil is standard fare for humans. Even Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was imprisoned and tortured in a Soviet Gulag confirmed this when he wrote:
Where did this wolf-tribe appear from among our people? Does it really stem from our own roots? Our own blood?

It is our own.

And just so we don't go around flaunting too proudly the white mantle of the just, let everyone ask himself: "If my life had turned out differently, might I myself not have become just such an executioner?"

It is a dreadful question if one answers it honestly.
The capacity for unspeakable evil lies within every beating heart.

We Need Redemption from Our Own Nature

In Christian theology, this idea is nothing new. When Paul was writing to Titus, he said the natural man was "detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work" (Titus 1:16, ESV). Paul didn't even exclude himself from such a judgment, claiming "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh" (Rom 7:18, ESV). As natural human beings, we are completely saturated with sin and rebellion, and there is no way for us to escape our own corruption.

But Jesus.

While it is impossible for us to escape the corruption of sin that would make us monsters, it is possible for God himself to provide a way of escape. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross makes it possible for us to move from the evil darkness of our lost state to one where we can actually be something different. Just after he states that there is nothing good residing within his flesh, Paul writes:
God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:3-4, ESV)
This is why believers are told that they are "a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17, ESV). We are remade in the Spirit and we await the day when we will be remade in our bodies. We are not saved merely from hell. Monsters deserve hell and given that all human beings are monster-enabled. But Jesus does to redeem us from our evil nature. He provides for us a new nature and he provides a way of escape. That's something to be thankful for this Easter.

References

1. Jones, Clay. "9/11: Are We All Moral Monsters?" Biola News. Biola University, 2 Sept. 2001. Web. 31 Mar. 2015. http://now.biola.edu/news/article/2011/sep/02/911-enabled-moral-monsters-fear-mortality-unsung-l/.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Answering Objections to the Resurrection (podcast)


The resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of Christianity. If the resurrection isn't true, Paul says "we are of all people to be most pitied." How do the facts of the resurrection stack up against the charges of its critics? Listen in and see why we can be confident that the resurrection is a true historical event.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Why Holy Saturday is so important


Dr. N.T. Wright on the importance of Holy Saturday in the Resurrection Week:
After Good Friday comes Holy Saturday, the day of waiting, waiting without hope, without knowing what will come next. Go down deep into Holy Saturday, because once again you are called away from the public arena – extroverts in particular find this hard – and into the stillness where you don’t understand, you don’t have an agenda to work on, you don’t know what it is you want or expect God to do. Without the still, dark privacy of Holy Saturday, the new kind of public message which is the resurrection of Jesus could turn simply into a shallow or angry response to the taunts and violence of Good Friday, answering the world in its own terms. The church is sometimes tempted to do that, to huff and puff and charge off to 'defend' God and the gospel. Holy Saturday commands us to lay down our swords and wait: wait without thought, says Eliot, for you are not yet ready for thought.
Wright, N.T. "God in Private and Public" NTWrightPage.com
http://ntwrightpage.com/sermons/MaundyThurs08.htm 20 March 2008 Accessed: 4/19/2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Does God Care More about Saving Souls than Strengthening Minds?

Today is Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus' ultimate sacrifice for our souls. It is this day when Jesus was tortured by the thrashing of the Roman whip and the blows of the soldiers. It was this day when he was forced to carry the method of his execution in public humiliation. It was this day that he was put to death in one of the most excruciating ways possible. And he did it so that people could be forgiven of their sins and reconciled to a loving and just God. This is good news: Jesus' death and resurrection means that we can be saved.

Photo provided by AKM Adam
For evangelicals, the salvation message is at the center of their faith. We take the command of the Great Commission seriously. We talk about sharing our faith and leading people to Christ. Churches have outreach services with altar calls. All of this defines Evangelicalism.

I think sharing the Gospel is crucially important. I really do. But sometimes I think we as evangelicals can be a little too myopic in our understanding of the Great Commission and somehow reduce it to telling lost people about Jesus. We get it in our heads that the greatest thing one can do is to lead a lost soul to Christ and all other ministries are subservient to that goal.

This topic came up when a friend and I were discussing how engaging in faith-based conversations online leads to different responses. Sometimes, you will find that people who are not Christians will ask questions about your beliefs. This obviously leads to opportunities to evangelize. Other times, you find out that the other person already trusts in Jesus, but that person's faith may not be very mature. Which type of conversation should we spend more time on? Is God more concerned with saving a soul than strengthening a Christian who is only grasping the basics of the faith?

I don't think so. I think that God is as glorified by the teacher who is growing the hearts and minds of believers as He is by the evangelist who reaches out to the lost. In fact, the epistles of the New Testament are not instructions on how to evangelize, but they are letters written by the Apostles to those who already follow Jesus, correcting their misunderstandings and growing their faith. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews even rebuked the Jewish believers for not understanding as much as they should. In Hebrews 5:11-14 he writes:
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
The analogy of parent and child is a good one here. Newly married couples celebrate with their families and friends when they discover they're expecting a child. It is truly a joyous occasion. However, the important part of being a parent doesn't stop at the birth. The goal of a parent is to train up the child to be a fully-functioning adult, who can be self-sufficient and make thoughtful, mature decisions. Sometimes, this means "wasting" time by allowing the child to learn a task when you could accomplish it yourself so much more quickly. Good parents will invest the extra time into their children so they can learn to be skilled and independent adults.

The same is true in the Christian life. Is it better to simply go out and evangelize everyone, counting the number of converts from service to service or is it better to invest in the lives of believers, training them and weaning them off the milk, so o they can also be effective teachers and evangelists? Certainly this takes more time and isn't as sexy as an altar call, but it is crucial if we want to be faithful to the heart of the Great Commission.

Jesus doesn't just want people to be Christians. He wants disciples. That's what Jesus said when He commanded his followers to go out and share the good news: "make disciples of all nations." We have a glorious message in the gospel. We have a clear command in the Great Commission. Let's make sure we are fulfilling all of it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Crucial Lesson Taught on Holy Wednesday


Today is Wednesday of Holy Week, the week of Jesus' Last Supper and crucifixion. Many scholars have worked through the Gospel narratives to provide a chronology of the events they record during this week. Most know that on Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem as the crowds exclaimed "Hosanna to the Son of David!" proclaiming His messiahship. On Monday, He curses the fig tree and He then cleansed the Temple of the moneychangers, both actions showing how those called by God must be faithful and pure in their responsibility.


Tuesday was very busy, and the Gospels record several different exchanges of Jesus. First, he faced off against those responsible for the spiritual welfare of the Jewish people, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Jesus then takes some of His disciples up to the Mount of Olives and gives them a two-chapter overview of what they can expect at His second coming and cautions them to be ready. Of course, Thursday is the Last Supper and it kicks off a chain of events leading to Jesus' capture, Friday crucifixion, and His glorious Resurrection on Sunday morning.

What's interesting in all this is that today—Wednesday—The Gospels are pretty much silent on the actions of Jesus. The only thing we know about Jesus' day is that Mary anointed His feet at Bethany (Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-8). There's nothing recorded about Jesus coming again to Jerusalem or even giving a sermon on this day. It seems a bit strange that, with all the action building toward the climax of Friday, none of the Gospel writes would tell us all that Jesus did this day, as they've done so far.

If you put yourself in the place of the disciples, you might have found yourself a bit confused by Jesus' lack of action on Wednesday. Here, they've achieved a lot of momentum in their ministry. I mean, Jesus has finally allowed Himself to be recognized as Messiah and the crowds were with Him. He faced off against the prevailing power structure and had beat them at their own game. Passover had caused Jerusalem's population to swell, but after tomorrow the Sabbath would take a lot of opportunity to reach even more people away.

Certainly, Jesus shouldn't waste this day and do nothing important, right? Ministry moments are fleeting! But Jesus knew what was ahead for Him. He had greater things planned than the conquering of Jerusalem. His plan was to conquer sin itself. The quiet He cultivated before His final events provides us with two good lessons.

First, quiet times are important in ministry. For most people, ministry isn't one's primary vocation, but a labor of love done in addition to the job that provides the paycheck. Even here, when there's so much to do, it's important to pause and refocus your attention and devotion o what Jesus would have us do. Mary's anointing was a pure act of devotion. It also showed her sensitivity to the things of God. Mark tells us that more than one disciple felt indignant about the costly perfume being "wasted", but Jesus corrected them. Mary had insight that they lacked. We, too, must cultivate our own worship and devotion to God first, lest our business miss the point of ministry.

Secondly, sometimes when God seems silent, bigger things than you realize may be coming! Don't imagine that God's silence means nothing is happening. Many times in apologetic ministry, we think all we are doing is posting things no one is reading or arguing with others who never change their minds. However, you can never know this side of heaven how God is using the faithfulness you show in those areas to His greater glory. Jesus said of Mary, "She has done what she could… And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."

So, minister, remember to pause and reflect on this week. Think about what Jesus has done for us and remember to take time out for Him. Don't lose faith because He seems still or your ministry seems to not be moving forward. God can do great things with the quiet times.

Friday, April 04, 2014

How to Be Smarter than Google

This week, I've been writing a series looking at some of the objections skeptics raise against the Easter celebration. Although it may have seemed like my purpose was to answer the objections, my true goal was something a bit more ambitious. I wanted to make you, dear Christian, smarter than Google. You may think "Make me smarter than Google? That's impossible!" Ah, but it is possible and let me show you how.

No one doubts that we are now a wired culture. Smart phones account for 74% of mobile phone users, according to Frank N. Magid Associates. We have the Internet at our fingertips no matter where we are, and that isn't always a good thing. As I heard one commentator explain, there used to be a time when as you and your friends were waiting in line at the movie theater, you may have an argument over whether that obscure bomb of a film from twenty years ago had such and such a scene in it. Such conversations may lead to discussions on the merits of the scene itself or other issues, but it would always foster communication and engagement with other people. However, now when a question like this arises someone will simply pullout their iPhone, search for the film clip or synopsis, and say "Here's the answer." That's the end of the story and usually the end of conversation on that point.

Because Google searches are so effective at slamming down an answer to points of detail, people have begun to rely on the search engine to answer everything they have a question on. And that's where the real problem comes in. When a question becomes more complex, such as "Was Easter influenced by pagan sources," simply taking the first two or three results of a Google search may not give you the correct answer. It will simply give you the most popular page. Worse, it limits your ability to critically think through the claims. By relying solely on Google, you're unplugging your brain, and that should never be the case.

But it doesn't have to be that way. You don't need to be an expert in history or on ancient religions to see why many times the claims made by these skeptics are truly ridiculous. In fact, I have been intentionally avoiding "scholar mode" to look at the facts as they are presented. Let's take that article I've been discussing this week by Heather McDougall that ran in The Guardian and just hit a couple of glaring problems. It begins:
Easter is a pagan festival. If Easter isn't really about Jesus, then what is it about? Today, we see a secular culture celebrating the spring equinox, whilst religious culture celebrates the resurrection. However, early Christianity made a pragmatic acceptance of ancient pagan practises, most of which we enjoy today at Easter. The general symbolic story of the death of the son (sun) on a cross (the constellation of the Southern Cross) and his rebirth, overcoming the powers of darkness, was a well worn story in the ancient world. There were plenty of parallel, rival resurrected saviours too.
We've already looked at the supposed connection with the spring equinox, the fact that the resurrection accounts are told in a Jewish context, and that the history of the resurrection accounts could not have evolved over the centuries. But look at that second to last sentence. McDougall writes, "The general symbolic story of the death of the son (sun) on a cross (the constellation of the Southern Cross) and his rebirth, overcoming the powers of darkness, was a well worn story in the ancient world." Uh, yeah. The first piece that McDougall seems to miss is that in the ancient world, no one spoke modern English. What do I mean? The play on words between son and sun only works in our language. You may not know the Greek for son and sun, but if you have taken high school Spanish, you can see that the word son (hijo) and the word sun (sol) are very different. They are not homonyms, and they wouldn't be in the ancient languages either. That play on words only works in English, and I'm pretty sure none of the Sumerians, Babylonians, or Romans spoke it in their day.

Secondly, McDougall ties the crucifixion to the constellation of the Southern Cross. Huh? We know that Romans crucified people, but trying to make such a connection is pretty tough. First of all, it's called the southern cross because it is only prominent in the night sky when you are positioned south of the equator. That's why Australia and New Zealand integrate it into their flags. But, more importantly, the idea of what shapes ANY of the constellations make are not universal. Different cultures would overlay their own images on different star clusters, just as you and a friend can look at the same cloud but see very different animal shapes in it. McDougall is spitting out a bunch of "just so" stories and there's enough here for you to at least be doubtful of them without having to do much research at all.

The Skeptic Bears a Burden When he Offers an Objection

It's natural that when Christians are confronted by a friend who questions them about an article like McDougall's, they feel a bit scared. I've received many inquiries by people asking for my help on the charges of the Zeitgeist movie or the supposedly rejected gospels. I get that it can feel overwhelming. But please remember, a lot of those objections are based on others doing their own brain-unplugging. They are uncritically taking any objection to Christianity that they can Google-search and presenting it before you to justify their skepticism.

If the skeptics you converse with are going to engage in a "you must give me reasons" exchange, then they should be prepared to give reasons why they think their "evidence" should be accepted as a real objection. It isn't enough for them to throw out the very first "critical response" they can find. As I've said before, any fool with a login and an opinion can post on the Internet. That doesn't mean the objections they offer are worthwhile.

As Christians, let's be more prepared to engage others by exercising our minds with a bit of practice in thinking through the claims instead of just turning to Google ourselves. Sure, there are going to be times where you need the background or the facts. There will be experts who offer thoughts that you may not have thought about yourself. In fact, part of my ministry is to help Christians by providing some of that information. However, I don't want Christians to be lazy. A little bit of thought can answer more than you may expect, and a quick reply based on your own common sense can help foster more discussion than copy and paste ever would.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Is Easter Pagan? Part 3 - Historical Documentation

This week, we've been looking at the claim that Easter is somehow a celebration with pagan roots. I've previously talked about how such a claim looks very superficially at the supposed similarities and ignores the distinctions. I've also discussed how pagan religious rituals would be considered abominable to the first century Jews who make up the adherents of the early church. On this second point some may argue that it wasn't the Jewish followers of Jesus that incorporated pagan influences, but it was the Gentiles who did so years afterward.


The problem with such a claim is that it ignores the incredible historical evidence we have for the resurrection. Unlike many pagan celebrations, such as the Mithraic rites which were so secretive we really don't have any written documentation about them at all, save some mentions by outsiders or artwork on walls. No books or scrolls exist. The resurrection, on the other hand, is incredibly well documented and its historical roots are strong.

4. The Historical Documentation of the Resurrection Accounts

Of course most people are aware that all four gospels are written with the event as their climax, and each Gospel dates to between thirty and sixty years of the resurrection itself. That means that when the gospels were being circulated, people were alive who could testify to the truthfulness of the accounts they contain. There really isn't much time for pagan myths to "creep into" the stories. Suggestions by skeptics such as Heather McDougall that "the Sumerian goddess Inanna, or Ishtar, was hung naked on a stake, and was subsequently resurrected and ascended from the underworld" somehow influence the resurrection accounts are laughable when you consider that:
  1. Crucifixion was a real punishment inflicted on Jews by Romans in the first century (and we can know that for certain).
  2.  Attracting others to your belief system by saying they were crucified was about as attractive as asking a French revolutionary to follow someone beheaded in the guillotine. Rome used crucifixion as a deterrent because of its abhorrence by the general public.
  3. The concept of the resurrection wasn't one that people of the ancient world took to immediately. For an example of this, just look to Paul's sermon on Mars' Hill. Luke tells us, "Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this'" (verse 32). That's not what I would call a rousing endorsement. The idea of anyone being resurrected was just as incredulous to those in Paul's day as it is today. Paul has made a pretty strong case to a crowd who he says were" very religious in all things" (v.22). Yet even they mocked the initial notion of the resurrection. Again, this is not an attractive aspect if you are trying to convert Gentiles.
However, the earliest documented mention of the resurrection is none of those found in the gospels. As I've written before, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, which contains the full creedal basis for the belief in the resurrection, is dated to within a few years of Jesus' death and resurrection itself. Paul even says that there are saints who were eyewitnesses to the resurrection who were still alive; the Corinthians could go and ask them themselves! There are other signs of the resurrection accounts as historical, but these should be enough to dispel the concept of the resurrection accounts to be corrupted by pagan myths. Tomorrow, we'll finish up this series by touching on some various incongruities of McDougall's claims. Until then, keep thinking!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Is Easter Pagan? Part 2 - What Do You Get When You Cross a Jew with...

Yesterday, I began a series looking at the claims made by some skeptics that Easter celebrations have their roots in pagan holidays and customs. My goal for these posts is to not dig into a ton of research to disprove these kinds of accusations, but to so you how, given a little time of reflection and focused thought, you can answer such claims without so much as an Internet search. Hopefully, this will give you a bit of confidence and help Christians to become better and more careful thinkers over the plethora of "Google Scholars" that simply add a lot of noise to the channel.


As an example of the "Easter is Pagan" claim, we've been looking at an article written by Heather McDougall that appeared in The UK newspaper, The Guardian. Let's look at a second paragraph from that article:
The Sumerian goddess Inanna, or Ishtar, was hung naked on a stake, and was subsequently resurrected and ascended from the underworld. One of the oldest resurrection myths is Egyptian Horus. Born on 25 December, Horus and his damaged eye became symbols of life and rebirth. Mithras was born on what we now call Christmas day, and his followers celebrated the spring equinox. Even as late as the 4th century AD, the sol invictus, associated with Mithras, was the last great pagan cult the church had to overcome. Dionysus was a divine child, resurrected by his grandmother. Dionysus also brought his mum, Semele, back to life."

2. Too much of everything leads to nothing

The first thing that should stand out to you as a red flag is how McDougall lists Sumerian, Egyptian, Roman, Baylonian, and Greek religions all as sources to the single holiday of Easter. There's something incredulous when one finds that the "real" origins of a very specific and detailed event (the death and resurrection of Jesus) has so many points of origin. It reminds me of when I was a little kid and I used to go to the soft drink fountain to create a "suicide," If you mix enough of everything together, all the distinctive tastes blur and what comes out is bland. Put a lot of various paints in a can and you won't get a vibrant color, but they meld into a dingy brown.

However, McDougall seems to think that everything that has even an inkling of parallel to the resurrection story is proof that the resurrection accounts are derived from that story (a concept we covered a bit more last time.) But religious rituals are not so easily changed, regardless of the ritual's cultural base. The reason a ritual works is because it is passed down. Religious rituals are taken even more seriously. Any changes would have to be shown with some pretty compelling evidence to back it up. McDougall has thrown out a Zeitgeist-type wild claim, but she will need to do more than simply make the claim. We will discuss more on this tomorrow, but the concept of changing religious understanding does lead me into my third point.

3. Jesus, His Followers, and His Detractors Were all Jewish

I don't know if it escaped McDougall's notice, but everyone agrees that Jesus was a first century Jew living in the Jewish state when Judaism was in full swing. Post-exile Judaism would be the de facto worldview for Jesus, His followers, his audience, and even His detractors, such as the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees. Anyone who knows anything about ancient Judaism knows how strict the Jews were not to have anything to do with pagan gods.

This point is underlined in the gospels when the Pharisees try to trap Jesus in asking Him whether they should pay taxes to Caesar or not. You remember the Pharisees, right? They are those people who took the Jewish faith so seriously that they would place a strainer on their wine glasses lest they ingest a gnat and violate the Jewish prohibition against swallowing an animal with its blood. The Pharisees question Jesus on giving money to Caesar as a violation of the Old Testament law. Jesus deftly answers "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." Jesus kept His Jewish understanding of serving only Yahweh intact while also showing the flaw in their thinking.

So, would a Jewish audience, one who is so attuned to the strict adherence of their faith that they would die rather than be forced to worship any other god really buy into a story that is perhaps Sumerian in origin? Do you think the Jews would recognize pagan myths that were popular in their day? Do you really think that Jesus or His Jewish disciples would invent such stories in order to gain adherents? The concept is preposterous! This would go over about as well as going to an Orthodox rabbi today and trying to convince him that the messiah is really Mohammad and Islam is Judaism fulfilled.

Tomorrow, I will look at the historical aspects of the resurrection accounts as my final point on why these claims are ridiculous. Until then, keep thinking!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Is Easter Pagan? Part 1 - The Rites of Spring

Recently, I received a request from a friend who asked, "which came first, the Easter celebration: the resurrection of Jesus Christ or all this other stuff about the goddess of fertility and the eggs and rabbits and all that?" As we approach the Easter season, the question isn't uncommon. Modern media loves to plaster the covers of magazines with questions about Jesus or the Bible during this time, since they know such "special" issues are guaranteed moneymakers.


They also look to run some of the most inflammatory tripe passed as fact. For an example, look at the article in The Guardian newspaper that ran a couple of years ago.  Entitled "The Pagan Roots of Easter," author Heather McDougall leads with:
Easter is a pagan festival. If Easter isn't really about Jesus, then what is it about? Today, we see a secular culture celebrating the spring equinox, whilst religious culture celebrates the resurrection. However, early Christianity made a pragmatic acceptance of ancient pagan practises, most of which we enjoy today at Easter. The general symbolic story of the death of the son (sun) on a cross (the constellation of the Southern Cross) and his rebirth, overcoming the powers of darkness, was a well worn story in the ancient world. There were plenty of parallel, rival resurrected saviours too.
So, should Christians worry? Is McGougall right? Does a Christian need to prove that the resurrection came before these other celebrations? The answer to all of these questions is an emphatic no. While one can go on a historical odyssey, checking out dusty books for hard dates, usually answering such claims doesn't take that much effort. If one were to slow down and just think a bit about what we do know, you can see how quickly these kinds of charges fall apart. I want to look at several points, in a series of posts, but we will start with the most obvious.

1. Seasons are Universal

The first point one must realize is that everyone throughout the history of the world experiences the change in seasons. (Folks like me living in California may be an exception, but that's a separate story.) Of the four seasons, spring has always been the biggest deal, because it is the time of more temperate weather, where one can come out from indoors. More importantly, it's the time for planting the food that will feed you and your family for the next year. Spring is the time when the trees and the flowers begin to bloom, so the season is associated with new life. Is it a surprise that various cultures would develop festivals and feast days to their gods at this time? Of course not!

There is a natural reaction to the new life that is sprouting from trees and from the ground. Part of that reaction is to tie the days of spring to the concept of new life. In early cultures, items like eggs and rabbits, which are known for their rapid reproduction, are natural symbols of new life. But because of the ties to new life, ancient people would tie sprint to the sexual cults. So the cult of Astarte (Astoreth in the biblical accounts) with the fertility and sexual prostitutes would have springtime festivals. But the spring is 25% of the entire year! Just because some fertility cults had big orgies and used symbols like eggs and multiplying rabbits doesn't mean there is any tie whatsoever to the resurrection! Think about it — what does a Jewish Messiah who rises from the dead have to do with temple prostitutes and creating babies? The similarities are tenuous at best.

Tomorrow I will go into more detail about the problem of the Jewishness of the resurrection accounts versus pagan spring rites. But until then, one must be mindful for an important principle: correlation does not imply causation. An example I use is the "Redskins Rule." For 60 years the outcome of the last home game of the Washington Redskins has predicted the outcome of that year's presidential election: "when the Redskins win, the incumbent party wins the electoral vote for the White House; when the Redskins lose, the non-incumbent party wins." The accuracy of that predictor over such a long period was Impressive, however anyone can see that one had absolutely nothing to do with the other. (For another interesting case, see the case of the book that predicted the sinking of the Titanic.)

I hope this first point has helped some in dispelling any worry that the resurrection may have ties to ancient pagan practices. Join me tomorrow and we'll see just how flimsy this "evidence" can be.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Eastertide is High Tide for Apologetics!

People have often commented on the incredibly fast pace of our current culture.  We live in a "get it then forget it" society where we're always looking towards the next thing, but we don't take the time to ponder what we have already. Even in our celebrations, we are sometimes too quick to move on. Take Easter for example. We think of it as a single day. We make some preparations, mark it with a day at church and maybe a family dinner, and then it's over.  Put the decorations away; what next on the calendar? But this approach doesn't do justice to the incredible change that the events of the first Easter Sunday brought. If you only focus on Easter as one day, you will miss out on a joyful and powerful time to reinvigorate yourself as a member of the body of Christ.  You will miss out on the historic Christian tradition of celebrating Eastertide.


What is Eastertide?  It is simply another name for the Easter season, those fifty days between Christ's resurrection and Pentecost.  Most people have heard of the season of Lent, leading up to Easter, but the celebration of Eastertide has somehow fallen out of popular favor, especially with Protestants. While Lent is a solemn time marked with abstinence and quietness, Eastertide can be a time of re-invigoration and joy.

It is during these fifty days that Jesus showed Himself to His disciples on multiple occasions. It is here that Jesus reveals Himself to Thomas and recommissions Peter.  It is here that Jesus explains Himself to the two walking to Emmaus. It is here appears before five hundred brethren and promises the disciples that the Holy Spirit will come upon them in power not many days from now. It is here that Jesus ascends to the Father to intercede on our behalf forever.

Because of all this, Jesus' followers were engaged and excited.  Look at how the two Emmaus disciples reacted after they realized they had been with Jesus in Luke 24:31-35. They felt their hearts burn within them as they gained clarity about Jesus and His mission. They couldn't wait to tell the other disciples that they had new insight into the Lord, immediately turning around and travelling back to Jerusalem, even after they had planned on retiring for the evening. The knowledge that the ultimate consequence of death no longer had any power over Jesus gave them confidence and conviction. They would draw on these in the days, weeks, and years to come as they faced a hostile world with the message of the saving Christ. Yes, the days between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday are to be embraced and celebrated.

I think Jesus' actions during this time show us how we can celebrate Eastertide.  Jesus was always specific in his actions. Prior to the crucifixion, Luke 9:51 tells us that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. After the Resurrection, He focuses all His attention on preparing the disciples for the task that is now set before them, to "be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." This is a good model for us to follow.

I think that the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost are the perfect time for Christians to prepare themselves for engaging an increasingly hostile world. Apologetics provides the perfect platform to do just that. 1 Peter 3:15 reminds us to "always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within you" and that's exactly with apologetics does. So during Eastertide, perhaps you can subscribe to an apologetics podcast, like one of these top podcasts that Brian Auten has put together.  Maybe you could begin an apologetics study at your church. You may wish to simply read a book defending the Christian position on an issue you feel strongly about, or you can plan on attending an upcoming apologetics event in your area. What you choose doesn't matter as much as simply engaging in new ideas that can prepare you for the future.

We all need reminders to do those things that are important but often neglected in our lives. Just as we use the changing of the clocks at spring time to remind us to change the batteries in our smoke alarms, the season of Eastertide can serve as a good way to remind ourselves we need to recharge our intellectual reservoirs. Easter declares that He is risen. Eastertide allows us to celebrate why that matters. Let's steel ourselves for the task set before us.  Pentecost is coming; will you be ready to go when the Spirit moves?

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Who Resurrected Jesus from the Dead?

During Easter, there tends to be more focus on the claims of Christianity than at other times of the year, and many groups seek to take advantage of that focus. I had noticed an increased amount of activity in our neighborhood by Jehovah's Witnesses, handing out their recent Watchtower magazine. A Frequently Asked Questions feature from the magazine makes the argument that the Resurrection proves that Jesus was not God. But does this make sense?


Quoting from the magazine, they ask "If Jesus is God, as some churches teach, who resurrected Jesus?" And they provide the following answer:
"Jesus is not God—whose name is Jehovah—but he is the Son of God. Jehovah resurrected Jesus from the dead" (Romans 10:9). One Bible scholar comments: 'It is unthinkable that anyone—even Christ—could raise himself.'"
The Watchtower's answer is a bit sparse. It references only Romans 10:9, which reads, "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Does this verse show that Jesus couldn't resurrect Himself?  No, it doesn't, and it's disingenuous to posture that a single verse is the end of the question.  So who is responsible for the resurrection of Jesus?

First, we can't ignore the testimony of Romans 10:9. However, that simply states that God raised Jesus from the dead. Even the Jehovah's Witnesses own New World Translation reads the verse as "For if you publicly declare that 'word in your own mouth,' that Jesus is Lord, and exercise faith in your heart that God raised him up from the dead, you will be saved." So, God did it.  This is consistent with other teachings that God alone has power over life and death.  Genesis 2:7 shows God is the one who breathes the breath of life into Adam. Jobs says God alone granted him life (Job 10:12), and gave him the breath of life (Job 33:4). Ecclesiastes 12:7 also confirms that on death, "the spirit returns to God who gave it." We thus conclude that only God has the power over the giving of life. Christians and Witnesses can agree on this point.

We now need to refocus on the first part of the question, is Jesus God? It seems to me that if Jesus had the power to resurrect people, it would clearly follow that Jesus is God. I can build an argument this way:
  1.  Only God can to give life to a body.
  2. Jesus gave life to His own body.
  3. Therefore Jesus is God.
There are a couple of key verses where Jesus explicitly claims that He has the power over His own life. In John chapter 2, Jesus drives out the merchants and the moneychangers from the Temple and the Jewish religious leaders were incensed. They demanded to know what proof Jesus could offer to justify His judgment of spiritual propriety. Jesus responded "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." John then clarifies Jesus' statement and writes, "But He was speaking of the temple of His body."  Jesus reiterated His power over His own life and death in John 10:17-18 when He says, "My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father."

It is clear that Jesus claimed to have the power to resurrect Himself. The Bible also claims that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, (see Acts 5:30, Galatians 1:1 among others) and that God's Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11, 1 Peter, 3:18). So we have all three persons of the Trinity involved in Jesus' resurrection. Given the crucial aspect of the Resurrection to God's plan, that is no surprise.

Of course the Watchtower doesn't mention any of this. Instead, they follow up their claim with a quote from some unnamed "Bible scholar" who says, "It is unthinkable that anyone—even Christ—could raise himself." But why doesn't the Watchtower say who this supposed scholar is? Why don't they cite the source of the quote? If death is the separation of the soul from the body as Ecclesiastes 12:7 states, then Jesus doesn't cease to be upon death but His spirit is active and capable of exerting power.  This isn't an unfathomable thing. The Watchtower doesn't like this conclusion, though, because it contradicts two main points of their skewed theology, that Jesus is God and that the soul survives death. Rather that undermining the Trinity, the fact that Jesus raised Himself from the dead strengthens His claim to deity. Any other answer simply falls short.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Was it Necessary for Jesus to Rise Again?


In his monumental Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas presents a fully developed theology of the Christian church. Aquinas did this in a kind of Socratic method, posing each topic as a question, offering certain objections against the doctrine and then answering the objections raised. His Third Part focused specifically on Christ and in Question 53 he looks at the necessity of Jesus to rise from the dead.

Aquinas offers five specific reasons why the Resurrection is crucial to the faith. He writes:
 First of all; for the commendation of Divine Justice, to which it belongs to exalt them who humble themselves for God's sake, according to Lk. 1:52: "He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble." Consequently, because Christ humbled Himself even to the death of the Cross, from love and obedience to God, it behooved Him to be uplifted by God to a glorious resurrection; hence it is said in His Person (Ps. 138:2): "Thou hast known," i.e. approved, "my sitting down," i.e. My humiliation and Passion, "and my rising up," i.e. My glorification in the resurrection; as the gloss expounds.

Secondly, for our instruction in the faith, since our belief in Christ's Godhead is confirmed by His rising again, because, according to 2 Cor. 13:4, "although He was crucified through weakness, yet He liveth by the power of God." And therefore it is written (1 Cor. 15:14): "If Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and our [Vulg.: 'your'] faith is also vain": and (Ps. 29:10): "What profit is there in my blood?" that is, in the shedding of My blood, "while I go down," as by various degrees of evils, "into corruption?" As though He were to answer: "None. 'For if I do not at once rise again but My body be corrupted, I shall preach to no one, I shall gain no one,'" as the gloss expounds.

Thirdly, for the raising of our hope, since through seeing Christ, who is our head, rise again, we hope that we likewise shall rise again. Hence it is written (1 Cor. 15:12): "Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how do some among you say, that there is no resurrection of the dead?" And (Job 19:2527): "I know," that is with certainty of faith, "that my Redeemer," i.e. Christ, "liveth," having risen from the dead; "and" therefore "in the last day I shall rise out of the earth . . . this my hope is laid up in my bosom."

Fourthly, to set in order the lives of the faithful: according to Rom. 6:4: "As Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life": and further on; "Christ rising from the dead dieth now no more; so do you also reckon that you are dead to sin, but alive to God."

Fifthly, in order to complete the work of our salvation: because, just as for this reason did He endure evil things in dying that He might deliver us from evil, so was He glorified in rising again in order to advance us towards good things; according to Rom. 4:25: "He was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification."
To restate these reasons:

  1. Jesus' resurrection demonstrates the Father's acceptance of Christ's humility in sacrificing Himself for our sins.
  2. Jesus' resurrection shows us that He is almighty God, vindicating His authority and our submission to Him.
  3. Jesus' resurrection provides proof that death has no power over the Christian.
  4. Jesus' resurrection gives us the impetus to live holy lives for Him.
  5. Jesus' resurrection is part of His salvific work.
How truly great is our salvation! How truly magnificent is our Lord! How truly important is the Resurrection and how worthy is it to reflect on it this Easter.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Does Easter have Pagan Origins?

This week is known as Holy Week, since it marks the events in Jesus' life between Palm Sunday and Easter morning.  Millions of Christians will be observing the pivotal events of the death of the Savior and celebrating His resurrection on that glorious Sunday morning. I've had people challenge me on the origin of Easter, claiming that its roots are not found in Christianity. 


Here's a fairly typical example sent to me by a skeptic who Google-searched for an objection and copied the page whole. The essay, entitled "Christian Feast Days and Their Relationship to Pagan Holidays," was written by Donna-Lynn Riley for an Intro to World Religions class at North Virginia Community College. The professor liked it so much she reproduced it on the course's page as a resource.

Discussing the origin of Easter, Riley writes:
"For Christians it is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the very name of this holiday shows pagan origin. The term "Easter" has been said to be derived from Estre or Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and dawn. The festival for Eostre was celebrated on the day of the Vernal Equinox, the first day of spring."1
So, Riley claims here that Easter has its origins not in the resurrection of Jesus, but the holiday's very name "shows pagan origin." Really?  Then how did Christianity get started at all? Riley doesn't seem to take into account that Christianity relies on the resurrection for its origin.

Let's first look at the historical context of the events that lead to the beginning of Christianity. As has been clearly shown by the research of Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, the vast majority of New Testaments scholars hold at the very least:
  • Jesus died by crucifixion
  • Very shortly after Jesus' death, His disciples had experiences that led them to believe that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.
  • The Christian persecutor Paul dramatically converted to Christianity. Paul stated the reason for his conversion is because he too experienced the risen Jesus.2
These three facts are held as historical bedrock by scholars who run from the very conservative to the very liberal.  Even atheists who are New Testament scholars will admit these facts. Going one step further, Jesus' death and resurrection are clearly tied to the timeline of the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus' last supper (on Holy Thursday) was the Passover meal. Therefore, the celebration of Easter would naturally also be found to be in close proximity to the Jewish Passover feast, which is in the spring.

In writing her paper, Riley took the name of Easter and said the holiday pulls its origins from the "Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and dawn." But even this isn't quite right.  First, Easter existed long before Christianity was introduced to the people of ancient England.  In most of the world the word used for Easter is "Pascha", which is a derivation from the Hebrew word for Passover.3 So if the Anglo-Saxons tried to link Easter celebrations to their spring festival, the pagan origin is a late-comer and the word not found within the majority of Christendom.

But even the existence of the goddess Eostre has been questioned by British history scholars such as Ronald Hutton.  He writes that all the accounts of the label of Easter originating with a goddess are stemming from the monk Bede's writings, published in the eighth century. Hutton writes that the idea of Easter referencing a goddess celebration "falls into that category of interpretations which Bede admitted to be his own, rather than generally agreed or proven fact."4 He goes on to write:
"It is equally valid, however, to suggest that the Anglo-Saxon 'Estor-monath' simply meant 'the month of opening' or 'the month of beginnings', and that Bede mistakenly connected it with a goddess who either never existed at all, or was never associated with a particular season but merely, like Eos and Aurora, with the dawn itself.

"With the removal of this shadowy deity from the canon of historical certainty, there evaporates any reliable evidence for a pre-Christian festival in the British Isles during the time which became March and April. It may be that there was none, the ancient inhabitants being wholly taken up with ploughing, sowing, and caring for young livestock." 5
So, we have the possibility that Easter refers not to a pagan goddess at all, but to the season in which its marked.  And if there was a goddess Eostre, the holiday may not be referring directly to her, but to the name of the month instead. However, we do know that the Pascha celebration dated hundreds of years before the Christianization of the British Isles.

It is evident that Ridley is unfounded in trying to link Easter to any kind of pagan celebration. What's more troubling is that her professor was so enamored with her paper, that she keeps it as a published resource on her Intro to World Religions web page. She should know better.

References

1. Ridley, Donna-Lynn. "Christian Feast Days and Their Relationship to Pagan Holidays." Written Feb. 9, 2003.<http://www.nvcc.edu/home/lshulman/rel232/resource/RileyPaper.htm>.Accessed March 25, 2013.
2. Licona, Michael. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. (Downers Grove, Il.: IVP Academic, 2010). 463.
3. "Pascha" Wiktionary Entry. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Pascha Accessed 3/26/2013.
4. Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the Sun:A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). 181.
5. Ibid. 182.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why is the Resurrection so important?

As we prepare for Easter, I thought it would be a good time to think about the resurrection in different ways. Imagine you are part of Jesus' first disciples some 50 days after Jesus' execution. Jesus is no longer with you, and those in power are willing to execute you, or anyone else that bucks their religious establishment. Yet, you desire to go out and get other people to follow this Jesus, this supposed insurrectionist who taught what the Sanhedrin charged as blasphemy. You want to go and "make disciples of all nations." What could be so convincing that it would lead to thousands of conversions in just a few years after Jesus' death?  What testimony would be so powerful for others to believe in spite of all the negative consequences? 



When we look at the speeches of both Peter and Paul in the New Testament we find that the one thing they always focused on in their messages is that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death, but rose again.  It is the resurrection of Christ that formed the foundation and the fuel of the new Christian faith. Everywhere the disciples went, they preached Jesus being raised from the dead, and this is what transformed Christianity form a small group of scared disciples to a world-changing faith reaching across the globe.

It's hard to not understate the importance of the resurrection to Christianity.  There's a Greek legend of the servant Damocles, who told his wealthy and prosperous king he would like nothing more than to switch places with him to enjoy the luxuries such a position affords. The king offered his throne for a single day and the servant immediately accepted. However, after taking his seat on the king's throne, Damocles saw that the king had placed a sword hanging directly over his head, suspended only by a single hair. The point was to show that the position of kingship is tenuous at best. Break that hair and Damocles' life is ended. In a similar way, Christianity's claims of authority hang by the thread of the resurrection. The Apostle Paul states this explicitly in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says:

"Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
Paul here lays out a very clear test. If Jesus was never raised from the dead, we not only have no hope in rising ourselves, but we believe in vain, we're holding onto a worthless faith. Paul even says we are akin to that person we sometimes see in Warner Brothers cartoons who thinks he's Napoleon.  If we believe in a fable that is ridiculous; we are to be most pitied among all men.

 The stakes are indeed high; however I'm also comforted by them. It gives us a way to make sure that we aren't believing a lie. Unlike virtually every other world religion out there, we can investigate the claims of Christianity and dismiss it if it proves faulty. And our tests aren't based on feelings or some subjective criteria. We can look at the claims of the resurrection from the same perspective as those who study other historical events and draw well-considered conclusions. We can base our faith upon facts.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Should Evangelicals Celebrate Ash Wednesday?


I teach a small Bible devotion for a company with Christian owners. Once a month, they invite their employees  to join together and spend fifteen or twenty minutes with a bit of encouragement and reflection from the Scriptures.  I love this idea, but on more than one occasion folks there have commented to me that it's difficult to "switch gears" from sales calls, production worries, and accounting headaches to a quiet time where they can absorb all the devotion may have for them.

I can completely see how this would be so. It's hard to turn off all the cares and worries of our ever busier lives and just focus in on what God has to say. Many churches begin their services with an extended time of worship music for just that reason; it helps prepare our hearts and minds for the teaching. So, we learn to quiet ourselves in preparation for the tasks of the day with our daily devotional time and we learn to quiet ourselves in preparation for the week in our worship services.

I write all this today because it's Ash Wednesday, which marks a forty day period of reflection prior to Easter. Many people today, especially those in non-denominational churches, don't see a big significance in Lent. Some have left Roman Catholic or other traditional denominations who had a more formal observance of the day, and they feel that Lent is part of the "ritual" that was part of the "old school" way of doing things. But, is this the right way to think about Lent?

It seems to me that Lent is a very biblical idea.  God had the Israelites spend time reflecting and thinking about how He rescued them at least twice yearly (Passover and Sukkot).  The Psalms are replete with God pointing to the fact that He is the one who delivered Israel from Egypt. Paul in Ephesians 2:11-14 instructs us to remember how we, who were once cut off and separated from God were then reconciled to Him through Christ's sacrifice.

Lent is the perfect time, then to quiet ourselves and prepare our hearts for the celebration of Easter, and another year of living new lives in Christ. So, it makes sense to fast, to sacrifice some of what adds to our busy days, or to the desires and distractions that crowd our lives. We need to remember how fragile we are and that our lives and our salvation are a result of God's good grace.

I urge you to see how you can make the time of Lent one where your hearts and lives are quieted before the Lord. A little ritual is not necessarily a bad thing—and it may help you to appreciate the enormity of Easter a little bit better

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Are the Books of Moses Forgeries

From the 19th century onward, there has been a theory floating around known as the documentary hypothesis that claims the first five books of the Bible, known collectively as the Pentateuch or the Torah, weren't penned by Moses as is commonly believed. German scholars had pronounced that these were a compilation of at least four different authors (known in academic circles as J, E, P, and D) whose works were mixed and matched by later editors to form some cohesive whole.



Author David Hazony, who is Jewish, prides himself on his faith as well as his reason. He states (and I agree) that these can coexist without too much difficulty. However, he says that when the question of the Bible's authorship comes up, it is the thing that has the potential to trip him up. So he began to look at the claims of the documentary hypothesis, but not merely from an academic point of view. He used his real-world experience as an editor to show how a claim like the one made by the German critics tries to prove something they could never actually do. He writes:
It all started a few years back when, as the senior editor of a Jerusalem-based journal of public thought, I ran into trouble on a 10,000-word, brilliantly researched essay about Israeli social policy composed by the sweetest man on earth who, unfortunately wasn’t a stellar writer. 
I spent a few weeks rewriting, moving things around, adding and cutting and sweating. Finally I passed it up the chain to Dan, my editor-in-chief.

"Hey Dan," I said. "Could you take a look at this? I added a whole paragraph in the conclusion. Tell me what you think."

A few days later I got it back, marked up in red ballpoint. On the last page, in the conclusion, he had written the words “This is the paragraph you added,” and drawn a huge red arrow.
But the arrow, alas, was pointing at the wrong paragraph.

You see, it turns out that it’s not very easy to reverse-engineer an editing job. To take an edited text and figure out, in retrospect, what changes it went through — it’s about a million times harder than those tenured, tortured Bible scholars will tell you.

Language is fluid and flexible, the product of the vagaries of the human soul. When an editor has free rein, he can make anything sound like he’d written it himself, or like the author’s own voice, or something else entirely. It all depends on his aims, his training, his talent and the quality of his coffee that morning. A good editor is a ventriloquist of the written word.

That’s when I started to suspect that what Bible scholars claim they’re doing — telling you what the "original" Bible looked like—might be, in fact, impossible to do.

Think about it. My case was one in which the author, editor and reader are all known entities (in fact, they all know each other personally); the reading takes place in the exact same cultural and social context as the writing and editing; and the reader is himself a really smart guy, Ivy-league Ph.D. and all, who had spent a decade training the editor to be a certain kind of editor, with specific tools unique to the specific publication’s aims.

Not only that, but he was even told what kind of edit to look for, in which section. And still he couldn't identify the change.
I think this common-sense approach is wise.  While I believe that we have some strong evidence in favor of Moses being the author (for example, Jesus quotes from several different sections of the Pentateuch and attributes each to Moses), Hazony doesn't go that far.  But he can see that the claims of a multiplicity of authors is really unsupportable, which is honest and fair.

While Hazony only discusses the Pentateuch, we have even greater evidence for the New Testament being authentic. For a more complete look at the subject, you may want to check out How Do I Know the Bible is REALLY From God? and Who Chose What To Include in the Bible?

So, as you reflect on the events surrounding the Israel's exodus from Egypt and the passion week of Christ, be assured that we have good reasons to believe the Bible is written by authoritative sources.

You may read David Hazony's entire article at http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/01/my-take-it-doesnt-matter-who-wrote-the-bible/

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Celebrating Holidays in Graveyards



As I was driving to Easter services this morning, I passed a cemetery. It started me thinking about our culture’s popular reaction to cemeteries. Graveyards are supposed to be kind of spooky places we wouldn't want to be stuck in at night. But this morning I looked at the cemetery with new eyes. You see, the very first Easter was celebrated in a cemetery. Jesus appeared to Mary there. John and Peter saw the empty tomb there. And I thought to myself, “cemeteries are really paper tigers for the Christian.” It looks like it’s the end, but we know that death is swallowed up in victory. A graveyard could not hold Jesus and it cannot hold any of His children. So we read “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

Tomorrow, most of the world will go back to work, back to their daily lives. They will once again think of cemeteries as places to dread. But we know better. Death is the ultimate threat against a person, and if death cannot hold the Christian, then how can it be fearful? However, not all of those graves will be opened to victory, as many who will fall do not know the risen Jesus. So, when you go back to work, dear Christian, think of the graveyards – and seek to widen the victory Christ has already obtained by sharing it with others. To the Corinthians Paul said “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Let us take this message beyond Easter. Let your friends and loved ones know that we celebrate our most holy day by looking to a graveyard.; We do so because we know it is to us only a paper tiger. It can be for them, too.

Image courtesy Parrot of Doom (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL]
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