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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 reliability of the Bible. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reliability of the Bible. Show all posts

Friday, December 05, 2014

History Testifies that Jesus Worked Miracles

It's becoming more and more popular to cast doubt on the existence of the biblical Jesus as a person of history and claim that he was more likely a mythical invention of Christians. However, those claims are not made by even the skeptical experts who study the Gospel accounts of Jesus. Craig Keener, a noted scholar and historian provides the detail:


Most scholars today working on the subject accept the claim that Jesus was a healer and exorcist. The evidence is stronger for this claim than for most other specific historical claims that we could make about Jesus or earliest Christianity. Scholars often note that miracles characterized Jesus's historical activity no less than his teaching and prophetic activities did. So central are miracle reports to the Gospels that one could remove them only if one regarded the Gospels as preserving barely any genuine information about Jesus. Indeed, it is estimated that more than 31 percent of the verses in Mark's Gospel involve miracles in some way, or some 40 percent of his narrative! Very few critics would deny the presence of any miracles in the earliest material about Jesus.

If followers would preserve Jesus's teachings, how much more might they, and especially those who experienced recoveries, spread reports about his extraordinary acts of power? Because miracle claims attach to a relatively small number of figures in antiquity (itinerant or not), there is little reason to suppose that Jesus would have developed a reputation as a wonder worker if he did not engage in such activities. Jesus's ministry to the afflicted also coheres with his care for the marginalized in contrast to his frequent conflicts with the elite." As historical Jesus scholars Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz put it, "Just as the kingdom of God stands at the centre of Jesus's preaching, so healings and exorcisms form the centre of his activity."

Among non-Christian sources, the rabbis and Celsus are clear that Jesus performed miracles, although both sources are hostile to these miracles. (Many of these later non-Christian sources attribute the miraculous works to sorcery, which probably constitutes the earliest anti-Christian explanation for Christian miracles.) This unanimity is striking given the conversely unanimous silence in Christian, Jewish, and even Mandean tradition concerning any miracles of respected prophetic figures like John the Baptist. None of the ancient sources respond to claims of Jesus's miracles by trying to deny them.

More important, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus apparently claims that Jesus was a miracle worker. Jewish historian Geza Vermes, a noted expert on Jesus's era, has argued that this miracle claim in Josephus is authentic, based on Joshephus's style. In this report Josephus calls Jesus a wise man who also "worked startling deeds, “ a designation that Josephus also applies to miracles associated with the prophet Elisha.

It is thus not surprising that most scholars publishing historical research about Jesus today grant that Jesus was a miracle worker, regardless of their varying philosophic assumptions about divine activity in miracle claims.1 (Emphasis added.)

—Craig Keener

References

Keener, Craig S. Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011. Print. 23-25.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

One Reason Why Jesus Cannot be Mythical

It is becoming more and more popular in certain atheist circles to claim that Jesus never existed. They claim that the story of the Messiah from Nazareth is simply a regurgitation of the myths of old, such as Osiris, Dionysius, or Mithras. But such claims, while superficially tempting are really impossible to manage if you study the details.



Historian Paul L. Maier shows just one way the charge of myth crumbles in his book In the Fullness of Time, and he takes scarcely more than a paragraph from his introduction to do it. He writes:
Instead of claiming a mythological founder, or one who materialized from the mists of the past in an appearance datable only to the nearest century or two, Christianity boldly asserts that Jesus' public ministry began (in association with that of John the Baptist) in
… the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas … (Luke 3:1, RSV)
No mythological heroes or cardboard characters here! This sixfold documentation involves personalities and places, all of which are well known and historical. In fact, we know even more about this collection of proper names from sources outside the New Testament. The author of 2 Peter expressed Christianity's "historical advantage" splendidly: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths … but we had been eyewitnesses" (1:16). 1 (Emphasis in the original.)

References

1. Maier, Paul L. In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1991. Print.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Missing Gospels Make Me More Confident in the Bible

Howard Hughes was an icon both of American aviation and eccentricity. Hughes (later portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2004 biographic film The Aviator) was a groundbreaking inventor and pilot, setting multiple records for aviation1 and his business savvy made him one of the richest men in America. However, Hughes also suffered from a form of obsessive compulsive disorder2, especially a fear of germs which eventually drove him to be a recluse before he died in 1976.



Because Hughes had no children, and his aide testified that Hughes had mentioned a will, a search was conducted by Hughes' Summa Corp, which managed all of his businesses.3 Needless to say, Summa found a lot of potential benefactors who claimed to hold wills written by the eccentric billionaire. 4 It took come twenty years to sort those out and 34 years to finalize the estate he left behind.5

One such will was dubbed "The Mormon Will," which was delivered days after Hughes' death. Encyclopedia.com reports it as:
A tattered yellow envelope, bearing a partly illegible Las Vegas postmark, was addressed to Spencer W. Kimball, president of the Mormon Church. Inside the first envelope was a smaller one that bore instructions written in a large scrawl. Kimball was directed to deliver the enclosed will to legal authorities in Clark County, Nevada. It was signed Howard R. Hughes.6
Although forensic science didn't have the technology we do today to examine the will, the will was deemed a forgery. The World of Forensic Science article explains why:
The will immediately became suspect because of the numerous spelling errors that filled its pages as well as suspect references. Hughes paid painstaking attention to detail throughout his life and never made vague statements. Dummar was suspected of forging the Mormon will, because no one could understand why Hughes would leave him one hundred and fifty million dollars or why the reclusive and germ-phobic billionaire would hitchhike. Dummar later admitted that his story was false. Lastly, lawyers who worked for Hughes found it inconceivable that he would have relied on a handwritten last testament. He had a deep fear that his handwriting could be forged and even tried to keep his signature secret.7

The Problem of Too Many Gospels

I bring up Hughes' will because it is remarkably unremarkable for human beings to create forgeries of items they feel will give them value, power, or prestige. Yet, when the topic of the New Testament comes up, there are those who feel that the Bible's restriction of official Gospel accounts to four is somehow a bad thing. They seem to take the position of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, where he puts the objection in the mouth of historian professor Teabing, who says "More than 80 gospels were considered for the New Testament."8 Such a claim is not simply wrong, but incredibly wrong. There were never any gospels other than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John ever considered for inclusion in the Bible. Ever. New Testament Scholar Craig Blomberg points to the book The Canon Debate, which holds every known list of proposed books for inclusion in the New Testament as evidence that such ideas are made up out of whole cloth.

However, one way I answer the objection that gospels were supposedly left out of the Bible is by responding, "Isn't that a relief!" It just seems to me that if the church fathers took the concept of the Word of God seriously, they simply wouldn't let in just any old written document claiming to be an account of Jesus' life, just hat the courts wouldn't let any old document claiming to be Howard Hughes' will stand as legitimate. And just as those examining the fake Hughes wills threw them out because of inconsistencies with the language used, questionable connections between Hughes and the benefactor, and actions that were out of character with Hughes, so too do these other Gnostic writings show inconsistencies in their theology, questionable associations with the eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry (these were forgeries written much later), and presented a Jesus that was completely unlike the one we see in the older, more reliable Gospel accounts.

So, is there a problem when we look at the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Truth, or others? No. If the Gospels are the word of God, then we should expect to see forgeries pop up after a certain amount of time. It's human nature. And because the forgeries and fakes were screened out of the Bible, we should have more assurance that those passing on the Biblical accounts of Christ took their jobs at least as seriously as the judges passing on a billionaire's fortune.

References

1. Lerner, Preston. "Howard Hughes' Top Ten." Air & Space Magazine. Smithsonian. Nov. 2004. Web. 04 Nov. 2014. http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/howard-hughes-top-ten-5206422/?all.
2. Dittman, M. "Hughes's Germ Phobia Revealed in Psychological Autopsy." The American Psychological Association. The American Psychological Association, July-Aug. 2005. Web. 04 Nov. 2014. http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug05/hughes.aspx.
3. "Howard Hughes' Will." World of Forensic Science. 2005. As reproduced in Encyclopedia.com. HighBeam Research, 01 Jan. 2005. Web. 04 Nov. 2014. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3448300293.html.
4. "Howard Hughes Estate Settled... After 34 Years." Living Trust Law Firm. The Law Offices of Jeffery G. Marsocci, PLLC, 21 Oct. 2010. Web. 04 Nov. 2014. http://www.livingtrustlawfirm.com/howard-hughes-estate-settled%E2%80%A6-after-34-years/.
5. Hudson, Kris. "GGP, Howard Hughes Heirs Settle Las Vegas Payment." The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 20 Sept. 2010. Web. 04 Nov. 2014. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748704416904575502292011174892.
6. World of Forensic Science, 2005.
7. Ibid.
8. Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code: A Novel. New York: Doubleday, 2003. 231.Print

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/.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Does Being Old Disqualify the Bible's Teachings?

Recently, I ran across another of those atheist memes that have become popular online. As I've demonstrated before, these little quips, while attractive on the surface, usually make huge errors in thinking. However, since Christians are likely to run across similar objections to their faith from skeptics or others, I do think it can be educational to take some of these apart.



The latest meme has a simple image of a man's torso holding a Bible, accompanied by the statement/question "Would you let a doctor with a 2000 year old medical book operate on you? No. So why let a priest with a 2000 year old storybook tell you how to live?"

Leaving aside the loaded language of "2000 year old storybook," the meme tried to do two things at once. First, it tries to make a comparison between a medical procedure and matters of faith. Secondly, by so doing, it argues that because a text is old it is somehow deficient. Let's take these claims in order.

I would like to take these claims in reverse order, but the careful reader should note that the meme is wrong in its claim that people don't allow doctors with ancient medical books operate on them. Acupuncture predates Christianity by thousands of years and I have known many people who reject the wisdom of the Bible but embrace it as a treatment for their ailments. The practice has received enough attention that the Journal of the American Medical Association and the British medical journal Lancet have written articles on the practice.1 Whether the relief people feel from acupuncture is due to the procedure or simply a placebo effect, acupuncture patients will tell you that they continue to have treatments because it helps them.2 So, many people do let a medical practitioner with an ancient "medical book" operate on them.

One Cannot Dismiss an Idea Solely Because of its Source

The main error the meme commits is shown by those people who continue to pay of acupuncture. It doesn't matter how old a procedure is; the real question is "does it work" or "is it true." In logic, dismissing an idea because it comes from an old source is a form of the genetic fallacy. If you aren't familiar with the term, a genetic fallacy is a mistake in logic where a person claims the falsehood of an idea simply because of its origin. For example, I learned from my school teacher that 2 + 2 = 4. But if my teacher is later found to be a habitual liar, it doesn't mean that I must now reject the notion that 2 + 2 = 4! She could have lied about everything else, but that idea is actually true.

Similarly, one cannot dismiss the Bible as a source of wisdom on life simply because it is old. In fact, unlike medical procedures, which are more mechanical, issues of life are universal. This is why we require students to read Shakespeare, Boethius, and Homer—because we can learn from them, even though they are ancient. Human beings have faced the same big questions of life since our origin, and these are not things where the answers come more easily with better technical expertise.

For example, I would not let any doctor operate on me who doesn't adhere to the dictums of the 2,400 year old Greek physician Hippocrates who taught that medicine must be practiced morally and with the patient's best interest as the primary motivation. Such wisdom is so valued that 98% of American physicians today swear by the Hippocratic Oath when gaining their medical degree.3

So, the meme is asking the wrong questions. It doesn't matter how old a text is. What should be asked is "Is the text true?" For that we have strong evidence that the Bible is what it claims to be: the word of God given to men so they may find the answers to those big questions of life.

Perhaps if the meme's creator had spent more time reading Aristotle's 2,300 year old writings on logic, he may not have made such an egregious error.

References

1. JAMA articles on acupuncture may be found at http://jama.jamanetwork.com/solr/searchresults.aspx?q=acupuncture&fd_JournalID=67&f_JournalDisplayName=JAMA&SearchSourceType=3 . For a list of various Lancet articles on the subject see http://www.thelancet.com/search/results?searchTerm=acupuncture&fieldName=ArticleTitleAbstractKeywords&journalFromWhichSearchStarted=

2. To be sure, the efficacy of acupuncture is highly debated in the medical community. One of the most difficult problems, as the Lancet mentioned is that it becomes difficult to create a control group for a blind study when the procedure itself requires one to have needles inserted into the body. Regardless, the falsity of the "no" answer in the meme is proven.

3. Crawshaw, R. "The Hippocratic Oath. Is Alive and Well in North America." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 08 Oct. 1994. Web. 21 Oct. 2014. .

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book Review: Questioning the Bible

Jonathan Morrow may not be a name most people recognize, but the author of Think Christianity has shown that he is adept at taking front-line issues in defending the faith and making them accessible to a broad audience. He does this again in his latest work, Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible's Authority. Here, Morrow delves into eleven common objections to the trustworthiness of not only the Biblical texts, but the general cultural understanding of the Bible as well, all written in a light, easy to understand style.



The book opens with a wonderful introduction addresses specifically to the Christian in the pew. Morrow sets the stage well as he notes that traditionally, pastors' sermons usually begin with the presupposition that the Bible is both accurate and authoritative. However, those concepts should not be so easily assumed, as the culture has become more and more secular, and therefore skeptical of those claims. In chapter one, Morrow next creates a broader foundation for his arguments by showing that faith may be built upon evidence, that the heroes of the Bible built their faith in just that way, and that we as modern Christians are also commanded to provide reasons for our own faith.

Once the foundation is established, Morrow moves into the question of the historicity of Jesus and the historical nature of the Gospels themselves. The former topic is key as the "Jesus as myth" movement many atheists propose seems to be gaining ground today, particularly via spurious Internet sources. Chapters 4 through 6 focus on the collection of texts that make up our New Testament, first showing that the Gospel accounts were chosen neither frivolously nor, as books like The Da Vinci Code would assert, to advance a certain political agenda. Morrow discusses the problem of forgeries that were identified and then shows why the biblical gospels cannot be considered forgeries themselves. H ends this section by showing why the modern New Testament text itself is a reliable copy of what the original authors wrote.

Once the biblical texts are confirmed accurate, the next question would be do they match with reality? While we may have the original texts, that doesn't mean they tell the truth or are giving us real knowledge. Morrow now answers these objections in the next three chapters, which deal with claims of Biblical contradictions, the claim that the Bible is unscientific, and the charge that the Bible is prejudiced or backwards compared to our modern morality. The last two chapters are reserved for issues focused on Christian application of the scriptures.

Overall, the book offers some really great tools to help the reader not only understand but implement the content. Chapters are short and the content is broken up by subheadings every page or two, creating bite-sized ideas that are easy to take in. There are not a lot of illustrations, however every chapter is summarized at its end with its "three big ideas", tips for how you can explain the main points of the chapter within a conversation, as well as a couple of resources that allows the student to dig deeper into that chapter's topic.

One key point is that there are three appendixes at the back of the books, which could really be three additional chapters. While not really fitting into the main scheme of questions that challenge the Bible's authority, they still touch on key issues that help establish the Bible as the authoritative word of God. While the writing style is conversational and friendly, each chapter is properly sourced, with the footnotes found at the back of the book.

As Morrow notes in his last appendix, today's youth are not taking the Bible as seriously as previous generations. Because of the growing secularization of the culture, the anti-institutional attitudes that pervade the younger generation, and the increasing onslaught of skeptics and atheists, Christian kids today have more confusion about the authority of Scripture than ever before. Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible's Authority goes a long way in quelling those doubts and reestablishing why trust in the Bible is a rational position to take. Morrow has given the church a gift in this book. I recommend it highly for youth groups, personal study, or simply general edification. You may be surprised—it could even answer questions you didn't know you had.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Why a Good Bible Translation is Not Enough

A friend of mine from Holland recently asked if there was an English equivalent to the Dutch phrase "'s Avonds een vent, 's ochtends een vent." The phrase translates to the English "At night a man, in the morning a man" and it's a very popular idiom there, or so I'm told. The Dutch will recognize its meaning immediately, but as an English speaker, I'm going to be hopelessly lost unless my friend unpacks the phrase a bit more. As it turns out, it implied that if one wishes to act like an adult and stay out late (perhaps drinking or partying), then one must also act like an adult in the morning by getting up on time and putting forth a full effort at his or her responsibilities of work or school.


How Culture Affects the Use of Language

Reading the translation of the idiom by itself, I don't think anyone unacquainted with Dutch culture would ever understand its meaning. The United States was heavily influenced by the Puritans, so we don't have any figure of speech that equates drinking with being a grown up. Instead, we have Benjamin Franklin's "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise," which is much more in line with our work ethic.

I offer this example because idioms and figures of speech are used throughout the Bible and simply reading a Bible translation without understanding how the language is being used can lead the student to as much confusion as only translating the Dutch idiom above. Let me give you one example: In Amos 4:6 God tells the Israelites, "I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities." To a 21st century culture, one may rejoice. But the phrase is a curse as it is followed by "and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me." God is telling the Israelites that he caused a famine; their teeth were clean because there was no food left to get stuck in them!

Because modern society places an emphasis on white teeth and good oral hygiene, we bring certain presuppositions to the text without even realizing it and one can often miss the point. Another example is Proverbs 22:13 which reads, "The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!'" While such an alarm sounds important and anything other than sluggardly, if you know that lions were native to Israel but not dominant there1 you can perhaps make out the meaning of the proverb. The sluggard says he cannot go outside to work because he may be attacked by a lion (a very unlikely scenario). It's akin to me saying I cannot drive to work because I may be killed in a car accident.

The emphasis of a culture also colors words. In talking about the Franklin quote above, another friend  responded with a favorite from her father: "Early to rise, early to bed makes a man socially dead!" Different times can emphasize different values and can make the same idiom appear differently to the reader. The influence of the Puritans are fading from American culture!

Understand the Context to Understand the Message

There are of course many more illustrations I could offer, but I think the point is clear. One must do more than simply read the Bible in a wooden, literal way to understand what the author is trying to convey to his readers. This especially is true when a skeptic or atheist tries to assert that one certain passage offers a contradiction to another. As I've previously written, claiming a contradiction for Jesus' claim that he'd be in the tomb three days and three nights is simply an abuse of an idiom. We know that the phrase is an idiom because David used it well before Jesus in 1 Samuel 30 and it didn't mean 72 hours in his usage either.

Therefore, before you read a book of the Bible, make sure you keep in mind a few key questions. Ask about the audience to whom the book was being written. Was it for believers in the church, Israel citizens, or a general retelling of events? What issue, problem, or point prompted the author to write to them? Is the author trying to write history, poetry, establish civil laws that would apply only to the nation of Israel, or do something else in the text? All these pieces help the student better understand the words on the page. Most good study bibles will have an introductory section that answers these questions for you as well as footnotes that can explain some of the more confusing idioms. Good commentaries can also be of immense value in better grasping the historical aspects of the passage. It's like the old proverb says, "Any text taken out of context is a pretext." Be a man and divide the word rightly!


References

1. See Rowan, Yorke M. and Jonathan Golden. "The Chalcolithic Period of the Southern Levant: A Synthetic Review." Journal of World Prehistory 22: 1-92. 9 April 2009. 24. Available online at https://www.academia.edu/4899234/The_Chalcolithic_Period_of_the_Southern_Levant_A_Synthetic_Review._Journal_of_World_Prehistory_22_1-92

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Digging into the Reliability of the OT Books of Kings


One of the more popular ways skeptics try to undermine the authoritative value of the Bible is to question the validity of its narratives. Usually this means asserting that the events recorded in the Bible never really happened or happened much differently than how the text reads. From the Jesus myth proponents who claimed that Jesus never lived to the more subtle claims of an author drawing upon various traditions or separate historical sources that existed during his time. The books of 1 &2 Kings and 1 &2 Chronicles have received much of this type of criticism, with various views of a later author creating the account to try and provide meaning to the tragedy of Israel's conquer and captivity.1

In his commentary on First and Second Kings, Richard D. Nelson echoes some of this sentiment:
Large portions of the narrative can no longer be considered "actual history" by any modern definition. There are legends, miracle stories, folktales, and fictional constructions. Kings draw moral lessons from events, a concern far removed from that of modern history writing. Most fundamentally, causation for events in Kings shifts from human to divine and back again without any embarrassment.2
While I certainly agree with Nelson that the primary reason we have the books of Kings and Chronicles in the Bible is not to learn history but to understand God and His nature, I don't think it follows that one may dismiss the accounts therein as fictional. While it would be impossible to fact-check things such as whether the Lord sent the Assyrian army to conquer the Northern Kingdom, it is possible to check whether such an event occurred. The more the history we can corroborate that is recorded in the books, the less room is left for myth.

It turns out that the books of Kings and Chronicles gets an awful lot of its history right. Kenneth Kitchen, his masterful work On the Reliability of the Old Testament, begins with the records of the various kings recorded in the books of Kings and Chronicles and shows just how historically reliable the records are. II kings and II Chronicles record a time spanning 350 years' worth of Jewish kings and foreign rulers who either were enemies or alliances, and Kitchen notes that the written accounts do a remarkable job in getting everything right. In looking at just the Babylonian and Assyrian rulers, Kitchen is able to build a timeline of succeeding rulers that accurately matches the archaeological inscriptions found within those lands themselves.3 He lists the various ways these books prove their reliability:4
  1. Foreign Rulers in the Hebrew Record: "Out of twenty foreign rulers (and a general), all but two (or three?)duly turn up in the external records available to date, usually on their home patch (Assyria in Assyrian records, etc.), This is a highly satisfactory standard."
  2. Hebrew Kings in External Records: "But from 853 onwards we do have some data. Some nine out of fourteen Israelite kings are named in external sources. Of the five missing men, three were ephemeral (Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah) and two reigned (Jehoahaz, Jeroboam II) when Assyria was not actice in the southwest Leant… Judah was farther away than Israel so the head count is smaller: from Jeraboam I to Zedekiah we have currently mention of eight kings out of fifteen."
  3. Local Rulers and the Sequence of Rulers: "The time-line order of foreign rulers in 1-2 Kings is impeccably accurate, as is the order of Hebrew rulers, as attested by the external sources. As for chronology, (dates B.C.), the elaborate date lines of 1-2 Kings show a very high degree of consistency and reliability (tying with external dates)."
Kitchen goes on to talk about events and other sources that may be checked against the discoveries of coins, engravings and other records found by archaeologists. He then concludes:
At this stage, and without prejudice as to what may be seen elsewhere, the basic presentation of almost 350 years of the story of the Hebrew twin kingdoms comes out under factual examination as a highly reliable one, with mention of own and foreign rulers who were real, in the right order, at the right date, and sharing a common history that usually dovetails together well, when both the Hebrew and external sources are available. Therefore, we have no valid reason to cast gratuitous doubt on other episodes where comparable external data is comparably lacking, either because the records are long since destroyed or are still buried in the ground."5

References

1. Noth, Martin. "The Central Theological ideas." Reconsidering Israel and Judah: Recent Studies on the Deuteronomistic History, edited by Gary N. Knoppers, J. Gordon McConville. (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2000). 20ff.
2. Nelseon, Richard D. First and Second Kings. (Louisvillew, KY: John Knox Press, 1987). 1-2.
3. Kitchen, K. A. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids: Eeardmans, Pub., 2003). 23.
4. Kitchen, 62-63.
5. Kitchen, 64.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

What Did Jesus Consider as Scripture?

When we discuss the makeup of the Bible, the New Testament is usually the center of discussion. Given the discoveries of various 2nd and 3rd century gnostic writings at Nag Hammadi, the success of The Da Vinci Code, and recent manuscript claims such as the Jesus' Wife fragment one can easily see why the question of which books belong in the Bible would center on the New Testament. However, people will question the legitimacy of the Old Testament canon as well.

The accumulation of books in the Old Testament is a much longer one than that of the New. The canon begins right where the Jewish faith begins, with the first five books of Moses. These books were called collectively the Laws of Moses or simply the Law. There are books by various prophets, such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and so on that hold the definitive "Thus saith the Lord" pronouncements. They also provide the validation of predictive prophecy. We also have several books are historical in nature, such as Joshua, Judges, and the sets of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings. Because these documented God's dealing with the nation and they held stories about the various prophets interacting with the nation, they too were classified by the Jewish priests as part of the writings of the Prophets. Lastly there are the literary books, such as Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes that were used in worship services. As well as other historical books like Daniel, the books of Ezra-Nehemiah and the two books of Chronicles. These were classified as the "Writings".

According to Norman Geisler and William Nix, "Philo the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, alluded to a threefold classification of the Old Testament, and Flavius Josephus arraigned the twenty-two books of the Hebrew Scriptures into three sections, saying that the twenty-two books ‘retains the record of all the past;… five belong to Moses, … the prophets who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their time in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain the hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life."1 There is evidence of a more ancient two-fold division, which would fold the writings into the prophetic section. This is used in the writings found in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as throught the New Testment writers.2

Jesus' Validation of the Old Testament

Jesus never provided a book by book list of the Old Testament canon. It simply wasn't necessary as the Jews of that day all knew what was meant by Scripture. He did refer to the Scripture as authoritative, though and we can see what He meant whenever he talked about them. First, Jesus would quote passages from various Scriptures and refer to them as such. He quoted multiple times from each of the books of Moses, and from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zecharaiah, Hosea, Micah and Malachi.3 He also quoted from the Psalms calling them scripture (John 10:24, John 15:25) and called Daniel a prophet of God (Matthew 24:15). So Jesus quotes from each of these three divisions in a way that recognized those books as authoritative scripture.

Further, Jesus referred to the collection of books several times. He talked of "the Law and the Prophets" in Matthew 7:12, 11:13, 22:40, Luke 16:16, and John 1:45. In Luke 24:44, He refers to the Scriptures in the threefold context, saying "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."

In Luke 11:50-51, Jesus rebuked one of the experts of Scripture by saying, "the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary." Abel is the first person to die in the Hebrew Bible and Zechariah is the last. This reference would be obvious to such an expert, but it also confirms the canon of the Old Testament was accepted as authentic.

So, while Jesus did not explicitly list the books of the Old Testament, He pointed to the Old Testament as the authoritative word of God and said that all written in "the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms" must be fulfilled. Therefore, we can hold a high level of confidence that the Old Testament is truly the word of God.

References

1. Geiseler, Norman and William Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986). 24.

2. Ibid. 23. 3. Robinson, Rich. "Jesus' References to Old Testament Scripture." Jews for Jesus Web site. http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/newsletter/september-2008/05 Accessed 4/7/2014.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Did the Church Pick and Choose Bible Books?

Recently, some friends and I were discussing the Protestant claim of relying on the Bible alone as the source of authority for our faith and how that differs from the Roman Catholic view. For those unfamiliar with the issue, the Roman Catholic position holds that Scripture and sacred tradition are dual sources of authority. It is this sacred tradition that gives the Pope his status and influences their beliefs on many issues.1

One friend brought up a claim made by a Catholic on an Internet discussion board. He said that Protestants depend on tradition as well, at least in some sense, since they depend on the traditional selection of books that make up the Bible. Someone had to choose which books would be included, so doesn't this mean we're holding to tradition on at least one point? The answer is no and it is an important reasons why - especially since others will try to say our choices for which books were included in the Bible was somehow arbitrary. I've reproduced the letter below and provided my answer to help clarify our understanding of the origin of our Bible.

The Question of Scripture Alone

< --- Original Message --- >
There is no such thing as a sola scripturist. For it is impossible to demonstrate that Scripture is Scripture by only using Scripture!

How do we know that the Table of Contents at the beginning of our Bibles is "accurate" (that is, that all the books contained within are divinely inspired)?

We have to rely upon the people who put the list together -- which means we have to rely upon church tradition being divinely inspired in the development of the canon.

The question for the Protestant CANNOT be: "Should I only accept the Scripture as divinely inspired?" but rather: "To what degree should I accept church tradition (along with Scripture) as divinely inspired?"
< --- End --- >

I think we need to be careful in our assessment of how we got our Bible. So much hinges on a proper grasp of why we view certain documents as inspired, since the Bible's authority hinges directly on whether or not the scriptures do indeed have their origin in God.

The first thing one must remember when discussing the inclusion of documents as scripture: no church or council ever appointed certain works as inspired and others as not inspired. This is so important, I want to repeat it. No church or council ever appointed certain works as inspired and others as not inspired. All the early church, beginning with the apostles, maintained that one does not declare a writing to be the word of God, but one recognizes that the word of God has been given and treats it appropriately. It's similar to the laws of nature. For example, one does not decide that gravity is a law of nature. It's not as though someone declared that the earth should exert a forced pulling us downward and that somehow made gravity came true. They simply observe its effects and state that the law exists.

Let's look at a few points that show how we can observe the inspirational nature of Scripture:

Identifying Scriptural Authority

The claim was "There is no such thing as a sola scripturist. For it is impossible to demonstrate that Scripture is scripture by only using Scripture!"

This claim isn't true. Remember, the Bible isn't a single writing, but 66 separate documents written by different authors over 1500 years. Therefore it is not circular to argue that when the New Testament authors refer to the Old Testament as Scripture it is supportable.

The two main identifying characteristics of scripture are 1) they derive from authoritative sources (God's prophet, apostolic authority, etc.) and 2) they hold predictive prophecy (ref Deut. 18:22).

Divine Authority in the Old Testament

Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, claims of divine inspiration are made directly. The Old Testament prophets say over and over again "Thus saith the Lord" claiming to speak God's message to the people. They supported this claim with various prophetic predictions. This is why Peter writes "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

Jesus also directly authenticates the Old Testament in its entirety. In Luke 24:44 Jesus says, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." Thus Jesus is saying that the Old Testament is the prophetic Word of God. He also references "The blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah" encapsulating the first and last martyr of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Ultimately, we can form the argument this way:
  1. Jesus claimed to have divine authority to speak on behalf of God
  2. Jesus said that his resurrection from the dead would authenticate his authority
  3. We have good historic evidence that Jesus rose from the dead
  4. Therefore, Jesus' statements on the inspiration of Scripture have authority
The writer to Hebrews put it this way: "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds" (Heb1:1). God's word is His Son, so His word is authoritative in authenticating other areas of Scripture.

We've gone rather quickly through the main points in discussing the initial claim of Scriptural authority. If you'd like a more detailed study of the concept of Biblical inspiration, get a copy of our audio teaching "How We Can Know the Bible is REALLY from God".

References

1. See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15006b.htm for a detailed explanation of this doctrine.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dealing with All Those "Lost Gospel" Claims



Did the church fathers pick and choose which gospels to include in the Bible by selecting the ones they like and rejecting others? What are all these "other gospels" we hear so much about? Do they offer us new knowledge of who Jesus really was? In this podcast, we'll debunk the idea that we somehow "lost" gospels and show why we can be confident in the Biblical record.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Truth-Value of the Resurrection


Jim Wallace had a job they make TV shows out of: he was a cold-case detective in Southern California. Wallace had spent most of his career as an avowed atheist, and by relying on forensics and science in his job he naturally elevated them in the rest of his worldview. But after some fifteen years, his views changed. In his book, Cold-Case Christianity, he tells of how he began believing that Jesus' teachings could hold some merit to the full realization that Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead. The amazing this is that it wasn't in spite of his trust in forensics and the dispassionate weighing of testimony that that he believed, it was because of those techniques. Wallace writes, "I began to use FSA (Forensic Statement Analysis) as I studied the Gospel of Mark. Within a month, in spite of my deep skepticism and hesitation, I concluded that Mark's gospel was the eyewitness account of the apostle Peter."

But Cold-Case Christianity isn't the first book that documents an atheist who becomes a believer using his professional skills in a different context. Most people are familiar with Lee Strobel and his best-selling book The Case for Christ. Lee has told his story many times. He was a journalist with the Chicago Tribune and an atheist who began to use investigative journalistic techniques to find out the truth about Jesus. Like any good journalist, he interviewed experts, and sought to make sense of the accounts as they were presented. After two years of studying the evidence, Strobel became a Christian within five years of that, he became a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Church.

Even before Strobel, though, these kinds of events would happen. Frank Morison would get my vote for the Less Strobel of the Al Capone era.  Morison regarded Jesus highly, but he also loved the physical sciences and 20th century how something like a resurrection could never happen. Morison decided to write a book debunking the resurrection, "to strip it of its overgrown and primitive beliefs and dogmatic suppositions." But, as Morison puts it, that book refused to be written. Instead, after years of thought and investigation, Morison's book, Who Moved the Stone?, became a testimony for the truthfulness of the resurrection.

Of course, we can go back farther and we see similar stories with similar results. Most people may not know that every court case in the United States bears the fingerprints of Simon Greenleaf. A legal scholar in the early 1800's who helped establish the Harvard School of Law, his three volume Treatise on the Law of Evidence set the standard for what counts as evidence in legal trials and became the standard textbook for most law schools up until the 20th century. Greenleaf was challenged at one point by some Christian students to apply those same rules of evidence to the gospels and see what he found. The result was Greenleaf's book Testimony of the Evangelists, Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice.

There are probably many more examples but these four are accessible enough to make my point. Why do such stories exist and why do they become so popular? Certainly, every Christian has some kind of testimony so why do these stick out and why to people buy the books that hold their stories? I think the answer is simple. As we have developed as a society, we've come up with some pretty good tools to weigh the truth value of testimony. Reporters, jurists, and criminal investigators use these tools in their perspective professions because they have found that the tools serve them better than anything else to date. When those professionals then use that same trustworthy approach on the gospels, they find that the gospel accounts are in fact what they claim to be: true accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The only reason that one would reject such a claim is if one rejected the supernatural aspect of the accounts ahead of time. But that's an assumption that isn't warranted by the evidence. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus is the only explanation that accounts for all the facts of the New Testament. No other explanation fits the bill.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The King James Version versus modern translations

Monday, I highlighted an online correspondence I had with a woman about the King JamesVersion of the Bible versus other translations. You can read that entry here. Today, I wanted to finish that correspondence with her last question and my response to it. She writes:

Photo provided by AlphaSix
So tell me Lenny, what is your take on the confusion that so many translations cause in churches? I for one cannot follow any preacher or speaker who uses a different translation. It breaks my heart that they want to take the beautiful Words and change them in to simplicity. I know it has confused people who are not saved too.
Let me take your question in parts and hopefully you can see just how difficult a job it is to translate any work, especially one from another culture and point in history. First, one must realize that any translation can never be perfect. One cannot simply change each word of the original into the corresponding word of the foreign language. Anyone who has translated a document using the Google Translate tool soon sees that you can get a lot of nonsense sentences this way. Words don't have an exact counterpart (for example, in Koine Greek, the pronoun is included in the verb, so one the phrase "I'm going" would have only one word), and words that are equal in one respect carry different ideas in another.

As an example, let's look at Amos 4:6 in the King James. Go d proclaims to Israel "And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord." We read this and could be very confused. God gave them cleanness of teeth yet they still rebelled? God cares about their dental hygiene? Actually, no. The phrase is meant to imply that God gave them so little food, they were not eating enough for any to get stuck between their teeth. That's a big difference!

Secondly, there can be problems translating because the concept itself is foreign to the audience. When the Wycliffe translators went to provide Inuits who live in the Arctic regions of North America with a translation of the New Testament, they ran into a big problem: many of the items talked about in the Bible don't exist in the Artic. Inuits have never seen a sheep, but sheep and shepherds play a significant role in Biblical texts. So what does a translator do? He either brings real sheep to live among the all the Inuits across the continent or he seeks some familiar term that would come close to the original meaning. In the Inuit Bible, Jesus is called the "seal-pup of God" to show his purity and his obedience.

Lastly, even when we do have words for a text, language is not so static that they never change meaning. In the KJV, James 2:3 begins, "And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing." Is this a verse that promotes homosexual attire (whatever that may mean)? Obviously not, for the word gay has taken on a new meaning in the last fifty years. Many people give up reading the Bible because of all the thees and thous, which confuse readers since they are no longer part of modern speech.

Given all these challenges, new translations of the Bible are necessary to allow new readers to understand the text better. The King James translators themselves understood this and they make it clear that they are only providing their best interpretation of the text at the time. In the preface they wrote:
An other thing we thinke good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that wee have not tyed our selves to an uniformitie of phrasing, or to an identitie of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done... But, that we should expresse the same notion in the same particular word.
The most interesting thing in the King James Only debate is that when the KJV came out, people complained that it had deviated from the accepted translations that had come before it! Critics were upset that the translators were changing passages. In the preface they wrote:
Yet before we end, we must answere a third cavill and objection of theirs against us, for altering and amending our Taanslations [sic] so oft; wherein truely they deale hardly, and strangely with us. For to whom ever was it imputed for a fault (by such as were wise) to goe over that which hee had done, and to amend it where he saw cause? Saint Augustine was not afraide to exhort S. Jerome to a Palinodia or recantation; the same S. Augustine was not ashamed to retractate, we might say revoke, many things that had passed him, and doth even glory that he seeth his infirmities. If we will be sonnes of the Trueth, we must consider what it speaketh, and trample upon our owne credit, yea, and upon other mens too, if either be any way an hinderance to it.
So, you see the discomfort with new translations applied to the KJV as much as it does to translations today.

I know that having many different translations can be confusing in a church service. However, you should see this as a blessing. We are not tied to only one group's understanding of the text. We can read several translations side by side and learn more about what the author intended even if we cannot read Greek or Hebrew. The translators of the King James were willing to "trample upon our owne credit" if their translation hindered people from the truth of God's word. We should therefore hold every translation as just that, an attempt by men to communicate God's word to another people in another language. Hold the originals as inspired, but remember the limitations of any translation.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

How to Know the Bible is Really from God


When asked why they hold to certain beliefs or why they feel acting in a certain manner is a wrong, Christians will usually point to the Bible. The Bible is the standard of our faith. Why should we put so much faith in a collection of ancient texts? What about the holy texts of other faiths? Join us to see why the Bible is completely trustworthy.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Should We Take the Slaughter of the Canaanites Literally?

I read a recent column by Meghan Daum in the Los Angeles Times where she decried the decision by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to update the definition of the word "literally." Daum writes:
"The entry defines the adverb 'literally' as 'in a literal manner or sense; exactly: the driver took it literally when asked to go straight over the roundabout. ' But then it adds a note: 'informal, used for emphasis while not being literally true: I have received literally thousands of letters.'

"The latter, say the editors, 'is not acceptable in formal contexts, though it is widespread.'"1
Daum recognizes in the article that language is fluid and meanings change. (When was the last time you heard someone use the word gay in a sentence and had it mean happy?) But she complains that literally should not mean figuratively, which is its opposite. She continues:
"I'm sorry: 'Literal' does not mean the same thing as 'not at all literal.' It is not a contranym, like 'sanction,' which means both to punish and to condone, or 'garnish,' which means both to add on and to take away. It's a plain old word with a plain old meaning."
I have another take on the word.  I think that people are not using the word "literally" with the intent to mean figuratively. I think they are using another rhetorical device called hyperbole. Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement intended to "evoke strong feelings or to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally" according to Wikipedia. This is generally the way I see the word work in speech, as when my wife says "it will take me literally five minutes to get ready." Believe me, if I used a stopwatch at that point, I would be in big trouble!

Because "literally" is being employed as a rhetorical device, it means one must understand the statement at the level of the sentence, not the word. Of course, it can cause a bit of confusion when the word "literally" is in a phrase that asks you to not take the phrase literally! People today have a common understanding of this, but I wonder how such conversation will be interpreted in, say, a thousand years.

All of this brings me to reflect on a charge that atheists like Richard Dawkins bring against the God of the Bible. Dawkins asks how any God that would command the slaughter of the Canaanites—even women and children—can be considered a good god? In his objection, Dawkins employs charges of "genocide" or other loaded language. But I believe there are people who are earnestly concerned about this question, so it does require a thoughtful response.

Dr. Paul Copan, in his book Is God a Moral Monster?, does a great job of explaining that part of the problem with the passages in the book of Joshua is that Joshua employed hyperbole in warfare language which was common to all those in the ancient Near East. This is borne out in the fact that while Joshua records his efforts resulted in "all the land captured, all the kings defeated, and all the Canaanites destroyed ( cf. 10:40-42; 11:16-23),"2 If this description is to be taken literally, then how come the book of Judges opens with an attack on Israel by the very same Canaanites that should have been non-existent? It seems that Joshua's description is more like an avid football fan who proclaims "We killed those guys!" upon a game ending with a score of 9-7.

Copan notes that this idea of overstating one's case isn't exclusive to Israel. He point's to Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen's work and lists examples of similar hyperbole from the Egyptians, the Hittites, the Moabites, and the Assyrians.3

Of course, there are other mitigating factors that also undercut the charge of divine genocide, but I wanted to focus on this one right now. Given that today we understand how the word "literally" is used (and we seem to be aware of when to take "literally" literally), why should it be such a stretch to acknowledge that people from the past would use similar rhetorical language, especially concerning such an emotionally charged topic as warfare? It would be as irresponsible to charge the Israelites with genocide as it would be for me to pull out my stopwatch with my wife, and the end result may be as messy.

Thoughtful questions require a thoughtful response. However, with folks like Richard Dawkins they continue to use the objection without even understanding how the language of the day was used. Thoughtful questions do require thoughtful responses. But with folks like Dawkins, when a thoughtful response is given, it isn't thoughtfully accepted.

References

1. Daum, Meghan. "To thine own selfie be true – literally." The Los Angeles Times. 12 Dec, 2013: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-daum-literally-oed-20131212,0,6736521.column#ixzz2nNfBYwVp 13 Dec 2013.

2. Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011). 170.

3. Ibid. 172.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

How Heresies Tried to Change Scripture


Were books left out of the Bible? What are heresies against scripture? How did the early church determine which writings should be recognized as scripture and which shouldn't? In this one hour lecture, Lenny reviews the heretical movements that plagued the early church in regards to Scripture. The teaching is part of the Deepening Your Faith series put on at Harvest Christian Fellowship. For more information on that class, visit http://deepfaith.harvest.org/


Thursday, August 08, 2013

How did Reza Aslan Discover the Zealot Jesus?

Stop the presses.  Jesus is just a man.  That seems to be the reaction of the media to Reza Aslan's new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Aslan has been making the media circuit, getting coverage on popular television news programs such as Fox News and Piers Morgan Live, along with featured articles in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, and many others . Aslan is currently on tour, and you can even check his web site to find out when he's coming to your city.


Who would have thought that a book on the life of Jesus would garner so much attention?  Actually, it could have been expected, though the clumsy interview Lauren Green gave on Fox News definitely lifted Aslan's profile to the other outlets. (What's that saying, again? The enemy of my enemy is my friend?) But we have seen this kind of attention given to authors who wrote similar books previously. The Jesus Seminar has had great coverage throughout the 1980s and 1990s when it was active.  Two of its prominent members, Robert Funk and John Dominic Crossan, would be regularly seen in documentary specials and feature stories.  Debunking the Christian story is a draw, and the media knows it.

It seems that when any new theory about Jesus as someone other than whom the Gospels portray Him to be pops up, there is a new batch of faith-debunkers ready to jump on the bandwagon.  Of course, depending on your preference, each of these faith-debunkers have their own take on the matter. As Charlotte Allen wrote in her review:
"To be sure, all of the historical-Jesus people put their own idiosyncratic spins onto the basic narrative. Jesus is variously presented as a love-your-neighbor moralist (the Enlightenment view); a cynic philosopher (Crossan); a balding, overweight rabbi (Chilton); or a secular sage who hated organized religion (the Jesus Seminar's late founder, Robert Funk). Aslan's take is that Jesus was a fanatic Jewish ideologue and would-be messiah whose 'Kingdom of God' was a 'call to revolution' against the occupying Romans, and who envisioned 'blood-soaked streets' once the revolution got underway."
Isn't it interesting that those who claim to have the inside scoop of the real view of Jesus—the one that only dispassionate scholarship produces—all come out with different stories? It should give you pause when you hear claims that this new book or that one will disprove our Sunday school stories about Jesus. Why, if the scholarship is so convincing, do these scholars have such different conclusions on who Jesus really is?  They all use the same source material; the Gospel accounts, Paul's writings and some other historical texts are what both liberal and conservative scholars rely upon to build their understanding of Jesus' life and deeds. There are no new revelatory discoveries in the source material, so what's going on?

New Testament Scholar Craig A. Evans explains that "Aslan has canvassed much of the responsible scholarship in the field, but he does not always choose his options prudently. He often opts for extreme views and sometimes makes breathtaking assertions." Yes, it has been the practice by the historical Jesus crowd for a while not to take the whole of the source documents as reliable, but to cherry-pick only those facts that paint the picture one wants to portray. As Allen observed, "While Aslan describes the Gospels and other New Testament narratives as 'propagandistic legend' in which 'factual accuracy was irrelevant,' he quotes from them — when it serves his purposes — as often as any fundamentalist preacher." So Aslan dismisses miracles or the Resurrection as myth, but he somehow can discern just which passages are mythical and which are not. We are never told of the method he uses to do so, we are just to trust him to make these judgments for us.

In a court of law, when an attorney wishes to counter the testimony of a witness, they seek to discredit the witness entirely. In other words, the cross-examiner doesn't try to tell the jury "you have heard Mrs. Jones tell us that the robber was wearing a black shirt and blue jeans and he sped away in a red car. I think you should believe Mrs. Jones about the car, but she's making up the shirt and jeans part." That would never fly. Aslan needs to weigh in on the bits he dismisses as fable and answer just how he is able to so shrewdly discern the text. Otherwise we're left with Evan's summation that "at points Aslan's book is informative; it is often entertaining. But it is also rife with questionable assertions. Let the reader beware."
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