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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 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 history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history. Show all posts

Monday, December 21, 2015

How Can We be Sure Where Jesus Was Born?

Most childhood plays of the Christmas story show a young Mary and Joseph wandering from house to house in Bethlehem, knocking on doors only to be met with a head shaking "no" no the other side. While there is conjecture as to whether they were turned away from an inn or simply couldn't fit in the main living quarters, the story is clearly that Mary gave birth in the town of Bethlehem.

But how certain are we that Bethlehem would truly be the location? Is it more likely Jesus was born in Nazareth and Bethlehem became a later invention? Like all historical facts, nothing is impossible but why would someone believe that Bethlehem wasn't the birthplace of Christ? The Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke are both sources close to the time they record (within one generation), and they had direct access to Jesus's brothers and Jesus's mother. They could ask them directly, which Luke states he did (Luke 1:2).

Further, there are no competing accounts of Jesus's birthplace in any historical record. In fact, as Paul L. Maier notes, even Christian artwork depicting the Nativity shows a wide array of different scenarios that reflect the culture of the artist's day, but everyone seems to agree on some kind of stable or grotto or cave where the animals were kept, just as Luke reports.

The Church of the Nativity Adds Evidence

Interestingly, Maier also believes the Church of the Nativity that thousands of pilgrims visit every year offers good evidence for Bethlehem as the location of Jesus's birth. While the ostentatiousness of its current ornamentation may be off-putting to Western Protestants today, Maier explains that one must look past the modern adornments to the historical tradition of the location itself:
Did it all really happen here—at this spot? Though final proof is necessarily lacking, the surprising answer lurks closer to probably than possibly.

Where there is no direct archaeological evidence—and there could be none in the case of the birth of Jesus—nothing is more important in establishing the authenticity of an ancient site than antiquity: the place must have been regarded as such from earliest times. If the Church of the Nativity had been built here in 600 A.D., for example, its claims to mark the authentic site of the birth of Jesus would be almost worthless. But

Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of Rome, erected the original Church of the Nativity at this place in 326 A.D., over the very grotto that had been identified as the true site by the early church father Origen and, before him, Justin Martyr, writing in 150 A.D. Justin stated that Jesus was born in a cave that was used as a stable-not the typical stone or wooden stable so familiar in Christmas art. Earlier still, in the 130's the pagan Roman emperor Hadrian tried to desecrate the Jewish and Christian holy places in Palestine, but, ironically, thereby preserved identity!

After he had put down an insurrection by the Jewish nationalist and would-be Messiah, Bar-Kokhba, in 135 A.D., Hadrian expelled the Jews Jerusalem and paganized all known holy places of Jews and Christians, erecting a temple to Venus at the site of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and a grove dedicated to Adonis over the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

After visiting the latter in the early 200s, Origen later wrote: "In Bethlehem the grotto was shown where Jesus was born .... What was shown to me is familiar to everyone in the area. The heathen themselves tell anyone willing to listen that in the said grotto a certain Jesus was born whom the Christians revere" (Contra Celsum, i, 51).1

What Other Accounts Count?

For the Bethlehem location to have been venerated in such a noticeable way that Hadrian would intentionally destroy them in 135 means it had been recognized as such for years or even decades prior. That puts the Bethlehem grotto, like the location of Jesus's crucifixion at what is now known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on very good historical grounds. While the tomb is much more likely to be specifically known by the disciples than his birthplace, there is still both archaeological and written support for these locations.

Give the tradition of Jesus's birthplace goes back to the early second century in respect to the grotto, and back to the first century in the Gospel accounts, holding that Jesus was born in Bethlehem as opposed to elsewhere is the most reasonable belief. Dr. Maier concludes similarly, noting "Some critics doubt that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and argue instead for Nazareth or elsewhere. Such opinions, however, are based only on scholarly conjecture, and no source has been discovered to date that disproves Jesus' birth in Bethlehem."2

Maier's point is interesting and one that happens often with those who wish to dismiss the accounts as given in the ancient sources. They offer a competing conjecture, but without a shred of evidence. Just as those who try to deny Jesus was buried in a tomb have no historical evidence for their claim, neither do those who doubt Jesus's birth at Bethlehem. It's all a lot of hand-waiving by people who wish to deny the fact that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Michah 5:2. But history argues against them.


1. Maier, Paul L. In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. Print. 38-40.
2. Maier, 1991. 32.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas, the Solstice, and December 25th

Over the last two posts, I've explained how historical research is showing the date for celebrating Christmas was not chosen because of a Roman holiday like Saturnalia, but how the early church linked the date of Jesus's birth to the date of Jesus's crucifixion. That means Christmas is not a response to a pagan celebration such as Saturnalia but it has Christian roots.

However, Saturnalia is not the only candidate offered by critics as why December 25th was the focus of the coming of the Son of God. There is another holiday that actually occurred on December 25 mentioned in antiquity. This was the Dies Natalis Solis Invictus, translated as is the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun." It was celebrated on December 25 in 354 AD according to the calendar of Philocalus.1

The Sol Invictus cult followers worshipped the sun. Thomas Talley reports that while Emperor Aurelian did not first introduce Rome to the cult, he popularized it and the celebration day. Previously, local celebrations of Sol revolved around the dedication of the god's temples in August and/or November. In fact, the word Natalis can mean more than simply birthday, but it may also be used for the concept of an anniversary, as Roger Pearse notes:
There is also the question of what "natalis" means. It could mean birthday; but also it can mean "anniversary of the dedication of a temple". This seems to be the meaning for other "natalis" in the calendar. We know that Aurelian dedicated the temple of Sol Invictus. Thus we would get a festival on the anniversary of the dedication of the temple, and thus the idea that the festival was created at the same time by Aurelian.2
Tally tells us the "indigenous Sun cult at Rome does not seem to have been especially sensitive to the winter solstice or any other quarter days."3 Also, Steven Hijmans declares that while Aurelian set the feast, it may not have been set in December until much later:
there is no evidence that Aurelian instituted a celebration of Sol on that day [December 25]. A feast day for Sol on December 25th is not mentioned until eighty years later, in the Calendar of 354 and, subsequently, in 362 by Julian in his Oration to King Helios.4

The Roman Solstice and Who's Borrowing from Whom?

One mistake we must be careful of is placing too much emphasis on the similar sounding words "sun" and "Son." This is a common misstep for English speakers. While the Latin word for sun is "sol, the word translated son is "filius," breaking any ties to a play on words. Yet, Romans did hold to the idea that December 25 was the "birth of the Sun as the days began to noticeably get longer. Schmidt quotes Macrobius who states it was the Egyptians of the 4th or 5th century that developed the metaphor of the sun coming on the solstice as an infant and growing until the summer, where it would then shrink again as an aging man.5

Of course, all of this is well after the 202 to 211 AD mark where Hippolytus ties December 25 to Jesus's birth. If the Natalis was originally celebrated in August or October or November, why was it changed to December? One possibility is that Aurelian dedicated a new temple on that day and thus they celebrated that dedication as a feast day. Thomas Talley gives us an even more interesting possibility:
Halsberghe, without suggesting that there already was a Christian festival on December 25, presents the probability that one item in Aurelian's religious agenda was the provision of an authentically Roman alternative to the increasingly successful Christian mission.6
Of course, there's much much more, but I think you can see that the charge of Christians chose December 25 in order to "Christianize" or even just appease a pagan populous is weak at best. If you want to dig into more of the history, T.C. Schmidt's series is a great place to start, although it is only available via the internet Archive now. He summarized his findings thus:
  • Saturnalia did not occur on December 25 and had nothing to do with the birth of any god or anyone else.
  • A feast to Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) did occur on December 25, but the earliest evidence for it dates from the mid to late 4th century. There is no evidence that Emperor Aurelian established a Festival of Sol Invictus (or anyone or anything else) on December 25.
  • Egyptians apparently presented an infant as a representation of the newborn Sun on the winter solstice, but this evidence also dates from the fourth and fifth centuries.
  • Hippolytus in 202-211 AD set the date for the birth of Jesus on December 25, because he thought Jesus was conceived 9 months earlier on the Passover, the day in which he also thought the world was created (5500 years earlier), the Vernal Equinox March 25.

    Clement of Alexandria (193-215 AD) quoted various anonymous sources about the birth of Jesus and roughly agrees with Hippolytus, claiming that Jesus was born in late fall to early winter. Clement's sources clearly seem to believe that Jesus was conceived on the Passover and was born roughly 9 months later; in fact the only difference between them and Hippolytus is that they differed on when the Passover actually occurred. However there is a significant possibility that one of Clement's sources was Hippolytus himself because of the preponderance of possible dates he gives that fall on the 25th of a month (He gives 4 of them and then another date on the 24th) which corresponds with Hippolytus' belief that Jesus was both conceived, born, and executed on the 25th of a month.


1. "Part 6: The Calendar of Philocalus. Inscriptiones Latinae Antiquissimae, Berlin (1893) Pp.256-278." The Chronography of 354 AD. Trans. Roger Pearce. The Tertullian Project, 2006. Web. 18 Dec. 2015.
2. Schmidt, T.C., "Antiochus of Athens and the Birth of the Sun-update." T.C. Schmidt. 28 Dec 2010. Web.
3. Talley, Thomas J. The Origins of the Liturgical Year. New York: Pueblo Pub, 1986. Print. 88-89.
4. Hijmans, S. E. Sol: the sun in the art and religions of Rome. 2009 Groningen: s.n. 588 quoted from T.C. Schmidt. "Sol Invictus evidently not a precursor to Christmas." T.C. Schmidt. 21 Dec 2010. Web.
5. Schmidt, T.C., "Christmas, the Winter Solstice, and the birth of the Sun." T.C. Schmidt. 19 Dec 2010. Web.
6. Talley, 1986. 89.
7. Schmidt, T.C. "Sol Invictus evidently not a precursor to Christmas." T.C. Schmidt. 21 Dec 2010. Web.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Date of Saturnalia Doesn't Line Up with Christmas

There is a widespread conjecture that the early Christians began celebrating Christmas on December 25 as a response to pagan Roman holidays, such as Saturnalia or the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus. Given that the Gospels do not record any date for the Nativity, choosing one would have been left to a conjecture by the early church fathers, much like an adopted orphan would have a birth date assigned to her when the actual date is unknown.

Yesterday, I demonstrated how it is more plausible to believe the church fathers chose December 25 not in response to pagan celebrations, but because of its tie in to the date of Jesus's crucifixion, which is the pivotal date of all human history in their eyes. Today, I want to look at what we know about the Roman celebrations to see if they were actually celebrated on December 25th. If they weren't, does it make sense to believe that Christmas was meant to replace them?

Roman Time and Saturnalia

Before we get into the texts discussing timing, it is important to understand how Romans referenced time. Unlike modern times, whereby we number every day, the Romans divided a month into three parts: the first of a month, known as the Kalends, the middle or Ides of a month (as in "Beware the Ides of March" from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar), and the space in between them known as the Nones. Other dates were referenced as before these three points, so the 25th of December would be eight days before the Kalends of January.1

When studying the ancient reference to Saturnalia, a primary source we have is written by the Roman Macrobius , who lived in the fifth century. His work Saturnalia provides much of the details of the origin stories of the celebration as well as its customs. Ancient texts scholar T.C. Schmidt highlighted this passage from Saturnalia Book 1, chapter 10 giving the dates of the celebration:
Our ancestors restricted the Saturnalia to a single day, the fourteenth before the Kalends of January, but, after Gaius Caesar had added two days to December, the day on which the festival was held became the sixteenth before the Kalends of January, with the result that, since the exact day was not commonly known—some observing the addition which Caesar had made to the calendar and others following the old usage —the festival came to be regarded as lasting for more days than one.

And yet in fact among the men of old time there were some who supposed that the Saturnalia lasted for seven days…

[But] one can infer, then, from all that has been said, that the Saturnalia lasted but one day and was held only on the fourteenth day before the Kalends of January; it was on this day alone that the shout of "Io Saturnalia" would be raised, in the temple of Saturn, at a riotous feast. Now, however, during the celebration of the Saturnalia, this day is allotted to the festival of the Opalia, although the day was first assigned to Saturn and Ops in common.2

The Addition of Sigillaria

So Saturnalia was a three-day long feast that began sixteen days before January 1st. Their December was 31 days long as is ours, so that places Saturnalia on December 17, far too early to be mistaken for December 25. However, that isn't the end of the story. Macrobius then notes that another celebration, Sigillaria was celebrated after these three days:
I think that we have now given abundant proof that the festival of the Saturnalia used to be celebrated on only one day, the fourteenth before the Kalends of January, but that it was afterward prolonged to last three days: first, in consequence of the days which Caesar added to the month of December, and then in pursuance of an edict of Augustus which prescribed a series of three rest days for the Saturnalia. The festival therefore begins on the sixteenth day before the Kalends of January and ends on the fourteenth, which used to be the only day of its celebration. However, the addition of the feast of the Sigillaria has extended the time of general excitement and religious rejoicing to seven days.
Schmidt in his article provided a translation of chapter ten in its entirety, as dates are referenced throughout. He then concludes:
Macrobius does an excellent job summarizing authorities that were available to him, most of which I think have been lost. His conclusion is quite clear, Saturnalia originally was one day and occurred on the 14th day before the Kalends January, but when Caesar altered the calendar it was extended to three days and started on the 16th, later a new Festival of Sigillaria extended the celebrations to complete seven days, meaning that the Festival ended on either the 10th or ninth day before the Kalends of January depending on how we count. Of course neither of these days fall on the eighth day before the Kalends of January, that is December 25.3

The Dates Don't Fit

Remember, Macrobius was writing in the fifth century AD and we have Christmas sermons from John Chrysostom preached on December 25th from a century earlier. Yet the dates don't correspond. If Christmas was create to supplant Saturnalia, the Christians would have chosen December 17th. Add to that the references I noted yesterday about the December 25th date stretching all the way back to A.D. 200 and you have a very real dating problem with Saturnalia being the origin date for Christmas.

Imagine a modern church seeking to replace Halloween celebrations by having a Harvest festival on November 8. It wouldn't work! People could celebrate one and then attend the other. The concept of substitution would be fairly ineffective.

I haven't yet discussed the one Roman holiday that actually does land on December 25, which is the Sol Invitus or "The Birth of the Unconquerable Sun." I address that particular claim in this post.


1. Schaff, Philip, and Henry Wace. "Table of Roman and Macedonian Months." A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church: Second Series. Vol. 1. New York: Christian Literature, 1890. 403. eBook.
2. Schmidt, T.C., "The dates of Saturnalia (and Sigillaria!) and Christmas". T.C. Schmidt. 18 Dec 2010. Web.
3. Schmidt, 18 Dec 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

No, Christmas Is Not Based on a Pagan Holiday

Christmas is a much-beloved holiday, celebrated by billions of people across the globe. In the U.S. Alone, the Pew Center reports that nearly 96% of the population celebrates Christmas, including eight out of ten non-Christians, including atheists, agnostics, and those who have no faith commitment.1 However, Christmas is also a uniquely Christian holiday; its core message is about a personal God taking humanity upon Himself and stepping into the world to redeem sinful human beings who could never redeem themselves. The Christian message is inescapable.

I believe the love of Christmas coupled with the loathing of Christianity is one reason why atheists continue to repeat the claim that Christmas is a repurposing of a pagan Roman holiday. Two of the most popular pagan holidays put forth are the celebration of Saturnalia, which honored the Roman god Saturn, or the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, that is the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun." Both of these celebrations were held in the second half of December, making them somewhat close to Christmas.

Looking at the History of Christmas

The claim that the roots of Christmas are pagan is one I hear over and over again, especially in December. The idea isn't even new. The New England Puritans, who valued work more than celebration, taught such.2 Puritan preacher Increase Mather preached that "the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that 'Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian.'"3

When one digs into the actual history however, a much different picture arises. There are two ways to approach the question: one is to see how December 25 became associated with the Nativity, which is how the early church would have referred to the day of Christ's birth. The other one is to look at the celebrations of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus. Either approach shows the dubious nature of the claim that Christmas has pagan roots.

Much of the thrust of the "pagan Christmas" claim rests on the idea of a Christianized Rome trying to convert a populace that wouldn't want to give up its feast traditions, akin to the practice of churches celebrating a "Harvest Festival" instead of Halloween. Yet, scholars like Yale University's T.C. Schmidt are finding the marking of December 25 to go much earlier in the Christian history.

When translating Hippolytus' Commentary on Daniel, written just after AD 200, Schmidt notes that five of the seven manuscripts contain December 25 as the date for Jesus' birth and another offers the 25th of either December or March.4 Clement of Alexandria in this same time offers the date of March 25 as the date of the incarnation, that is the conception of Jesus, in his Stromata (1.21.145-146).5 Both works tie the idea that Jesus's death would have happened on the same day as his conception.

Christmas and Easter are Linked

This is the key to the December 25th date. As Thomas Tulley works out in his book The Origins of the Liturgical Year, there was a belief within the early church that the date of the death of Jesus would also reflect either his birth or his conception.6 Augustine wrote of this, saying "For He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which He was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which He was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before nor since. But He was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th."7

St. John Chrysostom in his writings goes ever further by noting that the Angel Gabriel's announcement of Mary's conception happened while Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John the Baptist (Luke 1:26). Chrysostom argues that Zechariah's service was the Day of Atonement, thus making the conception of John the Baptist happen in the fall. Add six months and Jesus's conception lands in the spring, e.g March 25. I don't know that this calculation is historically accurate, but it does show how much the early church tied the events together. The idea of randomly choosing a pagan date seems a pretty big stretch.

Here's the thing. If Christians were recognizing the birth of Christ by the beginning of the third century, does it make sense to think that this was a fourth century invention to sway the Roman populous over to Christianity? Christianity was gaining ground in the time of Clement, but it was by no means out from under the shadow of persecution. It also wasn't borrowing much from pagan customs at the time. So why believe they would do so for this date?

In order to get a fuller picture, we must look at the Roman holidays and their histories. You can read  that post here and part three is here.


1. Mohammed, Besheer. "Christmas Also Celebrated by Many Non-Christians." Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 23 Dec. 2013. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.
2. Schnepper, Rachel N. "Yuletide's Outlaws." The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.
3. Nissenbaum, Stephen. The Battle for Christmas. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. Print. 4.
4. Schmidt, T.C. "Hippolytus and the Original Date of Christmas" T.C. Schmidt. 21 Nov 2010. Web. 16 Dec 2015.
5. Schmmidt, T.C. "Clement of Alexandria and the Original date of Christmas as December 25th." T.C. Schmidt. 17 Dec 2010. Web. 16 Dec 2015.
6. Talley, Thomas J. The Origins of the Liturgical Year. New York: Pueblo Pub, 1986. Print. 91ff.
7. Augustine of Hippo. On the Trinity, IV, 5. Logos Virtual Library. Trans. Arthur West Haddan. Darren L. Slider, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.
Image Courtesy Adam Clark and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Throwing Out the Riches of Christian History

After the discovery of gold in California in 1849, the American west was bristling with gold fever. Prospectors were traveling to both California and Nevada seeking to strike it rich. By 1859, much of the surface gold had been retrieved from the area around the Carson River, but two prospectors, Patrick McLaughlin and Peter O'Riley, sought to mine deeper into the hillsides. 1

They used rockers to extract some gold from shallow deposits, but continued to be vexed by a bluish-black clay that kept clogging their mining equipment. This "annoying blue stuff" had been plaguing miners for over a year, as the equipment had to be continually cleaned of the heavy, sticky stuff so it could be discarded.2 What they didn't realize is they had been throwing away a fortune. When the clay was sent to an assay office in Grass Valley, CA. it was found that each ton of the material would yield $876 in gold, but it held nearly $3,000 in silver! 3 Because the miners only knew about gold, they had been throwing away a fortune.

I think Christians can sometimes suffer from the same problem. It is no doubt that all believers revere the Bible as God's word and it is the most valuable thing we have to know and learn from God. Yet, many Christians only focus on the Bible and they don't learn about the rich heritage of Christian history. Christians of past ages have studies, learned, and argued for their faith even as we do today. They have already worked through manty of the difficulties that we believe are modern in nature and they offer a wisdom and insight into the scriptures that shouldn't be overlooked.

 In fact, many of the supposed "new" arguments against God have been addressed centuries ago. For example, take the Richard Dawkins quote from his 2002 TED Talk: "We are all atheists in most of the gods humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."4 This is merely rhetoric, and it isn't new.

 In the second century AD, the Christian Athenagoras wrote to the Emperor of Rome complaining about how Christians are being unfairly persecuted. One charge leveled against them was that Christians were atheists, because they didn't believe in the pantheon of Gods. Here's Athenagoras' reply:
As regards, first of all, the allegation that we are atheists—for I will meet the charges one by one, that we may not be ridiculed for having no answer to give to those who make them—with reason did the Athenians adjudge Diagoras guilty of atheism… [for he] openly declared that there was no God at all. But to us, who distinguish God from matter, and teach that matter is one thing and God another, and that they are separated by a wide interval (for that the Deity is uncreated and eternal, to be beheld by the understanding and reason alone, while matter is created and perishable), is it not absurd to apply the name of atheism? …since our doctrine acknowledges one God, the Maker of this universe, who is Himself uncreated (for that which is does not come to be, but that which is not) but has made all things by the Logos which is from Him, we are treated unreasonably in both respects, in that we are both defamed and persecuted.5
In his letter to the Emperor, Athenagoras rightly refutes the charge of atheism with respect to the Roman gods as absurd. The Christians do believe in an uncreated being who is the source of all other things. Therefore, Athenagoras demonstrates the ridiculousness of the argument that not believing in Roman gods would make one an atheist "among other gods." That isn't what atheism means. It means one believes in no god of any kind whatsoever. To claim that I am an atheist concerning "most of the gods" is as much an error as claiming Dawkins is a creationist because he believes most of our modern technology has been intelligently designed. Athenagoras refuted Dawkins' point before 190AD!

This is simply one example of the riches that await the Christian who seeks to study the history of Christian thought. While the Bible is spiritual gold, we ignore far too much silver simply because we don't take the time to dig in and see how valuable such studies can be. Don't make that mistake.


1. James, Ronald. "Comstock Mining District." Online Nevada Encyclopedia. Online Nevada Encyclopedia, 20 Apr. 2009. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.
2. Speed, James. "Discovering the World's Greatest Silver Properties." The Magazine of Wall Street. Vol. 21. 13 Oct, 1917. 212. Web.
3. James, 2009.
4. Dawkins, Richard. "Militant Atheism." TEDTalks. TED Conferences, LLC, Feb. 2002. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.
5. Athenagoras of Athens. "A Plea for the Christians." New Advent. Kevin Knight, 2009. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Make Your Thanksgiving Meaningful: A Collection of Writings

Thanksgiving is a unique holiday in the United States. It recognizes and promotes religious observance in the form of thanking God for His provision not only for our personal lives but for our nation as a whole. In reality, the United States is still a nation of people who hold the spiritual in high regard. You can see that by reviewing some of the past proclamations by our elected representatives as well as how Thanksgiving came to be a recognized holiday in America.

While I'm sure some atheist factions have complained about the supposed conflict between church and state on this one, none have been able to effectively challenge the holiday in a meaningful manner. However, what the atheists have not been able to accomplish, the merchants very well may.

Below, I've collected many of the Thanksgiving observations, quotes, and reflections to help you find the true meaning of the holiday. I personally make sure I reflect and thank God for all he has done for me and blessed me with in the past years and in the years to come.

Reflecting on the Meaning of Thanksgiving

Past Thanksgiving Proclamations

How We're Losing the Thanksgiving Tradition

From all of us at Come Reason, have a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Did the New Testament Authors Know They Were Writing Scripture?

The New Testament is crucial to Christianity. It provides the basis of knowledge not simply for Jesus's life and ministry, but also for how we are to relate to God and order our lives. Of course, one of the primary drivers of the Protestant Reformation was sola scriptura or the authority of scripture alone. However, all Christian traditions look to scripture as authoritative in matters of faith and practice. All of Christendom shares this idea; it is only on the question of whether additional centers of authority exist where we differ.

Another point of agreement within Christianity is the make-up of the scriptures that form the New Testament canon. Those twenty seven books are also universally recognized as scripture. They were shared between churches to be rad to the congregations as instructive from the earliest days of the Christian faith. Even if a letter was addressed to a specific congregation and written to answer specific questions, such as 1 Corinthians, or specific problems like Galatians, all the churches would look to these writings as scriptural.

That brings up a question, though. Did the writes of these texts realize the would be used in such a broad way? Would Paul be horrified that a specific letter he sent to a specific group in Asia would also be applied by those in Rome? What about the 21st century church in America leveraging a text written for a first century middle-eastern culture? Just how aware were the writers of the New Testament that the letters and history they were composing would be looked to with the same authority as the Old Testament?

According to Peter Balla, the evidence shows they actually expected their writings to be used in this way. In his essay "Evidence for an Early Christian Canon (Second and Third Century)," Balla notes that not only did the early church immediately apply the apostles' writings to their lives, but the apostles themselves instructed them to do so:
At some time in the first century Paul's letters were collected. We do not know when and who collected them first, but it is possible that at least some of them were collected and edited for publication by Paul himself. Perhaps the collecting occurred decades later, we do not know. It is known, however, that either in the first century, or in the second (when many scholars argue 2 Peter was written), the collection was held to be authoritative as it was put alongside other "scriptures," i.e., sacred writings of the Old Testament. In 2 Pet 3: 15– 16 we read: "So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures."

Paul clearly distinguishes between Jesus' authority and his own. However, through that very distinction we can see not only that he regarded Jesus' message as authoritative, but that he claimed authority for himself as well. In 1 Cor 7, this distinction appears repeatedly. In 1 Cor 7: 12 we read: "To the rest I say, not the Lord, . . ." but in verse 17 we learn that Paul himself had the authority to give instructions for the congregations: "This is my rule in all the churches." Even when Paul does not give rulings, just advice, he expects that because of God's grace and Spirit given to him the congregation will obey him. Verses 25 and 40 can be cited as examples: "Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy . . . and I think that I have the Spirit of God."

We can suppose that similar authority was claimed for all the epistles that were circulated as written by apostles. The authority of apostles stood behind those gospels which the early church held were written by apostles (Matthew and John) or by companions of apostles (Mark as Peter's companion, and Luke as Paul's). The Gospels were accorded authority not only because of their supposed authorship, but because of their content: they claimed to have reported events related to the coming of the Messiah, and his words and deeds.1
Balla explains that given the internal evidence and the way the texts were so quickly distributed among the early churches, the apostles absolutely knew they were writing scripture.

I think that knowledge actually lends credibility to their use. The Jewish background of the apostles means they held the Old Testament in very high regard. If their writings were being misappropriated as scripture while they were still alive, it seems implausible that they wouldn't take steps to stop the abuse, much in the way Paul sought to stop the Jewish rituals that the Galatian church sought to require. Instead, the apostles placed their writings on par with the Old Testament. This means they may have been trying to intentionally deceive the church, they may have been earnestly wring that they were wring scripture, or they were truly inspired by the Holy Spirit to produce scripture. But the claim that the churches took as authoritative what was only meant as a local interaction is not open to us.


1. Balla, Peter. "Evidence for an Early Christian Canon (Second and Third Century)." The Canon Debate. By Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002. Kindle. Kindle Locations 8382-8398

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

'Secular' Nations are Coasting Off Christian Fuel

"No one need fear that the Titanic will go down. Even though all her former compartments and bulkheads were stove in by the iceberg, she would still float indefinitely. She might go down a little at the bow, but she would float. I am free to say that no matter how bad the collision with an iceberg, the Titanic would float. She is an unsinkable ship." 1

Those words were offered by P.A.S. Franklin, Vice President of the International Mercantile Marine on the morning of April 15, after reports started coming in that the R.M.S. Titanic stuck an iceberg and was in need of rescue. Franklin assured the public that would be rescued. Of course, his assumption was completely wrong, as was the Titanic's captain who proceeded at full speed even though the Titanic had received six separate warnings of heavy ice before she was struck. Captain Smith, a seasoned leader, knew of the ice in the water before he left port.2 Both men were assuming future success on their past history. Smith even previously said that modern shipbuilding had "gone beyond" any condition causing a ship to sink. 3

Christianity is What Shaped These Societies

I offer the example of the Titanic not to berate the assumptions of the men above, but that they should serve as a caution. Today, we recognize such statements as hubris, perhaps even ridiculous but hindsight is easy. When I read things like Phil Zuckerman's claim that secular societies fare better than religious ones, I have to shake my head. Zuckerman offers several statistics, both on a state level within the U.S. and on a global scale comparing 'secular' nations to those whose citizens are religiously engaged and concludes that on many different benchmarks, such as economic indicators and reported levels of happiness, the secular nations are better. Scandinavian countries are held high in Zuckerman's writings as prime examples of secular nations. While that may be a debatable point, I will grant that for all practical purposes, the Scandinavian nations have a dominant secular population.

I've already discussed the first problem with the claim: what counts as 'better?' Today, I want to take on the heart of the matter, though. These secular nations (and the less religious states Zuckerman offers) are as successful as they are not because they've turned secular, but because of the centuries of Christian history and values that have shaped them into what they are today. It is the Christian tradition that has made the Scandinavian countries value all people as equals. Before Christianity, the Viking culture saw pillaging monasteries of far off countries acceptable and slavery was part of the business. It took some 150-250 years for the Scandinavian nations to convert to Christianity, and during that time the culture gradually changed to adopt Christian principles.4

Jumping to Conclusions

The length of time it takes to change a culture fits appropriately with sociologist Robert Woodberry's findings on how Christian missionaries positively affected third world nations. What makes his study so significant is that Woodberry has researched his claim so carefully no critic can find a hole in it. You can read more here, but as Christianity Today summarized:
Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.

In short: Want a blossoming democracy today? The solution is simple—if you have a time machine: Send a 19th-century missionary.5
Zuckerman has offered his criteria for "better" by using measures like a nation's democracy, the equality of women, or its level of literacy. But these are results of the Christian worldview. So are education, the value for children and orphans, and the idea that all men are created equal. The secular nations that Zuckerman highlights have had a long history of Christianity as their primary societal driver. There simply has not been enough time for secular values that Christians warn of to do the damage they can ultimately inflict.

Once the Titanic struck the iceberg, it didn't sink right away. It took over two hours before she went down and in the immediate minutes after the hit, I would imagine certain crew would still have voiced the same hope as P.A.S. Franklin. Their assumptions were equally wrong. I've shown how the so-call model secular nations have devalued life already. The question for us today is where will this new secularism take us when enough time has passed for the culture to be drowning in it?


1. "She Cannot Sink, Says Official of White Star Line" The Evening World (New York, NY) 15 Apr. 1912, Final ed.: 1. Print. PDF version available at
2. Elverhøi, Peter. "There's a lot of ice out there, old boy." Acquitting the Iceberg. Encyclopedia Titanica, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 04 Nov. 2015.
3. Butler, Daniel Allen. Unsinkable: The Full Story of the RMS Titanic. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1998. Print. 48.
4. Stone, Ryan. "The Long Goodbye to Scandinavian Paganism and the Christianization of Three Realms." Ancient Origins. Ancient Origins, 16 Oct. 2014. Web. 04 Nov. 2015.
5. Dilley, Andrea Palpant. "The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries." Christianity Today. 1/8/2014.  Accessed 6/9/2014.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Was Jesus Buried in a Tomb?

It's clear that Christianity lives or dies by the resurrection of Jesus. A central part of the resurrection account is that Jesus was buried in a tomb which was found empty on Easter morning by some of his women followers. But just how strong is the evidence for this claim?

Certain skeptics of the resurrection account have doubted that the burial account is historical. 19th century scholar Charles Guignebert claimed, "The truth is we do not know, and in all probability the disciples knew no better, where the body of Jesus had been thrown after it had been removed from the cross, probably by the executioners. It is more likely to have been cast into the pit for the executed than lain in a new tomb."1 Guignebert's conclusion was basically echoed 150 years later by John Dominic Crossan in his book Who Killed Jesus? "In conclusion, what is the historicity of the burial? From Roman expectations, the body of Jesus and many others crucified with him would have been left on the cross as carrion for the crows and for the dogs."2 In pondering whether Jesus's body would've been buried to follow the Jewish commands of Deut. 21:22-23, Crossan remarks, "Even if it was, the soldiers who crucified Jesus probably would have done it, speedily and indifferently, in a necessarily shallow and mounded grave rather than a rock-hewn tomb. That would mean lime, at best, and dogs again, at worst." 3

The Evidence for Jesus's Burial

I find huge problems with dismissals such as these for the burial of Jesus. First, we know that the Jews would demand even criminals be buried. The first century historical Josephus tells us as much in his Wars of the Jews: "Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun."4 Crossan knows of the Josephus passage but dismisses it as something done only "in theory" claiming Jesus's burial is a "maybe, but the barest of maybes."5 Yet we have the additional testimony of the soldier breaking the legs of the other two condemned with Jesus to hasten their death. This point alone shows that there was a concern the criminals would die so their corpses could be removed before sundown.

A second point is there exists archaeological evidence that burying victims of crucifixion is not simply theoretical. In 1968 Jewish archaeologist Vassilios Tzaferis excavated a Jewish ossuary, which is a box that was used to keep the remains of dead. Inside he discovered a well-preserved heel bone with a nail still piercing it from crucifixion. The nail could not be removed because the tip had bent.6 Clearly this with the Josephus passage and the command of Moses in Deuteronomy would make burial a very real possibility.

A third point is one that Craig Keener argues by noting of Pilate's wish to accommodate the Jewish leaders in the story. Pilate seems honored their request for execution not because Jesus's actions are offending Roman law, but simply in order to keep the peace. Given Pilate's concern for Jewish sensibilities, their aversion to leaving the dead unburied would've been well understood.7 Add to this that the one requesting the body was Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin and I think Crossan's doubts of Jesus receiving a proper burial are on shaky ground.

The Historical Attestation for Burial in a Tomb

Of course the biggest reason why a majority of New Testament scholars believe that Jesus was buried in a rock-hewn tomb is that we have multiple ancient historical sources that attest to the fact. Mark is our earliest gospel and he tells of Joseph of Arimathea asking Pilate for Jesus's body, having his request granted, and laying t in a rack-hewn tomb. We have the testimony from John that corroborates Mark. We also have the early testimony that Paul recited in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 claiming Jesus was buried. While the account in 1 Corinthians doesn't mention a tomb due to its abbreviated nature, the burial account is clearly very early and part of the fabric of the resurrection story.

So, when comparing the evidence for Jesus's burial, we have very early accounts of his burial showing up in multiple independent sources. What is the evidence for Jesus being left on the cross or eaten by dogs? There is none. There isn't one single document that infers such a fate. Even the Jewish leadership didn't say "The dogs must've eaten the body" when the disciples shortly afterwards proclaimed his resurrection. Instead, they claimed the disciples stole the body, which implies that the body was missing from an identifiable location, e.g. a tomb.

Given the evidence, it is much more reasonable to believe that Jesus was buried in a tomb than to believe otherwise. All the evidence we have points in only one direction. To doubt the burial of Jesus, like Crossan and Guignebert have is to read into the account additional details that are not evidence but conjecture. Conjecturing a theory that opposes the facts isn't good history, it's a sign of bias.


1. Guignebert, Charles. Jesus. New York: U, 1956. Print. 500. As cited in Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Volume 1: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith. San Bernardino, Ca.: Here's Life, 1979. Print.
2. Crossan, John Dominic. Who Killed Jesus?: Exposing the Roots of Anti-semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995. Print. 187.
3. Crossan, 1995. 188.
4. Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987. Print.679.
5. Crossan, 1995.187.
6. Biblical Archaeology Society Staff. "A Tomb in Jerusalem Reveals the History of Crucifixion and Roman Crucifixion Methods." Biblical Archaeology Society. Biblical Archaeology Society, 22 July 2011. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
7. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print. 326.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Why the Gospels Cannot be Dismissed as "Religious"

Yesterday, I was part of a panel answering questions at the local college. A member of the Secular Students Alliance approached us and asked about the historical nature of the resurrection of Jesus. As I explained to him, the vast majority of New Testament scholars from the most conservative to the most skeptical (think Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, and other Jesus Seminar scholars) hold to certain central facts about Jesus, namely his death by Roman crucifixion, his followers truly believed he rose from the dead, the dramatic conversion of the apostle Paul from church persecutor to Christian evangelist, and even how most hold to Jesus's tomb being empty. 1 These count as evidence towards his resurrection.

However, the student kept rejecting the Biblical accounts as legitimate sources of knowledge. He waved off the accounts as "a single source" from "a religious book." But his dismissal is simply wrong for a couple of reasons, both of which should be clear to anyone who wishes to approach the evidence thoughtfully.

The Bible Isn't a Single Source

The first and most flagrant error the student made is to assume the Bible is a single source documenting Jesus's life on earth. This is simply an error of his modern mindset. As I've said, the Bible isn't a single work; it's a collection of sixty-six books written by about forty authors over a 1500 year span. When counting independent sources that discuss the resurrection, one would count at minimum Mark, John, and Paul's account in 1 Corinthians 15. Matthew and Luke draw from Mark's Gospel so scholars may not count them as independent, but dependent on Mark. However, as Michael Licona in summarizing N.T. Wright notes, "dependence may be also be an illusion resulting from a 'natural overlap' in oral tradition or the presence of terms that would be common even if all four Gospels were completely independent when they included reports of women going to the tomb, discovering it empty and being told by an angel that Jesus has risen from the dead."2

Regardless of whether Matthew and Luke (and even the theoretical "Q") count as independent sources, historians would still agree that we have at least three independent sources that describe the resurrection. Multiple attestation is a huge deal when trying to uncover ancient historical events; it's the best data we have and shouldn't be dismissed so easily. The Biblical accounts of Jesus's resurrection by any measure cannot me seen as a single source.

Bias against Religious Texts

The other reason the secularist dismissed the biblical accounts is because they were what he deemed "a religious work."  On this point I tried very hard to make him understand that such a classification is misplaced. As Licona explains, prior to 1990 there were a large segment of New Testament scholars who believed the canonical Gospels fell into a literary genre of their own, a kind of mythical approach to the life of a real person written in order to advance a belief system.3 However, since that time, scholarship has changed dramatically.

In his book The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Craig Keener reviews the different literary genres used at the time the Gospels were written and demonstrates that they fit the category of ancient biography especially well. Keener also notes that skeptical scholar Richard Burridge (who sought to disprove the notion that the Gospel accounts are biography) fits the genre better than any other. Keener comments "So forceful is Burridge's work on the gospel genre as biography that one reviewer concludes, 'This volume ought to end any legitimate denials of the canonical Gospels' biographical character.'"4

It is only because the Gospels are understood as religious texts today that the student's bias has any weight in the mind of others. But using modern glasses to view ancient texts is a poor way to do history. The fact that my interlocutor would not accept my explanations to him concerning the classification of the accounts of Jesus's life says a bit more about his biases than it does the reliability of the Gospels themselves.


1. For detail on this, see Gary R. Habermas, and Mike Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004. Print. 48-77.
2. Licona, Mike. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010. Print. 207.
3. Licona, 2010. 201.
4. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Thank Christianity for the Technology Revolution

The standard narrative of secularists is that religion offers a backwards view of the world that is outdated in our technologically advanced culture. But as historians have looked back upon the development of technology, one can see that Christianity creates the fertile soil in which technological advancements can grow. In his book The Book That Made Your World: How The Bible Created The Soul Of Western Civilization, Vishal Mangalwadi makes this point well.  He writes:

Professor David Landes studied clock making in China and concluded that the development of technology is not merely a matter of ingenuity. The Chinese had technical ability, yet clock making did not become an industry, nor did it become a source of continuing and growing technological innovations in China as it did in Europe. Why? The Chinese were keen neither to know time nor to organize their lives accordingly.

 The development of the watermill illustrates that culture is as important for the development of technology as ingenuity is. In 1935, Marc Bloch published his finding that the watermill had been invented at least a century before Christ. Later, its usefulness for grinding grain was known in Afghanistan, on the border of geographic India. Almost everyone needed to grind grain, yet the use of the watermill never spread in Hindu, Buddhist, or (later) Islamic cultures. Christian monks in Europe were the first to begin the widespread use of the watermill for grinding and for developing power machinery.

 The above question was the topic of a 1961 Oxford Symposium on Scientific Change, spearheaded by Alistair Crombie. The best answer was given by Marburg historian Ernst Benz, who published a seminal essay in 1964, “Fondamenti Christiani della Tecnica Occidentale.” It demonstrated that “Christian beliefs provided the rationale, and faith the motive energy for western technology.” Benz had studied and experienced Buddhism in Japan. The antitechnological impulses in Zen led him to explore whether Europe’s technological advances were somehow rooted in Christian beliefs and attitudes. His research led him to the conclusion that the biblical worldview was indeed the key to understanding Western technology.
Technology flourished just as science flourished in the West because Christianity valued God as creator and it valued seeking the understanding of God's creation. Following God's example, creating and mastering creation leads to the technological explosion we enjoy today. So no matter which technology you've chosen to read this post, the fact you can read it at all is a result of the Christian worldview. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Who Counts as a Christian? (video)

Mormons claim to be Christians as do Jehovah's Witnesses. But each belief system contradicts the other as to what kind of being Christ is and both contradict historic Christianity. Is there some way to understand who is a Christian and who is not?

Looking back in history, the answer is yes. In this short video, Lenny reviews both the need for an objective standard that defines the minimal beliefs of a Christian as well as how the early church codified that standard.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

How Christianity Lifts Cultures Out of Poverty

Sometimes it's good to get an outside perspective on history. Vishal Mangalwadi was raised a Hindu in his native India, but he couldn't find spiritual and intellectual satisfaction until he discovered the teachings of the Bible. In his book The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization he does a masterful job demonstrating how the Christian worldview is singularly responsible for the elevation of humanity.

One example is how Mangalwadi looks at the concept of colonization, something with which Indians are very familiar and passionate about. He writes:
Some people think that chance happenings of history, such as guns, germs, and steel, were the keys to the West's ability to colonize the world. Their materialistic perspective overlooks the fact that Catholic nations like Portugal, Spain, and France were the leading naval powers during the sixteenth century. What enabled much smaller Protestant nations such as England and Holland to beat their Catholic rivals?

Cedric B. Cowing, professor emeritus of history in Hawaii, studied the impact of the eighteenth-century biblical "Revival" in England and the "Great Awakening" or "New Light" in America. He concluded that the primary factor that propelled the English-speaking nations ahead of their Catholic rivals was the peculiar relationship between biblical spirituality and intellectual awakening.

The fact that God had communicated his Word motivated people to learn reading and writing. The Bible was already a library—a collection of sixty-six books. On top of that, John Wesley urged his converts to study fifty selected titles. In America the awakening had begun under Jonathan Edwards, America's first philosopher. The attempt to master his books, the recommended books, and the Bible motivated believers to develop a number of learning skills. Cowing said that as a result of these spiritual revivals,
in Britain, many of the converts of Whitefield and Wesley were motivated to learn to read [the Bible] and write, but in the northern colonies [e.g., North America] where people were already literate—except the Indians and Negroes—the energies and discipline released by the New Light were the inspiration needed to master abstract religious material. In comprehending theological as well as devotional printed matter, the emotions [stirred up by Revivalists] aided the development of cognitive skills. The novices in focusing on the stages of conversion were studying a process analogous to the still mysterious secular sequence of gathering data, altering hypotheses, and somehow relying upon intuition to synthesize the conclusions. This type of thinking would have a more general utility later. The Great Awakening induced a grass roots intellectualism that ultimately spread in every direction, from belief in God's sovereignty all the way to agnosticism.
These spiritual revivals led to the mass awakening of reason. People were seeking and receiving the promised "Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord"—which is "the beginning of knowledge." By producing an unprecedented hunger for the knowledge of truth, biblical revivals lifted Protestant countries out of the poverty that was chronic worldwide.1
Mangalwadi's conclusions were confirmed by the painstakingly thorough research of sociologist Robert Woodberry. Woodberry's findings were published in the American Political Science Review journal where he reports:
In particular, conversionary Protestants (CPs) were a crucial catalyst initiating the development and spread of religious liberty, mass education, mass printing, newspapers, voluntary organizations, most major colonial reforms, and the codification of legal protections for nonwhites in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These innovations fostered conditions that made stable representative democracy more likely—regardless of whether many people converted to Protestantism. Moreover, religious beliefs motivated most of these transformations. In this blunt form, without evidence or nuance, these claims may sound overstated and offensive. Yet the historical and statistical evidence of CPs' influence is strong, and the cost of ignoring CPs in our models is demonstrably high2 (emphasis added).
Here is yet another example of how the Christian worldview measures up to others. Christianity offers real-world benefits here and now to people. It elevates living conditions even for those who don't convert because it upholds reason as profitable and human knowledge as an intrinsic good. In the marketplace of ideas, Christianity has proven itself to be reliable.


1. Mangalwadi, Vishal. The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2011. 88-89.Print.
2. Woodberry, Robert D. "The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy." American Political Science Review 106.02 (2012): 244-45. Web. 3 Sept. 2015.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Why Archaeology is Important for the Christian (video)

The Bible is unique among sacred texts in that it is set against a historical backdrop. Do recent archaeological discoveries validate or discredit the Biblical accounts? In this introductory video to the series, Lenny explains the relationship between archaeology and biblical studies, as well as how archaeology bolsters the faith of the believer.

Image courtesy Hans Splinter and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What Friends' Phoebe Can Teach Us About the Empty Tomb

The linchpin of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus. Simply put, the entire belief system hangs on this fact of history; destroy the resurrection and you've destroyed Christianity as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17.

However, there is really good evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. As William Lane Craig has noted for years, New Testament scholars across the spectrum agree that Jesus of Nazareth died by crucifixion, was buried in a tomb and that tomb was later found empty. That means New Testament scholars who are liberal and even those do not themselves identify as Christian themselves will agree that these points are valid history.

Of course the percentage of scholars accepting of each of these points differs a bit. While Jesus's death by crucifixion is nearly unanimous, the number holding to the empty tomb are about 75%.1 This is partially because a reference to the empty tomb doesn't appear in the creedal tradition of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. 1 Corinthians is the earliest of the New Testament books, being written sometime around spring of AD 54.2 But in the 1 Corinthians 15 passage, Paul uses language that denotes it is a creed, saying "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received..." As Paul was converted sometime between 1-5 years after Jesus's crucifixion, and he received this creed early in his instruction, we can know the creed had been in use within a few years after Jesus's death.3

Given all this, scholars place great weight on the creedal passage as being very early and yet the creedal passage doesn't talk about the empty tomb. It mentions the burial of Jesus but not the women finding the tomb empty on Sunday morning. That has led to some skeptics to doubt the empty tomb story entirely. Here's the thing, though. The story of Jesus's death, burial in a tomb and the later discovery of that tomb being empty is a single narrative. It is one story where the goal of telling about Jesus's death is to establish his resurrection.

Rewriting Old Yeller

Stories are a continuum; if the empty tomb isn't part of the story, the whole meaning of the story changes. It reminds me of a popular episode of Friends, entitled "The One Where Old Yeller Died." You can watch a YouTube clip here, but basically in the episode Phoebe comes upon her friends watching the Disney movie Old Yeller and she can't understand why they're crying. She believes it's a happy movie, where Old Yeller saves the family from a rabid wolf and all live safely forever. She believes this because her mother would shut off the television before the film's end, where it's revealed that in the act of saving the family, Old Yeller sacrificed himself and contracted rabies. Yeller's owner Travis is forced to shoot the now mad dog.

The point of Old Yeller turns on its sad ending. As film critic Scott Wienberg notes, "by upping the ante and allowing this beloved beast to meet an unpleasant demise, the message is softly-delivered but crystal clear. Death, like love, is an integral and inescapable part of life, so the earlier you learn to accept and embrace both, the quicker you'll be able to appreciate one and deal with the other."4 That message is never communicated to Phoebe who believes its only about "family fun!" The story relies on the ending to make its point. Without the ending, it simply isn't the classic film it has come to be.

Similarly, the empty tomb of Jesus is just as critical to the point the early church was trying to tell. While the creedal passage of 1 Corinthians doesn't specifically mention the empty tomb, it is certainly inferred as the passage contains both Jesus being buried and the resurrection account along with the testimony of Jesus being seen alive by many witnesses. Add to this that all four gospels, including the early Gospel of Mark leverage the empty tomb as part of their narrative and its validity as part of history is not a stretch, especially when the tomb is first discovered empty by women, whose testimony was discounted in that culture.

The empty tomb is part of a larger narrative of Jesus dying, being buried, and being seen alive after his resurrection. To eliminate the empty tomb from the story is akin to jumping up and stopping a movie because you are uncomfortable with the next scene. But that doesn't mean the story isn't reliable. It means that you want to close your eyes to the implications.


1. See Gary R. Habermas and Mike Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004. Print. 70.
2. Wallace, Daniel B. "7. 1 Corinthians: Introduction, Argument, and Outline.", 26 June 2004. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.
3. See Gary R. Habermas, "Evidence for the Historical Jesus: Is the Jesus of History the Christ of Faith?" - available free of charge from
4. Weinberg, Scott. "Old Yeller 2-Movie Collection." DVD Talk., 13 Nov. 2005. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

How Archaeology Confirms the Bible: Jericho (video)

Everyone know the story of Joshua's army marching around the walls of Jericho until they collapsed, allowing the Israelites to take the city. It's a famous story, and if true would provide evidence for both God's existence and the validity of the Bible.

Archaeologists have known for years where Jericho is and they've conducted many excavations at the site of the city, searching to reconstruct its history along the way. Was there a battle in Jericho like the one describe in the Bible? In this video, Lenny explores recent finds in archaeology and how they support the biblical accounts.

Image courtesy Salamandra123 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, August 09, 2015

How Archaeology Confirms the Bible: Hazor, Joshua, and Solomon (video)

Did Joshua really exist and conquer the Canaanite lands? Were King David and King Solomon myths invented to encourage returning Israel exiles to look for a glorious united kingdom that never existed?

Watch this short video where Lenny explains how more and more of the biblical accounts are confirmed by evidence discovered with the archaeologist's spade.

Image courtesy Ian Scott [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, August 01, 2015

How Archaeology Confirms the Book of Daniel (video)

The Bible contains many prophecies such as those in the book of Daniel that tell of future kingdoms with remarkable accuracy. This has lead some skeptics to claim Daniel was invented after the fact, making up the stories it reports in order to gain credibility.

In this short clip, Lenny explains just one minor detail from the book of Daniel that demonstrates the book was written by someone with first hand knowledge of the inner workings of the Babylonian government and therefore could not be fabricated centuries later.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Six Errors Jesus Mythicists Repeatedly Make

The fact that Jesus lived 2,000 years ago in Palestine and a following grew out of his teachings is evident. Even Bart Ehrman, as skeptical as the come about the claims of Christianity, has stated that no one should doubt “what virtually every sane historian on the planet — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, agnostic, atheist, what have you — has come to conclude based on a range of compelling historical evidence. Whether we like it or not, Jesus certainly existed.”1

Yet, the Jesus-Myth proponents continue to make the charge that Jesus didn't exist or that perhaps someone named Jesus existed, but the Gospel accounts were created out of the whole cloth of dying-and-rising god myths popular in the ancient world. Certainly the Internet has spread their charges beyond what one would reasonably expect. It's much like the villagers in the story of the Emperor's New Clothes; they want to believe these links so badly, that they fail to see the reality that nothing is there. In that vein, I'd like to offer six different ways the fashion statement of mythicism fails.

1. One Size Fits All — Combinationism

This is one of the biggest errors of the Zeitgeist movie and charges like it. It basically takes all the different mystery sects from 1500B.C. to 500 A.D. and blends them together them together, claiming they all had a consistent belief of gods dying and rising again. They argue that this is some kind of an established, coherent overarching set of beliefs from which Christianity borrowed.

However, if anyone bothers to actually read the details of the different faiths mentioned, one will find vast differences in their foundational understanding of life, death, and existence beyond death. Even with in faiths like Mithraism, it had evolved greatly over that 2000 year time span.2 To say that Christianity stole this belief or that one from a religion like Mithraism when those beliefs weren't necessarily even regarded as part of that system any longer (or had yet to be developed) is ridiculous.

2. Calling a Kleenex a Kerchief — Equivocation

Basically, this error occurs when a critic distorts the teaching of the mystery religion by using Christian language to describe a belief - and then claiming that Christianity stole from it because the beliefs read similarly. The concept of baptism in Egyptian mythology centers around the Nile's supposed physical power to heal while baptism in Christianity focuses on the sin nature of the individual. This happens over and over, where the mystery practice is usually something completely different in intent or symbolism than what Christian understand it to mean, but it is made to sound similar for impact value.

3. If It's on Your Shoulders, It's a Jacket — Oversimplification

Many critics will find something kind of like a resurrection story and then try to demonstrate how Christianity borrowed from this type of belief. Usually, this is at the expense of many crucial details that really differentiate the myth from the historic Christian account. For example, Zeitgeist claims that Horus was “crucified, buried for 3 days, and thus, resurrected.” In the actual myth, Horus is a young child who is revived from a scorpion sting by another god that wielded the magic to do so. It's nothing like Jesus' claim to have the power to take his own life up again. Also, many of these stories aggrandize the myth more than is necessary.

4. Invisible Accessories — Misrepresenting Biblical Facts

Horus was born on December 25th? Were they using the Julian calendar system in ancient Egypt? The Gospels themselves don't tell us when Jesus was born. December 25 cam later, and was probably based on a completely different paradigm. Horus' birth was visited by Three Wise men? Where does the Bible say three? There are three gifts mentioned, but no number of wise men is cited. Plus they came up to two years after Jesus' birth. The mythicists misrepresent the Biblical accounts and then try to make the other myths similar.

5. Who's the Designer? — Direction of Influence

Simply because there is an element in an Eastern religion as well as in Christianity, it is wrong to assume the Christians must have borrowed from the Eastern tradition. This happens many times when the religion's founder lived before Jesus. However, as I said in point #1, these faiths were themselves not static. They picked up a lot of influences across the centuries, especially when they came in contact with competing belief systems. Christianity was so aggressive in its spread over the Roman Empire and Asia, many of these religions tended to adopt Christian symbols and practice in order to make their religion look more appealing to stop losing converts to Christians. Anthropologists see this by looking into the various practices of those religions and noting that a feature similar to Christianity wasn't recorded or mentioned in any writing until after the Christian era had proliferated. As Ronald Nash notes concerning Mithraism, “The timing is all wrong. The flowering of Mithraism occurred after the close of the New Testament canon, too late for it to have influenced the development of first century Christianity.”3

6. Where's the Designer Label? — Missing Citations/Support

Lastly, one should always ask for support for the claims made by the mythicists of the features of their myths. Who says that these things are true? How do you know Horus was baptized or raised after three days? Have you read the actual myth? What verification do you have that you understood the cult's beliefs accurately? This is one of the most crucial questions to ask, since reading the myths themselves will usually be enough to show that any supposed parallels to the life of Jesus are either minor or non-existent.

The primary message of Christianity is vastly different from the pagan myths that preceded it. As Nash explains:
None of these so-called savior-gods died for someone else. The notion of the Son of God dying in place of His creatures is unique to Christianity. Only Jesus died for sin. It is never claimed that any pagan deity died for sin. As Wagner observes, to none of the pagan gods “has the intention of helping men been attributed. That sort of death that they died is quite different (hunting death, self-emasculation, etc.)4


1. Ehrman, Bart D. "Did Jesus Exist?" The Huffington Post., 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 29 July 2015.
2. Esposito, Lenny. "Did Christianity Steal From Mithraism?" Come Reason Ministries, 01 Nov. 2001. Web. 29 July 2015.
3. Nash, Ronald H. The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003. Print.
4. Nash, 2003. 160.

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