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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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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


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.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Ann Coulter is Wrong-People are More than Numbers

I finally had the chance to read the column Ann Coulter wrote about Kent Brantly, the African Missionary doctor who contracted the deadly Ebola virus while treating others in Liberia. Entitled "Ebola Doc's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'," Coulter's piece is not only confused, but also mean-spirited. However, I want to use Coulter's disparagement of Christian missionary efforts as an opportunity for Christians to learn something: how judging Christian efforts by worldly standards is mistaken. Coulter thinks her reprimand is clever, but she fails to recognize the value of human life and discounts the power of God.

Devaluing Human Life

Coulter's article, aside from the emotionally poisonous words, tries to make the argument that Christian missions should be approached from a utilitarian perspective. She complains about how the cost of treating the now infected doctor and his nurse "has cost a Christian charity much more than any services he rendered" and then asks "why do we have to deal with this at all?"1 The answer is simple and something that is largely forgotten in this day and age: Christianity values human dignity. Because humans are made in the image of God, Christianity has always taught that alleviating suffering at cost to oneself is a noble and worthwhile pursuit in and of itself. In Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, it is an enemy of Israel that provides comfort and healing to the victim on the street. The Samaritan even pays the poor man's caretaker's bill and tells the innkeeper "whatever more you spend, I will repay you."2

Throughout the history of Christianity, Christians have sought to model their Master's words. The Romans thought Christians were crazy for picking up indigent children who had been abandoned on the Tiber. In an agrarian society, a healthy child is an asset, another hand to help work the farm. An indigent child is a liability. It means another mouth to feed and more overall suffering in times of drought or famine, not to mention the additional work. However, Christians recognized the image of God that was reflected in each life and could not do otherwise than serve them.3 As I've previously written, missionaries such as Father Damien purposely risked themselves to serve in a leper colony, with death as a result.

Coulter has seemingly bought into the concept that human suffering can be somehow quantified into dollars and cents. By advancing such an idea, Coulter herself demonstrates how cheaply our society's view on human life really is. While her facts are a confused (when Brantly went to Liberia, it was not yet a country infected; It was only after he was stationed there that the outbreak began and he chose to stay and treat the victims), she still wants to measure the alleviation of human suffering by cost. That cannot be done. Christian missionaries demonstrate how invaluable human life is in such selfless acts. If suffering becomes only a bottom-line game, then we've lost our humanity altogether.

Underestimating the Power of God

The other major error Coulter makes in taking a utilitarian approach to missionary efforts is she simply doesn't understand how God works. In her article, she accuses missionaries of being "tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S... So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream. "I don't know how Coulter can read the minds of so many Christian missionaries to ascribe such motives, but she feels that it is more prudent to be missionaries here in America. She writes:
If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia. Ebola kills only the body; the virus of spiritual bankruptcy and moral decadence spread by so many Hollywood movies infects the world.

If he had provided health care for the uninsured editors, writers, videographers and pundits in Gotham and managed to open one set of eyes, he would have done more good than marinating himself in medieval diseases of the Third World. 
Here, Coulter completely ignores 1 Corinthians 12:14 that the body of Christ has many members and each is called to a different role. Paul instructs the church "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable."4

My calling is apologetics. It involves interacting with people, discussing ideas, and possibly changing minds, which Coulter sees as essential. But that doesn't mean all should be so called. Brantly had always felt the call to Africa, even as a kid according to his mother.5 He did the thing that God had laid up on his heart, and that is the more important thing. Mother Theresa did likewise.

If God is in control, then we have faith that He may work it out for His good. And, while it may be that Brantly could make a movie mogul like Christians a bit more by providing him with medical services in New York, it is also possible that by contracting Ebola movie studios would be interested in making a movie of Brantly's life and heroism. It may even be possible that such a move would have a greater effect on the population of the country than Coulter assumes her path would take. It isn't like Chariots of Fire, Lilies of the Field, and even Molokai don't show such a result.

For Christians, pragmatism is not the primary model for action: obedience is. It is not to us to merely count the number of people we may touch, but to trust God and follow His will for our lives. That doesn't mean we don't take any kind of results into account, but it does mean that ministry efforts cannot be reduced to numbers.

I know Coulter is politically and not spiritually motivated. But even in this area, it has been proven that Christian missionaries are THE factor responsible for stable democracies forming across the African nation. Perhaps Coulter should look at the history of Christian missionary efforts a bit more carefully before she lambasts it so. People are not numbers; by her criticism, Coulter is in danger of becoming the very thing she says she stands against.


1. Coulter, Ann. "Ebola Doc's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'." AnnCoulter.Com. 6 August, 2014. Online. "
2. Luke 10:25-37. English Standard Version. Crossway. Accessed online.
3. See my article "How will children be valued if Christianity is lost?" for several supporting cases.
4. 1 Corinthians 12:21-23. English Standard Version. Crossway. Accessed online.
5. Associated Press. "Mother: Doctor with Ebola sought to be missionary." LIN Television Corporation. 28 July, 2014. Online.
Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Big Change at Come Reason - August Update

Come Reason Ministries has always had a bold online presence, ever since our founding. Since creating one of the first apologetics sites on the web in 1995, the ministry has sought to use technology as a tool to further God's kingdom. I'm excited to announce that we've just finished completely overhauling the web site, making it more functional as well as more attractive. The site is cleaner and easier to read, both for mobile devices and computers. Pages have been renamed using natural English titles for friendlier indexing, and all articles are immediately accessible via the navigation bar.

Other improvements to the site include:
  • Both the Apologetics-Notes blog and the podcast page have been integrated into the site.
  • A completely redesigned Tools area for grabbing free apologetics downloads or purchasing resources.
  • A Come Reason Videos page that gives you direct access to YouTube and other videos.
  • Easier to use social media sharing tools to share your favorite articles with friends.
  • An improved search engine that indexes ALL the Come Reason web properties to give you complete results.
The Web site receives over 300,000 visitors yearly form nearly every country on earth and it is my prayer that this new site will do an even better job at providing convincing Christianity to a lost world.

Soon, we will provide some additional features, such as the ability to purchase MP3s of apologetics teachings for immediate download, so keep checking back. Until then, check out the new site and its features. I'd love to hear your comments.

Free Seattle Apologetics Conference begins tomorrow!

I'm very excited to be a part of the Speaking the Truth in Love Conference being held this year at Kent Covenant Church in Kent, WA. The August 8th & 9th event has a stellar lineup of speakers, including Dr. Phil Fernandez, Abdu Murray, Dr. Rick Walston, Ron Wallace, Dr. Eric Odell-Hein and more.

I'm scheduled to speak three times during the conference. My topics are “Hidden Ways the Gospels Prove Reliable,” “How to Talk About Faith on Facebook,” and “Dealing with Bible Contradictions.” This event is also free for the public, and if you register early, you even get a free book! You can get all the information at I hope to see you there!

The Bible and Archaeology Class

On Monday, August 11 I will be holding my next apologetics class at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside. The topic is “The Bible and Archaeology “and we will examine the various archaeological finds supporting how the Bible is unique among sacred texts in that God moves within a historical backdrop. Do recent archaeological discoveries validate or discredit the Biblical accounts? Join us this month as we explore the relationship between the Bible and archaeology.

The class is free and open to anyone. It begins at 7:00 PM and childcare is provided. Click here for details.

Top Five Blog Posts for July

The Come Reason blog has continued to draw readers, with over 22,000 page views. Proving popular were several articles dismantling Mormon claims that corresponded to the Manti Apologetics Missions trips. Other topics looked at claims about Gandhi's “goodness” and how moral relativism forces atheists to make egregious claims. The five most popular posts are linked below:
  1. When an atheist says it's OK to rape her sister
  2. Are Mormons Christians, too?
  3. We Don't Know What We Believe
  4. Is Gandhi a better model for Christians?
  5. Science and Religion Resources

This Month's Apologetics Resource:
Hidden Ways the Gospels Prove Reliable

This month, I'm excited to offer a new resource for your gift of any size. "Hidden Ways the Gospels Prove Reliable" takes a look at evidence that has recently come to light showing how the gospel accounts must have been written by first century eyewitnesses of the events they record. By studying the names used throughout the accounts, noting interlocking testimony, and finding undesigned coincidences, it becomes easy to see that the gospels are not fable, fiction, nor falsehood.

This gift is your for a secure donation of any size to help support the efforts of our ministry.

Would you consider making a gift to Come Reason today? Your tax deductible gift may be given securely online here, or you may send us a check at the address on the bottom of this email. However the Lord leads you, please know that I'm deeply grateful for your prayers and your friendship.


Lenny Esposito

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

What is the Uncaused Cause of the Universe?

Christianity has always been a faith that relies on reason and evidence for its beliefs. Paul models this in his challenge in 1 Corinthians 15, where he hangs all of Christianity on the fact of Jesus' resurrection from the dead "(if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile").1 After the apostles, we have the witness of early church fathers, such as Justin Martyr, through thinkers like Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas who all contributed to not simply the church's mental development, but to the growth of reason the world over.

 One of the more famous defenses by Thomas Aquinas is his Five Ways argument for God's existence, one of which argues that God is the Uncaused Cause2. This particular argument is sometimes misunderstood as arguing that all events are caused by preceding events, like a chain of dominoes. So if you were to trace all events back in time, you'd eventually get to a first cause that starts the dominoes falling. That description is closer to another of Aquinas' Five Ways arguments, the Unmoved Mover. The Uncaused Cause isn't a time-dependent argument, but rather an explanation of contingency. Just as my life is contingent on me breathing air right now, not just in the past, so all effects can point to their current state of existence as contingent on something else.

Aquinas rightly notes that to try and explain an effect (say the existence of the universe) by pointing to itself is impossible. This also applied to multiverse scenarios, since we must ask what causes the multiverse "engine" to produce multiple universes. Aquinas rightly says that such claims are simply not explanations. We must ground all effects in an ultimate cause, otherwise we have explained nothing.

Peter S. Williams has a great little video clip clearly explaining Aquinas' Uncaused Cause argument.  Check it out below:


1. See: Esposito, Lenny. "Why is the Resurrection so important?" Come Reason Ministries. Web. 10 March 2013.
2. Aquinas, Thomas. "Whether God exists?" Summa Theologica. (Benziger Bros. edition, 1947). Web. 5 Aug 2014.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Would Rape Be Moral If God Commanded It?

Last week, I recounted a time speaking with an atheist woman on the campus at UC Berkeley who said that rape would be OK if the person doing so truly believed he was right. It showed the folly of those who held to moral relativism. The post spurred a comment by Mark, who asked, "If the man had been commanded by God to perform the rape, would it then be a moral act?"

While Mark's question seems to offer a twist on the concept of grounding morality in God, the objection itself is not a new one. In fact, we know it's been around for at least 2,300 years because the Greek philosopher Plato set it forth in one of his dialogues, where the protagonist Socrates asks Euthyphro basically "Is God good because he follows some intrinsic goodness independent of Him, or is good whatever God declares to be good?"

Euthyphro's dilemma is famous because both options have disastrous consequences. If there's some independent concept of goodness, then even God is obligated to be good. But what or how does one then discover that concept? What grounds it? And how can God be God if He must obey laws like the rest of us? Doesn't this make God a little less omnipotent? But if we take the other option, that good is simply whatever God says is good, it makes good and bad pretty arbitrary. God could conceivably do what Mark asks (command that rape is now a good thing) and sins become virtues while virtues turn to sins. What kind of morality is that?

Splitting the Horns of Euthyphro's Dilemma

Christians have not been unaware of Euthyphro's dilemma. God's relationship with morality has been written about extensively by the likes of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and others. However, the solution to this dilemma is not as hard as one may think. The answer lies in the fact that there are more than the two choices that Plato laid out in his original dialogue. Christian theology teaches that God has certain intrinsic properties within Himself, such as love. Love cannot exist without a person to express it and when the Bible says "God is love" it communicates that it is a fundamental part of God's nature to love. Similarly, goodness is something that flows from the nature of God Himself. When we talk about doing what is right or wrong, we are comparing our actions to those that God would naturally approve or disapprove of us performing.

For an example of actions flow from nature, we can look to ourselves. Human beings are naturally linguistic creatures; we think in terms of language. If I asked you to plan your evening in your mind right now, you would invariably use words as you thought about your options. We don't think in only pictures but we use words and sentences, even if we aren't communicating our thoughts to someone else. Language is part of human nature and it simply flows from us. To try and violate this nature is pretty much impossible, because there is no other way to think about abstract ideas like morality.

As language flows from human nature, so goodness flows from God's nature, and it would be impossible for Him to violate His nature. Because of this, we see the question Mark asked becomes nonsensical. To ask if rape would be a moral act if God commanded it makes as much sense as to ask whether God could make a rock so big that He couldn't lift it. God simply would never command rape to be moral. We can therefore split the horns of Euthyphro's dilemma and provide a third option.

By grounding moral attributes in God's nature, we achieve two things: 1) moral attributes are objective, they don't change because God' nature doesn't change and 2) God isn't somehow obligated to follow an independent law, but He follows the law within Himself. Thus, objective moral values make sense and we can know that the good is just that.

Photo courtesy Emmanuel Huybrechts via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license.
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