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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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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

What Distinguishes a Text as Scripture? Authority Matters

How do we understand which books to fall into the frame of Scripture? Craig Blomberg, in his book Can We Trust the Bible? offers three broad attributes separating books of Scripture from other inspirational writings. Basically, these are the books of the Bible all claimed an authoritative position over the faithful adherents, they were recognized throughout the church as properly authoritative, and they were consistent in their views on the nature of God, the nature of man, and of theological concepts such as sin, salvation, and sanctification. I'd like to use Blomberg's attributes as a starting point to see at how these sixty-six books are unique and how they demonstrate that the early church didn't "pick and choose" books of the Bible on a whim, but simply recognized them for the works they were.

First, each of the Bible's books positions themselves to be an authoritative voice speaking on behalf of God. Many times the Old Testament prophets use the distinctive phrase "and thus saith the Lord" over and over. It's fairly easy to see how these are claiming to speak on God's behalf. Other books, like Ecclesiastes or Proverbs promise God's blessing on living a certain way. Even historical books such as Esther or Nehemiah, are instructive to show how God protects his people and what faithfulness or unfaithfulness looks like.

The New Testament continues the pattern we find in the Old. Some books have the claim to be directly from God. Paul tells the church in Corinth "the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord" (1 Cor 14:37b). He cements his message as being divine in Galatians where he writes, "For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." In the book of Revelation, John not only claims that it is prophecy, but he warns that to tamper with its message invites God's wrath. The Gospel accounts are authoritative in that they portent to be the accurate recording of Jesus's ministry and teaching. Acts fits the historic genre of Esther and Nehemiah, and also acts to instruct the church through its historical accounts of God's expansion of his mission through his provision and protection for his faithful followers.

Apostolic Approval

One of the key ways the early churches recognized the authoritative nature of the texts was by examining their nearness to those who were given authority by Jesus. Apostolic authors, like Peter, Paul, Matthew and John were recognized as having proper support, since they were hand-picked by Jesus to spread his word. Others, like Mark and Luke's gospels were directly connected to the apostles, either Peter or Paul. James was the head of the early church and the apostles recognized his leadership (Acts 15:13, Gal. 2:9). Jude was Jesus's half-brother, mentioned in Matthew's gospel (13:55), and full brother of church-leader James. His letter opens with his recognition as a servant of Jesus and takes up the authoritative position as one instructing the church on God's behalf to content for the faith.

This leaves only Hebrews as somewhat controversial, primarily because it is written anonymously. While the author is now lost to history, it does claim to be authoritatively speaking on behalf of God in the first verse. The writer also claims to have been privy to first-hand accounts by those who heard directly from God and to have witnessed the confirming signs and wonders of God as to the validity of his message (Heb. 2:3-4).

Of course, claiming authority simply isn't enough to prove any writing belongs in the Bible. The early church had the Old Testament established and authenticated by Jesus himself, making those 39 books authoritative. But the New Testament texts had to be recognized and compiled. Apostolic authority or recognition went a long way in that regard. The fact that second and third century forgeries began to appear bearing the names of apostles long dead demonstrated just how important this was. But the New Testament texts offer more than simply a claim to apostolic authority. Tomorrow, I'll look at the second attribute that all scripture shares: universal acceptance.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Does the Story of the Resurrection Have a Flaw?

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is one of the most well-attested events in antiquity. We have testimony from multiple independent sources that detail the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and we see the impact of his resurrection through the transforming nature of Christianity. I've previously offered several lines of evidence for why the resurrection is a historical reality. However, on an article discussing the evidence of the empty tomb, one commenter claimed that the story of the resurrection has a huge hole in it. He writes:
I had never heard of this until today: How many Christians are aware that Jesus' grave was unguarded AND unsecured the entire first night after his crucifixion??? Isn't that a huge hole in the Christian explanation for the empty tomb?? Notice in this quote from Matthew chapter 27 below that the Pharisees do not ask Pilate for guards to guard the tomb until the next day after Jesus' crucifixion, and, even though Joseph of Arimethea had rolled a great stone in front of the tomb's door, he had not SEALED it shut!

Anyone could have stolen the body during those 12 hours!
The empty tomb "evidence" for the supernatural reanimation/resurrection of Jesus by Yahweh has a HUGE hole in it!

He then quotes Matthew 27:57-65, where we find the following relevant portion:
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.' Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,' and the last deception would be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone."
Matthew thus lays out the timeline that Jesus died on the Day of Preparation (that is, the day before the Sabbath). We would understand this as Good Friday. Then, the Jewish leadership went to Pilate and asked that Jesus's tomb be guarded given the claim that he would rise again. Pilate acquiesces, and a guard is dispatched. The commenter then asks:
So when did the guards show up to the tomb? Early the next morning or late in the afternoon? If late in the afternoon, the tomb of Jesus had been unguarded and unsealed for almost TWENTY FOUR hours!
The empty tomb is NOT good evidence for the resurrection claim. The most plausible explanation, based on the Bible itself, is that someone stole or moved the body!

Reading Historical Texts Carefully

Objections like these are interesting because on the surface they sound plausible. However, many times we bring our own assumptions into such a reading without realizing it. I think this is what has happened here.

First, it's important to realize that the source of this exchange is Matthew's Gospel. Matthew is the most Jewish of the four gospel accounts and his account of the time of Jesus's crucifixion (Matt. 27:45) reflect the Jewish rather than Roman accounting of time. It is well known that for Jews a new day begins at sundown. This means the term "the next day" doesn't imply a minimum of twelve to twenty-four hours later. In fact, we know that Jesus was buried very close to sundown because the women didn't have enough time to properly prepare his body, which is why they were going back to the tomb on Sunday morning. It's also why Pilate had the legs of the others condemned broken; it would speed their death so they could also be dealt with before the onset of the Sabbath.

Secondly, we know that the Jewish leadership was familiar with Jesus's claim to resurrect in three days, and were so deeply concerned about some manipulation to that end that they approached Pilate on the Sabbath to ask for a guard. Pilate allows them to use their own temple guards to secure the tomb.1 But this would happen rather quickly. The crucifixion is a public event and we know the priests were watching Jesus die. Since Jesus's prediction of resurrection came well before his crucifixion, it must've been on their minds. Why would they have waited until the next morning or afternoon? Haste is necessary to effectively stop any tomb raiding by disciples.

Wouldn't the Guards Have Checked?

Thirdly, we have to think about the charge given to the guard. Are they to simply guard the tomb from that point forward no matter in what condition it currently is found? The guards are dispatched with this very crucial task that is of such concern that it unites the chief priests and the Pharisees in a common goal. They get to the tomb and they must see it in one of two conditions. Either the stone has been sealed over the tomb or the tomb is open. If the stone has been placed over the tomb, then they guard that configuration. But, we read later that the women (who were concerned about moving the stone) found it rolled away on Sunday morning. Who did that? Why would the guard even allow that to happen?

 The second choice is the stone wasn't sealed but the guards sealed it there. Two questions now surface, did the guards bother to look inside the open tomb to make sure that the body was still in there? If the challenge is to keep people for stealing the body, don't you check to make sure the body is still there? If you don't and seal the tomb anyway, the question still remains why did the guards allow someone else to come up and open the tomb at all? Isn't your assignment to not let that happen?

No matter what amount of time transpired between Jesus's death and the guards arriving at the tomb, the question of who moved the stone becomes the undoing of the "disciples stole the body" claim. As Craig Keener notes, "Those who have ever had their beliefs or deep hopes shattered will recognize that Jesus' death should have disillusioned the disciples too much for them to fake a resurrection (which would also be inconsistent if they expected one.) Though the corpse remaining in the tomb would have easily publicly refuted the resurrection claim, had the authorities been able to produce it, an empty tomb in itself would not be self-explanatory."2 IN other words, only in the context of the resurrection does the empty tomb have evidentiary power. Yet, the fact that the tomb was empty is proven by the story, as N.T. Wright notes "The point is that this sort of story could only have any point at all in a community where the empty tomb was an absolute and unquestionable datum." 3

Lastly, the stolen body cannot explain the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who believed the chief priests and sought to exterminate what he considered a blasphemous threat to his beliefs.

So the "hole" in the resurrection story turns out to be evidence for the resurrection itself. Without an open tomb, one cannot claim an empty tomb. But since the tomb as found empty, which is common knowledge as N.T. Wright notes, then it lends credence to the resurrection account.


1. Many have assumed the Jews were asking for a Roman guard, but I think that isn't correct. The fact that the guards don't report back to Pilate, but to the chief priests indicate they were under the Sanhedrin's control. Further, when Roman guards allowed prisons to be violated, such as in Acts 16:27-28, he knew the penalty would be a cruel death and would rather have taken his own life. It makes more sense to read Pilate as saying "You have guards of your own; you can use them to make the tomb secure."
2. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print.342.
3. Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003. Print. 638.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Atheists and Unreasonable Objections

Most apologists are well aware of the command in 1 Peter 3:15 to "always be prepared to give a defense to those who ask for the hope that is within you." In fact, they will point to it as an example of God commanding Christians to engage with an unbelieving world. Yet, I've seen Christians think that in order to be faithful to 1 Peter 3:15, we must field every objections thrown at us, regardless of what it is. But there are some objections that are themselves unreasonable, and part of offering a defense is calling out the objector who offers frivolous complaints.

As an example of what I mean, let's look at an article I published last week entitled "Why Would a Loving God Allow the Earthquake in Nepal?" The article explained why plate tectonics, the movements which cause earthquakes, are crucial to support life on earth. One commenter on the post offered the following objection:
What a pile of drivel. So this god isnt to blame for all the deaths from quakes because they are necessary to stop the earth becoming desolate lol.

So this omnipotent god couldnt make a planet without plate tectonics?

The only reason we need a magnetic fields protection is because this god is slinging cosmic rays everywhere.

This god cant control biodiversity, chemical balance ,raise mountains from the sea(bible claims he can) without the use of earthquakes ? lol

If this omnipotent god cant create a world that works well without the need to kill thousands of people every year then its a very poor god indeed.
One will quickly notice that the objector doesn't doubt that plate tectonics do all the necessary things I said they did. His objection boils down to simply, "Surely, God cold have done it some other way!" Really? Exactly what way would this person suggest? Does he have another model that he would like to offer?

Perhaps he is arguing that if God exists, then no one should ever die from any natural accident. Natural laws should never endanger human lives. But, the implications of that are staggering. If no one should be harmed because of natural processes, then what do we do about the law of gravity? No one should fall off a cliff and nothing should ever fall on anyone. Is that a reasonable model? What "other way" is there for these kinds of calamities? His objection boils down to either repealing the law of gravity (which means that life on earth is again impossible) or human beings themselves become indestructible. That second choice was exactly what God did not want to happen, because people were in a state of sin. He never wanted a sinful human being to live in his sinful condition for all of eternity (see Genesis 3:22-24.)

Gainsaying Is Never a Path to the Truth

The primary issue I have with objections like this, and I see such objections all the time, both online and in personal conversations, is they aren't honest. The person asking isn't really looking for an answer; he is simply taking a contrary opinion to the evidence offered already. He was simply doing what is known as gainsaying, taking up a contrary position to discount my evidence instead of interacting with it. It means he ignored the evidence presented and complained that he didn't like the conclusions that followed.

Gainsaying is not thinking. It's simply negating whatever you don't like. I find it interesting that certain atheists will fall into what I call the outrageous objection such as the one above ("if God can do anything, then I want the world to look like this…"). But if one upholds reason as a central virtue, then such tactics should strike him or her as repugnant.  It proves that one isn't open to following the evidence wherever it leads. In fact, offering unreasonable objections isn't a sign of free-thinking, but of closed-mindedness. 1 Peter 3:15 doesn't say that the Christian has to answer every objection, no matter if it's a good or bad. We are commanded to defend the reality of the resurrected Jesus and the reasonableness of the Christian worldview. Because Christianity places a very high value on reason, it is appropriate to identify an unreasonable objection and demand that the objector offer something more concrete. By so doing, you demonstrate how much you value reason yourself.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Top Five Apologetics Blog Posts for April 2015

April was a busy month at Come Reason. Still, we held steady at the blog with our 22,000+ readers. The most popular article this month continues a series I began this year entitled "Jesus and Logical Fallacies." Readers have really appreciated the attention drawn to the Gospel accounts of various fallacies the opponents  of Jesus wold raise against him and how he provides us an example in identifying and answering them.

The second most popular article was published just days ago and focuses answering those who object to God's existence because of the terrible earthquake in Nepal. While broader answers to the problem of evil are available, they tend to be abstract. This answer goes another direction and shows why earthquakes are not in and of themselves evil, but necessary for life.

Here are the top five apologetic blog posts for April:

Friday, May 01, 2015

Why Studying Science is Important for Evangelism

I recently posted a quote from Dr. J.P. Moreland on why an evolutionary account for moral values and duties fails. The quote was a bit technical, but it did a good job of showing flaws in such a theory just by reasoning through the position. In other words, it didn't appeal to the Bible. I received a comment on the post that this quote will be completely ineffective to any unbeliever who reads it because "it is an attempt to utilize the tools and methods of science and reason to persuade those who simply cannot discern the things of the Spirit. Not one person will come to the Lord as a result of this argumentation."

I don't want to pick on this specific comment, but I have heard similar objections from within the church before. Within the comment are two common assumptions that evangelical Christians voice, both of which I believe are mistaken. I will tackle some others in later posts, but the first unwarranted assumption is that science is not effective or it isn't somehow appropriate when trying to lead others to Jesus.

Science Properly Done Leads to God

It has become a common trope that science and reason are tools of the world and Spiritual things cannot be discovered through them. But the church hasn't always held such a view. In fact, the myth that science and reason sit on one side of a divide while faith and belief sit on the other is perpetuated by those who are desperately trying to divorce God from His reality. Historically, modern science was founded and advanced by Christians who were, in the words of Johannes Kepler, "thinking God's thoughts after Him."1

These scientists took passages like Psalm 19:1-4 seriously, in which the Psalmist declares:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (ESV)
They believed that they were pursuing the knowledge that God had woven into the fabric of his creation. This is also why Paul points to the understanding of the created order in Romans 1 as God's testimony of himself that holds them accountable:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20, ESV).

God Commanded Us to Explore His World

God wants us to explore the world he created. Even before Adam's fall, the Bible tells us that God placed him in the garden in order to "to work it and keep it" (Gen 2:15). Such a command would require investigation on Adam's part to understand how the world works, how the plants grow, and how to keep them appropriately.

Augustine even encouraged the Christian to not ignore science as it could damage the Christian's witness. In his commentary on Genesis, Augustine writes:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although "they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion."2
If science is done properly, it doesn't lead people away from God. Rather, it should point people to the clear conclusion that the world has a designer. That's the argument that Paul makes in Romans 1 and it is the reason why atheists such as Antony Flew changed his mind and believed that God existed. Of course, people can hold biases and presuppositions that rule out God, and we should recognize that. Science alone isn't the answer. But it shouldn't be discounted as one tool in God's toolbox for declaring himself to a lost world.


1. Morris, Henry M. Men of Science, Men of God: Great Scientists Who Believed the Bible. San Diego, CA: Creation-Life, 1982. Print. 12.
2. Augustine, and John Hammond. Taylor. "Chapter 19." The Literal Meaning of Genesis. Vol. 1. New York, NY: Newman, 1982. 19. Print.. Web.

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