Archive for December, 2011

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The alleged contradictions

December 30, 2011

Brandon- Okay. The Gospels are probably not legends. That doesn’t mean they are reliable. There are still plenty of contradictions. How do you respond to that?

Chris- Well, there are probably two ways that I could respond to that objection. I could simply state that:

1. God cannot err.
2. The Bible is the word of God.
3. Therefore, the Bible cannot err .

Brandon- I have significant problems with that syllogism.

Chris- Right, well it’s not meant to convince you as a skeptic. Once you step inside my worldview, however, it represents a coherent approach to the issue of Bible difficulties. If the Bible doesn’t err because it is the word of God, I can automatically assume that any difficulties we find in the scripture are the result of our lack of understanding, a transmission error by a scribe or translator, confusion, or human sinfulness .

Brandon- I don’t find your approach very helpful. It almost seems like a cop out- a way to avoid addressing the seeming contradictions that I brought forward in one of our earlier conversations.

Chris- That leads me to my second approach, which involves addressing each Bible issue as it comes my way, looking for plausible ways of harmonizing alleged discrepancies. It is important to note that claiming the scripture contradicts itself is a difficult accusation to prove. To avoid contradiction, all I have to do is provide a possible explanation that could reconcile two conflicting passages. Now, I believe I can do better than that because I think that most, if not all, Bible difficulties have plausible solutions that can withstand intellectual scrutiny and can be accepted with intellectual honesty and integrity.

Brandon- Okay. For example?

Chris- Well, let’s look at the issues you brought up earlier (chris is referring to an earlier conversation that was not recorded in this blog). How many angels were at the tomb of Jesus: one or two?

I would begin by pointing out that this example is not a contradiction. If one writer said ‘there was only one angel’ and the other author wrote, ‘There were only two angels’ than we would have a contradiction. Instead, I would simply point out that when you have two angels you have one angel. It is likely that Matthew, who only records one angel, is focusing on the primary speaker as was common in Jewish narratives of that day .

In Acts 9 the author records the apostle Paul’s conversion. A light appears to Paul and in verse 7 the text says, “The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone”. Yet in Acts 22:9, the Scripture describes the same event with Paul speaking and he says, “My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me”. A solution presents itself quite readily when you read the text closely. It doesn’t hurt if you can understand the Greek text as well.

In the first account, Paul’s traveling companions heard the sound but didn’t see anyone. This is not in contradiction with Paul’s statement that they saw a light (not a person) and they heard a sound but didn’t comprehend what the voice was saying. Here we have two different ways of saying basically the same thing- the statements aren’t contradictory, they are complimentary.

You also said that Jesus got the high priest wrong (Mark 2:26). Jesus says that King David ate the consecrated bread when Abiathar was high Priest. 1st Samuel 21:1-6, however, says that the High priest at the time was Ahimelech. On the surface that appears to be a contradiction.

There are several likely solutions to that problem. Here is one: when you look closely at the text you will find that Jesus used the phrase ‘in the days of Abiathar’ (Vs. 26). This does not necessarily imply that Abiathar was the High Priest at the exact time that David ate the bread. Abiathar was alive and well when David eats the consecrated bread and soon afterwards he became the High Priest when his father was killed. In the words of one scholar: “Thus, it was during the time of Abiathar, but not during his tenure in office” .

Look, there are a bunch of ways in which the scripture has been challenged over the past centuries and in every case, with the support of further information and study, the Bible has proven itself to be trustworthy and accurate .

I know that you’ve studied science. There are many mysteries in the natural world that science has yet to unravel and explain. Even so, scientists are very optimistic. Given the past successes of science, there is every reason to be confident that with further information and study the mysteries of nature will be unveiled before our eyes.

I want to say the same thing about Bible difficulties. Given our success at solving the textual issues with further study and more information, I am confident that those few areas that are still problematic will be adequately resolved sooner or later.

Brandon- Interesting.

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Part 4- The Reliability of scripture

December 22, 2011

Part 2 of this post is immediately under it:

Chris- Good to see you.

Brandon- Likewise.

Chris- Are you ready to dive into our topic?

Brandon- Let’s do it. Here is my big issue: Miracles don’t happen. It is crazy to blindly believe that they do. The Gospels are full of miracles. So because miracles don’t occur and the Gospels are full of miracles, the Gospels are clearly legends. You could say it like this:

1. Miracles don’t happen except in legends (or fairy tales).
2. The Gospels are full of miracles.
3. Therefore, the Gospels are legends.

Whenever Christians claim miracles occur today they are usually situations that are unusual and surprising but could have natural explanations. For example, A woman has terminal cancer. She is prayed for and finds out on her next scan that the cancer is completely gone. The doctors call it a ‘miracle’- they have no adequate medical explanation. I don’t deny that this happens (perhaps often) I simply withhold belief that the event is a miraculous intervention because the ‘healing’ might have occurred by some unknown natural process.

Plus, even if it was a miracle, I would be angry simply because God doesn’t do more of them? If He can step in like that- why doesn’t He do it more often?

Chris- Well firstly, I think premise 1 of your argument is clearly false. How do you know that miracles don’t take place? Many credible, educated people have claimed to witness significant miracles that can’t be explained by psychosomatic factors. How do you know they’re all mistaken?

Brandon- Haven’t you read David Hume? Lots of people think his argument against miracles was the final word. With his prolific pen he made belief in miracles untenable for any thinking person. He made four claims:

(1) No alleged miracle has ever been supported with the testimony of a sufficiently large number of witnesses who could not have been either deceived or deceivers.

(2) People in general crave the miraculous and believe fables more readily than they ought.

(3)‘Miracles’ only occur amongst barbarous peoples.

(4) Miracle stories occur in all religions and thereby cancel each other out since they support irreconcilable doctrines.

He then goes on to add that even if the first four objections fail there is a uniform testimony of human experience against the miraculous. As a result, any natural explanation is always more likely than a supernatural explanation. The wise person, therefore, should never believe in miracles. I rest my case.

Chris- Whoa. That was a lot. Is your strategy to overwhelm me with objections?

Brandon- No, well, maybe. I just think if you believe in miracles you better be able to justify your beliefs. Leaving questions of literary genre aside, the presence of miracles in the Gospels, lead me to conclude they are legendary.

Chris- Well, I’ll try my best to respond. I’ll begin by addressing your argument.

1. Miracles don’t happen except in fairy tales and legends.
2. The Gospels are full of miracles.
3. Therefore, the Gospels are legends.

Is that right?

Brandon- Yes.

Chris- Okay. I think your argument is wrong. Your first premise begs the question – it assumes the conclusion you are trying to prove; in this case, that miracles don’t happen. If your first premise begs the question your conclusion is erroneous and your argument is logically invalid.

I know trustworthy, critical people who have experienced miracles like the deaf receiving hearing and the blind receiving sight. There seem to be no plausible natural explanations for these occurrences, therefore, the best explanation would be a supernatural one not an unknown natural cause.

If your worldview can’t explain these unusual happenings maybe you need to open your mind a bit. Now, to tell the truth I don’t really understand why some people see, or experience, miracles and others don’t- why some get healed and others remain sick. I can’t comprehend that and it is frustrating.

But I also don’t believe that God shakes miracles into history randomly, or at the beck and call of charismatic individuals. Usually Miracles cluster around significant moments in redemptive history like the Exodus or the ministry of Jesus. Here is what C.S Lewis once wrote,

“God does not shake miracles into Nature at random as if from a pepper-caster. They come on great occasions: they are found at the ganglions of history- not of political or social history, but of that spiritual history which cannot be fully known by men. If your own life does not happen to be near one of those great ganglions, how should you expect to see one? If we were heroic missionaries, apostles, or martyrs, it would be a different matter. But why you or I? Unless you live near a railway, you will not see trains go past your windows….Miracles and martyrdoms tend to bunch about the same areas of history- areas we have naturally no wish to frequent”.

I agree with Lewis. As a result, it doesn’t bother me that I’ve never seen someone do miracles like Jesus did. Jesus is unique in the history of this world as the incarnation of the one true God- accomplishing redemption at the climatic point of the maker’s salvation story. Given our understanding of Jesus it should not be a surprise that miracles cluster around his person and work- it would be a stumbling block if they didn’t.

Brandon- Wait a minute. You’ve presupposed the uniqueness of Jesus to explain the miracles of Jesus and I bet if I asked you to proof the uniqueness of Jesus you would point to his miracles. That is arguing in a circle. You’re assuming the very thing you’re trying to prove. Didn’t you call that ‘begging the question’?

Chris- But I wouldn’t argue in the manner that you attribute to me. In my above comments, I wasn’t trying to prove that Jesus is unique (though I obviously think he is), rather, I was trying to explain why we might not see as many miracles today, or miracles of the same type or stature that Jesus preformed. It makes sense, once you embrace the Christian understanding of Jesus. If I wanted to encourage you to embrace that Christian understanding of Jesus as true I won’t precede in the same way.

Brandon- Okay. I think we’re getting off point. I can see how my argument fails but how would you respond to David Hume?

Chris- That would take a another conversation.

Brandon- Tomorrow?

Chris- Sure.

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Part 2 of part 4

December 22, 2011

Part 2

Chris- I think you’ve hit on something important. The Gospels present themselves as reportage of real events that occurred in history. They don’t read like legends and they aren’t theological fictions. Yet, many people regard them as such because they contain miracles. When scholars, or lay people, come to the scripture with a philosophical presupposition that miracles can’t happened they are forced to read the gospels as theological fictions, or legends.

So the question is, ‘are there any good philosophical reasons to disbelieve in miracles’? Since Hume’s argument is still regarded by many to be the greatest argument against miracles it is appropriate to address it if I want to argue that the New Testament contains reliable reportage.

Brandon- Right. I see how my first argument failed. Big deal. I wasn’t a philosophy major anyway. How do you respond to David Hume?

Chris- Okay but now it is my turn to do a lot of talking.

(1) Hume claims that no alleged miracle is supported by good testimony but is that really the case? Many scholars would point to 1st Corinthians 15:3-9. Here we have extremely early eyewitness testimony in regard to the resurrection of Jesus. The list of eyewitnesses includes 500 people at one time, a skeptic (James) and an enemy (Paul) who were not predisposed to believe in the resurrection without extremely convincing evidence.

The disciples were not likely to be deceived. For the sake of argument, if we grant that they had been initially deceived it is the very nature of the claim that would have eventually robbed them of their deception. Jesus rose. Nope, here is his body. Deception over.

Were they deceivers? Not likely. The disciples died for their belief in Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection is an extraordinary claim that is outside of our normal experience. However, so is a group of morally upright people who willingly create a lie about a bodily resurrection. A lie that leads not to power or prestige but to a difficult life of persecution and hardship that eventually led to their violent deaths. Yet, they went to the grave boldly proclaiming that Jesus rose from the dead. People die for things they believe to be true (cult suicides, martyrs etc) but no mentally sane and morally sound group of people die for something they know to be false. The disciples were in the position to know-they were there. To claim that the early disciples perpetrated this fraud and died for it would also be an extraordinary event way outside our experience. An event so unlikely that no wise person should ever believe in it.

Brandon- Hmm.

Chris- Secondly, people crave the miraculous. In response, it could be pointed out that some people crave the miraculous and some people don’t. What does this tell us other than an interesting fact about human psychology? It certainly doesn’t mean miracles can’t happen.

This objection; however, reveals the need for a Christian to have adequate criteria for assessing whether or not a miracle has occurred. For example, is the testimony reliable? Does the person claiming a miraculous event give you any reason to distrust them? For any alleged miraculous event, all naturalistic hypotheses must fail to fully explain (eg. Even the believer, to avoid superstition and appearing foolish, should prefer a natural explanation before concluding God’s unusual activity as an explanation for the remarkable, observed phenomena.) In other words, a miracle has to be the best explanation of the data. Other criteria could be offered as well. The application of these criteria help curb the religious believers tendency to be overly zealous in appealing to God’s unusual activity to explain an extraordinary event.

Brandon- Right. That is part of my problem. So often I hear believers call things miraculous that could have easily had a natural explanation. A resurrection, however, would be a bonified miracle.

Chris- Thirdly, miracles only occur among barbarous people. This appears to be the most blatantly false claim that Hume makes. It is certainly true that people in the 1st century believed things that people in Hume’s day regarded to be false in light of further progress in knowledge (eg. the earth is not the center of the universe, or galaxy). However, I doubt this to be the case in the areas where it matters in our discussion about miracles.

For example, ancients knew that people didn’t normally walk on water. Ancient people knew how babies were born just as well as David Hume did. Notice Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy. His first instinct is to divorce her because he knows how babies are made and that virgins aren’t in the habit of getting pregnant.

The people in the 1st century also knew that people who die normally stay dead. People didn’t need modern science to tell them that. People don’t normally rise from the dead. Jesus did. That’s why it’s a big deal.

There is a very real sense in which miracles don’t break the laws of nature they presuppose the laws of nature. If nature didn’t behave in a predictable pattern, we would never recognize a miracle if it occurred. If people didn’t normally stay dead we would never realize the uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection. This above principle is true for people in the 1st century, the 18th century and the 21st century. The first believers responded to miracles in the same manner that any educated modern would- with awe or suspicion.

Also, was the Apostle Paul a barbarian? Hardly, whether you like his writings or not he is almost universally recognized as a brilliant, learned man for his day. In fact, Paul could likely give David Hume a run for his money as far as philosophical reasoning and powers of argumentation go.

Lastly, consider this story: A child in Malaysia is covered from head to toe in eczema that is raw and oozing in places. As a result, the child is in terrible discomfort and the parents are distressed.

As soon as Dr. White and his wife Lorrie lay hands on the child and pray for him he falls fast asleep. Within twenty minutes the oozing stops and the redness begins to fade. By the next morning, the child’s skin is totally restored. He is healed completely. Dr. White also tells the story about a bone actually changing under his hands while he prayed for someone with a deformity.

Oh, and Dr. White is a medical doctor and he has been an associate professor of psychiatry for over thirteen years. He knows the difference between organic illness and psychosomatic illness. He’s also written about hallucinations. He’s an honest, forthright man . Not to engage in an add hominine attack but clearly Dr. White is far more educated and ‘enlightened’ than David Hume. Yet, Dr. White believes in miracles.

One of the greatest pastors turned atheists in our day, Charles Templeton, admits to witnessing a deformed child healed immediately in response to his prayers. He acknowledges that he has no natural explanation for that event.

Brandon- Yes, I heard that story but he lost faith because so many children aren’t healed. He had a problem similar to mine.

Chris- Yes, I know that. And look, that is my problem to-it’s everyones problem; it’s a problem that miracles create not eradicate. However, it’s not a reason to believe they don’t ever occur. Anyways, I simply bring up that example to refute Hume’s third point. Here is a sophisticated skeptic acknowledging an event that you would be hard pressed to explain without divine intervention.

Brandon- I see.

Chris- Fourthly, miracles occur among all religions that affirm contradictory claims. Time is getting on but I would simply point out that Hume appears to be extremely ignorant of the role that miracles play in the founding of the great world religions. Mohamed refused to do a miracle. He claimed that his only miracle was the Koran. Buddha also refused to do miracles because miracles would foster the illusion of the material world. Miracles were attributed to Mohamed and Buddha in much later, unreliable sources. Unlike Christianity, the credibility of other faith systems is not tethered that tightly to the miraculous. In Christianity, if Christ didn’t rise from the dead our faith is false and futile. That means our faith, unlike other systems, is testable and falsifiable (two criteria for truth that science often holds over religion).

So my point is Hume appears to be ignorant about the role of the miraculous in the founding of other faith systems. It is clear; therefore, that all of Hume’s four objections fail miserably

Brandon- But on that last point isn’t Hume saying, ‘Look, you can’t claim miracles as the basis for showing your religion is true because religions with contradictory doctrines claim miracles as the means of authenticating the truth of their teaching’.

Chris- If that is what Hume is saying there (and you’re likely right) that is an odd way of proving that miracles don’t happen. He would be conceding that miracles do happen but that they can’t be pressed into the service of different faith traditions claiming to be a revelation of God. My above point, however, would still stand and it is worth mentioning that all miracle claims don’t have the same evidential value and should be investigated independently and not simply ruled out a priori like Hume seems to want us to do.

Brandon- Yes, but miracles are still improbable.

Chris- If they weren’t improbable or unusual we wouldn’t call them miracles. Hume’s last ditch attempt to save his argument also fails. Like your argument, Hume also begs the question.

The only way we know that our experience is uniform against the miraculous is if we know in advance that miracles don’t or can’t happen. But that, of course, assumes the very thing you are trying to prove; the impossibility of the miraculous. Let me quote C.S Lewis on this issue,

“Now of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely ‘uniform experience’ against miracles, if in others words they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false. And we can know all the reports to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact, we are arguing in a circle”.

There are other significant critiques that can be leveled against Hume’s argument. For example, Hume’s probability argument makes it so that the wise person can’t believe in a miracle even if one really occurred. Plus, truth is not determined by the majority but by a careful investigation of the facts.

He argues that we should always go with the explanation that is most probable, or in other words, that which has the highest odds. As Norman Geisler points out, “one should not believe he was dealt a perfect bridge hand (which has happened) since the odds against it are 1,635,013,559,600 to 1.” He then goes on to add that, “What Hume overlooks is that wise people base their beliefs on facts, not on odds”.

In addition probability is always relative to background information. Hume’s claim that miracles are improbable is relative to our uniform experience. We have already shown above that our experience against the miraculous isn’t uniform. Secondly, the probability of miracles greatly increases given the existence of God. Therefore, if we have good reasons to believe that God exists it makes miraculous events far more probable and allows us to fairly assess the evidence rather than ruling them out a priori, or based on the odds.

It just occurred to me to step back for a second and ask you a question: do you believe God exists?

Brandon- I believe in something outside of the natural world. I don’t know if I would call ‘it’ God.

Chris- Okay. Well as soon as you admit something supernatural you aren’t safe from miracles. If there is something outside of nature there is no reason to suppose that this ‘something’ couldn’t interact in surprising ways with nature. The only question is whether or not God has done miracles. The Gospels and the history of the church would declare with one voice, ‘yes, He has’ .

If there is no good philosophical objections to miracles, and if you believe in something outside of nature, then you can’t rule out the possibility that the New Testament Gospels are not fictitious or legendary but actually contain historical reportage about suspiring feats that clustered around the person of Jesus. And by the way, his miracles are mentioned by non-christian and anti-Christian writers as well.

Brandon- Yah. I hear what you’re saying but I’m not convinced. I’ll have to examine that issue more thoroughly.

Chris- I would suggest reading C.S Lewis’ Miracles, Norman Geisler’s, Miracles and the Modern Mind, or Gary Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Anyways, I’ve got to go home. Let’s meet next week to continue our discussion.

Brandon- Alright. I look forward to it.

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Reliability of scripture: part 3….

December 14, 2011

This is part 3 of a dialogue about the ‘reliability of scripture’. If interested Scroll down for the first two installments.

Chris- Are you ready to discuss the issue of whether or not the New Testament is a legend rather than a straightforward account of Jesus’ life and ministry?

Brandon- Yes, but I should warn you that I’m quite certain that the New Testament is legendary.

Chris- I obviously disagree. Here are four reasons why I think you’re wrong. Firstly, the New Testament was written too soon after the events to be legendary. Secondly, the New Testament doesn’t read like a legend. Thirdly, the Gospels claim to be accounts of actual events. Lastly, where corroboration is possible, the New Testament is confirmed by other historical sources.

Brandon- Wow. Okay, you will have to unpack each one of those statements.

Chris- Certainly. The New Testament was written close to the time period of the events it recorded. The Gospel of Mark was written in the 50’s, Luke in the early 60’s, Matthew not much later than Luke, with John being written some time in the 90’s. So the earliest Gospel was written around 25 to 30 years after the events it records.

Brandon- What a minute! I’ve read many times over that Mark dates to the 60’s or 70’s, Matthew and Luke to the 80’s and John to somewhere in the 90’s.

Chris- Ever hear any good reasons for those later datings?

Brandon- I’m not sure.

Chris- Look, even the dates you gave are too near to the events recorded for the core of historical truth to be wiped away by legendary developments. There are, however, good reasons to date the gospels earlier. For example, the book of Acts does not record Paul’s martyrdom or the fall of Jerusalem in 70 ad AD. Luke is a first rate historian, so why wouldn’t he record the fall of Jerusalem, or the martyrdom of St. Paul?

The likely answer is that he was writing before the above-mentioned events took place. Paul was likely martyred around AD 65 (according to Clement of Alexandria). That pushes the writing of Acts into the early 60’s. Luke’s gospel was written before Acts so it was likely completed around AD 60 to AD 62, give or take a few years. Now almost everyone agrees that Mark was written first, so that pushes the date of Mark’s composition into the 50’s. And each Gospel contains source material that likely dates earlier than that.

Also, consider the writings of St. Paul. The book of Galatians and 1st Thessalonians, were likely written in the late 40’s. That is 15 to 20 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. Don’t forget that Paul’s epistles also contain material that dates even earlier. For example, are you familiar with 1st Corinthians 15?

Brandon- I don’t think so.

Chris- The first part of 1st Corinthians 15 is a creed that Paul received himself and handed on to the Corinthian church. He likely picked up this creed on his first trip to Jerusalem, as described in the book of Galatians. Almost all respected scholars in New Testament studies date this creed very early. Dates range from 8 months to 8 years after the crucifixion. The best guess is probably two or three years after the death of Jesus and the beginning of the church . So we have historical information about Jesus dating within a couple years of the some of the events described in the Gospels. In ancient history studies, this type of early attestation is pure gold for the scholar.

Brandon- Okay. That was earlier than I thought but that time frame still seems to leave enough room for legendary embellishments to occur. Have you ever played the children’s game ‘telephone’?

Chris- Yes.

Brandon- You get kids to form a line, whisper a phrase in the first child’s ear and they pass it on down the line. By the time the phrase gets to the end of the line, the original wording is severely distorted. You begin with a phrase like, ‘Chris is very smart’ and you end with something like, ‘Christians are very stupid’. I think this is exactly what happened with the Gospels.

Chris- I’ve heard that telephone analogy before. It doesn’t accurately reflect the cultural reality of the 1st century Christians. Imagine the telephone analogy but with four lines. Then as the message goes down each line, every third person checks back with the first to make sure they’ve got it right. Plus, the telephone analogy is silly because if you’ve played the game, you know that kids often purposefully change the wording for fun. The first Christians wouldn’t have done that because they treasured the teaching of their rabbi, Jesus.

Look, there is not enough time for this type of legendary development to occur! There are still eyewitnesses alive, both favorable and hostile to the Jesus movement who would be more than willing to refute any false version of the events.

For example, I still clearly remember my grad dinner and dance. Let’s say I started a rumor that the principal got drunk off the spiked punch, hit on the drama teacher and caught a tablecloth on fire, forcing us to evacuate the building. If I began to seriously propagate that fictitious story as ‘gospel’ truth, employing various avenues of social media, the narrative would not get off the ground. Why? Well, isn’t it obvious? There are still other eyewitnesses alive to refute the false version of the events.

It is the same with the stories found in the Gospels. They were written while eyewitnesses were still alive who could confirm or refute the stories in the Gospels. The existence of eyewitnesses, and the public nature of the events recorded, would have provided a restraining influence on the authors of the Gospel narratives when they were writing.

Let me quote a scholar on this issue. William Lane Craig writes this:

“The writings of Herodotus enable us to determine the rate at which legend accumulates, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts” .

Brandon- You make an interesting argument.

Chris- I should add one more thing. Usually when critics accuse the first Christians of making up stories about Jesus or putting words in Jesus’ mouth, they say something like, ‘The first Christians made up sayings of Jesus to win debates within the church’. Not likely. As one author puts it:

“There were many contentious issues that the early church was debating, such as circumcision and food sacrificed to idols . If the early Christian community felt free to invent sayings by Jesus to win debates and consolidate power surely they would have created some stories to address these issues. There are none…” .

Brandon- I’ve never thought of that. The Gospels aren’t always flattering towards the influential leaders of the early church either. Peter, Thomas, James and John are more than once painted in a poor light, which I guess, would add to the likely hood likelihood of those stories being authentic. I can’t think of a good reason why the authors of the Gospels would publicly embarrass the most important leaders of their movement unless they were committed to simply telling the truth.

Chris- Good point. Wow. Now you’re helping me out.

Brandon- Don’t get too excited. I’m thinking some new thoughts but I haven’t changed my position on the New Testaments lack of reliability yet.

Chris- Okay. Here is my second point. The Gospels don’t read like legends. Have you ever read the Egyptian myths of Osiris and Isis? How about the Iliad or the Odyssey?

Brandon- I have read a bit of Homer but that is all.

Chris- I would encourage you to re-read these stories and then sit down and examine the Gospels. I believe it will quickly become clear to you that the Gospels are not the same literary genre as these myths. Let me quote literary historian C.S Lewis. He wrote,

“I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends and myths all of my life. I know what they are like. I know none of them are like this. Of this Gospel text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage…or else, some unknown ancient writer….without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic, realistic narrative” .

Elsewhere he wrote,

“As a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the gospels are, they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legends and I am quite clear they are not the same type of thing. They are not artistic enough to be legends, from an imaginative point of view they are clumsy, they don’t work up to things properly. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us, as is the life of anyone else who lived at that time, and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so”.

Look, I’m not asking you to take C.S Lewis’ word for it. Read myths yourself. Immerse yourself in them. Then pick up the Gospel and read. They are not the same thing.

Brandon- Well, maybe I’ll get around to it.

Chris- You really should if you’re going to make claims like, ‘the Gospels are myths and legends’.

Brandon- You’re probably right.

Chris- Are you ready for my third point?

Brandon- I guess so.

Chris- Okay. Thirdly, the Gospels claim to be recording historical events. Here is how Luke begins his Gospel:

“Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

Similar statements are made by John in 1st John 1:1 and Peter in 2nd Peter 1:16. Do the authors sound like they are just spinning myths and fables?

Brandon- No. I admit that Luke sounds like he intends to write history.

Chris- Right. So is he a liar?

Brandon- I don’t know. Maybe. Lots of people lie.

Chris- But why do people lie? Usually it is to escape punishment or to gain a reward. Luke got neither. In fact, the first Christians, many of Luke’s friends, were persecuted and killed for proclaiming the same story that Luke records.

Brandon- Well, maybe Luke was just mistaken.

Chris- Well, then we need to ask the question; is Luke the type of author who is prone to make factual errors? When you examine the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts you will find that Luke is a fantastic historian. He is consistently accurate about even insignificant details. For example, scholars have long recognized that Luke accurately records incidental details in the Acts narrative.

Norman Geisler and Frank Turek in their book I don’t have enough faith to be an Atheist helpfully record 84 historical details that Luke correctly reported. For example:

1. The proper location of Lycaonia (14:6).
2. Correct designations for the magistrates of the colony (16:22).
3. The presence of a synagogue in Thessalonica (17:1).
4. The proper port (Perga) along the direct destination of a ship crossing from Cyprus (13:13).
5. The correct designation of Gallio as proconsul, resident in Corinth (18:12).
6. The name Tyrannus as attested from Ephesus in first-century inscriptions (19:9).
7. The correct implication that sea travel is the most convenient way of reaching Athens, with the favoring east winds of summer sailing (17:14,15)
8. The correct title grammateus for the chief executive magistrate in Ephesus (19:35).
9. The depiction of the Athenian life of philosophical debate in the Agora (17:17).
10. The nature of a square-rigged ancient ship, having no option but to be driven before a gale (27:15) .

The authors mention 72 more unimportant details that have been confirmed through archeology, or other historical records. So if Luke is spot on when it comes to such minor facts in his narrative it makes sense to conclude that he is trustworthy when it comes to bigger issues that are more central to his purposes- like the teaching of the early church and the miracles.

Brandon- Look, I can’t answer the above arguments but do you know why I think the Gospel are legends?

Chris- Is it the miracles?

Brandon- Yes.

Chris- We should talk about that next week.

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God’s will?

December 12, 2011

There are many important questions that confront us in life:

What career path should I choose?

Should I change careers?

Who should I marry?

Where should I live?

How many kids should we have? On and on we could go…

Have any of you noticed that when you flip open the Bible to find the answer to any of these basic questions you’re greeted with silence? Of course, there are general principles in scripture that relate to these questions: Marry a Christian (2nd Corinthians 6:14,15), work hard- if you’re lazy and don’t work you shouldn’t eat (1st Thessalonians 4:11, 1st Timothy 5:8), kid’s are a blessing etc, etc.

But there are no specific answers, are there? The Bible didn’t tell me to marry Diandra or be a pastor- the Bible told me those were noble desires but was silent on the specifics. You may think this is silly and in one sense it is- I never honestly expected that the Bible would tell me the exact person I should marry.

I still think it would have been nice, don’t you? I clearly remember sitting at Milestone’s with Diandra as an engaged couple wondering aloud if getting married was the right thing. A chapter and verse would have been handy in that moment.

What I’m really wrestling with in the above paragraphs is, ‘how do I find God’s specific will for my life’? That’s what I want to discuss in this blog.

God’s general will

God has a general will, revealed in scripture, for all people. For example, repent of sin, trust in Jesus, meditate on God’s word, be involved in believing community, fufill the great commission, and live holy lives.

Many people want God to disclose His specific will for their lives ( eg. Where exactly should I work? What profession should I pursue?). Yet, at the same time, their life bears no evidence that they are following God’s general will. If you want to know God’s specific will for your life first make sure you’re obeying his general will.

If you want to peer into that which is concealed first obey that which is revealed.

I once heard pastor and author Tim Keller give some prudent advice. He said that when it comes to discovering God’s specific will for your life three elements come into play: subjective desires, objective confirmation, and open doors. He is, of course, presupposing the work of the Holy Spirit through it all. Let’s apply this advice to the example of getting engaged.

Subjective Confirmation:

Do you desire to marry this person? Do you find them attractive? Do you respect and admire them?

Objective confirmation:

Is there anything in scripture that would forbid you from marrying this person (eg.They are not a Christian), have wise, godly people in your life affirmed this decision? Love (lust?) can have a blinding influence at first so have godly people outside of the relationship given their wholehearted affirmation?

My pastor and friend Dave Barker told me I would be an ‘idiot’ if I didn’t marry Diandra- that was strong confirmation for me.

Doors opening:

Is this the appropriate season to get married? In order for the door to be open the other person has to want to marry you. Are you at a place financially where it is possible to get married (this of course should not be a determining factor but it should be given consideration)? Am I emotionally and spiritually mature enough to be married (objective confirmation is crucial here as well)?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to all three criteria you can be fairly confident that you’re in God’s specific will for your life. You can apply the same process of discernment to other major life decisions.

Here is some other great advice I’ve received or learnt (not necessarily in order of importance):

Firstly, find out what your will is in the given situation. Once you’ve realized your will lay it down. Only then are you ready to hear God’s will. Think of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.

Secondly, commit to obeying God. Often we want to discover God’s will in advance so that we can decide whether or not we want to obey Him. I doubt it if God honors that type of attitude.

Thirdly, be honest with yourself. Do you really want to know God’s will about the situation? Often we say we do but we really don’t because if God spoke clearly we would have to obey him- even if what He says is difficult.

Fourthly, fast, pray and meditate on scripture (this, of course, should permeate the entire process of discernment).

Fifthly, recognize that you may be in the very center of God’s will and your situation may be awful- I’m talking painful, brutal and difficult. Think of Christ on the cross- right in the smack center of the father’s specific will for him.

I want to share with you a little suspicion I have that could be dead wrong. I think we often desire to know God’s specific will because if we know it, and are in the center of it, we believe that our lives will go smoother.

Or if we want to sound more spiritual we will say- God’s will is the place of blessing.

The last sentence is true- God’s will is the place of blessing- but sometimes it is also the place of suffering. Nothing rich, good and life giving grows on the mountain top. God, therefore, won’t let you or me live there indefinitely.

Everything that is good, rich, and life giving springs up in the valley. Just because you’re in a valley doesn’t mean you’re outside of God’s specific will for you (whether it be in a job, ministry or marriage). It may be hard- but it’s come to you through His hand and He will redeem the situation.

Perhaps, the above is one of the reasons why God doesn’t reveal to us His whole plan for our lives. We would inevitably see situations and circumstances that are difficult- valleys, canyons, and deserts that we wouldn’t know how to traverse simply because who we are now isn’t who we will be then.

Another reason God doesn’t give us the whole plan (or reveal the entirety of his specific will for our lives) is because he wants our eyes on him and not on the plan. In fact, if God gave us the whole plan I’m sure we would take it in our hands and quickly let go of His. We would consult the map and ignore the map maker- accept the guidance and neglect the guide.

Come to think of it- isn’t it possible that our desire to know God’s will, in some cases, is the result of us still lusting after the sovereignty and control that only belongs to Him? The sin of our first parents still lingers in our lives and expresses itself in subtle ways. This, of course, isn’t always the case- it’s a heart issue that God has to reveal in each of us through His Spirit.

Lastly, God’s will doesn’t always make sense to us. For example, God seems less concerned with efficiency than we are. Efficiency is only a concern for people with limited time and resources- God has neither. God’s ways, therefore, are not our ways- he rarely takes us on the most direct route. Think of Israel wandering in the wilderness.

I want to give pastor Steven Furtick the last word. He writes,

“His (God’s) will isn’t the main objective. He is the main objective. He wants you to discover Him most of all….The scariest possibility for your life isn’t getting God’s will wrong. It’s getting God’s will right but barely coming to know God in the process…That’s why He doesn’t just write His will for you in the clouds. At the end of the process He wants you to know something far greater than what you should do with your life or what you should do next.

He wants you to know who He is”.

That’s a good word. May we press on to know Him. The more we know Him the more we realize that He is Sovereign and Good and his plan is always best.

God Bless

And

Go Bless

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The Reliability of Scripture: Part 2

December 8, 2011

The Dialogue continues…

Chris- Good to see you again.

Brandon- Right back at you. Are you ready to dig into my questions?

Chris- I think so.

Brandon- Well here I go ready or not. I said last week I know for a fact that the scribes made additions to the biblical text. In some cases these additions, or distortions, affect major Christian doctrines. For example, in 1st John, a scribe added an explicit reference to the trinity that wasn’t in the original writing. I’m aware of a couple more blatant insertions or intentional omissions. In Luke 2:33 a scribe skipped the word ‘his father’ to help his readers recall that even though Joseph was Jesus’ legal father- Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father .

Here is another obvious addition. In Acts chapter 8, Luke records this event: “The eunuch exclaimed: ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water- Philip and the Eunuch- and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36).

Chris- So what is wrong with that?

Brandon- Well, one overzealous scribe seemed to fear that an undiscerning reader may think the story is teaching that a person can be baptized without believing in Jesus. As a result the copyist inserted this line that became Acts 8:37 which reads, “Philip said, ‘If you are trusting with your whole heart, you may, He replied, ‘I trust Jesus Christ, God’s son”.

Also, the beloved story regarding the woman caught in adultery, found in John chapter 8, is in none of the earliest manuscripts (as most translations point out). The copyists, therefore, had a field day changing the text for their own theological agendas.

Chris- Your facts aren’t wrong per se. It’s is your interpretation of these facts that is lacking and needs to be challenged. The issues you mention above are not new. Christians have been aware of them for most of Church history. I agree that scribes have tampered with the manuscripts intentionally, or unintentionally. However, due to the science of textual criticism that we talked about last week, we know where the errors crept in, or were added, and none of them affect any major Christian doctrines.

Brandon- That isn’t true! The most explicit reference to the Trinity in the entire New Testament was added by a scribe to the text in 1st John chapter five. The Trinity is a major Christian doctrine!

Chris- I disagree. The example you mentioned doesn’t affect any major doctrine because the trinity is taught elsewhere in the New Testament. For example, 2nd Corinthians 13:14 says this, “May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”.

The Trinity is also referred to in Galatians 4:4-6. The Apostle Paul writes:

“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba’, Father”.

Lastly, we find an additional Trinitarian statement in Matthew 28:19, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

So the concept of the trinity is clearly taught in scripture. The scribal addition you refer to makes explicit a doctrine that is already taught elsewhere in the New Testament.

Let’s look at your other examples, which I willingly admitted were scribal additions. The omission of the words ‘his father’ in Luke 2:33 is in order to convey the idea that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ biological father-or in other words to affirm the virgin birth. Luke, however, already indicated as much in Luke 1:26-38 and 2:5. The same is true for the example in Acts chapter 8. Nothing new is being taught. Elsewhere in Acts, Luke mentions that baptism is for those who have committed themselves to Jesus (Acts 2:38-41, 8:12, 9:17-20). Anyways, these are not egregious distortions of meaning. Most of the other mistakes in the manuscripts involve spelling, or the order of words being mixed up in a sentence. Nothing serious.

Even the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery affirms nothing that is inconsistent with Jesus’ character as described in the other stories we have of him. The story has the ring of authenticity about it and it contains irrelevant details that point to its authenticity as an eyewitness account. Perhaps it was an oral tradition about Jesus that is accurate but wasn’t inserted into the Gospel of John until later.

Not to commit the literary crime of unwarranted redundancy but in all the examples you’ve given, the scribe who copied the texts was making explicit something that was already taught elsewhere in the scripture. None of the changes, therefore, affect any major doctrine or teaching. Plus, due to the science of textual criticism we know precisely where all these suspicious discrepancies are found.

In conclusion, to say that the Bible we hold in our hands today is substantially different from the Bible as it was written some 2000 years ago is a statement rooted in a personal bias, rather than the facts at hand. Any responsible scholar would admit it.

I found a quote for you from an expert on this subject, named Sir Fredrick Kenyon. He writes: “The last foundation for any doubt that the scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed” .

Brandon- You have definitely given me some things to ponder. I didn’t know a lot of that information. You still, however, haven’t answered my other accusations.

Chris- True. Let’s meet tomorrow.

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The Reliability of scripture: Part 1..

December 2, 2011

Brandon- Most of what you believe is based on this book, right?

Chris- Yes. I believe the Bible is the word of God and the ultimate authority on matters of faith and conduct.

Brandon- I don’t understand at all why you believe that. How can you base your life on this ancient book that isn’t even reliable? It’s just myth, fable and folklore. I’ve read that it is doubtful if Jesus ever lived, let alone did miracles, died on a cross and rose three days later. Yet, you make life decisions based on this book. I don’t get it. It seems crazy to me.

Chris- What do you mean the Bible isn’t even reliable?

Brandon- I mean a lot of things by that statement. For example, we don’t have any of the original manuscripts for the New Testament, do we?

Chris- Right.

Brandon- All we have are copies of copies.

Chris- Yes.

Brandon- And we know for a fact that the scribes made mistakes and at times intentionally changed the text to suit their purposes. So not only do we not have the original documents, but the manuscripts that we do have are faulty. And look, for the sake of argument, let’s say the Bible is the word of God in its original manuscript. Why didn’t God preserve the text as it was written? If it was the word of God when it was first scribbled down, it’s now mixed up with the opinions of men. Either way, it is not reliable as history or theology .

Chris- I can tell you’ve been thinking a lot about this.

Brandon- I’m just getting started. I don’t think the Bible is even historically trustworthy. It was written years after the events it records and is littered with miraculous stories and the churches’ overzealous theologizing about Jesus. Didn’t the writers just make up sayings of Jesus to address issues that the church was facing at the time?

Also, the New Testament is filled with contradictions and was written by committed followers of Jesus, which means that the Gospels are biased, skewed and unreliable. How can you possibly base your life on this book?

Chris- Man, you’ve made a lot of claims. Let me recap to make sure I’m hearing you correctly. The New Testament is not historically accurate; rather, it is mostly myth and legend. The authors felt free to make up sayings and presumptuously place them in Jesus’ mouth to address issues their community was currently facing. The original manuscripts aren’t in existence and the copies we do have are corrupted. The Bible is filled with miracles and is written by biased unreliable men. Is that right?

Brandon- Right.

Chris- Okay, why don’t I do a bit of research and address your questions one at a time. Let’s start with the fact that we don’t have the original manuscripts, and the scribes corrupted the copies that are now in our possession. I want you to know from the outset of this conversation that I’m certain the New Testament is historically reliable and that there are more than adequate responses to all of your objections . I’m not sure what these answers are off the top of my head but I’ll find them for you.

Brandon- I look forward to it.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Chris- So I’ve done some research and I must say I’m thoroughly satisfied with the answers I’ve found.

Brandon- Okay. Let’s hear your solutions to the many problems I’ve raised.

Chris- It is true that we don’t have the original manuscripts. That is not a big deal.

Brandon- Why not?

Chris- Well, we don’t possess the original manuscripts for any ancient texts. It is helpful to compare the New Testament with other ancient documents. I’ve photocopied a chart that lays it out for you.

Literature: Tacitus Number of copies: 20 Time between original and earliest manuscript: 1,000 years

Literature: Homer’s Iliad Copies: Around 643 Interval: 500 years

Literature: Plato Copies: 7 Interval: 1,200 years

Literature: New Testament Copies: 5,686 Interval: 25 years

F.F Bruce, an expert in this area, wrote the following:

“There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament”.

Brandon- Wow. That is interesting. But why does that make the New Testament more reliable?

Chris- Well, there is a science called textual criticism. Textual criticism is “the study of various copies of a manuscript with the goal of determining the wording of the autograph” .

Brandon- What do you mean the ‘autograph’?

Chris- ‘Autograph’ is synonymous for the original document. Dr. Timothy Paul Jones outlines at least three different clues that textual critics looks for to assess which reading of a manuscript most likely reflects the original.

Brandon- Let’s hear them.

Chris- Firstly, New Testament scholars look beyond the manuscript at a) which reading is the oldest, or closer to the original date of composition b) which reading is supported by texts that were separated by the farthest distance geographically.

Secondly, scholars look within the manuscript in an attempt to discover which reading is more probable based on a) what a copyist would most likely change b) which reading may have been an attempt to harmonize one text with another and c) what difficult words a copyist might have switched with more familiar, simplistic words.

Thirdly, these scholars look at other writings by the same author to ascertain which reading is more akin to the author’s other work .

Brandon- It sounds very complex.

Chris- Yes, complex and thorough. Now, when textual critics look at the New Testament documents they are reasonably convinced that what we have today resembles the original writings. Because we have so many New Testament manuscripts at an early date, spread across various geographical regions, and in different languages we can compare them to one another profitably. As a result of these comparisons we can be very confident of the original wording.

Brandon- That is fascinating. But I know for a fact that the scribes made additions to the text.

Chris- We will have to discuss that next week (All the other issues that Brandon’ mentions at the beginning of this post will be addressed in later weeks).