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Easter and the healthy committing suicide

At this Easter season (2009), we are faced with a situation where the eternal consequences of death are ignored and the promotion of suicide is glorified. Those of us who have spent years trying to prevent suicide receive a lethal message from this Swiss lawyer.

Here’s the situation. There should be virtually no restrictions on helping people to commit suicide. These are the comments from human rights lawyer, Ludwig Minelli, from the Dignatas Swiss clinic that offers help to people to kill themselves. That is what Minelli told BBC radio in the UK on 2 April 2009.

This controversial comment has come from the organisation that runs a clinic in Switzerland that has assisted almost 900 people to kill themselves, about 100 of them being British. Fortunately, Swiss psychiatrists are not recommending this clinic.

The British newspaper, The Guardian (4 April), reported that Minelli saw assisted suicide as “a very good possibility to escape a situation you can’t alter.” But he went way beyond this recommendation to cold-heartedly suggest that attempted suicide makes good business sense because of its burden on the costs of health care.

“For 50 suicide attempts you have one suicide and the others are failing with heavy costs on the National Health Service,” he told the BBC. “They are terribly hurt afterwards. Sometimes you have to put them in institutions for 50 years, very costly.”

For those of us who have spent many years counselling those who are troubled by the issues of life and the family, Minelli’s kind of comment is like a kick in the guts. This lawyer is advocating that attempted suicide is such a financial burden on the health system that these people should be done away with.

Ultimately, what’s the difference in consequences between the ethics of Minelli and Hitler?

For my exposition on the deleterious consequences of euthanasia, see: “Voluntary Active Euthanasia – a compassionate solution to those in pain?”

Dignatas and the euthanasia advocates in Holland are demonstrating the slippery slope that happens when those who begin with the desire to assist suicide of the terminally ill, ends up advocating much more.

Herbert Hendin MD, Professor of Psychiatry at New York Medical College, and medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, stated in 1995: “Over the past two decades, the Netherlands has moved from assisted suicide to euthanasia, from euthanasia for the terminally ill to euthanasia for the chronically ill, from euthanasia for physical illness to euthanasia for psychological distress and from voluntary euthanasia to nonvoluntary and involuntary euthanasia.”

Dr. Hendin advocates against physician-assisted suicide.

At this Easter season we need to consider another dimension. Among the advocates of assisted suicide and euthanasia, an important factor seems to be overlooked.

What happens one second after you die? Where will you be? Is death the very end and the body and soul are obliterated? Talk of heaven or hell seems to be missing from this lethal advocacy for assisted suicide.

Worldviews have consequences. Worldviews of death need to be opposed by those who believe in eternal life and eternal punishment. Death does not end it all and Christ’s resurrection demonstrated this: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins” (First Corinthians chapter 15:16-17).

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Whytehouse designs

Torn between life and death

Why is it that many of us will do many things to live longer but others want to end life now?

We go on diets to reduce the strain on our hearts and the cholesterol from the fatty foods that we eat.

A recent study in the USA found that if people want to be healthy and live longer, they should consume less red and processed meat.[1]

The research of half a million American middle-aged and elderly people who consumed four ounces of red meat a day (an amount equivalent to a small hamburger), found that there was a 30% higher chance that they would die in the next 10 years.

Most of these would die of heart disease and cancer. The risk was increased through eating sausage, cold meats and other processed meats.

But this desire to try to avoid death, is also seen in some treatments of cancer. In spite of severe side effects of chemotherapy, such as fever, chills & sweats, abnormal bleeding, severe vomiting, constipation, diarrhoea and abdominal pain, patients want to live longer to spend more time with their relatives and friends.

Why is it that we have this love of life and need to prolong the date of death? Could it be connected with our culture’s deep fear of death?

“I want to be with my loved ones who have gone before, but I’m not sure about that,” are among the comments I hear.

For others, life has become a burden and ending life sooner than later sounds like a good release. The euthanasia movement in Australia, Europe and the USA is pushing this line. “To die with dignity” sounds like a reasonable and responsible way of thinking until one sees how euthanasia is happening in countries such as Holland.

The recent series of articles in The Times (UK) demonstrates this continuing push for euthanasia and assisted suicide.[2] The Dutch experience shows that this push will not be limited to the terminally ill. After a three year inquiry, the Dutch Medical Association (as reported in the British Medical Journal) wants more freedom to kill. The report stated that “doctors can help patients who ask for help to die even though they may not be ill but ‘suffering through living.'”[3]

Some experience this ambivalence: Extend life as much as possible but end life if it becomes unbearable.

This is where the Easter message of the resurrected Christ has particular application. We do not have to guess about what happens at death. Here there is an opportunity of knowing why life must end and what lies beyond the grave. The physical resurrection of all human beings after death is firmly grounded in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, which we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Jesus Christ himself affirms this. After raising a man the dead, he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”[4]

He demonstrated the reality of this through his own resurrection from the dead, which was a turning point in human history.

Because of Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead, there is a solid biblical, theological and historical basis for the belief that the souls of both believers and unbelievers survive death andwill be raised again.

There is no reason for the believers in Christ to fear death as they are eternally redeemed. Are those who push for euthanasia certain of the destiny of those for whom they push for “death with dignity”?

Notes:

[1] Rob Stein, The Washington Post, 24 March 2009, “Daily red meat raises chances of dying early,” available from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/23/AR2009032301626.html [4 April 2009].

[2] A. C. Grayling, The Times (UK), 31 March 2009, “Allowing people to arrange their death is a simple act of kindness”, available from: Timesonline at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6005023.ece [3 April 2009]. See other euthanasia & assisted suicide stories linked to this article.

[3] Tony Sheldon, British Medical Journal News roundup, Extract, 18 January 2005, “Dutch euthanasia law should apply to patients ‘suffering through living’ report says,” available from: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/extract/330/7482/61 [4 April 2009]. Sheldon’s full article may be viewed at: http://www.lists.opn.org/pipermail/right-to-die_lists.opn.org/2005-January/000555.html [4 April 2009]. I was alerted to this information by Weblog: Christianity Today, “Dutch doctors want to kill the healthy,” 13 March 2006, available from: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/januaryweb-only/51.0.html [4 April 2009].

[4] John 11:25-26.

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Whytehouse designs

Does God Exist?[1]

A W Tozer.jpg
A W Tozer (Wikipedia)

A.W. Tozer: “What we believe about God is the most important thing about us.”[2]

Philosopher, Mortimer Adler: “More consequences for thought and action follow the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other basic question.”[3]

A. Why we must start with the existence of God when witnessing to Aussies who do not believe in God.

1. The direct statement of the Bible:

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

2. The Bible’s example of how to reach non-theists:

At the Areopagus (Mars Hill)–Acts 17:16-34, Paul used three principles for sharing the gospel with agnostics (those who did not know if God existed):

(a) Appeal to general revelation (e.g. creation) [vv. 22-29

  • God is the Creator of the universe (v. 24);
  • God is the Sustainer of life (vv. 25, 28a);
  • God is the Ruler of the nations (vv. 26-27);
  • God is the Father of human beings (vv. 28b-29);

(b) Argue the necessity of judgment [vv. 29-31a]

Judgment is an essential part of the gospel message.

  • It will be universal (will judge the world — v. 31);
  • The standard will be righteous (justice v. 31);
  • It is definite judgment; the day has been set and the Judge has been appointed (v. 31);
  • Christ’s resurrection is proof that He will be both Lord and Judge (v. 31).

(c) Announce the good news [v. 30, 31b]

Summary:

  • There is the God;
  • There is judgment;
  • There is the Saviour.

John Stott wrote:

“Many people are rejecting our gospel today not because they perceive it to be false, but because they perceive it to be trivial. People are looking for an integrated world-view which makes sense of all their experience. We learn from Paul that we cannot preach the gospel of Jesus without the doctrine of God, or the cross without creation, or salvation without judgment. Today’s world needs a bigger gospel, the full gospel of Scripture, what Paul later in Ephesus was to call ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27, NEB, RSV).”[4]

B. What are some of the reasons people give for not believing in God?

  • He’s just a figment of the imagination–he’s an invented fantasy.
  • He’s a crutch.
  • How could you possibly believe in an all-loving, all-powerful God with all the evil, illness and suffering in the world?
  • Surely you can’t discount all the other great religions: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Shintoism, Taoism, etc.?
  • You can’t trust the Bible.
  • We live in a modern, scientific age when there is no room for this nonsense about a God whom you can’t see. What you see it what you get.
  • Evolution is a natural phenomenon, needing no room for a supreme being.
  • Besides science and the Bible contradict.
  • Jesus is just another guru.
  • There are far too many hypocrites in the church. Why would I want to join them?
  • To believe in God is irrational. I’m a reasonable human being. If you can’t prove it to me, I won’t believe in it. Christianity is unreasonable.
  • Then there’s this gobble-dee-gook about miracles.
  • I want no association with those holy-roller yahoos down the road.
  • God is in the same category as the tooth fairy and Santa Claus.
  • I used to believe in those things but now I have grown out of them.

C. What are the practical implications?

1. What difference will it make in life if human beings regard themselves as in charge of their own lives and so in charge of the universe? Or, on the other hand, what if there is a Supreme Being whom we fear, love, is a power to be defied, or is the Lord to be obeyed?

If I am in charge:

  • what happens when a loved one is murdered in cold blood?
  • What about disasters like September 11? What about the tsunami in the Indian Ocean?
  • What can I do about water in drought after the dams, barrages and wells have run dry?
  • What can I do to stop the horrible crimes in my city or elsewhere in the world?
  • Do I have the power to change a sexual abuser (perpetrator) into a law-abiding citizen?
  • Who causes the tides to rise; plants to flower; whales to return to Hervey Bay and turtles to Mon Repos every year?
  • What makes murder, stealing, lying, etc. wrong?

Photo of humpback in profile with most of its body out of the water, with back forming acute angle to water

Humpbacks frequently beach, throwing two-thirds or more of their bodies out of the water and splashing down on their backs (courtesy Wikipedia).

 

 

 

Turtle laying eggs (public domain)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freshly hatched turtles making their way back to the ocean after hatching (public domain)

 

 

 

 

2. If we acknowledge a divine being/thing, does it matter:

  • if the divine is just a concept of God (something in our head that is nothing more than an intellectual idea)?
  • does it matter if the divine is just something for us to speculate or argue about in the smoko room, over a beer at the pub, or in university philosophy classes?
  • does it matter if the divine is the living God whom people worship in all their acts of worship and who is the Creator and Boss of the universe?

D. People who reject God most often fall into two categories:

1. Atheists

Atheists believe that God does not exist.

Observations:

a. It is always more difficult to prove what is not than what is.

“Say, for example, I call downstairs to my wife in the morning telling her that I can’t find my socks. She says,

‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Was A Woman!’

‘They’re in the spare room.’

I look for a few moments then yell downstairs, ‘No they’re not!’

‘Yes they are,’ she replies.

“It’s much easier for her to prove her case. If she comes upstairs and finds them, she was right. Even if she can’t find them straight away, she may still be right if they are found later. To prove my case I have to search every inch of the room, leaving absolutely no space unexplored. She will only have been proved wrong when I have done all this.”[5]

Atheism is like that. It can only be proved true if every single piece of information in the whole universe is uncovered and all of it at the same time (just in case God hides from us in one place while we are looking in another). This is an impossible task.

Only the most arrogant human beings would claim to know everything. Yet without this knowledge, no atheist can say that he/she is absolutely sure that God does not exist.

The atheist can offer no leak-proof argument that God does not exist.

It’s a statement of faith supported by supposed philosophical arguments, personal experience, the informed opinion of experts, but in the end it falls flat because no absolute proof can be found.

So the statement, “There is no God,” has ‘UNPROVED’ written all over it.

b. Could you imagine living every day under the pressure of somebody finding evidence that God does exist and therefore foul up your entire way of living?

It’s a very insecure position. Like the socks, any moment could prove the wife right. I can only be right at the end of a long search.

George Bernard Shaw, an atheist and the mind behind My Fair Lady, illustrates just how insecure this position is:

“The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt. I believed it once. In its name I helped destroy the faith of millions of worshippers in the temples of a thousand creeds. And now they look at me andwitness the tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith.”[6]

c. Where’s the power?

Since when has atheism changed a drug addict into a decent, law-abiding member of society. How many hospitals, retirement villages, leprosariums, humanitarian projects have been founded and continue, based on atheistic ideals?

Atheism has no moral power to change lives.

2. Agnostics

An agnostic is unsure whether there is a God or not. Maybe, maybe not! Some get quite aggressive about it: “We can’t be certain about anything, so I won’t make a decision either way.” This person is an agnostic who will not budge.

The agnostic sits on the fence.

“Imagine for a moment that you are drowning at sea and two boats arrive to rescue you. they arrive just as you are going down for the third time. You know that one of the boats has a bomb on it and will be blown up within minutes, but you don’t know which boat. Because you know only one of the boats can be trusted, you choose to stay in the ‘safety’ of the water. Sure enough, one of the boats sinks like a stone and the other sails off into the safety of a harbour. You drown! You were so right about only one boat being safe, but so wrong about your decision to stay in the water. Dead wrong! At least on the boat you had a fifty/fifty chance of success.”[7]

The agnostic is like that. He ignores the only two options: there is a God or there is not a God. So he always makes the wrong choice.

For people who want moral help, the atheist can say, “Forget it. Stand on your dig and get on with life.” The Christian says the loving, caring God is available now. But for the agnostic, there is only scepticism, confusion and doubt.

At some point in your looking for answers, not knowing is a reasonable place to be for a short time, but its a nightmare to live in.

E. Some Sign Posts to God’s Existence[8]

There are very few things in life that are as certain as 1+1=2. I know my wife loves me because she says so and does loving things to and with me, but I do not have a fool proof way of knowing she absolutely loves me. But I have the kind of proof needed in court, proof beyond reasonable doubt. That’s the kind of proof we need for life.

That’s all we need to know that God exists. God has left sign posts all over the world.

1. Order & design in the universe

If the earth were closer to the sun we would be fried; if further away we would freeze to death.

Think of life itself. Plants give off oxygen that human beings need. Human beings breathe out carbon dioxide that plants need.

Just think of the wonder of what happens when a woman’s egg (ovum) joins with man’s sperm. From that joining comes legs, hair, skin, blood, brain, heart and other organs of the body. Have you ever thought of the complexity of the human eye?

Chance seems a shoddy way to explain it. God’s designer label is spread out across the universe.

“Sir Isaac Newton, one of the great scientists of the seventeenth century, once built a model of the solar system to help him in his studies. One of his atheistic scientist friends came to see him one day and asked who made the model. ‘Nobody!’ Newton replied. When the scientist accused him of being ridiculous, Newton explained that if no one had a problem in realizing that a model needed a maker, why as it such a problem when confronted with the real universe?”[9]

The total lunar eclipse passed north of the earth’s central shadow on October 8, 2014 (courtesy Wikipedia)

2. Our desires

We get hungry, thirsty and cold. Even a deep search among primitive tribes in the jungle reveals that there is a belief in some kind of God or gods. We have a deep desire for worship.

In spite of Communists banning it, atheists rejecting it, dictators abusing it, intellectuals scoffing at it, and governments suppressing it–it is still there. As maths whiz and philosopher, Pascal, put it back in the 17th century: There’s a God-shaped vacuum in every one of us.

3. We know right from wrong

Don’t we agree that murder, rape, stealing, telling lies, greed, selfishness, and mugging are wrong?

Our daily talk gives it away: “How could he do such a thing to an innocent child?” Why is there such an outcry against juvenile vandalism and graffiti? When teenagers abuse their parents, why the protest?

When a father sexually abuses his 8-year-old, why the fuss if there is no God?

If the atheist is correct and there is nobody we are responsible to, why should we care about values? As Russian author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, said: “If God is dead everything is permitted.”[10]

“In other words, if there is no transcendent standard of the good, then there can ultimately be no way to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil, and there can be no saints or sinners, no good men or bad men. If God is dead, ethics is impossible.”[11]

Where do these moral values come from?

4. The purpose of life

What are we on earth for? We have deep needs for purpose. If there is no God, the universe is just a huge accident. Our life is a fluke.

The average atheist lives life without an awareness of the awful consequences of atheism. Living life without purpose drives many people to suicide.

I find that this is the fundamental problem for our youth who are committing suicide. Hopelessness is what dominates their lives. Mum and Dad are splitting up. They go to school, TAFE (Technical & Further Education, Australia), university and there still might not be a job for them — on the dole for the rest of their lives. So they get into drugs, sex and thrash music. Nothing worth living for, except this moment. Life is without purpose. Hopeless.

This is the problem in Russia today–hopelessness.

I ask you: What answers can you give that will stop Australia from becoming another Bosnia, Syria or Iraq? What will stop another Hitler from arising on the world stage?

See, ‘Mass slaughter in a Bosnian field knee-deep in blood‘ (The Independent, 21 July 1995) and ‘Adolph Hitler: The Holocaust’.

As Ravi Zacharias puts it: “It is evident that life without God is not working. The question really should be, What is going to keep the whole world from becoming another Bosnia?”[12]

5. Somebody made the universe

Everything that is an effect was caused by something. Nothing just happens. We are forced to ask: who or what started the universe in the beginning? Chance or luck cause nothing. They are just a description when we don’t have any other answer.

The other alternative is that God started it. This world is here because God exists and he made it.

6. Many people have met him

Millions of person have met God and have a personal relationship with Him. They may be doctors or brickies, tribes people from Africa or sophisticated university intellectuals. He has changed crooks into law-abiding citizens. He specialises in taking rebels and making them submit to him. It is very difficult to write all of these people off as fanatics or cranks.

7. Meet Jesus Christ

He said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). God has come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. He lived among us. We know what God is like by seeing Jesus in action–healing, compassion on the destitute, chastising the religious self-righteous, and offering salvation to all by dying as a common criminal for the sins of the world.

I visited a prison and met a prisoner who had a reputation of being the “religious” one in the group.  He openly quoted Scripture.  When I spoke with him he told me that he had committed his life to Jesus Christ as Lord since he came to prison.  He is openly sharing Christ with all the prisoners he meets.  He told me of how his wicked life was turned around when he met Jesus Christ personally.

Notes


[1] With lots of help from Stephen Gaukroger (1989), especially chapter 1, “Can I really believe in God?”

[2] In Paul Little (1970:25).

[3] Mortimer Adler (in Little 1987: 21).

[4] Stott (1990:290).

[5] Gaukroger (1989:8).

[6] G. B. Shaw (in Gaukroger 1989:9).

[7] Gaukroger (1989:11).

[8] Adapted from Gaukroger (1989:12 ff).

[9] Gaukroger (1989:13).

[10] In The Brothers Karamazov (1880), cited in Sire (1988:118).

[11] Sire (1988:118).

[12] Ravi Zacharias (1994:51).

 

Works consulted

Gaukroger S 1989. It Makes Sense. London: Scripture Union.

Little, P 1970.  Know What You Believe. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books.

Sire, J W 1988. The Universe Next Door. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Stott, J R W 1990. The Message of Acts (The Bible Speaks Today). Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Zacharias, R 1994. Can Man Live Without God? Dallas: Word Publishing.

 

Copyright (c) 2014 Spencer D. Gear.  This document is free content.  You can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the OpenContent License (OPL) version 1.0, or (at your option) any later version.  This document last updated at Date:11 October 2014.

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Apologetics: A Critical Church Ministry

By Spencer D Gear

A. Introduction

I was talking with a Christian who was devastated by a program he had seen on SBS TV, “Jesus to Christ.”[1]

This show featured some scholars who claimed that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are essentially myth and could not be trusted as historical documents. My friend was so upset by what he heard that he said to me, “I am shocked. My faith has been shaken to the core. I am numb in disbelief. As a Christian, have I been living a fantasy all this time?”

This TV show featured scholars who were doubters about Bible content. If you read Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography[2] by John Dominic Crossan, you will learn that Luke 2:41-52, the story of Jesus’ youthful wisdom, and Luke 4:1-30, Jesus’ wisdom in finding and interpreting a certain passage from Isaiah, is (wait for it): “Lukan propaganda.”[3] It was propaganda made up by Luke.

Crossan also concludes, as “history’s best guess,” that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, but “was born, possibly . . . to Joseph and Mary at Nazareth. . . . He was born into but not necessarily as the first of a large family and had at least six siblings. The rest is mythology, telling us much about Jesus’ later followers but nothing about Jesus’ earlier origins, telling us how future history might be founded but not at all how past history had happened.”[4]

In other words, the early church created some of this information in the Gospels and the Gospels contains myth. It didn’t happen historically but was invented by the Gospel writers or the early church.

When you read or listen to the mass media at Christmas and Easter times, you generally will hear from those who do not believe the Gospel and do not trust the historical authenticity of the Bible. You’ll hear people like Crossan, John Shelby Spong, and others who doubt the Bible. You might get the occasional orthodox believer.

There is a new breed of Bible bashers in the world today. These scholars have been in the closets of academic institutions. But no more! They are taking their message to the world through the popular mass media – newspapers, magazines, television, radio, writing their own books at a popular level, and the Internet. They could have their message of tearing into the Bible in Time magazine[5], any of the leading Australian newspapers, TV current affairs, radio news and talk-back shows.

In building a case to support Bishop Spong’s opposition to fundamentalism, there was an article in The Canberra Times, titled, “The Gospel Truth?”[6] In my view, the journalist used a number of unfair methods to distort the views of Bible-believing Christians. I was living in Canberra at the time, so I submitted an article as a right of reply and The Canberra Times published it as “Distorting the Gospel Truth.”[7]

Use your favourite search engine on the www and make a search for the teachings of Anglican Primate of Australia, Dr. Peter Carnley, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, John Shelby Spong, John Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk and Burton Mack. You might be surprised at what you’ll find that is antagonistic to the Gospels and the reliability of the Bible.

Many of these doubters and destroyers come from within the church. How will your faith deal with their destructive claims about God, Christ and the Bible?

There’s a new kind of missionary group that is very active in the world today. Greg Koukl, a Christian apologist, says that they “practice evangelism in reverse. . . They don’t want you to commit your life to the Christ of the Gospels; they want you to surrender that commitment. And they claim to have history, science and scholarship on their side. They call themselves The Jesus Seminar.”[8] This new group has been active since 1985.[9]

When you see these people in the mass media or hear their teaching in some churches or on the www, how will you respond?

What about our youth who may get this doubt and castigation in high school and university classrooms? Has the church adequately prepared its people for this tirade against God, the Bible and Jesus?

These are some of the newspaper headlines these scholars have grabbed:[10]

  • “Scholars Say Jesus Was Often Misquoted.”[11]
  • “Jesus Didn’t Claim to Be Messiah, Scholars Say.”[12]
  • “Lord’s Prayer Not Jesus’s, Scholars Say.”[13]
  • “Jesus Never Predicted His Return, Scholars Say.”[14]
  • “Jesus Didn’t Promise to Return, Bible Scholars Group Says.”[15]

This is only a sample, but they could be repeated many times over in our mass media.

What will you do, Christian leader, when one of your flock comes to you with questions from these newspaper articles? What answers will you provide? Are you simply going to say, “Go read your Bible” or “Make sure you are at mid-week Bible study and keep up your devotions and praying”?

When I say that “I believe in Jesus Christ and that the Bible is a dependable record,” which TV news reporter will rush for an interview with me? I’m not waiting. What will happen f you claim to be a Bible scholar and make this kind of statement? “I don’t believe in the traditional, historical Jesus Christ; the Gospels cannot be trusted, contain myth, and were made up by Christians long after the events of the Gospels.” Say that and you will have the media pounding on your doorstep. That’s news and it makes sense for the journalists to be interviewing scholars about a story – with a difference.

Then add the September 11 disaster, the cyclone that devastated Burma, the horror of the earthquake in China, the tsunami, and we have lots of questions being thrown at Christian believers: How can you believe in such a God who allows or sends these? He must be a brute!

This is the kind of world we face in the 21st century.

I consider that we are in a crisis in many evangelical churches because we are failing to equip Christians to answer these questions for themselves and to provide answers for questioners. I had a recent example where I was talking to a man who was an abuser of his wife. I asked him: “Where did you learn to abuse your spouse?” He responded: “I read it in the Book, the one with a cross on it. That’s a violent book!”

This leads to the core of this article:

B. Apologetics is a critical church ministry: We need to be answering Aussies questions about God & the world

I am convinced that as a general rule in Australia, many churches are not equipping their people adequately for the critical ministry of apologetics. Ephesians 4:11-15 provides direction for us. Note these fundamentals in this passage:

  • These are the ministry gifts of Christ – apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. They are for what purpose?
  • They are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (v. 12).[16] This includes many ministries but the ministry of apologetics is one of those. This will lead to this outcome:
  • According to v. 14, it means that we will no longer be children in the faith and tossed about by false doctrine and human cunning, craftiness and deceitful schemes.
  • Where does this quipping ministry begin? The responsibility lies at the feet of church leaders who are committed to the scriptural ministry of equipping believers for their work of ministry.

1. What is apologetics?

Woody Allen, the USA actor, director, musician and comedian, asked: “Can we actually ‘know’ the universe? My God, it’s hard enough to find your way around in Chinatown. The point, however, is: Is there anything out there? And why?”[17] Woody retorted: “Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends.”[18]

People are asking these kinds of questions:

  • Is there meaning in life? How can modern human beings find that meaning? I have counselled a number of people on the verge of suicide over the years who are asking that exact question.
  • Can we ever discover truth in a postmodern world?
  • How can you know that Christianity is truth, over against, say, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, paganism or spiritism?
  • How can you know if the Bible is a trustworthy document when compared with any document from history?

Those are the types of questions that the ministry of apologetics seeks to answer.

Apologist Winfried Corduan wrote that “the defense of the truth of Christianity is called apologetics. . . . The Greek word apologia (defense) is the word that would be used to defend one’s case in a court of law. Thus the Christian should be able to state what he or she believes, and why. Apologetics helps the Christian mount a credible case for the truth of Christianity.”[19]

The English word, “apology,” has a different meaning to the Greek noun. The Greek noun, apologia (defense) and the verbal form, apologoumai (I make a defense) appear approximately 20 times in the Greek New Testament.[20]

2. I need to apologise for apologetics[21]

Since I have been promoting the need for more apologetic teaching within the church for a number of years, there has been some resistance among Christians. Objections include these: You can’t argue anybody into the kingdom. Apologetics only caters to pride. Conversion is not about the intellect; it is all about the heart. You are only catering to the intellectuals and this is not for everyday people.

Apologetics is a ministry that defends itself. All who argue against the ministry of apologetics end up using their own kind of apologetic argument.

Ravi Zacharias, one of today’s leading apologists, said it well, “The one who says apologetics is a matter of pride ends up proudly defending one’s own impoverishment. The one who says conversion is a matter of the heart and not the intellect ends up presenting intellectual arguments to convince others of this position. So goes the process of self-contradiction.”[22]

What are our reasons for defending the faith?

C. Reasons for Defending the Faith [23]

I am grateful for the excellent work of apologist and theologian, Dr. Norman Geisler.He gives these reasons for defending the faith and I use his outline:

1. God Commands the Use of Reason

The most important reason for doing apologetics is that God told us to do it. Over and over the New Testament exhorts us to defend the Faith. Let’s look briefly at some primary verses in 1 Peter 3:15-16a: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Note the five straight-forward emphases from these two verses:

a. You are already acknowledging Christ as the Lord in your hearts.

Peter links doing apologetics with Christ’s Lordship in our hearts. Since he is Lord, then we should be obedient to Him as “we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). We should be confronting issues in our own minds and entering into private and public discourse with others who have doubts that are preventing them from knowing God. This is included in the ministry of apologetics.

b. “Always be prepared”

It couldn’t be clearer. All believers must be ready and prepared. This is emphasised with the words, “Everyone who asks.” All believers must be prepared for that person who asks about your faith. Too often we miss the subtle ways that people ask or hint. I recall one who asked me, “Why are so many teenagers depressed?” What an opportunity to discuss meaning in life and the Gospel connection!

You may not come across those who ask the tough questions about our faith all that often, but you should be prepared for when they come. Being ready is not just a matter of having the right information available. It is also an attitude of readiness and eagerness to share with others the truth of what we believe.

What will you say if somebody asks you:

  • “Who made God?” or
  • You have the meanest most obnoxious God! Look what he did in killing all those people in the Chinese earthquake and causing such destruction. Take a read of the Book of Judges in the OT. He must be a monster! How are you prepared right now to answer these questions?
  • Scientific, modern human beings can never believe in miracles. That’s out-of-date stuff. That nonsense is for old-timers.
  • I speak with people who say that Christianity is a myth. Are you prepared to respond?

c. We must be prepared for what? “To give an answer.”

Notice these various Bible translations:

KJV: “and be ready always to give an answer.”

NIV: “always be prepared to give an answer.”

NKJV: “always be ready to give a defense.”

NASB: “always being ready to make a defense.”

ESV: “always being prepared to make a defense.”

NRSV: “always be ready to make your defence.”

Be ready “to give an answer” somewhat disguises the meaning of apologia, which is to give a defense as in a court. The NKJV, NASB, ESV and NRSV provide the more precise translations.

First Peter 3:15 tells us what we are to provide:

d. A defense for the hope you have in Christ;

It is here that we sometimes become stuck. We make assertions like: “I’m a born again Christian” or “my hope for the present and the future is in Christ for eternal life,” but we are not prepared for the resistance:

  • Who would believe that junk?
  • The Bible is just like Greek mythology.
  • As with John D. Crossan, parts of Luke’s Gospel are “Lukan propaganda.”
  • You believe in God; you believe in fantasy;
  • You can’t believe in God and Christ and still believe in science.

e. Do it “with gentleness and respect.”

These kinds of questions can naturally cause us to become defensive, sarcastic and antagonistic in our responses.

There’s no place for self-assured cockiness in apologetics. Putting people down is contrary to the way of Jesus. I’m reminded of Col. 4:5-6 and how we ought to do evangelism, apologetics and many other ministries: “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of your time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (ESV).

This word, “answer”, is used only once by Paul in his epistles but 7 times in the NT[24]and is not apologia, but apokrinomai, which means an answer or reply to something or someone when they ask. [25]

Remember God’s emphasis in Isaiah 1:18: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;     though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

So is the use of reason opposed to the Bible? Hardly!

Paul wrote in Philippians 1:7, speaking of his mission as one of “defense and confirmation of the gospel” (ESV). There’s that word again, “defense” (apologia). He added in Phil. 1:16, “I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (ESV). We are put wherever God has placed us to defend the Gospel as well. We are here to be apologists for the Gospel and that means providing a defense of the faith to those who ask us for reasons to believe in Christ.

You are familiar with Jude 3: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”

The people Jude was writing to had been assaulted by false teachers and he needed to encourage them to contend (literally, agonise for) the faith as it had been revealed through Christ. Jude makes a significant statement about our attitude as we do this in verse 22 when he says, “Be merciful to those who doubt.” Apologetics, then, is a form of mercy.

Titus 1:9 makes knowledge of Christian evidences a requirement for church leadership. An elder in the church “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

In 2 Tim. 2:24-25 Paul declares that “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”

Anyone attempting to answer the questions of unbelievers will sometimes feel wronged and be tempted to lose patience. Avoid quarreling. Our ultimate goal is that they might come to knowledge of the truth that Jesus has died for their sins.

Indeed, the command to use reason is part of the greatest command. For Jesus said, “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38).

Why engage in the ministry of apologetics? Firstly, God commands the use of reason.

2. Reason Demands It

Take a look at yourself. Do you just buy any old or new car? You have your reasons for purchasing this car instead of that one.

Why have you chosen to worship the Lord of the universe as revealed in the Holy Bible, rather than the God of the Quran, the gods of the Hindus, or choosing not to worship at all? Why?

When God created you in his image, he created you with human reason (Gen. 1:27, cf. Col. 3:10). One of the things that distinguishes us from “brute beasts” or “unreasonable animals” (Jude 10, ESV) is our ability to reason and have a relationship with God.

God calls, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18). First John 4:6 affirms that “we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” According to Heb. 5:14, mature believers “have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (ESV).

Are we getting the message? A fundamental principle of human reason is that we should have sufficient grounds for what we believe. An unjustified belief is just that—unjustified.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”[26] And an unexamined belief is not worth believing. Therefore, God’s requirement is for all of us “to give a reason for our hope.” I understand that this is part of the great command to love God with all of our minds, as well as our hearts and souls (Matt. 22:36-37).

The third reason for engaging in the ministry of apologetics is:

3. The World Needs It

Many secular people I speak with are not prepared to accept our Jesus and the Bible on our say-so. They want to know why you believe that “nonsense.” God made us as rational, reasonable human beings and he wants us to look and examine before we leap.

Please understand that faith is always needed but God wants us to make a step of faith in the direction of evidence concerning Himself. You need to know that this God is the one who matches reality and is not any kind of God. You wouldn’t get into your car and drive it if there was smoke coming from under the bonnet. You have reasons not to drive that vehicle. Evidence and reason are important to establish whether you should drive that car. Evidence and reason are even more important when making the ultimate decision of your life: Will I believe in God? Which god?

There is a fourth reason for engaging in the ministry of apologetics.

4. Results Confirm It

One of the reasons against apologetics that people sometimes give me is that Paul was a failure on Mars Hill (Acts 17). Norman Geisler has correctly diagnosed this situation:

Opponents argue that Paul was unsuccessful in his attempt to reach the thinkers on Mars Hill (in Acts 17), discarding the method and later telling the Corinthians that he wanted to “know Jesus and Him only” (1 Cor. 2:2). However, this interpretation is based on a serious misunderstanding of the text.

For one thing, Paul did have results on Mars Hill. For some people were saved, including a philosopher. The text says clearly “A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others” (Acts 17:34).

For another thing, nowhere in either Acts or 1 Corinthians does Paul indicate any repentance or even regret over what he did on Mars Hill. This is reading into the text what simply is not there.[27]

There are people throughout history and in our contemporary world who were led to faith in Christ through a defense of the faith?  I’m reminded of a few examples.  Some go way back in the history of the church.

St. Augustine of Hippo[28]

This early church father lived from A.D. 354-430. He “is considered one of the great fathers of the Christian church, and has been of momentous importance in the development of Christian thought.”[29] There were a number of apologetic turning points in his life before he became a Christian.

He was into Manichaean dualism and he was helped out of that cult by a young Christian, Helpidius, who would debate the Manicheans.[30] A defence of the faith helped Augustine out of total skepticism and to see the self-defeating nature of Manichaean religion.

“Dualism claims that there are two essentially different principles of reality. Sometimes these two are represented by pairs of opposites as light/darkness, knowledge/ignorance, spirit/matter (also mind/body), Good/Evil, etc.”[31] But the Manicheans were a major Gnostic religion, started by Mani in 3rd century Persia. They [32]believed in “radical dualism”, that these “two principles are absolutely contrary (neither bipolar nor binary!), i.e. they oppose each other in their very essences and have nothing in common, and they are eternal, non-created and undestroyable.”[33]

Augustine tells that if it were not for his studying Plotinus, “he would not even been able to conceive of a spiritual being, let alone believe in one.”[34] Read of it is Augustine’s autobiography, Confessions.[35]

From the ancient past to the present!

Ravi Zacharias

This contemporary Christian apologist, born in India, now travels the world defending the Christian faith. But it was not always that way. In his teen years he tells of how he would skip school for days on end and turn up for exams and barely scrape through.[36] He wrote: “My relationship with my father left a lot to be desired and my aimless life was a cause of immense frustration to him.”[37]

Ravi’s father found out that he had not been at school one day and Dad’s “torrent of anger” was unleashed on him and the thrashing he received left him “trembling and sobbing.” Had his mother not intervened, he “could have been seriously hurt.”

Ravi explains that “no one who knew me would have ever suspected the depth of emptiness within me. I was one of those teenagers who struggled with much on the inside but did not know where to turn for answers. . . Putting it plainly, life to me just did not make sense.”[38]

That night, in his teens, after a trouncing from his father, Ravi says: “The intense soul search that began that night was ultimately to lead me to the person of Jesus Christ. How that happened in a culture that is rigorously pantheistic and (at least on paper) religiously all-encompassing is a miracle in itself.”[39]

You can read of Ravi’s struggle with skepticism, the meaning of life and how Christ saved this man, in his book, Jesus among Other Gods.[40] The struggle for the meaning of life in a pantheistic culture, led him to “firmly believe Jesus Christ to be who He claimed to be—the Son of the living God, the One who came to seek and to save a lost humanity.”[41]

Ravi Zacharias migrated to Canada when he was 20 years old. Today he, as a Christian apologist, has spoken in over fifty countries, including the Middle East, Vietnam and Cambodia (during the military conflict) and in numerous universities worldwide, notably Harvard, Princeton and Oxford Universities. He has addressed writers of the peace accord in South Africa, the President’s . . . cabinet and parliament in Peru, and military officers at the Lenin Military Academy and the Center for Geopolitical Strategy in Moscow.[42]

But this journey began as a troubled teen in India who was on the verge of committing suicide.

Frank Morrison

This “skeptic set out to disprove Christianity by showing the resurrection never occurred. The quest ended with his conversion and a book titled Who Moved the Stone? in which the first chapter was titled ‘The Book That Refused to be Written'”[43]

Norman Geisler tells this story of the impact of Frank Morrison’s book:

“Let me tell you just one story about an atheist I had the privilege of introducing to Jesus Christ. After reasoning him from atheism to open-minded agnosticism, he agreed to read Frank Morrison’s book. The evidence for Christ’s resurrection convinced him and we had the privilege of leading him to Christ. He has subsequently raised his family for Christ and is a leader in a church south of St. Louis”.[44]

Simon Greenleaf

At the beginning of the 20th century, Simon Greenleaf was the Professor of Law at Harvard University, who wrote a significant book on legal evidence. He was challenged by students to apply the rules of legal evidence to the New Testament to see if its testimony would stand up in court. The result was a book titled The Testimony of the Evangelists in which he reported his own conversion to Christ.[45]

Ravi Zacharias, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig and other apologists report of those who come to Christ as a result of a defence of the faith. Norman Geisler gives another example:

“Following a debate on the rationality of belief in Christianity with the head of the philosophy department at the University of Miami, the Christian student leadership held a follow-up meeting. The atheist professor attended and expressed doubts about his view expressed at the debate. It was reported that some 14 people who had attended the debate made decisions for Christ”.[46]

These are some of the reasons for the need for a ministry of apologetics in the 21st century. This ministry needs to be equipped and promoted by the local church.

D. Conclusion

I have a very personal application that fired me up in the ministry of apologetics. I was sitting in a doctoral class in a certain USA university. In class, I questioned one of the examples of evolution in a text book. I did not mention a word about Christ or creation, but the professor unleashed his bitterness towards my comments: “Your views are blankety blank” and he swore at me. He later apologised to me privately, but not in front of the class where he assailed me.

I felt spiritually naked that day. I did not know how to respond to him. I had 2 diplomas from Bible colleges, a BA in biblical literature and NT Greek, and a master’s degree in pastoral psychology & counselling, but I did not have one course in apologetics to prepare me for that day.

Since 1984, I have made it my business to prepare myself and others in the defense of the glorious Christian faith. I needed to put I Peter 3:15 into practice:

“”But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Recommended reading

  1. The best introduction to apologetics for the laity that I have read, is by Stephen Gaukroger 2003, It Makes Sense, Scripture Union, London. The latest edition comes with a DVD and study guide. I recommend it highly for study as a group. However, at the time of this update, the book was out of print but the DVD and study guide was still available from the Clarion Trust, England.
  2. Ravi Zacharias & Norman Geisler (gen. eds.) 2003, Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan. There are questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter.
  3. Ravi Zacharias & Norman Geisler (gen. eds.) 2003, Is Your Church Ready? Motivating Leaders to Live an Apologetic Life, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the conclusion of each chapter, this book also has “questions for reflection and discussion.”
  4. Norman Geisler & Ron Brooks 1990, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, Victor Books, Wheaton, Illinois.
  5. Winfried Corduan 1993, Reasonable Faith: Basic Christian Apologetics, Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee.
  6. Lee Strobel has some good material in his books, The Case for Christ (1998), The Case for the Real Jesus (2007), The Case for a Creator (2005), The Case for Faith (2000), Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  7. If you want something more intellectually challenging, try William Lane Craig 1994, Reasonable Faith, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, or Norman Geisler 1988, Christian Apologetics, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Notes


[1]SBS Television, “Jesus to Christ, 3 January 1999, 8.30pm.

[2] Crossan, J. D. 1994a, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco.

[3] Ibid., p. 26.

[4] Ibid., emphasis added.

[5]e.g. Richard N. Ostling, “Jesus Christ, Plain and Simple,” Time, 10 January 1994, 38, in Dr. Gregory A. Boyd, Jesus Under Siege. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1985, 137.

[6] The Canberra Times, August 4, 1991, Robert Macklin.

[7] Rev. Spencer Gear, “Distorting the Gospel Truth,” The Canberra Times, August 11, 1991, p. 10.

[8] Gregory Koukl 1995, “The Jesus Seminar Under Fire,” Stand to Reason, available from: http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5380 [7 August 2008].

[9] The home of the Jesus Seminar is the Westar Institute, available from: http://www.westarinstitute.org/ [7 August 2008].

[10]All of these newspaper headlines are from Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, p. 20.

[11]San Francisco Chronicle, 9 March 1987.

[12]San Francisco Chronicle, 18 October, 1987.

[13]Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 15 October 1988.

[14]Atlanta Constitution, 5 March 1989.

[15]Los Angeles Times, 5 March 1989.

[16] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version 2001, Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois.

[17] Woody Allen 1978, “My Philosophy,” available from: http://profron.net/fun/WoodysPhilosophy.html [14 June 2008].

[18] Ibid.

[19] Winfried Corduan 1993, Reasonable Faith: Basic Christian Apologetics, Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, p. vii.

[20] See Luke 12:11; 21:14; Acts 19:33; 22:1; 24:10; 25:8, 16; 26:1, 2, 24; Rom. 2:15; 1 Cor. 9:3; 2 Cor. 7:11; 12:10; Phil. 1:7, 16; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet. 3:15.

[21] Suggested Ravi Zacharias in the introduction to Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend, available from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries at: http://www.rzim.org/GlobalElements/GFV/tabid/449/ArticleID/6648/CBModuleId/1303/Default.aspx (RZIM) [19 June 2008].

[22] Ibid.

[23]With help from Dr. Norman Geisler’s homepage, “The Need for Apologetics,” at: http://www.normgeisler.com/ [25 April 2008]. Also in Norman L. Geisler 1999, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 37ff.

[24] William F. Arndt & F. Wilbur Gingrich 1957, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 92.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Apology 38a, available from: http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/2d.htm [7 August 2008].

[27] Available from Dr. Norman Geisler’s homepage at: http://www.normgeisler.com/ [25 April 2008].

[28] Ibid.

[29] Conservapedia, “St. Augustine,” available from: http://www.conservapedia.com/St._Augustine [26 June 2008].

[30] Read about it in The Confessions, cited in Geisler, ibid.

[31] Manichaeism, available from: http://www.geocities.com/phoenixsparx/index.html [26 June 2008].

[32] Mani lived, A. D. 210–276. See Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manichaeanism [26 June 2008].

[33] Ibid.

[34] The Confessions, in Geisler, ibid.

[35] Saint Augustine 1961, Confessions, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex.

[36] Ravi Zacharias 2000, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message, Word Publishing, Nashville, p. 1ff.

[37] Ibid., p. 1.

[38] Ibid., p. 2.

[39] Ibid., p. 3.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid., p. 3.

[42] Available from: http://www.e316.com/authors/profile-Zacharias,_Ravi.asp [26 June 2008].

[43] Geisler, ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

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Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

Spencer D Gear

Part 1 of 4

image

This is the first part of a 4-part series.  See also:

6pointShinny-small Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

6pointShinny-small Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

6pointShinny-small Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

Why is it necessary for us in the 21st century to have to address a topic such as this, “Can You Trust Your Bible?”  We’ve had this New Testament (NT) for close to 2,000 years and the first books of the Old Testament (OT) – Pentateuch: Gen.-Deut. & Job – for about 3,500 years.[1] [Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Malachi, 1 & 2 Chronicles, concluded the OT canon  [400-500BC].  We’ll consider some reasons in a moment.

This series will not deal with:

  1. Which English translation is the best?  That would be an interesting topic.  We’ll be dealing with the trustworthiness of the OT and NT in the original manuscripts.
  2. We will not be discussing, except in passing, how the books came to be selected for the OT and the NT.  That’s the canonicity of the Bible and it will not be our focus.
  3. We also will be learning some general approaches to help with sharing the Gospel — including a defence of the trustworthiness of the Bible.

A. What are some of the reasons why we need to defend the Bible today?

For me, these are prominent reasons, but they are not in order of priority:

1. First, when you turn on the TV or radio, or read the newspaper at Easter and Christmas times particularly (but also at other times), you will be fed loads of doubt about the Bible and its truthfulness.  In fact, much of this doubt is being driven by some from within the church who do not believe what the Bible says — liberal church men and women.  We’ll look at examples as we go along.

2 Second, this mass media message is impacting on regular people in the church and we MUST provide answers.  Shortly, I’ll give an example of a person who came to me very distraught after one of those TV programs.

We live in a mass media culture — and that includes the worldwide web.

Other worldviews can drown us and we MUST provide reasons for the Christian faith, especially for our young people.

It was about 500 years ago that the leader of the Protestant reformation, MARTIN LUTHER, said this:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every point of the Truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that point attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is tested.  To be steady in all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if the soldier flinches at that point.”[2]

That’s as relevant as if Luther preached it today.  I’d rather be expounding the Scriptures for the people of God, but the Bible is under attack and we must provide answers for the people of God.  It would be a disgrace if I flinched at this point.

3. There’s a third, and very important reason, why we must address a subject such as, “Can You Trust Your Bible?”  The Bible requires that we provide a defence of the faith in EVERY age of history. We desperately need it today, but we evangelicals have become lazy.  Apologetics is not a prominent theological discipline in the Bible colleges I have attended (3 of them plus 1 seminary). However, this is what the Bible states:

I Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect” (NIV).

That phrase in the NIV, “give an answer” is too weak.  It is better translated as in the ESV, “make a defense.”  Make an “apologia” for the Christian faith.  It’s too bad that our English word “apology,” derived from this word, gives the wrong idea for what this wonderful Greek word means for all believers.  “Give an answer”, means “give a defense” of the Christian faith — all of us need to be prepared to do that.

This is as Paul did on Mars Hill (the Areopagus), Athens, recorded in Acts 17:22ff.  It was there that he used the Greek’s “unknown god” as a starting point for defending the faith (v. 23).

According to Acts 17:17, before Paul got to the Areopagus, he “reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.”

How we need Christians to be equipped for that today.

You know, “Thou shalt not think,” is NOT one of the 10 commandments.

4. There’s a fourth reason why a subject like this is needed today. I hear Christian parents saying to their teenagers about the Bible: “Accept it by faith.  God requires you to just believe it.  Faith is the answer to your doubt.  Quit asking questions about the Bible. Just accept it.”

It is my prayer that after this 4-part series, you will never say that again. Here’s why:

a. You are probably familiar with what the Bible says about its own inspiration, but let’s look at these verses again:

2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and [is] profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work”.  (NASB)  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” NIV)

Psalm 119:142, 151:

Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true.

But you are near, O Lord, and all your commandments are true.  (ESV)

Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth.

You are near, O Lord, and all Your commandments are truth.  (NASB)

b. But take a look at another “scripture” from another religion.

Many of us are not familiar with these words.  They are words from the Muslim’s Koran (Quran):

Sura – 2 The Heifer ( Al-Baqarah)
Order Of Revelation 87, Verses: 286[3]

[2:0] In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

[2:1] A.L.M.*

[2:2] This scripture is infallible; a beacon for the righteous;

Three Categories of People
(1) The Righteous

[2:3] who believe in the unseen, observe the Contact Prayers (Salat)*, and from our provisions **to them, they give to charity.

[2:4] And they believe in what was revealed to you, and in what was revealed before you*, and with regard to the Hereafter, they are absolutely certain.

[2:5] These are guided by their Lord; these are the winners.

__________________________________________________________________
*2:1 These initials remained a divinely guarded secret for 1400 years.  Now we recognize them as a major component of the Quran’s mathematical miracle (see Appendices 1, 2, 24, and 26).  The meaning of A.L.M. is pointed out in Verse 2: “This scripture is infallible.”  This is incontrovertibly proven by the fact that the frequencies of occurrence of these three initials in this sura are 4502, 3202, and 2195, respectively.  The sum of these numbers is 9899, or 19×521.  Thus, these most frequent letters of the Arabic language are mathematically placed according to a superhuman pattern.  These same initials also prefix Suras 3, 29, 30, 31, and 32, and their frequencies of occurrence add up to multiples of 19 in each one of these suras.

I put it to you, the Bible says “all Scripture is inspired by God.”

The Quran says, “This Scripture is infallible.”

Which one are you to believe? If you accept the Bible and reject the Quran, why do you do that?  Both books say that they are “inspired.”  If you accept both, you are in for massive conflict because the Quran says that:

  • For the Muslim, Allah is the only true God;

  • It is blasphemous to believe in the Trinity;

  • Jesus Christ was a prophet for His people, in His day, but he is not the Son of God or God himself (Sura 4:171);

  • The prophet Muhammed supersedes Jesus Christ;

  • Jesus Christ did not atone for anyone’s sins, although Jesus was sinless;

  • Jesus did not die on the cross;

  • Many Muslims believe that Jesus Christ was taken bodily into heaven without having died (Sura 4:157);

  • The Muslim God is unapproachable by sinful people;

  • Sin and salvation in Islam are associated with works and fate (kismet);

  • Some Shiite Muslims are restoring Holy War (the Jihad) as a condition of faith — it is their sacred duty to murder anyone who will not embrace the one true faith.  (Surely that is what we are seeing with the suicide bombings in the Middle East now).[4]

The Bible says that it is the infallible, God-breathed Word of God.

The Quran says that it is infallible.

How are you going to validate the Bible as a trustworthy word from the Lord Almighty; or the Quran as the infallible Word from Allah?

It will not do to say, “Accept the Bible by faith.”  We need some verification to prove that the Bible is the trustworthy word from the Lord almighty.

Take a read of one of the students on a seminary’s Bulletin Board [no longer available to the general public]:

Dear Jamie,

I agree that they were fallible humans, but can the infallible God speak to us, give us a message to give to others, and still keep that message infallible. The whole question of infallibility of scripture is one of faith.

I won’t speak for anyone but me. If the outcome of eternity is based on the relationship I have with God, requires that God give me the message in a way I can understand, and trust. If you look at other historical writings, and how the OT and NT were written over thousands of years, by so many different writers, God’s hand must have been on it. Greater minds than mine have argued this question, and I have to stand with those who hold to infallibility.

For me, when the church Canonizes the scripture, it wasn’t so we would worship, but so would have a final authority. Something that we could all agree on. As I look on every church body that has pulled away for scripture as final authority, they have fallen away from belief, to the point that some do not believe in God at all (Bishop Pike). The struggle to canonize scripture, was long and hard; yes man did it but I believe God’s hand was there helping. Now can I prove anything I just said. No! But that’s the wonderful thing about faith, I don’t have to. If you don’t hold to scripture as the final authorty, than you have to look to the mind or logic; logic will lead you to humanism or to a God who wants to speak to us. Francis A. Schaeffer’s book, He is there and He is not silent, is a very good book explaining this process.

God Bless

Larry

B. Here’s where I am going in these four messages with you.

I’m grateful for the brief time I studied under one of the world’s leading apologists, Dr John Warwick Montgomery.  I am deeply indebted to his approach to defending the faith and establishing the trustworthiness of the Bible, especially the Gospel records.  He taught me this outline (with some changes) and this is where we are going in these teaching sessions.

A criticism that is often made against the Bible is that Christians argue in circles.  The charge goes like this: Christians claim that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and to prove it, they quote a passage from the Bible that says so.

This kind of argumentation is known as begging the question or circular reasoning.  Nothing is proved by it.  It is based on assuming something is true, but using that assumption as fact to prove another assumption.

But there is no need to do this.  Instead of assuming the Bible to be the Word of God, we can begin by:

 1. Demonstrating that the Scriptures are reliable historical  documents.

2. In these documents, Jesus claims to be God in human flesh, and he bases His claim on His forthcoming resurrection.

3. We examine the evidence for the resurrection in this historic document and find that the arguments overwhelmingly support the fact that Christ actually rose from the dead.  This demonstrates that He is the unique Son of God that He claimed to be.  If He is God, then He speaks with authority on all matters.

4. Since Christ is God, then He speaks the truth concerning the absolute divine authority of the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17-18; 15:1-3) and the soon-to-be written New Testament.

Jesus “promised His disciples, who either wrote or had control over the writing of the New Testament books, that the Holy Spirit would bring all things back to their remembrance (John 14:26).”  So, “we can insist, with sound and accurate logic, that the Bible is God’s word.  This is not circular reasoning.  It is establishing certain facts and basing conclusions on the sound logical outcome of these facts.  The case for Christianity can be established by ordinary means of historical investigation.”

5. If we have time, I’ll put the Quran to the same tests that we apply to the Bible.

C. By way of explanation, I need to say that I will be using tests to establish the trustworthiness of Scripture from within the Bible and from outside the Bible.

I have known Christians to get a bit upset with me when I say that I will be using tests from outside of the Bible to prove the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Bible.  It’s necessary to do it this way.

Those who study the original languages of the Bible (Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew) have to do this all the time.  Nowhere in the Bible do you find the rules of grammar for understanding Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.  I had to learn my Greek grammar to interpret the Bible, from outside of the Bible.

For example, we know that the Bible says, “God so loved the world” and NOT “the world so loved God” because of Greek grammar that dictates the translation into English.  The Bible in the original language has to be interpreted by learning Greek grammar and syntax from OUTSIDE the Bible.

We have to do the same kind of thing when we set out to prove the trustworthiness of a historical document.

D. Let’s look at some books from history

  • Here’s a biography of John Macarthur (John Macarthur, M. H. Ellis[6]), not the American preacher, but a famous Australian (1767-1834).  MacArthur was the “squire” responsible for bringing “to Australia the first authenticated pure merinos [sheep] and persuaded the British Privy Council that wool would be the basis of future greatness of the colony of New South Wales.”[7]

The author of the biography says, “though the author has worked as far as possible from original documents, he has applied his reference notes wherever it has been feasible to a source more accessible to the ordinary student.”[8] How do I know these original documents by John MacArthur are reliable and trustworthy?

  • Here’s the book, The Five Gospels (Funk, Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar[9]) and read p. 5: “Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you….  Eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him.” How do we decide if Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are 82% wrong with the words of Jesus OR the 4 Gospels provide an accurate picture of the life and death of Jesus Christ?
  • Here we have The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus[10] He was a wealthy Jew who wrote this history in which he “tried to justify Judaism to the cultured Romans by his writings.”[11] He also mentioned James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ. . .”[12] Is Josephus writing reliable history? If so, how do we know?
  • Then I pick up my Bible and read, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).  Also, “All Scripture is God-breathed.. .” (2 Tim. 3:16).

Is God’s Word truth and reliable OR are we dealing with myth-making where 82% of what Jesus said is WRONG? How can be test these documents to see if they are trustworthy? Most of you will never read these books, but the content of them is driving what you are hearing on the mass media today about Jesus.

If I say that I believe the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God, and without error in all that it affirms, no news reporter will show up to interview me.

But the response is totally different if a group of high profile theologians rolls the coloured beads to decide which of the words of Jesus are true.  They come up with only 18% of his words in the Gospels are what he said and the rest are inventions by the early church —  the mass media will be along in droves.  And that’s exactly what is happening.  You watch what happens around Easter and Christmas!

We must have answers.  Our young people must not be allowed to drown in this sea of attack on the word of God at school and university.  We have good answers and we must provide them.

E. Let’s Vote on Jesus

Starting in 1985, a group of Bible scholars got together to decided if the words of Jesus in the Gospels were authentic.  “At the close of debate on each agenda item, Fellows of the Seminar [that’s what they were called, male & female] voted, using colored beads to indicate the degree of authenticity of Jesus’ words.  Dropping colored beads into a box became the trademark of the [Jesus] Seminar . . .”[13]

This is what they found:

The Jesus Seminar colour code roughly translates to:

Red bead: That’s Jesus!

Pink bead: Sure sounds like Jesus.

Grey bead: Well, maybe.

Black bead: There’s been some mistake.

[Robert W. Funk,  Roy W. Hoover & The Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels (Macmillan, 1993, p. 37)]

  •  A red slip meant that  “Jesus undoubtedly said this or something like it.”  In brief: “That’s Jesus.”
  • A pink slip indicated that “Jesus probably said something like this.”  In brief: “Sure sounds like Jesus.”
  • Grey: “Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.”  In brief: “Well, maybe.”
  • A black slip meant “Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.”  In brief: “There’s been some mistake.”[14]

After tabulating the results of their voting, the Jesus Seminar asserts, “Eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him.”[15]

The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew chs. 5-7] took a hiding in the balloting.

  • “Blessed are the peacemakers” was given a miss.
  •  “Blessed are the meek” received “six timid red and pink votes out of 30 cast.”
  •  Overall, only three out of twelve of the blessings and woes of the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel were accepted as authentic.
  •  We could ignore this as a party game by liberal scholars, but it is an attitude that is often found in evangelical churches and assemblies. We have to battle a tendency to accept the Scriptures on our terms and not on God’s.

If we are to be Christians of substance, I am convinced that we need to accept the Bible in its entirety as the Word of God.  How can we do that?  Listen to some thinking from those associated with the church.

F. What Some Theologians Are Saying

Some theologians are leading the push to make Jesus fit into the trendy modern mold of what our modern secular culture wants.

1. Former Episcopalian (Anglican) Bishop John Spong (USA)

In his book, Born of a Woman [please note, the book is not titled, Born of a Virgin, and that is deliberate.  Spong makes the outlandish suggestion that Mary, the mother of Jesus, conceived Jesus illegitimately.  The early church as a cover-up invented the virgin birth.

In talking about the birth story of Jesus in Luke 2, Spong asks: “Is it true? . .  The answer is, of course, no! . .  There was no biologically literal virgin birth. . .  In all probability Jesus was born in Nazareth in a very normal way either as the child of Mary and Joseph, or else he was an illegitimate child that Joseph validated by acknowledging him as Joseph’s son.  All that can be stated definitely is that the echoes of the status of illegitimacy appear to be far stronger in the text then the suggestion that Jesus was Mary’s child by Joseph.”[16]

2. Barbara Thiering (Australia)

In her book, Jesus: The Man, she claims that Jesus didn’t die on the cross.  He was poisoned and then revived.  He married and raised three children.

3. Roman Catholic biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan (USA)

In his book, The Historical Jesus (1991), he states that Jesus did not rise from the dead.  Jesus was buried in a shallow grave; the body was dug up and eaten by dogs.[17]

Please understand that when these liberal theologians like Crossan speak of “the historical Jesus,” they are:

  • NOT speaking about Jesus as he lived in history;
  • They are using a technical term, a reconstruction of Jesus;
  • The “historical Jesus” is the one who can be explained in scientific, historical, purely human categories;
  • Anything miraculous is myth because supernatural events defy history and cannot be called history.  They are mythological.
  • So, in reality, their so-called historical Jesus is the unhistorical invention of these critics.  They are creating Jesus in their own image and calling him “the historical Jesus.”18]

I am convinced that Charles Colson is correct when he states that:

“Taken together, books like these can create a widespread climate of opinion that the Bible is simply a collection of myths and errors.  Even evangelical Christians may gradually accept the same principle and begin to separate faith from facts.  The Bible is true in its spiritual message, they say, but full of errors in its history.”[19]

There was an SBS television series here in Australia in 1999.  It was called, “From Jesus to Christ,” and presented the views of people like those from the Jesus Seminar.  After watching one episode of that program, a Christian came to me,  utterly devastated.  She said something like:

  • “Have I been deceived?
  • Have I believed a lie all this time?
  • The biblical scholars on that program said that the words of Jesus couldn’t be trusted as accurate or truthful.
  • In fact, they are saying that about 80% of the words that the NT puts in Jesus’ mouth DID NOT come from him at all.  The early church inserted them in the Bible because the church wanted us to believe that.
  • I need some answers.  Is this true that the early church put words in Jesus’ mouth?  These scholars say it is.”

In the Bible, faith can never be separated from historical facts.  To talk about the “Jesus of faith” vs. “the Jesus of history” is nonsensical.  Remember what Paul said in I Corinthians 15?  “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so it your faith . . .  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (vv. 14, 17).  If Jesus was not raised from the dead–historical fact–your faith is worthless.

Besides, if we accept the premise that the Bible is wrong, we become butchers.  We start the chopping job.  How are we going to decide what is believable and what is to be chucked out?  If we start tampering with the Bible, we will be trying to make Jesus to fit what we want.  Our prejudices will make Jesus into the image we want him to be.[20]

I’d like to introduce you to a rather different approach to judo.

G. The Judo Technique

I learned this when I was studying Jim Kennedy’s gospel presentation in Evangelism Explosion.[21]

Often as you begin presenting the gospel, the person will say something like, “I don’t believe the Bible.  You’ll have to convince me some other way than referring to the Scriptures.”  Many people are devastated by this objection.  What happens to them?  Their attempt to share Christ fizzles.

This need not be the case.  I want to encourage you to use this objection as a springboard into the gospel itself.  The Apostle Paul, when he preached in Greek cities that had no background in the Bible, appealed to the Scriptures even though the people who listened to him did not believe the Bible.

He proclaimed to them and the Holy Spirit used the proclamation to save some who then came to believe the Bible to be true.  When we witness, our primary function is to proclaim the gospel, not defence of the Bible.  BUT when people object to the Bible, we DO NEED good answers to respond.  And there ARE EXCELLENT answers.

The judo technique works like this.  The objection, “I don’t believe the Bible,” is quite an easy one to deal with.  Don’t use the approach of a boxer who meets the blow head on and tries to overwhelm the opponent with counter punches.  Instead use the technique of the judo expert .  The force of the opponent’s blow is used to throw the opponent.

Here’s how it works in presenting the gospel.  The person who objects, “I don’t believe the Bible,” usually has some university education, or has been exposed to some course in the Bible, or biblical criticism or something like that.

There is often some intellectual pride that says or infers something like this: “I used to believe those fairy tales when I was in kindy, but now I am an educated person and am far above believing those things.”  It is this intellectual pride that can be used to turn this objection into an opportunity for presenting the gospel.  I suggest this kind of dialogue with the person who objects.

“You don’t believe the Bible, John?  That’s very interesting and it certainly is your privilege not to believe it, and I would fight for that right on your part.  However, if the Bible is true then obviously you must accept the consequences.

“But I would like to ask you a question.  The main message of the Bible, which has been unquestionably the most important literary work in human history, is how a person may have eternal life.  So what I would like to know is: What do you understand that the Bible teaches about how a person may have eternal life and go to heaven?”

He may say that he does not believe in eternal life.  To this you might say, “I’m not asking you what you believe, but I am asking you what you understand.  It would be a rather unintellectual approach to reject the world’s most important book without understanding even its main message, would it not?  What do you understand that the Bible teaches as to how a person may have eternal life?  What is your understanding about what the Bible teaches on this subject?”

My experience is that over 90% will respond by saying that it is by keeping the Ten Commandments or following the Golden Rule or imitating the example of Christ, doing good, or something like that.

You might respond something like this: “That is just what I was afraid of, John.  You have rejected the Bible without even understanding its main message, for your answer is not only incorrect, but it is diametrically opposite to what the Bible teaches.  Now, don’t you think that the more intellectual approach would be to let me share with you what the Scriptures teach on this subject and then you can make an intelligent decision whether to reject or accept it?”

Now the tables have been completely turned.  Instead of being superior to the Scripture and even above listening to it, he now finds himself ignorant of even its basic message.  Now he must decide whether to listen to the message of the Scriptures or be found to be not only ignorant but also some obscure person who opposes intellectual advancement — and wants to remain in his ignorance.

This is the last thing in the world that his intellectual pride will allow him to be.  So, very often he will give you permission to tell him the gospel.  It is at this point that you pray with vigour that the Holy Spirit will take the gospel, which is the power of God to salvation, and use it to awaken him from the deadness because of sin.

If he persists that he will not discuss anything further with you until you deal with his objection I suggest the following pre-evangelism approach (apologetics):

H. You need to begin with the existence of God

Hebrews 11:6 (NIV) states. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Will you please think through how you could present a case for the existence of the Almighty God who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ – to somebody who doesn’t know the Lord?

What would be your starting point?

Notes:

[1] See “History of the Old Testament Canon,” in   Norman L. Geisler & William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (rev. & expanded).  Chicago: Moody Press, 1986, pp. 238-239.

[2] In Michael P. Green (Ed.), Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (#1065). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1982, p. 285.

[3] Retrieved on May 7, 2002 from http://www.submission.org/suras/sura2.htm The Glorious Quran, An Authorized English Version: Translated from the original by Dr. Rashad Khalifa, Ph.D.

[4] Based on Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults.  Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1985, pp. 366-67.

[5] Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Answers to Tough Questions.  San Bernardino, California: Here’s Life Publishers, 1980, pp. 147-148.

Note: The four points in McDowell & Stewart seem to be an abbreviated version, taken from John W. Montgomery’s points for the “crux validation” of the New Testament:

a. On the basis of accepted principles of textual and historical analysis, the Gospel records are found to be trustworthy historical documents — primary source evidence for the life of Christ,

b. In these records, Jesus exercises divine prerogatives and claims to be God in human flesh; and He rests His claims on His forthcoming resurrection.

c. In all four Gospels, Christ’s bodily resurrection is described in minute detail; Christ’s resurrection evidences His deity.

d. The fact of the resurrection cannot be discounted on a priori, philosophical grounds; miracles are impossible only if one so defines them — but such definition rules out proper historical investigation.

e. If Christ is God, then He speaks the truth concerning the absolute divine authority of the Old Testament and of the soon-to-be-written New Testament.  [John Warwick Montgomery, The Suicide of Christian Theology.  Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany Fellowship Inc., 1970, n. 58, p. 306. Montgomery wrote that this summary was based on his book, Shape of the Past, n. 26, pp. 138-39.]

[6] London: Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1973 (3rd Ed.).

[7] Ibid., back cover.

[8] Ibid., p. vii.

[9] Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus.  New York: Macmillan Publishing Company (A Polebridge Press Book).

[10] Josephus: Complete Works (William Whiston, trans.).  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1960.

[11] Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981, p. 46.

[12] Josephus, 20.9.1, p. 423.

[13] R. W. Funk, R. W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus.  New York: Macmillan Publishing Company (A Polebridge Press Book), 1993, p. 34.

[14] Ibid., pp. 36-37.

[15] Ibid., p. 5.

[16] John Shelby Spong, Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, pp. 157-158.

[17] Section B is adapted from “Color-Coding the Gospels,” in Charles Colson with Nancy R. Pearcey, A Dangerous Grace: Daily readings.  Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994, 14-15.

[18] George Eldon Ladd in The New Testament and Criticism makes some of these point. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967, p. 195. Ladd was particularly speaking of Rudolf Bultmann, but the application is strong to the Jesus Seminar conclusions.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Based on ibid., pp. 15-16.

[21]Australian Edition published by Evangelism Explosion Ministries Australia, PO Box 1686, Wollongong 2500, 1983, pp. 84-85.

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 July 2016.

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Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

Word Fire

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

(Part 2 of 4 parts)

This is a 4-part series.  Also see:

3d-red-star Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

3d-red-star Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

3d-red-star Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

A. What are some of the reasons why we need to defend the Bible today?

3d-red-starSee “Can you Trust the Bible?  Part 1.”

B. Where are we going in this 4-part series?

3d-red-starSee “Can you Trust the Bible?  Part 1.”

C. You need to begin with the existence of God

Hebrews 11:6 (NIV): And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

D. I asked you to think on evidence for the existence of God.

I suggested taking a look at two passages of Scripture that give us some pointers for the existence of God:

  1. Psalm 19 (read vv. 1-3)
  2. Romans 1 (read vv. 18-20)

One of the finest defenders of the existence of God is leading apologist, Dr. William Lane Craig.  I recommend you read his articles on the existence of God.

Now, back to our topic.  What tests do historians apply to any piece of literature of history to determine if it is accurate or reliable?

Military historian, C. Sanders says there are 3 basic principles of checking the authenticity of historical writings (historiography). I’ll use the acronym, T.I.E.S., to help us remember them:

  • the Transmission test (sometimes called, the bibliographical test) — NOT biographical, but biblio = books; graphical = writing. The Transmission test. That’s the “T”.
  • the Internal evidence test — that’s the ‘I”, and
  • the External evidence test — that’s the “E”.[1]
  • we’ll get to the S” later, but I want you to think about what it might be to make it T.I.E.S. What ties this all together?

Let’s subject the N.T. to the

1. TRANSMISSION TEST

The transmission test is an examination of how the documents reached us from when they were written. Since we don’t have the original documents, how reliable are the copies we have in:

  • number of manuscripts (MSS)?
  • time interval between the original and the earliest copy?

a. NEW TESTAMENT

Transmission Test for Historical Documents (incl. New Testament)

Author/Book Date Written Earliest Copies Time Gap (years) Number of Copies Percentage Accuracy
Hindu Mahabharata 13th century BC 90

Plato

c. 400 BC A.D. c. 900 1300 7 7
Homer, Iliad 900 BC (900-700 BC) 400 BC ? 500 643 95
Demosthenes 300 BC c. AD 1100 1,400 200 ?
Caesar, Gallic Wars 100-144 BC AD 900 1,000 10 ?
Tacitus, Annals AD 100 AD 1100 1,000 20 ?
Pliny Secundus, Natural History AD 61-112 c. AD 850 750 7 ?
New Testament AD 50-100 c. 114 (fragment)
c. 200 (books)
c. 250 (most of NT)
c. 325 (whole NT)
c. +/- 50
c. 100
c. 150
c. 225
5,366 (Greek)
24,000+ (with other translations)
99*

Comparison of Ancient Manuscript totals (Josh McDowell, Christianity: Hoax or History? Tyndale House Publishers, 1989, pp. 50-51; Norman L. Geisler & William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Moody Press, 1986, p. 408)

My assessment:

I am in total agreement with the late Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, formerly director and principal librarian of the British Museum, who wrote just before his death:

“The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”[2]

Please understand:

  • These people who were used by the Lord to write the NT, were living in a hostile culture. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies. They would dare not manipulate the facts because they would be pounced on at once by those who would be glad to discredit them.
  • Also remember that a witness must testify of his/her own knowledge. When we apply this to the NT, we see clearly that we have primary evidence from eyewitnesses. I John 1:1, ” That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life (NIV).”[3]

In determining if the NT is a trustworthy and accurate document, historians use 3 tests. I am suggesting these 3, PLUS one more that is summarised by the acronym: T.I.E.S.

We’ve looked at the “T,” the transmission of the text, now to the “I”.

2. INTERNAL EVIDENCE TEST

So far, we’ve determined, beyond reasonable doubt, that the text we have is what was originally recorded. BUT WE STILL HAVE TO DETERMINE THAT THE DOCUMENTS ARE CREDIBLE, AND TO WHAT EXTENT. This is the second test of historicity given by Sanders. Historical and literary scholarship follows Aristotle’s dictum, “The benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself.”

In the words of leading lawyer, apologist and theologian, John Warwick Montgomery, “This means that one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies.”[4]

The historian must examine the ability of the writer or witness to tell the truth. This ABILITY TO TELL THE TRUTH is closely related to HOW CLOSE THE WITNESS WAS TO THE EVENT GEOGRAPHICALLY AND HOW CLOSE IN TIME TO THE EVENTS RECORDED.

The N.T. accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus were recorded by people who had been either eyewitnesses or who related the accounts of eyewitnesses.

Let’s look at the evidence:

1. Biblical Evidence

Luke 1:1-3 (NIV): Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.

Luke 3:1: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar–when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene–

John 19:35: The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.

1 John 1:3: We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:16: We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

The internal evidence test reveals we are dealing with eyewitnesses, those who saw and heard. More than that:

Acts 2:22: demonstrated how they appealed to the people who heard their message. “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.”

Note the emphasis:

a. “God did among you through him.” In other words, you were there; you were eyewitnesses of these things;

b. Also, “as you yourselves know.” You know what we are saying is true.

They could not depart from the truth. There were hostile witnesses there to refute them.[5]

Acts 26:24-26: At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defence. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.”

They not only said, “Look, we saw this . . . We heard that.” But the tables were turned in the full view of hostile witnesses, adverse critics. “You also know about these things, you saw them, they weren’t done in a secret corner.”[6]

2. Fulfilled Prophecy[7]

For some key OT prophecies concerning Christ and their NT fulfillment, see “Can you trust the Bible? Part 3.”

3. Literal Interpretation

Those who accept the Bible as the Word of God are often accused of taking the Bible literally. The question ‘Do you believe the Bible literally?’ is like the question, ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ Either a Yes or a No convicts the one who responds. Whenever the question is asked, the term ‘literally‘ must be carefully defined. Taking a literal view of the Bible does not mean that we can’t recognize that figures of speech are used in the Scripture. When Isaiah spoke of “trees clapping their hands” (Isaiah 55:12) and the psalmist of “mountains skipping like rams” (Psalms 114:4, 6), it is not to be thought that one takes the Bible literally views such statements as literal. No, there is poetry as well as prose and other literary forms in the Bible. We believe that the Bible is to be interpreted in the sense in which the authors intended it to be received by readers. This is the same principle one employs when reading the newspaper, [Shakespeare or poet, William Wordsworth]. And it is remarkably easy to distinguish between figures of speech and those statements a writer intends his readers to take literally.”[8]

If you are checking out the reliability of any written manuscript from history, you

need to apply these three tests:

T: Transmission Test

I: Internal Evidence Test

E: External Evidence Test

(continued in Part 3)

Notes

[1] C. Sanders, Introduction to Research in English Literary History. New York: MacMillan Company, 1952, pp. 143 ff.

[2] Sir Frederic Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology. New York: Harper and Row, 1940, pp. 288f, in Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Revised and Expanded). Chicago: Moody Press, 1968, 1986, p. 405; also in Josh McDowell, More Than a Carpenter. Eastbourne, Sussex, England: Kingsway Publications, 1977, p. 48.

[3] Suggested by John Warwick Montgomery, The Law Above the Law. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1975, p. 88.

[4] John Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1965, p. 29.

[5] Suggested by F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1960, p. 46.

[6] Concerning the primary-source value of the N.T. records, the late F.F. Bruce, former Professor [Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis] in the University of Manchester, says:

“The earliest preachers of the gospel knew the value of the first-hand testimony, and appealed to it time and again. ‘We are witnesses of these things,’ was their constant and confident assertion. And it can have been by no means so easy as some writers seem to think to invent words and deeds of Jesus in those early years, when so many of His disciples were about, who could remember what had and had not happened. . .

“And it was not only friendly eyewitnesses that the early preachers had to reckon with; there were others less well disposed who were also conversant with the main facts of the ministry of Jesus. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies (not to speak of willful manipulation of the facts), which would at once be exposed by those who would be only too glad to do so. On the contrary, one of the strong points in the original apostolic preaching is the confident appeal to the knowledge of the hearers; they not only said, ‘We are witnesses of these things,’ but also, ‘As you yourselves also know’ (Acts 2:22). Had there been any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective.” (F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1960, pp. 45-46).

[7] From D. James Kennedy, Evangelism Explosion, third edition, 1983, pp. 86-88 (from Evangelism Explosion Ministries Australia, PO Box 1686, Wollongong, 2500).

[8] Paul Little, Know Why You Believe (rev. ed.). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1967, 1980, 1987, pp. 54-55, emphasis added.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 July 2016.

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Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

Popular items for tie clipart
(courtesy Clipart Library)

By Spencer D Gear

This is a 4-part series. See also:

Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

Introduction

Hebrews 4:12 (ESV) says: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

I was reminded of the truth of this text when I read of

“a short-term missionary [who] gave a report on her experience overseas. She and several others were entering a communist country. At the border the guards asked them, ‘Do you have any guns, drugs, or Bibles?’

“What an interesting combination! Guns are weapons of destruction that kill the body. Drugs can alter and distort the mind. The Bible can expose and destroy all that is false. But it is much more than a threat to atheism. It can enrich life, instill hope, and free the human spirit even when a person is confined [in a prison camp for spreading the Gospel]. No wonder an atheistic government would fear its power and put it in a class with guns and drugs.”[1]

I read the story of “a young boy who was in the habit of going to church. [But he] was unable to attend one Sunday because he was ill. So he went upstairs to his bedroom and read his Bible. He was unusually quiet, and his mother began wondering if he was up to some mischief.

“Finally she called out, ‘What are you doing, Andy?’He replied, ‘I’m watching Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead!”

What a beautiful answer! He was reading John 11, and his childlike faith made the scene come alive.[2]

Someone has said that there are three stages of Bible study:

First, the “cod-liver oil” stage, where you take it like medicine because it’s good for you.

The second is the “shredded-wheat biscuit” stage — dry but nourishing;

And third, is the “mango and ice-cream” stage — really enjoyable.

Which stage have you reached?[3]

In spite of the fact that it is a VERY OLD book, the Bible is still “the most popular and widely read book in the world with more than one hundred million new copies, in whole or in part, produced every year.”[4]

But at what a price?

On October 6, 1536, William Tyndale was burned at the stake because he dared to translate the Bible into English so that the common person could read it. In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs it records this:

At last after much reasoning, when no reason would serve, although he deserved no death, he was condemned by virtue of the emperor’s decree, made in the Assembly at Augsburg. Brought forth to the place of execution, he was tied to the stake, strangled by the hangman, and afterwards consumed with fire, at the town of Filford, A.D. 1536; crying at the stake with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice, “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.”[5]

Why would people like Tyndale and others risk their very lives to translate the Scriptures into the native language of people? We have the Bible in English today, thanks to the work of Christian martyr, William Tyndale, and earlier by John Wycliffe who made his “first version of the New Testament in Middle English” in 1380, “and a second edition appeared in 1388 after his death. . . The first edition was a word-for-word translation of the New Testament from the Latin Vulgate, in places following the Latin so closely that the meaning was obscure.”[6] Wycliffe lived from about 1329-1384.[7]

“There are several major differences between Wycliffe’s translation and Tyndale’s:

“1. Wycliffe’s Bible was a translation of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate [Jerome lived ca. 340-420], but Tyndale’s went back to the original Greek and Hebrew.

“2.Wycliffe’s Bible was a hand-copied manuscript, whereas Tyndale’s Bible was printed.

“3.Wycliffe translated into Middle English, but Tyndale’s version belongs to the Modern English period.”[8]

“Why would generations of Hebrew scribes meticulously copy the Old Testament Scriptures, repeatedly checking their work letter by letter, even counting the letters to ensure their accuracy?

“The answer lies in the belief that the Bible is the very Word of God, thus necessitating its accurate transmission and its availability to people of any language.”[9]

Why is the Bible considered to be the Word of God and how can we know its accuracy and trustworthiness? We’re travelling on a journey of attempting to validate the Bible. Can you trust your Bible? Today this is such a critical issue because of the anti-God, anti-Bible culture here in Australia and around the world.

It is especially important because Islam is on the march. The Quran, Sura 2:2, says: “This scripture [the Quran] is infallible; a beacon for the righteous.”

Second Tim.3:16 (ESV)”All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

Jesus said according to John 17:17 (ESV)”Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

Which ones are you to believe? I am not making a blasphemous statement. We must provide answers for this generation:

The Quran says it is the infallible Scripture;

The NT says that all of the Bile is “breathed out by God” (inspired by God). Jesus said, “Your word is truth?”

How do we validate one over the other?

So far, I have suggested two historical tests that historians use for ANY historical document, including the Quran and the Bible, Captain Cook’s writings, the works of Shakespeare or my local newspaper from the 1960s.

If we want to test the trustworthiness of any historical document, historians put it through 3 tests (PLUS something that TIES them together) suggested by the acronym: T.I.E.S.

  • First: T: The Transmission Test,

a. The number of MSS; (5,366 Gk MSS; 24,000+ with other languages). Only one that comes close is Homer’s Iliad, 643 MSS (earliest copy, 500 years after the original writing);

b. Time interval between the writing of MSS and the earliest copy.

c. ca. 114 (fragment), John 18:31-33, 37-38 (written on both sides) — in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, England;

d. ca. 200 (books)

e. ca. 250 (most of NT)

f. ca. 325 (whole NT)

g. These NT books were written between 50-100 A.D.

  • Second: “I” = the Internal evidence test,

A. Listen to the claims made in the document. Do NOT assume error;

B. Those who wrote the N.T. were eyewitnesses who saw and heard OR they got their information from eyewitnesses;

C. There were hostile people around at the time who would refute the information if it were false.

Let’s take a look at test for historical authenticity, No. 3. This is the ‘E’ of TIES.

C. THIRD, THE EXTERNAL EVIDENCE TEST

In the External Evidence Test, we look for evidence outside of the Bible that confirms people, places and events in the Bible.

1.  Secular Evidence for Jesus

a. Jewish Historian, Josephus, (A.D. 37-100)

Josephus.jpg
This romanticized engraving of Flavius Josephus appears in William Whiston‘s translation of his works (image courtesy Wikipedia).

Eminent NT scholar, the late F.F. Bruce says:

“Here in the pages of Josephus, we meet many figures who are well-known to us from the New Testament: the colourful family of the Herods; the Roman emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, and the procurators of Judea; the high priestly families–Annas, Caiaphas, Ananias, and the rest; the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and so on”[10]

Josephus wrote of “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James . . .”[11]

There is also a disputed passage (that I do NOT recommend that you use) in Antiquities of the Jews that reads like this:

“Now there was about this time [he means Pilate’s time, AD 26-36] Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works — a teacher of such men who receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men against us, had condemned him to the cross,[12] those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day,[13] as the divine prophets had foretold these and many other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”[14]

Michael Green says “no attempts to impugn its authenticity can be said to have succeeded. It has as good attestation as anything in Josephus, it is included in all the manuscripts.We know that the fourth century Christian historian Eusebius had this quote in his copy of Jospehus. He quoted it twice”[15]

  • There’s sarcasm here by Josephus when he writes: “if it be lawful to call him a man.”This might be a back-handed hint at Jesus’ claims to be God;
  • It may have been a Christian insertion by a copyist when he wrote, ” He was [the] Christ,” but it could just as easily refer to the sign that was on the cross when Jesus died, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” or “the King of the Jews” (Mt. 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38 NIV).
  • Even if the statement about Christ’s resurrection reflects a Christian insertion (and there is no evidence that it has been fiddled with, based on manuscript evidence), here we have a passage in a leading Jewish historian at the time of Christ who gives “powerful, independent testimony to the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth.”[16]
  • It does seem too extensive and specific to have come from a Jew who was not a follower of Christ, but the manuscript evidence does not support such a claim.[17]

What can we conclude from Josephus?

  • The stories about Jesus were no myth.
  • There was so much circumstantial evidence that they even found their way into the apologetic work of the Jewish historian Josephus.
  • If there was anybody who should have kept his lips shut and his ink pen dry about the person of Jesus, it would have had to be Josephus. But that was not the case.

b. Roman Historian, Cornelius Tacitus (AD 55?–after 117)

A contemporary of Pliny (whom we will meet soon), he is considered the greatest historian of Imperial Rome.

Michael Green explains:

“He tells us how the Christians, hated by the populace for their `crimes’ (alluding no doubt to the Christian emphasis on `love’ which was given a sinister twist by the pagans and construed as incest) were made scapegoats for the Great Fire of AD 64 by the Emperor Nero.`The name Christian,’ he writes, `comes to them from Christ, who was executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate; and the pernicious cult, suppressed for a while, broke out afresh and spread not only through Judea, the source of the disease, but in Rome itself, where all the horrible and shameful things in the world collect and find a home.'”[18]

He wrote of Nero’s attempt to relieve himself of the guilt of burning Rome:

“Hence to suppress the rumor [i.e. that Nero had set fire to the city of Rome], he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also.”[19]

c. Greek satirist, Lucian (second century)

He alludes to Christ as:

a man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world. . . Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws.[20]

d. Roman historian, Suetonius (about AD 120)

He was a court official under Emperor Hadrian. He made two specific references to Jesus in writing: “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chestus [another spelling of Christus or Christ], he expelled them from Rome”[21].

In the Lives of the Caesars,[22] Suetonius wrote: “Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”[23]

e. Pliny the Younger (about AD 112)

He was governor of the province of Bithynia (now in northern Turkey) and was writing to the emperor, Trajan, about his achievements. He gave information on how he had killed multitudes of Christians–men, women and children. He said that he had attempted to “make them curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do. “In the same letter[24] he wrote of Christians:

They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds, and never to deny a truth when they should be called upon to deliver it up.[25]

f. Samaritan-born historian, Thallus (about AD 52)

His work is lost, but a fragment of it is preserved in the second-century writer, Julius Africanus (ca. A.D. 221), who tells us:

Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness [at the time of the crucifixion] as an eclipse of the sun–unreasonably, as it seems to me.[26]

It is “unreasonable” because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time as the full moon.It was the time of the Passover (paschal) full moon when Christ died.

g. Mara Bar-Serapion (after AD 73)

In a Syriac manuscript in the British Museum, there is a remarkable letter which this man wrote to his son in prison (although some say it was Mara who was in prison). He compares the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and Jesus:

“What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and the plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. . . But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.”[27]

h.The Jewish Talmud (completed by AD 500)

The Talmud consists of “two books known as the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud. . . They contain the oral teaching of earlier rabbis (Mishnah), which was an explanation of the law of Moses together with discussions of this teaching (Gemara). Christian scholars find these helpful for knowledge of Jewish interpretations of the Hebrew Bible.”[28]

The Babylonian Talmud[29]contains this explicit reference to Jesus:

“On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu (of Nazareth) and the herald went before him for forty days saying (Yeshu of Nazareth) is going to be stoned in that he hath practiced sorcery and beguiled and led astray Israel. Let everyone knowing aught in his defense come and plead for him. But they found naught in his defense and hanged him on the eve of Passover.”[30]

In another Talmud section, it was written concerning Jesus: “I found a genealogical roll in Jerusalem wherein was recorded, Such-an-one is a bastard of an adulteress.”[31] Jewish belief was that Jesus was an illegitimate son and demon-possessed, similar to accusations against him in the N.T.[32]

If we combine this secular testimony to Christ, what picture do we get?

(1)”Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate at Passover time.

  • He was believed by his disciples to have risen from the dead three days later.
  • Jewish leaders charged Christ with sorcery and believed he was born of adultery.
  • The Judean sect of Christianity could not be contained but spread even to Rome.
  • Nero and other Roman rulers bitterly persecuted and martyred early Christians.
  • These early Christians denied polytheism, lived dedicated lives according to Christ’s teachings, and worshipped Christ.This picture is perfectly congruent with that of the New Testament.”[33]

2. Archaeological Confirmation of the New Testament

While there has been confirmation of the general outline of New Testament history, I will focus on Luke’s writings. There are hundreds of archaeological finds that support specific persons, events and facts presented in Luke-Acts, including some that were once thought to be incorrect.

a. Official titles

We need to especially note Luke’s correct usage of official titles.He calls the rulers of Thessalonica “politarchs” in Acts 17:6, 8.[34] In the NIV it is translated as “city officials.” It means “magistrates” and

was once dismissed as a mistake of the writer of Acts. . . because the term did not appear in any other context. Seventeen examples from [inscriptions] now are listed. . .[35] The examples cover a century and a half from the beginning of the first century to the middle of the second. One is housed in the British Museum and came from an archway in Salonika. The same inscription, curiously enough, contains names that occur among those listed as members of the Thessalonian church. It is obviously a Macedonian term, and its use conforms to Luke’s consistent practice of employing the correct official terminology commonly accepted. In similar fashion he called the petty officials of the Roman colony of Philippi ‘praetors.’[36]

Gallio was the “Proconsul of Achaia.”[37]

The grammateus[38] was in Ephesus (Acts 19:35). He was the “city clerk” (NIV) or “recorder.”[39]

The governor of Cyprus was a “proconsul.”

The leading person in Malta was called “the chief official of the island”[40] or “leading man of the island”[41] (a title confirmed in Greek and Latin inscriptions).

In Philippi (Acts 16:30), the “magistrates” (NIV) were known as strategoi (in the Greek.). “All of these have been confirmed by inscriptions [outside of the Bible]. The scenes [Luke] paints of Athens, Corinth, Ephesus and the journey to Rome ring absolutely true in the ears of those best able to judge.”[42]

These descriptions were once thought to be part of the fertile imagination of Luke the fantasiser. Now, they have solid historical backing, thanks to the meticulous work of archaeologists.

b. Chronological references

Luke is known to be correct in these references. He refers to “Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene” at the time John the Baptist began his ministry (AD 27), once thought to be incorrect, but now confirmed to be correct by Greek inscriptions. Lysanias was tetrarch between AD 14 and 29. Other chronological references are known to be correct, including those referring to Caesar, Herod, and even Gallio (Acts 18:12-17).

pool-of-siloam-excavations-from-west-tb070305501b-bibleplacesThe Pool of Siloam – excavated in 2005 and 2006. Photo Credit: BiblePlaces.com)

Numerous places in the Gospels, including the Pool of Siloam (John 9:7-11) and the “judgment seat” near Corinth (2 Cor. 5:10) have been verified by archaeology.

Other names of persons mentioned in the N.T. that were thought to be false, have been confirmed through archaeology. Another example is:

A first-century marble slab was found at Corinth in 1929 with this inscription, “Erastus, in consideration of his appointment as curator of buildings, laid this pavement at his own expense.” [43] It is possible that this person is Erastus, one of Paul’s co-workers from whom Paul sent greetings according to Rom. 16:23. He was the city treasurer in Corinth.[44]

[For other examples, see Michael Green, World on the Run, pp. 40-42]

c. Conclusions

These kinds of archaeological finds cause eminent people to reach some startling conclusions.

A.N. Sherwin-White, distinguished Roman historian, says this about Luke’s writings: “For [the Book of] Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming…. Any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.”[45]

Luke is commended by classical historian, G.A. Williamson, for demonstrating “complete familiarity with the thought, expression, and habitual terminology of the speakers, and . . what memories the people of that time possessed!–if not on written notes, which we have reason to believe were commonly made.”[46]

Thanks to the archaeological efforts of the late Sir William Ramsay, many of the critical views of the N.T. have been overthrown. Ramsay himself was converted from the critical view of liberal theology. He wrote:

             I began with a mind unfavorable to it [Book of Acts], for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory had at one time quite convinced me. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought into contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.[47]

Renowned archaeologist and paleographer[48], William F. Albright, notes: “All radical schools in New Testament criticism which have existed in the past or which exist today are pre-archaeological, and are, therefore, since they were built in der Luft [in the air], quite antiquated today.”[49]

Let’s recap. If we want to test the trustworthiness of any historical document, historians put it through 3 tests:

  • First: T: The Transmission Test,

a. The number of MSS;

b. Time interval between the writing of MSS and the earliest copy.

  • Second: I: the Internal evidence test,

a. Listen to the claims made in the document. Do NOT assume error;

b. Those who wrote the N.T. were eyewitnesses who saw and heard OR they got their information from eyewitnesses;

c. There were hostile people around at the time who would refute the information if it were false.

  • Third, E: the External evidence test.[50]

We heard from historians of the NT period and after the NT times:

  • Josephus;
  • Tacitus;
  • Lucian;
  • Suetonius;
  • Pliny the Younger;
  • Thallus;
  • Mara Bar-Serapion;
  • Jewish Talmud.

The N.T. documents can be relied upon to give an accurate picture of Jesus Christ. Let’s go to those documents and investigate who Jesus Christ is and why He died on the cross.

Conclusion:

The Psalmist loved the Word of God. Listen to some of his words about the Word in Psalm 119:

Psalm 119:11 (ESV I have stored up [OR, hid] your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:16 (ESV) I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.

Psalm 119:97 (ESV) Oh how I love your law!It is my meditation all the day.

Psalm 119:103 (ESV) How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Psalm 119:105 (ESV) Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

“One measure of your love for God is your love for God’s Word”[51]


Notes:

[1] Our Daily Bread, April 1, 1987, “Guns, Drugs, and the Bible.”

[2] Our Daily Bread, August 5, 1987, “When the Bible comes alive.”

[3] Based on ibid.

[4] Paul D. Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible.Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1999, p. 19.

[5] W. Grinton Berry (prepared by), Foxe’s Book of Martyrs,. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, reprint 1978, pp. 151-152.Suggested by Wegner, ibid., p. 19,

[6] Wegner, p. 280.

[7] Ibid., p. 279.

[8] Ibid., p. 287.

[9] Ibid., p. 19.

[10] F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, p. 104.

[11] William Whiston, (transl.), Josephus: Complete Works: Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications1867, 1963, (Antiquities of the Jews.XX, IX:1) p. 423.

[12] A footnote is “A.D. 33, April 3.”

[13] A footnote, “April 5.”

[14] Whiston, Josephus, XVIII, III. 3, p. 379.Michael Green, World on the Run, alerted me to this quote.Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983, p. 34.

[15] Green, ibid. p. 34.

[16] Ibid.

[17] These points about Josephus are gleaned from ibid.

[18] Michael Green, World on the Run, p. 29, from Tacitus’ Annals, 15.44.

[19] Tacitus Annals, XV, 44; in Geisler, Christian Apologetics, p. 323. In Whiston, Josephus, the quote is:

Nero, in order to stifle the rumour [as if he himself had set Rome on fire] ascribed it to those people who were hated for their wicked practices, and called by the vulgar, Christians: these he punished exquisitely. The author of this name was Christ, who, in the reign of Tiberius, was brought to punishment by Pontius Pilate the procurator (Appendix, Dissertation I, p. 639, emphasis in original).

[20] On the Death of Peregrine, quoted in Geisler, Christian Apologetics, p. 323.

[21] Life of Claudius, 25.4, in Geisler, ibid., p. 324.

[22] 26.2, in, ibid.

[23] In, ibid.

[24] Epistles X. 96, in ibid.

[25] In ibid.

[26] In ibid., p. 324.

[27] In F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, p. 114. This was suggested by Geisler, ibid.

[28]J. D. Douglas, Walter A. Elwell and Peter Toon, The Concise Dictionary of the Christian Tradition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House, 1989, p. 370.

[29] Sanhedrin 43a, “Ever of Passover,” according to Geisler, ibid.

[30] In Geisler, Christian Apologetics, p. 324

[31] Yeb. IV 3; 49a, in Geisler, ibid., p. 325.

[32] In Geisler, ibid, pp. 324-325.

[33] Ibid., p. 325.

[34] Greek politarchos, Acts 17:6, 8.

[35] See the American Journal of Theology, July 1898, pp 598-632.

[36] E. M. Blaiklock, “Politarch,” in Merril C. Tenney (gen. ed.), The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (vol. 4).Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, p. 815.

[37] Acts 18:12 NIV.

[38] Acts 19:35

[39] Michael Green, World on the Run, p. 41.

[40] Acts 28:7 NIV.

[41] Acts 28:7 NASB.

[42] Green, World on the Run, p. 41.

[43] Ibid.

[44] From ibid., 42.

[45] A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament.Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963,p. 189, in Josh McDowell, More Than a Carpenter.Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, 1979, p. 55..

[46] G. A. Williamson, The World of Josephus.London: Secker & Warburg, 1964,p. 290, in Geisler, Christian Apologetics, p. 326.

[47] William M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen.New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1896, p. 8, in Geisler, Christian Apologetics, p. 326.

[48] A paleographer is one who studies and gives scholarly interpretation to ancient written documents [based on the definition of “paleography” in William Morris (ed.), The Heritage Illustrated Dictionary of the English Language.Boston: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc. and Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975, p. 944.]

[49] William F. Albright, “Retrospect and Prospect in New Testament Archaeology,” in The Teacher’s Yoke, ed. F. Jerry Vardaman, p. 29, in Geisler, Christian Apologetics, pp. 326-327.

[50] C. Sanders, Introduction to Research in English Literary History.New York: MacMillan Company, 1952, pp. 143 ff.

[51] Our Daily Bread, March 11, 1987, “A Book to Be Loved.”

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 February 2020.

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Excellent Questions to Ask about Christianity

A thoughtful person with whom I dialogued on the www and through email said to me: “If you would like to know why I have rejected Christianity, I will be glad to tell you. Here are some [of my] reasons:”

1. In all of the OT there is not one word about anyone being tortured for eternity for not being a “good” person. Apparently the OT God was satisfied with seeing his enemies lie as carrion upon the fields, but the so-called “good news” of the NT is that this same God will now pursue his enemies beyond the grave with NEVER-ENDING torments in hell. Besides, it seems supremely contradictory to me that the same god who tells us to love and forgive OUR enemies says that he will eternally torment his!!

2. The Jewish people, who started all of this, NEVER expected that the Messiah, when he came, to be the Almighty God. Most Christians have made a god out of Jesus and in so doing realize that they have forfeited the unique monotheism of the OT… But, hold on… they thought they could solve the problem of their celestial mathematics, stating that one plus one plus one is NOT three, but one!

3. Jesus could not have been the Messiah, for the OT clearly states that the Messiah would usher in world peace etc. The opposite happened. But Christians thought they had saved the day with their doctrine of the “second coming.” Without it, Christianity would have died long ago. The parousia teaching is simply that we are to be patient, all the things that Jesus never fulfilled will be taken care of when he comes again. And there is clear evidence that Jesus and his followers thought that he would return in the lifetime of his followers. 2000 years have just about passed and they’re still expecting it!!!

4. The justice system of Christianity is monstrously and fiendishly absurd. Most people would rightfully assume that a FINITE sin does NOT deserve INFINITE punishment. The reward system consists of only two eventual destinations. One, the most blissful and happy, the other, the most horrible and tormenting. Is there nothing in between?

5. Why did Jesus have to die? God’s creation turned out bad, we are told. So what to do! In order to make things right, someone had to be murdered!! If we believe the Trinity doctrine, we are left to believe that God arranged to have himself murdered in order to placate himself! Patently absurd!! The doctrine of the atonement is nothing but a replay of pervious PAGAN religions with their angry gods, need for sacrifices and bloody altars.

6. I believe that a person should be judged by what he/she does… not by what one believes. Most of us acquire our belief orientation as a result of our inherited genes, our parental upbringing and our environment. Besides, a person could spend an entire lifetime doing good works, helping others and giving most of his possessions to the needy, but end up in hell, when he died, if he failed to believe in Jesus! While a person could spend a life of 80 years, killing, committing arson, stealing etc. and end up in heaven for an eternity of bliss, if just a few minutes before he died, he accepted Jesus!

7. NO ONE HAS EVER ASKED TO BE BORN into this world with its many conflicting religions, having to choose the right one, or face never-ending torments in hell!! It seems to me that if your religion is true, the least that your God could do would be to mercifully eliminate all of the non-Christian religions. But… that would still leave literally hundreds of Christian bodies, some of which regard the others as of the devil!!!

8. The Christian religion should really be called PAULIANITY, because Paul was the one who tied in the untimely murder of Jesus with the temple sacrifices of the Hebrews.

9. And I could never accept the Bible as the inerrant word of God, because I believe that the all-knowing god could, and would, have caused to be written a book that did NOT need endless apologetics!

10. And finally, I believe that an all-loving God will REHABILITATE instead of eternally damn most of HIS OWN CREATION, the SAME THING, I’ll bet that you’d do with all of your wayward offspring!!

How do we answer these penetrating questions?

I will approach my response in three ways:

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Anglicans reject Christmas story

Some Anglican clergy in Australia no longer accept the Christian story.  Instead, they regard it as mythical (Cotes, 1997, p. 25).   The following are examples of this lack of faith from Cotes’ article.

“True myths” is how she describes the view.  What next?

Yet, within the Anglican church in Australia (Sydney diocese) there are committed evangelical scholars who support the authenticity of the biblical revelation (see Barnett 1997, 1999).  Barnett (1999) demonstrates “that Jesus of Nazareth, the historical Jesus, became through death, bodily resurrection and ascension the Christ of faith.  In our view the Gospels faithfully portray Jesus as the Christ in his historic ministry” (p. 418).

However, according to Cotes, this is what the Anglican clergy believe who contend for the  “true myths” of the Bible.

“At least 70 serving priests of the Church of England no longer are willing to pretend that they believe it [the Christmas story in the Gospels] to be true and they have supporters among Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy.”

“They have joined Sea of Faith, an organisation which rejects belief in the traditional Christian story as told in the gospels.”

“Members of Sea of Faith believe instead that `God’ is not a supernatural creator, but a mystical personal experience, a symbol of the highest ideals and aspirations of human beings.”

“The consensus of opinion among most reputable biblical scholars is that the gospel accounts of the Nativity cannot be accepted as historically accurate, and that other explanations can be found for most of the details.”

“The Star of Bethlehem was not in any sense a miracle but a regular astronomical occurrence on which scientifically ignorant people put their own magical interpretation.”

“Yet it’s such a beautifully simple story — surely it must be true?”

“The authors of Mark (the earliest gospel) and John (written at least 100 years after the event)… had no time for sentimentality — or for biography. They were writing theology.”

“Modern scholarship has shown that all the details of the Nativity story can be shown to be the result of theological necessity rather than historical truth. . .”

“Jesus almost certainly was born in Nazareth. . .”

“But even if all the pretty stories people love about Christmas are not true, they don’t necessarily have to be discarded.”

“Myths are very important and the myths surrounding the Christmas story are not just the icing on the cake of the Nativity, nor just as an excuse to indulge sentimental fantasies.”

“They are more than pious fiction, filling the tantalising blanks of a story about which there is no real information.”

“Myths are important because the best of them can be a way of going behind the few facts we have, to suggest ways of seeing than (sic) are different from our modern, purely scientific and biographical approach.”

“The Christmas story is full of images and symbols, rather than verifiable facts, but it’s not necessary for rational Christians to discard them.”

“We can still sing the hymns and worship the Christ Child and tell the stories to our children with a clear conscience, for the stories have their own special kind of truth.”

“The question that Christmas raises is not, `Are the stories true?’ But rather `What do these stories say about God and the link between the physical and the spiritual?'”

“It is not `Who were the Magi and the shepherds?’ but `What do they mean?”

“These are the questions that serious preachers will be examining this Christmas… unhistorical wise men and their improbable ox and ass.”

“The figures at the crib scene are all part of the great imaginative picture of Christmas and behind this structure of imagery is the belief that this unrecorded lowly birth of a child to an obscure carpenter’s wife was, when you consider what developed from it, a decisive moment in history, when something genuinely new began.”

Why don’t they leave the church?

The Anglican creedal statements in the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571, The Church of England, state:

  • Concerning the God, the Holy Trinity: “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible.  And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Article I)

  • The Word or Son of God: “The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man. . .” (Article II)

Since the creed of the Anglican Church is contrary to the belief of these 70 priests who deny the content the Christmas story, why don’t they leave the church?  Surely when one’s beliefs are counter to the church’s fundamental beliefs, it requires integrity to leave the organisation.  What other entity in the world would allow its employees to “sell” another product and yet remain within the organisation?

The New Testament is steeped in authentic history]

While these theologically liberal Anglican clergy deny the historical validity of the Christmas event, another Anglican — a historian, exegete, and evangelical theologian, and former Bishop of North Sydney, Dr. Paul Barnett — provides a counter argument:

“The best context in which to locate Jesus is discovered by text-based historical enquiry; sociological analysis, though useful, has significant limitations at this distance.  The ‘markers’ of Luke 3:1-2 — John the baptizer, Herod the tetrarch, Annas and Caiaphas the high priests and Pontius Pilate the prefect — form an encircling context for Jesus.  Yet Jesus is connected with each of these; they are not merely part of the landscape background.  The Jesus of the gospels is tied into his various contexts, whether Galilean or Judean.
“Because the gospels are self-consciously historical, a better way to begin to investigate Jesus is with the gratuitous information found in the letters.  From these a rough grid may be established by which to validate or otherwise the gospels’ accounts.  The Jesus of the letters, who dies for sins, who is conscious that he is ‘son’ or abba, who prays and who seeks in Scripture the prophecies which he is fulfilling, gives strong affirmation of the integrity of the gospels” (Barnett, 1997, p. 164)

What is happening?  “The image of Jesus is being refracted through the spirit of these gentlemen” (M. Kahler in Barnett, 1997, p. 17).

Dr. Paul Barnett, is compelled by the early evidence of Christianity, not as “true myths” (what an oxymoron!), but as genuine history: “I find this logic compelling.  The phenomenon of the coming into existence of early Christianity is well attested.  Its sudden emergence is as historically secure as any event in Palestine in that century” (Barnett, 1997, p. 19).

Barnett (1999) proceeds to document the “historical secure” event of Christ and Christianity in his 448 pages of documentation and explanation: Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity.  He concludes:

“The New Testament writers are not preoccupied with the political and social circumstances of those times; that is a modern concern.  Rather, Jesus as the Christ fills the horizons of these writers.  Yet their references to the historical circumstances are important, not so much to give a key to unlock a door of understanding that is otherwise closed but to remind us that Jesus was a real person and that his resurrection was historical because it was a bodily resurrection.  A Jesus who is disconnected from his times easily becomes a mythical figure, whose incarnation, atonement and resurrection are seen as poetic metaphors.
“Such Gnostic views of Jesus became common a few decades after the New Testament era and for more than a century almost swamped post-apostolic Christianity.  In recent times such views have returned with the rise of postmodernism and New Age thinking” (p. 415).

Welcome to Gnostic, postmodern, New Age thinking in modern garb — in the Australian Anglican church!  This is the rot that undermined the early church for a century or so after Christ’s resurrection and ascension.  I expect that it will do the same to Australia’s Anglican church.

The intrinsic historical nature of Jesus and early Christianity excludes the mythical Jesus of contemporary Anglicanism in Australia (and elsewhere).

References:

Barnett, Paul W. (1997).  Jesus and the Logic of History.  Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press.
Barnett, Paul  (1999).  Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times.  Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Cotes, Alison  (1997).  “True Myths?” — a full-page article in the “Monitor” section of the Brisbane (Australia) Courier-Mail, Saturday, December 20, 1997.

Titus 1:9 (ESV): “He (the elder/bishop) must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

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Religion & Beliefs

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(image courtesy ClipArtHut)

By Spencer D Gear

A thoughtful person with whom I had dialogues on the Internet and through email said to me: “If you would like to know why I have rejected Christianity, I will be glad to tell you.  Here are some [of my] reasons:” You can find his questions HERE [1]. His questions are in bold and indicated as Q. 1, Q. 2, etc. I have answered him under these topics:

Q. 7 It seems to me that if your religion is true, the least that your God could do would be to mercifully eliminate all of the non-Christian religions.

If you really mean this, you are asking for God to eliminate you NOW because the questions you pose demonstrate you are a non-Christian religionist.  The question is self-defeating and destructive to you personally.

Why suggest the extreme action of eliminating all of the non-Christian religions?  God’s view is, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).  His plan is not elimination or annihilation but salvation.

No matter what our religious persuasion, he is out to draw us to himself so that we will see life as it truly is.  He is the creator, so he ought to know how the world (including people) functions best.  That sounds arrogant, but not when one considers who he is.

Even on a human level, the creator of an automobile engine must surely have the best understanding of how it functions at its optimal best.  I, a mechanical nincompoop, have not chosen to pursue a better understanding of engines.  All human beings are spiritual nincompoops when it comes to wisdom of how the universe and people ought to function best.

That’s why God has given us revelation in Scripture so that we may better understand him and his ways. He continued:

Q. 7 NO ONE HAS EVER ASKED TO BE BORN into this world with its many conflicting religions, having to choose the right one, or face never-ending torments in hell!!

Are you saying that you want the choice of life and death to be in the hands of somebody other than the Lord God Almighty?  Would you prefer Hitler, Nero, John Howard, Mother Theresa, Bill Clinton, Martin Luther or the researchers who are working on cloning human parts?

How crazy we would be to leave it in the hands of other than the absolute just, loving, merciful and sovereign God.

It is he who declared through the psalmist in beautiful poetic language:

For you [Lord] created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:14-16).

The beginning of a person’s life is in the hands of God and so is the end.  Jesus said, “I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18).

I know there are curly questions that arise out of that response, like: “Well, if God is the author of life, how can he allow the slaughter of unborn children on the abortionists’ tables around the world?  If people are in intense pain, why doesn’t he relieve it or allow euthanasia?”

The answer lies in a response to the second part of this unbeliever’s statement: “Its many conflicting religions, having to choose the right one, or face never-ending torments in hell!!”

The Dangerous Gift of Free-Will

Would you prefer to have been born into a world where it would not be possible to ask the excellent, penetrating questions you have provided?  Would you prefer to be a puppet with choice eliminated?  Would you like the option you are suggesting of never being born or leaving the gift of life through human birth to someone other than God?

Since God chooses the time of your birth and death, he does place some responsibility on the dangerous gift of free will that he has given us.  That mystery boggles my mind: How can a sovereign God allow me choice that can have beneficial or detrimental effects on my personal life, my family and the community in which I live?  How can He allow this when he has the ability to step in and stop that choice?

Are you aware that the “many conflicting religions” have come about because of people’s choices to reject the will and ways of the sovereign Lord?  Surely you know that the very nature of the questions you are asking declares your own religious allegiance!  You are actually contributing to the “conflicting religions” yourself.

By the nature of your questions, it seems to me that there are tones of naturalism, humanism, postmodernism and agnosticism/atheism.

God tries to reach us through so many different ways, but what do we do to push him away?

Q. 7 (continued) But… that would still leave literally hundreds of Christian bodies, some of which regard the others as of the devil!!!

I, a committed Christian, am grieved at the number of denominations among Christendom.  It is estimated that there are approximately 38,000 Christian denominations in the world.[2] Sadly, part of that is because of the many influences in the world (God’s world) – God himself will not treat you like a puppet.  Satan, his demons and sinful human nature give rise to sinful human choices.

Then add the human propensity to different interpretations of a given document.  It’s an interesting exercise to hand a group of people a local newspaper and ask them to silently read certain news items.  Then ask them to write down (without conferring with one another) answers to questions relating to the stories they have read.  The multitude of interpretations is amazing.

Just because one is a Christian does not stop one from thinking, pondering and concluding differently from others.  I dislike these divisions within Christendom, but I am not going to risk my eternal destiny because of the diversity of opinion.  God has given me a mind and the guidance of his Spirit to help me.  After all, he is “seeking to save those who are lost.”  He has placed much evidence around and in us to cause us to call out to him for eternal life.

Q. 6 (continued) Most of us acquire our belief orientation as a result of our inherited genes, our parental upbringing and our environment.

This is only partially correct. Our worldview (belief orientation) is based somewhat on our environment (hardly on our genes!), including parental upbringing.  However, much of this can be changed as we have seen children totally reject the beliefs of childhood.  There are many influences that contribute to our world and life view.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message heard is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).  So proclamation can influence a change in our beliefs.  I am pleased that in spite of the genes from my parents, their belief system and the other environmental influences, I committed my life to Christ after my heart was opened through the proclamation of God’s Word.

I have made many decisions down through the years that have altered my “belief orientation.”  Some of these are contrary to what I previously believed.  All this is to affirm that a change of “belief orientation” is always possible.  Genes, family upbringing and other environmental factors do not fix it.

Q. 6 (continued)  Besides, a person could spend an entire lifetime doing good works, helping others and giving most of his possessions to the needy, but end up in hell, when he died, if he failed to believe in Jesus!  While a person could spend a life of 80 years, killing, committing arson, stealing etc. and end up in heaven for an eternity of bliss, if just a few minutes before he died, he accepted Jesus!

You are dead right!  Good works without commitment to Christ will send one to hell – guaranteed!.  But faith without good works will also send a person to hell because it is not genuine faith – guaranteed!

A person may have lived in sin all his life and could trust in Christ for salvation moments before he died and he would enter heaven – guaranteed by the words and actions of Jesus.

We saw a perfect example of this with the thief who was crucified beside Jesus.  The thief said, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve”  (Luke 23:41).  Upon his confession, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42), Jesus’ response was, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43).  He received eternal salvation, instantly, after a life of sinful degradation that earned him capital punishment.

Only the grace of God can explain it.  It’s available to every one of us NOW.  But I wouldn’t be risking such a death bed repentance when life and death are in Christ’s hands.  He doesn’t let us know exactly when death comes knocking on our door (generally).

God pleads with us: “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Heb. 2:3).  “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

I wouldn’t give up serving and living for Jesus Christ for all the money in the Reserve Bank.  The radical change that Jesus brought in my life and the full life he has given me can hardly be described.  Jesus is true to his word, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

From the good questions you are asking, I wonder if you are really open to receive Christ, or is this an intellectual exercise to keep you from getting to the nitty gritty of your life?  Even if I satisfactorily answer most of your questions, are you open to receive Christ?

Notes


[1] On 5 November 2016 the website to which I linked had blocked my access to the URL. This has happened to all of my links to that website, christianforums.com. I suggest that you copy my questions into your web browser to see the original questions and other content I have written. It’s a sad day when a Christian forum does not want me to link back to its website where I was a regular poster (over 10,000 posts in 11 years) and took some of this interaction (particularly my content) for articles on my homepage, ‘Truth Challenge‘.

[2] “Christianity Today – General Statistics and Facts of Christianity,” available from About.com at: http://christianity.about.com/od/denominations/p/christiantoday.htm [8 February 2009].

 

Copyright © 2009 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 November 2016.

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