The Gods of the Old and New Testaments aren’t really different in The End

The Christian Bible with its division of the Old and New Testaments presents on the surface at least what appears to be a somewhat divided picture of God. The God of the Old Testament is shown as wrathful and violent, while Jesus reveals more of the love and mercy of God in the New Testament. Even when the Old Testament law appears to have been broken in the New Testament (Mark 2:24, John 8:5-7), Jesus is described as choosing mercy over a strict adherence to the Law. By contrast, the Old Testament God often appears much harsher, and uses violence such as conquests or catastrophic judgments against entire groups of people. The question examined here is whether the Gods in the Old Testament and the New Testament are the same God, or whether the New Testament presents an image that contradicts the Old. Although there is occasionally exaggeration in regards to God’s use of violence in the Old Testament, there still remains the aspect of God’s judgment that seems to contradict the idea of God as loving and good.      Nevertheless, the aspect of God’s judgment against sin appears to be something the New Testament is fully consistent with as demonstrated especially by the eschatological passages in the New Testament. When Jesus’ discourse in Matthew 24-25 concerning judgment and the time of the end is examined, it is consistent with, and alludes to, several Old Testament themes. Historical criticism, in fact, supports the authenticity of Christ having spoken this discourse. Furthermore, when the Old Testament is examined, it also demonstrates themes of justice, compassion, and love that tie it closer to the God of the New Testament than many have realized. Thus, the argument made below is that the eschatological discourse of Christ in the Gospels demonstrates the same plan and story of God. Thus the same God, is in view in both the Old and New Testaments.

Questions Concerning the Old Testament God
          It is true that the God of the Old Testament has an image problem in the modern world. Narratives and poetic references to violence, genocide, judgments, and evils ranging from slavery to murder have understandably led to questions from skeptics and Christians alike. At issue is not that such evils have occurred in history, but that the Old Testament appears to give to such actions an approving nod, which seems at odds with the God of the New Testament. Richard Dawkins, a frequent critic of the Old Testament, asked, “Do those people who hold up the Bible as an inspiration to moral rectitude have the slightest notion of what is actually written in it?”[1] Indeed, some Christians reject substantial portions of the Old Testament as a result of the violence in it. Bible scholar Eric Seibert claims that the violence of God in the Old Testament is “clearly at odds with the God Jesus reveals,” and Seibert rejects a particular Old Testament story of God’s judgment, saying, “It is safe to conclude that God, the living God, never issued such a horrible divine decree.”[2] For scholars like Seibert and many skeptics, the Old Testament simply cannot be accurate. A brief overview of problematic Old Testament descriptions is worth considering.

The Violence of God
Those portrayals center on violence. Violence in ancient narratives and writings is certainly to be expected, but in the Old Testament, God is often portrayed as directing others to commit acts of violence such as the conquests of Canaan by the Israelites in the book of Joshua. At other times, God is portrayed using violent judgments Himself such as those against Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19), Noah’s flood (Gen 6-7), the plagues against Egypt (Exo 7:14-12:32), destroying an Amorite army (Josh 10:11), striking people dead (Lev 10:1-2, 2 Sam 6:6-7), and many other examples. Seibert notes, “Although it would be an overstatement to say there is blood dripping from every page, the pervasiveness of divine violence in the Old Testament is undeniable.”[3]  Certainly some of the actions of God in the Old Testament are difficult to reconcile with the justice and fairness that God is assumed to have. Some scholars suggest the violent depictions of God in the Old Testament may simply reflect the attitudes and prejudices of ancient Israelites who wrote the texts. Carolyn Sharp, who refers to the Canaanite conquests as butchery and horrific,[4] claims that any sins of the Canaanites are “irrelevant to the ethical issue, unless you truly believe that every one of those thousands of men, women, and children could have been so heinously immoral as to require their extermination.”[5]
Sharp’s statement exemplifies the concern that so much violence in the Old Testament affects innocents such as children, or is perpetrated against people who are not viewed by modern eyes as deserving of such actions. Atheist author and scientist Sam Harris highlights a passage from Deuteronomy that prescribes death for anyone who entices another to serve a different god. Harris describes such a law as barbaric.[6] The difficulty with these violent portrayals of God’s actions in the Old Testament are the primary reason many attempt to separate the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament. Before proceeding, however, some corrective points should be made regarding this widely held view of a violent Old Testament.

Evidence that God’s Violence is Sometimes Exaggerated
Violence in the Bible can broadly be characterized in three categories: Violence due to God’s judgment for sins, violence God authorizes to be committed by His people, and violence that God allowed to happen. Of course, modern critics of the Bible such as Dawkins compare the conquests of Canaan by the Israelites as racially motivated ethnic cleansing.[7] The Bible itself , however, does not mention race at all, but places the blame on the sinfulness of the Canaanites. Paul Copan writes that God not only cited sin as the reason for the conquests of Canaan, but warned the Israelites that the same thing could happen to them if they rejected Him.[8] Copan notes, “God was concerned with sin, not ethnicity.”[9] As a result the conquests of Canaan may also be viewed as God’s judgment against sin. Indeed, as N.T. Wright observes, the God of the Old Testament not only punishes nations, but uses one nation to punish another.[10] Thus, there are arguably just two categories: God’s judgment against sin and recorded violence that God allowed to happen.
Two more aspects of God’s judgment in the Old Testament should be noted. First, the biblical and archaeological record do not appear to support the popular notion of wide-spread genocide by the Israelites. Thus, the violence of the Old Testament God is sometimes exaggerated. K. A. Kitchen says bluntly, “The book of Joshua does not describe a total Hebrew conquest and occupation of Canaan, real or imaginary.”[11] Kitchen maintains that the text of the Bible and the available archaeological evidence describe an Israelite invading force that, after destroying a few key sites and raiding hostile cities,[12] generally lived among the Canaanites until Israel was strong enough to dominate the region.[13] Copan and Matthew Flannagan explain that this is also consistent with the biblical language, which did not use terms for extermination, but instead used terms for “driving out” and “thrusting out.”[14] The same terms do not imply killing elsewhere in the Bible and thus would not imply killing in Joshua or Judges either. Copan also notes the descriptions of killing innocents and total destruction was standard hyperbole used in Ancient Near Eastern accounts.[15] John Monson agrees, and explains that mentions of miracles, the involvement of a deity, and hyperbolic language “are recognizable and unexceptional features of Near Eastern texts ancient and modern.”[16] As a result, descriptions of total destruction or the killing of women and children are features of such accounts and should not be understood to be literally true in every case. Nevertheless, it is clear there remain episodes such as Noah’s Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, various judgments against groups, including perhaps some instances of the Canaanite conquest, which do appear to include the death of innocents or questions of barbarism.

Seibert’s Solution
Eric Seibert suggests a Christ-centered solution to reconciling the harsh judgments and violence found in the Old Testament with the image of the loving and just God in the New Testament. He finds the picture of God in the Old Testament to be irreconcilable with revelation of God in Jesus. Since, however, John 1:18 explains that God is revealed through Jesus, and since Hebrews 1:3 describes Jesus as portraying the image of God, Seibert concludes that if an Old Testament passage contradicts what Jesus says or demonstrates, then the Old Testament passage is to be rejected. Seibert proposes that “the God Jesus reveals should be the standard, or measuring rod, by which all Old Testament portrayals of God are evaluated…Those that do not measure up should be regarded as distortions.”[17] Thus, for Bible scholars such as Seibert, certain passages in the Old Testament are simply wrong, and he believes Jesus has demonstrated this. “Violence is contrary not only to the will of God but to the very nature of God,” Seibert writes, “As God incarnate, Jesus’ nonviolent words and deeds enable us to see clearly the true nature of God.”[18]
Seibert’s solution appears to be challenged, however, by the eschatological passages of the New Testament, which describe God as using violent judgments against sin just as He did in the Old Testament. It also fails to reconcile the Old Testament with itself, and its own emphasis on justice and mercy. Jesus, in fact, warned of judgment against Jerusalem and the final judgment for the world in Matthew 24-25. His discourse demonstrates more unity with the Old Testament than is sometimes believed. An analysis of Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 24-25 follows, as well as analysis of several aspects from the Old and New Testaments, the balance of which indicates that same God is in view.

Jesus, the Gospel, and Judgment in Matthew 24-25
          Two initial observations argue for a unity of God in both parts of the Christian Bible. First, in the formation of the canon, the Old Testament was included with the New Testament without any revisions. Bernd Janowski notes, that “no attempt was made to ‘Christianize’ [the Old Testament] by introducing redactional intrusions, as for example, could be the case by adding Christian commentaries.”[19] Thus, it appears the early church had no problems with the God of the Old Testament and saw Him as consistent with the God in the New. Second, as Christopher Wright observes, neither Jesus nor any New Testament writer negatively “critiqued” the God of the Old Testament, or labeled any of God’s violent actions as immoral.[20] There is no hint from any of the characters in the New Testament that God was viewed differently than how He was portrayed in the Old Testament. God certainly was the Judge, but was also viewed as righteous in His judgments as the New Testament declares (Rev 16:7). Dawkins, although he criticizes Jesus in other ways, tries to admit that “from a moral point of view, Jesus is a huge improvement over the cruel ogre of the Old Testament.”[21] However, as the following analysis of Jesus’ eschatological teaching in Matthew 24-25 shows, there is arguably a lot of the Old Testament in Christ.

Matthew 24-25: An Overview
In these two chapters, Matthew presents a long discourse from Jesus in response to questions about the destruction of the temple and the “end of the age” (24:1-3, NASB). The precise eschatological interpretation has been debated and space does not allow a full discussion here. Nevertheless, John Nolland’s outline of the passage captures the basics. Nolland divides it into three main sections, the first 24:4-35 containing Jesus’ answer to the two-part question that was posed to Him. The second section 24:36-25:30 emphasizes the uncertain timing of Christ’s return. The third section, 25:31-46 describes a “separation of people in the final judgment.”[22] Parallel passages can be found in Mark 13 and Luke 21, along with Luke 12 and 17, which also include elements of this discourse. Craig Blomberg notes, “Jesus will make clear that the destruction of the temple and the end of the age are two separate events, but probably the disciples do not yet recognize this (thus Mark 13:4).”[23]
That there are two events in view means Jesus’ answer contains elements that include the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in 70 A.D., and also include details of His coming. In 24:4-8, Jesus warns of false messiahs and describes the world scene. The next several verses (24:9-14) describe the advance of the Gospel and the persecution that would come with it. He then warns of the “Abomination of Desolation” (24:15, NASB) in a clear reference to the Old Testament book of Daniel, and describes the urgency of people fleeing Jerusalem and the tribulation of those days (24:16-28). The next few verses appear to shift toward Christ’s return with Old Testament descriptions of the Day of the Lord (24:29-31). Jesus concludes (24:32-35) by speaking about the fulfillment of these prophecies and the certainty of fulfillment, before then issuing warnings concerning the need to be ready and watchful (24:36-51). He cites the suddenness of Noah’s Flood (24:37-39), the arrival of a thief (24:33), and the return of a master (24:45-51) as examples of the need to be ready. Chapter 25 includes three parables. The first two, the parable of the ten virgins (25:1-13) and the parable of the Talents (25:14-30), emphasize the same theme of being ready for His return. Five of the ten virgins discover they are out of oil for their lamps when the bridegroom returns, and as they go to purchase more, they miss the arrival of the bridegroom. In the parable of the talents, three servants are given a portion of their master’s funds to invest, but one servant fails to make any effort and is unprepared when the master returns.  The final parable of the sheep and the goats describes the judgment of nations (25:31-46) as Christ separates those who have shown love toward His people, from those who have not.
Wengst notes that Jesus’ “presentation does not exceed the dimensions of concrete experience. End-time history is presented very realistically.”[24] Indeed, Jesus uses few instances of apocalyptic imagery but brings up real issues and circumstances that would be familiar to His listeners. He encourages people to pray that they will not be forced to flee Jerusalem in the winter, or on the Sabbath (24:20). Wengst points out that Jewish tradition “considered one of God’s mercies that the Babylonian exile took place in summer,” and that fleeing on the Sabbath was a real issue in Jewish Midrash.[25] Nevertheless, it is clear that Jesus is speaking of dire judgments and the end of the age. In chapter 24, Jesus describes wars, earthquakes, famines, tribulations, and the preaching of the gospel. He quotes apocalyptic passages from the Old Testament and also mentions eternal punishment and hell (24:51, 25:30, 25:46). His predictions not only include violent elements, but are based upon Old Testament prophecies and imagery. Some examples follow.

Matthew 24-25: Old Testament Elements
Broadly speaking, the focus by Matthew 24:4-14 on the gospel, rebellion, lawlessness, persecution, and false prophets echo the spiritual battle described in the Old Testament, which pictures the world oppressing Israel and rebellion that ultimately brings God’s judgment. There is nothing in the passage of Matthew 24:4-14 that an Old Testament student would find surprising. Psalm 2, for instance, declares the opposition of the nations and the kings of the earth against God and the Messiah (2:1-6). Nolland points out the centrality of the mission that is reflected in Matthew 24:4-14 concerning the disciples and the gospel. His observation that wars and rumors of wars “do not herald the end, but the completion of the mission does,”[26] also reminds of the centrality of Christ to this eschatological picture. This is consistent with the Old Testament picture of the the Servant in Isaiah, which N.T. Wright says is “the one through whom YHWH’s purpose of justice and salvation will be carried out.”[27]
Several direct allusions are made to the Old Testament as well. Matthew 24:15 directly references Daniel (9:27, 11:31, 12:11) in a prophecy that seems to have been literally fulfilled years earlier by Antiochus Epiphanes, but here points to something that will again be a sign. Blomberg suggests the next two verses use language similar to Genesis 19:17, which describes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.[28] A period of “great tribulation” (Matt 24:21) echoes a time of great “distress” found in Daniel 12:1, including the mention in both passages that it will be unparalleled. Matthew 24:29-31 mirrors several Old Testament passages from Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, and Zechariah that describe final judgment. Nolland states verse 29 “strongly echoes [Isaiah] 13:10 and stars falling goes back to [Isaiah] 34:4,” while the reference to “’shaken’ puts together [Isaiah] 34:4 and [Haggai] 2:6.”[29] Donald Hagner notes that the gathering together of God’s people in Matthew 24:31 was part of the eschatological picture found in several Old Testament passages (Deut 30:4; Isa 60:4; Jer 32:37; Ezek 34:13).[30] In Matthew 24:36-39 Jesus directly relates His predictions to judgment surrounding the Flood of Noah in Genesis. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus again alludes strongly to Old Testament images and concepts. Nolland observes, “The gathering of all the nations for judgment is most similarly represented in the OT in Joel 4:2…[Isaiah] 66:18, both of which use συναγαγειν for ‘gather’ and παντα τα εθνη for ‘all the nations’ in the LXX, as does Mt. 25:32.” Clearly, Jesus discourse contains many Old Testament allusions as it follows an Old Testament-style judgment theme. The mission or story of the Old Testament is simply described here in the New Testament as progressing to a conclusion in Christ.
Furthermore, just as the Old Testament allowed evil and rebellion to occur until finally resulting in judgment, the same dynamic occurs in Matthew 24-25. False prophets will arise and deceive (Matt 24:10, 24:24-26). Lawlessness and rebellion will increase (Matt 24:10,12), God’s people will be persecuted (Matt 24:9). Thus, the judgment described in Matthew 25:31-46 in which the “Son of Man” judges the nations, alludes to a scene from Daniel 7:9-14 in which the “Son of Man” is given authority over beasts which represent kings or kingdoms on the earth (Dan 7:17-18). N.T. Wright notes, “Daniel 7 is basically a court scene: God takes His seat, and judgment is given for the human against the beasts. This is what God’s justice over the unjust world will look like.”[31] Jesus’ statements regarding final judgment against a sinful world is consistent with Daniel. Jesus’ words in this passage concerning Jerusalem and His description of God’s temporary allowance of evil, also mirror the same behaviors that critics find objectionable concerning the Old Testament God. Wengst notes, “If one takes only the loving God as an alternative to the just God one has given up the concept of the biblical God.”[32] Indeed, in Matthew 24-25, Jesus demonstrates a unified concept of God consistent with the Old Testament.

Evaluating the Eschatological Evidence
          It is not surprising, therefore, that Bible scholars such as Seibert find passages such as Matthew 24-25 to be troubling. After insisting that any Old Testament passages be rejected if they contradict the non-violent picture of God presented by Jesus, Seibert must explain why Jesus would teach judgment and destruction that appears to be very consistent with the Old Testament. He is certainly aware of the problem and admits, “We cannot simply turn to the New Testament, breathe a sigh of relief, and naively assume that every portrayal accurately represents God’s character.”[33] Siebert maintains this is also true for the four Gospels, which he claims do not always accurately reflect Jesus’ words or actions.[34] Despite the apparent danger of rejecting portions of the text that do not fit his own hermeneutic, Seibert insists there are, in fact, several possible solutions. First, he notes some scholars believe passages such as Matthew 24-25 may not “actually reflect Jesus’ view of God…Jesus did not literally mean what He said about God in these instances.”[35] Another solution according to Seibert, citing several scholars as part of the “so-called ‘Third Quest’ for the historical Jesus,” is to insist that the historical Jesus did not actually say what Matthew records Him as saying, including that Jesus never taught that God would use violence to bring the age to an end.[36] Assuming, however, that Jesus did say at least some of what Matthew, Mark, and Luke record Him as saying, Seibert suggests that perhaps “God uses violence only outside the space-time continuum, only for a limited period of time, and only for the sake of final punishment.”[37] In some respects, such a temporary, limited, and final judgment aspect of God’s use of violence is precisely what many scholars argue is the real situation found in the Old Testament. In regard to the former attempts at solutions, however, there are also compelling reasons to accept Matthew 24-25 and Jesus’ words as authentic.

Did Jesus Really Say It or Mean It?
One reason to consider Matthew 24-25 authentic, for instance, is the use of the historical-critical method itself. Modern Bible scholars use several tests when attempting to determine if a passage is authentic or perhaps a later addition. The use of such tests is often not applied evenly, and according to Darrell Block, critics often “claim to prove too much” through the use of such criteria.[38] However, these criteria can at least be useful in reinforcing confidence that Matthew faithfully recorded Jesus’ words. For instance, Bock notes that one criterion is dissimilarity.[39] In this case, any saying of Jesus which is dissimilar to something in Judaism or early Christianity is likely an authentic saying from Jesus. No one would expect a later writer to put words in Jesus’ mouth that he or she did not already agree with, thus a dissimilar saying is more probably authentic. There are several instances of dissimilarity in Matthew 24-25 including the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, which Judaism would have rejected. Nolland likewise notes that Jewish teaching on Noah’s flood emphasized the “certainty of judgment,” and not the unexpected arrival of judgment, yet “unexpectedness is the point here.”[40] The warnings from Jesus that it may be a long time before He returns (Matt 24:48, 25:5) would arguably not be expected from early Christian writers.
Matthew 24-25 also passes the test of multiple attestation in which a saying of Jesus appears in several “strands of tradition” or “in multiple forms.”[41] Here, too, the discourse of Jesus appears in all three Synoptic gospels. The criterion of embarrassment, which argues any saying that may reflect poorly on the Church, the speaker, or the writer is likely to be authentic since later writers would not add embarrassing fictions.[42] This appears to be present in Jesus statement that He does not know the time of His own return (Matt 24:36, Matt 13:32). Finally, Bock points out the criterion of double similarity and double dissimilarity proposed by N. T. Wright. This criterion argues that texts which are “similar to but distinct from Judaism in some respects and…similar to the early church in some respects but also distinct at other points,” are more likely to be authentic.[43] Certainly, Matthew 24-25 has similarities with Judaism as mentioned above, but to place Jesus as the Messiah, or to include the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple were also dissimilar. Likewise, with the early church, there are similarities with respect to the focus on Jesus, but dissimilarities with respect to the apparent focus on works as opposed to faith in Matthew 25:14-46. Thus, using modern historical methods of evaluation, the text of Matthew 24-25 has grounds for authenticity, and thus, grounds for viewing the God of the New Testament to also be involved in judgments that mirror the God of the Old Testament.

Other Consistencies with the Old Testament
Finally, it should be noted that the God of the Old Testament has similarities with the character demonstrated by Christ in the New Testament. The impact of the eschatological passages in the New Testament is to present Jesus as the culmination of God’s work to rid the world of sin. The Seventy Week prophecy of Daniel, for instance, promised a final ending of sin, an atoning for sinfulness, and establishing righteousness (Dan 9:24), which also included the coming of the Messiah (Dan 9:25). The New Testament not only presents Jesus as the Messiah, but as the one who brings all of the predictions and promises of the Old Testament to a final fulfillment.  Thus, even regarding the violent judgments of God in the Old Testament, many scholars see a larger purpose at work. Copan argues, “God’s act of engaging in battle is not for the sake of violence or even victory as such but to establish peace and justice.”[44] More specifically, the Old Testament also highlights the goodness and justice of God. Christopher Wright notes, “The popular idea…that the so-called God of the Old Testament stands for unrelieved anger and violence ignores a massive amount of Old Testament teaching.”[45] Indeed, as several Scripture passages state, God demands His people treat others with justice. He also condemns exploitation (Prov 22:22, Isa 58:3), oppression (Isa 30:12-13, Eze 45:9), and even basic unfairness (Lev 19:36, Prov 11:1). God presents Himself as the one who rescues the needy from such conditions (Psa 72:14, Deut 10:18, 26:7, Isa 1:17). In this way, the God of the Old Testament is very much consistent with the God who judges the nations in Matthew 25:31-46, and with the God of love and compassion. As Christopher Wright notes, the story of Israel is part of “the much larger story of the love of God for the human race for all the generations of their rebellious ways.”[46]  It appears the eschatological passages of the New Testament form a conclusion of the story that began in the Old Testament, and thus argue in favor of viewing the God of the Old and New Testaments as the same God.

Conclusion
          Certainly, the God of the Old Testament is often pictured as wrathful, and sometimes executes judgments against entire groups of people. However, this is not the complete picture of either the Old Testament or the New Testament God. Occasionally, the violence of the Old Testament has been exaggerated, and the mercy and love of the Old Testament God has been downplayed or ignored. Meanwhile, when eschatological passages of the New Testament are examined, they demonstrate a fulfillment of the work and story of God that began in the Old Testament writings and finds ultimate fulfillment in Christ. New Testament eschatological passages such as Jesus’ discourse in Matthew 24-25 allude to Old Testament passages to such a degree that it is clearly seen that the New Testament prophecies are based upon Old Testament themes. Furthermore, the same Old Testament descriptions of God judging sin, and also temporarily allowing rebellion, are also found in Matthew 24-25. Critical analysis of Jesus’ sayings in Matthew 24-25 argue for its authenticity, and a general consistency with Old Testament prophecies concerning the messiah and final judgment strongly argue for the unity of the passage with the Old Testament. Thus, the eschatological aspect of the New Testament especially appears to indicate the same God is in view in both the Old and New Testaments.

 

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London, England: Bantam Press, 2006), 248.
[2] Eric A. Seibert, “When God Smites: Talking with Students about the Violence of God in Scripture.” Teaching Theology & Religion 17 no. 4 (2014): 333, accessed December 15, 2017, doi:10.1111/teth.12238.
[3] Ibid., 325.
[4] Carolyn J. Sharp, “Be Strong and Resolute!”: Reading Joshua in the Contemporary Church.” Anglican Theological Review 97, no. 1 (Winter, 2015): 28, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1652981670?accountid=12085.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005), 18.
[7] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 247.
[8] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 165.
[9] Ibid.
[10] N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006), 58.
[11] K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 234.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid., 237.
[14] Matthew Flannagan and Paul Copan, “Does the Bible Condone Genocide,” in In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture, Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder eds. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013), 303.
[15] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? 176.
[16] John M. Monson, “Enter Joshua: The ‘Mother of Current Debates’ in Biblical Archaeology” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary eds. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), loc. 10576, Kindle.
[17] Eric A. Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009), 185.
[18] Ibid., 197.
[19] Bernd Janowski “The One God of the Two Testaments: Basic Questions of a Biblical Theology” Theology Today, Vol 57, Issue 3, (October 1, 2000): 303, accessed December 13, 2017, https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1177/004057360005700302.
[20] Christopher J. H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 81.
[21] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 250.
[22] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 956.
[23] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew in The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Vol. 22 (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 1992), 352.
[24] Klaus Wengst “Aspects of the Last Judgment in the Gospel According to Matthew” in Eschatology in the Bible and in Jewish and Christian Tradition, Henning Graf Reventlow ed. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 243 (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 236.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 967.
[27] Wright, Evil…Justice of God, 65.
[28] Blomberg, Matthew, 358.
[29] Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 983.
[30] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28 in Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 33b Ralph P. Martin, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker eds. (Dallas, TX: Word Incorporated, 1995), 714.
[31] Wright, Evil…Justice of God, 67.
[32] Wengst “Aspects of the Last Judgment,” 244.
[33] Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior, 185.
[34] Ibid., 187.
[35] Ibid., 248.
[36] Ibid., 249-250.
[37] Ibid., 253.
[38] Darrell L. Block, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 203.
[39] Ibid., 200.
[40] Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 993 footnote 135.
[41] Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus, 201.
[42] Ibid.
[43] Ibid., 202.
[44] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 167.
[45] Wright, The God I Don’t Understand, 77.
[46] Ibid., 115.

Bibliography
Block, Darrell L. Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew in The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. Vol. 22. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 1992.

Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. London, England: Bantam Press, 2006.

Kitchen, K. A. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Flannagan, Matthew and Paul Copan. “Does the Bible Condone Genocide,” in In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture. Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder eds. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14-28 in Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 33b. Ralph P. Martin, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker eds. Dallas, TX: Word Incorporated, 1995.

Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005.

Janowski, Bernd. “The One God of the Two Testaments: Basic Questions of a Biblical Theology” Theology Today. Vol 57, Issue 3. (October 1, 2000): 297-324. Accessed December 13, 2017. https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1177/004057360005700302.

Monson, John M. “Enter Joshua: The ‘Mother of Current Debates’ in Biblical Archaeology” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary eds. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. Kindle.

Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner eds. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005.

Seibert, Eric A. Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009.

________. “When God Smites: Talking with Students about the Violence of God in Scripture.” Teaching Theology & Religion 17 no. 4 (2014): 323-341. Accessed December 15, 2017. doi:10.1111/teth.12238.

Sharp, Carolyn J. “Be Strong and Resolute!”: Reading Joshua in the Contemporary Church.” Anglican Theological Review 97, no. 1 (Winter, 2015): 19-32. Accessed December 12, 2017. Har http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1652981670?accountid=12085.

Wengst, Klaus. “Aspects of the Last Judgment in the Gospel According to Matthew” in Eschatology in the Bible and in Jewish and Christian Tradition. Henning Graf Reventlow ed. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 243. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Wright, Christopher J. H. The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

Wright, N. T. Evil and the Justice of God. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006.

20 Observations About Jonah & the Whale

JonahYou have probably heard about the story Jonah. You may even have seen a cartoonish version of it. Jonah is called by God. Jonah runs from God. Jonah gets on a boat and God sends a storm. Realizing the storm is Jonah’s fault, the sailors eventually throw him overboard and Jonah is swallowed by a whale like Captain Ahab. In the animated stories, there’s poor old Noah inside the whale, warming himself by a campfire.

Which is crazy. Animators and Sponge Bob writers have contributed to generations Americans not understanding the limitations that being underwater can place on people. But I digress.

Of course, the whole story is crazy to many scholars or skeptical scientific types. Surviving in a fish for three days? It doesn’t seem possible and even websites like Answers in Genesis , and to a lesser extent, the Institute for Creation Research are cautious of stories about sailors who were supposedly swallowed and then rescued alive. A story of a Spanish sailor is untrue, and the most famous story of sailor James Bartley is also questionable.

The story of Jonah doesn’t end in the whale, by the way. It ends with Jonah getting spit up on the beach, and this time deciding to follow God’s orders. He marches into Nineveh, proclaims that they will be overthrown in forty days, and the entire city repents. Judgment is avoided. Finally, in another twist to the story, Jonah is upset with God for saving Nineveh. More on that in a second. Before I give away any more, here are 20 observations about the actual story that’s in the Bible that you might not know, which hopefully will help you decide what you think about it. And hey, with this list you don’t have to keep clicking, reloading the page, and suffering through popups! So enjoy!

1. Jesus talked about Jonah like it really happened. He specifically did not treat it like a fictional story. (Matthew 12:40-41)

2.Most scholars view Jonah as fictional, however, perhaps a parable.

3.Interestingly, Jonah is a narrative story, not a prophecy like other books around it.

4. The Bible never says it was a whale. That’s an assumption. It could have been any large fish that was capable of swallowing a guy, even a fish that is now extinct. The Bible also doesn’t mention campfires.

5.Most reject Jonah as true because of the problem with surviving being eaten by a fish. For one thing, there’s generally no air in a stomach to breathe. Without some sort of miracle, weird circumstance, or a specially made fish, Jonah wouldn’t have lasted long.

6.Critics also reject idea that Nineveh would take 3 days to cross (Jonah 3:3)

7. In regards to being eaten… Jonah says he came back from the “pit.” That’s an Old Testament term for the place of death. He said he prayed as his life was ebbing away (Jonah 2).

8. According to the Bible then, Jonah may have actually died. It might not be possible to survive.

9. That’s no biggie. God raises the dead. It’s kinda His thing.

10. Nineveh might indeed have taken 3 days to go through. That’s different than just walking across from point A to point B. Try going through Walt Disney World and hitting every stop. Takes awhile.

11. Nineveh’s area was larger than the walled city anyway. Probably what Jonah referred to.

12. Even if Jonah is a parable and not literally true, it still demonstrates that Richard Dawkins is wrong… That’s always fun.

13. A main point of the book of Jonah is that the God of Israel cares about other nations besides Israel. Dawkins claimed in “The God Delusion” that the God of the Old Testament cared only for Israelites. Well, that doesn’t fit Jonah. Not even close. It also doesn’t fit Daniel, or Genesis, or Revelation, or Isaiah, or Jesus, or etc…

14. Ironically, Jonah himself didn’t care about Ninevites.
He hoped they’d all die.

15. A main point of Jonah wasn’t that he was trying to hide from God. It was that he was running from God’s mission for him.

16. Interestingly, when Jonah showed up at Nineveh he would’ve looked and smelled like the Walking Dead… even IF he had survived the fish. Stomach juices are gross and corrosive. Just saying.

17. Imagine if Death himself walked through your town saying in a fairly hateful voice that you’re all going to die in forty days…  You might freak out a little. I bet someone peed their pants. You know, if they had been wearing pants back then.

18. The people of Nineveh repented almost immediately, which would seem unrealistic until you consider the creepy factor of Mr. Corroded Skin walking through town. The people even threw sackcloth on their animals. Critics think this is silly, but the same critics probably put Christmas sweaters on their dogs.

19. It would seem that getting eaten by a fish actually enhanced Jonah’s ministry. Wouldn’t have enhanced his skin though… Well… maybe it was like a really strong chemical peel and after a few months of healing… Where was I?

20. Oh, yes. The big ironic thing is that all of the craziness might have been God’s plan from the beginning. It may very well be that in order to get the people of Nineveh to change so radically and quickly, God needed a guy who would run, get eaten by a fish, and then walk through town. God still takes our failures and turns them into victories.

But goodness, that was off the hook…

Religious Freedom Day, Whatever THAT means…

Portugal Gay MarriageThere seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding in American society of what religious freedom entails, and this misunderstanding threatens to destroy the actual freedom itself.  Lower court decisions have already stripped some elements in favor of culturally popular dogma, a reality the Supreme Court may or may not reverse. Atheistic groups have unsurprisingly sought to interpret religious freedom into non-existence along with God, but religious groups have not always helped matters, either. Some argue extreme positions while others tie themselves to political parties so closely as to simply be a regurgitation of partisan talking points. Phrasing things ever so slightly into exaggeration, flipping definitions around, and using emotive words to misrepresent ideas has reached elite status in American politics. If it was an Olympic sport, perhaps only the Russians could threaten us for the gold, but meanwhile, the idea of religious freedom has been misunderstood, redefined, and read passionately backwards.

I sound negative, I know. In my defense I’m still reeling from Jon O’Brien and Larry Decker’s idea of “true religious freedom” in their recent opinion piece in The Hill.  They argue that religious freedom does not give one the right to discriminate against others, which doesn’t sound so radical, but in their article it means you must accept and/or participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies, support a pro-choice position on abortion, and refrain from protesting when public advertising slanders your religion.

In other words, religious freedom is fine as long as your religious beliefs have no impact on your behavior, participation, or actions. Do what we tell you and you can be free. Having another opinion is acceptable, but you must participate with the lifestyle, ethics, and opinions of the rest of the world, even when doing so violates what you believe.

Which, by definition, is actually the opposite of religious freedom.

How did we get here? The concept of religious freedom never meant freedom from religion as O’Brien and Decker insist along with millions of others. It does demonstrate that the removal of Christian history in western education (doing so in an effort to maintain a separation of church and state of course) has had pronounced negative effects on the understanding of history itself. Whether we are Christians or not, the fact that Christianity was intertwined with western Europe and early American history is undeniable. Understanding that history is quite literally impossible by strictly focusing on the Enlightenment while ignoring Christian influences. The circumstances of the western world were buried in Christianity.

We should recognize, for instance, that when religious freedom was an issue back in the days of Thomas Jefferson, the norm was to have State churches. Most could not imagine an effective government that did not choose a church to be the State Church. In America, the Congregationalists and the Anglicans enjoyed this status. This meant a portion of taxes would go to the official church. If a pastor preached something that contradicted the doctrines of the State Church, that pastor could be thrown in jail. They often were. In fact, they often preached from jail, which is one reason why there are walls around the outside of some early American jail houses. The State Church didn’t want a rebel pastor preaching to people through the bars of his window!

This was the world of Jefferson. It was the world of early America, and it’s why the separation of church and state was not spearheaded by atheists. It was spearheaded by those Bible-thumping Baptists who teamed up with Jefferson. It was spearheaded by religious people who objected to paying taxes to a church whose doctrines they rejected. One Baptist minister who looked upon Jefferson as a kindred spirit, John Leland, argued for religious freedom this way:

“Is it the duty of a Jew to support the religion of Jesus Christ, when he really believes that he was an imposter? Must the Papists be forced to pay men for preaching down the supremacy of the pope?”[1]

Those were important questions because the problem wasn’t merely whether people personally followed their religion, the problem was people were forced to pay taxes and conform their actions to an official, State Church. There were sometimes even laws that everyone had to have their child baptized by a certain age or face a penalty! Imagine being forced to participate in something that went against your beliefs!

It shouldn’t be hard considering we do the same thing to wedding cake bakers.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Discriminating between various actions, endeavors, and practices is the result of any religious belief. Jewish and Islamic believers refrain from certain types of food, follow certain moral codes, and practice certain religious rituals. Christians have fewer lifestyle restrictions than those two groups, but generally, Christians view drunkenness, certain sexual practices, and certain ethical practices as outside their moral code.  All of this necessarily means that religious people typically do not participate in everything that particular culture, even Western culture, practices. Forcing such people to accept and participate in these actions anyway, regardless of their personal beliefs, is religious oppression. It may not be harsh oppression by any means, but it is certainly not religious freedom as O’Brien and Decker try to argue.

Of course, it’s not so simple. Many would argue that this religious freedom thing is all well and good, but when Christians or anyone else attempt to impose their beliefs on me, they have stepped over the line.  This argument carries some weight since a government like ours can be influenced by society. The majority can begin to write laws and regulations that, in effect, begin to enforce a religion. Islamic democracies, as limited as they may be, tend to have very popular support for Islamic laws and traditions.

Thus, this argument sometimes has a point, but these days in America, it’s rare.

Let’s be real. In the United States today, most religious concepts of sin or bad behaviors are perfectly legal. It’s perfectly legal to buy bacon and eat it regardless of what a religion believes. I live in zero fear of the Presbyterians throwing me in jail for what I preach this Sunday. It’s also perfectly legal to practice more serious sins such as adultery, witchcraft, idolatry, and hatred. Indeed, I sincerely believe that rejecting faith in Jesus may result in eternal punishment yet there are no laws against rejecting Jesus and becoming an atheist. I have no desire to make any.

However imperfectly, the United States has practiced what the actual idea of religious freedom has been since people like Thomas Jefferson and Leland were articulating it. As Jefferson argued (and Leland would repeat):

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

The test for any restriction of religious freedom was whether or not it became “injurious to others.” As examples, Jefferson mentioned having money stolen or being physically injured. Consider how this could be applied today. First, in regards to a thorny issue like abortion, it helps us understand each side. Most religious people oppose abortion, for instance, not because it goes against a specific religious practice they are trying to impose, but precisely because they sincerely view abortion as murder. This is why abortion is a tougher issue. It arguably does rise to the level of injurious. It is also why the danger to the life and health of the mother, or the issue of pain to the unborn child, are also legitimate issues where some sort of balance should be pursued.

The abortion debate, therefore, is not one side trying to force a religion down the other side’s throat. If that were the case, there would be many other rituals or beliefs the religious side would also be attempting to legislate. In reality, abortion opponents are arguing that the action of abortion causes real physical harm to another person. It is impossible to claim that the government should not regulate or restrict such activities, otherwise murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, and abuse would also be legal. Abortion is a real question and should be. Since people have the right to vote in a representative government, the fact they oppose abortion on these grounds is perfectly in line with how the United States has defined freedom.

But what about the harm caused by wedding cake bakers? The follow-up argument against religious freedom says that’s fine, believe what you want, but by not baking a cake or by refusing to provide assistance for abortion, you are harming me or that person who wanted to eat your sugary goodness on their wedding day. O’Brien and Decker argue this very point, asking:

“What about that couple’s right to express their love through their wedding ceremony and their cake?”

In regards to the denial of abortion drugs or contraceptives, they ask:

“What about a woman’s conscience? What if she has her own moral reasons why she needs that birth control to make wise decisions for her wellbeing and that of her family?”

These are good questions. The authors have every right to ask them. Nevertheless, we should be careful how we answer because, as the old saying goes, you can’t please everyone. If we tried, we would quickly find ourselves allowing and participating in all sorts of disturbing actions and behaviors that someone else finds perfectly acceptable or even good. It’s not impossible to find people who sincerely believe a sexual relationship with a preteen child should be legal. So the question is not merely where we draw lines; the real question is how do we draw the lines? How should lines be drawn in regards to baking wedding cakes, or providing contraceptives, or anything else that comes up twenty years from now?

Jefferson and Leland had a good answer. Harm involved violating the conscience or causing real physical or financial damage. In other words, the harm needed to be more than irritation or offense. In regards to the Catholic opposition to contraceptives or the much larger opposition to abortion, these cases could be judged by balancing the possibility of actual harm with basic freedoms. If you can get contraceptives for free somewhere else, it’s difficult to see how there is any harm. By contrast, there certainly are issues with abortion that need to be debated and circumstances to consider.

When it comes to baking a cake, however, a Christian baker’s refusal to participate in a same-sex wedding does not realistically or typically cause physical or financial harm. It does not force the same-sex couple to perform an action that violates their conscience. It does not prevent the wedding ceremony from having a cake at all. If there is another cake baker available, let capitalism solve the problem. As a comparison, surely adultery causes emotional harm, far more than someone refusing to bake a cake, and adultery actually does cause financial harm. But if we are not willing to make adultery illegal, what justification is there for punishing someone for not baking a cake? When other cake bakers are available and the only injury is inconvenience or deep offense, it simply does not justify taking away someone’s religious freedom.

If it does, then religious freedom means very little, and it should be removed from the Constitution altogether to save us the bother.

 


[1] John Leland, “The Rights of Conscience Inalienable, (1791)” in The Sacred Rights of Conscience: Selected Readings on Religious Liberty and Church-State Relations in the American Founding, Daniel L. Dreisbach and Mark David Hall eds. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund Inc., 2009), 341.

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus Existed and So Did His Miracles

MangerConsider how difficult it would be to convince someone that an imaginary person existed and had been famously walking around town just two months ago. Now try to convince the same person that they themselves saw this imaginary person perform a miracle. According to the book of Acts, written in the first-century AD, the apostle Peter said this:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— (Peter in Acts 2:22, ESV).

It is sometimes claimed that Luke simply got it wrong when he wrote down these words of Peter. Ancient fake news perhaps. It is sometimes claimed the church must have rewritten the book of Acts somehow, although they would have had to do that very, very early. We do have quite a number of ancient manuscripts after all. What isn’t really up for debate, however, is that the Christian religion was a big presence in Jerusalem very soon after the time of Jesus. The people who lived at that time and in that place sure acted like people who would agree with Peter in the verse above. They had seen Jesus and the miracles for themselves. Why else would they become believers in droves?

A few thousand years later, we aren’t so sure, of course.  Last month as Christmas approached, the Washington Post published a three-year old article that questioned whether Jesus really existed. The article suggested that Jesus was nothing more than a myth. The same idea shows up around the internet but when it shows up in the Washington Post, it carries more weight.

Except it doesn’t.

The three-year old article had been previously debunked (debunked with amazing force) and even atheist historians and archaeologists believe Jesus was a real person. The disagreement is over what Jesus said and did, not whether He was real or imaginary. Ironically, the claims of Christianity are taken more seriously by scholars and experts, than by our popular media culture. Of course, there is that meme of Bart Ehrman saying:

In the entire first Christian century Jesus is not mentioned by a single Greek or Roman historian, religion scholar, politician, philosopher or poet. His name never occurs in a single inscription, and it is never found in a single piece of private correspondence. Zero! Zip references! -Bart Ehrman (at a debate in a church)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWAZvB0rCDQ

However, Ehrman wasn’t arguing Jesus didn’t exist as the memes suggest. He was arguing the only sources we have for any large amount of information about Jesus are the Gospels. Ehrman also made a similar statement in his book Jesus, Interrupted to argue that Jesus wasn’t all that important to the people in the ancient Roman world. The internet memes are twisting his words and taking them out of context. I know, shock right?

Historically speaking, Jesus was a real person. He lived and walked the earth and changed the world forever. He is mentioned a few times in some minor written records by Roman authorities like Pliny and Tacitus. Both of them missed Bart’s deadline of the first century, but just barely. Jesus also gets a brief mention or so by the ancient Jewish historian Josephus who did write in the first century. Jesus is also mentioned in writings by ancient Christians. Yes, the writings of Christians such as Paul and the Gospels do count as evidence. Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians, for instance, are mid-first century, and considered very significant by the scholarly world. Notice Ehrman did not say Jewish sources when he made his statement.

It gets better. Consider some sociological facts for a minute. Myths take hundreds of years to develop, but Christianity was growing all over the Roman empire just a few years after Jesus. The teaching of what Jesus had said or done, the miracles He had performed, and fact of His death and resurrection did not take decades or centuries to be written down or preached. Christians were saying these things from day one. The earliest Christian creed that Paul wrote down in I Corinthians 15:3-7 is believed to have been given to Paul just a year or two after Jesus.  Yes, even atheist scholars have said this. Myths don’t usually develop instantly.

Wait, actually never.

Also notice what Peter said above. The famous apostle was preaching this sermon barely two months after Jesus had died on the cross. Many of the people to whom he was speaking had been able to see Jesus with their own eyes. That’s why Peter says that Jesus did miracles “as you yourselves know.”  The people who lived in Jerusalem would have known if Jesus was imaginary, and they would have known if Jesus hadn’t really done any miracles. That’s why myths take centuries to develop. Most people are a bit skeptical of such things, especially if those same people had been there.

It’s also why it is amazing that after Peter finished speaking, 3,000 people put their faith in Jesus. The same city full of people who had seen Jesus with their own eyes, exploded with belief. Even if you reject the accuracy of the story, historical evidence from writings and archaeology shows that Christianity developed in Jerusalem far, far too early to be explained by a myth. The historical evidence implies not only that Jesus was a real person, but that something extraordinary had happened.

It’s not like supposed messiahs hadn’t been killed before. They had. Jesus was obviously different for some reason. I would argue this is the sort of historical evidence that leads toward believing there was something to those miracles and especially, the resurrection.

It’s also why, outside of the internet and the Washington Post, it is difficult to find current scholars or historians who are able to credibly argue that Jesus did not exist. Sure, you may quote one from somewhere, but everyone else can raise you a hundred. Read the link above by John Dickson that debunked the Post’s article in 2014 as just an example. There is a growing body of evidence that easily demonstrates Jesus was a real person, including everything from writings, carvings, paintings, letters, manuscripts, and the history of Christianity itself. His existence is the easy part. The real debate is on the miracles and the resurrection. There are simply too many details to explain away in order to claim Jesus was imaginary. Plus, there’s the big, obvious, glaring detail that cannot be overlooked:

Out of all the ancient writings from Jews and Romans who argued against Christianity, and there were plenty of ancient skeptics, not a single one of them ever argued that Jesus didn’t exist. No one argued Jesus was imaginary until centuries later.

Think about that. It took centuries to develop this Jesus-Is-Imaginary idea.

That’s how myths work. Thus, the actual myth here, the idea that no one believed then but people accept now thousands of years later, is the whole Jesus wasn’t real thing.

If you’re not into myths, then good news, the evidence says Jesus was, in fact, a historical reality. The best part: He is also a present reality.

Bible Thumpers Aren’t the Dangerous Ones…

crusades

The use of force in historical Christianity, either by the Church itself or those believers who have acted on behalf of the State, has become more than simply a theological debate. It has also become a point of contention in apologetics as the history of violence by the Church has given atheists and academics grounds for questioning the legitimacy of Christianity. For instance, Sam Harris argues, “A glance at history…reveals that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion.” Painting with such a broad brush is unfair in many respects, yet he is not alone. Professor John Moses notes, “It has been observed that monotheistic religions, with their claim to absolute truth, encourage their adherents to use force to impose their faith…violence therefore, is built into the religious system.” As much as Christians might protest such a statement, Church history admittedly includes the use of inquisitions, the promotion of crusades, and substantial military or social violence from one group of believers against another. While some actions could be justified, many other actions were indefensible. How is it possible that the very Church, which often expects to reign with Christ over the earth (Rev. 20:4), and believes itself to be destined to judge not only the world, but angels as well (I Cor. 6:2-3), could have brought so much suffering and violence to the Middle Ages? The answer deserves a closer look at the sources of both the violence and the reforms in church history. There are more factors at play than can be examined in this short essay, yet one surprising feature stands out with Christianity that flies in the face of modern assumptions. The source of reform in the Church, including the rejection of violence and a more limited scope of the use of force by civil authorities, came from the more fundamentalist side of Christianity. Harris decries those who “believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book,” and blames such beliefs for most of the violence in the world. The argument made here takes an opposite position with respect to Christianity. As this analysis indicates, it was the movements within Christianity to take the Bible more literally, and view the Bible as authoritative, which have in fact been a prime influence toward peace, and have inexorably led away from conflict and toward greater unity. The evidence for this can be seen from the Protestant Reformation to the present.

The Difference-Making Protestant Perspective
Of course, the very idea that placing a high authority on Scripture would lead society in the direction of peace, does not seem to match well with some portions of history or current cultural dogma. It is not without evidence that Harris and others would accuse Bible-believing Christians of being dangerous. Harris calls religious moderation “nothing more than an unwillingness to fully submit to God’s law.” Anyone who does fully submit to God’s law, from his point of view, moves into the realm of religious extremism and violence. This assumption, which sounds true to modern culture, nevertheless struggles to stand up under scrutiny.

There is no doubt, of course, that the Roman Catholic Church and other denominations in the Middle Ages, including Protestants, used coercion, force, and violence. Historian James Wylie wrote about the formation of the Catholic League, noting “the leading object of the League was the restoration of the Popish faith over Germany, and the extirpation of Protestantism. This was to be accomplished by force of arms.” Besides the formation of a military force against the Protestants, the Church eventually began to enforce its authority through inquisitions. Wylie again writes that Inquisitors would “search for heretics in towns, houses, cellars, and other lurking-places…Once discovered, a summary but dreadful ordeal conducted them to the stake.” Protestants and reformers have also been guilty historically of employing violence for their own means. Some like Ulrich Zwingli and Thomas Muntzer openly advocated for military actions. At least some of the Catholic-led Crusades are often held up as evidence of Christian aggression, along with the Protestant-led Salem Witch trials, or other episodes in church history. One scholar notes that during the Middle Ages, “Western peoples came to look upon groups that professed another faith as enemies of the kingdom of God who should be destroyed or converted.” The same author observes “Only one group of Reformers, the Anabaptists, practiced nonresistance.”

Significant theological changes arose with the Reformation movement, however, and those changes began to impact how the Church, and even society, viewed the use of force. What is even more notable is that these changes did not come from a movement away from the Bible, but a greater adherence to it. By this is meant a movement toward the teachings of the Bible as a whole, specifically viewing both the Old and New Testaments, as the Reformers did, as the revealed word of God. Not only did this result in interpreting the Scriptures in the light of the New Testament teachings of Christ, it more importantly meant giving authority to the Scriptures over and above the authority of any person or church.

This was a major characteristic of the Reformation. Prior to the Reformation, not only was the Church itself intertwined with government, something which continued with Protestants as well, but to follow Christ meant specifically to follow the Church. Salvation was attained by performing good works and especially the sacraments. As Millard Erickson writes, “In the historic Catholic view, the sacraments are effective ex opera operato (‘from the work done’) …It indicates that the conferral of grace depends on the act itself.” He summarizes this description by saying, “What all of this amounts to is that salvation is dependent on the church.” As a result, when it came to the Crusades, the Roman Catholic Church presented fighting in the campaign as another work that could earn the blessing and forgiveness of God. One historian notes, “By constructing an ideal of Christian holy war—in which acts of sanctified violence would actually help to cleanse a warrior’s soul of sin—the papacy was opening up a new path to salvation.” The papacy could do this because the Church was viewed as the highest authority. Wylie records that before he was burned at the stake, Jerome was rebuked for referring to the Scriptures. According to Wylie, a Cardinal scornfully mocked Jerome, saying, “The Holy Writings! Is everything to be judged by them? Who can understand them till the Church has interpreted them?”

The exchange highlights the contrast. What drove the Reformation was giving authority back to the Scriptures instead of the Church. Thus, when Martin Luther forcefully argued the case for his ninety-five theses to Sylvester Prierias, he tells Prierias, “You cite no Scripture.” Luther historian Roland Bainton observed, “The radicalism of (Luther’s) tract lies not in its invective but in its affirmation that the pope might err and a council might err and that only Scripture is the final authority.” Indeed, appeal to Scripture became a defining characteristic of Protestantism and has remained so.

That appeal to Scripture made salvation by faith a more personal message than salvation by obeying the Church. The works that were done, were works done for God, and involved more than regular sacraments. Modern-day pastor John MacArthur put it this way, “Salvation by faith does not eliminate works per se. It does away with works that are the result of human effort alone (Eph. 2:8). It abolishes any attempt to merit God’s favor by our works.”

Thus, for Protestants especially, pleasing God daily by how one lived, became paramount. When Dietrich Bonhoeffer opposed war as a pacifist in Germany, when the Anabaptists practiced nonresistance, when St. Augustine proposed the idea of a “Just War,” or even when the American Revolutionaries took arms against England, regardless of whether or not these people were correct in their interpretation, they nevertheless made their decisions on the basis of Scripture in an effort to do what was right in the eyes of God. They did not make their decisions based on a church edict or promise of forgiveness for the act of taking up arms. A greater adherence to Scripture, meant a greater personal concern for living life according to the will of God. A Protestant did not believe salvation could be earned by fighting in a crusade or simply by being a member of the Church.

The Tension for Protestants Between Following Christ and the Use of Force
Once free to use the Bible to guide one’s actions, theological debates and struggles over the use of force immediately ensued. A modern theologian argues, “Jesus clearly explained that the cause of God was not to be advanced through the use of physical force (John 18:36), and He criticized Peter for violently defending Him at His arrest (Matt. 26:52-54).” It is also true, however, that Jesus did not condemn the soldiers he met (Matt. 8:5-10), and He himself used force to drive money-changers from the temple (John 2:15). Thus, there have been, and continue to be, differing views on how to balance force and toleration.

A particularly extreme case, the early Protestant Thomas Muntzer believed it would be necessary to “slaughter the ungodly” and erect a theocracy. Less radical was Zwingli who looked upon the Catholic League armies and was convinced, “the gospel could be saved in Switzerland and the confederation conserved only if the Catholic League with Austria were countered by an evangelical league…ready if need be to use the sword.” Zwingli’s actions especially were intertwined with his political and military involvement, and according to one scholar he did not limit his views to defensive wars. “Zwingli’s intentions were unmistakable,” he writes, “He sought to force the Catholic opponents to accept the evangelical faith and to couple the Word of God with the military might of Zurich.”

Other Protestants, however, vehemently opposed using force to propagate Christianity. The emphasis by the Reformation on salvation by faith led to an emphasis on preaching the Scripture instead of demanding loyalty to a church. When Zwingli was killed on the battlefield, Bainton writes that “Luther considered his death a judgment upon him because as a minister he wielded the sword.” When it came to government, however, many including Luther saw a need for force, within appropriate boundaries. For instance, a key passage in Romans says:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience (Romans 13:1-5, NIV).

The indication in this Scripture that government is to “bear the sword” and to punish those who do wrong seemed to prescribe appropriate boundaries for civil authorities, and as much as Christians were involved in government, these boundaries came into play. That Paul describes authorities, who in his day were hostile to Christianity, as established by God, led Luther and others to reject rebellion. Luther condemned a Peasant Revolt, writing “If the peasant is in open rebellion, then he is outside the law of God.” Yet as an example of the difficulty in wrestling with this issue, one could observe that Luther himself rebelled against authority by standing up against the Catholic Church. Even Paul, who wrote the above statement, ran afoul of the law for preaching the gospel.

The question of disobedience, including under what circumstances and in what way, preoccupied the American colonists prior to the Revolution as well. In fact, they worked diligently to conduct their protests, and eventual decision to declare independence, in a way they felt did not violate this passage of Scripture. The historian David Barton writes, “Reformation leaders turned to the Bible and found much guidance on the subject of civil disobedience and resistance to tyrannical civil authority.” There are indeed many instances in Scripture of resistance to authority, perhaps summed up by Peter and John with a single statement they uttered to the Sanhedrin: “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!” (Acts 4:19). In like manner, according to Barton the Founding Fathers believed “that the institution government” was not to be opposed but only tyranny. Thus, they acted in what they viewed as a defensive posture, and with a colonial government in place so that they were not rejecting government itself. These issues concerned them, and they looked to the Bible for guidance.

Protestants, Revolutionaries, and even modern government officials have also hearkened back to Augustine’s idea of a “Just War.” For Augustine that required “proclamation by a ‘legitimate authority’…a ‘just cause’…and prosecution with ‘right intention’, that is, with the least possible violence.” Of course, despite Christians best efforts, however, it is difficult to know for sure whether a war is just, and mistakes have certainly been made. There continues be debate over the justice, or lack thereof, regarding the Crusades. Although the call to war for the first Crusade was made on the basis of atrocities against Christians and the danger of Muslim aggression, Thomas Asbridge writes that Pope Urban II’s “accusations bore little or no relation to the reality…but it is impossible to gauge whether the pope believed his own propaganda or entered into a conscious campaign of manipulation and distortion.”

Whether Asbridge is correct or not, the point is that Bible-believing Protestants did not commonly launch into Crusades or revolutions with blood-thirsty zeal to expand the faith. Instead, they began to even wrestle with how to use force in government, and with only a few exceptions, were theologically disposed to use preaching to expand the faith, instead of using the sword. Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides a thought-provoking example. A scholar notes Bonhoeffer’s stance as a Christian pacifist, quoting him as saying, “Every form of war service, unless it be Good Samaritan service, and every preparation for war, is forbidden for the Christian.” Yet, even Bonhoeffer may have had second-thoughts as he watched the rise of Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler. Although some argue he was unaware, the pacifist Christian minister did get involved with an organization that attempted to assassinate Hitler. The vast majority of people would applaud him, but for Protestants who gave the Scripture authority over every church and government, the question was about pleasing God first. Thus, they wrestled with what to do. They looked to the Scriptures for guidance.

The Protestant Trajectory in History
It made a difference although for centuries, and certainly during the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation as battles raged between Christians during the Thirty Years’ War, it could be argued that God refused to answer the prayer of His Son. Christ had prayed for future believers, asking that, “all of them may be one”(John 17:21), and that Christians would experience “complete unity” (17:23). For much of the Middle Ages and in the years that followed, there was little that could be characterized by unity. Christians were guilty of inventing ways to reconcile wars and violence with Scripture. Prior to the Reformation, Arthur Ripstein notes that “Augustine defended punitive wars” and later “Suarez defended the Spanish conquest of the Americas on the ground that the indigenous inhabitants were likely to resist settlers and missionaries.” Deep divisions also separated Protestant denominations. Those divisions were reinforced by governments that tended to officially recognize a particular church denomination, which was then promoted over the others. Douglas Sweeney writes,

“The Protestant world was broken apart, and its state churches were not the only signs of division. Its theologians developed competing Protestant confessions, or doctrinal statements…They fought theological battles with their fellow Protestant leaders. They encouraged the laity to think of themselves primarily as Calvinists or Arminians, as Lutherans or Anabaptists, rather than those who shared in the words of St. Paul, ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’”

If the story were to stop here, the argument that the efforts to return to the Bible did not cause more peace, but in fact, more division. In some respects, the accusation was true. Just as changes from monarchies to more democratic governments handed over responsibility to millions of citizens, thus resulting in an increase of political discussion and disagreement from person to person, in like manner the increase in Bibles and literacy, coupled with the view that the Bible held more authority than any church, gave each person an opportunity to form their own spiritual opinions.  A multitude of groups sprang up, including Puritans and Pietists who encouraged the study of the Scriptures, yet often found themselves with doctrinal divisions.

The divisions, and the proliferation of the Bible, weakened any sort of centrally-powerful church, however. Indeed, it can be argued that the sheer number of churches, and various Christian groups, weakened the ability of any church to use force. In general, preaching replaced armies, and doctrinal disputes, while argued passionately, did not usually result in someone being burned at the stake or arrested by Inquisitors. The arrival of the Great Awakening demonstrated a reliance upon preaching the word instead of advancing Christianity by force, and it was clearly more unifying in nature. Timothy George noted, “The awakenings were international, transatlantic movements of ecclesial and spiritual renewal embracing Pietism in Germany, Methodism in Great Britain and revivalism in the American colonies.”  It wasn’t unity for the mere sake of unity, but it became a unity of purpose, of working together worldwide. George writes, “The awakenings spawned a host of interdenominational ministries, including orphanages, Bible societies…and above all, an evangelical missionary movement of global proportions.” Today, the very group of Christians that emphasizes the authority of Scripture, often goes by the ecumenical label “Evangelical” which encompasses Christians from various denominations all over the world. While the prayer of Christ may not have been answered for centuries, the trajectory of many Protestants has indeed moved closer to unity. 

Conclusion
In many respects, this analysis is subjective, and there are many theological and historical details that lie outside the scope of an essay of this size. However, while admitting that Christianity of all types has struggled to coexist peacefully with others, it becomes undeniable that something has changed in Christianity since the Middle Ages. The most obvious change is the Reformation Movement which emphasized Scriptural authority over the authority of the Church, and emphasized personal faith over seeking salvation by obedience to the Church and the sacraments. As a result, salvation could not be forced upon anyone since it required faith, and the highest official in any church, could be opposed on biblical grounds since Scripture held the authority. While the ramifications of these changes took centuries to work through Protestant, Bible-believing Christians, history has demonstrated a notable difference. It has been the Christians who have gone back to the Bible that then began to wrestle the most with the use of force in society, and who have ultimately experienced a greater unity of purpose and fellowship. The effect has since spilled over into all of Christendom so that today, the Catholic Church is a strong voice for peace. In doctrine, most would agree with Erickson who writes, “The church is to show concern and take action wherever it sees need, hurt, or wrong.” The point here is one of the most crucial factors that has led to this attitude, has been a return to seeing the Bible as the authority. One could then argue the Bible isn’t a danger, and never has been. The Christians who returned to the Bible have reformed Christianity. They have limited the use of force in society, eliminated it in the Church, and encouraged greater unity.
Bibliography

Asbridge, Thomas. The Crusades, The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2010.

Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1978.

Barton, David. “The American Revolution: Was it an Act of Biblical Rebellion?” WallBuilders.com. May 5, 2009. Accessed Dec. 15, 2016. http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=24548.

Clouse, Robert G. “War” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Second Edition. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Third Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

George, Timothy F. “Why I Am an Evangelical and a Baptist,” in Why We Belong: Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity. Edited by Anthony L. Chute, Christopher W. Morgan, and Robert A. Peterson. Wheaton,, IL: Crossway, 2013.

Gordon, Bruce. “Huldrych Zwingli,” The Expository Times. Vol 126, 4 (Dec. 12, 2014): 157-168. Accessed Dec. 16, 2016. DOI: 10.1177/0014524614560493.

Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2005.

MacArthur, John. The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988.

Moses, John A. “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Repudiation of Protestant German War Theology” Journal of Religious History. 30 (2006): 354. Accessed 12/15/16, DOI:10.1111/j.1467-9809.2006.00498.x.

Ripstein, Arther. “Just War, Regular War, and Perpetual Peace,” Kant-Studien. 107, no. 1. (March 2016): 179-195. Humanities International Complete, EBSCOhost. Accessed December 16, 2016. DOI:10.1515/kant-2016-0009

Sweeney, Douglas A. The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005.

Wylie, James A. “The Thirty Years’ War,” in The History of Protestantism: A Complete History of the Christian Church. Book Twenty-one. Harrington, DE: Delmarva Publications, Inc., 2013.

Did the Sun Really Stand Still?

sun2

Interpretative Issues Concerning the Long Day of Joshua 10

The account of the sun standing still, and all of the associated events recorded in chapter 10 of the Old Testament book of Joshua, have inspired a great deal of both derision and debate. Popular skepticism and many in academia reject the description of the miraculous, particularly in this account, due to the scientific difficulties involved.  Meanwhile, biblical scholars themselves have proposed several explanations, each with its own set of problems. The effort to explain the statements about the sun and moon standing still in the sky as Joshua and the Israelites pressed the battle against their enemies is where most interpretations diverge. The traditional viewpoint takes these statements at face value, while other viewpoints argue for alternative understandings of the text, or reject the truthfulness of the text altogether. One noted scholar admits, “None of the explanations is entirely satisfactory,”[1] while another concedes that, “Many plausible elements can be found in almost every solution.”[2] But where then is the average reader to turn, and what then can be believed, when it comes to this account? With such an unsettled state among even the scholars, how much confidence can be placed in any particular interpretation?  To begin to answer these questions, a refocusing on the details present in the Scripture itself, and a careful consideration of where those details lead, is necessary not only to limit unsupported speculation, but may also help in bringing to light a more unified view. With such a goal in mind, this brief examination will attempt to show that closer attention to the text itself will not only narrow the interpretive options, but also highlight that a real event took place, which was intended to bring refreshment and victory to a tired Israelite army.

Conforming Interpretative Views to the CONTEXT of Joshua

The book of Joshua reads as an ancient record of the conquests of the Israelites as they entered, fought, and eventually settled in Canaan. Geographical locations are spelled out in detail, along with the descriptions of battles and the strategies used. Nevertheless, many interpretative views substantially sever the connection of the text with a real event. One scholar suggests for instance, that the story of Israel and the Gibeonites was likely nothing more than a fable added to the book for political purposes. “The YHWH temple at Gibeon,” he writes, “was probably abolished in the course of Josiah’s religious reform. The Gibeonites’ strong opposition to the closing of their temple is reflected in the satirical polemic initiated by a [Deuteronomic] author against the Gibeonites and their elders.”[3] Thus, it is alleged that the story in Joshua was invented, “in reaction to the resistance of the Gibeonites”[4] to Josiah’s reforms. Such a viewpoint dismisses the idea that the sun or moon stopped in the sky as pure fiction. The alternative offered, however, is entirely speculative itself, and ignores the context of Joshua as a detailed, ancient record, claiming (without any actual proof) this part of Joshua was just thrown in for a political reason.

Others claim portions of the text are prose, comparing them to the poetic references of stars fighting for Israel mentioned in Deborah’s song (Judg. 5:20), or the sun and moon standing still in Habakkuk’s prayer (Hab. 3:11). Richard Hess notes the specific phrases about the sun and moon follow a chiastic structure.[5] David M. Howard, Jr. suggests, “The language is similar to the psalmist’s who urges the rivers to clap their hands and the mountains to sing for joy.”[6]

Indeed, the book of Jashar, mentioned by Joshua as a record of this event, is believed to refer to a book that preserved nationalistic songs.[7] It is plausible that phrases in Joshua were quoted from such a book and would indeed be poetic. Nevertheless, this does not preclude those statements from any historical accuracy. As mentioned above, the context of Joshua implies the account was making every effort to be factual. As one scholar notes, “Remarkably, every geographical aspect of this campaign—from the ascent of Beth-Horon to turning back to Debir—fits the geography of the regions in which the events transpired.”[8] He then asks the obvious, “Why would the Joshua conquest accounts offer such specific and verifiable geographical data were they not reflective of actual historical events?”[9]

Thus, the weaknesses of the preceding interpretations are that they impose solutions that are contrary to the context of the book of Joshua as a whole, which presents itself as a detailed record of events with real geographical places. The accuracy of the geographical detail alone, attests to this.

Conforming Interpretative Views to the TEXT of Joshua

In fact, there are interesting clues to be found in the text itself. For instance, Joshua prays, “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and moon, over the Valley of Aijalon” (Josh. 10:12b, HCSB).[10] Gibeon was east of the Valley of Aijalon implying Joshua was not asking for the sun to stand directly overhead, but for the sun to remain in the east, while the moon remained in the west. This is apparently contradicted by the next verse, which says, “So the sun stopped in the middle of the sky” (Josh 10:13), but the Hebrew word translated “middle” is far more often translated as “half.” The apparent contradiction is reconciled if Joshua was asking the sun to remain on its half of the sky while the moon remained on the other half. Furthermore, the fact Joshua asked the sun to stand still in the east implies it was still morning when Joshua spoke. This suggests Joshua was not asking for more daylight to finish a battle, but for a cooler day in which to fight it. The Israelites had, according to verse nine, just marched all night long.

Many interpretative views latch on to some of these details, but often fail to account for all. A scientist suggests Joshua’s long day could be explained by a meteor. He writes, “A night-time airburst comparable in energy to a nuclear bomb explosion many times greater than Hiroshima would be seen as the sun shining at night.”[11] Perhaps, but only for a few seconds. The event in Joshua 10 lasted for “almost a full day” (Josh. 10:13b). Benedictus de Spinoza believed Joshua’s long day could be explained by “the presence of hail in the air, together with the empirical knowledge that hail in the air causes additional light.”[12] It is entirely unconvincing, however, that anyone would mistake hail for the sun itself. Hail storms, meteors, and other suggestions such as solar eclipses simply do not last for an entire day as the text of the story describes.

Another view argues the description of the sun and moon, especially the statements that the sun or moon “stood still” or “stopped,” merely reflect the normal language of ancient omens regarding the movement of the sun and moon across the sky. John H. Walton argues that when the full moon occurred, “on the wrong day” it was, “believed to be an omen of all sorts of disaster, including military defeat and overthrow of cities.”[13]  While at least addressing a contextual matter from ancient times, this view has two primary difficulties. First, there simply is no mention in the text that the opposing armies viewed this as an omen, or any mention that omens were important enough to the Israelites that Joshua would ask for one. The book presents miracles as factual accounts, and thus it seems more likely that the same book that described the Israelite force crossing the Jordan after God divided the waters, would likewise be clear that merely an omen was in view if that was the case in Joshua 10. Instead the natural reading of the text, especially after the Jordan crossing and the miraculous victory at Jericho, is that something miraculous happened here with the sun and moon. Secondly, the appearance of the sun and moon in opposition at any point, is not something that would last for “about a whole day,” as the text describes unless the sun and moon indeed stopped their motion.

The text provides several other clues as well. For instance, verse 12 begins with a Hebrew word that is translated into English as “then.” This is not a sequential ordering, however. Howard writes the Hebrew specifically, “introduces important action that took place at the same time…That is, somehow the hailstorm of v. 11 and the phenomena of vv. 12-13 either were one and the same thing or (more probably) they happened at the same time.”[14] Even in English, the text prefaces Joshua’s prayer with: “On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the LORD in the presence of Israel: Sun stand still over Gibeon…” (Josh. 10:12a). Accordingly, Joshua could have prayed this at any time during that day. A morning prayer is consistent with the position of the sun and moon mentioned earlier, and again indicates Joshua’s motive was more than simply having extra time.  Thus, the text itself strengthens some views, but weakens others.

Conforming Interpretative Views to the CIRCUMSTANCES of Joshua

Beyond the context of the book and the text, the circumstances surrounding scene in Joshua 10, also impact interpretative views. As has already been mentioned, the Israelite army had marched all night. It is reasonable that Joshua would not ask the sun to stop overhead where the heat of the day could weaken his army. D. Ralph Davis takes this further, noting that the Hebrew verbs translated “stand still” and “stopped” can be translated to say the sun and moon gave less light than normal. He writes, “Which activity of the sun and moon is Joshua prohibiting? Most assume it is their movement. But why could it not be their shining?”[15] This view gains strength from the circumstances of the story, although the historical circumstances regarding the interpretation of these words are less supportive.

Re-translating these words would mean some of the earliest interpretations of the Hebrew by Jews and Christians alike would have been wrong for thousands of years. The Wisdom of Sirach, written in the second century BC, references Joshua 10, saying “And didn’t one day become as two” (Sir. 46:4, WEBA). Writing in the first century AD, Josephus notes, “That the day was lengthened at this time, and was longer than ordinary, is expressed in the books laid up in the temple.”[16] That the Hebrew has been interpreted this way for thousands of years, strengthens the position that the movement of the sun is the correct understanding.

However, tradition is not the same as proof.  It must be admitted that the Hebrew word translated “stand still” also means “hold peace, quiet self, rest” and many other descriptive terms. The Hebrew word translated into English as “stopped,” is also flexible enough to include “standing behind” or “cease,” perhaps in the sense of shining less, or standing behind the clouds. Since the hailstorm is specifically connected to this event by the Hebrew text, it could be argued the storm had something to do with the sun shining less than usual, or the sky remaining darker than usual.  This particular natural phenomenon certainly could have lasted “about a whole day.”

The circumstances of Joshua 10 do indicate a more refreshing day was a reasonable motive, even if the sun was stationary or appeared to remain in the east, which is consistent with the text. The hailstorm would have certainly blocked any overhead sunlight, perhaps only allowing sunlight to the east, while raining deadly judgment upon Israel’s enemies. Although Howard rightly observes “the traditional interpretation cannot be ruled out merely because it involves a phenomenon of colossal magnitude,”[17] it is nevertheless true the traditional interpretation does not rule out that a cooler day was the whole point. It is also consistent with the text, albeit not with historical interpretation, that the cooler day was accomplished by lessening the intensity of the sun’s shining, a possibility in which the storm may have played a role, therefore not necessitating a stoppage of the actual motion of the sun and moon across the sky.

Conclusion

This analysis therefore proposes that the context of the book of Joshua argues in favor of a real event, and when all details are considered, many speculative interpretations of Joshua 10 can be reasonably rejected. The interpretation that the sun and moon stopped their motion in the sky is a natural and traditional reading of the text, which is consistent with the context of the book and the power of God. However, the text itself also allows for an interpretation that the sun was shining with less intensity throughout the day. It is even possible from the text that this was because of the clouds surrounding a hailstorm sent by God. Thus, the interpretative options are narrowed, leaving out some views, but the text continues to allow some flexibility.  Nevertheless, whether the sun and moon appeared to stop their motion, or whether the intensity of the sunlight was lessened, the circumstances including the position of the sun in the east, the condition of the army after a long march, and the presence of the intense storm, suggest the primary motive of Joshua’s request, or at least the ultimate result of it, was the refreshment of his army for the day’s battle and the subsequent destruction of Israel’s enemies by God.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Richard S. Hess, Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6 of the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. Donald J. Wiseman (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996), loc. 3069, Kindle.

[2] David M. Howard, Jr., Joshua, vol. 5 of The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, ed. E. Ray Clendenen and Kenneth A. Mathews (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 1998), loc. 6672, Kindle.

[3] Nadav Na’aman, “The Sanctuary of the Gibeonites Revisted,” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 9 no. 2 (2009): 117, accessed December 8, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/156921109X12520501747714.

[4] Ibid., 112.

[5] Hess, Joshua: Introduction and Commentary, loc. 3044, Kindle.

 [6] Howard, Joshua, loc. 6743, Kindle.

 [7] Hess, Joshua: Introduction and Commentary, loc. 3072, Kindle.

[8] John M. Monson, Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, ed. James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary (Wheaton IL: Crossway, 2012), loc. 10718, Kindle.

[9] Ibid., loc. 10861.

[10] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

[11] Euan G. Nisbet, “Joshua 10, the Gibeon strewn meteorite field in Namibia, and the Chelyabinsk fall,” The Expository Times 125, no. 11 (August 2014): 572. Accessed December 10, 2015, http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0014524614529867.

[12] Steven Nadler, “Spinoza and Scripture: A Colloquium Introduction,” Journal of the History of Ideas 74, no. 4 (October 2013): 662. Accessed December 8, 2015, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/docview/1443782250?accountid=12085

[13] John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), loc. 4755, Kindle.

[14] Howard, Joshua, loc. 6532, Kindle.

[15] Dale Ralph Davis, Commentaries on Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel (Escondido, CA: The Ephesians Four Group, 2015), loc. 1133, Kindle.

[16] Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 5.1.17, trans. William Whiston, Josephus: The Complete Works (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 115.

[17] Howard, Joshua, loc. 6611, Kindle.

 

Bibliography

Davis, Dale Ralph. Commentaries on Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel. The Ephesians Four Group: Escondido, CA, 2015.

Hess, Richard S. Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 6 of the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Edited by Donald J. Wiseman. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996.

Howard Jr., David M. Joshua. Vol. 5 of The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. Edited by E. Ray Clendenen and Kenneth A. Mathews. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 1998.

Josephus. The Antiquities of the Jews 5.1.17. Translated by William Whiston. Josephus: The Complete Works. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998.

Monson, John M. Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.

Na’aman, Nadav. “The Sanctuary of the Gibeonites Revisted.” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 9 no. 2 (2009): 117, accessed December 8, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/156921109X12520501747714.

Nadler, Steven. “Spinoza and Scripture: A Colloquium Introduction.” Journal of the History of Ideas. 74, no. 4 (October 2013): 662. Accessed December 8, 2015. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/docview/1443782250?accountid=12085

Nisbet, Euan G. “Joshua 10, the Gibeon strewn meteorite field in Namibia, and the Chelyabinsk fall.” The Expository Times 125, no. 11 (August 2014): 572. Accessed December 10, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0014524614529867.

Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

The Genocidal God of the Old Testament

angry-god

by Brian Ingalls

In recent times, atheists have specifically rejected the Scriptures on the basis of God’s perceived lack of character. In the book, The God Delusion, for instance, Richard Dawkins claims the God of the Bible is immoral, stating, “The Bible story of Joshua’s destruction of Jericho is morally indistinguishable from Hitler’s invasion of Poland, or Saddam Hussein’s massacres of the Kurds.”[1]

To be sure, some of the commands given by God in the Old Testament are harsh in their treatment of others. They sometimes command the destruction of entire peoples, including the women and children. How can this be reconciled with the idea that God is love, or that God forgives? It has led Dawkins and others to characterize the God of the Old Testament as genocidal.

Nevertheless, it remains apparent that an Almighty Creator would certainly have the ability, and the right, to exercise some level of authority over that which He has created. In fact, any God who can create such a vast and complex reality as this universe, certainly may also behave in ways that human beings might occasionally struggle to comprehend. The apostle Paul alluded to this in Romans: “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? (Romans 9:20, NASB).[2]

The mere fact the Bible records events that are difficult to come to terms with, does not exclude them from being true. Neither does it exclude human beings from misinterpreting those events. Perhaps however, a better understanding of God’s behavior in the Old Testament could bring the picture of the Creator into clearer, more realistic focus. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness.”[3] This brief article argues that the harsh stories of war and judgment in the Old Testament, may be the clue to what that “more” is. God’s judgements are certainly terrible, but such judgments remain an understandable action by the eternal, holy, and loving Creator of the Bible.  The inspiration of the Scriptures cannot be rejected on this basis.

Another Look at History

In order to make any assessment on the character of God in the Old Testament, it is helpful first to examine the ancient context. The Scriptures invoke two main images, that of God driving out the nations, and that of God destroying the nations, sometimes including women, children, and animals. Christian apologists, such as Paul Copan, have emphasized that “the conquest of Canaan was far less widespread and harsh than many people assume.”[4] Their effort is to downplay the genocide. Two points stand out as central to this argument. The first is that the Old Testament Scriptures purposefully overstate the number and categories of people killed, and the second is that the traditional view of a dramatic, large-scale ethnic cleansing is not supported by the record in Scripture.   The Old Testament does indeed seem to occasionally overstate the results of a battle, using the same custom of hyperbole found in written records during the same time period. After pointing out the practice of exaggeration by other ancient military accounts, Joshua Butler notes, “The Old Testament itself makes clear it is using hyperbole…we only have to go a little farther in the story to find the same enemies (that were supposedly wiped out) are still very much alive, still very powerful, and still causing problems.”[5] Copan argues the vocabulary used by typical military accounts during the time period is more akin to reading a figure of speech. “The sweeping words ‘all,’ ‘young and old,’ and ‘men and women’ were stock expressions for totality, even if women and children weren’t present.”[6] As will be shown, this is difficult to apply to every instance in the Old Testament, however.

Secondly, it is argued that there was no large-scale destruction in Palestine. Instead, Israel gradually pushed out the occupants of Canaan. One scholar notes, “The reports of battles in the book of Joshua make no claim that these cities were possessed upon Israel’s entry into Canaan…Joshua’s campaigns in Cisjordan may well have been only raids or responses to those who resisted Israel’s growing presence.”[7] Butler adds, “This is not an overnight ejection but a gradual eviction.”[8] In fact, both Joshua 13:1 and Judges 2:3 specifically describe the Canaanites as a significant presence in the land even after Joshua’s campaigns had long come to an end.

These efforts to mitigate the severity of the conquest of Canaan, however, ultimately fail to address the primary problem that God Himself appears to command genocidal actions at least some of the time. Dawkins notes “his orders, for example in Deuteronomy 20, are ruthlessly explicit.”[9] It is likewise hard to explain the scene of Moses and his commanders when Moses asks, “Have you spared all the women?” (Numbers 31:15), and proceeds to order the killing of all the male children along with most of the women, sparing only the virgins.

“All this is terrifying stuff,” writes Dinesh D’Souza, “Gore Vidal calls it Bronze Age morality, and whether or not we agree with this characterization, it seems a morality utterly unsuited to our way of thinking.”[10] It thus becomes a question of why God would even occasionally command such destruction.

Another Look at God’s Motivations

The Bible makes two significant claims about the people in Canaan. The first is that they were practicing idolatry and behaviors that had provoked God to action. “It is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you” (Deuteronomy 9:5). The second is that God had been patient for centuries, indicating to Abraham in Genesis 15, that the Israelites would have to wait 400 years to possess the land because “the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). Even when the Israelites began their march into Canaan, there was clearly no surprise among the Canaanites. In Jericho, Rahab and her family turned to God precisely because they had, “heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan” (Joshua 2:10).

Thus, God is pictured in the Scripture itself as a Creator sitting in judgment on His creation after a great deal of patience, and with adequate warning. D’Souza adds, “human sacrifice…was widely practiced by the Canaanite nations. When this is understood, God’s judgment of the Canaanites is reasonable.”[11] Yet, despite placing the focus on the sinful practices of the Canaanites, and the patience of God, questions nevertheless remain.

Dawkins writes, “One cannot help marveling at the extraordinarily draconian view taken of the sin of flirting with rival gods.”[12] For him, and many others, the punishment of God simply does not fit the crime. Whether God waited patiently, or whether the destruction was limited, is irrelevant. It is the fact death was prescribed at all. He asks, “If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them?”[13]

This reveals a key point. If a US President wanted to forgive someone for murder, they have the power to do so. Surely, there have been friends and associates that some presidents, and others in authority, have pardoned simply because they wanted to. Society, however, generally condemns such favoritism because it is viewed as unjust. It is notable that the Bible extols the justice of God who is likewise in a position of authority to pardon or condemn. “For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice” (Deuteronomy 32:4). It prompts D’Souza to say, “God can no more stop being just than he could stop being benevolent.”[14] Thus, whether human beings see the value or not, whether human beings agree or not, God’s justice is clearly at play.

Another Look at God

In fact, the criticism against the Old Testament applies equally well to any of God’s commands for judgment. As one scholar said, “The horrors of Gehenna will be no less than those of Jericho.”[15] It should be observed then, that most critics who condemn God for commanding the death penalty to an entire city in the Old Testament, are just as offended by God judging the earth in general.

Nevertheless, to be fair, by definition God is in a unique position to implement justice. He is not in the same situation as an individual human being. As such, His behavior cannot be accurately compared to individual human beings. To do so is akin to accusing a jury of murder for sentencing someone to death. Positions of authority don’t merely allow, but often require, actions that would be unlawful for an individual. God is not acting as an individual citizen of the earth, but as the Creator with the unique responsibility for all humans, for all time.

With the entire human race as His responsibility, it is certainly within God’s purview to execute judgment and enforce laws for the sake of others, just as any government would. Failure to do so would cause God to be unjust and unloving toward those He could have ultimately saved or helped through His enforcement of His laws. Just as any “good” government would be willing to protect society by war if necessary, God must also, if He is loving and good and just, be expected to take drastic actions necessary to protect humanity from whatever may ultimately destroy it. And even “just” wars are horrific.

A final observation takes note that the Old Testament does not present the Israelites as taking God’s law into their own hands. On the contrary, the Israelites are pictured as obeying the orders of God in the same way an army obeys the order of its government. As a result, the Bible serves as a source for human morality, not because humans are to emulate God, but because humans are to be under God’s authority. Morality is derived from Scripture with the idea that God is on the throne, and that all humanity has a higher authority to which it ultimately must answer.

Thus, when it came to Canaan, the Scripture describes that God had waited for centuries and allowed years of warning before executing judgment. Then by virtue of His position as an eternal God, and made necessary by His love of mankind and the requirement for justice, He was spurred to action against the Canaanites. The judgments against sin, while harsh, do not logically negate the inspiration of the Scriptures.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London, England: Bantam Press, 2006), 247.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references come from the New American Standard Bible, 1995.

[3] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (HarperCollins Publishers Inc.: New York, NY, 1940), 33.

 [4] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 2011), 170.

[5] Joshua Ryan Butler, The Skeletons In God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, The Surprise of Judgment, The Hope of Holy War (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN, 2014) 229.

 [6] Copan, Is God a Monster? 177.

[7] James K Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary, Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (Crossway: Wheaton, IL, 2012), loc. 10593, Kindle.

 [8] Butler, Skeletons in God’s Closet, 232.

[9] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 247

[10] Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About God: A Reasonable Defense of God in a World Filled with Suffering (Tyndale House Publishers: Carol Stream, IL, 2013), 203.

[11] Ibid., 216.

[12] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 246.

 [13] Ibid., 253.

[14] D’Souza, What’s Great About God, 231.

[15] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), 37.

BIBLIOGRAPHY 

Butler, Joshua Ryan. The Skeletons In God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, The Surprise of Judgment, The Hope of Holy War. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN, 2014.

Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 2011.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. London, England: Bantam Press, 2006.

D’Souza, Dinesh. What’s So Great About God: A Reasonable Defense of God in a World Filled with Suffering. Tyndale House Publishers: Carol Stream, IL, 2013.

Hamilton, Victor P. Handbook on the Historical Books. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001.

Hoffmeier, James K and Dennis R. Magary. Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. Crossway: Wheaton, IL, 2012, Kindle.

Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain. HarperCollins Publishers Inc.: New York, NY, 1940.

Earth 2.0: Created By God

The apostle Paul once described a vital part of his ministry this way:  “We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NLT)

Of course, he wrote it in Greek and he might have considered the simplified English of the New Living Translation a bit elementary. For the record, I always view the New Living Translation as what the Bible would read like if James (whose own book is notably blunt) wrote the whole thing.  At any rate, you can see what Paul is getting at here. He argued, debated, and took on the rigorous task of making the case for Jesus.  He believed in truth -not manufactured truth but the actual stuff that can hold up under examination. In fact, Paul called out other ideas as “false” and “proud” and threw water on mere “human reasoning,” pointing out that it sometimes “keeps people from knowing God.”

Just to keep myself out of trouble, I’ll mention the old English of the King James Version says things like “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.”

Whatever version you prefer, the bottom line is human reasoning, arrogance, false arguments, etc… need to be challenged. In love? Yes of course, but challenged all the same because this doesn’t end with the latest “scientific” finding, or the latest politically correct phrase to substitute for “baby” when describing an abortion. Those severed arms and legs are fetal tissue. That brain is a product of conception. That liver is a clump of cells.

The human race is increasingly good at fooling itself, of building layer upon layer of assumptions and what New Testament generously called “lies” to the point that down becomes up, good becomes evil, female becomes male or whatever, and we all feel pretty smug about how intelligent we are.

And to be honest, none of us are immune. We all have to guard against this no matter who we are or what we believe. Assumptions are insidious things that lie dormant until someone comes along and shakes things up.

That brings me to Jeff Schweitzer. Frighteningly, Schweitzer is an actual scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst with a Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology. Recently, the Huffington Post published his article “Earth 2.0: Bad News for God.” in which he goes on the offensive against God. He explains that soon we will likely prove that life exists on other planets such as the recently discovered Kepler-452b and this will deal a decisive blow against all religions because it destroys fundamental truths the Bible teaches. Yes it’s true that the Bible isn’t the book of choice for many religions, but Schweitzer was evidently making an example of the Bible by taking it out to the woodshed.

He made his point with some of the usual tactics of modern atheism, throwing up various false claims including that the Bible claims the earth is the center of the universe (it does not), that because God did not tell Adam and Eve about other worlds then in effect the Bible teaches there can’t be other worlds (a strained argument to say the least), and that God couldn’t have created light on the earth because the stars were already there. (Which of course assumes a number of things including that the stars could be seen from earth at the time.)  He took a statement from a Roman Catholic Pope and made it binding to what all Christians must believe, and he prepped his readers with the assurance that the discovery of life will undermine all religion -even if they make excuses for it after the fact.

All of this, an attack on the beliefs of millions of people that God exists, that Jesus loves them, and that there is hope of eternal life, came from a discovery of a planet that is earth-like?  With all due respect this is where I draw the line. This is where it’s time to challenge the ever-increasing layers of what Paul would call mere human reasoning and false arguments. Why? Because I want to enjoy a new planet for crying out loud. I grew up watching Star Trek on television and at the cinema, too. I want to be excited about Kepler-452b (who names these things?) but now I’m supposed to be threatened. When I was younger, people hadn’t even found one planet. I always hoped they would, and now that we are finding them we have to listen to these attacks?

Fine. Have it your way.

The Bible doesn’t say anywhere the earth is the center of the universe.

The Bible doesn’t say we are alone in the universe.

But we probably are.

I say probably because without intelligence behind it, there’s virtually zero probability on the side of the appearance of life on any planet, anywhere. We don’t even know how it started here, and hey, I’m just repeating what Dawkins said.

How does Schweitzer not know the number of galaxies and planets out there is no where near, not even close, to the number needed to have the slightest infinitesimal chance to have life? If you think all we need is one in a million, well that many chances take place all over the earth and new forms of life aren’t springing up anywhere. If you think it happens one in a billion, billion, billion, trillion… you’re still not even close yet.

Planets? You don’t even have enough “events” (elementary logical operations) since the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. Dr. Don Batten explains in detail that the chance of getting one small amino acid chain together, just using the various combinations possible, results in a chance of 1 in 10 (to the) 195 power.  And that’s just one amino acid chain. You need a zillion other things for life to appear by chance. Mathematician Fred Hoyle determined that the chances of inanimate matter becoming life worked out to 1 in 10 (to the) 40,000 power. Way back in the day, atheist biophysicist Harold Morowitz came up with an even worse probability of 1 in 10 (to the) 10,000,000,000 for a simple bacteria to emerge.

How big are those numbers? Well the number of ATOMS in the universe is 1 in 10 to the 82 power. That’s the higher estimate. So quite literally, there is a better chance of putting an “X” on an atom and letting it float in the universe for a billion years, then going out into the universe (pick any of the billion galaxies you want) and plucking a single atom and get THAT ONE on the first try, than there is of life appearing by accident.

In other words, there may be a billion planets but the chances are statistically zero that life forms all by itself.  If we think we can find life on the very first planet we check with odds like that, well… the powerball lottery should be a cinch.

It led Hoyle to remark: “It is big enough to bury Darwin and the whole theory of evolution. There was no primeval soup, neither on this planet nor any other, and if the beginnings of life were not random, they must therefore have been the product of purposeful intelligence.”

So probably… there simply aren’t enough planets, 13.7 billion years is not enough time, and there aren’t even enough atoms.  In fact, the numbers say it is flat out statistically impossible for life to appear without anything guiding it.

Like a Designer for instance.

Our human reasoning, our pride, our false arguments need to be challenged. They keep us away from God if left unchecked, and well… they keep us from seeing the obvious. We are not here by accident.

THIS is Christianity

Mottel Baleston
check out this video (it will pop up in a new window)
     For many people religion is more of a cultural thing to appreciate and keep around like one does a family heirloom. It looks good on the shelf in the living room, but you don’t really use it all that much in real life.  For others, it’s just …foreign. At least, that’s often the impression given by the comments and reactions to religious expression we see from the talking heads of media and/or Hollywood.
     I’m probably being generous. Hollywood hasn’t understood Christianity or the Bible since the twelve apostles were still available to hire as consultants.
     And some of you… it’s okay to admit it…. won’t even get through the five-minute video above. After all, the Pew Research Center just informed us that Christianity is shrinking in America while the numbers of people with no affiliation with any religion, including atheists, and agnostics are growing. That’s especially true for anyone more youthful than 36 years of age.  So hey, if that’s you, then perhaps you don’t really care that some guy named Mottel Baleston decided to become a Christian after growing up Jewish.

     I understand. And I’m not posting this video to win any of these arguments. I’m posting this because THIS is Christianity.

Continue reading “THIS is Christianity”

Creationism is Wrong, Trust Us

So sayeth those opposed to Creationism, the belief that an all-powerful God created the universe and all that we see and perceive in the physical or even spiritual world.  Regardless of your particular idea of creationism, whether you have a Muslim theology or a Christian one, or whether you believe the universe is very old or very young, you are simply wrong.  All the evidence is against you.

So sayeth others, therefore it must be true.

It’s been going on for awhile in case you missed it and thought it was still up for debate.  Writing about nutrition of all things for Real Clear Science, Ross Pomeroy was quick to compare fad-diets with religion.

“…both cults and diets profess to have “answers” and impart benefits that will irrevocably change your life for the better. Veganism’s pitch isn’t very unlike Scientology’s. Caveman Diet’s isn’t all that different from certain sects of Evangelical Baptism”

Excuse me what?  Baptism?  Are people getting baptized for it’s health benefits or even spiritual benefits? Why didn’t I know this? Someone should mention to Ross that baptism isn’t about its benefits. It’s a outward act that says I belong to Jesus from this day forward. It’s symbolic, not therapeutic for crying out loud. What a weird analogy.

But nice job coming after my religion when I was trying to read an article about dieting… geez.

Ross made a better analogy, at least in terms of actually having something to do with the subject, a bit later.

“With all the conflicting and poorly designed research out there, it’s easy to find evidence to back any dietary assertion. In the same manner, overly religious types, such as those who promote creation science, latch on to data that coincides with their beliefs and disregard everything else. Though their ideas are awash in woo, staunch creationists can present a very persuasive case.”

I certainly qualify as overly religious if that is possible. By this time I have forgotten that the article is actually over diet plans, and have become immersed in the typical attack of our culture against Jesus. Simply dismiss it without another word. Those of you who have been digging into the details, the evidences, and the facts are wasting your time. It’s decided already. No one won the debate, in fact Ross admits creationists can be persuasive, but that’s beside the point. It’s over.

As proof, and as proof that Ross was only mildly interested in writing about dieting, he linked an article attacking creationism entitled “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense.”

After all who listens to nonsense? That’s the point, see. The argument is over.

Our world does not write these articles or say these things with the purpose of having an enlightening discussion. They say these things to scoff just as the Bible predicted they would in II Peter chapter three.  And although it was talking about something else, the advice of Revelation 14:12 “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus” applies very well.

Patience is very much in order, especially as I perused the article he linked.

You gotta love that the #3 Answer of the 15 Answers to Nonsense was upset that creationists give a “blanket dismissal of evolution.”

lol

Pot? Kettle. Kettle? Pot.

Ok, seriously though. What if we actually dug into these things instead of dismissing each other? I’d be willing to bet Bible believing Christians would realize that not all scientists are militant atheists, and militant atheists would realize that Bible believing Christians often have scientific degrees, credentials, and a valuable point of view.

And we’d all learn a lot of science.

For instance, the fact we do not find humanoid skeletons in the lowest layers of the earth does not prove humans evolved, even though evolution would predict that we would not find humans there.  Score one for evolution, but there are other explanations, even ones consistent with the Bible, which also predict finding the same thing.

Harder questions remain for evolution such as when it misses predictions, which it has often done. Evolution predicted that we would find junk DNA for instance, yet that turned out to be largely untrue. It predicted that Neanderthals would have smaller brains which is completely untrue, and it predicted we would find transitional forms, a slow development of life in the fossil record, and DNA proof that we all came from a single cell in one evolutionary tree.

And figuring out how something mutates into a substantially different creature sporting radically different DNA has been next to impossible in evolution so far. In other words, everyone tells you evolution happened, but no one can do more than guess at how it happened.  But trust us, they say, it did.

One final point. When you are left with blaming alien beings from outer space as your best guess for how it all started… you know you’re struggling.

The crazy thing is all of this is incredibly interesting. Too bad the discussion is over because this is the best it’s ever been. In fact, even though Christians are usually accused of being closed minded, the truth is most evangelical churches I know do NOT tell people to shun science.  Instead they advise to question everything and examine closely.

Even if the rest of the world is done examining.

Here Comes the Virus

If you’re like me, you hear American government officials and experts assure us that there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to Ebola and you wonder if they just don’t want us to panic. It spreads like HIV (and even then for only a few days) and therefore is highly controllable. Most fears are overblown, fear-mongering, especially if Donald Trump says it.

And then you watch the news, hear the doctors talk about it being out of control, and well… c’mon it sure seems like Ebola spreads a bit easier than HIV. Like one comment tweeted to the CDC, I feel like asking:

“We are told it can only spread through contact with bodily fluids-similar to HIV. But seems more contagious than HIV? Why?”

The CDC assured the tweeter that yes Ebola is spread like HIV and you need close contact with bodily fluids, and then only in a certain window of time.  Ok. Granted.

But…ummmm….

That’s not exactly like HIV, which takes more than mere “close contact.”

HIV is NOT spread through touch, tears, sweat, or saliva.  So says WebMD anyway.

Ebola evidently is.

The bodily fluids that do transmit HIV -like blood for instance- “must come into contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into your bloodstream (by a needle or syringe) for transmission to possibly occur.”  So says the government. I added the italics.

The CDC, however, makes no mention of Ebola needing to come into contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue.  To catch Ebola, the CDC says you need only come in “direct contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person.”  They go on to explain that it spreads in hospitals where people are not wearing “protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and gloves.”

Then when you go to the Canadian Health Department, it gets scary.  They add that people are at risk when, and I quote: “handling the bodies of deceased humans in preparation for funerals, suggesting possible transmission through aerosol droplets.” That explains the need for gloves and “protective equipment.”

Then shockingly, they follow up with, “In the laboratory, infection through small-particle aerosols has been demonstrated in primates, and airborne spread among humans is strongly suspected, although it has not yet been conclusively demonstrated.”

Again I added the italics because I was sitting there going “whaaaat???”

They end by saying poor hygienic conditions can aid the spread of the virus.

Ok, maybe the Canadians are fear-mongering despite the fact they are not named Donald Trump.  I don’t know. I’m not a researcher or any sort of an expert on Ebola or other pathogens.  Neither is it surprising that there is conflicting information about a disease we haven’t fully understood yet.

Nevertheless, it seems a bit obvious that Ebola is spread, and is spreading easier and faster than HIV does. The amount of close contact it takes to spread Ebola is much more casual, which is one reason why doctors don’t have to wear spacesuit-looking gear when taking care of a patient with HIV.

Hopefully, we will get all of these things ironed out, and the US government is not just trying to make us feel better.  Although, between you and me, don’t you just feel like it’s just a matter of time before someone in America gets carried into a hospital and tests positive? I hope not. I’m probably just thinking like this because I’m trying to quit diet soda.

So onto the big question:

Why God? Why did you ever invent anything like HIV or Ebola? Or E Coli for that matter??

If Genesis is correct and God created everything, then one would predict in the beginning everything was “good” like the Bible said.  Since then, however, everything would be breaking down.  The Bible says this started when sin entered the world.  The universe might have been created in perfect balance at one time, but when death and decay became part of the equation, we started to get more and more out of balance.  So a creation point of view would predict viruses or bacteria would get worse over time because they would break down, mutate, or get out of where they were supposed to be.

There’s an article on this you might be interested in, so I won’t go into as much detail, but suffice it to say that many viruses actually serve purposes, or at least didn’t kill us.  One virus was recently discovered that almost every human being has, which scientists theorize is meant to keep the bacteria inside our gut (we need bacteria) in balance.  In fact without bacteria, the world would die. Turns out at least some viruses play a bit of symbiotic role with them and thus… are actually necessary.  The implication is originally, before mutations took their toll, or the environment changed for the worse, that all these things were in balance, living where they were suppose to live, and doing what they were supposed to do.  You have “good”  E coli inside you right now, but there is one strain which lost some DNA somewhere that will make you sick now.  Creation would predict that sort of thing.

Which means that if Genesis is right, then Ebola would be expected to have had some purpose, or some place where it could exist and not harm humans.  For instance, the ocean is full of viruses but sharks and sea life still exist. (However, mutations or changes in that balance could also cause once harmless viruses or bacteria to cause problems. Like with the starfish dying off.)

So why did God create Ebola? I have no idea, but I bet in the beginning it didn’t harm anyone.  I bet  eventually we will discover it played a helpful role somehow. And ironically, if people followed God’s instructions on life, food, etc… We would have avoided many of those viruses. Weird, huh? It’s almost like he knew….

See, HIV didn’t wipe out the primates where it originally lived, and syphilis wasn’t killing sheep right and left either.  Originally, things were in more balance.

Or as the Bible said, it was good.

Since sin entered the world, however, the earth is slowly “wearing out like a garment”. (Psalm 102:25-26 and Isaiah 51:6)

I’m convinced God is letting the ship sink slowly (the earth) so people will look for the lifeboats.

Thinking About Hope when Life is Unfair

A classmate of mine passed away a couple of weeks ago, and he was probably one of the best of guys I’ve known.  Funny.  Humble. He was a walking definition of sincerity.  It’s people like him who make death at 46 years old seem very unfair.  Unfortunately, it’s been a month of unfairness.  Another friend of mine had a classmate pass away, and just tonight, a 17-year old student who has attended our church and made many friends has died in an apparent tragic accident.

This is the point I’m supposed to ask where is God.  If God exists, these things shouldn’t happen so randomly perhaps.  If God exists, there should be some semblance of rhyme and reason involved.  There should be a why.  Otherwise God is either hiding or ignoring us, or he doesn’t exist at all.

Something like that.

To be fair to God, He made something I consider good come out of the death of my classmate.  He gave my classmate real hope.  See, my friend had always been an atheist because when he was young his dad had died.  My classmate couldn’t understand why, and rejected any belief in God as a result. Things changed in him when he faced own death.  And it didn’t change as you might imagine. Continue reading “Thinking About Hope when Life is Unfair”

How Soon Was Jesus Supposed to Come Back?

Although I haven’t taken an official poll, it seems most professors, skeptics, media, and those who comment on the Bible would say the disciples of Jesus expected him to come back within their lifetimes. This is often used as another reason not to take the message of Jesus all that seriously, but that is a sweeping judgment that lacks perspective. In fact, when it comes to the return of Jesus according to the Bible, Christians and skeptics alike may be guilty of missing key details.

For instance, many pastors and evangelical Christians today, (of which I qualify as both) maintain that Jesus can come back at any moment. We commonly speak and write in ways that give the distinct impression Jesus could return any moment in our lifetimes. In that respect, we aren’t much different than those early Christians.

It makes one wonder what people might conclude if, in the distant future, someone were to find the writings of Christians from today. Would they pick up a worn copy of “Left Behind” and conclude we believed Jesus would return in the next few years and that Kirk Cameron was our prophet? Couldn’t they also use that as evidence that since Christ did not return, he must not be real? Of course, ask almost any of those Christians or pastors of today and their views are not so simplistic. I have often said Jesus is coming soon, but I am not so certain he is coming in my lifetime.

Perhaps, we Christians should speak and write more carefully using more perspective in the first place? Probably, but that’s not going to happen. There’s never going to be a shortage of writers or speakers making exciting claims, no matter whether they are Christians, secularists, or global warming/climate change alarmist/deniers.

Besides, it’s more fun to talk about Jesus coming in the next few minutes. Come on.

Anyway, as it turns out and despite the fact this is often ignored for the sake of arguing, the writers of the New Testament DID write with perspective. Shockingly, they never Continue reading “How Soon Was Jesus Supposed to Come Back?”

Dear Senior Class 2014…

Thirteen years ago when you got home from your first day of kindergarten, most of us parents picked you up and asked, “How was your first day of school?”  A lot has happened since then. You tried to make good grades, you excelled in sports, in music, in art, or maybe in science.  It’s really amazing the talents you have developed.

This past week I picked up my daughter from school and this time my question was, “How was your last day at school?”  You have reached the last day, and just like that first day, we are excited for you and proud of you as we cheer for your success in life.

Did you know God cares about your success, too?  The Bible says “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  Knowledge can help you achieve the desires of your heart, of course, but God can do things no one else can. He has ultimate control over our success or failure.

I don’t know if you believe that or not. The Bible predicted “scoffers” would come in the last days and they’re here.  People will make fun of you for believing in Jesus. Religion is old-fashioned. We are evolving past it they say.  Bill Mahr says religion is the source of all our problems, and Bill Nye seems to think you can’t be a scientist or help the human race advance if you believe God created everything.

They can sound convincing, but that road doesn’t end well. The Bible talks about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but it’s worth noting that it should have been Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.  Esau was the oldest son and should have been the next in line. His father loved him, wanted to pass everything down to him, but Esau just didn’t care.

He only cared about the here and now, and agreed to sell his birthright to his brother. The Bible says, he “despised” his birthright.  That decision destroyed his future.  That’s why we remember Abraham, Isaac, and his younger brother Jacob instead of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.

You’ve heard people say God has a plan for your life, but you don’t have to care either.  The world will tell you not to worry about it. The world cares more about the here and now, but I believe if you go down that road, like Esau, you’ll miss out.

So here are three old fashioned things to hang on to no matter what the world says: Continue reading “Dear Senior Class 2014…”

Neuroscience and the Bible

Be afraid. Be very afraid. 

Or not.

When it comes to advances in science regarding the brain and our understanding of where our thoughts, emotions, consciousness, perceptions, choices, and more come from, some of our religious notions like the idea of the immaterial soul, or free-will, or sin might be shaken.  That shaking however, so far seems to involve religious traditions and a few interpretations of the Bible, but not the Bible itself.  Turns out the actual Scripture is holding up just fine.

Neuroscience, thanks to the use of brain scan technology, is a rapidly growing field of science that is in the process of revolutionizing psychology and our understanding of ourselves, but ironically Jesus and the Bible seem to have been saying similar types of things.

Some logical premise building first: If God is real, and the Bible was truly inspired by him, then it stands to reason that it would remain consistent with much of our own science.  That’s not the case with church traditions or some interpretations of the Bible. Those things change all the time. In fact, discovering the truth about most anything, means also discovering what was not true.  So while Christians may have to wait until reaching heaven before some arguments over interpretations are settled, it may be that some new scientific discoveries could actually help resolve some long standing debates.

Yeah, that’s probably wishful thinking, but at least the discoveries make the debates more interesting.

For instance, if neuroscience could prove (and some research makes a strong case) that our brain makes a decision BEFORE we are conscious of it, that seems to take away our ability to have free will over our own actions.  If we have no real choice, then what about sin? How could God judge us? Continue reading “Neuroscience and the Bible”

Ken Ham and Bill Nye Debate: Now That I’ve Slept on it…

Despite the protests of leading atheists who didn’t want to treat scientists and human beings who believed in God as worthy of anything other than to be ignored, Ken Ham and Bill Nye nevertheless faced off for an in-depth, internet broadcast, and CNN-hosted debate over creationism, evolution, the Bible, the flood, naturalism, and definitions of science.  It was enlightening at times as even Bill Nye the Science Guy noted after Ham’s opening presentation.  The Saturday morning television science teacher started his own presentation by looking at Ham and admitting he had “learned something.”  At other times, it left multiple questions begging for answers and more time.  The demand by Nye at one point that Ken Ham answer a list of four important questions was comically followed by the debate moderator’s (CNN’s Tom Foreman) formal announcement that Ham had one minute to respond.  All of the proceedings, taking place last Tuesday, February 4 at the famous Creation Museum in Kentucky, provided both the benefits of sincere, polite discussion, and the limitations of dealing with such a huge subject in a mere two hours.  I simultaneously wanted more to be said, while getting tired of hearing it.

And you might be tired of hearing about it too! So I’ll try to at least be concise.

I loved it when Bill Nye talked about how much he loves science. Obviously I wish he understood how much I love it, too, and many other creationists, but you can’t help but enjoy his passion for discovering things.  What so many miss is how many Bible-believing Christians are science buffs.  It’s why we can’t get enough of Louie Giglio.  And yes, we do go to secular universities and ace those tests too.  Those decorated scientists who provided Ken Ham with statements via video clips did not have Theology degrees.

I loved that Ken Ham used the opportunity he had to keep coming back to the Gospel, the good news that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son to die for the sins of the world.  Sometimes, it seemed Ken sacrificed debate time to do this, but sharing the actual Gospel to a worldwide audience was beautiful.  I’m sure it didn’t come close to convincing the most hardened atheist, but God knew who needed to hear that last night and they did.  Awesome, awesome, awesome thing Ken.

I love the fact that we had a real, and polite, debate between diametrically opposed world views.  We can’t even debate tax policy anymore without competing to see who can roll their eyes the most, but last night we saw something we don’t often see in the world lately, and that is respect for another human being.  Judging by the comments and articles following the debate, atheists are quickly trying to put a stop to this nonsense, but for a brief moment yesterday, both sides argued their case on the merits and appealed to people with reason.  That’s pretty cool, and as one of the news organizations noted in an article this morning, that’s worth something at least.

I loved that the two men both used power point demonstrations that seamlessly integrated into the broadcast.  It reinforced that this debate wasn’t just a name-calling contest that we generally see on the internet or the dismissive disdain from a Dawkins’ column. We all learned something because we weren’t turned off immediately. Instead, the audience was respectfully taught, whether they were in the “choir” or not.

I loved the fact that Ken Ham included video statements, and references from other decorated scientists who didn’t just believe in God, but believed in young earth creationism.  Bill Nye in particular has taken up the atheist effort to portray anyone who believes in creation as anti-science and the sort of people who will destroy America’s competitive edge because they are incapable of becoming engineers.  Nye continually went back to this caricature at the end of the debate, but his effort was largely diffused by the irony of several famous scientists who evidently were able to engineer important inventions and discoveries despite the fact they believed in God. Ironically, the famous scientists from history that Nye mentioned were often very devout Christians as well, so it doesn’t seem that much of a hindrance after all. Here’s another scientist’s take on that very issue (and several others Nye has brought up).  This is important stuff because modern day atheism is dishonestly propagating a lie in their efforts to win people to their side. Why would they do so? I believe the real cause is the spiritual battle. There is a father of lies, and this is what he does.

Hmmm…. that started sounding negative.

Ok, a couple of times I wanted to jump through the screen, besides the times Nye started talking about how anti-science all these God believers are.

They are called polystrate fossils. This is in the category of “Well Someone Should Mention This….” Ok. So in the debate, Bill Nye said he would change his opinion, and Ken Ham could change the world, if Ham could show evidence of a fossil that went from one layer to another. Ham never responded, but …ummm… Bill, there are so many of those particular fossils they have a name: Polystrate fossils. Mostly trees and at least one whale. You know, just in case you ever need this for trivia.  One question I wish Ham had countered with was how come we don’t find meteorites in those lower levels? Did it quit raining occasional meteorites for billions of years?

Ken Ham’s answers on radiometric dating were incomplete. He kept going back to the “we weren’t there” statement, but everyone knows it should be possible to study evidence today and make some educated guesses about how it got here. We do the same with crime scenes as Bill Nye noted.  What atheists don’t often note is that there can be more than one theory as to how things got this way, just like there is often more than one theory on what happened at a crime scene. Ken Ham was correct to say we all have the same evidence. I just wish the topic of radiometric dating had been delved into a lot more because most people simply accept it as Gospel.

Seriously, most of you reading this have never dated anything yourself and weren’t with the scientists who did. We all usually just believe what they tell us. At the risk of totally shaking your worldview built on your trust that radiometric dating is incredibly accurate, you should read this article.  Don’t worry, it was written by a real scientist with four degrees and a lifetime membership in Mensa. You’ll find it interesting.

Finally, I thought Bill Nye had a couple of good questions concerning people who had never heard of the Bible and where the Bible came from. He didn’t really ask the last one, but referred to it a lot.  I wish Ken Ham had taken the time to answer those more, because there are real answers for both.  Ken did say that eternal life with God doesn’t depend on what someone thinks about the age of the earth or evolution or something like that. You don’t have to be a young earth creationist to be right with God. Lots of Christians believe heartily in evolution. They may be right or wrong about that, but it doesn’t condemn anyone either way.

We are saved based on where stand with God. The Bible teaches that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, even those who had never heard about him, both past, present, and future.  The Bible teaches that God reveals himself to the whole world through his creation. Someone might not know much about God, might not know anything about the Bible or Jesus, but they can still reach out to God because “the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the works of his hands.” That’s from Psalm 19 and it’s quoted in Romans when Paul was talking about how they had “heard” the message from God.  If that’s the message-just the creation-that’s not a lot to go on. Evidently though, it’s enough.  They might not have ever heard about Jesus in ancient China, but I believe God reached out to each person, and worked in their hearts and in their lives based on what they did know.  Jesus is preached of course, because Jesus is the message that God wanted the entire world to hear before the end, but God worked historically and works today on people who haven’t heard yet.

Like I said, It’s a good question and I don’t blame atheists for wanting to hear a fair answer to it.  My answer is way too brief, but there it is.

I’m just thankful for the debate. I learned stuff too, and as we all hash through it and argue amongst ourselves, we’ll keep learning. That ain’t all bad.

God bless.

New Year’s Eve Post

Blogging through the New Year on Central Standard Time. Another year is going into the books tonight and where are we?  Where are you? Where am I?  Beyond a shadow of a doubt things are changing in our world, our culture, and always, always, always things change for us on a personal level. Here are some thoughts on all three. I’ll be blogging for the rest of the year, so feel free join in below.

World.  Christianity garnered some sympathy because of the increase in real persecution, especially in the Middle East.  From Egypt, to Iraq, to Syria, to Libya, to a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Christians have been under real attack by Islamic militants.  Shades of Revelation chapter six going on in Middle East?  Well how about those famous four horsemen of the apocalypse? A white horse that represents revolution perhaps? Check. A red horse that represents war? Check. A black horse that seems to represent shortages and high prices of basic goods? Check. A pale horse that represents Death? Check. Move on from the four horsemen to the Fifth Seal which represents persecution? Yep that one too.

Most Bible prophecy teachers believe the Seals of Revelation are world-wide problems, of course, not merely local Middle Eastern events.  Still, it’s a little spooky.

The big change for the West has been the rise of an aggressive populist atheism, and social changes including same-sex marriage and the view among almost all media that the Bible, and those who believe in it, are no longer anywhere close to the mainstream.  From movies, to books, to talk shows, traditional Christian beliefs are increasingly being viewed as morally wrong, or intellectually bankrupt. Ironically, this comes at a time when the arguments in favor of Biblical Christianity are at their strongest.

In recent times, atheism surprised Christianity with a deluge of new and old arguments, and fresh styles of attack. The culture, which today values the style of debate over the substance, is often swayed by fierceness of the attack. Christianity is not argued against as much as ridiculed, scoffed at, and laughed away.  And as we’ve seen in presidential debates that award someone the win based on how well they interrupted or talked over or laughed at their opponent, so the new atheism uses a new attitude as much as any new argument.

Nevertheless, because of evidence of design the arguments for Creation have never been stronger.  Genetics has also presented what I consider insurmountable hurdles for macro-evolution, and even paleontology has challenged, of all things, the age of the dinosaurs.  Despite these and other advances on the evidence side of defending the Bible and the existence of God, the debate is as much about style now.  In fact, I get the distinct feeling it’s a lot like a fashion show, and what is “in style” now currently isn’t the Bible.

Personal.  There are lots of things we can say have changed on a personal level. We may have gone through triumphs or tragedies or both.  Kids grow up, we grow older, new opportunities come, and sometimes we leave things behind. This being a blog about spiritual things, however, let’s talk about where our views have gone, perhaps some things we’ve learned along the way, and definitely where God has led us.

For me, a few things stand out.  A trip to Kenya opened my eyes to the role of the rich in this world. And yeah, it’s we Americans who are rich.  It was in Kenya when God showed me our role was to give it away. Someone has recently said we need to be more ruthless in giving away our material blessings.  I couldn’t agree more, but I didn’t really GET this until Kenya.

While there, we gave away clothes, we gave away our reading glasses, our shoes, our spending money, and whatever else was needed. We didn’t do it at random mind you, but like any accountant at any business, we wanted to know where, why, and if it was a good idea to give in this way or that.  As managers over a trust fund, we invested as wisely as we could, but we made sure we invested.  God opened doors for us to purchase food, Bibles, medical treatments, pay for school fees, and even, before it was over, give a family a new home.  Going back to the Bible, we realized the role of rich believers is simply this: to give it away as good stewards of God’s money.

Not only was that big for me in regards to doctrine, it was a time that opened a door for the Gospel. With the help of two on-fire local pastors, we met with people, sharing with them about Jesus. Many already attended a church but believed they were “saved” because they were a member, or because they followed a particular preacher.  We didn’t try to get them to change churches, we simply wanted to tell them about Jesus, and shared with them the basics of the Gospel.  The Bible says that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ.  It didn’t say the gift of God was eternal life in Church XYZ, or Preacher So and So.  It said Jesus.  And Romans 10 says if we confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart God raised him from the dead we will be saved.

There’s just no getting around it, the Bible preaches salvation through Jesus, not religion or anyone else.  And through the ministry that began with our little group, 42 people who already attended a church, accepted Jesus for the first time.  Today, a church is forming, one that preaches Jesus instead of religion. That was just cool.

There’s more to say on the Personal side of things.  A new understanding of what worship is, what living by the Spirit really is all about, will impact the new year.  What about you? Hope you’ve had a good one, too.

Bill O’Reilly versus John Jay?

OReillyJohnJay

One of our founding fathers, a guy by the name of John Jay, was very open with his belief in Jesus and the Bible. He also happened to be, at one time or another, the president of the Congress, a diplomat, the author of the Federalist Papers, the original Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and the governor of New York.  That’s quite a resume. He once wrote:  “The Bible will also inform (people) that our gracious Creator has provided for us a Redeemer in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed – that this Redeemer has made atonement ‘for the sins of the whole world,’ and thereby reconciling the Divine justice with the Divine mercy, has opened a way for our redemption and salvation;”

You don’t hear that from the Supreme Court very often, even less from the governor of New York, but John Jay believed in a Creator, in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, and in the need for everyone to be forgiven and saved from judgment.   God’s judgment.

These days, even conservatives and professing Christians like Bill O’Reilly won’t go that far.  Continue reading “Bill O’Reilly versus John Jay?”

Age of the Earth Makes You Crazy

Young Blue Marble EarthA poll conducted last year by LifeWay revealed that pastors of protestant churches were split on the question of the age of the earth.  What made it surprising to some was the pastors who were being surveyed were the types of people who usually take the Bible literally.  Most rejected evolution, but it was almost an even split over the question of the age of the earth.  In fact, the difference between the two sides was within the margin of error.  They were more united on other questions.  For instance, 82% at least somewhat believed that Adam and Eve were real people, and 72% at least somewhat disagreed with the idea that God used evolution to create everyone, but when it came to the age of the earth, they were split.

This may shock some, but it isn’t just a question between pastors.  A number of scientists and academics in the United States believe in a God-created universe, and as crazy as it sounds, quite a few believe in a young earth, too.  Yes, while many people view young-earth creationists as the equivalent of flat-earthers, this crazy viewpoint is actually debated and defended from the university campus to national news programs to movie documentaries.  In fact, the case for a young earth has spawned a multitude of organizations, websites, think-tanks, research groups, and even museums.  The most infamous museum is here, but there are many others, even some outside the United States.

Which brings about the question, why did half of the protestant pastors surveyed doubt the idea of a young earth?  Isn’t that what the Bible says?  Are they compromising?  Were they forced to admit the truth of science?  What?

Whether it’s good news or bad news probably depends on your perspective, but what you shouldn’t be–is surprised.  “Old-earth creationism,” the idea that God created everything BILLIONS of years ago, has been a common belief in Christianity for a long time.  Williams Jennings Bryan, the man who defended creation at the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” was an old-earth creationist.  There are Bible scholars, Hebrew scholars, and evidently half of protestant pastors who are in the same boat.  Many believe the “days” of creation were not 24-hour periods, but longer periods of time.  Others will argue there is a gap of time in the early verses of Genesis, which can account for billions of years.  There are other theories as well, but the difference of interpretation among Christians is so profound that in the book “Examine the Evidence,” Ralph Muncaster pleaded with Christians to avoid drawing a line in the sand over the age of the earth. “We should not allow these issues to weaken our presentation of the Bible,” he wrote.  And indeed, atheists and other skeptics should realize not every Christian who believes in the Bible, also believes the earth is 6,000 years old.

I used to be an “old-earth creationist” myself and as a result, I am very familiar with the Biblical arguments for it.  They were my arguments for awhile, too, and although I have since changed my mind and become a believer in a very young earth, I do sympathize with Muncaster’s point of view. In fact, I think he’s right when he argues that many people in our world will simply tune you out if they think you believe something goofy like the earth is young, or Noah built an ark.  This doesn’t mean we young earth creationists should be silent, but we should speak thoughtfully. After all, the vast majority of us have been told the earth is billions of years old for our entire lives and a 6,000 year old earth just sounds weird.  In the media, if someone is labeled as a “young earther,”  they are seen as losing credibility. Most people consider the age of the earth to be unassailable, and anyone who questions it is like someone who questions if 2 + 2 really equals 4.

So let me be reasonable.  The Bible never comes out and says how old the earth is, or on what date it was created.  To arrive at the age of the earth via the Bible, you have to infer it.  One way is by adding up the ages of the people listed in genealogies in the Bible.  Doing so arrives at an age of about 6,000 years. You can find those genealogies in places like Genesis 5, which gives a long list of people with weird names.  It details who was born, how long they lived, the names of some of their children, how long they lived, who their children were, and on and on….It isn’t the most riveting stuff in the world.  It’s almost like reading a phone book in France in fact, but if you’re trying to figure out how old the earth is according to the Bible, those numbers make a difference.  Fortunately, it’s ok if you still can’t pronounce the names.

Key questions remain, however.  Did the genealogies skip any generations? (Maybe) And regardless how long people have been around, the big questions surrounding those “days” in Genesis and the possibility of any gaps of time, still remain. How someone answers these questions, will determine where they land on the age of the earth from a Biblical perspective.  For a pastor, deciding what you believe is not just a question of the science, but a question of how to correctly interpret the Bible as well.

In some ways, this was incredibly freeing for me.  The mere fact a Biblical case could be made for an old-earth, meant I could look at the science without any preconditions at all.  I didn’t feel any pressure to accept an old-earth view just to match up with evolution.  I could listen to the questions about potassium argon dating, or the findings of helium dating, without having to automatically dismiss one view or the other.  The result was I listened to the argument for a young-earth with an open mind, and heaven help me, it made sense.  Scientific sense.

So I changed my mind.  I became one of the crazy young-earthers. And ironically, I did it precisely because I did NOT have to start with a conclusion.  This is not the case for those who are tied down to the idea of evolution, which requires an old age of the earth. It’s not the case for every Christian who is convinced there’s only one possible interpretation of Genesis.  But for many of those who take the Bible literally, and for protestant pastors, they can go either way on the age of the earth.

Noah’s Flood: The Eyeball Test

mars-viking-zoomIt is believed the landscape on Mars was formed by large-scale flooding that took place over much of the planet.  The more popular theories suggest much of the flooding was caused by volcanoes, trapped ice, or a meteor strike or some combination of all those things.

Taking a look at Mars now, there are features that appear as flood plains, and canyons which are often believed to have formed through these cataclysmic floods.  It’s hard to imagine now since the planet looks more like the desert planet Tatooine in the movie Star Wars.  Nevertheless, there has been a great deal of research into where the water came from, and where it went. These questions are difficult to answer, and theories abound, but we keep studying because as you can see, Mars shows plenty of evidence of massive flooding.

Slide58This is earth.  We call ourselves the water planet and we have many of the same features that Mars has, including massive flood plains and canyons, which many scientists also believe were caused by cataclysmic flooding. The Bible talks about a massive flood in fact.  It’s not hard to imagine now, since the planet is still covered by water to a large extent and looks nothing like Tatooine or Mars.  It is believed Noah’s flood involved volcanoestrapped water, a meteor or a combination of all three.  Nevertheless, research into Noah’s Flood is generally discouraged because of questions about where the water came from and where it went.  The questions can be somewhat difficult to answer, and theories do abound but as you can see, Earth (the water planet) shows no evidence of massive flooding… *sarcasm*

A Cultural Tipping Point

coexist2Politically, one of the questions after this season’s presidential election is has the nation changed?  Has the electorate changed?  Mitt Romney crudely mentioned that there is a certain percentage of people who weren’t going to vote for him no matter what, and the Presidential re-election team worked very hard to marshal entire segments of the population to vote for him overwhelmingly.  In the end however, people wondered if maybe some of the traditionally Republican ideas and stances have been rejected by society to the point that a “tipping” point has been reached?  That’s what Ann Coulter called it.   Bill O’Reilly offered that this isn’t a traditional America anymore, and Newt Gingrich said “we were clearly wrong on a whole range of fronts.”

It’s an interesting possibility to consider and those who are involved in politics for a living are studying this very carefully.

Whether you agree or disagree with the idea of a political tipping point, perhaps we should consider a “tipping point” in world-views, especially in regards to spiritual beliefs. In fact, such a tipping point may have already come and gone. Specifically, I’m talking about reaching the end of our journey as a culture to that place where the Bible is assumed to be full of errors, fairy tales and myths- not the place where this argued seriously, but the place where this is assumed, regardless of your arguments.

I’m talking about a tipping point where society as a whole assumes that science has conclusively proven the Bible wrong  and arguing evolution or Noah’s flood is assumed to be impossible.  In such a society, people would only go to listen to a debate at a university over the age of the earth for instance, because they enjoy seeing the uneducated, unevolved creationist receive a public flogging.  They don’t go because they want to hear the other side of the argument because they don’t believe there IS another side of the argument.  Oh they would be surprised of course, but the fact that “surprise” exists at all points to the tipping point.

It’s a tipping point where society assumes that no truth of any religion can be believed over some other religion, where the only truly enlightened people who exist would be those who accept cultural notions on same-sex marriage or the non-existence of hell, or etc…, and where the only truly intelligent people would be those who reject any sort of literal Christianity, or especially a literal Bible.

I’m generalizing, of course.  The details are more complex, but it’s nevertheless worth asking ourselves how we might respond to such an environment, just as politicians are trying to figure out how to respond to an electorate that seems to have changed.

That’s the thing about tipping points; you usually don’t notice them until they’ve passed.  You wake up one day and things don’t work like they did.  In sports we use phrases like “he’s lost a step.”  Where did he lose it?  No one knows. Suddenly your favorite athlete isn’t his young dominating self anymore.  And the truth is, in sports you don’t get it back very easily, and eventually, you can’t get it back at all.

The Bible talked about how the faith of people as a whole, tends to lose a step.  Jesus said, speaking of the future: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved,” -Matthew 24:12-13

Paul warned Timothy the church would lose a step, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” -II Timothy 4:3-4

And in 2 Thessalonians 2, the Bible says the world will lose a step.  “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs…” -literally the word “rebellion” there means a “falling away” would occur before the “day” of the Lord, which, in Bible terms, is the end of the world as we know it.  Why, or how, could a falling away, or a rebellion from God happen?

Is it because as a culture, somewhere along the way, more and more people stopped arguing over the word of God in the Bible, and stopped listening to the debate about God, and stopped digging in to find the truth for themselves, and simply bought into the assumption, the worldview really, which claims the Bible is a myth, claims that IF God exists he’s whatever we make him, and claims any religion that talks about accountability, or judgment, or sin …is dangerous and wrong?

So I wonder, sitting here in the back seat, are we there yet? Is this what the majority of our culture now believes in a large enough portion to win the public debate -by default?  If so, and in many places it is, then Christians should realize the people in our world and nation often have a different viewpoint, and a different set of assumptions than we do.  We aren’t always starting on the same page.  And rather than putting ourselves in the place of God and roundly condemning them, more and more it is becoming important to show what Christianity is all about, to graciously explain what Jesus is all about, and be able to listen so that we can see what they are all about. It’s always easier to talk to someone when you know where they are coming from.

That said…

in society as a whole I don’t think we can shrink from the challenges either.

In fact, I think it becomes more important to challenge the very foundations of a world-view without God.  Where the Bible is rejected, defend it on the very substance.  Where creation is scoffed at, ask the hard questions and shake those assumptions.  Where God is maligned, defend Him with thoughtfulness.  Where Christians are condemned, humbly admit our sin when it is true, but show Christ always in love, service, and selflessness.

 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. -I Peter 2:11-12

The Christian tradition of the American culture is changing.  We should be smart and bold in how we stand for Jesus.

God Help Us Indeed Mr. Stein

Ben Stein is a guy who’s articles I like to read, especially when it comes to tough issues.  Agree or disagree, Stein is always thoughtful.  Often, Stein sees things everyone else misses, especially the things that are right there in front of us.

He recently did a piece on the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which he kept coming back to the same conclusion:  “God help us.”

Perfect response to Sandy Hook in my opinion.

There are plenty of things to understand as to why God didn’t stop bullets in mid-air at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012, which are the same things to understand in regards to genocide in 1940 by Hitler, or the Turks in 1915, or Khmer Rouge in the 70’s, or the 10 people gunned down in Chicago the other day, et al….

One of the most basic is simply that God commanded mankind not to murder, but people ignore God, then often blame God for letting them ignore him. We haven’t changed much. Instead of recognizing our failure as human beings in an instance like Sandy Hook, another in a long line, we’re looking for someone else to blame like we have since the beginning. See Genesis 3.

But let’s think it through… IF there is a God who commanded us not to murder, as the Scripture says there is, and IF we have also proven incapable of keeping ourselves and our society from killing the most innocent among us, then it would follow that at some point our logical response would be: God help us! Obviously it appears at times like this, our entire society could use some help. And on a deeper level, I wonder if this must be a big part of the reason why God doesn’t put an end to us already, but instead allows us to fail for a time.  Thus, he allows us to suffer the consequences of our own failures, and to arrive at moments like this one when we desperately reach out to him.  Romans 11:32 said as much.   And as He has proven time and again, anyone who reaches out to Him for help-finds grace.

Is it such a crazy idea? When it comes to the national issues, the thorny political questions, even here it has become obvious that we could use God’s wisdom and help.  The status quo is unacceptable.  Christian politicians and leaders, believers in God in general, could fall to their knees and ask for that wisdom and guidance.  We could let God guide us as we rethink our rules and laws, and look for sensible and fair policies that could limit such tragedies.  Or at the very least, God could help us understand and cope, and show us the areas where we could focus our national and local efforts, and do the most good.  Even more importantly, we could be more bold about the existence of God and the importance of becoming a nation that does not ignore Him. This is a debate worth having.

After all, He commanded us not to murder each other, and at the moment, we’re not doing so well.  What happens when we have to answer to Him for the way we have handled ourselves?

Richard Dawkins Agrees With the Gideons

The Gideons, as you may or may not know, is the organization that puts a King James Bible in every motel and hotel.  They also hand out those pocket New Testaments to kids, and I got mine back when I was in 5th grade.  I remember I promised to read it, but failed.  The King James Bible, although regarded by some as the only true version of the Bible, was a bit much for me as a pre-teen.  Let the record show that the Bible wasn’t actually written in 1769 when the King James was revised for the last time, nor was the Bible written in English.  Any English Bible is a translation from the original words, which were penned in ancient times in Greek and Hebrew (plus a few portions in Aramaic).  So what the Gideons hand out is basically an old-English version of the Bible, probably the most popular version because of the rich tradition of it.

In what has to be one of the more ironic developments of the year, famed atheist Richard Dawkins evidently wants the King James Bible handed out as well.  In an op-ed piece, he recently endorsed a plan by England’s education secretary Michael Gove to put a copy of the King James Bible in every school.  An atheist, wanting the Bible put in schools?

No word yet on if the Gideons are issuing a “Somebody Pinch Me!” statement.

There are two theories at work here.  Dawkins, of course, believes that if anyone reads the Bible they will see that the Bible is an immoral travesty responsible for all the evil in the world.  The Gideons believe if anyone reads the Bible they could understand the truth of God, and put their faith in Christ. So who is right? Continue reading “Richard Dawkins Agrees With the Gideons”

Big Questions and Deep Answers

There are plenty of big questions.  Those are easy to find.  Questions that rattle the foundation of a spiritual worldview, especially one as specific as the  Bible.  We rarely pursue the answers ourselves mind you.  Instead we go searching on the web, or let our pastor or favorite writer or an actor or a politician tell us what to believe.  And if they scoff, so do we.  It’s settled.

Ironic, since we are certainly educated enough to know that some answers take time, that there are usually at least two sides to the story, and that occasionally even politicians are wrong.  Come to think of it, we even live in a world where the scientific questions take years of study to fully comprehend.  Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Astronomy and the many offshoots and applications of each, take years of study.  And those are just to get the degrees that allow us to search for new answers -or debunk the old ones.  We understand the need for time in science, and the need for effort, but we often don’t apply the same patience or effort toward other, more spiritual topics.

In other words, sometimes, the answers really aren’t easy.  Sometimes they take time to figure out or grasp.  Sometimes that’s how it is supposed to be. Continue reading “Big Questions and Deep Answers”

Some Jews WERE expecting the Messiah to be Divine

Jesus As God

One of the common misconceptions about Jesus is that He never claimed to be God, and that the Jews never believed the Messiah would be “God”.  The reality is neither of those assumptions are true.

The part about Jesus claiming to be God is easy to demonstrate from the Scripture, since Jesus took the name of God for Himself, made Himself “equal with God” in the eyes of the Jews, accepted worship as only God was allowed, and forgave sins as only God could.  In the eyes of the people around Him, Jesus clearly made Himself out to be God, and they specifically tried to kill Him for it a few times.

However, I’ve always believed (because I heard a rabbi say this once) that the Jews never looked for the Messiah to be Divine.

Turns out that isn’t exactly accurate either. The Essenes were expecting it.  And here is a link I found describing it.  (Take note the reference to Melchizedek, corresponds to the teaching about Jesus in the New Testament book of Hebrews).

Here’s the link.  It’s a short read.  

Here’s a more detailed look with more evidence.

Coming to Grips with the Christmas God

There are several details about the Christmas story that don’t exactly match up with… well the actual Christmas story.  It makes for some interesting trivia during this time of the year, which could make you a hit at parties perhaps, but it is also symptomatic of our culture.  Are we content to believe a tradition-filled caricature of the Bible, or are we interested in the real thing?

Take the 3 wise men for instance, or magi, or kings or whatever you want to call them.  Their story is in Matthew chapter 2, and here we find one of the more glaring instances of tradition versus the Bible.  We can start with the fact the Bible never said there were 3 wise men, but only that there were 3 separate gifts.  The Bible never said they traveled on camels, ( John MacArthur’s research says they traveled on Persian steeds and with a sizable cavalry) and the Bible never said their names, or the color of their skin.  In fact, the Bible never calls them kings, and we know from history the magi were advisers to kings, but likely not kings themselves.

Nevertheless we have an entire tradition about the magi, which is often assumed to come from the Bible, but doesn’t.  Ironically, we even sometimes we try to prove the Bible to be false, or a myth by disproving things the Bible never said.  A youtube video called Zeitgeist claimed that the Christian story was simply made up of earlier myths, which also included stories of 3 wise men and births of a Savior on December 25, etc…  While the video is largely a hoax (those earlier religious myths did not make those claims either) it nevertheless convinced a lot of people who assume the Bible talks about things like 3 wise men, or December 25, or being born in a stable, when the Bible actually says nothing about these things.

How much do you think you know about the actual Christmas story?

Continue reading “Coming to Grips with the Christmas God”

Sometimes I’m Glad Bad Things Happen to Good People

Can you buy God with money?  One guy tried.  And while we might scold him for it, truth is our modern day church often tries to buy God with good works, church attendance, giving in the offering plate, some sort of “commitment”, etc…  In both the case of the man in Acts 9, and in our more modern version, God really isn’t for sale.  In fact, sometimes instead of getting favors, prosperity, health, and an easy life in return for following God, we might get some “bad” things.  Thank goodness.

Sound crazy? Let me explain… Continue reading “Sometimes I’m Glad Bad Things Happen to Good People”

Tornadoes in Joplin, and a Loving God

I have friends in Joplin, Missouri, but I’m one of the lucky ones. My friends survived. Two of them lost their home. Another was at his church on Sunday night, and the church was close to the path of the EF5 twister which ravaged a city of 50,000, but it missed them by a few blocks.  Unfortunately, one friend of mine did lose her grandfather in the storm, and some friends of friends were killed as well.  One died while heroically trying to save someone else.  Stories and memories that will live on with us.

Facebook helped many of us keep tabs on each other and when cell phones occasionally worked, we contacted each other that way, too. It’s not my first experience with feeling close to an EF5. I received my last tetanus shot on the sidewalk in Greensburg, Kansas courtesy of a friendly lady from the Red Cross. I believe Greensburg was the last EF5 to hit before this year although I might be wrong. I’ve read that generally those monsters develop and touch down about once every four years. With four EF5 tornadoes this year alone, we’re definitely above the average. The crazy weather combined with all the other disasters and unrest around the world has people talking about Bible Prophecy, but sometimes the questions are more personal.

Why would God allow a high school senior returning from a graduation ceremony to get sucked out of the sunroof of his SUV where he was riding with his father? Why didn’t God miraculously keep him from being hurt like God kept others safe? Why didn’t God at least let the family find him after it happened?  It took days to discover his body in a pond.  Another 15-month old was found at a morgue.  Many other bodies took weeks to identify and families had to wait those weeks to officially discover a loved one’s fate.  Quite often, the happy miraculous ending we would hope for, didn’t happen.
Continue reading “Tornadoes in Joplin, and a Loving God”

An Eternity of Torment?

Franklin Graham said it recently during an interview with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, “There IS a hell”  Graham said as he tried to explain how he came to believe in Jesus in answer to O’Donnell’s question on whether or not Graham had given up everything to follow Jesus.  In his round-about answer, Graham warned that people would go to a literal hell if they rejected God.   The idea of hell and/or eternal punishment is a traditional  doctrine of Christianity, one that has fallen out of favor in today’s culture.  In fact, the very thought of it, is an obstacle to many in considering the Christian faith.  For them, hell makes the whole story a bit too unreasonable.  Is it? 

Continue reading “An Eternity of Torment?”

Knowing Jesus Rose from the Dead

This claim is the center-piece of Christianity. As all four Biblical narratives about Jesus life and death attest, Jesus died from severe torture and crucifixion at the hands of the Romans and the blessings of the leadership in Israel. On a purely human level, Jesus’ teaching was obviously threatening the power and status of those in the theocratic leadership of Israel, and Rome was wary of anyone causing disruptions. It created a perfect storm which resulted in Jesus’ execution. On a spiritual level, Jesus life and death fulfilled over 108 distinct prophesies and became the culmination of the Old Testament religious covenant to the Israelites and the world. The New Testament Scriptures indicate that perfect storm was actually God-orchestrated, for the purpose of providing forgiveness and grace to the human race.

It’s powerful stuff, and the deeper you get into it, the more powerful it becomes. Jesus was the culmination of the Jewish sacrificial system for sins because He was the ultimate sacrifice, taking away sins once for all according to the book of Hebrews. (It’s why John the Baptist once announced Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” -Lambs were often used as sacrifices)

Taking away sins once for all, meant a person no longer had to feel separated from God by sin, and provided a way for anyone to approach God, without a priest to intercede. It’s one reason three of the four Gospel accounts record the curtain of the temple being torn in two by an earthquake at the time of Jesus’ death. The curtain of the temple is what separated “the Most Holy Place” -where the presence of God was- from the outside world. The meaning being that humanity no longer had to be separated from God because of Christ.

And that only begins to scratch the surface how in Jesus, or through Jesus, so much of the Old Testament religious teaching is fulfilled, or reaches the highest order of magnitude. But none of it matters, if Jesus never got out of the grave. Continue reading “Knowing Jesus Rose from the Dead”