A “Chance” Encounter with the Miraculous

Last week I had an experience I will remember for a long time. Since it was raining outside, we took my three kids and some of their cousins to Big Air Trampoline Park to get some of their energy out.

The place was packed full of young kids and their parents. While my kids were enjoying the trampolines, dodge ball, and the climbing wall, I found an open seat in the small café to edit some of the chapters for an update I am working on with my father for his classic book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

Encounter Miraculous

A middle-aged man plopped down right next to me and asked if he could join me to rest his back. “Sure, no problem,” I said. Then he noticed the book I was holding (which was Four Views on the Historical Adam), and asked if it was an apologetics book.

After I explained that it was primarily theological, but dealt with apologetic issues as well, he simply said, “Interesting, but I have no need for apologetics.” His comment piqued my interest, and so of course I asked why he didn’t personally need apologetics.

“Because I have seen God’s power so directly in my own life. Years ago my son was born with a genetic disorder, including a hole in his heart. The doctors said he would only live a couple weeks. Yet he stayed alive, even though the first few years of his life were incredibly tough. When he was three years old, I broke down and cried out to God for his healing. As soon as I was done praying, my soon looked up at me and said, ‘Don’t worry, daddy, Jesus has healed me.’ I took him to the doctor and he was in fact healed.”

As soon as he finished telling me this story, his son walked up, now eleven years old, and said hi. Here’s the bottom line: eleven years ago when his son was born the doctors said he only had a couple weeks to live, because of serious medical complications, but now he is a normal, healthy 6th grader. The father had no doubt that God healed his son. And he also shared how the experience deeply transformed him personally and helped restore his marriage and family.

We talked about the role of apologetics and how, when sharing this story, he is actually giving a kind of apologetic for the faith, which both encourages believers and challenges non-believers to consider the claims of Christ. The Bible does call us both to witness to what we have seen and to be ready with an answer when asked.[i]

But more importantly, do I believe this man and his story? Do you? After all, the man is a complete stranger to me, and you are reading it secondhand. How do I know he didn’t make it up? How do I know it wasn’t merely a coincidence or a misdiagnosis by the doctors?

Since I didn’t follow up and check all the details, I can’t further corroborate his story. And I fully admit that the evidence I am presenting in this blog is tentative. But I choose to believe him for four main reasons:

First, his younger daughter and wife were right there as he shared the story. Wouldn’t they correct him if he were simply making it up?

Second, as far as I could tell, he had nothing to gain from the story. He wasn’t writing a book for money or trying to get famous. In fact, he only opened up when I gently pressed him. He clearly enjoyed sharing the story, because it was so meaningful to him, but he was initially reluctant. He wasn’t looking for an audience to seemingly impress.

Third, I have heard many other stories like this before. When speaking at churches about the possibility of miracles, I often asked audiences to raise their hands if they have personally seen or experienced a miracle (And I always preface it by explaining that by “miracle,” I don’t mean a beautiful flower, the birth of a child, or happening to get the perfect parking spot when Christmas shopping). Every time I have done this, dozens of people raise their hands, and then I am flooded with miracle stories after the service.

Fourth, as Craig Keener reports in his massive, two-volume, academic study Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, miracles are not contrary to human experience. Hundreds of millions of living Christians believe they have personally experienced or seen the miraculous. This does not prove miracles happen, but it does show they cannot be so easily dismissed. And according to Keener, these are the kinds of miracle claims most frequently attested in the Gospels and Acts.

If you are a Christian and have experienced a miracle, please share it. Sure, some people may laugh or scoff, as they did with Jesus.[ii] But others will be encouraged, and some may even come to faith. If God has worked miraculously in your life, both Christians and non-Christians need to hear your story. And by doing so, you are giving one of the greatest apologetics for the faith. What are you waiting for?

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


[i] Interestingly, the Gospel of John records the testimony of the blind man who simply said, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25) And John also reports that the miracles of Jesus were written down as signs for future generations, who won’t see Jesus in the flesh, so they too can have a confident faith and eternal life: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

[ii] After all, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and the religious leaders wanted to arrest and kill him (John 11:45-57).

 


 

Are Miracles Metaphysically Impossible?

By Tim Stratton

Are Miracles Metaphysically Impossible?“It’s impossible for God to interact in the physical world. For example, say we have a material object and God wants to move it. Newton made it clear: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, since God is an immaterial being He could never cause anything to happen or occur in the material/physical universe. Therefore, miracles are impossible!”

Mr. Skeptic


I spend much of my time arguing against naturalism; specifically against the idea that only the physical universe exists. This is accomplished by utilizing logical arguments reaching deductive conclusions that demonstrate the existence of both God and the human soul. Many times the best discoveries in modern science support premises in these deductive arguments reaching supernatural conclusions.

One of the most common objections I receive on the internet is known as the interaction objection. I previously wrote an article regarding this specific kind of objection in regards to the human soul [1]. The objection above is quite similar, but specifically against the idea of God not only being able to create the universe, but especially to act in it (miracles).

One of my lecturing professors at Biola University was the eminent philosopher, JP Moreland. I chose to attend Biola University basically for two reasons: William Lane Craig and JP Moreland. Not long ago my wife and I had the privilege of having dinner with JP Moreland. I learned more that night than from any class lecture. We discussed many things that evening and this topic of God interacting in the world was included. Based on that conversation, I believe that the objection above fails for at least three reasons.

Empirical Observations & Metaphysical Principles

First of all, Newton’s 3rd law is not a metaphysical principle; rather, it is an empirical one. The problem here is that one cannot logically derive metaphysical principles from mere empirical observations. Moreland said, “Any freshman philosophy student should know that you cannot derive deep modal or metaphysical conclusions from empirical laws.”

Empirical laws or observations merely tell us what is true in this world — nothing more. You might grant that empirical laws tell us what is true in all relevantly similar worlds that are physical worlds, but they do not tell you what must be true in this world. That is to say, you cannot derive deep modal conclusions (what is possible or impossible in any world) from empirical laws because empirical laws are too thin of a basis to support this kind of overreaching generalization.

Knowledge & Conceivability

The second problem with this objection is that modal judgments are known a priori (from the earlier) as opposed to a posteriori (from the latter). We know about necessity and possibility a priori. We know about physics from experience via the scientific method. This is a posterioriknowledge. Newton’s 3rd law might be physically necessary, but this is not metaphysically necessary. There is simply no evidence for that because those kinds of statements are known a priori.

The best epistemic test for a priori knowledge is conceivability. Moreland said that one “might not like this, but it’s about all we’ve got!” If something is conceivable, then it is possible; if something is inconceivable, then it is impossible. This is a defeasible criterion of knowledge. This is not with Cartesian certainty by any means, but nevertheless, it is defeasible.

Moreland offered a great example:

The reason I think it is metaphysically possible for little green men to exist on the surface of Mars is not because I’ve been there to check it out, but because I can conceive of little green men on the surface of Mars. With that said, however, I cannot conceive of married bachelors in Montana. Therefore, I don’t even need to make the trip to check it out because I know this is impossible.

The Problem of Proving Too Much

Finally, the third problem with this objection is that if this objection is right, then it proves too much as it also rules out human libertarian free will. If an immaterial substance cannot interact in the material world, then the same problem God supposedly has is also a major problem for human beings. That is to say, if God cannot act on matter, then neither can a human soul.

Every time a human makes a free choice (which include both moral or rational decisions) we are performing (for lack of a better term) “mini miracles.” Because humans are immaterial souls with material bodies, we have the ability to intervene in and override the laws of nature. This ability gives us a respons-ABILITY to not behave as mere animals.

Libertarianism (libertarian free will) is the opposite of compatibilism (compatibilism is a form of determinism). Libertarianism states that when one acts freely, then nothing else causally determined that thought or action. It was “up to you” completely. This is not to say that we have libertarian freedom in all things, or that we cannot be influenced by other things, but influence and causal determinism are two different kinds of things. When humans freely think, then we can make rational choices and decisions. When humans act freely, we generate motion in the universe from the available energy to use, or not to use.

Consider when I choose to raise my arm, nothing causally determined my arm to rise but me; not the prior states of my brain. If my arm is caused to move by the state of the brain, then there is a causal link between the brain state and what determined my brain to exist in the specific state (which is not up to me if naturalism is true). This can go on and on back to the initial conditions of the big bang (which is another example of a physical thing being caused by a non-physical or immaterial substance).

Moreland said,

Behind each chain of events, if there is libertarian freedom, is a first mover — me! I might choose to exercise my power and that might cause a nervous system event to go down and raise my arm — I don’t have any problem with that — but at the back of that sucker is me interacting with matter!

This means that the objector proves too much! If this objection is right, then libertarian free will is impossible, and if there is no libertarian free will, then rationality is not just false, but impossible. That is to say, if there is no free will, then there is no freethinking! However, isn’t the objector claiming to make a rational objection? If so, then his argument is self-defeating!

Bottom line: We have scientific, philosophical, and historical justification to believe in miracles. Moreover, the interaction objection fails as a defeater for this justified belief for the three reasons listed above. Therefore, given the three reasons to believe in miracles and the three reasons to reject the objection to miracles, it is perfectly rational to state, “I believe in miracles!”

Stay reasonable (Philippians 4:5),

Tim Stratton (Visit Tim’s Website @ FreeThinkingMinistries.com)


NOTES

[1] In a previous article I demonstrated that it is impossible to doubt the existence of your mind, but there is some scientific reason to doubt the existence of your brain. It follows that if one really thinks that it is impossible for an immaterial mind (God or the human soul) to interact with the physical universe, then they ought to become a theistic idealist and reject matter before rejecting mind. One way or the other, naturalism/physicalism is false. Mind is fundamental and ultimate reality.


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On Talking Snakes and Donkeys

By Evan Minton

One criticism that’s become extremely common from atheists is the mention of talking animals in The Bible, specifically the snake in the garden of Eden and Balaam’s donkey. In fact, on Facebook pages and in forums, I’ve heard this complaint so much it’s coming out my ears! Their point is that we never see animals talk. Animals can’t talk in the same way that humans talk. We’ve never seen any animal have the ability to speak in a human tongue and therefore, The Bible is in err. This critique is actually question begging as it presupposes that atheism is true. If God exists, why couldn’t He give one or two animals the ability to speak? After all, He gave human beings the ability to speak when He created them. If God can give human beings the ability to speak, then why couldn’t He give Balaam’s donkey or a snake the ability to speak? IF atheism were true, then I would wholeheartedly agree with the atheist that any account of a talking donkey or any other animal would be absurd. But since I believe in an all powerful God, I don’t think it’s absurd to say that God acted upon Balaam’s donkey and temporarily gave it the ability to communicate with its master.

Question: If there is a God and He had the ability to create the entire physical universe out of absolute nothingness (as current astrophysical evidence shows), which is the greatest miracle reported in The Bible, would not causing a donkey to speak Hebrew be child’s play? Of course! The question “Is an account of a talking donkey absurd” all boils down to the question “Does God Exist”? If God does not exist, then miracles can’t occur. If Miracles can’t occur, then certainly no animal could ever just spontaneously start talking since that would be a miracle. In syllogistic form, it would go like this

1: If God does not exist, then miracles can’t occur.
2: If Miracles can’t occur, then certainly no animal could ever just spontaneously start talking since that would be a miracle.
3: God does not exist.
4: Therefore, Miracles can’t occur.
5: Therefore,  no animal could ever just spontaneously start talking.

If the 3 premises are true, the conclusion follows. I agree with the first two premises, but I deny the third premise. The question as to whether or not a donkey could ever spontaneously start talking all boils down to the question “Does God Exist”. Since Christians believe God DOES exist, this objection has little to no weight to it and it’s clearly question begging.  I think all Christians would agree that if God does not exist, then in fact all of the miracles in The Bible couldn’t possibly happen, be it Jesus turning water into wine, walking on water, raising Lazarus, Moses parting the Red Sea, etc. etc. etc. But once again, and I cannot stress this enough, it comes down to question “Does God exist?” Is there a miracle working God?

Visit Evan’s blog at CerebralFaith.Blogspot.com


 

Resources for Greater Impact: 

What Exactly is a Biblical Miracle? 3 Key Things Your Kids Should Understand

By Natasha Crain

A few weeks ago in our family worship time, we were studying the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 (Matthew 14). After we finished the story, I asked what I thought was a pretty straight forward question: “So, how did Jesus feed 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish?”

Kenna responded, “He must have cut the bread and fish into little tiny pieces to feed that many people!”

It was such a simple and logical answer, but it said so much about her young understanding of miracles. A million coloring pages of Jesus walking on water (which I’m pretty sure is the count coming home from Sunday school in the last couple of years) won’t teach our kids some basic concepts central to the understanding of biblical miracles.

Here are three key things our kids need to understand about the nature and purpose of miracles in the Bible.

 

1.    Miracles are supernatural.

One of the most common pejorative statements I see atheists make is that Christians believe someone can walk on water, a dead man can come back to life, animals can talk, and so on. The underlying assumption is that Christians foolishly believe these things are possible within the bounds of our natural world and its laws, when clearly we should see that they aren’t.

This is not a correct understanding of biblical miracles. Christians do NOT believe that miracles are naturally possible, just as atheists do not. We agree! The point of difference is that Christians believe miracles are possible on a supernatural level, and atheists don’t believe a supernatural level even exists.

I realize this distinction sounds a little theoretical, but it’s very important and actually quite simple to explain to kids in a practical sense. I told my kids (age 4) that if Jesus merely chopped the bread into 5,000 pieces, that would be something anyone can do, because that is how our world works (when you chop many times, it makes many pieces). What Jesus did was a miracle because it was something that can’t be explained by how we know our world works; food doesn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere! Jesus could do miracles because He had the power of God, and anything is possible for God. God is not limited by how our world works.

 

2.    Miracles proved who Jesus was.

This is the million dollar point that I don’t think I really understood the significance of until a couple of years ago when I started reading apologetics.

Jesus needed to do something while He was on earth to provide evidence (yes, evidence!) that He truly was the son of God. Think about it – He was making bold claims of divinity; how could people know that what He said was true?

Jesus didn’t just tell people to have “faith” that what He was saying was true. He usedmiracles – acts not possible by someone without God’s power – to prove it. Jesus understood the need for evidence to legitimize His claims. The resurrection was the ultimate miracle that proved to His followers that He was who He said He was.

To demonstrate this to my kids, I put on a mini-act where I told them I was God. I claimed that I wanted them to eat cookies every day because it’s good for them and that they needed to listen because I was God. They laughed and said they didn’t believe me because I’m not God! I told them over and over that I’m God. After a while, we talked about what it would have been like for Jesus’ friends to hear Him say He was the son of God. They had to have a way of knowing He wasn’t just a regular person saying that (like mommy was in the cookie example). Jesus did things only God could do to prove He reallywas God.

 

3.    Miracles are still historical events.

The disciple Thomas did not believe that the other disciples had seen a resurrected Jesus. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

When the resurrected Jesus appeared to Thomas, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus replied, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

This is an incredibly rich passage for Christians. Even though miracles are outside of our scientific understanding and laws, they are observable by witnesses and have natural/historical outcomes. The apostles historically observed the miracle of the resurrection, which led to a conviction so strong that they were willing to die for their beliefs. Their willingness to die was undoubtedly based in large part on their knowledge that they had witnessed the resurrection miracle.

We demonstrated this to our kids by talking about how difficult life was for the apostles after Jesus died. The miracles He did were so amazing that the apostles had no doubt that Jesus was God and they were willing to do whatever it took – endure beatings, jail and death – to tell the whole world about Him. Today we know about Jesus in large part because of what the apostles did after witnessing His miracles!

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts – what else should kids know about miracles?

For more articles like What Exactly is a Biblical Miracle? 3 Key Things Your Kids Should Understand visit Natasha’s website at ChristianMomThoughts.com

What Exactly is a Biblical Miracle? 3 Key Things Your Kids Should Understand

God’s Crime Scene

It’s about 2 a.m. on an August morning in 1979. A beautiful young nurse by the name of Lynne Knight is living in a bungalow behind a larger house in Torrance, California. As two police officers approach her door, they notice a chair overturned in the entryway and bloody footsteps leading back to the rear bedroom. Each officer has his gun drawn, not sure what to expect.

When they switch on the light, they witness the worst murder scene of their careers. Ms. Knight is lying on her bed, undressed. Her throat is deeply severed, and her lifeless body, which had been stabbed repeatedly, is covered in blood.

Under her body is 18 inches of twisted wire strung between two small pieces of wood that had been sawed off from an old broomstick. Although they’ve never seen one in person before, the officers immediately know it’s a garrote—a homemade weapon used to strangle someone in order to commit a murder quietly.

The killer tried to murder Lynne with the garrote, but couldn’t complete the evil act because she fought back. So the killer stabbed her to death and left the garrote behind in a panic.

Could the garrote lead the cops to this monster? Not soon enough. For nearly three decades the case went cold until cold case homicide detectives J. Warner Wallace and Rick Glass got involved in 2007. They dusted off the evidence left in a box at the Torrance PD, and Wallace made it his personal mission to analyze every aspect of the garrote. It turned out to be the key to the murder trial that took place last summer in the same LA courtroom where O.J. Simpson was tried. And there was familiar face in this trial. The defendant, Doug Bradford, hired O.J. lawyer Robert Shapiro to be his defense attorney.

While Bradford was a former lover of Knight, there was no eyewitness or DNA evidence to link Bradford to the murder. And there were several other suspects in the case, some of whom had since died. Wallace, Glass, and LA District Attorney John Lewin had an uphill battle to convince a jury of twelve that Bradford had indeed committed the crime. There would be no conviction unless all twelve agreed.

But Wallace, Glass and Lewin had been down this road before. They earned convictions on every cold case they had brought to trial so far. Three of those cases were so intriguing that NBC’s Dateline featured them. This case was no different: Keith Morrison and his Dateline crew were filming the case in an episode they called “The Wire.”

Although Dateline didn’t know it going in, their confidence was rewarded: on August 14, 2014, this LA jury returned a guilty verdict. Robert Shapiro, perhaps aware he had been out argued, didn’t even show up for the verdict. Doug Bradford is now serving a life sentence after being free for 35 years.

How did they get the conviction?

They began by asking the question all detectives ask at a death scene: can this death be explained by staying inside the room, or does it require us to look outside the room? Obviously, this death was a murder and required a suspect outside the room. Had this been a suicide, natural death or accidental death, the event could be explained by staying inside the room.

Then Detective Wallace used some very ingenious methods to link the garrote back to Bradford. (You can watch the entire Dateline explanation here.) He linked the effect (the garrote) back to the cause (Bradford).

Now Wallace is employing the same investigative principles he uses to solve cold case murders to eight of the greatest questions we ponder as human beings. He does this in his insightful new book, God’s Crime Scene. In the book Wallace seeks to discover if we can stay inside the room (the natural world) or must go outside the room (the supernatural world) for the causes of the following effects:

  • The origin of the universe
  • The fine-tuning of the universe
  • The origin of life
  • The origin of new life forms and biological machines
  • Consciousness
  • Free will
  • Objective Moral Values
  • Evil

Each of the eight chapters starts with the details of a real criminal case and then applies the principles to the question at hand (the Lynne Knight case is in Chapter 4).

Wallace was a committed atheist until age 35. Now he is a highly skilled author and speaker who presents a unique case for the Christian worldview across the country. Columnist Mike Adams and I have recently teamed with J. to equip Christian youth and their parents with the case for Christianity through a dynamic new College Prep program. I can tell you that audiences are captivated by the way he applies forensic principles to build the case for Christianity.

But don’t think Wallace just tows the party line. Since he is a cold case homicide detective, Wallace presents you with the evidence pro and con, and then leaves you to draw your own conclusions. He does a masterful job of laying out the evidence and even illustrates that evidence with over one hundred of his own drawings, which clarify and summarize some potentially difficult subject matter. (Who said a serious book can’t have pictures?)

God’s Crime Scene is an engaging and very readable work that investigates some of life’s most important questions. I highly recommend you get it regardless of your religious viewpoint. I can’t guarantee you’ll be convicted, but your thinking will be challenged.

A Review of Patterns of Evidence: Exodus

On Monday evening I went to see the much anticipated documentary film, Patterns of Evidence: Exodus by filmmaker Tim Mahoney and Thinking Man Films.

Filmaker Tim Mahoney in Luxor, Egypt

Filmaker Tim Mahoney in Luxor, Egypt

Overall, I very much liked the film and my impression is that it was very well produced and thought out. In short, it was a very high quality production and has great potential to be effective for those on the fence about the historical account of the Exodus in the Bible.

I offer the following thoughts to those who watched it on the night of its release, and for those who plan to watch it in the future, perhaps on the History Channel or on DVD.

First I would like to state what I liked about the film and offer some positive comments. Secondly, I will point out where I think Mahoney missed a couple of valuable opportunities apologetically, historically and archaeologically.

Yesterday I posted an article titled Navigating “Patterns of Evidence for the Biblical Exodus which essentially outlined where the film would focus most of its attention. That focus was on the dating of the Exodus or the chronology (or when it happened), and that was correct. More on this in a moment, but first some positive observations of the film.

THE GOOD

Production Quality

One of the first things that impressed me about the film was its very high production quality. It had the feel of a National Geographic special. Throughout the film there was extensive use of computer graphics and 3D animation which was very helpful. In addition, Mahoney traveled to some amazing places in Egypt (Luxor), Israel and Europe to shoot the interviews. The shots were well crafted and well edited. The cinematography was top rate.

Soundtrack

The next thing might seem like a rather silly thing to comment on, but I think that it is also an important part of any film – was the music. The film score was epic, adventurous, mysterious (in places), and just well done. The music was performed by the Budapest Film Orchestra, and the Budapest Film Choir.

The Question of the Historical Exodus: Back on the Table

The film does an excellent job of putting the question of the historical exodus back on the table and in the thoughts among those in the general public, and perhaps even some scholars who are open minded. Most liberal leaning scholars and archaeologists are highly dismissive of a historical exodus (including scholars such as William Dever, Israel Finkelstein, et. al.).

Evangelical Scholars Front & Center

It was very good to see such conservative Christian scholars, such as James K. Hoffmeier, Charles Ailing, Bryant Wood & John Bimson given some air time to make the case for a historical exodus. Rarely does the general public hear a conservative give a scholarly response on a historical documentary, and some of the evidence they presented was formidable and compelling.

Historical/Archaeological Evidence for the Biblical Exodus

There was some great archeological evidence that WAS presented. Much of it was amazing!

  • The Ipuwer Papyrus
  • The Berlin Fragment
  • The Joseph Statue & Tomb
  • The Semitic Ruler’s Palace with Twelve Pillars in Avaris
  • The Walls of Jericho & the Burnt Grain of Jericho
  • The Merneptah Stele
  • The Amarna Letters

THE NOT SO GOOD (or, the not so clear)

The Argument: Which date/time? Which Pharaoh?

I’ve seen and heard some of my fellow apologists lament the fact that Mahoney didn’t cover questions like the route of the Exodus or how many Hebrew slaves came out of Egypt. I’m not saying that these are not important questions, they certainly are, but they really don’t help us pinpoint the Exodus in the historical record. Perhaps he may explore these questions in a future documentary.

As I stated in my earlier blog on the film, the focus of attention was on the dating of the Exodus. This is where things got a little fuzzy for me, and I suspect the viewers as well.

Essentially three main dating options were presented in the film. The reasoning and the evidence for each dating option, however, was not clearly explained. In my view, that was really the crux of the matter. That is what people came to see and wanted to know.

It’s one thing to state that the historical exodus might have around two hundred years earlier (say, around 1450 B.C.), but it is quite another thing to give the reasoning as to why this was the case. This wasn’t made clear, and it certainly could have been.

Mahoney presented three dating options for consideration:

  • The late date (1230 B.C.) – Israel Finkelstein, James K. Hoffmeier
  • The early date (1446 B.C.) – Bryant Wood, Charles Ailing
  • The New Revised Egyptian Chronology – David Rohl

The documentary did a good job of explaining the different views and opinions that scholars have on the biblical Exodus. But, as I’ve pointed out earlier it was unclear if any clear and defninitive answer was arrived at for when the Exodus actually occurred.

Near the end of the film, Mahoney made a statement along the lines of “Scholars disagree about the dating and the evidence for the biblical Exodus, but we do have evidence for it.”

The problem is that the evidence that was presented as supporting the Exodus was conflicting. My concern is that Christians may walk away from the film being even more agnostic about the Exodus than certain that it happened.

But perhaps that was Mahoney’s point. We do have evidence for the historical Exodus, but there is not a consensus among conservative scholars on the exact nature of that evidence and which evidence is most reliable for defending a historical Exodus. Christians should consider the evidence for themselves and decide.

I did not, however, like the fact that Rohl and his revised Egyptian chronology, seemed to play a central role in Mahoney’s film, which is unfortunate. The reason why that is unfortunate, is that there are better arguments for the Exodus which Mahoney did not give proper credit to.

I’ve known about, and been intrigued by the work of David Rohl for quite some time. I first heard about Rohl’s work when I read a review of his book, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (originally published in the UK as A Test of Time: The Bible from Myth to History) some years ago. I now have the book and have read Rohl’s arguments for revising Egyptian chronology.

In the film Rohl states that the Egyptian chronology and history is in need of major revision (shifted two centuries!). Rohl’s main argument centers on the uncertainty surrounding Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period (called a “dark age” in the film).

The ancient Egyptians kept a pretty good records of their kings. In addition to temple ruins and palace walls in Egypt, we also historical sources for Egyptian history. The work (Aegyptiaca, or “History of Egypt”) by an Egyptian priest named Manetho who served under Ptolemy Philadelphius 285-246 B.C., survives in fragments in (Jewish Antiquities) Flavius Josephus (First Cent. A.D.), Africanus (A.D. c. 221), and G. Syncellus (A.D. c.800). Manetho gives a fairly accurate account of Egyptian history, although there are some obvious gaps in it.

In ancient Egyptian history, are three “Intermediate Periods” in which foreign rulers (i.e. or non-Egyptians) would rule over Egypt. The third intermediate period begins in 1070 B.C. and ends in 664 B.C. with the expulsion of the Nubian dynasty under Psamtik I – a time span covering approximately 406 years!

To complicate things – much of the history of other nations in the Ancient Near East (Phoenicia, Assyria, Babylonia, Palestine, Canaan etc..) is LINKED to Egyptian history. So, if the dates assigned to Egyptian history and chronology are off, then consequently, so are the dates of these other nations.

Rohl is certainly correct to point out that Egyptian history is in need of revision. But the question at hand is, HOW MUCH is it off? And what reasons does he give for adjusting the Egyptian chronology 200 years? In the film we don’t get a clear answer, but Rohl’s book provides one.

In Chapter Six of the book titled “Towards a New Chronology” Rohl gives his main argument, which stems from a genealogy of Egypt’s Royal Architects discovered in Wadi Hammamat.

In a summary of the argument Rohl states:

The Genealogy of the Royal Architects, discovered in the Wadi Hammamat, confirms that the era known as the TIP (Third Intermediate Period) has been overstretched. Furthermore, all three key genealogies linking back to the New Kingdom indicate that over a century must be removed from the chronology of the transition period between the late 19th Dynasty and the Third Intermediate Period.[1]

There are numerous problems with Rohl’s Revised Egyptian Chronology. Among the several problems, archaeologist, Bryant Wood points out that,

A revised Egyptian chronology would directly affect the dating of the Bronze and Early Iron Ages in Palestine since the dating of those periods is dependent upon synchronisms with Egyptian history. Biblical chronology, on the other hand, remains unchanged since it is derived from synchronisms with Assyria in the Divided Kingdom period and then calculated backwards using the internal chronological data of the Bible.[2]

For further information and a more in-depth critique of Rohl’s Revised Egyptian Chronology see Wood’s entire article here.

As I’ve admitted in my previous article, I believe that the evidence and arguments put forth for the early date (1446 B.C.), as articulated by Dr. Bryant Wood make the most sense and solve the most problems for reconciling the biblical Exodus and the archaeological and historical record.

For those interested here are three articles which may be of interest.

The Case for the 1446 B.C. date for Exodus and Conquest – T. Wright

Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus Pharaoh – D. Petrovich

The Conquest of Jericho – B. Wood

I only wish that Mahoney had allowed Dr. Bryant Wood & Dr. Ailing more time to lay out the case for the early Exodus-Conquest model which is based on good archaeology and good scholarship.

THE BOTTOM LINE

My complaints, notwithstanding, I think the film was excellent and worth seeing again. I would even use it in my seminary class on Biblical Archaeology to show the different views which one might have on the Exodus.

I would encourage others, who were not able to see the film on the release date, to watch it and purchase the DVD when it comes out.

Perhaps on a future episode Mahoney will explore these questions further. I commend Tim on an excellent film which explores a subject and story that is very near and dear to my heart. The Christian community owes Mahoney a huge thanks for bringing such a vitally important event in biblical history in the spotlight, and he did it with excellence!

When you get a chance – go see it!

 

[1] David Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995, pg. 143.

[2]http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2007/05/23/David-Rohls-Revised-Egyptian-Chronology-A-View-From-Palestine.aspx#Article

Are you Skeptical of the Bible Because it Reports Miracles?

In a previous blog I defended the rationality of believing in the possibility of miracles if God exists –miracles are no less ridiculous than implications of some science-related theories that are more speculative than the God hypothesis.

In this brief blog, I consider the claim that the Bible shouldn’t be believed because it reports miracles. Since miracles are viewed as being impossible this undermines the credibility of the Bible – we’re told it’s just an ancient book written to superstitious people. But consider how some skeptics demand that God performs miracles to make Himself known. For example, I was in public debate last year in which my opponent said she would only believe in God if He revealed Himself in a miraculous way. But if skeptics would only believe in God if they witnessed miracles then it would be illogical for them to dismiss the Bible because it reports miracles. There is a tension between these viewpoints.

This appeal for God to work miracles to reveal His existence to a given person is inconsistent with the purpose for miracles within the Bible. Miracles are not generally intended as a way for God to make His existence known but rather are used to validate new revelation. It is striking that miracle claims are quite clustered in distinct time periods within Biblical history that correspond to those times where there was significant new revelation. (e.g. Moses, the prophets such as Elijah, Jesus and the apostles). The miracles were intended to provide evidence to the people of that time that these messengers were sent from God – most miracles were not intended to provide evidence to the modern reader.

A notable exception is the resurrection of Jesus. In Matthew 16:4, Jesus says “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” We’re actually rebuked for asking for sign miralces – but one will be given. Elsewhere Jesus reveals that Jonah was a type (symbol or foreshadowing) of how He would be raised from the dead 3 days later. A strong case can be made that Jesus’ resurrection is the best explanation for a number of historically accepted events.

If you’re a skeptic I understand how you wouldn’t see most miraculous accounts in the Bible as evidential for today but I don’t understand why you would reject the Bible out of hand simply because it reports miracles. I’d encourage you to check out the evidence for the resurrection and evidence from Biblical prophecies – which I think were intended to provide evidence to future readers.

Is it Stupid to Believe in Miracles?

In my previous blog I defended the notion that it’s not stupid to believe in the creation of the universe by God. It seems fitting in this Christmas season to also look at another claim derided by skeptics – the possibility of miracles. Here is how Richard Dawkins puts it:

“The nineteenth century is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles like the virgin birth without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated Christians are too loyal to deny the virgin birth and the resurrection. But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know that it is absurd, so they would much rather not be asked.[1]”

There certainly are educated, intelligent, science-respecting modern-day Christians who unashamedly believe in these miracles[2]. There is nothing irrational or anti-scientific about the possibility of miracles unless one can disprove the existence of anything supernatural which certainly has not been done. Contra Hume, I don’t see a non-question-begging in-principle argument against the mere possibility of miracles[3]. In previous blogs, I’ve argued that the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning of the laws and constants of nature to support life constitute evidence for God. There are many other philosophical arguments for a transcendent God capable of acting on nature – which is all I take a miracle to be. Miracles don’t break the laws of nature[4] but merely represent God acting in the universe. If we have evidence of intervention at such fundamental levels as creating a universe, setting up its initial conditions, and setting fundamental parameters to precise life-permitting values, then why think it irrational that God could create a sperm to fertilize Mary’s egg? The skeptic needs to interact with these and other arguments and should not merely dismiss the possibility of miracles by ridiculing believers – as Dawkins advocated when he said “Mock them. Ridicule them. In public.”

I’m not complaining about considering a miracle claim a priori unlikely – I actually encourage that since miracles should be expected to be rare if they occur at all. Rather, I argue against a dismissive attitude characterized by ridiculing the possibility of miracles without interacting with the evidence or arguments for God’s existence. Merely scoffing at the potential implications that miracles are possible if God exists does not disprove the hypothesis that God exists.

Even leading scientists and philosophers who are skeptical about God propose a number of speculative theories with some rather surprising implications. I likewise argue we should not dismiss the possibility that these theories are true merely because of even bizarre consequences, which in some cases are more radical than the possibility of God acting in the world. Consider the following theories:

Aliens seeded life on earth

  • Dawkins mentions this possibility in the movie Expelled.
  • Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick wrote a book that proposes this scenario to explain life’s origins on Earth.[5]
  • Implications: if this hypothesis were true, a form of Intelligent Design (ID) would be true – to some skeptics that is about as bizarre as you can get![6]

Our universe originated from a quantum fluctuation

  • Edward Tryon first proposed this and Lawrence Krauss has proposed a more recent version of this theory.
  • Implications: the entire universe would have originated from what appears to be “empty” spacetime – at least as empty as it can be made. Note that it’s more likely for a single sperm to fluctuate into existence to impregnate a virgin than it is for a huge, long-lived universe such as ours to fluctuate into existence.
  • Why I’m skeptical? I’m not skeptical because the emergence of matter from spacetime in its lowest energy state may be counterintuitive for this certainly does happen! Although virtual particles are known to emerge from rearrangements of the energy in the quantum vacuum, large fluctuations are exponentially less likely than small fluctuations – and we have quite a large universe! Likewise the emergence of long-lasting fluctuations are exponentially less likely than short-lived fluctuations where the emergent matter is converted back to energy – and we have quite a long-lived universe! Thus this theory makes predictions inconsistent with our universe (even after applying a selection effect based on the universe permitting life). Here is my critique of Krauss’s proposal in more detail.

It is probable that we’re living in a simulation

  • Nick Bostrom proposed this argument in 2001.
  • Implications: everything is an illusion and The Matrix movie tells us more about reality than all science textbooks combined.
  • The Wikipedia article linked to above has some decent critiques of this proposal but here is a nice critique of this argument by a Stanford prof.

Eternal inflation

  • Eternal inflation is probably the leading multiverse theory. We have decent reasons for believing that there was an early rapid expansion phase in our universe which is dubbed cosmic inflation (although no physical mechanism has of yet been identified that could produce this inflaton field and only certain types of inflation would result in other universes). Certain theories for mechanisms of inflation could possibly create “bubble universes” with enormous fecundity – by some estimates about 12 million billion universes created per second. Many consider these implications to be absurd but I think we need to evaluate such proposals on the basis of the evidence for this flavor of inflation rather than on the implications of the theory.
  • Implications:
    • Vilenkin summarizes the radical implications by stating that “there are infinitely many O-regions where Al Gore is president and – yes! – Elvis is still alive.[7]”
    • There are identical copies of you (and everyone else) in other universes because there are more universes than there are possible events at the quantum level and thus materialist assumptions everything is repeated an infinite number of times in an infinite multiverse.
    • There are universes in which everything is identical except that you wrote this article and I’m reading it now.

Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics

There are many possible interpretations of quantum mechanics that are consistent with the math but in this radical interpretation reality branches out like a tree where every possible quantum outcome happens in one branch of the tree which constitutes a sort of parallel universe. The implications of this theory are basically just as radical as those described above for eternal inflation.

Everything that is mathematically possible is realized somewhere in the universe

  • MIT physicist Max Tegmark, who has done some important research validating various fine-tuning claims, adopts this radical viewpoint.
  • Implications: this is even more radical than the previous theories because it would entail not just that all physical possibilities but that all metaphysical possibilities are realized somewhere. There would be uncountable infinities of infinite multiverses of infinitely different types! Unicorns, fire-breathing dragons, and all science-fiction characters would certainly exist somewhere in this multiverse!
  • Why I’m skeptical: In this case perhaps the implications do lead to a reductio ad absurdum but one can also argue strongly against the theory itself. The overwhelming number of life-permitting universes within this overall universe would not have concise physical laws with minimal parameters since there are vastly more ways to have much more complex laws of nature that could still permit life – Occam ’s razor would not be a fruitful heuristic! You wouldn’t have Nobel Prize winning physicists waxing eloquent about the beauty and simplicity of physics and how that is a guide to true theories.[8]

I am skeptical of all of these theories but I don’t think we should dismiss any of them merely because their radical implications seem implausible. In the same way, one shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of God even if miracles seem too implausible to you. One should examine evidence for these theories relative to their predictions and relative to alternate theories – i.e. by employing abductive reasoning (an inference to the best explanation). I think that many of these speculative proposals are inferior alternatives to the hypothesis that God created the universe and finely-tuned the physics to support life and are actually posited to some degree as alternatives to evidence for design. Naturalistic presuppositions seem to play some role in motivating many of these speculative theories, with the probable exception of the Many Worlds Interpretation (which I think is by far the most likely of any of these to actually be true – which isn’t saying much though).

By unjustifiably endowing what is created with god-like powers, perhaps some skeptics are falling into a modern-day version of the trap that the apostle Paul warned about in Romans 1:25 where he talks about people who “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”

Agnostic physicist Paul Davies also warns about “the most general multiverse theories … At least some of these universes will feature miraculous events – water turning into wine, etc. They will contain thoroughly convincing religious experiences … [that would look like] … direct revelation of a transcendent God. It follows that a general multiverse set must contain a subset that conforms to traditional religious notions of God and design.[9]” In trying to deny evidence for God, some skeptics have had to so broaden their ontology as to enable the possibility of miracles after all!

____________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 187.

[2] Francis Collins, John Lennox, John Polkinghorne, Mike Strauss, Don Page, Henry Schaefer, James Tour, etc.

[3] I think Hume’s arguments failed, if you disagree consider agnostic John Earman’s book entitled Hume’s Abject Failure.

[4] “Nothing can seem extraordinary until you have discovered what is ordinary. Belief in miracles, far from depending on an ignorance of the laws of nature, is only possible in so far as those laws are known.” C.S. Lewis, Miracles

[5] I think he later backed away from this proposal but at one time he thought it was plausible enough to make a focal point for a book he wrote.

[6] Parenthetically, note that this possibility also shows an example of what ID advocates point out – that intelligent design (at least in biology) doesn’t necessarily even require the supernatural and thus should not be precluded from scientific consideration.

[7] Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One, p. 113. This is actually a quote from an article Vilenkin wrote for a physics journal.

[8] See Eugene Wigner’s famous essay on The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences. https://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/MathDrama/reading/Wigner.html. Also, see how Weinberg regards beauty as a guide to finding the correct physical theories: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/view-weinberg.html. Or refer to this essay for a historical review: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-h-bailey/why-mathematics-matters_b_4794617.html

[9] Bernard Carr (ed.), Universe or Multiverse, p. 495.

Was There Really A Census During the Time of Caesar Augustus?

Archaeology Illuminates & Affirms a Key Fact in the Christmas Story

 By all counts, Luke’s gospel is a wealth of historical information.

He opens it this way:

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us… it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you might know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed. (Luke 1:1;3-4)

Luke’s primary concern is order and accuracy, so that the recipient of the document (a certain Theophilus), “might know the certainty of those things in which he was instructed (v. 4).”

Not only is Luke’s account orderly, it is an excellent record of what truly happened that no-so-silent night, two thousand years ago.

The great classical archaeologist Sir William Ramsay, said that Luke was a “first rate historian…”

One who writes “…historical works of the highest order, in which a writer commands excellent means of knowledge, either through personal acquaintance or through access to original authorities, and brings to the treatment of his subject genius, literary skill, and sympathetic historical insight into human character and the movement of events. Such an author seizes the critical events, concentrates the reader’s attention on them by giving them fuller treatment…”[1]

One such event to which Luke draws attention is a government census which took place during the reign of Augustus, before Christ was born. This event is a pivotal event in the Christmas story and is often looked at with skepticism by some.

At the very beginning of Luke’s Christmas narrative in Luke 2:1-5 we are told that a census took place in the entire Roman world. The words are very familiar during Christmas as they are read aloud in so many sermons, plays, musicals and Christmas celebrations.

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Qurinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered, to Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child (Luke 2:1-5).

For many years, historians and scholars have pointed to the passage above mentioning the decree by Quirinius, as problematic if not completely inaccurate. Did a census really take place in the entire Roman world during that time, and did Mary & Joseph actually go up to Bethlehem to be registered, as Luke Gospel says?

New Testament scholar Dr. Harold W. Hoehner has summarized some of the top challenges faced by those who hold to the historical accuracy of Luke’s account.

He writes:

“[Emil] Schurer states that Luke cannot be historically accurate because: (1) nothing is known in history of a general census during the time of Augustus; (2) in a Roman census Joseph would have not had to travel to Bethlehem, but would have registered in the principle town of his residence, and Mary would hat have had to register at all; (3) no Roman census would have been made in Palestine during Herod’s reign; (4) Josephus records nothing of a Roman census in Palestine in the time of Herod – rather the census of A.D. 6-7 was something new among the Jews; and (5) a census held under Qurinius could not have occurred during Herod’s reign for Quirinius was not governor until after Herod’s death.”[2]

At first glance, these objections to the Roman census during the reigns of emperor [imperator] Caesar Augustus (Octavius) and governor [legatus] Quirinus may seem insurmountable and quite difficult to answer, but an honest appraisal of the historical and archaeological evidence suggests that they are not.

The objections we will answer here are 1 and 2 – (1) the claim that nothing is known in history of a general census during the time of Augustus, and (2) that in a Roman census Mary & Joseph would not have had to travel to Bethlehem to register.

Was There Census During the Reign of Augustus in the Roman World?

Roman denarius

Roman denarius

It is a commonly held assumption that the decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world was to be taxed, was a single census [a single event] in the entire Roman empire. The question is, is this how Luke understood it, or intended it to be understood? Very likely, not.

According to Hoehner, “What is meant is that censuses were taken at different times in different provinces – Augustus being the first one in history to order a census or tax assessment of the whole provincial empire. This is further substantiated by the fact that Luke uses the present tense indicating that Augustus ordered censuses to be taken regularly, rather than only one time.”[3]

New Testament historian Jack Finegan says, “As to the taking of such an enrollment in general, it is known from discoveries among the Egyptian papyri that a Roman census was taken in Egypt, and therefore perhaps also throughout the empire regularly, every fourteen years. Many actual census returns have been found, and they use the very same word (ἀπογράφω) which Luke 2:2 uses for the “enrollment.”[4]

The specific census which Luke mentions (Lk. 2:2), is that it “first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.”

Apart from Luke we have two other historical sources concerning Quirinius – the Roman historian, Tacitus (Annals 3.48) and the Jewish/Roman historian, Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 18.1-2).

According to Tacitus (Annals 3.48), P. Sulpicius Quirinius died in A.D. 21.

Josephus’s reference to Quirinius in Antiquities of the Jews (18,I,1.) poses somewhat of a problem, because he informs us that the “taxings conducted by Quirinius while governing Syria were made in the thirty-seventh year of Caesar’s victory over [Marc] Anthony at Actium in 31 B.C.. This would place the census in about A.D. 6/7, a date which is too late to be brought into alignment with the birth of Christ which was likely in the winter 5/4 B.C.[5]

In Luke’s account in Luke 2:2, he speaks of a census which “first” took place when Quirinius was governing Syria, so it is not out of the question that the census to which Josephus is referring was the second one, while Luke mentions the “first” one [i.e the earlier one].

Gleason Archer also notes that Luke, “was therefore well aware of the second census, taken by Quirinius in A.D. 7, which Josephus alludes to… We know this because Luke (who lived much closer to the time that Josephus did) also quotes Gamaliel as alluding to the insurrection of Judas of Galilee “in the days of census taking” (Acts 5:37).[6]

Additional evidence also seems to suggest that Quirinius served as governor twice which would then put him in an official position over Syria to enact the census of Luke 2:2. In 1784, a Latin inscription was discovered near Tivoli, located about twenty miles east of Rome. It is known as the Lapis Tiburtinus inscription, and according to Jack Finegan it, “…contains the statement of a high Roman official that when he became governor of Syria he entered the office for the second time (Latin, iterum). It has even been thought that this personage might have been Quirinius…”[7]

Whatever the identity is of the Roman official mentioned in the inscription, at minimum shows that it was not uncommon for Roman procurators to have served twice, and maximally it may eventually reveal that it was Quirinius himself, through further research.

Is it Plausible that Mary & Joseph Traveled to Bethlehem for the Census?

Luke 2:4-5 states: And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

Mary & Joseph traveling to Bethlehem

Mary & Joseph traveling to Bethlehem

Objection 2 listed above states, that in a Roman census Joseph would have not had to travel to Bethlehem, but would have registered in the principle town of his residence, and Mary would not have had to register at all.

It was generally understood that Roman law instructed property owners to register for taxation in the district where they owned land. However, “…a papyrus dated to A.D. 104, records an Egyptian prefect who ordered Egyptians to return to their ancestral homes so that a census could be taken. In first century Rome, since the Jews’ property was linked to their fathers (i.e. patriarchal), the Romans would certainly have allowed them the custom of laying claim to their family estate for taxation.”[8]

Since every person needed to appear in his ancestral homeland and since Mary was betrothed to Joseph, and pregnant with child, the two traveled to Bethlehem together. Surely Mary & Joseph would have understood the Scriptures, and the prophecies concerning Israel’s Messiah – that He must be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). It must have been truly amazing from their perspective, to see pieces of the Messianic puzzle fall in place – even if the pieces were official decrees from the Roman empire!

Once again, when Scripture is placed under the scrutiny of historical and archaeological research, it stands the test in amazing ways.

This is but one small example of where archaeology and history corroborate the Scripture to the finest detail. Luke’s gospel is just the first part of a two-volume set in which Acts is the second. Colin Hemer’s massive study, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History details at least 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by either historical or archeological research.

Truly Luke is indeed a remarkable historian. Like Theophilus, we can know the certainty of the things in which we have been instructed (the Gospel of Jesus Christ).

Jesus Came In the Fullness of Time

In Galatians 4:4 the Apostle Paul wrote: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

When Jesus the Messiah arrived, His timing was perfect! From the appearing of the star to the wise men, to the taking of the census by Rome, it was not too soon, and not too late. His first coming was not only perfect chronologically and historically, it was perfect in God’s providential time.

If Christ’s first coming is any indication of what the Second coming will be like – we can rest assured that the timing of His Second Coming (Revelation 19:11-21) will be right on God’s perfect divine time, once again.

 

[1] William Ramsay, Saint Paul: The Traveler and Roman Citizen (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2001 reprint), 16.

[2] Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), 14.

[3] Ibid., 15

[4] Jack Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past: The Archaeological Background of the Hebrew-Christian Religion, Volume II (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 258.

[5] See Finegan, Ibid., 259, See also Hoehner’s work on this date which goes into much more detail in the original sources; Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), especially Chapter 1, ‘The Date of Christ’s Birth,’ pp. 29-44.

 

[6] Gleason L. Archer, Jr., New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982),

[7] See, Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology: Principles of Time Reckoning in the Ancient World and Problems of Chronology in the Bible, Revised Edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), p. 304. A view also held by William Ramsay, Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, 4th Ed., London, 1920, pp. 275-300.

[8] See, Harold Hoehner, p.15

The Eclipse of Christmas

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned – Isaiah 9:2

10355586_10152856776899723_3296679868948411043_o

 On March 19th 2007 the earth experienced one of the most fantastic and amazing events in the heavens – a total eclipse of the sun! Solar eclipses have been recorded since the dawn of human history. In ages past, humans saw eclipses as full of great significance and meaning. Eclipses are certainly strange and wonderful events, even in modern times. While they are now explained by science, eclipses are still full of mystery and awe.

What exactly is a solar eclipse?  Essentially an eclipse is when the light-giving body of the sun is blocked by the moon thereby causing a temporary shadow across the surface of the Earth. The shadow of the moon on the earth is called the umbra – similar to our word umbrella – the penumbra is the larger shadow.

When a full solar eclipse happens, strange things occur on earth. The temperature can drop as much as 20 degrees! Chickens begin to roost, animals bed down, and in the shadow of the moon the world is bathed in total darkness. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Thales of Miletus predicted an eclipse which occurred during a war between the Medians and the Lydians on May 28, 585 B.C. Soldiers on both sides put down their weapons and declared peace as a result of the eclipse.[1]

Our world today is currently under another kind of eclipse – a spiritual one in which darkness is rampant.

It is an overshadowing not only of the Christmas holiday – but the PERSON which Christmas is all about – Christ, the true light of the world!

This Christmas season you may have noticed the flagrant bias against Christmas and its true meaning by the entertainment industry (Hollywood), by the retail world (businesses), and by our own State and Federal Government. Today the ACLU and other organizations are suing communities around the country for expressing their belief in the true Christmas story demanding that the “Separation of Church and State” has been violated.

For Christians, however, this should not come as a surprise. The attempted darkening of God’s light and truth has been going on for millennia. Consider this passage from John’s Gospel (considered to be John’s Nativity passage):

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. …Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it (John 1:1,3-5)

A few years ago, the American Atheists paid for a huge a billboard (see below) on a turnpike in New Jersey. According to David Silverman, spokesmen for the American Atheists, the purpose of the billboard was not intended to make new converts to atheism, rather it was to encourage existing atheists who are going through the motions of celebrating Christmas, to stop. Atheists should be celebrating reason, not Jesus! (not even indirectly by giving gifts and having traditional Christmas celebrations)

Layout 1

Whatever the case, the billboard was just one more way of eclipsing the true Light of Christmas – the advent of the Christ-child.

Just a few days ago in the Chicago area, the heads of Mary & Joseph in a church nativity scene were vandalized and decapitated.

What other ways is the light of Christ’s truth being eclipsed today?

Sadly, there are many credible reports coming out of the Middle East of Christian children being murdered simply because of their faith in Christ! This is unbelievable! The small little light of a child is so bright that those who love the darkness must extinguish it!

There was a song I learned in Sunday School many years ago, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…”

When I think of the words to that children’s song I think of the little children in the Middle East who are murdered because of Christ.

Sadly, these precious little lights were eclipsed and extinguished by those who hate the truth and love darkness.

The attempt to eclipse Christmas reaches all the way back even to the very first Christmas itself. In the first century when Christ was born, a heinous crime was committed against innocent children in order to prevent the light from shining before it even dawned. The crime was committed by none other than Herod I (builder of some of the greatest structures in the ancient world – but also murderer of little children).

Bruce Scott summarizes some of Herod’s crimes here:

He was the classic paranoid tyrant. His fortresses reflected his mentality. He lived with constant fear and suspicion. He had spies everywhere, looking for seditious activity. Herod would occasionally disguise himself as a commoner and mingle among the people at night, listening for conspiracies. Suspects were captured and tortured. Anyone who did not swear allegiance to Herod was persecuted and/or killed. To be sure, Herod had no qualms about killing. He killed 2,000 survivors of five cities that had rebelled against him. He had his brother in law drowned. He executed his uncle, his wife’s grandfather, his wife, his mother in law, and three of his sons. He murdered faithful followers, servants, friends, soldiers, pious men, relatives – often on flimsy evidence of rumors or coerced confessions.

In the last days of his life, Herod arranger for all of the prominent Jewish leaders of the country to be rounded up, placed in a hippodrome and executed upon the word that he had died. He wanted to ensure that there would be mourning throughout the land after he died. Fortunately the orders were never carried out.

One of Herod’s most barbaric acts is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 2:16. Shortly after Jesus’ birth, Herod had all males two years old and under in and around Bethlehem slaughtered. He was endeavoring to exterminate the promised Messiah.[2]

Herod failed.

No man can extinguish the glory of God or the light of the world, not even today.

Not only did Herod not succeed, but those who attempt to eclipse Christmas today fall short as well. God’s glory, His light and Truth fills the earth and the heavens (Psalm 19). The light of His Truth is shining even in countries where spiritual darkness is rampant. Even the blood of Christian martyrs will be used by God to bring light to those in darkness.

Sir Winston Churchill once said:

The Truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it. Ignorance may deride it. But in the end there it is.

Christmas is all about LIGHT – light as a metaphor, light as a reality, and light as a symbol of Truth. The truth that there is Truth; that there is a Creator; who made all things, and that God took on human form (in Jesus) that we might know Him and reflect His glory. Christmas is when God took on human form in the incarnation. It is marvelous and mysterious at the same time!

The primary reason why God did this is so that Christ (who was innocent and sinless) could take the sins of the world upon Himself on the cross.

Why would God do such a thing? Simply because He loves the world that He made (John 3:16). Without His act of selfless love, there would be no hope and no escape from the darkness – spiritual or otherwise.

An Attempted Eclipse at the Second Advent

In the Old Testament Psalm 2 is a Psalm about Christ. Theologians refer to it as a “Messianic Psalm.” Anything in the Old Testament that refers to Christ (the Greek word for Messiah), literally means “anointed one,” is considered to teach some truth about Israel’s Savior and King.

Psalm 2 is particularly interesting because it refers to a future time when the rulers and the nations of the earth will rise up and stand against Messiah, attempting once again, to eclipse God’s Light and Truth.

The Psalmist begins:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together…(verse 1)

And exactly what are these world-rulers meeting about? He continues:

…against the Lord and against His Anointed (Messiah), saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us’ (verses 2-3).

But God’s response to them is mockery.

(Yet)…He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them in His fury, saying, ‘As for Me (GOD), I have set My King (Messiah) on Zion, my holy hill’ (verses 4-5).

And God’s further response is that complete dominion of the entire earth will be given to His “Anointed” (Christ Jesus)

I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your heritage, and the ends of the earth Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potters vessel’ (verses 7-9).

Finally a word of warning to rulers who attempt to eclipse, darken or oppose the Anointed One.

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are those who take refuge in Him (verses 10-12).

Conclusion

To those think that Christmas as well as Christianity, is a huge sham: have you stopped to truly  consider the evidence presented on this website and by this ministry? The central claim of Christianity (the Resurrection) is supported by an amazing amount of evidence.

For Christians who feel the encroaching spiritual darkness, Christmas is a reminder to all of us that the Light of the world HAS indeed come! Until He comes again, we are commissioned by our Lord Himself (the Light of the World), to continue to shine His light in the darkness so that a total eclipse of Christmas never happens.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-17)

[1] http://www.iep.utm.edu/thales/#SH8a (accessed, 12 Dec. 2014)

[2] Bruce Scott, Israel My Glory, Nov/Dec, 2006, p.20

Jesus on Trial by David Limbaugh

When David Limbaugh let his friend Steve know that he had doubts about Christianity, he was surprised by Steve’s response. Instead of a blast of arrogant judgmentalism, Steve responded like a Christian should—with grace and evidence. What has happened since that time is told in Limbaugh’s excellent new book, Jesus on Trial: A Lawyer Affirms the Truth of the Gospel. Limbaugh artfully tells his journey from skepticism about Christ to skepticism about skepticism and ultimately to trust in Christ.

David is a lawyer, but he doesn’t write like a lawyer. While he’s intellectually precise, he writes as if he’s sitting across the table from you, anticipating your questions and objections. This is rare for a book of Christian evidences (often called Christian apologetics). Such books often read like technical manuals, but not Jesus on Trial. Limbaugh not only does a masterful job of highlighting the abundant evidence that supports Christianity, his insights into what the scriptures actually say will have you marveling at the tapestry of scripture and the Savior who wove it.

From the very beginning, Limbaugh bares his soul, holding nothing back about how his previous doubts were shielded by an embarrassing lack of knowledge. He writes, “I knew, after all, that I hadn’t really given the Bible itself a hearing, much less a fair one. To my surprise— and this is embarrassing to admit—Steve showed me how verses of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, were tied to others in content and theme with remarkable frequency. Amazingly, I had never looked at a reference Bible before, and I was blown away. My ignorance was on display, but Steve wasn’t remotely judgmental— to help me learn more, he even gave me that Bible. I was genuinely intrigued to discover that the Bible was not simply a mishmash of stories, allegories, alleged historical events, and moral lessons. There was obviously a pattern here, and for the first time in my life the Bible appeared to me to be thematically integrated. The scales on my eyes started peeling away.”

His two chapters called “Aha Moments” reveal the numerous tipping points in Limbaugh’s journey where scale after scale fell away—tipping points that no honest seeker of truth can ignore.   Of course, as Limbaugh admits, many who are not interested in truth, or have their own agenda, ignore or remake Christ in their own image.

He writes, “We must not casually remake Jesus in the image in which we prefer to see Him or which conforms to the popular culture’s misperceptions about Him. Our politically correct culture may, presumptuously, choose to recast Jesus as indifferent to sin and saccharine sweet, no matter the circumstances, but this Jesus is God, and God cannot look upon sin. What do these revisionists make of the Jesus Who made a whip of cords and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple (John 2: 15)? … What do the revisionists say about the Jesus Whom Paul describes as “revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus ” (2 Thess. 1: 7– 8)? What of the difficult moral standard Jesus laid down in the Sermon on the Mount? Did He show indifference to sin there?” Limbaugh rightfully concludes: “This idea that Jesus is meek, mild, indifferent, and non-judgmental is the stuff of pure myth.”

In addition to correcting the culture’s emasculated view of Christ, Limbaugh has two fantastic chapters tackling the paradoxes of Christianity. These include: God’s plan of salvation, including the relationship between grace and works; the acknowledgement that we are sinful yet commanded to be perfect; the Trinity, that God is one in essence yet three in persons; that Jesus has two natures, human and divine; that you must give up your life to find it; that Christians are strong when they are weak; that God is sovereign yet humans have free will; that God knows all and is unchangeable, yet we are to pray; that the Bible is inspired yet written by men; and many others. The insights Limbaugh brings to these paradoxes are some of his own, and the best nuggets mined from Christian scholarship that I doubt you’ll find in one place anywhere else.

Limbaugh devotes several chapters to the evidence for the Bible, including its unity and reliability as evidenced through history, archaeology, prophecy and science. He debunks several myths and misunderstandings along the way, and then saves his final chapter for what many think is the atheist’s trump card against God: Evil.

Many years ago David provided me an “Aha Moment” during one of our very many theological discussions. He said, “Evil really bothers me, but only Christianity has a sensible answer to it.” There’s no question he’s correct. We wouldn’t even know what evil was unless good existed, and real objective good could only exist if God exists. As David explains, evil turns out to be a backhanded argument for God. In fact, evil is the very reason God entered human history in the person of Christ. Only his sacrifice can solve the evil in my heart and yours.

David puts it this way: “Don’t be offended by the notion that you must have saving faith in Christ. Don’t assume that God is making you jump through unnecessary hoops. He is the One Who suffered for you. He did this so that you could live. He doesn’t ask you to believe because He is on a divine ego trip, but because He loves you and wants you to latch on to Him in order to be saved from your sins.”

I just can’t recommend Jesus on Trial highly enough. Every thinking person should investigate the claims of Christ, who is unarguably the most influential human being to ever walk the earth. If his claims are true (and Limbaugh shows they are), then we won’t be putting him on trial—he will be putting each of us on trial. Only Christ can secure you a favorable verdict.

David Limbaugh will join cold case homicide detective J. Warner Wallace as a speaker at the CrossExamined donor banquet on October 9, 2014 at the Big Chill in Charlotte, North Carolina.  For details on attending, email Gil@CrossExamined.org.

Reasons For Faith: A Couple Of My Interviews

meradioI recently re-listened to a couple of radio/podcast interviews I have done on why I am a Christian. I thought these may be of benefit and interest to readers, so I decided to post the links here.

The following one is mostly about intelligent design and why I think a case can be made from biological evidence for the role of an intelligent causal agent in the development of life on earth. The total duration is 37 minutes.

Biologist Interview: Jonathan McLatchie (Apologetics 315)

In the following interview, I discuss why I am a Christian and address common objections such as “How do you know God exists?” “How do you know the Bible is reliable?” “How can you believe in miracles?” “How do you know Jesus existed?” “What about the problem of evil and suffering in the world?” “How could a loving God send people to Hell?” “Why should a Christian do apologetics?” and “What about homosexuality?” The total duration is 120 minutes.

Theology Matters With The Pellews

The first is a good introductory crash course to the arguments for intelligent design in biology. The second covers broader material, and discusses some of my reasons for being a Christian. I start out fairly quiet in the second interview, and am somewhat hard to make out. You can tell I was nervous, with it being one of my first live interview experiences. After we get going though I speak far more clearly.

I hope readers find these interviews edifying.

On Miracles and Historiography: Can The Supernatural Ever Be The Best Explanation?

Anyone who has engaged in or interacted with any public discourse on the subject of miracles in the New Testament (especially the resurrection) will have encountered this objection: How can an historian infer that a miracle is the best explanation of historical data, given that supernatural phenomena are, by their very nature, extremely improbable? One might grant that the mass hallucination hypothesis as an explanation for the purported postmortem sightings of Jesus is immensely improbable — but surely it has to be less improbable than the proposition that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Thus, it is argued, any hypothesis which purports to explain the pertinent evidence, no matter how improbable, is a better explanation than invocation of the supernatural.

In his book Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them), the agnostic textual critic and notorious critic of Christianity, Bart Ehrman, summarizes the problem (pp. 174-175): Read more

The Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye “Post-Debate” Round Up

Just as expected, the much anticipated and hyped debate between Kan Ham (CEO of Answers in Genesis) & Bill Nye (the “Science” Guy) sparked a “mini-blizzard” of blogs and articles from people on both sides of the debate (I guess this is just one more to add to the pile).

Ham-Nye debate

If you happened to miss the debate, it will be posted here on the AiG (Answers in Genesis) website and will also available for purchase. An estimated three million people viewed the debate which was streamed live from the internet to schools, churches and colleges across America and around the world.

It is certainly easy to play “Monday morning quarterback” on these sorts of debates. Both men are to be admired for being willing to stand “in the arena” and defend their respective views and take criticism.

I thought both men handled themselves admirably, although I must say that I thought Nye was more personable and passionate when he was speaking which certainly plays to his favor rhetorically. One of Ken Ham’s strongest moments, I thought, was when he played the clips of various PhD. scientists who are  creationists and have either invented useful technologies [MRI] or have conducted peer-reviewed research, undercutting Nye’s claim that a belief in Divine creation stifles or limits science.

Nearly everyone has thoughts on what “should have been said” or “what kinds of evidence should have been used.”

I read though the various blogs and articles, however, I came across several great points which I will highlight in a moment.

Originally, I had planned on writing a point-by-point critique and evaluation of the debate, but since that has already been done on numerous other sites (which I will list below for your consideration); instead, I will review just a couple of my personal expectations on what I thought the debate would accomplish (I originally shared all six on my personal Facebook page) and whether or not they “played out” as I expected.

1. Both debaters represent a popular understanding of the respective positions on this debate (Faith & Science). It will certainly not be settled in this debate, but will spark even more debate and reams of new blogs from apologists scrambling to distance themselves from “Simple minded” creationists like Ken Ham.

As expected, I remain unconvinced that someone who was watching the debate last night will walk away with a deeper and more enlightened understanding of this complex issue (i.e. faith and science and their compatibility).

There’s certainly nothing wrong with public speakers who try to popularize complex ideas and communicate them to an broad audience (that’s what I do!), but I don’t believe that these two gentlemen were the best representatives of their respective “camps.”

As a friend of mine pointed out last night, “…they both seemed like they were giving infomercials for their respective audiences.” I agree.

Also expected and fulfilled were the reams of new blogs and articles from apologists offering alternative explanations and perspectives (I guess this one is a self-fullfilled prophecy!).

2. As a classically trained apologist (in the vein of Aquinas, C.S. Lewis, Geisler, et. al.), I cringe at the very likely possibility that Ham will “…beg the question” in his presuppositional approach to defending the Bible. When and if he uses evidence, I will rejoice and be glad.

The question that was debated was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?” While this is a good question, it actually doesn’t get at the root issue which is whether or not a theistic God exists and what evidence, if any points to His existence.

At CrossExamined we don’t take an official position on the age of the earth. We have students and supporters who defend each of the mainline views on origins (i.e. Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism, etc…).

That said however, we confidently stand on evidence in support of our belief in a personal, all-powerful, space-less, timeless, immaterial Creator. We leave it to Christians to sift the evidence for themselves, as to whether or not the earth is young or old.

The question of the age of the earth is a “second order question.” The question of God’s existence is a “first order question.” In dialoguing and debating non-believers, we should not front-load the conversation with secondary questions. Establishing God’s existence is primary.

Last night Ken Ham’s very starting point for science was the Bible itself and the age of the earth. The only problem with that is that Bill Nye and perhaps millions of others, don’t accept the Bible as true because they don’t believe there is a God.

My criticism isn’t necessarily leveled against Ken Ham’s Young Earth Creationism (or some of the other evidences he presented), rather it’s against the WAY that he argued which is just as important. In beginning with the Bible, he put the cart before the horse.

Let me be perfectly clear – I am a staunch defender of Biblical inerrancy, but in order for inerrancy to be philosophically true, Truth (with a capital “T”) must exist, God must exist and naturalism (as a worldview) must be false. The space-time universe is not a closed system, so miracles and the supernatural are very reasonable possibilities.

3. The truth of Romans 1 & Psalm 19 has been in full operation since the creation of the world when there were no publicly hyped debates.

One of the great things about God’s Word is that its truths are timeless and ever relevant.

Creation itself (which is silent yet vocal – Psa. 19:3-4) is the greatest evidence for the Creator. The evidence is so great and overwhelming that there is no debate – all men are without excuse (Rom. 1:20). The age of the earth wasn’t an issue when Paul penned Romans, yet he tells us that “everyone can know that there is a Creator.”

Below are a few blogs that I found especially helpful in illuminating and evaluating the Nye/Ham debate.

Helpful Blogs About the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham Debate On Feb 4th, 2014

Casey Luskin (Discovery Institute) Old Earth Creationist 

David Coppedge (Creation Writer) Young Earth Creationist 

Melissa Cain Travis (Houston Baptist University) Old Earth Creationist

Dr. Albert Mohler (President, Southern Seminary) Young Earth Creationist 

 

 

“Eternity Has the Floor:” Another Look at Pascal’s Wager

Silent you stand before the altar of death! Life here and life after constitute an eternal conundrum; but its expiring spark awakens us to holy devotion and quiets every other voice except religion. Eternity has the floor.

~Alfred Nobel: read at his funeral (1896)

The above words were spoken at Alfred Nobel’s funeral service in 1896. In life Nobel was an interesting but ironic man. He is remembered, of course as the Swiss chemist and engineer who invented dynamite among other things, and also the man whose name is associated with coveted prizes in physics, chemistry, literature and peace. Nobel was also an atheist, and yet he also left large sums of money to churches. In 1888 when Nobel was reading through a French newspaper, he was astonished to read about his own obituary – the heading was “The merchant of death has died.” As it turned out, it was actually his brother Ludwig that had died. It would only be eight years later that Alfred himself would die by a brain hemorrhage at age 63.

Apparently Nobel had given some thought to that moment when he would face his own mortality. It’s not a pleasant thought – thinking about one’s own death, but one day every person must stand in silence and enter that mysterious realm beyond this life on earth, or as Nobel says… that eternal conundrum

Cementary

The Old Testament patriarch Job pondered this question millennia ago when he asked, If a man dies, will he live again? (Job 14:14)

Atheists and materialists alike, stake their eternal souls on the belief and the affirmation that there is no afterlife or soul which survives the body after physical death. But is science equipped to answer such a question? Pascal would say no.

In the 17th Century (the 1600’s) a brilliant Frenchman (child prodigy, pioneering mathematician, inventor of the world’s first mechanical calculator, philosopher and scientist)[1] named Blaise Pascal put forth a rather strange argument for religious faith – and not just generic religious faith, but faith in full orbed Christianity.[2]

This is Pascal’s famous argument called “The Wager” (or The Bet).

But first let’s clear up a common misconception and make one clarification about Pascal’s famous Wager.

(1). He is not proposing “faith in faith” (a blind leap in the dark), but assumes that we have our data correct (faith is only as good as its object) – i.e. that the true God is the God of Christianity and that salvation is found only in a belief in Jesus Christ and that rejection of Him will result in eternal damnation.[3]

(2) Similar to the above notion – the Wager should not be considered in complete isolation from the larger work of Pascal’s Pensees (his apologetic for Christianity).

As philosopher James R. Peter’s observes, “Properly understood, the wager makes a compelling but limited point….”[4]

Kreeft clarfies:

“The Wager is not an attempt to prove the God exists. It is not a new argument for the existence of God. Rather it tries to prove that it is eminently reasonable for anyone to “bet” on God, to hope that God is, to invest his life in God. It moves on the practical, existential, human level rather than the theoretical, metaphysical, theological level. …It is not an alternative to the traditional arguments for the existence of God… [the Wager]…is addressed to unbelievers, to those who are skeptical of both theoretical reason and revelation.”[5]

What Pascal’s Wager highlight’s is the fact that we are all “in the game” – there is no neutrality on the question of God’s existence or of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.

He writes:

“Let us examine this point, and let us say: ‘Either God is or he is not.’ But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails. How will you wager? Reason cannot make you choose either, reason cannot prove either wrong.

Do not then condemn as wrong those who have made a choice… ‘No, but I will condemn them for not having made this particular choice, but any choice, for although one calls heads and the other one are equally at fault, the fact is that they are both at fault: the right thing is not to wager at all.’

Yes, but you must wager. There is no choice, you are already committed. What will you choose then? Let us see: since a choice must be made, let us see which offers you the least interest. You have two things to lose: the true and the good: and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness.”[6]

Finally and interestingly, the Wager comes down to a pleasure (or a happiness) calculus – which appeals to what a person has the potential to gain from such a wager.

Here is what is at stake.

A. God exists (& Christianity is true)

  • If I believe it and it turns out to be objectively true then I gain eternal happiness and lose nothing.  
  • If I do not believe it and it turns out to be objectively true then I lose everything (including happiness and pleasure).

B. God does not exist (Christianity is not true)

  • If I believe this and it is objectively true then I gain nothing and lose nothing.
  • If I do not believe this and it is objectively true then I gain nothing and lose nothing.

If Christianity is true then those who don’t believe it have everything to lose. But if it is not true then nothing, in the end, is lost to the pious believer. It is really the unbeliever who has more to lose if they are wrong.

Pensee 241 provides a good summary:

I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than of being mistaken in believing it to be true [& it not actually be true].

On death’s threshold “eternity has the floor,” then religious questions don’t seem so silly after all.

What will you choose then?


[1] For an old but excellent biography of Pascal’s life see Morris Bishop’s classic, Pascal: The Life of Genius (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1936)

[2] See his Pensees, 418.

[3] For more on this point see Peter Kreeft’s excellent book, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees Edited, Outlined & Explained (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), pp. 292-3.

[4] James R. Peters, The Logic of the Heart: Augustine, Pascal, and the Rationality of Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 188-9.

[5] Kreeft, pg. 291 [emphasis mine].

[6] “233” in Pensees, Translated by W.F. Trotter, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor in Chief, Great Books of the Western World, (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952), 213-6 [emphasis mine].

Should Women Be Apologists? They Already Are!

In the past couple of decades or so there has been a renaissance of apologetics at the college and seminary level. There was a time when undergraduate and graduate degrees in Christian apologetics did not exist. Now there are a number of great schools and universities that offer degrees in Christian apologetics (i.e., Talbot School of Theology at Biola, Southern Evangelical Seminary, Denver Seminary and lately Houston Baptist University, just to name a few). I am not aware of any specific statistics, but with all of these schools whose graduates are now entering the world of work and/or ministry, the question of the role of women in apologetics was bound to come up.

I have given some thought to this, and as I see it, there are several issues that are really at the heart of this question.  The main question, however, that I wish to focus on is – Is apologetics for everyone in the church or just men only? Some might even ask, Why is this even a question worth considering? Women are already engaging in apologetics and making great strides for the Kingdom of God. One such organization is the International Society of Women in Apologetics which is managed by apologist Sarah Ankenman – to learn more go to – http://www.womeninapologetics.com. Then there are those in the church who believe that a woman’s place is to remain silent and not be involved in teaching in any way.

Perhaps a good place to begin to answer this question is at the very beginning of Christianity. In his excellent book, History of Apologetics, Cardina Avery Dulles makes a salient point in his chapter on ‘Apologetics in the New Testament.’ He writes:

“Before being an apologetic, Christianity was of course a message. It began as a conviction that Jesus was Messiah and Lord, and this conviction seems to have drawn its overpowering force from the event of the Resurrection. As the message concerning Jesus as risen Lord was proclaimed, it gave rise to certain questions and objections from inquirers and believers, and from adversaries. In answer to such objections, and possibly also in anticipation of foreseen objections, the Christian preachers spoke about the signs, and evidences that they found convincing. …To some degree, therefore, apologetics was intrinsic to the presentation of the kerygma [proclamation – Gospel].”[1]

Apologetics, therefore, was and is intrinsic to evangelism. Apologetics, of course, can also be used to strengthen and reinforce the faith of those within the Church. So from this standpoint, the question now is – Should women be involved in the proclamation of the Good News? The answer – I hope – is obvious! We know from the New Testament that women played a key role in bringing people (including men!) to the Jesus, the Savior. One shining example is the Samaritan woman (or the woman at the well in John 4:1-38). After His encounter with her, in verse 27, Jesus’ disciples asked Him an interesting question and His response was even more interesting (especially in light of the first-century Jewish culture!).  After Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman and revealed hidden things about herself that only God could know [evidence], she left Him to go tell others:

“…His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, ‘What do you seek?’ or ‘Why are You talking with her?’ The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, ‘Come, see a Man who told me all things I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ Then they [the men!] went out of the city and came to Him.” (Jn. 4:27-30)

This point is reinforced by a closer look at who (if we are truly honest) the world’s very first apologists were – the women at the empty tomb!  All four Gospels record the fact that it was women who were first to arrive at the empty tomb of the risen Christ and they were the very first to report (& proclaim) that Jesus is risen (Matt. 28:5-8; Mk. 16:2-8; Lk. 24:1-8 & Jn. 20:1).

One of but many examples of women in apologetics in today’s cultural context is the necessity of women evangelists/apologists to Islam – the fastest growing religion in the world. In light of Islamic culture (where it is inappropriate for men to build relationships to other women), it is crucial that Christian women engage Muslim women with the Gospel and with Truth. But women apologists are not only needed in to reach Muslim women – but also to reach those in modern Western culture – with its Post-modern, Post-Christian outlook  – women trained in apologetics – who know how to skillfully and gracefully defend the Faith once and for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 1:3). Basically, where there is a need for the Gospel to be proclaimed and defended (which is everywhere!) – then women apologists are needed. Exactly how various churches and ministries utilize apologetically trained & educated women, will certainly vary from place to place and from church to church.

Nancy Pearcy studied under noted Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer at L'Abri Fellowship. She is the author of "Total Truth"

Nancy Pearcey studied under noted Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri Fellowship. She is the author of “Total Truth”

I would encourage my fellow female apologists who are probably more highly trained & educated in apologetics than many of their pastors – to be faithful where God has planted you. Wherever and whoever your audience is – proclaim the resurrection of Christ and defend the Faith with gentleness & respect (1 Pet. 3:15). God will open doors of ministry and opportunity for you, in His good wisdom and in His perfect timing. This is not only good advice for female apologists – but (I believe) to guys as well.

Christianity never stopped being a Message which should be proclaimed (& defended). The Great Commission (Matt. 28: 18-20) was given to the Church (to both men & women).  The Church has been in the past, and certainly will be in the future, enriched by the effective witness of women who have found the Savior and who give a reasoned defense of His resurrection.


[1] Cardinal Avery Dulles, History of Apologetics (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 1-2

Was There an Exodus & Conquest?

Jericho

Frank Turek stands at a small section of the northern wall of Jericho that did not collapse during the conquest. Most sections of the wall fell outward as the Bible says allowing the Israelites to walk up and into the city.

In this last of my posts on archaeology and early Israel, I will focus attention on what is perhaps one of the biggest hang-ups that critics have with the historical trustworthiness of the Old Testament – the Exodus & Conquest. In the biblical record the two events stand or fall together. If there was an exodus as the Bible states, then there was also a military conquest which followed it. Both of these events (if they happened), should be discernible from the historical and archaeological record. If we follow the Pentateuch’s exact account, then we know that there was a 40 year interval between the exodus and conquest.

Because of the nature of the subject matter, it has been very difficult to condense the massive amounts of research about this into a blog format. Even now it’s probably too long for a blog (I tried to be as brief as I could!). Many Christians and skeptics, however, consistently ask me about this, so I felt it necessary to try to summarize, as best as possible, an affirmative view of the historical events recorded in the Pentateuch and historical book of Joshua.

Of course, the origins of ancient Israel, the Exodus and Conquest, is an ongoing debate among NE archaeologists and scholars and I am sure it will be until Christ comes again! What I hope to show below are the main supporting pillars of the case that the Bible’s account of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and subsequent military excursion into Canaan happened exactly as the Bible states.

First, let’s review what we have established so far (in the previous blog articles)

Back to Chronology (What Time Frame Did it Happen?)

As we have stated before, the precise dating of the events in the Bible is the KEY to discovering them in the archaeological record! Another word for this, is chronology. To review, Eugene Merrill summarizes about the likely year in which the Exodus took place:

According to 1 Kings 6:1, the exodus occurred 480 years prior to the laying of the foundations of Solomon’s temple. This Solomon undertook in his fourth year, 966 B.C., so the exodus according to normal hermeneutics and serious appraisal of the biblical chronological data, took place in 1446 [B.C.].[1]

This dating scheme has been called the “Early-Date Exodus/Conquest Model” and if it is the correct time frame of the Exodus & Conquest, then this would place the supposed Conquest between the archaeological eras known as the Late Bronze I (1550-1400 B.C.) and the Late Bronze II (1400-1200 B.C.).[2]

The Identification of the Pharaoh – Amenhotep II

From this date (circa, 1446 B.C.), and knowledge of the 18th Dynasty in ancient Egypt (which we discussed in a previous post), it was Amenhotep II who was the Pharaoh of the Israelite exodus and not Rameses II as many people currently believe. When we explore further into the life of Amenhotep II, a picture emerges which is quite consistent with what the Bible states concerning this king and some of the momentous events which happened during his reign. From what we know of Egypt’s pharaohs, inscribed on tombs, walls, and monuments, they didn’t record military losses, only victories. So it is highly unlikely that some future archaeologist is going to find an inscription where Amenhotep II touts that a foreign “god” [i.e. Yahweh of the Jews] made a mockery of the Egyptian gods (including the Pharaoh who was himself considered a god), defeated his armies in the desert, and safely delivered an enslaved people to freedom. What we do see in Amenhotep II, however, is a radical change in his foreign policy (which was very much unlike him), a re-alignment of his Naval forces which he used to launch military forays into Asia, and a religious “crisis” which led to the defacement of many Egyptian “gods” in the 9th year of his reign.  Hmmm… I wonder what that crisis could have been?

The Abandonment of Avaris During the Reign of Amenhotep II

Archaeologist, Douglas Petrovich at the University of Toronto has written a fascinating article[3] which explores the precise timing of the abandonment of the ancient Egyptian city of Avaris during the Egyptian 18th Dynasty. In the article, Petrovich explores the various theories about the exact timing of the abandonment of the city of Avaris which seems to coincide with Amenhotep II. The significance of this and its possible relevance to the exodus, is that it is indirect evidence of a major crisis event which happened in the 9th year of Amenhotep’s rule. That event could very well be the Israelite exodus. This is not exactly what Petrovich is stating in the article, but it could be what he is implying. The timing is exactly in line with the “Early-Date Exodus/Conquest” model.

At the end of the article Petrovich makes some starling observations in his conclusions:

More inscriptional evidence may attest directly to the Year-9 crisis is Amenhotep II’s commissioning of a decree for his couriers to destroy all the images of the gods, singling out Amun-Re in particular. Given that Thutmose III and Amenhotep II expressly ascribed praise to Amun-Re for military victories on their Asiatic campaigns, and that Amenhotep II originated and/or perpetuated the desecration of Hatshepsut’s images throughout Egypt, there is plenty of reason to hypothesize that the religious crisis—and subsequent decree to destroy all the “bodies” of Egyptian deities throughout the land—may be intricately bound to the military and political turmoil of his Year-9. Moreover, a potential interruption in the high priesthood of Amun during this time may also attest to this “perfect storm” of events. Therefore, a religious crisis focused on Amun-Re at this time may have been initiated by Amenhotep II as a result of a devastating loss in battle which coincided with the abandonment of their principle naval base from which military operations into Asia were launched, and led to an unavoidable shift in foreign policy.[4]

Why would Amenhotep II order the destruction of the images of Egyptian gods? Why was there major turmoil & upheaval in Egypt’s religious practices? Why was there a complete change of foreign policy with regard Egypt’s nearest neighbors in Asia [in the Levant] in the later part of Amenhotep II’s reign? This evidence alone does not prove the exodus, but it is certainly consistent with the behavior of an autocratic & military ruler such as Amenhotep II, if such an event such as the biblical exodus took place. The exodus was an event in which Egypt’s gods were rendered impotent and pharaoh’s military forces were drastically reduced. I submit that the exodus, as it is exactly described in the Bible, is the most reasonable explanation for this turn of event’s Amenhotep II’s rule.

Jericho & the Conquest

According to the Bible, immediately following the exodus, the Jews wandered in the wilderness for four decades (40 years). Because of time & space, I’m not going to wade into the debate (in this blog) about the location/identification of the Red Sea? or Reed Sea? crossing or the identification of Mount Sinai. I’m not ignoring it, but shelving it for another post some day. That is a very interesting story in it’s own right. For now let’s look at evidence of a “Conquest” which, according to the Bible, took place approximately 40 years after the exodus. This would place the conquest at or around 1401-1406 B.C. (assuming the exodus was in 1446 B.C.).

In the 1920’s and 30’s it was assumed by most archaeologists working in Israel and the Near East that there was a mass exodus of Israelites from Egypt and a military campaign by the Israelites in the Levant [the land that comprises modern day Israel today] as the Bible states. In the 1930’s archaeologist John Garstang working at Tell es-Sultan (or the ancient city of Jericho)[5] found a destruction and wall breach at city IV. He dated the layer to approximately the Middle Bronze III period, the time frame in which the purported conquest of Israel took place. Years later in the 1950’s British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, excavating at Jericho adjusted Garstang’s dating of city IV to around 150-200 years earlier. In essence, this re-dating by Kenyon took away the conquest as described in the Bible.

Since the time of Kathleen Kenyon’s re-dating of John Garstang’s city IV at Tel-Jericho archaeologists, have placed the date of the exodus at around 1290 B.C.. This date in turn, affects the dating of the conquest and its precise location in the archaeological record. Like a row of dominoes, the re-dating of city IV at Jericho by Kenyon had a ripple effect on all subsequent discussion of an Israelite presence on Canaan. If the purported exodus took place in the 1200’s B.C. then this would in turn affect how we look at both events historically. Consequently, since that time, there have been a number of theories about Israelite origins and identity in Canaan [the Levant]. Who exactly were these people? Why did they begin to identify themselves as Israelites? Here are three of the main theories today about the origins of Israel.

The Peaceful-Infiltration Model (also called The Traditio-Historical Model)

This theory was proposed by Albrecht Alt in his article “The Settlement of the Israelites in Palestine,” which appeared in Essays on Old Testament History and Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 1966) According to Rasmussen, “What Alt  proposed was that instead of a ‘conquest; as described in Joshua 1-11, that there was a gradual, but growing influx of nomads (or seminomads) with their flocks from the eastern deserts into the central hill country. These incursions were initially temporary, as the infiltrators searched for pasturage, but eventually settled the sparsely populated gaps between urban centers – thus the ‘Peaceful-Infiltration Model.’”[6]

The Peasant-Revolt Model

The Peasant-Revolt model was put forth by George Mendenhall in the 60’s which suggested that the origin of Israel (ca. 1250-1100 B.C.) was not the result of a military conquest but rather the idea that the self-identified “Israelites” grew out of the indigenous shepherds, peasants and farmers against their Canaanite rulers.

The Agricultural-Resettlement Model

This model arises from the results of archaeological surveys done in the central hill country of Israel and the material & architectural remains which were discovered in those surveys. The research seems to indicate that at around 1200 B.C. there was no conquest or peaceful infiltration at all. One of the main proponents of this theory today is Israeli archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein.[7] To understand this view Rasmussen provides a succinct statement by Finkelstein himself: “Finkelstein writes that ‘the emergence of early Israel was an outcome of the collapse of Canaanite culture, not its cause. And most of the Israelites did not come from outside Canaan—they emerged from within it.’”[8] Finkelstein’s conclusions are based on sweeping, unproven assumptions and a radically skeptical view of the biblical record.

POTTERY & THE REDATING JERICHO

All of the theories listed above assume an exodus date of around 1290 B.C. and none of them correspond to a military conquest like the one described in Joshua 1-11. Why then, do archaeologists and scholars not accept the biblical account of events and opt for more skeptical theories concerning the text? The short answer is that archaeologists are not as objective with the evidence as one might presume. The archaeological evidence must be interpreted and archaeologists have skeptical presuppositions and philosophical assumptions just like other scientists. A case in point is the dating of Jericho.

When John Garstang excavated in Jericho in the 1930’s and he dated city IV to the Late Bronze age, he was using pottery to date the site. As most people are generally aware, archaeologists have been using pottery to accurately date tells for decades. The science of dating archaeological sites by pottery is called “ceramic typology.”[9] Ceramic typology, or pottery dating, was established by such notables as William Foxwell Albright, G.E. Wright and Nelson Glueck.

In the early 90’s an archaeologist named Dr. Bryant Wood (PhD, University of Toronto), began to question Kenyon’s interpretation of the pottery and dating of Jericho.[10]

In short, Wood maintains that Garstang’s original dating of Jericho was correct and that Kenyon was wrong. Wood based his conclusions not on his opinion or his ideas about the Bible, but on the evidence of the pottery itself! If the dating of archaeological sites should be based on pottery and other historical considerations (such as the chronology of Egypt’s pharaohs), then all of the evidence from Tell Jericho argues for its destruction and burning around 1401-1406 B.C. All of the evidence from Jericho at this time (ca. 1401-6 B.C.) fits the biblical record in an amazing way, from the details about the city being burned along with everything in it [offered to God as a burnt offering] (see Joshua 6), to the walls having dwelling places [houses] where Rahab helped the Jewish spies enter the city to spy its defenses (Joshua 2).

Continuing research at Jericho and now new research at Tel-el Maqatir (biblical Ai?) is yielding results that confirm the biblical record of Joshua’s conquest in amazing ways. Most critical scholars place Ai at et-Tell but there is no archaeological evidence of a destruction there which fits the biblical description. However, just one kilometer west is another site (Tel el-Maqatir)which very well could be the biblical site of Ai. This conclusion is based, once again, not on opinion but on hard evidence.[11]

This is an exciting time to be alive if you are a person who trusts the biblical account of the past! Every day as archaeologists continue to explore and research the annals of time, the biblical account of history is confirmed again and again. With nearly every turn of the spade, critics of the Bible are proved wrong.

We have much to learn from the past, especially the Jewish roots of our Christian faith. But like the disciples we are slow to learn and slow to believe in all that has been written.

On the road to Emmaus after His resurrection Jesus rebuked his disciples for their unbelief and their skepticism towards the Torah (the Bible).

’O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all of the Scriptures [the OT] the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

After all – is not Jesus the true Yeshua (Joshua)?

 

**for those interested here is a link to Dr. Wood’s article on Ai

[1] Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 58. (emphasis mine)

[2] Carl G. Rasmussen, ‘Conquest, Infiltration, Revolt, or Resettlement? What Really Happened During the Exodus-Judges Period?’ in David M. Howard Jr., and Michael A. Grisanti, Editors, Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publishers, 2003), pg. 142.

[3] Douglas Petrovich, ‘Toward Pinpointing the Timing of the Abandonment of Avaris During the Middle of the 18th Dynasty,’ in Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections, Vol. 5:2, 2013, 9-28.

[4] Ibid., 22.

[5] Also called “The city of Palms,” the ancient ruins of Jericho are some of the oldest in the world with strata which date back to the PPN (Pre-Pottery Neolithic).

[6] Rasmussen, 146.

[7] See his article, ‘Searching for Israelite Origins,’ in Biblical Archaeology Review 14/5: 34-45, 58, 1988.

[8] Rasmussen, 150.

[9] A standard text which outlines the proper handling of ceramics (pottery) at archaeological sites is William G. Dever and H. Darrell Lance, Editors, A Manual of Field Excavation: Handbook for Field Archaeologists (Jerusalem: Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion, 1978). See especially Joe D. Seger’s chapter, ‘The Pottery Recording System,’ 107-128.

[10] You can see a full summary of his main research on Jericho here http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/05/01/Did-the-Israelites-Conquer-Jericho-A-New-Look-at-the-Archaeological-Evidence.aspx#Article

[11] see, Bryant Wood’s, ‘The Search for Joshua’s Ai,’ in Richard S. Hess, Gerald A. Klingbeil and Paul K. Ray Jr., Editors, Critical Issues in Early Israelite History (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2008), 205-40.

Who Was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?

First off, I apologize for the long delay in getting this post up.

As promised, let us now consider what is perhaps THE greatest salvation event in the entire Old Testament – the Exodus. The Exodus is not just an old Hollywood movie in which Charlton Heston played Moses, it was an event grounded in history and is a record of the redemption of an entire nation based on God’s promises to Abraham centuries earlier (see Gen. 12; 18; & 22).

10Command56

As many Christians are aware, the entire Old Testament predicts and anticipates Christ in type and in prophecy.[1]  The biblical Exodus and Passover, both point to Christ as the symbolic and true Passover lamb whose blood was shed to atone for the sins of the nation and redeem all those who believe – not just for Jews but anyone who will believe. The 64 million dollar question, however, is how do we know the exodus actually happened like the Bible says it did?  Most Christians take the biblical account at face value and believe that it happened as the Bible says, yet few can point to evidence outside of the Bible that it actually took place. Understandably, many skeptics are quick to point out that there is not a shred of historical evidence for any Israelite exodus from Egypt.

Let me state here that a blog article is certainly NOT the place to learn everything there is to know about all of the complex historical dimensions of the Exodus, but hopefully it will answer some of your questions and provide an answer to those who would question the biblical record.

As I have stated in my previous post, chronology is the key to unlocking the history of ancient Israel and to our understanding of how events recorded in the Bible parallel the histories of other nations in the Ancient Near East. If we assume an incorrect chronological date for a biblical event, then it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to locate that event in the past. Such is the case, not only with locating the biblical patriarchs, but also in discovering the exodus, the conquest, or Israelite kingdom under the rule of David and Solomon in the archaeological record. In truth, this is where much (but certainly not all) of the battle lies when it comes to debates in biblical archaeology [a term now abandoned by most scholars][2]

The Date of the Exodus

In his book on the Old Testament historical period, professor Eugene Merrill states,

“The date of the exodus, the most important event in Israel’s past, is so crucial to the rest of the story that it is mandatory to give some consideration to the problem of ascertaining that date and as many other important dates as possible. Obviously, there is no reckoning of time in the Old Testament with reference to B.C. or A.D. or any other point fixed and known to the Old Testament authors, so the matter is more complicated than it might ordinarily seem.”[3]

Most critical scholars and archaeologists today date the writing of the book of Exodus from around the time of the Babylonian exile (circa 586 B.C.), and usually hold that the Exodus is an etiological story created by Jewish scribes during Babylonian captivity to lend credibility and a sense of purpose to their plight. It certainly has no basis in history or fact. But if one uses the Bible’s own internal references concerning the Exodus then the date should be evident. Elsewhere Merrill explains:

“According to 1 Kings 6:1, the exodus occurred 480 years prior to the laying of the foundations of Solomon’s temple. This Solomon undertook in his fourth year, 966 B.C., so the exodus according to normal hermeneutics and serious appraisal of the biblical chronological data, took place in 1446 [B.C.].”[4]

IF this is the correct date of the exodus then, in theory, we should be able to locate archaeological remains of that event in ancient Egypt. But not so fast. Just because we might have the right date doesn’t mean that Egyptian evidence will be evident. More questions need to be asked. Before we look at some of those questions, let’s begin with what is probable: the identity of the pharaoh of the Exodus. Who was he? Furthermore, what do we know about him? This might seem like a simple question, but it is a bit more complex than one might imagine.

Who Was The Pharaoh of the Exodus? 

I find it rather interesting that the Exodus account in the Old Testament doesn’t mention the name of the pharaoh. Since Moses was the author, he certainly could have named him. So why didn’t he?  In short, I believe that pharaoh’s name is not mentioned on purpose. Throughout the Exodus narrative, the pharaoh either implies or asks “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go” (Ex. 5:2). The irony, perhaps intentional, is that we don’t know pharaoh’s name, but we do know the Lord’s name (Yahweh – “I AM”).  The book of Exodus, was not written to exalt the Egyptian pharaoh (who was considered  “the divine god-king”), but rather the God of Israel.

Annex - Brynner, Yul (Ten Commandments, The)_NRFPT_06

Yul Brynner as Ramesses I in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic movie, “The Ten Commandments”

An additional problem in ascertaining the exact pharaoh of the Exodus has to do with a debate within Egyptology itself. The debate concerns assigning correct dates to the reigns of Pharaohs. The dating of Egypt’s pharaohs comes primarily (although not exclusively) from the 3rd century B.C. Egyptian priest & historian Manetho who ordered the reigns of the pharaohs into thirty dynasties or families, in his work Aegyptiaca (History of Egypt).[5] The ancient Egyptians themselves kept record of time according to an astronomical cycle called the Sothic cycle. One of the reasons why many scholars today argue for a revised chronology of ancient Egypt is the question of whether or not the Sothic cycle is a reliable method for dating.[6] To make a very long and complex story short, I’ll state here that I hold to the revised chronology which makes minor adjustments on dates and therefore affects the identity of the pharaoh.

According to the standard chronology, most critical scholars believe that Rameses II (ca. 1304-1236 B.C.) was the pharaoh of the exodus. There are, however, many problems with identifying Rameses II as the pharaoh of the exodus, one of which is  that he was one of the longest reigning kings in ancient Egypt. As Merrill points out, “If Rameses’ death had brought Moses back to Egypt, the exodus would have taken place after 1236, a date too late to satisfy anybody.”[7] But perhaps, more importantly, there is no archaeological or inscriptional evidence in Egypt or ancient Canaan which fit the biblical descriptions.

But, don’t despair! With a little detective work; a starting point of around 1446 B.C.; and a knowledge of the Egyptian 18th Dynasty, it is possible to ascertain the probable identity of the pharaoh in the book of Exodus. Interestingly, there are about three pharaohs whose lives parallel and interact with the OT Exodus narrative: (1) the pharaoh who issued the decree to kill the firstborns; (2) the pharaoh of the oppression of Israel and (3) the pharaoh of the actual exodus event itself. Because of space, we’ll look at the first and last one.

The Pharaoh Who Decreed to Kill the Firstborn Jewish Children

From chronological considerations found in the biblical text[8], it is very possible that Amenhotep I was the pharaoh who issued the decree in Exodus 1:15-16 to kill all male Hebrews. As we look closer at this time frame in Egyptian history we also discover that Thutmose I (1528-1508 B.C.), the son of Amenhotep I, had a daughter named Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut is fairly well known from historical and archaeological sources and has a very interesting story herself. In order to secure royal inheritance rights for herself, Hatshepsut married her half-brother Thutmose II. When Thutmose II died prematurely, Hatshepsut assumed the role of pharaoh along with and her younger (male) nephew (& stepson) Thutmose III. As William Murnane observes, “Although Hatshepsut did not dethrone her nephew, she asserted a claim to royal power equal to his and, as senior coregent, took precedence over him in contemporary monuments.”[9] During her co-regency with the younger Thutmose III, Egypt enjoyed a time of prosperity and great building. One of the most well known structures which survives today is the queen’s mortuary temple (also called Deir el-Bahari) located in the Valley of the Kings.

Il_tempio_di_Hatshepsut

Deir el-Bahari or Hatshepsut’s temple located near Luxor, Egypt (Wikipedia)

It is very possible that when she was younger, it was this bold young queen who drew Moses from the Nile (Ex. 2:5-10). In another touch of irony, Hatshepsut is said to be one of the first women in ancient history of whom we are well informed.[10] If she is the daughter of pharaoh who rescued Moses from the Nile against the decree of her grandfather Amenhotep I, then it seems appropriate that she is remembered in both Egyptian and biblical history.

The Pharaoh of the Exodus

Finally, we consider the identity of the famous pharaoh of the biblical exodus. Following the conclusions of the above discussion, and if the revised chronology of Egyptian history is correct, then Amenhotep II (1450-1425 B.C.) must be the pharaoh of the biblical exodus. Merrill elaborates:

Our identification of Amenhotep II as the pharaoh of the exodus is supported by two other considerations. First, although most of the kings of Dynasty 18 made their principle residence at Thebes, far to the south of the Israelites in the Delta, Amenhotep was at home in Memphis and apparently reigned from there most of the time. This placed him in close proximity to the land of Goshen and made him readily accessible to Moses and Aaron. Second, the best understanding suggests that Amenhotep’s power did not pass to his eldest son, but rather to Thutmose IV, a younger son. This is at least implied in the so-called dream stela found at the base of the Great Sphinx near Memphis.[11]

Other inscriptional evidence outside of the biblical record gives us a picture of what Amenhotep was like. According to Alfred J. Hoerth,

Amenhotep II was a famous sportsman in his youth and he left several stories of his physical abilities (ANET 243-45). For example, it was recorded that no one else was strong enough to draw his bow. One day he tested two hundred stiff bows and then began riding his chariot around a series of copper targets, each about three inches thick. According to the story, every shot hit the mark, and the arrows fell through the back of the targets.[12]

In addition to these and other traits of bravado and military prowess, it is understandable why Moses was reluctant to confront the pharaoh as God had commanded him. Yet, as the story unfolded in Exodus and the Lord God sent the ten plagues to Amenhotep II, we read that the he “hardened his heart” against God and against setting the Jews free. This seemingly benign statement – “the hardening of pharaoh’s heart” – is also an argument for the authenticity of the biblical account. If (or since) Moses was the author of the Pentateuch, and he had first-hand knowledge of Egyptian culture and religion, then he certainly would have understood that the “hardening of the heart” was not a good thing. This is according to the Egyptian Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ani). This document was a religious text which describes what happened in the afterlife according to Egyptian religion. After death, the pharaoh’s heart was weighed in a scale balance by Anubis (the god of the underworld) against the feather of ma’at or truth.[13] To have a heavy heart or a hardened heart (i.e. a stubborn/proud heart) would have condemned the pharaoh in the afterlife. Interestingly, most ancient Egyptian mummies (especially pharaohs) have been found buried with sacred trinkets and scarabs (dung beetles)[14] made from gold or other materials, and would have been placed over the heart to protect it in the afterlife. These scarabs were inscribed with spells from the Book of the Dead.[15]

There is so much more that I could mention here, but as you can see from the above discussion, this is just the tip of the iceberg (as they say) of evidence for the biblical exodus. There is actually much more internal textual and literary evidence that the Exodus account is genuine, but space and time will not allow us to review it here. For more detailed information I would recommend two of the best sources I know of which are accessible to most people: (1) Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament by John D. Currid, and (2) Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition by James K. Hoffmeier.

I think it’s probably safe to say that many biblical skeptics demand spectacular evidence and spectacular evidence may be forthcoming. Research is continuing in this fascinating field and new discoveries are being made every year. One thing I can say confidently, is that so far, the Egyptian evidence, when properly understood is consistent with the biblical record. Even our adherence to the new chronology is within the pale of academic respectability and orthodoxy.

In my final blog on this subject (which hopefully will not be this long!), we’ll examine other evidences of the Exodus as well as evidence for the military conquest of Canaan under Joshua.


[1] See, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.’s, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1995) & Sam Nadler’s, Messiah in the Feasts of Israel (Charlotte, NC: Word of Messiah Ministries, 2006).

[2] See Ziony Zevit, “The Biblical Archaeology versus Syro-Palestinian Archaeology Debate in Its American Institutional and Intellectual Contexts,” in James K. Hoffmeier and Alan Millard, Eds, The Future of Biblical Archaeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions (Grand Rapids, London: Eerdmans  Publishing Company, 2004), 3-19.

[3] Eugene H. Merrill, An Historical Survey of the Old Testament, Second Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1991), 97.

[4] Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 58.

[5] See, William W. Hallo & William Kelly Simpson, The Ancient Near East: A History (London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1971), 210-213.

[6] For more on this, see David M. Rohl’s book, Pharaoh’s and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995). In this book Rohl argues for a revised chronology of ancient Egypt based on refinements in archaeology and inscriptional evidence.

[7] Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 62.

[8] Such as the reference in 1 Kings 6:1 and Ex. 7:7 which states that Moses was 80 years old when he led the people from Egypt (assuming an approximate exodus date of 1446 B.C.)

[9] William J. Murnane, “New Kingdom (Dynasties 18-20)” in David Noel Freedman, Editor in Chief, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 2 D-G (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 348-53.

[10] Attributed to Egyptologist, James Henry Breasted – not sure of the original source.

[11] Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 63.

[12] Alfred J. Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 161.

[13] For very rich and enlightening discussion on this topic see, John D. Currid’s excellent book, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), especially his discussion ‘The Hardening of the Pharaoh’s Heart’ pp. 96-103

[14] Considered sacred in ancient Egypt. Thousands of these have been discovered in the Ancient Near East.

[15] See, The Book of the Dead (The Papyrus of Ani) Egyptian Text Transliteration and Translation by E.A. Wallis Budge (New York: Dover Publication, 1967). This work contains many fascinating details on Egyptian culture, religion and beliefs about the afterlife.

Is Intelligent Design Science?

 

The purpose of this post is not to prove that Intelligent Design is true, nor that it is superior to naturalistic alernatives, but simply to raise awareness over some of the lines of evidence where Intelligent Design seems to be science. Let me also reject in advance those who dismiss ID with casual comments like, “There is no evidence whatsoever for ID,” “ID is creationism in a tuxedo, but still has no ticket for the party,” or “ID is no more scientific than astrology” or the like. These aren’t necessarily ridiculous positions to hold, but they require a lot more substance than most claimants (that I’ve encountered) are usually willing to muster. ID does not necessarily deserve credit or acceptance, but if satisfies the criteria for admission into scientific consideration then one cannot in good-intellectual-honesty dismiss it out of hand and still claim to be science minded.

First, ID employs a theory drawn from science, namely, information theory (see, Dembski’s The Design Inference)–information theory is a staple in SETI, Forensics, Archeology, Cryptology, Anthropology, etc.

Second, the problem with ID is not whether information theory is scientific, but whether astronomy, biology and chemistry are valid fields of applying information theory. Properly casting the nature of this debate is key to understanding the lines of argumentation. Those rebuking ID for elaborating “information theory” should instead focus their argument on the illegitimacy of applying information theory to fields like astronomy, biology and chemistry.

Third, ID does achieve claims that are, at least on a low level, falsifiable. For example, the Bacterial flagellum may be irreducibly complex if no more basic alternative-use formulations such as a (Type III secretory system [syringe type rod]) can be found which are constitutionally older than the flagellum. Applying ID theory to the flagellum renders a testable prediction, namely the falsifiable theory that if the flagellum is irreducibly complex then there will never be discovered a simpler same-function form nor an older a lternative-function form.

Fourth, neither naturalism nor materialism has been, historically, a necessary precondition for doing science, given the preponderance of religious scientists throughout history. It may be argued, weakly, that if one allows for supernatural causes one is discouraged or distracted from the hard task of finding natural, reliable, or material causes for natural phenomenon. While that possibility makes sense, it has not been the reality. Despite there being many non-theists (ie: no kind of God-belief) in the sciences, there are still a host of theists who have little trouble employing a methodological naturalism for much of their work while suspending that assumption where it might bias the data (such as, dismissing evidence for a miracle claim simply because naturalism demands dismissing all miracle claims). Stephen Jay Gould’s Non-overlapping Magisterium is a nice theory to safely quarantine religion and science from effecting each other, but both make metaphysical claims on history, humanity, and the natural world. And many scientists exist in the overlap for, despite the claims of casual anti-ID theorist, these science minded theists can readily admit the possibility of an active God without descending into a “magical” irrational view of nature.

Fifth, ID does bear fruit in further predictions and study. We can, for example, study and apply irreducible complexity theory anywhere in biology to see where it fits and where it does not. At minimum, such applications of ID force evolutionary alternatives to mount a more comprehensive/compelling set of unintelligent mechanisms since the known unintelligent mechanisms fail pretty badly on many cases. Pure evolutionary theory, for example, has the difficulty of explaining the reality of “true belief” given the non-intelligent mechanical causes of newtonian forces as it’s only physical forces, or, natural selection and genetic variations as it’s overriding biological forces. Sure one can appeal to conceptual models and thought experiments to argue for an evolutionary answer to this problem Plantinga calls “the Evolutionary Argument Against naturalism,” but that effort is bound to circularity, begging the question, since naturalistic answers ostensibly presuppose that intelligence arises from non-intelligence though that is precisely the premise needing defense.

For another example, ID predicts that the more irreducibly complex and higher specified complexity of something, the less capable we will be at demonstrating a viable evolutionary account. By testing evolutionary mechanisms against a given object–such as the Giraffe’s neck or the woodpecker’s tongue–we can see, according to the prediction, whether the known mechanisms of evolution easily explain it or not. If the Giraffe’s neck, which supposedly is irreducibly complex, then there would be no immediate and demonstrable explanation from naturalism for its appearance. If the Giraffe’s neck is slightly or greatly complex, and irreducible in either case, then evolutionary theory will have an easier or harder time, respectively, providing a viable account from natural causes that does not betray the kind of incrementalism espoused by Darwin nor, if one is okay with being in the scientific minority, the punctuated equilibrium espoused later. Remember though, that both sets of theories have their own burden of proof whereby they ought to exceed the (low) test of “explanatory” sufficiency and reach some kind of testibility.

Still a third example of how ID is fruitful with testable predictions, ID predicts that high-information content within organisms can devolve, but does not greatly evolve. Hence, we can subject microrganisms to generations of forced mutations to see if any give rise to sustainable gains in specified complexity. Fourth, ID presents tremendous applications for the search for extra-terrestrials (ie: non-human intelligences), and reapplication of information theory in forensics, cryptology, computer programming, Artificial Ingelligence, and archeology. Fifth, and implied above, ID also presents a valuable frame of reference for critiquing the monopoly of evolutionary theory (such that many evolutionists are not aware of any explanatory gaps or weaknesses within evolutionary theory). And what is science if not a free-exchange of alternative theories and findings achieving the market-capitalism of ideas whereby poorly framed hypotheses can be honed and improved, or ground down into oblivion.< /p>

Sixth, it is not very scientific to put faith in evolutionary theory to IN THE FUTURE resolve present ignorance. Evolution-of-the-gaps is no less dogmatic and faith based than is God of the gaps. And frankly, a great deal of force behind the rejection of ID is fueled by faith in evolutionary theory to explain aspects of nature that are yet unknown. Though evolution, according to typical evolutionists, has been well verified on many accounts, scientists pride themselves on respecting no authorities and refraining from all faith or dogma in place of their science. Where evolution has not been DEMONSTRATED to explain a certain phenomenon it remains a theory, or, at best a hypothesis. But any use of said hypothesis prior to experimentation risks being philosophy or even theology. Scientists are more than allowed to do philosophy, they just have to sacrifice the authority and credibility of “Science-says-so-and-so” when they are philosophizing.

Seventh, NO scientific claim is DEDUCTIVELY verifiable–as that would entail the kind of certainty achieved only in logic and math. It would not be fair to demand of Intelligent Design a degree of certainty that the rest of science rarely if ever achieves. All scientific claims, even the strongest ones, are limited to INDUCTIVE probability never deductive certainty since they are fundamentally empirical (not rationalistic or formalistic in their metaphysics or epistemology).

Eighth, ,any theoretical streams within science are deemed “scientific” though they conceptually and practically defy testability (whether verification or falsification)–just as Theoretical Physics like String Theory.

Ninth, whatever else “science” means, there would seem to be something inherently unscientific about disqualifying what may be true and treat any related questions as uninteresting since they are not bound by naturalism. Science should not be too proud to investigate the mating habits of insects nor the possibility of a non-human intelligence.

Tenth, science itself could not exist without philosophy of science to establish it’s nature and parameters. Truth be told, ID tests the demarcation problem for Science though many scientists themselves may have never known there was any problem demarcating Natural Science from other fields of study like theology or philosophy. Scientists hate to admit this, as there is a generally negative view of metaphysics entire even though every scientist is, by the nature of the field, a part time metaphysician. To illustrate, it was philosophy of science that gave birth to the scientific method which gave birth modern science. This point is relevant because the natural sciences rightly incorporate under the title of “science” things that were never purely “science. The scientific method was not hatched in a lab but in the mind of philosophical-theological-scientists. We would sacrifice too much if we cut off any “philosophy” or “theology” as non-science simply because it is not testable in a lab as that would forbid the scientific method itself–which is philosophy, and not itself testable within the parameters of science.

Eleventh, it is a genetic fallacy and a fallacy of association to fault ID for having young-earthers, religious people (who are presumed “biased”), or otherwise unliked characters among its members. We should remember that early chemists are largely indistinguishable from alchemists–yet we would not want to dismiss their work as “unscientific” just because they were still dabbling in pseudoscience. We would not want to morally fault science for its association among Nazi experimenters in WWII. Abuse does not bar use. And if ID is abused or genetically tainted by some of its practitioners we still have the theory itself to deal with lest we mistakenly burn the message because of the messenger. Conversely, we cannot rightly fault the findings of atheistic humanists in science because they, perhaps, have an anti-theological bias or might be “swayed” by their irreligion or humanism or atheism. Biased people can still do good science provided there’s is not an overriding bias.

In conclusion, a compelling case can be made that ID is indeed science and therefore it deserves a hearing among science minded people.

Everyone Believes Something Unbelievable

Virgin birth. Abiogenesis. Resurrection from the dead. Random mutations producing the raw material for new organs. Intelligent creation ex nihilo. Eternal matter. Eternal mind. Heaven. Multiverses. Speciation by unguided, natural selection. Hell. Natural DNA information generation. Adam. Panspermia. Angels. No immaterial soul. Miracles. Space aliens. God. No God.

That is the introduction Roddy Bullock used in his post of the same name:  Everyone Believes Something Unbelievable.  Bullock points out that everyone’s theory of origin for the universe or life itself requires a belief in something seemingly unbelievable.  “Everyone” here includes both atheists and theists. He goes on to cite the faith that some atheists have in abiogenesis.  He writes:

Take abiogenesis, for example. There is no evidence–just a lot of “must-have-happened-because-we’re-here” certainty among the atheistic faithful in need of such belief; and believe they do. Ironically, the atheistic faithful like to think they are free of faith and suppose others to be, well, full of it. But in fact faith abounds on all sides with only two things certain: everybody believes something unbelievable and only certain unbelievable beliefs can actually be true. In fact, certain unbelievable beliefs must be true, and others must be false.

So which is true: abiogenesis (life from non-life without intelligent intervention) or some kind of creation by a preexisting intelligent being?

I think answering the origin of life question must come after one attempts to answer the origin of universe question.  You can’t have life coming from non-living chemicals without those chemicals first existing.  From where did they come?  Are chemicals self-existing or is there something outside of chemicals that is self-existing?

This takes us back to the bedrock truth that there must be an uncaused First Cause (there can’t be an infinite regress of causes). That uncaused First Cause is either the universe or something outside the universe.  (Note:  whichever it is, asking who caused the uncaused First Cause is a logical category mistake and thus a meaningless question).  For reasons we’ve cited earlier on this blog and in the book (the Big Bang, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Kalaam Cosmological Argument, the Teleological Fine-Tuning Argument), the uncaused First Cause is not the universe.  The best evidence points to an extremely intelligent, personal First Cause that is outside of timespace and matter (i.e. is timeless, spaceless and immaterial).

In light of this, when it comes to the question of the origin of life, who is believing something more unbelievable?  Abiogenesis proponents believe that no one created life from non-living matter.  Intelligent design proponents believe that someone created life from non-living matter, most probably the intelligent being that created matter itself.  It seems to me the atheist belief in abiogenesis requires more faith because it lacks explanatory scope and power. It lacks any explanation for the origin of the universe and the four natural forces, and then it lacks the power to explain how those repetitive forces can create the information and engineering found in life.

By the way, these are not a God-of-the-Gaps arguments for the universe or life.  There can be no natural cause for the universe because nature itself was created at the Big Bang.  Thus, the cause must be beyond nature (i.e. supernatural).  With regard to life, it is not just that we lack a natural explanation for life, but that we have positive empirically-verifiable evidence for an intelligent being.  We only know of minds that produce the empirically-detectable characteristics of life (digitally-coded instructions and information, irreducibly complex and engineered components– see Signature in the Cell for more).  We can falsify this by finding natural forces that can create such characteristics.  Given the repetitive nature of natural forces and the fact they tend to bring things to disorder rather than order, that seems highly unlikely.  Thus, the most reasonable conclusion is that intelligence is responsible. (This doesn’t necessarily mean the intelligent cause of life is supernatural, but in light of the evidence for an intelligent supernatural being, I think the cause of life is most probably that same being.)

I’ve covered a lot of ground here from 30,000 feet.  There’s more detail in the book and in other posts, but I’ll summarize.  Most atheists and theists believe in creation– few deny there was a beginning to the universe and life.  What we disagree on is who or what did the creating.  Since the universe requires an intelligent cause cause beyond itself, and life, as Francis Crick put it, appears to be “almost a miracle,” what is the most reasonable conclusion?  Atheists and abiogenesis proponents have faith that “miracles” can occur without a miracle worker.  Theists follow the evidence where it leads.  So while atheists and theists both believe what appears to be unbelievable, someone creating is a far more believable than no one creating.

CIA: Your Chance to Make an Impact with Christian Apologetics

If you have some expertise in the area of Christian Apologetics, we are looking for instructors to help us take I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist to students and churches around the country.  Greg Koukl and Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason, and Jason Reed of Southern Evangelical Seminary will join me, Frank Turek, in leading the CrossExamined Instructor Academy (CIA), August 13-15 in Charlotte, NC.  Hank Hanegraaff, The Bible Answerman, will join us for a special Q and A on Wednesday night August 13.  This is a great opportunity for you to make an impact through apologetics. But hurry– the application deadline is June 24.  Click here for details.?