You Don’t Understand the Old Testament

 

By Timothy Fox

Unbelievers rip its verses out of textual and historical context. Christians use expired laws as bludgeons and others’ promises as life-verses. Just admit it: You don’t understand the Old Testament.

And that’s okay. The OT writings are thousands of years old. They consist of various literary genres like history, poetry, and prophecy. And what about all of those weird laws? Why do Christians like to cite restrictions against homosexuality but ignore the ones against eating shellfish and wear polyester? (You’ve never heard that before, right?)

That is specifically what this article hopes to clear up: the OT rules. Maybe all of them are still kosher (see what I did there?). Maybe it’s all obsolete. Perhaps it’s somewhere in between. But then how do we know which rules are still valid and binding and which ones aren’t? Let’s get a quick primer on OT law (from now on referred to as the Law, with a capital L).

First, let me cut right to the chase: We are no longer bound to the Law. But that doesn’t mean it’s all useless. Read on and I’ll explain.

  1. What is the Law? The Law was a covenant, or treaty, between God and the Israelites after He freed them from Egypt. It marked them as His special people. He would continue to care for and bless them as long as they kept it and bad things would happen if they broke it. Which they did. A lot.
  2. Is the Law permanent? No, and it was never intended to be. The OT prophets made it clear that a new, better, eternal covenant was coming to replace the original one (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 16:59-63; Hos. 2:18).
  3. When did the old covenant end? In Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus claims He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, that the least part of it would not disappear until “all is accomplished.” All of what is accomplished? His perfect life and sacrificial death. It puts His last words on the cross into greater perspective: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Paul confirms this in Romans 7:4, that we “died to the Law through the body of Christ” and 10:4, that “Christ is the end of the Law.” Christ’s death signaled the end of the old covenant.
  4. So we’re free from the Law now? Yes and no. We’re free from the Law as a set of rules and regulations but we are bound to Christ. Let me explain.
    • Bound to Christ. In his writings, Paul makes the point over and over again that we are no longer under the Law. For example in Romans 6:14-15 he says we are no longer “under Law but under grace.” In 1 Corinthians 9:21 he says he is “under the law of Christ.” So we are no longer under OT Law but we are bound to Christ. Now to the next question:
    • What is the law of Christ? When the Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, He responded to love God and your neighbor (Matt. 22:36-39). He followed with a significant statement that “all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (v. 40). In Matthew 23:23, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for (among many other things) strict adherence to the letter of the Law while neglecting the “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” From these two examples it is clear that beyond the specific rules of the Law were deeper, more important principles. So Jesus came to fulfill the particular rules and expose the universal principles within that apply to everyone at all times. This is the law of Christ.
  5. How do we fulfill the law of Christ? Note the specific word I used there: fulfill. In Galatians 6:2, Paul says “Bear one another’s burdens, and sofulfill the law of Christ.” He does not use words like do or follow, which are common to the Law, but instead says fulfill. Christ’s law is not a set of rules to follow but principles grounded in love. Hence, the law is fulfilled in Christ.
  6. Do any of the OT commands still apply? Yes, the universals. And how do we know these universals? The New Testament (NT) writers tell us. Many of them reapply portions of the OT in a new context, like when Paul reminds his readers that the entire law is fulfilled in loving your neighbor (Gal. 5:14). Nine of the Ten Commandments are reaffirmed. (And I know what you’re thinking: Which one isn’t? The command to honor the Sabbath. It was a specific sign of the old covenant that is no longer binding since it has been fulfilled.) Paul loves his lists showing what behaviors are sinful (Rom. 1:29-31; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21, and so on). So the principles for good, Christian living are all there for us to find in the NT.

Hopefully, the OT makes more sense now. When reading through all the various laws, look for the universals. Is there a deeper purpose for this law or section of laws? Now, some rules are just plain weird and we may never understand them through modern, Western eyes. But we have plenty of guidance through the NT to determine what the law of Christ is and what is sinful.

So please stop abusing the OT. Christians, I’m looking at you first. If you’re seeking evidence that something is wrong, start with the NT and go from there. And we can’t steal ancient Israel’s promises for ourselves (coughJeremiah 29:11). Non-Christians, if you haven’t studied the OT, please stop quoting it against us. There’s a lot going on literally, culturally, and historically. That’s why people go to seminary for years to study it. I’m not claiming to be an expert myself, just someone who has given it some thought and reflection. And I still have a lot to learn.

One thing that’s certain is that we all need to study our Bible more and be more careful when we use it. Because it isn’t just some book; it’s “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s word is powerful and not to be taken lightly. Please handle it with care.

 

Visit Tim’s site here: FreeThinking Ministries.

Click here to visit the original source of this article.

The Universal Problem We Don’t Want to Admit

How do we fix a world filled with murder, rape, betrayal, adultery, fraud, theft, sexual exploitation, pornography, bullying, abortion, terrorism, cheating, lying, child abuse, racism, assault, drugs, robbery, and countless other evils?

There will be no solutions unless we are honest about their underlying causes. Although we don’t want to admit it, the truth is that every one of those world problems can be traced back to a problem with the human heart.

No one knows that better than an honest cop. My friend Jim Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective in California. He’s been featured four times on Dateline for solving crimes that are decades old. He’s noticed that every crime he has ever solved can be traced back to one or more of these three motives: financial greed, relational lust, or the pursuit of power (money, sex and power). We want these things so much that we are willing to use immoral means to get them.

In other words, the sick condition of our world is preceded and caused by the sick condition of our hearts.  That’s why we won’t improve the external world until we first improve our internal worlds.

You might think that this doesn’t really apply to you. After all, you may be congratulating yourself because you haven’t committed any of the crimes listed at the top of this column.

“Well, not most of them anyway,” you say. “Who hasn’t lied or stolen something?   But I’m better than most people!”

Maybe so. But your very act of self-justification proves the point—instead of admitting our faults, our natural inclination is to minimize them or cover them up while claiming moral superiority.

We don’t want to admit this because it hurts our pride, which is also a heart issue. “Don’t tell me I’m wrong! You’re offending me! You’re hurting my feelings!”

It’s no wonder free speech is under attack in the culture and on campus. To channel Jack Nicholson, we “can’t handle the truth” because the truth exposes the fact that we are not really as good as we claim we are. We can’t bear the fact that we are broken, narcissistic creatures who find it much easier and more natural to be selfish rather than selfless.

This affects even people who deny real right and wrong. For example, leading atheist Richard Dawkins has declared, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. . . . DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.”

But Dawkins doesn’t act like he actually believes that. He recently insisted that a woman has the right to choose an abortion and asserted that it would be “immoral” to give birth to a baby with Down syndrome. According to Dawkins, the “right to choose” is a good thing and giving birth to Down syndrome children is a bad thing.

Well, which is it? Is there really good and evil, or are we just moist robots dancing to the music of our DNA? If there is no objective morality, then there is no “right” to anything, whether it is abortion or the right to life.

And if there is no objective morality, then why does everyone, including atheists, try to justify their own immoral behavior? As C.S. Lewis observed, “If we do not believe in decent behavior, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is, we believe in decency so much—we feel the Rule or Law pressing on us so— that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility.”

Ironically, when we try to shift the responsibility for our immoral actions, we often appeal to other moral principles to justify ourselves:

  • I used my expense account for personal items because I work harder than what they pay me, and it’s unjust that my boss makes so much more than me.
  • I ran off with my assistant because she really loves me, unlike my wife who doesn’t give me the attention I deserve.
  • I don’t have time for my kids because I’m too busy working hard to provide for their future.
  • I had an abortion because it’s immoral to give birth to a Down syndrome child.

Even our excuses show that we really, deep down, believe in objective morality. We often deceive ourselves into believing that something immoral is really moral (like abortion), but, as Thomas Jefferson famously declared, certain universal moral truths are “self evident.” All rational people know this. Unfortunately, our tendency for moral self-deception is also universal. We know what’s right, but we make excuses for doing wrong by trying to appeal to what is right!

Where does all this leave us?

There is hope. Regardless of what you believe about the Bible, what can’t be denied is that the Bible nails the truth about human nature and our deceptive human hearts. The book of Genesis admits that “every intent of the thoughts of [mankind’s] heart was only evil continually.” Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful and wicked, who can know it?” Jesus declared, that people “love darkness rather than light.” And Paul observed that we “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” in order to continue in our sins.

But the Bible doesn’t just accurately state the problem; it also reveals the only possible solution. Because of our moral failings, God’s infinite love compelled Him to add humanity over his Deity and come to earth in the person of Jesus that first Christmas. The incarnation was necessary because an infinitely just Being cannot allow sin to go unpunished. Instead of punishing us, God found in Jesus an innocent human substitute to voluntarily take the punishment for us.

Our pride tells us that we can rescue ourselves, but we can’t. No matter how much we try to justify ourselves or pledge to do better in the future, we can’t escape the fact that we’re guilty for what we’ve already done.

So it’s important to ask this Christmas season, “Have you accepted the pardon Jesus came to offer you? And have you asked Him into your life to help heal your self-centered heart?” If not, why not? He’s the only true solution to the world’s evils and the heart problem that afflicts each one of us.

Should You Do Your Job or Obey Your Conscience?

Should Christians ever disobey their government? Some say no. But Kim Davis sides with Martin Luther King and thinks civil disobedience is justified. Ms. Davis is the Rowan County Kentucky clerk who spent five days in jail for refusing to put her name on same sex marriage licenses. Claiming to be a new Christian, Ms. Davis is also a long-time Democrat.

In court last week, Judge David Bunning told Davis: “The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order.” He said that “if you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.”

Judge Bunning is absolutely right. This is the kind of chaos that results when people do not respect the law. But I’m not referring to Kim Davis—I’m referring to the United States Supreme Court. As I’ve written before, and the multiple dissents state more eloquently, there is no justification in the Constitution for judicially imposing genderless marriage on every state in the union. Five unelected justices simply imposed their own law on 330 million people.

But does that justify civil disobedience? Where do you draw the line?

Certainly, there is a line somewhere. After all, we laud those behind the Underground Railroad who freed slaves and those who protected Jews in Nazi Germany. While bad marriage laws are obviously not as serious, consider a more equivalent scenario: Suppose the Supreme Court decided to drop the age of consent in every state to twelve years old (a position Ruth Bader Ginsberg supported before she became a Supreme Court Justice). Would you think that Kim Davis should be forced to endorse the marriage of a 75 year-old man who brought a twelve year-old girl into her office? I hope you can see that there is a line and it’s not far from Kim Davis.

Liberals believe in civil disobedience—when it suits their causes. Despite chanting, “Do your job!” outside Kim Davis’s office, liberals were rejoicing when San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom ordered clerks to violate California law and issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in 2004. They certainly were not chanting “Do your job” outside of Attorney General Eric Holder’s office when he told the states last year to ignore their own laws that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. And liberals were not asking a federal judge to throw President Obama in jail when he refused to do his job by defending the Defense of Marriage Act in Court.

So just ten minutes ago liberals believed that defying marriage laws was heroic! Now their blatant double standard is all too obvious—they laud civil disobedience when it’s used to advance the religion of sex and denounce it when it’s used to protect Christian or natural law beliefs.

But on what authority does one defy the government? One man who wanted a same-sex marriage license asked Kim Davis on “what authority” was she not issuing licenses. She cited God.

Yet, the question needs to be asked of both sides. By what authority did Newsom, Holder, Obama and other liberal politicians defy the law? They certainly weren’t citing God or the Creator cited in our Declaration of Independence who gives us unalienable rights. But without an authority beyond man’s law, there is no authority for their actions nor is there any objective standard to ground unalienable rights. Without God, every right claim is merely a human opinion. At least Kim Davis, agree with her or not, is citing an authority beyond herself.

Civil disobedience has rich precedent in the United States. In fact, our country was founded on it largely to secure religious freedom. Civil disobedience also has precedent in the Bible. When Pharaoh ordered Hebrew midwives to murder all Hebrew boys, they disobeyed and even lied to the authorities (Exodus 1). And Daniel and his friends peacefully defied laws that contracted God’s commands. Likewise, when the Jewish authorities told John and Peter to stop telling people the good news that Jesus paid for your sins and rose from the dead, they disobeyed saying that they would obey God rather than men (Acts 4).

Therefore, the principle for Christians is this: civil disobedience is necessary when a government compels you to sin or prevents you from doing something God commands you to do. You don’t disobey the government merely because it permits others to sin—only when it compels you to do so. Kim Davis thinks that line has been crossed.

It’s actually not hard to avoid crossing the line. Both parties can be accommodated as Judge Bunning finally figured out when he released Davis yesterday. In North Carolina, we passed a law to allow people like Kim Davis to opt out of endorsing relationships that violated their religious or moral beliefs. Since other government employees are more than happy to issue licenses, no one is inconvenienced or forced to violate conscience. We do this for far more serious issues than weddings. For example, even during a time of war when we draft people to defend the country, we allow for conscientious objectors to opt out. If we can allow exemptions for government employees involved in protecting the very existence of our nation, we can certainly allow exemptions for government employees involved in weddings!

Will the Kentucky legislature act when it returns in January to pass such a law? Unfortunately, I doubt the activists who are always demanding tolerance will tolerate such reasonableness. It seems that some people just can’t live and let live. They will not rest until all opposition is crushed and everyone is forced to celebrate what they are doing.

If that’s your position, I have a question for you: Why would you want anyone who disagrees with your wedding to have anything to do with it? Go to another clerk, another florist, another photographer. Why force people to violate their conscience when there are so many other people willing to help you and celebrate with you?  After all, isn’t this supposed to be a time when “love wins?”

Apparently not. For some liberals “love wins” as long as everyone agrees with them. Those that disagree will not like the kind of “love” some liberals dish out. Are the same people who are chanting “love wins” some of the same people who issued death threats to Kim Davis? It’s certainly wasn’t the Christians.

The truth is Kim Davis and other victims of “tolerance” don’t want a holy war. Davis just doesn’t want her signature on the license. She suggested other government officials sign, and Judge Bunning finally agreed. But a law needs to be passed to prevent future problems.

North Carolina has led the way. It remains to be seen if liberals in Kentucky will accept that way. If their recent history is a guide, I’m afraid they will demand that every knee bow and every tongue confess the dogma of their secular religion.

(This column also appears at Townhall.com) and Stream.org 

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 Tale of Two Kings – Part 2 King Jesus

The Legacy of Herod & the Impact of Jesus in History

Part 2

King Jesus

In my previous article “A Take of Two Kings: Part 1 – King Herod,” I presented an overview of the life and legacy of Herod I, (also known as Herod the Great.) Herod was declared King of Judea by the Roman senate in 40 B.C. He left behind a legacy of violence, bloodshed, great political ambition, as well as the archaeological ruins of some truly remarkable buildings still visible today.

When one thinks of Herod, he is usually remembered as a king, even if he was a very bad king, yet Jesus of Nazareth was also a king. When most people think of Jesus today, however, they usually don’t think of Him as a king. Not only was Jesus of Nazareth a king, He was THE King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

As in the previous article on Herod, we will explore some very important questions about one of the most influential lives to ever walk the earth – the life and impact of Jesus since His birth, death and resurrection.

What exactly was the lineage of Jesus, and why does it matter? If Jesus was a king, then where did He get His authority? Did the Bible predict His coming thousands of years before He was born? How did Jesus impact history, and why does His life continue to affect millions around the world to this day? Does the Bible predict that Jesus will return to earth to reign as King over the nations?

Background of Jesus’ Early Life and Times

Herod the Great is remembered today as an accomplished builder. Jesus was also a builder – a carpenter. Having been reared by Joseph as an apprentice carpenter, it is very likely that Jesus could have even been a stone mason. A couple of reasons why this was so, was because of the abundance of limestone which was used as a primary building material in the first-century, and the fact that just outside of Nazareth archaeologists have uncovered the fascinating city of Sepphoris.

In 3 B.C., Herod Antipas (Herod’s son) made Sepphoris the site of his new capital of the Galilee region. At its height, Sepphoris reached a population of thirty thousand people! Jesus, along with Mary & Joseph, grew up right near this thriving city. It is very likely then, that Joseph & Jesus would have worked as stone-cutters or builders for the many construction projects that were certainly happening in Sepphoris.[1]

Cardo (road) at Sepphoris

Cardo (road) at Sepphoris

The discovery of Sepphoris by archaeologists has given scholars an interesting insight into the boyhood, youth and profession of Jesus.

In addition, New Testament scholar, Craig Evans writes:

The proximity of this city to the village of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, and the presence of a number of highways, cautions against the assumption that Jesus and His fellow Galileans were placebound and unacquaninted with the larger world.[2]

Even though archaeologists have not excavated any physical buildings or structures that Jesus built, they have discovered many of the places, people and structures that Jesus visited and conducted His ministry. One of the most interesting of these is the small village of Capernaum located on the Sea of Galilee.

Capernaum was just a small fishing village in Jesus’ day, yet it served as the base of His ministry in the Galilee region (Matthew 4:12-17 & Mark 2:1). In Matthew 9:1 He even called it His, “own city.”

At the site today are the remains of two archaeologically and historically significant structures. One is the floor of a first-century Jewish synagogue in which Jesus walked, taught, and performed miracles (see Mark 1:21ff).

The ruins of the first-century synagogue today are covered by the ruins of a 4th Century synagogue built on top of the floor of the earlier one (see image below)

Synagogue at Capernaum

Synagogue at Capernaum

The other structure at Capernaum is a group of edifices that cover something called the Insula Sacra (a Latin phrase which refers to a group of homes around a central courtyard).

Based on archaeological and historical evidence, including pottery, coins and inscriptions found on site, Franciscan archaeologists believe they have found the home of Simon Peter, the fisherman who became a disciple of Christ and one of the main leaders of the early church along with James, Jesus’ half-brother.[3]

Over the ruins of Peter’s house is an octagonal shaped structure – a basilica which dates to the middle of the fifth century A.D.

Ruins of the 5th Cent. Basilica at Capernaum - built over the house of St. Peter

Ruins of the 5th Cent. Basilica at Capernaum – built over the house of St. Peter

According to archaeologist, Jack Finegan:

There is little doubt that it is the church of which the Anonymous of Piacenza reported in A.D. 570: ‘We came to Capernaum into the house of St. Peter, which is a basilica.’[4]

These remains, as well as many others, illuminate the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and provide independent confirmation, apart from the Gospels themselves of the authenticity and trustworthiness of the New Testament.[5]

Jesus’ Authority & Lineage as Israel’s King

Herod’s rise to political power ultimately came from imperial Rome. But unlike Herod’s lineage as rightful king of Judah, Jesus’ lineage and authority, can be traced back before the foundations of time and history itself.

The Micah 5:2 passage, which is oft quoted during the Christmas season, gives insight into this.

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet our of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting

In the garden of Eden, Eve was promised by God, “[a Son] who would crush the head of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15b). This is the very first mention of the Gospel (evangelion – good news) in the Bible. Theologians often call this the proto-evangelion (or first Gospel). The reason why it was good news is because of the episode with the serpent in Genesis 3 which brought sin and death to the world. God told Adam and Eve that essentially He would not leave them in that state of affairs (i.e. in a fallen state), but would restore them and destroy the works of the serpent through someone (Jesus) who would come from body the woman.

For thousands of years, the history of Old Testament Israel was filled with prophecies, foreshadowings, images, and metaphors of Israel’s coming king, and anointed One (Messiah). During those intervening years before Jesus came, two pictures emerged of Messiah from the Law, the Prophets and the Writings: one was a Suffering Servant, and the other, a conquering King. When Jesus came the people of Israel paid attention only to the Old Testament passages which referred to their coming King as a great conquerer and warrior – like King David. They paid little or no attention to the passages which speak of their King coming to suffer and bear the sins of the world.

The Son of David

In Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1-17). Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation and embodies all of Israel’s hopes, ideals and future (Genesis 12; 15; 22). Without the connection to Abraham,  Jesus would have been an imposter. Abraham is foundational.

Jesus’ lineage is also traced back to the Old Testament king David. Why David? Because nearly 1000 years before Jesus was born a promise (a covenant) was given to David that one of his descendants would sit on the throne in Jerusalem and that the Kingdom would never come to an end (2 Samuel 7:12-16).

To David God said:

When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. …and your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you, Your throne shall be established forever (2 Sam. 7:12-13, 16)

Since that original promise to David in about 1000 B.C., the promise has echoed down through the Old Testament prophets and saints pointing to a future ruler and king who would one day be born. These prophecies would contain detailed information on what the king would do, and what he would be like. In the 8th Century B.C. (700’s) the prophet Isaiah predicted the birth of a son who would have the characteristics that only God has:

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be on His shoulder, and His named will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Perhaps one of the most remarkable passages in the Old Testament which was written 700 years before Christ was born was Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 speaks of a certain person who would be stricken down and endure great suffering. The reason for the suffering? Verse 5 gives the reason:

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed.

The passage goes on to describe that this suffering servant of God would be buried in a rich man’s grave.

And they made His grave with the wicked – but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth (v. 9)

When Jesus was crucified and buried these verses as well as many other prophecies were literally fulfilled – including the Micah 5:2 prophecy predicting where Israel’s promised King would be born – in Bethlehem.

The Resurrection of Jesus

Throughout Jesus’ public ministry He directly and indirectly made the claim that He indeed was the One true King, who was promised and predicted in the Old Testament. Early in the ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist sent word to Jesus asking,

“Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see, the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me’ (Matthew 11:3-6).

When he heard these words, John the Baptist would have immediately understood that Jesus was indeed the promised One, because all of the things Jesus mentioned were predicted by the Old Testament centuries earlier.

Throughout His life Jesus’ words and works were a strong testimony to who He claimed to be – namely God, yet the one thing that provided the stamp of authenticity on His identity was His resurrection from the dead.

Jesus’ Legacy

According to Acts 1:9-11 Jesus ascended into heaven after appearing to His disciples as well as many others.

Before He departed, He told His disciples:

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8)

One of the most lasting and enduring legacies of Jesus Christ – apart from securing eternal salvation from sin – was and still is His people – the Church.

To the church was given Christ’s message of good-news that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

That message was preached and lived by the early Christians in such a way that in about three centuries nearly the entire Roman world had access to the Gospel.

It would be difficult to measure the full impact of Christ’s life since He walked the earth. Perhaps that impact can somewhat be measured by the devotion of His followers to be salt and light in the world as they were commanded by Christ Himself (Matthew 5:13-16).

Paul Copan has documented some of the achievements of Christ’s followers in the two millennia since He lived:

  • The Eradication of Slavery (from the Roman period until now)
  • Opposition of Infanticide (common in Greece & Rome)
  • The Elimination of gladiatorial games (outlawed in the 4th Cent.)
  • The Building of Hospitals and Hospices
  • The Elevation of Women’s Rights & Status
  • Founded Europe & North America’s great universities
  • The Writing of Extraordinary works of literature (Dante, Milton, etc…)
  • Creation of beautiful artistic masterpieces (Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Gothic cathedrals, etc..)
  • Established modern science (from the notion that the world was created by a rational, orderly God)
  • Composition of brilliant musical works (Bach, Handel, Hayden, etc…)
  • Advocating human rights (concern for the poor, human dignity rooted in the truth that people are made in God’s image)[6]

Indeed as Copan summarizes here:

It’s difficult to exaggerate the impact that Jesus of Nazareth has had on history and the countless lives impacted by this one man’s life and teaching – indeed, the transforming power of the cross and resurrection. The historian Jaroslav Pelikan remarked that by changing the calendar (to BC and AD according to the “Year of our Lord”) and other ways, “everyone is compelled to acknowledge that because of Jesus of Nazareth history will never be the same.[7]

 

[1] For more on this, see Craig Evans, Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), pp. 13-37.

[2] Ibid.

[3] for detailed information on this see, Jack Finegan’s, The Archaeology of the New Testament: The Life of Jesus and the Beginnings of the Early Church (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), pp. 107-11.

[4] See Finegan, pp. 110-11.

[5] For additional information see John McRay’s, Archaeology & the New Testament

 

[6] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), pp. 218-19.

[7] Ibid., 219.

 

Merry Christmas from Newsweek!

As has become common around Christian holidays, another media outlet has issued what I think can rightly be called an attack piece. Newsweek rolled out a cover story for this week’s edition that attacks the Bible and the warrant for trusting that we even know what it says as well as its content:

http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/02/thats-not-what-bible-says-294018.html

I’m all for free speech and critiquing all viewpoints including religious ones but this article makes egregious factual errors. Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, a world-renowned expert on early manuscripts of the New Testament (and shown in this picture), has responded to this article by pointing out numerous mistakes and some key omissions that make it quite misleading:

Predictable Christmas fare: Newsweek’s Tirade against the Bible

I’ve had the honor of getting acquainted with Dan the last couple of years as I’ve become involved in the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts which he founded. This organization is doing incredibly important work to combat the kind of misconceptions propagated by this Newsweek article. Check out their web site to see how they’re digitizing early New Testament manuscripts and along the way even discovering new documents that are confirming our confidence in the transmission of these Biblical texts. I’ve found Dan to be fair-minded, incredibly knowledgeable, and sacrificially committed to the noble task of learning as much as we can from the earliest Greek texts of the New Testament books.

Here is a sampling of some of Wallace’s corrections but I recommend that you read his entire article:

Newsweek: “At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”

Wallace: “This is rhetorical flair run amok so badly that it gives hyperbole a bad name. A “translation of translations of translations” would mean, at a minimum, that we are dealing with a translation that is at least three languages removed from the original. But the first translation is at best a translation of a fourth generation copy in the original language. Now, I’m ignoring completely his last line—“and on and on, hundreds of times”—a line that is completely devoid of any resemblance to reality. Is it really true that we only have access to third generation translations from fourth generation Greek manuscripts? Hardly…. Almost 6000 of these [20,000+] manuscripts are in Greek alone. And we have more than one million quotations of the New Testament by church fathers. There is absolutely nothing in the Greco-Roman world that comes even remotely close to this wealth of data. The New Testament has more manuscripts that are within a century or two of the original than anything else from the Greco-Roman world too. If we have to be skeptical about what the original New Testament said, that skepticism, on average, should be multiplied one thousand times for other Greco-Roman literature.”

 

Newsweek: “About 400 years passed between the writing of the first Christian manuscripts and their compilation into the New Testament.”

Wallace: “The oldest complete New Testament that exists today is Codex Sinaiticus, written about AD 350… the reality [of the delay between completion of the New Testament and our oldest extant copy in complete form] is closer to 250–300 years (conservative), or 200–250 years (liberal). Yet even here the notion of “compilation into the New Testament” may be misleading: the original New Testament manuscripts were undoubtedly written on papyrus rolls, each of which could contain no more than one Gospel. It was not until the invention of the codex form of book, and its development into a large format, that the possibility of putting all the NT books between two covers could even exist.”

 

Newsweek: Constantine “changed the course of Christian history, ultimately influencing which books made it into the New Testament.”

Wallace: “This is an old canard that has no basis in reality. In fact, Eichenwald seems to know this because he does not bring it up again, but instead speaks about the Council of Nicea (initiated by Constantine) as dealing primarily with the deity of Christ. There is absolutely nothing to suggest in any of the historical literature that Constantine ever influenced what books belonged in the NT.”

There are many more examples such as these so please check out both Wallace’s response as well as the Newsweek article so you can understand the misconceptions that are being propagated in our culture and how to correct them. In summary, Newsweek’s article about the Bible is factually flawed, blatantly biased, and embarrassingly egregious in audaciously attacking a simplistic straw man. Other than that it’s a pretty good article.

The Deity of Christ in the Gospel of Mark

the-deity-of-jesusA view often propounded by contemporary skeptics is that the deity of Christ is not presented by the gospel of Mark and that the Christology of the gospels evolves from Mark’s gospel (generally thought to be the earliest written), which does not present Jesus as divine, to John’s gospel (generally thought to be the latest written), which does present Jesus as divine. To what extent, however, can this be considered true? Does the gospel of Mark really make no claims concerning Jesus’ divine status as many critics contend? In this article, I will argue for the deity of Christ using Mark’s gospel alone. Read more

Debating Christianity and Islam on Spice FM: A Conversation on the Deity of Christ

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pn3s7Q63DyM&w=560&h=315]

I was recently invited to do a debate on a local radio station that airs in Tyneside, England, called Spice FM. Every Thursday, a Muslim program, called “Eye on the East”, run by Muslim activist Daniel Johnson of the Islamic Diversity Center airs. In the video above, I take on Daniel Johnson and Muslim apologist Majid Younus on the identity of Christ and the validity of the Triune concept of God. Enjoy! You can listen to two other recent radio interviews I have done on the subject of Islam here and here.

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

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 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)

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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

Is Learning Apologetics like Fiddling While Rome Burns?

A Modern Commentary of C.S. Lewis’ ‘Learning in Wartime’

Today it is easy to see why many Christians may be discouraged and feel the need to “circle the wagons,” – to not see the need to cultivate a life of the mind, including learning apologetic arguments for Christianity, or even learning anything new at all. We now live in a world of ISIS, Ebola, violent Christian persecution in various parts of the world, and an increasing attack on religious liberties in America.

Perhaps a lesson from the past will bring light and even encouragement to the value of learning – especially loving Christ with all of our minds in the Church today.

In 1939 the dark clouds of Hitler’s Nazi war machine were beginning to loom across Europe and in England. Walter Hooper, who briefly served as C.S. Lewis’ personal secretary in 1963 relates a fascinating story of when Lewis was invited to preach a sermon at Oxford’s Church of St. Mary the Virgin in the late 30’s.

The threat of imminent war with Germany caused many of Oxford’s undergraduates much hesitation and unrest. Christian students understandably wondered at the value of education and the pursuit of truth when a world war loomed on the horizon. At that time Canon T.R. Milford, an admirer of Lewis’ literary works, asked him to come deliver a sermon and address this growing sentiment among the student body. According to Hooper, “Lewis – an ex-soldier [in WWI] and Christian don at Magdalen College – was thought to be just the man to put things in the right perspective.”[1]

How very right Canon Milford was! Not only did Lewis brilliantly make the case for learning in a time of global upheaval in the twentieth century, there are brilliant lessons we can learn for our own day as well. The text of Lewis’ sermon ended up as a chapter in The Weight of Glory[2] under the title “Learning in Wartime.” The barbarities of our own day and Lewis’s are uncanny, and the lessons are timeless.

Of course, there is no substitute for reading the entire chapter by Lewis’ himself, but in this article I would like to highlight a few principles that I believe relate to those of us today who traffic in the realm of the mind, ideas and the intellect.

There has Never Been a Perfect Time to Learn: Favorable Conditions Never Come

If we’re waiting for more peaceful or favorable times [whatever that is] to begin to dig deeper into our faith or perhaps to learn something new, then we’ll probably never begin at all. Lewis knew then that there will always be distractions which prevent us from pursing truth on a deeper level – whether those distractions are the threat of war, or the hectic busyness of life. He writes:

There will always be plenty of rivals to our work. We are always falling in love or quarrelling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.[3]

…If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal.[4]

If we will not pursue truth and cultivate loving God with our minds with today’s many threats and distractions, then we probably never will. Life has never been “normal.”

Shouldn’t We Just Preach the Gospel Only?

There were those in Lewis’ day (as well as our own) who perhaps thought that learning should take a back-seat to leading people to Christ in evangelism.

..how is it even right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to Heaven or to hell spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology.[5]

…why should we – indeed how can we – continue to take an interest in these placid occupations when the lives or our friends and the liberties of Europe are in the balance? Is it not fiddling while Rome burns?[6]

Or,

“How can you be so frivolous and selfish as to think about anything but the salvation of human souls?” and we have, at the moment to answer the additional question, “How can you be so frivolous and selfish as to think of anything but the war?”[7]

Of course, in saying these things Lewis is certainly not undermining the importance of personal evangelism. Indeed, several years later in that same chapel he preached what is perhaps, one of the most profound sermons on evangelism ever preached in the 20th Century [at least in my opinion!].

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. …All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct our dealings with one another…[8]

Lewis’ solution to this apparent dilemma of either evangelism (the active life), or learning (the contemplative life), is that whatever our view of this relationship is during peacetime, should be the exactly the same as in a time of war.

Now it seems to me that we shall not be able to answer these questions until we have put them by the side of other questions which every Christian ought to have asked himself in peacetime.

During a time of peace hardly any Christian doubts the value of loving God with all our minds and cultivating a deeper Christian understanding and integration of reality. So why should our principles change during a time of imminent death and war? According to Lewis, they shouldn’t.

In other words, regardless of whether we are living in a time of impending war & violence or relative peace and safety, there is an important place for both activities in the Christian view of things.

We don’t have to choose either evangelism or learning – it is imperative to do both!

Lastly, on this question, Lewis makes it clear that he makes no distinctions between the secular and the sacred.

Every duty is a religious duty, and our obligation to perform every duty is therefore absolute.[9]

In short, ‘whether we eat or drink, [do evangelism, or learn], or whatever we do, we do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).’

In Our Pursuit of Truth, there is No Place for the Proud

Christ was very clear when He stated the greatest commandment, “to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Matt. 22:36). Lewis recognized that a life of learning is perhaps not the path for every Christian. Indeed, within the body of Christ there are many members with different functions (1 Cor. 12:12-31).

Regardless, our pursuit and love of the pure, unvarnished truth should take second place to our pride and personal achievements (if any). We must always be on guard against pride, whatever our vocation, but especially intellectual pride – for as the Apostle Paul writes, “…knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). Lewis writes:

As the author of the Theologica Germanica says, we may come to love knowledge – our knowing – more than the thing known: to delight not in the exercise of our talents but the fact that they are ours, or even in the reputation they bring us. Every success in the scholar’s life increases this danger. If it becomes irresistible, he must give up his scholarly work. They time for plucking out the right eye has arrived.[10]

In apologetics as in any other intellectual pursuit, there is no place for pride, whatever form it takes in our lives. We are servants of Truth, and not the other way around.

be ready to give a defense [apologia] to everyone who asks you a reason [logos] for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear (1 Pet. 3:15).

I can’t tell you how many apologists I’ve noticed, who are arrogant and condescending to others who don’t have a deeper understanding. This certainly does not help the cause of Christ or His Kingdom, and in reality, intellectual pride is the mark of another kingdom. The father of pride led a rebellion of a third of the angels against God. In Eden, he convinced Adam & Eve that God did not say what He really said.

Don’t Worry About the Future – Live Life One Day at a Time

One of the frustrations that Lewis addressed to his audience of Oxford undergraduates in 1939 was the frustration of possibly not being able to finish what one has started – of looking ahead to the future, when it looks bleak. “What’s the point?”

This is certainly a sentiment that is true today. When one thinks of the future of the world and where we might be headed, it can be somewhat foggy or even depressing. Lewis’ wisdom is especially brilliant here because it is grounded in the very words of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (see, Matt. 6:34).

Lewis states:

Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as unto the Lord.” It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received. …A more Christian attitude, which can be attained in any age, is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not.[11]

Human Civilization Depends on Not Listening to Our Worries but on Thinking Clearly and Loving God with our Minds

Finally, in the larger scheme of human history, we should not allow our worries to dictate how we live. Human culture (if it is to survive) depends on it. Lewis writes:

If human culture [& learning] can stand up [and alongside] to that [that people today are headed to eternity in heaven or hell], it can stand up to anything. To admit that we can retain our interest in learning under the shadow of these eternal issues but not under the shadow of a European war would be to admit that our ears are closed to the voice of reason and very wide open to the voice of our nerves and our mass emotions.[12]

Here we can learn from a chapter in the history of the early, medieval Irish monks. When the British Isles were under the threat and then eventually under the sword of the Norsemen, Irish Christians didn’t worry & fret about their future. Rather, they went to work translating great works of literature and creating great works of art such as we find in the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels.

In his book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, author Thomas Cahill narrates in vivid detail the fall of the Roman empire when barbarian hordes marched across the frozen Rhine and eventually down into Italy ultimately sacking Rome herself, the crown jewel of classical civilization and learning. Several centuries later when the prow of the Viking longboat hit the sands of the British Isles another dark ages swept across Europe. Civilization was threatened and the learning of the classical world was gravely threatened.

It was the Irish Christians, who according to Cahill, played a key role in Europe’s rebuilding after the long and dark ages.

Wherever they went the Irish bought with them their books, many unseen in Europe for centuries and tied to their waists as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had once tied to their waists their enemies heads. Wherever they went they brought their love of learning and their skills in bookmaking. In the bays and valleys of their exile, they reestablished literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe. And that is how the Irish saved civilization.[13]

It is in light of these and other principles, that we pursue Truth for its own sake, we learn apologetic arguments, we love God with our minds, and we cultivate a life of faith grounded in God’s eternal Word.

Eternal things are at stake.

 

[1] Walter Hooper, “Introduction,” in C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: Harper One, 2000, originally 1949), pg. 18.

[2] Incidentally, the title of Lewis’ second message at The Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Oxford in 1941.

[3] Lewis, “Learning in Wartime,” pg. 60.

[4] Ibid., pg. 49.

[5] Ibid., 48-9.

[6] Ibid., pg.47.

[7] Ibid, pg. 50-1.

[8] The Weight of Glory, pg. 45-6.

[9] “Learning in Wartime,” pg. 53.

[10] “Learning in Wartime,” pg. 57.

[11] “Learning in Wartime,” pg. 60-61.

[12] Ibid.. pg. 49.

[13] Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Historic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (New York, London: Doubleday, 1995), pg. 196.

You Can Still Hear the Recording of My Appearance on “Dogma Debate” Atheist Radio Show

A couple weeks ago I was invited, along with two friends, Blake and Derrick, to be on an atheist radio program called “Dogma Debate” (website here). Blake Giunta is the recent founder of a really great apologetics website called TreeSearch. The main host, David Smalley, and his co-hosts, enjoy interaction with Christian believers, and I applaud their efforts in seeking out opportunities to provide a platform to both sides of the argument to present and defend their case. Unfortunately, few shows are like this. Unbelievable, with host Justin Brierley, on Premier Christian Radio might be the closest Christian equivalent to this show. The hosts for this episode — indeed, our interlocutors — were David Smalley and Lydia Allen. We were originally invited on to discuss how Christians and atheists could better engage and interact with one another (something I have previously written about here). But, as is often the case with radio, the conversation went way off on a tangent quite quickly. The debate was rather intense at some points and went on for about three hours — then there was also the “After Show” discussion exclusive for paid subscribers, which went on for perhaps another 90 minutes.

You can listen to the debate at this link. Enjoy!

Still Haven’t Found What You’re Looking For? C.S. Lewis, Bono and the Argument from Desire

For better or worse I was a child of the 80’s, and during that time a new rock band came on the scene that changed pop music, both in Britain, America and eventually the world. I immediately loved their sound as soon as I heard it. Their style was unique, and the lyrics had a real message. Their songs resonated much deeper than the typical pop tunes being played on the radio. That band was U2 from Dublin Ireland.

In May of 1987 the band released their 5th studio album titled “The Joshua Tree.” The second track on that album is a “gospel-esque” song that producer Danny Lanois encouraged Bono to write.[1] The song is “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The song has been acclaimed by many critics and publications as one of the greatest songs of all time.[2]

What makes this song so unique and timeless? Sure it’s Bono’s excellent vocals, Adam Clayton’s chilled-out bass, and the Edge’s astral guitar licks, but I believe that it is also something more, something much deeper. The song touches on a truth that is embedded in all people – a deep sense of longing and desire for something that this present world cannot fully satisfy. Here is the second refrain.

 

I have kissed honey lips

Felt the healing in her finger tips

It burned like fire

(I was) burning inside her.

 

I have spoke with the tongue of angels

I have held the hand of a devil

It was warm in the night

I was cold as a stone.

 

But I still haven’t found

What I’m looking for.

But I still haven’t found

What I’m looking for.

 

The song is written in the style of a gospel-lament which has it roots in the Psalms, the Lamentations of Jeremiah and later, African-American Spirituals. So, what is the singer lamenting?

He is lamenting that no matter what he tries or what he does, ultimate satisfaction isn’t found in this world. His satisfaction must come from somewhere else. He was made for something else, for somewhere else, or perhaps for someone else. He is a pilgrim and a sojourner on this earth, “just a passing through.”

Here a much younger “Edge” explains the origins of the song & Bono sings it with a gospel church choir in Harlem, NY.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis articulates an argument for the existence of God based on our dissatisfactions as well as our deepest desire, which sounds a lot like the lyrics of U2’s song. I would even argue that the core idea is the virtually the same.

Lewis’s argument goes like this:

…A baby feels hunger; well there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world[3]

Philosopher Peter Kreeft has done us a great service and re-formulated Lewis’s argument from desire into a syllogism that might be a little easier to follow.

  1. Every natural innate desire corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire
  2. But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth and no creature can satisfy.
  3. Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth, and creatures which can satisfy this desire.
  4. This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”[4]

Premise 1 – Every natural desire corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire

The key here is that every natural desire has a corresponding reality. The implication is that there is a distinction between two kinds of desires – natural desires and artificial desires. Everyone has natural desires, like the desire for water, food, sleep, friendship (companionship), etc…, but we also have desires for things that are artificial, or conditioned by society – like the desire to be famous, or the desire to possess superpowers (like one of the Avengers), or the desire to own a Ferrari.

However, with the artificial desires we don’t recognize a condition called “Ferrari-lessness” which corresponds to, say a natural desire like the desire for water (thirst), or for food (hunger).

Premise 2 – But there exists a desire in us which nothing in time, nothing on earth and no creature can satisfy.

This premise is existentially true, and either one senses it or not. It can’t be forced. It may be pointed out, however, that even though one might not sense a desire for God, it doesn’t mean that the desire is non-existent,  just buried under the concerns, the worries and the busyness of life.

The Southern novelist Walker Percy commenting on “the search” in his classic novel The Moviegoer (1961) touches on this idea:

The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be on to something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.

Something is missing, so we despair. Indeed, as Thoreau writes, “…most men live lives of quiet desperation” (Civil Disobedience & other Essays), or like mythical, Greek Sisyphus, we “feel” the futility and the endless drudgery of work & life and deeply sense that there must be “something more.”

If God is the ultimate source of joy and fellowship, then nothing but Him and Him alone (& life with Him forever) will satisfy the heart of every person.

This truth has been articulated by many different voices throughout history.

“For He [God] has set eternity in the hearts of men…” – King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

“Thou, O Lord hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee” – St. Augustine (The Confessions)

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” – Blaise Pascal (Pensees)

“Not to be onto something is to be in despair” – Walker Percy (The Moviegoer)

“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” – U2 (Bono)

Peter Kreeft brilliantly summarizes premise 2 this way:

The second premise requires only honest introspection. If someone defies it and says, “I am perfectly happy playing with mud pies, sports cars, or money, or sex, or power,” we can only ask, “Are you really?” But we can only appeal, we cannot compel… Even the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre admitted that “there comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’”[5]

Premise 3 – Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth, and creatures which can satisfy this desire.

Premise 4 – This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”

Admittedly, the conclusion of this argument is not an “air-tight” case for the God of the Bible, but it is certainly a stepping stone. When the argument from desire is placed alongside of other arguments for God’s existence, such as the cosmological argument, and the teleological argument, then I think it makes a pretty compelling case worthy of serious consideration.

Kreeft says, “What it proves is an unknown X, but an unknown whose direction, so to speak, is known. This X is more: more beauty, more desirability, more awesomeness, more joy.”[6]

Our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. ~ C.S. Lewis (The Weight of Glory, pg. 42)

Truth, Goodness & Beauty

It may be that beauty, and our desire for infinite beauty and truth and goodness is where we feel the unfulfilled longing[7] the most, as Kreeft brilliantly explains:

There are three things that will never die: truth, goodness and beauty. These are three things that we all need, and need absolutely, and know we need absolutely. Our minds want not only some truth and some falsehood, but all truth, without limit. Our wills want not only some good and some evil, but all good, without limit. Our desires, imaginations, feelings or hearts just want not just some beauty and some ugliness, but all beauty without limit.

For these are three things that we will never get bored with, and never will, for all eternity, because they are three attributes of God, and therefore all God’s creation: three transcendental or absolutely universal principles of all reality.   …Truth, goodness and beauty are ‘patches of Godlight’ here in the ‘Shadowlands.’ Their home is Yonder.[8]

Christianity teaches that the only way to truly KNOW God is through Jesus Christ who came to reveal Him for Who He truly is.

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3)

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Still_Haven%27t_Found_What_I%27m_Looking_For (accessed, Sept. 2, 2014).

[2] Ibid.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III, chap. 10

[4] Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL, 1994), pp. 78-81, also see his “The Argument from Desire” on http://peterkreeft.com/topics/desire.htm (accessed Jan. 1, 2006).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Kreeft, Op cit.

[7] In his autobiographical work Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis explored his own experiences with what he called “the stab, the pain, the iconsolable longing” that he was sure all human beings felt.

[8] Peter Kreeft, “Lewis’s Philosophy of Truth, Goodness and Beauty,” in David Baggett, Gary R. Habermas and Jerry Walls, Editors, C.S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 23-36.

Was There Only One God in the Beginning?

The Case for Original Monotheism from Wilhelm Schmidt

Where did the idea of one supreme God originate? There are really only two options: either monotheism (mono– “one” theos – “god”) was original to humans from the very beginning, or it was an invention or development of religion in early human cultures.

Anthropologists and historians of religion, at least since the European Enlightenment, and certainly by the end of nineteenth century, have taught that the idea of “one supreme God” was not original to mankind, but rather was a late development in the history of religion stemming from animism and/or polytheism. Today Muslims, Christians and Jews comprise the three great monotheistic faiths of the world. The adherents to these three faiths reach well into the billions.

According to the Bible, God directly created mankind from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:5-9). In the Genesis account, the first man and woman (Adam & Eve), enjoyed direct fellowship and communication with God. The fellowship was broken when the first humans acted independently of God by an act of direct disobedience to His command (Gen. 3). The results of that act of disobedience was broken fellowship with God and banishment from His presence.

If we track with the Bible’s account of history, then as the population of the earth increased, mankind moved further and further away from God, where eventually an understanding of who He was, was either lost or replaced with polytheism, the deification of the forces of nature, or some combination of both.

In his excellent new book, In the Beginning God, Winfried Courduan states that,

The Bible does not give us an account to how idolatry and polytheism arose historically. We know that Abraham came from a line of people who worshipped a moon god, but we don’t know where that chain was broken. …there is good reason to believe that there were other monotheists around besides Melchizedek. Further, there were multiple opportunities to learn about the one God, not to mention the probability of there having been a live memory carried all along in Moses family.[1]

Nevertheless, in Genesis 12 we learn that God did not allow mankind to be unaware of who He was, but appeared to a man in ancient Mesopotamia named Abram. Historian F.E. Peters summarizes:

…at a given moment in historical time, he [God] addressed himself to one Abram, the sheikh of an extended family of Near Eastern sheep nomads who were camping in what is today called the Negev. Worship me, the god said, and I will make you and yours a great people. It was not a unique or a solitary voice; we know from plentiful evidence that there were other, many other, gods on that landscape and in the minds of Abram’s contemporaries. Abram, however, limited his worship to this one deity, and the god in turn granted his favor to Abram, or Abraham, as he was henceforward called.[2]

God tells Abraham to count the stars (Gen. 15:5)

God tells Abraham to count the stars (Gen. 15:5)

Later in biblical history, God would appear once again, but this time to Moses who grew up in Egypt, another nation of many gods. In the famous scene of the burning bush (Ex. 3), when Moses asks God His name, God tells Moses that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex. 3:15). Finally, when God gives Moses the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20) the first three commandments all deal with the nature of the one true God and what it means to properly worship Him and Him only (Ex. 20:3-7).

That was the working narrative for at least nineteen centuries until the rise of naturalistic & skeptical theories concerning the Bible and the rise of monotheism.

In the seventeenth century Dutch philosopher, Benedict Spinoza published the Theologico-Political Treatise in 1670 (also posthumously in 1677). In it he argued (among other things), that all revealed religion had to be analyzed on the basis of reason; not blind faith. Theology & philosophy must be kept separate. He categorically denied prophecy, miracles & the supernatural. He also denied Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and stated that it was probably a cobbled-together text which was likely composed of multiple authors.

In the following years, scholars such as Thomas Hobbs, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Julius Welhausen and many others followed Spinoza in their distrust of the biblical record of history.

By the end of the nineteenth century many scholars had developed serious doubts about the Bible’s account of reality, especially the dawn of history’s monotheistic origins in Eden.

Wilhelm Schmidt to the Rescue!

Enter Wilhelm Schmidt, a German scholar who lived in the early twentieth century and argued on scholarly grounds, that the original religion of human beings was monotheism. According to Corduan, “In 1906 Schmidt created a journal called Anthropos, [which was] intended to provide missionaries with greater awareness of new developments in the field of cultural anthropology.”[3] From this humble beginning and focus on religion, Schmidt’s thesis eventually developed into a massive 12-volume work, Der Ursprung der Gottesidee [The Origin of the Idea of God] (Munster: Aschendorff, 1912-55).

Schmidt’s thesis of original monotheism derives from what he called the “culture-historical method.”[4]

[to read Schmidt’s main thesis for yourself, it is now available this excellent new reprint version The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories originally published in 1931]

Schmidt’s Main Thesis & Ideas

In his massive 12 volume work, “Ursprung” or The Origin of the Idea of God, Schmidt analyzed the major theories of comparative religion up to his day, as well the theories of the development of religion in ethnology from cultures around the world (ethnology is a branch of anthropology that compares global nations and cultures and how they identify themselves).

Essentially Schmidt’s case for original monotheism “is grounded in the culture-historical method by which we can discern which among present cultures appear to be the ones that most closely resemble the earliest human cultures. Ethnologically, those are the ones that show the least amount of growth in their material culture. And it is precisely those that display forms of monotheism” (W. Corduan). When all of the data are sifted and analyzed, Schmidt argues that one can discern the core belief of the earliest human cultures was monotheism, or a belief in “the Primitive High God” [one God].[5]

He writes:

…the goal of all work on the lines of the historical method is not to set up theories or hypotheses but to arrive at scientific certainty. Here we mean by ‘scientific certainty’ the facts which make up our picture of primitive religion, not indeed as atoms, but as an organic and mutually interdependent whole. …If we apply that criterion to the abundant mass of data which we can now produce regarding the primitive Supreme Being, the first thing to notice is that the total sum of facts is of a nature to satisfy the total sum of human needs…[6]

Schmidt’s thesis is well grounded in his extensive research and analysis in historical, linguistic, and anthropological studies. Yet, his theory also fits perfectly with what the Bible teaches about original monotheism (in Genesis).

That being said, Corduan warns us of absolute certainty beyond all objections in Schmidt’s “original monotheism” theory.

Have we (that is to say Wilhelm Schmidt and those of us who support his cause) really shown that original monotheism is true beyond all conceivable objections? Of course, we have not. It would be impossible for any human to do so. …There is no scientific enterprise where eliminating all “conceivable” objections is the point[7]

The point is that there are good and sold reasons (aside from, but also in support of the Bible) that are grounded in thorough research and data in the field, that mankind worshipped one God from the very beginnings of the human race.

Theistic Arguments Are Grounded in Both Reality and Scripture

Although this is not the main point of my post here, the second way in which one could argue for original monotheism is via theistic arguments. If theistic arguments (such as the cosmological, teleological and moral arguments) can succeed in establishing theism, then theism (properly defined) would be the default position in the history of humanity, and atheism only a recent development.

In a touch of irony then, the so-called “primitive” monotheists of the Ancient Near East [i.e. Abraham & Moses] were more up-to-date, and in touch with reality than today’s modern sophisticated and “educated” atheist elites.

The Unique Message of Christianity: The Broken Relationship Between God and Man Is Restored in Christ

Finally a brief word about the uniqueness of the Christian claim that is relevant to the question about original monotheism. Christianity has its roots deeply embedded in the Old Testament and as such Jesus claimed to be the one promised and predicted from the writings of the Old Testament prophets (Luke 4:14-21). Not only this, but He also made the audacious claim that He was God in human flesh (John 8:21-58), even stating that He was the visible manifestation of the great “I Am” (Creator & Covenant making God) of Exodus 3 when Moses spoke with God face to face from the burning bush. In John 8 the Jewish leaders questioned Jesus about His true identity.

Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”…(Jesus said), Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds (John 8:53-8).

When the Apostle Paul was waiting for his traveling companions in Athens he even made an appeal to the Athenian philosophers, to their belief in an “unknown God” in Acts 17.

For as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription TO THE UNNKOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you; ‘God who made the world and everything in it, since He is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, Nor is He worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath and all things. And He has made from one blood, every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth and has appointed their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’ “ (Acts 17:23-28).

Paul then continued to proclaim Christ and His resurrection to which some of them mocked, some believed and yet others were curious to hear more (Acts 17:32-34).

Christ came for one reason only and that is to perfectly reveal the God whose fellowship was broken with mankind in the garden. He restored the knowledge of God and even more by His death, burial and resurrection, showing the world what God is truly like.

He is the image of the invisible God the first-born over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on the earth, visible and invisible…For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness [of deity] should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross (Col. 1:15-16, 19-20).

 

[1] Winfried Courduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2013), location 5409 in the Kindle Edition

[2] F.E. Peters, The Monotheists: Jews, Christians and Muslims in Conflict and Competition, Vol. 1 The Peoples of God (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press), xix.

[3] Forward in Wilhelm Schmidt’s, The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories (Protorville, OH: Wythe-North Publishing, 2014), v.

[4] Ibid.,pp 219ff.

[5] W. Schmidt, The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories (Protorville, OH: Wythe-North Publishing), p. 283.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Win Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2013), loc 5809 in the Kindle Ed.

What is the Purpose of Sex?

There can only be a purpose for sex if there is a purpose for life, which means that sex (or any other activity) can only have ultimate meaning if God exists.  If there is no God, then all of life is ultimately meaningless.

Since God exists, the main purpose of sex is to bond a man and woman together to procreate and raise children.  But isn’t pleasure a purpose for sex?  Certainly the Bible speaks highly of sexual pleasure (see the Song of Solomon).  But the pleasure we experience during sex encourages us to bond with one another and procreate.  In other words, pleasure is more the result than the purpose.  If pleasure is the primary purpose of sex– not bonding or procreating– then we would have to say that pleasure should be pursued even if it harms.  Professor J. Budziszewski explains in this conversation excerpted from his book Ask Me Anything.

Untitled-1

 

“The main point of Christian sexual morality is that human nature is designed. We need to live a certain way because we’re designed to live that way.”

“Then let’s start with the heart. Do you see how every part works together toward its purpose, its function?”

“Sure. You’ve got nerves and valves and pumping chambers, all for moving blood.”

“Right. If you think about the sexual powers instead of the heart, it’s just the same. The key to understanding a design is to recognize its purposes. For the heart, the purpose is pumping blood; for the sexual powers—you tell me.”
“Pleasure?”

“Think about it. Would you say pleasure is the purpose of eating?”

“No, I’d say nourishment is the purpose of eating, and pleasure is just the result.”

“If you thought pleasure was the purpose of eating, what would you do if I offered you pleasant-tasting poison?”

“Eat it.”

“And what would happen?”

“I’d get sick.”

“But if you understood that nourishment is the purpose of eating and pleasure merely the result, then what would you do if I offered you pleasant-tasting poison?”

“Refuse it and ask for food instead.”

“It’s the same with the sexual powers. Pleasure is a result of their use, but it’s not the purpose of their use. The purposes can tell you which kinds of sexual activity are good and which aren’t; by itself, pleasure can’t. The inbuilt purpose of the sexual powers is to bond a man with a woman and the other is to have and raise children.”  (HT: Jim Whiddon)

 

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

It still comes up today—the question of whether baptism is a necessary part of being saved.

Those who champion the argument for the necessity of baptism for salvation often bring up these verses and others:

Mark 16:15 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Acts 22:16 And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins by calling on His name.’

John 3:5 Jesus answered, “I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”

is_baptism_necessary

Nevertheless as the adage goes, “Two can play at that game.” There are many verses that mention salvation without implying that baptism is necessary for being saved.

But doing that dance back and forth doesn’t seem to help us gain any ground in figuring out what’s correct. This can happen when we lift Bible verses out of their complete contexts. To help us I’m going to call on Norman Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie who address this topic (also known as Baptismal Regeneration) in a book titled, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences.

While space is limited here to present an entire case expounding on the contexts of the scripture in dispute, I believe they make some very clear and concise points on the issues. These come from pages 480-483 (These are not all direct quotes. For exact phrasing go to the book):

1) People are “born again” by receiving God’s word (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23), and Peter’s audience “accepted” his word before they were baptized (Acts 2:41).

2) In Acts those who believed Peter’s message clearly received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the holy Spirit even as we have?” (Acts 10:47).

3) Acts 2:41 speaks of “those who accepted his message” (i.e., believed) as having been baptized later on. Receiving (believing) the message is the means by which one is saved (John 1:12; 12:48; Rom. 1:16). And verse 44 speaks of “those who believed” as being constituents of the early church, not all of whom were baptized. Likewise, Mark says “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16), because baptism should follow belief. Nowhere does it say, “whoever is not baptized will be condemned.” Yet Jesus said emphatically that “whoever does not believe has already been condemned” (John 3:18, emphasis added). If belief is the means of the condemnation, belief is the issue at hand not baptism.

4) Paul separates baptism from the gospel, saying, “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17). But it is the gospel that saves us (Rom. 1:16). Therefore, baptism is not part of what saves us. If baptism is so important why wasn’t Paul more concerned about it?

5) Jesus referred to baptism as a work of “righteousness” (Matt. 3:15), but the Bible declares clearly that it is “not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us” (Titus 3:5). Hence, we are not saved by baptism.

6) The Gospel of John, written explicitly so that people could believe and be saved (John 20:31), cites only belief as the condition of salvation. It simply states over and over that people need to “believe” and they will be saved (cf. John 3:16, 18, 36). If more were necessary, then the entire Gospel of John misleads on the central purpose for which it was written.

7) The word “for” (Gk: eis) can also mean “with a view to” or even “because of.” In this case, water baptism would be called for because they had been saved, not in order to be saved. Even in the broader sense of “with a view to” the view could be backwards to the fact that they had been saved, baptism being a later outward manifestation of it.

8) Even if “for” is taken in the sense of “in order to” this text does not prove baptismal regeneration for two reasons: first, the apostles were already believers by this time (cf. Matt. 16:16–18; John 20:30–31). It was not a question of their getting saved; they already were saved. What they were promised here after water baptism as Christians was “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” not the gift of salvation or eternal life (cf. Rom. 6:23) which is received only by faith (Eph. 2:8–9; Titus 3:5–7).

SUMMARY: The doctrine of baptismal regeneration is at odds with the true nature of salvation. It’s clear that, “people have to ‘repent’ or ‘accept the message’ in order to be saved. Baptism is merely an outward sign of an inward reality that came ‘by grace through faith’ and not by any ‘works of righteousness,’ including baptism” (RCE:AD, 483).

 

 

 

Has Joshua’s Ai Been Discovered?

Last year Christianity Today named their top ten archaeological discoveries of 2013. On the top of the list was an object that looks like a small insignificant amulet carved from stone. As it turns out, the object was a scarab from the 18th Dynasty of Egypt – very likely from the reign of Thutmose III or Amenhotep II based on parallels. The significance for those who believe in the Biblical accounts of the Conquest of Canaan as outlined in the Old Testament book of Joshua is great! The scarab is a key piece of evidence excavated last year at an archaeological site situated approximately 9 miles north of Jerusalem. That site is called Khirbet el-Maqatir and the evidence points to it as the city of Ai which the Old Testament (in Joshua 8) states was destroyed by Joshua in around 1406 B.C..

Read more

Avoiding the Siren Temptation Trap: A Lesson From Homer

The Sirens were mythical creatures spoken of in many ancient Greek stories, notably in the writings of the poet Homer (such as the Odyssey). The Sirens were beautiful creatures portrayed as seductively attractive women who lured and ensnared unsuspecting sailors with their enchanting music and hypnotizing voices. Sirens may have been beautiful, but they were also extremely dangerous. The clip above is excerpted from Pirates of the Caribbean 4, in which these mythical creatures are encountered.

In the Odyssey, when Odysseus leaves the home of the goddess Circe, Circe warns Odysseus about the Sirens, saying of them,

The_SirenNext, where the Sirens dwells, you plough the seas; Their song is death, and makes destruction please. Unblest the man, whom music wins to stay nigh the cursed shore and listen to the lay. No more that wretch shall view the joys of life His blooming offspring, or his beauteous wife! In verdant meads they sport; and wide around lie human bones that whiten all the ground: The ground polluted floats with human gore, And human carnage taints the dreadful shore. Fly swift the dangerous coast: let every ear be stopp’d against the song! ’tis death to hear! Firm to the mast with chains thyself be bound, Nor trust thy virtue to the enchanting sound. If, mad with transport, freedom thou demand, Be every fetter strain’d, and added band to band.

The Sirens were cannibals. They would lure unsuspecting mariners, oblivious to the danger they were in, to their island, to be shipwrecked on the rocky coast. What a metaphor for the temptation we face as Christians! And just like temptation, the Sirens would offer a promise of delight, with a false assurance that the victim would be able to leave when he pleased. Read more

A Critique Of Seventh Day Adventist Teaching On The Sabbath

The seventh day adventist (SDA) movement, which bases its distinguishing doctrine around the teachings of Ellen G. White  (1827 – 1915) asserts that the proper day on which Christians should assemble to worship is Saturday, not Sunday as evangelicals commonly maintain. SDAs will even often go so far as to say that assembling on Sunday instead of Saturday only became a practice adopted by the church in the fourth century A.D. when the emperor Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman empire.

Is the SDA movement correct on this point? It is this question that will be the focus of this article. Read more

Principles of Godly Contentment

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” These were the words of the Apostle Paul as he wrote from his lonely prison cell to the Christians in Philippi. Those are challenging words, and far easier to say than to live out. Paul knew what he was talking about, however, when it came to suffering and tribulation. Few people have had it worse than him. In 2 Corinthians 11:24-29, Paul describes some of his suffering:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

Paul must have been a real man of character. To the flesh, the temptation to despair and wallow in self-pity must have been great, but by God’s grace Paul was strengthened that he might be content in any and all circumstances. Having come through all of these difficult life-challenges, Paul could really say that he had “learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” He doesn’t say that he had merely heard that he ought to be content. Paul’s beliefs about godly contentment were not merely a doctrinal or propositional type of knowledge. Rather, through experience, he had learned to be a practitioner of contentment. It is often only through practically experiencing turbulence that we learn contentment at a level deeper than propositional knowledge. That is something to bear in mind as we go through these difficult times in our lives — Hebrews 12:5-11 tells us that God disciplines those who are his children so that we may grow more Christlike. Often, spiritual truth only begins to trickle from the intellect into the heart after we have been trained and disciplined by practical experience. Read more

What was the Crucifixion like?

What was the extent of the physical suffering Jesus endured at the crucifixion?  Consider that the English word “excruciating” is from the Latin meaning “out of the crucifixion.”  I’ve found that the best way to comprehend the magnitude of the Christ’s physical suffering on Good Friday is to read the following description that we’ve adapted from the work of medical doctor, C. Truman Davis (see I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, p. 380-383).  The short video above also illustrates the kind of brutal punishment Christ took to pay for our sins.

WARNING:  THIS IS GRAPHIC (You may have a difficult time getting through it).

The whip the Roman soldiers use on Jesus has small iron balls and sharp pieces of sheep bones tied to it. Jesus is stripped of his clothing, and his hands are tied to an upright post. His back, buttocks, and legs are whipped either by one soldier or by two who alternate positions. The soldiers taunt their victim. As they repeatedly strike Jesus’ back with full force, the iron balls cause deep contusions, and the sheep bones cut into the skin and tissues. As the whipping continues, the lacerations tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss set the stage for circulatory shock.

When it is determined by the centurion in charge that Jesus is near death, the beating is finally stopped. The half-fainting Jesus is then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet with his own blood. The Roman soldiers see a great joke in this provincial Jew claiming to be a king. They throw a robe across his shoulders and place a stick in his hand for a scepter. They still need a crown to make their travesty complete. A small bundle of flexible branches covered with long thorns are plaited into the shape of a crown, and this is pressed into his scalp. Again there is copious bleeding (the scalp being one of the most vascular areas of the body). After mocking him and striking him across the face, the soldiers take the stick from his hand and strike him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into his scalp.

Finally, when they tire of their sadistic sport, the robe is torn from his back. The robe had already become adherent to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds, and its removal—just as in the careless removal of a surgical bandage—causes excruciating pain, almost as though he were being whipped again. The wounds again begin to bleed. In deference to Jewish custom, the Romans return his garments. The heavy horizontal beam of the cross is tied across his shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution party walk along the Via Dolorosa. In spite of his efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss,

is too much. He stumbles and falls. The rough wood of the beam gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He tries to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond their endurance. The centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, selects a stalwart North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross. Jesus follows, still bleeding and sweating the cold, clammy sweat of shock.

The 650-yard journey from the fortress Antonia to Golgotha is finally completed. Jesus is again stripped of his clothes except for a loin cloth which is allowed the Jews. The crucifixion begins. Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild pain-killing mixture. He refuses to drink. Simon is ordered to place the cross beam on the ground, and Jesus is quickly thrown backward with his shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tight, but to allow some flexibility and movement. The beam is then lifted, and the title reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is nailed in place.

The victim Jesus is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain—the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places his full weight on the nail through his feet. Again, there is the searing agony of the nail tear- ing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet. At this point, another phenomenon occurs. As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward. Hanging by his arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed, and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs but it cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the bloodstream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. It is undoubtedly during these periods that he utters the seven short sentences that are recorded.

Now begin hours of this limitless pain, cycles of cramping and twisting, partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins. A deep, crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. It is now almost over— the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level; the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues; the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain. His mission of atonement has been completed. Finally he can allow his body to die. With one last surge of strength, he once again presses his torn feet against the nail, straightens his legs, takes a deeper breath, and utters his seventh and last cry: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus went through all of that so you and I could be reconciled to him; so you and I could be saved from our sins by affirming, Father, into your hands I commit my life.  If you haven’t done that, why not?

The Art of Biblical Integrity for the Christian Intellectual

Do you really believe what you say and think you believe, and how can you know? The answer may at first brush appear obvious — “of course I believe what I say and think I do,” you might say. If you didn’t, after all, why would you be spending so much time engaged in the intellectual defense of it? This raises an interesting question: Can you believe that you believe something which you do not in fact believe in your heart? Is it possible that we deceive ourselves about what our own beliefs are? Read more