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Biblical Faith VS. Blind Faith

By Evan Minton

Many Christians when asked by unbelievers why they should believe anything The Bible says, the most common response is “Just have faith!”. And this “just have faith” line is pretty much the answer to every single objection one could possibly raise against the Christian.

Blind Faith

Far too often people are turned away because of intellectual doubts that plague them. “If God is all loving and all powerful, why does He let so much suffering go on in the world?” “How could a loving God send people to an eternal Hell?” “How do I know Yahweh is the one true God instead of these thousands of other gods in these other religions that contradict Christianity? How do I know The Bible is true and not The Koran or the Hindu Scriptures?” And when a Christian or a pastor responds with “Just have faith” that translates in the mind of the unbeliever as “in order to be a Christian, you need to commit intellectual suicide.” This blind faith approach is so, so, so very unbiblical. Many places in The Bible command us to tell others WHY Christianity is true.

“Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have, but do so with gentleness and respect.” – 1 Peter 3:15

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:5

In Jude 1:3, Jude urges his readers to DEFEND the faith (that’s what we call “Christian Apologetics”).

In Phillipians 1:16, Paul says that he was appointed to DEFEND the good news (i.e do Christian Apologetics).

“Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” – Colossians 4:5-6

In 2 Corinthians 12:12 Paul says he gave the Corinthians PROOF that he was indeed an apostle from God because he performed many signs and wonders when he was with them. If God really wanted us to have blind faith, why would Paul give evidence for his credibility?

In 2 Corinthians 13:3 Paul says he is willing to offer the Corinthians PROOF that Christ speaks through him. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa whoa! Hold the phone, Paul! Paul, buddy! Don’t you know that if you offer the Corinthians proof that Christ speaks through you that they won’t have legitimate faith? Why would you deprive them they opportunity of having faith, Paul? Maybe faith isn’t what people think it is.

Objection: If you need evidence, you don’t have faith.

This is an objection often proposed by Christians (as well as atheists) who think that the word “faith” means to believe something without any reason to and/or even to believe something in the face of reasons to not believe it. This distortion of the meaning of the word “faith” has had very bad consequences on the church because it makes a person think that Christianity requires you to be an undiscerning airhead who doesn’t like reason.

Here is a Bible verse that gives an example of a person placing their faith in God in spite of having evidence for His existence. I tell ya, reading The Bible is like going into a spiritual gold mine and mining all the good stuff you find. BUT you gotta dig for it. Usually, I’m not looking for stuff like this, I just happen to stumble across it while reading through the verses. I found this one night when reading through Exodus. I think it does a good job of arguing against Christians who think that apologetics is wrong because you’re supposed to have blind, undiscerning belief.

“When the Israelites saw the mighty power that The Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before Him. THEY PUT THEIR FAITH IN HIM and His servant Moses.” – Exodus 14:31

Clearly, the Israelites had evidence that God existed and was helping them escape Egypt and yet the text says they put their faith in Him anyway (for a little while at least. we all know they lost faith a bunch of times after this). They ESPECIALLY had evidence that MOSES existed and the text says they placed their faith in him as well. So given this piece of scriptural evidence we know that a Christian can still base his belief THAT Christianity is true on the basis of evidence and still be able to have faith in God. You see, faith means the same thing as the word “trust”. Or as I’ve said before “Faith is when someone is holding you over a ledge and knowing in your heart that not only will they not let you fall, they’ll pull you up to safety”. You know that the person holding onto you exists. You have very powerful evidence that that person exists, yet all the evidence in the world is not going to make you trust that that person will help save your life. This is the real definition of the word “faith”.

I like using an analogy. Let’s say you discovered you had heart disease, and need a risky surgery. You have sufficient resources, so you research doctors, anesthesiologists, etc. until you have the best team possible assembled. You now have a group of people that you believe will give you the best chance of survival. Even though you have researched extensively, you still show your faith in this team when you allow yourself to be put under. Faith does not mean not researching and exploring the truth. Jesus even says as much when he tells us to love God with our heart, soul, *MIND* and strength.

http://bible.cc/exodus/14-31.htm <– Here you can look at other translations of Exodus 14:31 to see all the different words that are used other than “faith”. The NLT uses “faith”, the NIV used “trust”, the KJV uses “believed” that is; they believed IN God and His promises even though they had just witnessed good evidence THAT He existed and was helping them. This is the difference between belief THAT God exists, THAT Jesus rose from the dead and belief IN His character and His promises to you.

We are never told to have a blind faith. Paul commended those in Berea for checking the Scriptures daily to see if what he was telling them was so. Jesus showed Himself alive to make sure those believed on Him, especially Thomas (John 20:28)

Paul also said to “Test everything, hold onto the good.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:21

1 Thessalonians 5:21 seems to be telling us to have just the exact opposite of blind faith.

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

I agree with this. Without faith it is impossible to please God. But then again, it’s impossible to please ANYONE without faith. It is not possible to have a good relationship with any human being without faith. What is faith? Remember, the word “faith” is synonymous with “trust”. If you’re constantly distrusting God, you’re not going to have a very good relationship with Him just as you wouldn’t have a very good relationship with your wife/husband if you were always distrusting her/him. If you’re constantly suspecting your wife of cheating on you, I “suspect” that it’s not going to be very long before she hands you the divorce papers telling you “I can’t live with someone who distrusts me so severely”. Although sometimes that kind of suspicion is warranted.

I walk by faith, not by sight. This doesn’t mean I believe God exists without any evidence or reason. It means I trust in Him even when I don’t know what He’s up to. Sometimes our circumstances can have deceitful appearances. Sometimes it looks like God has abandoned us when He really hasn’t. Sometimes it looks like God won’t keep His promises. Sometimes we think our suffering has no good purpose to it. It is in times like these that we have to have faith in (i.e to place our TRUST in) God. That His plans are for ours or someone else’s ultimate good.

Having evidence for God’s existence does not mean you’re not walking by faith. Faith is placing one’s trust in a person. Just because you have EVIDENCE for that person’s existence does not mean you don’t trust them. Moses had PLENTY of evidence for God’s existence, but He still had to trust that God was going to lead Him and the Jews where He said they were going to. Many times it looked like Yahweh was leading them on a wild goose chase, but Moses continued to have FAITH in the God which he had plenty of proof existed. Although many of the people did lose faith. They got impatient and started worshipping false idols, and constantly complained.

Objection: Do Apologists forget the work of The Holy Spirit?

Anyone who does apologetics knows the Holy Spirit has to play an integral part of the entire process. As Ergun Caner says, “It is impossible to be effective in apologetics without the work of the Spirit in both the apologist and the hearer.” (2) No mature apologist forgets that the Bible stresses that humans are blinded by sin. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13; 2 Cor. 4:4). How people respond to God’s revelation depends on several factors such as his/her personal history (both past and present). People can be hardened towards God; sin certainly dampens an individual’s ability to being receptive to God’s invitation to them. The Holy Spirit works through apologetics just as He works through preaching.

Objection: Shouldn’t we just preach the gospel?

This is true. By all means, “Preach the Gospel!” But guess what? What do you do when you try to open the Bible and use it with someone who doesn’t think the Bible is an authoritative or inspired book? This happens all the time to Christians. And did you know Muslims and other people think their holy book is just as inspired and authoritative as the Bible? The Hindus think their scriptures are inspired. The Buddhists think their holy scriptures are inspired. If you keep trying to quote the Bible, you would be “begging the question.”

“Begging the question” is a form of logical fallacy in which a statement or claim is assumed to be true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself. When one begs the question, the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven without any logic to show why the statement is true in the first place. In some cases, you may be able to go quote the Bible to many people without any objections, like when you’re trying to witness to Mormons and Jehova’s Witnesses. If you’re witnessing to Jews, you can show them all the messianic prophesies and how Jesus fulfilled all of the prophesies. But in other cases (like when witnessing to atheists and agnostics), you would need to show the individual the Bible is a reliable historical document before trying to use it as an authoritative text in these types of conversations.

Avoiding Apologetics can have dire consequences.
Christianity is under a severe attack in this day and age. In fact, I’ve never seen the Christian faith under attack more than I have in the 21st century. “The New Atheist” movement has set a goal to eliminate religious belief from the face of the Earth. High School teachers and College professors endorse Darwinian evolution and try to convince your kids that a Creator was not needed for advanced life to come into being.

Christian philosopher William Lane Craig concurs. He said “In high school and college Christian teenagers are intellectually assaulted with every manner of non-Christian worldview coupled with an overwhelming relativism. If parents are not intellectually engaged with their faith and do not have sound arguments for Christian theism and good answers to their children’s questions, then we are in real danger of losing our youth. It’s no longer enough to simply teach our children Bible stories; they need doctrine and apologetics. It’s hard to understand how people today can risk parenthood without having studied apologetics.”

If Jesus wants us to have blind faith, then why did He have to fulfill so many ancient prophesies? 
If God required us to have blind faith, then why did Jesus have to fulfill so many prophesies to PROVE to the Jews that He was the true messiah? Why couldn’t Jesus just come onto the scene and say “Hey, I’m the Messiah, follow me!” Maybe because so many other people were claiming to be the Messiah at the time period and they were NOT the messiah. The Jews needed the ability to tell truth from falsehood. The Jews needed the ability to tell the difference between the TRUE messiah and a phony. Blind Faith can’t give you that. God gave the Jews a test for the real messiah to take and if He was able to get a perfect score, then their conclusion would be that He was and is the messiah. Lee Strobel calls this “The Fingerprint Evidence” in his book “The Case For Christ”. Jesus had to fulfill each and every one of the messianic prophesies. If He did, then that proved He was the genuine article.
 
Blind Faith can actually be dangerous!
Blind Faith can actually be dangerous. How are you going to “beware of false prophets” like Jesus said if you don’t exercise some discernment? Back in ancient Judaism, the way to tell if a prophet was truly from God was if he gave evidence that he came from God. How’s that? Well, if his prophesies came true then he was truly from The Lord but if his prophesies were false then everyone knew he was a false prophet and they had him stoned. 1 John 4:1 says “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Yet another verse telling us that blind faith is wrong. This verse is telling us that we should “test the spirits” to see if they give evidence that they are indeed from God.

NOTEWORTHY QUOTES:
“I do not feel obliged to believe that same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect had intended for us to forgo their use.” – Galileo Galilei

“As I speak around the country, I often encounter devoted, committed Christians who are hesitant to embrace an evidential faith. In many Christian circles, faith that requires evidential support is seen as weak and inferior. For many, blind faith (a faith that simply trusts without question) is the truest, most sincere, and most valuable form of faith that we can offer God. Yet Jesus seemed to have a high regard for evidence. In John 14:11, He told those watching Him to examine ‘the evidence of miracles’ (NIV) if they did not believe what He said about His identity. Even after the resurrection, Jesus stayed with His disciples for an additional forty days and provided them with ‘many convincing proofs’ that He was resurrected and was who He claimed to be (Acts 1:2-3 NIV). Jesus understood the role and value of evidence and the importance of developing an evidential faith. It’s time for all of us, as Christians, to develop a similarly reasonable faith’.” —J. Warner Wallace

“The “I just take Christianity on (blind) faith” attitude can’t be the right approach. It leaves the Bible without defense, yet Peter directs us to make a defense for the hope that is in us. Also, the biblical word for faith, pistis, doesn’t mean wishing. It means active trust. And trust cannot be conjured up or manufactured. It must be earned. You can’t exercise the kind of faith the Bible has in mind unless you’re reasonably sure that some particular things are true. In fact, I suggest you completely ban the phrase “leap of faith” from your vocabulary. Biblical faith is based on knowledge, not wishing or blind leaps. Knowledge builds confidence and confidence leads to trust. The kind of faith God is interested in is not wishing. It’s trust based on knowing, a sure confidence grounded in evidence.’ – Greg Koukl


Any and every other belief you hold, about anything whatsoever, if it is to be taken seriously, if it is to be of any value or worth anyone’s consideration, it must have in its favor more than your emotions, personal history or external circumstantial factors. It must have reasons.” —Clint Roberts (from the article, Believing for No Reason)
 
 “Question with boldness. Question even if the very existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.” – Thomas Jefferson

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2mzdohl


What the Bible Does (and Doesn’t) Say About the Life (or Death) of the Soul

As Christians, we believe humans are more than merely physical creatures. We are also “soulish” beings; living souls who also possess physical bodies. As a result, the vast majority of Christians believe our souls are unaffected by our physical death. We are eternal beings, even though our earthly bodies eventually die. Other groups, also using the Bible as their source of information about the soul, have argued souls die along with the body, entering what is sometimes called “soul sleep”. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and Christadelphians all hold this position. Part of the problem is simply a matter of terminology. When we use the term “soul” as we have been using it in this post, we are referring to the existence of our immaterial being. But when Bible translators translate the original Hebrew and Greek words used by the Biblical authors, they are actually translating words typically used to describe something else:

Bible LIfe and Death

The Old Testament word, “nephesh” (neh’-fesh)
This word has been translated as “soul” on occasion in the Old Testament, but that’s not how the ancient Israelites understood the word. They used it throughout the Old Testament to describe any breathing creature or animal, and it is more often translated as “appetite”, “beast”, “body”, “breath”, “creature”, “dead”, “lust”, “man”, “mind”, “person”, or “life”, than it is translated as “soul”.

The New Testament word, “psuche” (psoo-khay’)
Like “nephesh”, this word has been translated as “soul” as well, but literally means “breath” and can accurately be translated as “heart”, “life”, “mind”, “us”, or “you” in addition to the connotation we would understand as “soul”.

How, then, are we to know exactly how the original writers of Scripture were using these words? How do we know whether they were using the words to describe some aspect of our temporal life or whether they were using the words to describe the soul? Let’s take, for example, Ezekiel 18:4, a passage often cited by Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to make the case we, as living souls, die or sleep when our bodies die:

Ezekiel 18:4
“Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.”

From a simple reading of this passage, it sure sounds like souls die. But the word being used as “soul” is “nephesh” and we know it is more often used to describe living physical beings (creatures). So this passage could just as easily (and may more accurately) be translated in this way:

“Behold, all lives are Mine; the life of the father as well as the life of the son is Mine. The person (life) who sins will die.”

See the problem here? We really can’t make the case for the mortality of the soul from a simple word study in the Old or New Testament. But Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the only ones who have to be careful. Those who try to prove the soul is immortal from a simple word study also fall into this same trap. Let’s take one example:

Psalms 84:2
“My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

Those arguing for the immortality of the soul use this passage to demonstrate the soul is clearly defined as something different than the heart and the flesh of the body. But once again we have to remember the word used for “soul” (“nephesh”) is most often translated in a different way. This could just as easily be what the psalmist intended:

“My entire being yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

What the Bible Says About the Everlasting Nature of the Soul
Word studies
simply don’t help us understand the nature of the soul in regard to its immortality. There is a better way to examine the Biblical evidence without relying on any interpretation of “nephesh” or “psuche”. Let’s simply study examples in the Scripture where people are described as living beyond their physical bodies. If we see instances of “living disembodiment”, it is fair to conclude we are immaterial beings who live beyond our physical existence:

Luke 23:39-43
And one of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us.” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? “And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Even though both Jesus and the thief were about to experience physical death, Jesus clearly said something about our eternal life. He said our lives would continue and extend right from the point of death: “today you will be with me in paradise.” The word used here for “paradise” is the Greek word, “paradeisos” and it is the same word Paul used to describe heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know-God knows. And I know that this man-whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows- was caught up to paradise.”) The Bible clearly describes a disembodied life here (what we would describe as the “soul”), even though it is not given a name. From this passage it is obvious the soul lives beyond the death of the body. Here is another important passage:

Luke 16:19-31
“Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them,’ But he said, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent. But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

In this passage, the dead are repeatedly described as performing actions characteristic of the living. But that’s not all. How can this be? This is only possible if the physically dead are still immaterially alive. That’s why as Christians, we recognize we are living souls and immortal by nature:

Matthew 17:1-3
And six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.

In this scene, Jesus was talking to Elijah and Moses. They obviously died long before Jesus was born, so how could this scene be true unless they still existed as immortal souls (and not simply as physical bodies)? We have another example of disembodied life after death, something possible only if we exist as living, immortal souls.

Matthew 22:31-32
“But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

Were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob alive at the time of this statement? No. How, then, could they be described as living? This could only be true if they are actually immortal souls alive after death (and prior to their physical resurrection in the future). If they are immortal souls (immaterial beings), the passage begins to make sense.

1 Kings 17:19-23
And he said to her, “Give me your son.” Then he took him from her bosom and carried him up to the upper room where he was living, and laid him on his own bed. And he called to the LORD and said, “O LORD my God, hast Thou also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the LORD, and said, “O LORD my God, I pray Thee, let this child’s life return to him.” And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. And Elijah took the child, and brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother; and Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.”

This passage describes Elijah’s reviving of the widow’s son. The “life” of the child is said to “return to him”. The word used here is “shuwb” (shoob) and it really means “to turn back”, as if to retreat. But to turn back from where? Where is the “life” prior to being “returned”? The passage affirms the notion our true lives exist beyond death. God has the ability to return this “true” life to the body. This is consistent with what has been described elsewhere about the nature of the disembodied soul.

Ecclesiastes 12:5-7
Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags himself along, and the caperberry is ineffective. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street. Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed; then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.

This passage also describes life beyond the grave. After our death, while people are still mourning our absence, we are on our way to the God who created us. We are not stationary. We are not lying in the grave. We are alive and moving. We all know that our bodies will someday die. We don’t need to make a case from the Bible for this; we get to see it (unfortunately) every day. The real question is: “Do we live beyond the grave, beyond the physical life?” The scriptures seem to answer that question in a straightforward manner:

John 11:17-26
So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him; but Mary still sat in the house. Martha therefore said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother shall rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”

John 8:51
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”

We have a powerful promise here. When we place our trust in Christ we will never see death. Our bodies may cease to function, but there will never be a time when we could be considered dead. There is no soul sleep, even though the body dies. Once we understand what the Bible does (and doesn’t) say about the life (or death) of the soul, we can have confidence we will be reunited to God and in His presence the moment we leave this temporal life.


There’s No Good Reason to Deny the Early Dating of the Gospels

Not long ago, Daniel Wallace (no relationship to me, except that all us Wallace’s claim to descend from William) posted some great news about an early fragment of the Book of Romans that was recently discovered. This fragment dates to the early third century which puts it in rare company. It contains Romans 9:18–21 and small portions of Romans 10. Wallace made news a few years back when he mentioned an early fragment of the Gospel of Mark that has yet to be published. The fragment of Mark is said to be as early as the first century.

dating gospels

I had the great pleasure of visiting with Dan Wallace at an event where we got the chance to examine a number of very ancient manuscript fragments. Some of these were Biblical fragments; some of these were non-Biblical ancient documents. We were the first people to examine the documents in nearly two thousand years. By the end of the day it was clear to me that there are literally thousands of fragments of ancient texts still out there to be discovered and examined. We have only touched the tip of the iceberg and as our ability to find and examine these fragments continues to improve, we’ll surely discover much more evidence that the New Testament was written very early and transmitted faithfully.

In fact, this is the focus of my book, Cold Case Christianity. I’ve been studying this issue from the perspective of a detective for some time now and I’ve written about the evidence for early dating and about the reliable transmission of the documents at ColdCaseChristianity.com.  If the New Testament eyewitness accounts were written as early as the evidence infers, many of the objections of skeptics are impotent. Early manuscripts mean that the original witnesses to the life of Jesus were (1) available to write the documents we now have, and (2) early observers of Jesus’ life would have been available to deny the testimony of the gospel authors. The continuing discovery of early fragments of New Testament documents corroborates this early dating.

When visiting with Dan Wallace, Greg Koukl and I asked him about the skepticism on the part of people like Bart Ehrman related to early dating. We asked Wallace if there was some specific manuscript evidence that inclined people to deny the early dating of the Gospel accounts. Wallace said there was no such evidence. We then asked why people continued to deny the early dating if, in fact, we were continuing to find early fragments and there was no contrary manuscript evidence. It turns out that the late dating of the gospels is due primarily to a denial of supernaturalism.

One of the primary reasons why skeptics date the gospels later than 70AD is the fact that Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple in the gospel accounts (i.e. Matthew 23). Secular history records that the Temple was destroyed in 70AD, fulfilling this alleged prediction by Jesus. In order to avoid the accurate prophecy from Jesus, skeptics argue that the gospel must have been written after the temple was destroyed. After all, how could Jesus possess the supernatural power of prophecy if nothing supernatural exists? The philosophical naturalism of the secular historian prevents him from accepting the possibility of accurate prophecy.

The gospels also contain many descriptions of miracles. The philosophical naturalist must also deny the truthfulness of these supernatural accounts. Skeptics, therefore, date the gospel accounts very late, arguing that eyewitnesses to these events were already dead and unavailable to deny the claims. It turns out that the presupposition of philosophical naturalism is at work in the minds of those who would deny the early dating of the gospels. When this presuppositional bias is removed, the remaining evidence confirms that the gospels were written in the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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The First Question to Ask of an Ancient, Holy Book: Is It Ancient?

Many of the world’s best-known religious texts are silent when it comes to claims about history. Many Eastern religious scriptures, for example, describe spiritual principles devoid of historical location or setting. Texts such as these are proverbial in nature, proclaiming ancient wisdom without any connection to historical context. The Abrahamic religions are very different, however. Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Mormonism make claims about ancient history. For this reason, these religious worldviews are both verifiable and falsifiable. We ought to be able to corroborate the historical claims of ancient religious texts just as we could other historical documents. Such verification would certify their antiquity, if nothing else. On the other hand, if the claims of an ancient holy book are consistently incorrect related to the ancient world it allegedly describes, we ought to consider the text with suspicion.

Ancient Holy Book

It’s also important to remember that not every ancient text makes a claim about “divinity”; there are many texts from antiquity that are ancient, but not “holy”. If a text claims to be both ancient and holy, it needs to pass the first test related to antiquity before it can hope to qualify in the second category as holy. After all, a book cannot be holy or divine if it is lying about ancient history.

The test of antiquity was incredibly important to me as a skeptic examining the claims of scripture for the first time. As I became interested in Christianity, my Mormon family encouraged me to examine Mormonism as well. I read the entire Book of Mormon before I completed the Old and New Testament. I wanted to determine the “antiquity” of the Gospels and the Book of Mormon before I could examine the question of “divinity”. I needed to know if the New Testament gospels were written early enough to have been written by eyewitnesses who were actually present to observe what was recorded in these accounts. Similarly, I needed to know if the Book of Mormon was an accurate account of the history of the American continent from 600BC to 400AD (as it claims). My first investigation was centered on the foundational question: Are these ancient holy books truly ancient?

What kinds of questions can an investigator ask when trying to answer this important question related to antiquity? I considered the following:

Are historical events cited in (or omitted from) the text in a manner that is reliably and accurately ancient?

Are the references to language, proper names and titles reliably and accurately ancient?

Are the references to culture, government or civilizations reliably and accurately ancient?

Are the references to geography, native animals and plants reliably and accurately ancient?

Are the other corroborative documents that are reliably and accurately ancient?

Are there additional, successive historical references that are reliably and accurately ancient?

I asked these questions of the gospel accounts and the Book of Mormon and came away with two very different sets of answers. There are many good reasons to accept the early dating of the gospels and their reliability as eyewitness accounts. In each of the above listed criteria, the gospels pass the test. I’ve written an entire chapter in my book examining the evidence for early dating and the historical reliability of the gospel eyewitness accounts. After examining the accounts using the tools that are employed by historians and detectives, I concluded that the gospels are reliable. Unfortunately, the Book of Mormon doesn’t withstand evidential scrutiny nearly as well. Written in the first half of the 19th century, it fails to record anything about the ancient past that can be verified in any of the ways I’ve described. In fact, in each of the categories of inquiry I’ve offered to answer the issue of antiquity, the book of Mormon fails miserably.

I once asked a Mormon Scholar to tell me how she knew the book of Mormon was a true, reliable account of the ancient past. She told me that she had asked God about it and she believed that God had given her a “spiritual confirmation”. It struck me that this method for determining antiquity was misguided. While prayer might be one way to determine if and ancient holy book is holy, there are other, better established investigative approaches that ought to be employed to determine if an ancient holy book is ancient. We shouldn’t attempt to answer questions about divinity before we answer questions about antiquity. If a text is lying to us about events in the ancient past, it cannot be from God. For this reason, the first question we ought to ask any text that claims to be an ancient, holy book is simply this: Is the text truly a work from the ancient past?

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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The Verse the Culture Misquotes Most Regularly in an Effort to Quiet Christians

As a Christian, I’m often at odds with the culture around me. As our society embraces a growing number of unbiblical behaviors and attitudes, I find myself becoming more and more vocal in my opposition. I’m not alone; many other conservative Christians are also taking a stand for what the Bible teaches, particularly when it comes to moral behavior. Maybe that’s why I seem to hear Matthew 7:1 tossed around so frequently by those who want Christians to quiet down:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”

do not judge

Whenever we, as Christians, speak out against something in the culture, one of two labels is immediately employed in an effort to silence us: we are either branded “intolerant” or “judgmental”. To make matters worse, the second label is often attached to the teaching of Jesus Himself. Are we Christians defying the words of our Master when we speak against the behaviors, attitudes or worldviews affirmed by others? Did Jesus command us to be silently non-judgmental?

This selective use of scripture by the opposition is perhaps the finest example of what we at Stand to Reason are addressing when we caution people to “never read a Bible verse.” Matthew 7:1, when read in isolation from the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount, may seem to command a form of silent acceptance and tolerance advocated by the culture, but a closer examination of the verse reveals Jesus’ true intent. If Jesus was advocating some form of quiet tolerance, how do we explain the following statements?

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (verse 6)

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (verses 13 and 14)

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (verse 15)

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (verses 21, 22 and 23)

Wow, Jesus seems vocally judgmental in these passages. Some people are dogs and swine, unworthy of our efforts. Some people are wrong about the path they choose. Some people are false prophets. Some people are true disciples and some are not. Jesus sure seems comfortable making judgmental statements about people in these passages. How could Jesus say such things when he began this part of the sermon by saying, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged”? Maybe we should revisit the first verses of Matthew 7:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

It turns out that Jesus is not prohibiting vocal discernment in these passages, but is cautioning against a certain kind of unbecoming behavior: hypocritical judgmentalism.  We are called to live differently so that we can effectively identify and address unbiblical behavior in our culture. I cannot be a practicing thief and effectively caution against thievery. I cannot be an active adulterer and effectively advocate monogamy. I’m going to have to “first” stop and assess my own behavior (take out my own “log”) before I can “then” caution others about their behavior (help them take the “speck” out of their eye). This is a “first / then” commandment. Both sides of the directive are important; Jesus is commanding two equally critical actions. First, we must change our behavior; become people of God who are above reproach. Second, we must actively engage others about their behavior. Some ideas are good and some are bad. Some prophets are true and some are false. Some people are right, some people are wrong. We are called to make statements about such things after we eliminate hypocrisy in these areas of our own lives. We, as Christians, are called to (1) live righteously, and (2) speak out about unrighteousness. We are less likely to do this, however, if we allow folks misquote Jesus in an effort to silence us.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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The Case for the Pre-Existence of Christ: The Birthday that was Not the Beginning

By Brian Chilton

Recently, we celebrated my wife’s birthday. As we reach a certain age, we remember the date, but the year begins to become foggy (intentionally, of course). When one celebrates a person’s birthday, the person’s life is being celebrated. The birthday celebration acknowledges the importance of the person’s existence. A person’s birth represents the person’s beginning of existence (also included are the nine months prior in the womb as this writer believes that life begins at conception). So, when we celebrate my wife’s birth, we celebrate her existence and the blessings we have in knowing her.

Pre-Existence Christ

As Christmas approaches, many ask questions concerning the origin and the date of the celebration. Christmas is supposed to represent the birth of Jesus Christ. Did the celebration of Christmas have pagan origins? Do we even celebrate the correct day when celebrating the birthday of Jesus? These questions are intriguing. There does seem to be some pagan influences in the Christmas celebration. It may be that Jesus was born in the spring. However, there are ancient traditions that place the wise men’s visit of the Messiah around December 25th to January 6th (see article “Is Christmas Celebrated on the Correct Day?”). This does not necessarily designate the period of time as the birthdate of Jesus as this occurred two years after the fact.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because the birthday of Jesus does not mark the beginning of Jesus. The Bible presents some interesting information about the Messiah. The Messiah existed before He was born. This is called pre-existence. Jesus’ pre-existence is discovered in four different ways.

The Messiah’s Pre-Existence was Suggested in the Prophets

Isaiah wrote,

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel” (Isaiah 9:6-8).

The text of Isaiah is a popular passage of Scripture that is read in many Christmas plays. Most scholars would accept that the passage of Scripture is referring to the future Messiah. The titles represent various characteristics about the coming Messiah. Wonderful Counselor refers to the compassion and authority of the coming Messiah. Mighty God refers to the fact that the Messiah would in fact be God in the flesh. The Everlasting Father is especially intriguing. John Martin explains, “the title “Everlasting Father” is an idiom used to describe the Messiah’s relationship to time, not His relationship to the other Members of the Trinity (Martin 1985, 1053). This reference shows that the Messiah would be eternal. So does the prophecy given in Daniel’s writing.

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

Although not as explicit as Isaiah, Daniel shows that the Son of Man (which was Jesus’ favorite designation for Himself) would have the ability to approach the Ancient of Days (God the Father). It appears that the Son of Man would have many of the characteristics of the Ancient of Days such as having authority, glory, and sovereign power…everlasting dominion.Therefore, it appears that the Messiah was in fact eternal and existed before He would be born.

The Messiah’s Pre-Existence was Proclaimed by the Apostles

 One of the greatest evidences of the Messiah’s pre-existence is found in the opening paragraph of John’s gospel. John writes, “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 all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”(John 1:1-5). The Word (or logos) represents the Messiah. The Word is designated as being different from God (the Father) but essentially the same. This has connotations of the doctrine of the Trinity of God. If the Word was in the beginning with God, then the Word must have existed before the physical birth on earth. Therefore, the Messiah existed before He was born.

The Messiah’s Pre-Existence was Referenced in History

 In the history of the nation of Israel, especially in the book of Genesis, there are occasions where a theophany occurred. A theophany is a visible manifestation of God. Some of these theophanies occurred as christophanies. A christophany is a pre-existent visible manifestation of Christ. Many of these occurrences took place by the mystical appearance of the angel of the Lord. This is contrasted against an appearance of an angel. The angel has certain characteristics that are linked with God Himself. Some of these appearances include an appearance to Hagar. The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:7-8). In verse 13, Hagar said, “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me”(Genesis 16:13).

There also is the occurrence with Abraham when the Lord appeared with two angels before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. “When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Genesis 18:16-17). Notice that one of the men was referenced as the LORD. This was a physical manifestation of God. It would appear that since the Messiah is the physical manifestation of God that this would have been a pre-incarnate Jesus.

Also, there is the occasion where Jacob wrestled with the angel all night. After the bout was over, the following was written, So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Genesis 32:30). Note that Jacob realized that He had wrestled with God Himself and was freed. This angel must have been an incarnation of God for this to hold true. Therefore, it would seem that it was the pre-incarnate Christ with whom Jacob wrestled. These instances would seem to indicate that the Messiah existed before He was born.

The Messiah’s Pre-Existence was Preached by the Messiah

 The Savior Himself would indicate His pre-existence. When addressing His identity, Jesus said the following:

“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 8:56-59).

There are many dimensions in the previous passage. For one, Jesus noted that He had seen Abraham to which the religious leaders thought to have been a vision. They did not believe that one could have a vision unless they were around 50 years of age or older. Jesus indicated that He existed before Abraham. In addition, Jesus used the phrase I am. The statement was rooted in the personal name of God. The name YHWH is defined as “I AM WHAT I AM.” So Jesus also identified Himself with God. This is why the leaders wanted to stone Jesus.

Conclusion

Why does the pre-existence of Christ matter? It matters for two reasons. One, it matters because a proper understanding of the person of Jesus is essential in knowing Him and the mission for which He was sent. Also, it matters to obtain a proper perspective on Christmas. It matters not whether Jesus was actually born on December 25th, April 17th, or any other date on the calendar. The early Christians focused more on the end events than the beginning events of Jesus. It is because of this that scholars have narrowed down the dates of Jesus’ crucifixion to Friday, April 7th, 30AD or Friday, April 3rd, 33AD with the resurrection occurring on either Sunday, April 9th, 30AD or Sunday April 5th, 33AD. The early Christians did not focus on the birthdate because they realized that Jesus’ birth was not the origin of the Messiah. Jesus had existed far before He was born. However, it is still important for all Christians to set aside a time to celebrate the incarnation of Christ…the time when God became flesh. This is why Christmas is celebrated. Do not lose the true meaning of Christmas this Christmas season.

Remembering that Jesus is the reason for the season,

Pastor Brian

 


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Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Martin, John A. “Isaiah.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

 


 

Jesus, The Bible, The Quran, and The Law of Non-Contradiction

By Derrick Stokes

In the Quran, the Gospel, or Injil, is considered to be from God and is incorruptible. The Bible says scripture is God-breathed. Yet, they contrast on what they say about Jesus. In comes the Law of Non-Contradiction. 

The Law of Non-Contradiction, or the law of the excluded middle, states that

(A) cannot be both (A) and (non-A) simultaneously.

It is logical to have different aspects of (A), but not contradictory aspects.
Example: John is a father. John is in New York. These are different aspects of the same person. However, logic demands that John cannot be in New York and not be in New York at the same time. This would be contradictory. This goes against logic.

Bible and Koran BLOG

According to the Bible, Jesus died a public death on the cross and rose three days later. All four Gospels testify to the crucifixion referenced below but for the sake of time we will look at John specifically:

Matthew 27:45-60
Mark 15:33-39
Luke 23:44-49

John 19:16-33
16. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.
17. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).
18. There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
19. Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.
20. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.
21. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
22. Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
23. When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did.
25. Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
26. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,”
27. and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
28. Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
29. A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.
30. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
31. Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.
32. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.
33. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

As you can see, according to the Gospels, Jesus died. In addition to this the Bible is clear on the importance of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascent into heaven:

1 Corinthians 15 & 1 Timothy 3:16-17

In Islam, the Quran mentions Jesus more than any other Prophet. It states He was born of a virgin (Surah 19), had disciples (5:111-115), ascended into heaven (4:158), and will return as a sign of the end times (43:61). However, unlike the Bible, the Quran states that Jesus did not die:

Quran 4:157-158
That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise;

Now, we go back to the logic stated at the beginning. (A) cannot be both (A) and (non-A). Both can’t be true. Here, we have the Bible (particularly the Gospels) stating Jesus died and the Quran stating that He didn’t. Both cannot be true.

But wait, the Quran makes a couple other very important claims.
–God sent the Gospels

3:3
It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong)
5:46
And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah,

— The word God sends cannot be changed (corrupted)

6:34
Rejected were the messengers before thee: with patience and constancy they bore their rejection and their wrongs, until Our aid did reach them: there is none that can alter the words (and decrees) of Allah. Already hast thou received some account of those messengers,

Yet, Muslims believe that the Gospels have been altered to show that Jesus died.

What can we say then? The last of the four Gospels, John, can be dated around 80 A.D. The Quran is dated 570 years later at around 650 A.D.

Jesus either did die or didn’t die. Both books can’t be right on this subject. However, looking at the Gospels and what the Quran teaches about the Gospels, the only logical conclusion on the matter is Jesus was crucified. Both texts affirm it when logic is applied!

So let us recount the sequence of events:

Logic: (A) cannot be both (A) and (non-A) simultaneously
The Gospels attest to Jesus dying on the cross
While Quran 4:157-158 says that Jesus did not die
But Quran 3:3 & 5:46 says God sent the Gospels
And Quran 6:34 states the word God sends cannot be changed (corrupted)
So we are left with two conclusions:

1. If the Quran is right about Jesus not being crucified, this would mean it is wrong about God’s word being incorruptible, so the Quran itself loses credibility since it states the Gospels and the Quran were both sent by God.

or

2. The Quran, which was written over half a millennium after the Gospels, is simply wrong about Jesus not dying because it changed the account of Christ’s death and resurrection.

If both texts logically affirm the Gospels; and the Gospels state Jesus died a public death, was buried, and raised on the third day, we have one more reason to believe in the authority of the Christian scriptures. We have more reason to place our faith in the atoning work of Jesus, the Son of God!

In his book, AT THE MASTER’S FEET, Sadhu Sundar Singh, Christian missionary, imagines a conversation between a disciple and Jesus in which Jesus says:

The cross is the key to heaven. At the moment when by My baptism I took the cross upon My shoulders for the sake of sinners, heaven was opened, and by means of My thirty-three years bearing of the cross and by death upon it, heaven, which by reason of sin was closed to believers, was forever opened to them.

By Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

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My Favorite Bible Verse

By Tim Stratton

Many times I am asked the question: “Tim, what is your favorite Bible verse?” This is a hard question for me to answer because there are many verses contending for this top spot. Off the top of my head, some of my favorites include (in no particular order): Romans 12:2; Matthew 22:37-39; Romans 1:20; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Colossians 1:16; Deuteronomy 30:11-19; Psalms 1:19; Psalms 97:1-6; Judges 6:12; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Peter 3:15; 2 Peter 3:9; James 4:7; Genesis 1:1; John 1:1, Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 4:5-6; Philippians 4:5; John 18:37; John 14:6, and of course, John 3:16.

My Favorite Bible Verse

Although I love dwelling upon each of these passages of Scripture, if push comes to shove and I must choose a “life verse,” I would choose 2 Corinthians 10:5. In this passage, the Apostle Paul writes:

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

I love this Bible verse for two reasons: First, Paul provides the example to Christian apologists to destroy every argument and incorrect opinion about God! To be clear, Paul does not say that we destroy every “arguer” (we are supposed to love them); rather, we are to destroy bad arguments! Based on the logical law of identity, an arguer and an argument are two different things. It stands to reason that Christians can destroy arguments while loving arguers! This is often hard to accomplish, but it is quite possible. When this is done correctly, I have seen miracles occur and lives transformed for eternity!

The second reason I love this verse is because Paul states that “we” — and implies that we ought to — take our thoughts captive to obey Christ. According to Paul’s other writings, Jesus Christ is ultimate reality (Col 1:16). Thus, when we take our thoughts captive to obey Christ, we are thinking true thoughts. This is because truth corresponds to reality.

What I love most about this verse is the fact that Paul implies that we are responsible free thinkers of the libertarian variety. According to the fifth verse of the tenth chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes it clear that all of our thoughts are not causally determined and forced upon us from external sources. That is to say, YOU are responsible for your own thoughts (at least some of them).

Paul is clear that we ought to take our thoughts captive to obey Christ — to obey reality! He also implies that we can be taken captive by incorrect thinking in Colossians 2:8. It follows that humanity is engaged in a battle. This battle is “not against flesh and blood” (Eph 6:12); no, whether we realize it or not, each and every one of us is in a battle for the mind!

We must take our thoughts captive before they take us captive. We are responsible for our thoughts and thus, we ought to be free thinkers!

Which is not even possible on naturalism or any other deterministic view!

So, take your thoughts captive and in Paul’s other words…

Stay reasonable (Philippians 4:5),

Tim Stratton

A Witness Can Be Wrong and Reliable

In every crime scene I’ve ever worked, both evidence and artifacts were present; it’s my job to separate one from the other. Did the murderer cause this blood smear, or was it caused by the paramedic who responded before me and tried to resuscitate the victim? Some smears may be evidence I can use to reconstruct the struggle, others may simply be artifacts that are completely unrelated to the crime. The evidence matters, the artifacts are inconsequential.

The “evidence” of scripture also contains unrelated “artifacts”. Bart Ehrman, for example, has drawn attention to the number of textual variations (artifacts) in the New Testament. In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman describes his own descent from faith:

“There was an obvious problem, however, with the claim that the Bible was verbally inspired – down to its very words. As we learned at Moody in one of the first courses in the curriculum, we don’t actually have the original writings of the New Testament. What we have are copies of these writings, made years later, in most cases, many years later. Moreover, none of these copies is completely accurate, since the scribes who produced them inadvertently and/or intentionally changed them in places. All scribes did this. So rather than actually having the inspired words of the autographs (i.e., the originals) of the Bible, what we have are the error-ridden copies of the autographs… Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later – much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places… The Bible began to appear to me as a very human book. Just as human scribes had copied, and changed, the texts of scripture, so too had human authors originally written the texts of scripture. This was a human book from beginning to end.”

It’s clear that Ehrman was troubled by the existence of the textual “artifacts” and eventually came to believe that he couldn’t trust any of the Biblical “evidence” that shared space on the pages of scripture. Imagine if I took that same approach to my crime scenes. If I threw my hands up every time I encountered a scene that wasn’t evidentially pure, I wouldn’t solve a single case. Every crime scene has artifacts. Get over it. That’s why we have to learn to be good detectives; it’s our job to sort through the evidence and the artifacts. We can’t just give up because the scene is less tidy than we might like.

It’s also important to recognize that Ehrman’s initial expectation of Biblical inerrancy caused him to lose confidence in the Bible once he discovered anything that didn’t belong in the text. Maybe that’s because he was raised in the Church and the teaching on inerrancy was foundational to his belief. As a 35 year old atheist detective, I came from a very different place when I first discovered the presence of scribal variations in the Biblical text. I’d already tried a number of robbery and murder suspects prior to reading the gospels. I was very familiar with the nature, texture and properties of eyewitness statements, long before I began to examine the claims of the gospel writers. My expectations of eyewitnesses were far lower than Ehrman’s. I already acknowledged two things about witnesses: they seldom agree about every detail and they are sometimes mistaken about some aspect of their testimony. In spite of this, witnesses can be deemed reliable and trusted once we do the hard work of determining why they might see something differently or incorrectly. In fact, judges in the state of California instruct juries that they are not to distrust a witness just because that witness may be wrong about some aspect of his or her testimony:

“Do not automatically reject testimony just because of inconsistencies or conflicts. Consider whether the differences are important or not. People sometimes honestly forget things or make mistakes about what they remember. Also, two people may witness the same event yet see or hear it differently” (Section 105, Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 2006)

Witnesses can be wrong in some aspect of their testimony, yet be considered reliable, over all. Once the jury understands why the witness might be mistaken in a detail, they are encouraged to consider the rest of the testimony reliable.

Let me be clear about something here: after examining the gospel accounts, I don’t believe that they contain any true contradictions or factual errors. I do, believe however, that they contain scribal variants, and these variants are already identified on the pages of scripture by the publishers of our modern translations. While I do believe in the inerrancy of the original text of the New Testament, I entered my examination of the gospels with a very different standard; I didn’t demand that the witnesses be inerrant, just reliable. A witness can be mistaken about some small detail, yet considered reliable related to his or her larger claims. Although it is clear that the New Testament we possess today contains “variants” that we have accurately identified by comparing over 24,000 manuscripts fragments and larger documents, this has no bearing on whether or not they are reliable. These variants may be an excuse for some to lazily dismiss the claims of scripture, but good investigators don’t have the luxury of being lazy. Instead, it’s our duty to separate the artifacts from the evidence so we can solve the case and determine what really happened at the crime scene. Similar diligence is needed if we are ever going to fairly assess the claims of Christianity.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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5 Misconceptions about the Bible

The Bible is the most influential book of all time. Given its impact over literature, history, governments, philosophy and more, it should come as no surprise that there are many misconceptions about its nature. Christians need to avoid these misconceptions because Paul said, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

It is also critical for non-Christians to avoid these misconceptions. After all, in my experience and research, many non-believers reject the Christian faith as a result of one of these misconceptions. If non-believers are going to reject Christianity, they at least need to know what it really teaches rather than rejecting a straw man.

Here are my top five misconceptions of the Bible:

MYTH #1: The Bible is a magical book. People often use the Bible to find God’s will for their lives by randomly opening the pages and drawing conclusions from the first passage they read. I have seen people blindly open the Bible, point their finger at a random passage, and then finding meaning for their present predicament from the particular passage. Such an approach is more like magic than good exegesis. Since the Bible condemns the use of magic (Mal. 3:5; Rev 22:15), but encourages careful study (Titus 1:9), we should avoid using it in such a mystical fashion.

MYTH #2: The Bible is a literal book. The Bible undoubtedly includes factual material, which is meant to be taken literally, such as the claim that John preached a baptism of repentance during the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1-3), or that Jesus experienced crucifixion (Mark 15). But the Bible also has poetic and metaphorical language not meant to be taken literally. For instance, Isaiah 52:10 says: “The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” The “arm” of the Lord does not refer to God’s physical arm and is not meant to be taken literally. Rather, it refers to His power against his enemies.[1] The Bible frequently uses a variety of literary means to express important truths.

MYTH #3: The Bible is a timeless book. The Bible undoubtedly has timeless principles and application, but it is a mistake to conclude that each passage in the Bible is written in a timeless manner for all people, in all places, and for all times. In his teaching on The Sermon on the Mount, for instance, Jesus made use of particular cultural and religious ideas to communicate a broader message. According to R.T. France, “The beatitudes thus call on those who would be God’s people to stand out as different from those around them, and promise them that those who do so will not ultimately be the losers.”[2] While this truth is transcendent, it does rely upon certain cultural understandings. The Bible has timeless application, but it was written in a way to be intelligible to its contemporaries.

Paul Woolley has said it well: “All Scriptural statements must be understood and applied in the light of the conditions and circumstances which they were intended to describe or under which they were originally written. The truth of these statements, in the strict sense, is not dependent upon those circumstances but the meaning frequently is, and the truth can only be understood if the meaning is understood.[3]

MYTH #4: The Bible is a science book. The Bible was written (roughly) between 3,000-1,600 years before the Scientific Revolution. While there were precursors to modern science in cultures such as ancient Greece, the modern scientific enterprise did not emerge until at least a millennia and a half after the close of the biblical canon. This doesn’t mean that there may not be some intersection between the Bible and modern science—such as the claim that the universe had a beginning (Gen 1:1) or that animals were made according to their kinds (Gen 1:25)—but it should caution us from too eagerly finding scientific confirmation from a book written in a very different age.

MYTH #5: The Bible is a rulebook. The Bible certainly has rules to direct people how they ought to live. Both the Israelites in the Old Testament and the modern church have received commandments to rule their behavior (e.g. Exodus 19; Ephesians 5:1-21). But the Bible is not primary a rulebook, such as the Chess Rules & Basics. Rather, the Bible is about God entering into relationship with His people. Sure, there are commandments we need to follow to relate to a holy God, but the rules exist as an extension of God’s character so we can be in loving relationship with Him and other people (Matthew 22:34-40).

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


[1] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66 (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 371.

[2] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (The New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007), 159.

[3] Paul Woolley, “The Relevancy of Scripture,” in The Infallible Word, ed. N.B. Stonehouse & Paul Woolley, 2nd edition (New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1967), 213.

Don’t Expect Your Kids to Care What the Bible Says Unless You’ve Given Them Reason to Believe It’s True

By Natasha Crain

Don’t Expect Your Kids to Care What the Bible Says Unless...

A mom left a comment on one of my older posts the other day that said, “It sounds like you are teaching your kids to question the Bible. We should never teach our kids to question the Bible!”

To that I say…Of course we should.

Let’s not get confused, however, by what it means to “question” the Bible. To ask questions about something doesn’t mean to doubt it by default. Neither default acceptance nor default rejection is the response of a critical thinker.

To encourage our kids to question the Bible means to encourage them to examine it fully so they can determine its truth value for themselves.

This is a spiritual process so sorely lacking in most kids’ (and adults’) lives today.

Our kids learn a selection of key Bible stories throughout their childhood, but what do they learn about the Bible–why they should even believe those stories?

Typically, next to nothing.

Yet, parents and church leaders spend years preaching to kids from the Bible, assuming those kids should and will accept it at face value. It takes just a few skeptics to throw darts at that face value before kids make the point of this “atheist pig”:

 

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Don’t expect your kids to care what the Bible says unless you’ve taken the time to help them understand why there’s good reason to believe it’s true.

In Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, I wrote 8 chapters to help you do just that. Of course, there are many other possible topics to address on the Bible’s veracity, but I selected these because they are the most pertinent and the most frequently attacked by skeptics.

Here’s an overview of these 8 key questions you should be teaching your kids to ask of the Bible.

 

1. How were the books in the Bible selected?

Skeptics claim: In the first centuries after Jesus, there were many rival versions of Christianity, but the representative writings were suppressed by those in power. Our New Testament books represent the version of Christianity that happened to win over time. The winning books weren’t picked until some 300 years after Jesus’ death, and they won because they found political favor at the time.

Kids need to understand: That there were many early Christian writings, how the early church leaders sifted through those writings over time, and how the books of our Bible today were eventually deemed authoritative.

This is explained in Chapter 25 of my book.

 

2. Why were books left out of the Bible?

Skeptics claim: There are many “gospels” missing from the Bible which give equally valid but completely different views of Jesus than the one we have. If these books had made it into the Bible, Christianity would mean something very different today.

Kids need to understand: Why the mere existence of dozens of early Christian writings that never made it into the Bible says absolutely nothing. The question they need to be able to confidently answer is whether or not any of those writings can legitimately claim spiritual authority by way of connection to Jesus and His apostles.

This is explained in Chapter 26 of my book.

 

3. How do we know we can trust the Bible’s authors?

Skeptics claim: The gospels were written decades after Jesus lived by anonymous authors based on growing legends and unreliable oral history.

Kids need to understand: Why we can be confident that the gospels are based on reliable, eyewitness testimony.

This is explained in Chapter 27 of my book.

 

4. How do we know the Bible we have today says what the authors originally wrote?

Skeptics claim: The Bible has been copied, edited, copied, edited, copied, edited, etc. so many times since the original authors wrote their content that we have no way of even knowing what the books we have should say. (See the quote on the image at the top of this post from one actor making this claim.)

Kids need to understand: Why thousands of copies of early manuscripts and hundreds of thousands of differences between them actually don’t undermine what we know about Christianity.

This is explained in Chapter 28 of my book.

 

5. Does the Bible have errors and contradictions?

Skeptics claim: The Bible is filled with hundreds of errors and contradictions, clearly demonstrating it’s not the Word of God. (See bibviz.com as one example of this claim.)

Kids need to understand: How to evaluate alleged errors and contradictions (with special consideration of the alleged contradictions in the Gospels).

This is explained in Chapter 29 of my book.

 

6. Does the Bible support slavery?

Skeptics claim: God’s laws about slavery in the Old Testament show that, far from being a perfect moral Being, He actually supported this terrible institution–even sex slavery (see Exodus 21:7-11).

Kids need to understand: The issue of slavery in the Old Testament is very complex and requires an appropriate understanding of biblical context, culture, and history.

This is explained in Chapter 30 of my book.

 

7. Does the Bible support rape?

Skeptics claim: The Bible approves of rape.

Kids need to understand: The meaning of biblical laws on rape (Deuteronomy 22:23-29) and the biblical context for three key passages often used to support skeptics’ claims in this area (treatment of female war captives, treatment of the Midianite virgins, and treatment of the women of Jabesh-gilead).

This is explained in Chapter 31 of my book.

 

8. Does the Bible support human sacrifice?

Skeptics claim: God may explicitly condemn human sacrifice in the Bible, but He violates His own prohibition multiple times.

Kids need to understand: The theological background of God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the nature of child sacrifices of kings, Jepthah’s vow, the consecration of firstborn males, and Jesus’ death on the cross.

This is explained in Chapter 32 of my book.

 

So should you teach your kids to ask these and other questions about the Bible? Absolutely. If you don’t, skeptics will. And soon your kids won’t care what the Bible says any more than the “atheist pig”.

Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side is available from your local Barnes & Noble and Christian book retailers, as well as ChristianBook.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and Amazon.com.

For more articles like Don’t Expect Your Kids to Care What the Bible Says Unless You’ve Given Them Reason to Believe It’s True visit Natasha’s site ChristianMomThoughts.com

Don’t Expect Your Kids to Care What the Bible Says Unless...

What are the Top Five Books on the Bible and Homosexuality?

There are a lot of great books on the Bible and homosexuality that deal with subjects including theology, pastoral care, counseling, apologetics, parenting, communication, and evangelism. Since writing my own book with John Stonestreet, I have been reading everything I can get my hands on related to the topic in order to help the church respond both biblically and timely.

In this first post, I am simply going to list my top five popular books on Christianity and homosexuality. In upcoming posts, I am going to give my top academic books, narrative books, and revisionist books.

Same-Sex Attraction and the Church, by Ed Shaw (IVP, 2015). Ed Shaw is a pastor with same-sex attraction who was recently kind enough to answer some questions about his book for my blog. Shaw rightly observes that most people who have left the traditional Christian viewpoint have not done so because they have carefully examined the Scriptures and found the traditional view wanting, but because they no longer find the Christian ethic “plausible.” He counters this narrative with both reason and personal experience.

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, by Kevin DeYoung (Crossway, 2015). DeYoung unpacks the key biblical passages on homosexuality and responds to the most current revisionist arguments. And yet he writes with the heart of a pastor. He also counters some of the common assertions such as, “You’re on the wrong side of history.” This is the one book I chose to use with my high school students to train them to think more deeply about the issue.

The Ambassador’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality, by Alan Shlemon (Stand to Reason, 2013). If you’re looking for one small book that deals fairly and yet convincingly with the biblical, cultural, and scientific issues, then this is the book for you. It is only 58 pages, and yet is carefully documented and forcefully written.

Is God Anti-Gay?, by Sam Allberry (The Good Book Company, 2013). This short book addresses the most common questions often raised about the Bible and same-sex attraction (81 pages). This book is both relational and gospel centered. Pastor Allberry begins the book by revealing his personal journey in discovering his same-sex attraction. As a result, he writes with commitment to the Scriptures but genuine love for gay people and the church.

People to Be Loved, by Preston Sprinkle (Zondervan, 2015). While this book is longer than most in this list, and does go into some considerable depth on particular passages, it is easily grasped and followed by non-specialists. Preston recently answered some questions about his book for my blog. He does a masterful job of articulating how homosexuality is not merely an issue to be debated, but deals with real people both inside and outside the church.

There are many other great books that deserve mention as well, such as Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor by Glenn Stanton, Love Into Light by Peter Hubbard, Compassion without Compromise by Adam Barr and Ron Citlau, and The Gay Gospel? By Joe Dallas.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

For more articles like What are the Top Five Books on the Bible and Homosexuality? visit Sean’s website at SeanMcDowell.org

 

A Case for the Empty Tomb (Part 3-The Biblical and Theological Arguments)

By Brian Chilton

For the previous couple of weeks, we have looked into the veritability of the empty tomb hypothesis; that is, that the tomb of Jesus was literally found empty on the first Easter Sunday morning. We have already confirmed historically that the tomb was found empty due to the burial practices of the first-century Jews and also due to the numerous times that Romans allowed clemency for the families to bury the victims of crucifixion especially during the days of Emperor Tiberius (things radically changed in this regard with Emperor Caligula). We have also noted the failure of alternate viewpoints in explaining away the empty tomb. In this article, we will conclude our research as we investigate the biblical and theological arguments for the empty tomb. The biblical argument will ask the question, “Did the early church really believe that the tomb was found empty the first Easter Sunday?” The theological argument will weigh how much Christian theology revolves around the empty tomb hypothesis. Why would the early church value these important attributes of Jesus if the tomb still held the body of Jesus?

The Biblical Argument for Accepting the Empty Tomb Hypothesis

Did the early church believe that the tomb was empty? Scholars hold that strewn throughout the pages of the New Testament are ancient traditions. These ancient traditions predate the writing of the New Testament and represent the beliefs of the earliest church. Gary Habermas notes that some of the passages considered to be ancient traditions in addition to 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 “receiving scholarly attention are 1 Corinthians 11:26…Acts, especially 2:22-36, 4:8-10, 5:29-32, 10:39-43, 13:28-31, 17:1-3, 30-31; Romans 4:25; Philippians 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:6; [and] 1 Peter 3:18.”[1] In addition to these passages, Habermas also notes that “Matthew 27:26-56; Mark 15:20-47; Luke 23:26-56; [and] John 19:16-42”[2] represent ancient traditions that date to the time of the earliest church. Licona adds Romans 6:4 to the forum.[3] Of the numerous traditions listed, the paper will evaluate only two that pertain most directly to the empty tomb: the original ending of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:1-8),[4] and 1 Corinthians 15:3-7.

Scholarly consensus along with evidence in the earliest manuscripts indicates that Mark’s Gospel ended at Mark 16:8. Whereas Mark 16:1-8 does not enjoy the consensus that some of the other traditions hold, Licona notes that there “appear to be close similarities between the four-line formula in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 and other passages such as Mark 15:37-16:7 and Acts 13:28-31.”[5] If Licona is correct, then one can argue that Mark 16:1-7 holds nearly the same force, being an early tradition, that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 seemingly enjoys. Seeing 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 enjoys strong consensus that the text relates a tradition that dates back to the earliest church, a fact that will be addressed later in this section.

Nevertheless, Mark 16:1-7 provides evidence that Mark believed that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the first Easter Sunday. Mark notes that the women “went to the tomb” (Mark 16:2). The women wondered who would roll away the large stone from the tomb (Mark 16:3). The women noticed that “the stone had been rolled back—it was very large” (Mark 16:4). The women “entered the tomb” (Mark 16:5). The women had an angelophany where an angel announced they sought “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6). The women left the tomb with great fear (Mark 16:7). Review the information provided in the text. The women came to the tomb, acknowledging that Jesus was indeed buried in a tomb. The women entered the tomb expecting to see the body of Jesus. The women had an angelophany in the tomb where it was announced that Jesus had risen, noting that the tomb was empty. The women left with great fear because the tomb was empty. Thus, Mark’s original ending demands the existence of an empty tomb. It was noted earlier that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 holds universal scholarly consensus as being an ancient tradition. Does 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 afford any insight to the existence of an empty tomb?

1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is a tradition that Paul received from the church “within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion and from the disciples themselves.”[6] Thus, 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is of great historical value. The tradition also allows for the empty tomb hypothesis. The tradition notes that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3b-5). The structure of the tradition assumes that the tomb of Jesus was empty. Craig notes that the reference to the burial of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 makes “it very difficult to regard Jesus’ burial in the tomb as unhistorical, given the age of the tradition (AD 30-6), for there was not sufficient time for legend concerning the burial to significantly accrue.”[7] It notes that Jesus physically died. Jesus was physically buried. Jesus physically raised from death. Jesus physically appeared to the disciples, demanding that the previous place of burial was left empty. Therefore, the empty tomb holds biblical support with early church traditions demonstrating that the early church believed that Jesus’ tomb was empty. So, what theological value does this hold?

The Theological Argument for Accepting the Empty Tomb Hypothesis

Thus far, the paper has evaluated the evidence for the empty tomb hypothesis. William Lane Craig notes that the evidence for the empty tomb “is so compelling that even a number of Jewish scholars, such as Pinchas Lapide and Geza Vermes, have declared themselves convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus’ tomb was found empty.”[8]However, one must ask, what value does the empty tomb hypothesis hold for the overall scope of Christian theology?

First, the empty tomb serves to demonstrate the divine nature of Christ. The empty tomb serves as evidence for the resurrection. The resurrection serves as evidence of Jesus’ deity. Millard Erickson denotes that “to Jews of Jesus’ time, his resurrection would have signified divinity, we must ask about the evidence for it.”[9] Norman Geisler states that “while the empty tomb in and of itself is not proof of the resurrection, it is an indispensable prerequisite to the evidences (the physical appearances of Jesus).”[10]

Also, the empty tomb provides evidence that God will fulfill the teachings and promises given through Christ, especially that Christ will one day return. Perhaps Paul says it best when he notes that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Theologically, the entire basis of the Christian faith rests upon the resurrection of Christ. If Christ has been raised from the dead, then the Christian faith is verified. Furthermore, if Christ was raised from the dead, then obviously one clearly concludes that the tomb which housed his body was emptied of his physical presence.

Conclusion

The empty tomb hypothesis holds great weight historically, biblically, and theologically. Secular naturalism does not offer any appropriate alternatives. If one is to follow the evidence where it leads, one must note that the disciples encountered an empty tomb on the first Easter Sunday. While it is impossible to know anything with absolute certainty, it is highly probable that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the first Easter Sunday. Yet, the empty tomb did not transform the disciples. The encounters the disciples had with the risen Jesus empowered the disciples with great courage and boldness. The empty tomb serves as a reminder that Christ has been raised from death and that each person can have an encounter with the risen Jesus by simply calling upon his name. The empty tomb also reminds humanity that Jesus came, Jesus left, and one day Jesus will return.

 

Visit Brian’s Website: BellatorChristi.com

 Copyright, March 28, 2016. Brian Chilton.


 

  Notes

[1] Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 39, 65n.

[2] Ibid., 39, 66n.

[3] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, 222.

[4] While the ending of Mark is not listed among the early traditions, scholars generally hold to the primacy of Mark’s Gospel as it represents the earliest of the Gospels. Thus Mark represents the earliest tradition in the Gospel narratives.

[5] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, 321.

[6] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 53.

[7] Davis, Kendall, and O’Collins, eds. The Resurrection, 253.

[8] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 371.

[9] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 710.

[10] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 1512.

Bibliography

Bird, Michael, F., et. al. How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd Edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Davis, Stephen; Daniel Kendall, SJ; and Gerald O’Collins, SJ, eds. The Resurrection. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Ehrman, Bart. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: HarperOne, 2014.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

_______________., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.

_______________. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2011.

_______________., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

_______________. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Meyers, Eric M. “Secondary Burials in Palestine.” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 2-29. In N. T. Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Miller, Richard C. “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, 4 (2010): 759-776. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Smith, Daniel A. “Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Post-mortem Vindication of Jesus in Mark and Q.” Novum Testamentum 45, 2 (2003): 123-137. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

 

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.

Are you Skeptical of the Bible Because it Reports Miracles?

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

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

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

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

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

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.

What Really Happened at Nicea?

For many years, the council of Nicea has been the subject of much confusion among laypeople. The misapprehensions which have come to be associated with the council of Nicea have, in part, been fuelled by popular fictional novels such as Dan Brown’s notorious The Da vinci Code. No matter what group you are dealing with in your apologetic exploits (including atheists, Muslims, Jehovah’s witnesses and unitarians), you are almost guaranteed to encounter some of these misconcepts. For this reason, it is important for Christians to study and learn church history, so that they might correct common myths and falsehoods.

The council of Nicea was famously convened on May 20, 325 AD, at the request of Emperor Constantine. What did the council of bishops meet to discuss? Contrary to common misconception (popularised particularly in Muslim circles) that has been widely circulated via the internet, the council of Nicea did not meet to discuss the canon of Scripture — that is, the decision about which books should make up the New Testament. In fact, there is not a shred of evidence that the canon of Scripture was even brought up at Nicea. Another misconception is that the council of Nicea, at the encouraging of Constantine, “invented” the deity of Christ or, at the very least, that the bishops in attendance at Nicea were significantly divided on the issue, the matter being decided with a vote. This too, however, is completely inaccurate. In 325 AD, when the bishops convened at Nicea, the deity of Christ had been affirmed almost unanimously by the Christian movement for close to three hundred years!

The bishops who met at Nicea had just come out of an extremely challenging time of intense persecution by the Romans, having lived through the cruelty of the Emperors Diocletian (ruling 284-305) and Maximian (ruling 286-305). One of the bishops present at Nicea, Paphnutius, had even lost his right eye and been given a limp in his left leg as a consequence of his profession of faith. According to one ancient writer, Theodoret (393-457),

“Paul, bishop of Neo-Cæsarea, a fortress situated on the banks of the Euphrates, had suffered from the frantic rage of Licinius. He had been deprived of the use of both hands by the application of a red-hot iron, by which the nerves which give motion to the muscles had been contracted and rendered dead. Some had had the right eye dug out, others had lost the right arm. Among these was Paphnutius of Egypt. In short, the Council looked like an assembled army of martyrs.”

It strikes me as odd, therefore, that one would suppose that the early Christian movement, having come out of such difficult times as those, would capitulate so easily to the emperor Constantine’s demands with respect to defining the very fundamentals of their faith!

The story of the Nicean council begins in Alexandria in northwest Egypt. The archbishop of Alexandria was a man by the name of Alexander. A member of his senior clergy, called Arius, took issue with Alexander’s view of Jesus’s divine nature, insisting that the Son is, in fact, himself a created being. In similar fashion to modern Jehovah’s Witnesses, Arius maintained that Jesus was like the Father inasmuch as they both existed before creation, played a role in creation and were exalted above it. But the Son, according to the theology of Arius, was the first of God’s creations and was commissioned by the Father to create the world.

On this point, Alexander strongly disagreed, and publically challenged Arius’s heretical teachings. In 318 AD, Alexander called together a hundred or so bishops to talk over the matter and to defrock Arius. Arius, however, went to Nicomedia in Asia Minor and rallied his supporters, including Eusebius of Nicomedia, who was a relative by marriage to Constantine the emperor, and a theologian in the imperial court. Eusebius and Arius wrote to many bishops who had not been involved in the defrocking of Arius. The effect was the creation of divisions among the bishops. Embarassed by such bickering, the emperor Constantine convened the ecumenical council of Nicea in 325.

Constantine’s primary concern was imperial unity rather than theological accuracy, and he desired a decision that would be supported by the greatest number of bishops, regardless of what conclusion was reached. His theological advisor, Hosius, served to get the emperor up to speed before the arrival of the bishops. Since Arius was not a bishop, he was not invited to sit on the council. However, his supporter Eusebius of Nicomedia acted on Arius’s behalf and presented his point of view.

Arius’s position regarding the finite nature of the Son was not popular with the bishops. It became clear, however, that a formal statement concerning the nature of the Son and his relationship to the Father was needed. The real issue at the council of Nicea was thus how, and not if, Jesus was divine.

A formal statement was eventually put together and signed by the bishops. Those who declined to sign the statement were stripped of their rank of bishop. The few who supported Arius insisted that only language found in Scripture should feature in the statement, whereas Arius’s critics insisted that only non-Biblical language was adequate to fully unpack the implications of the language found in the Bible. It was Constantine who eventually suggested that the Father and Son be said to be of the “same substance” (homoousios in Greek). Although Constantine hoped that this statement would keep all parties happy (implying the complete deity of Jesus without going much further), the supporters of Arius insisted that this language suggested that the Father and Son were equal but didn’t explain how this was compatible with the central tenet of monotheism (i.e. the belief in only one deity).

Nonetheless, the Nicean creed did indeed incorporate this language. It stated,

“We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things, visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down and became incarnate, becoming man, suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead; And in the Holy Spirit. But as for those who say, ‘There was when He was not, and, Before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is from a different hypostasis or substance, or is created, ir is subject to alteration or change — these the Catholic Church anathematizes.”

With the exception of two (Secundus of Ptolemais and Theonas of Marmarcia), the creed was signed by all the bishops, numbering more than 300. Arius’s supporters had been overwhelmingly defeated.

Arius’s supporters, however, managed to find some wiggle room. A single letter iota changes the meaning of homo (“same”) to “like” (homoi). The latter could be exploited by Arius and his followers to describe a created Christ. Moreover, it was argued, the creed could be interpreted as supporting Sabellianism, an ancient heresy which fails to discriminate between persons of the godhead. It was this in-house squabbling between bishops that ultimately led to the council of Constantinople in 381.

A company of bishops started to campaign for the formal re-instatement of Arius as a presbyter in Alexandria. Constantine yielded to their petition and, in 332, re-instated Arius as a presbyter. Athenasius, who had recently succeeded his mentor Alexander as bishop of Alexandria, was instructed to accept Arius into the church once again. Needless to say, Athenasius did not comply with this order. The consequence was exile. Constantine had little interest in the precision of his theology — rather, it was the struggle for imperial unity that was his motivation.

In conclusion, although popular misconceptions about the council of Nicea are rampant, the idea that the council of Nicea determined which books comprised the new testament or that it invented the deity of Christ to comply with the demands of Constantine are myths. Indeed, correct theology was of little concern to Constantine, who cared much more about imperial unity. Christians must make a serious effort to study and learn church history, so that when we encounter such claims in the media and in our personal evangelism, we may know how to present an accurate account of our history.

Undesigned Scriptural Coincidences: The Ring Of Truth

Frank Turek interviewed philosopher Tim McGrew for the CrossExamined radio show. The topic of the discussion was the so-called “undesigned coincidences”. It’s only in recent months that I myself have been introduced to these undesigned coincidences, largely through my own interactions with Tim McGrew. I had been exposed to one or two previously, but had no idea just how wide spread these phenomena actually are.

What is an undesigned coincidence? An undesigned coincidence (so-named by J.J. Blunt and first discovered by William Paley) occurs when one account of an event leaves out a bit of information which is filled in, often quite incidentally, by a different account, which helps to answer some natural questions raised by the first. As an argument for the historical veracity of the gospels, the case is at its strongest when taken as a cumulative whole: In other words, it’s death by a thousand mosquito bites.

There are two categories of undesigned coincidences pertinent to the New Testament: Internal and External. As the labels suggest, the former concerns details which are filled in by other Biblical (i.e. internal) sources, while the latter concerns details filled in by other extra-Biblical (i.e. external) sources. In this article, I want to take a look at a few examples of both.

Internal Coincidences

One of my own personal favourite examples pertains to one of Jesus’ multiple predictions with regards his pending death and subsequent resurrection.

Example 1:

In John 2:18-22, we read the following account:

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

In Mark 14:55-59, we read this account of Jesus before the Sanhedrin:

 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.

Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

Notice that the false witnesses, described by Mark, misrepresent what Jesus had said. Jesus had not said that he would destroy any man-made temple. Rather, he had used the temple as a metaphor for his body (as we learn in the John 2 passage above). There is also a parallel for this passage in Matthew 26:59-61.

In Mark 15:27-30, we are told,

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”

There is also a parallel account in Matthew 27:38-40. Notice that neither Matthew, nor Mark, give us the original context with regards what Jesus had originally said. All we are given by Matthew and Mark is the later misrepresentations by the false witnesses and mockers as Jesus’ trial and execution. But notice that, equally, John (the non-synoptic gospel), while reporting Jesus’ original words, does not report on the later misrepresentations at Jesus’ trial. I have used this argument as an evidence for Jesus having predicted his death and resurrection.

Example 2:

Let’s take another example.

In John 6, we read the account of the feeding of the five thousand. In verses 1-7, we are told:

Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Now, Philip is a fairly minor character in the New Testament. And one might, naturally, be inclined to wonder why Jesus hasn’t turned to someone a little higher in the pecking order (such as Peter or John). A partial clue is provided in John 1:44: “Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.” 

And what is so significant about Philip being from the town of Bethsaida? We don’t learn this until we read the parallel account in Luke’s gospel (9:10-17). At the opening of the account (verses 10-11) we are told, “When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.”

And so, we are informed by Luke that the event was actually taking place in Bethsaida — the town from which Philip was from! Jesus thus turns to Philip, whom, he believed, would be familiar with the area. Notice too that Luke does not tell us that Jesus turned to Philip.

What makes this even more intriguing is that the parallel account in Mark’s gospel (6:30-42) states, in verses 30-31 that

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

Why were there many coming and going? Mark doesn’t tell us. The answer lies in John’s account. John 6:4 explains that “The Jewish Passover was near.”

Example 3:

Let’s take one more example of an internal coincidence, before proceeding to examine a few external ones.

In Luke 23:1-4, we read,

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

On the surface, this seems to be a rather strange declaration to make. Jesus has just declared Himself to be a King, and has been charged with subverting the nation and opposing paying taxes to Caesar. Why has Pilate found no basis for a charge against him?

The answer lies in the parallel account in John’s gospel (18:33-38):

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.

It is only when you read John’s account that you learn that Jesus had told Pilate that “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

But there is also another intriguing feature related to this passage. Why, in John’s account, does Pilate even ask Jesus whether He is a King? We learn the answer in Luke 23:2. The allegation which is made in Luke’s gospel is not recorded in John’s.

External Coincidences

Okay, let’s look at a few external examples.

Example 1:

In Matthew 2:22, we are told:

But when [Joseph] heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being waned by God in an dream, he left for the regions of Galilee…

Josephus’ Antiquities 17.3.1 tells us that the domain of Herod the Great was divided among his sons, with Archelaus having authority in Judea but not in Galilee, which was governed by his younger brother, Herod Antipas.

We also know that Archelaus had acquired quite a bloody reputation (e.g. Antiquities 17.13.1-2 and 17.9.3). The latter of these references describes how Archelaus slaughtered 3,000 Jews at Passover. Thus, Joseph decides not to return to Judea and, instead, goes further north to the regions of Galilee, governed by Herod Antipas.

Example 2:

In Matthew 2:22, Archeleaus is reigning as king in Judea; in Matthew 27:2, Pilate is governor of Judea; in Acts 12:1, Herod is king of Judea; and in Acts 23:33, Flex is governor of Judea. This becomes extremely confusing.

But here’s the thing: Josephus attests to the accuracy of every one of these titles. Herod the Great was made King of Judea by Mark Anthony. Archelaus was deposed in the year 6 A.D., after only a ten-year reign, and a series of procurators ruled over Judea (of whom Pilate was fifth). The Herod of Acts 12 is Agrippa I. He was made king by Claudius Caesar. After his death, Judea was, once again, placed under the government of procurators (one of them being Felix).

Example 3:

When Luke tells us of the riot in Ephesus, he reports that the city clerk tells the crowd that “There are proconsuls”. A proconsul is a Roman authority to whom a complaint may be taken. Normally, there was only one proconsul. Just at that particular time, however, there seems to have been two as a result of the assassination of Silanus (the previous proconsul) by poisoning in the Fall of AD 54, by the two imperial stewards at the urging of Nero’s mother. This event is independently documented by Tacitus in his Annals (13.1). Indeed, Luke’s accuracy has allowed historians to date the event which Luke narrates with incredible precision since we know when Silanus was poisoned.

Summary & Conclusion

In summary, then, we have explored three internal and three external examples of ‘undesigned coincidences’ and have thereby argued that the gospel accounts have a ‘ring of truth’ to them. Rest assured that this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many dozen more examples than those articulated above. When taken as a cumulative argument, the result is extremely powerful. One critic of this argument, Ed Babinski, has attempted to explain this away by virtue of Markian priority: For a full explanation as to why Babinski’s ideas don’t offer much help, I refer readers to Tim McGew’s article here.