Saturday, October 15, 2016

Politics and the kingdom of Christ

The following thoughts concerning the presidential election of 2016 were provoked as the result of an exchange between myself and a dear brother in Christ whom I have always counted as a close friend, even though our ministry took us separate directions many years ago.

Politics and the kingdom of the Christ
John 18:36

My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world. John 18:36

As Christians living in America we have a right that was unheard of in the days of Jesus. We have a say in who governs over us. Scripture neither commands nor forbids our participation in the political realm. However, that participation must be balanced with the fact our true citizenship is in the kingdom of Christ. For that reason what we choose to do, and the degree we choose to do it, is a matter of faith for each believer, and that faith must be respected by all other believers.

This election year the passions are particularly inflamed with Christians of all different political leanings alarmed at how they perceive things to be going. I personally believe we truly are in a cultural battle the likes of which we haven’t experienced since the war between the states. The form of that battle is not with flesh and blood and weapons, but it is nevertheless a very real battle. That battle will not end with this election.

For that reason I am equally passionate about reminding you of these things...

FirstWe are Americans second, and Christians first.
     Of all the citizens of the US, those who are unashamed of the gospel have the most difficult choice in elections. You see, we don’t have the luxury of weighing strictly on political or economic issues. We are compelled to also think spiritually – to weigh good and evil, right and wrong. We cannot simply vote for someone. We have to be true to our own heart. We wrestle with the choices at hand and our own convictions and principles. We cannot leave our faith outside the voting booth because it is our faith that informs and governs our lives.

    As a result, different Christians, with equal love of God, may come to opposing conclusions on who to vote for, or whether to even vote at all. While we may vehemently disagree with one another as to the fitness of any given candidate, every vote we cast is for this life only. Unless Jesus returns first, every vote we cast and every argument we have will become absolutely irrelevant when we take our last breath. If Jesus tarries long enough this country will go the same way as every other human government that has ever existed along with all the debates.

    Politics are temporary, but the kingdom of Christ is eternal. For this reason every single one of us must be extra diligent in maintaining the unity of the spirit in the midst of our political disagreements. Satan loves nothing more than to use that which is human and temporary to tear down that which is spiritual and eternal.

SecondChrist’s kingdom is not of this world.
    King Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream – A great statue, gold at the top and mixed iron with clay at the bottom. The statue represented the great kingdoms of the earth beginning with his until the Roman empire. A great rock cut without human hands was cast on to the statue breaking it to pieces. The rock itself became a great mountain that filled the entire earth (Daniel 2). The great mountain is the kingdom of Christ.

     Even though there have been many kingdoms since that of Rome, the kingdom of Christ has continued to spread throughout the whole earth, calling people from every nation and language and culture through the gospel of Jesus, forever binding us all together with the gift of God’s own spirit. Whether we came to Christ in freedom, or we came to Christ while under tyranny, we have all been given a new name, a new spirit, a new life, a new hope. That will continue to be true regardless who is in power. Human governments will rise and fall, but the kingdom of God will endure forever.

    Because Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, its citizens likewise are not of this world. Yet we live in this world, and it is here that our physical and spiritual parts clash.

The world is of darkness, but we are of light.
The world is of deception, but we are of truth.
The world is of corruption, but we are of purity and holiness.
The world is of fear, but we are of courage.
The world is of death, but we are of life.
The world, and all its inhabitants, is passing away, but we endure forever.
Greatest of all, the world is of hate, but we are of love.

     This political season do not allow the mindset of the world to infect the spirit of God which dwells within you. It was the blood of Jesus that redeemed us from the world. Do not allow your political convictions to undo what Christ has done.

   For the next few weeks continue the discussion and debates. Contend earnestly for what you believe is good and right. When you cast your vote, do it in faith and understanding, and do not allow anyone to judge you for your convictions.  And then, regardless of the outcome, and I mean  REGARDLESS, remember this – Our citizenship is in heaven and it is not of this world. We are Americans second and brothers and sisters in Christ first and foremost.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Thinking and belief in God

I recently came across an article in the Independent (UK) titled "What belief in God does to your brain."( ).  The article was based upon studies over the last decade and reflects only one of the possible interpretations of the findings.  Given the mentality of this world I have no doubt the interpretation provided in the article will become the defacto position of those who have a vested interest in painting the gospel of Jesus in the worst possible light.

Here is the opening paragraph.

"Humans suppress areas of the brain used for analytical thinking and engage the parts responsible for empathy in order to believe in god, research suggests. They do the opposite when thinking about the physical world, according to the study.

"When there's a question of faith, from the analytic point of view, it may seem absurd," said Professor Tony Jack, who led the research.

"But, from what we understand about the brain, the leap of faith to belief in the supernatural amounts to pushing aside the critical/analytical way of thinking to help us achieve greater social and emotional insight.""

As I considered the claims I recognized there is some truth in them, for I have often observed to others that there seems to be no correlation between one's intelligence and what one chooses to believe religiously.   However, has science actually provided proof that to believe in God one must suspend analytical thinking? Has science provided proof that faith is inherently irrational?

I would argue "No, science has done nothing of the kind."  Lest I be accused of suspending analytical thinking to make such a statement, and thereby prove the scientific research as valid, allow me to explain.

I know of nothing more reasonable, or more rational, than belief in God. The studies referenced in the article assume no distinction between belief in God or belief in any other supernatural being or religion. In other words, all are assumed to be equal. Yet I would make the case that all religion and belief is not equal.  This case is based upon a careful analysis of religious belief, and hence is at its heart analytical.

Scripture: Reasonable, or Irrational?

The case begins with a reasoned, rational look a the Bible itself. It has to begin here, for anything we might say about God is found here.  Without going into  excessive detail,  the Bible as we know it is simply the compilation of writings penned over a period of 1,500 years by men of various languages, education, vocation, and social status.  These men recorded what they and others saw and heard with their own eyes and ears.  The testimony of scripture is that everything God did, He did in the open and in the public eye. 

Therefore, it is the claim of the writers that they are recording actual historical events even if their narrative doesn't correspond to the modern definition of historical writing.  The modern approach of rejecting these claims simply because we do not believe them is not analytical, rational, nor reasonable.  

One of the great purposes of scripture was to record for future generations the fact of a living God engaged in the affairs of mankind.  This fact was presented against the backdrop of hundreds and thousands of so called gods who were nothing more than the figments of human imagination.  When it comes to a scientific study of the brain and belief in God, the researchers have to take into consideration the possibility that one's belief in God is based upon one's careful consideration of things that are presented as historical facts. A person who chooses not to believe those facts cannot make the assumption those who do believe do so on some basis other than reasoned, analytical consideration.

God: Reasonable or Irrational?

The case continues with a reasoned consideration of God Himself. Belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not equal to a belief in Zeus, Ishtar, Baal, or a thousand other gods.  It is quite evident to the rational mind that a god that is carved from stone or wood by human hands, and whose attributes are ascribed by human imagination, is no god at all.  For such a god, one has no choice but to believe without reasonable, rational reason to do so, for there is no reasonable, rational evidence of their existence.  For such a god, one believes because one chooses to believe, and not because it makes sense. 

Leaving the ancient past and considering the modern era, those who believe in various spiritualities do so because those beliefs satisfy a desire in their heart.  They may think their belief is based upon evidence, but when that evidence is analyzed it is found to be highly subjective at best. Where is the evidence that the Wiccan truly controls magical forces? Where is the evidence that crystals truly channel healing energies. Where is the evidence that people are genuinely reincarnated? Where is the evidence that the star and planets determine days and destinies?  Where is the evidence that the ancient gods and goddesses who are again being worshiped have any life or power or existence?

For all these I agree with the science.  For such things, people must set aside reasoned, analytical thinking, and base their choice upon something far more subjective.

But what if in all this, there is a God who has actually revealed Himself? What if, among the thousands of man made gods and religions and spiritual beliefs, there is one that was not created in the hearts of humans?  The only way one will come to that determination is through a reasoned, rational analysis of the claims of those who were witnesses. 

Those who were involved in the penning of scripture made constant reference to the actions of God in the plain sight of all. Unlike the gods of all the nations, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was not limited to just His people. He was God over all, whether He was dealing with the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, or even the Romans. 

Those who were appointed to be the apostles of Jesus made certain everyone understood that everything they preached they preached as eye witnesses. They were with Jesus. They heard him. They touched him. They took part in his ministry. They saw him condemned to death. They saw him buried. They saw him alive 3 days later. And it wasn't just them. Hundreds and thousands of people were all eye witnesses of Jesus.  Even in their day, the claims made about Jesus were perceived as incredible and unbelievable. Yet those who did believe did so because they could not ignore the strength of the testimony.

The point in this is those who then heard for the first time about God and Jesus believed, not because they turned off analytical thinking, but because they were presented facts testified by eye witnesses. Those who previously worshiped man made gods ceased their irrational belief and embraced rational, reasoned belief.

Faith: Reasonable or Irrational?

The case also needs to consider the nature of faith.  It seems to be the general assumption that faith requires a suspension of rational thinking.  Unfortunately the example of many Christians seems to support that view. However, christian malpractice of faith is not the nature of faith.

The word for faith in the new testament writings is the Greek word pistis which means to believe, to trust, to have faith in. It was a common every day word to describe a common, every day reality.  The only difference between the apostle Paul's use of pistis and the common every day use of the people, was Paul's pointing to God as being worthy of our trust and belief as opposed to all the man made gods that were being worshiped. The Faith was that which stood upon a living, revealed God.

Faith is a very simple concept. It simply describes our willingness to trust. While it is true there are those who trust for no good reason, or who continually place their trust in the wrong things, the defect is with them, not trust.  Those who are well balanced and mature in their thinking understand that trust is earned. Trust is always based on evidence.  We trust the word of a close friend over that of a stranger. We trust the word of one who is vetted over one who is not.

In the same way we trust God  in that we have the long recorded history of His dealing with us.  He is faithful in keeping all His promises. We trust God for precisely the same reason we trust our very closest friend.

It wasn't until much later in the history of Christianity that faith was turned from simple trust in a proven God to something mystical, supernatural, and almost magical.  Medieval Christianity focused faith upon the priesthood and Church rather than upon Jesus and God.  Later preachers implied that power was found in faith, as though faith in faith was the key. Others tried to make faith a spiritual gift that God had to give to us before we could even believe.  Still others turned faith into a defensive wall to hide behind when faced with difficult questions.

So here is finally my whole point summarized. If belief in God is equal in every respect to belief in any other god, religion, or spirituality, then the researchers are absolutely right. Belief must set aside analytical thought and be based upon something purely subjective.  But if God is not like any other god and belief in Him is not like any other belief, then the researchers need to at least consider that analytical thinking and emotional thinking are to complement one another, not compete.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

God has spoken - Confidence in His word

Once while still in high school during a discussion on the Christian faith, I was told by the other that "The Bible was written in the 6th century. Any old priest can tell you that." That statement dumbfounded me and I didn't know the answer. Up to that point I had never considered the history of the Bible itself. I accepted what I read without question. Although I was learning much about what the Bible said, I knew absolutely nothing about the Bible itself - not the history of its writing, nor the transmission of the text.

While in Bible College, and due largely to the influence of my friends while I had been in high school, I found myself directly confronting the claims of my Mormon friends that the text, and hence message, of the Bible had been so badly corrupted that we couldn't be sure but that not even one single word was that which had originally been written.

Neither of these two experiences are rare, for both deal with very real people with very real doubts. Not only that, but variations of both these claims are repeated daily on TV, in print, in institutions of higher learning, and sadly, even in many of the churches throughout our land.

I believed the Bible to be the word of God. Of that I had no doubt. But I was totally unable to back my confidence up with any fact or demonstration. I was completely ignorant concerning the creation and the transmission of scripture through the centuries. There is one bright light. Most of the statements and claims made against the text and message of Scripture are as ignorant of the facts as I once was.

In sharing with you the reasons for my confidence in scripture, here are four things I have taken into consideration when dealing with the claims for and against the scripture.

1.  I consider the Biblical accounts as compared with the ancient, contemporary myths.  Across our land, in our universities and colleges, and even in some Bible colleges, professors teach their students the ancient stories of early Israel were taken from the supposedly older myths of the surrounding nations.

When comparing the account of creation with that of contemporary cultures, the Genesis account is straight forward while yet extremely poetic. Its declaration is simple. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." With a simple statement, God created light. With a simple statement, God caused dry land to come forth from the water. With a simple statement, God brought into existence the sun, moon, and stars. With a simple statement God brought into existence all plant and animal life. With a simple statement, God created mankind.

According to scholars, this simple statement was supposedly borrowed from other accounts in which the gods first brought forth other gods, and all the different gods became responsible for the various parts of creation. The grand pronouncement that God created the heavens and the earth was supposedly borrowed from myths of many gods existing and working. Even more, the accounts that supposedly gave birth to Genesis show us gods who behaved as badly, if not worse than, men.  Somehow we are to believe the ancient Hebrews, in search of their own mythical beginnings, took these accounts and then turned them into opposites of themselves.  While there may be similarities between the biblical accounts and the ancient myths, the dis-simarilities are much more pronounced and significant.

Attempts to assign the life and work of Jesus to a borrowing of the Mithra myth (or others) is equally futile. While one might seem to make an impressive case of comparing the claims of the mystery cults with those claims made concerning Jesus, there is a very critical fact often overlooked. All written sources of these myths were created well after the gospel was being preached throughout the Roman empire. While it is true belief in Mithra predates Jesus, the extant written sources do not. Given the extremely rapid spread of the gospel across the Roman empire it is far more likely these various cults are the ones guilty of borrowing.

Of course, such an assertion would be met with with extreme ridicule. After all, everyone knows that only the biblical writers were guilty of borrowing from everyone else.

2.  When I read the history related in the Bible, I read a history that fits in with the history of the world.  I don't mean by this that all the historical narratives of the Bible agree completely with the historical narratives outside the Bible.  Not even the secular accounts of an event necessarily agree with each other, especially those of ancient events. Nor am I implying the writers of scripture had as their intent a world history.  However, the Biblical accounts do pertain to events, places, and people well known from other sources.  Even when additional, non-biblical information is lacking, what we do have from scripture proves to be at least consistent with the period.

For example, the period from Moses and earlier back to Abraham is extremely sketchy to historians due to a lack of ancient sources.  Yet even then, the sources that have been uncovered reveal that little things such as place names and personal names fit with the period. We have confirmation from cuneiform tablets 4,000 years old that names like Abram and Isaac were common in that period the bible narratives record. Without doing a quite a bit of research how likely would it be for a person today to make up a historical narrative of a specific region and culture and era, and get the names correct?

We also have texts and treaties that reflect the same odd elements we see when God made a covenant with Abraham as recorded in Genesis 15. Even if one might entertain doubts as to the content of a narrative, the settings of the narratives of the Bible are spot on, and indicate those narratives were likely written down at a time when such settings were well known. That would not be the case if the various writings of the Bible were made up, or legendary and mythical, or not recorded in writing until long after the events had occurred.

We have the names of kings of other nations set in proper context and order. Whether Assyrian, Babylonian, or Egyptian kings,  the names and history are accurate.

In the book of Acts Luke is very precise in the names of places, and the names and titles of local governing authorities. In fact, when reading through the Bible, the use of a bible dictionary of names, dates, events, and places is nearly a requirement for a good understanding of what is being read.

Why did Joseph and Mary move to Egypt? Along with the scriptural answer there's a very historical, political answer.  In the days of Julius Caesar, Marc Antony and Cleopatra attempted to hold Rome hostage by denying the new empire the rich stores of Egyptian grain. Egypt had become the breadbasket of the empire. When Augustus took the reigns, he took steps to insure Egypt could not be used against him. He issued an edict that no person above the rank of Equestrian (knight) could set foot in Egypt without his express permission. This was the law when Joseph and Mary fled. King Herod was forbidden by imperial statute of pursuing the family.

Why was the city clerk of Ephesus so concerned about the people rioting (Acts19-21-41)? It is on account that during the days of Tiberius, cities such as Ephesus had been abusing the right of temple sanctuary to allow unlawful behavior. Tiberius ordered all charter cities, of which Ephesus was one, to pledge they would not allow any criminal behavior in the name of religion. If they failed to do so, they lost their charter, and thus their standing within the empire. This was the law by imperial statute when the riot in Ephesus broke out over Paul's preaching of the gospel.

There are a great many more points of contact between the accounts of Jesus and the early church and the historical realities of the world of that time.

Compare all these things with the narratives of other nations, the Greeks for example, where the stories of their gods and titans cannot be located at any specific place or time or event. No myth of any kind begins with a list of who was ruling, where, and when. Yet Abraham is placed within the context of  very specific locations and kings. Moses is placed in the very specific context of Egypt and Canaan even if we can't pinpoint his dating (more on this in another posting. I have some thoughts on this). The kings of Israel are placed in the context of neighboring kings and events that have external confirmation. And Jesus himself is set in the context of men extremely well known from history.

"House of David" inscription - Tel Dan steele

The engraved stone shown above was found in 1993. The lighter text is the name "house of David". The stone was inscribed by a Syrian king upon his defeat of both the king of Israel and the house of David, mentioning both in precisely the biblical fashion. What is most remarkable is this stone was commissioned sometime in the mid 800's BC. Best efforts so far identify Joram as the king of Israel and Ahaziah as king in the house of David.

3. I take into consideration the integrity of the text itself.  It is a truism. If one does not like the message, kill the messenger. Two hundred years ago those who had an interest in destroying any trust in the scriptures pointed out that our oldest manuscript of the Bible dated to about 1000 AD. This meant there was a minimum of 1,000 years between our oldest copy and the time of Jesus, and over 2,000 years between that copy and the time of Moses. "How can we be certain" these men asked, "that even one word of the Bible is the same as what was originally written?"

I have noticed something. It seems that whenever men begin questioning and denying the things of God, that God then begins revealing the truth. In this case we began finding more and more copies that were more ancient than what we already possessed. By the middle of the 19th century we had full Bible manuscripts dating back to 320 AD - much older, but still 300 years after the time of Jesus.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, that began changing. We began finding more and more manuscripts, copies, and fragments. By the 1930's we had over 13,000 manuscripts and fragments of every book of the Bible, and the oldest of these dated to 120-150 AD. In 1947 a Bedouin  boy tossed a stone into a cave and heard the sound of a jar breaking. He had discovered a stash of scripture in which we now had even old testament writings predating Jesus by up to 300 years.

The short of it all is this. When scholars worked through all these parts of manuscripts, they have been able to insure that our modern day text of the scripture is statistically 99.5%  pure. We don't have any of the original documents such as Paul's own handwritten letter to the church at Rome. But through all the copies that have been found, we can read his letter to the Romans and be assured it is the same letter that was first read by the church in Rome.

4. When I consider the results of archaeology, I see confirmation.  I find archaeology exciting. Becoming an archaeologist is one of the things I thought I wanted to do as a career. It would be nice if archaeologists could find a plaque personally engraved by David (and not proved a hoax!), but that's not really how archaeology works. It is incorrect to say that archaeology proves the Bible true. There is a great deal in the scripture that can never be proven by archaeology or any other science. That's the nature of faith in God's pronouncements. That's the nature of divine revelation.

As with any method of historical discovery, the interpretation of archaeological facts and findings is open to differences of opinion.  Sometimes that difference of opinion is based upon a purely objective interpretation of the evidence. Other times that difference is rooted in underlying assumptions and beliefs independent of the evidence. Even though it is improper to claim archaeology has proved the Bible, I am not aware of one single archaeological discovery that has disproved any particular narrative or statement.

An example from Daniel
There are still numerous instances where the Biblical statement appears to be at odds with what is currently known. One well known example is Daniel's reference to a Darius who became the king of the Persian empire at the capture of Babylon (Daniel 5:31). It's problematic because we have the list of kings from both Greek and Persian sources. Although there were several kings named Darius (3 in fact), not a one of them became king at the age of 62. Furthermore, they were all Persians (Acheamenids), not Medes.

Is this a case of a statement being archaeologically disproved or is it simply a case of not having all the information?  That this particular Darius was 62 when he became king would indicate he did not become king by birthright, but by appointment. The fact he was a Mede also indicates appointment, as Cyrus, the king that defeated Babylon, was a Persian and all who reigned after him were Persians, a fact well known to the Jews. We must conclude that Daniel mentions age and tribe for a reason.

Even in the Greek and Persian sources, there is no record of who actually governed from Babylon after Cyrus' conquest. There is no agreement that Cyrus was even in town. He continued his conquests, and while one source claims Cyrus died in Babylon, another source says he died in fierce battle in the region of modern day Kazakhstan. After Cyrus' death, his son Cambyses spent his whole time in Egypt trying to bring that nation under his authority. After Cyrus' death and during Cambyses' reign, but before the ascension of Darius I (the Great), we have a period of confusion and deception and possibly imposter kings.

And so we have the situation that Daniel's Darius was possibly an appointment made by Cyrus to govern in Cyrus' absence, and because of the confusion of the other ancient sources, that appointment is known only because of Daniel. This Darius likely took that name for himself after his appointment. Given Cyrus' acumen to good governance, the appointment of a Median official to temporarily govern in Babylon would have been good politics. This scenario is offered on account of what archaeology has revealed, and to demonstrate that disagreement between sources is by no means proof of error.

What archaeology has done is to confirm many of the stories and historical statements. It has given extra-biblical confirmation to names and places previously known only in the scripture. It has provided valuable insight into the context of the scripture, especially in regard to ancient customs. It has provided clarity concerning times and dates. As previously mentioned it has revealed facts as simple as the use of names like Abram and Isaac in their proper periods. More recently it has resulted in the discovery of king David's own palace.

I have shared with you four reasons I have come to trust in this book we call the Bible. In this post I could only give you some broad summaries, but the information behind all four of these reasons is immense. Consider this one fact. The world has been attempting for over the last 2,000 years
 to destroy the message that is recorded in scripture. If the Bible were indeed nothing more than an uninspired human work with no real connection to history and truth, it would not have stood the test of time.

The Bible does stand. Throughout all centuries there have been people that recognize that scripture does indeed tell the truth concerning God and mankind. When I see all the evidence that confirms those things of scripture that can be seen, I have confidence in the truth of those things that cannot be seen, whether they be the affirmation that God created the heavens and the earth, or that Jesus was raised from the dead and will return in glory and majesty.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Bible, part 1 - Modern Misunderstandings

For all the new knowledge our modern age is amassing, ignorance of the nature of the Bible, and the resulting lack of understanding of its contents, is just short of breathtaking. Before we can discuss the meaning of this verse or that verse, we need to have a good understanding of what exactly the Bible is, and isn't.

It shouldn't really be surprising there is an ever growing pit of ignorance concerning the Bible. Up through the 60's the Bible was part of the literature curriculum of many of our public schools. Writings and speeches of the 19th and first half of the 20th century often made use of literary allusions taken from the pages of holy scripture. Students who had classes such as The Bible as literature, not only read for themselves the source of so much literary and oratorical inspiration, but they would have also learned something about the history of the text itself.

 The lack of knowledge surrounding the Bible is evident in both those who claim the Bible as the source of their understanding, and those who profess skepticism and outright disbelief.  There are numerous examples of misuse of scripture among both groups, although the nature of that misuse is different for each. For those who receive the Bible as God's word, it is perceived anywhere from a book of ironclad proposition on the one hand, to an a-historical book that aims to present philosophical truth through a medium of myths, legends, allegory, and parable.

Although many skeptics and disbelievers may claim for themselves a truer understanding of the Bible, their own conclusions have far more to do with a desire to justify their disbelief than to seek out what is true.  Without even a reading, the Bible is predetermined to be nothing but allegory from Genesis through Revelation.  Individual passages are collated and quoted, pressed into service as artillery shells being lobbed into the camp of the enemy, in the hopes of embarrassing the enemy into quiescence and passivity.

In this first post, the focus will be upon the physical nature of the Bible, or holy scripture, setting forth what we know concerning its formation and transmission through the centuries. That such information is of the most dire need is evident in a fairly lengthy article printed by Newsweek, December 23, 2014. The author is Kurt Eichenwald, a writer with impressive credentials in his field.

Newsweek article.

The thrust of the article, "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin" takes aim at the very real problem of  Christians intentionally or unintentionally abusing scripture to suit their needs. This is not a recent phenomenon, for it has always been the temptation to twist scripture. Jesus scolded the scribes and pharisees for twisting scripture and inserting the commandments of men in place of the commandments of God (Mark 7:5-13). Paul, in both letters to Timothy his young disciple, warned of  the false teachers who would twist scripture for their own purpose.

Through the period of the so-called Dark Ages, the Church promoted its own traditions over the teaching of scripture while at the same time it used scripture to enforce the authority of a wicked priesthood over the hearts and minds of the people. Going into the Middle Ages, what Bibles existed were kept under lock and key, the common people being forbidden to read and interpret for themselves. The act of translating scripture into a language other than Latin with the purpose of putting scripture into the hands of the people was considered a grave offense against the ruling authority. The fact that scripture is currently being abused is news only to those who are ignorant of history.

As credentialed as Eichenwald may be, his contribution to Newsweek, though salted with quotes of scholars, betrays a deep lack of mastery of the subject as the author's own use of scripture demonstrates an ignorance greater than that of those against whom he railing. I do not wish to make a point by point rebuttal as it would take far too much space. But I do want to pay attention to some key statements that I have seen many other times in the past.

"No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. 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. About 400 years passed between the writing of the first Christian manuscripts and their compilation into the New Testament."

In this statement alone are several glaring inaccuracies, and that is being gracious. The last sentence of the quote was actually the start of another paragraph, but I believe it is pertinent in trying to make sense of what comes before.

The first major issue is the author's own confusion regarding the nature of the Bible. He claims no man has ever read the Bible, because what we have are bad translations based upon faulty, multi-generational copies. Unfortunately the author doesn't bother to tell us what he thinks the Bible to be, so we're left to figure that out for ourselves.

From a purely historical point of view, the Bible as we know it came into existence at about 325 AD when the emperor Constantine summoned the bishops of the Churches from all across the empire to a council. Among many things decided (which included the language of the doctrine of Trinitarianism), the bishops passed a determination of which writings should be officially received as canonical. Contrary to what many try to claim, the bishops did not decide which books out of many were to be authoritative and which were not, but rather gave universal consent as the shepherds of their Churches to those books that had already come to be regarded as authoritative. This had the effect of finalizing a canon of scripture that already had a history of several hundred years. The result of the council of Nicea is what we today call the Bible.

It is a common sense among many that the Bible is a single work, similar to the claims made for the Koran, or more recently, the Book of Mormon. The word Bible itself is the English version of the Greek word biblos which means book. Originally the collection of the writings that comprise the Bible were referred to as "ta biblia", the books,  plural. It was Jerome, a scholar of the 4th century who stressed that the many books should be regarded as one in that taken as a whole (Genesis through Revelation) they unfold the whole story of God and men.

During the days of Jesus' apostles, the letters and writings of the new testament were written on a form of paper made from the papyrus reeds of Egypt. During the period of Israel's history before Jesus, the writings of the old testament were written on scrolls made from sewn animal skin. These scrolls could be relatively short, perhaps a few feet, to quite lengthy. The Isaiah scroll that was found among the Dead Sea scrolls is approximately 60 feet long unrolled.

In Jesus' day, the various scrolls of the Law, Writings, and Prophets were all separate, and often stored in large jars. The scrolls themselves were copies of earlier scrolls, the originals having been written over a period of some 1000 years or greater. There was no such thing as  a single scroll that contained all the old testament writings and hence no such thing as a Bible.

A few hundred years before Jesus was born, Jewish scholars began translating the Hebrew language scrolls into Greek, with the idea of making the scriptures more widely available to other Jews who were dispersed throughout the Roman empire. Contrary to the legend, this translation was likely not completed as one single project. These translations would have been written on papyrus paper or parchment, making possible the binding of the leaves into a codex, or what we would call a book. We do not possess any copies or fragments of the Greek old testament prior to Jesus. Our oldest copies are found in the Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and Vaticanus codices, all dated between 300-500 AD.

The various writings of the new testament were not collected into a "book" until some time after they were written. The various letters of Paul, for example, were exactly that - letters written to the various Churches and individuals. It would take some time for the various Churches to circulate to other Churches copies of letters they might have received from Paul or the others.

Returning then to Eichenwald's assertion that no one has ever read the Bible, we can only assume that perhaps he meant no one alive today has ever read the original manuscript of any particular prophet or apostle. While his claim may on the surface appear to have significance, in truth it has no bearing whatsoever upon the point he wishes to present in his article. The exact same argument can be made concerning Jesus, John the baptizer, and all Jesus' disciples, and in fact every person alive at that time. Not a one of them ever read the original scroll of any of the law, prophets, and writings. Every thing they had were copies of copies.

The fact that neither Jesus nor any of his apostles, Paul included, ever suggested that copies could not be trusted as faithful repositories of the things of God invalidates the arguments of those who would denigrate the Bible on the basis of a history of numerous copies.  Evidently God does not see that as a problem. Therefore, to make an objection against the Bible on the basis that our modern versions are a product of numerous translations and copies is nothing more than an excuse to not believe.

Eichenwald is not the first to make this assertion. In the early to middle 19th century, Orson Pratt, one of Joseph Smith's early followers, in many of his sermons questioned the text of the Bible. Because the oldest Biblical manuscript in his day was 1200 years later than the time of Jesus, he couldn't be certain that even one word was the same as the original. He too made the assertion that the Bible of his day was a translation of a translation, made from  a copy of a copy of a copy. In his various sermons he often made reference to there being thousands of variations between the few Greek texts that were known.  At the time he was questioning the Biblical text, we truly did not have the evidence to prove him wrong. The oldest Bible in existence dated only to about 1200 AD. That is a very long time for changes and corruption to occur.

But since the 2nd half of the 19th century, we have found much older copies of the Bible, and we have found fragments of copies - over 30,000 total. Some of these copies have nearly all the new testament writings, others are but a verse or two. Most of these copies are written in Greek. But many are in Coptic or Latin. The copies and fragments fill in for us the period of 200-1000 AD and allow us to trace the history of the transmission of the Biblical text as the gospel spread across the earth. 

What is of great interest is we have copies of the gospels, Acts, and the epistles that now date back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries (100-200)  For a copy to have been made it was necessary that there be an even earlier copy in existence at that time. Therefore we can say with great certainty that the whole of the new testament writings were written quite early in the history of Christianity.

Along with the manuscript evidence, we have the writings of the Church fathers, beginning with Polycarp a disciple of the apostle John, in which many direct quotes, references, and allusions to the things written in the new testament writings are found. Again, we recognize the simple truth that one cannot quote something if that something has been yet been written.

Eichenwald's assertion that 400 years passed between the time the Christian manuscripts were written and their compilation into the new testament indicates he doesn't understand the process. The collecting together of the various letters began quite early. We have canonical lists as early the middle of the 2nd century by Marcion. Regarded as a false teacher, his canon already consisted of the gospel of Luke and Paul's writings. The Muratorian canon, dated at about 180 AD, lists 22 of the 27 new testament writings.  In the late 2nd century, Irenaeus referred to the four gospels as The four gospels. Very early the Christians were judging certain writings as authoritative to the faith and practice. Other writings were considered as useful, and still others were considered heretical.  The Nicene council (325AD) did not create the new testament. It put the stamp of approval on what the Church universal had already come to hold as true. The new testament was not a creation of the 4th century. 

The modern Bible that we read is not the product of translations upon translations of copies of copies of copies. Every modern version of the new testament is based upon the original Greek copies, and the old testament is based upon the original Hebrew copies. No Bible is the result of a Hebrew text translated into Greek translated into Coptic translated into Latin translated into German translated into English, yet this is precisely what Eichenwald and those who think like him wish to imply.  For clarity, when I say the original Greek copies or original Hebrew copies, I am not referring to the autograph. What I mean is that modern translations are based directly upon the Greek and Hebrew copies without multiple generations of prior translations.

The old testament text is based upon the Hebrew text standardized by the Masoretes about 600 years after the time of Jesus. Though the modern mind might consider this an unacceptably lengthy period compared to the original, we need to remain mindful that the printing press would not be invented for another 800 years. All writings of all nations and kingdoms since writing was invented were hand copied. The modern notion that hand copies could not be trusted never entered the mind of men. They had no other option.

Yet the preservation of records was as important to the ancient mind as it is to the modern mind. For example, the writings of the Jews which became regarded as scripture were themselves in some cases based upon the official chronicles or annals of the various kings of Israel and Judah. This is evident when reading through 1st and 2nd Kings. After recording the deeds of the various kings, we find written, "And are not the rest of the works of king so and so recorded in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? (or in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah)."  The history of the Jews was not created by their scripture, but rather their scripture was created from the record of their history.

The text of the new testament is based upon a careful comparison of the ancient papyri copies along with the Sinaiticus (350 AD), the Alexandrinus(450 AD), and the Vaticanus (300-400AD). All three of these have both the old and new testament writings, the old testament being the Greek translation known as the Septuagint (LXX). Between these three great codices and the various fragments, our modern day Bibles contain a text whose accuracy to the original autographs could have only been a dream of the ancient scribes.

In my next post, I will deal with the issue of the great number of variations found in the text when all the various copies are compared and the significance for modern readers of the holy scripture.

Following is a very partial listing of the knowledge base reflected in this post plus interesting links.

UBS Greek New Testament,

A source to see some of the actual ancient copies of new testament scripture -

One of my favorites, the full text of the multi volume set, The Anti-Nicene Fathers, in an easy to navigate layout

Website for the Codex Sinaiticus -
also for Codex Alexandrinus -

Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, Vol 1, Beginnings to 1500.

 Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History. Though some consider Eusebius' treatment of the history of the Church as suspect due to his close ties to the emperor Constantine, it is still a very good source, and our oldest extant history.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Carl Sagan, meet Alexander Campbell.

It was Solomon who wrote "There is nothing new under the sun." In our own modern age, a great many might dispute that, offering as proof all the technological marvels we have that Solomon could not have even imagined.  Along with such marvels follow all sorts of ethical questions and dilemmas never once debated or even conceived in an age in which the iron wheeled chariot was the pinnacle of technology.

If one compared the state of mankind just within a period beginning with 1800 and going up to present, there would be great justification in declaring there is greater difference in the state of man between 1800 and 2000 than in all of human history up to 1800.  Solomon's observation might seem to have been made obsolete.  If once true, it surely cannot be maintained any longer.

The error is in the premise of the objection. Solomon's observation wasn't based upon the genius of man to invent. The truth of his statement is not nullified by the trappings of technology or the ever changing streams of philosophical thought. Nor is the truth of his statement invalidated by a society that has no room for any kind of truth other than that of the most relative type.  Solomon based his statement upon an understanding of the human heart, and even though civilization has undergone many transformations over many millenia, the human heart has always remained the same.

Carl Sagan is credited with popularizing the statement, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."  That dictum has been repeated innumerable times, sometimes in reference to scientific or pseudo-scientific claims, but more often than not in reference to religious claims.  Quite often the deployment of that dictum is itself used as a means to imply the claims in question have weak, unsupportable evidence. Rather than being a sentiment of an open mind to potentially extraordinary things, it becomes a means to justify an unwillingness to consider anything deemed in advance as impossible.

But then Solomon did say there is nothing new under the sun. Would it surprise you Carl Sagan is not the first to hold to that dictum?  Would it surprise you to discover that dictum was uttered, not in the digital age, not in the modern age, not even in the industrial age, but in an age which the modern mind considers somewhat less enlightened than its own?  In 1830, only two and a half decades removed from 200 years, a young preacher set out on the reformation of the Church. This young preacher by the name of Alexander Campbell wrote this in the first number of the first volume of the Millenial Harbinger.

"The more ordinary the fact, the more ordinary the testimony necessary to establish it. That AB, aged 90, and confined for some time with sickness, died last night, requires only the most ordinary testimony to render it credible. But that CD lived to 140, enjoying unabated vigor of mind and body, requires stronger testimony. But still all facts happening in accordance with the ordinary and natural laws of things, require but good human testimony to make them worthy of credence. 'Tis only extraordinary and supernatural facts which require supernatural testimony, or testimony supernaturally confirmed. This is the point to which we have been looking in this essay. And now that we have arrived at it, I would ask, How has the testimony of the Apostles and Evangelists been confirmed?"

The age of Alexander Campbell was characterized by a particular trait - all the Churches of his day, regardless of the name on the door, held to the absolute authority of scripture.  Mr. Campbell could appeal to those things written within the pages of the bible, and though there may be disagreement as to the interpretation, there was no disagreement as to the truthfulness of the text.  In this modern age the task is more difficult, but not impossible.  It is more difficult because this current generation has its doubts even of the existence of God much less the authority of words written.  With all that said, even 200 years ago it was clearly recognized that within scripture are some incredibly extraordinary claims; indeed, claims considered extraordinary right from the very beginning.

But the task is not impossible. Those who demand extraordinary proof for extraordinary claims while reserving for themselves what that extraordinary proof shall be are in reality no different than those men who came to Jesus demanding a sign.  These men were well aware of all that Jesus had been doing. They were well aware of the testimonies, not by one or two, but by hundreds and thousands, of the numerous miracles and healings being performed by him. Yet such demonstrations were not sufficient for their minds.  Just as Herod Antipas had hoped to see Jesus and have Jesus perform some miracles for him, these men demanded signs of their own choosing.  For them, extraordinary evidence was nothing more than a dog and pony show to be performed at their demand.

Such willful blindness was not unique in the day of Jesus, for it is evident in the heart of those today who would insist upon all sorts proofs of their own choosing before they will believe. And to ensure such proofs never occur, they are made to be as absurd as possible. In its conceit, the heart has determined "If God will not perform a sign of my demanding, he obviously does not exist." 

I am not at all suggesting the opposite path is total acceptance of all that has been put forth. I am myself at heart a skeptic. But I am not an unreasonable skeptic.  I will consider not only the evidence itself, but the very nature of that evidence.  Unlike many of the closed enlightened minds of this age I will not declare God an absurdity simply because I don't like all that would necessarily follow from belief.

In the course of this blog I plan to return often to this theme of faith, evidence, and extraordinary claims. I plan to set forth, in opposition to even many of the Church, those reasons why scripture gives us the knowledge that we might plant our feet on the firm foundation of God. This will include discussion about the nature of scripture.  The things I write are primarily for those who say they believe, but are seeking something better than what they are being taught. But I also plan to write for those who, confused by the conceit of this modern age, are at the least willing to  give the testimony of God a fair hearing. That is all I can ask from them. As to those whose minds are made up and whose purpose is to ridicule and mock, I leave them to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Change of course for the Church

This blog is devoted to God's Truth.

At one time it was sufficient to merely make that statement and the premise that Truth existed was accepted without question. We now find ourselves in an age in which such a premise is not only not found acceptable, but the nature of truth is debated and sliced into almost innumerable divisions and nuances. Though truth is abundant, it is obscured by a great heap of error masquerading as enlightenment.

I am not interested in debating the nuances of one kind of truth over another kind of truth.  As philosophies rise and wane so will all the various divisions which pass as human wisdom. What was accepted by a society 30 years ago as undeniably true is likely to be replaced by its inverse as the children shed themselves of their parents quaint ideas.

For there to be Truth that is enduring, it must of necessity be founded upon something greater than the whims of a generation. The great failure of our society over the last 100 years has been the erosion, and ultimate rejection, of a source of Truth that resides outside human wisdom.  Those things which were once exclusively the domain of God's Truth have been ripped from the moorings of solid bedrock and have been reestablished upon the ever shifting sands of feeling.

The result could not be more astounding than to awaken one morning to find the sun rising from the west. Gender is no longer how we were born, nor is it even genetic. It is what we feel.  Our ethnicity is no longer defined by our DNA, but is instead defined by our internal and emotional self-identification.

When Bill Clinton became president, he was hailed as our first black president by Toni Morrison in an article in the New Yorker, 1998.   President Obama complained to his friend and adviser David Axelrod that he felt he was the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat in the Oval Office.  A male high school student who wishes he were a girl is not to be barred from using the girls restroom. The myth of transgendering is foisted upon us with the belief that what amounts to cosmetic surgery magically makes that which was male into female and vice versa.

All of this is seen as truth in our society, but the real truth is this: What our society upholds as supreme authority is nothing more than the basest desires of a godless heart.

The Church in America cannot abdicate its responsibility for such upside down thinking, for like those who "knew not God, or the great work he did for Israel", those who claim the name of Jesus have proved themselves  as unfaithful servants.  The sin of the Church runs from utter disbelief of what is written in scripture to those who would use the things of God to lord over their neighbor.
The Church's disbelief is not an issue of liberal versus conservative. Highly credentialed scholars are paraded in documentaries informing us how the real Jesus was nothing like the one created by the Church.  Still others tell us why what is written in scripture cannot be relied upon.  Christians band themselves together petitioning lawmakers to pass only those laws amenable to their faith.  Argument rages around the display of the 10 Commandments, while the weightier matters of God are left as dry bones in a waterless desert.

Like Israel of old, the Church in America prefers the chariots of human strength and the wisdom of men over the strength and wisdom of God. Our society has no reason to gaze in wonder upon the living God, for the Church that bears his name has replaced the glory of his transcendent image with an inglorious image of its own  creation.

By God's grace and power, there are those among us whose faith is genuine, but that faith is too often judged in accordance to the unrighteousness of the rest. The temptation is to follow the example of Elijah and seek refuge in a cave out of sight of one's enemies. Great evil flowed across the land of Israel. A poisoned stream issued forth from the house of Ahab and Jezebel making sick all who drank from it. But in that dark, stale cave, God made known to Elijah there were at least 7000 men who were faithful to him. Such a tiny number in comparison to the millions that consisted of ancient Israel. Yet Elijah took heart.  His faith would not rest in numbers, but in God.

Luke gives account of the parable of Jesus concerning a widow who presented herself before a godless judge, repeatedly entreating his intervention. Day after day she brought her request. Out of pure frustration, the judge finally relented and granted the woman's desire. If a godless judge can be prevailed upon to grant the request of a woman with no status, how much more will the God of all creation speedily answer to the cries day and night of those who are his?  (Luke 18:1-8).

We cannot leave this parable without paying particular attention to Jesus' very last statement. "Nevertheless,  when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?"  Faith will indeed be found everywhere and in great abundance, for faith is fundamental to the human heart, whether one self identifies as Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, or even atheist.  The question haunting the mind of Jesus is whether he will find a genuine faith in God when he returns.  Unless the Church in America changes its course and again stands with genuine and submissive faith in God through Jesus and not in the things of men, the answer for America could well be "no."