Tag Archives: skeptic

A simpler way to defend biblical inerrancy, infallibility and inspiration

Inerrancy and the Death by a Thousand Qualifications brought up some interesting points about how to defend the truth that the original writings of scripture were without error. If you offer too many qualifications then it seems to neuter your statement, but you do need to offer some sort of support.

I prefer to say that the original writings turned out exactly as God and the human writers desired, and that we can easily demonstrate that they have been faithfully transmitted to us in our language.

That appeals to the simple truth that the real God could — and would — easily ensure such a thing.

To the latter point I have found it persuasive to share a brief reference to the Dead Sea Scrolls and/or to the way even atheist Bart Ehrman will strenuously argue about what he thinks the originals really said on some finer point (meaning that even he thinks it can be known).  I have seen skeptics, Mormons, etc. immediately change their views on the transmission process (if not the inspiration) once they hear that.

Even though I believe that the original writings of the Bible were without error, God-breathed and incapable of error, those views aren’t required for belief in God or the resurrection.  You can take a minimal facts approach and see that even if there were slight discrepancies in the accounts about Jesus that the resurrection could still be true.

Just look at key facts that virtually all historians agree on, such as the following, and realize that his resurrection is the best explanation for those facts.

  • Jesus really lived and was killed on a Roman cross.
  • Jesus’ disciples believed He rose from the dead and appeared to them.
  • Paul believed that Jesus appeared to him.  Even skeptics concede that Paul wrote most of the books attributed to him, including Romans, Galatians, I & II Corinthians and others.
  • Jesus’ brother, James, was a skeptic who converted after Jesus died.

There are skeptics who endorse alternatives to the resurrection (e.g., Jesus’ body was stolen, it was ripped up by dogs, the swoon theory, etc.).  These folks unwittingly  give a lot of support for the resurrection: They show that the historical facts are so strong that one must concede that a real person named Jesus lived and died on a Roman cross and the body did not stay in the tomb. 

—–

bible5.gifClaims of Biblical inerrancy, inspiration and infallibility apply to the original writings.  I have researched countless difficulties and found answers that satisfied me.  Some are tougher than others.  Some things are in the Job category (as in, I’m not capable of understanding them or God doesn’t need me to understand them).

I learned enough about the book to be comfortable that God “wrote” it, and I trust that if there is something in the 1% that appears to be a contradiction then either there was a translation error or – much more likely – there is something I’m just not understanding properly.

In short, after working through enough difficulties with satisfactory answers I tend to give God and his Word the benefit of the doubt.  I’m sure this thrills him to no end.  I say that tongue-in-cheek, because on the one hand He certainly doesn’t need the Neil-seal-of-approval but on the other hand He does love it when we exercise faith.  Not blind faith, not faith despite the evidence, but faith grounded in the truths He has revealed to us.

Are there passages in the currently published Bibles that don’t belong?  Perhaps.  The ending of Mark and the story of Jesus and the woman accused of adultery are not in the earliest and best manuscripts.

Also, some verses sometimes lose a little meaning in certain translations.  For example, when Exodus 21:22-25 is properly understood it is a pro-life passage, yet pro-choice people will use a poorer translation (for that passage) such as the RSV because it supports their position.

These issues don’t bother me that much because they show that the system works: We have so many copies of ancient manuscripts and different translations that it possible to figure out what the originals said.  The exceptions are limited and we can show why they are exceptions.

But on most of what really matters there is no debate.  Every version I’ve seen says, “Love your enemies.”  There are 100 clear passages saying that Jesus is the only way.  That is plenty for me.

I know enough of the Bible and the difficulties to have great faith (trust in evidence) that God inspired the originals.  And I have faith in the copying and translation process so that I can read the Bible with confidence.  For difficult or controversial passages there are plenty of ways to resolve issues on the essentials.  But on the non-essentials I don’t lose sleep.

If people want to have church meetings to debate how often to serve communion, whether to use wine or grape juice, etc., I say go ahead and have a swell time.  Just don’t make me participate.

We can read the Bible with confidence that God has transmitted his Word to us accurately.  Sometimes the words inerrant, infallible and inspired are too loaded with various meanings to be helpful, so I like to emphasize that the original writings of the Bible turned out just the way God and the human writers wanted them to.

A simpler way to defend biblical inerrancy, infallibility and inspiration

Inerrancy and the Death by a Thousand Qualifications brought up some interesting points about how to defend the truth that the original writings of scripture were without error. If you offer too many qualifications then it seems to neuter your statement, but you do need to offer some sort of support.

I prefer to say that the original writings turned out exactly as God and the human writers desired, and that we can easily demonstrate that they have been faithfully transmitted to us in our language.

That appeals to the simple truth that the real God could — and would — easily ensure such a thing.

To the latter point I have found it persuasive to share a brief reference to the Dead Sea Scrolls and/or to the way even atheist Bart Ehrman will strenuously argue about what he thinks the originals really said on some finer point (meaning that even he thinks it can be known).  I have seen skeptics, Mormons, etc. immediately change their views on the transmission process (if not the inspiration) once they hear that.

From an earlier post of mine

Even though I believe that the original writings of the Bible were without error, God-breathed and incapable of error, those views aren’t required for belief in God or the resurrection.  You can take a minimal facts approach and see that even if there were slight discrepancies in the accounts about Jesus that the resurrection could still be true.

Just look at key facts that virtually all historians agree on, such as the following, and realize that his resurrection is the best explanation for those facts.

  • Jesus really lived and was killed on a Roman cross.
  • Jesus’ disciples believed He rose from the dead and appeared to them.
  • Paul believed that Jesus appeared to him.  Even skeptics concede that Paul wrote most of the books attributed to him, including Romans, Galatians, I & II Corinthians and others.
  • Jesus’ brother, James, was a skeptic who converted after Jesus died.

There are skeptics who endorse alternatives to the resurrection (e.g., Jesus’ body was stolen, it was ripped up by dogs, the swoon theory, etc.).  These folks unwittingly  give a lot of support for the resurrection: They show that the historical facts are so strong that one must concede that a real person named Jesus lived and died on a Roman cross and the body did not stay in the tomb. 

—–

bible5.gifClaims of Biblical inerrancy, inspiration and infallibility apply to the original writings.  I have researched countless difficulties and found answers that satisfied me.  Some are tougher than others.  Some things are in the Job category (as in, I’m not capable of understanding them or God doesn’t need me to understand them).

I learned enough about the book to be comfortable that God “wrote” it, and I trust that if there is something in the 1% that appears to be a contradiction then either there was a translation error or – much more likely – there is something I’m just not understanding properly.

In short, after working through enough difficulties with satisfactory answers I tend to give God and his Word the benefit of the doubt.  I’m sure this thrills him to no end.  I say that tongue-in-cheek, because on the one hand He certainly doesn’t need the Neil-seal-of-approval but on the other hand He does love it when we exercise faith.  Not blind faith, not faith despite the evidence, but faith grounded in the truths He has revealed to us.

Are there passages in the currently published Bibles that don’t belong?  Perhaps.  The ending of Mark and the story of Jesus and the woman accused of adultery are not in the earliest and best manuscripts.

Also, some verses sometimes lose a little meaning in certain translations.  For example, when Exodus 21:22-25 is properly understood it is a pro-life passage, yet pro-choice people will use a poorer translation (for that passage) such as the RSV because it supports their position.

These issues don’t bother me that much because they show that the system works: We have so many copies of ancient manuscripts and different translations that it possible to figure out what the originals said.  The exceptions are limited and we can show why they are exceptions.

But on most of what really matters there is no debate.  Every version I’ve seen says, “Love your enemies.”  There are 100 clear passages saying that Jesus is the only way.  That is plenty for me.

I know enough of the Bible and the difficulties to have great faith (trust in evidence) that God inspired the originals.  And I have faith in the copying and translation process so that I can read the Bible with confidence.  For difficult or controversial passages there are plenty of ways to resolve issues on the essentials.  But on the non-essentials I don’t lose sleep.

If people want to have church meetings to debate how often to serve communion, whether to use wine or grape juice, etc., I say go ahead and have a swell time.  Just don’t make me participate.

We can read the Bible with confidence that God has transmitted his Word to us accurately.  Sometimes the words inerrant, infallible and inspired are too loaded with various meanings to be helpful, so I like to emphasize that the original writings of the Bible turned out just the way God and the human writers wanted them to.

Integrated apologetics

I’m a big fan of apologetics (the defense of the Christian faith), but I don’t think we should always treat it as a separate enterprise.  It is good to have whole sessions on apologetics, especially because it is so often ignored in churches, and I’m a huge fan of sites like Apologetics315 and people like the Wintery Knight.  But I prefer to integrate it into most of my lessons so people can grasp the basics and see that it is part of the fabric of our message.

We may not all have the job of evangelist, but as 1 Peter 3:15-16 notes, all Christians are to be apologists.

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

But that doesn’t mean apologetics can’t be a regular part of our lessons and sermons.  For example, when teaching anything in church, or even in general conversations as appropriate, I aim to reflexively weave in basic apologetic themes.

  • The minimal facts: “Virtually all historians agree on key facts about Jesus and his followers, such as Jesus death on a Roman cross, his followers’ belief that He rose from the dead, and Paul’s conversion and his authorship of key books attributed to him such as Romans.  We have good reasons to infer that Jesus rising from the dead is the best explanation for these facts.”
  • Distinctions about biblical faith: We don’t have blind faith; we have a faith grounded in evidence.  See how the Gospel was shared in the book of Acts.  Over and over it was based on references to Jesus’ resurrection, not appeals to believe without evidence or reason.”
  • The robust transmission process of the texts: “Even atheist textual critics will concede that we know what the original writings of the Bible said to 99%+ accuracy, and 100% on major doctrines.”
  • Our simple claim: “The original writings of the Bible turned out exactly the way God and the writers wanted them to.  Yes, men can make mistakes, but they don’t always make mistakes.  Our biblical claim is that God directed the process.”  You can go on at length about the Bible being inerrant, infallible and inspired — and I agree with all of those — but I’ve found that the simple summation gets people to realize that if God can do anything He can surely communicate his original texts to us the way He wanted to.

Note how simple and brief those are.  They can lead to deeper conversations, but those alone can help change people from the errant “blind faith” mindset and get them to think more carefully about apologetics.

I do the same thing with the basic Gospel message.  No matter what I’m teaching, I try to note how we are saved by grace, through faith, and not by works.  This needs to be a constant reminder.

I urge you to weave these simple apologetic and Gospel concepts into your lessons and conversations.  Even if it doesn’t lead the hearers to deeper apologetics studies, at least they will have clear reminders of the basics and will hopefully keep them from saying incorrect things.

What simple themes do you seek to work into lessons and conversations?

Advice for real skeptics and authentic seekers

Everyone should consider matters of eternity very carefully, because eternity matters.

I used to be a skeptic.  I’ve gone to church most of my life, but let’s just say I wasn’t paying very close attention for the first 28 years or so.  At all.  I couldn’t have told you anything about the Bible. Even then the church I attended was a lousy Joel Osteen-wannabe type church — nothing but messages about “God’s unconditional love,” with no scriptural analysis.  I learned nearly everything of importance about the faith outside of church.  My hope is that the rest of you are in churches where you can learn and grow.

My path to Christianity wasn’t linear, but there were many things along the way that I recommend to real skeptics and authentic seekers (hereafter referred to simply as skeptics and seekers).  I hope you will consider using some of these on your search.

(I wrote real skeptics because many self-proclaimed skeptics across aren’t skeptical at all.  They have a position and work aggressively to advance it.  I respect their freedom to do that but it would be an abuse of the word to say they are skeptical.  And I mean authentic seekers in the sense that they are seeking God on his terms and not in some immature fantasy world where they think they get to invent their own god or just pick the religion they like best — and that the real God will consider that to be acceptable.)

Read/study the Bible – This may sound obvious, but far too many people ignore it.  I come across very few people who have read the whole Bible and/or read it regularly, and that includes the countless Christians I know.  Everyone should read it carefully and often.  Jesus didn’t call it “bread” for nothing.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t miss too many meals of real food.  I eat at least 5 times per day (My motto: “Second breakfast – the third most important meal of the day!”).  I work hard to read at least some of the Bible every day.  I’m currently doing a “read the Bible in a year” plan, which is roughly three chapters a day, plus I listen to various Podcasts that go into detail on the scriptures.

Christians should read it to spend time with God, strengthen their faith and educate themselves to help others know the truth.  Skeptics should read it to have a better idea of what they are criticizing.  Some do, but I find that most critics of Christianity make no efforts to do that.   They just repeat out-of context passages (“Don’t judge!”).  Seekers should read it because Christianity is a logical starting point in the search for God.

The Bible makes many claims about itself and its power.  It quotes God directly over 3,000 times and states that He inspired all the writings it contains.  It claims that it has the power to save and transform you.  It has made an immeasurable impact on the world.  Those things aren’t what make it true, but they are good reasons for any skeptic / seeker to read it carefully.

If you want to know someone, you spend time with them.  Reading the Bible (and praying) is spending time with God.  Read it carefully and get to know Jesus.  Then decide if you think He is trustworthy and if He should be the Lord of your life.

The Bible Fast Forward is a great audio resource that ties together the major themes of the Bible.  I highly recommend it for anyone at any stage of their journey.

Pray – Tell God that if He is real that you truly want to know him on his terms.

Self reflection — In your quiet, honest moments, ask yourself if you think you need forgiveness.

Examine your motives.  There are typically three reasons at the root of unbelief.  Which are yours?  If you want to deceive others that is bad enough.  But don’t deceive yourself.

1. Rational / intellectual – Have people gathered enough information to believe?  Have they investigated the facts and logic behind the faith?  Are they using reasonable criteria (i.e., adequate evidence versus absolute proof)?

2. Emotional – People may have had bad experiences with church and/or Christians.  Some people would have very serious consequences from converting (rejection or even persecution from friends, family or society).  People may not want to give up favorite sins.  These may be difficult but are nothing that should get in the way of your eternal salvation.

3. Volitional, or that of the will – Plain old rebellion.  People have seen the facts but use items from the first two categories as excuses.  Spending eternity in Hell because of pride = really bad idea.

Podcasts / websites / Facebook groups – There are countless sites out there, but here are the ones I’ve used the most.  The links go to the main sites, but you can search for those names in iTunes to get the Podcasts.  These will address most common objections.

Stand to Reason – My all-time favorite.  An amazing mix of facts, ways to think clearly and techniques to share the truth in an effective way.

Please Convince Me – Hosted by a cold-case homicide detective who is a former atheist, he is very thorough and analytical in explaining the reasons for our faith and addressing objections.

CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry) – A great site for information on just about any Christian topic or world religion.  Very easy to navigate.

Grace to You – John MacArthur gives terrific verse-by-verse sermons.  He reads countless commentaries and the original languages to prepare each one.

Debates – some people don’t see the value in debates, because it is more like a sporting event where each side is just rooting for their team and against the opposition.  Few minds seem to be changed.  But I think debates have merit.  For a skeptic or seeker it is important to hear both sides in their own words.  I find apologetic works to be very useful because over time I have learned which apologists to trust.  If someone just sets up straw men to knock down, then that isn’t productive.  You may get a temporary boost in confidence for your views but will get creamed when you use those in the real world.

The best sources I’ve seen for debate are the Wintery Knight blog and Apologetics 3:15, where you can get countless videos and transcripts of debates.

Science

There are some things you should never forget about Darwinian evolution.  While this worldview has had a monopoly position in education, media and government for many decades, there is a reason most people still don’t believe it.  Despite what its proponents may tell you about how the theory lets you be an intellectually satisfied atheist, Darwinian evolution has many issues and major theories about it continue to change.  Their views from just a few years ago about “junk” DNA should haunt Darwinists and Theistic Evolutionists alike.

But remember that even if Darwinian evolution was completely true, it would:

  • not explain the origin of the universe (they have to resort to un-scientific stories  like the “multiverse” theory to rationalize away the amazing design in the universe).
  • not explain how life came from non-life.  Despite decades of efforts, they have no idea how to prove how life might have come from non-life, though in their blind faith they persist.
  • be 100.00% responsible for the faith of Christians in the evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (what else could have created these beliefs?).
  • be unable to ground true universal morality.   They have a thing they call morality, but they are really just running off the fumes of Christianity and the fact that God wrote his laws on our hearts.  But real, universal morality in a Darwinian worldview is merely an illusion.  If those in power decide what is right, then it isn’t transcendently right.  It is just a power play.   That doesn’t mean atheists can’t do things we consider to be moral.  Some atheists are pro-life, for example.  It just means they have no philosophical grounding for morality.
Here are a couple great books to help balance out all the Darwinian propaganda you’ve been force-fed your whole life.

Signature in the Cell – DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design – this book is a little complex for the average reader but very important for those who want to know more about what Intelligent Design is really about.

There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Antony Flew – one of the most famous philosophical atheists eventually became a theist based on the evidence for design in the universe.  Sadly, I don’t think he became a Christian before he died.

The big picture — Consider a two-step approach (though you may do this in parallel):

  1. Is there a God?  Examine the information from teleology (design), cosmology, morality, etc.  And meditate closely on this passage: Romans 1:18-20 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
  2. Is Christianity true?  Consider the “minimal facts” approach.  Christianity is a faith based on reason and evidence, not “blind faith.”

If you are a real skeptic / authentic seeker, I highly encourage you to learn enough about Jesus to decide whether you want to put your trust in him.  Deep down you know you are a sinner and will one day die and face God to be judged based on this life.  You can stand alone and take the punishment for your sins, or you can trust in the sacrifice Jesus made.  If you trust in him, all your sins are transferred from his account and all his perfect righteousness is transferred to yours.  It is literally the ultimate deal – and it is free.  You can’t buy it or earn it.

Remember, “doubting Thomas” (who got a bad rap, by the way) was shown the evidence and he made the proper response of belief.  You may not see Jesus face to face as evidence, but there is more than enough evidence for you if you really want to know the truth.

Ultimately, you can trust in yourself or you can trust in Jesus . . . and eternity is a mighty long time to regret a prideful decision.

Roundup

One type of finch evolves into a slightly different type of finch — Just a few more cycles and it will evolve into Angelina Jolie, or something along those lines.  Golly, I guess that proves macro-evolution once and for all.  My bad.  I’ve been wrong all along.

12 Rules To Govern And Live By For Destroying An Economy And A Nation — Great list by Dan.  If I didn’t know better I’d think a certain nation was dutifully following them all.

Great analysis of Bart Ehrman’s ironic and contradictory thinking

In the end, Jesus Interrupted can be best summarized as a book filled with ironies. Ironic that it purports to be about unbiased history but rarely presents an opposing viewpoint; ironic that it claims to follow the scholarly consensus but breaks from it so often; ironic that it insists on the historical-critical method but then reads the gospels with a modernist, overly-literal hermeneutic; ironic that it claims no one view of early Christianity could be “right” (Walter Bauer) but then proceeds to tell us which view of early Christianity is “right;” ironic that it dismisses Papias with a wave of the hand but presents the Gospel of the Ebionites as if it were equal to the canonical four; and ironic that it declares everyone can “pick and choose” what is right for them, but then offers its own litany of moral absolutes. Such intellectual schizophrenia suggests there is more going on in Jesus Interrupted than meets the eye. Though veiled in the garb of scholarship, this book is religious at the core. Ehrman does not so much offer history as he does theology, not so much academics as he does his own ideology. The reader does not get a post-religious Ehrman as expected, but simply gets a new-religious Ehrman–an author who has traded in one religious system (Christianity) for another (postmodern agnosticism). Thus, Ehrman is not out to squash religion as so many might suppose. He is simply out to promote his own. He is preacher turned scholar turned preacher. And of all the ironies, perhaps that is the greatest.

Hat tip: Alpha & Omega Ministries

Hungry Americans: Debunking The Hype — How many hungry are there?  What are the real problems?  Also see where Dinesh D’Souza has interesting reflections on this:

This book, some of his articles, and many of his speeches make the following point: “Indeed, newcomers to the United States are struck by the amenities enjoyed by poor people. This fact was dramatized in the 1980s when CBS television broadcast a documentary, People Like Us, intended to show the miseries of the poor during an ongoing recession. The Soviet Union also broadcast the documentary, with a view to embarrassing the Reagan administration. But by the testimony of former Soviet leaders, it had the opposite effect. Ordinary people across the Soviet Union saw that the poorest Americans have TV sets, microwave ovens and cars. They arrived at the same perception that I witnessed in an acquaintance of mine from Bombay who has been unsuccessfully trying to move to the United States. I asked him, Why are you so eager to come to America? He replied, I really want to live in a country where the poor people are fat. Dinesh D’Souza

Inerrant, infallible, inspired

I’m re-running this post with some more thoughts.  Even though I believe that the original writings of the Bible were without error, God-breathed and incapable of error, those views aren’t required for belief in God or the resurrection.  You can take a minimal facts approach and see that even if there were slight discrepancies in the accounts about Jesus that the resurrection could still be true.   

Just look at key facts that virtually all historians agree on, such as the following, and realize that his resurrection is the best explanation for those facts.

  • Jesus really lived and was killed on a Roman cross.
  • Jesus’ disciples believed He rose from the dead and appeared to them.
  • Paul believed that Jesus appeared to him.  Even skeptics concede that Paul wrote most of the books attributed to him, including Romans, Galatians, I & II Corinthians and others.
  • Jesus’ brother, James, was a skeptic who converted after Jesus died.

There are skeptics who endorse alternatives to the resurrection (e.g., Jesus’ body was stolen, it was ripped up by dogs, the swoon theory, etc.).  These folks unwittingly  give a lot of support for the resurrection: They show that the historical facts are so strong that one must concede that a real person named Jesus lived and died on a Roman cross and the body did not stay in the tomb. 

—–

bible5.gifClaims of Biblical inerrancy, inspiration and infallibility apply to the original writings.  I have researched countless difficulties and found answers that satisfied me.  Some are tougher than others.  Some things are in the Job category (as in, I’m not capable of understanding them or God doesn’t need me to understand them). 

I learned enough about the book to be comfortable that God “wrote” it, and I trust that if there is something in the 1% that appears to be a contradiction then either there was a translation error or – much more likely – there is something I’m just not understanding properly.

In short, after working through enough difficulties with satisfactory answers I tend to give God and his Word the benefit of the doubt.  I’m sure this thrills him to no end.  I say that tongue-in-cheek, because on the one hand He certainly doesn’t need the Neil-seal-of-approval but on the other hand He does love it when we exercise faith.  Not blind faith, not faith despite the evidence, but faith grounded in the truths He has revealed to us.

Are there passages in the currently published Bibles that don’t belong?  Perhaps.  The ending of Mark and the story of Jesus and the woman accused of adultery are not in the earliest and best manuscripts. 

Also, some verses sometimes lose a little meaning in certain translations.  For example, when Exodus 21:22-25 is properly understood it is a pro-life passage, yet pro-choice people will use a poorer translation (for that passage) such as the RSV because it supports their position. 

These issues don’t bother me that much because they show that the system works: We have so many copies of ancient manuscripts and different translations that it possible to figure out what the originals said.  The exceptions are limited and we can show why they are exceptions. 

But on most of what really matters there is no debate.  Every version I’ve seen says, “Love your enemies.”  There are 100 clear passages saying that Jesus is the only way.  That is plenty for me.

I know enough of the Bible and the difficulties to have great faith (trust in evidence) that God inspired the originals.  And I have faith in the copying and translation process so that I can read the Bible with confidence.  For difficult or controversial passages there are plenty of ways to resolve issues on the essentials.  But on the non-essentials I don’t lose sleep. 

If people want to have church meetings to debate how often to serve communion, whether to use wine or grape juice, etc., I say go ahead and have a swell time.  Just don’t make me participate. 

We can read the Bible with confidence that God has transmitted his Word to us accurately.  Sometimes the words inerrant and infallible are too loaded with various meanings to be helpful, so I like to emphasize that the original writings of the Bible turned out just the way God wanted them to.

Got questions?

question-mark.gifMarie reminded me of a link on my blogroll to Got Questions?  I recommend it to skeptics and believers.  The answers seem to be well thought out and readable.  Go do some browsing.  I’ll wait here.

Do you have a question about God, Jesus, the Bible, or theology?

Have you ever needed help understanding a Bible verse or passage?

Are there any spiritual issues in your life for which you need advice or counsel?

You can also subscribe to a Question of the Week by email.

If nothing else, the site provides 184,094 reasons (and counting) as to why it is false to say that people aren’t allowed to question Christianity or that we don’t applaud the use of reason and logic.

Not-so-skeptical skeptics

Dan & Edgar posted a good video (Warning: not for little ones) that shows the challenges of living coherently with one’s worldview when that involves denying universal morality.

One of the commenters caught my attention on a couple items:

This is just another deliberate misinterpretation of the Selfish Gene theory. It’s not about the genes of the individual, it’s about the genes of the species. It’s the reason there are worker ants and bees that do nothing but work, fight and die. They allow for their SPECIES to survive, not their individual genes.

I’d suggest that it’s not the Darwinists that have closed minds, so much as the Creationists that have closed eyes and ears. If only they’d take after the third monkey and close their mouths too.

My reply: Then why are humans — the most advanced species — so “irrational” when it comes to morality? Wouldn’t we be all in lockstep if it was all about the genes of the species? I don’t see lions debating the morality of killing gazelles.

And as another commenter noted, wouldn’t anything I do in a materialistic worldview be driven by my genes?

Then the original commenter went a different direction:

Can you point out which part of the Bible even mentions Genes? DNA? Germ Theory? Bacteria? Anything that couldn’t have been written by some wandering nomad in the desert???

Here’s my response: Cute red herring. If the Bible claimed to be a science textbook then that might be a remotely relevant point.

What I find highly informative about the Big Book O’ Atheist Sound Bites crowd is that they never bring up passages like Genesis 22:17: I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.

The ancients thought there were just over 1,000 stars. But they obviously knew there were a vast, vast amount of grains of sand. So why don’t they highlight verses like this and be skeptical of their skepticism, even if just for one time? We know there are billions of grains of sand and billions of stars. Of course the Bible wasn’t claiming the figures were precisely the same.

But why don’t “skeptics” say, “Wow, how could the author of Genesis know that there were billions of stars? That obviously wasn’t written by some uneducated wandering nomad. Maybe I should take the spiritual claims of the bible more seriously since it is accurate on something like that, and is so well supported by archeology and history.”

P.S. The Bible supports the “selfish gene theory.”  It is called original sin.  It also tells you about the cure to this eternally deadly disease.

Roundup

frankensteinGreat piece by Roxanne over at Haemet on OctoMom (the lady who went from six kids to fourteen via in vitro and has no desire to have a dad involved).  It  highlights another example of the law of unintended consequences (that seems to be a theme lately).

OctoMom is liberalism’s Frankenstein. They created her and demonstrate their hypocrisy by criticizing her. In their postmodern worldview, who are they to make moral claims on her? What is wrong with her not having a father for her children? They committed to support her regardless of her bad decisions (oops, there I go being judgmental) and now they want to pull up the drawbridge. If they were being consistent they’d just build her a bigger house. After all, if you don’t have all you want you just have to get in the front row of one of Obama’s events and ask Santa Claus. You’ll get everything you want, no questions asked.

An important piece by Tony on plagiarism in the pulpit.  It is sad that many pastors mislead their congregations and don’t get feed by the word by preparing their own sermons. 

A provocative and important post by DJ Black Adam called Many (Not Most) Black Men Hate Black Women.  I found it to be very eye opening and candid. 

The Pugnacious Irishman is challenging skeptics to give him their best shot.  Go see Calling All Skeptics and leave your top three objections to Jesus, Christianity and the Bible.

ipecacIf you are out of Syrup of Ipecac, just listen to unrepentent pathological liar Chuck Currie’s sermon, Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin.  Keep in mind that this was Chuck’s sermon.  It would have been inane enough if it was just a talk, but this is his idea of a sermon?  He trots out the typical false dichotomy of religion vs. science, which of course ignores that so many great scientists were Christians and sought God’s thoughts after him.

Number of mentions of Jesus?  None that I noticed.  Any mention of the Gospel?  No.  Denial of the Bible being God’s word?  Of course.  Did he exegete any scripture or even refer to any specific Bible passage?  No. Wesley would probably be ill if he knew that Currie was quoting him. 

Chuck is alarmed that half of Americans think that God created humans in their present form. Eek!  Chuck thinks that Adam, Eve and Noah were fictional.  But Jesus thought they were real people.  Gee, whose side should I take?

Satan masquerades as an angel of light.

Alleged Bible contradictions

bible.jpgWhile many atheists are quite reasonable and charitable when discussing religious matters, I think one of the strategies of the New Atheists is to run around with their Big Book O’ Atheist Sound Bites to distract you, waste your time and plant seeds of doubt with bad arguments.  I addressed many of their standard lines in Poor arguments to make with theists.  (In fairness, I had previously addressed Poor arguments to make with atheists, because theists also make poor and uncharitable arguments at times.)

If there were any legitimate objections in this list of 194 alleged contradictions that DJ Black Adam pointed me to then they were lost in their overly literal and transparently false interpretations.  You don’t even need any Bible knowledge to debunk most of them.  The skeptics just misread the text or read it out of context.  I also think that their dictionary doesn’t contain the word paradox, though most of the items on this list don’t even approach that level of sophistication.  I pray that they would take the text seriously and accept its life changing message.

Their conclusion starts with this charming, question begging personal attack:

Every one is aware that there are contradictions in the Bible, except for the fundamentalist idiots.  

First, let’s recall the definition of a contradiction:

1. the act of contradicting; gainsaying or opposition.
2. assertion of the contrary or opposite; denial.
3. a statement or proposition that contradicts or denies another or itself and is logically incongruous.
4. direct opposition between things compared; inconsistency.
5. a contradictory act, fact, etc.

So mere differences aren’t contradictions.  To be a contradiction something has to be the opposite. 

Just for grins, I grabbed a few of the 194 “contradictions” to see how robust they were. 

#4. The angel told Joseph. Mt.1:20.  The angel told Mary. Lk.1:28.

Let’s look at the two verses in question: 

Matthew 1:20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

Luke 1:28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

So the angel went to Joseph and to Mary.  That is simply not a contradiction.  Why they would include something like this is beyond me.  

#11.  Satan tempted Jesus. Mt.4:1-10; Mk.1:13; Lk.4:1,2.  Satan had no interest in Jesus. Jn.14:30.

I agree that Satan tempted Jesus, so there is no need to review those verses.  But let’s look at the second claim and see if it states that Satan had “no interest” in Jesus: 

John 14:30 I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 

The plain reading of the text shows that Satan has no hold on Jesus.  It does not claim that he has no interest in Jesus.  Why do they think that is a contradiction?

#27 The people were not impressed with the feeding of the multitude. Mk.6:52.  The people were very impressed with the feeding of the multitude. Jn.6:14.

Mark 6:52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

John 6:14 After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

At first glance the skeptics appear to have a point.  After all, Mark 6:52 seems to indicate that they didn’t have a strong reaction.  But did you notice that the first word of the verse isn’t capitalized?  I wonder what the previous verse says and why it wasn’t included . . .

Mark 6:51-52 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

Ah!  Maybe the skeptics left it out because it annihilates their “contradiction.”  It turns out the people were impressed after all.  You just have to go back one half sentence, or one word for that matter.  So are these guys really that ignorant or are they truly deceptive?  Do they just assume that people won’t open the book for themselves? 

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I may come back for more later.  The Tektonics Apologetics Encyclopedia is a good site to bookmark (it is in my Apologetics links to the right).  You can quickly look up a passage to see thorough responses to common objections.

Simple yet powerful apologetics

tomb.jpgHere is a summary of the “minimal facts” approach: Nearly 100% of historical scholars from 1975 – present agree with the following statements:

  • Jesus really lived and was killed on a Roman cross.
  • Jesus’ disciples believed He appeared to them.
  • Jesus’ brother, James, went from being a pre-crucifixion skeptic to a post-crucifixion church leader.
  • The Apostle Paul believed Jesus appeared to him and he wrote most of the books attributed to him, including Romans, I & II Corinthians, Philemon and others.

75% of the same scholars agree that the tomb was empty.

I submit that the physical resurrection of Jesus best accounts for these facts.

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I am confident that we can defend the inspiraton and innerancy claims of the Bible, but the discussions are wide and deep and it is easy for them to get off track.

An interesting approach is to consider what the skeptical historians tend to agree on – that is, what elements of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus do the well educated skeptics concede?  You can actually build a very strong case starting with those.  If nothing else, it helps annihilate the “blind faith” accusations often lobbed against Christians.

When virtually all historians agree on something – believers and skeptics included, we have a term for those views: Facts.

I readily concede that God used the writing styles and experiences of the humans who wrote the Gospels, but I don’t concede that it didn’t turn out exactly as God wanted it to. He is sovereign over his creation and could easily guide the people and circumstances to achieve what He desired.

I think those doctrines are quite defensible but not necessary to share the Gospel. There are several important facts that even skeptical historians will concede, and we can work from there:

  • Jesus really lived and then died on a Roman cross.
  • The disciples really believed He rose physically (even if the historians don’t believe He rose physically they agree that the disciples believed that He did).
  • The Apostle Paul persecuted Christians then converted after claiming to see the risen Christ and wrote at least Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philipians, Galatians and Philemon, which record key doctrines and traditions at early dates.  Paul was originally hostile to the faith and had no reason to believe.

Mike Licona is a New Testament historian, author, and Christian apologist. He is a PhD candidate in New Testament at the University of Pretoria and has an M.A. in Religious Studies from Liberty University. He has a great web page that addresses these in a very accessible way.  Here are a couple excerpts.  Go read the whole thing.  I also put a link in the apologetics section to the right.

1. Jesus’ disciples believed he appeared to them. (% of scholars from 1975-Present who agree: Nearly 100%)

No less than 9 ancient sources from an eyewitness, very early oral traditions dating within 20 years of Jesus’ crucifixion, and several written sources testify that Jesus’ disciples were claiming that he had risen from the dead and appeared to them.

“It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which He appeared to them as the risen Christ.” -Atheist New Testament Scholar Gerd Lüdemann, 1995

2. A few skeptics believed Jesus appeared to them. (% of scholars from 1975-Present who agree: Nearly 100% for Paul; ~90% for James)

Paul experienced an immediate change from a persecutor of the Church to one of its most aggressive advocates.  He said the change was because the risen Jesus had appeared to him, and he willingly suffered and died for that belief. (Sources: Paul, Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth, Origen)

Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, the brother of Jesus named James was a skeptic (Sources: Mark, John).  An appearance of the risen Jesus to James is reported within 5 years of Jesus’ crucifixion (Source: 1 Corinthians 15:7).  James became a leader of the Church in Jerusalem (Sources: Paul, Luke).  James willingly died for his belief that Jesus was the Messiah (Sources: Josephus, Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria).

3. The original disciples were willing to suffer and die for their belief that Jesus rose and attests to the sincerity of their faith, which strongly rules out lies on their part.

Sources: Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, Origen.

4. “All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of [the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history.”-William Wand, Oxford University, 1972) (% of scholars from 1975-Present who agree: ~75%)

Since Jesus was publicly executed then buried in Jerusalem, it would have been impossible for Christianity to get off the ground there had the body still been in the tomb.  His enemies in the Jewish leadership and Roman government would only have had to exhume the corpse and publicly display it for the hoax to have been shattered.

Rather than point to an occupied tomb, the Jewish leadership who had Jesus crucified accused His disciples of stealing the body. This move seems to have been an attempt to account for a missing body, since it is highly unlikely that this claim would have been made if the body had still been in the tomb. (Sources: Matthew, Justin, Tertullian).

When we come to the account of the empty tomb, women are listed as the primary witnesses.  This would be an odd invention, since in both Jewish and Roman cultures woman were not esteemed and their testimony was regarded as questionable; certainly not as credible as a man’s. Given the low view of women that existed in the first century, it seems unlikely that the Gospel authors would invent testimonies, place them in the mouths of those who would not be believed by many, and then make them the primary witnesses to the empty tomb.  If the Gospel writers had invented the story about the empty tomb, it seems that they would most likely have depicted men discovering its vacancy and being the first to see the risen Jesus.

Conclusion

a. A number of people claimed to have seen Jesus alive after his execution.  These were friends and skeptics, individuals and groups.

b. Jesus’ tomb was empty

c. Since these facts are well established historically and are accepted by the majority of scholars, any theory of what happened has to account for all of the facts.

d. Jesus’ resurrection certainly accounts for all of the historical facts.  But can any natural explanation (opposed to a supernatural one) explain these facts too?

Competing theories

Psychological phenomena, fraud, legend. [see the web site for refutations of these theories]

The New Testament wasn’t first compiled into a single volume until the middle of the second century.  Thus, we have no less than 9 New Testament authors who write about Jesus in the first century.  Furthermore, 11 additional early Christian authors, 4 heretical writings, and 7 non-Christian sources make explicit mention of Jesus in their writings within 150 years of his life. This amounts to a minimum of 31 authors, 7 who are non-Christian, who explicitly mention Jesus within 150 years of his life.