Archive for February, 2009

Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Spencer D Gear

Part 1 of 4

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This is the first part of a 4-part series.  See also:

6pointShinny-small Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

6pointShinny-small Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

6pointShinny-small Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

Why is it necessary for us in the 21st century to have to address a topic such as this, “Can You Trust Your Bible?”  We’ve had this New Testament (NT) for close to 2,000 years and the first books of the Old Testament (OT) – Pentateuch: Gen.-Deut. & Job – for about 3,500 years.[1] [Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Malachi, 1 & 2 Chronicles, concluded the OT canon  [400-500BC].  We’ll consider some reasons in a moment.

This series will not deal with:

  1. Which English translation is the best?  That would be an interesting topic.  We’ll be dealing with the trustworthiness of the OT and NT in the original manuscripts.
  2. We will not be discussing, except in passing, how the books came to be selected for the OT and the NT.  That’s the canonicity of the Bible and it will not be our focus.
  3. We also will be learning some general approaches to help with sharing the Gospel — including a defence of the trustworthiness of the Bible.

A. What are some of the reasons why we need to defend the Bible today?

For me, these are prominent reasons, but they are not in order of priority:

1. First, when you turn on the TV or radio, or read the newspaper at Easter and Christmas times particularly (but also at other times), you will be fed loads of doubt about the Bible and its truthfulness.  In fact, much of this doubt is being driven by some from within the church who do not believe what the Bible says — liberal church men and women.  We’ll look at examples as we go along.

2 Second, this mass media message is impacting on regular people in the church and we MUST provide answers.  Shortly, I’ll give an example of a person who came to me very distraught after one of those TV programs.

We live in a mass media culture — and that includes the worldwide web.

Other worldviews can drown us and we MUST provide reasons for the Christian faith, especially for our young people.

It was about 500 years ago that the leader of the Protestant reformation, MARTIN LUTHER, said this:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every point of the Truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that point attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is tested.  To be steady in all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if the soldier flinches at that point.”[2]

That’s as relevant as if Luther preached it today.  I’d rather be expounding the Scriptures for the people of God, but the Bible is under attack and we must provide answers for the people of God.  It would be a disgrace if I flinched at this point.

3. There’s a third, and very important reason, why we must address a subject such as, “Can You Trust Your Bible?”  The Bible requires that we provide a defence of the faith in EVERY age of history. We desperately need it today, but we evangelicals have become lazy.  Apologetics is not a prominent theological discipline in the Bible colleges I have attended (3 of them plus 1 seminary). However, this is what the Bible states:

I Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect” (NIV).

That phrase in the NIV, “give an answer” is too weak.  It is better translated as in the ESV, “make a defense.”  Make an “apologia” for the Christian faith.  It’s too bad that our English word “apology,” derived from this word, gives the wrong idea for what this wonderful Greek word means for all believers.  “Give an answer”, means “give a defense” of the Christian faith — all of us need to be prepared to do that.

This is as Paul did on Mars Hill (the Areopagus), Athens, recorded in Acts 17:22ff.  It was there that he used the Greek’s “unknown god” as a starting point for defending the faith (v. 23).

According to Acts 17:17, before Paul got to the Areopagus, he “reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.”

How we need Christians to be equipped for that today.

You know, “Thou shalt not think,” is NOT one of the 10 commandments.

4. There’s a fourth reason why a subject like this is needed today. I hear Christian parents saying to their teenagers about the Bible: “Accept it by faith.  God requires you to just believe it.  Faith is the answer to your doubt.  Quit asking questions about the Bible. Just accept it.”

It is my prayer that after this 4-part series, you will never say that again. Here’s why:

a. You are probably familiar with what the Bible says about its own inspiration, but let’s look at these verses again:

2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and [is] profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work”.  (NASB)  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” NIV)

Psalm 119:142, 151:

Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true.

But you are near, O Lord, and all your commandments are true.  (ESV)

Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth.

You are near, O Lord, and all Your commandments are truth.  (NASB)

b. But take a look at another “scripture” from another religion.

Many of us are not familiar with these words.  They are words from the Muslim’s Koran (Quran):

Sura – 2 The Heifer ( Al-Baqarah)
Order Of Revelation 87, Verses: 286[3]

[2:0] In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

[2:1] A.L.M.*

[2:2] This scripture is infallible; a beacon for the righteous;

Three Categories of People
(1) The Righteous

[2:3] who believe in the unseen, observe the Contact Prayers (Salat)*, and from our provisions **to them, they give to charity.

[2:4] And they believe in what was revealed to you, and in what was revealed before you*, and with regard to the Hereafter, they are absolutely certain.

[2:5] These are guided by their Lord; these are the winners.

__________________________________________________________________
*2:1 These initials remained a divinely guarded secret for 1400 years.  Now we recognize them as a major component of the Quran’s mathematical miracle (see Appendices 1, 2, 24, and 26).  The meaning of A.L.M. is pointed out in Verse 2: “This scripture is infallible.”  This is incontrovertibly proven by the fact that the frequencies of occurrence of these three initials in this sura are 4502, 3202, and 2195, respectively.  The sum of these numbers is 9899, or 19×521.  Thus, these most frequent letters of the Arabic language are mathematically placed according to a superhuman pattern.  These same initials also prefix Suras 3, 29, 30, 31, and 32, and their frequencies of occurrence add up to multiples of 19 in each one of these suras.

I put it to you, the Bible says “all Scripture is inspired by God.”

The Quran says, “This Scripture is infallible.”

Which one are you to believe? If you accept the Bible and reject the Quran, why do you do that?  Both books say that they are “inspired.”  If you accept both, you are in for massive conflict because the Quran says that:

  • For the Muslim, Allah is the only true God;

  • It is blasphemous to believe in the Trinity;

  • Jesus Christ was a prophet for His people, in His day, but he is not the Son of God or God himself (Sura 4:171);

  • The prophet Muhammed supersedes Jesus Christ;

  • Jesus Christ did not atone for anyone’s sins, although Jesus was sinless;

  • Jesus did not die on the cross;

  • Many Muslims believe that Jesus Christ was taken bodily into heaven without having died (Sura 4:157);

  • The Muslim God is unapproachable by sinful people;

  • Sin and salvation in Islam are associated with works and fate (kismet);

  • Some Shiite Muslims are restoring Holy War (the Jihad) as a condition of faith — it is their sacred duty to murder anyone who will not embrace the one true faith.  (Surely that is what we are seeing with the suicide bombings in the Middle East now).[4]

The Bible says that it is the infallible, God-breathed Word of God.

The Quran says that it is infallible.

How are you going to validate the Bible as a trustworthy word from the Lord Almighty; or the Quran as the infallible Word from Allah?

It will not do to say, “Accept the Bible by faith.”  We need some verification to prove that the Bible is the trustworthy word from the Lord almighty.

Take a read of one of the students on a seminary’s Bulletin Board [no longer available to the general public]:

Dear Jamie,

I agree that they were fallible humans, but can the infallible God speak to us, give us a message to give to others, and still keep that message infallible. The whole question of infallibility of scripture is one of faith.

I won’t speak for anyone but me. If the outcome of eternity is based on the relationship I have with God, requires that God give me the message in a way I can understand, and trust. If you look at other historical writings, and how the OT and NT were written over thousands of years, by so many different writers, God’s hand must have been on it. Greater minds than mine have argued this question, and I have to stand with those who hold to infallibility.

For me, when the church Canonizes the scripture, it wasn’t so we would worship, but so would have a final authority. Something that we could all agree on. As I look on every church body that has pulled away for scripture as final authority, they have fallen away from belief, to the point that some do not believe in God at all (Bishop Pike). The struggle to canonize scripture, was long and hard; yes man did it but I believe God’s hand was there helping. Now can I prove anything I just said. No! But that’s the wonderful thing about faith, I don’t have to. If you don’t hold to scripture as the final authorty, than you have to look to the mind or logic; logic will lead you to humanism or to a God who wants to speak to us. Francis A. Schaeffer’s book, He is there and He is not silent, is a very good book explaining this process.

God Bless

Larry

B. Here’s where I am going in these four messages with you.

I’m grateful for the brief time I studied under one of the world’s leading apologists, Dr John Warwick Montgomery.  I am deeply indebted to his approach to defending the faith and establishing the trustworthiness of the Bible, especially the Gospel records.  He taught me this outline (with some changes) and this is where we are going in these teaching sessions.

A criticism that is often made against the Bible is that Christians argue in circles.  The charge goes like this: Christians claim that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and to prove it, they quote a passage from the Bible that says so.

This kind of argumentation is known as begging the question or circular reasoning.  Nothing is proved by it.  It is based on assuming something is true, but using that assumption as fact to prove another assumption.

But there is no need to do this.  Instead of assuming the Bible to be the Word of God, we can begin by:

 1. Demonstrating that the Scriptures are reliable historical  documents.

2. In these documents, Jesus claims to be God in human flesh, and he bases His claim on His forthcoming resurrection.

3. We examine the evidence for the resurrection in this historic document and find that the arguments overwhelmingly support the fact that Christ actually rose from the dead.  This demonstrates that He is the unique Son of God that He claimed to be.  If He is God, then He speaks with authority on all matters.

4. Since Christ is God, then He speaks the truth concerning the absolute divine authority of the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17-18; 15:1-3) and the soon-to-be written New Testament.

Jesus “promised His disciples, who either wrote or had control over the writing of the New Testament books, that the Holy Spirit would bring all things back to their remembrance (John 14:26).”  So, “we can insist, with sound and accurate logic, that the Bible is God’s word.  This is not circular reasoning.  It is establishing certain facts and basing conclusions on the sound logical outcome of these facts.  The case for Christianity can be established by ordinary means of historical investigation.”

5. If we have time, I’ll put the Quran to the same tests that we apply to the Bible.

C. By way of explanation, I need to say that I will be using tests to establish the trustworthiness of Scripture from within the Bible and from outside the Bible.

I have known Christians to get a bit upset with me when I say that I will be using tests from outside of the Bible to prove the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Bible.  It’s necessary to do it this way.

Those who study the original languages of the Bible (Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew) have to do this all the time.  Nowhere in the Bible do you find the rules of grammar for understanding Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.  I had to learn my Greek grammar to interpret the Bible, from outside of the Bible.

For example, we know that the Bible says, “God so loved the world” and NOT “the world so loved God” because of Greek grammar that dictates the translation into English.  The Bible in the original language has to be interpreted by learning Greek grammar and syntax from OUTSIDE the Bible.

We have to do the same kind of thing when we set out to prove the trustworthiness of a historical document.

D. Let’s look at some books from history

  • Here’s a biography of John Macarthur (John Macarthur, M. H. Ellis[6]), not the American preacher, but a famous Australian (1767-1834).  MacArthur was the “squire” responsible for bringing “to Australia the first authenticated pure merinos [sheep] and persuaded the British Privy Council that wool would be the basis of future greatness of the colony of New South Wales.”[7]

The author of the biography says, “though the author has worked as far as possible from original documents, he has applied his reference notes wherever it has been feasible to a source more accessible to the ordinary student.”[8] How do I know these original documents by John MacArthur are reliable and trustworthy?

  • Here’s the book, The Five Gospels (Funk, Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar[9]) and read p. 5: “Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you….  Eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him.” How do we decide if Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are 82% wrong with the words of Jesus OR the 4 Gospels provide an accurate picture of the life and death of Jesus Christ?
  • Here we have The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus[10] He was a wealthy Jew who wrote this history in which he “tried to justify Judaism to the cultured Romans by his writings.”[11] He also mentioned James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ. . .”[12] Is Josephus writing reliable history? If so, how do we know?
  • Then I pick up my Bible and read, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).  Also, “All Scripture is God-breathed.. .” (2 Tim. 3:16).

Is God’s Word truth and reliable OR are we dealing with myth-making where 82% of what Jesus said is WRONG? How can be test these documents to see if they are trustworthy? Most of you will never read these books, but the content of them is driving what you are hearing on the mass media today about Jesus.

If I say that I believe the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God, and without error in all that it affirms, no news reporter will show up to interview me.

But the response is totally different if a group of high profile theologians rolls the coloured beads to decide which of the words of Jesus are true.  They come up with only 18% of his words in the Gospels are what he said and the rest are inventions by the early church —  the mass media will be along in droves.  And that’s exactly what is happening.  You watch what happens around Easter and Christmas!

We must have answers.  Our young people must not be allowed to drown in this sea of attack on the word of God at school and university.  We have good answers and we must provide them.

E. Let’s Vote on Jesus

Starting in 1985, a group of Bible scholars got together to decided if the words of Jesus in the Gospels were authentic.  “At the close of debate on each agenda item, Fellows of the Seminar [that’s what they were called, male & female] voted, using colored beads to indicate the degree of authenticity of Jesus’ words.  Dropping colored beads into a box became the trademark of the [Jesus] Seminar . . .”[13]

This is what they found:

The Jesus Seminar colour code roughly translates to:

Red bead: That’s Jesus!

Pink bead: Sure sounds like Jesus.

Grey bead: Well, maybe.

Black bead: There’s been some mistake.

[Robert W. Funk,  Roy W. Hoover & The Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels (Macmillan, 1993, p. 37)]

  •  A red slip meant that  “Jesus undoubtedly said this or something like it.”  In brief: “That’s Jesus.”
  • A pink slip indicated that “Jesus probably said something like this.”  In brief: “Sure sounds like Jesus.”
  • Grey: “Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.”  In brief: “Well, maybe.”
  • A black slip meant “Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.”  In brief: “There’s been some mistake.”[14]

After tabulating the results of their voting, the Jesus Seminar asserts, “Eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him.”[15]

The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew chs. 5-7] took a hiding in the balloting.

  • “Blessed are the peacemakers” was given a miss.
  •  “Blessed are the meek” received “six timid red and pink votes out of 30 cast.”
  •  Overall, only three out of twelve of the blessings and woes of the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel were accepted as authentic.
  •  We could ignore this as a party game by liberal scholars, but it is an attitude that is often found in evangelical churches and assemblies. We have to battle a tendency to accept the Scriptures on our terms and not on God’s.

If we are to be Christians of substance, I am convinced that we need to accept the Bible in its entirety as the Word of God.  How can we do that?  Listen to some thinking from those associated with the church.

F. What Some Theologians Are Saying

Some theologians are leading the push to make Jesus fit into the trendy modern mold of what our modern secular culture wants.

1. Former Episcopalian (Anglican) Bishop John Spong (USA)

In his book, Born of a Woman [please note, the book is not titled, Born of a Virgin, and that is deliberate.  Spong makes the outlandish suggestion that Mary, the mother of Jesus, conceived Jesus illegitimately.  The early church as a cover-up invented the virgin birth.

In talking about the birth story of Jesus in Luke 2, Spong asks: “Is it true? . .  The answer is, of course, no! . .  There was no biologically literal virgin birth. . .  In all probability Jesus was born in Nazareth in a very normal way either as the child of Mary and Joseph, or else he was an illegitimate child that Joseph validated by acknowledging him as Joseph’s son.  All that can be stated definitely is that the echoes of the status of illegitimacy appear to be far stronger in the text then the suggestion that Jesus was Mary’s child by Joseph.”[16]

2. Barbara Thiering (Australia)

In her book, Jesus: The Man, she claims that Jesus didn’t die on the cross.  He was poisoned and then revived.  He married and raised three children.

3. Roman Catholic biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan (USA)

In his book, The Historical Jesus (1991), he states that Jesus did not rise from the dead.  Jesus was buried in a shallow grave; the body was dug up and eaten by dogs.[17]

Please understand that when these liberal theologians like Crossan speak of “the historical Jesus,” they are:

  • NOT speaking about Jesus as he lived in history;
  • They are using a technical term, a reconstruction of Jesus;
  • The “historical Jesus” is the one who can be explained in scientific, historical, purely human categories;
  • Anything miraculous is myth because supernatural events defy history and cannot be called history.  They are mythological.
  • So, in reality, their so-called historical Jesus is the unhistorical invention of these critics.  They are creating Jesus in their own image and calling him “the historical Jesus.”18]

I am convinced that Charles Colson is correct when he states that:

“Taken together, books like these can create a widespread climate of opinion that the Bible is simply a collection of myths and errors.  Even evangelical Christians may gradually accept the same principle and begin to separate faith from facts.  The Bible is true in its spiritual message, they say, but full of errors in its history.”[19]

There was an SBS television series here in Australia in 1999.  It was called, “From Jesus to Christ,” and presented the views of people like those from the Jesus Seminar.  After watching one episode of that program, a Christian came to me,  utterly devastated.  She said something like:

  • “Have I been deceived?
  • Have I believed a lie all this time?
  • The biblical scholars on that program said that the words of Jesus couldn’t be trusted as accurate or truthful.
  • In fact, they are saying that about 80% of the words that the NT puts in Jesus’ mouth DID NOT come from him at all.  The early church inserted them in the Bible because the church wanted us to believe that.
  • I need some answers.  Is this true that the early church put words in Jesus’ mouth?  These scholars say it is.”

In the Bible, faith can never be separated from historical facts.  To talk about the “Jesus of faith” vs. “the Jesus of history” is nonsensical.  Remember what Paul said in I Corinthians 15?  “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so it your faith . . .  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (vv. 14, 17).  If Jesus was not raised from the dead–historical fact–your faith is worthless.

Besides, if we accept the premise that the Bible is wrong, we become butchers.  We start the chopping job.  How are we going to decide what is believable and what is to be chucked out?  If we start tampering with the Bible, we will be trying to make Jesus to fit what we want.  Our prejudices will make Jesus into the image we want him to be.[20]

I’d like to introduce you to a rather different approach to judo.

G. The Judo Technique

I learned this when I was studying Jim Kennedy’s gospel presentation in Evangelism Explosion.[21]

Often as you begin presenting the gospel, the person will say something like, “I don’t believe the Bible.  You’ll have to convince me some other way than referring to the Scriptures.”  Many people are devastated by this objection.  What happens to them?  Their attempt to share Christ fizzles.

This need not be the case.  I want to encourage you to use this objection as a springboard into the gospel itself.  The Apostle Paul, when he preached in Greek cities that had no background in the Bible, appealed to the Scriptures even though the people who listened to him did not believe the Bible.

He proclaimed to them and the Holy Spirit used the proclamation to save some who then came to believe the Bible to be true.  When we witness, our primary function is to proclaim the gospel, not defence of the Bible.  BUT when people object to the Bible, we DO NEED good answers to respond.  And there ARE EXCELLENT answers.

The judo technique works like this.  The objection, “I don’t believe the Bible,” is quite an easy one to deal with.  Don’t use the approach of a boxer who meets the blow head on and tries to overwhelm the opponent with counter punches.  Instead use the technique of the judo expert .  The force of the opponent’s blow is used to throw the opponent.

Here’s how it works in presenting the gospel.  The person who objects, “I don’t believe the Bible,” usually has some university education, or has been exposed to some course in the Bible, or biblical criticism or something like that.

There is often some intellectual pride that says or infers something like this: “I used to believe those fairy tales when I was in kindy, but now I am an educated person and am far above believing those things.”  It is this intellectual pride that can be used to turn this objection into an opportunity for presenting the gospel.  I suggest this kind of dialogue with the person who objects.

“You don’t believe the Bible, John?  That’s very interesting and it certainly is your privilege not to believe it, and I would fight for that right on your part.  However, if the Bible is true then obviously you must accept the consequences.

“But I would like to ask you a question.  The main message of the Bible, which has been unquestionably the most important literary work in human history, is how a person may have eternal life.  So what I would like to know is: What do you understand that the Bible teaches about how a person may have eternal life and go to heaven?”

He may say that he does not believe in eternal life.  To this you might say, “I’m not asking you what you believe, but I am asking you what you understand.  It would be a rather unintellectual approach to reject the world’s most important book without understanding even its main message, would it not?  What do you understand that the Bible teaches as to how a person may have eternal life?  What is your understanding about what the Bible teaches on this subject?”

My experience is that over 90% will respond by saying that it is by keeping the Ten Commandments or following the Golden Rule or imitating the example of Christ, doing good, or something like that.

You might respond something like this: “That is just what I was afraid of, John.  You have rejected the Bible without even understanding its main message, for your answer is not only incorrect, but it is diametrically opposite to what the Bible teaches.  Now, don’t you think that the more intellectual approach would be to let me share with you what the Scriptures teach on this subject and then you can make an intelligent decision whether to reject or accept it?”

Now the tables have been completely turned.  Instead of being superior to the Scripture and even above listening to it, he now finds himself ignorant of even its basic message.  Now he must decide whether to listen to the message of the Scriptures or be found to be not only ignorant but also some obscure person who opposes intellectual advancement — and wants to remain in his ignorance.

This is the last thing in the world that his intellectual pride will allow him to be.  So, very often he will give you permission to tell him the gospel.  It is at this point that you pray with vigour that the Holy Spirit will take the gospel, which is the power of God to salvation, and use it to awaken him from the deadness because of sin.

If he persists that he will not discuss anything further with you until you deal with his objection I suggest the following pre-evangelism approach (apologetics):

H. You need to begin with the existence of God

Hebrews 11:6 (NIV) states. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Will you please think through how you could present a case for the existence of the Almighty God who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ – to somebody who doesn’t know the Lord?

What would be your starting point?

Notes:

[1] See “History of the Old Testament Canon,” in   Norman L. Geisler & William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (rev. & expanded).  Chicago: Moody Press, 1986, pp. 238-239.

[2] In Michael P. Green (Ed.), Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (#1065). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1982, p. 285.

[3] Retrieved on May 7, 2002 from http://www.submission.org/suras/sura2.htm The Glorious Quran, An Authorized English Version: Translated from the original by Dr. Rashad Khalifa, Ph.D.

[4] Based on Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults.  Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1985, pp. 366-67.

[5] Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Answers to Tough Questions.  San Bernardino, California: Here’s Life Publishers, 1980, pp. 147-148.

Note: The four points in McDowell & Stewart seem to be an abbreviated version, taken from John W. Montgomery’s points for the “crux validation” of the New Testament:

a. On the basis of accepted principles of textual and historical analysis, the Gospel records are found to be trustworthy historical documents — primary source evidence for the life of Christ,

b. In these records, Jesus exercises divine prerogatives and claims to be God in human flesh; and He rests His claims on His forthcoming resurrection.

c. In all four Gospels, Christ’s bodily resurrection is described in minute detail; Christ’s resurrection evidences His deity.

d. The fact of the resurrection cannot be discounted on a priori, philosophical grounds; miracles are impossible only if one so defines them — but such definition rules out proper historical investigation.

e. If Christ is God, then He speaks the truth concerning the absolute divine authority of the Old Testament and of the soon-to-be-written New Testament.  [John Warwick Montgomery, The Suicide of Christian Theology.  Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany Fellowship Inc., 1970, n. 58, p. 306. Montgomery wrote that this summary was based on his book, Shape of the Past, n. 26, pp. 138-39.]

[6] London: Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1973 (3rd Ed.).

[7] Ibid., back cover.

[8] Ibid., p. vii.

[9] Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus.  New York: Macmillan Publishing Company (A Polebridge Press Book).

[10] Josephus: Complete Works (William Whiston, trans.).  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1960.

[11] Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981, p. 46.

[12] Josephus, 20.9.1, p. 423.

[13] R. W. Funk, R. W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus.  New York: Macmillan Publishing Company (A Polebridge Press Book), 1993, p. 34.

[14] Ibid., pp. 36-37.

[15] Ibid., p. 5.

[16] John Shelby Spong, Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, pp. 157-158.

[17] Section B is adapted from “Color-Coding the Gospels,” in Charles Colson with Nancy R. Pearcey, A Dangerous Grace: Daily readings.  Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994, 14-15.

[18] George Eldon Ladd in The New Testament and Criticism makes some of these point. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967, p. 195. Ladd was particularly speaking of Rudolf Bultmann, but the application is strong to the Jesus Seminar conclusions.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Based on ibid., pp. 15-16.

[21]Australian Edition published by Evangelism Explosion Ministries Australia, PO Box 1686, Wollongong 2500, 1983, pp. 84-85.

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 July 2016.

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Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Word Fire

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

(Part 2 of 4 parts)

This is a 4-part series.  Also see:

3d-red-star Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

3d-red-star Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

3d-red-star Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

A. What are some of the reasons why we need to defend the Bible today?

3d-red-starSee “Can you Trust the Bible?  Part 1.”

B. Where are we going in this 4-part series?

3d-red-starSee “Can you Trust the Bible?  Part 1.”

C. You need to begin with the existence of God

Hebrews 11:6 (NIV): And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

D. I asked you to think on evidence for the existence of God.

I suggested taking a look at two passages of Scripture that give us some pointers for the existence of God:

  1. Psalm 19 (read vv. 1-3)
  2. Romans 1 (read vv. 18-20)

One of the finest defenders of the existence of God is leading apologist, Dr. William Lane Craig.  I recommend you read his articles on the existence of God.

Now, back to our topic.  What tests do historians apply to any piece of literature of history to determine if it is accurate or reliable?

Military historian, C. Sanders says there are 3 basic principles of checking the authenticity of historical writings (historiography). I’ll use the acronym, T.I.E.S., to help us remember them:

  • the Transmission test (sometimes called, the bibliographical test) — NOT biographical, but biblio = books; graphical = writing. The Transmission test. That’s the “T”.
  • the Internal evidence test — that’s the ‘I”, and
  • the External evidence test — that’s the “E”.[1]
  • we’ll get to the S” later, but I want you to think about what it might be to make it T.I.E.S. What ties this all together?

Let’s subject the N.T. to the

1. TRANSMISSION TEST

The transmission test is an examination of how the documents reached us from when they were written. Since we don’t have the original documents, how reliable are the copies we have in:

  • number of manuscripts (MSS)?
  • time interval between the original and the earliest copy?

a. NEW TESTAMENT

Transmission Test for Historical Documents (incl. New Testament)

Author/Book Date Written Earliest Copies Time Gap (years) Number of Copies Percentage Accuracy
Hindu Mahabharata 13th century BC 90

Plato

c. 400 BC A.D. c. 900 1300 7 7
Homer, Iliad 900 BC (900-700 BC) 400 BC ? 500 643 95
Demosthenes 300 BC c. AD 1100 1,400 200 ?
Caesar, Gallic Wars 100-144 BC AD 900 1,000 10 ?
Tacitus, Annals AD 100 AD 1100 1,000 20 ?
Pliny Secundus, Natural History AD 61-112 c. AD 850 750 7 ?
New Testament AD 50-100 c. 114 (fragment)
c. 200 (books)
c. 250 (most of NT)
c. 325 (whole NT)
c. +/- 50
c. 100
c. 150
c. 225
5,366 (Greek)
24,000+ (with other translations)
99*

Comparison of Ancient Manuscript totals (Josh McDowell, Christianity: Hoax or History? Tyndale House Publishers, 1989, pp. 50-51; Norman L. Geisler & William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Moody Press, 1986, p. 408)

My assessment:

I am in total agreement with the late Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, formerly director and principal librarian of the British Museum, who wrote just before his death:

“The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”[2]

Please understand:

  • These people who were used by the Lord to write the NT, were living in a hostile culture. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies. They would dare not manipulate the facts because they would be pounced on at once by those who would be glad to discredit them.
  • Also remember that a witness must testify of his/her own knowledge. When we apply this to the NT, we see clearly that we have primary evidence from eyewitnesses. I John 1:1, ” That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life (NIV).”[3]

In determining if the NT is a trustworthy and accurate document, historians use 3 tests. I am suggesting these 3, PLUS one more that is summarised by the acronym: T.I.E.S.

We’ve looked at the “T,” the transmission of the text, now to the “I”.

2. INTERNAL EVIDENCE TEST

So far, we’ve determined, beyond reasonable doubt, that the text we have is what was originally recorded. BUT WE STILL HAVE TO DETERMINE THAT THE DOCUMENTS ARE CREDIBLE, AND TO WHAT EXTENT. This is the second test of historicity given by Sanders. Historical and literary scholarship follows Aristotle’s dictum, “The benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself.”

In the words of leading lawyer, apologist and theologian, John Warwick Montgomery, “This means that one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies.”[4]

The historian must examine the ability of the writer or witness to tell the truth. This ABILITY TO TELL THE TRUTH is closely related to HOW CLOSE THE WITNESS WAS TO THE EVENT GEOGRAPHICALLY AND HOW CLOSE IN TIME TO THE EVENTS RECORDED.

The N.T. accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus were recorded by people who had been either eyewitnesses or who related the accounts of eyewitnesses.

Let’s look at the evidence:

1. Biblical Evidence

Luke 1:1-3 (NIV): Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.

Luke 3:1: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar–when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene–

John 19:35: The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.

1 John 1:3: We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:16: We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

The internal evidence test reveals we are dealing with eyewitnesses, those who saw and heard. More than that:

Acts 2:22: demonstrated how they appealed to the people who heard their message. “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.”

Note the emphasis:

a. “God did among you through him.” In other words, you were there; you were eyewitnesses of these things;

b. Also, “as you yourselves know.” You know what we are saying is true.

They could not depart from the truth. There were hostile witnesses there to refute them.[5]

Acts 26:24-26: At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defence. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.”

They not only said, “Look, we saw this . . . We heard that.” But the tables were turned in the full view of hostile witnesses, adverse critics. “You also know about these things, you saw them, they weren’t done in a secret corner.”[6]

2. Fulfilled Prophecy[7]

For some key OT prophecies concerning Christ and their NT fulfillment, see “Can you trust the Bible? Part 3.”

3. Literal Interpretation

Those who accept the Bible as the Word of God are often accused of taking the Bible literally. The question ‘Do you believe the Bible literally?’ is like the question, ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ Either a Yes or a No convicts the one who responds. Whenever the question is asked, the term ‘literally‘ must be carefully defined. Taking a literal view of the Bible does not mean that we can’t recognize that figures of speech are used in the Scripture. When Isaiah spoke of “trees clapping their hands” (Isaiah 55:12) and the psalmist of “mountains skipping like rams” (Psalms 114:4, 6), it is not to be thought that one takes the Bible literally views such statements as literal. No, there is poetry as well as prose and other literary forms in the Bible. We believe that the Bible is to be interpreted in the sense in which the authors intended it to be received by readers. This is the same principle one employs when reading the newspaper, [Shakespeare or poet, William Wordsworth]. And it is remarkably easy to distinguish between figures of speech and those statements a writer intends his readers to take literally.”[8]

If you are checking out the reliability of any written manuscript from history, you

need to apply these three tests:

T: Transmission Test

I: Internal Evidence Test

E: External Evidence Test

(continued in Part 3)

Notes

[1] C. Sanders, Introduction to Research in English Literary History. New York: MacMillan Company, 1952, pp. 143 ff.

[2] Sir Frederic Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology. New York: Harper and Row, 1940, pp. 288f, in Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Revised and Expanded). Chicago: Moody Press, 1968, 1986, p. 405; also in Josh McDowell, More Than a Carpenter. Eastbourne, Sussex, England: Kingsway Publications, 1977, p. 48.

[3] Suggested by John Warwick Montgomery, The Law Above the Law. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1975, p. 88.

[4] John Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1965, p. 29.

[5] Suggested by F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1960, p. 46.

[6] Concerning the primary-source value of the N.T. records, the late F.F. Bruce, former Professor [Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis] in the University of Manchester, says:

“The earliest preachers of the gospel knew the value of the first-hand testimony, and appealed to it time and again. ‘We are witnesses of these things,’ was their constant and confident assertion. And it can have been by no means so easy as some writers seem to think to invent words and deeds of Jesus in those early years, when so many of His disciples were about, who could remember what had and had not happened. . .

“And it was not only friendly eyewitnesses that the early preachers had to reckon with; there were others less well disposed who were also conversant with the main facts of the ministry of Jesus. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies (not to speak of willful manipulation of the facts), which would at once be exposed by those who would be only too glad to do so. On the contrary, one of the strong points in the original apostolic preaching is the confident appeal to the knowledge of the hearers; they not only said, ‘We are witnesses of these things,’ but also, ‘As you yourselves also know’ (Acts 2:22). Had there been any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective.” (F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1960, pp. 45-46).

[7] From D. James Kennedy, Evangelism Explosion, third edition, 1983, pp. 86-88 (from Evangelism Explosion Ministries Australia, PO Box 1686, Wollongong, 2500).

[8] Paul Little, Know Why You Believe (rev. ed.). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1967, 1980, 1987, pp. 54-55, emphasis added.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 July 2016.

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Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Bible Open To Psalm 118
(public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

This is a 4-part series. See also:

Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

Introduction

Hebrews 4:12 (ESV) says: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

I was reminded of the truth of this text when I read of

“a short-term missionary [who] gave a report on her experience overseas.She and several others were entering a communist country.At the border the guards asked them, ‘Do you have any guns, drugs, or Bibles?’

“What an interesting combination!Guns are weapons of destruction that kill the body.Drugs can alter and distort the mind.The Bible can expose and destroy all that is false.But it is much more than a threat to atheism.It can enrich life, instill hope, and free the human spirit even when a person is confined [in a prison camp for spreading the Gospel].No wonder an atheistic government would fear its power and put it in a class with guns and drugs.”[1]

I read the story of “a young boy who was in the habit of going to church.[But he] was unable to attend one Sunday because he was ill.So he went upstairs to his bedroom and read his Bible.He was unusually quiet, and his mother began wondering if he was up to some mischief.

“Finally she called out, ‘What are you doing, Andy?’He replied, ‘I’m watching Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead!”

What a beautiful answer!He was reading John 11, and his childlike faith made the scene come alive.[2]

Someone has said that there are three stages of Bible study:

First, the “cod-liver oil” stage, where you take it like medicine because it’s good for you.

The second is the “shredded-wheat biscuit” stage — dry but nourishing;

And third, is the “mango and ice-cream” stage — really enjoyable.

Which stage have you reached?[3]

In spite of the fact that it is a VERY OLD book, the Bible is still “the most popular and widely read book in the world with more than one hundred million new copies, in whole or in part, produced every year.”[4]

But at what a price?

On October 6, 1536, William Tyndale was burned at the stake because he dared to translate the Bible into English so that the common person could read it.In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs it records this:

At last after much reasoning, when no reason would serve, although he deserved no death, he was condemned by virtue of the emperor’s decree, made in the Assembly at Augsburg.Brought forth to the place of execution, he was tied to the stake, strangled by the hangman, and afterwards consumed with fire, at the town of Filford, A.D. 1536; crying at the stake with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice, “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.”[5]

Why would people like Tyndale and others risk their very lives to translate the Scriptures into the native language of people?We have the Bible in English today, thanks to the work of Christian martyr, William Tyndale, and earlier by John Wycliffe who made his “first version of the New Testament in Middle English” in 1380, “and a second edition appeared in 1388 after his death. . . The first edition was a word-for-word translation of the New Testament from the Latin Vulgate, in places following the Latin so closely that the meaning was obscure.”[6]Wycliffe lived from about 1329-1384.[7]

“There are several major differences between Wycliffe’s translation and Tyndale’s:

“1.Wycliffe’s Bible was a translation of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate [Jerome lived ca. 340-420], but Tyndale’s went back to the original Greek and Hebrew.

“2.Wycliffe’s Bible was a hand-copied manuscript, whereas Tyndale’s Bible was printed.

“3.Wycliffe translated into Middle English, but Tyndale’s version belongs to the Modern English period.”[8]

“Why would generations of Hebrew scribes meticulously copy the Old Testament Scriptures, repeatedly checking their work letter by letter, even counting the letters to ensure their accuracy?

“The answer lies in the belief that the Bible is the very Word of God, thus necessitating its accurate transmission and its availability to people of any language.”[9]

Why is the Bible considered to be the Word of God and how can we know its accuracy and trustworthiness? We’re travelling on a journey of attempting to validate the Bible. Can you trust your Bible? Today this is such a critical issue because of the anti-God, anti-Bible culture here in Australia.

It is especially important because Islam is on the march.The Quran, Sura 2:2, says: “This scripture [the Quran] is infallible; a beacon for the righteous.”

2 Tim.3:16 (ESV)”All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

Jesus said: John 17:17 (ESV)”Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

Which ones are you to believe?I am not making a blasphemous statement.We must provide answers for this generation:

The Quran says it is the infallible Scripture;

The NT says that all of the Bile is “breathed out by God” (inspired by God) .Jesus said, “Your word is truth?”

How do we validate one against the other?

So far, I have suggested two historical tests that historians use for ANY historical document, including the Quran and the Bible, Captain Cook’s writings or the works of Shakespeare.

If we want to test the trustworthiness of any historical document, historians put it through 3 tests (PLUS something that TIES them together) suggested by the acronym: T.I.E.S.

  • First: T: The Transmission Test,

a. The number of MSS;(5,366 Gk MSS; 24,000+ with other languages).Only one that comes close is Homer’s Iliad, 643 MSS (earliest copy, 500 years after the original writing);

b. Time interval between the writing of MSS and the earliest copy.

c. ca. 114 (fragment), John 18:31-33, 37-38 (written on both sides) — in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, England;

d.ca. 200 (books)

e. ca. 250 (most of NT)

f. ca. 325 (whole NT)

g. These NT books were written between 50-100 A.D.

  • Second: “I” = the Internal evidence test,

A. Listen to the claims made in the document.Do NOT assume error;

B. Those who wrote the N.T. were eyewitnesses who saw and heard OR they got their information from eyewitnesses;

C. There were hostile people around at the time who would refute the information if it were false.

Let’s take a look at test for historical authenticity, No. 3, E:

C. THIRD, THE EXTERNAL EVIDENCE TEST

In the External Evidence Test, we look for evidence outside of the Bible that confirms people, places and events in the Bible.

1.  Secular Evidence for Jesus

a. Jewish Historian, Josephus, (A.D. 37-100)

Eminent NT scholar, the late F.F. Bruce says:

“Here in the pages of Josephus, we meet many figures who are well-known to us from the New Testament: the colourful family of the Herods; the Roman emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, and the procurators of Judea; the high priestly families–Annas, Caiaphas, Ananias, and the rest; the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and so on”[10]

Josephus wrote of “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James . . .”[11]

There is also a disputed passage (that I do NOT recommend that you use) in Antiquities of the Jews that reads like this:

“Now there was about this time [he means Pilate’s time, AD 26-36] Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works — a teacher of such men who receive the truth with pleasure.He drew over to him both many Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men against us, had condemned him to the cross,[12] those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day,[13] as the divine prophets had foretold these and many other wonderful things concerning him.And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”[14]

Michael Green says “no attempts to impugn its authenticity can be said to have succeeded.It has as good attestation as anything in Josephus, it is included in all the manuscripts.We know that the fourth century Christian historian Eusebius had this quote in his copy of Jospehus.He quoted it twice”[15]

  • There’s sarcasm here by Josephus when he writes: “if it be lawful to call him a man.”This might be a back-handed hint at Jesus’ claims to be God;
  • It may have been a Christian insertion by a copyist when he wrote, ” He was [the] Christ,” but it could just as easily refer to the sign that was on the cross when Jesus died, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” or “the King of the Jews” (Mt. 27:37Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38 NIV).
  • Even if the statement about Christ’s resurrection reflects a Christian insertion (and there is no evidence that it has been fiddled with, based on manuscript evidence), here we have a passage in a leading Jewish historian at the time of Christ who gives “powerful, independent testimony to the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth.”[16]
  • It does seem too extensive and specific to have come from a Jew who was not a follower of Christ, but the manuscript evidence does not support such a claim.[17]

What can we conclude from Josephus?

  • The stories about Jesus were no myth.
  • There was so much circumstantial evidence that they even found their way into the apologetic work of the Jewish historian Josephus.
  • If there was anybody who should have kept his lips shut and his ink pen dry about the person of Jesus, it would have had to be Josephus.But that was not the case.

b. Roman Historian, Cornelius Tacitus (AD 55?–after 117)

A contemporary of Pliny (whom we will meet soon), he is considered the greatest historian of Imperial Rome.

Michael Green explains:

“He tells us how the Christians, hated by the populace for their `crimes’ (alluding no doubt to the Christian emphasis on `love’ which was given a sinister twist by the pagans and construed as incest) were made scapegoats for the Great Fire of AD 64 by the Emperor Nero.`The name Christian,’ he writes, `comes to them from Christ, who was executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate; and the pernicious cult, suppressed for a while, broke out afresh and spread not only through Judea, the source of the disease, but in Rome itself, where all the horrible and shameful things in the world collect and find a home.'”[18]

He wrote of Nero’s attempt to relieve himself of the guilt of burning Rome:

“Hence to suppress the rumor [ie. that Nero had set fire to the city of Rome], he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities.Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also.”[19]

c. Greek satirist, Lucian (second century)

He alludes to Christ as:

“a man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world. . . Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws.”[20]

d. Roman historian, Suetonius (about AD 120)

He was a court official under Emperor Hadrian.He made two specific references to Jesus.He wrote: “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chestus [another spelling of Christus or Christ], he expelled them from Rome”[21].

In the Lives of the Caesars,[22] Suetonius wrote: “Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”[23]

e. Pliny the Younger (about AD 112)

He was governor of the province of Bithynia (now in northern Turkey) and was writing to the emperor, Trajan, about his achievements.He gave information on how he had killed multitudes of Christians–men, women and children.He said that he had attempted to “make them curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do.”In the same letter[24] he wrote of Christians:

“They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds, and never to deny a truth when they should be called upon to deliver it up.”[25]

f. Samaritan-born historian, Thallus (about AD 52)

His work is lost, but a fragment of it is preserved in the second-century writer, Julius Africanus (ca. A.D. 221), who tells us:

“Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness [at the time of the crucifixion] as an eclipse of the sun–unreasonably, as it seems to me.”[26]

It is “unreasonable” because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time as the full moon.It was the time of the Passover (paschal) full moon when Christ died.

g. Mara Bar-Serapion (after AD 73)

In a Syriac manuscript in the British Museum, there is a remarkable letter which this man wrote to his son in prison (although some say it was Mara who was in prison).He compares the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and Jesus:

“What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death?Famine and the plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime.What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras?In a moment their land was covered with sand.What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King?It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. . . But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato.Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera.Nor did the wise King die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.”[27]

h.The Jewish Talmud (completed by AD 500)

The Talmud consists of “two books known as the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud. . .They contain the oral teaching of earlier rabbis (Mishnah), which was an explanation of the law of Moses together with discussions of this teaching (Gemara).Christian scholars find these helpful for knowledge of Jewish interpretations of the Hebrew Bible.”[28]

The Babylonian Talmud[29]contains this explicit reference to Jesus:

“On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu (of Nazareth) and the herald went before him for forty days saying (Yeshu of Nazareth) is going to be stoned in that he hath practiced sorcery and beguiled and led astray Israel.Let everyone knowing aught in his defense come and plead for him.But they found naught in his defense and hanged him on the eve of Passover.”[30]

In another Talmud section, it was written concerning Jesus: “I found a genealogical roll in Jerusalem wherein was recorded, Such-an-one is a bastard of an adulteress.”[31]Jewish belief was that Jesus was an illegitimate son and demon-possessed, similar to accusations against him in the N.T.[32]

If we combine this secular testimony to Christ, what picture do we get?

(1)”Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate at Passover time.

  • He was believed by his disciples to have risen from the dead three days later.
  • Jewish leaders charged Christ with sorcery and believed he was born of adultery.
  • The Judean sect of Christianity could not be contained but spread even to Rome.
  • Nero and other Roman rulers bitterly persecuted and martyred early Christians.
  • These early Christians denied polytheism, lived dedicated lives according to Christ’s teachings, and worshiped Christ.This picture is perfectly congruent with that of the New Testament.”[33]

2. Archaeological Confirmation of the New Testament

While there has been confirmation of the general outline of New Testament history, I will focus on Luke’s writings. There are hundreds of archaeological finds that support specific persons, events and facts presented in Luke-Acts, including some that were once thought to be incorrect.

a. Official titles

We need to especially note Luke’s correct usage of official titles.He calls the rulers of Thessalonica “politarchs” in Acts 17:6, 8.[34] In the NIV it is translated as “city officials.”It means “magistrates” and

“was once dismissed as a mistake of the writer of Acts. . . because the term did not appear in any other context.Seventeen examples from [inscriptions] now are listed. . .[35]The examples cover a century and a half from the beginning of the first century to the middle of the second.One is housed in the British Museum and came from an archway in Salonika.The same inscription, curiously enough, contains names that occur among those listed as members of the Thessalonian church.It is obviously a Macedonian term, and its use conforms to Luke’s consistent practice of employing the correct official terminology commonly accepted.In similar fashion he called the petty officials of the Roman colony of Philippi ‘praetors.'”[36]

Gallio was the “Proconsul of Achaia.”[37]

The grammateus[38] was in Ephesus (Acts 19:35).He was the “city clerk” (NIV) or “recorder.”[39]

The governor of Cyprus was a “proconsul.”

The leading person in Malta was called “the chief official of the island”[40] or “leading man of the island”[41](a title confirmed in Greek and Latin inscriptions).

In Philippi (Acts 16:30) the “magistrates” (NIV) were known as strategoi (in the Greek.).”All of these have been confirmed by inscriptions [outside of the Bible].The scenes [Luke] paints of Athens, Corinth, Ephesus and the journey to Rome ring absolutely true in the ears of those best able to judge.”[42]

These descriptions were once thought to be part of the fertile imagination of Luke the fantasiser.Now, they have solid historical backing, thanks to the meticulous work of archaeologists.

b. Chronological references

Luke is known to be correct in these references.He refers to “Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene” at the time John the Baptist began his ministry (AD 27), once thought to be incorrect, but now confirmed to be correct by Greek inscriptions.Lysanias was tetrarch between AD 14 and 29.Other chronological references are known to be correct, including those referring to Caesar, Herod, and even Gallio (Acts 18:12-17).

Numerous places in the Gospels, including the Pool of Siloam (John 9:7-11) and the “judgment seat” near Corinth (2 Cor. 5:10) have been verified by archaeology.

Other names of persons mentioned in the N.T. that were thought to be false, have been confirmed through archaeology.Another example:

A first-century marble slab was found at Corinth in 1929 with this inscription, “Erastus, in consideration of his appointment as curator of buildings, laid this pavement at his own expense.”[43]It is possible that this person is Erastus, one of Paul’s co-workers from whom Paul sent greetings according to Rom. 16:23.He was the city treasurer in Corinth.[44]

[For other examples, see Michael Green, World on the Run, pp. 40-42]

c. Conclusions

These kinds of archaeological finds cause eminent people to reach some startling conclusions.

A.N. Sherwin-White, distinguished Roman historian, says this about Luke’s writings: “For [the Book of] Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. . .Any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd.Roman historians have long taken it for granted.”[45]

Luke is commended by classical historian, G.A. Williamson, for demonstrating “complete familiarity with the thought, expression, and habitual terminology of the speakers, and . . . what memories the people of that time possessed!–if not on written notes, which we have reason to believe were commonly made.”[46]

Thanks to the archaeological efforts of the late Sir William Ramsay, many of the critical views of the N.T. have been overthrown.Ramsay himself was converted from the critical view of liberal theology.He wrote:

“I began with a mind unfavorable to it [Book of Acts], for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory had at one time quite convinced me.It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought into contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor.It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.”[47]

Renowned archaeologist and paleographer[48], William F. Albright, notes: “All radical schools in New Testament criticism which have existed in the past or which exist today are pre-archaeological, and are, therefore, since they were built in der Luft [in the air], quite antiquated today.”[49]

Let’s recap. If we want to test the trustworthiness of any historical document, historians put it through 3 tests:

  • First: T: The Transmission Test,

a.The number of MSS;

b.Time interval between the writing of MSS and the earliest copy.

  • Second: I: the Internal evidence test,

a.Listen to the claims made in the document.Do NOT assume error;

b.Those who wrote the N.T. were eyewitnesses who saw and heard OR they got their information from eyewitnesses;

c.There were hostile people around at the time who would refute the information if it were false.

  • Third, E: the External evidence test.[50]

We heard from historians of the NT period and after the NT times:

Josephus;

Tacitus;

Lucian;

Suetonius;

Pliny the Younger;

Thallus;

Mara Bar-Serapion;

Jewish Talmud.

The N.T. documents can be relied upon to give an accurate picture of Jesus Christ.Let’s go to those documents and investigate who Jesus Christ is and why He died on the cross.

Conclusion:

The Psalmist loved the Word of God. Listen to some of his words about the Word in Psalm 119:

Psalm 119:11 (ESV)I have stored up [OR, hid] your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:16 (ESV)I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.

Psalm 119:97 (ESV)Oh how I love your law!It is my meditation all the day.

Psalm 119:103 (ESV)How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Psalm 119:105 (ESV)Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

“One measure of your love for God is your love for God’s Word”[51]


Notes:

[1] Our Daily Bread, April 1, 1987, “Guns, Drugs, and the Bible.”

[2] Our Daily Bread, August 5, 1987, “When the Bible comes alive.”

[3] Based on ibid.

[4] Paul D. Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible.Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1999, p. 19.

[5] W. Grinton Berry (prepared by), Foxe’s Book of Martyrs,. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, reprint 1978, pp. 151-152.Suggested by Wegner, ibid., p. 19,

[6] Wegner, p. 280.

[7] Ibid., p. 279.

[8] Ibid., p. 287.

[9] Ibid., p. 19.

[10] F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, p. 104.

[11] William Whiston, (transl.), Josephus: Complete Works: Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications1867, 1963, (Antiquities of the Jews.XX, IX:1) p. 423.

[12] A footnote is “A.D. 33, April 3.”

[13] A footnote, “April 5.”

[14] Whiston, Josephus, XVIII, III. 3, p. 379.Michael Green, World on the Run, alerted me to this quote.Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983, p. 34.

[15] Green, ibid. p. 34.

[16] Ibid.

[17] These points about Josephus are gleaned from ibid.

[18] Michael Green, World on the Run, p. 29, from Tacitus’ Annals, 15.44.

[19] Tacitus Annals, XV, 44; in Geisler, Christian Apologetics, p. 323.In Whiston, Josephus, the quote is:

“Nero, in order to stifle the rumour [as if he himself had set Rome on fire] ascribed it to those people who were hated for their wicked practices, and called by the vulgar, Christians: these he punished exquisitely.The author of this name was Christ, who, in the reign of Tiberius, was brought to punishment by Pontius Pilate the procurator” (Appendix, Dissertation I, p. 639, emphasis in original).

[20] On the Death of Peregrine, quoted in Geisler, Christian Apologetics, p. 323.

[21] Life of Claudius, 25.4, in Geisler, ibid., p. 324.

[22] 26.2, in, ibid.

[23] In, ibid.

[24] Epistles X. 96, in ibid.

[25] In ibid.

[26] In ibid., p. 324.

[27] In F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, p. 114.This was suggested by Geisler, ibid.

[28]J. D. Douglas, Walter A. Elwell and Peter Toon, The Concise Dictionary of the Christian Tradition.Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House, 1989, p. 370.

[29] Sanhedrin 43a, “Ever of Passover,” according to Geisler, ibid.

[30] In Geisler, Christian Apologetics, p. 324

[31] Yeb. IV 3; 49a, in Geisler, ibid., p. 325.

[32]In Geisler, ibid, pp. 324-325.

[33] Ibid., p. 325.

[34] Greek politarchos, Acts 17:6, 8.

[35] See the American Journal of Theology, July 1898, pp 598-632.

[36] E. M. Blaiklock, “Politarch,” in Merril C. Tenney (gen. ed.), The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (vol. 4).Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, p. 815.

[37] Acts 18:12 NIV.

[38] Acts 19:35

[39] Michael Green, World on the Run, p. 41.

[40] Acts 28:7 NIV.

[41] Acts 28:7 NASB.

[42] Green, World on the Run, p. 41.

[43] Ibid.

[44] From ibid., 42.

[45] A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament.Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963,p. 189, in Josh McDowell, More Than a Carpenter.Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, 1979, p. 55..

[46] G. A. Williamson, The World of Josephus.London: Secker & Warburg, 1964,p. 290, in Geisler, Christian Apologetics, p. 326.

[47] William M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen.New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1896, p. 8, in Geisler, Christian Apologetics, p. 326.

[48] A paleographer is one who studies and gives scholarly interpretation to ancient written documents [based on the definition of “paleography” in William Morris (ed.), The Heritage Illustrated Dictionary of the English Language.Boston: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc. and Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975, p. 944.]

[49] William F. Albright, “Retrospect and Prospect in New Testament Archaeology,” in The Teacher’s Yoke, ed. F. Jerry Vardaman, p. 29, in Geisler, Christian Apologetics, pp. 326-327.

[50] C. Sanders, Introduction to Research in English Literary History.New York: MacMillan Company, 1952, pp. 143 ff.

[51] Our Daily Bread, March 11, 1987, “A Book to Be Loved.”

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 March 2016.

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Excellent Questions to Ask about Christianity

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

A thoughtful person with whom I dialogued on the www and through email said to me: “If you would like to know why I have rejected Christianity, I will be glad to tell you. Here are some [of my] reasons:”

1. In all of the OT there is not one word about anyone being tortured for eternity for not being a “good” person. Apparently the OT God was satisfied with seeing his enemies lie as carrion upon the fields, but the so-called “good news” of the NT is that this same God will now pursue his enemies beyond the grave with NEVER-ENDING torments in hell. Besides, it seems supremely contradictory to me that the same god who tells us to love and forgive OUR enemies says that he will eternally torment his!!

2. The Jewish people, who started all of this, NEVER expected that the Messiah, when he came, to be the Almighty God. Most Christians have made a god out of Jesus and in so doing realize that they have forfeited the unique monotheism of the OT… But, hold on… they thought they could solve the problem of their celestial mathematics, stating that one plus one plus one is NOT three, but one!

3. Jesus could not have been the Messiah, for the OT clearly states that the Messiah would usher in world peace etc. The opposite happened. But Christians thought they had saved the day with their doctrine of the “second coming.” Without it, Christianity would have died long ago. The parousia teaching is simply that we are to be patient, all the things that Jesus never fulfilled will be taken care of when he comes again. And there is clear evidence that Jesus and his followers thought that he would return in the lifetime of his followers. 2000 years have just about passed and they’re still expecting it!!!

4. The justice system of Christianity is monstrously and fiendishly absurd. Most people would rightfully assume that a FINITE sin does NOT deserve INFINITE punishment. The reward system consists of only two eventual destinations. One, the most blissful and happy, the other, the most horrible and tormenting. Is there nothing in between?

5. Why did Jesus have to die? God’s creation turned out bad, we are told. So what to do! In order to make things right, someone had to be murdered!! If we believe the Trinity doctrine, we are left to believe that God arranged to have himself murdered in order to placate himself! Patently absurd!! The doctrine of the atonement is nothing but a replay of pervious PAGAN religions with their angry gods, need for sacrifices and bloody altars.

6. I believe that a person should be judged by what he/she does… not by what one believes. Most of us acquire our belief orientation as a result of our inherited genes, our parental upbringing and our environment. Besides, a person could spend an entire lifetime doing good works, helping others and giving most of his possessions to the needy, but end up in hell, when he died, if he failed to believe in Jesus! While a person could spend a life of 80 years, killing, committing arson, stealing etc. and end up in heaven for an eternity of bliss, if just a few minutes before he died, he accepted Jesus!

7. NO ONE HAS EVER ASKED TO BE BORN into this world with its many conflicting religions, having to choose the right one, or face never-ending torments in hell!! It seems to me that if your religion is true, the least that your God could do would be to mercifully eliminate all of the non-Christian religions. But… that would still leave literally hundreds of Christian bodies, some of which regard the others as of the devil!!!

8. The Christian religion should really be called PAULIANITY, because Paul was the one who tied in the untimely murder of Jesus with the temple sacrifices of the Hebrews.

9. And I could never accept the Bible as the inerrant word of God, because I believe that the all-knowing god could, and would, have caused to be written a book that did NOT need endless apologetics!

10. And finally, I believe that an all-loving God will REHABILITATE instead of eternally damn most of HIS OWN CREATION, the SAME THING, I’ll bet that you’d do with all of your wayward offspring!!

How do we answer these penetrating questions?

I will approach my response in three ways:

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Anglicans reject Christmas story

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Some Anglican clergy in Australia no longer accept the Christian story.  Instead, they regard it as mythical (Cotes, 1997, p. 25).   The following are examples of this lack of faith from Cotes’ article.

“True myths” is how she describes the view.  What next?

Yet, within the Anglican church in Australia (Sydney diocese) there are committed evangelical scholars who support the authenticity of the biblical revelation (see Barnett 1997, 1999).  Barnett (1999) demonstrates “that Jesus of Nazareth, the historical Jesus, became through death, bodily resurrection and ascension the Christ of faith.  In our view the Gospels faithfully portray Jesus as the Christ in his historic ministry” (p. 418).

However, according to Cotes, this is what the Anglican clergy believe who contend for the  “true myths” of the Bible.

“At least 70 serving priests of the Church of England no longer are willing to pretend that they believe it [the Christmas story in the Gospels] to be true and they have supporters among Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy.”

“They have joined Sea of Faith, an organisation which rejects belief in the traditional Christian story as told in the gospels.”

“Members of Sea of Faith believe instead that `God’ is not a supernatural creator, but a mystical personal experience, a symbol of the highest ideals and aspirations of human beings.”

“The consensus of opinion among most reputable biblical scholars is that the gospel accounts of the Nativity cannot be accepted as historically accurate, and that other explanations can be found for most of the details.”

“The Star of Bethlehem was not in any sense a miracle but a regular astronomical occurrence on which scientifically ignorant people put their own magical interpretation.”

“Yet it’s such a beautifully simple story — surely it must be true?”

“The authors of Mark (the earliest gospel) and John (written at least 100 years after the event)… had no time for sentimentality — or for biography. They were writing theology.”

“Modern scholarship has shown that all the details of the Nativity story can be shown to be the result of theological necessity rather than historical truth. . .”

“Jesus almost certainly was born in Nazareth. . .”

“But even if all the pretty stories people love about Christmas are not true, they don’t necessarily have to be discarded.”

“Myths are very important and the myths surrounding the Christmas story are not just the icing on the cake of the Nativity, nor just as an excuse to indulge sentimental fantasies.”

“They are more than pious fiction, filling the tantalising blanks of a story about which there is no real information.”

“Myths are important because the best of them can be a way of going behind the few facts we have, to suggest ways of seeing than (sic) are different from our modern, purely scientific and biographical approach.”

“The Christmas story is full of images and symbols, rather than verifiable facts, but it’s not necessary for rational Christians to discard them.”

“We can still sing the hymns and worship the Christ Child and tell the stories to our children with a clear conscience, for the stories have their own special kind of truth.”

“The question that Christmas raises is not, `Are the stories true?’ But rather `What do these stories say about God and the link between the physical and the spiritual?'”

“It is not `Who were the Magi and the shepherds?’ but `What do they mean?”

“These are the questions that serious preachers will be examining this Christmas… unhistorical wise men and their improbable ox and ass.”

“The figures at the crib scene are all part of the great imaginative picture of Christmas and behind this structure of imagery is the belief that this unrecorded lowly birth of a child to an obscure carpenter’s wife was, when you consider what developed from it, a decisive moment in history, when something genuinely new began.”

Why don’t they leave the church?

The Anglican creedal statements in the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571, The Church of England, state:

  • Concerning the God, the Holy Trinity: “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible.  And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Article I)

  • The Word or Son of God: “The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man. . .” (Article II)

Since the creed of the Anglican Church is contrary to the belief of these 70 priests who deny the content the Christmas story, why don’t they leave the church?  Surely when one’s beliefs are counter to the church’s fundamental beliefs, it requires integrity to leave the organisation.  What other entity in the world would allow its employees to “sell” another product and yet remain within the organisation?

The New Testament is steeped in authentic history]

While these theologically liberal Anglican clergy deny the historical validity of the Christmas event, another Anglican — a historian, exegete, and evangelical theologian, and former Bishop of North Sydney, Dr. Paul Barnett — provides a counter argument:

“The best context in which to locate Jesus is discovered by text-based historical enquiry; sociological analysis, though useful, has significant limitations at this distance.  The ‘markers’ of Luke 3:1-2 — John the baptizer, Herod the tetrarch, Annas and Caiaphas the high priests and Pontius Pilate the prefect — form an encircling context for Jesus.  Yet Jesus is connected with each of these; they are not merely part of the landscape background.  The Jesus of the gospels is tied into his various contexts, whether Galilean or Judean.
“Because the gospels are self-consciously historical, a better way to begin to investigate Jesus is with the gratuitous information found in the letters.  From these a rough grid may be established by which to validate or otherwise the gospels’ accounts.  The Jesus of the letters, who dies for sins, who is conscious that he is ‘son’ or abba, who prays and who seeks in Scripture the prophecies which he is fulfilling, gives strong affirmation of the integrity of the gospels” (Barnett, 1997, p. 164)

What is happening?  “The image of Jesus is being refracted through the spirit of these gentlemen” (M. Kahler in Barnett, 1997, p. 17).

Dr. Paul Barnett, is compelled by the early evidence of Christianity, not as “true myths” (what an oxymoron!), but as genuine history: “I find this logic compelling.  The phenomenon of the coming into existence of early Christianity is well attested.  Its sudden emergence is as historically secure as any event in Palestine in that century” (Barnett, 1997, p. 19).

Barnett (1999) proceeds to document the “historical secure” event of Christ and Christianity in his 448 pages of documentation and explanation: Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity.  He concludes:

“The New Testament writers are not preoccupied with the political and social circumstances of those times; that is a modern concern.  Rather, Jesus as the Christ fills the horizons of these writers.  Yet their references to the historical circumstances are important, not so much to give a key to unlock a door of understanding that is otherwise closed but to remind us that Jesus was a real person and that his resurrection was historical because it was a bodily resurrection.  A Jesus who is disconnected from his times easily becomes a mythical figure, whose incarnation, atonement and resurrection are seen as poetic metaphors.
“Such Gnostic views of Jesus became common a few decades after the New Testament era and for more than a century almost swamped post-apostolic Christianity.  In recent times such views have returned with the rise of postmodernism and New Age thinking” (p. 415).

Welcome to Gnostic, postmodern, New Age thinking in modern garb — in the Australian Anglican church!  This is the rot that undermined the early church for a century or so after Christ’s resurrection and ascension.  I expect that it will do the same to Australia’s Anglican church.

The intrinsic historical nature of Jesus and early Christianity excludes the mythical Jesus of contemporary Anglicanism in Australia (and elsewhere).

References:

Barnett, Paul W. (1997).  Jesus and the Logic of History.  Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press.
Barnett, Paul  (1999).  Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times.  Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Cotes, Alison  (1997).  “True Myths?” — a full-page article in the “Monitor” section of the Brisbane (Australia) Courier-Mail, Saturday, December 20, 1997.

Titus 1:9 (ESV): “He (the elder/bishop) must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

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Religion & Beliefs

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

https://i1.wp.com/www.clker.com/cliparts/9/e/f/d/11971146571774884786jonata_Embrace_the_World.svg.med.png

(image courtesy ClipArtHut)

By Spencer D Gear

A thoughtful person with whom I had dialogues on the Internet and through email said to me: “If you would like to know why I have rejected Christianity, I will be glad to tell you.  Here are some [of my] reasons:” You can find his questions HERE [1]. His questions are in bold and indicated as Q. 1, Q. 2, etc. I have answered him under these topics:

Q. 7 It seems to me that if your religion is true, the least that your God could do would be to mercifully eliminate all of the non-Christian religions.

If you really mean this, you are asking for God to eliminate you NOW because the questions you pose demonstrate you are a non-Christian religionist.  The question is self-defeating and destructive to you personally.

Why suggest the extreme action of eliminating all of the non-Christian religions?  God’s view is, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).  His plan is not elimination or annihilation but salvation.

No matter what our religious persuasion, he is out to draw us to himself so that we will see life as it truly is.  He is the creator, so he ought to know how the world (including people) functions best.  That sounds arrogant, but not when one considers who he is.

Even on a human level, the creator of an automobile engine must surely have the best understanding of how it functions at its optimal best.  I, a mechanical nincompoop, have not chosen to pursue a better understanding of engines.  All human beings are spiritual nincompoops when it comes to wisdom of how the universe and people ought to function best.

That’s why God has given us revelation in Scripture so that we may better understand him and his ways. He continued:

Q. 7 NO ONE HAS EVER ASKED TO BE BORN into this world with its many conflicting religions, having to choose the right one, or face never-ending torments in hell!!

Are you saying that you want the choice of life and death to be in the hands of somebody other than the Lord God Almighty?  Would you prefer Hitler, Nero, John Howard, Mother Theresa, Bill Clinton, Martin Luther or the researchers who are working on cloning human parts?

How crazy we would be to leave it in the hands of other than the absolute just, loving, merciful and sovereign God.

It is he who declared through the psalmist in beautiful poetic language:

For you [Lord] created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:14-16).

The beginning of a person’s life is in the hands of God and so is the end.  Jesus said, “I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18).

I know there are curly questions that arise out of that response, like: “Well, if God is the author of life, how can he allow the slaughter of unborn children on the abortionists’ tables around the world?  If people are in intense pain, why doesn’t he relieve it or allow euthanasia?”

The answer lies in a response to the second part of this unbeliever’s statement: “Its many conflicting religions, having to choose the right one, or face never-ending torments in hell!!”

The Dangerous Gift of Free-Will

Would you prefer to have been born into a world where it would not be possible to ask the excellent, penetrating questions you have provided?  Would you prefer to be a puppet with choice eliminated?  Would you like the option you are suggesting of never being born or leaving the gift of life through human birth to someone other than God?

Since God chooses the time of your birth and death, he does place some responsibility on the dangerous gift of free will that he has given us.  That mystery boggles my mind: How can a sovereign God allow me choice that can have beneficial or detrimental effects on my personal life, my family and the community in which I live?  How can He allow this when he has the ability to step in and stop that choice?

Are you aware that the “many conflicting religions” have come about because of people’s choices to reject the will and ways of the sovereign Lord?  Surely you know that the very nature of the questions you are asking declares your own religious allegiance!  You are actually contributing to the “conflicting religions” yourself.

By the nature of your questions, it seems to me that there are tones of naturalism, humanism, postmodernism and agnosticism/atheism.

God tries to reach us through so many different ways, but what do we do to push him away?

Q. 7 (continued) But… that would still leave literally hundreds of Christian bodies, some of which regard the others as of the devil!!!

I, a committed Christian, am grieved at the number of denominations among Christendom.  It is estimated that there are approximately 38,000 Christian denominations in the world.[2] Sadly, part of that is because of the many influences in the world (God’s world) – God himself will not treat you like a puppet.  Satan, his demons and sinful human nature give rise to sinful human choices.

Then add the human propensity to different interpretations of a given document.  It’s an interesting exercise to hand a group of people a local newspaper and ask them to silently read certain news items.  Then ask them to write down (without conferring with one another) answers to questions relating to the stories they have read.  The multitude of interpretations is amazing.

Just because one is a Christian does not stop one from thinking, pondering and concluding differently from others.  I dislike these divisions within Christendom, but I am not going to risk my eternal destiny because of the diversity of opinion.  God has given me a mind and the guidance of his Spirit to help me.  After all, he is “seeking to save those who are lost.”  He has placed much evidence around and in us to cause us to call out to him for eternal life.

Q. 6 (continued) Most of us acquire our belief orientation as a result of our inherited genes, our parental upbringing and our environment.

This is only partially correct. Our worldview (belief orientation) is based somewhat on our environment (hardly on our genes!), including parental upbringing.  However, much of this can be changed as we have seen children totally reject the beliefs of childhood.  There are many influences that contribute to our world and life view.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message heard is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).  So proclamation can influence a change in our beliefs.  I am pleased that in spite of the genes from my parents, their belief system and the other environmental influences, I committed my life to Christ after my heart was opened through the proclamation of God’s Word.

I have made many decisions down through the years that have altered my “belief orientation.”  Some of these are contrary to what I previously believed.  All this is to affirm that a change of “belief orientation” is always possible.  Genes, family upbringing and other environmental factors do not fix it.

Q. 6 (continued)  Besides, a person could spend an entire lifetime doing good works, helping others and giving most of his possessions to the needy, but end up in hell, when he died, if he failed to believe in Jesus!  While a person could spend a life of 80 years, killing, committing arson, stealing etc. and end up in heaven for an eternity of bliss, if just a few minutes before he died, he accepted Jesus!

You are dead right!  Good works without commitment to Christ will send one to hell – guaranteed!.  But faith without good works will also send a person to hell because it is not genuine faith – guaranteed!

A person may have lived in sin all his life and could trust in Christ for salvation moments before he died and he would enter heaven – guaranteed by the words and actions of Jesus.

We saw a perfect example of this with the thief who was crucified beside Jesus.  The thief said, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve”  (Luke 23:41).  Upon his confession, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42), Jesus’ response was, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43).  He received eternal salvation, instantly, after a life of sinful degradation that earned him capital punishment.

Only the grace of God can explain it.  It’s available to every one of us NOW.  But I wouldn’t be risking such a death bed repentance when life and death are in Christ’s hands.  He doesn’t let us know exactly when death comes knocking on our door (generally).

God pleads with us: “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Heb. 2:3).  “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

I wouldn’t give up serving and living for Jesus Christ for all the money in the Reserve Bank.  The radical change that Jesus brought in my life and the full life he has given me can hardly be described.  Jesus is true to his word, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

From the good questions you are asking, I wonder if you are really open to receive Christ, or is this an intellectual exercise to keep you from getting to the nitty gritty of your life?  Even if I satisfactorily answer most of your questions, are you open to receive Christ?

Notes


[1] On 5 November 2016 the website to which I linked had blocked my access to the URL. This has happened to all of my links to that website, christianforums.com. I suggest that you copy my questions into your web browser to see the original questions and other content I have written. It’s a sad day when a Christian forum does not want me to link back to its website where I was a regular poster (over 10,000 posts in 11 years) and took some of this interaction (particularly my content) for articles on my homepage, ‘Truth Challenge‘.

[2] “Christianity Today – General Statistics and Facts of Christianity,” available from About.com at: http://christianity.about.com/od/denominations/p/christiantoday.htm [8 February 2009].

 

Copyright © 2009 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 November 2016.

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Facts about Hell

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009


Hell is Real

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

A thoughtful person with whom I had dialogues on the Internet and through email said to me: “If you would like to know why I have rejected Christianity, I will be glad to tell you.  His questions were previously online but are no longer available. [31] Here are some [of my] reasons:” His questions to me are in bold and are indicated as Q. 1, Q. 2, etc. I have answered him under these topics:

I have met very few people as honest as somebody raising these kinds of issues that have influenced him to reject Christianity.  I commend him for the thoroughness with which he has pursued answers to the profound questions asked and given in the Bible.  I do not believe his conclusions are based on an accurate understanding of the evidence. There is evidence beyond reasonable doubt that satisfies my seeking mind, to conclude that the Bible is the reliable and authoritative revelation from the almighty, creator, redeemer God.  He is the Lord who also sustains the universe and addresses our common core problem, sin, through Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection.

1. Problems with Hell

Q.1 In all of the OT there is not one word about anyone being tortured for eternity for not being a “good” person.  Apparently the OT God was satisfied with seeing his enemies lie as carrion upon the fields, but the so-called “good news” of the NT is that this same God will now pursue his enemies beyond the grave with NEVER-ENDING torments in hell.  Besides, it seems supremely contradictory to me that the same god who tells us to love and forgive OUR enemies says that he will eternally torment his!!

a. Good people

1.There is a fundamental error in trying to examine the OT material from the perspective that human beings are “good” people.  No matter how “good” one looks on the surface, I have never met one person EVER, when he/she is totally honest and transparent with me, who will admit, “I always and only think and do what is good for my family, society and myself.”

In a contemporary context, my counselling work with youth and families puts me in contact with people who look “good” on the outside and have a “clean” reputation with the community.  Some of these are prominent people in town, but they rape their children, indulge in gross sexual behaviour with anybody, embezzle their bosses, lie to cover their tracks, deal and use drugs, etc.  But on the surface, they LOOK “good.”

Children and youth come to see me for whom butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.  Yet behind their parents’ backs they are stealing money and property from the family home to maintain a drug habit – deceptively, so that their parents won’t know.

Of course, many come with habits of drug abuse, sexual abuse, victims of abuse, rebellion, anger and violence, a breaking and enter track record, etc.

There is not one of us with an utterly pure motive or life.

2. This is what the OT affirms throughout:

  • I Kings 8:46; 2 Chronicles 6:36, “When they sin against you – for there is no one who does not sin …”
  • Psalm 14:1-3[1]

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’  They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.  The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.  All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”[2]

  • Psalm 36:1, “An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes.”
  • Proverbs 20:9, “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?”
  • Ecclesiastes 7:20, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.”
  • Isaiah 59:7-8, “…, Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood.  Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways.  The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths.  They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks in them will know peace.”
  • Jeremiah 9:4-6, “’Beware of your friends; do not trust your brothers.  For every brother is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer.  Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth.  They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning.  You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,’ declares the Lord.”

Jesus affirmed that the evil we think and do comes from within us, ALL of us:

What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’  For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’” (Mark 7:20-23).

3.OT, NT and contemporary experience confirm that NOT ONE OF US is “good” before God.

I well remember a sexual abuse perpetrator who sat in my counselling office and said, “Why do I do this?”  My initial response was, “Do you want a band-aid solution or do you want me to help you get to the heart of the problem?”  He used a string of expletives and concluded, “I want no b– s–; tell me why I do it and give me some answers.”

The band-aid answer could place blame on his upbringing where he might have been unloved and his perpetration may have been associated with his parents “abuse” of him and he is a victim.  Or, his sexual relationship with his wife was not as good as it ought to be, so he had reason to go looking for sex elsewhere.  While sex with children is not condoned, it is understandable under these circumstances (if one takes this line).  He’s a victim of the environment of his life.  Change the circumstances, wherever possible.  Help him with methods of self-control and accountability.

I shared the CORE (heart) of the matter and what Jesus said in Mark 7:20-23.  This man went to jail for 3.5 years for his crime (he knew that he deserved it), but before going there his life was radically changed through a total commitment to Jesus Christ.  He was born again from the inside out.  He is now a changed man.

He had to pay his time.  Today he is a renewed, redeemed man, released from prison.  It happened because we got to the CORE of the problem.  All of us are not “good” people.  All of us are rotten from the core out.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a survivor of the Soviet Gulag, knew this:

It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I first sensed within myself the first stirrings of the good.  Gradually, it was obvious to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states nor through classes between political parties but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts, and that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say – sometimes to the astonishment of those about me – ‘bless you, prison, for having been in my life.’”[3]

This is one of the fundamental reasons why we are grappling with social and personal evil in our society.  We have NOT addressed the CORE PROBLEM.  Only God through Jesus Christ has done that.  That’s a narrow answer.  But look at the trouble we are in as a culture when we turn away from God’s diagnosis of the problem and His cure!

The depravity of all human beings is not an incidental matter.  It is fundamental to a correct view of what is happening in people and society.  This issue is not my opinion versus yours of the “goodness” or “badness” of humanity.  This world was created by the Almighty, Sovereign God.  He wrote the laws.  In His view, ALL are sinners needing a Saviour; NOT ONE is good.

Read the newspapers, talk to friends and others, and it becomes evident ALL are sinners.  But I have met few secularists who are prepared to nail that as the diagnosis.  That is not surprising!

Try talking to those who counsel children, youth and families to see whether they have to deal with the “goodness” or “badness” of human beings.  Many counsellors would blame heredity, stimulus-response dynamics, and environmental influences.  But they seem to be grappling in the dark in finding the cure for the human dilemma.

Without a correct understanding of this bad news, the news of Jesus’ death is nothing more than a pointless, useless slaughter.

John Stott rightly states, “Superficial remedies are always due to a faulty diagnosis.  Those who prescribe them have fallen victim to the deceiving spirit of modernity which denies the gravity of sin.”[4]

However, when one takes God’s view of the human condition, Christ’s death not only makes sense but also is a compulsory solution for the human predicament.

b. No endless torture in hell in Old Testament?

The Hebrew word, “Sheol,” appears 65 times in the OT and

“refers to the place of the dead.  Bible translations reflect different understandings of the word.  The King James Version renders sheol ‘grave’ thirty-one times, ‘hell’ thirty-one times, and ‘pit’ three times. The Revised Standard Version and The New American Standard Bible simply put the Hebrew word into English letters as ‘Sheol.’ The New International Version usually translates it as ‘grave’ (occasionally as ‘death’) with a footnote ‘Sheol.'”[5]

While the OT refers to the grave as the destination of the body, the soul or spirit of human beings is always said to be going to Sheol.[6] In the OT, human beings do not cease to exist at death, but their souls or spirits descend to Sheol.[7]

Robert Morey rightly stated that “when God wanted Israel to believe something which was unique and contrary to what the surrounding cultures believed, He always clearly condemned and forbade the pagan beliefs and then stressed the uniqueness of the new concept.”[8]

See passages such as Genesis 37:35 (the first OT use of Sheol).

In the Septuagint [Greek translation of the OT], Sheol is never translated as mneema, which is the Greek word for grave.  It is always translated as Hades which meant the underworld…  Sheol is ‘under the earth,’ or ‘underworld’…  Sheol is called the underworld in Isa. 14:9.  It is also called ‘the lower parts of the earth’ (KJV) in Ps. 63:9; Isa. 44:23; Ezek. 26:20; 31:14, 16, 18; 32:18, 24.  Sheol is the opposite of heaven (Ps. 139:8).  One must go ‘down’ to get to Sheol (Gen. 37:35)…  While bodies are unconscious in the grave, those in Sheol are viewed as being conscious (Isa. 14:4-7; 44:23; Ezek. 31:16; 32:21).”[9]

The various translations of sheol point to several approaches to the meaning of the word:[10]

  • Some want to conclude that the Hebrews shared the mythological ideas of the afterlife similar to Mesopotamia and Egypt.  This must be rejected as it leaves God and his special revelation to Israel out of the picture;
  • Some follow the “compartmental theory,” which was the view of the early church, that both the wicked and righteous go to sheol, but are segregated into different “holding chambers” to await their final fate.  This cannot be accepted as neither the OT nor NT supports such a view.
  • A more consistent approach is that sheol has two meanings: “grave” and “hell.”  The righteous share the “grave” with the unrighteous, but only the wicked populate hell.
  • R. Laird Harris offers the possibility that sheol is just a poetic synonym for the common Hebrew word for “grave.”  It seems that he influenced The New International Version in its translation.

The evidence suggests that it would be better to conclude this about sheol:

“Both the righteous and the unrighteous go there.  Examples of the former are Jacob (Gen. 37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31) and Hezekiah (Isa. 38:10, 17-18.  Examples of the latter are Korah (Num. 16:30) and the king of Babylon (Isa. 14:9, 11, 15)… Sheol speaks of life after death in vague terms.  It moves beyond the judgment passages in affirming that there is life after death for the wicked, but it does not approach the clarity we find in the New Testament concerning their fate.

“Generally, and especially in regard to the unrighteous, the Old Testament concentrates on this life.  It is possible that sheol provides us with a shadowy glimpse of life after death.”[11]

To say that “in all of the OT there is not one word about anyone being tortured for eternity for not being a ‘good’ person.  Apparently the OT God was satisfied with seeing his enemies lie as carrion upon the fields,” distorts the meaning of sheol.

The Bible provides progressive revelation.  By this I mean

that later revelation builds upon earlier revelation.  It is complementary and supplementary to it, not contradictory.  Note the way in which Jesus elevated the teachings of the [OT] law by extending, expanding, and internalizing them.  He frequently prefaced his instruction with the expression, ‘You have heard… but I say to you.’  In a similar fashion, the author of Hebrews points out that God, who in the past spoke by the prophets, has in these last days spoken by a Son, who reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature (Heb. 1:1-3).”[12]

It is therefore not surprising that in view of God’s progressive revelation, that the OT

is vague in its description of Sheol and the condition of those in it.  While the Old Testament prophets stated many things about Sheol, they did not expound in any measure of depth on this subject.  Another reason for this vagueness is that a conscious afterlife was so universally accepted that it was assumed by the biblical authors to be the belief of anyone who read the Scriptures.  Since it was not a point of conflict, no great attention was given to it.”[13]

The OT reveals this about Sheol:[14]

  • It has “gates” by which one enters.  See Job 17:16; Isa. 38:10.  This figurative language indicates that no escape is possible from the realm of Sheol.
  • Sheol is  a shadowy place or a place of darkness (Job 10:21-22; Ps. 143:3);
  • Indications are that it is “down”, “beneath the earth”, or in “the lower parts of the earth” (Job 11:8; Isa. 44:23; 57:9; Ezek. 26:20; Amos 9:2).  These figures indicate that Sheol is NOT part of this world, but its existence is in another dimension;
  • It is a place of reunion with ancestors, tribe or people (Gen. 15:15; 25:8; 35:29; 37:35; 49:33; Num. 20:24, 28; 31:2; Deut. 32:50; 34:5; 2 Sam. 12:23).  Sheol is a place where all people go at death.

What is the condition of people in Sheol?

  • At death, human beings become a rephaim (a ghost, shade or disembodied spirit), based on Job 25:5; Ps. 88:10; Prov. 2:18; 9:18; 21:16; Isa. 14:9; 26:14, 19.  A person at death does not pass into non-existence, but becomes a disembodied spirit.
  • Those in Sheol converse with each other and are even able to make moral judgments on the lifestyle of those who arrive (see Isa. 14:9-20; 44:23; Ezek. 32:21).
  • In Sheol, one is unable to have any knowledge or wisdom about what is happening on earth –Ps. 6:5; Eccles. 9:10, etc.
  • God’s judgment on the wicked for their sins extends into Sheol.  They experience:
  1. God’s anger (Deut. 32:22).  According to Moses, in this passage, the fire of Yahweh’s anger will be experienced in Sheol.  This passage would make no sense if the wicked were nonexistent or if Sheol was the grave.
  2. Distress (Ps. 116:3).  The Hebrew, matzar (“anguish” NIV) indicates distress that is felt when one is pressed by difficulty.  It has this same sense in Ps. 118:5;
  3. Deep anguish or writhing in pain (Job 26:5 NIV).  The Hebrew, chool, means “to twist and turn in pain like a woman giving birth.”[15]

From this information, we can conclude that for unbelievers in Sheol in the OT, they experienced anger, distress or pain.

  • But there are passages that suggest eternal punishment for the unbeliever in the OT:

Isa. 66:22-24: “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

Daniel 12:1-2: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”[16]

Robert Peterson, therefore, correctly summarises the evidence when he writes that sheol “takes us beyond the primary judgment passages and speaks of life after death, although in vague terms.”[17]

Q. 1 These are more than hints that for the OT unbelievers, they would not be experiencing blessedness or the unbeliever’s idea of, “in all of the OT there is not one word about anyone being tortured for eternity for not being a ‘good’ person.”

  • The righteous as well as the wicked went to Sheol (see Gen. 37:35).  Because of progressive revelation, OT believers did not have the more comprehensive information that was needed to approach death with peace and joy.  As a result, OT believers saw death as a “loss” while NT believers (with more light on the subject) knew that death means “gain” (see Phil. 1:21).  Ps. 6 shows how even OT believers were afraid of being cut off from the joys of life (see esp. v. 5).  According to Ps. 13, the OT saint did not look forward to death and Sheol and cried to God to be delivered from it (see esp. v. 3).  So, the OT believers spoke of  death as “torrents of destruction”, “anguish”, “terror”, “trouble and sorrow” (see Ps. 18:4; 55:4; 116:3).  This is in contrast to the NT believers who could express triumph in death (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
  • But the OT believers, at death, would go to the throne of glory at death, where God was (Ps. 73:23-25).  They knew that Sheol was open to God’s sight (Job 26:6) and they would be in God’s presence (Ps. 139:8).

In summary: The OT revelation of what happens for believers AND unbelievers after death is in sketchy, but accurate form.  It awaited the fuller revelation in the NT.  Never let it be said that the OT affirms that unbelievers will NOT be tormented for eternity.  It does NOT affirm or deny it, but there is a suggestion of it in Isa 66 and Daniel 12.  Indications of pain, distress and terror for OT unbelievers after death are evident.  That this will be eternal awaits NT revelation.

For further reading:

John Blanchard, Whatever Happened to Hell?[18]

Eryl Davies, Condemned Forever![19]

Ajith Fernando, Crucial Questions About Hell.[20]

Robert Morey, Death and the Afterlife.[21].

Robert A. Peterson, Hell on Trial, as footnoted above.

c. Never-ending torment

Q. 1     The non-believer speaks of “the so-called ‘good news’ of the NT is that this same God [of the OT with no eternal punishment] will now pursue his enemies beyond the grave with NEVER-ENDING torments in hell.

Jesus Christ spoke more of the sorrows and pain of hell than of the joys of heaven.  To Jesus,  hell was as real as heaven.  Matthew 25:46 makes it clear that eternal hell is as long as eternal heaven: “Then they [the cursed] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”  The word, aionios (eternal/everlasting), also describes the eternity of God in I Tim. 1:17 and Rom. 16:26.  The endless duration of hell could not have been stated more clearly.  Using the same word as the eternity of God shows conclusively that the punishment of hell is not of limited duration.

Who could deny that Jesus Christ was not compassionate towards the down and out, prostitutes and sinners, the sick and grieving?  This forgiving and empathic Saviour described hell as a place of:

  • darkness (Matt. 8:12; 22:13);
  • a fiery furnace (Matt. 13:42, 50; cf. Matt. 5:22; 13:30;18:8-9’ 25:41; Mark 9:43, 48);
  • the undying worm (Mark 9:48).  Since darkness and burning fire are opposites (you cannot have one if you have the other), this suggests that both may be understood figuratively – symbolic description of the hopeless plight of unbelievers.
  • weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28).  These are not tears of bereavement or temporal loss, but  those “of inconsolable, never-ending wretchedness, and utter, everlasting hopelessness.”[22] The grinding or gnashing of teeth indicates “frenzied anger, unmitigated rage.”[23] This suggests the despair of those who have forever missed life’s purpose by their rejection of Jesus Christ.
  • cutting to pieces” (Matt. 24:51), being a figure for extremely severe punishment.
  • eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46) that was as eternal as the eternity of God.

It is not easy for us to imagine the eternity of hell.  One reason is that all the things we do and experience come to an end one day.  However, the punishment of unbelievers in hell will continue for ever and ever.  Just as God and heaven are eternal (everlasting), so hell will be eternal.

In the 19th century, famous English preacher, C.H. Spurgeon, preaching on Matthew 8:11-12 emphasised the eternity of hell and the fact that sinners there have nothing to look forward to except unending punishment:

“They have not even the hope of dying nor the hope of being annihilated.  They are for ever–for ever–for ever–lost!  On every chain in hell, there is written `for ever.’  In the fires, there blaze out the words, `for ever.’  Up above their heads, they read, `for ever.’ Oh, if I could tell you tonight that hell would one day be burned out, and that those who were lost might be saved, there would be a jubilee in hell at the very thought of it.  But it cannot be–it is `for ever‘ they are `cast into outer darkness'”[24]

d. Love, forgiveness and eternal torment

Q. 1 “Besides, it seems supremely contradictory to me that the same god who tells us to love and forgive OUR enemies says that he will eternally torment his!!”

Because we are human, we cannot seem to fathom that the God who loves and forgives also has wrath as one of his absolute attributes.  Psalm 145:8 declares: “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”  If he did not have wrath he would not be God.  Couple that with God’s absolute justice and we have the God who loves absolutely, but has wrath without partiality against those who refuse to accept his love.

Jesus, who was the embodiment of love, spoke over and over of the punishment of hell – eternally.

Why doesn’t God love us so much that he let’s us all off?  Because we are responsible for our sins and God is committed to absolute justice, he cannot allow such.  If we ask God not to punish sin, we are asking him to say that sin does not matter.  We are calling upon God to say that holiness does not matter.

Logically it is.. to ask him to become an evil God and that he will not do…  The punishment of sinners is terrible, but far more terrible is the prospect of an omnipotent evil God…  Therefore, if people carry on in their sins and will not repent, he must judge them.  He does so with the greatest reluctance.  He is slow to anger.  He does not delight in the death of a sinner.  He is a God of love who calls people to turn to him.  But if they will not, he must judge them, to show his total abhorrence of, and opposition to, sin and evil.

A God of love would do anything to save us!’ But you know, he has done everything apart from throwing aside his justice, in order to save you.  The utter reckless love of God is displayed at the cross…  The New Testament tells us that God delays the promised Day of Judgement: ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9).”[25]

Q. 4     The justice system of Christianity is monstrously and fiendishly absurd.  Most people would rightfully assume that a FINITE sin does NOT deserve INFINITE punishment.  The reward system consists of only two eventual destinations.  One, the most blissful and happy, the other, the most horrible and tormenting.  Is there nothing in between!!??

There’s a fundamental error in thinking that “a FINITE sin does not deserve INFINITE punishment.”  Our problems are that we are human-centred and biased against God.  Even from a human perspective, the duration of the crime does not determine the length of time of punishment.  A crime, such as murder, committed in a moment can earn a life sentence.

Why is this?  It is the nature of the crime.  We need to see the situation from God’s perspective.  The wind, ocean, sun, moon and stars are under God’s control. God governs all living creatures, human beings, angels and demons.  The unbeliever and the believer come under the sovereign rule of God.  “The Lord reigns” (Ps. 97:1).  No-one is greater than God himself: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.  Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all” (1 Chronicles 29:11)

Nobody can force God to do anything.  “Our God is in the heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Ps. 115:3).  He is the supreme Ruler and King of the universe.  He is not a superman but “the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity” (Isa. 57:15).[26]

The might, beauty and majesty of the person of God cannot be compared with anything known to human beings.  To consider his nature, attributes, power and actions is to think about that which is beyond human beings and angels.  When Isaiah understood who God was he cried out, “Woe is me!  I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips… and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isa. 6:5).

In some countries, an act of treason against that country may earn capital punishment. In Australian society, some crimes are more repugnant than others.

“Consider three different situations in which a person kills another person.  There is the case in which the armed burglar breaks into a house and in self-defence, as his life is threatened, the occupier of the house kills the burglar.  We look upon that in one way.

“We look upon the situation in which the mugger kills the defenceless old lady in a totally different way.  He was not threatened by her.  It is a purely wanton crime.  But we view the crime as being even more odious and of even greater enormity if the old lady whom the mugger knowingly murders happens to be the criminal’s mother, who has brought him into the world, cared for him and given the best years of her life for his good.  Murder is always abhorrent, but for the person to be so selfish and callous as to murder his own loving mother, we would view as an even more heinous crime…

“The murder of a mother is a greater evil because it is breaking a greater obligation placed on us by love.  But sin is an infinite evil because it is the breaking of an infinite obligation.  It is an attack upon the glorious holy God, whom we ought to love.  God is our Creator, our Sustainer.  He is infinitely good…  He is infinitely lovely and therefore there is an infinite obligation to serve him.  Then if you and I do not do this–and we do not–we are breaking that infinite obligation and committing an infinite evil.  We commit an infinite evil, which in all justice deserves some form of infinite punishment.  Thus the Bible teaches the infinite duration of hell.”[27]

The seriousness of sin cannot be overstated.  Unbelievers will have a hard time accepting this.  The true awfulness and seriousness of sin is something only truly understood and felt when, as with Isaiah, God himself begins to deal with a person.  Then we see the horror of our sin before a holy God and can honestly say, “I deserve hell.  God, please save me from it.”

If we are indifferent or have no feeling about the seriousness of sin, it is not an indicator that sin is not serious.  It is a measure of how out of touch with God we are.

We live in an indifferent, unfeeling culture.  Nearly one million people are unemployed in Australia.  Nearly 100,000 unborn babies are torn to pieces every year in Australia by abortion. We are indifferent.  Then there’s the famine in Africa and other parts of the world.

Sin brings a blindness, a numbness in us.  It brings apathy.  It makes us think lightly about the true nature of sin.  Hell is extreme because sin is extreme.  To forget that will have eternal ramifications for us.

We defy God.  The Bible says that sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4).  Sin is deliberate rebellion against God’s authority and his law.  Why do we lie, cheat, steal, think impure and profane thoughts, or sin in a multitude of other ways?  We choose to sin and break God’s holy law.  We intentionally disobey God Almighty and that is serious.  God is the righteous Judge.

Nobody ultimately gets away with anything with Him.  God expresses his wrath on us every day we live in violation of his law (see Rom. 1:18).  It would be sacrilege to ever think that God could go “soft” on sin.  Not even one sin will go unpunished by God.

Consider properly who the Lord is and the treason of sinners against the highest Majesty.  Think on the willful rejection of the God of love, mercy and justice, who deserves our utter allegiance.  That merits the most extreme penalty – eternal punishment.

Sin is serious when it is committed against God himself.  Sin is not a conditioned response, a disease, a weakness or the results of a hostile environment.  Sin is an utter affront to God, an offence against him, and it comes from deep within us (see Mark 7:20-23).  After King David committed adultery, he confessed, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 51:4).

When Joseph (of the coat of many colours fame) was tempted by a married woman to go to bed with her, he rejected the offer: “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9).

Sin is serious because of the nature of sin and the nature of God.  “God, however, is infinitely greater than any earthly ruler, yet we are prepared to offend him and disobey his commands.  Once you begin to see God’s greatness you will never doubt the fact that sinners deserve to be punished by God in hell.”[28]

There clearly are degrees of punishment handed out on the judgment day, based on a person’s moral and spiritual response to the knowledge possessed (see Matt. 10:15; 11-21-24; Luke 12:47-48).  However, we must never forget that the rebel against God gets what he/she deserves.  “God’s judgment is right…  God is just” (2 Thess. 1:5-6).

Those who scoff at Jesus and reject his offer of forgiveness through repentance and faith, and have been repeatedly warned about the consequences of sins that are unforgiven will be forced to drink the cup of God’s fury.  They will be tormented forever with burning sulphur (metaphorical understanding of severity).  There will NEVER be relief from this horrible fate (see Rev. 14:10-11).

C.S. Lewis said that “there are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘thy will be done’.”[29]

e. Sin is what a person IS and what he/she DOES

Q. 6 I believe that a person should be judged by what he/she does… not by what one believes.

This person is correct.  Everyone on the planet will be judged on what he/she does.  Actions and beliefs are tied together.  Everyone will be judged on what he/she DOES with Jesus Christ.  Rejection of him is an ACTION.  Acceptance of him and bowing before him as Boss are ACTIONS.

God’s “righteous judgment” will be revealed and “God will give to each person according to what he has done” (Rom. 2:6).

James said: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:17-18).  Jesus agreed, “By their fruit [actions from their lives] you will recognize them” (Matt. 7:16).

Correct belief will never get anybody into the kingdom of God.  James stresses: “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:19).  Beliefs by themselves will send one to hell.  That’s where the demons are going.  It is faith FOLLOWED BY action that God requires.

All unbelievers will face the “great white throne” judgment (Rev. 20:11).  How will they be judged?

Another book was opened, which is the book of life.  The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.  The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done….  If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:12-15).

The biblical requirement is faith DEMONSTRATED BY action.

But nations will also be judged.  See Matt. 25:31-46.  Where will Australia be placed?  With the sheep or with the goats?

Q. 10   And finally, I believe that an all-loving God will REHABILITATE instead of eternally damn most of HIS OWN CREATION, the SAME THING, I’ll bet that you’d do with all of your wayward offspring!!

This is human, not godly, thinking.  An absolutely loving and absolutely just God could not and would not rehabilitate (see above).  That would make him an evil omnipotent monster.  Sin is treason against the sovereign Lord of the universe.  It is deadly serious!

God does not desire to damn anybody.  The Lord is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

God shouts at us through creation (see Rom. 1:19-20; Ps. 19).  He pursues us through our conscience (Rom. 2:15).  We are confronted with Christ through the Scriptures and gospel proclamation throughout the nation and around the world.  God has declared himself through the acts of human history (e.g. the Israelites crossing the Red Sea; the judgment on Egypt as the Israelites came out of Egypt, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Tower of Babel, etc.)

Yet, what do sinful human beings do to silence the voice of God?  God tells us exactly what they do.  “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom. 1:18).  We snuff out the voice of God to our inner beings by our own sinful lifestyle, no matter how “good” we may appear to be on the outside.

God declared through Jeremiah, “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse – who can understand it?  I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings” (Jer. 17:9-10).[30]

But there is a solution to the problem of the evil human heart.  God’s answer is the glorious rescue!

Wooden Cross

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Why do Christians make so much of the cross of Jesus?  It is because hell met its match at Golgotha.  Sin is serious, but God is serious about saving us.  The great, holy, loving, just, personal God performed the most momentous event in human history.  Jesus died, taking hell’s extreme punishment on himself as a substitute for everyone who repents, confesses his/her sin, and trusts in Christ.  God loves us that much!  This is staggering good news!

“He was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25) “God made [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5: 21).

It was “for our sins” that Christ died.  Sin had blighted our world and our lives and broken our relationship with God.  Sin deserves to be punished in hell.  But instead, for everyone who totally commits his/her life to Christ, Jesus took the punishment for sin–all of it!!

Could this God of love do anything to save us from our sin?  He can do everything apart from throwing aside his justice.

Will you receive his forgiveness of your sin now?  Your next breath cannot be guaranteed.  Today is the day of salvation.  This is the only moment you can be sure of.  Repent, confess your sin and receive Christ now.

The Bible tells us that God delays the promised Day of Judgment: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

The decision is up to you.  The results of that decision have eternal consequences–heaven or hell forever!!

Notes:


[1] All quotations in this section are from the New International Version of the Bible, published by Zondervan Bible Publishers (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 1984.

[2]A similar emphasis is found in Psalm 53:1-3. The N.T. affirms this view in Romans 3:10-18.

[3] Quoted in Bruce Wilson, Can God Survive in Australia? Sydney: An Albatross Book, 1983, p. 185, emphasis added

[4] John Stott, The Cross of Christ.  Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1986, 99.

[5] Robert A. Peterson, Hell on Trial.  Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1995, 27.

[6] See Dr. Robert A. Morey, Death and the Afterlife.  Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1984, 72.  Chapter 3 of this book is titled, “Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna,” and has critical material in understanding the nature of these three locations.

[7] See George Eldon Ladd in The New Bible Dictionary, 380., in ibid., 73.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 75-76.

[10] The following approaches are summarised from Peterson, 27-29.

[11] Ibid., 28-29.

[12] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (one-volume edition).  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985, 197-98.

[13] Morey, 77.

[14] Based on ibid., 77 ff.

[15] Ibid., 79.

[16] Emphasis added.

[17] Peterson, 36.

[18] Darlington, Co. Durham: Evangelical Press, 1993.

[19] Welwyn, Hertfordshire: Evangelical Press, 1987.

[20] Eastbourne, E. Sussex: Kingsway Publications, 1991.

[21] See publishing details in above footnote.

[22] William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Luke (New Testament Commentary).  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1978, 707, as commentary on Luke 13:28

[23] Ibid.

[24] In Davies, 99.

[25] John Benton, How can a God of Love send people to Hell? Welwyn, Hertfordshire: Evangelical Press, 1985, 80, emphasis added.

[26] King James Version of the Bible.

[27] Benton, 62-63.

[28] Davies, 70.

[29] C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.  New York: Macmillan, 1975, 72.

[30] New Revised Standard Version.  Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 1989.

[31] On 5 November 2016 the website to which I linked had blocked my access to the URL. This has happened to all of my links to that website, christianforums.com. I suggest that you copy my questions into your web browser to see the original questions and other content I have written. It’s a sad day when a Christian forum does not want me to link back to its website where I was a regular poster (over 10,000 posts in 11 years) and took some of this interaction (particularly my content) for articles on my homepage, ‘Truth Challenge‘.

 

Copyright © 2009 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 November 2016.

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Why the need for apologetics?

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Image result for Christian battle images public domain

(image courtesy pinterest)

By Spencer D Gear

A thoughtful person with whom I dialogued on the www and through email said to me: “If you would like to know why I have rejected Christianity, I will be glad to tell you.  Here are some [of my] reasons:” You can find his questions HERE [1]. His questions are in bold and indicated as Q. 1, Q. 2, etc. I have answered him under these topics:

 

Q. 9 And I could never accept the Bible as the inerrant word of God, because I believe that the all-knowing god could, and would, have caused to be written a book that did NOT need endless apologetics!

The discipline of apologetics is needed because of seeking and searching unbelievers like yourself. If we didn’t “suppress the truth by [our] wickedness” (Rom. 1:18), there probably would be little need for an apologetics’ ministry. I thank God for people who ask sincere and deep questions about the Christian faith.. There are answers, good answers, to your questions if you are prepared to examine the evidence impartially.  However, here’s the rub: When we “suppress the truth by our wickedness,” we block out God’s message to us

Apologetics helps with clarification and explanation of the Gospel message, the nature of God, the nature of human beings and other questions about life and faith.  Peter declared that apologetics will always be the Christian’s responsibility, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer [apologia] to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

But it is God’s proclamation through Christ that leads to salvation.  Please do not put off seeking God. He declares, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (Isa. 55:6-7).

As long as God leaves the proclamation of the gospel with human beings, apologetics will be a necessary part of evangelism.  Would you like to be a robot for whom there is no need for an explanation about anything?  Or would you prefer to be a free-will human being?  Since the latter is God’s design for humanity, explanations of many things, including the Divine, will always be necessary.  Yes, it is a challenge, but apologetics is one of God’s ways of confirming your free will.

Notes

[1] On 5 November 2016 the website to which I linked had blocked my access to the URL. This has happened to all of my links to that website, christianforums.com. I suggest that you copy my questions into your web browser to see the original questions and other content I have written. It’s a sad day when a Christian forum does not want me to link back to its website where I was a regular poster (over 10,000 posts in 11 years) and took some of this interaction for articles on my homepage, ‘Truth Challenge‘.

 

Copyright © 2009 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 November 2016.

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Problems with the Trinity

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

(courtesy neverendingtruth.net)

By Spencer D Gear

A thoughtful person with whom I dialogued on a www blog site and through email said to me: “If you would like to know why I have rejected Christianity, I will be glad to tell you. Here are some [of my] reasons:” His questions are located HERE [1] and I’ve used his questions below in bold and marked as Q.1, Q.2, etc.

As a prerequisite to understanding my evangelical Christian worldview, I ask you to read my three part series, Can you trust the Bible? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Other questions are answered at:

Problems with Jesus,

Facts about hell,

Why the need for apologetics?

Religion and beliefs

Problems with the Trinity

Q.8  But, hold on. . . they [most Christians] thought they could solve the problem of their celestial mathematics, stating that one plus one plus one is NOT three, but one!

Let’s admit up front that the doctrine of the Trinity “is difficult and perplexing to us” (Sproul 1995, p. 35).  Another has said that “no man can fully explain the Trinity. . . the Trinity is still largely incomprehensible to the mind of man” (Martin 1980, p. 25).

The word, Trinity, does not appear in the Bible.

It comes from the Latin word trinitas, which means ‘threeness.’  But even though the word is not in the Bible, the trinitarian idea is there, and it is most important…  In the minds of some, the difficulty of understanding how God can be both one and three is reason enough to reject the doctrine outright (Boice 1986, p. 109).

Christianity does not teach the absurd notion about God that 1+1+1=1, which an unbeliever described as “celestial mathematics.”  That is a false equation because the term, Trinity, describes a relationship, NOT of three Gods, but of one God in three persons.  It is NOT tritheism (three beings who are God). Trinity is an effort to define God in all his fullness, in terms of his unity and diversity.

Historically, it has been described as one in essence and three in person.  “Though the formula is mysterious and even paradoxical, it is in no way contradictory” (Sproul 1986, p. 35).  Essence is used to describe God’s being, while the diversity is to express the Godhead in terms of person.

God’s unity is affirmed in Deut. 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  God’s diversity is declared in Gen. 1:26, “Then God said, ‘let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”  After the sin of Adam, “The Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us…” (Gen. 3:22).  Concerning the tower of Babel, God said, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language…” (Gen. 11:7, emphasis added).

The OT prophets later confirmed this mysterious relationship within the Deity.  In telling of his call to the office of a prophet, Isaiah tells of how God asked, “. . . And who will go for us?” (Isa. 6:8, emphasis added).  The use of the plural, “us” and “our,” must be noted.  It is a significant issue.

God could have been talking to himself (even Jewish commentators reject that interpretation), to the angels, or to other Persons who are not identified.  He was not talking to angels because the next verse (Gen. 1:27) gives the context.  While referring to the creation of human beings, the Bible declares, “So God created man in his own image.”  Human beings were not created in the image of angels, but in God’s image.  So the Father, in Gen. 1:26 is addressing His Son and the Holy Spirit.

This diversity in the Godhead is clearly identified in Matt. 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

Historically, the heresy of modalism has attempted to deny the distinction of persons in the Godhead, claiming that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are just different ways in which God expresses himself.  On the other hand, tritheism, another heresy, has tried to affirm that there are three beings that together make up God.

All persons in the Godhead have all the attributes of deity.

There is also a distinction in the work done by each member of the Trinity.  The work of salvation is in one sense common to all three persons of the Trinity.  Yet in the manner of activity, there are differing operations assumed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The Father initiates creation and redemption; the Son redeems the creation; and the Holy Spirit regenerates and sanctifies, applying redemption to believers (Sproul 1986, pp. 35-36).

The Trinity does not refer to parts of God.  It cannot be associated with the roles of God.  All analogies break down.  We can speak of water as being liquid, steam and ice, but all being water.  To speak of one man as father, son and husband does not capture the full mystery of the nature of God.  R.C. Sproul has rightly summarised:

The doctrine of the Trinity does not fully explain the mysterious character of God.  Rather, it sets the boundaries outside of which we must not step.  It defines the limits of our finite reflection.  It demands that we be faithful to the biblical revelation that in one sense God is one and in a different sense He is three (1986, p. 36).

God tells us why we cannot adequately express or explain certain dimensions of His nature: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'” (Isa. 55:8-9).

Notes

[1] On 5 November 2016 the website to which I linked had blocked my access to the URL. This has happened to all of my links to that website, christianforums.com. I suggest that you copy my questions into your web browser to see the original questions and other content I have written. It’s a sad day when a Christian forum does not want me to link back to its website where I was a regular poster (over 10,000 posts in 11 years) and took some of this interaction for articles on my homepage, ‘Truth Challenge‘.

Works consulted

Boice, J. M. 1986, Foundations of the Christian Faith, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois.

Martin, W. 1980, Essential Christianity, Regal Books, Ventura, California.

Sproul, R.C. 1992, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 November 2016.

Grotesque God, evil & suffering

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Wade Frankum.jpg

(Wade Frankum, perpetrator, Strathfield massacre NSW, 17 August 1991, photo courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

“How can you possibly believe in the goodness of God when you consider that he allowed the slaughter of seven innocent people at Strathfield (Sydney, NSW)?” a concerned individual asked me shortly after that tragic event that killed 8 people, including the perpetrator. I responded:  There’s more than Strathfield.

What about the Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia, who are moving back to the Sudan, but have been bombed by aircraft? We also can’t forget about the hundreds of thousands who died in the Bangladesh cyclone.” As it was put to me once, “I used to believe in God until my child was killed in an accident.”

(photo of bodies of people drowned by the cyclone in Sandwip, Bangladesh, 29 April 1991, photo courtesy Wikipedia)

 

If God did not claim to be good, the problem would be simple. But, Psalm 106:1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.” If he were not all-powerful, there would be no problem. If evil and suffering were an illusion, the dilemma could be escaped. But the problem is very real, especially for those in pain.

Isn’t this an irreconcilable paradox: a good, all-powerful God who permits all this suffering? The question of suffering boils down to this: How can a God of love allow so much suffering in the world? Either he doesn’t exist or he’s a vicious tyrant who enjoys seeing people in pain. This sounds like a pretty strong case against the existence of a loving God.

But is it? I do not propose any slick, easy answers to the real problem of suffering. Mine is not the last word on the subject, but I am convinced the biblical solution conforms with reality. I reject, for good reasons, atheistic philosopher, Bertrand Russell’s conclusion that no one could sit beside a dying child and still believe in the existence of God.

The problem of evil is one of the greatest obstacles to belief in God for some people. The classic form of the argument has been vigorously debated on university campuses for hundreds of years: If God is all-good, He would destroy evil. If God is all-powerful, He could destroy evil. But evil is not destroyed. So, there is no such God.

I reject such a conclusion because it ignores some important facts. Granted, my response is based on acceptance of God’s revelation in the Bible. I make no apologies for endorsing the Bible. Its trustworthiness is more substantial than any other writing from antiquity.

One of the things that makes human beings unique is that we have real choice about what we do. God made us that way so that we could be like him and love freely (to be forced to love is not love at all).

But in making us this way, God also allowed for the possibility of evil. He gave us the ability to choose good, but that option also came with the possibility to choose evil. That was the risk God knowingly took when he made our first parents, Adam and Eve. They disobeyed and evil entered the human race.

That doesn’t make God responsible for evil. He created the fact of freedom. He made evil possible; people made evil actual. Evil came through the abuse of our freedom as human beings.

However, babies are born blind and many are maimed for life through war. Earthquakes cause unprecedented destruction. Domestic violence, it seems, is responsible for incredible suffering in our city. Why doesn’t God stop all this?

There are at least three reasons. First, evil cannot be destroyed without destroying freedom. As already stated, free human beings are the cause of evil, and freedom was given so that we could love. Love is the greatest good for all people (Matthew 22:36-37), but love is impossible without freedom.

Second, to deny the existence of God, because of evil in the world, is to make some arrogant assumptions. Just because evil is not destroyed now, doesn’t mean it never will be. This view implies that if God hasn’t done what we want as of today, then it won’t ever happen. That presumes that the person making the argument has some inside information about the future.

The third reason is based on the nature of God. If I as a parent decide to discipline my son, I can change my mind and let him off. Not so with God. His nature is unchanging. When he said the results of rejecting him were suffering and death in all creation (Genesis 3), he could not change the consequences of sin because of his own attributes.

Therefore, if we take this into consideration, we can restate the argument about evil so that it turns out to support the existence of God.

We could put it this way: If God is all-good, He will defeat evil. If God is all-powerful, He can defeat evil. Evil is not yet defeated. Therefore, God can and will one day defeat evil. If God were to eliminate all evil today, which one of us would survive past midnight?

What is the most profound answer to the problem of suffering?  The cross of Jesus Christ!  We cannot accuse God of being an innocent by-stander. He took his own medicine. At the heart of the dilemma of human suffering is the cross of Christ, where evil did its worst and met its match. God himself (in Christ) went through pain, suffering and death to save humanity from eternal suffering.

The presence of evil even has some good purposes, as C.S. Lewis points out, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” [1] I have been there personally, through open-heart surgery five times (mitral & aortic valve replacements). Honestly, I can say personally, “I bless you pain for being in my life.”

I have only set the window of answers slightly ajar in providing some possibilities for the problem of pain and suffering.  In God’s gift of human freedom I can see a light in the darkness of human misery.

  • God created the fact of freedom,
  • We perform the acts of freedom.
  • God made evil possible.
  • Human beings made evil actual.
  • Evil and suffering came through the abuse of our moral perfection as free human beings. [2]

References

1. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.  New York: Macmillan, 1962, p. 93, in Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask.  Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1990, p. 68.

2. Based on Geisler & Brooks, p. 63.

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 26 May 2016.