Fully Known in Healthy Relationships
Reading Time: 6 minutes
We need authenticity, within healthy relationships, to find the freedom to become the people God wants us to be.
A few years ago, Josh McDowell rallied our ministry speaking team when he sat us down with his friend, Dr. Henry Cloud, a giant in the counseling world. You might have seen Dr. Cloud’s name on the back of one of his many internationally best-selling books, including his Boundaries series.
As Dr. Cloud notes in his book Changes That Heal, “Every week I see Christians who are suffering from a whole range of emotional problems: anxiety, loneliness, grief over broken relationships, resentment, and feelings of inadequacy. Often they have been struggling with these problems for years. They are people in pain.”
Some — myself, included — learn to hide that pain so well, for years, that no one sees it. Even though it’s at the forefront of our minds every minute. And every single one of those minutes, we live in fear that we’ll be discovered.
For 50+ years, Josh McDowell Ministry has been leading seekers into a deeper knowledge of God’s truth and power. We offer you our accumulated knowledge and research to help you find truth and encouragement to live a healthy and whole life in Christ.
We’re Designed for Relationships
As Dr. Cloud taught us about developing healthy relationships, he offered us a biblical model for addressing these struggles. He really opened our minds with his research, knowledge, and wisdom. But what impacted me most during our time together was the realization of how much he cares for individuals, even me.
Nearing the end of our training session, Dr. Cloud handed each of us a book titled The Power of the Other. He told us it would be a game-changer, if we read it. When I later opened the book, I was confronted with this statement:
“There was only one thing that brought about change… the relationship. What actually brings about change in people, and the cure, is the relationship.”
This statement is super important, because it is foundational. The bottom line: For someone to speak into our life, we first need to feel that they care. We can choose from the best resources, books, and tools, to “fix” ourselves, but in the end, the curative force that helps us change is healthy relationships. People who care about us. People willing to offer us companionship — and grace.
Think about your hobbies. Maybe you’re into surfing, skiing, video games, or boardgames. Sure, these are fun to do alone. But I know that I would way rather surf with my friends than surf alone. Doing things with my friends fulfills me because we are enjoying them together. Even if we’re in an unexpected period of “social distancing” like we find ourselves in now, we still need relationships.
At the core of our being, I think we all know this: we crave connection. Even the most introverted or antisocial among us need connection. Do you know someone who doesn’t particularly like people, but has one or more pets? They are meeting their need for connection.
The Bible gives a pretty good explanation for why we crave relationships with others. Simply put, Genesis 1 tells us that we have been created for intimacy with God. Genesis 2 adds that we also are created for intimacy with others.
But here’s the catch: relationships only work when they are healthy. Lying and manipulating both stress and hurt relationships. But in healthy relationships, authenticity, vulnerability, intimacy, and selflessness bring us closer together. In healthy relationships we are able to identify and deal with our emotions. In healthy relationships, we are able to work through our pain. In healthy relationships we are able to share our hidden parts of ourselves, guided by the Holy Spirit.
The Weight of Disconnection
One of the points Dr. Cloud shared with our team is that our hearts have two basic desires: to be fully known and fully loved. I really love what Dr. Timothy Keller, a renowned speaker and pastor in New York City, says about the joy of being fully known:
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
When we are lost in addiction, loneliness, and pain, we feel the weight of disconnection. When we are not fully known or fully loved within healthy relationships, we feel the weight of disconnect. I personally struggled with this disconnect for 11 years, when I was addicted to pornography.
While on the outside I appeared to have it all together, I was hurting and wounded on the inside. I desperately hid this part of myself — even from my family who love me so much — because I was afraid of being rejected.
I want you to ponder this statement for a minute, until it really sinks in: When you are 99 percent known, but still 1 percent unknown, you are fully unknown.
Living in Our 1 Percent
When I first heard this concept from Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, Texas, I was skeptical of its truth. But as I compared it with my personal experience, and the experience of others that I know, I realized that it is valid.
If you are skeptical, here’s the bottom line: It’s not so much about the percentage, but the principle of the statement. When we don’t feel fully known, we don’t feel fully loved or accepted.
For years I shared most of my life with others. But I hid my addiction to pornography, which prevented anyone from fully knowing me. I was consumed with guilt and shame, but I learned to act like everything was okay. It took so much effort. And kept me in fear.
I filtered everything through that guilt and shame. When someone would compliment me on something, I thought they would retract their statement if they knew about my hidden sin. If a person told me that they loved or valued me, I didn’t believe it. Because they didn’t fully know me. When we are even 1 percent unknown, we live as if we are fully unknown. We put up walls of facade to protect ourselves.
Authenticity Leads to Freedom
But Jesus is looking for our honesty. In our failures, He wants to see progress in our repentance from sin, not our perfection. What matters to Him is the actions we take when we sin. Unfortunately, there’s a problem in the Church. Too many people get the idea that they have to be “alright” all the time.
I grew up in church; I’m a pastor’s son. I internalized the message that the ideal Christian prays continuously, studies the Word, evangelizes everyone, and is holy all the time. Which is why we see so many Christians afraid to admit their sin. But if we accept this lie of perfection, all we can see is our sin and failure.
Yes, we can try to fill our desire of being loved and accepted by portraying a false version of ourselves, as I did for almost a decade. People will accept us for putting on a show, but will our hiding a part of ourselves bring us closer together? No. As I found out, it just brought more pain. I hated myself.
But one of the greatest sources of healing in my recovery from porn addiction was my decision to be 100 percent vulnerable with the people I love and trust. I was so afraid to do so, but when I finally pulled back the curtain on my junk to my parents, they offered me what Jesus also offers: unconditional grace and acceptance. Choosing to become 100 percent authentic has allowed me to step into healthy relationships that have brought me closer to God and others.
Now it’s your turn. What is the 1 percent that is isolating you from people? What do you need to stop hiding, so that you can begin to walk in self-forgiveness and grace? I encourage you to share your burden with people you trust.
Are you worried what they will think of you? If it is someone you trust to love you, my guess is they won’t disown you or kick you to the curb. I bet their response will go something like this, “Hey thanks for being honest.” James 5:16 states that when we confess our sins to each other and pray for each other, we will be healed. I know this verse is true, because I am living it.
If I can encourage you further, please leave a comment below. God unconditionally loves you. Don’t think your sin can ever change that.
- Want Josh McDowell Ministry to pray for you? Share your needs with us.
- Who does God say that you are? Check out Ben Bennett’s article.
- Check out Josh’s research on the epidemic of pornography.
- Interested in a list of ministries that help people to overcome porn? Click here.
AUSTIN IS PART OF THE SPEAKING TEAM AT JOSH MCDOWELL MINISTRY.
Josh’s 4 Tips for Resolving Conflict
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our latest post in the year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post Josh McDowell offers us four tips for assessing the source of conflict in our lives. How much do we create ourselves?
Important Life Lessons
If it were up to me, by the time students exit elementary school they would be intentional in reflecting good citizenship via their words and actions. Think how great junior high and high school would be without the unnecessary drama!
I’d also make sure that teens learn critical financial basics: that they can balance a checkbook, and they understand that financial freedom follows saving and not misusing credit cards. (And that developing a daily $5 latte habit ain’t smart.) And that they realize the snare of instant gratification, and that every choice and action (and inaction) adds up to shape the path of their life.
Man, I’d want them to *get* that life is supposed to be hard, in order to develop their inner strength and confidence and resourcefulness. And that it doesn’t serve them to walk around continually offended and in conflict with others. Don’t we tell our kids not to bully each other? But they watch as we “adults” then viciously denigrate each other, particularly online. Where’s the disconnect? My thought is stored up hurts and anger.
So many people are at full rage because they don’t know how to productively let off steam. They lack the tools for peaceful co-existence; they haven’t been taught how to show respect for the differing opinions around them.
The Pesky Ego
Exploding at someone temporarily feels powerful, but in the end accomplishes very little. God designed us to to live in community, but we stall any chance of that when we “do” life in conflict. “Community” demands good citizenship: healthy boundaries, safe ways to express needs and feelings, and humble hearts.
Yet isn’t the overall message we get from society to live preoccupied with self?
If we are encouraged to be self-absorbed, society fails to hold us to an acceptable standard of community. We can’t, for example, toss mean words at someone and not expect them to boomerang. We can’t toss a punch and not expect to also gain bruises. We can’t seek revenge and not expect an escalated response. Unless we’re taught to live to a higher standard that says, I will treat others with goodness, because everyone is a highly valued child of God.
Somehow we’ve allowed society to “Go for the gusto!” in the wrong direction. How desperately we need a course adjustment to again commit to the selfless values of kindness, honesty, civility, etc. Mr. Rodgers, come back! We need your humble influence!
“We live in a self-centered culture. Society’s emphasis is clearly on pleasing ourselves, not on nurturing our relationships. So we must rise above our culture and resolve our conflicts — not dissolve our relationships — if we truly want to experience intimate, fulfilling relationships.” ~Josh #conflict
Josh’s 4 Tips for Navigating Conflict
Despite what our media glorifies, we’re not too cool for school when we’re jerks to other people. Not even when we’re reacting to a jerk who snubbed us first. We must remember that our response is completely independent of how we are treated.
The root cause of much of the conflict in our world today is our unwillingness to forgive. As Josh notes, “Forgiveness is the oil of relationships.” God calls us to forgive. Not to excuse the other person’s action(s), but to FREE ourselves. Jesus tells us to forgive so we don’t walk around just waiting for an excuse to unload our stored up reservoirs of anger and hurt.
Sometimes conflict comes to us. But sometimes we bring it. Let’s look at Josh’s 4 conflict assessment tips:
Tip 1: Assess Your Attitude. As Aretha Franklin famously crooned, at issue is your R-E-S-P-E-C-T for others.
Are you speaking respectfully to others? Are you respectfully listening to others? Are you respectfully looking at others — or flashing them looks that communicate “You’re stupid!”? Are you acting respectfully? The truth: If we’re disrespectful to others, we’re also disrespecting ourselves.
Tip 2: Assess Your Emotional Base. Do you resemble a prickly cactus?
There’s a reason why, in Ephesians 4:26, the Bible reminds us to unload our anger daily before the sun sets. Our anger is like cement boots. When we refuse to take off the boots, we walk around cranky. I used to think I couldn’t release anger because the person who offended me might get the wrong message that I was okay with what they had done. I thought I would show up as a pushover. But releasing a grudge actually demonstrates our strength. Eventually we learn that forgiveness is for our benefit, not another. We hold the power!
Tip 3: Assess How You React: Are people responding to you negatively because of your behavior patterns?
So, here’s the thing: until we learn better, we tend to echo the bad patterns we learn at home. When you have conflict, have you learned to give people the silent treatment, freezing them out until you decide to thaw? Or perhaps your default is to draw blood with sarcasm. Or maybe you start crying to diffuse conflict. Or you plaster a smile on your face, acting like nothing is wrong. I had a college roommate who deflected any conversation she didn’t want to have. If I said, for example, “I’d like to know why you leave dishes in the sink instead of putting them into the dishwasher,” she’d respond with something like, “When you’re perfect, we can talk.” Yowza! It’s tough dealing with a narcissist.
Tip 4: Assess If You’re Reactive: Do you wait to see how people treat you before you decide how to treat them?
I’ve heard people say, “I only give respect to people who give it to me.” That might sound logical, but it’s an immature stance. And it lacks grace, which we ALL need on the days we don’t bring our best. Our being respectful should be entirely based on our choosing to be like Jesus. He had compassion and grace for even the rudest of people. Perhaps this analogy helps: Picture yourself as a bright, shinny quarter. You don’t become a penny just because you’re tossed into a jar full of pennies. Right?
The famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi includes this line: “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.” Image what our relationships would look like if we, too, fervently committed to this prayer. #noconflictzone #goodrelationships #healthycommunity
In our next blog post, let’s look more at relationship dynamics.
Catch up: The introductory post to this series.
Parents: 7 Tips for Great Parenting
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our latest post in our year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post Josh shares 7 tips (his “7 A’s”) to help parents develop great relationships with their kids. Good parenting doesn’t just happen, it’s learned.
The “7 A’s” include Affirmation, Acceptance, Appreciation, Availability, Affection, Approach Their World, and Accountability. If we parents focus on these areas, we’ll significantly improve our family relationships. To watch Josh’s videos on this topic click here. This is good stuff. Let’s dive in!
The #1 Thing Kids Want From Parents
Is it an iPhone? A car? Their own TV? While high on the list, these wants don’t claim the #1 spot. What kids want most from their parent(s) is a happy home life. So not things, but relationship.
Kids want the security of a home life that shelters, supports, encourages, and guides them. A home life that affirms their value. Kids want caregivers — parent(s), grandparents, others — who believe in them and enjoy having them around. In one survey alone, teens overwhelmingly said a happy home life is way more important than being rich.
From the get-go, we crave relationship with our parents. Not gaining that solid connection can have a lasting, negative impact. As an adult, for example, music legend Michael Jackson admitted, “I just wanted a dad. I wanted a father to show me love. But I never once heard my father say, ‘Michael, I love you.’” Clearly, Michael was still hurting from that loss.
If you want to become a better parent, read on! Josh’s 7 relationship tips will help you move from baby steps to confident strides.
Josh’s “7 A’s” for Parents
One of the most effective ways to build relationship with your child is to affirm his or her feelings. To affirm means to “validate or confirm.” What might affirmation look like? It might be telling your kids that you see how hard they are working at developing a new skill. It might be complimenting them on their test grade, or acknowledging how well they handled a tough situation. It might be pointing out areas where they stepped up, without being asked, to do a household task. It might be simply telling them that you’re proud of them.
Tip: Assess if you’re quick to point out when your children mess up, but fail to consistently recognize when they do well.
Our kids want to know that we notice their efforts. But they also need us to affirm their worth when they mess up. Otherwise, we tie their “who” (their person) to their “do” (their actions). That’s not how God sees us! Behaving badly at times doesn’t make us bad people. Behaving selfishly at times don’t make us selfish. It makes us human. Our goal should be to better reflect Jesus — though it might take us a lifetime of small steps to get there. 😉
Never fail to tell your kids how much God is for them! Show them this truth in God’s Word.
Your kids crave knowing that, even on their worst day, you still want them. That you will love them, no matter what. Your acceptance gives your kids a powerful sense of security. Acceptance does not mean that you approve of or endorse all of your child’s actions. What it does mean is that you don’t waver in your belief of their inherent value. You affirm that your love is not conditioned by their actions.
Tip: Don’t make your kids think, act, or sound like you before you show them acceptance. Your child longs to hear you say, “There is nothing you can ever do – NOTHING! – that will cause me to stop loving you.”
If your teen daughter gets pregnant, does she know that you will still love and accept her? If your son lands in jail, does he know the same? Some parents find it really hard to stop punishing their kids for their mistakes and missteps. Perhaps because they overlook their own huge need for grace. God gives us endless chances to grow into our best selves. Let’s do our best to model that grace to our children.
Never fail to tell your kids that God’s love for them is constant. There is nothing they can do to cancel out His love for them!
When we express appreciation to our kids, we gift them with a sense of significance. We remind them that they matter! And we form the habit in ourselves to see the positive. Says Josh, “I’m convinced that the more I caught my three daughters and son doing things right and expressed my appreciation, the less there was to catch them doing things wrong.”
Tip: Parents, what you focus on grows. Focus on finding fault, and fault will grow. Focus on the positive, and your family will glow.
We help our children to become capable and confident when we remind them of their God-given strengths and talents.
Never fail to tell your kids that God delights in their doing their best. And that He made them unique; each person truly is special!
Kids need affection at every age. Our loving words and touch communicates to our kids that they are lovable. That they are worthy of our focus and care. That we’re glad that God has given us the privilege of being their parents.
Josh’s wife, Dottie, shares this personal anecdote from her own childhood:
“My mom had so many creative ways of letting us know how much she delighted in us. One very powerful thing she always did was to warmly greet us every time we’d walk into her presence. It didn’t matter if we had been gone five hours or five minutes! What did this communicate to me? That my mom was happy to just be with me. Did this help me understand that I was lovable and treasured? Absolutely! So when Josh and I had our children, I did the same thing for them. It made perfect sense to me; I had seen it modeled so often.”
Tip: “I love you” doesn’t have to be conveyed only in words.
We can express our love through our smile, our eyes, or appropriate touch — perhaps a caress on the cheek or a tight bear hug. Some families are big huggers. Others like to use high-fives. Others kiss every time they part. Once you learn how your child likes being shown affection, dish it out with gusto.
Never fail to remind your kids that God is fond of them. He created them!
The only way that you and I can demonstration affirmation, acceptance, appreciation, and affection to our kids is if we make ourselves available. Especially if we’re single parents. You might think that your kids don’t need or want you around. But you’re wrong. Your time and focus means the world to them, even if they don’t feel safe in showing it.
A young songwriter penned these lyrics about her absentee dad: “I wear your old clothes, your polo sweater. I dream of another you, the one who would never leave me alone to pick up the pieces – a daddy to hold me. That’s what I needed.”
Tip: “If you spend time with your children now, they’ll spend time with you later. If you love them now, they’ll love you later. If you talk to them now, they’ll listen to you later. If you listen to your children now, they will talk to you later. If you hug them now, they will hug you later.” ~Dottie
The more time you put in, the closer you’ll become. It’s the small, daily, teachable moments that help to cement a deepening connection between us and our children. Our consistent, positive interaction builds a strong foundation of trust that enables us to maintain a connection even during the rocky moments in our relationship.
Never fail to tell your kids that God is ALWAYS with them. Even when they can’t sense Him. Teach them to trust in His goodness, and to relax in His promises of working in their lives.
Approach Their World
When parents show interest in what their kids are interested in, they’re really saying, “I care about you and what makes you you.” You and I need to find out what our kids care about, and then step into those interests to experience them with them. As our kids get older, of course, it’s a good idea to knock before entering. 😉
Tip: If you want to build relationships of substance with your kids, learn what interests them and find ways to support those interests.
Josh admits to having spent a lot of hours playing with his daughter when her Barbie dolls rocked her world. While some dads might think it silly to play with dolls or participate in their daughter’s tea party, Josh says those old memories continue to bring him a lot of pleasure. When his son, Sean, was hot for sports cars, Josh contacted area car dealerships to ask if they would give them test drives. More than a quarter of a century later, Sean still talks about that thrilling afternoon with his dad.
Deep bonding builds as two people enjoy a hobby or activity together. So does understanding.
Never fail to tell your kids that God is interested in every aspect of their life!
Parents, we must show our children affirmation, acceptance, appreciation, affection, availability and a sincere enthusiasm for their world. But we also must balance these relational connecting points with loving limits and boundaries, or our kids won’t learn responsibility. They won’t mature properly. They’ll be only a shadow of their best self.
Tip: As Josh says, “Rules without relationships lead to rebellion.”
Young people do not respond to rules …. they respond to rules within the context of loving, intimate relationship. On a broader scale, this truth applies even to the school classrooms and work environments.
Accountability provides the safe, secure parameters for our babies, toddlers, and especially our teens. Without the loving authority of parents and caring adults, kids will struggle to make responsible, right choices. Our kids think they know everything, but we know just how badly they need our wise counsel. Tell them about the hard lessons you’ve learned over the years, and where you wish you’d been guided in avoiding them.
Never fail to tell your kids that God’s rules and boundaries are for their protection, not to stall their fun. God is wise and loving and way smarter than we are. We can trust Him.
Parents, we have no guarantees with parenting, because our kids have free will. They, ultimately, will decide who they become. But if we have worked hard to establish healthy relationships, we have a much better shot at guiding them to become capable, confident, respectful adults who love and follow God. Let’s rise to the challenge!
√ CLICK HERE to view all of Josh’s parenting videos.
√ Click HERE to view Josh’s Father Factor report.
In our next blog post, let’s look at Josh’s 4 tips on reducing conflict. Hint: it starts with us!
Catch up: The introductory post to this series.
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our latest post in the year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post let’s define the word “love.” Think we can do it?
From movies to music to everyday conversation, we sure do use this word a lot. “I luv me some pickle juice!” … “I love this movie!” …. “Baby, I love you!” Really? How much? The word itself doesn’t convey depth, does it? It’s why we gals love to ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you love me?”
Of course, the bigger question is whether two people share the same definition. Most definitions of “love” make for catchy song lyrics or quotable movie lines. But do they hold up in real life? One definition that definitely doesn’t ring true: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Say, what?
“Love Is Sex!”
If you and I don’t correctly define love, how will we know if we are in love? If we don’t use the correct definition, how will we know when others are giving us a shallow imitation? If we don’t apply the true definition to our life, we won’t be able to establish healthy boundaries that keep us out of harm’s way. The reality: “I love you” is too often uttered by one person to manipulate another.
“If you love me, you’ll … (x, y, z).” Has anyone used this line on you? Worse, have you used it on someone yourself?
Girls often hear this line from guys wanting sex. I hate these stats, but here’s a hard truth: In the U.S., young people (age 15-24) have five times the reported rate of chlamydia of the total population, four times the rate of gonorrhea and three times the rate of syphilis. Why? Because our kids have bought into society’s lie that “love” includes casual sex.
When I was in high school, sleeping around wasn’t the accepted norm that it is today. Sure, some of the guys I went out with tried to talk me into it. But I didn’t have to deal with the daily societal pressure that young girls now face. While it did sting to be called a “goodie two-shoes,” I didn’t actually mind the reputation. Because it showed that I knew my worth. Now, as a dating adult, I am not in the least surprised when even Christian men tell me that I am being “totally unrealistic” to expect any man to delay sex until marriage. Really? Why is that?
When temptation beckons, it can feel hard to live within God’s parameters. But God set His guidelines to help us avoid unnecessary drama and pain. And He promises us that if we live within His standards, He will bless us with our best life. (Gals, listen up: a man who isn’t seeking after God’s standard in his sex life probably isn’t aiming for it in other areas of his life, either. Is that really the man for you?)
“Love Is a Feeling!”
Actually, love is so much more. Sure, we experience warm and fuzzy affection for people we like and want to be around. But feelings aren’t trustworthy. Because they’re based on our selfish nature. We love someone one day, and the next we don’t. Right? We decide to help someone one day, but opt out on other days because we’re not “feeling it.” Right? It’s often about who we deem “worthy” of our love. Been there, done that!
In this 1959 interview, “intellectual” Ayn Rand, the author of a widely circulated novel called Atlas Shrugged, shared the basic tenets of a new philosophy she labeled “objectivism.” Rand put forth that our morality must be based entirely on reason and logic, not on “faith or whim.” Man’s highest moral purpose, she asserted, was his own selfish happiness — that it’s not our personal responsibility to care about or “love” anyone we don’t deem “worthy.”
“Man is entitled to his own happiness and he must achieve it himself, but he cannot demand that others give up their lives to make him happy. Nor should he wish to sacrifice himself for the happiness of others,” added Rand. “If a man wants love, he should correct his weaknesses and flaws and he may deserve it, but he cannot expect the unearned. Neither in love or money.” Rand’s kicker: that so very few people are “worthy” of love (whatever she means by the word), “but they can work to deserve it, and that is all my morality allows.”
YOWZA! What a tit-for-tat, self-focused, calculated world Rand suggests we live in. Oh, wait. Aren’t we already feeling the effects of her philosophy in our modern world?
Jesus Proved Otherwise
Aren’t you and I so very, very fortunate that God doesn’t hold a similar view of our worthiness? That we don’t have to let others determine it, because God demonstrated how much value He sees in us when He came to earth in human form to serve and die for all of mankind?
God repeatedly tells us to have love — not our personal “happiness,” as Rand suggests — be our aim. To love Him, and then our neighbor as ourself. Yup: we are to give to the high standard we’d like to receive. Loving ourselves is key; we can’t give what we don’t have. Not with a narcissistic kind of love, mind you, but the healthy love that says, “Because I am so freely loved by the Creator, despite my flaws and weaknesses, I can freely share it!”
Rand’s website uses the spin that “selfishness” is a grand thing, as it frees us from constraints that hinder our achieving greatness. But God says that selfless love is the benchmark of greatness. Want to feel great? Go do something nice for someone, no strings attached.
We are to care about — within healthy, appropriate boundaries — the wants and needs of others, and not just those we expect to return the favor. God asks us to be willing to be used by Him. In Rand’s words, to serve as an “sacrificial animal” — which Rand asserts is beneath our dignity.
The Bible tells us that love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
True love’s motivation is always to protect and provide for another. Love is not a feeling, but an action. It is not a gaining, but a giving. Once we correctly define what real love looks like, we can appropriately give — and receive — it.
This week, really look at how and when you use the words, “I love you.” Do your actions and your words match?
In our next blog post, let’s look at Josh’s 4 practical parenting principals to build strong relationships with your kids.
Catch up: The introductory post to this series.
What Are the Top Religious Philosophies?
Reading Time: 7 minutes
A.W. Tozer, a famous Christian thinker, is known for penning the words, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” He uses this statement to open his book Knowledge of the Holy. Even if you are not a Christian, there is much to be appreciated about Tozer’s statement.
Our lives are oriented around our belief (or lack of) spiritual things. No wonder, as religious philosophies concern what counts as ultimate reality, and pertains to our souls and the deepest questions of life. So what are the common religious philosophies today, and how should we view them? Let’s look at nine philosophies, in alphabetical order.
Sometimes Agnosticism is not a philosophy at all; it is simply ignorance, or not knowing what to believe. But there is a particular kind of Agnosticism, a “hard” or so-called “ornery” Agnosticism, which teaches that we can’t know things pertaining to religion; that the search for religious truth is considered a hopeless endeavor.
Reasons for holding a hard form of Agnosticism vary, but it is not difficult to imagine why. There are so many different view and opinions about spiritual things, so many arguments and so many different claims to truth that are difficult to sort through. By taking the hard, “we can’t know” Agnostic position, a person is able to stay out of the mess and carry on with life as he or she deems fit. But is this really a wise approach to the most important questions of life?
Some Atheists say, “I believe God doesn’t exist.” But many simply say, “I lack belief in God.” The distinction is that many of them don’t like to be associated with having beliefs of any kind pertaining to God, and they want to be clear that the burden of proof for belief is on the theist.
Typically, Atheism includes a lack of belief for anything pertaining to spirituality. Atheists operate under a naturalist worldview, where matter is all that there is, and everything — thoughts, feelings, consciousness, pain, suffering, etc. — can be reduced to chemicals in motion. There are no spirits, no seers, no reincarnation, no channeling, no karma, and no providence. The life you live now, is the only life you will ever experience.
Atheists are sometimes demonized in the minds of those who are spiritual/religious. This is unfortunate, as most Atheists care about people and the state of the world. They are concerned that spiritual/religious people believe through “blind” faith (which is sometimes true), which they would never do. They consider themselves students of Science and empirical evidence.
Atheism struggles to provide satisfying solutions to questions of purpose, meaning, destiny, and morality — at least, in any kind of absolute sense.
Buddhism is a popular Eastern religion founded by Siddhartha Gautama in the late 500s BCE. As the story goes, while sitting under a Bodhi Tree in deep mediation, Siddhartha became enlightened and was thus called a Buddha (often translated an “Enlightened one“). Siddhartha spent the remainder of his life teaching what he came to believe.
Buddhism recognizes reincarnation, but the goal is to get out of it and break from existence. The way of Buddhism is based on recognition and acceptance of these “Four Noble Truths”:
~ Life is suffering.
~ We suffer because nothing is permanent, and we are trying to hold onto things which are lasting.
~ We eliminate suffering by ending attachment to this life. We must break from desire in the cycle of life and reincarnation.
~ By following the 8-fold path (a set of moral guidelines to life), we are in a better position to understand the first three noble truths.
There is a psychological appeal here, as most people would agree that suffering is often (perhaps always) a result of something changing that we don’t want to change. The challenge for Buddhism is substantiating the rest of the system. What reason do we have to believe in reincarnation, and why should we believe the solution proposed by Siddhartha?
Christianity teaches that there is one God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who loves and desires to be in relationship with His creations. Yet all of humanity has done wrong in His eyes. This “sin” separates us from God, which He must punish, because He is holy.
But all is not lost, because God sent his son, Jesus, who willingly died on the cross as payment for our sin. Three days later He rose from the dead in bodily form, to offer eternal life as a free gift to those who confess their sins and receive Him for the salvation of their soul (see Ephesians 2:8-9).
Unlike most religious philosophies, the leading role is held by God, not people. God is the one who saves the day. In the Christian system, moral character is not the means to a relationship with God; it is a result of it.
It is also worth noticing that the central piece of Christianity is connected to an event in history. Christianity stands or falls on whether or not this historical religious figure named Jesus really existed, died, and resurrected. This event can be evaluated and weighed on historical grounds. We offer numerous resources on this website that answer these questions of history, to show why believers don’t simply rely on “blind faith.”
Hinduism is an Eastern religion with great diversity. Generally speaking, Hindus believe in karma, reincarnation, a caste system, and the Brahman, the absolute universal singularity in which everyone and everything is a part. The goal of life is to escape perpetual reincarnation by accumulating enough good karma over multiple lifetimes. Adherents tend to orient themselves toward on one of three divinities in the Hindu system: Vishnu, Shiva, or Devi. Oriented around a caste system, it is difficult to be a Hindu in a non-caste culture, especially if the culture values humanity having equal potential and freedom.
It’s a mistake to think of Hinduism as having a set doctrine. Many Hindu follow the Vedas, Upanishads, and/or the Bhagavad-Gita. Some forms of Hinduism involve gurus going into trance states, becoming possessed by various powers to provide specialized help. The culture of Hinduism varies by region, family influences, and other factors, and has a tendency to change or evolve. For this reason, Hinduism has often been called a way of life rather than a religion.
Islam considers itself the religion of Adam, Abraham, and Moses. Despite their similarities with Christianity, Islam theology differs dramatically in its view of God, Jesus, Scripture, and Salvation. Jesus was a great prophet, for example, but to call him “God” is a major abomination. Islam teaches that the Bible is corrupted, and that the prophet Muhammad provided the Qur’an, the only true word of God.
Of the most significant differences, salvation is a matter of moral character. This is largely determined by an adherence to Islam’s “five pillars”:
~ To confess, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.”
~ To pray five times daily.
~ To fast from sunrise until sunset during the month of Ramadan.
~ To make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in your lifetime, so long as you are able.
~ To give at least 2.5 percent of your earning to the poor.
These pillars, along with adherence to the Qur’an, are imperative for the salvation of Muslims. They are left to hope that they have been good enough to earn Allah’s favor into eternal life.
Jews trace their roots to Adam, Abraham, and Moses, similar to Christians. But Jews do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah — because their Messiah has yet to come. The Jewish sacred text, what the Christian Bible calls the “Old Testament,” places special emphasis on the Torah, the first five books.
Judaism also developed an extensive oral tradition, which was written down as the “Talmud.” Judaism typically adheres to Rabbinic teaching and the Law of Moses. Adherents see themselves as belonging to the covenant of God, but they don’t share the New Testament view of God’s radical self-giving to forgive sinners and grant them full access to his presence.
New Age spirituality is one of the most diverse, and therefore most difficult, religious philosophies to succinctly define. Broadly speaking, this movement beckons followers to strip the different religions of their doctrine to fashion a spiritual smorgasbord from which to pick and choose.
It can be as simple as believing in your fortune cookie message, to being a full-fledged spiritual guru who performs healing therapy by channeling the energies with magic beads and crystals. Sometimes, New Age spirituality appears as a mystical movement that explores the idea of God consciousness within. Other times, it takes the form of a more magical movement with psychics, mediums, healers, and spiritual forces. As a whole, followers talk about enlightenment, about the exciting dawn of spiritual pluralism, and about helping people awaken to their self-potential.
New Age spirituality has become popular in the U.S. because it promises a have-it-your-way non-judgmental path to spirituality — it serves to “catch” those who forsake their former religious upbringing but desire to remain spiritual. I discuss this movement in greater detail in this article.
Modern Paganism is often called Neopaganism to distinguish itself from the old local village religions that we typically think of. Modern Pagans base their spirituality on nature, with an emphasis on practice, rather than belief. Their practices usually involve the use of magick (the “k” is used to distinguish it from fake “magic” tricks used for entertainment).
The most well-known form of Paganism is Wicca, of which there are variations. The basic form of Wicca worship involves creating or casting a circle somewhere, invoking or inviting deities into the circle, and using their powers to produce some kind of change. This can be concerning to any Christian friends, who understand that not all spirits are good ones.
I have not written this survey of popular religious philosophies without bias, but neither have I intended to mislead or deceive. Questions of God, spirituality, and religion are deeply important, both for daily life and eternity. At Josh McDowell Ministry, we have no doubt that the Christian faith is defensible and trustworthy. We know that Jesus is the Good News, and that God, alone, can address the needs of life over these other religious philosophies.
I invite you to spend time reading our online articles and resources, as well as Josh’s books, to learn about Jesus and the relationship He wants to have with you.
Cultural Tolerance Fails Us
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, the latest post in our new year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post, let’s look at the word “tolerance,” and whether society pushes its intended meaning.
Tolerance, traditionally, is defined as respectfully acknowledging another’s subjective beliefs and opinions — without endorsing or accepting them. As Josh McDowell puts it, “…loving someone with whom you may totally disagree.”
Today, however, society is pressuring us to accept a new meaning: one that says to be “tolerant” of another is to accept all subjective beliefs as valid. That each person’s dignity and self-worth actually depends on everyone else endorsing their personal “truth.” That each person has the right to a moral code so subjective that no one else can judge it, regardless of its effect on themselves or society. And that those who “judge” it, must be shouted down and silenced.
As Wendy Kaminar, a lawyer and writer put it nearly a decade ago, contemporary liberalism involves a virtual embrace of censorship; a therapeutic approach to rights; very expansive definitions of ‘harm’; and hostility to freedom of speech, conscience, and belief. We are being sold the notion that “tolerance” must protect all persons from feeling “emotionally harmed.”
Thus, adds, Kaminar, the rise of advocates of “equality” and “diversity” who believe society must sacrifice First Amendment rights to guarantee a truly tolerant society. “How long,” she asks, “have we heard… ‘I don’t believe in censorship, but free speech doesn’t include the right to offend.'” This is most evident on college campuses, she adds, “where students are regularly punished for jokes, satire, insults, and political speech that is considered demeaning to some presumably vulnerable group.”
The result? Society is priming us to live in a constant state of offense. Where’s the tolerance in that? People, we’re being played!
Tolerance and Love
I try to picture Jesus standing before an engaged crowd with a big smile on His face as He says, “You do you, and I’ll do me. Anything and everything goes!”
But I can’t. Because that’s not the message of truth that God took on human form to teach. Yes, Jesus affirmed the inherent value of the every person as God’s created children. But He also always directed people to live to God’s standard, that they (we) might grow into their (our) best selves and honor God.
The Bible clearly shows us that love trumps all. We are to 1) love God, and 2) love our neighbor as ourselves. We are to live in peace with one another (Hebrews 12:14), and we are to quickly forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32). But we also are to help each other live within God’s establish boundaries. Because God hates sin. We are to offer one another grace (tolerance), as God “cleans up the junk in our trunk.”
As Dr. Henry Cloud, the co-author of the New York Times bestselling book, Boundaries, puts it: “Truth without grace is judgement, and it can kill someone’s spirit. True love is grace and truth together. Show up with both at all times.” Just as Jesus did.
Addressing Christianity’s Intolerance
One reason the world views Christianity to be so intolerant is that too many of us make it our default to lead with judgement. And we don’t just reserve our criticism for those outside the church. Some of us think it our job to crush our Christian brothers and sisters with condemnation.
“Anyone who has been in the church for very long has been hurt by people in the church,” notes Dr. Cloud. “For in the body of Christ, we find some harsh realities: judgment, pride, self-centeredness, manipulation, abandonment, abuse, control, perfectionism, domination, and every kind of relational sin known to humankind. The walls of the church do not make it safe from sin. In fact, the church by definition is composed of sinners.”
But condemnation never leads anyone to rise to a higher standard. Our own hearts must first be tender, to effect softening the hearts of others. That’s why Jesus first showed that He cared about people’s hurts and needs before He talked about their sin. His tolerance of their humanity led them to being open to admitting the sin that was destroying their lives.
I know one Christian woman who spends most of her time pointing out how others are sinning (she even writes caustic letters to well-known pastors to tell them how they’re missing the mark). She truly is one of the unhappiest people I have known, in part because she lives in a constant state of offense, for even her own screw-ups. Grace and tolerance are, to her, foreign concepts. She has accepted only part of the Gospel message. 🙁
Where, friends, have we gotten the message that we need to judge sin before we can show love? Certainly not from Christ’s example.
Seeing How “Cultural “Tolerance” Lacks Tolerance
I do understand the fear that society is “going to hell in a handbasket,” to echo the popular phrase. When “truth” and “morality” are seen as entirely subjective, we do have cause to be concerned that society might implode. But cultural tolerance, in the way society nows defines it, is not the path of “enlightenment” it promises.
In an earlier series of blog posts we did based on Josh’s book, The Beauty of Intolerance, we highlighted three ways that cultural tolerance fails us:
FAILURE #1: Cultural tolerance promises complete moral freedom — but chains us.
Ah, the allure of empty promises! Let’s think through the consequences of an “anything goes” society. Here’s just one example: In one of those popular one-the-street interview shows, one young woman declared that she’s perfectly okay with a father and daughter having a sexual relationship, because “people should be allowed to do what they want.” Really? Yowza. She clearly hasn’t thought through the negative outcomes of society endorsing such relationships.
FAILURE #2: Cultural tolerance trains us to react to life from a fluid standard of our subjective emotions and personal life experiences. The sand will always be shifting.
Without a set moral standard, too many of us “do life” by how we feel. And boy do we open ourselves up to a whole lot of unnecessary drama. “I’m not feeling it, man” sounds reasonable — until we compare it to God’s word. I don’t feel like being patient. God tells me to be patient. I don’t feel like I have to be the first to forgive. God tells me to restore relationships before the sun sets. I don’t feel like I need to give my time. God tells me to generously serve others. It’s all about me, baby, and you can go away if you don’t like it!
FAILURE #3: Cultural tolerance uses shame to control us — while proving its own intolerance.
It hurts to be called a “bigot.” Or a “hypocrite.” Or “unloving,” “judgmental,” or a “jerk.” Because we’re hardwired for community and connection, feeling ostracized crushes us. I detest bullies — but I have to remember that many of those now screaming for subjective “truth” have been programmed in their thinking by the media, schools, and other sources that seek a post-God norm. Some of them have been bullied by messy Christians they’ve bumped into. But many have been misled to believe that Christianity has no positive effect on society — which is simply untrue.
Tolerance, Jesus Style
Friends, let’s show the world that it’s wrong about the Church only seeking to control and condemn. Where there is yelling, let us breathe kind whispers. Where there is scorching fire, let us pour refreshing water. Where there is hate, let us reflect God’s love. Let us bring God’s unswerving truth. It’s this tolerance that Jesus modeled.
Bottom line: Christians don’t get a pass for being jerks to others. If you’ve ever told someone, “God hates you!”, please ask for forgiveness. Jesus came to show all of humanity the length He’d go to to reconcile us to Himself. Jesus died for EVERYONE. Which means God hates NO ONE. And as He invites us into daily relationship, He tolerates our moments of failing as He leads us into maturing and reflecting His character. Think about that amazing grace! Imagine how little we’d trust and love Him, if His daily response to us was heaping condemnation. 🙁
Cultural tolerance fails us. But we can show the tolerance Christ demonstrates to us, and change the world!
In our next blog post, let’s look at Matt’s blog post on the top popular non-Christian religions and philosophies vying for your attention.
Showing Christ Relevant to Our Whatever Culture
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our latest post in our new year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post, Josh shares nine ways he believes that Christians can show Christ relevant to non-believers in our modern “whatever” culture.
We can’t just claim, “Christ is truth” anymore, says Josh. We must provide historical evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible, but also share the deep and personal convictions we’ve gained through our committed walk with Christ.
Is Christ’s Truth Still Relevant? Yes!
Sadly, even inside the Church, most young people have bought into the secular idea that there is no absolute truth. But God’s standard of truth has not changed. What has changed is our tolerance for “situational” truth.
Yet when “truth” is based on situation, is it really truth? Vegetarians, for example, believe their “truth” that it’s wrong to kill animals for food. Nudists believe their “truth” that clothes are a hindrance. And scammers believe their “truth” that it’s perfectly acceptable to steal what belongs to another. Each defend their position, based on the “truth” of their subjective value system.
Tolerance used to mean respectfully acknowledging other viewpoints while not endorsing them. Now tolerance is defined as needing to respect all values, beliefs, and lifestyles as equal and valid — supposedly because there’s no “intelligent” way to discern which option is the best.
We conveniently push God’s absolute truth aside, viewing it to be old-fashioned and not applicable to a modern world. Or we decide there is no God.
But if there is no set truth, Josh reminds us, there are no answers. And if there are no answers, there are only questions. “People say, ‘I’m smart enough to create my own moral code,” says Josh. “But if we accept that norm, we justify even the actions of mass murderers.” Josh wisely notes that “truth” is not truth just because we believe it is.
Christians today are tasked with showing Christ relevant to a world that views Him as just one more option. How can we do so? Let’s look at Josh’s 9-step action plan.
Josh’s Nine Steps for Showing Christ Relevant to the World
Step 1: Create Community
Our society is full of broken people from broken homes suffering the fallout of dysfunctional relationships. How do today’s youth view success? One of the top rankings is a happy home life. People want to experience real love. You and I are to commit to loving so fiercely that people take note and wonder, “How is this possible?” We will sometimes fail — but even in messy brokenness we can point to our source: Christ. Invite people into your life. See them as God sees them: as worthy and loved and cherished.
Step 2: Demonstrate Christ-like Compassion
Josh reminds us that it is only when we are convinced that another cares about us that we allow them to have influence in our life. Our churches should be known for their outreach ministries — but you and I need to be the ones signing up to participate to give these ministries life. We also need to minister in our personal lives. Are we good neighbors? Are we good friends? Are we willing to help a stranger, just for the opportunity to be like Christ? Ask God to help you live selflessly like Jesus.
Step 3: Context Truth Relationally
Bottom line: we must live out the truth of Christ through loving relationships. Do we allow others to take up our time when they need a helping hand or shoulder to cry on? Or do we live conditionally, only “serving” when we feel like it or because we think we’ll benefit? If you and I are to have the honor of showing Christ relevant in other people’s lives, we must do from a position of authentic relationship. We can build trust with people through grand gestures, but we build real intimacy by showing up, again and again, over time.
Step 4: Creatively Communicate Your Personal Testimony
Nothing will have more impact on showing Christ relevant to others than our effectively sharing our testimony. Can you confidently share ways that Christ has/is making a difference in your life? “Some people try to tell me they don’t have a testimony,” says Josh, “but I say, ‘Yes you do! You’re just being lazy. Set aside time to identify how your life was before Christ, how you came to know Christ, and how He’s changed your life.'”
It is because Josh has put in so many hours thinking about concrete examples to answer these questions that his personal testimony rings with authenticity and power. Because Josh KNOWS how Christ is relevant in his life, he is ever ready to share his testimony when asked. You and I should be just as prepared and hopeful at getting the chance to share ours. Start with this post about answering questions about Jesus.
Step 5: Demonstrate Caring Relationships
In our high-tech world, people crave caring relationships. As Josh puts it, “High tech calls for high touch.” The Church has the unique opportunity to meet this craving through loving community. But, again, entering a church can be an intimidating experience — especially for a non-believer who assumes s/he will be outed for not know when to sit, stand, pass the offering bucket, or even which book in the pew is the Bible.
People! We need to make sure we’re making it easy and comfortable for anyone to kick the tires of a church. That doesn’t mean we soften the message of our need for a Savior. It means we lead with caring. So the next time you go to church, don’t just say hi to the people you already know. Say hi to at least five people — especially those who look a bit anxious. Your friendly gesture of inclusion may be the single reason they decide to come back.
Step 6: Be Christ’s Love
It’s no big deal to love the lovable. But we enter a whole different ballgame when we show grace and patience and kindness to people who aren’t. The world is watching how you and I respond to the rude grocery cashier or jerky driver who just cut us off. The world is watching how we treat the homeless, convicts, and the adulterer next door that the neighborhood is having a field day gossiping about. “It’s loving the unlovable that will reach people’s hearts and minds to consider Jesus as the source of true love,” says Josh. “That’s the supernatural truth about the Christian faith.”
Beth Moore’s story about brushing a stranger’s hair in the airport always strikes me as the perfect example of showing Christ’s love. As Beth says, “When we are filled to the measure with the fullness of Christ, you cannot believe the needs we can meet. We can do what we know we can’t.” When we allow Him to, God can do through us what we simply can’t do on our own.
Step 7: Demonstrate Conspicuous Christ-like Marriage and Family
There can be no argument that America’s acceptance of easy divorce has severely handicapped the stability of the family unit. Why work hard on something that is just so much easier to leave behind? Kids suffer from the decisions of their parents on so many levels.
Today, most kids truly don’t know what the word “committed” really means. They throw away their water bottles, their barely used clothing, their gadgets — and their friends, when convenient. Because it’s the model they’ve been shown to follow. But you and I can make a difference by giving power and purpose to the word “committed.” We can demonstrate humility and selflessness and generosity. We can demonstrate sticking to hard stuff because it’s the right thing to do. We can demonstrate love. We can demonstrate the joy of living within God’s boundaries. “What has opened more doors for me to impact culture,” shares Josh, “has to do with the love I demonstrate for my wife and children.”
Step 8: Develop Credible Convictions
Before you and I can share our faith or testimony, we have to put in the work of growing the convictions we hold. As Josh mentioned above, some Christians have gotten lazy. To them, Christianity is a passive relationship, not an active, living/breathing relationship that gives their life peace and clarity and power. Some Christians have never even read the Bible!! People, how can we get in the game, if we don’t know the coach or the play book??
Here Josh gets very direct: If someone asks you why you take the truth of Christ at His word, and your reply is, “Because that’s what I was taught,” you prove the weakness of the foundation for your faith. Two other “dumb answers,” says Josh, are “Because I believe it” and “Because I have faith.” Ouch. But he’s right. Muslims have belief and faith. So do Mormons and Hindus and Buddhists and the New Age crowd. So how is your faith in Christ any different? “Faith,” says Josh, “doesn’t make something true.”
It’s a problem when the Church teaches a belief system without conviction. A conviction, explains Josh, is not just what you believe, but why you believe it, and how you’ve experienced it in your own life. Take the phrase, “Jesus saves.” In your own life, what does that mean? How has God showed you that 1) you matter to Him, that 2) He is changing you, and 3) That you can trust Him. Are you convinced, for example, that God is good, even when you don’t get what you want? The conviction that God is good, all the time, can only take root in our lives when we let go of how we think God should show up, and take Him at His word that He has a good plan for our life.
Step 9: Congregate Where People Are
Jesus didn’t check into a hotel in each town and tell the crowds to grab a number to visit with Him. What Jesus did do was make Himself accessible. He risked hanging with people that the religious leaders viewed so beneath them that interacting with them would soil both their fine clothing and their souls. But what they should have done, says Josh, is “throw the pearls, and let God decide who is swine.”
The point is to not set ourselves up as better than others, and to seek to create relationship with anyone needing God — even those that society disrespects or ridicules. Do you volunteer at church as a teacher or greeter? Have you served at a homeless shelter or food bank? Have you delivered meals to a shut-in? Have you participated in a prison ministry or a home for unwed mothers? Jesus loved loving on “sinners” because He felt compassion for the hurting. He was always on mission to draw them into loving relationship wth God.
Christ is extraordinarily relevant. We just have to get out there and show this truth to the world. God, alone, does the drawing of people to Him, so don’t feel like you have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Just keep to your lane — being a conduit He can use — and God will do what only God can do. 😉
In our next blog post, let’s look more at tolerance, and how society has derailed its traditional definition.
Catch up: The introductory post to this series.
Choosing God’s Boundaries Because We Trust Him
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, the latest post in our year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” Let’s talk about boundaries, which we need to make good, ethical choices. On what should we base the boundaries we establish in our life?
As we mentioned in a recent post, it’s not enough to base our morality on the Ten Commandments or other boundaries mentioned in the Bible. That’s because it’s not the rules themselves that create lasting change in us, but our relationship with their source, God.
Josh McDowell has recorded many videos on the topic of making right moral choices, which you can watch here. In this post, let’s look at two analogies Josh mentions in those videos, to better understand that God’s boundaries are good, not punitive.
The Source of the Precepts and Principles
As Josh reminds us, biblical boundaries are ONLY important because of the source of their moral authority. Skeptics argue that the Bible is “man-made,” but they’re wrong. The Bible is “God-breathed,” dictating a high ethical standard that humanity struggles to mirror. Even on our best days we screw up. A little gossip here, a little envy there, a slip of judgment here, a whole lot of unloving everywhere.
God’s boundaries aren’t about His ego, but our best life. As Josh masterfully explains in his videos, within every biblical precept — every “Thou Shalt Not!!” — is a moral principle based on the person and character and nature of God. Let’s look at two examples, so we understand what Josh means.
Example #1: The moral principal of honesty undergirds the precept “Thou Shalt Not Lie.” But the reason that lying is morally wrong is because God and Jesus are TRUTH.
Example #2: The moral principal of respecting the sanctity of life undergirds the precept “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” But the reason that killing is morally wrong is because God and Jesus are LIFE.
Likewise, we are to seek justice because God and Jesus are JUST. We are to seek purity because God and Jesus are PURE. We are to reject hate because God and Jesus are LOVE.
In a nutshell, any choice we can make that is contrary to God’s nature is morally wrong. God doesn’t tell us how to think and act to bend us to His will. Rather, He lovingly created guidelines for our protection and provision.
Let’s use the umbrella in the photo above to symbolize the protection of God’s guidelines.
When we follow God’s rules, we stay dry. But when we willfully choose to walk — or run! — into the rain, we wind up with wet clothes, if not pneumonia. “It’s always an act of love on God’s part to protect us and provide for us,” says Josh. “But when, through an act of disobedience by a decision of our own will we ignore God’s precepts, we remove ourselves from the very protection and provision of those precepts.”
An analogy Josh shares further drives this point home:
Two teenagers, bored on a hot, summer night, remember that a neighbor has a backyard pool. They also remember that the neighbors are on vacation. They decide to sneak over to enjoy a refreshing swim. They giggle as they clammer over the tall backyard fence, willfully ignoring the posted “No Trespassing!” and “No swimming!” signs.
The girl cautiously makes her way across the unlit backyard as her boyfriend races to the diving board. With one hard bounce, he catapults his body high into the air. The girl’s laugh turns to a shriek as she reaches the pool’s edge and realizes there is no water in the pool. The impact of the boy’s dive snaps his neck, instantly paralyzing him.
The homeowners didn’t post the warnings to take fun from the boy’s life, but to protect him. In choosing to disregard the posted warnings, he moved himself into danger.
God’s Tall Ladder Perspective
Like this young man, we often don’t see the looming dangers. Or we minimize the consequences of stepping into sin. “How much can it hurt?” we ask ourselves. Unfortunately, you and I have a very limited perspective. God, on the other hand, sees every possible scenario — and their resulting joys and sorrows.
Have you ever entered one of those corn mazes? (The kind that stresses me out because I’m claustrophobic AND a control freak?!) At every junction you ask, “Should I turn right? Or left, perhaps?” And with every wrong turn and dead-end, you get more confused about where you are in the maze, and the location of the correct path leading to the exit. If you only had a birds-eye view!
If you had a guide — a trustworthy source — perched atop a really high ladder, you’d have help in making the right choices to successfully navigate the maze. In life we can consistently make right choices, and enjoy much good in life, by following God’s guidelines and boundaries.
God: “Do you believe that I love you and want to bless you with provision and protection? Then commit to my boundaries. They are for your good, because I am good.”
From His eternal perspective, God does life with us, asking, “Want to avoid heartache? Follow my precepts; don’t deviate. Want to avoid that addiction? Follow my precepts; don’t deviate. Want to be successful in business? Follow my precepts; don’t deviate. Want to experience true, meaningful love? Follow my precepts; don’t deviate.”
But sometimes we get it into our heads that we know better than God. So we make willful choices outside of His boundaries, and must then suffer the consequences.
Spend some time reflecting on your life, and how choosing to live within God’s boundaries has protected you. But also look at the times you willfully stepped beyond His umbrella of protection and had to endure the fallout. Here’s the thing about sin: the repercussions aren’t always immediately evident. Sometimes we think we’ve gotten away with it. But sin eventually demands our payment.
“Unless we each come to understand that ‘God loves me’ and ‘I can trust Him,'” adds Josh, “we will never walk through life dependent on the character of God to make right choices.”
In our next blog post, let’s look further at the topic of actual truth, and how to identify it.
Catch up: The introductory post to this series.
Can We Know Absolute Right From Wrong?
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our latest post in this year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post we ask a HUGE question that many believe impossible to answer: “Can we know absolute right from wrong?”
Let’s cut to the chase on answering this, as we look at the 3-point checklist Josh McDowell uses for making sound moral choices.
If It’s Legal, It’s Moral…Right?
If you were to vote on whether absolute truth is knowable, would you cast your vote as yay or nay?
Chances are high you’d vote nay, as our increasingly secular society has been quite successful in selling us on the fallacy that truth is entirely subjective. “My truth is my truth, and your truth is your truth.” But can you and I really base truth on subjective preference? Can our society, as a whole, do so and manage to survive?
Josh, in his video on discerning right from wrong, states, “Legality has nothing to do with morality.” This is a critical point, people! Because if morality is determined by what is legal, does that mean that when the law changes, morality also changes? Is morality really that fluid?
In an online article titled “Is God really good?” the writer reminds us that “God is the author of logic and truth, so God’s Word should be high on the priority list when analyzing anything critically. In fact, without the biblical God, there is no logical basis for using the laws of logic, which flow from His nature.”
Adds the writer, if there is no absolute standard of morality, everyone would do what his own collection of atoms in his brain told him to do — be it murdering someone who got in his way, or taking food from someone who had more than he did.
But it’s this line in the article that sums up why we, ourselves, can’t be the absolute standard for morality: “Why would the collection of atoms that compose my brain be any better at determining what is ‘right’ than the next person’s?”
Aligning Our Morals With God
Yet society does push that “right” and “wrong” is entirely subjective! That only an old-fashioned fool would hold to a one-size-fits-all moral code. But this isn’t true. And deep down we all know it. We know when we’re choosing sin but justifying it. God tells us in His Word that He creates us with this soul knowledge.
Listen, it doesn’t matter what our parents or pastor taught us. Our moral code isn’t “right” because it reflects our family values. It’s not right because it “feels” right to us. It’s not right because it follows the majority view. And it’s certainly not right because an authority figure (or government) condones or enforces it.
Our moral code is correct only when it aligns with God’s person and character. We can’t pin our moral code on what our college professors think, what our friends think, what our parents think, or even what our pastors think. Only what God says.
Josh’s Three Steps for Making Moral Choices God’s Way
Josh notes that God is just, righteous, and pure—because each of these aspects reflect His character. If we profess to follow Jesus, our personal moral code should reflect our commitment to reflect Him, not our selfish desires. We are called to get past our innate selfishness and align our moral choices with God’s standard of absolute right.
Josh’s three steps:
1. Accept that only God has the authority to define absolute right and wrong.
2. Compare the choice you’re making to God’s standard. Do they align? Or are you twisting Scripture, or taking it out of context, to affirm the choice you want to make?
3. Count on God’s blessings when you choose His righteousness. Now, the immediate return on our doing right may initially lead to negative consequences — we might lose friends, family, or even our career. But in the long run, God promises us His grace, protection, and provision when we align our lifestyle with His standard.
We’re not being “progressive“ or “enlightened” when we base our morality on a standard other than God’s. We’re choosing to disregard the Creator who loves us more than life itself. It’s that simple.
In our next blog post, let’s look further at why God, not society or people, should be our standard.
Catch up: The introductory post to this series.
Five Truths to Know About Mental Health
Reading Time: 4 minutes
May is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month. At Josh McDowell Ministry, we are passionate about helping people to get the support they need for these complex issues.
In recent years, mental health issues have risen among young people. In fact, seventy percent of teens say anxiety and depression are major problems among their peers. (1) Between 2007 and 2015, emergency room visits for suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide doubled among children and teens. (2) Clearly, we are living in a chaotic time of loneliness, hurt, and struggles.
I personally experienced mental health issues for years. By the age of eight, I was riddled with anger, feelings of worthlessness, depression, and anxiety. When I developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), I felt that life had become close to unbearable.
I began to doubt that God existed, and I feared that He would reject me when I died. For almost a decade I obsessed about going to hell, sometimes praying upwards of twenty times a day that Jesus would save my soul. I began to wish that I had never been born, because that would have been easier than the torture and fear I experienced on a daily basis. I was caught in a brutal, hopeless, obsessive cycle of fear.
At times, I could barely sleep for days due to the intensity of my anxiety. Other times, I felt deep sorrow for seemingly no reason. To try to put this into words, the grief I felt was on par with what I think it’d be like to lose all of my close friends to a tragic accident, and the concepts of hope and happiness no longer existed. My emotional pain was so drastic at times that I feared I’d attempt suicide.
Throughout my years of battling mental health issues, I wish I had known the five key truths I share with you in this post. Whether you or someone you know is facing mental health issues, I hope these truths bring you deeper understanding and hope.
1. Nothing Is “Wrong” With You
It’s easy to think you got the shaft in life, that you just got dealt a bad hand, or that there is something faulty with you. We often buy into shame or the belief that something is wrong with who we are. This often only further reinforces our struggles with mental health issues, leading to greater hopelessness. But we must remember that our identity does not lie in our status, emotions, achievements, or struggles, but in who God says we are. We are not defined by our struggles. We are defined by our identity as human beings made in the image of God. We are defined by the radical love Jesus has for us.We must remember that our identity does not lie in our status, emotions, achievements, or struggles, but in who God says we are. Click To Tweet
2. It’s Ok to Seek Professional Help and Take Medication
The fields of psychology and medicine are gifts from God to us. When we are physically ill, we often have no qualms about going to the doctor. When we break a bone, we are quick to visit the emergency room to get help. So why is it often seen as taboo or a weakness when we seek help for our mental health? Be wary of those who over-spiritualize solutions to mental illness. God can heal through supernatural means, but He also provides help and healing through psychology and medicine. Even the Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to seek a type of medication for his stomach ailment in wine (1 Timothy 5:23).Be wary of those who over-spiritualize solutions to mental illness. God can heal through supernatural means, but He also provides help and healing through psychology and medicine. Click To Tweet
3. Often, Mental Health Issues Aren’t Random
While I’m not a mental health counselor, and psychologists aren’t fully in agreement on any one cause of mental health issues, many times these issues are developed as a result of painful or stressful experiences. (3)(4) This was the case in my own life and in the lives of others I’ve led through support groups. When we started to understand what we had been through in life, we realized that our mental health issues weren’t random. These issues were developed as coping mechanisms to survive turbulent times of hardship. Our brains were literally rewired to manage the stresses and pain we experienced. Because of that, we continued to have similar responses to new stressful situations that came up.
4. Understanding Triggers Can Lead to Transformation
Mental health issues actually serve an important purpose in our life. In my life, anxiety serves me by attempting to protect me from feeling unsafe and rejected. Anxiety can be brought on in a moment by the thought of loss, failure, or embarrassment and spiral out of control. Depression can creep up after experiencing rejection from someone or feeling hopeless about life circumstances. We can find understanding as we identify the fears, stresses, and particular situations that trigger our struggles. We often have situations in life that trigger, or bring on, more intense mental health episodes. But we can experience transformation as we challenge those fears and lies we may be believing about what is true of us.
5. It Gets Better and Can Be Overcome
As I shared earlier, for years I was crippled by anxiety, depression, Tourettes, ADHD, OCD, and other mental health issues. Most of these are now minimal issues in my life as I’ve worked through extensive therapy to identify the triggers, understand and challenge the lies, and invite Jesus and others to be part of my healing journey. Through many experiences with God and others I’ve now started to believe more and more the truth that I’m accepted, not rejected.
I’ve had new experiences of challenging these triggers and lies, rather than throwing in the towel and letting the anxiety, depression, and obsessions run wild. As we make the conscious decision to wire out old patterns of thinking and respond to lies with truth, we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds, as Romans 12:2 says. We can create new default brain pathways of responding to stress, pain, and difficulties in life that allows life to get easier to handle.As we make the conscious decision to wire out old patterns of thinking and respond to lies with truth, we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds as Romans 12:2 says. Click To Tweet
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, check out josh.org/counseling for professional resources. Also, check out the FASTER Scale to consider how circumstances and challenges in your life may be triggering your struggles.
God: Our Relevant Father
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our 16th post in our new year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post we reflect on the relevance of our loving Father.
A Father’s Presence Matters
Many people would agree that Will Smith made his career through his great performance in the old TV show Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a sitcom in which Will plays a fictionalized younger version of himself as a poor boy from Philadelphia who moved in with his rich aunt and uncle in Bel-Air.
Many also would say that Will’s greatest performance in Fresh Prince was that poignant father scene. If you viewed that scene, you know what I’m talking about. In that episode, Will’s biological father pays him a visit after abandoning the family 14 years earlier. He promises to take Will on a nice father-son trip — but cancels at the last minute.
Will is heartbroken, though he manages to hold himself together as he watches his father walk out the door — and out of his life. He tries to shake off the pain with the help of his sympathetic uncle, but the pressure on his heart expresses itself first in raging anger, then tears. “How come he don’t want me, man?” asks Will as his uncle pulls him into a tight bear hug and they cry together. The typically funny sitcom dove into the painful.
This certainly isn’t the only tv/film scene featuring an emotionally gripping “father moment.” How many movies can you think of where the protagonist has a tenuous relationship with his or her father? The darkest moment in these films tends to be when the father rejects his son or daughter. And the brightest moment is when the father returns and restores the relationship.
Fathers. Their existence (or non-existence) in our lives burrows deep, affecting our very soul. Those of us who grew up with absent fathers often struggle with belonging. Those who grew up with abusive fathers often struggle with passivity. Those who grew up with unloving fathers often struggle with acceptance. These are all overly-simplistic generalizations, but fathers matter. We can all attest to the truth of this statement, based on our own personal experience. A father is critically relevant to a child.Isn't it interesting that in the Bible, the God of heaven and earth, infinitely powerful, all-knowing and perfectly holy, addresses Himself as our Father? Click To Tweet
God: Our Good, Good Father
It isn’t an accident that God calls Himself our Father. He presents Himself to us in the most tender way, holding us in love from that deep place in our soul. He is never an absent father. He is never an abusive father. He is never an unloving father. God is the father who sees us, knows us, and understands us. He loves our personalities and desires to be us with. Let’s be honest: our hearts cry out for this full acceptance. God is so relevant to our life!
I don’t mean to suggest that our Heavenly Father makes our earthly father irrelevant or unimportant. Or that God is the instant cure-all for any father wounds we experience as we grow up. My point is that the relationship God offers to each of us goes deep, to our very core. It’s not superficial, conditional, or fleeting. It can meet the needs of every person, in every culture, because God completely knows us.
God is with us when no one else is. He loves us when no one else does. He makes Himself present in our lives and in the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters as we gather together. We don’t need to have our act together before coming to God. I’m telling you: the God of this universe is a good Father!
Right here, right now, and in Heaven, where we’ll be with Him in person. Heaven, by the way, is not about strumming on a harp, or enjoying a bunch of virgins, or even governing our own planet. It’s not about escaping desire, or becoming part of the cosmos, or enjoying an endless all-we-can-eat ice cream buffet without bellyache.
Heaven is about our one-on-one relationship with God! Revelation 21:4 says that In Heaven every tear will be wiped from our eyes. That’s beautiful, but not the real beauty of Heaven. The real beauty of Heaven is that He will be the one wiping away our tears!
“How come he don’t want me, man?” isn’t a question we can ever ask about God. He wants us fiercely, wholly, and unconditionally. Let’s run to that love! Oh, that our entire world would long for and come to know our amazing, utterly relevant Father.
View or download Josh’s The Father Factor, 25 years of compiled research documenting the impact fathers have on their families.
In our next blog post, let’s look more at how our self-image is affected by our relationships.
Catch up: The introductory post to this series.
What Makes the Bible So Special? Quick VIDEO
Reading Time: < 1 minute
Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.
Five Misconceptions of Christians
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, the sixth post in our new year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post let’s talk about how Christians are viewed by society — often through a distorted lens.We are bombarded with so much false information that we lazily accept as the truth. Click To Tweet
One of the craziest ironies of our time is this: The overload of information being pumped into our heads has resulted in so much illiteracy about our world. We are bombarded with so much information that it becomes difficult to separate fact from fiction. It has become way too easy to develop fantasies about the world we live in. This is especially troubling when these fantasies involve our fellow human beings.
Most of us realize that the media generally picks stories that jab cultural pressure points — and milks those stories to produce maximum click-bait impact. Just look at social media to see how much misinformation is tossed about as “truth” — and how angry people are getting because they lazily accept it as such. It’s just so much easier to instantly get mad and offended, right?
It has, indeed, become very difficult to view and understand each other, with both sides choosing to broadcast stories that represent the most extreme aspects of their “enemies.” Christianity, which really bothers some people, has long been skewed as a negative, if not freaky, social construct by society.
“Well, you Christians don’t like this, and you demand that, and you’re so judgmental about this, and you want to force me to do that….” When I hear non-Christians say these things, I sometimes ask what formed their viewpoint. Too often, it’s simply what they heard from society. Or it’s based on their experience with a single Christian.
In view of that, I’d like to offer a short list of broad misconceptions that some people have about Christians — which are simply untrue.
1. Christians Disagree About Everything…Right?
Definite misconception! Christians do not disagree about everything.
We agree that Jesus is the Son of God, and died on the cross and resurrected so that we could believe and be saved. We agree that God calls us to love our neighbor. We agree that humankind is inherently sinful without the grace of God, and that God loves us anyway. We agree that truth matters. We agree that the gospel of Jesus is Good News to this world. We agree that the Holy Spirit is with us, and that God has spoken truth to us through His words in Scripture. These core beliefs have carried on through the generations since Christianity first began.
That isn’t to say that things don’t get messy. We are, after all, human. There are plenty of theological disagreements to go around. But at the end of the day, most Christians recognize that the majority of disagreements needn’t divide us. We are still brothers and sisters, unified through Christ. Our unity is accomplished through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 4:3-4). Though we have disagreements, we are a family. That’s not to say there aren’t some strange uncles and wayward cousins.
2. Christians Are Opposed to Science…Right?
Definite misconception! Most Christians highly value the contributions of Science!
There are some Christians who take a strong obscurantist approach toward science, but I have not personally met one. Most of science doesn’t address things that concern faith in Christ. The speed of light, the chemistry of ammonium, the size of our sun, or the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow have little to do with the Gospel message. Yet for some reason, it remains a popular notion that Christians are hostile to science.
Our concerns come into play when science is wielded to defend naturalism, the view that there is nothing supernatural and everything in our universe can be explained by natural causes. Science is just one resource for us to learn about the world.
Christians rarely take issue with the scientific method or the scientific enterprise. If anything, we are concerned with the theological and philosophical interpretations that sometimes originate in the laboratory.
3. Christians Are a Hate Group…Right?
Definite misconception! Committed Christians know hate has no place in their lives!
Talk about propaganda! This lie comes straight from Satan — and society, who loves to showcase specific Christians and church groups that decidedly do NOT represent the Church. Unfortunately, these people are the ones paraded on the headlines and distort we who are. They are a gross generalization of Christianity, not an accurate picture of committed Christ-followers.
I can honestly tell you that I do not know any of these “Christians.” The Christians I know, the ones who sit next to me in the pew of the churches I have been in, truly want to represent the love of Christ.
To be like Jesus, Christians have to wrestle with the question of how to hold truth and love together. We believe certain matters — such as sex, gender, and spirituality — to be true for the best interest of all people. But we believe that God has called us to present His truth in love.We are not called to be tolerant of others are the culture defines it; we are called to be loving as the Bible defines it. Click To Tweet
We can’t realistically live in a constant state of feeling offended. But here’s the truth: We really can express disagreement with each other without devaluing each other. This is true even in matters of religion, sexuality, and gender. Our culture has simply forgotten how to extend this civility, which has crippled our ability to have effective conversations about the big issues facing us today. As a nation we’ve become so vested in being self-focused.
4. Christians Don’t Positively Contribute to Society…Right?
Definite misconception! So much of the good being done in the world is being done by Christians!
A great number of philanthropic organizations doing marvelous work around the world are Christian-based, fueled by Christian values, and funded by the generosity of middle-class Christians. Many other organizations are team efforts, with Christians and non-Christians coming together to share a common cause. (See They Were Christians: The Inspiring Faith of Men and Women Who Changed the World by Cristóbal Krusen.)
Modern Christians recognize that Christ calls us to care for His world and His people. We understand that Jesus identifies with the poor and marginalized (Matthew 25:31-46). We recognize the significance of the Gospel message, but we cannot divorce that from God’s heart for the hurting.
5. Christians Don’t Know How to Have Fun…Right?
Definite misconception! Perhaps we need to define “fun?”
We get it. We know we’re portrayed as boring and unhip and old-fashioned because we’re not out there “living it up” every weekend, getting drunk, having casual sex, etc. But that doesn’t make us boring. It means that we’re living to the standard Christ set for us. A standard designed to keep us from making unwise choices and adding a whole lot of unnecessary drama and pain to our lives.
Here’s the thing: before many of us became Christians, many of us did walk that path before someone introduced us to Christ. And our testimony is unanimous: That empty lifestyle didn’t fill us. We were still empty. As crazy as it sounds to non-Christians, God really does change us from the inside out.
Honestly, we’ve found ourselves learning that living for God is way better than living for ourselves. We have discovered that our friendships, marriages, and enjoyment of life have flourished because of our joy in knowing Him. And our privilege of introducing others to God is incredibly satisfying. I’m telling you, nothing is more exciting!
If you want to know what Christianity is really all about, slip into a Bible-based church and listen to some sermons. Read through the numerous, fact-filled blog posts on our site. Read the Bible. And find some committed Christ-followers to engage in conversation. Committed Christ-followers aren’t perfect….we mess up all the time….but our hearts and our eyes are on Jesus, the greatest role model we could possibly follow.Rip off the fantasy goggles and dive into the reality of learning about Christ. He's way better than fiction! Click To Tweet
In our next blog post, let’s look even deeper at what it means to be a committed Christ-follower! Can our life have meaningful purpose? You bet!
Catch up: The introductory post to this series.
Can Man (and Woman) Live Without Sex?
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.
It’s no secret that our culture is hypersexualized. Music. Commercials. Movies. Internet. News. Sex is simply everywhere in our culture.
As a result, it is deeply tempting to buy the narrative that sexual experience is the surest route to happiness and fulfillment. To deny yourself sexual activity, on this view, is to undercut your own humanity.
As popular and appealing as this view may be, it is deeply mistaken.
Jesus was Single, and Fully Content
In my recent dialogue with Matthew Vines about the Bible and Homosexuality, I began my opening speech by focusing on the life and teachings of Jesus. I noted that even though Jesus was single, he was fully content.
He never married, and he did not engage in a single sex act.
And yet, in contrast to the sex-crazed narrative of our culture, he experienced profound contentment, joy, and peace with his sexuality as an adult, single male.
And remember, Jesus was truly God, but he was also truly human. He was not a sexless deity.
Jesus experienced the depths of temptation, as the author of Hebrews describes: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).
Jesus went through puberty. He had body hair. He was attracted to women. And although he never engaged in a single sex act, he was fully content with his sexuality.
Here is the bottom line: Humans can live without sex and marriage. But we weren’t designed to live without love and intimacy—and there’s a big difference.
You see, there can be sex without intimacy (e.g., a hookup). And there can be intimacy without sex (e.g., friendship).
Sex is neither necessary nor sufficient to experience the depths of human intimacy God designed us for.
Sex is Good
My point is not to downplay the value of sex. Unfortunately, the church has sometimes made the mistake of communicating that sex is bad. This could not be further from the truth!
But, despite the cultural narrative, sexual activity is not essential for human flourishing or personal fulfillment. The life of Jesus puts this cultural myth to rest.
You might be thinking, “That’s easy for you to say, Sean, since you’re married and have kids.” Whether true or not (in this case, it is true) this objection is simply irrelevant to the claim itself. It is a classical genetic fallacy, which dismisses a claim because of its origins.
Nevertheless, there are many single people who make the same point.
Ed Shaw is a same-sex attracted pastor from the UK. In his book Same-Sex Attraction and the Church, Shaw argues that God is not the one who is keeping same-sex attracted men and women from experiencing intimate relationships.
Rather, it is our hypersexualized culture that cannot process non-sexual intimate relationships.
He wishes the church would put as much energy into cultivating good friendships as it does good marriages. I agree 100%.
In conclusion, consider pastor Shaw’s words:
I know there are many today who think it is a great tragedy to die a virgin. But I hope I will. Because I know that I will not have lost out on anything too significant. Because the Bible teaches me that I will have missed only the brief foretaste that sex is meant to be of the eternal reality of the perfect union between Christ and his church that I will one day experience forever (Revelation 21:1-15). Any fleeting pleasure I’ve given up in the meantime will be more than worth it then. 
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.
 Ed Shaw, Same-Sex Attraction and the Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 112).
What is the Best Definition of Love? Quick VIDEO
Reading Time: < 1 minute
Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.
Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers? Quick VIDEO
Reading Time: < 1 minute
Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.
Christianity: Putting It All Together
Reading Time: 5 minutes
What’s the point of all this “Follow Jesus” stuff?
Wow! With this blog post, we complete a full year of blogging about the evidence for Christianity — from its historical roots (Jesus really lived!), to why Jesus calls us into relationship with Him.
The purpose of this year-long series has been simply this: to give you historically accurate information about Christianity, so that you might comfortably and knowledgeably share your love for Christ with others.
As we stated in our very first post, being a Christian is NOT about blindly following the teachings of our clergy. It’s about putting in the time and effort to become personally familiar with God and Jesus in order to build a relationship of depth with them. (Hint: to do so, we need to crack open our Bibles, people!)
~ It Ain’t About “Blind” Faith ~
“Blind faith” is a criticism often tossed at Christians by non-believers — and they’re not wrong to raise it as a red flag for our lack of knowledge. Look at it from the non-believer’s perspective: If a Christian’s go-to answer is, “Just have faith,” it’s not particularly convincing that the Christian knows all that much about God, the Bible, or the history of Christianity. Why call yourself a “Christian,” if you’re not going to put any skin in the game? We need to dive into this “Follow Jesus” stuff with intent, friends. Only then can we really decide if Christianity makes sense to us — and if we’re willing to put in the commitment Christ desires of us.
I hope this blog series has shown you that Christianity is based on historical facts and evidence — not blind faith. And that’s a good thing, because if Christianity can’t be proven to have legitimacy, none of us should be following it! We’ve answered many of the challenging questions that skeptics tend to ask, such as, “But the Bible was written by lots of people over a hundred years. How can it be authentic?” and “Christianity appears to be a copy-cat religion. Can you prove otherwise?”
But there are many more. Let’s recap other questions typically asked by skeptics, to remind ourselves of what we may need to learn in order to have a productive conversation. The point is not to “win” a discussion, but to humbly step into each “God moment,” hoping that it may lead to another’s heart opening to the possibility of Christ. 😉
~ Christianity Pop Quiz: Know the Answer? ~
~ Authentically Share Your Love for Christ! ~
You may never get asked most of the above questions, but you might as well keep the information handy. That last question, though — “Why do I need Jesus?” — is definitely one you DO need to be able to answer.
My answer is here. Your answer will also be subjective, based on your life experiences. We all have our unique reason(s) for responding to and loving Jesus. Check out this guy’s very authentic answer! Just one tiny paragraph of his powerful testimony:
So, Why Am I A Christian?
Because I know I’m a train wreck in a dumpster fire. But I also know that God loves me 100% as is, right now, in the midst of the burning carnage that is often my life. I know that if I were to stack up my cards against most church people, I’d fold every time. I’m not that good at following rules, and I run my mouth a lot. And yet, God loves me and is cheering for me as I get better and especially when I fall down. Where I see failure, he sees opportunity for growth. Where I see addiction, he sees an opportunity to take a step. Where I’ve given up, he whispers, “You can make it.”
Man, I love that! But don’t miss that this guy found Jesus not in perfect people (or those pretending to be perfect), but in regular “sinners” committed to daily following and resembling Christ. In their own messy way, in their own messy style, and God’s okay with that!
How awesome is it that we serve a God of second — heck, 70 x 7 — chances! Perhaps that’s the point of all this “Follow Jesus” stuff. To KNOW, beyond a show of a doubt, that the Creator of the universe cares so much about us that He sent Himself in human form to clearly show us His nature. That despite the roller coaster of our life choices, we can trust that God is in the seat next to us. God’s love is constant! That should make us want to be “all in” when it comes to Christ!
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!
If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.
Does God Have a Secret Will for My Life? Quick VIDEO
Reading Time: < 1 minute
Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.
What’s Keeping You From Loving God?
Reading Time: 9 minutes
If we don’t love God, we have a reason: our skewed view of God’s nature, our deciding we don’t “need” Him, or even that He doesn’t exist. The struggle is real to clearly see God’s nature — and to steadily move toward Him.
In surfing the Internet recently, I ran across a personal blog in which the writer explained why she doesn’t believe in God. She shared that as a child, she heard the Genesis story of Adam and Eve’s sin, and its ramifications for all of mankind.
To this day she can still feel, from that decades-old encounter, the condemnation heaped upon her. With a “triumphant smile,” she writes, her church teacher declared to the assembled class of youngsters, “YOU, too, would have sinned because human nature is sinful. If it happened to be YOU in the Garden, each of YOU would have disobeyed.” (I added the caps for emphasis.)
“Thus two doctrines got established before the end of our first religion lesson,” she writes, “our innate wickedness, and God as a punitive parent.”
Aghast at the guilt heaped upon her, she shares that she grappled with these doctrines for years, finding the question of God’s existence to be a source of “ultimate terror and agony.” She decided, by her mid-teens, to reject a god that would send her to hell for not following Him. It certainly was unacceptable to her that God would send her dad, who happened to be a “very loving atheist,” to hell as well.
This writer’s current view of God? That God’s existence makes absolutely no difference to her. Even if she knew for a fact that He exists. “Happiness” has become her god of choice; her religion that “God is a happy state of mind.”
I hear this viewpoint echoed a lot today. But there are other reasons people choose to reject God. Let’s look at some of them.
~ Is God Really Trustworthy? Does He Care? ~
It is a challenge to look at our hurting world and still see the hand of a caring, intimately vested Creator. Which can make it so easy to decide, from our limited, subjective perceptive, that He doesn’t exist. That He can’t exist, if God is supposed to be so loving and good.
In his article Not Even God Could Make Me Religious, for example, atheist John Shook admits, “I’m not that open-minded about God.” Not if we are talking about God, he adds, “of the sort worshipped by billions nowadays. You’ve heard of this God: entirely supernatural, infinitely powerful, perfectly intelligent, etc.”
Snook’s burning question: Why would a God, if one exists, expose itself to looking unworthy?
Adding that he’d “be an atheist in heaven” — yowza! — Snook declares God to be a rather lousy creator and benefactor. A “good” god, he suggests, wouldn’t sit idle in a world filled with hate, war, death, and ugliness. “What does this atheist say if brought before God?” asks Shook. “‘Not worthy enough, God, not worthy enough.’” Harsh words! But I’m not sure that God has a problem with Snook’s questions — only with the condition of his heart. As Snook himself says, he’s not open to giving God a chance. His judgment of God is firmly cemented. End of story. Move on.
Hmmmmm …. I’m not gonna lie; there have been times when I, too, have questioned whether God is really at the helm of our ball of spinning mass. “Prove yourself to me!” I’ve begged, while basically informing God that the least He could do — if he’s really entirely supernatural, infinitely powerful, and perfectly intelligent, as Snook puts it — is to give me some small sign that He not only exists, but that He sees me and cares. I can honestly tell you that He has stepped up to respond, but often in a quiet, soul-level whisper that I have to get really still to hear.
The Lesson in Painful Moments
Ed Hager, a retired pastor, shares how God showed up in his darkest hour. In one of his blog posts for Chase Oaks Church, Hager talks about the overwhelming depression he endured when his wife of 20+ years left him for another man. Hager’s faith faltered, and he gave up his pastoral position. “After having begged God to save my marriage and ministry,” he shares, “I was blinded to His presence by my focus on all I perceived I had lost.”
As his depression threatened to engulf him, Hager desperately cried out to God — and God faithfully met him. “It was in those desperate moments,” writes Hager, “that I heard, not audibly, but with crystal clarity, ‘You haven’t lost everything because you haven’t lost Me and I’m all you need!‘”
Though this long period of pain was difficult to endure, Hager is quick to admit that the years he spent in this season of his life taught him to “never doubt in the darkness what I know to be true in the light.” And that “there are insights and understandings that can be gleaned from pain that can be learned in no other way.” I so agree with that. It is often when God is all that we have, that we find Him to provide all that we need.
Could it be that the pain of this world, then, is an important part of our development? Even though we instinctively fight against the notion of another suffering for our benefit? #christ
~ Are We Worthy of Receiving His Love? ~
I can say with complete confidence that I believe there to be no deeper hurt than feeling unloved, unwanted, or unloveable. As the saying goes, “Been there, done that, got the gosh darn T-shirt.”
My own religious upbringing demanded that I view God with trembling fear. In faithfully reading my illustrated children’s Bible, I learned to view God as the wrathful deity of the Old Testament who seemed to enjoy making people suffer. Why? Because we’re horrible, rotten creatures who will always disappoint him — and He’s pissed off about it! At least that’s the message that buried itself in my heart and mind. Don’t even get me started on how much I came to hate Eve for listening to that stupid, lying snake. I hated Eve because she caused me to hate myself.
It has taken me decades to finally choose to accept the free gift of God’s grace; to change my perspective from seeing my every slip up as proof of my defectiveness, to just one more opportunity of growth to get it right. And that God is okay with the process. (The Dude has patience!!) As Christian speaker Beth Moore puts it, “You cannot be free to return the love of God unless you first accept it. You can’t love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength unless you believe God loves you.”
Bottom line: as long as we hate that part of ourselves that is so easily led to choosing self over God, we will have a desperate time accepting that God truly does see us as anything but unworthy and unloveable.
Our love for God, adds Moore, opens our eyes to see Him at work. Our love for God gives us the desire to truly want to please Him. Our love for God helps us to crawl, if necessary, through troubling times. “The number one motivation you’ll have for persevering through the most difficult trials of your life,” she says, “will be the unabashed love of God. It is not determination, dedication or will that is going to get you through the bad times. It’s that you know God loves you, and you love him.”
~ But Do We Really Need God? ~
Oh, boy, we’re going deep now! So many people park right here and never budge. “I’m doing just fine at this life thing,” we think. “I don’t need God to feel happy, be a good person, or to live a meaningful life!”
Natasha Crain wrote an article on this very topic. When we begin to ask ourselves whether we really NEED God for those three areas of our life, she writes, it’s soooooo tempting to admit that we can, for the most part, live a productive, happy life without God being at the center of it.
If He’s just the Cosmic Dude we sleepily say hello to in church on Sunday mornings, for example, He won’t have much of an impact on our daily choices. Our choosing to be good, then, doesn’t depend on God being in our life. The truth is that a non-Christian can demonstrate a higher standard of moral living than a Christian, if he or she so chooses. “Christians” don’t get to claim the market on goodness. Some, indeed, earn the “hypocrite” label tossed at them.
And the Church should be humble about putting out the message that only Christianity can give life meaning — though knowing God, suggests Crain, helps us to discover our eternal purpose.
Ryan Bell, a pastor for 19 years in the Seventh-day Adventist church, now has a new gospel he teaches: that being a Christian actually makes life less meaningful for people. Not only did Bell walk away from the pulpit, but he now claims to be an atheist. And boy, is he HAPPY about it.
“Life does not need a divine source in order to be meaningful,” he writes in just one of his “no God needed” articles. “Anyone who has seen a breathtaking sunset or fallen in love with another human being knows that we make meaning from the experiences of our lives; we construct it the way we construct any social narrative.”
His appreciation for life and its potential, he adds, increased when he stepped away from his faith. But we need to understand Bell’s view of God to properly analyze his statement.
Making Sure We Have the Right View of God
Somewhat akin to my own upbringing, Bell embraced the idea that being heaven-focused is super important, but daily life merely a struggle to endure. “Ironically,” he writes, “my Christian upbringing taught me that ultimately this life doesn’t matter, which tends to make believers apathetic about suffering and think that things will only get worse before God suddenly solves everything on the last day.”
Yuck. This is so not the view God wants us to hold for life. We’re to give this life our all, for His glory, not squander it despising “sinners” and trying to not rub shoulders with them.
Christians who live out Bell’s skewed theology not only live royally ticked off about the daily pains and obstacles of life, they want to insulate themselves as much as possible. They hold the yucky world at arm’s length, lest it dirty their halo and/or muck up their chances of residing in a heavenly mansion. (I was actually raised to think like this.)
Dr. William Lane Craig, a research professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, points out that Bell has merely swapped one subjective construct for another. To reject the constraints of his skewed theology, it’s clear that Bell believes he has to reject even its source: God. Craig explains why he doesn’t think Bell “gets” that atheism isn’t a better choice than Christianity, just different. To live “happily,” explains Craig, we each construct a personal value system to bring meaning to our life:
“You construct a set of values. You invent a purpose for your life. This is the only way in which you can live tolerably with atheism. So when he says that he has found that now, as an atheist, life is more meaningful to him and more precious and so forth, this only shows that he hasn’t understood that the claim is about objective meaning, value, and purpose. All he is saying is that as an atheist he finds more subjective meaning, value, and purpose to his life. That doesn’t in any way refute the argument that atheism implies the absurdity of life without God or nihilism. One isn’t talking about subjective attitudes. One is talking about the way the world really is independently of your attitudes.”
~ The Choice is Ours ~
Until we someday meet Him face-to-face, we will never understand why God has given us so much personal freedom to accept or reject Him. But that’s one of the things I love about Him. That He wants me, but won’t force the relationship. That, as the Bible says, He knows me so intimately, even the numbers of hairs on my head, but isn’t put off by my sins, fears, and selfishness. That He loves me and patiently waits for me to inch ever closer to Him.
For me NOW, loving God is a no-brainer. But as I mentioned earlier, for most of my early adult years I hoped to just skate by unnoticed, so He wouldn’t have an opportunity to merit out punishment. I feared God’s disappointment and wrath so much, that any desire I had to please Him came from a place of fear, not worship. But here’s the truth: neither height nor death, nor anything else in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! And with that assurance, I can freely love Him back. I continually fall more in love with Jesus, the closer I get in relationship with Him.
Where are you in your love for God? Are you hot or cold — and why is that?
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!
If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.
Advice for Aspiring Authors
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.
Over the past 12 years, I have had the opportunity to write a number of different books for students and adults in the area of apologetics and relationships. As a result, aspiring authors have often asked my advice for how to become an established author. Here’s a few tips I have learned along the way.
1. Don’t Be in A Rush to Publish.
Because we live in such an “instant” culture, it is easy to feel the need to publish something immediately. But this is often a mistake, for at least two reasons. First, once something is published, it is there forever to be found whenever someone Googles your name. Second, people will often judge you by your first book, so make sure it’s good! There is much wisdom in taking longer to write a great book than rushing out an average one.
2. Write from Your Passion and Expertise.
My first book was Ethix: Being Bold in A Whatever World (2006). When I initially considered writing a book, I asked myself a few questions: “What am I an expert in? What unique contribution can I make? Where is there a hole that needs filling?”
My graduate training was in philosophy and I was teaching high school students in worldview and apologetics. I personally had a need for a student ethics book that offered careful philosophical and biblical thinking on “hot” issues of the day such as abortion, war, and homosexuality. And so I wrote it! You can do the same.
3. Develop your unique voice.
When I first started writing, I found myself mimicking the voice of other authors.
I tried to write with the authority of J.P. Moreland or the clarity and persuasiveness of Philip Yancey. But this question was lurking in the back of my mind: “How has God wired me to communicate? What experiences has God given me that shapes how I uniquely communicate?”
Personally, it felt like my writing “voice” started to emerge in my early 30s and is probably best seen in A New Kind of Apologist as well as the unique contributions I made to the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict. If you are an aspiring author, prayerfully focus on developing the unique voice God has given you.
4. Develop a platform.
Unless you have an utterly fresh idea or experience, blogging regularly is critical (as well as using other kinds of social media).
First, it will help you become a better writer. There is no shortcut to becoming a good writer: write, write, write.
Second, blogging helps develop your platform. One of the first questions publishers ask when they see a proposal is: Does the person have a platform? If not, few will take the risk on a new author.
Third, you will be able to gauge if people value your writing. Do people read your blogs? Do they repost them? A successful blog is a good sign you will write a successful book.
5. Find Your Identity in Christ.
Although mentioned last, this is the most important tip. You will inevitably face criticism if you write a book. Some people may be harsh.
If your identity comes from the praise of others, or how many books you sell, you could be in for a difficult ride. But if your identity is grounded in Christ, then you will be free to do your best and leave the results to God. Grounding your identity in Christ begins long before you write a book.
Consider asking yourself a few questions: “Why do I really want to write a book? Can I bring glory to God through both the process and the end product?”
You don’t have to have perfect motives, but be sure you can truly love God and other people through the process.
If so, go for it.
If God is Love, Does Our Sin Matter?
Reading Time: 7 minutes
If we view God as “always loving,” can we be nonchalant about our sin?
MercyMe, one of my favorite contemporary Christian bands, is known for penning a number of songs about God’s grace covering sin. “Smile like you just got away with something,” croons the band. “Why? ‘Cause you just got away with something. Ever since, ever since grace got you.”
In another song, they sing, “No matter the bumps, no matter the bruises, no matter the scars, still the truth is the cross has made, the cross has made you flawless. No matter what they say or what you think you are, the day you called His name He made you flawless.”
I love the celebration of God’s amazing grace in these jaunty tunes. Yet we must keep the lyrics in proper context. MercyMe isn’t suggesting that sin doesn’t matter, but rather that despite our sin, God continuously desires for us to be reconciled to Him. Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t give us a free pass on our behavior. Our sin is still a HUGE deal to God.
~ C’mon, Does My Sin Really Matter? ~
God LOVES US fiercely — so wide and high and deep that we can’t fathom it — but He also hates our sin. Grappling with sin isn’t easy. On Christianity.net, I found the following question about sin. The poor punctuation and grammar doesn’t stop us from clearly seeing the condition of the heart of the person posing it:
This person wants to honor God, but temptation has the upper hand. This poster received the following answer, which I’ve condensed just a bit:
“That you continue to sin in the same way should indicate to you that you need to work particularly hard in that area not to sin. Try to work out what situations, decisions, activities or friends lead you into this sin, and then take steps to avoid them. And if you fall into sin, turn back to God and ask for forgiveness and then keep trying — remembering that a day will come when it will no longer be a problem. God is always ready to forgive, but we must never get complacent about sin and think it doesn’t matter. Rather, we do whatever we can to avoid temptation and deal with sin when it happens.”
What is our proper response to sin?
~ God’s Focus: Our Transformation ~
The first step, clearly, is agreeing with God that we have sinned. “But wait,” you might be thinking, “I’m not really sure whether I’ve sinned or not. I mean, my church never talks about sin.”
Many churches do now choose to sidestep addressing sin, so it can be hard to get a handle on which thoughts and behaviors God considers sinful. In his article The Fundamental Divergence: The War Between Biblical Christianity and Popular Thought, Dave Miller, a pastor, notes that many churches and pastors have wholeheartedly adopted the gospel of affirmation, which teaches that God loves and accepts as we are. Indeed He does, asserts Miller. But churches also must proclaim the accompanying gospel of transformation. God never wants us to stay in sin; He wants to partner with us so that we transform into better reflections of Christ.
Bottom line, says Miller: If we preach the gospel of affirmation without the gospel of transformation, we are basically saying that Jesus endured torture and death for nothing. Think about that: would it make sense for Jesus to have gone to such painful lengths, on our behalf, if God was lax about sin??? #nope
As we’ve said many times during this blog series, what Jesus did on the cross MATTERS. Jesus didn’t come to earth just to die, adds author and speaker Rick Thomas. “He had a higher vision.” Jesus wants us to follow His example; He wants us to get to the point where we, also, willingly die to self because of our love for Him.
~ Evidence of Our Heart ~
True change, adds Thomas, manifests itself as a penitent person actively pursuing these five attitudes and behaviors:
- One: You actively put off your former life.
- Two: You actively renew the spirit of your mind.
- Three: You actively pursue true righteousness and holiness.
- Four: You actively live these out.
- Five: You motivate and sustain your behavior because you love Christ.
Thomas reminds us that the apostle Paul “perceived the saint/sinner tension,” and understood that Christians do sin (1 John 1:7-9) because of our fallen nature. But he encourages us toward change (Romans 2:4).
Another question posted to the Christianity.net website gripped my heart as well, as I’ve had similar thoughts about whether God really offers me continual grace. (Have you?)
Wouldn’t it be utterly fantastic if our transformation to being like Christ instantly took place when we accepted Him as Savior?!
Unfortunately, our transformation is more typically a day-to-day, life-long process. And therein lies the rub: sometimes we choose to circle the mountain (repeat our sin) numerous times until we finally get tired of the result and finally decide to cease doing it. Even addicts have to reach rock bottom before they’re ready to ask for help. But God says it’s never too late for us. “Too much damage” already been done? No way, no how! #godsgotthis
~ Understanding His Love ~
In his article 10 Things You Should Know About the Love of God, Garry J. Williams reminds us that we tend to quickly leap to the wrong conclusions about God’s love. This comes out very clearly, he writes, “when someone says something like, ‘If I were a God of love then I . . . ‘ The reasoning that follows is usually untethered from God’s wider portrayal of himself in Scripture. When we do this God becomes, in effect, just a massive projection of our own selves, a shadow cast onto a screen behind us with all of our own features magnified and exaggerated.”
Williams’ point: We are not free to pick up the ball of “God is love” adds and run with it wherever we will. “The statement,” he writes, “must remain tethered within its immediate context in 1 John 4, within the broader context of John’s writings, and within the ultimate context of God’s entire self-description in Scripture. The local context immediately reminds us of the connection between love and propitiation, which requires that we understand God’s love alongside his justice and wrath.”
When temptation beckons, it can feel so hard to live within God’s parameters. But we must remember that though we are sorely tempted by people, objects, and especially our own bad habits, God desires more for us. He promises us, in His Word, that if we are faithful to His standards, we will avoid so many of the life issues that derail, if not defeat lives.
It comes down to this: do we trust that God’s plan for us is better than what tempts us to sin?
In constantly encouraging us to “Be You!”, society pretends to have the power to validate our freedom to live within our personal view of “truth.” So it also demands that we accept and affirm the lifestyle choices of everyone — or it labels us judgmental and close-minded. But there is no equating society’s standards to God’s standards. God’s Word tells us that every single one of us is in need of repentance and transformation because of sin. What God says matters way more than what society deems to be appropriate. Here’s the thing: society’s standards continue to decline; God’s standards stay constant. And His standards, which are designed to protect us, stem from His LOVE.
~ Mirroring That Love Back to Him ~
Once we’ve gotten to where we’ll acknowledge our sin, we have to figure out a way to overcome it.
The right mindset, writes John Piper, requires us to move our motivation from trying not to mess up with sin, but to not sinning because of how deeply we love Jesus. Our loving Jesus becomes deep and foundational and transformative, as we begin to treasure Him above all things. “Christianity,” adds Piper, “what Jesus demands from us, is not most deeply and most fundamentally decisions of the will. That comes later. Deeply and most fundamentally Christianity is a new birth — a deep, profound transformation of what we treasure, what we love.”
God reminds us to “put on the armor of God” — truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, God’s word, prayer, alertness and perseverance — to keep our love and desire to please Him FIRST. We have to spend time in the Bible to stay connected with Jesus. The Bible is our life manual. (It’s really not the irrelevant, out-of-date history book you might think it is. It’s power! Open it!)
Warning: mentally dwelling on our temptation only serves to cement our desire for it!
Picture sin as a slice of delicious chocolate cake. Got the image in your mind? Okay, now really examine the cake’s details. The spongey texture of the cake. The glistening of the gooey icing. The decadent aroma of chocolate. Now imagine how good it’s gonna taste in your mouth. You’re starting to salivate, right? Shoot! Now you’re full-on drooling! As you helplessly grab a fork, you fall, hard, into “But I couldn’t help myself from sinning!” mode.
But there’s a way to thwart this cycle: SLAM ON YOUR MENTAL BRAKES! With that first thought of cake, SHOVE the image out of your head like it’s a head of slimy broccoli that reeks. Ewwwww! We CAN develop this auto-reflex with practice. Baby steps can become big steps — even if the journey includes some painful falls. And God is right there in the process!
Sin. It gets into our brains, excites our emotions, then makes a mess in our life. The good news: God sees it all, but never tires of encouraging us to turn to Him for the strength to overcome. “With my help,” God says in His Word, “you got this.” Now that’s amazing grace!
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!
If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.
“But Why Do I Need Jesus?”
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Every Christian needs to know why they need Jesus.
Last week I spent a good bit of my time with a fabulous young person who was gracious, humble, and open — one of those special people who light up a room simply by entering it. During one of our frequent conversations, we touched on our spiritual beliefs. I shared that I have chosen to follow Jesus. He shared that he views Jesus to be an attractive role model, but considers him just “one of many teachers” offering truth and wisdom.
“All paths lead to God,” he added, his lovely smile wide and warm. “God is in everything and everywhere. We’re already at one with Him. We don’t need to limit ourselves to one religion.”
“So who do you think God is?” I asked him. My new friend’s smile widened. “He’s energy,” he replied. “And pure love.”
I’ve heard this response before, of course, stated with similar confidence. I don’t disagree with the answer, but I always find it interesting that a person who has not spent much time seeking to know God’s character can be so confident about who/what God is. I’ve been a dedicated Christian for 30+ years, but still feel inadequate at describing God. The more I try, the bigger He expands! But I definitely view God as much more than the ultimate energy field. To my mind, God has to be an intelligent, compassionate, holy, and intentional entity if He exudes perfect love.
“So,” I asked my new friend, “Do you think God will do what He says He’s going to do someday — namely, separate believers from non-believers and forever banish those who refuse to accept Jesus as savior?” He looked at me solemnly for a moment, then replied, “Is that really why people need Jesus?”
~ We Need Jesus Because …. ~
There are lots of reasons we might list to suggest why we need Jesus.
Before answering my new friend, I paused to mentally sort through the standard biblical answers I’ve heard for this question. Did any of them adequately explain my own need for Him?
Perhaps one standard answer is that we need Jesus for His sacrifice on the cross; that without His death and resurrection, every single one of us faces eternal separation (damnation) from God. The Bible tells us that to not accept Jesus as Lord, is to forever suffer in the fiery furnace of hell. This answer offends some people, but appeals to others. I have one Christian friend who believes that “Jesus died for those who feel the need to be punished.” Trust me, this statement leads to some very deep philosophical discussions!
Specific to hell itself, R.C. Sproul suggests that it is “an eternity before the righteous, ever-burning wrath of God, a suffering torment from which there is no escape and no relief.” It sounds ghastly — and definitely not a place I want to visit. As a child, my Christian educators seemed to relish in recounting the horrors of hell: The flames. The smell. The gnashing of teeth. The screams of the tormented. I became so anxious about hell, in fact, that as soon as I walked into church (typically twice every Sunday and again on Wednesday nights), I fervently prayed that my own salvation hadn’t somehow managed to void itself. I may have needed Jesus to skirt an eternity of agony, but I didn’t love Him for it. I was too busy fearing God’s wrath; I had no bandwidth left to “find rest in the arms of Jesus.”
So if you’d asked me 20 years ago, “Why do I need Jesus?” my answer would have had a LOT to do with covering my butt — but very little to do with my delight in knowing Jesus. Today that makes me sad. Because I recognize that so many of us are still stuck right here.
Thankfully, over the years, God has worked on me to trust that His grace and unconditional love really are constants. To sin is not to easily slip from His grace. I am thankful to be reminded that even King David sinned — ROYALLY, I might add — by sleeping with another man’s wife and then murdering her husband to try to cover up his actions. Yet God was good: When David finally acknowledged his sin, God was quick to forgive him. He fully restored His relationship with David — even though David, like me, was far from perfect.
So last week I answered my new friend’s question like this:
I need Jesus because He has demonstrated, with every word and action, that His free gift of love is so wide and high and long and deep that it’s impossible for me to even comprehend it. I NEED and crave getting as close as possible to the source of that much love! I am amazed — and so grateful — that there is nothing I can do to cause Jesus to stop loving me. As God did with David, so God will do with me: stand firm on His promise of an enduring connection. Jesus not only “gets” my mess — my temptations, hot buttons, quirks, and fears — but actually delights in daily walking with me to manage and overcome them. I NEED Jesus to help me there; I’ll only muck it up on my own.
My young companion thoughtfully considered my answer, but I could tell he was only able to process it intellectually. And that’s completely understandable, as I doubt it’s possible for anyone to really understand the love Jesus has for them until they run smack dab into Him.
~ Responding to the Question With a Personal Answer ~
Curious, I queried a few friends as to why they need Jesus. One told me it’s because it’s so clear for her to see Him at work in her life. “There have just been too many times He has answered my prayers and showed up for me,” she said. “My experience goes way beyond coincidence.” Another told me that she needs Jesus because, without His presence, she’d “feel lost in an ocean without a life raft.” A third friend told me that of all the avenues of “truth” available to her, only Jesus had managed to “fill the clawing, empty hole” inside of her. “His filling me,” she added, “put an end to all my searching for meaning and happiness.”
So what’s your personal reason for why you need Jesus?
Is it, perhaps, because you see yourself in His healing of the bleeding woman or His forgiveness of the harlot? Or in His freeing the Samaritan woman from her shame, or in His restoration of Peter? Or perhaps, like me, you need Jesus to daily wash you clean, so that every day can be a fresh start? As Erik Segalini wrote in his article Why Do I Need a Savior, “I know what I need, like it or not. I need a Savior. Because my dark side lurks. And so does yours.”
“Why do I need Jesus?” is not a question to answer superficially. Because a superficial answer outs us as having a superficial relationship with Christ. Rather, the question should elicit from us a personal reply that demonstrates what Jesus means to us. Consider it a God moment if you are asked this question so directly. Step into the moment prepared with an answer. Who knows? Your heart-felt words might carry more weight than you can possibly imagine and having a lasting impact.
Who God Says Who YOU Are
Reading Time: 3 minutes
It’s What God Says About You That Matters, Not What the World Says
We’ve spent a lot of time in this blog series demonstrating why the Bible, and thus the Christian faith, can be historically vetted and believed. If we accept that the Bible is real, then we can accept that Jesus lived — and that what God says about Himself and God is true. God says we’re family!
Bottom line: the Bible gives us the basis for believing that God exists, that He purposefully made each of us, and that He invites us to pursue a relationship with Him.
I don’t know about you, but that makes the Bible an important book that I want to get very familiar with. I want to see, for myself, what it says about who God says I am. I find it really odd when I hear Christians say that they “don’t have time” to read the Bible. That’s like saying you’re enrolled in college, but you don’t plan to open your books. Why short yourself like that?
The world does its best to tell us what we are, often in terms of what we lack: too fat, too skinny, too loud, too dumb, too close-minded, too uncool, blah, blah, blah. But when we choose to believe what God says about us, it puts the world’s labels in perspective. And why, might I ask, do we allow the world to tell us who we are, or to steal our joy?
The joy that is firmly rooted in the knowledge that the God of the Universe says we’re unconditionally understood, wanted, and loved! We just have to choose to believe in Him, and allow these truths to become the core of our identity.
~ Who God Says YOU Are ~
Just a few of the many Scriptures that tell us how God sees us:
YOU possess His strength!
Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
He sees YOU with grace!
YOU are God’s handiwork!
Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
God pursues YOU!
Psalm 23:6 – Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
YOU are loved!
1 John 4:10 – Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
YOU are forgiven!
1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Christ calls YOU friend!
John 15:15 – I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
~ The “God Hole” That Draws Us ~
So, here’s the thing: We all seek love and validation from the world. But the truth is that God designed us with a hole in our heart to draw us to seek Him. Our spouses can’t fully fill the void we’re born with. Our parents can’t fill it. Not even our best friends can be what we need and want them to be 100 percent of the time. But God can. It’s the role He designed for Himself!
Only by accepting God’s love are we able to deal with feeling unloved and unwanted by others. Even better: when we accept His love, we’re able to then authentically love others! Our worth is not determined by the world, but by Him. God says that we’re worthy of His love and of loving ourselves. End of story. Case closed. Always and forever. #truth #getit
Tips for Selflessness; Let’s Be Like Jesus
Reading Time: 6 minutes
There was once a nymph named Narcissus,
Who thought himself very delicious;
So he stared like a fool
At his face in a pool,
And his folly today is still with us.*
One of the reasons we’ve spent so many weeks blogging about the evidence for Christ and the historical roots of Christianity, is to remind us that we don’t serve a mythical God. Rather, we serve the Almighty Creator — who is very real, very present, and very much cares how those of us who claim to be “Christians” think and act. We’re supposed to be striving for selflessness, like Jesus. Me too. #belikeJesus
People, let’s be real: the constant tug we feel to wallow in self-worship is relentless! We most definitely need God’s help to battle it.
In Matthew 22, Jesus tells us that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. But in doing so, He places the emphasis on treating others as well as we, ourselves, would like to be treated. Agape love, the kind of love Jesus perfectly modeled for us, seeks to notice and act on the needs of others. Easier said than done? Too often! Our pesky human nature loves to focus on self.
Thankfully, God knows that our developing the habit of selflessness is a daily, life-long process. That in some moments we’ll hit the mark, and in others we’ll utterly fail. God “gets” that it’s impossible for us to be selfless 100 percent of the time — though Mother Teresa may have gotten close! The truth: We’ll only be perfected when we get to the other side. But we can commit to allowing God to work on our selflessness now.
We must get past our own interests, if we’re to interest our self-absorbed world in the transforming love of Christ.
~ Does “Selflessness” Mean I Must Ignore Myself? ~
Nope…though some Christians have gotten the idea that, in “taking up Christ’s cross,” they must meet everyone else’s needs before their own. That only leads to resentment and burnout, people! And some Christians think they have to live in abject poverty to be a “good” Christian. Say, what???? The Bible clearly shows us that God enjoys blessing us. Money is not evil, people! It’s the love of money that gets us into trouble. That’s why the Bible tells us to guard our hearts.
And far too many Christians walk around thinking they have to think badly about themselves in order to stay humble. Yikes!! Where does the Bible tell us to repeatedly kick ourselves — as if we’re unloved, unwanted, and unacceptable? It doesn’t! The Bible repeatedly affirms that we are infinitely loved, and fully understood and accepted by God! That He has engraved us on the palms of His hands, that we are always on His mind!
Because we have this assurance of His faithfulness, even when we mess up, we can live with a spirit of grace, with our hearts and hands open. But don’t miss this truth: we must *accept* God’s grace and love for ourselves before we can cultivate the habit of being selfless. I think a lot of people walk around trying to amass and hoard stuff because they don’t know God has their back.
I love that Joyce Meyer, a popular Christian speaker and author with a global ministry, once grappled with accepting that there was anything lovable about herself. One day she decided to write “God loves me” on her bathroom mirror — and to repeat the phrase, aloud, for as long as it took for her to believe this truth. The day finally arrived! Joyce found her heart leaping for joy as the words rolled off her tongue.
Note: It wasn’t merely repeating the phrase that convinced Joyce, of course. It was God. In daily digesting the phrase, she gave God the focus and space to rewire her thinking.
Joyce never doubts God’s love now. Because she knows that she knows that God is consistent. And in becoming secure in His love and acceptance, Joyce began to desire to share it with others. Many of her world-wide ministry activities now significantly help to address the pain and needs of many.
When we willingly set aside our plans and desires, and pursue being of service to others, we are being selfless in the way the Bible asks us to be. “Love cannot remain by itself, it has no meaning,” noted Mother Teresa. “Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.”
~ Demonstrating Selflessness, Like Jesus ~
Mother Teresa put it exactly right. We can’t “hope” or “envision” a better world, or even “send good thoughts into the universe,” and expect the world to right itself. Positivity and hope and vision don’t accomplish anything unless they’re accompanied by action. And action without love doesn’t really represent Jesus.
Our perfect role model, Jesus gave of Himself extravagantly. He went out of His way to be inconvenienced, to be compassionate. He treated the marginalized and ignored with kindness and respect, and in so doing reminded them that they DO matter. Every single one of us is so important to Jesus that He died to make it crystal clear.
Wanna mirror Jesus’ selflessness? Me too!
To develop this habit, we might give these three tips a whirl:
>>> 1. Let’s study up on verses in the Bible that ask us to serve. Like, Joyce, we’ll find that meditating on them will drive them deep into our hearts. And where our heart goes, so do our thoughts and actions.
Here’s just one verse, found in 1 John 3:16-18: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
>>> 2. Let’s choose to go about our day feeling grateful for what Christ has done, and continues to do, for us.
Again, this is way different than purposing to have a “positive mindset.” Positivity too easily evaporates when we step into our own bad circumstances. But when our joy is based on our trusting God’s goodness, even in dire circumstances, our positive outlook has staying power. “I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart,” go the song lyrics. I don’t know about you, but even humming that song puts me in a joyful mindset. When we’re joyful, we’ll naturally drizzle joy on others.
>>> 3. Let’s ask God to open our eyes to the needs of others.
And when our eyes are opened, let’s ACT. Again, some days we will utterly fail. But let’s dust ourselves off, get back on the horse, and ask for another chance to serve as the solution for another’s need.
Hey, wouldn’t it be GREAT if, when we accepted Christ, we really were able to “go and sin no more?” Unfortunately, most of us have a lot of baggage and bad habits that God needs to work through before we’re able to hit that target. John R. W. Stoutt, in his book The Cross of Christ, captures our ongoing battle with self perfectly:
“There is, therefore, a great need for discernment in our self-understanding. Who am I? What is my ‘self’? The answer is that I am a Jekyll and Hyde, a mixed-up kid, having both dignity because I was created and have been re-created in the image of God, and depravity because I still have a fallen and rebellious nature. I am both noble and ignoble, beautiful and ugly, good and bad, upright and twisted, image and child of God, and yet sometimes yielding obsequious homage to the devil from whose clutches Christ has rescued me.”
Indeed! Christ was crucified, died, and resurrected to prove His great love for others. To demonstrate our selflessness can change the world. When we share His amazing love, even in tiny drops, it spreads around the globe! Let’s have more Me Too moments!! #changetheworld #belikeJesus
Love, wrote Mother Teresa “is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving.”
5 Reasons Christians Must Read the Bible
Reading Time: 6 minutes
The Bible is your daily life playbook, not an outdated relic to be kept on a shelf.
According to LifeWay Research, more than half of Americans have read little to none of the Bible. About 30 percent look up things in the Bible only when they need to. And less than a quarter have any kind of systematic plan for reading the Bible on a daily basis. Some, about 17 percent, simply flip it open to read a passage at random.
Okay, I have to admit that some days I am among that last statistic. Worse, I sometimes hurry through a passage, just so I can check “Read Bible” off my to-do list. I might momentarily feel good, but I’m not fooling myself or God. When it comes to the Bible, we get out of it what focus we put into it.
Am I suggesting that we have to spend hours (or even a half-hour) reading the Bible every time we open it? Nope. Five minutes of quality, focused time might reap more benefit than reading for longer stretches distracted. It’s like praying, right? Some of us struggle to keep focused after saying, “Hey, God, it’s me again…” Fortunately, God looks at the condition of our hearts.
Here’s the bottom line: When we forgo reading the Bible, what we’re really saying to God is that we’re too busy to put in the work of really knowing Him. That we’re good with having a distant relationship with Him. That we sure are happy that He’s just a prayer away — but please don’t ask us to read “that boring, irrelevant book.”
And right there we smack hard into the issue: our perception of His Word.
If we view the Bible as a relic with limited application to modern life, of course we’re not going to value it or want to read it. But if we view the Bible as God intended — His showing us His heart, His plan for mankind, and the sacrificial gift of Jesus that brings us into right standing with Him — we will afford it the respect it is due. Because when we value God’s Word, we will work to grow our knowledge of it.
Let’s consider five reasons Christians should read the Bible. Not because it gains us brownie points, but because it gives strength and depth to our relationship with God.
~ The Bible Helps Us To… ~
1. See who God is and how much He loves us.
It is through the Bible that we learn that God is our loving creator and constant wooer. God tells us in His Word that His love for us is deep, vast, and unchanging. The truth: He desires to be in close relationship with us, and has specifically designed us with gifts and talents that glorify Him. When we correctly view ourselves through God’s lens — we are so very loved, wanted, and valuable — we can push back on a secular world that says otherwise. The good news: Only God’s view matters!
2. Understand why the death of Jesus is such a big deal.
The Bible, ultimately, points us to Jesus. We are to read the Bible to learn about Jesus, why we should want to follow Him, and how His death empowers us and gains us a heavenly home with Him forever. We can, with confidence, tell people, “Jesus loves you!” because of what the Bible says about His life and death. His love and sacrifice for all of humanity is shared with us via Scripture. Jesus points us to the truth, but neither forces nor manipulates anyone into accepting His open invitation.
3. Know God’s truth, so our lives honor and please Him.
The Bible shows us how to measure “success” — it’s not fame and riches, like the world tells us — and to clearly see what matters. When we build our lives solidly on Jesus, the world can’t manipulate us with its shifting views of “truth.” The Bible is still applicable to our modern lives because God’s nature and standards do not change. The ten commandments are as relevant now as they were two thousand plus years ago. Treating others with kindness is still in fashion with God, and always will be. His greatest commandment? Love God and love others.
4. Gain a “God mindset,” which will guide our thoughts and actions.
Though Satan loves to whisper in our ears that we’re screw ups, mess ups, and unlovable mistakes, that’s not what the Bible says. So let’s ignore Satan and stick with the source of truth! The Bible shows us that God knows we will fail to be perfect. Good thing He doesn’t demand perfection! But He does ask that we purpose in our hearts to daily follow and honor him. God’s grace, when we ask for forgiveness, is guaranteed. The Bible assures us that God never withholds forgiveness when asked. Wahoo! Blessed assurance! God is our loving father. Like an earthly father, He seeks the best for us. His standards and truth serve as healthy boundaries to keep us from the pain of sin.
To read the Bible is to immerse ourselves in stories that show us how God interacted with His people. Tip: A fun way to read the Old Testament is to start with an illustrated children’s Bible. The stories include wisdom we can learn from today. The story of Samson, for example, teaches us the perils of being hot-tempered and vain. In the story of David and Goliath we learn that it is God’s strength, not man’s, that should make us quiver in our boots. And after David had an affair with Bathsheba, even going so far as to murder her husband to cover his sin, we learn of the consistency of God’s forgiveness and the sweet relief of being reconciled to Him. In the New Testament, we see Christ’s actions modeling selfless living. Psalms can be used to jump start our prayer life, and Proverbs contains rich nuggets of gold on becoming a better friend, spouse, parent, and even how to respond to our enemies.
5. Live courageously in our dark, secular world.
It’s hard being a person who seeks after God when we live in a secular world. I don’t particularly like being called a “dimwit” who needs a “crutch” to get through life. But I have to laugh when I hear those labels slung at Christians. Because compared to God, I am a dimwit. And I can think of no better crutch that Jesus, because leaning on Him guarantees me strength. My relationship with Jesus allows me to live with authenticity and consistency. I don’t have to play the game of pretending to have it all together, for one thing. And when I am worried about something, I can hand that fear to Him and know that He’s working on it. The Bible, over and over, promises us God’s peace when we rely on Him. God is in control!
~ The Bible is a Worthy Investment of Our Time ~
As Sean McDowell reminds us, “The Bible has shaped western civilization more than any book ever written. No other book even comes close.” So, clearly, a lot of people have found the Bible worth reading over the centuries.
But finding the time to read it in our speedy, modern world isn’t always easy. We have so much clamoring for our attention, including television and social media. How many of us, for example, have opened Facebook, “just to check for messages,” and found ourselves, an hour or two later, still scrolling through our feed? Ack!
So how might we carve out time to read the Bible? One way might be a consistent reading time every day. You might try reading a Psalm or Proverb while you eat breakfast, for example. Or if your family eats dinner together, try adding it to your meal. What a great time to discuss the reading while you’re all still seated at the table! To help guide your Bible readings and discussion, consider signing up for our daily devotional emails. If reading together is initially difficult, try adding a Bible-based activity to family time. Who’s up for a game of Bible bingo or trivia?
A stat to digest: research done by Barna Group shows that less than 10 percent of all Christian families read the Bible together. How sad is that? Worse, what message might kids take from this? Most likely that the Bible isn’t all that important. And that’s simply not true. The Bible is our very foundation. The bottom line: Every Christian NEEDS to know what the Bible says. The Bible is our playbook for life. It outlines the plays as we move the ball down the field. So let’s read it, and in doing so invite God to join our team! Our reading the Bible gives God opportunities to profoundly change us.
For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and to joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of your heart (Hebrews 4:12).
Christians: Dialogue With Skeptics Part 2
Reading Time: 6 minutes
“Prove Your God Exists!”
Last week, in Part 1 of this topic, we talked about the importance of our having a right attitude when interacting with skeptics.
I reminded you to let go of the “fight” mentality when challenged on your beliefs; to instead view these encounters as God-ordained opportunities to demonstrate the truth and love of Christ.
We also talked about the need to identify whether a skeptic is genuinely interested in having a productive conversation with us, or if their intent is to simply derail our faith. (There’s no point, in my mind, for entertaining the latter. Would you try to sell a car to a person who was committed to buying a bike?)
Lastly, we talked about the important of asking questions, to help identify why the skeptic holds his views. Is their beef really with God…or humans?
Here, let’s identify some of the questions skeptics tend to ask, because we really need to have thoughtful answers ready when they posed to us. Then let’s observe two conversations between a Christian and a skeptic, to rate the Christian’s overall effectiveness. Role-playing is a great way to prepare for real conversations.
~ Common Objections You Should Learn to Answer ~
So what are some of the common objections raised by skeptics? Natasha Crain does a great job of identifying a good number of them in her blog post titled 65 Apologetics Questions Every Christian Parent Needs to Learn to Answer.
~What key arguments are there for (and against) God’s existence?
~Why would a good God allow evil to exist?
~How can a loving God send people to hell?
~How can Christians say Jesus is the “only” way?
~Am I good enough to go to heaven?
~Is Christianity a less intelligent worldview than atheism?
~What evidence exists outside the Bible that Jesus existed as a historical person?
~How were the books of the Bible selected?
~Does Science disprove God?
~Is Christianity “responsible” for millions of deaths throughout history?
~Why does Christianity say objective truth is the only “real” truth?
Another good place to research questions and answers is in the books and websites of today’s top Christian apologists. In this blog series we discuss Josh and Sean McDowell’s revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. But you also can learn from Ravi Zacharias, J. Warner Wallace, Frank Turek, Gary Habermas, and Natasha Crain.
As you research and become practiced with answering these questions, don’t make it your goal to “win” against skeptics. Rather, make it your goal to help them understand why your belief in Christ isn’t based on mindless “blind faith,” but substantial, historical evidence. Always strive to be kind, open, and gracious as you
argue chat with skeptics.
~ Three Must-Dos To Prepare for Skeptics ~
>>> 1: Develop the habit of critical thinking. This goes way beyond knowing Bible stories and memorizing Bible verses.
We need to know why we believe what we believe. We need to be able to make connections between things Jesus taught and how they’re still applicable for our modern lives. We need to be able to explain why a particular scientific theory doesn’t hold up, and why it might not really be all that important whether He created the universe in six days or 6 million years. We need to know what archeologists have proven historically about the Bible.
>>> 2: Remember that not every claim or fact uttered by a skeptic is true, particularly when it comes to the historicity of the Bible, or a scientific “fact.”
We have the right to be just as skeptical as the skeptic, and to ask for objective proof. A common argument used by skeptics is that Christianity “borrowed” its theology from other religions. But when we research that claim, we see that the facts show that it’s the other way around.
Too, it’s NOT on us to prove God’s existence, and here’s why: no skeptic or atheist has yet been able to disprove God’s existence. So when atheist Richard Dawkins writes, “If you want to believe in…unicorns, or tooth fairies, Thor or Yahweh, the onus is on you to say why you believe in it. The onus is not on the rest of us to say why we do not,” his argument doesn’t hold up.
And when we read books by atheists and skeptics, we have to expect bias. The content in Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, for example, might sound convincing — until we also read books that dismantle his case against God. I love watching debates, because I get to see both sides of an argument. Here’s just one debate I found interesting: William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens – Does God Exist?.
We have to learn to recognize whether the skeptic challenging us is coming with an open mind, or is simply seeking to waste our time. I am happy to talk about God with people who truly want to have an authentic conversation. But if a committed atheist wants to chat for her entertainment or agenda, I’ll pass.
>>> 3: Commit to having a humble attitude when dialoguing with skeptics.
Even if we’re mocked, even if we’re told we’re stupid, we get to choose how we respond. Christ left His ego behind, and asks us to do the same. Witnessing isn’t about winning. It’s about showcasing Christ. Truly, if we’re not evidencing the nature of Christ in our lives, what’s the point of even trying to share out faith with people?
~ Role-Playing to Practice ~
Let’s look at two sample conversations between a skeptic and a Christian, to see how the Christian does at being respectful, and having knowledgeable answers.
SKEPTIC: “How can you Christians believe the Bible to be true? All you have to go on is faith.”
CHRISTIAN: “Faith is a good thing.”
SKEPTIC: “Have faith in Science, then! It’s real, unlike your Bible.”
CHRISTIAN: “The Bible is God’s Word. It’s totally real.”
SKEPTIC: “The Bible was written by 40 people, over 1,000 years. No way is it a sacred text!”
CHRISTIAN: “You made that up.”
SKEPTIC: “Have you even read the Bible?”
CHRISTIAN: “Of course!”
SKEPTIC: “All of it?”
CHRISTIAN: “I’ve read the most important part: John’s Gospel, where Jesus beats death and rises!”
SKEPTIC: “Resurrection. Now there’s a fairytale for you.”
CHRISTIAN: “You clearly lack the faith needed to be a Christian.”
SKEPTIC: “I don’t need faith to believe in a fairytale. Unless you have proof that God exists?”
CHRISTIAN: “The proof will be your burning in Hell!”
How do you rate the Christian? Give 1 star for low, 5 stars for high.
SKEPTIC: “How can you Christians believe the Bible to be true? All you have to go on is faith.”
CHRISTIAN: “Faith is a good thing.”
SKEPTIC: “Have faith in Science, dude. It’s real, unlike your Bible.”
CHRISTIAN: “Why don’t you think the Bible is real?”
SKEPTIC: “Because Science has proven the Big Bang Theory. Your Bible says God made the world.”
CHRISTIAN: “Who’s to say He isn’t the bang behind that possible Big Bang?”
SKEPTIC: “Are you that clueless? The universe isn’t due to some mythical, supernatural creator!”
CHRISTIAN: “Well, would you agree that Science has no clue, or proof, as to what started the universe?”
SKEPTIC: “It certainly wasn’t the God of your made-up Bible.”
CHRISTIAN: “There’s actually a lot of historical evidence that authenticates the Bible.”
SKEPTIC: “The Bible was written by, like, 40 people, over 1000+ years. No way is it authentic!”
CHRISTIAN: “You’re right about those numbers. But can I show you some of that historical evidence?”
SKEPTIC: “Only if you buy me a coffee. I’m going to need major caffeine to endure that torture.”
CHRISTIAN: “Coffee it is! I even promise to keep the torture session to a half-hour!”
How do you rate the Christian? Give 1 star for low, 5 stars for high.
Conversation 1. I give the Christian one gold star, for being minimally effective. The Christian clearly isn’t familiar with the Bible, is condescending, and pronounces judgement on the skeptic. Yowza! How does that help to keep that skeptic open to further conversations?
Conversation 2. I give the Christian five gold stars, for being very effective. The Christian appears to be informed, respectful, and sincerely interested in having a pleasant conversation.
~ But I Don’t Wanna Talk to Skeptics! ~
Trust me, I get it. Too many days it feels like my brain is a sieve, and I worry that I won’t be able to utter any reasonable replies about my Christian faith!
I have found it helpful to create a little apologetics notebook that I can refer to as an ongoing refresher. I’ve also found it helpful to create a computer document of links, that I can go back and peruse or print out. You’ll have to figure out your own system for having ready access to info. Having that resource in place will give you a lot more confidence. But it should also help you to relax so you enjoy telling people about Jesus.
God doesn’t ask us to be perfect in our defense of Him — but He does expect us to know what we believe and be ready to share it. It’s an honor to be used for His purposes.
Christians: Dialogue With Skeptics Part 1
Reading Time: 5 minutes
“Prove Your God Exists!”
When we Christians hear that, most of us start sweating. As if the entire weight of proving the truth of Christianity rests on our puny shoulders! But we also start sweating because we feel our egos to be on the line. To be a Christian, we’re told by skeptics, is to be feeble-minded, if not stupid.
Let’s collectively exhale a long, calming breath and view a skeptic’s challenge with the right perspective: that we’re simply stepping into a God-ordained opportunity to demonstrate to this person the grace and love of Christ.
We’re not answering a question, but a questioner, suggests Ravi Zacharias, a world-famous apologist known for the disarming, respectful manner in which he dialogues with skeptics. What should come through loud and clear, he stresses, is our love for people and God. Zacharias wisely notes, “A word in season can bring to fruit that which only God can nurture and nourish.”
In this post, let’s talk about why our attitude is critical as we interact with critics. In next week’s post, Part 2, we’ll identify some of the questions skeptics tend to ask, and how you can get up to speed on knowing the answers.
~ Simple Faith, Little Knowledge ~
It’s important to recognize which category of skeptic is challenging us. There are only two: skeptics who are honestly seeking to know what we believe, and why, and skeptics who are simply looking to derail our faith.
Many Christians, sadly, are easily persuaded to forsake their Christian beliefs because they don’t have much depth to their faith. I am reminded of a friend who told me that he decided Christianity was bogus after reading the novel, The DaVinci Code. It blew my mind that he allowed a single work of FICTION, a novel containing very few correct facts about Christianity, to turn him from God.
Research shows that many kids who grow up in “Christian” homes easily lose their beliefs after a college professor mocks and challenges them. Christian blogger Natasha Crain shares how her own faith wobbled after encountering skeptics at college.
“After 18 years of going to church,” she writes on her blog, ChristianMomThoughts, “I left home with approximately the following understanding of the Bible: Jesus is the son of God and died for my sins, I need to believe in Him in order to be saved and spend eternity in heaven, God created the world, Moses parted the Red Sea, Daniel was saved from a lion’s den, and somewhere along the way Jonah was swallowed by a whale.”
Crain thought her faith solid, but quickly realized that while she was well acquainted with stories in the Bible, she knew zip about the Bible itself. And even less about Church history. So she couldn’t knowledgeably discuss either when pressed.
She needed solid, credible answers for questions like “Who wrote the books of the Bible?” … “Why believe what the New Testament writers said about Jesus?”… and “Has the Bible been reliable translated and thus credible?” Critical questions, she admits, that previously “never even crossed my mind.”
~ Say What, Skeptic? ~
One skeptic told me that he finds it “satisfying” to watch a Christian’s beliefs crumble.
In part, because it justifies his own position. But also because he simply enjoys the game of mental manipulation. Not every “fact” he tells Christians is true — but they don’t know that. How many skeptics have told you something you took at face value?
“My job,” another atheist told me, “is to show you that your God is nothing more than a crutch. He doesn’t exist, and you’re stupid to believe in Him.” Later, by the way, I learned that this guy despises God because of the legalistic church he was forced to attend growing up. His beef wasn’t really with God, but humans.
So when skeptics tell us to “Prove God exists,” we have to remember that sometimes their reasons for being anti-God are based on their personal experiences and negative interactions with “Christians.” The Church isn’t perfect; it’s full of messy people in various stages of becoming like Jesus.
~ Listen More Than You Talk ~
What typically causes conversations between Christians and skeptics to go wrong?
Well, beyond our possible defensiveness, it’s that we do a lot of jabbering before we learn what — and why — the skeptic believes as he does. Rather, we should be quick to listen, suggests Donald Johnson, author of How to Talk to a Skeptic: An Easy-to-Follow Guide for Natural Conversations and Effective Apologetics.
“Too many religious conversations,” says Johnson, “involve people talking past each other because they haven’t taken the time to find out what the other person actually believes. The result is that each side tries to knock down a straw-man version of the other’s position. The skeptic argues against a version of Christianity that the believer does not hold, and the Christian attacks an atheistic worldview that the unbeliever does not hold. Then they wonder why the conversation never gets anywhere.”
What are some of the “good, probing” questions Johnson suggests that we ask?
>>> “Do you have a background in Christianity or some other church or religion?”
>>> “Have you always been a skeptic? If not, how did you arrive at your position?”
>>> “I understand that you think that Christianity offers false answer to life’s biggest questions, but what do you think are the right answers?”
>>> “Could you share what you believe to be the Christian message?”
>>> “What is the story of the Bible, as you understand it?”
Asking questions also gives us the opportunity to discover if the skeptic holds incorrect Christian theology. Here we can gently point out where they are in error. Obviously, we have to know correct Christian teaching ourselves in order to be of help there.
But don’t be that “know-it-all” Christian that everyone avoids when they see you coming. We don’t need to fit God into every conversation…especially if we’re doing a great job at mirroring Jesus in our daily life.
Non-believers, Johnson reminds us, won’t be open to hearing the Good News, if they don’t see it in action in our lives. Perhaps the proof they’re really seeking is not facts, but the real power of seeing a life transformed.
As we talk to anyone about Jesus, let us not be thinking of “winning,” but of being productively used by Him to nudge their hearts and minds a bit more open to His existence and love for them.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this discussion in our blog post next week!
How Could A Loving God Send a Good Person to Hell? Quick VIDEO
Reading Time: < 1 minute
Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.
Does Science Disprove Miracles?
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Science says the universe operates only within its natural laws. True or false?
Science says that when a person dies, they stay dead. So how do Christians find it possible to believe that Jesus rose after His death on the cross? Because of the supernatural — miraculous — component of His death. That singular, seemingly improbable event becomes a possibility for anyone open to the possibility that God does exist.
David Hume, a Scottish philosopher from the 18th century, strongly influenced modern skepticism and naturalism. He asserted that though humans are influenced primarily by feelings, reason will always weigh strongly against miracle. Anyone who believes in miracles, he added, is both gullible and biased by their religious beliefs. But another influential thinker, Augustine of Hippo, argued that miracles are made possible by hidden capacities in nature placed there by God. That nature itself partners with God to produce the miraculous.
The Bible highlights numerous miracles performed by God, Jesus, and His disciples. Some Christian teachers assert that miracles no longer occur, that they ceased with the death of Christ’s last apostle. Yet those who have personally experienced or witnessed a true miracle know that God is still very much in the miracle business.
Should we be skeptical when we hear report of a miracle? Absolutely, as we humans are easily fooled. In the words of magician Justin Willman, right before he ran an experiment to see if two people could be convinced that they’d become invisible, “If the tiniest bit of evidence will make us believe the unbelievable, what would I have to show someone to make them believe the impossible?”
Great question. Let’s take a look at seven characteristics of true miracles.
~ Seven Characteristics of Miracles ~
Miracles Are Supernatural, Immediate Events
By definition, miracles are events produced by an infinite power. That there is some great, external agent who brings about the event in our natural world. In the Bible, miracles come from the hand of God; they are immediate, and they are always successful. When Jesus commanded the invalid to “Arise and take up your pallet and walk” for example, the man immediately became well (John 5:8). When Jesus told Lazarus to step out of his death tomb, Lazarus immediately shuffled forward in his burial cloth. When Jesus told demons to beat it, they reluctantly exited. When Jesus decided to walk on water, it immediately carried His weight. When Jesus told the stormy winds to cease their fury, they instantly calmed. Bottom line: God always accomplished what He intended to accomplish, for His glory.
Miracles Are Rare and Unpredictable Events
Miracles are exceptions to the normal rhythm of life. But that’s what makes them miraculous. There is no “magic” formula that produces a miracle. Mankind has no say in whether they happen, though the Bible tells us that our prayers reach God’s ears. God doesn’t grant a miracle because we’re “good enough” or “spiritual enough.” He doesn’t grant miracles because we’ve successfully bribed Him. Rather, he chooses when and where to supernaturally move in our natural world, according to His plans. To heal, or not to heal, much to our consternation, lies solely in His hand.
Miracles Hold No Contradictions
God always works within scientific natural law, in keeping with the world He created. Yet there is nothing logically contradictory about some events considered physically impossible. Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli put it this way: “A man walking through a wall (as Jesus did) is a miracle. A man both walking and not walking through a wall at the same time and in the same respect is a contradiction. God can perform miracles but not contradictions — not because His power is limited, but because contradictions are meaningless.”
Miracles Are More Than Astonishing and Glorify God
Who doesn’t love a magic shows? A magician’s slight of hand mesmerizes us, delighting us with the seemingly impossible. But though a magician can perform an astonishing act, he or she can’t perform a supernatural event outside of natural means. Willman, for example, didn’t really make those two people invisible. When God performs a miracle, our minds are legitimately blown. When a 110-pound woman finds the strength to lift a car off of her child, is that a miracle? Science says no, that perhaps a huge spike in adrenaline produces momentary super strength. But could the reality be that God sent an angel to assist her?
Miracles Aren’t Testable By Scientific Means
True miracles can’t be tested via scientific inquiry, as they lack predictive value and can’t be replicated. Still, Science can’t exclude the possibility that God does unprecedented things. As Augustine wrote, “For Him, ‘nature’ is what He does.”
The usual argument against miracles, adds Oxford mathematician John Lennox, is that they go against the natural laws that Science has discovered. Lennox disagrees. Science proceeds on an assumption of cause and effect, he agrees, but its natural laws are not, themselves, causal. “No billiard balls have ever been set in motion by Newton’s Laws of Motion,” adds Lennox. “People wielding billiard cues set billiard balls in motion. But Newton’s Laws of Motion will describe the way in which a billiard ball moves once its set in motion.”
In his article posted to PhilosophyTalk.org, John Perry asks, “Should a sane, rational person ever believe in miracles?” No, he replies, unless you’ve ruled out all the non-miraculous first. My question: How far does one have to go to meet that requirement?
Suppose, adds Perry, that “I see you walking across the water — just like Jesus. There are no hidden walkways lurking below the surface. You’re not wearing inflatable shoes. You’re not being supported by gossamer rope tied to a helicopter. You haven’t learned to wiggle your toes rapidly enough to keep you afloat. Shouldn’t I conclude that the laws of physics have been locally suspended and we’ve got a genuine miracle on our hands?”
No, says Perry, because it’s more likely that we’ve still missed some other scientific alternative. “Look,” he asserts, “as soon as one is tempted to think he’s witnessed a miracle, he should stop and think again.”
Why is that?
Perry’s holdout: the “highly improbable” yet supposedly “possible” suggestion by scientists that the water molecules could, “completely by accident,” collect under our feet as we walk, bonding together strongly enough to form a kind of traveling bridge. “So maybe you can walk on water,” writes Terry, “but there are no miracles.”
Wait, what? An accidental, highly improbable traveling bridge of water doesn’t seem miraculous?
Perry may be among those who believe that the Bible story of the Red Sea’s parting, which allowed the Israelites to flea from Egypt’s fast approaching army, was due to a strong wind, not the hand of God. So, then, it was mere coincidence that the parted sea walls snapped shut, to drown Pharaoh’s army, only after the last Israelite stepped safely out of the water? Perhaps, except that the event happened just as God said it would.
In describing existence as an “open system,” Lennox adds that the natural laws serve to describe what Science has so far observed to happen, which become the basis for future prediction. But these man-made laws, he asserts, can’t “forbid God from feeding a new event into nature.” If God is the designer of the system, He can’t be held its prisoner.
Just because we hunt for a natural explanation doesn’t mean God wasn’t involved! It is flawed thinking to assume that because a miracle is unprecedented, its probability must be zero.
Scientific observation can make miracles very improbable, agrees Lennox. But we have to stop pretending that Science isn’t handicapped by its inability to definitively prove theory — including the origin of the universe. Science claims evolution to be “fact” — when, in truth, is it merely its best current guess. Neo-Darwinian Evolution remains theory falsified by evidence, as a writer on EvolutionNews.com puts it — despite the scientific community adamantly asserting otherwise.
~ To Believe or Not to Believe ~
“Perhaps the universe is a pretty dull place,” posted a commenter anonymously on Perry’s post. “But, as a realist, I find that somehow comforting.”
I get his point, truly. The comforting makes us feel somewhat in control of things. But my response would be to simply ask, “What is it that keeps you from being open to acknowledging the miraculous?”
Deep minds, such as Lennox and Richard Dawkins, continue to debate the existence of God. Dawkins says Science disproves the existence of God, whereas Lennox views Science to be a reflection of God’s nature. Skeptics, atheists, realists, and others who want God exiled from reasonable thought have personal reasons for their position. But it’s not from knowing with full certainty that God is just myth. And to use the excuse that they can’t believe until God is proven with 100 percent certainty is a flimsy argument. Closing our minds to the miraculous doesn’t in any way negate its existence.
For Christians, the basis for believing in the miraculous goes back to the biblical conception of God. Says the very first verse of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). “If He has the ability to do this,” shares Abigail Biggs, “then a virgin birth, walking on water, feeding 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish, and the other biblical miracles become not only possible but expected.”
Hume argued that it is always more rational to disbelieve the testimony of a miracle than to believe in the miracle. But if there really is a God who created the world and designed its laws, He showed His ultimate mastery by raising His Son.
The Power of Grace-Filled Parenting
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Perhaps you know this first-hand: parenting children to make right moral choices can be really tough.
You tell your kids the dos and don’ts — which you’ve put in place to guide and protect them — then watch in dismay when they choose to disobey. You sigh because you know what’s coming: you have to determine how best to discipline your kids without them adopting a defensive, rebellious attitude. “But everybody else’s parents let them do it!” they cry. “Or you’re just being mean. You don’t love me!”
Oy! What parent doesn’t cringe at hearing those words, as they recall memories of their saying the very words to their own parents? The easy route, of course, is to give in. But because we really do love our kids, we must set and enforce the rules and expectations we have for them. It’s a sad thing when parents give in simply because they’re worn out by the struggle of parenting a willful child. Let’s face it, this parenting stuff isn’t easy, even when you’re giving it your all.
Now a grandparent, Josh McDowell understands the challenge of raising kids in an increasingly secular world. In his new book, Set Free to Choose Right, Josh highlights some of the tough parenting issues through the use of two fictional parents, Brad and Audrey. Among other parenting issues, Brad and Audrey are struggling with how to get their teen son Jayden to understand the negative ramifications of his use of pornography. Brad and Audrey make some missteps in interacting with Jayden, but eventually succeed in opening his eyes to the consequences of a porn addiction.
Their secret to doing so? By clearly, and consistently interacting with Jayden without condemnation or shaming. In other words, they employ grace-filled parenting.
Readers of Set Free to Choose Right gain practical wisdom by watching how Brad and Audrey handle this issue, which can be applied to numerous other temptations enticing kids today. To succeed, Brad and Audrey first had to face some issues in their own thinking. Let’s look at those in a bit more detail.
Your child’s “who” isn’t determined by his or her “do” — just as your occasional missteps don’t define you. By parenting with grace, you can help your children to move past their bad choices, so they don’t cart them along as baggage into adulthood.
Brad and Aubrey have to see Jayden’s actions as being separate from his personhood.
One of the most powerful movie moments I’ve ever watched is a poignant scene between a father and his son in the movie Blood Diamond. The boy, previously kidnapped by a gang, was forced to do horrific acts of violence. “I know they made you do bad things,” says the father, as tears pour down his face. “But you are not a bad boy. I am your father, who loves you. And you will come home with me and be my son again.”
As parents, we must recognize that our children’s action are NOT a reflection on our character — just as our actions are not a reflection on theirs. And that sometimes our kids will do bad things, even if they don’t want or mean to. Loving with grace, then, is an intentional commitment to responding to our kids without judgment and anger. When we chose to not judge ourselves for the words and actions of our children, we are free to love them without judgement. “You’re a stupid kid!” then becomes “You have not made smart choices, but I am here to help you.”
An excellent parenting styles article, by Sarah Forbes on the Grace Under Pressure website, puts it this way: “Grace-filled parenting says, ‘I know it’s sometimes hard to obey. Sometimes, I struggle to obey and follow the authority over me. Let me help you practice obedience by training you.’”
Instead of condemning Jayden, his parents need to show that they identify with the pain that his wrong choice, if continued, will bring him.
What Jayden is doing is clearly detrimental to himself. But at the moment, Jayden can’t see any negative side of pornography. All he can see is the pleasure in it. But his parents clearly understand that an addiction to pornography will negatively affect Jayden’s view of sex and relationships. In her initial horror at finding Jayden watching online porn, Audrey tries to shame Jayden into feeling bad about his actions. Worse, she embarrasses her son in front of his dad.
Her goal: a quick fix that ensures no public embarrassment to herself. What would people think about her parenting abilities, after all, if they found out? Like many parents, Audrey’s immediate response has more to do with her saving face than it does with what’s motivating her son’s behavior.
What Jayden needs is to feel his parent’s heartfelt pain and concern over the negative consequences he will face down the road. He needs to recognize that he has acted outside of God’s protection and provision, which saddens his parents because they recognize that his choices are going to bring him suffering.
We can create all the rules in the world for our kids. But unless they know that our rules our motivated by our love for them, they won’t be highly motivated to obey us. Initially, Jayden thinks his parents are overreacting and trying to apply old fashioned thinking to his life choices. But as Brad and Audrey demonstrate that their primary concern is that his behavior will hurt him, Jayden becomes more open to listening to them. He finally comes to understand that habitually watching porn will not only rewire and damage his brain, but distort his view of women and God’s gift of sex. The worst part is that it will bring a lot of baggage and false expectations into any future dating relationships, if not marriage.
Brad and Aubrey need to love Jayden with grace, which means making Jayden’s security, happiness, and welfare as important as their own, and not holding his mistakes against him.
That is what grace-filled parenting does; it stays focused on the child’s well-being, which includes accepting his or her mistakes. Mistakes, after all, is how we learn and grow.
I actually wince when I hear a parent hiss, “You’re embarrassing me!” Worse, if the hiss is accompanied by violence, say a slap or rough arm jerk, I actually get nauseas. Because I recognize that so much lasting damage is done to children when we communicate with them in anger.
Frustration at having to repeatedly deal with the same issue does get old. But we have to remember that parenting is a 24/7 commitment. Doing it right means leaning heavily on Christ, and following His grace-first example. We have to give our kids room to make mistakes. After all, we’re not perfect, either. “The graceless home requires kids to be good and gets angry and punishes them when they are bad,” writes author Tim Kimmel. “The grace-based home assumes kids will struggle with sin and helps them learn how to tap into God’s power to help them get stronger.
Adds Kimmel, “Grace understands that the only real solution for our children’s sin is the work of Christ on their behalf. . . . Legalism uses outside forces to help children maintain their moral walk. Their strength is based on the environment they live in. Grace, on the other hand, sees the strength of children by what is inside them—more specifically, who is inside them.”
Forbes, in the same Grace Under Pressure article I mentioned earlier, puts it this way: “Grace-filled parenting says, ‘I’m going to love this child unconditionally – without him having to be good enough. Just like the father of the Prodigal Son, this child is always welcome back home. If the child rebels, I’ll be sad but not angry, knowing how many times I have rebelled against God and how much I’m undeserving of His unconditional love and acceptance. No matter what this child does, I’ll continue to be Jesus to him and love him back to Christ.’”
Brad and Aubrey need to recognize that Jayden is listening, and as such they have considerable influence on him — even if he acts like he doesn’t hear a word they say.
Love wrapped in grace empowers kids to look at rules in a fresh and positive way. As we all know, most kids don’t naturally consider the rules they’re given to be in their best interest. Rather, they see rules as restrictions on their freedom. But as they experience rules within the context of a loving relationship proven to care about their best interest, they are set free to respond positively.
A lot of parents fear that they have little influence on their kids. They think school, their children’s peers, and the media have way more influence than they do. But they would be wrong! Studies have shown that kids, whether they act like it or not, are closely watching and listening to their parents.
A national online study shows that 45 percent of young people consider their parents to be their role models. Other studies show that 32 percent of today’s kids look to their friends and just 15 percent look to celebrities for guidance and inspiration. In fact, the studies show that even until your children reach twenty-five years of age, the greatest influence on their behavior will be the loving, close relationship with their parents, especially their dad.
With that in mind, then, the challenge is to be the best parental role model that you can be. Never forget that every word you speak and every action you take is being observed by your kids. To be an effective parent, then, align your parenting with God’s Word, and be ready to defend God’s truth against a culture that daily entices your children to stray from God. If you need to take anger management classes, do it. If you need to take effective communication classes, do it. And take full advantage of Christian-based parenting books and videos, many of which are widely available on the Internet. Consider adding Set Free to Choose Right to your arsenal of available parenting resources.
Set Free to Choose Right by Josh McDowell
Whether dealing with sexuality and pornography or honesty and self-control, equip your children with a biblical foundation to know why right is right and wrong is wrong. They can learn to make smart choices, to avoid many pitfalls in life.
Pick up your own copy to gain the wisdom in this helpful parenting resource.
Doubt: When It’s Beneficial for Christians
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Doubt Can Be the Catalyst for Real Faith.
Do “real” Christians have the freedom to doubt the existence of God, Jesus, and the truths of the Bible? Or should we feel guilty when our faith wobbles like Jell-O?
Says Paul Tillich, “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” I happen to agree with him.
God knows that we will have questions and doubts because we can’t see the big picture like He does. That’s why He repeatedly tells us, in His Word, to trust and chill (“Do NOT fear!”). But God also tells us to pursue the development of our faith. Doubt is a great motivator to fuel this pursuit.
God is not offended by our doubt. God designed us to seek truth, that we might grow in our knowledge of Him. So why do we feel that it’s bad, if not wrong, to question God, the Bible, and even our particular church’s stance on an issue?
We can all come up with lots of reasons for not wanting to ask the big questions, says Ann Sullivan, the author of Permission to Doubt: One Woman’s Journey into a Thinking Faith. We don’t want to appear vulnerable or confused. We were taught that our inquiries are a sign of disrespect or unbelief. We are afraid our faith will buckle under the bright lights of interrogation. And some of us, she adds, sidestep investigation altogether, just to make sure God doesn’t get mad at us. “But if God is really God,” she queries, “how could He ever be threatened by us? If our faith is rooted in truth and our ability to reason is a gift from God, shouldn’t He be able to handle any question we come up with?”
Her question gets at the heart of the matter, doesn’t it? Some of us hide or ignore our doubts because we’re not sure God can handle our daring to ask questions. Trusting God is rough stuff for people taught that God is easily angered and delights in thumping them on the head.
I like the clarity that Pete Enns, a noted college professor, provides when he suggests, “Doubting God is painful and frightening because we think we are leaving God behind, but we are only leaving behind the idea of God we like to surround ourselves with—the small God, the God we control, the God who agrees with us. Doubt forces us to look at who we think God is.”
If faith and doubt are expressed as a mathematical equation, adds Christian writer Ed Cyzewski, it would look like this: A little faith > a lot of doubt. Doubt, he’s saying, doesn’t cancel out our faith. Because the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, but unbelief.
~ Skeptical Versus Skepticism ~
The definition of skeptical is “having an attitude of doubt.” As a philosophy, Skepticism goes so far as to question whether it’s even possible for humans to attain knowledge. “Can we ever really know anything?” ask these thinkers. “Does this chair really exist, or do I merely think it exists?”
Pyrrhonian Skepticism, developed in ancient Greece, even declines to make definitive judgements on the truth or untruth of any belief. So don’t ask these thinkers if the chair exists, because they will only argue both sides. Some even propose that our individual human “reality”—the lives that you and I think we’re living on a daily basis—is nothing more than mental fantasy generated by an evil genie or super-computers. (Cue the Matrix movie trailer, please.)
John Ortberg, Jr., in his fabulous ChristianityToday.com article titled Slaying Spiritual Skepticism, asserts that the more destructive form of skepticism is a disease not so much of the intellect, but of the will. “It is not the doubting of Thomas that leads to a search for the truth,” he writes, “it is the doubting of Pilate (“What is truth?”), which is less a question about truth than an affirmation that truth cannot be found, an excuse to wash my hands of the whole thing and simply pursue my agenda.”
Here’s a question: if even philosophers think they can’t know anything with complete certainty—and be perfectly fine with holding that view—why do we Christians begin to sweat buckets when a skeptic demands that we prove, 100 percent, that God exists? Ahem! If they’re going to make that assertion, they first should prove by the same measure that He doesn’t.
Writes Lenny Esposito in his powerful article on ComeReason.org, “It seems that many people who object to Christianity want the Christians to do all the work and provide an answer for every nuance of their belief system, but don’t feel they are obligated to do the same. What bothers me is many Christians accept that premise and do a lot of work when the person objecting really wasn’t interested in the truth to begin with. Now, some people are sincerely seeking answers, and we should be able to give them good reasons for believing why we believe. But if the skeptic feels it important for you to have reasons for your faith, then they should be equally accountable.”
Dudes! Stop thinking you have to be a Christian encyclopedia, or that Christianity will crumble if you can’t answer every question! You’re not God (right?); you won’t have all the answers for this crazy thing called life while you’re still living it.
~ What? Even Mother Teresa Doubted? ~
Surely doubt plaques only “weak” Christians, right?
Heck, no! Doubt plagues even the major players!
Many noted Christian teachers and leaders have publicly acknowledged their doubt—among them Pope Francis, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Spurgeon. Closer to home, Sean McDowell has shared that his nature leads him to be a “consistent doubter.” He doubts, for example, his purchases, his daily choices, and yes, his spiritual beliefs. McDowell has said that his doubts can feel “crushing.” (Can you relate?) But he doesn’t view doubt to be a shameful weakness, as it pushes him to study, think, question—and share his findings to strengthen the faith of others.
The amazing Mother Teresa also had crushing doubts, as the world learned when her private letters were published. The secular media promptly labeled her a “fake,” “liar,” and “pretender.” Yet in this story by Enns, we gain insight into her deep faith:
“In 1975, the Jesuit philosopher, John Kavanaugh, went to work for three months at the ‘house of the dying’ in Calcutta with Mother Teresa. He was searching for an answer to some spiritual struggles. On his very first morning there, he met Mother Teresa. She asked him, ‘And what can I do for you?’ Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. ‘What do you want me to pray for?’ she asked. He answered with the request that was the very reason he traveled thousands of miles to India: ‘Pray that I have clarity.’ Mother Teresa said firmly, ‘No. I will not do that.’ When he asked her why, she said, ‘Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.’ When Kavanaugh said, ‘You always seem to have clarity,’ Mother Teresa laughed and said, ‘I have never had clarity. What I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.’”
The world might label us “fake” Christians when doubt pulls at us to question our faith. But in actuality, admitting our doubts places us squarely in the Authentic Zone. And that’s right where God can begin speaking clearly to us. (All He might say there, by the way, is, “Teresa, you don’t need to know that right now. Just trust.”)
~ Face Your Doubt, See Where It Leads ~
So what’s your deal with doubt? Do you pretend, like many church leaders, that your faith never falters?
I’ll admit that I sometimes doubt that God is working for my good. There are things I pray for, you see, that He is not providing. In those moments, I have to remember my limited view. Like Mother Teresa, I also often question why a great and powerful God would allow so much evil and pain in this world. I have only two choices: take the easy route—simply decide that God is neither great nor good (or possibly asleep at the wheel)—or decide to seek answers to understand His nature and what He says about our free will and the consequences of sin.
Still, doubt can be paralyzing. But it’s important that we press on, because in pressing we find answers and strength.
I love the song “Even If” by the Christian band, MercyMe. It captures the direction I think every Christian should be headed: to faith, despite the doubt. Just a few of the song’s lyrics: “They say it only takes a little faith to move a mountain. Well good thing, a little faith is all I have right now. God when you choose to leave mountains unmoveable, give me the strength to be able to sing it is well with my soul.” Another MercyMe song equally impactful: You Are I Am.
So how do we constructively handle doubt? First, by identifying reliable sources. And lastly, by recognizing when to “Let go and let God.”
But while we’re on the hunt for truth, we must develop our ability to think critically, with rational and logical thought. We need to recognize where we are seeing others’ biases and assumptions instead of the truth. And then we need to admit our own biases. It’s okay to challenge everything, as buying into the crippling lie that Christians must live with “blind faith” doesn’t actually produce faith of substance.
Pastor Timothy Keller uses a helpful analogy to show why it’s critical that we view doubt in the right light:
“A faith without some doubts,” he says, “is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors’.”
Go ahead, admit your doubt. Just don’t stop there. Take action. Tell God your doubts and ask His help in finding truthful answers. He’s gonna love it. Just like He loves you.
Does Truth Even Matter? Quick VIDEO
Reading Time: < 1 minute
Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.
Objective Truth: Christian Response to Postmodernism
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Conveniently Ignoring Objective Truth.
“If you are anything like me,” says noted Christian author and speaker Lisa Bevere, “you want to love the broken people around you.”
But so often Christians are told they’re being judgmental and hateful if they don’t accept the false version of love that accepts everything — no matter how destructive it is to people’s lives.
“In a wavering world,” adds Bevere, “I believe we can be people who stand like a rock, embodying both grace and truth. Real truth is not a river. It’s a rock.”
Lisa’s comments have been reverberating inside my brain ever since I heard them. Because she’s spot on. In rejecting objective truth, society is wooing us to believe that truth is a river; that it ebbs and flows with the trends, and that we each get to define and live out our personalized version of it.
Park a minute at this comic strip by Adam Ford called “Anti-Choice Judge.” It masterfully shows how subjective truth can warp a person’s view of themselves and the world. We need objective truth — God’s truth — to keep us from spiraling into total narcissistic self-absorption! We need God’s truth to keep things real.
~ Please Don’t Feel Judged or Offended ~
The Church is supposed to be full of Christians who are salty beacons of light. We’re supposed to lead people into an authentic relationship with Christ. Many churches — filled with messy people in various stages of sanctification (Duh! That’s what church is for!) — take this directive seriously and do their best to evidence Christ in their thoughts, words, and actions.
In their attempt to demonstrate how “loving” they are, many now choose to dilute, if not ignore, God’s objective truth when it comes to hot potato issues such as abortion and sexual identity/behavior. Some churches no longer even use the words “sin” or “sinner,” for fear that someone might be offended and not return to fill the seats and budget. But these churches are failing to remind people of their desperate need for Christ as Savior.
Shall we present Jesus’ cruel, excruciatingly painful sacrifice as unneeded or trivial, just so people will feel little — or no — conviction about their life choices? Shall “church” come to mean nothing more than weekly self-esteem rah-rah sessions for “good” people to “claim their blessing”?
Theatrical worship experiences, amped by pulse-pounding drums and guitars, fog smoke, and strobe lights are thrilling in the moment, but don’t stay with us after we walk out. Hey, Jesus, didn’t you just LOVE that mountain-top rock concert?!
Warm, fuzzy, funny sermons make us feel good, but did they lead us to a raw encounter with Christ? What about all the gimmicks many churches now use to entice people through their doors? Jesus, weren’t you just AWED at how clever we were to incorporate helicopter egg drops at Easter and glow-in-the-dark acrobats at Christmas? They will bring people to you, Jesus, we just know it!!!
But do people leave talking about Jesus — or the helicopter?
When we become so hip and cool in the eyes of secular society, will the Church still have impact? Or will it become just another outlet for momentary feel good entertainment?
Jesus isn’t interested in our feeling comfortable. He’s interested in movement and growth. He wants to break all the chains and junk that keep us from Him.
Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” There is a huge difference between the person who is apologetic about his sin and the person who is repentant about his sin. In the first, a person continues to sin, knowing God is gracious to forgive. In the second, a person refuses to continue in his or her sin because s/he wants to please Christ.
In a secular blot post I read yesterday, the author stated that Christianity will “finally be of help to people” once society is able to remove its attachment to the supernatural. Sigh. Whenever I hear comments like this, which are typically expressed by atheists and angry ex-Christians who feel failed by the Church and God, I shake my head at their clueless arrogance. Yes, the Church is messy and flawed, and sometimes downright sinful, but it holds incredible life-changing power when it dies to self and allows Christ to reign.
~Moralistic Therapeutic Deism ~
Fortunately, God is at work even in churches that have embraced Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
“What the heck is that?” you ask.
Basically, it’s a feel-good theology in which God is a teddy bear. The term was coined by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in 2005, after they conducted a nationwide telephone survey of Christian teens to learn how they viewed religion.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, writes Ford in another of his cool cartoons, “happens to be a preferred religion of Western culture, which usually (and tragically) goes by the name Christianity.” In it, God is a cosmic therapist and divine butler. Though He exists, it isn’t necessary to actually make him part of our daily life — unless we have need of Him.
Adds Kenda Creasy Dean, author of Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism “offers comfort, bolsters self-esteem, helps solve problems, and lubricates interpersonal relationships by encouraging people to do good, feel good, and keep God at arm’s length.”
The bottom line: every “Christian” gets to heaven by being “good,” rather than submitting to Christ. Being a “good” person, you see, is the golden ticket to get into heaven. And anyway, God is a loving God, so He won’t really send anyone to Hell, you know! That would just be soooo mean!
Dale Partridge, the founder of the RelearnChurch.org, which seeks to reconnect churches to the Bible, holds this view: “We want costless Christianity,” he states. “We don’t like participatory Christianity that has a cost.”
~ Sin? What’s That? ~
Society asserts that God can’t be real, so objective truth can’t be real, either. So neither is the notion of “sin.” As Bevere notes, we’ve become a society of opinionated, rather than convicted, people.
But being a Christian isn’t about consensus morality determined by society. It’s morality based on the Word of God. The person who minimizes and justifies sin with a “Don’t judge me!” response, adds Ford, knows very little of the Bible.
Clearly, a lot of Christians aren’t reading the Bible.
A 2016 study of 1,000 Christians, conducted by LifeWay Research, showed that ONLY 11 percent of those surveyed had read the whole Bible. Ten percent of those surveyed had read NONE of it! A whopping 13 percent had read only a few sentences. How can Christians know the objective truth of what God considers sin, if they haven’t read His messages to them?
For many years I was a superficial Christian, determined to keep Jesus at arm’s length because I hated the gruesome cross story. But when I did start to seek Him — in part by reading the Bible, which society asserts is just a dry, useless book — this is what I discovered: that Jesus isn’t just “that cool dude who went around loving and healing people.” He’s our mind-blowing God who deliberately took human form to show us that He fully identifies with our every thought and struggle. He “gets” our temptations and our failings and our messy bits and our dark corners — and FULLY accepts and loves us — like no other person or organization or group ever will.
To know Jesus is awesome. To only know of Him is to seriously miss out.
Many who reject Christ hold a melioristic viewpoint: that the world is made better by human effort. That humans have an inherent tendency toward progress or improvement. That the perfectibility of man is entirely possible, above the control of every power that would impede it. Among those “powers,” they list religion.
But Jesus isn’t “religion.” Jesus is raw, real, authentic truth and love. He is our very needed savior. Our souls clamor for Him, even as we adamantly turn to other sources to fill our need for love, acceptance, control, and connection. Our seeking objective truth leads us to Jesus. Personal truth just leads us to an endless fascination with our bellybuttons.
Does God Just Want Me to Be Happy?
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.
Along with my regular blog here at seanmcdowell.org, I am now featuring occasional guest posts from some students in the Biola M.A. in Christian Apologetics that I personally had the privilege of teaching. This post is from my friend Ryan Pauly, a high school teacher, who also has an excellent and growing ministry of his own called Coffee House Questions . I simply asked him to write anything on his heart and mind. Check out his ministry and enjoy this post! Sean McDowell
Does God Just Want Me to Be Happy?
It is often said that people become teachers so that they don’t have to work over the summer. Although this may be true for some, it wasn’t true for me this past summer. I spent my vacation working at Summit Ministries and traveling to speak at different youth events. While at one of my speaking events, I was approached by a student who wanted to know my thoughts on drinking and smoking weed. His argument was that it was fine to drink and smoke with his friends because it didn’t negatively affect his behavior or control his life.
Instead of beginning by making a biblical argument explaining why those behaviors were wrong, I began by asking him questions.
I first asked why he thought that any action was good or morally neutral simply because he didn’t see it negatively affect his life. This seemed to catch him off guard. It might have been because he was looking for me to give reasons as to why these behaviors did have a negative effect on his life and were therefore wrong. He admitted that pastors had used this approach with him before.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
Without even knowing it, this student had adopted a form of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). One aspect of MTD is the belief that God exists and that the goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself. One huge way in which you can tell that someone is following MTD is by the way they respond to sin.
When they are committing a sin, they will think that is it an acceptable thing to do as long as they are still happy.
They will not look at what God has to say about that sin since they don’t think God really plays a big role in our lives.
Our students use this form of reasoning when arguing for premarital sex as well as drinking and drugs. They hear their pastors, teachers, and parents say that these things are sin and will affect them negatively.
Because they don’t immediately see negative effects, they think the behaviors are fine.
This leads them to take a non-biblical approach to morality and ethics because their experience causes them to redefine sin. Sin then is defined as something that has harmful consequences on them and others.
The Dominant Religion Today
I believe that MTD has become the dominant religion of youth today as they fall more and more away from founding Christian beliefs.
Youth are being exposed through TV, movies, and schools to just living a good life and being happy in oneself. Today, success is seen as being happy and doing well at what you want to do.
So, my goal was to help this student re-evaluate the way that he determined what was ethically right and wrong and return to a biblical view of morality. An action isn’t good because it makes us happy and bad because it affects us negatively. We understand that eating candy feels good but is bad for us. We also know that shots hurt but are good for us. Instead, we need to get back to looking at what God teaches.
God doesn’t want us to just be happy; he wants us to be holy.
When he realized this point, I was able to look at biblical reasons with this student as to why he shouldn’t be drinking and smoking weed.
It is holiness that brings true happiness.
Postmodernism: Faulty Truth, False Reality
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Postmodernism robs society of objective truth and reason. Are we doomed?
One of the most popular phrases today around the globe is “You have your truth, I have my truth, and nobody knows the truth.” If one looks at that statement objectively, however, it is immediately obvious that as a guiding philosophy it’s a major fail. This supposedly inclusive view can only work in La-La Land, not in real society.
What, you ask, is Postmodernism? I’d love to hand you a simple definition, but I can’t. Because no one actually can agree on its tenets; it’s so subjective and slippery. But, at its bare bones, postmodernism is a way of analyzing life. It rejects logic, fact, objective truth, and objective moral values. Perhaps you’ll find this short overview video of postmodernism helpful.
Postmodernism says that truth is inaccessible, and that everything is interpretation. That no interpretation is final. That language only has the meaning we give it. That there is no absolute truth outside our own unique perspective. That there is no single origin of morality. That reality cannot be known nor described objectively.
Though society has been influenced by the sloppy reasoning and false narratives of postmodernism for more than 50 years, making inroads even in the Church, it is our young people who have fully embraced postmodernism as the correct lens through which to view life. Gone are black and white, replaced by an endless selection of grays.
~ You Don’t Get to Judge My Reality ~
In a 2000 article by Christianity Today, Postmodernism was defined as “anything, everything, and nothing.” Today, people are demanding societal respect for their desire to live in the “safe bubble” of their personally crafted identity. The list of subjective identities continues to mushroom, as society spirals deeper into individual focus and narcissism.
As Lonny S. Jarrett writes in his article Narcissism: A Postmodern Epidemic, “Einstein’s theory of relativity, that all perception is relative to the perceiver, has become distorted into the perspective that each individual is living in his own universe, a universe that is a projection of his own mind with no external reality having its own independent existence, validity, or truth.” He adds, “Narcissism is present when one’s attention is focused relatively more on the voice in his own head than he is on the words coming out of the mouth of the person he is listening to.”
Having been brought up to expect acceptance of their personal lifestyle choices, many college students believe it perfectly acceptable to verbally or physically attack anyone they feel is disrespecting or judging their subjective truth. It’s their rage (easily triggered by self-perceived “micro-aggressions“), rather than the soundness of their arguments, that has gained them ground. The media, heady on the sensationalism of these “Social Justice Warriors,” has happily amplified their antics.
Per the Urban Dictionary, a Social Justice Warrior is someone “who uses the fight for civil rights as an excuse to be rude, condescending, and sometimes violent for the purpose of relieving their frustrations or validating their sense of unwarranted moral superiority.”
In a YouTube video I recently viewed, an angry young woman asserted that she considers it “an act of violence against her” if another person refuses to use the pronoun “They” when referencing her. Though her genetics identify her as female, she is offended by the label “She.” Not only did my jaw drop at her take-no-prisoners attitude, but at the logical implication of her statement. An act of violence — which typically leads to legal consequence — for not using the “right” pronoun?
“No one should be made to feel threatened or harassed simply because of who they are or what they believe,” stated Paul Alivisatos, UC Berkeley’s executive vice chancellor, in defending the school’s decision to beef up security and offer counseling to students “offended” by the visit of guest speaker Ben Shapiro, a conservative political commentator and author of Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth. Yet, clearly, it didn’t matter to them if Shapiro likewise felt harassed or offended.
Many SJWs believe a societal utopia can be achieved, but only through the removal of all judgements potentially lurking in objective truth and morality. “Subjectivity is comforting,” says Shapiro, “because you can never be wrong.” He adds that society — college campuses included — signal to all of us that there is virtue in being offended. That my being offended is enough for me to outright dismiss your view — and attack you for having it.
In raising our kids with the message “Feel free to be you!”, we’ve paved the highway of endless subjectivity. And having bought into this view, many of us are subtly and overtly pressuring others to vigilantly monitor that their views don’t offend another. Free speech is labeled “hate speech” when it does offend someone.
In a YouTube video I viewed, a young woman taunted an invited speaker. It was clear that she thought herself incredibly clever. Perhaps in her mind her scathing words and condescending tone imbued her with power. But in actuality, she came across as a bully. Her heightened sense of self-importance only served to amplify the obvious: she seethed with intolerance for any contrary view. In another video, in which Shapiro addressed a crowd of college students, a small group of students continued to interrupt him by chanting when he tried to speak. I had to agree, wholeheartedly, when he quipped, “You’re so boring.”
Shapiro was asked, “Why does your right to free speech trump my right to be offended?” His response, “Because if it doesn’t, there is no right to free speech.”
~ Postmodernism: Provocative Idea, Useless Model ~
Two mandates of Postmodernism are “openness” — which rejects reason — and “tolerance” — which rejects moral absolutes. It’s a reinterpretation of what is knowledge, and what should be viewed as knowledge. The standards of right/wrong and good/bad are just “social constructs” to be challenged or simply ignored.
Friedrich Nietzsche, the noted German atheist and philosopher, asserted that truth is just illusion. Ironically, Nietzsche, who was declared clinically insane the last decade of his life, had a huge impact on Western thinking and Postmodernist philosophers. It’s hard to understand why, when even his claim, “There are no facts, only interpretations,” gets instantly nullified because he states it as fact.
I am endlessly amused by philosophers, especially when they ignore the obvious and/or concoct theories that require a total rejection of logic. But I’m not convinced that living in a world fueled by subjective truth and subjective reality isn’t going to be really frustrating. Real truth matters.
Can We Know God Really Exists?
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Is it possible to know if God really exists, or do we each get to decide His existence for ourselves?
When it comes to God’s existence, some contemporary philosophers deny that we can know for sure. No one, they say, can really know, because His existence isn’t provable. God, they say, is the stuff of legends, tall tales, and delusional thinking — because, to them, He hasn’t offered the right proof that He’s real.
But here’s the thing: there is a truth and reality about God’s existence, even if we choose to disregard it.
I like what the great philosopher Mortimer Adler once said; that “there is a reality that is independent of the human mind, to which the mind can either conform or fail to conform. In other words, what we think does not create or in any way affect what we are thinking about. It is what it is, whether we think about it or not and regardless of what we think about it.”
~ Beyond a Reasonable Doubt ~
Can we say with 100 percent certainty that God really exists? No. But the key is not a perfect or absolute certainty, as skeptics assert, but a standard of proof that answers the question beyond a reasonable doubt. For skeptics to claim, “God can’t be proved,” doesn’t then make their assertion that “God isn’t real!” true.
“When a judge charges a jury,” says Josh McDowell, “he or she tells them to decide based on probability, not certainty; based on the evidence presented, not the certainty of having viewed the crime. If jury decisions were delayed until 100 percent certainty existed, no verdict would ever be rendered. Skeptics demand absolute certainty in religious matters, yet they don’t apply the standard of absolute certainty to anything else of major importance.”
Atheists, he adds, can’t even be 100 percent certain of their own belief that God doesn’t exist. And to deny the existence of God necessitates admitting the possibility that He does exist. The real struggle for most skeptics isn’t that they can’t believe, it’s that they’ve decided to refuse to believe. And many skeptics, if you ask them what definitive proof they need to believe, can’t tell you. They would rather cling to their assertion that God is a “delusional crutch” for otherwise possibly intelligent people. That dig is so silly it doesn’t even hurt. 😉
Does their unbelief make God nonexistent? Nope. Belief does not create truth; truth is independent of belief.
In pondering the concept of reality, business guru Seth Godin recently wrote this amazing statement:
“It’s ever easier to weave our own reality, to find a bubble and to reinforce what we believe with what we hear. We can invent our own rules, create our own theories, fabricate our own ‘facts’. It turns out, though, that when your reality is based on actual reality, it’s a lot more stable and resilient, because you don’t have to be so vigilant about what you’re going to filter out.”
~ Christianity Is, In Fact, Provable ~
I agree with skeptics on one point: people shouldn’t believe in God because simply they were taught to do so. God calls us to a deeper knowledge of Him than blind faith. (Nor should we accept all teaching as truthful Christian doctrine, without researching that its biblically sound.) Rather, God invites us into a relationship with Himself. He desires that we learn about Him, and learn to trust and love Him. So He continues to show us who He is.
Christianity is based on fact, not just faith.
Despite what critics say, Christianity has proven to be grounded in strong evidence. It has a high degree of probability for its claims of truth. We see evidence of God’s existence in our amazingly intricate world. DNA itself shouts of a deliberate designer who not only created the world but keeps it going! Marilyn Adamson writes in her article on EveryStudent.com:
“How is it that we can identify laws of nature that never change? Why is the universe so orderly, so reliable? The greatest scientists have been struck by how strange this is. There is no logical necessity for a universe that obeys rules, let alone one that abides by the rules of mathematics. This astonishment springs from the recognition that the universe doesn’t have to behave this way. It is easy to imagine a universe in which conditions change unpredictably from instant to instant, or even a universe in which things pop in and out of existence. Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winner for quantum electrodynamics, said, ‘Why nature is mathematical is a mystery…The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle.'”
In His Word, God tells us about His nature and His plan for mankind. God has also proven His existence through Jesus. No one in human history has made the claims Jesus made and been able to give rock-solid proof to back them up. Jesus had power over sickness, nature, sin, and even death. And Jesus repeatedly redirected human focus back to God.
In another article on EveryStudent.com, the writer uses the analogy of a college student charged with a crime to showcase the critical role Jesus willingly played for us:
“The judge sentences her to 30 days in jail or a $1,000 fine. The student can afford neither the time nor the money. The judge, knowing this, takes off his robes, walks to the front of the bench, and with his own checkbook pays the fine. Why? Because, as a just judge, he cannot overlook the offense. But, because he is the student’s father, he chooses to pay the penalty on her behalf. This is exactly what Jesus did for each of us on the cross. He made the great sacrifice of being beaten, humiliated, whipped and crucified on our behalf. He now asks us to respond to his sacrifice by inviting him into our lives.”
~ Fighting God’s Knock? ~
I have often wondered why some atheists are so determined to belittle and smear Christianity, to debunk that God really exists. This quote by Adamson, herself a former atheist, opened my eyes to one possibility:
“I didn’t realize that the reason the topic of God weighed so heavily on my mind, was because God was pressing the issue. I have come to find out that God wants to be known. He created us with the intention that we would know him. He has surrounded us with evidence of himself and he keeps the question of his existence squarely before us. It was as if I couldn’t escape thinking about the possibility of God. In fact, the day I chose to acknowledge God’s existence, my prayer began with, ‘Ok, you win…’ It might be that the underlying reason atheists are bothered by people believing in God is because God is actively pursuing them.”
Adamson adds that author C.S. Lewis, who also lost his battle to ignore God’s knocking at his soul, said he remembered, “…night after night, feeling whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.”
Lewis had enormous influence on the world. Imagine the loss to the world if Lewis had not penned the Narnia novels as well as his numerous other books that are now considered Christian classics.
~ Choice, Not Truth, is Entirely Up to Us ~
Does God exist? As Dr. William Lane Craig notes, this could be the most important question a person can consider. Our individual choice, to believe in or reject the existence of God, has enormous implications on how we view of life, morality, and humanity. Yet some of us are waiting for that one piece of definitive proof before we’ll believe — all the while ignoring God’s activity all around us.
The thing is, God is attempting to get our attention all the time.
With every sunrise and sunset. With every bird’s chirp. With every baby’s laugh. With every beat of our heart. Satan has done a great job of ensuring we have plenty of noise around us 24/7 — TV, internet, texting, Facebook, etc., — not to mention the daily demands of work and family, which helps to dull our ears to God’s voice.
So, to hear God, we might have to get really quiet.
Granted, leaning into the silence feels really weird — and unproductive — to people grown long accustomed to constant bombardment of interruption and noise. We’re a society accustomed to proving our worth by our level of busyness. And we instinctively shrink from the heaviness of silence, because it is in its pin-drop quietness that we just might realize how hard we have been working to deny our need for God.
Psssssst: God really exists. We all know this in the deepest recesses of our hearts.
But we must choose to open our minds to His showing us that He is present and actively working in the world to accomplish His purposes. That He cares, even when life really, really hurts. Bottom line: We can choose to fight Him or follow Him. God, in His graciousness, leaves the choice entirely up to us.
Relativism: Does It Contain Any Truth?
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Does our personal version of “truth” (relativism) trump God’s objective truth?
In our current “Truth is what I say it is” culture, we have to ask if the issue of truth really matters. I mean, we all seem to be doing okay in life with our own version of truth, right?
Actually, no. When a society embraces a slippery slope of “truth,” its foundation turns from firm to shaky. A culture’s attack on truth ultimately affects the culture itself. People may hate the supposed strictness of God’s objective truth, but we have only to look around to see that societal morals that were once black and white have muddied to endless shades of gray. To ignore the negative side effects of this is to certainly put one’s head in the sand.
Like Neo in the Sci-Fi thriller The Matrix, our human nature prompts us to choose the pill that gains us a truthful reality. We’re hard-wired to seek out truth. And we instinctively know when we’re deviating from God’s objective truth, even if we ignore it or try to erase it as the standard to which we should be living.
Let’s look at three truths about truth, and why the assertion that “truth is relative” is completely wrong. Real, objective truth matters. In every area of our lives.
~ The Truths About Truth ~
Truth Is Logical
Logic presupposes that truth is real, and that “first principles” are truths that cannot be denied, because they are self-evident. Logic applied to reality is a key example of a first principle. All logic can be reduced to a single axiom: the law of noncontradiction. This law says that no two opposite statements can both be true at the same time in the same sense. Logic must apply to reality. And because of that, we can use logic to test truth claims about reality.
Truth Is Objective
Though we can make subjective claims based on personal preferences — for example, “Chocolate ice cream is the best flavor in the world!” — this makes the claims only “true” for us and anyone who agrees with us. The statement is only true because we believe it to be true. These statements of “truth” can easily change, based on our current preferences.
But objective truths are true no matter what we believe about them. They do not change because of our thoughts of whims. They are mind-independent and depend on the object itself.
“Objective truths, as opposed to subjective preferences, are based on the external world,” states apologist Sean McDowell. “They are related to the world independently of how we think or feel. For example, the sentences ‘1+2=3’ and ‘George Washington was the first president of the United States,’ and ‘Sacramento is the capital of California’ are all objective truths, that is, they are accurate statements even if we don’t believe them.”
Truth Is NOT Relative
We are free to have all the subjective preferences we want — from religion to politics to morality — but objective truth is not swayed by our personal views or even the collective view of society. So those who argue that all truth is subjective are espousing a form of relativism.
Relativism creeps into our vocabulary in statements like, “Well, that’s true for you, but not for me.” Unfortunately for those who champion relativism, the concept fails for two main reasons, which I outline below.
~ The Failure of Relativism ~
The first failure of relativism is that it is self-defeating. The second is that relativism leads to absurd logical outcomes.
To be consistent, the relativist must say, “Nothing is objectively true — including my own position. So you’re free to accept my view or reject it.” But here’s the reality: when a relativist asserts, “Everything is relative,” he expects his listeners to embrace HIS view of reality. And he expects his statement to pertain to all statements EXCEPT his own.
Norman Geisler puts it this way: “The only way the relativist can avoid the painful dilemma of relativism is to admit that there are at least some absolute truths. As noted, most relativists believe that relativism is absolutely true and that everyone should be a relativist. Therein lies the self-destructive nature of relativism. The relativist stands on the pinnacle of an absolute truth and wants to relativize everything else.”
The point not to miss: One can’t hold to relativism and insist that others do so as well. It’s a contradiction.
Relativism is a popular idea because, on the surface, it sounds accepting, inclusive, and easy-going. But it is only when we think through its implications, and apply them rigorously to life, do we see the pitfalls of being so accommodating.
As philosopher Paul Copan notes:
“Truth’s elusiveness in some areas of life is a major reason people believe something can be ‘true for you, but not for me.’ Looking around, the relativist comes to one firm conclusion: Too many people genuinely disagree about too many things for use to know truth. Significant — almost irreconcilable — differences in vital dimensions like religion, morality, politics, and philosophy can make it seem rash or even arrogant to say one perspective is true or mostly true and others are totally or partially wrong. Supposedly, then, the sensible conclusion to draw is that relativism must be true.”
In actuality, however, the only part of relativism that is true is that our perspectives do change the way we view events.
So while social and personal relationships do tend to define what people take to be true and false, these influences do NOT determine what is true or false with respect to objective reality. We may not see the truth correctly, but this does not diminish that the actual reality of truth exists.
Skeptics can cry, “God doesn’t exist!”, and personally believe it to be true. But God’s existence, in no way, is determined by our view of it.
~ Conclusion ~
As philosopher and author Steward E. Kelly says, an attempt to deny that truth exists is hopeless. “If there were, hypothetically speaking,” he adds, “no such thing as truth, then would it be true that there is no truth?” Apologist Ravi Zacharias puts a finer point on this when he says, “Truth by definition is exclusive.”
If truth were all-inclusive, he adds, “nothing would be false. And if nothing were false, what would be the meaning of true? Moreover, if nothing were false, would it be true to say that everything is false? It quickly becomes evident that the denial of truth as an absolute either ends up denying itself or else in effect not making any truthful assertion about truth.”
When we choose to view “truth” as subjective, we make it impossible to argue for any sort of binding morality or ethics. Bottom line: when real, objective truth dies, ethics die, too. Relativism undermines even the value of humanity.
Apologist Gregory Koukl puts it this way:
“If truth can’t be known, then the concept of moral truth becomes incoherent. Ethics become relative, right and wrong matters of individual opinion. This may seem a moral liberty, but it ultimately rings hollow. “The death of truth in our society has created a moral decay in which ‘every debate ends with a barroom question, ‘Says, who?’ When we abandon the idea that one set of laws applies to every human being, all that remains is subjective, personal opinion.”
But the Bible draws a clear contrast between truth and error; the Bible does not present truth as a cultural creation. When Jesus drove a stake into the ground by claiming, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” He did so to give us a clear standard of truth to follow.
Imagine if God continually changed His mind, and kept us guessing as to His nature and what he wants/expects from us. Sounds like the petulant Greek gods, if you ask me. Fortunately, God is NOT like that. His loving character never changes. And neither do the truths He has chosen to share with us via His Word.
From what influence are you determining “truth”? From the world, or from God’s Word? Because only the latter offers the real thing.
Do Alleged Contradictions Skew Bible Truth?
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Bible scholars have a proven track record of resolving contradictions to harmonize the Bible.
In this blog post we explore the claim by skeptics that the Bible contradicts itself.
Are there differences among parts of the Bible? Yes. But are they contradictions? No. And we assert this because of two reasons: 1) The Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and 2) Alleged contradictions have, too many times, been proven to not be contradictions as new, relevant discoveries come to light.
The Bible, as inspired by God and recorded by men, is a book of truth. Sometimes we just can’t see the truth because our view is too narrow. It’s like our looking at a scene through the viewfinder of our camera. We can only capture what is within the borders of the shot frame. Just because the camera doesn’t capture the rest of the scene, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Too, we must remember that each writer of Scripture brought his own personal/cultural perspective.
The Bible is composed of 66 smaller books written by a variety of authors, at different times, with different styles, and in different genres. The poetry of Psalms, for instance, should be read differently than the historical narrative of Joshua, the laws in Leviticus, individual Proverbs, or the Gospels. We recognize that God has chosen to reveal Himself through a rich diversity of genres. Each writer communicated what God led him to write, but did so in his own way. That’s not a surprise to God!
Yet one way that Satan leads people away from God is by championing the notion that the Bible can’t be trusted — and, thus, neither can God. This sounds logical, IF the first assumption is correct. But it’s not. Skeptics are free to make whatever claims they like, just as we are free to disregard them. Not because we’re sticking our heads in the sand, but because of God’s track record of being faithful.
Let’s define the term “contradiction,” and look at just five mistakes critics commonly make when they deem the Bible to contain contradictions.
~ What is a Contradiction? ~
A contradiction occurs when two or more statements pull in opposite directions. For example, these two statements contradict each other: “The Bible contains contradictions” … “The Bible does not contain contradictions.” They are logically contradictory because one affirms and one denies. But both statements cannot be true.
When studying the Bible, a key question is not necessarily what it says, but what it means.
Some passages appear contradictory, but there are compelling, independent reasons to believe that when all the information is available, the Bible proves itself to be completely without error. Walter Kaiser, author of Hard Sayings of the Bible, in asking the question, “Why are there so many discrepancies and difficulties in the Bible?”, makes this reply:
“There are a great number of sources to which we can trace them: errors of copyists in the manuscripts that have been handed down to us; the practice of using multiple names for the same person or place; the practice of using different methods for calculating official years, lengths of regencies and events; the special scope and purpose of individual authors, which sometimes led them to arrange their material topically rather than chronologically; and differences in the position from which an event or object was described and employed by the various writers.”
All of these factors, and more, he concludes, have had a profound influence on the material. Of course, to those who participated in the events, those factors were less of a barrier than they are to us. Our distance from the time and culture amplifies our difficulty. But that’s true with any historical event. Consider the wealth of personal experience that will be lost to our country upon the deaths of the last of our World War II veterans and remaining Holocaust survivors.
~ Common Mistakes Critics Commit When Alleging Contradictions ~
In their book Big Book of Bible Difficulties, scholars Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe identify 17 prevalent mistakes Bible critics commit when alleging biblical contradictions. These apply to both the Old and New Testaments. We list just five of the mistakes below:
Presuming the Bible Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Many critics assume the Bible is wrong until something proves it right. But the Bible should be considered truth until proven that it’s not. This is not asking anything special for the Bible; it is the way we approach all human communication. If we, for example, assume road signs and traffic signals couldn’t be trusted, we’d likely lie in a traffic accident before we could prove they were telling the truth. Likewise, if we assume food labels are wrong until proven right, we would have to open every can and package before buying it to ensure it’s what we want to buy. The Bible should be presumed to be telling us what the authors said and heard.
Says Geisler: “The Bible cannot err, since it is God’s Word, and God cannot err. This does not mean there are no difficulties in the Bible. But the difficulties are not due to God’s perfect revelation, but to our imperfect understanding of it.”
Failing to Understand the Context of the Passage
Taking scripture out of context is perhaps the most common mistakes made by critics. One can prove anything from the Bible by taking a passage out of context. A perfect example: The Bible says “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). But the full scripture is “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.'”
Assuming That Divergent Accounts Are False
Just because two or more accounts of the same event differ, it does not mean they are mutually exclusive. For example, Matthew 28:5 says that there was one angel at the tomb after the resurrection, whereas John tells us there were two (John 20:12). These are no contradictory reports. In fact, there is am infallible mathematical rule that easily explains this problem: whenever there are two, there is always one. Matthew did not say there was only one angel. One has to add the word “only” to Matthew’s account to make it contradict John’s.
Assuming That a Partial Report Is a False Report
Critics often jump to the conclusion that a partial report is false. But this is no so. If it were, most of what has ever been said would be false, since seldom does time or space permit an absolutely complete report. Occasionally the Bible expresses the same thing in different ways, or at least from different viewpoints, at different times. So inspiration does not exclude a diversity of expression. The four Gospels relate the same story in different ways to different groups of people, and sometimes even quote the same saying with different words.
Forgetting That Later Revelation Supersedes Previous Revelation
Sometimes critics of Scripture forget the principle of progressive revelation. God does not reveal everything at once, nor does He always lay down the same conditions for every period of time. Therefore, some of His later revelations will supersede His former statements. Bible critics sometimes confuse a change of revelation with a mistake. But the mistake is on the part of the critic. For example, when God created the human race, He commanded that they eat only fruits and vegetables (Genesis 1:29). But later, in Genesis 9:3 He commands that they also eat meat. This is a progressive revelation, not a contradiction.
~ Reading the Bible is Key ~
Human knowledge is limited and history is messy, so we should expect to face puzzling issues in the Bible, since we don’t have God’s all-knowing gaze. There is good reason to believe the Bible is true, and so we give it every benefit of the doubt.
Some critics, however, refuse to believe that God is good and trustworthy, typically for personal reasons. Some are mad at God. Others claim they adhere to strict logic. Others believe science to be the only trustworthy source of information. Others believe the Bible to be detrimental to society, saying its “harmful teachings has had a disastrous effect on society.”
We’ll agree that humans, throughout history, have had a tendency to cherry pick from the Bible to champion or defend their actions. But we can’t agree that God’s Word is full of “harmful teachings.” Anyone who has read the teachings of Christ would have to admit that Christ calls us to sacrificial love.
It is disturbing, however, that too few Christians actually know what the Bible says. Because they’re not taking the time to read it. In just one 2013 poll, for example, 57 percent of the American Christians canvassed admitted they read their Bibles maybe four times a year. Only one in five read the Bible on any regular basis! #saywhat? How can the Body of Christ expect to have any influence, if Christians aren’t getting serious about knowing what their Lord says???
It’s fine for critics to have their viewpoint, but it’s not fine for Christians to naively assume their anti-God views are correct. As critics themselves prove, it’s quite easy to twist Scripture to fit a particular view. Case in point: a friend recently shared that he abandoned his Catholic faith — after reading The DaVinci Code — which he took as truth and fact. The book showed him, he said, that the Bible contradicts itself too much for Him to believe in God anymore. The tragedy here: the novel is pure fiction!
Though critics commonly assert that the Bible contains authentic contradictions, many Bible scholars have provided plausible harmonizations over the centuries. Alleged contradictions often arise from mistakes in interpretation, ignoring genre or literary devices, or other faulty assumptions. But given the track record of Bible scholars in resolving alleged contradictions, we can have confidence that if all the facts were known, all “contradictions” would disappear.
Was the Bible Exodus a Real Event?
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Did the Israelites Flee Egypt for the Promised Land?
In our last blog post we looked at whether there is definitive proof that Adam and Eve existed as real people. In this blog post we’ll look at what proof exists for the mass Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.
No doubt about it, the Exodus of the Israelites, an event the Bible describes in great detail, is one of the most important historical events for both the Jewish and Christian faiths. Why? Because this central experience of rescue for the helpless out of a desperate condition has been recognized as a key example of God’s love.
Too, it is an example of God asserting His supremacy. In each plague He sends, God repeats this message: “I alone am God.” And in each miracle He provides for the Israelites as they flee Pharaoh’s pursuit, God reminds them that “I am who I am!“
The Bible tells us that Pharaoh — considered a god — was just a man that God specifically placed on the throne for the big showdown with Moses. God, alone, can claim the title. Before He orchestrated the Israelite’s exit from Egypt, God brought 10 plagues that crushed the legitimacy of the numerous deities of the Egyptian people.
Let’s look at the Exodus details, and then at existing evidence for the event. Its symbolism alone makes the Exodus story invaluable.
~ The Exodus Story ~
It is in Exodus 3:7-8 that we see God speak after He decides to take action:
“I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”
So God sends the 10 plagues, which the Egyptians dismiss until the pain finally cuts too close to the bone. Gnats didn’t move them. Flies didn’t move them. Neither did thick darkness. Not even the decimation of Egyptian crops and cattle motivated Pharaoh to agree to God’s demand to “Let my people go!” (Charlton Heston, time for your cameo!) #Moses
Only at the last plague — in which every Egyptian firstborn dies — do the now shellshocked Egyptians finally beg the Israelites to get the heck out of Dodge. They even dump parting gifts of silver, gold, and clothing on the Israelites! (And we know what the Israelites did with that gold, right?) #calfidol
An interesting GotQuestions.org article sheds light on why God may have cherry-picked each plague. Examples: The second plague, of frogs from the Nile, was a judgment against Heqet, the frog-headed goddess of birth. Egyptians viewed frogs as sacred, and not to be killed. Yet God used the frogs to make a stench in the nostrils of the Egyptians, as they piled the dead, rotting frogs into heaps across the land (Exodus 8:13–14). The ninth plague, of thick darkness, was aimed at blasting the sun god, Ra, symbolized by Pharaoh himself. For three days, the land of Egypt was “smothered with an unearthly darkness, but the homes of the Israelites had light.” The tenth plague, the death of all firstborn males, was a smackdown on Isis, the supposed protector of children.
Finally, Pharaoh changed his tune from, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go!” to something like, “Dang it! Leave! Now!”
It seems incredulous that almost immediately, however, he decides that freeing the Israelites was a really dumb move. Mighty Egypt depended on their manpower. So Pharaoh orders his army to open the throttles on their chariots and make haste to reclaim their slave labor. (Okay, I will cut him some slack; Pharaohs were quite used to getting their way and calling the shots.)
But I wonder if God yawned at the little effort it took Him to stall their progress as He used high winds to separate the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk (bug-eyed, no doubt!) between the watery walls. Only when the huge crowd had reached the waiting shore did God allow the Egyptian army to proceed — and then drowned them as He snapped the divided walls closed. (Even with really bad overacting by Heston and the rest of the Ten Commandments movie cast, the scene is impressive.)
The obvious symbolism: in the Old Testament we see God use Moses to lead the Israelites out of physical slavery. In the New Testament, we see God use His son to free the entire human race from spiritual slavery.
~ Archaeological Limits ~
Jews and Christians have, for centuries, embraced the Exodus story. Because the Bible has proven itself trustworthy as a book of truth and fact.
Only in the last 20 years or so have scholars decided the event isn’t historical, due to lack of evidence. But, says scholar Anthony Frendo:
“Israel must have somehow (at least partially) come from outside Canaan in view of the multiple texts in the Old Testament which point in this direction. Why should the Old Testament authors have made this up? Should we not try harder to understand our texts in connection with the results of good archaeology, rather than superficially to dismiss the former?”
Alan Millard of the University of Liverpool, says:
“Lacking any trace of Joseph, Moses, or Israelites in Egypt, many have concluded they were never there. Yet no pharaoh would boast of the loss of his labor force on a monument, and administrative records on papyrus, leather, or wooden tablets which might have registered such events would perish rapidly in the Delta’s damp soil. It is equally unlikely that a camping crowd would leave recognizable remains from a semi-nomadic life in the Sinai Wilderness and in Transjordan. The absence of evidence is not, therefore, evidence of absence!”
Old Testament scholar and Egyptologist James Hoffmeier confirms that Goshen, in the Nile Delta, is quite moist due to rain and annual flooding. If the Israelites had been in the dry Southern region, where the Dead Sea scrolls have been uncovered, he is certain papyrus documents would have survived. “We have to be realistic,” he adds, “about what we think archaeology can and can’t do.”
“Archaeological discoveries have verified that parts of the Biblical Exodus are historically accurate, but archaeology can’t tell us everything, agrees the Biblical Archaeological Society. “Although archaeology can illuminate aspects of the past and bring parts of history to life, it has its limits.”
Our key takeaway: limited evidence does not mean the event didn’t happen as the Bible tells it.
~ Proof for the Plagues, Then? ~
Again, hard to prove. But some scholars give credence to naturalistic phenomenon, which God certainly could have used to achieve His goal. Hoffmeier explains:
“Some have theorized that the first plague — in which the Nile turns blood red — is associated with the presence of microscopic flagellates in the water that account for the color. This phenomenon is associated with the annual inundation of the Nile that begins in August, crests in September, and ends in October. These microbes consume large amounts of oxygen from the water which results in fish dying and causes a rank smell, rendering the water undrinkable as described in the Bible (Exodus 7:21). If indeed a contaminated annual flood marked the beginning of the plagues, which would have begun in the period of August to October, and since Passover is observed in the period March-April (that is, seven to nine months later), the ninth plague — three days of darkness — might have been caused by a severe dust storm or khamsin. Such dust storms can still blanket Egypt for days at a time during the months of March and April. They even darken the sun and fine dust covers everything. This scenario for the ninth plague certainly fits the description that it was a darkness to be felt (Exodus 10:21). By using the forces of nature against Egypt, the God of Israel demonstrated His superiority over the gods of Egypt and over Pharaoh, who was responsible for maintaining cosmic order in the land.”
How often, I wonder, does God use “the forces of nature” to make His point? But like the Egyptians, we often refuse to acknowledge the Hand of God until the pain becomes excruciatingly personal. Only then do we move.
~ Taking the Bible as Truth ~
We find the Exodus mentioned as a historical event throughout the Old Testament, including the books of Psalms, Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, and in the Prophets. We should note that the Bible is not a single source document. It is multiple sources, all of which maintain the authenticity of the Exodus tradition. Historians recognize that the likelihood of the authenticity of an event increases as independent sources that verify it are discovered.
To date, scholars cannot concretely prove that Moses existed, that Israel lived in Egypt, or that this group of Hebrews fled from Pharaoh. But neither can they disprove the historicity of the biblical narrative.
As Hoffmeier notes:
“With this overwhelming evidence within the Bible regarding the Egyptian sojourn, exodus, and wilderness episodes, evidence coming from a variety of types of literature and used in a host of different ways, it is methodologically inadvisable, at best, to treat the Bible as a single witness to history, requiring corroboration before the Egypt-Sinai reports can be taken as authentic.”
Simply put, there is enough evidence contained in the Bible to make the story believable. It is likely such a man as Moses existed, a people such as Israel lived in Egypt, and these people left Egypt via the route detailed in the Bible.
“Many people today treat the Bible as being guilty until proven innocent,” adds Hoffmeier. “Which doesn’t seem fair, as who’s around to prove it that lived back then?”
I stand firmly in the camp that God can do what He says He’s going to do, whether large or small. When I read of the Bible’s miracles — from the miraculous parting of the Red Sea to the miraculous resurrection of Jesus — it’s not my default to think, “I’m not believing it until I see definitive proof!” Rather, my default is, “Wow! Mind blown!”
I want my God, as we say here in Texas, “to go big, or go home!”
Did the Bible’s Adam Really Exist?
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Does Adam’s historicity matter?
The overarching theme running through all 66 books of the Bible is the story of God’s creative work, of humanity’s rebellion against God, and of God’s work to redeem fallen humanity.
The straightforward way of reading the Bible is that Adam was a historical person. It also seems clear that Scripture teaches that all humanity descended from Adam and Eve. This view has come under criticism in recent years — but not just from skeptics.
Doubts about Adam’s historicity are hardly surprising in a secular society that largely rejects the authority of the Bible. But there also is debate among Bible-believing Christians. In this blog post we’ll look at just four evangelical views of Adam, each defended by a noted professor of religion. Then we’ll look at what science has to say about Adam and Eve existing as real people.
~ Four Views of Adam ~
The four views of Adam, featured in the book Four Views on the Historical Adam by pastor Matthew Barrett, are as follows. Perhaps you hold one of these views yourself:
>>>No Historical Adam: Theistic Evolution/Evolutionary Creation View
Denis Lamoureux, professor of science and religion, argues that Adam did not exist as a person, but that his story remains “a vital, but incidental, ancient vessel that transports inerrant spiritual truths: only humans are created in the Image of God, only humans have fallen into sin, and our Creator judges us for our sinfulness.”
>>>Historical Adam: Archetypal Creation View
John Walton, professor of Old Testament, asserts that “Adam and Eve are real people in a real past. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that the biblical text is more interested in them as archetypal figures who represent all of humanity. … If this is true, Adam and Eve also may or may not be the first humans or the parents of the entire human race. Such an archetypal focus is theologically viable and is well-represented in the ancient Near East.”
>>>Historical Adam: Old-Earth View
C. John Collins, professor of Old Testament, argues “that the best way to account for the biblical presentation of human life is to understand that Adam and Eve were both real persons at the headwaters of humankind.” In other words, Collins believes that the Fall was both moral and historical.
>>>Historical Adam: Young-Earth View
William Barrick, professor of Old Testament, states, “Adam’s historicity is foundational to a number of biblical doctrines and is related to the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. … The biblical account represents Adam as a single individual rather than an archetype or the product of biological evolution, and a number of New Testament texts rely on Adam’s historicity.”
As you can see, it’s possible for Christians to vary widely in their views on whether Adam and Eve were real people. Let’s allow science to weigh in as well.
~ Scientific Proof for Adam? ~
Has science proved or disproved the existence of Adam and Eve? No. At least not yet. But what researchers have discovered might still blow your mind.
While DNA profiling helps to resolve criminal cases and paternity suits, the sequencing of the full human genome by the Human Genome Project provides so much more: a genetic “fingerprint” of 3.2 billion base pairs (“letters” making up the genetic code) in human DNA. This has opened the door for molecular anthropology, which searches for links between ancient and modern human populations around the world.
Genetic information that has been uncovered in the past few decades has shed considerable light on human origins. Evolutionary biologists compare the human genome with those of primates to build evolutionary relationships. Skeptics of Darwinism maintain that genetic similarities between humans and other species are better understood as the result of common design rather than common ancestry. One technique for studying human ancestry is to compare the base-pair sequences of a specified segment of DNA between individuals from different people groups.
Interestingly, such comparisons show that human beings display much less genetic diversity than any other species. Several studies, for example, report a much more extensive genetic diversity for chimps, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans than for people. And the human similarity is observed worldwide, regardless of race or ethnicity!
Molecular anthropologists pose what they sometimes call the “Garden of Eden hypothesis” to explain the limited genetic diversity. This model maintains that humanity had a recent origin in a single location and the original population size must have been quite small. Comparisons using much longer data sequences from the Human Genome Project confirm the “very limited genetic diversity among human populations,” as well as the conclusion “that the African population groups are the oldest.”
One of the most widely used techniques in molecular anthropology is the study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is inherited only from our mothers.
Molecular anthropologists have used it to trace humanity’s maternal line. A landmark study carried out on mtDNA samples from 147 people from five geographic populations was reported in 1987. The study’s authors concluded that all of the mtDNA stemmed from one woman who lived in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago.
Additional studies confirmed the conclusion that humanity can trace its maternal lineage back to one woman in a single location (probably east Africa). The science community named her “mitochondrial Eve.” Does this mean this woman was Eve? Not necessarily. From an evolutionary view, this means only that this female’s mitochondrial DNA is the only lineage not to become extinct and is now ubiquitous throughout the entire human race. However, this viewpoint is compatible with the view that there was an original mother and father who were the first parents of the entire human race.
Since Y-chromosomal DNA passes from father to son, molecular anthropologists study it to trace humanity’s paternal line. The consensus of a number of studies carried out no Y-chromosomal DNA from men representing different races and regions of the world is that humanity can trace its paternal lineage to a single man in a single location in Africa.
Again, this does not prove that this man was Adam, but that this man’s Y-chromosomal lineage is the only one that now runs ubiquitous throughout the entire human race.
Many of us have seen the standard March of Progress diagram depicting the evolution of man, right? The sequence of images starts with a hunchbacked ape and ends with an upright-walking modern human. This iconic diagram summarizes the message that humans evolved. Yet many paleoanthropologists doubt the validity of Darwinism, including the authors of the book, Science & Human Origins.
A 2015 review of human evolution by two leading paleoanthropologists admitted “[t]he dearth of unambiguous evidence for ancestor-descendant lineages,” and states “the evolutionary sequence for the majority of hominin lineages is unknown. Most hominin taxa, particularly early hominins, have no obvious ancestors, and in most cases ancestor-descendent sequences (fossil time series) cannot be reliably constructed.”
And a number of paleoanthropologists have admitted a distinct gap in the fossil record between humanlike members of the genus Homo and apelike species such as the Australopithecines. As the great evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr stated, “The earliest fossils of Homo … are separated from Australopithecus by a large, unbridged gap.”
Science, in many ways, actually points to a Creator!
~ Trusting God as Creator ~
Within the last 30 years, scientific evidence for Adam has emerged from the study of human genetics. The once-dominant multiregional model of human origins has been replaced with a model of humans spreading around the world from a small founding population in one location, possibly east Africa. The identification of single ancestral maternal and paternal DNA sequences, while not proof of an ancestral pair, is evidence one would expect from the biblical account of origins.
Paleontology and archaeology reveal at least three discontinuities in human history: the abrupt appearance of the genus Homo about two million years ago, the appearance of anatomically modern humans at around 130,000 BC, and the appearance of physical capability underwriting modern human behavior at around 40,000 BC. Physicist John Bloom argues that the two recent, abrupt discontinuities are evidence against a smooth, naturalistic transition and for the special creation of humanity.
I like how Bloom notes that the Bible reveals some things to us that are “hard to understand.” Science, of course, would have us believe that it, alone, is our key to understanding the universe and our place in it. “Interestingly enough, though,” adds Bloom, “the deeper scientists have delved into the nature of nature — in an effort to comprehend how physical reality works at its fundamental levels — they too have found themselves utterly perplexed.”
Bloom also notes that we tend to forget that God’s intelligence, power, and complexity “so far exceeds our comprehension that we have no metaphor or superlative that can even remotely do Him justice.” We should expect perplexing conundrums, even as new scientific discoveries develop, because God will always be mega strides ahead of us.
Was Adam the first human? Only God knows. Let’s take God at His Word: that He, alone, created humanity, and did so as part of His overall plan for creation.
How Can I Be Sure of Heaven? Quick VIDEO
Reading Time: < 1 minute[Original post by Sean McDowell found here.]
Were Jesus’ Disciples Illiterate?
Reading Time: 6 minutes
A question often asked by curious Christians and critics: “Since Jesus’ disciples spoke Aramaic, how could they write any New Testament books — in Greek, no less — if they couldn’t even read or write in their own language?”
That sounds like a solid query … until you realize that the question is based on the wrong assumption that Jesus’ disciples were illiterate.
It’s interesting that many modern Christians assume that everyday Jews in Jesus’ time went without schooling. I’ve even been in churches that promote that “Jesus was but a simple carpenter” — as if He miraculously morphed from “uneducated wood guy” to “healing teacher extraordinare.”
But the Bible makes it clear that Jesus, even as a 12-year-old, possessed enough Jewish knowledge and moxie to enter the Jerusalem temple to discuss Scripture with seasoned temple teachers. It is in Luke 2:41-52 that we read how vexed Jesus’ parents were to find Him sitting in His “Father’s house,” happy as a clam, while they had been anxiously searching for Jesus for three days after realizing He wasn’t among the crowds schlepping home to Nazareth at the conclusion of Passover.
Scholars have placed the literacy rate among first century Jews around 10 percent, but this number is a rough estimate that has recently been called to question.
Jews in Jesus’ time placed a high value on education, as they took the commands of the Torah seriously. Even if literacy was 5-10 percent, there would still be plenty of average, run-of-the-mill Jews capable of writing. Evidently, the Gospel authors were some of them.
So were the disciples illiterate? Hmmm…. is the real question you’re asking, “Did the disciples sometimes get help with writing down their message?” If that is what you’re after, the answer is yes, it’s certainly possible. But it’s doubtful that the disciples lacked the ability to read and write, or that they were ignorant of Jewish Scripture. And their understanding of Scripture certainly grew during their three years with Jesus.
~ Jesus on Mission From Childhood ~
Was young Jesus unique in having some familiarity with Jewish Scripture? No. So it wasn’t Jesus being in the temple that surprised His parents. Rather, it was His recognition, at such a young age, of His purpose and destiny. As BibleGateway.com puts it:
“Jesus’ parents — and Luke’s readers — need to appreciate that Jesus understood his mission. From the very beginning he is reflecting on the will of God. He starts revealing himself right in the center of Judaism’s religious capital. But there is a second key detail. Jesus refers to God as his Father. This alludes to the sense of family relationship and intimacy Jesus has with his heavenly Father (10:21-22). Such closeness to God not only is something Jesus’ parents need to appreciate but also is a point the disciples will struggle to grasp (9:59-62; 14:26; Mark 10:29-30). In fact, Luke makes this the first note in a series of revelations that will build the case for who Jesus is.”
The Bible doesn’t give us much information about Jesus’ first 30 years of life, but what it does tell us is that Jesus walked humbly, yet purposefully, toward this mission. And at the appointed time, He made His familiarity of Scripture obvious to the public.
Adds BibleGateway.com: “Jesus is breaking new ground with his parents here, and they need to understand who He is, just as Luke’s readers do. The text makes it clear that at the time they still did not understand what He was saying to them. But Mary treasured (or pondered) all these things in her heart, an appropriate response to Jesus’ somewhat enigmatic remarks.” Obedient to his parents, Jesus returns with them to Nazareth. “While there he grows in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Lk 1:80; 2:40). There he awaits God’s timing to begin the ministry associated with God’s house.”
What a jolt it was for many of His contemporaries in Nazareth when Jesus did go public. In Mark 6:2-4, they expressed shock at His wisdom as he read Scripture:
“And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?”
But Jesus didn’t let their offense hold Him back. His time had come; He was going big, so He could go home as the resurrected savior. Jesus launched His ministry by selecting 12 men who would closely walk the journey with Him to the cross. From there, 11 of them would share the Good News until their last breath.
~ Who Were These Disciples? ~
Historian Colin Green brings up a good point about these young, hand-picked Jewish men. “It is worth mentioning,” he writes, “that Jesus would have set out to select apostles who would be capable of going out and preaching his message effectively.”
Let’s recap who was included in this intimate group of disciples:
*Simon Peter, a fisherman/businessman who lived in Bethsaida and Capernaum, part of Jesus’ inner circle, martyred
*Andrew, brother to Peter, also a fisherman from Bethsaida, martyred
*John, brother to James, also a fisherman from Bethsaida, part of Jesus’ inner circle, died of natural causes
*James, brother to John, also a fisherman from Bethsaida, part of Jesus’ inner circle, the first disciple martyred
*Philip, also from Bethsaida, possibly a fisherman, martyred
*Nathaniel (Bartholomew), possibly a fisherman, martyred
*Thomas (Didymus), possibly a fisherman, famous for being the “doubter” of Christ’s wounds, killed
*Matthew (Levi), a tax collector from Capernaum, likely wealthy before joining Jesus’ ministry, martyred
*James, cousin to Jesus; martyred
*Thaddeus (Jude), lived in Galilee, martyred
*Simon, the zealot, possibly engaged in politics and anarchy before Jesus called him to be a faithful disciple, martyred
*Judas Iscariot, treasurer of the group and the “betrayer” of Christ who hanged himself after feeling remorse
We don’t know all that much about most of the disciples, but scholars believe they would have all been young, perhaps no older than 20 years of age, when selected by Jesus. We do know that Andrew and John were disciples of John the Baptist, prior to following Jesus. The Bible tells us that Thomas and Nathaniel were fishing by the Sea of Galilee with Peter when Jesus appeared to them after He resurrected. It’s likely they were fisherman. The Bible gives us no clue, however, as to the professions of Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Thaddeus, James, or Judas before they joined Jesus.
But, again, they likely received training in the Jewish Scriptures in their youth. And given that Greeks lived all around them, it is likely that they were bilingual in Aramaic and Greek, even if they couldn’t write the language.
Shares Apologetics professor Mikel Del Rosario:
“Interestingly, four of Jesus’ disciples had Greek names: Philip, Andrew (Peter’s brother), Thaddeus and Bartholomew. Why would their parents give them Greek names if Greek didn’t have some kind of influence in their families? Whether or not you’re Jewish, you would’ve picked up some Greek from living near native Greek speakers.”
Peter, John, and possibly Matthew are thought to have personally written books of the Bible. John wrote one of the Gospels. Jesus’ own brother James is believed to have written the Book of James. As a Galilean tax collector, Matthew would have been required to collect and record information, likely in multiple languages. Clearly, he could read and write. Historians know that tax collectors often carried wooden tablets thickly coated with wax. They used styluses to mark notes in the wax, which were later transcribed and written on papyrus or animal skins. Whether Matthew personally did the transcribing isn’t the important point here.
~ Using Scribes Doesn’t Change Authorship ~
In its blog post titled Common Objection #14 – “Jesus’ Disciples Were Uneducated and Illiterate,” Truth Bomb Apologetics reminds us that some members of the Judean ruling council pointed out that Peter and John were agrammotoi or “unschooled” (Acts 4:13). But that the word doesn’t necessarily imply that Peter and John were illiterate. In the context of the Jewish council, agrammatos likely meant “untrained in the Jewish law.” The council members were merely pointing out that Peter and John had not been schooled as rabbis.
Just for arguments sake, let’s go with their assertion that the disciples couldn’t read or write. Does that automatically translate to their being “simple” or uneducated? No. It simply means they needed help in writing down their message.
No problem! Professional scribes capable of turning Aramaic into polished Greek would have been readily available to the first century disciples. Scholars know that these scribes helped to record everything from receipts to legal documents to letters, for persons of both plenty and poverty. We know, for example, that the apostle Paul, who is credited with writing much of the New Testament, could capably write Greek. Yet even he used scribes to record his letters.
The disciples did exactly what Christ chose them to do: faithfully witnessed to the world, both orally and in writing, about Jesus.
Do the Gospels Reliably Portray Jesus?
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Can We Trust These Ancient Storytellers?
Christians view the Bible as the true and inspired word of God, which it is. In the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—we learn details of the incredible ministry of Jesus. Not intended to be strict biographies, these detail-rich texts are interpretations by four individual authors, which they penned for specific audiences, to evoke specific images of Jesus.
The Zondervan Academic blog puts it this way:
“The Bible’s four Gospels paint four portraits of Jesus. While each gospel follows Him on the same journey, they recount it a little differently. They had their own methods, styles, purposes, audiences, and (probably) sources—making each portrait of Jesus uniquely valuable.”
How fortunate are we, as modern Christians, to be able to read all four perspectives together! Let’s take a closer look at the Gospels, to see where they are similar and where they differ, as we answer a common question asked by Christians: “Can I trust what the Gospel writers tell us about Jesus?”
~ What Are “Synoptic Gospels”? ~
The Gospels narrate the life history of Jesus. The first three Gospels are referred to as the “Synoptic Gospels.” The word “synoptic” comes from the Greek word synoptikos, which means “able to be seen together.” These Gospels share similarities in how they tell the story of Jesus—often shared in the same order, and even with the same wording. Yet it’s clear that the Book of Matthew was written to a Jewish audience, Mark to a Roman audience, and Luke to a Gentile audience.
John, the last Gospel to be written, offers more symbolism than the synoptics, as well as a more reflective perspective. John adopts a “post-resurrection” point of view, for example. Bible.org puts it this way:
“While we see the events through his eyes, we are carefully guided to see the events of Jesus’ life not as John saw them when they happened but as he now sees them. We understand more of the significance of the events described from the position the writer now holds than an eyewitness could have understood at the time the events took place.”
Of the four Gospels, Mark is the earliest text. It was likely written between AD 55-70, around the time the disciple Peter was martyred. Matthew was written between AD 50-70, and Luke around AD 60. A confirmation of the date of Matthew’s writing comes from an external source: a report by Irenaeus, a second-century church father, who wrote that Matthew composed his gospel “while Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel and founding the church in Rome.” The only time we know that Peter and Paul were together in the capitol of the Roman Empire was the early to mid-60s. The exact dating of John’s gospel is unknown, though commonly thought to be around AD 90.
As Zondervan Academic notes, over 90 percent of the Book of John is unique; it contains material not found in any of the other three Gospels. In contrast, 93 percent of the Book of Mark appears in either Matthew or Luke—but a lot of what’s in those Gospels isn’t included in Mark.
To see this for yourself, check out the online Harmony of the Gospels guide by Blue Letter Bible. It clearly outlines, via a Scripture-linked table, which topics are found in each Gospel. It’s a handy research tool.
~ The Gospel Writers Weren’t Journalists ~
The common message of the Gospels, of course, is that Jesus came as God in the flesh. The Gospel writers never deviate from that message, yet each writer chose to highlight information he thought important to share.
The book of Matthew, for example, emphasizes Jesus’ role as the Messiah and the “King of the Jews.” Mark focuses on Jesus as a powerful miracle worker and servant. Luke portrays Jesus as the Son of man who highly values each person. And John emphasizes Jesus as both man and God, accessible to anyone who will choose to follow Him. Each writer uses phraseology and imaging that their contemporaries would have found familiar. As Gleason Archer states in his book Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, it’s akin to each Gospel writer chosing specific angles from which to take snapshots of Jesus.
The Gospel writers also were writing to people already familiar with Jesus. This is why they don’t spend time chronicling every detail of Jesus’ life—though we modern Christians surely wish they had! We have no clue, for example, whether Jesus was an early riser or a night owl; whether he preferred meat to vegetables; or what He personally thought about a LOT of topics. So when we ask, “WWJD?” we often don’t have a definitive answer. Lol!
Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: our wondering why the early Christians didn’t write down the life and teachings of Jesus—and why it took so long (25+ years after Christ’s death) for the Gospels to be written.
One obvious reason: Jesus’ followers assumed that He would return soon to establish His new earthly kingdom, thus making written records unnecessary.We have to remember, too, that the oral tradition was incredibly strong during Jesus’ lifetime; people were used to carefully sharing information in this manner.
As Nick Peters writes on his blog, “In fact, it’s a common question often asked to apologists when speaking about Jesus that ‘If all this really happened, why did they wait so long before they wrote it down?’ It’s a good question, but it’s also one that can be quite simple. Oral tradition was free, quick, reliable, and it reached everyone who understood the language. Writing meanwhile was expensive (Writing Galatians by today’s standards could cost about $500 and let’s not forget the delivery of the manuscript so think about how much a whole Gospel would cost), slow, not seen as being as reliable since the person who wrote the work was not there to teach about it often, and it would only reach those who could read or have it read to them.”
The Gospels do not provide a straight journalistic record. And the Gospel writers don’t collectively claim to be offering eye witness accounts of Jesus’ life. But did the Gospel writers simply make up stuff? Hardly. They were held in check by that fact that people were already familiar with Jesus—and there were eyewitnesses that would have called them out.
Imagine a modern historian attempting to rewrite the history of crooner Elvis Presley. If he tried to assert that Elvis lacked talent, had no impact on the world, and didn’t accomplish much, we would laugh at him! Why? Because we know so much about Elvis, from both being eyewitnesses to his life and the mountains of material written about him.
~ Trusting the Gospels ~
Do we know for sure who wrote the Gospels? No. But John is believed to have been one of Christ’s twelve disciples. As such, he personally witnessed the events he wrote about. Luke, a friend of the apostle Paul, may not have been an eyewitness, but made careful use of the eyewitness accounts of others. Mark’s gospel includes preaching by Simon Peter, another of the disciples who had a front-seat view of Jesus’ ministry for three years. And Matthew, a tax collector, can be counted a reliable scribe, as he was both literate and accustomed to keeping detailed records. The early church was unanimous in their acceptance of Matthew as the author of this Gospel.
The Gospel writers had excellent credentials to write their texts: they had intimate, verified knowledge of Jesus’ ministry, and each possessed the skills to correctly record the facts of Jesus’ ministry.
It is common today for critics—and even some confused Christians—to assert that the Bible can’t be taken literally or seen as trustworthy, because of apparent discrepancies and differences. Sorry, but that’s just a convenient excuse for critics—and a sad statement on the depth of knowledge held by these Christians. The Bible has proven itself reliable over centuries, despite human error made by its writers and scribes that transcribed it.
History reliably confirms the Gospels. But don’t take my word for it—and definitely don’t take the word of critics without studying the matter for yourself. The depth of your study will determine the depth of your knowledge of Christ and the Church. Will it be easy? No. Because there’s a lot of wrong info out there. But Jesus promises us that when we diligently seek Him, we will find Him. Right on!
Was Jesus Really Without Sin?
Reading Time: 7 minutes
It’s a critically important question.
If the holy, morally perfect God were to become incarnate as a human being, one would reasonably expect that He would live a good and righteous life. We have solid reasons to think that Jesus Christ did fit this description.
Let’s look at biblical references, both by Jesus and about Jesus, to gain a clear picture of why He is believed to have lived without sin.
By the way, can you imagine??? I can’t get through a single day with 100% purity of thought, word, or action! Surely, He had to be God!
~ Scripture States Jesus Lived a Perfect Life ~
All of the Bible‘s New Testament books, which, by the way, were composed less than seventy years after Jesus’ death, have one consistent message: that Jesus lived without sin. We’re told this in the four Gospels, in reports of speeches by early Christian leaders in the books of Acts, in epistles written by four different authors (Paul, Peter, John, and the author of Hebrews), and in the book of Revelation.
As New Testament scholar George H. Guthrie has noted, “It was a widely disseminated tradition in earliest Christianity that Jesus was sinless…a claim made all the more pointed by the fact that many of the church’s leaders were drawn from Jesus’ family member or closest associates.”
Per Paul, Jesus was not a sinner, but heaped with our sin, that God would see us as unblemished. New Testament scholar Murray J. Harris puts it this way: “Although Christ was aware of the reality of sin and observed sin in others (Hebrews 12:3), He Himself, Paul affirms, never had any personal involvement in sin. … Neither outwardly in act nor inwardly in attitude did Christ sin, and at no time was His conscience stained with sin.”
1 Peter 2:21, 22 says:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth.
Hebrews 4:14 says:
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
1 John 3:5 says:
And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.
In short, the consistent testimony of first-century Christians to the character of Jesus was that He was without sin, perfect in holiness and righteousness. There are no dissenting statements from Christians in the first — or even second — century.
As G. C. Berkouwer, a twentieth-century theology noted, “Ancient heretics, however divergent they were in Christology, did not attack the sinlessness of Christ.” Granted, zealous followers sometimes have an excessively high opinion of their master, but that does not seem to have been the case with Christ. His followers wrote about Jesus — and themselves — with refreshing candor.
~ Jesus Implicitly Claimed to be Sinless ~
Jesus’ followers viewed Him as sinless — but did Jesus share their view?
Jesus did not directly speak to His own perfection. Should this, as some critics assert, clue us in to the fact that Jesus didn’t see Himself as sinless? Not at all. In a kind of sideways fashion, much of what Jesus said assumed or presupposed His own lack of sin.
Let’s take the issue of forgiveness:
Jesus forgave other people’s sins (Matthew 9:2-6; Mark 2:5-10; Luke 5:20-24; Luke 7:47-49) and taught His followers to forgive others and to pray for God’s forgiveness for their own sins. Yet Jesus never said anything about needing forgiveness Himself — a surprising omission as good spiritual leaders typically use themselves as object lessons or at least model for their disciples what they are teaching them.
As the famous historian Kenneth Scott Latourette remarked:
“It is highly significant that in one as sensitive morally as was Jesus and who taught His followers to ask for the forgiveness of their sins there is no hint of any need of forgiveness for Himself, no asking of pardon, either from those about Him or of God.”
Thomas Oden, previously a Drew University theologian, wrote one of the best expositions and defenses of the sinlessness of Christ. In his writings he explains why Jesus’ lack of any apparent guilt over His own sin is quite revealing:
“Those who have walked the furthest on the way to holiness are those likely to be most keenly aware of their own guilt. St. Teresa of Avila, for example, understood most acutely how distant she was from the full possibility of life in Christ, but it was not because she was living distantly from the life but so near to it. … This was not morbid preoccupation with guilt but simply the expression of daily life lived so near to God that she was more painfully aware of each small increment of distance from God than others might have known in a lifetime. Yet Jesus, whose closeness to God could hardly be questioned, showed no evidences of such guilt or remorse or distance but rather sustained the closest filial relation.”
The Gospel of John reports moments when Jesus indirectly attests to His knowing Himself to be without sin. John 15:9: So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”
~ Jesus’ Contemporaries Attested to His Sinlessness ~
In the New Testament, a variety of sources refer to Jesus as “the Holy One of God.” Both Mark and Luke record an incident in which “an unclean spirit,” that is, a demon, identified Jesus with the same title:
Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did you come to destroy us? I know who You are — the Holy One of God!”
Evidently, Jesus radiated a holiness, a purity, to which the demons were sensitive and against which they reacted with anger or fear.
Early church leaders also referred to Jesus as “the Righteous One” (Acts 7:52; 22:14) and “the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14). In some passages of the Gospels, speakers refer to Jesus’ goodness in a specific context, especially His having been innocent of wrongdoing justifying His execution. By the way, these speakers, including Judas Iscariot, Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate, Pilate’s wife, and the centurion in charge at Jesus’ crucifixion, weren’t believers. To this Oden comments, “This is a remarkable confluence of testimony among precisely those who had conspired in bringing His life to a bloody end.”
The Pharisees and other leaders diligently observed Jesus, committed to finding fault in Him and trap Him in His own words. What, however, was the best they could come up with? That He:
~ Broke the Sabbath by doing work on it
~ Was a friend to tax collectors and other sinners, and even ate with them
~ Claimed to be the King of the Jews
~ Taught the people to refuse to pay taxes to Caesar
~ Threatened to destroy the Jerusalem temple
~ Cast out demons because He was in league with Beelzebul (the Devil)
~ Committed blasphemy by forgiving sins
~ Committed blasphemy by claiming to be the Son of God or equal to God
Were these actions sinful? Not the ones He actually did. And some of these criticisms, ironically, now seen from our later point of view, reflect very well on Jesus.
That Jesus didn’t allow legalistic judgments to stop Him from healing on the Sabbath, is one. That Jesus befriended the marginalized is another. Jesus didn’t endorse the sin of these persons by choosing to spend time with them. Rather, he befriended them to free them of their sin.
The harshest criticism the Pharisees were able to deliver was the charge of blasphemy. All four Gospels report that this accusation was made on different occasions, both in Galilee and Jerusalem. It is interesting to see how Jesus answered the charge.
“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death (Mark 14:61-64).
As proof that He had the divine authority to act as God would, Jesus pointed to the fact that He did certain things that only God could do. It was through His miracles that Jesus demonstrated that His claims to be the Son of God or equal to God were not blasphemous.
For example, when challenged about His forgiving a man’s sins, Jesus asked:
“Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. (Luke 5:23-25)
~ Do You Accept the Bible as Truth? ~
Have you questioned whether Jesus could, as God, sin even just a teensy bit? Perhaps you’ve thought, “Surely Jesus told a little white lie, or two. I mean who hasn’t, at some point, to save face or not be impolite?”
Yet if we look at the picture of Jesus we gain through the Gospels, we see a man who never used manipulation to endear Himself to others. And we know, per the many stories detailing His interactions with Pharisees — and even with His beloved disciple Peter, who tried to talk Jesus out of willing sacrificing Himself — that Jesus could be brutally frank with people.
Did Jesus get mad at people? Yup. Did Jesus get disappointed in people? Yup. Did Jesus repeatedly have to redirect people to help them to understand His message? Yup, yup, yup. But in His responses He did not sin. The Bible tells us so. Not once, in the many details shared about Jesus’ 3-year ministry, is there a single mention of Jesus taking a sinful step in any direction.
If Jesus were just a man, that’s freaking amazing! (And downright unbelievable.) But if Jesus is God, not sinning was simply staying within His nature.
Was Jesus really without sin? The Bible says so. But you, ultimately, must decide if you will accept God’s Word as truth.
Two Religions That Claim to be Christian
Reading Time: 9 minutes
Can a religion claim to be “Christian” if it changes biblical truths about Christ and God?
One of the things I find interesting about Christian history is how quickly Scripture can be corrupted. The early church, for example, had to fight off gnosticism, which, among other false ideas, taught that salvation was gained through the acquisition of divine “knowledge.”
Today, we find Christian churches practicing some pretty strange stuff — dancing with poisonous snakes during church services, for example — which members say publicly displays their faith in a Bible verse they interpret to guarantee God’s protection. Though participants are often bitten, this doesn’t dissuade them. Neither, apparently, does death. When bites prove fatal, church members view the loss to be “God’s will.”
When the Bible is not just misinterpreted, as in the case above, but intentionally reinterpreted to create new doctrine, we move into the realm of false religion. Two groups that we can soundly place in that category — the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) — cling to the claim that they are “Christian.”
Both groups share some commonalities. Both believe themselves to be God’s “true” church. Both claim their spiritual texts to be more authoritative than the Bible. Both believe they must witness door-to-door to gain new members. And both require members to fully adhere to church doctrine — or face possible expulsion and complete shunning by family and friends.
Note that despite their departure from Bible-based doctrine, both groups continue to draw members around the globe. In part because of the strong sense of community that members enjoy when in good standing. But these members don’t know they’re being doctrinally misled.
Let’s look more closely at the core beliefs of these two groups, to clearly see where they derail in their teachings about Christ and God.
Asserts one church source, “We believe that our church, our books of scripture, our teachings, and our lives are all centered on Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.”
He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross under an immeasurable weight to ransom us from our mortal burdens. After three days Jesus Christ overcame death, emerging from the tomb resurrected and winning for us that same reward; He made possible our own resurrection, the permanent union of our spirit and perfected physical body.
On the surface, the above description of Jesus on the official LDS website appears to follow Christian doctrine. At least until we get clear on how Mormons view Jesus. Bottom line: Mormons DON’T think Jesus is God, but a separate god created by God. And He didn’t resurrect to redeem them, but to ensure their own physical resurrection after death. Mormon doctrine strips Jesus of His deity and significantly downplays His role in our lives.
Dr. Lynn Wilder, once a tenured professor at Brigham Young University who is now a Christian, shares that Mormonism doesn’t guide members into correctly viewing Christ: “I didn’t get very far through the New Testament before I realized that the Christ in the Bible was not the Christ I knew in Mormonism. And I had sold this Christ short. This one was huge. This was the one that was real. This is the one that I wanted. This is the one that changed my life.”
Sandra Tanner, the great-great-granddaughter of Brigham Young, the church’s second prophet, adds that the LDS church teaches that salvation is dependent on so much more than Christ: “Mormons believe we were all born as spirit children of Heavenly Father. And so Jesus is our older brother. But Christ’s atonement alone is not sufficient. Mormons believe their salvation is completed only with the addition of Mormon ordinances, Mormon gospel, and Mormon Temple ritual.”
GotQuestions.org nicely sums up this works “to do” list for us:
In the Mormon gospel we see belief + repentance + baptism + laying on of hands + temple work + mission work + church ministry + tithing + ceasing from sin + abstaining from the use of intoxicants and strong drinks and tobacco and caffeine + confessing Joseph Smith as Prophet + temple marriage + baptism for the dead + genealogy research . . . the list could go on and on and on.
Only upon completion of all these things may Mormons attain the third and highest “degree of glory,” thus achieving the ultimate goal of the Mormon gospel — godhood.
Wait; what? Mormons believe they’ll become gods? Where does it say that in the Bible?
And Mormons believe there’s no hell, but a “spirit prison.” LDS doctrine also teaches that Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit are separate, individual gods — part of a universal community of gods. But here’s the kicker: these gods were once mere men! Don’t miss this: Mormons believe that God — our Creator — was once a man elevated to godhood by his own efforts.
So the ultimate goal of every committed Mormon male, then, is to also attain godhood. In the words of LDS founder Joseph Smith, “Here then, is eternal life — to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you.”
In the early 1800s, while still a teen, Smith claimed he had visions of being visited by God, Jesus, and the angel Moroni. God’s supposed message to him: that all existing Christian churches were false, and their teachings an “abomination.” So directed by Moroni, Smith translated special gold plates on which were written the Book of Mormon. (It is from this book, which the LDS believe contains the “fullness of the gospel,” that the church got the nickname “Mormon.”)
Smith pronounced the text to be “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion … a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” Wait; what? Joseph Smith asserted that the Book of Mormon has been more faithfully translated (transmitted) than the Bible?
Per the LDS website, “The Book of Mormon answers essential questions that we all have at some point: Is there life after death, and what’s waiting for us on the other side? What is the purpose of life, and how can I find happiness and peace now? Does God know me and hear my prayers? How can I avoid sin and learn to truly repent? How can I become the best possible version of myself?”
I share this response put forth by Pastor Tim Challies: “The heart of Joseph Smith’s false teaching was that he put his own authority over the authority of Scripture. By adding his own revelation to the Bible’s revelation, Smith took it upon himself to identify and correct what he claimed were errors in Scripture.”
Interesting stuff, right? Space constraints demand that I move on to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But I leave you with this comparison chart that shows, clearly, that Christianity and Mormonism are very different religions. You might also watch this YouTube video, in which two ex-Mormons share why they left the church.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) movement started in the late 1800s under the leadership of Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916). Russell outlined early church doctrine in his six volume series, Studies in Scripture.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Christianity died soon after Christ, but was resurrected under Russell. In the 1870s Russell organized the Watchtower Society, which directs, administers, and disseminates all doctrine. Per current Watchtower doctrine, society members are “modern day servants of Jehovah, a people intent on living in the light of biblical truth.”
Yet the “biblical truth” they’re referring to isn’t found in the Christian Bible, but in their own deliberate misinterpretation of it, which they published in 1961 as The New World Translation (NWT). Dr. Bruce Metzger, during his role as professor of New Testament at Princeton, was among many other Bible scholars that characterized the NWT as “erroneous” and “reprehensible.”
Doctrinal tweaking continues to be a hallmark of this religion. So we might speculate that the Watchtower Society is comprised of poor listeners — or that God keeps changing His “truth.”
“Russell taught and published many doctrines that the current Watchtower Society totally rejects, and engaged in practices regarded by current Jehovah’s Witnesses to be of pagan origin. In fact, if Russell were a Jehovah’s Witness in the current Watchtower Organization, he would have been disfellowshipped for his beliefs and practices!”
One reason members cite for leaving the church is the amount of repeated false prophesy the Watchtower Society has put out. As one outsider noted, “The Jehovah’s Witnesses are the undisputed world champions of false prophecy.” Russell was but one church leader that prophesied a date for the end of the world. Russell chose 1914. When Jesus failed to show up for this scheduled Second Coming, the Watchtower Society assured members that Jesus had come — but was invisible.
Some of what the NWT now teaches: Jesus is God’s only direct creation, “the firstborn of all creation,” so He has earned the right to the title “son of God”; Jesus is actually Michael the Archangel in human form; after His crucifixion, Jesus was recreated as an immaterial spirit creature; and the Holy Spirit is not a person, but a specific manifestation of God’s power.
Say, what?? Jesus is the Archangel Michael?? Where does it say that in the Bible?
We have to agree with Dr. James White, a Christian apologist, that “Christianity is a religion of the Book. If you twist the Book, you twist the faith.”
Yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they alone know the “truth” of God. Thus they view all persons outside their religion — whether Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, or atheist — to be “the walking dead” who are “under God’s wrath.” The reason Witnesses spend so much time going door-to-door is to fulfill the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations.”
Per the JW website: “We endeavor to share our faith with others, hoping that they will benefit from God’s promises. But we don’t believe that we earn our salvation by engaging in our ministry. … He saved us because of His mercy, and not because of any good things that we have done.”
Why, then, do Witnesses not live with an assurance of God’s acceptance?
An interesting fact, per Dr. White: 99 percent of Jehovah Witnesses believe themselves to be among ‘The Great Crowd” that might get to enjoy an earthly paradise after the Millennium. An upper echelon of believers — a mere 144,000 of the most faithful Witnesses — get to be part of the “Anointed Class.” This small group, which the Watchtower Organization believes to be nearly full, will resurrect as spiritual beings and reign with Jehovah in heaven. Those who find themselves among The Great Crowd will resurrect as physical beings — but only through the Anointed Class gain access to Jehovah.
Followers who find the courage to leave — “apostates” — are formally shunned and “disfellowshipped” by the church. Even family members still in the church are prohibited from having any interaction with them. So, for some, to leave the church means being forced to break connections with the very people most special to them. Does shunning reflect the love Jesus asks of His followers?
Per the JW website, “Surely, someone who strives to obey Jesus’ commands can be called Christian.” In actuality, that barely gets to the heart of the matter. Even this tiny slice of church doctrine clearly show us that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have a biblical understanding of Christ.
~ What Should Be the Christian Response to These Religions? ~
Skip annoyance and go straight to compassion.
Specific to Mormons, I like the way Tanner puts it. Christians, she says, need to understand that when these young Mormons come knocking, they sincerely believe what they’re preaching.
“They don’t understand, probably, all of Mormon doctrine,” she says. “Your kindness to them, your challenge to them to read the New Testament, could be the start of their journey to Christ. So, when we see them at the door, we need to remember, this is someone Christ died for. They don’t know the deception they’re in. We need to reach out with a heart of love to these people.”
Before you try to counter-witness to LDS missionaries, however, you might want to get up to speed on their terminology, and have a sure understanding of how their beliefs differ from those of Bible-based Christians. You can also check out this discussion between Sean McDowell and Eric Johnson, in which they discuss in the new book they co-edited, Sharing the Good News with Mormons. The book highlights tips from 26 authors on using 24 different strategies for engaging Mormons in spiritual conversation.
The same goes for Jehovah’s Witness you might encounter. Recognize that they doggedly believe that they, alone, possess God’s truth. Carefully trained by the Watchtower Organization to expect persecution as they go door-to-door, your kind response can have a positive impact, perhaps providing you the opportunity to be an outside influence. Here’s a beginner’s guide on dialoging with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Do you have to accept literature, or allow these visitors inside for a chat? No. But do commit to showing them compassion and respect. You’d want the same, right?
Is Christianity Unique, or a Copycat Religion?
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Christianity: Unique Among All Religions.
Mythicists confidently assert, “Christianity is nothing more than a patchwork quilt of ancient pagan and mystery religions.”
Bottom line: They believe that the early Church borrowed heavily from pagan deities already in existence at the time of Jesus. To make their case, they cite extensive lists of apparent similarities between Christianity and these religions. “Jesus, the Son of God? Hardly,” they say. “He’s just another copycat.”
The charge that Christianity plagiarized from surrounding pagan religions came to the fore in the late 19th century, becoming prominent in academic circles at the turn of the 20th century. Though this notion has largely been rejected by the academic community, because historical facts don’t support it, it lingers as a vague idea in popular culture. It’s a popular argument that mythicists — scholars focused on debunking the historicity of the Bible — like to promote.
Yet do their charges of “Christ, the copycat” hold up? Nope. When one takes the time to study the similarities they suggest, it’s quickly apparent that the differences are actually much greater than any commonalities.
Some of the pagan deities they compare to Jesus include Isis, Osiris, and Horus, which originated in Egypt. Too, the cult of Adonis, which rose in Syria and Palestine. And Mithra, which started in Persia (Iran), but was widely practiced across the Roman empire.
Here’s the truth: Although these pagan religions are historically earlier than Christianity, scholars have uncovered almost no historical record of what these religions believed before Christianity. Almost all of the earliest writings of these cults date from the third and fourth centuries A.D.
As Sean McDowell notes in this short video, history could make the case that these mystery religions may have been the copycats — not the other way around.
~ So, What’s a “Mystery Religion”? ~
Good question. Neo-Paganism.com puts it this way:
“They are called ‘mysteries’ because some aspects of the traditions were kept secret, but also because the experiences conveyed by the rituals were ineffable; they could not be communicated, only experienced. Aristotle stated that ‘the initiated learned nothing precisely, but they received impressions and were put into a certain frame of mind. Not to learn (mathein) but to suffer (pathein) was the reason for participation in the Eleusinian ritual; and this was exactly the effect of the celebration.’”
Writes Hank Hanegraaff on the Christian Research Institute website:
“While followers of Christ were committed to essential Christian doctrines, devotees of the mysteries worked themselves into altered states of consciousness. They were committed to the notion that experience is a better teacher than words. … Far from being rooted in history and evidence, the mysteries reveled in hype and emotionalism.”
~ Comparing Apples to Oranges ~
Right there we see one of the major differences between those religions and Christianity: sound doctrine.
Certainly, parallel terms existed between Christianity and these mystery religions. But there is little evidence for parallel concepts. For example, all spoke of “salvation.” But what early Christians meant by the term had little in common with what devotees of these mystery religions meant by it.
“The terminological fallacy occurs when words are redefined to prove a point,” clarifies Got Questions Ministries. “For example, the Zeitgeist movie says that Horus [the son of Osiris and Isis] ‘began his ministry,’ but the word ministry is being redefined. Horus had no actual ‘ministry’ — nothing like that of Christ’s ministry. Those claiming a link between Mithra and Jesus talk about the ‘baptism’ that initiated prospects into the Mithra cult, but what was it actually? Mithraic priests would place initiates into a pit, suspend a bull over the pit, and slit the bull’s stomach, covering the initiates in blood and gore. Such a practice bears no resemblance whatsoever to Christian baptism — a person going under water (symbolizing the death of Christ) and then coming back out of the water (symbolizing Christ’s resurrection).”
Mythicists propose that Mithra shared many commonalities with Christ: Both were both birthed from virgins. Both were miracle-working teachers accompanied by 12 disciples. Both died, were buried in tombs, and resurrected three days later for the benefit of the world. And both were hailed as “the way, the truth, and the light.”
Umm…no, not, not even close.
In actuality, there were three versions of Mithra — and not one of them left behind ancient writings outlining the cult’s beliefs. Historians have only been able to piece together bits of the religion using second-hand sources and inscriptions. In the Roman version of the cult, Mithra was born not of a virgin, but sprang from a rock. In other versions he was created as an adult. No proof exists that he had disciples, and there’s no evidence of his self-sacrifice. And there is no indication, in any version, that Mithra resurrected.
Neither is there evidence to support their claims that Jesus and the Egyptian god Horus shared these proposed commonalities: 12 disciples, crucifixion between two thieves, and resurrection. We can also blast apart supposed similarities with Krishna, Attis, Dionysus, and other mythic gods.
But jump on YouTube, and you’ll find video after video echoing the false claim that Christianity is a copycat religion. Perhaps the mythicist approach is: “Tell a lie, repeat it, keep asserting that it’s true, and those too lazy to verify our supposed facts will simply believe and help us spread them!”
So why have billions of people chosen to call Jesus, “Lord”? Are they all stupid, hoodwinked sheeple?!
If so, how do we explain when diehard atheists — Josh McDowell, included — become diehard Christians while trying their best to debunk Christianity as a copycat religion? They cite the avalanche of historical evidence that eventually becomes too great for them to ignore. Jesus rises to the top, uniquely original!
~ Three Truths That Show Christianity Isn’t a Copycat ~
Let’s look at just three important truths that nullify the argument that Christianity is a copycat religion.
Jesus: The Only Historically Vetted Religious Figure.
This point is so important! Jesus wasn’t a fabricated character or mythical creature, like Osiris, Adonis, and Attis, but a real person who walked this earth. Historians are largely unanimous in their agreement that Jesus lived, was crucified, and buried. The Gospels, which tell us about the resurrection, go to great lengths to speak to the where, who, and when of Jesus’ ministry. They practically beg readers to check out the historical documentation to prove its truth. Secular historical sources have helped to validate Scripture. And archeologists continue to uncover details that support that biblical details are, indeed, authentic.
Jesus Died Once; Pagan Deities Cyclically Died and Rose Each Year.
The cyclical process of nature is a standard theme of mystery pagan religions. The annual crop cycle depicts the renewal of life each spring, and death each fall. Thus, these religions attached deep symbolic significance to the natural, ongoing process of growth, death, decay, and rebirth. Their deities repeatedly died and rose. But Jesus died only once. He controls nature; He’s not bound by it! The mythical figure Osiris was forced to rule over the land of the dead when he resurrected. Unlike Jesus, he had no power over life.
Christianity is Doggedly Monotheistic.
True to its Jewish roots, Christianity did not accept other gods. Unlike the Gentiles of that era, early Christians strongly resisted pagan ideas. As the early apostles spread the Gospel message, they found themselves not only introducing people to the strange idea of a man risen from the dead, they came face-to-face with a polytheistic culture. Yet they made no accommodation on this front. Christ, alone, they declared, is the Savior of the world. On that point they weren’t going to budge in order to attract followers.
~ The Copycat Claim Just Doesn’t Hold Up ~
We’ve covered a lot of ground here, but I want to reiterate this point: the deities of these pagan religions weren’t real people. They were mythical characters created to explain aspects of everyday life. They’re fun to read about, but they’re not deities worthy of our commitment.
In contrast, Christianity tells the story of Jesus, which history documents as having literally existed, just as the Bible tells us. All during His ministry Jesus said and did things that reinforced His claim that He is the Son of God. When scores of witnesses saw His resurrected form, they believed, and spread the word. The four Gospels, written by His disciples or person who intimately knew them, give us minute details of Christ’s ministry, both before and after His death. We see the heart of God, and what’s important to Him. Chiefly among them: that we would know that He loves us so much that He was willing to be the ultimate sacrificial lamb.
In no way is Jesus like any of the pagan deities to which He is compared. His unique gift to the world: Himself, so that you and I can have a relationship with Him, just as He always intended.
Choosing to give Jesus a chance to prove Himself is really hard for some people. In part because it does take faith to believe that Christ resurrected. And because our increasingly secular society tells us to abhor the concepts of “sin” and “savior” and “sacrifice” and “submission.” And given our societal embrace of all forms of “truth,” many find it really difficult to believe that there is really only one single, universal standard of truth: God.
The claim that “Nothing in Christianity is original” — one of the lines penned by author Dan Brown in his fictional tale The Da Vinci Code — can only be claimed by those who don’t yet know Him.
Jesus a copycat? No way, no how. Study the Bible before you jump on the “Jesus is a myth” bandwagon.
Resurrection of Jesus: Pre-Resurrection Facts
Reading Time: 7 minutes
The resurrection of Jesus is critical to the Christian faith; without it, we don’t have much of a foundation for believing that Jesus was and is God.
Yet the resurrection is one of the hot topics of Christianity. Skeptics argue it’s not provable. But is that true? Let’s look at some important pre-resurrection facts that say otherwise.
Jesus’ Death Certified
The Romans were master executioners. Their go-to form of killing those they deemed to be criminals? Crucifixion. The Romans were the principle utilizers of this barbaric form of torture for more than five centuries. They apparently learned the practice from the Carthaginians, then rapidly developed a high degree of efficiency and skill in using it. By the time of Jesus, we could say they had perfected it.
Why is it important to stress that they were experts at it? Because some critics (and even writers of the “lost” Gnostic gospels) assert that Jesus wasn’t really dead when He was removed from the cross. The suggestions is that Jesus merely “fainted.”
Sorry, no; both Biblical and secular historical accounts say He was dead. In fact, the soldiers did not have to break Jesus’ legs to speed up His death, as was customary with crucifixions. By piercing His side with a sword, they confirmed His death. Pontius Pilate even asked for confirmation of Jesus’ death. So a centurion confirmed Jesus’s death before allowing Joseph of Arimathea to take possession of Jesus’ body for burial.
Is it possible to be horribly tortured by flogging, then crucified, and yet live?
There is only one example, in the writings of the Roman historian Josephus, of a person surviving crucifixion. Josephus does not tell us how long his “former acquaintance” hung on the cross, or whether he, like Jesus, endured forty torturous lashes prior to being nailed to the cross. Josephus tells us only that he was able to get this person taken off his cross while still alive, and that Josephus ensured that the man received the best medical care that Rome could provide. Two other men crucified with him also were taken down and given expert medical care, but they both died.
Historical Context for Jewish Burial Practices
The time that would lapse between death and burial was quite short. Typically, burial took place on the day of death or, if death occurred at the end of the day or during the night, the following day. Joseph of Arimathea, who bravely asked Pilate for Jesus’ body, seems to have been motivated by a concern for the observance of the Jewish law — which dictates that a body be buried within 24 hours. However, Jewish law prohibits burial on the Sabbath and festivals. So Jesus had to be buried before sundown on Friday; waiting until after sundown on Saturday would have exceeded the 24-hour time limit. Scholars confirm that the details recorded by biblical writers are consistent with known customs and normal practices of that time and place.
Some critics argue that the Romans did not allow crucified criminals to be buried. Not so, say historians. Nor is there anything irregular about the Gospels’ report that a member of the Sanhedrin requested permission to give Jesus a proper burial in keeping with Jewish burial practices.
Paul confirms the burial story in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. There is conclusive evidence that Paul drew from material predating his writing that can be traced to within three to eight years of Christ’s death. The burial is told in a simple and straightforward manner, and no conflicting tradition about the burial story exists. Nor are there early documents that refute the burial story as presented in the Gospels. It is highly unlikely that Christians invented the story of Joseph of Arimathea burying Jesus’ body, as some critics assert. Why would early Christians make a hero of a member of the very court responsible for Jesus’ death?
First Century Tombs and Archeology/Joseph’s Tomb
Archeology has provided helpful insight into the tombs in and around first-century Jerusalem. Scholarly and public attention has focused almost exclusively on the rock-cut tombs that surround the ancient city of Jerusalem. Most of Jerusalem’s rock-cut tombs are not display tombs, but relatively modest, with an undecorated entrance and a single burial chamber with a loculi. Because of the expense associated with hewing a burial cave into bedrock, only the wealthier members of Jerusalem’s population could afford rock-cut tombs.
What kind of stone was placed at the entrance to Jesus’ burial tomb? Square stones were commonly used in Jesus’ time to seal cave tomb entrances. They fit much like a cork in a bottle: one end of the blocking stone stone fit snugly into the entrance while the other end, like the top of a cork, was somewhat larger on the outside.
But three of the four Gospel writers say the stone was “rolled back,” implying that the stone was round. Writes archeologist Amos Kloner: “Of the more than 900 burial caves from the Second Temple period found in and around Jerusalem, only four are known to have used disc-shaped (round) blocking stones. … The handful of round blocking stones from Jerusalem in this period are large, at least four feet in diameter. They occur only in the more elaborate cave tombs, which had at least two rooms or, as in one case, a spacious hall.”
Don’t miss this point: Our Lord was buried in a grave created for a person of significance. God’s hand was even in that detail!
Scholars believe the massive stone, estimated to have weighed between 1.5 and 2 tons, could be rolled down a slanted grove to cover the entrance. Although it would be easy to close the tomb, it would take several men to roll the heavy stone away from the entrance to remove or steal the body. The large stone would have provided additional security at Jesus’ gravesite, which the Jewish authorities wanted, to ensure that Jesus’ disciples couldn’t easily steal His body.
The Gospel of Matthew (27:62-66) provides the context and narrative for the requesting and posting of the guard. As the passage shows, the Pharisees and chief priests clearly do not believe Jesus will resurrect from the dead. Rather, their motivation for requesting the guard was to deter the disciples from making the claim that He resurrected on the third day.
Were the guards Jewish temple guards or Roman soldiers? Writes New Testament scholar Michael Wilkins, “Since they had no authority to post guards around a burial site of a criminal executed by Roman authorities, the religious officials had to ask Pilate for a contingent of guards. … The Jewish officials were not allowed to use the troops except for the purposes the Roman governor authorized. This explains why the guards will later go to the temple authorities to report Jesus’ resurrection rather than to Pilate himself.”
Too, if the guards were Jewish, they would not have been worried about Roman punishment for failing to keep Jesus’ body secure in the tomb.
Matthew’s Gospel (28:2-4, 11-15) states that guards’ great fear and their effort to get help in order to account for the missing body. The narrative of the Gospel is impressive: seeing the angel of the Lord roll back the stone on that Sunday morning was so frightening that it caused the highly trained soldiers to become “like dead men.” They knew they were about to face extreme punishment, if not death, from their superiors for failing to keep the body entombed. But their necks were saved when the guards and Jewish authorities collaborated — each for their own vested purposes.
The Jewish authorities had only two choices open to them: admit that Jesus rose, or peg the disciples as looters of His body. Have you ever wondered, as I have, why Jesus didn’t also appear to the Jewish leaders? Or maybe He did, but the Gospel writers weren’t privy to the details of the visit. Still, as vested as the Jewish leaders were on keeping to their version of the truth, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if Jesus appeared to them in His risen form, right?
~ Jesus Rose! ~
Did the historical Jesus live and die? Absolutely. Did Jesus die on the cross? Absolutely. Was Jesus’ body buried in a tomb before it went missing? Absolutely. Did Jesus resurrect and interact with both crowds of people and his beloved disciples? The Bible says yes — and we get to choose whether or not we believe it.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ disciples quickly desert Jesus during His arrest, and remain largely in hiding during His trial, execution, and in the early days following His resurrection. Can you say, “Jesus picked some big chickens?”
Without Jesus, the disciples become dejected, and lose direction and focus. Some even return to the work they did before Jesus called them. Others, hiding behind locked doors, are paralyzed by their fear. But then…..BAM! #postgravevisit
There’s no getting around the fact that something incredible motivated Jesus’ disciples, strengthening their faith and transforming them from quaking cowards to roaring lions! From unfocused to wholeheartedly focused on sharing the good news of Christ’s resurrection — even as these disciples recognize that their own death may be the penalty. (Scripture, by the way, does tell us that all but the disciple John were martyred for their faith in Jesus.)
Their encounter with the Risen Jesus? #lifechanging #lightinthedarkness #noturningback #alltheway
Resurrection of Jesus: Hoax or Truth?
Reading Time: 11 minutes
Why the Resurrection Matters.
Christians believe the resurrection is true, and that historical accounts of it have provided adequate evidence to certify it as a real event.
Why is the resurrection so important? Because without it, our faith has no basis.
The apostle Paul suspends the weight of Christianity on this single thread: If Jesus has not been raised, then our faith is worthless; and we are to be pitied above all men (1 Corinthians 15).
Fortunately, heaps of historical evidence does support Jesus’ claim that He would beat death.
Most scholars don’t disagree that Jesus was an actual historical person crucified by the Romans. What some take issue with are the supernatural and theological implications of the resurrection. These skeptics have spent considerable time coming up with naturalistic (anti-supernatural) theories to try to explain the known facts surrounding the resurrection. Some deny the resurrection outright, by selective use of facts or redefining facts to give a misdiagnosis of the events. (By the way, if you’re unclear about the difference between Christ’s resurrection and those He raised from the dead, read this short post by Sean McDowell.)
Let’s look at just three of these alternate theories: the Apparent Death (Swoon) Theory, the Theft (Conspiracy) Theory, and the Hallucination Theory, to determine if they explain away the resurrection.
~ Apparent Death Theory ~
This theory, which emerged in the late 1700s and evolved through various liberal German theologians, posits that Jesus did not die on the cross, but only appeared to die. A modern version of this theory was popularized in The Passover Plot, a 1960s book by Hugh Schonfield.
Details of the Theory
This theory states that Jesus merely fainted on the cross, from pain, shock, and loss of blood. He was removed from the cross, alive but unconscious, and placed in the tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish leadership. Jesus supposedly revived at some point, in part because of the coolness of the tomb. Despite not having access to desperately needed medical care and nourishment, Jesus then supposedly managed to unwrap His dressings by Himself and then, in the total darkness of the tomb, locate and roll away the mammoth stone that sealed the tomb entrance. And then, still unnoticed by the guards, Jesus supposedly walked a significant distance, on feet punctured by the cross nails, to rejoin His disciples and declare Himself the risen Lord.
Serious scholars don’t support this theory because it fails to account for the known facts. Evidence, both historical and medical, argues against the possibility of survival. We have at least ten reasons to be confident that Jesus did, in fact, die on the cross:
- The nature of His injuries. He was brutally whipped, beaten, and crowned with deep thorns, all of which resulted in enormous blood loss and tissue damage. He collapsed while carrying His cross beam (approximate weight to be believed around 100 pounds) to the crucifixion site.
- The nature of crucifixion virtually guarantees death from asphyxiation. In an attempt to bolster their view, skeptics cite the historian Josephus, who describes an extremely rare case in which one person survived crucifixion, overlooking the fact that his account describes three crucifixion victims who were alive when taken down, but two of which died shortly thereafter, despite receiving excellent Roman medical care.
- The piercing of Jesus’ side, from which came “blood and water” (John 19:34), indicating serum separated from clotted blood, gives medical evidence that Jesus had already died.
- Jesus said He was in the act of dying while on the cross: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
- The Roman soldiers, well trained executioners, were charged with making sure He was dead before taken off the cross. When they went to break Jesus’ legs, to hasten His death, they found Him already dead.
- Pilate summoned the centurion to make sure Jesus was, indeed, dead before surrendering the body to Joseph for burial.
- Jesus’ body was wrapped in about a hundred pounds of cloth and spices, and placed in a tomb that was sealed with a massive stone. From inside the tomb, Jesus would have had no way to leverage the stone to roll it away, let alone push it back enough to slip past it.
- Medical experts who have studied the circumstances surrounding the end of Jesus’ life have concluded that He did actually die on the cross, most likely from a combination of factors: hypovolemic shock, exhaustion asphyxia, and even acute heart failure.
- Non-Christian historians from the 1st and 2nd centuries, such as Tacitus and Josephus, recorded Jesus’s death in their writings.
- The earliest Christian writers after the time of Christ, such as Polycarp and Ignatius, verify that Jesus died on the cross.
In his article, A Lawyer Examines The Swoon Theory, Texas attorney Joseph “Rick” Reinckens satirically unpacks this theory. Just a snippet:
“Jesus has been whipped, beaten and stabbed, is hemorrhaging, and hasn’t had any food or drink for at least three days. Does He just push the stone open enough to squeeze through? No, He pushes the stone door COMPLETELY out of the way!!!”
The theory asserts that Jesus got past the guards undetected — and then somehow traveled seven miles to Emmaus, to rejoin His disciples. Again, let’s look at Jesus’ physical condition, to decide if this sounds feasible:
- Jesus would have had nothing to eat or drink for more than two days, as it has been over 48 hours since the Passover meal.
- Jesus would have been severely dehydrated from losing massive amount of blood and fluids.
- Jesus’ entire body would have been a pulpy mess, because of the severe beatings and scourging by the Roman guards.
- The gaping wound in His side, from being pierced by the Roman guard’s sword, would have likely perforated a lung and/or Jesus’ heart.
- Jesus crumpled under the weight of the crossbeam as He made His way to the crucifixion site. Yet now He manages to roll aside a tomb stone that scholars estimate weighed more than 400 pounds?
If Jesus had managed to get Himself to His disciples, are we to believe that they viewed Him, in His near-death state, to be their triumphant, risen Lord? And consider this: if Jesus had survived the crucifixion, why would His disciples create the idea of His resurrection? Would they not have thumbed their noses at Rome more by simply stating that Rome’s best efforts at torture were no limit to Jesus, the man and Messiah from Galilee?
If it crossed your mind that Jesus could have healed Himself in the tomb — as historical records tell us that He healed so many others — ask yourself why He would do so. If He didn’t die, His own predictions about Himself were untrue. If He didn’t die, His promises to us are, as Paul states, worthless. Would any of us follow Jesus if we thought Him a liar and fake? I certainly wouldn’t.
~ Theft Theory ~
The oldest of the naturalistic alternative theories, this theory comes in different forms. The first form is that the disciples stole the body from the sealed and guarded tomb, and conspired to teach that Jesus had resurrected. The second form is that grave robbers stole the body, and when Jesus’ disciples discovered the theft, they decided to tell everyone that He resurrected.
The great historian Eusebius (A.D. 314-318) was the first to argue that it is inconceivable that such a well-planned and thought-out conspiracy could succeed. Eusebius satirically imagined how the disciples might have motivated each other to take this route:
Let us band together to invent all the miracles and resurrection appearances which we never saw and let us carry the sham even to death! Why not die for nothing? Why dislike torture and whipping inflicted for no good reason? Let us go out to all the nations and overthrow their institutions and denounce their gods! And even if we don’t convince anybody, at least we’ll have the satisfaction of drawing down on ourselves the punishment for our own deceit.
Details of the Theory
This theory originates back to the time of the resurrection itself. It was first recorded by Matthew (28:11-55), when the chief priests told the Roman guards to concoct the story that Jesus’ disciples had stolen His body while they slept. (Hmm….how would they know that, if they were asleep?) Justin Martyr also recorded this early theory in his writings around AD 165, as does Tertullian, who was born in AD 150. One of the leading proponents of this theory today is mythicist Richard Carrier, who believes the resurrection to be an invention later adopted as church doctrine.
Richard Carrier’s Empty Tomb Hypothesis
Theory #1: Growth of a Later Legend
Carrier believes the most probable and plausible cause of the empty tomb story presented in the Gospels is that over time a legend grew that Jesus did, in fact, physically rise, not just spiritually. Carrier himself believes that Jesus was raised bodily, but that His earthly body continued to rot in its tomb.
He also believes that Mark created the idea of the empty tomb, which Luke and Matthew then copied in their Gospels. Mark, he asserts, viewed the empty tomb as symbolic, not historic. He further asserts that several parallels exist between Mark’s gospel and Orphic doctrines, and that “Mark’s empty tomb story mimics the secret salvation narratives of the Orphic mysteries, substituting Jewish-Messianic eschatology for the pagan elements.”
Carrier also suggests that Mark employs a “Reversal of Expectation” motif. This is the idea that what the reader is expecting to happen in the narrative is suddenly reversed by the author in order to surprise and confound the audience. Carrier states:
The parables of Jesus are also full of the reversal of expectation theme, and Mark appears to agree with the program of concealing the truth behind parables. And so, the empty tomb is probably itself a parable, which accordingly employs a reversal of expectation as its theme. … This program leads him to “create” thematic events that thwart the reader’s expectation, and an empty tomb is exactly the sort of thing an author would invent to serve that aim.
What I have presented so far is an articulation of my theory as to the origins of the empty tomb story, first as a metaphor in Mark, then as an inspiring element in the development of a Christian heresy that took the empty tomb as literal, using it to bolster their own doctrine of resurrection of the flesh. That this heresy became the eventual orthodoxy is simply an accident of history and politics.
First, the idea that the empty tomb is a late invention layered over the Christian system one or two generations later completely ignores the evidence that the church, from its inception, preached the risen Jesus. And this teaching took place in Jerusalem, the very site of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
Theory #2: Theft
Carrier puts forth this second theory: that Jesus was put in the tomb on Friday, but that the Roman guards weren’t posted until Saturday morning, giving robbers or disciples plenty of time to steal Jesus’ body. He also suggests that the Roman guards quite possibly took two bribes — one from the robbers, and one from the Jewish leaders — after the guards reported the empty tomb. Asserts Carrier:
There is simply nothing improbable in an empty tomb being the result of theft, which then is linked with or even inspires (by leaving the suggestion of an ascension or escape in people’s minds), independent reports of appearances, especially appearances of a visionary kind, such as that which converted Paul.
If you will remember, the disciples were so terrified when Jesus was arrested, they scattered and went into hiding. Even Peter, who swore he would die with Jesus, if necessary, denied knowing Jesus three times. The theory that Jesus’ disciples (or someone else) stole the body fails, when we consider that the disciples were doing all they could to go radio silent.
Should we believe that they suddenly found the courage to not only steal Jesus’ body, but to then boldly go around telling their contemporaries that Jesus had resurrected? Though Jesus had told His disciples repeatedly that He must die and rise, a bodily resurrection was an entirely new concept for their Jewish thinking. They didn’t “get” it until the risen Jesus appeared and spent the next 40 days with them. Only then were they emboldened to grab their megaphones and lustily shout the good news — whatever the consequences.
Peter wasn’t convinced by the empty tomb. Neither was Mary, the first to reach it. She simply assumed His body had been moved. And we all know what it took to turn doubting Thomas into believing Thomas: placing his own hands on Jesus’ wounds. The Jewish leaders tacitly acknowledged that the tomb was empty. Why else would they have paid the Roman guards to make up the story about Jesus’ body being stolen?
And let’s not forget yet another clue that grave robbers didn’t take Jesus’ body: the left-behind grave cloths. Supposed body snatchers — whether disciples or unknown persons — would hardly have taken the time to unwrap Jesus’s body to leave the burial linens behind. Myrrh, one of the spices placed within the burial cloths, would have made removing the cloth extremely slow and tedious, as it would have cleaved to both the linens and Jesus’ body. What robber has time for that? Certainly not timid disciples!
Jesus left the linens behind as a big, bold statement: I have resurrected!
~ Hallucination Theory ~
Is it possible that people just thought they saw Jesus? Science has proved that hallucinations are entirely subjective, as they occur within individuals, not among groups of people. So how do we account for hundreds of people simultaneously seeing Jesus, and the 11 disciples interacting with Him as a group? We can definitely eliminate hallucination.
Says Peter Kreeft:
“Hallucinations usually happen only once, except to the insane. This one returned many times, to ordinary people. Five hundred separate Elvis sightings may be dismissed, but if five hundred simple fishermen in Maine saw, touched, and talked with him at once, in the same town, that would be a different matter.”
Details of the Theory
The Hallucination Theory asserts that the many people who saw Jesus in His resurrected body just imagined doing so. Atheist and New Testament theologian Gerd Ludemann asserts that Peter’s vision was psychologically prompted. Peter, he says, saw a vision of Jesus because of his suffocating feelings of guilt, and his intense desire to have Jesus back and leading the disciples. As a result, states Ludemann, Peter “saw” Jesus and thus made it possible for the other disciples to “see” Jesus as well. He adds that Paul, feeling remorse for so viciously attacking the church, converted to Christianity with the same zeal after seeing an hallucination of Jesus. “Paul’s vision of seeing Christ was merely a dream,” says Ludemann, which, “reinforced by enthusiasm, was contagious and led to many more visions, until we have an ‘appearance’ to more than five hundred people.”
This theory, arguably the most widely held naturalistic theory for the resurrection, lacks the most evidence support for its case. Hallucinations are a poor explanation. Hallucinations do occur, but only to individuals. Because hallucinations are entirely subjective, multiple people do not simultaneously experience them. And persons experiencing a hallucination do not feel they have direct or voluntary control over the experience. We know from historical sources that the people who saw Jesus were in total control of their reaction to Him.
- There were too many witnesses who saw Jesus — and at the time of Paul’s writing, he asserted that most of the 500 who saw Jesus were still alive, and could be questioned as to what they experienced. If untrue, Paul’s enemies would have called him out on this.
- These witnesses are qualified sources. They had firsthand knowledge of the facts.
- The 500 saw Christ together, at the same time and place. This is way more remarkable than 500 private “hallucinations” at different times and places.
- Hallucinations last typically for a few seconds or minutes. This “hallucination” (Jesus) hung around for 40 days!
- This “hallucination” (Jesus) returned many times, to ordinary people.
- As we previously stated, hallucinations happen to individuals. They are not a shared experience.
- When Jesus first appeared to His disciples, they thought He was a ghost. He had to eat something to prove He was not. The resurrected Christ ate with His disciples on at least two occasions.
- Jesus allowed His disciples to touch him. Doing so helped the disciples to believe He was real, and not a “vision.”
- His disciples saw the empty tomb for themselves. If Jesus’ body would have still been there, they would not have believed Him risen.
To suggest that early followers of Christ were duped into believing Jesus lived because of mass hysteria is what’s really insane. People might get emotionally invested for a period, but to stick with a belief, they really have to believe it. Christianity has flourished because a real relationship with Christ produces just that: an ongoing connection that devoted Christians savor too much to forfeit.
~ Our Conclusion: Jesus Lives! ~
While a single alternate theory might be capable of explaining just one piece of evidence, none of the alternate theories can account for all the historical evidence that points to the truth of the resurrection. And simply stitching together various alternate theories fails to give skeptics what they want: a purely naturalistic explanation of the effects and facts.
Given all that we know about the resurrection as a historical event, we can have confidence that it also was a supernatural event that shook the very gates of hell. Skeptics can, and likely will, argue otherwise until they reach their last breath. But to anyone who has personally experienced Jesus, and chosen to accept Him as Lord, their arguments fall flat.
Christianity requires faith — but not blind faith. As we’ve shown you in the 21 blog posts we’ve posted so far in this year-long series, we can base our faith on the avalanche of historical evidence that serves to validate the claims of Christ, the church, and the Bible!
Your to-do, as you prepare to celebrate Easter: Read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
An Investigation: Is Jesus Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Who is Jesus of Nazareth?
While many have asked and offered to answer the question, “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?”, no one can escape the evidence that He was a historical person and that His life radically altered human history.
As world-renowned historian Jaroslav Pelikan put it: “It is from His birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by His name that millions curse, and in His name that millions pray.”
Due to His influence, Jesus of Nazareth has been transforming lives for almost two millennia. In the process, He has rewritten the direction and outcome of human history. It’s a fact that the teachings of Jesus have been a force of overwhelming good throughout the history of the world. Unfortunately, it also is true that much harm has been committed in Jesus’ name — both by the church at large, and by individuals seeking to use Him to further their own agendas.
Who did Jesus claim to be? What did He attempt to gain through His ministry and sacrificial death?
Clearly, Jesus thought it fundamentally important what others believed about Him. He wasn’t interested in neutrality, for instance; He frequently taught that His followers must be all in — or eventually be left out. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” He wasn’t making meaningless, abstract statements. His divinity was central to His messages; Jesus regarded the two as inseparable.
Per the great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
C.S. Lewis popularized this “Trilemma” argument, though it has earlier roots in the writings of Scottish Christian preacher “Rabbi” John Duncan, and Watchman Nee in his 1936 book, Normal Christian Faith. The 3-legged stool of this argument quickly gets to the heart of the matter: will we accept Jesus — or not?
Was Jesus a liar, lunatic — or Lord? Let’s look at each option.
~ Was Jesus a Liar? ~
If Jesus knew He was not God, then He was lying. But if he was a liar, then He also was a hypocrite, as He told others to be honest, whatever the cost. If that’s the case, then we can say that would make Jesus unspeakably evil, as He deliberately told others to forsake their religious beliefs and trust Him for their eternal destiny. Jewish religious leaders actually did charge Jesus with having a demon (John 8:48), which Scripture decidedly refutes. And if Jesus knew He was lying, then He was a fool, as His claims led to His crucifixion.
But would a liar teach his followers, as Jesus did throughout the Gospels, to adhere to a profoundly moral code? Could such a massive deceiver teach unselfish, ethical truths and live the morally exemplary life that Jesus did? The notion is ridiculous.
John Stuart Mill, a philosopher, skeptic, and antagonist of Christianity, still admitted that Jesus was a first-rate ethicist supremely worthy of our attention and emulation:
“But about the life and sayings of Jesus there is a stamp of personal originality combined with profundity of insight….in the very first rank of men of sublime genius of whom our species can boast. When this pre-eminent genius is combined with the qualities of probably the greatest moral reformer, and martyr to that mission, who ever existed upon earth, religion cannot be said to have made a bad choice in pitching on this man as the ideal representative and guide of humanity; nor, even now, would it be easy, even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue from the abstract into the concrete, than to endeavor so to live that Christ would approve our life.”
To put that succinctly, Mills is saying that Jesus was a perfect example of all that He taught.
Let’s also consider this equally long statement by William Lecky, a noted Irish historian and dedicated opponent of organized Christianity, because it’s just so darn good:
“It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has been not only the highest pattern of virtue but the strongest incentive to its practice; and has exercised so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of [Jesus’] three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers, and all other exhortations of moralists.”
As church historian Philip Schaff adds, Jesus was a “character so original, so complete, so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human and yet so high above all human greatness” who could be neither fraud nor fiction. Schaff adds that Jesus “never lost the even balance of His mind,” but “sailed serenely over all the troubles and persecutions, as the sun above the clouds, who always returned the wisest answer to tempting questions, who calmly and deliberately predicted His death on the cross.” I personally haven’t met any other human who lived up to Jesus’ behavior…have you?
In his book Cold-Case Christianity, cold-case homicide detective J. Warner Wallace lists these three decisive motives at the heart of any misbehavior: financial greed, sexual or relational desire, or power.
Jesus wasn’t interested in any of them. The New Testament writers tell us that He taught His disciples to give to the needy, and to not store up earthly treasures. And no evidence exists that Jesus was motivated by lust or relationships.
The Gospels stress the respect that Jesus displayed toward women, including those who followed and supported His ministry. And rather than gain power for Himself, Jesus modeled serving others and giving without expectation of return, even to the wicked and ungrateful. He taught His disciples to do the same. If Jesus had been interested in personal power, He would have stepped into the political role people expected of Him. Instead, He shunned it.
~ Was Jesus a Lunatic? ~
So if Jesus wasn’t a liar, is it feasible that He mistakenly thought He was God? After all, one might be both sincere — but also sincerely wrong. Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft deftly shows why we must reject the option of Jesus being a lunatic:
“A measure of your insanity is the size of the gap between what you think you are and what you really are. If I think I am the greatest philosopher in America, I am only an arrogant fool; if I think I am Napoleon, I am probably over the edge; if I think I am a butterfly, I am fully embarked from the sunny shores of sanity. But if I think I am God, I am even more insane because the gap between anything finite and the infinite God is even greater than the gap between any two finite things, even a man and a butterfly. Well, then, why not liar or lunatic? But almost no one who has read the Gospels can honestly and seriously consider that option. The savviness, the canniness, the human wisdom, the attractiveness of Jesus emerge from the Gospels with an unavoidable force to any but the most hardened and prejudiced reader.”
“Jesus has in abundance precisely those three qualities which liars and lunatics most conspicuously lack: (1) His practical wisdom, His ability to read human hearts …. (2) His deep and winning love, His passionate compassion, His ability to attract people and make them feel at home and forgiven, His authority; and above all (3) His ability to astonish, His unpredictability, His creativity. Liars and lunatics are all so dull and predictable! No one who knows the Gospels and human beings can seriously entertain the possibility that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, a bad man.”
The idea that Jesus was self-deceived or delusional is simply not compatible with the impression He has left on history. So viewing Jesus as a lunatic is our second ridiculous option.
~ Is Jesus Lord? ~
In the first century, when people were given a number of answers about Jesus’ identity, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:15-16). Like Peter, we can decide to believe that Jesus made truthful claims about being God — and then accept or reject Him as our personal Savior.
Yes, Jesus was put to death by the Romans. But was that the end of the movement that He launched three years earlier? We have to shout a resounding “No!”, if the millions who call Him “Lord” are to be counted. Jesus stands head-and-shoulders above all other self-proclaimed “saviors,” because He is clearly at work among His people. His presence is palpable, when His people draw near. He is still answering our prayers (even when the answer is no!), and guiding us.
God’s Word tells us that we each must choose for ourselves whether or not to believe that Jesus is Lord. Can the Bible prove that Jesus is God? No. But we can take heart that archeological discoveries continue to prove its legitimacy as a truthful document. The Bible does clearly show us that Jesus, as a proven historical figure, was amazing in the way He demonstrated love. He gave all credit to God the Father, with whom He said He was equal. As the apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament, “these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
So we are left with two ridiculous options — and one that must be given weight as entirely possible. Historians disagree with this, of course, saying that faith can’t be used as a measure of proving truth. Really? Faith, it seems to me, identifies the real risk takers among us.
We cannot put Jesus on the shelf as a great moral teacher; evidence strongly favors Jesus being so much more. Still undecided on whether Jesus is liar, lunatic, or Lord? Join us next week as we look at Old Testament prophesies fulfilled by Jesus.
If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here:Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.
The Absurdity of Moral Relativism: A Student’s Perspective
Reading Time: < 1 minute
[Original post by Sean McDowell found here]
When I was a full-time high school teacher, one of my favorite assignments was to have my students develop a creative project to illustrate what would follow if moral relativism were true.
Students wrote stories, composed songs, made short films, and more.
My all-time favorite was a short poem written by a high school senior. She captures the moral absurdity that would follow if morality were truly relative to the individual:
“If Relativism Were True”
The trigger’s pulled, heart cold as stone. Body thrown into the sea.
No tears are shed, though his brother is dead.
He says “It was right for me.”
A woman is bruised, all black and blue. She silently drinks her tea.
Her husband’s eyes conceal the lies.
He says, “It was right for me.”
No blanket, crib, or bedtime tales. This baby will never be.
The girl’s too scared, too unprepared.
She says, “It was right for me.”
Sad but true, we live as though this system is the key.
But God’s laws weren’t meant to be broken or bent.
Without them, we can never be free.
How Do We Help the Next Generation Navigate Culture?
Reading Time: 7 minutes
[Original post by Sean McDowell found here]
As a parent of three kids, I am frequently trying to help them best navigate cultural voices vying for their hearts and minds. This is why I am thrilled about the new book A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, by Brett Kunkle and John Stonestreet. They are both my good friends and ministry partners. But most importantly, they have written an excellent book.
If you work with students in any capacity—parent, youth worker, teacher, mentor—this is a book you need to get. Read it, study it, and pass it on to other youth influencers. Here’s a quick interview to give you a taste of how to help students best navigate culture:
SEAN MCDOWELL: Why did you feel the need to write a book helping the next generation navigate culture?
KUNKLE & STONESTREET: There are nine reasons we wrote this book: Alexis, Micah, Paige, Ella, Jonah, Abigail, Ann, Ali and Hunter. They are our kids, from 22 years old all the way down to 2 months old, and we’re in the middle of trying to help them navigate the challenges of this cultural moment. We speak to parents all the time who sense, like us, that the tides have shifted significantly.
We’ve watched as the culture has become saturated with explicit sexuality, omnipresent glowing screens, increasing racial tension, marketing messages promising the good life, information from a thousand different voices, and the celebration of perpetual adolescence. However, kids growing up in this culture have never known anything different. If they are going to be discipled in Christ within the context of these challenges, we must be intentional in some very specific areas and some very key ways.
Also, we wanted to provide a resource that was tremendously practical, as the title of the book says. There are many good academic and theoretical treatments of culture have been written recently, and we wanted build on that work and leverage the insights of those books to help parents, teachers, and mentors of the next generation apply these insights in ways that will equip the next generation to thrive as followers of Christ.
What is culture? And are Christians in, above, or against culture?
To answer the second question first, yes!
With proper discernment and grounding in the overarching story of redemption that Scripture provides, we will find ourselves at various times in culture, while holding to truths and values and practices that are above culture, but will occasionally (and in some contexts, often) find ourselves against culture.
We see all three approaches at different times throughout the history of the Christian church. In this Practical Guide, we hope to help the next generation cultivate the wisdom to know which approach will be required in various arenas of culture today.
Defining culture, which is how we begin the book, is essential for developing that discernment.
Many Christians reduce culture to all the bad stuff “out there.” On this view, our posture will constantly be against anything and everything in culture. However, this view fails to recognize that you find culture wherever you find human beings, so we cannot reduce it to the stuff “out there.” Culture is simply what humans make of the world. It includes all of our ideas, institutions, habits, and the structures we embrace to live life together.
God made us to be culture creators. Thus, culture in and of itself is not what is bad.
Instead, it’s the worldview underneath our culture-building that is true or false and it’s the direction we take culture which may be good or evil, life-giving or dehumanizing.
How does the ubiquity of information shape the way kids think? And what are a couple practical ways to counter this?
Those of us living today will encounter more information daily than someone living just a few centuries ago would have encountered during the entire course of their life. Ours is the age of information and we must understand that information constantly communicates ideas about how we are to think about and live in this world. Ideas are not merely confined to the theoretical realm but ultimately, ideas have consequences for all of life. And bad ideas have victims.
In this age, access to information has replaced the pursuit of wisdom.
So, without a keenly developed sense of discernment, kids may have all the information in the world at their fingertips and yet, not know how to live life well, with wisdom. Additionally, technology has “flattened” the world such that it is more difficult than ever to distinguish between what is an authoritative source and what isn’t. For our kids, this creates a major existential struggle as they ask, “Who should I trust?” In a world with so many voices, should they listen to mom and dad, their pastor, their teachers, their friends…or Wikipedia?
Often, the inability to discern truth from error among all these different sources can lead to skepticism and cynicism about truth itself.
Thus, discernment is a skill we must help our kids develop.
Practically, in the book we suggest that parents, mentors, and teachers should learn from the greatest educator in history, Jesus.
Jesus was much more than a teacher, of course, but as He taught He harnessed the power of asking good questions. Often, His response to a question was a another question, in order to expose faulty assumptions, reveal truth and develop discernment in His listeners. In this book we offer a number of discernment-building questions to use with students to cultivate wisdom and discernment.
Perhaps the most important question students should be asked and taught to ask is, “What do you mean by that?”
This important question can bring much-needed clarity amidst all the information out there.
For instance, we often find ourselves using the same words as others in our culture, but not meaning the same thing. When it comes to words like love, truth, freedom, God, gender, and purpose, the Christian’s dictionary will be very different than the culture’s dictionary.
When we equip students with good questions, we help them find clarity in the language and ideas of the culture. Next, we then teach them how to employ those questions when they are watching a movie on Netflix, listening to their college professor, or having a conversation with their Muslim friend.
What do you think is the most pressing issue youth influencers need to address?
It’s difficult to identify a single issue as the most pressing issue of our day.
In the book, we distinguish between two kinds of pressing issues. First, there are the more visible and obvious cultural challenges (what we call the “cultural waves”) and second, there are the less-than-obvious cultural shifts (the “cultural undercurrents”) we face in this moment.
One of the most pressing cultural “waves” is pornography, because of the chaos and devastation it can bring into our lives.
Porn can create life-long addiction, it devalues others, especially women, and it will harm relationships, particularly the most important human relationships of spouses and children.
On a worldview level, we offer strategies to teach students how pornography corrupts the God-given gift of sex, which is a very good gift. On a practical level, we offer ways in which we can best communicate with students about porn, as well as how to establish boundaries and protections to limit its influence in our homes.
One of the most pressing “undercurrents” facing students is our culture’s understanding of identity.
Older generations are tempted to see cultural challenges, especially those having to do with sexuality, as primarily moral issues. And certainly, they are moral issues, but underneath the moral shifts in the sexual views of our culture is the issue of identity.
The culture now sees and celebrates sexuality as an identity. However, this weak, shriveled-up view of human dignity stands in stark contrast to the truth, goodness and beauty of the Christian worldview.
Not only should we help students understand how to behave, but they need to know who they are as image bearers of their Creator.
You have a chapter on affluence and consumerism. Worldview books often ignore this topic. Why did you include it, and what do youth leaders need to know about it?
Blaise Pascal said there is a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only He can fill.
Today, we are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages telling us that hole in our hearts is actually “stuff-shaped,” and the answer is to fill it up with wealth, consumer goods, and pleasure. In this context, our kids live and move and have their being.
Think about commercials. Rarely sell us products anymore. Instead, they sell meaning, purpose, and salvation. They promise that the right clothes, cars and consumer goods will deliver to us the good life.
Therefore, we find ourselves worshipping stuff at our modern-day temples (also known as the mall) or at the Amazon.com Cathedral, as if acquiring and consuming will meet our deepest needs.
What we worship becomes our highest good, so along the way, a materialistic culture begins to value stuff more than people and ultimately, more than God.
Christians are not immune to the culture’s consumer impulses, viewing church as a consumer experience that exists primarily to meet our needs. If it doesn’t, we go church shopping and look for a more pleasurable worship experience elsewhere. In the process, many students drift away from church because it cannot compete on the level of consumerism with what the culture offers.
Our kids need two antidotes to the consumerism of the culture: worship and service.
Only God can fulfill our deepest desires, so we must help our students trade-in the worship of stuff for the worship of God.
But proper worship requires proper theology, so teaching our kids who God is and what He has done is vital. Discipleship that includes worldview is well-equipped to do this.
Additionally, students must trade-in their selfish acts of acquisition for selfless acts of service. In doing so, they will learn to love God by loving their neighbor, and will begin to replace a consumeristic posture toward life with a posture of service and humility. And Jesus words will take on new meaning: “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:24-25)
Why the Lost Gospels Don’t Belong in the Bible
Reading Time: 10 minutes
Scripture must meet exacting criteria to be included in the Bible. The “lost gospels” don’t make the cut.
One argument used by critics to try to discredit God’s Word is by asserting that the Bible was developed via a power struggle. Namely, that what’s included in the Bible — and conversely what was excluded — was determined by a handful of men who happened to wield political power at just the right moment in time. Novels like The Da Vinci Code popularize this idea, though the claim is as false as most of the “facts” in Dan Brown’s fable.
As we have clearly demonstrated in earlier blog posts in this series, the formation of the Bible was the result of exacting scrutiny by many people over many years. The Council of Nicea (AD 325), for example, did not determine which books should be in the New Testament. Neither did the Roman emperor Constantine. The 39 books of the Old Testament form the Bible of Judaism; the Christian Bible adds the additional 27 books of the New Testament. This complete list of books was found “acceptable” because the church deemed them to be divinely inspired books of truth.
As new manuscripts come to light — including the lost gospels — some scholars wish to ignore the exacting standards demanded by the New Testament Canon. You’ve likely heard the media promote their arguments for including these “gospels” in the Bible, which they assert is “truth” that “enhances” our knowledge of Jesus.
Let’s look at just four of these gospels, to help you see why they don’t belong in God’s Word — and why the Bible can be viewed as a historically accurate document, in large part because it has been so carefully vetted.
~ Why Stringent Guidelines Matter ~
As books of the New Testament were selected for inclusion, a critical question was asked: Was a book written by an apostle or associate of an apostle of Jesus? Was it written near the time Christ lived and died? Archaeological evidence continues to validate the Bible Gospels, specific to details about persons, places, and timing. Eyewitnesses could have been called forth at the time of their writing to agree with or discredit the text.
Can the “lost gospels” claim the same? No.
The reasons given for rejecting these and other “lost gospels” are compelling. The main criticisms of these gospels and their authors: the Jesus they depict is not recognizable as the Jesus known in the Bible Gospels; they skew God’s nature; they contain errors on important Christian basics like sin, holiness, ethics, and redemption; and they can’t be proven to have origins among Jesus’ earliest followers. The date of a manuscript is key to determining the authenticity of writings outside the canon. Most weren’t written until the 2nd century and beyond.
Too, these “lost gospels” have Gnostic overtones. Gnosticism, which seriously threatened the early church, was dedicated to searching for “enlightenment” from secret and hidden wisdom among Christ’s teachings. Gnostics view Jesus only as a “teacher of wisdom,” not as “Savior.”
Says historian Philip Jenkins, “Far from being the alternative voices of Jesus’ first followers, most of the lost gospels should rather be seen as the writings of much later dissidents who broke away from an already established orthodox church.”
Let’s look at each gospel further.
~ The Gospel of Thomas ~
In 1945 a collection of codices (book form of scrolls) written in the Coptic language was discovered in Egypt. The Gospel of Thomas was among them. Scholars soon realized that three fragments of it in Greek had already been discovered in Egypt in the 1890s, with the earliest fragment dated at around AD 200.
The gospel is a collection of 114 sayings, mostly attributed to Jesus. However, this Jesus is very different from the Jesus we know from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Unlike the biblical Gospels, there is no narrative or discussion of Christ’s death and resurrection. Rather, the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas provides secret truths only to those who are qualified to learn them.
One group of scholars, known as the Jesus Seminar, communally believe the Gospel of Thomas to be superior to the biblical Gospels. Formed in the 1980s, these scholars stated their goal as the examination of the biblical Gospels and other early Christian literature to discover the actual words and deeds of Jesus.
Yet this group of scholars had a bias against traditional Christianity: they viewed Jesus to be a mortal man (not God), who did not perform the miracles listed in the Bible, nor resurrect as Savior of the world. Nor did they view the Holy Spirit as having inspired the writing of biblical Scripture.
So as they color-coded the words of Jesus in Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John — using red to indicate words they think Jesus most likely said, pink for words they think Jesus possibly said, grey for words they believe are close to what Jesus probably said, and black for words they believe Jesus did not say — more text was deemed black than the other three colors combined; these scholars coded almost the entire gospel of John black!
But they deemed the Gospel of Thomas to be mostly red or pink, thus making it, in their minds, more truthful than John’s Gospel. In effect, the scholars of the Jesus Seminar were saying that they deemed themselves able to see Jesus more clearly than the early Gospel writers who actually had an intimate knowledge of Jesus. Now that’s arrogant!
Vetted, historical evidence strongly suggests that Matthew and John personally accompanied Jesus, that Luke’s text included information from eyewitnesses and meticulous research, and that Mark ministered with Peter. And John’s Gospel includes numerous detailed references that have corroborated by archeological discoveries.
In no way am I ignoring the reality that Christ’s words were not written down when He first spoke them. It is true His teaching were passed along by word of mouth over a period of decades, in keeping with the oral tradition. But we have to remember this was an honored tradition of careful digestion and memory. Few of us today could memorize even a small portion of what these men were able to commit to memory.
Writes Craig L. Blomberg, of the Christian Research Institute, “In that process of oral tradition, [Christ’s words] were paraphrased, abbreviated, combined together in small collections, applied to a wide variety of situations in the early church, and ultimately put in the form in which we now find them by the writers of the Gospels themselves. However, we believe that all of this took place under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, and through His inspiration the writers accurately reported exactly what He wanted them to represent of the life and teachings of Jesus.”
We can trust the biblical Gospels. The Gospel of Thomas? Not.
~ The Gospel of Peter ~
In the winter of 1886-1887, fragments of a gospel were found in a tomb in Egypt, in a codex. In the 1970s and 80s more fragments were published, believed possibly to be portions of the Gospel of Peter, which may have been written in the latter half of the second century. Though attributed to the disciple Peter, scholars do not believe he was the author, in part because of the dating of the text.
The Gospel of Peter contains many similarities with the New Testament Gospels, including Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. But it also contains fanciful elements — such as giant angels escorting an even larger Jesus from the tomb, followed by a cross that speaks.
The text also exonerates Pontius Pilate of all responsibility for Jesus’ crucifixion, and implies that Jesus neither suffered pain nor died. This sounds like Docetism, an early Christian doctrine that asserted that Christ appeared after His resurrection not in human form, but in a spirit body. Docetism became an important doctrinal position of Gnosticism, which we mentioned earlier. This view robs the crucifixion of its power. If God was only “play acting,” then His gift to us was simply smoke and mirrors.
This gospel includes other text that is contradictory to the Bible Gospels. An example:
 And at the same hour the veil of the Jerusalem sanctuary was torn into two.  And they drew out the nails from the hands of the Lord and placed him on the earth; and all the earth was shaken, and a great fear came about.  Then the sun shone, and it was found to be the ninth hour.  And the Jews rejoiced and gave his body to Joseph that he might bury it, since he was one who had seen the many good things he did.  And having taken the Lord, he washed and tied him with a linen cloth and brought him into his own sepulcher, called the Garden of Joseph.  Then the Jews and the elders and the priests, having come to know how much wrong they had done themselves, began to beat themselves and say: ‘Woe to our sins. The judgment has approached and the end of Jerusalem.’  But I with the companions was sorrowful; and having been wounded in spirit, we were in hiding, for we were sought after by them as wrongdoers and as wishing to set fire to the sanctuary.  In addition to all these things we were fasting; and we were sitting mourning and weeping night and day until the Sabbath.
Historical Errors and Embellishments in the gospel, as listed by apologist Ryan Turner:
- Seven seals are used to seal the tomb of Jesus.
- A crowd from Jerusalem comes to see the sealed tomb of Jesus.
- The Jewish leaders camp out at the tomb of Jesus overnight.
- The Jewish leaders fear the harm of the Jewish people. This does not describe the historical situation of the Jews before the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 A.D.
- The Resurrection story actually describes how Jesus exited the tomb with two giant angels, a super-sized Jesus, and a talking cross.
In general, scholars do not use the Gospel of Peter for serious research on Jesus.
~ The Gospel of Mary ~
A fragment of the Gospel of Mary — which tells the story of Mary Magdalene recalling to the disciples teachings Jesus had given to her privately — was discovered in the late nineteenth century; another two Greek fragments surfaced in the 20th century. No complete copy of the Gospel of Mary exists, and the three overlapping fragments comprise at most half of the gospel. Scholars don’t generally believe Mary wrote the text, nor can they agree on its date, though its gnostic view is characteristic of the later 2nd or early 3rd century.
The fragments suggest that Mary shares her teachings from Jesus with Andrew and Peter, who both find what she says to be highly skeptical. Namely, Mary’s gospel rejects Jesus’ suffering and death as the path to eternal life, exposes the erroneous view that Mary was a prostitute, legitimizes women’s leadership, offers a utopian vision of spiritual perfection, and asks readers to rethink the basis for church authority.
Modern writings, including the novel The Da Vinci Code, speculate that Jesus and Mary were lovers. This idea is fueled in part by the Gospel of Mary, which says that Mary was “much loved by the Savior, as no other woman,” though it doesn’t actually say they were married. In no other early Christian sources is there any reference to Jesus being married or having a wife.
~ The Gospel of Judas ~
This “lost gospel,” a 3rd-century Gnostic text translated by the National Geographic Society over five years, was discovered in Egypt in the 1970s.
In this secret account, written by an unknown source, Jesus has conversations with Judas, who is depicted not as His betrayer, but as His most trusted disciple. In the text, Jesus tells Judas, “Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal. For someone else will replace you, in order that the twelve may again come to completion with their god.”
Judas is “enlightened” via revelation, as Jesus tells him that he will be exalted over all the other disciples if he betrays Jesus. Why? Because in doing so he will help Jesus be freed from the confines of His earthly body. The “Judas kiss” then, in this text, is not a betrayal, but an act of loyalty toward Jesus. Scholars who view this account as plausible, therefore, see Judas’ actions as heroic.
April D. DeConick, a professor of biblical studies at Rice University, says the positive spin the National Geographic Society puts on the document isn’t even supported by the documents itself.
Writes DeConick in a New York Times article, “So what does the Gospel of Judas really say? It says that Judas is a specific demon called the “Thirteenth.” In certain Gnostic traditions, this is the given name of the king of demons — an entity known as Ialdabaoth who lives in the 13th realm above the earth. Judas is his human alter ego, his undercover agent in the world. These Gnostics equated Ialdabaoth with the Hebrew Yahweh, whom they saw as a jealous and wrathful deity and an opponent of the supreme God whom Jesus came to earth to reveal.”
She adds, “Admittedly, the society had a tough task: restoring an old gospel that was lying in a box of its own crumbs. It had been looted from an Egyptian tomb in the 1970s and languished on the underground antiquities market for decades, even spending time in someone’s freezer. So it is truly incredible that the society could resurrect any part of it, let alone piece together about 85 percent of it. That said, I think the big problem is that National Geographic wanted an exclusive. So it required its scholars to sign nondisclosure statements, to not discuss the text with other experts before publication. The best scholarship is done when life-sized photos of each page of a new manuscript are published before a translation, allowing experts worldwide to share information as they independently work through the text.”
Prior to the discovery of this text, the only reference to this gospel was in the writings of Irenaeus, a Christian who lived in the 2nd century. Irenaeus basically wrote that the Gospel of Judas was the “invented history” of a long line of heretics and rebels against God.
~ The Lost Gospels Lack the Truth of Jesus ~
Based on the above descriptions of these “lost gospels,” do you think they support biblical Scripture — or in any way enhance or further our knowledge of who Jesus is and what He came to earth to do?
Scholars with a Gnostic view would have us believe that Jesus was simply a “revealer of wisdom and knowledge,” who can lead us to an “inner knowing.” Clearly, this Gnostic slant is why these lost gospels have not been included in the Bible. As the four Gospels of the Bible clearly tell us, Jesus was not interested in “secret” messages that only an “enlightened” few were able to comprehend. He wanted His message of forgiveness and grace and acceptance spread far and wide, to any who would hear and listen and accept its truth. Modern scholars can’t change that.
The Bible: How Big a Deal is Human Error?
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Scribes are human; humans make mistakes. Does that mean the Bible’s accuracy is in question?
The answer, in a word: No.
It can’t be denied that both unintended error and intentional modification have occurred in biblical texts over time. But most of these can be identified, categorized, and properly understood in their relation to the overall reliability of the transmission of the original content of Scripture.
Scholars have been debating the Bible’s words and meanings for decades. Skeptics assert that the Bible can’t be taken literally, but then turn around and demand that every word of it be proven to have happened exactly as written. For some skeptics, the Bible will never be palatable enough to be believed. Yet early church leaders thought enough of the Scripture to declare it God’s Word. In part because so much historical documentation supports its reliable transmission.
Let’s look at the types of errors and changes scribes made, so we can intelligently and respectfully respond to critics who challenge the authority of the Bible. Human effort, by the way, will never be able to invalidate Scripture. Why? Because God is way bigger than anything we might do — intentionally or by accident — to thwart or undermine Him.
~ Unintentional Scribal Error ~
Examples of some of the transcription errors inadvertently added by scribes:
Mistaken Letters. The confusion of similar looking letters caused some scribes to make errors as they copied scripture. An example: In Genesis a group of people called the “Dodanim” are called the “Rodanim” in Chronicles. This error doesn’t invalidate the Bible.
Homophony. This error results in the substitution of words that sound familiar. If we were to use a modern example, we could go with “its” for “it’s,” or “there” for “their.” This error doesn’t invalidate the Bible.
Haplography. In this case, the error is caused by the omission of a letter or word. This, we know, from our own copying of class notes or grocery lists, can easily happen when our eyes skip ahead to another word or line with the same word or letter. This error doesn’t invalidate the Bible.
Dittography. Here, letters or words are mistakenly doubled as they are copied. Adding an extra “and” or “the” to text is an error that I sometimes make if I am tired, writing too fast, or get distracted. You’ve made this error, too, right? And yet you still clearly understand the meaning of what you wrote. This error doesn’t invalidate the Bible.
Metathesis. This error results in the transposition of letters in a word. We might, for example, write “perscription” for the medicine a doctor wants us to take, when the correct spelling is “prescription.” This error doesn’t invalidate the Bible.
These errors have been easily identified by scribes and scholars in textual transmission, and bear no significant effect on the meaning of the text.
~ Intentional Scribal Changes ~
Examples of some of the transcription changes added by scribes:
Spelling/Grammar/Word Changes. As scribes copied text, they sometimes updated archaic language to contemporary standards and culture, to enhance understanding by modern readers. We routinely do this today, as language is always adapting. “Keep it real!” has become “Keep it 100!” And instead of calling someone’s behavior “crazy,” some now use the word “cray.” This New Slang Dictionary shows how words themselves change to adapt to modern society, but their inherent meaning remains unchanged. And this short video by Sean McDowell does a great job of explaining why different versions of the Bible use different words to convey the same meaning. For a more in-depth explanation of why there are so many translations of the Bible, check out this helpful video by TheLampLight.net. This change doesn’t invalidate the Bible.
Harmonization. Here, scribes modified a passage for the purpose of bringing it into line with a parallel passage. A biblical example: Genesis 14:14 states that Abraham pursued his nephew Lot’s captors as far as the city of Dan. However, according to Judges 18:29 and Joshua 19:47, the city would not have been known as Dan until much later. So it is evident that a scribe updated the city name to Dan, from its older names Laish and Leshem, to ensure his readers would recognize the city. This change doesn’t invalidate the Bible.
Euphemistic Changes. In some cases, scribes changed elements of the text that they considered inappropriate or offensive to the sensitivities of the culture. For example, 2 Samuel 12:9 was changed from “Why have you despised the Lord?” to “Why have you despised the word of the Lord?” One modern euphemism we use today is to say someone “passed away,” when we don’t wish to be so blunt or harsh by saying someone “died.” Another euphemism is to say a couple is “sleeping together” instead of saying they’re having “sex.” This change doesn’t invalidate the Bible.
Theological Changes. These changes were made because God or other biblical persons were displayed in an unfavorable or irreverent manner. An example: Genesis 18:22 originally stated that “God remained standing before Abraham.” However, the image of standing before someone had come to denote a role of servitude to that person. So the sentence structure was rearranged to clearly show that it is Abraham defering to God’s authority. This change doesn’t invalidate the Bible.
As you can see, these changes do not compromise the reliability or accuracy of the Bible we use today. In many cases the changes were obvious, and scholars can identify the original reading with a high degree of confidence.
~ The Bible is God’s Word! ~
I hope, as you travel this blog series with us, that you’re gaining a clear understanding of just how meticulously scribes attempted to transcribe scripture. Yes, they made some mistakes. But scholars can clearly see the path of where and when mistakes and changes were made, because of the large number of existent manuscripts. It is because scribes so highly valued Scripture and were careful in their handling of it that most scholars agree that the Bible has been faithfully passed down through the centuries.
Commit to a respectful conversation with your friends who tell you that the Bible can’t be true. Share with them some of the facts you’ve been learning in this blog series over the last two months. You might be the person God uses to open their mind to the possibility to God’s truths.
Everyone Loves Sex: So Why Wait? Interview with Author Bryan Sands.
Reading Time: 7 minutes
[Original post by Sean McDowell found here]
I recently received a book in the mail called Everyone Loves Sex: So Why Wait? by Bryan Sands. Given that my father launched the “Why Wait” sexual purity movement in the 1980s, when I was in my early teen years, I was curious to see what approach Sands would take. And I was pleasantly surprised! His book is balanced, biblical, hopeful, and grace-filled. In fact, when young people ask me for a book on sexual purity, this is going to be one of the first books I will recommend.
After thirteen years as a local pastor, Bryan has served as the Director of Campus Ministries at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA since 2011. He is also a public speaker who encourages students across the country. You can find out about his book at www.EveryoneLovesSex.org.
I recently caught up with Bryan and asked him a few questions. Enjoy!
SEAN MCDOWELL: Personally, what motivated you to write a book encouraging young people to wait until marriage to have sex?
BRYAN SANDS: When I was fourteen years old, I met a group of girls at local fine dining establishment—Del Taco. I walked up to them with a red notepad and asked for all their phone numbers—and they gave it to me! One of those girls and I ended up hooking up that night. After we slept together, she wanted a relationship, but I wasn’t sure how to handle everything I was feeling and experiencing—so I just avoided her. I am sure I hurt her emotionally.
About a year later, I was at youth group and the speaker gave a message about waiting for marriage. She asked people to come up front who wanted to make that commitment, so I went up. They seared a bracelet around my wrist as a symbol of that commitment I just made. Believe it or not, I had that bracelet on for fifteen years! And on our wedding day, I cut the bracelet off at the altar and gave it to my bride saying, “I waited for you.”
I would love to say that that story—as important as it is—was the driving of the book, but it actually wasn’t. As a youth pastor I did the “wait until you’re married series” in the early 2000s—and from that experience I learned what was healthy and effective and what was shaming. The sad part is I probably learned more from the shaming part than anything else.
So, in writing this book, I wanted to move beyond the standard “make a commitment to sexual abstinence” message.
I wanted to stay as far away from the shame culture and focus on the hope and redemption we have because of the cross.
MCDOWELL: How would you make a case for reserving sex for marriage without using the Bible?
SANDS: The more peer-review secular research I read, the clearer I could see God’s fingerprint. Making a case to reserve sex for marriage outside the Bible, I would first turn to the worlds of psychology and sociology.
Let’s start with psychology. Through scientific research, psychologists have discovered that our brains release a number of chemicals during sex. One of those chemicals, which has been dubbed the “love” or “cuddle” hormone, is known as oxytocin. Oxytocin is a chemical that creates trust and builds a bond between partners during sexual intercourse. In fact, the part of the brain that releases oxytocin is larger in a woman than it is in a man; consequently, a woman is more emotionally bonded to a man after sex.
In regards to sociologically, scientist have discovered that because this Millennial generation is waiting longer to marry, there is a longer time-period for them to explore sexually. Many during this time are more concerned with school, internships, and a career—a relationship just takes too much time.
What the current data is showing is that when Millennials hookup they have a pretty good idea that a relationship will not follow, even though they secretly want a traditional, romantic relationship to emerge.
Moreover, Millennials have self-reported in several studies that feelings of embarrassment, shame, and insecurities often follows a sexual encounter.
One of the most meaningful conversations I have ever had with my wife was when she told me that because I waited for her, she did not have to worry that I was comparing her to my past partners. Also, because I followed through on that commitment I made to remain sexually faithful from that point on, she also did not fear that I was going to cheat on her. To me, that’s what we are really looking for in a relationship—someone we trust, who is faithful, and makes us feel we belong.
MCDOWELL: What do you think are the deeper heart issues of why people are sexually active outside marriage?
SANDS: When people are having sex outside of marriage, it is more than just because two people have sexual urges and want to be with one another. There is always more underneath the surface. The problem on the surface is usually not the problem. For example, any addict will tell you that their addiction is not necessarily about drugs, drinking, shopping, or whatever it might be. Rather, it is about a sense that there is something missing, a hollowness that is not being filled. The outward actions are just ways in which they try to fill those longings.
Therefore, it is important to get to the deeper issues of being sexually active before marriage. For some, they only want to experiment a little to quench their curiosity. For others, they feel sex will bring their partner closer to them emotionally. And yet there are some times when peer pressure is involved. The list goes on and on.
If you are sleeping together before marriage or having an extramarital affair, it is important to ask yourself this question: What need is not being met in your life that you believe sex outside of marriage will fill?
G.K. Chesterton is famously credited as remarking, “A man knocking on the door of a brothel is knocking for God.” In other words, being sexually active outside of marriage is not really about sex, but something deeper—something more profound. So, if there is an emptiness, a hollowness, let’s turn to God.
MCDOWELL: God is often viewed as a “Cosmic Killjoy” when it comes to sex. Yet you say God is a “big fan” of sex? What do you mean?
SANDS: God loves sex! Sex was and is his idea! It is an act that is not only physical and emotional—but also spiritual.
In Gen 2:24–25, the dynamics of marriage are introduced, noting that a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, that the two would become “one flesh.” The word, “one” is the Hebrew word echad. This word, echad, carries with it the idea of oneness and unity. The Hebrew word for “flesh” is basar and it can mean “flesh” or “body” among other things. When these two words are combined, it paints the picture of being united at the deepest level, not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. As Adam and Eve are connected to one another in physical creation, so now they would, once again, become one.
From the beginning, God created this gift as a uniting of two people, two souls. A uniting that is unlike any other act.
And it is for this reason that I cannot fathom why we in the church say things like, “Sex is bad, but now that you are married—it’s good.” If we are told our entire lives that sex is bad and then are expected to change our thinking on our wedding night and start believing “sex is good” that can be challenging at best—and damaging at worst.
Instead we should celebrate sex! I mean, the book of Song of Songs is all about the celebration of sex! It is an erotic book that celebrates God’s gift.
Part of the problem is that the notion and act of sex has been abused and many people have been hurt by its misuse, whether being molested, raped, forced into sex trafficking, harassed, etc. People have taken this wonderful gift, misused it, and caused a lot of hurt and distortion. This is NOT what God designed, however. God designed sex as a gift, a blessing—a deep abiding connection between two people.
But we know that for many people, sex is none of those things. For those who have been violated, I would recommend that they do all they can to see a good therapist (www.aacc.net). They might even want to consider looking into an American Psychological Association approved therapy technique called Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR; www.emdr.com), which has been shown to help with finding freedom from past traumatic events.
MCDOWELL: What will it take for younger people today, in our sexualized culture, to buy into the biblical view of sex being designed for one man and one woman in marriage?
SANDS: In order to have any impact, it is imperative that we meet Millennials (or anyone for that matter) where they are. I think it begins with listening, gaining an understanding of what they believe, why, and what their experiences are. Once we do that, we set ourselves up for fruitful conversations. I also think these conversations need to take a decidedly holistic approach, involving more than just throwing out scripture (often as proof-texts), but insights from psychology and sociology as well. The message must be more than just “because God says so.” I believe what is communicated in Scripture—but we need to meet this arising generation where they are.
I find it fascinating that the writer of Genesis 2 enfolds a sense of oneness—echad-ness—within the dynamics of marriage. It is as if to communicate that this bond is so powerful, so transcending, that marriage is the only force that can contain it. I think this is the kind of message people need to hear today.
Taking this holistic approach—and echad-ness—one step further, we realize it is not only something we find in the biblical text, but also something that has been recognized in psychology as well. Psychologists agree that sex is a powerful force and the misuse of it has deeply negative implications in our lives. Therefore, I think we need to bring not just scripture, but also insights from the sciences into the discussion. The truth of God’s design on sexuality can be seen outside the pages of scripture as well.
Ancient Manuscripts That Validate the Bible’s Old Testament
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Modern Christians don’t have to defend the validity of the Bible. Historical manuscripts have already done so.
In last week’s blog post we answered the question, “Did ancient scribes faithfully transcribe biblical texts?” Resoundingly, research shouts, “YES!”
I hope one truth you’re learning, as we travel this series together, is that the Bible is THE most vetted document in the history of the world. So much historical documentation exists to confirm the faithful transcription of Scripture. I love reposting the following statistic, as it’s so impressive:
Of just the known 5,800+ Greek New Testament manuscripts, there are more than 2.6 million pages! That equates to one mile of New Testament manuscripts (and 2.5 miles for the entire Bible), compared with an average four feet of manuscript by the average classical writer. Combining both the Old and New Testament, we have more than 66,000 manuscripts and scrolls that speak to the validity of Scripture!
In this week’s post, let’s look at some important Hebrew manuscripts that help to validate Old Testament Scripture.
Scholars deem these five ancient Hebrew sources to be immensely valuable for biblical research:
~ The Masoretic Text ~
As we noted in last week’s post, the majority of English translations of the Old Testament are derived from ancient texts created by the group of scribes called the Masoretes. Specifically, the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, which they produced in the 10th and 11th centuries. Following the tradition of earlier scribes, the Masoretes were committed to faithfully preserving the correct form of the Hebrew text.
The tradition of the Masoretic Text is significant for four reasons: It provided the only textual witness to the Old Testament for more than 1,000 years (9th century AD to 1947 when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered); its internal consistency clearly attests to the care, precision, and systematic rigor with which the Masoretic scribes copied the manuscripts; the Masoretic Text tradition allows the textual critic to reasonably assume a prior tradition going back to as early as AD 70; and it provides the primary textual witness by which all other textual witnesses are measured.
~ The Dead Sea Scrolls ~
It was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls that helped scholars to answer this question: “Does the Masoretic Text faithfully represent the Hebrew text as originally written by the authors of the Old Testament books?”
The first of the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, in early 1947, in a cave by Bedouin shepherds, near an ancient site called Qumran. The cave, which became known as Cave 1, is located about a mile inland from the Western shore of the Dead Sea, about 13 miles east of Jerusalem. By 1956, a total of 11 caves had been discovered at Qumran, gifting the world with almost 1,050 scrolls written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Other scroll discoveries followed in the vicinity of the Dead Sea. Thus, when you hear the term “Dead Sea Scrolls,” it refers, collectively, to all scrolls found in the area, not just in the caves at Qumran.
The earliest scrolls found at Qumran date back to 250 BC, if not earlier. The latest scrolls were copied shortly before the destruction of the Qumran site by the Romans in AD 68. In total, scholars have identified nearly 300 biblical scrolls among the manuscripts discovered in the area.
Famed archeologist William F. Albright pronounced the scrolls to be “the greatest archaeological find of the twentieth century.” The overall value of the manuscripts are, indeed, invaluable, as the scrolls exponentially increased scholarly knowledge of Scripture text. That because until 1947, Scripture research was based on Hebrew-Aramaic text that had been copied 1,200 years or more after the composition of the biblical books.
The scrolls provide a rich background of information on the technical aspects of the copying of biblical texts in the Second Temple period. Too, the scrolls substantially support the reliability of the Septuagint. Scholars believe the scrolls offer “backlighting on the New Testament,” which aids in scholarly understanding of New Testament passages.
~ The Samaritan Pentateuch ~
The Samaritan Pentateuch is a version of the Hebrew Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) that was written in a special version of an early Hebrew script. Scholars date the manuscript to as early as 3rd century BC. This popular version of the Torah, which was in use prior to the rabbinic tradition, provides scholars with yet another witness to the earlier forms of the Pentateuchal texts.
~ The Nash Papyrus ~
This importance of this Hebrew manuscript lies in this: before the discoveries at Qumran, the Nash Papyrus was the earliest textual witness to the Hebrew Bible. Purchased from an Egyptian dealer in antiquities in 1902 by Dr Walter Llewellyn Nash, it dates to between the 2nd and 1st century BC. The manuscript contains the Ten Commandments, parts of the Book of Exodus, and parts of the Book of Deuteronomy. The Manuscript is housed at the University of Cambridge.
It blows my mind that these really old manuscripts were casually discovered in the shops of antiquities dealers — an occurrence that still happens today. Treasures are even listed on eBay.
~ The Silver Amulets ~
Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay discovered the two tiny Silver Amulets in a family burial chamber in 1979, while excavating in Ketef Hinnom, a section of the Hinnom Valley south of Jerusalem’s Old City. Once unrolled and studied, the Silver Amulets, which would most likely have been worn around the neck or wrists, were found to be densely covered in ancient Hebrew script. The script has been confirmed to be from the period just before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.
Lawrence Schiffman, former professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, describes the amulets:
“The priestly blessing (Numbers 6:22-27) played a major role in Jewish worship in the Temple and synagogue. Its text, inscribed in the ancient Hebrew script, was found on an amulet from the 7th-6th century BC at Ketef Hinnom in Jerusalem. This inscription is the earliest attestation of a text from the Torah. Some scholars have argued that this amulet proves that the blessing preexisted the book of Numbers. In our view, the use of this passage as an amulet indicates that is was already know in is present context.”
Watch this short, interesting video on the discovery, if you’d like more information. Cool fact: The amulets are nearly 400 years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls!
Just two ancient non-Hebrew sources that scholars deem immensely valuable for biblical research:
~ The Septuagint (LXX) ~
After the conquest of the Middle East by Alexander the Great (c. 330 BC), Greek became the dominant language of Hellenized Jewish communities. This prompted the translation of the Hebrew-Aramaic manuscripts into Greek.
The Septuagint was originally the only Greek translation of the Pentateuch. The Septuagint began to take shape in the 3rd century BC, in response to the needs of the Alexandrian Jewish community. Initially, just a version of the Torah for worship and study was translated. But by the 2nd century, the books of the prophets were also translated.
This manuscript differs from the Hebrew Old Testament in its number and order of books. The LXX contains books not found in the Hebrew tradition, some of which are preserved in the Roman Catholic Bibles and normally referred to as Apocrypha. The text of the LXX has been preserved in three forms: ancient papyri, uncials (Greek manuscripts written in all capital letters that were commonly used between the 1st and 6th centuries AD), and medieval minuscules (Greek manuscripts written in smaller cursive script, mostly used between the 9th and 15th centuries AD).
Some of the early fragments include the Rylands Papyri (one of the oldest fragments of the Greek Bible), the Chester Beatty Papyri, and the Oxyrhynchus Papryi. The oldest and most complete manuscripts of the LXX available to scholars today include Codex Vaticanus (4th century AD), Codex Sinaiticus (late 4th to early 5th century), and Codex Alexandrinus (mid 5th century AD).
The historical significance of the LXX, including its various renditions, continues to be definitive in the life of the church and for biblical scholars. During the early centuries AD, most Bible translations were made from the Septuagint. The understanding and use of the LXX as a tool in biblical criticism were significantly advanced by the finds of the Hebrew scrolls at Qumran. The LXX has definitely been recognized by most biblical scholars as a tool that provides important information for the textual criticism of the Bible.
~ The Hexapla ~
This early non-Hebrew witness to the Old Testament, compiled by Origen of Alexandria in Caesarea, Palestine, before AD 245, engaged Jews in a discussion of the Greek text. It is believed that the entire work, which is a synopsis of six versions of the Old Testament written in six parallel columns, took Origen 20 years to complete and required many, many codices. Although the Hexapla no longer exists in its original form, scholars know its contents from fragments, quotations from church fathers, and marginal notes in Septuagint manuscripts.
~ The Bible’s Power? Its Truth ~
As noted before, the Bible is an extraordinarily unique manuscript. Unique in that so many hands worked to write it, compile it, and protect it, as historical manuscripts show. The Bible also is unique in its diversity of content, genres, and teachings. Why has the Bible remained the most widely distributed book in history? Why does it remain the world’s number one seller? Put simply, it’s God’s truth. And His hand is upon it.
Have you ever read the Bible for yourself? You might start with our free daily devotionals. Devotionals are helpful because they help us to focus on a particular issue in scripture. This week, take up the devotional challenge. Find a 10-minute period of time each day in which you can read your selected devotional. God is waiting to meet with you!
Did Scribes Faithfully Transmit Old Testament Manuscripts?
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Historical Documentation Resoundingly Says, “Yes!”
In a previous blog post in this series, we saw that the New Testament can rightly claim to be more reliable and accurate than another other ancient document in history. Can we also trust the authenticity of the Old Testament?
Fortunately, we have really old biblical manuscripts to help us answer that. Too, we have documented proof of how meticulously Jewish scribes — even long before Jesus — faithfully transmitted and preserved these biblical texts.
~ First, the Back Story ~
We forget that the Bible did not come to us as one book. Rather, Scripture is a collection of books, written primarily in Hebrew, over a span of more than a thousand years. We can list among the authors of the Old Testament kings, prophets, generals, and even shepherds. Included genres — categories of writing — range from history, narrative, poetry, wisdom, lament, and apocalyptic literature.
It would be so much neater, when trying to answer the question, “Are we reading the Bible God intended?” if each book of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) came into existence at one time, and if each book was considered complete at the time it was composed. Evidence, however, suggests this was not always the case.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, just one of five important Hebrew manuscripts that we’ll look at in next week’s blog post, are fragments of the oldest known Hebrew Bible text. Fragments aren’t enough to go on. So modern scholars point us to the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex (housed in the National Library of Russia), written in the 10th and 11th centuries by scribes called the Masoretes, as authoritative copies of the Hebrew Bible.
The Leningrad Codex has been used as the basis for most modern printed editions of the Hebrew Bible. Comparing it to modern Hebrew Old Testaments shows us just how accurately God’s Word has been preserved over the centuries.
The Bible Manuscript Society puts it this way: the Leningrad Codex provides irrefutable proof that the Hebrew Old Testament has remained unchanged down through more than one thousand years, copied faithfully from manuscripts one thousand years earlier.
Think about the implications of that for a moment. Down through more than two thousand years, though world empires have come and gone, across cities, counties and continents, the Hebrew Old Testament has been miraculously and meticulously preserved. Wars have ravished. Cities have been plundered. Rulers have come and gone. Empires have long since arisen, died and disappeared into the history books. Yet amazingly, miraculously, the Hebrew Old Testament has been preserved intact down through all those intervening centuries, remaining as free from corruption and variation as mortal man is capable of.
~ Seeking to Transcribe Faithfully ~
Old Testament scripture itself doesn’t give us a clear idea of when the books were assembled into the Bible we use today. But scholars believe the Old Testament canon was closed earlier than 200 BC. Too, they believe the earliest biblical manuscripts were transmitted in the oral tradition. At some point, however, it was deemed critical that Scripture be written down to ensure its accuracy.
The Scriptures were so important to the nation of Israel, that a special class of scholars called Soferim (Hebrew: סוֹפְרִים) developed during the Second Temple period. From about 500 BC to 100 AD, the primary task of these scribes was to preserve Israel’s sacred traditions, which served as the foundation of the Jewish nation.
Scholars believe these Jewish men were possibly of priestly descent, as most sofer whose geneology is known were priests. As such, the Soferim were intimately acquainted with Scripture and other sacred documents. They likely specialized in the biblical manuscripts they transcribed and the topics they wrote about.
As noted in the Encyclopedia Britannica:
Historically, the Soferim are of great importance, not only for having initiated rabbinic studies but also for having fixed the canon of Old Testament Scriptures and, as copyists and editors, for their energetic efforts to safeguard the purity of the original text. The Talmud (the collection of traditions on Jewish religious laws) records 18 changes (tiqqune soferim) that they introduced to preclude misunderstanding of the Scriptures.
The Soferim were followed by a second group of scribes called Tannaim (Hebrew: תנאים), “repeaters” who began copying the Soferim tradition. From about 200 to 500 AD, a third group of scribes called the Amoraim began to preserve Hebrew text. At some point in this period, meticulous rules were developed to preserve Old Testament text in the synagogue scrolls.
Finally, about the 8th century AD, we come to the group of scribes, the Masoretes, which we mentioned earlier. Their diligent efforts help to preserve the Hebrew text we have today, which is called the Masoretic Text. The Masoretic Text is a very good and faithful text of the Hebrew Bible, yet not perfect.
The Masoretes, themselves, recognized the inherent possibility of human error when copying the Hebrew Bible. They attempted to combat errors by adding innumerable notes — masorah — in the margins of manuscripts to safeguard the text. Where they found differences between texts, they determined which opinion was correct.
These decisions related not only to verses and words, but to every single letter. Too, these scribes attempted to gain consistency by establishing rules on how to articulate the words when reading the text aloud. We know the proper pronunciation because of the system of chanting symbols and vowel placement established by the Masoretes.
Explains the Encyclopedia Britannica:
If the Masoretes hadn’t devised their systems of vowel notation, the most important Hebrew texts would have been translated and possibly preserved but the rest of it, as well as the Hebrew language at large, would have gone the way of the dodo. We wouldn’t have had the Bible as we know it, if it wasn’t for the Masoretic efforts.
~ Establishing Transmission Standards ~
When you’re copying the Word of God, standardization becomes an important consideration.
We know that various rabbinic rules — including the selection of writing materials, the preparation of leather (parchment), error correction, transcribing of divine names, the storage and reading of scrolls, and measurements of sheets, columns, and margins — all point to the reverence that rabbinic scribes had for biblical text.
Again, the scribes revered Scripture so highly that, through the ages, they took meticulous care in their work. One example: scribes may have known their biblical texts from memory, but they were forbidden from copying Scripture without a vorlage (the manuscript being copied) in front of them. While this did not ensure a flawless transmission of the text, it did provide a structural safeguard.
Paul D. Wegner, professor of Old Testament studies at Gateway Seminary in Ontario, California, shares further safeguards and protocols that aided scribes in their copying and storage of biblical texts:
~ Jewish writings mention that the temple employed correctors (meggihim) who scrutinized the scrolls to safeguard their precision.
~ At some point during the talmudic period (100 BC to AD 400), meticulous rules were developed to preserve the Old Testament text in synagogue scrolls. These included only using parchment made from clean animals, using only black ink, lining the page before adding letters, and establishing a set column width and word spacing (the space of a hair between each consonant, and the space of a consonant between each word). Too, the scribe had to be freshly bathed and in full Jewish dress before beginning to copy the scroll.
Writes Wagner, in an article titled “How Did We Get the Old Testament?” for Credo Magazine:
“These scribes made meticulous notes regarding the text, from recording the number of letters used in a book, to indicating the middle letter of a book. They also made careful notations along the sides of the Hebrew text in multiple other volumes concerning the reading and pointing of these texts.”
Later, an entire treatise was created to guide scribes on the proper procedure for preparing a sacred scroll and producing an accurate text. It seems that the various communities of scribes began to unify at the end of the first century AD. This ultimately led to a standardization of authoritative biblical text that, albeit not intentionally orchestrated, was an inevitable result of historical circumstances.
~ Materials and Equipment Used by Scribes ~
Scholars can ascertain, with a high degree of confidence, which materials and equipment these ancient scribes used to faithfully transmit the biblical narratives.
They used pens and ink, though not the ballpoints that you and I are familiar with. These scribes used inks typically compounded from charcoal, gum, and water. Typically, their pens were fashioned from reeds and quills. As these scribes also lacked the processed pulp that our paper is made with today, they used what was on hand to record writings: papyrus (water reeds), parchment (animal skins), broken pottery, and wooden tablets. Our earlier blog post dives into writing materials much deeper.
Archeologists have even discovered proof that copper was used, at least once, by an ancient scribe as a writing surface. The Copper Scroll found in a cave at Qumran, in Israel, is made from thin sheets of copper. When discovered by archeologists, the heavily oxidized manuscript was far too brittle to unroll. It took scholars a while to devise a tactic for examining the ancient text. (Archeology sounds like a really cool career, right?) After the text of the scroll was translated, the world learned that it was basically a treasure map. Its listed treasures, as of yet, have remained unfound.
The Leningrad Codex, mentioned earlier, is called a “codex” because it is in book form, rather than a scroll. Scrolls were very heavy, if large, which made them difficult to handle. The codex format is easier to read, protect, and store.
~ Historic Texts Validate the Bible’s Old Testament ~
Clearly, many hands have been involved in the creation of the books included in the Old Testament. Human error, specific to mistakes made in the act of physically adding ink to scroll, have been made. But they also have been diligently chased by scribes committed to authenticity.
With more than 300 ancient Hebrew manuscripts now available to scholars for review and study, and new biblical manuscripts continually being discovered, scholars remain unwavering in their belief that the Old Testament, which you and I have the luxury of perusing any time we decide to open our Bible, is God’s Word.
So the next time you hear someone say that the Bible is a bunch of books that “someone threw together” that “can’t be vetted for accuracy” and “couldn’t possibly be correct in its entirety,” you’ll have some proven facts to share with them. But let’s keep going! There’s so much more to learn about this amazing book God gave us!
Next week, together we’ll look at five ancient Hebrew and non-Hebrew biblical manuscripts — the Masoretic Text, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Nash Papyrus, and the Silver Amulets — which have survived, in large part, because of the meticulous care of dedicated scribes over the centuries. Thanks, Dudes. You did well!
How Do You Best Prepare Students for College? Interview with Author Jonathan Morrow.
Reading Time: 5 minutes
[Original post by Sean McDowell found here.]
Jonathan Morrow is one of the top communicators for both students and adults on apologetics and cultural issues. He is adjunct professor of Apologetics at Biola University (with me!) and director of cultural engagement at Impact 360 Institute where he teaches high school and college students. Check out his website and Twitter account: jonathanmorrow.org and @Jonathan_Morrow.
We co-authored the book Is God Just A Human Invention? together in 2010. Recently he released an update of his classic book Welcome to College. This has been one of the top books I recommend for future college students to read so they can experience relational, emotional, academic, and spiritual success. Check out this interview and if you are an aspiring college student, or you know one, consider getting a copy of his excellent book.
SEAN MCDOWELL: Your book Welcome to College has done quite well. What motivated you to do an update?
JONATHAN MORROW: Many students are not prepared for the ideas, experiences, and relationships that will challenge their faith and shape their future during the college years. I want students to not just survive the college years, but to also flourish there—with their faith firmly intact. In many ways, Welcome to College is everything I wish I would have known as I began the college years as a Christian.
Over the past 9 years since the first edition came out, I have been so encouraged by all the notes and emails from both students and parents about how Welcome to College has been helpful to them in navigating the college years. I wanted to make sure it was fresh and updated with the best information to speak to a new generation.
If anything our post-Christian culture is moving even faster today and there are some new pressure points young people are experiencing that must be addressed. I’m more convinced than ever of the importance of the high school and college years in setting the trajectory for a life of following Jesus. That’s why I am really excited to see the completely updated version of Welcome to College come out so it can help equip more students to own their faith.
MCDOWELL: What issues have changed since you first wrote WTC, and how do you address them?
MORROW: There are many new challenges that students face today that I address in the book, but two of the most significant are questions of Identity and Tolerance. For example, social media is not just about teenagers being shallow or narcissistic. Social media is driven by a teenager’s real need for acceptance and affirmation. That’s why Instagram and other platforms are so popular. Instagram serves as a way for many young people to feel accepted or “liked” but also for them to be rejected or ignored. But the deeper issue here is one of Identity—who am I and do I matter? That’s a powerful driving force that can lead to a lot of unwise decisions. Students need to first know and then stand in their Gospel identity—that they are perfectly loved and forgiven in Jesus and they don’t have to perform for God’s acceptance.
Then there is the current misunderstanding of tolerance. Our culture wrongly understands tolerance to require agreement with everyone’s sincerely held beliefs rather than extending to others the right to be wrong. Tolerance is not agreement. It’s treating someone who believes very differently than I do with dignity and respect as one made in God’s image.
Today, students are afraid to disagree about spiritual and moral questions because they don’t want to be viewed as a bigot or judgmental. We need courage to talk lovingly but boldly about the truth. To love someone is to seek his or her highest good — that includes having some gentle, but perhaps uncomfortable conversations about important questions (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).
For example, there is growing confusion among young Christians about homosexuality and the Bible. With the success of the LGBT agenda in getting same-sex marriage legalized in 2015 by the Supreme Court, this conversation has only become more prominent. There is also intense pressure to reject God’s design for sexuality. In the updated version of Welcome to College, I spend time helping explore and engage these important questions. It will take training and courage for students to overcome the tyranny of tolerance on college campuses. They need to love well and think well.
MCDOWELL: What do you think are the most common reasons students end up disengaging their faith in college?
MORROW: There’s a lot to be said here, but as I have worked with students over the years, I have seen three basic kinds of students who disengage from their faith. First, students relativize their faith. “I guess this is just true for me, this is what I believe and how I was raised.” Faith kind of gets quiet in their lives as they get older. In practice, they leave biblical Christianity but keep the label Christian.
Second, students drift or pretend. On the outside everything’s fine. On the inside though, it’s, “I’m not sure I really believe this anymore.” They have unfortunately learned from people around them that real Christians don’t have doubts, questions, and insecurities. They don’t want to disappoint their parents or youth pastors so they don’t rock the boat. But inwardly they drift and pretend to still believe.
Or third, they will simply walk away. “You know what? I don’t believe this anymore. It’s not worth it. I don’t think this is really true.” They are weary of pretending or they simply want to live how they want to live.
At the end of the day some of the most powerful reasons students disengage from their faith during the teenage years are unaddressed questions and doubts, insecurities and isolation, moral struggles, and unwise relationships that pull them away from their faith.
MCDOWELL: Overall, how would you describe the worldview of most high school and college students? Are Christians much different?
MORROW: Unfortunately given how powerful pop culture is in shaping our students and their lack of training in biblical worldview and apologetics, I don’t tend to see a significant difference. Yes, there are exceptions but not too many. Students tend to relativize and privatize their faith. As sociologist Christian Smith has described it, they think of God as a divine therapist there to help them with their problems who operates in the background of their lives and who just wants them to be good people (i.e., Moralistic Therapeutic Deism).
Teenagers need to know what they believe as Christians, why they believe it, and how to live it out. We can’t just sit back and assume that just because a student goes to church or attends youth group that they are ready to follow Christ in today’s culture. Attendance isn’t cutting it; training is needed. Knowledge of the truth matters more than ever. And students need to know that they are not alone in this journey. They need encouragement to stand firm in a confused culture. There is a very real battle raging today for the hearts and minds of young people and we cannot operate with a business as usual mindset.
MCDOWELL: If you were going to give parents just one piece of advice as they prepare their teenagers for the college years what would it be?
MORROW: There is so much to say here! But if I had to limit myself to just one, I’d say this: create safe space for your son’s or daughter’s honest questions, doubts, and insecurities. You want to preserve and nurture your relationship with them during the teenage years. Whether you realize it or not, you are still the single most influential factor in shaping their faith. A safe relationship with you is huge in terms of helping them come to own their faith. And of course, pick up a copy of Welcome to College to help you navigate those conversations!
Archeology Helps to Confirm the Historicity of the Bible
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Artifacts Help Scholars Validate Scripture!
Archeology, a relative newcomer among the physical sciences, cannot “prove” the Bible is true. But archeology has provided exciting and dramatic confirmation of the Bible’s accuracy.
Per Yale archeologist Millar Burrows, an expert on the Dead Sea scrolls who was a professor emeritus at Yale Divinity School, archaeology has “unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record.”
Whole books are not large enough to contain all the finds that have bolstered scholastic confidence! Isn’t it comforting — and compelling — to know that so much evidence points to the Bible as being trustworthy?
Let’s look at just a few examples of how historical artifacts have validated Luke’s New Testament writings.
~ Archeology Supports the Amazing Accuracy of Luke’s Gospel ~
Archeology has absolutely confirmed historical detail that Luke included in his Gospel.
Luke’s primary focus in this book is meticulously showcasing who Jesus was — and what He came to do. He did so with facts, not fanciful detail.
At one time, however, scholars thought that Luke had entirely missed the boat regarding the events surrounding the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-3). Critics argued that there was no census, that Quirinius was not governor of Syria at that time, and that everyone did not have to return to his ancestral home. But archeological discoveries show that the Romans had a regular enrollment of taxpayers and also held censuses every fourteen years. This procedure began under Augustus. Further, we find that Quirinius was, indeed, governor of Syria around 7 BC. It is supposed that he was governor twice, once in 7 BC and again in AD 6 (the date ascribed by Josephus.) A papyrus found in Egypt gives directions for the conduct of a census.
Concerning Luke’s ability as a historian, Sir William Mitchell Ramsey, one of the greatest archeologists to have ever lived, said, after 30 years of study, that, “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…this author should be placed along with the greatest of historians.”
As seen in the light of archeological evidence, the New Testament reflects the conditions of the second half of the first century AD, not the conditions of any later date. Historically, it is of the greatest importance that this has been so effectively established.
~ Archeology Supports the Reliability of the Books of Acts and the Epistles ~
Archeology has helped to identify the accuracy of detail in Luke’s writing of Acts. It’s impressive!
Thanks to archeological finds, most of the ancient cities mentioned in the book of Acts have been identified. The journeys of Paul can now be accurately traced as a result of these finds. In all, Luke names 32 countries, 54 cities, and nine islands without error!
In some cases, Luke’s usages of certain words were criticized by skeptics. For example, Luke refers to Philippi as a “district” of Macedonia, by using the Greek word meris. Some argued that meris referred to a “portion,” not a “district.” Archaeological excavations, however, have shown that this very word was used to describe the divisions of the district.
Still another case is Luke’s usage of politarchs to denote the civil authorities of Thessalonica. Since politarch is not found in the classic literature, Luke was again assumed to be wrong. (Poor Luke!) However, some nineteen inscriptions that make use of the title have been found. Interestingly enough, five of these are in reference to the city of Thessalonica. One of the inscriptions was discovered in a Roman arch at Thessalonica, and in it are found the names of six of that city’s politarchs.
Historian Colin Hemer catalogued numerous archeological and historical confirmations of Luke’s accuracy in his book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. In his detailed report, Hemer included specialized details, which would not have been widely known except to a contemporary researcher, such as Luke, who traveled widely. These details include exact titles of officials, identification of army units, and information about major routes. He also corroborates the dates of known kings and governors with the chronology of Luke’s narrative.
Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.
E. M. Blaiklock, previously a professor of classics at Auckland University, echoed Ramsey’s assessment of Luke by concluding, “Luke is a consummate historian, to be ranked in his own right with the great writers of the Greeks.”
Now we’re showing Luke some respect, people!
~ Will You Believe Luke’s Facts? ~
Some refuse to believe the Bible is true simply because none of the original Scriptural manuscripts (autographs) still exist. Yet they’ll trust that secular Classic literature has been reliably handed down — though autographs are missing for those works, as well. Here’s the thing about the Bible: when the facts are historically examined, they stand up. Luke is just one example of the Bible serving as a trustworthy resource, not fanciful drivel.
Others refuse to take the Bible as God’s Word because no one can prove that God actually exists. We can clearly see evidence of His design all around us, yet it’s ludicrous to them to credit God as being the Creator. They are only willing to accept what science proves. Interestingly, science can’t prove the origins of the universe, yet is willing to go to great lengths to assert the “truth” of secular theories.
Don’t choose to disbelieve the Bible simply because the scientific community says it’s bunk. Nor simply on the basis of your personal doubts. Search for answers! Absolute truth — contrary to what our postmodern society teaches — does exist.
Some of the greatest Scriptural finds to date have been made by persons, just like you and me, who decided to meticulously hunt for the truth. Some started as atheists even — including Josh McDowell.
Says Josh now: “As a young scholar I asked this question: How can I prove that Christianity is false? I traveled to many libraries in the U.S. and Europe in my search to find the answer. After trying to shatter the historicity, validity, and authenticity of the Scriptures, I came to the conclusion that the Bible is historically trustworthy. I also discovered that if one discards the Bible as being unreliable, then one must discard almost immediately all literature of antiquity.”
He adds, “One problem we constantly face is the desire on the part of many to apply one standard or test to secular literature and another to the Bible. One must apply the same test, whether the literature under investigation is secular or religious. Having done this, I believe we can hold the New Testament in our hands and say, ‘It is trustworthy and historically reliable.'”
See you next week when we address the question “Has the Old Testament been reliably transmitted?”
What is True Tolerance? Quick Video
Reading Time: < 1 minute
[Original post by Sean McDowell found here]
8 Ancient Manuscripts That Validate the Bible’s New Testament
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Important early Scriptural manuscripts that make the case for the reliability of the Bible.
The Bible we use today originates from really early historical documents. Scholars are able to assess the importance of a manuscript by how much of the Bible it includes, and by the date assigned to it.
What factors help to determine the age of a manuscript? Lots of factors, including the material used, the letter size and form, text divisions, ornamentation, the color of the ink, and even Carbon-14 dating.
Let’s look at a handful of important early New Testament manuscripts that scholars have discovered so far. Each serves to validate that our modern Bible is, indeed, a reliable representation of those early writings.
~ John Rylands MS (AD 130) ~
This papyrus fragment, also known as “P52,” is encased within a climate-controlled cabinet located inside the John Rylands Library of Manchester, England. The manuscript fragment was among a group acquired on the Egyptian market in 1920, but not translated until 1934. The fragment contains words from the account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. As the papyrus contains writing on both sides, it must be from a codex, a type of book, rather than a scroll. If you missed our earlier blog post on materials used to write the Bible, we invite you to give it a read. This portion of the Gospel of John is so old that it helps to confirm the traditional date of the composition of the Gospel to be about the end of the first century.
As writer Tim Challies says in his blog post The History of Christianity in 25 Objects, “This little scrap of papyrus is our oldest historical link to the New Testament Scriptures. It represents the thousands of manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts that have survived the centuries.”
He adds, “Of the manuscripts that remain to us today, no two are exactly the same. How then can we have confidence that the Bible we possess today is the Bible as God inspired and intended it? This is where we are grateful for the discipline of textual criticism. Textual critics are scholars who examine and evaluate all the surviving manuscripts in order to accurately reproduce the original text. And here we begin to see the importance of this little fragment of papyrus encased in glass in John Rylands Library. From this fragment we know that already in the first half of the second century there were Christians along the Nile and these Christians were reading the very same words of God that we read today.”
~ Bodmer Papyrus II (AD 150-200) ~
Martin Bodmer, who began amassing his collection of the world’s best books and early writings at the age of 16, died in 1971. He turned down an offer to sell his expansive collection. In 2003 the present Bodmer Library of World Literature opened in Cologny, near Geneva, Switzerland. Among the approximate 160,000 items is a copy of the Guttenberg Bible, and a group of manuscripts — “P66,” “P72,” and “P75,” some of the world’s earliest Christian writings.
“P66,” dating from AD 200 or earlier, contains most of John’s gospel. This codex is just one century removed from the time of the autograph (original text). “P72” is the earliest copy of the epistle of Jude and the two epistles of Peter. “P75,” which scholars date between AD 175 and 225, is the earliest known copy of the Gospel according to the Luke and one of the earliest of the Gospel according to John.
~ The Diatessaron (c. AD 170) ~
The Diatessaron, which means “Harmony of Four” was created by Tatian, a Christian writer in the second century. It combines the four canonical Gospels into a single harmonious narrative. Though Tatian closely followed the wording of the Gospels, he put the verses in a different sequence.
The Diatessaron was used as the standard Gospel text in the liturgy of the Syrian Church for two centuries. It has significance as an early manuscript because the remaining copies bear witness to the earlier Gospels.
~ A. Chester Beatty Papyri (AD 200) ~
These third century papyrus codices were purchased by British mining engineer A. Chester Beatty in the 1930s from a dealer in Egypt. Also known as “P45,” “P46,” and “P47,” they are housed in Beatty’s gift to the world: the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland.
“P45” contains part of a codex of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts. “P46” contains letters written by Paul: Romans, Hebrews, I and II Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and I Thessalonians. “P47” contains the oldest known text of the Book of Revelation.
~ Codex Alexandrinus (Ad 400) ~
Located in the British Library in London, this early-5th century Greek manuscript contains almost the entire Bible. Interestingly, it is one of the earliest books to incorporate significant decoration to mark major divisions in the text.
Per the British Library website, “The beginning lines of each book are written in red ink and sections within the book are marked by a larger letter set into the margin. Words are written continuously in a large square uncial hand with no accents and only some breathing marks. It contains 773 pages, 630 for the Old Testament and 143 for the New Testament. Each page measures 32cm x 26.5 cm.”
~ Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis (c. AD 450) ~
Located in the Cambridge University Library in England, the Codex Bezae dates from the 5th century. It uniquely contains the Gospels and Acts, in both Greek and Latin pages, which face each other. The only book that is complete is the Gospel of Luke; pages are missing from the other books. The codex was acquired by the theologian Theodore Beza in 1562 from a monastery in Lyon, France. He gifted it to the University in 1581.
~ Codex Vaticanus (AD 325-350) ~
Located in the Vatican Library in Rome since before 1475, this manuscript contains nearly all of the Bible. After a hundred years of textual criticism, many consider this codex to be one of the most trustworthy Greek manuscripts of the New Testament text.
~ Codex Sinaiticus (AD 350) ~
This extremely important manuscript, discovered in 1844 by Constantin von Tischendorf, a leading biblical scholar in his day, at the Monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of Mt. Sinai in Israel, is located in the British Library. The St. Catherine’s Monastery and libraries in Germany and in Russia hold a few separate pages. The manuscript contains almost all of the (4th century) New Testament and over half of the Old Testament. For the Gospel texts, its reliability is considered second only to the Codex Vaticanus. For Acts, its reliability is equal to the Codex Vaticanus, and for the epistles, its reliability is ranked first.
The discovery of this manuscript is a fascinating story. Tischendorf, while visiting St. Catherine’s, chanced to see some leaves of parchment in a waste basket of papers destined to light the oven of the monastery. Upon examination, they proved to be part of a copy of the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. Tischendorf retrieved from the basket no less than 43 leaves, no doubt horrified when a monk casually remarked that two basket loads of similarly discarded leaves had already been burned.
~ Great Reason to Believe ~
All told, the sheer number of New Testament manuscripts and the earliness of the extant manuscripts give us great reason to believe the New Testament accurately transmits the contents of the originals.
As we mentioned in a previous blog post titled Testing the Historical Reliability of the New Testament, of just the known 5,800+ Greek New Testament manuscripts, there are more than 2.6 million pages! That equates to one mile of New Testament manuscripts (and 2.5 miles for the entire Bible), compared with an average four feet of manuscript by the average classical writer. Combining both the Old and New Testament, we have more than 66,000 manuscripts and scrolls!
Is this interesting or what? It’s certainly factual information that you can share with critics who assert that the Bible has not been reliably passed down. Let’s keep going! Join us next week, when we look at how archaeology helps to confirm the historicity of the Bible!
8 Tests for the Accuracy of the New Testament Accounts
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Do the biographies of Jesus stand up to scrutiny? Eight tough tests say “YES!”
As Christians, we’re told that the Bible is God’s Word. But how can we know that this old, historical book — the foundation of our faith — is, indeed, trustworthy? And that it has relevance for us today?
Pastor Lee Strobel, an American Christian author and former investigative journalist, is but one person who asked these questions and then exhaustively researched the Gospels to see if they can stand up to intense scrutiny.
Strobel approached his research in the same way an attorney would evaluate the story of a defendant on trial. As part of his research, Strobel met with Craig Blomberg, a New Testament scholar and expert on the biographies of Jesus.
Let’s look at the eight tough tests they applied to the Gospels to determine their legitimacy.
~ The Intention Test ~
This test evaluates whether the Gospels were written with the intention of being treated as historical fact.
Each of the Gospel writers determined, says Blomberg, to clearly communicate detailed fact. He adds, “There’s an important piece of implicit evidence that can’t be overlooked. Consider the way the Gospels are written — in a sober and responsible fashion, with accurate incidental details, with obvious care and exactitude.
In the Gospels we don’t find the outlandish flourishes and blatant mythologizing that are evident in a lot of other ancient writing. It is quite apparent that the goal of the Gospel writers was to attempt to record what actually occurred.
~ The Ability Test ~
This test examines the ability of the authors to write down accurately the historical details of their story.
Were they just well intentioned — or were they actually capable of getting the facts right? Did they know the history well enough themselves?
Matthew was one of the twelve disciples of Christ. Mark was an associate of Peter, a disciple of Christ. Luke was a companion of Paul, who claimed to have personally encountered Jesus on his way to Damascus. John, too, was a disciple of Jesus, and one of the “inner three” of the twelve, alongside Peter.
Some have doubted that the New Testament writers were able to report accurately because of the significant gap between the time of the events and the date of writing. However, it is important to understand the culture of the writers. Written materials were not nearly as commonplace as they are today. During this time in Jewish culture, communication was primarily oral. Memorization, even of entire books, was common and natural for the Gospel writers.
Blomberg points out that 80 to 90 percent of Jesus’ words were originally in poetic form. “This doesn’t mean stuff that rhymes,” he cautions, “but it had meter, balanced lines, parallelism, and so forth — and this would have created a great memory help.”
~ The Character Test ~
This test looks at the character of the authors of the purported history.
Did they have malicious intent that would produce an altered version of what actually happened? For the Gospel writers, there is no good reason to suggest this was the case. The stories they write point to an incredibly high standard of moral living. Are we to believe that some of the world’s greatest ethical teachings came from unethical people?
Second, there’s no reason to suggest that they had motives for material or societal gain. In fact, these men were willing to face torture and even death for their conviction that they had seen the risen Jesus.
~ The Consistency Test ~
With this test we ask, “Do the stories that relate the same events agree with one another?”
If the authors constantly contradict each other, there is good reason to doubt the historicity of the events in the stories.
That said, the Consistency Test allows for small discrepancies that are not serious enough to lead to the conclusion of falsehood. This is possibly the most common critique of the biographies of Jesus. There are numerous examples of where the Gospels appear to contradict one another. But apparent discrepancies should be handled carefully.
We need to remember that ancient expectations were often different from expectations in our current culture. For instance, sometimes the Gospel writers will describe the same event but mention different characters being present. This is because they did not intend to compile a complete list. One example would be the witnesses at the empty tomb of Jesus.
Other times the Gospel writers abbreviate details with a kind of liberty that surprises readers today. For example, in Matthew a centurion (a commander in the Roman military) speaks to Jesus. In Luke, there are two elders speaking for the centurion. Luke’s account is probably the more precise one, whereas Matthew referred only to the centurion because the elders spoke as representatives for the centurion.
All in all, the stories of Jesus are similar enough that they pass the Consistency Test — and yet different enough so that we know that the Gospel writers did not conspire to fabricate events that never happened.
~ The Bias Test ~
This test considers whether the authors may have altered the text intentionally or unintentionally due to personal bias.
Did they have reason to skew parts of the narrative?
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all had different theological objectives to accomplish when writing the Gospels. So they focused on stories and details that had particular theological significance. But this doesn’t necessarily affect the historicity of their narratives. In fact, their historical accuracy was probably bolstered by their love for Jesus and their commitment to His moral teachings.
~ The Cover-Up Test ~
When people testify about events they saw, they will often try to protect themselves or others by conveniently omitting details that are embarrassing or hard to explain. As a result, this raises uncertainty about the trustworthiness of testimony.
Yet the biographies of Jesus contain many embarrassing details about the disciples. The disciples squabbled among themselves, for example, as to which Jesus loved best. And when the going got tough, most of the disciples ran and hid — and Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Yet Peter and the other disciples were leaders of the early church when these stories were written!
Why include embarrassing details? We are left to assume that the writers were honest men who simply wanted a factual, historical account recorded. In the Gospels we see both the good and the ugly, which is strong evidence that the authors of Jesus’ biographies did not play loose with the facts.
~ The Corroboration Test ~
This test aims to corroborate a story’s details by using outside evidence.
Blomberg points out that a lot of archeological discoveries have been made within the past hundred years that help to corroborate the Gospels:
In addition, we can learn through non-Christian sources a lot of facts about Jesus that corroborate key teachings and events in His life. And when you stop to think that ancient historians for the most part dealt only with political rulers, emperors, kinds, military battles, official religious people, and major philosophical movements, it’s remarkable how much we can learn about Jesus and His followers even though they fit none of these categories at the time these historians were writing.
~ The Adverse Witness Test ~
This final test is arguably the most difficult for any historical document to pass.
What do the critics have to say? Do they admit that the stories carry truthful details? What arguments do they offer? Do they dismantle the premise? Do they sidestep the logical conclusion?
Blomberg points out that some Jewish writers claimed that Jesus was a sorcerer who led Israel astray. This is a fascinating observation, as they could have claimed that the miracles never happened and that the stories are all fictional, legendary tales. But they didn’t! If the enemies of Christianity needed to call Jesus a sorcerer, there is reason to believe that something miraculous did indeed happen!
~ Do You Have “Enough” Proof to Believe? ~
Unless Christ Himself knocks on your door and gets in your face to assert, “Everything the Bible says about me is true,” it’s perfectly natural to have doubts. I would even hasten to say that every Christian experiences doubt — sometimes on a daily basis! It’s part of our nature to question and test things. And as we now live in a world that worships only scientific proof, it can take a leap of faith to believe God’s Word.
But as we’ve said repeatedly throughout this blog series, God never demands blind faith nor blind allegiance. So feel free to question, feel free to push back on what you learn at church — but don’t allow not having every answer to dissuade you from trusting God’s truth or His love for you. God birthed you for specific purposes, which He has planned in advance for you to do. The Bible tells us so.
You can walk around believing that you have purpose — or continue to waste time trying to find the “truth.”
So will you believe the Bible — and spend time reading it — so that God can speak to you?
As we’ve shown you in this series, the Bible has proven to be a reliable, truthful, historical report of who God is — and what Jesus came to do. Stay with us as we continue to test the historical evidence (both Christian and non-Christian) that validates the truth of God’s Word!
Testing the Historical Reliability of the New Testament
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Vetted for Historical Reliability, the Bible Stands Strong.
Welcome to our ninth blog post in this series focusing on the topic of apologetics! If you’d like to catch up from the start, here’s the link to the first blog we posted: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.
Apologetics — the defense of Christianity — is not about our apologizing for our Christian beliefs, but rather our sharing of the plethora of historical evidence that confirms the Bible’s validity — and, thus, Christ’s claims. We can all be confident apologists!
No more replying, “I don’t know if there’s evidence for that.” (Armed with facts, you’ll quickly find that most critics can’t substantiate their dismissal of the Bible. Now’s your chance to have a respectful, impactful conversation about the truth of the Gospel.)
To further your growing knowledge, let’s look at the bibliographical test, which scholars employ to determine the historical reliability of any and all ancient literature, including the New Testament.
The bibliographical test looks at manuscript transmission — how documents reach us. As scholars do not have the original documents of the Scriptures, they have had to determine if the existing (extant) copies of the originals are reliable The greater the number of copies, and the earlier their dating, the easier it is to reconstruct a text closer to the original and identify errors or discrepancies in subsequent copies.
Scholars have had to do the bibliographic test with all ancient literature — including the classics — as no original documents of any ancient literature exists.
~ The Abundance of Biblical Manuscripts ~
Scholars believe the New Testament manuscripts to be the most frequently copied and widely distributed books of antiquity. The abundance of Scriptural manuscript copies have made it possible to reconstruct the original text with virtually complete accuracy. The authenticity of the New Testament text we have today rests on the foundation of a massive amount of historical documentation.
A great source for manuscript study, should you choose to invest some time doing so, is the Leuven Database. Another is the Center for the Study of the New Testament Manuscripts. It fills me with a awe to view a sixth century papyrus fragment containing the writing of Luke!
QUESTION: If stacked, how high do you think the New Testament manuscripts would be? Go on, take a guess!
~The earliest manuscript of plays by Sophocles, one of three great tragic playwrights of Athens, is about 3rd century BC, with about 200 extant manuscripts.
~The earliest of Plato’s Tetralogies (many of his works were compiled into groups of four called “Tetralogies”) is AD 895, with 200+ extant manuscripts.
~The earliest surviving manuscript of Homer’s The Iliad, which highlights the final weeks of the Trojan War, is about 400 BC. More manuscript discoveries have been made of this epic poem than any other classical work, yet the number of extant manuscripts is less than 2,000.
~ Of just the 5,800+ Greek New Testament manuscripts, there are more than 2.6 million pages! Combining both the Old and New Testament, we have more than 66,000 manuscripts and scrolls!
ANSWER: That equates to one mile of New Testament manuscripts (and 2.5 miles for the entire Bible), compared with an average four feet of manuscript by the average classical writer.
Writes New Testament scholars and biblical linguistic experts Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts:
When compared with other works of antiquity, the New Testament has far greater (numerical) and earlier documentation than any other book. Most of the available works of antiquity have only a few manuscripts that attest to their existence, and these are typically much later than their original date of composition, so that it is not uncommon for the earliest manuscript to be dated over nine hundred years after the original composition.
~ Passing the Bibliographic Test With Flying Colors ~
Scholars representing different specialties and eras agree that bibliographical test validates and confirms that the New Testament has been accurately transmitted throughout the centuries.
So any skeptic choosing to reject the transmissional reliability of the Bible employs an obvious double standard. To reject the Bible’s vetted reliability requires also considering unreliable all other manuscripts of antiquity.
Says New Testament scholar J. Harold Greenlee in his Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism:
Since scholars accept as generally trustworthy the writings of the ancient classics even though the earliest manuscripts were written so long after the original writings and the number of extant manuscript is in many instances so small, it is clear the reliability of the text of the New Testament is likewise assured.
Is that cool or what? Some great information to have on hand and share the next time you’re asked why you believe in the Bible. In next week’s post we’ll look at eight tests that prove the accuracy of the New Testament accounts. See you then!
Does History Reliably Prove the Bible’s Gospels?
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Historical Reliability Confirms the Gospels.
The historical reliability of the Bible can be tested by the same criteria by which all historical documents are tested. The Christian faith, after all, is tied to specific historical events that can be confirmed through multiple sources. It is not, as one critics assert, “just a bunch of made-up stories.”
Donald Hagner, professor emeritus of New Testament at Fuller Tehological Seminary, explains the connection between the Christian faith and real historical events this way:
“True Christianity, the Christianity of the New Testament documents, is absolutely dependent on history. At the heart of the New Testament faith is the assertion that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5;19). The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a real event in time and space, i.e., as historical realities, are the indispensable foundations of the Christian faith. To my mind, then, Christianity is best defined as the recitation of, the celebration of, and the participation in God’s acts in history, which as the New Testament writings emphasize have found their culmination in Jesus Christ.“
Three specific tests that scholars, researchers, and archaeologists use to determine a document’s authenticity include the bibliographical test, the internal evidence test, and the external evidence test. As the original autographs of the New Testament books have not been found, scholars must examine the early handwritten copies of these Scriptures. Do they stand up to the question of “Is this really true?” Or are Christians simply clinging to “blind faith”?
I like what Dr. Steven Collins says in the start of his talk titled “Confirming the Bible Through Archaeology“:
“If the realities of the events and the world presented to us on the pages on the Bible didn’t actually occur, then where in the world do we get off on trying to believe and place our lives on the invisible stuff? If you can’t trust the Bible for what you can see and test and dig up, then all of that other stuff, how would you put your trust in that? I don’t think it would be a smart bet to do it!”
In this blog post, let’s look briefly at how the Gospels fit into history: when they were likely written, and some of the historical events, persons, and cultural details that historians trust as verified by external sources.
~ Dating the Four Gospels and Book of Acts
When scholars assign dates to manuscripts, we find that those dates sometimes vary not just by a few years or even decades but even by centuries. Why is this? One major reason is the personal worldview and and presuppositions that scholars and researchers bring to their study of Scripture.
Conservative scholars tend to date the New Testament Gospels earlier that do liberal scholars. Conservative scholars, for example, date the book of Matthew to be early AD 60s-80, while liberal scholars date the writings at AD 80-100. Conservative scholars date the book of John at mid AD 60s-100, liberal scholars date the writing at AD 90-100. All scholars, however, typically place the date of Jesus’ death around the year AD 30, and Paul’s letters (the earliest New Testament books) in the decade of the 50s. So we can use those dates as starting points.
~ Matthew ~
When was this gospel written? A confirmation of the date of Matthew’s writing comes from an external source: a report by Irenaeus, a second-century church father, who said that Matthew composed his gospel “while Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel and founding the church in Rome.” The only time that we know that Peter and Paul were together in the capitol of the Roman Empire was the early to mid-60s.
Those who reject this timing do so because Matthew writes of Jesus predicting the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 24: 1, 2), which happened in AD 70. These scholars argue that Matthew must have been written after the event, because they don’t believe in predictive prophesy. But if it can be demonstrated that supernatural events can and do, occur, this argument simply doesn’t hold up.
Another reason scholars give for proposing a later date relates to Matthew’s writing of the tensions between Pharisaic Judaism and Christian Judaism. Some argue that these tensions reflect the latter half of the first century, during the war with Rome that left these groups as the only two surviving forms of Judaism. This argument, however, ignores that the tensions had already started in the 60s. Matthew records Jesus at odds with Sadducees and other leaders, not just the Pharisees.
A third reason for proposing a later date for the gospel of Matthew is that the book of Mark was likely written first, and Mark is thought to have been written in the 70s. But Mark could very well have been written in the later 50s or 60s.
~ Mark ~
Though many scholars believe the book of Mark was the first gospel written, probably within 25 years of Jesus ascending to heaven, it is notoriously difficult to date. Early church tradition defines Mark as an associate of Peter. This is because of the considerable amount of attention the gospel of Mark gives to Peter, and the fact that Peter is mentioned near the beginning and the end of the narrative (Mark 1:16, 16:7). The majority of Mark’s oral materials were the result of his regular contact with Peter. Mark would most likely have been written before Peter was martyred (AD 65), or shortly thereafter.
A bilingual Hellenist, John Mark — John was his Hebrew name and Mark his Greek name — was a cousin of the wealthy Cyprian landowner Barnabas (Colossians 4:10, Acts 4:36), and would have been a very young man at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. His wealthy family occupied a significant place in early Christian communities, first in Jerusalem and later Antioch. His mother’s house in Jerusalem served as a gathering point for believers; Mark would have interacted with these believers closely.
Peter, later writing from Rome, would refer to Mark as “my son” (1 Peter 5:13), giving evidence of the closeness of their relationship. Mark joined his cousin Barnabas and Paul in their early travels from Antioch (Acts 12:25; 13:2-3) and, in spite of a falling out (Acts 13:13; 15:36-39), Mark later worked closely with Paul, even being summoned to Paul’s last imprisonment in Rome (2 Timothy 4:11). Some of Mark’s insights into Jesus’ significance may have come from Paul, to whom Jesus appeared (1 Corinthians 15:8).
~ Luke-Acts ~
The gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are often referred to together as “Luke-Acts” because Luke wrote both of these accounts, probably within a close time period. Although the date of Luke continues to be debated, it is generally agreed that Luke wrote his gospel before Acts and after Mark. Luke’s writings talk about Jesus’ ministry, and provide an account of the progress of the gospel after His death. Although Luke does not explicitly quote from Paul’s letters, his writings reflect the influence of Paul’s thoughts. The best estimate for the dating of Acts places the work between AD 62 and 64. Some factors can be listed that make a strong case for this:
~ Luke mentions the city of Jerusalem about 30 times in his gospel, and about 60 times in the book of Acts; far more times than any other New Testament writer. Luke fails to mention the destruction of the Jewish temple, which took place in AD 70. It makes sense, then, to date the book of Acts before the temple was destroyed.
~ Acts does not mention the severe persecutions of the Roman emperor Nero, which started in the mid-60s. If written during this period, surely Luke would have recorded this dark period of the early church. Luke does not mention the wars against the Romans, which began in AD 66.
~ Luke records the martyrdoms of Stephen and James the brother of John, but is silent on the martyrdoms of Peter, Paul, and James. These three prominent figures died between AD 61 and 67. If Luke wrote Acts after their deaths, he probably would have recorded them in his history of the early church.
~ John ~
Throughout John’s gospel, we see Jesus in human form, compassionately interacting with the very humanity for whom He came to save. That makes it, perhaps, the most relatable gospel. John’s single focus: for us to recognize that Jesus is the Christ.
Scholars suggest a wide possible timeframe for the date of John’s writings; that any date between about AD 55 and 95 is possible. This is because no argument tied to a specific date is entirely convincing. Because of John’s emphasis on Jesus as the divine Son of God, however, many liberal scholars lean toward a later writing date, supposing that such a high view of Jesus’ divinity did not form until later in history. Some scholars believe John’s gospel was penned shortly before his letters, which were written in the 90s in response to gnostic misinterpretations of his gospel. This would place his gospel as likely being written in the 80s.
~ The Question to Ask of the Gospels ~
It is doubtful that there ever was a substantial period of time in which the early church lacked written accounts of Jesus’ ministry; it’s more a question of recognizing that the materials on which they were written had a limited shelf life. As we covered in a previous post, the early writers had to rely on papyrus and parchment. We’re fortunate for the availability of eyewitnesses and the reliability of oral tradition, as well as the fact that for centuries Scripture has been scrutinized to confirm its God-breathed truth.
It can be reasonably argued that all four biographies of Jesus, as well as the book of Acts, were written within a few decades — and certainly within a century — of the events they describe. Even most non-Christian scholars acknowledge this and place the canonical Gospels and Acts securely within the first century. But even if a radically late dating were correct, we would still have records for the events surrounding the origin of Christianity that are earlier than those sometimes used to support unquestioned events in history.
So, knowing that the Gospels enjoy historical validation, let’s look at their message. Are the Gospels true? Why do we need to care? Pastor Steven J. Cole has a ready answer:
“If Jesus is who the Bible portrays Him to be and who He claimed to be—the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God—then the only sensible response is to trust Him as your Savior from sin and judgment and to follow Him as your Lord. If He is not who the Bible portrays Him to be, then you’re wasting your time being a Christian, because you’re following a fictional character. ‘Who do you say that I am? is the crucial question in life!”
The Bible is God’s Word to us, and the Gospels his Love Song. Have confidence that God longs to have a relationship with you. We can trust the Good News!
An Investigation: Who Decided What to Include in the Bible?
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Did God or Man Chose the Bible’s Contents?
In our last two blog posts in this series we talked about 1) aspects of the Bible that make it unique among world literature, and 2) the physical materials used by ancient scribes to produce copies of Scripture. Now let’s dive into a question that many people ask: Who got to decide which scriptures were included in the Bible?
It’s a great question for you to ask, as it shows that you’re truly interested in having a solid understanding of church history.
To answer this question, we have to look at the biblical canon. The word canon comes from the root word reed, which was used as a measuring rod and came to mean “standard.” As applied to Scripture, canon means “an officially accepted list of books.” But what has made each book “acceptable” — and others not?
As I mentioned in last week’s post, some mistakenly think the Roman emperor Constantine simply made the decision of what to include when he commissioned 50 copies of the Bible for churches in his capitol city, Constantinople. But Constantine played no role in the Bible’s formation, despite what Dan Brown asserts as historical “fact” in his novel, The DaVinci Code. The 39 books of the Old Testament form the Bible of Judaism; the Christian Bible adds the additional 27 books of the New Testament. This complete list of books was found “acceptable” because the church deemed them to be divinely inspired books. They possess, simply, the stamp of God’s authority.
The canon wasn’t a quick decision by one man, then, but the product of centuries of reflection by the Church.
Sean McDowell succinctly explains this:
From the writings of biblical and church history we can discern at least five principles that guided the recognition and collection of true, divinely inspired books. Let’s review them.
~ The Canon’s Guiding Principles ~
Scholars present the five principles like this:
Was the book written by a prophet of God?
If it was written by a spokesman of God, then it was the Word of God.
Was the book confirmed by acts of God?
Often, miracles separated true prophets from false ones. Examples of true prophets: Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Miracles, by definition, are acts of God to confirm the Word of God given through a prophet of God to the people of God. They were (and are!) signs that substantiated God’s message.
Did its message tell the truth about God?
Church fathers maintained this policy: “If in doubt, throw it out.” This policy enhanced the validity of their discernment of the canonical books.
Does it come with the power of God?
The early church leaders believed the Word of God was alive and active (as it remains today!), and thus would be a transforming force for edification and evangelism. In other words, if the message of a book did not have the power to change a person, then God was apparently not behind its message.
Was it accepted by the people of God?
When a book was received, collected, read, and used by the people of God, it was regarded as canonical.
~ Old Testament Canon ~
The Old Testament canon is the treaty document that God made with Israel. The covenant is the single most important theological structure in the Old Testament.
The Talmud, an ancient collection of rabbinical laws, law decisions, and comments on the law of Moses preserves the oral tradition of the Jewish people. One compilation was made in Jerusalem between 350 and 425 AD. An expanded compilation of the Talmud was made in Babylonia about 500 AD. Each compilation is known by the name of its place of compilation. The Talmud helped to establish the Jewish canon by rejecting later writings, including the Christian Gospels, which they judged to be heretical works. Evidence clearly supports the theory that the Hebrew canon was established well before the late first century AD, though more likely as early as the fourth century BC.
A major reason for this conclusion comes from the Jews themselves, who from the 4th century BC onward were convinced that “the voice of God had ceased to speak directly.” In other words, the prophetic voice had been stilled. No word from God means no new Word of God. We know that Jesus often referred to the Old Testament; there is no evidence that He found fault with the canonicity of any Old Testament book.
Of interest: the Catholic Bible includes 14 books considered not canonical, which are collectively known as the Apocrypha. Apocrypha are works of unknown authorship or doubtful origin. These books were included in the Septuagint (the primary translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek) and the Latin Vulgate (Jerome’s 4th century Bible translation that became the Catholic Church’s official version in 1546).
When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German in 1534, he moved the books to the end of the Old Testament, saying that though they were not equal to the Sacred Scriptures, they were still “useful and good for reading.” Many Protestant Bibles later omitted the books entirely. Jesus and the New Testament writers never quoted from the Apocrypha. But many Christians find them of interest, as they contain historical information. They are not “heretical” or “false” to the basic tenets of Christianity.
~ New Testament Canon ~
Early Christianity and the New Testament emerged with the larger context of Judaism. Christians of the early church regarded the Old Testament story as incomplete and in need of a proper conclusion.
Because of Jesus, early Christians believed God was ushering in a new covenant. As they believed the apostles possessed the authority of Christ, the early believers received their writings as the very words of Christ himself. The apostles spoke with authority, but they always based their claims solely and directly upon their commission by the Lord.
The initial reason for collecting and preserving these inspired books was that they were prophetic. As well, because of the rise of heretical movements — each with its own selected scriptures — the church needed to know which books should be revered, read in church services, and applied to life. Early Christians needed assurance of which books served as their source of authority.
Says scholar J.K. Elliot, “It is likely that the codex (book form of the Scriptures) in which the Christian scriptures circulated helped to promote the establishment of the definitive, fixed canon of the 27 books we know as the New Testament. When each book circulated as a separate entity, obviously there was no limit to the number of texts that could be received. When certain, approved, texts were gathered into small collections this had the effect of ostracizing and isolating texts which were not deemed suitable for inclusion.”
By the end of the fourth century the canon was definitively settled and accepted — but not as part of the Council of Nicea, as some wrongly believe. The Council of Carthage established the orthodox New Testament canon in 397 AD; it was upheld at the Council of Trent in