Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

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The Birth of Jesus- Myth or History?

Monday, December 12th, 2011

It looks like American Atheists is at it again.  Just in time for the holidays, the organization has sponsored billboards all over the country to wage war on Christianity.  The orange and black billboard displays four images:   a statue of the Roman god Neptune, Santa Claus, a guy wearing a suit and a devil mask, and a classical portrait of Jesus Christ.  The sign is punctuated by the words, “37 million Americans know MYTHS when they see them-  What do YOU see?”  All of this comes as no surprise since the same organization held a similar campaign last year in which they put up billboards depicting The Nativity with the accompanying message, “You KNOW it’s a myth-  this season, celebrate REASON.”  The obvious common denominator between the two signs is the message that Jesus is nothing more than a myth.

If given the opportunity to speak to those who designed the billboard, here are a few questions that I would like to ask them:  “Just for clarification, when you make the claim that Jesus is just a myth, do you mean that the entire story of Jesus is a myth?  Are you saying that Jesus was not a real person in terms of history, or are you specifically referring to the miracles attributed to him?  That is, are you saying that Jesus was a real, historical figure, but any details referring to his virgin birth and miraculous acts are mere fabrications that were added to the historical account?”   All of these questions are very important, so I want to take a moment to address them separately.

For starters, let’s investigate the claim that the entire story of Jesus is a work of fiction.  Is it true that Jesus was not a real person in terms of history?  The fact of the matter is that you would be hard-pressed these days to find a respectable scholar, even among critics of the Bible, who is willing to make such a bold claim.  Nevertheless, there are a few people in academia who continue to insist that the Jesus of the New Testament never actually existed.  Those who hold such a view will oftentimes state it this way;  “Outside of the New Testament, we’ve never found any other ancient writings that acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as a real, historical figure.”

In response to such a statement, the first thing we need to ask the critic is why is it necessary to find a source outside of the New Testament?  In other words, even if it was the case that the New Testament documents were the only historical records that mention Jesus, why isn’t that sufficient?  Why must we accept the terms set by the critic who demands that the New Testament documents are unacceptable unless they are supported by other, additional writings?  This raises another related question:  Why is it that the New Testament documents are assumed to be “guilty until proven innocent” when nearly every other ancient historical document is approached on the basis that it is trustworthy until proven otherwise?  There is no reason why the New Testament writings should be treated any differently or with any less respect than we give to any other historical documents, especially in light of the fact that the New Testament documents are better attested to than any other ancient documents in terms of manuscript evidence alone.  In addition to this, the New Testament surpasses most other ancient documents in terms of confirmation through archaeological discoveries.

Take, for example, the book of Acts which is a historical record of the early Christian church immediately following the resurrection of Jesus.  If the book of Acts is merely a work of fiction by the author (Luke), then one could easily expose it as such.  It leaves itself open and vulnerable to careful scrutiny by virtue of the fact that it is filled with very specific details in terms of naming exactly who, what, when, where, why, and how the alleged events took place.   In his scholarly work, “The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History”, historian Colin Hemer painstakingly verifies Luke’s accuracy in the book of Acts by identifying in precise detail 84 facts recorded by Luke that have been confirmed by archaeological and historical research.  Luke’s careful attention to detail in recording historical events led British archaeologist Sir William Ramsay to conclude after thirty years of study, “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…..this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”  (“The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament”, p.222).

So, what does all of this have to do with the question of whether or not Jesus was a real person in history?  The author of the book of Acts is the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke in which he carefully records a detailed account of the birth of Jesus, as well as his life, ministry, miracles, trial, execution and resurrection.  The point is, since Luke has proven himself to be an accurate historian in the book of Acts, we have good reason to think that he was just as careful in meticulously gathering and recording the historical facts surrounding the life of Jesus as presented in the Gospel of Luke.  Furthermore, this affirms the historical accuracy of the other three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and John) where the events they record correspond to the details given in Luke’s Gospel.  The abundance of historical and archaeological evidence in support of the New Testament should be enough to convince any honest, open-minded person that the Gospels give us an accurate, reliable, historical record of the life and words of Jesus.  The New Testament documents stand on their own merits according to the generally-accepted methods of historical investigation.  But for the sake of the hard-core skeptic who insists on citing ancient sources outside the Bible, there are several non-Biblical sources from the ancient world which affirm the historical certainty of the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Such sources would include the writings of Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Phlegon, Thallus, Seutonius, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, Tacitus, Celsus, and the Jewish Talmud.  (It’s worth noting that the last three in this list are not only non-Biblical sources, they could be considered anti-Biblical sources).

This brings us back to the initial claim by American Atheists that Jesus is just a myth.  As we’ve seen, they certainly cannot mean that he never existed.  They can only mean that they believe that the miracles recorded in the New Testament, such as his virgin birth, are nothing more than fanciful additions to the story of Jesus.  However, this, too, is an assumption that is not based on evidence or good scholarship.  It is a misguided conclusion based on an atheist bias.  That is to say, before they even look at the evidence, they already have their minds made up that God does not exist.  Therefore, miracles (being an act of God) cannot and do not occur.  Their bias demands a naturalistic explanation.

However, such a false conclusion about the “impossibility” of miracles is not only unnecessary, it is irrational, especially in light of the cumulative evidence for God’s existence.  The latest discoveries in cosmology, physics, biology, genetics, etc. all point unmistakably to a Divine Architect.  That being the case, it logically follows that if God has the authority and power to bring the universe and everything in it into being at His command, then it is not beyond His power to send His Son into this world in an extraordinary way, born of a young virgin, in fulfillment of a prophecy given by Isaiah almost 700 years earlier.  “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’-  which means, ‘God with us’.”  (Matthew 1:22,23)

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Posted in Bible | 8 Comments »

Are Christians Narrow-Minded?

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

I want to begin by stating unambiguously that I am convinced that Jesus Christ is the only way to God and that there is salvation in no one else.  I’m fully aware of the fact that for me to say something like that is to invite accusations of everything from “hate” to “intolerance”, “bigotry”, “narrow-mindedness”, and “arrogance.”  I suppose that one of the reasons that people react this way is because so many people have bought into the idea that truth is “relative”- that everyone “has their own truth.”  Another reason has to do with the fact that in today’s world, the term “tolerance” has been radically redefined to suggest that everyone’s view is correct and that no one can ever say that someone else’s view is wrong.  As a result of such confusion, whenever someone comes along and suggests that some views are wrong and that some ideas are more true than others, that person is immediately labeled as narrow-minded.  Given that such misguided views of truth and tolerance are so pervasive in our culture today, how do we, as Christians, respond to such charges without compromising the truth of the Gospel?

I believe that there are at least three points that need to be made when addressing this accusation of narrow-mindedness.  First of all, it’s important to point out that we are not the ones who came up with the idea that Jesus is the only way.  Jesus is the one who made that claim.  So, whenever someone asks me if I believe that Jesus is the only way to God, I often tell them that I am convinced, after looking at the evidence, that Jesus was telling the truth when he made the claim that he is the only way to God.  Stating it this way makes it clear that their struggle is not really with us, it’s with him. If they feel that such a claim is arrogant, narrow-minded, and intolerant, then they’re going to have to take that up with him, since he is the one making the claim.

Secondly, when someone accuses us of being narrow-minded on this issue, it’s important for us to point out that if they are not willing to give an open, honest, unbiased examination of the evidence supporting Jesus’ claim, then they are being closed-minded themselves.  Interestingly enough, it is often those who are the most vocal about open-mindedness and tolerance who turn out to be the most intolerant and closed-minded people of all!

Thirdly, it is extremely important for us to understand and to point out to our critics that truth, by definition, is narrow and exclusive. It always is.  For example, suppose that I make the truth claim that my keys are in my right front pocket.  If that really is the case, then that statement is absolutely true.  And not only is it true, but that truth is also narrow and exclusive.  Think for a moment about just how narrow that truth really is.  Out of all of the infinite possible locations in the entire universe where they could have been or may have been, we have narrowed it down to only ONE location that is true.  Furthermore, not only is that truth extremely narrow, it’s exclusive as well, because in telling you where the keys are, it’s also telling you where the keys are not. It is excluding all of the other locations as false. As I said, truth, by definition, is always narrow and exclusive.

One final point.  If anyone is going to accuse Christianity of being exclusive, it’s only “exclusive” in the sense that it’s making a truth claim.  But, as we’ve just seen, this is the case with any truth claim.  On the other hand, Christianity is NOT exclusive with regard to the extent of its invitation and to whom it is offered. This becomes clear as we consider a few of the passages of Scripture referring to God’s offer of salvation.  Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37).  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).  “(God is) not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  (2 Peter 3:9b).  “(God) wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  (1 Tim. 2:4).

The message of the Gospel is clear.  God is offering his salvation to anyone and everyone who is willing to come to him.  Our refusal to do so and our insistence that God should have come up with a plan that meets our approval, only goes to show that we are the ones who are being narrow-minded, not God.

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Posted in Christianity and Culture | Comments Off

Christianity 101

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking to a classroom full of bright, young students at one of the local community colleges.  The invitation had come from a good friend of mine who teaches a class on Philosophy and World Religions.  As he covered various world religions, he would invite speakers representing those religions to come and field questions regarding their particular belief system.  On the day that his class was covering Christianity, he had asked me and one of the pastors from my church to come participate in the Q&A sessions.

In-between sessions, he said something to me that was very troubling.  He said that he had asked some of the Christian students in his class if they knew what the Gospel was, and if they could explain it, but no one responded.  I would certainly hope that the students who remained silent were just reluctant to do so because they were uncomfortable speaking up in front of the class.  I would hate to think that they really did not know nor understand the Gospel, although I wouldn’t be too surprised by that.  Sadly, it’s getting much harder these days to find a church that is in the habit of regularly presenting the Gospel.  In fact, my friend had further commented to me that many of those same Christian students had remarked that in their church they had never heard their pastor explain the Gospel.  If that’s true, it is worse than tragic, it’s shameful!  To further complicate things, when well-meaning people do attempt to present the Gospel, they often make the mistake of presenting it as if it was merely some means by which we can “become a better person.”  But, as Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias has pointed out, “Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but dead people alive.”  Furthermore,  when the Gospel is presented, it is often couched in terminology that most people cannot understand or cannot relate to in today’s world.  With this in mind, the following is the manner in which I explained the Gospel to his class that day.

It all begins with God.  This God really does exist.  I’m not simply saying that I have a “personal belief” in God or that I have a “personal faith” in God.  I’m saying much more than that. The latest discoveries in science affirm the fact that this God really does exist, whether people choose to believe it or not.  Secondly, this God is absolutely holy and just. This is crucial to understand especially in today’s world where people have tried to invent a “god” of their own liking by reducing Him to an image that they, personally, find much more convenient and much more comfortable.  They’ve imagined a god who is all-loving, who never judges anyone.  But a god who is so “loving” that he never judges evil is not a  just judge.  To say that God is holy is to say that there is absolutely no trace of evil or imperfection anywhere in His character.  He is the embodiment of absolute justice.

The bad news is that you and I have rebelled against God by knowingly, willingly, daily, repeatedly violating His Laws.  Therefore, all of us are lawbreakers- we are all guilty and we know it.  The other bad news is that each one of us has an expiration date stamped on us.  The time will come when you and I must die- but it doesn’t end there.  You and I will survive the grave to someday appear before God, the One Who is the final Judge over all that He has created.  As our case is brought before Him, every thought, word,  and action that we’ve lived out will testify against us.  As we stand before Him, there will be no doubt in our minds that we deserve His justice.  We stand there as condemned criminals- He knows it and we know it.  That’s the bad news.

The good news (“Gospel”) in all of this is that out of His unimaginable love, as a supreme act of grace on His part, God, from the beginning of time, set forth a plan whereby we could be pardoned. When God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to die on the cross, something of enormous consequences was taking place, such that my mind cannot fully grasp it.  When Jesus died on the cross, it’s as if God had reached out and dipped His pen in the blood of His Son and wrote out a contract with the human race.  As with any contract, there are terms of agreement and they are as follows:  Anyone who is willing to turn away from their rebellious behavior and acknowledge God’s authority  by surrendering their life to His Son will be found “not guilty” when they are brought before God.  This offer will not be made to anyone after they die.  Only those who were willing to enter into this contract with Him on His terms will be pardoned of their crimes against Him.  Their case will be dismissed, all charges will be dropped, and they will be acquitted of every offense they’ve committed against Him.  But there’s more.  Not only will they be pardoned, but God has made the magnanimous offer of granting them eternal life and they will be given the incredible privilege of spending eternity with Him in His kingdom.

That, my friends, is the Gospel.  And now you know why the Gospel is not just “good news”, it is the greatest news that has ever fallen on human ears.

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Posted in Theology | 11 Comments »

Being Hypocritical About Hypocrisy

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Once again, the Catholic Church is in the news and, once again, it involves allegations of priests within the Church sexually abusing minors.  As would be expected, it has been a feeding frenzy for the media, with each news outlet rushing to outdo the other when it comes to breaking the big story.  There’s really nothing unusual about the media jumping all over a sensational story- we’ve come to expect that.  What I do find unusual is that they seem to get a certain pleasure out of covering any sort of scandal, particularly those that involve the Church, religious leaders, televangelists, and the like.  I suppose it is because the media and, in fact, most people in our culture today have expressed a real disgust for hypocrisy.  But while most people today feel that ‘hypocrisy’ is a term that applies only to those within the religious community who act inappropriately, the truth of the matter is that the term ‘hypocrite’ actually applies to anyone and everyone who behaves in a way that is inconsistent with their particular worldview.  As a result of this misunderstanding, what is often overlooked is the hypocrisy of those outside of the Church who are quick to condemn the hypocrisy of those within the Church.

Keep in mind that, according to recent surveys, the majority of the big players in the media proudly admit that they are humanists, atheists, or agnostics.  Given that they are looking at the world through the “lens” of atheism, etc., it logically follows that most of them would view matters of truth and morality as being “relative”.  Therein lies their hypocrisy.  For example, think for a moment how all of this relates to their reporting of the recent Church scandals.  The very same media that is so quick to tell us how wrong it is to judge others, find themselves doing exactly that-  passing judgment on the Catholic Church.  Secondly, the same media that claims that there is no such thing as absolute truth, end up contradicting themselves by accusing the Church of covering up the scandals through deception and lies.  Perhaps someone should point out to the media that a lie, by definition, is the denial of something that is absolutely true!  Lastly, the very same editors, writers, and news anchors who insist that it’s wrong to force your morality on others, find themselves in the position of forcing their morality on the Church by condemning the immorality of its sex offenders as well as condemning the Church for its hypocrisy.

I don’t want anyone to miss the main point here.  I am not, in any way, making excuses for those within the Catholic Church who have committed these terrible offenses.  It is imperative that the truth is pursued and that the offenders be brought to justice just like anyone else.  Still, there is a lesson in this for all of us.  For those within the Church, it is a painful reminder that actions really do speak louder than words.  Jesus reserved his strongest condemnation for religious leaders who acted hypocritically.  That alone should be enough to motivate any Christian to live consistently with their message.  But there is also a message in all of this for those outside of the Church- you can’t have it both ways.  If you’re going to insist that there is no truth, that it’s wrong to judge others, and that it’s wrong for someone to impose their morality on someone else, then you must remain silent on this issue, because to do otherwise would be hypocritical on your part… and I know how much you hate hypocrisy.

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Posted in Ethics | 2 Comments »

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  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.