Posts Tagged ‘the Bible’

|

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)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Bible | 8 Comments »

Reconciling A Loving God With The Reality Of Hell- (Part 1)

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

“How could a loving God allow anyone to go to hell?”  It’s one of those questions that almost every Christian dreads, especially when it’s asked of him or her by a friend, a family member, or a co-worker.  When confronted by it, it seems that most Christians either end up compromising the answer, or else they end up running away from the question altogether.  Why?  I think that there are a couple of reasons, one of which is the fact that it’s an extremely emotional question.  If the person asking this question has already lost someone close to them, the thought of their friend or loved one spending eternity in hell is so overwhelming that one cannot dwell on it for very long.  The second reason that many Christians are afraid to face up to this question is because it seems like a blatant contradiction.  After all, it’s become so popular these days to talk about a loving God, there seems to be something terribly inconsistent about suggesting that this same God will actually allow people to go to a literal hell-  forever.

            As I said, at first glance, this question sounds like a contradiction, but when properly understood, there is no contradiction at all.  When a skeptic or an unbeliever asks me this question, the first thing that I ask them is why do they believe that God is loving?  In other words, what are they basing that on?  How do they know that God is loving?  Is it something that they just arbitrarily made up on their own, or do they have good, sound reasons for believing something like that?  It’s an important question because most people just assume that the idea of a loving God is central to most religions, but that’s not the case at all.  A survey of most of the world’s major religions will reveal that the concept of a loving, personal God is nowhere to be found.  For example, the idea of a loving God cannot be found in Buddhism because Buddhism does not believe in a personal God to begin with, yet love must necessarily come from a person. 

            As it turns out, the only way that anyone can speak about a loving, personal God, and do so with any degree of certainty, is if they are willing to begin with the Bible as a reliable, authoritative source of truth.  However, if they’re going to use the Bible as their starting point, even if only for the sake of discussion (as a skeptic), they forfeit the right to pick and choose which attributes of God they like in the Bible and which ones they don’t like.  The Bible makes it perfectly clear that even though God is loving, he has other attributes as well.  It goes on to tell us that God is also perfectly righteous and holy.  Even the unbeliever can appreciate the fact that if God is so “loving” that he never punishes evil, then God is not a just judge- he is not a good judge.  Even the skeptic would not respect a God who is so careless or irresponsible with his love that he would allow all of the evil in this world to go unpunished.  So, while it may sound like a contradiction to ask how a loving God could allow someone to go to hell, there is nothing at all contradictory about a God who is also perfectly holy, just, and righteous allowing someone to go to hell.

            This leads me to my closing thought.  While the question of hell and a loving God involves no contradiction on God’s part, it does, however, expose a glaring contradiction on the part of the skeptic who asks this question.  Those who ask how a loving God could allow someone to go to hell are oftentimes the very same people who will later ask how a loving God could allow so much evil in our world.  In other words, according to them, if God is loving, he should not punish evil (in hell), yet at the same time, they believe that if God is loving, he should punish the evil and injustice that we see going on in our world-  a contradiction, for sure. 

            In my next post, I want to continue with this topic as we explore the reasons why so many people object to the idea of hell and why their objections don’t add up.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Theology | 1 Comment »

It’s A Matter Of Which Bias Is The Best Bias To Be Biased With

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

In my previous post I made mention of an editorial, written by a local high school student, which was published in his school’s newspaper.  I went on to explain that the author of the editorial had expressed a great deal of skepticism with regard to Christianity, the Bible, and the existence of God.  The reason that I decided to use his article as a springboard for discussion is because he raised some very important questions and objections that frequently come up in conversation whenever the topic of Christianity is being discussed. 

          One of the many issues that he raises is the idea that science has not only discredited the Bible, it has somehow called into question God’s very existence.  Throughout the article he attempts to portray the debate over God’s existence as a matter of “science vs. religion” or “facts vs. faith”.  For example, he states, “Of course many religious people dismiss the overwhelming majority of scientists as wrong.”  This idea that science and religion exist in two distinct, separate, and even opposing categories with no overlap between them is a view that seems to be held by most people today, both by believers and unbelievers alike.  As they see it, on the one hand you have science which deals only in matters of fact and reason, proven by experimentation.  On the other hand you have the category of religion which is portrayed as the very opposite of science, logic, reason, and rationality because it supposedly requires a “leap of blind faith”  as a feeble attempt to make up for its utter lack of scientific evidence and credibility.

            Even though this view of “science vs. religion” persists as one of the great myths of our time, it is not grounded in reality.  It cannot be the case that the debate over God’s existence is a matter of “faith vs. science” because both sides of the debate use scientific facts to support their view and both of them require some element of faith.  For example, the atheist, by faith, must believe that the universe either came from eternal matter or that it came from nothing, out of nothing, by nothing for no reason.  (By the way, notice that while some atheists ridicule Christians for believing that Someone created everything, they are apparently willing to believe that nothing created everything!)  In addition to their views on the origin of the universe, the atheist must believe, by faith, that the process of evolution began with the “biochemical evolution” of life from non-living matter.  By faith, the atheist must believe that the staggering complexity and order that we observe at every level in biological systems arose out of chaos and disorder.

            Not only do both sides of the “God debate” require some element of faith, both sides offer scientific arguments in an attempt to support their view.  The creationist and the evolutionist are both examining the same facts from the same fossil record, geology, biology, etc.  In the final analysis, the origins debate is not over the facts themselves.   The debate is strictly a matter of how to best interpret those facts. 

            When it comes to the process of interpreting the facts, one thing that we must be careful not to overlook is the role that one’s bias plays in that process.  In his editorial, the writer falsely assumes that all scientists are objective and unbiased when it comes to the process of interpreting the facts in front of them.  Either that, or he’s  assuming that no scientist would ever allow his or her bias to influence the outcome of their work.  At one point he writes, “Scientists are not trying to prove God is unreal, they base their work on evidence and logical reasoning.”  Let’s be up front and honest here.  Everyone has a bias of some sort, and everyone carries that bias with them wherever they go.  As a result, it influences everything they say and do, whether they are a teacher, a politician, a judge, or a scientist.  There is nothing “magic” about putting on a lab coat that somehow enables a person to suddenly give up their bias.  To illustrate, here are a couple of quotes from two scientists who are atheists:

“Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.”  

-Dr Steven Weinberg

Nobel Laureate in Physics: in New York Times, 11-21-06

 

“We take the side of science,…because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism….Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”  

-Richard Lewontin (of The Museum of Comparative Zoology) in “Billions and billions of demons.”  The New York Review, January 1997, p.31

 

So much for the editorial’s claim that no scientist is trying to disprove God’s existence.

            Not only does one’s bias play a role in interpreting the facts in science, it may actually be the most important factor of all.  If that’s the case, then the real question we need to ask is, “Which bias does the best job of explaining the facts?”  Or, as Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis says, “It’s a matter of which bias is the best bias to be biased with.”  The bias of an atheistic worldview suggests the following; Something came from nothing.  Order came from disorder. Life came from non-life.  Mind and consciousness came from inanimate matter.  Moral law and moral obligation came from amoral material.  Non-physical entities, such as information and the laws of logic came from purely physical processes. 

            In contrast to this, the bias of a Christian worldview offers us a more plausible, coherent, and comprehensive explanation that comports with reality.  As C. S. Lewis said,  “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Science | 2 Comments »

|
  • 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.