Monthly Archives: March 2012

God Creates

I’m taking a fascinating apologetics course entitled “Creation and the Bible” offered by Reasons To Believe.  The course provides a great opportunity to take a different tack to Bible study.  It’s like strapping a lawnmower engine to the back of your devotional life and yanking the starter cord.  Wow, what a blessing!

Mystic Mountain

Mystic Mountain in the Carina Nebula

In the midst of a great deal of cerebral reading about Special and General Revelation, Martin Luther’s ideas on Sola Scriptura, Old-Earth Creationism, Dual Revelation, and Philosophical Reductionism (no one will speak to me at parties now—I’m sure), I started reflecting on the magnificence of the Creator and his ongoing creation. We can read the creation account in Genesis 1 & 2, and struggle  to fathom what that was like 13.7 billion years ago, but to really appreciate its magnificence, look at the science of astronomy.  Yes, God created, but importantly, he creates.

Gas Pillars

Gas Pillars in the Eagle Nebula (M16): Pillars of Creation in a Star-Forming Region

These whimsical, other-worldly images are photos from the Hubble Telescope. Photos! So if you want to debate whether or not God can do any particular thing, look at the worlds he is creating right now.  It’s pretty hard to argue—God has impressive credentials.

Dave Rudy recently sent this link that demonstrates the scale of the Universe (it requires Flash). Scroll your mouse wheel to go into to the smallest theoretical building blocks of matter or back out to the outer limits of space.  As you get way out there, you’ll begin to appreciate how massive these created worlds are.  And there are billions of them in the night sky.

Psalm 19 states, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.”  The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”  These verses support the doctrine of General Revelation—that God reveals himself through his physical creation (nature), and that this revelation is universally evident.  The Bible (Scripture) is his inspired Special Revelation, where he makes clear those things which cannot be revealed by observing the natural world, such as the person and teaching of Jesus Christ and the resurrection.

As Lon Solomon would say, “So what?”  So we have two categories of revelation.  Great.  Huzzah for theologians.  But before yawning over General and Special Revelation consider this: what if all that groundbreaking scientific research can bring to bear regarding our understanding of the Universe actually supported God’s special revelation in the Scriptures?  In other words, how exciting would it be to discover that faith and science are not in conflict, but actually compliment each other?  What if some of the smartest and most gifted scientists—men and women who had distinguished themselves in fields like astrophysics and bioengineering—could use their studied observations about the physical world to corroborate what we read in the Bible?  Apologetics offers all that and more.  All it takes on our part is a little effort to hear them out.  You might be very surprised, as I am, to discover just how far these brainiacs can run with hard scientific evidence that proves what was written thousands of years ago by inspired writers.  It’s not just a few thoughts by a few scientists—it’s a landslide of evidence offered by an intellectual multitude.

If you want a real treat, get the Dual Revelation DVD—it gave me goosebumps.  These apologists have a powerful and refreshing way of looking at faith and the Bible.  You don’t have to park your brains at the door to be a Christian.  More to the point, our physical world does declare the glory of God.  But then again, someone came to that conclusion a long time ago.

New Manuscript Evidence

Several pieces of the New Testament have been discovered recently, that when properly vetted will comprise the oldest New Testament fragment of the Bible, and the earliest copies of several Pauline letters.  The discovery of these ancient documents is exciting enough for anyone interested in ancient artifacts and Bible history, but this particular story is shaping up to be the New Testament equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which broke the record of the oldest surviving copies of Old Testament manuscripts by 900 years.  In so doing they demonstrated very clearly the precision of ancient scribes in handing down the original text.  (The methods used by scribes, particularly the Masoretes, will be covered in a future post—suffice it to say these people were extremely meticulous in quality control, and the Dead Sea Scrolls proved just how effective their methods were.)

P52, The Rylands Papyrus

The Rylands Papyrus (P52): the ‘current’ oldest New Testament fragment

Paper deteriorates over time due to chemical reactions with the atmosphere.  This is particularly true of ancient papyrus, parchment and vellum, although there are tens of thousands of surviving specimens.  When it comes to the Bible, there are far more documented copies than for any other ancient text.  But the fact remains we do not have the original Biblical manuscripts—we only have copies.

Many skeptics have tried to prove that the Scriptures were changed—and therefore corrupted—as they were copied over time.  In fact, even Josh McDowell set out many years ago to make an “intellectual joke” of Christianity by undermining the authority of the Scriptures.  Working with this intention, Josh had two main questions on which he focused his research:

    1. Is what we have today in the Bible what was written down 2,000 years ago, and
    2. Was what was written down true?

Eventually Josh McDowell said, “I came to the conclusion that I can hold the Bible in my hand and say it is the word of God, it is true, and it is accurate historically.”  His research is documented in a foundational work entitled New Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

“Textual criticism” is the discipline that attempts to determine the original wording of any document whose original no longer exists.  Never heard of textual criticism?  Sounds pretty boring doesn’t it?  Turns out it is a big deal.  A very big deal.

There are those who purport that the Bible was so corrupted by changes during the copying process over time that we no longer have reliable copies of the original documents.  The implication is that if the text is corrupt, we can’t trust the Bible.  And it would be hard to argue that point if in fact the Bible had been substantively corrupted in its transcription.  We would then be left at best to make our own determinations about what parts are genuine and what parts we could or should overlook.  (Actually, there are a lot of people doing that anyway—without thinking about textual corruption—but that’s another matter.)

But a main contention of this blog is that the Bible can stand up to scrutiny, so bring it on.

Let’s start with the obvious: there are problems with our current Bibles.  Pick up a copy of the New International Version or English Standard Version, both meticulous translations, and you will find notes like these:

  • “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20” (Mark, Chapter 16), and
  • “The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11.  A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.”

In attempting to produce the most accurate text, the translating committees and publishers took the most reliable ancient (mostly Greek) texts to translate from among many copies, which did not settle the matter of the definitive text in these two instances.  But these are minor problems, and they don’t negate the original message of the entirety of Scripture.  You can argue that these passages should be cut from the Bible, but nothing would be changed or lost by such deletions.

But before taking liberties with scissors, meet Dr. Daniel B. Wallace and the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.  Dr. Wallace and his colleagues have spent decades studying ancient manuscripts.  They have developed intricate systems for comparing texts, and have some interesting conclusions about the accuracy of the Bibles we possess in the 21st century.  You might be very surprised at their take on textual criticism, and its value in defending the veracity of Scripture.  The Day of Discovery folks recently produced a three-part documentary on their work.

With that bit of introduction, read about Dr. Wallace’s exciting discoveries and all the press his work is generating.  He has a lot to say about the accuracy of the Bible.  He can quantify the textual variants, and you might be surprised to see how insignificant most of them are.  And how they resolve discrepancies between manuscripts.  Fortunately there’s a lot of evidence to work with in the thousands of manuscripts that are now catalogued.  You might also be interested to discover how the correct text can be determined from the volume of copies.  Don’t miss the radio interview in which he describes what is going on with the new discoveries and why he can’t rush to publish.  It’s important to get it right.  And that’s the point of this post.

Dan Wallace by Justin Taylor

Dan Wallace Interview

Paul’s Missionary Journeys

Here’s one of the best resources I’ve found for studying the Apostle Paul.  Dale Bargmann created a photo tour that traces Paul’s missionary journeys, with lots of sidebars and original material (Dale is a gifted photographer and has spent quite a bit of time photographing these locations and putting this material together).

Paul's Missionary Journeys

Paul's Missionary Journeys, by Dale Bargmann

To follow in an orderly (Kaqexeß) fashion, read down the left pane, and click the link at the bottom of each page.  Alternatively, use the navigation on the right to jump around.  You will find an amazing number of insightful comments while developing an appreciation for Paul and his ministry by ‘touring’ though this site.

Thanks Dale!

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu

The Apostle Paul was scrawny, hard on the eyes, not a good speaker, and constantly paid the price for his style and message.  He had lots of scars and baggage.  He made mistakes.  He considered himself, “…less than the least of all God’s people .”  And yet he was one of the most influential people who ever lived.  Two thousand years after his death, his letters are among the most reproduced documents in the history of mankind.

In 2 Corinthians 10 Paul responded to attacks against his ministry and his person.  He acknowledged that he was “timid when face to face” (v. 1),  and  that people were saying, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing” (v. 10).

It occurred to me this week, while thinking about Paul, that I had seen and heard someone who fit the description of being a less-than-impressive speaker, but having a powerful message that touched mankind.  Her name was Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, and she was often called ‘diminutive’.  And like Paul she had detractors.  But she had the courage of her convictions and she was able to demonstrate the mercy and love of Jesus Christ in incredible ways.  And for that she was memorable.

In 1994 she gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, attended by President Bill Clinton and a room full of dignitaries.  I remember that I could barely see her head above the podium, could barely make out what she was saying above the acoustics in the room, and that nevertheless she received a standing ovation.  It’s difficult to watch her speech (below) in some respects because she was not an impressive speaker.  But don’t miss the last minute when she stepped down from the podium.

So what did she say?  Here’s the impressive part—her transcript.  Many parts of her message confronted the views of the powerful people in the room, but she delivered it passionately anyway, to please an audience of one.  She had lived through unspeakable suffering to develop her message.  It’s the living Gospel ,with mandates and complete conviction.  Mother Teresa really walked the walk.  And she had a lot in common with the Apostle Paul.

Here’s a photograph of two renowned women—one was a beautiful lady who brought peace and joy to millions of people, and the other was a princess.

Princess Diana Meets Mother Teresa

Princess Diana Meets Mother Teresa

Lost Tomb of Jesus

One of the design goals of this blog is to weave in lots of Chapel DNA.  There are far too many Christian pastors, authors, speakers and bloggers who use their platforms to rail at their enemies.  You won’t find any of that in Dick Woodward’s teaching style—nor Bill Warrick’s.  Dick always says, “You don’t have to put anybody down to lift up Jesus Christ.”

Dick didn’t make this up.  Jesus had a lot to say during the Sermon on the Mount about how to react when people oppose you.  (To hear Jesus’ actual words, click the ‘Listen’ link on the top of this page.)  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a lot like boxing with your hands tied.  Expect opposing views.  Sometimes the opposition is confrontational, and sometimes it’s insidious.

The Naked Archaeologist, hosted by Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovichi (who is neither naked nor an archaeologist), was an interesting, entertaining, often frustrating TV show.  It was funny, offbeat, and presented lots of Biblical archaeology.  But every once in a while it would cross the line—playing loose with facts or throwing grenades at the Christian faith and running away with a smirk.  If you’re not a Christian it’s pretty much impossible to appreciate how important the resurrection is to our faith.  The Apostle Paul wrote quite firmly in 1 Corinthians 15 that, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”  This isn’t just poetic language and Paul wasn’t kidding.  Wish more people got it.  Paul died for that message.

Long story short, Simcha Jacobovichi partnered with Hollywood producer James Cameron and they created a documentary claiming that the lost tomb of Jesus had been found.  But as explained in the following video, there were some serious problems with how they put the material together, including clipping experts’ words to make them appear to say things they didn’t say, and smearing the reputations of some very credible professionals in their attempt to prove that Christianity is a farce.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, esteemed archaeologist Shimon Gibson is quick to point out that his work has been misrepresented in the documentary.  Dr. Gibson also wrote, “There is nothing to commend this tomb as the family tomb of Jesus.  At best the names of the ossuaries are suggestive but nothing more.”

Because of the implications, a seminar was held at Princeton in 2008.  I would encourage you to read the proceedings and follow-ups from that event if you have any doubt about this topic.  Trust the professionals—the real archaeologists and epigraphers—not the storytellers.  Neither the bones nor the tomb of Jesus have been found at Talpiot.

Here are additional sources if you’re interested:

Joe Zias Summary

Joe Zias

Miceàl Ledwith

Lawrence Gardner

To the weight of evidence against this claim, I would add my own questions:

  1. What reason would an entire family from Nazareth have to be buried in Jerusalem, 65 miles away (a long way to cart bodies in the first century)?
  2. How could Jesus’ body be laid on a shelf for one to two years to dry the bones prior to being placed in an ossuary—when all detractors could have so easily shut down the uprising by producing the body?
  3. Of the three ossuaries that have been found in Israel bearing an inscription “Jeshua bar Joseph,” why would you pick this one as belonging to Jesus of Nazareth?  And we may as well throw in the 71 other found ossuaries bearing the inscription ‘Jesus’ (according to a 1996 report by the BBC).

But unfortunately, this stuff sells, so here we go again.  As Justin Taylor commented yesterday on his blog they’re giving it another go.

I am grateful for men like Mark Driscoll, Ravi Zacharias and Lee Strobel who resolutely take up the challenges to our faith.  And you don’t have to put anyone down to lift up Jesus Christ.  Often a little light is all that’s needed.

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