A Bible Q&A Panel

My local church just finished a one-year survey of the Bible, and the year was ended with a Q&A session, that I am linking to, for your video viewing (follow this link: sorry, I was not able to embed the video itself!), with Pastors Travis Simone, Hunter Ruch, Rich Sylvester, Dale South and Claude Marshall. This was a fantastic example of how pastors with different views can come together in an attitude of humility, and model good conversation with one another.

When pastors preach, typically no one dares to ask a question. So, if you ever get stuck on something, you may or may not be able to get back to your pastor to discuss what concerns you. You may feel intimidated. You might never ask, as you might think you have a stupid question, when it really is not. That is why it is a good idea for pastors to have Q&A sessions like these to tackle sincere questions from the flock.

The times are approximate, but I have tried to mark the time when a question comes up in the discussion, so that you can track this easier. The questions were all really good:

  • 0:00 Music filler intro that you can skip.
  • 11:46 Introduction
  • 17:39 Why did Jesus of Nazareth never clarify to his listeners that he was born in Bethlehem as a fulfillment of prophecy?
  • 26:29 How do we handle the multiple interpretations of the Book of Revelation?
  • 49:06 How important is numerology in the Bible?
  • 1:00:00 How do we interpret the Rapture? How many times does the Bible say that Jesus is coming back?
  • 1:18:40 What is the Apocrypha? Is it important for us to know the Apocrypha?
  • 1:27:00 How are we to understand the Palestinian/Israeli conflict?
  • 1:38:00 What is our responsibility in submitting to civil authority from Romans 13?

A few comments on the questions:

  • The Nazareth/Bethlehem question is important as skeptic Bart Ehrman says that Jesus was really born in Nazareth, and that the Gospel writers invented the Bethlehem birth story as a way to have a cover for saying that Jesus was the  Messiah of Old Testament prophecy. It is helpful for Christians to think about this and have an answer for this claim.
  • Yes, there are multiple interpretations of the Book of Revelation, as well as different views of the Rapture, and the panel reflects this plurality of views: (1) a progressive dispensationalist, who holds to a pre-tribulational rapture, followed by a premillennial return of Christ; (2) a partial preterist, who believes that much of Revelation was fulfilled in the 1st century A.D. (except for the last few chapters of the book); (3) a post-tribulational rapture proponent, who holds to a non-dispensational, historic premillennialism view; and (4) an amillennialist, who is very wary of speculations regarding futurist views of Revelation. See if you can pick out which is which. Learn more about these different viewpoints here.
  • Regarding the Apocrypha, Protestants do not consider it as Scripture, but yes, it is important for us to know the basics of the Apocrypha, as it helps us to better understand the New Testament.
  • For more information about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, from a Biblical perspective, the video mentions a two-part Romans 9-11 Q&A session that dives into this in great detail (Night #1 & Night #2).
  • Romans 13. Yes, this is important in the age of COVID-19, where the importance of religious freedom needs to be balanced with public health concerns, and loving your neighbor well.

Enjoy the discussion.

 


State of Theology 2020

Every year Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research partner together to compare the theological beliefs of average Americans with those who claim to be evangelical Christians. This year’s survey report has some encouraging news, but also some red flag warning signs. The most disturbing news is that an alarming 1/3 of evangelical Christians, believe that Jesus was merely a great teacher, and not divine. That is no better than what the average American, including non-church going ones, believe about Jesus.  If you think that American evangelicals are being adequately taught the basics in Christian doctrine, you might want to think again (Read my case for why churches need to do a better job at Christian instruction, otherwise known as “catechesis”, at all ages).

Follow the link here for the State of Theology 2020 report’s key findings, or read the full report.


End of Summer 2020: A Summer Like No Other

Wow. What a year.

As we approach Labor Day weekend, I have a few thoughts about this crazy summer, and absolutely crazy year we have been through so far. We have seen out-of-control fires from Australia to California, an extremely active hurricane season, the leveling of a large swath of Beirut, Lebanon, an earthquake in nearby North Carolina (a few hours from me), and a leading evangelical Christian college president asked to step down from his position, due to scandal. Wow. What more can happen??

The Year 2020: In One Photograph.

Of course, the big news is the coronavirus, and this summer has taught us that we are in this for a long haul. The somewhat good news is that the pandemic, though still deadly and a real threat to the most vulnerable, has not turned out to be as bad as originally feared. Yet at the same time, the pandemic has managed to bring out the worst in people, including sadly a number of Christians.

From conspiracy theories ranging from irresponsible interpretations about the “Mark of the Beast,” (spoiler: taking the “Mark of the Beast” is a loyalty oath. Christians need not fear that, unless they plan on committing apostasy), to the Q Anon political conspiracy that fascinates right-wing leaning persons, it seems like far too many people are addicted to their Facebook feeds and reckless Twitter tweets, while a good chunk of the world economy is in partial lock-down.

The Q Anon thing is quite concerning as it reminds me of the Satanic ritual abuse madness that swept through evangelical circles in the 1980s and early 1990s, that I got caught up in…. and it turned out to be an exaggerated hoax…. leading to dozens of false arrests and wrongful incarcerations…. and today’s obsession with Q Anon is likewise causing a younger generation to mistrust what Christians are saying about the Gospel.

Concurrently, very real and legitimate concerns and protests over police brutality and racism have tragically triggered a series of riots and violence, many have not seen since the 1960s.  Much of this has been invigorated by and has invigorated a cancel-culture, driven by an ideologically-rooted critical theory worldview, surging from the far-left, a movement that has been slowly creeping into even some corners of the evangelical church. Free speech is under attack, along with mainstream science (!), propagated by this new quasi-religion that is infiltrating just about every Western cultural institution, where domestic terrorism against individuals and businesses gets strangely overlooked, rationalized by such mind-boggling calls for “defunding the police,” and now… get this…. “2+2 = 5“.

I feel like I am being sandwiched in by insanity from both sides.

Oh, yeah. We still are not done with 2020 yet. We have a Presidential election to get through.

Lord help us all.

I try to steer clear of politics on the Veracity blog, as much as I can. But I will put this out there just this one time: In case you have not seen this, Unity2020 is worth at least a look. Yes, it is crazy. Will it even work? Maybe….Maybe not. But can it be any crazier than the polarized divide we already have now? The key is to see if the proposed candidates might consider running, and if the plan might gain ballot access, in time for the election. If you are not interested, that’s fine. I do not plan on bringing it up again.

Despite the insanity, there is some good news to report, along with some other very interesting things I want to link to and post, some sobering, others encouraging….. I am lumping these odds-n-ends all in this single blog post. Some topics deal with current events, but other things are items that have helped me better understand the Bible, and more importantly, the God who authored it:

  • Fellow Veracity blogger, John Paine, sent me this about photo-realistic portraits of Roman emperors. Pretty cool.
  • British pastor Andrew Wilson invited historian Carl Trueman to deliver this year’s “Think” lectures at the Kings Church London this summer, on the topic “Knowing God: Where Evangelicals Get the Doctrine of God Wrong and What To Do About It.”  Trueman is one of the most penetrating Christian intellectuals living today. View the sessions here.

And finally, Veggie-Tales creator Phil Vischer released a follow-up video to his “racism” video that went viral this summer (View the first video here). Some tremendous food for thought, for an informed conversation about racism:


Was Jesus an Essene?

Was Jesus, or key leaders of the early Christian community, members of the “Dead Sea Scrolls” community at Qumran?

Cave #4 at Qumran, at the Dead Sea. The vast majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in the late 1940s, date back to within a few hundred years BEFORE the time Christ. Many scholars contend that the community at Qumran, who maintained the scrolls, were the Essenes, a Jewish ascetic sect. Was Jesus an Essene? The evidence suggests that the answer is “NO.” But that does not prevent people from promoting a type of conspiracy theory thinking that Jesus WAS an Essene. Did the early Christian movement hide this fact from the rest of us?

When I was in the Holy Land some 25 years ago, I heard a lecture delivered by a small cadre of scholars, who were discussing the possibility that either John the Baptist and/or Jesus was an Essene. Others, like retired Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, Robert Eisenmann, have suggested that James, the brother of Jesus, was a member of this group, and wrote a bunch of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

This eclectic group went onto propose a variety of “theories,” suggesting that the original, authentic Christianity of Jesus was essentially hijacked by the Apostle Paul, or some say the “Roman Catholic Church,” to give us today what we think is Christianity. Instead, the real Christianity was hidden away in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and now such fringe scholars have figured out how to bring the “truth” to the light of day.

In some circles, these are very popular views. Nevertheless, such fringe scholarship promotes conspiracy theory thinking that oddly ties the Dead Sea Scrolls to the New Testament. The most popular “theory” advanced by this fringe movement made its way into Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel and movie, The Da Vinci Code, which many bizarrely think is based on “fact.” But other competing, and frankly, contradictory “theories” abound as well.

Nevertheless, the bulk of the Dead Sea Scroll documents do NOT contain the New Testament. What the Dead Sea Scrolls contain, in direct relevance to our Bibles, is a complete record of all of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures, what Christians typically call the “Old Testament,” except the book of Esther. Nearly all of these scrolls can be dated to roughly 300 to 100 years before the birth of Christ. The community at Qumran was abandoned near the time of, or a few decades after, the destruction of Jerusalem, in 70 A.D.

As with any conspiracy theory, there is always some element of truth. Yes, the Essenes were critics of the ruling Jewish establishment, just as was the early Christian movement. But this does not necessarily imply that either Jesus, John the Baptist, or James the Just (brother of Jesus) were members of the Qumran community.

Furthermore, it is true that a relatively small number of Dead Sea Scroll documents, that can possibly be dated to the 1st century C.E., may possibly contain small fragments of the New Testament. However, there is no evidence to indicate that any New Testament documents originated at Qumran. Nor were there any members of the 1st century C.E. Jesus movement writing Dead Sea Scrolls documents clearly dated prior to the birth of Christ (unless the Essenes figured out a way travel back through time!!). Unless you can demonstrate that the twin lines of evidence to support the dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls, namely paleography and radiocarbon dating, can not be trusted, then you are pretty much wasting your time.

As an aside: When it comes to political matters, we all have various convictions. But when it comes to matters of church history and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Christians should avoid whacky ideas being promoted by media personalities, like Glenn Beck. Stick to the evidence instead. Truth is based on evidence, not on wild concoctions.

For further information, I would direct the Veracity reader to consider Dr. Michael Heiser’s FringePop321 video on the topic to get the real story behind the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the caves at Qumran. Dr. Heiser is one of the top Old Testament scholars today, but what I appreciate about him the most is that he knows how to take high-quality, scholarly content and make it accessible to normal people. FringePop321 is a great resource, available on YouTube, that addresses many of the wild and wacky claims, coming from the popular fringe:


Who Was Lilith? Did Adam Have a First Wife Prior to Eve?

Readers of the Book of Genesis will know that Adam’s first wife was Eve. But some have suggested that the story of Genesis was deliberately changed by the Christian church to hide the fact that Adam had a wife prior to Eve, and her name was Lilith. Is there any truth to this conspiracy claim?

It is true that according to medieval Jewish folklore, that there is a story about a Lilith, who was Adam’s first wife. The most obvious problem with the conspiracy claim is that one of the first Jewish writings to definitively tie Lilith to Adam was a mystical text, the Alphabet of Sirach, composed somewhere between the years 700 C.E. to 1000 C.E.  This is several hundred of years after the New Testament was already completed, and well over a thousand years after the story of Adam and Eve made its way into the Bible.

Lilith (1887) by John Collier in Atkinson Art Gallery, Merseyside, England (credit: Wikipedia)

What gives a little bit of life to the conspiracy claim is that a legend about a female demon, Lilith, did originate in Sumerian and Babylonian writings, centuries before Christ. Tales about Lilith crept into later Jewish writings. But the Alphabet of Sirach was one of the first written works to have made any serious connection between Adam and Lilith, and the Christian church had already been in existence for several centuries.

Dr. Michael Heiser has a 13-minute video explaining the full story about Lilith, including why medieval Jewish scribes invested in the Lilith story, and why the conspiracy theory about her existence as Adam’s first wife being suppressed can be easily dismissed.


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