Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Historicity of Jesus Christ, The Gospels, and The New Testament...

Ellen Johnson, the former president for American Atheists, said the following in a 2005 CNN Interview with Larry King:

"The reality is there is not one shred of secular evidence there ever was a Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ and Christianity is a modern religion. And Jesus Christ is a compilation from other gods:  Osiris, Mithras, who had the same origins, the same death as the mythological Jesus Christ."

Was Ellen Johnson speaking the truth?  Is Jesus Christ a myth?  Is the New Testament (including the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) historically reliable?  Are there any secular historians who talk about Jesus as a historical person?      

The Historical Reliability of The New Testament:

There are four tests that I will be using to show the historical reliability of the New Testament, and I got these four tests from Cliff Knechtle, the host of the show Give Me An Answer.  I like these four tests because they can be used on any historical document, and each of the tests has a high degree of objectivity to them.  Here are the four tests:  literary style, internal consistency, manuscript evidence, and archaeological evidence.

When it comes to literary style, we have to take a closer look at the New Testament.  While Romans through Jude are clearly letters, and the book of Revelation is classified as apocalyptic literature, the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and the book of Acts are clearly written in the style of historical narrative.  Here are two passages that most clearly show this literary style:

Matthew 2:1-2:  After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Luke 3:1-2:  In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 

The next test is Internal Consistency.  When you read the Gospels, you will find an amazing internal consistency between the four different perspectives on the life of Jesus.  Of course, there are people who like to point out that the bible is seemingly full of contradictions, and here is one site's list of 42 "contradictions" in the Gospels.  We'll go through three of them.

The first supposed contradiction that we'll look at occurs with the story of the centurion in Capernaum.  In Matthew 8:5-13, the centurion himself appears to be speaking to Jesus.  In Luke 7:1-10, the centurion sends some friends to talk with Jesus.  This seems to be a contradiction, but it really isn't if you think about it.  Since Luke is the most meticulous historian among the Gospel writers, his account is most likely what actually happened.  Why then does Matthew say that the centurion talked to Jesus?  First off, we need to look at the role of the friends of the centurion.  These guys are clearly playing the role of mediators, or messengers if you will.  They are relaying the message to Jesus that the centurion could have delivered to Jesus in person, but feelings of unworthiness prevented him from facing Jesus in person (as indicated in Matthew 8:8); it is unknown whether the centurion's feelings of unworthiness come from a high level of respect for Jesus, or if he felt too much moral guilt in Jesus' presence.  Regardless of the reason, Matthew clearly realized that the message came not from the mediators (the friends), but from the centurion, so Matthew chose not to acknowledge the mediators.  A difficult passage at first glance, but no contradiction.

The second supposed contradiction stretches into three of the Gospels.  In Matthew 20:29-34, Jesus heals two blind men sitting on the roadside while leaving Jericho.  In Mark 10:46-52, there is a blind man named Bartimaeus.  In Luke 18:35-43, there is an unnamed blind man.  This seems like a contradiction, but it's not.  Since Matthew says that there's two blind men, and Mark's description of the blind man is different from Luke's description, it is reasonable to conclude that there really were two blind men like Matthew says there were; Mark describes one of the blind men, and Luke describes the other.

When you read the link I posted where this supposed contradiction was found (it's number 19 on the list), you won't find the reference to Mark 10:46-52 listed.  My only guess is that the people/person who put together that list knows that if they included that passage, any reasonable person would be able to read all three passages and come to the same conclusion that I did.  Therefore, the people/person who made the list left out the reference to make it seem like there was a contradiction between two passages, when in reality there was a third passage covering the same story that helps clear up the supposed contradiction.  If the people/person who made the list intentionally left out the Mark passage, it was blatant intellectual dishonesty.

The third supposed contradiction also stretches into three Gospels.  In Matthew 11:1-18, while the author asserts in verse 2 that Jesus was the Messiah, John the Baptist sends his disciples to Jesus to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah.  In Luke 7:18-35, John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah.  The website tries to assert that John the Baptist called Jesus the Messiah in John 1:29-36, but when you read the actual passage, John the Baptist calls Jesus the Lamb of God, which is an entirely different title.  The Messiah is the savior of Israel (a people group), while the role of the Lamb of God is to be the ultimate sacrifice in order to cover over the sins of the entire human race, not just one people group.  Not only is this not a contradiction, this is clearly a blatant lie by the people/person who put together this list.  They seem to think the reader will just blindly accept what they say scripture says without reading it for themselves.

The next test is manuscript evidence; there are two major things to point out in this category.  The first thing to look at is the number of manuscripts.  According to Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM), we have 5,686 Greek manuscripts of the new testament.  CARM then proceeded to go into detail about how the manuscript evidence of the New Testament compares to the works of other ancient writers.  Dr. Ed Gravely, assistant professor of Biblical Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theology Seminary, discussed this topic in a YouTube video.

The second thing to look at is the textual purity rate of those 5,686 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, which is 99.5 percent.  On page 89 of his book Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman, a famous agnostic and New Testament scholar, asserts that the number of variants within the 5,686 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament comes out to around 400,000.  Of course, what Ehrman doesn't talk about in great detail in his book is the nature of those variants.  Dr. Michael J. Kruger, Associate Professor of New Testament Reformed Theological Seminary, talks about the nature of the variants in a YouTube video.  Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, Professor of New testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, does a great job of discussing the reliability of the New Testament in parts 1 and 2 in this video interview on YouTube.          

Because we have 5,686 Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament, and because the textual purity rate of those manuscripts is 99.5 percent, we can have a high degree of certainty that we really have what the authors originally wrote.

The last test we have to go through is the test of archaeological evidence.  In this test, we find that the New Testament has an abundance of archaeological evidence to support its historical claims.  The 2011 version of the NIV study bible lists 36 different archaeological discoveries that support the New Testament history; we're look at just a few of them.   

Archaeologists discovered a family tomb in Abu Tor (which was two miles south of Jerusalem) in 1990.  In this tomb, they found an ossuary, or bone box, containing the name of Joseph Caiaphas on its side, written in Aramaic of course.  This is the same Caiaphas that is mentioned in Matthew 26:3 and John 18:13.

For many years, bible scholars used to laugh at John 9:7, where Jesus told the blind man to go wash in the Pool of Siloam, claiming that no such pool existed.  However, in 2004, the pool of Siloam was uncovered by workers who were repairing an old sewer line in the Old City of Jerusalem.  The Los-Angeles Times wrote an article about it, as did NBC News.  

Much like the Pool of Siloam, the Pool of Bethesda that is identified in John 5:2 was once considered to be a fictitious place.  According to this websitethe pool was found during the repairs in 1888 near St. Anne's Church in the Bezetha quarter of Jerusalem not far from the Sheep's Gate and Tower of Antonia. It is below the crypt of the ruined fourth-century church and has a five-arch portico with faded frescoes of the miracle of Christ's healing.

In Acts 19:23-41, we read about a riot in Ephesus where the Ephesian god Artemis is mentioned, as well as the temple of Artemis.  As described by this article, the temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the world, and was discovered through archaeology in 1869.              
When we look at the evidence found in literary style, internal consistency, manuscript evidence, and archaeological evidence, it becomes clear that the New Testament is historically reliable.

Secular historians on Jesus and The Early Christians:

While the New Testament may be historically reliable according to the criteria listed above, it's important to figure out if there were any secular people who wrote about Jesus and the early Christians in order to collaborate the story.  Let's look at some of the secular people who mention Jesus and the early Christians.

The first one we'll be looking at is Flavius Jospehus.  Josephus was a Jew who became a Roman citizen later in his life, and he was a historian from the first century whose works covered Jewish History.  Josephus mentions Jesus in Antiquities of The Jews- Book XVIII, Chapter 3, paragraph 3, but because of its kind assessment of Jesus in the Greek version, many believe that the Christians who preserved Josephus's work altered his original text in order to make it appear less insulting than Josephus usually was in his writings.  The following passage is a reconstruction of Josephus's passage on Jesus that was created by Robert Eisler, an Austrian Jewish art historian and Bible Scholar who lived from 1882 to 1949.  Eisler's reconstruction was based on a less complimentary approach that lined up more with Josephus's writing style.  Here is the reconstructed passage:  

"Now about this time arose an occasion for new disturbances, a certain Jesus, a wizard of a man, if indeed he may be called a man, who was the most monstrous of men, whom his disciples call a son of God, as having done wonders such as no man has ever done.... He was in fact a teacher of astonishing tricks to such men as accept the abnormal with delight.... And he seduced many Jews and many also of the Greek nation, and was regarded by them as the Messiah.... And when, on the indictment of the principal men among us, Pilate had sentenced him to the cross, still those who before had admired him did not cease to rave. For it seemed to them that having been dead for three days, he had appeared to them alive again, as the divinely-inspired prophets had foretold -- these and ten thousand other wonderful things -- concerning him. And even now the race of those who are called 'Messianists' after him is not extinct."

We know a few things about Jesus from this passage:  Jesus had divine powers (Which Josephus, like the Jewish religious leaders who opposed Jesus during his ministry, attributed to sorcery), Jews and Gentiles alike became his followers, Jesus was regarded as the Messiah while he was alive, Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to death on the cross, it was reported that Jesus had risen from the dead after three days, the followers of Christ claimed that Jesus fulfilled all the ancient prophecies about the Messiah, and the followers of Christ were still around at the time of Josephus's writing.

The next person we'll be looking at is Celsus, who was a second-century Greek philosopher and was famous for his attacks on early Christianity.  While all of Celsus's works are no longer extant, Origen, an early Christian Theologian from the third century, used this quote from Celsus in Contra Celsum 1:28:    

"...born in a certain Jewish village, of a poor woman of the country, who gained her subsistence by spinning, and who was turned out of doors by her husband, a carpenter by trade, because she was convicted of adultery; that after being driven away by her husband, and wandering about for a time, she disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, an illegitimate child, who having hired himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having there acquired some miraculous powers, on which the Egyptians greatly pride themselves, returned to his own country, highly elated on account of them, and by means of these proclaimed himself a God."

While Celsus is clearly trying to discredit the virgin birth of Jesus as well as the divinity of Jesus in the passage above, he ends up confirming a few details from the gospels for us:  Jesus was born in Bethlehem (which is a village in Judea), Jesus's father Joseph was a carpenter, Jesus had divine powers, and Jesus claimed to be God.

Next up on the docket is Mara Bar Serapion, who was a stoic philosopher who lived in the Roman province of Syria.  Serapion was captured by the Romans, and was held captive in Seleucia in 72 AD.  Serapion wrote the following in the Epistle of Mara, which most scholars agree was composed around 73 AD:      

"For what else have we to say, when wise men are forcibly dragged by the hands of tyrants, and their wisdom is taken captive by calumny, and they are oppressed in their intelligence without defence? For what advantage did the Athenians gain by the murder of Socrates, the recompense of which they received in famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, because in one hour their country was entirely covered with sand? Or the Jews by the death of their wise king because from that same time their kingdom was taken away?  For with justice did God make recompense to the wisdom of these three: for the Athenians died of famine; and the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea without remedy; and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, are scattered through every country. Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor the Wise King, because of the laws which he promulgated."

What is Mara Bar Serapion confirming in this passage?  This is what he is confirming about Jesus:  That Jesus was called The King of The Jews, Jesus was a very wise person, Jerusalem and the temples were completely destroyed prior to the composition of his letter (a reference to what the Romans under Titus did in 70 AD), and the Jews were now without a country of their own.  Due to the fact that Mara Bar Serapion was a pagan, he did not affirm Jesus's Resurrection, and claimed that he only lived on through his teachings.

Pliny the Younger was a Roman Lawyer who lived from 61-112 AD.  During the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD), Pliny wrote a letter to Trajan concerning his prosecution of early Christians.  The following passage is from the fourth paragraph of that letter:      

"...They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food."

What is Pliny revealing about the early Christians?  They had gatherings once a week, they worshiped Jesus as God in human form, they took the teachings of Jesus seriously and put them into practice, and they had meals together as part of their fellowship.

Lucian was a Greek Satirist who lived from 125 to roughly 180 AD.  Lucian wrote a satire called The Death Of Peregrine, in which the lead character takes advantage of the generosity of Christians.  The following passage shows us what Lucian thought of the early Christians: 

"The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day,--the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account...You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on trust, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property. Now an adroit, unscrupulous fellow, who has seen the world, has only to get among these simple souls, and his fortune is pretty soon made; he plays with them."

What is Lucian confirming?  That Jesus Christ was a historical person, and Jesus was crucified for what he taught.  Secondly, Lucian confirms that Jesus taught that all the early Christians are all siblings in Christ from the moment of conversion.  Lucian also confirms that the early Christians refused to worship the Roman gods, worshiped Jesus as God, and took the teachings of Jesus seriously.

Seutonius was a Roman historian who lived from 69 to roughly 122 AD.  Seutonius makes a reference to Jesus in Life of Claudius 25:4:      

"Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome."

While it seems that Seutonius is not making a reference to Jesus, most scholars assert that Chrestus was simply a miss-spelling of Christus.  So what is Seutonius confirming here?  That Jesus was a real historical person, and because of the commotion that the Jews made when they brought Jesus before Pontius Pilate, Claudius kicked the Jews out of Rome (Acts 18:1-2 verifies this fact).

The following passage by Seutonius comes from The Life of Nero 16:2:

"During his reign many abuses were severely punished and put down, and no fewer new laws were made: a limit was set to expenditures; the public banquets were confined to a distribution of food; the sale of any kind of cooked viands in the taverns was forbidden, with the exception of pulse and vegetables, whereas before every sort of dainty was exposed for sale.  Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition. He put an end to the diversions of the chariot drivers, who from immunity of long standing claimed the right of ranging at large and amusing themselves by cheating and robbing the people. The pantomimic actors and their partisans were banished from the city."

What is Seutonius confirming here?  That the early Christians were persecuted by Nero, and while Seutonius saw their belief in Jesus rising from the dead as a superstition, he is confirming that the early Christians believed that Jesus rose from the dead.

So, how exactly did the Romans prosecute the early Christians?  Pliny the Younger gave us a detailed description of this process in the second and third paragraphs of his letter to Trajan:  

"Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ--none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do--these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ."

Here is the process that Pliny used to prosecute the Christians:  He would ask the people if they were Christians or not.  If they claimed to be Christians, he would ask them again multiple times if they were Christians, threatening them with punishment if they maintained their faith in Jesus.  If they claimed to not be Christians, Pliny asked them to prove it by worshiping the roman gods and the emperor, and cursing Jesus.  If they maintained that they weren't Christians, they were discharged.  Pliny also confirmed that those who were real Christians could not be forced to curse Jesus.

Tacitus was a Roman Historian who lived from 56 to roughly 117 AD.  Tacitus points out some interesting things in The Annals: Book XV, AD 62-65:     

"The next thing was to seek means of propitiating the gods, and recourse was had to the Sibylline books, by the direction of which prayers were offered to Vulcanus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Juno, too, was entreated by the matrons, first, in the Capitol, then on the nearest part of the coast, whence water was procured to sprinkle the fane and image of the goddess.  And there were sacred banquets and nightly vigils celebrated by married women. But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths.  Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed."  -Tacitus,

What is Tacitus confirming?  He confirms that Jesus was a real, historical person, and he was sentenced to execution by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius Ceaser.  Tacitus confirms that the early Christians believed that Jesus rose from the dead, and that their numbers grew not just in Judea, but in Rome as well.  He also confirms that the early Christians were sentenced to death for what they believed rather than what they did.  Tacitus also shows the horribly brutal and barbaric ways that the early Christians were killed in the reign of Nero.    

What do these secular sources have to say about Jesus when you put them all together?  They say that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and his father Joseph was a carpenter.  He was a wise person who had divine powers (Which they attributed to sorcery to try and discredit Jesus), and Jews and Gentiles alike became his followers.  He was regarded as the Messiah and The King of The Jews while he was alive, and he was arrested and condemned for what he taught.  Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to death on the cross, and it was reported that Jesus had risen from the dead after three days.  Every single one of these details about Jesus can be found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

What do all these secular sources have to say about the early Christians?  The early Christians believed that Jesus rose from the dead, they worshiped Jesus as God in human form, and they took the teachings of Jesus seriously, putting them into practice.  They held gatherings on a fixed day every week, and they had meals together as part of their fellowship.  Their numbers grew not just in Judea, but in Rome as well.  The early Christians refused to worship the Roman gods, and were sentenced to death for what they believed rather than what they did.  As part of their sentence, the early Christians were killed in horribly brutal and barbaric ways by the Romans.  The Roman prosecution and persecution of the early Christians is not documented in the new testament, but everything about the early Christians' practices and beliefs that we can find in these secular writings can also be found in the New Testament.        


After looking over all this information, it has become crystal clear to me that Ellen Johnson had no clue what she was talking about.  Josephus, Celsus, Serapion, Pliny the Younger, Lucian, Seutonius, and Tacitus paint a clear picture of Jesus as a historical person.  To make matters worse for Johnson, the picture that those Romans paint of Jesus is the same picture that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John paint (in less detail, of course).

You might be wondering why I place so much emphasis on what these seven Romans have to say about Jesus and the early Christians.  When you read the complete works of these Romans, it becomes clear that their primary interest is in such people as Roman politicians, military leaders, members of the royal family, and other such important Roman people.  The general attitude of these Roman historians towards other people groups like the Jews and Christians is one of indifference; they just didn't frankly care much about them (An attitude that we can get a glimpse of in John 18:28-32), and even when you read all the quotes I listed, it becomes clear that they aren't trying to build up Christianity as some great religion.  The fact that Jesus, a Jewish man who had no ties to Roman society whatsoever, gets specifically mentioned is pretty amazing by itself, but when you start looking at how the details these secular Romans give about Jesus are all found in the Gospels, it is reasonable to conclude that the Gospels are historically accurate, and that the Jesus of the Gospels and the historical Jesus are the same person.

Because the historical Jesus and the Jesus of the Gospels are the same person, that means that Jesus Christ is exactly who he said he is:  the Son of Man (Matthew 8:20), the Son of God (Matthew 8:28-29), Son of David (Matthew 9:27), the Messiah (Matthew 11:2-3), the Bread of Life (John 6:35), the Light of the World (John 8:12), the Gate (John 10:9) the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25), the King of Israel (John 12:13), the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), the True Vine (John 15:1), the King of the Jews (John 19:19-21), the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5), Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11), the Word of God (Revelation 19:13), King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16), the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 22:13).

Jesus wants to have a personal relationship with you, and he wants to be your savior, but he won't force you or coerce you into salvation.  You can freely choose to accept his offer of forgiveness and salvation, or you can choose to reject his offer, and live your life, as well as eternity, separate from him.  It's your choice.                


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Atheism: The Despair of Meaninglessness...

In this post, I'll be looking into a world view that dominates the academic culture of the United States of America, shaping the minds and hearts of millions of people during the most formative years of their life:  Atheism.  While the majority of the world's population belongs to one of the many world religions, the atheistic world view is becoming more and more popular, especially in the United States of America.  I see this world view having a strangle hold on the academic world as a major problem, but in order to understand why that's a problem, you have to understand what the atheistic world view is.    

Definition of Atheism:

According to Random House Dictionary, Atheism is "the Doctrine or belief that there is no God."  Atheism is also defined as "disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings."  This covers the two most common types of atheists:  Those who don't believe that there is a God because they feel there isn't enough evidence for one, and those who make the assertion/claim that there is no God.

Dr. Willaim Craig Lane does a great job of explaining the difference between these two types of atheists, as well as the background and problems with them.  

Atheists try to use science to disprove God.  Take Richard Dawkins, the world's most famous atheist and the poster-boy for Darwinian Evolution, for example:

"The question of whether there exists a supernatural creator, a God, is one of the most important that we have to answer. I think that it is a scientific question. My answer is no."

Matt Dillahunty, co-host of The Atheist Experience, makes a similar assertion:  

“Either god exists or it doesn't exist. If a god does exist, it either interacts with the universe in some detectable way or it doesn't. If it doesn't, that god is indistinguishable from a non-existent god. That only leaves a god who interacts with the universe in some detectable way. But if science, which is the greatest realization of the use of our senses to, you know, detect things, hasn't found this god, that doesn't say much for individuals.

In short, the god you've created is, in fact, undetectable by science. The limits of science are not the province of religious knowledge. Where science is ignorant, so is religion. The only difference is that religion lacks the integrity of science.”

Dan Barker, a former christian preacher gone atheist, refers to science in a more subtle way:

"You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories, and you say that  we are the ones that need help?"

The mistake that Dawkins, Dillahunty, and Barker are making is obvious:  They are trying to disprove a supernatural being by using science, which can only observe the natural world and is incapable of observing anything supernatural.  That is such blatant intellectual dishonesty that I have a hard time believing that people as smart as Dawkins, Dillahunty, and Barker would resort to something so childish unless they were intentionally running away from God.

What it comes down to is basically this:  classic atheism is the assertion/claim that there is no God.  Because atheists could not and cannot back up their assertion/claim with evidence that trumps the philosophical and historical evidence for the existence of God, they redefined atheism to make it into a psychological condition that everyone is born with.  By doing so, they believe that they never have to provide evidence that backs up their assertion that there is no god, and it always falls on the theist to provide scientific evidence that there is a god.        

Logical Consequences of Atheism:

If Atheism is true, and in reality there is no god, what are the logical consequences of that?  I like what Friedrich Nietzsche, the great atheist philosopher, said:

"You have your way, I have my way. As for the right way, it does not exist."

I also like the way Richard Dawkins put it:

"Humans have always wondered about the meaning of has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference."

First off, if there is no God, there is no mind prior to the human mind to define what is right or wrong, which means that the human mind defines what is right and wrong. What that means is that morality is completely relative, and is dependent on which individual, society or culture, or individual in power you're talking to.

A lot of atheists deny God's existence, but believe that a lot of the morals in the bible, such as murder being wrong, stealing being wrong, feeding and helping the poor, and the golden rule, are objectively true.  I like what Nietzsche said:         

"When one gives up Christian belief one thereby deprives oneself of the right to Christian morality. Christianity is a system, a consistently thought out and complete view of things. If one breaks out of it a fundamental idea, the belief in God, one thereby breaks the whole thing to pieces: one has nothing of any consequence left in one’s hands. Christian morality is a command: its origin is transcendental, it possesses truth only if God is truth-it stands or falls with belief in God."

What Nietzsche is saying is that if God exists, then Christianity is a complete and logical world view.  If you take God out of the equation, then all the morals of Christianity that non-christians tend to agree with (such as murder being wrong, stealing being wrong, Pedophilia and bestiality being wrong, and the Golden Rule being right) are not true in any objective sense in reality.

In regards to what Dawkins said at the top, Dawkins is asserting that if there is no God, there is no such thing as humans having innate value or purpose.  We can go around assigning ourselves meaning and purpose in life, but like morality, none of it is objectively true; it's just our own subjective opinion.  

So let's summarize the logical consequences of Atheism:  If there is no god, then life is ultimately meaningless, morality is a joke, human beings do not have any innate value or purpose, and we all live for 60-80 years before we die and rot in the ground.  This is the despair of Atheism, and I liked Albert Camus' analysis of the despair of Atheism:

"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide."

Albert Camus was intellectually consistent, and he realized that if atheism is true, and all the logical consequences are true, then the only question we really have to answer is, why not commit suicide?  Of course, like most human beings, Camus could not accept that and spent his life explaining how we should attach meaning to our lives, decisions, and relationships.  Eventually, Camus' insistence on attaching meaning to his life lead him to seriously explore Christianity just before his death.       

Pointless Rebellion:

One of the common fruits of atheism is a deep hatred for organized religion, especially Christianity.  

Consider the words of Bertrand Russell, the famous atheist philosopher:  

"I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its Churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world."

"There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths."

Karl Marx, humanist and father of communism, had this to say about religion: 

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

"The first requisite for the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion."

Dan Barker seemed to have a problem with God being a holy and righteous judge, and felt no qualms about judging God:

"How happy can you be when you think every action and thought is being monitored by a judgmental ghost?"

"I do understand what love is, and that is one of the reasons I can never again be a Christian. Love is not self denial. Love is not blood and suffering.  Love is not murdering your son to appease your own vanity. Love is not hatred or wrath, consigning billions of people to eternal torture because they have offended your ego or disobeyed your rules."

Friedrich Nietzsche expressed similar thoughts:

"God is a thought who makes crooked all that is straight."

The real question is, with what moral standard do the atheists use to judge God?  Is that standard even real in an objective sense?  If it is, where does it come from?  I like what C.S Lewis said:

“[As an atheist] my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.  But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?  A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line” 

If the standard you use to judge God (assuming that God even exists in the first place) is a subjective standard that doesn't exist outside of your own mind or society, then you have no right to judge God as having done something immoral.  

Of course, the problem with atheists burning with anger when they judge God is that they're essentially super angry at a fictional character, and most people don't use such strong language and emotion in judging a fictitious character.  When I see a villain in a movie or book, no matter how evil they are, I never get anywhere near as angry as atheists do towards God because I understand that the villains in the book or movie are not real; they are fictitious.     

However, if the standard you use to judge God is objectively true, then that logically means that there is some kind of god who defined the objective moral standard that you're using to condemn him, which is self-refuting if you're trying to assert that God doesn't exist.  

I have a special term for atheists that I created upon my analysis of their world view:  I like to call atheists rebels without a point.  In my observation of atheism, what is unmistakably clear is that they are rebelling against God, and they don't want to submit to him.  That's all fine and good for them, but where is their rebellion taking them?  What do they gain that submitting to God would not have allowed them to gain?  Does their rebellion make them better people in the long run?  If so, how do they define what a better person is?  If they reject God's existence in their rebellion, how can they know anything about anything?  Have they considered committing suicide?  If not, why?                                           


If atheism is true, and there is no god, then life is ultimately meaningless.  King Solomon came to the same conclusion in Ecclesiastes 1:2-11:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”  What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.  The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.  All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.  To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say.  The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.  What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.  Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.  No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.

Atheists tend to place a lot of value in the acquisition of scientific knowledge and wisdom.  King Solomon had this to say in Ecclesiastes 2:12-16:

"Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly.  What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?  I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.  The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.  Then I said to myself, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also.  What then do I gain by being wise?”  I said to myself, “This too is meaningless.”  For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten.  Like the fool, the wise too must die!"

Following this logic, if there is no god, then working hard at earning a living and advancing in the workplace is meaningless, according to King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:17-23 and 4:13-16:  

"So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.  And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.  So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.  For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune.  What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun?  All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless."

"Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning.  The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom.  I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor.  There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

While atheists try their hardest to deny God's existence in order to avoid submitting to him, they simply cannot escape the fact that they need God just as much as anybody else.  I like the way that Jean-Paul Sartre, the famous atheist philosopher, put it:

"That God does not exist, I cannot deny, That my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget." 

Blaise Pascal, the famous christian philosopher, put it magnificently:  

"There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus."

King Solomon wrote the following in Ecclesiastes 3:11:

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

Since God has set eternity in the human heart, what logically follows is that the things of this life cannot fully and permanently satisfy us.  Think about it: whether it be sex, money, power, or work, none of those things ever bring you full or permanent satisfaction; you always end up having to go back for more of it in order to maintain the short-term satisfaction those things give you.  We human beings keep trying to fit things into that god-shaped hole in our hearts thinking that they can satisfy us, but until we submit ourselves to God and let him fill that hole, we'll never be satisfied permanently and fully in life.

With all this being said, the atheist, just like everyone else, has hope.  All they have to do to fill that god-shaped hole in their heart and find permanent fullness and satisfaction in life is to acknowledge God's existence, acknowledge that they can't possibly earn their own salvation, repent of their sins, put their faith in Jesus Christ, and accept salvation as God's free gift to us.  It is my hope that any atheist who's reading this will realize the despair of their world view, and will seek to live in truth and light with Jesus Christ for all eternity.       

Monday, November 25, 2013

God of Old Testament: Genocidal Monster or Holy and Merciful Judge?

An idea that has been floating around for a long time, and that I actually believed at one point before I started studying the bible, is that the God of the Old Testament is radically different from the God of the New Testament.  While the God of the New Testament is supposedly portrayed as a God of love and forgiveness, the Old Testament God is portrayed as a mean god who told his followers to wipe out men, women, and children.  The main evidence that supports that assertion is God's judgement of the Canaanites in the Old Testament.  The question is, did God really order his people to completely eradicate entire people groups, and did the Jews actually wipe out all the men, women, and children?  Is there really a disconnect between the Gods of the Old and New Testaments, or is there a consistency?

God's Judgement of the Canaanites:

Many people have wondered why God, if he's truly loving and merciful, would judge a people group like the Canaanites.  What did the Canaanites do to earn God's wrath?

The Canaanites worshiped a god called Moloch (Molek in the Old Testament).  Canaanites burned their children as sacrifices in honor of him, and practiced sodomy, bestiality, and all sorts of loathsome vice as forms of worshipping Molek.

Leviticus 18:21-24:   Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.  Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.  Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.  Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled.   

God makes it clear that he wants the Israelites to have nothing to do with the Canaanite's worship of Molek in Leviticus 20:1-5:

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him.  I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name.  If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek.

Because of God's anger over the evil religious practices of the Canaanites, God ordered King Saul to attack  the Amalekites (a sub-group withing the Canaanite people) in 1 Samuel 15:1-3:

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord.  This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

Moses says the following in Deuteronomy 20:16-18 within an explanation of God's rules for them when going to war:

However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.  Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.  Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.  

Difficult Phrases:    

At this point, it seems that the God of the Old Testament rightly calls out the evil of the Canaanites, but the mercy and forgiveness of the New Testament God seems to not exist.  I can already hear all the people saying, "See!  The God of the Old Testament is way different from the God of the New Testament!"  There's just one problem:  THE CANAANITES REAPPEAR IN THE STORY!!!

After God told Saul to wipe out the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15:1-3 and the battle had been fought, the Amalekites reappear in 1 Samuel 27:8-9:  

Then David said to Achish, “If I have found favor in your eyes, let a place be assigned to me in one of the country towns, that I may live there. Why should your servant live in the royal city with you?”

So on that day Achish gave him Ziklag, and it has belonged to the kings of Judah ever since.  David lived in Philistine territory a year and four months.

Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. (From ancient times these peoples had lived in the land extending to Shur and Egypt.) Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish. 

David had another encounter with the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 30:1-18, and Haman from the book of Esther was the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, whose ancestor was Agag, who can be read about in 1 Samuel 15:7-34.

Because of the fact that the Canaanites reappear later on in the story, it becomes clear that the Israelites did not wipe out every Canaanite man, woman, and child.  The question then becomes, what does the phrase men, women, and children, and other similar phrases mean?

Dr. Richard S. Hess, professor of Old Testament and Semantic Languages at Denver Seminary, deals with this very issue in his article The Jericho and Ai of the Book of Joshua.  Here is what Dr. Hess had to say:

This text appears to include women, children, and the aged in this mass destruction.  However, is this really the case? The actual expression is translated, “men and women,” literally, “from man (and) unto woman.” The phrase occurs elsewhere seven times, referring to the inhabitants of Ai ( Josh 8:25), Amalek (1 Sam 15:3, here without the waw), Nob (1 Sam 22:19), Jerusalem during David’s time (2 Sam 6:19 = 1 Chr 16:3), Jerusalem during Ezra’s time (Neh 8:2), and Israel (2 Chr 15:13). In 2 Sam 6:19 (= 1 Chr 16:3) it describes the joyful occasion of David’s entrance into Jerusalem with the ark of the covenant and his distributing food to all the onlookers. Except for Saul’s extermination of the inhabitants of Nob in 1 Sam 22:19, where children are specifically mentioned (unlike the texts about Jericho, Ai, and elsewhere), all other appearances of the phrase precede or follow the Hebrew kol “all, everyone.” Thus, the phrase appears to be stereotypical for describing all the inhabitants of a town or region, without predisposing the reader to assume anything further about their ages or even their genders. It is synonymous with “all, everyone.” 

Dealing with the same issue in his article How Could God Command Killing the Canaanites?,  Paul Copan, professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University, points out another interesting definition:

This stereotypical ancient Near East language of “all” people describes attacks on what turn out to be military forts or garrisons containing combatants — not a general population that includes women and children. We have no archaeological evidence of civilian populations at Jericho or Ai (6:21; 8:25).  The word “city [ir]” during this time in Canaan was where the (military) king, the army, and the priesthood resided. So for Joshua, mentioning “women” and “young and old” turns out to be stock ancient Near East language that he could have used even if “women” and “young and old” were not living there. The language of “all” (“men and women”) at Jericho and Ai is a “stereotypical expression for the destruction of all human life in the fort, presumably composed entirely of combatants."  The text does not require that “women” and “young and old” must have been in these cities — and this same situation could apply to Saul’s battling against the Amalekites.

Scripture and scholarly study of the Near Eastern language show us that God did not actually order his people to wipe out all the men, women, and children of the Canaanite civilian populations.  God's anger was clearly aimed at their religious practices, and using the Israelites, God judged the Canaanites for their evil.  God did not target all the innocent Canaanites as well as the guilty Canaanites; God made a discrimination between the innocent and the guilty.  Otherwise, the Canaanites would never have reappeared later in the story.        

God's Promises to the Canaanites:

It doesn't stop there; in multiple passages in the old testament, we can clearly see God promising to redeem and bring salvation to Israel's most hostile enemies:

Psalms 87:1-6:  He has founded his city on the holy mountain.The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.Glorious things are said of you, city of God: “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me—Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush--and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”  Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.”The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” 

Isaiah 19:23-25:  In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together.  In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.  The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork,and Israel my inheritance.

Zechariah 9:7: I will take the blood from their mouths, the forbidden food from between their teeth.  Those who are left will belong to our God and become a clan in Judah, and Ekron will be like the Jebusites. 

If it isn't clear at this point that the Canaanites were implicitly included in God's plan for salvation for all humanity in the Old Testament, Jesus Christ made it crystal clear in Matthew 15:21-28:

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.


Hopefully at this point, I have made it clear that there are no contradictions in God's nature between the Old and New Testament.  Here is what I mean:

Both the God of the Old Testament and Jesus talk about repentance:

Ezekiel 18:26-32:  If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die.  But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life.  Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die.  Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

“Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.  Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live! 

Mark 1:14-15:  After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Matthew 21:31-32:  ...Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Both the Old and New Testament refer to a Day of Judgement where God will punish evil:

Isaiah 61:1-2:  The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn.  

Matthew 12:33-37:  “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.  You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” 

Jesus talks about what will happen on the Day of Judgement in Matthew 25:31-46.  

In Hebrews Chapter 11, we are given a partial list of people from the Old Testament who are going to be in heaven.  Paul writes in Hebrews 11:39-40:  

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

In other words, people in the old testament who put their faith in God were credited with righteousness based on the work that was to come in the future with Jesus's sacrifice on the cross.  Christians after Jesus are credited with righteousness based on Jesus's sacrifice on the cross that happened 2,000 years ago.  All people, both before and after Jesus, are saved through Jesus.    
Having done the research myself, I have come to the conclusion that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are one in the same.  His promises of redemption and salvation are true, and he loves you so much that he wants you to enter into a personal relationship with him.  He wants to be your savior, but if you continually reject him throughout your entire life until you die, he will be your judge, and you will be accountable for each of your sins when you have to face him on judgement day.

The thought of anyone willingly choosing to go to Hell makes me sad, so I beg you to choose eternal life.