Why the Church of Christ is Right For You!

Acquainted with God. In a world with so many gods, are you seeking to find the one true God of heaven?  If so, the church of Christ is precisely for you!  The church of Christ exalts God in all his purity, truth, majesty, power, holiness, grace, faithfulness, and amazing love (Psalm 86:11, 89:14, James 3:17).  If you want to see God in all his beauty, grandeur and excellency, then look no further (Psalm 27:4, 148:13).  Today is the day to get up close and personal with God (2 Cor. 6:2). 

Awareness of Self.  In a world where self-improvement is valued at every turn, are you truly looking to know thyself?  Maybe you are looking to see yourself just like God sees you.  If so, look no further (Phil. 4:13).  God through the Bible will show you your strengths and weaknesses more vividly than you ever imagined (2 Tim. 3:16, Heb. 4:12-13).  No therapist, physician or philosopher can shine the light on your soul like the God of heaven (Is. 55:8-9, Psalm 119:99-100).  Now is the time to let him know you and change you (John 17:3). 

A Passion for Truth and Liberty.   America’s pledge of allegiance ends with the phrase “with liberty and justice for all.”  Truth and liberty are core fibers in the pursuit of progress (John 8:32).   To move forward in God’s eyes one must know what is real and be free from oppressive forces (like sin) that deter one’s quest to know what is most valuable – God and truth (John 17:17).  If you are ready to tap into God’s Divine power, Christ’s church welcomes you (Rom. 1:16, 2 Peter 1:3). 

Letting go of Fear.   Could it be that what you need most lies a few shorts steps beyond your deepest fears of letting God have all of you – all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Luke 10:27)?  The Lord’s church can show you how to fear what matters and free yourself from troubling fears that are of little value in God’s eyes (Matt. 10:28).

Leaving the Rut.  Do you ever feel stuck in a routine or caught in a routine during the daily grind?   Maybe you feel like you rarely get recognition for your hard work.  If so, come visit the church of Christ.  You’ll be refreshed, renewed, and invigorated with relevant worship that applies the Bible to real world issues (Ps. 51:10).  Our Bible study will help you realize that if you labor in the Lord, it is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).  Isn’t it time?       

Service that Matters.  Are you ready to leave a lasting impression on this world through works of service that leave a legacy to follow (Rev. 14:13)? Follow Jesus and let him add you to his church (Matt. 20:28, Acts 2:47).   God created man for good works (Eph. 2:10).  Following his example, the church relishes in the joy of giving (Acts 20:35) and serving with all her might (Eccl. 9:10).  

Goodbye to Division.  Perhaps all the religious division bothers you.  Maybe you wonder where all this division comes from.  Maybe you see how senseless it is that beliefs swirl in the religious marketplace and are chosen sometimes buffet style.  The church of Christ was established by Christ (Matt. 16:16-18) and is the first Christian church that finds its beginning in the first century prior to any manmade division (Acts 2, Rom. 16:16). If you hunger to simply wear the name of Christ, welcome home!  What you will find is people striving to be of the same mind, judgment and love, united in one body of one Lord who gave one faith, one hope and one baptism through the one Spirit (1 Cor. 1:10, Phil. 2:2, Eph. 4:4-6). 

Poised for Positive Living.   Living as Christ is always a win-win. You win now and in the life to come (Phil. 1:19-26).  Our world is detached from God.  It shifts through the sands of time and drifts on the waves of a sea of perpetual destructive criticism, negativity, envy, complaining, and pessimism that leads so many to draw in, lose hope and become cynical.  This life that conforms to the world loses now and in the life to come (Eph. 2:1-2, Gal. 5:19-21).  In positive living the church grows through individuals who restrict themselves from every destructive force while simultaneously bearing the fruit of the Spirit in limitless love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:19-23). 

A Love So Amazing.   How broad is the love of God?  How deep into the abyss does his love descend and how far into the heavens does it fly (Eph. 3:14-19)? To begin to know a love like this, we want to introduce you to the love of Jesus Christ who came not to condemn you but to save you by his precious blood (John 3:16-17, Rom. 5:19).  To know love this amazing is to know God for “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  God wants to perfect his love in open and willing hearts (1 John 4:11-12).  Are you ready?

A Quest for Victory.   Maybe you are ready for triumph.  Maybe you are ready for achievement and a destiny beyond your wildest imagination.  Are you ready to begin the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4)?  Are you ready to begin a life towards eternal victory (1 Cor. 15:54-57)?  If so, now is the time to come to the church of Christ!

Moralizing the Gospel and Self Idolatry (Part 2)

                Recently, we discussed moralizing the gospel and if the Church is an “I’m-Better-Than-You” Club.  Moralizing can be either atheistic or theistic.  Atheistic moralizing believes that a moral life can be obtained without God, the Bible or Christ.  Theistic moralizing is when one believes in the gospel, yet reduces the gospel to set of Biblical principles, a list of compulsory rules or shallow commands stripped of the framework of the gospel.  If one obeys, he or she is in.  If not, he or she is out.  While faithful obedience is necessary (Heb. 11:6), such a view of the gospel is reductionist, leans toward legalism, and makes the focus of Christianity the individual who receives God’s grace and less about Christ, the great giver of grace.

                As Christians, we must be conscious that we can live moral lives where moral living is primarily about us, rather than about him who is in us.  Colossians 1:19 says that in Christ the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  Ephesians 3:16-19states “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  Carefully observe that the fullness of God is in Christ.  The Spirit is granted to us to strengthen and power our inner being.  Christ dwells in our hearts through faith.  These principles are the basis for understanding life’s greatest virtue-love (1 Cor. 13:13).  When Christ dwells in us we begin comprehend the magnitude of Christ’s love, a love that is self-sacrificial and God focused.

                Tim Keller writes, “There are, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible:  It is basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, it is basically about what I must do or basically about what he has done?” (Emphasis his 60).   He continues

“If on any level I believe that through moral efforts—living a chaste life, surrendering my will to him, helping the poor, converting others to faith—I can secure God’s favor for my prayers or earn his blessing, then my motivation for doing all these things is some mixture of fear and pride.  The fear is the desire to avoid punishment and get some defense and leverage over God and others.  The pride is the sense that, because I am so decent and accomplished, I am not ‘like other people’ (Luke 18:11) but a cut above.  In the final analysis all the good I am doing I am doing for myself. My deeds of service to God and to my neighbor are ways of using God and my neighbor to build up my self-image, to secure respect and admiration from others, and to give leverage over God so that he owes me something.  Ironically and tragically, all my goodness is for me, so I am nurturing sinful self-centeredness, the ultimate idolatry, in the very midst of my efforts to lead a moral and good life.” (Keller 60-61).

Christian moral living can become a life of self-idolatry or self-righteousness.  In this life when we accomplish our goals, our standards, our aspirations, and our dreams we have in our own skewed view saved ourselves all the while forgetting that we have fallen at our own feet to worship.  But, Christianity is not about saving ourselves.  Rather we are to empty ourselves for Jesus emptied himself taking on himself the form of a slave (Phil. 2:7).

                How important is righteous living? It is a must (Heb. 11:6)!  By grace we are saved through a living active faith (Eph. 2:8).  But, let us never think that right living is the primary way we are saved.  God’s justice and holiness look all across the spectrum of our lives and while every righteous deed honors the Lord, our holy and perfect God could not save us by us.  Thank God for Christ!  Worship the risen Savior and fall at his feet!

                Paul said “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  . . . and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:11).

Keller, Tim.  Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism.  Penguin, 2016.

Moralizing the Gospel: Is the Church an “I’m-Better-Than-You” Club?

If you are a Christian, isn’t it great?!  Isn’t it great to live as Christ with no regrets (Phil. 1:21)?  What a thrill it is to be the light of the world and a radiant city set on a hill (Matt. 5:14).   We certainly can take great pride in being saved by Christ and proud even to the point of boasting in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31).   Yet, consider this question - can our own quest for righteousness and our own glory in moral living become a stumbling block or a rock of offense?  Does being a member of the church mean that your ticket is punched for exclusive entry into an “I’m-Better-Than-You” club?  While Christians are to live differently than the world (John 17, Gal. 5), Christians can in time trust in their own holiness and righteousness in a way that compromises the gospel.  Let me explain. 

Christian living can be practiced in such a way where the gospel is reduced to a hollow system of rules, obligations, or laws.  This is called moralizing.  Moralizing or moralism denotes a couple of ideas.  One idea is that moral living can be accomplished without God who is ultimate, the Bible as the ultimate moral guide or Christ as the ultimate moral example.  A second idea refers to those who believe in the gospel, yet reduce the gospel to set of Biblical principles, a list of compulsory rules or shallow commands stripped of the framework of the gospel.  If one obeys, he or she is in.  If not, he or she is out.  Such a view of the gospel is reductionist and leans toward legalism.

There is a fine line that Christians must walk between right living and self-righteousness.  The former God desires (Micah 6:8).  The latter God condemns (Prov. 20:9).  Self-righteous people see others as less than themselves (Luke 18:9-10).  In their own eyes their works of righteousness give them a leg up, a moral advantage.  One may compromise the gospel in believing others are inferior because they themselves live with fewer sins.  These individuals justify themselves in the sight of men (Luke 16:15).  They are clean in their own eyes (Prov. 16:2).  Some even go so far as set themselves up as moral idols, even setting themselves up as gods (Ezek. 28:2).  Individuals are not only susceptible, but entire congregations can buy into this notion.  Perhaps you have seen congregation where the “halo-effect” is alive and well.  These groups can be cold and slim on notions of humility.

In right living Christians must be aware that moral living does not save them or give them a leg up on others.  If right living could save mankind, man would save himself and there would be no need for Christ to have died on the cross.  Gal. 2:16 states that no one will be justified by works of the law (Gal. 2:16).  Indeed “if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21).   This applies to the Law of Moses, but the application extends to any law.  It’s not that one cannot keep the law and be justified.  It’s that people do not keep the law. 

However, don’t let the pendulum swing too far! Right believing (orthodoxy) and right living (orthopraxis) are essential.  But all your right believing and right living does nothing to negate your past sins.  Titus says “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy . . . .” (3:4-5). No one can secure God’s favor solely by right believing or right behaving.  Grace is a gift of incalculable worth.  You see favor (grace) is not just a product of God, grace is God in the flesh in Christ Jesus who himself is the fragrant offering of grace for mankind (John 1:14-17).  He gave himself precisely for you.  

So, is Christianity an “I’m-Better-Than-You” club?  Not in self-righteousness sense.  The Lord knows we are not perfect, but we are forgiven.  Anything better in us is him living and abiding in us.  This glory is his and not ours.  May we look on outsiders with compassion.  No matter how faithful you’ve been and for no matter how long you’ve been faithful, may you never look down your nose at others because of your righteousness.  Rather, let them see in you a heart that begs God --  “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

YOU MUST Have a Spiritual Plan!

How long has it been since you analyzed your spiritual goals and direction?  Alan Rickman once said “I’ve never been able to plan my life.  I just lurch from indecision to indecision.”  I suppose that at times all of us could relate to Alan’s predicament of indecision. What should you do if you find yourself in a spiritual rut?  What if you find yourself in a spiritual holding pattern of growth? Worse yet, what if you are distant from God and growing further even now?  Consider these suggestions. 

Make Up Your Mind.  A spiritual plan begins with a conscious decision to serve God.  While Satan would want you to wallow in indecision, God wants you to get off the fence and make a conscious informed decision to serve him.  Get in the game!  Joshua told the people to make a decision—choose this day who they would serve (Josh. 24:15).  In making this decision you’ll want to avoid Satan’s allure to do evil.  Sin will entice you.  Satan is a master at making darkness appear as light (Is. 5:20-21).  Instead, you must overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21).  When you make a concerted decision to prioritize the king of kings, you will put his kingdom first and move in the right direction (Matt. 6:33).  

Clean up Your Spiritual Diet.  Jesus is called the bread of life (John 6:35, 48). He came to give spiritual water so that we could never thirst again (John 6:13ff).  God wants you to hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6).  Spiritually, Satan will fill your life with all sorts of spiritual junk food.  It is savory, but deadly (Heb. 11:23-26).  When you eat the fruit of sin you’ll suffer with guilt, anxiety, turmoil and ultimately spiritual death (Rom. 6:23).  Instead, choose the fruit of the spirit that nourishes now and forever (Gal. 5:22-23).

Settle in on a Particular Goal.  In targeting in on a specific spiritual goal take a look at your spiritual armor (Eph. 6:13-20).  How equipped are you for battle?  Satan knows your every weakness and is ready to exploit you, lay your weaknesses wide open and lead you plundering toward destruction and death.  Analyze your belt for truth, breastplate for righteousness, shoes for the gospel of peace, shield for faith, helmet for salvation, and your ability with the sword which is the word of God?  Did you find weaknesses and deficiencies?  If so, write down what you have found.  These are worthwhile spiritual goals. 

Make and Work a Plan for Achieving Your Goal.  Once you have clearly identified a goal, carve out a clear plan for achieving this goal.  Goals are rarely achieved by passive interest.  Get busy!  Get disciplined!  Try to identify measurable endpoints of success on your path to the goal.  These endpoints must be realistic.  If you struggle with knowledge of the word, begin with a daily Bible reading plan.  Take pride in finishing a chapter, book, section or select reading over a period of time.  Pick up a Bible dictionary to look up unknown words and a concordance to synthesize your study.  Write down questions you have as you read and words you don’t understand.  Ask a trusted brother or sister to aid in your journey.  You will strengthen their faith and bond with God. 

Seek Spiritual Variety.  Often, people will gravitate towards their spiritual strengths and shy away from their weaknesses.  This is how the body is fitly joined together (Eph. 4:16).  While it is good to know your limitations, it important to test new waters and get out of your spiritual comfort zone from time to time. As you pursue your goal, don’t be afraid to think laterally and choose a new Biblical method to get to your destination.  Remember that no one is born a song leader, evangelist, preacher or elder’s wife.   These skills are acquired with time and discipline.  Discipline for the moment will be painful (Heb. 12:11), but remember you are on a glorious mission.  Don’t let idealism, perfectionism or comparing yourself with some spiritual giant leave you discouraged.  Also, don’t let hostile critics discourage you. Allow yourself to respectfully ignore them.  You are on a mission!  Do your best to be faithful to the Lord in achieving your goal.  It is a high calling you are running after (Phil. 3:14).    

Rejoice in Achieving the Goal.  When you reach your goal, thank God for drawing you close to him.  Know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).  You are running so that you can obtain the prize (1 Cor. 9:24).  Rejoice in the lord, stay faithful and one day the ultimate crown will be yours (Phil. 4:4, Rev. 2:10).  

An Opportunity to Serve—Sunkua Gamsua

Jesus had a great compassion for the needs of the sick, especially their spiritual needs. He said "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:31). Jesus “came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28).  One of his greatest cares was the sick.  He healed a woman who had a bleeding issues for 12 years (Matt. 9:20-22), a crippled man (Mark 2:9-12), ten lepers (Luke 17:12-16), and a blind man at the pool of Siloam (John 9:6-7).  In fact, his care for the sick was such that in every town and village Jesus healed all manner of sickness and disease (Matt. 9:35). 

How important is our care for the sick?  Jesus said that doing good works for the sick is doing good works to Christ himself (Matt. 25:44).  Like the Good Samaritan we are blessed with opportunities from time to time to help the sick. This week such an opportunity came our way. 

A dear brother and friend approached me about an orphan named Sunkua Gamsua.  Niipaak Laar is a preacher in Saboba, a valiant soldier of the cross.  He is not a shyster who seeks funds at every turn to pad his own wallet. I know and have worked with him personally. Niipaak speaks five or more languages and has been instrumental in the beginning and development of dozens of congregations.  He’s been there when hundreds were baptized. He is certainly about his Father’s business.

Below are graphic photos of Sunkau Gamsua.  Sunkua is an orphan who lost his father when he was young.  He is one of five children.  The grandmother who took care of him herself couldn’t walk.  She died last year.  For some time, he had nowhere to live but Niipaak helped arrange for housing this year.  Some twelve years ago an ulceration developed on one leg and eventually spread to the other leg. The doctors say amputation is what is most needed for this chronic ulceration that has gone down to the bone. 

Niipaak came to know Sunkua in 2008 and started helping his family in terms of their eating, education, and health, especially this boy.  You see West Africa is not like American in so many ways.  Sunkua doesn’t have the social support of county, state and federal agencies to call on for help.  I know about their plight first-hand.  We’ve visited the leper colonies and given them aid.  We’ve help drill water wells to provide clean drinking water where they won’t contract cholera that can be fatal.  We’ve seen the maimed and crippled drag their broken bodies in the dirt in the poor villages. We’ve attended the funeral of man who died when the hospital was on strike.  We are so blessed. 

Traditionally, in American this is a time when we give thanks.  In Christ God has done so much more than we ask or think (cf. Eph. 3:20).  Perhaps your heart will be moved to help.  Niipaak has been helping with his health expenses for three years now.  We could certainly help him.   Pray for Sunkua and Niipaak.

The bible says we must do good to everyone, especially those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:9-10).  The widow gave out of her poverty, perhaps we can give out of our abundance (Mark 12:44).  Let us not have hearts that say be warmed and filled (James 2:16).  The doctors want to amputate, but the funds aren’t there.  The cost of the surgery is approximately $750.  He’ll likely need therapy, prosthetics or a dependable wheel chair.  Maybe we could raise $1,000.

Would you stop right now and pray that God will provide for Sunkua?  Maybe you can help out of your abundance.  If you would be interested in giving, please make your check to the Okeechobee church of Christ and in the memo write “Sunkua.”  We will be wiring our gift soon.  Thank you for your consideration.

2 Corinthians 9:11   You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

How Do We Trust God When Our Desires Seem So Reasonable, Yet God Says No?

Sometimes we can hardly stand it!  We want it so bad!  We expect.  We anticipate.  We will and long for one particular expected outcome.  It's as if we put on blinders and tunnel vision has its way.  

If you love sports maybe you sit on the edge of your chair or pace the floor (like me) waiting to see if your favorite team can pull out the nail biter.  The close game is torturous.   You would surely will your team to victory if you could.  Oh, we want to win so badly!   

In reality sometimes what we want most in life we do not receive from God.  In our heart we know that God knows best.  But do you ever struggle with trusting God when he closes a door of opportunity? We know according to the Bible that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:9).  We believe and trust, yet inwardly we want things so different.  What we expect from God can really challenge our faithfulness.

An important lesson for our faith is realizing that even when our desires, motives and expectations are justified, God may deny them.

Several examples in the Bible illustrate this point.  Sarah longed for a child, yet was barren even laughing at God (Gen. 11:30, 18:13).  Paul the great apostle longed for the thorn in the flesh to be removed (2 Cor. 12:7-10).  In fact he asked the Lord three times to remove it.  But God said “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul would reason, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

It is virtuous to be ambitious, willful, efficient, diligent and determined. Yet, an important lesson for our faith is realizing that even when our desires, motives and expectations are justified, God may deny them.  Doors of opportunity that gleam and glitter may be forbidden.  On Paul’s second missionary journey Paul had intended to visit ever city that he first visited on his first tour (Acts 15:36), yet he was forbidden by both the Holy Spirit and Jesus from going to Asia (Acts 16:6-7). Visiting these churches of Asia seemed like such a good idea, yet God had other plans. 

How do we trust God when our expectations seem so reasonable according to the Scriptures, yet denied as they play out in life?  First, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5).  Even if this is easier said than done consider God faithful (Heb. 11:1).  Second, patiently wait on the Lord and remember that God has made everything beautiful in its own time (Is. 40:30-31, Eccl. 3:11).  An answer of “no” from God might be God’s way of patiently refining you for a “yes” yet to come.  Finally, if “no” seems God’s final answer be content with merely looking into the Promised Land, even if you can’t enter (Deut. 34:4). The brightness and glory of your final home is so much more brilliant!      

 

Letting Your Light Shine in Evangelism

The power of Christian example is tremendous!  God intended to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world by teaching in word and in deed.  Teaching “in deed” includes teaching by example.  Our light begins with the Lord for He is our light and our salvation (Ps. 27:1).  Jesus said “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). The light from Christ comes into us through the word that is implanted deep within our souls (Js. 1:21).   Second Corinthians 4:6 states “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).  Paul says we spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere (2 Cor. 2:14).

In evangelism members who are members “in deed” are driven to action and are vital to the cause! They are fragrant in a pretty smelly world (2 Cor. 2:14).  Outsiders observe Christ living in these individuals and often follow their lead in coming to Christ.  Sometimes we ask ourselves - what if every person practiced their faith just like I did?  What would the church be like?  What would her future be like?  Do people see Christ in me?  Are they curious in drawing closer to the Lord because of the Lord being lived out by me?  How is my example helping spread the word?

A Christian example is vital to influencing and saving the lost.  Some brethren are socially gifted.  People naturally gravitate to their kindness, affection, love and sincerity in the Lord.  These brethren often invite people to church and so many are encouraged by an “in deed” faith that is lived out in serious devotion to our great God.  Often these brethren simply leave the door open and encourage outsiders to walk through. 

Evangelism and Bible study with outsiders who become friends of these brethren are often easy conversions.  Why? Because so many of aspects of the Bible are being lived out by these faithful brethren.  What is written in the word is written in their hearts and is lighting every dark corner of the world of which these are engaged. 

Consider a young man who was once dating a faithful young lady in a congregation.  This young lady was serious about her faith.  She was gentle and fun, yet strong in the Lord.  What she professed on Sunday morning, she lived out the other days of the week. Saturday nights were faithful just like Sunday mornings.  When he would observe her family and the church family, he knew they were paying more than lip service to Christ.  Bible study with him and his eventual conversion was a cake walk because of the Christ he observed being lived out in the church.

Let us let our lights shine as we attempt to draw all men unto Christ!    

Is the Bible the Word of God? How Does Prophecy Establish that the Bible is From God?

                 Prophecy is one of the greatest lines of evidence in proving that the Bible is from God.   Prophetic utterances should be differentiated from wishful thinking, chance circumstances, lucky guesses, or hunches that just happen to come true.  Also, prophesy should be differentiated from a selective rewriting of history whereby individuals are shaping the present to fulfill the past.  People arrive at the conclusion that the message is Divine when they realize that the most reasonable power that links knowledge of an event and the transpiring of that event is God himself.  When the details and lines of history are carefully considered the reader is left like Nicodemus–no man could do these things unless he is from God (cf. John 3:1-2), or Thomas – My Lord and My God (cf. John 20:28)!

                The motive of the prophet is another element worth considering in prophecy.  The prophet’s motivation was to glorify God and they diligently proclaimed the Law of Moses to draw people back to God.  Occasionally, a prophet would foretell the future.  When prophets foretold things that came to pass immediately in their days, they were trusted (cf. Deut. 18:20-22).  These events were readily distinguishable from chance happenings or the work of magicians.  Most of what comes down to us from prophets is teaching instead of foretelling.  However, the elements that foretell are of tremendous benefit in proving the Bible is indeed from God.   

                Further, we want to make sure that we listen to the testimony of the prophet and carefully consider their motive.   Not every prophet then was a true one.  In being an objective listener or reader today, it is certainly reasonable to be open to the possibility that the prophecy was and now is false.   When Jesus spoke with his disciples he said “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt. 24:9).  Elsewhere the Bible reads “many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  Carefully eliminating false prophecies from true ones is a virtuous enterprise. If the prophecies of Daniel, Joel, or Isaiah were false, what exactly was there immediate motivation?  Generally, lies are told for some immediate fulfillment, perhaps fame, notoriety, or maybe even some material gain of some sort.   For those who disbelieve in the words of Daniel, Isaiah or Joel, what possible motive would they have had to lie about something hundreds of years in the future?  This is not to argue that lying about the future is impossible.  Rather, when you couple the impeccable character, unrelenting faithfulness, and trust worthiness of the prophet along with our 20/20 vision of the historical fulfillment of their testimony a Divine conclusion is most reasonable. 

                Let’s consider the example of John the Baptist.  Consider the prophecy made and fulfilled about his coming.  God reveals his coming through Isaiah and Malachi.  Approximate 740 years prior to the first century, Isaiah prophesied that “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God’” (Whitcomb n.p.; Is. 40:3).  When one reads “a voice” they may think that this is a bit general and not specific in identifying precisely who that particular voice was that was yet to come.  Isaiah’s prophecy is specific in that it identifies a singular voice, but not exactly who it would be.    Consider another prophetic line of evidence.

                Malachi who prophesied approximately 300 years after Isaiah prophesied “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me” (Whitcomb n.p.; Mal 3:1).  Also, Malachi prophesied “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (Mal. 4:5).  Prior to the first century we know that a singular voice is coming and that it will be like Elijah.

               When the first century comes, John the Baptist is identified as the precise fulfillment of these prophecies.  Luke records that John the Baptist was like unto Elijah in that he was going before Christ “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).  Jesus likens John to Elijah (Matt. 11:13-14).  John himself, when pressured by the Jews, admits he was not “the prophet,” referring to Jesus (John 1:19, 21).  Rather, he was the voice of the one crying in the wilderness concerning the Christ who was to come (John 1:19-23).  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all affirm that John the Baptist was the one who fulfilled what Isaiah spoke of so many years before (Matt. 3:3, Mark 1:1-3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23).  

                 How does this prove that the Bible is from God?  Historically, the record of the witnesses comes down to us intact.  They were not selectively rewriting history.  In person John’s life singularly fulfilled what Isaiah and Malachi spoke of hundreds of year prior.  The trustworthy Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Jesus all confirm what God had revealed.  Indeed no man could know these things unless he was from God.  

Whitcomb, John. Chart of Old Testament Patriarchs and Judges. Chicago: Moody Press, 1968.

Should I Trust the Bible When I Don't Have the First Transcribed Copies?

Can we trust the Bible when we don’t have the first original copies (or autographs)? Can we trust the Bible if we don’t what was first penned by Paul, Peter or one of the other notable Bible writers? These are important questions.  Before we dig into these questions, let’s back up a few steps and consider some details since we are dealing with a historical document that claims to be Divine.

When we examine a document that claims to be Divine we must first allow the possibility that God has spoken to man through this medium.  Simply allowing the consideration of evidence does not prove the point, but we do not want to dismiss outright the possibility before examining the evidence at hand.  Some people will approach the Bible with bias whereby they dismiss any possibility of the Divine working through miracles, verbal or written revelation, or scientific foreknowledge and fulfillment.   Honest thinkers want to examine evidence before granting or rejecting the testimony.

Second, we must consider that we are dealing with a work of history and we will want to treat the Bible as such.  Applying some other critical test that does not readily apply to historical documents and then dismissing the Bible is not the best approach.  Historical evidence employs historical or forensic tests to confirm the truthfulness or veracity of the text. 

Third, consider the nature of truth when dealing with works that come down to us historically.  When historians compare the Bible with other works of history they consider the date of origin and the distance to when the earliest copy is found.  Take for example Homer’s Ilead that dates from 800 BC, but the earliest copy dates from 400 BC (McDowell 38).  This time gap of 400 years might lead some to greater skepticism in the work. Similarly some might possess greater confidence in the historical reliability of the text if time gap were much less, say 50-100 years.   If the time gap were closer, some think the document could more readily be trusted.  The closer to origin a statement is made, supposedly the more reliable the statement is.  But remember, we are dealing with history.  A truth uttered 5 milliseconds ago or 4000 years ago is still true.  It’s not qualitatively truer if the truth is more recently uttered.  Truth is true no matter when it is first stated or when it is subsequently discovered.  Proximity is helpful, but not the only consideration. 

Forth, consider that historians and textual critics will count the number of copies of the manuscripts.  Homer’s Ilead, when compared to the New Testament, has some 643 manuscripts dating within 400 years.  The New Testament, on the other hand, comes in with in excess of 5,600 Greek Manuscripts dating within 50-100 years of being transcribed (McDowell 38, Wallace 29-30).  How do other writings compare?  Scholar Daniel Wallace writes,  

“How does the average Greek or Latin author stack up?  If we are comparing the same time period– 300 years after composition– the average classical author has no literary remains [sic]. But if we compare all the MSS [Manuscripts] of a particular classical author, regardless of when they were written, the total would still average at least less than 20 and probably less than a dozen -- and they would all be coming much more than three centuries later.  In terms of extant [surviving] MSS, the NT textual critic is confronted with an embarrassment of riches.  If we have doubts about what the autographic NT said, those doubts would have to be multiplied a hundredfold for the average classical author.  When we compare the NT MSS to the very best that the classical world has to offer, the NT MSS still stand high above the rest.  The NT is by far the best-attested work of Greek or Latin literature from the ancient world.” (Bold emphasis mine) (Wallace 29-30). 

Sixth, let’s consider that truth is equally valid and just as true with a copy as it is with an original.  Consider attempts at validating your birth. An original birth certificate could confirm the date of your birth equally with a reliable copy or one hundred or one thousand copies.  With the New Testament there are hundreds of copies that confirm the validity of each book of the New Testament (Wallace 28). That’s why Wallace says we are confronted with “an embarrassment of riches.”   With the Bible there are numerous copies and multiple lines of evidence to confirm the text.  May our hearts accept the overwhelming evidence and be content in its certainty. 

References:

McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999. Print.

Wallace, Daniel, ed. Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011. Print. Page 29-30.

Couldn’t Anyone Write a Religious Work, Claim it is from God, Gather a Following and Begin a Religion?

Sometimes people wonder - couldn’t just any person write a religiously persuasive work, claim it’s from God, gather a following and begin a religion?  Absolutely!  Religious history is full of just such events.  That is why it is so important that we test human spirits to see whether the information they are giving us is from God or not (1 John 4:1).  Many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).  We should be willing to “test everything; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).   Religious teachers can be persuasive and emotionally moving yet be deceptive, failing to tell people the whole truth. 

So how do we tell a false prophet from a true prophet?   We must compare the words of a teacher with the word of God.  If the teaching does not align, we must move onward always putting our faith in the words of God rather than men.  Such comparisons are essential to be pleasing to God and not locking step with false teachers.

It is also important for all people to give the Bible a fair hearing and not dismiss it outright before hearing the evidence.   We should not dismiss it prejudicially or based upon some preconceived bias.  It was the late Simon Greenleaf, Dane Professor of Law, Harvard University, who wrote:  “In examining the evidences for the Christian religion, it is essential to the discovery of truth that we bring to the investigation a mind freed, as far as possible, from existing prejudice, and open to conviction.  There should be a readiness, on our part, to investigate with candor, to follow the truth wherever it may lead us, and to submit, without reserve or objection, to all the teachings of this religion, if it be found to be of divine origin" (11).  Greenleaf’s words would certainly apply toward a fair hearing of the Bible.

Let me be clear on what is being claimed about the Bible.  The claim being made is not that the Bible is merely a historical word, although it is historically accurate.  The claim is not merely that the Bible is unique, although among books there is none like it.  The claim is not merely that the Bible is supported by the genius of humanity in archeology, geography, higher and lower criticism or science.  The claim is not merely that the Bible is a book of fascinating literary genius containing poetry, history, science, mathematics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, law, philosophy and, of course, theology.  The claim is not merely that the Bible is factually accurate, logically coherent or that its truths correspond to real events in history.  The claim being made reaches up to a level far beyond these, a level that puts the Bible in a category all its own.  The monumental claim being made is that the Bible is Divine

In Acts 5 the apostles are doing good works, performing miracles and preaching Jesus.  Upon hearing this the Jews are outraged and want to kill them (Acts 5:33).  Gamaliel, also a Jew, stops the angry mob and draws their attention to two examples of religious leaders who gathered a following, Theudas and Judas the Galilean.  Theudus rose up, gathered 400 men after him, and died.  His word failed and “all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing” (Acts 5:36).  Similarly, Judas the Galilean gathered a religious following, died, and all his followers were scattered (Acts 5:37).  His word too failed.  Why did so many abandon the words of Theudas and Judas the Galilean?  Their words proved unreliable, untrustworthy and false.  It contrast to what was disbelieved, Gamaliel urges the Jews not to dismiss the Divine in the case of the Apostles.  He states “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38-39).  Surely not every religious teaching is valid, but let us be open and honest enough to examine the evidence, dismiss what is false and clutch with fervor the pure truth of God.  

 

Reference:

Greenleaf, Simon. The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence. Grand Rapids: Kregel Classics, 1995, 11.

Analyzing the Bible's Truthfulness in Light of Archeology

How does one evaluate the truthfulness of the Bible?  What separates the Bible from all other books merely created by the ingenuity of man? 

First, let me be clear on what is being claimed about the Bible.  The claim being made is not that the Bible is merely a historical word, although it is historically accurate.  The claim is not merely that the Bible is unique, although among books there is none like it.  The claim is not merely that the Bible is supported by the genius of humanity in the social sciences such as psychology and sociology or in the physical sciences like chemistry, biology, archeology, physics, or forensics.  The claim is not merely that the Bible is a book of fascinating literary genius containing poetry, history, science, mathematics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, law, philosophy and, of course, theology.  The claim is not merely that the Bible is factually accurate, logically coherent or that its truths correspond to real historical events.  The claim being made reaches up to a level beyond these, a level that puts the Bible in a category all its own.  The monumental claim being made is that the Bible is divine

Testing this claim involves some rigorous examination.  An individual will travel down two pathways that often crisscross back and forth in examining the evidence.  One track will be examining evidence that justifies the conclusion that the Bible is divine.  The other track will examine claims that attempt to prove that the Bible is not divine and therefore false (falsification).  Being fair minded we don’t want to assume the Bible is true without considering the evidence in its favor.  Likewise, we don’t want to assume it is false without giving the text a fair hearing.  We want to follow the evidence where it leads.

In handling the evidence of the Bible it is important to know the nature of evidence under consideration.  Consider archeological evidence for a moment.  In Mark 12:13ff the Pharisees and Herodians are trying to trap Jesus in his speech.  They ask him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not” (Mark 12:14)?  Jesus aware of the hypocrisy responds,

“Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”  And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar's.”  Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they marveled at him. (Mark 12:15-17).

Archaeologically one can find silver denarius coins from this time with imprints of the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar Augustus.   These findings affirm distinct facts that support Jesus’s account, facts like: (1) a denarius was a form of money used in that day and age,  and (2) that the denarius had Caesar’s likeness imprinted on the coin.

Let’s now put this archaeological evidence in context.  Does this archeological evidence definitively prove that the Bible is divine?  This evidence certainly affirms elements of Jesus’s account.  Notice we are simultaneously traveling down two intersecting lines of evidence, one verbal—Jesus words and one physical—an archaeological find.  Both lines of evidence intersect.  From Jesus’s words themselves we know he wasn’t speaking in figurative language or using parables.  Rather he was speaking literally—“bring me a denarius” (Mark 12:15).  From the physical archaeological evidence we see details that correspond to Jesus’s account. They affirm that Jesus’s words were coherent.  That is they agree with literal circumstances of that day and age.

What can we conclude? In light of archaeology the Bible here passes a negative test for truth, but not a positive test for truth.  If the Bible is true, we would certainly expect archaeology to support it.  However, archaeology alone does not prove the Bible to be divine.  Archaeology can confirm many things that are not divine.   While archaeology is helpful in verifying a litany of physical details in the Bible, it is at best a negative test for its truthfulness and not a positive test.  

Is the Bible the Word of God? – A Look at Textual Variants (Part 2)

Have you ever heard people say that the Bible is full of errors?  What do you think of this claim?  Are they right?

Last week we made the case that textual variants (or differences) should not be described as errors. The word “error” carries with it the idea of the wording being false, misleading, untrue, or corrupted.  Generally, most people would not take a spelling mishap as a justifiable reason to dismiss an entire work as inauthentic or corrupt especially given the fact that these copies were made by hand.  (See the illustration in Textual Variants Part 1). 

It is important to approach the text and multiple copies with an honest even-handed reasonable approach and let the evidence lead where it may.  If a copy proves to be corrupt, so be it.  If a copy confirms what is written, so be it.  It is important for people to understand that faith in the Bible does not rest on a shred of evidence, a thread of truth, a speculative hope or a mere wish that the text is true.  It would be most unreasonable to wish that the text is true and then go on to believe that it is true.  We must be able to differentiate fact from fiction.  Faith does not a rest on a preponderance of evidence.  That is, evidence that seems more likely than not.  Faith in the word of God isn’t a second guess or a wish based on unprovable assumptions. Rather, faith in the Bible rests on a mountain of evidence based upon millions of pages of data.

We must be clear that confidence in the Bible does not rest on a line of reasoning that assumes the word of God is true and then therefore believes it to be true.  This is circular and dishonest.   Creative writers abound and simply making a claim of Divine origin certainly does not establish Divine origin.  God allows his word to be tested.  The Bible says “Examine all things; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21, NET).  Examining the text itself is a worthwhile endeavor that increases faith for “every word of God proves true” (Prov. 30:5, ESV).

The study of variants is within a realm of larger study known as textual criticism.  Textual criticism is divided into higher criticism (also known as historical criticism) and lower criticism.  This higher and lower is not one of superior versus inferior methodology; rather it represents the angle with which the critic views the text.  Higher critics examine the text from a high birds-eye view where they examine the author and dating of a New Testament book.  Lower critics examine the text with a magnifying-glass-in-hand, looking at the precise wording of the text itself (Lightfoot 88).  A study of variants falls within the purview of a lower critic.

Bible translators are precise on types of variants that copyists or scribes make.  Sometimes a word might be copied twice, what is known as dittography. Sometimes if similarly spelled words were close in proximity in a line of text, the copyist might jump from one group of letters to the next omitting a portion of the text. This is known as homoeoarcton or homeoteleuton (Metzger xvii).   Hundreds of copies of each New Testament book give certainty that the Greek renderings and subsequent English wording are accurate and intact.

Consider the numbers for a moment.  Skeptics might be fond of pointing out that there are 400,000 variants while only 140,000 words in the New Testament.  That amounts to two or three variants for every word in the New Testament (Wallace 26).  People might wonder how the text could reasonably be trusted as authentic or credible when there are so many variants.  The answer to this rests in understanding these numbers in their context. 

First, understand there are so many variants because there are so many copies.  In fact the number of Greek manuscripts amounts to 5,600 and growing.  Second, understand that the New Testament is a document of history and has to be treated like one.  Consider the historicity of Homer’s Ilead  that dates from approximately 800 BC with 643 copies (McDowell 38).  Very few doubt the historicity of the Ilead, yet many dismiss the New Testament.  Comparatively speaking from a historical perspective, the New Testament has in excess of 20,000 handwritten manuscripts in languages such as Greek, Latic, Coptic, Syriac, Georgian, Gothic, Ethiopian and Armenian (Wallace 28).   Relatively, this equates to thousands of pages of data, thousands of pages that confirm the accuracy of the New Testament.  Third, understand that the New Testament rests on millions of pages of supporting data!   With 5,600 + Greek manuscripts (MSS), 20,000+ total MSS, with an average MSS with more than 450 pages, with hundreds of witnesses for every New Testament book, with 2.6 million pages of text and more than 1 million quotations of the New Testament by the church fathers, the New Testament among every work of human history stands on a mountain of historical evidence (Wallace 27-28).   

References:

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2005. Print.

Lightfood, Niel. How We Got the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003. Print.

McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999. Print.

Metzger, Bruce Manning, United Bible Societies. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.). London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994. Print.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001. Print.

Wallace, Daniel, ed. Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011. Print.

Isn't the Bible Full of Errors? – A Look at Textual Variants (Part 1)

Have you ever heard people say that the Bible is full of errors?  What do you think about this claim?  Are they right?

Famous North Carolina Professor Bart Erhman is widely known for his popular books that spew doubt including Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why and Orthodox Corruption of the Scripture.   Erhman is a textual scholar trained at the feet of the late Bruce Metzger, one of the leading textual scholars of the New Testament.  Erhman’s works are wildly popular and cast all sort of doubt on the text of the Bible.  While many skeptics are philosophers or scientists, Bart Erhman is actually a New Testament Greek scholar.  His arguments do not go unanswered.   Daniel Wallace, also a Greek scholar, has answered Erhman in a book Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament

Wallace states “Erhman is fond of saying, that that there are more variants in the MSS [manuscripts] that there are words in the NT [New Testament]” (20).  Wallace estimates that there are between 300,000 and 400,000 variants in the New Testament.  Earlier accounting estimate 200,000 variants.[1]  Variants are differences in the text from one copy to the next.  These can be differences of spelling or phrases.  These differences can be intentional or unintentional.  The broad number of variants is essentially an estimate offered by proofers of the original text.  If there is a spelling difference that occurs in 3,000 manuscripts or copies, they would count 3,000 variants.   The more manuscripts that are discovered over time the higher this number will go.  In the absence of the printing press, spell checkers and computers, it seems reasonable to expect people that hand copied the text to make spelling or wording mishaps.  But, should these variants be considered errors? 

Let’s put variants in perspective.  Consider one of the world’s bestselling books J.R. Tolkein’sThe Lord of the Rings.  Estimates run that there are 150 million copies in print.[2]  Let’s say for discussion that in 100 years from now someone collected 20 million copies and started comparing them.  In each successive printing historians or textual critics could probe the writing with questions. What was the precise date of this particular copy? Did the publisher redact (remove) or insert words?  Did the publisher correct spelling errors?  Were sentences changed or refined?  Are their insertions or deletion in the text?  How different are successive editions to the first printed edition?  A textual critic will attempt to answer these questions.

If, for example, the first printing had 10 spelling errors and they recovered 4 million first printings, this would count as 40 million variants.   With a number as large as 40 million we might think the work is corrupt, dismantled and unintelligible. This number on the surface seems inordinately large given that no humans were involved in the actual transcribing of each copy.  But, that’s not the case at all.  The number must be put in context.  We are talking about 10 spelling errors with multiple copies of that error.  There would be no reason to doubt that you had an original writing with this number of copies.  The point is that the message and wording are intact even if the spelling is not 100% accurate.

Let’s consider another example.  Consider if you discovered eight copies of Homer’s ancient writing knows as the Iliad (c. 800 B.C.).  What if copy one said “Let us ask some driest or prophet, or some reader of dreams . . . .”  Copy two read “Let us ask some priesl or prophet, or some reader of dreams . . . .” What if copies three through five read “Let us ask some priest or prophet, or some reader of dreams . . . .”  Would we have any looming doubt on what the actual rendering should be?  This is merely considering five copies.

We have to be careful that we don’t look at every textual variant as "errors" in the sense of being an obstacle to understanding.  The word “error” can mean false or misleading.  Also the word “error” sometimes casts doubt on the trustworthiness of the message or the message bearer.  Generally in modern language and communication we impart understanding with less than pin point precise English perfection.  We typically don’t become highly suspicious of one who writes “there” when meaning “they’re.”   We typically don’t dismiss people as liars, charlatans, or devils of the worst kind when they use “where” when meaning “wear.”   If we lend this courtesy in modern times, should the same courtesy be lent to ancient Biblical copyists who were copying by hand on parchments or animal skins? 

[1] See pg. 160 of Geisler, Norman and Ron Brooks.  When Skeptics Ask.  Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1990.  Print.   See pg. 96 of Lightfoot, Neil.  How We Got the Bible.  Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books, accessed 6-22-16.  

Does the Bible Die on the Deathbed of a Thousand Qualifications?

The hungry, curious and critical mind needs solid evidence to draw valid and sound conclusions.  In a world with so many different religions, drawing a conclusion that the Bible is Divine can be done with careful thought and consideration.  The critics and objectors often reject this conclusion, but we want to carefully listen to their criticism and consider the objections.   The Bible is true and shines against the unrelenting criticism.  Watching the Bible stand against criticism can strengthen one's faith.

For some the Bible dies on the death bed of a thousand qualifications.  If one thousand qualifications were met, some critics would want one thousand and one qualifications met.  In the study of logic there is a fallacy (a false belief) known as “death by a thousand qualifications.”  This is observed “when a term is used to define something but then there are so many qualifications to the definition as to render the original term meaningless.”[1]   For some the Bible is rejected because so many criticisms are hurled at it and people don’t honestly consider answers to the criticism.  When the criticism is answered, the answer is often thought not good enough. 

The Bible states that there are those who are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).  This text shows the knowledge-heart-will connection in the Bible.  For some people the evidence for the Bible will never be sufficient. Why?  For them the Bible dies on a death of a thousand qualifications.  For these, if multiple witnesses confirm the same account they might want one more witness.

This insatiable skeptical attitude was apparent when Jesus was crucified. 

39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”  41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying,  42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.  43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, 'I am the Son of God.’”  (emphasis mine, Matthew 27:39-42).

For these individuals to be satisfied with Jesus being the Son of God he should have subjected himself to their notion that he come down from the cross.  For them the countless healings, miracles, virtuous teachings, making and fulfilling multiples prophecies was not enough.  In their estimation and judgment Jesus should have done precisely what they expected.  To do less, in their minds, was evident that Jesus was not the Son of God.  

Do you see the problem?  The problem was not evidence or the lack of available information and subsequently being informed.  Rather the problem was heart disease and a human will that derided an innocent God dying precisely for them.  God help them in their unbelief!

 The availability of evidence or the amount of evidence or the multiple lines of evidence or all the various categories of evidence contained in the Bible will not necessarily make a person care about the gospel.   The heart must listen and care about what it hears (Rom. 10:17).

So, what Biblical evidence would convince you that God’s word is literally breathed out by God and profitable for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16)?  Some will never concede to this conclusion.  Others, like Thomas set the bar high.  Thomas would never believe unless he placed his finger into the mark of the nails and into Jesus’s side (John 20:25).  Jesus consented and urged him “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”   Thomas responded “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).   Jesus replied “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

The words of the Bible are written so that all will believe (John 20:31).  Some will never believe because God to them must meet seemingly a thousand qualifications (cf. Acts 28:28). Some when confronted with Divine evidence will be like Abraham who was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:19). Some will have the boldness of Peter who confidently affirmed to the Gentiles that Jesus’s life of miracles and good works showed that God was with him (Acts 10:38). Some will be like Nicodemus who recognized that no one could do miraculous signs unless God was with him (John 3:1-2ff).  Some will understand that to deny a Divine inference (conclusion) is most unreasonable (John 9:31-32).

One can be a thoughtful, curious, inquisitive, and hungry student of the Bible.  One can weigh the evidence and arrive at Divine conclusion for the Bible.  It is a book beyond mere human invention for so many reasons.  May we be like the Jews who marveled at Christ’s words and be sincere enough to thank God for having revealed himself to us through his word (John 7:15-18).

[1] http://www.mongryl.com/logical.fallacies.html, accessed 8-3-2016. 

Is the Bible the Word of God? How Do Miracles Establish that the Bible is From God?

Some people dismiss the Bible because of miracles recorded in its pages.   They dismiss the possibility of miracles on a couple of different grounds. One reason is based upon preconceived bias or mere assumptions.  Honest minds want to draw conclusions based upon a fair hearing of the evidence.  Some people dismiss the possibility of past miracles outright before allowing a fair hearing of them. 

Another reason people reject miracles is based upon a commitment to naturalistic principles.  Some people reason from their own personal experience and since they do not observe miracles on a regular, repeatable or consistent basis, they reason that miracles have never occurred.  This is a big logical leap.  One may confidently say they haven’t observed a miracle, but to say miracles never have occurred takes much more evidence than personal experience or the experience of a select group of people.  Just one miracle happening at just one moment of time in the world’s history would prove this belief to be false.  This belief and rejection of miracles is often rooted in the principle of uniformitarianism—the concept or belief that the origin or development of all things can be explained exclusively in terms of natural laws or processes operating today or “the present is the key to the past”(Ruffner 290).  Yet experience teaches us that what is ordinarily observed is peppered with irregularities like a man landing on the moon or Princess Diana dying in such a rare and irregular manner.

How would one respond to this rejection?  First, a commitment to natural explanations demands a source for nature.  If there are natural laws, then there must be a natural law giver.  Second, what is observed consistently in nature is only a portion of what is observed naturally.  There are observable phenomenon (irregularities, oddities or anomalies) that are readily observed such as volcano eruptions, earth quakes, tsunamis, meteor showers, or tornadoes.  Scientists try to predict these events with regularity but their occurrence is littered with uncertainty as to timing.  These events prove that natural regularities or a normal order of things has exceptions (cf. 2 Peter 3:4).  If these natural phenomenon are willingly accepted, why then do people rule out the possibility of supernatural exceptions to natural processes in the past? Shouldn’t one allow at least the possibility for the supernatural?              

People offer other objections to miracles.  They might allege – you believe the Bible is true because it contains miracles and you believe miracles are true because they are in the Bible.  This is circular, they would argue.  However, there is more to proving Divine inspiration of the Bible than these two elements.  The Bible is a collection of witness accounts confirming miracles.  It’s not merely one witness confirming a miracle but often many witnesses to the same event.  A miracle proves to be a supernatural act of God either by God intervening or interrupting the natural course of events (Geisler 48). “A miracle is something which would never have happened had nature, as it were, been left to its own devices” (Geisler 44).  As Geisler points out “Natural law describes naturally caused regularities; a miracle is a supernaturally caused singularity”(44).

In the Bible there is not only one miracle attested to by many witnesses, but there is one Christ attested to by many miracles (cf. Heb. 2:3-4, John 3:2, John 20:30-31).  Consider the miracle of Jesus’s resurrection.  Matthew records the initial witness testimony of Mary Magdalene, another Mary and the eleven at Galilee (Matt. 28:1,9).  Paul records the first hand witness of Peter (Cephas), the twelve, five hundred brothers, James, all the Apostles, and Paul himself (1 Cor. 15:5-8).  This resurrected Jesus also was confirmed by multiple miracles prior to his death, including: turning water to wine (John 2:9), feeding the 5,000 (Mark 6:30-44), and calming a storm (Matt. 8:23-27) among many others.

Rudolf Bultman one of the staunchest critics of the New Testament noted the following.  He stated “The Christian fellowship was convinced that Jesus had done miracles and they told many stories of miracles about him.  Most of these stories contained in the gospels are legendary or are at least dressed up with legend.  But, there can be no doubt that Jesus did such deeds, which were, in his and his contemporaries’ understanding, miracles; this is to say, events that were the result of supernatural divine causality.  Doubtless he healed the sick and cast out demons” (Strobel 68 quoting Craig quoting Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus (Berlin, 1926), 159).   If even this critic can concede to the truth of past miracles, maybe other fair minded individuals will do the same.

Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology. Vol. One. Minneapolis: Bethany, 2002. Print.

Ruffner, Roelf. "The Doctrine of Uniformitarianism." In the Beginning: Christian Evidence and Apologetics. Ed. Hicks, Tommy. Lubbock: Hicks Publications, 2000. Print.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. Print. 

How Does One Test the Bible?

Does God want man to examine and see for himself if the Bible is the word of God?  How might one go about testing the validity of the claims of the Bible?  We have been examining over the last few weeks ways to examine the Bible.  One can examine the Bible from many angles: forensic, historical, legal, scientific, archeological, and mathematical or logically and philosophically.  If the Bible is inspired and the word of God it would pass with flying colors in these areas.

One might be encouraged to know that God encourages the examination of His identity and the truthfulness of his word (Mark 1:22, John 3:2, Acts 17:27). The Bible says “test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).  Making informed decision as one handles this evidences is paramount.  Testing everything would include examining and verifying the validity of God’s identity and his word.  As one considers the evidence and moves toward making an informed decision, one will be faced with an either or option.  Either God exists or he doesn’t.  Either the Bible is the word of God or it isn’t.  Joshua who became the valiant leader of Israel pushed Israel to make a decision.  He urged them to choose either the gods of their fathers, the gods of the Amorites or the Lord (Josh. 24:15).  They proclaimed “No, but we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:20).

Consider the nature of truth and how that applies to the Bible.  When something is false it dies off and comes to nothing.  What is false is fruitless, of little merit, of no help and of no value in advancing virtue for the human race.  If the testimony in the Bible concerning Christ was false it would be expected to die off and come to nothing.  That’s what happens to lies.  They get exposed.  Gamaliel pointed this out in Acts 5.  If the Apostle’s actions and teachings were false their teaching would be exposed as false, be fruitless and misleading.  Their teaching would come to nothing.  However, if it is true and from God, there is nothing that man could do to overturn it (Acts 5:34-39).  In fact, the resistant Jews would be found to be opposing God (Acts 5:39).

In arguing a case for the Bible, Dick Sztanyo goes through several proofs.  First, one must establish a clear definition of the Bible.  Second, one must prove that God exists.  Third, one must understand that there are necessary conditions for the truthfulness that are distinguished from sufficient conditions for truth.  Necessary conditions are negative tests for truthfulness.  Consider archeology, history or the preservation of scripture.  Because something is proven to come down to us historically intact, does not necessarily prove it be true or Divine.  Necessary conditions are minimal requirements for accuracy.  Sztanyo points out that this information “can disprove, but not prove”; they “can corroborate, but not confirm” (215).  One would expect, at least, the Bible to prove reliable when it comes to history or archeology. Many necessary conditions of truth are external to the Bible text itself. Sufficient conditions, on the other hand, are positive tests for truth.  These largely deal with evidence internal to the text.  Conditions that are both necessary and sufficient include miracles and “predictive prophecy, unity of theme and purpose beyond human explanation, and scientific foreknowledge”(222).  One could travel down a delightful path examining all the evidence that proves the Bible to be inspired. 

An honest mind also wants to consider the implications if the Bible is false.  Paul was a balanced thinker and entertained this possibility in 1 Cor. 15.  If Christ isn’t raised from the dead, then: (1) Paul’s preaching and faith was vain, (2) he was misrepresenting God, (3) his faith was futile and he was still in his sins, (4) his hope in Christ was only in this life, (5) Christians are most to be pitied, and (6) let man eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow he dies (1 Cor. 15:14-32).  However, since Christ is Risen man’s faith is solidified.  His hope is maintained.  Abundant life and salvation are in full view. 

Can man know if the Bible is divine?  Certainly.  One is free to examine the Bible for all its worth.  The Bible proves itself to be a book of Divine origin.   All of the evidence collected together make a solid case.  First Thessalonians 2:13 states “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”   You can confidently reach the same conclusion.

Sztanyo, Dick. Graceful Reason. Vienna: Warren Christian Apologetics Center, 2012. Print.