When should you offer evidence?

imgresTwo weeks ago I asked the question, “Is evidence enough?”  I talked about the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, and showed how their worldviews determined how they viewed the evidence, in that case — fossils. When people are totally committed to a worldview, as both Ken Ham and Bill Nye are, showing evidence is not usually a game-changer.

So when should you offer evidence for the Christian faith?

When someone wants it.

I am not being curt or sassy. I truly mean that.

There are 2 times, in my experience, when it is helpful to offer evidence.

1. To believers:

Maybe they are young and have heard about the truths of the Bible their whole life, but now as a teen or college student, they are wondering if the Bible is really a reliable document. Or maybe they have been a Christian awhile, but are now facing opposition for the first time. This was my experience. When I was faced with the challenges of my philosophy professors that I couldn’t answer, I wanted evidence. I often meet young Christians who just want to know that Jericho was a real place, that Pilate really lived, that there are non-Biblical sources written during the time of the apostles who mention that Jesus Christ lived on the earth.

2. To seekers:

One of my pastors calls the people in our lives who are attracted  to Christ in us or to the gospel — “persons of Peace.” Phillip Vander Elst was such a person.  After graduating from Oxford with degrees in politics and philosophy, Phillip met a really smart lady who was a Christian. He was amazed that someone smart could also believe in Jesus.  Up to that point Phillip says:

Religious faith seemed to me to involve the blind worship of a cosmic dictator, and the abandonment of reason in favour of ‘revelation’. Why, in any case, should I take religion seriously, I thought, when the existence of evil and suffering clearly discredited the Christian claim that our world owed its existence to a benevolent Creator?

Phillip’s lady-friend (who eventually became his wife) introduced him to C.S. Lewis. Through reading Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain, Phillip came to think that atheism didn’t even provide him a basis by which to form the question about the problem of evil:

As he [Lewis] rightly points out, we cannot complain about the existence of evil and suffering, and use that as an argument against the existence and goodness of God, unless we first believe that the standard of right and wrong by which we judge and condemn our world is an objective one. Our sense of justice and fairness has to be a true insight into reality, before we can we be justified in getting angry and indignant about all the pain and injustice we see around us. But if this is the case, what explains the existence within us of this inner moral code or compass?

Lewis’ writings convinced Phillip that Christian theism made a lot more sense in the search to understand evil in our world:

The presence within us of an objective moral law ‘written on our hearts’ points instead to the existence of an eternal Goodness and Intelligence which created us and our universe, enables us to think, and is the eternal source of our best and deepest values. In other words, Lewis argues, atheism cuts its own throat philosophically, because it discredits all human reasoning, including the arguments for atheism. “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.” (Mere Christianity).

Once Phillip saw the Biblical account as a viable worldview, he then turned to examine the evidence about the Bible. You can read his complete account and about all the evidence that further convinced him here.  For now, let me just share one evidence that was important to Phillip in his journey from atheism to faith:

…the manuscript evidence for the authenticity and reliability of the Gospel texts is earlier and more plentiful than that for any other document of ancient times. In particular, the historical reliability of Luke’s Gospel and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, which is full of explicit political, legal, medical, cultural and topographical details, is confirmed by a lot of archaeological evidence as well as by plentiful documentary evidence from non-Christian sources. According, for instance, to classical scholar and historian, Colin Hemer, in his study,The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, 84 separate facts in the last sixteen chapters of the Acts of the Apostles have been confirmed by archaeological and historical research.

In summary:

If you share evidence with someone like Bill Nye, you will probably get to hear an explanation of that evidence from a different perspective.  If so, do listen and learn. But if you share evidence with a young believer or a person of Peace when they ask for it, it will likely be very helpful.

~ Betsy McPeak

Why give a Valentine?

Not too long ago I was having a discussion with a chemist who claimed that the only thing that is real is what he can put under his microscope. In other words, reality consists only of that which is material. This worldview is often called naturalism, which according to the Oxford Dictionary is “a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted.”

It’s not a very popular view on Valentine’s Day. If it were – you might find a Valentine card that says something like this:

images-11

 

 

Darling, my rise in serotonin level has triggered my infatuation with you. In light of this development, my blood chemistry compels me to love you. Will you be my valentine?

 

 

At the Center for Naturalism’s website in the Q & A section it states that: “Your thoughts, experiences, feelings, decisions, and behavior are all things your brain and body does.” They go on to claim that “Naturalism can help improve interpersonal relationships.”

Q. What are the implications of naturalism for my attitudes toward others and my relationships with them?

A. Many of the implications of naturalism that apply to yourself (see above) apply to others, and for the same reasons. Knowing that they are fully caused to be as they are, and couldn’t have done otherwise in the circumstances they were in, you’re going to be much less likely to assign them ultimate credit and blame. This means you’re less likely to hold onto feelings of resentment, anger, and contempt should they behave badly.

Is that a true basis for relationship – I forgive you because you weren’t at fault??? Wouldn’t that also make the converse true –  anytime you did something good or kind, it wouldn’t be your choice either? In fact, naturalism, as I understand it, reduces love and relationships, because it reduces what it means to be human. On the same website a human being is described:

“What’s special about this naturalistic view ourselves, that’s quite different from the supernatural or common sense view, is that we don’t have free will, defined as the power to do something without yourself being fully caused to do it.”

Remember last week I said that Francis Collins, who mapped the human genome, said that he came to faith in God because of all that he could not explain with his naturalistic view of life. Love seems to be in that category to me. A naturalist explains love and relationships in a way that does not fit with reality, reducing it to a deterministic series of choices based on bio-chemical processes.

Biblical Christianity asserts that human beings are relational because they were created by a Trinitarian God who has always existed as three persons in relationship with each other.  God’s essence is love. This is not just an ivory tower truth.  Just like the naturalist sees the truths of their worldview expressed in the nature of relationships, so does the Christian. God’s nature is reflected in His creation, including man who is made in His own image.

Philosopher Peter Kreeft of Boston College says it this way:

If God is not a Trinity, God is not love. For love requires three things: a lover, a beloved, and a relationship between them.

So buy your Valentine some flowers and chocolate, because you are made in the image of a God who loves, and therefore, even if my chemist friend can’t see it under a microscope, your love is real.

~ Betsy McPeak

 

Is evidence enough?

If you watched the debate Wednesday evening of this week between creation scientist Ken Ham and Bill Nye the Science Guy, you might wonder how two men can interpret the same fossils and other geological evidence in such opposite ways. The topic of the debate was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” Ken Ham used evidence to say yes; Bill Nye used evidence to say no. When asked what it would take to change his mind, Bill Nye said that he would change his mind if he were presented with evidence for creationism. Ken Ham said he would not change his mind, because he would hold to the authority of God’s word. But it was clear that Bill Nye will interpret any evidence he encounters through the lens of his “Reasonable Man” glasses, without a change in his naturalism. Ken Ham admitted that he will continue to interpret any evidence in light of his Biblical worldview, without a change in his position.

As much as I think that we should present evidence for the veracity of the Christian faith, debates like the Ham-Nye encounter this week show us the limitations of evidence.

verticalsectionofdna-1Ravi Zacharias tells the story of sharing the podium once at Johns Hopkins University with Dr. Francis Collins, the current Director of the National Institute of Health. Ravi says that Francis first put up a photo of York Minster’s Rose Window (above left) on the big screen for the audience, sharing that there were thousands of pieces of stained glass in this amazingly beautiful window.  Then Francis put up a view of the DNA Double Helix (above right), with its 3.1 billion bits of data. And then Francis sang a worship song.

We might agree with Francis Collins that the evidence speaks for itself – that it shouts glory to our Creator God. But not everyone will see it that way.  Bill Nye might look at the DNA cross-section and be in awe of the universe.

Francis Collins used to be an atheist. I have thought, until today, that it was primarily his work with DNA in mapping the human genome that triggered his change from atheist to believer. And surely that was part of it. But that is only part of the story. When Collins changed careers from being a scientist to being a medical doctor, he encountered questions from patients on their deathbeds that he couldn’t answer.

As a graduate student in physical chemistry in the 1970s, I was an atheist, finding no reason to postulate the existence of any truths outside of mathematics, physics and chemistry. But then I went to medical school, and encountered life and death issues at the bedsides of my patients. Challenged by one of those patients, who asked “What do you believe, doctor?”, I began searching for answers.

I had to admit that the science I loved so much was powerless to answer questions such as “What is the meaning of life?” “Why am I here?” “Why does mathematics work, anyway?” “If the universe had a beginning, who created it?” “Why are the physical constants in the universe so finely tuned to allow the possibility of complex life forms?” “Why do humans have a moral sense?” “What happens after we die?”

(From the CNN article “Collins: Why this scientist believes in God”)

Collins shares how he came to faith in God in a CNN interview that you can watch here. It was his growing understanding that his naturalistic worldview could not answer the big questions or explain reality as he experienced it, particularly man’s sense of right and wrong.

Collins now shows evidence of God’s creative work, like the intricate DNA Helix, and instinctively gives praise to God.  He wrote a book to show that science and religion are not at odds. But in listening to him explain his journey from atheism to belief in God, it sounds like it had more to do with a worldview that lacked explaining power, than with evidence.

God gave evidence of His existence when He appeared to Moses in a burning bush that was not consumed, when He parted the Red Sea, when He lighted Elijah’s fire in a showdown with the prophets of Baal, when He saved Daniel’s friends from the fiery furnace.  Jesus gave evidence of His deity by turning water into wine, walking on water, and showing Thomas His scars. So we should not hesitate in our apologetics to present evidence when it is appropriate, from fulfilled prophecies to archeological and historical support for the Bible. But we must also know that evidence alone is not always enough.

Apologist William Lane Craig says it like this:

So while the evidence is not enough to coerce you if your heart is closed, it is enough to ground faith rationally if you are willing to look at it with an open mind and an open heart.

 

~ Betsy McPeak

BEST Evidence for a Unified Isaiah

Last week we talked about 3 of the reasons why modern critics think that Isaiah was not the author of the entire book of Isaiah. For some, it is too much of a stretch to believe that Isaiah in the 7th century BCE could have predicted the specific name (Cyrus) of the king who would commission the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem in the 5th century BCE.  For others, the style differences between Isaiah 1-39 and 40-66 imply different authors.  For still others, it does not make sense that a 7th century prophet prophesied about the 5th century to a 7th century audience.

Last week we looked at 3 mitigating arguments:

1. Predictive prophecy about the rebuilding of Jerusalem is found in Isaiah chapter six, which even the modern critics ascribe to Isaiah, though the name Cyrus is not given.  And elsewhere is the Bible, very specific prophecies of a similar nature were fulfilled.

2. There are many commonalities of style between the first part of the book of Isaiah and the second part – for example 26 of the 32 times that “Holy One of Israel” is used in the OT, it is used in Isaiah, and those times are almost evenly divided between chapters 1-39 and chapters 40-66.

3. It is arbitrary to require a quality, in this case “applies to immediate listeners,” of the book of Isaiah that is not universally recognized as a standard of prophecy. Many prophecies in the Bible have a distant future fulfillment.

This week let’s look at the strongest evidence for the unity of the book of Isaiah.

1.  Dead Sea Scrolls

First, we have the amazing discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, copied in the 2nd century BCE from even earlier manuscripts. Modern critics say Isaiah only wrote the first 39 chapters, and chapter 40 switches to another author. Look at a screen shot of the oldest copy of Isaiah that we have:

This 2nd century copy of Isaiah changes from chapter 39 to chapter 40 in the middle of a column in the middle of a line [note the white rectangle] – with no mention of a change in authorship. Our oldest Isaiah manuscript treats Isaiah as one book.

2.  New Testament quotes

In chapter 12 of the gospel of John we see that Isaiah is quoted twice:

36 “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.

In John 12:38 “the word spoken by Isaiah the prophet” is found in Isaiah 53:1.  In John 12:40 the quote from Isaiah 6:10 is prefaced by John’s attribution, “again Isaiah said.”  Clearly, the apostle John attributes the contents of words from both sections of Isaiah as being spoken by Isaiah.

The New Testament contains 21 quotes from the book of Isaiah attributing the quotes to Isaiah.  Ten of those are quotes from chapters 1-39 of Isaiah; eleven of those are quotes from chapters 40-66.  So New Testament authors, living long before the development of modern criticism, viewed Isaiah as a unified book.

3. Extra-Biblical confirmation

In his work The Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus says that Cyrus learned of his destiny by reading the book of Isaiah. Josephus records:

“This was known [his destiny to free the Jews] to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind him of his prophecies… This [the prophecy] was foretold by Isaiah one hundred and forty years before the temple was demolished. Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the Divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfill what was so written…”  (11.12.)

Ecclesiasticus, one of the books of the Apocrypha written around 180 BCE holds to single authorship in this clear reference to Isaiah 61:3:

“By the spirit of might he [Isaiah] saw the last things, and comforted those who mourned in Zion” (Ecclus 48:24). 

4.  No new evidence
It is interesting to note that no new evidence or new discoveries triggered modern critics to come up with their position that Isaiah did not author the whole book of Isaiah.  Rather, it was a change in their thinking – a philosophical change to a disbelief in miracles – including predictive prophecy. No new evidence led to a the discovery of style differences in the parts of Isaiah.  Those style differences were there back when the Dead Sea Scrolls copyist carefully copied the book of Isaiah into the Isaiah scroll. Those style differences were there back when New Testament authors attributed quotes from all parts of the book to Isaiah. And no new evidence led to the requirement of “Sitz im Leben,” an insistence that prophecy speak with complete relevancy to the audience. New positions about the authorship of Isaiah were formed 25 centuries after the original writing of the book of Isaiah with no new evidence.
Based on the ancient evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Ecclesiasticus, and the 1st century (A.D.) evidence of New Testament authors and Josephus, it seems the soundest position to take, until new evidence or discoveries show us otherwise, is that Isaiah is a unified prophecy attributed to one author.
~ Betsy McPeak

 

Deutero Isaiah?

Around 740 BCE Isaiah had a vision of the throne room filled with six-winged seraphim which he described in Isaiah chapter 6.  The Lord was sitting on His throne and the train of His robe filled the temple.  The six-winged seraphim cried “Holy, Holy, Holy…” Isaiah was purified with a flaming coal and then received his commission as a prophet of God.

God warned Isaiah that the people would not listen, and Isaiah asked for how long. God said “Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant…” God went on to tell Isaiah that Jerusalem was like a terebinth tree. The stump would remain even when the tree was cut down.  So early in the book of Isaiah it was foretold that Jerusalem would be destroyed, but its rebuilding was fore-shadowed in the mention of the stump that can produce new shoots, even though it looked like the tree has died.

(The image here is a copy of The Vision of Isaiah by Luke Allsbrook, ca. 2006 found here.)

What does this have to do with apologetics?

A reader of this blog asked:  Were there 2 authors of the book of Isaiah?

Modern critics suppose that chapters 1-39 were written ca. 740-700 BCE by Isaiah prophesying during the Assyrian invasion, that chapters 40-55 were written ca. 600-539 BCE to the exiles in Babylon by another prophet, and that chapters 56-66 were written from 539-500 BCE by yet another prophet to those returned to the land from captivity. The sections are called Proto-Isaiah, Deutero-Isaiah, and Trito-Isaiah – I, II, and III Isaiah.

More recent modern critics think that there were just 2 authors, Chapters 1-39 having been written by Isaiah, and chapters 40-66 having been written by another prophet.

Yet other modern critics view the whole book as a collection of many prophecies by many prophets, compiled in the 5th century BCE.

Why does it matter?  What is behind this claim of multiple authors? Is it a sound claim?

Why does it matter?

It matters if the reliability and the nature of Scripture is questioned.

Isaiah’s prophetic ministry to Judah was around 740 – 700 BCE while the temple in Jerusalem was still standing. Isaiah is thought to have been martyred around 687 BCE, during Manasseh’s reign (687-642 BCE). Yet Isaiah prophesies devastation in Jerusalem and finally restoration, which occurred after his lifetime. Isaiah specifically prophesies that Cyrus would commission the rebuilding of the temple, which didn’t occur until 538 BCE. If the entire book of Isaiah was written by one prophet, then that prophet predicted the destruction of the temple and its rebuilding by a future conquerer of Babylon over 150 years before it happened.

The most important aspect of this challenge to Isaiah’s authorship of the whole book of Isaiah is the WHY of the challenge.  So let’s look at the thinking behind the claim that Isaiah did not write the whole book.

What is behind this claim?

I tried to find the strongest form of the argument for multiple authorship, so that I could address it, rather than the weaker forms. What I found was a mind-boggling number of conflicting and continually developing theories. Let’s look at the strongest reasons for multiple authorship of the book of Isaiah.

Modern critics claim that Isaiah did not write the entire book of Isaiah because:

1. Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1 mention Cyrus, a future ruler.

Despite the presentation of the book of Isaiah as a portrayal of the prophet Isaiah ben Amoz, there is a great deal of evidence that much of Isaiah was in fact composed by authors working during the period of the Babylonian exile and beyond. The most telling piece of evidence for this conclusion is the explicit reference to King Cyrus of Persia in Isa. 44:28 and 45:1, who is identified as YHWH’s messiah as well as the one who will rebuild Jerusalem and the temple.

~The Hebrew Bible Today: An Introduction to Critical Issues

In other words, the argument says that a specific prediction could not be accurately made over 150 years prior to the event.

2. There is a significant style change in the latter part of Isaiah.

The first part (Isaiah 1-33) projects judgment and subsequent restoration for Jerusalem, Israel/Judah, and the nations, whereas the second part (Isaiah 34-66) presupposes that judgment has already taken place and that the time for restoration is at hand.

~The Hebrew Bible Today: An Introduction to Critical Issues

 3. Isaiah’s 7th century audience would not find meaning in 5th century prophecies, so Isaiah obviously was not the author of the latter prophecies. A prophet who spoke in a more relevant way was the author of the latter sections.

In 1917 Biblical critic Hermann Gunkel coined the German phrase “Sitz im Leben,” which means “setting in life.” The position of some Biblical scholars in the 20th century was that a prophecy first of all had to mean something in the lives of the prophet’s immediate audience.

So what are we to think of this multi-faceted claim that Isaiah ben Amoz could not be the author of the book of Isaiah in its entirety?

Is it a sound claim?

1.  First of all, the assumption is that Isaiah could not have prophesied about a ruler who didn’t yet exist coming to the rescue of a situation that hadn’t yet happened. But in the first section of Isaiah (chapter 6 as described and illustrated at the beginning of this blog) which scholars unanimously attribute to Isaiah, the distant future destruction of Jerusalem is also prophesied.  As Old Testament scholar Dr. Gleason Archer says of Isaiah 6: 

Here we have a clear prediction of the total devastation and depopulation of Judah meted out by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC, over 150 years later!

So the multiple author theory does not escape the reality of predictive prophecy.  Chapter 6 clearly speaks of events that haven’t yet happened.

Besides – fulfilled predictive prophecy is God’s own measure of His God-ness.

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:                                                                                        “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.                                                                                                                   Who is like me?…Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.” 

~(Isaiah 44:6-8 ESV) 

Isaiah 53 contains clear prophecies of the suffering Messiah hundreds of years prior to the crucifixion.  Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, prophesies the specific name of the town where the Messiah will be born 700 years in advance, as recorded in Micah 5: 2 – 

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.

Another very specific prophesy is recorded in I Kings 13:2 where it is foretold 300 years prior to the event that a future king of Judah, named Josiah, would burn the bones of occultic priests on Jeroboam’s altar.  The fulfillment is recorded in 2 Kings 23:15-18.

Therefore, NO, it is not a sound claim that the latter part of the book of Isaiah is not authored by Isaiah just because it contains specific, predictive prophecy that Isaiah wouldn’t have known of through first hand experience.

There are many other examples of specific, predictive prophecy in the book of Isaiah and elsewhere in the Bible. It is one of the qualities that God uses to distinguish Himself – that He tells what the future holds through His prophets.  We could also say that the account of Elijah’s altar catching fire miraculously though soaked with water isn’t true because wet altars don’t catch fire spontaneously.  But we would simply be denying (not disproving) what the miracle proved – by our non-miracle position, not by the evidence.

2.  As far as the change in style, although there are differences, there are also similarities and parallel passages.

First, a similarity:

“For example, the title for God, ‘the Holy One of Israel,’ is used 12 times in chapters 1 to 39, and 14 times in chapters 40-66. However, this title is only used six other times in the rest of the Old Testament.” (Ken Carson)

Next, note the common theme of two parallel passages in Isaiah 11:6-9 (allegedly by first Isaiah) and 65:25 (allegedly by second Isaiah):

Isaiah 11:6-9

6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 65:25

25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.

NO, it is not a sound claim that Isaiah could not have authored the entire book based on the change in style.  Paul’s epistles often change style: a doctrinal first half and a practical second half, yet Paul authored the whole book. Differences in style can be due to different topics, goals and moods.  Isaiah’s book contains similarities between the sections, as well as some differences. We have given just a couple examples of the similarities in style and content between the first and second parts of Isaiah. The difference in style between different sections of Isaiah do exist in some aspects, yet so do similarities.  Therefore, it is not warranted to say that Isaiah couldn’t have been written by one author.

3.  Regarding relevancy, Gunkel’s Sitz in Leben criteria is not established as a universal standard of authorship. What if we said that the book of Revelation was not written by John if John’s audience did not have immediate understanding of all that he wrote?  There really is no definitive reason why Gunkel’s standard needs to be applied.  That it was not even a criteria until the 20th century does not give it much credibility as a universal standard.

I could decide that prophecies should be applicable only to groups or only to individuals.  I could say that prophecies are only authentic if easily understood. It makes no logical sense to allow Gunkel to require a random quality of prophecy, and then to use that quality as a litmus test of authorship.  There would be some qualities that would not be random – like “written in a language known to the author.”  That would be a necessary quality.  But written to have immediate meaning to the audience is not a necessary quality.

No, it is not a sound claim that prophecy has to be completely relevant or even understandable to the immediate audience.  Some prophecy is hard to understand contemporarily, may apply past the scope of the current audience, and sometimes doesn’t become clear until its fulfillment.  

I hope you can see that there is no strong evidence that the book of Isaiah was written by multiple prophets. But I have actually saved the best evidence for last.

Next week we will look at the strong evidence FOR the unity of the book of Isaiah.

~ Betsy McPeak

 

 

 

Can a law create?

The stage was set. The time was perfect. The Law of Internal Combustion appeared at just the right moment in history to create the first gasoline-fueled automobile. Internal combustion caused automobiles to come into existence.

Karl Friedrich Benz might disagree with that silly account of his invention.  In 1885 after hours of sweat and study, Benz invented a self -powered vehicle using internal combustion. In January of 1886 Benz applied for the patent to his “Motorwagen.” Benz – not internal combustion –  held the patent, because Benz was the creator of the “Motorwagen.”  Yes, Benz’s invention utilized principles of physics that exist in our world, but who would seriously attribute the existence of his automobile to the physical mechanisms and laws themselves?

Yet that is just what the “smartest man on earth” claims about the existence of the world.

Stephen Hawking was Professor of Mathematics for 30 years at Cambridge University. He wrote that “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”  

Can a law create?

Our culture is also asking this question: “Does God or science explain the universe?”  While scientists in their various fields make amazing contributions to human knowledge by observing and categorizing phenomenon, and do indeed explain the way the universe operates, scientists have yet to explain why anything is here at all.

As Oxford mathematician and philosopher of science John Lennox points out, it is a false alternative to say that either God or the Laws of Physics have created our world.  That is like comparing apples to oranges ~ or agency to mechanism. We wouldn’t say that either Karl Benz or internal combustion created the automobile.

Why do I bring this up?  Because I keep seeing this idea in various places, and it isn’t going away just because it doesn’t make sense.

In an online article called “Will Science Someday Rule Out the Possibility of God?” we read that 

Much of what once seemed mysterious — the existence of humanity, the life-bearing perfection of Earth, the workings of the universe — can now be explained by biology, astronomy, physics and other domains of science. 

We need to ask ourselves if providing explanations of the “workings” of the universe is the same as providing an explanation of the existence of the universe.

The same article reports that Sean Carroll, a theoretical cosmologist at the California Institute of Technology, says 

…there’s good reason to think science will ultimately arrive at a complete understanding of the universe that leaves no grounds for God whatsoever.

The article goes on to say that cosmologists can model what happened microseconds after the Big Bang until now, but that it is “the split-second before that remains murky.”  That’s like saying we can observe how matter and energy behave since they came into existence, but we still don’t know how matter and energy came into existence. Carroll, in fact, states that the role of physics is to describe the universe. Physics has yet to account for the cause of the universe.

Hawking redefines “nothing” as a quantum vacuum with energy in order to account for existence.  But as Shakespeare said,  “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  If we start with something, even if we call it nothing, it is still something – and its existence is still unexplained.

Berkeley astrophysicist Alex Filippenko said

The Big Bang could’ve occurred as a result of just the laws of physics being there. With the laws of physics, you can get universes.

As John Lennox would reply, “Laws don’t create anything.”

~ Betsy McPeak

 

Not Only

A few years ago I traveled to Cambridge to take an apologetics course. One thing the professor said that I have not forgotten is how important in the pursuit of truth is the phrase: Not Only.

He had learned it from one of his professors.  Once you learn it, you will see that it applies to much in your thinking ~ from theology to grocery shopping.  You will find the phrase handily popping into your mind when someone says something that you know is mostly true, but not quite right. When you hear a claim that is just a little too strong, a little too comprehensive to match reality, you can pull these handy two words out of your pocket.

Recently when I was teaching an apologetics class, a man walked into the room and said, “The only apologetic you need is a changed life.”  It was one of those times.  I pulled out my two words.  And they fit.

Eta Linnemann studied under historical-critical theologians Rudolf Bultmann and Ernst Fuchs.  She excelled in her scholarship of the Bible – but she did not believe it was the inspired Word of God.  In her book Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology?  (Reflections of a Bultmannian turned evangelical) Eta tells of her conversion to a real, vibrant relationship with God.

First, Eta realized that her scientific work on the text of the Bible did not produce any truth.  Eta saw that her academic discipline was based on a philosophy “which made bold to define truth so that God’s Word was excluded as the source of truth.”  Initially, this insight led to personal addictions to dull her great disillusionment with her life’s work.  Eta would come to say that she owed “those initial insights to the beginning effects of God’s grace.” Through the Word spoken to her by a Christian friend, Eta encountered Jesus Christ, and entrusted her life to Him.

The confirmation that God’s promises are a reality came about a month later when Eta heard of a missionary helper in Nepal who was thrown into prison for his faith.  Eta read the accounts of his trial.  From what she knew of this helper, she knew that he could not have given his answer to the court based on his own ability.  Mark 13:9-11 surged before her eyes.

Mark 13:9-11  (ESV)

“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.

Eta had only had academic interest in this passage before.  Now she saw Scripture connected with reality. “Suddenly I was convinced that God’s promises are a reality, that God is a living God, and that he reigns.  ‘For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm’ (Ps. 33:9).”

So what should we think if someone claims that the only apologetic you need is a changed life?

Not only.

In Eta’s case, it took both the truth plainly spoken to her, and her observation of the truth lived out in someone’s experience.  I know in my own life, God used both the clear teaching of the Word and my observation of girls in my dorm who walked with God in a real way.  I believe this is because we are whole people.  We have an experiential, subjective side. And we have an intellectual, objective side.  We cannot come to Jesus with just part of who we are.  

Robust apologetics includes both clearly stated truth and testimonies of that truth lived out in real ways.  I am sure that missionary-helper in Nepal had no idea that his faithfulness would be instrumental in the faith-journey of someone like Eta Linnemann.  We surely should live out the truth in a faithful, transparent way.  But we also have to speak the truth with gentleness and respect.  Paul saw both the proclamation and the experience of truth as essential.

1 Thessalonians 1:5  (NASB)

for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.

Speak truth, but Not Only.  Live truth, but Not Only.

Speak and live truth.

 

~Betsy McPeak

Can you defend the Resurrection? – Part 3

Did Paul preach a different gospel?

This series is in response to three claims in an online article called “The Resurrection Hoax” by Abdullah Kareem found here.

CLAIM 1:  The oldest versions of Mark’s gospel do not give an account of the resurrection.

CLAIM 2:  Matthew and Luke relied on the “Q” Source to write their gospels and to change Mark’s gospel to make it match their accounts of the resurrection.

CLAIM 3:  Paul’s account of the resurrection does not match the gospel accounts.

In Part 1  we saw how Mark’s gospel does report the resurrection, with or without the disputed final verses of the manuscript.  In Part 2 we saw that the Q document is a theory, not a manuscript, and that even if it did exist, it would not mean that Mark and Luke wrote unreliable gospels.  In Part 3 of this series we will look at CLAIM 3.

Abdullah claims that the contradiction between Paul and the gospels can be seen in Paul’s omission of the physical details of the resurrection.  Abdullah’s primary source for this argument is John Shelby Spong’s Resurrection: Myth or Reality.  Abdullah quotes Spong:

For Paul there were no empty tombs, no disappearance from the grave of the physical body, no physical resurrection, no physical appearances of a Christ who would eat fish, offer his wounds for inspection, or rise physically into the sky after an appropriate length of time. None of these ideas can be found in reading Paul. For Paul the body of Jesus who died was perishable, weak, physical. The Jesus who was raised was clothed by the raising God with a body fit for God’s kingdom. It was imperishable, glorified, and spiritual. (p. 241)

CONTRADICTION – OR COMPATIBLE DIFFERENCE?

For Paul to say that Jesus was raised from the dead does not contradict an empty tomb, even if Paul does not explicitly state that the tomb was empty.  If I said that Jeremy wore polka-dotted shorts to the movies, my sister would not be contradicting me to say that Jeremy went to the movies.  My sister would just not be including all of the details that I did.

A contradiction does not result merely from different accounts, but from accounts that cannot both exist at the same time.  If I said that Jeremy wore polka-dotted shorts to the movies, and my sister said that Jeremy did not wear polka-dotted shorts to the movies, then we have a contradiction – because both cannot be true at the same time.

Paul says that Jesus was both buried and then raised.  That he does not mention an empty tomb does not a contradiction make.

CAN A SPIRITUAL BODY EAT FISH?

Paul does claim that the natural body is raised a spiritual body (I Corinthians 15:44), but that Christ’s body was raised a spiritual body does not mean that it did not exit the tomb.  Paul’s account does not contradict the appearance of Jesus’ to the disciples either.  In fact, the gospel accounts report acts of Jesus, such as disappearing after breaking bread to Cleopas and another disciple (Luke 24:31), that would be hard to understand if Jesus had a normal, physical body.  John’s gospel tells us that “Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them…”  If anything, Paul’s description of a spiritual body raised in power and glory matches the gospel accounts of Jesus’ appearances after His resurrection.   We do not know the exact nature of a resurrected body, but there is no logical reason to think that Jesus could not eat fish in His resurrected, spiritual body.  A spiritual body does not equal a spirit without a body.  It is not a contradiction to say that Jesus had a spiritual body, and that He also ate fish or showed His nail-scars, because there is no claim in any New Testament writing that says a spiritual body is a ghost banned from fish-eating or scar-showing.

PAUL GETS A GREEN LIGHT

Both liberal and conservative Bible scholars agree that Galatians was written by Paul.  In Galatians 1:11 – 2:10 Paul claims that he received his gospel from a direct revelation from Jesus Christ.  But Paul also states that he verified his gospel in Jerusalem twice with eyewitnesses – Peter and James first, and then again years later with Peter, James and John.  Paul says that he submitted his gospel to the eyewitnesses because he wanted to make sure that he was not running in vain.  If Paul’s account of the good news contradicted the gospel accounts, Peter (from whom Mark drew his gospel accounts) and John (author of the gospel of John) would have told Paul of the contradiction. But instead, Peter, James, and John gave Paul the green light to take the gospel to the Gentiles.  

So I would ask Abdullah, where’s the contradiction?

~ Betsy McPeak

 

 

Can you defend the Resurrection? – Part 2

“Today there are people who talk about Q as though it’s a gospel. Q, as I see it, is not a gospel, it’s a hypothesis.”    ~ Dr. Elaine Pagels

In my last blog I quoted three arguments that Muslim apologist Abdullah Kareem makes in his online article, “The Resurrection Hoax,” as to why the resurrection is not an historical fact, but a legend which developed over time. Here are Kareem’s claims:

CLAIM 1:  The oldest versions of Mark’s gospel do not give an account of the resurrection.

CLAIM 2:  Matthew and Luke relied on the “Q” Source to write their gospels and to change Mark’s gospel to make it match their accounts of the resurrection.

CLAIM 3:  Paul’s account of the resurrection does not match the gospel accounts.

Last time we discussed Claim 1.  This time we will look at Claim 2.

New Testament critics often bring up the “Q document” as a reason to caste doubt on the eye-witness testimonies of the gospels, and to suggest a conspiracy by the disciples and other early Christians to make up parts of the Jesus story, particularly the resurrection.

WHAT IS THE Q DOCUMENT? 

The “Q” comes from the German word quelle, which means source.  The theory is that there was a collection of the sayings of Jesus, and perhaps some of his acts, and that Matthew and Luke used this collection in writing the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Q document theories are many and varied.  

Basically, the Q document is a hypothetical answer to a question.  The question is:  Why are there some passages in Matthew and Luke which have the exact same wording and do not appear in Mark.  Some scholars say this points to another source of these sayings, which they call the Q document.  

In studying this issue the most interesting person that I encountered is Eta Linnemann, a German Protestant theologian who studied under Rudolf Bultmann.  She originally held her teacher’s view – that the Bible is not historically reliable – until a conversion experience in 1977 when she renounced her former views and asked readers to burn her previously written books.

SOURCE OF THE SOURCE

In Linnemann’s Trinity Journal article “The Lost Gospel Of Q—Fact Or Fantasy?” (Spring 1996) she explains the origin of the Q document theory by saying that “Schleiermacher (1768–1834) got the modern ball rolling” by twisting a quote of Papias.  The 2nd century Bishop of Hierapolis Papias had characterized Matthew’s oracles or writings or sayings as having been written in the Hebrew style.  According to Linnemann, Schleiermacher twisted the word translated as oracles or writings into “sayings” only, whereas “Unfortunately for Schleiermacher, <logia> here means ‘what the Lord Jesus said or did,’ not just ‘sayings.’ ”  

Because understanding the source of the Q (quelle or source) theory is critical to understanding it, let’s look at Linnemann’s account of the next step in the development of the Q theory:

Christian Hermann Weisse (1801–1866), founder of the two-source theory, was the first to build on Schleiermacher’s error (Stoldt, History and Criticism). Contrary to Schleiermacher, Weisse claimed the sayings source as a source for Luke’s gospel as well, misusing Schleiermacher’s authority, who had argued the opposite.  And so the infamous Q made its debut in the theological world. 

THE REAL Q

The only Q document that exists is the one that contemporary scholars wrote by extracting the common verses between Matthew and Luke, not found in Mark.  John S. Kloppenborg wrote Q Parallels: Synopsis, Critical Notes, and Concordance in 1988.  This is the simplified, but technical reference of the  Q sayings.  In 2000, Kloppenborg then collaborated with James M. Robinson and Paul Hoffman on what is considered the definitive edition of Q,  The Critical Edition of Q.

Many New Testament scholars believe that the Q theory is a sound one.  But even if Q ever did exist, it does not necessarily follow that the gospels accounts are conspired.  Kareem’s claim that Matthew and Luke relied on Q to write their gospels does not mean that Matthew and Luke altered the historical accounts or twisted the truth.  Kareem’s suggestion that Matthew and Luke altered Mark’s account has no basis in sound scholarship that I could find.

I highly recommend the article “What is the Q ‘Gospel’? The Gospel According to ‘St Q’? by James M. Arlandson from his series called Historic Reliability of the Gospels (which you can find here) that examines various theories of Q and provides good recommendations for further study.

WHAT IF? 

IF the Q theory is true, Arlandson suggests a scenario something like this:

The Q document was a collection of Jesus’ sayings that originated in Galilee.  They did not focus on the crucifixion and the resurrection, but they simply focused on Jesus’ teachings.  Q could have been written, oral or both.  The narratives about Jesus’ death and resurrection originated in Jerusalem where they occurred.  The word spread after the events occurred. Travelers from Galilee and other outlying areas heard of Christ’s death and resurrection when they journeyed to Jerusalem on pilgrimages.  When the gospel writers wrote their gospels, it was in keeping with the Greco-Roman historical method and was not considered unreliable historically to use reputable accounts of Jesus’ sayings or of his deeds, including both Q and the crucifixion and resurrection narratives.  Matthew, being a disciple of Jesus and an eye-witness to many of the events, verified the material.  Mark wrote under Peter’s supervision. Peter was very capable of determining the reliability of the accounts, since Peter was in the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples. The sayings and deeds could also have been verified by many eye-witnesses who were still living at the writing of the gospels.

SUMMARY

The Q document is a theory meant to explain the common passages in Matthew and Luke.  We do not have an actual copy or fragment of Q as far as we know.  The only Q is the one compiled from extractions of Matthew and Luke by contemporary scholars.  Even if Q did exist at one time, that does not mean that the gospel accounts were conspired or are historically unreliable.

RECOMMENDATION

If you were in a discussion about the Q document with Kareem, or someone else with the same position, remember to ask them to explain the warrant for their claims ~ WHY is their claim true?  Listen to their explanation, and then interact with the reasoning behind their conclusion.  An argument that the gospels are conspired because of a hypothetical document is just not a strong argument.

~ Betsy McPeak

Can you defend the Resurrection? – Part 1

 

Paul claimed that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then the preaching of the gospel is without foundation, and our faith is in vain.  So it makes sense that critics of the Christian faith would attack the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We will spend the next few weeks making sure that we know how to give a reasonable defense to some of the common attacks against the resurrection account. First, let us look at the challenges against the New Testament accounts of the resurrection as articulated by a Muslim apologist.

Abdullah Kareem, like many others, claim that the resurrection is a developmental legend, rather than a true historical event.  

The following is a quote from Abdullah’s website: http://www.answering christianity.com/abdullah_smith/the_resurrection_hoax

The resurrection of Jesus is a hoax because Mark, the earliest gospel, never contained the story. The “resurrection” passages were later added to Mark, and his gospel was changed by Matthew and Luke, the Gospel writers are anonymous. It was necessary for Matthew and Luke to change Mark according to their own understanding, they also relied upon the Q source. Regarding the Gospel of John, it’s completely different and draws upon ambiguous sources. The oldest manuscripts of the New Testament are Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, both of these Greek manuscripts have no ending for Mark! …

This means the Gospel writers fabricated the resurrection story. The legend of Jesus’ “resurrection” developed over a period of time. This explains why Paul, the earliest Christian writer, never records the Gospel version. Paul only says Jesus was “crucified for the sins of mankind” and he “rose from the dead”, which does not explain anything.

Abdullah raises three common issues used to discredit the gospel testimonies of Jesus.  Christians must know what to say in response to these claims.  The next three blogs will examine these common attacks against the resurrection:

CLAIM 1:  The oldest versions of Mark’s gospel do not give an account of the resurrection. 

CLAIM 2:  Matthew and Luke relied on the “Q” Source to write their gospels and to change Mark’s gospel to make it match their accounts of the resurrection.

CLAIM 3:  Paul’s account of the resurrection does not match the gospel accounts.

PART 1:  The Ending of Mark’s Gospel.

Abdullah is absolutely correct that some of the oldest copies of Mark do not contain the last 12 verses recorded in most Bibles, at least of those that have been found.  If you look in your Bible, you probably have a footnote telling you this.  You can go to www.biblegateway.com and look at Mark 16 in different versions.  Many versions will tell you that verses 9-20 are questionable.  For example, the English Standard Version says:

[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.][a]

Mark 16: 9-20 is what is called a textual variant.  This passage varies from manuscript to manuscript.  It is actually one of the largest textual variants in the New  Testament.  (See my previous 3-part blog series to find out how significant textual variants of the New Testament really are.)

In April 2007 a group of New Testament scholars met at Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest for a conference called “The Last Twelve Verses of Mark: Original or Not.”  Four scholars presented papers, each with a particular viewpoint on Mark 16: 9-20.  Each of these scholars believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Dr. Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary presented the position that Mark ended his gospel with verse 8. Dr. Maurice Robinson of Southeastern Baptist Seminary presented the “Byzantine Priority” viewpoint that Mark 16: 9-20 is original. Dr. J.K. Elliott, Professor of NT Textual Criticism, University of Leeds, argued that the original ending of Mark has been lost. Dr. David Alan Black of Southeastern Baptist Seminary defended the position that Mark added those last 12 verses to finish off Peter’s lectures, believing Mark to have recorded Peter’s lectures as the gospel of Mark.

My point is this:  Christians ought not discredit their position by not being forthright about the 1% of textual variants in the New Testament that are not spelling or grammatical errors.  There are a few passages, like Mark 16: 9-20, that are debated, even among conservative, Bible-believing New Testament scholars.

My other point is this:  Even if Mark 16: 9-20 is not original, it does not affect the historicity of the resurrection. In fact, none of the important textual variants affect a single significant doctrine!  Abdullah’s claim that Mark did not contain the resurrection story is not true.  Mark 16: 1-8 is in the oldest manuscripts.  As the stained-glass picture above states, even in the first 8 verses of Mark 16 we see the resurrection recorded.

Mark 16

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Resurrection

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Notice that this passage clearly says that Jesus has risen.  This is not a story found only in the last 12 verses of Mark; it is not a story developed over the years as a legend.  It is right here in the undisputed section of Mark’s gospel.

What is found in the last 12 verses of Mark are the post-mortem appearances of Jesus and the ascension of Christ, which can be found elsewhere in New Testament documents. Bart Ehrman claims that we will not know whether to practice snake handling or not if we do not know if the ending of Mark is original. Mark 16:18 does say that believers will not be harmed if they pick up serpents or drink poison, but it is not ordained as a church practice here or elsewhere.  We do have the example of a snake attaching itself to Paul while he was building a fire, and we know Paul was unharmed.  But Paul did not handle the snake as a ritual to prove God’s faithfulness.  In fact, Christ clearly taught us, in His temptation, that we are not to put God to the test, exemplified when He refused to jump off the pinacle at Satan’s taunting.

Interestingly, Daniel Wallace revealed in 2012 that a first century copy of Mark may have been recently discovered. A new carbon dating method that does not destroy the manuscript can now be utilized to determine the date of these old manuscripts.  You can read more about this new discovery here. Textual criticism is very much alive. Hopefully this new discovery will settle the question about Mark 16:9-20.  But even so, that would not change what we already know ~ that Christ is risen from the dead.

He is risen indeed!

~ Betsy McPeak