Thursday, December 24, 2015

Too Weird To Make Up

He was born out of wedlock. His adoptive father was of the line of Solomon, but married outside his station. He was born among animals and commoners. He and His family were refugees in a foreign country for most of His childhood. He was raised as the son of a carpenter.
In every way, Jesus did not fit the bill of what the Jews were looking in a messiah. He was not born in a palace among wealth. He was not raised to be a military leader. He was not one to parade His worth around, preferring exactly the opposite -- that those who met Him did not tell others who healed them, but gave that glory to God. Good grief, He wasn't even legitimate by Jewish standards!!!
Enter the story anywhere you wish, Jesus' story is not one that would appeal to the Jews to whom He was first sent. It is not one that they would accept at face value, because it's not one that they would expect. Even today, the Jews by and large reject Jesus ... and yet it's to them that Jesus first revealed Himself.
One might argue that the story of Jesus is a made-up one, but considering who this "made-up" story was marketed to, one needs only consider that this absolute failure to connect with its target audience, coupled by its survival past the first decade of its existence (to say nothing of the two thousand years that followed), is evidence enough that the story was true. Nobody would make up a story like this, because nobody would believe a story like this!
... if there wasn't something about the story that transcends the illegitimate child born in humility and laid in a feed trough.
The story of Christmas is the story of the unexpected, where a sinless God took upon Himself the redemption of a sinful world, paid the price Himself, and asked only that His redeemed love Him above themselves, and love all others as themselves. Nobody would make up a story like that, because nobody would believe a story like that. It's too far fetched that an Almighty, Glorious God would humble Himself so. It's too simple a formula for salvation from sins -- just accept Christ as Savior and submit to Him as Lord. That's it. No coded messages, no secret handshakes, no "favorite sons." Just love -- sacrificial, infinite, unconditional. Who would believe a story like that?!?
Well ... I do.
May the peace of the Lord be with you as you celebrate God's love this Christmas season.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas — Who gives a rip HOW we came up with the date we use?!?

Every year about this time, anti-Christian individuals and groups make their jabs about Christmas being pagan, celebrated on December 25 by Catholics and Protestants, and January 7 by the Orthodox. They typically bring up this evidence or that regarding Saturnalia, the winter solstice, or what have you, appealing to guilt by association rather than actually trying to understand the Christian mindset — then or now.
The thing is, regardless of whether or not the day chosen was originally pagan, what is important is that the day is set aside, and for the purposes it is set aside.
For just one example, George Washington’s birthday. According to the Julian calendar, which was in use at the time, Washington was born on February 11, 1731. Following the switch to the Gregorian calendar which we use today, his birthday “became” February 22.
Thing is, we don’t observe his birthday on either of those dates. Rather, we observe it — as well as Lincoln’s birthday (February 12, 1809) — on the third Monday in February. What’s important is NOT that we pick the right day, or what else is on the day that we pick, but the fact that we DO pick a day and set it aside for observation.
People throughout church history have been trying to peg down Jesus’ actual birthdate. Through my own research, I’ve come to the conclusion that Christ was most likely born on September 25, 6 BC — Tishri 15 by the Hebrew calendar, the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles. May be right, could be wrong, ultimately it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that when Christmas was “established,” Christians lived among pagans who had oodles of dates to celebrate this or that, whereas Christians had none — not even the Jewish holy days (because of the ignorant “the Jews killed Jesus” hatred that many had), and certainly none of those Jewish holy days recognized the birth of Someone they rejected as Messiah. So while pagans would celebrate their pagan beliefs on their given days, Christians could either choose to celebrate godly things instead or celebrate nothing at all. The church leaders, and through them, the church proper, chose the former.
That’s how Christians got the holidays we have. Just like Washington’s birthday not being observed on his actual birthday, Christmas is a day chosen to celebrate Christ’s birth, and chosen to give Christians something to celebrate instead of what else was being celebrated on that day — the winter solstice. Easter was established similarly as an alternative to the spring equinox, as well as the Jewish Passover. Halloween is the same thing — All Saints Eve (leading into All Saints Day) as an alternative to Samhain.
For non-Christians or anti-Christians to say that Christian holidays are essentially pagan is to completely disregard why people of any faith individually set aside days as holy in the first place. I completely agree that these holidays have been co-opted and commercialized to the point of them no longer being “holy” to many, but they still are to me — not because of the day they may fall on, but because of what they individually mean to me if no one else.


Editor's note: One of the main reasons December 25th was chosen has nothing to do with Saturnalia at all.  If it were intended to be a replacement for Saturnalia, why was it not on the same days?  (Roughly December 17-23.)  The choice of the 25th of December comes from an old tradition that Christ's death and conception took place on the same date.  The date for Christ's death, burial, and resurrection was placed around Easter time (around March 25th).  Conception plus nine months gives us December 25th for His birth.  Check out this blog for more info.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Undesigned Coincidences - An Introduction, Part 2

Welcome Back!

Welcome back gentle reader! Welcome to the second part of my Introduction to Undesigned Coincidences in the Bible. In the next few posts we will explore a few types of Undesigned Coincidences and you will see some examples of each using the Bible as a reference.  I picked these because they were less involved than some others that would require the cross-referencing of several passages.

So, without further ado…

Internal Coincidences

The first category we will look at will be coincidences that occur within the text of the Bible itself. These can be separated into several sub-categories including Same Book coincidences, Same Author coincidences, and Different Author coincidences. I have come up with these sub-categories myself simply for the convenience of organizing future blog posts. The only categories I have found in the literature (so far) are the basic internal/external ones.

Same-Book Coincidences

Some coincidences are found in different parts of the same book. Needless to say it will be assumed that the same author penned each section. For this category we will be using an example from John James Blunt’s “The Veracity of the Five Books of Moses” pp. 144-147. In this example we see that in Numbers 7:6-8:
6 So Moses took the carts and oxen and gave them to the Levites. 7 He gave the Gershonites two carts and four oxen corresponding to their service, 8 and gave the Merarites four carts and eight oxen corresponding to their service, under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron the priest. (Scripture quotes from HCSB)
Why did the Merarites get twice as many carts and oxen as the Gershonites? No explanation is given.
If we look back to Numbers 4:25, 26 we see the duties of the Gershonites were to:
25 They are to transport the tabernacle curtains, the tent of meeting with its covering and the covering made of manatee skin on top of it, the screen for the entrance to the tent of meeting, 26 the hangings of the courtyard, the screen for the entrance at the gate of the courtyard that surrounds the tabernacle and the altar, along with their ropes and all the equipment for their service.
And the duties of the Merarites:
31 This is what they are responsible to carry as the whole of their service at the tent of meeting: the supports of the tabernacle, with its crossbars, posts, and bases, 32 the posts of the surrounding courtyard with their bases, tent pegs, and ropes, including all their equipment and all the work related to them.
From comparing these two passages you can assume the likely explanation for the different wagon allotments was because the Gershonites were in charge of the lighter elements of the tabernacle, the curtains, canvases and hangings, while the Merarites were in charge of the heavier articles, the posts, bases and crossbars.

Several chapters that deal with various topics like a census, uncleanness, compensations, rituals, vows and blessings separate these two passages. The fact that the reason for the Merarites getting more wagons than the Gershonites was not explained, and that this passage was separated from the earlier passage, implies that the writer felt no need to give a reason, therefore implying common knowledge. A fiction writer would be more likely to want to put these passages together to tie up loose ends and provide an explanation. Though this may not be a wholly convincing example, nevertheless it is another strand in the rope.

Next Post

So, there we have it, short and sweet, but my first example of an Undesigned Coincidence. I know, it probably doesn’t give you “Church Shivers” to think about it, and it isn’t some knock-down argument. It is simply the first straw I am presenting, and you know what happens when you put too many straws on a camel’s back. In my next post we will look at an example of Same Author Coincidences using Paul’s letters in the New Testament.  I am currently reading through William Paley’s "Horae Paulinae" for an appropriate example.

Until next time,

Keep reading!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Video Games and Miracles

A Classic!
Originally posted here. I suppose I grew up in the "Nintendo generation," having graduated from Pac-Man and Donkey Kong  to spending hours squashing "goombas" to save the princess in Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. Then there was Link, always working to save Princess Zelda. But regardless of which game I was playing or even which genre of game I played, each video game had its own consistent laws of what was possible. Mario and Luigi may be able to jump several times their own height, which is impossible in our world, but that was perfectly normal in the Mushroom Kingdom of Super Mario Brothers. And those laws had to apply equally to each player for the game to be fair. But ... as any gamer knows, there are "cheat codes" - those little hidden combinations of movements, game actions, sequences of pushed buttons on the controllers, and so on, that allow a user to sidestep the rules of that game's reality. A cheat code may let the player get more lives, become invincible, get abilities beyond what's normal in that game's world, access new weapons or levels, or bypass difficult levels or enemies to finish the game faster.

But what does all this have to do with miracles? Well, consider where cheat codes came from, and why they're called cheat codes. These have historically been programming "back doors" for the game developers to test different parts of the game without having to play through the entire game at the intended rate. If I'm developing a game, and I need to test game play in level thirty-seven, I don't want to have to play through the first thirty-six levels that I know work well just to repeatedly test out small changes in level thirty-seven. An easy way to handle this is for me to write in a hidden jump to the higher levels, or a code for superpowers that would let me go through the tedious parts quickly. As the creator of the game, I'm outside the game, while the players are immersed in the game. I'm not limited by the rules of that game world (unless I choose to be), while the players are limited by the rules in a fair contest. With that in mind, it's not cheating for the game creator to bypass levels or grant himself superpowers to accomplish his work. However, if a player learns of the programmer's secret, and uses it unfairly, then it is cheating.

Now, this leads me to a few observations.
1) We are open to the possibility of miracles (i.e. bypassing or circumventing a world's observed physical laws) in a game world.
2) We recognize that the game's programmer isn't violating any actual real-world constraints when he alters physics inside his game - the code he's writing in his dimension is functioning perfectly in accordance with whatever programming language he used whether he writes a "normal" game scenario, or one with a secret invincibility switch in the game's dimension.
3) We recognize that these "miracles" (from an in-game perspective) tend to be the work of the game's developer as a means of accomplishing his work outside of normal game play.
4) We have an expectation that these events are not the norm, and are supposed to be used judiciously by the right person (i.e. the developer) to make the game better.
5) We recognize the right of the game developer to exercise privileges beyond our own as players.

With that in mind, I have to ask why we turn around and deny even the possibility of miracles in our physical world. Why think that it is impossible that our world had a developer - a Creator - who is not bound by our reality's constraints? Why think that such interactions between our Creator and His creation - ones that appear miraculous from our "inside-the-game" perspective - are impossible if He's simply not limited like we are? Why think that our Creator doesn't have a right to alter our world's "game" as He sees fit to make it better?

When we look at the miracle of God entering the game He created at a specific point in this game's time and space, and becoming a player like one of us. He still retained His title of Sovereign Programmer, using His power to beat what we never could. In this we see a move of unfathomable love and mercy that made the game immeasurably better. Imagine playing an unwinnable level, with the deck stacked against you, and suddenly, the game creator appears in the game next to you and says, "You can't beat this on your own, but I've got this - just follow me." That's what Jesus did when He physically appeared almost 2,000 years ago and conquered death. Will you turn away and keep playing on your own? Please don't, there's a better way.

Monday, November 16, 2015

In the Beginning

As we're starting out together on this journey into learning about apologetics I (Sam) thought we ought to start off with a couple basic parts of apologetics.  That's why the first post was an introduction to apologetics in general and why I want to introduce basic apologetic arguments one at a time for a few weeks.  Therefore, this week's post is about two apologetics arguments in the category of cosmological arguments.  First, the Leibnizian argument from contingency and the "kalam" cosmological argument made popular by William Lane Craig (here on out, "WLC").

History of the Argument

WLC's amazing arguments are actually really old!  According to WLC's book The Kalām Cosmological Argument (that's a tough read, but an easier explanation, which is the primary source for this entry can be found in WLC's book On Guardthese arguments have been around since (before) the time of Plato!  WLC did much of his research on the kalām argument through medieval Islamic philosophers and chose to use the word kalām from Arabic for "speech" or "words," as a tribute to both their significant work using this type of philosophy and as a tribute to Greek philosophers' (and the biblical) use of the word λόγος - [logos] or word. (John 1:1ff).  -- Sorry more Greek, and now Arabic--can you tell I'm a linguist?  So this argument is really old and has been made by many famous (and not so famous) philosophers.  For example, G. W. Leibniz, a super smart guy in eighteenth-century Europe, wrote: “The first question which should rightly be asked is: Why is there something rather than nothing?”  We're only going to cover two in this entry so stick with me.

Argument from Contingency

WLC's version of the argument from contingency given in On Guard goes like this:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.

He later adds:

4. The universe has an explanation of its existence.
5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God.

First let's discuss point #1: This seems reasonable and completely without question.  However, this is actually hotly disputed.  There is no simple way to explain why God is somehow exempt here except to say that God exists necessarily.  That is, God cannot, by definition, not exist.  WLC rephrases #1 as, "Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause."  God, by very definition cannot be caused--otherwise God wouldn't be God.  One of the other ways this point is attacked is that some atheists will claim that the universe itself needs no explanation of its existence (sometimes called a "brute fact"), this is a fallacy because there's no reason to exempt the entire universe from something that applies to the rest of the parts of the universe.  God is, by definition, outside the universe and exempt from this fallacious thinking.  We're not saying God is exempt from having an explanation for God's existence, we're saying that God is by definition the explanation for God's own existence.

The Kalām Cosmological Argument

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause

And of course the only thing that make sense as creating the universe, is what we call God.

There are two problems with this (well, there are multiple but I'll try to work through two big problems).  First, this argument generally embraces Big Bang Theory (hereafter "BBT").  BBT claims that the universe began to exist some thirteen billion years ago, which flies in the face of groups like Answers in Genesis and other "young-earth creation" (hereafter YEC) teachers.  This does not mean that a YEC'ist has to reject the argument, just that YEC supporters cannot use the BBT to support the second point in the argument.  See, in the days before scientists came up with the BBT, philosophers had to rely on purely philosophical arguments for saying that the universe had a beginning.  But then, from various points of evidence, scientists came to agree with Christian philosophy/theology that says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

Second, various people deny various levels of both points in the argument.  If you talk to pop-level atheists they will commonly point to quantum physics to say that point #1 is false.  That things "pop into existence from nothing" all the time.  However, in fact, if you listen carefully to the various discussions about these quantum particles, what we actually see is that quantum particles come from quantum foam or some other quantum thing.  I've often pointed this out, but it seems like a brick wall:

Closing Thoughts

There is much, much more to say about these two arguments, but as this is just an introduction I'll leave you with just one more thing concerning these arguments.  These arguments are just part of a much bigger cumulative case for Christianity.  If you think through these arguments you'll realize that we're not really anywhere near the Christian God.  All we have is some kind of Being that is non-physical and powerful.  (WLC also argues that this Being must also be personal, but I'll save that for another day.)

Also, a word of warning.  If you are talking with a die-hard-Dawkins-worshipping-New-Atheist type, these arguments will probably not be effective (really no arguments will work well on that type of person).  They think these arguments have been refuted.  They hang their hats on quantum weirdness that makes it seem like something can come from nothing.  They cling to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Schrödinger's cat to deny causality itself.  There's a not-so-funny irony in this.  What is science but the search for the cause of various effects we see around us?  Medical science is all about finding the cause for various diseases.  Biology and biochemistry is all about finding what causes life.  Genetics is about what causes various traits to be inherited.  And on and on the list goes.  Well, if the atheist is right, there's no fundamental cause effect relationship to the entire universe anything unexplained or any difficulty can be eventually boiled down to the indeterminacy of the fundamental particles of the universe.  This kind of science-of-the-gaps thinking is just as dangerous as crazy-fundamentalist-bible-thumping-conspiracy-theorists.  There's no reasoning with that kind of dogmatic atheist, just pray for them, and move on to people that actually have an interest in thinking through their worldview.

Photo credit here

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Intense Persecution of the Early Church: A Strange View? (So Says Bart Ehrman) - Part 2

In the first article in this series, we looked at the intensity of the persecution that took place against the apostles and the rest of the Church during the first year (to as much as 19 months—until the time that Paul was converted on the road to Damascus). During this period, the apostles (the primary witnesses to Jesus's resurrection) were arrested, flogged and warned by the same powerful Jewish court that arrested Jesus and had him crucified. This was quickly followed by the stoning of Stephen and a very intense period of widespread persecution in which many were hunted down, arrested and even put to death. Yet, in spite of this intense persecution, the apostles and the Church as a whole maintained their testimony that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead.


But what happened after Paul was converted? Was Paul the sole source of this persecution? Did the persecution cease? If not, what did it look like?

First, let's just note from the outset that we do not have a lot of information about the Church for the period between Paul's conversion (34 AD) and the time of his first missionary journey (48 AD). The book of Acts is our only source for this period (other than some very minor details that we can learn from Galatians 1:17-24, i.e., Paul's visits to see Peter and James). In Acts, the only thing that Luke tells us about this period is what happened to Paul immediately after his conversion, a couple of healings, a few minor details, and two other major events (Acts 9:20-12:25).

So what did happen immediately after Paul's conversion? He “immediately began to preach in the synagogues [at Damascus] that Jesus is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). And this soon resulted in a conspiracy among other Jews to kill him. His response was to sneak out of the city and flee to Jerusalem (Acts 9:23-26; cf., 2 Corinthians 11:32-33). At Jerusalem the situation was the same: Paul spoke the message about Jesus, the Jews tried to kill him, and he fled for his life to Tarsus (Acts 9:26-30). So, we can see clearly that this response to severe persecution was not simply because of Paul. Paul himself experienced it from other Jews after his conversion.

Then Luke tells us that the persecution did generally cease for a period of time: “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers” (Acts 9:32). How long was this “time of peace”? Luke does not specify. It may have been for as long as nearly a decade (until 44 AD). Or it may have been much shorter. My educated guess is that it was probably about 5 to 7 years. But we don't know. What we do know is that during King Herod Agrippa's reign (41-44 AD), there is more intense persecution. King Herod arrests some believers to persecute them. James, brother of John, is put to death by the sword. Herod sees that this pleases the Jews and Peter is arrested with the intention of putting him to death also, but Peter escapes. (Acts 12:1-3, 21-23).

Here again, the pressure is put on the apostles. Among the Twelve (the preeminent of the apostles), there were three who comprised Jesus's inner circle: Peter, James and John. All three of these experienced the severity of this persecution. James was put to death. Peter was arrested with the intention of putting him to death, also. And John, no doubt, experienced this persecution quite personally on many levels. Not only was he the third of this inner circle but watching his brother (with whom he was apparently very close) being put to death and his close friend Peter's life being threatened would have certainly been a grueling test of his profession of Jesus's resurrection. Once again, in the face of severe persecution, the primary witnesses of Jesus's resurrection do not recant.

This closes our look at this period of persecution. In the next article, we will examine the period of Paul's three missionary journeys (48-56 AD).

(Note: If you wish to download the timeline, you will want to watch for the last article in this series, as I hope to make a few revisions/additions--if time permits).


Brad Cooper's bio: I began passionately following Jesus Christ as a young child. And I am so thankful that in Jesus God has provided such a clear revelation of himself that a young child can understand. Yet the more one seeks to understand that revelation, the more he realizes he is just beginning to glimpse the greatness of God's love and wisdom and power.

I have been teaching the Bible and apologetics for 35 years. I have a B.A. from Fort Wayne Bible College and an M.Div. from United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio. I was a full-time pastor for nearly a decade and have pastored part-time for nearly another decade of the last 30 years.

I'm also husband to a wonderful woman, and a proud homeschool dad and grandpa. :)

And since 1997 I have been working in a factory to support all of this--currently building RVs. And I sell on Amazon and eBay focusing on used books and vintage items that I find at auctions and other sales.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Deep Conversations With My Nine Year Old

I was in the car last night, driving back from a boy scout event with my middle child. Now, in my family, any trip longer than a half hour is usually filled with spiritual questions, and given that my kids are as weird as I am, those questions are generally pretty deep.

The ride back from Alaflo last night was just shy of an hour! ;-)

Usually, it's my oldest daughter, the eleven year old, that asks the question, but being as it was just me and the boy, that duty fell to him. Like a trooper, he delivered ... and it was a doozy.

I don't remember how we got on the subject -- I'm sure it had something to do with Halloween, and fear, and the like -- but he told me that he sometimes doubts that God exists, not so much because he doesn't see Him working in this world and in our lives, but because he can't understand Him. The example he gave is "Who made God? Where did He come from?"

Like I said -- we go deep. I mean, my kids get their weirdness from me, so I can't recall them EVER asking me an easy question.

Of course, I told him that God was never made, that He didn't "come from" anywhere or anyone, but that answer didn't satisfy him. He brought up how scientists think the universe started with a Big Bang, and how it produced all this gas that came together to form the stars and planets and stuff, and maybe that gas made God too. So I asked him if that was true, where did the materials for the Big Bang came from? He said, "I don't know. It haunts me."

His words. Seriously. What nine year old talks like that?!?

Anyway, it occurred to me that some aspects of our conversation might have good apologetic value beyond me and my son. Granted, this thought is not on the level of my more learned apologist brothers, but it's the best a shade-tree like me can come up with.

The thought is, actually, pretty simple. My argument to Caleb was that God has always been -- ever existing, without beginning. That's what scripture teaches, and it's perfectly in keeping with ancillary truths in scripture regarding the nature of God, so that's what I believe.

Atheistic thought -- as represented by Caleb's argument, the question that "haunts" him -- is that the whole universe was created by a Big Bang. This Big Bang COULD be seen as the beginning of reality, or as simply the continuation of a previous reality. The Big Bang singularity point explodes, throwing out the boundaries and materials of the universe. But where did that singularity come from?

The atheistic community addresses this question in myriad ways, but all of them come back to the same theme -- the universe has no beginning. Kinda like God, ya know?

Oh sure, the universe might've started with a Big Bang, but where did the singularity come from? A previous universe, or a parallel universe, of course. So where did THAT universe come from? Another universe ... and another ... and another, ad infinitum.

Or maybe the Big Bang is the next step that follows a Big Shrink? This universe stops expanding, and winds up contracting, falling back in on itself until it once again becomes that singularity point, ready to explode and do it all over again.

Or maybe time itself is a continuous loop (the central theme to the AWESOME Wheel of Time series, by the late Robert Jordan)? In simple terms, yesterday feeds into today which feeds into tomorrow -- the essence of linear time -- but at some point in the distance, tomorrow loops back around and feeds into yesterday.

There are other arguments, but they all seem to end the same way -- the universe created, and creates, itself. Like a phoenix, this universe rises anew from its own ashes, a paradoxical child ultimately becoming its own parent.

The thing is, the atheistic community finds a self-creating universe perfectly reasonable, and yet they find an UNcreated God complete nonsense.

Ultimately, neither argument can be truly and empirically substantiated, not even the scientific one, as we are caught in the box of THIS universe and totally incapable of looking outside the box into any other universe. All we have available is what we see, which we use to inform our beliefs on what we DON'T see.

Funny, there's a passage of scripture that sounds that way...

Hebrews 11:1, 3 "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.... Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear."

Usually, when speaking of faith, people stop at verse one, and that's perfectly fine, but I found verse three particularly applicable to this question that "haunts" my son. Watch what happens when we substitute God for nature....

"Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the worlds before, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear."

With just that small change, the argument for God becomes the argument for nature ... and both of them perfectly and inexorably linked to faith. For all of the atheistic community's arguments, for all the evidence and logic and math problems that they work through, their argument comes from the exact same place in their thought process that ours comes from. They see what they CAN see, they believe about what they CAN'T see, they argue from faith. Just like us.

So once more, we find that the argument against God is no more logical than the argument for God, and ultimately, our faith comes down to a choice, a leap of logic from what we DO know to what we CAN'T know (with any certainty) -- whether an eternally uncreated God created the universe, or whether an eternally self-created universe created the universe. Both possibilities are far deeper than we can fathom, but it's remarkable to me that one might be considered more inherently believable than the other.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Intense Persecution of the Early Church: A Strange View? (So Says Bart Ehrman)

(Editor's note: this entry is longer and more complex than our typical fare here at Chicken Fried Apologetics. However, welcome Brad Cooper to our author lineup with this piece on the history of the New Testament.)

I'm writing this series of blog articles specifically as a response to a statement made by Dr. Bart Ehrman in the second half of his online Debate with Dr. Tim McGrew on the Premier Christian Radio show "Unbelievable?" hosted by Justin Brierley (back on July 25, 2015). But my interest in this issue precedes that and goes far beyond it. It relates to what I think is one of the most important evidences for the truth of Christianity and an issue which I have spent a lot of time studying over the last couple of years.
That being said, I will use a section of their debate to introduce this issue, break it down, and then explore it somewhat comprehensively. The debate can be found here, and I would encourage you to listen to it.
This half of the debate continues for about an hour and twenty minutes, but I want to zero in on an important issue that comprises just a few minutes of the total debate. Below is my transcription of the pertinent segment of the conversation beginning at the MP3's 51 minute mark. You will want to back up to at least the 49 minute mark to get a better idea of the context of these remarks. And please note how Bart appears to be shocked by the idea that the early Christians were actually persecuted for proclaiming the message of Jesus's resurrection--either he is pretending because he knows that this is a knock down argument against his assertions, or he is truly out of touch with basic facts that pervade the New Testament and other literature of which he is supposed to be a scholar:
McGREW: ... Were these stories circulated at the time that the events were supposed to have occurred, among people who fervently hated the very idea, and who crucified people by the authority of the regional and omnipotent government for putting forth such stories?
[Back and forth between Ehrman and McGrew that I am not transcribing.)
EHRMAN: You have a very strange view of early Christian persecution! Where are you getting this from? You imagine that the early Christians were all being martyred the year after Jesus died?
McGREW: No. I imagine that they were facing imprisonment....
EHRMAN: Really? What's your evidence for that?
McGREW: ... and that on account of their repeated assertion that Jesus had risen from the dead after being crucified by the Jewish rulers in Jerusalem where they were speaking.
EHRMAN: I'm not talking about Baal Shem Tov being crucified or raised from the dead.
[This conversation was part of a larger context that included comparing the story of Baal Shem Tov to Jesus.] 
McGREW: No. I know. But what I am pointing out is that when stories of miracles circulate only among people who would not be expected to subject them to any scrutiny, then that is--prima facie--a reason to doubt whether they happened. Whereas when they circulate among people who are violently inclined to disprove them, that is more interesting and puts it on the map for serious discussion. So what I am saying is that the cases are not at all analogous.
EHRMAN: You have a very odd view of early Christian history; I have to say. If you imagine that most people who knew Jesus were being subjected to imprisonment and torture and crucifixion, I don't know where you're getting that. Most people who knew Jesus are simply telling stories about him to friends and family.
McGREW: I am talking about the people who are talked about in the book of Acts. Come on. This is pervasive throughout the book of Acts.... That looks to me like you're explaining away the book of Acts.
[Misc. back and forth between Ehrman, McGrew and Brierley that I am not transcribing]
EHRMAN: In the book of Acts, the people who tell stories about Jesus are not telling them to Jewish authorities who are looking and standing on every corner finding out if you're telling a story of Jesus because if you tell a story of Jesus we are going to throw you in prison. They're telling them to their friends and family in private homes. And, they're not telling them on a street corner where someone is going to crack their head open and throw them in jail. So I don't know where you're getting this idea that the people telling stories about Jesus are doing so in threat of being imprisoned.
McGREW: Maybe your Bible doesn't have Acts chapter 2 in it.
The conversation about this continues for a bit after the break and Ehrman makes the assertion that in Acts there are 8000 converts and only two people are thrown in prison. It is as if Bart has not read past the first four chapters of Acts (and did not read them very carefully, as Dr. McGrew then shows).
So let's break down Bart's main assertion here. Bart is really asserting two very mistaken claims:
A. Stories about Jesus were told only in homes and NOT in public preaching.
B. Persecution of Christians was rare....just a couple of people.
What is the evidence that stories about Jesus were told only in homes and NOT in public preaching? Where does Bart get such an idea? Answer: There is no such evidence. The evidence that we do have is that the message of Jesus's death and resurrection was being preached quite publicly from the very beginning and in the very city in which Jesus had been crucified ... and by people who claimed to be eyewitnesses of his resurrection (see Acts, chapters 2-5, etc.). More importantly, we have very solid evidence that the most important leaders of the early church suffered persecution and martyrdom for their testimony that they were eyewitnesses of Jesus' resurrection.
The evidence against Bart's second assertion is quite overwhelming. The early church was under intense persecution for nearly 300 years (until the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, in which an agreement was reached between the emperors Constantine and Licinius that Christianity should be tolerated). A basic summary of some of the evidence can be found in the timeline attached at the end of this article. For the purposes of this article, though, we will focus on the first three decades. These were the formative years of the early church. This is the time period during which the message of Jesus' resurrection was first being preached, Christianity spread throughout most of the Roman empire, most of the New Testament was written, and the most important leaders of the church were martyred.
We will look very carefully at the overwhelming evidence against Bart's second assertion, but first ...
Before we get started looking at the evidence for the intense persecution of the early church, it is important that we get a basic understanding of the chronology for this period in order to better understand the weight of the evidence, judge the intensity of the persecution, and see how this history all hangs together. So let me establish a few important dates around which we will construct this study:
A. THE DATE OF JESUS' CRUCIFIXION: According to Luke 3:1, John the Baptist began his ministry in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, which would have been 29 AD. Jesus's ministry begins after that time and lasts a little over 3 years. Astronomical considerations determine that the year of Jesus's crucifixion must have been 30, 33 or 36 AD. It could not have been 30 AD, which would have been too soon after John the Baptist's ministry began (as well as several other reasons given by Hoehner). And it could not have been 36 AD, because (among other reasons) an examination of the chronology of Paul's life gives us a great amount of certainty that his conversion to Christianity took place in 34 AD. Therefore, it is nearly certain that Jesus's crucifixion took place on Friday, Nisan 14 (April 3) of 33 AD. [See chapter 5, Hoehner, Harold W. Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977, 2010); and pages 24-25, Barnett, Paul. The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005).]
B. PAUL'S CONVERSION: Paul's conversion took place in 34 AD. If Paul's conversion took place at the very end of the year (for example December of 34 AD), that would still be no more than 19 months after the apostles' first declaration of Jesus's resurrection on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Jesus rose from the dead on the day in which Jews celebrated Firstfruits (see 1 Corinthians 1:20). Pentecost took place 50 days after Firstfruits, which would place Pentecost in the third week of May, 33 AD. Therefore, the events of Act 2:1 to Acts 9:2 cover a very short period of 19 months or less--and probably less. [For the dating of Paul's conversion, see pages 24-25, Barnett, Paul. The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005).]
C. THE BEGINNING OF PAUL'S MISSIONARY JOURNEYS: Paul's missionary journeys began in 48 AD. His letter to the Galatians was probably also written during that year. [See pages 122-23, Alexander, L.C.A. "Chronology of Paul" in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Hawthorne, Gerald F., et al (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993).]
D. THE END OF PAUL'S THIRD MISSIONARY JOURNEY & PAUL'S SECOND LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS: Paul most likely wrote 2nd Corinthians around 56 AD, which corresponds closely to the close of his third missionary journey. [ See Page 283, Carson, D.A., Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).] I have chosen this date because of the abundance of information on persecution that is contained within both of the letters to the Corinthians and because it is the end of a significant period in which the message of Jesus' resurrection and life had been proclaimed.
E. THE MARTYRDOMS OF PAUL AND PETER: The apostles Paul and Peter were both martyred during Nero's reign (along with many other Christians) and the most likely year is 64 AD (though some scholars have argued for a slightly later date).
So then, a basic chronology of the Church's first three decades looks like this (and we will use this chronology to divide our study of the subject into 4 sections):

33 AD Jesus is crucified on Friday, Nisan 14 (April 3)
34 AD Paul is converted after seeing Jesus on his way to Damascus
48 AD Paul and Barnabas set out on their first missionary journey
56 AD Paul's third missionary journey ends; Paul writes 2nd Corinthians
64 AD Paul and Peter (and many others) are martyred at Rome under Nero
With that chronology in mind, we'll divide our study into the following four periods:
A. 33-34 AD: The first 19 months
B. 34-47 AD: Between Paul's conversion and his first missionary journey
C. 48-56 AD: The period of Paul's three missionary journeys
D. 57-64 AD: The period leading up to the martyrdoms under Nero

As we saw in the transcript earlier, Bart Ehrman is quite adamant that Christians were not being thrown into prison and being martyred in the first year after Jesus's death and resurrection: "You have a very strange view of early Christian persecution! Where are you getting this from? You imagine that the early Christians were all being martyred the year after Jesus died? ..." But the first Christians were in fact being imprisoned and martyred within a year after Jesus died. It began with just a few leaders, but within that year there was an organized campaign to destroy the Church, and that campaign was being carried out with great intensity. Not only were the leaders being attacked but anyone who dared to follow Christ.
In April of 33 AD Jesus was crucified. The "chief reason" for using crucifixion was "its allegedly supreme efficacy as a deterrent" (p. 87, Hengel, Martin. Crucifixion. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977; also see p. 49-50). For this reason, it was done publicly on busy roads or in arenas. In Jesus's case, it was done along a busy road entering Jerusalem while hundreds of thousands of Jews were there to celebrate Passover from all over the Roman empire. And as the Romans practiced this form of torture quite regularly and freely, it was indeed seen as more than an empty threat. In other words, Jesus was crucified not only to bring shame to him but to deter anyone from continuing what he started. This is the situation in which the Apostles find themselves in Acts chapters 2-8, when they begin to declare publicly that Jesus is alive.
Then the following events happen in relatively quick succession in the wake of Jesus's crucifixion--in a period of 19 months or less--and probably less:
1. The first event involves Peter and John. Peter and John had followed Jesus from the very beginning of his ministry. They were chosen by Jesus to be among “the Twelve”; and even among “the Twelve,” they were among the three who were closest to Jesus. For three years, they had traveled with Jesus all over Galilee and Judea. They had watched him heal and perform many miraculous signs. And they boldly declared that they had watched him die and that he had appeared to them alive again afterwards (see Acts 1:21-22). And it was for this testimony that they were dragged in before the Sanhedrin: "The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day" (Acts 4:1-3, NIV; compare with Acts 3:15).
Being arrested and put in prison is a scary thing, but those who arrested Peter and John were no less than the "Feds." The Sanhedrin was the most powerful body among the Jews. They were the Supreme Court & the Executive Branch all wrapped up in one. They had control of their own military. And, these were the very same people who had arrested Jesus and had him crucified just a few months earlier. They concluded their hearing of Peter and John by commanding them "not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:18, NIV).
2. The Apostles refused to remain quiet about Jesus's resurrection and things heated up. This time the whole group of the Apostles (apparently “the Twelve”) were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:17-18) and this time they were all flogged (whipped a maximum of 39 times each) and once again ordered "not to speak in the name of Jesus" (Acts 5:40).
3. Persecution quickly reached full intensity in Acts 6:9-12: Members of one of the Hellenistic synagogues at Jerusalem began to argue with Stephen (a newly chosen leader in the church). In their anger, they plotted against him and had him brought before the Sanhedrin. And, by their authority, Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:57-60).
4. On that very day, "great persecution" broke out against the church and Christians fled the city of Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). And "Saul [who would later become an apostle known by his Roman name, Paul, as he preached to Gentiles] began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison" (Acts 8:3).
If we look no further than Acts 8, we might get the impression that the persecution was serious but not really that serious: that people were being imprisoned and that is about it ... and that Saul is trying to destroy the church--whatever that means.
But if we keep on looking, we will find out another key fact about this persecution (which I will emphasize with bold italics). Acts 9:1-2 (NASB) states: "Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem." Acts 22:4-5 concurs: “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.” And finally Acts 26:9-12: “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities. On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests.” [NIV is used except as noted]

So we see that people were in fact being put to death for their faith in Jesus within a year to a year and a half after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection--and not just Stephen, but many others.

There are a few other things to notice about the intensity of this "great persecution" (literally "mega persecution"): (a) People were so afraid for their lives that most of them fled their homes in Jerusalem and moved away (8:1). (b) They were being hunted down. Saul was going "house to house" (Acts 8:3). (c) It did not matter what your position or gender was (Acts 8:3; 9:2; 22:4). (d) Even though people were fleeing Jerusalem, Saul was hunting "them down in foreign cities" (Acts 26:11). And notice that the last city he went to was Damascus. Do you know how far away Damascus is from Jerusalem? It's a long trip! It's about 150 miles northeast over rugged terrain (think: mountains). It was probably about a 2-week trip just to get from Jerusalem to Damascus. Saul was truly going to great lengths to exterminate the Church.

And Paul confirms the intensity of this persecution throughout his letters: “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it....' The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.'” (Galatians 1:13, 23; also see 1 Cor. 15:9; Phil. 3:6; 1 Tim. 1:13). The Greek word that Paul uses in Galatians 1:13 and 1:23 for “destroy” (which, by the way, is the same Greek word used of Paul's activities in Acts 9:21) literally means to "sack, ravage,...lay waste" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament), “annihilate” (Bauer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). It is “used of soldiers ravaging a city” (p.501, Fritz Rienecker and Cleon Rogers. Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976, 1980).

But this 19 months was just the beginning. In the next article in this series, we'll take a closer look at the rest of this 30 year period. In the articles that follow, we'll consider why this issue is so important. I hope you will check out the remainder of the series. I plan to publish them at a rate of about an article each week.

(Note: If you wish to download the timeline, you will want to watch for the last article in this series, as I hope to make a few revisions/additions--if time permits).


Brad Cooper's bio: I began passionately following Jesus Christ as a young child. And I am so thankful that in Jesus God has provided such a clear revelation of himself that a young child can understand. Yet the more one seeks to understand that revelation, the more he realizes he is just beginning to glimpse the greatness of God's love and wisdom and power.

I have been teaching the Bible and apologetics for 35 years. I have a B.A. from Fort Wayne Bible College and an M.Div. from United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio. I was a full-time pastor for nearly a decade and have pastored part-time for nearly another decade of the last 30 years.

I'm also husband to a wonderful woman, and a proud homeschool dad and grandpa. :)

And since 1997 I have been working in a factory to support all of this--currently building RVs. And I sell on Amazon and eBay focusing on used books and vintage items that I find at auctions and other sales.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

How Many Coincidences Does It Take?

Although this post is about bias against the Bible, it is not about questions.  Instead this is an attempt to debunk the Bible altogether, so I've decided to respond to it under a title outside of my series called, "Answers To A Few Biased Bible Questions."

I posted the meme below on my wall on Facebook.  The comments that are numbered are from someone (Chrystal, a Facebook user) attempting to debunk the claims in the meme (which is a defense for the scientific reliability of the Bible).  My replies (preceded by a "》") are an attempt to give a reasonable answer to each one (see the original discussion here). 

**Disclaimer: I am not the creator of the following meme that is in the line of debunking.

1. Isaiah 4:20[sic] the circle of the earth. Circles are flat.
》 Isa 40:22 WEB (Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotes will be in World English Bible, mouseover verse reference for NASB.) "It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in;"

Yes, circles are flat. Let's look at the Hebrew word used here in this context though: [ḥūḡ - ח֣וּג] According to the word should be translated: "super sphaeram", Pagninus; "globum", Montanus Vatablus; "super orbem telluris", Vitringa.

As you can see here there are three key words in this definition:
Sphaeram (sphere)
Globum (globe)
Orbem (orb)
I think it's safe to say that the word, "sphere" isn't out of context.
2. Jeremiah 33:22 The host of heaven (God) can not be numbered, does not even say the word stars. 
》 Jer 33:22 "As the army of the sky can’t be counted, and the sand of the sea can’t be measured; so I will multiply the offspring of David my servant and the Levites who minister to me.'"

I have a more literal translation, and I'm guessing you were reading from the NKJV (New King James Version) because I've searched through several others and that is the only one I found that said, "host" in it.  Nonetheless, even in our English vocabulary today a definition for host is, "a vast multitude" which would make sense since obviously God cannot be numbered and in comparison to, "sand of the sea" stars fits better; not to mention that every other translation/version says, "stars."
3. Job 28:25 to make the weight for the winds (not air). Wind is not air. Other planets have wind, but not air. God would know the difference. 
》 Job 28:25
*BBE* "When he made a weight for the wind, measuring out the waters;"
*EasyEnglish* "He decided the power of the wind. And he decided the size of the seas."
*ISV* “He imparted weight to the wind; he regulated water by his measurement."
*KJV* "To make the weight for the winds; and he weigheth the waters by measure."
*NET* "When he made the force of the wind and measured the waters with a gauge."
*NHEB* "He establishes the force of the wind. Yes, he measures out the waters by measure."
*WEB* "He establishes the force of the wind. Yes, he measures out the waters by measure."

Admittedly this doesn't say air.  However, what is wind without air? You argued that on some other planets there is wind but no air.  I've done some research since you've stated this.  Some other planets like Mars do have air that is unlike the air here on earth, and others like Neptune that have wind caused by gas.  There are others that have no atmosphere because they're too hot like Mercury.  There's no wind on Mercury, or any other planet without an atmosphere.

Back to the original statement from Job 28:25 about wind --on earth-- having weight: What is wind without air?
4. Job 38:19 Implies that he is looking for light or asking where the light is. That means he is moving not the light. Verse 20 doesn't even use the word light.
》 1Co 15:41 "There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory."

Admittedly again this verse doesn't say what is implied in the meme.  I think the right verse should've been:

Psa 147:4 "He counts the number of the stars. He calls them all by their names."

But I wasn't the maker of this meme.
5. Job 26:7 Does not use the word float or space. And hangeth the earth upon nothing, It's not nothing it's the sun's gravity.
》 Job 26:7 "He stretches out the north over empty space, and hangs the earth on nothing."

Let's be real, Chrystal.  We both know what is implied here.  Does the earth hang on anything?  And because of the Sun's gravitational pull, does the earth not float?
6. Ecclesiastes 1:6 Says the wind blows north and south, does not use the word cyclone.
》 Ecc 1:6 "The wind goes toward the south, and turns around to the north. It turns around continually as it goes, and the wind returns again to its courses."

Again, implications; it doesn't just say that the wind blows, "North and south" it says that it, "... turns around continually as it goes, and the wind returns again to its courses."  As opposed to the wind just blowing straight.  This verse implies that the wind is constantly moving and in different directions.
7. 2 Samuel 22:16 says nothing about valleys or mountains or the ocean floor. Says simply that it's the foundation.
》 2 Sam 22:16 "Then the channels of the sea appeared. The foundations of the world were laid bare by Yahweh’s rebuke, at the blast of the breath of his nostrils."

Yeah, I'm with you on this one Chrystal.  Doesn't mean necessarily that this is incorrect, but, like yourself, I just don't see it either.  (Editor's comment: perhaps the intended reference was Genesis 7:11 referencing "... the fountains of the great deep.")
8. Jonah 2:6 Says nothing about water or oceans. He is simply standing at the foot of a mountain looking up at it.
》 Jon 2:6 "I went down to the bottoms of the mountains. The earth barred me in forever: yet have you brought up my life from the pit, Yahweh my God."

Again I would have to agree with you.
9. Leviticus 17:11 Says the blood is for atonement of the soul, says nothing about health.
》 Lev 17:11 "For the life of the flesh is in the blood. I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life."

Yes, the passage of scripture does say life is in the blood; however I do not see where it says anything about health also.
10. Hebrews 11:3 doesn't say anything of the kind. In fact I think it says the opposite. Things which are seen are NOT made of things which do appear. NOT made of things which do appear. If it appears that means it WAS invisible.
》 Heb 11:3 "By faith, we understand that the universe has been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which are visible."

You might have confused yourself there, not to be rude but this is what it says:

So that
What is seen
Has not
Been made
Out of
Things which are

In other words: The things that you can see, they're made out of invisible things.
11. Job 38:16 Ok I'll give you that one. But you need only walk on the earth to see that. It doesn't take god. And may I point out that scientists were very ignorant back then because religion controled everthing [sic]? Do not bear false witness.
》 Job 38:16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea? Or have you walked in the recesses of the deep?"

You'll only give me one?

No one person knew of these things because deep sea diving didn't exist so when God said this it was pure revelation.

How do you know that science was controlled by religion?  Maybe science relied on religion a lot, but controlled?  No.  Atheists, and free thinking philosophers existed then too.  Maybe not so much in the Hebrew culture, but elsewhere in various other world cultures as well.
I respect your determination for truth, and even I learned something from this.  I hope that others can also take from this to be honest, and do research because honestly I didn't even look up these scriptures before I posted the meme on Facebook.

Thank you Chrystal.