The Case for the Eyewitness Status of the Gospel Authors

I’m often challenged about status of the Gospels as eyewitness accounts of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. Many skeptics reject the eyewitness authority of these accounts, even though the early Church selected and embraced the canonical Gospels based primarily on the eyewitness authority of their authors. Some skeptics argue the Gospels were never even intended to be seen as eyewitness testimony, in spite of the fact the earliest students of the apostles (and first Church leaders) repeated the content of the Gospels in their own letters, affirming the eyewitness status of the Gospels. It might be helpful, therefore, to review the context in which the Gospel events were first observed, recorded and transmitted in the 1st Century:

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The Case for the Reliability of the Old Testament (Bible Insert)

We’ve been investigating the case for the reliability of the Old Testament by examining the process of transmission, the verification of archaeology and the appearance of fulfilled prophecy in the text. The ancient scribes employed a trustworthy system of checks and balances as they copied the original texts, and the accuracy of transmission process was successfully tested with the discovery of the Isaiah text in the Dead Sea Scroll collection. The ancient Jewish believers and Church Fathers also embraced the Old Testament as the Word of God. In addition, archeological discoveries have since confirmed many of the Old Testament accounts, and these archaeological evidences are rich compared to other written claims about the ancient past. Finally, the Old Testament Scriptures contain fulfilled prophecies  (including amazing prophecies about the coming Messiah), establishing the Divine nature of the texts. Based on this evidence, the following summary can be created related to the case for the reliability of the Old Testament:

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The Conflicting Genealogies of Jesus

This is the record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham:…All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah (Matthew 1:1-17).

 

Difficulty: Why does Matthew’s detailed family line from Abraham through King David to Jesus so radically differ from the Luke 3:23-38 account of Jesus’ ancestry?

 

Explanation: At first glance, we may get the impression that both accounts are tracing the family line of Jesus through his legal father, Joseph, in which case there is an obvious contradiction. It is confusing because Matthew 1:16 indicates Jacob is Joseph’s father, while Luke 3:23 says that Heli is the father of Joseph.
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If You’re A Christian Case Maker, Your Common Sense Is Sense Enough

I had the opportunity to speak to students on the campus of North Carolina State University on Monday night at the invitation of Ratio Christi directors Curtis Hrischuk and Greg Reeves. Following the presentation, I had a conversation with a student about the important role each of us plays in defending the Christian worldview. Like many Christians I talk to, this student doubted her own ability to accurately evaluate the historical, scientific or philosophical evidence related to Christianity and Theism. Is it possible to make an accurate or intelligent case for Christianity without a PhD in history, ancient languages, science or philosophy? Yes, it is: Jurors do it every day.

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Enjoy This Distinctly Christian Holiday We Call Thanksgiving

The pilgrims who came over from England in 1620 were, in many ways, ordinary men and women. Some of them were members of the English Separatist Church (a Puritan sect of Christianity). These Separatists originally fled England and sailed to Holland to escape the religious intolerance and oppression of their homeland. In their day, the Church and the State of England were one, and independent congregations who desired to explore their own, differing relationship with the Christian God were unable to practice their faith independent of the State Church. Separatists had come to the conclusion membership in the Church of England violated Biblical teaching. They fled their homeland so they could pursue God in a way they considered to be truer to the teaching of the Bible. This group successfully escaped religious persecution from the Church of England, but eventually became disenchanted with the Dutch way of life. They observed the lifestyles of those around them and believed they were in an ungodly land. So once again, they pushed on toward a new place where they could both worship the Biblical God of Christianity and live in a way honorable to this God.

The Mayflower held more than just the Separatist Puritans. The ship also contained other pilgrims who still remained loyal to the Church of England but came to the new world for economic reasons or because they sympathized with the Puritans in one way or another. But one thing was certain about everyone on the ship. Whether they were part of the Puritan group or simply along to assist them and make a new life for themselves, everyone shared a fervent and pervasive Protestant faith permeating all aspects of their lives. So, when the pilgrims made ground at Plymouth Rock on December 11th, 1620, they were also grounded in their faith as Christians. In less than a year, they suffered the loss of 46 of their original 102 members, but they never lost their faith.

At the end of the harvest of 1621, the pilgrims decided to celebrate. The pilgrims brought with them both religious and secular customs from their homeland. Among these customs were the tradition of a secular harvest festival and the tradition of a religious holy day of thanksgiving. These were two separate celebrations for the original pilgrims, but both celebrations had strong religious overtones. Even the secular harvest celebration included a religious component of thanks to the Christian God who had provided the harvest. In addition to this celebration, the pilgrims also dedicated a day of thanksgiving that was purely religious in nature.

When pilgrim Edward Winslow described these thanksgiving celebrations, his description included the following Biblical themes:

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Why Christian Case Makers Need to Learn a New Language

I worked as a member of our Gang Detail for two years prior to entering our undercover team. It was a great season in my career and I still think of it often. I had a partner who was younger (and more culturally relevant) than I was, and he connected with street gangsters almost immediately. He knew how to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk,” and he had a better understanding of the street language of gangsters. It was several months before I felt comfortable in my assignment; I had to learn an entirely new language (and culture) in order to communicate effectively. I had to learn a new set of expressions and many new definitions. Even more importantly, I had to saturate myself in the street culture, and do my best to understand the desires, ambitions, concerns and motivations of young men who were often on the wrong side of the law.
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The Importance of Christian Translators

This week I’m enjoying the Evangelical Theological Society’s (ETS) Annual Meeting in Baltimore. Each session features incredible thinkers presenting papers on a variety of theological and philosophical issues. I’ll be honest, I usually feel like an idiot in a room full of intellects. These theologians and philosophers are the best Christianity has to offer. They are intelligent, educated and articulate. They know their stuff and they are… how can I say this? Intimidating! There are times when I feel like I could spend the rest of my life studying, researching and preparing, yet never master the materials these professionals comprehend so exhaustively. Have you ever felt that way? If you’re a budding “one dollar apologist” you know what I’m talking about. You’re probably listening to podcasts, reading books and blogs, and doing your best to keep up with the latest research and critical thinking. You may feel like you’re not knowledgeable enough to contribute anything of value to the ongoing cultural conversation. If there’s one thing I’ve learned here this week, however, it’s the importance of your voice in our world today, in spite of the fact you might not be the next William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland or Alvin Plantinga. As I sat in each ETS session and listened to these expert witnesses, I couldn’t help but think about our desperate need for Christian translators.

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Scientific Consistency in the Bible Is More Important Than Scientific Revelation

As a skeptic, I never personally expected the Biblical prophets (or Jesus Himself) to proclaim scientific truths still inaccessible (and unintelligible) to their audiences. As I read the Bible for the first time, its purpose seemed clear enough: Explain the nature of God, outline the fallen condition of man, and describe the overarching plan to reunite God to the rebellious beings originally created in His image. There are good reasons, in the context of the ancient audience described in the Bible, for God to limit any discussion of science. For this reason, I didn’t expect the Bible to be scientifically insightful or prophetic. I did, however, expect the Bible to be scientifically consistent. In other words, I expected the Biblical text to reflect the truth about the world around me, even if it didn’t explain minute scientific details to an audience clearly incapable of understanding such claims. Scientific consistency was far more important to me than scientific revelation.

This was important to me because I observed the scientific inaccuracy of other ancient religious worldviews. As A.A. MacDonell observes in “Vedic Mythology”, the Hindu scriptures (the Vedas and Uparushads) considered “all the objects and phenomena of nature which man is surrounded, (were) animate and divine.” This included the sun, moon, earth, clouds, rain, rivers, seas and even rocks. According to these ancient religious documents, these objects were alive. Writers of the Buddhist canon also ascribed life to non-living objects like the sun, moon, lightning, rainbows, and mountains. The Taoist and Confucian writings of China contained similar claims. The Quran, the scripture of Islam, written 1,500 years after the Hindu scripture, did not (to its credit) contain many of these ancient superstitions. But its observations of the universe were also questionable at many points. The Quran spoke of seven literal heavens, and these heavens were described as material. These heavens were also said to contain lamps or stars whose main purpose was to be “darted at the devils.” In addition to this, Mohammed said “the sun sets in a sea of black mud.” The descriptions and observations of other religious books are also filled with similar mythologies. It is striking, however, that the ancient contemporary of these mythologies, the Bible, is scientifically consistent (if not always scientifically revelatory). Here are just a few examples:

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Where Did Evil Come From?

Evil had to come from somewhere, right? But from where? Scripture states that God “is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” (Deuteronomy 32:4). And yet it states that God “created everything there is. Nothing exists that he didn’t make” (  John 1:3 nlt). So if the Creator of all things is good with no evil, how is it that evil is in the world? We know that evil exists and that God made everything, so how can we say that God didn’t create evil? And if he didn’t create it, where did it come from?

God is perfectly good and holy and created only perfect creatures. Yet he gave his human creation the power of free choice or free will. The first humans had a choice to trust in him, to believe that he was good and that he had their best interest at heart when he gave them a command to obey. Unfortunately they used this good power to choose against him, and that brought evil into this world.

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From Reliable to Divine: Fulfilled Prophecy in the Old Testament

If you’re trying to determine whether or not the Old Testament is historically reliable, archaeology and ancient non-Biblical records can provide “touch point” corroboration of the Biblical text. But the Old Testament claims to be much more than a reliable record of history; it claims to be the very Word of God. In order to assess such a bold claim, we must assess a distinctive feature of the Biblical narrative: prophecy. If a book accurately and repeatedly predicts the future (rather than simply record the past), it moves from reliable to Divine. There are many fulfilled prophecies in the Old Testament, and many websites chronicling these accurate predictions. We’ll focus on some of the better attested examples:

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