Do the Non-Canonical Gospels Challenge the Historicity of the New Testament?

A recent press release announced an upcoming conference in the United Kingdom in which two “scholars” are going to argue the story of Jesus was “actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories, but especially on the biography of a Roman Caesar” in an effort to keep order amongst the citizenry of Rome. The new reinterpretation of Jesus is apparently based on a re-reading of Josephus’ War Of The Jews. This sort of thing is becoming more and more common, especially in an era of profitable television documentaries and book deals. Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson are also about to release a new book arguing for a reinterpretation of Jesus, this time based on what they call “The Lost Gospel,” a 6th Century Syriac manuscript “translated from much earlier Greek writing” (in other words: “Yes we realize this text first appears 500 years too late to be credible, but we’d like you to believe it can be dated to the 1st Century”). We are increasingly deluged with pseudo-academic efforts to discredit the classic Christian version of Jesus. Skeptics would like us to believe the canonical Gospels aren’t the only 1st Century stories about Jesus. They claim there are a number of ancient Gospels describing a version of Jesus very different from the one we accept today. If this is the case, how can we know which versions of Jesus are the truth and which are lies?

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Am I a Christian Simply Because I Was Raised in a Christian Culture?

People who are unfamiliar with my journey of faith sometimes seek to explain my conversion from atheism on the basis of geography. The objection sounds something like this: “Christians believe Christianity is true simply because they were raised in a Christian culture. If they were raised in a Muslim culture, for example, they would believe Islam is true with the same passion and certainty.” While it is true that cultural and geographic influences often favor a particular point of view or behavior, our personal experience demonstrates that individuals often make private, independent choices in spite of the accepted beliefs of our culture. As an example, many of us are vegetarians in spite of the fact the culture is predominantly carnivorous. The history of Christianity also confirms the vast majority of Christian converts concluded that Christianity was true in spite of their geographic location or cultural background:

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Most Parents Aren't Ready to Train Their Own Kids

I’ve never had someone cry after my atheist role-play.  Until now.

In September, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of parents from Village Academy Christian School in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  Earlier in the day, I taught the junior and senior high students at chapel and spoke to three different twelfth grade classes.  I role played an atheist with the seniors, to give them a glimpse of the intellectual challenges awaiting them at college, and decided to give the parents, who had come out for an evening lecture, a glimpse in the same way.

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The Danger of Belief “In” Without Belief “That”

I’ve been writing lately about the difference between belief “that” and belief “in,” following a recent radio interview with John Stonestreet for the BreakPoint Radio program. As I’ve described in previous posts, I came to belief that the gospels were a reliable record of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus on the basis of the most reasonable inference from the evidence. But at that early point in my investigation, I still didn’t understand the Gospel message of Salvation. As a result, I hadn’t yet placed my trust in Jesus as my Savior. I had belief that, but not belief in. There’s a big difference between rational assent and reasonable trust. Years later, I now appreciate the difference between these two states of mind and the important relationship they have to one another. In fact, I’ve come to realize belief in, without belief that, can be quite dangerous.
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May the Force Be With You

When we think of God, we may imagine the powerful Creator sitting on his throne in heaven. We may think of him in human form as Jesus, the Savior of the World. But do we view him as the Holy Spirit? Just who is God in the person of the Holy Spirit?

Some people believe the Holy Spirit is simply the influence of good—like the “good force” of the universe. But the Holy Spirit is actually a person—the third person of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). Jesus referred to the Spirit as a person when he said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth” (  John 14:16-17).

The Holy Spirit is one of the three persons of God. He has a mind and feelings. He makes choices. Scripture says, “He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit” (Romans 8:27 niv). Scripture also tells us that the Spirit can feel. We are not to “bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live” (Ephesians 4:30). He makes choices as to who will receive what spiritual gifts. “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes these gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:11). Also, the apostle Peter told a man named Ananias, “You lied to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3). Ananias wasn’t lying to an influence; he was lying to a person. Peter added, “You weren’t lying to us but to God” (Acts 5:4).

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How Could John, a Poor, Uneducated Fisherman, Write the Gospel of John?

A fellow Christian Case Maker I met at Frank Turek’s CrossExamined Academy is teaching a church group about the reliability of the New Testament. A question was raised about the Apostle John: “How could John, an uneducated fisherman, have written such a literate and theologically rich gospel account?” After all, John was just a fisherman; was he educated enough to accomplish something this sophisticated? Irenaeus, certainly thought so. This historic Bishop of Lugdunum, was the student of Polycarp and Ignatius (two men who were taught directly by the Apostle John). Irenaeus identified the Apostle John as the author of the fourth Gospel, reflecting the historic understanding of the earliest Christians. In spite of this, many skeptics are eager to dismiss the authorship of John (often in an attempt to further discredit the supernatural New Testament claims related to Jesus) by doubting John’s level of education and degree of literacy. There are, however several good reasons to resist the notion that John, the son of Zebedee, was too illiterate to have written the fourth Gospel:
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Is God Male or Female?

To ask the question, “Is God male or female?” is somewhat like asking if God is right- or left-handed. Or is his first language English or Spanish? Truth is, he is not confined by our human or material world. He created us in his image, but he is unlike us in many, many ways.

Jesus said, “God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (  John 4:24). It is true that God took on human form in the person of Jesus, who of course was male, yet God does not exist as a material or physical being. So in that sense he is neither male nor female as we know the human sexes.

At the same time, God has chosen to create and use imagery of himself that is both masculine and feminine. Of course he refers to himself as Father and Jesus as the Son of God, which are both masculine imagery. Yet Jesus spoke of himself in feminine imagery when he said, “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me” (Matthew 23:37).

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Are There “Limits” to God’s Power?

Christians claim God is “all-powerful”. Does this mean He can accomplish anything? Skeptics often test this notion by offering the following challenge: “Can the all-powerful Christian God create a stone so heavy he cannot lift it?” The question highlights an apparent dilemma: If God cannot create such a stone (or cannot lift what He has created), He is not all-powerful. Does this apparent paradox prove an all-powerful Being cannot exist in the first place?

It’s true the Bible describes God as an all-powerful Being and often uses language that suggests that “nothing” is impossible for Him (as in Luke 1:37). At the same time, there are many places in Scripture where certain behaviors or conditions are described as “impossible” for God to accomplish. This apparent contradiction is inexplicable until we examine the nature of the activities (or behaviors) described as “impossible” for God:

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Who Created God?

Richard Dawkins, the famous English evolutionary biologist and renowned atheist, revived an objection related to God’s existence in his book, The God Delusion. In the fourth chapter (Why There Almost Certainly Is No God), Dawkins wrote, “…the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable.” In essence, Dawkins offered a restatement of the classic question, “Who created God?” On its face, this seems to be a reasonable question. Christians, after all, claim God created everything we see in our universe (all space, time and matter); He is the cause of our caused cosmos. Skeptics fail to see this as a satisfactory explanation, however, because it seems to beg the question, “If God, created the universe, who (or what) created God?”

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Why Would God Send Good People to Hell?

I’ve been blogging this week on the existence and nature of Hell and, unsurprisingly, I’ve received tremendous response from Christians and non-Christians alike (much of it hostile). The topic polarizes believers and unbelievers. Many Christians struggle to correlate God’s mercy with a place of permanent justice, while others prefer to believe God would annihilate rebellious souls rather than assign them to Hell eternally. Non-believers often point to the apparent unfairness of God related to those who either reject Jesus or haven’t heard of Him. After all, there are millions of good people in the world who are not Christians. Is it fair for God to penalize people who are otherwise good? A good God would not send good people to Hell, would He?

Here’s the good news: God will not send good people to Hell; of this we can be sure. But, here’s the bad news: “good” people are far rarer than most skeptics (and many Christians) are willing to admit. The Christian worldview describes the true nature of humans and the incredible sovereignty of God, and once these truths are understood, no one will expect their own “goodness” to merit Heaven:

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