Saturday, April 30, 2011

Is the Bible Reliable?

Many times a Christian will be asked, how do you know that the Bible is true?  The response is often rooted in circular logic, sounding like, "I know the Bible is true, because the Bible says it is true?"  But that is nothing more than the committing the circular reasoning fallacy.  So how do you we know that the Bible is God's Word written to us?  How did the Bible come about to what we know it as today?

First and Foremost

The question of reliability is challenged in the halls of the academy today.  This and the lack of training in the church when things get difficult draw people to  inwardly challenge the Bible's reliability. How can we be sure that it is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses that were written during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses, and record for us supernatural events that are direct fulfillment to specific prophecies and the writers claiming that the writings are divine rather than human in origin? (See 2 Peter 1:16-21 and Luke 1:1-4)
This is a good and valid question. I am happy to say that we don't need to rely on the myth of 'blind faith' to answer that question.  We apply the same tests to the biblical documents as we would to any other ancient writing.
In 1952, a professor of military history, Chauncey Sanders, set down three tests which can be used for any historical writing. He named these tests the bibliographic test, the internal test, and the external test. Since the Bible is a collection of  historical documents, we can examine the Bible with these tests in the same way we would examine other ancient documents.
How Well Were the Original Documents Transmitted to Us Today? -- The Bibliographic Test
Whenever a document is written, there is always only one original. This is the document from which copies are made. Sometimes, many copies will be made. Other times, only a few will be made. What we want to find out is, if we had to construct the original document from the copies, how accurate would it be? Clearly, 100% accuracy would be a perfect copy.

The Old Testament
There are very few copies of the original Old Testament writings. This is because copies were lost, ceremonially buried when worn out, or destroyed if imperfections were discovered. Before 1947, the earliest Hebrew manuscript available was the Masoretic text.
But in 1947, approximately 1100 scrolls known as the the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The amazing thing about these scrolls is that they are dated between 200 BC, and 68 AD, and contained a complete copy of the Prophet Isaiah.[1]  There are very few variations between these two manuscripts. No variations affect the meaning of the documents in any way.

The New Testament
Archaeologists have found copies of quite a few ancient manuscripts, written by different authors. Here is a table that present good comparison.

Date Written
Earliest Copy
Time Span
Number of copies
850 BC
450 BC
about 900 AD
about 1350 years
440 BC
about 1100 AD
about 1500 years
420 BC
about 900 AD
about 1300 years
380 BC
about 900 AD
about 1300 years
350 BC
about 1100 AD
about 1400 years
60 BC
about 900 AD
about 960 years
50 BC
about 1500 AD
about 1600 years
10 BC
100 AD
about 1100 AD
about 1000 years
New Testament
45 AD
about 130 AD
about 90 to 100 yeas
14000 +
taken from “I’m Glad You Asked, by Boa & Moody

Apart from the New Testament, the only other ancient writing which has any level of accuracy associated with it, is Homer. And yet the New Testament has a far higher degree of accuracy than Homer. Scholars universally accept the copies of Homer's writings as being accurate. It is undeniable, then, that the New Testament is by far the most accurately reconstructed ancient document. It passes the bibliographic test with no problems whatsoever.

The Internal Test - Do The Writers of the Bible Claim Their Writings Are True?
In any document, we are justified in discovering what the writer of that document says about it.  Many of the writers of the New Testament were eyewitnesses of Jesus. They saw him, knew all about him, and in some cases, were his followers. And they said as much:
The eyewitness to these things has presented an accurate report. He saw it himself, and is telling the truth, so that you also will believe.
From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in - we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands.
"We were there on the holy mountain with Jesus." We heard the voice out of heaven with our very own ears. We couldn't be more sure of what we heard - God's glory, God's voice.
Even when the writers were not eyewitnesses, they showed that their writings were not made up from thin air:
So many others have tried their hand at putting together a story of the wonderful harvest of Scripture and history that took place among us, using reports handed down by the original eyewitnesses who served this Word with their very lives. Since I have investigated all the reports in close detail, starting from the story's beginning, I decided to write it all out.
And since the New Testament was written between AD 47 and AD 95, there was just not enough time for myths and falsehoods about Jesus to grow. There were enough eyewitnesses of Jesus to challenge any historical errors, or blatant lies. Yet no-one did. The Bible passes the internal test.

The External Test - What Does Outside Evidence Say About the Bible?
Because the Bible is a collection of documents written within history, it contains references to history which can be verified by archaeology. It is interesting that before the 20th century, many critics of the Bible discredited it, due to lack of evidence for certain biblical claims. Yet, in the 20th century, archaeology exploded, and all such claims have been reversed. Archaeology has made astonishing finds which provide evidence for the claims of the Bible. Archaeology cannot prove the Bible, but every new find gives more weight to the historical accuracy of the Bible.
Here are just a few examples of the historical reliability of the Bible:
  • Critics once claimed that the Law of Moses could not have been written by Moses, since writing was largely unknown at that time (about 1500 BC). Then, the Laws of Hammurabi (1700 BC) were found. This showed that writing was definitely known at that time, and left no reason why Moses could not have written the Law of Moses.
  • For a long time, critics questioned the accuracy of Daniel 5, which mentions a Babylonian King named Belshazzar. Archaeological records show that Nabonidus was king at the time, and do not mention Belshazzar. Yet, in 1956, three stone slabs were found. These slabs showed that while Nabonidus went off to war to fight the Persians, he entrusted the kingdom to his son, Belshazzar.
  • Many critics have tried to discredit Luke as an accurate historian. So far they have been unsuccessful. A notable example is where Luke says that Lysanius is the Tetrarch of Abilene. Recently, archaeologists found two Greek inscriptions, which show that Lysanius was the Tetrarch of Abilene between 14 and 29 AD.[2]
  • In the past, people have doubted whether Jesus even existed. Was he a historical person, or a made-up character? In fact, early Greek, Roman and Jewish sources make mention of Jesus. These include Tacitus (Annals), Suetonius (Life of Claudius, Lives of the Caesars), Pliny the Younger (Epistles) and Lucian (On the Death of Peregrine). As well, there is a letter from a Syrian, Mara Bar-Serapion, to his son. In it, he compares the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras and Jesus.
The Bible has no problem meeting the external tests.  In fact, when the bibliographic test, the internal test and the external test are applied to the Bible, the Bible emerges as a completely trustworthy book. This is even more amazing considering how many different writers contributed to the Bible. It points to a "common author", God, and shows how God not only gives a message to us, but also takes care to ensure that we can trust that message.
[1]In 1947, a young Bedouin goat herdsman found some strange clay jars in caves near the valley of the Dead Sea. Inside the jars were some leather scrolls. The discovery of these "Dead Sea Scrolls" at Qumran has been hailed as the outstanding archeological discovery of the twentieth century. The scrolls have revealed that a commune of monastic farmers flourished in the valley from 150 B.C. to 70 A.D. It is believed that when they saw the Romans invade the land they put their cherished leather scrolls in the jars and hid them in the caves on the cliffs northwest of the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea Scrolls include a complete copy of the Book of Isaiah, a fragmented copy of Isaiah, containing much of Isaiah 38-66, and fragments of almost every book in the Old Testament. The majority of the fragments are from Isaiah and the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The books of Samuel, in a tattered copy, were also found and also two complete chapters of the book of Habakkuk. In addition, there were a number of non-biblical scrolls related to the commune found.
These materials are dated around 100 B.C. The significance of the find, and particularly the copy of Isaiah, was recognized by Merrill F. Unger when he said, "This complete document of Isaiah quite understandably created a sensation since it was the first major Biblical manuscript of great antiquity ever to be recovered. Interest in it was especially keen since it antedates by more than a thousand years the oldest Hebrew texts preserved in the Masoretic tradition."

[2]Sir William Ramsey, St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House reprint; 1949 from 1894 lectures). Intent on discrediting Luke's writings, in the last century this hostile scholar traveled across the Mediterranean to that end. But he was astonished to discover that his archaeological findings confirmed the full accuracy of the customs, locations, and the governing titles (e.g. "magistratesActs 16:35; “proconsul” Acts 18:12) Luke had mentioned. These varied widely from region to region. Ramsey concluded, "Great historians are the rarest of writers…[I regard Luke] among the historians of the first rank" (pp. 3-4).

Monday, April 25, 2011

Christopher Hitchens STILL Defiant in the Face of Death

The following letter by Christopher Hitchens is posted on Roger Morris' Faith Interface blog. It is a letter that is addressed to this year’s American Atheists Convention. Hitchens, currently fighting a battle with esophageal cancer, was prevented from attending the April 2011 convention for health reasons. In his stead, he sent the following letter of encouragement to attendees at the Convention.  It shows that Hitchen’s still is defiant in his anti-theism, even in the face of possible death.

"Dear fellow-unbelievers,

Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death. Nobody ever wins this argument, though there are some solid points to be made while the discussion goes on. I have found, as the enemy becomes more familiar, that all the special pleading for salvation, redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before. I hope to help defend and pass on the lessons of this for many years to come, but for now I have found my trust better placed in two things: the skill and principle of advanced medical science, and the comradeship of innumerable friends and family, all of them immune to the false consolations of religion. It is these forces among others which will speed the day when humanity emancipates itself from the mind-forged manacles of servility and superstition. It is our innate solidarity, and not some despotism of the sky, which is the source of our morality and our sense of decency.

That essential sense of decency is outraged every day. Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools. But in the past few years, there have been heartening signs of a genuine and spontaneous resistance to this sinister nonsense: a resistance which repudiates the right of bullies and tyrants to make the absurd claim that they have god on their side. To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry. The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, and we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private.

Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.

As the heirs of a secular revolution, American atheists have a special responsibility to defend and uphold the Constitution that patrols the boundary between Church and State. This, too, is an honor and a privilege. Believe me when I say that I am present with you, even if not corporeally (and only metaphorically in spirit…) Resolve to build up Mr Jefferson’s wall of separation. And don’t keep the faith.

Christopher Hitchens"

[Note:]  Thinking about Christopher's letter, his bravado is mind-boggling. This public display of an attitudinal "shaking the fist at the heavens" is leading me to wonder; when all the lights are out, and in the still of the night hours where one is "alone", does he even consider at any moment his mortality and frailty as a human being?  Roger Morris in his blog rightly quotes the attitude from Bertrand Russell,

"The world which science presents for our belief is even more purposeless, more void of meaning… That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast depth of the solar system, and the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy that rejects them can hope to stand." (Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, 1957, 107)

Following up on Roger's blog posting, I went out online to see if I could find what OTHER skeptics had said that might reflect something different.  So doing, I found a video that gave some quotes from famous skeptics (Russell and Nietzsche were not there) that were not so bold and brazen against God.

"I am abandoned by God and man. . .I shall go to hell" - Voltaire

"I have been everything and everything is nothing" - Roman Emperor Severus

"I would give worlds if I had them. . . that the Age of Reason had never been published. O God save me, for I am at the edge of hell alone. . ." - Thomas Paine.

"I am about to take a fearful leap into the dark" - Thomas Hobbes, political philosopher and skeptic.

Some concluding thoughts here: I am reminded of hearing about Josef Stalin's final moments before his passing.  (No!  I am not comparing Christopher Hitchens to Stalin, just the attitude). The following are the words about Stalin’s deathbed scene, as described by his daughter, Svetlana, in Allen Bullock’s Hitler and Stalin. She says the following:

"The death agony was terrible. God grants an easy death only to the just. He literally choked to death as we watched. At what seemed like the very last moment he suddenly opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance, insane or perhaps angry and full of fear of death. . . Then something incomprehensible and terrible happened that to this day I can’t forget. . . He suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something up above and bring down a curse on us all. The gesture was incomprehensible and full of menace. . .The next moment, after a final effort, the spirit wrenched itself free of the flesh."

Please note that I am not wishing his doom or his demise. Even though he might think that Christians want to see him gone.  That is not true here.  I believe his situation, no matter his worldview, should give us more pause to pray for him and for his healing both spiritual and physical.  Atheism is an brutally ugly philosophy to die to when the life of the skeptic comes to its end.  Christopher Hitchens is still with us, and this is all the more reason to continue to pray for him, for his healing and his coming to the truth. 

In closing, I remember reading something in a devotional that went something along these lines.  When it comes to dying, there is no difference between the Christian and the unbeliever on this side of life. The difference comes when the life of each comes to an end and that which lies beyond becomes reality.  For the Christian there is nothing to fear.  But for the unbeliever, what horrors lie in wait?  When I see the words of aforementioned dying skeptics, and contrast it with "Hitch's" false bravado, we can only pray that God will "flip the switch" to belief and bring him all the way to belief in Christ.  Or else what will his last words be.  I fear reading them as we move closer to the future.  

Lord,  Please deliver Christopher Hitchens. - RL.  

Friday, April 22, 2011

A "Witness" Encounters a Witness Presentation of the Resurrection of Christ

What prompts this posting is a situation that happened this morning.  I was just finishing up doing some initial paperwork to get my day organized when I was greeted by a lady who came into the service department to have a state inspection done.  This customer was one that I had visited with in the past, and had learned that she was a member of a non-Christian cult, known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

Have you ever had an encounter with one the members of the Jehovah's Witnesses?  Where do you start?  Well she was offering me a copy of their latest Watchtower Magazine about Jesus and His mission to earth.  Perhaps you might be thinking where do I begin?  What do I talk about?  What do I share? 

What you do is let the dialogue take its shape with their initial statements.  To give you an example, let me share with you how the dialogue went: 

JW Lady:  Good morning Sir.  I remember when my friend and I were last here you expressed that you were a 'spiritual person' and had questions about our group (not really interpreted by her correctly but I played along).  I have a magazine the I think you will be very interested in (showing me the Watchtower).  Would you like to take this copy of it?

Me:  Well, I don't know what you mean by spiritual but thank you.  Do you mind if I ask you a question? 

JW Lady:  Sure go ahead.

Me:  This is a very exciting time of year for many of us Christians, particularly those of us how have studied the historical facts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  My question is this:  Do you believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead in the same body in which He was crucified?

JW Lady (surprisingly looking incredulous):  Um, ah.  Why are you asking me this question? [I didn't expect her to be bothered this early in the conversation]

Me:  Well, would you agree with me that if Jesus is not risen, we are still in our sins? 

JW Lady (still disturbed by the question):  I want to know why you asked me the question!

Me:  Don't you think it is an important question? 

JW Lady:  Why did you ask me that question?!?

Me:  I have encountered many people open to discussing this question and have found out that there are many in the church and outside of the church that really do not understand the impact of of Jesus' bodily resurrection. 

JW Lady:  I still want to know why you asked me that question.

Me:  Ma'am I am not cloaking anything I just want to know your . . .  (Interrupted)

JW Lady:  What do you think of Jesus' ransom?

Me:  I believe there was a ransom paid at Jesus' crucifixion (trying to stay away from the cross v. torture stake issue).  What I believe is that the ransom that was due was paid to "Jehovah God" and not the devil.

JW Lady:  That's all.  This conversation is done.  Have a nice day. 

After thoughts
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the linchpin of the Christian faith.  The problem with the Jehovah's Witnesses is that they do not believe that Jesus was crucified for our the sins of man.  More importantly, they do not believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a literal bodily resurrection.  They claim to believe in a resurrection, but it was a resurrection where Jesus' body dematerialized and was re-manufactured by God to make the resurrection body to look like the earthly body of Jesus.

However, this makes Jesus' words in John 2:18-21 and Luke 24:36-43 look like they were deceitful.  If you and I take the resurrection accounts of Christ, the miracle of it all is that a "guy who was dead, came back to life again."  More importantly, this "dead guy" is the Lord of glory, the One who claimed and proved that He is the Resurrection and the Life; and He is the Way and the Truth and the Life.  If Jesus is not risen, our faith is dead; we can quit all this nonsense and stop posting such drivel. 

But if He is risen, and I believe that He is, what of those who do not believe or have a distorted heretical view of the resurrection of Jesus?  This is why it is vitally important to share the gospel, "that Christ died for our sins according the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose on the third day according the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3,4).  That is the crux of the gospel.  His substitutionary atoning sacrifice.  Being in the bowels of the grave for three days, and then rising from the dead, in the same body in which He was crucified. . .only glorified.

Have a happy Resurrection Lord's Day - RL