April 2011


I was directed by Justin Taylor to a post by Trevin Wax discussing common urban legends propagated by preachers.  I went to the list expecting to have a good laugh.  And I was not disappointed.  Wax spoke of the “the eye of the needle was a gate in Jerusalem” legend, the “rope-around-the-high-priest’s-ankle” legend, and the “scribes took baths before writing the divine name” legend.  Oh how I chuckled!

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For a long time I have been wanting to read Harold Hoehner’s standard work on the chronology of Christ, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ.  I finally got around to purchasing and reading the book.  Here is my summary of his arguments for dating the birth (5 BC), ministry (AD 29-33), and death of Christ (AD 33).  Text in “[]” reflects my own thoughts/research.

Date of Christ’s Birth

Jesus was born while Herod was still alive (Mk 2:1; Lk 1:5).  Herod was declared king in 40 BC byRome, and took physical control of Palenstine in 37 BC.  He reigned 34 years.

Josephus tells us there was an eclipse shortly before Herod died.  The eclipse occurred on March 12/13, 4 BC.  He also tells us the Passover was celebrated shortly after (April 11, 4 BC).  So Herod died sometime between mid-March and early April, 4 BC.  Jesus must have been born before this.  (more…)

Some have made the claim that an acrostic of the accusation Pilate wrote above Jesus’ cross spells “YHWH.” (example).  There is at least one reason to seriously question the claim, and a second reason that proves it false.  Let me deal with each in turn.

One reason to question this claim is the fact that we cannot be certain what was actually written on the titulus (the placard on which the victim’s crime was recorded) above the cross.  The evangelists do not present us with a single version of what was written:

  • Matthew: “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews” (27:37)
  • Mark: “The king of the Jews” (15:26)
  • Luke: “This is the king of the Jews” (23:38)
  • John: “Jesus of Nazareth the king of the Jews” (19:19)

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I was once told my theology professor to stop including so many “thats” in my papers.  I complied, and remain critically aware of using unnecessary “thats” to this day.  But there is a place for using “that.”  Indeed, sometimes it is right to write multiple, consecutive “thats” in a single sentence.

For example, “I know that that professor does not like me using the word ‘that.’”  But if it’s right to write “that” twice, could it be right to write “that” that much more?  Yes.  That “that that” is perfectly acceptable English should be obvious to all.  But that’s not all the “thats” that that professor should allow.  That that “that that” that I spoke of earlier is proper, no one can deny.  But could someone deny that it’s possible to use six “that thats” in a single sentence?  They could, but that would be a mistake because now that that “that that” that that professor did not like proved to be an acceptable use of English, there’s no telling how many more “thats” can be used in a sentence.  Perhaps we could use as many as seven.  But I would understand why, upon hearing that, that that “that that” that that professor initially objected to would no longer seem all that objectionable.  And that is all I have to say about that.

Back in September 2010 I addressed a clever rhetorical gem that has become quite popular among atheists.  It’s what I’ve come to call the “one less God zinger.”  It appears in several different forms, but could be summed up by the following representation: “We’re all atheists.  Christians are atheists with respect to all gods but their own, while I am an atheist with respect to all gods, including your own.  When you understand why you reject all other gods, you’ll understand why I reject all gods.”

I invited your criticisms of this zinger, and offered a couple of my own.  Since then I have stumbled on other apologists’ response to it, allowing me to further develop my own.  What follows is an updated evaluation and counter-responses.

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Over at Uncommon Descent a good point has been raised about materialists (such as evolutionary biologist, Jerry Coyne) who deny the existence of free will and yet get angry at others for believing and doing things they (the materialists) do not agree with:

Another inconsistency of atheists who share Professor Coyne’s views on freedom is that they are nearly always angry at someone – be it the Pope or former President George W. Bush or global warming deniers. I have to say that makes absolutely no sense to me…. But please, spare me your moral outrage, your sermonizing, your finger-wagging lectures and your righteous indignation. That I cannot abide. You don’t lecture the PC on your desk when it doesn’t do what you want. If I’m just a glorified version of a desktop PC, then why lecture me?

Perhaps materialists would respond that they don’t have a choice but to get angry!  Well, perhaps we don’t have a choice but not to care that they are.

I was reading Ben Witherington’s Easter Sunday sermon and he raised a couple of good points about John’s account of Jesus’ resurrection to Mary Magdalene:

“Jesus calls her by name— Miryam!  And it is only when he calls her by name that she realizes it is Jesus!   Now this matches up nicely with what John 10 says— Jesus says he is the good shepherd and he knows his sheep, and they know the sound of his voice, and most importantly,  he calls each one by name.

“Jesus’ response is interesting.  He tells her— ‘don’t cling onto me’. … Jesus is telling her that there is no clinging to the Jesus of the past.  He is no longer just Miryam’s teacher, and there is no going back.  He is now the risen Lord.   There was something strikingly different about the risen Jesus. …. He tells her to tell them he will soon be ascending to God the Father.   Jesus did not rise from the dead to continue earthly existence, so things could go on business as usual.  Jesus rose from the dead to begin the endtimes, then and there, the eschatological age, the age in which all manner of things would change, and when Jesus comes back, we too will experience resurrection from the dead as 1 Cor. 15 promises.”

Updated 6/28/11

George Houston has addressed an interesting question that has direct applicability to the reliability of the NT documents: How long did manuscripts remain in use?  From the available evidence Houston concludes that some manuscripts continued to be used for 200-300 years before they were finally discarded, while the majority were used for at least 100 years.

While Houstonlooked at secular documents, Craig Evans had this to say about religious documents:

Most of the [Dead Sea] scrolls were one hundred to one hundred-fifty years old when the community ceased to exist. However, approximately 40 scrolls, many of them Bible scrolls, were 200 to 300 years old—and evidently still in use—when the community was destroyed. The same holds in the case of a number of Christian Bibles. Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus was re-inked in the tenth century, which shows that it was still being read and studied some six hundred years after it had been produced. Codex Sinaiticus was corrected in the sixth or seventh century. Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, produced in the fifth century, was in use four or five centuries before being overwritten in the twelfth century. Retired and discarded mss were not corrected: only those still in use.

If this is true of the NT autographs as well, then the popular claim that the early transmission of the NT text was wild and erratic is false. The gap between the original autograph and our earliest copies would be largely bridged. Churches and scribes could have checked their manuscript copies against the originals for an extended period of time following the death of the apostles, correcting any errors that might have crept in.  There are two reasons to think the church preserved and continued to use the originals for some time.  First, manuscripts were valuable and would not be quickly discarded.  They would only be discarded once they had deteriorated from use.  Secondly, the NT autographs were viewed as authoritative documents, and as such they would have been preserved by their original recipients.  Indeed, Tertullian seems to affirm that at least some of the original manuscripts were extant in his day: “Come now, you who would indulge a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, run over [to] the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally.” (AD 180 — it is possible that Tertullian was not claiming these churches had the original autographs, but rather that they had copies of the autographs that were not corrupted as were the copies used by heretics)

HT: Larry Hurtado

Once in a while I hear atheists bring up Bertrand Russell’s comparison of theistic belief to the belief that a teapot is orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars.  Bill Vallicella has a nice post showing why this is a false analogy to theistic belief.

Darwinists believe that evolution advances primarily via natural selection acting on genetic mutations.  The more genetic variation there is, the more room there is for evolutionary advancement.  Evidence against the neo-Darwinian synthesis is mounting every day.  It is simply not borne out by the data.  Here is another case in point.

Alfie Clamp is a two year old boy who has been diagnosed with having an extra strand of DNA on chromosome seven.  Did this additional genetic information help Alfie in the struggle for survival?  No.  It caused him to be born blind, he has to take a cocktail of drugs every day so his body will absorb nutrients from his food, and he has stopped breathing multiple times.  It seems as though regular mutations are too few and too slow to produce novel biological change, and large novel mutations are detrimental to an organism.  Either way, evolution will not proceed.

David Evans once believed in global warming, and even advised the Department of Climate Change in Australia.  He has since changed his mind because the empirical evidence has not confirmed the original predictions.  In fact, it has disproven them.  He admits that carbon dioxide emissions are warming the planet, but it is clear that humans are not solely responsible for the warming, and can do little to change it.  He ends the article by saying:

Even if we stopped emitting all carbon dioxide tomorrow, completely shut up shop and went back to the Stone Age, according to the official government climate models it would be cooler in 2050 by about 0.015 degrees. But their models exaggerate 10-fold — in fact our sacrifices would make the planet in 2050 a mere 0.0015 degrees cooler! … Yes, carbon dioxide is a cause of global warming, but it’s so minor it’s not worth doing much about.

I would highly recommend you read the article.  I’ve read a number of articles on this topic over the last few years, but few have broken the issue down as clearly and concisely as Mr. Evans has.

Do you give 10% of your income to the work of God?  Do you think by doing so you are fulfilling the Mosaic command to tithe?  Think again.  Israelites were commanded to pay upwards of ~23% in tithes, not a mere 10%.

The Mosaic Law required the children of Israel to pay three different tithes: levitical tithe (Lev 27:30-32; Num 18:21,24), annual festival tithe (Dt 14:22-27), and tri-annual poor tithe (Dt 14:28-29).  The levitical tithe was the standard tithe.  It required all Israelites to give 10% of their increase (crops, fruit, livestock) to the Levites.  This tithe was probably offered sporadically throughout the year.

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Traditionally, authorship of Deuteronomy has been ascribed to Moses.  While it has long been clear to me that Moses could not have written the last two chapters[1], I never had reason to seriously question Mosaic authorship of the other 32 chapters until recently.  I read a number of arguments against the traditional view in Peter Enns’ article, “When was Genesis Written and Why Does it Matter?: A Brief Historical Analysis.”  Enns notes that:

  • The book does not claim to be written by Moses[2];
  • Deuteronomy 1:1 says “these are the words Moses spoke on the other side of the Jordan.” (cf. Deut 1:5)  Such a comment presumes that the narrator is writing from the perspective of the land of Canaan—a place Moses never stepped foot on (Numbers 20:12; Deuteronomy 32:48-52).  At the very least this would seem to indicate at least part of the first chapter was not written by Moses, and perhaps more;
  • The book gives a third-person account of Moses’ words and deeds, as opposed to a first-person account as we might expect if Moses was the author (e.g. 1:5; 4:41,44; 5:1; 31:9).  (I should point out, however, that this is also true of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.  If this calls into question Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy, it would equally call into question Mosaic authorship of the other books.  Clearly, it is not impossible that Moses purposely wrote from a third-person perspective.)

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Bart Ehrman recently released his latest salvo attacking the Bible.  This time he is not just trying to undermine people’s confidence that what we read today is what the authors wrote back then.  Instead, he’s trying to undermine people’s confidence that the people we think wrote the NT documents actually wrote them.  In his view, fraudulent authors successfully deceived the NT church by forging documents in the name of ecclesiastical leaders.

Dr. Ben Witherington is currently doing a chapter-by-chapter review of the book.  He has already released four installments:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Witherington is well-qualified to interact with Ehrman’s work.  I would highly recommend that you read his review, and read his future installments.

 

Perhaps some of you have heard about the discovery of ~70 lead codices that many involved with its promotion have claimed date to the 1st century, and could reveal interesting information about Jesus.  Some were even saying this find was more important than the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Based on the initial reports and media fluff (claims without any substance to back them up), I was immediately skeptical that these lead codices had anything to do with Christianity or would shed any light on the Christian faith, and thus chose not to post anything on the topic until more information came to light.  Well, it appears that I should have been even more skeptical than I was.  There is good reason to think these lead codices are forgeries.

Peter Thonemann of Wadham College in Oxford, England, was contacted prior to the press release of the discovery by one of the promoters of the find, David Elkington to help determine the meaning of some Greek text on a few of the codices.  Thonemann responded with the following conclusion:

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I was listening to a debate between George Williamson and William Lane Craig on the existence of God.  Williamson argued that the concept of God is incoherent.  He claimed omniscience would require that God possess all empirical knowledge (experiential, know-how), and yet God clearly does not know what it is like to play basketball, ride a bike, or sin.  Craig responded that the classical definition of omniscience holds that God knows all true propositions, not that He knows all experiences.  Williamson counters that theists have so defined omniscience only to escape the logical absurdities involved in a being who is truly omniscient.  So is the classical definition ad hoc as Williamson claims?  No.  There is good reason to limit omniscience to propositional knowledge.

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I have been a Christian for nearly 20 years.

And I have spent much of that time studying the faith.
My motivation has been to overcome personal doubts.

Knowledge is said to dissipate doubts, right?
I have not found that to be the case, personally.
Doubts continue to plague my mind.
Do you know what that’s like?
I can no longer put up pretenses.
Now is the time for me to come clean:
God does not exist!

All the theistic arguments are flawed.
Personally, I don’t think I ever believed them.
Reality is, we are alone in this universe.
It is a sad fact, but we must face it.
Life is too precious to waste on religion.

For those who continue to believe, I wish you the best.
Outstanding claims require outstanding evidence, however.
Ontological commitments must be rationally based.
Living as if God existed is not something I can do anymore.
So I say sayonara to God, and good night to you.  It’s been fun.

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