September 2008

The recent spate of anti-religion books written by militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens make the charge that theism is not only wrong, but evil. It’s an interesting twist on the Biblical story of creation. According to Judaism and Christianity, in order to get evil out of the Garden man needed to be removed. According to the new atheists, in order to get evil out of the Garden we need to remove God Himself. Ironic?!

In several previous posts (here, here, and here) I addressed the problem of differences in the Gospels, pointing out that what are often taken for contradictions are really just examples of 21st century Westerners trying to impose unrealistic and modern standards of historical reporting on ancient Easterners.  I demonstrated this by pointing to examples in which two different passages within the same book report different information.  No one thinks of these as being contradictions because they come from the same author, and appear in the same literary document.

I found another example of this, but not in the Gospels this time.  This one appears in Acts.  Luke’s account of Jesus’ words to Paul on the Damascus road reads as follows: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? … I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:5b-6, ESV)

Paul, recounting the same event in Acts 26:14b-18, records Jesus’ words as:

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads. … I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles-to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (ESV)

Not only is Acts 22 much fuller in its account of what Jesus said to Paul, but there is little overlap between them as it pertains to Jesus’ instructions.  In Acts 9 Jesus instructs Paul to go to Damascus and wait to be told what to do.  In Acts 22 Jesus does not tell Paul to go to Damascus, but instead, instructs him in his mission on the spot!  If these two accounts appeared in two different books, critics would claim a contradiction.  But because they appear in the same literary work, no such charge is made.

Of course, a reasonable harmony can be made for the two accounts.  Acts 9 appears to be a summary of the much longer conversation, rather than a transcript of the actual words Jesus said (at least for His instructions; not His introduction and self-revelation).  Acts 22 is probably closer to an actual transcript of what was said to Paul.

The fact that Jesus discloses to Paul His purpose for his life there on the road does not contradict what Luke reports in chapter 9.  No specific instructions were given regarding what he should do next to fulfill that purpose.  Furthermore, in the context of Acts 9, it seems what Paul was “to do” in Damascus was receive salvation.  That is why the Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision to go pray for Paul to regain his sight and be filled with the Spirit (9:10-19).

“Agnosticism seems to be a more tenable commitment than atheism. Problem is, in action one must act as if God does not exist (etsi deus non daretur), or as if He does. In action one must make a commitment that one cannot quite make on purely intellectual grounds. It is by our deeds that we show what we most deeply believe.”[1] 

[1]Michael Novak, “Empathizing with Atheists

Euthanasia advocates begin their advocacy by assuring us suicide will only be permitted for the terminally ill who are suffering great pain.  That’s what they say.  But it’s not long after suicide is legalized that those same advocates push for expanding suicide to the non-terminally ill, and expand the definition of suffering to include emotional suffering.  We’ve seen this kind of thing in Belgium and the Netherlands.  In fact, in those two countries we’ve seen euthanasia expand from a voluntary choice, to non-voluntary, and even involuntary.  

England is pushing for Euthanasia.  Ironically, one of their leading bioethicists is being honest about what circumstances she thinks euthanasia should be legal in before “basic” euthanasia is legalized.  During a recent interview for the October 2008 edition of Life & Work-a Church of Scotland publication-Baroness Mary Warnock made the following assertions about the duty to die: “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.”  She is very clear that the right and duty to die is not tied to insufferable pain: “I’m absolutely, fully in agreement with the argument that if pain is insufferable, then someone should be given help to die, but I feel there’s a wider argument that if somebody absolutely, desperately wants to die because they’re a burden to their family, or the state, then I think they too should be allowed to die.”[1] 

Don’t buy into the “it will only be limited to the terminally ill and suffering” polemic.  It’s not true. 


HT: Al Mohler

[1]“A Duty to Die?” in Life and Work, October 2008; available from

That is the topic of the latest article I published at the Institute for Biblical Studies.  Check it out.

Here is your chance to talk about whatever you want to talk about.  Speak your mind in the comments section.  Or maybe suggest a topic you would like me to cover in a future post.  It’s open mic.

Some concepts are so heady that they are difficult to put into words.  For example, how does one talk about what God was doing before creation, when creation marks the beginning of temporality?  There cannot be a “before” the beginning, and yet we can conceive of God’s existence before time began.  While it is difficult to put this into words, one way of doing so is to speak of God existing “without the universe.”  Problem solved. 

There are other concepts, however, which are impossible to put them into words.  Consider “nothing.”  It is impossible for us to even imagine nothingness, yet alone to reduce it to words.  For example, according to the Big Bang theory of cosmic origins our universe came into existence from literally nothing about 13.7 billion years ago.  But to say our universe came into existence “from” nothing treats nothing as if it were somewhere from which the universe emerged.  It isn’t, and that’s not what scientists mean to say, but that is the picture that emerges when we try reducing this concept to words.  

We might even conceive of a “time when nothing existed,” but this too is unintelligible.  There cannot be a “time” when nothing existed, because a state of nothingness includes the absence of temporality.  I’ve done it again.  I referred to nothingness as a “state,” but it is not a state.  It is nothing!  The fact of the matter is that no matter how we choose to refer to the concept, the moment we do so, we reify it in the process.  We do the same thing for other concepts.  Consider darkness.  Darkness, as such, does not exist.  It is the absence of all light.  And yet the moment we refer to “darkness,” we reify it, as if it were an existent.  This is a shortcoming of language we have to live with, but we need to be cognizant of the fact that speaking of nothingness, or of something coming from nothing, does not mean nothing is something.  It means no-thing.

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