Tuesday, March 31, 2009

James White vs Osama Abdullah - A Preview

The integrity of a Christian debater versus the infamous Osama Abdullah of answering-Christianity. Whenever a Muslim defaults to copy/pasting Osama's arguments I do get rather disappointed. Anyway, here is a preview...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Super Brief Response to Gnostic Gospel Attacks

I link to a video - The Case for Christ: Gnostic vs Synoptic Gospels. I will just take a few minutes to deal with the claims coming up. [NB: This was a quick post so it is a tad incomplete - feel free to comment suggestions.]

The Gospel Dates

[T]he Gospel of Thomas Pre-dates the book of Revelation, & the "canonical" gospels were written in the about the year 100-150 from second and third hand accounts.

The two issues here are the dating of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas and the dating of the canonical gospels. The claim above is clear- they want to make the reader believe that the 'alternative' gospels were written first and the canonical gospels were written far later.

Firstly, the majority view of respectable scholars is that the Gospel of Thomas was written into the second century - as the earliest alternative gospel. If we turn to scholars who are hostile to Christianity this point is clearly illustrated.

Professor Bart D. Ehrman[1] dates the Gospel of Thomas to the "early 2nd century"[2]. Regarding the contents of the text:
Collection of 114 sayings of Jesus, some possibly authentic, others embodying Gnostic concerns; discovered at Nag Hammadi.[3]

In general, Ehrman states:
For the record, I do not date any of the Gnostic Gospels to the first century...[4]

With regard to the claim that the canonical gospels were composed between 100-150, there is no academic push for such dating. I cannot think of a respect scholar who has dated the gospels that late - and we have physical evidence of the last gospel to be written, the Gospel of John, from the date 125AD.[5]

The Oldest Manuscripts

The oldest NT manuscript is only from the year 350
Apparently, the oldest New Testament manuscript is only from the year 350. Having personally seen NT Papyri that pre-date this time substantially, I find it difficult to follow. There are 10-13 manuscripts from the second century alone.[6]

According to the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung ten of these manuscripts from within the second century alone include:
P52 (100-150), P90, 104 (2nd century), P66 (c. AD 175-225), P46, 64+67 (c. AD 200), P77, P103, 0189 (2nd or 3rd century), P98 (2nd century?). [7]
Again, we find this attack unsubstantiated and historically inaccurate.

1. Professor Bart D. Ehrman, James A. Distinguished Professor is author of a number of works attacking Christianity such as NY Times Bestseller 'Misquoting Jesus'. Just a note - I agree with Ehrman in a lot of his scholarly works, however, I often find conflict with his open conclusions, popular works and when he attempts to exegete. For a review of Misquoting Jesus I recommend Professor Dan B. Wallace's The Gospel According to Bart.
2. Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities p. xii
3. Ibid, p. xii
4. Bart D. Ehrman on the Textual Criticism Board
5. See dating of Papyrus 52
6. Daniel B. Wallace, Second Century Papyri: "This means that there are at least ten and as many as thirteen NT MSS"

Saturday, March 28, 2009

N.T. Wright on Hyper-Scepticism

This quote got a chuckle out of me so I felt compelled to share it. Those of you not accustomed to the field of higher criticism may not understand where it is coming from - but I am sure it is something even the most Price-Deterring-esque 'scholar' would be compelled to reflect on:

The guild of New Testament studies has become so used to operating with a hermeneutic of suspicion that we find ourselves trapped in our own subtleties. If two ancient writers agree about something, that proves one got it from the other. If they seem to disagree, that proves that one or both got it wrong. If they say an event or saying fits a prophecy, they made it up to look like that. If there are two accounts of similar events, they are a "doublet" (there was only one event); but if a single account has anything odd about it, there must have been two events, which are now conflated. And so on. Anything to show how clever we are, how subtle, to have smoked out the reality behind the text...Suspicion is all very well; there is also such a thing as a hermeneutic of paranoia. Somebody says something; they must have a motive; they must have made it up.

N.T. Wright, 'The Meaning of Jesus' p.18

Muhammad in the New Testament Revisited

In a previous post of mine I set out a few quick ways to expose the claims that Muhammad is found in the Bible. From that list, regarding the New Testament, I have expanded it to 8 questions that must all be satisfied if Muhammad is the Parakletos of John 14/16.

They are as follows:

1) Was Muhammad sent in Jesus' name? (John 14:26)

2) Did Muhammad teach the disciples? (John 14:26)

3) Did Muhammad help the disciples remember Jesus' preaching? (John 14:26)

4) Was Muhammad invisible? (John 14:17)

5) Did Muhammad convict the world for not believing IN Jesus? (John 16:8-9)

6) Did Muhammad live forever? (John 14:16)

7) Did Muhammad abide with the disciples forever and abide with Christians forever?(John 14:16)

8) Was Muhammad in the disciples? (John 14:17)

In reality, Muhammad does not satisfy any of those requirements - and when put on the spot Muslims find a number of pathetic ways to try and avoid it. One of these responses I recently received and responded to is as follows:
NB: Their rebuttal is in Green, my responses in default black.

Codex Syriacus reads John 14:26 as " Paraklete, The Spirit" and NOT " Paraklete, The Holy Spirit"
Any difference between Spirit and Holy Spirit?
YES. A Spirit in Biblical language means a Prophet (see 1 John 4:1 &1 John 4:6 & 2 Thessalonians 2:2)
So in primary Conclusion The Paraklete can't be the Holy Spirit.

The fact that Codex Syriacus is NOT in Greek makes it impossible to contain the Greek word Parakletos - or any GREEK word. [1] The oldest witnesses in Greek (including those found at Sinai like Syriacus) read "ὁ δὲ παράκλητος, τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον" identifying the Parakletos as the Pneuma hagion (Holy Spirit). [2] There are no variants that I am aware of in any of the families (Alexandrian, Western or Byzantine) to suggest an alternative reading to this.[3]

Regarding the claim that "[a] Spirit in Biblical language means a prophet", it is simply unfounded conjecture. The use of the word Spirit in 1 John 4:1 is not identifying the prophet as a spirit but the Pneuma is in regard to the spirit and force behind such a message. The allusion to false prophets is simply that the spirit for that 'prophecy' is not from God. If you have ever read any Jewish literature from around that period (such as Serekh Ha Yahad also known as 4QS of the Dead Sea Scrolls) you would understand how common the idea in verses 1 & 6 are. With regard to the Thessalonians verse, I see no logical way by which you concluded the Spirit was a prophet.

In short, there is no basis for the primacy conclusion you assert.

In John 16 it syas the the Parakelete will 'AKouo' & 'Laleo' which means MATERIAL HEARING and SPEAKING with human organs
One again the Parakelet can’t be the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit only inspires.
There is simply no justification for this statement. For "Akou" (actually ἀκούσει in the text) whether or not it is a literal quality or a personification is determined within the context. As we are speaking of a spiritual Pneuma (that the world cannot see, etc) there is no reason to even suspect that the ability to 'hear' or 'speak' implies a physical human body.

If we turn to John 9:31 the same word is used in relation to God.

“We know that God does not hear (ἀκούει) sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him."
" οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἁμαρτωλῶν ὁ θεὸς (GOD) οὐκ ἀκούε (HEAR)ι, ἀλλʼ ἐάν τις θεοσεβὴς ᾖ καὶ τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ ποιῇ τούτου ἀκούει (HEARS)."[4]

As is evident, there is no reason to entertain such an outrageous claim.

Jesus is also a Parakele, how ? :)
1 John 2:1 reads:
And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the "Paraklete" (see the Greek text).
This nonsensical claim stems from having no understanding of the word Parakletos. Parakletos - advocate/helper/etc is not a title but a description of the Holy Spirit in John 14-16. Jesus is a Parakletos just as a lawyer in a court case is a Parakletos. But in John 14 etc, the Parakletos of the text is a SPECIFIC Parakletos - identified as the Holy Spirit[5] - personifying such characteristics in the eight points above.

See how the deceiving translation translates the same word Paraklete one time to comforter and another to righteous.
Why this double standard in translation?
There is actually no deceptive translation here - the only deception is your false claim.
No translation translates Parakletos as "righteous". In 1 John 2:1 the word translated "righteous" is actually the word for righteous - "δίκαιον".

Τεκνία μου, ταῦτα γράφω ὑμῖν ἵνα μὴ ἁμάρτητε. καὶ ἐάν τις ἁμάρτῃ, παράκλητον (PARAKLETON) ἔχομεν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν δίκαιον· (DIKAION = righteous).[6]
1 John 2:1

John 14:26 reads "Another Paraklete"
Another from the same type or different type?
The word here is "ALLOS" = the same type like Jesus = Human
Once again the Paraklete can't be the Holy Spirit

No where in John 14:26 does the word 'allos' appear:
ὁ δὲ παράκλητος,(Parakletos) τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον (Holy Spirit), ὃ πέμψει ὁ πατὴρ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου, ἐκεῖνος ὑμᾶς διδάξει πάντα καὶ ὑπομνήσει ὑμᾶς πάντα ἃ εἶπον ὑμῖν.[7]

You are talking about John 14:26 which contains 'allon' (ἄλλον). I see no reason to infer that allon implies in human form as the text is specific that they will come as another comforter (Parakletos).

Finally is it Paraklytos or Periklytos?

As no text out of the thousands of Greek New Testament manuscripts mention "periklytos" it is a safe bet that the texts state what they clearly state - Parakletos.


None of the rebuttal points addressed my 8 questions above. All of the rebuttals were simply errant with much of the points simply being made up. Again, there is no reason to even entertain the possibility that Muhammad is the Parakletos - especially as Jesus identifies Him as the Holy Spirit.

1. "The Codex Syriacus is a 5 th century translation of the Gospels in Syriac..."
2. Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 27th Edition
3. Bruce Metzger, Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament
4. Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 27th Edition: John 9:31 - interprative prompts mine.
5. See John 14:26
6. Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 27th Edition: 1 John 2:1
7. Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 27th Edition: John 14:26

Friday, March 27, 2009

Jesus said, "I and the Father are ONE"

I have decided to continue with the theme of the deity of Christ. In an earlier post, we have established that the earliest Christians believed Christ to be divine. Although some examples were previously provided, I have chosen to narrow down on two example of Christ's revelationary self-identification.

In John 10:30 Jesus makes a very important claim - a claim that those in his presence recognised and Christians and non-Christians alike recognise. This claim is one that sets Jesus' apart from the prophets (both from God and false).

Jesus said:
"I and the Father are one."
One of the greatest ways to understand this verse is to see how those living in Jesus' context saw it. So, how did they react?

"Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?"

"We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, CLAIM TO BE GOD." "
John 10:31-33

The enormity of the statement, “I and the Father are one,” within the context of the Gospel of John is difficult to overstate. There are several reasons for this. First, this is a type of “I am” statement for Jesus, this time “we are.” There is a continued reference to the divine name of Jehovah God, I AM (see John 8:58 below). Second, there is a further divine claim in obvious allusion to the famous Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This was the monotheistic bedrock of the Jewish religion, that there was only one God. Yet Jesus has now included himself in this monotheistic confession. He does not mean that he has achieved some type of mystical unity with God that might be more at home with Hinduism. He is speaking of the very essence of his relationship with the Father, that there is a sameness about them. The theological math here is that 1 + 1 = 1 (cf. John 1:1). And yet a third element in this should be noted. Jesus does not say, “I am the Father.” Although he makes a mighty claim here, he continues to maintain a certain level of distinction between the Father and himself.

But this isn't the only time Jesus made this claim. We turn to John 8:58-59:

"Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham 1was born, I am.” "
Now, how did those Jews in Jesus' context react to this?

"Therefore they apicked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. " (verse 59)
At this point Jesus makes one of the most sensational statements in all of the recorded Gospels, and one of the most staggering statements in John, “before Abraham was, I am.” This is the climax of the “I am” statements in John. Here the “I am” has two very important implications.

First, the “I am” (ἐγὼ εἰμί, egō eimi) is an intentional play upon the divine name of God found in the Old Testament. At the burning bush, when Moses asked God what his name was, the answer was “I am who I am” (Exod 3:14). In Hebrew, this name is יהוה (YHWH), which is sometimes transliterated as “Jehovah.” It is based upon the Hebrew verb for “being,” and so God’s personal name revealed to Moses is literally “the I am.” Here, as in verses 24 and 28, there is no complement for the verb. The statement is not “I am (something).” It is just “I am.” Jesus has already said that one must “believe that I am” (v. 24) and “know that I am” (v. 28). To make these demands is to claim the name of God for personal use. In some ways Jesus is saying, “I am the ‘I am.” I am God.”

Second, this claim has other enormous theological implications. By saying “before Abraham was, I am,” Jesus is asserting his transcendence over time and history. He does not say “I was there with Abraham.” In effect, he says “I am there with Abraham, and even before.” Time does not limit God, and it does not limit Jesus. As John has said, “In the beginning was the Word” (1:1; cf. Rev 22:13).

We must be careful here. For us these theological truths can be dangerously overstated as in the simplistic bumper-sticker theology that says, “Jesus is Jehovah.” Although we may not completely understand all the distinctions, Jesus does not remove everything that separates the Father from the Son. In fact if there is no difference between the Father and the Son, much of what Jesus has said in this chapter is nonsense: God is not his Father; he is his own “father.” The Father did not send him; he sent himself. He does not know the Father; he knows himself. This results in a loss of the humanity of Jesus, a loss that orthodox Christianity has never tolerated. At the end of the day we must affirm both the full humanity and the full divinity of Christ, and that is precisely one of the major agendas of the Gospel of John.

Time for talking is now over as far as the Jews are concerned. They understand exactly what is at stake in Jesus’ claim to be “I am.” He has gone far beyond being an irritation to them. He is now a dangerous blasphemer, a threat that cannot be ignored. Mob violence mentality takes control, and preparations for a stoning/ lynching begin. But this is not the time, place, or method for Jesus’ death, so the text says he hid himself and he gets away safely (implying a miraculous escape).

Hence, these two statements are so powerful that one cannot deny that Christ claimed to be divine.

[Related posts: The Myth: The Early Christians did Not believe Christ to be Divine| The Deity of Christ | The Subordination of Christ ]

The Myth: The Early Church did not Believe Christ to be Divine

This is one of those myths riding the legacy of The Da Vinci Code. Historically, it is one of little value - however, among many critics of Christianity it is played up as a historically accurate and viable criticism. In actual fact, the earliest witness of Christianity testify to the divinity of Christ whether they be Biblical, pre-scriptural hymns and creeds or non-Christian hostile witness.

One example I like to use occurs in Philippians 2 where Paul makes reference to what scholars believe to be a pre-Philippian creed and hymn.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This exert of Philippians 2:5-11 is very clear in who Jesus is. It affirms the Apostle Thomas' understanding of Christ as "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).

While responding to this claim I shared an exert by a scholar I am a fan of - Professor Darell L. Bock. Professor Bock, who has a blog here, is highly respected and renowned in his field and currently serves as Research Professor of New Testament Studies and Professor of Spiritual Development and Culture at Dallas Theological Seminary. He authored a New York Times Bestseller which addresses this claim (as presented in the Da Vinci Code) rather well. I have provided an exert from Breaking the Da Vinci Code:

1. The First-Century Evidence from Paul and Early Traditional Materials

Our investigative search takes us not only to the Gospels but also to the apostle Paul, a Jew who in his own words had persecuted Christians and approved of their arrest and execution until he saw the risen Jesus (Gal. 1:11–24). This event produced a personal revolution in his theological view. The writings from Paul date between A.D. 50 and 68, almost three hundred years before Nicea. Paul used traditional materials showing that others shared and confessed his core theological beliefs. No one knew who Constantine was when Paul wrote. Two key classes of texts permit us to see Paul's theology and the theology of others who shared his views: those that involve a confessional statement of the church, and places where he referred to Jesus using language from the Old Testament that pertained to God.

The first class of texts involves confessional statements like 1 Corinthians 8:5–6 (RSV). Paul noted that while those in the world around him worshiped many gods, he and the Christians worshiped one God and one Lord Jesus Christ: "Although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many `gods' and many `lords'—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist."

The title "Lord" often referred to God. In the Greek Bible of the Jews, a work known as the Septuagint, the title "Lord" often substituted for "God." To call Jesus Christ Lord was to refer to His deity, especially in a passage that mentioned other gods of the religious faith of others. According to Paul, Jesus was involved in the Creation as Creator. For a person of Jewish background, that would be the declaration of an activity of God the Creator. Centuries before Nicea, a major Christian leader was affirming the divinity of Jesus not by the mere use of a title, but by a description of activity.

A second class of texts in Paul involves substitution texts like Philippians 2:9–11 (RSV). Without embarrassment, Paul applied to Jesus language that the prophet Isaiah applied to God in the Hebrew Bible. This text reads, "God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." In this passage, Jesus is the object of worship as every knee bows before Him, even as He bears the title of Lord. The language comes from Isaiah 45:23 where the prophet cited God as speaking ("By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: `To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear"' [RSV] ). Jesus is placed in the same position as God. Jesus receives homage as God does. These are not the only texts where this occurs in Paul. And it occurs in other writings from other authors of what became the New Testament (for example, Ps. 102:25–27 in Heb. 1:1—13). Jesus is not a mere prophet in these texts. He shares equal glory and honor with God.

Darell L. Bock, 'Breaking the Da Vinci Code', p.49

2. The first-Century Evidence from the Rest of the New Testament

Paul was not alone. The gospel of John, probably written in the nineties of the first century, contains an unambiguous statement of Jesus' divinity in its first chapter (RSV):

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and all that God was, the Word was [NET; alternatively, and the Word was God, RSV]. (v. 1)

He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him. (vv. 2—3)

And the Word became flesh. (v. 14)

John made it clear in this opening to his gospel that the Word became flesh is Jesus, the actual and full incarnation of deity. Once again, participation in the Creation pointed to deity, just as Paul argued.

Some suggest that what Paul and John affirmed about Jesus stands in contrast to the other three gospels. This would be misleading. Mark, Matthew, and Luke were written, probably in this order, sometime between the sixties and eighties. These dates are debated among scholars, and I use the least conservative range. These are also first-century documents, and they tell the story of Jesus in a more restrained manner than is found in John, by which I mean they are less overt in attributing deity to Jesus. They tell Jesus' story "from the earth up." I document this point in my study of Jesus called Jesus According to Scripture, where I examine every passage on Jesus in Matthew through John. In other words, the first three gospels tell the story like a narrative or even a mystery working up to their final confession of who Jesus is. But make no mistake, all three ultimately declare Jesus to be God.

In these gospels, when Jesus is taken to be crucified, He is put to death for being blasphemous. Jesus claimed that God would indicate that Jesus was Son of man, One who was seated at the right hand of God and rode the clouds (something only deity does in the Bible). This is the same divine honor and glory shared with God that Paul and John referred to in their writings. All of these writings agree that Jesus is divine.

In the background of this Son of man statement were two ideas, both of which suggested a unique status for Jesus. One was the imagery of the Son of man, a human figure in Daniel 7:9–13 who will be given divine authority to judge at the end and will be brought into God's presence. The other was that this figure will sit with God in heaven, not just visit God in heaven. These ideas pointed to a unique vindication of Jesus.

The Jews who heard this utterance believed that Jesus blasphemed, which meant He insulted the unique dignity of God by His claim. To understand the Jewish background of the scene is to appreciate the exalted self-claim that Jesus was making.

The details of this view of Jesus and its background are treated in a full study of two hundred pages I wrote years ago while doing research at the University of Tubingen in Germany. In Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism and the Final Examination of Jesus I consider the Jewish view of who gets to sit with God in heaven and under what circumstances. At the examination before the Jewish leaders Jesus' claims were either a unique and legitimate exaltation or remarks that offended the unique glory of God.

The Gospels recorded the event to make clear their view. In light of Jesus' subsequent resurrection, Jesus is a divine figure worthy to sit in God's presence because He is capable of sharing God's unique glory. We shall come back to this later. For now, understand that these Gospels and Paul's writings, first-century documents, portrayed Jesus as a fully human figure and as One who uniquely bears the full marks and honor of deity. These beliefs were widespread in Christianity almost three full centuries before Nicea.

I am not alone in holding this view and in arguing for it in detail. Larry Hurtado, professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, has produced a recent study that traces the history of this understanding of Jesus through the early centuries, even beyond the period of the earliest texts. It reinforces what is argued here. His book, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (2003), raises questions about aspects of this "new" reading of the history that argues Jesus was not believed to be divine until the fourth century.

Darell L. Bock, 'Breaking the Da Vinci Code', pp. 50-51

I hope these texts are useful.
Please note, if you wish to copy the quotations from above or are interested in the text I exhort you to purchase the book if it is a financial reality. Professor Bock has put work into his books and he is one of the great scholars out there who brings scholarship to the lay person responsibly and honestly.

With this in mind, I plan to do a little Professor Bock promo and adverstise some of his book and their uses.

Some of his notable texts:

[Related posts: Jesus said, "I and the Father are ONE" | The Deity of Christ | Can we take the resurrection seriously? (Video with Dr John Dickson) ]

The Deity of Christ - R.C. Sproul

I have attached an exert of R.C. Sproul's Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. In a previous post I employed an exert to address the issue of subordination within the Trinity. The reason for such is reference purposes - I have again engaged with debates on the issue of the Deity of Christ in the New Testament. For a person who has honestly read the New Testament, this is a non-issue as the understanding and revelation of Jesus is clear in that he is deity - but Muslims are obliged by faith in the Qur'an to ignore this.

Although many Muslim polemic sites contain 'rebuttals' (as used in the most loosest of terms) to these arguments - I have found them a useful starting point.

The confession of the deity of Christ is drawn from the manifold witness of the New Testament. As the Logos Incarnate, Christ is revealed as being not only preexistent to creation, but eternal. He is said to be in the beginning with God and also that He is God (John 1:1-3). That He is with God demands a personal distinction within the Godhead. That He is God demands inclusion in the Godhead.
Elsewhere, the New Testament ascribes terms and titles to Jesus that are clearly titles of deity. God bestows the preeminent divine title of Lord upon Him (Philippians 2:9-11). As the Son of Man, Jesus claims to be Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28) and to have authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12). He is called the “Lord of glory” (James 2:1) and willingly receives worship, as when Thomas confesses, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
Paul declares that the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily (Colossians 1:19) and that Jesus is higher than angels, a theme reiterated in the book of Hebrews. To worship an angel or any other creature, no matter how exalted, is to violate the biblical prohibition against idolatry. The I ams of John’s Gospel also bear witness to the identification of Christ with Deity.
In the fifth century, the Council of Chalcedon (a.d. 451) affirmed that Jesus was truly man and truly God. Jesus’ two natures, human and divine, were said to be without mixture, confusion, separation, or division.
1. The deity of Christ is a doctrine essential to Christianity.
2. The church has had crises of heresy regarding Christ’s deity in the fourth, fifth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.
3. The Council of Nicea (a.d. 325) affirmed the deity of Christ, declaring that He is of the same substance or essence as the Father and that He was not a created being.
4. The New Testament clearly affirms the deity of Christ.
5. The Council of Chalcedon (a.d. 451) declared that Jesus was truly God.
Biblical passages for reflection:
Mark 2:28
John 1:1-14
John 8:58
John 20:28
Philippians 2:9-11
Colossians 1:19
a.d. anno domini (year)
Sproul, R. C.: Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House, 1996, c1992

[Related posts: Jesus said, "I and the Father are ONE" | The Myth: The Early Christians did Not believe Christ to be Divine]

James White Responds to Zakir Naik

Dr White responds to some of the weak and unconvincing arguments against the deity of Christ.

The Subordination of Christ - R.C. Sproul

What is a subordinate? In our language it is clear that to be subordinate to someone is to be “under” that person’s authority. A subordinate is not a peer; a subordinate is not on an equal level of authority with his or her super-ordinate. The prefix sub- means “under” and super- means “over” or “above.”
When we speak of the subordination of Christ we must do so with great care. Our culture equates subordination with inequality. But in the Trinity all members are equal in nature, in honor, and in glory. All three members are eternal, self-existent; they partake of all aspects and attributes of deity.
In God’s plan of redemption, however, the Son voluntarily takes on a subordinate role to the Father. It is the Father who sends the Son into the world. The Son obediently comes to earth to do the will of the Father. We must be careful to note, however, that there is no sense of begrudging obedience. As they are the same in glory, the Father and the Son are also of one will. The Father wishes for redemption equally as much as the Son. The Son is eager to perform the work of salvation, just as the Father is eager for Him to do so. Jesus declared that zeal for His Father’s house consumed Him (John 2:17) and that His meat and His drink was to do the will of the Father.
Finally, it should be noted that Christ’s subordination and obedience was not only unto suffering. The plan included all aspects of Christ’s work for us and Christ’s ultimate glorification. The Westminster Confession explains the interconnectedness of the Father’s purpose and Christ’s work:
It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest and King, the Head and Savior of His Church, the heir of all things, and Judge of the world: unto whom He did from all eternity give a people, to be His seed, and to be by Him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified and glorified.1
By submitting Himself to the perfect will of His Father, Jesus did for us what we were unwilling and unable to do for ourselves. He obeyed the law of God perfectly. At His baptism Christ told John, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Jesus’ entire life and ministry demonstrate this perfect obedience.
By obeying the law perfectly, Jesus accomplished two vitally important things. On the one hand He was qualified to be our Redeemer, the Lamb without blemish. Had Jesus sinned, He could not have atoned for His own sins, let alone for ours. Second, by His perfect obedience He earned the rewards God promised to all who keep His covenant. He merited the rewards of heaven that He bestows upon us. As the subordinate One, He saved a people who had been insubordinate.
Equal in being and eternal attributes
1. Although Christ is equal to the Father in terms of His divine nature, He is subordinate to the Father in His role in redemption.
2. Subordination does not mean “inferior.”
3. Christ’s subordination is voluntary.
4. Christ’s perfect obedience qualified Him to be the sin bearer for His people and earned the rewards of heaven promised to the redeemed.
Son subordinate in economy of redemption
Biblical passages for reflection:
John 4:34
John 5:30
Philippians 2:5-8
Hebrews 5:8-10
Hebrews 10:5-10
1 Westminster Confession, chap. 8, sec. 1.
Sproul, R. C.: Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House, 1996, c1992

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Does God Exist?

An article by Dr William Lane Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. The article may be found at Dr Craig's website ReasonableFaith.org however, to access the article free registration is required. For that reason, I have placed the article here so people can easily find it and entice them to explore the resources of Reasonable Faith.

Does God Exist?

William Lane Craig

C. S. Lewis once remarked that God is not the sort of thing one can be moderately interested in. After all, if God does not exist, there's no reason to be interested in God at all. On the other hand, if God does exist, then this is of paramount interest, and our ultimate concern ought to be how to be properly related to this being upon whom we depend moment by moment for our very existence.

So people who shrug their shoulders and say, "What difference does it make if God exists?" merely show that they haven't yet thought very deeply about this problem. Even atheist philosophers like Sartre and Camus—who have thought very seriously about this problem—admit that the existence of God makes a tremendous difference for man. Let me mention just three reasons why it makes a big difference whether God exists.

1. If God does not exist, life is ultimately meaningless. If your life is doomed to end in death, then ultimately it does not matter how you live. In the end it makes no ultimate difference whether you existed or not. Sure, your life might have a relative significance in that you influenced others or affected the course of history. But ultimately mankind is doomed to perish in the heat death of the universe. Ultimately it makes no difference who you are or what you do. Your life is inconsequential.

Thus, the contributions of the scientist to the advance of human knowledge, the research of the doctor to alleviate pain and suffering, the efforts of the diplomat to secure peace in the world, the sacrifices of good people everywhere to better the lot of the human race—ultimately all these come to nothing. Thus, if atheism is true, life is ultimately meaningless.

2. If God does not exist, then we must ultimately live without hope. If there is no God, then there is ultimately no hope for deliverance from the shortcomings of our finite existence.

For example, there is no hope for deliverance from evil. Although many people ask how God could create a world involving so much evil, by far most of the suffering in the world is due to man's own inhumanity to man. The horror of two world wars during the last century effectively destroyed the 19th century's naive optimism about human progress. If God does not exist, then we are locked without hope in a world filled with gratuitous and unredeemed suffering, and there is no hope for deliverance from evil.

Or again, if there is no God, there is no hope of deliverance from aging, disease, and death. Although it may be hard for you as university students to contemplate, the sober fact is that unless you die young, someday you—you yourself—will be an old man or an old woman, fighting a losing battle with aging, struggling against the inevitable advance of deterioration, disease, perhaps senility. And finally and inevitably you will die. There is no afterlife beyond the grave. Atheism is thus a philosophy without hope.

3. On the other hand, if God does exist, then not only is there meaning and hope, but there is also the possibility of coming to know God and His love personally. Think of it! That the infinite God should love you and want to be your personal friend! This would be the highest status a human being could enjoy! Clearly, if God exists, it makes not only a tremendous difference for mankind in general, but it could make a life-changing difference for you as well.

Now admittedly none of this shows that God exists. But does show that it makes a tremendous difference whether God exists. Therefore, even if the evidence for and against the existence of God were absolutely equal, the rational thing to do, I think, is to believe in Him. That is to say, it seems to me positively irrational when the evidence is equal to prefer death, futility, and despair over hope, meaningfulness and happiness.

But, in fact, I don't think the evidence is absolutely equal. I think there are good reasons to believe in God. And today I want to share briefly five of those reasons. Whole books have been written on each of these, so all I have time to do is to present a brief sketch of each argument and then during the discussion time we can go more deeply into any of them that you'd like to talk about.

As travelers along life's way, it's our goal to make sense of things, to try to understand the way the world is. The hypothesis that God exists makes sense out of a wide range of the facts of experience.

1. God makes sense of the origin of the universe.

Have you ever asked yourself where the universe came from? Why everything exists instead of just nothing? Typically atheists have said the universe is just eternal, and that's all.

But surely this is unreasonable. Just think about it a minute. If the universe never had a beginning, that means that the number of past events in the history of the universe is infinite. But mathematicians recognize that the existence of an actually infinite number of things leads to self-contradictions. For example, what is infinity minus infinity? Well, mathematically, you get self-contradictory answers. This shows that infinity is just an idea in your mind, not something that exists in reality. David Hilbert, perhaps the greatest mathematician of the twentieth century, states,

The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought. The role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea.1

But that entails that since past events are not just ideas, but are real, the number of past events must be finite. Therefore, the series of past events can't go back forever; rather the universe must have begun to exist.

This conclusion has been confirmed by remarkable discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics. In one of the most startling developments of modern science, we now have pretty strong evidence that the universe is not eternal in the past but had an absolute beginning about 13 billion years ago in a cataclysmic event known as the Big Bang. What makes the Big Bang so startling is that it represents the origin of the universe from literally nothing. For all matter and energy, even physical space and time themselves, came into being at the Big Bang. As the physicist P. C. W. Davies explains, "the coming into being of the universe, as discussed in modern science . . . is not just a matter of imposing some sort of organization . . . upon a previous incoherent state, but literally the coming-into-being of all physical things from nothing."2

Of course, alternative theories have been crafted over the years to try to avoid this absolute beginning, but none of these theories has commended itself to the scientific community as more plausible than the Big Bang theory. In fact, in 2003 Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to prove that any universe which is, on average, in a state of cosmic expansion cannot be eternal in the past but must have an absolute beginning. Vilenkin pulls no punches:

It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.3

That problem was nicely captured by Anthony Kenny of Oxford University. He writes, "A proponent of the Big Bang theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the universe came from nothing and by nothing."4 But surely that doesn't make sense! Out of nothing, nothing comes. So why does the universe exist instead of just nothing? Where did it come from? There must have been a cause which brought the universe into being.

We can summarize our argument thus far as follows:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Given the truth of the two premises, the conclusion necessarily follows.

From the very nature of the case, this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being which created the universe. It must be uncaused because we've seen that there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. It must be timeless and therefore changeless—at least without the universe—because it created time. Because it also created space, it must transcend space as well and therefore be immaterial, not physical.

Moreover, I would argue, it must also be personal. For how else could a timeless cause give rise to a temporal effect like the universe? If the cause were a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions, then the cause could never exist without the effect. For example, the cause of water's freezing is the temperature's being below 0˚ Centigrade. If the temperature were below 0˚ from eternity past, then any water that was around would be frozen from eternity. It would be impossible for the water to begin to freeze just a finite time ago. So if the cause is permanently present, then the effect should be permanently present as well. The only way for the cause to be timeless and the effect to begin in time is for the cause to be a personal agent who freely chooses to create an effect in time without any prior determining conditions. For example, a man sitting from eternity could freely will to stand up. Thus, we are brought, not merely to a transcendent cause of the universe, but to its personal Creator.

Isn't it incredible that the big bang theory thus confirms what the Christian theist has always believed: that in the beginning God created the universe? Now I put it to you: which makes more sense: that the Christian theist is right or that the universe popped into being uncaused out of nothing? I, at least, have no trouble assessing these alternatives!

2. God makes sense of the the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life.

During the last 40 years or so, scientists have discovered that the existence of intelligent life depends upon a complex and delicate balance of initial conditions given in the Big Bang itself. Scientists once believed that whatever the initial conditions of the universe, eventually intelligent life might evolve. But we now know that our existence is balanced on a knife's edge. The existence of intelligent life depends upon a conspiracy of initial conditions which must be fine-tuned to a degree that is literally incomprehensible and incalculable.

This fine-tuning is of two sorts. First, when the laws of nature are expressed as mathematical equations, you find appearing in them certain constants, like the gravitational constant. These constants are not determined by the laws of nature. The laws of nature are consistent with a wide range of values for these constants. Second, in addition to these constants there are certain arbitrary quantities which are just put in as initial conditions on which the laws of nature operate, for example, the amount of entropy or the balance between matter and anti-matter in the universe. Now all of these constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of life-permitting values. Were these constants or quantities to be altered by a hair's breadth, the life-permitting balance would be destroyed and life would not exist.

For example, the physicist P. C. W. Davies has calculated that a change in the strength of gravity or of the atomic weak force by only one part in 10100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe. The cosmological constant which drives the inflation of the universe and is responsible for the recently discovered acceleration of the universe's expansion is inexplicably fine-tuned to around one part in 10120. Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of the Big Bang's low entropy condition existing by chance are on the order of one out of 10 10 (123). Penrose comments, "I cannot even recall seeing anything else in physics whose accuracy is known to approach, even remotely, a figure like one part in 1010 (123)."5 And it's not just each constant or quantity which must be exquisitely finely-tuned; their ratios to one another must be also finely-tuned. So improbability is multiplied by improbability by improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers.

Now there are three possibilities for explaining the presence of this remarkable fine-tuning of the universe: physical necessity, chance, or design. The first alternative holds that there is some unknown Theory of Everything (T.O.E.) which would explain the way the universe is. It had to be that way, and there was really no chance or little chance of the universe's not being life-permitting. By contrast, the second alternative states that the fine-tuning is due entirely to chance. It's just an accident that the universe is life-permitting, and we're the lucky beneficiaries. The third alternative rejects both of these accounts in favor of an intelligent Mind behind the cosmos, who designed the universe to permit life. Which of these alternatives is the most plausible?

The first alternative seems extraordinarily implausible. There is just no physical reason why these constants and quantities should have the values they do. As P. C. W. Davies states,

Even if the laws of physics were unique, it doesn't follow that the physical universe itself is unique. . . . the laws of physics must be augmented by cosmic initial conditions. . . . There is nothing in present ideas about 'laws of initial conditions' remotely to suggest that their consistency with the laws of physics would imply uniqueness. Far from it. . . .
. . . it seems, then, that the physical universe does not have to be the way it is: it could have been otherwise.6

For example, the most promising candidate for a T.O.E. to date, super-string theory or M-Theory, fails to predict uniquely our universe. In fact, string theory allows a "cosmic landscape" of around 10500 different universes governed by the present laws of nature, so that it does nothing to render the observed values of the constants and quantities physically necessary.

So what about the second alternative, that the fine-tuning of the universe is due to chance? The problem with this alternative is that the odds against the universe's being life-permitting are so incomprehensibly great that they cannot be reasonably faced. Even though there will be a huge number of life-permitting universes lying within the cosmic landscape, nevertheless the number of life-permitting worlds will be unfathomably tiny compared to the entire landscape, so that the existence of a life-permitting universe is fantastically improbable. Students or laymen who blithely assert, "It could have happened by chance!" simply have no conception of the fantastic precision of the fine-tuning requisite for life. They would never embrace such a hypothesis in any other area of their lives—for example, in order to explain how there came to be overnight a car in one's driveway.

Some people have tried to escape this problem by claiming that we really shouldn't be surprised at the finely-tuned conditions of the universe, for if the universe were not fine-tuned, then we wouldn't be here to be surprised about it! Given that we are here, we should expect the universe to be fine-tuned. But such reasoning is logically fallacious. We can show this by means of a parallel illustration. Imagine you're traveling abroad and are arrested on trumped-up drug charges and dragged in front of a firing squad of 100 trained marksmen, all with rifles aimed at your heart, to be executed. You hear the command given: "Ready! Aim! Fire!" and you hear the deafening roar of the guns. And then you observe that you are still alive, that all of the 100 trained marksmen missed! Now what would you conclude? "Well, I guess I really shouldn't be surprised that they all missed. After all, if they hadn't all missed, then I wouldn't be here to be surprised about it! Given that I am here, I should expect them all to miss." Of course not! You would immediately suspect that they all missed on purpose, that the whole thing was a set-up, engineered for some reason by someone. While you wouldn't be surprised that you don't observe that you are dead, you'd be very surprised, indeed, that you do observe that you are alive. In the same way, given the incredible improbability of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, it is reasonable to conclude that this is not due to chance, but to design.

In order to rescue the alternative of chance, its proponents have therefore been forced to adopt the hypothesis that there exists an infinite number of randomly ordered universes composing a sort of World Ensemble or multiverse of which our universe is but a part. Somewhere in this infinite World Ensemble finely-tuned universes will appear by chance alone, and we happen to be one such world.

There are, however, at least two major failings of the World Ensemble hypothesis: First, there's no evidence that such a World Ensemble exists. No one knows if there are other worlds. Moreover, recall that Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin proved that any universe in a state of continuous cosmic expansion cannot be infinite in the past. Their theorem applies to the multiverse, too. Therefore, since the past is finite, only a finite number of other worlds can have been generated by now, so that there's no guarantee that a finely-tuned world will have appeared in the ensemble.

Second, if our universe is just a random member of an infinite World Ensemble, then it is overwhelmingly more probable that we should be observing a much different universe than what we in fact observe. Roger Penrose has calculated that it is inconceivably more probable that our solar system should suddenly form by the random collision of particles than that a finely-tuned universe should exist. (Penrose calls it "utter chicken feed" by comparison.7) So if our universe were just a random member of a World Ensemble, it is inconceivably more probable that we should be observing a universe no larger than our solar system. Or again, if our universe were just a random member of a World Ensemble, then we ought to be observing highly extraordinary events, like horses' popping into and out of existence by random collisions, or perpetual motion machines, since such things are vastly more probable than all of nature's constants and quantities' falling by chance into the virtually infinitesimal life-permitting range. Observable universes like those are much more plenteous in the World Ensemble than worlds like ours and, therefore, ought to be observed by us. Since we do not have such observations, that fact strongly disconfirms the multiverse hypothesis. On atheism, at least, it is therefore highly probable that there is no World Ensemble.

So once again, the view that Christian theists have always held, that there is an intelligent designer of the universe, seems to make much more sense than the atheistic view that the universe just happens to be by chance fine-tuned to an incomprehensible precision for the existence of intelligent life.

We can summarize this second argument as follows:

1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.

2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

3. Therefore, it is due to design.

3. God makes sense of objective moral values in the world.

If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. It is to say, for example, that Nazi anti-Semitism was morally wrong, even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought that it was good; and it would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them. And the claim is that in the absence of God, moral values are not objective in this sense.

Many theists and atheists alike concur on this point. For example, the late J. L. Mackie of Oxford University, one of the most influential atheists of our time, admitted: "If . . . there are . . . objective values, they make the existence of a God more probable than it would have been without them. Thus, we have a defensible argument from morality to the existence of a God." 8 But in order to avoid God's existence, Mackie therefore denied that objective moral values exist. He wrote, "It is easy to explain this moral sense as a natural product of biological and social evolution . . . ."9

Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science, agrees. He explains,

Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says "love thy neighbor as thyself," they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction . . . And any deeper meaning is illusory.10

Friedrich Nietzsche, the great 19th century atheist who proclaimed the death of God, understood that the death of God meant the destruction of all meaning and value in life.

I think that Friedrich Nietzsche was right.

But we must be very careful here. The question here is not: "must we believe in God in order to live moral lives?" I'm not claiming that we must. Nor is the question: "Can we recognize objective moral values without believing in God?" I think that we can.

Rather the question is: "If God does not exist, do objective moral values exist?" Like Mackie and Ruse, I don't see any reason to think that in the absence of God, human morality is objective. After all, if there is no God, then what's so special about human beings? They're just accidental by-products of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time. On the atheistic view, some action, say, rape, may not be socially advantageous and so in the course of evolution has become taboo; but that does absolutely nothing to prove that rape is really wrong. On the atheistic view, apart from the social consequences, there's nothing really wrong with your raping someone. Thus, without God there is no absolute right and wrong which imposes itself on our conscience.

But the problem is that objective values do exist, and deep down we all know it. There's no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world. The reasoning of Ruse at best proves only that our subjective perception of objective moral values has evolved. But if moral values are gradually discovered, not invented, then our gradual and fallible apprehension of the moral realm no more undermines the objective reality of that realm than our gradual, fallible perception of the physical world undermines the objectivity of that realm. Most of us think that we do apprehend objective values. As Ruse himself confesses, "The man who says that it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says, 2+2=5."11

Actions like rape, torture, and child abuse aren't just socially unacceptable behavior—they're moral abominations. Some things are really wrong. Similarly love, equality, and self-sacrifice are really good. But if objective values cannot exist without God, and objective values do exist, then it follows logically and inescapably that God exists.

We can summarize this argument as follows:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

2. Objective moral values do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

4. God makes sense of the historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The historical person Jesus of Nazareth was a remarkable individual. New Testament critics have reached something of a consensus that the historical Jesus came on the scene with an unprecedented sense of divine authority, the authority to stand and speak in God's place. That's why the Jewish leadership instigated his crucifixion for the charge of blasphemy. He claimed that in himself the Kingdom of God had come, and as visible demonstrations of this fact he carried out a ministry of miracles and exorcisms. But the supreme confirmation of his claim was his resurrection from the dead. If Jesus did rise from the dead, then it would seem that we have a divine miracle on our hands and, thus, evidence for the existence of God.

Now most people would probably think that the resurrection of Jesus is something you just accept on faith or not. But there are actually three established facts, recognized by the majority of New Testament historians today, which I believe are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus: His empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances and the origin of the disciples' belief in his resurrection. Let's look briefly at each one of these.

Fact #1: Jesus' tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers on Sunday morning. According to Jacob Kremer, an Austrian scholar who has specialized in the study of the resurrection, "by far most scholars hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb." 12 According to D. H. Van Daalen, it is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.

Fact #2: On separate occasions different individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death. According to Gerd Lüdemann, a prominent German New Testament critic, "It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus' death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ."13 These appearances were witnessed not only by believers, but also by unbelievers, skeptics, and even enemies.

Fact #3: The original disciples suddenly came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus despite having every predisposition to the contrary. Think of the situation the disciples faced following Jesus' crucifixion:

1. Their leader was dead, and Jewish Messianic expectations included no idea of a Messiah who, instead of triumphing over Israel's enemies, would be shamefully executed by them as a criminal.

2. Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone's rising from the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the world.

Nevertheless, the original disciples suddenly came to believe so strongly that God had raised Jesus from the dead that they were willing to die for the truth of that belief. Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar at Emory University, states, "Some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was."14 N. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, concludes, "That is why, as an historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him."15

Attempts to explain away these three great facts—like the disciples stole the body or Jesus wasn't really dead—have been universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. The simple fact is that there just is no plausible, naturalistic explanation of these facts. Therefore, it seems to me, the Christian is amply justified in believing that Jesus rose from the dead and was who he claimed to be. But that entails that God exists.

We can summarize this argument as follows:

1. There are three established facts concerning the fate of Jesus of Nazareth: the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of his disciples' belief in his resurrection.

2. The hypothesis "God raised Jesus from the dead" is the best explanation of these facts.

3. The hypothesis "God raised Jesus from the dead" entails that the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth exists.

4. Therefore, the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth exists.

5. God can be immediately known and experienced.

This isn't really an argument for God's existence; rather it's the claim that you can know God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing him. This was the way people in the Bible knew God, as professor John Hick explains:

God was known to them as a dynamic will interacting with their own wills, a sheer given reality, as inescapably to be reckoned with as destructive storm and life-giving sunshine . . . They did not think of God as an inferred entity but as an experienced reality. To them God was not . . . an idea adopted by the mind, but an experiential reality which gave significance to their lives.16

Philosophers call beliefs like this "properly basic beliefs." They aren't based on some other beliefs; rather they are part of the foundation of a person's system of beliefs. Other properly basic beliefs would be the belief in the reality of the past, the existence of the external world, and the presence of other minds like your own. When you think about it, none of these beliefs can be proved. How could you prove that the world was not created five minutes ago with built-in appearances of age like food in our stomachs from the breakfasts we never really ate and memory traces in our brains of events we never really experienced? How could you prove that you are not a brain in a vat of chemicals being stimulated with electrodes by some mad scientist to believe that you are here listening to this lecture? How could you prove that other people are not really androids who exhibit all the external behavior of persons with minds, when in reality they are soulless, robot-like entities?

Although these sorts of beliefs are basic for us, that doesn't mean that they're arbitrary. Rather they are grounded in the sense that they're formed in the context of certain experiences. In the experiential context of seeing and feeling and hearing things, I naturally form the belief that there are certain physical objects which I am sensing. Thus, my basic beliefs are not arbitrary, but appropriately grounded in experience. There may be no way to prove such beliefs, and yet it is perfectly rational to hold them. You'd have to be crazy to think that the world was created five minutes ago or to believe that you are a brain in a vat! Such beliefs are thus not merely basic, but properly basic.

In the same way, belief in God is for those who seek Him a properly basic belief grounded in our experience of God.

We can summarize this consideration as follows:

1. Beliefs which are appropriately grounded may be rationally accepted as basic beliefs not grounded on argument.

2. Belief that the biblical God exists is appropriately grounded.

3. Therefore, belief that the biblical God exists may be rationally accepted as a basic belief not grounded on argument.

Now if this is right, then there's a danger that arguments for the existence of God could actually distract one's attention from God Himself. If you're sincerely seeking God, God will make His existence evident to you. The Bible says, "draw near to God and he will draw near to you" (James 4.8). We mustn't so concentrate on the proofs that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our heart. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.

In summary, we've seen five good reasons to think that God exists:

1. God makes sense of the origin of the universe.

2. God makes sense of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life.

3. God makes sense of objective moral values in the world.

4. God makes sense of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

5. God can be immediately known and experienced.

These are only a part of the evidence for God's existence. Alvin Plantinga, one of the world's leading philosophers, has laid out two dozen or so arguments for God's existence.17 Together these constitute a powerful cumulative case for the existence of God.

Therefore, I think that Christian theism is a plausible worldview which commends itself to the thoughtful consideration of every rational human being.


1 David Hilbert, "On the Infinite," in Philosophy of Mathematics, ed. with an Introduction by Paul Benacerraf and Hillary Putnam (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964), pp. 139, 141.

2 ABC Science Online, "The Big Questions: In the Beginning," Interview of Paul Davies by Philp Adams, http://aca.mq.edu.au/pdavies.html.

3 Alex Vilenkin, Many Words in One: The Search for Other Universes (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), p. 176.

4 Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas' Proofs of God's Existence (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), p. 66.

5 Roger Penrose, "Time-Asymmetry and Quantum Gravity," in Quantum Gravity 2, ed. C. J. Isham, R. Penrose, and D. W. Sciama (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), p. 249.

6 Paul Davies, The Mind of God (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 169.

7 See Roger Penrose, The Road to Reality (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), pp. 762-5.

8 J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982),pp. 115-16.

9 Ibid., pp. 117-18.

10 Michael Ruse, "Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics," in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269.

11 Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended (London: Addison-Wesley, 1982), p. 275.

12 Jacob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien--Geschichten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), pp. 49-50.

13 Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 8.

14 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), p. 136.

15 N. T. Wright, "The New Unimproved Jesus," Christianity Today (September 13, 1993), p. 26.

16 John Hick, "Introduction," in The Existence of God, ed. with an Introduction by John Hick, Problems of Philosophy Series (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1964), pp. 13-14.

17 Alvin Plantinga, "Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments," Lecture presented at the 33rd Annual Philosophy Conference, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, October 23-25, 1986. Available online at http://philofreligion.homestead.com/files/Theisticarguments.html.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Paul and the Historical Jesus

A claim that has been levelled to me is that Paul knows nothing of the historical Jesus. This is usually levelled by people who constantly attack the Bible but have never actually read it. Anyone who has read Paul's epistles knows this isn't the case! But for your convenience I have attached an exert from F.F. Bruce's 'Paul and Jesus':

"Paul is out earliest literary authority for the historical Jesus. True, he does not tell us much about the historical Jesus, in comparison with what we can learn from the Evangelists, but he does tell us a little more than that Jesus was born and died. Jesus was an Israelite, he says, descended from Abraham (Gal 3:16) and David (Rom. 1:3); who lived under the Jewish law (Gal. 4:4); who was betrayed, and on the night of his betrayal instituted a memorial meal of bread and wine (I Cor. 11:23ff); who endured the Roman penalty of crucifixion (I Cor. 1:23; Gal. 3:1, 13, 6:14, etc.), although Jewish authorities were somehow involved His death (I Thess. 2:15); who was buried, rose the third day and was thereafter seen alive by many eyewitnesses on various occasions, including one occasion on which He was so seen by over five hundred at once, of whom the majority were alive twenty-five years later (I Cor. 15:4ff). In this summary of the evidence for the reality of Christ’s resurrection, Paul shows a sound instinct for the necessity of marshalling personal testimony in support of what might well appear an incredible assertion..

Paul knows of the Lord’s apostles, of whom Peter and John are mentioned by name as “pillars” of the Jerusalem community (Gal. 2:9), and of His brothers, of whom James is similarly mentioned (Gal. 1:19; 2:9). He knows that the Lord’s brothers and apostles, including Peter, were married (I Cor. 9:5), and incidental agreement with the Gospel story of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:30). He quotes sayings of Jesus on occasion, e.g., His teaching on marriage and divorce (I Cor. 7:10f) and on the right of gospel preachers to have their material needs supplied (I Cor. 9:14); and the words He used at the institution of the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11:24ff).

Even when he does not quote the actual sayings of Jesus, he shows throughout his works how well acquainted he was with them. In particular, we ought to compare the ethical section of the Epistle to the Romans (12:1-15:7), where Paul summarizes the practical implications of the gospel for the lives of believers, with the Sermon on the Mount, to see how thoroughly imbued the apostle was with the teaching of his Master. Besides, there and elsewhere Paul’s chief argument in his ethical instruction is t example of Christ Himself. And the character of Christ as portrayed in the Gospels. When Paul speaks of “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (II Cor. 10:1), we remember our Lord’s own words, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). The self-denying Christ of the Gospels is the one of whom Paul says, “Christ did not please himself” (Rom. 15:3); and just as the Christ of the Gospels called on His followers to deny themselves (Mark 8:34), so the apostle insists that, after the example ofo Christ, it is our Christian duty “to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Rom. 15:1)….”

p. 19-20 (All typographical errors mine)

More Variants than Words in the New Testament!

Quote of the day:

there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.
Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus p. 10

This is one of the most abused quotes from Ehrman's NY Times Bestseller Misquoting Jesus. Strictly speaking the quote is not factually incorrect - there are around 200,000-300,000 textual variants among our New Testament manuscripts.

However, there are two main issues with this quote that allows it to be abused. (1) Firstly, there is the use of these figures for what Ehrman calls "comparative terms" (Misquoting Jesus, p. 10). (2) Secondly, there is the unambiguous opening for what these textual variants are and mean.

The first issue is rather easily explained. By no means is this comparison suggesting that every word of the New Testament is disputed (or that there are thousands of errors!). What this figure actually demonstrates is that we have a lot of manuscripts for the New Testament. We have to put this claim into perspective - we have over 1 million+ pages of NT manuscripts. So, these variants don't seem as big as a deal as those attacking the NT would like us to think - and this is without exploring the next question! That is, what are these variants and what do the actually mean?

What are the variants?

As Prof. Daniel Wallace (Professor of New Testament Studies; Director for the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts) puts it:

"Once it is revealed that the great majority of these variants are inconsequential—involving spelling differences that cannot even be translated, articles with proper nouns, word order changes, and the like—and that only a very small minority of the variants alter the meaning of the text, the whole picture begins to come into focus. Indeed, only about 1% of the textual variants are both meaningful and viable. The impression Ehrman sometimes gives throughout the book—and repeats in interviews—is that of wholesale uncertainty about the original wording, a view that is far more radical than he actually embraces."

‘The Gospel According to Bart', Daniel B. Wallace

Or as Prof. Bart D. Ehrman (James A. Gray Distinguished Professor) himself puts it in Misquoting Jesus:

"To be sure, of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance for anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep focused any better than the rest of us.

'Misquoting Jesus', Bart D. Ehrman.

"In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and and away the [sic] most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another”

'Misquoting Jesus', Bart D. Ehrman

So now we know what these hundreds of thousands of variants are. In my experience (as testified to above by the experts) it is a rather difficult task in finding textual variants that lead to a change in meaning. But, alas, there are still some, albeit very few, textual variants among the thousands of NT manuscripts - so onto the next question!

What is the Impact of these variants?

As so simply put by the late Bruce M. Metzger (Collard Professor Emeritus of New Testament Language and Literature) in an interview with Lee Strobel:

Strobel: "How many doctrines of the church are in jeopardy because of variants?"

Metzger: "I don't know of any doctrine that is in jeopardy"

Strobel: "So the variations, when they occur, tend to be minor rather than substantive?"

Metzger: "Yes, yes, that's correct...The more significant variations do not overthrow any doctrine of the church. Any good Bible will have notes that will alert the reader to variant readings of any consequence. But again, these are rare."

In short - there is nothing new or changeable about this statement. The quote is simply there for shock value - to present a meaningless comparison and playup these variants.

Don't be fooled by it!