Outreach Part 2: More in Depth on The Reliability of the New Testament and also a Christian Theology of “The Problem of Evil”.

This is the second part of the Sunday School class I taught at Christ the King Presbyterian Church. I cover more in depth why we can trust our New Testaments, and then also a Christian Theology of the Problem of Evil.

 

Here are some additional resources that I have posted before but are still incredibly useful and good to go over frequently:

 

 

Also, If you are in the Saint Petersburg Florida area check out my church!

http://www.ctkpcaseminole.com

 

Samuel

To Break Though

This is might be more of a confessional post than a informative one. In my small group, us guys are reading A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. Fantastic. In chapter 3-Removing the Veil, he talks about how the veil to the holy of holies was torn but that there is still a veil over our hearts even as regenerate Christians that we have left in place, and that is the veil of sinful self. It keeps us from entering the Presence.

I would say that currently the vast majority of my time as a Christian is standing outside the holy of holies and not entering into the presence of God in a meaningful way. I still am in the temple and have access, but have not fully entered in to commune. By that I mean, I love to read, I love to learn but to really desire God in such a way that he truly is my treasure, truly is my passion, and truly is my motivation is something I long to have as part of my normative Christian walk.

Yes, this is partially an emotional experience, but so much more. It is a conscious awareness of being in the Presence. It is excitement for the things of God; it is an excitement to learn of God, and an excitement to spend time with God. Many can probably relate to Christianity as a chore. Bible reading is hard, committed prayer is hard, and just keeping a good testimony is hard. This is because my treasure is misplaced, not necessarily sinful in things either, but just wrongly prioritized.

I love to learn, which has been God’s gracious way of motivating me to still learn about Him even without a consistent spiritual connection; but the main thing that drew me to John Piper’s ministry was that he seemed to have an essential part of Christianity that I lacked-sincere, consistent desire.

So, I desire to break through the veil of my selfishness and enter into the Presence; to truly commune with God; to be consciously aware of Him, and to be doing the things I do out of a heartfelt passion for God.

For example, when reading chapters 3 and 4 of Tozer’s book I literally was having a worship experience. I was so grateful to God for the truths that were being expounded upon, for the council being given, and the exhortation being infused into my person. I found myself internally saying “Yes, this is right! Thank you God!”.

I do have moments like these and I understand that since I am a sinful human that it will always be a life long pursuit of God, but I believe it is obtainable to have an awareness and communion with God in the every day and have that be the normative experience vs the exception.

Here are three books that have helped many, including myself, with this topic:

Desiring God-John Piper

When I Don’t Desire God-John Piper

The Pursuit of God-A.W. Tozer

Trust the New Testament? By the #’s

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I was re-watching a presentation given by Dan Wallace, the CEO of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, on the reliability of the New Testament.  Every time I look at this topic I am increasingly more amazed by the truth the data presents. (Note: the information in this post comes mostly from the presentation linked below, but some of the numbers have been updated according to the CSNTM website’s most recent information).

Let me drop a few numbers here:

-We have just around 5,900 hand-written Greek Manuscripts (the language the NT was written in) containing the New Testament, either in part or in whole.

-We have over 10,000 Latin Manuscripts, one of the 1st languages the NT was translated into.

-We also have somewhere between 5-10 thousand manuscripts of varies other ancient translations such as Syriac, Coptic, etc. That may seem like a large disparity (between 5 and 10 thousand) but the truth is we just are not sure how many there actually are.  We do know that it is no less than 5,000.

Why is this impressive? Because for the average ancient work, we have no more than 20 manuscripts. That is not a typo- 20, a two and a zero, and this is being generous. Homer is the only exception but even Homer’s 600 is a far cry from the 20,000-25,0000. Oh, and that 20+thousand doesn’t even include the quotations from earlier church fathers. We could reproduce the NT several times over just off of their quotes alone.

Oh, and there is one more thing- time.

The earliest, again being generous, copy of any other ancient work comes from over 500 years after the document was originally written, this time including Homer.

For the New Testament we have a fragment, P52 (pictured above) of John from no later than 150 AD, and some papyrologists have dated it as early as 90 AD. That is a mere several decades after the events described took place! We have quite a few manuscripts from the first several centuries as well, some being entire copies of the NT.

This is an unprecedented amount of textual evidence that is entirely unmatched in historical academia.

There is nothing in all of the ancient world that comes even close to having the historical veracity of the New Testament.  If you believe that Julius Caesar existed, than there is no historical grounds for denying the events of the NT. If you believe anything you learned in history about Egypt, Babylon, Rome, or Greece; than it is intellectually obtuse to disbelieve the accounts in the NT. I am not trying to name-call, I am simply stating that if someone denies that the NT, as we have it today, contains what the original authors wrote; they are either ignorant of the information, or coming at the information with a strong bias.

Remember, because of the way the texts were copied-by anyone who could write, and from all over the place geographically-there was never one group in control of the text to make wholesale edits. If someone would have tried to insert a doctrine, or take a doctrine out, it would have been immediately discovered because it wold be the only one of its kind, and when compared to the rest of the manuscripts, it would stand out like the Pope at a cowboy church (I would love to see the expression on the Pope’s face when he sees them baptizing in a water trough filled from the garden hose attached to the stage).

It has been cleverly said that we have a 10,000 piece puzzle with 10,001 pieces. Nothing has been lost from the original autographs so, even though we do not posses the original manuscripts, we can with the utmost confidence trust that we have the word of God as written by the followers of Christ.

This is just the tip of the iceberg because there are textual variants and differences, but again, we have more information than needed, not less.

All this to say: Christian, trust the Bible; non-Christian, trust the Bible.

It contains the Words of Life. No man comes to the Father except by Him who is declared through out all of its pages, that is Jesus Christ; who died and rose so that we may have eternal life and fellowship with God. Something not possible without Him, for He forged in blood the way for the defiled to commune with the Holy.

The words contained inside the Bible our true and this is what these words are for:

“Now Jesus did many other sign in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31

Here are some additional resources for those interested in going deeper. As always, feel free to ask questions.

Books: The King James Only Controversy by James White

Videos:

 

Also check out Daniel Wallace’s short videos on iTunes U about textual criticism.

 

Free Will

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What does it mean to have free will? Commonly, persons who hold to the Doctrines of Grace (also known as Calvinism/Calvinists for theological shorthand) are accused of believing that people are robots doing only what they have been programmed to do.  Calvinist are accused of saying that human beings do not have “free will”.

So again I ask, what is free will?  By this, is it meant that humans have autonomous decision making ability? That is to say, a will totally free from outside influences? This is logically untenable and experientially an impossible position for which to advocate. We are so  incredibly fickle as creatures that we make decisions based off of what we ate for breakfast, and how it made us feel physically or emotionally.

The counter to that is to say, “Yes, but what I ate for breakfast doesn’t determine what I do, it just influences it.” Ok, maybe I can grant that, as long as there is the understanding that autonomous decision making does not exist because, by definition, autonomous free will means making decisions without external influence, determinant or not.

So, let me now make the argument that we never do anything that we do not desire to do. “Sure I do,” you may say “I get up and go to work all the time and I hate it, but I do it anyway.” This does not disprove my statement. “When I am dieting, I choose not to eat ice cream even though I desire it.” Again, this does not disprove my point. You are choosing to do the things you desire the most. You desire they paycheck and means to live in the first example, and you desire the benefits of the diet more than the ice-cream in the second example. Take any decision that you make and you will realize you will ALWAYS chose the course of action that you desire the most.

However, to risk sounding contradictory, a persons holding to reformed theology, or at the very least Calvinism, will affirm that human beings are free beings, but limited in our freedom due to our natures. We can only choose the things we desire and simply put, our sin nature does not allow us to chose God, who is the only autonomously free being. He must take out our hearts of stone and give us a heart of flesh that desires Him.

This truth is commonly mischaracterized by making this merciful action by God analogous to God dragging people into heaven kicking and screaming like He is violating their free will. Ok. If you want to be technical, God is changing your heart “forcefully” but let us be clear, this is an act of LOVE, not violation.

If your friend is unaware that they are headed toward a cliff, it is not a violating act to grab them and change their direction. This saving act would be met with life-owing gratitude. Our response should be the same to God as the friend’s, who was just saved from the cliff, would be…humbled, heartfelt gratitude and thankfulness.

It is also common to accuse those who believe in election of having an arrogant theology. “You think you are so special because God has chosen you. How arrogant!” (in fact, see this article from the satire site Babylon Bee…which I find humorous). While I grant that there are arrogant people who believe in the doctrine of election, it is most certainly not exclusive to reformed theology. If you start reading comment sections on the inter-web you will see the arrogance radiating brightly from both camps…welcome to human sin nature.

If someone is calming to be something other than a wretched sinner in need of God’s saving grace, then they have completed missed the point of God’s electing mercy. We are so worthless and dead in sin that we NEEDED a savior because we could not chose God on our own. This is what is meant when a Calvinist says that human beings do not have a free will: Our will is enslaved to sin.

And where is this doctrine derived? For if it is not in the Bible I want no part. Here are some good references:

“As it is written‘None is righteous, no, not one.'” Romans 3:10

“All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:12

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romand 8:7-8

“No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up in the last day.” John 6:44

 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears  much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

“Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Eph 2:5

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses…” Col 2:13

For other fantastic resource on this topic, (for by-no-means simply take my word on the matter) see Johnathan Edwards essay “The Freedom of the Will”, Martin Luther’s “The Bondage of the Will”, and this sermon by John Piper.

Christian, rejoice in the fact that you are loved and chosen for adoption by God. Understand that faith comes by hearing the Word of God; so go and fulfill the great commission. We are the instruments to whom He has graciously gifted the privilege of spreading His kingdom for the hope of the lost, and the spreading of His glory.

The Apostles Creed

I belive in God the Father, Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived of the virgin Mary;

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven;

And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;

The holy catholic* church; the communion of saints;

The forgiveness of sins;

The resurrection of the body;

And the life everlasting. Amen.

 

*universal church

Confessions

Something Christians need to get back to, and thankfully many are, is the reading, memorizing, and reciting of the old confessions and creeds. These documents were drafted by very devout men, who articulated the essential articles of faith in such a way as to be succinct and edifying. Most of the questions people ask of the faith are answered within these creeds and confessions.

If you have never read them before, here is list of some of the best:

Westminster Confession of Faith, as well as the Longer and Shorter Catechisms

The Belgic Confession

The Heidelberg Catechism

The 1689 London Baptist Confession

The Chalcedonian Definition of Faith

The Apostles Creed

The Nicene Creed

None of them take long too read so maybe today, instead of reading about that embarrassment of a game from the Cavaliers, you can read one or two of these creeds and confessions.

(I will embed links, some free some not, but all have free PDF versions somewhere in the interspace. Also, the New Reformation Study Bible [R.C. Sproul General Editor] from Ligonier Ministries has most of these in the back).

Here is an excerpt from one I was reading today, on a topic I believe many churches have lost the understanding, the meaning, and importance of: the sacraments/ordinances.

On the Lord’s Supper from the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q.76: What is it then to eat the crucified body, and drink the shed blood of Christ?

A: It is not only to embrace with a believing heart all the suffering and death of Christ, and thereby to obtain pardon of sin and life eternal; but also, besides that, to become more and more united to His sacred body, by the Holy Ghost, who dwells both in Christ and in us; so that we, though Christ is in heaven, and we on earth, are not withstanding “flesh of His flesh, and bone of His bone”; and that we live, and are governed forever by one spirit, as members of the same body are by one soul.

The Texts are Boring

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Many of us suffer from “dry reading”, but there is a book out there that totally blew my mind when it came to reading the Bible.  Reading the Bible often feels difficult, not enjoyable, and boring. Yet, as Christians we feel guilty about feeling this way so we press on in our un-enthusiatics attempts at establishing a daily reading discipline. We know this is what we are supposed to do yet there is no desire, no passion. This is a major reason John Piper’s ministry has been so impacting on me. Christianity was a duty, not my life, nor my passion. My faith was emotionless and dry, so was reading the Bible, and this is not Biblical Christianity.

Now, before I get hammered by those who reacted to the word “emotion”, let me state clearly that I am NOT an advocate for sensationalism nor emotions as a primary source of motivation or truth. I am a confessional Christian who loves liturgy, loves the historical confessions (Westminster Confession of Faith, Heidelberg Confession, The Beligc Confession, etc) and the creeds (The Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, etc). So give me good, grounded, intellectual faith. But!…to model ourselves after the Vulcans with the denial and suppression of emotions is to deny who God is and how he made us. To make a pop-culture reference: The movie Equilibrium built a great plot around the value of emotions (also, it is one of my favorite Christian Bale movies).

So what does this have to do with the Bible being boring?  May I submit that the reason the Bible is “boring” is that because we are ignorant of it. The more I read and learn from the Holy Spirit and other scholars, old and new, the more the Bible becomes a vast treasure trove of links, connections, and depth that I could not have possible seen before. Here is a section from the book, Deep Exegesis by Peter Leithart, that I mentioned blowing me away.

“What is John 9 about? It is story about Jesus. Jesus preforms a sign, revealing himself as the one sent by the Father, as the creator of the new Adams, as the light of the world. He is the Son of Man, the eschatological judge of Daniel 7, who comes into the world to blind those who see and to give sight to the blind.

It is also a story about a blind man healed by Jesus. The blind man has never seen the light of day and spends his pathetic life begging outside the temple. One day, a man named

Jesus stops and talks with his disciples, puts some clay on the blind mans eyes, and sends him off to wash in Siloam. When he returns, he can see, but he cannot see Jesus because Jesus is gone. His neighbors and friends are befuddled but since it is a Sabbath day, they turn to the Pharisees for a legal judgment. The Pharisees interrogate the man and come to a dead end: they do not want to endorse Jesus, but they cannot deny that the man can see. They turn to his parents, but that interview too ends in frustration. When they come back to the man, they try to bully him with threats and unfounded declarations about Jesus’ sinfulness. Something is happening to the man who was once blind. He started out knowing only Jesus’ name, but when the pharisees ask him what he thinks of Jesus, he says that Jesus is a prophet. When they come back for a 2nd interrogation, he has gotten bolder, doggedly pointing to the fact that he can see and asking how a sinner could do such a thing. In his boldness, he turns ironic: “Do you want to be his disciple too?” It is the pharisees again who push him along in his commitment to Jesus: “We are disciples of Moses; you are his disciple.” Finally, they expel him from the synagogue, and as soon as he steps over the threshold Jesus is waiting outside for him. The blind man has deepening sight. He knows Jesus’ name, then confess him as prophet, then confesses he has come from God, and finally confesses him as Lord and Son of God and prostrates himself before Jesus.

Not so obviously, it is also a story of Exodus. Early in, John links Jesus with Moses (1:17), And he tells a story of Jesus preforming signs that correspond in detail with the signs preformed by Moses in Egypt. Moses turns water to blood; Jesus turns water to wine. Moses brings hail and lightening to Egypt, Jesus calms a storm. In Egypt, locust eat all the grain, but Jesus feeds the 5,000. Moses brings darkness to Egypt, while Jesus brings a blind man from darkness to light. The specific plot of John 9 also retells the story of Exodus. Jesus, the prophet greater then Moses, delivers the man from the Egypt of darkness and sends him through the waters. The man enters the wilderness of trial, temptations, and threat, where the leaders of Israel insist that this new Moses cannot be from God, but the blind man is a faithful Joshua or Caleb, who confesses Jesus with boldness in the face of the giants of the land.

Not so obviously, John 9 is also a story of Genesis…Jesus makes clay to make a man new, and reveals himself as the eternal light who’s light came into the world on the first day and who became incarnate in these last days. Jesus is also the Lord who opens the eyes of the blind man, just as Adam and Eves yes where opened at the tree.

It also a story about the pharisees, a story about Israel’s reaction to Jesus, a story about the mans parents, a story about discipleship…” (141-142)

To be sure, Leithart has some…interesting theories, but to his credit, he points out that some of his speculations may be unfounded, but are interesting to tease out.  As Christians, this is ok. There is a difference between meditating on God’s Word that involves speculation, and preaching something as gospel truth. Hopefully this excerpt helps people see that what they read on the surface of the texts is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more that lies underneath.

Leithart names his chapters as such :”The Text is a Husk”, “Texts are Events”, “The Text is a Joke”, “Texts are Music” etc. and just pores out knowledge and analogies that, when reading this book, I was so overwhelmed with information and feelings of ineptitude that I just wanted to go into a corner and shrivel up. But it was like a good work out; you hurt during but feel great afterwards. This book showed my that ironically, I had been reading the Bible for years but had not yet even begun to read it.

So how does one start you may ask? Try something easy. When asked how he knew what to preach on Charles Sprugeon said: “I take a text, and make a bee-line for the cross.” So let me encourage you, take a text and see how it points to Christ. Yes, there is danger of eisegesis (reading things into the text that aren’t there, i.e. inserting your own meaning) but the Bible is so Christo-centric that it is fairly easy to see where the Old Testament is pointing to Christ. Here are some examples to get started: Moses as a type of Jesus, or the Tabernacle and it’s foreshadowing of redemption and it’s picturing of Jesus. The Holy of Holies as the throne room of God and how only priests could go in, so when Christ dies and the veil was torn this was establishing believers as the royal priesthood mentioned in Peter, who all have access to the throne.

So just as the “…blind man is being healed by the the Sent One in the pool of sending, and thereby becomes one sent, a type of apostle. He is plunged into the pool “Sent” by the One Sent, immersed in the Sent One’s sending” (102)  so we are sent to understand the Word. So go forth and seek! No longer may the text be boring!

The Testimony of Witnesses

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I do not know the who the author of the chart above is, but it conveys fantastic information pertaining to the veracity of the Gospels. As a follow up to my previous post on “Q”, I want to explain why the synoptic gospels are written the way they are, and why a testimony of witnesses does not equal a contradiction.

If you look at the chart, you will see that there is a great deal of similarities and differences between the accounts. Some have claimed that they seem to all come from a single source document and then the authors of the synoptics just added or changed things dependent on what they wanted to teach. Note: this is to say in addition to Jesus’ teachings. I deny this claim. For some reason, when it comes to the Bible, critical scholars like to throw out normal rules and run with a presuppositional agenda when review the information. There is nothing wrong or academically dishonest about harmonizing various testimonies of the same events.

For example: You, me, and a friend of ours become part of the presidents personal entourage and travel with him everywhere for 3 years. Later in life, we decided to write about our experiences. If one were to read these accounts they would be able to substitute our names into the chart above. We are all going to tell the story of our 3 years from different perspectives and with different details, but as a whole, the accounts will be the same.

Now, let’s take a specific example from the Bible that Muslims apologists have to used:

In Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 we have 2 accounts of Jesus and the faith of the centurion. The short version is: the centurion came to ask Jesus to heal his servant, Jesus marvels at the faith of the centurion, and heals his servant. However, the dispute arrises as to whether like in Luke, Jesus went with the centurion, or like in Matthew it would seem to indicated that He did not go, but just declared the paralyzed servant healed.

Here are the keys:

1.Jesus never actually goes to the centurions house in both accounts but proclaims the paralyzed servant healed before ever getting there.

2.Can anyone say that my summary of the account is in error or contradictory to the one in Matthew and Luke? No,  it is just summarized.

3.Same with Matthew. Matthew did not seem to consider it relevant for his purposes to communicate that specific of details. Matthew does not specifically say “Jesus didn’t go”.

4.Luke is a physician who also writes like a historian. It is no surprise he was more detailed in his account.

They both tell them same story from different perspectives. This is not a contradiction. When reading the Bible, it is ok to harmonize. We need to realize that yes, the Bible is the word of God, but it was inspired not dictated.

This highlights in essential difference between Muslim belief and Christian in regards to Holy Scriptures. To a Muslim, the Qur’an is the exact, verbatim word of God (in arabic), Muhammed just wrote it down. To the Christian, the Bible is also the word of God but He used men to write it. Men who wrote through the lens of their experiences; men who wrote through their personalities; men who wrote according to their gifts; and men who wrote according to how the Spirit lead.

All this to say, you can trust the Bible. There is no contradiction with having different witnesses tell the same story from different perspectives. Some may have more detail, some may have less but I say again, THAT IS OK! We do not have 4 different gospels as the Muslim may suggest, nor do we have contradictions like the secularist claims. There is one gospel: Humanity is dead in it’s sin, it needs a savior, Jesus is that loving savior, believe and have eternal life.