Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category

ANF – The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus

March 27, 2017

After considerable delay, here is another document in ancient Christian literature and the second document included in the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

The there is no authorial identification or designation, so we don’t know who wrote it.  The traditional title is The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, however mathetes simply means disciple in Greek.   The manuscript for some time was attributed to Justin Martyr, although stylistic differences have resulted in most scholars today dismissing that attribution.  Nor do we have any clear idea of the identity of Diognetus, although some propose that it is the teacher of Marcus Aurelius who we know had the same name.  Although convenient, it is at best a stretch to insist on this connection.  The date of the writing ranges from early second century (perhaps 130 AD) to sometime in the late second century, and is likely the earliest surviving example of Christian apologetics.

The letter purports to explain to Diognetus more about the Christian faith and how it differs from both Jewish belief and pagan religions.  The letter cites Christianity as a new kind of practice, arguing for a very early dating for the document.  The author also claims to be a disciple of the Apostles, which many argue means a very early dating but which could also be a description applied to Christians today.  Many scholars dismiss the last two sections as later additions.  Only one copy of this document is known to have existed, and it was destroyed in 1870.  It was first translated and published in 1592.

The author first demonstrates the futility of worshiping physical idols.  Then he moves on to dismissing Jewish religion as equally misguided.  The pagans are foolish in that they offer material things to carved images.  The Jews are silly in that they propose to offer material things to an immaterial God who has no need of them and who is indeed the source and creator of them.  The author then moves on to explain basic Christian theology, emphasizing the Gospel or the sweet exchange in which we who are dead in our sins are credited with the righteousness of the Son of the living God.

It’s a great, brief contrast of the Christian faith to other religions, emphasizing our need for and God’s provision of a Savior.

Book Review: Cold Case Christianity

February 20, 2017

Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels

by J. Warner Wallace

I ordered this and the children’s version of it for our family for Christmas.  I haven’t looked at the kids version, though my oldest son (14) was reading it and thought it was interesting.

This book is exactly what the title says.  Wallace applies his training and experience in working homicide cold cases (murders that remain unsolved for year and are no longer under active investigation) to examining the Gospels.  He utilizes his skill in evaluating witness testimony to determine that the Gospels are what they claim to be – eyewitness accounts of the ministry of Jesus culminating in his arrest, execution, burial, resurrection and ascension.

This is a form of evidential apologetics, which treats the actual facts and details of the New Testament documents as worthy of scrutiny and as more than able to stand up to critical evaluation both in terms of their legitimacy, authenticity, and accuracy.  This is a great resource for the person who wants to honestly and objectively evaluate the Gospels on criteria that should be acceptable to anyone who isn’t pre-disposed to disregard or dismiss them based on what they say.  I will be encouraging each of my kids to make use of this book as they grow in their faith and understanding.

I have only one real complaint about the book.  It’s a small one at the very end, and could have been easily omitted.  Wallace talks about becoming a two decision Christian, which I interpret to mean moving beyond an objective acceptance of the Gospels as authentic, to a subjective faith and trust that they apply to me.  He uses the example of a brief conversation with an arrested drug addict and bank robber.  Wallace basically believes that if this person had a real faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, if he had moved beyond an objective belief that to a subjective belief in Jesus as his Lord and Savior, then this guy would no longer be a drug addict and bank robber.  Jesus would have changed his life dramatically.

I understand the temptation, but I find this a patently offensive dismissal of faith in another person.  It’s clear that St. Paul spends a great deal of time exhorting people who already accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and are truly Christian, to quit behaving like they did before they were brought to faith.  In other words, it isn’t that they aren’t Christians, it’s just that living like a Christian is a big change for some people and they’re going to struggle in it.

Like I said, it was a very brief part of the book, and after the evidential apologetics work which this book does a great job of making understandable.  I just wish he hadn’t brought it up at all because it clearly wasn’t necessary.

So get this book for a very valuable lesson in how good the reasons are that we treat the Gospels as reliable witnesses to a very extraordinary Savior.

Contradictions – The Potter’s Field II

February 7, 2017

The next in this list of contradictions regards Matthew 27:9-10, where Matthew quotes Jeremiah as prophesying 30 pieces of silver purchasing a potter’s field.  However the author of the list alleges that this comes from Zechariah 11:12-13, not Jeremiah.  At stake is again the reliability of Scripture.  If Christians claim (and we do, historically!) that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, how is it that Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, flubs up his reference?

There are several approaches to resolving this alleged problem.  Some point out that Zechariah’s text actually has nothing to do with a field at all, and so Matthew can’t possibly be thinking of Zechariah but mistakenly crediting it to Jeremiah.  Rather, Jeremiah deals a great deal with the purchase of a field, though there isn’t a single verse or verses that are identical to what Matthew quotes.

Others point out that Matthew indicates what Jeremiah said, not what Jeremiah wrote.  In other words, of course it isn’t in the written prophesy of Jeremiah because that’s not what Matthew claims.  Perhaps Matthew is referring to a different writing of Jeremiah that is not canonical, or to a traditional saying attributed to Jeremiah as having been spoken, but that was not included in his written prophetic book.  Perhaps that Holy Spirit is inspiring Matthew by directing him to something Jeremiah said but didn’t write that nobody else knew about.  While all of these are possible, most skeptics are going to find them equally problematic.  If Matthew is thinking of another writing by Jeremiah, what was it, and why is there no record of it elsewhere?  While this is not itself a complete rebuttal of the explanation (there are other writings we know are referenced in the Bible but we don’t have copies of them), it’s not unreasonable.

The explanation I find more compelling is that there is a rabbinic tradition of referring to an entire section of writings in the Old Testament by only the first book, or by citing the first book of a section of Old Testament writings even though the particular quotation you’re using comes from a later book in that same section of writings.  The Jewish tradition groups the prophetic writings into two sections, a greater and lesser section.  The entire prophetic section together began with the prophet Jeremiah, not Isaiah as it is in the Christian Old Testament.  Jesus does a similar thing in Luke 24:44, where He refers to the entire Hebrew writings section simply as the Psalms, because Psalms is the first of the books in that section of the Old Testament.

The assertion that Matthew is mistaken is not necessary – there are other explanations that are reasonable.

Contradictions – The Potter’s Field

December 31, 2016

Number 11 on the list of contradictions takes issue with the two accounts of what happens to Judas and his money after his betrayal of Jesus.  Specifically, does Judas buy a field with the money or not?

The two Biblical texts allegedly in contradiction with one another are Acts 1:18-19 and Matthew 27:6-8.  However these are not the complete verses that are relevant, so I find the author’s technique to be questionable, at best.  Matthew’s full treatment of the topic includes 27:3-10.

Acts 1:18-19 just says that “this man” – Judas – acquired a field with the money he received from betraying Jesus.  That’s a pretty general statement.  Must it mean that Judas was active in this process, or could it mean that he was passive – that the action happened on his behalf, even after his death?  I understand that generally I would read theses verses in the active sense, as though Judas was personally the agent of this activity.

Unless I had a particular reason for believing the words could be interpreted differently.  These words could be understood in a passive sense, even though  that’s not necessarily how we expect them to be understood.  If someone in my congregation dies and leaves money for something at the church, we talk about how they purchased that item or contributed towards that project.  Did they actively do it?  No, it was done after their death, on their behalf.  Perhaps it was at their explicit direction but not necessarily so.  They may just leave an amount of money to utilized at the congregation’s discretion.  If they decided to update the sound system, we would still talk about how so-and-so made that possible.  They paid for it, despite the fact that it was done on their behalf after their death.

So although I acknowledge that the words in Acts would typically be understood in an active sense, as though Judas himself is purchasing this field personally, with the proper context and explanation, the words read just as naturally in the passive sense.  Matthew provides the context and explanation for why I should read Acts in the passive sense on this topic.  What is important to take into account in Luke’s account (Luke authored the book of Acts as well as the Gospel with his name) is that this was a well-known story.  Everyone in Jerusalem knew about Judas’ demise.  So Luke may not have felt the need to go into greater depth on the details the way Matthew does.

Matthew explains the fuller story.  Judas is wracked with remorse, it would seem.  Or else he didn’t think that Jesus would actually be condemned, that He would be declared innocent or would defend himself or would convince his accusers of his identity as the Messiah.  Whatever the case, things apparently don’t play out as Judas envisioned, or else he comes belatedly to the realization that his actions are sinful.  The commentator R.C.H. Lenski interprets the Greek to mean that only upon seeing the consequences does Judas repent.  He doesn’t necessarily think his actions were wrong, but he regrets the consequences.  His act of returning the money may be an attempt to offer a sacrifice for his sin, except it’s not the appropriate sacrifice.  So the leader’s reject it and direct him to make the appropriate sacrifices for his sin.

Instead, Judas hurls the money into the Temple, where it is picked up by the leaders who had dismissed him so callously.    He then goes and hangs himself.  Seeing no need to further incriminate themselves (or believing their actions in arresting and convicting Jesus to be truly righteous), the High priests collect the money.  They might be thinking of Deuteronomy 23:18 which indicates that some money is inappropriate to enter the treasury, so they need to find an alternate use for the money.  They purchase a field wherein to bury “strangers” – perhaps poor Jews that move to Jerusalem for their final days, or for Jews who die in Jerusalem while on pilgrimage.  Their were rules determining what land could be used for this purpose, and an appropriate field happens to coincide with where Judas hangs himself.  The connection between the field and Judas’ body is well known, even as Matthew is writing several years after the fact.

So, as with most of the alleged contradictions thus far, it’s not necessarily a contradiction.  And I’d argue that a reasonable, objective person, knowing the full story, would not find this to be a contradiction.  Judas is the means by which the field is purchased.  The fact that it happens after his death does not contradict the assertion that ‘he’ bought it.

As a postscript, the compiler of these ‘contradictions’ thinks that there is a contradiction in why the field is referred to as the Field of Blood.  He sees Acts as linking the name to Judas’ death there, which I think is correct.  But he interprets Matthew as linking the name of the field to Jesus, which I think is a misinterpretation.  Matthew does not clearly indicate why it becomes known as the Field of Blood.  Perhaps he finds the details unnecessary to convey at this point, as inhabitants of Jerusalem would already know them and others might not care about this detail.  I don’t see Matthew linking the name to Jesus in any way, though he does link the purchase of the field itself to Jesus and prophecy.  That will lead us into the next alleged contradiction!

 

Contradictions – Does Everyone Sin?

December 29, 2016

It’s been a while, but not forgotten.  The next alleged Biblical contradiction in the list is whether or not everyone sins.  Multiple verses are quoted saying that everyone sins – there is nobody who does not sin – 1 Kings 8:46, 2 Chronicles 6:36, Proverbs 20:9, Ecclesiastes 7:20, 1 John 1:8-10.  Then 1 John 3:9 is quoted as contradicting all of these.

We should note that 1 John is quoted on both sides of this issue, so if there is going to be a condemning contradiction, surely it would be catching St. John in contradicting himself in the same letter, right?

1 John 1:5-10 contrasts the nature of God, which is sinless and all together light – no darkness (sin) at all – with our own nature.  Our own nature is sinful and needs forgiveness, which is received through the blood of Christ (1:7).  The result is that we who were sinful are forgiven – the guilt of our sins is wiped away and we walk in God’s revealed truth (his Word) which points out our sinfulness and therefore our need of a Savior.  If we insist that we don’t need a Savior, that we are not sinful, then we contradict God and call him a liar.

1 John 3:1-10 is a deeper exploration of what the blood of Christ has accomplished in those who have faith in him.  Now we are not dealing with our sinful nature as distinct from the holy and perfect nature of God, but rather with our new nature through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf.  What we are is a new creation, but we can’t perceive this yet.  What we see is our sinfulness, because we are still sinful (v.2), but this is not who we are any more through faith in Jesus Christ.  We are, in fact, pure in God’s eyes, because our sin is forgiven and not held against us.  In this reality that has yet to be revealed, our lives are spent in anticipation of finally beholding our recreated selves, our sanctified, pure, and holy selves.  Knowing who it is we really are and will one day be shown to be, our lives are spent trying to live consistent with this new identity (v.3).

But those who think that their new identity in Christ is a license to continue sinning however they see fit do not understand what has happened to them, what is offered to them through the death and resurrection of the Son of God, and who they can in fact be.  They prefer sin to the reality of the new identity Jesus makes possible.  This confusion is referenced elsewhere, such as the 6th chapter of Romans where Paul deals with various aspects of this issue.

What John is dealing with in 1 John 3 is the Christian’s emphasis or focus in their life.  Is it on gratifying the self constantly, regardless of God’s love and grace?  Or are they practicing righteousness, seeking to live consistent to who God has declared them to be in Christ (vs. 7-8)?  For the one united in Christ, their heart cannot be set wholly on sinning – it can’t be where their joy and focus is, because Christ should occupy that place in their heart.  If they are able to focus only on their sinful desires – without struggle, without remorse, without acknowledging that it is wrong and that they need to be cleansed of such things by God the Holy Spirit – then they aren’t truly in Christ.  They may say they are, but they aren’t.

Note that this is not something that someone from the outside can determine.  I can see someone sinning, but I can’t know for certain the state of their heart and mind in that moment of sin, or in the moments afterwards.  I can’t know whether there is regret or remorse.  Therefore, it is not for one Christian to declare to another Christian that they are no longer in Christ.  Rather, we are to speak in love to one another pointing out the sin so that we can walk together towards undoing the power of sin in each person’s life.

So no, I don’t see 1 John 3:9 as a contradiction of the overwhelming evidence of the rest of Scripture that all human beings are sinful.  It’s a complicated passage, to be sure, but it doesn’t have to be a contradiction, unless you want to intentionally try and interpret it that way.

 

Contradictions – Jesus’Verdict

October 7, 2016

The next contradiction raised is that the four Gospels each record slightly different wording for the inscription which was carried by Jesus and/or affixed over his head on his cross.  This inscription was a common Roman practice and indicated the offense for which the person was being executed.  The Romans used crucifixion to make an example of people so that others would think twice before committing similar offenses.

The Gospel writers record the following:

  • Matthew 27:37 – “This Is Jesus the King of the Jews”
  • Mark 15:26 – “The King of the Jews”
  • Luke 23:38 – “This Is the King of the Jews”
  • John 19:19 – “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews”

It may not seem like a massive difference – and it isn’t.  But the implication behind the accusation of contradiction is that if the Gospel writers can’t even agree on something so basic, how can we trust their other details?

First of all, John tells us (19:20) that the inscription was written in three languages – Latin (the official language of the Roman Empire), Greek (the language of trade and the arts), and the language of the Jewish people.  Some translations render this as Hebrew in John 19:20, while others interpret this to mean the common language of the area, which was Aramaic.  Most translations interpret it to mean Hebrew, but the English Standard Version interprets it to mean Aramaic.  In any event, there were three inscriptions, not just one. One interpretation for why the accounts differ might be that each author referred to one of the inscriptions – Matthew to the Hebrew/Aramaic one (since he is writing for a Jewish audience), Luke the Greek one (as an educated man writing presumably to a Greek reader), and John the Latin (because John refers to the placard as the title over Jesus’ head, or titulus in Latin, and because the early church depicted the charge abbreviated in the Latin INRI.

We can also see that the differences are not in what is said, but how much is said:

Matthew

This is Jesus The king of the Jews

Mark

The king of the Jews

Luke

This is The king of the Jews

John

Jesus of Nazareth The king of the Jews

So is this a contradiction?  Once again, there is no contradictory statement between the four accounts – there is only a difference in how much of the statement is referenced.  And even this may be due to each author referring to a different language inscription.

Contradictions – The Beatitudes

October 5, 2016

Another alleged contradiction in the Bible is that Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) has eight of them while Luke’s account (Luke 6) only has four.  Isn’t this a contradiction?

Only if you assume that Matthew and Luke are describing the same teaching event.  Many people instinctively want to do this with the Gospels (because it is a long-standing tendency among Christians).  If two Gospels relate a similar thing, it must be the same thing, and therefore any discrepancies in the two recordings becomes problematic.  I think this attempt to overlap the Gospels has grown more fervent because of a popular (though not necessarily correct!) academic assertion that Mark wrote his Gospel first (since it’s shortest), and then Luke and Matthew expanded on his.  Thus similar events actually are the same event.

But look at some of the details provided in the Gospels themselves.  We’ll start with Matthew.  Matthew’s account of Jesus’ teaching occurs on a hilltop – the Sermon on the Mount.  It happens (if we expect Matthew to be recording things chronologically) before Jesus has called all of his disciples.  It is early in Jesus’ ministry.  In Luke’s account, Jesus is teaching in a low, level place – a valley perhaps.  The twelve disciples have already been called and are present.  And Jesus’ fame is such that it has spread beyond Galilee and even Judea to the areas of Tyre and Sidon – non-Jewish settlements, and some of those people have actually come to see and hear Jesus!

It sounds to me like two separate events.  Did Jesus never repeat himself?  Did He never expand on a teaching He gave previously?  Those are big assumptions, assumptions the texts don’t require or even suggest.  I think Jesus taught similar themes on two occasions in two different locations to two different groups of people (which would make more sense than teaching the same lesson twice to the same people!).

Contradictions – Saul’s Death

September 7, 2016

Who killed Saul?

  • 1 Samuel 31:3-7 claims that Saul killed himself by falling on his sword
  • 2 Samuel 1:1-10 claims that an Amalekite killed him (or more accurately, it reports that the Amalekite claimed to have killed him)
Firstly, it’s important to note that 2 Samuel 1:1-10 simply reports what the Amalekite claimed – it does not claim that he spoke the truth.  He claims to have ended Saul’s suffering, an act of apparent mercy that earned him execution by King David for his impertinence and disrespect of the office of king.  So we don’t know that the Amalekite’s story is actually true.  He might have crafted the story in order to impress David and perhaps earn his favor.  If so, his plan backfired.
Secondly, it’s possible that the account in 1 Samuel 31 is accurate – Saul falls on his sword, as does his armor bearer, thinking that King Saul is dead.  However it’s possible that Saul didn’t die, and that the Amalekite finds him grieviously wounded and then does what he claims to in 2 Samuel 1.  I think this theory is a bit less likely.  The writer of 1 Samuel 31 certainly sounds authoritative in stating that Saul and his armor bearer died by their own hands.
In any event, once again it isn’t necessarily a contradiction.

Contradictions – Who Killed Goliath?

September 6, 2016

1 Samuel 17:19-50 indicates that David killed Goliath.  Yet 2 Samuel 21:18-19 indicates that Elhanan did the deed.  Is this a Biblical contradiction?

No, and there are two separate reasons why.

Most of the explanations I came across have to do with what is likely a scribal error in copying the text in 2 Samuel 21.  They draw in 1 Chronicles 20:5, and argue that based on this passage, it is easy to see how a scribe mis-copied the Hebrew by misreading two Hebrew characters, so that the brother of Goliath becomes Goliath.  I track with and generally agree that this is an accurate explanation – a scribe copied the text incorrectly.

But all of that is also assuming that there is only one Goliath.  I think this is the bigger problem that apologists skip over when addressing the alleged contradiction.

If you read the two accounts in 1 Samuel 17 and 2 Samuel, it seems very clear that these are two separate events.  1 Samuel occurs when David is yet a shepherd boy, the youngest brother sent by his father to check on his brothers at war.  2 Samuel is well after David has become king.  So why would we assume that there is only one large man named Goliath?  Is it unreasonable to conclude that there could be more than one Goliath?  That both were very large men?  In 2005 archaeologists uncovered an engraving from this time period and area with the word Goliath.  That could mean that Goliath was a common name.  And it could be that Goliath might be a term or name given to particularly large guys in this area, at this time, sort of the equivalent of our calling a large, intimidating guy Tiny.

In other words, it is not impossible that there were two Goliaths, both of them very large and strong.  Trying to defend the idea of a singular Goliath may be useful, but I’m not sure it’s necessary.  Either way, there isn’t necessarily a contradiction here.

 

Contradictions – Rooster-Crowing

September 5, 2016

The next alleged contradiction in Scripture has to do with the number of times the rooster crows on the night of Jesus’ betrayal.  The alleged contradiction has to do with the Last Supper, when Peter asserts that he would follow Jesus even to death and Jesus tells him that he will deny him this very night.  In Mark’s gospel (14:30), Jesus specifies that Peter will deny Jesus before the rooster crows twice.  Matthew 26:34 doesn’t specify a number of crows.  Luke 22:34 says that before the rooster crows at all, Peter will deny him three times.  John 13:38 agrees with Luke.

This sounds like a pretty obvious contradiction at surface level.  But must it be so?  No.

We note that Mark’s account of that night includes the first crowing of a rooster (14:68).  Strange that this apparently has no impact on Peter.  We aren’t told that Peter considers this first crowing, or even notices it (at the time).  We remember that Mark is recounting Peter’s words on this subject, so if Peter had taken any note of this first rooster crowing at the time, it is reasonable he would have said so and Mark would have noted it.  He only realized it afterwards, after the full import of Jesus’ prophecy and his own fear convicted him.

According to various sources (Fausett’s Bible Dictionary, etc.) roosters in the first century in Jerusalem were known to crow twice in the night – once shortly after midnight, and then again, more strongly and pronounced, just before dawn, around 3am.  It was this second crowing that people were most cognizant of, because it was the louder, the more pronounced one, the one which acted as an alarm clock.

It is entirely reasonable then, to think that Matthew, Luke, and John remember Jesus’ words relevant to the final crowing of the rooster – the only crowing that people paid any attention to.  It was prior to this crowing that Peter would deny his Lord three times.  However Peter, the guilty party, remembered it more specifically, that Jesus had specified not just the main crowing, but was detailed enough to say the second crowing.  The first crowing would be overlooked by everyone, even Peter, even though Jesus had given him specific warning, a means of being reminded by the first crowing!

One person summarized it this way:  If you’re going to a basketball game with a group but  you’re sitting in different areas, you’ll make an arrangement on where to meet after the buzzer.  What is meant by this is the final buzzer.  Most everyone in the group will know this, and it isn’t necessary to elaborate.  A friend unfamiliar with the game and the use of buzzers might think that you’re supposed to get up and leave after the first quarter buzzer, but then it could be further explained to them that only the final buzzer is the one that really matters.

So the issue of the rooster crowing doesn’t have to be contradictory.  Peter is more specific, as we would expect the person directly involved in the situation to be.  Jesus is referring to the final crowing, the second crowing of the rooster.  All of the disciples would have understood this, but Peter is the one who supplies the most detailed account of it.