Friday, February 10, 2017

Does God exist?

How do I know if God exists?  Can anyone know if God exists?  An agnostic (a, not + gnosis, knowledge) believes that God may exist, but humans are incapable of knowing whether there is a god.  Even if there is a God, humans are not able to know anything of that God for certain.  An atheist (a, without + theos, god), on the other hand, outright denies there is a God.  Since no one alive today has seen God - setting aside for the moment those who think they are God - it is necessary to indirectly determine His existence.  A few of the best known arguments for God’s existence are the teleological argument, the cosmological argument, and the moral argument.  One lesser known, the argument from desire, is rather elegant and is also discussed here.  There are others which will be covered on other pages.  It is unlikely that any one argument will be completely convincing; however, the cumulative case becomes very compelling. 

I. The Teleological Argument (or the Argument from Design)

Someone walking through a field who sees a bird may believe it evolved through natural processes.  But, if that same person finds a wristwatch lying in the grass, he would immediately know an intelligent being purposely made the watch, even though the watch is vastly less complex than the bird.  The teleological (from telos, end or result) argument, also known as the argument from design, states that because the universe displays design, there must be a designer.  When we look at a painting, even a simple one, we know someone created that painting.  The watch example was made famous by William Paley (1743-1805), who expounded upon this example in his book Natural Theology.  Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) also used the teleological argument as one of five ways he demonstrated God’s existence. 

Scientific advances in very recent history indicate that even simple, single-cellular organisms are incredibly complex, raising serious challenges to undirected origins of life and naturalistic, Darwinian evolution.  Darwin’s ideas were very ingenious, but at the time he wrote, microscopes were not advanced enough to see the inner workings of a living cell.  Ernst Haeckel, a great admirer of Darwin and popularizer of his theory, believed that a cell was a “simple little lump of albuminous combination of carbon”.[i]  He couldn’t have been more wrong.  The probability of even one protein forming by chance is astronomical, to say nothing of all the other necessary components of a single cell.  In fact, this one aspect of cellular development has been addressed by chemists Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen.[ii]  They determined that, in the absence of any chemical competition with non-amino acids and nonbiologically relevant amino acids – in other words, an ideal situation – the probability of aligning the correct amino acid in a specific position in a protein molecule is 1.25%.  Calculating from there the probability of correctly aligning at least one hundred amino acids necessary to form even one simple protein, is roughly one chance in 10191.  This does not even address the numerous other requirements for the formation of even one single cell, such as:  nucleic acids (RNA and DNA), homochirality of amino acids, cellular membrane, transport mechanisms, lipids, and so on.  Scientific evidence is solidly in the court of intelligent design, leaving the burden of proof in the court of those who advocate undirected, naturalistic origins.   

The teleological argument is not only greatly bolstered by technological developments on the microscopic level, but also on the astronomic scale.  Carl Sagan believed that Earth is an ordinary planet circling an ordinary star in an ordinary galaxy.  He proposed the idea that if there is life on Earth, then many other planets probably also have life.  Is that true?  People have for years worked under the auspices of the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Program to find signs of life on other planets.  However, when we begin to examine the narrow parameters necessary for life to exist, suddenly it is evident that this planet is anything but an ordinary pale blue dot in the vast universe.  Astrophysicist Hugh Ross, president of Reasons to Believe, has listed 154 parameters necessary for life as we know it to exist on a planet.[iii]  The list is obviously much too lengthy to quote here, but suffice to say, Earth is significantly more unique that previously thought.  To give one example, too few gamma-ray burst events in the galaxy would lead to insufficient production of copper, scandium, titanium, and zinc for complex life to exist.  Too many gamma-ray bursts would result in too many mass extinction events on earth. 

Astronomical parameters, combined with microscopic biological observations, present very strong arguments for intentional design and hence an intelligent designer.  As tourists recognize the purposeful design in the painting of the Sistine Chapel, study of the universe, and the exponentially higher level of design, leads one to agree with Paul:  “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:20).

II. The Cosmological Argument

Anything that has a beginning must have been caused by something else.  The universe has a beginning; therefore, the universe must have been caused by something (or someone).  Something cannot cause itself to come into existence.  For example, I could not have caused my own birth (time traveling in science fiction films notwithstanding).  The law of causality states that every finite thing was caused by something else.  Working backwards in time from each effect to its cause, we eventually arrive at a first effect.  What was the first cause?  Most would probably agree to call that first effect the Big Bang.  The logical question then is what caused the first event?  Because the universe adheres to certain physical laws, such as cause and effect, something outside of the natural, physical universe must have been the cause.  Because matter and time began at some point in the past, something different from physical matter and time must have been the cause, such as an eternal, non-physical creator. 

Red Shift
A note must be made here that, for those of us in the 21st century, the big bang theory appears to be very reasonable and well established.  However, this theory has only become generally accepted in recent history.  Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) believed the universe was eternal and, even as recently as the 1920s, most astronomers also believed the universe had always existed.  Two discoveries made in the early part of the 20th century provide scientific evidence for a beginning to the universe, contradicting the notion of an eternal universe.  When Albert Einstein published his equations of general relativity, it was realized that they predicted an expanding universe.  Einstein, by his own account was “irritated” by the notion of an expanding universe and devised a number called the “cosmological constant”, a fudge factor, in an attempt to disprove the idea of an exploding universe.  Later Einstein admitted this was a mistake and called his cosmological constant the biggest mistake of his life.[iv]  A Belgian mathematician Georges Lemaitre proposed the idea that the universe was expanding like a burst of fireworks in a 1927 journal article.  Credit should also be given to Alexander Friedman who, in 1922, proposed the notion of an expanding universe.  Edwin Hubble published a paper in 1929 explaining that distant galaxies are receding from us.  He determined this by noticing a consistent red shift in the light spectra.  This phenomenon is like the Doppler effect with sound, in which a train moving quickly toward you has a higher pitch (shorter wavelengths) than a train traveling quickly away from you (longer wavelengths).  The same thing happens with light and fast-moving objects, with the light spectra from those moving away from the observer shifting toward the red end of the spectrum.  Galactic redshift does suggest expanding space-time, indicating that matter in the universe is moving apart very quickly, as if there was a gigantic explosion long ago.  This was the first solid evidence indicating the universe may have not always existed, but had a beginning at some finite point in the past.

Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation
A second key piece of evidence for a beginning to the universe appeared in a brief paper by Soviet astrophysicists in 1964.  It was proposed that, if the universe had a beginning with a massive explosion, there should be detectable cosmic background radiation still evident even this many millennia later.  Working at Bell Labs in 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were experimenting with communication satellites. To measure these faint radio waves, they had to eliminate all recognizable interference from their receiver.  When Penzias and Wilson reduced their data they found a low, steady, mysterious noise that persisted in the receiver. This residual noise was much more intense than they had expected, evenly spread over the sky, and present day and night.  After thoroughly checking their equipment, removing some pigeons nesting in the antenna and cleaning out the accumulated droppings, the noise remained. Both concluded that this noise was coming from outside our own galaxy.  At that same time, astrophysicists at Princeton University were preparing to search for microwave radiation in this region of the spectrum.  They reasoned that the Big Bang must have scattered not only the matter that condensed into galaxies but also must have released a tremendous blast of radiation that should still be detectable.  Penzias and Wilson at Bell Labs began to realize the significance of their discovery. The characteristics of the radiation detected by Penzias and Wilson fit exactly the radiation predicted by researchers at Princeton University.  They met and interpreted this radiation as a signature of the Big Bang.  In 1978, Penzias and Wilson were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their joint discovery.

So what?  Everyone knows the universe began with a big bang, right?  The point is that many scientists and philosophers for thousands of years believed that the universe was eternal.  Only recently has evidence – such as the red shift and the cosmic background radiation – shown that the universe had a beginning.  This fact significantly supports what the Bible has stated for 3,400 years:  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  Scientific evidence and philosophy support the cosmological argument for God’s existence. 

[i] Farley, J., The Spontaneous Generation Controversy from Descartes to Oparin, (Baltimore, MD:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), 73.
[ii] Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin:  Reassessing Current Theories (Dallas, TX:  Lewis and Stanley), 113-166.
[iii] Hugh Ross, Fine Tuning for Life on Earth, at:, 2004.
[iv] Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity (Washington, DC:  Regnery Publishing, 2007), 117.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Is the Bible the words of God? (Old Testament, Part 2)

A.  Bones will not be broken
David again wrote a specific prophecy concerning Jesus death: “He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken” (Psalm 34:20).  Then, John records that, when “the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs” (John 19:32-33).  This is unusual given the nature of crucifixion.  Victims needed to push up using their legs to take a breath when on the cross.  When hanging, they were unable to do so effectively.  This repeated pushing up to breath, then slumping back down, continued agonizingly for days sometimes.  To hasten death, the executioners broke the victims’ legs so they would be unable to push up for a breath.  In Jesus’ case, the soldiers recognized that He was already dead, so this was unnecessary, fulfilling a prophecy made ten centuries earlier.

B.  Side will be pierced
The fact that Jesus’ legs were not broken leads to another very specific prophecy.  Zechariah wrote, “they will look on me whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10).  John then recorded that, “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:34).  John then continues, “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe” indicating he was an eyewitness of these events (John 19:35).  Zechariah predicted this about 550 years previous and John saw this firsthand.

C.  Darkness over the land
The prophet Amos, around 760 B.C., recorded a prophecy from God which stated, “I will make the sun go down at noon and make the earth dark in broad daylight” (Amos 8:9).  Then, when Jesus died, Matthew recorded that, “from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour” (Matthew 27:45).  Not only is this mentioned by Matthew, an eyewitness, but it was also recorded by Thallus, a Roman historian, writing possibly around 52 A.D.  Unfortunately, Thallus’ work did not survive, but was apparently extant in 221 A.D., when Julius Africanus wrote that, “Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun”.[1]  This is further confirmation of the events recorded in the Bible.    

D.  Resurrection
David predicted the resurrection of Jesus Christ more than 1,000 years prior to His birth, when he wrote, “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol (the grave); nor will you allow Your Holy One to undergo decay” (Psalm 16:10).  Then, as the Apostle Paul pointed out, David was obviously not referring to himself, because “David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay; but He whom God raised did not undergo decay” (Acts 10:36-37).  The resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ was predicted in the Old Testament, further demonstrating the Bible is from God.

I.             Archaeology
Many archaeological discoveries made within the past 100 to 200 years validate records written in the Bible over 2,000 years ago.  Space does not permit a listing of all these, but a few will suffice to illustrate that the Bible is a reliable and trustworthy document, based in factual history. 

A.  Hittites
The Hittite civilization was founded around 1,800 B.C., with the two great periods of Hittite power having been around 1,800 B.C. and again about 1,400 to 1,200 B.C.  This people-group then seem to have disappeared around 717 B.C. when Carchemish was conquered by Sargon II and the Hittite people were absorbed by the Assyrian empire.[2]  The NASB version of the Bible  mentions the Hittites 47 times from Genesis through Ezekiel.  Several mentions of these people in the Bible are as follows:

1.    Genesis 23:10–11 - “Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; …, saying, ‘No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it.”
2.    II Samuel 11:3 – “So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, "Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?"
3.    Exodus 33:2 – “"I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.”
This may sound like dry stuff, but here’s the point:  For many centuries, the only record of the Hittite’s existence was in the Bible.  Because no documentation was found of these people in secular historical records, the Biblical accounts were doubted (standard operating procedure for liberal Biblical critics).  Then, beginning in 1871, artifacts and monuments began to surface.  Enough evidence was discovered that, in 1884, William Wright published The Empire of the Hittites and A. H. Sayce published The Hittites – The Story of a Forgotten Empire.  A major breakthrough occurred in 1906-07, when approximately 10,000 clay tablets were found at Boghazkoi, which contained a wealth of information about these people.[3]  When examining records of ancient civilizations, some key points should be kept in mind.  One of the leading experts on the Hittites, Harry A. Hofner, formerly of Yale University, notes that “it is possible to identify at least four distinct ethnic groups in antiquity to whom the name ‘Hittite’ has at some time been applied.”  At least two of these groups, the Hattians and the Nesites, are likely not mentioned in the Bible.[4]  Through extra-Biblical evidence, what the Bible has stated for thousands of years has again been demonstrated to be accurate. 

B.  Cyrus cylinder
The prophet Jeremiah, writing about 605 B.C., predicted the captivity of the Israelites - and the exact length of that captivity - when he stated, “This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jeremiah 25:11).  Jeremiah then predicted the return after 70 years of the people back to Israel: “For thus says the LORD, 'When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill my good word to you, to bring you back to this place’” (Jeremiah 29:10).  About a hundred years earlier, around 705 B.C., the prophet Isaiah gave a very specific prophecy stating, “It is I who says of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd!  And he will perform all my desire and he declares of Jerusalem, 'She will be built,' and of the temple, 'Your foundation will be laid'" (Isaiah 44:28).  Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian invaded Palestine and carried off many captives, including Daniel and his three friends.  In 539 B.C., Babylon fell to Cyrus the Great and four years later, after Cyrus issued a decree permitting the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, the work began in Jerusalem.  This was exactly 70 years after the beginning of the captivity, exactly as the prophecy was stated by Jeremiah.  Ezra 1:2-4 quotes the decree issued by Cyrus allowing the return of the Jews and rebuilding of the temple.  The very fact that he permitted this is unusual and the truth of this was doubted by some scholars.

In 1973, French archaeologists found a large Persian stele (stone slab or pillar bearing an inscription or design and serving as a monument) in a Greek temple at Xanthos, Turkey which contained Aramaic, Greek, and Lycian writing.  This stone containing cuneiform writing is known as the Cyrus Cylinder.  It is a record of King Cyrus crediting his god Marduk with his success.  Some of the writing records the return of captives to their own lands to worship their own gods.  This included the Jews, exactly as was predicted by Jeremiah and Isaiah.  Some of the text of the Cyrus Cylinder is as follows:
“…I returned to [these] sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been in ruins for a long time … I [also] gathered all their [former] inhabitants and returned [to them] their habitations… all the gods … brought into Bablyon … unharmed, in their [former] chapels…”[5]
The Cyrus cylinder, dated from approximately 538-529 B.C., housed in the British Museum, is not only additional archaeological evidence for the historicity of the Bible, but also of the divine nature of the Bible as seen in fulfilled prophecy.

It is not necessary to take a blind leap of faith to believe the Bible is accurate.  Manuscript evidence shows the Bible was reliably copied by scribes over many centuries.  Historical accounts written in the Bible were shown to be accurate centuries later by archaeological and extra-Biblical historical evidence.  Fulfilled prophecies link the Old Testament and the New Testament, demonstrating the veracity of both.  Here’s the big question we all must ask ourselves:  If it is reasonable to believe the Bible is true and inspired by God, what should I do?

[Biblical quotations are from the NASB version.]

[1] Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson, He Walked Among Us (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993), 35.
[2] Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Volume II (San Bernadino, CA:  Here’s Life Publishers, 1975), 339-340.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 341.
[5] Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out (Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 1997), 251-252.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Who is Jesus?

Was Jesus begotten?
Is Jesus God’s only begotten son?  The familiar passage in John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”.  The Bible also states, “and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14,18).  These verses seem to indicate that Jesus is a literal Son of God the Father.  Some of the confusion results from the Biblical use of the term “begotten” in referring to the Father’s relationship with Jesus.  The Greek word translated “begotten” in the New Testament is monogenēs (Strong’s G3439), which means, not a result of biological procreation, but rather, “single of its kind; one and only; unique; only”.  This term is also used in Psalm 2:7, which is quoted three times in the New Testament, “Today you are my Son, today I have begotten you.” (Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5; 5:5)  The Hebrew word used here is yālad (Strong’s H3205), which is used in the Old Testament (O.T.) to indicate biological birth, but also is used in a broad range of other meanings.  This point is illustrated in other O.T. verses that have nothing to do with human biological procreation.  God has begotten or brought forth (yālad) “drops of dew” (Job 38:28) and the “frost of heaven” (Job 38:29).  The wicked bring forth (yālad) “falsehood” (Psalm 7:14) and God gave birth (yālad) to the “mountains” (Psalm 90:2).  So, the sonship of Jesus Christ is the more broad metaphorical description of his relationship with God the Father, not the narrow biological meaning.  Furthermore, it would not make sense to use the biological meaning because God is Spirit (John 4:24). 

Is Jesus the firstborn over all the creation?
The Bible says of Jesus that “He is … the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).  So, it appears God the Father created Jesus first, then the remainder of the creation.  Some have suggested that Jesus was created as an angel.  Was Jesus created?  Was Jesus born?  The Greek word used for firstborn is prōtotokos (Strong’s, G4416), translated into English as:
“firstborn (human or animal).  In Biblical culture, the firstborn had higher status and received a greater share of the inheritance.  Jesus Christ, as the firstborn of God, is of supreme status and inherits all things.”[1]    
This word may also be used of a literal biological firstborn child, but in the ancient Hebrew culture, the term carried much more meaning.  Ron Rhodes explains that, “Christ is the firstborn in the sense that He is positionally preeminent over creation and supreme over all things.  He is also the heir of all creation in the sense that all that belongs to the Father is also the Son’s.”[2]  It is clear that the Biblical writers did not rigidly hold to a literal biological interpretation.  A good example of this is Psalm 89:27, which states of David, “I also shall make him my firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”  David was the youngest son of Jesse, but was given the preeminent position over all other kings.  In Jeremiah 31:9, God says, “For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.”  But, Manassah, not Ephraim, was the literal firstborn son of Joseph (Genesis 41:51-52).  In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), the Hebrew word bekor (firstborn) is consistently translated into Greek as prōtotokos.  The Septuagint translators used the word prōtotokos to translate Exodus 4:22 into Greek: “Then you shall say to Pharoah, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Israel is My son, My firstborn.’”  So, God calls Israel and Jesus His firstborn Son, clearly indicating a positional sense to the term. 

This example of a Greek word translated into English, prōtotokos to firstborn, indicates to modern English readers the importance of having good translations and an understanding that words used in different languages, different cultures, separated by large periods of time can have slightly different meanings.  In some cases, a simple one-to-one translation does not give a proper understanding of the complete meaning.  Even if words appear to easily translate one for one, such as “firstborn”, the full meaning is not the same in ancient Israel as in the 21st century world.  An additional point should be kept in mind regarding the question of whether Jesus was the first created being, before all others.  Use of a literal interpretation would not necessarily signify that God the Father procreated in a biological sense, with Jesus as a literal (not figurative) son.  If that was the case, who is Jesus’ mother?  She could not be Mary because Jesus is the firstborn of all creation, which would chronologically place His birth prior to Adam and Eve.  So, God as Father and Jesus as firstborn Son are understood, not in a literal biological sense, but as descriptions of their nature and position. 

Did Jesus create all other things?
Referring to Jesus Christ, the Bible states, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:16).  Some have inserted into this verse the word “other” to indicate that, through Jesus, “all other things were created”.  The intent is clear:  The theology teaches that Jesus was created by God the Father (Jehovah) first as Michael the Archangel, then Jesus worked with the Father to create everything else.  This verse in Colossians gives the impression that Jesus was eternal with the Father and was involved in all of the creation.  The justification used for inserting “other” here is that the Greek word for “all” (panta) may be translated into English as “all other” to make the text more readable.  For example, they reference Luke 13:2, where Jesus said, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other (panta) Galileans because they suffered this fate?”  Panta here is the accusative plural masculine form of the adjective and the meaning given by Strong’s is “all, every, whole, always” (Strong’s G3956).  No word for “other” is found in the Greek manuscripts and its insertion does not contribute to a smoother reading of the text.[3]  This Greek word (pas or the form panta, Strong’s G3956) is used about 1,200 times in the New Testament to mean “all, every, whole, or always”.  If Paul had intended to say “other”, he could easily have added the word allos (Strong’s G243), which is used 142 times in the New Testament to mean “other, another, or others”.  Or, he could have used the word heteros (Strong’s G2087), used 89 times to mean “other, different, another or others”.  This is nothing more than inserting a word into the Bible that was not placed there by the original writer and changes the meaning of the verse to fit one’s theology, rather than determining the meaning from the text.  Proper Biblical exegesis (interpretation of a text) involves making adjustments to our doctrine to fit the intended meaning of the text, not vice versa. 

It is interesting to compare Colossians 1:16 with Isaiah 44:24, which states, “I, the Lord (Yahweh), am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by myself and spreading out the earth all alone”.  How could God (Yahweh) have created all things “all alone” if Jesus was also involved as Colossians indicates?  In reading the verses preceding Colossians 1:16, it is evident that this passage is clearly referring to Jesus Christ.  The only explanation is that Jesus Christ the Son and God the Father (Yahweh) are considered to be a single deity and a unity.  The trinity will be discussed in another question, but suffice to say, scripture informs us that Jesus is God and is the Creator.  Other verses also indicate that Jesus is the creator, for example John 1:3 states, “All things came into being through Him [Jesus], and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

Is Jesus eternal?
In John 8:58, Jesus makes a very interesting – and controversial – statement when He said, “Before Abraham was born, I am”.  This is clearly an intentional reference to Exodus 3:14, when God (elohim, Strong’s H430) said to Moses, “I am who I am”.  The Jewish religious leaders knew Jesus was equating Himself with God, because in the very next verse, we read that they picked up stones to stone Him for blasphemy.  Jesus was even more clear on another occasion when He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  Again, the Jews recognized this as blasphemy – and it would have been if any other human would have said this.  They said to Jesus, “you make yourself out to be God.”  The Bible plainly states that Jesus is eternal when the prophet Isaiah said, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  Though He is called Father in this verse, it is clearly referring to Jesus, because it foretells of a child who will be born.  There seems to be a contradiction within one verse:  A child is born who will be called Eternal Father.  However, by Jesus stating that He is one with the Father, it shows that Isaiah was not confused or senile when he wrote that.  Ron Rhodes notes that the term “Everlasting Father” could also be translated as “Father of eternity”, indicating that Jesus possesses this quality, similar to stating that He is the “father of strength” or “father of knowledge”.  In fact, in the Targums - paraphrases of the Old Testament used and studied by the ancient Jews – this phrase in Isaiah 9:6 is rendered as “He who lives forever”.[4] 

John stated of Jesus, “He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:2) prior to the creation of “all things” (John 1:3).  If Jesus Christ came into existence sometime in the distant past, we have nothing in the Bible to indicate that.  The Bible makes no statements that Jesus was created, but rather that He is the creator of all things.  The Bible states that Jesus Christ is eternal.

Jesus is the same form as God the Father
In Philippians 2:6-9, the Apostle Paul states that Jesus, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  These verses show that Jesus, prior to his physical birth in Bethlehem, existed in the form of God.  These verses also make clear that Jesus Christ is deserving of worship, a statement that is never made of a human or angel.  Jesus Christ is, in His very essence, God.    

Paul stated, regarding Jesus Christ, “in Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).  The Greek word translated as fullness is plērōma (Strong’s G4138), which means “that with which any thing is filled or of which it is full, the contents, hence, fullness, filling.”  Another verse in which the same Greek word is used is Colossians 1:19, in which it is stated, “For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness (plērōma) to dwell in Him [Jesus]”.  Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D., in the Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, gives a more thorough explanation of plērōma:
“Also it denotes a fullness of the Godhead in Christ (Col 1:19; 2:9) meaning that in the person of Jesus Christ, God was in His fullness and not simply in His manifestation.  Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man.”[5]
The Bible states that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), but nowhere does the Bible indicate that the fullness of God lives in any man, except Jesus Christ. 

The question may arise:  Does it matter whether or not someone believes that Jesus is equal with God?  If a person believes in God and believes in Jesus Christ as Savior, will that person be saved?  Paul and Silas told the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).  That person’s salvation will be left in God’s hands, but an important point to consider is that many different religions have vastly different teachings concerning the identity and nature of Jesus.  Belief in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation, but if this belief is in a very different Jesus than the one portrayed in the Bible, that person’s salvation may be in jeopardy.  For example, if I believe that Jesus is the angel Michael, will I be saved?  If I believe that Jesus was a good religious teacher, but not the perfect Son of God, will I be saved?  The point of this discussion is not to split hairs, but to help us to be certain we are believing in the real Jesus.  That makes all the difference in this life – and the next.        

(Biblical references are from the NASB version.)

[1] James Strong, John Kohlenberger, and James Swanson, The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2001), 1640.
[2] Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 1993), 130.
[3] Ibid., 76.
[4] Ibid., 166.
[5] Spiros Zodhiates, Executive Editor, The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1996), 1663.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Is the Bible the words of God? (Old Testament part 1)

Is the Bible reliable?  Is the Bible a trustworthy book?  In other words, is the Bible from God?  These are valid questions if we plan to base our lives – and our eternal destiny – on the Bible.  If it is not reliable and not from God, then we may gain as much benefit from reading any other religious or philosophical book.  If, however, the Bible can be reasonably shown to be historically accurate and trustworthy, there are critical and profound implications for each of us today.  One key point to remember in making this determination is that the burden of proof should not exceed that found in modern courtrooms:  One should not be presumed guilty; rather, one should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.  In other words, we should not enter this inquiry with a presupposition, which many have done, that the Bible must be inaccurate.  The books of the Bible should receive the same benefit of the doubt as any other ancient historical books. 

The authenticity of the New Testament has already been covered on this website, so this article will address the Old Testament.  Because so much of the N.T. is dependent on the O.T. and vice versa, demonstrating the reliability of one comes very close to validating the other.  Four major categories of evidence for the truth of the Old Testament are covered here:  manuscript evidence, the New Testament, prophecy, and archaeology.

I.             Manuscript Evidence
The Old Testament was completed around 400 B.C., according to conservative scholars.[i]  At a minimum, we know the O.T. was completed at least by 250 B.C. because the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek at that time.  Alexander the Great reigned from 336-323 B.C. and, during this time, many of the Jews were scattered throughout the Greek empire.  Shortly thereafter a need arose for the Hebrew scriptures to be translated into Greek, which many Jews had learned to speak.  During the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, the Greek version of the O.T. was produced, with at least some of it completed around 285 B.C.  The Pentateuch, or first five books of the Bible, was translated first, then other books later.[ii]  This Greek version is known as the Septuagint (or simply LXX), from the Latin word for seventy, because there were seventy translators who worked on the project.  The Septuagint was completed by approximately 250 B.C., indicating that the Hebrew scriptures were, of course, finished before that time.  Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C. – A.D. 50) evidently knew the Greek version of the scriptures and Josephus (c. A.D. 37-100) generally depended on the Septuagint when writing Antiquities.[iii]  Exact dates are not critical; the point is that there is ample evidence the O.T. was completed prior to the first century. 

One of the first questions that needs to be addressed is whether the documents which are the Old Testament have been reliably copied and transmitted to us today.  The O.T. was written over a period from approximately the fifteenth century to the sixth century B.C.  The oldest manuscript (MS) of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament that was available prior to 1947 is the Cairo Codex, dated around A.D. 895.  This is located in the British Museum and contains both latter and former prophets.  The earliest complete MS of the O.T. is the Codex Babylonicus Petropalitanus (A.D. 1008), now located in Leningrad.[iv]  Were the original documents faithfully copied by scribes for more than a thousand years?  There are several reasons to believe they were.  One, the New Testament writers during the first century A.D. quoted the Old Testament numerous times and those quotes match very closely with the manuscripts.  Second, early church fathers, writing from the second century on, quoted the O.T. numerous times.  Third, a very significant discovery occurred in 1947, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves near Qumran.  In these caves were found approximately 600 scrolls and thousands of fragments, which contained portions of all of the O.T. books except Esther.  The entire book of Isaiah was found and this was dated to around 125 B.C.  The Essenes or other Jewish group had hidden these scrolls in 11 caves near the Dead Sea to preserve them from the impending attack of the Romans around A.D. 68.  So, the scrolls can be dated at least to the first century A.D. and some, such as the book of Isaiah, were dated by paleographers to around 125 B.C., placing these more than 1,000 years earlier than any manuscripts we previously possessed.[v]  A comparison of the Isaiah manuscripts – separated by about 1,000 years - showed that the copies from Qumran “proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text.  The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.”[vi]  Comparisons of other books led to the same conclusion:  The Old Testament has been reliably copied and transmitted through the years to us today. 

II.           Corroboration with the New Testament
Another reason to believe that the Old Testament is reliable and authoritative is that the New Testament writers directly quoted or alluded to O.T. writings, citing them as divinely inspired.  Roger Nicole stated, concerning New Testament quotations and references to the O.T., “a very conservative count discloses unquestionably at least 295 separate references to the Old Testament. These occupy some 352 verses of the New Testament.”[vii]  If clear allusions are taken into account, the figure is much higher.  Every N.T. writer directly quoted or referenced O.T. scriptures as true.  Jesus Christ referred to many of the most questioned O.T. passages, such as the creation of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4-5), Jonah and the great fish (Matthew 12:40-41), Noah’s flood (Matthew 24:37-39) and the creation of the world (Mark 13:19).  Jesus spoke of these and other O.T. events as real historical occurrences.  Jesus spoke of the imperishability of the O.T. when He stated, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).  In John 10:35, He also stated, “the scripture cannot be broken (cancelled or annulled).  Jesus taught that the scriptures are the truth of God when He asked the Father to “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).  Jesus included the entire His acceptance of authoritative books when He stated, “from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah” (Matthew 23:35).  Abel is mentioned in Genesis 4 and the book of Zechariah was at the end of the first century Jewish Bible.

Luke validated the authority of the Psalms when he wrote, “the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas” (Acts 1:16, reference to Psalm 41:9).  Paul cited the O.T. numerous times as holy scripture, for example in writing to the Romans, “For what does the scripture say?  ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:3, reference to Genesis 15:6).  James 2:23 cites the same verse in Genesis, stating “the scripture was fulfilled”.  Peter asserted the authority of the O.T. by stating, “For this is contained in scripture: ‘Behold I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed’” (1 Peter 2:6, reference to Isaiah 28:16).  If Old Testament historical accounts are not accurate, then we must throw out the New Testament as well.  Jesus and the New Testament writers believed that the Old Testament is true and inspired by God. 

III.          Prophecy
Did the prophecies foretold in the Old Testament come true?  This would be a valid test for the divine inspiration of prophetic messages.  Conversely, if some are clearly demonstrated to be false, the divine inspiration would be disproven.  Many of the prophecies in the O.T. told of specific details concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Depending on the specificity, if one or two of these prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus, they may be dismissed as coincidence.  But, as numerous references made hundreds, even a thousand years before Jesus, and some very unusual and specific, the case for a divine inspiration of these writings becomes overwhelming.  Jesus appealed to messianic prophecies on a number of occasions, such as is recorded by Luke, who wrote, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He [Jesus] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).  New Testament writers also appealed to prophecies fulfilled in Jesus, including Acts 10:43, which states, “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”  Josh McDowell, in his landmark book Evidence that Demands a Verdict, states that the O.T. contains over 300 references to the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus.[viii]  In the book, 61 of these are listed in detail.  A few examples here will illustrate the point sufficiently.

A.  Bethlehem
One of the clearest references to Jesus in the Old Testament is in Micah 5:2, written around 700 B.C., which states, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for me to be ruler in Israel.  His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity."  Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was recorded in Matthew 2:1, Luke 2:4-7, and John 7:42. 

B.  Thirty pieces of silver
The prophet Zechariah, around 520 B.C., provided at least three distinct prophecies regarding the betrayal of Jesus when he wrote, “I said to them, ‘If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!’  So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. Then the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.’  So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the Lord.” (Zechariah 11:12-13).  About 550 years later, Matthew wrote, “Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’  And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.  The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, ‘it is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.’  And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter's Field as a burial place for strangers.” (Matthew 27:3-7).  This one O.T. passage, fulfilled in one N.T. passage, details three specific and unusual prophecies:  1)thirty pieces of silver, 2)thrown into the house of the Lord, and 3)used to buy a potter’s field.

C.  Hands and feet will be pierced
Approximately 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus, King David wrote several very specific prophecies, including much of Psalm 22, which states in one verse, “A band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet” (Psalm 22:16).  Then, Luke records that Jesus proved His identity to the disciples by showing them the scars in His hands and feet: “’See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’  And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet” (Luke 24:39-40).  David predicted that Jesus’ hands and feet would be pierced.

[i] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology (Bloomingham, MN:  Bethany House Publishers, 2002), 439.
[ii] F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1988), 43.
[iii] Ibid., 46.
[iv] Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (San Bernadino, CA:  Here’s Life Publishers, 1972), 56.
[v] Ibid., 58.
[vi] Gleason Archer, A Survey of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL:  Moody Press, 1964), 19.
[vii] Roger Nicole, in Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl. F.H. Henry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958), 137.
[viii] McDowell, 144.