Sunday, November 28, 2004

How do we Know Jesus Wasn’t Just A “Nut Ball” Walking Around Claiming to be God’s Son?

I believe one should definitely investigate the claims made by anyone who wants people to give their lives over to him. This question has made many rounds through the ranks of professional psychologists many times. One of the many things they have consistently noted is that Jesus simply doesn’t fit the profile of someone who is mentally disturbed. Think about what symptoms you may know a mentally disturbed person to have and then compare them to who Jesus was. Contrary to mentally disturbed person, Jesus never displayed inappropriate emotions. Jesus was able to hold a rational conversation and he didn’t jump to faulty conclusions. He didn’t dress odd or have a weird diet. He had no difficulty in relating to others. In fact he was able to relate to all different kinds of people from all walks of life. When you compare who Jesus was to someone you know to be mentally disturbed, you’ll see that behaviorally, the two have nothing in common.

A second test you could use to see whether or not Jesus was insane or not, would be to investigate his actual claims. For example, let’s say I told you I was the President of the United States. Now if I was insane, I would surely believe that I was the President. However, you probably wouldn’t take my word at face value. You’d probably look to see if I lived in the White House. You’d ask where my Secret Service agents were, and probably watch the news to see if that was me giving speeches. It probably wouldn’t take you very long to realize I wasn’t the President. It is no different with Jesus. If Jesus simply claimed to be God, as some cult leaders do today, that wouldn’t mean very much. However, Jesus backed up his claims. He performed miracles never before and never since seen. He commanded the forces of nature and He even raised himself from the dead! If this wasn’t enough you could evaluate the things that he taught. People from all religions and all cultures agree that Jesus was one of, if not the single greatest moral teacher to have ever walked the face of the earth. Does it make sense that the greatest moral teacher of all time would be insane? I would argue no

Monday, November 22, 2004

Who Made God?

This is a very good question. It is also a very philosophical one and therefore has a philosophical answer. You may need to re-read this two or three times before it makes sense but I will do my best to make it understandable. The very definition of who God is, is explained as “the uncreated creator of the universe.” Therefore God, by definition, is uncreated. The question of who made Him becomes illogical. It’s kind of like asking “Who is that bachelor married to?” The very thing you are describing is impossible. Another way to look at it is like this: God invented time and an inventor cannot be held captive to his invention. Our concept of time moving forward (the future) and moving backward (the past) is the frame of reference we use to mark certain events. Yet God invented this frame of reference. Because God invented it he can’t be forced to be in it. If God isn’t forced to be in time, than he doesn’t need to have a beginning point because a beginning point would be bound in time. Are you confused yet? If so, try re-reading it slowly.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

I Heard The Bible Was Not Even Invented Until 400 Years After Jesus Lived?

Usually when I hear this statement, a few clarifying questions show that the person making the claim is just passing on information they’ve heard and have never really investigated it for themselves. Fortunately, I have studied and researched it and I’ll go ahead and set the record straight.

Let’s start with the Old Testament (OT). The most common argument I’ve heard is that books were added to the Old Testament until 100AD with some books being debated until 200 AD. I'm sorry but this just isn't true. The Talmud (teachings) was being compiled during this time, but those are different than the original Hebrew texts. Although Scholars disagree on an exact date, we can say for certain that the Hebrew Bible was completed by around 250 B.C.. This was the time the Septuagint was created FROM the Hebrew Bible TO a Greek translation. (The Septuagint is the Hebrew Bible [Old Testament] written in Greek for Jews living outside of Israel that didn’t speak Hebrew anymore). By necessity a Hebrew Bible had to be present to have a translation made. The Septuagint was very familiar by people of Jesus' day and quoted by many New Testament (NT) authors.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have provided an amazing insight into the age of the OT manuscripts. Vast manuscripts were found including every single book of the Old Testament (except for Esther). These scrolls when compared with the Masoritic texts (dated at 900 AD) show them to be virtually identical. The Dead Sea texts are dated at 125 BC so we can say for certainty that even if we disregarded all the other evidence we have, Isaiah was in its complete form by 125 BC at the ABSOLUTE LATEST. As if this weren't compelling enough, Josephus, a Jewish Historian (who was not a Christian) wrote of the closing of the canon (by name, identical to our current books) as occurring in 4th century BC. It seems ridiculous for us 2000 years later to disregard a secular Scholar living during the time in question.

Now let’s look at the New Testament. First, the complete canonization (canonization means declaring the books of the Bible to be the Holy Word of God) of the Bible (both OT and NT) occurred in 393 AD at the Synod of Hippo. Up until this point, people had little problem determining authentic Scriptures (the Word of God). However, soon various counterfeit "Scriptures" were going around and combined with the edict of Diocletian (303 AD) which required destruction of Christian sacred books, it became apparently clear we needed an "official canon." It should be important to note that the church "determined" the canon much the same way a jury will "determine" a verdict, or a student "determines" an answer, but the church did not have any authority over the canonical works. That is, a book didn't become Holy just because the church said it was. The church used the following criteria to establish the extent of the NT canon:

1. Was the authorship by an apostle or close friend of an apostle?
2. Was the author a Christian leader from the church's first generation?
3. Is it supported by historical traditions as to the writings' authorship and authority?
4. Was it accepted and used by churches throughout the known world?
5. Is it in consonance (complete agreement) with known NT writings and the church's "rule of faith"?

It should be noted that only criteria # 1 was, by itself, sufficient to merit inclusion in the canon. These criteria were combined with the teachings of the apostles to "test the Scriptures." Also, remember that during this time people were being executed over their faith, therefore they didn't just haphazardly decide to include some books but not others. They knew full well they could be killed over these books so they had extra incentive to make sure they were legitimate. Finally, we know that between 13 and 22 of the NT books (that is all but 5 of them) are for sure Scripture based off of other statements in the Bible. (i.e. 1 Tim 5:18, 2 Pet. 3:16, etc.).

Hopefully now you have a little bit more understanding as to how our Bible came to be. As we have seen, the canonization was just a process to make the Scriptures that were already being widely used, including by Jesus Himself, as the complete and true word of God. I believe that it is now apparent that contrary to popular belief, in the case of the Bible there is no correlation between date of canonization and the truthfulness of the words.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Aren’t all Religions Pretty Much the Same?

America is a very pluralistic society (Pluralistic means that “multiple religions are practiced and each one should be viewed as true and valid). Therefore it’s not uncommon to hear statements like “all religions are the same” and “there is truth in every religion.” Over the next few moments we are going to take a brief look at some of the major religions and see how they compare with each other in the three most basic and fundamental components a religion can have; Existence of God, Salvation (how to get to heaven), and Who was Jesus. After this brief look you will see that the major religions are not only, not the same, but in most cases are complete and total opposites.

The first area we will compare is whether or not a personal God exists. Buddhists deny the existence of a personal God. Hindu’s believe in millions of Gods with the two main ones being Vishnu and Siva. Muslims believe in one God but he is non-interacting with humans and very impersonal. Christians and Jews believe in one God that created humans in his own image, loves them, and longs to have a relationship with them. Here we can see that 4 of the worlds 5 largest religions have very different views about whether God exists, how many of them there are, and how God interacts with the world.

The second area we will compare is that of Salvation; that is, how to get to heaven. Buddhists believe “salvation” is by reaching “Enlightenment” through self-effort. (It should be noted that Buddhists don’t believe in a “heaven” per se, it is more like they are breaking the cycle of reincarnation to achieve a state of peace). The Hindu equivalent of heaven is called “Moksha” (It is a "uniting with the Brahman"). One achieves this state by doing good works through the cycle of reincarnation. Once one has achieved the ways of activity, devotion and knowledge, they break the reincarnation cycle and go to Moksha. Muslims believe they go through life with a good angel on their right shoulder and a bad angel on their left shoulder. Each angel records the good and bad deeds the Muslim has done throughout his lifetime. When the Muslim dies he stands before Allah (God) and hopes his good list outweighs his bad list. Even if the good list is longer, Allah still doesn’t have to let him into paradise (heaven). Allowance into paradise is completely at Allah’s will and there is nothing a Muslim can do to secure salvation. (The only exception is to die as a martyr fighting for Islam [which explains why there are so many suicide bombers]). Christians believe they are sinners separated by God because of their sin. Jesus Christ came to pay that price for our sins by dying on the cross and rising again on the third day. Christians believe that if you believe in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins you can KNOW FOR SURE that you will be in heaven when you die. There are many reasons for believing this but 1 John 5:11-13 is one of the strongest verses because it uses the word “know.”

Okay are you still with me? We’re almost done. The third area we’re going to look at is who is Jesus Christ? Buddhists believe that Jesus was a good teacher. But for the most part they don’t feel that he did anything particularly special and therefore don’t pay any special attention to him. Hindu’s believe that Jesus was just one of many incarnations or “sons of God” Yet they believe he wasn’t a unique son of God. He was no more divine than you or me and he certainly didn’t pay for anybody’s sins. Muslims recognize Jesus as one of, if not the, greatest of all the prophets. However they don’t believe Jesus was God, he didn’t die on the cross, and he didn’t pay for anyone’s sins. Judaism has a very strong stance on Jesus. The Israeli Supreme Court has issued a decree that says “anyone who believes in Jesus as the Messiah is no longer a Jew.” Jews have many different beliefs on who Jesus was but usually it boils down to he was either a great teacher or an imposter Messiah. Christianity has a different view about Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God (that is he was 100% God and 100% man). Christians believe that Jesus was sinless, he died to take away the sins of the world and offer salvation to anyone that wanted it, and he rose again from the dead on the third day.

Whew! That took a little while but I think it was very important. As you can see, the religions of the world are very, very different. We didn’t look at some obscure teachings hidden deep in the sacred texts of these religions, we looked at the basic fundamental belief structure of these religions. I hope you now understand that all religions can’t all be the same. God either exists or he doesn’t. If he exists he is either personal with his creation or he is not. Reincarnation either exists or it doesn’t. Salvation is either guaranteed or it isn’t. Jesus Christ was either God or he wasn’t. Jesus either died for the sins of the world or he didn’t. These are fundamental questions that can only have one answer. Therefore, when the world’s religions disagree on them, we see they CAN'T all be right. It is impossible. It has nothing to do with being intolerant, it's just simple logic.

I do think there is some truth to the statement “there is some truth in every religion” in the sense that many religions teach us to love one another and embrace morality. However, as we have seen, there are some fundamental differences when it comes to who God is and what is necessary for salvation. After studying the evidence, I do believe that God exists and desires to interact with his creation. I do believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins. You may disagree with my viewpoint, that’s okay, but you can’t argue that all religions are pretty much the same.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Why are there so Many Different Versions of the Bible? Shouldn’t there Just be One? Part 2

The Bible has been translated into more languages than any other book in history. In fact it is currently written in 2,200 different languages with over 90% of the world’s people able to read it. A legitimate question naturally arises as to whether or not errors occur during translation. The short answer to this is no, they don’t occur. First, anytime a new translation is started, a diverse team of Scholars comes together to work on it. This not only ensures that one man with his own agenda will not manipulate the word of God in anyway, but that in the rare cases of uncertainty in how to translate something, a wide array knowledgeable experts can arrive at a consensus. Secondly, all translations (whether English or any other language) are made from the original manuscripts. New translations are never translated from old translations. For example, if one were making a new English translation, they would use the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic manuscripts and not an English version like the King James or New American Standard. Thirdly, new translations always use the oldest manuscripts available. Manuscripts that may not have been discovered until recently will usually take priority over manuscripts that have been used for other translations of the Bible. This is done to help ensure that the translation is as accurate as possible.

Bible translations/versions are nothing new. Two hundred and fifty years before Jesus was born there was a translation of (what we know as) the Hebrew Old Testament into a Greek document called the “Septuagint.” This translation was for non-Hebrew speaking Jews living in Alexandria to have the ability to read their holy scriptures. Many New Testament writers were familiar with the Septuagint and even used it themselves. This shows that translations are not “altering the word of God” yet simply making them accessible to more people.

The English language changes so fast and is so complex that it needs different translations. We must remember that these different translations serve different purposes and there are different times when different translations are appropriate. For example, I use three different translations at any given time. I will use the New Living Translation for pleasure reading because to me it reads like a novel. I use the New International Version for devotionals or quite time because it has a good balance of readability and word-for word translation. I use the New American Standard Bible if I need to know exactly what word is used and how it is supposed to be understood. All three of these translations are accurate and all three are used at the appropriate times and in the appropriate ways they were designed.

Although we have barely scratched the surface, I hope that I have shown you that there are legitimate reasons for having the different versions of the Bible. Feel free to email me with questions or topics you’d like to explore.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Why are there so Many Different Versions of the Bible? Shouldn’t there Just be One? Part 1

Oftentimes people think that because there are so many versions, than the Bible must be continually changing and if the Bible is continually changing than we can’t trust it. However, after a close look, we realize just the opposite is true; the more translations we have, the more accurate it becomes. The word “versions” could probably be better (and more accurately) described as “translations” (therefore we will use these terms interchangeably). Even though the different translations are in English, as you’ll see in a moment, they each serve a different purpose.

To begin with, you may ask “why do we need so many English translations?” There are two reasons for this. The first reason is because we in the United States live in a rapidly changing society (possibly faster than at any other time in history). These changes affect our language, history and culture. Therefore, as translations of the Bible that were written during a different time period (like the King James Version written in 1611 AD) become difficult to read and understand from our worldview, new versions must be compiled to ensure we can understand what the authors wanted us to know. The second reason is that as archeological digs continue to produce more and more ancient manuscripts, we need to continually be checking to make sure we have the most accurate translation possible.

In order to understand the purpose of a translation, it is necessary to take a brief look at how the different translations come about. When a new translation is being prepared, it will follow one of two different schools of thought. The first one is called “formal equivalence.” This method focuses on a word-for-word translation from the original manuscripts. It does its best to preserve the original word order and sentence structure from the original manuscripts as much as possible. The second method of translation is called “dynamic equivalence.” This method focuses on thought-for-thought translation. It seeks to convey the original meaning the author was trying to get across while at the same time remaining readable. (To see a chart that shows all the different translations according to word-for-word or thought-for-thought click here). To get a better understanding of this concept, let’s compare the same verse using each of these two methods. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is a very good translation using the word-for-word method. In the NASB, 1 Kings 2:10 reads “Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the City of David.” The New Living Translation (NLT) utilizes the thought-for-thought method of translation. In the NLT 1 Kings 2:10 reads “Then David died and was buried in the City of David.” As you can see the only difference between the two is “slept with his fathers” and “died.” Most of us Americans aren’t familiar with the phrase “slept with his fathers” as meaning someone died (in fact, because our language changes so fast, some people in America today may accidently interpret this to mean something of a sexual nature, even though it is clearly meant for something different). Yet to an ancient Jew that phrase was very well understood. The word-for-word method preserves the original wording while the thought-for-thought method uses a term that makes sense to us. The most important thing is that they both mean the same thing. Regardless of the translation used, we can clearly understand that David died.

You may be asking yourself about whether or not small changes like those discussed above have any bearing on the accuracy of the text. We must remember that anytime you translate something between languages, some things will not carry over. For example, the Spanish language has a future tense while English does not. Many English words have multiple meanings while some French words do not. The very nature of translation requires some small changes to be made. This is why in issues of the Bible, Scholars and many Pastors alike, study Greek and Hebrew so as to be able to look directly at the ancient texts and see exactly what was meant by the author.

Each of these methods has its own pros and cons. In times of general reading for pleasure and understanding the thought-for-thought method is appropriate. However, one should never use a thought-for-thought method to do a study of a particular word meaning or topic. For studies like that, one should use a word-for-word translation.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Is There Life After Death?

This is a very important question to think about because the Bible says that the decisions we make here on earth will last for eternity. The Bible shows us that our body is a sort of “temporary home” for our soul. When we die our physical bodies are useless but our soul will never die. Once we die each and every one of us will stand before Jesus Christ himself. Based on our decision to accept and love him or to reject and despise him while here on earth, will determine what happens next. (Remember there is no "non-choice." A decision not to choose is the same as flatly rejecting him.) Sometimes different cults or philosophies will teach differently, but the hard truth is that there are only two options of where we go when we die; Heaven or Hell. Jesus himself spent a lot of time while on earth describing the differences between the two. The first option is Heaven. Heaven is a beautiful place where those who accepted Jesus as their savior while here on earth will be able to be together for eternity with God. Think about it, this is the place God calls his home; it has got to be awesome! However, God respects the decisions we make while on earth and if we decide we don’t want to have a relationship with him, he respects that too. The place where God allows those who don’t want to be with him is called Hell. Contrary to popular belief, God doesn't just arbitrarily "send" anybody to Hell. Rather out of His love for us He respects the wishes of those who choose to reject him and don't want to be with him. Hell by its very definition means “absence of God.” It is the only place in the universe where God has withdrawn His presence. Because God is not there it is a very ugly place. The Bible describes Hell as a miserable place that no one should ever want to go. The Bible also explains that Hell was not originally meant for humans. It was originally meant for the Devil and his demons but as people chose to reject God it was, the only way God could respect that wish (Remember it's the only place where He isn't present). We must remember that many blatantly evil people have rejected God including Adolph Hitler, Serial Killers, and Satan himself. All of these people will be present in Hell. Imagine spending eternity in a place with all of these people. The Bible clearly states that God desires for no one to go to Hell, however a just and righteous God must punish sin. The solution is to allow Jesus Christ to pay the price for your sins. You still have the opportunity while here on earth to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and ensure that you will spend eternity with him. I'd like to challenge you to look deep within and ask yourself what is stopping you from making this decision? To learn more on how to have a relationship with God, Click Here.