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Posts Tagged ‘trust’

I began a summary discussion of the credibility of the Bible in the previous article. In it I addressed the first of three questions that should guide inquiry into this subject:

Are today’s Bibles accurate copies of the original writings?

Were the original writers recording the events accurately?

Is the Bible, in its entirety, really God’s personal message to mankind, that is, the inspired (directed by God) and inerrant Word of God?

This article will look at the second question: Were the bible’s authors accurate in recording biblical events?

In recent years authors of fictional writings such as The Da Vinci Code have raised controversy about the accuracy of the Bible. Their story line is admittedly fiction. The problem comes from their treatment of the historical background which is portrayed as authentic to help create realism in the story. Any reasonable examination reveals gross inaccuracies in this facet of the novels.

Arches of Chorazin (Luke 10:13)

Archaeological findings consistently substantiate biblical accuracy. As the noted Dr. J. O. Kinnaman said: “Of the hundreds of thousands of artifacts found by the archaeologists, not one has ever been discovered that contradicts or denies one word, phrase, clause, or sentence of the bible, but always confirms and verifies the facts of the biblical record.”[1] This holds for both the Old and New Testaments as more and more excavations of ancient sites have shown. A few such discoveries, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, have become well known; most have not. “Any student of archaeology familiar with specific sites like Megiddo, Samaria, or Lachish, can multiply such instances of confirmation for every era of Hebrew history.”[2]

“There have been thousands — not hundreds — of archaeological finds in the Middle East that support the picture presented in the biblical record. There was a discovery not long ago confirming King David [Old Testament, 1,000 BC]. The Patriarchs — the narratives about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob [also O.T., 2,100 BC] — were once considered legendary, but as more has become known these stories are increasingly corroborated. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was thought to be mythological until evidence was uncovered that all five of the cities mentioned in Genesis were, in fact, situated just as the Old Testament said. As far as their destruction goes, archaeologist Clifford Wilson said there is ‘permanent evidence of the great conflagration that took place in the long distant past’.”[3],[4]

“In principle the archaeologist has no particular interest in “proving the truth” of the Scriptures, and it is obviously impossible for a spade or a trowel to prove or disprove the spiritual revelations and assertions of Scripture. But it is fair to say that archaeology validates Hebrew history and explains many formerly obscure terms and traditions in both the Old Testament and New Testament.”[5]

Consistency with non-biblical ancient writings also adds to the veracity of the authors of the Bible. “Sometimes uninformed critics of the Bible, particularly of the New Testament, claim that since there are no references outside the New Testament to events of the New Testament, therefore the New Testament testimony is suspect. The truth is that there are several references to New Testament events outside the New Testament. For example, Suetonius, in his The Twelve Caesars says:

Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Crestus [a Latin reference to Christ], he [Claudius] expelled them from the city.[6]

Compare this reference to Acts 18:2 which clearly refers to the same event.

And he [Paul] found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them.

Another clear reference outside the New Testament to a New Testament event is found by the Roman historian Tacitus in his work The Annals of Imperial Rome.

To suppress this rumour [that the massive fires of Rome had been deliberately set by men], Nero fabricated scapegoats – and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus.

The Jewish historian Josephus (ca. 90-95 AD) mentions the martyrdom of the apostle James, refers to James as Jesus’ brother, mentions the martyrdom of John the Baptist, and mentions Jesus a second time. Other references include the Roman historian Thallus (ca. 52 AD) as quoted by Julius Africanus concerning the darkness at the crucifixion, the Roman author and administrator Pliny the Younger’s (ca. 112 AD) mention of the early Christians’ worship of Christ, and historical references from the Roman Emperors Trajan and Hadrian.”[7]

Scripture often verifies itself. In his excellent book, The Reason For God, Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Timothy Keller, Pastor of the 6,000 member Redeemer Presbyterian Church, in Manhattan, New York, NY, points out three compelling arguments for self-verification of Scripture. First, the timing is far too early for the Gospels to be legends. As cited in my previous article, virtually all of the New Testament was written within 25-50 years of the recorded events. Keller comments that Richard Bauckham’s research[8] revealed that “at the time the gospels were written there were still numerous well-known living eyewitnesses to Jesus’ teaching and life events. … the gospel writers named their eyewitnesses within the text to assure readers of their accounts’ authenticity. Mark, for example, says the man who helped Jesus carry his cross to Calvary, “was the father of Alexander and  Rufus” (Mark 15:21). There is no reason for the author to include such names unless the readers know or could have access to them. Mark is saying, “Alexander and Rufus vouch for the truth of what I am telling you, if you want to ask them.”[9] Similarly, Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 refers to 500 eyewitnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus. You can’t make up a story like that in a public document while those witnesses are still alive. To do so would discredit the entire document which the rapid spread of Christianity shows did not happen. Many, many instances like these fill the New Testament.

Secondly, the content is far too counter-productive for the gospels to be legends. Keller observes the working theory of many people today is that the gospels were written — not by the apostolic authors — but many years later by the leaders of the early church to promote their policies, consolidate their power, and build their movement. He cites several passages in Scripture that, if that theory is true, what these bogus writers wrote would jeopardize their own self-serving purposes.[10] For example, in those times the accepted public view of any who were crucified was that they were the worst of criminals. So in what way would the early Christian movement benefit by making Jesus out to be a terrible criminal by extolling his crucifixion? And how would it be advantageous to portray Jesus as just a weak human by writing of his begging God in the garden of Gethsemane to let him out of his reason for coming to earth? (Matthew 26:39). Or why depict the apostles — the eventual leaders of the early church — as petty and jealous, almost impossibly slow witted, and in the end as cowards who either actively or passively failed their master (remember Peter’s denial of Christ three times, Matthew 26:69-74)? And if the New Testament message was fabricated how can we explain how each of the twelve apostles (except John) and countless of the early Christians died for their belief in known lies by horrible, tortured deaths — sawed in half, boiled in oil, torn apart by wild animals for entertainment, set afire as human torches? How could this have been sensible faith?

Third, and finally, the literary form of the gospels is too detailed to be legend. C. S. Lewis, renown Oxford and Cambridge professor and scholar, and a world class literary critic, when reading the gospels, noted:

I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends and myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know none of them are like this. Of this [gospel] text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage … or else, some unknown ancient writer … without predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic, realistic narrative …[11]

Lewis meant that ancient fiction was nothing like modern fiction. The latter contains details and dialogue and reads like an eye witness account. This genre of fiction, however, only developed in the last three hundred years. … The gospel accounts are not fiction.[12]

So I come to the conclusion: were the original writers recording the events of the bible accurately? It certainly appears that they did. I suppose the accounts of research from which I have drawn this summary have not accounted for every sentence and verse in the Scriptures. So unless the forty or so authors of the Bible were supernaturally inspired and guided, one could always raise a remote question about the accuracy of this detail or that. So, …

Next time:

Is the Bible, in its entirety, really God’s personal message to mankind, that is, the inspired (directed by God) and inerrant Word of God?

Until then, consider:

You don’t need to have all your questions answered to come to faith. You just have to [acknowledge] that the weight of evidence seems to show this is true, so even though I don’t have all the answers to all my questions, I’m going to believe and hope for the answers in the long run.[13]

Ask yourself: Is Faith Sensible?

That’s what happened with me.

Next: #4c IS THE BIBLE REAL? – Part III – IS IT REALLY GOD’S WORD?


End Notes

[1] Dr. Paul Lee Tan, ThD (1996) Encylopedia Of 7,700 Illustrations: Signs Of The Times, (391), Bible Communica­tion, Inc,.

[2]Henry, C. F. H. (1999). God, Revelation, and Authority (4:79). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

[3] See: Clifford A. Wilson (1977), Rocks, Relics, and Biblical Reliability (42), Grand Rapids, Mich, Zondervan.

[4] quoting Norman L. Geisler, PhD, Philosophy, Loyola University in Chicago; Lee Strobel (2000) The Case for Faith (128), Grand Rapids, Mich, Zondervan.

[5]Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (160). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.

[6] Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, (4:202),trans. Robert Graves, revised (1989) with and introduction by Michael Grant London: The Penguin Group.

[7] The Issachar Institute (1994), http://www.answering-islam.org/Case/case2.html

[8] Richard Bauckham (2006), Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, (chps 2, 3, and 6), Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich.

[9] Rev. Timothy Keller (2008), The Reason For God, Belief in an Age of Skepticism, (104-105), Riverhead Books, New York, NY

[10] ibid. (107-109)

[11] C. S. Lewis (1967), Christian Reflections, (155), Walter Hooper, ed., Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich.

[12] ibid, Keller (110)

[13] Lee Strobel (2000) The Case for Faith (61), Grand Rapids, Mich, Zondervan

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Is there a God? Many think ‘no, there isn’t.’ And many think ‘there certainly is!’ How can we come to appreciate each of these age-old opposing views? For a layman to undertake a reasonable explanation is a very tall order. But since the topics envisaged for the future of this blog depend on a sound treatment of the question, I have to give it a shot. Through this and the next seven postings I hope to build an acceptable understanding on which we can proceed. Most of these eight postings is about origins and whether they are the result of natural processes or do they point to a transcendent Designer.

“The big three questions about origins — of the universe, of life, and of humans — have … divided the secular from the religious. Until the 1960s, most scientists came to believe that the universe had no beginning. Most believers insisted it did.”  — from The Science of God, p 20, Gerald L. Schroeder, applied theologian with undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Did a Big Bang really happen? Was that the beginning of everything? And what or Who caused it?

From Aristotle to the 1960s the accepted understanding was that the universe was infinite and eternal. The stars and galaxies were unmoving, static. There was no beginning. No need to wonder about its cause.

However, Christians (and a surprising number of other religions and cultures) have long insisted that there was a beginning, caused by a creator. Aside from Biblical statements, substantiating evidence for this view was missing. To the Christian assertion that divine creation is “accepted on faith,” scientists and skeptics responded that to accept this was not sensible faith.

Surprisingly, it has been science itself that has substantiated the religious claims, mostly in the last 30 years. Cracks in the eternal universe model began in 1929 when Edwin Hubble found that the galaxies were not fixed in space but were all moving away from each other. But moving away from where? Was there a starting point?

In 1965, using data from a specialized satellite telescope, two scientists discovered the universe’s background faint residual heat from a primordial “explosion.” The temperature was only about 3.7 degrees above absolute zero, but matched the mathematical predictions from the Big Bang model. This finding together with Hubble’s and other’s work have firmly established the Big Bang as fact. Stephen Hawking, the renown cosmologist has said, “Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang.” (The Nature of Space and Time, Stephen W. Hawking and Roger Penrose, 1996, pg 20)

“Wait a minute,” exclaims the Christian, “This Big Bang thing isn’t Biblical creation. It’s just more science mumbo-jumbo.” My personal guess is that this is a problem for many Christians because they see creation in a sort of mental picture in which the earth and all its vegetation and creatures appeared instantaneously like an action scene on TV emerging full blown out of a black screen following a commercial. Such an impression indeed would not match what is known about the Big Bang, but then it doesn’t match the creation account in Genesis either. We’ll get into the Big Bang sequence of events, the age of the universe as well as the six days of creation in Genesis in the coming few postings.

Now just because everything in the universe, including space and time itself, came from nothing (that is, the Big Bang) doesn’t establish that there was/is a Creator God Who caused it all. Against the Christians’ continuing professions that “of course there’s a Creator,” a number of alternatives to the standard Big Bang model continue to be proposed. The theological implications of the Big Bang is irritating, repugnant, and distasteful to the scientific mind say luminaries like Einstein, British astronomer Arthur Eddington, Robert Jastrow, and MIT’s Phillip Morrison (The Case for a Creator, Lee Strobel, pg 112).

Astronomer Carl Sagan in his popular TV series Cosmos suggested an Oscillating Model of the universe in which the universe expands, slows and then collapses and expands again, cycling in this fashion indefinitely, thus avoiding the need for a beginning and a creator. Steven Hawking has been working on his Theory of Everything. Other models try to avoid the need for a cause (creator) of the Big Bang by relying on behaviors found in quantum mechanics where, indeed, particles can appear out of nowhere. As fatal flaws are found in each hypothesis new proposals grow more and more imaginative to the point that more faith is required to believe in some kind of a universe without a creator than to look to the Biblical account as the most sensible faith.

In Strobel’s book referenced above, William L. Craig, PHD, THD, and author of many scientific articles and books including the coauthor of the foundational book Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology, says: “The situation is reversed from say, a hundred years ago. Back then, Christians had to maintain by faith in the Bible that despite all appearances to the contrary, the universe was not eternal but was created out of nothing a finite time ago. Now the situation is exactly the opposite. It is the atheist who has to maintain by faith, despite all the evidence to contrary, that the universe did not have a beginning a finite time ago but is in some inexplicable way eternal after all. So the shoe is on the other foot. The Christian can stand confidently within Biblical truth, knowing it’s in line with mainstream astrophysics and cosmology. It’s the atheist who feels very uncomfortable and marginalized today.” (pgs 120-121)

Next, #3c A YOUNG OR OLD UNIVERSE? (click here)

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Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines “faith” as:

1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1) : fidelity to one’s promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>

None of these is satisfactory for how I will use “faith” in the postings here, although I can find elements of some of my thoughts in some of the definitions.

I think our society tends to use the word faith only in the religious sense. We can see that influence in these dictionary definitions. Unfortunately this tends to relegate the term away from the things we focus on in the main stream of our daily living. This leads to serious misunderstandings about life, living, and choices.

“Faith,” as I will use it in these writings permeates every thing we do. Illustrations:

Our exposure to aircraft (TV, movies, books, school) convinces us that these big, heavy machines do fly, and reliably so. Commercial airliner crashes are so few that it doesn’t diminish our faith in flight safety sufficiently to relegate our travel only to ground transportation. We even have faith that the pilots (whom we have never met, nor do we know their qualifications, nor even their state of health) will operate the plane safely, even in stormy weather which we also know little or nothing about when we make reservations for our next trip. Yet we have enough faith in air travel to walk on that airplane and have a seat.

Every time we drive to work or the grocery store, we have faith that each one of the multitude of drivers we will meet on the road will stay in his lane and will stop at stop lights/signs, that is, will drive according to the rules. Highway accident statistics are terrible yet our faith in auto travel is unshakable. Why is that?

We also have faith in institutions, like banks, hospitals, nursing homes and schools. We have faith that they will keep our checking accounts with honesty, heal us, care for our loved ones, and teach our children truthfully.

Perhaps it is in individuals where we place our deepest faith, for example, doctors, pastors, friends, family, parents, and spouses.

Instances of faith in the daily stuff of our lives is almost endless. This is the sense in which I will use the term “faith” in these articles. In only a moment of reflection each of us will realize that “faith” saturates our lives, whether intentional or not. How does it happen that we have faith in something or someone? We’ll discuss that.

Notice how easily we can substitute the word trust for faith without changing meaning. Even the dictionary definitions do this. Indeed, trust is a true synonym for faith, certainly so in the contexts of this blog. However, we must be more careful how we use the word belief. We can, and often do, believe some information about something or a person without trusting them or having faith in them. It is important that we make these distinctions carefully.

So now we’re close to being able to think correctly about the question “is faith sensible?” First we need a few minutes with the question of how we come to place our faith in something or trust someone. But that’s a good place to start the next posting.

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“Faith is a choice” many will say. “I don’t need a lot of information.” Many others will say, “I won’t trust something I don’t understand.” People are different. Before we will trust something or someone, each of us needs to come to our own level of prerequisite factual information, whether through study, knowledge, first-hand experiences, or simply listening to a loved parent or respected clergy. The spectrum is wide. The consequences of our choices?  Maybe trivial. ‘Depends on what the choice is about. Maybe life or death.

My guess is that the choice to fly or drive a 1,000 mile cross country trip is, for most of us, based on how much time we have and the cost. Beyond time and cost, consequences aren’t really thought about. The chances of being killed in an auto accident are about 1 in 5,000; in a commercial airliner, 1 in 11 million, or 2,200 times safer, based on US Department of Transportation data (1999-2000). Yet which do we usually choose? In which do we have greater trust/faith?

It has long seemed odd to me how little our society thinks about risk. Especially when the consequences of a choice are great, why don’t the overwhelming majority of us ask ourselves the obvious question, “what am I risking in making this choice? Is the risk very much different if I do this rather than that?” Generally, I think we just don’t know much about risk.

Perhaps too many of us are inclined to replace a thoughtful reflection on facts and risk with what our friends or colleagues think, or what ‘everybody else is doing’ when making similar choices. Peer pressure from friends or work as well as the news media and activist groups strongly influence our sense of risk, choice, and trust in many cases. For example, did you know that each year, 10,000 to 50,000 Americans die from respiratory diseases due to coal fired electric generation plants, and 300 more are killed in mining and transportation accidents? In contrast, no Americans have died or been seriously injured because of a reactor accident or radiation exposure from American nuclear power plants. But what perception do you think most of us have?

So is faith sensible? I have a hunch our choices to trust someone or something could stand a lot of improvement. For example, how do we choose to trust a person? By their place in society (doctors, scientists, pastors)? Are they a part of our social group (neighborhood, Rotary Club, school team)? Surely skin color (ethnicity) has nothing to do with trusting them or not! And let’s not even get into how we choose a mate.

Maybe a lot of our faith choices are just based on what “feels right” or what we really want to do. I think our advertising industry capitalizes on this. For example, do we choose to buy a specific car because it looks cool or because it is the most reliable and safe? Yet we’ll drive that car in snowstorms through remote, potentially hazardous, areas and spend more money for it than anything else except our house. Is our faith in those choices sensible?

You probably won’t be surprised then when I tell you that I’m not at all impressed by the arguments that fill so many books and often get so heated on talk shows about the so-called “war” between faith in religion and faith in science. Remember, I’m talking about “faith” as being an accepted truth based upon factual evidence. No, no – wait – check those immediate reactions our minds have become conditioned to have about claims of  “factual evidence” on both sides of this “war.” If we are so defensive of our past choices that we can’t look fairly at the other guy’s factual evidence, there’s no point in going on to the next posting(s). But before you turn away, think a bit about the consequences and whether your faith is sensible.

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