What Was the Council of Nicaea (And What Did They Decide)?

Critics, Joe Rogan among others, claim the New Testament canon was decided by the Council of Nicaea (325 AD).  Another claim is that the Council of Nicaea invented the divinity of Jesus.  It is also sometimes argued that Emperor Constantine either decided on the canon or invented the divinity of Christ. Do any of these claims have any historical foundation?  This post will examine the history of the Council of Nicaea, and Constantine’s role in it, to determine if these claims hold up to historical scrutiny.

What Were Ecumenical Councils?

Ecumenical refers to a representation from the entire body of the Church. Thus, ecumenical councils were meetings with representatives from all areas with the goal of deciding controversies or disagreements between various churches or leaders.  Council decisions were meant to be binding on all churches.  Later councils led to expulsion of those who refused to submit to the council decision.

Although not considered an official council, the first council recorded was the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15:2-35 (circa 50 AD).  Following the Jerusalem Council there were no official councils until the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  Catholics, Protestants, and Greek Orthodox all disagree on the number of councils and their authority, but all agree with the decision of Nicaea.

Why Was the Council of Nicaea Called?

In 313 AD Emperor Constantine issued a decree that Christians could freely practice their religion. This freedom made meetings of fully inclusive councils possible.  Bishops from all regions could now travel to these meetings without threat of persecution

We have very good records of what led up to the Council of Nicaea and what was discussed. Two individuals that attended, Eusebius of Caesarea and Athanasius, wrote accounts of the events.  There are also accounts from attendees that were relayed by later writers such as Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen, and Theodoret.

As controversy grew in the early church, Constantine became concerned that it could have a negative impact on the security of his already failing empire.  In 325 AD, in an attempt to prevent disruption, Constantine requested that the bishops of all the churches meet in Nicaea to discuss their differences. He even provided stipends for each bishop and an assistant to make the trip.  The council began in May of 325. 

Although Constantine attended, according to Eusebius of Caesarea, his role was mostly limited to sponsor and sometime referee; again, in an attempt to maintain peace.  Following the decision of the council Constantine codified their decision into secular law.

What Did They Decide?

Nicaea addressed several minor issues and one major issue.  The minor issues included the proper date for Easter and re-admission of lapsed Christians.  These minor issues were decided with little controversy, although some bishops still disagreed.

But by far the biggest concern was a heresy being taught in Alexandria regarding the status of Jesus.  An Alexandrian priest named Arius was teaching that God and Jesus were of separate substance. He believed that Jesus was a created substance separate from God. He also believed that there was a “time” when Jesus wasn’t. This went against the Christian understanding of God and Jesus that had existed from the beginning.

The opposing position was led by Athanasius, one of the most learned and important theologians of the fourth-century. Arius and Athanasius both served Bishop Alexander of Alexandria; Athanasius as a senior deacon and Arius as a priest. Nicaea was the result of their differences which had resulted in Alexander removing Arius from his priestly position. 

The exact number of bishops in attendance is uncertain, between 200-350 depending on the account; however, a large portion of churches sent their bishop to the council. When the discussion turned to the divinity of Jesus there were three main supporters of Arius’ teaching: Arius, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nice.

Constantine, who deferred to the bishops, seemed to favor the Arian view, but assented to the decision of the council.  According to Eusebius of Caesarea, Constantine even suggested language to strengthen the Athanasian view. The result of the council was the Nicene Creed, asserting God and Jesus were separate persons of the same substance and uncreated.

Only five attendees refused to sign the creed: Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis, Maris of Chalcedon, Theonas of Marmarica, and Secundus of Ptolemais.  Arius was exiled by Constantine to Nicomedia. Both Eusebius and Theognis were exiled to Trier (modern Luxembourg), but later acquiesced to the creed.

Over the next few years politics entered the discussion as first Constantine, then his sons, switched from Arianism to Trinitarianism and back.  During this time Athanasius was himself exiled several times for his stand for Trinitarianism, despite being elected bishop of Alexandria. Arianism was finally defeated as orthodoxy at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.

When Was the Canon Determined?

So, what about the claim that the canon was decided by the Council of Nicaea?  As we have shown, the canon was not even discussed during Nicaea.  There were later councils that did discuss the canon, however records from those councils show they were simply affirmations of accepted books.  The Church based its acceptance of books on doctrinal cohesion, broad usage, and apostolicity (connection to an apostle).

In the late second century in Against Heresies, Irenaeus affirmed that only four gospels were accepted. He quotes from all the current New Testament books with the exception of Philemon, 2 Peter, 3 John, and Jude.  We also have the Muratorian Fragment, a copy of an earlier manuscript from 187 AD, that mentions every New Testament as accepted except possibly Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter.

By 250 AD, Origen and other scholars had referenced all 27 books in our current New Testament as canon.   Two early codices (Sinaiticus, 325-360 AD and Vaticanus, 300-350 AD) also verify our current canon; with 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Revelation missing from Vaticanus.

From this we can determine that, with some local variation, all our current New Testament were accepted, in use, and considered canon well before the Council of Nicaea.  As Bruce Metzger, the leading Biblical textual critic of the 21st Century, said: “the canon is a list of authoritative books, not an authoritative list of books.”  Biblical scholar F. F. Bruce pointed out that the “books did not become authoritative…because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them…as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority.”  Even atheist critic Bart Erhman concedes that Nicaea had nothing to do with the canon.

As we’ve seen, none of the claims made by critics concerning the divinity of Christ, the biblical canon, Constantine, or the Council of Nicaea have any historical merit.  They are, at best, uninformed misrepresentations of this event. At worst, an intentional attempt to mislead people from the truth of the Bible and, by extension, the truth of God’s Word.

“Beyond Beliefs” YouTube Appearance

I’m a little behind posting this. I appeared on Beyond Beliefs, an atheist YouTube channel on Monday. First time I’ve done something like this; way out of my comfort zone. How’d I do? What could I do better (other than never do that again 😉)? Leave me feedback.


When Spiritual Leaders Fail

Recently there have been a series of high-profile Christian leaders who have walked away from the Church or were involved in scandals.  Understandably, this has shaken many Christians; especially those with a connection to these leaders.  It has also been used by atheist and critics in an attempt to attack the truth of Christianity.  Both positions are erroneous.  This post will address both issues and explain why Christians shouldn’t question their faith and critics shouldn’t be too eager to try to capitalize on these events.

Logical Argument of the Critic

We can take critics claims that moral failures of Christian leaders show that Christianity is false and put them in the form of a syllogism (a formal logical argument).  It would go something like this:

Premise A. – Christianity says you shouldn’t sin,

Premise B. – Christians sin,

Conclusion – Therefore, Christianity is false.

Premise B is undoubtedly true.  It’s kind of the reason we need a Savior.  While the critic may try to use this argument because he thinks he has something on the Christian, the Christians willingly concede the point.  (It’s also how we can begin to turn the conversation to sharing the Gospel)

Premise A is only partially true.  It is true in the sense that Christians are told not to sin and repent from past sins.  However, Christianity also acknowledges that we all sin, even after we accept Christ as our savior.  Although Premise B is true, the conclusion can’t be proved true because Premise A is not a complete understanding of Christianity. 

Even if this were a true understanding the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises.  All Christians sin, but it doesn’t necessarily invalidate the teachings of Christianity.  In order to make this argument valid, one would have to prove that Christianity, if true, prevents someone from sinning.

Imperfect Practitioners

This critique is often expressed by saying “That’s why I’m not a Christian, it’s just a bunch of hypocrites” or “Church is just a bunch of hypocrites.”  My answer is usually “You’re right.  You should join us; we always have room for one more.”  For the critic, trying to use these events to refute Christianity presents a few problems.

We are all imperfect, fallen human beings; even our atheist friends.  The only way an atheist can claim that they haven’t “sinned” is to deny sin.  This then puts them in the position of denying objective truth, which we discussed in a previous post (see The Truth about The Truth). 

None of us can perfectly live out our worldview, including atheists.  There are times we are greedy, dishonest or even selfless (a negative attribute for Ayn Rand objectivism).  The critics must remember that a failure of someone to live up to the standard of a philosophy doesn’t invalidate the philosophy itself.  It simply means they aren’t perfect.

For example, the fact that people speed does not mean that everyone speeds or that there are no speeding laws; it simply doesn’t follow.  Even someone that supports speeding laws may speed from time to time; the laws they believe in are still valid.

Failures are Proof for Christianity

Strange as it may sound at first, the failure of a Christian leader actually proves the claims of Christianity. Christianity says we are all fallen and we can’t fix it on our own.  We are all in need of a savior (Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:9); from the lowest of sinners to the highest of saints.  This is why God sent His Son to redeem us to Himself.

Jesus said it much more eloquently in Mark 2:17, “And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’“  It should also be a cautionary tale for us to not put Christian leaders on a pedestal.  Doing so feeds pride in the individual and shifts our focus away from the teachings of Jesus toward the teachings of man.

This doesn’t excuse a leader when he or she sins or walks away.  It is regrettable, but understandable in light of Christian teachings.  The other part of Christian teachings in these cases is there is always forgiveness and redemption through Jesus Christ.

Leaders’ Failures and Motives Don’t Invalidate the Truth

We shouldn’t condone any immoral actions of leaders.  They, of all people, should know better.  Teachers will also be “judged with greater strictness” according to James 3:1. Nevertheless, their bad deeds don’t, by necessity, change the truth of their message. 

The Apostle Paul recognized this in Philippians 1.  There were people in the area of Philippi that were teaching the Gospel for selfish reasons.  He says, “The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:17-18).

Put another way; just because someone is a criminal doesn’t mean they can’t testify truthfully.  We may require further verification, but the truth remains.

This obviously isn’t the ideal situation, and not one we should encourage.  The downside of these circumstances is that it discourages Christians and encourages critics.  But as the old saying goes, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”  We shouldn’t reject a worldview that teaches salvation from our sins and to love our neighbors as our self just because we can’t fully live up to the standard of a perfect savior.  As someone once said: “You can’t judge a religion, by its heretics.

If you have any questions or comments post them here or contact us at sheepdogapologetics@outlook.com.

“Belief that” vs “Belief in”

If you’ve followed us from the beginning, or go back and read our posts, you may be thinking “Great!  You’ve convinced me God exists, but is that all?”  Unfortunately, no.  Simply believing that something is true doesn’t necessarily mean you trust it.  It’s the same with Christianity.  In Romans, Paul commends Israel for their “zeal for God”. He then goes on to show how they ignored God’s righteousness and tried to replace it with their own works.  Zeal isn’t enough.  Let’s look at the difference between “belief that” and “belief in”.

What’s the Difference?

“Belief that” can be considered an intellectual understanding of something.  Although it is a great start, there’s more involved for Christians.  “Belief in” takes this intellectual understanding and builds a trust upon it.  For example, a person may fully understand the physics of how airplanes fly.  This same person may never trust this knowledge to the point of boarding an airplane to take a trip. 

The same holds true for Christianity.  Apologetics can get a non-believer all the way to an intellectual acceptance of God existence and Jesus’ Resurrection; however, it can’t get them to put their trust in this knowledge.  The reasons for this refusal can vary, but they keep the person from moving forward with a commitment to trust in Jesus and turn their lives over to Him.

James 2:19 says “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”  The demons know all too well that God exists, but they refuse to place their trust in Him.

Belief Redefined

Notice we keep using the word “trust”.  That’s because “trust” is a more accurate description of what is involved than “belief” or “faith” from a Christian’s point of view.  In today’s world, “belief” and “faith”, as they are applied to Christianity by society, have completely different meanings than the biblical meaning.

Christians have allowed critics and skeptics to redefine our terminology.  Richard Dawkins, Oxford professor of biology, refers to “faith” as “belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” or “belief without evidence and reason.”  Former Portland State University professor of philosophy Peter Boghossian says faith is a “belief without evidence” or “the word one uses when one does not have enough evidence to justify holding a belief.” 

What Dawkins and Boghossian refer to can sometimes be called “blind faith”, however, it is not what Christians mean (cue Inigo Montoya – “I do not think that means what you think that means.”).

Christian Faith

Dr. Gary Habermas, in his 1976 doctoral thesis, points out that faith (or belief) is more akin to “reasoned faith”.  He suggests that faith arises for two general motives: “intuitive conviction” and “reasonable persuasion and rational argument”. 

Intuitive conviction is demonstrated by those that have an experience that convinces them of God’s existence.  This could be a miraculous occurrence or simply an experiential event.  Reasonable persuasion is more in line with apologetics.  The person examines all the evidence and concludes that the most probable or reasonable explanation of this evidence is God.

Habermas further suggests that either path to faith involves reasoning for the belief and faith we place in God.  Whether the believer came to trust Jesus through apologetic facts and arguments or through an experience with the Holy Spirit, they begin by reasoning that the information they received is true.

Through apologetics, we can demonstration the vast amounts of evidence that show the most likely explanation of how the world really is.  However, apologetics can’t answer every question about an infinite, omniscient God.  That’s where belief and faith come in. 

Belief based on all the evidence and the fulfillment of God’s promises leads us to trust in Him for our future.  C.S. Lewis once said: “God has provided enough evidence in this life to convince anyone willing to believe, yet He has also left some ambiguity so as not to compel the unwilling.”

In order to gain insight into the Christian view of belief we must look at what the Gospel writers meant.  We can do this by looking at the Greek words they used.   The Greek word for belief is “pistis”.  It appears 244 times in New Testament.  Pistis is translated (ESV) as “faith” or “belief” 239 times, “assurance” one time (Acts 17:31) and “trust”, “believe”, “those that believe” one time each.  Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines pistis as “persuasion, i.e. credence;… assurance, belief, believe, faith”.  Pistis comes from the root word “peithō” which means “to convince (by argument)”, “persuade”, and “to rely”. 

Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Here faith is linked to assurance (Greek “hypostasis”); meaning “concretely, essence”, “substructure, foundation”, and “that which has actual existence”.  The writer of Hebrews likens faith with something foundational that is known to exist.  Later in Hebrews 12 he encourages fellow Christians to persevere in the faith because we have a “great a cloud of witnesses” that demonstrate the truth of God’s Word.

From this we can see it is unlikely the New Testament writers were referring to a “blind faith”.  Their understanding was a belief arrived at through reason and evidence.  This is seen throughout the New Testament in the many examples of apologetics being used to draw people to Christ; even by Jesus Himself.  So, while “belief that” can be arrived at in a somewhat passive manner through gathering facts; “belief in” is a conscience decision to place our trust in Jesus.

Hopefully this post will help you realize we have nothing to fear with encounters with atheists and skeptics.  Confidently engage with them.  Next time someone accuses you of having a “blind faith”, use Greg Koukl’s Columbo Tactic and ask “What do you mean by that?”  When they give you a definition that doesn’t match how we use the word “belief”, explain to them what it really means. 

After all, if they are asking questions about our faith, they should use our definition; not theirs.  Help them to understand that we have a trust in God through His Son, Jesus; because of His Word, fulfilled promises, and evidence.

If you have questions on this or any of our other posts, contact us at sheepdogapologetics@outlook.com.

Jesus Never Claimed to Be God (or did He?)

When discussing the divinity of Jesus, critics will often put forward the idea that Jesus never made the claim “I am God”.  And they are right, He never said those specific words, but is that the whole story or could there be more to it?

Ehrman’s Error

The most visible and vocal critic supporting this claim is Dr. Bart Ehrman, distinguished professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.  In his book “Misquoting Jesus”, Ehrman makes the assertion that Jesus never claimed divinity and His early followers never believed He was God. 

Ehrman, somewhat disingenuously, bases his claim on the fact Jesus never directly said “I am God” and the assumption that the only New Testament writings that hold a high Christology of Jesus were written late; into the second and third centuries.

We say “disingenuous” because Dr. Ehrman studied under and worked with Dr. Bruce Metzger, the most renowned New Testament textual critic of modern times.  In Metzger’s final book he concludes that we can recreate the content of the original manuscripts of the New Testament; Ehrman worked on this book with Metzger. 

Despite agreeing with Metzger in his academic writings, Ehrman changes his inferences, if not his opinion, in his commercial writings and interviews for lay people.  In these forums Ehrman forwards the idea that Jesus never claimed or was attributed deity.

Miracles Display Divinity

Our previous post showed that the eyewitness accounts in the New Testament are an accurate recording of events in first century Israel.  So, do we have any indication from the New Testament of Jesus’ divinity? 

There are multiple examples of miracles performed by Jesus as a sign of His divine identity.  Jesus showed power over the immaterial realm (demons), nature (storms), sickness (leprosy, paralysis), and death. 

In Matthew 8 Jesus encounters two men possessed by demons.  When they see Jesus, they identify Him as “Son of God”; signifying recognition of deity.  Luke reports another instance where Jesus confronts a demon possessed man.  The demon identifies Jesus as “the Holy One of God”, another recognition of deity.

On several occasions Jesus demonstrated power over nature through miraculous acts.  Mark describes Jesus and the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee when a storm blew in.  Jesus commanded the wind and waves to be calm and they subsided.  On another occasion the disciples were crossing without Jesus and were caught in a storm.  Jesus walked across the sea to the boat and then calmed the storm.

The miracles of Jesus related to sickness and disease are well known and attested in the New Testament.  Jesus healed paralytics, deaf, and mute.  He healed people with leprosy, bleeding, and fevers.  The total number of people healed by Jesus is unknown.  Most of those Jesus healed professed faith in Jesus as the Son of God.

In the most telling display of Jesus’ divinity, He raised several people from the dead; eventually conquering death Himself.

Jesus Displays Attributes of God

Prior to performing many of His healings, Jesus forgave the sins of those He healed.  In Matthew 9:1-7 before Jesus healed the paralytic man, He first forgave him of his sins.  The Pharisees accused Jesus of blasphemy; saying that only God could forgive sins.  More on this later.

Jesus also accepted worship from the disciples and other people.  For any Jew to worship anyone but Yahweh was blasphemy.  To accept that worship would be beyond blasphemous, worthy of death.  On multiple occasions people fell down and worshipped Jesus, yet He never stopped them.

The Son of Man

Jesus often referred to Himself as the “Son of Man”.  This is a direct reference to the coming messiah in the book of Daniel.  In Daniel 7:13-14 he says he saw “with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.”

The “Ancient of Days” is a reference to God.  Two important things point us to the “Son of Man” being Jesus the Messiah.  First, Daniel doesn’t say “son of man”; the Aramaic way of referring to a human being.  Instead, he says “like a son of man”.  Obviously, this person is more than a mere mortal since he can stand with God and is given everlasting dominion. 

Second, as Keith Matheson of Ligonier points out, the reference is to the Son of Man coming to God, not from.  Matheson proposes this is a vision of Jesus after the Ascension.  So, this reference can only mean a person who shares the Godhead with God the Father.

Ego Eimi – I Am

Ego Eimi is a Greek phrase that means “I am” or “I exist”.  We see this reference in God’s revelation of Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. Ego Eimi refers to the self-existent God that called Abraham and met Moses on the mountain.

In John 8:58 when Jesus said that anyone who followed Him would not die, the Jews accused Him of being a demon.  They said that even Abraham had died; questioning if Jesus was greater than Abraham.  Jesus replied: “truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”  The Jews then wanted to stone Him because they knew the claim He was making.

In perhaps the strongest instance of Jesus claiming to be God, in Mark 14:62, Jesus is on trial before the Pharisees.  He responds to their questions by saying “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”  Here Jesus combines the Ego Eimi and the Son of Man reference.

The Disciples Believed Jesus Was God – Peter, John, Thomas and Paul

We see several instances where the disciples acknowledged Jesus as God.  Peter called Jesus “Our God and Savior.”  John attributed divinity to Jesus in all his books; the most well-known being John 1:1. After putting his finger in Jesus’ wounds Thomas exclaimed “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).  Although Paul never said “Jesus is God”, an examination of his writings clearly indicates that was his conclusion.  In Titus he referred to Jesus as “our great God and Savior”.

But He Didn’t Say “I am God”

Critics will still look at the above evidence and repeat their claim; “But he never said he was God, that’s just the way he talked.”  To see if their claim is correct all we need to do is look at the reaction of the disciples and the religious leaders of the day for context.  As we already mentioned, the disciples worshipped Jesus.  The religious leaders had a completely different reaction; they wanted to kill him. 

If Jesus wasn’t claiming to be God, why would they want to kill him?  The answer is that they understood, and said, that He was making a claim of divinity.  We mentioned earlier that in Matthew’s gospel Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic man; something reserved for God.  When the Pharisees challenged Jesus, He referred to Himself as the “Son of Man” and healed the man to display that He had “authority on earth to forgive sins.”  The religious leaders wanted to stone Him. 

When Jesus was being questioned at trial by the high priest and made His Ego Eimi statement, the high priest accused Jesus of blasphemy and tore his robe, a required reaction to blasphemy.

All this points to the fact that everyone Jesus encountered believed He was making a claim to divinity; whether they liked it or not.  We often try to read ancient writings in context of the modern day; or sometimes no attempt at context.  We must remember the writer wasn’t thinking into the future about how we would interpret it, but was writing in context of his time.

So, the next time someone says Jesus never claimed to be God, walk them through a few of these facts.

Early Dating of the Gospels – Part III

In Part I we showed that early Bible manuscript evidence far surpasses other ancient writings in both earliness of writing and number of manuscripts.  We showed through Gospel manuscripts and manuscripts of early Church fathers that most if not all New Testament books were written by the early second century.

In Part II an analysis of internal evidences places the authorship of at least three quarters of New Testament books earlier than 70 A.D.; with the rest likely being no later than 110 A.D.

The questions for Part III are; can these accounts be accepted as accurate eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus and the growth of the early Church?  Do these writings bear the hallmarks we expect from eyewitness accounts? Were there motivating factors that would have led the Gospel writers to lie about the story?

Appearance of Being Eyewitness Accounts

J. Warner Wallace is a retired cold case homicide detective.  He has reviewed thousands of eyewitness accounts and has been trained in forensic analysis of these eyewitness statements.  He applied the same techniques, as a skeptic, to the accounts of the Gospels.  His conclusion was that they were indeed eyewitness accounts.

Skeptics will often point to apparent discrepancies in the Gospels to claim they can’t be eyewitness accounts.  Detective Wallace sees these discrepancies as validation that they are true accounts.  We all know that if multiple witnesses tell the exact same story, without slight discrepancies, we suspect they likely colluded to make up their stories.

Wallace also points out that the disciples had nothing to gain by making up resurrection accounts.  According to Wallace crimes are typically motivated by one of three things: power, money, or sex.  The message the disciples preached included giving up worldly riches, serving others, and abstaining from sex outside the bounds of marriage. They were also ostracized from the temple, beaten, and killed for their beliefs.  The disciples gained nothing and lost nearly everything by sticking to their stories. 

Undesigned Coincidences

One of the most interesting areas for determining the veracity of New Testament books, especially the Gospels, is undesigned coincidences.  Unlike slight discrepancies of eyewitness statements, these are accounts that mention various details that in themselves seem incomplete; only to be clarified by seemingly incomplete details from another book.

This idea was originally put forward by J. J. Blunt in 1869 in “Undesigned Coincidences in the Writings of the Old & New Testament”.  This topic largely lay dormant until Lydia McGrew revived Blunt’s ideas in her 2017 book “Hidden in Plain View”.

One example is the accounts in Matthew and Mark of Herod’s discussion of Jesus following John the Baptist’s death.  Herod and his court were discussing Jesus and pondering if he could be Elijah or John the Baptist raised from the dead.  So how did the Gospel writers know what Herod said?

Luke provides the answer.  In Luke 8:3, Luke mentions someone named Chuza as being married to Joanna, a follower of Jesus.  He then gives Chuza’s occupation as “Herod’s household manager”; the only mention of Chuza in the Bible.

Critics may say Luke was simply cleaning up missing details from Matthew and Mark.  The problem is that mentioning Chuza appears to be random because Luke doesn’t mention Herod’s conversation. 

Another example comes from the accounts of Jesus being beaten by the Pharisees.  Matthew says that they spit on Jesus and beat him.  They then said “Prophesy to us, you Christ!  Who is it that struck you?”  This seems to be a strange request considering the people hitting Jesus were right in front of him.

In Mark, the guards covered Jesus’ face, spit on and struck him, and simply demand he “prophesy”.  Prophesy about what?  It is left uncertain in Mark’s account.

The answer again comes in Luke where we learn that the guards blindfolded Jesus, beat him, and demanded he prophesy who was hitting him. 

There are numerous other examples from all four Gospels.  There are also examples where incomplete details in the Gospels are answered in extra-biblical writings; such as Josephus.

Details Unknown to Later Writers

In our last post we discussed John mentioning the Pools of Bethesda and Siloam; believed to be invented until they were found by archeologists.

In both his gospel and Acts, Luke provides a wealth of historical, geographical, and governmental information that was unknown for centuries.  Luke repeatedly names officials and their correct titles, geographically correct place names, and customs that were long forgotten until discovered by archeologists.

Embarrassing Details

Historians often look at whether the writer includes embarrassing details when determining the accuracy of ancient accounts.  The idea is that a writer wouldn’t make up details that portray themselves in a bad light.  Most people will lie to make themselves look better, but won’t lie to make themselves worse.

There are several instances in the New Testament where embarrassing details aren’t hidden.  For example, Jesus’ brothers thought he was crazy and came to bring him home.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a Messiah.

We also see Jesus refer to Peter as Satan at one point.  If Peter was to be the leader of the early Church, that’s likely not something you would report.  Considering that most scholars believe the Gospel of Mark was written largely based on Peter’s testimony, it becomes even more unlikely to be an embellishment.

Another powerful example of embarrassing details is the post-Resurrection appearances to the women.  In First Century Israel, women’s testimony carried little to no weight.  Why make up the women as the first to see the risen Christ in this case?  The Gospels also report that the men were in hiding while the women openly went to the tomb.  Again, it is unlikely the writers would show the disciples, who would carry Jesus’ message forward, as cowering in fear of the Jews while the women boldly went to the tomb.

Enemy Attestation

Are there writings from opponents that validate the details of the text is another principle historians use to decide an ancient text’s reliability.  In our case we look for writings from opponents of Christianity that confirm the details of the Gospels.

We previously mentioned the works of Josephus.  We can find several points of confirmation from Josephus.  These include that Jesus was a holy man who performed miracles, spoke against the Jewish religious class, was crucified by the Romans at the urging of the Sanhedrin, and his disciples claimed his resurrection. Josephus also reports the conversion of Jesus’ brother, James, following Jesus’ death; James was a doubter and became the head of the Jerusalem church.

Another source that confirms the Gospels is Pliny the Younger; a persecutor of Christians.  In a letter to Emperor Trajan, he describes early Christian practices and their belief in a risen Jesus.

Scholars have identified at least eight other contemporary writers that confirm the Gospels.  One writer, Thallus in 52 A.D., reported a darkness at the time of the crucifixion that he attributed to an eclipse.  The interesting detail here is that we know the crucifixion occurred just prior to Passover.  Passover always occurs during a full moon.  From astronomy we know that a solar eclipse is impossible during a full moon due to the positioning of the earth, moon, and sun.

In Cold Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace covers these topics and more.  You can also get more in-depth information from I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Athiest by Geisler and Turek.

Our past posts have outlined the reliability of the New Testament documents.  By any historical standard they meet or exceed the requirement for historical reliability.  Based on this reliability, we will next address the skeptics’ claim that Jesus never claimed to be God.

How Early Are the Remaining New Testament Books?

Previously we showed that the most reasonable dating of 21 of the 27 New Testament books were prior to 70 A.D (the destruction of the Temple). The remaining six we simply stated likely dates of writing.  This will be a shorter post to wrap up the likely dating of the remaining books.

The first books to look at are John 1, 2, and 3.  They would have been written sometime prior to the apostle’s death in 96 A.D.  These, plus Revelation, are the likely the oldest books written by an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry.

Jude is one of the shortest books in the Bible and was written by Jesus’ half-brother.  Most scholars place its writing between 65 and 80 A.D.  Although Jude doesn’t mention the destruction of Jerusalem, its context doesn’t lend itself to a discussion of those events.  If written close to the end of our range, the destruction would have been in the past and not bear repeating.  Because of that we will grant a date of 80 A.D.  Clement also appears to quote Jude 25 in his Epistle to the Corinthians (96 AD), so an 80 A.D. date is not unrealistic.

Hebrews is a difficult book to date in part because its author is unknown.  For many years it was attributed to Paul, but in the past 50 years that has come into doubt.  Some scholars suggest it was written by Clement of Rome, a companion of Paul.  Others have suggested Apollos, another companion of Paul.  Apollos might indicate an earlier writing so again, to give the benefit of the doubt to skeptics, we will assume it was written by Clement and give it a date of no later than 110 A.D.

That leaves Revelation.  Most scholars believe it to be the last book of the New Testament to be written.  Some scholars date Revelation to 68 or 69 A.D. during the reign of Nero while most date it to 95 or 96 A.D. during the reign of Domitian.  The later date is generally accepted, however there is an intriguing passage that could support the earlier date.  In Revelation 11:1-2, Jesus tells John to “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple.”  This could be the Second Temple which would mean Revelation was also written prior to 70 A.D.  Due to the cryptic nature of Revelation, it is difficult to determine whether this reference the Second Temple of Herod or the final reconstruction of the Temple prior to Jesus’ return.  For now, we will accept the 96 A.D. date.

From this and our earlier posts we see that the latest books in the New Testament was likely written less 70-80 years following the Crucifixion of Jesus.  These later books are largely theological, not historical, so the later dates do not threaten the historical accounts of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection.  It also shows that the basic beliefs of Christianity were established very early.

One question that may arise about these dates.  How do we know the authors listed actually wrote the books?  With the exception of the books discussed in this post, there was virtually no disagreement as to the authorship of the books of the New Testament among early believers.  The earliest manuscripts show the attribution of the books to the known writer, even though there are very few claims to authorship (except Luke) in the texts themselves.  We also have a “chain of custody” of the stories from teacher to student for nearly 200 years after Jesus.  Early Church fathers also quoted these books as authoritative, something they would not have done had they been forgeries.

All this leads us to a very solid case that we know the original authors, the books were written early, and the story didn’t change over time. Next week we will complete Part III of this series by looking at whether the Gospel and New Testament accounts can be considered eyewitness statements of historic events.

Early Dating of the Gospels – Part II

In Part I we discussed the early dating of the Gospels and New Testament books based on manuscript evidence and how the Bible compares to other ancient texts.  In Part II we will examine the evidences found within the New Testament that point to early authorship of these books. 

In order to begin determining just how early the books of the New Testament were likely written, we need to establish some known dates.  Using generally accepted dates, we can begin to narrow down potential dates for New Testament writings.

Establishing a Timeline

Some of the most accepted dates related to the Bible center on the Apostle Paul, his missionary travels, and his epistles.  Although there is disagreement on some of the exact years they are generally accepted within a small window of a few years.  For the sake of simplicity, we will use either the accepted year or the later of the date ranges.

The Apostle Paul had his conversion experience within two years of the Resurrection.  If we accept 30 A.D. as the date for the Resurrection, that places Paul conversion at 32 A.D.  In Galatians 1 we learn the early timeline of Paul. 

After three years in Arabia and Damascus (35 A.D.), Paul travelled to Jerusalem where he met with Peter and James, Jesus’ brother.  Paul then went to Syria and Cilicia to preach the Gospel.  Fourteen years later (49 A.D.) Paul returned to Jerusalem to confirm that the Gospel he was preaching still agreed with the Disciples.

Paul’s missionary journeys were from: 44-48 A.D., 49-52 A.D., and 53-57 A.D.  Paul was imprisoned from 58 to 60 A.D.; arriving in Rome that year.  He was held under house arrest until 62 A.D.  After a short stint of freedom, Paul was arrested again and executed between 62 and 64 A.D. (we’ll use 64 A.D.).

We know from Acts that James, John’s brother, was martyred in 44 A.D. by Herod Agrippa I.  We also know from Josephus that James, Jesus’ brother, was martyred in 62 A.D.  Peter’s death is generally accepted to have occurred in 64 A.D.

This gives us a good start to begin to narrow down when different books were written, but there are a couple more facts that may help even more.  We know from history that during the Jewish Revolt (66-70 A.D.), the Romans marched through and conquered Galilee in 67 A.D.  The Romans began the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and razed the city later that year.

The below chart lays out what we have covered so far.

How Early Are the Gospels?

Now that we have some reference dates, we can begin to make inferences to the dates of the New Testament books.

First, we look at the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D.  Neither of these events is recorded in any of the New Testament books.  This seems to suggest that all the books of the New Testament were written prior to this.  Why wouldn’t the authors include these events if they were written after 70 A.D.; especially in light of Jesus’ prophesy of their destruction (Luke 21:5-6, Mark 13:1-2, Matthew 24:1-2).  What better way to prove your Master’s claim to deity than to show a fulfilled prophesy?

We also have the interesting description by John of the Pool of Bethesda.  In John 5:2, he describes that “Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades.”  The use of “is’’ and “has” seems to indicate the pool still existed at the time of the writing.

This pool was believed by critics to be a Second or Third Century invention of a zealot who wrote the book of John.  In 1888 the pool, complete with five colonnades, was unearthed by archeologists. 

The Pool of Siloam (John 9:7) and its associated tower (Luke 13:4) were likewise believed to be myth until they were discovered during a construction project in 2004.

If we accept, as most critics do, that John was the last Gospel, we have a strong likelihood that all four Gospels were written prior to 70 A.D.  But can we move the dates of authorship earlier?

Most of the early disciples were from Galilee.  When Rome responded to the Jewish Revolt, Galilee was one of the first regions to suffer their wrath.  By the end of 67 A.D., Galilee had fallen to the Romans on their march to Jerusalem.  The same question as above applies to this event; is it likely that the writers of the New Testament books would overlook it?  If not, we now have a latest date for most New Testament books of 66 A.D.

We know that 1 Corinthians was written in 54 A.D. following Paul’s first trip to Corinth.  In 1 Corinthians 11:23–26 Paul quotes Luke 22:19–20 as Scripture.  This places the writing of Luke prior to 54 A.D.; approximately 30 years after the Resurrection.

Luke states in the opening of his Gospel that “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,”.  This indicates that at least one account of Jesus’ life had already been written.  Most critics believe that Luke borrowed from both Mark and Matthew, likely placing them no later than 53 A.D.

Critics also believe that either Mark borrowed from Matthew or vice versa.  That would push one of these Gospels to no later than 52 A.D.  We now have at least one account no more than 22 years after the Resurrection; well within the lifetime of eyewitnesses.

How Early Are the Other New Testament Books?

The book of Acts follows the spread of the early Church; primarily focused on Peter and Paul.  If we look at the details of Acts, we see that, like the Gospels, the conquest of Galilee and destruction of Jerusalem go unmentioned.

The martyrdom of Peter and Paul (64 A.D.) also aren’t mentioned.  We have to ask ourselves how likely would it be that Luke would spend that much time detailing the events of Acts, but neglect to include the deaths of the most prominent Church leaders. 

When answering this question, we also have to consider that Luke didn’t include the martyrdom of James, Jesus’ brother, in 62 A.D.  These omissions seem odd in light of the fact he felt it important to include the deaths of both James, John’s brother, and Stephen, an early deacon.  This gives us a potential latest date for Acts of 62 A.D.

Peter is traditionally considered the author of 1 and 2 Peter; potentially through a ghost writer.  Early Church scholars like Origen and Justin Martyr attribute both books to the apostle.  This would mean both books were written prior to 64 A.D.

Paul’s epistles likewise would have a latest date of 64 A.D.  The dates of most of Paul’s epistles are undisputed, so we will simply acknowledge the earliest date is 49 A.D. (1 Thessalonians) and the latest is 2 Timothy (64 A.D.)

The chart below lays out our proposed dates for New Testament books prior to 70 A.D.

This gives us 21 of 27 books dated prior to 70 A.D.  The brevity of this forum doesn’t allow a full exposition of the remaining New Testament books.  We will simply present proposed dates without discussion; John 1, 2, and 3 (no later than 96 A.D.), Jude (80 A.D.), Hebrews (110 A.D.) and Revelation (69 or 96 A.D.).  A latter post may take up this topic or contact us for more information.

Part III will examine whether these accounts likely constitute eyewitness accounts and can be considered reliable accounts of historical events.

Early Dating of the Gospels – Part I

Our previous posts have laid out the case that a theistic God exists.  From the truth argument through the possibilities of miracles, each supports the existence of one spaceless, timeless, immaterial, intelligent, powerful, and personal entity that created all things.  The most plausible explanation is a monotheistic God.  Despite this, the question remains:  which God are we talking about?

Is this the God of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam (the 3 primary monotheistic world religions)?  These are the only real options in that each professes a monotheistic view of God.  So how do we determine which is accurate?  John Locke suggested that miracles are used by God to validate His messengers, so we will examine His messengers. 

We will focus primarily on examining Christianity for two primary reasons: 1) Islam doesn’t profess any miracles by Muhammad until much later in history.  The Quran even says that Muhammad refused to perform miracles.  2) If we prove the Christian view, as Frank Turek points out, we “get the Old Testament thrown in for free.”

In Part I, we will examine whether there is evidence to show that the Gospels, and other New Testament books, were written early enough to be considered historically accurate.  We will also compare the New Testament to other historical works to see how they compare to these accepted histories.

Part II will examine evidences that point to early authorship of the Gospel and the New Testament books.  Because early authorship doesn’t prove truthfulness, Part III will examine whether these accounts can be considered eyewitness accounts and whether they are trustworthy.

Why is early dating important?

Historians seek to find records as close to the events they are studying for a couple of reasons.  First, early accounts are more likely to be more accurate than accounts written hundreds of years later.  Eyewitness accounts typically provide the most accurate and detailed information on an event. 

Second, these early accounts typically haven’t developed exaggerated details of the event, as this type of legend usually develops over long periods of time. Over time memories fade, details are added, and legend begins to develop. Records written near the time of the event can also be challenged by witnesses should the author exaggerate the details of that event. 

How Does the New Testament Compare in Earliness?

When we compare the New Testament books with other ancient writings, we begin to see the superiority of these books in relation to other ancient texts.  For example, our first manuscripts detailing the events of Alexander the Great’s life were written 300-500 years after he lived (there are possibly fragments of two documents about 100 years after his death). 

The first copies of Homer’s Iliad are from about 500 years after Homer.  The earliest works regarding the life of Julius Caesar come from about 1,000 years after his death.  The works of Tacitus, one of ancient histories most respected historians, are from about 1,000 years after he wrote them.  Copies of the writings of Plato are about 1,200 years after he died.

So, how do New Testament books, especially the Gospels, stack up?  The John Ryland fragments which contain portions of John 18 were determined to have been written between 117 and 138 A.D.; at most about 100 years after Jesus’ death.  These fragments aren’t the originals, so the original would have been written at an earlier date.  Other fragments have been found that date as early or potentially earlier than the Ryland fragments. 

Our first copies of a complete New Testament are the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, both of which date to the mid-300’s A.D. 

Before this we have writings from early Church fathers (Clement, Ignatius, Papias, and Polycarp).  These writings quote the Gospels extensively, the earliest of which was Clement (died 99 A.D.).  The last of the four early Church fathers who quoted the Gospels was Polycarp who died about 155 A.D. 

The Didache, a text outlining early Church practices from around 100 A.D. quotes broadly from Matthew and Luke.  We also have the Muratorian Fragment, a text that quotes an earlier Greek text dating to 170 A.D.  What is interesting in dating the Gospels and New Testament is that it lists all the books of the New Testament with the exception of Hebrews, 3 John(?), 1 & 2 Peter, and James.

Contrary to some critic claims that the Gospels and other New Testament books weren’t written until the mid-200’s or later, we can see that there was extensive distribution of the Gospels by the late first century; less than 70 years after the Crucifixion.

How Does the New Testament Compare in Quantity?

How do the Gospels stack up in number of early manuscripts compared to the above-mentioned writings?  The history of Julius Caesar comes from 10 early manuscripts.  Seven manuscripts of Plato’s works survive.  There are about 650 early manuscripts of Homer’s Iliad.  Alexander the Great’s story comes from 123 codices that were written in the 800’s based on earlier sources.  The histories of Tacitus remain in only three extant manuscripts.

By contrast, Dr. Dan Wallace, director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, places the number of New Testament manuscripts at nearly 6,000 Greek manuscripts.  In addition, there are approximately 10,000 Latin texts and over a million manuscripts in various other languages.

The early dating of existing manuscripts, the large number of such manuscripts, and voluminous quoting of these early texts allow historians to use textual criticism to determine what the original texts said.  Textual criticism involves comparing various copies of the same text to determine the original text. 

Through this method and the large number of early manuscripts and quotes, scholars can determine nearly 98% of the original writings; all but 11 verses of the New Testament.  In fact, this technique has allowed us to identify certain passages that weren’t likely in the original texts; John 8:1-11, for example.

This short post can’t even scratch the surface of the vast amount of information available on the topic of New Testament manuscripts and dating.  Research and new discoveries continue in the area of early manuscripts. 

For more information go to the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts website.  You can also read J. Warner Wallace’s book “Cold Case Christianity”, Craig Blomberg’s “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels”, or Geisler and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist”.

Our next post will examine whether we can establish dates for the New Testament early enough to allow them to be eyewitness accounts. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience” – Abraham Lincoln, 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Are Miracles Possible?

To this point we have discussed objective truth and how it points to God. We have also shown how the cosmological and teleological arguments demonstrate God exists. In our quest to show the truth of Christianity, this post will discuss whether miracles are possible.

You may wonder why a discussion of miracles would be part of an investigation of Christianity. Simply put, if miracles aren’t possible, Christianity can’t be true and God can’t exist. However, if miracles are possible Christianity can be true.

In his “Discourse on Miracles”, John Locke developed the idea of miracles as supernatural events that confirm messengers from God.  Although he was an empiricist, Locke understood that science can’t prove everything, that is where the supernatural must be considered.

David Hume and Methodological Naturalism

Today’s secular world is heavily influenced by the ideas of a philosopher from the early 1700’s; David Hume. His influence can be seen in virtually every aspect of life today.

Scottish philosopher David Hume has been especially influential in skeptics’ views on the possibility of miracles. Hume’s argument against miracles can be summarized as follows: 1) for a miracle to be accepted it must be attested to by a sufficient number of men of “good and trustworthy character”, 2) no man of “good and trustworthy character” would ever testify to a miracle, 3) therefore, miracles aren’t possible. Hume’s argument is fleshed out in much greater detail in his 8700-word treatise on miracles, but this provides a simplified, layman’s view of his argument.

What we see in scientific study today is an extension of Hume in the form of Methodological Naturalism. Methodological naturalism excludes any kind of immaterial, supernatural explanation from consideration when attempting to explain various cause and effect relationships; only material science is considered valid.

This presuppositional exclusion of certain possible explanations is actually contrary to science. Scientists should consider all explanations of the observations they make. By excluding certain possibilities and following methodological naturalism, the scientist is allowing his or her own biases to affect the outcome of their study. The irony is that methodological naturalism can’t be proven by any material scientific experiment; it is a philosophical position.

If accepted and taken together, it is easy to see how these ideas have impacted our current situation, especially in relation to Christianity. Unfortunately, both positions have logical problems.  Hume tells us that miracles, a way to confirm God’s message, aren’t possible.  Hume’s argument however, commits the logical fallacy of “begging the question”; the premise assumes the conclusion is true. Dr. William Lane Craig presents a simplified analogy of Hume’s error in this video .  Methodological naturalism insists that the only acceptable hypotheses in science have to be of natural origin, regardless of what the evidence says.

Miracles, with or without a miracle worker?

We have previously discussed two miracles; one that all scientists agree occurred (albeit dispute the cause) and one that most historians agree occurred (even if they only indirectly admit it). These two events are the Big Bang and the Resurrection of Jesus.

To recap these previous posts (here and here), scientist agree that all space, time, and matter were created at the Big Bang. Prior to this, dare I say “miraculous”, event there was nothing; as in “no thing”. For a reason that material science has yet to explain, the universe simply exploded into existence. Genesis 1 is arguably the greatest miracle in the Bible; without it nothing else matters, with it any miracle has to be considered at least possible.

Jesus’ resurrection has been extensively studied by Dr. Gary Habermas who has developed the Minimal Facts argument. His argument for the historicity of the Resurrection relies on five facts that approximately 95% of all historians agree happened. Early historical sources, both inside and outside the Bible, support these minimal facts. These five facts also have no naturalistic explanation for them. The only plausible explanation for all these facts is that 2000 years ago someone claiming to be the Son of God was executed, buried, and three days later walked out of his tomb. That seems to meet the criteria of miracle.

Building on just these two events we can make the argument that miracles are at least possible. This means that methodological naturalism is an invalid approach to scientific study.

We are not saying that we should immediately look to miracles as explanations for unexplained phenomena, but we also shouldn’t exclude them if the evidence leads us that direction. It should also be made clear that neither of these events are being attributed to miracles from a lack of knowledge, a “God of the Gaps” argument. Instead, these are positive conclusions based on the evidence we do observe and a lack of competing theories.

One argument raised against miracles is that they are impossible because they are extraordinarily claims which require extraordinary evidence.  A potential problem with this argument is it could be considered self-refuting.  If we consider this an extraordinary claim, it would require extraordinary evidence to prove it takes extraordinary evidence to prove extraordinary claims. 

The other problem with this standard of proof for extraordinary claims is that the skeptic can simply refuse to accept any evidence presented as being insufficient.  No matter how convincing the presented evidence may be, the skeptic could simply continue to ask for more in order to be convinced.

Atheists bear the burden of proof for their naturalistic claims; just as Christian do for their claims.  This means the atheist must provide extraordinary evidence for their claim the universe originated from nothing and from no one. Claiming that all space, time, and matter created all space, time, and matter violates the Law of Causality; an extraordinary claim.  The atheist must explain our two miracles with a naturalistic mechanism or else he has a miracle without a miracle worker. Christianity presents them as miracles with an identified Miracle Worker.

What does science say?

Today we often hear the phrase “follow the science”.  The problem for methodological naturalism and the philosophies of Hume is that only some evidence is considered acceptable – naturalistic evidence.  Any explanation that points to supernatural causes is automatically ignored.  But I thought we were “following the science”?

Scientists draw inferences based on their interpretation of the data they observe. This can be influenced by a scientist’s presuppositional biases. In the end, science doesn’t say anything, scientists do.

This post only scratches the surface on why miracles should indeed be considered possible.  More information on this topic and others can be found on our Resources page and in Norm Geisler and Frank Turek’s book “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist’.

Now on MeWe!

We have created a new page to help spread information on Christian Apologetics and share the Gospel on MeWe (mewe.com/i/sheepdogapologetics). We will be posting all our previous blog post there over the next few weeks and begin including MeWe in our bi-weekly blog posts. Stop by and check out our new page.

We are also working on setting up a Parler account. Stand by for more information.

Dr. Voddie Baucham on CRT

I don’t typically post political topics, but this is not a political issue; it is a Gospel issue. Dr. Baucham is probably the most knowledgeable and eloquent person speaking out about this poison and it’s threat to the Church.

Capstone Report@CapstoneReport · Southern Baptists are cowards on CRT, says @VoddieBaucham on the @toddstarnes show.

The Significance of a Sheepdog for Apologists

logo courtesy Chiara Martinez

I’ve been asked what type of dog is in all the pictures on our Sheepdog Apologetics webpage and Facebook and Twitter pages.  I’ve also been asked if there is a significance to this dog.  This post will briefly look at why this particular breed exemplifies our spirit and goals as apologists.

A Breed Straight Out of the Bible

The breed is an Anatolian Shepherd Dog; in Turkish “choban kopegi” (Shepherds’ Dog).  The Anatolian comes, quite obviously, from Anatolia in modern day Turkey.  This region encompasses most of central Turkey, including the Apostle Paul’s hometown of Tarsus, the churches which Paul’s epistles were addressed to, and the seven churches mentioned in Revelation.

Archeological finds of Assyrian bas-reliefs and carvings from 2,000 BC show that the Anatolian is among the oldest identifiable dog breeds.  Many experts think Job 30:1, and several other Old Testament passages, is referring to Anatolian Shepherds.

Anatolians were introduced to the US in the 1930s through a US Department of Agriculture study to determine the best flock dog for the vital wool industry.  During a state dinner discussion between the Secretary of Agriculture and the Turkish Ambassador, the subject of the study came up.  The Turkish Ambassador proudly proclaimed that Turkey had the best flock dog in the Anatolian Shepherd Dog.  This led to a pair of Anatolians being donated to the US, but war shortages and cost overruns caused the termination of the program and the sale of the dogs.

A Fearless Defender of the Flock

Anatolians are a large muscular breed, prized for their steadfast defense of their flocks against predators, regardless of the size or number of predators.  They historically showed no fear in facing down wolves or even lions in order to protect flocks under their charge.  Anatolians have more recently been used in Africa to deter cheetahs from local shepherds’ livestock, and even as companions for cheetahs raised in captivity.

Unlike other types of herding or livestock guardian dogs, the Anatolian is highly independent and can be left in charge of a flock in the field; working alone or in teams.  Like other herding or protection dogs, the Anatolian is extremely intelligent.  Their independence and intelligence can sometimes make them challenging to train, but their fearless devotion to their flock and shepherd outshine these drawbacks.  Anatolians are not herding dogs, but rather travel with flocks as protectors as they move across the landscape.

Despite their large size, strength, and fearlessness, Anatolians are extremely gentle with members of flocks and families they are tasked with protecting.  Anatolians can fend off lions and then comfort young lambs or goats in their flock.  There are even examples of Anatolians pulling sheep out of deep water (sheep are notoriously poor swimmers).  Anatolians show the same loyalty in protecting their human “flocks”.  They can be just at home alone in the field as curled up at your feet; ready to challenge all threats.

How Are Anatolians Pertinent to Apologetics?

Because of its origin and the traits discussed above the Anatolian Shepherd Dog seemed a perfect “mascot” to represent our mission. 

The first connection to the Anatolian is its birthplace.  The entire area of Anatolia played a major part in the early expansion of the Church.  The Apostles would have been familiar with the Anatolian and its key role in protecting flocks and livelihoods in the region.  As they travelled the roads between Jerusalem and Asia Minor the disciples likely would have observed Anatolians at work protecting flocks.

As apologists we must imitate the steadfastness of Anatolians in defending Scripture and the Church against the “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).  Many times we may find ourselves alone in groups of non-Christians where we have to stand our ground. We may also be called upon to enter the fray when a fellow Christian is battered by questions and beginning to doubt their faith.

When heretical ideas begin to seep into our churches, it may fall to the apologist to recognize them and sound the warning.  The Apostle Paul warned that “fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” (Acts 20:29).  We must fearlessly challenge those that would seek to “devour the flock”.

To match the Anatolian’s intelligence, we should study the truth of Christianity as well as arguments against the Faith.  This intellectual exercise prepares us and gives us confidence to stand in the gap between worldly philosophies and the truth of God’s Word.  We should also be prepared to analyze ideas in light of Scripture and be ready to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:5-6).

These steadfast and intelligent traits lead to the ability to work independently.  We should be self-motivated to learn our job as case makers.  We also need to be able to analyze Scripture and any challenges that may come up.  This independence pertains only to performing apologetic tasks; we must always remain dependent on our Shepherd and His guidance.

The last trait of an Anatolian that apologists must have is their gentle nature. Anatolians will engage threats only with the force required. As apologists we must ensure we are not engaging in order to simply win an argument, but to win a heart to Christ. We are directed by Scripture to carry out our mission “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). 

This means gently helping a fellow Christian work through doubt, just as with challengers to the Faith. The Anatolian uses its presence to deter predators, unless a confrontation is required. Our true model in this case must always be Jesus, who was gentle until stronger methods were required.

As you grow in your role as Christian Case Makers and Sheepdogs, reflect on the traits of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog and draw strength and resolve from their example. But first and foremost, look to the guidance of our Savior and Shepherd to lead you through all situations.

Check out our Resources Page for more information on how to be a Christian Sheepdog. Also, leave a comment below if you have any questions regarding this or any of our blog posts.

Why It’s Important For Every Christian To Be A Christian Case Maker (J Warner Wallace Video)

As Christians we owe it to our children, our community, and our Church to become Christians case makers (Sheepdogs).


“things that have been made” Point to God: The Teleological Argument

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” Romans 1:20

So far, we have discussed how objective truth points to God (the Moral Argument) and the creation of the universe points to God (the Cosmological Argument).  This week we look at the Teleological Argument; the argument from design. 

The word teleology comes from the Greek word teleo means “to perform, execute, or complete” and is where we get our word teleology; the study of evidences of design in nature.

Constants Required for Life (the Anthropomorphic Principle)

Scientists agree that certain constants in physics must be extremely precise in order for this universe to exist.  If any one of these constants is off by even the smallest fraction, the universe wouldn’t exist.  Carl Sagan initially proposed two, but today there are well over 200 accepted constants.  Astrophysicist Hugh Ross calculated that 122 constants required for life would mean only one chance in 10138 the universe could sustain life. 

By comparison, the chance of drawing a royal flush on the initial deal in poker is 1 in 649,739.  Are you a betting person?  Need another comparison?  How about scientists estimate that there are only 1070 atoms in the universe.

An example of how precise these constants must be; if gravity was different by the most minute amount, one part in a thousand million million according to Stephen Hawking, the universe would either collapse on itself or expand so rapidly that planets and stars wouldn’t form.  Oh, and all these constants had to be there within milliseconds of the Big Bang or we wouldn’t be here, also according to Hawking.

The placement of cosmic bodies also seems designed to allow life on Earth.  The distance of the Earth from the Sun is referred to as the “Goldilocks Zone”; any closer and we would burn up and any farther away and we would freeze.  If Jupiter wasn’t where it is and the size it is the Earth would be bombarded by comets and meteors to the point of destruction.  Jupiter acts as a “cosmic vacuum cleaner” according to Frank Turek.  The list goes on.

Fibonacci Sequence (or Golden Ratio)

Italian mathematician, Leonardo Fibonacci, developed a mathematical formula to explain the curves found in the Golden Ratio.  His formula is Fn = Fn-1 + Fn-2 so that a sequence beginning with 1 gives us 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, …  The interesting part concerning the design argument is that this creates a spiral that we see repeated in nature; in the curve of a snail shell, the seeds in a sunflower, the seeds of a pine cone, rose petals, the spiral of galaxies, etc.  This ratio has been used by Da Vinci in his art and inventions and Johannes Kepler in his planetary orbits study; to name just two.

Fibonacci Sequence
Nautilus shell

It’s in Your DNA

It is estimated that the DNA of an amoeba contains the same amount of information as 1,000 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  Human DNA has been found to contain three billion letters of information in a specific sequence.  DNA governs protein formation in cells which regulate cellular functions; including creation of new DNA.

This is a vast amount of information contained in every cell of every living thing in the universe.  Where did this information come from?  Our observations show us that information only comes from an intelligence.  If we see “John loves Mary” on a beach, we don’t say “Gee, that must have been some strange tidal action that caused that.”  We know intuitively it originated from an intelligent source.

These three areas (cosmic constants, Fibonacci, and DNA) all point to a designer at work in the creation of the universe. 

The Teleological Argument

All this design and information brings us to the Teleological Argument as stated by Dr. William Lane Craig: Premise 1 – The universe is either the product of chance, necessity, or design, Premise 2 – The universe is not the product of chance, Premise 3 – The universe is not the product of necessity, Conclusion – The universe is the product of design.

Let’s look at each premise to see if Dr. Craig’s argument holds.  Premise 1 – The universe is either the product of chance, necessity, or design.  This is self-evident to the point that critics won’t even argue this point.  They accept that these are the only three logical choices.

What about Premise 2?  The universe is not the product of chance.  As we said earlier just, 122 constants required for life to exist make it statistically impossible for our universe to have developed from chance.  The numbers for all this to have been just a big game of chances are mind boggling.

Is the universe a product of necessity?  Premise 3 of Dr. Craig’s argument says no.  In order for the universe to be a product of necessity would mean that there is something intrinsic within the universe that meant that it HAD to exist.  But, if there was no space, time, or matter, or even natural laws (constants), what would have constituted this need to exist?  Natural laws couldn’t have created themselves before they existed.  Natural laws are also impersonal and can’t choose to create.  Gravity always does what it does, unless acted on by another force.

University of Arizona professor and theoretical physicist, Lawrence Krauss, claims that something came from nothing.  In his book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing, Krauss claims that the universe began with fluctuations in the cosmic vacuum which he defines as nothing.  Notice what Krauss does to make his case; he changes the definition of “nothing”.  When most scientist use the word “nothing” they mean “no thing”.  Krauss attempts to slip this slight of hand past his readers.  Nothing, as Aristotle said, is what rocks dream about.

So, if the three premises of Dr. Craig’s argument hold true, the most likely conclusion is the one he defines; The universe is the product of design. 

If we honestly look at the design found throughout the universe we must ask, how did it come to be?  The appearance of design is obvious.  Obvious to the point that atheist biology professor, Richard Dawkins, defines his field of study as “the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”  And Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA and an atheist, said “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”

The Apostle Paul addressed this attitude.  Again, from Romans 1: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made… but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools”.

Once more, these blog posts aren’t meant to be an all-inclusive discussion of these topics.  That would (and has) fill multiple books on each subject.  We encourage you to research these topics and those from previous post to build your case for Christianity.  See our Resource Page for some ideas of where to start.

Cosmological Argument for God

The Bible and most scientists agree on one thing: “In the beginning” something happened.  Scientist believe that “something” was The Big Bang; although there are several new theories being offered.  The Bible says “God created the heavens and the earth.”  While scientist usually don’t like to admit the similarities, they are obvious to most people.

Just like the Moral Argument for God, the Cosmological Argument doesn’t definitively prove God exists.  It is simply another powerful piece of evidence that points to God based on the Law of Causality.

Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover

The idea of a single creator was developed by Aristotle from Plato and Socrates’ earlier thoughts.  Aristotle argued “that there must be an immortal, unchanging being, ultimately responsible for all wholeness and orderliness in the sensible world.”  He also said this being would be indivisible.  His idea was that all the universe couldn’t have created itself.  It had to have someone that created it and set it in motion.

Aristotle also believed the world is progressing toward a particular end; that end must be directed by something.  Aristotle called this the Unmoved Mover or Prime Mover.

Kalam Cosmological Argument

Kalam is Arabic for “science of discourse” (ilm al-Kalam).  William Lane Craig traces the origins of the Kalam Cosmological Argument to Al-Ghazali, an Islamic scholar in the 1100’s.  Al-Ghazali formulated a basic argument to show that an infinite number of days cannot exist.  From this he suggested the universe couldn’t be eternal.  Despite his philosophical argument, the leading idea was that the universe was eternal until the 1960’s when the Big Bang Theory was widely accepted.

Al-Ghazali’s original argument is stated like this: an infinite number of days in history can never be reached; Today is the end of history; Therefore, there can’t be an infinite number of days or else we couldn’t have arrived at today.  Al-Ghazali’s argument shows that the idea of an eternal universe is not possible; time had a beginning.

Al-Ghazali later refined his argument, likely borrowing from Aristotle, to say: “Every being which begins has a cause for its beginning; now the world is a being which begins; therefore, it possesses a cause for its beginning.”  (Craig, Reasonable Faith, 1984).  He went on to argue that this cause had to be a personal being to choose to create something; that it wasn’t necessary to create.

Craig refined these ideas into the Kalam Cosmological Argument which states: Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence; The universe began to exist; Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.  Notice that Craig’s argument doesn’t claim that everything needs a cause, just those that began to exist.  Borrowing from Aristotle, Craig names God as the uncaused first cause.

The Big Bang Began It All

The Big Bang theory had its beginnings in Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.  Einstein’s calculations showed that the universe had a beginning.  Einstein didn’t like the possible implications of his theory, but in 1927 Edwin Hubble invited him to Mount Wilson Observatory to observe the “red shift” in light from distance planets.  This red shift confirmed the universe was expanding and Einstein’s Relativity theory was correct.  The universe had a beginning.

This idea wasn’t fully accepted until 1965 when Arno Penzias and Roger Wilson detected background radiation in the universe.  The radiation afterglow was a remnant of the Big Bang explosion.  Scientist in 1948 had predicted the afterglow as an effect of the Big Bang.

Frank Turek sums up the scientific evidence for the cosmological argument, in “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist”, with the acronym SURGE.  “S” is for the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  By this law, new energy isn’t being created and the universe is slowly running out of usable energy.  Accordingly, if the universe is “running down” it can’t be infinite in the past or all the energy would have been depleted by now; we would be in a dead universe.

“U” stands for the Universe is expanding.  Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and Hubble’s red shift both confirmed the universe is indeed expanding.  This expansion is radiating from the source of the Big Bang.  The radiation afterglow gives us the “R” in SURGE.  When Penzias and Wilson discovered this, they proved earlier proposals of the occurrence of a massive explosion that started the universe.

“G” and “E” come from the Great Galaxy seeds and Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.  The great galaxy seeds are areas in the universe where variations in the radiation afterglow allow matter to congregate and form stars and galaxies.  This was predicted by scientists and confirmed in 1989 by the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE).  Project leader George Smoot described seeing these variations “like looking at the face of God.”

Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity not only predicted the expansion of the universe, but also showed that all space, time, and matter originated with the Big Bang.  Prior to that there was no “prior to that”, there was no matter, and not even space.  There was nothing.  Aristotle described nothing “as what rocks dream about.”

Even alternate theories to the Big Bang point back to a beginning to space, time and matter.  The Multiverse Theory, which has no concrete, provable evidence, must rely on a beginning to the succession of infinite universes that are created.  Stephen Hawking, before he died, published his theory on the origins of the universe.  His theory, a finite number of universes each with similar attributes that had to exist, still relies on an initial starting point; before which nothing existed. 

Cosmology Points to God

Combining all these evidences (and the Moral Argument) we come up with an Uncaused First Cause as a being that is: spaceless (the cause can’t be within space if it created space), timeless (the cause must be outside time if time didn’t exist), immaterial (if matter didn’t exist it couldn’t have created itself), personal (the Prime Mover chose to create), powerful (creating all space, time, and matter requires unimaginable power), intelligent (the cause had to be infinitely intelligent), and morally perfect (from the Moral argument; objective moral truths).  All these point to the attributes of a monotheistic God. 

As we said in our last post (here), this doesn’t allow us to determine which of the monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is correct.  We will take up that discussion when we address each religion to see which is the most accurate depiction of God.  Our next post will discuss the argument from design (Teleological Argument) for God’s existence.

Objective Truth points to a monotheistic God

We all have a feeling that things aren’t right in this world. Artist struggle to create a perfect image, philosophers opine on the nature of right and wrong, and politicians pursue utopias within society. All these show a deep-seated understanding that this world should be better. The question is what is the standard we use to determine “better”. It requires objective standards of truth and morality.

Objective Truth Points to Something Higher

We have shown that objective truth exists, but what, or who, is the standard of that truth? Every law has a lawgiver. Who is the lawgiver for these universal standards of truth and morality? The brings us to the Moral Argument for God.

The problem for atheists is that in order to say that things aren’t as they should be or should be better, they have to assume an objective standard of how things should be. These standards can’t be based within the individual or society, as we have shown in previous posts (here and here). It must be based on something external to the individual or society.

It’s important to note that we aren’t saying atheists can’t be good and moral people; they just have nothing in which to ground their morality.  The important distinction to make here is not that you have to believe in God to know right from wrong. The question is WHY something is right or wrong. For the atheist who believes we are all just products of chance and there is nothing outside the material, there is no grounding principle for objective right and wrong.

This objective standard also couldn’t have evolved through the human experience. We intuitively know certain actions are wrong regardless of how we came to understand they are wrong. We all understand that it is wrong to torture babies for fun. That is why pro-abortion advocates go to such lengths to justify their beliefs; more on that in later posts.

If it is argued that morals evolved, we must admit that what we consider morally wrong could eventually evolve to be morally right. We would also have to admit that through the unguided process of evolution, things we find morally repugnant could have just as easily evolved to be considered moral.

Accordingly, if these objective standards truly exist then they must originate with an infinitely knowledgeable, unchanging lawgiver. This leads us to the Moral Argument for God’s existence.

William Lane Craig puts it this way: “1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.  2. Objective moral values do exist.  3. Therefore, God exists.”

Let’s examine the first two claims.

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. Without a moral lawgiver outside the individual or society, any moral judgement we might make is simply our opinion. There must be an external, all knowing, eternal lawgiver. Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in “The Brothers Karamazov”, “without God, everything is permitted.” Dostoyevsky, responding to Nietzsche, understood that God is where we get our moral grounding. Even Nietzsche, though an atheist, understood that without God most people would see life as meaningless; leading to nihilism. He even warned of the danger it would create in the coming 20th Century, the bloodiest in history. Man can justify any evil if there is no standard to be held to.
  2. Objective morals exist. We have already shown that regardless of whether we admit it or not we all know there are objective moral truths. Relativists will quickly plead to an objective moral standard if you steal their wallet. We all know that what the Nazi’s did to the Jews in World War II was objectively wrong. We also understand degrees of good and evil; Mother Theresa was better than Hitler.  This is based on how well each lived up to some objective moral standard.

Because the first two premises are true, the conclusion follows logically.  To give polytheists or pantheists the benefit of the doubt, at least for a moment, in reality Craig’s argument only proves a transcendent lawgiver or lawgivers.

Why Does This Point to a Monotheistic God?

Atheism doesn’t accept a higher, transcendent being so the Moral Argument rules it out as a valid worldview, but what about the others?

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes pantheism as “the view that God is identical with the cosmos, the view that there exists nothing which is outside of God, or else negatively as the rejection of any view that considers God as distinct from the universe.”  We’ll discuss why this view can’t be valid when we discuss the Cosmological Argument.  For now, suffice to say that if everything is God and God is everything, then God couldn’t have existed before the Big Bang, and if God didn’t exist there was no way for everything to be created.

That brings us to polytheism.  If polytheism is true, we find ourselves back at subjective truth. How so?  How do you decide which deity determines what is moral?  Is it Zeus or Hera?  Each deity could decide their idea of truth and morality is better (as often happened in Greek mythology).  Do they sit on Olympus and take a vote?  That would be society determining what is moral which doesn’t necessarily apply to all societies, hence subjective morality.

That leaves us monotheism.  At this point in our discussion, we can’t say which version of monotheism is accurate, just that the Moral Argument points to a single God.  We will take up that discussion later. 

The question could be asked how does God decide what is right and wrong.  Socrates actually addressed this question in the Euthyphro Dilemma, albeit through a polytheist lens.  The question Socrates posed to Euthyphro in Plato’s Dialogues was, paraphrasing: is something right because God said it was good or did God say it was right because it is good?  Socrates’ question assumes that the basis for moral truths lie either in what God decides (morality is subject to God’s whims and is subjective) or God sees what is moral and says that is right (morality lies outside God).  What Socrates and Euthyphro missed was that this is actually a trilemma, the third option being that something is good and moral because it is grounded in God’s very essence.

There is much more than can be said on this topic.  We encourage you to let this be the launching pad for your own research on the Moral Argument.  Our next few posts will address additional arguments for God’s existence. These will look at the question from the perspective of science. They are the Cosmological Argument and the Teleological Argument.

Postmodernism, Pluralism, and the Church.

In a previous post we discussed truth and nature of truth.  This week we continue that discussion by looking at postmodernism and relativism.  We’ll also address what this means for the pluralism that seems to be creeping into the Church.

 Are all Truths True?

Try this experiment with a group of friends.  Have everyone in the group stand up and close their eyes.  Now, with their eyes closed have them point to north.  Have them keep pointing and open their eyes.  How many different directions are people pointing?  Are they all correct?  If we wanted to go somewhere who’s north reference would we use?  Only one direction can be a true depiction of north and be used as a guide to get us where we want to go.  The same is true of truth and morality.

Postmodernism would have us believe that there is no objective reality, no scientific or historical truth, that reason and logic are not universally valid, language does not refer to reality outside itself, and that no general theory of the natural or social world can be true.  These are some pretty definitive statements for someone that is a relativist.

So, can all these statements be true?  Let’s examine them to see if they can withstand their own scrutiny.  Frank Turek uses what he calls “The Roadrunner Tactic”.  Apply the claim to itself and watch it crash to the canyon floor just like Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons.  When someone says “there is no truth” apply the claim to itself and ask, “Is that true?”  You’ll catch on as we go.

First, the idea that there is no objective reality.  For the idea that there is no objective reality to be true, the statement “there is no objective reality” must be objectively true.  If it isn’t and it too is relative, then the statement “there is no objective reality” can’t be true.  Do you begin to see the circular logic most postmodern and relativistic thought requires?  It is also self-defeating.

What about the statement: there is no scientific or historical truth?  One has to wonder how we can know anything if this statement is true.  This includes the idea that there is no scientific or historical truth.  If the statement is true how did our relativistic friend come to the conclusion there is no scientific or historical truth?  He couldn’t have done a scientific experiment to prove it.  He couldn’t have read it in a book; books are historical.  So, what is the basis for this claim?  Coyote crashes to the ground.

Is it true that reason and logic are not universally valid?  For this to be true the Law of Non-Contradiction, a universal law of logic, can’t be true.  Reason and logic either are or aren’t universally valid; there is no in between.  The problem is the person making this claim is using the same law he claims doesn’t exist.  Or if the Law of the Excluded Middle does exist it doesn’t apply to everyone so, for some people logic and reason would be universally valid. Crash goes Coyote!

What about the statement, language does not refer to a reality outside itself?  Ask “Did you read that in a book or did someone tell you that?”  Unless they developed the idea, they had to have gotten it from someone.  How did this transfer of ideas occur?  Through abstract psychic transference?  If it was through writing or speech, it can’t be valid because according to the claim any language used to convey the idea doesn’t refer to reality.  In addition, how can we understand their claim if it isn’t backed by a knowable reality. Poor Coyote.

The last idea, that no general theory of the natural or social world can be true, is the hardest on Coyote.  If this claim is true then the theory of postmodernism and relativism can’t be true.  How can you know anything about the world, except that you can’t know the world?  Which means you can’t know that you can’t know anything about the world.  As Coyote peels himself off the canyon floor he gets hit by the Acme anvil.

So, how has this erroneous postmodern thought affected the Church?

Christianity and Pluralism

Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).  Paul makes it clear in Galatians 1:8 that there is only one Gospel and even if Paul or an angel came preaching a different gospel the Galatians shouldn’t listen.  He later chastises the Corinthians for so easily following a new gospel taught by false teachers (2 Corinthians 11:4).

Many Christians today, especially among the Progressive Church, seem to have forgotten these verses.  In an attempt to be inclusive and tolerant, they say any path or religion is equally valid in following God.  They give into the relativist idea that all religions are simply different forms of the truth.

Pluralism is the postmodern idea that there are more than one truth or reality.  The problem, as it applies to religion, is that Christianity isn’t the only religion that makes mutually exclusive truth claims. Islam claims that Mohammed is God’s prophet and the Quran is the true word of God.  Hindus claim there are thousands of gods. Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses each make radically different claims about Jesus than Christians. This means that they can’t all be true. Someone isn’t pointing to the correct north.

Again, if we apply the claim to itself it falls under the weight of its own assertions. If it is true that all religions are true, any religion that makes mutually exclusive claims (hint, they all do) can’t be true.  And this invalidates the claim that all religions are true. Look at it this way, if someone tells you it is wrong to say not all religions are true, they are contradicting their claim by saying that your religion is wrong. Does your brain hurt yet?

This isn’t to say that various religions are completely wrong. There may be nuggets of truth, for example say in Hinduism, but the overall religion may be false.  There can also be varying degrees of truth in religions but they can still be wrong.  Some may come closer than others to answering the questions all worldview must answer; Where did we come from?, Why are we here?, How should we treat each other?, and What happens after we die?

As you begin to think about these concepts you will begin to see the illogic nature of many claims in society today. It’s akin to having blinders removed after years of wearing them. It can be liberating at the same time that it is frustrating, but I encourage you to keep looking to the truth.

In this and a previous post we have shown that subjective truth is really opinion, objective truth really exists, postmodernism and relativism both fail their own standards, and that all religions can’t be true.  We are building the foundation to show the truth of Christianity. In our next post we will examine how objective truth points to a monotheistic God.

The Minimal Facts of the Resurrection

The foundation of Christianity hinges primarily on the truth of one event: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul told the Corinthians “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor 15:14)  How can we be sure this event that means so much is a historical fact?  As we look forward to celebrating Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, this post will examine the historical basis for the Resurrection. 

The first thing we must understand is that there is no way to provide 100% proof for any ancient historical event.  We provide evidence and determine the likely explanation for the evidence.  This holds true with the Resurrection as well.  We can provide evidence, but where evidence stops, faith begins.

What Qualifies as Minimal Facts?

Dr. Gary Habermas has developed an apologetic approach, the Minimal Facts, to the historicity of the Resurrection.  Habermas’ approach is based on historical facts strongly attested by multiple sources and admitted by nearly all credentialed scholars.  The list of scholars that accept these facts has been collected by Habermas and includes scholars in the fields of New Testament, Textual Criticism, History, etc. and includes skeptics as well as believers. So when he says that 98% of scholars accept a minimal fact it isn’t hyperbole, he has the numbers.

The nature of this post doesn’t allow a full exposition of these facts.  For more in-depth information read The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona.  So, what are the four (+1) Minimal Facts?

1. Jesus Died by Crucifixion on the Cross

The fact of Jesus’ crucifixion is virtually undisputed among scholars.  Even skeptics such as Bart Ehrman and John Dominic Crossin accept this fact.  The Jewish Talmud mentions the fact that Jesus was crucified, as does numerous First Century extra-biblical sources.  We also have numerous accounts of crucifixions by the Romans and not a single account of anyone surviving a full crucifixion. 

2. Jesus’ Disciples Had Experiences They Believed to Be Encounters of the Risen Jesus

This fact rests on an important distinction.  It states that Jesus’ disciples “believed” they experienced the risen Jesus.  This distinction allows skeptics to accept this fact because they can try to disprove these experiences.

The problem for the skeptic is that these experiences are multiply attested, occurred with numerous people (500 at one time), and occurred over a period of about 40 days (Acts 1:3-11, 1 Corinthians 15:3-7).  The disciples were also willing to die for their belief that they had seen the risen Jesus.  This effectively eliminates skeptical theories of conspiracy, hallucinations, delusions, and grief.

Had Jesus only swooned on the cross, as some claim, He still would have been in severely critical condition as a result of His beating and crucifixion.  The disciples would have recognized He hadn’t resurrected, but had somehow miraculously survived the crucifixion.

3. Paul Had an Experience He Believed to Be an Encounter of the Risen Jesus

Just like the disciples, Paul believed he experienced the risen Jesus.  What makes his reports different from the disciples is that he didn’t have reasons for hallucinations or delusion based on grief.  Paul, by his own admission (1 Corinthians 15:9), and those of other Christians (Galatians 1:22-23), was a vehement persecutor of early Christ followers.  He even actively went to the high priest to get permission to pursue and punish Christians (Acts 9:1-2).

Paul also had no motive to invent his report because of his position as a Pharisee.  Paul had been trained by Gamaliel and described himself as a “Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6).  We don’t know how high Paul would have gone in the Pharisaic power structure, but we can assume he had a promising career ahead of him.  He gave all this up, became a prominent advocate of Christianity, and was martyred for his beliefs in the risen Christ.

4. James, the brother of Jesus, Had an Experience He Believed to Be an Encounter of the Risen Jesus

Like Paul, James the brother of Jesus was a critic of Jesus’ ministry before His resurrection.  In Mark 3:21 we learn that Jesus’ brothers went to take Him home because they thought He was crazy.

We also learn from Hegesippus that James was likely so devout a Jew that he was actually a Nazarite.  Hegesippus describes James as being “holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh.  No razor came upon his head…”  This description matches that of the Nazarite group within Judaism. 

As a holy man, James would have seen Jesus as a blasphemer and would be unlikely to follow Him.  This all changed after James’ experience with the risen Jesus.  The change was so significant that we learn in Acts that James became the leader of the Jerusalem church.  Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria all report the martyrdom of James for his belief in the risen Christ.

+1. The Empty Tomb

This +1 Minimal Fact is the least attested and accepted by scholars; it is accepted by “only” 75% of scholars.  Even with less attestation, the empty tomb still presents several problems for the critic.  Matthew reports that the Jewish leaders paid the soldiers to say the disciples stole Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:11-15).  In addition to the fact the disciples wouldn’t have died for something they knew was a lie, the claim itself attest to the fact the tomb was empty.

Additionally, if the tomb wasn’t empty, as the disciples claimed, it would have been easy for the Jewish and Roman leaders to expose the disciples claim as false.  Another claim by critics is that the women and the disciples went to the wrong tomb.  Again, the correct tomb could have been identified and the body displayed.  This would have stopped Christianity in its infancy.

The last problem for critics of the empty tomb is the initial source of it being empty; the women.  In that culture women’s testimony was seen as deficient, if not useless.  Luke tells us that even the disciples didn’t believe the women initially (Luke 24:10-11).  If the disciples intended to create a hoax they wouldn’t have chosen women as the initial witnesses, especially since they were reported to be hiding while the women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body.

With these facts in mind, the skeptic must account for each with a plausible explanation.  Notice we don’t say “possible”; anything is “possible”, but not plausible.  All four Minimal Facts, and even the +1, have to be explained by critics or else the Resurrection is the best explanation for the evidences.  They also have to explain all of them with a single theory; multiple theories actually weaken their case.

For a more complete examination of Habermas’ Minimal Facts read his book.  But, when we examine the Minimal Facts the only plausible conclusion is that Jesus did exactly what He said he would do, raise from the dead.  If Resurrection happened, then Christianity is true.  If Christianity is true, God exists and He sent His Son to die for our sins.  As we celebrate this Easter holiday, we can be assured that our faith in Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for us is based on a historical event.  HE IS RISEN!

The Truth about The Truth

“What is truth?” (John 18:38). With those three simple words Pontius Pilate asked perhaps the most profound and fundamental question in human history. Whether you are a Christian, an atheist, or somewhere in between, the answer to this seemingly simple question impacts every aspect of our lives. It affects how we view the world and even our day-to-day actions.

In order to answer this question, we must answer three preliminary questions: “Does truth even exist?”, if so, “Is it subjective or objective?” and “What is the source of this truth?”

“Does truth exist?”

The existence or non-existence of truth is the first essential question in our discussion of truth. Postmodernism tells us there is no truth or that truth is individual to each person and their experiences.  We’re told that if truth does exist, there is no way we could know it (ironic, since the statement “there is no way to know the truth” is, in reality, a truth claim).  Philosopher Daniel Dennett even claims that consciousness, and any truth found in it, is simply an illusion.

If there is no such thing as truth this whole discussion becomes moot.  In fact, any discussion becomes pointless, if not incomprehensible.  For example, the words of this post would be incoherent if there were not a true meaning behind each of them; a tenant of postmodernism.  If there were no determinable truth behind the words, we would never be able to interpret them into the ideas they represent.  In reality, speech and the expression of ideas (including postmodernism) would become gibberish without truth.

So, if we take the time to examine the statements made from postmodernism, we quickly see they are self-refuting.  Without an objective standard of truth, we can neither confirm nor deny Christianity, or any other worldview, including atheism.  Life would be unlivable if there were no truth.  How could we trust the bridges we cross, or the airplanes we fly in, or our loved ones unless there is truth?  Even Dennett’s illusion of consciousness is a claim that relies on truth to be a truthful statement.  You get the point.

“Is truth subjective or objective?”

At this point your postmodern friend may acquiesce to the truth of truth, but they aren’t likely to give in completely that easily.  They may agree there is indeed truth, but it is subjective truth.

Subjective truth is centered in the subject (i.e. the person) making the observation.  This subjective truth can be different based on the person experiencing it, their past experiences, their ideology, etc.  Subjective truth can even change as the person has more experiences.  If someone says that it is true that caramel praline ice cream is the best ice cream ever, they are making a subjective truth claim.  Here’s the problem, someone else may be allergic to nuts so caramel praline ice cream would certainly not be the best ice cream for them; they may like mint chocolate chip.

This kind of truth comes down to personal opinions.  If truth changes based on personal likes or desires, is it really truth; or is it just personal preferences?  In this case, does “subjective truth” really exist?

Objective truth, on the other hand, is a statement that is true for all people, in all places, at all times when referring to a specific object.  If I say it is 75o in Albuquerque at a specific time, it is true that it is 75o for all people, in all places, and at all times when referring to that moment in Albuquerque.  The truth of the statement is based on the object (the temperature in Albuquerque), not someone’s personal opinion of the object. 

“What is the source of truth?”

Allowing for subjective truth presents a few problems.  For example, we can’t say that what the peeping tom does is truly wrong.  His “truth” is that it’s ok for him to participate in this action.  Who are we to say our “truth” trumps his version of the truth? 

The atheist may argue that it is wrong because he harms others.  However, if the other person never finds out, no one is harmed and he can justify his actions.  Under subjective truth we can’t say that our truth that it is wrong is any more valid than his truth that it isn’t.  This is the “individual says” form of subjective truth.  We now begin to see the problem with the often heard statement “that’s your truth, but it’s not my truth.” 

The same goes for the ideas that subjective truth is determined by what “society says” or “society does”.  In the first case, society passes rules to say what is truth (or moral).  However, if this were actually the case, we wouldn’t have had the right to put Nazis on trial after World War II; their society passed laws that said it was ok to exterminate Jews.  This idea is automatically abhorrent to most people.

“Society does” subjective truth is only slightly different in that it is based on the culture.  This argument could be used to justify racism, for example; “because that’s just the way society does things”.  Again, this idea is abhorrent to most people, so that can’t be the source of truth and morality.

Real truth and morality must be based on something more than personal or societal whims.  It has to find it’s grounding in something more permanent; the object itself.  This is objective truth

If there is indeed truth, as we have seen, and it is objective, as we have seen, what is its source?  Some postmodernist will say truth is what the person or society says it is.  We have shown that is subjective truth and not really truth, but merely opinion. 

When we talk about truth and its role in morality, subjectivism (or relativism) can’t be the source.  Truth and morality must be grounded in something outside of the individual or society. 

Truth also can’t be something that has just evolved or else it could eventually evolve that rape or torturing babies for fun wouldn’t be morally wrong.  Yet, we know at a fundamental level that both these are wrong and will always be wrong based on the object, regardless of the subject.  The source of objective truth must also be something unchanging. 

So, what is this source of unchanging truth that is outside society and outside the individual?  As Christians we know that the source is God.

We’ll look more in-depth at these ideas and how they apply to Christianity and other worldviews in later posts.

Why Apologetics is Important for Christians

“What are you reading?”

“A book on Christian apologetics.”

“Apologetics! I will never apologize for my faith in Christ.”

“No, no. Apologetics. It’s the art and science of defending Christianity through arguments based on science, philosophy, and history.”

“So you start fights about Christianity!?”

“No, intellectual arguments based on information from science, philosophy, and history that support the truth of Christianity. Let’s start at the beginning.”

What is apologetics?

When many Christians first hear the word “apologetics” they have a similar response to my uninformed friend. This is an understandable response in light of the fact that Christian apologetics wasn’t stressed among laypeople for a couple centuries until the past 10-15 years.

Apologetics comes from the Greek word “apologia”, meaning to make a defense.  The word “apologia” appears 8 times in the New Testament; four times in direct reference to defending the Gospel.  When we make an “apologia” of Christianity we are presenting evidence and reasons for the truthfulness of Christianity’s claims. 

The case we make for the truth of Christianity can take many forms.  There are arguments from science (i.e. the Big Bang or the fine tuning of the universe for life), philosophy (i.e. without God there is no unchanging moral truth), or history (i.e. archeology continues to confirm events, people and places from the Bible).  Apologetics even comes into use when we are challenged by various worldviews and theologies.

We are told to do apologetics

The idea of defending Christianity actually goes back to the very beginning with Jesus. Throughout the New Testament Jesus used a form of apologetics to try to explain who He was. He pointed to the Old Testament idea of a messiah and the signs given to help the Jewish people identify him; showing how He fulfilled those signs.

Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36) and Paul’s at Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31) were both early examples of apologetics in practice. In Acts 17:1-4 we see that while in Thessalonica, Paul “as was his custom, … reasoned with them from the Scriptures”.  In fact, the Book of Acts is full of examples of the apostles and disciples using apologetic methods to show the truth of who Jesus was.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus uses language indicating He expected the disciples to do apologetics when He said: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Witnesses testify to the truth of events just as we are to testify to the truth of the events in the Bible.)

Apologetics aren’t just modeled in the New Testament; we are also directed to do apologetics in the New Testament epistles (Philippians 1:7, 16).  The most famous is 1 Peter 3:15; “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (“apologia”) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”  The entire book of Jude is a defense of the faith; which he states at the beginning of his letter.

Apologetics for Sharing the Gospel ad Reinforcing Faith

Apologetics becomes a tool for evangelism by removing intellectual barriers someone might have against Christianity.  By answering questions about the truthfulness and accuracy of the Bible text, the creation of the universe, the Resurrection, truth, etc. we can help someone move closer to truly investigating the Gospel message.  This, in turn, can lead to their accepting Christ as their savior. 

Apologetics isn’t only for sharing the Gospel.  It can also be useful for Christians. By studying common critiques of Christianity and their answers, Christians can feel more confident in sharing the Gospel.  One of the biggest reason Christians don’t share their faith is they are afraid they won’t be able to answer question regarding Christianity.

 Also, as a part of discipleship, young Christians can get answers to their questions about the Gospel.  This allows them to honestly ask questions that otherwise would lead to doubts and potentially walking away from the Church.  It can also provide comfort and reassurance in times of trouble for Christians old and new.  Because we can have confidence in the message of the Gospel, we can better endure the trials and dry periods in life when we feel as if God isn’t close.

What apologetics is not

When the topic of apologetics comes up in many church circles, people will protest “you can’t argue someone into the kingdom.” While it is true the apologetics in and of itself won’t save any one, it can remove barriers to people being open to the Gospel message.  This is how apologetics becomes a tool for evangelism.  In the end only the Holy Spirit can move in someone’s heart to allow them to accept the free gift of God (Titus 3:5-7).

Keeping 1 Peter 3:15 in mind, apologetics also isn’t meant to be a bludgeon to be used against critics of Christianity.  We are not trying to win arguments; we are trying to win people to Christ.  If we approach the discussion with pride or arrogance, we are not modelling Christ for our friend.  As Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason says: “If either of you get angry, you lose.”

Finally, apologetics doesn’t have all the answers.  Although it can go a long way to answering questions skeptics and critics may have about Christianity, it can never fully explain an all-powerful Creator or His plans.  We must keep this in mind as we seek to help people understand the grace of Jesus’ sacrifice.

This is only a brief examination of why all Christians should take an interest in apologetics.  This blog will continue to provide more information on apologetics, it’s importance to Christian life, many of the common critiques of Christianity and their answers, and much more. 

My goal is to post a new blog post every two weeks.  Please check back often for new posts.  If you have a topic you would like to see discussed please email sheepdogapologetics@outlook.com and I’ll try to address it or provide a reference that covers the topic.  Welcome to this new venture!

Why Are We Here?

Society, basically, consists of three types of people. Sheep, those that are content living their life never worried about anything outside the immediacy of living. Wolves, people that seek to take advantage of the sheep, “seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

The last group are sheepdogs, those who recognize the threat posed by wolves and are willing to work to protect the sheep. We are dedicated to creating Christian sheepdogs to defend the flock against the wolves of the world and support the flock in times of doubt or vulnerability.

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