Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Was Jesus a Real Person?



Was the Jesus of the Bible a real person or was he simply a mythological, larger than life, person who was made up for one reason or another? The biblical writers claim that Jesus was a real person who was born as a baby, grew up like a normal human being, and was sentenced to death by the Roman government. Can we find supporting evidences both inside and outside of the Bible to affirm that Jesus was, in fact, a real person? Let’s take a look.

Jesus in a Roman Historical Account


In AD 115, Tacitus, a Roman historian, referred to Jesus as a person who had lived in Palestine and had been sentenced to death during the reign of Emperor Tiberius at the hands of Pontius Pilate.[1] As far as scholars can tell, Tacitus was not a Christian, but rather, thought Christianity was a “most mischievous superstition.”[2] Therefore, he wouldn’t have had a religious agenda behind making a statement about Jesus in his writing. Rather, he would’ve written it merely to accurately document history. Tacitus’s brief account of Jesus’s death aligns perfectly with the biblical account of his death from the four gospels in the Bible.

Jesus in Jewish Historical Accounts


Josephus is probably the most well-known Jewish historian in the first century AD. In his historical book The Antiquities, which was written in about AD 93, Josephus referred to James, who was killed by the Jewish authorities, as the brother of Jesus, implying that Jesus was a real human being.[3] The most compelling evidence, however, of Jesus’s physical existence is found within book 18 of Josephus’s Antiquities where he wrote:

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who have become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.[4]

Similar to Tacitus, Josephus was not a follower of Jesus. Instead, he was a Jew. Christianity spawned out of Judaism, but Judaism and Christianity are not the same religion. Throughout the first century AD, Jews despised Christians. Many of the Jewish leaders believed Jesus was a heretic and believed people who were following him were straying from Judaism. Therefore, when Josephus wrote this account of Jesus, he wasn’t writing as someone who followed Jesus, but as someone who probably didn’t like Jesus.

Is Josephus a credible source? According to Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, his accounts of the Jewish War align with the archaeological excavations at Masada and the historical writings of Tacitus, making him a reliable historian.[5]

Jesus in the Bible


Luke, a well-written doctor and historian, wrote an account of Jesus around AD 62, a mere twenty-nine years after he was killed (AD 33). In his writing, he claimed that Jesus was born to a virgin named Mary in the town of Bethlehem during the reign of Emperor Augustus (Luke 1-2). This would’ve put his birth around 5 BC. Based on information provided by Luke in his gospel (Luke 3:1-2, 23), Jesus probably began his public ministry in mid to late AD 29. His public ministry probably lasted about three and a half years, during which time he gathered twelve men around him whom he discipled. His earthly ministry was ended when he was turned over to the Jewish leaders by one of his disciples, Judas, and was crucified (hung on a cross) by Pontius Pilate at the request of the Jewish leaders (Luke 22:47-23:56).[6]

As I claimed in my last post, Luke is regarded as a credible source of historical information since precise details in his writings have been confirmed through archaeological discoveries and other sources written during the same time period.

Conclusion


The evidence overwhelmingly shows that Jesus was an actual person who lived in Palestine between 5 BC and AD 33. Based on the evidence, I would conclude that it would be much more difficult to deny Jesus’s physical existence than to affirm it.

Within both biblical and extrabiblical accounts of Jesus, it is documented that he claimed to be the Son of God. This was an audacious claim which has serious weight: Either Jesus was the Son of God or he was a raging lunatic.[7] In my next post I’ll be taking a look at whether there is sufficient evidence to affirm Jesus’s claim that he was the Son of God.


[1] Cornelius Tacitus, Annals 15.44 in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 87.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1, trans. William Winston, Project Gutenberg, 2013, accessed March 28, 2017, 11:8:5, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2848/2848-h/2848-h.htm#link112HCH0008.
[4] Shlomo Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and Its Implications (Jerusalem: Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1971), 16 in Andreas Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2009), location 3334-39, Kindle. This passage is under considerable scrutiny by scholars because the earliest manuscripts of Josephus’s Antiquities are written differently than the passage I quoted above. The wording in the earliest manuscripts appear to have been modified by Christian scribes rather than reflecting the actual wording written by Josephus. The wording I quoted is from an Arabic translation of The Antiquities which scholars believe to be more accurate than the other manuscripts.
[5] Strobel, The Case for Christ, 86.
[6] Andreas Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2009), location 4014-98, Kindle.
[7] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: Collins, 1952), 54–56.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why I Believe the God of the Bible is the Higher Supreme Being Who Created the Universe



In my previous post, I presented a few reasons why I believe in the existence of a higher supreme being. If a higher supreme being truly exists, then what information can be known about this higher supreme being? Since science simply seeks to use “observation and experimentation to describe and explain natural phenomena,”[1] it’s not going to be our best starting point. Instead, every world religion claims to know this higher supreme being (or multitude of higher supreme beings). This makes religion the best place to look for answers to these questions.

Not All “Gods” Are Equal


I’ve often heard it said that all religions ultimately point towards the same higher supreme being or “god”; when put together, they form a complete picture of this higher supreme being. If each world religion is really worshiping the same god, then we should see consistencies in the characteristics of this god within the different religions, specifically in the areas of overlap. Otherwise, this god would be schizophrenic. However, this is not what we see.

For example, although Islam’s god, Allah, and Christianity’s god, Yahweh, have quite a bit in common such as being omniscient, merciful, king, sovereign, and holy, there are some differences between them. One such difference is that, according to Muhammad, Islam’s Apostle, “The most awful name in Allah’s sight on the Day of Resurrection, will be a man calling himself Malik Al-Amlak (the king of kings).”[2] According to Paul and John, apostles of Yahweh and two of the biblical writers, Jesus, the son of Yahweh, is called the “King of kings.”[3] And according to Jesus, as recorded by John, Yahweh loves Jesus.[4] If Allah and Yahweh are one in the same god, then this god is schizophrenic because in one breath he said he loves his son and in the next breath, he said his son’s name is the most awful name. These two statements don’t align.

I don’t have the space to write about it here, but if we were to dig into every other world religion, we would find contradictions between the god of the Bible and the gods of every other religion. Having said that, it is possible that the Bible’s claims of Yahweh could be incorrect. So let’s take a look at the reliability of the information written in the Bible.

The Reliability of the Biblical Manuscripts


The Bible is compilation of apparent “revelations from Yahweh” to 40 people over a 1,500 year period of time. It is broken down into the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament was written completely during the time period before Jesus’s earthly life and the New Testament was written completely during the time period after Jesus’s earthly life. Having been written so many years ago, we have to ask whether the Bible we have today is an accurate representation of the original manuscripts which were written many years ago. Let’s take a look.

Historical records indicate that Jewish scribes who copied texts were very careful and meticulous to ensure that their copies were extremely accurate. But how do we really know that this is true? Arguably the best case study came for this is in the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947. The Dead Sea scrolls are a set of manuscripts containing portions of every Old Testament book of the Bible except Esther which were probably written between 250 BC and AD 135.[5] Most notably, they contained an entire manuscript of the book of Isaiah. When Old Testament scholars compared the Dead Sea scrolls manuscripts to the earliest ones they had available (Masoretic text dating to the early eleventh century AD), they concluded that 95 percent of the Old Testament is textually sound. The other 5 percent of variations are relatively insignificant in relation to key doctrinal matters.[6]

As much data as is available to affirm the reliability of the Old Testament, there is even more data to support the reliability of the New Testament. All of the New Testament books were written by either eye-witnesses of Jesus or close associates of eye-witnesses of Jesus as opposed to the stories being passed down from generation to generation. As of 1998, there had been about 24,000 manuscripts discovered which contained portions of the New Testament, some in Greek (the original language in which the New Testament was written) and some in other languages such as Latin, Ethiopic, Slavic, and Armenian.[7] This is more manuscripts than any other work of antiquity. The next closest is Homer’s Iliad with 650 manuscripts.[8] Biblical scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix wrote, “The New Testament, then, has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in a purer form than any other great book–a form that is 99.5 percent pure.”[9] And once again, none of the variants impact major theological doctrines.[10]

My conclusion: The entire Bible, both the Old and New Testament in the form we have today, are reliable transmissions of information.

The Reliability of the Biblical Authors


Although the biblical manuscripts available today are believed to be very similar to the ones originally written thousands of years ago, this fact doesn’t prove that the people who wrote them were actually attesting to the true nature of the higher supreme being who created the universe. It’s possible that they could’ve made it all up. Therefore, we need to take a look at the reliability of the biblical authors. The way I’m going to test the reliability of the biblical authors is to test their historical reliability. Do archeological discoveries and outside writings document the same historical events as the biblical writers?

One example of such corroboration is the tradition of a worldwide flood which occurred at some point during ancient human history. A flood story is documented in ancient cultures on every inhabited continent around the world. The most notable accounts of this story are found in the Bible and in the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the biblical account of the flood, Yahweh calls Noah to build an ark which is 450 feet long by 75 feet wide by 45 feet tall. As a comparison, the Titanic was 883 feet long by 92 feet wide by 175 feet tall. Based on these dimensions, engineers built a smaller model of the ark with the same proportional dimensions and ran tests on it to determine its stability during a raging storm. They observed that the ark was capable of remaining stable in a storm and was able to withstand wave torque to the degree that they were unable to capsize it, even when they subjected it to stronger waves than a storm could’ve created.[11]

Another example can be found in the Babylonian historical records of the various attacks on the city of Jerusalem. The Babylonian Chronicles detail an attack on Jerusalem in 597 BC in which Nebuchadnezzar took the king (Jehoiachin) prisoner and placed another king (Zedekiah) in his place. This is the exact same information that is recorded in 2 Kings 24:8-17.[12]

In the New Testament, Luke, who is credited with writing 25 percent of the New Testament, has been proven to be very historically accurate over and over again. One example is his accurate accounts of specific Roman rulers such as Pontius Pilate (Luke 23:1), Herod the tetrarch of Galilee (Luke 23:7), Governor Felix (Acts 23:26), and Herod Agrippa (Acts 25:13).

Lastly, traditionally, the events and writings of the Bible have been held by both Jews (Old Testament) and Christians (the whole Bible) as having actually occurred in history rather than being myths which were concocted to communicate life lessons such as is the case with fables. It is believed that the biblical writers wrote down the things they saw and heard as accurately as possible.

My conclusion: Although proving the historical accuracy of the biblical authors doesn’t completely prove the accuracy of what they wrote, it does give their writings some degree of credibility which would not be there otherwise is the events couldn’t be proven to have actually occurred.

Faith


As I mentioned in last week’s post, even though the evidence for the reliability of the Bible is very convincing, there’s still not 100 percent proof that it is reliable. None of us were physically present to hear Yahweh speak to Abraham, Moses, or Isaiah. None of us were alive when Jesus was teaching, healing, and raising dead people to life. We don’t have the original manuscripts that Jeremiah, John, or Paul wrote that we can read. Therefore, I can’t say that with 100 percent certainty that the Bible is true. Once again, that’s where faith comes into play. Nonetheless, although I can’t 100 percent prove the reliability of the Bible, I believe that it’s writers truthfully documented the things revealed to them by Yahweh.

What Does the Bible Say about the Origin of the Universe?


The Bible begins by making a claim about the origin of the universe. In Genesis 1:1, it reads:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. – Genesis 1:1

Since I am confident that the Bible is a reliable source, I take this claim seriously and therefore conclude that Yahweh, the God of the Bible, is the higher supreme being who is the architect/engineer mastermind behind the creation of the universe.


What do you think? Do you think the God of the Bible is the higher supreme being who created the universe?


[1] “The Definition of Science: What Is Science?”, Science Made Simple, n.d., accessed March 15, 2017, http://www.sciencemadesimple.com/science-definition.html.
[2]Sahih al-Bukhari,” Vol 8, Book 73, No 224, http://www.sahih-bukhari.com/Pages/Bukhari_8_73.php.
[3] 1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14, 19:16.
[4] John 3:35, 5:20.
[5] B. K. Waltke, “Old Testament Textual Criticism,” in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation, ed. D. S. Dockery, K. A. Matthews, and R. Sloan (Nashville: B&H, 1994), 162.
[6] B. K. Waltke, “How We Got the Hebrew Bible: The Text and Canon of the Old Testament,” in The Bible at Qumran: Text, Shape, and Interpretation, ed. Peter W. Flint (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 158.
[7] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 65-66.
[8] Ibid., 63.
[9] Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, revised edition (Chicago, Moody Press, 1980), 361.
[10] Strobel, The Case for Christ, 68.
[11] H. M. Morris, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 295.
[12] “Archaeological Evidence and the Captivity in Babylon,” Bible History, n.d., accessed March 21, 2017, http://www.bible-history.com/map_babylonian_captivity/map_of_the_deportation_of_judah_archaeology_and_the_babylonian_captivity.html.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why I Believe in the Existence of a Higher Supreme Being



According to a study done by Lifeway Research in 2008, 81 percent of young adults (between the ages of 20 and 29) believe that God or a higher supreme being exists.[1] I’m certain that at least some of this belief comes from the beliefs many of us were taught growing up. Virtually everyone has been exposed to a religion of one type or another throughout their lives, most of which claim the existence of one or more higher supreme beings. But not all of these people merely believe a higher supreme being exists because that’s what they learned in Sunday school; there are also a number of people who believe a higher supreme being exists because of their observations of the world around them. I have written this post in an effort to share a few of the observations which point towards the existence of a higher supreme being who exists in some form both inside and outside of the universe.

A Higher Supreme Being in the Big Bang Theory


The Big Bang Theory is currently the leading scientific explanation for how the universe came into existence. According to the Big Bang Theory, the universe has not always existed. At one moment it didn’t exist, but at another it did exist. The Big Bang Theory states that the universe began as an infinitesimally small, infinitely hot, and infinitely dense “something.” Over time, this “something” “expanded and cooled, going from very, very small and very, very hot, to the size and temperature of our current universe.”[2] This “something” consisted of neutrons, electrons, and protons, known as the foundational building blocks of matter, which either decayed or combined as the universe got cooler.[3]

The Big Bang Theory indirectly claims that energy appeared out of nothing, a feat which defies the first law of thermodynamics (the total energy of an isolated system is constant; energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed) and went from disorder to order, a feat which defies the second law of thermodynamics (the total entropy of an isolated system always increases over time, or remains constant in ideal cases where the system is in a steady state or undergoing a reversible process).

How did energy appear out of nothing and create the ordered universe we see today? Although many scientists support the Big Bang Theory, they are divided or even unsure of the strange phenomenon which brought about the sudden beginning and expansion of the universe.[4] Some people claim this strange phenomenon happened by chance. But the probability of this strange phenomenon happening by chance is so small that it falls into the realm of impossible. Others claim that it was directed by a higher supreme being. This is the side I take.

Fine-Tuning During Universe Expansion


When the universe began to expand, it “threatened to recollapse within a fraction of a second or else to expand so fast that galaxy formation would be impossible. To avoid these disasters its rate of expansion at early instants needed to be fine tuned to perhaps one part in 1055 (which is 10 followed by 54 zeros).”[5] In engineering lingo, that’s an extremely small amount of tolerance. If the universe had not expanded precisely at the speed it did, it wouldn’t exist.

Another fine-tuning component during the universe’s initial expansion was the strength of the nuclear strong and weak forces. If the nuclear weak force had been appreciably stronger, then the Big Bang would’ve burned all hydrogen to helium. On the other hand, if the nuclear weak force would’ve been weaker, then it would’ve destroyed the hydrogen because the neutrons formed at early times would’ve decayed into protons.[6] As it currently stands, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Without hydrogen, water wouldn’t have been able to exist. At the same time, the nuclear strong force had to be within 1 percent of what it is in order for hydrogen and carbon to be created in mass quantities, leading for the formation of stars.[7]

The final fine-tuning component I will share is the distance of the earth from the sun. The earth is on average 92,955,807 miles away from the sun (varies between 91 and 94.5 million miles from the sun because it follows an elliptical path around the sun). If the earth was a few million miles closer to the sun, all the icecaps would melt resulting in the land being covered up by water. Conversely, if the earth was a few million miles further from the sun, the entire planet would be covered in ice. As it stands, the earth is located exactly where it needs to be from the sun in order to sustain life.

The Harmony of the Universe


Albert Einstein once wrote:

I am not a “free-thinker” in the usual sense of the word because I find that this is in the main an attitude nourished exclusively by an opposition against naïve superstition. My feeling is insofar religious as I am imbued with the consciousness of the insufficiency of the human mind to understand deeply the harmony of the Universe which we try to formulate as “laws of nature.” It is the consciousness and humility I miss in the Free-thinker mentality.[8]

Like Einstein, when I observe the harmony which exists throughout the universe, I can’t help but conclude that there must be a supernatural architect/engineer who designed and built it. There is harmony throughout everything which takes place, from something as simple as the bonding of hydrogen and oxygen to form water to the evaporation, condensation, and precipitation process to the fact that the earth is suspended in space circling the sun due to the sun’s gravitational pull. It is true that these realities exist because of natural laws inside the universe, but the laws had to come from somewhere. I don’t see how “chance” could’ve created the universe to exist and operate in perfect harmony as it currently does.

Faith


The final aspect of my belief in a supernatural being is the element of faith. Faith is defined as a persuasion, belief, confidence, and trust.[9] I can observe all these facets of the universe and stand in wonder of them, but that doesn’t mean I have to believe that a higher supreme being created them. No one has actually been able to scientifically prove the existence of a higher supreme being, meaning that in order to believe in the existence of a higher supreme being, one must exercise an element of faith. That’s the type of faith I have. I’ve never seen, touched, or audibly heard a higher supreme being, yet I am persuaded, have a belief, have a conviction, and trust that one exists. And according to Lifeway Research’s study, most people in this country have faith that a higher supreme being exists as well.


Do you believe a higher supreme being exists? Why or why not?


[1] Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes, Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them (Nashville: B&H, 2009), 21.
[2] “Big Bang Theory – An Overview,” All About Science, n.d., accessed January 11, 2017, http://www.big-bang-theory.com/.
[3] “What Is the Big Bang Theory?”, Space.com, June 22, 2015, accessed January 11, 2017, http://www.space.com/25126-big-bang-theory.html.
[4] “Big Bang Theory – An Overview,” All About Science, n.d., accessed January 11, 2017, http://www.big-bang-theory.com/.
[5] John Leslie, Universes (London: Routledge, 1989), 3.
[6] Ibid., 4.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Max Jammer, Einstein and Religion: Physics and Theology (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 121.
[9] “4102. Pistis,” BibleHub, n.d., accessed March 8, 2017, http://biblehub.com/greek/4102.htm.