Posts Tagged ‘gospels’

What About Conversion?

Posted: January 18, 2012 by Nathan in What About...
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Conversion is an event that takes place when you become a Christian. It is the act of turning a belief in God into a trust or a faith in Him. One of the most dramatic conversions is recorded in the book of Acts .

 

        Acts 9

Saul’s Conversion

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

                        “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

 

Saul went, in the blink of an eye, from Christianity’s fiercest opponent to its greatest proponent. It was quite some turnaround. However, although we now talk about people’s “Damascus Road” experiences (their conversions) it is more unusual than usual for people to be converted in this manner.  Many people will know the date that they decided to follow Jesus. They may have wrestled with the idea for many years, they may have taken a winding road that led them to the decision but will finally have taken the plunge and made the decision to turn from their old ways and put their trust in God. However, there are also people who have been converted over many years and can’t put their finger on a date or time when they decided to follow Jesus.  All people have different journeys towards God.  St. Paul’s was quick and dramatic but if you look at the disciples of Jesus in the Gospels they seem to have all gradually come to trust and believe in Jesus over a period of a few years. There is no right or wrong way to approach conversion.

 

However, a decision does need to be made! Whether we’ve had a dramatic experience of God or whether we have been exploring for years, there comes a time when we need to decide one way or the other. Are we going to believe and trust in God or are we going to reject Him? If we make no decision it is the same as rejecting Him. Unfortunately with Christianity you simply can’t just sit on the fence.

What will you do?

 

If you still have questions that need to be answered before you feel comfortable in making a decision please do ask me in a comment below and I will do my very best to answer them. We all need to make a decision to either trust God and His saving grace, mercy and love or reject Him. Please don’t leave it longer than you need to. As a friend of mine says “To Not Decide is to Decide”.

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Not too many people would argue against the existence of Jesus. There seems to be reasonable evidence outside of the teaching of the Bible to prove that He existed in the time frame that the Bible suggests that He did. Even the Islamic faith acknowledges His existence and they regard Him as an important prophet. Even many agnostics and atheists acknowledge his existence and even go as far as to say that He was a good moral teacher. However, this makes no sense to me. Of all the things that you could accuse Jesus of, just being a good moral teacher just doesn’t add up. That is not to say that I don’t believe that Jesus taught good morals and gave us good ways to live our lives but what if He were just a good moral teacher. To my mind you either have to accept the whole package or reject it. I don’t believe that Jesus left us with any middle ground. Either Jesus was God, performed miracles, healed the sick, was perfect, was a good moral teacher, died on the cross for the sins of all people and rose again conquering death or He didn’t. You can’t just pull out the good moral teacher bit and run with that. Either Jesus was who he said He was or He wasn’t. Either Jesus was who He said He was or He was a complete mad man who should be completely discredited. If someone rode into town today and started giving out a new moral code but took drugs, slept around outside his marriage, stole, raped and was generally offensive he wouldn’t get the reputation of a good moral teacher. His actions would over-ride his teachings. If the people who knew Jesus best didn’t truly believe that Jesus was who He said He was His actions would soon discredit His teachings.

 

Now, you might say that it is easy to fool a few people and therefore create a hype that might spread. Yes, you would be right. We only have to look at the effects that cults have on a small number of people who have been taken in, brain-washed or deceived. So, could this have been what happened. Well, I guess anything is possible but it’s pretty unlikely. Jesus grew up and lived amongst the people who eventually followed Him. Mary, His own mother believed in what He taught. She knew everything about Him. She knew His character, His history, she saw Him every step of the way. His brothers knew Him well, some thought that He was mad to start with but then things added up and they too believed. He could have fooled His 12 disciples but what about the 500 close believers, what about the 3000 men and then 5000 men who followed Him? You also have to remember that Jesus was being scrutinised by a whole host of Religious people who were just waiting for Him to slip up. They couldn’t wait for His actions and His teaching to contradict. They waited for His disciples to claim a healing or miracle that hadn’t happened and they were ready to spread the news like wildfire. Jesus taught in a cynical and sceptical arena. Everything He said and did was tested and scrutinised. Someone may have been able to fool a few people but on the scale Jesus did? It is very unlikely!

 

So, were the disciples in on it as well? Did this group of thirteen con-artists set out to create this new-religion, this mass following? Together they could have put together quite a case. They could have convinced friends and family of what Jesus has said and done. If they has all stuck to the same story they could have made quite a case – caused quite a stir. It is possible that mass hysteria could have been created and used to draw people into their circle of belief. Now, it is possible. It’s amazing what people can achieve when they work together. However, here are a few questions that would need to be asked. Why would they do it? They didn’t gain financially by doing it, although they could have done if they had been after money. They didn’t really gain fame in the short term and in fact got a lot on negative, presumably, undesirable attention from many quarters. If it was all just a made up new religion they wouldn’t have been prepared to die for it. People will die for that which they are passionate about, but not if they know it to be a lie. Of these 13 people 12 ended up dying for this fabrication? It doesn’t make sense. How would they have kept the whole charade going when the miracles always failed to work, no-one got healed and when their main-man Jesus failed to come back to life following the resurrection.

 

For hundreds of years it was thought that the gospels were written by people in the 2nd Century. They were accounts that had been passed down through families or churches or groups of people. They were thought to be very much second hand accounts. It was thought that when they were written down the people that had been involved in the events were long since dead. You couldn’t have gone to them to verify the facts. You couldn’t have proved or disproved what was being written. However outrageous it seemed there was no proof to be had, no-one to argue against it. No-one to say, hand on a second I was there and it didn’t happen like that!! However, later research suggests that the gospels were all very likely written before the year A.D.70. So it also seems likely that they were first hand accounts of what happened. It seems very likely that it was the disciples themselves that wrote down the accounts that took place. Many of the first people to read these accounts would have known the people involved and may well have been at the events that were written about. They could have checked out if the stories were true. The writers wouldn’t have been able to pull the wool over the eyes of people that had been around at the time. If the Bible were written within the lifetime of the events it would soon have become obvious if they were no more than lies or exaggerations. People would not have been prepared to suffer and die for what others were calling blatant lies. The whole idea of Christianity would have been extinguished before it even got started. There are no accounts of people calling into question the reliability of the Gospel accounts.

 

So, either Jesus was who he claimed to be or He was a lair, con-artist or lunatic. There really is no middle ground. So, if Jesus was a liar, even a very good one would his lies not have eventually have been exposed? Could he really have convinced all these people that He was God without any evidence. Convinced them to the extent that thousands of them would have been persecuted and killed rather than renounce their faith? If Jesus were a lunatic, again, how would He have convinced people to such an extent? Even if he were so convinced Himself that He were God how could he possibly convince so many people and why would some of these people then go on to make up stories that they knew were false and then get away with it when thousands of others would know the truth.

 

So, over to you – what conclusion can be drawn? Is it not highly likely that Jesus was who he claimed to be? If not how were so many early Christians convinced to the point of death? What explanations that I haven’t explored could there be?

Let me tell you two mini stories. The first concerns my Great Uncle Neville (Whall) who people used to call Nunkie. He died well before I was born but two stories have been passed down to me about him. Both concern his great passion in life, cycling. The first tells that he was the president some cycling organisation and used to cycle all over the UK and Europe. As part of this role he went on to jointly found the Youth Hostel Association. The second tells of him cycling in the grounds of Windsor Great Park and meeting King George VI. There is a photo somewhere of my Great Uncle explaining to the King how the gears on his bike work.

 

Now the second story concerns me at school. I was never too keen on education, as my results and school reports will attest to. One of my favourite comments found in one of my old school reports states that “Nathan has decided that this subject is superfluous to his requirements”! If something interested me I would work hard and do well, if it did not then no amount of cajoling would make me do any work for it.

 

Both of these stories are, to the best of my knowledge and memory permitting, true. However, there is a difference in their reliability. The first story has been handed down to me. Facts may have been embellished or forgotten. In fact I’ve had to check with my dad some of the information before putting it down on paper. If someone wanted to find out the accuracy of the story they would have great difficulty. I’m sure that in the archives of the Youth Hostelling Association there may be a mention of it’s founders but my Uncle might not have wanted to push his name to the forefront. He may be mentioned, he may not. I’m sure King George VI didn’t drive back to Windsor Castle and write an account of meeting my Uncle. I don’t even know if he got my Uncle’s name. It would be an account that is very hard to prove or disprove. However, with the second story things would be slightly easier. If someone wanted to prove or disprove this story their task would be fairly simple. For a start they could be shown my report cards. They could interview my teachers and fellow class mates. They could interrogate me, my parents and family. It would soon become obvious whether this story was true or not.

 

So what on earth have these two stories got to do with the reliability of the gospels. Well, hopefully I can explain. For hundreds of years it was thought that the gospels were written by people in the 2nd Century. They were accounts that had been passed down through families or churches or groups of people. They were thought to be very much second hand accounts just like the story of my Great Uncle. It was thought that when they were written down the people that had been involved in the events were long since dead. You couldn’t have gone to them to verify the facts. You couldn’t have proved or disproved what was being written. However outrageous it seemed there was no proof to be had, no-one to argue against it. However, later research suggests that the gospels were all very likely written before the year A.D.70. So it also seems likely that they were first hand accounts of what happened. Many of the first people to read these accounts would have known the people involved. They could have checked out if the stories were true. The writers wouldn’t have been able to pull the wool over the eyes of people that had been around at the time. If I had written a famous book claiming to be an “A star” student people would soon step forward to tell the world that I was not. If the Bible were written within the lifetime of the events it would soon have become obvious if they were no more than lies or exaggerations. People would not have been prepared to suffer and die for what others were calling blatant lies. The whole idea of Christianity would have been extinguished before it even got started. There are no accounts of people calling into question the reliability of the Gospel account.

 

Backing up the Bible.

 

The Gospels as historical texts don’t stand alone. Events that take place within the Gospels are mentioned by Flavius Josephus a Jewish historian who wrote around A.D. 37 – A.D. 100; Tacitus a Roman Historian who wrote around A.D. 55 – A.D. 117; Thallus who wrote around A.D. 55; Pliny the younger who was governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor and also in the Talmud.

 

If you take the view that the writers of the new testament set out to deceive, to write lies and to create this new Religion called Christianity you have to ask three questions…

1.  What was their Motive? The writers gained neither fame or fortune from their writings – their writing did not push themselves to the forefront. In fact it bought them nothing but persecution. Why would they set out to try and deceive?

 

2. Why would they write the way they did? There are two major things that don’t add up unless the only motive of writing these accounts was to portray a true and accurate picture of the actual events that took place. Firstly, why would they write it in such an embarrassing way. The Gospels are written in a way that portrays the disciples as people who always got things wrong. Why would they write about Peter denying Christ; why would they include that the disciples we often afraid and got things wrong; that so many deserted him on the cross, that they misunderstood; said the wrong things. Secondly, why would they include stuff that was so difficult to explain or even seeming at odds with their beliefs. For example why would they make up that Jesus got baptised? At first sight this would seem to show that Jesus was not perfect as a perfect man would have no need to be baptised. These sort of things would clearly cast doubt on what they were trying to get across and would have been left out had they been trying to deceive.

 

3. Would they really have carried the lie through until death? It might have been fun for a while to try and deceive people. They used their great minds to create something spectacular. But, let’s face it would they really have gotten so wrapped up in their lies and deceit that they would all be willing to die for some fabrication? If it were just one of them you could imagine that he was overtaken by his web of lies and could, perhaps, not tell reality from the lie, but all of the writers, all of the disciples, all of the martyrs? It just doesn’t make sense.


All of this doesn’t add up to prove that the Bible is true but I do hope that along with other blogs in the series “What If the Bible is Valid” it will go to show that the Bible has a lot more validity than many people would have to believe. It is not just a book that can be discounted or that you have to belief with blind faith. If you put all the pieces together you will hopefully see that the Bible is a factual document that is worth looking into.