Posts Tagged ‘truth’

So let’s have a quick look at some of the claims of the Bible.  The Bible makes so many claims that are sometimes hard to believe so what are these claims?

1. There is only one God

2. Jesus is the Son of God

3. God created all things

4. Jesus died to bring us back into a right relationship with God

5. God consists of 3 persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in one

6. Jesus was fully God and yet fully man – he was also without sin

7. Jesus is the only way to God

8. God is all powerful, all knowing, ever present, all loving.

9. Jesus died on a cross but defeated death and rose again, he is now in heaven

10. Jesus will come again

11. If we believe and trust in Jesus He will forgive all our wrongdoings

12. Jesus healed people, cast out demons, raised people from the dead, forgave sins, calmed the sea, turned water into wine

13. God spoke to His people through the prophets

14. One day those who have put their trust in Jesus will live with God in heaven

15. Jesus was born of a virgin

Now these are just the first 15 claims that came to mind, there are hundreds of others on almost every page of the Bible. I can’t prove to you that any of these claims are true.  I can’t produce evidence that shows that there is truth in any of them.  However, in the time since the Bible was written no-one has been able to disprove any of the claims.  Don’t you find that quite remarkable?  That a book written by over 40 people spanning thousands of years, some being simple people, some had great learning, all claiming outrageous things, but all unable to be proven wrong even thousands of years later.

In fact as our learning has increased, as technology has developed more things are being discovered that substantiate the claims not contradict them.  For example the Bible claims that most of the New Testament was written by Jesus’ disciples.  However, many people have disregarded this and have said that the New testament was written 60 or 70 years after the death of Christ therefore making it unlikely that they were written by the disciples.  However, it is now agreed by many scholars that the New testament was written much earlier than first thought and well within the lifetime of Jesus’ disciples. This not only backs up the claims of the Bile but it also brings something very important into play – the reliability of the New Testament content.

If I write a book about events that happened hundreds of years beforehand – especially if it is on a subject not written about before – there may be some murmurings about the reliability of the facts but it would be fairly hard to disprove them.  Even if the facts sounded completely wrong it would be very hard to collect evidence to speak against them.  However, if I were to write about something that took place last year things would be very different.  If my facts about an event were wrong people who were there would speak out against them.  People who wanted to investigate could ask people who were involved, produce witnesses and put together a case.  So if the disciples of Jesus had decided to make up these stories people would have spoken out.  Even if Jesus’ disciples had been so deluded as to really believe these things had taken place, others would have spoken out about them. Christianity in it’s early existence would have been snuffed out. Yet you had thousands of people who were willing to die for these claims.  If the disciples had spent three years with Jesus could they have been that taken in by him that they would rather die than renounce their faith?  If they had made it all up would they have died in order to keep a hoax going? If the disciples of Jesus had written the new testament only a short time after it had happened and the events and things written about hadn’t taken place huge numbers of people would have spoken out about it.  The disciples would have become a laughing stock and the Christian faith would have died on it’s feet.

We’ll have a look at more of the claims in part three.

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Why bother to even look into the claims of the Bible?

So you’re sat at the breakfast table when you hear the familiar plop of the morning post arriving on your door mat.  You get up and stagger, in your still half asleep state, to pick up the post which you reckon will be mostly bills. You sort through them and find one that jumps out at you.  It has the familiar embossing of your family solicitors in the corner.  It worries you at first but you open it and there inside is a letter stating that you’ve come into some money. However it’s not just a few hundred dollars it’s is $2 million.  You rub your eyes!!  You read on and discover that someone has left it to you in their will.  You read the newly deceased lady’s name several times. No, you are quite sure you’ve never heard of her before in your life.  There must be some mistake!  Strangers don’t die and leave people millions of dollars.  Especially not to you!!!  The letter states that you need to come into the local office to verify who you are and to receive the check.  But you know it must be a mistake!! You don’t know the lady!! Never heard of her!!  The claim of the letter just simply can’t be true!  So you put the letter in the bin and think nothing more of it?  The claim just can’t be true can it?  Things like this don’t happen to people like you, do they?  Wouldn’t you be just a little curious?  Wouldn’t it be worth making a quick phone call just to put the mistake right? Wouldn’t it be worth popping in to the solicitors just in case there is the smallest possibility that in might be true?  But perhaps you don’t need $2 million?  Perhaps you don’t want a bit of security for the future?  Let’s face it we live in a world where we could all do with a bit of good news.  If the claim is good enough, and let’s face it most of us would check it out for a lot less than $2 million , it’s worth checking out!!

The Bible makes some outrageous claims!!  It claims the answers to many of the things that people are seeking today.  If advertising is anything to go by we are all looking to live longer, feel better, be at peace, be more content, find the perfect person and get richer.  The Bible, believe it or not, claims to have the answer all of these things!  For centuries people have searched for the Holy Grail, the key to everlasting life.  Books have been written about it, legends built on it, films made about it and lives lost seeking it. Yet the Bible claims to hold the keys to Eternal life and not only any old eternal life, eternal life lived in perfection.  I don’t know about you but eternal life in this world may sound good but to me 100 years is looking like a very very long time!!!  The Bible claims that the eternal life it offers comes without pain or suffering or tears or sadness or hatred or loss.  Now that is some claim!!  Is that not worth checking out?

Many of us spend time in the gym to keep ourselves fit and help us to live longer.  Isn’t is worth spending a few hours investigating the claim of eternal life and so much more besides.  The Bible not only claims to offer “pie in the sky when you die“, it almost claims to offer “Steak on your plate while you wait!!”  if the claim is great enough it is surely worth checking out. Next time (in two Wednesdays time) we’ll look more at what theses claims are and why they’re worth checking out!

Some of the top minds over the centuries have argued for and against the existence of God. Neither side has won the argument and as no proof exists either way they probably never will. So how can I with slightly less a magnificent mind know what to believe?

 

However much I would like to be able to answer that question for you once and for all you and I know that that is not going to happen. There will never be any proof that God exists!  I also believe that there will never be any proof that He doesn’t exist.  So, just as Christianity will never be able to prove that God is who He says He is in the Bible, Science will never be able to prove that He doesn’t exist.  From a faith point of view I find that fairly comforting.  Some of the greatest minds in the world have tried to prove God exists with no success whatsoever. Now that doesn’t, of course, mean that because you can’t prove that He doesn’t exist that He does exist.  However, if you believe that the Bible was created by simple men of faith thousands of years ago you would have thought that the greatest scientific minds of the 21st century should be able to completely pick it apart and if not find proof at least find considerable fault with it. In reality this is not the case and in fact my scientists believe in God.

 

So if there is no proof how can I believe or indeed reject the claims of Christianity.  I believe one of the ways forward can be found in Matthew 7: 7. Here we are told that if we seek, we will find. This is expanded upon in the parable of the prodigal son. The parable tells of a son who leaves his father having asked for his inheritance early. The son goes off and spends all of his money on parties and fast living. He ends up poor and working on a pig farm. He is so hungry he considers eating the food of the pigs. It then occurs to him that even if he went back and worked as a servant for his father he would be much better off. He returns home to find that his father has been looking out for him every day and runs to meet him. The father throws a robe on him, puts a ring on his finger and throws as party to welcome him home, not as a servant but as his son. The parable shows that God is always on the lookout for us – if we seek Him he will run to us.  If we make the move towards him he will make a move towards us. Many people have seen this in their own lives.  As they have seriously sought God on their own or on courses like ALPHA or Christianity Explored God has moved towards them with open arms and revealed himself to them.

 

Many people have seriously looked for God just to rule his existence out and have ended up meeting Him in amazing ways. Many people, however, write God off before even examining the evidence or seeking him at all. I feel it a shame that something so potentially important can be written off so easily.  Science may offer different theories but Christianity, if true, offers so much more. Science offers little in the order of purpose, hope, freedom, reason, comfort or redemption.  Christianity offers all of those and lots more besides.  Surely those claims alone deserve to be looked into – even if just to write them off.

 

There is estimated to be up to 2.1 billion people in the world who would call themselves Christians. A friend who had no belief in God looked at this and concluded that they can’t all be mad and deluded!! He began to seek and discovered God for himself. I believe that the personal testimony of millions upon millions of people can’t just be discounted. It is the experience of millions of people around the world that God has moved in their life. It is not just the intellectual conclusion that they have come to that God exists, it is the consequent experience of Him in their lives. This may be in the form of healing, guidance, answered prayer, prophesy, miracles or a whole host of other things.

 

There may not be proof that God exists but there is, however, enough evidence to make His existence well worth looking in to!!

I have asked around to see what questions people would like to see answered through this blog. So, this is the first in a series of the questions that people have asked to have answered.

This question can be taken on a number of levels so I hope I can cover most of the angles. My first reaction was that I believe that religion is a human construct. Religion to me, along with many others has negative associations and connotations. To me religion is man’s reaction to the belief that God exists. If you strip Christianity down to it’s essentials all the bells and shackles fall away and you are left with a simple relationship between you and God through Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit. You don’t need rituals and doctrines, church buildings and church meetings. You don’t need the bells and smells, the lectionaries and holy days. Now, this is not to say that all these things are not helpful to people in their relationship with God, but they are not essential. In fact sometimes the trimmings of Christianity can get in the way of the relationship which needs to be at the centre. Christianity is less about religion and more about relationship.

So, I don’t need irrefutable proof that religion is man-made because I already believe that it is. Having said all that I know that that reading of the question was not what was meant. So, let me rephrase the question to hopefully bring about a little clarity for myself. What if the idea of the existence of God is a purely made up concept by man? What if irrefutable proof were found that God didn’t exist but was just a man-made idea?”

I have found this question quite a difficult one to get my head around. In some respects, for me, it’s been like trying to think of a new colour – a concept that is almost impossible to do. The piece I struggle with is the concept of finding irrefutable proof. Where would it come from? What would it look like? Would everyone accept it as irrefutable? In general terms it is far easier to prove that something exists than doesn’t exist. Photographs, film, footprints and I guess ultimately a body would prove to most people of the existence of the Abominable Snowman. However, what proof could there ever be that it didn’t exist?

People for thousands of years have tried to prove that God doesn’t exist. With all man’s intelligence, resources and theories no-one has even come close. In many ways Christians and Atheists are in the same boat. They both have strongly held beliefs that have no proof. They are either as wise or as stupid as each other. Both have weighed up the evidence and have drawn different, opposing, conclusions. The main difference, as I see it, is this. Some of you will have read this analogy before, but please bear with me.

When it comes to belief and faith I like to use the analogy of a chair. It’s perhaps because I’m quite a big guy so it is more relevant to me than others, but I hope you’ll understand the gist if it. When it comes to the question of belief in God billions of people around the world would say they believed in Him. Yet for only a much smaller percentage of the world’s population does that belief have any real meaning. Billions of people believe in God but far fewer have faith or trust in Him. Here is where the chair comes in. When it comes to a chair or a stool or anything you can sit on, when considering sitting on it we have to believe that it will take our weight. We don’t want to end up in a pile on the floor along with the remains of a chair that didn’t quite do the job. As a bigger than average chap I have to consider this more than most, especially when it comes to camping chairs or chairs that look less than robust. I can pick a chair up, examine it from every angle, pull it about, check the joints and even read the label for it’s weight limit. I can come to a stage where I can look at the chair and wholeheartedly believe that it will hold my weight. It is not, however, until I sit in the chair that I can be said to have moved from that belief in the strength of the chair to having faith that it will hold my weight. So it is with many people’s belief in God. They believe in His existence but have not yet moved to faith in Him. It is one thing to believe in God but another thing to put that belief into action by having faith in Him.

So with the Atheist they look at the chair, examine the chair, test it a little, read the safety label and come to the conclusion that the chair won’t hold their weight. With the Christian they also examine the chair, test it, read the safety label and come to the conclusion that the chair may well take their weight. However, for the engaged Christian they then take that belief a step further and sit down on the chair. It might feel a little wobbly, for a while they may feel uncertain that the chair will hold their weight but eventually the proof is in the sitting. Either the chair holds or it doesn’t. So, although in the testing of the chair the potential atheist and potential Christian are in the same boat it is when the Atheist walks away and the Christian sits that the difference occurs. The Atheist doesn’t continue his journey finding more and more proof for the non-existence of God. They don’t even continue, in a meaningful way, to experience the non-existence of God. However, for the Christian as they sit on the chair they start a journey where they begin to see God at work. They see prayers answered, they see prophesy fulfilled, they see things recorded in the Bible coming true, they experience the touch of God. Lots of little things that happen build up into an overall belief that God is real and working in their lives. Now, the atheist, quite understandably, will put this down to psychological factors, delusion, hype, hysteria and many other factors. However, to a Christian they are the same feelings as love, pain and fear. Things that you can’t always understand but are as real to you as anything you experience in the physical world.

Therefore, it is extremely hard to imagine irrefutable proof existing. It would be like finding irrefutable proof that pain or love didn’t exist. Once you have experienced something it is almost impossible to imagine not having experienced it. So, having said all that let me imagine that a proof did come forward that proved, without any shadow of a doubt, that God did not exist and that he was just a construct of the human imagination.

How does anyone react to something so huge? Something that was the centre of your life, that informed your thinking and your actions suddenly being swiped from under you. I guess you’ll get a much more objective answer now than if it really did happen. In the short term there would be a mixture of disbelief, confusion, anger, fear, despair, disappointment and so on. There would then follow a slow process of realignment where I’d have to get used to a new world view. However, in the long term I guess that not too much in my life would change on a day to day level. So why is that?

Many people who believe there is no God or just don’t know see religion as this big evil that suppresses the masses, spreads lies and is general a bad thing. However, and I’m speaking solely for Christianity here, I believe that the teachings of the Christian faith are basically an excellent way in which to live. If the Bible were proven to be a man written, man inspired, totally human creation I would still have to say that whoever wrote it was an extremely wise and informed person. I believe that if people followed the teaching of the Bible, whether they believed in the God behind it or not, the world would be a much better place. I have always found it hard to understand how someone, or indeed a society, with no faith can decide on the nature of right and wrong, just and unjust. This is not a criticism or saying that people with faith are better moral people. In fact the opposite is true. Christians have the perfect reason and motive to do good and yet we still do wrong. If you live in a society with no faith, no moral compass what is it that stops you living solely for yourself? How do you decide that it’s wrong to be cruel to animals but OK to eat them. What makes a civilised country civilised? How would a faithless society make laws and why would people abide by them? Most people would agree that they have within them a sense of decency, of right and wrong, good and bad etc. but where does that come from? Who is to say person A’s sense of right is better than person B’s when they differ? Having come to terms with there being no God these are the things that I would really struggle with.

So, I think my everyday actions (apart from dropping the Church services!!) would change very little. I would still believe that it was better to give than receive, love than hate, live at peace not war, care rather than ignore, treat people as I would like to be treated. I would still hold onto the teaching that it is a good thing not to murder, steal, lie, covet, commit adultery etc.

However, I believe that there would be a huge gap in my understanding of this world if I knew God did not exist. I do not believe science holds all the answers. The questions of Why am I here? What’s the point? Why bother? Why believe this? Why not live entirely for myself? What is my purpose? Why don’t we all just end it here? How do I decide what is moral and not? All of these questions and so many more would keep coming back to me again and again. Christianity doesn’t give you all the answers, far from it. However, the non-existence of God would create far far more. So I guess, at least in the short to mid-term I would feel lost, aimless and maybe even purposeless. I would need to find a point of reference from somewhere else. Things that I took for granted as being important because the Bible says they are such as family, honesty, other people, integrity, our planet, leaders and so on would have a huge question mark over them. Are these things important just because we’ve grown up being told that they are? What tells me what is important, moral, ethical or not? A government who changes it’s mind from year to year? The majority? Those who shout the loudest?

At the end of the day I believe that there will never be irrefutable proof that God doesn’t exist. For thousands of years people have been seeking for that proof it without success, who is to say that that won’t change. I also believe that proof will not be found (in this life) of the existence of God. Living as a Christian, I believe, takes nothing away from my life but in facts adds to it. I don’t sit around longing to do things that I’m not allowed to but I have had my life enriched by the Christian journey, by people I’ve met, experiences I’ve had and the comfort, peace and hope that my faith has given me. I personally believe that it is better to live with hope than live with no hope. Even, at the end of the day, if it is false hope.

I guess I must finish with the reverse of the question. What if irrefutable evidence existed that God did exist? How would that change your life? I suppose at the end of time or the end of our lives we will all get an answer. Either God exists in some form or other or He doesn’t. If the Christian is wrong and the Atheist is right then I guess the end of the story lies in a wooden box and a hole in the ground where the Christian and the Atheist lay side by side. Both having lead, more or less, the life that they wanted to. If the reverse is true though and the Christian is right and the Atheist is wrong then at death the story is much different. I don’t believe in God just so that if it just happens to be true I will go to heaven. Belief in God is not my insurance policy. I believe in God because all I have read, heard, seen, and experience point to the existence of God. I have seen the chair, tested it and have finally sat in it. It took my weight and I have continued to sit in it. I don’t believe in God to keep me from hell or from rotting in the ground, but it sure does make me think!!

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?

Truth shall spring out of the earth”

Psalm 85: 11a

Archaeology is another brick in the wall of helping us to validate the claims of the Bible. Archaeology itself is not going to convince us that Jesus died and was resurrected but it goes some way to validating the background information we find in the Bible. Again, unless some archaeologist digs up the actual bones of Jesus Christ and manages somehow to prove that this was the case (not quite sure how this would be done) it is very unlikely that archaeology will disprove the claims of the Bible.

The Bible is not written in isolation. Many places, people, and buildings are mentioned. Now, proving that these places or buildings exist or even that certain people exist doesn’t make the other events written about true. Just as proving that the Louvre and Paris exist proves that Robert Langdon in the Da Vinci Code is a real person. However, the writers of the Bible weren’t setting out to entertain but to teach, inform and to report. Some were writing an historical account of what they saw around them, some were writing letters not thinking they would be published. Archaeological evidence helps to give credence to these writings. As F.F. Bruce, professor of biblical studies, says of Luke’s work: “A writer who thus relates his story to the wider context of world history is courting trouble if he is not careful; he affords his critical readers so many opportunities for testing his accuracy. Luke takes this risk, and stands the test admirably”.

For years critics have used, so called, historical facts to try to disporve the credibility of the Bible. Time after time scholars have had to backtrack from earlier statements as additional archaeological evidence has come to light. An example of this was the Hittites, for a long time known only from the biblical record and denided by many historians as having existed. “Until the discovery of the Hittite empire at the beginning of the last century, the ‘Hittites’ mentioned in Genesis 10:15 as descendants of Canaan were unknown … But in 1906 Hugo Winckler began excavating a site known as ancient Hattusha … in what we today call Turkey. As a result a people whose existence was seriously doubted previously is well documented with literally tens of thousands of clay tablets” (Walter Kaiser, The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant? 2001, p. 102).

Again critics used to argue that Jesus could not have lived in Nazareth as it was not in habited during the times mentioned in the Bible. The conventional understanding is that Nazareth was a fairly small community, of no great historical importance, which is why it is not mentioned outside the New Testament. But there is now plenty of archaeological evidence that Nazareth existed before, during and after the time of Christ. And the latest discoveries may completely overturn the idea that it was small and insignificant. Either way, the idea that it did not exist, and therefore that Jesus could not have existed, is out of date, and not supported by contemporary evidence.

Frank Gaebelein, an eminently qualified author and general editor of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, has remarked that “the attitude of suspended judgment toward Bible difficulties … is constantly being vindicated, as archaeology has solved one Biblical problem after another, and as painstaking re-examination of discrepancies has finally led to answers” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 1979, Vol. 1, p. 31).

As eminent archaeologist Nelson Glueck concluded: “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper valuation of Biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries” (Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev, 1959, p. 31).

Archaeology will never convince you that God exists. It will also not convince you that Jesus was His son and walked this earth. What it may do though is help us to understand that the Bible has more validity than some would have us believe. It has an historically correct context. It fit’s in with historical evidence and repeated new findings. You would have thought that by now if these were made up accounts by lots of different people that evidence would have come to light of mistakes made in their historical context. The more we dig up from the past the more evidence is found to corroborate Biblical events not the other way around.

I leave you with a table taken from the New International Bible of major Biblical events and archaeological evidence that has been found to back them up.

Israel

Herod’s temple Jerusalem Lk 1:9
Herod’s winter palace Jericho Mt 2:4
The Herodium
(possible site of Herod’s tomb)
Near Bethlehem Mt 2:19
Masada Southwest of Dead Sea cf. Lk 21:20
Early synagogue Capernaum Mk 1:21
Pool of Siloam Jerusalem Jn 9:7
Pool of Bethesda Jerusalem Jn 5:2
Pilate inscription Caesarea Lk 3:1
Inscription:
Gentile entrance of temple sanctuary
Jerusalem Ac 21:27-29
Skeletal remains of crucified man Jerusalem Lk 23:33
Peter’s house Capernaum Mt 8:14
Jacob’s well Nablus Jn 4:5-6

Asia Minor

Derbe inscription Kerti Huyuk Ac 14:20
Sergius Paulus inscription Antioch in Pisidia Ac 13:6-7
Zeus altar (Satan’s throne?) Pergamum Rev 2:13
Fourth century BC walls Assos Ac 20:13-14
Artemis temple and altar Ephesus Ac 19:27-28
Ephesian theatre Ephesus Ac 19:29
Silversmith shops Ephesus Ac 19:24
Artemis statues Ephesus Ac 19:35

Greece

Erastus inscription Corinth Ro 16:23
Synagogue inscription Corinth Ac 18:4
Meat market inscription Corinth 1 Co 10:25
Cult dining rooms
(in Asklepius and Demeter temples)
Corinth 1 Co 8:10
Court (bema) Corinth Ac 18:12
Marketplace (bema) Philippi Ac 16:19
Starting gate for races Isthmia 1 Co 9:24, 26
Gallio inscription Delphi Ac 18:12
Egnatian Way Kavalla (Neapolis), Philippi, Apollonia, Thessalonica Cf Ac 16:11-12,17:1
Politarch inscription Thessalonica Ac 17:6

Italy

Tomb of Augustus Rome Lk 2:1
Mamertime Prison Rome 2 Ti 1:16-17, 2:9,4:6-8
Appian Way Puteoli to Rome Ac 28:13-16
Golden House of Nero Rome Cf Ac 25:10; 1 Pe 2:13
Arch of Titus Rome Cf Lk 19:43-44,21:6, 20

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.

 

So let’s start at the very beginning and clarify what we are talking about in terms of Prophecy. The Cambridge dictionary tells us that Prophecy “is a statement that says what is going to happen in the future, especially one which is based on what you believe about a particular matter rather than existing facts”. So for me to say that tomorrow the sun will rise is not prophecy but for me to say that the world will end tomorrow would be prophecy (unfulfilled prophecy but you get the gist). In a Christian sense it is a prophet (someone used by God as a channel for others) passing on from God something about the future (or sometimes the present or past) that they couldn’t humanly know.

Old Testament Prophecies fulfilled in the person of Jesus.

There are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament which were fulfilled by Jesus. These prophecies were written at the very latest 425 years before Jesus was born. Below I will list just a fraction of the prophecies recorded about Jesus in the Old Testament and their fulfilment as recorded in the New Testament.

Prophecy

Isaiah 7: 14

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give     birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel

Fulfilment

Luke 1: 26-35

God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

Prophecy

Micah 5: 2

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Fulfilment

Mathew 2: 1-2

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Prophecy

Zechariah 9: 9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Fulfilment

Luke 19: 29-38

As he (Jesus) approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Prophecy

Isaiah 50: 6

I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.

Fulfilment

Matthew 24:67-68

Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”

OK, so there are 4 – only 300 or so to go!! I’m sure if you “Google” Biblical Prophecy or Fulfilled Biblical Prophecy you will find web-sites that will list all of the Prophecies or at least the major ones. Hopefully this gives you a taster to show that the Old Testament is filled with signs pointing to the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ. These weren’t just written a few years before the events took place but mainly between 4 and 7 centuries before the actual events. You may argue that these were self fulfilling prophesies. That Jesus was a deluded man and set out to fulfil the prophesies that he had read about in Scripture. It is true, some could be explained away by saying that Jesus knew the Scriptures, after all Jesus did know the Scriptures extremely well, but all of them?

Could he have gotten himself…

Born in Bethlehem (Prophesied Micah 5: 2 Fulfilled Matthew 2: 1-6)

Born of a virgin (Prophesied Isaiah 7: 14 Fulfilled Mathew 1: 18-25)

Born of line of King David (Prophesied Jeremiah 23: 5 Fulfilled Luke 3: 31)

Born of Tribe of Judah (Prophesied Genesis 49: 10 Fulfilled Revelations 5: 5)

Preceded by a messenger (Prophesied Isaiah 40: 3 Fulfilled Matthew 3: 1-3)

Betrayed by a friend (Prophesied Psalm 40:9 Fulfilled John 13: 18-27)

Sold for 30 pieces of silver (Prophesied Zechariah 11:12 Fulfilled Matthew 26: 14-15)

Forsaken by his disciples (Prophesied Zechariah 13: 7 Fulfilled Mark 14:50)

Crucified with thieves (Prophesied Isaiah 53:12 Fulfilled Matthew 27:38)

Bones not broken (Prophesied Psalm 34: 20 Fulfilled John 19:32-36)

Buried in rich man’s tomb (Prophesied Isaiah 53: 9 Fulfilled Matthew 27:57-60)

Again these are but a handful among a whole host of prophesies that Jesus could not have brought about by himself. Many of them he couldn’t have orchestrated even with a whole band of willing volunteers. This really is the sort of stuff that just couldn’t be made up. This is evidence that demands to be taken seriously. Not only were these hundreds of prophecies written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ they were also written over a period of several hundreds of years by many different people.

Now, to finish and for those of you who like numbers and probabilities Peter Stoner in Science Speaks (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963) determines the probability of one man fulfilling just eight of the prophecies found in the Old Testament concerning the Messiah to be 1 chance in 10 to the 17th power or 1 chance in 100,000,000,000,000,000. Peter Stoner then works out the probability of one person fulfilling 48 of the prophecies by chance. Here the odds jump to 1 chance in 10 to the 157th power. That number would look like this:

1 chance out of

100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

I hope this begins to show that the Bible is not a book full of mythical, made-up stories that can be discounted. It is indeed a valid historical document that contains wisdom, power and authority.

I don’t know about you but life seems to be flying by! You spend your childhood wanting to be a teenager and your teenage years wanting to be an adult. When you reach adulthood you long to be a teenager again and soon after that you’re on the home stretch. Life really isn’t that long. Before we know it it will have passed us by and we’ll be left wondering where it all went to.

 

Some of you will have started this New Year with some resolutions. A few of you will have broken them already!! I watched a Facebook thread unfold yesterday about New Year resolutions. People were going to lose weight, sort out their finances, be happier, spend more time with family, get fitter and work less. These are all admirable things and I could probably benefit from perusing all of them. However it got me thinking about all the things we really should do but put off year in and year out. I’m not talking here about the back bedroom that really could do with a lick of paint but no-one really sees it or the book that Auntie Maud gave you that you ought to read but “Using Quantum Physics in Everyday Cooking” doesn’t really strike you as that interesting a read! I’m talking here about things we put off without necessarily knowing it.

 

Most of us are really good at putting things off. We put off getting life insurance until we get really sick. We put off visiting old relative until their funeral. We put off buying a new car until we’re broken down miles from anywhere with the tow truck on its way. However there are some things we really should not put off any longer, because who knows when it may be suddenly too late. I have a friend whose philosophy is “do it now for tomorrow you may be hit by a bus”. It sounds a bit grim but it means she lives for the moment and never regrets not doing things because she’s already done them. Another grim but true story that I love is that of a gunman who goes into a church during a service. He marches to the front and puts the gun to the Pastor’s head and tells the Pastor that he is going to kill him. The Pastor replies “By all means pull the trigger for I know exactly where I’m going, Do you?” The gunman had never thought about it but the Pastor, as he stared death in the face, had thought through the greatest issues of life (and indeed death) and had come to strong hope filled conclusions.

 

My New Year challenge to you it not to put off the bigger things in life any more!! And our commitment to you this year is to help you think through some of those bigger things. This year at What If…? we will be tackling some of those big things that we tend to put off thinking about. Such issues as…

 

  • What happens when we die?

  • Is there more to life than what we can see?

  • Is there a heaven and a hell?

  • Do all religions lead to God?

  • If there is a God why does he let people suffer?

  • Can a God of Love send people to hell?

  • Am I too bad to be saved?

  • Is it really worth looking into the claims of Christianity?

  • Is there truth in the Bible?

  • Does science hold all the answers?

  • Was Jesus who he said he was?

  • Isn’t Christianity past its sell-by-date?

We’d love for you to explore with us these and many other questions of life and faith. We want to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree with us we’d love to dialogue with you. We hope and pray that you have a wonderful new Year and that you grapple with some of life’s biggest questions with us and not put them off!

 

I don’t have a brain the size of a planet and I’m not even that intellectual. I’m not well educated and I don’t even have a degree so if you’re looking for well thought out counter-argument to Richard Dawkins…look away now!!!

I bow to the greater intelligence of this man but I don’t have to agree with him and, you may be surprised to hear, neither do a great deal of other equally intelligent people. As with many things, those that shout the loudest, get heard the most. It doesn’t mean that those who shout the loudest have the right answers. For every Richard Dawkins there are hundreds of other equally intelligent people who disagree to some extent or other. Do we hear these voices? Let us also not forget that there is a world of difference between intelligence and wisdom.

I love the story a friend of mine used to tell of a guy he took sailing one day. This guy was among the most intellectual people you would be likely to come across. During the course of their sailing trip they discovered they had a small gas leak and this guy took it on himself to seek out the source of the leak. He came back on deck saying that he’d found it. My friend asked him how he knew where it was located and this guy beckoned my friend to follow. He took my friend to the source of the leak and explained that he knew it we coming from this weld in the pipe because every time he lit his lighter and held it to the weld the leaking gas blew the flame out!! My friend quickly removed the lighter from this guy and fixed the leak. It could have ended up far worse!! Intelligence but little wisdom.

Richard Dawkins would have us believe that when it comes to God, evolution, Darwinism, science etc. he has it all sown up. After all he does have a reputation to uphold!! It would be difficult for him to come out and change his view on many issues. However although his main belief seems to be…

…all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection…Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

in 2008 he did say that:

“A serious case could be made for a deistic God.”

Melanie Phillips, as reported in The Spectator magazine, said…

“This was surely remarkable. Here was the arch-apostle of atheism, whose whole case is based on the assertion that believing in a creator of the universe is no different from believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, saying that a serious case can be made for the idea that the universe was brought into being by some kind of purposeful force. A creator. True, he was not saying he was now a deist; on the contrary, he still didn’t believe in such a purposeful founding intelligence, and he was certainly still saying that belief in the personal God of the Bible was just like believing in fairies. Nevertheless, to acknowledge that ‘a serious case could be made for a deistic god’ is to undermine his previous categorical assertion (above).”

Melanie Phillips goes on to say that…

“Even more jaw-droppingly, Dawkins told me that, rather than believing in God, he was more receptive to the theory that life on earth had indeed been created by a governing intelligence – but one which had resided on another planet. Leave aside the question of where that extra-terrestrial intelligence had itself come from, is it not remarkable that the arch-apostle of reason finds the concept of God more unlikely as an explanation of the universe than the existence and plenipotentiary power of extra-terrestrial little green men?

So it seems he is willing to believe in some things where there is no evidence of existence and yet argues that evidence is all important. He also says that he is in search of truth. However, in watching him take part in various debates it seems he is very free in twisting the truth and making false statements. For someone who, if we believe him, holds the truth in such high regards it is a little strange.

There is no time to go into details here but to me there are many cracks in Dawkins’ arguments against God. For some reason he is very anti-religion and echoes John Lennon in imagining a world with no Religion. A world without 9/11; 7/7; the Crusades; Northern Irish unrest; the Middle East Situation etc. It seems easy to agree with him. However he discounts the other side. What about a world without World Vision; Islamic Aid; Traidcraft; Cafod; Christian Aid; to name just a handful of faith based organizations in a sea of Religious organizations tirelessly working to make lives better.  You can’t say something is wrong because you don’t like it or disagree with it. It’s very easy to look at the negative sides of religions, pick at their faults and therefore discount them. Even taking Christianity there have been many things done in the name of it that are abhorrent. There are things in the Bible that are difficult to come to terms with, things that even Christians don’t like. However, it doesn’t mean that, just because we don’t like what He allows or does, that God doesn’t exist.

What I found interesting in one of the debates I listened to was that Dawkins had the final word as summed up his thinking by saying words to this effect… If you walk into a garden, everything points to there being a gardener. Darwinism shows us that this doesn’t have to be true. Now that sounds like a good point of view. If you walk into a garden there is a possibility that there isn’t a gardener a creator behind the order, complexity and design that you find there, but would you believe it? If I took you to the formal gardens of a Stately home and showed you them and then told you what you were looking at was just derelict land that was left to it’s own devices and this is what nature created – you would think me crazy. Even though you might think it could be even remotely possible you would not believe it, you could not believe it.

Though I personally may not be able to convince you that Richard Dawkins is wrong in his beliefs, I would urge you to acknowledge that there is the possibility of him being wrong. Below you will find just a couple of links to a debates and an article that I hope you’ll find useful in exploring further the subject of “What If Richard Dawkins isn’t as right as he thinks he is?” However, where does that leave us? If Richard Dawkins and all his intelligence can’t disprove God or even put forward a convincing case for His non-existence what are we meant to think.

Now, I’m not suggesting just because someone can’t disprove God it means that He must exist, of course not. I am however saying that it is enough to make you think. Many scientists would have us believe that science has once and for all buried God. I would say that they have tried and will keep on trying. But God is not dead. I would say that if Richard Dawkins is wrong we have a lot of searching still to do.

Are you prepared to search along side us?

The Dawkins-Lennox Debate

“Is Richard Dawkins still evolving?” by Melanie Phillips – Spectator Magazine

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