A reason many people choose to disregard the Bible is that they believe that it was written by man, not inspired by God and assembled by man, not discovered by the Church. This short article will confront the second charge.
The accusation is not new; it has existed long before Dan Brown popularized it in his novel, “The DaVinci Code”. The belief follows that the books of the Bible were chosen by attendees of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD under the insidious direction of emperor Constantine. Officials allegedly picked and discarded writings based on their own judgment with authority given to them by membership on the council. But this isn’t what happened at all.
There is absolutely no evidence that canonicity of the New Testament was decided in THIS council or ANY council or in THIS way, PERIOD. The agenda of the Council is well-documented and dealt with issues like: on what day to celebrate Easter and construction of the Nicene Creed, and debate over the Divinity of Christ (The Arian Controversy).
The benefit for the skeptic in using this false narrative is that a man-made Holy Book would bear the limitations of all things man-made. The content of Scripture could have been decided by prejudice or chosen advantageously by those seeking control of the populace. The latter is a common atheist charge to this day. Given credibility, a vast inventory of human foibles lay open for modern day deniers of God from which to pick their favorite.
However, there are answers.
No, the process of gathering our biblical texts was not a simple popularity contest for ancient writings, driven by personal whim and politics. Instead, the Canon, a word coming from the Greek, meaning “rule” or “measuring stick”, is a list of affirmed books that had served as foundational to our faith up to that point. In fact, any participation by any council was only involved to the extent that it merely declared the way things had been and not the way they wanted them to be. This was done using the specific criteria provided below.
Geisler and Nix, in their book “From God To Us”, list five basic criteria for discovering the canonicity of the New Testament books:
Is the book authoritative—does it claim to be of God?
Is it prophetic—was it written by a servant of God?
Is it authentic—does it tell the truth about God, man, etc.?
Is the book dynamic—does it possess the life-transforming power of God?
Is this book received or accepted by the people of God for whom it was originally written—is it recognized as being from God?
Bible scholar Michael Kruger encourages every Christian to memorize this basic fact (and nine others, linked below) about the forming of the New Testament canon. To battle these false ideas of skeptics and keep Holy scripture in its proper place, the Church must understand that the New Testament canon was “the result of many years of God’s people reading, using, and responding to these books”.
Geisler and Nix. “From God To Us: How We Got Our Bible”. Page 67.
The Bible is a book written over the course of fifteen hundred years by more than forty authors. Christian apologist, Josh McDowell writes that these authors were kings, military leaders, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, tax collectors, poets, musicians, statesmen, scholars, and shepherds. The Bible was written in many different places, like out in the wilderness, dungeons, prison, while traveling, and while in exile. It was written during wars and times of peace and by scribes on three different continents and in three different languages. Different literary styles. Yet, it manages to tell ONE cohesive story throughout the history of the canon. And still, people will question how do we know it is the word of God.
Well, if what said above doesn’t convince someone, is there another way to demonstrate this uniqueness of scripture? Can we show somehow that these authors and their works are connected in some way? Yes. The answer is by fulfilled prophecy.
However, in most instances, we don’t have the time or the memory to run through the many examples of the successful fulfillment of prophecy. But maybe we can memorize one example. An especially strong one. Let’s try a method that I learned from a friend on Facebook. Below, I posted a short sample dialogue to guide a potential conversation:
Unbeliever: “How do you know the Bible is the word of God?”
Believer: “Great question! Before I answer you though, can I ask you a question?”
Unbeliever: “Okay. I guess.”
Believer: “If I described a situation by saying ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ or ‘they pierced my hands and feet’ or ‘they divided my clothes and gambled for my garments’, if I said those things to you, what do you think I would be describing?
Unbeliever: “Well, sounds like you are describing The Crucifixion. So what?”
Believer: “Very good. I am. But I am not quoting Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John where the story of The Crucifixion is usually told. I am quoting Psalm 22. A Psalm dated about one thousand years before the event of The Crucifixion. How would you explain that?”
Unbeliever: “Right. But the Bible writers knew about this Psalm ahead of time, right? They could just add these details in to make their story sound convincing. Couldn’t they?”
Believer: “Well, not really in this instance.”
Unbeliever: “Why not?”
Believer: “These details are unlikely additions because crucifixion, as a method of execution, did not exist one thousand years before Christ. Crucifixion was invented by the Persians in 300-400BC and developed, during Roman times, into a punishment for the most serious of criminals. The Israelites executed people by stoning them, not nailing them to a cross. King David, the psalmist, further describes one being able to ‘count all my bones’ (v.17) and being ‘poured out like water’ (v.14) and their bones being ‘out of joint’ (v14). These references to The Cross would have made zero sense to a first century Jew until The Messiah was crucified. Apart from the work of an all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal God, how would you account for this?”
I am honestly not sure what the unbeliever would say to that. But this is one step, maybe just a small one, we can take as a body of believers to move the skeptic toward the truth of the Gospel. Maybe this explanation removes a barrier or stumbling block that kept this person from coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
May we lovingly engage these people whenever we find them. God Bless.
I started blogging Matthew at the beginning of the year to coincide with my pledge to engage in in depth study of the Gospel over the next calendar year. This means reading commentaries, articles, textual criticism, and anything I can get my hands on about the Gospel of Matthew. Sometimes, my reflections will be pastoral or a discussion of Bible difficulties or simply thinking out loud in an attempt to get to the heart of what our Good Good Father wants us to know about Him.
Chapter four starts as Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. It’s interesting to note that the devil does not initiate this event. The “Spirit” led Jesus there. This was a period of testing approved and incited by God. Scholar and commentator RT France calls it an examination of Jesus’ newly revealed relationship with God.
A Hungry God?
When it comes to this testing, there is a likely comparison to be made between Jesus, Son of God, and John The Baptist, maker of a way. To start, God secluded John into the wilderness. He sent Jesus into the desert (v.1). John found sustenance in bugs and honey. Jesus, He made fast for 40 days and 40 nights. Scripture confirms that He was hungry (v.2). Jesus clearly upped the ante in terms of sacrificial obedience. God tested both men. But the human state of His Son, He weakened and then matched Him against the devil, Satan, the Adversary.
How well do you hold up to temptation? If I am being honest, for myself, not very well. A couple weeks ago, I participated in a 21-day period of fasting and prayer. The fasting part is not what it sounds like. I gave up caffeine. I didn’t even give up coffee; I drank decaf. I had the opportunity to buy caffeinated joe every morning. No one would know what is in my insulated mug and surely nobody at work knew about my pledge. But the temptation was definitely there. Admittedly, this might be a starkly, unremarkable comparison, but Jesus, recently empowered by the Holy Spirit (3:16), had the power to end his own hunger and the devil, as true to form, uses this fact to his advantage as we see in his first attempt to corrupt the Son of God. He says, “If you are the Son of God, tell those stones to become bread.” (v.3) To this Jesus responds from Deut. 8:3, “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (v.4)
RT France says of the tempting of Jesus to provide food for himself miraculously:
“The act was thus not in itself wrong. But Jesus recognized in His hunger an experience designed by God to teach Him the lesson of Deuteronomy 8:3. His mission was to be one of continual privation, for the sake of His ministry of the word of God; a concern for His own material comfort could only jeopardize it. As Son of God, He must learn, as Israel failed to learn, to put first things first. And that must mean an unquestioning obedience to God’s plan.” (France, “Matthew”. Pp 98.)
Jesus, as 100% God and 100% man, lived a life of continual privation, denying himself comforts that were at His fingertips every second of His life.
Jesus’ response to the devil using Deuteronomy 8:3 should also show that He understood why this time of testing was necessary. The previous verse in Deuteronomy tells us:
“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. (v.2)”
I find it hard to fathom that the humility of Jesus was in question, but God, clearly, has Jesus set up to demonstrate perfect obedience in the way His chosen people did not. These connections are inescapable. Our Saviour was battle-tested from the start.
A Leap Of Faith?
Next, the Evil One took Jesus to the highest point in the temple of the holy city. He continued challenging Jesus to prove his relationship with God The Father. This time though, having been scalded by scripture in his previous attempt, he tried this tactic himself. Surely, Jesus could not argue with the word of God, right? He said:
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Psa. 91:11,12)
Jesus answered him. “It is written: “Do not put the Lord to the test.” (Deut 6:16)
So now we are in the middle of a Bible quote-off between Jesus and the devil. Both know their scripture but only one has the goal of obedience to God. We know this because, well, one of these persons is the devil and he misuses God’s word nine times before breakfast. Here, by Satan’s reasoning, Jesus should throw himself down because the angels of the Lord will certainly protect the Son of God. And this will prove who you are. Easy Peazy. But the Adversary gets the context of the passage in Psalm 91 purposely backwards. The first two verses in the Psalm read:
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (v.1,2)
But if Jesus were to throw himself down, whom or what would He be trusting in? Certainly not God’s plan, right? He would be forcing God’s hand. Testing His word when the Son should be trusting it. By understanding the scriptural landscape and trusting the Father’s plan, Jesus is succeeding in the way the Israelites failed. In fact, Matthew draws these parallels between the failures of the early followers of God and the sufficiency of Jesus as a fulfillment of perfect obedience. For this reason, Jesus references in his answer Deuteronomy 6:16 which itself looks back to Exodus 17 where the Israelite community quarreled with Moses for him to get God to give them water. God finally instructed Moses to strike a rock to miraculously produce water. The ancient people of God TESTED the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex. 17:7)
The Evil One demonstrates how he wants the Son to not act in service to the Father, but act as if the Father serves the Son. We, as children of God, repeat this type of theology when we obligate God to answer our questions about His plans for us or attempt to shame Him for His past undesirable (to our eye) deeds. Satan seeks to confuse us by tampering with the order of things.
If our God is the God of Abraham, then He resides as the ultimate authority and necessarily becomes the focus of our lives. However, many people are tragically looking for a god that, first,agrees with them and, second, serves them.
The Kingdom Without The Cross
The devil, undeterred, now took him to the very high mountains and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. These were kingdoms that over which Satan held dominion and contesting his dominion was the reason Jesus came to Earth. So the devil wasn’t usurping any authority when he offered, “All this I will give to you, if you will bow down and worship me.” (v.9)
So here we have Jesus, with full knowledge of God’s plan, the trials, the humiliation, the extreme pain of crucifixion, with a way to avoid it all. All He has to do is bow down before the Deceiver and worship him and He can have the kingdom without the pain and anguish of the Cross. This is how Jesus responded:
“Away from me Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” (v.10)
Similarly, Jesus responded to Peter’s denial of Jesus’ teaching His mission of the Cross in Matthew 16:22. He said:
“Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but things of men.”
The obvious connection here is that The Cross is Jesus’ unavoidable mission. And if we are followers of Christ, It is our unavoidable mission as well. We mustn’t fall for these shortcuts introduced by our culture that seemingly get us there without the struggle, pain, or trials that are part of God’s plan. If there is a reason that God tests us, it is so that we can be prepared ahead of time for the devil’s gambit. But this preparation first requires our obedience.
Eve of Destruction
Another connection with the Old Testament can be found in Genesis 3 where the Serpent tempts Eve. Clearly, the Devil has employed the same ‘ol tricks from the very beginning. Below, I list Satan’s Genesis temptation with the Matthew 4 test.
The Serpent tempted Eve with food. Although Scripture does not allude to hunger as motivation for Eve’s fall, it does describe the fruit as good (Gen. 3:6). The Devil tempted a hungry Jesus with food.
The Serpent told Eve she would not die from eating the food. The Devil told Jesus that angels would save Him if He threw Himself down.
The Serpent told Eve that eating from the tree would make her like God. Eve wanted knowledge. The Devil told Jesus that if He bowed down and worshiped him, he would give Jesus the kingdom. The very thing He came to earth to gain.
Well, we shall stop there for now. Quite enough to think about if you ask me. We will finish the chapter next time. May God bless you and keep you.
France, RT. “Matthew”. Page 98.
Bruce, FF. “Understanding the New Testament: Matthew”. Pages 13-14.
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
I often wondered why God tells us so much to obey the local authorities. I can find at least four more instances, in addition to 1 Peter above, in Scripture, where we are instructed to respect those in authority over us or those who treat us harshly. Two times from Paul in Ephesians 6:5-9 and Colossians 3:22-25. And a couple times by Jesus in Matthew 5:46 and Luke 6:32-36. To be clear, God never asks us to violate our consciences.
In Acts 5:29, we are implored that “we must obey God rather than men”. But legal authorities and other people in powerful positions, He wants us to love and treat kindly despite persecution. But how are we doing this “for the Lord’s sake” (v. 13):
He benefits somehow from our obedience?
Or do we benefit?
Does the church?
Does God benefit from our obedience to earthly laws?
Well, God doesn’t benefit from any of our actions because He is immutable, unchanging. Nothing can be added or subtracted to or from Him. We can find Old Testament and New Testament passages to support this:
“They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (Psalm 102:26-27). “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed” (Malachi 3:6). “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). “He also says, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end’” (Hebrews 1:10-12).
So the first option is quickly out.
Does our response to earthly laws benefit us?
I think that it can be found throughout the Bible that our obedience benefits us. In the sense that such actions help us mature spiritually. It calibrates our objectives, our goals. We become more godly as we do as Christ did, carrying our respective crosses imperfectly, but carrying them nonetheless. In this exposure to people who treat us harshly or immorally, without provocation, grace and forgiveness must become a habit. If we consistently render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, or become more heavenly-minded, this is a good thing. A tremendous thing. The more we act on the truth that this world is not our home, the better. But this cannot be something we do “for the Lord’s sake”.
Does our response to earthly authorities benefit the Church?
Yes. I believe it benefits the Church (capital C) by moving along our Good Good Father’s plan for His followers to be Christ-like and attractive to those who do not believe. Our behavior “controls the narrative”, to use modern political phrasing. If we are obedient to the government, like Nero, in the time of Paul and Peter, obedient to rulers, bosses, authorities of man, what can be negatively said of us by unbelievers? Certainly nothing about our behavior, right?
They must deal with our beliefs if we do not give them more reason or justification to silence us for something else. In verse 15 of 1 Peter 2, it says “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” So controlling the narrative within our culture. In other words, if we are to be persecuted, let it be for our behavior in Christ, not deeds done in anger or fear or sin. One verse later, verse 16 challenges us to “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” To cite a recent hot button topic, the media or political commentators will bring up attacks on abortion providers, like bombings. These horrible events, committed by extremists, only served to move the narrative from the issue, the dismantling of life within the womb, and place it firmly on the terribly misguided beliefs of the perpetrators, which were then painted as mainstream Christian beliefs. Pro-Life protesters, going forward, could not “silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.”
So the movement suffers and children, sadly, continue to die at the hands of people who know better. The truth was hurt by folks, sympathetic to the cause, acting in evil.
Be Obedient, Like Christ
So obeying the authorities puts the believer on Christ’s path. He committed no crimes. Not against Roman law nor the Law of the Torah. Anything bad said about Him were lies. And His executioners knew it. The goodness of Jesus convicted the world. So must our goodness shine a light on a better way. The only Lord that saves. May this, increasingly, become our calling. God bless. Sources: https://www.allaboutgod.com/god-is-immutable-faq.htm
Are Christians Atheists Too? Wandering the raucous hallways of a facebook apologetics forum the other day and ran across an unbeliever who loved the “I just believe in one less God than you” argument. I mean really loved it. Moving up and down the threads, I saw him employ it numerous times in seemingly one sitting. But what’s the appeal really? I suppose people may think it’s a winning argument because it attempts to convict the believer of the same irrationality of which we accuse the unbeliever: Certain gods do not exist. And if we, indeed, make the claim that these other gods do not exist, we are then guilty of doing the same thing as atheists do, though not really atheism. In such a case, we would be making a positive knowledge claim [the non-existence of god(s)] that we cannot support observationally. So I would like to advise that we cease doing so, if this is the case, but I’ll get to that later. The atheist argument follows that the believer denies the existence of all other gods except the God of their own personal choice, presumably the God of the Bible. So we, as believers, assume our own atheism [non-existence of god(s)] or their silly “lack of belief” stance on atheism, regarding Thor and Zeus and Krishna and the like. The popular statement of this position is worded as such by atheist Stephen F. Roberts:
“I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace has a tidy answer prepared for those who hold this position:
“In every criminal trial, a jury is asked to evaluate the actions of one defendant related to a particular crime. While there are millions of other people in the world who could have committed the crime under consideration (and indeed, millions of these people were actually available to commit the crime), only one has been charged. If the jury becomes convinced this defendant is the perpetrator, they will convict him based on their beliefs. They will convict the accused even though they haven’t examined the actions (or nature) of millions of other potential suspects. They’ll render a verdict based on the evidence related to this defendant, in spite of the fact they may be ignorant of the history or actions of several million alternatives. If the evidence is persuasive, the jurors will become true believers in the guilt of this man or woman, even as they reject millions of other options . . .At the end of a trial, juries are “unbelievers” when it comes to every other potential suspect, because the evidence confirming the guilt of their particular defendant was sufficient. In a similar way, we can be confident “unbelievers” when it comes to every other potential god because the evidence for Christianity is more than sufficient.”
Wallace’s response deals with our ability to judge rationally which gods exist evidentially through argument and reason. The existence of alternative “gods” do not logically hinder our ability to find one true One or render the existence of one true God irrational. That’s Wallace’s argument. But I want to deal with the first part of Roberts’ claim.
“I CONTEND THAT WE ARE BOTH ATHEISTS . . .” Atheist Stephen F. Roberts’ argument, well, maybe more of an assertion, is that atheists and theists, if they do reject other gods, do so for the same reasons. This is untrue. Theists reject other gods because of what they know. Atheists, reportedly, reject other gods because of what they don’t know (lack of belief). See, not too long ago, unbelievers adopted a new definition for atheism. Most of them categorically reject the definition of atheism found in the “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” which calls atheism:
“Atheism” is typically defined in terms of “theism”. Theism, in turn, is best understood as a proposition—something that is either true or false. It is often defined as “the belief that God exists”, but here “belief” means “something believed”. It refers to the propositional content of belief, not to the attitude or psychological state of believing. This is why it makes sense to say that theism is true or false and to argue for or against theism. If, however, “atheism” is defined in terms of theism and theism is the proposition that God exists and not the psychological condition of believing that there is a God, then it follows that atheism is not the absence of the psychological condition of believing that God exists (more on this below). The “a-” in “atheism” must be understood as negation instead of absence, as “not” instead of “without”. Therefore, in philosophy at least, atheism should be construed as the proposition that God does not exist (or, more broadly, the proposition that there are no gods).“
They have replaced the definition above with what we will call a “lack of belief”. This position, if they would even agree to call it one, conveniently makes no knowledge claims. This is the upside for the god-denier. No propositions to defend. This “lack of belief” holds that theism must do the heavy lifting to convince them of our claim, since they have made none. The downside of this tactic is that atheism now lacks, among other things, explanatory power. A “lack of belief” only describes a personal deficiency and not reality. Atheism, as such, ceases to have cultural relevance as defined here, since non-beliefs cannot motivate or comment on or improve anything.
ANATOMY OF A TRAP So Roberts’ argument now becomes a trap, volleying the adherent between two definitions. The unbeliever must admit that they reject gods because of a personal deficiency, rendering the position impotent, or they must make a positive claim that NO gods exist, a knowledge claim that they cannot support with evidence. They can’t really do both, can they? While theism, Christianity in particular, continually seeks to explain the universe through reason, science, history, and philosophy, atheism reverts to “feels” and spiraling nihilism.
BUT ARE WE ATHEISTS TOO? But are we atheists too? Well, God never makes these claims. In fact, He acknowledges other “gods” quite boldly in scripture:
“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.” Deut 10:17. “Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Psalm 136:2. “For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” Psalm 95:3. “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on *all the gods of Egypt* I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.” Exodus 12:12. “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:” Psalm 82:1. “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” 1 Cor 8:5-6.
And an article by Elizabeth Sloane from www.haaretz.com, an online edition of the Haaretz Newspaper in Israel reasons:
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 New International Version (NIV):
3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
Does the Bible verse above describe how you usually respond to suffering? I bet not. At best, my response to suffering results in my pulling away quietly from reality, hedging myself in with sports or books or movies, so I don’t have to deal. Denial. At worst, I lash out at people who are not the cause of my trial.
The verse above probably best describes how I respond to other people’s suffering. “Don’t worry about it. It’ll pass. You’ll be stronger for this.” As I type I notice that what I say isn’t false, it’s true, but most often I tend to refer to truth when I don’t need to be the one to live it.
Opportunity for Unbelievers
So often we hear atheists snicker about the existence of a loving God who has a suffering people. To them, this is incoherent. If God is all-powerful and He loves you, why do you suffer, they ask. They use these instances to play on our propensity to avoid the problem. That we may act on the call of our hearts to lash out, instead of reach out.
But when you consider atheism, you should know that this is, in fact, the incoherent worldview. Atheism does not provide answers to the problem of evil; it just eliminates it as a problem.
If this is a God-less existence, what is suffering? See, suffering can only be seen as bad or wrong or something that ought not happen if we have an understanding of what ought to be. Atheism, if true, eliminates oughts.
An ought-less world is one in which what happens just happens. It’s a world of chocolate or vanilla choices and chocolate or vanilla results. Nothing is good or bad. Things are just different, but equal in value, like the choice between chocolate or vanilla ice cream. After all, who’s to say that one flavor is better than the other? What proof can we submit to decide? (Hint: It’s chocolate. Or is it?) An existence without a standard of what ought to happen reduces life to these kind of choices.
Thus, every complaint or displeasure can only describe the condition of the complainer and says nothing truthful of the deed done or object of the complaint. So, as such, the unbeliever lacks the ability to describe or explain reality. Truth exists within only their personal whims and not as something that exists apart from them. For example, displeasure of being punched in the nose only describes the way the punched individual feels about the event and not the potential wrongness of the act itself against them. But nobody really lives this way. That’s the incoherence of atheism.
So when unbelievers try to play us against God because of our sufferings, they entirely miss the point.
God’s Plan for Suffering
The point of suffering according to the text above is to establish God as the “Father of compassion” and the “God of comfort”. Notice 2 Corinthians 1: 3-7 doesn’t tell us that troubles won’t occur. People of God were never promised a trouble-free life. These are the heretical rantings of false prophets and prosperity gospel preachers. It says we will be comforted in our troubles. (v.4) This comfort is found in the Cross.
When reading this verse, it is important to understand that this letter is written by Paul on behalf of himself and his traveling companion Timothy to the church in Corinth. So when he uses the words “we” and “our”, in some cases, he is referring to himself and Timothy. “You” and “your” is referencing the church in Corinth. In other cases, these words refer to Paul, Timothy, and the church all together as believers.
So not only does God comfort us (everyone) in our troubles through the saving work of Christ, we are to use this truth to comfort others. Paul achieves this by acknowledgement God’s well-known sustaining acts within Paul’s life. The afflictions of persecution, imprisonment, threats of death, anxieties and impoverishment, for those, God has provided a peace for Paul and in turn, he passes on comfort to those also in trouble. “If we (Paul and Timothy) are distressed, it is for your (Corinth) comfort and salvation; if we (Paul and Timothy) are comforted, it is for your (Corinth) comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we (Paul and Timothy) suffer.” (v.6)
So it is easy enough to understand the afflictions for which Paul has received comfort. But what form did this comfort take for Paul? Bible commentator Colin G. Kruse describes Paul’s deliverance from his affliction, like deadly peril, as one of the ways that God provided comfort for him. He also details relief from anxieties that Paul experienced when Titus joined him in Macedonia. It, however, is clear that he was never exempt from persecution and trial because of God providing comfort. Kruse also offers that “up to the time of writing God has delivered Paul out of all his afflictions in the sense that none of them had proved fatal” (p.61, TTNTC)
Now, why should troubles occur in the first place? Again, what is the point?
The answer has much to do with our sin. Clay Jones, in his terrific book “Why Does God Allow Evil”, gives a short answer:
“God could not simply excuse Adam and Eve’s sin because the lesson to free beings would then be ‘Sin is okay, God will overlook it.’ But to demonstrate His love for us and to atone for the grave seriousness of sin, God sent His only Son, Jesus, to die for rebellious humans. Now, we humans who trust God and accept Jesus’ death on the cross of our sins learn the horror of rebellion through experiencing rebellion’s devastating results. We are also learning to overcome evil with good. This knowledge prepares us to be fit inheritors of God’s kingdom, where– because we are learning the horror and stupidity of sin here on earth– we will be able to use our free will rightly as we reign with Jesus forever and ever.” (p.208)
Know that much of the quote above deserves further explanation and that is what Jones’ informative book provides.
So according to Jones, God has a reason for our suffering. He has a plan the eventually leads us to being in His presence “forever and ever”. We play a part in this as believers. We comfort those who suffer because we have found comfort in the finished work of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
May you personally find this kind of comfort in your life.
Source: The Tyndale New Testament Commentary of 2 Corinthians by Colin G. Kruse (p. 61, TTNTC)
Came across this quote today on facebook. I had seen it before. But something was different about it today. Now, likely nothing was actually different about it. More likely, something was different about me. Ever have that? You see things day in, day out but you never really notice them. Or you notice them differently now than you did then? That’s the way this quote worked on me today.
The person who posted this wondered aloud if Penn Jillette was softening is views on the existence of God. Penn, a vocal atheist, hasn’t, to my knowledge, announced or renounced anything. And my thoughts about this quote do not really deal with his non-belief, but, in fact, our belief.
See, he seems to understand our purpose as Christians better than we do (sometimes). And I have never said that about an atheist before now. Normally, atheists and agnostics get just about everything regarding our faith wrong. Most of the time, they even get the definition of Christian faith wrong from the start. But here, he asks, “How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?” He sees that the believer’s act of delivering the Good News as an urgent God-directed mission of love, as we should. But do we really?
Penn offers that we may fear an awkwardness in our relationship with others if our actions are somehow rebuffed. From his perspective, he just doesn’t believe that it’s real. His personal conviction is that God isn’t real, so this isn’t something of value.
But to believers, it must be real. After all, this is our worldview. Our conviction is that God stepped down from His throne, into time, in the human form of His Son, Jesus Christ. This God-Man then, in order to rescue those who love Him, sacrificed Himself to pay for their sins, while they were still sinners. He atoned for their (our) rotten deeds in a way that the Old Testament sacrifices could not. With the blood of a perfect sacrifice. Our conviction is that Grace prevailed over our depraved nature and those who love God are now new creations. And our Lord has entrusted with us this message to the world.
So if these are our convictions, “How much do you have to hate somebody not to proselytize?” Maybe it’s not hate, maybe it’s fear. Or worse, maybe, we simply lack conviction. Because if we believe that the Cross that took the life of our Savior is the only way that the world can gain eternal life, for what reasons are we keeping this to ourselves?
Friends, if it is a lack of conviction, there are ways to know that what we believe is true. There is information that we can attain that answers our reasonable doubts. We have the goods. We can be bold in our actions. We need not be defensive or harsh. We need not shrink from challenges to our faith. You can also pray for help with your unbelief or for God to continue His work in you, a maturing of your spirit.
Or maybe it is that we aren’t sure of our own salvation? Could that be? But, as believers, we know that the greatest commandment tells us to love God and love each other. So when we evangelize, when we share the Gospel, in doing so, we assure ourselves of the genuineness of our faith every time because, how much must we have to love somebody (God) to trust His Word and put it into action despite relentless chirping of a contrary culture that worships idols of comfort and greed? In addition, how much must we have to love somebody (others) to risk our relationship with them and tell them the truth that: God is real, the Cross is real, and the Resurrection is true.
May we show love that changes lives. And if for some reason we don’t, may we seek to change that about ourselves, God helping us.
Attending a Christian music concert the other night, I became inspired by the lyrics of the Tenth Avenue North song “You Are More”. This is a song that I have long admired and believe it’s message is true. Here is a sample of the chorus:
“You are more than the choices that you’ve made, You are more than the sum of your past mistakes, You are more than the problems you create, You’ve been remade.”
The song, written to the believer, makes a value judgement regarding a person’s relationship to the choices, mistakes, and problems attributed to them. It places a person’s identity above their undesirable actions or consequences. Now I would think that believers and unbelievers, the same, would agree with most of these words, apart from the last line, “You’ve been remade”. Aside from this reference to the regeneration of the human soul, surely there are folks who deny the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus who surely believe in their own personal value and, thus, feel enabled to enthusiastically belt out those lyrics right beside me.
The unbeliever’s testimony to the value, or “moreness” of humanity can be witnessed in instances like their moral indignation to the plight of the poor. The fight for civil, moral, or “reproductive” rights also calls to attention a belief in inherent attributes of each individual that would not be relevant to beings whose existence stem from strictly material forces.
But how can they so rightfully agree? On what rational basis can they place themselves, their worth, their identity, above the accumulation of their actions if not for the presence of an ultimate provider of value?
“You are more than the choices that you’ve made, You are more than the sum of your past mistakes, You are more than the problems you create, You’ve been remade.”
The unbeliever may think that the answer lay in his ability to create value within himself. In other words, much like they claim meaning and purpose for their lives, the God-denier himself needs to be the source of his own value. But if that were true, where does one attain this value, if they do not possess it from the start? And is this self-given value real? For instance, if I call myself a king, but am not actual descendant of certain royal heritage, am I a true king? I may feel as though I am a king. I may self-identify as one, but if I were honest, I have no authority to change the objective state of who I am, or have been from the start, no matter how many people I ask to “bow” to it.
Conversely, Christians account for this inherent worth of humanity from a source outside themselves. Value, worth, meaning, and purpose are things that are given to us, not things true by virtue of human declaration.
Believers rely on the authority of the divine inspiration of scripture. From Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.” As image-bearers of God, humans are set apart from the rest of creation and given dominion over “the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (v.28) Not only does God demonstrate our value to Him through creation, He does so by the sacrifice of His son on the cross for those who love Him. We know this because Romans 5:8 tells us that “ . . . God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.
“You are more than the choices that you’ve made, You are more than the sum of your past mistakes, You are more than the problems you create, You’ve been remade.”
This “remaking” we hear about in the last verse of the song’s chorus informs us of a regeneration of the believer’s spirit accomplished by Christ succumbing to death on the cross, paying for the redemption of His people with His life. An undeserved act of God alone to bestow righteousness upon those who love Him. Something He as sovereign Lord alone has the authority to do.
So humanity can only be more because of our status as image-bearers of the Good Good Father. Because of grace, believers are not only more, but are righteous because of Christ’s finished work for our redemption.
“You are more than the choices that you’ve made, You are more than the sum of your past mistakes, You are more than the problems you create, You’ve been remade.”
May we sing that last verse as loudly and surely as we are able to sing the three before it.
As we move closer to Easter, as with most religious holidays, we will often experience a cultural backlash against our Christian faith. We see billboards, bought by atheist groups, denoting a lack of need for a Savior. At Christmas, we may see mythicism promoted by unbelieving “friends” on our facebook feeds. And claims alleging that the Bible is nothing but a book of fairy tales. It is for this reason I would like to share this bit of Bible teaching, to, both, strengthen our own confidence in scripture and help us further provide an answer to “everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope you have . . . with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
To do this, I will be referring heavily to Lydia McGrew’s marvelous book, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts”. McGrew’s book, itself, is an unearthing of evidence for the historical reliability of the gospels written in the 18th and 19th centuries by apologists William Paley and Jame Blunt, respectively.
From the synopsis of her book, the term “undesigned coincidences” refers to:
“ . . . an apparently casual, yet puzzle-like “fit” between two or more texts, and its best explanation is that the authors knew the truth about the events they describe or allude to. Connections of this kind among passages in the Gospels, as well as between Acts and the Pauline epistles, give us reason to believe that these documents came from honest eyewitness sources, people “in the know” about the events they relate.”
For this article, I want to simply paraphrase one of my favorite instances of this inter-locking of events within the gospels, though there are many more illustrated in McGrew’s book. Please, by all means, check out this book for the rest.
We start in John 18:10 when Jesus and His companions are waiting in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus waited there for Judas to arrive with a detachment of soldiers to arrest Him. Verse 10 explains the reaction of Jesus’ followers to His detainment at the hands of the officials sent by the chief priests and Pharisees.
“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus)” (verse 10). So after introducing the name Malchus to us, the Book of John doesn’t mention him again. We can only assume that the high priest’s servant left the scene holding the right side of his head, less an ear.
The story then leads us to the trial of Jesus and this exchange between Pilate and Jesus as He was questioned out of earshot of the Jewish council whose goal is to have Jesus executed. John 18:33-36:
“Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Do you see a contradiction here between these two passages in the same chapter of John? When Jesus claims that His kingdom is not of this world, He supports His claim by saying that if it were not so, His followers would fight to save Him. Well, evidenced in John 18:10, Peter did fight. He lopped off Malchus’s ear with his sword.
So when Pilate hears these claims of being peaceful from Jesus, he goes to the Jews and says that he finds “no basis for a charge against him” (v. 38). Now because it was the aim of the Jews to present Jesus as opposition to Caesar, they could have shown a conflict in Jesus’s own words, opposed to the actions of his disciples (Peter), by simply showing Pilate Malchus’s wounded head. They could have attempted to show that Jesus and His disciples have a violent revolution in mind for the kingdom of Rome which would be a capital offense.
Why didn’t they do this? If our only source of information is John’s Gospel, it doesn’t make sense that the Jews wouldn’t use the attack on Malchus to make their case, right?
However, the question is answered in Luke 22:47-53. Describing the scene in the garden, Luke says:
“While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22.47–53)”
In an excerpt from “Hidden in Plain Sight”:
‘Only Luke says that Jesus healed the servant’s ear, though Matthew and Mark also recount that the ear was cut off. Here again, Luke supplies a unique detail within a passage that is in some respects similar to the other Synoptic Gospels. And here, too, this detail is confirmed by an undesigned coincidence. If it is true that Jesus healed the servant’s ear, it explains Jesus’ words to Pilate, though those words are given only in John. Jesus could confidently declare that his kingdom is not of this world and even say that his servants would be fighting if his kingdom were not peaceful. If anyone tried to say that Peter cut off a servant’s ear, the wounded servant himself could not be produced to show this, and an admission that Jesus healed the ear would be further evidence of Jesus’ non-violent intentions, not to mention evidence of his miraculous abilities.”
This is one of my favorite undesigned coincidences because, embedded within, it, in a way, confirms an actual miracle. Because if not for the soldier’s healed ear, the Jews could have produced actual evidence, though circumstantial and dishonest, to build their case against our Good Good Father. Instead, the happening of the crucifixion of Jesus depended entirely on the political manipulation of Pilate and making him worry that he appeared to be “no friend of Caesar” (John 19:12).
In this way and among other ways, detailed in Lydia McGrew’s book, John and Luke fit together like a puzzle, Luke explaining a difficulty in John. The writer of John’s Gospel undoubtedly knew about the soldier’s ear but, for some reason, left out this detail, all the while, continuing the narrative as if it did happen. In a completely unforced way, John’s story only makes sense in light of Luke’s version. Not to mention, that in a separate coincidence, Jesus’s testimony in John 18:36 explains why Pilate cannot find reason to charge Jesus in Luke’s gospel. So the authors of both gospels end up supporting the historical reliability of the other in a subtle, undesigned way.
What should be made of all this? The best explanation is that the authors knew the truth about the events they described.
Today in church, we were awarded a special treat. We witnessed a profession of faith and two baptisms and a testimony. While professions of faith and baptisms are an absolute blessing to the church, this post will focus exclusively on the testimony. Allow me to paraphrase the joyful message we heard below:
After being challenged to confess her sins to God by her unchurched mother, she feels guilt for avoiding church and putting it off, so, alone with her child, she finally gives in and confesses. When she does this, she did so completely with an open mind and an open heart. To her amazement, she heard words, though not with her ears, that she had not used before this moment. The words were not hers, but they were spoken into her heart. And then, she confessed.
After her confession, since she had missed church, she found a church service streamed online. The sermon mentioned Isaiah 43:18-19.
She quickly looked up this verse in the pages of a used teen study bible someone had given to her. Within the Word of God, she read the verse, noting not only God’s answer to her confession, but that out of every verse in her used study bible, this verse was the only one marked with a highlighter. The only one. Through His Word God told her:
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19
While it occurred to me and many others that a wonderful thing had happened to her, later, I thought of something else. Much of what happened to this young lady we can see fits into a portion of our church order of worship.
Some churches have a different order and may have slimmed it down to just a few headings, but in this order, we have Gathering/Praise, Confession, Proclamation, Response to the Word, Lord’s Supper, and Sending. I am, of course, paying close attention to the Confession section of worship here. Within that section we have sub-headings: Call to Confession, Prayer of Confession, Assurance of Pardon, Passing the Peace, and Response to Thanksgiving.
It occurred to me that God had lead her through part of this order of worship without the presence of a pastor, worship leader, choir, or congregation. Our Good Good Father came down to meet her in her own living room and, with Him and her baby son, she had church there. She experienced the Holy Spirit Calling her to confession through her mother. God lead her through her Prayer of Confession. God, then, Assured her of His plans for her in Isaiah 43:18-19. She received Peace from the Lord over the condition of her heart and along with that, a desire to joyfully tell others what He has done for her in Thanksgiving.
My telling of this event in this way is not to say that these things (pastor, worship leader, etc,) are unimportant, but to show that we as believers in Christ and church-goers get to follow this order of worship every week and some of us can still remain unmoved by it. Why is that?
Unless you were there, it is hard to adequately describe the energy and joyfulness by which she had told us what God had done for her. The room was electrified. And why shouldn’t it be? God performed a miracle on this woman’s heart just as He has for you and me. I find the joyful manner by which she delivered her message to be almost as important as the Word she shared with us. My hope, going forward, is that those blessed to be in attendance will not let this detail fade from their memories. It is for this reason I humbly ask: Church, where is your joy?
Please pray with me: Lord, if we haven’t felt this way in a while, may this be us again.