Translate

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Demonstrating: "if God does not exist, life is absurd"

Image result for hamster wheel

Ecclesiastes 12:1 "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no delight in them.”

Introduction

The opening passage for today's post derives from the pen of King Solomon - the wisest and wealthiest king who ever lived. He had it all - lineage (son of king David of Israel); wisdom (there was hardly any area of knowledge he had not mastered); fame (kings and queens traveled from all over the globe just to hear him speak); untold pleasures and wealth. Yet, despite having experienced (at least by human standards) near-heaven-on-earth, Solomon's life became morally and spiritually bankrupt. He was brought to the brink of despair. Solomon's counsel is a word to any young person dazzled by the temptation to live a life as if God didn't exist.

Review from last post

In our last post, we introduced what I called: "an argument for God's existence from the non-absurdity of life". Reader's can click here to read the last post: 

http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2019/02/if-god-does-not-exist-life-is-absurd.html 

We noted that in the history of human thought, a consensus has emerged that many non-believers and believers in Christianity assert as a truism: "If God does not exist, life is absurd." We crafted the following argument:

Premise #1: If God does not exist, meaning, value and purpose does not exist

Premise #2: Objective Meaning, value and purpose exist as part of our world

Therefore: God exists.

In today's post, we want to unpack this argument, premise-by-premise, to offer evidence that leads to the conclusion.



Demonstrating the "non-absurdity of life" argument for God's existence

As we develop this argument, we need to lay out some definitions: "objective", "meaning", "value" and "purpose". 

First, consider the term "objective". Its not too difficult to prove Premise #2 (objective Meaning, value and purpose exist as part of our world) when you think about it. When I say "objective", I mean that which is universally the case, whether you and I believe it or deny it, or whether we like it or despise it. 
When we refer to "meaning", the concern deals with what is considered "significant". Whenever someone mentions the idea of "value", this chiefly is concerned with the areas of morality (right, wrong) and duty (good, bad). The final element, "purpose", is that element of reality that points to an ultimate end to which everything else is moving. 

Whether someone believes the universe and life to have ultimate meaning (i.e significance) or not is to assign some sort of meaning. A couple of illustrations will serve to show how atheists cannot abandon an ultimate belief in meaning - despite the fact that they deny it. 

1. Atheist author and Zoologist, Richard Dawkins, may claim in his book - "The God-delusion" - that life is "pitiless indifference", yet, Dawkins' public foundation: "The Richard Dawkins Foundation", makes its mission to promote science and the secular worldview. Despite affirming the meaningless of life, Dawkins shows himself inconsistent in touting a worldview that places human flourishing as the centerpiece of life's meaning. 

2. Physicist Steven Wienberg in his classic book: "The First Three Minutes", draws out implications from his reflections on the initial moments following the beginning of the universe. In his estimation, since the universe is all that exists, assigning meaning is pointless. However, Weinberg obviously doesn't consistently hold to such a notion, since he spent countless hours co-developing a scientific theory that has become the Standard Model for describing the sub-atomic realm (thus netting him the Nobel Prize in physics in 1979). To say that the universe is without meaning is to assign a meaning to it!

As these two examples demonstrate, the atheistic worldview is inconsistent, resulting in it not having practical application.

When we speak of "value" in premise #2, we are referring to moral values and duties. Morality deals with right and wrong and duties deal with good or bad. To quickly illustrate, a doctor that saves a person's life is performing their moral obligation, since watching a person die, just for the fun of doing so, is morally wrong. It is the duty of my children, once reaching adulthood, to get a job and make a living. However, if they decide not to become a doctor, they're not committing an immoral act. In other words, it is good for people to have jobs. The question we must raise is: 
"are moral values and duties immaterial, universal and abstract or are they material, personally subjective and concrete?" 

Once again, the atheistic worldview cannot remain consistent. Sam Harris, a vocal author, philosopher, scientist and one of the so-called "New Atheists", affirms that there are objectively right and wrong values and right and wrong actions. Harris argues in his book: "The Moral Landscape", that moral values and duties arise from physical brain states and are measured by human well-being. The problem with this idea is when we raise the following question: "did moral values and duties exist prior to the existence of human beings?" If such values emerged at the advent of human beings, then Harris' definition of "good and evil" does not escape the trap he so desperately tries to avoid: namely, that morality is a matter of personal taste or what culture so defines it to be. Practically put, we only need to raise the follow-up question: "who is to say, such-and-such is right or wrong?" Contrary to Harris' claims, we find that meaning and values cannot be grounded in this material realm.

What about purpose? Does the universe, life and humanity have a purpose? Just like the previous two observations, purpose is connected to meaning and value. If meaning and value are derived from outside our material universe, then purpose is as well.  

Again, on atheism there is no purpose to the universe, life and humanity. Atheists like the late philosopher and mathematician, Bertand Russell, asserted that life had no purpose. Yet, he wrote volumes of philosophy that  despite life having no purpose, we have to "bravely hold onto the despair of it all". If Russell's philosophy is held to consistently, it all but begs the question: "why even bother to be brave?"

Closing thoughts:

Therefore in reflecting on philosophical (Camus, Russell) and scientific authorities (Dawkins, Harris, Wienberg), we can see that even among foremost atheistic thinkers, the reality of objective meaning, value and purpose is inescapable. Furthermore, any attempt to ground meaning, value and purpose in anything but God is fruitless. Thus, premise #2 holds in the following argument:

Premise #1: If God does not exist, meaning, value and purpose does not exist

Premise #2: Objective Meaning, value and purpose exist as part of our world

When we consider how both premises together are logically valid (the form of the argument follows the rules of logic) and sound (the premises say something true of our world), the conclusion thus follows:

Therefore, God exists.

Friday, February 8, 2019

If God does not exist, life is absurd

Image result for the screamer art

Edvard Munch - "The Scream" -  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scream


Isaiah, prophet in ancient Israel,  Isaiah 22:12-13 

"Therefore in that day the Lord God of hosts called you to weeping, to wailing, To shaving the head and to wearing sackcloth. 13 Instead, there is gaiety and gladness, Killing of cattle and slaughtering of sheep, Eating of meat and drinking of wine: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die.”

Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:32-33

"If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”34 Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame."

Albert Camus, French atheist and existentialist, The Myth of Sisyphus



"Here is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is

not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy."

The absurdity of life without God

What happens when people adopt a view of life that excludes God? In the three opening passages above we see the attitude and the outcome. Though Isaiah and the Apostle Paul wrote over 700 years apart from one another, their observations concerning the absurdity of life without God are identical. They each saw in their day the consequences that follow when entire cultures opt for living as if God didn't exist. The point of these excerpts is to show that if God did not exist, then the only alternative would be to "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die".

Albert Camus, a French atheist that was part of a movement in early 20th century existentialism called "The Absurdists", hits repeatedly upon the theme of "life's absurdity" in light of God's non-existence. The above quoted work of Camus - "The Myth of Sisyphus", develops how people try to function in a world they perceive as  without meaning. Camus defines "absurdity":



"What, then, is that incalculable feeling that deprives the mind of the sleep necessary to life? A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity."



For Camus, the key project of all human thought is to discover how to navigate between the impulse to kill oneself in the perception of life's absurdity and the impulse to live in revolt against the first impulse.

Whether we are talking of the "prince of the writing prophets", Isaiah, or the author of two-thirds of the books in the New Testament, Paul, or the prominent figure among French atheists, Camus, all three see what follows if we take seriously the belief in atheism. In the history of Biblical and philosophical thought, the consensus of believer and non-believer is this: if God does not exist, life is absurd. Such a startling observation can supply a powerful argument for God's existence.

What we're not saying about life's absurdity and the question of God's existence

Now let's make something perfectly clear: I am not saying that lack of belief in God means that one cannot discover meaning, value and purpose in this life. Many atheists and people who claim to have no belief in God are good parents and fine citizens. The issue at hand is not whether belief in God or lack thereof determines objective moral values and duties. Rather, the point made by these quotes is that if God did not exist, there would be no meaning, value or purpose to discover in this life. 

What we are saying with respect to life's absurdity and the question of God's existence

On atheism, we should not expect to discover such things as meaning, value and purpose. Atheism is incapable of simultaneously maintaining consistency and happiness. Per the atheist worldview, there is no meaning, value purpose, causes worth fighting for and value to life. Yet, atheists will still champion causes for justice, tolerance and the value of human life. Someone like an Albert Camus illustrated the contradiction that is atheism: assert that life is meaningless and God doesn't exist, while clinging to life, since living in revolt to such meaningless is the point.

A "non-absurdity of life" argument for God's existence


Authors such as the late Francis Schaeffer and theologian and philosopher William Lane Craig have illustrated how value, meaning and purpose are likened unto an upper story in a house, with man living in the lower story:

God
Meaning, Value, Purpose

--------------------------

Human beings

What can explain the impulse to spend years at university, preparing for a career? Or, what can explain mankind's insatiable desire to find his place in our vast and expanding universe? Is physics, energy, matter and chemistry enough to justify or provide grounds for the meaning, value and purpose of life?To find such a grounding, one must look outside the universe to it's Creator. If we were to construct an argument as to why value, meaning and purpose are only possible with God, it would go something like this:

Premise #1: If God does not exist, meaning, value and purpose does not exist

Premise #2: Objective Meaning, value and purpose exist as part of our world

Therefore: God exists


In the next post, we will expound further on this argument to see how well it does under close scrutiny. 

More next time....

Monday, February 4, 2019

What Jesus taught about scripture - making an argument to inerrancy

Image result for jesus
Luke 24:44 "Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

Introduction:

In the last two posts, we presented the first two parts of an argument: "an argument 'to' inerrancy". When we speak of Biblical inerrancy, we mean that the writings of the Old and New Testaments contained no errors as originally written by the prophets and apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To state the doctrine positively: the original documents of the Old and New Testaments are totally true in every subject, even to their very wording, as revealed by God through the words written by the Biblical authors. Since we no longer have the original documents (also called "the autographs), we have to rely upon the thousands of copies and ancients translations to reconstruct the wording of the original text. 

In our first post, we considered how through the science of textual criticism, we have an over 95% certainty in the Old Testament and 99.9% certainty of the original words in the New Testament, resulting in the preservation of the words of scripture. The first post in this series can be reviewed here:  http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2019/01/arguing-to-inerrancy-begins-by.html


The second post dealt with the historical reliability of the Bible - with particular focus on the New Testament Gospels. In as much as it is important to know that we have the wording of the original documents among copies and translations, the next issue to consider was whether or not these documents are historically reliable. By the combined disciplines of textual criticism and historical studies, the reader can arrive at the conclusion of the reliability of the the Bible in general, and the New Testament Gospels in particular. To see the details of the last post, the reader can click here: http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2019/01/p2-arguing-to-inerrancy-considers.html

Reliability is highly important, but, reliability does not get us to the goal of showing why the Bible as a collection of books is inerrant.  Today's post will conclude our three-part argument "to" inerrancy by noting Jesus' view of the Bible. Since we have established that we have access to the original wording of the Bible and that it is reliable, we can treat the Gospel records as first-hand sources of Jesus' life, teachings, death and resurrection. 

1. Jesus taught that the scripture is inspired, inerrant and revealed by God.

In Jesus' day, the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible, the Tanak, as it is sometimes referred) was the only Bible known. There were no New Testament books, since Jesus had not yet died, raised and ascended. The Old Testament books were revealed by God through the prophets in Hebrew (98% of the Old Testament text) and some Aramaic (2% of the Old Testament text). By the first century, almost every Jewish person in Israel spoke Aramaic, which meant that the copies of the scriptures read in the synagogues were Aramaic (called "Targums", meaning, "to interpret"). Other Jews throughout the rest of the Greco-Roman world had access to Greek copies of the Old Testament associated with the Septuagint Greek Old Testament (so-named due to the tradition that the project was translated by seventy Jewish scribes, symbolized by the Roman numeral LXX). The Septuagint (LXX) was translated over a period of a century, beginning in 275 b.c. It is likely that Jesus and the Apostles had familiarity with either the Aramaic Targums or Greek Septuagint. 

There were of course copies of the Hebrew text, however, very few Jewish people knew the Hebrew. Despite various translations of the Old Testament in circulation by Jesus' day, His view of the Divine authority carried by such translations did not alter. Several key phrases that Jesus used to describe the scriptures attest to His views, which ought to inform us as to how to view our translations of the Old and by extension, the New Testament. 

a. "It is written" 

Jesus would sometimes use the phrase "it is written" to assert the Divine authority of the Old Testament (Matthew 4:4, 6, 7, 10; 11:10; 21:13;  26:24, 31 /  Mark 1:2, 7:6, 9:12, 13; 11:17; 14:21, 27 / Luke 4:4, 8, 10, 17, 7:27; 10:26; 18:31; 19.46; 20.17, 22, 22:37; 24.44, 46 / John 6:31,45; 8:17; 10:34; 12:14, 16; 15:25; 19:19, 20, 22. At least 16 times in the Old Testament do we find this phrase used to refer to the words of other Old Testament books as being God's word

b. "Scripture"

Jesus used another closely associated term, "scripture", to describe the Old Testament (Matthew 21:42, 22:29, 26:54, 56/ Mark 12:24, 14:49 / Luke 24:27, 32, 45, John 5:39). In these instances, Jesus describes the scriptures as fulfilled, having Divine authority, without error or "inerrant" (Matthew 22:29) and incapable of failure or "infallible" (John 10:35).

c. "It is fulfilled"

The third term used by Jesus in His teaching on scripture is His often used phrased it is fulfilled (Matthew 4:14; 
5:17; 8:17; 12:1; 13:14,35; 21:4; 26:54, 56 / Mark 1:15; 14:49 / Luke 4:21; 21:22, 24 / John 12:38; 13:18, 25; 17:12). In John 17:12, Jesus uses the phrase: "scripture is fulfilled". In John 18:9 and 19:28, reference is made to scripture "being fulfilled". Jesus' teaching about scripture's ability to accurately predict the future spoke to it's prophetic function. He saw himself as the basis of fulfillment. Fulfilled prophecy is the most unique mark of  divine revelation - with the Old and New Testament books uniquely possessing such a property among any other religious text.

d. "Truly, Truly, I say to you"

The fourth set of phrases that Jesus used to teach about the Bible was where he would either say "but I say" or "truly truly". These particular statements refer to Jesus's own self understanding of his Divine Authority as delivering the very words of God. He would often contrast himself with the Jewish traditions as found in the teachings of the Pharisees and Scribes. Hence, Jesus used the phrase "truly truly" in John 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11; 5:19, 24, 25; 6:26, 32, 47, 53; 8:34, 51, 58; 10:1, 7; 12:24; 13:16, 20, 21, 38; 14:12; 16:20, 23 and 21:18. 

We then find Jesus using the phrase "I say" with reference to his own Divine Authority in Matthew 5:18, 22, 22, 26, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44; 6:2, 5, 16, 25, 29, 8.10, 11; 10:15, 23, 29; 11:23, 24; 12:43; 13:30, 37: 14:9, 14, 18, 25, 30 / Luke 4:24 and Luke 5:24. In Luke 6:25, Jesus would use the phrase "but I say" to contrast himself to the Jewish traditions, as seen in Luke 7.9, 14, 26, 28, 47.10:12; 11:8, 9, 51; 12:5, 22, 27, 37, 44. 

As Jesus proclaimed His own self understanding, He claimed the ability to forgive sins (Luke 7:47; 12:8) which is something the Old Testament taught that Yahweh alone could do (see Isaiah 43:10,11; Jonah 2:9-10). Finally, we this phrase "but I say" used in John 1:51 and in Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44 / Luke 6:27 / John 5:34.

e. "Word of God" 

The final major term that Jesus used to describe the scriptures was the phrase "the Word of God". Whenever we use the phrase "word of God" to describe either the writings of the Old and New Testament or Jesus Himself, we are describing something or someone who speaks in God's place. Thus, Jesus used this phrase "word of God" in places such as Matthew 4:4; 15:6 / Mark 7:13 / Luke 8:11, 21; 11:28 / John 3:34; 8:47 / John 10:35.  In John 10:35, Jesus uses the particular phrase: "the word of God cannot be broken" to refer to scripture's infallibility (that is, it's incapability of ever being wrong or ever failing to be right).

2. Jesus' resurrection validates everything He taught and accomplished (including His views of scripture).

Having looked at Jesus's teaching on the character scripture,  we finally turn our attention to Jesus' resurrection from the dead. In making the historical case for Jesus resurrection, scholars refer to "facts" or details which they conclude are fundamental to verifying any historical event and it's meaning. There are four main facts that virtually all New Testament historians (whether believing or unbelieving practitioner) have arrived at as a consensus regarding Jesus's life and death. 


A. Jesus died by crucifixion. 

In almost a dozen sources outside the New Testament as well as the multiple attestation of his death in the four gospels and throughout the New Testament Epistles as well as Acts of the Apostles, there's hardly no debate that Jesus death by crucifixion occurred. Passages such as Deuteronomy 21:22 and Galatians 3:10-13 signify that Christ's death on the cross was viewed as a curse. On almost 10 occasions throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus predicted that he would be handed over to both the Jews and the Romans to be tried, falsely accused, and crucified.

B. The second fact that is agreed upon by the majority of New Testament historians is the discovery of Jesus's empty tomb three days following his crucifixion. 


Whenever one reads all four gospel accounts in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20, all four counts record that Jesus is empty tomb was discovered by his closest women followers. The testimony of women in the ancient world was viewed as inadmissible in a court of law. Yet, the fact that women are recorded as first-hand eyewitnesses attest to the genuineness of the accounts (referred to by historians as the "criterion of embarrassment). 

C. The third fact surrounding the events of Jesus resurrection are his post-resurrection appearances. 

Forty days following his resurrection from the dead, Jesus appeared on a dozen occasions to various groups, from believers to unbelievers, to individuals to all twelve of the Apostles and to even 500 Witnesses at one time. These eyewitnesses claim encounters the risen Christ despite there being no Jewish teaching of resurrections occurring before the end of the world. Virtually all New Testament historians count these claims by the eyewitnesses as a fact of historical investigation. 

D. The fourth fact concerns the sudden change from skepticism to faith among those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus's post-resurrection. 

We see for example the disciples who were hiding in fear at the end of all four gospels suddenly becoming robust evangelists of his resurrection in Acts of the Apostles. Jesus's own half-brother per Jesus' humanity, James, was converted to the belief that Jesus had raised from the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15). The persecutor of the early church, Saul of Tarsus, had a profound encounter with the Risen Christ and Acts chapter 9, and our accounts such in Acts 22, and 26.

The best explanation of these facts derives not from naturalistic theories (such as someone stole the body, or that Jesus's appearances were just hallucinations, or that the disciples somehow mistook the location of the tomb, or that it was a mass hoax). Instead, research has borne out in the last 200 years that the explanation: "God raised Jesus from the dead", has shown itself to be the most consistent explanation of all the facts just mentioned. And what does this have to do with the teaching of biblical inerrancy? 


As we've already seen, Jesus taught that the scriptures are inerrantly the Word of God. He also taught that God, being perfect and thus incapable of lying, was the scripture's main Author (along with the human authors). Inerrancy follows from God's character (see Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). As we've seen in the foregoing historical argument for Jesus's resurrection from the dead, Jesus resurrection validates everything that He taught and lived. Therefore, by basing the doctrine of inerrancy on Jesus' teaching and resurrection, we have a firm foundation for the inerrancy scripture itself. 

When we consider this foundation in addition to statements the Old Testament New Testaments makes about themselves make with reference to their inerrancy and historically verified fulfilled prophecy, we find  a two-fold foundation for stating the inerrancy of scripture: namely, what the scripture says about itself as well as Jesus's on teaching and resurrection. These twin pillars provide for us proper justification for firming the inerrancy of scripture. 

Conclusion:

Thus our argument to inerrancy is complete. We have seen that the words of the original manuscripts are preserved in our copies and translations. We've also seen that the biblical documents are reliable with respect to their recording of history and other matters. Then by seeing what Jesus taught about the scriptures, God, as well as his resurrection from the dead, we now can bridge to the conclusion that the Bible is inerrant as originally given and that this authority carries down to all our copies and translations.

Friday, January 25, 2019

P2 Arguing "to" inerrancy considers the preservation and reliability of the Biblical text

Image result for reliability of the gospels
Luke 1:1-4 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Introduction:

In our last post, we began to consider crafting an argument "to" biblical inerrancy here: 

http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2019/01/arguing-to-inerrancy-begins-by.html

Inerrancy is the doctrine that states that all the words of the Bible, as originally given through the prophets and apostles, are totally true. In this series of posts, we are aiming to bridge an argument "to" inerrancy. This approach to discussing the Bible with skeptics has the advantage of establishing a base-line with which we can talk to them about the Bible as a historical text - a claim which is vital for Christianity and one which they can examine to follow the evidence where it leads. Leading Christian defenders of Christianity (a.k.a "apologists"), such as William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler, R.C. Sproul, Frank Turek and others advocate a very similar approach to what I'm outlining in this series of posts. We discussed four key terms that would provide such a bridge:

1. Preservation
2. Reliability
3. Jesus' teaching about the scriptures 
4. Inerrancy 

Reviewing what we mean by the preservation of the words of the Bible

Even though we do not have the original manuscripts of either the Old or New Testament, it remains the case we can say with confidence that we have the words of the original in our copies and translations, just as any classical scholar would assert for the writings of the great philosophers or founders of other religions.  

The truth of the preservation of the words of scripture won't get us to the doctrine of inerrancy by itself. The case we're making is what we call a "cumulative case" - meaning that each piece of the argument is taken together to bring us to a conclusion that makes holding inerrancy a very reasonable position for the Christian. Having established that we do have the words of the original documents in the midst of our copies and translations of the Bible, we can now proceed on to the next plank of our bridge to inerrancy, namely, the reliability of the biblical text.

Why the issue of historical reliability is relevant to Christianity 

When we looked at the preservation of the words of the Bible, we were dealing with matters pertaining to the text itself. Reliability is a very important issue, since the Christian faith is rooted in the historical dealings of God with His people - Israel - in the Old Testament and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament. Such a historical investigation will yield that the biblical text is reliable enough to be considered certified history by even secular historians. The relevance of the topic of reliability is crucial whenever we compare other religions which make similar claims about inerrancy for their religious books.  

For instance, I have read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover. Despite its references to numerous geographical locations, ancient people groups and alleged links between Native American tribes and the ancient Jews, not a single claim is attested by archaeological, scientific or historical investigation. In as much as Mormonism basis its doctrine on historical events, nonetheless, the very collection of texts upon which it is based ("Book of Mormon", "Pearl of Great Price" and "Doctrines and Covenants") are not proved by history.  

If a text is ever to live up to its claims of inerrancy, it has to at least demonstrate reliability. In order to keep our post concise and to the point today, we will focus particularly on the New Testament text and even more specifically on the gospel records themselves.

Assessing the reliability of the New Testament Gospels

When we begin to assess the reliability of the New Testament text, we can do so in two ways: 

1. Comparing the the time span between the originals and copies.

2. Evaluating details reported by the New Testament text to external documents from the same time period. 

Comparing the span of time from the original manuscripts to earliest copies

First, we note the amount of time that spans from the date of the original manuscripts and selves to the earliest copies that we have of the given document. The chart below derives from the American Journal of Theology:

Image result for new testament autographs to copies

History and philosophy departments at major universities study the great classical historians and philosophers with no quibbles as to whether they are studying reliable manuscripts. Such a procedure gives us perspective when comparing New Testament to other ancient documents. 

In a similar chart, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek in their book: "Why I Do Not Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist", page 226, show that the philosopher Plato, in terms of his writings, has a span of 1200 years between what would had been his original drafts and the copies that we have today. When compared to the New Testament documents, we have some ancient manuscripts going to within 25 years of the writing of the New Testament. Whenever we compared the New Testament to other ancient documents written by writers such as Homer, Demosthenes, Herodotus, and Tacitus, we find on average a time span of 400 to 1,000 years between the original composition and its earliest copies. This on average means that the New Testament far outpaces it's ancient competitors by a ratio of 10:1 when it comes to assessing the reliability of the manuscripts in the New Testament.

With respect to the number of copies or manuscripts that we possess in the New Testament, the sheer number is overwhelming when compared to other ancient documents. Homer's Iliad, for example, has roughly 1,800 copies in existence today. However, the New Testament has 5800 Greek manuscripts spanning from the late 2nd Century to  the Middle Ages. As New Testament scholar Dr. Daniel Wallace has noted, we have, as it were: "an embarrassment of riches" when it comes to the sheer amount of manuscript evidence for the New Testament.

Comparing the details of the New Testament to other contemporary documents of the same time period

As we assess the reliability of the New Testament text on the basis of the sheer amount of physical evidence,  we can also compare particular details of the New Testament to external sources. One of the best illustrations is to survey the first century Jewish historian, Josephus. Josephus was contemporary of the Apostles and wrote his volumes "Antiquities of the Jews" and "Jewish Wars" prior to and after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. 

Dr. Timothy McGrew of Michigan State University gives many examples from Josephus' writings to illustrate how we can test the reliability of the Gospel records. I'll just mention two:

1. Luke 3:2 records - "in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness." Yet, only one of them is named as high priest, namely Caiaphas, as indicated in John 18:13 and 18:24. Are the gospel records in conflict? Timothy McGrew points out that the historian Josephus in his work "Antiquities of the Jews", book 18 chapter 2 section 2 and his other work, "Jewish Wars", Book 2 chapter 12 section 6, describe how Jonathan and Annas' are both high priests as described in Luke. Per Josephus' reports, there was a short time when Roman Procurators (like Pilate) could appointed high priests for political purposes. On occasion, there could be two men occupying the same office - with one being the actual high priest and the other being the political figurehead. Even in our modern American context, we still call former office-holders of the Oval Office "President", even though the current office-holder is the actual "President of the United States". So, the gospel record is validated as exemplifying typical first-century expressions of leadership roles.

2. Matthew 2:22 says not that "Archelaus was King" but rather he was "reigning in the place of his father Herod" (ESV, NIV, NASB). According to Josephus' book, "Antiquities of the Jews", book 17 chapter 9 Section 5, Archelaus presumes himself to be a king, even though he was never officially crowned as one. Again, we find the gospel of Matthew historically validated and thus, reliable. Such interlocking relationships between two different texts that record the same event, wherein neither author consulted the other, is what scholars refer to as "undesigned coincidences". We see this trait in Greco-Romans histories. Such a characteristic counts as a mark of genuine historicity. 

The particulars about Jesus' life, death and resurrection are found, under scrutiny, to bear the same "ring" of historical reliability as observed above. Scholars sometime talk about the "edges" of the Gospel accounts and the "core". We've seen examples of incidental details that serve as "backdrop" or "edges" of the Gospel records (think of whenever one puts a puzzle together, we typically begin with the edge pieces"). If we find reliable the "edges" of the Gospel records, can the same be said of the "core" (Jesus, life, death, resurrection)?

Whenever we consider the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, recorded in all four Gospels, we discover that over 12 sources report details of the historical Jesus that match in general with the particulars we find in the Gospel records. Below is but a sampling:

1. Josephus "Antiquities of the Jews", Book 18, section 63: 

"Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles."

2. Jewish sources such as the Babylonian Talmud, in its reference "Sanhedrin 43", record that Jesus was a worker of miracles, accused by the Jews of practicing sorcery". 

3. Other secular sources such as the Syrian historian Mara Ben Serapion and the Roman historian Tacitus record a man named "Jesus" or "Chrestus" as having existed, died by crucifixion and being the source of what they allege as a "mischievous superstition" - a probable reference to the Christian proclamation of the resurrection.

4. There are even some short statements in Josephus' works that record how Jesus' disciples were proclaiming his resurrection from the dead (compare his "Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, sections 63-64).

5. Some critics today try to dismiss the Gospels as "fiction", claiming that Jesus was a fictional character invented by the early church. Yet, historians who specialize in the history of the first century include the Gospel records as historical sources for the historical Jesus. To dismiss the Gospels on the grounds that they are "Christian literature" or "religious literature" commits what is called the "genetic fallacy" (questioning a belief on the basis of how it developed). Both the Gospel accounts and external sources provide the following general outline of Jesus:

A. He was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth and exercised a ministry of teaching and miracle working.

B. Jesus was unjustly accused and sentenced to death by Roman crucifixion on charges of sedition, violation of the Sabbath and blasphemy.

C. Pontius Pilate proceeded over Jesus' sentencing and the Jewish high priest Caiaphus and his father-in-law Annas delivered the charges leading to Jesus' crucifixion.

D. The tomb of Jesus was discovered empty by Jesus' closest followers on the third day following His interment. The disciples experienced encounters with the Risen Christ. The Jews tried to cover-up the empty tomb by saying the body was stolen. However, the explosive growth and spread of Christianity within years of its inception cannot be explained by appeals to natural causes. 

Whenever we consider that there are more ancient sources record the historicity of Jesus than Julius Caesar, the idea of Jesus being a myth is shown preposterous.   

Closing thoughts:

The point of this survey is to demonstrate that the gospel records of Jesus life are reliable. We must include the Gospel records as primary sources that reliably record the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (with external sources providing secondary attestation). The gospels are indeed reliable documents. They take us back to the life, sayings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we can conclude that we have not only the words of the Bible with us today, but that what the Bible reports is reliable history. The next post will give us the most important "plank" in our argument "to" inerrancy when we look at Jesus' teaching about the scriptures.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Arguing "to" inerrancy begins by considering the preservation of the words of the Bible

Image result for golden gate bridge
Matthew 5:17-18 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished."

Introduction: Building bridges

How would you make the case for the Bible being the Word of God? Skeptics make fun of Christians for viewing their Bibles as "Divinely inspired" or "inerrant". Objections abound. Critics will note that other religions also claim their respective holy books to be "Divinely inspired" and "inerrant" (Mormonism and its "Book of Mormon" or Islam and its "Quran"). Others will point out alleged contradictions in the Bible (without often-time referencing specific examples). More serious critics will bring attention to the differences (i.e. variants) between ancient copies of the hand-written manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments. In the face of all these objections, what is a Christian to do? 

In this post I want to briefly outline an argument "to" inerrancy rather than an argument "from" inerrancy. That is, this post will begin to demonstrate how Christians arrive at the conclusion that the Old and New Testament books comprise a collection of sacred, Divinely inspired books that were originally revealed as inerrant and infallible documents. 

Think of the metaphor of building a bridge as we span to the idea of Biblical inerrancy. We will base this post on Jesus words from Matthew 5:17-18 and utilize four key ideas: 

1. Preservation 
2. Reliability
3. Jesus' teaching 
4. Inerrancy.

Today's post will focus on the first of these ideas. 

The words we find in the Old and New Testament books are preserved in all our copies and translations.

Whenever we discuss the history of the Biblical text, we need to first establish whether or not we have the original wording of the documents comprising our Bibles. The discipline of textual criticism aims to study every known copy and ancient translation of the Old and New Testament manuscripts to recover the original wording of those documents. 

The impressive case of preservation in the Old Testament text

The Old Testament was originally revealed in Hebrew, with several chapters in Daniel and scattered words or phrases elsewhere composed in Aramaic (totaling 2% of the Hebrew Bible). In all of the Old Testament's original 22 documents (the Hebrew Bible had 22 documents, with the same contents comprising the 39 books in our English Bibles, with some of the books sub-divided into different volumes, such as 1 & 2 Kings, thus accounting for the differences). We find 419,687 words per the commonly available critical edition of the Hebrew Bible - Biblia Hebraica Stuttgarnsia (BHS). When I say the phrase "critical edition", I mean those editions which present a representative text as found in all the available ancient manuscripts, with listings of the differences or variations within those copies.  The history of the Old Testament text includes roughly 3,000 copies or manuscripts of the Old Testament from the Middle ages. With the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947, scholars established the extraordinary preservation of the Old testament's wording to an average of over 95% to the Medieval Hebrew Manuscripts, even though both sets of copies are 1,000 years separated from one another. Whenever we consider the ancient translations of the Old Testament (such as the Greek Septuagint, Aramaic Targums), the text of the Old Testament evidences an incredible array of witnesses (see the picture below of the 11th century Leningrad Codex).
 Image result for leningrad codex
Other sources by which scholars assess the Old Testament text include studies in pottery, inscriptions and archaeological excavations of other cultures having contact with the ancient Jewish people.

The meticulous copying of the Hebrew text and the study of all the ancient sources reveal over 95% certainty of the wording in known manuscripts as being what would had been in the original manuscripts or autographs. Such fidelity between the copies and translations is unprecedented in the ancient world. Textual criticism of other religious texts (such as the Hindu Upanishads or Quran) yield a 90% certainty, with far less manuscript evidence with which to compare. So why does what we've considered thus far matter to you? Quite simply, the Old Testament text, in terms of its wording, is with us, with no major doctrine or teaching lost.

The even more impressive state of preservation of the New Testament text

In as much as the Old Testament's text's preservation is impressive, the New Testament's textual situation is even more extraordinary. The 27 New Testament books that comprise our New Testaments contain a total of 138,162 words per the standard critical edition of the Nestle-Aland 28th edition Greek New Testament. We have over 15,000 ancient manuscripts of various translations (such as Latin, Coptic, Syriac) and 5,800 Greek manuscripts spanning from within 50 years of the original manuscripts to the 16th century (see, for instance, the picture below of the 5th century Codex Siniaticus).

 Image result for codex sinaiticus

The level of certainty we have about the original wording of the New Testament is 99.9%, meaning, that for every thousand words, there might be one word with which scholars quibble about the original wording. Even still, not a single one of these differences or variants calls into question a major doctrine of the Christian faith. As theologian Wayne Grudem notes in his Systematic Theology:1

"For most practical purposes, then, the current published scholarly texts of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament are the same as the original manuscripts. Thus, when we say that the original manuscripts were inerrant, we are also implying that over 99 percent of the words in our present manuscripts are also inerrant, for they are exact copies of the originals. Furthermore, we know where the uncertain readings are (for where there are no textual variants we have no reason to expect faulty copying of the original). Thus, our present manuscripts are for most purposes the same as the original manuscripts, and the doctrine of inerrancy therefore directly concerns our present manuscripts as well."

As Jesus notes in Matthew 5:18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished."

Preservation is that first anchoring point in bridging our argument "to" inerrancy. By establishing that we have the actual words that left the pens of the prophets and apostles, we can look ahead to the remaining key ideas: reliability of the text, Jesus' teaching and inerrancy itself.

Conclusion for today

In arguing "to" inerrancy, we begin by noting that the Old and New Testament books enjoy a remarkable preservation of their wording. No other ancient literature, religious or otherwise, enjoys the continuity we find between the original source and existing copies and translations. Whenever talking to skeptics, we begin with modest claim of preservation. Since we can establish the wording of the Biblical text, what follows next is to establish whether or not the text is reliable. In the next post, we will explore the reliability of the New Testament text (we could also remark about the reliability of the Old Testament, however, we are aiming for brevity in these posts, since we're introducing the subject of "arguing to inerrancy"). 

Endnotes:

1. Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. Zondervan. 1994. ppgs 72-73. Readers can consult a free electronic download of Grudem's work here: file:///C:/Users/mahlo/Downloads/systematictheology-waynegrudem-091005230347-phpapp02.pdf