I Will Behave Wisely in a Perfect Way

Daily Office Meditations: 7th Week of Easter – Tuesday

(2) I will behave wisely in a perfect way. Oh, when will You come to me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. (3) I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; (6) My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, That they may dwell with me;

Psalm 101:2, 3, 6

(4) In return for my love they are my accusers, But I give myself to prayer.

Psalm 109:4

(19) “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, (20) “that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (21) “But as for those whose hearts follow the desire for their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord GOD.

Ezekiel 11:19-21

(21) “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. (23) “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; (24) “for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”

Luke 10:21, 23, 24

All of life is about your heart. We know this instinctively. If a man is said to be unintelligent, but he has a good heart, then he is considered “good” in our minds. If he is considered intelligent, but cruel and pitiless, then we have no problem judging him. Looking at the Scriptures today, we can talk about two aspects of the heart. First, we can talk about the prophecy in Ezekiel that God would replace our hearts of stone with hearts of the flesh. This is accomplished through baptism as we are “buried with Christ in baptism and raised to a new life in Him.” We are said to be “born again.” This is the most fundamental reality of our Christian identity: God has given us a new heart, we have been transformed completely as a part of our salvation.

Second, we have a responsibility to cultivate and tend our hearts. When Jesus tells the parable of the sower, He talks of the different soils (or hearts) that the seed (which is the word of God) falls on. In order to avoid the rocky soil, we must walk through the healing and redemptive work in our hearts to address past woundings and sin. To avoid the weed infested soil we must keep temptation and sin from our hearts. To avoid the path-soil, we must meditate on the word of Scripture and walk out the word of God in our lives daily. This hard work will till the soil and cause a deeper and enriched heart capable of resisting the lies of the enemy, represented by crows (“did God really say…”).

We see some hints of how to cultivate good soil in the Scriptures today. In the Psalm, “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes.” So we must be wise about what we are taking in with our eyes. More than ever, this needs to be a huge emphasis for a Christian. There are more evil and disturbing and tempting images in this world than there has ever been, and they are more easily accessed. This means we need a revelation of the goodness of God and those things that our eyes can look on without reproach.

“My eyes shall be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me.” This is a concept easily forgotten, “bad company corrupts good morals.” There is a disturbing trend in our culture that seeks to destroy anyone who would potentially be put on a pedestal in our culture. While there have definitely been terrible role models posing as leaders deserving of respect, the level of cynicism has risen to absurd levels. If someone asks who your hero is, there is definitely a piece of “journalism” somewhere on the internet seeking to tear them down. Most people just ditch the idea of admiring anyone or choose to admire terrible people (vacuous celebrities, violent rappers, Jesus-complex politicians). There’s a satanic glee on twitter when someone is torn down from admiration or their career is destroyed. I mean “satanic” technically. The spirit of the Enemy is one of accusation, the Holy Spirit is one of advocacy. We need to find faithful men and women to admire, look up to, and surround ourselves with in order to guard and improve our hearts.

In the second Psalm, we pray instead of reacting our unfair accusers. This would save us a lot of misery. Don’t respond in anger, stop and pray. Ask God for deliverance, guidance, and favor. We are even challenged to pray for those who persecute us.

In Hebrews, we get the New Testament affirmation of the tithe. A tithe is 10% of your income given to the church to support the minister, pastor or priest. Without diving into one of the cooler theological insights in the Bible (Jesus is the high priest of the order of Melchizedek), I want to merely say that the tithe is for our hearts and not because God needed a way to provide for His priests. The tithe helps us keep our money in perspective. Our money is, first and foremost, a gift from God. When we give Him back 10%, it shapes our hearts to trust His provision instead of our own.

All of these things are for training our heart to “love what God has commanded”. We are blessed beyond belief to see the kingdom of God expanding in the earth. As Jesus was saying, the Hebrew people lived and died for thousands of years hoping for the coming of the Messiah. We live in the world of the resurrected Christ every day. Keep your eyes on this fact and your heart will transform by the power of the Holy Spirit. As I remember the little song from a Christian kid’s show called “The Donut Man” (really weird show/premise):

Be careful little eyes what you see
Be careful little eyes what you see
For the Father up above
Is looking down with love
O, be careful little eyes what you see

Oh, How I Love Your Law!

Daily Office Meditation: 6th Week of Easter – Wednesday

(97) Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. (112) I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes Forever, to the very end. (114) You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word.
Psalm 119:97; 112; 114

(13) Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. (14) Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (15) And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (16) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
James 5:13-16

(22) “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. (23) “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. (24) “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? (29) “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. (30) …Your Father knows that you need these things. (31) “But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.
Luke 12:22-24; 29-31

OK, so this Psalm always perplexed me. As a child, I had a lot of issues with the rules… so the idea of loving the law seemed anathema to me. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize more and more that this principle is at the center of the Christian life. As Romans 12:1-2 tells us, the core of Christian transformation is in the renewing of our mind. The key is in verse 112 of the Psalm: “I have inclined my heart to perform your statutes…” This inclining of the heart is the active pursuit of the renewal of your mind in Christ Jesus.

As we encounter Him, read and meditate on His word, and declare/practice His truth, we begin to love what He commands. We find that in His service is perfect freedom. This was the contradiction I wrestled with as a child. I wanted everything my way, but in submitting to God (or His authority in my life at the time) I found deeper joy and peace. This was by no means an easy transformation, but gradually my parents said they began to feel like I was on their side.

As we align our will with the Father’s (mostly through a revelation of the goodness of God in our life), we begin to have powerful and fervent prayer. As our hope is found in His word to us, our prayer becomes participation with God instead of a plea to God. We begin to see the problems in our lives through God’s eyes and our faith is raised to pray for the sick and suffering. We press into God’s plan on earth, the Church, and we experience the kingdom of God through obedience. It becomes a positive feedback loop. We pray for God’s plan, we obey God’s plan, experience God’s peace, ask Him for His plan, obey His plan and so forth.

Therefore, Jesus says to us, “Do not be anxious… But seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.” God knows what you need, He has incorporated them into His plan. Seek His plan, and all that you need shall be added unto you. C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” All our anxiety is answered in this: “Your Father knows that you need these things.”

This is no prosperity Gospel, God may know that you need a crucifixion. Jesus invitation is summed up by Bonhoeffer, “Come and die.” God will transform your desires through your personal cross so that your will becomes aligned with His. And, while God absolutely does desire prosperity in all aspects of our lives, He cares for more for our soul than for our bellies. (bellies symbolically representing our craving for fleshly things)
Trust God, die to yourself, fall in love with His law, and ALL these things shall be added unto you.

All Good Things Come From God

Daily Office Meditations: 6th Week of Easter – Tuesday

 

(5) For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; (6) That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children,

Psalm 78:5-6;

 

(11) ” Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today,

Deuteronomy 8:11

 

16) Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (17) Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

James 1:16-17

 

(2) When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. (3) Give us day by day our daily bread. (4) And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.”

Luke 11:2-4

The most helpful thing that I have found for keeping God in the proper place in my life is a daily acknowledgment of the ways He has provided for me. We see in the Psalm and the Deuteronomy passage this same principle. We need to see God’s character in His provisions for us. The two lies that the devil attempts to get us to believe are lies about 1. The character of God, 2. The power of God.

When the Israelites were complaining in the desert, right after God rescued them of decades of slavery in Egypt through miraculous means, they lost sight of either the character or the power of God. When He provided food and water in the desert, they asked: “Can God provide meat for His people?” It’s easy to write off the Israelites as terrible people, “a stubborn and rebellious generation,” but we can so easily fall into this same trap.

When I was leaving for college, I didn’t have the funds for my first year. My mom called me the day before I was leaving to tell me that an anonymous donor had provided the funds. The following year, the same thing happened. My third year, I bought my books, registered for classes, and even attended one day of classes in faith, but no money came. It was so easy for me to doubt God that week. He had miraculously provided thousands of dollars for me to attend that school and the first time He didn’t I doubted His plan and resented Him.

I had to remind myself at that moment of what He had done for me. God has never forsaken me, He has provided above and beyond what I have needed and there is no circumstance that can separate me from the love of God. I never finished school and that still grates on me to this day, but I have learned to stop questioning God, as He has used every aspect of my story to propel me into His purposes. His track record towards me is just too good.

James reminds us to count all good things as coming from God. Ann Voscamp wrote a book on how gratitude changed her life. When we put God in His rightful place as the provider of all that is good in our life, it is impossible to live in fear or resentment. How do we put God in His rightful place? We remember everything He has done for us and for those we love. We write down our testimonies (big or small) and we share them with others. We read of the marvelous works He has done in Scripture and in Christian books or blogs.

And we pray the way Christ has taught us to pray. “Our Father” affirms the good identity of God. Later in this same passage, Jesus talks of how we give good gifts to our children and how much more God will give good gifts to us. “Who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” Puts God in His proper place in reference to our daily struggles. God is bigger and greater than anything we are to face. “His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts.” We may not see the big picture, but we can be assured that “all things work together for our good.” “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Here we see our mission and focus. Because we acknowledge God’s rightful place through our gratitude and worship, we are automatically oriented towards His will and His kingdom. And since His kingdom is heaven, we are called to bring heaven to earth. This is amazingly encouraging to me as I build my family and establish the small slice of the kingdom that God has given me: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” “Give us this day our daily bread” God is the provider. Your job, money, family, success, fame do not provide for you. God is the one who provides for your daily needs, look to Him. “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” Easy link: If we are fully convinced of the greatest miracle of God’s forgiveness and grace towards us through the death and resurrection of His Son, then how can we hold anyone’s sin against them? Our forgiveness and their forgiveness are linked and bought with a price. “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil” This is the result of following the principles above. If you acknowledge God as your good, all-powerful Father, then why run after that which does not satisfy. Tonight my son longed to touch the blazing-hot metal part of the oven door as I was removing our fully-cooked, home-made pizzas. I kept him from that and he was convinced that I was withholding his deepest desire at that moment. We are much like Rowan in that regard. Any time we face temptation, we are questioning whether God really knows our good and cares for our good above all else.

So we see today in the Daily Office a call to orient our lives around God and what He has accomplished for us. I pray that each and every person reading this will take the time to allow God to reveal the depth of His love for us, that type of revelation will transform you from the inside out.

Episode 2 – Pastor Brian Carlson

Hello! This week I spoke with my current pastor, Brian Carlson. It was a great conversation and in it Brian recommended the book, The Longest Bridge Across Water, which is about developing friendship with Jesus. Check it out at: https://www.amazon.com/Longest-Bridge-Across-Water-Encounters-ebook/dp/B00HKN18HO

Enjoy the show and subscribe to my podcast on Itunes or Stitcher:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-unfamiliar-name/id1118467057

http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=91391&refid=stpr

The Discipline of God

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1-2)

The opening verse of Hebrews chapter 12 give a vision and a context for the writer’s discussion of God’s discipline. First, we must see that sin is the weight that keeps us from running the race to the fullest of our ability. Sin here is not addressed as shame to be hidden or fearful of. You can hear the heart of the writing: “put away your sin, it’s weighing you down, it’s holding you back from what God has for you.” Our call against sin is only Godly and effective if it is an invitation into God’s best and not a condemnation into God’s worst. This is mandated because, “There is now, therefore, no condemnation in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1)

The second highlight in the verses above is the communal aspect of our life in Christ. We are never alone, but are “surround by so great a cloud of witnesses” and “looking to Jesus” we are able to run this race. Not only are we called to be a part of the body of Christ on earth which practices the gifts of the spirit for the building up of the faithful, but we are also surrounded by a heavenly witness. I am reminded of the powerful story in the Old Testament when Elisha and his servant are surround by a great army who has come out against them. Elisha is as calm as Jesus sleeping in the bottom of the storm tossed boat, but his servant cries out, “What’re we gonna do?” with the echo of the same desperation from Jesus’ disciple, “Don’t you care that we are gonna die?” Elisha simply prays that God will open the servants eyes to see that, “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (1 Kings 2:16) Do we really live our lives like this? Do we confront our personal mountains with confidence and faith that we are surrounded by a powerful heavenly host?

It’s in this context that God’s discipline is addressed. It is not addressed in a spirit of condemnation and it is in no way addressed as God punishing a lone individual who is expected to overcome sin on their own. The last major point I want to address in this verse is the image of Christ going to the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” Now here I find it necessary to make one very important distinction that will help us to understand God’s discipline in our own lives. I do not believe that the cross was God’s divine will in the sense that God orchestrated and caused the cross to occur so that we might be saved and Jesus might, “learn obedience through the things he suffered.” Rather, I believe that it was God’s divine will to allow our free choice of the rejection and crucifixion of his son. God sent Jesus to preach the way of peace, knowing full well that we would reject him and his teaching and crucify him by our own sin. “He took on him the sins of us all,” is more literal in this image as our sin literally condemned him to the cross. So we see the distinction here is that God can use our sin and the results of that sin to save the world and teach obedience in Christ. Now, Christ was perfect, and yet he was learning obedience. This is the mystery of incarnation and it is so good for us because we do not have a high priest who does not know our suffering and temptations. Jesus can teach us obedience in suffering because he learned the same way. The important point to remember throughout is that Jesus did all these things for the “joy that was set before him.” The key to growth through God’s discipline is to remember that it is for the joy that God has set before us. Discipline’s purpose is to remove that which keeps us from joy and fulfillment in Christ.

One last note on this seeming paradox about enduring suffering and giving up sin in exchange for joy… There is a parable Jesus tells that seems to sum up what is meant by these things: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) This is what the discipline of God calls us into: joyful surrender of all that we have. “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.’” (Heb. 12:5-6)
This is so powerful. God is using the trials and tribulations in our life to train us in the way we should go as a father would for his children.

So what does this Godly discipline look like? It looks like bringing everything that we experience before God in humble submission to him. Are you experiencing financial difficulties? Bring it before God, get counsel from a wise brother in Christ. Maybe God desires to teach you to trust him, to steward your finances well, to rejoice in all things. Are you experiencing relational difficulties with your spouse? Bring it before God, get counsel from a wise father in the church. Maybe God is teaching you how to prefer others before yourself, maybe God is teaching you to build your house on the Rock instead of on your own ability to maintain yourself. Are you struggling with a sin pattern in your life? Bring it to the Lord, submit yourself to a leader in your church. Maybe God desires to teach you grace and humility and the life-saving power of the Holy Spirit.

God’s discipline is not an act of punishment that seeks to cause pain, rather, it is the transformation of the tribulations in this life into the life changing lessons of how to be like Jesus. God takes our earthly suffering and uses it like fire to forge us into people who can enjoy perfect freedom and communion with him. Simplest definition of the discipline of God is this: God’s miraculous ability to transform the suffering resultant in the effects of sin (our own sin and that of others) into the lessons that shape us into who he has called us to be. Even the effects of sin and a broken world are used by God to meet us and heal us and change us. Does this mean that you must look for sin whenever you experience tribulation? No, instead look for God and what he has provided you in this time for your benefit and sustenance. The ultimate result is the kingdom of God in your heart, a kingdom that cannot be shaken. The result of God’s discipline is “the removal of things that are shaken… in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:27-29) What then remains? “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13)

The Problem of Evil

To conclude my series of blog posts with an apologetic theme, this post will wrestle with one of the classic objections to the Christian faith, the Problem of Evil. It can be stated as follows:

If God is all-powerful and all-good, there would not be evil and suffering in the world.

There is evil and suffering in the world; therefore, God is either not all-powerful, not all-good, or non-existent.

This argument is probably the most compelling argument I have heard and most people I have engaged with seem to find their biggest issues with Christianity here. I think this is because we are hurting and something in us knows that the world is not how it ought to be. Even if you believe in Christianity, you must answer this objection. First, I will layout the philosophical answer to the problem of evil and then I will give the uniquely Christian answer to this problem.

Imagine a perfect world where no-one ever does anything wrong… Did you come up with an image? If you did, it was probably grey, sterile or even boring and oddly futuristic. Maybe that’s not what you thought of, but because of our over-saturation of dystopian films and literature, we are often given a view of the issue that occurs when someone in power tries to eliminate all evil and suffering from the world. Equilibrium, Divergent, 1984, and even Avengers: Age of Ultron or Captain America: Winter Soldier are wrestling with the trade off between eliminating suffering and eliminating freedom. The focus of the debate on the problem of evil has always been whether God could, in His infinite power, create a world where evil did not exist but freedom of choice did exist. It truly seems impossible for such a world to exist. It seems that in order for human beings to have the ability to choose to live by love, they have to have the ability to reject the same. If God were to have created the world without that freedom, then we would be robots following our programming and functioning well, but we would not be humans loving well and creating community. While this is a much-repeated response, it seems to solve the philosophical dilemma. God is all-powerful and all-good. In his goodness and power, he created humans with an ability to choose freely (thus choosing to limit his power by his goodness) and God is constantly drawing humanity towards himself and towards love. This may seem like a sterile philosophical answer that does not go into the depths of suffering, but the next section of the blog will explore the uniquely Christian response that does not shy away from this tension.

Every worldview wrestles with the problem of evil. Some Buddhists claim that suffering is illusion, Hinduism claims that suffering is the result of Kharma, Muslims claim that God is ineffable and unquestionable in his absolute power but also balances his own scales of justice, Secular Humanists claim that innovation and progress will free us from incorrect thinking or the imbalance of power, Naturalists really have no grounding for what evil is but tend to cry out against injustice all the same. Amidst thousands of answers, Christianity tells the most compelling story in response to evil in the world.

God created the world and it was beautiful and good. He created humans and they were very good. Humans, in their freedom, chose pride and control over relationship with God. Since that point, God has been pursuing humanity throughout the ages. First he spoke to a small backwards tribe, the Hebrews, and constantly met them in their evolving understanding of God and the world. His message was communicated in poetry and power, in beauty and story and it was always an invitation to return to God. Instead, they chose to kill the prophets he sent and worship other gods (gods of power, money, and debauchery). The Hebrews were a microcosm of the problem with humanity in the entire world. We all needed healing from the cultural, systemic sin that demanded sacrifice and violence. Rene Girard spoke of the mimetic desire that describes human tribe’s need to find a scapegoat for their own guilt and difficulties in life. There is a famine, sacrifice a virgin. There is a murder, kill the murderer. A woman will not have you, take her anyways. There is a land dispute, go to war. Always moving towards violence instead of relationship with the Creator and the Created. Throughout all of this, God kept calling the Hebrews towards the beautiful and the good. He still saw the beauty that humanity could be and create. The world was broken but good and man would occasionally respond to challenges with singular acts of love and beauty. Yet still the cycle of violence and hatred remained.

Finally, at the time when his message could be heard and spread, Jesus came and entered into our suffering. God, the God of the universe, did not shun the world that was marked by suffering and evil. He dined with sinners and healed lepers. He lost loved ones to death and he experienced betrayal. God-as-man was tempted in every way as we are, but Jesus resisted and learned obedience through what he suffered. The uniquely Christian answer, and the one answer that truly gets to the core of the problem, is that God took upon himself the pain and suffering of us all. We demanded sacrifice, He provided the Lamb. All of our brokenness and systemic sin took Love personified and nailed him to the cross. God did not demand Jesus’ death, we did. God did not fear our darkness, he entered into it and the light overcame that darkness. Jesus entered into the depths of Hades and returned victorious over death.

He then returned to the close friends he had invested in (because it’s always a relational transformation) and empowered them with the knowledge and peace of the risen Christ. God’s answer to evil was submission to the effects of evil and victory through that submission. He then began with a small group of Hebrew fisherman and transformed the world by their lived message. Many of them were persecuted and killed, again conquering evil by giving themselves up in love. “Greater love has no man then he that lays down his life for his friends.” So when we consider the philosophical problem of evil and are faced with the reality of evil and suffering in our lives, God has an answer and it is Jesus. Because of Him we can be transformed into people who are free from systemic sin and healed from brokenness. A people transformed conquering the world through love and not violence. A people who do not have to fear injustice or even death, but can embrace all men through the power of the resurrection. The problem of evil has been answered, the challenge for Christians is to be a part of the solution.

The Historicity of the New Testament

The next step in the series on the evidences for the existence of a God will finally bring us to the arguments for a Judeo-Christian God. If you look at my previous post you will see an argument for the existence of a being who is outside of space and time who can begin material existence. Then the argument in the next post claims that from the complex and amazingly functional nature of the universe in general and life specifically it seems that we need an Intelligent Designer. The last post argues that without a God we are left with no adequate support for morality. This post will attempt to briefly address some of the chief evidences for the historicity of the New Testament.

First, when we are discussing historicity, we are merely trying to establish that the New Testament was written by first century Jewish individuals who believed that what they wrote actually happpened and that what we have today is extremely close to the texts that were originally written. So then, if we find that the writers were faithfully communicating their experiences and that our texts today match what was communicated originally we can move towards the questions of whether we should trust the testimony of these writers.

So, is the New Testament historically reliable? For this question, I will attempt to outline some of the main arguments without getting bogged down in citations and specific studies. I will humbly refer the reader to books like Evidence That Demands a Verdict and Evidence Revisited by Josh McDowell which are extensive works of historical investigation that engage this topic comprehensively. There are many questions that can help a historian determine whether a text is reliable. How many original manuscripts are there? If there are copies of these manuscripts, how similar are they to each other and how close are they to the original? Are the sources bridging to other sources or are they eyewitnesses? Are the events recorded independently corroborated? Is the setting accurate (the timeframe, who was in political power, reflective of the culture at that time)? What was the purpose of the text? Was it meant to be a historical document, a report to a governing body, or propaganda for a political figure? Would the author have gained from the distortion of truth?

All of these questions and more can be taken to our study of the Biblical texts. Beginning with the question of manuscripts, the New Testament has over 27,000 partial manuscripts to compare and study. While none of them are the original penned manuscripts, their remarkable similarity and consistency is a huge mark in favor of the NT’s reliability. To put these numbers in perspective, the closest other text from the ancient world is the Illiad which has around 500 surviving partial manuscripts. The New Testament, particularly the Gospels, are also written based largely on eyewitness testimony. This is not a story that has grown in the telling, the writers are writing about their own personal experiences. They are also writing to an audience of fellow eyewitnesses. When most of the texts in the NT began to be circulated, the people who lived and experienced the events recorded were still living. If these texts were deceiptful, the hundreds of people who were present at the sermon on the mount or the feeding of the 5000 or the crucifixion could have denounced the writings as false. Now maybe there were dissenting voices that have not survived 2000 years because they were not part of a text that quickly obtained sacred status in the original Christian community, but the movement grew in the midst of people who could have easily denounced many of its claims and would have had no reason to join if they thought the disciples were teaching falsehoods.

The events in the NT are also extremely consistent with other sources of that time and what we know of the timeframe politically, culturally, and historically. We have sources from the ancient world that confirm Jesus’ crucifixion, the census at the time of Jesus’ birth, all of the political figures and the timing of their reign/influence, and that confirm the growth of a small sect of Judaism in the midst of persecution from their fellow Jews and eventually the Romans as well. The Gospel of Luke is extremely helpful in this regard as Luke is careful to note the historical and political context and timing of his texts. Luke is helpful for another reason as he states the purpose of his texts at the beginning of his Gospel: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Here we see a classic introduction to a historical text that were often addressed to an individual in ancient times. We see that the purpose of the writer here and the writers throughout the NT were attempting to tell true stories that reflected their experiences.

If we look at these evidences and are able to accept that the NT was communicating what the authors believed to be the historical truth and was faithfully communicating their experiences, then we have to ask if we should trust these sources. I am fully aware that I am not addressing many of the nuances and fullnesses of the arguments summarized above, but this is merely a brief sketch of the main arguments. So why should we trust these people? First of all, none of the Gospels would have benefitted the authors. In fact, the authors and disciples of Jesus are often portrayed as stubborn and dense. If these authors were looking to invent a religion with themselves at the head, then why would they portray themselves as slow to understand, stubborn, and even deniers of Jesus throughout the stories? Also, and I believe this is the most powerful argument for the reliability of their testimonies, the disciples were imprisoned, beaten, and killed for what they preached. Unless you truly believe what you are saying, it does not seem possible that a man would die for a lie. What is gained if a man is killed for something that he knows never even happened? We have to remember here that the disciples were eyewitnesses to the events they spoke of. They were not convinced of the truth of these things second-hand. I think that we must accept that the disciples believed that what they were saying was true.

In following posts I will address the question of miracles and whether we can take the Bible seriously even though it makes claims that may seem impossible.