Monday, June 20, 2022

A Two-Week Break from Blogging

I'm taking a couple weeks away from the blog as I enjoy a little summer vacation with my family. Normal posts will resume on Monday, July 4.

Friday, June 17, 2022

A Prayer from Bonaventure

May my heart ever hunger after and feed upon Thee, whom the angels desire to look upon, and may my inmost soul be filled with the sweetness of Thy savor; may it ever thirst for Thee, the fountain of life, the fountain of wisdom and knowledge, the fountain of eternal light, the torrent of pleasure, the fullness of the house of God; may it ever compass Thee, seek Thee, find Thee, run to Thee, come up to Thee, meditate on Thee, speak of Thee, and do all for the praise and glory of Thy name, with humility and discretion, with love and delight, with ease and affection, with perseverance to the end; and be Thou alone ever my hope, my entire confidence, my riches, my delight, my pleasure, my joy, my rest and tranquility, my peace, my sweetness, my food, my refreshment, my refuge, my help, my wisdom, my portion, my possession, my treasure; in whom may my mind and my heart be ever fixed and firm and rooted immovably. Amen.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Apologetics: The Reliability of the Bible (Part 2)

Seven Sets of Evidence for the Reliability of the Bible

Whereas last week's presentation focused on internal evidences for the inspiration and reliability of Scripture which Christians would find compelling, the following evidences should be compelling even for skeptics:

1.) Early Authorship

Particularly in the case of the New Testament, the texts of Scripture are all written extraordinarily early--within decades (or less) of the events they describe. They thus would be open to negation by eyewitnesses if false, yet no such contrary record exists. According to very early traditions and internal textual evidence, the Gospels and Acts are all written either by eyewitnesses or by authors with direct access to eyewitness testimony. By contrast, the so-called Gnostic gospels, some of which present alternative views of the gospel events, are all written 200-400 later and must be judged less trustworthy based on chronology alone.

2.) Multiple Witnesses

Rather than depending on a single account, for which historians would have very little textual context for judging reliability, the gospel events are attested to in multiple sources, all of which present a very similar picture of those events. The New Testament events are also referenced in a few outside (non-Christian sources) from the period. This sets them apart from many ancient historical texts, for which far less support exists.

3.) Rigorous Criteria for Canonization

The process by which texts became incorporated in the Bible, in both Jewish and Christian circles, was rigorous. For the New Testament, a given book had to fulfill three stringent criteria for inclusion: (1) It had to come from the apostolic generation; (2) It had to agree with the shared inheritance of the apostolic preaching handed down in church traditions; and (3) It had to be widely accepted and in use by all the churches. Since early Christianity was a widespread movement characterized by intense care concerning the passing along of apostolic teachings (see Jude 3), these three criteria would rule out almost any possibility of false traditions or historically unreliable narratives making it into the New Testament.

4.) Manuscript Tradition

The New Testament has an unrivalled excellence in the quantity and quality of its ancient manuscript tradition (this is also true now of the Old Testament too, thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls). Far more New Testament documents exist--many thousands of copies--than any other ancient document (many of those other ancient documents have just a handful of copies, most of them coming very late in their manuscript traditions, yet are regarded as reliable). This allows scholars to compare the process of copying documents through the centuries. The manuscript tradition for the New Testament shows that its scribes were uniquely concerned with preserving its exact form, and by comparison across so many copies, we can be 99.9% sure that we have the precise words the apostles wrote. For all of the exceptions (that remaining 0.1%), we possess every possible alternative phrasing, and no single case of an alternative reading threatens any core Christian doctrine.

5.) Archeological Confirmation

(Specific evidence for this will be addressed in upcoming sessions of this apologetics series.)

6.) Effects on Individual Lives & Society

The Bible has exercised a transformational effect on many millions of lives throughout the ages and has shown a demonstrable pattern of revolutionizing human society for the better, both at the level of underlying cultural values and of social institutions (schools, hospitals, orphanages, the abolition of slavery, etc.).

7.) Traditions of Interpretation

Generation upon generation of Christians have given intense attention to making sure that we are getting the Bible right. We devote hard work to understanding issues of literary genre, cultural context, and the meaning of the text in its original languages.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Photo of the Week

My life flows on in endless song,
Above earth’s lamentation.
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.

- from the hymn "How Can I Keep from Singing?"

Monday, June 13, 2022

Quote of the Week

“The early Christians did not say, in dismay, ‘Look what the world has come to,’ but, in delight, ‘Look what has come to the world!’”

- E. Stanley Jones, 20th-century missionary to India

Friday, June 10, 2022

A Prayer from Francois Fenelon

You know better than I how much I love you, Lord. 
You know it and I know it not, 
For nothing is more hidden from me 
Than the depths of my own heart. 
I desire to love you; I fear that I do not love you enough. 
I beseech you to grant me the fullness of pure love. 
Behold my desire; you have given it to me. 
Behold in your creature what you have placed there. 
O God, you love me enough to inspire me to love you forever;
Behold not my sins--
Behold instead your mercy and my love.

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Apologetics: The Reliability of the Bible (Part 1)

Where does Scripture fit into our overall exploration of the existence of God?
   1.) God exists
   2.) God has entered into relationship with his creation
   3.) The pinnacle of God's self-revelation is Jesus
   4.) The authoritative witness to God's relationship with humans and his self-revelation in Jesus is the text of Scripture (the 66 canonical books of the Bible)

Evidences for Christians:

- Scripture attests that it is given by God (Deut. 6:24-25; Ps. 19:7)
- Jesus accepts both Old Testament scripture and his own teachings as authoritative (Luke 10:25-28; Matt. 5:17-48)
- Scripture testifies to its own authority (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21)

What Does This Mean for How We Use the Bible?

We accept it as a great and gracious gift of God. But we need to read it as it was intended, and not merely as seems best to our own current whims. We believe that it is inspired in its originals, which means that we need to go to great lengths to understand the language and culture of the Bible's context. This includes gaining an understanding of the genres and literary styles in which various books of the Bible may be written. A so-called "literal" interpretation might actually end up misreading Scripture if the passage's genre was not intended to be read that way (i.e., mistaking proverbs as black-and-white promises or reading Jesus' parables as historical tales).

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Photo of the Week

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord, for I hide myself in you.

- Psalm 143:8-9

Monday, June 06, 2022

Quote of the Week

“Every person who participates in virtue as a matter of habit participates in God, the substance of the virtues.”

- Maximus the Confessor

Friday, June 03, 2022

A Prayer from John Wesley

O Lord God Almighty, Father of angels and men, we praise and bless your holy name for all your goodness and loving kindness to humanity. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and for your unceasing generosity to us throughout our lives; but above all, we bless you for your great love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. We bless you for bringing us safe to the beginning of a new day. Grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger. Keep us, we pray, from all things hurtful to body or soul, and grant us your pardon and peace, so that, being cleansed from all our sins, we might serve you with quiet hearts and minds, and continue in the same until our life’s end, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. Amen.

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Apologetics: The Prophetic Fulfillment of the Virgin Birth (Christmas 2021 Special Installment)

Genesis 3:15 - God's curse against the serpent directly foretells the coming of Messiah, born of a woman in a special way:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring ["seed"] and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. (NIV)

- Long accepted as a Messianic prophecy in both Jewish and Christian sources
- Addressed with a view toward Eve, not Adam, which is contrary to what one might expect--it signals the important place of a woman in the Messianic story
- It refers to a woman's "seed"--extremely rare, considering that the terminology of "seed" as "offspring" was usually in the context of a man's fathering of children, never of a woman's--this hints toward a woman bearing a child without the normal context of a human father

Isaiah 7:14 - the prophecy of the virgin:

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

- Skeptics often object that the Hebrew word here, "almah," does not refer to a virgin specifically, but to a young woman
- Some scholars (like Eugene Pentiuc) argue that, in point of fact, the word refers to a betrothed young woman living in chaste seclusion from her fiance--exactly the context of Mary's condition!
- Further, the Septuagint translation from Hebrew to Greek, which was written two hundred years before Christ, used a word that specifically refers to a virgin: "parthenos"

Jeremiah 31:22 - a strange detail included in a broader set of prophecies about the coming of the New Covenant:

For the Lord has created a new thing on the earth: A woman will shelter ["encompass"] a man. (NASB)

- The words used here are notable: the word for woman is "nequba," not the normal word, and often used in a gynecological sense--that is, with a focus on female reproduction. The word for man is also unusual--"geber," meaning "strength" or "power," and sometimes referring to a hero or a mighty man.
- So here, in the middle of a prophecy about God's promised New Covenant, we have a reference to a woman's body encompassing a mighty hero, apparently a prediction of the pregnancy of the Messiah's mother.