RESPONDblogs: More Details on that Early Mark Fragment

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I’ve just listened to some info on an amazing find – a first century fragment of Mark’s Gospel – the oldest New Testament document in existence today. I blogged about it this morning.

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/respondblogs-more-reasons-to-accept-the-gospels/

Craig Evans – Distinguished Professor of New Testament Studies at Acadia University in Canada – has spoken about this find recently. And I love the passion with which he does it!

Paraphrasing him, he says…”If you are a first century pagan…you are going to take the Christian Scriptures that you don’t respect…screw em up…and make paper mache out of them. Guess what – paper mache lasts for thousands of years. And we have worked out how to pick apart the layers of paper…so we’re now able to read 1st century copies of New Testament documents – along with other historical works of great interest. This was just a matter of time…” Thank you to the pagans, then 🙂

The Bible we’ve got today…contains texts that are increasingly being traced back to their historical setting and source. So maybe we need to take them seriously and read em as such?

Check out the short video here (thank you http://truthbomb.blogspot.co.uk/)

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RESPONDblogs: Further Evidence for the Historical Reliability of the Gospels

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One of the claims I hear all the time from spiritual sceptics is this –

“the Bible we have today is not an accurate reflection of what the original writings said. Over time the text has become corrupted. Scribes have made accidental errors that have changed the meaning of the text. And people with their own agendas have inserted new text to make the book say what they want it to say.”

 

Most recently, this claim was made by a Newsweek article published just before Christmas. The Bible – so misunderstood it’s a Sin. You can find it here.

http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/02/thats-not-what-bible-says-294018.html

 

 

Here’s a quote from the article – “[No one has read the Bible…] we’ve all read a bad translation – a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”

 

In other words – the Gospel texts are ultimately worthless because we can’t trust what they say. If this was true, it would be a good reason to dismiss Christianity altogether. If Jesus Christ’s life, his teaching and his death and resurrection are not history but fiction – then we may as well leave church altogether. And forget all talk of God.

 

But what if –

What if the transmission of the Bible texts is as accurate as the scholars (tho apparently not journalists) suggest that it is? What if the Gospel text we read today says essentially the same thing that it said when it was written in the first century? Well that would be something, wouldn’t it? That would be big news. No it wouldn’t put an end to outrageous, inaccurate sceptical journalism. But it would pose the question to you and me – maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at Jesus? Who he claimed to be – what he did – and what he promises in those words.

 

Well a discovery is being prepared for scholarly publication that may do just that. A fragment of the Gospel of Mark dating from the first century – before the year 90 – has been discovered within the mask of an ancient Egyptian Mummy. It has been recovered – and it is being studied right now. This is the oldest written copy of a New Testament text that has been found. Up until now – the oldest copies were from the second century.

You can read more about the find here.

http://www.livescience.com/49489-oldest-known-gospel-mummy-mask.html

 

This is a text that would have been copied while some of Jesus original disciples still lived (certainly John the Apostle who is believed to have written Revelation around the year 95). This is a copy that is incredibly close to the original written work by Mark himself.

 

This fragment of Mark is incredibly valuable – because it will help provide hard, physical evidence to help scholars back up their case. The Gospel text did not change over time. It did not become stretched and embellished. None of the textual variants that exist today show any sign of a change in meaning. Yes – there are many punctuation and spelling differences amongst the many copies that exist. Yes there are a handful of passages that may have started elsewhere in the text. And portions (like the end of Mark) that were lost on the oldest manuscripts we know about today (altho this new fragment may change this!) There’s even one sentence thought to be added many years later in one of the letters. But none of it changes the meaning of the text one bit.

 

The scholar – Bart Ehrman – who is quoted in that Newsweek article is indeed sceptical that we know what the original documents looked like. But even he believes that any changes that might have happened over time had no effect on the essential meaning of the text. This newly discovered first century fragment of Mark will help prove that this position is reasonable.

 

So what? Well – can I suggest we take a fresh look at what the New Testament says? I believe we have what was originally written. I expect this new discovery to give further evidence of this. And these words – if they let them – will transform our lives…because living with Him is the way to live. He makes everything possible.

 

“How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard[b] to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” Mark 10:23-27, NLT

RESPONDblogs: Did Christianity Arise Among Ancient yet Ignorant People?

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I remember having a conversation with someone who was attempting to discredit Christianity based on what he perceived as the “intellectual backwardness of the ancient people”. In other words his argument to me was, those people were pretty uneducated and dumb back then. They didn’t have science like us. Of course they would swallow the Jesus story about his virgin birth and his resurrection from the dead!

 

I remember at the time being staggered by his argument.

 

Logically, the reason that a virgin birth caused such a stir amongst Jesus contemporaries was precisely because people knew “the birds and the bees” very well indeed! That conception is impossible without intercourse. Similarly, people did not rise from the dead. When someone died – that was it. Game over. Where today our medical advances can sometimes prolong life, and the average age in the West is growing longer…the ancient realities of life and death were well understood in first century Israel. Dead people stayed that way.

 

Further, the Bible records that people at the time of the birth of Christianity were very skeptical of the claims of the first Christians. Jesus birth was a scandal, and his parents were stigmatized for the precise reason that no one believed their story. They didn’t believe that Mary was pregnant because of God’s miraculous activity – instead they suspected that Joseph and Mary got “caught short” because they couldn’t wait before they were married.

 

Similarly – dead Messiah’s don’t rise from the dead. Jerusalem had a slew of Messiah wannabes at that time. Men who gathered a following around them. Yet they eventually died. And so when the reports of Jesus resurrection began to excite and perplex the Jewish population in Jerusalem, there was much skepticism in the air. In fact we read the oldest skeptical response to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead in the Gospels themselves. “The disciples stole the body.”

 

You might think people are skeptical about the claims of Christianity today. Well – the situation wasn’t too different back then either.

 

And what about the arrogant claim that the ancient people were ignorant? Well – Christianity arose in the Roman Empire. Anyone who has studied Roman history knows that this was one of the most advanced civilizations in human history. The city where I live is built on Roman design and foundation. The road my housing estate sits on – is itself originally a Roman road. They were technologically advanced – and we still benefit from their work today. Christianity took hold in the advanced Roman Empire.

 

But someone may complain – they didn’t have the Scientific advances we have. iPhone’s that give us instant communication, the Hubble Telescope that lets us see deeper into the Universe than mankind ever thought possible. Yes – that’s all true. Yet at the same time – first century people weren’t glued to their iPhones like so many people are today. They had a better relationship with the world around them – because they engaged within it. Nature was a source of inspiration, and the place where advances were made in these people’s lives. Further – they were so much further on when it came to philosophy and the nature of religious inquiry. They thought deeper, they engaged more vigorously within nature because they didn’t have the technological distractions we have today. And as far as the night sky was concerned – they could see it laid out before their eyes every night in all its vastness. While for us the light pollution from cities distorts our view of the Universe, they were not hindered in this way. And if you have ever visited Africa and gazed into the night sky you will know what I mean.

 

The ancients were more clued into the nature of life and death and our place in nature. The Christian faith took hold in the most sophisticated human civilization to date.

 

You know it strikes me that if we are tempted to look back at these ancient people scornfully – we don’t get what they were about at all. Perhaps we are really only seeing our own ignorance being reflected back at us.

RESPONDblogs: A Response to Islam

I sat with French guy last week and I listened as he struggled to come to terms with the horrific events that were occurring around Paris. The death of so many innocent people at the hands of religious extremists in his home city – left us both stunned and speechless.

As we spoke together, I heard something from him that disturbed me greatly. He predicted that Islam would take over Europe – that it was sure to happen.

Now – I think we both absolutely get the point that – our Muslim neighbours are not a threat to our physical safety. The Muslims I have listened to in the past few days have been as shocked and outraged at the barbaric loss of life as the rest of us.

YET – I do not believe that an Islamic Europe would be a good thing. I believe this for many reasons – but one of the centrally important ones is this. Islam misrepresents history. It is an untrustworthy faith system. Islam is getting a lot of air time these days. Many people are holding up the virtue of free speech. But I don’t hear many people talking about the lack of reliability and historical underpinning to its book the Koran.

As a Christian I care passionately about truth. And I believe that ultimately – when it all comes down to it – our lives depend on truth. So in the spirit of free speech – let me say that unfortunately I do not see the Koran dealing in matters of truth.

History records the life of Jesus of Nazareth. We also know through historical sources that Jesus predicted an imminent and violent death for himself. And we know this led to his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. These are historically demonstrable facts.

Here’s my problem with the Koran – it dismisses these facts about Jesus. It denies that they occurred. In doing so, it tries to discredit Christianity (which had been around for 700 years before Islam began) but it actually shows itself to be unhistoric.

A strong case can be made that the Koran is untrustworthy on purely historical grounds (never mind faith grounds!) How?

In Surah 4:157-158 the Koran clearly states that Jesus was not crucified, that he did not die. But Jesus clearly did predict his imminent and violent death. The contradiction here is that the Koran is happy to call Jesus a great prophet (Surah 3:45-49). But if he did not actually die as he predicted he would – as the Koran claims – then Jesus wasn’t a great prophet. He was a liar. So the Koran is wrong in holding up Jesus as great…it is untrustworthy.

On the other hand – if Jesus DID predict his imminent and violent death – and this DID occur as he said it would – then the Koran is still wrong. Because it clearly says that he didn’t!

Either way – when it comes to the central figure of Jesus Christ – the Koran shows itself to be historically false and unreliable.

Why might the Koran be so focussed on trying to discredit Jesus Christ? Because he is the Truth. He is the one who said, “ I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6, NIV

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RESPONDblogs: Truth Will Out

The Jehovah’s Witnesses group was first formed in 1872 by Charles Taze Russell and seem to have become famous the world over for what they DON’T do.

  • They don’t celebrate people’s birthdays (no, really! What a shame, eh?)
  • They don’t allow blood transfusions
  • They don’t believe the Bible teaches that the Father, the Son and the Spirit are each persons of the one God. This is often called the doctrine of the Trinity

Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught to believe a form of Arianism. Arius was a Christian leader who lived in the second century and put forward a view of Jesus that was challenged strongly by the early Christian church leadership – he taught that Jesus was a created creature rather than God himself. This led to the development of the Nicene Creed in 325 AD which attempted to clearly document the Christian Church’s understanding of Jesus’ identity as taught by the New Testament. Arius refused to sign up to this statement – and so lost his job in the Church.

 

“Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, that is from the substance of the Father. He is God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father.” Nicene Creed

 

There’s one God who is revealed in Scripture in three persons. Father, Son and Spirit. In other words – Jesus is not a created being. Although he experienced a miraculous human birth – he is and was God before that birth. And he still is today. Mind bending stuff.

 

The Witnesses have stuck to their guns and persist with Arianism to this day. And to justify their position they have their own Bible Translation that they work from – the New World Translation – that has been written to support their Arian position. So here’s something else the JW will not do. They WILL NOT use a Bible translation UNLESS it is the New World Translation. To my mind, this is a cause for suspicion right there.

 

The problem as I see it – is this. They have written their translation in such a way as to try to avoid seeing Jesus as the second person of the Godhead. The problem is that – the Bible is FULL to the brim of this teaching! To try and remove it all…you would need to throw the Bible away and start again from scratch. Marcion attempted this in the first century, but his movement died out quickly. Rather than taking this approach, instead the JW translators have tried to “plug the holes” as they see them in the Bible text. But like a sieve with hundreds of holes in – you can’t plug them all. It’s a pointless task – the water…or the truth will always leak through the sieve eventually. And it’s the same with the Bible. The truth will always leak through…however hard you try to stop it.

 

Here’s a great example.

Lets look at the JW translation of John chapter 1 verses 1 to 3 (you can find the 2013 edition of the NWT here -> http://www.jw.org/en/publications/bible/nwt/books/john/1/)

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What’s the problem? Well look at verse 1. Speaking of Jesus, their translation says, “the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” The JW understanding of Jesus’ identity is coming thru in their translation here. They view Jesus Christ as a being that God has created. If that created being is with God…then he cannot also BE God himself. So they are forced to describe Jesus as “a god”.

This is an example of the JW trying to plug the holes in the sieve. Look how a typical New Testament translation puts this verse:

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1, NLT)

Do you see the difference in the translation? The Word is not “a god”. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Is the JW New World Translation a good translation of John chapter 1? Does it accurately represent what the original Greek intends to say? According to Greek Scholars like Bill Mounce, no it isn’t. And the reason is very simple.

There is NO INDEFINITE ARTICLE in Greek. “a god” is an impossible phrase in Greek.

This might sound tricky…but it’s really simple. Look at an everyday example. If I say in English that, “I read the book” then I would be referring to my book using the DEFINITE article – “the”. However – if instead I said, “I read a book” – then I would be referring to my book with the INDEFINITE ARTICLE – “a”.

 

The New World Translation refers to the Word in verse 1 using the INDEFINITE ARTICLE – “the Word was a god.” But that cannot be what the Greek text said originally. Why? Because there is NO INDEFINITE ARTICLE in Greek. The verse cannot have said this.

Actually if you translate the Greek into English word by word (thank you Doctor Mounce!) the text reads…

 

In [the] beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and God was the Word (John 1:1, MOUNCE)

 

The section in dispute actually reads “God was the Word”. Can you see why the JW would object to that? So they have squeezed an “a” into their text to change the meaning OF the text.

So the New World Translation of John 1:1-3 does not work for language reasons. It is not accurate – don’t believe it.

 

But it goes deeper than this. The New World Translation version of John 1:1-3 simply does does not make any sense. What do I mean? Well – let’s look again at the passage and look this time at verse 3.

 

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Verse 3 of the NWT tells us that all things came into existence through him. Not a single thing that does exists began to exist without his activity. Who is him? The Word!

Here is the irony. The JW translation breaks verse 1, but the truth still seeps though in their Bible. Because John 1:3 restates AGAIN what John 1:1 is trying to teach.

  • He is responsible for creating all things. If all things were created by Jesus – then he cannot also be one of the things that was created because he is personally doing the creation!
  • the Word is not created, rather he is God.
  • all things came into existence through him. Who is he? He is the Word, he is Jesus, he is God.

 

You will often hear this expression outside a court of law – “Truth will out!” However hard people try to bend the Bible to their own will (and this is a risk facing all of us…myself included)…God’s truth WILL come through in the end. I want to grasp his truth…because I know that it will do me good! I can’t think of anything worse than shutting the door on God’s truth for other people. But even when people try to do this, God’s good, positive and life changing truth is powerful – it will burst through anyway!

 

RESPONDblogs: Is the Jehovah’s Witness “Jesus” the Genuine Article?

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I was getting ready to go out on Saturday morning when our front doorbell rang. I opened the door to a young lady who greeted me and began to talk to me about “religious” issues. My heart sank – I was just on my way out to a friend’s wedding! But – she seemed very earnest. And I felt a tug to stay and talk for a while. I let her speak…and then she asked whether these religious issues interested me.

 

I scratched my head a bit. “I’m a Christian”, I responded, “so God is very much at the centre of life…I’m not so keen on religion tho. However – let me ask you something.”

 

She nodded expectantly.

 

I asked, “Who do you say that Jesus is?”

 

Without a blink she responded, “Well he is God’s son.” I nodded – “Yes…but what does that mean?” She began to look a bit puzzled now. “Well I guess it means…” She stopped. I volunteered an ending to her sentence. “You reckon it means that God created Jesus? He is created BY God?” She nodded. “Yes – that’s it”, she said.

 

“Okay – that’s interesting because my view of Jesus is completely different from yours. He’s God. He’s not created BY God.”

 

She nodded and without a thought she shot back, “Let me ask you then. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray…who did he teach them to pray to?” It was my turn to look puzzled now. However many times I engage with a Jehovah’s Witness…this bit always strikes me as incredible. I carried on.

 

“You are right. The Bible records that Jesus taught his disciples to pray to God the Father. But you know what else the Bible shows us? That Jesus himself RECEIVED worship…personally. More than that, the Bible’s overall presentation of God has always been that three persons exist. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” She looked at me incredulous. This bit in the conversation that always hits me hard. I’m gutted that the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach their poor people to ignore and deny such a central biblical doctrine as the Trinity.

 

I really felt for this young lady. I was glad I’d stopped to chat with her. My heart so wanted her to get who Jesus really is! I decided to leave her with a statement and a question.

 

“You know, based on what we read in scripture the early church wrestled with but ultimately agreed on Jesus identity. The Jesus I am describing to you – the one who points to the other members of the Trinity and receives worship also for himself – is the prevailing view. Yes it’s tough to wrap our heads around. It looks like what I am saying has mystified you. Let me ask you. If there was no mystery to God…if we understood everything there is to know about God…it wouldn’t make him much of a God. Would it?” She smiled and nodded. And as my time had gone – we said goodbye.

 

As I closed the door – my heart ached. It matters who we understand Jesus to be. Why? If Jesus is NOT God – then we are completely lost! Why do I say that?

The Bible explains what humanity’s main problem is. Actually it’s not poverty or petrol prices or religious terrorism. It is sin. We underestimate the extent of our problem.

“all people…are under the power of sin.  For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Romans 3:9 – 23, NLT

Why is sin a problem? Because it ruins any connection we could have with God, it messes up our relationships with other people and it ultimately leads to our demise…physically, spiritually, completely.

“For the wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23, ESV

“It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.” Isaiah 59:2, NLT

We all limp along carrying this crippling sin problem. It leads to our demise and our isolation from the God who made us.

Only God himself can sort out this problem. It is too big an issue for anyone else to fix! And so the Bible tells the tale of God preparing the nation of Israel and then coming in person…Jesus Christ…to give all people…you and me a way out of our sinful rebellion against God. He came to Earth to forgive sins. Only God can do that job. Because at heart, sin is mankind’s direct rejection of God.

“Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.””, Luke 7:48, NLT 

“For this is how God loved the world; He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16, NLT

 

That’s not me disagreeing with my friend at my front door. It’s the Bible I share with my Jehovah’s Witness friend (although her New World Translation has been slightly modified by un-scholarly people to trip her up in her understanding – outrageous!). It’s also the Church Fathers who studied under Jesus Disciples and led the first Christian Churches.

 

And then it struck me. It’s only valuable items that are counterfeited. People only go to the effort of creating fake 50 pound notes…because the real ones are so valuable. There’s no one in human history more valuable than the God-man Jesus Christ. Not to me…not to the writers of the Bible…not to all true Christians down thru history. No wonder there are counterfeit versions available to anyone who is unfortunate enough to accept them.

RESPONDblog: Is Jesus Birth Really Prophesied in the Old Testament?

god with usHappy 2015 – hope it’s a good one for you!

 

During the Christmas period, I heard this verse from Matthew’s Gospel being read during the Carol services I attended.

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,[a]
    which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:23, NLT

 

This is Matthew quoting from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who is thought to have lived in Israel’s Southern Kingdom of Judah 700 years prior to Matthew. The original passage from Isaiah says this:

All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin[a] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).  By the time this child is old enough to choose what is right and reject what is wrong, he will be eating yogurt[b] and honey. For before the child is that old, the lands of the two kings you fear so much will both be deserted. Isaiah 7:14-16, NLT

I wonder why Matthew took Isaiah’s ancient words…and understood them as pointing towards Jesus? Can we know for sure that this passage looks forward to the birth of Jesus as Matthew’s gospel affirms that it does?

 

Well – the historical setting of Isaiah’s original passage is an interesting one. Around 730 BC the Assyrian empire was expanding and threatening Israel. King Ahaz of the Southern Kingdom Judah faced the might of the Assyrian Army – and he didn’t know what to do.

The prophet Isaiah came to King Ahaz and prophesied that the Assyrian King, and eventually the conquered Northern Kingdom’s King, would not defeat him. Isaiah invited King Ahaz to ask God for a sign confirming this – but Ahaz refused.

In response – Isaiah declared that God himself would give King Ahaz a sign. A child would be born during Ahaz’s lifetime. A child that would still be living when the scary Kings of Assyria and Israel would finally be defeated.

 

So Isaiah is talking about a virgin conceiving a child. But in his day, that wasn’t the Mary we hear about in the Nativity. She wouldn’t be born for another 700 years. And the child that was conceived in Isaiah’s day wasn’t Jesus. Isaiah was originally referring to different people altogether. So the question is – why did Matthew cite Isaiah’s  prophecy and say that it pointed toward the birth of Jesus?

 

Well here’s the thing that the New Testament writers discovered. Jesus Christ is the key to understanding God’s work in the past…and his plans to rescue the human race in the future. To understand the meaning of the Old, you need to view it thru the lenses of the New.

 

Actually we see this happening throughout the New Testament. In the Acts of the Apostles, for example, the first Christian preachers spoke about Israel’s history and how it reached its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. They quoted the Old Testament prophets and they pointed to Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of their words.

For David himself never ascended into heaven, yet he said ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honour at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.”’ “So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” Acts 2:34-36, NLT

Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s work.

“For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” 2 Corinthians 1:20, NLT

 

So why did Matthew cite Isaiah’s prophecy to old King Ahaz when talking about the birth of Jesus? Yes – there was an immediate purpose behind Isaiah’s words that related to the onslaught of the Assyrian army. But God also held a bigger purpose back when Isaiah originally spoke those words to King Ahaz. The ultimate purpose of these words didn’t just benefit King Ahaz – but the whole human race. Over time, God was putting the pieces together that would finally lead to the birth of Jesus.

 

Here’s one final thought. Both Isaiah and Matthew make a point of naming that child as “God with us.” Now, fast forward now to the end of Matthew’s gospel. Do you know what the final words of Jesus are to his followers?

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20, NLT

I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS. Jesus literally is  – God with us. From start to finish.

As we all face a new year – how great would it be to have God in our corner? How great to start this year knowing that we have God’s resources and his encouragement each day. How can we know that God’s got our back in 2015? Thru Jesus – who wants to be God with you and me in 2015 and beyond!