RESPONDblogs: Neill Blomkamp’s “Chappie” – review

Light Spoilers below

 

Neill Blomkamp is a visionary director; his films look stunning…His worlds feature a gritty, current day aesthetic …with a futuristic twist. The brilliant designs look like they should work. Neill has learned his film making craft from the best and Chappie is “business as usual” for him…and that’s a good thing.

 

It’s a story about a multi-national corporation (Tetravaal) backing two contradictory approaches to robotic law enforcement. Deon Wilson, played by Dev Patel, is developing an independent autonomous drone while Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) favours the non-intelligent, human controlled vehicle approach; Moore’s MOOSE is like a heavily armed, remotely controlled U.S. Drone. Conflict between these approaches escalates when Deon’s autonomous robotic police drone goes beyond its basic programming and becomes truly self aware…it becomes “intelligently designed” into a thinking, feeling artificial intelligence in its own right.

 

This is interesting timing for Chappie, given the increased buzz around driverless cars (even the Topgear guys are chatting about that one) and the cautionary note that Professor Stephen Hawking rang recently about the dangers that AI will pose to humankind in the future.

 

 

 

Three themes stuck out to me as i enjoyed this movie.

 

FIRST – Neill presents Jackman’s character Moore in an interesting way. Moore designed his MOOSE as an attack vehicle bristling with weapons – but his reasons seem to be philosophical ones…even religious ones. It seems that this guy is against all forms of artificial intelligence…presumably because…as he says to Deon’s Chappie…he is just a godless monster. In other words – God didn’t create this being…mankind did. And to Moore, that’s a bad thing.

 

Jackman portrays Moore as not only a religious extremist, but also as a violent war monger. He is not only frustrated at being sidelined with his out of date technology, but he is also a very dangerous individual. He is quite clearly comfortable with building machines to cause death and destruction on an industrial scale! Neill Blomkamp’s religious guy is the dangerous, violent hate filled brooding presence in his movie.

 

I often hear Christians being described in these terms. And I’ve always thought…where does Jesus ever teach anyone to embrace hate and violence? He doesn’t. Of course the well worn response to this is – stop selectively flicking thru the New Testament and look at the Old. God commands the Israelites to wipe out the Amalekites. Therefore God wants Christians to be hate filled and violent. So Christianity is dangerous for society. Yet this is SO far away from a balanced reading of the Bible, that it leaves the average Christian scratching their head in puzzlement.

 

Yes God used Israel to bring punishment to people at a single time in history, as described in the Old Testament. God encouraged Israel to enter the land promised to them, yet stolen by the occupying Caananite people. God had given the Caananites many opportunities to leave the land but they chose not to. So it was finally time to evict them. Despite the claims of Christianity’s critics…the people who were killed as Israel returned to Caanan were soldiers. Claims of Old Testament genocide misinterpret the meaning of the Old Testament text.

 

Further – to claim that this narrative should guide Christian behaviour today…is quite simply wrong. This argument would be like reading Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings all the way to the end when Sam and Frodo are ascending Mount Doom…about to finally throw the ring into the fire…and for Sam to suddenly stop them and saying…hang on! We need to go back to the Prancing Pony Pub right now cos we never managed to meet up with Gandalf there. What? No – that would be crazy. The story has moved on…we are past that now. in the same way…applying the Old Testament Amalekite passages to Christians today is just plain wrong.

 

Radicalised Christians aren’t like Blomkamp’s Vincent Moore; and they aren’t like Israelite soldiers who once fought Amalekite soldiers in Caanan. Radicalised Christians work towards increasing acts of love and kindness to all people. Thats how its supposed to work, anyway!

 

 

 

The SECOND theme I notice is around a complicated relationship between Chappie and his creator Deon. Unfortunately for Deon, his relationship with Chappie is disrupted by a group of gangsters, who become the family that Chappie attaches to. The sidelined Deon has got to work hard to visit with and teach Chappie the values he thinks are important. He manages to open Chappie up to the artistic and creative side of life (much to the gangster’s annoyance). He also sets moral guidelines for Chappie. And this escalates the tension in their relationship. Chappie’s gangster family want him to “do crimes”…but Chappie has promised his maker that he wont cross this line. Chappie has a moral center which is very highly tuned. His creator has so many hopes and dreams for him and Chappie finds the burden of this too much to bear sometimes…leading him to tell his creator that he hates him.

 

Chappie and Deon clearly misunderstand each other during much of the movie. Deon sees the danger that the gangsters are exposing Chappie to. He can see the risk of disaster and the loss of Chappie’s precious life. Yet the childlike robot does not have this perspective at all. He does not understand the risks…although he starts to learn fast.

 

It strikes me that perhaps this theme touches upon many people’s personal spiritual journey.  When it comes to God…things get complicated. It’s the stuff that fills our lives, the choices we have made, that get in the way. And if there is a God…then surely he wants to stop us having fun. Surely he wants to impose his dull will on us? We see Chappie kick against the attempts his creator makes to connect with him…and there is alot of truth in this portrayal. It resonates.

 

And I’m left wondering…what if we mistakenly project our own misunderstanding of God’s motives onto God himself? What if…like Chappie…we think the creator is trying to cramp our style…when in reality his goal is to rescue us from the danger we don’t understand. The risk we are blind to is very evident to our creator. What if instead of wasting our lives, he wants us to fulfil our potential? I think there’s an aspect to Deon’s character that reflects part of God’s nurturing character towards people.

 

 

 

The THIRD theme is a deep one, so I’ll keep it brief. Mind/soul and body duality. Groan! Philosophy! This movie is full of the sense that, our bodies…the material stuff and my physical parts…do not fully define who I am. There is an intangible-ness to me;  a consciousness. Actually this idea points to a Biblical understanding of personhood. We are composed of 3 parts; spirit, soul and body. And while one day our body will wear out…the essential center of us…our spirit and our soul…will live on in another place. Hopefully not in Blomkamp’s way (it does not look good!)

 

 

So if you enjoy science fiction, don’t mind a touch of violence (one scene is really quite bloody)…and like thinking about these themes…then I recommend Chappie.

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RESPONDblogs: Were Important Books Edited Out Of the New Testament?

Da_vinci_code

A friend of mine recently commented to me, “Of course the writings of the New Testament are all about Politics and Power. Certain men decided what the Bible would say – and they omitted the books that did not fit with their message. I do not trust the Bible for this reason.”

 

The whiff of conspiracy is like the ignition of rocket fuel. People get interested! 15 years ago, Dan Brown built his career on it.

“The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds…it has evolved through countless translations, additions and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.” – Leigh Teabing, The Da Vinci Code

 

Is my friend right? Or has Dan Brown’s fictional universe begun to replace history in popular thinking?

 

It is worth noting a few historical facts as we consider this.

 

FIRST – The Christian church was quickly scattered in the first century. Persecution by the Roman authorities was brutal. And so initially, no controlling church organization existed. Because people were scattered across Europe, Asia Minor, etc. In fact – if you read the New Testament (NT), you will notice that many of the books are actually letters written to individuals or churches at that difficult time.

 

SECOND – because the church was scattered in the first century, not every Christian church had every one of the important, authoritative writings. Not every early Christian believer had access to every letter. It was a more primitive time with regard to travel and communication.

 

 

So this comes to the heart of the matter! Who decided what was “Scripture” and what was “wanna-be Scripture”? Who controlled what was in, and what was out when it came to the NT? Is it true that it took hundreds of years before political winds finally blew todays NT canon together?

 

I would suggest that the evidence suggests – NO – this is not how the NT  canon was selected. So what does the historical evidence suggest, then?

 

FIRST – the majority of the canonical NT books gained acceptance from the earliest of times in the Christian Church. Even before the NT was complete,  significant letters were copied in part and as a whole and began to be circulated around the scattered church. This was essentially happening before the later NT books were even written yet. If we want evidence to support this theory, we don’t have to look very far at all. The Apostle Peter, who was a member of Jesus’ inner circle during his time on Earth, refers to Paul – Christian persecutor turned Evangelist to the Gentiles – in these terms.

“This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him— 16 speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture.” 2 Peter 3:15-16, NLT

 

In other words – Paul’s letters were considered to be authoritative during Paul’s lifetime and during Peter’s lifetime in the first century.

 

What this suggests to me is – that the first century Christian Church was simply recognizing the written works that held authority and had the power to change people’s lives. No council existed to decide which works held to the party line – the people either recognized divine authority in a book – or not.

 

By the way – notice that a crucial criteria for acceptance was – connection to the early Apostles. Much of the NT is written by these men themselves, some of it (like Mark and Luke) was penned by their close colleagues.

 

 

SECOND – a book or a letter was considered Authoritative if it’s teaching was consistent with the established Jewish canon – which Christians refer to today as the Old Testament

 

THIRD – by the end of the first century, all 27 NT books had been written and received and agreed to by various parts of the scattered church. Yet because communication was poor – not all the written works were available to all the early Christians.

 

FOURTH – A generation after the last of the Apostles had died, every one of the 27 NT books had been cited as being authoritative by one of the 2nd century Church fathers.

 

FIFTH – Yes there were debates amongst the churches around some of the books. It wasn’t exactly clear who the author of the Letter to the Hebrews was. Yet its teaching was clearly consistent with the other authoritative works. A book called the Shepherd of Hermes was considered authoritative by some of the early churches. But when it was shared more broadly, people noticed that its theology was suspect. It taught that – if we sin after we have become a Christian – we have blown it and we will never get to heaven. This is at odds with the rest of the NT that teaches people are saved by God’s Grace when we put our trust and our faith in him; and he forgives us when we honestly ask for it. And so – the general consensus was – to reject the Shepherd of Hermes as an authoritative work.

 

 

 

In summary then – the NT cannon was not selected behind closed doors for power reasons. Rather, the fledgling Christian church recognized the authoritative books and so functioned with a working but growing canon from the earliest of times.

 

 

So what of the later Councils? What of the famous Council of Nicea that Constantine held in AD 325? Ironically there is no evidence that Constantine was involved in selecting the NT canon at all! It had already existed for decades. Rather – Nicea was all about a powerful leader gathering the Church together to debate heresies that were growing around the nature of Jesus Christ. Was he fully God as well as fully man?

 

Other later councils met to discuss the canon (Hippo in AD393 and Carthage in AD397). But this was not a politically engineered process. Rather the work of the council was simply to recognize what the growing church had decided years ago. Which books held authority and held the power to change people’s lives. And which did not.

 

Is the canon closed? Should any books be added to the NT? Was a mistake made? Enter the conspiracy theorists. But surely the question to those proposing a conspiracy is simply this. Show us your case? Present the book that should be included and explain why? If it wasn’t good enough for the early Christians then it sure isn’t good enough for the church of today!

 

 

 

Pop culture may have lost hold of this now…but The NT cannon was not selected behind closed doors for power reasons. Rather, the fledgling Christian church recognized the authoritative books. And they remain powerful life changing works to this day.

 

Points to Dan Brown, then. Fun book – tragic consequences on pop culture.

RESPONDblog: Evidence for Bible Miracle Claims – a Dangerous Edict

5 Claudius Nazareth Inscription - Paris copy

Some skeptical folks will want evidence for the claims of Christianity. Fair enough!  After all, one of the core claims of Christianity is – that God entered human history as Jesus of Nazareth at a specific point in history. If this is true – then surely he has left behind evidence of his time on earth?

I would argue that the New Testament documents form the basis of that historical evidence. Yet there is other supporting evidence to be found too. Little supporting pieces of history, like shards of buried treasure that point towards the truthfulness and the reliability of the New Testament record. And we find this evidence in the most surprising of places.

 

Back in 1878, amongst the ancient remains of the town Nazareth, archaeologists found a fascinating inscription engraved on marble. The inscription – which is housed in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris today – has been named the Nazareth Inscription. The text says this:

“Proclamation of Ceasar. It is my desire that graves and tombs remain sealed for the benefit of those who have made them and for their children, family members and their religion. If, however, anyone accuses that another has either destroyed them, removed the buried, or with ill intent has taken them to other places in order to wrong them, or has removed the sealing on other stones, I order that person be brought to trial. Just as a man should respect the gods, so also with regard to men, for all should respect the buried. It is therefore forbidden for anyone to disturb them. Should this edict be violated, the offender is to be sentenced to capital punishment on the charge of violating a sepulcher.”

 

The marble inscription has been dated to around 41AD, less than 10 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and this edict is believed to have been made by Claudius Ceasar. The language fits with other surviving edicts from him.

 

So – the leader of the entire Roman Empire is making an edict here. Breaking the terms of this edict will lead to the death penalty – this is a big and serious deal. So which criminal act is being doubled down on, here? What is so threatening to the Roman Empire that such a clear warning would be given?

 

Removing dead bodies from Jewish Sepulcher graves

 

Seems a bit over the top, don’t you think? Surely robbing of valuable items from graves – which I am sure, was common – is a more serious crime compared to stealing a dead body? What use is a decomposing corpse, after all?

 

It is a baffling edict – unless you choose to view it in the context of the New Testament’s report that …

“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” Matthew 28:6

 

One of the oldest explanations for the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth is – the disciples stole his body. According to Matthew’s gospel, this was the message that the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem urged the Roman Tomb Guards to give. They even go on to say that, if this story gets passed up the Roman chain of command…we will make sure you don’t get into any trouble for it guys. You can read about this in Matthew 28:11-15.

Well it seems from the wording of the Nazareth Inscription edict that the Jewish Chief Priests story reached those in charge – and the response was a modification of the law in Palestine. STOP STEALING DEAD BODIES out of Jewish sealing tombs…or else!

 

I have no doubt that the 1st century Romans dismissed the preaching of the early Church as lies. They didn’t believe Jesus had been raised. They believed – as the Sanhedrin and the Guards had claimed – that Jesus’ Disciples stole the body following Jesus’ death. This theft had clearly led to social unrest, as described in part in Acts chapters 5 to 8. And so – the Roman Government’s  solution – was to make the stealing of dead bodies illegal.

 

It seems to me that the Nazareth Inscription corroborates parts of Matthew’s Gospel post resurrection account – namely the claim the Jesus had risen, and the counter claim that his disciples stole the body. It also seems very significant to me that the Nazareth Inscription itself was presumably installed…but certainly found in Jesus’ very home town.

 

What am I saying here?

I am NOT saying that the Nazareth Inscription provides archaeological proof of Jesus’ Resurrection. What I am suggesting however – is that the story of Jesus’ Resurrection was widely known in the years following the 33AD event; even to the Roman Emperor. What does this mean? It means that Jesus’ first Disciples were the ones who circulated the resurrection reports. Jesus Resurrection was not an invention hundreds of years later, as has been claimed by some skeptical scholars who have tried to discredit Christianity.

 

It seems to me – the Nazareth Inscription is evidence that presents a question to us. Did the disciples steal Jesus body, or was Jesus really raised from the dead as they claimed?

 

 

Two final thoughts about the Stolen Body Explanation:

First – it assumes Jesus tomb was empty. And people knew then where  Jesus’ dead body was placed after his crucifixion.

Second – the record shows that Jesus’ friends were broken by his crucifixion. But something happened very quickly to turn this dispirited band into dynamic world changers. These men stood for truth and morality. And each one of Jesus original circle went to a premature death, standing for Jesus, his resurrection and the forgiveness of our sins.

It seems to me that it would take a lot more than a mistakenly missing body to turn frightened nobody’s into radical world changers.

Also – the idea that they knowingly stole the body in order to manufacture the birth of the Christian Church – does not fit with the record of these first Disciples. These people stood for truth and went to their deaths proclaiming it. What reason would they have for making this sacrifice, if they knew all along that the whole thing had been an elaborate hoax?

Surely meeting the risen Jesus Christ – and being commissioned by him to spread his life changing truth – is a historically reasonable explanation for their positively changed lives?

RESPONDblog: Evidence for Bible Miracle Claims – an Unexpected Darkness

Capture

In my experience, one of the first questions that Biblical skeptics ask about the miracle claims in the Bible is this – “Is there any evidence for this event outside the Bible?” I think this is a very reasonable question.

My previous blog focused on extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus Resurrection and his claims to be God.  http://tinyurl.com/k7ltbp9

 

For this one, I’d like to focus on a very specific event that the Bible records as happening on the day Jesus of Nazareth was crucified.

 

The Synoptic Gospel accounts (Matthew 27:45; 51-52, Mark 15:33 and Luke 23:44-45) all record an unexpected period of darkness during Jesus’ crucifixion. Matthew goes further to give it duration – 3 hours – and also claims it was accompanied by something like an earthquake.

Are there any extra-Biblical references to this?

If it really happened then surely it would have been a source of shock and surprise to the wider population of Jerusalem that day? The gospel account does not give any clue as to how large an area was affected by the claimed darkness. Was it restricted to the areas surrounding Jerusalem in some way? Was it felt by people living elsewhere on the planet? The text does not tell us. Again – we can assume it…but we don’t know from the Gospel itself.

 

Well – a very ancient extra-Bibical account of the 3 hour long darkness and rock splitting earthquake – does in fact exist. To find it we need to read reports from one pagan Roman historian who was a contemporary of Jesus living in Palestine, one pagan Roman historian from the 1st century and another who lived two hundred years later in Jerusalem.

 

Thallus, est. AD50:

Roman historian Thallus, believed to be a Samaritan, recorded strange events during Tiberius Ceasar’s reign around Jerusalem. Thallus is mentioned by various historical sources including his colleague Josephus. Thallus describes an “eclipse of the sun”; he gives a naturalistic explanation of an event which is dated to the time period of the crucifixion.

Phlegon, est. AD137:

Phlegon was believed to have been born around the time of Jesus crucifixion, and wrote an account later in the 1st century. He too mentions the darkness and even records the time and duration of the event; and it lines up with Matthew’s report – between the 6th hour and the 9th hour. He also mentions the earthquake affecting Bythinia and part of Nicea (hundreds of miles north of Jerusalem). I will quote a surviving fragment of his “The Olympiads” below.

Neither Thallus or Phlegon appear to have made any attempt to link the events specifically to Jesus crucifixion. Why would they? Yet a later 3rd century historian – Julius Africanus – did just that.

Julius Africanus, est. AD230:

He researched the earlier Thallus and Phlegon reports…and he added some commentary of his own. I will quote Julius Africanus at the bottom of this blog…but let me pull out some threads of what he is saying – and what he is not saying – in his account.

 

1 – He points specifically to “This darkness” . It was a well-known historical event that is being discussed. The three hour darkness –  and its associated earthquake – clearly affected a large region because many people got caught up in the discussion about it afterwards. Just how large the region was, though, is hard to tell.

2 – He quotes Thallus’ historical mention of the darkness. But he challenges Thallus’ reasoning for its occurrence. How can this have been an eclipse of the sun when the dates and times were all wrong? There was a full moon at that point in the Jewish calendar, and an eclipse of the sun would have been impossible.

3 – It seems that there were many different conflicting explanations suggested for this darkness at the time.  This is to be expected; people are curious – and inquisitive. We aren’t talking a cloudy day or a sudden rain downpour. This was a significant event that was debated amongst learned people at the time. There must have been many theories for what had happened that day! Julius is not convinced by Thallus’ naturalistic explanation. This is not just any astronomical event that is being discussed here – this is a very specific one which occurred during the reign of Tiberius Ceasar – around the time when Jesus Christ was crucified.

4 – He also points out Phlegon’s precise timing of the darkness and rock splitting event. This lines the account up with the claims in Matthew’s Gospel. He goes further and mentions the “resurrection of the dead” – a claim that Matthew’s Gospel specifically makes as having occurred at the moment of Jesus’ death. (Matthew 27:52-53). Julius is writing a hundred years after these events. But his report seems to refer to events that were known from the time.

5 – Julius is not specifically arguing that a supernatural event occurred that day. I will sometimes hear skeptics talk down to those who lived in 1st century Palestine. “Oh, they would have believed anything back then!” But these people were not stupid – and not as naive as many folks assume. Julius’  focus here is on recording what happened that day and when. He is also very focused on arguing what did not happen – this event could NOT have simply been a natural eclipse.

6 – Julius is not writing a Christian apologetic on the crucifixion, here. This is written as a historical commentary underpinning the tradition that had been communicated by the canonical Gospels for over 100 years prior to Julius investigations.

 

 

In summary, we have independent, extra-Biblical witnesses of an unexpected and specific 3 hour period of darkness on the day Jesus was crucified.  And we have historical evidence of a debate for the cause of this unexpected astronomical event.  We also have the Phlegon account of the earthquake felt as far north from Jerusalem as Nicea. I am unsure whether Thallus or Phlegon mentioned the resurrections as well; but Julius certainly does (although Julius was not an eyewitness of those events himself).

So the answer to my question is – YES. I think we DO have corroborative evidence outside the Bible for another of its miracle claims.

 

 

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth–manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period. (The Extant Fragments of the five Books of Chronography of Julius Africanus XVIII.1)

 

In the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was a great eclipse of the sun, greater than had ever been known before, for at the sixth hour the day was changed into night, and the stars were seen in the heavens. An earthquake occured in Bythinia and overthrew a great part of the city of Nicea. (The Extant Fragments of The Olympiads of phlegon)

 

 

 

RESPONDblog: Are Jesus’ Miracles confirmed outside of the Bible?

resurrection.power

Earlier today, someone said this to me:

“There is historical evidence for Jesus crucifixion…but not any of his miracles.”

As those words hit me, I groaned inside. Why? Because I think this guy is just expressing something that is mistakenly assumed by so many skeptics of Christianity. And it saddens me because it is so NOT true!

 

I try to reach a skeptical audience with this blog – i’m not always successful. Having said that…it strikes me that, if I’m a Biblical skeptic, i’m not going to be too impressed by evidence of Jesus miracles from the pages of the Bible itself. So…what about evidence of Jesus miracles OUTSIDE the pages of the Bible? Does any of this corroborating evidence exist…evidence that supports the evidence in the Bible?

Yep.

Are you willing to lay aside your pre-conceived notions…and begin to consider it?

 

Alexamenos-Graffiti

First – the earliest portrayal of Jesus Christ we are aware of is a piece of graffiti that is drawn with the intention of insulting Jesus and Christians in general. It shows a man with a donkey’s head being crucified…and another man standing to the side with one hand outstretched. Beneath this is written in Greek, “Alexamenos worships [his] God.”

Weird, eh? But actually, the early Christian claims of a crucified God were viewed as ridiculous. This graffiti qualifies as ancient satire and it corroborates an important fact to my skeptical friend. Early Christians – strict monotheists – worshiped Jesus. What would cause them to do that?

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Second – two inscriptions found on ossuaries (jars containing skeletal remains) dated around AD 50 – are actually prayers addressed to Jesus…asking for his help. Mark Mittleberg asks a penetrating question. “How is it that Jesus – if he never lived or never rose from the dead – is invoked in prayer a mere twenty years after his death?”

 

josephus

Third – historical sources like the Roman historian Josephus, Tacitucs and Pliny the Younger were no friends of early Christianity. Yet they mention facts about Jesus and his followers that line up with the New Testament accounts. Scholar Gary Habermas (in his book The Historical Jesus) provides over 100 extra Biblical facts about Jesus life, his death, his resurrection and his teaching. Jesus credentials are solidly historical. there’s no getting away from this.

Where does this leave us? Well – if we are willing to look at the available evidence, it gives us corroborating evidence that supports the text of the New Testament. Specifically – that Jesus lived, he died, he rose from the dead and as his followers worshipped him as God; they genuinely and honestly initiated the spread of Christianity in the light of the historical Jesus.

If the history is right…and Jesus rose from the dead as the New Testament Gospels affirm…then it confirms His recorded claims to be God Himself. Why? Because the thing that eventually masters each and every one of us – death – has no power over Him. In the light of that…wouldn’t it make sense to bring our lives under His love and care?

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29, NIV

 

RESPONDblog: Jesus Christ, His Life and His Miracles Aren’t Legends Because…

arthur

You will sometimes hear Biblical skeptics referring to passages in the Bible as simply recounting myth or legend.

What do they mean when they use the word Legend? I think they mean a past event that cannot be explained purely thru natural processes; an event that has been added to over time. Jesus miracles are sometimes framed this way – particularly his biggest miracle – the Resurrection. Some people even point to Jesus of Nazareth Himself and cry – Myth.

Is it reasonable to refer to Jesus in this way? I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why I think that.

 

 

Let’s look at a very popular British Legend – King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

King Arthur is a legendary British leader of the 5th century AD who allegedly led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders. At the risk of going all “history book” on you…here’s an Arthur timeline…

8th century (300 years after he supposedly lived) – King Arthur of the Britons mentioned very briefly in a History of the Britons

12th century (700 years after he supposedly lived) – Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a pseudo history of Britain mentioning King Arthur and his magical advisor Merlin as living in 5th century

13th century – the Romance tradition of poetry and literature expands on the Arthur stories adding Lancelot and Guinevere

15th century (1000 years after Arthur was meant to have lived) – Thomas Malory brings all the stories together into a single work of literature. And all subsequent retellings of the Legend have been based to some degree on Malory’s work.

20th century – By now there have been many popular re-tellings thru literature and now movies. For example, Disney retold the legend in their classic The Sword and the Stone (1963), Monty Python’s Holy Grail (it counts in 1975), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (touched on the Arthurian Legends in 1989), etc, etc

 

Did King Arthur really live? Is he a character of history? Its hard for historians to tell. Most believe he probably did exist, but many say he is probably a composite of various individuals alive at that time in the 5th century in Britain.

The first brief mention comes 300 years after he lived. What about the additional stories of Merlin the Magician and the Knights of the Round Table? Over 1000 years passed from Arthur’s first mention in literature – till the time when these characters emerged and the accounts were properly written down. Is it not highly likely that these stories changed and evolved over the centuries? Merlin could be made alot more magical 1000 years after he lived.

This is how legends develop. It takes MANY GENERATIONS for legends to replace historical fact.

 

What about the stories of Jesus life found in the New Testament? How do they compare to the Arthur Legends?

Mark wrote his account of Jesus’ empty tomb, Mark chapter 16, only 30 years after the crucifixion. He also records that the enemies of Christianity tried to discredit the miracle but could not.

Further – the Apostle Paul’s creed mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 has been dated to between one and three years after the crucifixion – and this creed clearly teaches Christ’s resurrection.

 

The King Arthur Legends and the Gospel reports of Jesus Christ are in two entirely different classes of literature. Why? First because of the massive difference in time periods involved. Jesus greatest miracle – the resurrection – is reported a mere 3 years after the event itself in a creed used in the liturgy traditions of the fledgling Christian Church. In comparison – It took 700 years for the King Arthur stories to start to appear.

 

The Gospels can’t be classed as Legend secondly because of the clear and obvious intent of the Author. Luke, who also wrote a Gospel, says and interesting thing from the outset of his account. He says that many people have undertaken to draw up an account of Jesus life. He himself was a Doctor, so he was a learned individual. Its no surprise then to read that he carefully investigated everything and pulled together an orderly account himself. You can read his intent in Luke chapter 1. His Gospel can be dated by historians to around 60AD – less than 30 years after the events of Jesus life, death and resurrection.

The first time the Arthurian Legends emerge, they do so when Geoffrey of Monmouth writes a pseudo history of Britain. In other words – read this with a pinch of salt. The intent of the Gospel writers – and the Arthur Legend scribes – were very different.

 

Where does this discussion lead us? I believe it takes us to this. The Christian Gospels cannot be credibly and reasonably described as works of myth or legend.  Why? Because there was no time for any Legends to develop around the life of Jesus. The eye witnesses were still alive when the Gospel reports were being circulated – and would have discredited the miraculous reports completely. BUT – the reports of Jesus life, his death and his resurrection were not discredited or faded. They have endured for 2000 years.

Some will have difficulty with the Supernatural claims in the Gospels. Yet just because the New Testament Gospels report have a supernatural nature – and his miracles are recorded in a very matter of fact way – this does not automatically put the Gospels in the category of Legend. If we demand they must be legends, we are presuming it…we are enforcing the category of Legend onto the events…even though the conditions around the reports of Jesus life do not bear the hallmarks of Legend. This is unfair and unwarranted. No – the Gospels  bear the hallmarks of history.

 

 

 

FOOTNOTE: That’s not to say that Jesus Legends were never written. They were; the Gnostic Gospels are full of fantastical stories. Imagine a cross emerging from the empty tomb and preaching to the world! Completely different in tone to the matter of fact New Testament Gospels. These Gnostic writings are dated by historians to hundreds of years after the original Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) written by people with no physical connection to the events themselves. And so they reasonably fall into the Arthurian Legend category.

RESPONDblog: The Faith Position of Naturalism

It is quite common these days to hear from some people that rational belief – and belief in a creator God – are two opposing things! Rational thought requires the assumption that – everything that is real and exists is found within the confines of the material universe. Belief in a creator who is outside of the material universe – is therefore irrational.

AND YET – to maintain this naturalistic worldview, we need to avoid a very important question. Where did it all come from in the first place? Where did all the matter in the Universe come from? In reply, many people will point out that billions of years ago the Big Bang happened…eventually leading to what we see today.

Wow – so we’ve given a name to something – Big Bang – but we don’t understand how it happened. Or indeed why!

In fact – naturalism sometimes sounds like we actually believe that it was a miraculous process that booted our Universe up…so that it all got arranged in place for us to enjoy…to live in…and to study today. From naturalist cosmology…to naturalist biology and evolution (which never seems to manage to actually identify but just assumes a miraculous ORIGIN of all the Species!)

Hey. Sounds a lot like the opening chapters of Genesis…except at least the Bible is wise enough to point out that the Universe looks designed because it actually is the work the intervention of a Designer.

This blind spot that Naturalism has – and the irony of this situation…is illustrated in this fun story:

One day a group of scientists got together and decided that humankind had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him. The scientist walked up to God and said, “God, we’ve decided that we no longer need you. We’re to the point where we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don’t you just go on and mind your own business?”

God listened very patiently to the man. After the scientist was done talking, God said, “Very well, how about this? Let’s say we have a people-making contest, ” to which the scientist replied, “Okay, we can handle that!”

“But,” God added, “we’re going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam.”

The scientists said, “Sure, no problem,” and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.

God looked at him and said, “No, no, no. You go get your OWN dirt!”

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