What if we got the debate backwards?



It’s almost become a herald of Christmas…the debate begins. “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” Honestly, I think those of us who remember it hitting cinemas in the summer of 1988 are the hardest to convince. Everyone else is like – “Huh? Of course it is a Christmas movie!”

As Reginald VelJohnson, who played Sgt. Al Powel, said this year… “It’s set at Christmas time, it’s full of Christmas music. And – John McClane’s wife is named HOLLY!” Debate over?

Well…what if it’s the wrong debate. What if we should consider the possibility that Christmas is a form of Die Hard? I don’t mean the modern trappings of Christmas…I mean the Bible’s description of the birth and life of Jesus? What if this story…has more similarities to the movie…than we realise?


Remember, Die Hard is basically a tale about an everyman cop from New York, coming to LA to meet his estranged wife Holly Gennero with the hope that they will rebuild their marriage. Hans Gruber and his group of entertaining thieves disrupt the party at Nakatomi. And very quickly “move up” from thievery to terrorism, murder and kidnapping. McClane crawls through ducts, is ripped to shreds by broken glass, is tricked by Hans Gruber (Bill Clay), and is horrified at the prospect of jumping from the top of the building before the roof blows off. He’s frustrated in his attempts to save Holly by:

  • the terrorists (Who says we’re terrorists?)
  • the media (Did ya get that?)
  • the police (I’ve got 100 people down here and they are covered in glass!)
  • the FBI (You asked for miracles? I give you the FBI).

Yet McClane is supported and encouraged by the help and encouragement of a second everyman – Sgt. Al Powell, who is just a simple beat cop with a desk job, constantly on the radio and ready with words of encouragement. Yet he’s also ready to beat his own demons and saving McClane at the end by shooting the last remaining bad guy.

If ever there was a movie with the message that, “The everyman has the power to beat the odds and save the day”…it’s got to be Die Hard?


If ever there was a story that says an everyman has the potential to transform the world…its Christmas.


Jesus’ Birth was a Struggle

Jesus’ mother Mary has a struggle on her hands to find a safe place to rest and give birth. Jesus’ entry into this world is a race against the clock…it’s touch and go from the start, and they had obstacles to overcome on the way

“…the time came…she gave birth to a son…and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.” (Luke 2:7, The Msg)


The Local Authorities Decided to Eliminate the Baby

Unwittingly, some scholars who had been waiting for the birth of an important child told King Herod about it. Herod quickly decided he would “move up” from being an unpleasant ruler, to practicing infanticide. He arranged for all the newborns in the small hamlet of Bethlehem to be killed, in the hope that Jes/us was amongst them. While he missed his target…I do like to think that Alan Rickman would have played an excellent Herod (I’m going to count to three. There will not be a four.)

“Herod … flew into a rage [and] commanded the murder of every little boy” (Matt. 2:16, The Msg)


Jesus Lived the Life of an Everyman

We don’t know a lot about what he did as a child. There are clear hints he possessed wisdom beyond his years. Yet, he lived and worked in a humble setting as a carpenter, surely the most normal occupation at that time?  He was such a no one, that when his public ministry began, many in his community refused to take him seriously.

“What’s this wisdom that has been given him? … Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas…” (Mark 6:2-3, NIV)


Yet this everyman recognised our danger, and chose to save us from it

Ironically, the work Jesus was born for did not involve “waxing terrorists”. It did, however, involve doing the hard job of making a way for us to escape the danger we face.

I’m always struck by the scene at the end of Die Hard when, after Gruber’s death, people are able to finally walk out of the building to safety. McClane saved them from a fiery, roof top death. The FBI guys weren’t so lucky (We’re gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess?). And Sgt. Powell finally brought an end to Karl, who managed to struggle out of the building with murderous rage in his eyes. The FBI were happy losing 25% of the civilians…but John McClane and Al Powell managed to save everyone!

The Bible’s message about Jesus’ mission is that he came to save everyone from the destructive effects of our broken lives…our ongoing decision to reject God and live life our own way… and all the pain that this brings. Jesus made a way out of this doomed building for us so that we could walk to safety at the end of our lives. So that our own story has a happy ending.

We thought he was an everyman. But actually – he was our personal saviour. And there’s nothing ordinary about that.

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, NIV)


You know…here’s a final thought. Maybe all of our myths and stories of the everyman facing down incredible odds to save the day for us…have a single root. They are actually rooted originally in the life of that carpenter Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, and whose life, death and resurrection still resonates in our word today?

Inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour…” J R R Tolkein


Logic and Leadership

Since Leonard Nimoy’s death last week, I’ve been thinking about one of my favourite episodes from old school, 1960s Star Trek. It’s titled The Galileo 7.

Mr Spock takes a small team in a shuttlecraft to explore a region of space. Bad stuff happens and – long story short – they crash land on a planet. What’s worse is that the crash causes a leak in the shuttlecraft fuel pipes…so they cannot take off again to re-join their friends aboard the Enterprise. Worse still – there are big scary cavemen type monsters on this planet who have a rather good aim when throwing their long, sharp flint tipped spears! Two of the crew get speared pretty quickly (they aren’t wearing red shirts, either). What’s more…the polystyrene rocks on this planet are given a real hammering by the monsters as spears are thrown from every direction at Spock and his team!  This is the first team Spock has ever led – and it is a real baptism of fire for him.


We see life from a different perspective when we are leading rather than following. Don’t we? It’s easy to blame the leader when things are hard. But what do we do when things are hard…and we are the leader? When everyone in the team is looking to us for the next step?


I think what I love about this episode is the way it shows the logical Mr Spock deal with the stresses of leadership. Yes, his situation on the planet is grim. They don’t have many options open to them. Spock’s signature logic allows them to quickly identify all the choices available. But there is a much bigger issue under the surface of all this. And it’s about how Spock relates to the people he is leading – his team. Unfortunately, his head is so locked into a logical analysis of their problems, he isn’t able to give his small team any emotional support and encouragement. And this frustrates them.


Why? Leaders aren’t just problem solvers. We aren’t just sources of solutions. We are also a source of emotional presence, of personal warmth, of belonging. Because the people that follow us need more than just confidence that all the problems will go away. They also need to be able to feel that they are known and valued and belong in this team. That we are moving forward together – and actually our relationship is the foundation for all the solutions ahead of us. Spock had it upside down – the solutions were more important than his people – and it drove that team nuts! Leaders – be with your team as you work together to achieve great things together.


Back to the plot –

Captain Kirk spends time searching for his friends…but an urgent task takes priority and – even though his search is not complete – he has to turn the Enterprise around and start to move away…leaving his lost friends trapped on the planet…doomed.


But Spock finally cuts a break; Scotty is on his team and works out how to turn their phaser weapons into a fuel source for their spacecraft. It will leave them unarmed amongst the monsters, yet it will allow the shuttlecraft to take-off and orbit the planet once. The plan works – they take off and they make orbit. But they only have enough fuel to make one circle of the planet. Space is big. They cannot see the Enterprise which must be long gone…they have overcome so many obstacles to survive the monsters and take off…but to what? A pointless orbit followed by certain death.  Everything seems hopeless for the crew. Logic has gotten them this far…but it has left them in a place of ultimate despair.


And it’s in this place, the unexpected happens.

In a momentary flash of desperation – Spock ignites all their remaining fuel. This causes the engines to ignite and burn hot…shooting out of the rear of their tiny craft for a short while. What is Spock doing? As Scotty points out, he is desperately sending up a flare even though he believes there probably isn’t anyone there to see it. Yet incredibly the Enterprise DOES see their flare go up. And as their tiny shuttlecraft starts to burn up in the atmosphere, Spock and his crew are rescued by Captain Kirk in the nick of time.


I think this episode makes a great point. Logic and systematic thinking can only get us so far. As you listen to some people talk, it sounds like they believe Science holds all the answers for mankind. That life is only about the measurable and the controllable. But what Star Trek shows us is that this is a poor, one dimensional approach to life. Science is important – yes – but if we view it as mankind’s sole end…and the only tool in our toolbox…then we are selling the multi-dimensional, emotionally and relationally designed people around us short. Further – if Spock had not leapt beyond logical laws – and ignited the fuel in his craft – he would not have saved his team. If he had not let out the biggest, and the most emotion filled “HELP!”…then the episode would have ended very differently indeed. Logic only gets you so far – relationship and emotion fills the gap.


Personally, I’ve worked in a field of science for 25 years and I’ve solved lots of problems as a result. But frankly…as I sit here writing…I cannot remember any of them! What I can remember tho are the faces of the people that I’ve worked with, and the time we spent getting to know each other. The lasting effect they have had on me.


I am also a Christian, I believe in a personal, relational God who loves us and who really entered human history to show us that. And I’m a Christian because one day I personally sent up an emotional, metaphysical flare myself and said – I don’t know if anyone is out there…outside the material confines of our Universe…but if you are there God, please hear me. Please listen…and please help. He did…and he continues to do so.


Perhaps we are happy to restrict our perspective on life to the stuff we can measure and control; you reject the metaphysical. But like Spock…I wonder if our life choices and our private longings actually point away from our narrow words…and towards the bigger reality that is there for us!


Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom. Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits. Don’t let the rich brag of their riches. If you brag, brag of this and this only: That you understand and know me. I’m God, and I act in loyal love. I do what’s right and set things right and fair, and delight in those who do the same things.

Jeremiah 7:23-24, The Message

RESPONDblogs: Maybe Stephen Fry Is Closer To Faith In God Than He Realises?




I’m a big fan of Stephen Fry. Love him in the Hobbit…24…QI…and on and on it goes. Anyone who knows me realises that I’m a bit of a Star Wars devotee. And Stephen is best buds with Carrie Fisher, of all people. How great is that?


I’m also pleased that the RTE show, “The Meaning of Life”, has interviewed him and allowed him to talk about what he might say to God if he were to meet him.

“How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean minded stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I would say.”


Ok. Correct me if I’m wrong…but I’m hearing a bit of moral outrage in has response here! Amazing as it may seem – Stephen Fry’s reaction to the suffering of innocent children – is the very thing that sometimes leads people to a discovery of the real God. As Krish Kandiah ponders about Stephen…”I wonder if he is closer to faith in God than he realises?”


How does THAT work? I’m kidding…right?


No – I’m not. Calm the emotion…and let’s consider this from another perspective for a moment.


There is a Universal Moral Law

Yes – we all agree with him – the suffering of innocent children is wrong. But …why? Where did we get the idea of good and evil from in the first place? What makes something right? If we are simply chemicals swirling thru a randomly generated Universe, why would morality exist at all? As C S Lewis once said…

“A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)


But morality DOES exist. People intuitively sense injustice. Lying is wrong. Bravery is a human virtue. It is good to care for our loved ones and not hurt them, etc, etc. My kids were black belts at this when they were little. We measure our experiences and other people against this straight line and we quickly notice crooked when we see it. (Usually leading to the cry, “It’s Not Fair!!”) Ironically, we also hope that other people DON’T measure US against the straight moral line (cos we are all too aware of our own inner crookedness and we do our best to hide it!).


So the question is…who first drew the straight moral line that we compare everything and everyone against? An ultimate moral standard must exist for evil to exist. Stephen is appealing to something and someone greater than himself, when he says “It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil.”



Is Morality A Natural Phenomenon?

Some would say that Moral Law is simply an artefact of the Universe. Morality is evolved social convention. But I reject this notion. Why? Because I think it misunderstands what morality is all about. You see – if morality is a result of evolution…then we have no right to judge anyone else. We have no right to appeal to any single straight Moral Absolute when judging anyone in the past, present and future. Because maybe the people involved aren’t as evolved as we are right now. Or maybe they are more evolved than we currently are!

Think of it this way – imagine that everyone has a moral meter inside of them…and everyone’s meter is set to a different number. If Morality was a result of cultural evolution, then that’s what we would have. If that’s what was going on, then we’d better just keep our personal judgements to ourselves cos we are all at different moral stages. Our meters are all set differently inside.

But we don’t have that.

Instead – we all appeal to a single Moral Absolute, a single moral meter that we are compared against. One straight Moral Line! The Moral Law. Our sense of justice disproves the notion that Morality is subjective. We all appeal to a single shared Moral Law…we share a general sense of right and wrong across all times and cultures…and judging from this clip…so does Stephen.


Here’s another reason I don’t think Morality is a result of nature. If the Moral Law was just naturally caused by the inner workings of our Universe or our biology, then we could use science to study it. But we can’t use scientific inquiry to study Morality. Rather – scientific inquiry is GUIDED BY the Moral Law (or not, as the case may be). Matter and Energy and Morality are separate and complementary domains in our Universe. Science allows us to explore Matter and Energy. Morality guides Science. The Moral Law sits just behind our matter and energy filled Universe…it underpins it. It is a separate truth from atoms and molecules, cells and DNA. But Morality is also as true as all of these things.

Morality is not naturally occurring – it sits just behind our Universe, it is imposed on us from the outside.


So Where Does Morality Come From?

Google’s corporate mission statement urges us…”Don’t be evil.” It is therefore better to be good. It makes sense. Or in other words…let’s use our matter and our energy to act like the Moral Law Giver…the one who first drew that straight line we all appeal to.

It must be a mind, a person. Because abstract truths like “goodness” and “beauty” don’t draw lines. What is his name? God.


God is the one that Stephen is appealing to with his talk of good and evil! In fact whenever we sit in judgement on God…we are ironically using our God given inner Moral workings…and appealing to our sense of God’s Moral justice as we judge God!


Do you see the contradiction in that? Well – either way…all roads are leading to God at this point.



Our Morality Points Us To God

This eventual realization led C. S. Lewis to abandon his atheism…and turn to the only historically underpinned and reasonable alternative. The God of the Bible.

“I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England”  (C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy)


“The Gospel is Good News. Not because it gives us a set of laws to live by, or religious rites to perform, but because it deals with the biggest problem in the world – the problem of the human heart.” (David Robertson, The Dawkins Letters)


I wonder if Stephen is closer to faith in God than he realises?


RESPONDblogs: Stephen Fry and the God that Christians Don’t Recognize

Stephen Fry’s response to the question, “What would you say to God if you met him at the pearly gates?” has gone viral in the last few weeks. Almost 6 million views to date.

In a previous blog post, I applauded the fact that in the UK we are free to express our faith position without fear of persecution or imprisonment. I’m glad that the much loved, and usually softly spoken Stephen Fry has raised this topic in public consciousness right now.



But having listened to his response, the question that must be asked is this – which God is Stephen railing against? Because it sure isn’t the God of the Bible!


I don’t know any Christians who believe in a God who has decided to create children with bone cancer, or a God who inflicts torture and suffering on those least equipped to deal with it. I don’t know of any Christian who would feel that this world is just as God intended it to be. Rather…creation is CONFUSED (as Romans 8:20, CEV puts it)…our world is messed up right now. Further – it is also suffering from DECAY (as Romans 8:21 puts it). But the hope is that creation would be set FREE from that decay. This is the hope of the Christian; a new creation which is free from the tragedies and the sufferings of life that so incense Stephen.


I agree with Stephen that the suffering should end. But I disagree with him that God is the source of the human suffering. This insane, capricious God of Stephen’s who inflicts suffering on children is not the God we meet in the pages of the Bible. The God of the Bible is working out his plans to positively recreate both us, and the reality that we inhabit in our lives.


Having gone to some lengths to point out the pain of human suffering, I’ve got to ask Stephen this. If there is no God, if we are all just chemicals floating in a randomly generated Universe, why is human suffering so important to you anyway?


Well – the tyranny of atheism says – if life has been hard, if you’ve been unlucky with your genes or your birthplace or just the breaks you’ve had in life…then tough! You just need to get on with it. There is no grand plan, there is no purpose. There is no point in placing any importance on one human being who suffers because in the end…whether that person is me or anyone else. I will die and the Universe will also eventually experience heat death…and it’s all done.

Dawkins is an expert at articulating a life without God.

“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” — Richard Dawkins


Yet as an atheist like Dawkins, Stephen cares about suffering children, even though without a God this seems like a strange philosophy.

So being a caring person like he is, what positive contribution does he make towards the problem of human suffering?


Nothing I can see (though I am absolutely sure he is privately generous to charities with his time and his money). And I do have a lot of empathy for him here…what positive response CAN Stephen give to suffering? None – because to the atheist, there is none. It just is. All Stephen seems to do is to blame God (if he’s there) and curse him for our predicament (if he’s to blame). As David Robertson says, the cry of atheism today is so often “God does not exist, and I HATE HIM!”.


And here lies the contradiction within Stephen’s position. If there is no overall purpose behind the universe, why does he speak as if there is? Why does he bother standing up for suffering children who are being robbed of their future? Here’s why – because he intuitively know it is ABSOLUTELY the RIGHT thing to do. His gut tells him its right even though his atheistic argument suggests it shouldn’t matter.

Why waste your time cursing the God you don’t believe in? If God doesn’t exist…why do so many people talk as if they hate him? Because our gut sense contradicts our irrational atheistic argument. We have a sense that he’s there, and we do all we can to drown it out in our lives.


Stephen is railing against a God that no Christian believes in. He is also incensed by the suffering that God doesn’t cause, and he has no answer to it. But the Bible clearly does.

“God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.” John 3:16, CEV


God holds the answer for people who are suffering. The answer is – LIFE!

Kingfisher Church Network, where I serve, is supporting our suffering family in Malawi, Africa right now. Floods have washed away lives, crops and homes. And like Stephen, we know in our guts that we MUST do something to help. So help is exactly what we are doing. But unlike Stephen, we have a good reason to do so. Namely that we view people as more than just a sum of their randomly generated parts.

  • People are individually crafted by Jesus.
  • As the church, we are Jesus’ hands and his feet. We are actively serving suffering, valuable people who each have a great, God crafted plan for their future.
  • People will never really die…and so their lives matter right now.


The irony in all of this – is that like them, Stephen also really matters. Stephen is also valued by Jesus. All it would take is for him to receive it! I do wonder whether Stephen would give God the opportunity to get a word in, though.


I rather hope that, were Stephen Fry ever to meet God, he would wait for a reply from God.” – Rowan Williams

RESPONDblogs: Stephen Fry, Oscar Wilde and the Wounds of Love


I live in a country where people are allowed to express their views and opinions about God. And I love it. We aren’t risking life and limb by putting forward a case for belief in Christianity. Further – we aren’t risking persecution or murder if we put forward a case against God, as Stephen Fry has done in a very public way recently. Blasphemy laws are chilling. Freedom of speech is so important, particularly on the subject of God. Why? Because every person’s spiritual journey is a gradual one, where the decisions we make are never completely final. It is a journey of discovery. And discussion about our doubts, fears and objections is an important feature of this journey.


Stephen Fry’s response to the question, “What would you say to God if he met you at the pearly gates?” has received almost 6 million hits on youtube. And in one sense – I am not surprised, because he is a much loved British Celebrity who appears in everything from blockbuster movies like the Hobbit all the way to TV Quiz shows like QI. He’s a smart, well studied and talented guy; an honest guy, one of the good ‘uns. He has not hidden his personal struggles with depression. He has taken it upon himself to be a voice for those struggling with emotional and mental disorders. And this just takes him further towards people’s hearts. Rightly so.


I guess what is so surprising to me about his response to the “what would you say to God” question, is just how emotional it is!


I notice two themes in his response. But both themes centre on Stephen’s feelings of moral outrage towards God.

First – moral outrage against a God who would create the world we live in today, with all its suffering and difficulties.

Second – moral outrage against God for failing to intervene in the affairs of the world and reverse the suffering of countless people.


As a Christian myself, I think there might be a few different ways to respond to Stephen…and I’m going to try to explore these over the next few days. But to begin with – I love what Justin Brierley has said in response.

Justin his appealed to the shared love they both have of Oscar Wilde. Stephen portrayed Oscar Wilde back in 1997 in a movie. Justin points Stephen to one of Oscar Wilde’s short stories – The Selfish Giant – and you can see the response here.



Children played in the Giant’s beautiful garden, until one day he selfishly threw them out and barred them from playing there. As a result of his selfishness, a permanent winter descended on the garden. The Giant suffered through his winter until – one day – a little child appeared. Suddenly the Giant had a change of heart; he lifted the child into one of his beautiful trees to play, and as a result the curse of the permanent winter was finally broken.


Many years later, the Giant is very old. And that special little child who lifted the curse returns to the Garden. The Giant runs to meet him and suddenly stops. Anger erupts in him as he sees the wounds on that precious child’s feet and hands.

“Who dared to wound you! Tell me, so that I can take my sword and kill him.” But the child responds, “No, you cannot. Because these are the wounds of love.”


Justin eloquently explains why this view of God is both relevant to where Stephen Fry is coming from, and also where the Bible is coming from.

“Wilde recognized that God is not a tyrant who makes the world an evil place. In a world that has been bent out of shape because of us, where winter reigns and the blossoms are few and far between, we have a God who has entered the darkness and borne it himself. A cross and nail prints – the wounds of love – define this God.”


Oscar Wilde’s story concludes. A strange awe falls on the Giant. “Who are you?” he asks. The child smiles at him.

“You let me play once in your garden, today you shall come with me to my garden, which is paradise.”

And when the children return to play that afternoon, they find their friend the Giant lying dead under the tree, all covered with blossoms.


Stephen Fry rages against an evil, mad tyrannical God who seems morally corrupt. Yet the true God presented to us in the pages of the Bible is one who enters our own personal winter, he joins us in our suffering, because his goal is to lead us out of it into a permanent spring. For those who let him play in our own personally gardens (our lives), a wonderful future awaits us. And as Justin says, “that is a God worth believing in.”


“’For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11, NIV


RESPONDblogs: More Details on that Early Mark Fragment


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.


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/)

RESPONDblogs: Further Evidence for the Historical Reliability of the Gospels


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.




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.



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?


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


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/)


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.



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!