Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Accuracy of the New Testament, Part Three

In the previous three posts, we have seen that the rhetorically powerful statement of there being more variants in the New Testament than words in the New Testament bandied about by Bart Ehrman is really not a complete picture of the situation. In the first post, we have seen that 396,000 of the variants are truly insignificant, in that they are misspellings, transposed letters, accidental phonetic spellings, abbreviations, and style changes. We are left with 4,000 variants that are considered significant. This means that these variants are intentional changes that add to, or subtract from the meaning. Now before you get nervous about the accuracy of the New Testament, it is important to point out that none of these 4,000 significant variants affect any core Christian doctrine.

In the second post in this series, we reviewed five of Bart Ehrman’s “Top Ten Verses Not Originally in the New Testament.” We discovered that nearly all the modern English translations contain footnotes that tell the reader that there are issues with those particular verses. We also discovered that the variants found in Luke are unique to Luke, and we have parallel accounts with little or no variants of any level of significance.

Now we will continue reviewing Bart Ehrman’s “Top Ten Verses Not Originally in the New Testament.” Again the purpose is not to refute Ehrman. I do not posses the academic “chops” to do that. What I am attempting to do is show the reader the importance of discernment in reading Christian writers (liberal or conservative), non-Christian writers, and your own Bible reading and study. Understand that when I refer to Bible reading and study, I am asking the reader to make sure that he/she is not relying on verses with significant variants. The tools to go to this depth of study are available either in book form or on the internet. I encourage the reader to make use of these tools. They have strengthened my trust in the New Testament, and I am sure it will do the same for you.

6 & 7. Mark 16:17 & 16:18

As with John 8, I am going to deal with these two verses as part of the whole. These verses are part of what is called “The Long Ending of Mark.” This “Long Ending” stretches from 16:9-20. As with the Pericope Adulterae (John7:53-8:11) the modern translations footnote this section the earliest manuscripts do not contain this “Long Ending”.

As with the Pericope Adulterae, Ehrman seems to be relying on the biblical ignorance of the general public, and most Christians in order to “shock” them into doubting the accuracy of the Bible. While it is understandable that the general public is ignorant of these facts, it is inexcusable that the church should be ignorant of these verses. However, this is not a reflection of the church, but is in fact, a reflection on pastors that are either unable or unwilling to teach their congregations about the issue of variants in the New Testament and how these variants affect the accuracy of the New Testament.

As with the Pericope Adulterae, there is a great deal of emotional baggage that accompanies these verses, particularly among our Pentecostal brothers. It is interesting to point out that the cessationist preachers (those that believe that the sign gifts ceased at the death of the last apostle or at the close of the New Testament canon) often rail against this section of Mark, but preach the Pericope Adulterae as “gospel truth.” The inconsistency is striking, but who said preachers are consistent.

8. John 5:4

The NAS and the ESV footnote that this verse is not found in the earliest manuscripts. The NIV omits the verse altogether from the text, but also footnote that the verse is not found in the earliest manuscripts. It is interesting to note that no manuscript prior to 500 AD has this verse. There are multiple Greek manuscripts copied after 900 AD that have a mark that indicates questions about this verse.

Further, there are Greek words that are not found anywhere else in the gospel of John. This verse also has a large number of variants attached to it, i.e., there are a number of different versions of this verse in many Greek manuscripts. Based on this it was already determined to not be in the original New Testament many centuries prior to Ehrman’s list.

9. Luke 24:12

I was unable to find a footnote in the ESV or NASB; however I was able to find the problems with this verse by doing an internet search. The view of scholars seems to be based on manuscript evidence that this appears to be a 2nd century addition. There are also words, phrases and verb tenses that are only found in this verse and not in Luke or Acts. However, should our trust in the account of how Peter got to the tomb be eroded? No! We have a detailed account in John 20:3-10 that describes Peter running to the empty tomb.

10. Luke 24:51

As with Luke 24:12, I was unable to find a footnote about this verse in the ESV or NASB. However, two major manuscripts omit this verse, and this, like the other problem passages in Luke, is unique to Luke. We have parallel accounts in the other three gospels. The same applies here, as we have Acts 1:9 and its account of the ascension of Jesus.

OK, now you may be asking, “So what? Why should I know all this variant stuff?” The answer is simple. God commands that we be equipped to “defend the faith once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). He also commands that Christians “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Christians are also told that we should give an answer to anyone who asks your for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Many people, including Christians have read Bart Ehrman’s books and had the trust in the New Testament shattered. These have told their friends, and their friends have told their friends, and by the time the truth is getting its boots on, as Mark Twain said, the lie has already encircled the earth. The purpose of these posts is to help you combat the distortions that Bart Ehrman has asserted against the accuracy of the New Testament manuscripts that may be mindlessly parroted by those who follow him or have been influenced by his sensationalistic rhetoric.

I hope that this mini-series within the larger series centered on Jesus will help you to improve your witness to skeptics and atheists. As well as strengthen your own trust in the accuracy of the New Testament.

Monday, August 23, 2010

It Makes Me Want to Scream, "Crucify Him"!

Yesterday (Aug. 22, 2010), I heard one of those sermons that indelibly marks one's soul. It was not necessarily the entire sermon, but it was two quotations that Pastor Alex Choi of Sovereign Grace Los Angeles used in his sermon. These quotations lined up with my own view of Christianity, and how it fulfills me.

One of the quotations were from W.H. Auden, a British poet. When asked why he became a Christian he replied, "God fulfills none of my dreams and He is in every way different than I would want Him to be". This quote is not something one hears from church-ianity today, especially from faith church-ianity, and pastors who continually talk about living your best life now. To these person, Christianity is a means to an end. The means being living a moral life, following principles and laws that will cause God to be pleased enough with your performance to bless your life with health and wealth.

These pastors and teachers tell people what they want to hear. These pastors and teachers are exactly who Paul warned Timothy about in 2 Timothy 4:3. The people do not want to hear about sin, holiness, or doctrine. They want to hear about God's love, goodness and grace. They want a God that fulfills their dreams no matter how banal or mundane. Therefore they are taught Moralistic Therapeutic Deism by pastors and teachers whose sole interests are cheeks in the pews and checks in the offering plate.

What is most interesting about Auden's quote is that he nailed 21st century evangelicalism to the wall. Instead of worshiping the God revealed in Scripture, most of evangelicalism is worshiping an idol. A sugar daddy that gives them whatever they demand, kind of like Veruca Salt's father in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Much of the justification for this sort of idolatry comes from stealing promises to Old Testament saints, rather than taking the promises that God gave the church. They want the Old Testament promises because promise prosperity to those saints. On the other hand, Jesus and the New Testament authors promise persecution, adversity and hardship to the New Testament saints. However, that is not all that is promised to the New Testament saints. The most important promise that Jesus Himself gave His followers is that He would be with them always (Matt. 28:20).

The second quote that Pastor Alex read from Auden, was Auden's response to the question that naturally follows from the first quote. That question is, "If you believe that God is so different than what you would imagine Him to be, why be a Christian?" Auden responded, "No other religion invokes in me a desire to scream, 'Crucify him!'."

This quote resonated more with me than the first. I have always taught people that Christianity is easy to believe, but hard to live. Juxtapose this with religion. Let me give you two examples: being raised a JW (Jehovah's Witness), I know what is expected of me. If I put in a certain amount of hours, give the appropriate comments at the various meetings, and say the right things to the right people I would pass for a JW. My wife also knows what to do when it comes to Catholicism. Religion does not aggravate me, because religion is my default setting. If I do this, then I get that.

Christianity tells me that I bring nothing to the cross, but my sin. Christianity tells me that unless God is wholly involved in my salvation, from justification to glorification I would be hopelessly lost. This is what makes me want to scream "Crucify him!" The fact that God is solely responsible and the only active member of salvation goes against my fallen nature which says that I deserve some part in God's plan of salvation. Biblical salvation wounds the pride of man. This is why so many Christians hold on to "free will" so tightly.

Christianity is so foreign to our fallen nature that we simply cannot see its truth. Christianity also tells us the truth about ourselves. We do not like to hear or see ourselves as we really are, and because of this, Christianity makes us want to crucify Jesus. This is why churches that proclaim the Christ of Scripture are so few and unpopular, and "churches" that proclaim the Christ of your dreams are so well attended. It all goes back to 2 Tim. 4:3. The fact that there are false teachers in the church is another demonstration that we are indeed in the last days.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Accuracy of the New Testament, Part Two

In our previous post we discovered that Bart Ehrman’s sensationalistic and rhetorically powerful statement about the 400,000 variations in the New Testament dissipates once the numbers are refined from their raw form. We learned that of these 400,000 variations 99% (396,000) are considered insignificant. These are 200,000 misspellings, and 196,000 errors that fall into other categories that simply indicate that the ancient scribes that meticulously copied the New Testament by hand had the same lapses in concentration that so many of us suffer today.

The remaining 4,000 or 1% of the variants are considered significant. These are intentional changes that add to, or subtract from the meaning of the text. What is interesting is that Dr. Ehrman in the paperback “Plus” edition of his best seller Misquoting Jesus added a Letterman-like Top Ten Verses Not Found in the New Testament (Misquoting Jesus, 265-266).

Again, I do not have the academic “chops” to even think of refuting Dr. Ehrman. So this post is in no way considered as such. Such refutations I will leave to the scholars like Daniel Wallace or Ben Witherington. What I am going to do in this post is simply look at Dr. Ehrman’s Top Ten list, and see whether or not the variations should cause anyone’s trust in the New Testament to waver. I am going to do this by using tools that are available to anyone that has a Bible with footnotes and the ability search the internet. I will be dealing with the first five of Ehrman's Top Ten in this post, and the second five in the next post.

1. 1 John 5:7-8

Scholars call this the Comma Johanneum. It is contained in most translations of 1 John from 1522 to the latter part of the 19th century. The reason for this was the widespread use of the Textus Recepetus (Received Text) as the sole source for translation. Because of this the King James Version renders 1 John 5:7-8 as follows (the Comma is in bold print)

5:7 "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

5:8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one."

As many of you know (from previous posts), I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. One of their positions was that the Trinity is not a biblical teaching. We were taught to immediately zero in on the fact that the earliest Greek manuscripts of 1 John do not contain the Comma as written above. One of my favorite opponents, as a JW, to encounter in the door-to-door work was King James Only Christians that would immediately jump to this verse in order to “prove” the Trinity. JWs are taught, correctly, to point out that the closer an ancient manuscript was to the originals, the closer it was to the original meaning. Further, nearly every modern translation (even the JWs New World Translation) I have read regarding this verse either omits the Comma, or has a footnote stating that the Comma is not found in the earliest manuscripts.

As I mentioned above, the Comma is not found in any Bible translation until 1522. Then, as now, scholars recognized that the Comma was a clear addition to the text. Further, if this verse was a part of the Bible at any time prior to 1522, why did the Council of Constantinople (which affirmed the Trinity) not use it as Biblical support for the Trinity? The Comma appears to be a summary of the Trinity, and not an affirmation of it by a scribe. This summary, through error made its way into the Bible because of human error. Further, Nestle-Aland 27 (NA27), the work that lists all variants in the New Testament, states that the Comma is found in only four Greek manuscripts, in the margins of three Greek manuscripts, and in one Latin manuscript. Based on this scant evidence, it is clear that the Comma does not deserve the place it has been given by the King James Version.

2. and 3. John 8:7; 11

Ehrman actually lists these verses separately. However, in the interest of brevity, we will tackle both verses in one section. These two verses are part of a larger section of John’s Gospel that scholars call the Pericope Adulterae. As with the Comma Johanneum, I am surprised that these verses can cause anyone to lose trust in the New Testament. Mainly because anyone that can read footnotes in a Bible will be able to know what the issue is with this segment of the Gospel of John.

Referring back to my upbringing in the Jehovah’s Witness religion, I can remember having to do a Bible reading in front of the congregation (what JWs call a church) on John 8:1-11. My research in JW publications on the Gospel of John, in general, and this section of Scripture in particular, led me to the conclusion that this section did not belong in the Bible. This was not something I shared at that time with my fellow JWs.

If one looks at any modern translation, you will find a footnote stating that this section of John is not found in the earliest manuscripts. However, since Jerome accepted this story as canonical, it found its way into the Latin Vulgate. Therefore, due to its inclusion in the Latin Vulgate, the Roman Catholics regard this story as canonical. It is also accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Church as canonical. Lastly, many Protestants accept this story due to its inclusion in the TR (Textus Receptus) and the King James Version.

The question remains, if it is well known among biblical scholars that this section does not exist in the earliest manuscripts, why is it still in the bible? I, and others, believe that the story is such a powerful portrayal of the forgiveness of Jesus that there would be an incredible outcry against any translation that omitted this story, which would lead to boycotts and loss of monetary income. Further, I believe that many preachers would rather preach out of a questionable text in order to elicit a certain emotional response from their congregants. Even worse, I believe that if a preacher ever taught about the textual issues regarding the Pericope, that teaching would affect the two things most pastors care about, namely cheeks in the pews and checks in the offering. This is another form verse abuse, but that is a topic for another post.

4. Luke 22:44

Again, most modern translations footnote this verse that states that this verse is not found in the earliest manuscripts. The reason that this verse is in dispute is because the addition of this verse appears to be an attempt to demonstrate Jesus’ full humanity, rather than the appearance of humanity. This was a controversy early in church history. Metzger states:

"These verses are absent from some of the oldest and best witnesses, including the majority of the Alexandrian manuscripts. It is striking to note that the earliest witnesses attesting the verses are three Church fathers - Justin, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus - each of whom uses the verses in order to counter Christological views that maintained that Jesus was not a full human who experienced the full range of human sufferings. It may well be that the verses were added to the text for just this reason, in opposition to those who held to a docetic Christology" (Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Oxford University Press: 2005), p. 286).

Bart Ehrman even agrees with Metzger regarding this verse. It appears to be an attempt to combat doceticism, the heresy that Jesus was divine but only seemed to have suffered (Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (Oxford University Press: 1993), pp. 187-194).

With all this said, it is important to point out that this is a problem specifically in Luke. Mark 14:32-34 gives us a parallel account with three variants. These variants deal with the distance between Jesus and the disciples, the description of Jesus’ return to His disciples, and the description of the disciples’ sleepiness. There is no variant regarding the description of Jesus’ emotional state.

5. Luke 22:20

Once again there are footnotes in the modern translations that state that some manuscripts omit, in whole or part, verses 19b-20. The question seems to be whether Jesus used one cup or two at the last supper. Personally, I do not see a reason why there has to be two cups. It seems quite reasonable to me that Jesus may have referred to the same cup twice. I will expand on this view shortly.

As with Luke 22:44, this seems to be an issue unique to Luke. We have parallel accounts in Matthew 26:26-28 and Mark 14:22-24. I want to point out that both accounts have insignificant variants. I do want to point out that Paul appears to quote Luke in 1 Cor. 11:23-25. This apparent quotation leads me to the conclusion that Luke documented Jesus reference to the same cup twice.

It appears that I will have to conclude this series with part three. I pray that this review of Dr. Ehrman’s Top Ten has helped you to not only understand the importance of knowing your Bible, but also to be able to defend your trust of the New Testament from those that have read Ehrman’s works and parrot his opinions.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Accuracy of the New Testament, Part One

When I began my research into the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I realized that I was making a number of assumptions in my argument for the historicity of this event. I realized that my work on the resurrection would be for not if I did not review three areas and lay a foundation on which I will attempt to build the superstructure (the resurrection of Jesus). There are three areas that I wish to discuss before I go into the resurrection of Jesus. They are as follows:

1. Is the NT we have today, and the ancient Greek manuscripts they are based on an accurate representation of the original autographs (which we do not have)?
2. Is there any non-biblical evidence for a historical Jesus?
3. Are the New Testament gospels early enough to be eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus?
These questions have to be sufficiently answered in order to move into the evidence for Jesus resurrection.

I wish to take a moment and point out that while evidential apologetics is very powerful, it does not address underlying presuppositions (ideas that the person you are talking to has). One likely presupposition that you may run into with atheists, agnostics and skeptics is a denial of anything supernatural. This is an area that I will address in later posts.

The topic of this post is the accuracy of the New Testament. This led me to the question, “Who is the current voice against the accuracy of the New Testament?” The answer in my mind is Bart D. Ehrman. Dr. Ehrman is the current living expert on New Testament textual criticism. He learned under Bruce Metzger, who until recently was the greatest expert in that field. I am not questioning Dr. Ehrman’s credentials as they are extensive, and he has written a number of best sellers that have shaken the faith of many, including professed Christians, in the Bible. One of these books is Misquoting Jesus. As I read it, I was struck by the way in which Dr. Ehrman brings textual criticism down from the halls of academia and makes it accessible to the masses. This is truly the sign of great teacher. That being said, where I and other conservative scholars disagree with Dr. Ehrman is in his conclusions. Ehrman’s main conclusion is that the New Testament is hopelessly corrupted and can never be reconstructed with any degree of accuracy.

While I am not going to refute Dr. Ehrman’s conclusions point by point I want to look at what he called, “The Top Ten Verses Not Originally Found in the New Testament.” This list can be found in the paperback “Plus” edition of Misquoting Jesus. This was the first copy of the book I cam across, and is what I will reference it in this post.

First, one of Dr. Ehrman’s rhetorically powerful quotations is that there are over 400,000 variations in the New Testament; more variations than words. Conservative textual scholar Daniel Wallace also agrees with Dr. Ehrman’s estimation of the number of variants in the New Testament. When Dr. Ehrman makes this statement he has one purpose in mind, and that is to dismiss any ideas people may have that the New Testament is accurate. However, as Paul Harvey used to say, “You know what the news is, in a minute; you're going to hear ... the rest of the story” what is the rest of the story regarding these variants?

What is the rest of the story regarding New Testament variants? These variants are differences between the existing ancient New Testament manuscripts. There is a book that Greek scholars use called the Novem Testamentum Graece, also called the Nestle-Aland, 27th edition (abbreviated as NA27). This book lists every verse in the New Testament along with all variations found in the existing manuscripts. When scholars look at these variants they divide them into one of two categories, insignificant and significant. Insignificant variants are transposed letters, misspellings, phonetic spelling, abbreviations and style changes. Significant variations are variants that intentional changes that add to or subtract from the meaning of the text.

When the 400,000 variants are placed into one of the two categories the results are astounding. Rather than causing doubt in the mind of Christians the results should strengthen the Christian’s trust in the accuracy of not only the ancient manuscripts, but also of the translation they use every day. You see, of the 400,000 variants, 396,000 of them fall into the insignificant category. Further, 200,000 of those 396,000 are simple spelling errors. The remaining 196,000 fall into the classifications I mentioned above.

This leaves 4,000 variants or 1% of the 400,000 in the significant category. Of these 4,000 none affect what is considered a core Christian doctrine. This is a fact that even Dr. Ehrman concedes, “In fact, most of the changes found in early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes pure and simple slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort of another" (Misquoting Jesus, 55).

These significant variations are resolved by scholars by utilizing the established rules of textual criticism (Canons of Criticism). By using these Canons, scholars have been able to resolve these variants and produce a New Testament with a high degree of accuracy. How high a degree of accuracy? According to Dr. Norman Geisler, Bruce Metzger, Ehrman’s own teacher, stated that the New Testament is 99.5% accurate. Westcott & Hort stated that they believed the New Testament they had in 19th century was 98.33% accurate. Scholar Ezra Abbott stated that the New Testament was 99.75% accurate. Lastly, the great New Testament scholar, A.T. Robertson stated that he believed the New Testament he had access to was 99.9% accurate.

In my next post, I will go through Bart Ehrman’s “The Top Ten Verses Not Originally Found in the New Testament,” and see whether or not this list should shake the trust that Christians and people in general have in the accuracy of the existing manuscripts.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Are You Stealing God's Promises to Other People?

I am currently doing research for my next series of articles on the historicity and reliability of the New Testament in relation to Jesus' life, death and resurrection. During that time I have come up with some filler ideas for the time between posts. One topic I have been wanting to talk about was what I call "promise rustling" and "promise tagging". As I was gathering my thoughts on these topics, Stand to Reason (a national apologetic ministry) sent out their latest newsletter entitled, "Have You Been Stealing Promises?" So rather than write my thoughts, I thought I would share this particular newsletter article with you.

When I was a new believer in the 70s, part of the standard “gear” for Jesus Movement Christians was a dog-eared paperback copy of The Jesus Person Pocket Promise Book
It seemed like a sensational idea at the time, collect God’s promises, and then cash them in as needed.   Now, nearly 40 years later—though the promises of God are no less “precious and magnificent” (2 Peter 1:4)—I think twice when people claim them. 
Promises are frequently abused, in many cases by people who should know better. A promise not carefully tethered to the details of the text becomes an empty exercise of relativistic wishful thinking.
Knowledge—“an accurately informed mind”—is the first characteristic of a good ambassador.  Ambassadors need to get the content of the message right before they can accurately pass it on to others.  Since everything we offer on God’s behalf consists of promises of some sort, mistakes here really matter.
A biblical promise is a binding pledge from God to do—or not do—something specific.  If the promise is made to you, you have a right to expect God to keep His word.  If you are not the rightful owner, though, you may not lay claim to it.  It is pointless to expropriate promises made to another, and can lead to disappointment and discouragement.
But how do you know if you are the fortunate beneficiary?  You find out by looking closely at the details of the promise itself and applying two simple principles.
The correct meaning of any biblical passage is the meaning the author had in mind when he wrote it.  A promise is only a promise when it is used as its maker intended.  We discover that intention by paying attention to the specifics—the words, the conditions, the recipient, the timing, the historical setting—the details that make up the context of the promise.
The process can be organized into steps by asking (and answering) four questions: Who?, What?, Why?, and When?*
Who?  Identify the particular person or people the promise is made to.  The promise may be for a specific individual, for a group, or for anyone.  Ask, Am I that person?  If the promise is to a group (e.g. Jews, Christians) ask, Am I part of the group?
What?—Zero in on the particulars of the promise.  Specify what the promise actually commits to.  Ask, What will happen (or not happen) when the promise is fulfilled?
Why?—Why will the promise be fulfilled, that is, what must happen first?  Note the conditions or requirements the promise hinges on, often signaled by an if/then clause.  Ask, Do I meet the requirements?
When?—This is the promise time.  The promise may be for a particular time (“…at this time next year …“) or for an unspecified time. Ask the question, What is the time of the promise, if any?
We can only legitimately claim a biblical promise if it is rightfully ours.  If the promise is for us, and we have satisfied the conditions, and the promise is for our time, then we can count on God to keep His word. 
If not, then we must leave the promise to its rightful owner and profit from the text by learning what we can from God’s faithful dealings with them.
One specific promise that I hear Christians use all the time, especially Pentecostal/Word Faith Christians, is Jeremiah 29:11:
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.
The problem with Christians using this promise as a "life verse" is that this verse, in fact the entire chapter is not for Christians. Verses one through three gives us, by name, who the recipients of this promise were:
This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.
If context means anything, then it is clear that this verse is a promise to those Jews who were in captivity in Babylon at the time Jeremiah wrote this letter. This is why reading the context of a specific verse is so important to proper interpretation and application of Scripture to our lives. I also believe that there is another reason why Christians in general, and the Pentecostal and Word-Faith movements use this Scripture so much is that this verse God promises prosperity to the recipients of this promise. The people in these movements are so addicted to this world and the the things in this world that they desperately search the Scriptures for any verse that will scratch their itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3).

OK, so we have identified the problem, namely the theft of promises. The problem with using promises from the Old Testament is that the Old Testament deals with an entirely different covenant from God, and as such there are different promises that God gave to them as opposed to the promises He has given to Christians under the New Covenant. God's covenant with Israel was to prosper them again. After all, they had continually disobeyed God's commands, and they had continually ignored God's prophet's (even murdering them). So God took them "out behind the woodshed" to teach them a lesson. However, God did not want to think that He had abandoned His chosen people. So He gave the promise in Jeremiah 29:11. If we as Christians take this promise and make it ours, then we are stealing promises that do not belong to us. We are trading the far better promises of the New Covenant for the shadows of the Old Covenant.

What are the New Covenant promises that Jesus has given those that follow him? Here is a list. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but they tell us what Jesus has promised each and everyone of us as followers of Him.

Mathew 5:11: Blessings when we are persecuted.
Matthew 6:30, 33; Luke 11:9-13; 12:31: The necessities of life.
Matthew 28:20: Jesus will be with us always.
Romans 8:18: Future glory that is incomparable to present earthly suffering.
Romans 8:34: Jesus is continually interceding for us.
2 Corinthians 4:17: The incomparable exchange of "momentary, light affliction" for "an eternal weight of glory."
Hebrews 4:14-16: A high priest that personally knows what sinful humans undergo.
James 1:17: That God is consistent.

These are just a few. There are many, many more. However, they all have the same general theme. That is to get the Christian's mind off the world and back on mission. To get believers off the mundane, and focused on mission. To get them to "let goods and kindred go; this mortal also..." (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God). The purpose of the Christian life here and now, is to face adversity. It is also to know that this adversity is not permanent, but temporary. That it is not heavy but light. That "living our best life now" is the fastest way to a Christ-less eternity.

Then there is what I call "promise tagging" I am using "tagging" in the terms of gang culture. When I street gang wants to "claim" a rival's territory they will find walls in which the rival was spray painted their gang's identifying "tag". They will cross out the rival's "tag" and put up their own. In this way, those that can comprehend the graffiti know that a new gang has moved in to the neighborhood and is claiming this area as their own. Christians do this by taking Scriptures that they believe they have been promised and "tag" them with their name. One example I can think of is of a young lady who, though raised in a Christian home, did not display much fruit of a Christian life. This young lady went to her church movement's "boot camp" for young people. She came back on fire for God, and with a peculiar promise Scripture. As she spoke about this to the church, she recited the Scripture,
For this purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.
Being a good Calvinist, my ears tuned in immediately to what she was reciting. I was shocked! How could anyone claim this portion of Scripture as their own, and make it their life's verse? You see this Scripture is found in Romans 9:17. Here Paul is telling his readers that God is telling Pharaoh the reason why those ten plagues were sent upon him and his people. This is a Scripture not promising good things, but promising bad things. Basically, this young woman who was and is on fire for God, took a promise to an enemy of God, and made it her's. In the same way our gang claims the area of a rival.

So I ask you, the reader, are you stealing other people's promises? Are you tagging promises made to the enemy as your own? I hope that in the future, before you make a promise yours you will heed Stand To Reason's great advice, and "never read a Bible verse." Instead, read the immediate context f the verse. Ask the questions in the above quoted article. Most importantly, make sure that the promise you are about to claim is not a promise made by God to His enemies.

I pray that this post will help you in the future to better interpret and apply the Scriptures in and to your lives. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Should Qur'ans be Burned at a Church Sponsored Event?

I walked into this "debate" on a Facebook friend's page. Evidently, CNN reported on Saturday that a church in Gainesvile, FL is promoting its "International Burn a Quran Day" scheduled for September 11, the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 Islamic terrorist attacks. While the quality of the debate quickly devolved into me being called a liberal, a Muslim, a coward, and a fag. I don't care about the name calling. I have often found with fundamentalists of all types, that they will resort to this sort of name calling when their arguments begin to fail. However, I digress.

I stand behind my Biblical reasons for believing that this event is a bad idea for this church in particular and for Christians in general. My reasons I will lay out in detail, but first I want to make some things clear about my thoughts on Islam. First, Islam is a false religion that worships a demon. Second, Muhammad is a false prophet that not only married a six or seven year-old girl, but later consummated the marriage with her while she was still nine. Third, Islam is not the religion of peace that its American adherents would have us believe. Much of what I will be writing comes from Dr. Robert Morey's work Islamic Invasion.

My first point, Allah is a demon. If one is not worshiping the true God, then it logically follows that one is worshiping a demon. However, in the case of Islam, allah is the pre-Islamic Arabic moon god, al-ilah. There is sufficient archeological evidence to warrant the conclusion that Allah is this same moon god, al-ilah. It is interesting to point out that the Qur'an never defines who Allah is. Could it be that Muhammad did not need to explain a god that pre-Islamic Arabs were already familiar with?

Secondly, Is Muhammad a false prophet? If one simply looks at Deuteronomy 18, and applies the criteria logically, then the only logical result is that Muhammad is a false prophet. Let me demonstrate two logical arguments:

False god=false prophet
If a person speaks in the in the name of a false god, that person is a false prophet.
Muhammad spoke in the name of a false god, Allah.
Therefore, Muhammad was a false prophet.

False revelation=false prophet
If a person reveals something that did not come from God, then that person is a false prophet.
Muhammad delivered a message that did not come from God.
Therefore, Muhammad was a false prophet.

For a full discussion of these arguments, please see The Deuteronomy Deductions.

Muhammad's marriage and consummation to the little girl Aihsa, is confirmed in Islam's greatest Hadiths, Sahih al-Bukhari, 7:62:64.

Lastly, it is clear that Islam is not a religion of peace as can be found in the pages of the Qur'an itself:

Surah 9:111: "The believers...shall fight in the way of Allah and shall slay and be slain..."

Surah 9:5: "When the sacred forbidden months for fighting are past, fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them, take them captive, torture them, and lie in wait and ambush them using every stratagem of war."

Surah 5:33: "The punishment for those who wage war against Allah and His Prophet and perpetrate mischief [reject Islam or oppose its goals] in the land, is to murder them, to hang them, to mutilate them, or banish them. Such is their disgrace. They will not escape the fire, suffering constantly."

Surah 47:4: "So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks until when you have overcome them, then make (them) prisoners, and afterwards either set them free as a favor or let them ransom (themselves) until the war terminates. That (shall be so); and if Allah had pleased He would certainly have exacted what is due from them, but that He may try some of you by means of others; and (as for) those who are slain in the way of Allah, He will by no means allow their deeds to perish."

Surah 21:44: "Do they not see Us advancing, gradually reducing the land (in their control), curtailing its borders on all sides? It is they who will be overcome."

Surah 47.35: "And be not slack so as to cry for peace and you have the upper hand, and Allah is with you, and He will not bring your deeds to naught."

Surah 3:56: "As for those disbelieving infidels, I will punish them with a terrible agony in this world and the next. They have no one to help or save them."

Surah 4.89: "They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be (all) alike; therefore take not from among them friends until they fly (their homes) in Allah's way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or a helper."

Surah 2:191: "...kill the disbelievers wherever we find them."

Surah 9.33: "He it is Who sent His Apostle with guidance and the religion of truth, that He might cause it to prevail over all religions."

Surah 2:193: "And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah."

Surah 8:71: "And if they intend to act unfaithfully towards you, so indeed they acted unfaithfully towards Allah before, but He gave you mastery over them."

Surah 8:12: "Your Lord inspired the angels with the message: 'I will terrorize the unbelievers. Therefore smite them on their necks and every joint and incapacitate them. Strike off their heads and cut off each of their fingers and toes.'"

Surah 8:58: "If you apprehend treachery from any group on the part of a people (with whom you have a treaty), retaliate by breaking off (relations) with them. The infidels should not think they can bypass (Islamic law or the punishment of Allah). Surely they cannot escape."

Surah 8:39: "So, fight them till all opposition ends and the only religion is Islam."

Surah 8:59: "The infidels should not think that they can get away from us. Prepare against them whatever arms and weaponry you can muster so that you may terrorize them. They are your enemy and Allah's enemy."

Surah 8:60: "Prepare against them (non-Muslims) whatever arms and cavalry you can muster that you may strike terror in the enemies of Allah (non-Muslims), and others besides them not known to you. Whatever you spend in Allah's Cause will be repaid in full, and no wrong will be done to you."

Surah 8:7: "Allah wished to confirm the truth by His words: 'Wipe the infidels (non-Muslims) out to the last.'"

Surah 4:101: "The unbelievers (non-Muslims) are your inveterate foe."

Surah 9.29: "Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection."

Surah 9.30: "And the Jews say: Uzair (Ezra) is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!"

My thoughts about Islam are pretty clear. I am not a fan of Islam, as I am not fan of Jehovah's WItnesses, Mormons, Scientologists, and abusive Christian sects/cults. Further, I believe that Islam will start World War III, if it hasn't already.  I believe that this country must do everything in its power to stop the spread of radical Islam, and the violence it fosters.

In fact, let me emphasize my issues with Islam even further. I believe that Islam is anti-Christ. 1 John 2:24 states, "No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father." Islam has clearly denied the Sonship of Jesus (Surah 4:171).

With all the above said, I know want to shift gears and talk about what the church's response should be to Islam in general and Muslims in particular. First, what did Jesus say about dealing with our enemies? Jesus said the following in Luke 6:27-31:

"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. (ESV)
No where do we find in Jesus words an excuse to perform provacative acts against our (Christian's) enemies, which is how the world reacts to its enemies, but rather we are to act graciously and mercifully to our enemies.

Paul states in Romans 12:14 that Christians are to "Bless those that persecute you; bless and do not curse them." Here Paul is reminding his readers that with the same grace and mercy that God showed them when they were enemies of God should be demonstrated toward those that persecute Christians. Later in chapter 12 Paul writes about the results of this demonstration of mercy and grace to our enemies. In verse 20 Paul likens this mercy and grace to "burning coals" that we pile on the heads of our enemies. These "burning coals" burn into the enemy and cause him to see the error of his way. Imagine the amount of "burning coals" Paul had heaped upon him between his approval of Stephen's stoning (Acts 6) and his conversion (Acts 9)?

Further, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:12-13 that when "reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat." Paul is using his own example of patience under fire to show Corinthian Christians the proper way to act towards non-Christian enemies of the faith.

Peter writes that Christians are not to repay "evil for evil" or "reviling for reviling". Instead Peter commands Christians to "bless" those that perform these acts against us.

There is one "big question" from those that support this Qur'an burning escapade. They ask, "But we (America) is at war with Islam, and we must act proactively to protect ourselves. Are you advocating pacifism?" My answer is a hearty, "NO!" I do not advocate any sort of pacifism, and the reason why is found in one of the same verses I have used to demonstrate why Christians should not burn Qur'ans. My justification is found in Romans 12:18, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." Based on this Scripture my interactions with Muslims in America will be peaceable, insofar as I can make it so. However, if Muslims in America do not want to live peaceably, then I will defend myself and my family from their violence.

Likewise, because of the 10% within Islam that are "true believers", this country has had to go to war with other countries who have refused to coexist peacefully with the rest of the world due to the teachings of Islam. America has the God-given right to protect both her citizens and interests from the violence that Islam has perpetrated over the earth for so long. In doing so, America is acting within its God given mandate according to Scripture (Romans 13:1-7).

One last comment. A Facebook poster said I "believe theology over faith." I was floored by this because it clearly demonstrates just how ignorant those who profess Christ are of where they are to get their faith from. Theology is not my faith. My faith, or trust, is placed on the saving work of Jesus on Calvary's cross. It is not placed in my theology, though my theology tells me what I should and shouldn't believe. Neither is my faith placed upon America. America for all its historical faults is still the best country on this earth, but it is not the basis for my faith. If it ever becomes that, then I would be guilty of idolatry. Sadly, I believe that there are many professed Christians out there that have set America up as an idol. They believe that America is a Christian nation. While this country was founded upon certain Christian ideals and principles, it is not a Christian nation. Neither Jesus nor the apostles spoke of a Christian nation. Instead they spoke of a kings and priests being gathered from all peoples, including Muslims.

With the above said, should Qur'ans be burned at a church? The Biblical answer is a clear and resounding, "NO!" This action is not living peaceably with all men. It is an act of unnecessary provocation that should be avoided at all costs. Burning Qur'ans is "reviling for reviling". It is slapping those that have slapped us rather than turning the other cheek. Worse yet, it is heaping more shame on an already shameful cross. Is that something you as a believer in Christ want to do?