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Pattern of persecution

cross burning 2 400pxThere’s a widespread government crackdown on religion in China (including Christians and Muslims). Church leaders have been arrested on subversion charges and taken away. But this isn’t new or surprising because there’s a pattern of persecution of God’s people across the past 3,500 years of history.

The Hebrews

The Hebrews were God’s special people in Old Testament times. God gave their ancestor Abraham some great promises. But before these were fulfilled, his descendants were persecuted in Egypt. Slave masters oppressed them with forced labor (Ex. 1:11-14). The Egyptians worked them ruthlessly with harsh labor. And Pharaoh commanded that all Hebrew male babies be put to death; they were to be drowned in the Nile River (Ex. 1:15-22).

But God saw their misery, heard them crying out and groaning because of their slave drivers, and was concerned about their suffering. (Ex. 3:7; 6:5). The oppression increased when they were commanded to gather the straw for brick making (Ex. 5:6-21). This continued until God used Moses to rescue them from slavery in Egypt so they could travel back to Canaan.

Some Hebrew prophets were also persecuted by royalty. Elijah was persecuted by Jezebel (queen of Israel), Micaiah by Ahab (Jezebel’s husband, king of Israel), and Uriah by Jehoiakim (king of Judah) (1 Ki. 19:1-3; 22:26-26; Jer. 26:20-22).

John the Baptist and Jesus

Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of promises that were given to Abraham and King David. John the Baptist announced that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. But both John and Jesus were persecuted by Jewish rulers. King Herod the Great tried to kill Jesus by ordering all the young boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem to be killed (Mt. 2:13-18). Fortunately His family had been warned to escape to Egypt (the country where the Hebrews had been persecuted about 1450 years earlier!).

John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded by King Herod Antipas (a son of Herod the Great) (Mt. 14:3-12; Mk. 6:17-29). Herod Antipas was also involved in the trial of Jesus (Lk. 23:6-12). In fact the Jewish and Gentile (Roman) leaders conspired together to arrange the death by crucifixion of Jesus (Acts 4:27).

Early Christians

Because the Jewish religious leaders were jealous of the popularity of the apostles, they persecuted and imprisoned them. Stephen was stoned to death and the church was scattered throughout Judea and Samaria and to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch (Acts 4:1-2; 5:17-18; 7:54-58; 8:1-3; 11:19). So as a result of persecution, Christianity was spread across the Middle East. During his missionary journeys, Paul was also abused and persecuted by jealous Jews (Acts 13:45; 14:5, 19; 17:5; 18:6). He was publicly beaten and imprisoned without a trial (Acts 16:22-24, 37). He was arrested and tried before the Roman governors and the king of the Jews and transported to Rome for trial before Caesar (Acts 21:27 – 28:31). Furthermore, Paul was flogged at least eight times, imprisoned frequently and pelted with stones (Acts 14:19; 2 Cor. 11:23-25).

King Herod Agrippa I (a nephew of King Herod Antipas) imprisoned Peter and executed James the son of Zebedee (Acts 12:1-18). After Peter escaped from prison, Herod had the prison guards executed. And the Roman governor of Judea, Antonius Felix, left Paul in prison for two years (Acts 24:22-27).

The persecutors

Some of the people who persecuted God’s people in New Testament times are listed below and shown in the schematic diagram (prepared by Purdue University scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk). They are selected members of the Herodian family and Roman governors who are significant in New Testament events. The numbers in the list match those in the diagram. Those referred to in the New Testament are shown below in boldface.

  1. Herod the Great, founder of the dynasty, tried to kill the infant Jesus by the “slaughter of the innocents” at Bethlehem.
  2. Herod Philip, uncle and first husband of Herodias, was not a ruler.
  3. Herodias left Herod Philip to marry his half-brother Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee & Perea.
  4. John the Baptist rebuked Antipas for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, while his brother was still alive—against the law of Moses.
  5. Salome danced for Herod Antipas and, at Herodias’s direction, requested the beheading of John the Baptist. Later she married her great-uncle Philip the Tetrarch.
  6. Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee &: Perea (r. 4 B.C.E.–39 C.E.), was Herodias’s uncle and second husband. After Salome’s dance and his rash promise, he executed John the Baptist. Much later he held part of Jesus’ trial.
  7. Herod Archelaus, Ethnarch of Judea, Samaria and Idumea (r. 4 B.C.E.–6 C.E.), was replaced by a series of Roman governors, including Pontius Pilate (r. 26–36 C.E.).
  8. Philip the Tetrarch of northern territories (r. 4 B.C.E.–34 C.E.) later married Herodias’s daughter Salome, his grandniece.
  9. King Herod Agrippa I (r. 37–44 C.E.) executed James the son of Zebedee and imprisoned Peter before his miraculous escape.
  10. Berenice, twice widowed, left her third husband to be with brother Agrippa II (rumored lover) and was with him at Festus’s trial of Paul.
  11. King Herod Agrippa II (r. 50–c. 93 C.E.) was appointed by Festus to hear Paul’s defense.
  12. Antonius Felix, Roman procurator of Judea (r. 52–c. 59 C.E.), Paul’s first judge, left him in prison for two years until new procurator Porcius Festus (r. c. 60–62 C.E.) became the second judge, and Paul appealed to Caesar.
  13. Drusilla left her first husband to marry Roman governor Felix.

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christian-persecution-in-china 1 400pxChina

China has intensified its crackdown on religion, with crosses being burned and destroyed at Christian churches, churches closed down, and the sale of Bibles banned. The crosses are often replaced with objects such as the Chinese flag and photos of Chinese President Xi Jinping and former Communist Party leader Mao Zedong. This is part of a Government drive to “Sinicise” religion (make it Chinese and compatible with socialism) by demanding loyalty to the officially atheist Communist Party and eliminating any challenge to its power over people’s lives. “Chinese characteristics” (including unwavering loyalty to the Communist party) must be incorporated into all activities, beliefs and traditions. Under Chinese law, religious followers are only allowed to worship in congregations registered with authorities, but many millions belong to so-called underground or house churches that defy government restrictions.

cross burnt 4 400px

Open Doors identified three major factors behind the increased persecution of Christians in China. These are:

New religious regulations which were passed in 2017 and enacted in February 2018 to “preserve Chinese culture and party authority against ideological threats”. Since then, religious persecution, including both Christians and Muslims, has escalated to a level of persecution few saw coming. The new regulations include “guidelines on religious education, the types of religious organizations that can exist, where they can exist and the activities they can organize”. These are part of an endeavour to resist “foreign” religions (Christianity is considered to be a product of the west which is being used to destabilize Chinese “harmony”). These religions are considered to be a cultural invasion. The regulations have led to:
– Arrests of church leaders and church members.
– Muslims and Christians sent to re-education camps.
– The destruction and closure of unregistered churches.
– Anyone under 18 not allowed in churches.
– The removal of crosses from church buildings.
– Requiring many registered churches to install facial-recognition technology.

The increased cult of personality around Xi Jinping. Xi Jinping is the general secretary of the Communist Party of China and president of the People’s Republic of China. His policies have been placed into the Chinese constitution, granting it the same level of authority in the country as former Chinese leader Mao Zedong. As the emphasis on Communist ideology and the personality cult emerging around President Xi gets stronger, the authorities will act more strongly against all other ‘ideologies’ not fitting into this system, including the Christian religion.

The positioning of Xi Jinping and the Communist Party against Jesus and His church. Christians are being told that Jesus can’t help them with illness or poverty, and only Xi Jinping can, so they should remove religious images and replace them with pictures of Xi. They are being urged to rely on the communist party for help rather that Jesus.

security cameras tiananmen square beijing 400pxAt the same time, an estimated 1 million Muslims have been detained in “re-education” camps in Xinjiang province. The measures ultimately have the same goal: to give Beijing tighter control over groups officials see as a potential threat to their grip on power. The situation in China is likely to continue to escalate as the Chinese Communist Party increases its power and focus on Chinese nationalism. Meanwhile, Big Brother watches – China is setting up a vast camera surveillance system that is using facial recognition to track every single one of its 1.4 billion citizens.

Discussion

In the historical cases mentioned in the Bible, the civil rulers persecuted God’s people. It came from the top of society (Pharaoh and the Herodian family). They seemed to be insecure and jealous and afraid of losing the allegiance of their subjects. Similarly, in China the persecution is being driven by the President and the Communist Party. It’s a pattern of persecution across about 3,500 years of history. So, it’s not surprising that Christians are being persecuted today in China and some other communist and Muslim countries (see Appendix). Ironically, such crackdowns on religious freedom will cause the church to grow faster, and help church be more united! History shows they didn’t succeed in Roman times, under Stalin or under Mao.

Christians may also be persecuted in western countries by being looked down upon, mocked or ridiculed and marginalized. Because Christians are assumed to be intolerant or hostile towards those with different beliefs or practices, it’s not possible for Christians to live by their convictions in some careers.

The Bible says that those following Jesus will face persecution. Jesus told His disciples, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (Jn. 15:20NIV). And Paul told Timothy, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

How should we respond to persecution? Sometimes it’s possible to escape from persecution (Mt.5:12; Acts 14:6). If that’s not possible we can persevere and endure under it (Heb. 10:32-36). This involves committing our circumstances to God; “those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Pt. 4:12-19). The book of 1 Peter is full of instructions for those facing persecution. It was written just before the outbreak of the Roman persecutions under Nero in AD 64.

Jesus said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:44-45). This means forgiving and praying for our persecutors like Jesus and Stephen did (Lk. 23:43; Acts 7:60). And not taking revenge (Rom. 12:14-21). He also taught the disciples to rejoice under persecution! “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt. 5:11-12;). That sounds difficult! But the apostles considered it a privilege to suffer for Jesus (Acts 5:41). God shows His strength to those facing persecution, “for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Lessons for us

Let’s pray for those experiencing religious persecution. And pray for those persecuting them. Are we ready to suffer persecution for our Christian faith, because the Bible says that it will come?

Appendix: Violators of religious freedom

In many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs. In December 2018 the US Secretary of State mentioned the following countries of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom”: Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

Other governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom” included: Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan. And entities of particular concern included: Nusra Front, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qa’ida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Khorasan, and the Taliban.

Acknowledgements

Information about religious persecution in China was sourced from Open Doors.
Information about the Herodian family was sourced from the Biblical Archaeology Society.

Written, January 2019

Ancient history confirms biblical characters

herod-the-great-coin 400pxDid you know that ancient history has confirmed the existence of many people mentioned in the Bible? In articles in the Biblical Archaeology Review, Purdue University scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk lists 23 people from the New Testament who have been confirmed historically. These include Roman Emperors, members of the Herodian family, and Roman governors. These political figures are mentioned in extra-biblical writings and some of their names appear in inscriptions (normally on hard objects, such as potsherds) and on coins.

Evidence of New Testament Political Figures

Name Who was he or she? When did they rule? Where in the New Testament? Evidence in historical writings Evidence in inscriptions
Roman Emperors
1 Augustus Roman Emperor 31B.C.E.–
14 C.E.
Luke 2:1 Numerous Numerous
2 Tiberius Roman Emperor 14–37 C.E. Luke 3:1 Numerous Numerous
3 Claudius Roman Emperor 41–54 C.E. Acts 11:28; 18:2 Numerous Numerous
4 Nero Roman Emperor 54–68 C.E. Acts 25–26; 28:19 Numerous Numerous
Herodian Family
5 Herod I,
the Great
Rome’s King of the Jews over all of Palestine. 37–4 B.C.E. Matthew 2:1; Luke 1:5 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Coins
6 Herod Archelaus Oldest son of Herod the Great. Ethnarch of Judea, Samaria and Idumea. 4 B.C.E.–
6 C.E.
Matthew 2:22 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Coins
7 Herod Antipas Son of Herod the Great; second husband of Herodias. Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (Transjordan). He ordered the execution of John the Baptist. 4 B.C.E.–
39 C.E.
Luke 3:1; 13:31–32; 23:7–12; Mark 6:14; 6:16–28; 8:15 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Coins
8 Herod Philip Son of Herod the Great but not a ruler; Herodias’s uncle and first husband; father of their daughter Salome. Matthew 14:3–4; Mark 6:17–18; Luke 3:19 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars (No coins because he was not a ruler)
9 Herodias Granddaughter of Herod the Great; niece and wife of Herod Philip, mother of his daughter Salome; then Herod Antipas’s wife. She brought about the order to execute John the Baptist. Mathew 14:2–11; Mark 6:17–28; Luke 3:19–20 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars (No coins because she was not a ruler)
10 Salome Herodias’s daughter. Her dance led to the execution of John the Baptist. Grandniece and later wife of Philip the Tetrarch. Matthew 14:3–12; Mark 6:17–29 Josephus, Antiquities Coins of her second husband, Aristobulus, king of Chalcis
11 Philip the Tetrarch Son of Herod the Great. Tetrarch of Trachonitis, Iturea and other northern portions of Palestine. Eventually husband of his grandniece Salome. 4 B.C.E.–
34 C.E.
Luke 3:1 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Coins
12 Herod Agrippa I Grandson of Herod the Great; brother of Herodias. King of Trachonitis, Batanea, gradually all of Palestine. Executed James the son of Zebedee and imprisoned Peter. 37–44 C.E. Acts 12:1–6, 18–23 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Coins
13 Herod Agrippa II Son of Herod Agrippa I. Initially Tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, then also over parts of Galilee and Perea, Chalcis and northern territories. Festus appointed him to hear Paul’s defense. 50–
c. 93 C.E.
Acts 25:13–26:32 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Coins
14 Berenice/Bernice Sister and companion of Herod Agrippa II, rumored lovers. Attended Paul’s trial before Festus. Acts 25:13, 23; 26:30 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Inscription of King Herod Agrippa II in Beirut
15 Drusilla Sister of Herodias and Herod Agrippa I; Jewish wife of Roman governor Felix. Acts 24:24 Josephus, Antiquities (No coins; not
a ruler)
Roman Legate and Governors
16 Publius Sulpicius Quirinius
( = Cyrenius)
Roman imperial legate brought in to govern Syria-Cilicia after Herod Archelaus’s rule led to rebellion. 6–9 C.E. and possibly earlier Luke 2:2 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars The Lapis Venetus inscription discovered in Beirut
17 Pontius Pilate Roman prefect of Judea who conducted Jesus’ trial and ordered his crucifixion. 26–36 C.E. Matthew 27:11–26; Mark 15:1–15; Luke 3:1; 23:1–24; John 18:28–19:22 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars; Tacitus, Annals; Philo, De Legatione ad Gaium Pilate Stone discovered at Caesarea Maritima; coins
18 Lucius Junius Gallio Roman proconsul of Achaia who convened and dismissed the trial of Paul in Corinth. c. 51–55 C.E. Acts 18:12–17 Seneca, Letters; Tacitus, Annals Stone inscription discovered in Delphi, Greece
19 Marcus Antonius Felix Roman procurator of Judea who held initial hearings in the trial of the apostle Paul. 52–
c. 59 C.E.
Acts 23; 24 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Coins
20 Porcius Festus Roman procurator of Judea who conducted a hearing in the trial of Paul, during which Paul appealed to Caesar and was sent to Rome. 59–62 C.E. Acts 24:27–25:27; 26:24–32 Josephus, Antiquities Coins
Independent Political Figures
21 Aretas IV Arabian king of Nabatea. Father of Herod Antipas’s first wife, before Herodias. 9 B.C.E.–
40 C.E.
2 Corinthians 11:32 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Inscriptions at Petra, etc.; coins
22 The unnamed Egyptian leader His Jerusalem-area insurrection was suppressed by Roman procurator Felix. Acts 21:38 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars (No coins because he was not a ruler)
23 Judas of Galilee Led a rebellion against the census of Roman imperial legate Quirinius. Acts 5:37 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars (No coins because he was not a ruler)

Appendix: Sample evidences from ancient writings and archaeology

1–4. Roman emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius and Nero.
The four Roman emperors mentioned in the New Testament are all abundantly verified in the writings of Roman historians, such as Tacitus’s Annals, which mentions all four, as well as in Josephus’s writings and in many inscriptions. For these, no further verification is needed. (Gaius, nicknamed “Caligula,” the Roman emperor after Tiberius, goes unmentioned in the New Testament.)

5. Herod I, the Great, Rome’s King of the Jews.
Josephus, Antiquities 14.14.4, 15.6.7
Josephus, Wars 1.33.8‒9

Coins:
At Masada, 393 coins of Herod the Great were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, p. 71, pp. 87–91 no. 110–502, Plate 62 no. 115–461. These coins from Masada have the inscription, “Of King Herod,” in Greek, sometimes abbreviated to only a few letters.
At Meiron, 6 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, pp. 21–22 no. 200–205, p. 127 (photographic plate) no. 200, 202, 203.
At Herodium, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Herodium, p. 75 no. 2.
At Tel Anafa, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins 1968–1986 Tel Anafa, p. 253 no. 249; also in Ancient Jewish Coinage 2, p. 237, type 17.
At Caesarea Maritima, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Caesarea Maritima, p. 138.

6. Herod Archelaus, Ethnarch of Judaea, Samaria and Idumea.
Josephus, Antiquities 17.8.2‒4, 17.13.1‒3, 18.2.1
Josephus, Wars 1.33.9, 2.6.1‒3, 2.7.3

Coins:
In the inscriptions in Greek on all his coins, he calls himself only “Herod” or “Herod the Ethnarch” (sometimes abbreviated), never using his name Archelaus.
At Masada, 176 coins of Herod Archelaus were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 91‒93, and Plate 63 no. 503–677 (with gaps among numbered photographs).
In various parts of Palestine, including Galilee and Transjordan, other coins of Archelaus have been discovered, according to Treasury of Jewish Coins, p. 85.

7. Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.1, 18.2.3, 18.4.5, 18.5.1, 18.5.2, 18.7.1
Josephus, Wars 2.9.1, 2.9.6

Coins:
Archaeology confirms his rule and title of Tetrarch (of Galilee and Perea) on several coins with the inscription “Of Herod the Tetrarch” in Greek, without giving his name Antipas. Also inscribed on some of his coins is the name of a city, “Tiberias,” which Antipas founded in Galilee and where he built a mint that produced these coins. Josephus’s writings and modern analysis of Jewish coins reveal that the only tetrarch named Herod who ever ruled Galilee was Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas apparently produced fewer coins than his father and brothers did, and according to the dates inscribed on his coins compared with theirs, he minted them less often. As a result, fewer have been recovered in excavations.
Near Tiberias, where they were minted, is the area that has yielded most of Antipas’s coins that have a known place of discovery.
At Meiron, 3 coins of Herod Antipas were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, p. 22 no. 206–208, p. 127 (photographic plate) no. 208 only (from year 37 of the Emperor Tiberius (33 C.E.). Meiron was north of the city of Dan in Galilee, which Antipas ruled. Coins no. 206 and 207, from the Emperor’s 34th year (29/30 C.E.), are recognizably his by their decorations and visible Greek letters.
At Jerusalem, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Treasury of Jewish Coins, p. 85.

8. Herod Philip (not a ruler; compare Philip the Tetrarch, below).
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.1 and 4
Josephus, Wars 1.28.4, 1.29.2, 1.30.7

9. Herodias, wife of Herod Philip, mother of Salome; then Herod Antipas’s wife.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.1 and 4
Josephus, War 2.9.6

10. Salome, Herodias’s daughter.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4
Coins of her second husband, Aristobulus, king of Chalcis, display her image (Hendin, Guide, pp. 276‒277, no. 1255).

11. Philip, Tetrarch of Trachonitis, Iturea and other northern portions of Palestine, sometimes called Herod Philip II, to distinguish him from his half-brother, Herod Philip, who was not a ruler (see above).
Josephus, Antiquities 17.1.3, 18.2.1
Josephus, Wars 1.28.4

Coins:
Philip did not have to avoid portraits on his coins because his subjects were generally not Jewish and had no religious prohibition against graven images. One of his coins from Tel Anafa features the head of Caesar Augustus on one side and the head of Philip on the other—literally a two-headed coin (Coins 1968–1986 Tel Anafa, p. 253 no. 250, p. 260 = coins plate 3, no. 250).

Most of his coins were discovered in his own tetrarchy in Palestine’s northern territories.
At Meiron, 2 coins of Philip the Tetrarch were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, p. 23 no. 209 & 210, p. 127 (photographic plate) no. 209 and 210.
At Tel Anafa, 7 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins 1968–1986 Tel Anafa, pp. 253–254 no. 250–256, p. 260 = coins plate 3, no. 250, 251, 252, 254.
On Cyprus, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Treasury of Jewish Coins, p. 90.

12. Herod Agrippa I, King of Trachonitis, Batanea, gradually all of Palestine.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4, 18.7.2, 19.5.1
Josephus, Wars 2.9.5‒6

Coins:
At Masada, 114 of Herod Agrippa I’s coins were excavated, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, 100 no. 1195–1198, Plate 66 no. 1195–1198.
At Meiron, 5 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, pp. 23–24 no. 211–214, p. 127 (photographic plate) no. 211 and 214.
At Herodium, 5 identical coins of his were discovered, according to Herodium Coins, p. 75 no. 4.
In and near Jerusalem, as well as in all parts of Palestine, on Cyprus, at Dura-Europos in Syria, and even on the acropolis at Athens, his prutah coins (Jewish coins of low value, made of copper; see Hendin, Guide, p. 270, no. 1244) have been discovered. They are distinctive in their decorations and the spelling of his name.

13. Herod Agrippa II, Tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, then also over parts of Galilee and Perea, Chalcis and northern territories.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4, 20.7.3
Josephus, Wars 2.11.6

Coins:
Quite a few series of Agrippa II’s coins are identified as his because they have the name Agrippa, sometimes abbreviated, and can be dated to his reign, rather than his father’s (King Herod Agrippa I).
At Masada, 2 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, 100 no. 1308–1309, Plate 66 no. 1309.
At Meiron, 6 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, pp. 24–25 no. 215–220, p. 128 (photographic plate) no. 216–220.

14. Berenice/Bernice, Sister and companion of Herod Agrippa II, distinguished by her fuller name Julia (in Latin, Iulia) Berenice from several other noted women of ancient times named Berenice.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4, 19.5.1, 20.7.3
Josephus, Wars 2.15.1
In the National Museum of Beirut is a partly broken, Roman-era dedicatory inscription in Latin that mentions “Queen Berenice.” The inscription states that she, and someone who is implied to be her fellow offspring, restored a building which “King Herod their ancestor” had made. Note the plural: “their ancestor.”

By using facts of the historical background, it is possible to identify both her and her relatives as the ones to whom the inscription refers, because of its location and because the names of her family members seem uniquely suited to fit this inscription. Berenice is said to be “of the great king A—” (name broken off), and the prominent family ties in the inscription suggest a daughter or descendant. The “great king A—” is very likely her father, King Herod Agrippa I, who was a descendant of King Herod the Great. The other offspring, her contemporary, is very likely her brother, King Herod Agrippa II.

A scholarly book in Italian describes this inscription: Laura Boffo, Iscrizioni Greche e Latine per lo Studio della Bibbia (Brescia, Italy: Paideia Editrice, 1994), pp. 338‒342, no. 41.

15. Drusilla, Sister of Herodias and Herod Agrippa I; wife of Roman governor Felix.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4

16. Publius Sulpicius Quirinius (= Cyrenius), Roman Imperial legate to Syria-Cilicia.
Josephus, Antiquities 17.13.5, 18.1.1, 18.2.1
Josephus, Wars 7.8.1

The Lapis Venetus inscription discovered in Beirut is a stone inscription in Latin that mentions a census that this Quirinius ordered in a Syrian city. It is included in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum vol. III, no. 6687. See Craig L. Blomberg, “Quirinius,” in ISBE, vol. 4, pp. 12–13.

17. Pontius Pilate, Roman prefect of Judea.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.3.1‒2, 18.4.1‒2
Josephus, Wars 2.9.2‒4

Tacitus, Annals 15:44, in The Annals: The Reigns of Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero (trans. J. C. Yardley; introduction and notes Anthony A. Barrett; Oxford World’s Classics; New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2008), p. 438. Cornelius Tacitus (c. 55‒c. 118 C.E.) was a historian, a Roman senator and a member of the priestly organization that supervised foreign religions in Rome; therefore he had exceptional access to information known by his colleagues and to archives accessible to the elite.

Philo, De Legatione ad Gaium 38, in The Works of Philo, Complete and Unabridged (trans. C. D. Yonge; new updated ed.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), p. 784. Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C.E.‒c. 50 C.E.) was Pilate’s learned contemporary.

The “Pilate Stone” was discovered at Caesarea Maritima in 1961 in the theater or arena of the ancient city of Caesarea Maritima, on Israel’s northern seacoast. This limestone block—2.7 feet high, 2 feet wide and 0.6 feet thick—was lying face down and had been used as a step. It had been trimmed down to be reused twice. Two of its four lines read, in English translation with square brackets marking missing portions that have been supplied by scholars: “[Po]ntius Pilate … [Pref]ect of Juda[ea],” as shown in Inscriptions Caesarea Maritima, pp. 67–70, no. 43, Plate XXXVI. The inscription could potentially be dated to any time in Pilate’s career, but a date between 31 and 36 C.E. seems most likely (Inscriptions Caesarea Maritima, p. 70.). The word for the building dedicated to the emperor Tiberius, “Tiberieum,” is in the first line of writing (on the line above it is only a mark resembling an apostrophe). On the second line of writing are the last four letters of the family name Pontius, which was common in central and northern Italy during that era. Still visible, clearly engraved in the stone, is the complete name Pilatus, which is translated into English as “Pilate.” Pilatus was “extremely rare” (A. N. Sherwin-White, “Pilate, Pontius,” in ISBE, vol. 3, p. 867). Because of the rarity of the name Pilatus, and because only one Pontius Pilatus was ever the Roman governor of Judea, this identification should be regarded as completely certain and redundantly assured.

Coins:
As with other Roman governors, the coins Pilate issued do not have his name on them, but rather display only the name of the Roman emperor, in this case Tiberius. Pilate’s coins also display his distinctive decorations.
At Masada, 123 of Pontius Pilate’s coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, pp. 96–97 no. 851–973a, Plate 64 no. 851–912, Plate 65 no. 913–930.
At Caesarea Maritima, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Caesarea Maritima, p. 139 no. 6, p. 146.
At Herodium, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Herodium, p. 75 no. 3.

18. Lucius Junius Gallio, Roman proconsul of Achaia.
Seneca, Letters 104
Tacitus, Annals xv.73
Dio Cassius lx.35
Pliny the Elder Naturalis Historia xxxi.33

Near the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece, a stone inscription in a now-fragmented stone block discovered in the late 19th century refers to this particular Gallio. Carved into a stone now broken into fragments, with some words missing, it takes the form of a letter from the Roman emperor Claudius and includes a date. See C. K. Barrett, ed., The New Testament Background (rev. ed.; San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989), pp. 51‒52, no. 49.

19. Marcus Antonius Felix, Roman procurator of Judea.
Josephus, Antiquities 14.11.7, 20.7.1‒2, 20.8.5
Josephus, Wars 1.12.1, 2.12.8, 2.13.7

Coins:
Felix followed the custom of Roman governors, issuing coins that do not display his name. But they are identifiable as his, because they display the name and regnal year of the emperor. Several also have the name of the empress, Julia Agrippina.
At Masada, 39 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, 97‒98 no. 974‒1012, Plate 65 no. 974‒1012 with gaps in the numbered photographs.
At Meiron, 4 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, pp. 25–26 no. 221–224, p. 128 (photographic plate) no. 221 and 223.
At Caesarea Maritima, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Caesarea Maritima, p. 139 no. 7.
At Herodium, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Herodium, p. 75 no. 5.

20. Porcius Festus, Roman procurator of Judea.
Josephus, Antiquities 20.8.9, 20.9.1

Coins:
During the reign of the emperor Nero, Festus minted coins in the custom of Roman governors, which do not show his own name. Still, as with Felix, we can identify them as his by using the name and regnal year of the emperor.
At Masada, 184 of Festus’s coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, pp. 98–99 no. 1013–1194, Plate 65 no. 1013–1194 with gaps among the numbered photographs.

21. Aretas IV, king of the Arabian kingdom of Nabatea.
Josephus, Antiquities 13.13.3, 14.1.4
Josephus, Wars 1.6.2, 1.29.3

During Aretas IV’s reign, the Arabian kingdom of Nabatea reached the height of its power, wealth through trade, and political influence.

Stationary inscriptions that name King Aretas IV and members of his immediate family have been discovered south of the Dead Sea at Petra, at Avdat (Obodat) in southern Israel and even at Puteoli, Italy (Coins Nabataea, pp. 48, 61).

Coins:
The fact that the coins Aretas minted have been discovered in “enormous quantity … testifies primarily to a flourishing economy,” as observed in Coins Nabataea, p. 41. Aretas IV’s coins are treated on pp. 41–63, with photos on Plates 4–7 no. 46–122. These coins typically refer to him as “Aretas, king of the Nabataeans, who loves [lit., the lover of] his people” (Coins Nabataea, pp. 46–47, table: “Dated Coins and Inscriptions of Aretas IV.”
At Masada, 22 of Aretas IV’s coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 76, 79, Plate 73 no. 3603–3623.
At Meiron, 2 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, p. 26 no. 225 and 226, p. 128 (photographic plate) no. 226.
At Curium on Cyprus, at Dura-Europas in what is now eastern Syria, and at Susa in Persia (present-day Iran), his coins have been discovered far and wide, according to Coins Nabataea, p. 41 note 2.

22. The unnamed Egyptian leader who escaped after his violent uprising was suppressed by the Roman governor Felix.
Josephus, Antiquities 20.8.6
Josephus, Wars 2.13.5

23. Judas of Galilee, the leader of the rebellion against Cyrenius (also spelled Quirinius, identified above) because of Cyrenius’s census and taxation, which scholars usually date to 6 C.E.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.1.6, 20.5.2
Josephus, Wars 2.8.1

Abbreviations and references

Ancient Jewish Coinage 2 = Ya’akov Meshorer, Ancient Jewish Coinage, vol. 2: Herod the Great through Bar Cochba (Dix Hills, NY: Amphora Books, 1982).

Coins 1968–1986 Tel Anafa = Y. Meshorer, “Chapter 4: Coins 1968–1986,” in Sharon C. Herbert, Tel Anafa I, i: Final Report on Ten Years of Excavation at a Hellenistic and Roman Settlement in Northern Israel (Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplement Series 10, Part I, i and Kelsey Museum Fieldwork Series; Ann Arbor, MI: Kelsey Museum of the University of Michigan and Museum of Art and Archaeology of the University of Missouri—Columbia, 1994).

Coins of Ancient Meiron = Joyce Raynor and Yaakov Meshorer, The Coins of Ancient Meiron (Winona Lake, IN: ASOR/Eisenbrauns, 1988).

Coins Caesarea Maritima = D. T. Ariel, “The Coins,” in Lee I. Levine and Ehud Netzer, Excavations at Caesarea Maritima, 1975, 1976, 1979—Final Report (Qedem 21; Jerusalem: The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

Coins Herodium = Ya’akov Meshorer, “The Coins,” in Ehud Netzer, Greater Herodium (Qedem 13; Jerusalem: The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1981).

Coins Nabataea = Ya’akov Meshorer, Nabataean Coins (Qedem 3; Jerusalem: The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1975).

Coins of Masada = Yaacov Meshorer, “The Coins of Masada,” in Masada I: The Yigael Yadin Excavations 1963‒1965: Final Reports. (ed. Joseph Aviram, Gideon Foerster, and Ehud Netzer; Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1989).

Hemer, Acts = Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (ed. Conrad H. Gempf; Tübingen, Germany: J.C.B. Mohr, 1989; reprinted Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2001, 2016).

Hendin, Guide = David Hendin and Herbert Kreindler, Guide to Biblical Coins (5th ed.; New York: Amphora Books, 2010).

Inscriptions Caesarea Maritima = Clayton Miles Lehmann and Kenneth G. Holum, The Greek and Latin Inscriptions of Caesarea Maritima (The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima, Excavation Reports 5; Boston, MA: The American Schools of Oriental Research, 2000).

ISBE = International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 4 vols., fully rev. ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979–1988).

Josephus, Antiquities = Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, in The Works of Josephus, Complete and Unabridged (trans. William Whiston; new updated ed.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987), pp. 27‒542. An alternative translation of the title is: Jewish Antiquities.

Josephus, Wars = Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, in The Works of Josephus, Complete and Unabridged (trans. William Whiston; new updated ed.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987), pp. 543‒772. An alternative translation of the title is: The Jewish War.

Treasury of Jewish Coins = Ya’akov Meshorer, A Treasury of Jewish Coins: From the Persian Period to Bar Kokhba (Nyack, NY: Amphora, 2001).

Acknowledgement

This post has been sourced from the Biblical Archaeology Society

Written, January 2019

Also see: Archaeology confirms biblical characters

Was Noah’s flood global or local?

I have received a comment that challenges my understanding that the flood described in Genesis 6-9 of the Bible was a global event. The reasons given for the comment include:
– The biblical passages quoted don’t support it in any way.
– Many people who believe Noah was a real person, also believe the flood was local.
– Scholars devote their lives to their studies, and while we don’t always have to agree with what they say, we also don’t have to completely disregard them, either.
They conclude that I’m making a huge assumption to believe that the flood was global rather than local.

My understanding with regard to this topic is based on the biblical text and my concerns about the common interpretation of sedimentary rock layers. I will begin with the Bible as it is the primary historical record of the flood.

What did Moses believe?

Moses complied the book of Genesis, so he knew more about the flood than any other biblical author. This is how he described the floodwaters: “They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark” (Gen. 7:19-23NIV). Note that the flood account is written from God’s perspective, not Noah’s. This seems to be more like a global flood than a local flood. And the purpose of the flood was to destroy sinful humanity (Gen. 6:5-8), which wouldn’t be achieved by a local flood.

Moses recorded the covenant that God made with Noah after the flood as follows.

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth” (Gen. 9:8-17).

The format of this covenant follows that of a Royal Grant in the ancient near east where a king grants land (or some other benefit) to a loyal servant for faithful or exceptional service. The grant was normally perpetual or unconditional, but the servant’s heirs benefited from it only as they continued their father’s loyalty and service (NIV Study Bible).

This covenant was made with Noah, and his descendants and “every living creature on earth” (Gen. 9:9-10). It was an “everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” (Gen. 9:16). The covenant sign was the rainbow in the sky (Gen. 9:13, 17).

The promise was, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth … Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life” (Gen. 9:11, 15). It was an unconditional divine promise to never again destroy all earthy life with a flood. This is what Moses believed. With regard to the destruction of life, the flood was a unique event. But a local flood can’t be unique in terms of the destruction of life. Therefore, Moses didn’t believe that it was a local flood. Clearly Moses believed that it was a unique global catastrophe. There have been no more global destructive floods, but there have been many local destructive floods. And Noah was on the ark for over 380 days (Gen. 7:10-11; 8:14); which is much too long for a local flood! And on the ark “they had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings” (Gen. 7:14). This wouldn’t be necessary for a local flood.

Psalm 104 was written about 400 years after the time of Moses. See the Appendix A for comments on Psalm 104:9, which has been used to support the idea of a local flood.

What did Isaiah believe?

In the context of Israel’s captivity and restoration, Isaiah wrote, “To me [God] this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you [Israel], never to rebuke you again” (Isa. 54:9). Here Israel’s captivity and exile is likened to the flood. Both are God’s judgment on rebellion and sin. Isaiah believed “that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth”. But a local flood can’t be unique in terms of water covering the earth. Therefore, Isaiah didn’t believe that it was a local flood. Clearly Isaiah believed that it was a unique global catastrophe. There have been no more global floods covering the earth, but there have been many local floods covering the earth.

What did Jesus believe?

In Matthew 24, Jesus describes the behavior of people when He returns to establish His kingdom. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man [Jesus]. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark [boat]; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Mt. 24:37-39). This is also recorded by Luke, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man [Jesus]. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all” (Lk. 17:26-27). The flood came suddenly and Jesus will return suddenly to establish His kingdom. In both instances God’s judgment comes suddenly. No one outside the ark escaped the flood. It was inescapable. Likewise, no unbelievers will escape God’s coming judgment.

These passages don’t say specifically whether the flood was local or global. But the fact that it was inescapable suggests that it was more than a local flood. So, what did Jesus think? Jesus knew the Old Testament very well and taught from it in the synagogue. For example, He taught from Genesis (Mt. 10:15; 11:23-24; 19:4-5; 22:31-32; 23:35; Mk. 10:6-8; Lk. 17:26-27) and from Isaiah (Mt. 13:14-15; 15:7-9; Mk 7:6-7; Lk. 4:16-19). Jesus would have understood the Old Testament in the same way that the original authors understood it. His understanding would have been consistent with that of Moses and Isaiah. Therefore, Jesus didn’t believe that it was a local flood.

Furthermore, a global flood illustrates the extent of God’s judgement better than a local flood. Even though a local flood is sudden, people and creatures can escape a local flood. But this is not the case for a global flood.

What did Peter believe?

1 Peter 3 describes what happened in the days of Moses. “In which [by the Holy Spirit] He [Christ] went and made proclamation [through Noah] to the spirits (now) in prison [the unrighteous people in Noah’s day, who were now in hades waiting for the final judgment] who in the past were disobedient [to Noah’s preaching], when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared. In it a few—that is, eight people—were saved through water” (1 Pt. 3:19-20CSB). And 2 Peter 2 gives examples of God’s judgment of sin including, “He [God] did not spare the ancient world when He brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others” (2 Pt. 2:5). The fact that only a few people were saved from the destructive flood, illustrates that it isn’t surprising when only few people respond to the offer of salvation from God’s judgment through Jesus Christ.

These passages don’t say whether the flood was local or global. So, what did Peter think? Peter was with Jesus during His earthly ministry. He was an apostle who brought the good news to Jews and Gentiles and established the early church. He would have believed what Jesus believed. Because Jesus didn’t believe that it was a local flood (see above), Peter didn’t believe that it was a local flood. The main difference between the teaching of Jesus and Peter is that Jesus taught under the old covenant (of Moses) and Peter taught under the new covenant. But this difference is irrelevant as to whether the flood was local or global.

Furthermore, a global flood illustrates the extent of God’s judgement better than a local flood. Even though a local flood is sudden, people and creatures can escape a local flood. But this is not the case for a global flood.

What did the prophets and apostles believe?

The Old Testament was written by the Hebrew prophets and their associates. Moses and Isaiah were prominent Old Testament prophets. We have shown that both Moses and Isaiah didn’t believe that it was a local flood. The other Hebrew prophets would have believed the same as they believed and taught the same law of Moses. This means that they believed that the flood was a unique global catastrophe and not a local flood.

The New Testament was written by the Jewish apostles and their associates. Peter was a prominent apostle. We have shown that Peter didn’t believe that it was a local flood. The other apostles would have believed the same as they believed and taught the new covenant which was instituted by Jesus and revealed to Peter and Paul. This means that they believed that the flood was a unique global catastrophe and not a local flood.

Therefore, the writers of the Bible believed that the flood was a unique global catastrophe and not a local flood. And all Bible translations understand the account of the flood in universal terms. We find none of them substituting the word land for earth or using any other terms that would imply a limited scope for the flood. So, written history shows that the flood was a unique global catastrophe and not a local flood. And written history is the most reliable record of ancient history.

img_2383 400pxWhat do sedimentary rock layers show?

The sedimentary rock layers show whatever we want them to show. Our interpretation of these layers is based on our presuppositions. If we believe the theory of biological evolution we will use the geologic time scale which assumes that evolution occurs gradually over a long period of time, and we will say that the layers indicate erosion, sedimentation and deposition over a long period of time.

img_2387 400pxBut if we realize that creatures and plants aren’t being fossilized today, we will wonder, “When were the vast sedimentary rock layers deposited on the earth?”. “When were lots of plants and animals buried to produce fossil fuels”? “When were lots of creatures buried to produce fossils”?  If we believe the recorded history of the Bible, we will realize that Noah’s flood caused the death of “every living thing that moved on the earth”, except those on the ark. And a flood of such a magnitude and duration could have caused massive erosion, sedimentation and deposition. In this case, the vast layers of sedimentary rock probably indicate erosion, sedimentation and deposition over a relatively short period of time, mainly during Noah’s flood and its aftermath.

So although the Bible does not say if sedimentary rocks were deposited by Noah’s flood and eroded by the runoff as the waters subsided, this is the most likely event/catastrophe in recorded history to have caused a majority of the sedimentary stratification and the geomorphology of the earth.

My concerns with regard to geologic time

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a number of geologists began to argue that the thick sedimentary rock layers on the earth were not formed quickly during a global flood, but slowly over long ages. As a result of this shift in interpretation, a number of people began to re-interpret biblical verses referring to the flood as a local flood, rather than a global inundation.

Unfortunately, the geologic time scale used today by many geologists and paleontologists is based on assumptions that make it unreliable. These are the presupposition of uniformity and biological evolution.

Uniformity

It is assumed that “the present is the key to the past”. But this is incorrect with respect to the extent and rate of formation of sedimentary rock layers.

Extent: Sedimentary rock layers cover vast areas of the continents. But today deposition is only occurring in restricted areas like river deltas, lake beds and along narrow strips of coastline. This is different to the pattern of sedimentation in the past. So in this context, the present is not the key to the past.

Rate of formation: Rapid burial is necessary to produce fossils and polystrate fossils (where tree trunk fossils cut across many sedimentary rock layers) and to preserve animal tracks, ripple marks, and raindrop marks in sedimentary rock layers. But today deposition is slow and gradual. This is different to the pattern of sedimentation in the past. So in this context, the present is not the key to the past.

Sedimentary rock layers are generally parallel, with no evidence of long periods of time between adjacent layers. For example, there is no evidence of erosion between these sedimentary rock strata at Umina Point, NSW Australia. It looks like the layers were laid down in rapid succession or simultaneously and not sequentially with millions of years between each deposit and the next.

Furthermore, the presupposition of uniformity is a huge extrapolation from the present to the past which can’t be verified. It’s poor science (see Appendix B).

Biological evolution

Sedimentary rock layers are usually characterized by the fossils they contain and are dated according to the presumed dates when these fossils were living. These dates are speculative, as there is no way they can be calibrated (no one was there to make a historical record).

When radiometric dating methods are used to date geological strata, the only dates accepted are those consistent with the assumed evolutionary dating. In practice, the radiometric dates are very unreliable as the initial conditions and boundary conditions since the assumed date are unknown.

Sin affects all creation

Paul personifies creation when he describes Christ returning to rule over the world, “I consider that our [Christians] present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed [when Christ returns]. For the creation was subjected to frustration [at the fall into sin], not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies [at the rapture]” (Rom. 8:19-23).

When Adam and Eve sinned it impacted the whole earth – the ground was cursed (Gen. 3:17-19). Creatures can experience disease and violent death. All creation was subjected to futility, frustration, disorder and decay. The whole creation is now suffering like a woman in childbirth. Meanwhile creation looks forward to being restored to the idyllic conditions that existed before the fall into sin.

Because humanity’s sin affects all creation we see that God’s judgment of sin affects all creation as well. There are three examples of this in the Bible:
– At the flood – “By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed” (2 Pt. 3:6).
– In the tribulation between the rapture and Christ’s reign – where natural disasters are part of God’s judgment (Rev. 6:5-6; 8:7-12; 16:4, 8-12; 17-21).
– Destruction of the earth by fire (maybe a global nuclear holocaust) at the end of Christ’s Millennial reign (2 Pt. 3:7, 10).

This explains why the flood affected the natural world as well as humanity, and is consistent with the flood being global rather than local. But Sodom and Gomorrah are an example of a local judgement of sin (Appendix C).

After the flood Noah’s family repopulated the world like Adam and Eve did in the beginning. Adam and Eve were told: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground … I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food” (Gen. 1:28-29).

Similarly, Noah was told: “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (Gen. 9:1-3).

Conclusion

An assessment of some of the written history of Noah’s flood shows that there is more evidence for a global flood than for a local flood. Because of its global extent, Noah’s flood and its aftermath probably caused a majority of the sedimentary stratification and the geomorphology of the earth.

Because it relies on the ideas of uniformity and biological evolution, the geologic time scale is unreliable. Likewise radiometric dating of rock layers is unreliable because of the huge assumptions involved.

Appendix A: What about Psalm 104:9?

This verse has been used to say that the flood was local and not global.  The passage says,

5He set the earth on its foundations;
it can never be moved.
You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
But at your rebuke the waters fled,
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
they flowed over the mountains,
they went down into the valleys,
to the place you assigned for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross;
never again will they cover the earth.” (Ps. 104:5-9).

This psalm is a poem/song to God as the Creator and Sustainer of everything. He is praising God’s greatness in nature, and in the general laws under which he has placed it. It addresses: the heavens (v.2-4), the earth (v.5-9), plants and animals (v. 10-18), cycles (v.19-23), marine life (v.25-26), God’s providence (v.27-28), birth and death (v. 29-30).

Does v.9 refer to creation (Gen. 1:2) or to the floodwaters of Noah’s time (Gen. 9:11-15)?

Those who believe that the context is the original separation of land and water during creation (Job 38:10-11; Prov. 8:29) may say that this means the flood was local and not global. Or they may think that because humanity crossed the boundaries of human behavior, then God crossed His boundary in Noah’s flood but re-established it in the covenant promise with Noah. God command the waters to cover the earth in Noah’s flood, but afterwards He promised not to drown the world again. Some think there is no need to make this exception; since this was written after the flood, and when God had sworn that the waters should no more go over the earth (Isa. 54:9).

But v.6-9 could be a poetic description of the flood, in which case it is consistent with a global flood.

How can we resolve these two views?

Some principles of biblical hermeneutics (interpretation) are that:
– “Scripture interprets Scripture”, which means that we should read any passage of the Bible in light of the entire Bible and not build a doctrine or position on a single proof text. Also,
– Obscure passages of Scripture must be interpreted in light of clear passages as God is the author behind all Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pt. 1:20-21; Jn. 10:35-36). If something is unclear in one part of Scripture, it probably is made clear elsewhere in Scripture. When we have two passages in Scripture that we can interpret in various ways, we want to interpret the Bible in such a way as to not violate the basic principle of Scripture’s unity and integrity. We use clear statements to help understand ambiguous ones.

As there are many Bible passages that are consistent with a global flood (see the main text of this post), we mustn’t use this single verse to say that it supports a local flood.

Appendix B: Water above the Himalayas?

Some criticize the idea of a global flood by saying that there’s not enough water to cover the Himalayan mountains. That’s true because Mt Everest is 8,848m (29,030 ft) above sea level. But the flood didn’t have to cover the present Earth. The Bible says that “the world of that time [pre-flood] was deluged and destroyed” (2 Pt. 3:6). No one knows the height of the mountains or the depth of the ocean valleys in Noah’s day. Thus, one cannot know how much water was on the earth during the Noahic flood.

But if the earth’s surface was completely flat, with no high mountains and no deep ocean basins, then the water in the oceans would cover the earth to a depth of about 2,500 m (8,200 ft). Afterall, about 70% of the earth’s surface is water.

During the flood the pre-flood topography was eroded and deposited in sedimentary strata beneath water. Later some of these strata were uplifted and some subsided – the mountains rose, and the valleys sank down (Ps. 104:8). Those that were uplifted formed continents and mountain ranges, while those that subsided formed deep ocean basins and troughs. This is illustrated by the fact that the uppermost parts of mountains ranges, including Mount Everest, are composed of fossil-bearing, water-deposited layers.

So Noah’s flood didn’t cover the Himalayas, but it caused them to be formed and uplifted! Where did all the water go? Most of the waters of Noah’s Flood are probably in today’s ocean basins.

This illustrates the misunderstandings that result from the idea of uniformity. The present is not the key to the past. Instead, understanding what happened in the past helps to explain the present. So the past is key to the present!

Appendix C: What about Sodom and Gomorrah?

About 530 years after the flood, God destroyed the cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim because of their wickedness (Gen. 19:12-29; Dt. 29:23). “The people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13). It was a local catastrophe that was restricted to the plains near Sodom and Gomorrah, “Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land” (Gen. 19:24-25). “Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace” (Gen. 19:27-28). The NIV Study Bible suggests that perhaps a violent earthquake spewed up burning asphalt.

The vegetation in this area has never recovered. What was once good grazing land that attracted Lot to this wicked city is now bare or submerged under shallow water.

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was an example of God’s judgment of sin (2 Pt. 2: 6-7; Jude 1:7). He judged the ungodly and rescued the righteous. In this case it was regional and not global in extent.

Written, January 2019

Also see: Noah: Fact or fiction?

God’s good news

Good news 5 400pxThe news in the daily news media is usually bad news. It’s often about disasters and tragedies like accidents, fires, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. Fortunately in a world where bad news dominates, God has given us good news.

When Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, he addressed those who denied the possibility of the resurrection of the body after death. He corrected them by saying that Jesus died and was resurrected: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

And because Christ lived and died, we can infer that He was also born (the incarnation). The reason He came to earth was because humanity was separated from God and under God’s judgment. This problem was caused because people rebelled against the God who made them in the beginning.

Paul said, “Christ died for our sins”. He died to pay the penalty that our sins deserved. After Jesus was raised back to life He ascended back to heaven. And He promised to return and resurrect all those who believed that He died for their sins.

Putting all this together we have God’s good news story. Paul says it’s the most important news for us to know.

God made a perfect world. But people rebelled against their Maker and came under His judgment. Since then they suffer from broken relationships, they put other people down, they lack peace, and they are enslaved to their idols. So God sent Jesus to pay the penalty that our sins deserved. Jesus died, was buried and rose back to life in a resurrected body. He ascended back to heaven and has promised to return and resurrect those who have trusted in Him and take them to heaven. God’s followers are reconciled with God, delivered from their sinful ways, adopted into His family, find their identity and freedom in Jesus Christ, and have peace with God. Jesus is the hero in this historical story. He is the person we are to know, love and worship.

In our celebrations, let’s not forget to remember and celebrate God’s good news.

Appendix: Other biblical summaries of the Christian gospel

“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He [Jesus Christ] appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).

“Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit” (1 Pt. 3:18).

“Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him” (Heb. 9:28).

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son [Jesus] as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10).

Acknowledgement

This blogpost was inspired by the following book,
Chan S (2018) “Evangelism in a skeptical world”, Zondervan, p. 97-99.

Santa with us

Santa 4 400pxSome of the houses in our city are decorated for Christmas. Many more feature Santa than Jesus. There are more jolly Santas than baby Jesuses. And more Santas on chimneys than Jesuses in nativity scenes. Christmas is when Christians remember the birth of Jesus Christ. Matthew wrote that one of His names is Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Mt. 1:22). But is seems that people think that “Santa with us” is more important than “God with us”.

IMG_2913 400pxHere’s the words of a song by Bob Bennett titled “God with us”.

Make wide the way and straight the path
God with us
He comes in mercy, not in wrath
God with us

Behold an ancient mystery
God stepping into history
Hail the incarnate deity
God with us

Santa 3 400pxGood will to men and peace on earth
God with us
He comes to us by humble birth
God with us

Clothed alike in flesh and bone
He comes to make His Father known
His Spirit says we’re not alone
God with us

God with us
Because we fell
Yeshua Hamashiach
[Hebrew for “Jesus the Messiah”]
Emmanuel
[Hebrew for “God with us”]
God with us
It was always meant to be
God with us
With you, with me

Innocent as a newborn child
God with us
The souls of sinners reconciled
God with us

From Bethlehem to Calvary
Come to set the captives free
That every grave might empty be
God with us

God with us
What a story to tell
Jesus Christ
Our Emmanuel
The lame will dance
The blind will see
God with us
With you, with me

Not by merit do we proclaim
He is fully God and fully man
Blessed be His Name
For the Eternal One
Has surely kept His vow
To be God with us
Here and now

So light the lights and trim the tree
God with us
A holiday with a mongrel pedigree
God with us

But at the heart of why we’re here
The morning after midnight clear
Reverence replaces fear
God with us

God with us
Our hearts compel
Our worship of the Living God
Emmanuel
May His Spirit give
Open eyes to see
God with us
With you, with me

God with us!

Although “Santa with us” is prevalent, let’s remember that since the birth of Jesus Christ God has been with us. But are we with Him? His constant presence is available to all who accept His gift of eternal (spiritual) life available through Jesus.

IMG_2819 1200px

Acknowledgement

The song, “God with us“, was written by Bob Bennett
© 2009 Bright Avenue Songs (ASCAP)

Written, December 2018

Failure isn’t final

Our car 2 400pxA few years ago our car was involved in an accident and was written off by the insurance company. It wasn’t worth fixing and they refunded the agreed value of money so we could buy a new car. The old car had failed. It was no longer useful for us. Sometimes if we fail, we can think that we are useless to God. It’s feeling like we are written off.

Its been said that everyone makes mistakes and “the only one who never makes a mistake is the one who never does anything”. We all fail sometimes in life. We all have weaknesses. And these can lead to embarrassment, shame, guilt, disappointment, depression, giving up and wondering whether we will ever be forgiven. The important question is “How can we survive failure?”.

In this post we are going to answer this question by looking at the life of Peter in the Bible.

Context

Simon Peter was a fisherman who lived at Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. He was one of Jesus’ early disciples. Peter was a leader amongst the disciples as he was a natural leader and was probably the oldest one. After he spent three years following Jesus, he was an apostle who taught the church and wrote some of the New Testament, and he was an elder in his local church.

Peter was impulsive and impetuous. He was usually the first to act and speak his mind. He was enthusiastic. A man of action. Because of this, he often failed. Here are seven examples of this:

  1. Peter rebukes Jesus

When Peter was at Caesarea Philippi (north of the Sea of Galilee), he said that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Soon after this we read that: From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns’” (Mt 16:21-23NIV).

When Jesus predicted His suffering and death, Peter rebuked Him saying “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Peter thought he knew better than Jesus. Peter thought the Messiah would be triumphant and victorious and not go through suffering, rejection, and death. But he was wrong. Jesus said that Peter was influenced by human concerns (like power and status), rather than the concerns of God who was to use what Jesus went through as a suffering servant to offer salvation to humanity.

So Jesus rebuked him, “Get behind me, Satan!”, which means “get away from me”. Peter protested against Christ’s death, but that was Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth. The cross is God’s plan for delivering humanity from their sin. Peter acted like Satan. He was influenced by Satan, and was talking like Satan. Satan tries to discourage people from obeying God. He tempts us to take the easy path.

This incident shows that the death of Christ for our sins is not an option, but a divine necessity. There’s no other way to get right with God.

So Peter failed when he rebuked Jesus and tried to get Jesus to avoid going to the cross. He was ignorant of God’s plan. It’s an example of his self-centred audacity.

  1. Peter treats Jesus like another prophet

About a week later, Peter was taken up a high mountain and was privileged to see a vision of what it will be like when Jesus comes to reign over the earth. Mark says that, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!’” (Mk. 9:2-7).

He saw Jesus in dazzling white talking about His death with Moses and Elijah (Lk. 9:30). Peter suggested putting up three shelters, one for each of them. He put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. But by speaking from a cloud God rebuked Peter for comparing Jesus with Moses and Elijah. They aren’t equals, because Jesus is Lord over all. When Jesus reigns, He will be pre-eminent above everyone else.

The Bible says that Peter “did not know what to say, they were so frightened” and “He did not know what he was saying” (Lk. 9:33). So he rushed in and said the first thing that came into his mind!

This incident shows us that Jesus is the unique Son of God. He’s not just a human prophet like Moses and Elijah.

So Peter failed when he spoke before thinking. It’s called putting your foot in your mouth! Or shooting yourself in the foot. And he missed the bigger picture of seeing Christ’s glory.

  1. Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet

In biblical times, the use of open sandals made it necessary to wash one’s feet frequently. A servant usually washed the feet of a host’s  guests. When Jesus celebrated His last Passover with His disciples, He began to wash the disciple’s feet. This shocked Peter. He thought it was wrong. So Peter said to Him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (Jn. 13:6-9).

Peter didn’t stop to think about the spiritual significance of the foot washing. Because sin destroys our fellowship with the Lord, Peter needed spiritual cleansing. The external washing was a picture of cleansing from failure and sin. It symbolized Jesus washing away a person’s failure and sin. But Peter didn’t understand Jesus’ path to the cross.

This incident shows Jesus as a humble servant. It was before His greatest act of service.

So Peter failed when he resisted having Jesus wash his feet. He told Jesus not to do it. Fortunately he changed his mind soon after.

  1. Peter fell asleep when Jesus prayed

After the last supper, Jesus took Peter, James and John into the Garden of Gethsemane and told them to “Stay here and keep watch” and “pray that you will not fall into temptation”, while He prayed. He asked God the Father if there was any other way by which sinners could be saved other than by His death, burial and resurrection. But there was no other way. And Jesus wanted His followers to understand the importance of prayer during difficult times.

Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” He said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mk. 14:37-38). He came back and found them sleeping three times! They couldn’t stay awake when Jesus faced the thought of becoming a sin-offering for humanity. They slept when they should have been praying. They couldn’t stay awake.

This incident illustrates our human weakness.

So Peter failed to obey Jesus when he slept instead of keeping watch and praying. And later that night Peter did fall into temptation when he denied knowing Christ.

  1. Peter attacked the servant of the high priest

When Jesus was being arrested, Peter cut off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (Lk. 22:50-51; Jn. 18:10-11). He was trying to stop Jesus being arrested. But Jesus told him to put his sword away and Jesus healed the man’s ear. At this time, Peter didn’t understand that Jesus came to die for our sins. Jesus was being arrested so He could be crucified. The time had come for Him to lay down His life. Jesus’ betrayal and death was in God’s eternal plan; it was no accident. It was predicted in the Old Testament, but Peter was acting against God’s plan and against God’s will. Peter failed. He didn’t understand that physical weapons are useless for spiritual warfare. Our weapons are prayer, the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Peter was on the wrong wavelength. He wasn’t on the same page as Jesus.

This incident illustrates that God’s battle is won by His power alone. The ultimate answer to our problems comes through faith in Christ, not faith in others, such as politicians.

So Peter failed when he used violence to try to stop the arrest of Jesus. He took matters into his own hands instead of bringing them to Jesus.

  1. Peter denied knowing Christ

Peter’s most famous failure is mentioned in each of the gospels (Mt. 26:69-75; Mk. 14:66-72; Lk. 22:55-62; Jn. 18:15-19, 25-27). This occurred when Jesus was being questioned by the high priest before His crucifixion. Three times Peter denied knowing Jesus.

Here’s how Luke described it: “Then seizing Him [Jesus], they led Him away and took Him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with Him [Jesus].”
But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know Him,” he said.
A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with Him, for he is a Galilean.”
Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:54-62).

Peter had a Galilean accent that was conspicuous in Jerusalem (Mt. 27:73). And he was recognized by a relative of Malchus who had seen Peter cut off Malchus’ ear (Jn. 18:26). But he still denied knowing Jesus.

And this happened after Peter promised never to disown Jesus. After the last supper, “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same (Mk. 14:27-31). And Peter said earlier, “I will lay down my life for you [Jesus]” (Jn. 3:37). But instead of being bold before the Jewish leaders in the Sanhedrin (like Jesus), he couldn’t even stand up for Jesus before a servant girl!

Peter wasn’t the only disciple that failed at this time. After Jesus was arrested, they all deserted Him and fled (Mk. 14:27, 50). John was the only other disciple at the trial and crucifixion (Jn. 18:15-16; 19:26-27). They were the only disciples who followed Jesus to the courtyard of the house of the high priest. And Peter wasn’t a coward, he tried to cut off the head of Malchus! Peter’s denial was when his faith faltered, but it didn’t completely fail – because Jesus had prayed that his “faith may not fail” (Lk. 22:32). But his faith was momentarily overshadowed by his tiredness (he had been up all night) and his doubts and fears (Jesus’ case looked hopeless). He was afraid and exhausted. He found it difficult to be the odd man out. And he was unprepared to be questioned by a servant girl.

This incident illustrates human weakness and the danger of self-confidence. Even mature believers are prone to failure. Especially when they face unexpected trials and temptations. And self-confidence can lead to humiliation.

So Peter failed when he denied knowing Jesus. He did what he said he would never do. He cracked under pressure, and in a crisis he lost his courage. They were moments of disloyalty.

  1. Peter discriminated against Gentiles

Peter was a Jew, and he was the first to bring salvation to the Gentiles when he visited Cornelius. However, later he was influenced by legalistic Jewish Christians to discriminate against Gentiles.

Paul said, When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?’” (Gal. 2:11-14). Paul’s argument continues to the end of Galatians 2. Paul emphasised that salvation was through faith in Christ and not through keeping some Jewish customs. And all believers are unified in Jesus Christ, and cultural or national differences shouldn’t affect their fellowship. Peter must have responded well to Paul’s rebuke because he referred to “our dear brother Paul” (2 Pt. 3:15) in one of his letters.

Peter contributed to racial divisions within the church. He had been mixing freely with Gentiles, but when some Jews arrived from Jerusalem who insisted that circumcision was required for believers in Christ, Peter began avoiding the uncircumcised Gentile believers. Paul called Peter a hypocrite for following the law of Moses. But because of Paul’s bold confrontation, the behavior was corrected and Peter went on to serve God in unity amongst all races and nations.

This incident shows us that even mature Christians can lapse into sinful behavior.

So Peter failed when he discriminated against Gentiles.

Peter’s failures

Peter was a follower of Jesus who failed big-time. He was corrected by God, Jesus, and Paul! We’ve looked at seven instances where Peter failed. It was a habit of his. He failed when he misunderstood Jesus. Peter failed when he sinned. His main sin was self-confidence. His failures and sins had painful consequences.

David Reynolds 1 400pxIn October David Reynolds led for most of the Bathurst 1000 car race. But when he spun the rear tyres at a pit stop, he was given a penalty that moved him to seventh place. This failure had a consequence.

When Paul reminded the Christians of when the Israelites failed in Old Testament times, he said, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). He didn’t want them to repeat Israel’s mistakes. It’s a warning to the self-confident like Peter. A warning that spiritual pride often leads to a spiritual fall. A spiritual failure. It’s a warning to those who think they are spiritually strong. For example, Elijah had a great victory over the prophets of Baal, but soon after he was running away from queen Jezebel.

But Peter’s failure didn’t define him. Although it’s recorded in the Bible, it wasn’t the end of Peter. It didn’t stop him from being a leader in the early church. He was not rejected by Jesus.

But how did Peter survive failure?

Peter’s transformation

After Peter publicly denied knowing Jesus he repented and was restored to fellowship with the Lord. This restoration was recognized publicly after Christ’s resurrection. Three times Peter answered Jesus, “Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn. 21:15-19). Jesus accepts this declaration, restores him to fellowship and commissions him for service by saying “feed my sheep”. The three affirmations matched the three denials. Peter learnt to be humble; he said “Lord, you know all things” (Jn. 21:17). And he told others to “clothe yourselves with humility” (1 Pt. 5:5). Peter served as an apostle and a church elder (1 Pt. 5:1-4). Through Jesus, Peter learnt that failure isn’t final.

Peter was restored to service because of his repentance. God used him mightily in the early church. He preached the first sermon when the church began on the day of Pentecost and 3,000 people decided to follow Jesus. He was courageous; he was put in jail more than once for proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Jesus chose Peter knowing that he would fail and knowing that he would be restored. God used Peter’s failure and sin to strengthen his faith and build him up for service in the early church. It cured him of his excessive self-confidence. Jesus can transform failures into followers. Like Peter we all fail and we all sin in some way. But like Peter we can be transformed from failure to following Jesus once again. Like him we can be former failures, and not final failures.

Billy Monger 6 400pxBilly Monger is a British car racing driver. In April 2017 he was involved in a high speed crash and had the lower part of both of his legs amputated. It seemed like that was the end of his career. But in 2018 he recommenced driving a Formula 3 car with hand controls. It was a great recovery.

Now that we’ve looked at how Peter survived failure, we need to consider “How can we survive failure?”. There’re two answers to this question. The first is to ensure our failures aren’t fatal. And the second is dealing with ongoing failures.

How to ensure our failures aren’t final

Judas Iscariot failed and sinned when he betrayed Jesus. But his failure was final and fatal. How can we escape this fate? The process is summarized in this diagram.
Failure not final 1– Failure and sin separates us from God and puts us under His judgment, and if we do nothing about this separation and judgment, it is final and hell is our ultimate destiny. Although failure is an event and not a destiny, in this case it leads to a destiny. To not trust on Christ is a fatal failure and a fatal sin.
– The first step to fix the problem is to be convicted of our failure and sin. It involves recognizing it. We may feel guilty or sorry. For example, after he was confronted, the man who had been sexually immoral at Corinth was very sorry about his behavior (2 Cor. 2:7).
– The next step is to confess our failure and sin to God. It means admitting that we are wrong.
For example, David confessed his adultery, deceit and murder (Ps. 32:5).
– The next step is repentance, which is a change of behavior where our change of attitude is shown in our actions. It’s like doing a U-turn in a car to go in the opposite direction. For example, the prodigal son stopped his wild living and travelled back to his father. He remembered that his father still loved him. We cannot become a follower of Jesus without conviction, confession and repentance. That’s the way to respond to failure and sin.
– Then God promises to forgive all our failures and sins, in the past, the present and the future. Peter preached, “Repent … and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). God is a judge of all those who have never trusted in Him. This judicial forgiveness removes the barrier to heaven. It is when an unbeliever comes to faith in Christ. If we acknowledge our sinfulness and believe that Jesus paid the penalty for us, then we are viewed as God’s children. Jesus died for all our failures, weaknesses, and sins. Have you experienced this kind of forgiveness? If not, why not start following the Lord by confessing your sins and trusting Christ as Savior?
– After our failures and sins have been dealt with, we have peace with God and are reconciled with God. And heaven is our ultimate destiny, where all our failures are forgotten.

Now we have ensured our failures aren’t fatal, how can we deal with ongoing failures?

Dealing with ongoing failures

James says that teachers “all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2). This applies to us as well.
Note the words “all” and “many”. Everyone fails sometime. And there are many ways to fail. In this passage, James addresses failures caused by the words we speak. The principle of this verse is that a sense of failure and sinfulness is necessary for our spiritual health.

The Bible says that Christians cannot grow as followers of Jesus without regular conviction, confession and repentance of their failures and sins. For a Christian, all sin has been dealt with by the death of our Savior. Paul said, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). But God allows us to fail so our faith can be strengthened. That’s what happened to Peter. He did more for Jesus Christ after his failures than he did before. His pride and self-confidence were replaced with humility and confidence in God and determination to serve Him.

The process for dealing with our ongoing failures is summarized in this diagram, which is similar to the previous one. Sin causes failures and spoils a believer’s relationship with God.Ongoing failures

Conviction. The first step is to admit our failures and sins instead of excusing them. Peter was convicted after he denied the Lord three times. The Bible says he wept bitterly (Mt. 26:75).

Confession. The next step is to confess our failure and sin (1 Jn. 1:9). David said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (12 Sam. 12:13). Christians need to do this regularly. It means admitting our failures and sins and confessing them so our relationships can be restored with each other and with God. If we examine ourselves and get right with God, we will not come under His discipline. That’s why the Christian life should be full of confession. So our fellowship with the Lord can be restored. The Christian life is full of restarts. Each of these involves conviction of sin, confession of sin, repentance to put things right, and then putting our failures behind us and moving ahead.

Repentance. The next step is to change direction and turn around to follow God once again. It involves completely changed attitudes and behavior. It is more than confessions or remorse. The Bible says it’s having a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 18:30-32). The churches in Revelation were urged to repent (Rev. 2:5, 16; 3:3, 19).

Forgiveness. After we are convicted and confess and repent, God offers forgiveness. He has great mercy. David was told “The Lord has taken away your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13). God is a Father of all those who have trusted in Him. This parental and family forgiveness restores a believer’s fellowship with God after it has been broken by failure and sin. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).

Restoration. Once we are forgiven, we are restored to following Christ once again.
This should be a time for celebration, like when the prodigal son returned home (Lk. 15:22-24).

Tiger Woods 4 400pxUp to 2013 golfer Tiger Woods won 79 titles. But then he struggled with personal problems and injuries. He was divorced in 2010 and his fourth back surgery was in April 2017. Many people had written him off. But in a great comeback he won the Atlanta title in September 2018.

The Bible says that Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, and Peter all failed God at some time; but they recovered from this to serve God in mighty ways. For them, failure was an event, but not a destiny.

Lessons for us

We have seen that failure is a normal part of life. It’s not unusual. We should expect to fail from time to time. Failure is a fact of life.

Google+ 4 100pxEven Google has failures. In 2011, Google launched Google+, which was supposed to be the next big social network. I was thinking of posting on it with links to my blog, like I do on Twitter. But Google+ was a flop and it’s being closed down.

The ability to handle failure is a vital part of our spiritual life and a sign of maturity. Fear of failure shouldn’t dominate our mind. The Bible says we are all sinners and prone to failure, but in Christ we can become overcomers.

Failure doesn’t disqualify us, even if we’ve been following Jesus for some time. God gives us another chance.

Peter was very good at failing, but he was even better at not giving up. Through his failures, Peter refused to throw in the towel. He learned from his bad decisions and allowed God to shape and mould his character. So next time you’re feeling down about yourself, remember Peter. Take a deep breath and try again.

Let’s learn from our failures and mistakes. These teach us how much we need God and His mercy in our lives. God can use failure to do spiritual housecleaning. Peter laid down his pride and put on the Holy Spirit’s courage. Remember that God sees beyond our faults and failures. If we have failed, God can make us useful again. And he continues to call us to serve Him.

Parents, let your children fail. Just as God lets us fall flat on our faces so that we may become stronger, we must allow our children the privilege of failing, too. And when they do fail, be ready to forgive them as God forgives us. For that is God’s answer to human failure.

Conclusion

So, failure isn’t final. No matter how we feel, it’s not the end. If Peter can fail, we can fail. If Peter can be restored, we can be restored. There is hope for us all.

Remember our car that was written off? It was taken to the insurer’s yard of damaged vehicles. Then it was probably sold to someone who repaired it and it’s probably still driving around today. It was restored.

Capstone-CollegeThe students at Capstone College in Poatina in Tasmania struggled at high school. Because of negative experiences, they hated school and found excuses to do other things instead. Their attendance record was poor – they were absent more than present. They were failures as students. But this failure wasn’t final or permanent or set in stone. Things have changed. They are now happy to attend school at Capstone College. Because of Capstone College, their life has turned around.

And failure needn’t be final for us also. Through Jesus, our life can turn around. The gospel solution to surviving failure is that God offers us forgiveness and restoration, and now we must confess our failures and sins to Him. So because Jesus died to pay the cost of our failures, failure isn’t final. Because of Jesus, failure isn’t final. Through Jesus, failure isn’t final. That’s how to survive failure.

Written, December 2018

Is faith blind?

Guide dog 6 400pxWhat is faith? Is it blind, as some critics in popular culture claim, or does it involve our intellect and rationality? Should we switch off our brains at the door when we go to church? Or should we be thoughtful in our beliefs?  Do we have good justifications and reasons for our faith? Or, do we just blindly jump in?

People say that faith is blind because they think that there is and can be no good reasons or justifications for Christian faith.

Atheists

To see how atheists typically characterise faith, let’s look at some representative quotes:
– “Faith means not wanting to know what is true” (Nietzsche).
– “Faith is nothing more than the licence religious people give each other to keep believing when reasons fail” (Sam Harris).
– “Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved” (Tim Minchin).
– “Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason” (Christopher Hitchens).

In all these examples it is clear how they view faith, it refers to how someone forms and holds their beliefs and that it is totally divorced from all reason, evidence and justification. But this description does not seem consistent with how the Bible characterizes faith or how Christians have historically viewed faith.

Biblical faith

Parent child 2 400pxThe Greek word used in the Bible for faith is pistis. This word is most regularly translated as faith, but on occasion as believe or assurance. It comes from the root word pethio meaning “to convince” or “persuade”. Pistis was used in the ancient world by both Christians and non-Christians to describe confidence in something that was persuasive or trustworthy. The Latin rendering of pistis is “fiducia”, from which we get our word faith. So faith has traditionally been understood as trust in something which is persuasive and trustworthy. Faith is equivalent to trust, they are synonyms. For example, children trust (have faith) in parents and the vision impaired trust (have faith) in guide dogs.

Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer held that faith has three components.

First, there is notitia, or understanding. That is, a person must understand what it is they are claiming to believe. If you don’t know or understand what the core truths of the gospel are then there is no possible way you could meaningfully believe in them (have faith in them).

Second, there is assensus, or intellectual agreement. This means finding something rationally compelling and agreeing with it. A person must intellectually accept the things they say they believe – otherwise they can hardly say they believe them, can they? So, a person must not only understand the truths of the gospel but also agree with them. Many people understand the gospel but reject it anyway. Jesus said that such “people loved darkness instead of light” (Jn. 3:19NIV).

Finally, there is fiducia, or trust. This is the root of the word faith. Saving faith involves not merely understanding and having an intellectual agreement with some list of doctrines, but a whole-hearted commitment and trust in the God they are about. Remember, even the demons believe that there is one God, but they don’t trust in God (Jas. 2:19).

To a Christian, faith is not the mindless, blind leap it is often mischaracterized as. It is the trust we put in a God and a gospel that we have thought about carefully and have found to be convincing and trustworthy.

Charles Blondin 1 400pxA popular illustration has been that of a famous tightrope walker by the name of Charles Blondin. In1859 he tightrope walked across Niagara Falls repeatedly, even doing a summersault, with a wheelbarrow, on stilts and blindfolded. Then he asked if someone would hop on his back and be carried as he walked across the falls. Most turned down the offer. They understood what he was asking of them (they had the notitia), they all emphatically agreed that he could achieve the feat (they gave their assensus) but most were unwilling to put their trust (their fiducia) in his skills. Practically speaking, their belief had as much influence on their behaviour as unbelief would have. However, one man did have faith (fiducia) in Blondin’s skills and he was successfully carried across Niagara Falls.

What does this faith look like in the Bible? In the case of Abraham, he saw the faithfulness of God, who gave him Isaac when “his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead” (Rom. 4:19). He trusted God’s commands and promises. And when the Israelites saw God’s power in Egypt, they put their trust in Him to be led out of Egypt (Ex. 14:31).

Or in the New Testament, there was the woman who suffered constant bleeding who trusted Jesus could heal her after she had seen all that Jesus could do (Mt. 9: 18-26). And the Centurion who had heard of Jesus’ power and trusted that He could heal his servant remotely by a simple command (Lk. 7: 1-10). The men who lowered their paralytic friend through the roof, believed that Jesus could heal their friend if only they could get their friend to Him (Mk. 2:1-12). And Thomas wouldn’t believe in Christ’s resurrection until he saw and touched Jesus’ wounds. He received that evidence, found it convincing and declared “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28). Thomas put his full trust in Jesus, going so far as to die for his faith in Christ rather than recanting.

So biblical faith isn’t a blind hope, or a surrender of reason. But it is always based on knowledge of God’s nature and character, His promises in the Scriptures, and what He has done.

Knowing and showing that Christianity is true

When sceptics say, “faith is blind”, they either ignore or are unaware of the intellectual foundation of faith. So what is that intellectual basis? How do we know Christianity is true?  How we can know that the Christian message is true? There are two ways we can know that the Christian Gospel is true.

The first is internal, it is the inner witness of the Holy Spirit – a direct, personal self-authenticating experience that is truthful (or genuine) and unmistakable. The second comes from persuasive arguments for Christian truth claims, including arguments for the existence of God, evidence for the historicity of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the reliability of the Bible.

These have different roles in knowing Christianity is true and showing that it is true. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit helps us to know that Christianity is true, and arguments and evidence show us that Christianity is true.

Inner witness of the Holy Spirit

We can know Christianity is true because of our direct self-authenticating experience of God’s Holy Spirit within us. A person who directly experiences the witness of the Holy Spirit doesn’t just have a subjective assurance of Christianity’s truth; like a “warm fuzzy feeling” about what we would like to be true. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit is a direct experience of God that gives us objective knowledge of the truth of Christianity, without the need for any additional arguments or proofs to authenticate it. This kind of direct knowledge is like the way we directly experience our own existence. We don’t need to be given any evidence or proofs that we exist. We know it directly from our own experience. In a similar way, we know that things beyond ourselves exist, things in the world around us. And again, we don’t need special arguments or proofs to convince us that we experience the world around us. We know it directly from our experiences. We shouldn’t press these analogies too far, but they give a good illustration of how the inner witness of the Holy Spirit gives us a similar sort of experiential knowledge of God.

Paul describes the way the Holy Spirit works within us, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. . . . Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Gal. 3:26; 4:6).

By God’s Spirit we directly know that we are children of God, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:15–16).

When Paul describes the result of the Holy Spirit’s witness, he uses the term plerophoria which means complete confidence, full assurance. He means to indicate that the believer has knowledge of the truth by the Spirit’s work. “Because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction (plerophoria)” (1 Th. 1:5).

And Jesus said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Jn. 14:26). The Holy Spirit teaches us the things we need to know in order to know Christianity is true.

And John echos Jesus’ teaching, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One [the Holy Spirit], and all of you know the truth . . . the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his [the Holy Spirit’s] anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 Jn. 2:20, 27).

Paul also said, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2: 10-13).

So the inner witness of the Holy Spirit enables us to know certain truths of the Christian gospel, such as “God exists,” “We were condemned by God”, “We are now reconciled to God”, “Christ lives in us”, and “we are children of God”.

According to the Bible, The Holy Spirit also has a special role for the non-Christian. Jesus said, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world [Satan] now stands condemned” (Jn. 16:7–11).

The Holy Spirit convicts the unbeliever of their sin, of God’s righteousness, and of their condemnation before God. By the inner witness of the Holy Spirit a non-Christian can know such truths as “God exists,” and “I am guilty before God”. Paul even tells us that without the inner witness of the Holy Spirit no one would ever become a Christian, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands [about God]; there is no one who seeks God” (Rom. 3:10–11). And, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:14). “The mind governed by the flesh [instead of the Holy Spirit] is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). As Jesus said, people love darkness rather than light.

So the self-authenticating inner witness of the Holy Spirit gives both the Christian and the non-Christian direct knowledge of core truths of the Christian message – independent of arguments and evidence. But what about arguments and evidence?

Arguments and evidence

Some people say we should never seek to defend the faith. That nobody comes to Christ through arguments and evidence. Just preach the gospel and let the Holy Spirit work! But this attitude is dangerous – it’s unbalanced and unscriptural. Instead Scripture commands us to be prepared to give such a defence to an unbeliever, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15).

We should appeal to the head as well as to the heart. For the Christian, arguments and evidence give extra assurance – we have double the reason for our faith. This adds to the confidence we already have from the Holy Spirit’s witness. The rational foundation for our faith can protect us in times of hardship or doubt. For the unbeliever, these arguments can be both one of the means through which the Holy Spirit works to bring them to Christ and they can also help predispose an unbeliever to respond to the drawing of the Holy Spirit when they hear the gospel. This is where rational arguments are crucial in showing Christianity is true.

So what arguments and evidence might we use? There are many of them and some are outlined below.

Existence of God

Firstly, there are general arguments for the existence of God. These arguments don’t demonstrate that Christianity, specifically, is true. They show that belief in a supreme God and Creator is more rational for a person to believe than Atheism. These arguments include the following.

The Kalam cosmological argument

  1. All things that begin to exist have a cause of their existence.
  2. The universe began to exist.

Conclusion: The Universe has a cause of its existence.

You might wonder, where is God in this? But when you unpack what this cause must have been like, it must be outside time and space, be immaterial, extremely powerful, and most likely be a personal being. And this is a lot like the God of the Bible.

The Leibnizian cosmological argument

  1. Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.

Conclusion 1: the universe has an explanation of its existence.
Conclusion 2: the explanation of the existence of the universe is God (from 2, and Conclusion 1).

The teleological (“Fine-Tuning”) cosmological argument

  1. The universe is finely tuned to make life physically possible.
  2. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
  3. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

Conclusion: The fine tuning it is due to design. And the designer is lot like God.

These first three arguments reflect the thoughts of David in Psalm 19 and Paul’s words in Romans 1. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4).

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

The moral argument

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values (right and wrong) and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

Conclusion: God exists.

This helps us see God’s moral nature. God is the foundation of moral values. Paul reflects the basic premise of the moral argument in Romans 2 when he says that the Gentiles who didn’t have the law of Moses, “are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them” (Rom. 2:14-15). The moral law is clearly perceived by all people.

There is an important misconception that often gets attached to the moral argument; That a person can only do morally good things if they believe in God. The moral argument does not say that a person must believe in God to be able to do morally good deeds, Indeed the verse just quoted from Romans even says this. What the argument says is that if any act is truly good or bad, it is because God exists and is the foundation of moral goodness. A non-believer can still do good things.

The ontological argument

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being (God) exists.
  2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
  3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
  4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
  5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.

Conclusion: a maximally great being (God) exists.

Here, “maximally great being” means the best possible being (person) that could ever be described. This is the kind of being that has all the qualities that make a being great and excellent, and it has those qualities to the fullest possible extent. These would be qualities like moral goodness, power, knowledge, wisdom, and self-sufficiency. These are all the qualities typically associated with being God. The term “maximally great being” is used in the argument to avoid any misunderstandings that might occur because people often have their own assumptions or ideas about God based on past experiences. The term is used to avoid all that baggage people might attach to the word God.

This is a rather abstract argument to get your head around at first, but what it shows is that if it is even logically possible that God exists, then He exists necessarily, and it would be impossible that He doesn’t exist. In order to defeat this argument and show that God does not exist, the critic of the argument would have to show that it is logically impossible for God to exist – that there is not even the slightest possibility that He exists. The most controversial premise in this argument for philosophers who specialise in modal logic is premise 1. All the other premises (2-5) are just conclusions drawn from premise 1 and the rules of modal logic.

These arguments give a very strong cumulative case for the existence of God. Something that you might notice about these arguments is that there are premises in all of them that some people might not accept; either because they don’t want to accept the conclusion of the argument, or because they haven’t really heard or considered any evidence that might make them accept the premises. What we would do when sharing these arguments with people is also share the evidence that makes us believe the premises in them are true; and therefore, that the argument is true.

To these arguments about God’s existence we can add arguments for the truth of Christianity in particular.

Historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection

Perhaps the most important argument we could add would be the argument for the historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The minimal facts that we can bring to this argument, facts that are agreed upon by almost universally amongst historians (including Atheists, Jews and Muslims) who have seriously studied the historical Jesus are:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. That His tomb was found.
3.. That His disciples sincerely believed that they meet with the bodily resurrected Jesus and were transformed into bold proclaimers of His resurrection; facing death rather than recanting on that belief.

Establishing these historical facts does not require the assumption that the Bible is perfectly infallible or perfectly preserved, so the critic can’t dismiss them using that retort. Further, all of them enjoy evidence in addition to that in the Bible text. The best explanation that can account for all three facts simultaneously is that Jesus did indeed die and rise again. All other explanations fail to account for all three facts, and the only real reason to prefer these explanations is an a priori exclusion of a miracle as an explanation – that is deciding that a miracle is impossible before even looking at any of the evidence. But indeed the Christian gospel is based upon actual historical events witnessed and recorded for us in the Bible. As Peter wrote, “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pt. 1:16). The authors saw what happened and faithfully wrote down what they saw because it was such an important thing to share.

Reliability of the Bible

Furthermore, we can add the overwhelming evidence we have for the reliability of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. For example:
– Its books were written very close to the events they record (some places within two years of the resurrection and all within the lifetime of the disciples).
– They are not corrupted by legendary developments.
– They have been extremely well preserved and transmitted.

These arguments and evidence are just some of the ways we can go about showing that Christianity is true and that we have a rational foundation for our faith. They also give us the comfort of adding to our knowledge that Christianity is true which comes primarily by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.

Not by sight

The final appeal the skeptic might make to accuse of following our faith blindly comes from the Bible itself. For example, “we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). And, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). This seems to be blind faith.

However, in both these verses, the context is our eagerly awaiting our future life with Christ, given that we know with such certainty (plerophoria) of the resurrection of Christ. And how good it is that the future we are faithfully waiting for is not based on “blind faith” but is a future we trust in with a solid, rational foundation.

Lessons for us

Now we have looked at what faith is and seen that it is not blind, how does this apply to our day-to-day lives?

Firstly, sometimes we have doubts. Or sometimes we may find it hard to answer every question someone critical of Christianity asks of us. But we don’t need to let these things trouble us, because our faith is supported by good reasons and evidence. So, as Paul writes: “thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15: 57-58). And Peter said, “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pt. 1:16).

Secondly, often in life we, or the people we love, encounter tough times. Bad things happen. We suffer. We struggle. And very often we don’t clearly know why or what the purpose is. But we can trust God through this. We know that our faith is based on something that is sure and we have God’s promise that, “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Because our faith is not blind and we have good reasons to be confident in what we believe, we can confidently take God at His word. We can look forward to what is coming, “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). And, we can trust that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

And thirdly, sometimes when a person hears the gospel message, the only thing keeping them from accepted it is the fear that they are making a blind leap into something that they don’t really know if they can trust. And by being able to show that our faith has a strong firm rational foundation, we can show them it’s not a blind leap into the dark, but a short step onto more firm ground. And that can lead them to accept the gospel.

Let’s be thankful that our faith is not blind.

Acknowledgement

This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr Tom Murphy (a chemist) titled, “Is faith blind?”.

Written, November 2018

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