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Do we have the right Bible?

The Bible is loaded with contradictions and translation errors. It wasn’t written by witnesses and includes words added by unknown scribes to inject Church orthodoxy (Eichenwald, 2014). That’s the opinion of Newsweek.

And Humanists reject the claim that the Bible is the word of God (Sommer, 1997). They are convinced the book was written solely by humans in an ignorant, superstitious, and cruel age. They believe that because the writers of the Bible lived in an unenlightened era, the book contains many errors and harmful teachings.

How reliable is the Bible? Is it trustworthy? Can it withstand objective scrutiny? This blogpost is based on a presentation by Tom Murphy titled, “Do we have the right Bible?”.

Has translating the Bible over and over for almost 3,000 years ruined its reliability? Don’t errors accumulate like messages get changed when they are passed along a line of people in the Telephone game (or Chinese whispers)?

Don’t the many translations of the Bible ruin its reliability?

Slide2 400pxThe Telephone game is a very false comparison. The English translations we have are not the product of a long line of translations. Our current English translations are translated directly from the original languages.

If that’s so, then why are there so many different translations then? Surely if translations are made directly from the originals then we would have only one version.

There are three main reasons we have so many different English translations of the Bible. First, translation research advances with time. Ongoing research helps us to more accurately understand and translate the original languages. Second, changes in modern English. The English language changes with time. New translations are made using modern English, so people can easily understand the Bible. Third, there are different approaches to translating. Some translators use one-word for one-word as much as possible, while others try to translate thought-for-thought.

We have so many versions, not because some shady telephone game has corrupted the text but because we are getting better at translating the Bible and we want translations in contemporary English everyone understands.

But weren’t the books of the bible written hundreds of years after the events they describe? Given that time gap, their messages could all be legends!

Could it all be legends?

Showing the biblical books are not legends begins with showing when they were written. They were not written hundreds of years later. The biblical manuscripts contain four kinds of  evidence that indicates when they were written.

Independently verifiable historical statements.
Only a writer living at the time could have known these facts, which we can verify using archaeology or extra-biblical documents. For example, statements like names of places, people, geography, and significant events. Historical accounts that are written long after the events they describe don’t include such comments. Verifiable statements like these strongly affirm the early writing of the biblical books. Famous archaeological examples include evidence for the Assyrian King, Sargon II mentioned in Isaiah 20:1 and the Pool of Bethesda mentioned in John 5:2-9. Prior to the archaeological discoveries that confirmed the historical accuracy of Isaiah’s reference to Sargon II (1843) and John’s description of the pool of Bethesda (1964), both biblical passages were considered to be blatant historical errors on the part of the biblical authors.

Historical events that are not mentioned.
Some historical events are not mentioned that definitely would have been mentioned had they already occurred. This evidence gives time frames for the writing of biblical books. For example, Acts 18:2 mentions the expulsion of the Jews from Rome (AD 41-54) but does not mention the destruction of the Temple (AD 70), therefore Acts dates between AD 41 and AD 70.

Direct manuscript evidence.
Having just a tiny surviving fragment of a book that we can date puts a limit on the latest date it could have been written. For example, as Papyrus fragment P52 from the book of John dates to about 120 AD, John must have been written before then.

Who the writer was and when they died.
Knowing the writer and when they died helps date a book. For example, multiple extra-biblical sources tell us Paul died shortly before AD 68, so all of Paul’s letters were written before AD 68.

Slide11 400pxThis evidence tells us the books of the bible were written very early. Look at the dating of the Gospels to see just how small a gap we are talking about. They were all written within decades of the crucifixion. The liberal dating is invariably later than the conservative dating for two main reasons. First, some biblical books make predictive statements (see Appendix A), like the destruction of the Temple in Mathew 24. Liberal scholars assume that such successful predictions are not possible and assume the book must have been written after the event. Second, some books (like John) show a very high view of Jesus’ divinity. Liberal scholars assume this to be a slow evolutionary development and therefore date the book later.

But these reasons rest on assumptions that presuppose Christianity cannot be true; they reject the idea that God exists and/or that He influenced the authors to make successful future predictions. They also reject that Jesus claimed to be God and that His disciples believed Him.

The Jesus legend hypothesis fails because there was simply not enough time between the historical Jesus and the written records for legends to have corrupted the narrative. Secular historian Professor A. N. Sherwin-White points out that at least two full generations are needed for legendary developments to obscure the core details in a historical narrative. For example, the two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written more than 400 years after his death, yet classical historians still consider them to be trustworthy. The fabulous legends about Alexander did not develop until the centuries after these two biographies. After 400 years, Alexander’s history is less corrupted as the Gospel accounts are alleged to be, even though the largest gap between the Gospel accounts and the actual events is only about 70 years, even using the most sceptical dates.

The problems for the legend hypothesis get even worse when two other facts are considered.

The Gospels use older source material.
For example, the Passion Story included in the gospel of Mark was probably not originally written by Mark. Rudolf Pesch, a German expert on Mark, says the Passion source must go back to at least AD 37, just seven years after Jesus’s death.

The Gospels are not the oldest texts in New Testament.
Older New Testament texts affirm the supposedly legendary resurrection of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians (written about AD 55) Paul cites what is apparently an old Christian creed: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: 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, and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve” (1 Cor. 15:3-5NIV). All grammatical and textual evidence tells us that the creed Paul gives came from Peter and James when Paul visited Jerusalem, reaching back to within the first five years after Jesus’ crucifixion in the very city where the crucifixion occurred.

To conclude, both Christian and non-Christian scholars are at a near-consensus that the entire New Testament was written within the first century AD, within decades of Jesus’ death. The texts are so close to the life of Jesus that legendary evolution simply cannot account for the narratives they contain.

But we don’t have the original manuscripts! How do we know that we have what Moses, David, and the Old Testament prophets really said or wrote?

Can we know what the original Old Testament texts said?

With no photocopiers, the original texts were copied by hand as they wore out or more copies were needed. The Jewish people had scribes who oversaw this. They were such meticulous perfectionists that they would count all paragraphs, words and even letters to check they copied correctly. They even knew the middle letter of every book and would count backwards to check for mistakes.

The Masoretic text is used as the source text for translating the Old Testament because we accept the Old Testament that was accepted by the 1st century Jewish community – Jesus’ community. The Masoretic text is a Hebraic and Aramaic text that circulated amongst Jewish communities between the 7th and 10th centuries AD, the oldest copy we have is from the 9th century AD.

For a long time, critics pointed out that this text is very far removed from the original manuscripts, which were penned between the 15th and 5th centuries BC. They questioned if, after so many centuries of copying, we could really have the original words. That’s where the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was helpful.

Dead sea scroll 1 400pxDiscovered in the Qumran caves in 1947, these well-preserved texts date back to between 200 BC and 100 BC. For example, the Great Isaiah Scroll is a copy of the book of Isaiah. Of approximately 1,000 scrolls found, 225 are Old Testament Books and include every book except Esther. Amazingly, there is a virtual agreement between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic text from 1,100 years later! The meticulous scribal process preserved the textual integrity for over 1,100 years! This means that we can confidently trust the Old Testament we have today. There is no evidence of grand changes through a great historical game of telephone (or Chinese whispers).

But we can go further. We currently we have four major groups of Old Testament manuscripts in three different languages, transmitted independently of each other over a span of over 1,000 years, yet they all show a high degree of agreement. In addition to the Masoretic text and Dead Sea Scrolls we also have:
The Septuagint, a Greek translation that originated between the 3rd century BC and 2nd Century AD.
The Vulgate, a Latin translation produced by the Christian priest Jerome in the 4th century AD, and
The Peshitta, a Syriac (Aramaic) translation produced in the second century AD.

By comparing all the texts available, we can reliably discern the content of the Old Testament. Of all the apparent variants in the surviving Old Testament manuscripts, none introduce wildly divergent readings from the Masoretic text that can’t be readily explained by a copyist error (such as spelling/grammar mistakes) or an easily identifiable change intentionally inserted by the scribe responsible for producing the manuscript. And the footnotes of any good study bible will point out these variants (there’s about 45 of them; of these only in 9 do translators resort to using the Dead Sea Scrolls over the Masoretic and of the 45 only one influences more than one sentence – it’s a paragraph found between 1 Samuel 10 and 11).

Also, critics assume well-used papyri disintegrate within 10 years at best, meaning many hundreds of copies of copies must separate the original text from the oldest surviving manuscripts. However, studies by historian George Houston demonstrate that ancient manuscripts were actively used anywhere from 150 to 500 years, and each copy would have been used to make hundreds more. For example, The Codex Vaticanus was reinked in the 10th century after 600 years of use. So the oldest surviving Old Testament manuscripts we have may only be a few generations of copies from the originals. For the New Testament, we could theoretically have direct copies of the original texts, or at least copies of the very first copies.

All this means that the conditions were very favorable for preserving the contents of the biblical texts. The close agreement observed across the 1,100-year gap between the Dead Sea and Masoretic manuscripts is evidence of this.

Well that covers the Old Testament. But what about the New Testament? How can we be sure we know what Jesus said, or that we know what Paul and the other New Testament authors wrote?

Can we know what the original New Testament texts said?

The New Testament text is even more certain than the Old Testament. Some surviving fragments date back to 120 AD. That’s only 35-100 years after the originals! Another big help is that there are nearly 6,000 partial or complete New Testament manuscripts in the original Greek. Add to this approximately 10,000 manuscripts of Latin translations and another 9,300 manuscripts in some 13 additional languages. All together we have about 25,000 copies of the New Testament. And these numbers are counted from databases that notoriously lag-behind current developments and not record manuscripts contained in private collections or in the form of scrolls – it is quite likely that we have well above 25,000 copies of the New Testament to work with.

Slide22 400pxLet’s compare the date of the oldest manuscripts and number of existing manuscripts with a few other pieces of literature that historians consider accurate. For the New Testament, the time gap is hundreds of years smaller and the number of manuscripts higher by thousands compared to other works from antiquity. This shows that the New Testament is the most trustworthy document from antiquity. By comparing all the manuscripts we possess, scholars easily identify copying mistakes. This process is called textual criticism. Through this process, we can ascertain the wording of the New Testament with about 99.9% accuracy. See Appendix B for more information on copying mistakes.

Well, all this only proves that we know what these books originally said. But, how do we know the right books are in the Bible? It was just people who decided wasn’t it?

Do we have the right books?

Usually when critics argue that people decided what books should be in the bible (which is called the canon), they are using a different definition of canon than Christians do. The critic thinks the church decided to declare some books authoritative and not others – that the canon didn’t exist until church leaders conferred authority on a few books when they wrote canonical lists. But the Christian understanding is different. If God exists and He inspired human writers, then the canon began to exist the moment the author put pen to paper and the canon grew as each God-inspired book was written.

The Old Testament Canon has never been in doubt. It is the exact list of books that the Jewish community has used for thousands of years. It is the exact Old Testament that Jesus declared to be inspired and authoritative (Mt. 5:17). The only differences are in the order and grouping of the books. The oldest references we have to the Old Testament canon comes from the Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote during AD 95 in his work Against Apion that the Jews recognize 22 books as authoritative; this list of 22 books covers all the Old Testament recognized by Protestants, with the exception of Ezra,  Nehemiah and Esther. However, Josephus commends these books in his AD 93/94 work Antiquity of the Jews (which also mentions Jesus).

Regarding the Old Testament Apocryphal books. The Jewish community rejected all Apocryphal books as authoritative. Early Jews may have privately read the apocryphal books for insightful historical and/or theological observations – Josephus and prominent 1st-century Midrashic rabbis did this – but they opposed any consideration of these books as Scripture.

What about the New Testament? Did Emperor Constantine decide what counted as Scripture at Nicaea in AD 325. Are the books in the Bible just the politically motivated selections of a Roman Emperor 300 years after the fact?

Was the New Testament decided at Nicaea?

As for the New Testament, the books we have in our Bible imposed themselves on the early church; they were recognized as inspired from the beginning. It’s a common myth that the biblical books the church uses were imposed on Christianity by the Roman Emperor Constantine at the council of Nicaea in AD 325 for political reasons. This is not true. We have ample evidence to show that the New Testament books we use were considered authoritative from their very beginning.

The New Testament writers recognized each other’s words as scripture.  Peter wrote, “His (Paul’s) letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pt. 3:16).

We also have very early lists of canonical books produced well before Nicaea that give a nearly identical list of books to our current New Testament today.

  • Around AD 180 we have records of the church father Irenaeus listing every book in the NT as cannon, except Philemon and 3 John.
  • The Muratorian fragment from AD 180, affirms 22 of the 27 books of the New Testament, in a list remarkably close to Irenaeus’.
  • Then in AD 198 Clement of Alexandria had a remarkably similar position, He affirmed the four gospels, 13 epistles of Paul, Hebrews, Acts, 1 Peter, 1&2 John, Jude, and Revelation.

Slide34 400pxBeyond these lists, we have numerous quotations from early church fathers which quote the books of the New Testament as authoritative scripture. These Church fathers frequently begin their quotation with “It is written”, the same language used before citations of Old Testament scripture. All of this predates the Council of Nicaea by 100-150 years. Therefore, the canon was not “foisted” on the church then. Nicaea could have only ratified the near 200-year consensus the church already held. It is interesting to note that a number of the later church fathers (after AD 150) condemn as heretical some of the Apocryphal texts by name (most notably Acts of Paul and The Gospel of Thomas).

There was never any concern that the cannon the church accepted was wrong. The bigger concern in the early church was that some Christians would be misled into believing that the counterfeit apocryphal books should be regarded as scripture when they really shouldn’t. This was the real reason official lists of canonical books were authorised at various church councils – to combat heretical teachers and apocryphal books masquerading as scripture.

In AD 367 Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, listed all the books that are in the New Testament canon. He also spoke up against books to be rejected because they were “an invention of heretics”. He called these “apocrypha”.

So we have the right Bible because its ancient words have been preserved since it was written.

How does knowing all this help us today?

It’s important to know that we have the right Bible because our entire faith and hope of salvation depend on the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection as documented in the Bible. Paul corrected those who said there is no resurrection of the dead by saying, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep (died) in Christ are lost (forever). If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:13-20). If the apostles were “false witnesses”, their message in the Bible would be unreliable. But knowing that the Bible is reliable gives us confidence and assurance in our Christian faith. The New Testament confirms many times that “Christ indeed has been raised from the dead”. It’s fact, not fiction.

Peter said that what the Apostles wrote was based on eyewitness accounts and not on fabricated stories (2 Pt. 2:3). “For 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). Knowing that we have an accurate copy of what they wrote means that we have access to eyewitness accounts. This means that the Christian faith is based on real objective historical events and not on subjective human ideas or religious concepts.

And Christians are to defend their faith. In the context of criticism, opposition and persecution, Peter said, “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 need to know why we believe what we believe. Our “hope” is our confidence about God and eternity. We can have confidence that we will have eternal life if we believe that Jesus died for our sin. And all this is based on the trustworthiness of the Bible.

Sometimes critics just want to undermine our faith or the faith of our fellow believers. We defend our faith as an act of reverence to Jesus and as a support and comfort to our fellow believers who may be struggling with doubt. And sometimes the critical questions come from a seeking heart and by answering them we might be helping clear away the obstacles that may be keeping someone from coming to faith in Jesus.

Conclusion

The Bible is the most reliable document we have from antiquity. It’s good to know that we have the right Bible. It’s an accurate copy of the message that God gave in ancient times.

Appendix A: Predictive statements in Daniel

Daniel is an example of a book of the Bible that makes predictive statements. Even giving the book of Daniel the absolute latest possible dates critics can give (ca 200 BC based on the Dead Sea manuscript found at Qumran), the predictive statements found in the later chapters of this book still precede the actual events described. Prior to the Dead Sea Scroll findings, critics did indeed try to claim that all of Daniel’s predictive statements came after the fact. The Dead Sea discovery proved that some of the book’s predictions definitely precede the events, even if we were to say that the copies found in Qumran are the earliest manuscripts containing them.

Appendix B: How are variants counted?

Some critics, like Bart Ehrman, say that the New Testament contains over 400,000 variants from the standard text, which is more than the total number of words in the New Testament (about 138,000)! So how is this number calculated? Please note that a “variant” is not an error. It’s where texts are not perfectly matched. Most of these variations are insignificant.

These variants were counted by the number of manuscripts they are found in. For example, if a spelling mistake occurs in just one verse and this mistake is found in 2,000 of the 25,000 manuscripts we have, that one spelling mistake was counted as 2,000 variants, even though it’s just one word in just one verse. So saying there are more than 400,000 variants is a misleading statement. Furthermore, 70% of all variants are one particular scribal error called the moveable-nu; it is the Koine Greek equivalent of accidentally using “a” instead of “an” in English. Of all variants, less than 0.1% are worth even mentioning in the footnotes found in good study bibles. Only two variants affect more than two verses, the end of Mark (Mk. 16:9-20) and the story about the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 7:53-8:11). And no variants at all influence any Christian doctrine or practices. This is largely because the doctrine and practices are taught in many passages of the Bible. They don’t rely on a single passage.

It’s interesting to note that the large number of variants is mainly due to the large number of ancient manuscripts. These increase the accuracy in determining the text of the original manuscript. So, it’s actually a strength and not a weakness!

Acknowledgement

This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr Tom Murphy (a chemist) titled, “Do we have the right Bible?”.

References

Eichenwald K (2014) “The Bible: So misunderstood it’s a sin”, Newsweek 23 December 2014.
Sommer J C (1997), “Some reasons why Humanists reject the Bible”, American Humanist Association.

Written, May 2018

Also see: Can we trust our Bibles? How the Bible came to us.
Is the New Testament reliable?
Mind the gap

You can trust God with your data

May-18_TrustGodWithYourData_JPG 400pxThere’s good reason to be worried about what happens to our data. Smart phones and computers store so much of our personal information. For example… intimate photos, political opinions, religious beliefs, bank account details. Or those emails from when you were sacked or that argument you had with your mother-in-law. The potential for embarrassment or even blackmail from data in the wrong hands is significant.

But whose hands are the wrong hands? Google, Facebook and Amazon try to profile our every thought and action so they can either sell us things or else sell our profile to advertisers and other companies. Tim Cook, the head of Apple, says, ‘When an online service is free, you’re not the customer – you’re the product’. Recently, Apple has been telling its users that ‘Privacy is a human right’.  But then, can we trust Apple?

And is privacy a human right? It’s certainly a time in history where it’s harder than ever to leave past mistakes behind and start again. In a globalized, connected world, one can’t just escape over a border and disappear to start again somewhere else. The Internet preserves and reveals all kinds of mistakes that we’d prefer to be forgotten.

In case you weren’t aware, since God is our maker, He has access to all our data. In the Bible, King David prays to God and says, ‘Even before I speak a word, O Lord, You know it all’ (Psalm 139:4). Therefore, since God knows about our every evil thought, word and deed, the question is, ‘What will God do with our data?’ Will He punish us by exposing our mistakes and shaming us before everyone?

No. You’ll be relieved to know that God’s radical promise to those who come to Him in repentance and prayer is that He will entirely erase this data. 2000 years ago, at the cross, God put all our shame and embarrassment onto Jesus. And since our crimes have now been dealt with, God has decided to forget about them. In the 8th Century before Jesus came God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying:

I am the One who takes away your sins because of who I am. And I will not remember your sins“.

So, turn to God in prayer, acknowledge all your secrets to Him and thank Him for His kindness to you in Jesus.

Bible verse: Isaiah 43:25, “I am the One who takes away your sins because of who I am. And I will not remember your sins”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for dealing with my sensitive data. Please help me to live a life without shame.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2018

Noah: Fact or fiction?

Plagiarism 400pxPlagiarism involves stealing someone else’s work and using it without acknowledgement. Plagiarism checkers are available online. But when plagiarism is detected how can we determine which is the copied version? Or whether both were copied from another original. If we know when they were written, that could indicate that the most recent version is copy. The story of Noah’s flood in the Bible is like other ancient flood stories. People speculate about which was the original account or whether they were both derived from the same event.

The story

Because of the wickedness of humanity in antiquity, God destroyed the earth with a great flood but spared Noah and his family (Gen. 6-9). God told Noah to build a huge boat to carry two of every kind of animal. Then the earth was covered with water, drowning everyone and everything that once roamed the land. Noah, his family and the animals on the boat survived and repopulated the planet. An Israelite named Moses edited these records about Noah when he compiled Genesis about 1450BC (see Appendix A).

Many scholars think that this is a religious legend or myth that came from older Mesopotamian flood stories mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Their explanation is that over time the account of flooding by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers may have been embellished. And according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Noah is a “symbolic figure”.

In this post, we will evaluate these claims by looking at what the Bible says about Noah. Was he a real historic person or is he symbolic or mythical? Did he live on earth or did he come from someone’s imagination? Is he literal or literary?

Old Testament

Noah is also mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 54, Isaiah predicts that Judah will be restored after it goes into captivity. “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 (Judah), never to rebuke you again” (Isa. 54:9). He recalls the covenant that God made with Noah after the flood (Gen. 8:21; 9:11). The restoration will be a new beginning with no more judgment, just like the covenant with Noah. This means that a Jewish prophet who lived about 700BC (about 750 years after Moses) believed the story about Noah and the flood. So, he confirmed that the account about Noah in Genesis was factual.

Ezekiel was a Jew taken into exile in Babylon in 597BC. In 591-592BC, he predicted the fall of Jerusalem and Judah (which occurred in 586BC).
“If a country (Judah) sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Or if I send wild beasts through that country (Judah) and they leave it childless and it becomes desolate so that no one can pass through it because of the beasts, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if these three men (Noah, Daniel and Job) were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved, but the land would be desolate.
Or if I bring a sword against that country (Judah) and say, ‘Let the sword pass throughout the land,’ and I kill its people and their animals, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if these three men (Noah, Daniel and Job) were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved.
Or if I send a plague into that land (Judah) and pour out my wrath on it through bloodshed, killing its people and their animals, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, they could save neither son nor daughter. They would save only themselves by their righteousness (Ezek. 14:13-20).
Because of their idolatry, God was going to bring “four dreadful judgments—sword (war) and famine and wild beasts and plague (disease)—to kill its (Judah’s) men and their animals” (Ezek. 14:21). These were the four main causes of death among peoples of the ancient Near East. This judgement would occur even if three righteous men like Noah, Daniel and Job lived in the land. Only the righteous would be saved; people couldn’t rely on another’s righteousness. This means that a Jewish prophet who lived about 590BC (about 860 years after Moses) believed that Noah was a righteous man, which is consistent with the account about Noah in Genesis.

In 1 Chronicles 1, the first 11 generations of humanity are given as, “Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah. The sons of Noah: Shem, Ham and Japheth” (1 Chron. 1:1-4NIV). This means that the Jews who compiled this book in about 450BC (about 1,000 years after Moses) considered Noah to be in the 10th generation of humanity. So, they confirmed that the account about Noah in Genesis 5:28-32 was factual.

New Testament

Noah is mentioned in six passages written by Matthew, Luke, and Peter and in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. Luke confirms that Noah was in the 10th generation of humanity, “the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Kenan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam” (Lk. 3:35-38). This was written about 1,500 years after Moses.

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). As people were unprepared for the flood (they were outside the ark and they had no time for God), so they will be unprepared for the second coming of Christ (they will have no time for God). Only those trusting in Christ will be delivered when He returns. The rest will ignore God’s warnings and be judged like most of Noah’s generation. So, Jesus obviously believed that Noah was a real person and the global flood was a real event.

Noah’s faith is commended in Hebrews. “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith” (Heb. 11:7). When warned about the coming flood, Noah “built an ark to save his family”. Perhaps many of the early Jewish Christians often wondered why they were such a small minority. The story of Noah reminded them of the time when only eight people trusted God while the rest died in the flood. Just as the other heroes of faith lived historically (such as “David, Samuel and the prophets”, v.32), Noah was a real person and the global flood was a real event.

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). The Christians that this passage was written to were suffering. And they were a small minority. In these verses they were encouraged by the prospect of being saved from the coming judgment, just as eight people were in Noah’s day. Peter describes real people that were saved by a real ark.

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). Here we see that Moses warned the people to turn from their wickedness or face God’s judgment. Once again, Peter describes real people that were saved from a real flood.

Discussion

The method I have used to investigate whether Noah was a real person and the flood was a real event or just a mythical story to convey a message differs from the one used most commonly. I have studied what the Bible says about this topic, whereas others usually rely on scholarship outside the Bible. The problem with scholarship that is based outside the Bible (including literature and non-experimental historic science) is that it can change from year to year. What is claimed to be true now, will probably be discredited by future generations. Such knowledge is transient and changeable. And the interpretation of literary genres is very subjective. I prefer a more objective and robust approach that is based on Scriptural facts (the text of the Bible which is unchanging). The best way to interpret a Biblical passage is to investigate the text, the context, what the author says elsewhere and what other Bible authors say about the topic. This is the approach I have used in this post.

Depending on your worldview, you may not agree with my approach. But I think that a worldview based on revelation by the Creator of the universe is more reliable than one based on naturalistic human scholarship.

We have seen that the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah and Ezekiel) believed the story about Noah and the flood. As they lived over 2,600 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.

And the Old Testament Jews who compiled scripture believed that Noah was a real person (1 Chron. 1:1-4). As they lived over 2,400 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.

And the writers of the New Testament (Matthew, Luke, Peter and the author of Hebrews) believed that Noah was a real person. Jesus also believed that Noah was a real person and the global flood was a real event. As they lived over 1,950 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.

Are the Mesopotamian flood stories mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh older than the biblical flood story? Many scholars believe the Mesopotamian stories are older because they assume that Genesis was compiled in the 6th century BC. They ignore the fact that Moses compiled Genesis about 1450BC (see Appendix A). According to the Bible, Noah lived in the 3rd millennium BC. And according to scholars, Gilgamesh lived in the 3rd millennium BC. So they could possibly be describing the same event.

Implications

We have seen that the Genesis flood was an historical event which shows that people are habitual sinners who disobey God and deserve judgment. God hates sin and His patience comes to an end when He punishes unrepentant sinners. But God protects those who trust in Him. This shows that sin has consequences, and judgment is coming. If it wasn’t a real event, then its significance is reduced.

Jesus and Peter likened the flood to God’s coming judgment of the ungodly. The reality of the flood should warn us of the reality of the coming judgment by fire (2 Pt. 3-13). The account of Noah and the flood shows the prospect of being saved from God’s judgment. As the example of Noah was a real event, so there is a real prospect of being saved from God’s judgment. Trusting in Jesus is like being on the ark. But if the account of Noah is mythical and not historic, then it would be a weaker example of deliverance.

Noah lived by faith. He trusted in the revelation his generation had received about God. Since that time, we have much more revelation about God (see the remainder of the Bible). Do we live by faith in what Jesus has done in taking the punishment we all deserve for our sinfulness?

Conclusion

The Old Testament Jews believed that Noah was a real person and that the account about him in Genesis 6-9 describes real events. Also, Jesus, Matthew, Luke, Peter and the author of Hebrews all believed that that Noah was a real person and that the account about him in Genesis 6-9 describes real events.

Therefore, we should also believe that Noah was a real person and that the account about him in Genesis 6-9 describes real events. So, Noah was a person who lived on earth, and he wasn’t symbolic or mythical nor did he come from someone’s imagination. He is literal and not literary.

Appendix A: When was Genesis compiled?

There is no mention in the book of Genesis of the name of its complier. But because the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is called “the law of Moses” in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, many believe that it was Moses (1 Ki. 2:3; Lk. 2:22). When he was leading Israel, Joshua said that “the book of the law of Moses” was already written (Josh. 1:7-8; 8:30-31).

Jesus referred to the three parts of the Jewish Old Testament as “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Lk. 24:44). This makes Moses the author of the first part of the Old Testament.

First century Jews said that circumcision was a “custom taught by Moses” (Acts15:1) and “Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs)” (Jn. 7:22). This may refer to the introduction of male circumcision for the descendants of Abraham in Genesis 17.

The Bible says that “the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel” was “the 480th year after the Israelites came out of Egypt” (1Ki. 6:1). Since the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel was about 966BC, the date of the exodus was about 1446BC. It’s most likely that Moses wrote most of the Pentatuech during the 40year period (about 1446-1406BC) when Israel travelled from Egypt to Canaan. As it refers to earlier events, it is possible that Genesis was compiled before the exodus.

Who wrote the original account about Noah? Based on the structure of Genesis, it seems that Noah wrote Genesis 5:1b-6:9a, which ends with “This is the account of Noah and his family”. And his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth probably wrote Genesis 6:9b-10:1a, which ends with “This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth”. These may have been written on clay tablets in the 3rd millennium BC .

Written, May 2018

Adam and Eve: Fact or fiction?

Fact & fiction 6 400pxFake news is influencing aspects of our lives as important as our political viewpoints, our relationships with the environment and our life expectancies. But fake news can be extremely hard to identify. Fake news articles often lack sources. People aren’t directly quoted, and source material for statistics may not be provided. Social media and the ease of accessing information has given rise to incidences of news being distributed that is inaccurate, skewed, biased, or completely fabricated. A Google search is often used to source information, but since anyone with access to a computer can publish anything online, it’s crucial that we evaluate the information we find. That means distinguishing fact from fiction. Does the Bible contain fake news?

Some claim that the early chapters of Genesis are more poetic and theological than factual by suggesting they are a creation myth or exalted prose or semi-poetic or a defence of monotheism. And Wikipedia says that Adam and Eve “are symbolic rather than real”. Others say it’s a story that points toward a larger symbolic truth or a metaphor of the relation of God and humanity.

In this post, we will evaluate this claim by looking at what the Bible says about Adam and Eve. Were they actual people or are they symbolic or mythical? Did they live on earth or did they come from someone’s imagination? Are they literal or literary?

Old Testament

The Bible says that Adam was the first man on earth whose wife was Eve and whose oldest sons were Cain, Abel, and Seth (Gen. 2-5). He also had many other sons and daughters (Gen. 5:4). These people differed from animals because they were made “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27NIV; Ps. 8:5-8). An Israelite named Moses edited these records about Adam when he compiled Genesis about 1450BC (Lk. 24:27, 44).

Adam is also mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament. In 1 Chronicles 1, the genealogy of Abraham begins, “Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah” (1 Chron. 1:1-3). This means that the Jews who compiled this book in about 450BC (about 1,000 years after Moses) considered Adam to be the earliest ancestor of Abraham. So they confirmed that the account about Adam in Genesis was factual.

New Testament

Adam is mentioned in six passages in the New Testament – once each by Luke and Jude and four times by Paul. Luke confirms that Adam is the earliest ancestor of Abraham, “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Lk. 3:38). Here Adam is called “the son of God” because he had no human parents. This was written about 1,500 years after Moses.

In Romans 5 Paul gives a comparison between Adam and Jesus Christ. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come (Jesus).
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man (Adam), how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s (Adam’s) sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man (Adam), death reigned through that one man (Adam), how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Consequently, just as one trespass (Adam’s sin) resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act (Christ’s death) resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus) the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:12-19). The difference was that Adam’s sin was the reason there is sin and death in the world, whereas the gift of eternal life came through Jesus Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul gives a comparison between Adam and Jesus Christ. “For since death came through a man (Adam), the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man (Jesus). For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). The difference is that the descendants of Adam all die, whereas those who have faith in Christ will be resurrected from death to life.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul gives another comparison between Adam and Jesus Christ. “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam (Jesus), a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man (Adam) was of the dust of the earth; the second man (Jesus) is of heaven. As was the earthly man (Adam), so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man (Jesus), so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man (Adam), so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man (Jesus)” (1 Cor. 15:45-49). The difference is that the descendants of Adam all have a natural body, whereas those who have faith in Christ will be resurrected to have a spiritual body.

In 1 Timothy 2 Paul refers to events in Genesis 2-3. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (1 Tim. 2:13-14). He recounts that Adam was created before Eve and implies that Eve sinned before Adam.

Jude refers to a prophecy of Enoch against the ungodly, “Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of His holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against Him’” (Jude 14-15). So Jude confirms the genealogy of Genesis 5.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, He replied, “Haven’t you read, that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male (Adam) and female (Eve),’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” ‘Why then,’ they asked, ‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’ Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning (from the time of Adam and Eve). I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Mt. 19:4-9). In this passage Jesus quotes from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24, which in turn describe Adam and Eve as real people.

When Paul preached in Athens, he said, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man (Adam) He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands” (Acts 17:24-26). Paul referred to the creation of the world from Genesis 1, the creation of humanity from Genesis 2 and the nations from Genesis 10. He obviously believed that Adam was the first man and that these were real events.

Paul also mentions Eve in 2 Corinthians 11, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). He was concerned that they would be deceived by false teachers like Eve was deceived in the Garden of Eden. He obviously believed that Eve was the first woman and that these were real events.

Discussion

The method I have used to investigate whether Adam and Eve were actual people or just a mythical story to convey a message differs from the one used most commonly. I have studied what the Bible says about this topic, whereas others usually rely on scholarship outside the Bible. The problem with scholarship that is based outside the Bible (including literature and non-experimental historic science) is that it can change from year to year. What is claimed to be true now, will probably be discredited by future generations. Such knowledge is transient and changeable. And the interpretation of literary genres is very subjective. I prefer a more objective and robust approach that is based on Scriptural facts (the text of the Bible which is unchanging). The best way to interpret a Biblical passage is to investigate the text, the context, what the author says elsewhere and what other Bible authors say about the topic. This is the approach I have used in this post.

Depending on your worldview, you may not agree with my approach. But I think that a worldview based on revelation by the Creator of the universe is more reliable than one based on naturalistic human scholarship.

We have seen that the Old Testament Jews who complied scripture believed that Adam and Eve were real people (1 Ch. 1:1). As they lived over 2,400 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.

And the writers of the New Testament believed that Adam and Eve were real people. In particular, Jesus and Paul believed Adam and Eve were real people, and they based key doctrines on what Genesis tells us about Adam and Eve. As they lived over 1,950 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.

Implications

The fact that Adam and Eve are historical people helps us understand our world. The Bible says that in the beginning God made a good creation which was spoilt by Adam and Eve’s sin. This resulted in suffering and death, which was followed by God’s offer of redemption and restoration. If we deny the cause of sin, then we deny the explanation of suffering and the need of salvation. Then sin and suffering are God’s fault and there is no prospect of relief.

Because Adam and Eve are historical people we are all their descendants and there is no biological basis for racism. We are all related. Paul said, “From one man (Adam) He (God) made all the nations” (Acts 17:26).

Paul sees Adam and Christ as history’s two most important figures. If Adam wasn’t historic, then there could be a tendency to think that Jesus wasn’t historic.

Conclusion

The Old Testament Jews believed that Adam was a real person and that the account about him in Genesis 1-5 describes real events. Also Jesus, Luke, Paul, and Jude all believed that Adam and Eve were real people and that the account about them in Genesis 1-5 describes real events.

Therefore, we should also believe that Adam and Eve were real people and that the account about them in Genesis 1-5 describes real events. So Adam and Eve were actual people that lived on earth, and they were not symbolic or mythical nor did they come from someone’s imagination. They are literal and not literary.

Written, May 2018

Lest we forget

Lest we foget 8 400pxLast Wednesday was ANZAC Day, which is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand of those who served and died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Did you know that the phrase “Lest we forget” used to commemorate those who died in warfare came from the Bible? It came via the poem “Recessional” (see Appendix A) by Rudyard Kipling which was written towards the end of the 60th anniversary celebrations of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1897. These turned into a celebration of the power of the British Empire.

The poem was written to be sung as a hymn at the end of a church service (see Appendix B for an explanation of its meaning). It acknowledges that God helped establish the British Empire. But all human power is transient and empires eventually decline and disappear. It urges the English to be humble instead of boasting about their achievements. The main warning is not to forget God. The chorus is:
“Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!”
So the context of “Lest we forget” is God, not those who have died.

The title “Lord of hosts” comes from the KJV of the Bible (1 Sam. 1:3), which can be translated “Lord Almighty” (NIV), “Lord of Armies” (CSB), or “Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (NLT). It means that God is sovereign over all other powers in the universe, including the British Empire.

The phrase “Lest we forget” comes from a warning given to the Israelites after they settled in the promised land. It says, “Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Dt. 6:12KJV). Or, “be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt” (NLT). They were not to forget what God had done for them. But we know that the Israelites did forget God and followed idols.

So, in Recessional, “Lest we forget”, was a call to not forget God. But this song was also sung at remembrance services for those who died in warfare. And in this context, it was a call to not forget those who had given their lives for their country. In this context, the meaning of “ancient sacrifice” in the song changed from Christ’s death to the death of soldiers. This is an example of how words and phrases can change their meaning over time.

Lessons for us

As the Israelites were God’s people in Old Testament times, Christians are God’s people today. And like them, we are not to forget what God had done for us. We too can easily forget God and the ancient sacrifice of Christ for us. He gave up His life so we could have eternal life.

Let’s not be like the Israelites who forgot about God when they followed idols. Anything we can’t live without or must have is an idol that needs to be removed or put back in its place. An idol is anything that we give higher priority than God. Or anything that we think about more than we think about God.

“Lest we forget”. Don’t forget God!

Appendix A: Recessional

A poem by Rudyard Kipling (1897)

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law —
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Appendix B: Exegesis of Recessional

Kipling was a British poet who wrote verse for English readers. This poem was written over 120 years ago when the British Empire was a major world power. Some of the imagery used in the poem is drawn from the KJV Bible.

Verse 1

Their ancestors worshipped the God of the Bible.

Their armies trusted in this God.

They were in awe of the greatness, power and majesty of God.

They acknowledge that God helped them establish the British Empire.

They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 2

The 60th anniversary celebrations for Queen Victoria will end. They are transient.

The military leaders will stop parading and the visiting dignitaries (kings of Europe) will return home.

But Christ’s ancient sacrifice endures.

God wants us to be humble rather than proud and boasting. We need to confess and repent of our arrogance and boasting. This may be derived from, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17KJV). “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (NLT).

They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 3

Although their Navy travels to far-away places, they can’t sustain their presence in these places.

Watch-post fires are extinguished as military personnel leave.

The 60th anniversary celebrations and the might of the British Empire is transient.

Like Nineveh and Tyre, the British empire will eventually decline and disappear. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire whose destruction by the Babylonians was predicted in the Bible (Nahum 1:1 – 3:19). Tyre was a powerful Phoenician city whose destruction by Alexander the Great was predicted in the Bible (Ezek. 26:1 – 28:19).

They acknowledge God will judge the nations and pray that He will spare them from judgment. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness (Gen. 18:20 –  19:29). The Bible teaches that God will judge nations according to their treatment of the Jews (Joel 3:1-16). And in many cases, sin brings its own judgment (Rom. 1:18-32).

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 4

They are intoxicated with the idea of colonial power.

They have no awe of the greatness, power and majesty of God. Because of these two things, they say things they shouldn’t say.

Like the Russians and Germans, they boast of their achievements.

They also boast like the heathen in other lands who don’t have the benefit of knowing the Bible.

They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 5

They are acting like the heathen in other lands who don’t have the benefit of knowing the Bible.

They trust in military might.

But all this is futile because it will end in dust! It is insignificant compared to the eternal nature of God.

They leave God out of their lives.

They claim to be God’s people. And they pray to God for forgiveness for their boasting and their foolish language.

Verses 3 and 5 say that they shouldn’t trust in human achievements because these don’t endure. They are fleeting.

Written, April 2018

Teamwork

Teamwork 1 400pxWhy do more than five million people a year in the US pay money to run several miles over an obstacle course where they must ascend vertical walls, slog through mud, and climb up inside a vertical pipe with water pouring down on them? Some see it as a personal challenge to push their limit of endurance or conquer their fears. For others, the attraction is teamwork where competitors help and support each other. One person called it “a no-judgment zone” where people who are strangers will reach out to help each other finish the race.

The Bible urges us to pursue teamwork as a model of living out our faith in Jesus. “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His (Christ’s) return is drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25NLT). We are to encourage and motivate each other and not give up meeting together.

Our goal is not to “finish first” in the race of faith, but to encourage others by setting an example and lending a helping hand along the way. We should run together (not individually) in the race of faith. God urges us to spur each other on, be ready to help, and keep working together every day.

Examples of teamwork

A good example of teamwork is found in rebuilding the wall and gates of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3). Forty-two teams of workers each repaired a section of the wall. It wasn’t just done by the servants. The high priest, priests, levites, rulers, nobles, city officials, craftsmen, and women worked on the project. Everyone who was able to worked on the project. They worked alongside each other – the word “next” is mentioned 26 times in this chapter.

Jesus used teams. He trained a team of 12 men (the apostles) to lead the church in Jerusalem after He returned to heaven. He sent these and the seventy-two out “two by two” (Mk. 6:7; Lk. 10:1). They worked in two-man teams. And a team of women supported Jesus (Lk. 8:1-3; 19:25).

Paul used teams on his missionary journeys. Barnabas was on the first journey. Silas and Timothy were on the second journey. And Luke was on the third journey (Acts 20:5 – 21:17).

In the early churches that Paul established, a team of men (elders) provided the leadership and a team of people (deacons) served (1 Tim. 3:1-13).

Other examples

Others biblical verses that support the idea of teamwork are given below.

Peter urged Christians to love each other, share resources with those in need and serve one another. “Continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another” (1 Pt. 4:8-10).

Paul says that like in a human body (or a sports team) each Christian has a different role but we are to combine together harmoniously. As the body is comprised of many parts that work together, the church is to be comprised of many Christians working together and dependent on each other. “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body (the church). We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Rom. 12:4-5). “If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body.” (1 Cor. 12:17-20).

Proverbs says that we benefit when we interact with others by sharing opinions and asking questions. “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Prov. 27:17).

Solomon also notes the advantages of working together, rather than individually. This enables people to work more efficiently, rescue one another, and defend one another against attack. A team is stronger than an individual. “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble … A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (Eccl. 4:9-12).

Conclusion

We need teamwork in our marriage, in our family, in our church and in our ministries. That’s the best way to negotiate the obstacles and complete the projects.

Reference

This post is based on “Our Daily Bread” 13 March 2018.

Written, April 2018

 

Don’t forget to remember!

Anzac day 2 400pxAfter the British lost many soldiers in the early days of World War 1, this poem was written by Laurence Binyon.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

It’s an extract (called the “Ode of remembrance”) from a poem titled, “For the fallen”, that will be recited today across Australia. Today is ANZAC Day when those who died in warfare are remembered. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

The phrase “Lest We Forget”, which was taken from “Recessional”, a poem written by Rudyard Kipling, will also be mentioned in Anzac services today.

In this post we will look at what God wants us to remember and not forget.

Monuments

Explorers tree Ktaoomba 400pxAt least six monuments are mentioned in the book of Joshua. A stone monument was commonly used in ancient times as a memorial to remind future generations of what had happened at a particular place.

And monuments still exist today. When we drive to my hometown in central New South Wales, we pass at least three monuments. Near Katoomba there is the Marked Tree that reminds us of the explorers that crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813. West of Orange there is a monument to Thomas Mitchell who explored inland Australia in 1836. And near Eugowra there is a monument at Escort Rock where outlaw bushrangers robbed gold from a stage coach in 1862.

Thomas Mitchell monument - Escort Way Orange 400pxAfter they crossed the Jordan River, the Israelites set up the first stone monument at Gilgal. The stones were to be “a sign” for them. “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Josh. 4:6-7NIV). This monument reminded the Israelites that God miraculously dammed the Jordan (even though it was flooded) so the Israelites could cross over into the promised land on dry ground.

Escort rock monument - Eugowra 400pxSecond, after Ai defeated the Israelites and Achan was stoned for disobedience and lying, “they heaped up a large pile of rocks” (Josh. 7:26). This monument reminded the Israelites of the seriousness of sin and the need to judge it.

Third, after they finally destroyed Ai, they “raised a large pile of rocks over it” (8:29). This monument reminded the Israelites that they could have victory over their enemies if sin was judged.

Fourth, on Mount Ebal, “Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses” (Josh. 8:32). This was in obedience to a command of Moses, “Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: “Keep all these commands that I give you today. When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster … And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up” (Dt. 27:1-8). This monument on Mount Ebal reminded the Israelites to obey the law of Moses. It had the ten comandments written on it.

Fifth, when the army of the eastern tribes of Israel returned home after helping the western tribes to conquer Canaan, they “built an imposing altar” near the Jordan River (Josh. 22:10). When the western tribes saw this they thought that the eastern tribes were engaging in idol worship. But the following reason was given to them, “We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord. “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord at His sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the Lord.’ “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you’” (Josh. 22:24-28). This monument near the Jordan reminded the Israelites on either side of the Jordan than they worshipped the same God.

Sixth, after the covenant was renewed at Shechem near the end of the life of Joshua, “he (Joshua) took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord. “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us.
It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us.
It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God” (Josh. 24:26-28). This monument reminded the Israelites of their promise to obey the law of Moses.

Other monuments in the Bible include:
– Samuel set up a monument near Mizpah to remind the Israelites of how the Lord gave them a great victory over the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:7-12). It was named Ebenezer, which meant “stone of help”.
– After his victory over the Amalekites, Saul “set up a monument in his own honor” at Carmel. He wanted the Israelites to be reminded of his greatness.
But because he disobeyed God, his reign was taken away.
– David’s son Absalom built a monument to himself in the King’s Valley because no sons survived to carry on the family name (2 Sam. 18:18).
– The Pharisees built monuments over the tombs of the Old Testament prophets, but they plotted to kill Jesus (Mt. 23:29; Lk 11:47).
These last three monuments are memorials of humanity’s self-centredness and hypocrisy. While the others were mostly reminders of what God had done.

Berry_War_Memorial 400pxIn most Australian towns there is a monument to those who died in warfare. Many of these monuments list the names of those who died. They are reminders. I think that the Bible is the biggest reminder to us of what God has done.

But there are other examples in the Bible of remembering besides monuments. We will look at some in the Old Testament (OT) and some in the New Testament (NT).

Remembering in the OT

After interpreting the dream of Pharaoh’s cupbearer, Joseph told him, “when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison” (Gen. 40:14). But the Bible says, “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Gen. 40:23). He only remembered Joseph after Pharaoh had a dream.

Jesus said, “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). She was offered deliverance from the judgment of Sodom. Although she left the city, she wasn’t delivered because she turned back towards Sodom.
This is a warning to those who trifle with God’s offer of salvation through Jesus.

Moses commanded Joshua to remember past victories and trust God for future ones (Dt. 3:21-22).

Moses instructed the Israelites to remember the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai and to teach them to their children (Dt.4:9-14). God remembers His covenant with the Israelites. And Israel is to remember the words and deeds of God, such as the deliverance from Egypt. They are told to “be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.
Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb (Sinai) (Dt. 4:9-10).

In ancient times lessons from history were remembered when one generation told them to the next. For example, “things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep his commands” (Ps. 78:3-7). If this wasn’t done, the lessons of history were forgotten.
Fortunately, today we have the written version in the Bible.

Israel was urged to remember that God had delivered them from slavery on Egypt. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Dt. 5:15). This is also summarized in statements like, “Remember the days of old” (Dt. 32:7).

If Israel were ever tempted to fear their enemies, they were told to remember God’s mighty deliverances in the past, especially the deliverance from Egypt (Dt. 7: 17–19).

To remember means to not forget. If they got comfortable and satisfied, the Israelites were warned, “be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Dt. 6:12). Prosperity leads to forgetfulness (Dt. 8:10-14). And the psalmist wrote, “Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law” (Ps.119:61). He was committed to remembering the law of Moses.

Gideon rescued the Israelites from the Midianites. But after he died they went back to idolatry. They did “not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side” (Jud. 8:33).

When the ark of the covenant was brought to Jerusalem the Levites sang “Remember the wonders He (God) has done, His miracles” (1 Chron. 16:12; Ps. 105:5).

Solomon said, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth”, before you face the difficulties of old age (Eccl. 12:1).

When the Jews were threatened when rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah encouraged them by saying, “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome” (Neh. 4:14).

What do you use to remember things? A calendar?
A notebook? Post It notes? An alarm?

There are also examples of remembering in the NT.

Remembering in the NT

Christians are told to celebrate the Lord’s Supper “in remembrance” of the Lord Jesus (Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11: 24-25). It’s the way that God has told us how to remember what Jesus has done for us.

Paul reminded the Ephesians to remember their hopeless situation before they trusted in Christ (Eph. 2:10-11). They had no hope of eternal life. They were ignorant of the true and living God.

The book of second Peter was written to tell believers how to deal with false teachers within the church. He describes the aim of his letter as follows:

“So I will always remind you of these things (now in the Bible), even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure (death) you will always be able to remember these things (now in the Bible)” (2 Pt. 1:12-15). Here we see that God’s purpose for the believer is to be constantly reminded of the importance of God’s Word. Churches should teach the crucial doctrines of the Christian faith. We need to be diligent with God’s truth. We need to be constantly reminded of the importance of God’s Word. This knowledge gives us stability and resilience to absorb the shocks of life. The Bible gives us stability (Mt. 4:4). We can’t live the Christian life without the Bible. Peter alludes to his imminent death. He was taking stock of himself and those to whom he was writing. He wanted them to remember certain truths about going to heaven.
At death the soul is released from the body. As a Christian he has the expectation of eternal life. Our only assurance about eternity comes from the Bible.
Peter wants to leave a lasting legacy. And it has lasted because we can read it today in the letter of second Peter in the Bible.

Paul said, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand” (1 Cor. 15:1). He then summarises the gospel and focuses on the resurrection of Christ. And he told Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead” (2 Tim. 2:8). We need to focus on the divinity and sacrifice of Jesus. That can help us face suffering and death.

Jude said, “But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires’. These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit” (Jude 17-19). We are reminded that things are not going to get any better in the professing church with time. The Bible says we are to expect the opposite. We are warned of this so we can be prepared.

The message to the church at Sardis says, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent” (Rev. 3:2-3). It was like they were spiritually asleep and needed to be woken up. God wanted them to get back on track and be spiritually mature. He had a purpose for them. The entire church needed to repent.

Discussion

We have looked at some monuments and some examples of remembering in the Bible. The things to be remembered under the Old Covenant in the OT, now need to be translated into equivalent things under the New Covenant in the NT. When this is done, we see that these examples show us God wants us to remember these things.

Remember our guilt and the penalty that is owed because of our sinfulness.

Remember that God has provided Jesus to be our Savior who paid that penalty – that’s the gospel (good news) message.

Remember that if we fail to accept God’s provision, we are doomed to face God’s judgement.

Remember our hopeless situation before we trusted in Christ as Savior.

Remember that people of all nationalities and cultures can worship the same God as us.

Remember to obey the commands given to Christians in the NT.

Remember that God helps us.

Remember past examples of God helping us.

Remember what the Bible says.

Remember the characteristics of the triune God.

Remember that unbelievers will infiltrate into Christendom and cause strife.

Remember to stay spiritually alert and mature.

Let’s remember these 12 things. And if we forget, let’s remind ourselves again from the Bible.

If our cell phone goes flat, we need to connect it up to the charger so the battery can be recharged. Likewise, if we are spiritually flat, we need to get our brains reconnected to the Bible so that it’s content can recharge our minds.

Lessons for us

As we pause on Anzac Day to remember those who gave their lives so we can have peace in our land, let’s remember God who sacrificed Himself to bring a future peace in heaven and earth.

God has given us the Bible “Lest we forget”. The Bible is a great reminder. Can we say, “We will remember its message”?

I use a phone alarm to remember some things. But it doesn’t work if I don’t set the alarm! I think the Bible is like an alarm. But it doesn’t work if we don’t read it!

So, don’t forget to remember!

Written, 25 April 2018 (ANZAC Day)

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