Observations on life; particularly spiritual

History and prophecy

Conversation on the Bible

Here is a conversation on the Bible that is an extract from the comments after a blogpost. Check the post for the complete discussion that took place over a period of more than three months. As there were two commentators involved at the same time, the discussion with each is separated below.

Commentator 1 September

Much of the old testament is filled with violence and genocide the likes of which would keep today’s UN war crimes tribunals busy for an eternity.

How can we rely on the Christian scriptures as you have said when we have no proof only faith of their authenticity? Faith is in no way empirical evidence of the divine origin of the texts.

George’s reply 24 September

You asked, “How can we rely on the Christian scriptures as you have said when we have no proof only faith of their authenticity?” Please read my post on “Can we trust our Bibles”. It concludes that our Bibles are very close to the original because early manuscripts have been preserved, scholars have reconstructed the original text and languages have been translated accurately. Because of this and the numerous manuscripts that have been preserved, the Christian Bible is one of the most reliable ancient texts that are available today.

Commentator 24 September

Dear George, be that as it may citing the Bible as proof of its self is a non sequitur. It’s like asking the murderer if he did it and using that as the only evidence in court. I don’t doubt the Bible was written, or even has some truth, but it is in of itself not proof of god or the divinity of Jesus.

George’s reply 1 October

You claim that “citing the Bible as proof of its self is a non sequitur”. This means that “it does not follow” or it’s not logical. I answered this by saying that “the Christian Bible is one of the most reliable ancient texts that are available today”

We can find out whether to approve or disapprove of any given teaching by comparing it to biblical text. The Bible is the ultimate standard for truth.

Commentator 5 October

Should not the truth when exposed, read, or published in any Christian text speak for its self?

George’s reply 5 October

With regard to religious books, it’s the quality that counts more than the quantity. As the Bible is a message from the God who created the universe, it trumps all products of the human mind.

Truth in the Bible is simple enough to be read by anyone.

You ask, “Should not the truth when exposed, read, or published in any Christian text speak for its self?” Yes it does. But most people reject it. For example, everyone can see the beauty and complexity of life and the universe, but few consider the Creator.

Commentator 8 October

Back to the Bible, God did not write the Bible, men clearly did, as an intermediary. I would once again say that citing the Bible as proof of god amounts to nothing more than hearsay. But if you ask me today and say that some guy saw a burning bush and chiselled out 10 laws from God on a stone tablet, I would want to know what drugs he was on to have such a hallucination. I can accept that these men were inspired to do it and in turn inspired many others to do good things.

Why do most people reject the Christian teachings? Very good question. The answer is likely in the delivery, for example, “I am right, it says so right here in the good book, and you are going to hell if you don’t believe as well”. “Don’t shove that down my throat.” nothing has changed since the crusades. There is not one ounce of compassion or wisdom in this approach. It causes divisions where none previously were, it causes people to close up and move away, and what good is that?

Have I read the New Testament? Yes and not only that but the entire book from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. And I find nothing in the book that qualifies as proof of its own existence or the existence of a god. This is simply not logical. If you, however, have a personal experience of god that has in some way or another lead you to believe otherwise, I accept that you have found the truth for yourself and am happy for you. If you simply need something to believe in and find Christianity acceptable this is also good, as long as you use this for good deeds that further our human development, as this is exactly what Buddhism teaches us to do. What I read and understood in the Old Testament was nothing more than genocide and its divine justification. Granted the new Testament changed most of this but not all of it. And I can completely agree that Jesus was an extraordinary being the likes of which we could use many times more here on earth.

George’s reply 9 October

You say, “God did not write the Bible, men clearly did, as an intermediary”. This is correct. In Old Testament times God communicated to people via the prophets and in New Testament times He communicated via Jesus and the apostles. Paul wrote, “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). Peter wrote, “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable … Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things (own mind). For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:19-21). So the Holy Spirit helped the authors write the words. But it wasn’t just dictated mechanically, because each author used their own style. In this way, the Bible is a message from the God who created the universe, and so it has more authority than any product of the human mind.

You say, “I would once again say that citing the Bible as proof of god amounts to nothing more than hearsay”. I didn’t claim to prove the existence of God from the Bible. Instead, I would say that the existence of God is the most logical explanation of the existence and complex nature of the universe, the existence and complex nature of life, and the existence of the human conscience (innate sense of right and wrong). So, there’s lots of other evidence available.

You say, “Why do most people reject the Christian teachings? Very good question. The answer is likely in the delivery”. Let’s test this with Jesus. As Jesus was divine, the delivery of His message to fellow Jews must have been perfect. But Jesus was rejected in His hometown (Mk. 6:3; Lk. 4:28-29); and in Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum where He did many miracles (Lk. 10:13-15); and in the region of the Gadarenes (Mt. 8:34). Many of His followers deserted Him (Jn. 6:66). And the Jewish religious leaders condemned Him to death. This shows that Jesus Christ’s teachings were rejected by many people. If that’s what happened to Jesus Christ, then the message about Jesus will also be rejected today. And the reason will be humanity’s sinful rebellion against God, and not the style of delivery.

You say, “Have I read the New Testament? Yes and not only that but the entire book from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. And I find nothing in the book that qualifies as proof of its own existence or the existence of a god. This is simply not logical.” Your opinion is not surprising. Paul wrote, “If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God” (2 Cor. 4:3-4). Many things (including presuppositions) can hide the message of the Bible.

Commentator 19 October

Once again I ask you what evidence do you have of the divinity of the Bible? Other than what is already said in the Bible.

Once again using the Bible as proof of its self is simply illogical. For example, “hear ye hear ye, I am the great spaghetti monster who was boiled for your sins. Trust me because I say so and look I wrote it in this big book” ??? Really, I don’t think so. This rationale is simply insulting to our intelligence as rational well-educated individuals.

George’s reply 29 October

You say, “Once again using the Bible as proof of its self is simply illogical”. … The Bible is a collection of 66 ancient documents written over a period of at least 1,500 years by 40 different authors. But it has an amazing unity. The New Testament was written by at least nine independent authors. The authors all present different perspectives, but they all proclaim the same one true God, and the same one way of salvation—Jesus Christ. And the statements made by each author can provide independent proof of statements made by the others. That’s how historical facts are determined from historical records.

All religious and philosophical systems start with presuppositions. For example, my presupposition is that the Bible is God’s written word and so it is the ultimate authority on whatever it teaches. The real tests are: is it self-consistent and is it consistent with the real world? So what do these tests show? Is the Bible self-consistent? Yes, the Bible is consistent in the claims it makes about itself. And it doesn’t disclaim divine inspiration. Is the Bible consistent with the real world? The biblical framework is the only one that provides the foundation for science (the universe is orderly because it was made by a God of order), voluntary will (being made in the image of God, people are free to make choices), logic (the universe was made by a God of order who operates consistently throughout the universe), and morality (the Bible provides an objective basis for right and wrong). This foundation is lacking in most other religious and philosophical systems.

Commentator 30 October

George, I have one final comment for you, please let us test the divinity of the Bible and modern values and morals. I have selected 6 verses to help us see how the bible’s divine wisdom that can help us lead better and more fulfilled lives in the name of god the father, the son, and the holy ghost. Let’s consider and examine this good news and call it the Humanity and Compassion Test.

  1. 1 Timothy 2:12, says: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, she must be silent.” When we stand in front of a woman Judge and she passes a sentence do we get to ignore it as she is a woman and I am I man? Is a woman President out of the question biblically speaking? How should a mother or a woman teacher discipline or direct male children? Is this scripture an example of god’s compassion and humanity? How should the Queen of England and women like Margret Thatcher and Oprah Winfrey interpret this?
  2. 1 Samuel 15:3: “This is what the Lord Almighty says … ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ” Does god give us permission to commit genocide in situations where he deems it acceptable? How should this scripture help us find peace and stability for all in this world? What shall we say to the violence and utter destruction this poses should this be a model for us to use in future conflicts? How should one balance this with “thou shall not kill”? Is this what you are talking about when you speak of the bible’s congruency with itself over the time it was written?
  3. How about Psalm 137, which puts an interesting spin on revenge: “Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us / He who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” This finds god at odds with Gandhi and his “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” When would such revenge stop, and how on earth should this make anyone happy? Reading stuff like this really makes me sick.
  4. This might be a repeat of #1 but I want to know after reading Genesis 16-21 and Exodus 20-21 When I can have my slaves, wives, and concubines? Are the Mormons correct and did the wrong side in the eyes of god lose the civil war in the US? Does god’s divine plan for man include servants and whores who are at my disposal if I believe in him?
  5. Exodus 35:2 – ” For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death.” When shall we start the execution of all the McDonalds and Burger King employees who have to work on Sunday? Do we do anything with the boss who is at home but required them to work? Once again why all the killing?
  6. Luke 14:26, ” If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” I am not even sure what to say here except that my Sunday school teacher ever so slightly and skillfully passed over this one.
  7. Numbers 5:11-31 – ”Then the LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him by sleeping with another man, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure- then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder offering to draw attention to guilt. ‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the LORD. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. After the priest has had the woman stand before the LORD, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, ‘If no other man has slept with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have defiled yourself by sleeping with a man other than your husband’ here the priest is to put the woman under this curse of the oath, may the LORD cause your people to curse and denounce you when he causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells and your thigh wastes away.’ Then the woman is to say, ‘Amen. So be it.’ The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall have the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water will enter her and cause bitter suffering. The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the LORD and bring it to the altar. The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. If she has defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, then when she is made to drink the water that brings a curse, it will go into her and cause bitter suffering; her abdomen will swell and her thigh waste away, and she will become accursed among her people. If, however, the woman has not defiled herself and is free from impurity, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children. This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and defiles herself while married to her husband, or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the LORD and is to apply this entire law to her. The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.” Wow, what is this? Drink this poison and if you live you were innocent and when you die, you die because of your sins? How is this Love? Where is the wisdom here? How many women would be left standing today if we still did this?
  8. Leviticus 21:17-24 – “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is hunchbacked or dwarfed, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the offerings made to the LORD by fire. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the LORD, who makes them holy.’ ” So Moses told this to Aaron and his sons and to all the Israelites. So I take it that there is no handicapped entrance ramp to the temple, only an exit. If there is a handicapped entrance to a church, is the church in violation of the holy scriptures of god? Is this how we express compassion and wisdom to those of us who are less fortunate than ourselves?

So these questions are an attempt to qualify the divinity of the holy scriptures and god’s plan for us here his servants on earth. Or is this just an absurd plan from psychopathic tyrant hellbent on destruction and control. I find no love, no compassion, and no humanity in these “holy” words of some supposed god that will condemn me to hell if I don’t believe in him, how is that for unconditional love? In fact, I find only great understanding after reading this and similar scriptures in the Quran and the Torah, of the great plague that began in the middle east and now is infecting the whole world with violence and death as Christian and Muslim pit their versions of god against one another much like you, have pitted the supposed words of god against the Buddha Dharma. This is not a message of love in any way shape or form, this is not self consistent with a message of love and good news. Result FAIL!

George’s reply 10 November

You quote eight passages from the Bible for testing against “modern values and morals”. I have written a post on how to understand the Bible. And I have applied this to 1 Samuel 15:1-3 (passage #2 above). This includes consideration of the text, the historical-cultural context and the literary context. There are two main divisions in the Bible – the part dealing with the Old Covenant (up to AD 30) and the part dealing with the New Covenant (after AD 30). Jesus overlaps these covenants as He lived under the old one but also taught about the new one.

Because, “Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given” (Rom. 10:4), even Jews are no longer under the law of Moses (Gal. 3:23-25). Jesus ended “the (Old Testament) system of law with its commandments and regulations” (Eph. 2:15). He fulfilled the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets by accomplishing their purpose (Mt. 5:17). Because Jesus never sinned and was the only one who obeyed the law, He was able to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind. This means that God’s justice is met while at the same time He can show mercy to sinners. So, these laws were for the people of Israel (Jews) living under the Old Covenant, but under the New Covenant the people of God (Christians) are no longer an ethnic group, but people from all nations.

Looking at the passages, numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 were written to Israelites living under the Old Covenant. This historical context means that they are not relevant to Christians living under the New Covenant. Therefore, they are also not relevant to “modern values and morals”. See my exegesis of passage #2. If you want to compare them with something, then it should be with other nations of that era. Otherwise you are comparing apples against oranges and not like against like.

Looking at the other two passages (numbers 1 and 6). The context of 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly”) is that Paul is writing to Timothy with instructions for the church at Ephesus. It is preceded by instructions on corporate prayer (2:1-10) and followed by instructions on church leadership (3:1-13). So, the topic being addressed in 1 Timothy 2:12 is teaching scripture and listening to teachers of scripture in a corporate church setting. It has nothing to do with the behaviour of female judges, presidents, mothers, school teachers, queens, prime ministers, or talk show hosts.

When a large crowd followed Jesus He said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26-27). This could be a hyperbole (an obvious exaggeration) meaning that one must love Jesus even more that one’s immediate family and one’s own life. Or the word “hate” could have a particular meaning. Either way, it’s a rhetorical technique to get their attention. And then He explains His statement (v.27-33). He was looking for followers who were willing to live devotedly and passionately for Him, and even die for Him if necessary. So He describes the cost of true discipleship. No consideration of family ties or self-centredness must ever be allowed to deflect a disciple from a pathway of full obedience to Christ. Christians are to love Him supremely, more than their family and more than their own lives. His followers are required to reset their priorities and put God first. Jesus is teaching about the cost of following Him, “So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own” (Lk. 14:33).

A similar thought is given in, “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine” (Mt. 10:37). By comparing with Luke 14:26, we see that in this context, the word “hate” could mean “to love less than”. And this could be the particular meaning that Jesus intended. Also note, “Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity” (Jn. 12:25).

Commentator 8 November

Dear George, if your beliefs on christ are based on what the Bible says, and not on what was decided at the council of Nicaea, how can you say that the Bible is authentic and factual according to history when in fact what the Bible says was in part decided at the council of Nicaea? Your argument is not logical.

George’s reply 17 November

You ask, “how can you say that the Bible is authentic and factual according to history when in fact what the Bible says was in part decided at the council of Nicaea?” The main topic considered at Nicaea was whether Jesus was human or divine. Is He a created being (just a human being) or equal with God (divine)?

Let’s look at the historical evidence. The Bible says, “In the beginning the Word [Jesus] already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word [Jesus] was God. He [Jesus] existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through Him [Jesus], and nothing was created except through Him” (Jn. 1:1-3).

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He [Jesus] existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him [Jesus] God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He [Jesus] made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through Him [Jesus] and for Him. He [Jesus] existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together” (Col. 1:15-17).

“Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors [Jews] through the prophets. And now in these final days, He [God] has spoken to us through His Son [Jesu]). God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son He [God] created the universe. The Son [Jesus] radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and He [Jesus] sustains everything by the mighty power of His [Jesus] command” (Heb. 1:1-3).

From these three passages about Jesus, it’s clear that Jesus is divine, and not just a human being. These were written at least 200 years before the Council of Nicaea. That’s what the historical record says. The fact that Jesus was divine means that He was greater than any other person who ever lived. And it is dangerous to ignore the good news about Him in the Bible.

Jesus was crucified because He claimed to be divine (Lk. 22:67-71). And He said, “unless you believe that I AM who I claim to be, you will die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24).

The Council of Nicaea upheld the doctrine of Christ’s true divinity, rejecting Arius’s heresy. The council did not invent this doctrine. Rather, it only recognized what the Bible already taught over 200 years earlier. Therefore, the Bible is authentic and factual in itself. And it’s meaning doesn’t rely on the findings of the Council of Nicaea. It just happens that in this case, the finding was consistent with what the Bible clearly teaches. It seems logical to me.

Commentator 8 November

Dear George, have you personally read and studied these other books or extra writing in order to determine their authenticity yourself or do you have faith in man and trust that he had no other ulterior motives in including or dismissing said sacred and inspired texts from god?

George’s reply 17 November

You ask, “have you personally read and studied these other books or extra writing in order to determine their authenticity yourself or do you have faith in man and trust that he had no other ulterior motives in including or dismissing said sacred and inspired texts from god”.

No, I haven’t studied many of these extra-canonical books. I trust Christians in the first few centuries of the church to be able to distinguish the truly canonical from the false. After all, they lived in the era when these books were written, so they are more qualified than anyone today. To test their judgment I have just read “The gospel of Thomas”. This is a disjointed collection of 114 sayings. Many of them have obviously been derived from the gospels in the Bible. But some are strange (see below). In this case I agree with the early Christians, this book isn’t inspired by God.

(11) Jesus said, “This heaven will pass away, and the one above it will pass away. The dead are not alive, and the living will not die. In the days when you consumed what is dead, you made it what is alive. When you come to dwell in the light, what will you do? On the day when you were one you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?”

(18) The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us how our end will be.” Jesus said, “Have you discovered, then, the beginning, that you look for the end? For where the beginning is, there will the end be. Blessed is he who will take his place in the beginning; he will know the end and will not experience death.”

(22) Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples, “These infants being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom.”
They said to him, “Shall we then, as children, enter the kingdom?”
Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter the kingdom.”

(80) Jesus said, “He who has recognized the world has found the body, but he who has found the body is superior to the world.”

(105) Jesus said, “He who knows the father and the mother will be called the son of a harlot.”

(112) Jesus said, “Woe to the flesh that depends on the soul; woe to the soul that depends on the flesh.”

(114) Simon Peter said to him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Commentator 15 November

Now I did quote you a verse from the Bible that I believe empowers Christianity to wage war and 1 Samuel 15:3 sounds like war to me. And “if” god really did inspire these scriptures then he IS THE PROBLEM. It is also irrelevant what part of the bible this comes from when it is the holy inspired truth. If this scripture is no longer valid or void because it is part of the Old Testament then your argument for the validity, authenticity, or divine authority of the whole bible is very questionable. How does this work? Do we now have Synod of George and those that think like him who now get to say that part of the bible is no longer valid and we like this part instead? If so then Islam seems to have the most uncorrupted book. If Jesus ended the old testament system how did we end up with all the crusades? Perhaps we need some new prophet to come forth again and end all this religious violence we have now. Lord knows we need it because as long and Jews, Muslims, and Christians are fighting none of us will ever know peace. If the bible cannot inspire us to “be peace” then it is no longer relevant to human beings and should be discarded in the annals of history.

Your comments on the use of the word hate in the new testament are interesting. But “could be a hyperbole” sounds like you are really out on a limb and grasping for something to hold onto. Could that have a particular meaning as well? How much license does one have in interpreting this book? How much licence for interpretation has been used over the years version after version synod after synod, you must get my drift here, don’t you? This does not bode well for the bible’s divine authenticity. My critical and logical western mind has a real tough time swallowing this and this is a fail in my books.

George’s reply 19 November

The message of the Bible is simple. It explains the past, the present and the future. And it tells us what to do and how to live. God created a perfect universe where there was no sin. But people rebelled (disobeyed) against God bringing sin, pain, suffering and death into the world. Our world is different to what God originally intended. We live in the time period between the fall (into sin) and the restoration. But God sent Jesus to take the punishment for sin by dying for us. God is the greatest example of love. Those who accept His rescue plan become part of His new creation where there will be no sin. This gives lasting joy and love. Those who don’t accept His rescue plan, will pay the penalty for their rebellion against the God who sustained them through life on earth. This gives lasting pain and regret. Which option will you choose?

You say that Christianity is one of the causes of the world’s problems and believe that 1 Samuel 15:3 empowers Christianity to wage war. Here is the passage where this verse occurs in the Bible, “One day Samuel said to Saul, ‘It was the Lord who told me to anoint you as king of his people, Israel. Now listen to this message from the Lord! This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys’” (1 Sam. 15:1-3). See my exegesis of this passage.

This is a message to Saul the king of Israel who lived about 1030BC. Christianity began when the Holy Spirit indwelt believers on the day of Pentecost in about AD30. The portion of the Bible that describes early Christianity (Acts to Revelation) was written after AD30. The message in 1 Samuel 15 was written to Israelites living in the land of Israel over 1,000 years before Christianity began. I don’t see how this event in Jewish history is relevant to Christianity – it isn’t mentioned in the New Testament. It’s more relevant to Jews than to Christians.

Saul also offered animal sacrifices (1 Sam. 10:8; 13:8-10). Does this mean that Christians should offer animal sacrifices to God? Of course not. Christians follow the new covenant, not the old one which was made with the Israelites. That’s why the Bible is divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament. We need to take into account who the text is written to. This is basic biblical hermeneutics (principles of interpretation) and exegesis (interpretation of a specific text).

You say, “If Jesus ended the old testament system how did we end up with all the crusades?” From about AD 200, the land of Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey was inhabited primarily by Christians. But once Islam became powerful, Muslims invaded these lands and brutally oppressed, enslaved, deported, and even murdered the Christians living in those lands. Besides conquering the Middle East, the Muslims aggressively conquered portions of Europe, northern Africa and Spain. The march on Europe was stopped in what is now France by Charles Martel in 732, at the Battle of Tours (Poitiers). And by 732 they swept over Persia into India. This all happened within 100 years of the death of Muhammad in 632. This conquest was unparalleled in human history. The initial Islamic jihad captured four of the five centres of Christianity at that time. These are now in the Islam world. The largest of these former Christian centres was Constantinople.

And Christians didn’t respond for 450 years. The first crusade was a response to an appeal from the Byzantine Empire and a threat to Christian residents of Palestine and to pilgrims visiting Palestine and to the destruction of churches in Palestine. The aim was to allow pilgrimages to Palestine. The Crusades were a defensive action that was delayed and small scale. This was a limited military action in response to a series of massive military actions. There was no attempt to recover any of the other lands that had been conquered.

In response, the Roman Catholic Church and “Christian” kings/emperors from Europe ordered the crusades (AD 1095 to 1230) to liberate the land of Palestine so that pilgrimages could be made once again. Although the Crusades were primarily pilgrimages rather than military operations, the actions that many so-called Christians took in the crusades were deplorable. They did some terrible things. There is no biblical justification for conquering lands, murdering civilians, and destroying cities in the name of Jesus Christ.

Christianity doesn’t have the idea of a holy war. Fighting wasn’t something that got you into heaven. And Jesus said His kingdom wasn’t maintained by military might – “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36).

You criticize my explanation of the word “hate” in Luke 14:26. You say, “How much license does one have in interpreting this book?” There is no license in interpreting the Bible because the meaning is usually given by the context. In this case Jesus gives an illustration about a man who builds a house without counting the cost and finds that he cannot follow through with what he set out to do (v.28-30). The point of the passage is to count the cost of following Jesus. In order to be a disciple, we must be willing to give up everything for Jesus. Therefore, if our parents will not follow Jesus, or if they disown us for being Christians, we must still choose Him over them. It is in this sense that we are “hating” our family members who reject the Lord or reject us because of the Lord. God requires total commitment from His followers, to the point of not being diverted by any natural family members who reject Jesus. The cost of following Jesus is that we must be prepared to put everything else second.

Commentator 20 November

Dear George, once again your argument is simply illogical. You say that god created a perfect universe. lol, this simply cannot be. If this said universe was perfect then it is completely impossible that man could rebel and sin. What on earth or in this universe would we have to rebel against if it all was perfect? This presumption of yours is not realistic. Are we to believe the Lucifer was walking around one day in a perfect heaven and accidentally fell through some hole in a cloud and fell to earth? Some perfection, full of holes. And then to top it off we are to believe and trust in him and his so-called rescue plan, to fix his messed up first attempt at perfection and wait in pain and suffering for his second attempt.

You claim yourself that the writings in 1 Samuel 15: 1-3 are irrelevant because of the passage of time and the coming of Jesus. If the bible is the true and correct inspired word of god what power do you have to declare it non-pertinent? The entire book is the inspired word of god or none of it at all, there is no room to interpret this any other way.

If there is no license in interpreting the bible we must then see the meddling of man in early years of the church when the Catholics redid or rewrote the bible. The words of which now serve to enslave and control man at the behest of the church’s powerful control. You may also not interpret the bible to say that the old testament is no longer valid.

I happened to stumble upon an interesting lecture on YouTube the other day that in my opinion passes perfectly to our discussion. George if you have a free 51 min of spare time have a listen to what Alan Watts a respected philosopher, writer and speaker has to say about what we have been discussing. It can be found here. youtube.com/watch?v=GbO0t3srgE4 I am interested to hear what you or anyone else might have to say about this, thank you once again for your openness and your forum for discussion. It is truly a gift to speak with you.

George’s reply 28 November

Unfortunately, your statements about the Bible seem to be based on your presuppositions. There needs to be a lot more exegesis and a lot less eisegesis if you want to understand what the Bible says and how it applies today. For example, I have already stated that the Old Testament was written to Jews, while the New was written to Christians, and the Old Testament is the precursor of the New Testament, but you don’t seem to understand this statement.

You ask, what did Adam and Eve have to rebel against in a perfect world? Their sin was that they wanted to be like God and because of this they disobeyed God (Gen. 3:5-6).

You allege that “the Catholics redid or rewrote the bible”. I would like to know specifically what passages you are referring to here. Can you name the chapter and verses? What evidence can you give?

Alan Watts seemed to speak like a guru who was his own authority. But he falsely claimed that the Scriptural canon was decided by the Roman Catholic church. The New Testament clearly tells us that the apostles were identifying scripture as it was being written (2 Pt. 3:14-16). That’s in the first century AD. The New Testament books were being distributed by the apostles to the various churches to be read (Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:16; 1 Th. 5:27; 2 Th. 2:2; 3:14). That’s in the first century AD. By the time the apostles died (in the first century AD), the New Testament had been written and its books were known. The Muratorian Fragment (AD 170) and several of the early fathers have left us a list of books that were identified as belonging to the New Testament. The main criteria for the New Testament canon was that it was comprised of books written in the first century AD by the apostles and their associates, and whose doctrine was consistent with each other. The church didn’t need to wait until AD 382 to decide which books satisfied these criteria. They already knew this over 200 years earlier. The apostles and their associates were the authority, not the Roman Catholic church which began hundreds of years later. So the authority of Scripture is based on the authority of the apostles and their associates and not on the authority of the Roman Catholic church.

Watts imposes his presuppositions on the Bible. He believes that Jesus was a mystic who experienced cosmic consciousness to come into union with God. Watts is a pantheist who believes that we are all divine. He bases this on John 10:34-36, which says, “Jesus replied, ‘It is written in your own Scriptures that God said to certain leaders of the people, ‘I say, you are gods!’ And you know that the Scriptures cannot be altered. So if those people who received God’s message were called ‘gods,’ why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world”.

This passage refers to Psalm 82:6 where unjust human judges are called “gods” because they represented God in a theocratic kingdom. It doesn’t imply that they were divine (because they were corrupt and mortal). Since Scripture called human beings “gods” simply because God commissioned them, how much more may the “Son of God” be called by a divine title? If the judges can be called “gods” in Scripture, how much more is this term appropriate for the genuine Son of God who God sent into the world and who is divine (holy and immortal)? So Jesus had every right to claim equality with God.

Watts also believed that Jesus was similar to other gurus who had experienced mystical episodes. But this belief is wrong. Jesus rose from the dead, while the other mystics are still dead. Jesus had power over death, but the other mystics didn’t. And that’s a radical difference.

Watts seems to be attempting religious syncretism between Christianity and eastern religions to create a religion of his own making. But in this process he discards the core aspects of Christianity (the divinity and resurrection of Jesus). So what’s left is essentially eastern mysticism. Unfortunately, Watts died an alcoholic. So he’s not an example of a guru that I would follow.

Commentator 2 December

George, eisegesis is not necessarily applicable here. for several reasons.
1. Are we qualified to “interpret the WORD OF GOD?
2. There are way too many authors of the Bible all of them lived over 1000’s of years and all have a slightly different spin on the events.
Personally, I think if it really is the WORD OF GOD it does not matter who what or when GOD SAYS do this and it should be done. You seem to think we can or are able to interpret this. I think it is our interpretation that is the problem we take all this way too literally…. this Precursor idea does not in any way mean that the old is less than the new. I completely understand what is being said here. It is your logic that is left wanting. You seem to be saying now that there are actually two words of god now. One for the Jews and one for the Gentiles, but that is quite different from what you first argued. Hence the aforementioned comment on circular logic.

Commentator 8 December

Hi George happy advent to you. I just wanted to share with you that the Catholic Church is changing the Bible again. Pope Francis wants Lord’s Prayer changed
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-42279427

Maybe he has a point but should this be allowed to happen to the holy and god inspired word?

George’s reply 15 December

Thanks for your recent comments. We have discussed many topics. But it’s the most important one that counts – “Christ died for our sins … He was buried, and He was raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

Jesus died (an historical fact):
– Jesus died by crucifixion.
– Roman soldiers don’t take the bodies of criminals off a cross until they are dead. That’s why they broke the legs of those crucified with Jesus (Jn. 19:31-34).
– Bodies don’t get placed in sealed tombs unless they are dead.
– Bodies don’t get embalmed unless they are dead (Jn. 19:39-40).
– Joseph of Arimathea, who buried Christ, was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (supreme court). He was too well known for the account to be fictional.

Jesus rose back to life (an historical fact):
– No-one could find a dead body – in the tomb or elsewhere.
– The Jews (hostile witnesses) acknowledged that the tomb was empty. The Jewish religious leaders tried to explain the empty tomb by spreading a rumor that the disciples had stolen the body (Mt. 28:11-15). But the disciples had no motive for doing this as they were persecuted and killed because of their preaching on the resurrection. Why would they go through all this for a deliberate lie?
– The empty tomb was discovered by women. If the empty tomb story was a legend, then the more reliable male disciples (according to the custom of that time) would have been made the first to discover the empty tomb.
– Twelve separate occurrences are recorded in the Bible of Jesus interacting with people after His resurrection. Six are recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7. The disciples had several interactions with the risen Christ. Jesus provided them a breakfast of bread and fish after they fished overnight (Jn. 21:9-14).
– Over 500 people witnessed Jesus alive at the same time. And they weren’t all hallucinating!
– The disciples record eating and drinking with Jesus, as well as touching Him. This cannot be done with hallucinations. And hallucinations can’t explain the empty tomb.
– The disciples were martyred for their Christian faith. But they wouldn’t give their lives for something they knew to be a lie. Therefore, the resurrection account wasn’t a lie.
– A church persecutor (Paul) and the skeptic brother of Jesus (James) were suddenly changed.
– Early Christians were persecuted and martyred for believing Christ’s resurrection. They could deny it and live. But they didn’t.
– Christ’s resurrection is the main explanation of the origin and the growth of Christianity in the Roman Empire despite persecution. The Christian church was established and grew as a result of the disciples preaching about the resurrection of Christ. Most movements die after their founder dies (Acts 5:33-39). But Christianity started and grew after its founder died.

Jesus died for our sins (the reason for Christ’s death and resurrection):
– Death is punishment for rebellion against God.
– All people die because they are sinful.
– Because Jesus was the unique sinless Son of God, He was the only one who didn’t deserve to die.
– Christ’s death was payment for the sins of humanity. It was vicarious (taking the place of others; like a substitute).

So history affirms that Jesus rose from the dead. We can trust the teachings of Jesus because He rose from the dead. No other religious leader has done that. And no other person or scholar or scholar or skeptic can claim that. Who would you believe?

Commentator 15 December

The whole point here is the while the Bible has many correct historical facts it is at best a work of factual fiction. Not everything is true and as you have admitted not everything is applicable to today’s life and world. (The Old Testament or more than half of the book) And the Bible has once been, by Jesus, improved upon and could be improved upon yet again today. It has been 2000 years since the last update. I get a Facebook update every week because even they want to remain up to date and relevant. Anything that can be improved upon was NOT from the very beginning PERFECT or the work of an infallible omniscient all powerful being. Nor is it proof of such beings existence. These doubts are too big to use to tell everyone else that they are wrong about their beliefs. Other religious writings far older such as the Vedas are over 7000 years old have many scientific facts, wisdoms, and historical facts that are written and also proven. Your bible does not stand up to your own bible test because of your circular logic and own admissions. The Bible was never meant to be used as a tool to judge and condemn other religions. By it’s own admission only god himself can be a judge Matthew 7:1-3. This is what I am doing, judging you and your beliefs because you have judged me and the beliefs of many other religions. Nobody can win this my friend. Who do I believe, certainly not you. The end.

Discussion with second commentator

Second commentator 1 October

As has been pointed out you start from an unsustainable point when your only argument is, “it says in the Bible”. Because of your attachment to the Bible I would assume you are a Bible believing Christian vs a Catholic, am I right? If that is the case that makes the “it says in the Bible” argument more tenuous.

You do realize, I hope, that the Bible was not originally one book. It is a collection of different books written by different authors that were later put together in one book. The collection of books was agreed upon at the Synod of Hippo. The point here is that they were agreed upon by men. There were a multitude of books available at that time that could have been selected but those men selected some and discounted others. They had a motivation to do so. They wanted to do as you do and ensure that only their interpretation of Christianity would be known to future generations. Furthermore much to the dismay of many Bible believing Christians, that think Catholics are evil Idolaters, it was the Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches that first put this collection of books together as the Bible that we know.

At the time of Christ’s death there were a variety of different “Christian” groups that had very different views on Christ, his divinity, and his relationship to God. After the discovery of the Dead Sea and Nag Hammadi scrolls we now have a collection of other books that represented some of these peoples beliefs. The reason these were hidden away was that the Roman Catholics persecuted these other groups and killed them off and destroyed their writings so they would not be around to compete with their Christian world view. If it wasn’t for this persecution we would have even more Christian denominations then we have today.

So historically the book that you keep using as the authority for all anyone one knows may not be the correct ones. That is unless you agree that those evil idol worshiping Catholics were inspired by God. But then if they were inspired by god that would mean that there use of idols and their interpretation of the Sacrament must be true also.

George’s reply 2 October

You state that the canon was “agreed upon by men” and “the collection of books was agreed upon at the Synod of Hippo”. You also claim that the books in the canon “may not be the correct ones”. As it was “Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches that first put this collection of books together as the Bible that we know”, you state that if I accept the New Testament canon, then I need to accept the Roman Catholic faith because they selected the books in the canon.

In the first century AD, the Apostle Peter regarded the Pauline epistles as Scripture (2 Pt. 3:16). The scriptural quotes of early Christian writers (patristics) dating from the second through the fourth century show that the early church had a working knowledge of the New Testament Scriptures. So portions of our present New Testament were in circulation, as early as the latter part of the first century. These books were used in the early church and confirmed as being the canon by church councils such as the Synod of Hippo in 393.

The main criteria for the New Testament canon was that it was comprised of books written in the first century AD by the apostles and their associates, and whose doctrine was consistent. This ruled out most of the apochryphal New Testament writings as they were written after the first century AD. It also ruled out other religious books, such as Gnosticism and Marcionism, because their teaching was inconsistent with the canon.

So the New Testament canon was already being used by Christians during the second through the fourth century AD. But when heretics wanted to add extra books to the canon, the church met to confirm the canon and so declare that the extra writings were not canonical.

Because I accept the New Testament canon doesn’t mean that I necessarily accept all that the church believed in AD 393 or all that the Roman Catholic church teaches today. The canon is the standard, not the Roman Catholic church.

For example, I use a plumber to maintain my water system, regardless of their religious faith. And I use a Bible that has been influenced by the results of textural scholarship by non-Christians, without accepting their religious (or secular) faith. Just because I accept something that a person (or a group) does, doesn’t mean that I accept everything that they believe or do.

Second commentator 3 October

As far as the Bible is concerned I am not saying that your version is incorrect. I am saying that if you take faith out of it and look at it from a historical point of view you have no way of knowing that those particular books were the only ones that were correct because of the existence of the other books that were not included.

Because of this you can not use what it says as your only evidence of it’s truth or correctness. You yourself say: “The main criteria for the New Testament canon was that it was comprised of books written in the first century AD by the apostles and their associates, and whose doctrine was consistent.” What was the doctrine in consistent with? The beliefs or doctrine of the people that put it together, the Roman Catholics! Most Bible believing Christians believe that it is the inspired word of god.

You say, “And I use a Bible that has been influenced by the results of textural scholarship by non-Christians, without accepting their religious (or secular) faith.” How can the Bible that you use be the inspired word of God if the men how put it together were not inspired?

The Book of Enoch was one of the books found with the dead sea scrolls and was not included in the Bible. It was written during that time period and thought to be an inspired book by many but was not included in the cannon. “R. H. Charles was the leading expert on the subject (The Book of Enoch) in the early part of the 20th century. He argued the book of Enoch was written over a period of years. The latest portions were written in 64 B.C.E.”

As far as the Gnostic gospels are concerned dating them is some what dubious because the originals that they were copied from were most likely destroyed. So it is impossible to date the originals.

You can proclaim your faith in the accepted cannon, that is fine, but because of all these other historical facts that question if those books were the only books accepted be Christs Apostles you can’t use it for what you are basing your critique on. There is no way of knowing other than your faith. You cannot compare the truth of one faith to another based on only your faith in what you believe. This especially applies when you are questioning other faiths. It is kind of like Christians claiming that those who practice Wicca are devil worshipers when there is no devil in the Wicca religion. The figure known as the devil to Christians is not part of Wicca so it is by default that they can not be devil worshipers.

George’s reply 3 October

I stated that “The main criteria for the New Testament canon was that it was comprised of books written in the first century AD by the apostles and their associates, and whose doctrine was consistent.” You ask, “What was the doctrine consistent with? The beliefs or doctrine of the people that put it together, The Roman Catholics!”. By “consistent”, I meant that each book was consistent with the other books. It would be confusing if this wasn’t the case. This means being consistent with the teaching of the apostles and their associates. They were the authority and not any other group of people.

You ask, “How can the Bible that you use be the inspired word of God if the men who put it together were not inspired?”. I was referring to textural scholars who study ancient biblical manuscripts to reconstruct the original text (autograph). Like language translation, it’s a technical skill that doesn’t require inspiration from God. The inspiration happened when the authors wrote the original text. The Bible came to us through the following steps: inspiration, preservation, scholarship, and translation.

It’s not surprising that there are other religious books around between the first and fourth centuries AD. This is probably the case in all eras. The New Testament warns about false teachers (Acts 20:28-30; Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Tim. 1:3-6; 4:1-7; 6:3-5; 2 Pt. 2:1-22; 1 Jn. 4:1-6).

I find it puzzling when people today question the composition of the New Testament canon. Who would you trust: people living in the first few centuries AD when the canon was compiled or people living about 1,600-1,900 years afterwards (including R. H. Charles)? Surely those living in that era would have much more information available to make this decision, whereas we only have fragmentary historical records. And they would be aware of many more “other religious books” than we will discover.

Also, with regard to your objections about the canon, the same question could be asked of any ancient philosophy or religion. For example, if we looked at Buddhism from the same historical point of view we have no way of knowing that the particular books that comprise the canon of a branch of Buddhism were the only ones that were correct because of the existence of other Buddhist books that were not included! So historically the books that a Buddhist uses as their authority may not be the correct ones. This approach would put any philosophy or religion that originated in the ancient world (such as Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam etc.) into doubt.

You seem to be asking me to base my Christian faith on a mixture of canonical and non-canonical books. But how can one derive a non-contradictory faith from contradictory sources? This only works if parts of the books are selectively ignored or if contradictions are viewed as being unimportant compared to areas of agreement.

Second commentator 10 October

You say, “As all religions and philosophies rely on presuppositions (assumptions, axioms, premises), these presuppositions can be tested. For example, are they self-consistent and are they consistent with the real world?” As I have explained that Buddhist faith is based on exactly that. We are supposed to question and test for ourselves the truth of anything. This is were I have to tread carefully George because I do not mean any disrespect to you or your faith. But you are making the statement so I feel I have to at least reply. Can you honestly say that Christians “test” the Bible to determine it’s spiritual or historical accuracy?

You say, “I would be more interested to know if you have found the message in the Bible to be true or not.” “After all, it was written by God (who created life and the universe).” George I personally have found the Bible to be a beautifully written book. I have read it multiple times. There is very much wisdom in the Bible about how we should live our lives. This is especially true with the new testament. I think it would be very difficult both historically and scientifically to prove that God was the one who actually wrote the Bible.

Even using the fact that the Apostles wrote some of the books in the new testament in no way confirms the accuracy or truth of them. Saying that twelve people who lived 2000 years ago believed in them so we should as well is not a very scientific method. If it is a scientific method of testing then we should be able to apply it to other similar things. There were 11 witnesses (twelve including Smith) to the gold tablets that Joseph Smith translated into the book of Mormon. In fact they even signed their name to a document that said so which actually is more than can be said for the books of the new testament (there is still much argument with scholars over who wrote which books). So can we derive from this document that the Golden tablets or the Book of Mormon are true?

George’s reply 11 October

You ask, “Can you honestly say that Christians ‘test’ the Bible to determine its spiritual or historical accuracy?” Christians continually “test” the spiritual accuracy of the Bible because they endeavour to live by its spiritual principles. It’s their spiritual guide for everyday life. But most Christians don’t “test” the historical accuracy of the Bible because they are not historians or archaeologists. Because of the age and number of manuscripts available, the Bible is one of the most reliable ancient texts that are available today. So the text we have today is believed to be an accurate representation of the autographs. But confirming ancient history is more difficult because of the fragmentary evidence and the influence of presuppositions (such as timing). For example, in 2009 archaeologists found a clay seal inscribed “Belonging to Hezekiah, (son of) Ahaz, king of Judah”. It was found in a collapsed 10th century BC royal building in the Ophel in Jerusalem and features a two-winged sun, with wings turned downward, flanked by two ankh symbols symbolizing life. According to the Bible, King Hezekiah reigned from about 715 to about 697BC. Hezekiah is also mentioned in Assyrian documents and his water supply tunnel was discovered in Jerusalem in 1880. All these findings are consistent with the Biblical record.

You say, “I think it would be very difficult both historically and scientifically to prove that God was the one who actually wrote the Bible”. The books of the Bible were written by about 40 different authors over a period of about 1,500 years. Yet it has incredible unity which binds the books together and it does not contradict itself. And many of its predictions have been fulfilled. This is consistent with it being inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16-27; 2 Pt. 1:20-21). How could someone know that God was not involved?

You say, “Even using the fact that the Apostles wrote some of the books in the new testament in no way confirms the accuracy or truth of them”.
Because of the age (the manuscripts are closer to the original autograph than for other ancient texts) and number (there are more manuscripts than for other ancient texts) of biblical manuscripts available, the Bible is one of the most reliable ancient texts that are available today. This means that we have accurate translations of the autographs. The books of the New Testament are based on eyewitness reports, which are best for historical accounts. Since the New Testament documents were written within 30 years of the events they record, other eyewitnesses would still be around to correct errors or exaggerations. Copies of biblical manuscripts throughout history show that the New Testament has been transmitted accurately. There are minor differences in manuscripts, called variants, but none of these variants impact or change key Christian beliefs or claims.

With regard to the Old Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) provided textual critics with ancient manuscripts against which they can compare the accepted text for accuracy of content. As there were only minor differences between the book of Isaiah in the DSS (dated about 100BC) and in the Masoretic text (dated in the 10th century AD), the Jewish scribes had faithfully copied this text over this thousand-year period. As these texts were nearly identical, the DSS provide evidence that the Old Testament had been accurately and carefully preserved.

You say, “Saying that twelve people who lived 2000 years ago believed in them (the New Testament books) so we should as well is not a very scientific method”. As operational science can’t deal with the past, I would say it was a historical method, not a scientific one. As each case would need to be assessed on its own merits, I wouldn’t accept the Book of Mormon even though it may be similar in some ways to the New Testament.

You say, “You cannot use quotes from the Bible to prove the truth of the Bible. It is circular logic”.
I have shown that the Bible is one of the most reliable ancient texts that are available today. And this was done by not using quotes from itself. Therefore, it’s reasonable to quote from such a source.

Second Commentator 12 October

You say, “I have shown that the Bible is one of the most reliable ancient texts that are available today.” George with all due respect you have not shown that the Bible is one of the most reliable text. Just because men have copied it correctly does not mean that what it contains is true or reliable. It just means that it is consistent with the original source. I do have to point out that it was the old testament that you were referring to and not the new. The Bible is made up of both. It is also somewhat subjective to say that “As these texts were nearly identical” as if it wasn’t a matter of interpretation as to whether those differences mattered.

George’s reply 13 October

You say, “I do have to point out that it was the old testament that you were referring to and not the new. The Bible is made up of both”. I apologise for the ambiguity. I made a statement about the New Testament, “Because of the age and number of manuscripts available, the Bible is one of the most reliable ancient texts that are available today. So the text we have today is believed to be an accurate representation of the autographs”. And then gave an example of archaeology confirming the existence of a character mentioned in the Old Testament (king Hezekiah’s seal).

You say, “It is also somewhat subjective to say that ‘As these texts were nearly identical’ as if it wasn’t a matter of interpretation as to whether those differences mattered”. This related to my statement that, “As these texts were nearly identical, the DSS provide evidence that the Old Testament had been accurately and carefully preserved”. This is based on investigations by textural scholars. For example, James C VanderKam Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at the University of Notre Dame says, “The differences between the Judean Desert texts (DSS) and the Masoretic text (which forms the basis of the modern Hebrew Bible) are indeed numerous though frequently very slight, often ones that do not affect the meaning of the text for most purposes (e.g., spelling changes, omission or addition of a conjunction)”.

Second commentator 28 October

What you are doing is ignorant George. There is absolutely no scientific proof that Jesus was anything more than a man.There is no way to prove that he rose from the dead except the claims of his own followers. Yet you bash everyone elses faith making claims about the truth of your faith other than quoting a book that MEN wrote.

George’s reply 9 November

You say that the Bible is “a book that MEN wrote”. But if you read the books in the Bible you will see that it claims to be written under the inspiration of the God who created the universe (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pt. 1:19-21). So it’s God’s words (in the original text).

Second commentator 31 October

“Bible, Creation of the World and Story of First Man Not True, Claims Israeli Newspaper”
By Cristina Silva On 10/29/17 at 8:39 PM

The Bible and its stories about the first man and the creation of the world are not true because there is no physical evidence to back it up, according to a new lengthy investigation from one of Israel’s top newspapers. Spanning roughly 5,000 words the article from left leaning Haaretz compares accounts in the Bible, from ancients Jews fleeing Egypt to descriptions of King David, and dismisses them all as fables.

“Is the Bible a True Story,” the headline asks. “Despite feverish searching with Scripture in one hand and cutting-edge technology in the other, evidence backing the Bible remains elusive.”

It goes on: “No evidence of the events described in the Book of Genesis has ever been found. No city walls have been found at Jericho, from the appropriate era, that could have been toppled by Joshua or otherwise. The stone palace uncovered at the foot of Temple Mount in Jerusalem could attest that King David had been there; or it might belong to another era entirely, depending who you ask.”

Researchers have long questioned the authenticity of the Bible’s version of human history, often struggling to find evidence of, say, Noah’s ark or even the possibility of Eve and Adam, the first woman and man. Young-Earth creationism, for example, directly fails science’s demands for coherence and hypothesis testing.

The mounting evidence against the Bible means fewer Americans than ever before are trusting scripture as gospel. Only 35 percent of Americans read the holy book at least once a week, while 45 percent seldom or never do, a Pew Research Center report in April found. About 36 percent of Christians said the Bible should not be taken literally, while 40 percent say it is the word of God. In all, only 24 percent of Americans said the holy book was “the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word,” a Gallup poll conducted in May concluded.

“This is the first time in Gallup’s four-decade trend that biblical literalism has not surpassed biblical skepticism. Meanwhile, about half of Americans — a proportion largely unchanged over the years — fall in the middle, saying the Bible is the inspired word of God but that not all of it should be taken literally,” the poll said. “From the mid-1970s through 1984, close to 40% of Americans considered the Bible the literal word of God, but this has been declining ever since, along with a shrinking percentage of self-identified Christians in the U.S. Meanwhile, the percentage defining the Bible as mere stories has doubled, with much of that change occurring in the past three years.”

Well George it appears that not everyone is as sure of the Bibles authenticity as you have been trying to claim. So suddenly there are other claims that maybe the Bible isn’t so true based on archaeology and science. So how do you counter that argument George, by saying the Bible says so??

George’s reply 14 November

This is an example of biased journalism from Newsweek magazine. The original article by Nir Hasson says that some archaeologists believe that archaeology supports the Bible (the maximalist view) and some believe that it doesn’t (the minimalist view). But Cristina Silva only mentions the latter. Hasson presents evidence (or lack of evidence) that supports both the maximalist view and the minimalist view. So, the original article is more balanced than Silva indicates. If possible, it’s good to check the primary source.

Silva also leaves out the following statement from the heading “But there are some surprising anomalies”.

She then dismisses the Bible up to the time of David as being comprised of fables. But when Hasson answers the question “Did the Bible really happen?”, he says, “So far, what discoveries there are, tend to indicate that at the least, the timelines are off”. So, he is not as dogmatic as Silva.

An example of the difference in timing is the statement that “No city walls have been found at Jericho, from the appropriate era, that could have been toppled by Joshua”. Note the qualification that I have highlighted. Beside the fact that mudbrick walls would be eroded, they are not saying there are no walls, just that they don’t think the timing matches (there is a 4% difference in elapsed time). This is not surprising given the uncertainty in dating archaeological findings and the influence of one’s presuppositions on these dates. And such dates are always subject to revision.

Here’s Jericho’s walls as found by Watzinger (1911), Kenyon (1958) and Nigro and Marchetti (1997). The lower wall (black) bounded a sloped rampart (yellow) and fallen mudbricks (red) were evident. There had been a mudbrick parapet wall above the retaining wall and a mudbrick wall at the crest of the embankment.

The lack of “physical evidence” is a straw man argument with regard to the Israelites because they lived in tents and nomadic people don’t leave relics of buildings for archaeologists to discover. Hasson uses a subheading, “Invisible nomads”. Because nomads leave no evidence, they are invisible to archaeologists.

Finally, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Especially with regard to the topic of ancient history. They are assuming that if a certain event had occurred, evidence of it could be discovered by qualified investigators. But this presupposition isn’t always true like the journalist is assuming it to be.

George’s reply 17 October

I would like to make a comment on the “Book of Enoch” and the “gnostic gospels” you referred to on 3 October. You wrote,
– “The Book of Enoch was one of the books found with the dead sea scrolls and was not included in the Bible. It was written during that time period and thought to be an inspired book by many but was not included in the cannon.”
– “R. H. Charles was the leading expert on the subject (The Book of Enoch) in the early part of the 20th century. He argued the book of Enoch was written over a period of years. The latest portions were written in 64 B.C.E.”
– “As far as the Gnostic gospels are concerned dating them is somewhat dubious because the originals that they were copied from were most likely destroyed. So it is impossible to date the originals.”
– “You can proclaim your faith in the accepted cannon, that is fine, but because of all these other historical facts that question if those books were the only books accepted by Christ’s Apostles you can’t use it for what you are basing your critique on. There is no way of knowing other than your faith”.

The “Book of Enoch” is pseudepigraphical (books written in the names of ancient heroes) as it claims to be by a biblical character (but this is unfounded). It was not included in either the Hebrew or Christian biblical canons. If the Jews didn’t accept it as canonical, then neither should we. It’s not even in the Deuterocanonical Apocrypha. If the Christians didn’t accept it as canonical, then neither should we. A Jewish scholar called it “mystical speculation about Enoch”. And it contradicts scripture.

The book of Enoch was never referred to by Jesus or any of the New Testament writers as scripture. It is commonly misunderstood that the content of the Bible developed over time. But the New Testament clearly tells us that the apostles were identifying scripture as it was being written (2 Pt. 3:14-16). The New Testament books were being distributed by the apostles to the various churches to be read (Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:16; 1 Th. 5:27; 2 Th. 2:2; 3:14). By the time the apostles died, the New Testament had been written and its books were known. The Muratorian Fragment (AD 170) and several of the early fathers have left us a list of books that were identified as belonging to the New Testament. The book of Enoch was never included. Although a few early church fathers highly valued the book of Enoch, they never referred to it as scripture. It might be inspiring, but it is not inspired by God.

Oard says, “the gnostic gospels were well known to the early church fathers, especially Irenaeus (AD 115-202), who wrote ‘Against heresies’. He refuted the heresies in these alternate gospels. They were written by the gnostics in the first few centuries after Christ. The gnostics believed they had secret knowledge that was only for certain elites. These gospels were unmasked as obvious forgeries, being written well after the time of Jesus and the Apostles, and completely inconsistent with Hebrew scripture and all the writings of Paul and the eye witnesses of Jesus. It goes to show what many people will believe what they want to believe with little or no regard for the truth.”

Today Christians read other books beside the Bible. But this doesn’t make the other books canonical. The same applied to Jews – they read other books beside the Old Testament. But that didn’t make these other books (such as the Book of Enoch) canonical.

Where are “all these other historical facts that question if those books (the canon) were the only books accepted by Christ’s Apostles”? They don’t exist. There is no evidence that the book of Enoch was accepted as scripture by the apostles. And there is no evidence that the gnostic gospels were accepted as scripture by the early Christians. So, we can know what is in the canon because of authorship and usage, which is based on scholarship and not faith.

Second commentator 10 November

You keep mentioning the eye witness accounts. Mark was not an eyewitness of Christs life but was a disciple of Peter. Luke was not an eyewitness to Christ’s life but was a companion of Paul who was ……wait for it…….also not an eyewitness to Christ’s life. So this is second hand information. Since these people can be proven to not be eyewitnesses then I guess we would have to be consistent and admit they there is no way to prove the truth or the authenticity of these books. Sorry George, you have to throw out at least two books of the Bible just based on that!

George’s reply 26 November

You say, “You keep referring to the autographs in the books of the bible that just do not exist”. In this context, an autograph is “a manuscript in an author’s own handwriting”. It’s the original manuscript (text), not a signature. As with all ancient documents, the original text (autograph) is no longer available, but copies are available.

You say, “there are so many things in the bible that cannot be proven by science or that science disproves”. This is a poor statement. As science only deals with the present, it can’t prove anything about the past. History is the discipline that you should be appealing to, not science. We can’t do an experiment to prove anything about the past.

You dispute my claim about “eye witness accounts” in the Bible. Matthew and John were eyewitnesses because they were disciples of Jesus for about 2.5 years. John Mark was a close associate of Simon Peter (1 Pt. 5:13). His material would have come from the preaching of Peter (some is reported in Acts). So he is like a reporter documenting an interview with an eyewitness. Papias (~AD125) records John’s claim (~AD90) that Mark recorded accurately all of Peter’s teachings about Jesus and compiled them into a single document.

Luke was a companion of Paul (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11; Phile. 24) and wrote the books of Luke and Acts. He wrote, “many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught” (Lk. 1:1-4). Luke was a reporter who investigated and documented “eyewitness reports”. He also travelled with Paul and so was an eyewitness of Paul’s second and third missionary journeys and Paul’s journey to Rome. So Luke was an eyewitness of many of the events he recorded in the book of Acts.

Paul wrote several books of the New Testament and was an eyewitness of events in the early church.

Your dismissal of “second hand information” is very weak. Most eye witness accounts that we come across today are from by a reporter who has interviewed one or more eyewitnesses.

Second commentator 30 November

George says “you dispute my claim about ‘eye witness accounts’ in the Bible.” George you are the one who claimed they were eyewitness accounts. If you are an eyewitness then that means that you saw or experienced the event. “Mark was not an eyewitness of Christs life but was a disciple of Peter. Luke was not an eyewitness to Christs life but was a companion of Paul who was also not an eyewitness to Christs life.”

So now you want to define what “eyewitness” means George! A reporter is not an eyewitness. Can a reporter come into a courtroom and testify against a criminal that they committed a crime because somebody else told them that the criminal committed the crime? Of course not! That is called hearsay George. In the case of Luke it was third hand information because Paul was not a witness to Christs life either. You cannot make your own definitions of commonly used words George. Eyewitness means just that, you saw it with your own eyes.

George says “your dismissal of ‘second hand information’ is very weak”. No George your claim that someone (Luke) who hears some information from another Paul, who also has heard the information from others qualifies as an eyewitness account is “VERY WEAK”!

Conclusion

The Bible has been translated into over 2000 languages and is one of the most widely printed and studied books in the world. Despite its claim to be a message from the God who created everything, this discussion shows that it’s difficult to convince some people of its importance.

Written, September 2019

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


Life in the Ice Age

Scientists believe that the Earth goes through cycles of climatic change. Periods of lower temperatures are assumed to result in long-term periods of glaciation, which are known as an ‘Ice Age’. As the causes proposed for these Ice Ages seem to be deficient, there is reason to believe that there was only one Ice Age.

This post is based on a children’s book by Hughes and Cosner (2018).

Was there really an Ice Age?

Evolutionists say that there have been many Ice Ages throughout history (Appendix A). Actually there was only one Ice Age, and it was caused by Noah’s Flood. Though the Flood lasted only one year, its effects on the climate lasted for centuries! Hot underground water was a major source of Flood waters, so even after they retreated back into the oceans, the water stayed warm. Also, massive volcanic eruptions would have poured ash into the air, which blocked out much sunlight over the land. So the land would have been much cooler. Then some of the warm water evaporated into clouds which then dropped much snow over the cold land. Over centuries, this packed into huge ice sheets covering a third of earth’s land. We can even see the effects the snow and ice had on the earth today; the ice at the North and South Poles is left over from this (about 10% of the earth is covered in ice); the alpine glaciers; and the glacial landforms and sediments. Because these effects are seen on the current land surface, it is clear that the Ice Age occurred after the Flood.

The global Flood provides a simple mechanism for an ice age. In contrast, the slow and gradual evolutionary scenarios used to explain an ice age do not work. If the oceans gradually cooled along with the land, by the time everything was cold enough so that the snow didn’t melt in summer, evaporation from the oceans would be insufficient to produce enough snow to generate massive ice sheets. So secular scientists can’t explain how an Ice Age happened because they can’t supply a cause for increased precipitation of ice and snow. This is because they fail to recognize the unique conditions after the Flood.

The Ice Age lasted for about 700 years. Based on the cooling of the oceans (due to evaporation and reduction in volcanism), the Ice Age could reach glacial maximum in about 500 years. And it would take about another 200 years for the ice sheets to melt to their current positions.

If we use the Bible as our timeline, Israel went down to Egypt close to the end of the Ice Age.

Is the Ice Age in the Bible?

‘Ice Age’ is a modern term, so that phrase is not in Scripture. However, there is an indication that Job lived during the Ice Age. Some of the things he mentions indicate that he was familiar with ice and snow – in a place that doesn’t have a lot of ice and snow today. He said, “My brothers, you have proved as unreliable as a seasonal brook that overflows its banks in the spring when it is swollen with ice and melting snow” (Job 6:15-16). And God asked Job “Have you visited the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of hail?” (Job 38:22). And he mentions wide expanses of frozen water (Job 37:9-10; 38:29-30). Of the books of the Bible, the words “snow” and “ice” occur most often in the book of Job. This is consistent with this book describing events that probably occurred about 2,000BC, which would have been during the Ice Age.

The climatic changes during that Ice Age would have occurred slowly over decades and not been obvious to the people living at the time. As there was no ice cover in the Middle East, biblical characters like Abraham would have had no concept of an Ice Age. So the Ice Age isn’t mentioned in the Bible. Also, the term “Ice Age” is a modern concept invented to describe a unique period of climate on the earth.

What did the Ice Age do?

While the earth we see today was mostly shaped by Noah’s Flood, the Ice Age did its part too! Glaciers, huge accumulations of ice, shaped the landscape. Ice formed dams for huge rivers, extremely deep lakes, and fjords (glacial valleys that were later submerged by the ocean).

Lower sea levels during the ice age also allowed the migration of people and large animals from the Middle East to distant continents now separated by water. As there would have been no ice caps after the Flood, the sea level would have been about 70 m above today’s level. During the Ice Age the sea level dropped about 130 m (to 60 m below today’s level) forming a land bridge between Asia and North America and Asia and Australia. This allowed people and large animals to spread across the earth. After the oceans had cooled sufficiently and the volcanic activity began to wane, the ice sheets melted and the land bridges disappeared beneath the rising ocean water, effectively ending the migration. God provided the land bridges and removed the bridges via the Ice Age.

How did animals survive the Ice Age?

In North America and Europe, many animals survived that had thick fur, or were otherwise equipped for life in a cold climate. However, many animals did die as a result of the Ice Age. Some creationists think that that the Ice Age might be why dinosaurs were never very common after the Flood – they seem to have been more suited to a warmer climate. In Australia it seems that megafauna thrived at the beginning of the Ice Age, but became extinct at the end.

We know that the earth’s deserts and semi-arid areas were once well watered. This was probably due to the ponding of water in enclosed basins during the run-off stage of the Flood and greater Ice Age precipitation. The Ice Age climate was very wet with strong drying afterwards. So these areas underwent climate change from being well watered to being drought stricken.

What did people do during the Ice Age?

We know that people lived in areas affected by the Ice Age, and some even thrived there. That’s because God created humans to be very creative and able to adapt to many different situations. Even today, people can live in places that become very cold, like Alaska and Greenland, or other places that become very hot. There is evidence that the Neanderthal peoples lived near the edge of the ice sheet in Western Europe during the Ice Age.

We know that people hunted woolly mammoths and other animals for food during the Ice Age – in the cold frozen parts of the world, it would have been hard to find enough plants to live on. Perhaps this in one reason God gave people permission to eat meat after the Flood (Gen. 1:29; 9:3). Caves made convenient homes for these people, and sometimes they painted on the walls, showing the types of animals they encounted.

How did the Ice Age end?

The imbalance that caused the Ice Age – the cold continents and the warm oceans – eventually corrected itself, and the snow and ice retreated from the continents. Today, only the extreme north and south of the earth is permanently covered by ice, reminding us of one of the great events in the aftermath of the Flood. This shows that the earth is a highly stable system. Its climate returned to equilibrium after the incredibly large deviation that occurred at the end of the flood.

Some animals that became specialized for living in the cold conditions of the Ice Age, like the woolly mammoth, seem to have become extinct after the Ice Age. They may have been so specialized for the cold weather that they could not survive in a warmer climate.

Conclusion

The unique conditions after the Flood caused the Ice Age. Besides shaping the earth, the climate change associated with the Ice Age could have influenced the extinction of the dinosaurs. The Neandertal peoples probably lived during the Ice Age. So the Ice Age was more recent than evolutionists suppose.

Appendix A: What about claimed ancient Ice Ages?

Uniformitarian scientists believe that there were four main ice age periods followed by more repeating ice ages. They also believe that some of these ice ages were so severe that they covered most, it not all, of the earth.

Some layers within the rock record do resemble glacial debris composed of rocks of all sizes, scratched rocks, and larger rocks floating within banded layers of fine sediments. The problem is that these features can be duplicated by other processes like landslides or submarine slides. The movement of the rocks in the slides can scratch rocks and rock scrapes against rock. They can also cause large rocks to float in finer-grained layered sediments.

Most of the earth’s sedimentary rocks were laid down by the Flood, sometimes over vast areas. So, these so-called ‘ice age deposits’ are within deposits from Noah’s Flood. There could not have been any large accumulations of snow or ice at that time. The Flood water would have been too warm from the ‘fountains of the great deep’ and abundant volcanism (hot lava) for any snow and ice accumulation.

As the Flood was global it can account for the large size of most of these ancient ‘ice age deposits’ by huge submarine slides. Because of uplifts or earthquakes, the sediments could slide rapidly and spread over large areas. Most of these deposits appear to have been deposited in ocean water, which is what we expect from the Flood.

Uniformitarian scientists also claim that the thousands of layers observed in ice cores drilled in the Antarctic and Greenland represent annual deposition. But this is only true since the Ice Age. Lower down in the ice cores the layers are less distinct and they are probably caused by other mechanisms, such as individual storms.

References

Hughes E and Cosner L (2018), Creation answers for kids, Creation Book Publishers, p.22-25.

Oard M J and Reed J K (2017), How Noah’s Flood shaped our earth, Creation Book Publishers, p.195-197.

Written, August 2019


Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice

The ancient city of Nineveh was located on the east bank of the Tigris River near the site of the modern city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Nineveh was an important junction for commercial routes crossing the Tigris on the great highway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, thus uniting the East and the West. It received wealth from many sources, so that it became one of the greatest of all the region’s ancient cities, and the capital of the Assyrian Empire.

According to the Bible, Nineveh was established in about 2000 BC (a round number) by Nimrod, a great-grandson of Noah (Gen. 10:11). It or Assyria are mentioned in the Bible books of Psalms 83 (~980BC), Jonah (~750BC), Hosea (~720BC), 2 Kings 19 (~700BC), Isaiah (~700BC), Micah (~700BC), Zephaniah (~630BC) and Nahum (~620BC). The Assyrian kings mentioned in the Bible reigned between 745BC and 627BC.

As Assyria is only mentioned in a list of nine enemies, it seems that it wasn’t a major threat to Israel in the 10th century BC (Ps. 83:5-8). But from 900 to 600 BC the Assyrian Empire expanded, conquered and ruled the Middle East, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, and parts of today’s Turkey, Iran and Iraq. They were famous for their cruelty and fighting prowess and they used war chariots and iron weapons, which were superior to bronze weapons.

Assyria is not known to have come in contact with Israel until the reign of Jehu, who paid tribute to Shalmaneser II in 842BC. But Assyria was a major enemy of Israel and Judah in the 8th century BC. According to the Bible, the Assyrians threatened and attacked the kingdoms of Israel and Judah from ~790BC (2 Ki. 15:19) to ~710BC (2 Ki. 20:6) and to ~690BC (2 Chron. 33:11).

The Assyrians invaded the kingdom of Israel and after the fall of Samaria in 722BC, they brought people from Mesopotamia and Aram (Syria) to settle in Samaria (Ezra 4:2). God used the Assyrians to capture the kingdom of Israel.

Sennacherib nearly captured Jerusalem in 700BC but “the angel of the Lord went out and put to death 185,000 in the Assyrian camp” (2 Ki. 19:35) followed by the assassination of Sennacherib (2 Ki. 18:13 – 19:37; Isa. 36-37).

But in 612BC Nineveh was destroyed  by the Babylonians (Ezek. 32:22-23). And the Assyrian empire then came to an end by 605 BC when they were defeated by the Babylonians in the battle of Carchemish.

As the word “Nineveh” occurs most frequently in the books of Jonah (7 times ) and Nahum (9 times), we will now look at their messages.

Jonah’s warning

In about 750BC, God sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn it of the imminent danger of divine judgment. Jonah was commanded, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jon. 1:1NIV). Nineveh was called a “great city” because it was the largest city if its day, having more than 120,00 inhabitants (Jon. 4:11). But Jonah went in the opposite direction and went through a bad experience! After God got his attention, he was told again, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you” (Jon. 3:2). This time he obeyed and went to Nineveh and proclaimed “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jon. 3:4). Then all the people, including the king repented of their wicked ways (see Appendix). After this God “relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened” (Jon. 3:10). This shows that God’s mercy can extend to all people. The repentance of wicked Gentiles was an example for the Israelites to follow.

Jonah was angry that God showed compassion to the Assyrians who lived in Nineveh. But later God told Judah, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezek. 33:11).

We know from history that Nineveh continued for about 140 years before it was destroyed by the Babylonians. So, God’s mercy was shown for 140 years before justice prevailed.

Nahum’s warning

But a while after Jonah’s warning, the people of Nineveh returned to their wicked ways of idolatry, cruelty and pride. The sins of Nineveh included plotting evil against the Lord, cruelty and plundering in war, prostitution, witchcraft, and commercial exploitation (Nah. 1:11; 2:12-13; 3:1, 4, 16, 19).

The book of Nahum, written in about 620BC, is comprised of detailed predictions of the destruction of Nineveh. It says, that God “will not leave the guilty [Assyria] unpunished” (Nah. 1:3). The book ends with the destruction of the city for her oppression, cruelty, idolatry and wickedness. Nahum predicted that the city would never be rebuilt, “Nothing can heal you [Nineveh]; your wound is fatal” (Nah. 3:19). Nineveh was destroyed in 612BC and never rebuilt and within a few centuries it was covered with wind-blown sand. Zephaniah also predicted the Babylonian invasion of Assyria “leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and dry as the desert” (Zeph. 2:13-15). Even the site of Nineveh was lost until it was found by archaeologists in 1845.

Prior to Jonah and Nahum, in about 740-680BC, Isaiah also predicted the demise of Assyria.

Isaiah’s warning

Isaiah said that God would use the Assyrians to devastate the land of Judah as punishment for their sinfulness (Isa. 7:17-25; 10:5-6). And Aram (Syria) and Israel would be invaded as well (Isa. 8:6-10). And that’s what happened in the late 8th century BC.

But God promised to destroy the Assyrians because of their arrogance (Isa. 10:5-34; 14:24-27; 30:27-33; 31:8-9; 37:36-38). And that’s what happened in about 610BC.

Archaeology of Nineveh

In about 700 BC, Sennacherib made Nineveh a truly magnificent city. At this time, the total area of Nineveh comprised about 7 square kilometres (1,730 acres), and fifteen great gates penetrated its walls. An elaborate system of eighteen canals brought water from the hills to Nineveh, and several sections of a magnificently constructed aqueduct were discovered at Jerwan, about 65 km (40 miles) distant. Sennacherib also built a magnificent palace with 80 rooms and incredible sculptured walls. Assyrian rulers celebrated their military victories by having representations of these carved into the walls of their palaces.

The ruins of Nineveh are surrounded by the remains of a massive stone and mudbrick wall dating from about 700 BC. About 12 km in length, the wall system consisted of an ashlar (squared building stones) stone retaining wall about 6 m (20 ft) high surmounted by a mudbrick wall about 10 m (33 ft) high and 15 m (49 ft) thick. The stone retaining wall had projecting stone towers spaced about every 18 m (59 ft). The stone wall and towers were topped by three-step merlons (upright sections of a battlement). There were 15 monumental gateways in the city wall.

Archaeologists unearthed the library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh with its 22,000 cuneiform inscribed clay tablets in the Akkadian and Sumerian languages and Sennacherib’s annals, which were written on clay hexagonal tablets.

The Bible says that Sennacherib  king of Assyria “attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them” (2 Ki. 18:13). This included Lachish, the second largest city in Judah. The Bible also says that Sennacherib’s forces besieged Jerusalem, but didn’t capture it. Instead “he withdrew to his own land in disgrace” (2 Chron. 32:21). This was confirmed by the records in Sennacherib’s annals, which mention his victories, but not his defeats. The historical records of Assyrian kings and their conquests matched the biblical account. These archaeological discoveries showed that the historical accounts in the Bible were about real kingdoms and real historical figures.

Jesus’s warning

When Jesus rebuked the Jewish religious leaders in about AD 30 He said, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation [the Jewish religious leaders] and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here [Jesus]” (Mt. 12:41; Lk. 11:32). After Jonah preached, the Ninevites repented (Jon.3:5-10). But the Jewish leaders criticized Jesus rather than accepting what He said. Because of this at the coming day of judgment the Ninevites will condemn these Jewish leaders for failing to receive someone who was greater than Jonah. As Jesus and His ministry were “greater than Jonah”, they were more worthy of acceptance.

Discussion

In Jonah’s time, the people of Nineveh experienced God’s mercy when they repented of their sins. But a later generation experienced God’s judgment because they failed to repent of their sins.

Peter preached to Jews saying, “Repent, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). Repentance is a change of mind arising from sorrow for sin and leading to transformation of life. It is the right response to Christ’s death and resurrection and leads to forgiveness of sins (Lk. 24:46-47).

A children’s song says,

Repent, and turn to God,
Repent, and turn to God,
Repent, and turn to God,
And your sins will be wiped out.

Doesn’t matter how many,
Doesn’t matter how bad,
Doesn’t matter how often,
Doesn’t matter how sad,
If you turn to God with a heart that’s true,
This is what He says to you.

Repent, and turn to God,
Repent, and turn to God,
Repent, and turn to God,
And your sins will be wiped out.

Today we all have the choice to either experience God’s mercy (salvation and heaven) through Jesus or God’s judgment (punishment and hell) through ignoring or rejecting Jesus. Meanwhile, God is patient, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise [to judge the ungodly], as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). God is delaying this judgment to give people more time to repent of their sinfulness. The judgment of God is inescapable unless we repent and are forgiven (Rom. 2:3). But this judgment can be delayed (Rom. 2:4). It’s wise to accept God’s mercy through Jesus, but dangerous to ignore or reject it.

Here we see two contrasting aspects of God’s character, “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God” (Rom. 11:22). God’s mercy, patience and salvation is an example of His kindness. And God’s justice and judgment is an example of His sternness.

Lessons for us

How would people respond today if someone like Jonah urged them to repent and turn to God? That is what Israel Folau did, and he was criticized, rejected and banished. That’s how the Jewish religious leaders treated Jesus.

Who are we like, the Ninevites or the Jewish religious leaders? The repentance of the Ninevites is an example for us to follow. It also shows that God’s mercy through Jesus extends to everyone. But it’s only available to us while we are alive! Let’s access God’s mercy through Jesus today and avoid God’s coming judgment.

Appendix: When the Ninevites repented (Jonah 3)

1Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from His fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways [repented], He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.

Written, July 2019

Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Where’s Zion?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles in Jericho

Rebellion and deception at Samaria


Good times ahead

Freedom from the presence of sin

Do you look forward to good times on weekends and vacations? It’s relaxing to get away from the pressures of life. John Bunyan likened the Christian life to a journey which he called “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (Appendix A and B). The journey begins with justification (deliverance from the penalty of sin), continues with sanctification (deliverance from the power of sin) and ends with glorification (deliverance from the presence of sin).

In this blogpost we look at the topic of the believer’s glorification. We will see that the best is yet to come for believers. They can look forward to living with Jesus Christ in heaven where there is no sin, suffering, disease or death. It’s the best time of their life.

The meaning of “glory”

Isaiah had a vision of “the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isa. 6:1NIV). And the angels were calling out: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:3). This verse suggests that the glory of God is when His holiness is visible. It’s the display of God’s holiness – the fact that He is unique, perfect, great, and incomparable.

The Hebrew noun kabowd (Strongs #3519) translated “glory” in this verse means the splendor, wealth and honor of a person or God (Brown-Driver-Briggs). When used in respect of God it means the greatness of His entire character.

The apostle John had a vision of God seated on a throne being worshipped with glory, honor and power (Rev. 4:10-11). And a vision of every creature in the universe worshipping God the Father and God the Son with praise, honor, glory and power (Rev. 5:13). Here the word “glory” is linked with praise, honor and power. It means to be exalted, extolled, and honored.

The Greek verb doxazo (Strongs #1392) translated “glory” means to exalt to a glorious rank or position (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). It’s used to describe both God (Jn. 7:39; 12:16; Acts 3:13) and believers (Rom. 8:30). The equivalent noun doxa (Strongs #1391) used in the verses in Revelation means glorious and exalted.

God’s glory

We have already seen that glory is one of the attributes of the eternal God. Jesus shared that glory with the rest of the trinity in eternity past, which was visible to the angels.

But Jesus gave up that visible glory when He was born and lived on earth (Phil. 2:5-8). Instead, He was seen as the son of a carpenter. Before His death Jesus prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence [in heaven] with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn. 17:5). “Now” indicates that Jesus had finished His work on earth and He was ready for the next phase—His crucifixion and return to heaven. His glory was shown in His resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand in heaven. The principle of this verse is that after His ascension, Jesus returned to His glory as God. Jesus now shares that glory with the rest of the trinity in eternity future, which is visible to the angels. And it will be visible to all creation at His future appearing on earth in great power and glory. The giving up and regaining of Christ’s glory is shown in the schematic diagram.

At the transfiguration Jesus briefly showed His glory to Peter, James and John when “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Mt. 17:2).

How often do we praise God for His glory like Paul and Jude? “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17). And “to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 25).

In God’s plan of salvation, God shares His glory with believers. Let’s investigate the nature of this salvation.

Is salvation an event or a process?

The answer is yes and no! Justification, which is freedom from the penalty of sin (Rom. 8:24), is an event (Eph. 1:13-14). It’s receiving a gift from God. To be physically alive, we need to be born first. It’s an event. To be spiritually alive, we need to be born again (Jn. 3:3-21). It’s also an event.

Those who came forward at the recent Franklin Graham Tour in Australia were given a booklet titled “Living in Christ”. In the front of this book there was a form to fill out with the date they accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

And in “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, Christian was saved at the cross when his burden of sin fell from his shoulders and he was given the scroll to enter the Celestial City (heaven). That’s when he was justified and his name was written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:27).

But deliverance from temptation and sin during the life of a believer is a process. After Christian was saved he was tempted by Formality and Hypocrisy near the Hill of Difficulty. He was attacked by Apollyon, one of Satan’s demons who tried to force Christian to return to his domain and service. He was tempted by worldliness at Vanity Fair. When he was tempted to take an easier path through By-path Meadow, he was captured by Giant Despair and imprisoned in Doubting Castle.

Sanctification (holiness) is freedom from the power of sin. God calls believers to “a holy life” (2 Tim. 1:9). This means being set apart for Him, and serving Him by living fruitful lives. Believers are already sanctified positionally before God. That’s their status before God. But they are expected to show this practically in their daily lives. Sanctification (holiness) is a progressive change in character. It’s a process, not an event.

Glorification, which is freedom from the presence of sin, is God’s final work for the believer. It’s a heavenly experience. Justification is the beginning, sanctification (holiness) is the middle and glorification is the end of the process of salvation.

It the past, Christ’s love was shown in the believer’s justification. In the present, it’s seen in their sanctification. In the future, it will be shown in their glorification.

The process of salvation is described in the book of Romans, as follows:
– We are all sinners who need salvation (1:18-3:20).
– The gospel is God’s solution to our sins (3:21-5:21). This includes justification through Jesus Christ (5:12-21).
– Justification is followed by sanctification (holiness); living in the power of the Holy Spirit (6:1-8:17).
– Sanctification is followed by glorification (8:18-39). We will now look at the main points in this biblical passage.

Glorification in Romans 8

“Since we [believers] are His [God’s] children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share His glory, we must also share His suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who His children really are” (8:17-19NLT). This is a promise that each believer will share Christ’s glory. Like Jesus, in a future day, this glory will be revealed when Christ returns in great power and glory to rule upon the earth. But a little suffering precedes the massive glorification.

In “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, Christian and Faithful were arrested and persecuted at Vanity Fair. Faithful was put on trial and executed and Christian was imprisoned.

And it looks like Israel Folau is being banned from playing Rugby Union in Australia, because he quoted the Bible on his own social media page. Outspoken Christians are not tolerated today. But our suffering as a Christian is insignificant compared to our future glory.

“… we ourselves [believers], who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). The Holy Spirit is the first instalment of the believer’s glorification. As an engagement ring involves a promise of a future wedding, so the indwelling Holy Spirit is God’s promise of the believer’s future glorification. And the coming glory is associated with the resurrection of believer’s bodies which occurs at the rapture. Click on this link for more information about the sequence of future events according to the Bible.

“We [believers] were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently)” (8:24-25NLT). Believers don’t receive all the benefits of salvation at the moment of conversion. So they can look forward to being delivered from sin, suffering, disease and death. That’s the hope of heaven. Something better lies ahead.

What are you looking forward to? What are you anticipating with joy? An achievement, an event, a holiday, a purchase, or a stage in life? But these are all momentary compared to eternal life in heaven.

“And we [believers] know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him [believers], who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son [made holy], that He [Jesus Christ] might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those He [God] predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30). Believers can look back and see that God foreknew, predestined and called them to trust in Jesus. Then they were justified. God has called them with a purpose: “to be conformed to the image of His Son [Jesus]”. They are being sanctified (made holy). That’s the context of Romans 8:28. Whatever God permits to come into their lives is designed to make them more like Jesus, to make them more holy. Their lives are not controlled by impersonal forces like chance, luck or fate, but by their personal Lord. And in future they will be glorified. In heaven they will be holy like Jesus and be free from the presence of sin and have glorified bodies like His.

We will now look at the sequence of events associated with the glorification of a believer.

Glorification of the soul

In “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, the river that Christian crossed to get to the Celestial City was called the River of Death. When a person dies their spirit and soul separate from their body. In the case of a believer, their body stays on earth until the resurrection, while their spirit and soul goes to be with the Lord. In view of future glory, Paul longed to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). It will be better in heaven without a body than living on earth in our sinful bodies.

Colossians says, “… now He [God] has reconciled you [believers] by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Col. 1:22). At this time believers are presented to God the Father as holy and “without blemish and free from accusation”.

Ephesians says, “For He [God] chose us [believers] in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight” (Eph. 1:4). And the Lord Jesus will present believers “to Himself as a radiant [glorious] church [of believers], without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27). When believers get to heaven they will be “holy and blameless”. Being “radiant” or glorious is a figuratively equivalent to being free from sin. And “without stain” means to be pure.

And Jude says, “To Him [God] who is able to keep you [believers] from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24). Believers will be faultless in the throne room of the universe.

The Daily Meditation Podcast is doing a series on mental cleansing to purify your thoughts, but it won’t make you holy and blameless.

In the Lord’s presence in heaven, believers are perfectly holy. Their sanctification (holiness) is complete in a place where Satan can no longer tempt people into sin and evil. Their soul is separated from sin and the capacity to sin. So at death the spiritual aspect of human nature (the soul and spirit) is glorified.

Do we view death as the access to heaven? It enables the believer to  be “at home with the Lord”.

Glorification of the body

Paul describes the rapture when Christ comes to take His people to heaven as follows. At the trumpet of God, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we [believers] who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:16–17). And, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We [believers] shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we [who are alive] shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-52).

The bodies of those who have died will be resurrected and reunited with their spirit and soul in heaven. The bodies of those who are alive will be transformed and they will be transported to heaven. This is not science fiction! But in the Bible God tells us about future events. These new spiritual bodies will not decay or be affected by disease or death (2 Cor. 5:38-50). And they will be glorious and powerful like the resurrection body of Christ (Phil. 3:20-21).

Paul said that the Corinthian believers “will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8). And he prayed that the Philippian believers would live pure and blameless lives now so that they are ready “for the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9-11). The day of Christ is the rapture when Christ comes to take believers to heaven and they become all that God intends them to be. And they will be finally and forever delivered from the presence of sin.

South Korean scientists are working to resurrect the prehistoric woolly mammoth using cloning technology and the flesh of perfectly preserved specimens once buried in Northern Siberia. They hope to find an active cell from the meaty leg of a frozen mammoth, which could hold the keys to bringing back the extinct species. But despite dedicated effort, scientists have not yet managed to clone a woolly mammoth, although they keep trying. Of course, God has a better resurrection record. And at the rapture, there will be transformations to perfect bodies, not just resurrections of old imperfect ones.

Having perfect bodies in heaven will be better than living in their sinful bodies on earth and better than when believers have no bodies (between their death and the resurrection) (2 Cor. 5:1-8). It’s the fulfilment of God’s promises to the believer and the best time of their life.

Are we looking ahead to the rapture and new heavenly bodies?

Glorification displayed

We have already mentioned that Christ’s glory as God will be visible to all creation at His future appearing on earth in great power and glory. And that believers will “share in His glory” (Rom. 8:17).

When Jesus comes as a warrior to reign on the earth for 1000 years, “The armies of heaven were following Him” (Rev. 19:14). They are “dressed in fine linen, white and clean”. At the wedding of the Lamb, believers are given “fine linen, white and clean” to wear (Rev. 19:7). These armies are angels (Mt. 25:31; Mk. 8:38;  13:27; 2 Th. 2:7-8) and believers (Col. 3:4; 1 Th. 3:13; 2 Th. 1:7, 10; Rev. 17:14). At this time, Jesus conquers and judges His enemies and sets up His kingdom on earth.

Colossians says, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you [believers] also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). When Jesus appears in great glory, believers will appear with Him. It will be to His glory to have His followers with Him. And believers will be glorified to come with Him and be with Him for ever. The word “then” shows that God links believers to Christ’s coming.

2 Thessalonians says, “on the day He [Jesus Christ] comes to be glorified in His holy people [believers] and to be marveled at among all those who have believed” (2 Th. 1:10). At His second coming Jesus will be glorified “in”, not “by”, believers. He will be honored because He transformed the lives of so many people. Their justification, sanctification, and glorification will be tribute to Christ’s amazing grace and power.

After the second coming, Christ will reign on earth. And Paul says “we [believers] will also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12). This includes judging in the Millennial reign of Christ (1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 20:4) and judging angels (1 Cor 6:3). Meanwhile, positionally, in Christ Jesus believers are already seated “with Him [Christ] in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6).

On April 11 2019, Scientists revealed the first-ever photograph of a black hole. They say it’s a picture of the super-dense object that’s billions of times more massive than the sun and about 55 million light-years from Earth. But this is a minor revelation compared to the revelation of believers coming in glory with Christ at the second coming.

So believers will share in Christ’s glory when He returns to the earth in great power and glory. And when they rule with Him during the Millennial kingdom.

The process of a believer’s salvation from justification to sanctification, and then to glorification is shown in the schematic diagram.

Assurance of glorification

In Romans 8, after Paul presented God’s way of salvation through justification, sanctification (holiness) and glorification, he assured the readers of its certainty (Rom 8:31-39).

“He [God] who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He [God] not also, along with Him [Jesus Christ], graciously give us [believers] all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Since God gave believers His greatest gift, He will give them any other gift they need. If God did the greater, He will surely do the lesser. “All things” here refers to glorification in eternity. So the believer’s glorification is guaranteed by God! They are eternally secure. Nothing can separate them from eternal life with God. Paul was convinced of this (Rom. 8:38-39); are we convinced? He was certain about the promise of eternal life. Our confidence in future glorification is based on God’s revelation to us in the Bible. It says that, God is bringing many believers to glory (Heb. 2:10). God’s purpose is to bring all believers to His eternal glory.

The author of Hebrews gives four illustrations of our confidence in future glorification and eternal salvation. He says, “we [believers] who have fled to Him [God] for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary [heaven]. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:18-20).

The illustrations are:
– Heaven is a safe place like a fortress or a city of refuge.
– The believer’s hope in heaven is like an anchor for their souls that’s anchored in Jesus.
– Jesus is like a forerunner who believers will follow to heaven. John the Baptist was the forerunner for Jesus (Mt. 17:10-13). And a forerunner goes ahead of the pack.
– Jesus is like a High Priest who intercedes for believers with God the Father. His eternal priesthood guarantees their eternal security in heaven.

On 17 April 2019, Scott Morrison (leader of the government in Australia) pledged $100 million for farm irrigation in Tasmania, and Bill Shorten (leader of the opposition) promising $20 million for blood cancer trials. But sometimes politicians make excuses for not fulfilling election promises. Fortunately, God’s promises are reliable.

Scriptural hope is confidence in what God has promised. It’s an anchor for believers. One of these promises is “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27); the confidence that all believers will share in the glory of Christ (Col. 3:4; 1 Pt. 5:10).

Did you notice in our readings the pattern of suffering and glory for both Jesus and believers?

Pattern of suffering and glory

The pattern for Jesus

Through the Old Testament prophets, the Holy Spirit “predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow” (1 Pt. 1:11). But they didn’t know that that these two events would be separated by at least 2,000 years.

Jesus told the two on the road to Emmaus that the Old Testament prophets taught that the Messiah had “to suffer these things and then enter His glory” (Lk. 24:26). For Jesus, suffering precedes glory.

Although humanity lost dominion over God’s creation because of their sin, “we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while [for 33 years], now crowned with glory and honor [forever] because He suffered death … for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). Because He suffered death, Jesus is now “crowned with glory and honor”. The cross led to the crown.

Paul said that after Christ suffered “death on a cross”, “God exalted Him to the highest place” (Phil. 2:8-9).

The pattern for believers

Paul said, “I consider that our [believers] present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). The difference between the believer’s sufferings and glory is so great, they are not worth comparing. And the suffering is present, while the glory is future.

Paul also said, “For our [believers] light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). What a contrast, insignificant and quick troubles, compared to significant and endless glory.

Some say that if you’re suffering or not successful, then it’s due to a lack of faith. Others say that when bad things happen it’s outside God’s control. But the Bible says that suffering is part of God’s plan for believers.

How patient and resilient are we in suffering? Can we see the big picture that present suffering leads to future glory?

So for Jesus, suffering preceded glory. The same is true for believers. It’s the sure hope of glory that makes suffering bearable. The essential perspective to develop is that the eternal purpose of God is to make believers holy or Christlike.

Conclusion

Let’s be assured of our justification. Since then we are free from the penalty of sin. And be patient with our sanctification. Each day we are being freed increasingly from the power of sin. And be eager for our glorification. One day we will be freed from the presence of sin.

The best is yet to come for believers. They can look forward to living with Jesus Christ in heaven where there is no sin, suffering, disease or death. It’s the fulfilment of God’s promises to the believer and the best time of their life.

Let’s look forward with joyful anticipation to our glorious future.

Appendix A: First summary of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (From: Encylopaedia Britannia)

Part I of Pilgrim’s progress was published by John Bunyan in 1678. It’s the story of a journey “from this world to that which is to come”. It’s the spiritual journey of a man named Christian from where he lives in the City of Destruction to the Celestial City (meaning heaven). “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is an allegory or parable in which the literal, physical level of action is intended as a picture of something else. For example, if you are living in sin, you are in the City of Destruction. The Lord on the hill is God. The Shining Ones are angels.

It’s a story of the author’s dream of the trials and adventures of Christian (an everyman figure) as he travels from his home, the City of Destruction, to the Celestial City. Christian seeks to rid himself of a terrible burden, the weight of his sins, that he feels after reading a book (the Bible). Evangelist points him toward a wicket-gate, and he heads off, leaving his family behind. He falls into the Slough of Despond, dragged down by his burden, but is saved by a man named Help. Christian next meets Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who persuades him to disregard Evangelist’s advice and instead go to the village of Morality and seek out Mr. Legality or his son Civility. However, Christian’s burden becomes heavier, and he stops. Evangelist reappears and sets him back on the path to the wicket-gate. The gatekeeper, Good-will, lets him through and directs him to the house of the Interpreter, where he receives instruction on Christian grace. As Christian continues his journey, he comes upon a cross and a sepulchre, and at that point his burden falls from his shoulders. Three Shining Ones appear and give him a sealed scroll that he must present when he reaches the Celestial Gate.

Christian continues on his way, and when he reaches the Hill Difficulty, he chooses the straight and narrow path. Partway up he falls asleep in an arbor, allowing the scroll to fall from his hands. When he wakes, he proceeds to the top of the hill only to find he must return to the arbor to find his lost scroll. He later arrives at the palace Beautiful, where he meets the damsels Discretion, Prudence, Piety, and Charity. They give Christian armour, and he learns that a former neighbour, Faithful, is traveling ahead of him.

Christian next traverses the Valley of Humiliation, where he does battle with the monster Apollyon. He then passes through the terrifying Valley of the Shadow of Death. Shortly afterward he catches up with Faithful. The two enter the town of Vanity, home of the ancient Vanity Fair, which is set up to ensnare pilgrims en route to the Celestial City. Their strange clothing and lack of interest in the fair’s merchandise causes a commotion, and they are arrested. Arraigned before Lord Hate-good, Faithful is condemned to death and executed, and he is immediately taken into the Celestial City. Christian is returned to prison, but he later escapes.

Christian leaves Vanity, accompanied by Hopeful, who was inspired by Faithful. Christian and Hopeful cross the plain of Ease and resist the temptation of a silver mine. The path later becomes more difficult, and, at Christian’s encouragement, the two travelers take an easier route, through By-path Meadow. However, when they become lost and are caught in a storm, Christian realizes that he has led them astray. Trying to turn back, they stumble onto the grounds of Doubting Castle, where they are caught, imprisoned, and beaten by the Giant Despair. At last, Christian remembers that he has a key called Promise, which he and Hopeful use to unlock the doors and escape. They reach the Delectable Mountains, just outside the Celestial City, but make the mistake of following Flatterer and must be rescued by a Shining One. Before they can enter the Celestial City, they must cross a river as a test of faith, and then, after presenting their scrolls, Christian and Hopeful are admitted into the city.

Appendix B: Second summary of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (From: Wikipedia)

The allegory’s protagonist, Christian, is an everyman character, and the plot centers on his journey from his hometown, the “City of Destruction” (“this world”), to the “Celestial City” (“that which is to come”: Heaven) atop Mount Zion. Christian is weighed down by a great burden—the knowledge of his sin—which he believed came from his reading “the book in his hand” (the Bible). This burden, which would cause him to sink into Hell, is so unbearable that Christian must seek deliverance. He meets Evangelist as he is walking out in the fields, who directs him to the “Wicket Gate” for deliverance. Since Christian cannot see the “Wicket Gate” in the distance, Evangelist directs him to go to a “shining light,” which Christian thinks he sees.  Christian leaves his home, his wife, and children to save himself: he cannot persuade them to accompany him. Obstinate and Pliable go after Christian to bring him back, but Christian refuses. Obstinate returns disgusted, but Pliable is persuaded to go with Christian, hoping to take advantage of the Paradise that Christian claims lies at the end of his journey. Pliable’s journey with Christian is cut short when the two of them fall into the Slough of Despond, a boggy mire-like swamp where pilgrims’ doubts, fears, temptations, lusts, shames, guilts, and sins of their present condition of being a sinner are used to sink them into the mud of the swamp. It is there in that bog where Pliable abandons Christian after getting himself out. After struggling to the other side of the slough, Christian is pulled out by Help, who has heard his cries and tells him the swamp is made out of the decadence, scum, and filth of sin, but the ground is good at the narrow Wicket Gate.

On his way to the Wicket Gate, Christian is diverted by the secular ethics of Mr. Worldly Wiseman into seeking deliverance from his burden through the Law, supposedly with the help of a Mr. Legality and his son Civility in the village of Morality, rather than through Christ, allegorically by way of the Wicket Gate. Evangelist meets the wayward Christian as he stops before Mount Sinai on the way to Mr. Legality’s home. It hangs over the road and threatens to crush any who would pass it; also the mountain flashed with fire. Evangelist shows Christian that he had sinned by turning out of his way and tells him that Mr. Legality and his son Civility are descendants of slaves and Mr. Worldly Wiseman is a false guide, but he assures him that he will be welcomed at the Wicket Gate if he should turn around and go there, which Christian does.

At the Wicket Gate begins the “straight and narrow” King’s Highway, and Christian is directed onto it by the gatekeeper Goodwill who saves him from Beelzebub’s archers at Beelzebub’s castle near the Wicket Gate and shows him the heavenly way he must go. In the Second Part, Goodwill is shown to be Jesus Himself. To Christian’s query about relief from his burden, Goodwill directs him forward to “the place of deliverance.”

Christian makes his way from there to the House of the Interpreter, where he is shown pictures and tableaux that portray or dramatize aspects of the Christian faith and life. Roger Sharrock denotes them “emblems”.

From the House of the Interpreter, Christian finally reaches the “place of deliverance” (allegorically, the cross of Calvary and the open sepulchre of Christ), where the “straps” that bound Christian’s burden to him break, and it rolls away into the open sepulcher. This event happens relatively early in the narrative: the immediate need of Christian at the beginning of the story is quickly remedied. After Christian is relieved of his burden, he is greeted by three angels, who give him the greeting of peace, new garments, and a scroll as a passport into the Celestial City. Encouraged by all this, Christian happily continues his journey until he comes upon three men named Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. Christian tries to help them, but they disregard his advice. Before coming to the Hill of Difficulty, Christian meets two well-dressed men named Formality and Hypocrisy who prove to be false Christians that perish in the two dangerous bypasses near the hill, named Danger and Destruction. Christian falls asleep at the arbor above the hill and loses his scroll, forcing him to go back and get it. Near the top of the Hill of Difficulty, he meets two weak pilgrims named Mistrust and Timorous who tell him of the great lions of the Palace Beautiful. Christian frightfully avoids the lions through Watchful the porter who tells them that they are chained and put there to test the faith of pilgrims.

Atop the Hill of Difficulty, Christian makes his first stop for the night at the House of the Palace Beautiful, which is a place built by God for the refresh of pilgrims and godly travelers. Christian spends three days here, and leaves clothed with the Armor of God (Eph. 6:11–18), which stands him in good stead in his battle against the demonic dragon-like Apollyon (the lord and god of the City of Destruction) in the Valley of Humiliation. This battle lasts “over half a day” until Christian manages to wound and stab Apollyon with his two-edged sword (a reference to the Bible, Heb. 4:12). “And with that Apollyon spread his dragon wings and sped away.”

As night falls, Christian enters the fearful Valley of the Shadow of Death. When he is in the middle of the Valley amidst the gloom, terror, and demons, he hears the words of the Twenty-third Psalm, spoken possibly by his friend Faithful: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you [the Lord] are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). As he leaves this valley the sun rises on a new day.

Just outside the Valley of the Shadow of Death he meets Faithful, also a former resident of the City of Destruction, who accompanies him to Vanity Fair, a place built by Beelzebub where every thing is to a human’s tastes, delights, and lusts are sold daily, where both are arrested and detained because of their disdain for the wares and business of the Fair. Faithful is put on trial and executed by burning at the stake as a martyr. A celestial chariot then takes Faithful to the Celestial City, martyrdom being a shortcut there. Hopeful, a resident of Vanity Fair, takes Faithful’s place to be Christian’s companion for the rest of the way.

Christian and Hopeful then come to a mining hill called Lucre. Its owner named Demas offers them all the silver of the mine but Christian sees through Demas’s trickery and they avoid the mine. Afterward, a false pilgrim named By-Ends and his friends, who followed Christian and Hopeful only to take advantage of them, perish at the Hill Lucre, never to be seen or heard from again. On a rough, stony stretch of road, Christian and Hopeful leave the highway to travel on the easier By-Path Meadow, where a rainstorm forces them to spend the night. In the morning they are captured by Giant Despair, who is known for his savage cruelty, and his wife Diffidence; the pilgrims are taken to the Giant’s Doubting Castle, where they are imprisoned, beaten and starved. The Giant and the Giantess want them to commit suicide, but they endure the ordeal until Christian realizes that a key he has, called Promise, will open all the doors and gates of Doubting Castle. Using the key and the Giant’s weakness to sunlight, they escape.

The Delectable Mountains form the next stage of Christian and Hopeful’s journey, where the shepherds show them some of the wonders of the place also known as “Immanuel’s Land”. The pilgrims are shown sights that strengthen their faith and warn them against sinning, like the Hill Error or the Mountain Caution. On Mount Clear, they are able to see the Celestial City through the shepherd’s “perspective glass”, which serves as a telescope. The shepherds tell the pilgrims to beware of the Flatterer and to avoid the Enchanted Ground. Soon they come to a crossroad and a man dressed in white comes to help them. Thinking he is a “shining one” (angel), the pilgrims follow the man, but soon get stuck in a net and realize their so-called angelic guide was the Flatterer. A true shining one comes and frees them from the net. The Angel punishes them for following the Flatterer and then puts them back on the right path. The pilgrims meet an Atheist, who tells them Heaven and God do not exist, but Christian and Hopeful remember the shepherds and pay no attention to the man. Christian and Hopeful come to a place where a man named Little-Faith is chained by the ropes of seven demons who take him to a shortcut to the Lake of Fire (Hell).

On the way, Christian and Hopeful meet a lad named Ignorance, who believes that he will be allowed into the Celestial City through his own good deeds rather than as a gift of God’s grace. Christian and Hopeful meet up with him twice and try to persuade him to journey to the Celestial City in the right way. Ignorance persists in his own way that he thinks will lead him into Heaven. After getting over the River of Death on the ferry boat of Vain Hope without overcoming the hazards of wading across it, Ignorance appears before the gates of Celestial City without a passport, which he would have acquired had he gone into the King’s Highway through the Wicket Gate. The Lord of the Celestial City orders the shining ones (angels) to take Ignorance to one of the byways of Hell and throw him in.

Christian and Hopeful make it through the dangerous Enchanted Ground (a place where the air makes them sleepy and if they fall asleep, they never wake up) into the Land of Beulah, where they ready themselves to cross the dreaded River of Death on foot to Mount Zion and the Celestial City. Christian has a rough time of it because of his past sins wearing him down, but Hopeful helps him over, and they are welcomed into the Celestial City.

Written, April 2019

Also see: Outline of future events


Rebellion and deception at Samaria

trojan horse as depicted in vergilius vaticanus 400pxThe Trojan Horse is a story by Homer about the deception that the Greeks used to enter the city of Troy and win the Trojan War. After a 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of men inside. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, ending the war.

In this post we look at an older example of deception.

A promise and warning

After king Solomon had finished building the temple, God promised that if he was obedient his dynasty would always rule over Israel (1 Ki. 9:1-9; 2 Chron. 7:17-22). But if his descendants turned to follow other gods there would be disaster and they would be cut off from their land and the temple would be destroyed.

Solomon’s disobedience

The Israelites were told not to intermarry with other nations because this would cause them to follow other gods (1 Ki. 11:1-8). But king Solomon “loved many foreign women”, and “his wives led him astray”. “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods” (v.4-8NIV).

The punishment for this disobedience was that the kingdom of Israel would be divided (1 Ki. 11:9-13). And that’s what happened. Ten tribes followed Jeroboam and set up the kingdom of Israel in the north and two tribes followed Rehoboam and set up the kingdom of Judah in the south.

samaria - david roberts 1839 400pxThe kingdom of Israel rebels against God

As Jerusalem was in Judah, Jeroboam set up golden calves to worship in Bethel and Dan and led the Israelites into idolatry. At first Jeroboam was based at Shechem, but then he moved to Tirzah (1 Ki. 12:25; 14:17). The first five kings of Israel reigned from Tirzah, the capital of the northern kingdom. The next king Omri reigned in Tirzah for 6 years before buying the hill of Samaria and building his palace and the city there in about 925BC (1 Ki. 16:23-24). Samaria is 55 km (35 miles) north of Jerusalem.

Omni’s son, king Ahab built, an altar in Samaria to Baal, a pagan god, under the influence of his wife, Jezebel. The palace was called the “Ivory house” (1 Kings 22:39), the furniture and some of the wall decor was made of ivory. In the Bible, Samaria was condemned by the Hebrew prophets for its “ivory houses” and luxury palaces displaying pagan riches.

Ahab was the most evil of the kings of Samaria: “There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel” (1 Ki. 21:25).

All the remaining kings of Israel ruled from Samaria. They all “did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (1 Ki. 22:52) and followed the sins of Jeroboam (2 Ki. 13:2) despite the warnings of the prophets Micaiah, Ahijah, Jehu, Elijah, Elisha, Hosea, Amos, and Jonah.

The false prophets deceive Israel

There were many false prophets in Samaria. During the reign of Ahab there were 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (1 Ki. 18:19; 22:6).

After Aram (Syria) captured Ramoth Gilead from Israel, king Ahab planned a war against them (2 Chron. 18:1-34). He asked for help from the king of Judah. When they asked the false prophets for a message from God, they were told to go ahead because they would be victorious. The Arameans would be destroyed. But Micaiah, a true prophet, predicted their defeat and Ahab’s death. And that’s what happened. Meanwhile, king Ahab had Micaiah imprisoned.

Although the Israelites in Samaria continued to follow the false prophets rather than the true ones, and they continued to worship idols, God didn’t punish them yet.

God’s mercy

In His mercy God delayed His punishment and so provided Israel with an opportunity to repent and obey the covenant once again. The kingdom continued for 130 years after the reign of king Ahab. Although they sinned, God didn’t forget the covenant He had with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God was patient with them. For example:
–  Aram (Syria) besieged Samaria and they were starving. But God miraculously rescued them (2 Ki. 6:24 – 7:20).
– “Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel throughout the reign of Jehoahaz. But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence” (2 Ki. 13:22-23).
– “Since the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash” (2 Ki. 14:26-27).

God’s judgment – The kingdom destroyed

The climax of the covenant curses for disobedience was Israel’s expulsion from Canaan (Lev. 26; Dt. 28). During the reign of Jeru the kingdom of Israel experienced the beginnings of this curse. God judged Israel at this time by giving some of their land to the Arameans (2 Ki. 10:32-33). Then Pul the king of Assyria invaded Israel and taxed the wealthy (2 Ki. 15:19-20). And Tiglath-Pileser the king of Assyria attacked the northern tribes in 738-732 BC and deported people to Assyria (2 Ki. 15:29). Israel was a vassal under Shalmaneser the king of Assyria (2 Ki. 17:3-6). But when they stopped paying tribute, the Assyrians besieged Samaria for three years and captured the city in 722 BC.

samaria map 400pxThe Assyrians then deported many of the people out of the northern kingdom, and brought in many people from Babylon and other countries to live in Israel. Sargon II claimed to have deported 27,290 Israelites to Assyria. This policy of deportation and re-population was intended to weaken the countries that Assyria dominated, to make it more difficult for a group of people to rise up and try to reclaim independence for their homeland. In time, these different groups of people intermarried and the whole area around the city of Samaria became known as Samaria, and the people became known as the Samaritans. The leadership of Samaria was taken away and replaced by foreign peoples. So the Jews in Judea regarded the Samaritans as a mixed race, and not true Israelites.

God’s promise to Solomon was fulfilled. After they rebelled against God for many years, Israel was eventually “cut off from their land”. They suffered a similar fate to the Canaanites who were driven from their land about 780 years earlier. The Bible says that Israel was exiled because of their sin (2 Ki. 17:7-23). They had repeatedly refused to heed the prophet’s warnings of impending judgment. Instead, they followed idols and disobeyed the covenant obligations. They had been deceived by their leaders and by the false prophets.

Samaria only lasted about 200 years as a capital city. But its name continued as it was used to describe that region of the kingdom of Israel. The Bible says that those who resettled in Samaria continued to worship their national deities (2 Ki. 17:24-41). They also practiced syncretism – they mixed different religions together (this has been confirmed by archaeologists).

In 332 BC, Alexander the Great captured the city and settled Macedonian soldiers there following a revolt by the Samaritans. And in 108 BC, John Hyrcanus (a Jewish Maccabean) conquered and destroyed the city. King Herod the Great later rebuilt the city and named it Sebaste. Today the ruins of the Israelite town, as well the ruins of towns built at this same location later in history, are all adjacent or within the modern Palestinian village of Sebastia.

Samaritans oppose the rebuilding of Jerusalem

In about 627BC, the prophet Jeremiah warned the people of Jerusalem that like Samaria, because of their idolatry, they would be invaded and deported (Jer. 7:15). And in 586 BC, Judea was invaded and Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. Many of the Jews were exiled to Babylon. After the 70 year exile, Zerubbabel returned to rebuild the temple and Nehemiah returned to rebuild the city wall. Both of them were opposed by Samaritans. For example, the Samaritans:
– Pretended that they wanted to assist in the rebuilding of the temple when in fact they wanted to disrupt the work (Ezra 4:1-3).
– Tried to “discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building” (Ezra 4:4).
– “Bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans” (Ezra 4:4). They succeeded in having work on the temple stopped for 20 years until the second year of Darius’s reign (Ezra 4:24).
– Wrote letters to Xerxes and Artaxerxes to try to stop the rebuilding of the city wall (Ezra 4:6-23).

Sanballat and Tobiah led the opposition to Nehemiah. Sanballat was a prominent Samaritan – he held a position of authority in Samaria (Neh. 4:1-2). Sanballat and Tobiah:
– Ridiculed the Jews.
– Plotted to fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it (Neh. 4:8).
– Tried to get Nehemiah to leave his work and meet with them in the plain of Ono in order to assassinate him (Neh. 6:1-4). They did this four times!
– Sent a letter with false accusations to Nehemiah (Neh. 6:5).
– Hired false prophets to trick Nehemiah into sinning so they could discredit him (Neh. 6:10-13).
– Tried to intimidate Nehemiah (Neh. 6:14).

One of Nehemiah’s reforms was to banish the high priest’s son because he was son-in-law of Sanballat the Samaritan!

So the Samaritans opposed those who returned to Judah from the exile in Babylon. This rebellion against the God of Judah was similar to the rebellion that had occurred in the kingdom of Israel.

Good news for Samaritans

In New Testament times the country of Samaria was the area bounded by the Mediterranean Sea (west), the Jordan Valley (east), Judea (south) and Galilee (north). During the time of Jesus there was continuing hostility between Jews and Samaritans (Jn. 4:9; 8:48; Lk. 9:52-53). When the Jews wanted to ridicule Jesus, they said that He was a Samaritan, which was a racial slur (Jn. 8:48).

The disciples were surprised to find Jesus speaking with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (Jn. 4:7-9). He revealed to her that He was the Messiah. And she believed and so did many other Samaritans (Jn. 4:28-42). This showed that salvation was being extended to all the people of the world and not just Jews.

In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus shows that the Samaritan acted as a neighbour who helped the injured man, whereas the Jewish Priest and the Levite didn’t help the man. So the one that Jesus commended was a hated foreigner. Jesus is saying that the command to “love your neighbour as yourself” crosses national and racial boundaries.

When Jesus healed ten men with leprosy, the only one who thanked Him was a Samaritan (Lk. 17:11-19). This indicates that Jesus didn’t show favoritism to the Jews, but included the marginalized in His ministry.

Jesus told His disciples to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Philip took the gospel to Samaria and churches were established there (Acts 8:5-14; 9:31). And Peter and John also preached in Samaria (Acts 8:25).

Lessons for us

We have looked at what the Bible says about the 200 year history of Samaria as a capital city and about the following 750 year history of Samaria as a region in Palestine. Although it was settled by God’s people, it was a center of disobedience and rebellion against God. The people were deceived by the leaders and the false prophets. And they suffered the consequences. But God kept the promises He made to Moses and Solomon. He said that disobedience would lead to being removed from their land. And that’s what happened.

God was patient, giving them lots of time to repent and change to obey the covenant. But in the long term, judgement comes to those who rebel against God. And  in the long term, false prophets will be shown to be wrong.

Jesus reached out to the Samaritans even though they followed a corrupted version of the Pentateuch. And the apostles preached the gospel to the Samaritans and set up churches.

From these events we learn that:
– If God kept the promises He made in the Old Testament, then He will also keep the promises He makes to us in the New Testament.
– If God was patient in judging the Israelites, He will be patient in judging people today. Peter confirms this, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9).
– Let’s beware of deceivers (false teachers or false prophets) whose message isn’t consistent with that of the New Testament.
– Let’s include marginalized people in our ministries, not exclude them.
– Let’s spread the good news about Jesus to all nations and races; and not write off anyone as being unworthy of God’s love and mercy.

Written, January 2019

Also see other posts on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Where’s Zion?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles at Jericho
Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice


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.

herodian-family-tree 800px

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