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Does archaeology support the Bible?

Archaeology collage 1300pxOld houses are being demolished in my suburb to make way for new ones. If we came back in 50 year’s time, what evidence will there be of how people lived in the old houses? Very little. But there would be more evidence if we excavated a rubbish dump. If the time gap was longer, like thousands of years, not much would be left to discover and it would be harder to work out the purpose and age of what was found.

In antiquity, instead of demolishing an old city, people would just build a new one on top of it. So the city grew higher with time until it became a hill called a tell. A tell is a mound of ruins and debris that is mainly comprised of mud bricks, which disintegrate rapidly. Excavating a tell can reveal buried buildings, pottery and other relics, located at different depths depending on their date of use. Archaeologists excavate tell sites to interpret the architecture, purpose, and date of occupation.

In this post we are looking at whether archaeology supports the Bible or not. The word archaeology comes from two Greek words meaning “ancient” and “knowledge”. So it means the study of ancient things. Archaeology is a historical science that studies ancient cultures through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artefacts, inscriptions, monuments and other physical remains. It’s like forensic science because it studies the past.

This topic is important because archaeology can impact our attitude towards the Bible. For example, a statement by an archaeologist that “the Israelites were never in Egypt or the Sinai desert”, can cause us to doubt the reliability of the Bible. But we will see that the Bible is more reliable than archaeology.

History and the Bible

Source of faith 400pxWhat is the foundation of the Christian faith? Is it Jesus Christ? Is it His death and resurrection? Is it because we needed a Savior because of the sin of Adam and Eve? These are historical people and historical events. So you could say Christianity is based on history. But it’s not just any history, it’s biblical history. Only the Bible gives the history and its meaning that’s essential to becoming a Christian. Paul says that Christian faith comes through accepting “the word about Christ”, which is the good news in the Bible (Rom. 10:17NIV). The source of Christian faith is shown in this schematic diagram. When we hear the good news in the Bible about Jesus and the Holy Spirit convicts us of our need to accept it, we can come to trust in what Jesus has done for us.

But the Bible is often under attack. And disciplines such as history, archaeology, geology and biology are often used to attack the Bible. Today we are focusing on archaeology. We will begin by looking at examples from two ancient cities.

Hezekiah’s tunnel

The first example is in Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom of Judah at about 700BC. What does the Bible say happened?

“After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself. When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to wage war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his officials and military staff about blocking off the water from the springs outside the city, and they helped him. They gathered a large group of people who blocked all the springs and the stream that flowed through the land. “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find plenty of water?” they said” (2 Chr. 32:1-4).
“It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channelled the water down to the west side of the City of David” (2 Chr. 32:30).
“As for the other events of Hezekiah’s reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool (of Siloam) and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?” (2 Ki. 20:20).

Jerusalem’s water supply was vulnerable to enemy attack since it was outside the main city wall. And Sennacherib, king of Assyria, was invading Judah. So king Hezekiah, who reigned 715BC to 686BC, built a tunnel to bring water from the spring to a new pool. If these events really happened as described in the Bible, what would we expect an archaeologist to find? Maybe a tunnel through the rock from a water source outside the city to a pool inside the city.

Hezekiahs tunnel 3 400pxWhat did they find? In 1880 a tunnel was discovered from Gihon Spring in Kidron Valley to bring water into the city. It is about 530 meters (1750 feet) long. Being cut into solid rock and 40 m (131 feet) underground, it’s one of the greatest engineering feats of the ancient world. Tourists can walk through the tunnel and it still carries water from Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, 2,700 years after it was built. The other archaeological evidence of King Hezekiah includes many bullae (impressed clay pieces that were used to secure the strings tied around rolled-up documents) of his royal seal and Sennacherib boasting that he trapped Hezekiah in Jerusalem “like a bird in a cage” (Sennacherib Prism). But Sennacherib doesn’t mention taking Jerusalem because the Bible says that God intervened (2 Ki. 19:35-36; 2 Chr. 32:20-21a; Isa. 37:36-37). So archaeology can support the Bible.

Sultan’s Hill

The second example is in the city of Jericho at about 1400BC. It was an oasis north of the Dead Sea called the city of palms (Dt. 34:3; Jud. 1:16; 3:13; 2 Chr. 28:15).

What does the Bible say happened? When Joshua lead the Israelites into Canaan, Jericho was the first city they conquered. After circling Jericho 13 times over seven days, “When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in (“up” is a better translation), and they took the city … Then they burned the whole city and everything in it” (Josh. 6:20, 24).
“At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: ‘Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: At the cost of his firstborn son he will lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest he will set up its gates’” (Josh. 6:26). This curse was fulfilled when Heil rebuilt the city walls in about 850BC (1 Ki. 16:34). So the city went about 550 years without a wall.

If these events really happened as described in the Bible, what would we expect an archaeologist to find? Evidence of: toppled walls, destruction by fire, a new people with a new culture coming into the land, a gap in occupation, and then the city being rebuilt.

Jericho - anciernt 2 400pxWhat did they find at Tel es-Sultan (Sultan’s hill)?
– Carl Watzinger found the remains of two walls which he dated 1950-1550BC, and said that “in the time of Joshua, Jericho was a heap of ruins, on which stood perhaps a few isolated huts”.
– Kathleen Kenyon found many walls, some of which she thought may have been destroyed by earthquakes. The last of the walls was put together in a hurry, indicating that the settlement had been destroyed by nomadic invaders. She thought all these walls predated Joshua – they were in the middle Bronze age, not the Late Bronze age. After this there was little activity in Jericho until the 7th century BC. She did not find substantial evidence for renewed occupation in the Late Bronze Age at the time of Joshua and the biblical story of the battle of Jericho. Kenyon thought that there was no city and no wall at that time. She dated the demise of the city 150 years before the Israelites came into the land. Although Jericho was heavily fortified, it had been burned.

So in this case, archaeology and radiocarbon dating does not support the Bible. Instead it seems to contradict the Bible. How do we resolve this situation?

Interpretation of the evidence

At Jericho everything seems to fit in with the Bible except for the timing. When archaeologists excavate a tell they find items like broken pottery that require interpretation. These items don’t have labels to give their purpose and age. These depend on the assumptions or presuppositions used by the archaeologist.

What are the presuppositions of a secular archaeologist? These are beliefs about how the evidence is interpreted. And they depend on one’s worldview.

The Darwinian evolutionary theory in biology is often used to explain the process of cultural change with time. For example, cultural development is divided into three stages: Stone age, Bronze age, and Iron age. And the Stone age is usually divided into geological periods: Palaeolithic, Neolithic, and Chalcolithic. It is assumed that humanity developed gradually, both physically and intellectually, over millions of years. This timescale usually extends backwards past the creation of the universe according to the Bible! Whereas according to the Bible, the timescale should only go back the flood in about 2400BC. For example, Down suggested the following dates for Israel:
– Stone age – 2300 to 2100 BC
– Bronze age – 2100 to 540 BC
– Iron age – 540 to 300 BC
However, Anderson and Edwards quote the “generally acceptable” (secular) timing of:
– Stone age – creation to 3300 BC
– Bronze age – 3300 to 1200 BC
– Iron age – 1200 to 600 BC

Radiocarbon dating is often used without acknowledging the unreliability of this method (see Appendix A).

Naturalism is the belief that nature (or physical processes) is all that exists. It rules out the unseen, the spiritual and the divine. It also rules out the historical record in the Bible. They are biased against the Bible. The naturalist attempts to use logic and reason to support their position, but logic is not part of nature! Where in the physical world do the laws of logic come from? They can’t be explained by evolutionary processes. So the naturalist is inconsistent!

So a historical (forensic) science is a worldview discipline. Also, disciplines that depend on it like archaeology rely on one’s worldview. It’s findings largely depend on one’s worldview. We need to have the right worldview to get the right answer. If we reject the best account of ancient history in the Bible, our interpretation of archaeological evidence could be wrong, like that at Jericho. But when Bryant Wood made a better assessment of the pottery found at Jericho, he found that they were dated about 1400BC, which was consistent with the Bible (see Appendix B). He also realised when Israel destroyed Jericho, mud brick walls that were on top of a stone retaining wall fell to the ground to form a ramp so they could climb up into the city.

More archaeological findings

Here’s some more archaeological findings that are related to the Bible.

Merneptah Monument – About 1200BC

In 1898 a victory monument of Pharaoh Merneptah, the son of Ramesses II was found in the ancient Egyptian capital of Thebes. According to the traditional chronology, he reigned about 1200BC (but if Down can give a tentative date of 700BC, it shows that these dates are not robust). It has ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs engraved on granite rock. The monument documents his military victories such as over peoples and city-states in Canaan, including the Israelites. It says “Israel is laid waste; its seed is not”. This is claimed to be the earliest archaeological evidence of the Israelites.

Archaeologists have also dated the gates of Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer in Israel to the 10th century BC and the Bible says that Solomon had these constructed (1 Ki. 9:15-17).

Obelisk of Shalmaneser III – 840BC

In 1846 a black limestone obelisk that commemorates the deeds of King Shalmaneser III of Assyria (reigned 858-824 BC) was found at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu) in Iraq. It lists tribute paid by foreign kings, including Jehu the king of Israel. It has a relief of Jehu paying tribute to Shalmanaser, which is the only contemporary depiction of anyone mentioned in the Bible. It says, “The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears”.

Tel Dan monument – About 840BC

This broken monument (inscribed stone) was discovered in 1993-94 during excavations of Tel Dan in northern Israel. It is written on basalt in an Aramaic dialect. In it the king of Aram boasts of his military victories over the king of Israel and his ally the king of the “House of David” (Judah). This is the earliest mention of David outside the Hebrew Bible. The king of Aram was probably Hazael because Elisha appointed Hazael to be king (2 Ki. 8:7-15) in order to punish Israel for their sins (2 Ki. 9:14-16; 10:32; 12:17-18; 13:3, 22). The monument seems to have been set up by Hazael, king of Aram to commemorate his victory over Joram (king of Israel) and Ahaziah (king of Judah) at Ramoth-Gilead in 841 BC (2 Ki. 8:28–29; 9:15-28; 2 Chron. 22:1-9).

Assyrian Lachish Reliefs – About 690BC

Lachish, the second largest city in Israel, was destroyed by siege by the Assyrians in 701BC. In 1847 a huge relief of the battle was found in the ruins of Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh. It was a waiting room for people getting ready to see the king. The relief covered all the four limestone walls and was 2.4 m (8 foot) tall and 24 m (80 foot) long. It demonstrated the power of the king and the fate of those who resist his rule. This indicates that Israel was a powerful country at this time and that he didn’t destroy Jerusalem (otherwise that would have been illustrated). The Bible says that Sennacherib “attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them”, including laying siege to Lachish (2 Ki. 18:13; 2 Chr. 32:9; Isa. 36:1).

Keetef Hinnom amulet – About 600BC

In 1979 two tiny silver scrolls were fund in a burial chamber on the old road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. An amulet is an ornament or small piece of jewellery used to protect its owner from danger or harm. When they were unrolled, it was evident that they were inscribed with a priestly blessing from Numbers written in ancient Hebrew (Num. 6:24-26):
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace”.

This is the oldest copy of any portion of scripture (at least 400 years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls). It also shows that the Pentateuch was written earlier than is claimed by some critics.

House of God inscription – About 600BC

In ancient times notes were often written on pottery because it was more common than papyrus. Such a message was found at Tel Arad (near the Dead Sea) that mentions “the house of God (YHWH)” in ancient Hebrew script. It is written in ink by a professional scribe. It seems to be a letter sent from Jerusalem to the commander of the Arad. It is an early reference to the temple in Jerusalem that was destroyed in 586BC.

Cyrus cylinder – 530BC

A clay cylinder was found in the ruins of Babylon in Iraq in 1879. It is inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform script with an account made by Cyrus king of Persia (559-530 BC). It records his conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, as mentioned in scripture. Cyrus allowed various captives to return to their homelands (as recorded on the cylinder), which is consistent with the end of the Jewish exile in Babylon (2 Chr. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-11). Isaiah mentions Cyrus 150 years before his birth (Isa. 44:28) and predicted the release of the Jews after the exile and their rebuilding of Jerusalem (Isa. 13:1, 17-19; 44:26 – 45:3).

Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) – 250BC to AD70

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection 980 Hebrew documents found in the Qumran limestone caves between in 1947 and 2017. Most of the texts are written on parchment. About 40% were copies from the Old Testament. Before the discovery of the DSS, the oldest Hebrew-language manuscripts of the Bible were Masoretic texts dating to the 10th century AD, such as the Aleppo Codex. The biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls push that date back over one thousand years. The DSS have demonstrated that the Old Testament was accurately transmitted during this interval. This indicates that the Old Testament we have today is a very accurate copy of the original text (autograph) of Old Testament. By the way, the earliest copies of the Greek Septuagint Old Testament are dated about AD 350.

Pilate inscription – AD 36

In 1961 a block of limestone was discovered in Caesarea with the inscription “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea”. Pilate was the prefect (governor) of the Roman-controlled province of Judaea from 26–36 AD. After AD 6 Caesarea replaced Jerusalem as the administrative capital and military headquarters of the province. The civil trial of Jesus was before Pilate and Herod Antipas (Mt. 27:11-26; Mk. 15:6-12; Lk. 23:6-15) and Pilate made the decision, “Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate … had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified” (Mk. 15:15). This inscription confirms the existence of a central character in the crucifixion of Christ.

Yehohanan crucifixion – AD 7 to70

In 1968 the remains of a crucified man were found in a stone ossuary (casket for bones) outside Jerusalem. According to the Hebrew inscription, his name was Yehohanan. A 11.5 cm (4.5 inches) iron nail pierced a heel bone. Iron was rare in Roman times so they would always remove the nails to use them again. However, in this case they could not remove this nail because it was bent so much at the tip. His feet had been nailed separately to the sides of the pole of the cross. The lack of traumatic injury to the arms and hands indicates that his hands were probably tied rather than nailed to the crossbar of the cross. The bones give clear evidence of first century AD Roman crucifixion. And this find proves that a victim of crucifixion (like Jesus) could receive a proper Jewish burial.

Ephesian theatre – AD 54

The theatre at Ephesus (in Turkey) was constructed in the 3rd century BC and enlarged to a seating capacity of 25,000 in the Roman period. Besides drama and gladiatorial combats, political and religious events were carried out in it as well. The Bible records conflict between Christians and the followers of Artemis in AD 54 when Paul’s safety was threatened. Luke records this riot as follows, “Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.” (Acts 19:29-31).

These archaeological findings do support the Bible.

Lessons for us

We have seen that some archaeology supports the Bible and some doesn’t. Like in Jericho, many alleged conflicts are due to disagreements about chronology (timing). This is because archaeological findings can be strongly influenced by the worldview of the archaeologist. The findings are based on evidence that must be interpreted. Every archaeologist has a worldview and every person has a worldview. What about us? Is our worldview trustworthy? Does it include God’s revelation in the Bible? Is our worldview true or false?

As all knowledge about the past is fragmentary, all history (and archaeology) is fragmentary. How much do you know about your great-grandparents? You can’t read their life story on Facebook! We probably know more about Moses, who lived 3,500 years ago! So history and archaeology are limited by the amount of evidence available. Very little evidence remains from ancient history. This limits the scope of history. Only a small fraction of historical artefacts that once existed have survived to the present. This limits the scope of archaeology because conclusions can only be made from the evidence that is available. However, like fossils, artefacts are more likely to be preserved if they remain buried in the ground.

Archaeology is also limited by the small extent of excavations made to date. Only a fraction of ancient sites have been surveyed, excavated, and the results published.

In archaeological investigations, the absence of evidence doesn’t prove anything. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Archaeology needs to draw conclusions from what it finds, not what it doesn’t find. For example, in 1961 Khrushchev spread atheist propaganda that the Soviet cosmonaut “Gagarin flew into space and didn’t see God”. Does that prove God doesn’t exist? No, because God is invisible! And if someone excavates the ground near a house in my suburb in 50-years’ time and sees no evidence of any previous houses, it doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. And the same applies to archaeological statements like, “the Israelites were never in Egypt”. I’m not surprised if there is no evidence of this after 3,500 years.

A lot of archaeological evidence doesn’t overlap with the Bible because it’s from a different place or a different time period. Only a fraction of what is discovered and published relates to the Bible. So we should be careful in trying to correlate biblical accounts and archaeological data.

Archaeology can’t prove the Bible. And it can’t disprove the Bible. And archaeology is unable to address the Bible’s theological claims. But archaeology can confirm and support some of the biblical record. For example, it confirms the predicted demise of ancient Babylon, Nineveh and Tyre (Jer. 51:37; Ezek. 26:4, 12; Zeph. 2:13-15). It also helps us understand aspects of the ancient world. As shown in the previous section, many archaeological discoveries are consistent with biblical history. However, those with a different world view have challenged some of these interpretations. This shows that archaeological discoveries can be open to more than one interpretation.

The Bible stands alone and needs no affirmative evidence to verify its truth. The Bible was written by eyewitnesses, and eyewitnesses trump archaeology in confirming ancient events. History trumps science when dealing with the past. The Bible is reliable and trustworthy (2 Pt. 1:19). But do we “pay attention to it”? Because the Bible is more reliable than archaeology, it’s best to use the Bible to understand archaeology rather than vice versa.

Archaeology can supply some information about the past, but it is limited and requires interpretation. The Bible also supplies some information about the past, but it provides its own interpretation. The Bible provides sufficient information for us to know what was important about the past, but it doesn’t answer all our questions.

Finally, we are looking at this topic because history and faith are connected. For example, we can’t separate the historical nature of Christ’s death and resurrection from the spiritual forgiveness of sin. Jesus told Nicodemus, “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” (Jn. 3:12).

Our attitude towards the Bible

Source of faith 400pxGoing back to the diagram about the source of Christian faith. When we hear the good news in the Bible about Jesus and the Holy Spirit convicts us of our need to accept it, we can come to trust in what Jesus has done for us.

The Bible teaches that we are separated from God because we have rebelled against Him. And so we deserve to be punished. But God has acted to address this serious situation. He sent Jesus to take our punishment. Jesus’ followers, the apostles, taught people how to get right with God and this is written down in the Bible (1 Cor. 2:10-13). God also sent the Holy Spirit to help us get right with God. He does this in two ways:
– Convicting us of our sinful situation (Jn. 10:8-9), and
– Helping us understand the true meaning of the historical events recorded in the Bible (1 Cor. 2:14-16). For example, Paul preached about the meaning of Genesis history (Acts 17:24-26), Israel’s history and Jesus’ history (Acts 13:16-41).

These are the first steps towards becoming a follower of Jesus. And they are both based on the Bible. If we don’t make this step, it’s like not getting to first base in baseball. If we think the Bible is unreliable, then we stay in our sinful situation. If we don’t trust the Bible, we remain separated from God and face His punishment. So our attitude towards the Bible can be a barrier to belief. We have seen that archaeology can provide some support for the reliability of the Bible. Are we willing to read the Bible with an open mind? And are we willing to reject the views of those who reject the Bible? Are we willing to get right with God?

If we are already following Jesus, is the Bible really our authority? Or do we trust in what we read and hear from the internet, movies, videos and TV? Do we critique these with a biblical worldview? We can use “If …, then …” statements like:
– If the Bible is true, then that is true and good, or
– If the Bible is true, then that is false and rubbish.
Otherwise, it’s like swallowing polluted water without filtering it. We need to keep our biblical glasses and filters on our eyes, ears and minds. And don’t just accept what is preached by the ungodly world.

Summary

The answer to the question, “Does archaeology support the Bible?” is yes and no! We have seen that archaeology can support the Bible. But because archaeology relies so much on the worldview of the archaeologist, it can also contradict the Bible. This is because archaeological discoveries can be open to more than one interpretation. And archaeology is limited because its discoveries only relate to very few parts of history. For these reasons, the Bible is more reliable than archaeology. So, let’s test archaeological claims before accepting them, while trusting the Bible and its history because it can lead to salvation.

Appendix A: Radiocarbon dating

Radiocarbon dating uses the fact that an isotope of carbon (14C) is radioactive and decays at a known rate (it has a half-life of 5,730 years, which means that it is undetectable after about 50,000 years). In the carbon cycle, carbon atoms move between the atmosphere, plants and animals and the rest of the environment. If we assume that the 14C/12C ratio is the same across the environment and across the last 50,000 years, then when a plant or animal dies, it will contain carbon with this ratio of isotopes. If it is assumed that 14C decays at a fixed rate after a plant or animal dies, then an elapsed time can be calculated from the difference between the 14C/12C ratio in the sample compared to that in the atmosphere. This also assumes that 14C isn’t added to or removed selectively from the dead plant or animal. The elapsed time gives the “raw” age of the sample. It is claimed that the assumption that 14C/12C in the environment is fixed across all time periods (in the past 50,000 years) is removed by calibration with the international radiocarbon calibration curve (which is used to convert the raw age to a calendar age). This curve is based on the raw ages and calendar ages obtained from trees and corals. The trees are dated by counting the rings and assuming that each ring represent a calendar year (an annual cycle of seasons). The corals are dated by other radioactive dating methods (such as thorium/uranium). So the dates on this curve are inferred and not verified against historical records.

For the following reasons, this radiocarbon dating method is an example of historical science that is based on a secular (unbiblical) worldview (viewpoint):
– Radiocarbon dating is only done for samples which are believed to be younger than 50,000 years (on the secular timescale). If a sample (believed to be older than 50,000 years) is tested and gives an age less than 50,000 years, the result is said to have been influenced by contamination (by more recent carbon).
– If a sample (believed to be less than 50,000 years) is tested and gives an unexpected age, the result is said to have been influenced by contamination (by foreign carbon).
– The tree ring record has been extrapolated well past verified historical records (see below).
– Because the assumed dates of tree rings are determined from their 14C/12C ratio, and these assumed dates are used to determine the international radiocarbon calibration curve, the method of radiocarbon dating uses circular reasoning. It uses radiocarbon dating to calibrate radiocarbon dating!
– Because the assumed dates of corals are determined by radioactive dating, and these assumed dates are used to determine the international radiocarbon calibration curve, the method of radiocarbon dating uses circular reasoning. It uses radioactive dating to calibrate radiocarbon dating!

Historically verifiable dates

As history trumps science when dealing with the past, radiocarbon dates should be verified against historical records. The Bible has historical records back to the creation of the earth. The oldest of these that have been verified independently by archaeology are dated in the 9th century BC:
– Omri king of Israel (880BC) is mentioned on the Moabite Stone (Mesha Monument), which is dated about 850BC.
– Jehu king of Israel is mentioned on the Obelisk of Shalmaneser, which is dated 840BC.
This means that the radiocarbon dating method hasn’t been verified against historical data past 3,000 years ago. Yet the international radiocarbon calibration curve extends to 50,000 years ago! This is an extrapolation of more than an order of magnitude!

Also, the global flood (~ 2,400BC), which buried plant and animal life, would have upset the earth’s environment. What impact did this have on the carbon cycle and the rate of 14C decay? This is unknown, but is likely to have been significant. It throws significant doubt on the international radiocarbon calibration curve which assumes uniformity in the carbon cycle across the last 50,000 years.

So, although the concentrations of carbon isotopes can be measured with great precision, the radiocarbon dating method has many assumptions which result in significant uncertainties. I believe that the uncertainty in the determination of dates 3,500 years ago by the radiocarbon method would be greater than 5%, which is the difference between the historical and carbon dating predictions of the fall of Jericho (see Appendix B). Therefore, there is no significant difference between these historical and radiocarbon dates.

Appendix B: Archaeological assessment of Tel Es-Sultan

There are two views on the date of the major destruction of ancient city of Jericho in the second millennium BC:
– Kathleen Kenyon claims it was about 1550BC.
– Bryant Wood claims it was about 1400BC.

There is evidence that there were two walls around Jericho:
– An outer stone revetment (retaining) wall (about 4.6 m or 15 feet high) upon which there was a mudbrick parapet wall (vertical extension), and
– An inner mudbrick wall which served as Jericho’s city wall proper.
There was a sloping earth embankment (rampart) between the inner and outer walls. A photo and drawing of an excavation on the northern end of the tell shows the revetment wall, the mudbrick parapet wall (a height of 2.4 m or 8 feet had been preserved) and the remains of mudbrick houses on top of the rampart between the inner and outer walls (Watzinger, 1911).

Kenyon based her opinion almost exclusively on the absence of pottery imported from Cyprus and common to the Late Bronze I period (1550-1400 BC). This is a major deficiency in her methodology. As noted above, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And she paid little attention to the pottery that was excavated, although the primary method of dating should be a thorough analysis of the local (not imported) pottery. The presence or absence of imported pottery can be used as a supporting argument, but it should not be the sole basis for determining a date.

Wood also claims that “Kenyon dug in a poor quarter of the city where they found only humble domestic dwellings. She based her dating on the fact that she failed to find expensive, imported pottery in a small excavation area in an impoverished part of a city located far from major trade routes!”

Wood based his opinion on four lines of evidence: the ceramic data; stratigraphical considerations; scarab evidence, and a radiocarbon date. However, because of the uncertainty associated with radioactive dating, this method is unable to discriminate between the different dates proposed by Kenyon and Wood (see Appendix A). Wood’s major finding were:
– The pottery excavated by Kenyon are from the Late Bronze I period and not the Middle Bronze Age.
– Kenyon’s dating requires the city to go through 20 different architectural phases (with evidence that some of these phases lasted for long periods of time) in approximately 100 years of time!
– The cemetery outside Jericho yielded a continuous series of Egyptian scarabs from the 18th through the early-14th centuries BC (Garstang, 1936) contradicting Kenyon’s claim that the city was abandoned after 1550 BC. Scarabs are small Egyptian amulets shaped like a beetle with an inscription.

Bienkowski wrote an article disputing Wood’s conclusions. But a review of the evidence relevant to the date of the destruction of Jericho by Wood revealed that Bienkowski’s objections do not stand up to critical assessment.

It has been pointed out that scarabs tend to be handed down as heirlooms. But this means that scarabs only set an upper limit for the date and the actual date may be lower than indicated than the scarab. This doesn’t invalidate Wood’s dating, but it makes Kenyon’s dating less likely. However, Woods also states that “It is extremely difficult to correlate the tomb groups with the tell strata”.

For the above reasons, I think that Wood’s dating is more robust than Kenyon’s. The only other probable conclusion is that secular history and archaeology is unable to differentiate between the two dates because of the significant uncertainty in their determination of these dates.

Was this destruction of Jericho at the hands of the Israelites? The correlation between the archaeological evidence and the Biblical narrative is substantial:
– The city was strongly fortified (Josh. 2:5,7,15; 6:5,20).
– The attack occurred just after harvest time in the spring (Josh. 2:6; 3:15; 5:10).
– The inhabitants had no opportunity to flee with their foodstuffs (Josh. 6:1).
– The siege was short (Josh. 6:15).
– The mudbrick walls collapsed, possibly due to an earthquake (Josh. 6:20).
– The city was not plundered as the grain harvested was ignored by the conquering army (Josh. 6:17-18).
– The city was burned (Joshua 6:24).

References

Anderson C and Edwards B (2014) “Evidence for the Bible”, Day One Publications.

Down D (2010) “The archaeology book”, Master Books.

Lisle J (2013) “The ultimate proof of creation – Presuppositional apologetics”, YouTube.

Wood B (2008) Did the Israelites conquer Jericho? A new look at the archaeological evidence. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/05/Did-the-Israelites-Conquer-Jericho-A-New-Look-at-the-Archaeological-Evidence.aspx#Article

Wood B (2012) “Dating Jericho’s destruction: Bienkowshi is wrong on all counts” http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2012/03/28/Dating-Jerichos-Destruction-Bienkowski-is-Wrong-on-All-Counts.aspx

Written, June 2017

 

 

Apply daily to look good on the inside

June-17_ApplyDaily 400pxWhen it’s high in the sky the sun’s beauty is fierce. Though, as it sets, your gaze can be full and frank. From a rooftop late in the afternoon, something more beautiful and more terrifying held the gaze of King David. Most men experience turmoil at the sight of a beautiful, naked woman. A primal, instinctual urge turns interest automatically into desire. Only a forceful act of the will can turn the gaze. But David kept looking. On an adjacent rooftop a woman bathed. The teller of David’s story tells us, ‘She was very beautiful’. Yet, although Bathsheba was married, David took her anyway. Then, when she became pregnant and the sin couldn’t be concealed, David organized for the murder of her husband, Uriah.

When you read the fuller version of this Bible story you’ll notice many lessons. Chiefly, that God sees who we really are. And He’s angry when we behave badly. With David, God’s anger burned. He cursed his household with evil, further adultery and the death of the child conceived with Bathsheba, promising that, ‘the sword shall never depart from your house’.

David and Bathsheba’s story also has lessons for us about beauty. Firstly, contrary to popular complaint, beauty is no modern obsession – it’s always been a thing… because every society believes that good-looking people have more worth. Secondly, beautiful people get ahead in life. Bathsheba’s husband was not an Israelite. Yet her beauty overshadowed this stigma. David simply couldn’t resist her. Later, their son, Solomon, reigned as King at the highest point in Israel’s history. Thirdly, we learn that outward beauty is no guarantee of anything nice on the inside. The Bible tells us that David was also good looking. Specifically, ‘he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome’. But God made it clear that this wasn’t the reason he chose him. He said, ‘man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’.

Well, as we’ve seen, David’s heart became a corrupt mess. Later in the Bible (Psalm 51) he pleaded with God for help to make him beautiful on the inside. He cried, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a loyal spirit within me.’

So now, a disturbing question remains, ‘What does God see when He turns His fierce gaze upon me?’ Deep down we know the answer. Yet when we read the Bible we discover that God is willing to help. He’s willing to forgive and to come into our hearts so that we might become beautiful to Him.

Bible Verse: Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a loyal spirit within me”.

Prayer: Dear God, please forgive those things that I’ve thought, said and done that are ugly. Please help me to be beautiful on the inside.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

How to be contented

Contentment 2 400px

In September 2016 severe storms sparked a state-wide blackout in South Australia leaving 1.67 million residents without electrical power. Supply was lost to the entire South Australian region of the National Electricity Market. As a result of the blackout the zinc smelter was shut down for several weeks. We all know about the importance of electrical power, but what about the power to be contented?

In this blogpost we look at what Paul says about being contented in Philippians 4:11-13, which finishes with the well-known verse, “I can do all this (things ESV) through Him who gives me strength” (4:13NIV). This passage shows us how to be contented in both prosperity and adversity.

Context

Paul wrote this letter while he was under house arrest in Rome (Phil. 1:13; 4:22). It was written to the first church established in Europe in Macedonia (now Greece). The Philippians had heard that he was in prison, so they sent him a gift of money. Epaphroditus took the gift to Paul and stayed to help him. While there, he became very ill. When he was ready to go back to the church in Philippi, Paul sent this letter with him to thank the Philippians for their gift, to encourage them in the Christian faith, and to warn them about false teachers. Paul said that because of his imprisonment, the good news about Jesus was being preached more. And he wanted them to be united, humble, committed to living for Jesus Christ, and not to grumble.

Contentment

Towards the end of the letter Paul says “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (4:11-13).

Before the passage, Paul “rejoiced greatly in the Lord” after he received the gift of money from them (4:10). He thanked God as the ultimate source of the gift. God had motivated the Philippians to give. The principle is that everything we possess is ultimately from God. God provides our financial support. God provides our employment. He repeats this thought after the passage, “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus”. So, let’s base our joy and contentment on God and not our circumstances.

Paul was content whatever his circumstances. This means in all financial situations. He gives three examples of the extremes:
– “in need”, versus “to have plenty”,
– “well fed”, versus “hungry”, and
– “living in plenty”, versus living in “want”.
He says that he had experienced these extremes of being needy and being well off.

And then Paul says, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength”. What is “all this”? It’s being content in all the circumstances of life. He had learned to be content no matter what his circumstances were. Paul was writing from prison. So, he’s saying that he was content in prison! The Roman jail did not provide food, money, clothes or blankets. How many prisoners are content in prison? Are we content when we are needy? Or when we are hungry?

The principle is that circumstances do not need to determine our state of mind. We can be content knowing that our situation is God’s will for us. He is in control of all that happens to us. Our security is in God’s plan for us, not in money. In fact, prosperity can be a source of discontent because the more we have, the more we want. In times of plenty we can forget about God and trust in our own resources. For example, the Rolling Stones sang a song called, “I can get no satisfaction”. So, wealth doesn’t bring contentment.

Contentment doesn’t come automatically or naturally. Paul says, “I have learned to be content” and “I have learned the secret of being content”. As he was well educated, he probably grew up in luxury, but he probably wasn’t contented then. Now he was needy, but contented. Through the tough times, Paul learnt to be content. Paul learnt this lesson from God. He leant it through Scripture and his experiences in life.

Contentment is an attitude that is free from anxiety. It’s putting things in proper priority. Paul said, “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:6-8).

Contentment is the opposite of greed. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”(Heb. 13:5).

Inner power

Then Paul says how he can do this, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (4:13NIV).
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (ESV, HCSB).
“I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me” (NET).
He has an extra source of power to strengthen him.

Does this mean that there was nothing that Paul couldn’t do? The Greek word translated “all things” (pas Strongs #3956) occurs twice in the previous verse – “in any and every situation (circumstance)”. That’s why the NIV translates it as “I can do all this” instead of “I can do all things”. Verse 13 explains the power behind his contentment. The “all things” means being content in both prosperity and adversity. So it doesn’t mean that a Christian can do anything.

We know that the Holy Spirit helps believers because Paul said, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Rom. 8:26) and he prayed that God “may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being” (Eph. 3:16). And the reason for such divine power is “so that you may have great endurance and patience” (Col. 1:11). And Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when he addressed the religious leaders after they had arrested him for preaching (Acts 4:8). And Jesus said that the Holy Spirit lives within every believer. So my translation of verse 13 is “I can do all this through the Holy Spirit who gives me strength”. God’s power through the Holy Spirit is essential for Christian living and Christian ministry.

And Paul also said that he dealt with physical problems and difficult situations with the divine power of God the Father and Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 12:9-10; 13:4). So, a Christian has power from all members of the trinity.

Lessons for us

Paul said that he was content when he had plenty. So should we. Paul also said that he was content when he was hungry and cold (like in jail). So he was also content in hardships. So should we.

Real contentment comes from God and not from our circumstances such as material possessions or physical comfort. Our circumstances will vary but God does not vary. With Christ at the center of our lives and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be calm and confident in difficult circumstances.

Are we happy when things are good and miserable when things are bad? Don’t be a slave of your circumstances. Let’s learn how to be contented in prosperity and adversity, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Appendix

The Textus Receptus for Philippians 4:13 says “… through Christ who strengthens me” (NKJV). Although this appears in many New Testament manuscripts, textural scholars believe that this is a modification of the original text.

Written, May 2017

Come and join us

Lisa Pearce from Open Doors says that, “If a Christian is discovered in Somalia, they’re unlikely to live to see another day”. The question to ask yourself is, ‘Why join a group experiencing 80% of the religious persecution in the world today? Especially when, in North Africa, the Middle East and many parts of Asia, Christians are vanishing. It seems a lost and futile cause.’

… but not according to Jesus – or His followers. Jesus said to all who’d follow Him, “you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers” (Matthew 24:9). Thankfully, He also promised that nothing would overcome His church (Matthew 16:18). So, trusting in these comforting words, Christians await persecution with confidence, praying, that when it comes, they’ll be ready to stand strong and bear witness to their Lord. They know, from the promises of scripture and the lessons of history, that nothing strengthens faith like persecution unto death.

So why does God allow such persecution? Because when a lost world sees Christians preferring to die than dishonor their Lord – they see faith that’s real. And when Christians love their enemies – the world sees a miracle. Esther from Eritrea says, “As Christians we’re required to love our enemies even though it is very difficult to do that when they make you suffer, or when they harm or kill your loved ones!”

Sadly, not all Christians listen to Jesus’s commands. In every age there are people behaving badly in the name of Jesus. Even now, in the Central African Republic, “Christian” militias persecute and murder Muslims. But the unreported truth is that religious persecution is utterly one sided. The vast majority of persecution between the world’s two largest religions is from Muslims towards Christians. So, if the secular media has given you an impression that all religious people just fight and kill each other then please reconsider.

The US Center for the Study of Global Christianity (and other sources) estimates that 100,000 Christians are martyred annually – roughly 11 per hour, or 1 every 5 minutes. You can read or download a moving and tragic article about their methodology at:
https://tinyurl.com/k7822xo

The following articles are exceptions to the media silence:
https://tinyurl.com/n6keu5t                    https://tinyurl.com/mq49qa9
https://tinyurl.com/msa3wma                https://tinyurl.com/qxsg2u4

You can help persecuted Christians by supporting the Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors.

Finally, dear friend, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Jesus’s words in Matthew 10:28). Do not be deterred by reports of persecution but come and join us as we worship Jesus

Bible Verse: Matthew 24:9 “You will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers”.

Prayer: Dear God please give hearts of lions to your people everywhere that they might stand firm for you.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

Posted, May 2017

Collective decision-making

Camel & horse 1 400pxThey say that a camel is a horse designed by a committee! Does this mean that groups make poor decisions because they incorporate too many conflicting opinions?

Christian churches and ministries are often led by leadership teams. But how should such teams make decisions, particularly when not all members agree? In this blogpost, we will use the example of a group of elders leading a church, but the principles also apply to other groups of Christians. We will see that the best approach to collective decision-making is to seek consensus rather than unanimity or a simple majority.

The Bible teaches that a Christian church should be governed by a group of elders. This is plural leadership by a team that makes decisions for the congregation. In this article we look at some of the biblical principles for making decisions at elders’ meetings. These are collective, corporate decisions; not those made by an individual. It is when the elders seek the best collective decision as to what is Christ’s will for the congregation.

Unity

It is important to make every effort to maintain peace and unity among Christians (Rom. 14:19; Eph. 4:3). After all, Jesus died to bring together all of God’s scattered people and make them one (Jn. 11:51-52). Unity among believers was so important to Jesus that it was the subject of His prayer for them during the final hours of His life on earth: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn. 17:20-23NIV).

The Greek word for “one” (hen, Strongs #1520) appears four times in these verses, the last occasion being translated as “complete unity.” Here “one” is a metaphor for union, concord, and unity and the example to follow is the unity that exists between God the Father and God the Son. The same word was used when Christ said “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30).

The reason for this unity is repeated in the above verses: so the people of this world will know that Christ was sent by God. Another reason is so they may know something of God’s great love for humanity. This means that Christ tied His reputation and the credibility of His message to how well His followers display unity and oneness.

Paul also gave reasons for harmony and unity amongst Christians, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:1-4).

Evidently there was a lack of unity amongst the elders at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:10-17). There were factions within this church. Paul said that there shouldn’t be such divisions or quarrels within a leadership team.

But unity doesn’t mean uniformity; that every elder will have the same opinion. If this was the case, there would be no need for the plurality of elders. Also, plural leadership harnesses the collective experience and wisdom of a group, which is not present in a single person.

Furthermore, unity doesn’t mean that one person makes the decisions and the others all agree. This is more like a dictatorship where one person insists on getting their own way (3 Jn. 9-10). Being unified on an issue means that after debate, discussion and prayer, all the elders can support a certain choice as the best collective decision for the church.

Unity in a leadership team mainly depends on the character of the team members. For example, the Bible gives the godly qualifications required for elders (1 Tim. 3:1-6; Tit. 1:6-9). In decision-making it’s important that elders be sensible, just, trustworthy, and self-controlled and not quarrelsome or quick tempered or overbearing.

Status quo

Did you know that not making a decision is a decision? In this case, the situation remains the same as it is at present. So, we are choosing to remain the same instead of changing in some way. Such a bias in favour of the status quo can be harmful for a church which is facing ever-changing challenges.

Consensus

According to the dictionary, consensus means general or widespread agreement. The two main components of decision-making are the process used to form a proposal and the method used to decide whether to implement it or not. The word “consensus” has been used in both of these contexts.

The process
A consensus-oriented process is one in which people work together to reach as much agreement as possible. It is a collaborative and inclusive process in which all the elders should have the opportunity to contribute to drafting the proposal. As extra time can lead to a better proposal, be willing to defer finalizing the proposal to the next elders’ meeting.

The decision
A person can give their consent to a proposal that isn’t their first choice.  Possible decision-making options include:
– Unanimous agreement (this is the most difficult to achieve)
– Unanimous consent (where the proposal isn’t necessarily their first choice)
– Unanimous agreement minus one or two votes
– Unanimous consent minus one or two votes
– Super majority such as 90%, 80%, 75%, or two-thirds.
– Simple majority. At least 51%.

Three decision-making methods

Some examples of decision-making in the early church are given in the Appendix. The three main methods for making decisions in elders’ meetings are unanimity, majority, and consensus.

Unanimity

In this case, decisions are based on unanimous agreement by all persons. This is the ideal that elders should be working towards. However, this method allows one person to shut down the decision-making process. Not taking an action is a decision. In this case, the decision would be made by one person, and not a plural group. This gives one person too much power. The choice to require unanimous agreement on all decisions allows any individual elder to stop the decision-making process in the elders’ group. So this approach can lead to government by the minority.

Majority

In this case, decisions are based on the agreement by a majority of elders. It is government by the majority, not the minority. Although there is biblical precedence for this approach (2 Cor. 5:6), it can also lack unity. For example, if a decision is based on a slim majority, then there is a lack of unity amongst the elders. How can the elders expect the congregation to follow such a decision? A proposal that cannot gain the agreement of all or nearly all the elders is not worthy of the elders’ support. So a super majority is better than a slim majority.

Consensus

In this case, decisions are based on the agreement by all (unanimity) or most of the elders. Consequently, it avoids the short-comings of the other two methods for making decisions. It is a decision which all or nearly all the elders can support (say at least two-thirds). So it is similar to a super majority where each person agrees to support the decision, even though it may not be their first choice. Note that disagreement by a minority does not have to mean disunity.

Deciding

Today the complete Word of God gives us a general outline of God’s will. When we need specific guidance in matters not covered in the Word, we can pray and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The elements of decision making at an elders’ meeting include:
– Pray for corporate wisdom. If there is only a simple majority or if someone has serious objections, then there is a need for more prayer.
– Gather and assess information. Good leaders listen to the concerns of all the people involved. Don’t make a decision before you have all the facts (Prov. 18:13, 17). After an allegation was made the Israelites were advised; “you must investigate it thoroughly” (Dt. 13:14). As there are usually at least two sides to every story, it is important to talk to all the parties involved (Josh. 22:13-14; 31-34; Mt. 18:15-17).
– Apply appropriate Biblical principles.
– Discuss options. “After much discussion”, the early church at Jerusalem made a decision on the law of Moses (Acts 15:7, 25).
– Agree on a time frame for the decision. If we put it off indefinitely, then we accept the status quo. But if there is only a simple majority or if someone has serious objections, if possible, the decision could be delayed to the next elders meeting. Similarly for the case where a decision is a greater risk of going against Christ’s will for the congregation than the risk of delay. So patience is required for good decision-making.
– Seek consensus where team members either fully agree or have no serious objections. But if this is not achieved, to do nothing may be making a decision anyhow (status quo). And it seems better to favor the majority and not the minority, provided this doesn’t threaten unity amongst the elders.

Don’t let fear cripple your decision making. Fear of conflict, fear of what others may think and fear of failure must be overcome if we are to make good decisions.

Consensus is preferred because majority rule is better than minority rule and super majority rule is better than simple majority rule. Whereas a requirement for a unanimous agreement gives every member a veto, which is individual decision-making and not collective decision-making.

Conclusion

Let’s use the principles discussed above to make good decisions in our Christian leadership teams. The best approach is to seek consensus rather than unanimity or a simple majority. For example, in elders’ meetings it is best to seek consensus when making decisions. In this case, decisions are based on the agreement by all or most of the elders. It is a decision which all or nearly all the elders can support. This avoids the shortcomings of using the unanimous or majority approaches to decision making.

Appendix – Decision-making in the early church

Some examples of decisions made in the early church are given below.

Matthias chosen to replace Judas

After the resurrection of Jesus and the death of Judas Iscariot, it was necessary to appoint another apostle to be a witness Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:15-26). The job description for this person would require that they knew what Christ taught so they could teach others. And they must be able to work together with the other apostles to lead the church in Jerusalem. Apparently several men met this requirement, so a decision had to be made as to which one would become the 12th apostle. Then the Bible says; “So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:23-26NIV).

They followed a three step process:
– The apostles nominated two men
– The apostles prayed for the Lord’s will to be revealed
– They cast lots
As this is the Bible’s last mention of casting lots, it’s not prescriptive for the church. It was a method used under the Mosaic covenant, but not under the new covenant.

The casting of lots for decision-making was a custom widely practiced in the ancient Near East. For example, lots were used in Persia in the 5th century BC (Est. 3:7). It seems as though marked pebbles or sticks were drawn from a receptacle into which they had been cast. This use of stones or sticks of wood to make decisions occurred often in Old Testament times (Ex. 28:30; Num. 26:55-56; 27:21; 33:54; 1 Sam. 10:20-21; 1 Chron. 26:13-16; Neh. 11:1; Ps. 22:18; Prov. 16:33; 18:18; Ezek. 21:21; Jon. 1:7). For example, the Urim and the Thummim were used to determine the will of God. Lots were used to reveal God’s selection of someone or something out of several possibilities in cases where a clear choice was not otherwise evident (Prov. 16:33). They provided a just and peaceful settlement of matters between people who might otherwise resort to force.

Deacons chosen at Jerusalem

When a practical need arose in the church at Jerusalem, the apostles said, “Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3-4). So the congregation choose seven men who were endorsed by the apostles. But no details are given on the method used for this decision.

Barnabas and Saul chosen for missionary work

Paul’s first missionary journey began from Antioch in Syria (Acts 13:1-3). This decision was made when the elders of the church (and maybe the congregation) were engaged in a time of prayer and fasting. They may have been praying about the evangelization of the world. As they prayed the Holy Spirit told them set apart Barnabas and Saul for this missionary work. We are not told how this message came, but it may have been revealed to one of the men who were prophets (Simeon, Lucius, or Manaen). The elders (and congregation) must have agreed as “they placed their hands on them and sent them off”. Likewise, no details are given on the decision-making process used.

Do Gentile believers need to be circumcised?

At the church in Jerusalem, the leadership team (apostles and elders) met in about AD 48 to consider whether to impose circumcision on Gentile believers (Acts 15:1-35). There was “much discussion” on this topic. Peter, Barnabas and Paul spoke. James then made a recommendation that was accepted by the apostles, elders and the whole church. They “all agreed” to send Judas and Silas to Antioch with a letter about their decision (Acts 15:22, 25). The ESV, HCSB and NET call it “unanimous” (the Greek means, having come to one mind”). It seemed to be a consensus agreement (a general agreement) which everyone was willing to accept. This doesn’t mean that everyone fully agreed (unanimity) as evidenced by the ongoing Judaizers objections. This is a good outcome of decision making, but it isn’t always possible. For example:
– When Paul and Barnabas disagreed with regard to John Mark, they went separate ways (Acts 16:36-41). This shows that agreement will not always be reached. But in this case a peaceful outcome was achieved.
– Paul said that it was wrong for a church to be divided over leaders like in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:10-17). Instead there should be unity.

Dealing with an offender at Corinth

Paul wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians to address problems at the church in Corinth. One of the problems was that the church continued to accept a member who was in an incestuous relationship (1 Cor. 5:1-13). Paul rebuked them for not doing anything about it, and urged them to take action. He told them to expel the man from the church so that he would repent of this ongoing behaviour.

When Paul wrote a follow-up letter, it was evident that the church had obeyed Paul’s instruction to expel the offender (2 Cor. 2:5-8; 7:12). (Note that this passage may refer to someone else who had caused trouble in the church; we can’t be certain. Another possibility is that the offence in 2 Corinthians was a personal attack by the unrepentant incestuous man against Paul and his authority to exercise discipline in the church. And after Paul rebuked them again, the church finally disciplined the offender). Now as the offender had shown genuine sorrow and repentance for his sin, the punishment should be discontinued and he should be restored to fellowship in the local church. In this context, Paul writes,
“The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient” (v. 6NIV).
“For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough” (ESV)
“The punishment inflicted by the majority is sufficient for that person” (HCSB)
“This punishment on such an individual by the majority is enough for him” (NET).

The Greek word pleionon (Strongs #4119) means greater in quantity or quality (Thayer Greek Lexion). The short definition is “more” or “greater”. In 2 Cor. 2:6 it is translated as “majority”, because it means greater in quantity. Paul also uses this Greek word in the same sense in 4:15 (where it means “more and more”) and 9:2 (where is means “most”). This Greek word also occurs in 1 Cor. 9:19 (many); 10:5 (most); 15:6 (most).

The decision by the church to punish the offender had not been unanimous, as it was carried out by the “majority” of the church, not “all” the church. Some may have declined to take part in it because they refused to acknowledge Paul’s authority. But Paul felt that the agreement of the majority had been sufficient to attain the desired objective. Those who had shown disrespect for the apostle must have been the minority.

This suggests that in instances where unanimity isn’t achieved, then it should be majority rule and not minority rule. You may say that in the case of the Israelite spies of Canaan, the majority (10 out of 12) made a bad decision. However, this was because only two of the 12 spies were faithful to the Lord (See the importance of the godly character of team members mentioned above under “Unity”).

Reference Swartley RH (2005) “Eldership in action. Through biblical governance of the church”. Emmaus College Press.

Written, April 2017

Also see: New Testament shepherds

What God does

God busy 2There’s a country music song by Brooks and Dunn titled, “God must be busy”. It mentions fighting in the Middle East, a single mum who lost her job, people dying and missing in a tornado, the abduction of a young girl, a drought, elderly people who can’t afford their medication, and violent street gangs. The writer feels as small as a speck of sand and that God’s got better things to do than to help them. They think that God hasn’t answered their prayer because “God must too be busy to help me”. This is an example of those who say they don’t want to bother God about their problems because He’s too busy running the universe.

In a class I’ve been attending at Bible College we’ve been looking at what the Bible says about God. This includes God’s attributes (His character) and God’s actions. His attributes can be summarized as: God is great and God is good. An example of His greatness is His power and an example of His goodness is His love. Of course God is much greater than we can imagine and more virtuous than we can imagine.

But what does God do? In this blogpost we are looking at what God does. His actions. And we will see that in the past God has planned and created, but now He sustains and governs His creation.

God plans

Like an architect designs a building, and an engineer designs a car, and a graphic artist designs an animated movie and a sculptor designs a pot, God has planned everything that will happen (Rom. 9:20-23). Like the plan begins in the mind of the architect, the engineer, the graphic designer, and the sculptor; the plan also begins in the “mind” of God. He decides. It’s His will. When we say “God’s will”, we mean “God’s plan”.

We don’t know much about God’s plan. Only what’s revealed in the Bible. We see what happens, not why it happens.

First, God’s plan included creation. It was God’s idea. God didn’t have to create, but He did.

Second, God’s plan includes the history of nations and individuals. For example:
– God used Assyria to punish ungodly nations, “Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone” (Isa. 37:26NIV). It says that God planned it long ago. God also determined the beginning, the end and the area occupied by nations (Acts 17:26).
– David says that our life span and its events have been already determined by God, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:16).

Third, God’s plan included salvation (Eph. 1:11). God gave a promise to Abraham, and through him to humanity. This promise-plan is fulfilled in the history of Israel, in Jesus Christ as the source of salvation, in the church, and in the age to come (Kaiser, 2008). God wanted to have people become like Himself, so He could enjoy their fellowship (Rom. 8:29; 1 Jn. 3:2). Jesus was sent on a mission at a time that was determined beforehand (Gal .4:5-5). The death of Jesus was part of “God’s deliberate plan” (Acts 2:23). God decided beforehand what happened (Acts 4:28).

God’s plan is good; it has good consequences. And the ultimate purpose of God’s plan is His glory (Eph. 1:12, 14; Rev. 4:11; 5:13).

When did God do this planning? The Bible says that it was “before the beginning of time” and “before the creation of the world” (Eph. 1:12; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Pt. 1:20). So it was made before anything was created. When the triune God was all that existed. In eternity past.

But God’s work is more than planning; He also creates.

God creates

God brought everything that exists into being without the use of pre-existing materials. God created time, the physical world of matter, forces and energy out of nothing. He also made the spiritual world of angels. God created things from what He created earlier. For example, He made animals, birds and Adam from dust and Eve from Adam (Gen. 2:7, 19, 21). There was nothing evil within God’s original creation (Gen. 1:31). And through the laws of genetics, variations can be created within the various types of creatures that God created. This limited variability helps creatures survive changes in their environment.

Creation is emphasised at the beginning of the books of Genesis, John and Hebrews. The Bible says that God created the world for His glory (Ps. 19:1; Isa. 6:3; 43:7; Rom. 1:20-21). In heaven, God the Father is praised, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will (God’s plan) they were created and have their being” (Rev. 4:11).

An architect is greater than a building, and an engineer is greater than a car, and a graphic artist is greater than an animated movie and a sculptor is greater than a pot. As a creator is greater than their creation, God is greater than anything in creation. He alone is to be worshipped.

But God’s work is more than planning and creating; He also sustains.

God sustains

The whole creation belongs to God and matters to Him. He cares for it. God sustains and preserves the creation He has brought into being. This means that God is active in creation (nature) and in our lives. Without God’s sustenance, nature would cease to be. It’s like driving a car without using cruise control. The driver needs to keep pressing on the accelerator pedal to make it go and to keep it going.

The Bible says, “In Him (Christ) all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). And Jesus is “sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3). The fundamental forces of nature are gravity, electromagnetism, and nuclear forces. Gravity holds the universe together, keeps planets in orbit and keeps the atmosphere, water, and us on planet earth. Electromagnetism keeps electrons in orbit around the atomic nucleus and binds atoms to one another to form molecules and compounds. And nuclear forces hold the nucleus of an atom together. Scientists believe that these forces are related, but they don’t know how. But we know how – Jesus holds all things together! He’s the common power.

God sustains nature. Jesus said that God provides for the birds and flowers (Mt. 6:25-34). He works through the processes of nature to provide for the needs of His creatures (Job 5:10; Ps. 104:10-28).

God also sustains humanity. We are in His care (Dt. 31:6). Jesus said that all the hairs of our head are numbered (Mt. 10:30). In Athens, Paul said that God “gives everyone life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25). Also, Christians are sustained through suffering. Writing from prison, Paul said that God will meet all our needs (Phil. 4:19).

But God’s work is more than planning, creating and sustaining; He also governs.

God governs

God has planned what is to occur and history is carrying out His intention. He works behind the scene so that events fulfil His plan. History is moving towards a definite goal. This means that God is active in history. God directs history. For example, God controlled:
– Nature when Elijah said it wouldn’t rain and there was a drought for 3.5 years (1 Ki. 17-18; Lk. 4:25; Jas 5:17).
– The rise and fall of nations (Dan. 2:21; Acts 17:26).
– Events in the lives of individuals. Hannah praised God, “The Lord brings death and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth; He humbles and He exalts” (1 Sam. 2:6-7). David said, “my times are in your hands (Ps.31:15). And Paul realized that even before his birth, he had been set apart by God for a special work (Gal. 1:15-16).

Two illustrations come to my mind. SimCity is a city-building computer game, which was released in 1989. A person building a city in SimCity is like God directing history. And it’s like 3D virtual reality. Monash University have developed a virtual civilization of Angkor Wat in Cambodia as it was 1,000 years ago. 25,000 computer people are animated to perform tasks as four classes of people: residents, commuting workers, suppliers and visiting elites. Virtual reality gives audiences a sense of time and place. In real life it’s God who is directing history, and not a digital animator.

The government of God is when He directs the course of events to fulfil His purposes. For example, look at the history of the Jews. Although their future was threatened in Egypt, in Babylon, and in the holocaust, God has preserved them as a nation.

So God is sovereign. He rules. That’s what is meant by the term, the “kingdom of God”. David said, “His (God’s) kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19).

God also redeems. He is waiting patiently for people to repent of their sin and rebellion (2 Pt. 3:9). He is calling the chosen and justifies them when they come (Rom. 8:28-30, 33-34). Then Christ and the Holy Spirit intercede on their behalf (Rom. 8:26-27; Heb. 7:25). And God makes them more like Jesus, which is called a “good work” (Phil. 1:6). Because no one can separate believers from the love of Christ, “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28; 31-39). So God is working for their good.

Meanwhile, He is preparing a place in heaven for the redeemed (Jn. 14:2). When Christ returns, God’s love, patience, holiness, mercy and grace towards sinners will be evident for all to see.

Lessons for us

We have seen that God plans, creates, sustains and governs. The planning is now past. And God has created in the past, but Christians are part of a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and God promises a millennial kingdom (Rev. 20:1-6) and a new heaven and a new earth in the future (Rev. 21:1 – 22:5). On the other hand, God is actively sustaining and governing at present and into the future. What are the lessons for us in all these things that God does?

It is evident that God implements His plans. Because His plan included creation, He creates and He sustains His creation. Because His plan includes the history of nations and individuals, he governs history. Because His plan includes salvation, He redeems those who follow Him.

Because God has a good plan for creation, history and salvation; life has purpose and we are moving towards the time when God’s glory will be revealed.

Creation has value because God made it and sustains it. But, do we believe that God will meet all our needs? We can be confident that God will sustain us. Peter said, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Pt. 5:7).

People have value because they are made in the image of God, because Jesus came as one of us, and because believers will be like Him in heaven.

What about when we are struggling in our circumstances? Let’s remember, God is sovereign. He rules. He knows what’s happening. He cares. Like Jesus said in the Garden of Gethsemane we can say, “Not my will, but yours (God’s) be done” (Lk. 22:42). God answers our prayers in accordance with His will (His plan). We can be assured that our life is in God’s hands, and that His plan for our lasting good, and for His glory, is being followed. He is always in control. God is with us in our struggles. He loves us so much that He gave His life for us. So, we can continue to trust God whatever our circumstances.

God is constantly working out His purpose in our lives, in the life of the church and in the world at large; sometimes visibly and sometimes unseen. So, although God rested on the day after creation, He is certainly busy today!

Conclusion

In the past God has planned and created, but now He sustains and governs His creation. And it’s good to know that we are part of God’s plan. So Brooks and Dunn were right and wrong – God is busy, but He’s not too busy to help us today!

References: Millard J. Erickson (2013) “Christian theology”. Third edition. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, USA.

Kaiser WC (2008) “The promise-plan of God”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, USA.

Written, April 2017

Also see: God is great
God is good

The first Easter hat

April-17_EasterHat_JPG 400pxKids both love and hate the annual Easter Hat parade. Parents likewise. It’s so much fun to wear a funny, self-made hat at Easter – to walk around and laugh at each other’s designs, impressed by the cleverness and humor. But it’s scary wondering if people think your hat is weird or daggy! And the stress zone the night before is really something. Parents with ten thumbs pull gluey fingers apart, trying desperately to make cardboard behave as they hit the craft wall at 1am. But the organized and ambitious parents are serene and un-fussed. For weeks they’ve been sourcing fairy dust and felt. And their finished creations sparkle and dazzle.

Our Father in Heaven really is the most concerned parent of all. He certainly didn’t leave the rescue of humanity till the last minute. The Bible says that, “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). Which means the arrival of Jesus was a rescue mission to deal with our rotten, rebellious, bad behavior.

But the mission was a mixture of love and hate. The Bible clearly says that, “God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only Son” (Jn. 3:16). And Jesus agreed with the mission. He delighted in doing the will of His heavenly Father. But He hated the prospect of the cross. He knew His death would be terrible. He said in prayer to His Father in heaven the night before, ‘Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine’.

As Jesus was led to the cross “soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head and arrayed Him in a purple robe” (Jn. 19:1-2). They were mocking His claim to be a King. The crown was really the first Easter hat – intended to humiliate Jesus as He was paraded to His place of execution. At the cross Jesus offered His perfect, sinless life to be punished by God so that we might avoid the anger of God that we rightly deserve.

When a person follows Christ as their King they’re no longer dirty and unwashed before God. In fact, they sparkle and dazzle with freshness and new life and hope for the future. And embarrassment about former behavior is a thing of the past. If this is something you want then it’s not too late to ask God. You can pray to Him now if you’d like to make a fresh start.

Bible Verse: John 19:1-2 “Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged Him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head and arrayed Him in a purple robe.

Prayer: Dear God. I’m ashamed of many things in my life. Please forgive my sins. Help to me to start life again with you.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

Posted, April 2017

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