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Posts tagged “history

Genesis 1-11: Fact or fiction?

Gen 1-11 2 400pxDoublespeak is saying one thing and meaning another, usually its opposite. In 1984 when Big Brother and the Party say “peace” they mean “war”, when they say “love” they mean “hate”, and when they say “freedom” they mean “slavery”. And today “tolerance” can mean “intolerance”. Doublespeak deliberately obscures, distorts, disguises, or reverses the meaning of words to manipulate public opinion. It’s used in advertising and politics. Is the beginning of the Bible a type of doublespeak where words don’t have their usual meaning?

The Bible is a library of 66 books that were written over a period of more than 1,500 years by many different authors. It was written to be understood by ordinary people, so it shouldn’t be difficult to interpret. Fathers were to teach it to their children (Dt.  6:4-9; Eph. 6:4). Timothy knew it from infancy (2 Tim 3:15). And the Bereans were commended for checking Paul’s teaching against the Old Testament (Acts 17:11).

The original aim of this post was to examine the literary genre of Genesis 1-11. But then I realized that such studies are often a means to say that this portion of the Bible doesn’t mean what it seems to say. But there is no direct correspondence between genre and whether the content is fact or fiction. For example, God’s spectacular victory over the Egyptian army is described in prose (Ex. 14:23-31) and then in song (Ex. 15:1-12, 21). In this case, prose and poetry are both based on historical fact. Likewise, Christian hymns and songs are often based on Scripture. In this case poetry is based on the facts in Scripture. So, although poetry and prose are different genres (styles), the genre doesn’t indicate whether their content is factual or not. Poetry can be factual, and prose can be figurative. Nevertheless, I will look at the genre first.

Just as there are different types of painting (landscape, still life, and portrait), there are different types of literary works. Literature can be divided into poetry, drama, and prose. And prose can be fiction or non-fiction. The Bible is comprised of several types of literature.

Accurate exegesis and interpretation (understanding) takes into consideration the purpose and style of a given book or passage of Scripture. In addition, some verses are meant figuratively, and proper discernment of these is enhanced by an understanding of literary genre (category, type or classification). An inability to identify literary genre can lead to serious misunderstanding of Scripture. The main literary genres found in the Bible are: law, history, wisdom, poetry, narrative, prophecy and apocalypse, and letters (see Appendix A).

Genesis is the first book in the Bible. As it describes the background to the rest of the Bible, it’s the foundational book of the bible. Some claim that the early chapters of Genesis are more poetic and theological than factual by suggesting it’s an epic myth, exalted prose, semi-poetic, or a defence of monotheism. In this post, we will evaluate this claim.

The purpose of Genesis

The book of Genesis is summarized in Appendix B. The Bible says that this book was produced by Moses (Lk. 24:27, 44). As the events recorded in Genesis occurred before his lifetime, presumably he compiled and edited its content. He did this during the Israelites journey to the Promised Land. So, the book was written for the Israelites and the context is the exodus. The content of Genesis indicates the information they needed to know and the questions that they were asking. These included:
Why are we (Israel) traveling to the promised land?
Why were we (Israel) living in Egypt?
Why do we (Israel) have 12 tribes?
Why do we (Israel) practice male circumcision?
What was our (Israel’s) special relationship with God?
Who were our (Israel’s) ancestors and where did they live?
The history of our nation (Israel).
The origin of our nation (Israel).
The promises given to Abraham.
Where did the patriarchs come from?
The origin of nations and languages.
God protects the godly and judges the ungodly.
Why is humanity now in an alienated relationship with God?
The prevalence of evil.
The origin of evil.
The origin of marriage.
The origin of humanity.
The origin of animal and plant life.
The origin of the earth.
The origin of the universe.
God’s immense power.

Moses was selective in the material that he used. He “spoke from God as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:21NIV). Moses documented enough information to answer their main questions without going into detail. So, Genesis describes the main features of the past, in order to help the Israelites understand their present circumstances.

Looking at the main genres found in the Bible (see Appendix A), it’s clear that the one most suitable for addressing these topics is “history”. To investigate whether Moses used this genre, we will look at the literary genre of Genesis 1-11 in particular.

Is it figurative language?

Figurative language is language that uses words or expressions with a meaning that is different from the most literal interpretation. Figurative language uses exaggerations or alterations to make a linguistic point. It is very common in poetry, but is also used in prose and nonfiction writing.

Metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, and symbolism are examples of figurative language. But there are many others like alliteration, onomatopoeia, oxymorons, puns, synecdoche, metonymy, irony, and idioms.

There is chiasmus in Genesis 1-11 (Gen. 2:4; 9:6; 6:1 – 9:19; 11:1-9). This is a figure of speech in which two or more phrases are presented, then presented again in reverse order to make a larger point. Chiasmus was particularly popular in the literature of the ancient world, including Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, where it was used to articulate the balance of order within the text. The chiastic structure makes narrative easy to remember, which is very important for a largely oral culture. Chiasmus presents facts in a particular order, but it doesn’t indicate fiction. Biblical scholars have identified many chiasms throughout the Bible. For example, Genesis 17:1-24 is a chiasmus in the life of Abraham.

Some claim that there is number symbolism in Genesis 1 (see Appendix C). But this is a weak argument for saying that this Bible passage is symbolic rather than factual. And it doesn’t change the meaning of the Hebrew words from their usual meaning. And like chiasmus, this doesn’t make the language figurative. Instead it shows that it was written to be easily remembered and passed on aurally.

In other post, I have shown that the framework hypothesis method of interpreting Genesis 1 is questionable and not robust. This assumes that the days of creation are figurative categories that were chosen for literary or thematic reasons and that many of the words in this chapter don’t mean what they seem to mean. This interpretation is unnecessarily complicated and extrabiblical.

As it’s not figurative language, maybe Genesis 1-11 is poetic?

Is it poetry?

The main characteristic of Hebrew poetry is parallelism where the statements in two or more consecutive lines are related in some way. Scholars have identified various types of Hebrew parallelism, such as: synonymous (repetition of the same thought), contrastive (contrast with an opposite thought), and developmental (building on a thought).

However, parallelism is absent from Genesis 1-11 except for 1:27; 2:23; and 4:23-24. If Genesis is poetic, it would use parallelism throughout like the book of Psalms. But Genesis doesn’t look like Psalms. For a poetic account of creation see Psalm 104.

Some claim that the number symbolism in Genesis 1 means that it is poetic (Appendix C). They infer this from a comparison with ancient non-biblical accounts. But this is poor exegesis. The best exegesis uses the immediate context and so should be based on Genesis and the other books of Moses. We will use this approach. And we will use the views of other biblical characters, rather than the views of current scholars who are separated from these events by thousands of years. This shows that the people referred to in Genesis really existed and the events referred to in Genesis really occurred.

There is repetition in Genesis 1-11 (see Appendix D), but it’s not parallelism or poetic. There are many other examples of this in the Old Testament (see Appendix E).

Just because a passage is poetic doesn’t mean that it’s fiction. Poetry is merely a literary form. On its own, it has nothing to do with whether the content is fact or fiction. It may or may not reflect a historical background. Many poetic portions of scripture relate to genuine history (Num. 24; Ps. 148; 1 Tim. 3:16b). And these are acknowledged as being divine in origin and authoritative in force (Ps. 82:6; Jn. 10:34).

As it’s not figurative language or poetry, maybe it’s parables?

Is it allegories or parables?

Parables are usually introduced with a simile or a statement indicating that they are a figure of speech. As neither of these are present in Genesis 1-11, there is no evidence of any parables. The prophet Nathan told a parable to King David (2 Sam. 12:1-7). The historical facts about David, Uriah and Bathsheba are clearly stated, and it is also clear that the parable was fictional. And the intention of Nathan in telling the story is clear, as is the intention of the writer of 2 Samuel in recording this historical event. But there are no indicators in scripture that any of Genesis 1-11 is a parable.

An allegory is a story in which the characters and/or events are symbols representing other events, ideas, or people. Paul interprets the story of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah as an allegory for the Old and New Covenants (Gal. 4:22-26). Here, Paul takes actual, historical people from Genesis (Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah) and uses them as symbols in a lesson for Christians. The evidence of scripture shows that the people referred to in Genesis really existed and the events referred to in Genesis really occurred. They are not allegories.

As it’s not figurative language, poetry or parables, maybe it’s a historical novel?

Is it a historical novel?

Historical novels are fictional stories that are based on historical characters or historical settings. The beliefs of the authors of the other books of the Bible show that the characters and settings in Genesis 1-11 are fact, not fiction. The evidence of scripture shows that the people referred to in Genesis really existed and the events referred to in Genesis really occurred. They are not a historical novel.

As it’s not figurative language, poetry, parables or a historical novel, maybe it’s a myth?

Is it a myth?

A myth is a mixture of fact and fiction that may have a moral lesson. Some believe that the biblical account of the seven days of creation (Genesis 1:1–2:3) was an abbreviated Hebrew version of a more ancient Babylonian tale. The ancient Babylonian creation myth Enūma Eliš is a poem that explains the origin of gods and people. But the gods are mortal, violent and frail, and nothing like the supreme Creator God of Genesis. It’s a song in praise of Marduk, their greatest god. Genesis 1 is about the creation, while Enūma Eliš is more about the creator. Genesis 1 is a tightly structured narrative, while Enūma Eliš, is a dramatic narrative poem.

The main problem with the mythical approach is that it confuses historical issues and literary genre. If we leave aside the question of whether the miracle stories in the Bible (including creation) are fact or fiction, the whole question of whether these stories are myths becomes extremely easy to answer. The biblical narratives are not myths because they do not possess a mythical literary form. They are straightforward and use the language of ordinary events. The biblical stories take for granted the world as we tend to experience it.

Is Genesis 1 merely an argument against pagan myths? A myth is a story blending fact and fiction that serves as a vehicle to convey truth. But if this was the case how does one decide which part is fact and which part is fiction? Does it teach us not to worship the sun but the God who made the sun? Pagans don’t just worship the physical object, but a god behind it (1 Cor. 10:19-20). The Bible does contain arguments against pagan gods (Ps. 74:13-15; Isa.  37:18-20; 45:12-20). They emphasize God’s strength and the weakness of idols. But Genesis 1 is nothing like this. Instead the pagan myths are probably derived from the original account which was passed down to Moses. The early chapters of Genesis were edited from ancient sources that pre-date the pagan ones. Normally borrowing embellishes history into a fanciful legend. In the ancient Near East, simple accounts may lead to elaborate legends, but not vice-versa. So, the simple Hebrew account of creation can lead to the embellished Babylonian creation legend, but not vice-versa.

Some scholars believe that there are three creation stories in the Bible. These are Genesis 1, Genesis 2 and a myth of the primordial battle between God and the forces of chaos known as Leviathan (Ps. 74), Rahab (Ps. 89) or the monster of the sea (Isa. 27). But this is incorrect. The introduction in Genesis 2:4 to the second section of Genesis states that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is an account of the creation of the universe. Recapitulation was widely practiced in ancient Semitic literature. It this case a broad summary is followed by a detailed account of matters of special importance. Genesis 2:5-25 is a more detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation (Gen. 1:26-30). So the difference in styles between Genesis 1 and 2 is due to the different subject matter. Leviathan, Rahab and the monster of the sea are symbols of the power of Egypt (Ps. 74:13-14; 89:10; Isa. 27:1). Such scholars interpret this figurative language to be narrative, while they interpret the narrative in early Genesis to be figurative! This demonstrates how presuppositions can influence one’s interpretation of Scripture!

The Bible specifically warns Christians against believing myths. The Apostle Paul says: “As I urged you … stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths … ’ (1 Tim. 1:3–4NIV).
“Have nothing to do with godless myths …” (1 Tim. 4:7).
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of (false) teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4).
“Therefore rebuke them (false teachers) sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth” (Titus 1:13-14).

The Apostle Peter says: “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power” (2 Pt. 1:16).

As it’s not figurative language, poetry, parables, a historical novel or a myth, maybe it’s a biography or autobiography?

Is it a biography or autobiography?

Genesis can be divided into sections which begin with the Hebrew word for generations or descendants (see Appendix F). It’s interesting to note the same pattern is evident in Genesis 1-11 and Genesis 12-36. So there is no evidence of a change of genre within the book of Genesis.

The Bible says that Moses wrote the Pentateuch (Ex. 17:14; 4;4; 34:27; Num. 33:2; Dt. 31:9, 24; Mk. 10:3; Lk. 24:27; Jn. 1:17). And Jesus referred to it as “the law of Moses” (Lk. 24:44; 1 Cor. 9:9), “the book of Moses (Mk. 12:26), and simply “Moses” (Lk.16:29).

It is likely that each of the generations from Adam onwards wrote down an account of the events which occurred in their lifetime, and Moses, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, selected and compiled these, along with his own comments, into the book we now know as Genesis. So Moses was the editor of Genesis. The events of Genesis occurred long before his time. The original version of Genesis 10 (which shows where people were scattered to after the incident at Babel) was written before 1870BC because it mentions the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which were destroyed by God about 360 years before the birth of Moses (Gen. 10:19). Moses included editorial comments (Gen. 26:33; 32:32). And a description of the Jordan valley in Abraham’s time as being “like the land of Egypt”, seems to be an editorial comment by Moses (Gen. 13:10).

So Genesis 1-11 is mainly a biography and an autobiography. If it’s a biography or autobiography, can its facts be confirmed?

Comparison with Genesis 12-50

Genesis 12-50 is a historical description of the lives of four generations of Israelites: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Often, the book of Genesis has been divided into two sections: Primeval History (chs. 1-11) and Patriarchal History (chs. 12-50). But where is the boundary between these two sections? At Genesis 11:27? But the text of Genesis 11 has a similar structure to that of Genesis 12! In fact, there are no significant differences in the structure of the text in Genesis 1-11 compared to Genesis 12-50. As “patriarchal history” is generally regarded as accurate history, then there is no linguistic reason why “primeval history” should not also be accepted as accurate history. And some passages of the Bible cite characters from both sections without indicating that the earlier ones are less historical. It would be better to say that the difference is one of subject matter. Genesis 1-11 deals with the world, whereas Genesis 12-50 deals with the descendants of Abraham.

Genesis 12 would make little sense without the genealogical background in Genesis 11. As Genesis 11 includes the genealogy of Shem, this links to the genealogy in Genesis 10, and to the one found in Genesis 5. Shem is mentioned in each of these three chapters of Genesis.

Genealogies treat people from Genesis 1-11 in the same manner as those from Genesis 12-50 (1 Chr. 1-8; Lk. 3:23-38). The same applies to the list of heroes of the faith from the Old Testament (Heb. 11:4-22).

Evidence from the rest of the Bible

The principal people mentioned in Genesis chapters 1–11 are referred to as real people (historical, not mythical) in the rest of the Bible. For example, Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and Noah are referred to in 15 other books of the Bible. And I have demonstrated in other blogposts that Adam and Eve, and Noah were real people.

At least 25 New Testament passages refer directly to the early chapters of Genesis, and they are always treated as real history. Genesis 1 and 2 were cited by Jesus in response to a question about divorce (Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-9). Paul referenced Genesis 2-3 (Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 11:8; 15:20-22, 45-47; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:13-14). The death of Abel recorded in Genesis 4 is mentioned by Jesus and John (Lk. 11:51; 1 Jn. 3:12). The flood (Genesis 6-9) is confirmed as historical by Jesus and Peter (Mt. 24:37-39; 2 Pt. 2:4-9; 3:6). And Jesus mentioned the flood in the same context as He did the account of Lot and Sodom (Gen. 19) (Lk. 17:26-29). Finally, in Luke’s genealogy of Christ, he includes 20 names found in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 (Lk. 3:34-38). He traced the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam (Lk. 3:23-38). So the New Testament treats Genesis 1-11 as real history and not merely literary or theological devices. It’s a record of “actual events” in the history of humanity

Jesus Christ referred to the creation of Adam and Eve as a real historical event, by quoting Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in His teaching about divorce (Mt. 19:3-6; Mk. 10:2-9), and by referring to Noah as a real historical person and the flood as a real historical event, in His teaching about the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ (Mt. 24:37-39; Lk. 17:26-27).

Humanity needs to be redeemed because of the fall into sin (Genesis 3). Unless we know that the entrance of sin to the human race was a true historical fact, we can’t understand God’s purpose in providing a Savior. And the historical truth of Genesis 1–11 shows that all mankind needs salvation from the penalty, power, and presence of sin.

Unless the events of the first chapters of Genesis are true history, the Apostle Paul’s explanation of the Gospel in Romans chapter 5 and of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 have no meaning. Paul writes: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus) the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). And, “For since death came through a man (Adam), the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man (Jesus). For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive … So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam (Jesus), a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45). The historical truth of the record concerning the first Adam is a guarantee that what God says in His Word about the last Adam (Jesus) is also true. Likewise, the historical, literal truth of the record concerning Jesus is a guarantee that what God says about the first Adam is also historically and literally true.

So Genesis 1-11 presents as a biography or autobiography whose facts are confirmed by the rest of scripture as being historically accurate. These inspired writers treat the people, and events in Genesis 1-11 as real, not merely literary or theological devices.

Conclusion

The Bible was written to be understood by ordinary people, so it shouldn’t be difficult to interpret. We have seen that Genesis 1-11 is not figurative language, poetry, parables, a historical novel or a myth. But it is a biography and an autobiography that describes real historical people and real historical events. It is prose narrative, with some embedded pieces that are poetic (Gen. 1:27; 2:23; 4:23-24) and some genealogical records (Gen 5, 10, 11:10–26). And it differs from other near eastern cosmologies because they are poetic and polytheistic. The writers of the Bible affirm that Genesis 1-11 is fact not fiction. It is an account of real events. Jesus affirmed it as well. And the gospel is based on the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. So, Genesis 1-11 isn’t a type of doublespeak where words don’t have their usual meaning.

Reference

Sarfati J D (2015) “The Genesis Account”, Creation Book Publishers.

Appendix A: Traditional genre (literature style) of the books of the Bible

The dominant genre of each book of the Bible is listed below. Note that figures of speech can occur within each of these genres.

Law
Leviticus
Deuteronomy

History
Genesis
Exodus
Numbers
Joshua to Nehemiah
Acts

Wisdom (also contains poetry)
Job
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes

Poetry
Psalms
Song of Songs
Lamentations

Narrative (biographical)
Ruth
Esther
Jonah
Matthew to John

Prophecy and apocalypse
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel to Malachi
Revelation

Letters
Romans to Jude

Appendix B: Summary of the book of Genesis

  1. Creation (Gen. 1-2).
  2. The fall into sin (Gen. 3-5).
  3. The flood (Gen. 6-9).
  4. The dispersion (Gen. 10-11).
  5. Life of Abraham (Gen. 12-25:8).
  6. Life of Isaac (Gen. 21:1-35-29).
  7. Life of Jacob (Gen. 25:21-50:14).
  8. Life of Joseph (Gen. 30:22-50:26).

God created a universe that was good and free from sin. God created humanity to have a personal relationship with Him. Adam and Eve sinned and thereby brought evil and death into the world. Evil increased steadily in the world until there was only one family in which God found anything good. God sent the Flood to wipe out evil, but delivered Noah and his family along with the animals in the Ark. After the Flood, humanity began again to multiply and spread throughout the world.

God chose Abraham, through whom He would create a chosen people and eventually the promised Messiah. The chosen line was passed on to Abraham’s son Isaac, and then to Isaac’s son Jacob. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and his twelve sons became the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. In His sovereignty, God had Jacob’s son Joseph sent to Egypt by the despicable actions of Joseph’s brothers. This act, intended for evil by the brothers, was intended for good by God and eventually resulted in Jacob and his family being saved from a devastating famine by Joseph, who had risen to great power in Egypt.

Appendix C: Number symbolism in Genesis 1

Some people quote the following to claim that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is symbolic rather than factual.

  • The first sentence of Genesis 1 consists of seven Hebrew words.
  • The second sentence of Genesis 1 contains exactly fourteen (a multiple of seven) words.
  • The Hebrew words ‘earth’ and ‘heaven’ appear 21 times (a multiple of seven). But this is incorrect, “heaven(s)” (Strongs #8064) appears only 11 times (which isn’t a multiple of seven) and “expanse” (Strongs #7549) appears 9 times (which isn’t a multiple of seven). According to Genesis 1:8 “God called the expanse Heaven (or sky)”. This is a total of 20 times (which isn’t a multiple of seven).
  • The Hebrew word ‘God’, is mentioned 35 times (a multiple of seven).
  • The Hebrew refrain ‘and it was so’ and the summary statement ‘God saw that it was good’ occur seven times. But this is incorrect, “and it was so” only appears six times (v. 7, 9, 11, 15, 24, 30; which isn’t a multiple of seven)!
  • The six days of creation and the day of rest comprise seven days.

But they don’t mention that the Hebrew word “day” appears 15 times. And “water” appears 12 times. And “God said” appears ten times. And “evening” and “morning” both appear six times. None of these are multiples of seven!

So this is a weak argument for saying that this Bible passage is symbolic rather than factual. I expect better scholarship to justify such a claim. Instead, it looks like cherry-picking to me.

Appendix D: The structure of Genesis 1

Genesis 1 has a repetitive structure, which was a common device in ancient literature to aid memorization. But it is not poetic. There are four basic themes on each day of creation.

1. God’s command
“And God said, ‘Let there be …”

2. Fulfilment
“And it was so …”. God spoke things into existence. As God is the creator of time, He needs no time for His creative acts.

3. Assessment/Evaluation
“God saw that it was good”.

4. Conclusion/Closure of the day
“And there was evening and there was morning – the Xth day”.  As the Hebrew day went from sunset to sunset, it was made up of the night-time hours followed by the  daylight hours. Each command was fulfilled within a 24-hour period (see “In six days”).

Why did God take so long to create the universe? He took six days of creation plus one day rest to give us the pattern for a week.

Appendix E: Other Biblical examples of repetitive structure

Repetition is present in many Old Testament passages.

Numbers 7 is also a numbered sequence of days. On 12 consecutive days a representative of each of the 12 tribes of Israel brought an offering for the altar.
“The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah” (v.12)
“On the second day Nethanel son of Zuar, the leader of Issachar, brought his offering” (v.18).
“On the third day, Eliab son of Helon, the leader of the people of Zebulun, brought his offering” (v.24).
“On the twelfth day Ahira son of Enan, the leader of the people of Naphtali, brought his offering” (v.78).
No one teaches that Numbers 7 is a literary framework for teaching something theological and that is not history. The same should apply to Genesis 1.

Genealogies are repetitive. 1 Chronicles 1:1-9:44 gives genealogies from Adam to King Saul. As these are accepted as being factual, so should those in Genesis 5 and 11 (they overlap).

Nehemiah 3 describes the rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in a repetitive manner. It progressively moves around the wall mentioned each section between each of the ten gates and describing who repaired each section.

Appendix F: Possible sources of the book of Genesis

The sources of Genesis are 12 family documents (see below). Eleven of these are headed by the Hebrew word toledoth (Strongs #8435), which means generations or descendants. The fact that these are referring to what follows rather than what precedes is clear in other instances of this word in the Old Testament (Num. 3:1; Ruth 4:18; 1 Chr. 1:29). So, in Genesis, the toledoths tell us what followed from the named person.

It’s possible that each of these documents was written on a clay tablet. During the exodus Moses probably compiled all these tablets into a long scroll. He may have used vellum to write on as the Israelites had many sheep.

  1. Creation of the universe (Gen. 1:1 – 2:3). There is no toledoth here, because nothing (in time) preceded creation. Time began at the beginning of this creation.
  2. “Descendants” of the heavens and the earth (Gen. 2:4-4:26). This is what followed from creation.
  3. Descendants of Adam (Gen. 5:1-6:8).
  4. Descendants of Noah (Gen. 6:9-9:29).
  5. Descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth (Gen. 10:1-11:9).
  6. Descendants of Shem (Gen. 11:10-26).
  7. Descendants of Terah (Gen. 11:27-25:11).
  8. Descendants of Ishmael (Gen. 25:12-18).
  9. Descendants of Isaac (Gen. 25:19-35:29).
  10. Descendants of Esau, born in Canaan (Gen. 36:1-8).
  11. Descendants of Esau, born in Edom (Gen. 36:9-37:1).
  12. Descendants of Jacob (Gen. 37:2-50:26).

Written, June 2018

Also see: In six days?
Adam and Eve: Fact or fiction?
Noah: Fact or fiction?

 


Basic Christianity

#follow Jesus 400pxWho do you follow on social media? We can choose between lots of people and causes to follow. And everyone follows something: friends, popular culture, family, selfish desires, or God. As Bob Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. It may be the Devil or it may be the Lord. But You’re gonna have to serve somebody”. Christians follow Jesus Christ.

Christianity is the largest religion in the world. It is the predominant religion in Europe, Russia, North America, South America, the Philippines, East Timor, Southern Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, and Oceania. It is declining in developed countries and growing in under-developed countries.

This post is one in a series on major religions. It shows that Christianity is a way of life that involves beliefs and practices that are taught by Jesus and His apostles as recorded in the Bible.

Definitions

The largest branches of Christianity are the Roman Catholic church, the Orthodox church, and the Protestant churches.

Roman Catholic churches believe that scripture must be interpreted within the tradition of the church. Their Bible includes an extra 7 deuterocanonical books. And Mary the mother of Jesus is considered an object of devotion and veneration. And the Pope may pronounce dogma (doctrine required to be obeyed by all members) infallibly. Seven sacraments are believed to convey saving grace. And baptism and communion are believed to be necessary to gain eternal life.

Orthodox churches believe that scripture must be interpreted by sacred tradition. Their Bible includes an extra 10 deuterocanonical books. Icons (images of Christ, Mary, or the saints) are objects of veneration through which God is to be worshipped.

Protestant churches believe in scripture alone (and not tradition), justification by faith alone (and not works) and the universal priesthood of believers (because Christ mediates like a high priest).

The “Old Covenant” is God’s agreement or treaty made with the nation of Israel about 3,500 years ago.

History

Christianity is named after Jesus Christ. It began in Jerusalem (on the Day of Pentecost) after Christ’s death. The first Christians were mainly Jews. It developed under the leadership of the apostles. Christianity is based on the teaching of Christ and the apostles, which is recorded in the Bible. As a result of persecution, Christians moved away from the Middle East across the Roman Empire.

The early followers of Jesus were called “disciples” and followers of “the Way” and “Christians” (Acts 9:2; 11:26; 19:9, 23; 22:4, 14; 1 Pt. 4:16). His followers are now known as Christians.

Armenia was the first nation to accept Christianity in AD 301. And in AD 380, Christianity was made the religion of the Roman Empire. Since this time, Christianity has played a prominent role in the shaping of Western civilization.

In the 11th century AD, there was a division between the Roman Catholic Church in the west and the Orthodox church in the east. In the 16th century the Protestant churches separated from the Roman Catholic church.

Here are some of the major Christian beliefs according to the Bible. They are core beliefs of Christianity.

Seven major beliefs

The Bible

We learn about Jesus in the Bible, which is God’s special revelation to humanity. The Old Testament describes history up to the time of Christ and the New Testament describes the time of Christ (in the Gospels) and then the early church. In fact, Jesus is the key person in the Bible.

Creation shows that God is intelligent, powerful and supernatural. But the clearest way that God has revealed Himself to us is in the Bible. It’s God’s record of history because He miraculously guided the authors of Scripture to correctly record His message to humanity (2 Pt. 1:21). “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17NIV). Because the Bible is “God-breathed”, it’s completely reliable.

Paul said, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Christian faith is based on the message about Jesus Christ which is recorded in the Bible. It gives us everything we need for a godly life (2 Pt. 1:3).

When many followers were deserting Jesus, He asked His disciples “Are you also going to leave?”. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life” (Jn. 6:67-68NLT). The Bible contains words that give eternal life. That’s what makes it different to other books and other messages.

Hebrews says, “The word of God is active and alive … it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Bible judges us. We need to respond faithfully to its message, because the Bible exposes unbelief.

So, the Bible is our authority for belief (faith) and practice. And it’s the best source of our knowledge about God. That’s why we are looking at Christianity according to the Bible and not according to a particular church. All the beliefs and practices described below come from the Bible.

Overall history 1 400pxOverall history

Overall history is visualized in this schematic diagram. In the beginning God created a perfect world where there was no sin. But this world was changed and spoiled when humanity sinned. From that time there is sin, suffering and death. But God promised deliverance and salvation from this. When this is finalized in the future, God’s perfect world will be restored. We now live under the curse of sin between the Fall and the restoration.

History is linear. It’s sequential from a beginning to an end. The end is the new creation where Jesus rules in the kingdom of God. Here’s the events in the previous diagram rearranged in a line.

Basic Christianity 2 800px

God’s plan of salvation has two parts, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant and introduced the New Covenant. That’s why His name appears between them in the diagram. He marks the center and turning point in history. The purpose of the Old Covenant was to accomplish a rescue plan for the world: God becoming a Jewish man and dying for humanity’s crimes against God. The Old Covenant no longer applies because its purpose was achieved. It has been replaced by the New Covenant. Christians are those who have trusted in God’s rescue plan and they live under the New Covenant. They are part of His coming new creation.

So we live in a world where there is tension between sin and salvation, between the past fall and the future restoration, and between following Satan and following Jesus.

The triune God

The Bible teaches that there is only one God, yet it calls three Persons “God” – the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. The word “trinity” explains the eternal relationship between them. This form of monotheism is indicated in the diagram by the green circle.

Beliefs aboutr God 400pxOther beliefs (or worldviews), such as those indicated in the diagram by a blue circle, differ from the Bible. These are:
– There is no God (atheism). There is no spiritual world – it’s only physical. Like humanism and naturalism.
– There is one God (monotheism), but no trinity.
Jesus was a great teacher, but he wasn’t divine. Like lslam.
– There are many gods (polytheism). Like Hinduism, and the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.
– Everything is god (pantheism). Like New Age spirituality, and animism.

These are different worldviews. Christianity is the Biblical worldview. It teaches that God is a spiritual being without a physical body who is eternal (has no beginning or end). God is great – He created the universe out of nothing. And God is good – although we rebelled against Him, He offered salvation to humanity. He is personal and involved with people.

How do we get to know God? Only through a relationship with Jesus Christ that involves believing and following Him.

The problem

Are people basically good or evil? Adam and Eve were created good in the beginning, and in the image of God, but they disobeyed God. Because of this, humanity and the rest of creation were cursed with sin, suffering and death (Rom. 5:12-15). The Bible says we are all sinners who are spiritually dead and separated from God (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 3:23, 5:12). And Satan is a spiritual being who tempts us to sin. Humanity now has a fatal flaw. We need help. Unless we do something about it we face eternal punishment in hell (Mt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 19:20). It’s more important than global warming or poverty or inequality or terrorism or the Middle East conflict or anything else you can think of. So, we have a big problem. And only God can fix it. We need outside help. That’s where Jesus comes into history.

Jesus

Jesus is fully God and fully human (1 Jn. 4:1-3). As God, He always existed and was never created. And He created the universe (Col. 1:16). His conception was unique. He lived a sinless life. He was executed on a cross, was buried, but He rose back to life and is spiritually and physically immortal. When He ascended to heaven, He promised to return to earth again.

Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of humanity as described in the New Testament, whose coming as the Messiah (the Christ) was prophesized in the Old Testament.

Jesus was sent to earth to solve the big problem of our hopeless situation of sinfulness and separation from God

The solution

God had a plan to forgive sinful people like us. Because God is loving and just, His plan was loving and just. The idea was that Jesus would be our substitute. He would take our punishment (that’s justice), and we would be offered forgiveness (that’s loving). So, Jesus died as the sacrifice and payment for our sins.

God’s plan of salvation was offered to people as a gift (Eph. 2:8-9) that could be accepted by acknowledging our sin and the fact that it separates us from God, and believing that Jesus died for our sins and physically rose again. We just need to trust in Jesus alone as the way of salvation because He has done all the work for us. There’s two aspects:
– Admit you are a sinner – that’s the problem (Rom. 3:23; 1 Jn. 1:9)
– Believe that Jesus died for you – that’s the solution (Acts 16:31).

Bridge to life 400pxJesus is like the bridge to eternal life in this diagram. Unbelievers are separated from God and on the road to hell. If they trust in what Jesus has done for them, they cross over the bridge to the road to heaven. That’s the only solution. The only rescue plan.

That’s how God made a way for people to have a relationship with Him. Paul said, “Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin (Jesus) to be sin for us, so that in Him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:20). What a great exchange of our sin for Christ’s righteousness!

Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). Peter preached, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts. 4:12). That’s why Christians follow and worship Jesus and not someone else who is a sinner like us.

The future

Those who follow Jesus are promised a wonderful future. At death their invisible soul is separated from the body. That’s when believers go to be with Jesus. Later at the rapture their bodies are resurrected and reunited with their souls. So believers will live with Jesus for eternity (Jn. 11:25, 26; 2 Cor. 5:6). They will also reign with Jesus in His coming kingdom.

If you want to drive a car in Australia you need to pass a knowledge test to get a learner licence. Then you need to pass a driving test for a provisional licence. You can’t get a learner licence without passing the knowledge test. And you can’t get a provisional licence without passing a driving test. There’s information to know and things you need to be able to do. Likewise to follow Jesus, there are both beliefs to know and practices to do.

Now we have looked at the major beliefs of those who follow Jesus, here are some of their major practices. All these practices can be applied in a Christian’s individual life, in their family life, and in their corporate life (as in the church). And they were practiced by the early church (Acts 2:42; 4:33).

Five major practices

Bible reading

It’s important to connect with the Bible every day as it is God’s main message to us. Christians read it to understand the message and to apply it to their daily lives.

Regularly reading the Bible is one of the most important things they can do. It can influence their lives and help them develop godly attitudes and behavior. And they can learn more about God and draw nearer to God. Victory over sin comes from the Bible (Mt. 4:4). As physical food gives us energy, the words of scripture give us spiritual energy and power. Devotions like “Our Daily Bread” and Bible Apps can help.

Christians should study the Bible because there is so much false teaching around. Test any teaching against what the Bible says (Acts 17:11). Be careful to correctly interpret scripture (2 Tim. 2:15). There are many poor interpretations on the internet. Some things that can help to keep you on the right track are – Study Bibles and the “Believer’s Bible commentary” by William MacDonald.

Prayer

Christians are commanded to pray regularly and when facing trouble (Col. 4:2; 1 Th. 5:17; Heb. 5:13). It’s important to connect with God every day. Jesus prayed regularly and not just on special occasions (Mt. 14:23; Mk. 1:35; Lk. 11:1). He “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Lk. 5:16).

Many of Paul’s prayers are recorded in the New Testament. He prayed for things like godly living, his ministry, strengthening, increased knowledge, more love, grace and peace, Israel’s salvation, Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith, more hope and for the fullness of God.  A Christian’s prayers are offered to the Father through Jesus because Jesus is the only mediator between people and God the Father (1 Tim. 2:5).

James said, “Come near to God and He will come near to you” (Jas. 4:8). If Christians come to God in prayer with humility, He will answer their prayers. God is accessible to those in fellowship with Him. They can stay right with God by confessing our sins (1 Jn. 1:9).

People are encouraged by knowing that others are praying for them. Peace is another benefit of prayer, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).

Praise and worship

God alone is worthy of our devotion, praise and worship. He is our Creator and our Savior. Praise is linked with thanksgiving, while worship is linked to surrender.

Christians should praise God for His goodness even when life is difficult. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess His name” (Heb. 13:15). The joy of salvation can be expressed in songs of praise (Acts 16:25; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 5:13). Their praise is offered to the Father through Jesus.

Jesus said that His followers should “worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23-24). Worship is different under the New Covenant. The location isn’t important anymore. But who and how Christians worship is important. They worship the Father for sending the Son and Jesus for carrying out God’s plan of salvation. Its God centered. One’s attitude needs to be right (in spirit; engaging our hearts). And it needs to be consistent with Scripture and the kind of God we worship (in truth; engaging our minds).

Serving God is a form of individual worship (Rom. 12:1). It’s a response to all that God has done for them. And the Lord’s Supper is an expression of corporate worship.

Sharing the good news about Jesus

Before Jesus ascended back to heaven He told the apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19-20). He also told them, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

In the book of Acts there are many accounts of people sharing the good news of God’s plan of salvation though Jesus. This began in Jerusalem and extended to elsewhere in the Middle East and across the Roman Empire to Rome. Paul and Silas were so passionate about telling people about Jesus that they continued sharing even when they were imprisoned.

Godly attitudes and behavior

Children grow up to be like their parents in many ways. Christians are called “children of God” (Jn. 1:12)

The Bible says, “His (God’s) divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pt. 1:3-4).

The power of God gives Christians new life (Col. 2:12-13; Ti. 3:4-5) and the power of God gives them the ability to live godly lives (Phil. 2:12-13; 4:13). The better they know God’s Word the better they can apply God’s principles in their lives. The Christian lives by the promises of God in Christ.

Christians have two natures. A selfish sinful nature like unbelievers and a new divine nature, which transforms them to become more like Christ (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). This process isn’t complete until they get to heaven when they “see Him (Jesus) as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2). The divine nature is God’s provision to counteract the sinful nature.

Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:31 – 11:1). He put the welfare of others first. God should be glorified in all that Christians do. He didn’t want to stumble anyone so that unbelievers may be saved.

Following Jesus is a transformation from within. Paul changed from being self-centered to being Christ-centered (Phil. 3:4-16). His mind was set on heavenly things, not earthly things (Phil. 3:17-20).

The godly attitudes and behavior mentioned in the New Testament include:

Active
Bold
Compassionate
Considerate
Consistent
Contented
Dedicated
Encouraging
Enthusiastic
Evangelistic
Faithful
Forgiving
Generous
Gentle
Good
Gracious
Helpful
Holy
Honest
Hospitable
Humble
Impartial
Joyful
Liberty
Longsuffering
Loving
Obedient
Opposed to sin
Patient
Peaceful
Persevering
Praising
Prayerful
Reconciling
Repentant
Respectful
Reverent
Self-controlled
Submissive
Thankful
Unifying
Visionary
Wise
Wonderful

What a wonderful list of attributes! Wouldn’t it be great to be more like this?

Culture

The Bible encourages Christians to meet together regularly for mutual encouragement (Heb. 10:24-25). Collective worship and service is one of the characteristics of Christianity. This is difficult in countries where Christians are persecuted. Groups of people that meet together are referred to as a local church and the building they meet in can also be called a “church”. Since the middle ages some grand churches have been constructed, particularly in Europe. These were significant landmarks because of their great size and splendor. Cathedrals are impressive church buildings that symbolize the glory of God. In an age when the vast majority of the people were illiterate, the images on the stained-glass windows were like an illustrated Bible.

Christianity had a significant impact on education, science and medicine. And it has also had an impact on art, music and literature. The contents of the Bible influenced artists such as Michelanglo and Leonardo da Vinci, composers such as Bach and Handel, and writers such as Shakespeare and CS Lewis.

Christians usually celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas and Christ’s death and resurrection at Easter. These are cultural and traditional events as neither of them is mentioned in the Bible.

Comparison with Judaism

Jesus, the apostles and the majority of the early church were Jewish. As Judaism is based on the Old Covenant (Old Testament), it’s a precursor of Christianity. Because Jesus fulfilled the purpose of the Old Testament about 2000 years ago, Christianity is the successor of Judaism.

The Jewish faith is monotheistic, but not trinitarian – they don’t accept that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah awaited by the Jews, while the Jews believe that the Messiah will come in the future. The Jewish Messiah is a person (who isn’t divine) who will restore the physical kingdom of Israel, rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and bring earthly peace.

Both Judaism and Christianity teach that God has a special plan for the nation of Israel and the Jewish people. But Christianity does not accept that Mosaic Law has any authority over Christians, while Judaism does not accept that the New Testament has any religious authority over Jews. Besides the Old Testament, Judaism also considers the Oral Torah (written in the Mishnah and the Talmuds) to be a sacred text. Christians generally worship collectively of Sunday while Saturday is the day of worship in Judaism.

Conclusion

Christianity is a way of life that involves beliefs and practices that are taught by Jesus and His apostles as recorded in the Bible. This post has summarized aspects of the history, major beliefs, major practices and culture of the Christian faith. These beliefs, practices and culture impact everyday life for about 2 billion people across the world.

Written, January 2017

Also see: Basic Islam
Basic Hinduism
Basic Buddhism
Participating in the divine nature


Jesus: history or myth?

santa-400pxI don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy. I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny. I don’t believe in Santa Claus. You could say, I’m a skeptic! But what if I don’t believe that Babe Ruth, Mark Twain, and Christopher Columbus were real people? That they were myths as well.

Also, what if I don’t believe that people who lived longer ago like William Shakespeare (AD 1600) and Muhammad (AD 600) were real people? And what if I don’t believe that Jesus (AD 30) existed? That He’s a myth made up by Christians.

According to a survey in 2015, 22% of people in England thought that Jesus was a mythical or fictional character, while another 17% were unsure whether He was real or not. The remaining 61 % said Jesus was a real person who actually lived. It was found that younger people are the most skeptical about Jesus’s existence.

What is a “myth”?

In everyday language, the term “myth” is given to stories, ideas or beliefs that are false and not true. They are unreal or imaginary stories that may be called “legend”, “fiction”, “fairy tale”, “folklore”, or “fable”. But academic scholars use “myth” as a synonym for a story with a symbolic message that used to be believed as true, but now there are no implications on the truthfulness of the story. In this post I’m using the everyday usage of the word “myth”, not the academic one.

Let’s look at two skeptical views about Jesus.

Skeptical views about Jesus

Christ myth theory.

Some people claim that Jesus is a mythical character, and not a historical person. He never existed. He was made up by the early church which wrote the New Testament. They conclude this from the following beliefs:
– Jesus left no writings or other archaeological evidence.
– We don’t have any original manuscripts of the New Testament.
– The genre of the gospels may be legendary fiction instead of ancient biography.
– The Gospels and other early Christian writings cannot be verified as independent sources, and may have all stemmed from a single original fictional account.
– All documents about Jesus came well after the life of the alleged Jesus – so it’s all unreliable hearsay. No eyewitness accounts survive.

Mainstream historical view

Others say that Jesus of Nazareth did exist but He had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity and the accounts in the gospels. They believe that Jesus was an extraordinary man, but He didn’t do miracles. The miracles were made up by Christians afterwards and written in the Bible. The life of Jesus was embellished like St Nicholas became Santa Claus.

We will now evaluate these two skeptical views about Jesus. Do they match the evidence or not?

Historical evidence for the existence of Jesus

Most of what is known of the ancient world comes from written accounts by ancient historians. But these only record a sample of human events and only a few of these documents have survived. Few people could write such histories as illiteracy was widespread in ancient times. And the reliability of the surviving accounts needs to be considered. But the existence of someone in history is often easily established on the basis of small textual samples, sometimes even a single name in a list or sentence. For example, my great grandfather Richard Hawke is in a list of people living on the goldfields at Hill End near Bathurst in New South Wales in 1867. This is listed in a book that was published 109 years later in 1976 (“Valleys of gold” by Brian Hodge).

Jesus was a Jew (a minor race) who lived in Galilee, which was a part of Palestine (not the capital, Jerusalem). And Palestine was an outpost of the Roman Empire (a tiny part of a vast empire). He was a long way away from the local center of power and from Rome (the capital of the empire). So the fact that we can find any written record of Jesus outside the New Testament is significant. Based on this, the best place to look for evidence of Jesus that is independent of the Bible is in ancient Roman and Jewish literature.

Roman literature

About 80 years after Christ’s death, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote (“Annals”, 15, 44, AD 115-117): “They (Christians) got their name from Christ, who was executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. That checked the pernicious superstition (Christianity) for a short time, but it broke out afresh not only in Judea, where the plague first arose, but in Rome itself, where all horrible and shameful things in the world collect and find a home”.
The Annals is a history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Tiberius to that of Nero (AD 14–68). The context of this passage is the 6-day fire that burned much of Rome in July AD 64. It indicates the manner and time period of Christ’s death. Emperor Nero (AD 37-68) accused the Christians of starting the fire and he persecuted them.

Jewish literature

Josephus is the best known Jewish historian. He was born in Jerusalem and went to Rome in AD 71 where he wrote his histories under Roman patronage. Jesus Christ is mentioned twice in his “Antiquities of the Jews” (a history of Israel from Genesis to the first century AD) published around AD 93 (about 60 years after the death of Jesus).

A passage in Book 18, 63-64 of the “Antiquities of the Jews” says:
Now, there was about this time (a source of further trouble) Jesus, for he was a doer of surprising works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure (men who welcome strange things). He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him (cease to cause trouble). And the tribe of Christians, so named for him are not extinct to this day”.
The context of this passage is the political disturbances that the Roman rulers dealt with during this period.

A passage in Book 20, Chapter 9, 1 of the “Antiquities of the Jews” says,
he (Ananus the high priest) assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned”.
This event is dated at AD 62. The Bible also says that James was the brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:19). This passage assumes you already know about Jesus, which is true because Josephus has already mentioned him two books earlier.

Summary of Roman and Jewish literature

These two non-Christian historians are independent historical sources, one Roman and one Jewish. What do they say about Jesus?
– He was a Jewish man named Jesus and Christ (in Greek) who lived in Judea.
– He had a brother named James.
– He had a reputation for doing unusual works (possibly miracles)
– He won over both Jews and Greeks (but most of this happened after His death).
– He was sentenced by Pilate to be executed by crucifixion during Tiberius’s reign. The Jewish leadership pressured Pilate to condemn Jesus in this way.
– Christianity and Christians came out of Christ’s ministry.
– Both Jewish and Roman leaders were hostile towards Jesus and Christians.

ranking-of-historical-figures-400pxSo, hostile Jewish and Roman witnesses show that Jesus is a historical figure, and not a myth. This means that the first skeptical view that Jesus never existed is debunked. It is a myth itself!

Calendar

In 2013 Time magazine had an article on “the 100 most significant figures in history”. They ranked them like Google ranks web pages. They said that historically significant people leave evidence of their presence behind. The top rank went to Jesus, followed by Napoleon, Muhammad, William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln. So Jesus left an impact in our world. One indication of this is that the years in our calendar are dated from when He was born. Mythical figures don’t leave such an impact. Another indication is the growth of the church despite persecution.

We will now evaluate the second skeptical view that doesn’t believe Jesus did miracles.

Historical evidence for Jesus’ miracles

Now we’ve established that Jesus existed, the question is “did He do miracles?”. Is the only evidence of these in the New Testament that was written by Christians? No! The Christian message was offensive to both the Jews and the Romans. They attacked Christianity by saying that Jesus was a real wonder-worker who made blasphemous claims to divine authority.

Jesus was regarded by the Jews of His day as a person who possessed supernatural powers. According to Justin Martyr, they said that Christ’s miracles “was a display of magic art, for they (Jews) even dared to say that he (Jesus) was a magician and a deceiver of the people” (Justin Martyr, AD 160). They executed Him for sorcery and said His power to do miracles was Satanic.

According to Celsus, an anti-Christian Greek Philosopher, “Jesus performed His miracles by sorcery” (“The true word”, about AD 180). And, “because (Jesus) was poor he hired himself out as a workman in Egypt, and there tried his hand at certain magical powers on which the Egyptians pride themselves; he returned full of conceit because of those powers, and on account of them gave himself the title of God…”.
“These were the actions of one hated by God and a wicked sorcerer…

Celsus treated Jesus as a person who was a dangerous con-artist like a conjuror or illusionist. He considered Jesus to be a magician who made exorbitant claims.

So both hostile Jews and Greeks acknowledged that Jesus had miraculous powers. And they said that these were magical, Satanic and deceptive.

Were the gospels fabricated?

Some skeptics claim that the gospels were fabricated after Christ’s death and aren’t reliable accounts of what actually happened. But you wouldn’t expect the following in the gospels if they were fabricated:
– Mathew was written by a tax collector and Jews hated these.
– A key event, the resurrection of Christ, was revealed first to women who had low status in society at that time. A woman’s testimony was not accepted in court during those days.
– No Jew would invent a story of a crucified Messiah, and Christians wouldn’t invent such a horrific ending for their leader.
– There are multiple accounts of the life of Jesus in the gospels with variations between them.
– The embarrassing parts would probably have been deleted: Jesus’ baptism by John (Mk. 1:4-11), His family believing He was out of His mind (Mk. 3:21), His ignorance of the time of His own return (Mk. 13:32), His not doing miracles in some places (Mt. 13:58), and Jesus calling Peter Satan (Mt. 16:23).
– Why would two of the leaders in the early church reject Jesus when He was on earth? His brother James was a skeptic (Mk. 3:21; 6:2-4; Jn. 7:5) and Paul persecuted Christians (Acts 7:58, 60).
– Why would the apostles invent so many miracle stories, when most Jews expected a political deliverer as Messiah, not a wonder-worker?
– Why would the writers say that some people doubted that Jesus rose from the dead (Mt. 28:17; Mk. 16:11-13; Lk. 24:11, 38; Jn. 20:24-27)?
– Why would the apostles invent a religion that caused them painful humiliating deaths?

Time gaps

The New Testament was written by the apostles and their associates. The apostles were eyewitnesses to the events they described and the associates would have obtained information from eyewitnesses. Scholars think that the “memory gap” between the events described in the gospels and their documentation is about 30-55 years. There are variations between the gospels. This is because there are multiple witnesses and multiple writers. And like in real life, there are variations between the accounts (each records different aspects and details) but they have the same core message and they are consistent with each other. It’s a bit like children recalling events from their childhood for a parent’s eulogy.

Let’s look at the “copy gap” (between the original document and the oldest manuscript available today) for some historical documents. For the works of Josephus in their original language of Greek, the copy gap was about 800 years and for the Annals of Tacitus it was about 1,000 years. On the other hand, for the New Testament, the copy gap was about 300 years – Codex Vaticanus was copied in AD 300-325 and Codex Sinaiticus in AD 330-360. So the gap is significantly shorter for the New Testament. A longer gap means more copies of copies, which means more potential for copy errors to appear in the text. So the version of the New Testament we have today should be a more accurate copy of the original than is the case for these other Roman and Jewish historical documents. In this way, the evidence for the existence of Jesus is stronger than that for most other people of the ancient world.

Do we have an open mind?

I’ve presented some evidence, but whether you believe it depends whether you have an open mind or not. Our presuppositions can override the evidence in order to inevitably conclude what was presupposed from the start. That’s circular reasoning! In such cases our assumptions and beliefs largely determine our findings and interpretation of these. If we have already made up our minds, no evidence will change them.

Let’s look at some people who investigated Jesus with an open mind.

CS Lewis

CS Lewis was Irish and became an atheist in his early teenage years. He graduated from Oxford University with triple First Class Honors in Classics, Philosophy and English. And he wrote many books. His mother died when he was 10 years old, he had been unhappy at school, and he experienced trench warfare during the First World War. But after spending some years with Christian colleagues at Oxford University, at 30 years of age he became a Christian. He realized that atheists don’t have an open mind because they deny the supernatural and therefore the existence of God. They don’t even consider this possibility. But if God exists, then surely the Creator can intervene in His creation. He can alter the natural environment, reverse the progression of disease, or conquer death in ways we consider to be miraculous. He has written many books defending Christianity, including “Mere Christianity”.

Lee Strobel

Lee Strobel trained at Yale Law School and was an avowed atheist. He was a legal journalist for 14 years. After his wife’s conversion, he began investigating the Biblical claims about Christ. After a nearly two-year investigation, he became a Christian at the age of 29 years. He has written many books defending Christianity, including “The case for Christ”.

Jennifer Fulwiler

Jennifer Fulwiler was an atheist blogger. But she came to realize her mind was closed to ideas that didn’t fit into her atheist worldview. At the birth of her first child the only way her atheist mind could explain the love that she had for him was to assume it was the result of nothing more than chemical reactions in her brain. Then she realized that’s not true! She found that the Christian worldview had the best rational explanation for the world in which we live. She writes a blog called “Conversion Diary”.

Warner Wallace

Warner Wallace was a homicide detective. He was an atheist, but reading the gospels changed his life. After he saw that they were accurate eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus, he became a Christian. He stresses that as detectives need to be open minded by avoiding presuppositions, so should we. And the highest standard for prosecution is “beyond a reasonable doubt”, not “beyond every possible doubt”. This is because they are dealing with history, not observational science or mathematics. Wallace writes a blog called “Cold case Christianity”.

This evidence from an author, a journalist, a blogger and a detective shows that when people investigate Jesus with an open mind, they are convinced that He did the things described in the Bible.

Lessons for us

We have seen that Jesus is a historical person and not an imaginary figure. The evidence is overwhelming. And that He wasn’t an ordinary person. He did miracles and founded Christianity that has spread across the world. Also, the gospels are based on eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus and not something fabricated by early Christians. And people with an open mind will agree with this finding.

Do you have an open mind about Jesus? Have you read about Him in the gospels? Do you think He is a great moral teacher, but don’t accept his claim to be God? In that case, Jesus would be a liar. Why would a person willingly die under an accusation they knew wasn’t true? Or do you think He was deluded? That He had a mental illness? Then why would the apostles give up their lives for such a person? The only other option is that He was the person who He claimed to be and who He demonstrated to be by His miracles, the divine Son of God.

And if Jesus existed and did the things that history says He did and He’s alive today as the Son of God, then what must change in our lives today?

Why did Jesus come?

Jesus coming to earth is a bit like us becoming an ant in order to talk to the ants. Or us becoming an amoeba or bacteria to communicate with them. It’s amazing! It’s even more amazing because Jesus made and sustains the world He entered! The Creator and Sustainer became a creature at the same time.

Jesus came to earth so we can have spiritual life. A life connected with God now. A life that is connected with God forever. That’s called eternal life. He did it to solve the problem of our rebellion against God. Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Noah’s generation rebelled against God. The people of Babel rebelled against God. The Israelites rebelled against God. The Jews and Romans killed the Son of God. And we ignore God. He’s not in our calendar! The Bible says that we all rebel against God and that’s what separates us from Him (Rom. 3:23). We’re all guilty of wrong attitudes and wrong behavior. How do we know what’s right and what’s wrong? The Bible gives examples and our conscience can guide us (Rom. 2:15). The consequence of our guilt is to be separated from God.

Jesus solved the problem of our rebellion against God by taking our punishment when He was executed by crucifixion. He substituted for us. No one else could have done this because everyone else is a rebel and is separated from God themselves. Only Jesus could do this because He is the Son of God who is always in contact with God the Father.

Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am” (Mt. 16:15-16NLT). Peter answered, “You are the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of the living God”. Can you say that as well? If we recognize that we can’t get right with God ourselves because of our rebellion, and that as the Son of God, Jesus has done all that is needed for us to get right with God, then the Bible says that the barrier between us and God comes down and we are no longer separated from Him. We come near to God. We become spiritually alive. If you want to get right with God, pray to Him about it and speak about it to a Christian today.

Eternal life

Jesus described eternal life as follows: “as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man (Jesus) must be lifted up (be crucified), so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn. 3:14-17NLT).
Here we see that Jesus was on a rescue mission. Just as the Israelites could be healed of snakebite by looking at the bronze snake on a pole, which changed their status from dying to being alive, our separation from God can be removed by accepting Christ’s sacrifice for us. We become spiritually alive and our destiny changes from hell to heaven.

Jesus also said, “I have come that they may have (eternal) life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). Jesus came so we can have spiritual life. And following Jesus turns an empty spiritual life into a bountiful one. “Life, be in it!” was a program to encourage us to be more physically active. But Jesus says, “Eternal life, be in it!”. Let’s get spiritually active.

Jesus as Lord

But what if you already follow Jesus? This evidence about Jesus and the Bible supports our faith. We are Christians because of historical events, not because of mythical stories.

Peter told Cornelius that Jesus Christ “is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). “Lord” means a person who has authority over others; a master, boss, chief, or ruler. But most people act like Jesus was a liar or a mental case. They live as though Jesus never came to earth. But if we have trusted Him to bring us close to God, the Bible says that we are to live as though He is Lord of our lives (Rom. 10:9). That means giving Him priority. How can we do that? By obeying God’s commands and principles in the New Testament. A disciple follows their leader.

Paul is also a good example to follow (1 Cor. 4:16; Phil. 3:17). He said “You should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Is what we say and what we do consistent with what Paul said and did? Here’s one example from Paul, “dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom. 12:1-2). Do we give our bodies to God? Does He influence our calendar? Do we copy the behavior and customs of this world? Or, do we let God transform our lives? Do we let Him change the way we think? Are we different from those that don’t follow Jesus? Is it evident that we are spiritually alive?

Conclusion

We have seen that because Jesus lived on earth almost 2,000 years ago, and did miracles to prove His divinity, and paid the price so we can be reconciled with God, if we turn to follow Him, He turns an empty spiritual life into a bountiful spiritual life.

Eternal life, be in it!

Written, February 2017

Also see: Extra-biblical evidence of Jesus


What’s Jesus like?

Jesus summary dark 900px

20 Biblical images of Jesus

According to a survey, 40% of people in England don’t believe that Jesus was a real person. Instead they think He is a mythical figure. Some think that the characters in the Bible are metaphors for something deeper. That the Bible is a symbolic story. That the gospels are historical fiction. On the other hand, some think that Jesus was a historical figure, but His resurrection was a metaphor rather than a real event.

What do the historical records show? According to the New Testament scholar Darrell Bock (2015), “Christ’s story is just as well attested as Caesar’s. You can accept or deny claims made about Jesus in the Gospels, but you can’t pretend they were never made …
If we believe what the best sources say about Julius Caesar, then we should believe what the best sources say about Jesus Christ”.

Today we will look at what Jesus is like from the images given in the Bible. This will help us to follow Him. Paul said, “I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor.11:1NIV). And Peter said, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Pt. 2:21). Jesus told His followers “follow me” and “learn from me” (Mt. 11:29; 16:24).

The big picture

The Bible says that there are three aspects of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That’s where the word “Trinity” comes from. Today we are looking at Jesus, who is God the Son.

As a spirit, God doesn’t have a body like us. He’s invisible. But when Jesus came to earth, He took a human body. So God was visible when Jesus lived on earth. Paul wrote, “The Son (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). He’s “the exact representation of His (God’s) being” (Heb. 1:3). And Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). So Jesus is the best image of God. However, He lived before cameras were invented, so the only images we have of Him are words in the Bible.

Metaphors as images of Jesus

The best way to know what Jesus is like is to look at what the Bible says about Him because it’s a message from God. In the New Testament, there’s lots of information about what Jesus said and did.

But today we’re looking at images of Jesus in the Bible. These are mainly metaphors which are powerful images which help to show who Jesus is and what our relationship with Jesus can be like.

First; Jesus is likened to certain people.

People

Son

When Jesus is described as being a “Son” it doesn’t mean a biological son, Instead, it’s a figure of speech. For example, Judas Iscariot was called the “son of destruction” (Jn. 17:12ESV). This means he was characterised by destruction. James and John were called “sons of thunder”, which meant they were like thunder (Mk. 3:17). Likewise, Jesus was called “Son of Man” and “Son of God”. So it means that Jesus was like a man and like God. In fact, He was both a man and God. He was fully human and fully divine.

The most common title that Jesus used for Himself was “Son of Man” (Mk. 8:31; 14:62). It’s used 78 times in the gospels. It had two meanings in the Old Testament. In Daniel’s vision the son of man was the heavenly Messiah who will rule over the whole earth in a kingdom that will never end (Dan. 7:13-14). This was a subtle way of saying that He was the Jewish Messiah (Mt. 26:64). But “son of man” also meant a human being (Ps. 8:4; 144:3; 146:3). God called the prophet Ezekiel “son of man” 93 times. So the title “Son of Man” indicates that Jesus is both the Messiah and a human being. In Jesus, the invisible God is revealed (Col. 1:15).

The other title “Son of God” (Lk. 1:35; Jn. 5:25; 10:36; 11:4), meant that Jesus was God in human form and that’s why the religious leaders had Him killed (Jn. 1:14; 10:33-36; 19:7). Sometimes this is abbreviated to “the Son” (Mt. 11:27).

Jesus is also called “Son of David” (Mt. 21:9; Lk. 18:38). This title is equivalent to “Messiah”. He fulfilled the Davidic covenant and with respect to His humanity, He was a descendant of king David (2 Sam. 7:11-16, Ps. 89: 4, 36-37). Jesus was the only one who was qualified to be the Jewish Messiah. And because His lives forever, His kingdom will last forever,

If Jesus is Son of Man and Son of God, then He is both human and divine. Because he was human, He could die. And because He was God, He was sinless. So He’s the only one who could take the punishment for our sin.

Lord

Jesus is like a lord or master. A lord or master had power and authority over servants, slaves, or property.

The Greek noun kurios (Strongs #2962) translated “Lord” means master or owner. One who has power, authority and control. The master rules the servant and the servant respects and submits to the master. In the Bible, the title is given to God as the ruler of the universe.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted from Joel “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21), which the Jews would have understood as a reference to God the Father. But then he said that “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). So, He’s giving Jesus the same title as that given to God the Father in the Old Testament. It means that Jesus is the ruler of everything in the universe. He is supreme over all creation (Col. 1:15). And we know this is true because He is both the Creator and the Redeemer (Col. 1:16, 20). Besides this, Jesus is head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23).

Paul said, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). And Jesus is “Lord of all”; both of the Jews and the Gentiles (Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:12). In future, everyone will “acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11). And John said that Jesus is “Lord of lords” (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).

This metaphor caused tension in the Roman Empire. It was declaring that there was only one God, not many. Jesus was above all their other gods. Also, it was deemed to be unpatriotic because the Emperor was treated as being divine. But Jesus was above the Emperor.

If Jesus is like our master, then it’s like we’re under His rule. This image reminds us of the need to submit to Him and obey Him.

Bridegroom

Jesus is also like a bridegroom and husband. A bridegroom loves and cares for his bride. They belong together.

The church is the bride of Christ. Christians belong to Christ, like a bride belongs to her husband (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23-32).

Christ showed His love for the church in three ways (Eph. 5:25-27). By:
– Redemption – “He gave Himself up for her, to make her holy”. He gave up His life on the cross to make us positionally holy before God.
– Sanctification – He’s “cleansing her by the washing with water through the word”. As we hear and obey the words of Scripture, we are being made holy practically.
– Glorification – He will “present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless”. In the future the church will be perfectly holy.

This metaphor continues after the rapture when there is rejoicing “For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7-9). Jesus is like the bridegroom and the church is like the bride. And their union is like a wedding and a wedding supper.

If Jesus is like our bridegroom, then we are like His bride. We belong together. This image reminds us of His love for us.

King

Jesus is like a king. In ancient times, a king ruled a city or nation. A king has authority over all others. They have ultimate authority.

Nathaniel, the crowds, and the religious leaders called Jesus “king of Israel” (Jn. 1:49; 12:13; Mt. 27:42). This title is equivalent to “Messiah” (Mk. 15:32). The Magi came to visit “the King of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2). And the notice on His cross said that He was “The King of the Jews” (Jn. 19:19-21).

This metaphor is absent in the Scriptures that describe the period between Christ’s death and his second coming. Instead, the main title used by the early church was for Jesus was “Lord”. But Jesus comes as the “King of kings” in His second coming (Rev. 17:14; 19:16). And after this as a great “King” he will judge the Gentile nations (Mt. 25:31-46).

If Jesus is like a king, then the time will come when He will defeat all opposing powers to bring justice and peace and rule over all creation.

Judge

Jesus is also like a judge. A judge assesses the guilt of the accused and determines the penalty if they are guilty.

When John had a vision of Jesus as a judge, he was told “I hold the keys to death and Hades” (Rev. 1:12-18). This means that He controls both the body and the soul. And Jesus can raise the dead. Then Jesus judges the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 2:1 – 3:22).

After the rapture, believers will be rewarded according to their service at “the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 2:6; 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 15:58; 2 Cor. 5:10). The rewards are expressed in the second coming and the millennial kingdom (Lk. 19:17-19; Mt. 17:27; Rev. 3:21).

In His second coming (Rev. 17:14; 19:16), Jesus judges those left after the rapture and after this He will judge the Gentile nations (Mt. 25:31-46).

Peter said that God appointed Jesus “as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). This is consistent with God the Father “entrusting all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22). This means that Jesus will be the judge at the Great White Throne where each unbeliever will be judged “according to what they had done” (Rev. 21:11-15). That’s when people’s secrets will be judged (Rom. 2:16).

If Jesus is like a judge, then we are like the accused. Because Jesus paid our penalty, this image reminds us of God’s love for us.

Shepherd

Jesus is like a shepherd. A shepherd cares for sheep by protecting, guiding and sustaining them.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11). He laid down His life for both Jews and Gentiles (Jn. 10:15-16). The relationship between Jesus and His sheep is like that between Jesus and God the Father. In contrast, the religious leaders were like hired hands who abandon the sheep when there is trouble (Jn. 10:12-14). They are selfish and don’t care about the sheep.

The Bible says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Our sinfulness is likened to sheep going astray. But Jesus, like a Great Shepherd, gave His life for our protection (Heb. 13:20; 1 Pt. 2:25). When He returns at the rapture it will be as the Chief Shepherd (1 Pt. 5:4).

If Jesus is like a shepherd, then we are like the sheep. This image reminds us of His loving care.

High priest

Jesus is also ike a high priest. A high priest went into the Most Holy Place of the Jewish temple once a year to atone for the sins of the people of Israel.

Jesus was a great high Priest, who was tempted like us, but didn’t sin (Heb. 4:14-15). As a High Priest, when He died Jesus made atonement for the sins of the people (Heb. 2:17). Jesus was a mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5-6; Heb. 9:15).

He was a high priest of the order of Melchizedek. Unlike other Jewish high priests he wasn’t a descendant of Aaron or from the tribe of Levi (Heb. 5:6-10; 7:1-28). “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood”. His sacrifice was “once for all” and “He always lives to intercede” for us. And His new covenant is better than the old one (Heb. 8:1-13).

If Jesus is like a high priest, then we are like sinners separated from God. Because Jesus was both the sacrifice and the High Priest, this image reminds us that because of Jesus was can approach God the Father.

Servant

Jesus is like a servant. A servant serves others. It’s a humble position.

There are four servant songs about the Messiah in the book of Isaiah (Isa. 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13 – 53:12). The last one about the suffering righteous servant is often quoted in the New Testament in regard to Christ’s suffering. Its central verse is, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Christ’s death brought spiritual healing;  forgiveness and salvation; to those who trust in Him. That’s His greatest work as a servant.

Paul says that Jesus took the very nature of a servant (Phil. 2:7). Jesus told His disciples, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:44-45). He gave up the enjoyment of His rights to live a life of obedience to God the Father.

If Jesus is like God’s servant (Acts 3:26), then we can benefit from His work of salvation. If He’s our example, then serving God and others is more important than serving ourselves.

Second; Jesus is likened to some animals.

Animals

Lion

Jesus is also like a lion. A lion was a symbol of sovereignty, strength and courage.

In Revelation, Jesus is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5). This title comes from Jacob’s final message to his son Judah (Gen. 49:8-10). He said, “The sceptre (of royalty) will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his” (Gen. 49:10). This was initially fulfilled by David, but as it was also stated by Ezekiel, it refers to Jesus, their Messiah (Ezek. 21:27).

In this verse, Jesus is also called the “Root of David” (Rev. 5:5). This is a reference to the millennial rule of the Messiah that includes Gentiles (Isa. 11:1-10; Rom. 15:12).

If Jesus is like a lion and a great ruler, then everyone should submit to Him (Phil .2:10-11). This image reminds us of His coming reign as Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).

Lamb

Jesus is like a lamb. A lamb is a young sheep.

When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).

The Israelites killed a lamb in the first Passover and annually since then (Ex. 12:21). Paul said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7).

Lambs were also sacrificed in the fellowship offering, the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the guilt offering. (Lev. 3:7; 4:32; 9:3; 14:12). When they walked up Mount Moriah, Isaac asked his father, “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7-8). Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering”. Isaiah wrote about the servant who was “led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7; Acts 8:32). Peter said He was sinless; “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pt. 1:19).

In the book of Revelation, Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb” 28 times. In John’s vision of heaven, he “saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6) who was being praised, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain (Rev. 5:12).

If Jesus is like a lamb, then His death was a sacrifice for our sin. This image reminds us of the need to accept His sacrifice as the only way to be reconciled with God.

Third; Jesus is likened to some inanimate objects. Now physical things are used to teach spiritual truths.

Inanimate objects

Bread

Jesus is also like bread. Bread is food that helps to sustain us physically.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (Jn. 6:35). And, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51). To “eat this bread” means to believe in Him and receive eternal life (Jn. 6:47). Those who accept Him in this way satisfy their spiritual hunger forever.

If Jesus is like bread, then His death provides spiritual life to those who believe in Him. This image reminds us that without accepting Jesus, we are spiritually dead.

Light

Jesus is like a light, which is the opposite of darkness. We need light to see and to know the way to go at night.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). And, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (Jn. 12:46). To follow Jesus means to believe in Him by repenting of our sin, trusting that His death paid the penalty we owe, and committing our life to Him.

Conversion involves moving from darkness into His wonderful light (1 Pt. 2:9). So darkness symbolises evil, sin and separation from God.

If Jesus is like a light, then He is the solution to the evil and sin in the world. This image reminds that without accepting Jesus, we are in spiritual darkness.

Gate

Jesus is like a gate. A farm gate keeps animals safe from danger and predators.

Jesus said that He was “the gate for the sheep” into the sheep pen (Jn.10:1-10). The sheep would be safe if they went through the gate to the protection of the sheep pen. In contrast, the religious leaders were like thieves and robbers who climb into the sheep pen by some other way so they can steal, kill and destroy the sheep.

If Jesus is like a gate to the sheep pen, then we are like sheep. If we rely on His provision for us, then we will be safe. This image reminds us of the security of Jesus’ salvation.

Vine

Jesus is also like a vine. A grape vine has branches and fruit.

On the night He was arrested Jesus told His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). If we keep in fellowship with the Lord by prayer, reading and obeying His word, and fellowshipping with His people, we can be fruitful. This fruit is associated with peace, love and joy (Jn. 14:27; 15:9-11). It’s Christ’s character, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). It’s evident as answered prayer, being aware of God’s love for us, and the joy of being used by God (Jn. 15:7, 9-11).

If Jesus is like a vine, then we are like its branches. This image reminds us of the need to stay connected with Him.

Cornerstone

Jesus is like a stone. In those days, buildings were constructed with stones.

When Peter describes the Christian’s privileges in the church he uses the illustration of a stone building (1 Pt. 2:4-8). He uses the metaphor of “the living Stone” to describe Jesus. He was rejected by people, but chosen by God. Because of His resurrection, Jesus is alive forevermore. And He gives spiritual life to those who believe in Him, who are called “living stones”. They are being built into a “spiritual house” like the Old Testament temple where God dwelt and was worshipped. Jesus is like the most important stone in the building, the foundational cornerstone (1 Cor. 3:10-11). The cornerstone was the first stone to be set in the foundation and all the other stones were placed in position with reference to it. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. He’s precious to believers, but rejected by unbelievers. Peter takes the stone imagery from the Old Testament and applies it to Jesus (Ps, 118:22; Isa. 8:14-15; 28:16). Before this time, Jesus quoted this verse in the parable of the wicked tenants and Peter in an address to the Jewish Sanhedrin (Mt. 21:42; Acts 4:11).

If Jesus is like a cornerstone, then we are like stones orientated with respect to the cornerstone. This image reminds us that our faith is based on Jesus and what He and the apostles taught.

Morning Star

Jesus is also like a star. A star shines in the night sky.

Jesus is called the “bright morning star”, which appears in the night sky before dawn (2 Pt 1:19; Rev. 22:16). The dawning of the day symbolizes the end of the present church age (Rom. 13:12). And the morning star symbolizes Christ coming for the church. While we wait for the rapture, the Scripture is a like a light shining in a dark place.

Just as the morning star is followed by the sunrise, the rapture is followed by the second coming and reign of Christ, which is likened to the sunrise of the “Sun of Righteousness” (Mal. 4:2; Lk.1:78-79). Once again, Jesus will be like light coming to a dark world.

If Jesus is like the morning star, we can look forward to His coming for us. This image reminds us that better days are ahead for us.

Fourth; Jesus is likened to certain attributes.

Attributes

Beginning and the end

Jesus is like the beginning and the end, which is symbolized by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega (Rev. 1:8; 22:13). As Creator of the universe, He was there when it began. He rules over history and has authority to reward the faithful and punish the wicked, “according to what they have done” (Rev. 22:11). And the Lamb is in the eternal new heaven and the new earth after the end of time (Rev. 21:1-22:5).

If Jesus is like the beginning and the end, then He is always present. This image reminds us that Jesus is eternal.

Savior

Jesus is also like a savior. A savior saves someone, like a lifeguard (or lifesaver) rescues people in danger of drowning.

The angel told the shepherds that Jesus was a Savior (Lk. 2:11). And the Samaritans said He was “the Savior of the world” (Jn. 4:42). Savior is used so much in the Bible that it is often used as a title of Jesus Christ.

A similar metaphor is that Jesus is like a redeemer who liberates and releases from a bad situation by paying a ransom.  Jesus redeems believers from their sinful situation at the cost of His death (Gal. 4:5; 1 Pt. 1:18-19). The result is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous in God’s sight (Rom. 3:24; Col. 1:14).

If Jesus is like a savior, then people are like those rescued. This image reminds us that Jesus came to rescue us from the judgment we deserve for our sinfulness. Have you been rescued in this way yet?

Word

Jesus is like words. Words communicate a message.

Jesus is called “the Word” (Jn. 1:1). As He is eternal, He had no beginning. He enjoyed a personal relationship with God the Father and was fully God. The Word came to live on earth as a human being (Jn. 1:14). That’s amazing, God living as one of His creations!

Jesus is also called the “Word of God” (Rev. 19:13). Words express thoughts. We communicate our thoughts in words. Jesus expressed the thoughts of God. In this instance He executes judgment on the wicked.

So, Jesus was God’s communication or message to humanity. He showed us what God is like. For example, by His death, He showed us how much God loved us.

If Jesus is like words, then He tells us what God is like. This image reminds us of the uniqueness of Jesus.

Pathway

Finally, Jesus is like a pathway. A pathway is a route to follow to a destination.

When Jesus told the disciples about heaven, Thomas asked about the way to get there. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). He is the only way, the exclusive way, to God and heaven (Acts 4:12). The early church was called “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23;22:4; 24:14, 22).

He is also the truth, everything He said is true. John said He was full of truth (Jn. 1:14). He is also the life, the source of physical and spiritual life. Eternal life comes from knowing Jesus Christ (Jn. 17:3). He is also “the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25-26). He has the power of resurrection and of life.

If Jesus is like a pathway, then there is no other route to God or heaven. This image reminds us to be on the right pathway.

Jesus also like a lawyer, a pioneer, and a last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-49; Heb. 2:10; 12:2; 1 Jn. 2:1).

Summary

We have seen that the Bible uses many images to show what Jesus is like. Different images highlight different aspects of His life and character. For example, He:
Is both human and divine, as Son of Man and Son of God
Jesus summary dark 400pxRules like a master and a lion
Loves like a bridegroom
Reigns like a king
Sentences like a judge
Cares like a shepherd
Mediates like a high priest
Serves like a servant
Sacrifices like a lamb
Sustains like bread and fruit of the vine
Overcomes darkness like a light
Secures like a gate
Is a foundation like a cornerstone
Is coming soon like the morning star
Saves like a lifeguard (lifesaver)
Is a message that tells us what God is like
Shows us the way to God and heaven like a pathway
And, is always there.

So, that’s the example for us to follow (1 Cor. 11:1). In response, do we:
Live like He is the unique Son of God?
Follow His divine instructions in the Bible?
Feel secure in His love?
Have a close relationship with Him?
Anticipate His coming and His reign?
Realize that Jesus paid our penalty?
Care for one another?
Approach God the Father through Jesus?
Serve Him and others?
Feel thankful for His sacrifice?
Stay connected to the Lord?
Shine like a light in a dark world?
Feel safe in salvation through Christ?
Tell others about salvation through Christ?
Realize Christ’s presence with God on our behalf?

So, let’s “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Pet. 3:18).

Reference:
Bock D.(2015) “Sources for Jesus and Caesar compared”

Written, April 2016

Also see: What’s God like?
What’s the Holy Spirit like?

 


Big history or little history?

Big History projectA pantheistic creation story

“Big History” is a modern origins story that is being developed online for school students and is supported by Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men. The objective is to develop a framework for learning about anything and everything that includes a deeper awareness of our past. It claims to tell a story that our children need to know. But what will they learn?

History of the universe

“Big History” is based on eight “threshold moments” when the universe increased in complexity:

  1. Origin of the universe billions of years ago as explained by the big bang theory.
  2. Stars light up from the remnants of the exploding gases.
  3. New chemical elements form when stars die and create new types of atoms.
  4. Rocky planets such as the earth and the solar system form around stars.
  5. Molecules combine to form single celled living organisms that evolve into multi-celled organisms.
  6. Human beings appear as a consequence of evolutionary processes.
  7. After the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, humans develop agriculture.
  8. The modern revolution, characterized by the use of fossil fuels and global communication.

Although “Big History” is based on humanity’s current scientific and historical understanding, the following questions come to mind.

Big assumptions

Although Big History states these as facts, it assumes that:

  • The origin and development of the universe can be explained by the laws of science.
  • The early universe was simple.
  • The universe has become more complex with time.

Once these are assumed, the rest follows as a consequence. So the course is teaching that these assumptions are facts. Instead they are scientifically unprovable.

As history trumps science when dealing with the past, the Bible surpasses science with regard to the origin of the universe and the nature of the early universe. In particular, the assumption of the uniformity of scientific laws isn’t valid past the creation of the universe about 6,000 years ago. So history shows the first two assumptions are false.

The assumption that “The universe has become more complex with time”, goes against common sense and the law of cause and effect. How can an inanimate object gain increasing complexity and increasing information by using the laws of science alone and not outside intelligence?  How can an animal or plant gain increasing complexity and increasing information by using the laws of science alone and not outside intelligence?

Big miracles

This secular origins story is based on miracles than can’t be explained by science. Yet it claims to be scientific!

Before the beginning of time it assumes there was nothing – no time, mass, energy or space. After the beginning of time a tiny particle smaller than an atom appears that contains everything in today’s universe. This means that something appears from nothing, which is not allowed in the laws of physics! In a science where there is no place for miracles, this is certainly a miracle. How was all the mass and energy within the universe created out of absolutely nothing using only the physical forces within the universe? How could the universe create itself?

According to Big History, the universe can create complexity and information. This happens as a series of stages, each of which produces something utterly new. Each of these threshold moments is a miracle as the increase in complexity and information cannot be explained by the laws of science. How could the universe increase complexity and information by itself?

How does the universe create complexity despite the second law of thermodynamics, which says that “The general tendency of the universe is to move from order and structure to lack of order and lack of structure”? This is never explained. There is just a statement that it can create complexity, but with great difficulty! So the universe builds itself, which is pantheism. The universe is god. So intelligence and intent is attributed to inanimate objects or concepts, such as “Life interjects” and “DNA learns”.

It is interesting to note that the example of increasing complexity used in Big History was our modern society and not a biological example such as the DNA molecule or the human mind.

Circular reasoning

Big History is guilty of circular reasoning. It states assumptions and ideas as facts. Its key findings are based on its assumptions and presuppositions. For example, it reveals how complexity slowly evolved. But this is also an assumption.

Big history is speculative. It says, “We can imagine the early universe breaking up into billions of clouds”.

Big history is a product of the secular paradigm or worldview that has rejected the God of the Bible.

Conclusion

Big History is certainly ambitious. It has big assumptions, big miracles, big extrapolation and big imagination. Although it claims to be big on history, it actually includes little recorded history.

As “the story of how the universe creates complexity” and the “unifying story that gives a sense of the whole of history”, it is a pantheistic creation story that replaces the Bible.

Do our children need to know this? How much better if they knew the Bible and accepted its message as the unifying story that gives a sense of the whole of history?

Written, October 2013

Also see – Using history and science to investigate ancient times
Big history


Using history and science to investigate ancient times

Forescic scienceWhen history trumps science

What happened?

Crime investigation often involves eyewitnesses and forensic science. But when these conflict, which gets precedence? Forensic science uses the evidence to infer what happened in the past and so deduce who committed the crime. Eyewitnesses report what they saw happen and who actually committed the crime. More importance is usually given to a reliable eyewitness than to forensic science, but forensic science can help explain an eyewitness account.

History and science are two main ways to investigate events that occurred in the past. History is like an eyewitness and science is like forensic science. In this article, we use the term “ancient forensic science” to refer to the use of science to investigate ancient times. Let’s look at the relationship between history and ancient forensic science.

How history works

History is the study of past events. Its accuracy depends on the accuracy of the information available to the historian, which is also related to the amount of time between the events studied and the historical investigation. Obviously, all other things being equal, the greater this time gap, the greater the uncertainty in the investigation.

History is more accurate when there are written records available than when these are absent. History can also use other evidence such as oral records and archaeological findings.

As a result of historical research, the historian produces a written account of past events and attempts to put them in chronological order.

How ancient forensic science works

Ancient forensic science uses the scientific method to investigate ancient times. This approach has been used in astronomy, archaeology, biology, chemistry and geology to investigate ancient times. Because it relates to past events that were not observed and the evidence is thousands of years old, ancient forensic science is based on more assumptions than most science. Many assumptions need to be made to interpret the evidence. An example of an assumption made by modern forensic science in that “everyone’s fingerprint is unique”. The assumptions of ancient forensic science include extrapolation from present conditions backwards in time assuming uniformity of scientific laws. If an assumption is incorrect, then the findings of the forensic investigation can be unreliable.

By the way, science can only address situations that are described by scientific laws. This means it can’t address questions such as the ultimate origin of matter and energy in the universe.

As a result of ancient forensic scientific research, the scientist also produces a written account of past events and attempts to put them in chronological order.

The historical record

The Bible is the best record of ancient history we have today. It contains documentary evidence from eyewitnesses which has been accurately preserved over the years. The authors were either eyewitnesses themselves or they spoke with eyewitnesses. In the case of the original creation, the account was given to Moses by God, who was the Creator. God asked Job, “Where were you?” when this happened (Job 8:4-7)! He hadn’t been born yet! Therefore, it is an eyewitness account! Likewise, the question for us today is “Were you there?”. Obviously the answer is “no”! We can only look back thousands of years towards this event.

The Bible says that God created the universe rapidly in six days and that people have existed since the sixth day of creation. The creation was mature and fully functional from the beginning. It didn’t need to develop gradually over time from simple to more complex. This means that at the beginning, the apparent age of things didn’t match the actual age. The Bible also says that Adam lived about 6,000 years ago and the global flood was about 4,500 years ago.

The ancient forensic scientific explanation

Ancient forensic science says that the universe developed slowly over billions of years. During this time, things developed gradually from simple to more complex. First there were stars, then planets, then single-celled organisms, then multi-celled organisms, followed by fish, plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and finally human beings.

Much of this explanation relies on the “big bang” theory and the idea of evolution. However,  ancient forensic science is unable to answer questions like:

  • How did the first life originate?
  • Why was there a “big-bang”?
  • What happened before the “big-bang”
  • How did something come from nothing?

This conflicts with the biblical record as the dates are significantly older, all things developed gradually from simple to more complex instead of being complex from the beginning, and people appear after billions of years of evolution.

How can we resolve this conflict?

Huge extrapolation

Scientists use mathematical methods to make predictions. These mathematical methods (which are called “models”) are developed from measurements (observations) that have been made over a certain period of time and under a certain range of conditions. The predictions are most accurate for circumstances that lie within those under which the model was developed. Predictions made outside these circumstances are less reliable as they are extrapolations outside the realm that was measured and observed.

The ancient forensic scientific explanation of ancient history uses theories and observations made in the past few hundred years to make statements about what happened millions and billions of years ago. In science it is well known that the accuracy of a prediction decreases as it extends outside the region of measurement and observation.

Orders of magnitude are used to compare very large differences between numbers. It this case the difference is expressed as the power of 10. For example, 1,000 is one order of magnitude greater than 100, two orders of magnitude greater than 10, and three orders of magnitude greater than 1.

We will now estimate the degree of extrapolation that is made by ancient forensic science. In order to be conservative, we will assume that the scientific theories and observations have been developed from measurements and observations made in the past 1,000 years. So any prediction that applies greater than 1,000 years ago is an extrapolation outside the range of measurement and observation. Therefore, a prediction of an event 10,000 years ago represents an extrapolation of one order of magnitude. Using the dates taught in the Big History Project, we see that the extrapolations are at least 2 to 7 orders of magnitude. As the degree of uncertainty usually increases with the size of the extrapolation, these enormous extrapolations indicate a huge uncertainty in these predictions. In normal science such extrapolations would be viewed as being speculative guesses.

Proposed Event Extrapolation – Orders of magnitude
Big bang 7 (a factor of 107 )
Earth and solar system formed 6 (a factor of 106)
First life on earth 6 (a factor of 106)
First humans 2 (a factor of 102)

Resolving the conflict

As eyewitnesses trump forensic science in criminal investigations, we need to see what implications the historical record has for the ancient forensic scientific explanation. The most obvious implication is that it is wrong to extrapolate backwards in time past about 6,000 years because this was when the universe was “stretched out” by God (Jer. 10:12). The creative week was a unique time that can’t be explained by the laws of science. Scientists would call it a “boundary condition” or an “initial condition”. The assumption of the uniformity of scientific laws only applies since this time. Extrapolation backwards past this time is invalid because the current scientific laws may not apply when God was creating the universe.

This means that most of the apparent billions of years in the ancient forensic scientific explanation represent what God did in less than a week. This was the miracle of creation. So the billions of years is related to how far God stretched out the universe, not the age of the universe.

Because it is wrong to extrapolate backwards in time past about 6,000 years, the millions of years of evolution are also incorrect.

So when the ancient forensic scientific explanation is corrected by imposing historical eyewitness boundary conditions, we see that the assumptions behind the “big-bang” theory and the theory of evolution are obviously incorrect.

Does it matter?

Why can’t we accept both ancient forensic science and the Bible? Because the ancient forensic scientific explanation destroys the gospel message in the Bible. It destroys the source of sin and death, removes the need for a Savior, and ruins the possibility of future restoration of the earth when Christ reigns (Acts 3:21). This means removing creation, the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin as real events in real places.

It also moves the source of sin, disease, decay and death away from Adam and Eve’s disobedience. It makes them a normal part of our world. They are not viewed as being abnormal. It puts death before sin, not after it. It means that the created world, which God said was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), was marred by disease and death from the beginning. It takes away the fact that the original sin affected all of God’s creation (Rom. 8:19-23). It takes away the promise that all creation will be liberated from its “bondage to decay” when Christ returns to rule over it.

Conclusion

As a reliable eyewitness is superior to forensic science in the investigation of crime, so reliable history is better than ancient forensic science in investigating ancient times. So history trumps science when dealing with the past.

“history trumps science when dealing with the past”

Let’s follow the reliable history of the Bible, instead of the erroneous assumptions and extrapolations of ancient forensic science.

Written, October 2013

Also see – Big history or little history?
   – Big history


Fact or fiction?

simpson-donkeyAccording to a recent Australian government inquiry, the story of Simpson and his donkey at Gallipoli in Turkey in World War 1 is largely a myth. It was found that the accounts of Simpson’s exceptional bravery were based on false or faulty evidence and fraudulent witnesses. Also, a war correspondent embellished his account of Simpson and his donkey and this was repeated until Simpson became a hero and a legend. So the heroism of Simpson and his donkey is more myth than reality and more fiction than fact. It was found that his deeds were no more exceptional than those of hundreds of other stretcher bearers working at Gallipoli at the time.

The battle of Gallipoli was a disastrous defeat for the Allies which claimed the lives of about 8,700 young Australian men. It was in the context of this bad news that the good news story of Simpson and his donkey was created.

The demise of this hero shows the importance of reliable historical records and eyewitness accounts. When the historical records were examined the facts were established and the story was found to be unreliable. This can also be the case in movies where historical accounts can be embellished until they are more myth than reality and more fiction than fact.

If this can happen for an event that occurred about 100 years ago, what about an event that occurred about 2,000 years ago! What about the story of Jesus Christ in the Bible? Fortunately, the Bible is not a myth – see my post: “How many witnesses does it take to bust a myth”. It is based on multiple eye-witnesses and contains multiple accounts of Christ’s life and His resurrection.

The writers of the Bible were usually eyewitnesses of the events they documented. On the other hand, the legend of Simpson and his donkey was not written by eyewitnesses. That’s one reason why an ancient account can be more accurate than a modern one.

So the Bible is a reliable and robust historical account of events in ancient times.

Written, March 2013