googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: December 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why can’t they see their hypocrisy?

Many Christians have been belittled for believing in Biblical creation. One criticism often leveled at us is that we are merely laymen and so are not qualified to competently judge the theory of evolution. Any criticism we make against the theory is only our lay opinion and is therefore not worthy of any serious consideration.

A few months back, I came across one staunch evolutionist who was making this very point. He waxed on about the many thousands of scientists who have dedicated their careers to studying evolution and that it was arrogance on the part of non-scientists to reject their conclusions as though we understand better than they. This particular evolutionist went on to ask what other subject exists where the opinions of lay people are given consideration over the opinions of people who are experts in the subject.

He seemed to be asking the question rhetorically thinking the answer was obvious. He believed there is no other subject where people with no formal training in a subject would boldly put forth opinions that contradicted the conclusions of experts of the subject. Much to his embarrassment, I suggested one: people who are not studied in the Bible feel perfectly qualified to criticize the Bible. They smugly rebuff and deride the conclusions of thousands of theologians who have dedicated their lives to the study of the Bible. The entire extent of these critics’ research may be nothing more than using a Google search yet they are thoroughly convinced the Bible is rife with errors, Christianity is a sham, and there is no God.

It seems to me they want to have it both ways. They want to condemn creationists as lay people who are not qualified to judge the truthfulness of evolution. Yet they feel they are perfectly able to judge the truthfulness of the Bible even though they may not be formally trained in theology. People who use this argument paint themselves into a proverbial corner. They need to either acknowledge that people can have opinions (even correct opinions) in subjects they are not formally trained in OR they need to stop criticizing the Bible or Christianity until they receive formal training on the subject. Which is it going to be?

But their hypocrisy doesn’t end there. If they believe non-scientist creationists are not qualified to judge their theory, what makes a non-scientist evolutionist qualified to judge his own theory? If I – as a non-scientist – cannot judge their theory false, then neither can a non-scientist judge the theory true! Alas, no. It doesn’t work that way. To them, people who reject evolution are ignorant fools and people who accept evolution are enlightened thinkers. Acceptance or rejection of the theory is the only test required; no one need demonstrate how well they actually understand the theory.

Let’s review this just for the sake of clarity: some evolutionists dismiss creationist arguments because they feel non-scientists aren’t qualified to judge the truthfulness of the theory. However, these evolutionists themselves aren’t scientists yet feel they are perfectly qualified to judge both the truthfulness of their own theory AND the truthfulness of the Bible (which they also have no training in). It seems there’s a pot-kettle dilemma going on.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nor thorns infest the ground

As I discussed in some previous posts, I really enjoy listening to Christ-centered Christmas music. An oldie but goodie is the classic hymn, “Joy to the World.” It’s one of my favorites but I admit my ignorance when, while watching the video on YouTube, I heard the following stanza:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

As often as I’ve heard that song, I can’t remember ever hearing that stanza. It’s a wonderful bit of doctrine. This song was written in 1719 by Isaac Watts – long before the influence of Lyell or Darwin. During Watts’ time, the overwhelming majority of Christians were (what would now be called) young-earth creationists. It was not until the 19th century that Christians began to allow the ideas of secular science to influence our understanding of Scripture. It was then that many Christians began adding millions of years to Genesis.

From a purely doctrinal perspective, one problem with on old earth is that of theodicy. Nearly any belief in an old earth necessarily involves the idea that God created death, disease, pain, and suffering before the Sin and Fall of Adam. An old earth would be what called “very good” in Genesis 1:31. It’s hard to imagine why a benevolent, sovereign God would spend billions of years creating a world full of cancer, carnivory, and carnage when His objective is to create a “very good” paradise for man to possess.

The Bible is clear that the original creation was perfect. There was no death before Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12). Thorns, for example, are the result of God’s curse on the creation (Genesis 3:17-19) – not an intentional adornment in God’s plan to build a “very good” creation.

There will come a day when God will create a new heaven and earth. Revelation 22:3 says there will be “no more curse” in that day. Isaiah 11 describes a world where the “wolf will lay down with the lamb” and where the “lion shall eat straw like an ox.” This harkens back to the perfect creation described in Genesis 1:29-30 when animals did not eat each other but all were herbivorous.

I sometimes wonder what “no more curse” means to those Christians who ascribe an old age to the creation. To what will the creation be restored? Do they believe it will simply revert back to death and bloodshed that supposedly prevailed for billions of years before Adam? That is not a paradise worth looking forward to.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Popular Misconceptions about the Nativity

I confess that I own a nativity scene. Every Christmas, it is really the only decoration I really look forward to setting up. I think I might enjoy the nativity more than the tree – though perhaps it’s simply because decorating the tree involves a lot more work. But even though I enjoy setting out my nativity, I know that it’s not a very accurate depiction of The Nativity. In fact, many people’s conception about the nativity is simply not accurate. In this post, I’d like to bring up a few of the more enduring misconceptions surrounding the nativity.

Let’s start with the trip to Bethlehem. The Christmas card image of Joseph walking through the desert at night, leading Mary as she rides on a donkey isn’t mentioned anywhere in Scripture. Since the purpose of the journey was a census, all of Joseph’s and Mary’s family should have traveled with them to Bethlehem. They would have been with Mary when she delivered Jesus. Where are they in the nativities? Did neither Mary nor Joseph have any living relatives (parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, or sisters) that would have made the trip with them? All of these family members would have been of the house of David (Luke 2:4) just as Mary and Joseph were and so would have been required to travel to Bethlehem.

The young couple did not necessarily arrive in Bethlehem the very night Jesus was born as is often depicted in film. The Bible merely says that she delivered Jesus “while they were there” (Luke 2:6). However, the Bible does say that Jesus was laid into a manger (Luke 2:7) which strongly suggests Joseph and Mary were staying with the animals when He was born. It would be reasonable to assume they could not have been in the town very long or they probably would have found more suitable lodgings after a while.

The shepherds were told of Jesus’ birth by the angel (Luke 2:10). The angel had given the shepherds a sign to identify Jesus – He would be the baby lying in a manger (Luke 2:12). So the shepherds went into town to find a baby lying in a manger. The Bible doesn’t mention a star pointing the shepherds the way to Jesus. Certainly a star pointing out the place where He lay would have made Him a lot easier to find Yet Luke 2 doesn’t mention a star at all. I don’t believe there was any star in the sky (see my previous discussion on the Star of Bethlehem).

Concerning the wise men, the most enduring notion is that there were three wise men. Nowhere does the Bible tell us how many wise men there were. IT’S NOT THERE. The idea that there were three perhaps stems from the fact that three different gifts are mentioned: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (see my discussion of the wise men).

But furthermore, there is a great misconception about when the wise men appeared to worship Jesus. Think about this for a moment: Luke 2:21-23 tells us that Jesus was circumcised when He was eight days old. Later, Mary took Him to the temple in Jerusalem after the “days of her purification.” According to the Law of Moses, the purification for women after bearing a male child was forty days. So, according to Luke, Mary took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after delivering Him. However, Matthew 2:12-14 says that after the wise men departed, the Angel of the Lord warned Joseph to flee to Egypt and Joseph immediately (when he rose) fled that night to Egypt with Jesus and Mary. Now how can these two accounts possibly be reconciled if the wise men visited Jesus the night of His birth?

The simple fact is that the wise men did not arrive to worship Jesus until much later after His birth – perhaps as long as two years after His birth. Matthew tells us that Herod ordered all children under two years old to be murdered according to the time the wise men told him the star had appeared to them (Matthew 2:16). Also, there is the much overlooked mention that the wise men entered a “house” (Matthew 2:11) – not a stable or some such place. Certainly, the wise men were not next to the shepherds by the manger adoring the Savior. And while we’re at it, the Bible doesn’t mention anything about how the wise men traveled – nary is a camel mentioned.

Many of our cherished images of that blessed night are inaccurate. But I am no Scrooge. I know the event happened even if we are a little fuzzy on the details. I think the few facts we do know are sufficient – namely this:

… the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Further reading:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Luke 2:14: Glory to God in the Highest and on Earth Peace, Good Will Toward Men.

Unfortunately, we no longer possess the original autographs set to paper by the writers of the NT. What we do have is an abundance of manuscripts – far more than exists for any other book of antiquity. While it’s true there are variations among these manuscripts, because of their sheer abundance of them, we can have a good confidence what the original texts must have said.

Certainly none of the variations significantly impact any fundamental doctrine; however, occasionally variations result in a more than trivial difference in translations. One such variation occurs in Luke 2:14

The NA27 – which most modern translations use – reads:

δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας.

The Textus Receptus – which was the text used in the KJV translation – reads:

δοξα εν υψιστοις θεω και επι γης ειρηνη εν ανθρωποις ευδοκια

The difference between these two texts is only a single letter – the final sigma in ευδοκια. This single letter, however, changes the case of the word from the nominative case (ευδοκια) to the genitive case (εὐδοκίας).

The nominative case means εὐδοκία (along with εἰρήνη) is the subject of the clause εν ανθρωποις ευδοκια. This is a rather simple translation: “Good will toward men.” This is the KJV translation.

If the word is a genitive, then εἰρήνη is necessarily the subject of the clause εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας since it is in the nominative case. Translating this is somewhat more tricky (at least for me). It would mean something like: “peace toward men of good will.” More likely it means, “peace toward men of His [God’s] good pleasure.” The NASB reads, “peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Theologically speaking, there is a slight difference between the two translations. “Good will toward men” suggests a universal peace from God toward all people. “[P]eace among men with whom He is pleased,” suggests God’s peace is reserved only for those who please God, namely those people who trust in His Son.

What a wonderful message the shepherds heard that night. This Christmas, I pray that everyone’s response would be the same as the shepherds’: “Let us now go… and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mary Did You Know?

I have often wondered if Mary was fully aware of the magnitude of Who Jesus was. Certainly, she was a virgin and had an angel announce that she would bear a Son conceived of the Holy Spirit so she must have known this was a miraculous event. Even so, did she really know how significant it was?

What a hard life she lived: Suspected of infidelity to her betrothed, likely widowed while Jesus was still young, then to watch Him suffer and die. Not only was this her Son, she knew He was the promised Savior. What did she think when she saw Him on the cross? Through all this, could she have possibly known this was how He would save us?

I sometimes marvel at the faith of many people from the Bible. I can see the end where they could not. They were used of God in roles they would never fully understand during their own life times. Were I in their shoes I wonder if I could have done the same.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!

In my last post I mentioned that many Christmas carols preach a powerful message. Here's just such a song. Most people know the first stanza (which is wonderful) just read the words to the second:

Mild He lays His glory by
Born that men no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth!

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus our Emmanuel!

What more can I say? Just watch for yourself:

I hope you were blessed! Have a wonderful Christmas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's Christmas Time Again

On my blog, Christ will always be the reason for the season. After my 4+ decades of life on this earth, I tire quickly of shopping, decorating, and many of the trappings that come with Christmas. But I still love Christmas!

One of the things I love most about this season is the beautiful hymns. Of course there are many wonderful hymns that have been written but Christmas carols really get me in the Christmas spirit. Many of them can also preach a powerful message.

I intend to post several videos on my blog this season. Hopefully they will be a blessing to everyone who watches them. Here’s one of my favorites.

God bless!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

John 20:31: Is Jesus the Messiah or is the Messiah Jesus?

τατα δ γέγραπται να πιστεύητε τι ησος στιν χριστς υἱὸς το θεο,

[B]ut these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; (ASV)

To my native-English-thinking mind, the natural reading of this verse is “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” However, I was recently reading up on the nominative case in Wallace’s book and I came across this interesting insight. In the above verse, ησος (Jesus) is in the predicate position to χριστς (the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One). We see a similar construction in John 1:1:

κα θες ν λόγος.

[A]nd the Word was God. (ASV)

These constructions in these two verses are remarkably similar: anarthrous noun in the nominative case, verb (εμί), and articular noun in the nominative case. In John 1:1, we translate it as “The Word was God” and not “And God was the Word” because the article appears with λόγος indicating that it is the subject.

The question becomes why, then, do we translate John 20:31 as, “Jesus is the Christ”? The article modifies χριστς suggesting it should be the subject. If we translated it as we do John 1:1, it should read: “The Christ is Jesus.”

Now, we do have the added entanglement of ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ (“the Son of God”). This shouldn’t be too troublesome since it also appears in the nominative case and is articulated; thus, typical rules of grammar suggest that it modifies χριστς. Therefore, the clause could read, “The Christ, the Son of God, is Jesus.”

Some will argue that proper names, even anarthrous names, take precedence over articular nouns. There is some merit to this argument and thus the debate will continue.

What is the theological significance between the two possible translations? Essentially there is no difference. Jesus is the Messiah and the Messiah is Jesus. Both are equally true. So what is the intent of the Gospel writer? It could be that John is trying to proclaim to the world Who Jesus is: Jesus is the Messiah. Or it could be that John is trying to proclaim to Jews who the Messiah is: The Messiah is Jesus. In that sense, there is a difference between the translations.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Forty Brave Soldiers

I first heard this song about 15 years ago. It's one of the most inspiring songs I think I've ever heard. It's hard to listen to and not be challenged.

I don't hear it too often anymore but it's still one my favorites. I found it on YouTube and thought I'd share it here. Hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I have. God Bless!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Five Solas Part 5: Soli Deo Gloria

The final of the Five Solas of the Reformation is Soli Deo Gloria, or “Glory to God alone.” Certainly there can be no argument that we are to have no other gods before the Lord but the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria goes beyond that and holds that all of creation exists for the glory of God. He is The Sovereign Lord over everything He has made and everything we do should be done for His honor and glory.

We see this in many passages of Scripture.

Sing unto the LORD, all the earth; shew forth from day to day his salvation. Declare his glory among the heathen; his marvellous works among all nations. For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised: he also is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the people are idols: but the LORD made the heavens. Glory and honour are in his presence; strength and gladness are in his place. Give unto the LORD, ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice: and let men say among the nations, The LORD reigneth. (1 Chronicles 16:23-31)

If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11)

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

The list could go on: Revelation 1:6, Ephesians 3:21, Revelation 7:12, Romans 11:36, et al.

Of the Five Solas, this doctrine is perhaps the easiest to defend from Scripture yet is by far the hardest to live in practice. We are creatures of ego, vanity, pride, greed, covetousness, and selfishness. We often act with no other motive than our own self interest and for our own gratification. But the Bible is clear – whatever we do, we are to do it for the glory of God.

How would such a thing look in practice? I wish I could say exactly how it would be done but I would be a poor example.

We could be like the good servants who invested the talents of their lord (Matthew 25:14-30). As they went about their work while their master was away, they knew in their minds their labor was for his benefit.

We could be like the man freed from demons (Mark 5:1-20) who published abroad in the 10 cities what the Lord had done for him.

We could try to be like Jesus. What better Teacher could there be?

What are you doing now for the glory of God? That question shames me. Whatever I do, I know I could do more. All glory is due God. Soli Deo Gloria.

Further reading:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Funny Thing about Facts

Contrary to the popular expression, facts don’t speak for themselves. Facts must be interpreted. Our conclusions about the facts also turn on what starting assumptions we use when interpreting the facts.

It’s been often said that the “evidence” supports evolution and there is no “evidence” for creation. The fact of the matter is that both theories have the same evidence. We all live in the same world and so have the same fossils, the same rocks, the same stars, the same molecules, and the same everything else. The evidence doesn’t necessarily support either theory; rather, either theory is an attempt to explain the evidence.

Consider a geological feature like the Grand Canyon. How was the canyon formed? According to secular theories, the canyon layers were laid down over a period of some two billion years and the canyon was later carved out by the Colorado River and other tributaries. Creationists believe that most of the layers in the Grand Canyon were laid down rapidly and the canyon carved out rapidly and catastrophically during the events surrounding the Noachian Flood. Both theories are using the same evidence yet each tries to explain the evidence in a different way.

Now, good theories should be predictive. If the creationist theory concerning the creation of the canyon is true, we might expect to find signs of rapid depositing of sedimentary layers. Do we find any “evidence” consistent with that prediction? Yes! The photo to the right shows strata that is tightly bent or folded. Such a find is inconsistent with long age interpretations because solid rock is not easily bent without breaking or cracking. However, soft layers of mud can be bent by rapid upheaval without breaking or cracking. So the creationist theory better explains this evidence than the long age theory.

Speaking of predictions, Darwin made some predictions he hoped would validate his own theory. Read his own words (from 2 different chapters of The Origin of Species):
“But, as by this theory innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth?...

“But just in proportion as this process of extermination has acted on an enormous scale, so must the number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on the earth, be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.”
Darwin predicted that, if his theory were true, that the geological record would be overflowing with fossils of “intermediate varieties” of species. During his lifetime, paleontology was a blossoming discipline and he was confident that future finds would confirm his prediction. Yet 150 years later, only a handful of debatable transitional fossils have been found – not the countless numbers he expected.

So, is this lack of “evidence” damaging to Darwin’s theory? Not in the least. The late, Stephen Jay Gould, a champion of evolutionary theory, was frank about the nonexistence of gradualism in the fossil record. In a 1972 paper, along with Niles Eldredge, Gould, proposed an evolutionary theory known as punctuated equilibrium. According to Gould, evolution occurs first in a very small group of individual organisms isolated from the larger, parental population. The smaller group rapidly evolves while the larger group remains static. Since the large group leaves the most fossils, and the smaller group very few, it easily explains the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record. How convenient that Gould would suggest a way to explain the LACK of evidence for his theory.

Since any theory is an attempt to explain the evidence, it is no wonder then that the evidence will seem to support the theory. Evolutionists may be wrong but I don’t think they are idiots so of course the evidence is consistent with their explanation. But even a theory that seems to explain the evidence very well can still be wrong. Fellow creationist, Todd Wood, said on his blog:

“In the history of science, there are often times when interpretation of data are uncertain, and a person could justifiably claim that there was evidence for two mutually exclusive theories. The obvious example would be Copernican vs. Ptolemaic astronomy. Copernicus' trick of switching the sun and earth's location helped explain some observations (like why Mercury and Venus were always observed very close to the sun), but his retaining circular orbits and epicycles did not make his model simpler or more accurate than the Ptolemaic. Furthermore, the Ptolemaic model had on its side the everyday observation of the sun's motion across the sky. Galileo did little to resolve this dispute, and Kepler's proposal of elliptical orbits was not universally accepted. It was not until Newton that the Copernican system (actually a heavily modified version of the Copernican system) really triumphed.

Today, we have no doubt that the earth rotates and moves around the sun, but would it then be fair to say that there's "no evidence for the Ptolemaic system?"”

The Ptolemaic Model endured from the Greeks until Galileo. It seemed to explain the “evidence” very well but it was very wrong notwithstanding. It could still be said that there is “evidence” for the Ptolemaic system, but the heliocentric model is a better explanation of the evidence.

So we have competing theories about things like the origin of the universe, the world, and of humans. Both models have the same evidence available to support their theories. The question falls to us – which is the better explanation of the two? More directly, which one do we believe is the correct explanation?

I think everyone knows where I stand.