The GeoChristian

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Blind unbelief

“Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain.”

From the hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way“, lyrics by William Cowper, 1774.

When singing this hymn at church on Sunday morning, I was struck by the phrase “blind unbelief.” It is not Christians who have blind faith, but unbelievers who have blind unbelief. I may not see everything, but what I see I see clearly. On the other hand, those who do not see God’s majesty in creation or in Christ are lost in their blindness.

Grace and Peace

February 13, 2012 Posted by | Apologetics, Christianity | , , , | 3 Comments

The authenticity of the New Testament text — strong and getting stronger

From Dallas Theological Seminary: Earliest Manuscript of the New Testament Discovered?

On 1 February 2012, I [Dr. Daniel Wallace] debated Bart Ehrman at UNC Chapel Hill on whether we have the wording of the original New Testament today. This was our third such debate, and it was before a crowd of more than 1000 people. I mentioned that seven New Testament papyri had recently been discovered—six of them probably from the second century and one of them probably from the first. These fragments will be published in about a year.

These fragments now increase our holdings as follows: we have as many as eighteen New Testament manuscripts from the second century and one from the first. Altogether, more than 43% of all New Testament verses are found in these manuscripts. But the most interesting thing is the first-century fragment.

It was dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers. He said he was ‘certain’ that it was from the first century. If this is true, it would be the oldest fragment of the New Testament known to exist. Up until now, no one has discovered any first-century manuscripts of the New Testament.

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How do these manuscripts change what we believe the original New Testament to say? We will have to wait until they are published next year, but for now we can most likely say this: As with all the previously published New Testament papyri (127 of them, published in the last 116 years), not a single new reading has commended itself as authentic. Instead, the papyri function to confirm what New Testament scholars have already thought was the original wording or, in some cases, to confirm an alternate reading—but one that is already found in the manuscripts.

Most conservative Biblical scholars advocate that most of the New Testament (NT) was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and that the NT was completed by roughly A.D. 90. If true—and there are no solid reasons to believe otherwise—then the entire NT was written and distributed widely within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. This is extremely significant, as it provides evidence that what we have in the NT is true to the original teachings of Christ and the apostles, and gives authentic witness to who Jesus was and the events of his life.

Liberal and non-Christian Biblical scholars have long advocated that there was a period of theological development and diversity between the life of Christ and when someone in the church started to write these things down. The discovery of earlier and earlier manuscripts of NT portions, however, is placing this entire framework under increasing stress. That we have NT fragments from the early second century, and perhaps even from the first century, does not leave time for the incorporation of myths surrounding the life of Christ. No doubt there were competing teachings about Christ (e.g. the incipient gnosticism countered by Paul’s epistle to the Colossians), but there was a body of eyewitnesses and the first generation of their followers who knew what to keep and what to weed out.

The evidence is increasingly on the side of those of us who hold to the NT as originating with the apostles who were eyewitnesses of the events described, or from their associates, such as Luke. If this is so, then no one has an excuse to believe that the four gospels do not paint an accurate picture of what the apostles believed about the life and teachings of Christ, and the significance of his death and resurrection.

Grace and Peace

February 12, 2012 Posted by | Apologetics, Christianity | , , | 2 Comments

A historical Adam

Biblically, I have no problem with an old Earth and most of biological evolution (i.e. the science of evolution, not the flaky philosophy that athiests such as Dawkins attach to it). Biblically, I also believe in a real individual Adam who was in some very real sense the ancestor of us all. My answer to how that all fits in to paleoanthropology at this time is “I’m not entirely sure.” But that doesn’t really bother me.

Kevin DeYoung, on his Gospel Coalition blog DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed, writes on the topic of 10 Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam.

In recent years, several self-proclaimed evangelicals, or those associated with evangelical institutions, have called into question the historicity of Adam and Eve. It is said that because of genomic research we can no longer believe in a first man called Adam from whom the entire human race has descended.

I’ll point to some books at the end which deal with the science end of the question, but the most important question is what does the Bible teach. Without detailing a complete answer to that question, let me suggest ten reasons why we should believe that Adam was a true historical person and the first human being.

1. The Bible does not put an artificial wedge between history and theology. Of course, Genesis is not a history textbook or a science textbook, but that is far from saying we ought to separate the theological wheat from the historical chaff. Such a division owes to the Enlightenment more than the Bible.

2. The biblical story of creation is meant to supplant other ancient creation stories more than imitate them. Moses wants to show God’s people “this is how things really happened.” The Pentateuch is full of warnings against compromise with the pagan culture. It would be surprising, then, for Genesis to start with one more mythical account of creation like the rest of the ANE.

3. The opening chapters of Genesis are stylized, but they show no signs of being poetry. Compare Genesis 1 with Psalm 104, for example, and you’ll see how different these texts are. It’s simply not accurate to call Genesis poetry. And even if it were, who says poetry has to be less historically accurate?

4. There is a seamless strand of history from Adam in Genesis 2 to Abraham in Genesis 12. You can’t set Genesis 1-11 aside as prehistory, not in the sense of being less than historically true as we normally understand those terms. Moses deliberately connects Abram with all the history that comes before him, all the way back to Adam and Eve in the garden.

5. The genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 treat Adam as historical.

6. Paul believed in a historical Adam (Rom. 5:12-211 Cor. 15:21-2245-49). Even some revisionists are honest enough to admit this; they simply maintain that Paul (and Luke) were wrong.

7. The weight of the history of interpretation points to the historicity of Adam. The literature of second temple Judaism affirmed an historical Adam. The history of the church’s interpretation also assumes it.

8. Without a common descent we lose any firm basis for believing that all people regardless of race or ethnicity have the same nature, the same inherent dignity, the same image of God, the same sin problem, and that despite our divisions we are all part of the same family coming from the same parents.

9. Without a historical Adam, Paul’s doctrine of original sin and guilt does not hold together.

10. Without a historical Adam, Paul’s doctrine of the second Adam does not hold together.

Christians may disagree on the age of the earth, but whether Adam ever existed is a gospel issue. Tim Keller is right:

[Paul] most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures. When you refuse to take a biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of the biblical authority. . . .If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument—that both sin and grace work ‘covenantally’—falls apart. You can’t say that ‘Paul was a man of his time’ but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching. (Christianity Today June 2011)

If you want to read more about the historical Adam debate, check out Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? by C. John Collins.

For more on the relationship between faith and science, you may want to look at one of the following:

HT: Cyberbrethren

Grace and Peace

February 11, 2012 Posted by | Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Theistic evolution | | 11 Comments

Persecution of the church

Persecution of Christians in Muslim countries is getting so bad that even Newsweek is noticing: The Global War on Christians in the Muslim World — From one end of the muslim world to the other, Christians are being murdered for their faith.

We hear so often about Muslims as victims of abuse in the West and combatants in the Arab Spring’s fight against tyranny. But, in fact, a wholly different kind of war is underway—an unrecognized battle costing thousands of lives. Christians are being killed in the Islamic world because of their religion. It is a rising genocide that ought to provoke global alarm.

The portrayal of Muslims as victims or heroes is at best partially accurate. In recent years the violent oppression of Christian minorities has become the norm in Muslim-majority nations stretching from West Africa and the Middle East to South Asia and Oceania. In some countries it is governments and their agents that have burned churches and imprisoned parishioners. In others, rebel groups and vigilantes have taken matters into their own hands, murdering Christians and driving them from regions where their roots go back centuries.

Michael Horton, on the White Horse Inn blog, gives three ways in which we Christians in the West should respond (These are quotes, not the complete blog post):

1. Prayer

More Christians have been martyred in the last several decades than in all of the centuries combined—including the early Roman persecutions. We are directed by Christ to pray first and foremost for the coming of his kingdom, come what may. But we also are called to pray for the “daily bread” and protection from temptation that become especially critical needs under persecution.

2. Faithful Witness

It’s striking that when Paul, writing from prison, asks for prayers on his behalf, he does not even mention better conditions. The gospel is his overriding passion. The “prisoner of Christ” asks for prayer “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph 6:19-20)

The temptation is great to tone down the radical message of the gospel. A growing trend in evangelical missiology, known as the “Insider Movement,” encourages people to become “Jesus followers” while remaining Muslims. They need not profess faith in Christ publicly, be baptized, or become part of the church; they may continue to be Muslims outwardly. In the church’s first centuries, a similar challenge arose. Many, including some bishops, claimed that they could remain Christians inwardly while outwardly surrendering their Bibles and any public identity as believers. Excommunicated, they were known as the “lapsed,” and this gave rise to the well-known statement by the third-century bishop and martyr Cyprian, “Outside the church there is no salvation.”

In the West, including the US, there is a growing detachment from public identification with Christ, including baptism and membership in the church. Emergent church leaders encourage people to become “followers of Jesus” while remaining Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, or Muslims. After all, it’s “deeds, not creeds.” There is growing reluctance to witness openly to Christ for fear of being perceived as narrow-minded and intolerant. While we eschew all appeals to temporal power, much less violence, for the spread of Christ’s kingdom, we must pause to consider the seriousness of Christ’s claims not only in the face of martyrdom but in the face of the more subtle forms of compromise that are weakening our witness at home and abroad. While brothers and sisters sit in prisons for their testimony to Christ, their greatest disappointment is to learn that some Western missionaries are encouraging what amounts to apostasy. It’s a policy that doesn’t even make sense pragmatically, since the duplicity of “Muslim followers of Jesus” outrages the Muslim community even where Christians and Muslims live in relative co-existence.

3. Human Rights, Not Just Christian Rights

Third, Christians in the West should advocate publicly for human rights, including religious freedom, as part of the universal mandate of neighbor-love. Ramez Atallah, an evangelical leader and general secretary of the Bible Society of Egypt, reportedly counseled, “It’s not to our benefit to have loud voices overseas talking about Christians. It’s a great benefit to us to have loud voices abroad talking about a more universal bill of rights for all Egyptians.”

Grace and Peace

February 10, 2012 Posted by | Christianity | , , | 1 Comment