Monday, January 26, 2015

Do we believe in Jesus because the Bible says so or trust the Bible because Jesus said so?

For this week's newspapers, I answered a question about whether we build belief in Jesus on the Bible's reliability or rely on the Bible because of Jesus Resurrection:

Q:  For someone exploring the authenticity of Christianity, what is the best way to proceed when having doubts about the Bible’s reliability as a book? 

This reveals what is perhaps a disadvantage we North American Christians have in understanding the Christian Scriptures:  that we approach them as a single book. 

Because we lack the connection to the history and the original languages that Christians in other parts of the world, such as Greek-speaking Christians or Middle Eastern Christians, our intuitive approach to the Bible is often to look at the Bible as a single volume, but in reality, it is composed of 66 books written by 40 or more authors over the course of over 15 centuries. 

When we hear a preacher or a Christian proclaiming, “The Bible is God’s Word” or “The Bible is without error”, it’s like skipping to the answer of a complex math problem without showing the work it took to get there.  While the Bible-honoring preacher might be correct, simply stating this to be true is not, and should not, be adequately satisfying to a person who does not yet trust Jesus or believe the Bible to be reliable. 

If we narrow the question to simply determining whether it is reasonable to believe the claims of Christianity, we can start by looking only at the events of the four Gospels:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Everything of Christianity’s authenticity relies on a single event from these historical records—the Resurrection of Jesus. 

Jesus Himself set this event as the criterion by which to trust in His claims or to write Him off as a fraud or lunatic when He responded to challenges to His authority saying, “Destroy this temple [referring to His body], and in three days I will raise it up again.”  So, the first step is to examine Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John’s historical accounts in light of their number (how many copies we have available to us) and their accuracy (how old and how similar the available copies are). 

Upon recognizing that the Gospels we know are identical or nearly-identical to the original editions written by the authors, we can examine them in light of known history from other sources, from which we will find that, while some names and events have no other confirmation, many of them, such as Pontius Pilate, Herod, and Caesar Augustus did exist at the time and place specified. 

It also comes to light that Roman historians report within decades of the life of Christ that Christians were worshiping Jesus as God and claiming that He was raised from the dead, indicating that this was not a later exaggeration of the story.  When examined in the light of motives and typical human behavior, it becomes additionally evident that the only reason the Disciples would continue to defend the story of the Resurrection in the face of harassment, torture, and death is if they sincerely believed they witnessed it. 

Combining all these elements, it becomes apparent that it is more reasonable to believe the Resurrection occurred than that it did not.  From that foundation, the rest of the Bible can then be defended.  The Old Testament can be found reliable, because Jesus, who proved His authority by rising from the dead, endorsed its books during His ministry. 

Peter, John, and the other eyewitnesses who wrote much of the New Testament can be relied upon because they were commissioned by Jesus before He ascended into heaven, and wrote their letters as explanations to new communities of Christians about what Jesus taught and how that applies to their circumstances.  And Paul, who wrote the remaining books of the New Testament, was examined by the Apostles, as explained in the books of Acts and Galatians, and found to be faithfully preaching the same message which Jesus had delivered to them. 

Finally, with regard to other challenges to Biblical records of events, such as the time and method of creation, the Resurrection answers these as well, because if Jesus was genuinely raised from the dead, and an all-powerful Father in Heaven exists, as He describes, then in light of the seemingly-impossible event of the Resurrection, the improbability of these remaining event becomes insignificant in comparison. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Jurassic Eden

My article from this week's newspapers answers a question about how Dinosaurs fit into the Biblical Creation Story:

Q:  How is it possible to reconcile the creation events described in the book of Genesis with the existence of dinosaurs?

For those who disregard the events of Genesis as mere myth, this problem can be solved simply by adopting whatever theory about dinosaur life is current in the scientific community.  However, finding the place where dinosaurs fit into a literal reading of Genesis has been a task that requires more intense examination and which has resulted in diverse conclusions across the spectrum of Biblical scholars and scientists who are convinced of the authenticity of the Hebrew Scriptures. 

Some of the attempts are difficult to consider seriously as they border on science fiction.  These include ideas such as a previous creation that had fallen victim to disrepair or destruction prior to the events described in Genesis and an earth that was created to include evidence of history which never actually happened.  Even less credible attempts have suggested that dinosaur fossils are a hoax or even a demonic plant to lead people into doubt. 

More credible attempts at proposing solutions to this question have taken into account how limited our knowledge of dinosaur life really is, and how little the Bible actually says about that period of history. For example, all we know about most dinosaurs is their bones, which have been preserved as fossils, or perhaps an occasional fossilized footprint.  Many details which we think we know about dinosaurs, though, are merely speculation or educated guesses, including such details as their behavior and the appearance of their skin or other soft tissues, which have long since decomposed. 

We also know that Genesis only devotes two chapters to the creation event itself and 11 chapters to the world, as it existed prior to Abraham, but within these chapters exist several clues that might provide insight into the place of dinosaurs in the Biblical version of creation:

Probably the most important of these details is a massive flood in which all life on earth is destroyed, except for 8 people and 2 or 7 specimens of each animal kind, and there are two significant changes that accompany this event.  The first of these is a decrease in human life span.  In the pre-flood genealogies, the individuals named had lives that spanned six to well over nine centuries.  Following the flood, the sort of life spans we are familiar with today are seen. 

The second of these changes relates to a “firmament” mentioned in the first chapter of Genesis, which appears to be some sort of water canopy in the earth’s atmosphere—something we do not see in existence in our present-day world.  It has been proposed that such a feature could relate to dramatic atmospheric differences compared to what we know today, and may contribute to the differences seen in life spans in the pre-flood and post-flood worlds. 

Taking both of these things into account, and knowing that some species of animals grow throughout their life span, and not only until a certain point of maturity, it has been proposed that species who today live to a certain age and grow to a certain size could grow to exponentially larger sizes if allowed to live to ten times their current life span, resulting in a creature with a skeleton of the size and construction we presently find in dinosaur fossils. 

However one concludes about dinosaurs, though, the Resurrection is the event upon which Christianity stands or falls, because Jesus predicted His resurrection as the evidence that what He proclaimed was true.  If He rose and still lives, then all of His teachings are to believed, including the fact that He took Genesis as an accurate and reliable account of human origins. 

When the limitations of the evidence at hand – both regarding our knowledge of dinosaurs and the few literary details given about the creation event and the pre-flood world – we recognize that there is limitless potential for yet-undiscovered evidence to fill in the gaps in such a way that confirms both the existence of dinosaur life and a literal creation as described in Genesis.