Examine the Evidence

March 29, 2016

J. Warner Wallace was an L.A. County homicide detective. He knows something about solving crimes with multiple suspects. He has experience in investigating conspiracies. He notes that while conspiracies are popular in movies and novels, they are actually very difficult to pull off in real life. Successful conspiracies have several traits in common:

  • A small number of conspirators. Lies are difficult to maintain. The more people involved in the lie, the more likely the conspirators will be tripped up.
  • Conspirators need thorough and immediate communication. That is why investigators separate suspects for interviews. Without knowing what others are revealing, it is more likely someone will confess the lie.
  • Conspiracies operate best over a short time span. It is difficult to lie. It is increasing difficult to lie over a long time period. The tendency is for someone to break down and confess.
  • Conspiracies work best when the conspirators have a close relationship bond like family members. It is tougher to convince someone to “give up” the other in such a situation.
  • Conspirators are more likely to maintain the lie if they are under little or no pressure. Put pressure on a conspirator, and he will likely give up the truth to save himself.

But what does this have to do with the Bible? Wallace was an atheist until at the age of thirty-five he turned his investigative skills to examine the gospels and the Christian worldview. He knew how to examine a cold-case. He believed in the proper handling of evidence. His book, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, tells of his journey into faith. Taking his experience with conspiracies, Wallace believes he knows the disciples didn’t conspire to fabricate the resurrection account of Jesus. He notes the following:

  • There would have been too many apostles involved in the conspiracy.
  • The apostles had little or no effective way to communicate with one another in a quick or thorough manner.
  • The apostles would have been required to protect their conspiratorial lies for too long a period of time.
  • While there were certainly pairs of family members in the group of apostolic eyewitnesses, many had no relationship to each other at all.
  • The apostles were aggressively persecuted as they were scattered from Italy to India.1

Wallace states in the movie God’s Not Dead 2, “There are several common characteristics of successful conspiracies, and I don’t find any of these attributes were present in the first century for those who claimed to be witnesses of Jesus life, ministry, and resurrection.”

I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and that changes everything. But my belief is based on evidence. The above is just part of one person’s search for the evidence. If you want some books suggestions, I’d be glad to give them to you. My plea if you not certain is to examine the evidence.

1J. Warner Wallace, “Why I know the Disciples Didn’t Conspire to Fabricate the Resurrection of Jesus,” https://stream.org/know-disciples-didnt-conspire-fabricate-resurrection-jesus/

Eat His Flesh and Drink His Blood

March 18, 2016

Jesus fed the five thousand with five barley loaves and two fish. The crowds found Jesus the next day in Capernaum. They clearly had the free meal still on their minds. They asked for a sign. They reminded Jesus that Moses had given their fathers manna in the wilderness.

Jesus began his “Bread of Life” sermon: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). Why the figure of speech? They were desiring bread when they should have desired Jesus. Their minds were on lunch instead of recognizing their Lord. Figures arrest our attention and make us grapple with what is being said. But we can also become lost in them, and this sermon has plenty of them:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. (John 6:53–55 ESV)

The original audience to these figures of speech were confused: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” They were viewed as “a hard saying.” Some did not believe.

When struggling with figures of speech, the first thing to do is search the speaker and author to see if he has explained them in the immediate context. Has he said something more literally that explains the figures? If the immediate context lacks the explanation, then the broader context of scripture may hold the key. The figure of speech may be used elsewhere, and an explanation may be there.

What about the “Bread of Life” sermon? I think Jesus said clearly and literally what he wanted.

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29 ESV)

“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40 ESV)

The figures of speech make things memorable. The memorable figures attempt to pierce hard hearts. To trust Jesus is to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood” (John 6:53, ESV).

Overcoming Worry

March 11, 2016

All of us have concerns and stresses, but does that make us worriers? Interestingly enough the word that is translated “be worried” in Matthew 6:25 is also rendered “is concerned” (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:32-34, Philippians 2:20 NASB) and “care” (1 Corinthians 12:25 NASB). I think it is similar to warnings against anger, and yet Ephesians 4:26 states “Be angry, and yet do not sin” (NASB). Everyone will have feelings of anger. The question is how we handle them. In the same way, everyone will have concerns that enter their life. The issue is how we handle them.

At root, the difference between having concerns and worrying seems to be faith. George Muller makes a telling observation when he says, “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” What are the Biblical ways of handling our concerns and overcoming worry?

  • Trust God. “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” Matthew 6:26, NASB
  • Accept the things that you cannot change. “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” Matthew 6:2, NASB
  • Keep God first in your life. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33, NASB
  • Remember the limits of one day. “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34, NASB A study cited in Marriage Partnership notes that 60% of our fears are unfounded, 20% are already behind us, 10% are so petty they don’t make a difference, 4-5% are real, but we can’t change them, and 5% are real and we can act on them.
  • Pray. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 NIV “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6 NIV Abraham Lincoln said, “I have often been driven to my knees by the circumstances I face.”
  • Act on your concerns. Worry usually hinders, frustrates, and paralyzes. If we can avoid “worry,” we can usually develop a plan of action about our concerns. Taking action often reduces our stress level significantly.
  • Find support in the body of Christ. “…but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:25-26, NASB

The Street of Gold

March 4, 2016

The proportions of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22 are beyond human scale. The city is a cube with its length, width, and height being 1,380 miles (12,000 stadia). Within thist description is the statement: “the street of the city was pure gold” (Revelation 21:21). Noting that street is singular, the question is raised: does the city have only one street? Several approaches to this question have been taken by interpreters of Revelation.

First, many view the singular noun generically or collectively: singular in form, but plural in meaning. As one commentator noted this collective sense could also be seen in Revelation 22:2 where you have a mention of “the tree of life” singular, and yet the locations of the tree would suggest a plural number of them. The fourth verse of “When We All Get to Heaven” reads: “we shall tread the streets of gold.” I’m not going to object to hymns that speak of “streets of gold.” Understanding the singular as a collective is a popular approach.

Second, the word translated street is plateia which means broad or wide. Some see this as a reference to the main street of the city. A description of the main street of the city does not rule out other streets. Several modern translations take this approach. “The main street of the city is pure gold…” (Revelation 21:21, NET). See also “The great street” (NIV), “the broad street” (HCSB), and “the main street” (NLT).

Third, some commentators think that plateia refers not to a street but to the main square of the city. Young’s Literal Translation may be hinting at this: “the broad-place of the city is pure gold.” This kind of meaning for plateia is seen in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Passages with this meaning are Genesis 19:2, Judges 19:17, 20, 2 Chronicles 32:6, Ezra 10:9, Nehemiah 8:16. Although the KJV will use street in all of these passages, most modern translations including the NKJV will speak of the square of the city.

Finally, Homer Hailey writes, “Probably the streets from each gate are joined together to make up one street. Since the vision is of a great symbol, whatever the view or explanation one may hold, we can accept the idea of unity; all portals admit and lead to Him who is the central figure.”1 In other words, he sees the singular street being a symbol of unity.

The vision of Revelation 21-22 is worth our pondering. But it doesn’t leave me worried about traffic jams in heaven if there is only one street. I suspect that what John describes is beyond describing in human language. The descriptions do not give me a blueprint but are there to spur my yearning. Faithfulness is worth it. This is the place of perfect fellowship, protection, provision, and joy!

1Homer Hailey, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary,(Baker Book House), pp. 416-417.

Can We Believe in the Resurrection?

March 1, 2016

Can modern people still believe in the resurrection of Jesus? George Eldon Ladd in his book, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, notes three approaches to the resurrection found in contemporary biblical scholarship:

  1. Christianity is a historical religion. The resurrection is a historical event—it really happened!
  2. The resurrection was a real event in past history whose nature is such that it transcends history, and therefore, it is not subject to verification.
  3. The resurrection did not happen, but talk about the Christ of Faith.

Approaches 2 and 3 have been influenced by an anti-miraculous, naturalistic approach that claims to be “scientific” and “objective.” Ladd counters, “A truly scientific method is the inductive method which accepts as a working hypothesis the best explanation for the known facts.” What are the facts that need to be explained?

  1. The empty tomb. Why would the disciples steal the body? If the Jewish leaders could have produced the body, why didn’t they?
  2. The eyewitnesses. The eyewitnesses suffered and died for their testimony. If their testimony was a fabrication, why the dedication? If their testimony was a fabrication, why did they have the women as the first witnesses of the resurrection? Why did they tell of their own faults and disbeliefs?
  3. The transformations. What changed fearful disciples into heroic martyrs? What changed Paul from their most ardent opponent into the most zealous evangelist? What caused Jewish Christians to transfer their worship from Saturday to Sunday? What caused Jewish Christians to accept Jesus as the Messiah when the Law said “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21:23, NIV). What caused Jewish Christians to call Jesus “Lord,” a term used in the Old Testament for Yahweh?
  4. The Prophecies. Mathematician Peter Stoner in his book, Science Speaks, had university students calculate the odds of eight Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled in one person (he chose Micah 5:2, Malachi 3:1, Zechariah 9:9, Zechariah 13:6, Zechariah 11:12, Zechariah 11:13, Isaiah 53:7, and Psalm 22:16). He came up with the odds of 1 in 1017. Stoner compares this to the odds of choosing the correctly marked silver dollar in a pile of silver dollars two feet deep over an area the size of Texas.

I believe in the historicity of the resurrection. I believe that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.