Wednesday, 19 January 2011

God of Eternity, Jesus of History

A local website that focuses on multiculturalism has been doing a focus on diverse religions and their origins. I choked a little when I read that Christianity is a religion that was invented by a man named Paul. I'm awfully tired of the great press got by Jesus the Magic Nice-Guy.

The scandal of it, after all, is not that Jesus Christ, the man, was also the Eternal God - but that Almighty God was and is a man, existing in time and space. Yeshua ha Maschiah, promised by the prophets, was a mother's son. The modern world seems to have forgotten that Jesus of Nazareth is not just a religious figure, but a historical one.

It was with relish, then, that I read Skeptic Mantra #14: Jesus Never Existed, over at No Apologies Allowed. Hope you enjoy.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Something Borrowed: Is the New Testament Text Reliable?

This post is not mine. I've "borrowed" it from a site called "Stand To Reason". A link to the full article is at the bottom. I hope you, like me, find it too good to pass up.

Is the New Testament Text Reliable?

By Gregory Koukl

The phrase, "The Bible's been translated and recopied so many times..." introduces one of the most frequent canards tossed at Christians quoting the Bible. Can we know for certain that the New Testament has been handed down accurately? Yes, we can.

In the spring of 1989 syndicated talk show host Larry King interviewed Shirley MacLaine on the New Age. When a Christian caller contested her view with an appeal to the New Testament, MacLaine brushed him off with the objection that the Bible has been changed and translated so many times over the last 2000 years that it's impossible to have any confidence in its accuracy. King was quick to endorse her "facts." "Everyone knows that," he grunted.

This appeal to common knowledge is enough to satisfy the ordinary, man-on-the-street critic of the New Testament. An appeal to the game "telephone" to demonstrate how reasonable this objection is. Whisper a message to one person and transfer it from person to person, ear to ear, in a circle. Then compare the message's final form with the original. The radical transformation of the original phrase in so short a period of time is always good for a few laughs. This comparison is enough to convince the casual skeptic that the New Testament documents are equally unreliable.

The argument against the reliability of the New Testament texts can be stated very simply. How can we know that the documents we have in our possession accurately reflect originals destroyed almost two millennia ago? Communication is never perfect; people make mistakes. Errors are compounded with each successive generation, just like the message in the telephone game. By the time 2000 years pass, it's anyone's guess what the original said.

It's easy to state the problem, and some may think merely raising the objection makes the argument itself compelling. Yet offering evidence on its behalf is a bit more difficult.

Usually the complaint is raised by people who have little understanding of the real issues. In cases like this, an appeal to common knowledge is more often than not an appeal to common ignorance. Like many questions about Christianity, this objection is voiced by people who haven't been given reliable information.

Just the Facts, Ma'am

The question of authenticity is not really a religious concern at all; it's an academic one. It can be answered in an academic way totally unrelated to spiritual convictions by a simple appeal to facts, an apologetic technique I call "Just the Facts, Ma'am."

The objection at first glance is compelling. When we try to conceptualize how to reconstruct an original after 2000 years of copying, translating, and copying some more, the task appears impossible. The skepticism, though, is based on two misconceptions about the transmission of ancient documents like the New Testament.

The first assumption is that the transmission is more or less linear, as in the telephone example--one person communicating to a second who communicates with a third, etc. In a linear paradigm people are left with one message and many generations between it and the original. Second, the telephone game example depends on oral transmission which is more easily distorted and misconstrued than something written.

Neither assumption applies to the written text of the New Testament. First, the transmission was not linear but geometric--e.g., one letter birthed five copies which became 25 which became 200 and so on. Secondly, the transmission in question was done in writing, and written manuscripts can be tested in a way that oral communications cannot be…

(Click the link below to continue reading...)

Stand to Reason: Is the New Testament Text Reliable?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Amazing (Human) Race

Nature attains perfection, but man never does. There is a perfect ant, a perfect bee, but man is perpetually unfinished. He is both an unfinished animal and an unfinished man. It is this incurable unfinishedness which sets man apart from other living things. For, in the attempt to finish himself, man becomes a creator. Moreover, the incurable unfinishedness keeps man perpetually immature, perpetually capable of learning and growing… (Eric Hoffer)

Thinking today about what it is that makes people so much more fascinating than almost anything else. Perhaps it is our unique ability to become. Not just change or grow, which is also fascinating and lovely when you see it in an animal or a plant. No, people have the possibility to do something more. By the choices we make, we actually become more or less than we began. It's mind-boggling, if you think of it. What power, not in doing, but in willing - !

And then, to consider that someday we will be what we have created; what we have willed. Is that the frightening part of death - to have our choices ended, our state-of-becoming completed? To be finally formed, finished?

I read an article the other day about artist Brian Eno, who has been challenging the idea that art needs to be controlled by the artist. His installation 77 Million Paintings is currently on display at Calgary's Glenbow Museum. It consists of a digital kaleidescope of paintings that shift and change at random; what emerges is something Eno did not choose. Eno says he believes that surrender ought to be thought of as an active verb. To be frank, I don't really like Eno's work, but the philosophy behind it intrigued me. In fact, it reminded me of the work of another Creator. The first one. He too created something and let go.

His creation, like Eno's, is not entirely what he would have it. God made an earth that is held together by a vast number of physical laws. He made animals of every sort. It is interesting to consider that when Noah built the ark, and God called every kind of animal in twos and sevens to enter it, they went. There was no complaining, no arguing. And then I think of Jesus in the boat, speaking to the wind and waves, saying, "Peace, be still". No hesitation. Entirely within his control. Humanity, though, is a wholly different kind of creation. Remember what Jesus said about us? O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets, and stone them which are sent to you, how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not! (Matthew 23:37)

But while 77 Million Paintings operates on randomness, humanity does not. For each of us, there are choices, and a choice. We ultimately become, not what we were made, but the result of what we will. We can change; become something different. Jericho's Rahab and Mary Magdalene both began as something many despise - prostitutes - and became women of great honour. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, became a laughingstock.

What our mortality means is that we do not know the day when our choices will end; when we will be frozen forever into what we are; the ultimate result of what we have willed.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Religion and Relevance

Religion and relevance. Two words that don't seem to go together. Can you be religious and relevant? And if your religion isn't relevant, what's it worth?

What we have let people believe is that Jesus and his followers have no relation to the matters at hand; that Christianity has nothing to do with the human, the everyday. How is it that we have allowed such a contradiction to gain ground?

The great Bible translator, William Tyndale, was jailed for translating the Bible into everyday English, but he just kept at it anyway, hoping there would one day be a Bible accessible to the English ploughboy. And there is, thousands of times over. But who today sees the Bible as something really to be read - by ploughboys or anyone else?

Make no mistake - we are the ones who have failed. We have shut ourselves away. We have withdrawn and turned our backs on a world for whom Christ died. We have become irrelevant.

This world deserves to see lives full of the mercy and the truth of Jesus Christ - relevant. Rubbing elbows with those he loves - sinners of every class, and not just the down-and-outs. What's that, you say? They don't want to rub elbows with us? Don't we have anything they want?

We are so in need of another Tyndale to translate our message of freedom and peace into the language of the today's ploughboy.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.
(Isaiah 61:1)

The One we profess to follow spent a lot of time praying and a little time preaching, but he didn't just talk. He touched lepers. He paid taxes. He went to a wedding, and provided wine. He spent an afternoon, tired and thristy, chatting with a Samarian woman by a well. He went to dinner parties, at least once with a notorious traitor and a cheat. (Remember Zaccheus?) He had a job - in construction. He played with kids. He didn't just ring the bell of the Synagogue and sigh that no one was interested - he went out and related to people, where they were. His religion was relevant. Is yours?