Saturday, December 31, 2005

Busy Wasting Time

Earlier this week, I recommended an article by John Stossel of ABC's "20/20". His program on the topic of that article aired last night (as a rerun), and an article about it is posted at ABC's web site. I especially recommend reading the first item (number 10 on the list). I often notice that people claim to have so little free time, often using that lack of free time as an excuse for not spending more time doing something like praying or studying scripture, yet they refer to all sorts of movies they've seen, television programs they watch, sports teams they follow, etc. Then there are the frequent references to how they "have to" remodel their kitchen, "have to" paint their house, "have to" keep their children involved in multiple after-school programs, etc., as if these are things that actually have to be done. "Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time" (Ephesians 5:15-16).

A Christian First

"Oh I would not have it said of any of you, 'Well, he may be somewhat Christian, but he is far more a keen money-getting tradesman.' I would not have it said, 'Well, he may be a believer in Christ, but he is a good deal more a politician.' Perhaps he is a Christian, but he is most at home when he is talking about science, farming, engineering, horses, mining, navigation, or pleasure-taking. No, no, you will never know the fullness of the joy which Jesus brings to the soul, unless under the power of the Holy Spirit you take the Lord your Master to be your All in all, and make him the fountain of your intensest delight. 'He is my Saviour, my Christ, my Lord,' be this your loudest boast." (Charles Spurgeon)

Friday, December 30, 2005

"A Thirst To Shock"

"Pick up St. Augustine's 'Confessions,' and find him traveling to Carthage in the year 371, where 'I found myself in a hissing cauldron of lust.' Looking back, he regretted how in his desperate search for love, 'I muddied the stream of friendship with the filth of lewdness and clouded its clear waters with Hell's black river of lust.' This was not the way Augustine saw it in the dissolute days before he found God, and it is certainly not the way our entertainment elite sees love and sex today. But it's interesting how at that time, Augustine found his sorrows drowned at the theater, 'because the plays reflected my unhappy plight and were tinder to my fire.' He was amazed how no one actually wanted to experience sadness and tragedy firsthand, but many were thrilled to watch it faked before them. They wanted the vicarious experience of risky emotional highs and tragic emotional lows without the actual, nonfictional pain. Curiosity could drag them anywhere, to spy on the ribald and disastrous ways 'the other half lived.'...It is a thirst to shock that cannot be quenched. It's an addiction. This element in Hollywood lives to destroy, and must continue destroying to stay alive, so the anti-Western cultural rampage continues. What's next? Nonfictional 'group marriage TV' will arrive on the Bravo channel in the spring, with a documentary called 'Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Family,' featuring a New York triple with two gay men, a woman and two children." (Brent Bozell)

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Here are some good articles by John Stossel and Bill Murchison. (Steve Hays referred me to the latter.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Unless You Can Explain Who Designed God, We Can't Conclude That Mount Rushmore Has A Designer

Last week, Michael Medved interviewed Stephen Meyer, an advocate of intelligent design with the Discovery Institute. That interview is now available online.

The interview addresses many of the relevant issues, and a few callers opposed to intelligent design were allowed to speak with Meyer. They repeatedly misrepresented intelligent design and had to be corrected and instructed on basic issues. One of the callers raised the common objection that intelligent design doesn't explain who designed the designer. It would be like saying that, in archeology, a statue of a man with several sentences inscribed on it can't be attributed to an intelligent agent, namely a human, unless we explain who designed that intelligent agent. We would eventually have to explain who designed the first human, and that would take us to God, and these opponents of intelligent design tell us that we can't explain who designed God. Therefore, archeology is an invalid field of research. Since we can't explain who designed the designer of humans, we therefore can't conclude that any archeological artifact is an object of intelligent design.

I hope that more people will do interviews like this one Michael Medved did, and I hope they'll move the anti-intelligent-design callers to the front of the line, as Medved did. Their arguments and questions are so ridiculous as to help make the case for intelligent design.

Another item on intelligent design appeared today at the American Spectator web site. It's by Granville Sewell, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Texas El Paso and visiting professor at Texas A&M University. He's writing primarily on evolution and the second law of thermodynamics, but he also comments on some other elements of the theory:

"It seems that until the trigger hair, the door, and the vacuum chamber were all in place, and the ability to digest insects, and to reset the trap to be able to catch more than one insect, had been developed, none of the individual components of this carnivorous trap would have been of any use. What is the selective advantage of an incomplete vacuum chamber? To the casual observer, it might seem that none of the components of this trap would have been of any use whatever until the trap was almost perfect, but of course a good Darwinist will imagine two or three far-fetched intermediate useful stages (and maybe even find one in Nature!), and consider the problem solved. I believe you would need to find thousands of intermediate stages before this example of irreducible complexity has been reduced to steps small enough to be bridged by single random mutations -- a lot of things have to happen behind the scenes and at the microscopic level before this trap could catch and digest insects....A National Geographic article from November 2004 proclaims that the evidence is 'overwhelming' that Darwin was right about evolution. Since there is no proof that natural selection has ever done anything more spectacular than cause bacteria to develop drug-resistant strains, where is the overwhelming evidence that justifies assigning to it an ability we do not attribute to any other natural force in the universe: the ability to create order out of disorder?...In fact, the fossil record does not even support the idea that new organs and new systems of organs arose gradually: new orders, classes and phyla consistently appear suddenly."

Dogs, Fashion, Beer, And Celebrities

Earlier this year, I linked to's list of their best-selling authors, which was discouraging. This morning, Slate released a list of the ten most popular articles this year at their web site. Slate is a left-leaning publication that isn't as popular as, but I think that the results on their list are another reflection of where our society stands.

Remember John Piper's radio program that I linked to earlier this week? I think you can see its relevance here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Corner Still Has Its Head In The Sand

Jonathan Adler at National Review Online says today that he "highly recommends" a Wall Street Journal article on intelligent design by James Q. Wilson. The article makes many false claims. This is another of many examples of the evolutionists at National Review Online getting basic facts wrong. In the past, I've documented examples of John Derbyshire and Andrew Stuttaford making false claims on this issue or recommending resources that make false claims. National Review sometimes carries articles by advocates of intelligent design, but the popular part of their web site known as The Corner is dominated by evolutionists who frequently misrepresent the issues involved in the controversy. It seems that there are no intelligent design advocates who participate in The Corner who are willing to dispute what the likes of John Derbyshire and Jonathan Adler write. It's a shame, particularly considering that so many of the people in The Corner are professing Christians.

Here are some examples of the bad argumentation in James Q. Wilson's article that Jonathan Adler "highly recommends" (Wilson's words in red, my responses in black):

"There are many gaps in what we know about prehistoric creatures. But all that we have learned is consistent with the view that the creatures we encounter today had ancestors from which they evolved. This view, which is literally the only scientific defensible theory of the origin of species, does not by any means rule out the idea that God exists."

To say that the Cambrian Explosion is consistent with evolution is sort of like saying that the existence of a car in your garage is consistent with its evolution from a pile of scrap metal. If such evolution occurred, we'd expect to see both the scrap metal and the car. But we'd also expect to see more. Where are the intermediates, and why should we think that they evolved without the involvement of any intelligent agent?

"Proponents of intelligent design respond by saying that there are some things in the natural world that are so complex that they could not have been created by 'accident.'"

No, the issue isn't "could not". The issue is "probably did not". It's a matter of probability. Similarly, nobody opposes the conclusion that an intelligent agent is involved in archeology or SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) just because some materialistic explanation is possible. Is it possible that a jar with letters forming a sentence was brought about without an intelligent agent? Yes, maybe some clay just happened to fall together in the form of a jar, and maybe some rocks or other objects repeatedly just happened to rub against the jar in such a way that a sentence was formed. But no archeologist would refrain from concluding that an intelligent agent was involved just because of the (highly unlikely) possibility of that scenario.

"All of these variations and shortcomings are consistent with evolution. None is consistent with the view that the eye was designed by an intelligent being."

In other words, Wilson thinks that the car in his garage must not have been made by an intelligent agent if he gets a recall notice from the manufacturer.

How does Wilson know that something is a shortcoming in the first place? What if the intelligent agent in question wanted a particular creature to only live X number of years or only have limited capabilities, more limited than Wilson desires? What if some other factor has changed the original design of the designer, such as the introduction of sin into the world? Something isn't a "shortcoming" that disproves intelligent design just because Wilson thinks it ought to be different.

"Evolution, like almost every scientific theory, has some problems. But they are not the kinds of problems that can be solved by assuming that an intelligent designer (whom ID advocates will tell you privately is God) created life."

No, men like William Dembski and Michael Behe don't just acknowledge their theism in private. They speak of it publicly and often. And not all intelligent design advocates are theists.

But identifying the intelligent designer is a step beyond identifying the involvement of an intelligent designer. If SETI researchers detect a message from an intelligent agent, they don't have to know the identity of that agent in order to know that intelligent design is involved. God is the best ultimate explanation for the intelligent design we see in the universe. The fact that God is a religious entity does nothing to prevent us from being able to detect that intelligent design. To argue that we must refrain from following the evidence to the same conclusion we would reach under any other circumstance, because the best explanation for the intelligent agent in this case is God, is an unreasonable standard.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Collecting Seashells And Watching Football

I recommend listening to John Piper's radio program today. (You can access the archives here. For some reason, today's show is labeled as "NPR Tsunami Interview" at the time I'm writing this post. That isn't the topic of the show. You'll get the right show if you click on the icon to listen to the program.) Some of you may know that there are two versions of John Piper's book Don't Waste Your Life (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2003). As far as I know, the text isn't different, but one version comes with a DVD. Today's radio program is playing a message John Piper gave that's either the same as or similar to the one on that DVD. It's a message he delivered to a group of young Christians, and it's on the theme he discusses in the book. He talks about "fatal success" and discusses the Reader's Digest story about retirees collecting seashells. (Those who have read the book should know what I'm referring to.) If you haven't watched the DVD, I recommend listening to the radio program. It's a message that ought to be repeated often, but it's rarely heard, even in churches, especially with the enthusiasm and good illustrations John Piper brings to it.

The Beliefs Of Americans

Here are the results of a recent Harris poll, as described by The Washington Times:

"Overall, 82 percent of Americans believe in God, according to a recent Harris poll, which also revealed that 73 percent also believe in miracles, 70 percent in life after death, 70 percent in the existence of heaven, and 70 percent that Jesus is the Son of God. In addition, 68 percent believe in angels and 66 percent in the Resurrection of Christ....'What may be more surprising is that significant minorities believe in ghosts, UFOs, witches, astrology and in reincarnation,' the poll found. Indeed, only 21 percent believe in reincarnation: 'That you were once another person,' the poll stipulated. A quarter put credence in astrology, 28 percent believe that witches exist, and 34 percent believe in UFOs. Four out of 10 believe in ghosts...There was a divide of the sexes, though. While 46 percent of the women believe in ghosts, the figure stood at 33 percent among men. More men than women, however, believed in UFOs -- 38 percent to 31 percent. Roughly three in 10 of both sexes believed in witches; 30 percent of women believed in astrology, compared with just 19 percent of men."

Sunday, December 25, 2005

No Small Thing: "Behold Your God" (Isaiah 40:9)

"Think not, therefore, it is of small things thou art hearing, when thou hearest of this birth, but rouse up thy mind, and straightway tremble, being told that God hath come upon earth. For so marvellous was this, and beyond expectation, that because of these things the very angels formed a choir, and in behalf of the world offered up their praise for them, and the prophets from the first were amazed at this, that 'He was seen upon earth, and conversed with men.' Yea, for it is far beyond all thought to hear that God the Unspeakable, the Unutterable, the Incomprehensible, and He that is equal to the Father, hath passed through a virgin's womb, and hath vouchsafed to be born of a woman, and to have Abraham and David for forefathers." (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, 2:2)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Corroborated By Enemies

"With respect to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, if any one desires, after the prophecy of Micah and after the history recorded in the Gospels by the disciples of Jesus, to have additional evidence from other sources, let him know that, in conformity with the narrative in the Gospel regarding His birth, there is shown at Bethlehem the cave where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling-clothes. And this sight is greatly talked of in surrounding places, even among the enemies of the faith, it being said that in this cave was born that Jesus who is worshipped and reverenced by the Christians. Moreover, I am of opinion that, before the advent of Christ, the chief priests and scribes of the people, on account of the distinctness and clearness of this prophecy, taught that in Bethlehem the Christ was to be born. And this opinion had prevailed also extensively among the Jews; for which reason it is related that Herod, on inquiring at the chief priests and scribes of the people, heard from them that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea, 'whence David was.' It is stated also in the Gospel according to John, that the Jews declared that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, 'whence David was.' But after our Lord's coming, those who busied themselves with overthrowing the belief that the place of His birth had been the subject of prophecy from the beginning, withheld such teaching from the people; acting in a similar manner to those individuals who won over those soldiers of the guard stationed around the tomb who had seen Him arise from the dead, and who instructed these eye-witnesses to report as follows: 'Say that His disciples, while we slept, came and stole Him away. And if this come to the governor's ears, we shall persuade him, and secure you.'" (Origen, Against Celsus, 1:51)

"Mystery And Faith" In The Shadow Of Micah 5

I watched "In the Footsteps of Jesus: The Lost Youth of Jesus" on The History Channel tonight. The show addressed more than Jesus' youth, such as His baptism and the location of His tomb, so I don't know why they gave the program the title they gave it. But some of the program did discuss Jesus' youth, including His infancy. Some of the other portions of the program were interesting, but I'm only going to respond here to the portions about Jesus' infancy, namely His birthplace.

The program focused on archeology, though it also mentioned Josephus and other non-archeological sources at times. But when the birthplace of Jesus was discussed, not many non-archeological sources were mentioned. The viewer isn't told that all of the early sources to comment on the subject name Bethlehem of Judea as the place of Jesus' birth. None of the early sources name the two alternatives discussed on the program, Nazareth and another Bethlehem in Galilee. The program also didn't tell us about the evidence we have for early non-Christian acknowledgment of the Bethlehem birthplace. Instead, we're just given references to Matthew and Luke and vague references to later traditions passed on to the people who led Constantine's mother to build a church on the purported site of Jesus' birth.

Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, one of the scholars interviewed, explained that we have evidence for first century use of the caves associated with the Church of the Nativity. Murphy-O'Connor also mentioned that traditions about Jesus' birthplace had been passed down, but he didn't name any of the sources he could have named, such as Justin Martyr and Origen. Murphy-O'Connor made some good general points in favor of a Bethlehem birthplace, but far more could have been said.

While some scholars are interviewed saying that they don't think that the archeological evidence for Bethlehem is convincing, archeological evidence isn't all that we have to go by, and the alternatives to Bethlehem have nothing of comparable evidential value to offer. One segment of the program addresses Bruce Chilton's theory that Jesus was born in another Bethlehem, one in Galilee. We're told that the Bethlehem in Galilee would "make more geographical sense", since it's closer to Nazareth. And we're told that Chilton's theory is supported by evidence for first century Jewish occupation of that other Bethlehem. So, we're being asked to overlook the large amount of evidence we have for Bethlehem in Judea in favor of Bethlehem in Galilee, since the Bethlehem in Galilee is closer to Nazareth and was occupied by Jews in the first century. That's a weak argument, and the arguments for Nazareth are similarly weak.

Like the other History Channel program I reviewed earlier today, this program treated faith as something that doesn't concern itself with evidence. After ignoring much of the evidence for the traditional Bethlehem account, and after telling us about the far less plausible Bethlehem of Galilee theory, the narrator comments that Jesus' birthplace remains a matter of "mystery and faith".

Somebody who knew Jesus and members of His immediate family, somebody who is known to have been careful in using the sources he relied on, reports Bethlehem in Judea as the birthplace of Jesus (Matthew). Somebody who was in contact with at least one member of Jesus' immediate family and is a demonstrably reliable historian names Bethlehem in Judea (Luke). We also have evidence for other first century sources in contact with Jesus and/or members of His immediate family affirming Bethlehem of Judea as the location (see here). No trace of an early rival birthplace tradition can be found in the historical record, and we have evidence from multiple sources that Jesus' birth in Bethlehem of Judea was acknowledged by multiple early non-Christian sources. Yet, we're supposed to believe that Jesus' birthplace is a matter of "mystery and faith" (with "faith" being defined as something that doesn't concern itself with evidence)? A unanimous historical tradition beginning in a community that was in contact with Jesus and His immediate family, a tradition corroborated by early non-Christian sources, is a matter of "mystery and faith".

Ben Witherington Comments On "The Mystery Of Christmas"

At his blog, Ben Witherington comments on the CBS Christmas program that I reviewed earlier this week. Witherington and his commenters take a more positive view of the program than I did. One of the commenters mentions, though, that he was thinking of turning the program off after the first half of it, which featured liberal scholars like John Crossan. But did the second half, with Witherington and, briefly, Michael Molnar, outweigh the first half as much as Witherington and his commenters suggest? I don't think so. I only read the transcript posted online and saw part of the televised version. (It ran at about 1:30 A.M. here, and I turned it off once I was confident that there weren't any significant differences between the transcript and the televised version.) Maybe there were some things in the televised version that would significantly change my impression of the program, but I doubt it. My objections to the program have to do primarily with issues like who was interviewed and what arguments were addressed, so I doubt that something like the music on the program, the tone of voice, or clips of Christmas plays would significantly change my opinion.

I think what may be going on here is that many Christians have too low a standard in what they look for in these programs. They think that the inclusion of conservative scholars is highly significant, even when those scholars aren't presenting much evidence or are speaking on issues that aren't disputed much. I would suggest that people read the transcript of that program and ask whether CBS actually presented much of the evidence for the traditional Christian view. I don't think they did.

The History Channel's Coverage Of Christmas

I mentioned that The History Channel would be running some programs related to Christmas over this weekend. One of those programs is set to air tonight, and I intend to watch it and post a review here. However, the other one I planned to review (titled "The Search for Christmas") aired yesterday, and I was only able to see a little over half of it. Though I can't review the whole program, I thought I'd post some comments on the portion of it I did see, to give people an idea of what the program was like and what we might expect from the programs set to air later today.

As I've said before, programs of this nature on non-Christian networks tend to fall into one of two categories. Either they take a largely negative view of the historicity of the infancy narratives or they suggest that there isn't much evidence to go by. To get more positive coverage of the historicity of the traditional Christian view, you generally have to go to Christian television, such as John Ankerberg's program. This program on The History Channel, at least in the portion I saw, fell into the category of suggesting that there isn't much evidence to go by. Near the beginning of the program, the narrator tells us that "the answers, though elusive, may still be within our grasp". Later, we're told that "the answers are all the more elusive" because of Matthew and Luke's "strikingly different" accounts. (See here for my discussion of why there are differences and why those differences aren't as problematic as critics often suggest.)

The program also repeats the common false contrast between "faith" and "history". We're told that historians "are not equipped or inclined to discuss miracles".

A lot of scholars were part of the program, and they did seem to represent a wide spectrum of views. Some scholars would defend the historicity of one portion of the infancy narratives, then argue against another portion. Some of the scholars featured were obviously liberal if one was to judge from what they said on the program, such as Marvin Meyer and John Crossan. Others, though, were more difficult to categorize. Often, one scholar would mention some evidence against something, then another would mention evidence for it, without much done to resolve the issue. Critics of the infancy narratives don't have much evidence to go by. They're largely speculating. But those who take a positive view of the infancy accounts have a lot of evidence to cite in support of their position. Thus, when a program such as this one on The History Channel only gives a little time to each issue covered, and the critics of the infancy narratives aren't asked the sort of questions they ought to be asked, those critics come off looking more credible than they actually are.

Some elements of the program were unexpectedly good. The narrator repeatedly harmonizes the angel visitations in Matthew and Luke by explaining that Joseph first disbelieved Mary, then believed her when he was told what happened by an angel in a dream. Instead of arguing that Matthew and Luke contradict each other on this point, the narrator seems to have correctly recognized that Matthew's gospel assumes Mary's knowledge of the reason for her pregnancy without mentioning that she knew. When Luke writes of the angel's appearance to Mary, he's adding a detail that Matthew probably knew about, even though he didn't include it. Maybe I misunderstood what I saw, but I got the impression that The History Channel was harmonizing the two gospel accounts on this point rather than treating them as contradictory. That's commendable, and I wish more people would approach the issues that way. I was also pleased to see John Crossan's denial of the historicity of the census followed by Richard Horsley's defense of it.

Overall, though, the program was disappointing. Large amounts of evidence for the infancy narratives were ignored, and the critics weren't questioned as they should have been.

Daniel Smith-Christopher repeatedly suggested that Mary had political motivations in what she did, and he suggested that she may have deliberately moved to Bethlehem in order to fulfill the Micah prophecy. But if Luke's account is historical, as the evidence suggests, then the census that brought Mary to Bethlehem was something she couldn't have arranged. And why would she have had Messianic expectations for her child to begin with if at least something unusual hadn't occurred previously with that child? If Smith-Christopher wants to accept the historicity of something like the angel visitation to Mary, then argue that Mary deliberately moved to Bethlehem in response, he can do so, but then he wouldn't be giving an entirely naturalistic explanation. If Jesus was conceived in the normal manner and there were no angel visitations or any other such thing, why would Mary be so convinced of her son's potential for Messiahship that she would move to Bethlehem? I don't know what Smith-Christopher's theological leanings are. But his theory doesn't accomplish the critics' usual objective of eliminating all supernatural elements from Jesus' childhood.

Another aspect of the program worth mentioning was its opposition to Roman Catholic doctrine. After mentioning the Immaculate Conception, the narrator explains that he's going on to discuss "less romanticized, more accurate" assertions about Mary. Later in the program, the perpetual virginity of Mary is portrayed in a highly negative manner.

The discussion of the December 25 date was bad. Some of the Christian motivations behind the date weren't mentioned, and evidence for Christians using the date before pagans isn't discussed. (See here for my treatment of the subject.)

I was surprised by the number of obvious errors that appeared on the program. The narrator tells us that Celsus' account of Mary's conceiving Jesus by means of sex outside of marriage originated in the first century. He should have said that it was the second century. Then we're told that Origen taught in Egypt in the second century. He should have said that it was the third century. We're also erroneously told that Clement of Alexandria was a bishop. At one point, it's suggested that the mentioning of Jesus' brothers and sisters in the New Testament is an apparent contradiction of the virginity of Mary. Later in the program, they clarify that it's a contradiction of the perpetual virginity of Mary, not the virgin birth of Jesus. But the initial comment of the narrator doesn't clarify that point. The same sort of thing seemed to happen repeatedly during the program. Statements would be made that were unclear or would later be overturned. The narrator would state something as a fact at one point, only to later explain that it either isn't a fact or might not be a fact. I don't think that the editors smoothed these things out as well as they could have. There are a lot of rough edges in the program.

As happens so often with media coverage of these Christmas issues, this program on The History Channel neglects large amounts of evidence for the traditional Christian view. It focuses too much on letting a spectrum of scholars state their opinions without getting into the issues in enough depth. The people at The History Channel, like so many others who address this subject, don't seem to understand some of the most significant questions that need to be asked, so they arrive at insufficient answers.

The Historicity Of The First Christmas

Earlier this morning, I posted the last of my Apologetics Log segments on Christmas, on the subject of Jesus' birthplace. Here are descriptions of each of the twelve segments, with links to each one:

In the introduction to the series, I discuss why the issues surrounding the historicity of the infancy narratives are important. I address the historical context in which the New Testament claims about Jesus' childhood were made, such as the availability of information from relatives of Jesus and the interest in Jesus' background that the early enemies of Christianity would have had. I also address the unity of the infancy narratives with the remainder of their respective gospels, in response to those who argue that the original gospels didn't have the infancy accounts.

The second segment addresses the genre of the infancy narratives.

In the third segment, I discuss the historical reliability of Matthew and Luke.

The fourth segment addresses internal evidence for the historicity of the infancy narratives.

Segment five discusses some reasons why the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke differ from each other without contradicting each other.

Segment six addresses alleged inconsistencies between the infancy narratives and the accounts of Jesus' later life. If Mary, the people of Nazareth, and others knew about the miracles surrounding Jesus' birth, why would they be surprised by His miracles later in life or oppose Him during His public ministry?

The seventh segment addresses the census and the genealogies.

In the eighth segment, I discuss the slaughter of the Bethlehem children and the flight into Egypt.

The ninth segment is about the virgin birth.

Segment ten discusses whether Jesus was descended from David.

The eleventh segment is about the Bethlehem prophecy in Micah 5. Is it Messianic? Is the Bethlehem referred to in that passage a city? Or is it some other entity, such as a clan?

The twelfth segment addresses the issue of where Jesus was born. Did He fulfill the Bethlehem prophecy of Micah?

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Significance Of Christmas

"When 'the fulness of the time' was come, God sent forth his only-begotten Son, 'the Desire of all nations,' to redeem the world from the curse of sin, and to establish an everlasting kingdom of truth, love, and peace for all who should believe on his name....There is no conflict between the historical Jesus of Nazareth and the ideal Christ of faith. The full understanding of his truly human life, by its very perfection and elevation above all other men before and after him, will necessarily lead to an admission of his own testimony concerning his divinity. 'Deep strike thy roots, O heavenly Vine, Within our earthly sod! Most human and yet most divine, The flower of man and God!' Jesus Christ came into the world under Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor, before the death of king Herod the Great, four years before the traditional date of our Dionysian aera. He was born at Bethlehem of Judaea, in the royal line of David, from Mary, 'the wedded Maid and Virgin Mother.' The world was at peace, and the gates of Janus were closed for only the second time in the history of Rome. There is a poetic and moral fitness in this coincidence: it secured a hearing for the gentle message of peace which might have been drowned in the passions of war and the clamor of arms. Angels from heaven proclaimed the good tidings of his birth with songs of praise; Jewish shepherds from the neighboring fields, and heathen sages from the far east greeted the newborn king and Saviour with the homage of believing hearts. Heaven and earth gathered in joyful adoration around the Christ-child, and the blessing of this event is renewed from year to year among high and low, rich and poor, old and young, throughout the civilized world." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, 2:15)

The Virgin Birth: Credible And Widely Accepted Early On

Today's opening page at the Slate web site carries this headline:

"Bethlehem, the Untold Story: What if Mary wasn't a virgin? And what really happened in that manger?"

The article was originally published at their web site yesterday, but they've given it a more prominent place today. It's an article by Chloe Breyer, a female Episcopal priest. She writes the following, among other bad arguments:

"When Mary responds to the angel's good tidings in Luke, one translation of her speech is, 'How can this be, I do not know a man?' But in the Greek, the word for man is anthropos, which also means 'husband.' Schaberg suggests that if this is the meaning Luke intended, the text could imply that Jesus had a human father who was not Joseph. Finally, in the Magnificat, Mary's song of praise and thanksgiving to God, she says, 'God has lifted up his humble maidservant.' The Greek word for 'humble' is the same one that the Septuagint (the old Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) uses to describe the rape of Dinah in Genesis and other incidents of sexual violation. From this, Schaberg discerns the possibility that Mary's 'humility' could be 'humiliation' from a sexual assault. Admittedly, Schaberg's conjecture that the Gospel writers were obliquely conveying an illegitimacy tradition—one in which Mary was the victim of rape or seduction—is just that: conjecture. It lacks positive corroboration within the Gospels or other Christian writings."

Elsewhere at the Slate site, Alan Segal of Columbia University writes:

"With regard to the virgin birth, I would say that it does not pass the test of either the criterion of dissimilarity or embarrassment, and therefore should not be asserted as true by historians. The doctrine of the virgin birth seems to have arisen out of the response of some Christians to the question 'How was Jesus born?' We can guess that the doctrine originated largely among Gentiles known to Luke and not among the Jews known to Matthew; in any event, it was not a universal Christian response to Jesus' birth. The fact that the doctrine has a 'proof text'—in a tendentious reading of the prophecy in Isaiah 7 of the conception of a 'young girl'—doesn't take us to factual. We may find fascinating that Isaiah's Hebrew word alma (young girl) was translated by the Septuagint as parthenos (which can mean either 'young girl' or 'virgin'). And we may see this as important for understanding how the doctrine of the virgin birth may have taken root—perhaps the idea followed naturally from hearing the Christmas story proclaimed in Greek. But were I a Christian, I would stand with Paul, Mark, and John on the virgin birth. They do not mention it. Neither would I."

Breyer and Segal are misleading in what they suggest about early acceptance of the virgin birth. If only two New Testament authors say much about Jesus' infancy, and we have no reason to expect the virgin birth to be mentioned in the contexts of other New Testament documents, then objecting that it's mentioned in only two documents isn't of much significance.

Breyer and Segal may deny that 1 Timothy was written by Paul, but the evidence for Pauline authorship is better than the evidence against it, and 1 Timothy 5:18 seems to refer to Luke's gospel as scripture. Paul would therefore be indirectly supporting the virgin birth account in that gospel. Even without accepting its Pauline authorship, 1 Timothy would give us more evidence of early acceptance of the virgin birth, including among early followers of Paul.

Luke was a companion of Paul who widely traveled and did a lot of research into early church history, as reflected in Acts. He probably wouldn't report a virgin birth, and do so without any apparent expectation of controversy or attempt to argue against other views, if the doctrine was so narrowly accepted that people like Paul, John, and Mark didn't know about it.

The earliest church fathers repeatedly mention the virgin birth and speak of it as a widely accepted fact. Ignatius, who himself came from a church that was in contact with more than one apostle (Antioch) mentions the virgin birth when writing to other churches that had been in contact with more than one apostle (Ephesus, Smyrna). Aristides, also writing in the early second century, speaks of the virgin birth as something that characterizes the beliefs of all Christians. There are some heretical groups of the second century or later who are referred to as denying the virgin birth in one manner or another, including people who denied that Jesus was born at all, which would require rejecting birth from a virgin. But such groups were a small minority without much credibility, and they postdate the virgin birth account.

I think that the best explanation of Luke 2:19 and 2:51 is that Luke was in contact with Mary or that Luke's sources were in contact with Mary. Regardless of the sources behind Luke's gospel, however, we can be confident that the early Christians were in contact with Mary (John 2:1-2, 19:27, Acts 1:14) and other relatives of Jesus (Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5, Galatians 1:19). Matthew was among the disciples who had been in contact with the relatives of Jesus, including Mary, and Luke is known to have met James (Acts 21:18). These and other contemporary relatives of Jesus were alive and sometimes in positions of church leadership for at least several decades. Hegesippus, a second century Christian, wrote:

"They [relatives of Jesus] came, therefore, and took the lead of every church as witnesses and as relatives of the Lord. And profound peace being established in every church, they remained until the reign of the Emperor Trajan [late first and early second centuries], and until the above-mentioned Symeon, son of Clopas, an uncle of the Lord, was informed against by the heretics, and was himself in like manner accused for the same cause before the governor Atticus." (cited in Eusebius, Church History, 3:32:6)

The concept that Mary, James, Jude, Symeon, and other contemporary relatives of Jesus were alive and available to the church for decades, yet nobody asked them about Jesus' childhood or the people who asked never disseminated the information, is absurd. The virgin birth is a doctrine of the earliest Christians that was widely accepted at a time when contemporary relatives of Jesus were still alive and sometimes in leadership positions within the church. In opposition to it, people like Chloe Breyer and Alan Segal offer us, among other bad arguments, unproveable speculations about alternative readings of the New Testament text and appeals to later heretical groups that denied the doctrine for various bad reasons.

In her article, Breyer cites the comments of the second century pagan Celsus, who wrote against the virgin birth. Critics like Breyer seem to think that it's more significant than it actually is when the early enemies of Christianity argue against the virgin birth by claiming that Mary had sex outside of marriage. As Origen rightly comments in response to Celsus, such accusations against Mary are what we would expect:

"But let us now return to where the Jew is introduced [in the writings of Celsus], speaking of the mother of Jesus, and saying that 'when she was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera;' and let us see whether those who have blindly concocted these fables about the adultery of the Virgin with Panthera, and her rejection by the carpenter, did not invent these stories to overturn His miraculous conception by the Holy Ghost: for they could have falsified the history in a different manner, on account of its extremely miraculous character, and not have admitted, as it were against their will, that Jesus was born of no ordinary human marriage. It was to be expected, indeed, that those who would not believe the miraculous birth of Jesus would invent some falsehood. And their not doing this in a credible manner, but their preserving the fact that it was not by Joseph that the Virgin conceived Jesus, rendered the falsehood very palpable to those who can understand and detect such inventions." (Against Celsus, 1:32)

Though Celsus rejects the virgin birth account, as we would expect, he attributes the virgin birth claim to Jesus Himself (Against Celsus, 1:28). Why would Celsus do that, if a large percentage of people credibly claiming to be Christians rejected it? (Origen refers to them as a small minority: Against Celsus, 5:61.) In all likelihood, Celsus speaks of the virgin birth as part of mainstream Christian orthodoxy, as something Jesus Himself taught, for the same reason that Matthew, Luke, Paul, Ignatius, Aristides, and other sources spoke of the doctrine in such a way. It was mainstream Christian belief, and it was such from the earliest generation of church history.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

John 3:16

"Some argue that the term “world” here simply has neutral connotations—the created human world. But the characteristic use of “the world” (ho kosmos) elsewhere in the narrative is with negative overtones—the world in its alienation from and hostility to its creator’s purposes. It makes better sense in a soteriological context to see the latter notion as in view. God loves that which has become hostile to God. The force is not, then, that the world is so vast that it takes a great deal of love to embrace it, but rather that the world has become so alienated from God that it takes an exceedingly great kind of love to love it at all."

A. Lincoln, The Gospel According to St. John (Henrickson 2005), 154.

Why Is Prophecy In The Bible?

Katrina vanden Heuvel recently wrote an editorial for The Nation in which she misrepresents intelligent design and the concept of faith. The misrepresentations of intelligent design are common, and I've addressed them here repeatedly in the past. What I want to address at this point is her misrepresentation of faith. She writes:

"The most pernicious aspect of the ID movement is its commingling of science and faith, its attempt to use science and mathematics to prove the existence of an intelligent designer. Not only does this undermine science, it undermines faith, which by its very definition is 'a belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.' If ID scientists were to prove, for example, that the double helix is the stairway to heaven, then the existence of God would cease to be an article of faith and become instead a scientific fact."

If you go to the definition of faith that she links to at, you'll see that she's ignored the first definition and has singled out the second one. Why is she going to for her definition in the first place? And why does she ignore the other definitions in favor of the second one?

Christian faith has always concerned itself with evidence. That's why such a large percentage of the Bible is prophetic. Prophecy is evidence of communication from God (Isaiah 41:21-24, John 14:29). Other miracles are likewise presented by the Bible as evidence for faith (John 10:37-38), the resurrection being an example. The apostles and other people who saw Jesus perform miracles had faith in Jesus. The fact that they had so much evidence didn't change the fact that they had faith. On the issue Katrina vanden Heuvel is addressing, Romans 1:20 and other passages of the Bible refer to evidence for the existence of God and His attributes in nature. Faith is trust, and the object of our trust should be trustworthy. God can bring people to faith without using evidence, but relying on evidence is the normal course of life. We don't refrain from looking for evidence just because God can supernaturally work in people's lives without giving them evidence. That's God's work, not ours. Our work is to follow the evidence. And the evidence leads to Christianity, including the element of the Christian worldview known as intelligent design.

Christ The King

"Lo! the kings of Seba and Sheba offer gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Wise men, the leaders of their peoples, bow down before him, and pay homage to the Son of God. Wherever Christ is he is honorable. 'Unto you that believe he is honor.' In the day of small things, when the cause of God is denied entertainment, and is hidden away with things which are despised, it is still most glorious. Christ, though a child, is still King of kings; though among the oxen, he is still distinguished by his star." (Charles Spurgeon)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

All Agree

"all agree that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem...And to this day the inhabitants of the place, who have received the tradition from their fathers, confirm the truth of the story by shewing to those who visit Bethlehem because of its history the cave in which the Virgin bare and laid her infant" (Eusebius, Demonstration of the Gospel, 3:2, 7:2)

The quest for certainty

There are many one-time Evangelicals who convert to Rome in a quest for religious certainty. There are many problems with this move, but for now I’ll comment on just one:

The problem with the Catholic convert is that he simply stipulates an artificial standard of certainty, and then he constructs a belief-system around his stipulation.

This is a mistake. Unlike God, we are in no position to stipulate the way things must be or ought to be.

We are only responsible for what God holds us responsible for. Our level of certainty or uncertainty should be calibrated to the level of evidence that God has given us in any particular case.

If God wanted us to be more certain on this or that belief, he would have given us more evidence, or more compelling evidence, for this or that belief.

It isn’t the duty of a Christian to be more certain than God himself has warranted.

One doesn’t begin with some abstract standard of certainty, and then construct a belief-system around that artificial criterion. To do so is to play God.

Rather, we just go with whatever God has told us, whether more or less. We don’t have to be equally clear about everything, because God has not made everything equally clear to us.

We are answerable to God for what God requires of us. We are not answerable to God for what God does not require of us.

Indeed, when we aim for a target that God did not give us, we are not doing God’s will.

Of course, if you don’t believe in God or providence, then you can’t be certain of anything. That’s where transcendental theism comes in.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Response To CBS' "The Mystery Of Christmas"

For some reason, the "48 Hours" program on Christmas didn't air here, at least not at 10 P.M. Maybe it aired in other parts of the country or at a different time here. I don't know. CBS has posted a transcript, though, and I'll respond to it.

Judging from that transcript, it was quite a bad program, worse than I expected. I noticed five scholars cited, and three of them were highly liberal. Of the two I wasn't able to identify as liberals, one was quoted in defense of a candidate for the star of Bethlehem, but I don't think he commented on any other subject. And there was one conservative quoted at length, Ben Witherington. However, Witherington was often quoted making assertions without discussing much of the evidence supporting those assertions, so his inclusion didn't add much to the case for the historicity of the infancy narratives.

The following are quotes from the transcript (in red), followed by my responses (in black).

"Unlike fundamentalist Christians, White concludes that the Gospels include plenty of creative writing."

Notice the misleading framing of the argument, as if people who disagree with the highly liberal views of Michael White are "fundamentalists".

"'They are not writing history. They are trying to tell you the meaning of history. So to do that, they have to take historical events, of course. But they will adapt them. They will change them. They will create,' says Crossan....'If they had a complete videotape of everything Jesus did and said, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John would still say, 'Well, no, I'm going to adapt that for my community,'' Crossan says, with a laugh."

Crossan doesn't give us any reason to agree with his conclusion about the non-historicity of the gospels, and his conclusion is contradicted by the known genre of the gospels (Greco-Roman biography), the demonstrable historical nature of other material in the gospels and Acts, and the fact that both the earliest Christian and the earliest non-Christian interpreters of the gospels interpreted them as historical accounts, including the infancy narratives. For more on this subject, see here.

"'Born in Bethlehem is a clue that we are making the claim that this child is the Messiah,' says Crossan. 'But nobody else seems to know anything about it in the New Testament…. It doesn't seem, for example, that John, in John's gospel, has any idea that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.'"

John doesn't discuss Jesus' infancy, so saying that he doesn't mention a Bethlehem birthplace is sort of like saying that Paul doesn't mention it in Philemon. Why would we expect him to? And to interpret John 7:42 as evidence of John's ignorance of a Bethlehem birthplace is unreasonable, since the comments in that passage are those of some enemies of Jesus, not a view John is advocating, and the same passage questions Jesus' Davidic descent. The concept that John rejected Jesus' Davidic descent, one of the most common Jewish Messianic expectations, yet viewed Jesus as the Messiah anyway, is unlikely. The book of Revelation, which is widely agreed to at least be Johannine, even among scholars who deny that it was written by the apostle, refers to Jesus as a descendant of David (22:16). Early church leaders who had been in contact with John or who were part of or were in contact with churches associated with John refer to Jesus' Davidic descent and His birth in Bethlehem (Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, etc.). There is no tradition of a non-Davidic descent for Jesus or a birthplace other than Bethlehem. And both facts were corroborated by the early enemies of Christianity. For more on these subjects, see here on Jesus' Davidic descent, and see my upcoming Apologetics Log segment this Saturday, which will be on the subject of Jesus' birthplace. The concept that John 7:42 reflects a rejection of Jesus' Davidic descent and Bethlehem birthplace by the apostle John (or some other author of the gospel of John) is absurd. It's unproveable and contradicted by multiple lines of evidence.

"'It's probably the case he was born in Nazareth,' says White. 'He's called 'Jesus of Nazareth.' And that would've been the norm, that is, wherever you're born is the namesake that you will carry with you.'"

A person could be named by his birthplace, but people were sometimes given a placename other than their birthplace. Dionysius the Areopagite (Acts 17:34), for example, was so named because he was associated with the Areopagus, not because he was born there. The second century bishop Irenaeus of Lyons seems to have been born in Smyrna, but was bishop of a church in Lyons. Luke, who refers to Jesus' being born in Bethlehem, also refers repeatedly to Jesus as "Jesus of Nazareth" (Luke 24:19, Acts 10:38). The historian Paul Maier summarized the issue well during an interview on the December 3, 2003 broadcast of the "Bible Answer Man" radio program:

"Jesus spends, probably, not more than 50 days in Bethlehem. For all I know, He never visited the city again, except on the way back from Egypt, and then briefly. He spends all of His childhood in Nazareth. He spends His early ministry in Nazareth. He grows up in Nazareth. And so He should now be called 'Jesus of Bethlehem'? I mean, this is ridiculous! I just have very little patience with this sort of sloppy, avant-garde, sensationalist, revisionist scholarship."

But CBS has patience with that sort of scholarship. It was the dominant view of the program.

"'We have no historical evidence that such a massive slaughter or any kind of event like that ever occurred,' says White. He adds that there is no historical evidence he is aware of that the holy family fled to Egypt."

CBS later quotes Ben Witherington answering White's argument. As Witherington explains, Bethlehem was a small town, so there was no "massive slaughter". And any expectation that other sources mention the flight into Egypt is ridiculous. Who would mention it? Who would have thought it appropriate to record the presence of a Jewish family in Egypt and to preserve such a record for future generations? Matthew knew of the supernatural elements involved, so we can understand why he would mention it. But who else would we expect to mention it? For more on events such as the Slaughter of the Innocents and the flight to Egypt, see here.

"One has to wonder why an eye-popping story like the virgin birth gets absolutely no mention in the gospel of Mark, written decades before Matthew or Luke."

Mark doesn't discuss Jesus' infancy at all. He mentions enough of the other miracles surrounding Jesus' life to sufficiently convey the supernatural nature of that life. Again, asking why Mark doesn't mention the virgin birth is sort of like asking why Paul doesn't mention it in Philemon. Why would we expect him to?

"To put Jesus on a par with Caesar, Crossan says, Luke borrows from Roman myths about the emperor’s birth."

Here, as elsewhere, Crossan is at odds with most of modern scholarship. The birth narratives are highly Jewish, and there are significant differences between the infancy narratives and Roman mythology. See here.

"Today, Christmas is the holiday, not Caesar’s birthday. Ironically, it falls on a day that was once a Roman festival. 'It was probably chosen at that time in December,' argues Crossan, in order to replace the winter solstice holiday."

For a discussion of the December 25 date and the origins of Christmas in general, see here.

"But before the virgin birth became official church doctrine, some other early Christians had their own ideas and their own Gospels."

Notice how misleading that statement is. What is "official church doctrine"? Considering that Luke's gospel seems to have been considered Divinely inspired scripture early on (it apparently is cited as such in 1 Timothy 5:18), how much more "official" would this doctrine that Luke records need to become? The false gospels CBS goes on to discuss don't predate Matthew and Luke, nor do they predate 1 Timothy and some other documents that cite Matthew or Luke as scripture.

"But millions of people don’t want to lose any part of Christmas. They include Ben Witherington, a conservative Bible scholar and an evangelical minister."

Go to the transcript of this program at CBS' web site. Use the Ctrl F feature on your keyboard to search for the term "liberal". You won't find it appearing anywhere in the transcript. Yet, CBS uses terms like "conservative" and "evangelical minister" to describe Ben Witherington.

"In the time of Jesus, miracles and magic were a very real part of everyday life."

In what sense? Did people think that virgin births and angel visitations, for example, occurred every day? No. See Glenn Miller's article here on the issue of the alleged gullibility of ancient people. See also my article here on the uniqueness of the Christian view of Jesus' childhood.

"But it is clear that many of the earliest Christians had no trouble worshipping Jesus without believing his birth was anything special. Pagels says even if you don’t believe the story of the birth, it doesn’t negate the miraculous nature of Jesus. 'Apparently the author of John and the author of Mark would say, 'We don't need those stories to affirm the uniqueness and the power of Jesus,'' she says."

Mark and John don't discuss Jesus' childhood. To equate their not discussing the subject with their disagreeing with what Matthew and Luke report on the subject is unreasonable. The early Christian churches were highly networked and were highly concerned with maintaining doctrinal standards. The infancy narrative material is found throughout the early Christian world. Concepts such as Jesus' Davidic descent, His virgin birth, and His birth in Bethlehem are universally accepted and reported as if there's no dispute. The apostle John was in contact with a lot of churches, as we see reflected in Revelation 2-3, and some of his disciples lived into the second century. Polycarp even lived into the second half of the second century. In the places where John's influence extended - Ephesus, Smyrna, Polycarp, Irenaeus, etc. - we see early affirmation of the details of the infancy narratives. There's no reason to think that somebody like John would disagree with what Matthew and Luke wrote. To the contrary, John 7:42 proves that John was aware of such prophecies, and it's highly unlikely that he would have been a Christian if he thought that Jesus had failed to fulfill those common Messianic expectations. If John sided with the crowd in that passage, in the sense that he didn't think Jesus fulfilled either prophecy, then why do the second century sources who had been influenced by John conclude just the opposite?

Earlier this week, I wrote an article outlining a few things to look for in this week's media coverage of the historicity of the infancy narratives. This CBS program failed to sufficiently address any of the four issues I mentioned. All of the issues I discussed either were ignored by CBS or were addressed, but addressed poorly. The viewers of the program were misled about the genre of the gospels, weren't told about the large amount of evidence we have for Luke's credibility as a historical source, weren't told about corroboration of the infancy narrative material by non-Christian sources, etc. As a result, thousands of lives influenced by CBS have been moved further from the truth.

A Response To The Dover Intelligent Design Decision

See Jonathan Witt's comments here.

The Star That Leads To Christ

"Now follow these wise men a little further. They have come to the house where the young child is. What will they do? Will they stand looking at the star? No: they enter in. The star stands still, but they are not afraid to lose its radiance, and behold the Sun of righteousness. They did not cry, 'We see the star, and that is enough for us; we have followed the star, and it is all we need to do.' Not at all. They lift, the latch, and enter the lowly residence of the babe. They see the star no longer, and they have no need to see it, for there is he that is born King of the Jews. Now the true Light has shone upon them from the face of the child; they behold the incarnate God. Oh, friends! how wise you will be if, when you have been led to Christ by any man, you do not rest in his leadership, but must see Christ for yourselves. How much I long that you may enter into the fellowship of the mystery, pass through the door, and come and behold the young child, and bow before him. Our woe is that so many are so unwise. We are only their guides, but they are apt to make us their end. We point the way, but they do not follow the road; they stand gazing upon us. The star is gone; it did its work, and passed away: Jesus remains, and the wise men live in him." (Charles Spurgeon)

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Barbara Walters Special On The Afterlife

I just saw Bill O'Reilly and Barbara Walters, on "The O'Reilly Factor", discussing her program on the afterlife that will air tomorrow night on ABC. The program looks bad, and the discussion between O'Reilly and Walters was absurd.

O'Reilly repeatedly suggested that nobody can be confident about the afterlife. He frequently makes erroneous and incoherent comments about religion, even though he sometimes takes commendable positions on issues related to religion, such as his opposition to the secularizing efforts of the A.C.L.U.

Millions of people will watch O'Reilly's program and the Barbara Walters special tomorrow and come away with the same sort of ignorance and poor thinking that those programs have advanced. I doubt that much, if anything, will be said about evidence for Jesus' resurrection or the Divine inspiration of the Bible, for example. I expect the Barbara Walters special to repeatedly fail to follow the arguments of its participants to their logical end, and I expect large amounts of relevant information to be ignored or poorly addressed.

See here for an article I wrote on near-death experiences this past summer.

The Kingdom Of Christ

"When Augustus reigned alone upon earth, the many kingdoms of humankind came to end; and when you were made man of the pure Virgin, the many gods of idolatry were destroyed. The cities of the world passed under one single rule; and the nations came to believe in one sovereign Godhead. The peoples were enrolled by the decree of Caesar; and we, the faithful, were enrolled in the name of the Godhead, when you, our God, were made man. Great is your mercy: glory to you!" (Cassia, cited in Arthur A. Just Jr., editor, Anicent Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament III: Luke [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003], pp. 36-37)

What To Look For In This Week's Media Stories On Christmas

In an earlier blog entry, I mentioned some television programs that will be airing this week on the subject of the historicity of the infancy narratives. In anticipation of those programs, I want to outline a few of the issues we should be focusing on when evaluating what we see.

1. The Availability Of Reliable Information. When you watch these television programs, ask yourself whether the programs mention the availability of sources such as Mary, James, Jude, and other relatives of Jesus. Do they mention the existence of genealogical records in first century Israel? Do they mention that the people of Bethlehem, people involved in Herod's government, records of any census that had occurred, and other such sources that probably had reliable information would have been accessible to the early Christians? Or, instead, will these programs give the impression that the gospel writers and their sources didn't have much reliable information to go by?

2. Interest In Jesus' Background. Will these television programs explain to the viewers that elements of Jesus' background such as His Davidic ancestry and His birthplace would have been of interest to both the earliest Christians and their earliest enemies? Will they mention that there was widespread expectation that the Messiah would be a descendant of David and expectation that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem? Those Messianic expectations would have led people to look into Jesus' background long before the gospels were written, surely even before Jesus had died. Jesus probably would have discussed such issues with His disciples and with His enemies, so if what was being reported early on was different from what the gospels would later report, we would expect to see evidence of conflicting traditions in the historical record. We don't.

3. The Credibility Of The Early Sources. Will we hear about Luke's proven credibility as a historical source? On the issue of gospel authorship, will we hear the often repeated assertions about the alleged anonymity of the gospels, or will we hear the more substantive arguments of conservative scholarship in favor of the traditional authorship attributions? Will we be told about how Matthew, Luke, and other relevant sources were in contact with people like Mary and James? Matthew was in contact with Jesus Himself, as was John, who also lived with Mary for a while. In that sort of context, we would expect the early Christians, including Matthew and Luke, to know a lot about Jesus' background.

4. The Genre Of The Relevant Documents. The gospels are Greco-Roman biographies. That's a genre of a highly historical nature. Luke's infancy account follows just after his comments in Luke 1:1-4 about his concern for research and historical accuracy. The earliest Christian and non-Christian sources to comment on information related to Jesus' infancy discuss those issues as if they're interpreting the accounts as reports of historical events.

Think about these issues and others like them as you watch these television programs. Do they mention the early non-Christian corroboration of some of the material reported in the infancy narratives? Do they mention any of the arguments of conservative scholarship for the traditional authorship attributions of the gospels? Do they mention that many reported events of antiquity are accepted by historians even when they're found in only one source? Etc.

I'm not expecting much from these programs. The programs won't just consult Christian scholars, and even many scholars who are Christians don't make a case for the historicity of the infancy narratives as well as they could. I expect all of these television programs to either present a negative view of the infancy narratives or suggest to the viewer that the evidence is largely inconclusive.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Irresponsible Parents, Irresponsible Colleges

Lisa Anderson has an article in The Chicago Tribune today about what Christian colleges teach about creation and evolution and how students react to it. We read:

"'For many young people, college is the first time in which their own perspective on the world is being challenged,' said Ron Mahurin, vice president for professional development and research at the 105-member Council for Christian Colleges & Universities."

What were the parents doing during the first 18 years or so of the child's life? Parents need to prepare their children to go out into the midst of wolves, because that's what they will be doing. Every child, without exception, needs to be a debater. They need to have their beliefs challenged in the home. They need to be asked how they would defend their beliefs. They need to be encouraged to think, to study, to be prepared to answer the questions people will ask them and the questions they ought to be asking themselves. But if the parents are ignorant and apathetic, will they care about preparing their children, and will they have much to prepare them with?

In the rest of the article, Baylor University comes off looking bad, as it ought to, and Biola comes across as much more reasonable. The closing segment on "random design" sounds like a sinking ship, even though the professor who advocates it calls intelligent design a sinking ship. I would expect William Dembski to respond on his blog in the near future, and there may be responses at other intelligent design sites. (See, for example, here, here, here, here, and here.)

The Three Eighteen-Wheelers Jesus Hid Under His Cloak

Last month, I posted a blog entry discussing a television program set to air in England this Christmas, in which some magicians try to duplicate the miracles of Jesus. A similar program is set to appear on Christmas Eve on The Discovery Channel, and the Associated Press reports this predictable result:

"In each case, the conclusion is that Jesus probably couldn't have tricked people into believing they had witnessed a miracle. 'Is it possible? Yes, it's possible that there was some type of trick because I was able to do it,' says Gill, who turned water into wine during the show. 'But most of those things used technology that he wouldn't have had. We re-created walking on water, but it took three 18-wheelers full of equipment to pull it off.' For Gill, who mostly performs for churches and other religious groups, delving into Jesus' miracles only strengthened his faith. 'Before this year my beliefs were based just on the Bible and what my parents and pastors had told me. Now, I'm really convinced that what I'm believing is the truth.'"

Still Bad, But With Some Improvements

Charlotte Allen has an article in the Los Angeles Times today in which she makes a comment about something I've noticed as well:

"When ABC's Peter Jennings made the first of his 'Search for Jesus' specials in 2000, it was a Jesus Seminar-dominated affair. Wright was the token conservative Christian scholar. But when Jennings followed up with 'Jesus and Paul' in 2004, he added Johnson and Witherington, as well as such Christianity-sympathetic academics as Alan Segal and Rodney Stark. Similarly, ABC's '20/20' special on Jesus' resurrection in April included interviews with Witherington and several other evangelical scholars."

I would add that the 2000 "Search for Jesus" program questioned Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, whereas the 2004 "Jesus and Paul" program avoided the birthplace issue. And the "20/20" special included some non-Christian Jewish scholars who acknowledged the historicity of the empty tomb. ABC and the mainstream media in general haven't become Christian. But it seems that they have taken a less critical view of Christianity and have given more attention to conservative scholarship than they had in the past. We often hear about the corruption of the media, and the media is still largely anti-Christian, but we should also acknowledge progress when it occurs.

Gold, Frankincense, And Myrrh

"But Matthew says that the Magi, coming from the east, exclaimed 'For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him;' and that, having been led by the star into the house of Jacob to Emmanuel, they showed, by these gifts which they offered, who it was that was worshipped; myrrh, because it was He who should die and be buried for the mortal human met; gold, because He was a King, 'of whose kingdom is no end;' and frankincense, because He was God, who also 'was made known in Judea,' and was 'declared to those who sought Him not.'" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:9:2)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christ And Aslan

I saw "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" last night. Before I discuss what I think of the movie, I should say that I've never read any of C.S. Lewis' books, the Narnia books or anything else. And I rarely watch movies. I had heard many positive comments about this movie from Christians like Hank Hanegraaff and Albert Mohler. I'd read a lot of reviews, most of them positive, and the negative reviews often seemed to be motivated largely by opposition to Christianity, so I was expecting the movie to be good.

I was disappointed. It is a good movie, but it isn't as good as I was expecting. Albert Mohler wrote that "The audience will know that something of earth-shaking significance has taken place when the character of the beaver announces, 'Aslan is on the move.'" Actually, we don't know much about Aslan or Narnia in general when that line appears in the movie. Rather than coming across as something of "earth-shaking significance", I think that the line Albert Mohler mentions is an example of how underdeveloped the movie is. Most of the movie seems to move too fast, and some of the portions of it that had the most potential come and go quickly and disappointingly. Sooner than you expect, and without much leading up to it, Aslan is going off to be sacrificed. There isn't much to the resurrection scene, and the battle between Aslan and Jadis doesn't consist of much.

From the quotes of C.S. Lewis that I've read on this subject, one of his primary concerns with any adaptation of the Narnia stories, which would include any movie versions, seems to have been that Aslan be portrayed well. He is portrayed well in this movie in terms of graphics, and I think that the voice acting is generally good. But not enough is said about him, he isn't portrayed as being as powerful as I would expect a Christ figure to be, and scenes such as his sacrifice, his resurrection, and his battle with Jadis aren't presented as movingly as they should be.

The whole movie, not just the segments directly involving Aslan, tries to convey too much in too short a period of time. This is a movie, not a book, and I think it's likely that the Narnia series will always be better in book format than as movies. Books allow you more space for imagination and thinking through issues before you move on. A movie doesn't allow that. A movie makes you keep going forward without much reflection or development within your imagination. A movie fills in blanks for you that a book allows you to fill in yourself.

I've seen reviewers of this movie comment on how the locations in Narnia seem too close to each other. That's probably partially because the movie isn't effective enough at conveying lapses of time. I think they should have had the screen fade to black more often and should have more frequently used other methods of conveying the passing of time. As it is, the Narnia world seems too small. The development of the characters and the development of the storyline seem too small as well. For example, Peter and Edmund quickly go from entering Narnia as normal children to being skilled warriors who can carry out sword battles with Jadis.

Something everybody who goes to see this movie ought to have in mind upfront is that this is a children's story. Much of it seems underdeveloped, simplified, and softened for children. Over and over, there are scenes where characters ought to die, but they don't. The wolves don't kill the fox, but instead just hold him in their mouth. Jadis repeatedly lets people live when you would expect her not to. Characters change too quickly, a notable example being the children's quick adaptation to the world of Narnia, as if finding a new world in the back of a wardrobe is something to which you would quickly adapt. Edmund just happens to meet Jadis along the road, and this queen who is ruling over Narnia is traveling with just one guard. Then Lucy happens to come across Edmund just after his conversation with Jadis. The thawing lake scene comes to mind as something particularly unnatural. The children escape some wolves chasing them and survive something like a waterfall coming down on them, and Lucy somehow makes it to shore on her own. Scenes like these occur often in the film, and I assume in the book as well, so that the story comes across as less believable than it should be.

Though I hadn't read the book before seeing this movie, I had read many descriptions of the storyline. I think it would be difficult for people to follow some of the storyline if they hadn't read the book or summaries of the book ahead of time. I don't know how much the book explains to people, but the movie leaves a lot unexplained. Why didn't they have text at the bottom of the screen explaining the World War II setting at the beginning? Why didn't they include more dialogue about Aslan and his significance to Narnia before having him make his first appearance? Why didn't they have more discussion about the laws of Narnia that required a sacrifice and led to Aslan's resurrection? Maybe some of these problems are present in Lewis' book as well, but the producers of the movie apparently thought it appropriate to improve upon the book in some other places, so why not in these places I've mentioned?

Most of my disappointment with this movie is in the failure to portray Aslan as well as he could have been portrayed. And I think that a lot of other elements of the story are underdeveloped. But there is a lot about the movie that's good. Though Aslan doesn't reflect Christ as well as I'd hoped he would, there is still a faint reflection. And many of the less significant aspects of the movie are well done. The graphics are good, the battle scenes are often impressive, a lot of the acting is good, and I appreciate the addition of the "It is finished" line.

I came away from this movie with the thought that I prefer Christ to Aslan. As I said, Aslan is a reflection of Christ, but only a faint reflection. I'm glad that this movie is giving people a faint reflection of Christ and the gospel. Compared to the usual dross that Hollywood produces, this is a good movie, and I hope that it does better than "Brokeback Mountain", "King Kong", and these other more immoral, more trivial movies it's competing with in the theaters. Judging by the involvement of some Christians with this movie and the inclusion of elements like the "It is finished" line, it seems that there were a lot of good motives involved in putting together this movie, and that's commendable. I'm grateful for the work of the many Christians involved in producing and promoting this movie. I hope that many children and others, though I'd expect it to be children primarily, will be brought closer to Christ through this movie.

It is just a movie, though. And for a Christian, life is greater than any movie. But how many parents effectively convey to their children the fact that the Christian life is far greater than Narnia or any other fantasy world they may think of? Sadly, most children in professing Christian homes probably will come away from this movie thinking that it's much more interesting than real life, and that this movie makes Aslan seem more appealing to them than their parents and other people have ever made Christ seem. How many Christian adults have the sort of joy, enthusiasm, and wonder they ought to have if they believe what the Bible teaches? Why are so many professing Christians so interested in reading about or watching movies about a fantasy world like Narnia, yet they show so little interest in living the Christian life, which is greater by far? "I love to tell the story; more wonderful it seems / Than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams." ("I Love to Tell the Story", A. Katherine Hankey)

Is It Acceptable For Christians To Celebrate Christmas? Why December 25?

For those who didn't see it, I wrote an article last month on the subject of whether it's acceptable for Christians to celebrate Christmas and other holidays. The article also addresses the use of the December 25 date and its alleged pagan origins.

Christ Was Born So That We Could Be Reborn

"Revere the enrolment on account of which thou wast written in heaven, and adore the Birth by which thou wast loosed from the chains of thy birth, and honour little Bethlehem, which hath led thee back to Paradise" (Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 38:17)

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Public Record

"And hear what part of earth He was to be born in, as another prophet, Micah, foretold. He spoke thus: 'And thou, Bethlehem, the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come forth a Governor, who shall feed My people.' Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judaea." (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 34)

"And yet how could He have been admitted into the synagogue - one so abruptly appearing, so unknown; one, of whom no one had as yet been apprised of His tribe, His nation, His family, and lastly, His enrolment in the census of Augustus - that most faithful witness of the Lord's nativity, kept in the archives of Rome?" (Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4:7)

Why Aren't His Numbers Even Lower?

Looking for a bad picture of George Bush? Maybe you're a Democratic campaign worker who wants to find a picture of Bush with his hair messed up, with his tongue sticking out of his mouth, or with one eye opened while the other is closed. I know where you can find that sort of picture. A lot of them, in fact. Just sign onto America Online. It seems that they often try to find just about the worst pictures of the President they can possibly get, and they put them on the screen that appears when you sign on, often accompanied with some leading text that makes Bush look even worse.

Why don't they do the same with Democrats? Maybe they could find a picture of John Kerry standing in front of a microphone on a windy day, with his hair messed up, with his mouth contorted into an awkward position, squinting his eyes. The text next to the picture would read: "Iraq holds a historic election with reports of high voter turnout, but Democrats remain pessimistic. Are they hurting our efforts in the Middle East?" Or they could have a picture of Harry Reid, with an angry expression on his face and with his fist raised in the air, accompanied by this text: "Recently released numbers show more economic growth, but Democrats continue to focus on the negative. Tell us what you think. Vote in our online poll."

Both of the popular parties in this nation are corrupt. But one is a lot more corrupt than the other. And the more corrupt party keeps getting far better media coverage and a lot of help from other sources that are influential in society. Given how many people get their news from sources like Jon Stewart and Jay Leno and how many teenagers would sign onto America Online and see negative coverage of the Bush administration on a regular basis, for example, Bush's low approval ratings don't seem so bad.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Upcoming Television Programs on Jesus' Infancy

There will be some television programs on the historicity of the infancy narratives next week. CBS' "48 Hours" will have a one-hour program on the subject next Tuesday at 10 P.M. (See here for Ben Witherington's comments on his involvement with the program.) The History Channel is running a series of programs on Jesus' infancy in the days leading up to Christmas. I'll probably be posting some reviews here shortly after some of these programs air.

What You Might be Missing on Our Message Boards

Some of you may read this blog, but not our message boards. For those who don't read our boards, I'd like to link to some of the recent discussions there. I hope more of you will read the discussion boards and participate. I think there's a lot there that many of you would benefit from.

Here's a recent thread in which Steve Hays discusses open theism with one of its advocates.

Here's a thread in which I discuss unity, the papacy, and some other subjects with some Roman Catholics.

Here's a recent thread on whether faith should be considered a work.

Here's a recent thread about Bart Ehrman and the textual transmission of the Bible.

Here's a thread on Christians being bored with scripture.

I'm continuing with my Apologetics Log series every Saturday. The last segment was on Jesus' Davidic descent. The next two will be on Micah's Bethlehem prophecy and Jesus' fulfillment of it.

Christianity and Teenagers

ABC has a story today on Christianity and teenagers. Here are some excerpts:

Since when did being a Christian teen become so cool?

"The day of the Christian kid being viewed as a nerd are long gone," said Bill Graening, the director of the Alive Festival, a three-day Christian music festival held each summer in Ohio that draws up to 20,000 people a day.

At least 80 percent of U.S. teens between the ages of 13 and 17 identify themselves as religious, with the majority identifying as Christian, according to the National Study on Youth and Religion, a six-year project funded by the Lilly Endowment....

Being devoutly religious doesn't preclude being edgy, say many Christian teens. Andrea Machlan, 17, of Fort Wayne, Ind., is a devout Christian but also part of what she calls the "hard-core scene." She and her friends are into tattoos, piercings and heavy-rock music.

"A lot of those lines are really blurred between Christian and non-Christian," she said, especially when it comes to music. Machlan says she and her group of friends are open to all sorts of people....

"Companies are seeing the size of the youth evangelical market growing, with growing disposable income, growing education," Schofield-Clark said. "They're seeing the evangelical Christian market as a viable market."

Thankfully, the article also quotes somebody whose sentiments are closer to mine:

Chanon Ross is a youth minister in Naperville, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, who recently wrote an article called "Jesus Is Not Cool." He says that all the focus on fun and games waters down the real message — and hard work — of following a faith.

While many youth ministries organize trips to Christian music festivals to attract more kids, Ross does not.

"It confuses what it means to follow Jesus. Are you passionate about loving your enemies, or are you really passionate about what you felt at the rock concert?" he said.

Paul Kerr writes:

It might be an interesting exercise to randomly survey our young people coming out of their next emotionally charged rally. Let's ask them if they, like young Timothy, could adhere to Paul's instructions to defend the faith [1 Timothy 1:3-5, 2 Timothy 2:14-19]. Their answers, or perhaps more precisely, bewildered looks, will reflect leaders who have bought into the myth that dumbing down the faith will make it more palatable for our youth. (Christian Research Journal, Volume 23, No. 1, p. 61)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The King of Isaiah 9

"The poem is full of royal and Davidic themes but is significantly different from the royal psalms which were used as coronation odes for the actual kings of is a born king (6; cf. Mt. 2:2), actually divine. In him everything that was envisaged is embodied; he is the eschaton....The emphasis falls not on what the child will do when grown up but on the mere fact of his birth. In his coming all that results from his coming is at once secured....The decisions of a king make or break a kingdom and a kingdom designed to be everlasting demands a wisdom like that of the everlasting God. In this case, like God because he is God, the Mighty God (el gibbor), the title given to the Lord himself in 10:21...Father is not current in the Old Testament as a title of the kings. Used of the Lord, it points to his concern for the helpless (Ps. 68:5<6>), care or discipline of his people (Ps. 103:13; Pr. 3:12; Is. 63:16; 64:8<7>) and their loyal, reverential response to him (Je. 3:4, 19; Mal. 1:6)....As eternal/'of eternity', he receives 'such an epithet [as] could, of course, be applied to Yahweh alone'....To designate the child as pele [wonderful] makes him 'out of the ordinary', one who is something of a 'miracle'. Isaiah's use of the noun in 25:1 and the verb in 28:29 of the Lord's 'counsel' suggests that he would not resist the notion of deity in 9:6<5>, specially when it is contextually linked with Mighty God (el-gibbor)....Whenever we find a construction identical with Isaiah 9:6<5> (el with a following adjective or noun), el is never adjectival but is always the ruling noun, more closely defined by the additional word....Isaiah cannot have been unaware that el-gibbor would be understood in its plain meaning. He puts the matter beyond equivocation by using the identical title of the Lord himself in 10:21." (J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993], pp. 99, 101-102, 104-105)

"The titles underscore the ultimate deity of this child-deliverer. Although some commentators have expended a great deal of energy attempting to make these titles appear normal, they are not. Perhaps the primary way in which this is attempted is by reference to the Egyptian throne-names (cf. Wildberger). It was customary to give five throne-names to an Egyptian king upon his coronation....On this basis some suggest that the same practice was followed for the equally human kings of Israel. However, several factors tell against this equation. First, there are not five names here [in Isaiah 9] but four, and only emendation can produce a fifth. Second, this is not a coronation hymn but a birth announcement. Third, the Egyptians believed their kings were gods and the names express that belief. But the Hebrews did not believe this. They denied that the king was anything more than the representative of God. To be sure, throne-names were probably used in Israel (cf. 2 K. 23:24; 24:17), but there is no evidence that they were of the Egyptian sort." (John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1986], p. 246)

"No Israelite or Judean king was ever identified as 'Mighty God.' Clearly the person being referred to here is the promised Messiah, who will reign over God's people with a kind of justice and righteousness that no mere human descendant of David ever achieved. Furthermore, the government and the social and personal integration ('peace,' Heb. salom) he will produce will be eternal (9:7). This is not Hezekiah or any other merely human son of David." (John Oswalt, The NIV Application Commentary: Isaiah [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003], pp. 160-161)

"Given the prevalence of divine kings in parts of the ancient Near East (De Vaux, Israel, 111; even Akenaton in 'The Amarna Letters,' 483-90 in ANET, passim), one sin to which Israel’s and Judah’s rulers had not succumbed (De Vaux, Israel, 113), one may question whether Isaiah would have risked implying that God would be Israel’s ultimate Davidic king if that was not what he meant…Tg. Isa. 9:6 [a Jewish commentary on Isaiah 9:6] deliberately alters the grammar to distinguish the Davidic king from the Mighty God." (Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], n. 135 on p. 295)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Time on Joseph

Yesterday, Time posted a story at its web site on how Joseph, Jesus' father, has been viewed throughout church history. There's a lot of information in the story, including some I hadn't heard before, such as speculations about a bodily assumption of Joseph. But one theme I noticed throughout the story was a parallel between how Joseph has been perceived and how Mary has been perceived. Evangelicals are often accused of neglecting Mary, yet, as this Time story mentions, they could similarly be accused of neglecting Joseph. And the same accusation could be brought against the earliest church fathers. The problem isn't with Evangelicals neglecting figures like Mary and Joseph. Rather, the problem is with other people making too much of them, even to the point of fabricating stories and teaching false doctrines about them. The restraint in Evangelical circles when discussing figures like Mary and Joseph is to be commended, not condemned.

Here are a few portions of the article:

But this was not exactly the exciting makings of mass devotion, and for a long time, says the Rev. Joseph Lienhard, an expert in the early church at New York City's Fordham University, "Joseph was not a popular saint." That's an understatement. His name did not pop up on any Western saints lists until 1000. The Koran, which dates from the 600s, dedicates a chapter to Mary but omits Joseph. According to Sandra Miesel, a Catholic journalist with a specialty in medieval history, a list of 30,000 Florentine men of the officeholding class before 1530 contained precisely one "Giuseppe."...

Protestants have never felt the kind of unease with Joseph that, in a kind of allergic response to Catholicism's elaborate exultation of Mary, inhibited their relationship with the Virgin. On the other hand, he doesn't particularly interest them either....But for the most part, explains David Steinmetz, a religious historian at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C., "Joseph plays a very small role in Protestantism, aside from cameo appearances in Advent and on Christmas."...

The more that belief strictly cleaves to "what the Bible says," the less will be heard of him. But the moment the believer imagines himself or herself into the biblical story, Joseph explodes back onto the scene.