Another History Channel Anti-Christian Christmas Series

It is like clockwork.  Each Easter and Christmas season is sure to bring out the same old anti-Christian and anti-Bible rhetoric through major “news” and “history” sources.  Sure, it is packaged in new wrapping paper, but the “secrets revealed” are the same old nonsense that has been brought up in the past and debunked by solid scholarship.  Yet, people have a short memory, love sensationalism, and love anything that can be an excuse to hold down the truth of God.

So, without fail, the History Channel has produced a new series with the same old debunked material just in time for the Christmas season.  Sure, they sell it as scholarly, but it is one-sided, unbalance, sensationalized, given to hyperbole, and hardly a true scholarly approach to Christianity that takes into account the solid counterarguments to the History Channel’s chosen panelists.

While it doesn’t take long to debunk the History Channel’s “Secrets Revealed” series, the sad part is that most people will believe whatever they see on TV, especially when presented in a sensational way, without doing any kind of research on their own.  Hopefully, articles like the one below (from “Canon Fodder”) can make their way into the world and help people at least begin to question what they see on television and start digging on their own.

Bible Secrets Revealed? A Response to the New History Channel Series (Part 1)

November 19, 2013
Bible Secrets RevealedThis past week, the History Channel premiered a new series on the Bible entitled, Bible Secrets Revealed.  The first full episode was called Lost in Translation, and can be viewed here.

Now, let me say that I really do enjoy documentaries on the Bible.  They are usually done with very high quality, contain interviews of some of the world’s top scholars, and often raising intriguing and important questions.  But, there are also dangers.  Such documentaries run the risk of being overly sensationalistic, one-sided, and ultimately misleading.

Unfortunately, this new documentary from the History Channel tends to falter at precisely these points.  While there are many positives–great production quality and intriguing content–this documentary quickly spins itself into some problem areas.

Thus, I am starting a new series here on my blog where I will review each new episode of Bible Secrets Revealed as it comes out.  In regard to the first episode, Lost in Transmission, it is marked by the following characteristics.

1. Sensationalistic.   Everybody loves a good conspiracy.  It is built-in to the human (and particularly American) psyche.  We love the idea that the truth has been suppressed for generations only to now be uncovered.

Unfortunately, the title of this new series feeds this conspiracy craving in all of us, and gives a sensationalistic feel to the whole enterprise.  Bible Secrets Revealed.  Really? This title implies that secrets have been kept from an unsuspecting public for two millennia (presumably by the church or other Christian leaders), only now to be graciously exposed by these noble scholars.  Conclusion: you can trust secular scholars but not the church (or the Bible).

The sensationalism continues with overstated claims about the issues being “revealed” in this documentary.  The narrator claims (with dramatic music in the background):

Now for the first time, an extraordinary series will challenge everything we think, everything we know, and everything we believe about the Bible.

To be sure, this documentary is decidedly not doing anything “for the first time,” but I suppose such claims are part of how such documentaries are promoted and sold.  Moreover, it should be noted that when it says it will challenge what “we” believe about the Bible, what it really means it will challenge what evangelicals believe about the Bible. No liberal views are being challenged in this series (at least so far).  Which leads to the next observation…

2. One-sided.  This sensationalistic impulse naturally leads a documentary to want to prove that the traditional view is mistaken (after all, the traditional view is rather boring and unexciting).  Thus, we are not surprised when we quickly realize that this documentary will not even be trying to present a balanced perspective. It is decidedly geared to disprove the Bible.

This direction is clear from the opening description of the series.  The narrator states:

For centuries, men and women have argued over [the Bible’s] meanings, its lessons, and its historical accuracy. But, has the Bible been translated, edited, and even censored so many times, that its original stories have been compromised by time?

This is followed by a litany of scholarly quotes (again, with dramatic music in the background) that say the Bible cannot be trusted. Bart Ehrman states, “There are human fingerprints all over [the Bible].”  Another scholar says, “It is very dangerous to use the Bible as a proof text for anything.”  Elaine Pagels says, “We really don’t know who the people are who put the New Testament together.”

Does this sound like a video that is trying to present both sides?

Of course, a video series is not obligated to present both sides, one might argue.  Why are they not free to argue for their position?  Fair enough.  The problem is that the video expressly states to be presenting multiple views!  The caveat offered at the very start of the video is:

This program explores the mysteries of the Bible from a variety of historical and theological perspectives.

A variety of historical and theological perspectives?  One finds this difficult to believe.  Almost every view represented in this first video (with a couple of exceptions) is clearly designed to undercut the Bible’s credibility.

3.  Over-stated Historical Claims.  Time and time again, this opening installment in this new video series makes historical claims that are partially true, but also a bit misleading.  I cannot mention all of these, but here are a few:

  • As it pertains to the authorship of the four gospels, the video quotes scholars as absolutely certain that none of these were eyewitnesses.  For instance, Candida Moss declares, “We have four gospels written by four different authors, written decades, maybe as long as a century after [Jesus] died, and none of these authors actually met Jesus.” But, this is a level of certainty that is not warranted by the evidence. She offers no indication that there is any scholarly debate about this (and there is), nor does she suggest there is any positive evidence for the traditional authorship of the gospels (and there is).
  • As another example, Elaine Pagels declares, “We had Christianity for three-hundred years before we had a New Testament.”  But, this is only partially true at best, and downright misleading at worst.  Sure, the edges of the canon were not solidified until probably the fourth century, but the core of the canon (around 22 out of 27 books) was fairly well-established by the mid/late second century. Irenaeus, for example, was keen to use these books and to use them as Scripture.  On a functional level, he did in fact have a New Testament.
  • Incredibly, this documentary then trots out the Constantine-made-the-Bible argument, implying that he used his political power to makes sure the right stories were chosen.  However, this absolutely zero evidence that Constantine had any influence/control over the canon of Scripture.  This is more of a Dan Brown-Da Vinci Code style argument, then a historical one.
  • Mention is made of the long ending of Mark (16:9-20) as evidence that Christians made up the resurrection because of Mark’s shorter ending.  But, the documentary shows no awareness that there is good evidence that the long ending of Mark is actually drawing upon resurrection accounts in the other three gospels (see Kelhoffer’s works), thus showing that the idea of Jesus’ resurrection was not made up due to Mark’s truncated ending.

There are more examples that could be added, but this is sufficient to show that this video over-reaches at a number of points when it comes to the historical facts.  Unfortunately, the average viewer, which videos like this are targeted to reach, would have no basis for knowing this.

We shall offer more reflections on future installments of this series as they come out.

Don’t All Religions Lead to God?

DON’T ALL RELIGIONS LEAD TO GOD?

Posted on April 11, 2013 by Jill Carattini

We live in a context of spiritual longing. Many people are searching for that which will satisfy an inner craving for meaning and significance. The artist Damian Hirst recently said this: “Why do I feel so important when I’m not? Nothing is important and everything is important. I do not know why I am here but I am glad that I am. I’d rather be here than not. I am going to die and I want to live forever, I can’t escape that fact, and I can’t let go of that desire.”

Road SignsBut this does not always translate into people finding Christ and starting to follow him. There is a dizzying array of options when it comes to religion, and the culture around us says that they are all equally valid. It seems absolutely bizarre to people that someone would say, “This one way is the truth and the only truth.”  The poet Steve Turner describes brilliantly what many think when it comes to religion: “Jesus was a good man just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves. We believe he was a good teacher of morals but we believe that his good morals are really bad. We believe that all religions are basically the same, at least the one we read was. They all believe in love and goodness, they only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.”

In my experience, there are usually two motivations for dismissing the idea that Christ is the only way to God, and we need to examine them both. The first objection is that it is arrogantto say that Jesus is the only way. How could Christians possibly be so arrogant as to say that all the other religions are wrong and Jesus is the only path to God? Often the parable of the elephant is used to illustrate the sheer arrogance of Christianity. It goes something like this: “Three blind scribes are touching different parts of an elephant. The one who is holding the tail says, “This is a rope.” Another holding the elephant’s leg says, “This is not a rope; you are wrong. It is a tree.” Still another who is holding the trunk of the elephant says, “You are both wrong. It is a snake!” The moral of the story is that all religions are like these men. They each touch a different part of ultimate reality and therefore any one of them is arrogant to say they have the whole truth.

But take a step back and think about what is being said here. Do you see the breathtaking claim that is being made? Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses, and Muhammad are all blind, but in fact, I can see! These leaders all had a small perspective, but I am the one who sees the full picture. Now who is being arrogant? It is just as arrogant to say that Buddha, Muhammad, and Jesus were all wrong in their exclusive claims as it is to say that Jesus is the only way. The issue is not about who is arrogant, but what is actually true and real.

The second motivation in dismissing Christ is often a question of exclusion. How can you exclude all of these religions? Jesus may have said he was the way to the Father, but how can I follow him and become an intolerant person who excludes others? Again, we need to think carefully about this view because the reality is that whatever position we hold will exclude something. Even the person who believes that all ways lead to God excludes the view that only some ways lead to God or that only one way leads to God. Every view excludes something. Again, the issue is not about who is excluding people, but what is actually true and real.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6). There are a number of possibilities here for why he might have said this, and exploring these possibilities is crucial. First, perhaps he was genuinely a good person but he was deluded.  He was sincere, but he was wrong; he believed that he was the Son of God, but he wasn’t. In other words, he was mentally imbalanced. Or second, perhaps Jesus knewhe wasn’t God but went around telling people that he was the only way to God regardless. In other words, he was a sinister character purposely telling lies. Or finally, perhaps Jesus was who he said he was. Perhaps he made these radical statements because they were true and real. In other words, he is indeed the way to God.

Amy Orr-Ewing is  is director of programmes for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and UK director for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Oxford, England.

What to Say When Someone Says “The Bible Has Errors”

What to Say When Someone Says “The Bible Has Errors”

By Jonathan Dodson
Most people question the reliability of the Bible. You’ve probably been in a conversation with a friend or met someone in a coffee shop who said: “How can you be a Christian when the Bible has so many errors?” How should we respond? What do you say?

Error messageInstead of asking them to name an error, I suggest you name one or two of them. Does your Bible contain errors? Yes. The Bible that most people possess is a translation of the Greek and Hebrew copies of copies of the original documents of Scripture. As you can imagine, errors have crept in over the centuries of copying. Scribes fall asleep, misspell, take their eyes off the manuscript, and so on. I recommend telling people what kind of errors have crept into the Bible. Starting with the New Testament, Dan Wallace, New Testament scholar and founder of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, lists four types of errors in Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability, and Meaning.

Types of Errors
1) Spelling & Nonsense Errors. These are errors that occur when a scribe wrote a word that makes no sense in its context, usually because they were tired or took their eyes off the page. Some of these errors are quite comical, such as “we were horses among you” (Gk. hippoi, “horses,” instead of ēpioi, “gentle,” or nēpioi, “little children”) in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 in one late manuscript. Obviously, Paul isn’t saying he acted like a horse among them. That would be self-injury! These kinds of errors are easily corrected.

2) Minor ChangesThese minor changes are as small as the presence or absence of an article “the” or changed word order, which can vary considerably in Greek. Depending on the sentence, Greek grammar allows the sentence to be written up to 18 times, while still saying the same thing! So just because a sentence wasn’t copied in the same order, doesn’t mean that we lost the meaning.

3) Meaningful but not Plausible. These errors have meaning but aren’t a plausible reflection of the original text. For example, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, instead of “the gospel of God” (the reading of almost all the manuscripts), a late medieval copy has “the gospel of Christ.” There is a meaning difference between God and Christ, but the overall manuscript evidence points clearly in one direction, making the error plain and not plausibly part of the original.

4) Meaningful and Plausible. These are errors that have meaning and that the alternate reading is plausible as a reflection of the original wording. These types of errors account for less than 1% of all variants and typically involve a single word or phrase. The biggest of these types of errors is the ending of the Gospel of Mark, which most contemporary scholars do not regard as original. Our translations even footnote that!

Is the Bible Reliable?
So, is the Bible reliable? Well, the reliability of our English translations depends largely upon the quality of the manuscripts they were translated from. The quality depends, in part, on how recent the manuscripts are. Scholars like Bart Ehrman have asserted that we don’t have manuscripts that are early enough. However, the manuscript evidence is quite impressive:

  • There are as many as eighteen second-century manuscripts. If the Gospels were completed between 50-100 A.D., then this means that these early copies are within 100 years. Just recently, Dan Wallace announced that a new fragment from the Gospel of Mark was discovered dating back to the first century A.D., placing it well within 50 years of the originals, a first of its kind. When these early manuscripts are all put together, more than 43% of the NT is accounted for from copies no later than the 2nd C.
  • Manuscripts that date before 400 AD number 99, including one complete New Testament called Codex Sinaiticus. So the gap between the original, inerrant autographs and the earliest manuscripts is pretty slim. This comes into focus when the Bible is compared to other classical works that, in general, are not doubted for their reliability. In this chart of comparison with other ancient literature, you can see that the NT has far more copies than any other work, numbering 5,700 (Greek) in comparison to the 200+ of Suetonius. If we take all manuscripts into account (handwritten prior to printing press), we have 20,000 copies of the NT. There are only 200 copies of the earliest Greek work.
  • This means if we are going to be skeptical about the Bible, then we need to be 1000xs more skeptical about the works of Greco-Roman history. Or put another way, we can be 1000 times more confident about the reliability of the Bible. It is far and away the most reliable ancient document.

What to Say When Someone Says “The Bible Has Errors”
So, when someone asserts that the Bible has errors, we can reply by saying: “Yes, our Bible translations do have errors, let me tell you about them. But as you can see, less than 1% of them are meaningful and those errors don’t affect the major teachings of the Christian faith. In fact, there are 1000 times more manuscripts of the Bible than the most documented Greco-Roman historian by Suetonius. So, if we’re going to be skeptical about ancient books, we should be 1000 times more skeptical of the Greco-Roman histories. The Bible is, in fact, incredibly reliable.”Contrary to popular assertion, that as time rolls on we get further and further away from the original with each new discovery, we actually get closer and closer to the original text. As Wallace puts it, we have “an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the biblical documents.” Therefore, we can be confident that what we read in our modern translations of the the ancient texts is approximately 99% accurate. It is very reliable.

For Further Study (order easy to difficult):

6 Questions to Ask an Atheist (RZIM)

Six Questions to Ask an Atheist (from RZIM)

Many times, as Christian theists, we find ourselves on the defensive against the critiques and questions of atheists.  Sometimes, in the midst of arguments and proofs, we miss the importance of conversation.  These questions, then, are meant to be a part of a conversation.  They are not, in and of themselves, arguments or “proofs” for God.  They are commonly asked existential or experiential questions that both atheists and theists alike can ponder. 

1.    If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered, so how do we answer the following questions: Why is there something rather than nothing?  This question was asked by Aristotle and Leibniz alike – albeit with differing answers.  But it is an historic concern.  Why is there conscious, intelligent life on this planet, and is there any meaning to this life?  If there is meaning, what kind of meaning and how is it found?  Does human history lead anywhere, or is it all in vain since death is merely the end?  How do you come to understand good and evil, right and wrong without a transcendent signifier?  If these concepts are merely social constructions, or human opinions, whose opinion does one trust in determining what is good or bad, right or wrong?  If you are content within atheism, what circumstances would serve to make you open to other answers?

2.    If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault?  These three philosophers, who also embraced atheism, recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes.  The crisis of atheistic meaninglessness is depicted in Sartre’s book Nausea.  Without God, there is a crisis of meaning, and these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.

3.    When people have embraced atheism, the historical results can be horrific, as in the regimes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who saw religion as the problem and worked to eradicate it?  In other words, what set of actions are consistent with particular belief commitments?  It could be argued, that these behaviors – of the regimes in question – are more consistent with the implications of atheism.  Though, I’m thankful that many of the atheists I know do not live the implications of these beliefs out for themselves like others did!  It could be argued that the socio-political ideologies could very well be the outworking of a particular set of beliefs – beliefs that posited the ideal state as an atheistic one.

4.    If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved, so where is the hope of redemption, or meaning for those who suffer?  Suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, without God because there is no hope of ultimate justice, or of the suffering being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable.  It might be true that there is no God to blame now, but neither is there a God to reach out to for strength, transcendent meaning, or comfort.  Why would we seek the alleviation of suffering without objective morality grounded in a God of justice?

5.    If there is no God, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people, so whose opinion matters most?  Whose voice will be heard?  Whose tastes or preferences will be honored?  In the long run, human tastes and opinions have no more weight than we give them, and who are we to give them meaning anyway?  Who is to say that lying, or cheating or adultery or child molestation are wrong –really wrong?  Where do those standards come from?  Sure, our societies might make these things “illegal” and impose penalties or consequences for things that are not socially acceptable, but human cultures have at various times legally or socially disapproved of everything from believing in God to believing the world revolves around the sun; from slavery, to interracial marriage, from polygamy to monogamy.  Human taste, opinion law and culture are hardly dependable arbiters of Truth.

6.    If there is no God, we don’t make sense, so how do we explain human longings and desire for the transcendent?  How do we even explain human questions for meaning and purpose, or inner thoughts like, why do I feel unfulfilled or empty?  Why do we hunger for the spiritual, and how do we explain these longings if nothing can exist beyond the material world? 

For further reading, see Ravi Zacharias’s book The Real Face of Atheism, and C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity.  The RZIM website has many excellent resources on atheism, www.rzim.org, as does the Centre for Public Christianity,www.publicchristianity.org

Has Science Rendered God Irrelevant?

At Duke University, Oxford professor John Lennox addressed the topic of science and God; namely, if science has rendered God irrelevant.  With wit, insight, and a smattering of British humor the professor began with the foundations of science and faith and demonstrated that any claim that God is a concept best left in the Dark Ages is unscientific and uninformed.

 

Good Uses of Apologetics

What are “apologetics”?  How can we employ them successfully for the gospel of Jesus Christ?

In Apologetics on Mission the Resurgence contributor Justin Holcomb defines the term and gives multiple ways of using the gospel tool.

What Is Apologetics?

The word “apologetics” is from the Greek word apologia, which means “the act of making a defense.” This word is used several times in the New Testament, but its usage in two passages is particularly relevant. In Philippians 1:7 &16, apologia refers to a defense of the gospel, and in 1 Peter 3:15 it refers to a defense of the Christian hope.

Apologetics is “an activity of the Christian mind which attempts to show that the gospel message is true in what it affirms. An apologist is one who is prepared to defend the message against criticism and distortion, and to give evidences of its credibility.

Defensive Apologetics

One form of apologetics is to defend the gospel from challenges. Defensive apologetics is the defense of the Christian faith by showing that the objections to the true claims of Christianity cannot and do not stand. Defensive apologetics addresses objections to the concept of God’s Triunity, to the problem of evil, to the Resurrection, to biblical criticism, and so forth.

For example, negative apologetics is used to rebut the claim that the doctrine of the Trinity “is an Error in counting or numbering; which, when stood in, is of all others the most brutal and inexcusable.” Negative apologetics will show that the doctrine of the Trinity is at least possibly true.

Another example is to defend against the charge that the bible contains errors, contradictions, or inconsistencies. To give answers to the challenges that Jesus rose from the dead is also defensive apologetics.

Positive Apologetics

Another form of apologetics is to offer reasons to believe the gospel. Positive apologetics is the use of Christian evidences to demonstrate the viability of the Christian faith. Apologetics intends to “show”, in a positive manner, that the claims of the Christian faith are indeed intellectually defensible and rationally justifiable.

This is the method of making a positive case for the validity and truth of the claims made in Christian Scripture such as the resurrection of Christ, the existence of God, and the historical reliability of the Bible.

Critiquing Unbelief

Another use of apologetics is critiquing unbelief, which combines both the positive and negative forms. Some streams of apologetics seek to show that unbelief is irrational and that holding to views such as relativism will lead one to undesirable and irrational conclusions.

For example, holding to relativism entails that no universal ethical norm can be present since there is no objective truth to ground morality. This type of apologetics moves from the critique to a positive construction that shows how the Christian faith provides an alternative and logical worldview that best makes sense of the reality in which we live.

Explaining how karma is a cruel and devastating belief is another form of critiquing unbelief. Karma claims that if someone is suffering or in pain, they deserve it and to help them is to go against the cosmic law (dharma) at play.

Another example is that atheism leads to moral chaos. On what basis can an atheist say anything (genocide, sexual assault, child abuse, etc) is bad or wrong? If ethics is based on opinion or consensus, then morality is determined by whoever has the most power. If nature is “red in tooth and claw” and survival of the fittest is true and good, then domination of one animal over another in any form can’t be called bad or wrong in a naturalistic worldview but rather celebrated as the outworking of the principles of the atheist worldview.

Apologetics on Mission

Apologetics is something that you engage in every time you share your beliefs and convictions with your fellow Christians, with your children, and with non-believers. It is not an irrelevant or formal discipline reserved for intellectuals. Apologetics is a tool for mission.