Cleopatra, Caesar and Jesus

This is probably a very silly post, so you have the right to stop reading now.

I was having a conversation with my husband during lunch today and I was so excited talking to him about the History lessons I am having with the children. My husband was not amused. Long story short… Rome was a Republic governed by two consuls at the same time. In our time line – 60 B.C. – those two men were Crassus and Pompey.

These two men had a lot of disputes. Then, cunningly, another man joined a coalition with them (known as the First Triumvirate). This man was Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar – who was actually Pompey’s father-in-law – becomes a great military leader, and eventually, scares Pompey to fled to Egypt. Crassus is dead by then, and so Julius Caesar becomes the dictator Rome never wanted.  This happened in 49 B.C.

Only some years earlier, Ptolemy Auletes, was one of last rulers of the line of Ptolemy. The Ptolemites were one of the four families who took over Alexander the Great’s Empire. Ptolemy Auletes was actually Cleopatra’s father. So Cleopatra was not even Egyptian. I did not know that!!

So Cleopatra is a cunning, manipulative 18 year-old who is only looking for a way to gain power. She was beautiful, she spoke many languages – whatever, she used men to her advantage. She marries her brother to become queen. Brother dies? No problem! She marries the next brother. So when her dad sees they are in trouble in Macedonia, he decides to ask for help from Rome. And who is the power of Rome of that time? Julius Caesar.

So when Caesar is chasing Pompey, he ends up in Alexandria, and that’s how he meets Cleopatra, who is 21, and he is in his fifties, and they become crazily in love and what not. Stupid idiot. I’m still very upset about this. Don’t care about her delivering herself  to him in a carpet showing determination.

Fine. Julius Caesar spends all his time in Egypt with his new lover, but then gets killed by a mob of senators who stabbed him up to 35 times, many of them his closest “friends”. Then Rome forms the Second Triumvirate with Lepidus, Octavian and Mark Antony. Lepidus is kicked out of power, and the other two do not have a great relationship with each other. To add more drama to the tale, Octavian’s sister was Mark Antony’s wife.

 And I’m super pumped telling my husband the story, right?

Why are you so excited about this? You are supposed to know this. I learned this in middle school, Karla.

Well, I didn’t. And if I did, I forgot. LOL!

Okay, so. Caesar is dead, Cleopatra is all alone, and her dreams of becoming a great ruler come to a halt. Mark Antony and Octavian after their many disagreements decide to divide the land, and Mark Antony gets to rule over the East – which includes Egypt.  So he decides to visit Cleopatra, and in an elaborate display of wealth, she travels on a golden ship, with purple sails and silver oars. By using her perfumes and with music filling the air and young boys fanning her, she catches the eye of Mark Antony, and he falls in love with her. He marries her in 37 B.C., abandoning his wife. Another stupid idiot. SMH.

We have had History five times a week this week just so that I can read the end of the story. I seriously told my husband I wanted to read her end, that I was hoping she would die a terrible death. I think I was still very upset at all the pain she definitely caused. I am thinking of the wives. Even if there were political marriages, and there were no feelings involved in these marriages… I mean, the humiliation. So I went ahead and finished the lessons by myself.

If I were Octavian, I would be livid. Mark Antony left my sister for another woman, and on top of that he seems to be more loyal to her and to Egypt that to Rome and his people. The guy even walks behind her chariot like her servant. Heck, no! Mark Antony and her Cleopatra have got to go.  So yes, Octavian accused Mark Antony of treason – which was technically true. So Octavian declares war against Cleopatra.

So Mark Antony has the support of Cleopatra and her navy against Octavian, and history records that as Octavian’s ships appeared to overtake Antony’s, Cleopatra panicked. With her gold and purple ship, and with her fleet of 60 warships, she started to sail away. And when Mark Antony sees this, he abandons his own men to run after her. He leaves behind 19 legions of foot soldiers (that is 19 x 6,000 men), and 12,000 men on horse only to sail after her!

I was livid reading this. Poor Mark Antony sat down alone, below deck, buried with his face in his hands. What a coward!

 

You Can Act Like A Man GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

 

So Octavian, obviously hunted them both down. At some point Mark Antony thought she was dead, so he tried to kill himself, but was taken to her side before he died in her arms. Ugh. Spare me.

Octavian, of course, conquered Alexandria, and this woman, tries to win his heart, just like she did with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. I told the children before I knew all this, that she didn’t love anyone, but herself, and that her actions reminded me of the prostitute in Proverbs. But, man, I cannot wait to see the children’s faces when I tell them all these details.

So pretending to cooperate with Octavian, Cleopatra asks him to allow her to visit Mark Antony’s tomb, and after perfuming herself and what not, she kills herself, and gets buried next to Mark Antony. Ugh. Spare me, again.

So that’s just the background for my post. LOL! No, seriously.

As I was reading the fate of this woman, and the whole drama of all these lives, I was pretty impressed with Octavian. He literally became the hero in my eyes because he didn’t fall for her. Call me silly. So I kept on reading about him. He was the great-nephew of Julius Caesar who had written in his will that Octavian would be his adopted heir. So Octavian becomes a dictator, but a good one, in a sense. He actually worked with the senators, who ended up giving him the name of “emperor”, and called him Augustus. He also adopted the name of Caesar, in honor of Julius Caesar. So he was known as Caesar Augustus.

And for the first time in all this saga, I was like, “Oh, I’ve head that name before”. And then it hit me.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

– Luke 2:1-7

This is the Caesar Augustus who ordered the census that brought Mary and Joseph all the way from Galilee to Bethlehem.

I mean, “Who writes this stuff?,” I asked myself. And automatically, my answer was, “God does. He writes history.”

The birth of Jesus was not an afterthought in the mind of the Creator. It happened that way not because Caesar knew he was an instrument of God in bringing a prophecy to come about, but he actually did. The Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). God has always used rulers to accomplish His purposes. We see it with Moses and Pharaoh, and Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus and all those prophecies being fulfilled over and over. By the way, you should check out the Mystery of History I, if you are interested in learning the Bible chronologically, and understand all the prophets and how they all come together. It’s a wonderful resource. I loved it this year. It puts together everything happening around the world at the same time that say, Ezra is coming back from Babylon.

So, if you are a Christian, I hope you already know this, but our faith even though experiential in nature, is not based on feelings or experiences, but in truth. The Bible is authoritative in itself, and claims to be the only truth. I believe that. The Bible is sufficient. At the same time, we also have all these incredible amount of historical data that anchors our faith within a very clear historical background that only gives us more confidence.

Just studying Homer and Plato this year in History, we found out there is no other document in history that compares to the New Testament when it comes to manuscript reliability – meaning no one has altered the text. And I think I have posted somewhere else about Textual Criticism. It is just a myth that the Bible has been corrupted over the years. A myth that Mormons, Jehova’s Witnesses, and Muslims all love alike. They love it because without it, their religions crumble to the ground.

So this lesson on Cleopatra ended up really opening my eyes to this truth again, and it is beautiful: I can trust the God who governs the universe. 

Who writes this stuff? God does. I forget. I forget that God is in control of History. I forget He has already written my history, too, and although it is unfolding I can trust that He wants His glory and my good because I am His child and He loves me.

In this COVID-19 season, I am just thankful that God is not a God of chance. God is not trying to hold it all together, making His best attempt to juggle His wishes and balancing it all out with the choices He foresees humans taking in the future.

Who ordained Caesar Augustus to command a census? God did.

God is in control of History. I have loved studying with the children about Assyria, and Babylon, and Alexander the Great, and now Cleopatra and Caesar Augustus. I am thankful I don’t have to trust my gut or my feelings, but that I can trust His word, and I that I know the One who rules the universe, and the best thing is that He knows me. He loves me. He  has loved me before He created the world.

These are some Scriptures that have encouraged me over the years, but the one from Isaiah is my favorite. There is a wonderful article about it here. 

Matthew 10:29-31 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Proverbs 16:33 “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”

Job 42:2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

Isaiah 46:8-11

“Remember this, keep it in mind,
    take it to heart, you rebels.
 Remember the former things, those of long ago;
    I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.’
 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
    from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
    what I have planned, that I will do.

Fixing my eyes on Jesus

A lot of things have happened recently. We are in our fifteenth week of homeschooling, and the magic has disappeared. Maybe I mentioned that already in another post. I am not as excited as I was at the beginning, and homeschooling is not as “awesome” as I thought it would be.

Let me rephrase that. My definition of “awesome” was: effortless, leisurable, and comfortable. Homeschooling has been anything but that. Yes, it has been awesome, but my perspective on what “awesome” actually is has changed.

I heard this at a conference, you know – it’s not like I was clueless. They said this was going to be hard – that I should expect it to be hard.  What was I thinking? That somehow my children somehow managed to escape the Total Depravity of man? LOL! 

9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written,

THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;
11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,
THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;
12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;
THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,
THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”
13 THEIR THROAT IS AN OPNE GRAVE,
WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING,”
THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS”;
14 WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS”;
15 THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD,
16 DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS,
17 AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN.”
18 THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.”

– Romans 3:9-18 NASB

The children and I spent a couple of weeks memorizing these verses as we have been studying the true condition of man’s nature after The Fall of Adam and Eve. I am a loyal ESV Bible reader, but lately I’ve been using the NASB. It capitalizes the text of the New Testament every time the Old Testament is quoted. How amazing is that?

In Romans 3:9-18, the apostle Paul is simply quoting the Hebrew Scriptures. He quotes Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 53:1-3, Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3, Psalm 10:7, Proverbs 1:16, Isaiah 59:7,8.

And it makes sense, right? That as Paul is making the case for the sinfulness of man, the Jews are affirming everything they hear. They probably are thinking those non-Jews are the worst, and then Paul goes on to say, that EVERY ONE is under sin, both Jews and Greeks [non-Jews] alike. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

During Bible time we have also talked about how the doctrine of Total Depravity does not mean you are as evil as you could be, but it does mean that the fall of Adam was so radical that the body, the mind, the will, the spirit—indeed, the whole person—have been infected by the power of sin. So our only hope then to overcome that condition is the mercy of God. We cannot just make some small adjustments or behavioral modifications, but we need a new heart. We need to be regenerated, we need to be born again from above. And as Jesus would explain to Nicodemus, being born into the kingdom is not a matter of man’s will, since flesh gives birth to flesh. But being born of the Holy Spirit is like the wind – it goes wherever it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

So how can someone be born again?

Do you put your faith in Jesus [pray a prayer or do whatever you need to do] and as a result of that action you are born again into the kingdom of God?

OR

You are born again from above [without your input, God changes your heart without your permission] and as a result you willingly come to faith and repentance in Christ?

I am convinced from the Scriptures that the latter is the biblical explanation for why anybody is a Christian. Anyways… it’s not new (at least in my own circles) that Reformed Theology has changed the way I see everything in life, and homeschooling is no exception.

I think this is what I have been confronted over and over again these fifteen weeks. My children were very responsive and excited the first week. They listened for the most part, and were obedient. Now, however, most of our days we are angry at our neighbor who is annoying us for the 24th time in the day…

 

IMG_4368

Civil War Weekend 2019

 

Libby and Enzo sit together side by side, and Enzo gets on her face all the time. Change seats, right? That’s the answer!! Well, nobody wants to change seats. Most of the classes they have to take together, so it is only natural that the older will be faster at some things, like writing or taking notes. The other morning, Libby started a whole argument in the bathroom trying to control the amount of time Enzo brushed his teeth. She is prone to have cavities so the rule for her is that she has to brush her teeth for two minutes using a small sand clock that she has. Enzo had one, too, but he broke it one day when he was angry. So… Libby was brushing her teeth and Enzo did not brush his teeth for the whole two minutes since she had already started with the clock. Well, that made Libby upset and she began bossing him around. He snapped at her about how he doesn’t have to obey her, and in retribution, she stuck her tongue at him and walked away.

Pretty funny, right? Although, it is not.

He then tossed his toothbrush full of toothpaste at the mirror, and made a mess which he proceeded to clean, but was having a difficult time cleaning. Then I realized all this had happened in less than two minutes, and I was not even aware of it. I was making my coffee in the kitchen and the only reason I got involved is because Enzo asked for help  on how to clean the mirror. I just asked him what had happened, and he got all hot again, which is and has always been a struggle for him – his anger. Then he began raising his voice at me, and I was not even part of this argument, but he began disrespecting me.  It took us probably more than ten minutes to settle the whole argument, with both parties involved, and without yelling at each other.

Everybody had to be confronted about their own sin in the situation, because everybody did sin. Libby was controlling to say the least, and then she showed contempt for her brother in sticking her tongue at him. I had a hard time not laughing when he told me he was upset because of that. It is hilarious for me as an adult who sees this from the outside, and has perspective on it, but seriously, what was happening in her heart at that particular moment that made her do that? I have showed contempt for people and for God. In a way, I have stuck my tongue at God when I have disregarded His ways, and have gone my own way.

Enzo, well, he lost control. He let his emotions rule. Yes, she sinned against him, so now how is he supposed to respond? Should he offer forgiveness or should he pay back evil for evil, and made a whole mess out of nowhere? Of course he was angry, and he had a good reason to be angry. One of the things I have learned to do in marriage is to overlook minor offenses, otherwise Emerson and I would be arguing more often!

How do we learn to do that? God is giving us plenty of daily opportunities to practice forgiveness while at the same time learning to confront sinful behavior by talking instead of throwing stuff at each other! God willing, this will be very helpful for their future marriages.

So this was the start of our day… we were just getting ready to start with Bible. I think that’s basically how all our days go – on and on throughout the day. Forget Math and Grammar, what gets me tired is fighting for the spiritual state of my children.

 

IMG_6205

North Houston Baptist Church Camping Trip 2019

 

A while ago I shared with someone that I was gonna be homeschooling my children. They looked at me in horror, I am not kidding – HORROR – and exclaimed, “WHY?!”

LOL! I did not take offense, this was not a Christian woman, so of course we had zero agreement on what matters the most in this life. But Christian or not Christian, situations like the toothpaste are exactly why we chose to homeschool. I don’t think I have ever written it all down. I have the privilege to address my children’s hearts as only I can. I get to disciple them and spend my days teaching them what matters the most in this life.

Who is going to teach them those things if not my husband and I?

Am I really naive enough to think that their home room teacher will? Even assuming the teacher is Christian, that person has no time in the day to address my child’s heart or the other twenty children in her classroom. They do not know my children. We never intended to get the children out of the public school system to put them in a Christian bubble in order to isolate them from sin. I am stuck with these little sinners every single day, and they are stuck with me. Sin is alive and well in our household. I guess it was way easier to send them over to school where somewhere else was bothered by their misbehavior. And what would the teacher do? Have a ten minute talk about sin and how sin gets in the way of our relationships? Of course not. So basically, at the end of the day I am exhausted, but I am so thankful we are doing this.

We are studying about other cultures, and other religions, and the questions have been great so far. I was not expecting Libby to ask me how do we know that Christianity is true.

 

You tell us all the time the Bible is true, and that every other religion is false. But the Muslim mother is teaching her children that Islam is true, and that everything else -including Christianity – is false. How do we know who is right?

– Libby

I froze for about five seconds LOL!

I didn’t have to deal with that question until I was 31 years old. Nobody ever prepared me to answer those things. And it is awesome that I get to use my spiritual gifts in teaching and preaching the gospel to my children over and over again [to my children – you know, in case you are not familiar with the uproar after Go Home].

The LORD has been so good to me and He has equipped me with so much knowledge and understanding about other religions, particularly Islam after living in India. It is a great opportunity that I get to teach apologetics and theology to my children. God has wired me with a passion for this, and it is great to be used by Him in that way. It doesn’t happen often (we do not follow a curriculum), but I think it comes often enough because we are studying the Scriptures every day. And as I write this post, I realize that the things that we have talked about have happened over a period of weeks, not necessarily in one sitting.

We have talked about the nature of truth claims, and how the most zealous sincere believers can be sincerely wrong. We have talked about how all religions share some truths together, but in reality, it is also nonsense to say that all religions teach the same things, because when you really study them side by side, they contradict each other at critical points. Simply said, Islam, Christianity, Jehova Witnesses, and Mormonism all have a different Jesus. For the JW, Jesus is Michael the archangel; for the Mormon, Jesus is the actual literal son of God who had sex with one of his many wives, brother of Satan, among other things; for Muslims, Jesus is a great prophet, but ultimately a man who, by the way, did not die on the cross (despite all the historical evidence from Jewish historians); and for Christians, Jesus is the Son of God, not a physical son, but of the same nature of the Father.

It takes a lot of time to go through many of those things. And I think that’s what I LOVE about being with them all the time. If I were not with them, all these hours that I am investing in their spiritual present and future would be spent somewhere else, with someone else, and they would be learning something else. They would still be discipled, but by other people. I know the LORD saves no matter what. He saved me, and nobody ever homeschooled me. God is mighty to save, but if I can spend this time with them, why wouldn’t I?

 

IMG_6276

He decided to get a haircut 😦

 

Ultimately, what I am striving for is to help them see what the Bible says about the condition of fallen man and how Christ is our only hope.

I have tried to make clear to them that if at any point in their lives (including right now) there is any real desire to follow after Christ in their hearts, that desire did not originate in their sinful hearts, but that God gave them that desire. Even though I believe their confession of faith is true, ultimately only God knows whether or not their faith in Jesus is genuine. And so, if they came to Christ is because it was granted to them by God, the Father, since nobody comes to the Son unless the Father draws him. That is the plain reading of the text.

We have memorized Romans 3: 9-18.

Who seeks after God? No one. There are no true seekers apart from the Holy Spirit already working in the hearts of those people.

Who is righteous in their heart that they fear the Lord? No one. So if they really believe, it is because God changed their hearts. How or when, I do not know. But I believe what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit blowing wherever He pleases, and we only see the effects of it.

If they are Christian, it is not because they are smarter than their peers, or because they are more reasonable than the unbelievers down the street, or more humble than other children or adults who refuse to accept Jesus. No. They are Christian because God had mercy on them. They are Christian because He chose to open their eyes. They are Christian because God chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy and blameless before Him. Another plain reading of the text.  They are Christian because God, in love, predestined them to adoption to Himself as children through Jesus Christ, not according to their free will, or according to how amazing they are, because the text does not say that anywhere. If they are Christian, it is according to the purpose of His will, for the praise of his glorious grace. Therefore, they cannot really boast in their ability to choose for Christ, because if there is repentance and faith in their lives, even that is a gift of God, so that no one can boast.

So I guess, we pretty much are hanging on the mercy of the Lord at all times,  and that is a sobering thought. I have been very anxious about several things lately, and the original intention of my post was to talk about it, but I got sidetracked… I have been realizing that, literally, my every heart beat is a gift from God – every single time my heart beats depends on the LORD keeping it beating.

So apart from the grace of God, no matter how much evidence I could provide them so that they would believe Christianity is a factual, historical, reliable faith, they would never believe it anyway.  They cannot. That is exactly what the Bible claims. They are blind. They cannot please God on their own. Apart from Christ, they are God’s enemies. Apart from Christ, they are all alone in the world, without hope, following Satan. Apart from Christ, they are dead in their sins and trespasses, and by nature, children of wrath (Ephesians 1, Ephesians 2, John 6, Romans 5, Romans 8, John 3).

So they do not need evidence, the evidence is there, and will always be there. What they most desperately need is a miracle. They need the Holy Spirit to illuminate their hearts. They need to be born again. While I cannot birth them spiritually, I know that my prayers and my teaching of the Word of God to them are some of the means that God might use to bring them to faith. And even if He doesn’t, I am still commanded to do it. I need to trust God will glorify Himself through our lives.

This is basically why we homeschool. If we didn’t, we couldn’t compete with the 16,000+ hours that they would have spent in school. I want that time for Christ.

Oh, yes. Other than that, we are into crocheting, and rock climbing lately. My arms were sore for three days. I am also learning to play the piano 🙂

 

IMG_6344

Libby climbing.

Inshallah – Part 1

I was given the opportunity at my church to share some of the things I learned in India. Given the fact that I’ve spent a lot of time comparing belief systems – and cultures – I thought it would be a great idea to teach my class about Muslims, and how to relate to them.

Well… I was wrong. I wrestled with God in preparing for that class. Like the Lord God wrestles with Jacob – and God wins – I think God led me to talk about something deeper that just information. The truth is – I told my group – that if they really want to know what Islam is or isn’t, they can go find out on the internet. And even then, information is so widely available that they would go insane trying to figure out who is representing Islam correctly and who is not.

My Muslimah would tell me, “Well, if you want to know about Islam, learn from me. I am a Muslim.” 

Well, yeah… then again, I see other Muslims, and they practice Islam very differently than her. So who is being really faithful to their religion? And the same goes for Christianity. I’m not being a hypocrite here. Therefore, I decided not to talk about these issues in my class. Instead, I decided to talk about HONOR AND SHAME cultures.

Most of you know that I am from Mexico. My society – my people – is very similar to the Muslim society. And for all I know, very similar to Eastern cultures. So I shared basic examples to help them understand how Honor and Shame look like in real life – specially because this is a church in which the majority of people are white. Their culture is totally different than mine. You can adapt to a culture – I believe – but there has to be a basic understanding of the dynamics of a culture (other than your own) if you want to be effective in sharing the Gospel with them.

So what I’m planning to do with the next series of posts is to share the things I talked about in the class, and after that I hope I can shed more light into the issues of salvation from the Muslim perspective, and how it relates to my perspective. I never really grasped why Muslims would say Inshallah.

Inshallah what?!

A Muslim could explain to me that they try to please Allah, and that their salvation is based on whether or not their scale is tilted to their good deeds at the end of their lives. But they would also tell me that even if the scale were tilted to the bad deeds, Allah in His infinite mercy, could still grant them paradise. The point is Muslims do not know. And so when I asked, “So are you going to heaven?” They always replied, “Inshallah, I will”. And that really confused me for a while. I’m learning new things about my own faith, and I’d like to share them.

More and more, I am letting go of myself and really running into His arms. He will keep me. He is amazing. He deserves all the glory, and all the praise, and all the honor. My prayer is that these posts would shed light into what has happened in my life lately. God, through these situations, has enabled me to see Him for who He is – The Greatest name, The All-Compassionate, The All-Merciful, The Inspirer of Faith – and I submit to Him.

NO. I’m not a Muslim at heart. Let me make that perfectly clear.

So just to make sure we are on the same page: I bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of my faith. Christ died on the cross. I believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, for by Christ all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Christ and for Christ. Christ is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together.

I am not a Muslim, but I deeply love Muslims. I pray earnestly to My Father in Heaven that He will bring His chosen ones from Islam into a relationship with their Creator. If you are Muslim, I encourage you to keep reading. Hopefully, you will get to see for yourself why it is so difficult for you to reject Islam as your identity. You might have no idea of Honor and Shame in your society. Oh, but it is real… so real.

Rest assured though, when Allah calls you to faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, you will dare to call Him Father.

 

F.A.C.T’s of the Resurrection of Jesus

This teaching on the Resurrection is great. Many good points for apologetics with Muslims 🙂

 

Did Jesus really rise from the death?

I believed in Christianity because its message appealed to me. I was raised running on an empty love-tank. I believed it. I never asked if it was true – I just wanted LOVE.

Unconditional love.

But a feeling didn’t matter when I was confronted with other faiths. So I was ready – as difficult as it was – to test my own beliefs, and follow the evidence. It was the worst year of my life, but without a doubt, it was the most enriching experience I have ever had.

I hope you enjoy this debate. David Wood is one of my personal heroes.

Did Jesus rise from the dead?

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…

1 Corinthians 15:17

He is risen 🙂

 

The Jewish Roots of Christianity

Great video. Go Columbus, Ohio! 🙂

 
 “Did Jesus intend to found the Christian church? This interesting question can be answered in the affirmative and in the negative. It depends on what precisely is being asked. If by church one means an organization and a people that stand outside of Israel, the answer is no. If by a community of disciples committed to the restoration of Israel and the conversion and instruction of the Gentiles, then the answer is yes. Jesus did not wish to lead his disciples out of Israel, but to train followers who will lead Israel, who will bring renewal to Israel , and who will instruct Gentiles in the way of the Lord. Jesus longed for the fulfillment of the promises and the prophecies, a fulfillment that would bless Israel and the nations alike. The estrangement of the church from Israel was not the result of Jesus’ teaching or Paul’s teaching. Rather, the parting of the ways, as it has been called in recent years, was the result of a long process”—Craig Evans , From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation.
Here are the chapters from the book:
Partings—How Judaism & Christianity Became Two - Hardcover
:
I. The Jewish Jesus Movement
Geza Vermes
II. From the Crucifixion to the End of the First Century
James D.G. Dunn
III. The Godfearers: From the Gospels to Aphrodisias
Bruce Chilton
IV. The Christian Flight to Pella? The Archaeological Picture
Pamela Watson
V. Parting in Palestine
Joan Taylor
VI. Christianity in Antioch: Partings in Roman Syria
Annette Yoshiko Reed and Lily Vuong
VII. Living Side by Side in Galilee
Eric M. Meyers
VIII. Jews and Christians at Rome: An Early Parting of the Ways
Margaret H. Williams
IX. Christianity’s Rise After Judaism’s Demise in Early Egypt
Robert A. Kraft and AnneMarie Luijendijk
X. Ebionites and Nazoraeans: Christians or Jews?
Matt A. Jackson-McCabe
XI. In Between: Jewish-Christians and the Curse of the Heretics
Shaye J.D. Cohen
XII. The Complexities of Rejections and Attraction, Herein of Love and Hate
Steven Fine
XIII. From Sabbath to Sunday: Why, How and When?
Lawrence T. Geraty
XIV. Social Organization and Parting in East and West
Arye Edrei and Doron Mendels
XV. Did They Ever Part?
 Who is the Founder of Christianity? Jesus or Paul?
Linguistically speaking, Christianity didn’t exist in the first century. Judaism in the first century wasn’t seen as a single “way.” There were many “Judaism’s”- the Sadducees, the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, etc.  The followers of Jesus are referred to as a “sect” (Acts 24:14;28:22); “the sect of the Nazarenes” (24:5).
Josephus refers to the “sects” of Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees. The first followers of Jesus were considered to be a sect of Second Temple Judaism.

Another quote by Evans:

But we must ask if Paul has created a new institution, a new organization, something that stands over against Israel, something that Jesus himself never anticipated. From time to time learned tomes and popular books have asserted that the Christian church is largely Paul’s creation, that Jesus himself never intended for such a thing to emerge. Frankly, I think the hypothesis of Paul as creator of the church or inventor of Christianity is too simplistic. A solution that is fairer to the sources, both Christian and Jewish, is more complicated. -Evans, Craig A., From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation .

Take a look at both quotes from Evans in this post.  From the author’s own experience, most Christians and Jewish people like the current boundaries. In other words, we have two separate religions- Judaism and Christianity. Thus, we don’t care much about as to how we got to that place. One thing for sure: If we discuss the “imperial Christianity” that was legalized in the fourth century by Constantine and whether Jesus or Paul is the founder of that, the answer is no. By then, the Christianity that existed was so far away from what Jesus and Paul had done, it had morphed into a new and separate religion.

As Evans says, this was the result of complex factors.

Do these issues matter for apologetics?

Yes! See the post called Why the Debate Over Christian Origins Matter!

What if the copies were corrupted?

I think I’ve written on this subject before, but why not to keep on writing? This post was originally written here.


Suppose you own a Bible, but it’s translated in a style that’s difficult to understand. Or maybe your Bible has simply worn out from years of usage. If so, you can easily walk into any Christian bookstore and pick up a different version of the Bible.

The earliest Christians couldn’t do that.

There was no “Polycarp Standard Version” or “Saint James Study Bible with Limited Edition Camel-Knee Binding” on anyone’s bookshelf, and there were no printing presses or photocopy machines. Early Christians read the Scriptures from codexes and scrolls. These copies of the Scriptures were hand-written from whatever manuscripts the copyists happened to possess when a copy was needed. And so, it was crucial for copyists to reproduce these texts accurately.

But did they? What if the copies of the New Testament were corrupted over the centuries?

Certain skeptics give the impression that ancient copyists changed the biblical texts in ways that ought to worry Christians today (this is certainly the case with Muslims).

Here’s how Bart Erhman describes the status of the New Testament manuscripts:

Not only do we not have the originals [of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament], we don’t have the first copies of the originals.… What we have are copies made later—much later. … These copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are. … Christianity … is a textually oriented religion whose texts have been changed, surviving only in copies that vary from one another, sometimes in highly significant ways.[1]

Such statements suggest that the process of copying the Scriptures worked something like the Telephone Game (much like skeptics have depicted the oral histories you learned about in a previous chapter). In the Telephone game, of course, you might start with “I like pepperoni pizza” but end up with “Don’t let the purple aliens build pyramids when the zombies attack.”

Could it be that the verses in the New Testament have been similarly corrupted by careless copyists? If so, even if the original New Testament texts told the truth, how can we be sure that what we read in the New Testament today is true, since it may have changed over the centuries? Has the message of Jesus been lost in transmission?

Truth be told, the skeptics’ claims are overblown. The New Testament has not changed significantly over the centuries, and nothing essential to the message of Jesus has been lost in transmission.[2] In the first place, manuscripts weren’t copied a single time and then tossed aside, like the individual sentences whispered around the circle in a Telephone Game. Manuscripts were kept, repeatedly copied, and sometimes used to check later copies.

What’s more, textual critics today don’t start with the manuscripts left over at the end of the copying process, like the last sentence uttered in the Telephone Game. The Greek text that stands behind today’s New Testament is the result of careful reconstruction using the earliest surviving manuscripts, not a few leftovers at the end!

So, yes, copyists made mistakes, and some copyists even altered texts. And yet, such lapses were relatively rare. Copyists worked hard to keep their copies correct and, for the most part, they got it right. Even when they didn’t get it right, most of their mistakes were mere misspellings or slips of the pen—variants that are easy to spot and easily corrected. When it comes to more difficult variants, so many manuscripts and fragments of the New Testament have survived that scholars can almost always reconstruct the original reading of the text. In those few instances where uncertainty about the right reading remains, none of the possibilities changes anything that Christians believe about God or about his work in the world.

So did copyists make changes in the manuscripts? Of course they did!

The copyists were human beings, and being human means making mistakes. Since God chose not to override their humanity as they copied the New Testament, these human beings were every bit as prone to short attention spans, poor eyesight, and fatigue as you or me. They had no eyeglasses or contact lenses to sharpen their vision, and they relied on the flickering light of lamps to see.

Since God did not “re-inspire” the text each time it was reproduced, sometimes the copyists miscopied their sources. Once in a while, they even tried to fix things that weren’t broken by changing words that they thought a heretic might misconstrue.[3] The result is hundreds of thousands of copying variants scattered among the New Testament manuscripts.

One popular skeptic’s much-repeated soundbite is that “there are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament”; this statement is technically true but—unless his listeners are aware of the vast number of New Testament manuscripts that survive today—it’s also a bit misleading.[4]

There are around 138,000 words in the Greek New Testament, and hundreds of thousands of variants can be found scattered among the Greek manuscripts— but that number of variants comes from adding up every difference in every surviving manuscript from the Greek New Testament.[5] Well over 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts have been preserved as a whole or in part—more than any other text from the ancient world![6] With so many surviving manuscripts, it doesn’t take long for the number of variants to exceed the number of words in the Greek New Testament.

If only one manuscript of the New Testament had survived, there would have been zero variants (and this single manuscript would probably have become an idol to which people would make pilgrimages today!). But early Christians believed that all of God’s Word should be accessible to all of God’s people. And so, every church seemed to have possessed its own codexes of apostolic texts—and that’s why more than 5,000 whole or partial manuscripts survive today.

Spread across millions and millions of words in more than 5,000 manuscripts, the variations represent a small percentage of the total text. According to one scholar, the New Testament text is 92.6% stable.[7] In other words, all these differences affect less than 8% of the New Testament text! What’s more, the overwhelming majority of these differences have to do with words that are misspelled or rearranged—differences that have no impact on the translation or meaning of the text.[8]

What this means practically is that the text of the New Testament has been sufficiently preserved for us to recover the words that God intended and inspired. What’s more, several portions of the New Testament survive from the second century—a century or less after the time when God first inspired eyewitnesses of the risen Lord to write!

The New Testament is, in fact, the best preserved text from the ancient world. Greek scholar D.A. Carson sums up the issue in this way: “The purity of text is of such a substantial nature that nothing we believe to be true, and nothing we are commanded to do, is in any way jeopardized by the variants.”[9]

____________

Portions of this blog post were contributed by Elijah Hixson. 


 

We know (if you are familiar with what the Muslims claim) that every single book in antiquity has been corrupted. By corruption, I mean that people used to keep on copying the manuscripts, and therefore some errors happened. This is certainly the case with the New Testament. There was never an intention to control the text (check out the debate about the Quran with James White that I posted below). The text needed to get out of Jerusalem so that everybody knew what had happened.

Every single person had a different book (either the letter to the Romans, or to the Corinthians) and they made a copy for themselves or for their family. Nobody was trying to alter them on purpose. It is impossible to think that people would get so victorious at changing the doctrines in the New Testament so perfectly, at the same time – without even being organized. The New Testament Manuscript tradition has thousand and thousands of manuscripts.

The Muslim claim is that the Quran we have now has always been the same ever since Gabriel dictated it to Muhammad. But if we are to apply the same standard – not a double standard – on how we treat the Quran and the New Testament, then the Quran is also corrupt. And if it is corrupted – just like any book of antiquity is – then the doctrine of perfect preservation of the Quran is false. That would mean… many things, I guess. No eternal tablets in heaven, no assurance of what Muhammad and his companions wrote down were actually Allah’s words. No hope that Allah’s language is Arabic or that Islam is the religion that pleases Allah or actually true… The Quran is just another book.

If the perfect preservation of the Quran fails… how can Islam survive? Listen to the questions White raises. Where are the manuscripts of the Quran? There are variations in the text of the Quran? How do you know what the original said? Muslims say there are 450 thousand Quran manuscripts. Fine. Where are they? We want to see the list. We can give you all the list of the New Testament manuscripts, and you can go online and find the entire catalog right now. Where is that for the Quran?

Is the Quran reliable? White vs Ismail

Is the Bible reliable? White vs Ismail

Is the Quran perfectly preserved? Part 1

Is the Quran perfectly preserved? Part 2 

You might also want to read Dr. James White’s What every Christian needs to know about the Quran. It’s very a well documented research on the history of how the Quran came to be from the main Islamic sources. But if you watch the top two debates, I’m sure you’ll get the idea.


[1] Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 7, 10–11, 69, 132, 208.

[2] See also Daniel B. Wallace, “Lost in Transmission,” Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011), 31–33; Darrell Bock, (Nashville: Nelson, 2010), 71.

[3] See Bart Ehrman’s scholarly work The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). In those relatively few instances where the text has been intentionally altered, it was not primarily heretics altering New Testament texts to fit their beliefs; it was often the orthodox altering texts for the perceived purpose of preventing misuse of the text by heretics. While one may take issue with some of Ehrman’s specific applications, his overall case is well-argued.

[4] Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 90.

[5] Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus, 89) places the high end of his estimate at 400,000. Careful statistical analysis by Peter Gurry has resulted in an estimate between 500,000 and 550,000, not including misspellings (“Demanding a Recount,” presentation, Evangelical Theological Society, 2014).

[6] The listing in 2003 included a total of 5,735 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament represented in whole or in part (Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament 4th ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 2005], 50).

[7] K. Martin Heide, “Assessing the Stability of the Transmitted Texts of the New Testament and The Shepherd of Hermas,” The Reliability of the New Testament, ed. Robert Stewart (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011), 138. This percentage coheres well with the seven percent figure for variants suggested by Paul Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006), 231.

[8] Wallace, “Lost in Transmission,” 20–21.

Historical Jesus Studies

“An Assessment of the Present State of Historical Jesus Research” is a popular level summary in a chapter included in a book by Sean McDowell, A New Kind of Apologist (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2016), Used by Permission.

Michael Licona (original article)

A few years ago, I boarded a plane for a very long flight. I had a new book I had saved for the trip and was very much looking forward to reading it. Shortly after I took my seat, an elderly man, probably in his eighties, took his seat next to me. I smiled thinking, He’s going to fall asleep and I’m going to get in a lot of reading. 

I was mistaken. Just after I began reading, my fellow passenger leaned over and looked very deliberately at the pages of my book. I smiled and showed him the cover. It was a book on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. He chuckled and said, “Well, I guess we don’t have to think seriously about that, since it has now been proven that Jesus never even existed!” He then sat up straight, as though our conversation had ended and now it was time to find something else to do. Hit and run? Not a chance, my new friend.

“Why do you think Jesus never existed?” I asked. This led to a short conversation on Jesus’s existence. It did not take long for him to concede that Jesus had, in fact, existed. But he maintained that “resurrections are impossible. There is no evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and it certainly could never be proved.” Perhaps you have had a similar discussion with someone and wished you had known how to reply. In what follows, I am going to discuss three key areas that will both inform and equip you to engage in intelligent discussions about Jesus with others.

Current State of Historical Jesus Studies

Our first matter is to define what is meant by the “historical Jesus.” Although scholars have not agreed on a definition, most would at least be satisfied with the following definition as a means to enter a discussion: When the data has been sifted, sorted, and assessed, the historical Jesus is the Jesus historians can prove with reasonable certainty and apart from faith.

It is important to observe that the historical Jesus is not the real Jesus who walked and taught in Judea and Galilee, but is the Jesus known through the results of historical investigation. The real Jesus was much more than the historical Jesus, just as a corpse in a grave was once much more than the minimal information described on the tombstone. And then there is the Jesus in the Gospels. This third Jesus is also a partial representative of the real Jesus who had many more elements to his personality and many more things that he said and did than could ever be reported in a Gospel with a length of less than twenty-five thousand words.

It is very important to understand these distinctions and many often fail here. In theory, these three Jesuses are not necessarily in conflict. For example, if historical investigation were some day to prove that the real Jesus did not claim to be the Son of God, the real Jesus and the historical Jesus would be in conflict with the Jesus in the Gospels, since the Jesus in the Gospels claimed to be the Son of God. On the other hand, the inability of historical investigation to determine whether Jesus was born of a virgin does not place the historical Jesus in conflict with the Jesus in the Gospels or the real Jesus, since the former will always be an incomplete figure. Accordingly, if historians cannot prove Jesus performed Event X, it is a misstep to conclude on that basis that it did not occur. To do so would be quite naive, since numerous events that actually occurred in the distant past cannot be verified.

How do historians arrive at conclusions regarding Jesus?

There are several approaches and various tools used within each approach. The most common approach at present is to recognize that Jesus was a Jewish itinerant preacher who lived in first-century Palestine in a culture that was both Jewish and Greco-Roman. This provides historians with a background knowledge that helps them obtain a more accurate understanding of what Jesus taught and the impact it may have had on those who heard him. They then apply what are referred to as criteria of authenticity to the words and deeds of Jesus as preserved in the Gospels. These criteria reflect commonsense principles. If two or more sources that are independent of one another provide similar reports of the same event, we can have more confidence that the event had occurred than if only one source had reported it. This is called the criterion of multiple attestation. For example, the Gospel of Mark and Paul’s letters are independent of one another. So, when both report that Jesus was buried, we have multiple attestation of the event.

If a source that is unsympathetic or even hostile toward the Christian faith provides a report that agrees with the Christian reports, we can have more confidence that the event had occurred, since the unsympathetic or hostile source would not have the bias carried by the authors of the Christian reports. This is called the criterion of unsympathetic sources. For example, Tacitus referred to Christianity as an evil and mischievous superstition (Annals 15.44). This identifies him as an unsympathetic source. So, when he reports Jesus’s execution by Pontius Pilate, a report entirely compatible with what we find in the Gospels, historians can have more confidence that the event had occurred.

If a report in the Gospels provides data that would have been embarrassing to the early Christian movement, we can have more confidence that the event had occurred, since it is unlikely that the author would have invented content likely to detract from the cause for which he wrote. This is called the criterion of embarrassment. For example, Mark reports that Peter rebuked Jesus and that Jesus in turn rebuked Peter, calling him “Satan” (Mark 8:31-33). Since Peter was a leader of the Jerusalem church, it seems unlikely that the early Christians would have invented and preserved a tradition that casts him in such an unfavorable manner.

Historians prefer to have reports that are from eyewitnesses or from a source whose report was written close to the event it purports to describe. This is called the criterion of early attestation. For example, almost all scholars agree that Paul has preserved an oral tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 that goes back to the earliest days of the Christian church and that the content of these verses, although not necessarily the creedal form in which the content appears, very probably goes back to the Jerusalem apostles.

It would be nice if historians could climb into a time machine, return to the past, and verify their conclusions. Since that is not possible, historians can establish matters with only varying degrees of certainty. And it is entirely possible that a lack of data could lead historians to arrive at a false conclusion. This is not only the state of affairs when historians investigate biblical events but also with every other purported event in antiquity. Accordingly, the fulfillment of one or more of the criteria of authenticity in relation to specific reports about Jesus may be said to establish their authenticity with “reasonable” but not “absolute” certainty.

Historians who investigate nonreligious matters have strenuously debated the nature of history for several decades. Understanding the many challenges to knowing the past faced by historians, some have claimed that the past cannot be known and that historians merely create their own narratives of the past based on their subjective interpretations of the data. These are known as postmodern historians. Although the debate concerning the nature of history continues, the majority of historians have come to reject postmodern approaches to history and embrace realism, the view that the past can be known to a degree. Of course, historical descriptions of the past will never be exhaustive, will vary in their accuracy, and can be established with only varying degrees of certainty.

Therefore, when speaking of Jesus, it is unreasonable to demand absolute certainty. This is important because many of the skeptics we encounter outside the academic world, and even some skeptics within it, have an approach that, in essence, says, “As long as there is an alternate explanation to the biblical account that cannot be absolutely disproved, the biblical account should not be taken seriously.” Such an approach suggests those holding this view have a sophomoric understanding of how the practice of history works. A competent historian embraces what he or she concludes is the most probable explanation of the available data, since there is little of the distant past that can be established with such certainty that no room remains for an extremely unlikely alternative.

The Jesus Mythers

During the past twenty years or so, a number of books and articles have appeared on the Internet arguing that Jesus is a myth who never existed. Viewing the biographical information of their authors reveals that only a handful have any academic credentials. Unfortunately, most people reading the literature written by “mythers” (as they are commonly referred to) are not accustomed to critical thinking by comparing sources. For them, Earl Doherty and Dee Murdock (aka Acharya S) are as credible as John Meier and N.T. Wright. Yet they are unaware that neither Doherty nor Murdock ever went beyond earning a bachelor’s degree while Meier and Wright earned doctorates in relevant fields and teach New Testament studies at prestigious universities.

I am not claiming the lack of academic credentials on the part of Doherty and Murdock prohibits them from having good arguments and, therefore, they should be ignored. However, it is true that they do not have the training and experience in the proper fields. As a result, they often make egregious errors and silly proposals that sound credible only to the naive.??1 Mythers are often guilty of twisting data, providing false claims, appealing to other sources who are also not scholars, requiring an unreasonable burden of proof before acknowledging the existence of Jesus while being unaware that the scenarios they have proposed in order to address the data border on unbridled fantasy. Readers should understand that publishing on the World Wide Web does not make one a world-class scholar, since the only credential one must have to publish on the Internet is to breathe.

It is noteworthy that one could count on one hand all the scholars in the fields of history and biblical studies who have been persuaded by the arguments of mythers. This is not because the majority of historians and biblical scholars are Christians (I seriously doubt that is the case). It is also noteworthy that even some atheist and agnostic scholars have blasted mythers for their poor arguments and treatment of the data.??2 Scholars simply refuse to give them much attention and regard them to be as absurd as holocaust deniers.

Discussing the Historical Jesus with Others

With the advent of the Internet in the nineties, an explosion of information became available to the public. Christians are far more likely to hear arguments from their skeptical family members, colleagues at work, and neighbors that are more sophisticated than what they may have heard before the Internet. Moreover, our culture has changed. People are easily offended and many regard truth as relative. Everyone has their own truth and thinks it is morally wrong to offend others by telling them you think they are mistaken.

The apostle Paul adjusted his approach to relate better to his particular audience.??3 We should do no less. We must be more careful than ever to be winsome in our interactions with nonbelievers. We can be respectful of those we disagree with and make an effort to listen to them while they present their views in the same manner we would like for them to listen to us while we present ours. We should not overstate our case but temper it. Instead of saying “The historical evidence proves that Jesus rose from the dead,” say “The historical evidence strongly suggests Jesus rose from the dead.” Instead of saying, “I know that I know Christianity is true,” say “In view of the evidence I’ve examined as well as the answers to prayer I have personally witnessed, I’m convinced Christianity is true.”

Remember the words of the apostles Peter and Paul. Peter wrote, “But set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts, always prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account concerning the hope in you” (1 Peter 3:15, author’s translation). Paul similarly wrote, “Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6, author’s translation).

It is important to recognize that presenting good arguments to a skeptic will not ensure he or she will be convinced by them. Their objections to following Christ may be intellectual (e.g., they are not persuaded by the evidence), emotional (e.g., their Muslim or Jewish family would disown them or they had a poor experience with one or more Christians or their father), or volitional (e.g., they do not want to believe because of pride or it may require them to alter their behavior).

It is their responsibility to make a proper decision. It is our responsibility to share the message of hope through Christ “with gentleness and respect” and “with grace,” as Peter and Paul taught. The gospel message is already offensive to some. We need not make it more offensive by presenting it in a manner that lacks gentleness, respect, and grace. When we combine more knowledge with a heart that deeply cares for our nonbelieving friends, we will be pleasantly surprised to find ourselves engaged in dialogues that are far more enjoyable and effective than we may ever have imagined.

Jesus and the Historical Method – Part 8

For the past several weeks, we have been investigating how the historical Jesus of Nazareth fares by being tested by the traditional historical method. Before wrapping up our investigation, NT scholar Michael Licona provides two additional tests that need to be considered. This article will investigate those two additional tests or methods and will offer some concluding thoughts on our quest.

1. Arguments to the Best Explanation.

Licona notes that the Arguments-to-the-Best-Explanation method “makes inferences and weighs hypotheses according to specific criteria.”[1] In other words, the data is compiled and examined according to a particular hypothesis made by the historian. The criteria include:

Explanatory scope: Examining the most relevant data according to the hypothesis.

Explanatory power: Looking at the “quality of the explanation of the facts.”[2]

Plausibility: How much confidence can the historian possess that a certain event took place? For the skeptic, if they are to be honest historically, they must suspend their skepticism, and allow for the possibility of the miraculous if they are to become unbiased.

Less ad hoc: Covering only what the data suggests without going “beyond what is already known.”[3]

Illumination: Where one piece of data strengthens other areas of inquiry.

Speaking of this method, Licona goes on to say that “Arguments to the best explanation are guided by inference and can sometimes be superior to an eyewitness to an event. Testimony to the court does not provide truth but data.”[4]

Examining the data that we have presented already when using this method demonstrates that the best historical explanation is that Jesus of Nazareth existed and walked out of the grave the first Easter Sunday. Licona, in his work The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach , comes to the following conclusion in his over 600 page work:

“I am contending that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the best historical explanation of the relevant historical bedrock. Since it fulfills all five of the criteria for the best explanation and outdistances competing hypotheses by a significant margin in their ability to fulfill the same criteria, the historian is warranted in regarding Jesus’ resurrection as an event that occurred in the past.”[5]

Thus, from using this method, Jesus’ historicity as well as Jesus’ resurrection are confirmed.

2. Arguments from Statistical Inference.

The Arguments from Statistical Inference method evaluates all data in question and evaluates the probability that an event could have happened. If one eliminates the possibility of God’s existence and God’s involvement in an event, then the odds that a “miraculous” event occurred goes down dramatically. However, if one holds that a greater power was involved, the odds go up drastically. Licona gives the illustration of one evaluating whether his son could lift 200 lbs. over his head. While such may be improbable, if one is willing to add that a bodybuilder assisted him, the added datum allows for such an event to become much more probable.[6] If the historian is going to be unbiased, then one must allow for the possibility of God’s existence, and the possibility that God may have an invested interest for raising Jesus from the dead.

While this method will always be somewhat subjective, the historian can make an educated synopsis of how historically certain an event is. McCullagh uses the following grades:

“Extremely probable: in 100-95% of cases

Very probable: in 95-80% of cases

Quite or fairly probable: in 80-65% of cases

More probable than not: in 65-50% of cases

Hardly or scarely probable: in 50-35% of cases

Fairly improbable: in 35-20% of cases

Very improbable: in 20-5% of cases

Extremely improbable: in 5-0% of cases.”[7]

 

While it must be admitted that in history one cannot hold 100% certainty that any event took place one could argue that one cannot be 100% certain of what a person had for breakfast. However, one could say that it was extremely probable that a person had Cheerios® for breakfast if one sees a used bowl and spoon with bits of Cheerios® cereal, accompanied by used milk at the bottom of the bowl, with an empty Cheerios® box sitting beside the bowl.

So, what can we draw from our investigation?

Concluding Thoughts

So, does Jesus pass the historical method? I would say so. In fact, so much so that I think one can logically hold the following premises.

It is extremely probable that Jesus existed. One can say with over 95% certainty that Jesus existed. To claim otherwise is to hold a level of skepticism that will disallow one to know about anyone or anything in history.

It is extremely probable that Jesus rose from the dead. The strength of Jesus’ existence is coupled with the strength of his resurrection. In my estimation, I would say that one holds a very strong case for the resurrection of Christ being an actual event of history.

It is extremely probable that Jesus’ disciples saw him risen from the dead. Some may argue that this point deserves to hold the level “very probable.” However, I feel that given other data to consider that it is extremely probable that Jesus’ disciples encountered the risen Jesus.

It is very probable that we have good eyewitness testimony telling us about the life of Jesus. While we have fantastic eyewitness testimony for the life of Jesus, particular debates surrounding the Evangelists’ identity and the like take down the probability a notch. In my estimation the eyewitness testimony deserves to have the highest ranking, but to be fair to all the data involved, I give it a very probable ranking (95-80% certainty).

It is extremely improbable that the Jesus Mythicist campaign has any leg on which to stand. Even agnostic Bart Ehrman has confessed that the Jesus Mythicist campaign is erroneous. While the historical data does not prove Jesus to be the Messiah (that comes by faith), the data provides solid grounding for accepting such a belief. In stark contrast, one can claim that the idea that Jesus was a myth is extremely improbable (0-5%).

Therefore, one may deny Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, one may reject his claims as divine, and one may pass off his miracles as the work of a magician, however one cannot deny that Jesus of Nazareth existed and one will be hard-pressed to deny that this same Jesus walked out of the tomb the first Easter Sunday.

Jesus of Nazareth passes the historical test with a solid A+. 

© February 15, 2016. Brian Chilton.



Note to self and others struggling with faith: In my darkest moments, I held for dear life to the fact that the most certain thing about Jesus historically is that He died by crucifixion. And if He died on that cross, then Islam was false. I still had to deal with the fact of Jesus being divine or Jesus resurrecting… But if He died then Islam was false. That did not make Christianity true but Islam was false. I felt joy. And the best argument that Islam gave me about the cross was that God wanted to test people. Allah went all the way deceiving everybody to think that Jesus had died, but it wasn’t really so. Of course, Islam said Allah loved Jesus PBUH so much that He had to rescue Him from the shame of the cross and whatever, that’s why He had to raise Jesus to Himself. 

Okay, fine. But why? Why would Allah make other guy loo like Jesus? Why the secrecy? Why the lying? Why not be open about it and say, “Look, this is Jesus, I’m taking Him up to me”. No. Allah made other look like Jesus. That was deception in my eyes.

If that was God I would rather go to hell than to follow Him. Didn’t Allah know that by making other person look like Jesus many people would start a movement called The Way? Didn’t Allah know these people would follow Jesus as Lord and Savior? Didn’t He know I would be deceived as well in to worshipping this Jesus? And He still did it – just to test me? Why would Allah put so many obstacles between Him and me? I decided I would rather follow the Biblical Jesus and go to hell – even if that Jesus was a product of my own imagination – than to embrace the Islamic understanding of Allah and the non-historical life of  Jesus in the Quran.

As it turns out, Jesus did die for my sins and did rise from the dead. My head went ahead my heart, and the Holy Spirit kicked in later as I came back from India. I am now on fire for my Lord Jesus and I will forever proclaim Him as my Savior 🙂



Bibliography

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.

McGullagh, C. B. Justifying Historical Descriptions. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

[1] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010), 108.

[2] Ibid., 109.

[3] Ibid., 110.

[4] Ibid., 114.

[5] Ibid., 610.

[6] See Licona, 114.

[7] C. B. McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 52.

Jesus and the Historical Method – Part 7

Last time, we discussed the eyewitness testimony for Jesus by demonstrating the validity of the Gospel records. Such an endeavor was important to establish particular witnesses found within the Gospel accounts. We have seen that one holds good reasons for accepting that the apostle Matthew had, at least in part, a hand in the writing of the First Gospel; that John Mark wrote down the information found in the Second Gospel; that the physician and co-hort of Paul—Luke—wrote the third Gospel; and that the apostle John wrote the Fourth Gospel. But, how does this influence the eyewitness testimony that one holds for Jesus of Nazareth?

The Testimony of Peter

As noted last week, Irenaeus notes that “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.”[1] Thus, the church unanimously accepted that John Mark recorded the testimony of one Simon Peter.

The Gospel of Mark does focus quite a bit on the life of Simon Peter. Of the information in Matthew’s Gospel believed to have been taken from Mark, the majority of the shared material deals with the life of Simon Peter. Thus, the believer has essentially the eyewitness testimony from one of the inner circle disciples—Simon Peter.

The Testimony of John

Last time, we noted that despite the skepticism of some modern scholars, the majority of internal and external evidence for the Fourth Gospel demonstrate that the apostle John wrote the text. It has always amazed me how one misses John’s imprint in the Fourth Gospel. In John 21:1-2, the writer lists Jesus’ appearance to seven disciples “Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together” (John 21:1-2).[2] It is interesting that John the son of Zebedee is never explicitly listed, but rather this “disciple who Jesus loved” (John 21:7). It was Peter and this mysterious disciple who traveled to the tomb of Jesus. Who else would one imagine accompanying Peter to the tomb other than John the apostle? In fact, John the apostle is linked to being the caretaker of Jesus’ mother after Jesus’ death by the early church fathers.

Among the writings of the early church fathers, there is a letter written by Ignatius to John the apostle. These writings are normally attributed to the late first-century. Nevertheless, Ignatius writes, There are also many of our women here, who are desirous to see Mary [the mother] of Jesus, and wish day by day to run off from us to you, that they may meet with her, and touch those breasts of hers which nourished the Lord Jesus, and may inquire of her respecting some rather secret matters.”[3]

Even if the letter is spurious, it demonstrates the early acceptance of the idea that John the apostle assumed the role of caretaker of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This mysterious disciple whom Jesus loved is also linked with being the caretaker of Mary, the mother of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (John 19:26-27). Then, the Gospel states as a postscript, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know his testimony is true” (John 21:24). What this tells us is that we have another witness by an inner circle disciple. Even if John was written by a disciple of the apostle, we would still have eyewitness testimony about Jesus since the apostolic witness would have been recorded.

The Testimony of Matthew

As we noted last week, good reasons exist to hold the apostle Matthew as the author of at least part of the First Gospel. It seems quite odd that the early church would choose Matthew, a tax-collector, as the author of the First Gospel if it were in fact not based upon truth. I could provide further reasons for holding Matthean authorship. But suffice it to say, that if one accepts the apostle Matthew as the writer of the First Gospel, then one has another apostolic eyewitness for Jesus of Nazareth.

The Testimony of the Early Church

We have already noted the existence of pre-New Testament material in the letters of Paul and, some would say, in the Gospels. This is particularly the case in Luke’s Gospel where Luke notes that he used the testimony of those “who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word [who] have delivered them to us” (Luke 1:2). Thus, in Luke’s Gospel, one will find a panoply of eyewitness testimonies from various individuals used by Luke to construct his Gospel account.

The Testimony of Mary the Mother of Jesus

The first few chapters of Luke’s Gospel relays information pertaining to the birth of Jesus and the experiences that Mary, the mother of Jesus had before Jesus’ birth. Robert Stein states that It is clear from the first chapter of Matthew as well as the traditional nature of the material in Luke 1–2 that Luke did not create all this material.”[4]

Luke records the Magnificat (Mary’s Song of Praise) in Luke 1:46-55. In addition, the Evangelist records particularly intimate details about Mary such as the time when Mary “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Since this material is not original to Luke, and since pagan myths do not account for the inclusion,[5] it seems to me that the most likely explanation is that Luke received the eyewitness testimony of Mary, the mother of Jesus for the beginning of his Gospel.

Thus, I would argue that one has the eyewitness testimony of Mary in Luke’s Gospel, which further adds to the testimony found within the Gospel narratives.

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, there are many more witnesses than those presented in this article. Nevertheless, one may still remain skeptical. It is quite apparent that not everyone will accept all of my conclusions in this article. But let it be said that even if one does not accept the evidence listed in this section of our presentation, one still must accept the early eyewitness testimony found in the pre-New Testament creeds and formulations.

Therefore, when coupled with the Gospel accounts, the eyewitness testimony for Jesus of Nazareth is quite good. Jesus of Nazareth passes the eyewitness testimony examination of the historical method.

Our investigation is not quite yet complete. Next time, we will examine two other areas of historical research offered by New Testament scholar Michael Licona. Thus far, Jesus of Nazareth has withstood the scrutiny of the historical method. Will he continue to remain standing after these final two areas of research?

Bibliography

Ignatius of Antioch. “The Epistle of Ignatius to St. John the Apostle.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Irenaeus of Lyons. “Irenæus against Heresies.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Stein, Robert H. Luke. The New American Commentary. Volume 24. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.

Notes

[1] Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 414.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to St. John the Apostle,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 124.

[4] Robert H. Stein, Luke, vol. 24, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 81.

[5] See Stein, Luke, NAC, 81.