Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Are The Four Gospels Legends?

        The four gospels were written during a time when most of the eyewitnesses to the miracles of Jesus Christ were still alive. They would have naturally disputed fabricated details.

         Men such as Peter and John were Jewish. That point bears significance because lying was forbidden in Jewish culture (Exodus 20:16; Leviticus 19:11; Proverbs 19:5).

         The Jewish leaders were not recorded as disputing the miracles performed by Jesus (John 11:45-48).

         The literary form of the gospels is not that of legend. The authors intended to convey points rooted in history, reflecting knowledge of geography and recording what took place in Galilee and Judea. The gospels flow in a style similar to Greco-Roman biographies, but are indebted to the Old Testament as regards what they are composed of.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Uniqueness Of The Judeo-Christian Scriptures

"There are no other "sacred" books that anywhere nearly come up to the Scriptures in the character of their contents and the unity of their plan. Speaking of the Mohammedan, Zoroastrian, and Buddhist Scriptures, James Orr says, they are "destitute of beginning, middle, or end. They are, for the most part, collections of heterogeneous materials, loosely placed together. How different everyone must acknowledge it to be with the Bible! From Genesis to Revelation we feel that this book is in a real sense a unity. It is not a collection of fragments, but has, as we say, an organic character...There is nothing exactly resembling it, or even approaching it, in all literature."4

Henry Clarence Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament, p. 86

The Uniqueness Of The Biblical Answer To Human Sin And Suffering

"We naturally turn to the so-called "sacred" books of the world for an answer to our problems. But we cannot find any logical or adequate solution of the sin-question in the five Classics of Confucianism, the Vedas of Hinduism, or the Koran of Mohammedanism. When Joseph Cook, many years ago at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, challenged the priests of the ancient religions to answer Lady Macbeth's question: "How cleanse this red right hand?" all the priests were dumb. They had no answer to this question. But when we turn to the Bible, particularly to the New Testament, we get an answer that satisfies both the mind and the heart. In substance it is this: Christ "bare our sins in his body upon the tree; by whose stripes ye were healed" (1 Pet. 2:24). God has found a way by means of which He can remain just and justify the sinner that believes in Jesus (Rom. 3:26)."

Henry Clarence Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament, p. 84

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Examining The Tresury Of Merit In Light Of Scripture

          “We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints ‘the Church’s treasury’, which is not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the ‘treasury of the Church’ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy." (CCC # 1476)

          "This treasury includes, as well, the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord…In this way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.” (CCC # 1477)

         First of all, there is no mention in Scripture of us making atonement for the sins of other brethren in Christ. There is no way in which we can satisfy the consequences for sin on behalf of other people. The shed blood of Jesus Christ is our propitiation (Isaiah 53:4-6; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:10). His atonement is the only thing which has any value.

         The Apostle Paul stated that if it were possible, he would suffer to bring about the redemption of Israel (Romans 9-10). We can clearly see here a complete contrast between his inadequate work as a moral substitute and the complete sufficiency of Christ's work.

         If the merits of Jesus Christ are infinitely valuable and inexhaustible, then it should atone for both sin and its guilt. This treasury of merit should cover both the temporary and eternal consequences of sin. Yet, the Roman Catholic Church requires its followers to make amends for the temporal punishments of sin through good works and purgatory. The benefits of the treasury of merit are not extended to eternal punishment. This seems inconsistent, given the treasury is spoken of so highly but it cannot cover the guilt of our sin. We might as well say that the treasury of merit cannot fully set one free from sin.

         The treasury of merit implies that the merit of Jesus Christ is insufficient because the merits of Mary and saints are also deemed sufficient. The Roman Catholic hierarchy would certainly deny the implications of its theology, but for what other reason would one still need the merit of another if Christ's is not already sufficient? Nobody is righteous enough to accumulate merit for themselves and other people (Romans 3:9-23). So, this treasury of merit teaching is both absurd and unscriptural.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Manuscript Variants In The New Testament Text

Perhaps you have heard that there are 150,000 to 200,000 variant readings in the New Testament, so how can anyone trust anything it says? This is true but misleading, as the phrase variant reading is a technical term. Each time a manuscript of an ancient work is discovered, its text is compared with some standard printed edition. At each place it differs from the standard, a "variant reading" is recorded. If ten manuscripts differ at the same place from the standard,ten variant readings are recorded. Thus, the more readings which survive for a particular work, the more variant readings it will usually have. Thus our only real concern then is what fraction of the text is debatable.

Professor F.J.A. Hort of Cambridge, in his classic work on New Testament text, notes that seven-eights of the text is accepted by all as preserved just as penned by its original authors. The remaining one-eighth consists largely of matters of spelling and word order, both relatively trivial in ancient Greek. If scholars are correct in their consensus that the Alexandrian family of manuscripts preserves the best text, this area of doubt is reduced to about one-sixtieth of the text, from which Hort estimates that substantial variants make up only about one-one thousandth of the text.16 Other estimates have been made; for instance, Professor Abbot of Harvard suggests that only one-four hundredth of the text is doubtful.17

Detailed statistics on the classical texts are hard to come by. Remember that three of our ten secular histories have not even been preserved over substantial portions of their text. For Homer's Iliad, 750 to 1000 lines are in dispute out of a total of 15,600.18 This makes for about 6 percent disputed material. By contrast, Hort's estimate of "substantial variation" for the New Testament is one-tenth of 1 percent; Abbot's estimate is one-fourth of one percent; and even Hort's figure including trivial variation is less than 2 percent. Sir Frederick Kenyon well summarizes the situation:

"The number of manuscripts of the New Testament...is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.

Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers whose works have come down to us, of Sophocles, of Thucydides, of Cicero, of Virgil; yet our knowledge depends on a mere handful of manuscripts, whereas the manuscripts of the New Testament are counted by hundreds or even thousands."19

Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question, contributor Robert C. Newman, p. 283-284

A Reason Appealing To Church Infallibility Does Not Help Catholic Apologists

        Roman Catholic apologists routinely object to Sola Scriptura on the grounds that it results in doctrinal anarchy. It has been asserted that an infallible Magisterium is a requirement in order to obtain unity in the church. That may sound like a good proposal on a surface level, but the suggestion itself is also a subtle problem for Catholics.

        The claim of the Roman Catholic Church being infallible puts its apologists at a huge disadvantage. If just one of its dogmas is refuted by Scripture or logic, then it follows that the entire system falls apart. If the Roman Catholic Church can be shown to not be infallible in teaching, then its claims to authority are not binding on us at all. In that scenario, faithful Catholics would have no choice but to give up Christianity altogether.

        In Protestantism, one has to use Scripture and logic to discern truth from error. The ability to make independent decisions exists, with there being options to choose from. That comes with the advantage of a person being able to change his or her viewpoint in accordance with reason and available evidence.

        If, however, one wishes to defend the Roman Catholic Church's claim to infallibility, then he or she must be entirely consistent. The idea must be defended at all costs. That would place an excessive burden on one to believe ideas that are potentially absurd beyond all measure. This framework would make any thinking person susceptible to apostasy from the faith.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Old Testament And Doctrine Of Hell

        God gradually makes known Himself and His truth throughout history. He has slowly unveiled who He is to us. So, hints of the doctrine of hell can be found in the Old Testament.

         The term Sheol in Hebrew has a number of ways in which it can be used. It oftentimes refers to the grave. Sheol can have much more of a negative connotation in terms of the wicked going to that place (Psalm 49:9, Isaiah 38:17).

         Moreover, the motif of divine judgement can clearly be seen in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ Himself elaborated on the reality of hell or Gehenna. For example, He quoted Isaiah 66:24 in His teaching on this subject in Mark 9:47-48.

         "There are three categories of men; the wholly pious and the arch-sinners are not purified, but only those between these two classes (Ab. R. N. 41). A similar view is expressed in the Babylonian Talmud, which adds that those who have sinned themselves but have not led others into sin remain for twelve months in Gehenna; "after twelve months their bodies are destroyed, their souls are burned, and the wind strews the ashes under the feet of the pious. But as regards the heretics, etc., and Jeroboam, Nebat's son, hell shall pass away, but they shall not pass away" (R. H. 17a; comp. Shab. 33b). All that descend into Gehenna shall come up again, with the exception of three classes of men: those who have committed adultery, or shamed their neighbors, or vilified them (B. M. 58b). The felicity of the pious in paradise excites the wrath of the sinners who behold it when they come from hell (Lev. R. xxxii.). The Book of Enoch (xxvii. 3, xlviii. 9, lxii. 12) paraphrases this thought by saying that the pious rejoice in the pains of hell suffered by the sinners. Abraham takes the damned to his bosom ('Er. 19a; comp. Luke xvi. 19-31). The fire of Gehenna does not touch the Jewish sinners because they confess their sins before the gates of hell and return to God ('Er. 19a)." (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6558-gehenna)

Sunday, December 22, 2019

General Revelation And Special Revelation

"Special revelation is God's disclosure to mankind of Himself, His world, His plans for mankind, etc., by means of direct (or supernatural) information, usually in verbal form. This information was conveyed to His prophets and subsequently written down in the Bible. General revelation is God's disclosure to mankind of Himself, His world, and the nature of mankind itself by means of indirect (i.e. providential or nonsupernatural), nonverbal information. This information is conveyed to all mankind, both externally through the universe and internally through human conscience."

Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question, contributor Robert C. Newman, p. 95

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Evidence Against An Eternal Universe

"...the apparent brightness of a light diminishes as the square of our distance from its source. If we divide up the universe into spherical shells of equal thickness centered on ourselves, each shell increases in volume as the square of the distance from us, exactly canceling the diminishing of the light. Therefore if each shell has the same density of stars, it will provide us with the same amount of light no matter how far away it is! For an infinite universe, the sky should be infinitely bright, or, allowing stars to block the light from stars behind them, as bright as the surface of an average star! Even residents of such bright-sky cities as New York can see that this is not the case."

Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question, contributor Robert C. Newman, p. 79

Fingerprints Of God's Providentially Guiding His People In Recognizing The Old Testament Canon

"Many of the prophets did not speak as recognized leaders of the nation. When we read their strong criticism of many of the leaders of the people, we find it hard to imagine how any nation would accept such books as part of its national treasure. It is a phenomenon that can hardly be paralleled in any other nation. Nor was there any lack of attempts to dispute the authority of the prophets during their lifetime."

Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question, contributor Allan A. MacRae, p. 223

Friday, December 20, 2019

Corroborations Between The Gospels And Non-Christian Sources

"The pagan and Jewish sources agree with the Gospels and Paul on the date of Jesus' activities, their controversial nature, His miracles, His Messianic claims, and His death at the hands of both Roman and Jewish authorities. This is especially important in view of the fact that many today seek to deny that Jesus worked miracles, made a Messianic claim, or was put to death by Roman-Jewish cooperation. The historical sources which touch on the subject are all against them.

At first sight, the Talmud's charges against Jesus seem to differ from those of the Gospel accounts. Yet the Gospels mention an attempt at Jesus' trial to convict Him of offering to build the temple in three days, which could easily be understood as sorcery. According to the Gospels, Jesus was actually condemned for blasphemy, because He claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God. This may indeed be the "apostasy" to which Jesus "enticed Israel," according to the Talmud. In Jewish usage, a phrase like "Son of God" would be a claim to deity, a blasphemous apostasy in the eyes of most Jews. Pliny's note that Jesus' followers worshiped Him as God, though written by a polytheist, is in line with this suggestion.

There is no non-Christian corroboration for Jesus' resurrection having actually occurred, but this is hardly surprising, as any believer in Jesus' resurrection would be considered a Christian. Of course, any source could report belief in Jesus' resurrection, and Josephus does. For a Roman, such as belief would mere be another Christian "superstition" (Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny). A Stoic like Mara would also reject bodily resurrection, and the Talmud has chosen to ignore it. In any case, we know from Justin's debate with Trypho (in the 130s),62 from the anti-Christian polemic of Celsus (ca. 180)63 and from the Talmud64 that the Jews were aware of the Christian Gospels, and from Matthew and Justin65 that they sought to explain away the Resurrection as a case of body-snatching by the disciples.

The one significant divergence of the non-Christian materials from the Gospels involves the manner of Jesus's death. The Talmud says Jesus was "hanged" and "stoned and hanged." The Gospels speak of crucifixion, along with Paul and all Christian literature. This is supported by Josephus (both versions) and less directly by Tacitus, who has Jesus put to death by a Roman method. Since the term "hanged" is used by the rabbis for crucifixion as well as for the traditional hanging up of the body after stoning to death,66 it is not unreasonable to suppose the Talmud gives a somewhat garbled account, perhaps based on the facts that Jesus had a religious trial and was "hanged," but supplying other details from traditional practices."

Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question, contributor Robert C. Newman, p. 293-294

Thursday, December 19, 2019

On The Reliability Of Oral Tradition And The New Testament Text

Our earliest Christian literature, the letters of Paul, gives us glimpses of the form in which the story of Jesus and his teaching first circulated. That form was evidently an oral tradition, not fluid but fixed, and evidently learned by all Christians when they entered the church. This is why Paul can say, "I myself received from the Lord the account that I passed on to you," I Cor. 11:23. The words "received, passed on" [1] reflect the practice of tradition—the handing-down from one to another of a fixed form of words. How congenial this would be to the Jewish mind a moment's reflection on the Tradition of the Elders will show. The Jews at this very time possessed in Hebrew, unwritten, the scribal interpretation of the Law and in Aramaic a Targum or translation of most or all of their Scriptures. It was a point of pride with them not to commit these to writing but to preserve them

[1] paradidonai = tradere, traditio

unwritten but unaltered.[1] In such circles it would be entirely natural to treat the earliest account of Jesus' deeds and words in just this way. It is to this practice that Paul unmistakably refers, quoting from the Christian tradition our oldest account of the institution of the Lord's Supper, I Cor. 11:24, 25. It will be noted that he speaks of having previously passed this account on to the Corinthians. He speaks in a similar way in I Cor. 15:3-7 of the resurrection accounts which he had communicated to them: "I passed onto you as of first importance, the account I had received."

Acts similarly speaks of "remembering the words of the Lord Jesus," 20:35, and quotes words of Jesus that have never been found in any written gospel. Clement of Rome, in writing to the Corinthians about A.D.95, in two places—13:1 and 46:7, 8—quotes sayings of Jesus not quite like any in our gospels, admonishing his readers in both passages to "remember the words of the Lord Jesus." Polycarp of Smyrna in his letter to the Philippians, about A.D. 107-17, does the same, introducing the quotation with the words, "Remembering what the Lord said," Phil. 2:3. It seems clear that all four are quoting an Oral Gospel.[2]

This is internal evidence. Is there any external evidence,

[1] This attitude is clearly reflected in the story that Gamaliel the First, about A.D. 50, seeing a written copy of an Aramaic translation of Job, immediately had it destroyed. The Targum was not to be written but remembered; cf. Meyer Waxman, History of Jewish Literature (New York, 1930), II, p. 113.

[2] All these writers quote written documents in quite another way: I Cor 7:1; Gal. 3:13; Acts 1:20; I Clem. 47:1, 2; Pol. Phil. 3:2.

any possible reference to such a work, in out earliest Christian writings? It was, of course, the Jewish practice to preserve in oral form the sayings of the great rabbis, as the Pirqe Aboth ("The Sayings of the Fathers") shows. Conditions among the earliest Christians, who thought of Jesus as among other things a "rabbi"—Mark 9:5; 10:51; 11:21; 14:45, etc.—or a "teacher" (twelve times in Mark), favor such a way of preserving his teaching; it would, in fact, have been inevitable; and subsequent quotations seem to show its use, as we have seen. But is there anything that looks like an actual ancient mention of it by name?

In the early years of the second century there lived in Hierapolis, in Asia, a Christian bishop named Papias, who made it his business to interview any Christian of the previous generation who came near and to record these memorabilia in a book, which he called Interpretations of the Lord's Sayings. Though the book existed in convent libraries in Europe until the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, [1] it seems now to have disappeared, except for a few fragments of it quoted by ancient or medieval writers. One of these was Eusebius, who in his famous Church History, finished in A.D. 326, quoted this sentence from Papias:

"So then Matthew composed the Sayings in the Aramaic language and each one translated them as [best] he could."[2]

[1] A. Harnack, Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur: Die Ueberlieferung, und der Bestand (Leipzig, 1893), p. 69.

[2] Church History iii. 39, 15.

Edgar J. Goodspeed, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 126-128
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/goodspeed/ch10.html

Monday, December 16, 2019

Mary Is Not The Queen Of Heaven

        If the Roman Catholic Church is correct in proclaiming that Mary is the queen of heaven, then how come Scripture never mentions her as being exalted at the right hand of God as it does with Jesus Christ on multiple occasions (Luke 22:69; Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:10-13; 12:2)? How come Mary is nowhere mentioned as reigning next to God?

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Roman Catholic Religious Iconography Is Irreverent Toward The Biblical God

        The Roman Catholic Church contends that its followers are not actually guilty of idolatry as they are simply giving appropriate honor to Jesus Christ, Mary, and various saints. Religious iconography is said to have no power in itself and that only the person whom a particular image represents is the subject of veneration (CCC # 2132). One problem with such provisions is that Scripture does not approve of us making images of God:

        "To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him? The workman molds an image, The goldsmith overspreads it with gold, And the silversmith casts silver chains. Whoever is too impoverished for such a contribution chooses a tree that will not rot; He seeks for himself a skillful workman To prepare a carved image that will not totter. Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. He brings the princes to nothing; he makes the judges of the earth useless. Scarcely shall they be planted, scarcely shall they be sown, Scarcely shall their stock take root in the earth, When He will also blow on them, And they will wither, And the whirlwind will take them away like stubble. “To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One." (Isaiah 40:17-25)

        The Prophet Isaiah articulates a sharp contrast between the living God and powerless idols carved by the hands of men. It is irreverent to the utmost for us to even compare His unfathomable glory to relics which are the product of our fragile and fallen minds. These works are the antithesis of God's majesty. So it is not proper at all for Roman Catholics to use religious iconography to worship Jesus Christ. He is God in the flesh (Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:3). Trying to represent God by physical means degrades His glory and honor. To bow before a statue of Christ with the intent of offering up prayer in His name is to make a mockery of Him.

        One argument made to justify the use of images to worship Jesus Christ is His incarnation (CCC # 2129-2131), although it is difficult to see how or why such validates this practice. Saints are human beings, and the Law emphatically condemned making statues of them for the purpose of religious devotion. Moreover, we cannot even determine exactly what Christ looked like. The Lord became angry with the Israelites who had urged Aaron to make a golden calf as a result of their desire to have a visible manifestation of God (Exodus 32:8). We are not to worship Him in the same way that the pagans do with their idols:

        "And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place.” You shall not worship the LORD your God with such things." (Deuteronomy 12:3-4).

        Ironically, these ancient peoples believed that the statues they so venerated were not deities themselves but were mere portrayals of the gods who they worshiped. For example, the prophets of Baal were obviously not calling on their statues to come to life and compete against the God of Elijah (1 Kings 18:20-40). This in a very real sense sounds like Roman Catholic teaching concerning the veneration of images.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Blasphemy Against The Holy Spirit

        The promised Jewish Messiah was said to have the ability to perform miraculous deeds by the power of the Holy Spirit:

        "Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah." (Isaiah 35:5-6).

        The Pharisees attributed the power of Jesus Christ to demons:

        "But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.” (Matthew 12:24)

        "because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit." (Mark 3:30).

        The Jewish leaders had persistently and deliberately rejected verifiable evidence that He was sent by God. That is precisely the identity of what has been termed the unpardonable sin.

        This scenario is not one that can be replicated today because nobody has seen Christ publicly performing miracles. He is presently sitting at the right hand of the Father. Thus, nobody can actually commit this form of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

        Continual unbelief does not receive forgiveness from God. In other words, a person who dies in a state of voluntary opposition to the conviction of heart brought about by the Holy Spirit will be eternally condemned. That sin in a sense is unforgivable. We must repent and place our trust in Christ's work alone for salvation (John 3:16).

Can Astronomy Explain The Biblical Star Of Bethlehem?

"To understand the Star of Bethlehem, we need to think like the three wise men. Motivated by this “star in the east,” they first traveled to Jerusalem and told King Herod the prophecy that a new ruler of the people of Israel would be born. We also need to think like King Herod, who asked the wise men when the star had appeared, because he and his court, apparently, were unaware of any such star in the sky.

These events present us with our first astronomy puzzle of the first Christmas: How could King Herod’s own advisors have been unaware of a star so bright and obvious that it could have led the wise men to Jerusalem?

Next, in order to reach Bethlehem, the wise men had to travel directly south from Jerusalem; somehow that “star in the east” “went before them, ‘til it came and stood over where the young child was.” Now we have our second first-Christmas astronomy puzzle: how can a star “in the east” guide our wise men to the south? The north star guides lost hikers to the north, so shouldn’t a star in the east have led the wise men to the east?

And we have yet a third first-Christmas astronomy puzzle: how does Matthew’s star move “before them,” like the taillights on the snowplow you might follow during a blizzard, and then stop and stand over the manger in Bethlehem, inside of which supposedly lies the infant Jesus?The adoration of the Magi, after they followed that ‘star in the east’ to Jesus.

What could the 'star in the east’ be?

The astronomer in me knows that no star can do these things, nor can a comet, or Jupiter, or a supernova, or a conjunction of planets or any other actual bright object in the nighttime sky. One can claim that Matthew’s words describe a miracle, something beyond the laws of physics. But Matthew chose his words carefully and wrote “star in the east” twice, which suggests that these words hold a specific importance for his readers.

Can we find any other explanation, consistent with Matthew’s words, that doesn’t require that the laws of physics be violated and that has something to do with astronomy? The answer, amazingly, is yes.

Astronomer Michael Molnar points out that “in the east” is a literal translation of the Greek phrase en te anatole, which was a technical term used in Greek mathematical astrology 2,000 years ago. It described, very specifically, a planet that would rise above the eastern horizon just before the sun would appear. Then, just moments after the planet rises, it disappears in the bright glare of the sun in the morning sky. Except for a brief moment, no one can see this “star in the east.”

We need a little bit of astronomy background here. In a human lifetime, virtually all the stars remain fixed in their places; the stars rise and set every night, but they do not move relative to each other. The stars in the Big Dipper appear year after year always in the same place. But the planets, the sun and the moon wander through the fixed stars; in fact, the word “planet” comes from the Greek word for wandering star. Though the planets, sun and moon move along approximately the same path through the background stars, they travel at different speeds, so they often lap each other. When the sun catches up with a planet, we can’t see the planet, but when the sun passes far enough beyond it, the planet reappears.

And now we need a little bit of astrology background. When the planet reappears again for the first time and rises in the morning sky just moments before the sun, for the first time in many months after having been hidden in the sun’s glare for those many months, that moment is known to astrologers as a heliacal rising. A heliacal rising, that special first reappearance of a planet, is what en te anatole referred to in ancient Greek astrology. In particular, the reappearance of a planet like Jupiter was thought by Greek astrologers to be symbolically significant for anyone born on that day.

Thus, the “star in the east” refers to an astronomical event with supposed astrological significance in the context of ancient Greek astrology.Was the star visible just briefly before dawn?

What about the star parked directly above the first crèche? The word usually translated as “stood over” comes from the Greek word epano, which also had an important meaning in ancient astrology. It refers to a particular moment when a planet stops moving and changes apparent direction from westward to eastward motion. This occurs when the Earth, which orbits the sun more quickly than Mars or Jupiter or Saturn, catches up with, or laps, the other planet.

Together, a rare combination of astrological events (the right planet rising before the sun; the sun being in the right constellation of the zodiac; plus a number of other combinations of planetary positions considered important by astrologers) would have suggested to ancient Greek astrologers a regal horoscope and a royal birth.

Molnar believes that the wise men were, in fact, very wise and mathematically adept astrologers. They also knew about the Old Testament prophecy that a new king would be born of the family of David. Most likely, they had been watching the heavens for years, waiting for alignments that would foretell the birth of this king. When they identified a powerful set of astrological portents, they decided the time was right to set out to find the prophesied leader.

If Matthew’s wise men actually undertook a journey to search for a newborn king, the bright star didn’t guide them; it only told them when to set out. And they wouldn’t have found an infant swaddled in a manger. After all, the baby was already eight months old by the time they decoded the astrological message they believed predicted the birth of a future king. The portent began on April 17 of 6 BC (with the heliacal rising of Jupiter that morning, followed, at noon, by its lunar occultation in the constellation Aries) and lasted until December 19 of 6 BC (when Jupiter stopped moving to the west, stood still briefly, and began moving to the east, as compared with the fixed background stars)...

Matthew wrote to convince his readers that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. Given the astrological clues embedded in his gospel, he must have believed the story of the Star of Bethlehem would be convincing evidence for many in his audience."

https://theconversation.com/can-astronomy-explain-the-biblical-star-of-bethlehem-35126

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Two Biblical Proofs For The Deity Of The Holy Spirit

"Compare, for example, Isaiah 6:8–10 with Acts 28:25–27. Isaiah presents a statement by Yahweh in his prophecy. In Acts, Paul attributes the statement to the Holy Spirit. In other words, what Yahweh said is what the Holy Spirit said. We see something similar by comparing Psalm 95:7–11 with Hebrews 3:7–11. What Yahweh says in Psalm 95, the author of Hebrews attributes to the Holy Spirit."

https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2019/12/is-the-trinity-biblical/

A Rebuttal To Catholic Nick On The Meaning Of Justify

  • Discussion:
          -A blogger who goes by the name of Catholic Nick published an article where he explains his understanding of what it means for God to justify sinners and how that supposedly undermines the doctrine of Sola Fide. Following are his remarks alongside with a critique:

          "To begin, the Greek word "justify" appears in about 36 verses in the New Testament. Of all these occurrences, the only time it is used in an explicitly forensic (legal, courtroom) context is in four verses: Mt 12:37; Rom 3:4; 8:33; 1 Cor 4:4. So how do Protestants come to the conclusion that it must mean "declare legally righteous by a judge"? Certainly not from the New Testament evidence, especially since 'forensic terms' don't really appear in places like Romans 3-4 and Galatians 2-3. Turning to the 40 verses of the Old Testament that use the term "justify," there were more occurrences in a legal context than in the New Testament, but still not enough to form any concrete conclusion: Ex 23:7; Deut 25:1; 2 Sam 15:4; 1 Kings 8:32 (same as 2 Chron 6:23); Ps 19:9; 51:4 (quoted in Rom 4:3); Ps 143:2; Prov 17:15."

          First of all, the meaning of the word justify is to be determined by the context in which that word is used. This source says the following:

          "When we turn to the New Testament we must be clear that the righteousness and justification terminology is to be understood in the light of its Hebrew background, not in terms of contemporary Greek ideas. We see this, for example, in the words of Jesus who speaks of people giving account on the day of judgment: "by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt 12:37; the word NIV translates "acquitted" is the one Paul normally uses for"justified"). Those acquitted on the day of judgment are spoken of as "the righteous" (Matt 25:37; they go into "eternal life," v. 46).

          The verb translated "to justify" clearly means "to declare righteous." Any theological word dictionary such as Kittel's Theological Dictionary for example clearly demonstrates this. It is used of God in a quotation, which the New International Version renders "So that you may be proved right when you speak" (Rom 3:4; the NRSV has more exactly, "So that you may be justified in your words"). Now God cannot be "made righteous"; the expression obviously means "shown to be righteous" and this helps us see that when the word is applied to believers it does not mean "made righteous"; it signifies "declared righteous," "shown to be in the right," or the like."

          "So for a Protestant to say that "justify," especially as Paul uses it in Romans 3-4 and Galatians 2-3, means "declared to be a perfect law keeper by a judge" is by no means an established fact at all."

          When the term "justify" is used in Galatians, Paul is juxtaposing faith to the works of the Law in chapters two and three. The apostle speaks of both Jews and Gentiles being justified by faith. He refers to God's covenant with Israel and its nature as a relation of promise. But in the process, Paul pits an attempt to be justified by the Law against hearing with faith. Both sides of the contrast have life versus death as the two potential ends of that relationship. Paul discusses these themes also in chapters three and four of Galatians.

          Moreover, the Law convicting humanity is the whole theme in Romans 1-3 that builds to his use of justification in the subsequent chapters. See especially Romans 1:18, 1:24-26; 28; 2:1-3; 5-8; 12; 16; 3:9-13; 19-20. This context clearly has forensic or judicial overtones.

          "Matthew 12:37, 1 Corinthians 4:4, and (arguably) Romans 8:33, are speaking of the final judgement, not something that takes place at the moment of conversion.Romans 3:4 (Psalm 51:4) and (arguably) Psalm 19:9 are speaking of God being justified, thus it cannot mean "declare righteous by a judge," for no judge is above God. So despite being in a forensic context, "justify" here can really only mean vindicate."

          Justify can mean to vindicate, but that does nothing to weaken or undermine the traditional meaning of that word. To be vindicated means to be shown as right, innocent, or without sin in a set of circumstances. Vindication is related to a courtroom scene and the question of innocence and just actions. Romans 8:33 is a clear case of forensic categories because it comes alongside with the idea of charge, accusation, and advocating.

          "Ex 23:7, Deut 25:1, Rom 8:33, 1 Cor 4:4, (and likely) Prov 17:5; Mt 12:37 are not speaking of "declaring righteous" - as in declaring that someone has done his duty like keeping the commandments perfectly - but rather of "acquittal," meaning being found not guilty, i.e. innocent. For example, if I'm on trial for speeding, the Judge can either find me guilty (condemn), or he can acquit me (find innocent), but he cannot declare me to be a perfect driver and worthy of a reward."

          We agree that justification means acquittal, the verdict of "not guilty." Nonetheless, it is difficult to see how the Roman Catholic Church could even affirm that (given concepts like purgatory and the treasury of merit). The imputation of Jesus Christ's righteousness takes place through us being united with Him (1 Corinthians 1:30). That would be the "perfect driver" part.

          "I made a distinction between vindicating and acquitting because it seems acquitting fits best in situations where a person is being found 'innocent' of a charge, where as vindicating means more to show someone is in the right. But that said, I would argue that acquitting is a form or subset of vindicating, so the terms are conceptually not that different. With that in mind, all vindication/acquittal framework, meaning this is how we should most probably view it as well, especially in the key texts of Romans and Galatians. This approach to rendering the term term "justify" as vindicate/acquit has the devastating effect of rendering the Protestant definition not only dubious, but completely without precedent."

          This seems to be quite a leap of logic, as Nick makes hairsplitting distinctions and fails to explain how his points are "devastating" to the "Protestant" argument. The author actually seems to contradict himself, since he says that the term "justify" as meaning "declare righteous" is "completely without precedence" while earlier acknowledging and citing certain passages of Scripture that definitely are to be understood in that same forensic sense.

An Effective Refutation Of Sola Fide Or Just Another Case Of Roman Catholic Sophistry?

  • Discussion:
          -A blogger who goes by the name of Catholic Nick wrote an article where he attempts to stump Protestants by using texts such as Galatians 5:6. Following are excerpts from the author alongside with a critique:

          "(1) Faith prior to justification lacks love, and thus this faith must start off 'dead'. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, just an incomplete thing, which is why justification is still needed."

          There is no passage of time between faith and justification. Both occur simultaneously. There is also no such thing as a faith which starts off as dead. That is not what Sola Fide means. Therefore, this conclusion is built on a straw man.

          "(2) Justification must be what bestows love, and this seems confirmed by Scripture (e.g. Romans 5:5), and thus the Protestant can no longer say justification is purely forensic, but rather infuses divine gifts into the soul.

          The Holy Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts, which is related to our justification. But this act of the Spirit is not to be equated or conflated with the instance of justification. Grace and faith do have an effect on our love.

           Forensic justification causes things which are not forensic in nature to happen. We obtain peace with God by faith, which includes assurance of salvation and the freedom to pursue holiness in gratitude for what God has done for us. These blessings have a consequential relationship to justification by faith alone. The relationship of God to the unbelieving world is that of a judge to a convict, whereas our relationship to Him is that of a father to a son.

           "(3) Dead faith prior to justification becomes living faith after justification by the addition of love to faith, and herein is the essence of a justified believer. This would mean it isn't Christ's Imputed Righteousness that makes all the difference, but rather the presence/absence of love, and thus suggests your justification (salvation) hinges upon what you do with that love. This is why texts like Revelation 21:8 list "unbelief" as one of the many sins that can damn a person, because it's possible to have faith and be damned by other grave sins."

           The presence of love serves as evidence of a regenerate heart. In addition, the reason that "unbelief" is listed as one of several damnable sins in Revelation 21:8 is that it is the opposite of belief. Faith is the instrument by which God justifies us. Thus, that passage is perfectly consistent with the doctrine of Sola Fide.

           "Given the above, when Paul says we are "justified by faith," he isn't saying we are "eternally saved by faith," rather he's saying that we receive God's love within us by believing in the Gospel, and that this is just the beginning of our salvation (Rom 13:8-14; Gal 5:13-14)."

           We would agree with the above comments. The moment of conversion is simply the beginning of our salvation. Justification is an aspect, but not the entirety of the process. What we would argue against is the idea of man earning the grace of God on the basis of good works.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Examining Catholic Mortal And Venial Sin In Light Of Scripture

        The Roman Catholic Church maintains a sharp distinction between venial and mortal sins. The former category is said to be a less serious offense in the sight of God and does not result in loss of salvation. The latter category is said to be a grave violation of God's Law (CCC #1855) and results in a loss of all sanctifying grace (CCC # 1861). In Roman Catholic theology, mortal sins are instantaneously fatal to one's relationship with God.

        While Scripture does speak of different degrees of sin, the payment for all is the same, spiritual death (Genesis 2:16-17; Ezekiel 18:4; 20; Romans 6:23). Even our smallest violations of God's Law are acts of treason against Him (Matthew 5:21-22; James 2:10-11). He is perfect and holy. He is true to Himself. We have all fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and so have incurred the sentence of spiritual death. In judging us, God literally takes into account every spec of our lives (Matthew 12:36).

        All sin is paid for by the same shed blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:10-14; 1 Peter 3:18). Sin does have both spiritual and earthly consequences. One may suffer a loss of rewards in eternity, but remains saved. A murderer suffers capital punishment. A thief receives a jail sentence. An adulterer will lose his or her spouse and potentially the entire family. But the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sins is decidedly unscriptural.

        Once a man has placed his trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, he is justified before God and forgiven of all sins. This is not intended to communicate that a Christian stumbling into sin is permissible, when in reality it is not. The Lord does chasten those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6-8). Moreover, the grace of God instructs us to resist evil (Titus 2:11-14). However, there are no venial and mortal sins. Sin as a category separates man from God. Sin by its very nature is fatal to us.

        Another problem for the Roman Catholic concept of mortal and venial sins is that if we view most of our sin as being "venial" in nature, then we will essentially minimize or overlook the seriousness of our sin nature the need for God's continual providing of grace.

Scientific Investigation Does Not Rule Out God

"Is is, of course, entirely possible to study organisms scientifically on the premise that they were all created by God, just as scientists study airplanes and even works of art without denying that these objects are intelligently designed. The problem with allowing God a role in the history of life is not that science would cease but rather that scientists would have to acknowledge the existence of something important that is outside the boundaries of natural science. For scientists who want to be able to explain everything-and "theories of everything" are now openly anticipated in the scientific literature-this is an intolerable possibility."

Phillip E. Johnson, Objections Sustained, p. 24

Monday, December 2, 2019

Why Did The Watchtower Society Become An Associate Member Of The United Nations In 1992 Until 2001?

"Before posing this question as an attack on the organisation it is best to prepare the way otherwise the effect can be lost. Start by asking why JWs are not allowed to participate in political affairs. Then move on to asking them why they hate the UN so much. Getting them to confirm first how the UN is so opposed to Jehovah’s kingdom before dropping the bombshell that that the Watchtower Society joined it increases the effect. They may well deny that this actually happened but just ask them to speak with their elders to confirm it or research it themselves. Leave the question to simmer in their minds."

https://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/10-questions-to-ask-a-Jehovah-s-Witness

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Comments On The Jehovah's Witnesses New World Translation Rendering Of Hebrews 1:6

        Hebrews 1:6 was translated in the following manner in the 1961 edition of the Jehovah's Witnesses New World Translation:

        "Let all God's angels worship him."

        How the passage from Hebrews is rendered in modern editions of the New World Translation:

        "And let all of God’s angels do obeisance to him.”

        The Greek word translated into English as "worship" is proskyneo. It goes beyond giving somebody honor, especially when employed in a religious context. That is indeed the case with Hebrews 1:6.

        Consequently, the rendering of proskyneo as "do obeisance" (instead of worship) in the New World Translation is wholly inappropriate. This is a clear example of the Jehovah's Witnesses Watchtower Society taking liberties with the text.