Sunday, September 15, 2019

Is Religion A Product Of Evolution?

          "Dow is by no means the first scientist to take a stab at explaining how religion emerged. Theories on the evolution of religion tend toward two camps. One argues that religion is a mental artefact, co-opted from brain functions that evolved for other tasks. Another contends that religion benefited our ancestors. Rather than being a by-product of other brain functions, it is an adaptation in its own right. In this explanation, natural selection slowly purged human populations of the non-religious. “Sometime between 100,000 years ago to the point where writing was invented, maybe about 7000 BC, we begin to have records of people’s supernatural beliefs,” Dow says (

          To preface, the idea of religion evolving over an enormously long timespan is incompatible with the Judeo-Christian worldview. According to Genesis 1-3, religion started with the worship of the true God. However, man rejected God and worship degenerated into the worship of creation. God is Creator, not a product of evolution.

          Secondly, there were no psychologists alive to even observe the behaviors of any alleged hominins.

          Thirdly, no one seems to be discussing how atheism and naturalism evolved.

          If religion developed gradually to meet various emotional or adaptive requirements for continued survival, then what brought about that need?

          If our senses and intuition bring us into contact with reality, then would not religious belief connect us with God who actually exists?

          Even if it could be proven that a few religions were the product of evolution, that would still not prove all religions had the same origin.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Were the Earliest Christians Only Concerned About Oral Tradition?

First, early Christianity was not an oral religion. Sure, traditions of Jesus were transmitted orally, but this is not the same thing. We cannot confuse a medium of transmission with a mentality (or disposition) of early Christian culture. I have argued elsewhere that early Christianity was a religion of textuality, even if most its adherents were illiterate (as were most people in the ancient world). For more, see my Question of Canon, 79-118.

Second, the authors represented in the Apostolic Fathers were obviously literate. Not only were they producing written sources, but they show awareness of (and interact with) other written sources. Indeed, the letter exchanges in early Christianity were rapid and extensive (see such exchanges in Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians as one example).

So, if these authors were quite textually oriented, why should we assume they mainly drew on oral tradition? Of all the people in early Christianity likely to be influenced by written texts, it would’ve been these authors!

Third, by the time these authors wrote in the second century, earlier generations of Christians had already exhibited significant interactions with written texts. For instance, the authors of Matthew and Luke seemed to know Mark (and possibly Q) and interacted with these writings textually. John may have known the texts of the Synoptics. And all of these Gospels interacted with the text of the OT.

So, if first-century Christians interacted often with written texts, then why would we assume Christian writers in the second century only used oral tradition?

Fourth, a number of times the Apostolic Fathers actually mention that they know of written Gospels! As just one example, Papias was Bishop of Hierapolis and wrote around 125AD (see inset picture!). He tell us plainly about the written gospels of Mark and Matthew:

The Elder used to say: Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he [Peter] remembered. . . . Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best he could.

What’s particularly noteworthy is that Papias received his information directly from “the Elder” who is no doubt “John the Elder” he mentions elsewhere as a follower and disciple of Jesus himself. Thus, although Papias is writing around 125 AD he is actually referring to a much earlier time when he received this tradition, probably around 90AD.

Here, then, is the key point: Papias attests to the fact that at the end of the first century, one of the primary ways Christians were receiving Jesus tradition was through written gospels, two of which were named Matthew and Mark (!). This fact alone should challenge the notion that only oral tradition can/should explain all citations in the Apostolic Fathers.

In sum, there’s little doubt that oral tradition still played a role in the second century and beyond. But, the evidence above suggests that there’s little reason to prefer oral tradition as the default, catch-all explanation for the Gospel tradition in the Apostolic Fathers.

On the contrary, the “bookish” nature of early Christianity, and its deep textual identity, suggests that we should be open to the idea that these authors—at least sometimes—knew and used written Gospel texts.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Faithfulness Of God In Our Temptations

         "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13)

         The Apostle Paul reminds us that God will guide us during times of temptation. We are assured that He will provide a means of escape from temptations to sin. This does not mean that God will make matters easier or more bearable for us, but that He will sustain us. The only way out of our troubles is to go through them.

         A noteworthy point should be extracted from this text: every potential urge to wrong God or neighbor has been experienced by mankind. We are not alone in our sufferings. Others have been where we have been before. Temptation is not unconquerable. Thus, we have reason to be encouraged. God is faithful. He is greater than all of our temptations.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

A Topical Scripture Cross Reference Study On Sanctification

  • Sanctification Involves God Conforming Believers To The Image Of His Son Jesus Christ:
          -"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Romans 8:28)
          -"This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Ephesians 3:11)
           *It is a part of the eternal plan of God to restore us to a state of perfection after the sin of our first parents. Perhaps we are better off in Christ than Adam and Eve ever would have been had they never sinned and failed to live up to the moral standard that displays His divine splendor. World history is orchestrated in a way that brings glory to God.
  • This Growth In Holiness Is A Consequence Of Being Filled With The Holy Spirit:
          -"to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." (Ephesians 4:22-24)
          -"...Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)
           *We become more like Jesus Christ, not with regard to physical appearance, but moral qualities distinctive to Him. The imagery of clothing is used of us discarding old and rebellious ways. This is done by God's grace. It is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • The Holy Spirit Works In Us So That We Can Please And Glorify God:
          -"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13)
          -"But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth." (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
            *Both the power of God and human exertion are at work in this process. Sanctification is brought about through faith and its source is the Spirit of God.
  • Believers Gradually Become More Like Christ In Terms Of Character As They Continue Serving The God Who Consecrated Them:
          -"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit." (Galatians 5:22-25)
            *The above characteristics are acquired by us in a state of grace. They do not represent man in his fallen state. No one has power in himself to live out the Christian life. The Holy Spirit enables us to bring forth fruit that is pleasing to God. 
  • The Process Of Sanctification Involves Human Effort:
          -"Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God." (2 Corinthians 7:1)
            *Sanctification by faith alone may sound to some like a valid teaching, but the idea is actually misguided and incorrect. We act out what God works in us. Faith and obedience are included in this aspect of salvation.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Does Leviticus 19:20-22 Support Roman Catholic Confession To A Priest?

  • Discussion:
          -Roman Catholic apologists sometimes appeal to Leviticus 19:20-22 in an effort to give credence to their dogma of confessing "mortal" sins to an ordained ministerial priest. The intention behind this is, obviously, to receive forgiveness from God for commiting such acts. This argument has been put into words by a Catholic source as follows:

          "Leviticus 19:20-22: A man who committed adultery had to bring a guilt offering for himself to the door of the tent of meeting (holy place where the ark of the covenant, which contained God’s true presence was kept). But then it adds “And the priest shall make atonement for him …before the Lord for his sin…and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven.” (see also Leviticus 5:5-6) The priest could not make atonement if he were not aware of the man's sin. He is acting as a mediator for the repentant sinner."

           It should be noted that this text says nothing regarding auricular confession or priestly absolution. The context nowhere displays an awareness of the distinction made between "venial" and "mortal" sin that is upheld in Roman Catholic theology. Rather, sinners were simply to bring their guilt offerings (which were temporary coverings for sin) for the priest to make atonement. The priests managed the particulars of the Mosaic system. They supervised faithfulness to the Law. The priests presented gifts and animal sacrifices according to God's commandments.

          In offering up sacrifices for the sins of people, priests were to announce the means by which God chose for forgiveness. They were only doing as God had instructed them. This is similar to how Christians under the New Covenant clearly communicate the gospel and proclaim the way that God has chosen to offer forgiveness for our sins (1 Peter 2:5-9). The sacrificial system of the Old Covenant pointed to the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Besides, it is not as though Roman Catholics bring bloody animal sacrifices each time that they go to the confessional.

          There is no evidence in the Old Testament that the Jews were supposed to get their sins absolved by a priest or even confess their specific sins to them. Even if the latter happened, the point remains that Christ abrogated the Levitical priesthood. We now have direct access to God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:19-22). An ordained ministerial priesthood has been cancelled out by His everlasting High Priesthood. While the confession of sin is very much a biblical concept, there is no basis for receiving the forgiveness of God by confessing sins to a mortal man.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Revelation 2:23 And The Deity Of Jesus Christ

        "And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds." (Revelation 2:23)

        It can readily be deduced from this text that Jesus Christ is a divine self. He is the one who rewards people according to their deeds, whether they be good or bad. He is our Judge. We are accountable to God because He is our Creator.

        Furthermore, Christ's right and authority to judge us is rooted in His omniscience. He is divine in the same sense as the Father and Holy Spirit are divine. He is God incarnate. The Lord has fully comprehensive knowledge of everything.

        Jesus Christ searches the hearts and minds of people. He knows everything about us all. There is not a thing hidden from His sight or unknown to Him. 

        Christ in this passage quotes Jeremiah 17:10. God Himself in the verse from the Book of Jeremiah is speaking. Nonetheless, Christ makes a formal application of those exact attributes to Himself. He could do this only if He were God.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Against Claims Of The Four Canonical Gospels Having Anonymous Authorship

        One claim raised to undermine the credibility of the four canonical gospels is that they were not written by the traditionally ascribed authors. Rather, unknown people during the end of the first to early second centuries created embellished records of Jesus Christ ministering and performing miracles. However, there are no good reasons for us to dismiss the four gospel narratives as being circulated legends or myths.

        First of all, any and all available manuscripts of the four gospels have the same titles designating their respective authors. All copies of Matthew have the same name. All copies of Mark have the same name. All copies of Luke have the same name. All copies of John have the same name. The titles of the traditionally attributed authors are present on all of the manuscript copies of the gospel narratives.

        Secondly, we have no early Christian rejection of the traditional authorship of the four gospels. A few examples of patristic support would include Irenaeus, Papias, Tertullian, and the church historian Eusebius. There exists no other tradition which conflicts with conventional claims of authorship.

        Thirdly, the four gospels are named after unimpressive individuals. Matthew was a tax collector. Luke was not even an apostle. If the four canonical gospel narratives were forgeries, then it would have been far more probable that the authors used names of better known people such as Peter or Thomas. After all, that is the pattern we observe amongst heretics who produced their spurious works during the second and third centuries.

         If the four gospels were forgeries, then how come the four gospels contain embarrassing details regarding the twelve apostles? For instance, Peter denied Jesus Christ three times in a row (Luke 22:54-62). Matthew records Christ calling Peter Satan and a stumbling block (Matthew 16:23). Judas betraying Him to the chief priests and students of the Law also serves as a perfect example of embarrassing details. Paul prior to his conversion persecuted Christians. If the four gospel narratives were forgeries, then we should not expect their authors to incorporate such shameful and humiliating details regarding these people.

        Even if it could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the original canonical gospels were anonymous, that point by itself would still not rule out traditional authorship attribution. Michael J. Kruger says the following:

        "For one, this did happen from time to time with Greco-Roman biographies. We do have examples of formally anonymous biographies, so this would not have been unheard of (e.g., Lucian’s Life of Demonax, Secundus the Silent Philosopher, Lives of the Prophets, Arrian’s Anabasis, and Sulpicious Severus’ Life of St. Martin ). But, Armin Baum has suggested another, and even more fundamental reason. Baum has argued that the Gospels were intentionally written as anonymous works in order to reflect the practice of the Old Testament historical books which were themselves anonymous (as opposed to other Old Testament writings, like the prophets, which included the identity of the author). Such a stylistic device allowed the authors of the gospels “to disappear” and to give “highest priority to their subject matter.” Thus, the anonymity of the Gospels, far from diminishing their scriptural authority, actually served to increase it by consciously placing the Gospels “in the tradition of Old Testament historiography.”

Monday, September 2, 2019

Ignatius Of Loyola And Submission To The Roman Catholic Church

          "To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls. Because by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed." (Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, Thirteenth Rule)

          Regardless of whether or not we understand Ignatius as using hyperbole, it is obvious that he taught unconditional surrender of the intellect and will to the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It is the Magisterium that pronounces the allegedly infallible dogmas we are to embrace unquestioningly; dissenters are anathematized. Consider this excerpt from Est Sane Molestum Apostolic Letter by Pope Leo XIII:

          "To scrutinize the actions of a bishop, to criticize them, does not belong to individual Catholics, but concerns only those who, in the sacred hierarchy, have a superior power; above all, it concerns the Supreme Pontiff, for it is to him that Christ confided the care of feeding not only all the lambs, but even the sheep [cf. John 21:17]."

          Consider this excerpt from the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Religious Discussions:

          "By a decree of Alexander IV (1254-1261) inserted in “Sextus Decretalium”, Lib. V, c. ii, and still in force, all laymen are forbidden, under threat of excommunication, to dispute publicly or privately with heretics on the Catholic Faith. The text reads: “Inhibemus quoque, ne cuiquam laicae personae liceat publice vel privatim de fide catholica disputare. Qui vero contra fecerit, excommunicationis laqueo innodetur.” (We furthermore forbid any lay person to engage in dispute, either private or public, concerning the Catholic Faith. Whosoever shall act contrary to this decree, let him be bound in the fetters of excommunication.)

           God has ordained the existence of government offices for our own good. We should obey our leaders to the extent that their decisions are sound and godly. However, the Roman Catholic Church requires a level of allegiance that simply cannot be substantiated on scriptural grounds. The pope requires the submission of both intellect and will in all situations. It is not good enough to simply obey. Hence, we see that the Roman Catholic Church actually wields a significant amount of power over loyal followers.

          The Jehovah's Witnesses Watchtower Society is known for thought control. For example, the Jehovah's Witnesses are forbidden by their church government to obtain blood transfusions. They have regulations as to what they can even look up on the internet. Mormonism is another example of a sect whose government has established all sorts of legalistic rules and regulations. For instance, Mormons are forbidden to drink coffee and tea. In the same vein, the Church of Rome has dietary regulations on various holidays as a requirement for salvation. What all three groups have in common is that adherents are made to obey an authoritarian leader. The hierarchies of these three sects claim to play an indispensable role in the salvation of their followers. Harsh and arbitrary rules are imposed on these deceived people.

          There are unfortunate consequences of submitting to an organization that requires unconditional submission. The New Testament gives us the liberty to individually choose whatever days to observe and foods to eat in thanksgiving and glory to God. No self-proclaimed pastor has the right to dogmatically impose rules that can be found nowhere in Scripture. The Apostle Paul called out Peter for potentially splitting the Christian church as he ceased eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-16). Even the most godly and intelligent ministers and theologians can make serious blunders in matters related to faith and morals. God is the only one who we owe unconditional submission of the intellect and will (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29; James 4:7). It is to Him alone that all will give an account for their deeds performed in the body on Judgement Day.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Does Colossians 2:8 Condemn Philosophy?

        "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." (Colossians 2:8)

        A number of well-meaning Christians understand Paul to be expressing disapproval of us engaging in philosophy. However, this interpretation of his words fails to take into consideration the original context in which this passage was written.

        Earlier, Paul said that we are to teach and proclaim the gospel in a state of wisdom (Colossians 1:27-28). He emphasizes properly knowing the mystery of God, which is the Person of Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:2-3). Philosophy necessarily involves the acquisition of wisdom.

        There exists good philosophy and bad philosophy. The former is rooted in sound theology. The later is rooted in human speculation. Philosophy is not to be developed apart from or against the content of divine revelation. It is bad kinds of philosophy that we must condemn.

        Paul exhorted the church at Colossae not to be deceived by various customs and practices rooted in Jewish and pagan mysticism (Colossians 2:16-23). In so doing, he was very much setting forth a philosophical proposition. Everybody engages in philosophy at some level.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Zechariah 3:1-5 And Imputed Righteousness

       "Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by." (Zechariah 3:1-5)

       In this text, we see Satan laying the charge of Joshua the high priest being unfit for his position. The filthy garments that he wore were representative of sin. Joshua was not qualified to be in a priestly office for that reason. It follows that he could not offer up sacrifices for the people. Thus, no forgiveness of sins could be obtained for the Jews.

       The filthy garments had to be removed from Joshua. God gave to him a set of pure garments so that he could fulfill his position as high priest. This turban had an inscription which read as: "Holy to the Lord" (Exodus 28:36-38). God Himself carried out the work of bestowing new garments on Joshua. He saved the Israelites from complete destruction. God clothed them in His own righteousness.

      The act of God providing a new garment for His people gives us a picture of Him putting away our sin and giving to us a foreign righteousness which is His. This incident shows us how God justifies sinners. Instead of giving to us the eternal punishment that we deserve because of our sins committed against Him, God out of His love for us has chosen to exercise mercy. Jesus Christ cloths us in His righteousness in order that we be reconciled to a holy God and render service that is acceptable to Him.