Blog

An Atheist’s and A Christian’s Perspectives on Cyber Bullying

We should lift people up, not knock them down. We’re better than that. Accordingly, the following blog offers two perspectives on cyber bullying: the first is from an atheist and the second is from a Christian. The intention is to draw attention to on-line bullying via social media platforms and to offer ways to mitigate this serious and growing epidemic.

Atheist Codex:

I’m an atheist, and so, naturally, one might ask why I would seek an opportunity to be heard here.

The answer is simple: there’s a problem with atheists bullying theists. And just as it must be said that Muslims themselves must lead the charge against Islamists, so too must atheists lead the charge against bullies within their ranks.

Bullying cuts both ways, to be sure. Theists have their fair share of bullies (16% of teens dying by suicide are homosexual, and I think there’s a reason for that). But on social media, at least, I am profoundly saddened to note that atheists’ bullying tends to be worse both in both quantity, and ferocity.  It ranges from mocking theists’ personal pleas for prayers, to suggesting that theists prove to him- or herself the existence of God by committing suicide.

These actions are immoral and disgusting, and they must be opposed.  Further, in the case of atheists, they strike me as deeply hypocritical.

Whenever possible, I politely (and with genuine interest) ask atheist bullies about their motivation.  And while most conceal their motives behind a façade of rational thought, I’ve yet to see a case where reason plays any significant part.

The most common defense I get is, “I only treat people with respect if they treat me with respect.”  This sounds fair, until you realize that it’s essentially the “but they started it!” argument most of us overcome by the age of seven. If you’re treated disrespectfully, you can walk away. If you continue to engage, it’s not about respect: it’s about avenging your sense of self, showing them who’s boss, or making them look the fool. No, this is not a reasonable defense.

Other atheist bullies argue that insults, sarcasm, and condescension are all elements of satire – an ‘elevated’ level of discourse – wielded to educate theists.  Hitchens, among others, taught us that satire and sarcasm are indeed excellent tools for battling authoritarians and tyrants, but I’ve yet to see any theists on Twitter who fall into those categories. I’ve spent 30 years teaching, and if there’s a theory of education that promotes name-calling and humiliation as effective means of encouraging learning, I’ve yet to hear of it. “I bully them for their own good” is another argument best abandoned at adolescence.

If one truly wants to be rational about the subject of bullying online, let us be rational. When bullying is both severe enough and long enough, it inevitably leads to suicide; one of these days, an atheist will taunt, “go kill yourself,” and a theist is going to do it.  This is not a guess; on a long enough timescale, it’s a mortal lock.

Who would want to be the one who triggered this? Isn’t this a risk you take every time you bully someone? Certainly, you’d be more cautious after such an incident; isn’t the rational choice therefore to stop the bullying now, before there’s a tragedy?

The truth is, and I can’t stress this enough, most atheists are appalled by this sort of behavior. But the ones who do it are vicious, feel completely justified, and they’re out front for everyone to see. And their vaunted sense of self superiority aside, they, theist bullies, chauvinists, and racists, all do it for the same reasons:

They do it because hatred is fun.

Hatred is cathartic; it thrives on a sense of superiority over that which is hated.  No doubt, it’s deeply satisfying to imagine one’s race to be superior to the rest, or one’s point-of-view to be correct to the exclusion of all others. We all do it, every day, in seemingly trivial ways:  we imagine that the guy who cuts us off in traffic is a rude, arrogant jerk, instead of considering the more probable explanation that he or she may simply be in a legitimate rush, or momentarily distracted (as indeed we’ve all been).  There’s a primal rush in assuming the worst of people, in spoiling for a fight.

I know this because I feel it, I enjoy it, as much as anyone.

The problem, of course, is that this is hardly a good foundation for a stable or pleasant society, or for moral behavior.  Indeed, we’ve hit on some of the core objections that most atheists have to theism:  the undermining of reason by (a) a failure to account for one’s own biases, and (b) the inherent authoritarian and bullying nature of it, where those who believe try to impose their beliefs (often through the use of intimidation) on others. This lands atheists who bully in the position of exemplifying that which they claim most to oppose.

I’m deeply saddened when I see it… and feel, too, no small sense of awe over the breathtaking hypocrisy of it.

Having once been a theist myself, I understand that many people cannot imagine morality without God. It was unfathomable to me for half my life, where I assumed atheists were either angry at God, looking for attention, spoiling for a fight, or in the best of all possible cases, simply deluded. On the other side now, I can assure you that none of these are true for the vast majority of atheists, but atheist bullies hurt us all by reinforcing these prejudices, by entrenching people in the notion that it is impossible for one to be moral and an atheist. This is demonstrably false; there are now, and always have been, many admirably moral atheists, from individuals like Warren Buffett, Charles Branson, and Bill Gates, to secular organizations like Amnesty International, UNICEF, and Doctors Without Borders (whose members regularly put their lives on the line without the consolation of a reward in heaven).   Sam Harris, an American author and prominent ‘New Atheist,’ wrote that objective morality can be expressed on a simple scale. On the left is the worst possible suffering for the greatest number of people; on the right, the greatest possible happiness for the greatest number. A moral action is any one that that moves us along the scale from left to right. It is an elegant solution to the problem of moral relativism.

And so I ask these questions of my atheist brothers and sisters who would treat others with disrespect:

When you condescend and insult (even if provoked), in which direction are you sliding that scale?

You ask theists to evaluate themselves and their motivations honestly. Can you ask yourself, with the same brutal honesty, what benefit there is to inflicting this pain on others? Can you answer without delusion?

Would your language and behavior be the same if you were speaking face-to-face with this person, with your friends and family watching? If not, do you have any defense for the difference other than an ad populum argument that “well, everyone does it?”

None of this changes my commitment to atheism, nor my belief that theism is a danger that must be challenged. I truly believe that the atheist position is both correct, and ultimately necessary for our species to survive.

But it is precisely because I believe I am right that I can argue without taking opposition personally, and without trying to draw blood or hurt the ‘other side.’  Indeed, because I am right, such actions serve only to undermine my credibility, and my ability to make the points which I think are so important.

In the end, engaging every theist one can, simply because one can, is more the action of a man in a blind rage than of a person with a legitimate complaint.  It causes more damage than it could possibly correct, entrenches the opposition, and legitimizes retaliation.  In short, it is a lose/lose proposition.

But none of these, not a one, comes close to the best reason to oppose bullying.

The most important reason to oppose bullying? The reason I oppose it? I oppose bullying most because, like most people, I’ve been bullied. I oppose it because I want to be the man that my wife thinks I am, the father my kids think I am, and the person I want to see when I look in the mirror. None of those goals are guaranteed or easy; if they were, we’d all do them. But that’s what makes doing the right thing so important.

When I die, I will be judged. Not by a higher power, I suspect, but most certainly by the people who knew me, and by the legacy I leave. If people can say, “he moved that scale to the right,” if they can say “the world was a better place for having him in it”, then my life will have had meaning.

That is why I oppose atheist bullying. That is why I am thankful that Christian Apologist, despite our differences, didn’t hesitate to let me speak on this matter. It is why I’m glad she has a forum for the victims of bullying, and why I felt so compelled to contribute to it.

Christian Apologist

What I have noticed about atheist bullies on social media is that bullying is usually perpetuated by a person hiding behind a profile photo of an ape, an atheist sign, an Einstein photo, or the something similar. Since joining Twitter in 2014, I have been bullied and doxed by a number of atheists, which is likely because I’m a very vocal Christian and that fact alone annoys some atheists. Fortunately, some other atheists are not internet bullies and they often call out their peers. Atheist Codex is not alone.

Most of the bullying I have witnessed is from atheists who target theists (mostly Christians), yet I have also seen some Christians acting out of character (i.e., Jesus’ character) by bullying atheists. For the present blog, I will concentrate on mitigating bullying by both atheists and Christians.

When faced with bullies on Twitter, we have several options: (1) block; (2) mute; (3) ignore; (4) bully back; or (5) respond with kindness. The latter approach is the most difficult, yet potentially the most rewarding when one discovers that the person who initiated the tweet is just another human struggling to make sense of his/her challenges on the third rock from the sun. Oftentimes, these people are going through major crises, whether it be with life-threatening health issues, personal losses, and other tragic circumstances. They need our help, not our wit or our taunting.

When Christians receive bullying messages from atheists, we can think of it as an opportunity to minister. As Habermas and Licona (2004, p. 218) note, “Be patient and develop your skills. There are no substitutes for study and experience. Be careful not to go off onto other subjects. Stay on Jesus’ resurrection. Don’t get discouraged when someone seems unmoved by your presentation. When someone maintains their radical views after you have shared the evidence with them, this is not necessarily the result of any shortcomings of your efforts or weakness in the evidence… In time, sharing your faith will become a lot of fun and you will be amazed at how God will use you to spread His word.”

As 1 Peter 3:15 states: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

(Please note that I have not always responded with gentleness and respect, yet fortunately I have Christian and atheist friends who have called me out on those less than ideal responses, which I’ve worked to correct).

Next I will offer a few tips for Christians interested in interacting with atheists.

  1. Don’t threaten atheists with hell.

When I first started attracting the attention of atheists on Twitter, I was unsure of how to respond. I don’t know any atheists in “real life” very well, so I resorted to the usual warnings about hell and fire and the impending doom they would face if they didn’t convert to Christianity. The approach failed miserably and at first, I could not understand why. Then I witnessed interactions between atheists and Muslims, which enlightened me and helped me to see how atheists view God and religion. I changed my approach and now rarely mention impending doom. That does not mean that I am not concerned for the fate of atheists. I’m extremely concerned, but I have discovered that threats of hell are ineffective.

  1. Kill them with kindness.

When Christians open their Twitter notifications and discover unpleasant jabs and insults, the best response (if one chooses to respond) includes a bit of humor, some kindness, or a cheerful “Good day” or “Good morning to you too” or “Great to hear from you.” Some atheists are in fighting mode when they send you a tweet, so diffusing the fight with a nicety can be helpful.

  1. Once you have solidified your position and have a good grasp on Christian apologetics, get to know them.

I have cultivated relationships with a handful of atheists and have discovered that many of them are humanists, focused intensely on their personal relationships, families, and friends. Though I have had many conversations with these atheists, I cannot say that I fully understand their positions. As someone who has always been a believer in the divine, it is difficult to understand the position of someone who believes the opposite. Yet there is value in developing an understanding and cultivating the relationship if one ever hopes to effect a positive change by planting seeds of faith, hope, and love. Our purpose is to plant the seeds, which God will water and grow.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” – 1 Corinthians 13:13

William Lane Craig (2008, p. 406-407) offers, “Why is love the great commandment? Simply because all of the other commandments are the outworking of love…According to Jesus, our love is a sign to all people that we are His disciples (John 13:35); but even more than that, our love and unity are living proof to the world that God the Father has sent His Son Jesus Christ and that the Father loves people even as He loves Jesus. When people see this – our love for one another and our unity through love – then they will in turn be drawn to Christ and will respond to the Gospel’s offer of salvation. More often than not, it is who you are rather than what you say that will bring an unbeliever to Christ. This, then, is the ultimate apologetic. For the ultimate apologetic is – your life.”

Thank you for your time.

An excellent resource for anti-bullying is here: https://www.stopbullying.gov/image-gallery/you-should-lift-people-up.html

If you wish to reach the Atheist Codex or the Christian Apologist, our Twitter handles are @TheAtheistCodex and @Lead1225, respectively. You can also reach the Atheist Codex at TheAtheistCodex.com.

References

Craig, W.L. (2008) Reasonable Faith. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Habermas, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004) The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

 

Resolving Controversies Surrounding Joseph of Arimathea and the Women who Discovered Jesus’ Empty Tomb

Many atheists whom I have encountered on social media dispute the accounts of Jesus’ empty tomb, the discovery of the empty tomb by women, and the owner of the empty tomb, Joseph of Arimathea. One such atheist refers to himself as Kaimatai on social media. Kaimatai is a word that means “biologist” or “specialist,” which is likely Kaimatai’s occupation. The following blog is a response to Kaimatai’s blog with respect to the aforementioned topics, followed by his original blog.

CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST:

Kaimatai presents four general arguments against the authenticity of various events in the New Testament. He questions (1) the timing of the writing of the New Testament, calling into question its authenticity; (2) inconsistencies in the accounts of the empty tomb and the number of women discovering same; (3) conflicts with Roman practices; and (4) whether Joseph of Arimathea was a real person. I will address each of these.

1. Timing (and authenticity of the New Testament and Empty Tomb)

Timing and Authenticity of the New Testament

The overarching premise that Kaimatai has adopted is that the New Testament was written as a propaganda tool, used to “convince people that Jesus was the Messiah and of divine origin.” To fully understand this premise, we must unpack some of the context of early Christian history.

To do so, we first note that until 313 A.D., Christians practiced illegally. Those who were exposed by zealots such as Saul (when he was a Christian persecutor) risked being tortured, burned, crucified, or jailed (cf. Tacitus, Paul, and Luke), so the motivation to practice in the open and intentionally create a propaganda tool was not there.

Similarly, the difficulty associated with transcriptions presented challenges because (1) transcriptions were costly, as they were written either on parchment, which is stretched and smoothed leather, or papyrus from a reed plant; (2) the risk of being identified for practicing Christianity illegally was significant; (3) most of the population (~ 97% according to some estimates) was illiterate, so the oral tradition was revered and perhaps preferred; and (4) scribes were often needed and used to record oral traditions (Bar-Ilan, 2017).

Such challenges help to explain why we do not have hundreds of extra-Biblical sources within 150 years of 33 A.D. when Jesus was crucified. However, despite significant challenges, we do have 42 extra-Biblical sources confirming biblical events within this time period (including nine non-Christian sources, along with the independent sources from within the New Testament (Habermas & Licona, 2004). As an example, we have five non-Christian sources who confirm Jesus’ death via the crucifixion. These are Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and Talmud (Habermas & Licona, 2004). We have seven sources pointing to multiple, very early and eyewitness testimonies to the disciples’ claims of witnessing the risen Jesus who all note that early disciples were willing to suffer for their beliefs in Jesus: Luke – in Acts, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, and Origen (Habermas & Licona, 2004). Finally, we have eyewitness testimonies from disciples Peter, Mark, Matthew, Paul, James and Jude, along with the testimony of Luke, who authored the book of Luke and Acts. In Acts, Luke refers to himself in the first person when traveling with Paul (who knew Peter and James), which suggests he was well-aware and had first-hand knowledge of the testimonies of (at least) Peter, James, and Paul.

Kaimatai makes the assertion that the Gospels were written in sequence from Mark to Luke and Matthew to John over a period of thirty to forty years. This assertion is in conformity with Christian estimates. He adds that the Gospels were written after the fall of Rome in 70 A.D., which is not consistent with Christian estimates.

J. Warner Wallace offers the following evidence for earlier dating of the New Testament: (1) The New Testament fails to describe the destruction of the temple during the fall of Rome in 70 A.D.; (2) The New Testament fails to describe the siege of Jerusalem; (3) Luke said nothing about the deaths of Paul and Peter in 64 A.D. and 65 A.D., respectively; (4) Luke said nothing about the death of James in 62 A.D.; (5) Luke’s Gospel predates the Book of Acts, as noted in its words to Theophilus; (6) Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel in his letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:17-18) and his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:23-25); (7) Paul echoed the claims of the Gospel writers (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Galatians 1:15-19; Galatians 2:1); Luke quoted Mark and Matthew repeatedly (Luke 1:1-4). Furthermore, Luke refers to Mark’s Gospel when he notes that “it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order” (Luke 1:3). J. Warner Wallace suggests the following timeline for the authorship of the New Testament:

  • Mark                           45 – 55 A.D.
  • Luke                            50 – 53 A.D.
  • Paul quotes Luke      53 – 57 A.D.
  • Luke writes Acts       57 – 60 A.D.

Some claim the Gospels were anonymous, yet “no one in antiquity ever attributed the Gospels to anyone other than the four traditionally accepted authors” (Wallace, p. 172). Papias, who lived in the 1st century and early 2nd century is an example of a person who attributed authorship to the four traditionally accepted authors. Furthermore, the Gospels are not the only ancient documents that do not identify the author, as evidenced in Tacitus’ Annals.

Authenticity of the Empty Tomb Account

According to Kaimatai, accounts of the empty tomb are only present in the Gospels, yet we have evidence suggesting Paul was well aware of the empty tomb and the Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb. In 1 Corinthians 15 3b-5, Paul cites an old Christian formula, which originated in the Jerusalem church within the first five years of Jesus’ crucifixion (Craig, 1985):

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas and then to the twelve.”

Kaimatai is correct in his assertion that Paul does not specifically mention the empty tomb, yet does this omission mean that the tomb was not empty? If I knew that Suzie left her house to join me for lunch, yet I only said that Suzie joined me for lunch, does it mean that she did not leave her house? If I said Justin came home from college to stay with us for the weekend and I knew that he left his single-occupancy dorm along the way, yet did not mention that he left his dorm in my account of the weekend, can I assume that Justin’s dorm would be without Justin over the weekend? Such simple logic suggests that while Paul did not mention the empty tomb specifically, he was well aware of the empty tomb.

As for the Jewish polemic, Matthew’s account about the guard at the tomb (Matthew 27: 62-66; 28: 11-15) was written to refute the widespread assertion that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body.

Matthew 28:11-15 “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among Jews to this very day.”

Further information on these arguments can be found here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-historicity-of-the-empty-tomb-of-jesus

2. Inconsistencies (in accounts of the empty tomb)

All four Gospels identify Mary Magdalene as one of the persons to first discover Jesus’ empty tomb. Yet the Gospels appear to vary in accounts of those who accompanied her in this discovery. Mark (16:1) says that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb. Matthew (28:1) says that Mary and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. Luke (24:10) says “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, and the others with them who told the apostles.” John (20:1) only mentions Mary Magdalene, yet includes her statement referring to “we:” (20:2) “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him.”

Does failure to mention all of the women who discovered the empty tomb suggest that all of the women weren’t present? If I said, “Peyton Manning threw a touchdown pass and the Colts won the football game,” does it imply that Peyton Manning was alone on the field? No, it instead suggests my emphasis on Peyton Manning and his role in the game. The same can be said of John’s reference to only Mary Magdalene and the other disciples’ references to various women.

Reconciling the Accounts

The following takes the four accounts of the women’s discovery of the empty tomb and marries them into a single account. Very minor discrepancies have been eliminated.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothes were as white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise,* Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, Joanna, and Salome took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. While they were on their way to the tomb, they asked each other ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

They entered the tomb while they were wondering about this, when suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. One of the men, who was dressed in a white robe and on the right side of the tomb, said, “Don’t be alarmed, for I know you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is not here. He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where they laid Him. Then go quickly and tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He has risen from the dead and He is going ahead of you in Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee; ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified, and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered His words.

Now Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw the two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him and I will get Him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

So the women hurried away from the tomb afraid, yet filled with joy, and ran to the disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” He said. They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshipped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

When they came back from the tomb, the women told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. Mary Magdalene said, “I have seen the Lord!” But the disciples did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb and the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead). Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

*A note must be made about the Gospel of John. John reports that when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, it was still dark. Given the timing in the early hours of the morning, it seems reasonable to assume that the darkness turned to light while on her journey at some point undisclosed. The Gospel of John further offers an overall summary of the empty tomb account, which included Mary Magdalene’s visit to the empty tomb and subsequent visit to the disciples (John 20: 1-10), followed by a detailed account of what occurred at the empty tomb during Mary Magdalene’s visit (John 20: 11-18).

In summary, when taken together, the accounts offer a more vivid picture of the events surrounding the empty tomb. As pointed out by J. Warner Wallace, the gospels fit together like a puzzle.

3. Jesus’ burial conflicts with Roman practice

According to Bart Ehrman, criminals considered “enemies of the state” were not allowed decent burials. However, at least one source (a Jewish philosopher called Philo of Alexandria, Egypt) stated that Romans had a practice of allowing burials under “various circumstances.” Furthermore, such an allowance is consistent with Jewish beliefs, as per Deuteronomy 21:22-23, and Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, which was predominantly Jewish.

Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”

Josephus explains Jewish ethical obligations as follows: “We must furnish fire, water, food, to all who ask for them, point out the road, not to leave a corpse unburied…show consideration even to declared enemies (Against Apion, 2:29; 211; cf., 2:26; 205) (Evans, 2017). Given the fact that Jesus was crucified (1) in Jerusalem, a hub for the Jews; and (2) during peacetime on the eve of the Passover in which thousands of Jews would be visiting the next day, it seems unlikely that Jesus’ body would be left on the cross for all men, women, and children traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover holiday to see.

Kaimatai states “As far as we can tell Romans did not normally allow crucified victims to get buried in tombs.”

Jesus was not a “normal” sort of victim, so how can one assert that He should be buried as one? Kaimatai’s assertion suggests that Jesus was not unlike the thieves who were at either side of Him on crosses. Unlike such thieves, Jesus presented such a significant threat to the Jewish high priests that they traded Him for Barabbas, who was mentioned in all four gospels and who had been imprisoned on death row for “an insurrection in the city, and for murder” (Luke 23:19). Jesus’ significant following, likely a product of His bold and knowledgeable teachings, His miracles, and the fact that He forgave people, were likely what threatened the Jewish high priests who did not want their own power to be infringed upon. They labeled Him the “King of the Jews,” which posed a threat to Roman power, helping to justify their decision to crucify Him.

Furthermore, we have at least four independent sources attesting to Jesus’ burial: Luke in Acts (2:29; 13:36); Paul (1 Corinthians 15:4), Matthew, Mark, and John. Historians have documented much of early history with one or two sources, so having four sources enhances the validity and historicity of the burial account.

4. Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea is described as a wealthy man who was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, which was located in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin was the Jewish high court, which consisted of seventy of the leading authorities on Judaism. Given that the Sanhedrin was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, early Christian views on the Sanhedrin were likely quite hostile. Given that Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, all of whom (according to Mark) voted to condemn Jesus, Joseph was the last person Christians would “invent” if the account were merely fiction. According to the late New Testament scholar, Raymond Brown, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable” since it is “almost inexplicable” for Christians to make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus. Even Bart Ehrman affirms that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the evidence presented above serves to diffuse readers’ “problems” with (1) the timing and accuracy of the accounts of the empty tomb, (2) the “inconsistencies” between the Gospel accounts of same, (3) the conflicts with Roman practices, and (4) the doubts about Joseph of Arimathea.

Thank you for investing the time to read this article.

REFERENCES:

Bar-Ilan, Meir (2017). Illiteracy in the land of Israel in the first centuries c.e. Accessed May 20, 2017 at https://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/illitera.html. References include: J. Goody (ed.), Literacy in Traditional Societies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1968; J. Baines, ‘Literacy and Ancient Egyptian Society’, Man (ns), 18 (1983), pp. 572-599 (includes bibliography); Rosamond McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989.

Craig, W.L. (1985). The historicity of the empty tomb of Jesus. New Testament Studies, 31: 39-67.

Evans, C. (2017). Jewish burial traditions and the resurrection of Jesus. Accessed May 20, 2017 at http://craigaevans.com/Burial_Traditions.pdf

Habermas, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Wallace, J.W. (2013). Cold Case Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook

KAIMATAI:

Introduction

Well, Easter has come and gone again.  That seems to be a good time to talk about the resurrection. Because many Christians have been talking about it.  How else can we explain the empty tomb if Jesus wasn’t magically resurrected via the power of an ancient bloodgod? It’s the only explanation that makes sense! (rolls eyes). The problem with the question is its loaded nature.  The empty tomb is presented as a fact.  This has some major credibility problems.

Problem 1: Timing

The empty tomb isn’t used as proof of Jesus’ divinity and resurrection until we get to the gospels.  The (genuine) letters we have from Paul do not mention it. Nor is it present in other early NT letters.  For something that’s supposed to convince us all that Jesus was divine and resurrected, its absence for decades in early Christianity literature is astonishing.  The gospels are generally reckoned to be written after Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans (70 CE) because they’re not referenced in earlier Christian documents. Paul seems completely unaware of them.  And prophecies of Jerusalem being sacked are always easier to make after the event… The sequence for the gospels is usually reckoned as Mark, followed by Luke and Matthew, and finally John.  This spans around 30-40 years.  And all are long after the alleged event. The gap between when the empty tomb alleged occurred and when it’s first mentioned is extraordinarily large.

Problem 2: Inconsistencies

Despite the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) patently using the same sources, they can’t keep the empty tomb story straight. Throw in John and it gets worse.  The number of women who went to the tomb, when they went, what they saw at the tomb, what they did afterward, whether they were believed or not are all inconsistent across the gospels.  The Apologist gambit is to assert that this is what we expect with eye-witness accounts.  No. It’s consistent with a bunch of people who didn’t balk at making things up to sell their religion.

Problem 3: It conflicts with Roman practice

As far as we can tell Romans did not normally allow crucified victims to get buried in tombs. Crassus left thousands of ex-slaves rotting on crosses after the suppression of the Slave revolt.  Normally crucified victims were left aloft to be picked clean by birds and the like.   To be buried, and buried ceremoniously instead of in a common pit, is a deviation that begs for explanation.

Problem 4: Joseph of Arimathea

It has always struck me how much of a Deus ex Machina Joseph plays.  In order to get Jesus from the cross, into a tomb and in the time available, requires a very powerful and capable character.  There’s nobody in the disciples capable of pulling this off. Enter Joseph.  He fixes all the problems with the plot.  First, he’s politically powerful.  He’s part of the council that condemned Jesus.  But like all superhero fiction, he has a secret identity.  He’s also a disciple of Jesus.  He’s influential enough to persuade Pilate to take the body off the cross.  He’s also rich.  This is also necessary for the plot.  They have to buy linen cloth and 100 pounds of myrrh and aloe that evening.  He’s also already got a tomb ready.   Every plot-hole (bar one) is immediately fixed.  Evening might be approaching when he asked Pilate for the body, but Jesus is lying in a shroud, in a tomb, with a stone covering the entrance in time for his resurrection. Phew! The remaining plot hole of course, is there isn’t enough time to get this all done in the time available.  Joseph’s appearance in the story is dramatic.  He’s not mentioned in the gospels before this.  And he disappears just as dramatically. He’s never mentioned again.  He’s not mentioned in Acts, he’s not mentioned in any of the letters preceding the gospels.  Paul, Peter and James have no recollection of him at all. He’s a powerful and connected guy with massive influence, and nobody mentions him?! Amazing.   Joseph only has one job.  He appears at exactly the right time to fill in a bunch of critical plot-holes, and then disappears.  He has the traits of a literary invention that appears decades later when the empty tomb story gets added to the Jesus legend- not the traits of an historic person.  (If you want a much deeper analysis of Joseph of Arimathea, I recommend John Loftus’ blog).

Conclusion

I don’t feel that I need to explain the empty tomb, because I don’t think there was one.  Early Christendom was plagued with doctrinal problems.  Hints of this are preserved in the letters of Paul, James and others.  This also created a range of heretical sects, such as the Arians.   The gospels weren’t written to be histories.  They were written to convince people that Jesus was the Messiah and of divine origin.  And by drawing on the authority of Jesus and the early disciples, they could be used to resolve doctrinal disputes.  Was the resurrection a mostly spiritual or personal visionary event?  Or was it a physical event?  For anyone who believed in a physical resurrection, the canonical Gospels make a perfect argument. And they get more elaborate the later the gospel is composed. It’s the last gospel, Johns, that introduces Thomas as the clincher for the physical resurrection.  So either major scientific laws were broken to miraculously bring the offspring of an ancient god and virgin back to life.  Or the belief that the resurrection was a physical event evolved slowly in a community that was willing to add embellishments that showed this, in retelling, over decades.  It’s not really difficult deciding what’s the least plausible.

What Would You Do If You Were Me? A Christian Response to Atheist Engineer

The following blog is a response to a blog from an atheist on social media who calls himself Atheist Engineer. I have been communicating with him for over six months and came upon his blog yesterday, which highlights a few words I’ve said to him. The purpose of this blog is to offer my response to his opinions on Christianity.

CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST:

Atheist Engineer is one of the atheists I consider “humanists,” who are half way up the ladder to God. I know this because he has a good set of morals on many issues and aside from our disagreement on Christianity, I share many of his humanist views towards equality, feminism, and the like. That’s why I care about him and others like him and have decided to keep communicating with them on social media.

Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I care about his eternal fate and the fate of those like him. I’ve identified several others very similar to him on social media. But what I want to be clear in this comment is (1) that our Lord is loving, fair, and the source of our objective moral code so the punishment will fit the crime; (2) that eternal burning in hell, in my humble and hopeful opinion, may only be reserved for the “weeds” of the Bible — people of Satan with no moral compass — people like Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Pol Pot; (3) God has made it very clear that He desires all of His “lost sheep” to return to Him. The Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Prodigal Son make quite clear the lengths to which God will go to be sure His children are rescued and the level of forgiveness He offers. Furthermore, the story of Saul/Paul assures us that God is willing to forgive even the biggest sinners, as just prior to Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was busy identifying, jailing, and witnessing the deaths of early Christians who were worshiping Jesus illegally in the years just following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

In other words, we know that God forgives, loves, and embraces His lost sheep as His children. He also knows of the characteristics within His children and the experiences that they’ve had in their lives that have led to their decisions — as He made them the way they are. I’ve identified recent studies indicating that atheism is partially genetic, which tells me that God will be kind to people predisposed to atheism. I’ve further identified studies indicating that people often turn to God later in their lives. With age comes wisdom.

The Biblical Conceptions of Hell

Gotquestions.org, which is a resource used by many pastors, offers an explanation of the afterlife.

“In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word used to describe the realm of the dead is sheol. It simply means ‘the place of the dead’ or ‘the place of departed souls/spirits.’ The New Testament Greek equivalent to sheol is hades, which is also a general reference to ‘the place of the dead.’ The Greek word gehenna is used in the New Testament for ‘hell’ and is derived from the Hebrew word hinnom. Other Scriptures in the New Testament indicated that sheol/hades is a temporary place where souls are kept as they await the final resurrection. The souls of the righteous, at death, go directly into the presence of God—the part of sheol called ‘heaven,’ ‘paradise,’ or ‘Abraham’s bosom’ (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23).”

“The lake of fire, mentioned only in Revelation 19:20 and 20:10, 14-15, is the final hell, the place of eternal punishment for all unrepentant rebels, both angelic and human (Matthew 25:41). It is described as a place of burning sulfur, and those in it experience eternal, unspeakable agony of an unrelenting nature (Luke 16:24; Mark 9:45-46).”

So the questions presents themselves: (1) Do both “weeds” and “lost sheep” end up in the so-called “final hell” based on their earthly decisions or (2) do only “weeds” and “lost sheep” who retained their decisions to deny God even after death end up there? Conservative Biblical scholars are of the opinion that anyone who denies Jesus Christ while on earth will end up in the lake of fire. C.S. Lewis, some Catholics and more liberal Christian scholars consider the temporary place (sheol, hades, or purgatory) to be one in which people are given the (after death) choice of accepting the Lord. In his book “The Great Divorce,” C.S. Lewis spells out his version of such an existence.

Either tradition cannot be proven, so one looks to the Bible for an answer. According to Green, McKnight, and Marshall (1992), the general belief is that once one passes through Hades’ portals (Isaiah 38:10), there will be no return (e.g., Job 7:9-10; Psalm 49: 14-20; 1 Samuel 2:9; Isaiah 38:10, 18) and they are bound to silence (1 Samuel 2:9; Psalm 6:5; 31:17; Isaiah 38:18) and darkness (Job 17:13). Some evidence of future hope for the righteous does exist, however (Hosea 13:14; Psalm 16:10; 49:15; Job 14:13; 1 Samuel 2:6).

Based on God’s objective moral standard, we know that whatever the fate, the punishment will fit the crime. Therefore, I tend to lean to the opinion of C.S. Lewis, yet again, that is only my opinion. I can not say for certain the fate that will meet those who leave this world denying the Lord’s presence. I can only pray for them, hoping for the best, and counting on the Lord’s objective moral standard of love. A river can not exceed its source, so our morals and standards of love and goodness cannot exceed those from which we’re born: God. In other words, our ethical standards can never be better than those of the standard Himself.

What Would I Do?

Personally, I have never spent so much time considering the consequence of hell as I have over this past year while on social media. The atheists I now know often discuss the matter, so I have begun focusing on it more closely. The reason I haven’t considered it much is because I have always figured that I and my loved ones would end up in paradise, or heaven. I cannot even imagine gambling on the possibility of going to hell.

So, what would I do if in Atheist Engineer’s shoes? It’s hard to imagine, since I have never been an atheist, exactly what he is thinking. If I were in his shoes, however, I would meditate on the life of Jesus Christ. Since the Bible seems to present negative issues for Atheist Engineer, I would suggest that he initially avoid reading the books outside of the four gospels and Acts. Then, if I were him, I would ask God for an answer. I am confident that Atheist Engineer will receive God’s answer, which will guide him up the rest of the ladder.

To Conclude…

I have not fully addressed all of the issues noted by Atheist Engineer in this particular blog, because I’ve already answered them in other blogs. As examples, in my blog entitled, “A Christian Defense against Atheism,” which was originally a rebuttal to Atheist Engineer, I discuss issues of the problem of pain, free will, omniscience and omnipotence, and arguments such as the teleological argument and the cosmological argument for God. In “10 Good Response to Believe God Exists,” I summarize many of my points made in other blogs. This blog is a quick and easy read. In “Why Were Early Christians So Brave?” and “An Extra-Biblical Case for Christianity,” I make a case for the divinity of Jesus Christ. In “Why Did Jesus Have to Die? An Extension of Penal Substitution Atonement” I explain the atonement. In “Thoughts on the Atheist Experience Show along with a Testimonial in Support of Jesus,” I discuss the fate of those who follow different faiths. Finally, in “The Moral Argument for God,” I make an argument for God’s absolute moral standard.  I hope you’ll take the time to review any and all blogs if you’re interested in the way, the truth, and the life.

Thank you for investing your time.

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither” – C.S. Lewis

References:

Green, J.B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I.H. (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, USA.

ATHEIST ENGINEER:

I try to treat believers with the same or better respect than they treat me. As a result, a few of them get to know me well enough to realize I’m not the hateful, angry, baby eating, Satan worshiper that some fundamentalists say we are.

Not me. Or any of the atheists I’ve personally met and made friends with.

One of these Christians who has taken the time to get to know me recently asked:

… I’ll be the first to admit I’ve tried to be as convincing as possible. What would you do if you were in my shoes and you had my beliefs and you really cared about someone?

I suspect she was referring to my accusations that she exaggerates the “evidence for Jesus” and presents it without mentioning the known problems or issues with the evidence. I consider it dishonest and I’ve said as much. But her point is that she does it because she feels compelled to try to save us “lost sheep.”

So What Would I Do?

As a former Christian, I can still easily put myself back in my old Christian mindset. I would feel moral anguish if I thought that good people would be punished while I am rewarded, simply because they didn’t believe my Jesus. Such a plan would be horribly unfair to so much of humanity! Social scientists say that the greatest factors in deterring a person’s religious identity are the time and location of their birth and the culture they live in. God is ethereal. His presence is spiritual. There are many competing religious beliefs. In other words, it wouldn’t be their fault if they didn’t believe the right thing.

If I had her beliefs and found myself worrying about good people being excluded from my God’s plan for salvation, I’d start questioning whether I’ve learned true things about my just and loving God’s plans.

I’d wonder why a just and loving god would base salvation on having the right belief. I’d consider the possibility that serious flaws were introduced into my religious text during the times it was oral tradition, then copied, then selected from among many similar manuscripts, then translated, then interpreted.

I’d consider the possibility that some of the more objectionable parts of my holy book were actually just the author’s personal human opinion, not divine revelation.

I’d wonder if the Council of Nicea was actually guided by God or just a group of men making a power grab as usual.

https://goo.gl/GIqG0a

Such doubts would be extremely helpful for her. I think she’s smart enough to realize that there’s a huge disconnect between “just and loving God” and “salvation contingent upon beliefs and worship.” She realized that she cannot enjoy heaven knowing that good people are unjustly excluded from the party.

It’s unethical and I think most modern Christians know this. It’s an unavoidable fact of their religion

The concept of hell is inescapably incongruent with the claim of a just and loving God. Infinite torture is not ethical in response to any finite crime. It would be excessive for even the most monstrous despot in human history (take your pick).

To Conclude…

I wish I could help these kind and ethically awake Christians. It’s tragic that they’ve been taught to believe such hurtful things about the nature of the cosmos and our existence. They’re left to believe they are compelled to fight to save good people from their horrific vision of a spiteful God. However, my integrity is too important to compromise.

I feel sorry for the sense of despair it must cause them when I refuse to lie to comfort them. But I won’t claim to believe just to help a Christian feel better about the unethical foundations of their religion.

But I can still be respectful to them. I will pay them the respect of patiently explaining why the arguments they present (which I’ve invariably seen or heard before) are unconvincing. I can help them face the challenges of secular morality and ethics when they’re ready to admit that absolute morals are not real. I can help them grapple with their own mortality when they’re ready to concede that heaven was an empty promise. But I know I can’t make them see this. They must chose to face it on their own.

The sense of moral disharmony Christians feel about good people being tortured is their conscience telling them that their religion is false. In the end, they will have to either face this spiritual conundrum or ignore it. That’s for them to decide, not me. But having faced it myself, I can say honestly that life is much better without the struggle to find a way to interpret reality so it fits the just and loving God assertion.

The Moral Argument for God

“But my excitement was undimmed. There were no more external, absolute rules. The supposed foundation of every ordinance, regulation, law, and maxim – from “don’t talk after lights-out” and “give way to pedestrians on the crosswalk,” to “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” “Thou shalt do no murder”… was a fake… I could behave as I wished, without fear of eternal consequences and (if I was cunning and could get away with it) without fear of earthly ones either… I acted accordingly for several important and irrecoverable years (Former atheist Peter Hitchens, Christopher Hitchens’ brother, p. 20).”

“In my thirties I found that what was almost being said seemed to be the thing I had sought to avoid so hard a few years earlier. But I still did not know what it was. I no longer avoided churches. I recognized in the great English cathedrals and in many small parish churches the old unsettling messages. One was the inevitability and certainty of my own death, the other the undoubted fact that my despised forebears were neither crude nor ignorant, but men and women of great skills and engineering genius – a genius not contradicted or blocked by faith, but enhanced by it (Hitchens, 2010, p. 103).”

His sighting in an ancient hospital in France of a painting of The Last Judgment by Rogier van der Weyden cemented Peter Hitchens’ journey back to Christianity. “But I had a sudden, strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time.  A large catalogue of misdeeds, ranging from the embarrassing to the appalling, replayed themselves rapidly in my head. I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned (Hitchens, 2010, p. 103).”

Peter Hitchens’ experience as an atheist is similar to many, yet not all atheists. His words indicate he focused more on misdeeds than on good deeds, unlike some of the other atheists I’ve encountered. So-called secular humanists are people who emphasize the importance of good deeds. Many consider themselves virtuous, focusing on their families and friends and values such as empathy and equality. Examples I have encountered on Twitter include @MrOzAtheist, @Greg_MarineLab, @AtheistEngineer, @Kaimatai and @CocoAtheistNo19.

“Many theists have – in the face of overwhelming evidence – grudgingly conceded that at least some atheists can be good people (Secularhumanism.org, 2017). Grudgingly, indeed, as previous research has shown that many people (including atheists) associate atheists more than other religious, cultural, or ethnic groups with a variety of immoral acts (serial murder, consensual incest, necrobestiality, cannibalism) (Gervais, 2014). Perhaps such perceptions contribute to some atheists’ passion for humanism.

One such atheist is a person I’ve encountered on Twitter: @MrOzAtheist. I came upon his well-written blog entitled “Society vs God,” which appears to be a good take on the atheist humanist position. I endorse his position on just about every aspect, aside from the most important aspect, which is the source of the good deeds that he reveres: God. Therefore, the rest of this short essay will be devoted to explaining why God should not be excluded as an explanation of the moral fabric that guides society. It is not “Society vs God” but “Society under God.”

Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog can be summarized by a meme he created, which states: “For me it’s not necessarily about promoting atheism over theism. It’s about promoting positives such as empathy, compassion, equality, acceptance, and critical thinking over negatives such as bigotry, oppression, blind faith, and intolerance.” Such words indicate to me that Mr. Oz Atheist is in the curious position of endorsing the same values endorsed by those who practice Christianity while simultaneously denying the source of said values: Jesus Christ.

I am the vine. You are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:5

Atheists believe that moral values are simply byproducts of biological evolution and social conditioning (Craig, 2010). As noted by Michael Gerson, ‘Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not’” (Secularhumanism.org, 2017). The objective way to judge conduct is to consider it against the objective set of moral values which guide society. The source and giver of this objective moral standard is God. William Lane Craig outlines this logic as follows (2010, p. 129):

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. God exists.

Secular attempts to provide an objective foundation for morality have been unsuccessful (secularhumanism.org, 2017), so humanist atheists call on history to suggest that “any community in which these (ethical) norms were lacking could not survive for long. This shared core of moral norms represents the common heritage of civilized human society” (secularhumanism.org, 2017).

Yet, a common heritage sorely lacks an external and objective standard against which all positive moral norms can be evaluated. Such shared norms have no external enforcer either. This equates to having a set of laws, yet no lawgiver or source of the codes against which the laws were established. It equates to having grapes without vines, branches without trees, and corn without cobs.

Secular atheists call on the classic Euthyphro argument to suggest that God is not needed to develop positive values. This argument began when Socrates asked Plato “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” The argument presents a false dichotomy, as it forces respondents to make one of two choices, as if there are only two choices. The third option is the answer, which is that God is love and the standard of what is pious.

Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog closes with this question: “Rather than asking an atheist why we care about life, if this is all there is, the question should be to theists – why isn’t this life – your friends, your family and your society enough?” Atheists are confronted with (in Sartre’s words) “the bare, valueless fact of existence.”

Why? The reason this life isn’t enough is because God did not intend for our spirits to expire. Instead, He intends that our spirits thrive by capitalizing on each of our unique spiritual purposes that we nurture and develop to make the world better. If we all fulfilled the spiritual purposes assigned to us by God, this world would be heaven. We would all share the intense feelings of joy that can only be felt when we are one with our Lord.

After reflecting on atheist humanism and on Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog, I have determined that he is closer to God than he realizes. I also believe he is not alone as many atheist humanists share the following characteristics with Mr. Oz Atheist: (1) they endorse shared values; (2) they believe in the Golden Rule; (3) they focus on empathy, compassion, equality, and acceptance; and (4) they desire to be happy. It is the desire to be happy that eventually leads all to God, the source of all joy and happiness.

Thank you for your time.

God’s moral law is “written on the hearts of all men” and “their conscience bears witness to them” – Romans 2:14-15

Click here to read Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog: http://mrozatheist.blogspot.com/2016/08/society-vs-god.html

References:

Craig, W.L. (2010). On Guard. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook

Gervais, W.M. (2014). Everything is permitted? People intuitively judge immorality as representative of atheists. PLoS ONE 9(4): e92302. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092302. Accessed at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0092302

Hitchens, P. (2010). The Rage against God. USA: Zondervan.

 

10 Good Reasons to Believe God Exists: A Response to “10 Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists” by Mr. Oz Atheist

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” – Matthew 7:7

Original post: http://mrozatheist.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/10-poor-reasons-to-believe-god-exists.html?m=1

The intention of this blog is to offer ten good reasons to believe God exists, which is a response to a blog entitled “10 Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists” by an atheist on Twitter who calls himself “Mr. Oz Atheist.” First, I shall list my “good reasons” and next I present his “poor reasons.” The reason I am presenting my side in this way is because I agree with Mr. Oz Atheist that some of the reasons he lists are poor reasons to believe God exists.

Christian Apologist Responds with 10 Good Reasons to Believe God Exists

1.God’s timing is perfect.

One of my early concerns with Christianity was its age relative to the 4.5 billion year old earth. It seemed that a 2,000 year old religion would have missed a large portion of the humans who lived prior to Christianity’s beginnings. Yet my concerns were mitigated when I discovered that 98% of humanity has existed since the time of Jesus Christ (Population Reference Bureau) and current growth projections indicate that the percentage will soon be at 99.99%. In other words, almost all on the planet have lived under the New Covenant of the New Testament and the words of Jesus Christ.

2. Christianity has survived against substantial odds.

Of all of the great kings who ever reigned or of all of the great men and women who ever lived, only one still reigns and will live and reign forever: a Jewish carpenter, Jesus Christ, who was born, raised, and lived in humble circumstances. Yet unlike all of the kings who ever reigned, Jesus had few material resources. He made friends with people of humble means, including fishermen (Andrew, Peter, brothers James and John, and possibly Thomas and Bartholomew), a tax collector (Matthew), a religious zealot (Simon the Canaanite), and tradesmen (Philip, James the son of Alphaeus, and Judas) (AllaboutJesusChrist.org).

When Jesus called on His apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), His apostles turned the world upside down (c.f., Acts 17:6). The chances that men of such humble means could turn the world upside down, fueling the growth of the world’s most practiced religion seem extraordinarily low. Yet with God, nothing is impossible.

Projections of the number of Christians on the planet indicate growth. According to various contributors to the Lausanne Statistics Task Force, headed by David Barrett, Ph.D., the author of the World Christian Encyclopedia, the ratio of committed Christians relative to non-Christians is as follows:

  • 100 A.D. 360 to 1
  • 1000 A.D. 220 to 1
  • 1500 A.D. 69 to 1
  • 1900 A.D. 27 to 1
  • 1950 A.D. 21 to 1
  • 1980 A.D. 11 to 1
  • 1989 A.D. 7 to 1

Projections from the Pew Research Center’s 2015 Religion and Public Life Project indicate that the number of Christians will increase from around 2.2 billion adherents today to 2.9 billion in 2050. The population of Muslims is also expected to increase from 1.6 billion to 2.7 billion in 2050. Muslim birth rates are higher, which contributes to its growth rate. In 2050, projections by Pew Research indicate a global population of 9.6 billion, so that percentage of Christians (including less committed ones) will be around 30%.

In summary, roughly a third of humanity identifies with Christianity, while 1 in 7 consider themselves committed Christians. Christianity has survived the odds against it, despite its very humble roots, to become the world’s top religion. Other odds against Christianity are discussed below in the context of its illegal status until 313 A.D.

3. The Cosmological Argument

Since the universe had a start date for time, space, and matter (Hawking, 2017), one wonders what existed prior to the Big Bang. At this point, science hasn’t provided an explanation for what caused or powered the Big Bang. What we know is that the force to inflate the expansion of the universe did not have properties of linear time, space, and matter. The force that powered the expansion seems likely to be powerful. So, the assumption can be made that the force that powered the universe’s expansion was powerful, metaphysical, and eternal. In other words, the force had all of the qualities of our Creator.

Thomas Aquinas’ First Mover Theory for Proof of God, further explains this logic.

  1. Our senses tell us that there is some motion in the world.
  2. All things moving must be moved by something else.
  3. Motion is the change from potentiality to actuality.
  4. It is not possible to be potential and actual in the same respect.
  5. Therefore, the mover cannot also be the moved.
  6. There cannot be an infinite regression of movers.
  7. Therefore, there must be a first, unmoved mover.

 4. The Teleological Argument

The Teleological Argument is an argument for the fine-tuning of the universe. As noted by Robert Lanza (2009), “By the late sixties, it had become clear that if the Big Bang had been just one part in a million more powerful, the cosmos would have blown outward too fast to allow stars and worlds to form. Result: no us. Even more coincidentally, the universe’s four forces and all of its constants are just perfectly set up for atomic interactions, the existence of atoms and elements, planets, liquid water, and life. Tweak any of them and you never existed.” Further information on the specific constants can be found in the CODATA 1998 recommendations by the National Institute of Standards and Technology of the United States.

A constant refers to an unchanging mathematical quantity that expresses the laws of nature, such as the law of gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the subatomic weak force. Scientists have found that constants must fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of values for the universe to be life-sustaining. For example, the weak force, which operates inside of the nucleus of an atom, is so finely tuned that an alteration in its value by even one part of 10100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe (Craig, 2010). The cosmological constant, which drives the acceleration of the universe’s expansion, if tweaked by as little as one part of 10120 would have rendered the universe life-prohibiting (Craig, 2010).

“The fine-tuning here is beyond comprehension. Having an accuracy of even one part out of 1060 is like firing a bullet toward the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away, and nailing a one inch target!” (Craig, 2010, p. 109). Such extreme odds suggest the presence of a divine guide, or intelligent designer: God.

5.  The Moral Argument

 All mentally sound human beings have an innate sense of what’s moral. Many aspects of what is considered right and what is considered wrong are shared between humans across the planet. As examples, all mentally sound humans frown upon murder, rape, and a variety of related human atrocities. All mentally sound humans share the norm of reciprocity, in which one feels inclined to give back to one who gave. All mentally sound humans value gratitude, appreciation, love, kindness, and generosity. For a detailed assessment of human morality and why we do what we do, please click http://www.pitt.edu/~mthompso/readings/mmp.pdf

Why? Atheists would argue that we have evolved this way and that communities in which such values emerged were more successful than those in which opposing values emerged. Yet we have examples presently and in history in which such arguments fail. Successes in some ISIS, Boko Haram and historical Nazi communities refute their argument.

Evolutionary arguments also fail, as other creatures on this planet do not operate under the same moral code as we do. “On the atheistic view, human beings are just animals, and animals have no moral obligations to one another. When a lion kills a zebra, it kills the zebra. It does not murder the zebra. When a great white shark forcibly copulates with a female, it forcibly copulates with her but it does not rape her – for there is no moral dimension to these actions. They are neither prohibited nor obligatory” (Craig, 2010, p. 132).

Where did these laws originate? The source of our moral “laws” is our lawgiver, God. Laws do not invent themselves. “There must be an infinite, eternal Mind who is the architect of nature and whose moral purpose man is gradually fulfilling” (Craig, 2010, p. 132). “He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can be higher than its own source” (Lewis, 1952, p. 48).

Craig (2010) offers the following logic:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

If God does not exist, we have no source of the objective moral values under which we all operate. Atheists argue that such values are by-products of evolution and social conditioning. Yet Charles Darwin (1871) states, “If…men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.”

“For us to think that human beings are special and our morality objectively true is to succumb to the temptation to speciesism, an unjustified bias toward one’s own species” (Craig, 2010, p. 132).

6.  Isaiah 53

During the time in which I was doubting the validity of Christianity, I found myself sitting next to a pastor on an airplane, who alerted me to Isaiah 53, which was written about seven hundred years before Jesus walked the earth. Isaiah 53 is often excluded from Jewish sermons, according to the Jews for Jesus website. Why? The answer becomes obvious after reading the passage.

1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.

9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Jews claim that the passage refers to Israel, the suffering servant. Yet why would “he,” a country be pierced for the transgressions of another country? The claim makes no sense. It equates to saying that Israel will be punished for the actions of Syria. It further refers to Israel as if masculine and personal, which calls to attention the way Israel has been referred to as the true Christ (cf., Galatians 6:16; Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15; Exodus 4:22-23). In other words, an argument that the passage refers to Israel is an argument that actually supports the true Christ!

7. Embarrassing Testimony

In apologetics, evidence of the truth in a statement or source is provided by embarrassing testimony. In other words, if authors were contriving a story or inventing a myth, they would not include testimony about which they would be embarrassed. Instead they would only include information that they could “sell” to followers easily.

Numerous examples of embarrassing testimony are present in the New Testament, including Peter’s thrice denial of Jesus (Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22: 54-62; John 18: 15-27), the incident in which Jesus’ mother and brothers’ attempted to seize Jesus to take Him home for being “out of His mind” (Mark 3:21, 31), and the labels used by some to describe Jesus as a mad man (John 10:20), demon-possessed (Mark 3:22; John 7:20; John 8:48), and drunkard (Matthew 11:19). A prostitute used her hair to clean Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-39), which some might consider to be a sexual advance. Furthermore, given the low status of women during the time of Jesus, the mere fact that women were given the privilege of discovering the empty tomb is note-worthy.

Consider the following Jewish writings, which underscore the low status of women during Jesus’ time (Habermas & Licona, 2004)

“Sooner the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women” (Talmud, Sotah 19a).

“The world cannot exist without males and without females- happy is he whose children are males, and woe to him whose children are females” (Talmud, Kiddushin 82b).

“But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope or gain, or fear of punishment” (Josephus, Antiquities 1.8).

“Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid [to offer], also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman” (Talmud, Rosh Hoshannah 1.8).

Roman historian Suetonius (~ 115 A.D.): “Whereas men and women had hitherto always sat together, Augustus confined women to the back rows even at gladiatorial shows: the only ones exempt from this rule being the Vestal Virgins, for whom separate accommodation was provided, facing the praetor’s tribunal. No women at all were allowed to witness the athletic contests; indeed, when the audience clamoured at the Games for a special boxing match to celebrate his appointment as Chief Priest, Augustus postponed this until early the next morning, and issued a proclamation to the effect that it was the Chief Priest’s desire that women should not attend the Theatre before ten o’clock.”

Such status likely led to the disciples’ initial responses to the women who discovered the open tomb: “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11).

In summary, the presence of numerous instances of embarrassing testimony in the New Testament provides evidence of the validity of the Bible and the sincerity of its authors.

 8. Extra-Biblical Testimony

Atheists often request evidence that is extra-biblical, as if the evidence provided in the Bible is invalid. When considering that the New Testament has at least nine independent authors and is endorsed by numerous highly respected, scholarly archeologists and historians, the Bible is a valid historical text. Yet, we do have accounts of events and people in the New Testament from external writers.

Examples from Roman historians include the following (Miller, 2007, page 346):

  1. Antiquities of the Jews, by Josephus (about 93-94). “There was a wise man who was called Jesus, and His conduct was good…Pilate condemned Him to be crucified…His disciples didn’t abandon their loyalty to Him. They reported that He appeared to them three days after His crucifixion that He was alive.”
  2. Annals of Imperial Rome, by Tacitus (about 55 – 120). “Christ suffered the ultimate penalty at the hands of procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor of Rome.”
  3. The Lives of the Caesars, by Suetonius (about 70-130). “Chrestus caused the riots in Rome in AD 49. This is probably a reference to Christ and to the hostility that erupted when traditional Jews clashed with Jews who believed Jesus was the promised Messiah. Acts 18:2 supports this theory, reporting that Claudius Caesar expelled all Jews from Rome during this time.

In fact, we have 33 Christian and 9 secular extra-biblical sources within 150 years of Jesus’ resurrection that provide support for the New Testament and Jesus Christ (Wallace, 2013).Historians get giddy with only two sources, while we have 42!

Within 150 years of Jesus’ life, extra-biblical testimonies from sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Thallus, Suetonius, Emperor Trajan, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, and others (Turek, 2015) inform us that:

  • Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar • He lived a virtuous life • He was a wonder-worker • He had a brother named James • He was acclaimed to be the Messiah • He was crucified under Pontius Pilate • An eclipse and an earthquake occurred* when He died • He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover • His disciples believed He rose from the dead • His disciples were willing to die for their belief in Jesus • Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome • His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God

9. Early Christian Bravery

Paul started out as Saul of Tarsus, who actively pursued Christians for imprisonments and deaths. He first appears in the Book of Acts as a witness of the stoning of Christianity’s first martyr, Stephen. Yet something happened to Paul on his way to Damascus: Jesus Christ appeared to him and he converted, to become one of Christianity’s greatest missionary apostles. Historians don’t dispute that Paul wrote at least six or as many as thirteen books of the New Testament. In these books, he shares his testimony and the way he willingly endured multiple beatings and imprisonments before being beheaded by Nero in Rome.

James, Jesus’ half-brother, also has an extraordinary story. James was initially skeptical of Jesus, as noted when he and his brothers and mother showed up to see Jesus preach (Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; and Matthew 12:46). They wanted to stop him, because they felt he was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). Yet something happened to James after Jesus was crucified. He witnessed the risen Jesus.

Paul writes (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8) “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as the one abnormally born.”

James went on to become a missionary and an author of the book of James in the New Testament. Eusebius (c. 263 – 339 A.D.), the first church historian, wrote Ecclesiastical History, in which he cited a variety of authors and described the martyrdoms of Peter, James, and Paul. Peter, who denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed (as predicted by Jesus) was hung on a cross upside-down. James was pushed from a building and beaten. Paul was beheaded. The martyrdoms of Peter and Paul cited by Eusebius were documented by Dionysius of Corinth (~170 A.D.), Tertullian (~ 200 A.D.) and Origen (~ 230 – 250 A.D.). Josephus (~ 95 A.D., Hegesippus (~ 165 – 175 A.D.) and Clement of Alexandria (~ 200 A.D.) documented the martyrdom of James.

Yet Paul, Peter, and James weren’t the only early Christians to be martyred. As reported by Wawro (2008) in the Historical Atlas, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus reported that “Nero punished Christians for their role in the April 64 CE fire in Rome’s Circus Maximus using the following means:

  • He had them covered with animal skins and let them be eaten by dogs.
  • He had them nailed to crosses.
  • He had them burned as torches for light after sundown” (Wawro, 2008, page 85)

In the Tacitus Annals 15,44, Tacitus states “Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dross of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car.”

Why were the early disciples so brave?

  1. Early Christian disciples saw the risen Christ.
  2. They braved gory deaths to praise and worship Him illegally
  3. Why?
  4. See item #1

10. The Purpose of Life

We were put on this planet to fulfill our spiritual purposes of becoming more Christ-like and more perfect, yet we were intentionally put here as imperfect, flawed beings. Overcoming our flaws and physical obstacles and limitations helps us to grow spiritually.

We have all had to overcome major challenges and such challenges have likely changed us as people, giving us more depth, empathy, knowledge, and understanding. Headwinds and trials and tribulations make us stronger. If we had faced no challenges, we would have no purpose here. Our purposes are to advance by capitalizing on our spiritual gifts.

“As the scriptures teach and experience proves, it’s difficult to develop courage without danger, perseverance without obstacles, patience without tribulation, compassion without suffering, character without adversity, faith (trust) without need. Soul-making is indeed painful” (Turek, 2015, p. 220) “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance” Romans 5: 3.

In closing, I will add one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis (1952, p. 50-51):

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something  worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

References

Anonymous. All about Jesus Christ. (2017) http://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/occupations-of-the-12-disciples-faq.htm

Craig, W.L. (2010). On Guard. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook.

Darwin, C. (1871). The Descent of Man. Reprinted in 1981 by Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.

Lanza, R. (2009). Biocentrism. How life and consciousness are the keys to understanding the true nature of the universe. Dallas, TX: Benbella Books.

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis Pte. Limited.

Licona, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Miller, S.M. (2007). The Complete Guide to the Bible. Barbour: Phoenix, AZ. USA.

Pew Research Fact Tank (2014) http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/02/03/10-projections-for-the-global-population-in-2050/

Pew Forum Religion and Public Life Project (2015) http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious–‐projections–‐2010–‐2050/

Turek, F. (2015). Stealing from God. USA: Navpress.

Wawro, J. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World.  Millennium House.

World Christian Database (2017) http://worldchristiandatabase.org/wcd/about/WCD_Methodology.pdf

Wallace, J.W. (2013). Cold-case Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.

Mr. Oz Atheist offers Ten Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists

These are some of the arguments for God that come up most often. No particular order.

1: Other people believe it. 

Although there may be many people who share your belief. There are at least 5 billion people who don’t. At least 1.6 billion people have an alternate belief. You can’t all be right. But you can all be wrong.

2: My parents told me to believe. 

 They also told you to believe Santa is real (maybe) or the tooth fairy. Not only have your parents lied to you, but their reasons for believing also fall under one or more of the poor reasons listed here. We’ve evolved to listen to our parents because some of their advice is good (don’t touch the fire, watch where you’re walking) but to believe them in everything, without question is questionable.

3: I can’t explain ‘x’ without God. 

People used to think that about lightning and earthquakes too. We can explain them now and guess what? No god required. What you don’t understand is not proof that a god exists. For ‘x’ to be proof of god, you need to show that it *is* god, not that you can’t imagine how it isn’t.

4: The prophecies in the bible/scientific revelations in the Qu’ran prove the book is from God. 

Biblical prophecy is vague and easily retrofitted. Sure, Israel became a nation, but did it really take a godly prophecy to predict it? Could a hopeful Hebrew have suggested it? Of course. The science in the Qu’ran is inaccurate (eg where sperm comes from, two kinds of water not mixing) The ‘science’ in the Qu’ran is consistent with what was known at the time.

5: It’s called FAITH!

Yeah, it is. As long as you recognise that faith, and good reasons to believe, are different things. As above, at least 1.6 Billion people have ‘faith’ that a different story is true. Faith gets people to fly planes into buildings thinking they’ve got 72 virgins waiting for them. Faith lets people eat a wafer thinking it’s *literally* the flesh of a Jewish carpenter that lived 2000 years ago. Faith makes people throw virgins into volcanoes thinking it’ll appease the god within. Faith makes people think a man rose from the dead is a better explanation than ‘something else happened’. Faith may make you feel good, but it’s not a pathway to truth.

6: All cultures have developed a god – there must be something in it. 

There’s no doubt humans have a hunger for answers. We crave explanations for what we can observe. The scientific method is the best way we’ve come up with to find those explanations. But the scientific method is recent. It wasn’t around 2000+ years ago when gods and goddesses where being invented. A primitive mind thinking that thunder was the result of an angry god is understandable, but gods and goddesses were the answers we came up with when we didn’t know better. We know better now. It’s funny how the number of gods and goddesses we invent has slowed since the scientific method was developed.

7: Without God, we wouldn’t know right from wrong. (Morality) 

Says who? This is really just a stab in the dark and could easily be the ‘x’ in point 3. Non-human animals show traits that we call morality. The show compassion, cooperation, and empathy. They have a sense of ‘fairness’ and they look after each other when required. These are evolved traits and are easily shown to be beneficial to the species. No one has demonstrated that a god is required.

8: Evolution is a religion (is false, can’t happen etc.). 

Even if this were true (and it’s not) it doesn’t matter. Disproving evolution would in no way prove that gods and goddesses exist. All disproving evolution would do (if it could be done) is show that evolution doesn’t happen.

9: I feel something when I pray/worship. 

Sure you do. But people have feelings like that at concerts, and sporting events too. There’s nothing concrete to suggest that this is an internal feeling caused by god or Jesus or whomever. More likely it’s really just your body having a reaction to you having a good time.

10: There MUST be something more…

Saying it, wanting it to be true doesn’t make it so. Sure we may want to see our loved ones when we die. Sure we may get a warm fuzzy feeling at the idea that we’re here for a purpose greater than ourselves and that even after we die we’ll somehow carry on. Some people may even like the idea that our existence makes a god happy and that’s good enough reason to be alive. But wanting all those things to be true, doesn’t make them true. ‘Must’ is a definite position. You need to demonstrate that it’s true not just assert it and expect people to believe. When people say ‘must’ in this context, they’re really saying ‘I really hope there is’.

There’s also Look around you!

An Extra-Biblical Case for Christianity

In 1 Corinthians 15: 1-2, Paul writes, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

The Unexpected Bravery of Former Deniers and Doubters

Paul’s story is extraordinary, as he started out as Saul of Tarsus, arguably one of early Christianity’s most notorious enemies. He actively pursued Christians for imprisonments and deaths and he stood by and watched as Christianity’s first martyr, Stephen, was stoned. Yet something happened to Paul on his way to Damascus one day. Jesus Christ appeared to him and Saul became Paul, arguably one of Christianity’s greatest missionary apostles. Historians don’t dispute that Paul wrote at least six or as many as thirteen books of the New Testament. In these books, he shares his testimony and the way he willingly endured multiple beatings and imprisonments before being beheaded by Nero in Rome.

James, Jesus’ half-brother, also has an extraordinary story. James was initially skeptical of Jesus, as noted when he and his brothers and mother showed up to see Jesus preach (Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; and Matthew 12:46). They wanted to stop him, because they felt he was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). Yet something happened to James after Jesus was crucified. He witnessed the risen Jesus.

Paul writes (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8) “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as the one abnormally born.”

James went on to become a missionary and an author of the book of James in the New Testament. Eusebius (c. 263 – 339 A.D.), the first church historian, wrote Ecclesiastical History, in which he cited a variety of authors and described the martyrdoms of Peter, James, and Paul. Peter, who denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed (as predicted by Jesus) was hung on a cross upside-down. James was pushed from a building and beaten. Paul was beheaded. The martyrdoms of Peter and Paul cited by Eusebius were documented by Dionysius of Corinth (~170 A.D.), Tertullian (~ 200 A.D.) and Origen (~ 230 – 250 A.D.). Josephus (~ 95 A.D., Hegesippus (~ 165 – 175 A.D.) and Clement of Alexandria (~ 200 A.D.) documented the martyrdom of James.

In his book Contra Celsum, Origen writes, “Jesus, who has both once risen Himself, and led His disciples to believe in His resurrection, and so thoroughly persuaded them of its truth, that they show to all men by their sufferings how they are able to laugh at all the troubles of life, beholding the life eternal and the resurrection clearly demonstrated to them both in word and deed.” In another writing, Origen documented Peter’s upside-down crucifixion (Habermas and Licona, 2004a).

Tertullian states (The Twelve Caesars 15:44; Habermas and Licona, 2004b), “That Paul is beheaded has been written in their own blood. And if a heretic wishes his confidence to rest upon a public record, the archives of the empire will speak, as would the stones of Jerusalem. We read the lives of the Caesars: At Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising faith. Then is Peter girt by another, when he is made fast to the cross.  Then does Paul obtain a birth suited to Roman citizenship, when in Rome he springs to life again ennobled by martyrdom.”

Clement of Rome also documented the sufferings and martyrdoms of Paul and Peter (1 Clement). “Because of envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars have been persecuted and contended unto death. Let us set the good apostles before our eyes. Peter, who because of unrighteous envy endured, not one or two, but many afflictions, and having borne witness went to the due glorious place. Because of envy and rivalries, steadfast Paul pointed to the prize. Seven times chained, exiled, stoned, having become a preacher both in the East and in the West, he received honor fitting of his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, unto the boundary on which the sun sets; having testified in the presence of the leaders. Thus he was freed from the world and went to the holy place. He became a great example of steadfastness.”

Paul, James, and Peter were not alone. Second century Roman historian Tacitus also documented early Christian persecutions. “Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed” (Habermas and Licona, 2004c).

Critics often note that Muslims and Buddhists have also willingly been martyred for their beliefs, yet unlike Muslims and Buddhists, James, Peter, and Paul had personally seen the risen Jesus.

  1. Peter, James, and Paul saw the risen Jesus.
  2. Peter, James, and Paul changed their initial views/doubts about Jesus.
  3. Peter, James, and Paul braved gory deaths for Jesus.
  4. Why? See item #1.

Extra-Biblical Accounts of Jesus and Events in the Gospels

In his book Antiquities of the Jews (Wallace, 2013), Josephus (37 A.D. – 100 A.D.) states “At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good, and (He) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became His disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and die. And those who had become His disciples did not abandon His discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after His crucifixion and that He was alive; accordingly, He was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” (Note that this version of Josephus’ statement excludes controversial overtly Christian references, which some scholars have disputed).

Syrian philosopher Mara Bar-Serapion (70 A.D. – unknown) opines (in Wallace, 2013), “What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished [Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome in 70 A.D.]. God justly avenged…the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion.”

Origen cited Phlegon (80 – 140 A.D.), who penned a history around 140 A.D. Origin states, “Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events…but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions…And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place, Phlegon too, I think, has written in the thirteenth or fourteenth book of his Chronicles.”

Other events in the gospels were also corroborated extra-biblically. One example is the great earthquake, which shook the earth just after Jesus’ crucifixion. For further details on this event, please see my blog entitled, “On Earthquakes, Bloody Moons, and Dating the Crucifixion.”

Just following Jesus’ crucifixion, Matthew 27: 51-52 states, “At the moment the curtain from the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.”

Thallus (5 – 60 A.D.), a Samaritan historian, wrote an extensive (yet now lost) account of the history of the Mediterranean in the middle of the first century. A reference to his lost account is in historian Sextus Julius Africanus’ account. Africanus wrote History of the World in 221 A.D., in which this reference is included.

“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in his third book of his History, calls as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.”

Sextus Julius Africanus also discusses Phlegon, noting that “in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth.”

Additionally, we have ancient Jewish corroboration of Jesus (Wallace, 2013). “Rabbi Hisda (d. 309) said that Rabbi Jeremiah bar Abba said, ‘What is that which is written, “No evil will befall you, nor shall any plague come near your house?” (Psalm 91:10)…”No evil will befall you” (means) that evil dreams and evil thoughts will not tempt you; “nor shall any plague come near your house” (means) that you will not have a son or a disciple who burns his food like Jesus of Nazareth (b. Sanhedrin 103a; cf b. Berakhot 17b).

The Sanhedrin (43a) further indicates as follows: “It was taught: On the day before the Passover they hanged Jesus. A herald went before him for forty days (proclaiming), ‘He will be stoned, because he practiced magic and enticed Israel to go astray. Let anyone who knows anything in his favor come forward and plead for him.’ But nothing was found in his favor, and they hanged him on the day before the Passover.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls (40521; brackets indicate gaps  in the document; Craig, 2010) contain the following message: “[For the hea]vens and the earth shall listen to his Messiah  [and all  t]hat is in them shall not turn away from the commandments of the holy ones…He will honor the pious upon the th[ro]ne of the eternal kingdom, setting prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, raising up those who are bo[wed down]…And the Lord shall do glorious things  which have not been done, just as he said. For he will heal the injured, he shall make alive the dead, he shall proclaim good news to the afflicted.”

Students of the Apostles

John

At this point, critics will note that some of the citations I have provided and some I have not yet provided come from documents and books written over one hundred years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Yet note an important point: many of the authors were students of the apostles or students of students of the apostles. As an example, Ignatius (35 – 117 A.D.) was John’s student who eventually became the bishop of Antioch. Ignatius’ writings state that Jesus “was (and is) the ‘Son of God;’ was conceived by the Holy Spirit; was born of the Virgin Mary; was baptized by John the Baptist; was the ‘perfect’ man; suffered and was crucified; died on the cross; and was resurrected” (Wallace, 2013, p. 217).

Polycarp (69 – 155) was a friend of Ignatius’ and a fellow student of John. Polycarp described Jesus as “sinless” and “saved by grace.” He “suffered and died on a cross” and “was raised from the dead.” Polycarp also stated that “Jesus is our Savior” and “Jesus is Lord” (Wallace, 2013).

Ignatius and Polycarp taught Irenaeus (120 – 202 A.D.), who was the bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul. Irenaeus wrote Against Heresies, which was a refined defense of Christianity that identified twenty-four books of the New Testament as scripture (including Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Romans, Acts, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, and Revelation) (Wallace, 2013).

Irenaeus taught Hippolytus (170 – 236 A.D.), who wrote a ten-volume treatise entitled Refutation of All Heresies, which also identified books of the New Testament, including those identified by Irenaeus plus Philemon (Wallace, 2013).

Paul

The apostle Paul taught Linus (who worked with him in 2 Timothy 4:21) and Clement of Rome. Clement offered a description of Jesus, which was similar to that offered above by Ignatius and Polycarp. Clement passed the truth on from Evaristus to Pius I, and Pius I and Justin Martyr guarded the accounts during the early years of the Christian Church (Wallace, 2013).

Peter

The apostle Peter communicated his message through Mark’s gospel. Mark established the church in Alexandria and taught Anianus, Avilius, Kedron, Primus, and Justus. Justus passed the truth to Pantaenus, who taught Clement of Alexandria. Clement taught Origen. Pamphilus of Caesarea adopted Origen’s work and taught Eusebius (Wallace, 2013).

In summary, an abundance of extra-biblical sources provide evidence of the validity and reliability of the New Testament. “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

Thank you for investing your time.

References:

Craig, W. L. (2010). On Guard. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook.

Habermas, G.R. and Licona, M.R. (2004a). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Ibid., (2004b). Scirpiace, 15, in Roberts, Donaldson, and Coxe, eds. and trans., The Ante-Nicene Fathers.

Ibid., (2004c). Church, A.J. and Brodribb, W.J. translation of Tacitus.

Wallace, J.W. (2013). Cold Case Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook.

Walking with God, Personally

 

Every so often, we encounter true joy, whether it be the intense feeling of love for another human that we experience just after his or her birth or a flash of intense colors and brightness while walking along a nature path, we know this feeling is different and very special, perhaps even other worldly.

C.S. Lewis had much to say about joy. He spent his life in a constant quest for the type of joy that was beyond this life. He once said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”[i]

Perhaps these glimpses of joy are other worldly. Perhaps they are God’s way of demonstrating His presence. Perhaps they provide us with a tiny glimpse of heaven. Even if one doesn’t buy those arguments, such experiences may ignite curiosity and the desire to increase their frequency. If we associate those feelings of joy with God, then our natural response may be an increased passion and desire to learn more about God. We may desire to walk with Him, personally.

But can we walk personally with God? Is that a possibility? According to the Christian faith, the answer is a resounding YES. Several Bible verses lead us to this conclusion.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

“He has made it clear to you, mortal man, what is good and what the Lord is requiring from you— to act with justice, to treasure the Lord’s gracious love, and to walk humbly in the company of your God.” Micah 6:8

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalm 23

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” John 8:12

Throughout the centuries, many men and women have experienced the innate need for a God who can help them to understand the wonders of the world – and the world around them, more generally. Major world religions have sometimes grown from these desires. Those seeking to explain their spiritual experiences and tiny glimpses of joy may have developed deities or faiths or belief systems to help explain same. All but one of these deities are aloof, transcendent, and/or passive. The deity in which God does not have these qualities is the Judeo-Christian God. The Judeo-Christian God wants a personal relationship with humanity. The Judeo-Christian God was not created by man. Christianity was created for man, by God.

Hindu pantheism identifies God with the universe, or the universe to be a manifestation of God. What this means is that Hindu pantheists consider God to be a part of creation, rather than its creator. God is everywhere as a passive part of nature, neither good nor evil, yet beyond both.

Buddhism is not pantheistic in that it doesn’t identify God with the universe in a passive way. Buddhism focuses on enlightenment, which is absolute and transcendent, yet not personal.

Allah, the God of the Muslims, is remote, lofty, and impersonal. According to Muslim theologian Ismail al Faruqi, “Allah does not reveal himself to anyone in any way. Allah reveals only his will…Allah does not reveal himself to anyone…that is the great difference between Christianity and Islam.”[ii]

After pondering these points for a while, and while watching a delightful video in which a Muslim man encountered Jesus and converted to Christianity, I wondered whether any Muslims claim to have seen Allah in visions, dreams, or more personally.

On Twitter, I identified a few atheists whom I challenged to find testimonies from Muslims who have encountered Allah. The atheists to whom I posed this challenge were  particularly hostile towards the Bible and Christianity. One, the son of a pastor, often claimed that the only reason I chose to be a Christian was because I was born into a nation of mainly Christians. He said that I would be a Muslim if born into the Muslim world. I have always countered that assertion by saying that while seeking Allah, I would have found Jesus. Jesus is the finest example of servant leadership known to man. Plus, I have my own testimonials of encounters with Jesus. He told me that his “Muslim friends” have their own testimonies too, to which I responded that they must not have been very convincing, given his choice to remain an atheist. So, the challenge was posed. After a long day of waiting for Muslim testimonials of Allah encounters, the atheists provided nothing. I ran my own Google search for encounters with Allah and I also found none. I also ran a similar Google search for encounters with Jesus and found quite a few.

And that made me smile.

[i] Lewis, C.S. (2002) Mere Christianity, New York: Harper One.

[ii] Al Faruqi, I. (1982). Christian Mission and Islamic Da’wah: Proceedings of the Chambesy Diologue Consultation, Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 47-48.