Archive | September, 2012

Answering Questions about the Bible: Is the Book We Have Today Reliable?

28 Sep

Being caught off-guard is always uncomfortable and, even more so when the thing that catches us off guard is a question concerning the history, morality, or logical validity of our own beliefs!  While enquiries of this nature can be a bit intimidating at times, they don’t need to be.  That is why, for the next few weeks, we will be taking a look at some basic questions about the Bible that are bound to come up as you seek to share the Good News of the Gospel with your friends… and some answers that will help you respond to those questions with confidence.

While people have many questions about the Bible (the book which we, as Christians, believe contains the complete, accurate, and inerrant Word of God by which we ought to live our lives today), one of the most common is whether the book, itself, is reliable.  After all, the Christian Scriptures were written thousands of years ago and have passed through many hands since that time.  With no original copies available to us, can we really be certain that the words we read today are the same as those read by the ancient Israelites or the Apostles in the early Church?

In order to answer this question, we need to begin with a bit of history.  The Bible was originally composed in three different languages – Hebrew, Aramaic (a cross between Persian and Hebrew which resulted from the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews), and Greek.  While carbon dating has shown us that the manuscripts found in these languages are in no way old enough to be the originals, we can still date many of these copies to within 50-250 hundred years of their composition – a relatively short period when compared to other ancient documents!

Furthermore, “… the latest (as of August 1998) count of Greek MSS is as follows: 109 papyri, 307 uncials, 2,860 miniscules, and 2,410 lectionaries, for a total of 5,686.” (McDowell, 1999)  That’s thousands more copies than have been located for any other piece of ancient literature including Homer’s Iliad, the works of Plato, or Shakespeare’s plays – making the Bible the single best attested document in ancient history!

The Old Testament  Hebrew scribes were meticulous people and a scribe’s early years were wholly dedicated to preparing him for the sacred task of copying of the Jewish scripture.  Because the Israelites revered their texts, it was important that those who made new copies be careful to copy them accurately.  “The Talmud reveals the scrupulous rules Jewish scribes followed, including the counting of all the letters and lines to make sure they matched.” (Geisler, 2002)  No word was to be written from memory and the slightest blemish on the page was sufficient to warrant the complete destruction of the entire document!  While some may argue that changes were made to these texts early on, thanks to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we can be certain that the copies we have today are the same as those in use at least 200 years before Jesus walked the earth.

Why is this important?  Because, if nothing else, we can demonstrate that the prophesies pertaining to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (specifically those contained within the book of Isaiah) were not tampered with after His death.  No corrections were made to the text in order to make Him appear to be something which He was not or to lend credibility to the argument that these texts were reliable in the first place.

The New Testament  While the New Testament was not copied with such great care, the speed of its distribution throughout the Roman world, as well as the evidence of living witnesses (1 John 1:1, 2 Peter 1:16) are enough to preclude any “scribal tampering”.  If anyone had attempted to alter the doctrinal content of these books, they would have come up against both the difficulty of obtaining and editing each existing copy of the volumes as well as overwhelming personal testimonies to the error of these “corrections”.  Given the force with which early Christianity swept the world and the apparent threat which it posed to both the Jews and the Romans (the major power at the time), attempts to “rewrite” history would have been refuted in writing by the opposition.

Instead, we find that the writings of these very parties who sought to extinguish Christianity, actually go so far as to verify the key events which surrounded the birth and spread of the faith, as well as its teachings!  These writers, including Tacitus, a first century Roman; Suetonius (A.D. 117-138); Josephus, the famed Jewish historian (A. D. 37-100); Thallus (A. D. 52); Pliny the Younger (A. D. 112); Emperor Trajan (cir. 112); the Jewish Talmud (A. D. 70-200); and many others, corroborate (agree with) the New Testament text.  From these writings, we know that the accounts of Christ’s ministry, His miracles, His death on a cross, and the disappearance of His body are all factual.

It is true that there are some differences between New Testament manuscripts, however most of these are errors in spelling or “variant readings” in which the differences are purely grammatical.  Furthermore, “Textual scholars Westcott and Hort estimated that only one in sixty of these variants has significance. This would leave a text 98.33 percent pure. Philip Schaff calculated that, of the 150,000 variants known in his day, only 400 changed the meaning of the passage, only fifty were of real significance…” (Geisler N. L., 1999)  Due to the unusually large number of manuscripts currently available to us, it is fairly easy to determine which of these variants are aberrations and which accurately convey the thoughts of the original texts.

In the end, the differences do more to prove the reliability of our modern text than they do to disprove it.  Most certainly, anyone who sought to “recreate” these documents to a specified standard would have edited out the existing textual differences in order to create more uniformity within the manuscript tradition.

The result is that these texts, in combination with external evidence from non-Christian and anti-Christian writers, are sufficient to suggest that the New Testament we have today is consistent with the one that was used by the early Church.

 While Christians and secular scholars may differ in how they interpret and respond to these texts, we may rationally conclude that today’s copies are (at very least) reasonably faithful to the originals and are an accurate reflection of Jewish teaching at the time of Christ and Christian teaching immediately following.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how Christians have traditionally determined which books should be included as Scripture and which shouldn’t.  Meanwhile, there are plenty of other excellent arguments for the reliability of the Bible, so feel free to share the ones which have served you best in the comment box below!

Works Cited

Geisler, N. (2002). Systematic Theology, Volume One. Bethany House.

Geisler, N. L. (1999). Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

McDowell, J. (1999). The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Retail Ready: 90 Devotions for Teens in the Workforce

26 Sep

After months of waiting, it’s finally here!  “Retail Ready: 90 Devotions for Teens in the Workforce” features a selection of daily meditations based upon the difficult and downright wacky experiences of a retail worker.  The volume covers topics ranging from basic spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, Scripture memory, and prayer) to relationships (service, submission, and compassion).  Throughout its pages, teens are encouraged to consider how their relationship with God influences their relationships with others and how those connections can be strengthened and improved.

Each day’s devotion contains a Scripture reading, memory verse, and lifestyle application challenge to help youth learn to better integrate the teachings of the Bible with their daily life.  Teens are encouraged to approach their daily routine with purpose, intention, and a good dose of humor!

“Retail Ready” is available on Kindle for $7.99 or in print from Amazon for $9.99.

Grounded: Relating to Your Mormon Friends in Truth and Love

24 Sep

What is truth?  Does it matter?  If so, where do we go to find it?  Is Truth found in feelings or in facts?  And do the two ever coincide?  These questions mark one of the clearest boundaries between the LDS faith and traditional Christianity… and our answers to them can make a big difference in our ability both to stay grounded in our own faith and to clearly communicate that faith to others.

That is why the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies has taken over the task of marketing the “Grounded” youth group curriculum.  Throughout five sessions, young Christians will explore the fundamental differences between Mormonism and Biblical Christianity, finding answers to questions like these while at the same time learning the techniques necessary to develop fruitful and lasting friendships.  Throughout the series, youth are encouraged both to ask questions of their Mormon friends and to listen carefully to their answers while at the same time honestly and openly presenting their own faith.  Workbook devotions encourage teens to delve deeper into the Truth of God’s Word, enriching their spiritual life through both prayer and practical “good works”, while DVD interviews with LDS teens help students begin to see the world through the eyes of those whose theology and lifestyle often seem foreign to them.

Overall, I found that the materials took a refreshing approach to “sharing the truth in love” and believe that whether you study on your own, with your family, or in your youth group, the “Grounded” resources will help you learn to more effectively share your faith with your LDS friends!

The curriculum, including Leader’s Guide, Student Workbooks, and DVD segments is available for purchase through the Western Institute of Intercultural Studies.  I encourage you to “click” over and take a look!

Lest You Fall

19 Sep

Read: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” – 1 Corinthians 10:12 NASB

It was a beautiful morning.  The air was warm and still with just enough cloud cover to keep the burning sun off my skin.  As I rolled my bicycle out of the garage, I noticed that the air pressure in my tires was a little low – perfect for taking on obstacles.  Though I usually fled from road hazards, on this day, I found myself seeking them out.  Gravel.  Sand.  Mud.  I handled each one as though I had been born to ride trails.  And the more of them I encountered, the more confident I became.

Rolling back into town several hours later, I felt like a champion and it was with this thought in mind that I pulled up to the crosswalk.  Leaning to my right, I reached for the “walk” button… and fell over.  I had managed the trails, but now as I lay bleeding on the sidewalk trying to detangle myself from my bicycle, I knew that my confidence had gotten the better of me.

I won’t pretend that I haven’t had similar experiences during the course of my Christian walk.  Confident in my ability to deal with major trials and temptations, I lose sight of God as the source of my strength and get taken down by the “little” sins which I thought were beyond me.  Humiliating?  Yes.  Perhaps that’s why Scripture goes to such lengths to remind us that “pride goes before the fall”.  Only when we approach life with an attitude of humility can we be guaranteed to succeed!

Challenge:  Today, pay special attention to the areas in which you feel most confident.  Then, take the time to thank God for your success and ask His blessing upon your future endeavors.

Bridges: Helping Mormons Discover God’s Grace

17 Sep

Sharing God’s Grace and traditional Christianity with an LDS friend, neighbor, or family member can be a challenge and it doesn’t take most of us long to discover that if we’re going to present our faith clearly and effectively, we’re going to need some help… and possibly a new perspective.  That’s where “Bridges”, a curriculum distributed by the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies comes in.  In five sessions, participants begin to understand:

  • The Legacy of the LDS Church – How did it begin?  What shaped its culture and attitudes?  Which forces are influencing it as its members’ journey into the future?
  • The Theology of the LDS Church – How do its doctrines differ from traditional Christianity?  What influence do its teachings have upon the daily life of members?
  • The Journey out of the LDS Church – What obstacles face those who question and ultimately leave the church?  In what ways does traditional Christian community help or hinder these immigrants?
  • Bridging the Gap – How can Christians clarify key doctrines of the faith for those who use the same vocabulary, but assign it with different meanings?  How can our own “faith experience” aid believers in effectively sharing the Gospel with their LDS friend?
  • Community of Grace – In what ways can Christians help former LDS church members’ transition into Biblical Christianity?

Workbooks coupled with group discussion and DVD interviews with former LDS church members help students begin to thoughtfully process the difference between the Mormon faith and traditional Christianity while at the same time teaching believers to “speak the native language” of the Deseret.  Throughout the course, participants will learn to better understand what drives their LDS friends as they learn to more clearly and effectively communicate their own faith.

I highly recommend the curriculum to anyone who is ready to take on the adventure of sharing the Christian faith within the context of this unique culture!

Facilitator’s Guides, Student Workbook, and DVD material are available for purchase at: http://www.wiics.org/seminars/mormonism-adult-training.

Run with Endurance

12 Sep

Read: Hebrews 11:39-12:2

“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”  – 1 John 4:4 NASB

My thighs are burning, my pulse rate is high, and sweat is dripping unhindered down my face.  I don’t know much, but what I do know is that I’m ready to quit.  Glancing down at my timer I note, much to my dismay, that I’m only ten minutes into the designated workout.  Cautiously, I look around the room.  None of the other ladies seem to notice me off in a corner by myself.  No one will know if I quit.  No one would blame me if I did – after all, endurance exercise just isn’t my thing.  I reach for the “end” button, but pause as I notice the words scrawled across the white board tucked behind a treadmill near the window, “What is inside you is greater than any obstacle.”  Looking once more at the clock, my hand falls to my side… and I finish the run.

More than once, I’ve felt a similar desire to give up on my Christian race.  Conflicts with friends and at church, trials at work, and frustrations with family can all pile up so quickly that they seem to be more than I can bear.  Yet it is at that very moment when I feel most ready to throw in the towel that God’s Spirit quietly reminds me that “He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world.”  The obstacles before me may seem overwhelming, but the God who is in me is greater.  Victory has been assured.

Challenge: Today, be on the lookout for those who may be struggling to stay in the race.  Then do something special to encourage them to keep running!

Transitions: The Mormon Migration from Religion to Relationship

10 Sep

Those who have spent a large percentage of their lives in Utah and Southeast Idaho will be the first to tell you that Mormonism isn’t just a religion, it’s a culture.  The teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints influence everything from the family to the workplace, from volunteer organizations to government and, most times, in positive ways.

Unfortunately, this intertwining of religious belief with every-day life can become a hindrance to anyone who decides to sever their ties with the church.  As members of the LDS church take their first steps into traditional, Biblical Christianity, they are often accosted by sights, sounds, and philosophies which (at times) differ greatly from those with which they are familiar.  Wading through the positive and negative aspects of LDS culture and its relationship to the Truth frequently leaves these new believers feeling as though they are “immigrants in a foreign land”.

It is for this very reason that the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies has produced the Transitions curriculum.  The series explores not merely the differences between LDS and Biblical Christian culture and theology, but also the emotional aspect of leaving behind that with which a person is most familiar.  Through interviews with former Latter-day Saints, Transitions addresses the effects which a change in faith has upon one’s view of one’s self and one’s place within God’s story and provides hope for those who are facing this transition, themselves.

The curriculum also has something to offer those who are already in a relationship with Christ and are seeking to ease the pain experienced by members of the LDS church as they transition to Biblical Christianity.  In listening to these believers discuss the frustrations they encountered as they shared their new beliefs with family and watching as they commiserate about their struggle to find a place within a traditional Christian congregation, your eyes will be opened to the many ways in which both churches and individuals can help and support these new brothers and sisters in Christ.

I found the materials both helpful and informative and hope that you will do the same!

The curriculum can be previewed at http://www.ldstransitions.com/preview where it can be purchased for either individual or church use.

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