Saturday, March 30, 2013

New Testament: Fact or Myth?

Last year in London I saw the world's oldest existing copy of the entire New Testament at the British Museum. It’s called the Codex Sinaiticus and is over 1600 years old. It is called, “one of the most important books in the world.”[1]

Is the New Testament fact or myth? Specifically, between the reported resurrection of Christ and the writing of the New Testament did the stories change?

Gregory Boyd writes, “the earliest record of what followers of Jesus believed comes from the apostle Paul. While most scholars date the four Gospels between AD 70 and 100, Paul’s letters were written between the early 50’s and early 60’s.”[2] That is a span of 20 to 30 years after the events concerning Jesus of Nazareth. This period is the so-called “silent period.” It’s good to remember that 1st Century Palestine was an orally dominant culture.

Were the stories about Jesus passed on accurately? Paul’s letters give us some clues.

First, Paul expresses a deep concern for passing on established traditions. Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you....”[3] he wrote to the Corinthians, then adding, “For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you…”[4] So by the 50’s these Christians already had fixed teachings.

Secondly, Paul emphasized “teachers.” “It was he who "gave gifts to people"; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be … teachers…”[5] he wrote to believers in what is now Turkey. A first century book called the Didache says, “Elect, therefore, for yourselves … men who are meek and not covetous, and true and approved, for they perform for you the service of prophets and teachers… they are those who are honoured among you ...”[6] These were men of character.

Paul’s third clue regarding oral transmission is his use of the theme “bearing witness.” Being a witness makes us think of courtrooms, swearing on a Bible, and fear of the punishment of perjury. It had similar meaning in the first century. "So then, someone must join us as a witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…” said Peter before choosing a replacement for Judas,  “He must be one of the men who were in our group during the whole time that the Lord Jesus traveled about with us…”[7]. Eyewitness testimony was called for.

Finally, Paul urged his readers to recollect already known traditions. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel…” he told Timothy. We only remember that which we already know.

Neither the oral traditions nor the writings of Paul and the Gospels were haphazard or mythical. Boyd concludes, “Had these authors expressed a vision of Jesus that was substantially inconsistent with the church’s oral tradition, that community never would have accepted them.”[8]

[2] Gregory A. Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy, Lord or Legend? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007) 40
[3] 1 Corinthians 11:2 (American Standard Version)
[4] 1 Corinthians 11:23 (American Standard Version)
[5] Ephesians 4:11 (Good News Bible)
[6] Didache 15:1-2
[7] Acts 1:22 (Good News Bible)
[8] Gregory A. Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy, Lord or Legend? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007) 93 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

One God or Many?

“Oh give thanks unto the God of gods... “[1] says the Bible. Please note the upper and lower case “G” and “g.”

Merriam-Webster offers several thoughts on the meaning of God[2], and god.

 God: “… the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe.” Quite a resume.

The Webster definition of god is “… a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship; specifically : one controlling a particular aspect or part of reality…”

So here is our spread. He might be a “Being perfect in wisdom, power and goodness” or a limited “being or object,” like an idol or a human. He might be “creator and ruler of the universe” or could just control a piece of it.

Neither Merriam-Webster nor we, on our own, can define who he is in reality. He is what He is. But these definitions express two over-arching views of reality: there is either one God (monotheism) or more than one god (polytheism).

The Psalm above declares that God is the God of gods. The gods are subordinate. If a god was over the sea and another over fire, neither could be the God of gods. Both have limits to their power. If the “… person or thing of supreme value…”is money, remember Lennon sang,  “Money can’t buy me love.” It’s limited. If god is “that person I can’t live without,” that person might decide  to live without me. These gods have boundaries. They cannot be the God of gods.

The United States can have only one Commander in Chief. If you elect a second simultaneously, then the first Commander is no longer Chief.

A wonderful teacher, L.T. Jeyechandran from India once taught a group of us: The Hindu view of God straddles two poles. On the one pole, they worship a God who is infinite and impersonal (Everything cumulitively is God, including money, a rock, you, and I). And on the other pole they worship gods who are limited and personal, like Ganesh, the elephant god. So which is it … infinite but impersonal, -- or finite and personal?

Neither. The Bible says He is infinite and personal.

If there is more than one god, - be it Ganesh, money, or another person, - they must be limited. If they are limited, then are they really God? A limited god will disappoint at some level.

God, the Creator and Ruler of all, is over all and under none. He is the only limitless, personal God. He is God of gods and will not disappoint.

“Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”[3]

[1] Psalm 136:2
[3] 1 Timothy 1:17

Friday, March 1, 2013

Don't Take It Lightly

I wrote in A SourTaste in My Mouth that although we have done wrong many times, and the sins of the entire world number in the Gazillions, we can be entirely and completely forgiven through Christ! No need to feel condemned, we can be forgiven and free. Righteousness through God.

Even when I repeat a wrong, rather than feeling hopeless and guilty, I can talk to Him, and have the assurance that Jesus’ death on the Cross buys my forgiveness. God is merciful.

In this post I want to stress that we should never, never take sin lightly. We should never, never take forgiveness for granted.

God hates sin. In one place the Bible says “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” [1]

Out of respect for God we should view sin the way He does. That is the fear of God. I need more of it.
Sin is horrible. It is hideous. It flies in the face of God’s nature.

Doing wrong has consequences. They are always misery, suffering, and ultimately death. Because of God’s sheer mercy, the consequences of evil are not always immediate. If they were instantaneous, we would stop sinning, but we would probably stop living too. If I don’t water my plants, they wither and die. They don’t die instantly. When I do wrong my life, relationships, and career begin to wither.

New Town was the result of sin. So is divorce. And so is the fight with my wife after I say something harsh or stupid.

 “Why doesn’t God do something?”  we might say. “Why did this happen to me?” Amazingly, we blame God!

Why should God do something? Are you and I obligated to be good to those who ignore and offend us?

But in reality, God has done something! The cross. What a friend called the “throne of God.” Sin was overcome on that “tree.” Free favor and forgiveness was offered in Jesus. God didn’t need to give His Son, but He did, because He loves us. He loves you. He loved the shooter at New Town, he loves both parties in a divorce, he loves me when I’m harsh or stupid.

But He doesn’t love the wrongs themselves. He hates sin because it kills us. It is contrary to who He is.

So I purpose never to take sin lightly. First and foremost my own.

“How blessed are all who fear the LORD as they follow in his ways. You will eat from the work of your hands; you will be happy, and it will go well for you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children like olive shoots surrounding your table. See how the man will be blessed who fears the LORD.”[2]

[1] Proverbs 8:13 (International Standard Version)
[2] Psalm 128:1-4

Quotes of Note ... The Invisible World

“Spiritual warfare is learning to recognize the strategies, refusing to cooperate with them, and aggressively cutting off the schemes of the devil in Jesus’ name.” Dean Sherman

“those who protest that God cannot exist because there is too much evil evident in life… Evil exists; therefore, the Creator does not. That is categorically stated… If evil exists, one must assume that good exists in order to know the difference. If good exists, one must assume that a moral law exists by which to measure good and evil. But if a moral law exists, must not one posit an ultimate source of moral law, or at least an objective basis for a moral law? By an objective basis, I mean something that is transcendingly true at all times, regardless of whether I believed it or not.” Ravi Zacharias

“But the Devil is no big threat to God’s purposes; he is not even remotely comparable in power. He has been given a limited time before his final judgment to try to prove his case, just as all other moral beings who have chosen to live in rebellion against heaven.” W.A. Pratney

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I've served as a life-long missionary in Samoa, the Pacific region, India, and now in Pennsylvania. The Christian faith is reasonable and works in real life. It is true to the facts. Hope you enjoy some of the thoughts. I appreciate feedback.

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