Who Jesus Ain’t: Jesus Ain’t Born on Dec. 25th

*Why do we celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25th? Does Hollywood portray the wise men correctly?*

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It’s easy to remember (approximately) how long ago Jesus of Nazareth was born (and when we’re talking about ancient history, mostly everything is “approximate”) because our western dating system is centered around his birth.  Thus, just over 2,000 years ago, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the two Gospels to give us the birth narratives of Jesus, don’t tell us the date Jesus was born, but they do tell us Caesar Augustus and Herod the Great were in power.  Ancient historians often “date” the events they’re writing about by telling who was in power.  Most scholars put Jesus’ birth somewhere between 7 BC and 4 BC.  A sixth-century monk named Dionysius Exiguus developed our modern calendar, but it appears he miscalculated the birth of Jesus by at least 4 years.  Further, as far as the actual day and month of Jesus’ birth, no one knows.  As stated above, the Bible doesn’t say.

The earliest known day Christians celebrated Christmas was January 6th, and some churches in the east still do so on this date.  Celebrating on December 25th appears, as some have theorized, to have started during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine over 300 years after Jesus’ birth.  The day was likely the pagan “holiday” of Saturnalia and instead of simply banning these ceremonies, Constantine, the first emperor to become Christian, may have changed it to a Christian celebration to help ease his empire from paganism to Christianity.

A similar theory points out that the winter solstice is very close to December 25th.  Another similar theory says December 25th is when Emperor Aurelian dedicated his temple to the god Sol Invictus; Constantine, before becoming Christian, had worshipped Sol Invictus and, thus, picked this date to instead celebrate Christmas.

On the other hand, Dr. Gregg Allison of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary doesn’t think these theories are plausible.  He says the early church in the 3rd and 4th Centuries were certainly not open to pagan practices.  In fact, at that time the church “denounced any association with paganism and pagan festivals.”  Allison goes on to explain that the early church believed Jesus was conceived on the same day he was crucified (Why?  No one knows for certain anymore), which would’ve been the 14th or 15th of Nisan on the Jewish calendar.  That would be March 25th on the Roman calendar for Jesus’ conception through the Holy Spirit, and then nine months later is December 25th.

(Watch a short video of this explanation by Allison here.)

(Sources: Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels by Mark L. Strauss; The Case For the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel; Southern Seminary Magazine, Spring 2012, Volume 80, Number 2)

 

And what about the 3 wise men?

How many wise men visited the newborn Jesus on the first Christmas?  Was it three?  Or was it not three wise men but three kings?

The Gospel of Matthew only says that the magi — non-Jewish wise men “from the east” — arrived “after Jesus was born.”  Most likely, the magi were pagan priests who studied astrology.  No mention of any kings visiting the young Jesus is recorded in the New Testament.

King Herod, learning from the magi of the birth of this new king of the Jews, asked the magi to inform him when they found the new king so he could also honor him, though Herod secretly planned to kill him.  The Jewish chief priests and scribes told the magi that, according to scripture, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, so it logically follows that the magi would go there next.  Warned in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi returned to their home country “by another way.”

After learning what the magi had done, Herod orders all boys ages two and younger in Bethlehem and the surrounding area killed.  Earlier, Herod had questioned the magi about the “exact time” when the star that had brought them searching for the new king of the Jews had appeared.  So, when the magi arrived, it’s possible Jesus was around two-years-old.  When the magi find him, Jesus is described as a “child,” which could be a baby or an older child.  Keep in mind, the magi didn’t have modern transportation and we don’t know from how far away they traveled.

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Click for a bigger view…

After Jesus’ birth, did Joseph and Mary stay in Bethlehem for an extended time (possibly with family)?  Or did Herod simply order all boys ages two and younger to be killed because he was a paranoid, bloodthirsty maniac?  (Which history definitely supports; Herod was so protective of his power that he killed his own wife, some of his sons, and many rabbis.  He was not even technically a Jew, and he was placed in power by the Romans.)  How much time lapsed between when the magi first saw the star and they arrived in Bethlehem?

Also, Matthew doesn’t report how many magi came.  The tradition of three magi comes from the three types of gifts brought by them: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Further, nothing in the Gospels explicitly states Jesus was born during the day or night.

I’ll have to say, the most plain, straightforward reading of the account in Matthew supports the traditional interpretation that the magi arrived in Bethlehem, if not at the exact time of Jesus’ birth, sometime near the time of his birth.  The fact that they followed a star  implies they did arrive at night.  Further, we’re also told an angel appeared to the shepherds as they were watching their flocks by night, which further implies Jesus was born at night.

But it’s a good exercise to read the scripture closely and consider these possibilities.  We grow so used to hearing or seeing many of the narratives in the Bible portrayed certain ways — especially the most popular stories of the Bible, and definitely something as widely known and adapted as the Christmas story — it’s good for us take a close look at scripture, see what it truly says, and imagine the story for ourselves.  Doing so will bring to life passages that we may have taken for granted for a long time, and it may lead us to discovering something new.

(Read more articles about who Jesus ain’t here, here, and here.)

NEXT: What did Joseph & Mary do with all that gold from the magi?  Did Jesus’ family believe in him?

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Who Jesus Ain’t: Jesus Ain’t Born to Privilege

** What was life like for Mary & Joseph? Did they face persecution?**

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A King But Not Born a King

Jesus is a descendant of Abraham, the father of the Israelite (Jewish) nation, and King David.  He was born to parents from Nazareth in Galilee and he was raised there, but he was born in Bethlehem, the city of David.  This is important because Old Testament passages understood to be speaking about the coming Messiah say he will be a descendent of David, and Micah 5:2-5 says he will come from Bethlehem.

This understanding of the Old Testament prophecies is seen in the birth narrative of the Gospel of Matthew.  When the magi, gentile wise men, seeing a sign in the stars, come to Jerusalem asking where to find the king of the Jews,  Herod the Great, ruler of Judea but not a descendent of David or true king, gathers the chief priests and scribes and asks them where the Messiah will be born.  They answer, “In Bethlehem in Judea, for so it is written in the prophet” and they quote the passage from Micah.

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This is also seen in John 7:40-42: “On hearing [Jesus’] words, some of the people said, ‘Surely this man is the Prophet.’  Others said, ‘He is the Messiah.’  Still others asked, ‘How can the Messiah come from Galilee?  Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?’”

Both the Gospel of Matthew and Luke report that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was a virgin and Jesus’ conception was a miracle from God through the Holy Spirit.  So, Jesus, “the Son of God” – as Gabriel, the angel who brings Mary this news, calls him – is not a blood relation to his earthly father, Joseph.

The angel tells Mary to name her son Jesus, which means “God saves.”

How can you divorce someone you’re not married to?

Understandably, confusion comes when someone today reads in Matthew that Mary’s “husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce [Mary] quietly” when he learned she was pregnant.  So, was Mary an unmarried virgin or not?  Why is Joseph her “husband” but they don’t seem to be married?

This misunderstanding has to do with our modern, western understanding of engagement and marriage versus the culture of Mary and Joseph.  Simply, once a marriage was arranged in Mary’s day, though the couple may not be living together or technically married yet through a ceremony, it was still a binding relationship in a legal sense.  So, where in our culture marriage engagements that are broken lead to a lot of hard feelings, a broken engagement in Mary and Joseph’s day would have an added legal aspect to it, so Joseph planned to “divorce” her.

Fortunately, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and, as we can guess, left quite an impression because Joseph married Mary.  This angel told Joseph, as it was done with Mary, to call the child Jesus, “God saves.”

What was life like for Mary & Joseph?

The New Testament for the most part doesn’t report what life was like for Mary and Joseph immediately after their marriage.  The wording of Matthew 1:18-19 (“she was found to be with child”) suggests that others learned of Mary’s pregnancy before she married Joseph.  We have no record of whether she spoke to Joseph about it first or if he found out through others.

After their marriage, were they treated like pariahs?  Was Joseph belittled for marrying such a woman?  Did Jesus grow up with the stigma of being a child conceived out of wedlock?

Good reading...

Good reading…

Interestingly, in John 8, John records a debate between Jesus and some religious leaders.  I’m not going to unpack the whole debate here, but it’s a debate about fatherhood, whether they are children of Abraham and God or of the devil.  In John 8:41, one of the religious leaders abruptly says, “We were not born of fornication” (or “of sexual immorality”).  Respected New Testament scholar D.A. Carson writes in his commentary on John that this may be a cheap shot (my words) at Jesus.  Dr. Mark L. Strauss in his book Four Portraits, One Jesus mentions this interpretation as well.  It’s possible the religious leaders in Jerusalem, after looking into this man who is raising so many eyebrows, learned of the questionable situation surrounding his birth.  There is no further evidence for this view, but it is interesting to contemplate nonetheless, and it definitely seems like an odd comment for the religious leaders to throw into the debate.

No Room at the Inn – Another Clue?

Perhaps one of the most famous images of the birth of Jesus at Christmas time comes from only one sentence from the entire Bible (Luke 2:7): “And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”  Even non-Christians are familiar with the iconic nativity scenes at Christmas time of the newborn Jesus on hay in a manger, surrounded by farm animals in a barn.  The thing is, the word for “inn” (katalyma) normally means a guest room in a home or an informal public shelter where travelers (such as caravans) would stay for the night.  Luke uses a different word for a roadside inn (pandocheion) later in 10:34, so it seems unlikely that he would use a different word if he meant the same thing.

Further, Luke 2:7 only speaks of the newborn Jesus being laid in a manger; it doesn’t tell us where that manger is located.  It could very well be a lower-level stall attached to the home of a relative of Joseph or even a cave, as some traditions suggest.  People used natural and manmade caves in the many slopes around Bethlehem as a cost-effective way to provide shelter for farm animals.

So, I hope this doesn’t ruin your fond Christmas memories, but those classic nativity scenes we all love may be inaccurate.  (After a careful reading of the biblical record, there are other likely inaccuracies concerning the  Christmas story as portrayed in popular culture, but I’ll write about these in my next article.)

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Because of the census, Joseph and Mary were away from home at the time of Jesus’ birth since Joseph had to register in Bethlehem.  Many people must have been traveling for the census, so it’s understandable that the “inn” had “no room.”  But I’ve always had a hard time imagining how the people in the inn (whether it be a guest room, public shelter, or even a roadside inn) could turn away an extremely pregnant woman.  Could this be further evidence of poor treatment of Mary and Joseph because of Mary being perceived as an immoral harlot?  If the “inn” is, in fact, a guest room in the home of a family member of Joseph, this gives this idea more plausibility.  Considering the three possible meanings of “inn,” it seems most logical to assume that Joseph had relatives in his hometown.

Or perhaps Joseph and Mary simply saw the crowded conditions of the guest room or public shelter and found more comfort in an area for animals.  People in the first century often lived in close proximity to their livestock.  Luke 2:7 simply says, “…because there was no room for them in the inn.”  It doesn’t say Joseph and Mary were refused, unwelcome, or even kicked-out, though I have a hard time imaging a scene where Joseph and Mary arrive at a family member’s home, find the guest room overcrowded, and decide to stay with the animals instead, and the rest of the family is okay with this: “Sounds like a great idea!  Let the pregnant lady stay with the animals!”

Or perhaps it was discrimination of some other sort.  We’re told Joseph was a carpenter.  (The word – tekton – translated “carpenter” is a general term for someone who works with stone, wood, or metal.)  Most likely, scholars say, he would’ve been a part of the “working poor.”  The best biblical support showing Mary and Joseph’s relative poverty is in Luke 2:24 when Mary offers at the Temple a sacrifice of two doves and two pigeons, which is said in the Old Testament law (Leviticus 12:8) to be an acceptable sacrifice for the poor if they can’t afford a lamb.

Finally, Natheneal’s sarcastic response when Philip first tells him about Jesus (John 1:45-46) might give us another clue:

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’  Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’”

Most of this is speculation on my part, and I have yet to come across any similar ideas elsewhere about the mistreatment of Mary and Joseph.

(If anyone has come across anything about this, or if you have any thoughts to add, please comment below!)

(Read other parts of “Who Jesus Ain’t”: Read about the New Testament manuscripts here and about what Jesus looked like here.  Please check out all my articles concerning apologetics, evangelism, culture, entertainment, and the Bible.)

NEXT: Was Jesus born on Dec. 25th?  Are Hollywood portrayals of the wise men accurate?

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Who Jesus Ain’t: Jesus Ain’t a White Guy.

*What did Jesus look like?  Should we have artwork of Jesus? Are images of Jesus idolatry?*

(Read Part 1 of “Who Jesus Ain’t” here.)

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WHAT DID JESUS LOOK LIKE?

The majority of what we know of Jesus’ life comes from the New Testament.  And based on these records, other history, and plain ol’ logic, we know Jesus was not a white guy.

Ok, let’s be clear: We have no idea what Jesus looked like, including his skin complexion.  Nothing in the New Testament describes him as “tall, dark, and handsome” or “fair-skinned,” “pale,” or “pasty.”  But we do know he was not European.

Jesus was a Jew from Palestine, the region east of the Mediterranean Sea, a relatively thin strip of land between the sea and the Jordan River.  Since people who come from that part of the world tend to have darker skin and hair , we can be fairly certain that many of those paintings we grew up seeing of Jesus looking like some fair-skinned, light-haired first century Brad Pitt are inaccurate.

In fact, the only other clue that I know of that gives us any idea about Jesus’ appearance comes from a book in the Old Testament written 700 years before Jesus’ life.  The prophet Isaiah wrote about the “suffering servant,” which was interpreted before the time of Jesus as a passage about the coming Messiah.  Isaiah wrote:

“For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
 And like a root out of parched ground;
 He has no stately form or majesty
_ That we should look upon Him,
 Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

“He was despised and forsaken of men,
 A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
 And like one from whom men hide their face
_ He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” (Isaiah 53:2-4)

Though this passage certainly refers to Jesus’ humble birth and life and the persecution he faced despite being a king, leading to his violent death on the Cross, do these verses also imply that nothing about Jesus’ physical appearance was overly impressive or attractive?

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ARE IMAGES OF JESUS IDOLATRY?

Should we even have images of Jesus?  This question came up in one of my seminary classes, and it was honestly not something I had thought about before.  As any Jewish person will attest to, there is no question God makes quite clear in the Old Testament that there is to be absolutely no images made of him.  Why?  First, the God of the Bible is without form; he is immaterial spirit (a concept completely alien and incomprehensible to the pagan nations surrounding Israel and, later, the Romans).  How can an idol be made of an invisible God?  Secondly, any attempt to make a representation of God would “limit” a limitless God.  In short, any image of God could not help but totally misrepresent God.

Considering this, I’ve started to lean towards the idea that we shouldn’t make images of Jesus.  It’s like reading a wonderful book, and the images it paints in your head are absolutely amazing, but then Hollywood makes a lousy adaptation of it and the images in your head are forever corrupted by this poor interpretation of this book you love.

Secondly, artists have clearly misrepresented Jesus in their art, and whether this is their intent or not, it again “limits” our understanding of Jesus.  Children growing up looking at this art are influenced by it.  It also becomes a matter of us making God the Son (Jesus) in our image, not the other way around.  When studying the Bible we must always make sure we are letting the scripture speak for itself; yes, we must interpret it, but we must strive to understand what the authors intended to communicate to their original audiences.  We must not read our own beliefs – or what we want it to say – into it.  Likewise, creating art of Jesus as European, African, or in any other non-biblical way does exactly this.

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The negative effects of artwork of Jesus became clearer to me when a Muslim student of mine tried to point out the inaccuracy of Christianity based on European depictions of Jesus.  I responded by telling him he was right and wrong: Jesus was not a European, so he shouldn’t be portrayed as one, but this idea of a European Jesus is not from the Bible.  The Bible is clear: Jesus is a Palestinian Jew.

Finally, a counter view would be that since God himself gave himself an “image” in becoming a physical man, there is no harm in depicting God the Son (Jesus) in his human form.  I understand this view, but because of the reasons I stated above, I’d still be extremely cautious in making any art depicting Jesus.  Perhaps limiting it to a nondescript, silhouette would be as far as I would be comfortable going.  In the classic movie Ben Hur, Jesus appears, but the audience never sees his face (See a clip here), and apparently Catherine Vos’s popular 1935 The Child’s Story Bible was offered with or without pictures for these reasons.

In a way, artwork has made stereotyped versions of Jesus.  Is the picture going to be handsome Jesus with his shiny, flowing hair and perfectly-trimmed beard?  Or stoic Jesus? Angelic Jesus?  Or gentle “I love children” Jesus?

On the other hand, movies can be a valuable tool in teaching people about Jesus who may never read the Bible or go to a church.  We should also consider the illiterate and missionaries reaching people who don’t have written languages.  There are missionary organizations that actually create written languages for people groups and translate the Bible into that language for them, but this process takes about 25 years.  Many missions organizations also use audio recordings, so the people groups can  listen to the Bible when they choose.  But we all know the expression “a picture is worth 1,000 words” and dramatization has proven to be a powerful way to bring the message of Jesus to others.

Should we make exceptions for missions work and evangelizing?  Should we come up with creative ways of depicting the life of Jesus on canvas or film without giving him an “image”?  Images are powerful — they have the power to lodge in a person’s mind — so we should proceed cautiously before making any sort of image of Jesus.

This is a difficult issue.  I’m interested in hearing opinions since I haven’t heard much about this issue elsewhere.  Please comment!

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Who Jesus Ain’t: How Do We Know About Jesus?

*Everyone has an opinion about Jesus.  But how do we even know about him in the first place?  How do the ancient records about Jesus compare to what we know about other ancient people?*

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(If this is your first time reading something here, please first read a short explanation about the purpose of this blog.)

It seems everyone has an opinion about Jesus.  Some say he was a wise, moral teacher; some say he was a myth; some says he was God incarnate.  Yet people also agree on what Jesus ain’t.  For example, whether a historical person or a myth, no one believes Jesus was a warlord.  So, how do we know that?

We learn about specific people in the past by documentation, by records that attest to that person’s life, and sometimes other archeological evidence.  Obviously, the farther back in history we go, the more difficult it is to prove the existence of a particular person, even someone as famous and powerful as a king or emperor, let alone a poor rabbi from the backwaters of the Roman empire.

So, why is it so hard to conclusively prove the existence of a person from ancient times, even someone as famous and influential as Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus?  First, empirical science is little help; even if we have the assumed body of the ancient person, it’s not like there is a DNA database we can reference.

Further, there are two types of science: empirical and forensic.  Empirical science is used to study present, repeatable events.  These events can be replicated in studies and witnessed through our senses.  Empirical science doesn’t help us with historical events because those events cannot be repeated.  For instance, we can’t use empirical science to prove the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  On the other hand, forensic science is used to study past, unrepeatable events.  With forensic science, one must look at evidence and use logic to draw conclusions.  Forensic science is used in archaeology, forensic criminal investigations, cryptology (the study of codes), and even SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).

In proving the existence of a historical figure, it all comes down to documentation – historical records.  Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus lived before the invention of the printing press and the modern information age.  Ancient manuscripts were written on papyrus, made from plant reeds, which lasted only about 10 years before falling apart.  Later, ancient manuscripts were written on parchment or vellum, both made from animal skins, which lasted longer than papyrus but were still fragile.

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Finally, the shortage of ancient manuscripts  can be partially blamed on the many conflicts and wars of ancient times.  The ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt was renowned for its collection of manuscripts and their destruction during several conflicts.  Because of the lack of modern means of copying and saving information, many ancient manuscripts have been sadly lost to us forever.

Now, when we turn to the New Testament, the ancient records about Jesus, we find the individual “books” that compose the New Testament have survived considerably well compared to other ancient manuscripts.

THE SOURCES

To start, let’s compare the sources for our information about Jesus to sources for two other famous ancient people: Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus.  Interestingly, no one raises questions about whether Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus existed like they do about Jesus, but – as we’ll see – the sources for our information about Jesus compare extremely well against the sources for these two other famous men from antiquity.

Furthermore, Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus were rulers and conquerors of great empires — the most powerful, famous men of their time period — the exact type of persons ancient historians wrote about.  The fact that we know anything today about a rabbi from Nazareth is incredible.

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ALEXANDER THE GREAT

We have 2 sources for our information about Alexander the Great.  Both of these sources were written about 400 years after Alexander the Great lived.

CAESAR AUGUSTUS

We have 5 sources that give us the information we know about Caesar Augustus.  One is a funeral writing, written at his death.  One was written 50-100 years after his death.  The last three were written 100-200 years after his death.

JESUS OF NAZARETH

For Jesus, we have 4 sources — the four Gospels found in the New Testament, each individually investigated, each containing both complimentary and unique information.  The 4 Gospels were written 25-60 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, which means within the lifetime of those who knew Jesus and witnessed his ministry.  (Jesus was crucified in about AD 30-33, and all of the Gospels were written before AD 100.)  Two of the Gospels – Matthew and John – were written by Jesus’ actual apostles, where the other two – Mark and Luke – were written by disciples of Jesus’ apostles, Paul and Peter.  This means the 4 sources we have for knowing about Jesus’ life come from eyewitnesses.

Further, we also have Paul’s letters, which are collected in the New Testament, which attest to Jesus’ ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and deity, all of which historians agree were written before the four Gospels.

EARLY CREEDS

Historians also agree that Paul recorded several creeds of the early church that predate his letters.  The earliest is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7:

“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 to one abnormally born.”

This creed is widely accepted by scholars as being dated at most 2-5 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.  Atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Ludemann believes the creed was created before the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to Paul.  Further, some scholars believe the creed appeared “within months” of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Another early creed appears in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:5-11):

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place, and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

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THE MANUSCRIPTS

So, that covers the variety of sources and their dating, but what about actual physical manuscripts – I mean, manuscripts we can actually hold in our hands and read with our own eyes today.  Since we already covered how perishable these ancient manuscripts were, how many have survived until this day?

First, because of the fragileness of ancient manuscripts, as far as we know no original ancient manuscripts have survived to this day.  Meaning, we do not have the actual first manuscripts written in the hands of the New Testament writers or any other ancient writers.  These writings have survived through the tedious work of scribes to copy them by hand to preserve these important works for future generations.  So, we do have actual manuscripts that have survived from ancient times, but just not the originals.

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So, how does the New Testament do compared to other ancient manuscripts?

  • For Aristotle, we have 49 ancient manuscripts.
  • For Sophocles, we have 193 ancient manuscripts.
  • For Plato’s tetralogies, we have 7 ancient manuscripts.
  • For Homer’s The Iliad, we have 643 ancient manuscripts.
  • For the New Testament, we have 5,686 ancient manuscripts in the original Greek, either in part or in whole.  Plus, there are about 9,000 other ancient manuscripts of the New Testament books in other languages.
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CLICK ON PHOTO: A helpful visualization of the number of New Testament manuscripts compared to other ancient manuscripts.

The earliest manuscript piece of the New Testament we have is a fragment from the Gospel of John (18:31-33, 37-38).  This fragment was found in Egypt and has been dated about AD 125-130, but could be as early as AD 90.  The dating puts it within 40 years of the actual original writing of the Gospel of John, and the fragment shows that the Gospel had spread as far as Egypt in that short period.

The manuscripts we have for the non-New Testament works mentioned above are dated about 500 years, 900 years, and over 1,000 years after they were written.

New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce wrote, “There is better evidence for the New Testament than any other ancient book.”

(Read about the recent discoveries of New Testament manuscripts, including one that may be older than the John fragment mentioned above, in an article by respected New Testament scholar Dr. Daniel B. Wallace here.)

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TEXTUAL CRITICISM

With such a vast number of handwritten manuscripts, scholars are able to compare them and easily identify errors and variants made by the scribes.  Expectantly, the scribes are not perfect, but most variations are simple spelling mistakes or have no effect on how the New Testament is translated or understood.  Only 1% of the variants have any effect on the meaning of the text, and none of these come close to affecting any doctrinal teaching of the New Testament.

Because of this wealth of New Testament manuscripts, scholars can easily compare the ancient manuscripts through a process called textual criticism and are positive the New Testament we read today is 99% accurate to the originals.

Further, the early church fathers, who lived between AD 90-160, shortly after the events recorded in the New Testament, quoted the New Testament so extensively that 90% of the New Testament can be reconstructed from their sermons and writings.  So, even if we had no ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, we’d still have ancient records of 90% of it.  Moreover, these early church fathers were obviously quoting  from earlier manuscripts than the majority of the ones we currently have.

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SO, WHAT DOES THIS TELL US?

First, our current New Testament is faithful to the originals.

Secondly, secular historians consider the New Testament an excellent historical source, but – understandably – the supernatural events the New Testament reports make many skeptical of its historicity.  Because of this, many non-Christian historians gladly use it to learn of Jesus and the time period but ignore the supernatural aspects of it.

Interestingly, scholars say that the time between the events and the writing of the New Testament is much too short to allow legends and myths to develop, especially considering that people who witnessed Jesus were still living at the time of the writing of the New Testament.  The New Testament writers present it as a historical record and provide names and other information so their contemporaries could investigate and confirm their claims about Jesus.  Where one can argue that this alone does not conclusively prove the historicity of the New Testament, it must be acknowledged that the New Testament does not have the fuzzy, “other-world-ness” of mythology.

C.S. Lewis, Oxford professor, expert of ancient mythology, and former atheist, wrote, “As a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are, they are not legends.  I have read a great deal of legend, and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing.”

Finally, no evidence of an early account of a strictly “human-only” Jesus or any other early alternative view of Jesus exists.

(Those alternative “gospels” we often hear about, like the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Thomas, were written after the New Testament in the second century by a cult that combined Greek philosophy and Christianity called Gnosticism.  Here, we see the beginning developments of legend in them as they portray Jesus more supernaturally than the true Gospels.)

There is also mention of Jesus outside the Bible in other ancient writings, but these were all written later than the New Testament.  We’ll spend some time looking at these at the end of this series of articles, but for now we have answered our opening question:

How do we know about Jesus?

We know about Jesus from the reliable, well-attested record of the New Testament.

NEXT: Jesus ain’t a white guy born on December 25th.

Available in paperback for $9.00 (or less) and Kindle version for $3.50 (or less) on Amazon.

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Atheist Church. Seriously. (Part 4) Atheism’s Favorite Myth & “Idol Worship”

**Why do some atheists think science disproves God?  What do these atheists worship?  Isn’t science just one part of a bigger picture?* 

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(This continues my response to an article titled “Church without God – by Design” about the Humanist Community at Harvard University, an “atheist church.”  Read Part 1Part 2, Part 2.5, and Part 3.)

(If this is your first time reading something here, please first read a short explanation about the purpose of this blog.)

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Christians and Jews believe that a long time ago God gave this command: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them.” (Exodus 20:4)

Thus, Christians and Jews take idolatry seriously.  Of course, when God gave this command to ancient Israel, he was speaking of literal idolatry.  The pagan religions that surrounded Israel carved images of earthly creatures and humanoid gods and worshipped them.  Israel was a truly unique nation in that they worshipped a God who had no form, so they were to remain separate and distinct from these other religions.

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In the New Testament, Paul addresses idolatry in his letter to the Romans:  “For since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse… Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures… For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (1:20-25).

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Thus, the expression “worshipping the creation rather than the Creator” was introduced into Christian phraseology.  Today, when Christians speak of idolatry, we are rarely talking about literal idol worship, but the “worship” of material things over God.  So, if someone has an unhealthy preoccupation with money, a Christian may say that money has become that person’s “idol.”  If a person loves food but doesn’t see it as a blessing from God, he is “worshipping the creation, not the Creator.”

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But concerning the Humanist Community, the atheist “church” from the article, it seems that we’ve come full-circle to the original meaning of idolatry again.

In the article, we’re told “Before the main event, kids are invited to what some parents refer to as ‘Sunday school,’ where Tony Debono, a biologist [from] Massachusetts Institute of Technology, teaches the youngsters about evolution, DNA and cells.”

Oddly, we’re also told, “Each service has a message – compassion, evolution or acceptance – after which congregants engage in a lengthy discussion.”  Evolution?  When I first read this, I felt like this was one of those games on kids’ TV programs:  compassion, evolution or acceptance – which one of these things is not like the others?

Recently, a movie documentary was given limited showings titled The Unbelievers, which stars Richard Dawkins, everyone’s favorite atheist, and Lawrence Krauss as “they speak publicly around the globe about the importance of science and reason in the modern world.”  I have yet to see the movie (and I recently learned it was never picked up for distribution), but William Lane Craig on his podcast portrayed it as Dawkins and Krauss sitting in front of audiences stroking the figurative ego of science.

So, it seems, yes, we’ve gone full-circle: Some atheists — some of the same people who mock the religious for worshipping a higher power — have started publicly worshipping the creation instead of the Creator.

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To be perfectly clear, I believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with teaching science.  Why would I?  Why would anyone?  Science is fascinating and helps us to understand the world we live in.  To be against science would be as preposterous as saying you’re against math or history or language.

Further, whenever I watch a TV program, read a book, or visit a museum concerning some aspect of science and I’m reminded of just how fascinating the physical world is, I can see how anyone could develop a deep love for science, and I wish I had time to learn more.

But what’s the deal with science being taught at the Humanist Community’s “church” service?  Further, why are so many atheists so preoccupied with praising science?  Is anyone out there actually protesting “science”?  Is anyone out there saying, “Bah!  Science is a big waste of time!  Let’s kick it out of schools and universities!”  As a teacher who has worked for over 13 years in a public school focused on engineering, I can say that the emphasis on science and math is in no danger and, in fact, has increased in recent years.  There is no conspiracy to destroy science.  No one is making one peep against science, nor should they.

So, what’s behind some atheists’ engrossment with science?  After all, according to the article, the Humanist Community claims it isn’t out to bash religion or God at their services, and The Unbelievers is just a movie praising the accomplishments of science, right?

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But wait: if The Unbelievers is just a movie about science, then to what unbelief is the title referring?  If this is not obvious to you, then the movie poster makes it perfectly transparent: the silhouetted outlines of Dawkins and Krauss walking away from a cross, the symbol of Christianity.  The same underlining message is in the Humanist Community’s praise of science.  And that message is this:

If someone embraces science they can’t also embrace God.

This is atheism’s favorite myth.

And as hard as many atheists try to convince the world that science and God can’t coexist, this type of thinking is logically disjointed and a shortsighted misunderstanding of Christianity.

So, next, we’ll start looking closer at atheism’s favorite myth…

NEXT:  Christianity + Science = BFF*

*Best Friends Forever

My favorite idol

OK, I DO HAVE A FAVORITE IDOL

Interview: Ian J. Keeney (Part 2 of 2) Director of The Meaning & former Satanist on Atheist/Christian relations, conversion

**Can atheists and Christians find common ground?**

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This continues my interview with Ian J. Keeney, director of the film The Meaning, a documentary made by Christians and atheists about the “War on Religion.”  Ian is a former “Satanist” who became a Christian.  This interview discusses his conversion, atheist/Christian relations, and more about his documentary, The Meaning.

(Read Part 1 of the interview here.)             (Watch The Meaning trailer here.)

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Steve: Tell us about your own journey from atheism to Christianity.  I know you used to refer to yourself as a “Satanist,” which isn’t the same as a Satan-worshipper, but an atheist extremely hostile towards Christians.  Why did you come to Christianity and not another religion?  Would you say it was a sudden change or a gradual change?

Ian: It was a gradual thing. 2005 is when I opened my mind, visited some churches and began studying. I was by no means a believer then though. Only mildly curious. Since it was such a gradual process, it’s hard to pin a day on, “this is the day I became a Christian.” I’d say that when I decided I fully believed in Jesus was in 2010. That’s when I decided for sure I wanted to live for Him. I had toyed with the idea, believed but not too seriously. It was then that I saw my life changing, when I really decided to live for Him. Then I had that crisis while making the movie where I went from 100% sure of myself that Jesus is real to nearly becoming an atheist again. I took a break from filming for a while to just get my head straight and recalibrate myself and reevaluated everything. That’s when I decided, yeah. This is real to me. Then on April 8, 2012, I was baptized.

To be quite honest, I’m not even sure how I feel about using the word Christian to define myself. I’ve come to accept Jesus as God for many reasons but it was a process as slow as the continental drift. The reason I’m hesitant about that “Christian” label is because nobody really has a clear picture on what that means, especially people who are not Christian. Does saying I’m Christian mean I’m a Republican? Does it mean I hate gay people? Does it mean I believe the universe is only 6,000 years old? Does it mean I’m intolerant of other people’s religions (especially Muslims) and think all atheists are going to Hell? No. I’m the opposite of all those things. I don’t believe any of that, but often, that’s the first thing that comes to non-Christian’s minds when they hear that word “Christian.”

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Also, what about what Christians think of each other? Is it enough that I believe in Jesus? Well, for Jesus, yeah – it is. For a lot of Christians, no – it’s not. I’ve been told that if I don’t speak in tongues, I’m not a real Christian. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t believe in Evolution if I’m a Christian. I don’t want to be associated with that sort of thinking. It gives Jesus a bad name and Jesus never said anything about the Earth revolving around the sun, the world being created 6,000 years ago, etc. I think throughout history and through today the Church has done itself a lot of harm when it takes a firm stance on these extra-biblical ideas based on things Jesus never said.

Jesus said, “Follow me.” That’s what I do. Does that alone make me a “Christian?” I don’t know. Jesus was Jewish. He said, “Follow me.” He didn’t say, “Be a Christian.”

Now to answer your question as quickly as I can, because I could literally write a novel based on this question alone: I came to Jesus rather than any other religion because as an atheists, I didn’t see a god. With Jesus, I see God. If there is such thing as a God, what Jesus did, that makes sense to me. Why would a God create some universe and then just walk away and have no interaction with it whatsoever? That makes no sense to me at all.

If God made this creation, it only makes sense to me that he would want to show up here at some point. Sure, other religions have their saviors (don’t mistake prophets for saviors), but reading the words of Jesus, it seemed most real to me. People make fun of Jesus about those stories being fantastical. Try reading some other antediluvian holy books, especially those that predate the Bible, like the Egyptian Book of the Dead. They make Lord of the Rings seem more realistic.

I do have a hard time believing the miracles in the Bible, but for me, if they happened or not, they really don’t matter to me today. What matters is what Jesus taught and how those words apply to my life. Even if you don’t believe that Jesus ever existed, if you read his words, he’s not telling you to hate gays and shun science. He’s telling you to love everyone, forget about eye for an eye and learn to truly love one another with forgiveness, he wants us to be good to one another, be good to ourselves and be the best we can be. He’s not someone we should be afraid of or get so angry when his name comes up, but that’s the reaction a lot of people have just like I did for most of my life. Jesus is a cool dude. He revolted against the authority of his day just like so many young people do today, but the irony today is a lot of the revolutionary young people don’t want to hear about Jesus and it’s the elite authorities who want to shove this misrepresented image of Jesus down your throat.

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Once I really opened my mind and focused on who Jesus really was, that’s when I began to think I may be able to believe he was more than a fairy tale. I know there’s Christians shaking their heads at things I’m saying who want to just tell me how wrong I am but rest assured, many Christians have already told me how wrong I am. That’s why so many people are turned off from Christianity. The thing is though, there are many amazing Christians. There are Christians who think more like me. There’s quite a lot actually, but they’re not as boisterous. That, again, is why I chose to make this film – to give a voice to the people who aren’t standing outside with signs saying, “God hates gays,” but saying, “I’m Christian and I love my gay friends,” or even, “I’m Christian and I’m gay.”

Steve: You said a lot here, so let me share some quick thoughts:

I think there’s a lot of wisdom in what you’re saying.  I think it’s difficult for someone who grew up in Christian culture to relate to what you’re saying, so I’m glad you said it.  Someone who is coming from a place of hardcore skepticism, like the two of us, is going to continue to question things and wrestle with the Bible for the rest of his or her life, but I would argue this is what we’re all meant to do as Christians.

I would also say that there are two miracles that one must definitely accept for salvation: That God became flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, and that Jesus died on a cross and returned from death for the atonement of our sins.  Beginning with Jesus’ teachings on how we should live with others is a great way to introduce Jesus to others, but we can’t ignore that he spoke primarily about repentance from sin and salvation through his death.  If we only focus on Jesus as a wise teacher, we’re overlooking Jesus as savior, which is the main reason he came.

So, I understand what you’re saying, but sometimes I get a bit nervous with this talk because it sometimes (not always, but sometimes) leads to this “Jesus is my homeboy” or “Jesus is my hippy friend” mentality.  Whenever I find this attitude towards Jesus, it needs to be pointed out that Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else in the Bible, so Jesus understood the dangers of sin.  If anyone understands the dangers of sin, it’s the person who was tortured and crucified because of it.

Also, I find once you understand Jesus, you start to understand the rest of the Bible more clearly and you start taking it more seriously.  Jesus constantly refers to the Old Testament to prove his arguments, and once you understand who wrote the New Testament, it’s impossible to pit the rest of the New Testament against Jesus’ words.  There’s unity to it.

Finally, I’d like to build on what you said by agreeing that Jesus was totally countercultural.  When I first started reading the Bible on my own, I was struck by Jesus’ anger and harsh words towards the religious leaders of his day.  It struck me how much of what Jesus was saying to them could be said to the modern church today. 

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Did you learn anything about your own faith while making this film?

Ian: Of course. Making this movie was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do; not only because I had to stay awake for days straight and spend my life savings to fly around the country and get interviews, but because it was the biggest test of my faith I’ve ever had. I was going back and forth while filming, sometimes affirming my faith and often thinking I might still be an atheist after all. I was having terrible nightmares just not sure what I believed anymore. I was on information overload.

I’m still not even sure to this day but that’s part of my decision. I’m not really willing to hammer my feet in the sand and say this is what I believe and I’m never budging. As I learn more, I grow more and will move in a different direction on certain things. I’m stuck with Jesus. As far as everything else, I’m a man of science and science is fluid and grows as we learn more things and I want to be part of that growth.

Steve: Some mistakenly think to question and look for answers is a sign of weak faith.  I think it’s the opposite.  Confidence comes from asking the tough questions, and as I learn more, I grow more confident.  Faith doesn’t mean blind, mindless faith.  It means trust.  And trust in God, just like in any other relationship, grows.

Now that I’ve been a Christian for 8 years, I’ve realized just how badly Christians are stereotyped and how little critics of Christianity actually know about what we believe.  I’m not sure about other parts of the country, but this seems to be the case in New Jersey and the mainstream media.  In New Jersey, I would say skepticism is the norm, and Christianity is outside the mainstream.  Do you agree with this assessment?  Since, like me, you have been on both sides of the fence of belief and unbelief, have you made any discoveries you wouldn’t have had otherwise?

Ian: The biggest discovery I’ve made is that as an atheist, I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I knew. I’m never one who is quick to tell people that they are wrong but after doing this study, I’ve come to realize there is just so much misinformation out there. People boldly speak this misinformation with a strong belief that it were true. This happens with both Christians and atheists. That’s why I keep insisting people do their own extensive and balanced research on any topic they want to boldly stand for or against.

Regarding demographics, I have noticed that out here on the east coast, things are definitely much different regarding Jesus than it is in many areas of the mid-west. Jesus seems to be more predominant out there than he is here. There’s definitely no shortage of the hell fire billboards on the NJ Turnpike though. It just gets lost in the noise of everything else. People here seem to look away and just shrug it off. Other places in the country do seem to be more Christian than out here.

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Steve: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Christians in a growing secular culture?

Ian: I think this points to what I said earlier. Christians need to keep up with the times and be willing to educate themselves fully on topics regarding things like stem-cell research, evolution, homosexuality or anything they choose to take a stand against before they speak out against it. I’ve heard so much false information coming from Christians who oppose these hot topics and that only does more harm. Of course they then will try to tell me I’m wrong based on their one source they found on some suspicious page on the Internet. If you don’t have your facts straight and you’re trying to oppose people who do believe these things, it’s just going to make Christianity appear silly and irrelevant.

If someone wishes to take a certain stance on something, just know very well where it is you stand. Read several books from different perspectives, talk to scientists personally (many of whom are Christians), take a class, watch documentaries. Listen with an open mind to what both sides of the debate are saying.

Steve: Is there advice you would give to Christians about interacting with atheists?  Is there any way to share your faith with an atheist without things getting awkward, unfriendly, or preachy?

Ian: Let an atheist tell you about their beliefs or lack there of first. Most atheists will have something negative to say about the Church. Most of the time, it’s something that the Church has done to misrepresent Jesus, such as the choir boy molestations, embezzlement of donations, etc. Then you can address those issues by saying how Jesus actually opposed those things about the church too.

People have more common ground with Jesus then they realize, or at least I know I did when I was an atheist. Atheists blame Jesus for the things the Church got wrong, but they’re willing to hear how Jesus would agree with them that the Church is very wrong for doing these things. You’re never going to “win” an atheist to Christ by having a debate about creation.

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Like I said, you never want to “sell” Jesus. Most (if not all) atheists will not believe the stories. Did Jesus really walk on water? Did he really rise from the dead? I try to avoid these sorts of debates. These are things they have to figure out on their own. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see Jesus walking on water so I have nothing to say about that. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. If he was really God, he could have done whatever he wanted to, including rise from the dead. If he created the laws of physics, he’s obviously able to break them. Before an atheist would even consider these things, I just talk about Jesus and what he taught. He’s not all hell fire and brimstone like the church has made him out to be so often. They like to hear about that stuff.

Be careful not to give misinformation though. Atheists deal in facts. If you start grabbing information from outside the Bible to back up what you’re saying, make sure you know well what it is you’re saying. If there is one hole in your story, the entire thing will unravel. For example, many Christians like to quote Josephus for proof that Jesus existed outside the Bible; however, an atheist will dismiss this immediately – and then probably dismiss everything else you said. Josephus wasn’t even born until about four years after Jesus died. Josephus is not a reliable source for an eyewitness account, if what he wrote about Jesus is even real. It’s possible it was a forgery.

Atheists know a lot more than a lot of Christians realize. In fact, a lot of people become atheists because of how much they know. Keep that in mind. It’s not about winning an intellectual debate over an atheist to convince them you’re right and they’re wrong. It’s just about opening up to each other and getting to know each other. They will find their path without a leash. We need a new approach. The Christian catch phrases and slogans on bumper stickers and billboards are out of style. It’s time to preach with love.

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Steve: When I started looking into Christianity, I was surprised how many good arguments were out there in support of it.  Since I was an atheist for so long, I knew all the reasons to doubt and I really believed there was no way to defend belief in God and Jesus. Now, I’m not saying these are bullet-proof arguments, but neither are the skeptics’ arguments.  But what really struck me was how well Christian scholars could defend their views.  If Jesus and the events in the Bible were just made up from thin air like Zeus or Thor, there would be no way to put together an intelligent, research-based article or book about it.  Can you imagine someone trying to write a historical defense of the existence of Thor?  There are a lot of good reasons argued by people a lot more informed and intelligent than the two of us who believe the Bible is 100% accurate.  If nothing else, they show it isn’t absurd to believe in the Bible like so many skeptics make it out to be.

What advice would you give to someone who is drawn to Christianity but has intellectual reservations about it?

Ian: I would say not to draw any conclusions too soon. You’re certainly going to hear a lot of goofy things from some Christians, and you’re going to read some pretty unbelievable things. If you’re really interested in learning, keep going. The journey is exciting. There’s more to it than I ever realized.

Make sure you get your information from various sources. Don’t just listen to what atheists have to say and don’t just listen to what Christians are saying. Read the Bible but don’t dismiss something right away. A lot of it is hard to understand. To fully understand it, we have to know the culture in which it was written.

If you arrive at something you have a concern about that makes you furrow your brow, write it down and ask someone to explain it. Connect with us on Facebook or email us your question (discoverthemeaning@yahoo.com) and we’ll be happy to get it answered for you by a pastor or scholar. You may be surprised. Often times there is a very reasonable explanation.

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I can’t lie to you though. Even I have a hard time with a lot of the Bible. I don’t take it all literally word-for-word. The Old Testament is especially difficult for me. I know which books to never read again, otherwise they’ll probably make me an atheist again. There’s a few really good books in the Old Testament but I mainly focus on the words of Jesus. Read those. You don’t even have to read it believing that every word is 100% true to what happened, but if you’re curious, start by skimming those red letters (the words of Jesus) in the Bible. Take it from there. You’ll either believe it more as you go or you won’t, but if you’re seriously drawn to Christianity, it’s not a journey you should do alone.

There will definitely be intellectual reservations and you’ll need someone to talk to you about them, preferably someone who’s done extensive study like a theologian or pastor, but be careful to not settle on one answer. Ask a few people. The answers most likely will vary. Then you have to decide what YOU believe.

Steve: Since Christians call themselves Christians because of Jesus Christ, it’s not a bad idea to start with Christ.  But I would say, once you’re familiar with the words of Christ, don’t stop there.  All scripture leads to understanding God.

The Old Testament is definitely difficult, but much of it needs to be understood in context of the time period it takes place and in the context of the biblical story as a whole.  A great book I’d recommend that addresses these difficulties is “Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.”

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What advice would you give to someone who has been wronged or hurt by Christians or a church?

Ian: Who hasn’t been wronged by the church in some way? It’s sad how commonplace that is. Some crimes are definitely worse than others within the church. There’s no worse crime than some trusted man taking a child’s innocence. Jesus has harsh words against that. He has harsh words against everything the church has done to harm people. I would tell them that Jesus is hurt by their actions too and give them his words that speak for that person who has been wronged by that church who strayed from the teachings of Jesus.

Steve: What are the biggest challenges to making an independent documentary and getting it in front of audiences?

Ian: The biggest challenge is financial. People don’t understand how much money something like this takes. Keep in mind, Hollywood spends tens of millions of dollars to make movies. I’ve spent only a fraction of that, but since I’m not a millionaire, I really feel the major dent in my bank account. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to make this film. I was in the process of buying a house when I really felt I had to make this movie. I told the mortgage company and my real estate agent, never mind. I have something to do. I took the down payment for my house and used it to make this film. It wasn’t nearly enough. I live paycheck to paycheck and my account gets overdrawn almost every week trying to keep up with this film. I’ve done a few fundraisers and though we did have a few very generous people, overall, the response wasn’t very big so I have had no choice but to spend my own money.

I think to a lot of people, the process of making an independent documentary is very ambiguous. Just today there were several big and important film festivals I wanted to enter to get this film out there. People keep asking me, “When do I get to see the film,” but I wasn’t able to enter these festivals because I don’t have enough money in my account. Festival application fees vary but could be anywhere around $40 – $100+ a piece. If the movie is not accepted to the festival, these fees don’t get returned. If it does get accepted then I have to print posters and flyers and prepare the media for projection (also costly). That’s been the biggest challenge is trying to get this movie out there without the necessary finances. There are other filmmakers but they’re working stiffs who have obligations and families to take care of. We just don’t have the means to move this forward like it needs to.

I decided it was time for one more fundraiser. To put everything I’ve got into this film only to have it collect dust on my shelf doesn’t make sense. It’s something that’s meant to be seen widely. If anyone is interested in helping us get this movie out there more, they can contribute to our campaign and get some great perks in return.

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Steve: Future plans for the film?  For other projects?

Ian: The future plans for the film is to right now get it in front of as many eyes as we can by whatever means we can. We’re trying to set up more screenings of the film and get exposure through film festivals. As far as other projects go, I’m not quite sure. I just released my second novel A Better Tomorrow and I’m working on some music in the studio.

Sometimes I get very discouraged because I put my entire life, my heart and soul into these projects. It takes a lot out of me, not only financially, but physically and mentally. I’m putting my heart and soul on display through my artistic endeavors. I do have a handful of very hardcore fans and supporters and I wouldn’t have come this far without them. They believe in me wholeheartedly but lately even they seem to be getting frustrated that through everything I’ve done, it still hasn’t broken through into more popularity yet. I say all this because, I’m not sure what lies ahead in the future for other projects. I’m not sure how much I have left in me. I’ve done a lot. Four feature films, two novels, short films, television, poetry and now I’m recording my music. Unless something I’ve already made reaches some level of success, I may not have it in me to go forward with something else. It just won’t be possible anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. When I say success, I don’t mean I’m looking to be a millionaire. I’m not in it for the money. I just want enough to have the basic necessities that everyone needs. I want my work to reach more people. It’s just hard to get noticed these days in such a noisy world. Hopefully with this film people will help me get the word out there and help me get it to a larger audience.

To learn more about The Meaning’s fundraising campaign, click here.

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Steve: Give us info on the upcoming The Meaning showing in Paterson, NJ.

Ian: Our next showing for the meaning is in Paterson, NJ.  All the info can be found on our website here: http://discoverthemeaning.com/index.php/events.html

Steve: How can people contact you or learn more about The Meaning? 

Ian: They can contact me through Facebook/DiscoverTheMeaning or Facebook.com/ianjkeeneypage, find me on www.ianjkeeney.com or through www.discoverthemeaning.com.

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