The New Paganism (Part 1) Are There Many Paths to God?

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Pluralism = The New Paganism

In many ways, Western Christians are living in a culture that is increasingly like the first culture that the first Christians lived in: a pagan culture. Christianity was born and spread within the Roman Empire, a place of many gods and many ways of worshiping, where most* religions were seen as equally valid. Today, we call this pluralism.

(*I say “most” because Christianity went through periods of persecution by the Roman government for its first 300 years until it was officially legalized by Emperor Constantine. Christians – like the Jews – wouldn’t worship any Roman gods or the emperor, who was considered a god. Christians were even called “atheists” by Romans because they believed in only one God, and an invisible one at that. Appropriately, Christians’ convictions have made them unpopular again in many parts of the West today.)  

As our culture becomes more post-modern—as well as post-Christian—in mindset, religious pluralism has grown into the popular spirituality of our day. Both established, traditional religions and unambiguous atheism are being rejected by many and an undefined spirituality—a fuzzy spiritual agnosticism—has been embraced, which lives by the axiom, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” For all practical purposes, these pluralists live as atheists within secular society but still embrace some self-defined form of spirituality, which has little – if any – impact on their lives. Basically, it’s OK to believe spiritual things as long as you don’t take them too seriously.

Sadly, this pluralistic mindset has even made its way into Christian circles, and not just in liberal mainline denominations but also in Bible-believing, evangelical churches.

As our world grows “smaller,” more people today have been introduced to worldviews and religions foreign to their own by neighbors, coworkers, and friends (and the Internet and modern media) than perhaps at any other time in history. This is a positive thing in many ways, but those raised to believe that salvation comes only through Christ Jesus may begin to question whether their neighbors —perhaps loving parents and spouses and contributors to the community — will be eternally separated from God because they’re not followers of Christ. Christians have always understood the Bible to teach that the only way to have salvation from sin is through belief in the work and person of Jesus Christ. This is often called exclusivism.

Furthermore, biblical illiteracy has led to unfamiliarity with what the Bible teaches. Not only has Western culture grown more secular and fewer people grow up in churches, but even those in Christian families and churches spend little time closely reading and studying Scripture. 

Because of these reasons, new understandings of God’s salvation have developed that are much different than the traditional Christian understanding of Scripture. Some of these new understandings simply disregard Scripture. Others claim they’re actually more loyal to Scripture than the traditional stance. Because of these reasons, we need an accurate understanding of what the whole of the Bible teaches about salvation.

The Alternatives

Alternatives to exclusivism include pluralism and inclusivism. Where pluralism validates that all (or most) religions lead to God, inclusivism is more nuanced. Inclusivism believes that Jesus Christ is the only savior, but one does not have to believe in him to be saved. In short, Jesus Christ was absolutely essential in saving humanity from damnation, but one doesn’t have to believe in Christ specifically to benefit from that salvation. In inclusivism, one may be saved through another religion or through general revelation even if they never heard of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

General revelation is the idea that one can know certain things about God through their innate senses (since we are all made in the image of God) and/or through nature (since God created all things). The Bible confirms general revelation, but also that one cannot be saved from sin by general revelation alone.

For salvation, one needs special revelation. Special revelation includes all the unique, supernatural works of God throughout history, which are recorded in the Bible, including God the Son becoming human as Jesus of Nazareth (and his death and resurrection), the work of the Holy Spirit, and even the Bible itself – as the Bible is the written, “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) revelation of God.

The Bible confirms all humans know of God through general revelation, yet do not seek him out. Instead they invent their own religions and worship their own idols. These may be literal idols or the “idols” of secular society (such as money, sex, self-centered independence). In essence, all know there’s a true God, yet they want to remain god of their own lives, so they exchange the truth for a lie.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature,have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:18-23) 

In the book Faith Comes By Hearing, Christopher Morgan explains that there is a spectrum of diversity within this new paganism [1]. For example, some versions of universalism teaches that the whole world (even Satan! [2]) will ultimately be saved through Christ.

QUICK REVIEW:

Pluralism – All (or many) religions lead to God and salvation.

Exclusivism – The traditional Christian view that salvation can come only through Jesus Christ’s free gift of salvation; thus, biblical Christianity is the only true path to God. 

Inclusivism – Jesus Christ’s life and work achieved salvation, but one does not have to know of or believe in Christ to be saved. One can be saved by faithfully following another religion or general revelation.

Universalism – One way or another, everyone (or almost everyone) will ultimately be saved through the work of Jesus Christ.

General Revelation – One can know certain things about God through nature and/or their innate senses.

Special Revelation – The unique supernatural works of God throughout history, including miracles, Christ himself, and the Bible.

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The Incomprehensibility of Pluralism Within a Biblical Worldview

As one moves from exclusivism towards views like pluralism and universalism, one moves away from traditional Christianity, and the more one moves away from traditional Christianity, the more the divine authority and reliability of the Bible is questioned or even completely abandoned.

Abandoning the Bible is the only option open to the pluralist as Scripture is so clearly exclusivistic. Verses like John 14:6, Acts 4:10–12, and 1 John 5:11–12 (see below) so clearly teach that salvation comes through Christ alone that pluralists and universalists must have a low view of Scripture in order to continue to hold their views, as does John Hick, who represents the pluralist view in the book Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World.[3]

The pluralist must deny that the Bible is the preserved Word of God since Jesus’ first followers were certainly exclusivists:

Peter said,

“…let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this [formerly crippled] man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12)

John wrote,

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)

And Jesus himself was absolutely clear that he was not a pluralist or universalist:

 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Even if we didn’t have these extremely clear verses from the New Testament, the exclusivist nature of the Bible is seen throughout the Old and New Testaments. There are constant warnings against following false religions and gods and regular statements about salvation coming only through the one true God. Plainly contrary to the universalist idea that all (even Satan) will eventually be saved through Christ, Revelation 19 and 20 clearly shows the horrible fate of those hostile to God, including Satan.

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Further, some other obvious issues are raised concerning pluralism:

    1. Religious Contradictions

All religions can’t be correct simply because they have contradictory teachings. And where there are contradictions, someone has to be wrong. The only way a pluralist can affirm all religions are correct is to discard key aspects of those religions – just like how they have to discard key parts of the Bible. Furthermore, anyone who claims all religions are basically the same has little understanding of what different religions teach.

The pluralist may try to get around this by saying that all (or many) religions have some truth within them. This isn’t a problem for the Christian; a Christian can confirm that there is some truth in other religions, yet none but biblical Christianity are wholly true or lead to salvation.

Also, pluralists still have a problem: How do they know what is religious truth or error? By what standard do they judge?

    2. Only Jesus Could Win Us Salvation

The Bible teaches that God is perfectly good and holy, all people have sinned, and all people are alienated from God by that sin. Only Jesus, who is uniquely fully human and fully God, could repair this chasm-sized rift between God and man. No amount of “good works” or rituals can bridge that chasm. Only Jesus could live a sinless life, and only Jesus could die an unjust death. Only someone fully human could represent humankind, and only someone fully God could cover the sins of all humankind. Christians are exclusivists because only Jesus – the only person to ever be complete man and completely God – could achieve for us salvation, plain and simple.

     3. Jesus Died For Nothing

Jesus died a horribly brutal death on a Roman cross for the sake of all those who would believe in him to be saved from their sins. Jesus did this willingly, yet also prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest and crucifixion, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). God the Son went willingly to the cross, but he also was well aware of the high price he would pay to complete the task he became flesh to accomplish. In Gethsemane, he essentially asks God the Father if there’s any other way to accomplish this, then spare him from the cross. But there was no other way, so he goes willingly.

Here’s the thing: If salvation could be won by any other way, then Jesus didn’t have to die. If there were any other way – even one – for God to accomplish salvation from sin, Jesus died for nothing. In other words, if there were a Plan B for saving the world from sin other than Jesus dying on the cross, Jesus wouldn’t have died on the cross. He would’ve said, “See Plan B.” And if Jesus’ death on the cross were Plan B, he would’ve said, “Plan A works just fine.”

We also have this issue: if there were any other way for God the Father to reconnect with his created people and overlook their sins and God the Father still put Jesus to death on the cross, then Jesus’ death was needless brutality. In other words, if God the Father knew forgiveness of sins could be achieved through humans simply following some rules or completing some rituals or being “nice” or doing X, Y, and Z, why would God the Son need to become a man and die? If pluralism and universalism are true, then God the Father and God the Son both made extremely illogical decisions to allow an act of absolute brutality for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Dismissing the validity of pluralism and universalism is easy from a biblical standpoint, so what about the more nuanced view: inclusivism?

NEXT: Is knowledge of Christ required for salvation? The Nuanced View: Inclusivism.

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WORKS CITED

[1] Faith Comes By Hearing, edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, see Chapter 2.

[2] Faith Comes By Hearing, KindleLoc 334.

[3] Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, edited by Stanley N. Gundry, Kindle, Loc 3601.

Check out Who Jesus Ain’t and other books by GFTM here.

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Morally Schizophrenic: Moral Outrage in a Land With No Moral Compass

**Can you be good without God? Are morals objective truths or personal opinions? Are skeptics morally schizophrenic?**

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Can you do good without God? Certainly. Can you define good without God? No.

Let me explain…

I’ve written about what is often called the moral argument before on GFTM blog (see here, here, and here), but it’s such an important argument that arises so often I decided it would benefit us to look at it one more time. (Note: I’d usually break a long post like this into several posts, but I think it’s best to keep the whole argument together in one place.)

Basically, it goes like this: a skeptic (atheist, agnostic, relativist, post-modernist, naturalist, etc.) criticizes Christianity for something, which – more likely than not – is a moral claim. For example:

  • The God of the Bible is cruel and violent.
  • Christians are intolerant.
  • Believing in a Creator God stifles science and human flourishing.
  • The apostle Paul was sexist and homophobic.
  • Christianity makes people closed-minded.
  • Christianity led to witch hunts and burnings.
  • Believing Christianity is the only true religion is arrogant.

The list can go on (I’m sure you thought of a few yourself), but what I want you to see is this: all of these are moral statements of one form or another. The one making the statement is making a moral claim, which means proclaiming something to be morally “good” or “bad.”

Some of the statements above may not seem like moral statements,  but often the one saying it is implying one. For example, at its core “Believing in a Creator God stifles science and human flourishing” is saying, “Human flourishing and the study of science are morally good, so Christianity is morally bad.” Likewise, the statement “Christianity led to witch hunts and burnings” may be a statement of fact, but again, often someone is also implying that witch hunts and burnings are bad.

At the base of these statement, there are questions that must be addressed: Why are witch hunts and burnings morally bad? Why is human flourishing morally good? The answers to these questions may seem so obvious we take them for granted, but are they really self-evident truths?

Even these following statements about moral statements are making moral claims:

  • No one has the right to make absolute, objective moral claims.
  • You don’t have the right to morally judge anyone.

Those who say such things are actually making moral claims!

And they’re also making self-refuting statements.

And that’s the point: When people make moral claims, and yet their worldview doesn’t provide any foundation for their moral claims, they have defeated themselves. Thus, often they become morally schizophrenic.

 

BY WHAT STANDARD?

Pick any of the moral criticisms from the above list (or elsewhere). For example, perhaps someone accuses the Bible of promoting slavery. Now, I don’t believe this is true (and I will address this in a future GFTM series), but I can respond in two ways:

(1) I could walk through the Bible with him or her and give the historical and theological information needed for understanding the difficult passages of the Bible that deal with slavery.

(2) I could ask a single question: “By what standard?”

In other words: “You’re making a moral claim that slavery is wrong. According to what standard are you saying that? Before we even discuss the Bible, explain to me, according to your understanding of the world (your worldview), why slavery is wrong?”

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Yes, but the question is: Why?

GOOD WITHOUT GOD?

Now, the question of why slavery is wrong seems so basic to us today that it seems like a silly question. But think about it: Can you explain why slavery is wrong? Or are your moral stances simply something you assume? Again, to be clear, we all know slavery is wrong, but why? Follow your train of thought – follow the path of your logic backwards – to the foundation of your beliefs. What is your moral stance standing upon?

To better understand this, ask yourself:

  • What do I believe about humankind?
  • Where did we come from?
  • Are we going anywhere?
  • What makes our purpose important beyond personal preference? (In other words, what makes our purpose real?)

Now, can you explain why slavery is wrong?

Is it wrong because owning a person is wrong? Well, why is that wrong? Do humans have inherent rights? Do you hold “that all men are created equal… with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? Do you believe this simply because our forefathers believed this or for another reason? Do you believe it because you were taught this in school, on TV, or by your peers? Is this really “self-evident” to your worldview? Where do “rights” even come from?

I’ve heard this slogan many times from skeptics: Good without God. In other words, one does not need to believe in God to be morally good. I agree 100%.

But the question is NOT whether skeptics CAN do good. They certainly can (by social standards anyway)! The question is WHY do they do good – and how do they even know what good is? What compels a skeptic to do good?

So, here it is:

  • If there is no God, there is no objective morality. (By “objective” I mean a standard of morality that exists outside of yourself.)
  • If there is no objective morality, all moral claims are only personal preferences and opinions.
  • If all moral claims are only personal preferences and opinions of an individual, then all moral claims can be dismissed by other individuals on the grounds that this is only their opinion.

Only a source that exists outside ourselves can account for a universal, objective moral code. (In fact, only an intelligent, immaterial source can account for an immaterial moral code.) And without an objective moral law, all moral claims can be responded to as follows: So? Why should I care?

If morality is strictly personal preferences and opinions, then why does anyone else have to care about the moral claims you make? If there is no God, all moral claims we make are smoke in the breeze. With no absolute foundation, they float away into nothingness. In fact, they are nothingness. And, then, morals are free to change like fads. What is immoral one day (like eating a baby for fun) can become morally fashionable the next. Without God, a moral claim is a nonsensical statement. Without an unchanging standard outside ourselves, your moral claims have no roots.

Before we continue, let me be clear about what I am NOT saying. In fact, every time I explain this, someone misunderstands me or jumps to a hasty conclusion without hearing me out (or maybe I’m just really bad at explaining it) and accuses me of saying that skeptics have no morals. So, let me say this in all caps. In fact, I’ll even underline it and put it in bold so it doesn’t get overlooked:

I AM CONFIRMING, WITHOUT A DOUBT, THAT SKEPTICS HAVE MORALS! BUT WHAT I AM SAYING IS THAT THEY DO NOT HAVE A FOUNDATION FOR MORALS. THUS, THEY CANNOT MAKE ANY MORAL CLAIM… (WITH ANY CONVICTION ANYWAY).

You might not like what I said above, but I hope at least you understand me accurately.

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K. Chesterton wrote, “[T]he new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. … And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it . . . The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, [the skeptic] is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

Skeptics have to borrow their morals from doctrines and dogmas based on human rights which are in turn contingent upon human value. The skeptic does this without reason. He prefers to think of himself and certain other persons as valuable, but human beings have no intrinsic moral worth if the skeptics’ worldview is taken to its logical end. Therefore, the claims of the rapist are equal to the claims of the judge and the claims of the nicest atheist are equal to the claims of the most tyrannical dictator.

 

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Morality is found in the eternal, unchanging nature of God. We don’t deem something “good” simply because God said so, nor because the Bible says so. In other words, adultery can’t be bad one day and good the next because God changes his mind. Goodness is grounded in God’s unchanging nature; goodness is defined by God’s very character. Good is not good because God says it is so (though he does); good is good because God is good. God is the eternal, unchanging standard of good.

Everyone, including hardcore skeptics, have morals because they have an innate sense of morality, and everyone, including hardcore atheists, have an innate sense of morality because they’re made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). A mindless, directionless force cannot give us the innate sense of morality we all have.

Romans 2:14–15 tells us,

“For when Gentiles [nonbelievers] who do not have the Law [of God] do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”

Yet, though we’re made in God’s image, we suppress his innate moral law because we love our sin.

Romans 1:20-25 tells us,

“For his [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and … they exchanged the truth about God for a lie…”

As Tolstoy said, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.”

 

MORALLY SCHIZOPHRENIC

The skeptic cannot stay consistent with his moral claims, because he’s morally schizophrenic. He’s made in the image of God and has God’s moral law inside him, but he also loves his sin and wants to be his own god, so he also attempts to suppress God’s moral law. On one hand, he says morals are personal opinions, but on the other hand he declares vehemently his moral outrage and he wants us all to listen and agree. On one hand, he overlooks the murder of human life in the womb, but then expresses outrage at the murder of an infant. He declares mutual consent is the only sexual moral rule, yet he’s disgusted by incest by consenting adults. He believes we’re only biological machines evolved to pass on our genes, yet he is morally appalled by rape.

Sometimes skeptics accuse Christians of only being “good” because they fear God’s wrath. First, those who understand the gospel of Jesus Christ know we’re saved not by our own actions, but by the work of Christ. Thus, we don’t fear eternal condemnation, and we don’t (and can’t) earn salvation. Since we are saved by faith in Christ and God’s grace alone, there’s nothing more we can earn with our “good” actions (Ephesians 2:3-9; Romans 6:23, 11:6). Since our salvation is not based on our own works, but the work of Christ, we are secure in our salvation.

Secondly, those who understand the God of the Bible have a proper fear of him, but this isn’t the primary reason we obey his moral law. We obey God because he loved us when we were in rebellion against him and dead in our sins. God became a man and was tortured and killed to free us from sin so we can spend eternity with him. Love of Christ compels a Christian much, much more than fear. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

If there is a God, there are universal, objective morals. If not, all morals are subjective – based on personal feelings, tastes, or opinions. There is no such thing as how things “ought” to be. Without God, it just is what it is.

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EVOLVING MORALS

If naturalistic, materialistic, atheistic evolution is all there is then we have to face this fact: A mindless, directionless force does not and cannot create meaning or morals, nor can it explain our innate sense of morality.

If naturalistic, materialistic, atheistic evolution is all there is, there is no larger meaning than survival. If atheistic evolution is all there is, eat, drink, and be merry because this is as good as it gets. If atheistic evolution is all there is, then life is directionless, random, and pointless. If atheistic evolution is all there is, then – at best – life’s goal is to pass on our genes. And why should we even care about passing on our genes? We’re only here a short time – maybe about 90 years if we’re lucky. What’s it matter if my genes live on after me or not?

In other words, when you give your spouse a Valentine’s Day card, be sure to explain that you only care for him or her because you need him or her to pass on your genes, and the “love” you feel is just an illusion of the chemicals firing off in your brain (and loins). When you tuck in your kids at night, tell them something similar.

An atheistic evolutionist can make all the moral claims he wants, but when you get down to it all he’s giving are the personal preferences that are programmed into the meat computer we call his brain.

“Sexism is wrong,” he shouts.

Who cares. We’re random, happy accidents with only 90 years to live. I got better things to worry about.

“Since we’re here for only a short time, we should allow everyone to make the most of it.”

Why? I’m only looking out for one person: me.

“That guy is a scumbag. He has four kids to different women, and he doesn’t pay any child support.”

Good for him. He’s passing on his genes and enjoying life. That guy has it figured out.

 

FINDING MEANING IN MEANINGLESSNESS

In the past, when I’ve pointed this out to skeptics, I’ve had a few say something like, “I make my own meaning.” But this itself is a meaningless statement. How can you make meaning in a world devoid of meaning? A person’s self-made meaning only extends as far as that person’s self-delusion; don’t expect anyone else to buy into your personal “meaning.” (And if life really is meaningless, then the only way to be happy is to ignore the truth. So is truth the enemy of happiness?)

Everyone’s favorite atheist, Richard Dawkins has said, “There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”

But that same man also wrote, “The universe we observe has … no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”

Mr. Dawkins, sir, you speak so beautifully you can lull a water buffalo to sleep, but you’re a moral schizophrenic. You worldview cannot stand.

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Or, take a moment to watch this 2-minute “Big Think” Youtube video by atheist physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss where he says human life is “more insignificant than we can possibly imagine,” “an accident in a remote corner of the universe,” and he even reminds us of the imminent death of all life in the universe. But then he goes on to explain how this makes humans “more precious” and we should find meaning in life, including in art and music. To be honest, I laughed aloud when I first watched this video.

With Krauss’s atheistic worldview, he can fairly say: Life is meaningless, so enjoy the time you have. No problem there; no inconsistency. But he can’t say: Life is meaningless, so live meaningfully. Do you see the schizophrenia? (Plus, he’s confusing pleasure with meaning. Something can be pleasurable and completely meaningless.)

Krauss — a naturalistic atheist who publicly mocks belief in God — even goes on to use the term “spiritually uplifting”! The image-of-God that is intrinsic in Krauss’s very identity cannot be suppressed. We are designed for worship — and if not God, we’ll worship something else. We see Krauss’s schizophrenic worldview in full-on parade in this 2-minute video.

No meaning = No human value = No morals.

No human value = No meaning = No morals.

No morals = No meaning = No human value.

 

NICE STORY, BRO

Skeptics have attempted to explain morals in a number of naturalistic ways without an absolute, immaterial, unchanging Law-giver. But without an objective moral code with a foundation in unchanging truth, all moral claims crumble under personal preference.

Social Construct – Morals are defined by society.

So, when Nazi Germany proclaimed that it was good to kill Jews, was this morally good because “society” decided this? If the South had won the American Civil War, would slavery be morally good? Was Martin Luther King Jr. immoral for standing up against a racist society? In fact, who decides what part of society defines morals? Does might make right? Does majority rule? Has the majority ever been morally wrong? (Yes!)

Ultimately, saying morals are a social construct still confirms the view that morals are subjective. And if morals are subjective, why do we have to follow them? Peer pressure?

Human Flourishing – Morals Promote Human Advancement

I’ve heard skeptics respond that doing something immoral like, say, eating a baby would doom the human race. But Jonathan Swift’s infamous (satirical) essay A Modest Proposal lays out a compelling argument about how eating babies would actually benefit society. So, who should I believe? Further, if I eat just one baby and no more, will it doom the human race? Absolutely not. Would it be morally wrong still?

Aristotle argued that it was the slave’s nature to be a slave, and thus, it was to the benefit of both society and the slave for the slave to remain a slave. And in ancient Rome, the poor often benefited greatly by selling themselves into slavery. Does this then mean owning a person like property can be morally good?

Also, notice the underlining assumption of this view: human flourishing is good. Why is human flourishing the ultimate good? If we’re just meat machines here by happy accident, what’s it matter if we flourish or not? (But more about that below.)

Good Feelings – Being good is a reward within itself; it makes me feel good.

What if raping others makes someone feel good? Does that make rape for that person morally good? I’m pretty sure most serial killers found pleasure in their work. In other words, what if being “bad” makes me feel “good.” What if what makes someone feel good is stomping on another’s face when she’s grinning after doing something “good”? And again, who defines what is “good”?

Beware of any action justified solely on subjective, personal feelings. And while we’re being morally subjective, let me just ask, Who cares how you feel?

Doing good makes you feel good because you were created in the image of God to honor him.

Evolution – Morals have evolved to help the human species survive.

First, nice story. I’d like to see that proven. Secondly, evolution is based on survival of the fittest. It has no room for niceness. Are you telling me evolution suddenly became a peace-loving hippy?

Christians aren’t going to argue against the idea that working together is better, but without the unchanging moral law of God – again – why should I care? I’m only on this planet for a short time; if ruining other’s lives makes mine better, I’m going to do it. Who can tell me I’m wrong?

You may say some behavior is “best” for everyone – “best” for human flourishing. But how can you be sure? As stated above, Jonathan Swift made a compelling argument on how eating babies, something universally seen as reprehensible, could actually help society. And again, who cares? Who says human flourishing is the ultimate moral good? What if I prefer self-flourishing? Or what if I’m a radical environmentalist and I believe the health of the planet is the greatest good, so humans need to “flourish” less? Or what if passing on my genes most effectively is by destroying a rival society? Survival of the fittest, baby

Philosopher William Lane Craig concludes in his book On Guard, “…if our moral beliefs have been shaped by evolution, then we can’t have any confidence in them because evolution aims, not at truth, but at survival. Our moral beliefs will be selected for their survival value, not for their truth.”

For the Kids – I’m morally good to make the world a better place for my children.

Now, maybe this can make some sense to an atheistic evolutionist because in that worldview passing on your genes may be the only “meaningful” thing someone can do, and making the world a “better” (“better” = “safer”) place will increase the chances of those kids surviving to pass on your genes. But, once again, who cares? If morals are subjective, I can choose not to care for my offspring, and who is anyone to judge me? Making the world a better place is a lot of work and so is raising kids. What if I think it’ll be much easier to pass on my genes if I just impregnate as many women as possible? That seems like a good way to live for many men. Are they wrong? Not according to all worldviews.

 

STABBING BABIES

I once had a hostile skeptic come after me on Twitter. His moral outrage at Christianity was clear, but when I asked him to explain upon what standard he was basing these moral claims, he huffed and hollered but never gave me an answer.

We continued for a while, and for every moral condemnation he made against Christianity, I again asked him why I should listen to anything he had to say if he couldn’t even tell me how he judges anything morally. At closest to explaining, he said it was “complicated.” So, I said I would make it easy for him: “Tell me why it’s wrong to stab a baby.” Yes, this was a bit harsh, but he wasn’t pulling any punches with me either. Again, he hooted and hollered, but he never answered my question despite my persistence.

And that’s the problem. Skeptics can shout all they want about injustice or human rights or bigotry, but they’re not standing on anything. They’re floating up in the air, their legs flailing around, toes pointed, trying to find some ground to stand on, but they have nothing.

Occasionally, you hear of a person who claims to have been a Christian who “lost their faith” because of the evil in the world. Ironically, one of the surest signs that there is a God is the universal outrage we see at evil. If there’s no God, there’s no evil. If there’s no God, it just is what it is.

(Thanks to Jordan Karausky for his feedback, insight, and additions to this article.)

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Related GFTM articles on the moral argument:

Random, Meaningless Morals

Atheists have Morals! (And So Do the Rest of Us)

The Walking Dead & God’s Innate Moral Law

Judge Not? On (In)tolerance & Judgment(al)

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SERIES INTRO:

Christians are often accused of being pompous, arrogant, judgmental, and intolerant.  Often, Christians find their own Scripture being quoted back to them. The most commonly heard verse is:

“Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matt. 7:1)

From those leveling these accusations at Christians, there is truth in what they say, but there is also error.

In this series, we’ve been exploring these accusations, and analyzing humility, tolerance, and related ideas from a biblical worldview, and we will end the series by analyzing the much-used (and over-used) passage of Matthew 7:1.

In the previous articles, we concluded:

CONCEPT #1: All people are image-bearers of God and have eternal worth.

CONCEPT #2: No Christian has earned his or her salvation, so no Christian has a reason to be pompous or arrogant.

CONCEPT #3: All Christians must always speak truth in love.

CONCEPT #4: Like everyone, Christians are imperfect.

As we come near the end of this series, let’s talk about intolerance and judgment…

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On Being Intolerant & Judgmental

Christians are often accused of being judgmental, intolerant, and unloving. We already discussed how Christians, like everyone, are imperfect and things like arrogance and unloving behavior are not a Christian problem – or even a religious problem – but a human problem. On the other hand, I’m by no means letting Christians who do unloving things off the hook. As I said before: they should know better.

Also, we’ve already discussed how all Christians should speak truth in love. This is a matter of tension between Christianity and other worldviews. Simply put, Christians speak what they believe to be true and others don’t like it.  But it’s important to point out that often this conflict between Christianity and others is not just a question of what is true, but what is love.

God is Love. God is Truth.

Christians are not post-modernists or relativists. We believe the all-knowing Creator of the universe has made himself known, and true reality can be known through him and the “renewing of the mind” (Romans 12:2), which only comes through the Holy Spirit. As finite beings, our knowledge is limited, but if an omnipresent, omniscient being reveals truth to us, we can trust that truth. God is love, but God is also the ultimate truth.  Yet often we embrace one and not the other.

For instance, some friends and I were having a friendly on-line debate about traditional vs. untraditional ideas of marriage, and another friend chimed in, simply writing, “God is love,” as if this settled the argument. I replied that his statement wasn’t as simple as it seemed!

What I meant was this: Does love mean indiscriminatingly accepting everything about a person? Let me ask it another way: Is it loving for parents to express disapproval when their children make unwise decisions? Is it loving for a friend to speak up against something harmful a friend is be doing? I would argue that, as parents and friends, often the loving thing to do is to disapprove of harmful choices and point those we care about towards the wiser path.

Speaking truth in love does not mean indiscriminatingly accepting everything another person chooses to do. Likewise, to withhold the truth because of “love” is not being loving at all.

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Lovingly Disagreeing

So, what this comes down to is this: At times, Christians are going to speak truth that others don’t like, but it does not mean it comes from a place of hate. Yes, others have the right to disagree about the truth expressed by Christians, but it’s inaccurate, lazy, and even at times deliberately dishonest to accuse Christians of being unloving for simply speaking what they believe is truth.

The tendency of those who don’t agree with the Christian worldview to accuse Christians of being unloving for simply speaking truth is tiring. Let’s be honest, the Christian worldview is counter-cultural in a lot of ways (at least where I live and compared to the worldview portrayed in popular entertainment and media). So, Christians are going to come into conflict with some popular opinions and beliefs. It’s inevitable.

The question is this:

Can you disagree with a friend and not be arrogant or pompous about it?

Yes.

Can a Christian disagree with a popular opinion and not be arrogant and pompous about it?

Yes.

Can you disagree with a friend and still love that person?

Yes.

Can Christians disagree with a current, popular opinions and still be loving?

Yes.

Let’s put it another way:

Does “I disagree with you” mean “I hate you”?

Of course not.

Disagreement does not equal hate.

If it were the case that disagreement meant hatred, no marriage would have any hope of lasting past the first week. In fact, no relationship would lead to marriage nor would any friendship last!

Yet, this is often how disagreement is portrayed – as hate.

Despite what some want you to believe, disagreement can be because of love, and disagreement can be given in a loving way. (But, chances are, those who don’t want to hear the truth will still not understand it to be loving.)

Intolerant Tolerance

It has been my experience that those screaming the loudest that Christians are judgmental or intolerant don’t really understand what those words mean.

Either that or they’re shrewdly manipulating the meaning of the words because, as George Orwell taught us long ago, if you can manipulate words, you can manipulate minds.

If this is the intention of some, then their efforts have been largely successful.

“Judgmental” is a word nearly universally considered to have negative connotations nowadays. To be labeled judgmental is almost on the same level as being labeled a bigot or racist, implying (once again) that judgment equals hate.

Unfortunately, there is some truth in this idea, and I see it increasing steadily within our lifetime, I think, because of this dangerous assumption. Many people believe that disagreement with another means that they must hate that person also. Likewise, if someone (X) tells someone else (Z) that he is wrong, then Z assumes X hates him.

What I find most troubling is that this mindset leads many to wrongly think we can’t just disagree; people must go further and condemn the person as a whole for their beliefs. Instead of saying, “I strongly disagree with your views and here’s why…” we say things like “You’re an idiot for thinking that” or other name-calling.

Now, that is the definition of “intolerance.”

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Christian Worldview in Secular Culture

Perhaps in other worldviews, this behavior can be justified, but as we discussed before, Christians must flee from falling into this trap themselves, not just because it’s destructive, but because our Lord commands it.

There is no place for this in the Christian worldview. Reducing someone to below you because they have a different view than you is denying that he or she is an image-bearer of God. It’s dehumanizing, no matter how sure one feels the other person’s views are wrong.

On the other hand, I’ve also witnessed Christians abused by this sort of behavior. Christian values are going to bring them into conflict with popular culture concerning many things, including sex, sexuality, abortion, right-to-life issues, and the exclusivist religious claims of Christianity. And because of this, Christians have been called bigots, close-minded, judgmental, intolerant, stupid, and worse.

“Tolerance” is respecting those you disagree with. That is the very definition of tolerance. Tolerance is not blindly affirming every opinion every person holds. Such mentality only leads to absurdity and chaos because differing opinions contradict each other, and where there are contradictions, everyone cannot be right.

Often when someone starts throwing around the intolerance accusations, what they’re really saying is “I don’t like your opinion,” and instead of respectfully opening a dialogue with the other person, they simply label that person bigoted or stupid.

Disagreement doesn’t make one intolerant. Dehumanizing someone through name-calling and refusing to respectfully consider their views is intolerant.

* * *

In the 6th and final part of this series, we’ll continue from right here and look closely at the famous verse:

“Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matt. 7:1)

But for now, that brings us to Concept #5:

CONCEPT #1: All people are image-bearers of God and have eternal worth.

CONCEPT #2: No Christian has earned his or her salvation, so no Christian has a reason to be pompous or arrogant.

CONCEPT #3: All Christians must always speak truth with love.

CONCEPT #4: Like everyone, Christians are imperfect.

CONCEPT #5: Disagreement is not intolerance or hate.

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GOD FROM THE MACHINE has published it’s first book! Searching the Bible for Mother God is for educating and evangelizing those in the growing “Mother God cult.” Visit our page here.

**Read PART 1 of “Judge Not? Human Worth” here.**

**Read PART 2 of “Judge Not? Christian Humility” here.**

**Read PART 3 of “Judge Not? Truth in Love” here.**

**Read PART 4 of “Judge Not? On Christian Arrogance” here.**

Bible Secrets Re-revealed! How Do We Differentiate Between What is Scripture & Other Ancient, Religious Writings?

**How did the ancient church know what to consider Scripture?**

SERIES INTRO: Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous.  Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show.  It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge.  The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface.  So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.

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How do we know the right books are included in Bible?

Often skeptics and TV shows like Bible Secrets Revealed make a big deal about other ancient writings not in the Bible that include Jewish or Christian themes or may even include biblical characteristics or people.  Often the mistaken idea they’re promoting is that these written works are just as worthy of being Scripture but the church excluded them for some unscrupulous reason.

My question is, Why does everything have to be a conspiracy?  (The obvious answer: scandals sell.)  The truth is usually much less scandalous (and exciting).

Think of it this way: If I write a story involving Adam, Eve, Moses, Paul, and the angel Gabriel, and I even include some Christianity-themed lessons in it, does that mean it’s Scripture?  Of course not!  Likewise, just because an ancient piece of writing has biblical elements, it does not immediately make it Scripture worthy of the Bible.

It also should be noted, some of these works not included in the Bible teach flat-out heresy, but others may still be considered faithful books that teach biblical truths, but this still doesn’t make them Scripture.  They may be great reads for historical or religious insight (or just for quality entertainment), and, as I said, they may even include a lot of godly truth.  But they’re still not scripture, any more than works by, say, C.S. Lewis, John Piper, or Tim Keller are scripture. All 3 men are godly men who are wise in the Lord, and reading their books will benefit you, but their writings still do not hold the authority of Scripture.

So, why were some ancient writings considered Scripture and others not?

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THE NEW TESTAMENT

There are primary 3 requirements a written work must meet in order to be considered New Testament Scripture:

1.  Apostolic Authority

2.  Universality

3.  Orthodoxy

Apostolic Authority

First: Is the work written by an apostle of Jesus or by someone closely associated with an apostle of Jesus?  For example, John and Matthew were apostles of Jesus, but Mark was a disciple of the Apostle Peter, and Luke was a close companion of the Apostle Paul.

If a work was written long after the time period when the apostles lived, then it obviously cannot be closely related to an apostle.  No book in the New Testament is more than two persons removed from Jesus; thus, if the writer was not an eyewitness himself, he recorded the teachings of an eyewitness.

Universal & Orthodox

Next: Is the work universal and orthodox?  Do the teachings of the work apply to the whole Christian church, not just to specific sects or denominations (or cults)?  And are the teachings in line with traditional beliefs as given by Jesus and the apostles?

For example, many of the Gnostic Gospels taught things that were contradictory to the four earliest Gospels and the letters of Paul, which are the earliest Christian writings.  The Gnostic Gospels were also written long after the apostles lived, so they obviously don’t have apostolic authority.  (More about the Gnostic Gospels below.)

Likewise, failure to meet these simple standards is one of the reasons (among many) that current, traditional Christian churches consider, for instance, the Book of Mormon heresy.

To give another example, the only reason the TV show Bible Secrets Revealed gives for the ancient work The Protoevangelium of James not being included in the New Testament is that the work focuses on Mary, so it would have to be placed before the Gospels in the New Testament and it would take too much time for a reader to get to Jesus!

This is an absurd assumption!  Even the TV show tells us that The Protoevangelium of James was written 100 years after the life of James.  This alone would exclude it from being written by an apostle or during the time of the apostles.  Further, the teachings aren’t in line with the undisputed works of the New Testament, such as the 4 Gospels and the majority of Paul’s letters.

Interesting to note, we do have a book in the New Testament that meets the requirements for Scripture that was written by James, the brother of Jesus.

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THE OLD TESTAMENT

Why are the “hundreds” of other ancient Hebrew manuscripts not included in the Old Testament, like The Life of Adam and Eve and The Book of Jubilees?

 

The Old Testament was written so long ago, it’s hard to know the exact details, but various prophets of God – like Moses, David, Solomon, and Isaiah – wrote the books of the Old Testament.  If the ancient Jews recognized a certain book to be Scripture, they must’ve had good reason, such as the writer was a prophet.  The Old Testament itself gives us insight on how they recognized prophets:

“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my [God’s] name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

There is no evidence from Old Testament times – or any other times – of any other Hebrew works being considered as authoritative and sacred like the books included in the Old Testament.  Some books that are in the Old Testament were disputed, but the major works never were.  Further, no other books were ever considered to be worthy of placement into the Old Testament canon by the Jews.

Based on the evidence, the only works ever considered to be worthy of inclusion in the Old Testament are in the Old Testament.  Further, Jesus and the New Testament writers only refer to works found in our present Old Testament specifically as Scripture.

Forgery = Pseudepigrapha

Why is Enoch 1 not considered part of the biblical canon, but it’s part of the Ethiopian Orthodox church’s canon?

 

The ancient writing called Enoch 1 is what is called an Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a work attributed to an ancient Old Testament patriarch or important figure who lived long before the work was written.  Thus, it’s a forgery and the author is unknown.  Interestingly, Jude, in his letter in the New Testament, does quote 1 Enoch, but he doesn’t call it Scripture.  Further, there’s no evidence that the Jews ever considered Enoch 1 Scripture.

Thus, it appears the Ethiopian church is incorrect in including Enoch 1 in their Bible.

1 Enoch and other Pseudepigraphaical works are useful in some ways, but they’re still not to be considered on the same level of authority as Scripture.  Other Pseudepigraphaical works, as well as the Apocrypha, have never been considered sacred, divine scripture by the Jews.

The Apocrypha is comprised of Old Testament works (written in Greek) that are included in the Roman Catholic Bible and Eastern Orthodox Bible but not in the Protestant or Jewish Bibles.  In fact, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t make the Apocrypha officially part of their Bible until 1546 in response to the Protestant Reformation.

 Apocrypha

New Testament Forgeries

Why is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which is written by Jesus’ brother, not included in the New Testament, but the letters of James and Jude, other writings by Jesus’ brothers, are in the New Testament?  Is it only because the Infancy Gospel of Thomas has “scandalous” stories about Jesus, which the church did not want people to know?

Bible Secrets Revealed makes it sound like the only reason the church didn’t include the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the New Testament is because it has “scandalous” information in it, but notice that the show also dates the writing of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in 125 AD.  This late date alone is the problem and a “deal-breaker” of whether the Infancy Gospel of Thomas should be in the New Testament or not.

All of the New Testament was written by the end of the First Century – by at least 100 AD.  The Gospel of John is widely considered the last Gospel of the New Testament to be written, sometime around 95 AD.  Since the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written around 125 AD, it was written too long after the events to be considered a candidate for inclusion in the New Testament.

Eyewitnesses or close associates of eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry wrote the four Gospels included in the New Testament.  If the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written in 125 AD, it wasn’t written when those who knew Jesus Christ were still alive.  Therefore, Jesus’ brother Thomas couldn’t have written it.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is another pseudepigraphic writing, because it falsely claims its writer is a key figure in Jewish/Christian history.  It’s also considered a Gnostic Gospel.  Gnostics mixed pagan philosophy with Christian beliefs.  They believed the physical world was evil, so God couldn’t have come in the flesh.

Along with the late dates of origin for the Gnostic Gospels, their contents alone illustrate these so-called gospels didn’t belong with the traditional teachings of Christianity.  Finally, no Gnostic document was ever considered worthy for inclusion in the New Testament.

One Last Important Point 

Finally, it must be pointed out that the biblical truths given by the prophets and apostles were confirmed by godly signs and miracles.  To explore this further, two of my earlier articles may help:

Why is God’s Presence So Obvious in the Bible but Not Today?

Is the Bible Any More Accurate than Other Religious Texts?

Other articles in this series:

Did Constantine compose the New Testament?

Did God have a wife?

Could Jesus & the Disciples Read & write?

Was the Oral History Before the Gospels Were Written Reliable?

Has the Bible Been Lost in the Translation?

SOURCE & RECOMMENDED:

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Bible Secrets Re-revealed! Is Oral History Reliable? How Long After Jesus Was He Written About?

***How do we know the stories about Jesus that were passed on orally before the New Testament was written were not changed?**

SERIES INTRO: Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous.  Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show.  It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge.  The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface.  So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.

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HOW LONG AFTER?

Concerning the Gospels, how long after the events took place were they written down?  Weren’t they written too long after the fact to be trusted?

The earliest known manuscript fragment from the New Testament is from one of the Gospels, the Gospel of John.  It is nicknamed the John Rylands papyrus fragment, and it is dated to the first half of the second century – about 125 AD.  So, based solely on this fragment, this would put the time span between when the events of Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion happened and when they were recorded at at least 95 years.  Based on internal evidence and other factors, the majority of scholars believe John was actually written earlier, at about 95 AD, which would put it within 60 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.

John’s Gospel was written last of the Gospels, so the other three Gospels were written earlier.  The majority of scholars agree that Mark was the first Gospel written, in about 70 AD.  This would put it within 40 years of the events recorded about in the Gospels.  The vast majority of New Testament scholars, even skeptical ones like Bart Ehrman, have all four Gospels written by about 95 AD.  (Most scholars also agree all of the other books of the New Testament were written by that time too.  Paul’s letters, the earliest written works in the New Testament, were written in the  late 40’s, the 50’s, and early 60’s.)  Thus, the four Gospels were all written between 70 and 95 AD — 40 to 60 years after Jesus was crucified.

The important thing to note here is all books of the New Testament were written in the lifetime of the eyewitnesses.  It appears it was when the original apostles started dying off — primarily through martyrdom — that the first Christians decided to create some written accounts.

Papias, a second-century bishop in Asia Minor, is quoted in a church history written in the fourth-century by Eusebius that the Apostle John conveyed to him that Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark based on information gained from the Apostle Peter.  Papias said Mark was “Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord.”  Mark recorded “the Lord’s oracles” and was careful “to leave out nothing” and “make no false statements.”  So, the Apostle John passed on to Papias that Mark wrote his Gospel based on the Apostle Peter’s testimony, and Eusebius recorded all of this in his history.

WHO WROTE THE GOSPELS?

It’s very unlikely that the church would make up Mark as an author because he was not a prominent person in the early church, and, in fact, there is information about him in the New Testament that does not portray him in a good light, because he abandoned one of Paul’s missions.  In fact, later, Paul and Barnabas actually have a serious dispute about whether Mark should be taken on another missionary journey, and Paul refuses to take him (Acts 13:13; 15:36-39).  If the church founders were going to invent an author for the first Gospel to be written, why would they choose Mark unless it were true?  Why not attribute it to someone notable like Peter or Paul?  In fact, why did they not just attribute writings in the New Testament to Jesus himself?  Likewise, Luke was not an original apostle, but a companion of Paul.

Jesus’ actual disciples John and Matthew wrote the Gospels of John and Matthew.  Again, this means that the Gospels were written within the lifetime of those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection.  Some skeptical scholars would say there is no way for us to know for certain who wrote the Gospels, but any and all evidence we have points towards the four authors the church has always attributed their writing to.  In order to dispute this, there must be evidence, not just speculation, but there is no other evidence implying other authors.  The four Gospels have always been attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

As mentioned above, Mark’s Gospel was written first, around 70 AD, which puts its writing within 40 years of Jesus’ crucifixion, but some scholars believe all of the Gospels were written earlier, before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  Regardless, a “broad range of studies” has confirmed that both oral and written historical traditions within “roughly 80 to 150 years of the event recorded” are commonly found to be reliable.

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ORAL HISTORY

How do we know the information about Jesus was not corrupted before the Gospels were written?  Weren’t they first just oral traditions, and can’t oral traditions be easily corrupted?

When modern, literate people think of oral histories and traditions being passed along, they often think of it like that game “Telephone” we played as kids, where one kid would whisper something into someone’s ear, and then the kid who received it would pass it down the line; then, once the last kid gets the message, it has been totally corrupted.  Truth is, “Telephone” is nothing like how oral histories and traditions are passed on in oral cultures.

The traditional teachings of Jesus Christ and the Apostles was first passed on orally and perhaps in written form for a few decades before they were written out as the four Gospels in the New Testament as we know them.  The four Gospels show similarities with each other, suggesting that the writers sometimes used the same sources.  For example, many scholars believe in the existence of a pre-Gospel written work called “Q,” which may have recorded the sayings of Jesus.  It’s a commonly held theory that Matthew and Luke both used Q as a source because of similarities, but not Mark.

There is also evidence of a possible earlier version of Matthew in Hebrew/Aramaic before the Greek version that we know today.  With this, each Gospel also includes unique material none of the other three Gospels have, showing that the writers all gathered information independently as well.

Modern studies of oral cultures have revealed the community would have been collectively involved in preserving the stories and teachings of Jesus.  Empirical evidence has shown that living oral traditions in Central Asia, India, Africa, and Oceania have very long oral epics and narratives that are able to be repeated accurately — some lasting up to twenty-five hours carried out over several days!

One of my professors, Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, researched customs among the Lakota people of North and South Dakota.  Their story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, who brought the first ceremonial pipe to the Native Americans, is more than a century old, and none of the multiple story-tellers ever knew the story in written form; yet they all told the story in “remarkably similar” ways, varying only in “inconsequential details.”

Furthermore, since the community also knows the histories, they hold the speaker accountable for telling the information accurately.  All of these cultures clearly separate oral material into two categories: historical (which was not allowed to be changed by the teller) and fictional storytelling (which could be altered according to the speaker’s will).

Thus, oral communities have “checks and balances that ensure that the substance of historically oriented oral tradition is not distorted or lost.”  In fact, some believe the oral histories of such cultures are more reliable than written histories because of these community checks and balances.

In Jesus’ culture, a culture much more oral than ours today (since it was long before the printing press and the internet), written records were often secondary to spoken narratives.  People were much more likely to memorize things than write them down.  Oral history was much more likely to be trusted because a person was connected to it, and other people could be traced back from it.  Written records, on the other hand, sometimes could not.

In fact, written records probably were shared along with an oral history to go with it.  This mindset can be seen in the New Testament as the writers are often pointing the readers to eyewitnesses that can confirm what they have written.

For example, see 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, which is the earliest oral tradition recorded in the New Testament:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:

that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 

and that He was buried,

and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

and that He appeared to Cephas,

then to the twelve.

After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;

then He appeared to James,

then to all the apostles.”

Other articles in this series: Did Constantine compose the New Testament? & Did God have a wife? & Could Jesus & the Disciples Read?

SOURCES & RECOMMENDED:

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Why I, a Christian, Am in Favor of the OK Capitol Satanic Monument

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Recently, new attention has been brought to the separation-of-church-and-state debate when, in response to a Ten Commandments monument placed at the Capitol Building in Oklahoma City in 2012, the Satanic Temple in NYC began an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to put up their own monument.  Then, a few weeks ago, they garnered more attention when they released the design for their Satanic monument: Baphomet, a goat-headed creature with wings, sitting in front of a pentagram with two children at its sides — an album cover-worthy image of any one of my favorite metal bands from the 1980’s.

Basically, the Satanic Temple’s argument goes like this: Either take down the Ten Commandments or we have the right to put up the Satanic monument.

The organization American Atheists had a similar strategy when a group of private citizens raised money and placed a Ten Commandments monument outside a courthouse in Florida.  When the Ten Commandments monument wasn’t removed, American Atheists raised money and placed their own monument at the courthouse in the summer of 2013.

Atheist-Monument

Granted, maintaining a separation of church and state in a country that guarantees freedom of speech and religion, a democratic country (therefore, ruled by the people – people primarily with religious convictions), is tricky business – actually, I would say impossible – but I humbly forgo the bulk of the debate about the correct implications and interpretations of those crucial characteristics of our country here.  I’m not the right guy for that debate.

(Though I would like to throw out one question before moving on: Why do people in NYC have any say about public land in OK?)

Yet concerning the case of the proposed (threatened–?) Satanic monument at the OK Capitol Building, I would like to weigh in.  So, I say thus:

Put it up.

Here are my reasons why I think a Satanic monument in OK is… well, OK:

(1) It’s only fair.

If we live in a democratic country with freedom of religion and speech and if a group of private citizens decide to put up a monument to honor Satan, then they have the right.  To quote someone much more famous than me: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”  If they want to erect said monument on public, instead of private, land and other faiths have been allowed to erect monuments to their faith on this public land, again, it’s only fair.  So, let them put it up.

(2) Religious monuments – especially Satanic ones – will promote discussions about religion, faith, and God.

Where I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that any publicity is good publicity, any controversy gives Christians an opportunity to speak about their faith.  I doubt the Ten Commandments monument in OK would’ve made national news or caught the interest of social media, yet the Satanic Temple in NYC has given Christians a platform to discuss their faith.  Thanks.  Put it up.

(3) If Satan exists, so does God.

By erecting a monument to Satan, the Satanic Temple of NYC is affirming God, the Bible, and a realm of our existence that transcends the physical world.  And what better reminder of the presence of a holy, good, and just God than a symbolic idol of evil set up for all to see?  Put it up.

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(4) Satanist should be allowed to have monuments on public land, but atheists should not.

Now, this isn’t because I have anything personal against atheists, but I say this according to their own logic.  Many atheists have made it perfectly clear that atheism is not a religion.  I agree.  Furthermore, outspoken atheists have made it very clear that those of us who believe in God are the ones with beliefs, not them, and the burden of proving the existence of God is on us.  If fact, many atheists even resent being labeled “atheists” because it implies there is a God to disbelieve.  A quote in Psychology Today sums up their argument nicely: “I refuse to identify according to what I reject.  I don’t believe in astrology or unicorns, but I don’t label myself according to that – so why should I identify according to my rejection of god-belief?”  Fair enough.  Thus, atheists don’t exist.

So, please immediately remove the American Atheists monument at the courthouse in Florida.

One may argue that groups without religious affiliations also have the right to put up monuments, but that doesn’t concern us here since the belief-formally-known-as-atheism doesn’t exist.  How can we have a monument to something that doesn’t exist or to something that’s not a belief?  A monument to nothing?  Absurdity.  So, take it down.

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(5) Their true goal is more about stifling faith than promoting freedom of speech.

The true goal of many of these aggressive secular groups is to banish all things of faith from sight, as seen in the case of the 13-foot cross set up by a group of marines (not some government institution) at Camp Pendleton in California to commemorate their fellow soldiers who had been killed or injured in combat.  The atheist group MAAF demanded the cross be taken down even though I know of no reports that other faiths had been forbidden from erecting similar monuments.

The true strategy of some of these groups is not to put up a monument to counter every religious monument in the country (because, let’s be honest, they would fail miserably), but to encourage other groups to erect monuments and so clutter up public land that local governments will ban all such monuments.  In an article on the American Atheists monument in Florida, the New York Times reports, “But building monuments to atheism from sea to shining sea is not really their goal. They figure that once atheists join the fray, every other group under the sun will demand the same privilege — including some that Christians might find objectionable, like pagans and Satanists.  In the end, the atheists hope, local governments and school boards will decide that it is simpler to say no to everyone.”  Furthermore, many of these “Satanist” groups are not Satan-worshippers; they’re simply angry atheists.  Go to their websites and read their beliefs to see.

So, put it up.  Let the great monument contest begin!  Let’s make America so cluttered with monuments that it’ll rival ancient Rome.  Heck, once we banish monuments to the belief-formerly-known-as-atheism, militant unbelievers will react by pretending they worship spaghetti monsters and such to mock those with faith in God, but let them put their idols up anyway.  Their monuments won’t serve as a mockery of belief in God, but a mockery of our Constitution and the freedom of faith and speech it protects.

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(6) There’s no neutral stance.

Whether you like it or not, or you think you care about it or not, there is no neutral stance when it comes to the God debate.  Militant atheists and so-called Satanists want the world to believe that Christians and others who believe in God are the ones forcing their beliefs on others.  But no culture in the entire history of the world has ever been atheistic.  Interestingly, all these diverse faiths have a belief in a creator, an afterlife, a sense of their own sins being offensive to their creator, and a need for reconciliation.  That means if the naturalistic atheist is right, and humans evolved solely by a long series of random, happy accidents and spread throughout the world into thousands of diverse cultures, we’re to believe they all developed some sort of understanding of God by sheer coincidence.  It seems to me if the militant atheists were right, belief in God would be the exception, not the norm, yet atheism is the exception — vastly.

If outspoken atheists want to convince us that unbelief in God is the true state of humans, then they’re going to have to explain away the search to understand God by every culture since the dawn of man.  No matter what the situation, humans always return to pursuing God.  Even in Communist countries where religion was outlawed, people have continued to search for God despite the high risk of harsh persecution.  Ironically, even ardent atheists can’t help but return to the patterns of religion as seen by the movements to start atheist churches, by the presence of atheist chaplains at colleges and in the military, and, yes, even the making of symbols of their beliefs in the form of monuments.

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The greatest irony is certain atheists want us to believe we’re all the product of random, mindless chance — we’re stardust that became creatures; we’re an advanced accident of cells — but they want us to believe life still has meaning.  Meaning can’t come from random, mindless forces.  If the atheistic materialist is right, freewill, love, and even your mind don’t exist; they’re just illusions; they’re all just chemicals firing off in your brain.  You’re not thinking; you’re just responding to stimuli.  So, if this upsets you, don’t be mad at me because I can’t help writing this.  I’m just a flesh computer and this is how I’m programmed.

Militant Atheists desperately want their rights, but why does a cosmic accident deserve any rights?  If I shove a person into traffic instead of listening to him, it’s just one accident running into another.  The chemicals in my brain made me do it; it’s nothing personal.  And can you prove your rights please? — Because I have never seen, touched, tasted, smelled, or felt a right before and if I can’t see, touch, taste, smell, or see it, I don’t believe in it — because no strictly material process can birth immaterial things – like rights.

There’s no neutral stance.  So, put up the Satanic monument.  Let’s remind everyone that there’s a spiritual war going on.  Let the Satanists slap nominal, cultural Christianity in the face and say, “Decide what you believe and pick a side, but you can’t be lukewarm anymore.”  Let’s throw a bucket of cold water on those Christians who stay safe in their Christian bubbles and remind them of the adversity that’s out there – yes, there’s opposition; yes, there’s hostility; and yes, there’s even evil.  Put it up.

I want to be perfectly clear that I am NOT labeling atheists as evil.

Many of my friends don’t follow God but are fantastic, beautiful, loving, thoughtful people.  But I have this to say: Just like the nominal, cultural Christians, you have to make a choice.  And I want you to see that the way you live right now in your unbelief is in a way that shows there’s a God.  You live as people who believe there’s meaning to life, that people have rights and value, that there’s beauty in the world, and that friends are worth dying for.  Your thoughts aren’t the thoughts of something that somehow became living from lifeless, mindless matter and developed by chance into an advanced accident that ponders its own existence.  You are more than flesh machines.

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There is no neutral stance in scripture.  Jesus clearly stated whoever is not with him is against him (Matt 12:30; Luke 9:50, 11:23).  He wasn’t the all-affirming hippy modern Americans try to make him out to be.  Jesus speaks of hell more than any other person in the Bible; he understood the cost of sin so much that he was tortured and died because of it.

There is no “grey-area” in scripture.  We all fall short of godliness.  We are all sinners, and sin separates us from a perfectly good, just God.  But God became man, lived the perfect life we never could, and took the punishment when he didn’t need to — for us — so we could be united with him.  This is a free gift, but all gifts must be accepted.  That’s all you need to do; you don’t have to earn it and you don’t have to be “good” in order to accept it because none of us, Christians included, are wholly good.

There is no neutral stance.  Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).  We are either slaves to sin or we are set free through Christ.

Some people who are opposed to God have honest intellectual questions that need answering.  I understand that.  I was an atheist longer than I have been a Christian.  Christians need to be ready to gently and humbly answer them, and if they can’t, they should be honest about it and find someone who can.

Some people are opposed to belief in God because of emotional reasons.  The church has hurt many.  Christians need to humbly acknowledge this and give apologies.  But those hurt must also realize that Christians are imperfect sinners too.  Just as we find the sick in hospitals, we find sinners in churches.  Christians need to do a better job of representing God, but also remember they aren’t God.  Don’t reject God because of Christians.

Finally, some reject God for reasons of their will — because admitting there is a God is admitting that there is more to life than what they want to believe.  Admitting there is a God brings with it a certain responsibility, a certain way of understanding the world, and a humbling and admitting you’re not the center of the universe.

A person may reject God for any of these reasons or for all of them.  When I was an atheist, my rejection of God was a combination of all three.

So, put up the Satanist monument.  Let’s start the discussion.  Let the “Satanists” shove Satan in our collective faces because, to quote something said in a movie by someone a lot more famous than me: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

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