Sunday, June 14, 2009

So I've been out of the blogosphere for quite some time. I think it's been about two and a half months now. That has makes it difficult to get going again (the law of intertia and all), but alas...
The last couple of months have been extremely full and difficult ones with things going on in the church and in life in general. However, because of all the goings on I have had a large number of thoughts triggered as my mind has been going 100 mph consistently for the last few months. In fact, there was a bit of a stretch at the end where I was falling asleep around 1am and waking up by 5am each day with my mind going full speed and my prayer flying wild. It was not until this past Monday, the 8th, that it really hit me that I was now passed the crux of the past two months. This actually sunk in when I realized that for the first time in a few months I was excited to begin the week ahead of me. Thank you, Lord!
I know that I won't be able to recapture all the various thoughts that have tumbled over and over in my mind, but there was one that God continually brought back to my mind for several weeks time after time again. It's something that lodged in my mind and heart when I was reading through Matthew 6 back in March. It's a verse likely familiar to you.
"Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
I read that and it honestly makes me laugh. Each day has enough trouble of its own... including tomorrow! That's exactly why I DO worry! But Jesus indicates that God provides for my needs today. He already sees tomorrow and will provide for me as that trouble arises as well. He is the God of past, present, and future. His provision remains sufficient for today, and He will still be God tomorrow. There are things that will remain uneffected no matter how hard I wish for them to change or attempt to force them to. I waste my time and energy when I vainly struggle in body, mind, or spirit to change that over which I have no power . And in the mean time there are things God places before me to accomplish today... people to talk to... service to perform... truth to share... grace to extend... gifts to use with good stewardship. And if I waste my time worrying about the trouble tomorrow will bring, I will not be focused on that which God has given me the strength to accomplish for His kingdom today. This is a difficult lesson for me to learn, and I am definitely not convinced that I practiced it as well as I would have liked over the last couple of months. However, I can say with more confidence than before that God continues to provide exactly what is needed at the appropriate time, not a minute sooner or later. And for that I give Him the glory. And so...
"Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Monday, March 30, 2009

I was just thinking about a project that our church is headed into and a certain set of verses came to mind. We have been working through the book of Acts in the sermon series this year and a certain verse in Acts 20 stuck out to me. It's one that has often grabbed my attention and I was reminded of it once again. In verses 26 and 27 Paul tells the Ephesians, "Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of every one's blood, for I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God." For two reasons this is a powerful proclamation when I stop to think about it.

First, Paul seems to indicate that he is accountable for everyone. He will either be declared guilty of or innocent of their blood... of the judgement or deliverance that falls on them. Why?! Isn't it unfair?! Doesn't God judge people for their own actions?! Why would Paul, or I for that matter, be responsible for the judgement or deliverance people experience at God's hand?!

The first indication of why Paul is held accountable is found in Romans 1:14-15a "I am obligated both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish. So I am eager to preach the good news..." Apparently he is under some sort of obligation to everyone that he meets. And this obligation prompts his eagerness to be a witness to the reality of Jesus' resurrection. He eagerly tells people of Jesus, because he is compelled to do so by an urgency I often forget about. This is the same obligation that God explained to the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 33. He compares Ezekiel to a watchman on a city wall with an approaching army of destruction. He says, "When you hear a word from My mouth, give them a warning from Me. If I say to the wicked: Wicked one, you will surely die, but you do not speak out to warn him about his way, that wicked person will die for his iniquity, yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. But if you warn a wicked person to turn from his way and he doesn't turn from it, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have saved your life." The striking parallel in terminology leads me to believe that Paul understood he was under the same sort of obligation that God placed on Ezekiel... the watchman.

Here's the thing... God explains that He will hold people accountable for the truth He has given them. If we truly believe we have found the only one who can deliver us, we have an obligation to share that with others. If we keep silent and judgement befalls them, we are held responsible by God... in short, their blood is on our hands. That is why Paul is eager to share the gospel with people. He sees the judgement that awaits, and so he takes the responsibility of being a watchman very seriously. He eagerly warns everyone around him of pending judgement as well as the deliverance made possible through the reality of the resurrection of Christ. Paul apparently has a firm grasp on that fact, which is a major motivator for him.

And this brings me to the second observation that I'm hit with by Paul's words in Acts 20. Paul is able to say that he is innocent of every one's blood. The indication here is not that he told every single person about the gospel, but that he did not shy away from any opportunity God opened up. Whenever the Holy Spirit provided Paul with an opportunity to witness to the reality of Christ and the deliverance He brings, Paul took full advantage of it. And I have to examine my life and ask, could I make the same declaration? Am I innocent of the blood of all people? Am I taking advantage of every opportunity God provides to point people to the reality of Jesus?

I'll just wrap this up with a video posted on Youtube by atheist comedian Penn Jillette. It's one that I first saw on J.D.'s blog a few weeks back. And it totally applies to what I've been mulling over today...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

After the three instances we just discussed, the remaining 37 or so variations in the New Testament consist primarily of single words in a given verse. “Did the original text read 'this' or 'that'?” They are definitely not as shocking as the three variations just addressed, which is why Ehrman does not spend much time on these additional variants. They will not really get him any additional conspiracy mileage upon which to sell his book.

He does hint at this fact when he indicates that a typical example of other variants is found in “...Rev. 1:5, where the author prays to 'the one who released us from our sins.' The word for 'released' (LUSANTI) sounds exactly like the word for 'washed' (LOUSANTI), and so it is no surprise that in a number of medieval manuscripts the author prays to the one 'who washed us from our sins.'” (p. 93) But, even in instances like Rev. 1:5 the meaning of the original text is not lost. The ideas of being washed from our sin and being released from our sin are both common biblical concepts that mirror one another. Neither variant shakes the foundations of Christian theology nor provides a different theological meaning of the passage, contrary to what Ehrman would like to imply. Yet this sort of variant, which is slight but has no effect on the message of a text, typifies the 37 remaining variations debated by scholars today. For some reason that just doesn't seem as flashy and scandalous as the “400,000 or more!” with which Ehrman started.

In my mind, this prompts a responding question, “If this is the best that a highly biased skeptic with a publicly admitted agenda and a substantial financial interest in making the Bible seem unreliable can do, then why would I question its reliability?” To the contrary, I am actually encouraged by the arguments of Bart Ehrman in Misquoting Jesus. He brings the worst accusations available against the text of the Bible, and does so in a very misleading and sensational way, and still yet, once a few clarifications are pointed out, his argument is quickly diffused. And the entire New Testament stands unchallenged in its textual authenticity and reliability except for three non-essential passages, which coincidentally are clearly marked in the footnotes of almost any Bible you pick up.

This tells us something very important: anywhere there is not a footnote indicating otherwise, scholars are certain what is written is original. That means that at least 99.5% of the copy of the New Testament in your hands is recognized to be, without a doubt, the words that were originally written 2000 years ago. That is something people like Bart Ehrman definitely do not want the public to realize for two reasons. First, it would hurt their book sales upon which they have built their professional reputations and careers. Second, it means that people, including Ehrman himself, must deal with the words of the Bible as authentic and reliable records. A person is not required to believe the Bible is telling the truth, but its claims cannot be simply brushed aside, unfaced and unanswered, because of a supposed unreliable textual past. This means that any truly honest person must wrestle with the teachings of the New Testament on their own merit, rather than simply discounting them from the start as unreliable writings with all kinds of variations such that there is no way to tell what was originally written. I wonder if that is something Bart Ehrman and most others who level nebulous accusations against the reliability of the biblical text are willing to do.

Here’s the bottom line. It would be extremely difficult for anyone with a good knowledge of the manuscript evidence to argue that the text of the Bible was unreliably transmitted. We have what was originally written by the original authors 2000 years ago.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

We've been looking at the particular passages Bart Ehrman attacks in his book, and I'll look at the third here briefly.

1John 5:7-8.
A few late Latin manuscripts, following verse 7, add the phrase, “ heaven, the Father the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth...” When a 16th Century scholar named Erasmus was compiling Greek manuscripts and practicing textual criticism in the early 1500's he realized that this phrase was not in any Greek or early manuscript. So, he left the phrase out of his Greek compilation. Of course, that was scandalous to some powerful people who were used to reading the Latin copy they had. They felt Erasmus was removing a verse of Scripture, and so Erasmus promised to include it in his compilation if a single Greek manuscript could be found containing the phrase. Miracle of miracles, an “authentic” Greek manuscript was soon found, arguably with the ink still wet. True to his word, but under protest, Erasmus included the phrase in his compilation.

Today this phrase is universally recognized by scholars to be a later addition. The manuscript evidence would seem to indicate that it found its way into the Latin manuscript as a scribe jotted a note to himself in the margin of a text with which he was working. The original verses reminded him of the Trinity and he wrote a note to that effect, similar to the interactive notes people often write in the margins of books today. A few later scribes then thought the note was supposed to be included in the text, and mistakenly inserted it in their Latin texts between verses 7 and 8. (This understanding is so certain that many modern translations will only include this phrase in footnotes at the bottom of the page, not even in brackets within the context of the remaining passage.)

The fact that this phrase is not original does not undermine any major doctrine (e.g. the Trinity) in Scripture, however. For instance, the Trinity is seen in the Genesis creation narrative, where God the Father says, “Let Us create man in Our image.” The Spirit hovers over the deep. And God in the flesh comes to walk with Adam and Eve in the Garden during the cool of the day. The Trinity makes an appearance in the different narratives of Jesus' baptism, where the heavens open, the Father's voice is heard affirming the Son, and the Spirit is seen descending as a dove. Other instances like this make it apparent that the doctrine of the Trinity can be found from the Old Testament to the New. It could not be seriously argued to rest on this phrase alone.

These three instances are by far the most substantial and shocking of the 40 remaining variations at which we arrived above. But these passages are hardly the trade secrets Ehrman would like to make them out to be. To illustrate this fact, I would simply point out that most Bible translations today put these passages in brackets and include a footnote that says something to the effect of, “Early manuscripts do not contain this passage,” or, “It is uncertain that this passage is original.” So if a passage does not have that footnote, then scholars have no question about the words being what was originally written.

After the three instances we just discussed, the remaining 37 variations consist primarily of single words in a given verse. I'll give some examples of those next time.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My uber cool brother and sister-in-law just had their second child, Isabella Kate. Connie started going into labor on Monday and Isabella Kate was born in the wee hours of the A.M. on Tuesday. Congratulations Adam, Connie, and Josiah on the new daughter/sister! Wish I could be there and get to check her out in person. Me and the rest of the Alaska crew love you guys!

By the way, if you want to check out some pictures of my cute niece, just click here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Let's take a moment to look at two of the three largest, most dramatic, most sensational instances of the 40 variations that actually exist. (I'll look at the third next time.) Conveniently Ehrman spends quite a bit of space and ink relishing in these three because they are the most sensational instances to which a person can possibly point in an attempt to undermine a person's confidence in the reliability of the text of Scripture. I'll briefly address them in their canonical order.
Mark 16:9-20.
There is debate as to whether Mark 16:9-20 is part of the original Gospel of Mark. Here is a basic rundown of the facts. All but two Greek manuscripts have verses 9-20 in them. One of those two looks as though verses 9-20 were written down and then someone erased them at a later date. There are a few later manuscripts in other languages which do not have verses 9-20. There are also a few manuscripts which place a small two sentence summary of verses 9-20 after verse 8, in place of verses 9-20. Finally a few manuscripts record all of verses 9-20 before tacking on the two sentence summary of them.
Regardless of whether you decide Mark 16:9-20 is original or not, I will simply point out one fact: unless you are trying to prove that all Christians should drink poison and handle snakes as proof of their spiritual authenticity, there is no doctrine gained or lost in this passage. (And even if you were attempting to prove this belief, Mark 16:9-20 would far from make your case.) The same basic information in the last part of Mark 16 is recorded from slightly different perspectives in the other Gospels and in the first chapter of Acts. And chances are that this passage will be in brackets with a footnote in any Bible you pick up. This is not exactly the ancient, sensational Christian conspiracy Ehrman would like to make it out to be.
John 7:53-8:12.
The woman caught in adultery is a favorite story among many believers. People love to quote the line, “He who has no sin throw the first stone.” We love to guess as to what Jesus started writing in the dirt as he knelt down. Somehow this story seems so similar to what we see elsewhere of Jesus, that it is hard to believe it may not be part of the original text. However, its position as original is highly in doubt. In summary, this story is missing in many manuscripts. In some manuscripts it is present, but with an asterisk in the margin before and after it, not too unlike the brackets and footnote you will likely find in your Bible translation if you turn to this passage. Other manuscripts place it at the very end of John, tacked on as an appendix that doesn't fit within but is too good to leave out. And to make matters more interesting this story even appears in a few manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke.
It seems highly unlikely that this story is a part of the original Gospel of John. Still yet, it rings so true to what else we see of Jesus in John that it is hard to let the story go. My personal opinion is that it is a true story of Jesus that was passed on by someone who was copying the Gospel of John. They included it as an appendix or an additional story, not unlike the bonus track on a modern CD. Some later scribes thought that it was a part of the Gospel that was unintentionally left out and added as an appendix. They then included it in the body of the Gospel and caused confusion for later scribes.
However, I must point out that whether this story is original or not, it does not add or take away from what we see of Jesus' character and teachings. Part of the reason it is so well loved by many is that it exemplifies the compassion, mercy, and teaching Jesus demonstrates elsewhere in John and in the other Gospels. Like the passage in Mark, this gains shock value for people who have not read their footnotes, but it does not actually build Ehrman's case that the validity of orthodox Christianity or the truth of Jesus' teachings are in doubt.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mom!


Just in case you couldn't tell, the is the day on which my most awesome mother entered the world. On this day, some years ago, my Nana Jane gave birth to her little girl. And I am EXTREMELY thankful for that day. "Sure," you say, "if she hadn't been born, then neither would you." And this is true... BUT... I'm thankful for that day for more than just that reason. My mom has been an amazing role model to me. I inherited much of my faith in Christ because of her influence in my early life. Much of my understanding of the world is based upon how she sees things. She encouraged me and pushed me along to accomplish the things I've been able to accomplish in life. And the whole time she's been praying for me, for which I am extremely thankful. (A certain dreary day filled with freezing rain in the mountains of Georgia during Ranger School come to mind.) In short, I would not be the person I am today if not for my mother's part in my life. And so... I wish you a happy birthday, Mom! I love you. And I thank God for letting me be your son.