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“When the heart is cast into the mould of the doctrine which the mind embraces, . . . when not the sense of the words but of the things is in our hearts, when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for, then shall we be garrisoned by the grace of God against all the assaults of men. Without this, all our contending is of no value to ourselves. What am I the better, if I can dispute that Christ is God but have no sense that he is a God in covenant with my soul? . . . It is possible to contend for truth in a spirit most opposite to its nature, and most warmly to advocate the rights of a cause from which we ourselves may derive no benefit. In all cases, it should be remembered, that the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God.”
John Owen, in The Works of John Owen, edited by Thomas Russell (London, 1826), I:164-165.
HT: Ray Ortlund
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:12)
One of the core distinctives of Christianity, especially in the culture of secular America, is the claim of exclusivity. The Lord has established one means for separated sinners to become reconciled to God. There is one God and only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. Only by repenting of sins and putting faith in the atoning work of Jesus is one forgiven of sins and given eternal life. If one does not adhere to this singular way then they are lost.
How can such a claim be made!? Such a claim is charged with the height of arrogance. Would not this make us a mean, hateful, and boastful people? Taking our claim and lifting our heads above all those who, “don’t have what we have.” How can we believe such a thing?
Against this, I believe that when we look at the cross we can understand Christ’s call of exclusivity.
When we look at the cross we see the greatest demonstration of love towards those who did not deserve it. “But God demonstrates His love towards us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). And this demonstration of love comes with the greatest pain. The perfect Son torn from the the most glorious and enjoyable relationship (the Son and the Father) on account of wrongs He did not do.
The absolute truth of Christ’s death, when believed rightly, makes loving people. It makes those who would still love in the face of wrongs done against them. It makes people who love in the face of opposing ideas. If Christ is so loving then the more I trust in His work and His character the more I am going to demonstrate His love. The lack of love that can come from Christians is not because of Christ but because of the lack of Christ. Thus, to magnify the cross is to dethrone pride and arrogance.
But to come around to the flip side, because Christ’s death is the great demonstration of love it would be an insult to say that it was pointless. The exclusivity of Christ’s death, that there was no other way which it could be done, is the reason that it was the greatest demonstration of love. If Jesus’s death on the cross is not the only way that sinners become right with God then Jesus was a sad fool who gave up everything for nothing. Think about it. If I could obtain God’s pleasure and eternal life by my good works or sincere worship of something else then Jesus’ death is completely pointless. For why would it be needed? And since it is not needed it is not love but ignorance (at best) which took Jesus to the cross. Why would He need to die for me if I get everything through something else besides the cross? It is to insult the act of love its self to suggest that there is another way.
Jesus is either the only way or only a fool. But since Jesus’ death was of love it is the only way.
The New York Times broke a story two days ago about Karen L. King presenting a fragment of a papyrus at the International Congress of Coptic Studies in which the fragment reads of Jesus having a wife (you can see the fragment here and read the presentation here). What should we make of this?
First, even King herself states that this find means nothing about the historic Jesus,
“It does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married.” (Karen L. King, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus)
Anyone who is using this fine to try and prove such is going against the publisher herself, let alone all reasonable evidence.
offers us a window into debates about sex and marriage in the early church, and the way Jesus could be adapted to play a part in a particular debate. If it is genuine.
As Gathercole points out in the post there were debates going on during that time in the early church about the rightness or wrongness of sex and marriage. What this fragment could be is someone trying to say Jesus was married in order to prove that marriage was good. But at the end of the day everything is just speculation since there is no context.
Third, the “if genuine” part is a big part. Over at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog the report has been coming out from the ICCS that a lot of scholars are doubting the authenticity of the fragment. Christian Askeland, who is at the ICCS posted several problems he saw with the manuscript. Other scholars have weighted in the comment section. Let me just reproduce what they are saying here:
Consider the following points:First, the 4th century date is speculation. I say this based on my own familiarity with similar datable texts (Nag Hammadi, Kellis, Melitian Archive) and with the wider issues of dating in general. King’s argument’s in her article are based upon other speculatively dated manuscripts which additionally are not similar in appearance or format.Second, this is not a literally codex leaf. Everyone to whom I have spoken is agreed on this. Gregor Wurst has publically noted that this fragment resembles the erratic nature of magical texts.Third, letter formation is not literary, semi-literary or documentary. I note only the example of Epsilon which is two strokes (not three) and which does not conjoin. Contra Bagnall, I have a hard time explaining the script via a dull calamus. It is not that hard to sharpen a calamus. This text was painted or markered.Fourth, if an amateur with a basic knowledge of Coptic were to forge a text, it would look like the text under question. ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲓ̅ⲥ̅ … “Jesus said …” Two omissions are bizarre and may reflect a weak knowledge of the language (missing ϫⲉ and zero article). Most other weird gospel-like texts from the early period have non-Sahidic elements.
I’m not completely convinced either way, but I am sympathetic to some of Christian’s scepticism. I agree with the point that if one were producing a fake, this is like what you’d make. (1) Jesus said, “My wife” is slap-bang in the middle of page. Also (2) the script is at least fishy. (3) Most of it is paralleled in the Gospel of Thomas, images of which are easily accessible on the web!
In addition to the general appearance of the piece and the script and the convenient positioning of the key idea there are also several problems of procedure: a) two external reviewers expressed doubts about the authenticity of the text (King, draft, p. 3) [these are partly fobbed off on the basis of the low resolution of the photos as if that was decisive, p. 4]; b) they suggest investigation by Coptic papyrologists and scientific investigation of the ink (p. 3); c) neither of these things happen!!!; rather d) a Coptic linguist says the language is OK; e) Bagnall apparently says OK; f) no scientific analysis of the ink takes place.
This procedure is rather curious to me.
Bloomberg is actually picking up the doubts that other scholars have about the fragment.
But what happens if it turns out to be genuine?
Dirk Jongkind points out that nothing in the fragment can really be trusted. The dealer who cut it cut it where he did for a reason,
Is it too far-fetched to suggest that the lamentable loss of the words immediately following the famed words ‘My wife’ might not have been accidental, but perhaps made in order ‘to maximize profit’?
At the end of all this I don’t see this fragment amounting to much if anything of worth. But the vote is still out and we will wait to see what develops.
From Ray Ortlund,
“As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. . . . I would have you more than a conqueror and to triumph not only over your adversary but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations . . . .
As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him, and such a disposition will have a good influence on every page you write.
If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom are very applicable: ‘Deal gently with him for my sake.’ The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven. He will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts. And though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.
But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! ‘He knows not what he does.’ But if God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now, and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, not his.
Of all people who engage in controversy, we who are called Calvinists are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.”
-John Newton, writing to a young minister, The Works of John Newton(Edinburgh, 1988), I:268-270.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:6-15)
This is a pretty big section I listed but there is something that caught my eye while reading it. Notice how Paul argues against false beliefs the Colossians will face in the coming days. He does degrade the false beliefs in how he describes them: “empty” and “elemental.” But that is not where the bulk of the argument resides. Nor does Paul go into deep arguments about how the false beliefs will never match up to logical evidences we see. On the flip-side, neither does he talk about how Christianity makes perfect logical sense.
Paul’s means is a simple one in arguing against the false belief: see how beautiful Christ is and How much He has given you!
Reason and logic have their place in giving a defense for our hope in Christ (1 Pet. 3:15). But logic is not the primary thing which compels us to be rooted and built up in Christ. It is the vision of His glory and love which will captivate us and bound our hearts to Him for our lives. If Jesus is a logical concept that we hold on to by logical arguments alone we can drift away from him. Paul uses the descriptive, “deceitful” for a reason. Satan can work around logical paradigms and present arguments that ever so cunningly move us away from the faith while we still see them being logically acceptable. But how hard is it to move a heart that has been captivated by greatness!? Once one is captivated by the satisfying character of the true Christ it is hard to move them.
Once we fine our hearts satisfied in the orthodox truth of who Christ is and what He has done for us, false gospels start to quench our thirst in the same way sand does. However, when we start drinking from the well of the real and true Christ we find ourselves fully satisfied with the sweetest, purest water. We will have no reason to go anywhere else. And logical arguments will line up with what we experience! Jesus is true. And what keeps our hearts and minds rooted and built-up in Jesus is experiencing and savoring the wonders of His true love and character. This is the greatest argument we experience.
This is a paper that I wrote for my Acts class a few semesters ago. The reasons that I will post some of my own work for classes are two fold: 1. My writing needs to be critique and challenged. I will never become a better writer, arguer, and thinker if people don’t question my reasoning and point out my errors in writing. So please, if you read these let me know where you disagree with me with precision, not just a general “I don’t like.” Let me know what you don’t like and why you don’t like it. This would be a help to me to interact with you and hopefully sharpen both of our thinking. 2. Because what things I do study need to be passed on to aid others. Not that I have a lot of deep, spiritual things to say. But I want to aid in pointing people to Christ in any way I can. So enjoy!
THE INVASION OF THE GOSPEL AMONGST THE PAGAN INTELLECTUALS:
The church had received the command by Jesus, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8b). And in Acts 17:16-34 we see this commission working out it two categories. First, Paul confronts the paganism that flourished in Athens. The reality of Christ was pitted against the falsehood of pagan idolatry. The second category is that we see the gospel brought before the intellectuals. The gospel is not timid to critical thinking. It can stand up to the toughest intellectual scrutiny. But as the end of this passages demonstrates, no matter how realistic the gospel message is, mankind’s rebellion rejects the glories of the cross as foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18). But I believe that there is an overall sphere that encapsulates these two categories. The main thrust that drives these two things is a desire for God’s glory shown through the redemption of people. And it is people that come from different cultural backgrounds and have different presuppositions about reality. God glorious truth confronts their beliefs, shows the futility of those beliefs, and presents Christ as all in all. Therefore, in proclaiming the gospel we must know who we are proclaiming the gospel to and present God’s one gospel in diverse ways to reach who we are speaking it to.
To get the fullest sense of the meaning of this text I am going to look at some of the key historic places (Athens and the Areopagus), the philosophies that were present at Paul’s message (Epicureanism and Stoicism), and the context of this passage.
Athens was once a very important and wealthy city under the reign of Pericles in the 5th century B. C. It was once the city of such prominent philosophers as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno. By the time of Paul, however, that glory had faded. Yet, the city still rode on its former glory. Thus it was still a place where philosophical inquiry was pursued.
The Areopagus was “the chief judicial body of the city” of Athens. It had the over arching power to decide cases on issues of city life, education, philosophical lectures, public morality, and foreign cults. But one function of the Areopagus that corresponds to this discussion is brought out by Bruce Winter. In regards to new religions,
One of the long-established tasks of the Council of the Areopagites was to examine the proofs that a herald might offer in support of his claim that a new deity existed. That role continued into the Roman period. If the Council were so persuaded, then the god or goddess would be admitted to the Parthenon. A dedicated temple would be built to the divinity, an annual feast day endowed and included in the Athenians’ religious calendar…the approval or disapproval of a new god in Athens set the precedent for other Greek cities.
So the Areopagus was a center of great importance for the city of Athens.
Epicureanism was founded by Epicurus who settled and opened up a school in Athens in 306 B.C. Epicurus believed that everything came into existence when atoms traveling in infinite void collided with one another. Thus, “Epicurus’s doctrine was completely materialist.” The gods, also, came into existence by the atoms and lived in “perfect blessedness, undisturbed by concern for mankind or worldly affairs.”
Their theory of purpose for life was one of pleasure, “Epicurus held that pleasure was the chief goal of life, with the pleasure most worth enjoying being a life of tranquility free from pain, disturbing passion, superstitious fears and anxiety about death.” So Epicurus’ view does not mean that it is a rush into immediate sensuous pleasure. It was a search for “true peace of mind.”
The history of the Stoics started with a man named Zeno. He held his philosophical gathers in the Stoa Poikile in the Athenian Market place. And it was from there they received their name Stoics.
The Stoics were of a completely different nature than the Epicureans. Blending ideas from Socrates, Heracleitus, and himself he came to view everything as living in harmony. They “argued for the unity of humanity and the kinship with the divine.” His view of God was pantheistic and this god was part of everything and fated the lives of every man. They had a high view of morality as one should act according to the divine nature that he is a part of.
This passage is during the second missionary journey of Paul. Paul decided that He wanted to visit the churches that they had planted (15:36). Yet, because of a disagreement Paul went with Silas instead of Barnabas (15:39). Together Paul and Silas “went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (15:41). In Lystra they meet a young man named Timothy and included him in their missionary travels (16:1-3). While traveling the Spirit directed them to Troas where Paul received a vision to go to Macedonia where Lydia, a Jailer and his family are converted (16:11-39). From there they went to Thessalonica (17:1-9) and then to Berea (17:10-15). In both cases they were driven from the cities by jealous Jews (17:5-10, 13-14). Thus members of the church sent Paul away (17:14) and those conducted him took him to Athens where he waited for Silas and Timothy (17:15).
Here in Acts we see God using the evil purposes of men to accomplish His good purposes. Where evil is trying to stop the influence of God’s gospel it only makes it increase more. Now Paul stands among the intellectuals with a message that defies human reasoning. And we can witness the apostle glorifying God by bring this good news to these intellectuals.
This section is divided in three sections. In verse 16-21 we see the interaction of Paul with the people of Athens. And then in verses 22-31 see hear the speech Paul made in the Areopagus. And the final verses, 32-34, summarize the response of the speech.
Paul’s Interaction with the Athenians. Vs 16-21.
While waiting in the city for Timothy and Silas Paul saw that Athens was full of idols. Paul did not view these idols “dispassionately, remarking on the beautiful artistry.” Instead Paul’s spirit provoked! He started preaching the gospel in both the synagogue and the market place called the agora. This was in pattern of how Socrates shared his ideas. This shows that “when Paul evangelized this city of Socrates, he used the method of Socrates.” Paul witnessed to these different people in their own cultural practices of communication. And because of this gospel being preached in the market two different groups of philosophical thought became attentive to Paul’s preaching. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers begun conversing with Paul concerning the message he was preaching. Some completely discounted what he was saying and derided him as one who picked-up and used other people’s idea even though he did not understand those ideas himself. Others recognized that he was teaching a new religion. Because of these teachings coming from his mouth they took Paul to the Areopagus. There Paul was summoned to openly declare the new teaching that he was bringing to the city.
Paul’s Speech at the Areopagus. Vs 22-31
Paul stands in the midst of the Areopagus and proclaims message of Christ to his listening hearers. He begins his message by saying that he recognizes their religious pursuits. And because of these religious pursuits they had crafted an altar to an “unknown god” just in case they had missed one. This altar that stood as a witness to the polytheism in that city Paul uses as starting point in his declaration of the one true living God. What was unknown to the Athenians was going to be made known this day.
Paul proceeds to disclose “their place in the panorama of God’s global, history-spanning redemptive agenda.” Paul works Biblically and methodically against each of the present philosophical worldviews to present the glorious Christ that reigns supreme over the cosmos. Paul begins with a proper understanding of God’s place as creator and self-sufficient. Drawing from the revelation in the Old Testament Paul combats the ideas of the Epicureans with their distant, uninvolved gods and the Stoics with their pantheistic god. He did all this while under the main heading of decrying the worship of spiritually dead idols.
Paul next point starts by looking at the origin of mankind. He declares that from one man God has made every nation that existed. And his rights of creator extend to his sovereign governance of size and locations of these nations.  And God excises this sovereign right for a reason. So that people will, out of thankfulness and reverence for this creator God, search and find this God.
What we see next is Paul quoting some of the works written by these pagan philosophers. In both of these quotes the truth that God is not encapsulated in idols is shown to be believed by Greek philosophers. Because, if we are God’s offspring and are living then we should not think that God dwells in a lifeless object.
Paul then reaches the conclusion of his speech warning of the judgment that is to come. The Athenians had been living in ignorance to the actual reality of the person and works of God. But God has graciously overlooked that ignorance. Now, however, God holds men accountable and calls them to repent of their idolatry. For the fixed date of judgment is coming upon the world. And this judgment is going to be carried out none other than Jesus Christ. And all people have been assured of this by God’s action in raising Jesus Christ from the dead.
The Response to Paul’s Message. Vs 32-34.
Paul would tell the Corinthians that the aroma of Christ is life to some and death to others (2 Cor. 2:14-16). And that truth is shown by the response of the Athenians. At the first mention of resurrection some began mocking Paul’s ideas. Others responded by showing a further interest into what he was talking about and wanting him to speak about this matter again. But to those that had be appointed to eternal life (Act 13:48), they believed in the message and joined Paul after he had left the Areopagus.
With boldness and clarity Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and proclaimed the gospel. He did not, however, share some mechanical, prepackaged gospel presentation. Instead with what could be compared to a surgeon’s skill he presented gospel truths directly in philosophical and theological areas where those people lived in darkness. Because, as the Christ came amongst humanity and brought the gospel to our direct need. So too, Christ’s gospel still is designed to meet people where they are at and confront the idolatry they are serving. Once they are met and the Holy Spirit opens their darkened minds to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6) they then find their lives defined by the universal purposes of God. And part of God’s purposes is not just for the removal of evil but for the salvation of a bride that is part of the evil. This is His plan of redemption that is going to bring the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit glory for out eternity. It is our commission and honor to be a part of this plan.
Beale, G. K. We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2008.
Bruce, F. F. New Testament History. New York, NY: Doubleday Galilee, 1969.
Dever , Mark. The Message of the New Testament: Promise Kept. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2005.
Eswine, Zack. Preaching to a Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblical Sermons that Connect with our Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008.
Johnson, Dennis E. Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007.
Schreiner, Tom. New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.
Barrett, C. K. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Acts of the Apostles. Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1994
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. In the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Rev. ed. In The New international Commentary on the New Testament. Edited by Gordon D. Fee. Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988.
Fernando, Ajith. Acts. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.
Longenecker, Richard N. The Acts of the Apostles. in vol. 9 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Edited by Frank E. Garbelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1981
Marshall, I. Howard. The Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998
Polhill, John B. ACTS. In The New American Commentary, vol. 26. Edited by David S. Dockery. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992
Mounce, William D., Smith, D. Matthew., Pelt, Miles V. Van., eds., Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.
Robertson, Archibald Thomas. Word Pictures in the New Testament. vol 3. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1930.
Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament. Edited by G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Academic, 2007
Newman, C. C. God III: Acts, Hebrews, General Epistles, Revelation. The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, 2004.
Winter, Bruce W. “Introducing the Athenians to God: Paul’s Failed Apologetic in Acts 17?” Themelios 31:3 (2006)
Carson, D. A. The Worldview Clash, accessed 2 April 2009, http://www.ccfw.org/home/ 140001117/ 140001117/docs/c2s%20THeWorldviewClash.pdf?sec_id=140001117; Internet.
The Stand to Reason Blog has a great post answering the question “Since the bible was written by men doesn’t it have to have errors in it?”
This is their reply;
First, it doesn’t follow that because the Bible’s written by men, that it therefore must be in error. Human error is possible, not necessary. If human error were always necessary in anything man said, this challenge would be self-refuting (“suicide tactic”). If all human claims were necessarily in error, then the claim that the Bible was written by men and men make mistakes would also be in error because it’s a claim made by men who err, defeating itself. It is possible for human beings to produce something without errors. It’s done all the time. What is 2+2? What is the formula for nuclear fission?
Second, this is circular reasoning. If there’s good evidence the Bible can be trusted, then the issue of man’s involvement is moot. A simple question illustrates this: “Are you suggesting with this objection that if God does exist, He’s not capable of writing what He wants through imperfect men?” This is hard to affirm. If the answer is “No,” then the objection vanishes. If the answer is yes, then ask, “Did you ever own a dog? Could you get your dog to sit? If you can get a dumb dog to sit, what makes you think an all-powerful God can’t get a man to write just what He wants him to?” If you first establish that the Biblical record can be trusted, then the second problem—human involvement is irrelevant. If God inspires it then it doesn’t matter if men or monkeys did the writing; they’ll still write exactly what God intends.
Another way of stating it: God can’t err; the Bible is God’s Word; therefore, the Bible can’t err, even if men are involved.
What do you think? This is suppose to be a tweet of the gospel. does it suffice?
The gospel is the counterintuitive, joyous, exuberant news that Jesus has brought the unending, limitless, stunning love of God to even us.