Monday, January 26, 2015

Why we can trust in the Bible

The Great Isaiah Scroll, 1QIsa
Recently there are articles that try to discredit Christianity by claiming the Bible is unreliable, that it changed over time, or that it contains only mythical stories. This is not consistent with sound Biblical historical research.

The Bible was written by about forty people over the course of fifteen hundred years who were inspired by God. It begins with books written by Moses fourteen hundred years before Christ. The New Testament Gospels were written by people who personally knew Jesus and were witnesses to His ministry.  All the books collected together are a history of God's revelation to His people. They all form a cohesive story.

The Bible is most reliable document in all of antiquity. We have much greater evidence of its reliability than any of the ancient Greek documents. Take Aristotle. He was writing in the 4th century BC. The earliest copies we have of his work are from 1000 years later. The New Testament scriptures were written in the first century AD, while there were living eye witnesses, and there exist manuscripts from one to two hundred years after they were written. Most other ancient documents that we assume valid, the copies we have were not only dated many more years after they were written, but there are only a few copies. The New Testament we have thousands of manuscripts. As for the Old Testament there was a discovery in 1948 of ancient documents called the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are over 2000 years old and were untouched from that time being buried in a cave. Among them is a scroll of the book of Isaiah that was found to be exactly the same as the one we have today. The historical evidence is overwhelming in favor of the reliability of these documents.

In addition, Archeologist have been hard at work in the last two hundred years and they are continually discovering new archeological confirmation of the history documented in the Bible. Some historians thought the kingdom of David was a legend. But recently they have discovered a reference to the house of David engraved on a 3000 year old stone column in the Middle East. Another example is the people called Hittites who are mentioned in the Bible more than fifty times. Until the 19th century there was no historical or archeological evidence that these people existed. In 1876 in Turkey archeologist discovered a number of artifacts that included a storeroom with ten thousand clay tablets. It turns out this site must have been the capital of the Hittite Empire. Today there is no longer any question about the reality of their existence by Biblical scholars.

The idea that the Bible has been changed over time or has recorded only mythical stories is totally false.  Even though there are some things that we still do not have historical evidence, we can see from the progressive unveiling of archeological evidence that this does not mean they did not take place historically. Of all ancient documents, the Bible is the most reliable we know.  It has been carefully reproduced in a way to avoid any significant change.

We cannot let doubters discourage us. What is central to our Christian faith is our belief in Jesus who was sent to renew mankind, to free us from our sinful condition separated from God.  He came not as a super human being, but as person both God and fully human. He took on flesh from a virgin. He showed us the way by His teaching, His miracles, and finally His voluntary death by Crucifixion at the hand of the Romans followed three days latter by his Resurrection. Then forty days after this He ascended in to heaven after instructing His disciples and within ten days sent to them the Holy Spirit which transformed them allowing them, against constant threat of death, to teach the good news about His Resurrection, His victory over death, and establish churches where the sacramental life could be practiced by all peoples for their salvation. We may not want to believe in the story of Noah and the great flood, although there is historical evidence of a world wide flood eight or ten thousand years ago, We should not let this distract us from the central truth of our faith, which is Jesus Christ. Our faith is not dependent to Noah building an ark but it does depend on the divinity of Jesus and His Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension to heaven and sending the Holy Spirit establishing His Church. For this the record of how it happened is well documented.

Reference: The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? by F. F. Bruce

Monday, January 19, 2015

Meaning of the Cross

LEARN, MY BRETHREN WHAT is the meaning of the sign of the Cross. When we put our hand on [our] head, it reveals God who is in the sky. When we put it over [our] navel, it reveals that he descended to earth and became incarnate. When we put [our] hand on the right breast, it reveals that he is just and eternal and that he will place the just on his right hand. And when we put it on [our] left side, it reveals that he will judge all the nations and they will stand on his left side and he will put them into hell. The holy Cross, my brethren, is the wellspring of the whole earth. The holy Cross blesses the entire world, all that is divine and holy in the churches. The Cross blesses the Divine Liturgy and every service. The Cross blesses the saints. The Cross blesses and strengthens baptism. The Cross blesses couples. The Cross chases away demons who flee like lightning. The Cross is a bright weapon, and whoever makes the sign of the Cross is illuminated and is blessed. It is like a double-edged sword to which the demons don't draw near to urge people to commit sin. Wherever a person sets out to travel, he should first make the sign of the Cross and say the prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ." Whether you go to the fair or to the field, or to the vineyard, or when you eat bread or fruit, or drink wine or water, when you go to sleep, worship God. Make the sign of the Cross over your body and then lie down to sleep. You will then sleep and will rise in the morning strong and happy. So, my brethren, you have understood and now know.

By Saint Kosmas the Aitolos

Let no man therefore be ashamed of the honored symbols of our salvation, and of the chiefest of all good things, whereby we even live, and whereby we are; but as a crown, so let us bear about the cross of Christ. Yea, for by it all things are wrought, that are wrought among us. When one is  new-born, the cross is there; or to be nourished with the mystical food, or to be ordained, or to do anything else, everywhere our symbol of victory is present. Therefore both on house and walls, and windows, and upon our forehead, and upon our mind, we inscribe it with much care. For of the salvation wrought for us, and of our common freedom, and of the goodness or our Lord, this is the sign...not merely by the fingers ought one engrave it, but before this by the purpose of the heart with much faith. And if in this way thou hast marked it on thy face, none of the unclean spirits will be able to stand near thee, seeing the blade whereby he received his wound, seeing the sword which gave him his mortal stroke. 

By Saint john Chrysostom
(Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, P. Shaff, ed., vol x, pp 335-36)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God

In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete—that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place—science itself. Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 21 zeros—planets capable of supporting life. With such spectacular odds, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a large, expensive collection of private and publicly funded projects launched in the 1960s, was sure to turn up something soon. Scientists listened with a vast radio telescopic network for signals that resembled coded intelligence and were not merely random. But as years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely bubkis—0 followed by nothing. What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting. Even SETI proponents acknowledged the problem. Peter Schenkel wrote in a 2006 piece for Skeptical Inquirer magazine: “In light of new findings and insights, it seems appropriate to put excessive euphoria to rest . . . . We should quietly admit that the early estimates . . . may no longer be tenable.” As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here. Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing. Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being? There’s more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp. Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really? Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” at these developments. He later wrote that “a common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology . . . . The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.” Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming” and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.” The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something—or Someone—beyond itself. 
By Eric Metaxas

Mr. Metaxas is the author, most recently, of “Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life” ( Dutton Adult, 2014).