Thursday, August 14, 2014

What's your opinion of the Bible's historical accuracy?

What people think about the Bible varies.

Some would say that it contains accurate history. Others disagree and suggest that while it contains history, it shouldn't all be taken literally. And then some think nothing in the Bible is historically accurate.

A recent Gallup poll of more than a thousand American adults offered three different attitudes toward the Bible’s historical accuracy, as follows; after the question we give the percentage of people who agreed with the particular viewpoint (totaling 96 percent; 4 percent had no opinion):

What is your opinion? Biblical Archaeology Review is running on an online poll you can participate in.  Click here to cast your vote

Do take the poll, but perhaps leave a comment below whether you fit in category 1, 2, or 3.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

ISIS and the Christians: Be Cautious

Over the weekend I saw a number of posts on Facebook which claimed that Christian children in Iraq are being beheaded by members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). I even saw one post claim that children were being buried alive. The potential evil and tragedy of the situation attracted my attention and made me wonder to what further level is humanity able to still sink.

But I also know that in our digital age nothing spreads rumors and misinformation quicker than the internet and especially social media. So I scoured the various news sites. I performed Google searches and I looked for some acknowledgement of the tragedy when President Obama announced the US would be dropping aid to the Yazidis religious minority in Iraq.

But I found no information about Christian children being beheaded. Consequently, I watched with the hope that it was not true.

And it seems now that my instincts may have been correct. I read a report on the Gospel Coalition which investigated the claims and has determined the following:

While it is possible that children are being beheaded by ISIS in Iraq, there is currently no credible evidence to support that claim. We should pray this report turn out to be just rumor and that whatever other crimes are being committed, that God is sparing the children of Iraq from “systematic beheading.”
As Christians, we have a duty to champion the truth. We should avoid spreading unsubstantiated claims and inflaming dread and panic by playing on people’s natural disgust of harm to children. ISIS is an organization that has committed heinous acts of violence and violated the human rights of many of our fellow believers. But we must not partake in the spreading of lies, even if it is against our enemies.

You can read the whole article here.

The situation in Iraq is terrible. But we should also be careful that we don’t do anything that might inflame it. All of the people of Iraq should be in our thoughts and prayers. But we can best help them by spreading truthful information about the situation rather than unsubstantiated reports.

It’s easy to believe things about evil people, those we might consider to be our enemies. But we must also remember not to treat our enemies in such a way that make them out to be guilty of more evil than they already are. It becomes very hard to love and redeem one’s enemies when we are actively spreading misinformation about them that makes them look worse than they already are.

I close with a quote from C.S. Lewis that was on the Gospel Coalition site. I think it applies to situations like this one.

"Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, `Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything - God and our friends and ourselves included - as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred." - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hoard of Coins from Jewish Rebellion Discovered in Jerusalem.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week Jews around the world commemorated the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 CE. This holiday is known as Tisha B'Av (the ninth of Av), which is the day on the Jewish calendar the traditionally marks the destruction of both Solomon’s and Herod’s temple.

Also this week, an announcement was made that a stash of ancient coins dating from the rebellion that led up to the temple's destruction, was discovered in Jerusalem.

This is an unusual find in some way. Here's a bit of what the archaeologists have to say. 

The coins are all of identical size and age, and possibly from the same mint. Their value has yet to be determined, but they are likely quarter or one-eighth shekel bits, Betzer said. They are all marked with the words “For the redemption of Zion” and “Year four,” indicating they were made during the fourth year of the revolt against the Roman Empire, or between spring 69 and spring 70 CE. They are decorated with the Biblical four species — palm, myrtle, citron and willow — and a vessel that may symbolize those used in the temple. The coins are still encrusted in nearly 2,000-year-old dirt and oxidation, and await cleaning and study by IAA specialists.
 “What this teaches this is that the person who held onto this trove received it all in one batch,” he said while exhibiting the brilliant greenish coins at the IAA’s Har Hotzvim laboratories in Jerusalem. “He received them from the rebel leadership; he may have been part of the rebel leadership.” Perhaps, he speculated, they were funds destined for the purchase of arms or provisions for the Jewish fighters against the Roman legions.“These coins were minted a few months before the destruction of the temple [in Jerusalem],” he said. “It was one of the last efforts by the rebels to prevail.” Ultimately, however, they failed, and on the Ninth of Av, 70 CE, the Romans crushed the rebellion by destroying the temple in Jerusalem and slaughtering the city’s inhabitants. 

You can read the rest of the article here

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Introducing the Forever Bible: Because everyone needs a Bible that floats!

There's an old saying among church ladies that goes something like this "A Bible that is falling apart belongs to someone who is not." The saying, apparently a quote from Charles Spurgeon, is used as a way to suggest that if one reads the Bible your life will be perfect. But I suspect there are many daily Bible readers who might testify to the opposite.

Nonetheless, a "falling apart Bible" is a problem. I once had a Bible for only a year before the leather binding began separating. And my Greek New Testament, which I have used regularly for twenty years, has been been glued together several times. So it is true that if you use/read your Bible it will eventually begin to show wear. And at some point you will either buy a new one or decide to tape it back together and hold on to it like an old, dear friend.

But now one enterprising company has a solution for our "falling apart Bibles." Forever publishing has announced an indestructible Bible. Here is what they have to say:
“Using Space Age nanotechnology, we are able to print the Bible on an advanced paper that doesn't use any trees, is 24X stronger than regular paper, and is completely waterproof, dirt-proof, tear-proof, and otherwise life-proof,” the company boasts. “The Forever Bible even floats in water, while keeping your notes and highlighted passages pristine.”

I'm not sure that the world really needs such a Bible and must admit that this really does antagonize the recovering cynic in me. However, watch the below video clip and let me know what you think. Perhaps I am off base and you will be ordering one of these for Christmas.

You will be forgiven if you have flashbacks of old Ronco commercials as you watch the below video. If you can't watch it all the way to end then I highly recommend that you go to minute 3:57 in the video where a gentleman compares the forever Bible to Jesus.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Solomon's Temple Rebuilt! In Brazil with a Helipad?

Usually one would expect such a headline to announce that a replica of Solomon's temple had been built somewhere in the United States. 

This is the kind of thing that normally happens in the Mecca of cheap entertainment; A place like Las Vegas or Orlando's Holy Land Experience.

But this is in Brazil, host of the recent World Cup and the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics. So on the one hand, I was relieved that the USA must have reached it's quota of bizarre religious sites for the year and allowed another country to have the spot light for a while.

But as I read the article about the temple I was surprised by the details, including the installment of a helipad. Here's part of the article

A vast replica of Solomon's Temple opened this week in Sao Paulo, with the capacity to seat 10,000 followers of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
The temple, which engulfs an entire city block and cost about £176 million to build, has polarised opinion, particularly among the Jewish community from which it borrows much of its most eye-catching symbolism.
The temple was built using stone from Israel and contains a number of conspicuous menorahs and an altar imitating the Ark of the Covenant.
Bishop Edir Macedo, who founded the Universal Church 35 years ago and masterminded the new temple, has a flowing beard and wears a yarmulke. A helicopter landing pad on the 11-storey complex will allow Mr Macedo to drop in for sermons.
Alongside the temple is a garden of olive trees similar to the garden of Gethsemane, and the flag of Israel flies nearby, next to those of the Universal Church, Brazil and the United States, among dozens of other countries.

I suppose having stone from Israel helps to make the temple "feel" more authentic. I'm not so sure about the helipad, however. At first I thought this was part of some type of rapture practice. Perhaps people hang-on and experience what it's like to be taken up. But then I see it's so that the pastor can drop-by for a sermon. Wow, not even Jesus had a helicopter! I mean, he had to walk everywhere when he wanted to give a sermon. Imagine the all of the places he could have preached the Sermon on the Mount if he only had a helicopter? And don't get me started about Paul's missionary journeys! 

Well, if there is a silver-lining to the story it's that this is one of the few times people can't shake their heads and say "only in America." 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Let the Reader Beware: Warning Labels on Theology Books

From time to time a student will ask me about what commentaries they should use/purchase. I usually provide the standard answer about buying individual volumes rather than an entire set since every series has its winners and losers.  My answer is usually followed by a request that the faculty at Ashland Seminary create a list of what is, in our opinion, some of the best resources to buy. This is a fair request from students, but one that we have never taken the time to complete.

So I was intrigued when I noticed that someone had posted a “Basic Library Book-list” prepared by the faculty at another seminary. I opened the list and began to look over the various recommended resources. I looked over the Old Testament section and recognized a number of familiar volumes, especially under Genesis where I am wont to spend my time when not in the New Testament.

But since I am by trade a New Testament scholar, I quickly scrolled down to that section and began perusing the list. I looked over the Matthew section and was surprised not to see Hagner’s commentary listed. But I did see Nolland listed under the section on Luke, so they must not have an issue with Word Biblical Commentary. I looked further and saw more names I recognized and thus concluded that the faculty at this seminary didn't think Hagner’s work made their type five list. But then I noticed that there was precious little from Jimmy Dunn, Joseph Fitzmyer and Tom Wright, to name a few. “What an unusual list,” I thought.

Then my eye landed on one individual’s name and I felt a bit better, but only for a moment. For next to his name was what looked like a little cross, the kind publishers will use to indicate that the author has passed away. My heart skipped a beat with the sudden realization that I had somehow failed to miss the passing of another great NT scholar.

I performed a Google search forthwith, but was unable to find any evidence that this person had passed away. I returned to the list and confirmed that it was his name that had the little cross before it. And then I noticed there were a number of names with little crosses. This time, however, there was no skipping of the heart. I knew many of these people and they are certainly not dead. I began looking for the place in the document that explained the meaning of the little cross.

That was when I discovered that it wasn't a cross, but a little dagger. And next to the dagger was this explanation:

† The dagger symbol indicates that a book, although valuable, contains some theological errors and, therefore, must be used with special discernment. Books that differ from a (particular theological) viewpoint are not so marked.

Now my heart fell out of my chest. This list of best resources also came with a warning label: “Let the Reader Beware.” In other words, guard your mind and soul as you use these resources.

I was taken back since I don’t live and work in a world where these types of theological warning labels exist. Certainly I will advise a student that a particular author, volume, or series has a particular theological, historical or methodological point of view. But I don’t warn them that they could be in mortal peril if they use them. My goal is to always encourage students to read widely and use any source that helps them to best answer their questions. Not infrequently, this will mean using resources that we don’t always agree with, but can learn from.

I wonder, what kind of theological thinkers are we training? Do we want those who can’t think for themselves or have to be warned that a particular resource may challenge some of their own theology? Is this truly what it means to educate?

When first found this list I thought perhaps I could “borrow” it from the seminary (with permission of course) and edit it to fit the preferences of our faculty and the needs of our students. But as I look closer I recognize I will still have to build my own list. At the same time it reminded me that, when I finally do create such a list, that I also consider why I may or may not include certain books. Am I truly picking the best resources, or am I subconsciously telling the reader to “beware” by not including them? 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

More "aha" moments with biblical scholars

Pete Enns continues his series with biblical scholars to which I contributed last week. In addition to Pete's and my own story you can now also read Daniel Kirk and Michael Pahl.