Whole Sort Of Genl Mish Mash
I’ve had mixed emotions about getting back to this subject. First, you ask a tremendous number of questions but I don’t have a problem with that. What I fear is that I lack the ability to adequately communicate proposed answers to those questions and that I am able to do it in such as way that is concise and that does the subject justice. You ask difficult questions that have good answers but I have found that many of those answers fill books and I don’t have time to write a several hundred-page apologetic of the Christian faith. I will try to answer the questions as best I can but if you are serious about knowing whether or not what I say is true then you are going to have to do additional digging on your own. I will be happy to provide you with the sources that have been helpful to me (and I will definitely let you know which sources are not worth you time … a luxury I didn’t have, by the way).
I will focus most of my answer on the historicity of the miraculous event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I don’t know if I have the time to try to answer all of your questions but I think the Resurrection, demonstrated as a historically viable event, demonstrates that (1) there is a God, (2) that Jesus is the Son of God, and (3) that Christianity, as a religious faith, is founded and grounded on fact.
First of all, you raised several objections regarding the authenticity or accuracy of the Bible. There are three major tests applied by historians to determine the authenticity of ancient manuscripts: (1) the internal test, (2) the external test, and (3) the historical/autobiographical test.
The internal test concerns itself with the internal consistency of the ancient document. Are there internal historical contradictions? A scholar I mentioned earlier, Professor Simon Greenleaf, an expert in the field of legal evidence, applied the laws of evidence and techniques of cross-examination to the four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in order to try to break down their testimony that, among other things, Jesus rose from the dead. Greenleaf came to the conclusion that the testimony of the four Gospel writers would be admissible as true in any reputable court of law.
I wrote: "The Biblical text itself is a collection of eyewitness accounts gathered by those who were closest to Jesus and Jesus' disciples."
You wrote: “Getting friends to lie is not a difficult thing especially if they are part of the lie. Now lets say the bible is a hoax, that Jesus was no better than a minister or priest, yet through saying he was the Son of God he received a good lifestyle, fame, power, etc. and so did those closest to him. Now these men were part of the scam, do you think they'd just openly admit that they were lying the whole time or keep playing it as if that was the truth...they'd lose everything and get stoned.”
This was one of the questions that Simon Greenleaf addressed. Sure, if the disciples of Jesus ended up becoming famous and powerful that would have been a blight on their testimony. I agree with you that it is not difficult to get a friend to lie. What is difficult to do is to get that friend to DIE for that lie. With the exception of two of Jesus’ original twelve disciples, all of the original twelve were martyred for their faith. Many were crucified (Peter, according to tradition, was crucified upside down because he did not believe himself to be worthy of dying in the same manner Jesus died). Others were stabbed with swords, killed by arrows, and beheaded. Of the two that were not martyred, Judas Ischariot (the betrayer) committed suicide after Jesus’ crucifixion and only John died a natural death, but only after being tortured in burning oil, beaten, thrown from a tower and exiled. Pretty loyal friends, I’d say, if they were willing to die for the sake of preserving a lie of a dead man.
Conspiracies don’t hold up well, Trevor, particularly when death is on the line. In the case of Jesus’ disciples you had 12 (including the late addition, Paul of Tarsus) men of various degrees of education and sophistication, willing to die. You might be able to argue that one or two conspirators would be willing to die out of loyalty but not twelve. Look how fast the Watergate watershed burst open and death wasn’t even a threat to “all the President’s men”.
These men “played” along until they were killed. End of story. They, at the very least, believed that Jesus rose from the dead.
The external test compares the content of historical texts with that other ancient texts written in parallel historical times. Time and again the Bible has been proven to be a reliable historical document after being subjected to this text. Detractors are often forced to rewrite their history books when a culture such as that of the Hittites or the Eblites are uncovered by archaeologists after only being mentioned in the Bible prior to those archaeological discoveries.
You wrote: “Well it doesn't prove whether or not there is a God but whether or not certain historical figures were fictitious or fact.”
This is very true. But what it does demonstrate is that the Bible is more than merely a collection of myths and its content deserves to be considered seriously. Sure, the Bible cannot prove to us there is a God that the Sea of Reads parted when Moses beckoned it to do so, allowing the Israelites to cross. Sure it cannot prove that the Israelites subsisted on manna and quail while wandering in the wilderness. But what history and archaeology do demonstrate is that these things did, in fact, happen, whether by some distant earthquake that caused the Sea to “miraculously” recede or that migratory quail happened to regularly cross over the part of the Sinai, as part of their route, that the Hebrews wandered thousands of years ago. Even if there are naturalistic explanations for these events, it is clear that the Jewish people have survived as a culture throughout history as a result of remarkable “coincidences”. How many Assyrians do you know? How many Medes or Babylonians? But as I will try to demonstrate later, the most significant historical demonstration of God’s existence, in my opinion, is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The historical/autobiographical test calculates the number of copies of the original documents (we have no original Biblical documents) and their chronological proximity to the original. There are in excess of 26,000 texts or fragments of texts of the Bible (compared to Homer’s “Iliad, 643 texts). These texts are compared and the earliest texts are generally given the greatest authority in determining what is most authentic. What has been demonstrated when this test has been applied to the Biblical text is that the Bible’s content has maintained consistency throughout the centuries. The earliest fragment we have is of the Gospel of John and was written within 10-20 years of the original.
Many criticized the Old Testament texts, saying that the Christian church had altered their content throughout the centuries. Then the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Many of the scrolls were dated prior to Jesus’ life and a nearly complete Old Testament was gathered by archaeologists, including a complete scroll of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah date circa 100 BC (many of the later chapters in Isaiah were criticized as being Christian forgeries because of the Messianic prophesies … that is, prophesies about the Messiah or the Christ … many of which have been fulfilled by Jesus Christ and others are apocalyptic in nature). So as far as ancient documents go, the Bible scores straight A’s in its historical reliability.
“Look at the TV evangelists and their followings, I'm sure one of them could get a thousand people to tell you that he has performed miracles and is a close personal friend of God...meanwhile he takes old pensioner's money and buys a mansion...cause well God wanted him too Ohhhhhh, I know you hate those guys, but I think I hate them more cause my grandmother was one of those pensioners.”
These guys are idiots, Trevor. Oops, I think I just judged them harshly. Actually, most of these TV evangelists that I am familiar with get caught up in themselves and end up making a mockery of the Christian church. I am sincerely sorry that your grandmother was victimized by one of these predators.
“Where the eyewitness testimony breaks down would be, number (1), the very words of the disciples may not have actually been written by their own hand, not many were educated back then in the art of writing or reading, (2) over the years the revisions and translations has altered the bible soooo much that no longer is it the eyewitnesses testimonies but interpretations of interpretations of interpretations of an eyewitness account. Maybe I should have been a lawyer? Didn't ya ever play the telephone game as a child?”
I addressed most of these statements above. Historical criticism (this is objective, verifiable research, mind you) supports the authorship of the vast majority of Biblical texts. Those texts that are questionable do not contain any material that would lend itself as contradictory to historical Christian practice. Also, Christian scholars throughout the years have been aware of many of the questionable texts and have steered clear of basing any doctrine or practice on these questionable texts alone.
“Saying you're the son of God, getting a large following, roaming the country side, leaving a trace that you did exist and then getting nailed to a cross doesn't provide any real evidence that says, ‘there is a God’, or that he was the son of God."
Jesus’ resurrection is a good indication that what he said about Himself is true, especially pertaining to His relationship with the Father and His divinity. There have been several objections offered to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
One was that the disciples simply went to the wrong tomb and made the mistake of thinking Jesus’ tomb was an empty tomb. This theory breaks down (1) because Jesus was reputedly buried in the tomb of a high ranking member of the Jewish government (Joseph of Arimethea) and that his tomb would be well known and (2) that once all the whooping and wailing started taking place over the supposed “resurrection”, all the Jews would have had to do to demonstrate the disciples’ error is produce the body of Christ. They either did not or could not. Probably could not. Another related theory is that the empty tomb is a legend. This breaks down because of an inadequate amount of time (according to historians) for a legend to germinate. Still another theory is the mass hallucination theory. There are several examples within the Gospel accounts that refute this theory; one of the most notable being “doubting” Thomas’ insistence in touching the resurrected Christ. I, personally, think Thomas got a bum rap. His “doubt” provided eyewitness testimony that Jesus was indeed physically alive. This does not even take into account that hallucinations are, from a psychological standpoint, very private events and that such events are usually a result, in part, of expectation. The disciples most certainly were not expecting a resurrection when they cowered in hiding after Jesus’ crucifixion. There are said to have been over 500 witnesses of the risen Jesus Christ. I think the evidence here speaks for itself. Jesus was placed in a tomb and physically came out of it.
Another theory is that the disciples stole the body while the guards where sleeping. This is unlikely for several reasons. First, considering the weight and size of the stone that covered the tomb’s entrance, the guards would have had to be deaf. The typical stone in such tomb weighed 1-1/2 to 2 tons, by the way. This is well documented and I encourage you to look up the information yourself.
Another theory is that Jesus was never dead to begin with. In order for this to be true, Jesus would have had to have swooned after being beaten and nailed to a cross, been mistaken for being dead, buried, sealed in a tomb, been revived by the cool air in the tomb, moved the 2000-4000 lb. Stone from the front of the tomb his self, sneaked past the guards, and presented himself to his disciples as a picture of health. Now THAT takes faith.
The only rational explanation that remains is that a supernatural event occurred that resuscitated Jesus from death, giving credibility, in my thinking, to His claims before his crucifixion, particularly in regards to the purpose of His death as being a vicarious sacrifice for the moral shortfalls of every other man who ever walked and who was ever to walk on this earth. The Resurrection is the one Biblical event that compels me to continue believing that Christianity’s claims are true in spite of all of the historical abuses of the church throughout history and of the church today. I saw enough abuses in the Pentecostal church to last me the rest of my life but all that is trivial because I am convinced by the facts that Christianity is concerned with the historically demonstrable event of the Resurrection.
Some circumstantial evidence: (1) the cowardly disciples who suddenly had a change of heart and all (except Judas) suffered sever persecution and physical discomfort throughout their lives and most were put to death for their faith; (2) Saul of Tarsus, a highly educated and zealous Jew, on his way to Damascus to get permission to persecute Christians, had a sudden change of heart, assumed the name Paul, and would become the most influential Apostle of Jesus Christ in history, traveling throughout the known Roman world and writing most of the New Testament letters (epistles); (3) the Christian institutions of Baptism, Communion, and Sunday worship all are circumstantial evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus, considering the early date of their observances and their prominence throughout church history.
And this is just a smattering of what is available, Trevor.
“One problem, of the large list, I have with the bible is that it does not incorporate the rest of the world. Why would God only focus on the Middle East area? Why is there no mention that God or His disciples were in Japan for a spell? Why didn't God visit the Native people of NA? What about the Incas? “
The Bible has two major themes that run throughout: (1) the sinfulness of man, and (2) the promise of God to redeem man. Nobody, including myself, deserves God’s mercy. We have all done things wrong in our lifetimes and, if anything, we deserve judgement for our failure to live up to perfect standards. The Bible demonstrates that God was to use the Jews as the people from which would come the Messiah or Christ who would reconcile man to God. This sounds odd to you, I’m sure, but I’m sure you’ve never thought of the Resurrection in the way you are thinking of it now before reading this either. My question for God would not be “Why not the Native Americans? Or why not the Incas?” My question would be “Why bother with any of us?” Why not just destroy all of our violent, lustful cultures and be done with it? Why send your Son to be humiliated and murdered on a cross for the sake of the rest of mankind? That is what doesn’t make sense to me.
“For starters, I think the discovery of human remains from over 30000 years ago kinda throws the Adam and Eve thing for a loop. What about the dinosaur thing too? In the bible it goes from creation of the world, etc. straight to the creation of paradise and Adam and Eve.... How come there was no mention of dinosaurs or cavemen?”
Again, the Bible is concerned with man’s sinfulness and God’s plan of redemption. The dinosaurs just didn’t factor into this equation, I suspect, so God didn’t see fit to mention them. God didn’t mention atoms or electricity either. There are many debates going on right now over Creationism and Evolution. I, honestly, do not know enough about either to provide you with a compelling defense. Sorry.
“Finding a cross does not prove there is a God or a Jesus. Finding a fish doesn't prove that it was once a loaf of bread. Finding a corpse doesn't prove that it was raised from the dead. And even finding Jesus' body wouldn't prove that he was neither the Son of God nor that God even exists...well at least not in my opinion.”
Again, what is interesting is a body was never produced and Christ’s closest followers (the very ones accused by both the Jews and the Romans of stealing the body) were willing and did, in fact, suffer and die to protect their little “conspiracy”. The Resurrection, I think, gives great credibility to the Christian truth-claims.
“What about the philosophies older than Christianity? Following the same line of thinking couldn't it be possible that these philosophies influenced Christianity?”
This is very true (and also why I am such a fan of Martin Luther). Luther recognized the Platonic and Aristotelian influences in the Roman Catholic Church and sought to reform Christian thinking to its Biblical roots.
“Also don't forget there were many gods before there ever was God.”
This is actually a hotly debated topic in scholarly circles (Christian and non-Christian). It seems, from what I can gather that there is at least as much evidence for a monotheistic religion degrading to polytheistic religion as there is visa-versa. Very dry reading but, still, it is out there.
“Am I really supposed to believe that Moses turned his staff into a snake?”
I don’t know. Do you think you should believe that, somehow, thousands upon thousands of previously enslaved Jews were able to escape their servitude to Pharaoh without having to fight? There are so many coincidences involved in the escape of the Jews from Egypt that, even if the mysticism is largely fabricated, the sheer number of coincidences making their escape and survival possible for the following 40 years was miraculous.
“Am I supposed to believe that God told Moses to kill his son as a test?”
No, I would never expect you to believe that. Now Abraham’s son, Isaac, that is another story.
“What kind of God is that? Don't test me but I'll test you?”
This test was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice. The story ends with God providing a substitute for Abraham’s son and Isaac going on to begin the familial line that would beget Jesus. It is worth noting that, if Jesus is God’s Son, God was willing and able to follow through with something that He didn’t ask Abraham to complete. What kind of God is that? I think it is the kind of God that give mankind what he doesn’t deserve … mercy.
“Am I supposed to believe that God flooded the earth and only one family and some animals survived it...the whole world too?”
There is historical and archaeological evidence of an unprecedented flood that took place in the Middle East in ancient days. There is also evidence of Noah’s sons and their descendents settling in the regions Moses says they settled. Beyond that, I cannot offer you many more answers at this time. I’m still learning too.
“That is why I approach religions as a philosophy rather than a religion. Suggestions and teachings based on logic rather than superstition rather than answers.”
This is understandable. I would feel the same way if it were not for the compelling nature of Jesus’ Resurrection as a historical claim. This takes Christianity out of the realm of myth and superstition and into the realm of divine intervention in history, time and space. I told you that I would be an agnostic of I wasn’t convinced and I am certain that I am a more skeptical person than you are. God told me so.
“[God] also said that he wanted the High Inquisitor job....I told him He'd have to fight with you to the death....he backed down and said He'd rather just be one of my sheep and that he would wear the Ewok suit.”
Yeah, I’m currently ahead of Him on a best out of five and He doesn’t want to risk going double or nothing yet.
"Now all this has gotten me thinking about the act of prayer. Now if God does have some sort of grand scheme wouldn't prayer be a useless thing?"
I’m going to have to come back to this one some other time.
“Awwww, come on Jim, ya gotta have an opinion on that. I and I'm sure most here, don't and won't outcast you for your religious beliefs if they are different. The Hell subject is a major issue within religion, especially Christianity...it's their best marketing ploy Now everyone here respects ya and you always present yourself intelligently so if you do have the time could ya address that. Now it's not some sort of set up or anything like that, I'm honestly just curious as to your thoughts on the subject. I really enjoy reading your opinions and the way you usually present yourself.”
I’m gonna have to come back to this one too. My eyes are starting to cross.
“Well said and that can apply to science as well. Now a big similarity I find in religion and science is that they can both sorta proves realistic things, religions can prove that some historical people did exist and science can prove that the atom exists. The thing that they both can’t prove is where did it comes from? Science says the "Big Bang" and religion says "Creation by God". Now for me personally, I'm not a religious person but I will say I believe in the possibility of a god/s but I don't think it/she/he is anything close to what we are thinking. I don't believe in the hocus pocus of neither religions nor a god granting wishes.”
I may be in the minority here but I really don’t think it matters so much whether there was a “Big Bang” or a “Sudden Creation”. Something does not come from nothing unless there is Something or Someone who transcends the Something that comes into being (are you dizzy yet?). In other words, something HAD to cause the “Big Bang” and I think, if the “Big Bang” is true, that that “something” had to be an uncaused cause, a/k/a God.
Sorry I didn’t have the time to address all of your questions (you sure do ask a lot of them). Anyway, enjoying the discussion. Haven’t had chances to share any of this with anyone in a long time. Would you believe that most Christians are completely UN-interested in this stuff? The very stuff that lends credibility to their faith! Oh, well. I guess I’ll just have to hang out with my heathen friends all the more often.