Sunday, December 27, 2009

How Reliable Are the Ancient Manuscripts of the Bible?

Many young people I work with wonder how reliable the ancient manuscripts of the Bible really are. After all, the Bible was written a long time ago in a different language and in a different cultural context. Though sometimes these young people are just trying to be hard to get along with, most of them genuinely want to know the answer to this question. Recently I found the following helpful information about the reliability of the ancient manuscripts and I thought I would share it with my readers.

The Bible is unquestionably the world's all-time bestseller with an estimated 2 billion copies in print. The Bible was completed in its entirety nearly 2,000 years ago and stands today as the best-preserved literary work of all antiquity. There are over 24,000 ancient New Testament manuscripts discovered so far. Compare this with the second best-preserved literary work of all antiquity, Homer's Iliad, which only 643 preserved manuscripts discovered thus far. The printing press wasn't invented until the 1450's, but we have hand-written copies of the Old Testament dating back to the 200's BC. Remarkably, these ancient manuscripts are nearly identical to the Bible we read today.

As far as the New Testament, the Bodmer Papyrus II contains most of the Gospel of John and dates from around 150-200 AD. The Chester Beatty Papyri contains major portions of the New Testament and dates back to about 200 AD. The Codex Vaticanus, the oldest complete New Testament manuscript we've discovered so far, dates from 325-350 AD. The apostle John, who lived with Jesus and learned from Jesus, penned five New Testament books and died in 100 AD. We have fragments of John's Gospel that date from 110-130 AD, within 30 years of his death. When compared to other ancient works such as Plato, Homer or Tacitus, that short time period between the original and the most recent copy is dramatic!

Clement of Rome was martyred in 100 AD. In his writings, he quoted from Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, 1 Corinthians, 1 Peter, Hebrews, and Titus. Clement's quotes totally correspond with the Bible we read today. In fact, even if we lost all of the 5,300 early Greek manuscripts, all of the 10,000 Latin vulgates, and all of the 9,300 other ancient manuscripts, we would be able to reconstruct all but 11 verses of the New Testament from the writings of the early Church leaders who quoted from them extensively. We have over 36,000 preserved quotes from the New Testament. In a nutshell, the Bible stands today as the best-preserved literary work of all antiquity and its overall reliability is without question! (This material was adapted from:

Honest questions deserve honest answers and I hope this material will help my readers who are struggling with this issue.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Focusing on Jesus While Discussing Faith

I know many people who do not consider themselves Christian. Many of these people do have a belief in God and a surprising number of them have a deep respect for Jesus. Though they may not be Christians, I often have engaging conversations with them about Jesus. Such people are often interested in talking about Jesus because of the great respect they have for Him.

For example, Jews believe in the same God as Christians. Though most Jews do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah for whom they have been waiting, many Jews do have respect for Jesus as a great religious teacher. When talking about Jesus to Jews, we can focus on what Jesus says about Moses and other prophets whom laid the foundation for the Jewish faith.

Muslims believe in a god named Allah. Some Muslims say that Allah is the same God as the Christians, though other Muslims say it is a different god. Since I am not Muslim, I'll let them debate that question between themselves. But nearly all Muslims respect Jesus as a great prophet and religious teacher; even if they don't think Jesus is the Savior of the world. When talking to Muslims about Jesus we can focus on the prophetic words that Jesus spoke since they respect Jesus as a prophet.

Many Buddhists even believe in Jesus, they just think He is a reincarnation of one of the Buddhas. Though I don't share that viewpoint, I do appreciate their respect for Jesus. When talking to Buddhists we can talk about what Jesus said about inner spirituality being superior to outward appearances since that is also important to Buddhists.

Gandhi, who was Hindu, had great respect for Jesus. Gandhi once said that if people in his nation actually lived like Jesus, all of India would be Christian. When talking to Hindus about Jesus, we can focus on the actions Jesus told us to emulate.

Many atheists even respect the way Jesus talked about social justice issues and agree with how Jesus chastised established religion for neglecting the poor and needy. When talking to atheists about Jesus we can focus on the relational aspects of how Jesus told us to treat each other.

The point I am trying to make is that talking to others about Jesus is a good thing, even if those individuals are not Christians. Those of us who are Christians should try hard to make sure we don't mess up our discussion about Jesus by failing to act like Jesus. We are the ones who claim to be the followers of Jesus but when we fail to actually follow His example and teachings, it makes our verbal sharing about Jesus weaker. As 2009 draws to a close and we begin to focus on a new year, may those of us who claim to be Christians make the resolution to live out our faith in both word and deed this year, both to each other and to those who do not consider themselves Christians.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Avatar and the Incarnation of Christ

Trying to explain deep theological concepts to young adults who did not grow up in church can be a challenge. One of the most important concepts in the Christian faith is the incarnation of Christ. Entire books have been written on the incarnation. To boil it down to its most basic element, the incarnation is the idea that God became a man and lived among us. God did this so that we could understand Him in a personal way through the person of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately most of us still fail to grasp the full impact of the incarnation.

Since Christmas is all about the incarnation of Christ, I thought I'd tackle this subject during this season of the year. Many of us, who are sci-fi fans, have seen the new movie that recently came out called Avatar. This movie has the incarnation theme all through it. The story line revolves around a group of humans who are mining ore on a distinct planet. They are trying to communicate something important about this process to a race of blue aliens. But the aliens just don't get it because they have a completely different way of looking at the world than the humans do. Some human scientists decide to grow a human/alien hybrid in a lab and then let humans mind meld with these creatures. The creatures then go live among the aliens for the purpose of being able to communicate this important information to them. During the course of the movie, much is learned about the culture of the blue aliens that could not have been learned except by living among them and experiencing life as they experienced it.

Though the illustration is far from perfect, this does give a basic understanding of the incarnation of Christ. God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came to live among us because we could not really grasp everything God was trying to say to us without the Creator of the universe walking among us. By seeing how Christ lived and related to those around Him, mankind learned important truths that God wanted us to know. The writers of the four Gospels wrote down the actions of Jesus and scholars have spent 2000 years learning from them. The incarnation is important because we would never have been able to understand God in a personal way had He not come to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

During this Christmas season, perhaps we should each spend some time asking how much we have learned from our relationship with Jesus. As the New Year approaches, perhaps one of our resolutions might be to invest more time, energy and effort into getting to know Jesus better in the year to come. He came to earth to show us important truths, the least we can do is learn those lessons and apply them to our lives in order to better understand the universe in which we live.

Who knew we could learn all that from a sci-fi movie?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Having I Trouble?

Have you ever noticed how the middle letter of the word "pride" is an "I"? It's that focus on "I" that often gets us in trouble.

I was talking about this subject with a friend who is relatively new Christian. He shared with me that one of his greatest struggles with his new found faith is the level of pride that exists in the hearts of many long term Christians. As he has become more involved in his church, he has had more opportunities to interact with people who have been Christians for a very long time. Though some of those long term Christians set an example for him in how faith and godliness work out in real life, a great many others just seem to ooze spiritual pride from their very pores.

These Christians seem to think they have got it all together spiritually, emotional and relationally in their lives, when in reality, they have as many problems as everyone else. My friend may be young in the faith, but he is not stupid, nor is he blind. My friend knows that Christians are still human, and he does not want to stand in judgment of others who have been in the faith longer, but you can imagine how frustrating it is for him when the ones he looks to as an example are full of themselves more than they are full of the Spirit.

Though my friend happens to be an adult, I have met many young people who have similar struggles. Many young people who have grown up attending church and learning about Christ turn away from their faith once they leave their parent's nest. Many of those young people lament that they would have stayed in the church if it were not for all the prideful Christians they met at church!

I know that pride is an issue I have to deal with constantly in my own life. I have come to believe that the longer we are Christians, the more prone to pride we become. This was the problem the Pharisees had in the New Testament, and not much has changed about the human condition since then.

If we want to invest ourselves in helping young people find a meaningful faith in Christ, we must learn to let go of our "I" problems and live humbly before God and man.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It’s All About Me, Isn’t It?

Lately it seems that I have found myself giving a lot of counsel to people who have high levels of bitterness in their spirit. Usually they come to me upset because someone has said something about them or offended them in some way. When I begin to ask questions and try to understand their feelings, the conversations often seem to revolve more about how they feel about themselves than about the person who supposedly hurt them.

Not long ago one friend of mine was highly offended by a joke that another person told. Dozens of people were in the room, but the person who was offended was so sure that the joke was pointed specifically at them. To be honest, in my own mind, I could not see any connection between the joke and the person who was offended and the joke teller clearly had not intended the joke to be aimed at anyone. But to the person who was upset, it was obviously all about them. Then there was the time that someone put a movie quote as their Facebook status, and half a dozen people were sure it was some kind of veiled jab at them, but it wasn't, it was just a movie quote from a movie the person had seen earlier in the day.

It seems that people are just more easily offended now than ever before. Our culture has somehow created a hyper-sensitive emotional state where everyone is convinced that the world is out to get them.

Though I am not a psychologist, it seems to me that this is a result of our own low self esteem. We feel bad about ourselves; therefore we think others feel bad about us too. Since we think that everything feels bad about us, then we interpret anything they say or do as a "bad" intention toward us.

And once we get angry and upset about one "offense" that someone did to us, and then we transfer that anger over into other relationships too. Instead of finding joy in our friendships, we just find pain and hurt. The pain and hurt cause us to end friendships that are really important to us, which just brings more pain and hurt. The end result is that we spend a lot of time angry and upset about stuff that often only exists in our own mind.

I am guessing that right about now half the people reading this are mad at me because you are sure that I am talking about YOU in this post! News flash, the world does not revolve around any particular one of us! People do not really sit around dreaming up ways they can hurt us. People are too busy trying to make a living, trying to pass the 10th grade, trying to find a job or be a good spouse to spend time being obsessed with us. The only person obsessed with us, is US. Maybe we just need to relax a little and stop creating drama that does not exist. We will all be a lot happier if we stop taking everything everyone says or does personally.

Take a deep breath. Relax. It's not all about us. And that's a good thing.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holy Cows and Godly Grilled Cheese

A farmer in Rhode Island is excited because a cow was born on his farm that has a white marking on its forehead that vaguely resembles a white cross. A few months ago someone thought they saw the image of the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich. A couple of years ago someone got a french fry from McDonalds that they swore looked like Jesus kneeling in prayer. While it is indeed possible that these types of things really are God's way of reminding us that He is still here, it is also possible that people are seeing what they want to see in an effort to feel connected to the divine.

As our culture has become more secular in nature, many people feel less connected to the divine than they once were. This sense of disconnection is a cause of great anxiety for many people because deep down inside we know that something is up there somewhere. Scientific studies on prayer show that prayer actually works. Surveys in both Britain and America show that deeply religious people are happier than non-religious ones. Both the personal experience of millions of people and books such as "When God Winks" by Squire Rushnell provide compelling evidence that God is indeed still involved in our everyday lives.

But knowing that there is something up there somewhere is vastly different than being "connected" to whatever is up there. In the past, people tended to connect with the divine by going to church, praying, singing religious music and other traditional methods of spirituality. But as our culture has gotten busier and more secular, fewer people are developing those traditional methods of spirituality. However, since we know something is up there somewhere, we tend to look for spirituality where ever we can find it. Thus, we see crosses on cows' foreheads and images of Mary in grilled cheese and Jesus in French fries.

Instead of seeking the divine in these somewhat unorthodox ways, maybe we should just go back to church? Though going back to church may seem like a radical suggestion to some, from my perspective it sure seems more logical than hanging out at the local McDonalds hoping for a holy french fry. People often tell me they are too busy to go to church. I respond that we find the time to do the things that we want to do. People often tell me that they don't like church. I remind them that a wide variety of churches exist in America and surely one of those churches will work for them. Just think about it, in America today people can choose a church that has a pipe organ or one that has a full band with modern music. People can choose a church where the pastor shouts or one where the pastor sounds like he is giving a college lecture. There are churches that use ancient confessions and prayers and also churches that use modern confessions and prayers.

The simple reality is that there is a church somewhere that will help us reconnect with the divine. When problems come in life, a room full of praying people who have similar beliefs and values is a lot more comforting than a French fry that vaguely looks like Jesus or a cow with an odd white spot in its forehead. So thank God for the cow because it might be a message from Him, but this Sunday morning, pack up the family and head to a nearby church, it really will help us feel more connected with the divine.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Modern Day Parable about Faith

There was once a little boy name Josh. He was fascinated by science and wanted to know how everything in the universe worked. Even as a little boy Josh drove his parents and teachers crazy by asking complicated questions that had complicated answers. When Josh grew up, he got a job in a scientific laboratory working for the famous Dr. Reason. Dr. Reason was well known for doing excellent research and producing scholarly reports on that research. Josh enjoyed working for him and as the years passed he was able to be a part of exciting research that answered so many of his questions about how the universe worked. When Dr. Reason would finish a major project, he would always publish an article in a well respected scientific journal about his work. Josh loved reading those articles. They made sense to him. The research was meticulous and the conclusions were rational. Dr. Reason was so careful in his research that no one had ever proved any of the conclusions in his articles wrong.

Josh respected Dr. Reason for the research and conclusions that those articles represented, but the longer Josh worked for Dr. Reason, the more their relationship evolved. In time, they became great friends, perhaps even best friends. Dr. Reason would remember little details about Josh and use those details to make Josh's life more joyful. For example, Dr. Reason remembered that Josh liked chocolate cake, and so he would bring chocolate cake in when it was Josh's birthday. Though Josh did not have quite as good a memory as Dr. Reason, over time he realized that Dr. Reason like baked chicken. So Josh would often bring a whole baked chicken to the lab for lunch and share it with Dr. Reason. Dr. Reason was also willing to help Josh when Josh needed it. When Josh's car broke down, Dr. Reason gave him a bonus so he could get the car fixed. When Josh's grandmother passed away, Dr. Reason came to the funeral and sat next to Josh and they cried together and found comfort in each other's friendship. Though the scientific articles that Dr. Reason wrote meant a lot to Josh, it was only a piece of their relationship. It was all the other things that really made them friends.

One day Dr. Reason published an article in a journal about a project that he had been working on in a different laboratory. Josh had known that Dr. Reason had a number of other labs where he was doing research. Josh was vaguely aware of what was going on in those labs but did not know all the details like he did in his own lab. When the new article came out, many people did not like Dr. Reason's conclusions. People began to come to Josh and ask him how he could continue to work for Dr. Reason when his conclusions were so faulty. Josh did his best to defend Dr. Reason's work, but since he did not know all the details of what was being done in those other labs, he was not able to give as good an answer as he might have liked. Josh did ask Dr. Reason about it, and though Dr. Reason explained it to him, the research and work was so complex that Josh really could not fully understand it. But Josh tried to explain it the best he could to those who asked him about it.

As the controversy intensified, many people said that Josh had "blind faith" in Dr. Reason because Josh kept defending something that he could not fully explain. Others said Josh had made a "leap of faith." But Josh was not moved from his belief in Dr. Reason's abilities or intelligence. Josh patiently explained to others that while he was indeed exercising faith in Dr. Reason in this work that he did not fully understand, it was not "blind" faith, nor was it a "leap" of faith. From Josh's perspective, it was only a step of faith, not a leap of faith. From Josh's perspective, it was not blind faith, but informed faith. Josh had this perspective because Josh knew Dr. Reason really well. Dr. Reason had proved himself to Josh, not just in the scholarly research and well written articles that had been published, but also in the friendship itself.

Josh was informed enough about Dr. Reason's work and life and that he felt comfortable continuing working for Dr. Reason even though he did not fully understand this particular situation. Others kept using words like "blind" and "leap" and Josh kept explaining that it was an informed step of faith, not a blind leap, but many people just could not understand Josh's perspective. At first Josh was frustrated with these people, even a little angry at some of them. He even said a few things he shouldn't have in his frustration. But in time Josh realized that these people could not understand because they did not know Dr. Reason the way he did. Though Josh really did want to know all the details and all the answers about this project that Dr. Reason was doing, he knew Dr. Reason enough to realize that in time, all would be revealed. Josh was comfortable in his informed step of faith and remained Dr. Reason's lab assistant. Many people did not understand Josh's choice, but Josh knew it was the right one and so he was at peace with his choice even if others did not understand.

Moral of the parable:

Many people say that Christians blindly follow a God that is only revealed in the Bible. But for Christians who have built a relationship with God, He is not just revealed in the Bible, but also in their experiences with God. The Bible shows God's work and parts of it are very easy to understand and explain to others. Other parts are more difficult to understand and explain to others. Those who are not Christians call it blind faith or a leap of faith. But for Christians who have a personal relationship with God, it is not a blind leap of faith at all. Yes, it is faith, but it is more of an informed step of faith than a blind leap. They understand parts of the Bible very well, and they know God well through their personal experiences with Him. Their friendship with God and the parts of the Bible they do understand give them the faith to believe the parts of the Bible that might not be as easy to explain. Faith is required, but from the Christian's perspective, it is a faith that is well founded and makes perfect sense. Others may lack the ability to understand the informed step of faith that a reflective Christian might make, but to the Christian, it makes perfect sense.