Jesus or Santa: Who gives the Better Christmas Story?

Christmas has traditionally been about celebrating the birth of Jesus. The Gospel accounts of a virgin birth, angels appearing to shepherds, and wise men traveling from afar to see the baby Jesus in a manger provided a story that was convincing for our great-grandparents. That generation added symbols such as manger scenes, Christmas trees, lights, music and drama (ex. Dickens’ Christmas Carol) to give Christmas the festive foundation so it would become the juggernaut of celebrations that it is today.

But since then, perhaps because of our increasing secularization and modern doubt over the Christmas story (C’mon – a virgin birth – Really?!), we have culturally swapped that story for Santa and his mission to give gifts to boys and girls who have managed to stay off the naughty list. It is a great story for kids, and it can safely be discarded when we get older since it never claims to be true – just safely fun. It seems a better story in our modern world when we can take a needed break from the harsh realities of real life and experience, with our kids, a fun story. So Santa dominates our radio and television and ‘Happy Holidays’ is becoming the Christmas greeting of choice. It is safer for a modern world steeped in doubt, anxious to avoid offending, and happy to have a season to pretend.

I have always loved good stories. Whether mythical (like The Lord of the Rings), sci-fi (like Star Wars), or historical (like Braveheart), a story with an insurmountable challenge or threat, an authentic hero, and a plot that sees the hero vanquish the villain, but in an astonishing way.  Through a drama with a large scope, good stories have always absorbed my attention.

It was when I looked again at the Biblical Christmas story, to before the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth that I started to see that it also was a great story, with a plot and a depth that rival all classics. Even taken purely as story, the Biblical Christmas story beats the Santa replacement story just about any way you look at it. But to see this, you need to grasp the Biblical Christmas story as it was meant to be understood – as one chapter in a long epic, spanning the entire universe and enveloping the entire human race.

The Bible Christmas Story from its Beginning

This Christmas story really begins with a Creator. He makes everything that exists, including a Being of immense power, intelligence and beauty whom the Creator refers to as Day Star or Lucifer. Lucifer sets himself up as the Adversary of the Creator – and a universal showdown is on the table. The Creator has also made mankind in His Image so that they are emotional, intellectual and have the power to make choice. The Adversary scores first in their head-to-head by setting in motion a chain of events that results in the corruption of humans, so that they no longer function emotionally, mentally and volitionally as they did originally. Like a computer virus wreaking havoc in your computer, there is now a virus loose in mankind which causes sin – a missing of the target – creating the havoc we see in the world today.

So what would the Creator do? Use his infinite power to annihilate humans, or to imprison the Adversary? Here the plot takes an astonishing twist. Instead of responding with force and power like some cosmic Superman, the Creator makes a promise that He sets out in the form of a Riddle. The Creator’s riddle speaks mysteriously of ‘the woman’ and ‘an offspring’ which is described as a ‘he’. This ‘he’ would crush the ‘head’ of the Adversary. And that was it!  Who the ‘he’ was, or the ‘woman’, exactly how this would unfold – and when – was not clearly stated. The Adversary was now left pondering his next move and the first humans wondering how, and if, this Riddle would develop.

The unfolding Story – through a man and a nation

The drama continues when centuries later another riddle is given, this time to a traveler. This riddle was unique in that it promised a blessing to ‘all nations’.  Like Santa on Christmas Eve this promise was to travel to all the nations of the world – of which you and I are a part. Then, departing from the verbal format, a bizarre drama was acted out on a remote mountain top. Like a play, this drama looked forward to something that ‘will’ happen on the then remote mountain. But the what, when, how and with whom, was not directly stated. Those details remained a mystery. About 500 years later an equally bizarre drama with this same man’s descendants, now in another country, inaugurated a calendar that is still in effect today which contained pregnant markers in its yearly cycle.

Royalty enters the Story

After a further 500 years another chapter in this epic opens up. A certain title – from which we derive the world Christmas today – was inaugurated to a Royal Dynasty. Though spanning generations like today’s British monarchy, the title in this dynasty pointed to a coming specific person who would have worldwide significance.

Unfortunately, this Royal Dynasty, though it began with such promise, was destroyed. Like a tree that is severed from its root, this dynasty was smashed so that only a dead stump remained. Well, the stump was only mostly dead. In fact, through another riddle, it was promised that a Branch would one day shoot up from this seemingly dead stump.

Signs of the Unique Christmas Person

With that severing of the dynasty, the flow of promises, each equally mysterious, began to flow more rapidly through a group of diverse men living in different social strata, countries and cultures. The timing of the budding of the Branch was given, even a name was announced, though somewhat shrouded in imagery. What was not mysterious however was the peculiar ‘sign’ which would accompany it. The crystal clear sign was:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 ca. 750 B.C.)

Though that promise seemed understandable (and seemingly impossible), what was not immediately clear was why such a sign was needed. Why was it necessary to circumvent a human father? Was the Creator against sex? In explaining the effect of this birth the riddle pointed back to the virus of sin running amok in our human race. A re-boot of the human species was going to be attempted to stamp out the virus.

But this only deepened the mystery because right after the Virgin birth announcement, the same seer continued with further bizarre predictions by stating that the arrival of this son would:

…In the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light …
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 1-2, 6)

How could it be that this ‘son’ would be called and identified with the Creator, the One who was utterly remote from mankind? Would God really become one of us? Before that perplexing question could even be entertained a gruesome ending to this whole saga was given in a funeral song. Or was it an ending?

The drama, riddles and puzzles were all inked and set down thousands of years ago. If you can read Hebrew you can read them all in the most ancient preserved writings of the ancient world – the Dead Sea Scrolls – only unearthed from their storage from deep antiquity a few decades ago. With the last message written there was then a long and expectant wait. Would the drama unfold as it had been written? In fact, was it even possible that all these strands of riddles could ever be simultaneously fulfilled?  Both the learned and unlearned pondered over these riddles as the centuries moved on.

If you skip all this and only start the Biblical Christmas story with Jesus, shepherds and wise men, then you miss the drama, the suspense and development of plot. You do not see the cosmic story. You probably will only see it as an antiquated tradition of your great-grandmother.  But really, the birth of Jesus was the start of a fulfillment of riddles that had spanned centuries.  The riddles kept the Adversary guessing and people living in hopeful expectation.

A Free & Verified Christmas Gift

But if you understand everything from the beginning you get a great story. Better yet, you and I get the opportunity to become characters written into this unfolding and continuing story. As Christmas is just as much about receiving gifts from loved ones as giving them, this story culminates in the offer of a gift to you and me. Receiving this gift does require trust in the Giver, the same kind of trust that Abraham had when he was offered a gift.

Better still, there is plenty of evidence that this is a facts-on-the-ground true story. Unlike Santa Claus, for whom we do not even try to seek verification in the North Pole, or on his sleigh in the sky, or find witnesses who have seen him stuck in a chimney, there is historical corroboration for Jesus – even the virgin birth part of the story. Roman and Jewish historians outside of the Bible refer to him. The places where all the riddles were spelled out and where Jesus walked are terra firma real. There is a Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Mount Moriah. Since we have the story written out for us before it happened we have evidence that there is one Author in this story. The fact that Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Daniel and the others could specify hundreds of years beforehand the events of Jesus’ birth, life and death is evidence that the Creator – who alone knows the future – has authored this Story, as an invitation for you and me to join Him in it.

If you make no effort you will probably only see and hear variant Santa stories this Christmas.  But, even for just the sake of a good story, I recommend the Biblical Christmas story.  It is much better.  Here is the story from the gospels of Matthew and Luke arranged chronologically.  It is less than 1300 words and will take 5 minutes to read.  You can follow the links therein to see how the account is built upon a deeper drama.  It is worth knowing better.

May it give you a Merry Christmas.

Did Moses write the Torah?

Two events happened this month that show the depth and breadth of a question that has been burning for over one hundred years: Did Moses really write the Torah?

What is the Torah? Who wrote it?

The first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) are collectively referred to as the Torah (by Jews), the Pentateuch (by Christians/Westerners) and the Taurat (by Muslims). The fact that all three monotheistic faiths acknowledge these writings show their cultural, historical and religious significance. Countless Jewish, Christian and Islamic scholars have referenced these writings down to our day. Jesus quoted liberally from the Torah throughout the gospels.  Even as different scholars from various sects battled each other over interpretation, they had all agreed on one thing – that Moses had indeed written the Torah approximately 1500-1400 BC.

Moses and the Documentary Hypothesis

But that changed in the late 19th century when western scholars advanced a bold new idea: Moses did not write the Pentateuch, instead it developed at a much later time from pre-existing writings that were edited together by unknown editors.  Known as the Documentary Hypothesis, it proposed that material from at least 4 authors, termed J (for Jehovah), E (for Elohim), D (for Deuteronomic) and P (for Priestly) had started being compiled during the Davidic monarchy (9th Century BC) and after centuries was finalized upon the Jewish return from exile sometime in the 5th century BC. In this view the Torah was solely a human product from unknown sources, put together by further unknown compilers.

The Documentary Hypothesis was advanced by Wellhausen (1844-1918) using two main arguments. First, he alleged that writing did not exist way back in 1500 BC, mankind was too primitive then and therefore the Torah could not have been written at such an early date. (Writing going back much further than 1500 BC has been discovered since, e.g. the Ebla tablets dating past 2000 BC. So this first argument is clearly not valid anymore)  He also brought to attention the fact that there were two names for God in the Torah. The first, Elohim, is often translated in English Bibles today as ‘God’, and the other – Yahweh – is often translated as ‘LORD God’. You can see that ‘God’ (Elohim) is used in Genesis 1 but at Genesis 2:4 it switches to ‘LORD God’ (Yahweh). As you read through the Torah it switches back and forth. Wellhausen argued that this was internal evidence of two different sources from two different authors (designated J and E) which were later collated into one document. The theory soon demanded more authors and so D and P were added (and in variant theories many more as well).

Modern scholarship and Moses

While the specifics of the documentary hypothesis have been critiqued by those advocating new theories, what is now almost universally agreed is that the Torah is the work of many people, and its development spanned centuries, only reaching the form that it is in today somewhere around 500 BC. “Certainly Moses in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC had nothing to do with it”, say modern scholarship.

William Dever & the Pentateuch

Consider the following quotes from William Dever, a well-known Biblical archaeologist:

“It is universally agreed that the book of Deuteronomy is a later addition to the Pentateuch (probably it was inserted not earlier than the late 7th century B.C.).”  Dever 2003 Who were the Early Israelites and where did they come from? p. 37

Of course, if the first books of the Bible were written much later then this means that all subsequent ones come later as well. In fact the whole timeline of the Old Testament is affected. Consider how Dever evaluates the book of Joshua, the account of Moses’ immediate successor.

We have already discussed the general character of the “Deuteronomic history” (that is , Deuteronomy through II Kings) of which Joshua is a critical component. We noted that mainstream scholars date the composition and first editing of this great national epic toward the end of the Israelite Monarchy, probably during the reign of Josiah (640 – 609 BC). But the compilers must have had many separate ‘sources’ so we need to look now more closely at the special character of the sources that went into the making of the book of Joshua (Obviously Joshua himself did not write it!)  p.38

The tone and the assertion are identical to what I learned when I took a university course on the Bible. All scholars ‘know’ that the traditional author could not have written the book. It ‘obviously’ was written hundreds of years later during the time of the Davidic dynasty. But how do they ‘know’ this?

The Torah, Dead Sea Scrolls, & Top Events in Human History

This brings us to the two events this month which bear on our question. A few weeks ago the Israeli Antiquities Authority put on public display, for the first time ever, the world’s oldest existing copy of the Ten Commandments – arguably the cornerstone of the Torah – as one of a 14-part exhibit “tracing history’s most pivotal moments”. In other words, the museum people concluded that the issuing of the Ten Commandments was in the Top 14 of humanity’s most important events. That’s pretty big.

ten-commandments-indead-sea-scrolls-atisraeli-antiquities
The Ten Commandments in the Dead Sea Scrolls – part of the Torah

As part of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection, the oldest copy of the Ten Commandments is about 2000 years old and so brittle with age that it can only be on display for a few weeks. It is old, but at 2000 years of age it is so young compared to dates of 1500 BC (traditional date of the Torah) and 500 BC (modern scholarship date) that it is not helpful in answering the question of who wrote the Torah. The time horizon is too deep for even the oldest copy to help answer the question of who wrote those Commands that are in the ‘Top 14’.

The Pentateuch in Palmyra

Deuteronomy inscription in Palmyra
Deuteronomy inscription in Palmyra

Also this month, the Islamic State capture of Palmyra in the bloody war in Syria has made headlines around the world. When the Islamic State captures a city there is always concern for atrocities, but Palmyra has an added worry in that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre due to its preserved ruins of bygone civilizations.  Included amongst the Persian, Greek and Roman artefacts, carved on one of the ancient doorways is preserved the opening verses of the Jewish Shema prayer from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. This shows the widespread influence of the Pentateuch, and its great antiquity.  However, these ancient carvings are still not old enough to shed any light on the origins of the Pentateuch.

‘Jerusalem’, ‘Zion’, the Jews & the Torah: Only Moses could pass over that

You might think that with the relevant textual and archaeological data too recent to be of use, and with modern scholars engrossed in competing theories which are united only in their assertions against Moses, that the question is hopeless to answer.  The religious (Jew, Christian or Muslim) can only answer ‘Moses’ on pious grounds, while the secular, looking for a non-religious reasons for the development of the Pentateuch, must fall back on complex speculations.

But actually, there is a very simple and straightforward way to gain some clarity.  And with internet search capabilities you can do it. Do a search through the Torah and see if you can find the word ‘Jerusalem’. This will do it for you. As you can see, the word ‘Jerusalem’ only appears first in Joshua.  Thus, through the whole Pentateuch, from Genesis to Deuteronomy the word ‘Jerusalem’ is never used. Jerusalem is today, and has been for millennia, the center of the Jewish world.  Its significance to the Jewish people is like that of Mecca for Muslims, or like Rome for Catholics. This is why the word ‘Jerusalem’ appears a full 655 times through the Old Testament and 146 times in the New Testament. It appears 229 times in Kings-Chronicles – but never in the Torah.  Its synonym ‘Zion’ also does not appear even once in the Torah, making its first appearance only in 2 Samuel.  Yet by the end of the Old Testament ‘Zion’ is used 161 times. Consider an excerpt from one of the Psalms from the period of the exile (6th century BC) and get a feel for how important Jerusalem/Zion was to the Jewish people then.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy. (Psalm 137: 1-6)

Jerusalem, founded by the Davidic dynasty, quickly became the sacred heartland for the Jews after the first Temple was built (ca 960 BC). It still is today. Yet modern scholars, no matter which Documentary version they push for, would have us believe that editor ‘Priests’ consciously edited, collated and massaged the entire Torah, over the centuries when their attachment to Jerusalem was at its height – and they produced the entire 80000 word Torah without ever using the words ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Zion’ even once! These ‘editors’ were living in Jerusalem while this editing was going on.  And this while they were concurrently compiling the other books (Kings, Chronicles, Samuel etc) that use ‘Jerusalem’ over 600 times and ‘Zion’ over 100 times!

I find my faith to be way too small and way too weak to believe such an utterly fantastic idea.  Revionist scholars, for whatever reason, fail to note these obvious yet simple facts standing right before their eyes. They claim to be able to observe and interpret facts as minute as fernseeds, yet they cannot see the elephant in the room.  The Pentateuch, with its absolute silence on both ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Zion’ must have been finalized before the rise of the monarchy in 1000 BC. A pseudo-Moses editorial team would not have passed over the opportunity to use ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Zion’ in compiling their Torah while Jerusalem was their keystone.

Though the absolute absence of ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Zion’ from the Torah does not prove that Moses wrote the Torah per se, it proves that its composition comes before the Jewish establishment of Jerusalem and thus it dismantles, in one stroke, all the modern theories which place its composition in the 5th century BC. The only one left standing when the dust settles from the collision of clever theories with one good fact is Moses.

Has the text of the Bible been changed?

An Introduction to Textual Criticism and the Bible

“Why should I even consider the Bible? It was written so long ago, has had so many translations and revisions done to it – it is most likely that its original message has been altered and misunderstood over the course of time.” The young man who asked me this question was intent, wondering if there was any reasonable answer to his skeptical outlook about the Bible.

The question my inquirer was asking is fairly straightforward – many of us ask it, and rightly so! It stems from what we know about the Bible. After all, it was written two thousand plus years ago. For most of these millennia there has been no printing press, photocopy machines or publishing companies. So the original manuscripts were copied by hand, generation after generation, as languages died out and new ones arose, as empires crumbled and new powers ascended. Since the original manuscripts have long been lost, how do we know that what we read today in the Bible is what the original authors actually wrote long ago? As my resolute friend pointed out to me, many young kids often play a game called telephone, wherein a message is whispered into someone’s ear, and (s)he in turn whispers this message into the next person’s ear until the message has traversed all participants in the game. Then the last person says the message out loud and all participants note how it has changed so much from its start at the beginning of the human chain. Can this game be comparable to the passing of the Bible through time, so that what we read today may be substantially different from the original writings?

Principles of Textual Criticism

Naturally this question is true of any ancient writing. This figure illustrates the process by which any such writing has been preserved over time.

Example of Stages in life of a hypothetical ancient document
Example of Stages in life of a hypothetical ancient document

This simplified diagram shows an example of an ancient document written at 500 BC. This original however does not last indefinitely, so before it decays, is lost, or destroyed, a manuscript (MSS) copy of it is made (1st copy). A professional class of people called scribes did the copying work. As the years advance, copies are made of the copy (2nd copy & 3rd copy). At some point a copy is preserved so that it is in existence (extant) today (3rd copy). In our example diagram this extant copy was made in 500 AD. This means that the earliest that we can know of the state of the document is only from 500 AD onwards. Consequently the period from 500 BC to 500 AD (labeled x in the diagram) is the period where we cannot make any copy verifications since all manuscripts from this period have disappeared. For example, if copying errors (intentional or otherwise) were made when the 2nd copy was made from the 1st copy, we would not be able to detect them as neither of these documents are available to compare against each other. This time period predating the origin of currently existing copies (the period x) is thus the interval of textual uncertainty.  Consequently, a principle used help answer questions about textual reliability is to look at the length of this time span. The shorter this interval (labelled ‘x’ in the diagram) the more confidence we can place in the accurate preservation of the document to our modern day, since the period of uncertainty is reduced.

Of course, usually more that one manuscript copy of a document is in existence today. Suppose we have two such manuscript copies and in the same section of each of them we find the following translated phrase:

With few manuscipts (MSS) the textual base is small
With few manuscipts (MSS) the textual base is small

The original author had either been writing about Joan OR about John, and the other of these manuscripts contains a copy error. The question is -Which one has the error? From the available evidence it is very difficult to determine.

Now suppose we found two more manuscript copies of the same work, as shown below:

The more manuscripts the greater the textual base
The more manuscripts the greater the textual base

Now it is easier to deduce which manuscript probably has the error. It is more likely that the error is made once, rather than the same error repeated three times, so it is likely that MSS #2 has the copy error, and the author was writing about Joan, not John.

This simple example illustrates a second principle we can use to verify manuscript integrity – The more existing manuscripts that are available, the easier it is to detect & correct errors and to ascertain the content of the original.

So now we know two indicators used to determine the textual reliability of ancient documents: 1) measuring the time between original composition and earliest existing manuscript copies, and 2) counting the number of existing manuscript copies. Since these indicators pertain to any ancient writing we can proceed to apply them to both the Bible as well as other works of antiquity, as done in the tables below (1).

Textual Criticism of accepted ancient documents

Author When Written Earliest Copy Time Span #
Caesar 50 BC 900 AD 950 10
Plato 350 BC 900 AD 1250 7
Aristotle* 300 BC 1100 AD 1400 5
Thucydides 400 BC 900 AD 1300 8
Herodotus 400 BC 900 AD 1300 8
Sophocles 400 BC 1000 AD 1400 100
Tacitus 100 AD 1100 AD 1000 20
Pliny 100 AD 850 AD 750 7

* from any one work

These writers represent the major classical writers of antiquity – the writings that have shaped the development of Western civilization. On average, they have been passed down to us by 10-100 manuscripts that are preserved starting only about 1000 years after the original was written.  From a scientific point-of-view this data can be considered our control experiment since it comprises data (classical writers) that are accepted and used by academics and universities world-wide.

Textual Criticism of the New Testament

The following table compares the Biblical (New Testament in particular) writings along these same points of interest (1).  This can be considered our experimental data which will be compared to our control data, just like in any scientific investigation.

MSS When Written Date of MSS Time Span
John Rylan 90 AD 130 AD 40 yrs
Bodmer Papyrus 90 AD 150-200 AD 110 yrs
Chester * Beatty 60 AD 200 AD 20 yrs
Codex Vaticanus 60-90 AD 325 AD 265 yrs
Codex Sinaiticus 60-90 AD 350 AD 290 yrs

The number of New Testament manuscripts is so vast that it would be impossible to list them all in a table. As one scholar (3) who spent years studying this issue states:

“We have more than 24000 MSS copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today… No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation. In comparison, the ILIAD by Homer is second with 643 MSS that still survive”

A leading scholar at the British Museum (4) corroborates this:

“Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers … yet our knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of MSS whereas the MSS of the N.T. are counted by … thousands”

A significant number of these manuscripts are extremely ancient. I own a book about the earliest New Testament documents. The Introduction starts with:

“This book provides transcriptions of 69 of the earliest New Testament manuscripts…dated from early 2nd century to beginning of the 4th (100-300AD) … containing about 2/3 of the new Testament text” (5)

This is significant since these manuscripts come before Roman Emperor Constantine (ca 325 AD) and the rise to power of the Catholic Church both of which are often accused of altering the biblical text. We can actually test this claim by comparing the alterations of the texts from before Constantine (since we have them) with those coming later. But when we do we find that they are the same. The message of the texts from 200 AD is the same as those from 1200 AD. Neither the Catholic Church, nor Constantine changed the Bible. That is not a religious statement, it is one based solely on scientific data.

Video of university presentation on reliability of the New Testament text

Video presentation on reliability of Old Testament Text

But what about the Old Testament?  The manuscipt basis for the Old Testament is different enough that it warrants its own discussion which is highlighted in the 7 minute video here.

Implications of Textual Criticism re. the Bible

So what can we conclude from this? Certainly at least in what we can objectively measure (number of extant MSSs and time spans between original and earliest extant MSS) the New Testament is substantiated to a much higher degree than any other classical work of antiquity. The verdict to which the evidence pushes us is best summed up by the following quote (5):

“To be skeptical of the resultant text of the N.T. is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no other documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament”

What he is saying is that to be consistent, if we decide to doubt the reliability of the preservation of the Bible we may as well discard all that we know about classical history in general – and this no informed historian has ever done. We know that the Biblical texts have not been altered as eras, languages and empires have come and gone since the earliest extant MSSs pre-date these events. For example, we know that no overly zealous medieval monk added in the miracles of Jesus to the Biblical account, since we have manuscripts that pre-date the medieval monks and all these pre-dated manuscripts also contain the miraculous accounts of Jesus.

What about translation of the Bible?

But what about the errors involved in translation, and the fact that there are so many different versions of the Bible today? Does this not show that it is impossible to accurately determine what the original authors actually wrote? Due to the vast classical literature that was written in Greek (original language of the New Testament), it has become possible to precisely translate the original thoughts and words of the original authors. In fact the different modern versions attest to this. For example, read the well-known verse John 3:16 in the three most common versions, and note the slight variance in wording, but consistency in idea and meaning:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” New International Version

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” King James Version

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” New American Standard Version

You can see that there is no disagreement between the translations – they say exactly the same thing with only slightly different word usage.

To summarize, neither time nor translation has kept the original ideas and thoughts as expressed in the original Biblical manuscripts hidden from us. We can know that the Bible today accurately reads what the authors actually wrote.

It is important to realize what this little study does and does not show. It does not prove that the Bible is necessarily the Word of God, nor that it is even true. It can be argued (at least from the evidence presented just here) that though the original ideas of the Biblical authors have been accurately conveyed to us today that does not prove or indicate that these original ideas are correct (or even that they are from God). True enough. But understanding the textual reliability of the Bible provides a start-point from which one can start seriously investigating the Bible to see if some of these other questions can also be answered, and to see what the theme of the Bible is. I hope that this introductory article may encourage you to take a good look at the ‘Book’.  You may have questions about Constantine and the role he played in how the Bible has come to us – take a look at this here.

Remember the saying – Don’t judge a book by its cover. You need to read it.  Good places to start in this website are the accounts of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac as well as the Passover account.  Both of these will introduce you to the theme of the Bible and will get you started to consider whether this message may really be from God or not.

The Ebola Example: Could a loving God really send people to Hell?

One of the questions I had when considering the gospel had to do with hell. Probably like you I had heard preachers talk about it as if it was quite real – admittedly a rather frightening prospect. But then I also heard that God was ‘loving’ and that ‘God is love’. Taken together these principles were a paradox for me: How could a loving God send people to Hell?  At first glance it seemed that these two doctrines were at odds with each other. After all, if God ‘loved me’, surely he would not send me to Hell. Or, if God did send me to Hell then He certainly could not be loving, or at least not love me. One or the other may hold but the two together seemed contradictory. And then, since I usually heard about hell through some animated preacher, it made me wonder if they were just using fear tactics to exert control over me.

Ehrman and Hell

I am not alone. In fact, gospel arch-critic and renowned New Testament professor Bart Ehrman had this to say in one of his widely read books:

“… There is not literally a place of eternal torment where God, or the demons doing his will, will torture poor souls for 30 trillion years (as just the beginning) for sins they committed for thirty years. What kind of never-dying eternal divine Nazi would a God like that be? … We therefore have nothing to fear in death.”

Bart Ehrman. 2010. Jesus Interrupted: revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and why we don’t know about them). p. 276

Many of us may identify with Ehrman. And given that hell is such an ominous subject it is easy to dismiss it from serious thinking – in fact we explicitly avoid thinking about it – reasoning somewhat as Ehrman does, and feeling rather safe in the belief that the majority of modern and progressive people think similarly. We avoid thinking further about it and hope it will therefore go away.

What spurred me to think this through was to recognize that it is the truth or falseness of a belief that should be considered, not whether it is ominous or not, nor whether it is doubted by most. After all, before Copernicus, most people thought that the sun revolved around the earth – the majority were wrong. Furthermore, coming to grips with unpleasant outcomes are required for safe & healthy living. Campaigns about AIDS, drunk driving, and smoking are effective precisely because they force us to think about nasty consequences. We do not consider these campaigns manipulative or scare tactics. In fact, we are thankful that they raised an issue we perhaps did not want to think about, and in so doing, increased our safety and well-being.

Jesus and Hell

So, though the question of hell may not be in vogue, it is worth considering. For starters, it may be surprising to learn that it is Jesus Christ himself – the person who stands out in history as the teacher par excellence on topics such as mercy, forgiveness and the love of God (In fact the reason we associate love with God is largely through the influence of this man.) who also taught about hell. Notwithstanding his emphasis on the love of God, he also taught more about hell than all the other Biblical teachers combined. Consider the following quotes from Jesus:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven… Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers”   Matthew 7: 21-23

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited … but they refused to come. Then he sent more servants and … invited [them] … But they paid no attention and went off – one to his field, another to his business… Then the King said to his servants, ‘Go to the street corners and invite any you find’ … Then the king told the attendants ‘Tie him hand and foot and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” Matthew 22: 1- 13

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, … he will sit on the throne in heavenly glory .. He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats … Then the King will say to those on his right [the sheep], ‘Come, … take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world …. Then he will say to those on his left [the goats], ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil …” Matthew 25:31-41

“It is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell” Mark 9:47

“Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell” Luke 12:5

“Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside … But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you came from. Away from me all you evildoers” Luke 13:25-27

So warnings about the reality of hell, do not begin with obscure Biblical passages or wild-eyed preachers – they are centered in the teachings of Jesus himself.

Ebola and Hell

Ebola Quarantine Sign
Ebola Quarantine Sign
Enforcing Ebola Quarantine
Enforcing Ebola Quarantine
Suited up for Ebola
Suited up for Ebola
Suiting up for Ebola
Suiting up for Ebola

But then how do we reconcile these two seemingly opposing teachings? If ‘God is love’, how can hell be in the picture too? Perhaps the world-wide panic over the Ebola outbreak can serve as a vivid example of one portrait that Jesus used when he taught about Hell.

We see in the news how Ebola has spread through West Africa and has raised concerns around the world with the recent spread of infections to other regions. We have all seen the images of completely suited, masked and gloved nurses and doctors caring for those infected with Ebola and for those handling the bodies of the Ebola dead. The World Health Organization, infectious disease experts, and medical professionals are telling us that success or failure containing Ebola hangs on one overarching strategy – quarantine.   Ebola spreads by person- to-person fluid contact so the only way to control it is to quarantine and completely seal off those infected.   Even small tears in the protective suits and minor lapses in isolation protocol cannot be tolerated.

These thorough and sometimes frantic procedures to isolate and quarantine the Ebola virus are examples of a similarly systematic procedure to isolate a spiritual virus – and that quarantine is called Hell.

How is this so?

Ebola quarantine measures
Ebola quarantine measures

Heaven and Hell

Jesus centered his teaching on the coming of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. When we think of ‘heaven’ we often think in terms of its situation or milieu – the ‘streets of gold’ as it were. But the greater hope of the Kingdom that Jesus anticipated is a society that will be comprised of citizens of exclusively honest and selfless character who therefore won’t pilfer the said gold off those streets. Continue down this line of thought and reflect on how much we build into the ‘kingdoms’ here on earth to protect ourselves from each other. We all have locks on our homes, advanced security systems even; we always leave our cars locked; we tell our kids not to speak to strangers. Can you even imagine a city without some ‘law enforcement’ in place? Why do we password protect all our personal electronic data? When you stop and think of all the systems, practices and procedures that we have put in place in our ‘kingdoms’ and realize that they are there simply to protect ourselves from each other then you may get a glimmer of a looming problem. It is like there is something awry with us.  If God were to setup a kingdom in the paradise of ‘heaven’ and then invite all of us to become citizens of it, we would quickly turn it into the hell we have turned this world into. The gold on the streets and the pearls on the gates would vanish in no time.

It would be even worse if there were only a narrow few who would not follow such a standard. Imagine a society where all the citizens were perfectly honest – no lies and no theft. In that society there would be no locks, no need of written contracts (because one’s word would be good enough), no security cameras, no computer passwords – because there would be no need of them in such a society. But if you then introduce just one citizen who is a liar and a thief he would disrupt that society far more than liars and thieves do here. Since there are no built-in precautions this one thief and liar can go about his activities with impunity – causing havoc among the citizens of the kingdom of heaven. The only way to keep this from happening is to make sure that not even one such person enters this kingdom – because then it would be ruined.

But what then for those who are denied entry? In this world, if you are denied entry to a country you cannot also expect to participate in its resources and benefits. For example, Canadian citizens can benefit from programs of its government. But someone who is denied access to Canada cannot expect to somehow receive its welfare, medical treatment etc. – this is arranged for its citizens.  But all in all, people around the world, even terrorists on the run from all countries, enjoy the same basic amenities of nature, such as breathing the same air, seeing the same light as everyone else.

But who made light? The Bible claims that ‘God said, “Let there be light” and there was light’. If that is true then all light is His – and it turns out that we are just borrowing it now. But with the final establishment of the Kingdom of God, His light will be in His Kingdom. So ‘outside’ will be ‘darkness’ – just as Jesus described Hell in one of the passages above.

If it is true that God is the Creator, then most of what we take for granted and assume is ‘ours’ is really His. Starting with such a basic entity as ‘light’ and then considering the world and going on to our natural abilities such as thought and speech – we really did nothing to create these abilities – we simply find ourselves using and borrowing them.   When the Kingdom is finalized the Owner will reclaim them.

When we look at barriers, past and present, erected to keep ‘barbarians’ out of civilization, from the Great Wall of China down to the present-day the fence proposed on the US-Mexcio border to keep illegal immigrants out, you can see that it is natural to erect barriers when a Kingdom must keep certain people out for the very sake of that kingdom. When Ebola breaks out and threatens death and havoc among us all we hear no argument when experts insist on quarantine. So it is no surprise to hear Jesus teach in his parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus that

And besides all this, between us (in Kingdom of God) and you (in Hell) a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us. Luke 16:26

The Love of God and Hell

So where does the ‘love of God’ fit in all this? When an epidemic rages, along with quarantine, there is a search for vaccines that can neutralize the deadly virus. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the corresponding inoculation. In trusting him we, in a sense, are injected with a spiritual vaccine that begins to disinfect us, slowly making us fit and able to enter into this Kingdom when it is fully established.

For Ebola victims what is most difficult to accept may not be the necessary quarantine, but rather it is that one has the disease to begin with.  Similarly, more difficult to accept than the reality of hell itself is that you and I are stricken with a deadly spiritual virus.  We fight that diagnosis, which leads many to ignore the cure.

Though it may be presumptuous to question a learned professor like Ehrman, and though my line of thinking cuts against the current of western culture today, Hell is quite consistent with the notion of a loving God – who created and owns all and is setting up a Kingdom where righteousness is the norm – not the exception – and therefore requiring restricted access. At the very least, since it is such a serious subject, and because God’s Love has moved him to make a ‘vaccine’ freely available, it warrants reflection on our personal spiritual diagnosis. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, developed by him to help us more clearly diagnose our fitness for the Kingdom of Heaven, may be a good place to start.

Palm Sunday: Passover Plot or Providence Program?

Jesus arriving on a donkey - Palm Sunday
Jesus entering on a donkey – Palm Sunday

People around the globe today are commemorating Palm Sunday – the Sunday before Jesus was crucified when he rode into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey as the long promised Coming King.  It is recorded in all of the Gospels as a watershed event which set in motion the crisis of that Passover Week.

I believe the Gospel for several reasons, but very high up on the list are the widespread, diverse and testable prophecies that, in spite of the vanishingly impossible odds, are fulfilled sometimes hundreds of years after the prophecies were first written down.  I had shown how Daniel (ca 550 BC) had predicted the interval of time to the coming of this awaited King.  This was fulfilled precisely on that Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Because of the long time span involved – over 500 years – this meant that the chance that his birth would even just fall in the proper time frame for there to be a chance that he could be around to ride into Jerusalem would itself be startlingly improbable.   Jesus could not have humanly engineered the timing of such a scope.

But the gospel writers do not focus on this timing when they record the events of that Sunday.  Instead they direct our attention to the book of Zechariah (ca 520 BC) and explicitly tell us that when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey he was fulfilling the prophecy given in Zechariah that:

Look, your king is coming to you.
He is righteous and victorious,
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.  (Zechariah 9:9)

Now this fulfillment that the Gospel writers trumpet had never really impressed me for the simple reason that it seemed too easy to plot a ‘fulfillment’.  All that Jesus needed to do was to read Zechariah and recognize that to get a ‘fulfillment’ he would need to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.  The timing of his entrance aside (which I think is impossible to explain naturally), it would be a simple matter for Jesus to plot his entrance into Jerusalem for the Passover festival and make sure he came in on the donkey as per Zechariah’s script.  And being a lowly peasant it would be easier for Jesus to hatch such a plot than for him to procure a war horse – the steed of choice when kings make their entrances.  So could that entry simply be explained as the plotting of a man using an ancient script to ride a Passover exuberance?

Zechariah’s Prophecy in context

So let’s take the trouble to read the original Zechariah prophecy in its full context and consider such a ‘Passover Plot’ conspiracy.  Here it is:

9 Rejoice, O people of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you.
He is righteous and victorious,
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.

10 I will remove the battle chariots from Israel
and the warhorses from Jerusalem.
I will destroy all the weapons used in battle,
and your king will bring peace to the nations.
His realm will stretch from sea to sea
and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.
11 Because of the covenant I made with you,
sealed with blood,
I will free your prisoners
from death in a waterless dungeon.
12 Come back to the place of safety,
all you prisoners who still have hope!
I promise this very day
that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles. (Zechariah 9:9-12)

What jumps out is the bizarre change of scope that spans these few sentences.  The king enters Jerusalem on a donkey (v9) and then his rule will extend to ‘the ends of the earth’ (v10).  And God will seal a covenant ‘with blood’ such that prisoners of death will be freed (v11).  Zechariah saw and predicted something of far greater scope than just an entry to a city on a donkey.  According to Zechariah, tied with this entry would be a new worldwide program as well as a new destiny for ‘prisoners of death’.

And who might that be?

Today, the news outlets across Canada are reporting on the sudden and unexpected death of the recent Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.  He was considered one of the most successful and influential finance ministers in Canadian history.  He retired three weeks ago in the media spotlight to transition his career.  Today he is dead and his sudden and abrupt death has shocked and saddened everyone.  I submit that he is a ‘prisoner of death’.  Though he had been chief of the finance department, his success and prominence there gave him no advantage in this department of death.   And we too are all following along right behind him – not knowing when or how we will die.  We all are ‘prisoners of death’!  Zechariah was writing this 2500 years ago for you and me.  He was telling us that someone was going to come who would free us from this prison.  But how?  Zechariah explained long before Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem that it would be done by God making a covenant ‘sealed with blood’ (v11) – echoing the sign of the Passover Blood and the release from death that Isaac experienced in Abraham’s sacrifice.  A few short days after Jesus rode into Jerusalem atop his donkey on Palm Sunday he did indeed inaugurate a new covenant and then literally sealed it with his blood.  And three days after that he rose from the dead.  The doors of that prison which holds us all busted open.  The fact that Zechariah could see it so long before it happened indicates that the entry of Jesus on the donkey was not the desperate plot of a pitiful man, but rather it was a key sign marking a Providential Program for the largest jailbreak imaginable – to spring all of humanity from the prison of death.  The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey was prominent for the gospel writers precisely because they saw it as a key sign marking that larger Providential Program that Zechariah had sketched out 500 years earlier.

But what about this rule that Zechariah wrote would go to the ‘ends of the earth’?  Jesus never ruled – the prophecy is in error, critics will charge.  But to think of ‘ruling’ solely in political or military terms is to miss the most powerful rule of all – the personal allegiance of a one’s heart freely given in worship.  Though Jim Flaherty was a senior member of the party that ‘rules’ in Canada, he never had that kind of rule over one single person in the entire country.  But Jesus at his trial calmly claimed that he would one day get this rule – worship – from people around the world.  Here we are two thousand years later with Palm Sunday inaugurating Passion Week which will be celebrated in worship by people around the world, in all nations, in a multitude of languages.  From that point of view Zechariah’s prediction of a rule ‘to the ends of the earth’ was indeed fulfilled by that peasant carpenter who rode into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey so many Sundays ago.

But what about the removal of all weapons of war from Israel (v10)?  That certainly has not happened. In fact today Israel is one of the most weaponized countries in the world!  True enough.  But that prediction is anticipating the conclusion in this Providential Program.  We are not there yet.  We are now at the stage exemplified in v12 where the plea and offer is going out to all us prisoners of death to come to his place of safety.  The news and offer of the ‘jailbreak’ is going around the world and many are choosing to take it.

In the context of this larger Program, Zechariah predicted that this King would make another entrance.  He wrote

“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died.  (Zechariah 13:10)

The one that had been pierced and had died, and in so doing had sealed that covenant with his blood, will come back!  It is a hope I have, and some may charge me with naïvity for keeping it.  But given that Zechariah was bang on with both the details and the outworkings of that entrance on a donkey, it is simply a reasoned leap to trust that this Second Entrance in this greater Program of Providence will also one day come about.  And when it does, I want to be part of the jailbreak.

The Noah Controversy: Could that Flood have happened?

Russel Crowe starring in Noah
Russel Crowe starring in Noah

Today movie theaters worldwide open with one of the most anticipated blockbusters of 2014 – “Noah”.  Not only is there a lot of hype surrounding the movie but a lot of controversy as well.  Critics are questioning how faithfully the plotline follows the biblical account – with Russell Crowe (who stars as Noah) trying – and failing – to get the Pope’s personal stamp of approval for the film.  In the Islamic world several countries are banning the movie since it visually depicts a prophet – which is forbidden in most Islamic interpretations.  But all these hullabaloos are merely minor hiccups compared to a much deeper and longer-running controversy – did such a worldwide flood really happen?  That’s a question worth considering.

I have shown how multiple cultures around the world have a memory of a great flood leaving only a handful of survivors from which they descended.  There is anthropological and historical evidence for a ‘Noah’.  But are there any physical evidences of ‘his’ flood around in the world today?

The Power of Moving Flood Water seen in Tsunamis

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The Tsunami hits the coast of Japan in 2011

Let’s start by surmising what such a flood would have done to the earth.  For sure, a flood of that scope would involve unimaginable quantities of water moving at great speeds and depths over continental distances.  Large quantities of water moving at high speeds have a lot of kinetic energy (KE = ½ * mass * velocity2).   This is why floods are so destructive.  When we saw the pictures of the 2011 Tsunami that devastated Japan, we saw how kinetic water energy can cause extensive damage, easily picking up and moving large objects like cars, homes and boats – and crippling nuclear reactors in its path.

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That tsunami showed how the energy of a few ‘big’ waves could move and destroy almost everything in their path

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Floods and Sedimentary Rock

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A flooding river in Ecuador. The water is brown because the fast moving water is carrying a lot of dirt – sediment.

Thus, when water increases its speed it will start to pick up and transport sediment – particles of dirt, sand, rocks and boulders.

This is why swollen and flooding rivers are brown – they are loaded with sediment (soil and rock) that has been picked up from the surface over which the water is traveling.

Aerial view in New England showing brown flood water entering ocean. It is brown from the sediments
Aerial view in New England showing brown flood water entering ocean. It is brown from the sediments
sediment will sort into layers based on particle size even in a 'dry' flow
sediment will sort into layers based on particle size even in a ‘dry’ flow

When water starts to slow down and loses its kinetic energy it then drops this sediment which is deposited in laminar layers resulting in a particular kind of rock.

Japan tsunami 2011. Sediment laid down during tsunami flooding.2011-tsunami-sediment
Sediments from the 2011 Japan Tsunami showing pancake-like layers – this is the signature for sedimentary rock – rock that was laid down by moving water. Taken from British Geological Survey website

This kind of rock is known as sedimentary rock and is easily recognized by its trademark pancake-like layers that are stacked upon one another.  The figure below shows sedimentary layers about 20 cm thick (from the measuring tape) that were deposited from the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Sedimentary rock from Tsunami that hit Japan in 859 AD
Sedimentary rock from a tsunami that hit Japan in 859 AD. It also produced sedimentary rock about 20-30 cm thick. Taken from British Geological Survey website

 

 

 

 

 

Tsunamis and river floods leave their signatures behind in these sedimentary rocks long after the flood has receded and things have turned back to normal.

Sedimentary Strata around the World

So, do we find sedimentary rocks that are, in a similar way, signature markers for the Noahic deluge that the Bible claims happened?  When you ask that question and you start to look around you will see that our planet is literally covered in sedimentary rock.  You will notice this type of pancake-layer rock on highway cut-a-ways.  What is different about this sedimentary rock, when you compare it with the sedimentary strata that were produced by the devastating tsunami of Japan in 2011 is the sheer size – both laterally across the earth and in vertical thickness of sedimentary layers.  Below are some photos that I have taken of sedimentary rocks as I have traveled.

Mountains of Sedimentary rock in hinterlands of Morocco
Sedimentary formations in the hinterlands of Morocco that extend for many kilometers and are hundreds of meters thick vertically
joggins
Sedimentary rock in Joggins, Nova Scotia. The layers are tilted about 30 degrees and are stacked vertically more than a kilometer deep.

 

The escarpment in Hamilton Ontario shows vertical sedimentary rock many meters thick
The escarpment in Hamilton Ontario shows vertical sedimentary rock many meters thick. This is part of the Niagara escarpment which extends for hundreds of miles.

 

This escarpment extends for hundreds of miles. This sedimentary formation covers a good part of North America
This sedimentary formation covers a good part of North America

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sedimentary formations on a drive through US MidWest
Sedimentary formations on a drive through the US Midwest
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Note the cars (barely visible) for scale to compare with these sedimentary rocks.

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The sedimentary formations go on and on…

Bryce Canyon Sedimentary Formations
Bryce Canyon Sedimentary Formations in US Midwest

 

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Towering Sedimentary formations on drive through US Midwest

 

Continental extent of the sedimentary strata in US Midwest. Miles thick and hundreds of miles wide
Continental extent of the Sedimentary strata in US Midwest. Miles thick and extending laterally for hundreds of miles. Taken from ‘Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe’ by Dr. Steve Austin

So if one tsunami which caused such devastation in Japan left sedimentary layers measured in centimeters and that extend inland a few kilometers, what mechanism explains the gigantic and continental-in-scope sedimentary formations found almost over the entire globe (including on the ocean bottom) that are measured vertically in hundreds of meters and are measured laterally in thousands of kilometers?  Could these sedimentary rocks be the signature of Noah’s flood?

Rapid Deposition of Sedimentary Formations

No one argues that the planet is not covered in sedimentary rock of unbelievably massive scope.  The question is whether these sedimentary rocks were laid down by one event (i.e. Noah’s flood), or whether these massive formations were built up over time through a series of smaller events (of the scope of the tsunami in Japan of 2011) that were separated by significant intervals of time. The figure below illustrates this other concept.

Conceptual illustration of how large sedimentary formations could have formed
Conceptual illustration of how large sedimentary formations could have formed apart from Noah’s flood

As you can see, in this model of sedimentary formation (technically known as neo-catastrophism) a series of high impact sedimentary events are separated by large intervals of time.  These events add sedimentary layers onto the previous layers and so, over time, the huge formations that we see around the world today are built up sequentially.

Soil Formation and Sedimentary Strata

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Sedimentary rock in Prince Edward Island. We can see that a soil layer has formed on top of it so we know that some period of time has elapsed since these strata were laid down by flood water

Do we have any real-world data that can help us evaluate between these two models?  Actually, it is not that hard to spot.  On top of many of these sedimentary formations we see that soil layers have formed.  Thus a physical and observable indicator of time passage after a sedimentary event is soil formed on top of it.  Soil is characterized by horizons (called A horizon – often dark with organic material, the B horizon – with more minerals, etc.).

Thin layer of soil (and trees) has formed over sedimentary rock that has been exposed for a time
Thin layer of soil (and trees) has formed over sedimentary rock in US Midwest showing that these sedimentary rocks were laid down some time ago.
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Soil layer clearly visible on top of sedimentary rock in US Midwest. These rocks were thus laid down sometime ago.

Sedimentary strata laid down to form a new ocean bottom will also soon be marked with life signs.  Wormholes, clam tunnels and other signs of life (known as bioturbation) provide tell-tale signs of life and of the passage of time since the strata were deposited on the sea floor.

bioturbation
Life on the bottom of shallow seas will, over a rather short interval of time, reveal its telltale markers. This is called bioturbation

 

Conceptual illustration of how large sedimentary formations could have formed
Testing the model of catastrophe sequences by looking for evidence of soil formation or bioturbation at the ‘Time passes’ planes

Armed with this insight we can see if we find evidence of soil formation or bioturbation at these ‘Time passes’ borders in the strata formation.  After all, this model is saying that at some point these ‘Time passes’ boundaries were exposed surfaces for significant periods of time either on land or under water.  In that case we should expect some of these surfaces to have developed soil or bioturbation indicators.  When these time boundary surfaces were buried by subsequent sedimentary events the soil or bioturbation would have likewise been buried.  Take a look again at the photos above and below.  Do we see any evidence of either soil formation or bioturbation?

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No evidence of soil layers or bioturbation in this sedimentary formation in US Midwest.

There is no evidence of soil layers or bioturbation in the above photo or the one below.  Look again at the Hamilton escarpment photo and you will see no evidence of any bioturbation or soil formation.  From that data the bottom of these formations were laid down almost equivalent in time from the top.  Yet these formations all extend vertically about 50-100 meters.

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Folding of Sedimentary Rocks

 

Sedimentary strata formed in 1980 from Mount St Helens had already become brittle by 1983
Sedimentary strata formed in 1980 from Mount Saint Helens had already become brittle by 1983. Taken from ‘Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe’ by Dr. Steve Austin

Sedimentary strata, when they are laid down in moving water are initially permeated with water and thus they bend very easily.  They are pliable.  But it only takes a few years for these sedimentary strata to dry out and harden and when that happens they become brittle as was learned from the events of Mount St Helens eruption in 1980 followed by a 1983 lake breach.

When brittle rock is bent it snaps. This principle is shown

rock-tension-cracks
Sedimentary rock gets brittle very quickly. When brittle it snaps when bent.

 

in the figure on the side.  We can see this sort of rock failure in the Niagara escarpment.  After these sediments were laid down they became brittle and when an upthrust then pushed up some of these sedimentary layers they snapped under the shear stress, forming the Niagara escarpment which runs for hundreds of miles.  From this evidence

Niagara escarpment
Niagara escarpment is Sedimentary Rock that broke under shear stress and was thrust up in a fault.
Niagara escarpment is an upthrust extending hundreds of miles
Niagara escarpment is an upthrust extending hundreds of miles

We know that the upthrust that produced the Niagara escarpment happened after these sedimentary strata became brittle so there was some time lapse between the deposition of these sedimentary strata and the upthrust which produced the escarpment.  There was at least enough time between these events for the strata to harden and become brittle – which does not take eons of time, but does take a couple of years at least.

The photo below shows large sedimentary formations that I photographed in Morocco.  You can see how the strata formation bends as a unit.  There is no evidence of the strata snapping either in tension (pulled apart) or in shear (sidewise stress).  This whole formation must have still been pliable when it was bent.  But if it takes only a couple of years for sedimentary rock to become brittle. This means that there can be no significant passage of time between the lower layers and the upper layers in this formation.  If there had been ‘time passage’ in these layers then the earlier layers would have become brittle and would have snapped rather than bent when the formation was contorted.

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Sedimentary formations in Morocco. The whole formation bends as a unit showing that it had still been supple (rather than dry and brittle) when it was bent. This indicates that there is no time passage from the bottom to the top of this formation.
Schematic of upthrust at Grand Canyon showing it was raised vertically about 5000 feet - one mile
Schematic of monocline (bending upthrust) at Grand Canyon showing it was raised vertically about 5000 feet – one mile. Adapted from “The Young Earth” by Dr. John Morris

We can see the same type of bending in the Grand Canyon.  At some point in the past there was a bending upthrust (technically known as a monocline), similar to the Niagara escarpment, that raised one side of the strata one mile vertically up (this you see from the elevation difference of 7000 ft compared to 2000 ft on the opposing sides of the upthrust).  But here the strata did not snap (like the Niagara escarpment did).  Instead it bent at both the bottom and the top of the formation, indicating that it was still pliable throughout rather than brittle through the formation.

Bending that occurred at Tapeats, in the low layer of Grand Canyon sedimentary formations
Bending that occurred at Tapeats, in the low layer of the Grand Canyon sedimentary formations. Taken from ‘Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe’ by Dr. Steve Austin

This indicates that the time interval from the bottom to the top of these strata has an upper limit of a couple of years (the time it takes for sedimentary strata to become hard and brittle).

Noah’s Flood vs. Flood on Mars

The idea of Noah’s flood having actually happened is, of course, quite controversial and in this one article I cannot cover all the issues that it raises which I hope to do later.

Sedimentation and flooding on Mars?
Sedimentation and flooding on Mars?

Mars sediment 2 But at the very least, it is instructive to consider an irony in our modern day.  Because of the channeling and evidence of sedimentation that are visible on Mars, it is actively postulated that Mars was once inundated by a huge flood.  The big problem with this theory is that no water has ever been discovered on the Red Planet.  But for the Earth, though it is 2/3 covered by water – deep enough to cover our whole globe to a depth of one mile if the oceanic trenches were raised and the land mountains smoothed down so the world had less topographic variation – and though it is covered with continental sized sedimentary formations that by physical and observable evidence seem to have been deposited rapidly in a devastating cataclysm, it is almost considered heresy to postulate that any such flood has ever occurred on this planet.  Is that not a double standard?  Though we may look at this Russell Crowe Noah movie as only a reenactment of a myth written as a Hollywood script, perhaps we should look and consider whether the rocks themselves are crying out about this deluge story written on scripts of stone.

‘Son of God’ Controversy: Was Jesus developed from Egyptian Osiris-Isis-Horus myth?

This week the movie Son of God has taken to cinemas across North America and around the world. Merits of the movie aside, it takes the Biblical gospels as historical narratives, making them the basis for the script. But in recent years a very different view of Jesus has been making itself heard and gaining a following. In this view, the account of the miracle-working Jesus who rose from the dead after his crucifixion that we read in the Biblical Gospels, and which is portrayed in the movie Son of God, is merely a re-telling of a much earlier pagan Egyptian myth of a ‘son of god’ born of a virgin and resurrecting from the dead. Given the enormous implications that come from this controversy I thought it would be worthwhile to consider it.

The Pagan Christ theory of Osiris-Isis-Horus

Perhaps the best modern-day spokesman for this theory is Tom Harpur. A retired Anglican clergyman, a onetime seminary professor, a former religion columnist for the Toronto Star, and author of many best-selling heterodox books on the Bible – he has a large following who listens to what he says. In 2004 he published his bestselling The Pagan Christ where he forcefully advanced this view. Here is how he sums it up:

“The Christian myths were first related of Horus or Osiris, who was the embodiment of divine goodness, wisdom, truth and purity…. This was the greatest hero that ever lived in the mind of man – not in the flesh – to influence with transforming force; the only hero to whom the miracles were natural because he was not human” The Pagan Christ. p 77

Here is how he describes his conversion to this belief.

I was led inexorably to the conviction that Egypt was truly the cradle of the Jesus figure of the Gospels. Here already was the story of how the divine son “left the courts of heaven” as Massey puts it, and descended to earth as the baby Horus. Born of a virgin (through whom he “became flesh” or entered into matter) he then became a substitute for humanity, went down into Hades as the quickener of the dead, their justifier and redeemer, “the firstfruits” and leader of the resurrection into the life to come.  Ibid p 77

The Biblical gospels were thus developed in the following way:

The truth is that the Gospels are indeed the old manuscripts of the dramaticized rituals of the incarnation and resurrection of the sun god Osiris/Horus, rituals that were first Egyptian, later Gnostic and Hellenic, then Hebrew, and finally adopted ignorantly by the Christian movement and transferred to the arena of history. Ibid p 80

And the implications are then that:

Unaware that the original mythos of messianic mystery, the virgin motherhood, the incarnation and birth, the life and character, the crucifixion and resurrection of the Saviour Son who was the word of all ages, the alpha and omega, was already part of the Egyptian religion since earliest times, the compilers of the New Testament missed the point entirely that the whole thing was meant allegorically. (emphasis his)  Ibid p 81

In other words, what he and others are saying is that the account of Jesus found in the Biblical gospels is really derived (plagiarized even) from pre-existing Egyptian mythology, specifically the mythology surrounding the Egyptian gods Osiris, Isis and Horus. So who or what are these gods?

Egyptology background on Osiris, Isis and Horus

Sir E.A. Wallis Budge, knighted for his work with the British Museum on Egyptology described Osiris, the patriarch of this trio of gods, in the following manner:

From the hieroglyphic texts of all periods of the dynastic history of Egypt we learn that the god of the dead, par excellence, was the god, whom the Egyptians called by a name which … is commonly known to us as “Osiris”. The Gods of the Egyptians. Vol 2.  p 113

 

…we find that the oldest religious texts known to us refer to him as the great god of the dead … and in fact he was in respect of the dead and of the Underworld what Ra (the primary Egyptian Sun god) was to the living and to this world. Ibid. p 115

Isis was associated with Osiris as his wife or consort and “is one of the goddesses most frequently mentioned in the hieroglyphic texts” (Ibid p 202). Budge summarizes Isis in the following way:

An examination of the texts of all periods proves that Isis always held in the minds of the Egyptians a position which was entirely different from that of every other goddess, and although it is certain that their views concerning her varied from time to time, and that certain aspects or phases of the goddess were worshipped more generally at one period than at another, it is correct to say that from the earliest to the latest dynasties Isis was the greatest goddess of Egypt…. Isis was the great and beneficient goddess and mother whose influence and love pervaded all heaven, and earth, and the abode of the dead, and she was the personification of the great feminine, creative power which conceived, and brought forth every living creature, and thing, from the gods in heaven, to man on the earth, and to the insect on the ground; what she brought forth she protected, and cared for, and fed, and nourished.  Ibid. p 203

Horus was their son – a ‘son of god’.

Isis worship spreads from Egypt all over Graeco-Roman world

Though Osiris-Isis-Horus were originally Nile-based deities, the Egyptian Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt after Alexander the Great (ca 300 BC) started a patronage of Isis in the now Greek-speaking world that led to a spread of Isis around the Mediterranean. Temples to Isis were built in almost every major city of the Roman Empire.

“The Hellenistic Mysteries of Isis eventually became a universal cult, recognizing no racial or geographic distinction”  Helenistic Religions: An Introduction. Luther Martin 1987. p 72

So here we have it. A husband-wife-son trio of Egyptian gods that became ‘hellenized’ and worshiped widely through the Roman Empire and in the first century AD (at the time of the writing of the Biblical gospels) they (especially Isis) were perhaps the leading mystery cult in that pagan world. These are the bare-bone facts that no one disputes. What ‘pagan Christ’ proponents are saying is that this mythology was used to create (i.e. make up) the person of Jesus in the gospels. In that view, Horus, Isis and Osiris were transformed into Jesus the Son of God, Mary the Virgin Mother and God the Father by some shadowy first century community steeped in this mystery cult and which then authored the gospels.

Claims made in support of the Osiris-Isis-Horus theory for Jesus

And these proponents make very bold claims to substantiate this idea, writing as if the evidence incontestably supports this. Consider some of their statements:

Gerald Massey has traced 180 instances of close similarity or actual identity between Horus, the Christ of Old Egypt, and the Gospel Jesus (The Pagan Christ.  p 77)

Harpur then lists the following items as evidence (from pages 83-84 of The Pagan Christ):

  • Horus was baptized in the River Eridanus (Jordan) by a god figure named Anup the Baptizer (John the Baptist) who was later decaptitated
  • Like Jesus, Horus had no history between the ages of 12 and 30
  • Horus walked on water, cast out demons, and healed the sick
  • Horus was transfigured on a mountain; Jesus took Peter, James and John ….
  • Horus delivered a ‘Sermon on the Mount” and his followers faithfully recounted the sayings of Iusa
  • Horus was crucified between 2 thieves, buried in a tomb, and resurrected. His personal epithet was Iusa or Iusu, the “ever-becoming son” of Ptah or the Father. Significantly Horus was called the KRST or “Anointed One’ from a word that was inscribed or painted on the lid of a mummy’s coffin millennia before Christianity duplicated the story
  • Horus was the Good Shepherd, the lamb of God, the bread of life, the son of man, the Word, and the fisher
  • Horus was not just the path to heaven but the way by which the dead travel out of the sepulchre. He was the god whose name was written as the “road to salvation” He was thus the “way, the truth, the life”.

Another author writes:

“The Son of God appears on earth borne of woman through union of the human species and the divine. Osiris’ and Jesus’ were paracletic virgin births… (The Egyptian Origin of Christianity 2002 by Lisa Ann Bargeman p 54)

Wow! To read these authors it does certainly seem as if the Gospels were pre-written in this pagan mythology. And many of us, given the boldness of the claims, think it must be true.

Pagan Greek testimony about Osiris, Isis and Horus

Given the brashness of these assertions you would think that there are many accounts of Osiris-Isis-Horus extant in the ancient pagan Egyptian and Greek literature. Accounts that describe what they did and said but that for some reason (perhaps because the church, once again, is fighting against the ‘truth’ coming out) most of us have missed them. We think that these accounts must be there but somehow missed by all except for these proponents who somehow have gotten hold of them.

That could hardly be further from the truth. In fact, there is only one account preserved in the ancient literature that details the narrative of Osiris-Isis-Horus. As Budge, the noted Egyptologist, remarked:

“Unfortunately, however, we find nowhere in Egyptian works a connected narrative of the life, acts and deeds and sufferings and death, and resurrection of Osiris, the man-god, but we possess a tolerably accurate account of them in Plutarch’s…. The Gods of the Egyptians Vol 2. p 123

Plutarch is the only ancient writer who has passed onto us the account of these gods. However, Plutarch is actually an ideal witness for us. Plutarch lived from 45 – 120 AD. Thus he lived in the 2nd half of the first century – the time when the gospels were written. He lived at the same time as the apostles. He is thus in an ideal position to report for us the account of these gods. Because he lived at the same time as the composition of the gospels, the story that he reports to us would be the same one that these shadowy gospel writers had on-hand to use as the basis to make up the Jesus ‘son of god’ of the gospels (as per the ‘pagan Christ’ advocates). Budge describes Plutarch’s work as ‘so important’ because it is the only one giving a complete account of the doings of these gods.

So it was with great anticipation that I set out to read his narrative wondering if I would find corroboration of the amazing claims that these ‘pagan Christ’ proponents are preaching. And you can read the account of Osirus-Isis-Horus right here so that you can assess the 1st century pagan testimony first-hand for yourself.

Summary of Osiris-Isis-Horus pagan testimony

So let’s summarize Plutarch’s account. Osiris and Isis are brother and sister, being born of sexual intercourse between Rhea and Cronus (the corresponding Egyptian gods were Nut and Seb). But the sun (ie. Ra the sun god), averse to this union, cursed Rhea so she could not give birth on any day of the year. But Hermes (being also in love with Rhea) conspired to add extra 5 days to the year. [The ancient Egyptians had a 360 day year and then had five extra leap days. So these gods were born on these extra 5 days.]  While themselves still in the womb of Rhea, Isis and Osiris had intercourse and Isis had a son – Horus. Isis and Osiris, as well as Typhon (the Egyptian Set) and Nephthys were then born as two husband and wife couples (presumably Horus as well) on these 5 days.

In the course of time, when Osiris was king, he was murdered by his brother Typhon by tricking him to lie in a coffin that was fitted to him so that it killed him. The coffin with Osiris’ body was thrown into the Nile where it drifted away. When Isis heard what had happened to Osiris in great grief she went to look for his body. (During this time she learned that Osiris had had sexual relations with Nephthys – Typhon’s wife – and Nephtys had given birth to Anubis whom Isis cared for because she was afraid that Typhon in his jealousy would kill that son).  She found the coffin stuck in a tree which had grown around it. The king of the city cut down the tree that encased the body to make a pillar to support his house. Isis went to this king and nursed his children so that she gained his favor such that she could get this pillar that contained the coffin which in turn contained the body of her dead husband Osiris which she brought back to Egypt. But Osiris’ mortal enemy, Typhon his brother, who had killed him in the first place, then took the body and cut it in 14 pieces and hid each piece throughout Egypt. So Isis then went in a papyrus boat (which protected her from crocodiles) up and down Egypt searching for these body pieces. She found all the body pieces except his male organ which had been eaten by a fish, but she made an exact replica and consecrated it in a festive way.

Isis was able to re-assemble the body of Osiris and incanted over him so that he came to life again. Osiris then trained his son Horus (remember he had been conceived way back when Osiris and Isis were themselves still in the womb of Rhea) for combat so that Horus could avenge his death by defeating his enemy Typhon in combat. So Horus and Typhon engaged in a series of battles and Horus defeated him. But he is restrained from killing Typhon because Isis pleads for clemency. In his rage Horus then decapitates Isis (in some seedier versions as Plutarch says) and the account then concludes with Isis and Osiris having sexual relations and producing the crippled Harprocrates.

Voila – the storied account of Isis, Osiris and Horus from which Jesus of the gospels was supposedly made up!

Plutarch on Osiris-Isis-Horus: Relevant but Ignored

Absolutely stunning is the fact that though he mentions Plutarch twice in other matters, Harpur never refers to Plutarch’s account of Isis-Osiris-Horus. In fact, I cannot find one analysis of Plutarch’s account (or even an acknowledgement of its existence) in the various ‘pagan christ’ books that I have read. They advance their theory by ignoring the testimony of Plutarch because anyone can see that this bizarre story could never have served as the brain-child for Jesus of the Gospels, the Son of God begotten of an actual virgin, raised from the dead as a tangible event of history, and that by his own power so that we could have life. As Plutarch himself said of the account he relates, it cannot but be “abnormal and outlandish opinions about the gods” and “if such deeds and occurrences actually took place, then ‘Much there is to spit and cleanse the mouth’”. But this is the primary testimony, circulating in the 1st century, that we have of these widely worshiped gods when the gospels were supposedly made up from this set of myths.  We cannot ignore Plutarch for an important reason.

The Biblical gospels were written in Greek, to a Greek-speaking world, by Greek speaking authors.  Whatever we may find in Egyptian hieroglyphics (and I plan to look at the ‘Book of the Dead’ later) the gospel authors would not have been able to read Egyptian hieroglyphics to get their ‘story’ from the ‘Book of the Dead’.  How would they have been able to read and digest the ancient (to them) hieroglyphics that only a vanishingly specialized few have ever been able to read since hieroglyphics had long before the 1st century given way to scripts made from letters?  The account in Greek in 1st century AD would be the only account that the gospel authors could even possibly have known – not a hieroglyphic one long hidden in the deserts of Egypt waiting for modern Egyptologists to unearth.  Budge assesses that Plutarch’s story is substantially the same story that is corroborated in the few Egyptian hieroglyphics that are extant on the narrative about Osiris, Isis and Horus.  Plutarch had the gist of the story for which there are only passing references in Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Our first witness in this case has been heard – there is no way that Osiris, Isis and Horus, in Plutarch’s account could conceivably be the basis for Jesus of the Gospels. I plan to look in more depth at a very important source in this discussion, the works of Gerald Massey (1828-1907), probably the father of the pagan Egyptian myth theory, as well as the Egyptian ‘book of the dead’ and some of Harpur’s detailed ‘evidences’. But before we look to see if these sources reveal the ‘smoking gun’ that proves the pagan Egyptian origins of Jesus there is another important avenue to explore – the testimony of the pagans (Egyptians even) of the first and second century who came to follow Jesus of the Gospels. Did they find Jesus, or understand him, through the venue of the Orisis-Isis-Horus mystery cult? We take up their testimony, preserved for us in many volumes, later.

Potent Simplicity: What is the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice?

Jesus came to give himself as a sacrifice for all peoples – so that we could find God.  This message was announced at the beginning of human history, emblazoned with a Divine signature in the sacrifice of Abraham and in the Passover sacrifice, with further details predicted in various prophecies in the Old Testament.  The echo of this primal promise was even remembered in the ancient Chinese and South Asian histories.  Why was his death so important and emphasized?  How does it show anything about the goodness of God?  Or about the love of God? These are questions worth considering.

The Bible declares something akin to a Law when it states:

For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23)

“Death” literally means ‘separation’.  When our soul separates from our body we die physically.  In a similar way we are separated from God spiritually.  This is true because God is Holy (sinless) while we have become corrupted from our original creation and so we sin.

We are separated from God by our sins like a chasm between two cliffs
We are separated from God by our sins like a chasm between two cliffs

This can be visualized in this illustration where we are on a cliff with God on another cliff separated from us by this bottomless chasm.  As a branch that has been severed from a tree is dead, so we have severed ourselves from God and become spiritually dead.

This separation causes guilt and fear.  So what we naturally try to do is build bridges to take us from our side (of death) to God’s side.  We do this in many different ways: going to church, temple or mosque, being religious, being good and helpful, meditation, trying to be more helpful, praying more, etc. This list of deeds to gain merit can be very long for some of us – and living them out can be very complicated.  This is illustrated in the next figure.

Good Efforts – useful as they may be - cannot bridge the separation between us and God
Good Efforts – useful as they may be – cannot bridge the separation between us and God

The problem is that our efforts, merits, sacrifices and ascetic practices etc., though in themselves not bad, are insufficient because the payment required (the ‘wages’) for our sins is ‘death’.  Our efforts are like a ‘bridge’ that tries to cross the divide separating ourselves from God – but in the end cannot span the chasm.  This is because though religious or moral efforts are not bad, they will not solve our root problem. It is like trying to heal cancer (which results in death) by eating vegetarian.  Eating vegetarian is not bad – but it will not cure cancer.  For that you need a totally different treatment.

So far this Law is all Bad News – it is so bad we often do not even want to hear it and we often fill our lives with activities and things hoping this Law will go away.  But just as cures for cancer become meaningful to us when the diagnosis that we really have cancer sinks in, so the Bible emphasizes this Law of sin and death to awaken our interest in a cure that is simple yet potent.

For the wages of sin is death but… (Romans 6:23)

The small word ‘but’ shows that the direction of the message is about to reverse, to the Good News of the Gospel – the cure.  It shows both the goodness and love of God.

For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23)

The good news of the gospel is that the sacrifice of Jesus’ death is sufficient to bridge this separation between us and God.  We know this because three days after his death Jesus rose bodily, coming alive again in a physical resurrection.   Though some people today choose to disbelieve the resurrection of Jesus a very strong case can be made for it as shown in this public lecture I did at a university (video link here).  Jesus’ sacrifice was prophetically acted out in Abraham’s sacrifice and with the inauguration of the Passover sacrifice.  These signs pointing to Jesus were put there to help us find God.

Jesus was a human who lived a sinless life.  Therefore he can ‘touch’ both the human and the God sides and span the chasm separating God and people.  He is a Bridge to Life which can be illustrated as below

God is good by givving Jesus as the Bridge that spans the chasm between God and man.
Jesus is the Bridge that spans the chasm between God and man.

Notice how this sacrifice of Jesus is given to us.  It is offered as a … ‘gift’.  Think about gifts.  No matter what the gift is, if it is really a gift it is something that you do not work for and that you do not earn by merit.  If you earned it the gift would no longer be a gift!  In the same way you cannot merit or earn the sacrifice of Jesus.  It is given to you as a gift.  It is that simple.

And what is the gift?  It is ‘eternal life’.  That means that the sin which brought you and me death is now cancelled.  Jesus’ sacrifice is a bridge which you can cross to connect with God and receive life – that lasts forever.  This gift is given by Jesus who, by rising from the dead, shows himself to be ‘Lord’.  God is inviting us to Life like when Pinochio became a child of Geppetto.  God loves you and me that much.  It is that potent.

So how do you and I ‘cross’ this Bridge of Life that is offered to us?  Again, think of gifts.  If someone comes and gives you a gift it is something you do not work for.  But to get any benefit from the gift you must ‘receive’ it.  Anytime a gift is offered there are two alternatives.  Either the gift is refused (“No thank you”) or it is received (“Thank you for your gift.  I will take it”).  So also this gift offered must be received – simply that.  It cannot simply be mentally assented to, studied or understood.  This is illustrated in the next figure where we ‘walk’ on the Bridge by turning to God and receiving his gift he offers to us.

Jesus' sacrifice is a Gift that each of us must choose to receive. The gift is god's goodness to us
Jesus’ sacrifice is a Gift that each of us must choose to receive

So how do we receive this gift?  The Bible says that

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:12)

Notice that this promise is for ‘everyone’.  Since he rose from the dead Jesus is alive even now and he is ‘Lord’.  So if you call on him he will hear and extend his gift to you.  You need to call out to him and ask him – by having a conversation with him.  Perhaps you have never done this.  Here is a guide that can help you have this conversation and prayer with him.  It is not a magic incantation.  It is not the specific words that give power.  It is the trust like Abraham had that we have in his ability and willingness to give us this gift.  As we trust him He will hear us and respond – we will find God.  The Gospel is potent, and yet so simple at the same time.  So feel free to follow this guide as you either speak out loud or silently in your spirit to Jesus to receive his gift.

Dear Lord Jesus.  I understand that with the sins in my life I am separated from God.  Though I can try hard, no effort and sacrifice on my part will bridge this separation.  But I understand that your death was a sacrifice to wash away all sins – even my sins.  I believe that you rose from the dead after your sacrifice so I can know that your sacrifice was sufficient.  I ask you to please cleanse me from my sins and bridge me to God so I can have eternal life.  I do not want to live a life enslaved to sin so please free me from sin.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for doing all this for me and would you even now continue to guide me in my life so I can follow you as my Lord.

Amen

What was the History of the Jews?

The Jews are one of the most ancient people groups in the world today. Their history has been extensively recorded in the Bible, by historians outside of the Bible, and with the discovery of archeological artefacts. We have more facts about their history then any other nation and these data provide a continuous account going back about 4000 years. To make the history of the Israelites (an earlier Old Testament term for Jews) easier to follow, I will build a series of timelines showing their history based on the Bible and facts from these other sources.

Abraham: Family Tree of the Jews begins

The timeline starts with Abraham, one of the most recognized characters in ancient history. He was given a promise of nations coming from him and had encounters with God culminating in a symbolic enactment of sacrificing his son Isaac. This sacrifice is still mysterious to many today but it was a sign of future events. The timeline continues in green when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. This period of time started when Joseph, grandson of Isaac, led the Israelites to Egypt, but they subsequently became slaves there.

bible timeline with abraham and moses in history
Living in Egypt as slaves of Pharoah

 

 

Moses: The Jews become a Nation under God

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt by inaugurating the equally mysterious Passover Festival, allowing their Exodus from Egypt and their arrival at the land of Israel that had been promised to Abraham hundreds of years before. Moses pronounced Blessings and Curses on the Israelites at the end of his life as he finished the writing of the Torah – when the timeline goes from green to yellow. These Blessings & Curses have followed the Jews ever since – as one can see by learning their history.

bible historical timeline from Abraham to david
Living in the Land – but no King in Jerusalem

For several hundred years the Israelites lived in this land but they did not have a King, nor did they have a capital city of Jerusalem – it belonged to other people in this time period. However, with David about 1000 BC this changed.

historical timeline Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem
Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem

 

David establishes a Royal Dynasty at Jerusalem

David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city. It was he who received the promise of a coming ‘Christ’ and the anticipation of this title started with him.  His son Solomon ruled as his successor and built the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The descendants of King David continued to rule for about 400 years and this period is shown in green-blue (1000 – 600 BC). This was the glory period for the Israelites – they started to see the Blessings promised. They were a world power, had an advanced society, culture, and their Temple. But the Old Testament also recounts their descent into social and religious corruption and idol worship during this time. Many of the Old Testament books written in this period were warnings that the Curses of Moses would come upon the Jews if they did not change. But these warnings were not heeded.  A series of prophecies of a coming ‘Branch’ from David started in this era.

The First Jewish Exile to Babylon

So finally around 600 BC the Curses came true. Nebuchadnezzar, a powerful King from Babylon came – and just like Moses had predicted in his Curse when he wrote:

The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away … a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. … They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28: 49-52)

Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, burned it, and destroyed the Temple that Solomon had built. He then took the Israelites and deported the majority across his vast Babylonian Empire. Only the poor Israelites remained behind. This fulfilled the predictions of Moses that

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. (Deuteronomy 28:63-64)

jewish historical timeline Conquered and exiled to Babylon
Conquered and exiled to Babylon

So for 70 years, the period shown in red, the Israelites lived as exiles outside the land promised to Abraham and his descendants.

Return from Exile under the Persians

After that, the Persian Emperor Cyrus conquered Babylon and Cyrus became the most powerful person in the world. He issued a decree that permitted the Israelites to return to this land.

jewish historial timeline Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire
Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire

However they were no longer an independent country, they were now a province within the vast Persian Empire.  This continued for 200 years and is shown in pink in the timeline. During this time the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt (known as the 2nd Temple).  Also, the ‘Branch’ theme develops further by identifying the name of the coming Branch as ‘Jesus’.

The period of the Greeks

Then Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and made the Israelites a province in the Greek Empires for a further 200 years. This is shown in dark blue.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires
Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires

 

The Period of the Romans

Then the Romans defeated the Greek Empires and they became the dominant world power. The Israelites again became a province in this Empire and it is shown in light yellow. This is the time when Jesus lived and this explains why there was a Roman Governor and Roman soldiers throughout the gospels – because the Romans ruled the Jews in the Land of Israel during the life of Jesus.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire
Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire

The Second Jewish exile under the Romans

From the time of the Babylonians (600 BC) the Israelites (or Jews as they were called now) had never been independent as they had been under the Kings of David. They were ruled by other governments of other people. The Jews resented this and after Jesus they revolted against Roman rule. In this war the Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem, burned down the 2nd Temple and deported the Jews as slaves across the Roman Empire. This was their second exile. Since this Empire was so vast the Jews were effectively dispersed across the whole world.

Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile
Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile

And this is how they lived for almost 2000 years: dispersed, fragmented, living in foreign lands and never accepted in these lands. As they lived in these different nations they periodically suffered great persecutions. This was the same period where Christianity spread and the persecution of the Jews was particularly true in Christian Europe. From Spain, in Western Europe, to the pogroms in Russia the Jews lived often in a precarious state in these Christian kingdoms. These specific pronouncements of Moses back in 1500 BC became vivid and accurate descriptions of how they lived.

… Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:65)

The Curses against the Israelites were given to make peoples ask:

All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

And the answer was:

“ … the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land…” (Deuteronomy 29:24-25)

The timeline below shows this 2000 year period which follows after the history of the Jews from the time of the Bible. This period is shown in a long red bar.

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring their two periods of exile
Historical Timeline of the Jews – featuring their two periods of exile

You can see that through their history Jews went through two periods of exile but the second period of exile was much longer than the first period of exile (which was only from 600 – 530 BC).

The 20th Century Holocaust

Then the persecutions and pogroms against the Jews reached their peak. Hitler in World War II, through Nazi Germany tried to exterminate all the Jews living in Europe. And he almost succeeded by creating a mechanised system of exterminating them in gas ovens. However he was defeated and a remnant of Jews survived.

Modern Re-birth of Israel

And then in 1948 the Jews, through the United Nations, saw the remarkable re-birth of the modern state of Israel. It is remarkable just in the fact that there were people still around who identified themselves as ‘Jews’ after all these millenia without a homeland. But this reality allowed for the final words of Moses, written down 3500 years ago, to come true.  There was a “Jewish’ people around to see this final prediction fulfilled in our time.

…then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. (Deuteronomy 30:3-4)

It was also remarkable in that this state was founded in the teeth of opposition. Most of the surrounding nations in that region waged war against Israel in 1948 … in 1956 … in 1967 and again in 1973. Israel, a very small nation, often found itself at war with five nations at the same time. Yet not only did they survive, but their territories increased. In the war of 1967 the Jews regained Jerusalem, their historic capital city David had founded 3000 years ago.  The aftermath of the creation of the state of Israel, and the fallout from these wars has created one of the most intractable conflicts and political problems of our world today.  Strange how Moses’ words so long ago echo still today even though very few are even aware of what he wrote.

How does a Prostitute reveal the Good News of the Gospel?

Here is the account of how a prostitute – a person with a background such that we would dismiss her – clearly illustrates the Gospel for us, and demonstrates why it is Good news.

This is a video of a presentation where I explore the person of Rahab.  And then we use the Biblical image of grafting dead branches unto live ones to flesh out what Jesus in the Gospel is offering to us.