Jewish Testimony: Was Jesus the son of a virgin from the line of David?

In my last post I explained where the title ‘Christ’ came from, and I opened up an age-old can of worms: was Jesus of Nazareth the ‘Christ’ predicted in the Hebrew Old Testament? That’s a great question to mull over in the Christmas season.  I used Psalm 132 to show the origin of the prediction that the Christ was to come from the line of David.  You can see that it was not a Christian idea or invention since it has its source in the Hebrew/Jewish Psalms written 1000 years before Jesus was born and the controversy surrounding him exploded onto his world.

Was Jesus really from the line of David?

But the New Testament claim of ‘fulfilling’ this prophecy seems certainly suspect.  The reason that Matthew and Luke include the genealogy of Jesus in their gospel accounts is that they want us to see a fulfillment of this Jewish prophecy in Jesus.  But who is to say that they didn’t just make up their genealogies to get a ‘fulfillment’?  That would be a more natural explanation than ‘Divine’ fulfillment.  Many of us confronted with this question just leave it at that and either believe or not based on pre-existing biases.  But hold your verdict!  The case is not fully heard and the jury should still be out.

It helps when trying to find out what ‘really’ happened to seek the testimony of hostile witnesses.  A hostile witness was on-hand at the scene in question but does not agree with your overall belief or conclusion and thus has motive for contradicting or refuting the steps you take to reach your conclusion.  Suppose there has been a car accident between persons A and B.  Both blame each other for the accident.  But suppose person A says that he saw person B texting just before the accident.  Person B has no motive for agreeing with Person A on this point, and if he does admit that yes he was texting just before the accident then the judge and jury have good reason to at least bet that person B was texting since the hostile and eye-witness parties agree on this point, and person B has nothing to gain and only to lose by agreeing to this point.

In the same way, sifting through hostile historical sources can help move us much further along as to what really happened in the controversies and events of Jesus.  In that light I found it interesting when I studied the noted and distinguished scholar F.F. Bruce’s work Jesus and Christian Origins outside the New Testament. (1974  215pp.).  In that study, he identified and analyzed Jewish Rabbinical references to Jesus in the Talmud and Mishnah.  He noted the following rabbinical comments about Jesus:

Ulla said: Would you believe that any defence would have been so zealously sought for him (i.e. Jesus)?  He was a deceiver and the All-merciful says: ‘You shall not spare him neither shall you conceal him’[Deut 13:9]  It was different with Jesus for he was near to the kingship”  p. 56

FF Bruce makes this remark about that rabbinical statement

The portrayal is that they were trying to find a defence for him (an apologetic note against Christians is detected here).  Why would they try to defend one with such crimes?  Because he was ‘near to the kingship’ i.e. of David.  p. 57

In other words, the Jewish rabbis did not dispute the Gospel writers’ contention that Jesus really was in the line of David.  Though they did not accept Jesus’ overall claim to Messiah and were hostile to the Gospel claims about him, they still affirmed that Jesus was in the royal line of David.  So we know that the Gospel writers did not simply make that up to get a ‘fulfillment’.   The hostile witnesses agree on this point.

What about being born of a virgin?

Now we may not react too strongly against the claim that Jesus was from David.  After all, there is always a distinct statistical possibility of this being true ‘by chance’.  But born of a virgin?!  There is no possibility of this happening ‘by chance’.  It is one of: a misunderstanding, a made-up fraud, or a Divine Happening – no other option exists.

Luke and Matthew quite clearly state that Mary conceived Jesus while she was a virgin.  And Matthew ups the ante by quoting and claiming that this was a clear fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah (ca 750 BC) which said:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (i.e. ‘God with us’) Isaiah 7:14 (and quoted in Matthew 1:23 as a fulfillment)

Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings
Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

Virgin or Young Maiden

It is at this point where plausibly natural explanations come to mind.  If you dig just a little bit (as some do) you learn that the Hebrew (הָעַלְמָ֗ה transliterated haalmah) which is translated to ‘virgin’ above in English could also mean ‘young maiden’, i.e. a young unmarried woman.  Perhaps that is all that Isaiah ever meant to say, way back in 750 BC, and given some pious ‘need’ on the part of Matthew and Luke to venerate Jesus they misunderstood Isaiah to mean ‘virgin’ when he really meant ‘young woman’.  And given the untimely (yet convenient for the ‘fulfilled prophecy’ plotline) pregnancy of Mary before her marriage it neatly developed into a ‘divine fulfillment’ centerpiece in the birth story of Jesus.

Many have recounted some such explanation to me over the years, and on the one hand I can’t refute this explanation – after all proofs about being a virgin or not are difficult if not impossible to frame.  But, for a fact, the story is not this simple.  Because we saw in the last post that the Septuagint was a Jewish translation of the Hebrew into Greek that was done in 250 BC – two hundred fifty years before Jesus was born.  How did these Jewish

History of the MSSs that give us modern Bibles inc. LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls
Old Testament manuscript timeline: Septuagint (LXX) is translated ca 250 BC

rabbis translate Isaiah 7:14 from the Hebrew into the Greek?  Did they translate it as ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’?  What amazes me is that though scores of people who I have talked to about this seem to know enough to dig into the fact that the original Hebrew can mean either ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’, not one among these scores has ever brought up the witness of the Septuagint.  When you look there you see that it is rendered unequivocally and categorically as παρθένος  (transliterated parthenos), which means ‘virgin’.  In other words, the leading Jewish rabbis of 250 BC understood the Hebrew Isaiah prophecy to mean ‘virgin’, not ‘young woman’ – over two hundred years before Jesus came on the scene.

I find this so interesting because why would a group (seventy of them according to tradition) of leading scholars make such a seemingly ridiculous and far-fetched prediction that a virgin would have a son. If you think it is because they were superstitious and unscientific in that day then think again.  People in that era were farmers.  They knew all about how breeding worked.  Hundreds of years before the Septuagint Abraham and Sarah knew that after a certain age menopause kicked in and childbearing was impossible.  No, scholars in 250 BC did not know about the periodic table of elements or the complete electro-magnetic spectrum, but they understood how animals and people reproduced. They would have known it was out-on-a-limb, naturalistically-defying, to predict a virgin birth.  But they did not retreat, they did not hedge their bets and make it ‘young woman’ in the Septuagint.  No they inked it in black and white that a virgin would have a son.

And now consider the fulfillment part of this story.  Though it cannot be proven that Mary was a virgin, she was remarkably in the only and very brief stage of life where it could at least remain an open question.  This was an age of large families.  Families with ten children were not uncommon.  Given that, what was the chance that Jesus would be the oldest child? If he had had an older brother or sister then we would know Mary was not a virgin.  In our day when families have about 2 children it is a 50-50 chance, but back then it was closer to a 1 in 10 chance.  In other words, the chance was 9 out of 10 that the ‘fulfillment’ should just be dismissed by the simple fact that Jesus had an older sibling – but (against the odds) he didn’t.

And now layer the remarkable timing of the betrothal onto this.  If she had been married just a few days the virgin ‘fulfillment’ could again simply be dismissed.  On the other hand, if she had not yet been engaged and was found to be pregnant she would not have had a fiance to care for her.  In that culture, as a pregnant but unbetrothed woman she would have had to fend for herself – if she had been allowed to live.

Mary’s Context

It is these remarkable and unlikely set of ‘coincidences’ that make the virgin explanation impossible to disprove that strikes me. As I showed above these coincidences are not expected, but rather they exhibit that same sense of balance and timing, especially given the virgin prediction in the Septuagint, that show plan and intent – that of a Mind.

If Mary had been married for some time before Jesus was born, or if he had older siblings, then the hostile witness of his opponents would surely have brought that out.  Instead it seems that, once again, they defer to the gospel writers on this point.  FF Bruce notes this as he explains how Jesus is referred to in the rabbinical writings:

Jesus is referred to in rabbinical literature as Jesus ben Pantera or Ben Pandira.  This might mean ‘the son of the panther’.  The most probable explanation is that it is a corruption of parthenos, the Greek word for ‘virgin’ and arose from Christian references to him as a son of a virgin   (p57-58)

Today, as back in Jesus’ time, there is plenty of hostility to Jesus and the claims of the gospel.  Then, as now, there was significant animosity to him.  But the difference in hostility is that back then they were also witnesses, and as hostile witnesses they did not refute the very points that they should have been able to, had these points been made up or in error.

But the story does not even end there.  Even those hostile to the supernatural claims about Jesus admire him for the life he lived on a purely human level.  People may debate his divinity, but rarely do they argue about his morality.  And it is at this point, that once again the grudging acceptance of those hostile should cause us to pause and ask:  Where did he get this different morality from?  The acclaimed moral life lived is also a signature of that disputed Virgin Birth.

Does God Exist? Does He bless?

Recently I had the privilege of doing a public presentation at McMaster University entitled “Does God Exist?  Does He bless?”.  A friend of mine video recorded it and I have the presentation finally uploaded.  I have the 1 hour presentation segmented into different videos.  (If you prefer to watch the entire presentation as one video please go here.)

Old Testament: A fully backed up library

The first (9 minute) section,  gives an overview of authorship and the manuscript textual basis supporting the Old Testament, emphasizing the implications of the Dead Dea Scrolls to this question.  I start here because in later sections I will show the interplay of themes, where signs point to events hundreds of years before they occur as evidence that a Divine Being has sent a message in the books of the Bible.  The information in this first section is foundational to appreciate this.

The Riddle of the Binding of Isaac

This section (14 min) probes into the riddle of the binding of Isaac.  I show that this is a message that is acted out and this message is coordinated by events thousands of years later – showing that no human mind could be behind the message.  It is a Signed message from God pointing to sacrifice of Jesus – at the very same spot.

The Passover Riddle

The next (13 minute) section shows the account of the first Passover, at the time of Moses, as a Sign pointing to the sacrificial death of Jesus 1500 years later.  It is such a Sign because this events inaugurates the Jewish calendar and starts an annual festival, called Passover, where Jews killed a lamb in memory of the blood of the lambs of this first passover that saved them from death.  Jesus was executed precisely on that same day.  It is too much of a stretch to say that by coincidence that the man, entitled the Lamb of God, would have his blood save us from death on that very same day.

Ancient & Modern Witness Outside the Bible

The obvious rebuttal to the thrust of my argument in the above sections is that the Gospel accounts of Jesus were made up to ‘fit’ these Signs.  But we have secular historians, outside the Bible, that affirm the historicity of where and when Jesus was sacrificed. (12 min)

Dr. Dave Brock’s Story

Dave Brock, a chemistry prof at McMaster shares his personal story of his journey from atheism to trust in Jesus in this 5 minute section.

Conclusion: Your opportunity to Respond

In this 2 minute conclusion to the evening I give an opportunity to respond, like Dave Brock did, to the invitation of Jesus

Here is a short article explaining the meaning of the sacrifice of Jesus in the Gospel

Evolution: Fact or Fable?

Evidence for a Creator God through science

I was an avid science reader while in school. I read about stars and atoms – and most things in-between. Most of the books that I read, and all that I learned in school taught me that though technically considered a theory, evolution was as established as any scientific fact could be. I was taught that through evolution all life has descended over long ages from a common ancestor through the process of natural selection operating on chance mutations. Evolution was appealing to me since it made sense of so much of the world I saw and experienced around me. For example, it explained:

  • Why there was such a wide variety of life forms, but still with many similarities between them – since they all descended from a common ancestor,
  • Why we could see some changes in animals over a few generations, such as when populations of moths were observed to change color due to changes in the environment, or the dvancements that occur with animal breeding. These were examples of small evolutionary steps.
  • Why organisms, including humans, fought and struggled so hard with each other to survive, showing there was a struggle for existence.
  • Why sex seemed so important to animals and especially humans – it ensured that our species would produce enough offspring to survive and even evolve.

All that was true of human life – struggle, competition and lust; what was observable of the biological world – mutations, changing species, and similarities between species, was all explained by chance and natural selection operating on the evolving descendants of our common ancestor over millions of years.

Evolution seemed so obvious that I was impatient with any who questioned it, especially those who did so because of their ‘religion’. Even though I believed in God, I figured in some manner that science had convincingly proven evolution, and therefore God had used evolution to make the world and the people in it. Further scientific proofs of the truth of evolution consisted of transitional fossils showing how animals in the past were linked to other more evolved descendants through intermediate fossils. I had supposed that many such transitions existed, showing the sequence of our evolution down through the ages.

The Actual Factual status of – Transitional Fossils

I was quite surprised, as I took a closer look, to discover that this was simply not the case. As a matter of fact, the lack of transitional fossils showing the textbook evolutionary path (single cell -> invertebrate -> fish -> amphibian -> reptile -> mammal -> primates -> man) directly contradicted what one would expect if evolution were true. For example, the evolution from single cell organisms to marine invertebrates (ex. like starfish, jellyfish, trilobites, clams, sea lilies etc.) supposedly took 2 billion years. You can imagine the number of intermediates that would have existed as nature by chance and natural selection evolved biological life from an amoeba-like organism to some complex animal similar to one of the invertebrates mentioned above. Countless numbers of these transitions should have existed – and some of those should have been preserved and have been found as fossils today. But what do the evolutionary experts say about these transitions?

Why should such complex organic forms [i.e., the invertebrates] be in rocks about six hundred million years old and be absent or unrecognized in the records of the preceding two billion years? (M. Kay and E.H. Colbert, Stratigraphy and Life History (1965), p. 102.)

The fossil record is of little use in providing direct evidence of the pathways of descent of the invertebrate classes. … no phylum is connected to any other via intermediate fossil types. (J. Valentine, The Evolution of Complex Animals in What Darwin Began, L.R. Godfrey, Ed., Allyn & Bacon Inc. 1985 p. 263.)

Thus, the actual evidence showed NO such evolutionary sequence culminating in the invertebrates – they just suddenly appear in the fossil record fully formed. And this supposedly involved two billion years of evolution! This same absence of intermediate fossils also occurred in the supposed evolution from invertebrates to fish (as attested by these leading evolutionists):

Between the Cambrian [invertebrates] … and when the first fossils of animals with really fishlike characters appeared, there is a gap of 100 million years which we will probably never be able to fill” (F.D. Ommanney, The Fishes (Life Nature Library, 1964, p.60))

All three subdivisions of the bony fishes appear in the fossil record at approximately the same time… How did they originate? What allowed them to diverge so widely? How did they come to have heavy armor? And why is there no trace of earlier intermediate forms? (G.T. Todd, American Zoologist 20(4):757 (1980))

When one then turns to see the fossil evidence supporting the evolution of plants, the same kind of contrary evidence is encountered:

The origin of the land plants is about as “lost in the mists of time” as anything can be, and the mystery has created a fertile arena for debate and conjecture (Price, Biological Evolution, 1996 p. 144)

This can be shown when one looks at the evolutionary ‘trees’. Take the evolution of mammals for example. You will see from this textbook figure that there is no start, or transitional fossils connecting the major groups of mammals – all appear with their characteristics complete.

A typical evolution tree for mammals in a textbook. Note that there is no ‘real’ ancestor and no ‘real’ transitions. From: Price, Biological Evolution, 1996 p. 127

Thus I learned that even though millions of fossils have been found worldwide, not one undisputed transitional fossil has ever been found. Notice how scientists at museums of Natural History summarize the fossil record:

The American Museum people are hard to contradict when they say there are no transitional fossils…You say that I should at least ‘show a photo of the fossil from which each type of organsim was derived’. I will lay it on the line — there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument” (Colin Patterson, Senior paleontologist at the British Museum of Natural History in a letter to L.D. Sunderland as quoted in Darwin’s Enigma by L.D. Sunderland, p. 89 1984)

Actual Factual Observations: Changes – Yes! Increased Complexity – No!

The fossil evidence, upon taking a closer look, seemed to suggest to me that evolution was more like a modern fable than a scientific fact. Then I started to realize that the explanatory power of evolution that I described earlier was not as impressive as I had first thought. For example, though we can see changes in animals over time, these changes never show any net effect of increasing complexity. Thus when the moth populations mentioned earlier change color, the level of complexity (gene information) remains the same. No new structures, functions or information content (in the genetic code) are introduced – just variations of existing information are selected for. Yet evolution requires change showing increase in complexity and information. After all, this is the general trend that the evolutionary ‘trees’ try to portray – simpler life (like single-celled organisms) gradually evolving to more complex life (like birds and mammals). Using the example of the changing color of the moth (or the many similar examples from artifical breeding programs) as support for evolution is like arguing that seeing something move back and forth horizontally (like billiards on a pool table) is evidence that they will eventually move up vertically (like an elevator). And we know that this is simply not so. To extrapolate change of increasing complexity from observing change at the same level of complexity is equally tenuous.  University textbook examples, like that of the evolution of the Soapberry bug, continue to show natural selection and change – but not evolution in the sense of new functional information

Homology – From a Common Designer!

limb design similarities in mammals – From a common ancestor or a common designer? Your worldview will answer that question before this data will

Finally, it was pointed out to me that what I had thought of as similarities between organisms proving the existence of a common evolutionary ancestor (technically known as homology) could also be seen as evidence of a common creator.

After all, the reason that the Chevrolet Z24 is similar to the Chevrolet Cavalier is that the two cars share a common design team (Chevrolet engineers) not because they are descended from a common ancestor. Thus, instead of seeing the pentadactyl limbs in mammals as evidence of a common ancestor, it could equally be seen as evidence of a designer using this limb design for all mammals.  The common design we see in the genetic code, routinely touted as evidence for common ancestry, is much better explained by common design, as these software experts show in their approach to a world-wide computer virus outbreak.

Bird Lung: Defies a step-wise Evolutionary explanation

I have kept on with my science readings, and I have seen that as we continue to understand more about the biological world, the problems with evolution keep increasing. For evolution to be possible, small changes in function need to increase survival rates so that these changes are selected for. The problem is that many of these transitional changes will simply not work. Take birds for example. They supposedly evolved from reptiles. Now reptiles have a lung system, like mammals, where the air is brought in-and-out of the lung to alveoli though bronchi tubes.

Reptile lungs: Air passes in and out, bi-directionally, through bronchi tubes

Birds however have a totally different lung structure. Air passes through the parabronchi of the lung in one direction only (kind of like how air passes through a vacuum cleaner – straight through). This is difference is illustrated in the following figures.

How is the hypothetical half-reptile and half-bird going to breathe while his lung structure is being rearranged?

Bird lungs: Air passes in and straight through uni-directionally

In other words, is it possible for a lung to work at all if it is part-way between the bi-directional structure of reptiles and the uni-directional structure of birds? Not only is being half-way between these two lung designs NOT better for survival, but the intermediate animal would not be able to breathe – he would die in minutes. Maybe that is why no transitional fossils have ever been found –because it is simply impossible to function (and thus live) with a partially developed design theme.  Even the supposed evolution of such a simple thing as the elongated neck of the giraffe, cannot be explained by the small successive steps of natural selection.

Evolution: Modern Fable taken on (Secularly) Religious Faith

Is evolution a proven fact? Or is it a modern fable? There is vanishingly small evidence to support the theory of evolution, and it is inconsistent with a surprising amount of the evidence and even common-sense. I hope that this page will encourage you to start taking a closer look about this because how you and I understand our origins will have an impact on how we see our world and ourselves. We will either see ourselves and the people around us as products of chance, only here on earth due to a long series of lucky ‘mistakes’, or we will see ourselves, and people around us as created by a Designer. And this is a Designer who has showed some amazing craftsmanship – including the design of you and I. Call him God, or perhaps something else, this awareness will be an important first step in determining our sense of meaning, purpose and self-worth as we live out our lives. It provides a basis to understand ourselves, the world around us, and our creator.  And if He has created us, perhaps He has also revealed a message to us. Why not investigate and find out?

So on this site are other posts, pages and videos that go much more in-depth on this issue than this little article can.   Here are some pertinent pages:

University debate with an evolution professor

Human Evolution? – video of a presentation I did in a university anthropology class

Consider Design? – video of an overview of the Case for Design

Do Observed changes equate with evolution – the case of the Soapberry bug

Testimony – Famous atheist philosopher Antony Flew ‘converts’ out of evolution

Neanderthals in your bloodline

Can Chance & selection explain origin of complex systems?

Similarity is naturally explained by Design Inference

Exhibit A – Faith of world leading evolutionist

I hope you will be motivated to take a closer look into this issue – it has been a fascinating one for me.

The Bible: Inspired by God or thought up by men?

The Bible’s argument for God’s Existence

The Bible is the perennial best-seller of all time. It has been translated into more languages than any other book. However, the Bible is also controversial. For one thing it claims that God inspired its writing. An example of such a claim is:

“All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”(2 Timothy 3:16).

The question I had when faced with such a claim was, how could I know whether it was true or not? For one thing, how can I know that God exists?  Does one have to believe in the existence of God before one looks at the Bible?  After all, lots of holy books and even religious leaders make similar claims.  The well-known atheist Bertrand Russell surveyed the plethora of religions, most making claims and statements contradicting each other, yet all claiming some Divine origin and concluded that all religions were false. Was Russell right? Or is there some evidence that the Bible has to validate its claim? Or does one choose whether to believe a scripture or not solely based on culture and upbringing, or on some whim and fancy?

The Bible`s Test for God & Proof of Inspiration

As I struggled with these questions, I came across a test that the Bible itself laid down to prove its inspiration and to prove God’s existence. It is the Bible’s argument and proof for the existence of God and is spelled out in the following Biblical passages.

“You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD’? If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message that the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)

“Present your case,” says the LORD … “you idols tell us what is going to happen … declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know you are gods.” (Isaiah 41:21-23)

The test that the Bible lays out is quite simple, yet clear-cut. To know if a message came from God the statements say that it should be supported by predictions of the future. The reasoning is that if God exists, He knows the future, whereas though people can make some educated guesses we can’t predict the future with consistent accuracy, and false gods know nothing about the future. Thus a message from God can be differentiated from those of people or false gods on the basis of its predictive abilities.  If the messages do predict the future then they must come from God then He must exist.  This is evidence that God is there and talking to us.  The Bible’s argument for God’s existence is pretty straightforward.

But can we apply this proof for God’s existence?  I was acutely aware that predictive prophecy was subject to interpretation, especially if the predictive statements were vague. After all, New Years’ tabloids usually have headlines from some ‘psychic’ who predicts that there will be a disaster or turmoil in the course of the coming year. Such general predictions are bound to happen statistically. Were there prophecies in the Bible that were really substantive and precise? That gave a real sign of Divine inspiration? Let me share with you what I have learned on this topic.

Basic Facts of the Bible

In order to assess this evidence one needs to know some basic facts about the Bible. The Bible has two main sections, the Old Testament, comprised of 39 books written in the period 1500 BC to 400 BC, by a wide variety of authors.  The following short video of a public presentation I did at a university will give you a quick but adequate background on the authorship of the Old Testament.

The New Testament comprised of 27 books written between 50 AD and 90 AD.  To get basic background information on the textual reliability of the New Testament, see the following 17 minute video from another presentation at another university and/or browse this article here.

The New Testament centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. What is fascinating is that he claimed that the Old Testament also anticipated his person and work. For example, on one occasion Luke tells us of Jesus that

“beginning with Moses and all the Prophets [i.e. the Old Testament] he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

This, if true, should include these predictive prophecies since Moses (ca 1500 BC) and the Prophets (ca 1000 – 500 BC) were written hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth. What kind of predictions did they make? Were they vague and subjective? Or definitive? Let’s take a look at the evidence.

Isaiah Prophecies of the Servant

See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him – his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness – so he will sprinkle [i.e. help or heal] many nations.  Isaiah 52:13-15 (written 750 BC)

This passage is explicitly forward-looking (with the ‘will’ as in future tense) and thus predicts a coming ‘servant’ who will be known for being wise. The passage seems to contradict itself, however, since it says he will be highly exalted and lifted up – then it talks about him becoming disfigured and marred beyond recognition – so that all ‘nations’ will be affected. The controversy of the violence and blood in Mel Gibson’s The Passion movie shows us visually how this prophecy was fulfilled. Jesus was known as a wise teacher, and he is exalted by many. Yet the beatings and punishment he received at his death was so appalling and disfiguring that his form was literally marred beyond human likeness. People in all nations have recognized him. That prophecy was literally fulfilled by Jesus in all its facets.  See this article here for a more detailed breakdown of this prediction.

Isaiah prophecy of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed .. the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and afflicted .. he was led like a lamb to the slaughter .. by oppression and judgment he was taken away.  And who can speak of his descendants?  For he was cut off from the land of the living.  For the transgression of my people he was stricken .. After the suffering of his soul he will see the light of life and be satisfied.  By his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many. (Isaiah 53: 5-11)

This continues on from the previous passage to describe the servant as being pierced for our transgressions.  What an apt description of a person who is being nailed to a cross – he is being pierced.  But this was written before crucifixion was even invented!  The rest of the passage goes on to state that he was bearing our iniquities (sins) so that we can experience peace and healing in our relationship with God; that he would afterwards see the light of life and justify many.  The Good News of the early Gospel followers was exactly that: God is extending us his forgiveness since Jesus bore the penalty of our sins (through his death) and since he was resurrected we now have the hope of eternal life.  Isaiah is anticipating not only the historical events around Jesus (his suffering, crucifixion & resurrection) but the implications of these events in our relationship with God.

The Prophecy of the Crucifixion in the Psalms

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?… I am … scorned by men and despised by the people.  All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. … I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me… a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet…I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me .. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.  .. All the ends of the earth will remember… Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.  They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn. (Psalm 22, ca 1000 BC)

Jesus, while on the cross did call out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”(5).  In doing so Jesus was pointing to Psalm 22 which opens with the same words.  As one reads that Psalm, the highlights of which I have produced, one gets a description of the crucifixion of Jesus, in first person, including the mocking and insults he received, the dislocating of the joints, the piercing of hands and feet, the dividing of garments.  How was David, the author of Psalm 22, able to get such an accurate visualization of the crucifixion 1000 years before it occurred?  And notice how the Psalm ends.  It describes the legacy or effect of this person.  It says that generations following the crucifixion will be told about it.  And here we are about 2000 years after the crucifixion studying aspects of it – just as David predicted.  For a further breakdown of Psalm 22 see this article here.

The Prophecy of lineage

“’The days are coming’, declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.   Jeremiah 33:14-15 ca. 600 BC

Note that this prophecy predicts that someone will come from David’s line (David was the famous Jewish King who defeated Goliath and founded the city of Jerusalem ca 1000 BC – see historical overview here), and this person would be just and right. This prediction was fulfilled by Jesus Christ who was a descendant of David as well as a person who is famous for being ‘just and right’. The lineages were meticulously preserved in that ancient Middle Eastern culture, and both Matthew (ch 1) and Luke (ch 3) trace Jesus’ lineage to his ancestor King David.  For Jewish verification of Jesus’ lineage outside of the Bible see my article here.

The name of Jesus Prophesied!

Listen O High Priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch. See the stone I have set in front of Joshua! … and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.  Zechariah 3:8-9 written 500 BC

Zechariah picks up from Jeremiah and predicts more about the coming Branch of David. It is interesting that Joshua (who was the person in 500 BC to whom Zechariah was directly speaking) is a variant of the name Yeshua, which was Jesus name in Aramaic. In other words Jesus and Joshua are variants of the same name (like John and Jonathan are variants of each other – see here for further explanation). And Zechariah says that the Joshua of his day was symbolic of the Branch, and this Branch would remove the sin of the land in one single day. The day Jesus (Yeshua) died he did so for the sins of all people. So literally, in a single day the sins of the land were removed. In a sense, Jesus’ name and victory over sin were predicted 500 years before he lived.  This article here explores this prophecy in further detail.

Birthplace of Jesus prophesied

“But you, Bethlehem, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2 written 700 BC

This prediction has of today been partially fulfilled. Jesus was born in Bethlehem (as the Christmas accounts tell us), but he has never yet ruled over Israel. It is interesting though that he claimed to be a King (‘Christ’ is a title signifying kingship). For example, he declared, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory”(Matthew 25:31). This indicates that he taught that he would return again to earth – this time to rule, which would thus fulfill both parts of Micah’s prophecy. At this point at least we have the fulfillment of his birth place.

Explanations for the prophecies

In this short study we’ve had time to look at just a few predictions in the Old Testament that seem to be fulfilled in the person and life of Jesus Christ. What are some possible explanations? It could just be coincidence. If it were just these few prophecies we looked at then that could perhaps be contemplated. Sometimes bizarre and unusual coincidences just happen. But when we consider that there are several hundred direct and indirect prophecies and allusions in the Old Testament that are completed in Jesus, of which we have looked at just a few, it would seem that coincidence is a poor explanation for such a large and converging set of predictions. And people who did not know each other, living hundreds of years apart wrote these prophecies. In our little sample we looked at Psalm 22 written by David ca 1000 BC down to Zechariah who lived about 500 BC. Yet their writings independently converge on Jesus.

The most likely explanation that I considered was that the Old Testament writings were changed after the life of Jesus to make them ‘fit’. However, the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls ruled that explanation out. The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1948, contain almost the entire Old Testament, they are dated at 200 B.C, and they are exactly the same as traditional Old Testament texts. Thus we have manuscripts in hand today that pre-date Jesus by about 200 years, containing the same predictions, so they could not have been altered after his life to make the predictions fit his life.  For further information on the Dead Sea Scrolls and how they relate to this question see my short video on this topic:

Or perhaps the life of Jesus was written in the Gospels of the New Testament to make it ‘fit’ the Old Testament prophecies. The problem with that explanation is that so many of the predictions and fulfillments revolve around public aspects of Jesus life. Take the first prophecies we looked at, for example, which foretell his passion and crucifixion. The Gospel writers could not just ‘make up’ a highly public event. In fact secular writers of that time refer of Jesus being crucified under Pontius Pilate (ex. Tacitus. 112 AD. Annals XV 44  & Josephus. 67AD. Antiquities xviii. 33 ).  You can check here the Session or the article here that explores these secular writers that refer to events of Jesus’ life in their historical writings.  Early Christian writers refer to Pilate’s records of the crucifixion kept in Caesar’s official archives (Justin Martyr 150 AD First Apology ch xxxv). It was as if it was common knowledge of that day.

Or perhaps the New testament was gradually modified over time to make it better ‘fit’ the predictions of the Old Testament as scribes started to understand more what was supposed to happen with Jesus’ life.  But again, the remarkable stability of the New Testament text precludes this explanation.

So who was behind the writings of the Bible? Was it only men, or was it that, as the Bible itself says, “… [it] never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The fulfilled prophecies should give us pause because no other set of writings, holy or otherwise, has this same kind of signature on it.  At the very least, this short study should encourage us to study this question more thoroughly so that we can be informed of the case for Biblical Inspiration and the existence of God.  If you go to the Allusions Session and the Prequeled Sequel nature of the Gospel, you will have access to some videos and blog posts that explore this vital question more in depth.  I hope you take the time to find out, because the question is an important one.

Why would a Good God allow Suffering and Death?

I had used the story of Pinocchio, his destiny hanging in the balance, to help us see the stark and eternal contrasts between the two roads that opened up before us with our forebears’ rebellion in the Garden. And God, with his veiled foreshadowing of the coming Redeemer at the dawn of history, wanted us to see and choose this path of redemption that He would carve out for us. But there was a more immediate problem that God had to deal with.

Adam and Original Sin

In his Declaration of Independence something in Adam changed. As I went over in Corrupted (Part 2) … Missing our Target, immediately after his defiance he tried to cover up. He would not accept responsibility. What Adam started we continue because we have inherited that disposition. Some misunderstand the Biblical account to infer that we are blamed for the rebellion of Adam. In fact, the only one blamed is Adam (ex. Romans 5:14) but we do live in the consequences of that rebellion. We can think of it genetically. As our parents have had genetic mutations, we receive them and, in turn, pass them on to our offspring.  Similarly, through characteristics passed from parent to offspring we have inherited this mutinous nature of Adam and thus innately, sometimes unconsciously, but still willfully, we continue the uprising that he started.  This is what is meant by Original Sin.

Adam – Head of Human Race

We can also think of it in terms of headship. The following real situation helped me start to better understand what the Bible means when it says we are ‘in’ Adam. In recent times several Canadian provinces have been involved in high-stakes negotiations with aboriginal groups over their logging, fishing and hunting rights. At the heart of the negotiations lies the fact that several hundred years ago British generals signed treaties as British representatives on behalf of the Queen and British Empire with the then-living aboriginal leaders over the rights that the British Empire would grant them. In short, treaties were signed back then and the parties are now negotiating over the implications. What is interesting is that no one today had any say in the treaties signed back then, yet all parties today are bound by them. It is no use to protest, “But I did not sign the treaty”. In fact, there was not even a Canada (or provinces) back then, yet the Canadian government still has legal and moral responsibility to uphold (though they may not like it, and do find it economically inconvenient) what the treaties stipulated. In a very real sense, the British general of yesteryear was representing every Canadian who would ever live. These men, whoever they were, created a reality for Canadians living today that we must abide by. In this sense we can say that Canadians living today were ‘in’ those generals who signed back then and are thus bound by the treaties they created. These generals form a headship for Canadians today with respect to these ancient signed treaties.

Similarly, when a nation goes to war with another, it takes only one, the Head of State, to declare war and all citizens of that state, whether they like it or not, are then implicated. When US President Roosevelt declared war on Germany and Japan in World War II, all Americans were at war with Germany and Japan. American citizens were ‘in’ Roosevelt and what the Head of State put in effect applied to all. In similar ways, the Bible tells us that we are ‘in’ Adam. He is Head of Man and the Declaration of Independence from God that he started implicates us all.

God’s Obliges

And God, true to the essence of freedom of choice, respected Adam’s decision. His love for Adam was not some sort of co-dependent ‘need’ for him. But God, in his overall plan to redeem us, which He declared in that veiled manner using the promise of the coming offspring, also set things up so we could better ‘see’ the destiny toward which our Independence was taking us. Adam (and descendants) needed to understand, in a real sense needed to feel, the consequences of their rebellion and the start of their own pseudo-jurisdiction. As Adam was corrupted by his rebellion, God cursed the world he lived in so he could get a taste of what life apart from God would be like. As God said to Adam:

“…the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

Lives of people would now be marked by frustration, struggle and finally death. But this was not done out of spite. We wanted a Divorce and God is obliging with an initial Separation. The Divorce will come and it will be Permanent (more on that later), but for now He is helping us feel the consequences of our Separation. When a rebellious teenager wants to move out of the parents’ house, the parents may oblige, but to help them see consequences they do not pay the teen’s newly acquired rent. The teen needs to experience the full implications of their new autonomy. Then they may realize it was not so bad at home after all – and may decide to come back. In a similar way, since we chose independence from God, and He is in actual fact the source of life, we needed to get a taste of what death – being apart from God – would be like. God was setting the stage so we will perhaps come to our senses, lay down our arms, and re-enter the new covenant with Him.

In other words, God partly obliged our desire for autonomy by bringing about frustration into our world that would give us a taste or feel for what existence Divorced from Him would ultimately entail. Often referred to as the Curse, it is explained Biblically in the following way:

19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8: 19-23)

It states that ‘the creation was subjected to frustation’, i.e., it was imposed on it by God. This ‘frustration’ is its universal ‘bondage to decay’ – mutation, disease, death (and extinction) in the biological world, and increasing entropy or disorder in the physical world. Things run downhill, wear out, rust out, break down – both the creation and we ourselves are ‘groaning’ in this state. Notice though the causal connection. Verse 19 says the creation is waiting for the ‘sons of God to be revealed’ for (v.20) it had been frustrated. Therefore the ‘sons of God’ must have been key to the original imposing of the frustration. When mankind became corrupt God placed a frustration on the world – a Curse. The revealing of redeemed humanity, now the ‘sons of God’, like the return of Pinocchio to Jepetto, will herald the release from this frustration.

But why was that done? This Curse would include all the hellish things of our current existence, chief among them: aging, sickness, pain, and death. And here we come to some diametrically opposing views. Many today, including well-known skeptics use this as a primary argument against God. Bart Ehrman, arch New Testament critic, succinctly expresses this view in his statement:

“There came a time when I left the faith … because I could no longer reconcile my faith in God with the state of the world that I saw all around me … there is so much senseless pain and misery in the world that I came to find it impossible to believe that there is a good and loving God who is in control”  Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted. 2010. p. 17

Why would God arrange things in such a way as to give Ehrman and others such ammunition, and indeed such unspeakable wretchedness in the lives of so many? My experience living in Africa and then returning to Canada gave me a glimpse into why He may have done this … in my next post.

Did Jesus have a wife?

I have been exploring the creation and fall of man and Lucifer in this series of posts. I plan to continue but some recent headlines in newsites around the world are beckoning a side post. A professor at Harvard University has announced the discovery of a business card-sized papyrus fragment dating from the 4th Century (300’s AD). The fragment (in Coptic) contains the phrase ”Jesus said to them, ‘my wife’”. Here is a smattering of headlines about this:

“An ancient scrap of papyrus makes explicit reference to Jesus having a wife, according to a renowned expert in Christian history.” BBC

“Papyrus fragment quoting ‘wife’ of Jesus raises questions for Christianity” – The Australian

“Was Jesus married? Papyrus fragment fuels debate” – Jerusalem Post

So what are we to make of this? Is this neo-narrative of Jesus really up for consideration? Well, let’s look first at the proximity of this ‘witness’ to Jesus life. The headlines and articles tell us it is ‘ancient’ and it is at that, but is it close to the time of Jesus? The articles themselves report the date of the fragment as 4th century, putting it about 300 years after the death of Jesus. Could such a document even be close to being a ‘primary source’? Well, just two hundred years ago, the war of 1812 raged between Canada and the US. I live  in Canada and if I claimed by my own authority to have a revision of events that transpired back then and have the ‘real story’ that has been kept hidden these two hundred years by our governments bent on keeping us in the dark – would you believe me? Of course not! How could I, two hundred years after the fact have any credibility as a source to set the record straight about what happened back then? It is so ludicrous an idea that it is beyond even contemplating. So how can a source, 300 years after the fact, be headlined in websites and Harvard professors as setting the real record – hidden all these years – straight? The websites continually refer to ‘church doctrine’ as standing in dogmatic opposition to this idea (that Jesus was married). For example the BBC article states

“Christian tradition holds that Jesus did not marry – but Prof King said in early years it was subject to debate. The provocative find could spark debate over celibacy and the role of women within Christianity, she added. But the announcement sparked scepticism from some theologians. “

The Jerusalem Post article opines that

Despite the Catholic Church’s insistence that Jesus was not married, the idea resurfaces on a regular basis, notably with the 2003 publication of Dan Brown’s best-seller “The Da Vinci Code,” which angered many Christians because it was based on the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had children.

King (the Harvard Prof announcing the discovery) said the fragment, unveiled at the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies, provided the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married.

AsiaOne informs us that

Contacted by AFP, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi refused to call into question King’s competence as a historian but said that “we do not really know where this little scrap of parchment came from.”

“This does not change anything in the position of the Church which rests on an enormous tradition, which is very clear and unanimous” that Jesus Christ was not married, he said.

“This changes nothing in the portrayal of Christ and the gospels. This is not an event that has any influence on Catholic doctrine,” he said.

So is this a case of ‘narrow-minded’ churchmen blindly clinging to ‘tradition and doctrine’ in the face of contrary evidence? That is the impression one gets from these statements. But in point of fact ‘church doctrine’ has nothing to do with it. The gospels were written by three eyewitnesses and one investigative reporter (the Gospel of Luke) mere decades after the crucifixion of Jesus. And they are not found today on one business card fragment. I have a reference the size of an encyclopedia book that contains the transcripts of the many manuscripts of the New Testament that exist today that come before the Council of Nicaea (325 AD). That would put all these manuscripts earlier than mid-4th century. An encyclopedia-size of extant manuscripts written by primary source eyewitnesses vs. one business card size anonymous sentence 300 years after the fact! Why is it even making any news, let alone world headlines?

Gospel of Judas

But this is just the latest twist in a bizarre drama that is sweeping the world. It reminds me of the media attention paid a few years ago with the Gospel of Judas. The BBC opening sentence (bolded) was

Judas Iscariot’s reputation as one of the most notorious villains in history has been thrown into doubt with the translation of an ancient text.

But did the Gospel of Judas have any historical credibility? Further in their article the BBC informed us it also was a ‘4th century manuscript’ so we know that it was also 300 years removed from the events of Jesus. So it was not, for example, written by the ‘real’ Judas as his version of historical events. And there is only one extant Gospel of Judas manuscript, against the many manuscripts that claim primary eye-witness source testimony. Yet the BBC article would have us believe that it ‘throws into doubt’ what really happened. And it leaves you with the impression that it is more ‘progressive’ and ‘educated’ to have this doubt whereas it is ‘doctrine’ and ‘tradition’ that keeps the ‘credulous’ within the oppressive shackles of ‘church orthodoxy’.

Da Vinci Code

Then there was the Da Vinci Code book and movie, which were based off “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” – a self-proclaimed work of investigative journalism – that concluded that Jesus went off to France with Mary Magdalene and sired a ‘secret’ bloodline there. It is not necessary to examine all the claims of these books. Some are so easy to disprove that their lack of credibility should be as apparent as the sun rising before our eyes every morning. For example, the Da Vinci Code claimed that the Roman Emperor Constantine forced a vote of church Bishops to make Jesus ‘Divine’ as the Son of God. Really? So why does the Roman historian Pliny the Younger, writing to the pagan emperor of his day in 112 AD, – 200 years before Constantine – tell him this about the Christians?

“They also declare the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery and adultery …” Letters 10.6

The arch anti-Christian Lucian, writing satire against the gospel in 170 AD tells us that

The Christians you know worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account … it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers … worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.    The Death of Peregrine 11-13

Constantine in 325AD could not influence what happened two hundred years before his time, so the controversy of the divinity of Jesus definitely was not invented by him and thus one of the main ‘historical’ claims of this whole revisionary history is shown to be smoke and mirrors. Yet it was once again mentioned with a tone of plausibility in the Jerusalem Post article above as well as with this new 4th century Coptic reference to Jesus’ ‘wife’.

We live in an age when we claim that we are scientifically inclined – less prone to believe things unless compelling rational evidence is presented. I am not so sure. I meet many who tell me that the evidence to believe in Jesus is not compelling. Fair enough. But then I find many of these same folk embracing fantasies and beliefs that are far, far less substantiated than the Gospel. Why? Probably many factors are at play. Today many of us have not bothered to develop a baseline of historical understanding about the Bible so we are not in a position to have an informed perspective on the latest headlines that will greet us.

But at even a deeper level, perhaps ‘rational evidence’ is not our main metric in determining what we will believe.  Because behind our mind stands a more difficult beast to tame – our will.  Implicit in believing the Gospel Story is following it – and that is something we instinctively and desperately fight against. The Gospel Story demands our allegiance while these neo-narrative stories merely tickle our fancies – requiring no surrender to our deeply instinctive need for autonomy.  So deep down it is whether the story is preferable, rather than rational, that often drives our beliefs.   As the man famous for his wisdom, Solomon, wrote so long ago

“This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” (Ecclesiastes 7:29)

Why did God create a Devil?

In my last post I looked at the account of the Fall of man.  The book of Genesis records Satan (which means ‘accuser’) in the guise of a serpent orchestrating this tragedy.  But this raises an important question:  Why would God create a ‘bad’ devil (which means ‘adversary’) to corrupt His good creation?

Lucifer – The Shining One

In fact the Bible records that God actually created a powerful, intelligent, and beautiful angelic being (the chief among all angels) called Lucifer (meaning ‘Shining One’) – and that he was very good.  But Lucifer also had a will with which he could freely choose.  A passage in Isaiah 14 records the choice before him.

How you have fallen from heaven,
morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the North.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14:12-14)

Lucifer, like Adam, had a choice.  He could accept that God was God or he could choose to decide that he would be god unto himself.  His repeated “I wills” show that he chose to defy God and declared himself to be ‘Most High’.  A passage in Ezekiel gives a parallel account of the fall of Lucifer:

You were in Eden, the garden of God.
…  I ordained and anointed you
as the mighty angelic guardian.
You had access to the holy mountain of God
and walked among the stones of fire.
“You were blameless in all you did
from the day you were created
until the day evil was found in you.
… and you sinned.
So I banished you in disgrace
from the mountain of God.
I expelled you, O mighty guardian,
from your place among the stones of fire.
Your heart was filled with pride
because of all your beauty.
Your wisdom was corrupted
by your love of splendor.
So I threw you to the ground.  (Ezekiel 28:13-17)

Lucifer’s beauty, wisdom and might – all the good things created in him by God – led him to pride.  His pride led to his rebellion and fall, but he never lost (and thus still retains) any of his power and traits.  He is leading a cosmic revolt against his Creator to see who will be God.  His strategy was to enlist mankind to join him – by tempting them to succumb to the same choice that he made – to love themselves, become autonomous from God, and defy Him.  The heart of the test of Adam’s will was the same as Lucifer’s; it was just arrayed with a different garb.  They both chose to be ‘god’ to themselves.  This was (and is) the ultimate ‘god delusion’.

Satan – working through others

The passage in Isaiah is directed to the ‘King of Babylon’ and the Ezekiel passage is addressed to the ‘King of Tyre’.  But from the descriptions given, it is obvious that no human is addressed.  The “I wills” in Isaiah describe a being who was cast to the earth in punishment for wanting to place his throne above the stars of God.  The passage in Ezekiel addresses one who is an ‘angelic guardian’ who once moved in Eden and the ‘mountain of God’.  This tendency of Satan (or Lucifer) to position himself behind or through someone else is consistent.  In the Genesis fall he speaks through the serpent.  In Isaiah he rules through the King of Babylon, and in Ezekiel he possesses the King of Tyre.

Why did Lucifer revolt against God?

But why would Lucifer want to defy and usurp the rule of the One omniscient and omnipotent Creator?  An important aspect of being ‘smart’ is to know whether or not you can defeat a potential opponent.  Lucifer may have had (and still has) power, but even his limited creature-power would have been insufficient for a successful revolt against His Creator.  So why risk all and go for something he could not win?  I would think that a ‘smart’ angel would have recognized his limitations pitted against Omniscience & Omnipotence combined – and held back his revolt? So why didn’t he? This question puzzled me for many years.

What helped me was to realize that Lucifer could only come to the conclusion that God was His omnipotent Creator by faith – the same as for us.  Let me explain.  The Bible associates the origin of angels with the first week of creation.  We see this in Isaiah 14 above, but this is consistent through the Bible.  So for example a creation passage in Job tells us:

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said…
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand….
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38:1-7)

Picture Lucifer being created and becoming conscious sometime in creation week, somewhere in the cosmos.  All he knows is that now he exists and is self-aware, and there is also another Being who claims to have created him and all the cosmos.  But how does Lucifer know that this claim is true?  Perhaps, this alleged creator popped into existence in the cosmos just before Lucifer had popped into existence.  And because this ‘creator’ arrived earlier on the scene, so to speak, he was (perhaps) more powerful and (perhaps) more knowledgeable than he was – but then again perhaps not.  Could it be that both he and the alleged creator had both popped into existence?  Lucifer could only accept God’s Word to him that He had created Him and that God himself was eternal and infinite.  And in his pride he chose to believe the fantasy that he had birthed in his own mind.

You might think it fanciful that Lucifer would believe that both he and God (and the other angels) just ‘popped’ into existence.  But this is the same basic idea behind the latest and greatest of modern cosmology.  There was a cosmic fluctuation of nothing – and then out of this fluctuation arose the universe – that is the essence of modern atheistic cosmological speculations.  Fundamentally, everyone – from Lucifer to Richard Dawkins & Stephen Hawkings to you & I – must decide by faith whether the universe is self-contained or was brought forth and is sustained by a Creator.

In other words, seeing is not believing.  Lucifer would have seen and conversed with God.  But he still would have had to accept ‘by faith’ that God had created him.  Many people tell me that if God would just ‘appear’ to them then they would believe.  But through the Bible, many people saw and heard God – that was never the issue.  But the crux of the issue was whether they would accept and trust His Word about Himself and themselves.  From Adam & Eve, to Cain & Abel, to Noah, to the Egyptians at the first Passover, to the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea all the way to those who saw the miracles of Jesus – ‘seeing’ never resulted in trust.  The fall of Lucifer is consistent with this.

What is the Devil doing today?

So God did not make a ‘bad devil’, but created a powerful and intelligent angelic being who through his pride has led a revolt against God – and in so doing was corrupted (while still retaining) his original splendor. You, I, and all of mankind have become part of the battleground in this contest between God and his ‘adversary’ (devil). The strategy on the part of the devil is not to go about in sinister black cloaks like the ‘Black Riders’ in the Lord of the Rings and put evil curses on us, but with his retained splendor he simply seeks to deceive us from the redemption that God has signaled at the beginning of time, through Abraham, through Moses, and then accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As the Bible says:

Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

Because Satan and his servants can masquerade as ‘light’ we are more easily tricked. This is why understanding the Gospel for ourselves is so vitally important.

What about Human Evolution?

[See my related post on whether there was a real Adam or not here and a Noah or not here (and that controversial flood here)]

Recently I had the opportunity to present a scientific critique of human evolution in a university human evolution anthropology class. I recorded the presentation and Q&A which followed and then spliced it into the three videos below. My overall conclusion, referencing in part the textbook and scientific journals, is that the human evolution story is just that – a story – which says more about our society and culture than anything derived from hominin fossil data.

In the first video I discuss how it is our worldview which moves us to interpret data in a certain way, rather than the data forming our worldview. I cite from the textbook used in the course to provide some examples of this. I then look at how the fossil hominin data is to all practical extent removed from investigators. I introduce the Catalogue of Fossil Hominids – a catalogue of discovered fossil hominids up to mid-1970’s – and contend that the fossil data is actually much better than we are usually led to believe – it just does not follow the standard evolutionary story so we do not know about it.

 

 

In the second video (a continuation of the same presentation in class). I systematically go through the most ancient hominin candidates that are typically proposed as the first human ancestors that diverged from apes 5-8 million years ago. I analyze Ardipithecus, tchadensis, Tuang skull (an australopithecine), australopithecus afarensis (ie Lucy), australopithecus africanus, Laetoli footprints and homo habilis and argue that all of these do not readily fit within the standard evolutionary story. I look at fossil hominid KP271 which we usually do not hear about since it does not follow the standard story.

 

 

In the third video I examine the standard homo specimens: homo erectus, archaic homo sapiens (ie Heidelbergensis) and Neanderthals. I look at 2010 Neanderthal nuclear DNA sequencing data results which show Neanderthals interbred with modern homo sapiens and that therefore all these homo species can be seen as varieties of homo sapiens – this is one conclusion supported in the textbook. Funny thing, the BBC reported the same thing just after.  The video then follows the Q&A time where the class interacted on the material I presented.

 

Easter Examined: Could Jesus have risen from the dead?

As a child I learned many ‘fantastic’ stories surrounding our religious holidays.  I learned that a jolly fat man lived in the North Pole and flew around the world with reindeer, climbing down chimneys to give gifts to good girls and boys on Christmas.  I learned about the Easter bunny that gave out eggs and chocolates to the same good girls and boys at Easter time.  As I grew older I realized that these stories were cute but not true – I could look back and smile on them – but I would (and did) outgrow them.

Is the Resurrection story of Jesus credible?

I also learned other ‘stories’ about our religious holidays.  These stories had shepherds seeing angels, wise men following stars, a baby born in a manger – stories that form the basis of the Christmas celebration.  But perhaps the most dramatic was the story of how Jesus died on a cross, but that three days later he came back to life again – stories forming the basis of Easter.

These second set of stories, taken at face value, seem as fantastic as the first set.  The question I had when I got a little older and realized that the first set of stories were not ‘really’ true was – Is the second set also false?  After all, these stories seem equally incredible!  This is especially true of the Easter story which claimed that three days after his death, Jesus underwent a physical resurrection and came to life again.  This is probably the most audacious story across all religions, one perhaps fit for a tabloid headline – ‘Dead Man Comes Back to Life’.  Could it be true? Or even credible?  Was there any reasonable evidence to substantiate it?

The Resurrection: A Life-and-Death Issue

These are hard questions to answer.  But surely it is worth some adult thought since it touches on our mortality.  After all, as Woody Allen reminded us in ‘The Wisdom I learned from a filthy-rich, hard-drinking playboy’ death is inevitable for you, me and all others too.  If Jesus has in some way defeated death then it would have huge implications for all of us.  So in this and the subsequent post I want to briefly summarize some things I have learned in studying and thinking through this question.  There are more detailed videos in Session 7.

Perhaps the best way to try to answer this question is to work through all the possible alternatives and see which alternative makes most sense – without prejudging by ‘faith’ any supernatural explanation.  That Jesus lived and died a public death that has altered the course of history is certain.  One need not even go to the Bible for that.  We looked at some external evidence for this in Session 4.  But here let’s review a couple of secular references to Jesus and the impact he made on the world of his day.

Tacitus’ Testimony relating to Jesus and the Resurrection

The Roman governor-historian Tacitus made a fascinating reference to Jesus when describing how Nero martyred 1st century Christians (in AD 65) as scapegoats for the burning of Rome.  Here is what he says:

‘Nero.. punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius; but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also’ (Annals XV. 44)

The interesting point about this statement is that Tacitus corroborates that Jesus was: 1) a historical person; 2) executed by Pontius Pilate in Judea; 3) by 65 AD (time of Nero) the Christian faith had spread across the Mediterranean to Rome from Judea – and with such an intensity that the emperor of Rome felt he had to deal with it.  Notice as well that Cornelius Tacitus is saying these things as a hostile witness since he considers what Christ started a ‘pernicious superstition’.

Josephus’ Testimony relating to Jesus & the Resurrection

Josephus was a Jewish military leader/historian who wrote to a Roman audience.  In this writing he summarizes the history of the Jewish nation from its beginning up to his time.  In so doing he covers the time and career of Jesus with these words:

‘At this time there was a wise man … Jesus. … good, and … virtuous.  And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that He was alive’… (Antiquities xviii. 33)

So it seems from these glimpses back into the past that the death of Christ was a known and discussed event and the issue of his resurrection was being forced unto the Roman world by his disciples.

Acts on Events in Jerusalem just after Jesus’ Crucifixion

Luke, a physician and historian provides further details as to how this movement advanced in the ancient world.  Here is his excerpt from Acts:

‘The priests and the captain … came up to Peter and John … They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead…They seized Peter and John… put them in jail…When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished… “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked’.. (Acts 4:1-16)
‘Then the high priest and all his associates,… arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. …they were furious and wanted to put them to death….They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.’ (Acts 5:17-40)

One can see from this account that the political/religious leaders were going to great lengths to stop this ‘pernicious superstition’ (as Tacitus called it).  We should note that these events were occurring in Jerusalem – the same city where only a few weeks earlier Jesus had been publicly executed and buried.

An Empty Tomb: Reasoned from Historical Testimony

Having surveyed the pertinent historical data we are in a position to work through the possible explanations that surround the hypothesized resurrection of Christ.  To start with, we have two (and only two) possible alternatives concerning the body of the dead Jesus.

Options for the Jesus' Tomb occupied or empty
Options for the Tomb of Jesus

As the figure shows, the body of Christ was either in the tomb or was not.  Let us assume that his body was still in the tomb.  As we reflect on the unfolding events recorded in history, however, we are quickly confronted with absurdities.  Why would the religious/political leaders have to go to such extremes to stop such exaggerations of an alleged resurrection if the body was still in the tomb, a few minutes walk from where the disciples were publicly proclaiming his resurrection?  If I had been one of those religious/political leaders, I would have waited until Peter or John had reached the climax of their speech concerning the resurrection and then publicly paraded the body of Christ before all – audience and disciples.  I would have discredited the fledgling movement without having to imprison, torture and finally martyr them!  And consider – thousands were converted to belief in the physical resurrection of Christ in Jerusalem at this time.  If I had been one of those in the crowds – listening to Peter, pondering and wondering if I could believe his incredible message (after all, this belief came with a price of persecution) I would have at least taken my lunch break to go down to the tomb to take a look for myself.  If the body of Christ was still in the tomb this movement would not have gained any adherents in such a hostile environment with such incriminating counter evidence on-hand.  So Christ’s body remaining in the tomb leads to absurdities.  This alternative cannot be seriously entertained.

Tomb was not occupied

Of course this does not prove a resurrection.  There are several natural possibilities for how a tomb can get empty.  In my next post I look at some.

Did Constantine corrupt the Gospel or Bible?

Over the years I have been asked rather frequently about Constantine. There is lots of misinformation and rumour that circulates about him.  Popular books/movies such as the Da Vinci Code or Holy Blood, Holy Grail portray him as the Roman Emperor who basically invented the Gospel for his own political ends.  Is that true?  Let us start with some easy-to-verify facts about him.

Constantine the Great: Facts on-hand

Constantine was Roman Emperor from 306-337 AD.  Prior to his rule many of the Roman Emperors were openly hostile to the Gospel, killing and persecuting many of the followers of the gospel.  The Emperor Nero started this trend in 64 AD, when he took first century followers of the gospel, bound and dipped them in oil, and burned them alive as human torches for lighting in his palace gardens!  Successive Emperors Domitian, Marcus Aurelius (of Gladiator movie fame), Diocletian and others continued this kind of treatment.  But Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, granting religious tolerance to all views.  Constantine became sole emperor of Rome by being victorious in a series of military campaigns against other rivals.  During these campaigns he converted to Christianity (from paganism).  There is much debate today whether his ‘conversion’ was sincere, or whether he did so for political gain.

The Council of Nicaea

In 325 AD Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, the first empire-wide meeting of church leaders to discuss various controversies.   People often wonder if the gospels were changed or corrupted, or even selected (in some back-room conspiracy) for inclusion in the Bible at this time.  In fact, the main point of discussion was the theological understanding of the relationship between Jesus and God.  One camp (led by Arius) held that they were of different essences, and the other camp (led by Athanasius) held that they were of the same essences.   Therefore we know that theological interpretations were staked out and the summary Nicene Creed was authored from this council convened by Constantine.

Corruption or Conspiracy?

But were the gospels changed and/or selected at this council?  As we saw in Session 3 and the introductory article on Textual Criticism of the Bible, there are many manuscripts on-hand today that come from up to two hundred years before the time of Constantine (and the Council of Nicaea).  If this council (or Constantine) changed the documents of the New Testament then we would see this change in the copies that pre-date the Council of Nicaea from those that come after.  But the copies show no such change.  We see this in the timeline in the figure below taken from an article on the King James Bible where the manuscripts for Bibles today predate Constantine and the Council of Nicaea by up to two hundred years.

manuscripts and times from which modern Bibles are translated
From where does the Bible come?

But were the ‘wrong’ gospels selected into the Bible at this point?  We also know that this was not the case because both sides of the debate (Arius and Athanasius) used the same gospels and epistles (the ones that are in the Bible now) to argue their case.  Arius and Athanasius did not disagree on what the scriptural documents stated, nor did they disagree on which documents should be ‘in’ the Bible.  They disagreed, with heated debate, on the interpretation of these same scriptures.  We know this because an account of the debates and intrigues of the Council of Nicaea and Constantine’s role in it is preserved for us in the reporting of Eusebius who was one of the delegates to this council.  The writings of Athanasius are also preserved.

Constantine vs. the Good News of Gospel

Constantine did have a huge impact on the development of Christianity.  Christian celebrations like Christmas on December 25, how the date for the Easter celebration is calculated, and a reversal of the gospel from being counter-cultural and viewed with mistrust by the government, to becoming the cultural standard of Europe, in alliance with government, started with Constantine.  But the Gospel is not about culture or government power.  It is about a good news message from God freely received in the hearts and minds of people – and then changing their hearts.  And just like barnacles collecting on the hull of a ship can distort the hydrodynamics of a streamlined keel – and must be removed for the ship to regain its ability to move gracefully in the water – so a lot of Christianity that has developed since Constantine might need to be scraped away so we can access the pure gospel.  But it can be done.  And the ‘scraper’ with which we can find the pure Good News is the Bible.  Since the books in the Bible were not invented, modified or corrupted by Constantine we can use them to get a view of Jesus and his Gospel that has been around since his disciples went forth proclaiming his message.  This also allows us to better understand the various conspiracy theories about Jesus, (like did he have a wife or was he ‘invented’ from the ancient Egyptian mystery religion of Osiris, Isis and Horus).  It also allows us to understand where terms like ‘Christ’ originate.

But what about the theology and creeds that came from the Council of Nicaea?  Are they corrupt?  The really good news is that since the scriptures upon which these interpretations were debated are open and available to us today, we ourselves can consider the scriptures, understand its message, and assess those very same interpretations and creeds.  What many people have not understood, is that all themes in the Bible have their origins in the Old Testament, which predates by hundreds of years the influence of Constantine and even that of the Church.  For example, prophetic themes about the coming of the Messiah, as well as themes predicting the development of the Jewish people are dotted through the entire Old Testament.

Whatever we conclude about creeds and theology we can then ‘own it’ if we examine it for ourselves.  We may decide for a multitude of reasons not to believe or accept the Gospel.  Or we may decide to embrace it.  But let us avoid the really foolish notion of bringing Constantine into the mix.  He would be a poor excuse whichever way we land.