Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Christian evidence for the historicity of Biblical stories

A Christian family member sent the following information to me today.  It is from a Christian website listing evidence supporting the accuracy of historical accounts in the Bible.  Over the next day or so I will review this information and make comments below each piece of evidence in red.  Let's see what we find.

Copied from:  Answers in Genesis

Archaeological Finds


Seven Compelling Evidences

on March 20, 2011; last featured August 17, 2014
Archaeologists once boasted that the Bible was full of errors because no independent, historic evidence had been found to confirm the Bible’s claims. But a slew of astounding discoveries has put a damper on their boasting.
Archaeology provides us with fascinating and amazing affirmations of Scripture’s accuracy and trustworthiness. Indeed, it is one of the most effective ways to open a conversation with your friends about the Bible.

After two hundred years of archaeological excavation and discovery, we have a powerful arsenal of important finds that will leave the most adamant skeptics of the Bible pondering! As you talk to people about these discoveries, help them to clear away their doubts and the lies they have heard—and maybe even come to believe—about the Bible.

Here are a series of astounding discoveries that you can share with those who question the Bible’s veracity. This list covers approximately one thousand years of biblical history from the time of King David down to the time of Jesus. As you read this list, note how the accounts of so many key events and people of the Bible are confirmed by these amazing archaeological finds. It would be well worth your time to study and memorize these important findings.

The Tel Dan Stele (900–850 BC)

A stele is an upright stone that is inscribed and used as a monument of an important event or achievement. Rulers and peoples from Egypt, Israel, and across Mesopotamia used these steles to commemorate great victories and accomplishments. This particular stele is extraordinary because carved on its stone face is the expression, “House of David.” This stele affirms that the United Monarchy under King David existed in history and flatly contradicts the long-held opinions of skeptics who denied that David ever existed.

Tel Dan Stele

©2011 Zev Radovan,

By Dr. Hector Avalos at 11/19/2008
Despite a few quibbles, NOVA's documentary is one of the best in recent memory.

The best part is that it outlined the modern critical view well. I am sure, however, that fundamentalists will be fuming about it, and saying that they were not given equal time. The program was heavily laden with Harvard professors and alumni (that is bad for Yale,I suppose). I do have some quibbles, and I will briefly outline a few of them here.

…The problems of interpreting the Tel Dan inscription were not sufficiently discussed. It would take only a sentence to say that not all scholars agree on the reading of “the house of David” in that inscription. Even if that reading were correct, it would prove no more about the existence of David than inscriptions (e.g., the Modena inscription) mentioning “King Arthur” would prove about the existence of Arthur. The Tel Dan Inscription does not date to the time of David, in any case.   ---Debunking Christianity

The Meesha Stele (846 BC)

Popularly known as the Moabite Stone, it records the revolt of Meesha, King of Moab, against Israel. This incredible stele mentions Omri, King of Israel, and David of the United Monarchy. It even refers to Yahweh, the unique name of the God of Israel! Together with the testimony from the Tel Dan Stele, we have a powerful external witness that the Bible records the true history of the kings of Israel and their interactions with foreign kings.

Meesha Steleée du Louvre, Paris, France


The Nabonidus Cylinder (550 BC)

King Nabonidus of Babylonia left a magnificent cuneiform cylinder (wedge-shaped letters inscribed on a clay cylinder) mentioning his elder son, Belshazzar by name. Critics of the Bible had claimed for many years that the account in the book of Daniel was wrong; they said Belshazzar was never a king in Babylon and that Nabonidus was not his father. The discovery of this cylinder clearly showed that these scholars were dead wrong. Indeed, we can now understand the meaning of Daniel 5:16 more precisely where it says, “Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom” (italics added for emphasis).

This text now makes perfect sense because Nabonidus was in a coregency with his son Belshazzar, who was the crown prince of Babylon. So that would make Daniel the “third ruler in the kingdom.”

Nabonidus Cylinder

©2011 The British Museum


Caiaphas Ossuary

An ossuary was a box constructed to hold the bones of the dead after decomposition. In 1990 a startling discovery was made that shook biblical scholars and archaeologists alike. In the Peace Forest section of Jerusalem was discovered a burial cave containing twelve ossuaries, one of them being none other than that of Caiaphas, the high priest who presided at the trial of Jesus. This amazing discovery provides us with a powerful historical connection to the events described in the Gospels.


Caiaphas Ossuary

©2011 Zev Radovan,

Pilate Dedication Stone

In June 1961 an inscription on a limestone block, found at a Roman amphitheater in Caesarea Maritima, rocked the scholarly world. The block, which was once used as a dedication stone of a nearby temple and now reused for seating at the local amphitheater, had an extraordinary inscription. It read: “Tiberieum, (Pon)tius Pilatus, (Praef)ectus Iuda(eae).” Those scholars who questioned Pilate’s existence (and the gospel accounts generally) were silenced with this amazing discovery!

Pilate Dedication Stone


©2011 Zev Radovan,

Many more archaeological discoveries wait to be uncovered and shared with your friends. If someone raises a question about some biblical claim that has not been independently verified, you can share some of these examples to show that “silence” is not evidence against Scripture.

I also hope that this brief list will inspire you to dig deeper and use archaeology as a powerful tool in contending for the Word of God and the faith that has been entrusted to us!

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod responds to my Deconversion

A couple of weeks ago I sent out this letter to several well-known conservative Christian apologists asking them why there is zero archaeological evidence for the Biblical account of the Exodus in the Old Testament.  I also sent this same letter to my Church, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. 

Below is the response I received today from a member of the LCMS Commission on Theology, whom I assume is an LCMS pastor or theologian.  My response follows below.

Dear Gary,

I cannot supply you with lengthy arguments as to the historicity of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. A brief search of the internet offers a variety of opinions concerning the historical facts of the Exodus—the date of the event, the name of the Pharaoh in question, and so on. However, I will address one important error from your email. You state that “the very foundation of orthodox Christianity” is “the belief that the Hebrew Bible is the very Word of God.” The belief that the Hebrew Bible is God’s Word is not the foundation of the Christian faith. The foundation of the Christian faith is not a book but a person—Jesus, the crucified and risen Son of God.

The children’s song says, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” While that statement is true to a certain extent—the Bible does tell us about Jesus’ love—the song also has things a little backward. We do not believe in Jesus because we believe in the Bible. We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God because we believe in Jesus. Jesus is the foundation on which our faith is built. The apostle Paul said, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Certainly people will try to build on other foundations, including a foundation of trust in the historicity of the Exodus, or a foundation of trust in the Hebrew Scriptures, but these other foundations are not solid, something that you have already experienced.

Jesus Himself testified to the correct and incorrect understandings of the Hebrew Scriptures. To the Jews who did not believe in Him as their Messiah and Savior, Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). The Hebrew Scriptures could not give them eternal life; only Jesus could do that—and those same Scriptures pointed to Him. Because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He, by His death and resurrection, has won for us forgiveness and eternal life, we trust His testimony regarding the Old Testament Scriptures. We can also see that the historical events of the ancient Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt point ahead to the historical events of Jesus’ own life (“Out of Egypt I called my son.” Matthew 2:15) and to the fact that He is the Passover Lamb “who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7).

The Bible, of course, is divided into its two main parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. We often talk about a person’s “last will and testament,” an agreement that provides for the distribution of a person’s money or property after death. The divisions of the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, receive their titles from this idea of an agreement, or as it is more often called, a covenant. Both parts of the Bible are about an agreement or covenant that God made with people, something we might call God’s will and testament. God’s covenant is not an agreement providing for the distribution of human wealth or property and it is not an agreement between two equal parties. This agreement is the decision of God alone. This covenant or testament is His arrangement for the distribution of forgiveness and eternal life. A “last will and testament” goes into effect with the death of the person who made the agreement. That is what happened with God’s testament. It went into effect with the death and resurrection of Jesus, and all who trust in Him inherit what He guarantees—forgiveness and eternal life.

Jesus’ disciple John wrote, “We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). You have said that you want to believe again in Jesus as your Savior and that you want to believe that death is not the end. The Lord Jesus wants those things for you also—the children’s song is right about that—Jesus does love you. Death is not the end for those who trust in Jesus. He is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). The writings of Israeli archeologists are certainly interesting and worth reading, but read the Scriptures again, Old and Testament alike, and instead of trying to prove them right or wrong, read them to meet the Savior to whom those Scriptures testify. It is my hope and prayer that you will see Him there.

CTCR Staff

My Response to the LCMS:

Dear Pastor,

Thank you very much for taking the time to address my concerns regarding the lack of archaeological evidence for the historicity of the Exodus.

As a member of an LCMS congregation for four years, and as an avid student of LCMS and orthodox Lutheran doctrine during that time, I am well aware that orthodox Lutherans teach that JESUS is the foundation of our Faith.  However, that statement has a very big caveat:  Jesus is the foundation of our Faith IF and only if he really and truly, physically, rose from the dead.  If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then he was simply a good, but delusional man, and I'm sure that neither Martin Luther, Phillip Melanchthon, nor you would worship a good, but delusional, dead man.

So upon what do confessional Lutherans base their belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus:  Do we really base our belief in Jesus on...Jesus?  No.  No one can dial up Jesus on his or her cellphone and ask Jesus if he really rose from the dead.  So where do we obtain our belief that on the third day after his crucifixion that Jesus' tomb was empty due to his physical resurrection from the dead and that he appeared to more than 500 people only days and weeks later?  We obtain our belief of the physical resurrection of Jesus from the Bible.  Orthodox Christians, including orthodox Lutherans, believe that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God.  The LCMS, in particular, believes that the Bible is the INERRANT Word of God.  Specifically, the original manuscripts of the Bible contained no error whatsoever.  Since no one living today has ever seen or read these originals, orthodox Lutherans believe in the inerrancy of the originals by faith, not based on dialing up Jesus and asking him to confirm that this supernatural concept of inerrancy is true, nor do we orthodox Lutherans buy the evangelical concept of Jesus speaking to us in "our hearts".  So why do orthodox Lutherans believe that the original manuscripts of the Bible were inerrant?  Answer:  because the existing manuscripts of the Bible tell us so.
Unlike some fundamentalist Baptists and evangelicals, the LCMS is willing to admit that some alterations, embellishments, and minor errors exist in the existing manuscripts, such as the Johannine Commae  However, the LCMS believes that there is no error in any doctrine, teaching, or any historical event present in our existing manuscripts.  This can be confirmed by looking at the two Doctrinal Statements of the LCMS, one published in the 1930's and one in the 1970's.  This is the current official position of the LCMS.  To say that the Exodus, the Creation, or the Great Flood, did not happen as described in the Bible would be considered heterodox teaching in the LCMS and my guess would be that any LCMS pastor promoting such positions would be in hot water with his DP.

So, our orthodox Lutheran Christian Faith is founded upon a resurrected-from-the-dead Jesus, based upon the inerrant teachings in the existing manuscripts of the Holy Bible, supported by writings and statements by early Christians in the second century who also confessed the belief that Jesus physically rose from the dead.  However, we have zero contemporaneous statements or writings of this supernatural event, not even in the Bible! 

The first mention of a Resurrection occurs 20-30 years later in the writings of the Apostle Paul in First Corinthians.  In I Corinthians chapter 15, Paul recounts a list of the eyewitnesses to the Resurrection (in which he does not include Mary Magdalene or the other women, and he asserts that Peter was the first to see the resurrected Jesus, an assertion that contradicts the accounts in the Gospels even if we limit the list of eyewitnesses to just the men!) and at the end of this statement states that the resurrected Jesus appeared last to him.  But Paul gives us no details of when or where this appearance occurred and does not tell us anything about what he saw.  We must go to the Book of Acts to find this out...and assume...based on statements by late second century Christian apologists that the author of the Book of Acts was Luke, who received this information straight from Paul, we have no statement in any contemporaneous document or even in the Book of Acts itself, verifying who this author was or that he even knew Paul or that he had heard this story directly from Paul's mouth.

So, if we accept, based on the statements of Christians living over 100 years after the Book of Acts was written, that the author of the Book of Acts received the story of Saul/Paul's conversion directly from Paul, this is what we must believe as the testimony of Paul from the three accounts of this event recorded in Acts:

1.  Paul only saw a light.  There is never a mention of seeing a body or form of a body.  He says he also heard a voice which said it was Jesus.
2.  Paul seems to confuse whether or not his traveling companions heard something or saw the light, as the three accounts in Acts differ on these points.  One account says that they saw nothing but heard an unintelligible voice, and one says that they saw the light but heard nothing. 
3.  In Acts chapter 26 Paul, speaking in the first person, states that the event on the Damascus Road was a "heavenly vision".

Thousands if not millions of people over the last 2,000 years have claimed to have had visions of Jesus in which they see Jesus, and have conversations with him, and swear on a stack of Bibles that the event was just as real as if you and I were having a conversation with each other on the street corner!

The Emperor Constantine had a vision in which he saw Jesus and heard Jesus speak to him.  Oral Roberts says that he saw a four-story high Jesus standing outside of his hospital bed window, and I have a cousin who swears he had a near death experience and met and talked with Jesus in heaven!  Neither you nor I believe that these people really saw Jesus, so how do we know for sure that Paul saw the real resurrected body of Jesus??  Sincerity is not proof that a person's claim is true.  I believe Paul that he truly believed that he "saw" something.

Some people will say, "But Saul/Paul hated the Christians.  He was persecuting them in Jerusalem and on his way to persecute more Christians in Damascus.  There is no reason for him to have a vision of Jesus and convert to the Faith he so hated."

My answer is:  Stranger things have happened.  My cousin was a sin-loving, non-religious man when he had his "meeting in heaven" with Jesus.  Does that confirm his "vision" was true?  No.  But what we do know is that Paul himself did not describe his meeting with Jesus as an event in which he saw and touched a resurrected body.  He very specifically describes it as simply a heavenly vision.

When I saw my faith fading and essentially "circling the drain", I clung on to one last shred of "evidence":  the apostle Paul and his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road.  (I had not yet read Paul's statement that this event was only a vision, as recorded in Acts chapter 26.)

So if Paul had seen Jesus on the Damascus Road, and he later met with Peter and James in Jerusalem, as he says in his epistle, he surely would have compared the physical features of the man who called himself Jesus, whom he spoke with on the Damascus Road, with the physical features of the resurrected Jesus that both Peter and James could recount to him, because they were eyewitnesses to the resurrection.  Peter and James not only saw the resurrected body of Jesus, they had touched it and ate meals with it!

However, if all Paul saw was a bright light on the Damascus Road in a vision, how could he compare this "vision" with Peter and James?  I believe that there are at least three possible answers:

1.  Peter and James just accepted Paul's word.  They accepted Paul's vision of a bright light as actually being Jesus.
2.  Paul never discussed what he saw on the Damascus Road with Peter and James.
3.  Peter and James too only saw a bright light thinking it was Jesus and the stories in the Gospels are pure fabrication and fantasy!

It is interesting to notice this:  NO ONE in the Bible describes Jesus!  Not one person in the New Testament tells us whether Jesus was tall, short, thin, overweight, long hair, balding, dark complexion, light complexion...etc.  Nothing!

So 15-25 years after Paul's letters, the Gospels start popping up.  If you have ever read straight through the four Gospels you will have noticed two things: 

1.  Many of the same stories are repeated with amazing consistency among the three and sometimes even four authors.
2.  The Resurrection stories in the four Gospels have a lot of "apparent" discrepancies.  Who went to the tomb, was it dark or light when they arrived, was the stone already rolled back, or did an angel roll it back while they were there, was there one or two angels or one or two "men", did the men and or angels tell the women to tell the disciples to go to meet him in Galilee or to remain in Jerusalem, does Jesus let the women touch him or he forbids them to touch him.  Are the angels or men inside the tomb or sitting outside on the stone, and why in the original Gospel of Mark does the author say that the women fled from the tomb terrified and told no one, where the other Gospels have them reporting immediately to the disciples?  Did Jesus first appear in Jerusalem or in Galilee?  Did Jesus ascend from Bethany, Jerusalem or Galilee?  Did Jesus ascend to heaven on the same day as his resurrection or 40 days later...or eight days later?

Too many discrepancies for these authors to have been eyewitnesses or companions of eyewitnesses, even though Christians do the most amazing contortions of reason, logic and the English language to make them all harmonize.  They use the adage, "If any reasonable explanation can harmonize the alleged discrepancy, then there is no discrepancy."

Imagine if the police and the courts of law followed this reasoning when evaluating flagrant discrepancies between different eyewitnesses of an alleged event!  Society would be in chaos!  But Christians have no problems using this line of thinking, why?  Answer:  It maintains their pre-conceived belief that the Bible cannot contain error, because the existing manuscripts, which admittedly DO contain some errors, state that the original manuscripts were without error, so we can chalk up any unexplainable, apparent discrepancy to a scribe alteration of the unavailable and presumed no-longer in existence original manuscripts!

And the fact that Matthew, Mark, and Luke seem to be repeating the exact same words is because...they probably were!  Scholars now believe that the authors of Matthew and Luke, and maybe even John, used the Gospel of Mark as a template!  And who wrote these books?  They are not signed!  We have an assertion by Papias in the early second century and by Iraeneus in France in the late second century that the Church-ascribed authors wrote them.  So based on these two people (Papias is considered an unreliable source of information on many other issues, why trust him on this issue??) we have stated as fact that the Gospels were written by two eyewitnesses and by two companions of eyewitnesses, but we have no contemporaneous evidence of who wrote these anonymous letters, written in eloquent Greek!  Did Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John take an advanced course in How to write in Eloquent Greek Prose at the local community college? 

As an educated man this line of reasoning just is not believable to me.  The only manner in which I could continue to believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus was to know that Paul had seen Jesus' resurrected body and that his sighting of Jesus was compared to the known features of the body of Jesus known by Peter and James.  As I stated above, this line of defense crumbled with the revelation that Paul admits he only had a vision...of a light.

So what was left to maintain my faith?  Answer:  I had to confirm that God's miraculous works in the Old Testament, stated as historical fact, could be proven by modern science and archaeology.  After doing a little digging (pun) I found that mainstream archaeology finds no evidence to support the Biblical accounts of the Patriarchs, the Hebrews' slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, the Passover in Egypt, the wandering in the Sinai, the Conquest of Canaan, and the Great Kingdoms of David and Solomon.  These experts, including some of the top archaeologists in Israel, state there is zero evidence for the Biblical story in Genesis of 600,000 fighting Hebrew men, plus their wives, children, and old people leaving Egypt and wandering the Sinai for forty years.  Not one pottery shard of evidence!

Evangelical Christian apologists now say that the Hebrew word in the Exodus story, translated by every Bible ever printed as "thousand", should really have been translated "household", so only a few tens of thousands of Hebrews left Egypt, explaining why no evidence had been found of them. 

When confronted with the fact that geologists have conclusively proven that there was no global Flood that covered even Mt. Everest with "15 cubits" of water, evangelical apologists now say that the Flood was only a regional flood of the Euphrates River Valley.  Is the LCMS now reinterpreting the Hebrew words for "thousand" and  "flood covering the whole earth" to be consistent with modern evidence?  Is the LCMS going to "shift the goal posts" of proving Biblical inerrancy along with the Evangelicals?

Nope.  Sorry.  I don't buy it.  If orthodox Christianity must redefine words in God's Holy Word every couple of generations to keep their "inerrant" Holy Book from looking like a collection of silly, superstitious, ancient middle-eastern old wives' tales, then something is seriously wrong with the Christian God and his inerrant "words".

The evidence is too great, Pastor.  The Creation story is a fable.  The story of the great Flood is an act of plagiarism of the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, written several hundred years before the Hebrew version, and the Exodus, the wandering in the Sinai, the Conquest of Canaan, the great kingdoms of David and Solomon are all fables, most likely created by King Josiah's seventh century Jerusalem priests writing nationalistic stories for the ignorant masses.

And the most damning part of it all is this:  Jesus, his disciples, and the Apostle Paul all believed these fables to be true.  Jesus himself recounts the Flood and event that never happened.  John tells us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover...another event that never happened.

So we have Jesus, the All-knowing God of the Universe, believing in stories that have been proven false.. and...we have no evidence whatsoever of Jesus' physical resurrection other than hearsay by anonymous writers of the Gospels written 30-40 years after the fact, and a Jewish Pharisee convert who himself states had a "vision" in which he heard a voice and saw a bright light. 

This is why I can no longer believe.  This is why I can no longer believe that Jesus is risen and is King of the Universe. 

So, in reality, the foundation of orthodox Lutheranism is based solely on assumptions and fables about Jesus, not actually on Jesus.  I wish someone could give me good evidence that proves the Resurrection really did happen, but no one has been able to do so yet.  The only evidence anyone seems to be able to give me is the "presence" of Jesus in their "heart", or that their belief proves their belief is true. Muslims and Hindus feel the presence of their gods in their hearts and believe what they believe just as devoutly as orthodox Christians.  Feeling a presence and/or believing in your beliefs sincerely proves nothing.

So, dear Pastor, if there is something I missed, please let me know.  I loved being an orthodox Christian.  I loved being an orthodox, "quia" LCMS Lutheran.  I loved my church and I loved my pastor.  But the foundation for my faith fell out from under my feet.  Jesus may have lived...but Jesus is dead.



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Bible doesn't mean what it says

If you have been following this blog over the last week, you have seen me and others discuss passages in the Bible which modern science has proved cannot be literally true, although conservative/orthodox Christians have steadfastly insisted on their literal inerrancy for 1,500 to 2,000 years.  Conservative Christians have continued to insist on the literal inerrancy of these passages until the evidence to the contrary becomes so overwhelming that they risk looking like fools if they do not revise their position.

---God never really said that the earth is flat, immovable, and has a fixed foundation.
---God never really said that the earth was covered with water, 15 cubits (22.5 feet) above Mr. Everest in the Great Flood.
---God never really said that several millions Hebrews left Egypt in the Exodus.
---God never really said that men like Methuselah lived to be over 900 years old.
---God never really said that the source of the world's many different languages was due to mankind trying to build a tower to heaven.

So, what revisions will we see next from evangelical and orthodox Christians?  Maybe these:

---God never really said that the universe was created in six twenty four hour days.  The word "day" can mean many different things.  So evolution and the story of Creation are perfectly compatible.
---God didn't really mean to indicate that the earth is only 6,000-10,000 years old.  God was speaking metaphorically when he listed the generations that seem to infer that the earth is young.
---God never really meant to say that the Hebrews conquered Canaan in a brutal conquest.  The Hebrews had always existed in the area of Palestine as one of several Canaanite tribes, just as the archaeologists say.  The stories of the Patriarchs are metaphorical for God leading his people.
---God never really said that David and Solomon were real, historical persons.  They are metaphorical figures of God's Kingship over his people.
---God never really said that Solomon built a magnificent temple.  He was using hyperbole for the holiness of Himself.
---Jesus never  really said that he believed that a world-wide Flood occurred in the days of Noah.  He knew that the Flood only occurred in the Euphrates River Valley.
---Jesus never really said that he was the fulfillment of a historical Passover in Egypt and that he was the Passover lamb.  He was speaking in parables.  He knew the Passover was a celebration of a mythical, non-event.
---God never really said that Jesus was conceived by an act of sex between a divine Ghost and a Jewish virgin.  Jesus was born just as every other human is born of a human father and mother, but God adopted him as his Son and gave him special powers.  The concept of gods having sex with virgins is silly, ancient, nonsense.  We just misunderstood God's meaning  when he said Mary was a virgin.

If you believe that your God is incapable of making a mistake, you will make excuse after excuse for every piece of evidence presented to you that proves to any non-biased person that your god is false and non-existent.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Why do conservative Christians keep moving the Goal Posts?

1 Chronicles 16:30: “He has fixed the earth firm, immovable.”

Psalm 93:1: “Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm ...”

Psalm 96:10: “He has fixed the earth firm, immovable ...”

Psalm 104:5: “Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it never can be shaken.”

Isaiah 45:18: “...who made the earth and fashioned it, and himself fixed it fast...”

For more that 1,500 years, the entire Christian world believed that the earth was flat.  And for several thousand years before that, the chosen people of God, the Hebrews, believed that the earth was flat.  So why would these two world religions believe such a silly concept?   Answer:  One only has to open the Holy Book of these two religions to see why:  "God said that the earth is flat...and so it must be."

Then in the sixteenth century, a man named Nikolaus Copernicus, drew the wrath and condemnation of both Catholics and Protestants by suggesting that scientific evidence demonstrated that the earth revolves around the sun, and not the reverse.  Later in the same century, Ferdinand Magellan and his crew completed a round the world voyage which proved once and for all that the earth is not flat.

So had God made a mistake?  Did this new, shocking, scientific evidence prove that the Christian God was not All-Knowing?  Even worse, did this scientific evidence prove that the Christian God did not exist but was an invention of ancient Canaanite nomads?

"No," Christians said.  "The Bible is never wrong.  God is never wrong.  We are wrong!  We misunderstood God."  So Christians soon found other passages in the Bible for which they found new interpretations, that the earth is indeed a sphere, and the verses that they had previously believed literally to say that the earth is flat, were now downgraded to "hyperbole".

In 1948 the Jewish people were re-established as a nation, almost 2,000 years after their crushing defeat at the hands of the Romans and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  Some branches of Christianity, in particular, evangelicals, took this event as the fulfillment of a prophesy:  "The generation that sees the restoration of the nation of Israel will not pass away before Christ returns."

The countdown to the Rapture began!  Millions of devout Christians were absolutely sure that Jesus had to come sometime before 1973.  In fact, in the year 1973, I personally remember my evangelical church preparing everyone in the congregation for the Rapture.  What a shock when December 31, 1973 passed and we all woke  up in the year 1974...and Jesus hadn't come.  About that time I remember my mainline Protestant grandmother telling me the story of how when she was young (the 1920's) fundamentalist Christians would go out onto the haystacks waiting several days for the Second Coming...which never came.

In 1983, ten years after the evangelical Christian world's sky did not fall, I remember sitting in an evangelical mega-church in Southern California listening to the pastor explain why Jesus had not come within the generation who had witnessed the re-establishment of the nation of Israel.  "We misunderstood what God was really saying in that passage.  That's why Jesus had not come back...yet."

I left Evangelicalism shortly thereafter for a variety of reasons (I never heard God "speak" to me was the biggest reason), but that sermon always stuck in my mind:  We had been so sure that Jesus was coming back in 1973!

And if you have followed this blog for a while, you know that after leaving Evangelicalism in my mid twenties, I pretty much gave up on God for a couple of decades.  I then tried out some liberal churches for few years, and eventually became an orthodox, conservative Lutheran, approximately four years ago.  I am now in my early 50's, so my knowledge of Evangelical beliefs and doctrine has become a little out of date.  However,  I did not realize just how out of date, until my recent conversations with several prominent evangelical Christian apologists, as reported in the last few days.

I was absolutely shocked to hear that Evangelicals today deny the literal Biblical account of the Exodus; that they would believe that only a few tens of thousands of Hebrews left Egypt instead of the 600,000 plus stated in every English-language Bible.  I was even more shocked to learn that the "avant garde" of Evangelical Christianity and orthodox Christianity, including a segment of confessional Lutheranism, would dare to teach that the Great Flood of Genesis did not cover the entire earth and did not destroy all life on earth.  These enlightened scholars, pastors, and apologists now say that the Flood was really only a regional flood in the Euphrates River Valley of modern day Iraq.

The evangelical preachers of the 1970's must be rolling over in their graves!  In that decade, to have denied the worldwide Flood would have been apostasy.  You might as well have stood up and denied the virgin birth.  You would have been labeled a liberal.

However, I guess I shouldn't really be surprised by this development.   Just as Copernicus and Magellan forced conservative Christians to revise long held beliefs regarding the solar system, and the non-Rapture of 1973 caused many Christians to re-evaluate God's definition of "generation" to avoid being written off as ignorant and foolish, so today, intelligent conservative Christians are revising more disproven Christian teachings, doctrine, and dogma to remain relevant and believable.

So now we are told that two million Hebrews did not leave Egypt and wander the Sinai, just 30,000.
We are also told that the Flood did not cover the entire earth, only the area of central Iraq.

So all this leaves me wondering:  If over the next few hundred years,  science develops to the point that we are able to locate and identify the skeleton of Jesus, what revision or spin will conservative Christians come up with to explain their misunderstanding of that Biblical teaching...instead of just admitting the obvious:  the Bible is a collection of ancient fables.

Dear conservative Christian pastors, theologians and apologists, please stop moving the goal posts and just accept the truth:  It's not true.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Gary, you are a Fundamentalist...Skeptic"

From Mike Licona Ministries:

Gary. I understand you think you want to leave fundamentalist Christianity,
which I think is good, but you're really only leaving the Christian part and
keeping the fundamentalist.

I pointed out in my last email that watching a video is a start, but real
research involves rolling up your sleeves and doing the hard work. That means
reading the books, seeing the sources that are cited, and seeing the in-depth

You have not replied to that point.

I have pointed out that there was another group known as the Scythians that was
much larger and wandered around for a longer time over a longer area. The only
remains we have of them are the tombs that they built for their kings. In other
words, the only things that last are the things that they made to last. The
archaeological evidence for them otherwise is just not there.

You have not replied to that point.

You bring up the point that thousands can be translated as clans, and the more I
look at the text, the more this translation seems the most plausible, but your
only reply rather than wrestling with the Hebrew is to just say "Well look at
all these translations that don't do that!"

That's now how real research is done.

Now you come to the flood. I have told you that my position is a local flood and
your position is more an argument from incredulity. "I do not see how an
evangelical can believe in a local flood!" I think you'd be surprised that this
is really a common position among evangelicals. I even encouraged you to write
to Hugh Ross of Reasons To Believe about that. I suspect that was not done

In fact, much of your argument hinges on "How will the average layman in the pew
understand this part of God's divine Word?" That is not a position that I hold.
I do not hold to the view that Scripture is easy to understand nor do I hold to
the idea that it's written in a style amenable immediately to modern Western
readers. That is part of a fundamentalist mindset to the text that makes it be
all about us.

The word translated as Earth can mean the whole planet, but it can also mean the
land. It's used both ways in Genesis. Cain went off and settled in a different
land. It does not mean a different planet. In fact, I'd say since I agree that
there is no evidence I see of a worldwide flood, that a local flood makes more
sense and I find to be more consistent with the passage as a whole. If all
humanity was centered in that area, which could be the case, then I find it more
plausible and keep in mind a great many cultures do have a flood story. Again,
Reasons To Believe is the ministry to talk to about this.

And yes, part of good research will mean contacting them.

Now when you turn to the NT, this gets even more fundamentalist. For one thing,
you turn to 1 Peter 3 as if that is a crystal clear passage.

1 Peter 3 is one of the most difficult passages to interpret. One commentary I
have here has a whole section in the appendix just on that part. It's quite
invalid to jump immediately to your conclusion and draw speculations out of it
about that. Real exegesis involves doing the heavy lifting.

You also turn to passages such as Hebrews and Jesus's own statement about
catastrophe. The problem is that if all the humans lived in that area, and that
is a question to ask the scientists at Reasons To Believe and not me, then it
certainly was a catastrophe. A disaster can be global in scope in that it
affects everyone in an area, without it being worldwide. I could read over all
the verses you sent me and be thinking "How does this affect my viewpoint at
all?" Reality is, it doesn't. Something you learn in this field once you do
enough research to hold to some positions is you also know the main arguments
against your position. I leave it to others to handle the scientific arguments,
but the Scriptural arguments I find to be based on less than convincing

The problem is, rather than do that, you have done what most fundamentalists do
with going with the "common sense" interpretation, as if that meant what a
modern Westerner with a scientific mindset will often understand the text to
mean. That does not mean that's what an ancient Jew or 1st century Jew would
think. One of the first rules of reading any book from another culture is to
realize that they did not think like you. Until you do that, you will be reading
your own cultural bias into the text and thinking the text is saying that. In
fact, my concern is nothing new. Augustine said it about 1,600 years ago. We
should not state that the Scripture says things that those in learned areas know
isn't true. The church has always been open to seeing if an interpretation of
Scripture is wrong if new evidence comes forward. The problem is too many people
have a literalist mindset foreign to the ancient world. It's a fundamentalist

Gary. I tell you again. You're not leaving fundamentalism so much as
Christianity. From what I see here, you're still very much a fundamentalist and
until you sit down and do the hard work in reading the best scholars on both
sides, you will stay in that camp.

Your choice.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What do Creationists and Geologists say about the Evidence for a Global Flood


Worldwide Catastrophic Evidence Is Everywhere     

Catastrophic displacements of enormous plates of the earth’s crust provided the driving force for the global flood and produced the deep spaces for the oceans to drain into after the global flood.

The majority of our planet's sedimentary rock appears to have accumulated rapidly by means of a worldwide flood. Single layers were quickly formed that covered large parts of the globe.

Fault surfaces that contain zones characterized by microbreccias and pseudotachylite are evidences for rapid displacements.

Beveled surfaces below, within, and above thick strata sequences provide evidence of rapid flood and post-flood erosion. Sheetform beveled surfaces below and within thick strata sequences provide evidence of widespread sediment sublimation during a global flood (e.g., the paraconformity between Coconino Sandstone and Hermit Shale on Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon).

As further evidence for the worldwide nature of the flood, ancient human cultures across the globe appear to possess legends recounting a great global flood.


November 2012 GSA Today


GSA Today: The Evolution of Creationism

Boulder, Colorado, USA - Throughout history, people have sought to understand how the world came to be and how it has changed over time. This curiosity has produced a rich legacy of science and philosophy and impacted and influenced religion and theology. In the November 2012 issue of GSA Today, David Montgomery of the University of Washington examines both the history of geology and of biblical views regarding Earth's origins.

Montgomery's main premise is that throughout most of the past several hundred years, scientists and theologians engaged in extensive collaboration regarding issues like Earth's age and origin. The common bond that sustained this rich exchange of ideas was a respect for reason and a trust in the scientific process.

As modern science evolved, so did many shared questions and struggles regarding how to best understand Earth's age as well as how new scientific findings harmonized with or conflicted with theological understanding as conveyed in works such as the Bible. These questions and struggles persist into the present, most notably in geology, where vast differences in the answers to such fundamental questions as "how old is this planet?" both correlate and contrast with some religious beliefs.

In terms of Christian theology, the main problems that Montgomery discusses are Earth's age and the role of a global flood ("Noah's flood") in geological history. While these issues—that the Earth is not over four billion years old, but is actually only a few thousand years old, and that most of the geological history recorded by rocks was formed as a result of Noah’s flood—are commonly raised by modern-day creationists, they have also been vigorously studied by both scientists and theologians over the past several hundred years.

Montgomery shows that geologists have provided a vast array of evidence that refutes both a young age for Earth and a worldwide flood. These conclusions provoked significant debate among Christian writers during the early 1800s, but many acknowledged the validity of the scientific evidence. They subsequently adapted their view of creation as spelled out in the Bible, recognizing that it might be figurative instead of literal, and that Noah’s flood was likely a regional event that involved the Caspian or Black Sea.

Modern-day creationism, according to Montgomery, developed from several influential efforts, beginning in the 1920s. The movement would revive the global (Noah’s) flood explanation for the geological record, resurrecting the older theory mainly in an effort to question scientific conclusions regarding the biological evolution of life on Earth.

The creationists of the twentieth century—and those of today—evolved in order to reject a scientific basis for understanding of the history of our planet. They instead rely on a literal interpretation of Biblical accounts of creation.

These arguments are effective. Montgomery points out more than 40% of Americans believe Earth is less than 10,000 years old, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. However, Montgomery hopes that by pointing to our longer-term history and mutual heritage of using scientific observations of the natural world to inform both secular and religious understanding, the relationship between science and religion can undergo further evolution, and faith in science can be restored.


The evolution of creationism
David R. Montgomery, Quaternary Research Center and Dept. of Earth and Space Sciences, Box 351310, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-1310, USA. Pages 4-9, doi: 10.1130/GSATG158A.1.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why an Evangelical Christian will never admit that there is zero evidence for the truth of his or her Beliefs

I posted the comment below under another skeptic's blog post in which a few skeptic commenters were debating "Kathy", an evangelical Christian on the issue of "evidence" proving the veracity of conservative/orthodox Christianity, as we have been discussing here:

"I get the impression that Kathy is an evangelical. I was once in this branch of Christianity. They believe that one can personally experience God in your heart, and they believe that is all the evidence they need to know that God exists and that the Bible is true. They also believe that the reason why you and every other non-believer cannot see the “truth” is because Satan has blinded you to the truth. If you will just repent of your sins and ask Jesus into your heart to be your Lord and Savior, the “truth” will immediately be revealed to you by God, and you will believe as Kathy believes.

Who can reason with someone who believes that the warm, fuzzy feeling inside their “heart” is indisputable “evidence”?"