Thursday, December 31, 2009

Monica Dennington Slips Further Into Heresy

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
(2 Peter 2:1-3)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

New Stuff

Four new books for Christmas:
  • NET Bible, Compact Edition (, 2007)
  • D.A. Carson - Exegetical Fallacies, Second Edition (Baker Academic, 1996)
  • J.D. Shams - Where Did Jesus Die?, 8th Edition (Islam international Publications Limited, 1989)
  • Ethelyn Simon, Irene Resnikoff and Linda Motzkin - The First Hebrew Primer: The Adult Beginner's Path to Biblical Hebrew, Third Edition (EKS Publishing Co., 2005)

Also, there is now a link list "On Origins Debate" for those interested in doing research on Creation, Evolution and Intelligent Design.

And for those interested, there is a free E-book linked on the EvoInfo Lab entitled The Mystery of Life's Origin: Reassessing Current Theories by Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley and Roger L. Olson. You can download it by going to this link.

EDIT (12/30/2009)
Managed to procure four new books, one from the Royal Ontario Museum and three from a used bookstore somewhere in downtown Toronto:

  • Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World (Royal Ontario Museum, 2009)
  • Antony Flew - There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed his Mind (Harper One, 2007)
  • H. Richard Niebuhr - Christ and Culture (Harper One, 2001)
  • Howard Rice - Reformed Spirituality: An Introduction for Believers (Westminster John Knox Press ,1991)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Critique of BBC Documentary "Did Jesus Die?"

My Ahmadiyya colleagues have been urging me to watch the BBC documentary Did Jesus Die? for a long time now. I finally got around to it, and as I have done so, I have reviewed and commented on the contents of the documentary, which I have posted here below:

(00:40-00:45) - "...throughout history, people have responded differently to this [the Gospel] story." Somewhat true. The Jews and the Pagans denied that Jesus rose from the grave, but they didn't deny that Jesus died. Instead, they claimed that his body was stolen by His disciples (as has been recorded in Matthew 28:11-15 and is mentioned around 31:30-31:40).

(01:00-01:17) - "...There have been heresies that suggested that Jesus survived the crucifixion..." Uhh, no. No such theory has ever existed until around the 18th/19th centuries, during the advent of German liberal higher criticism. Funny enough, nowadays this view is not taken seriously anymore, save by various conspiracy theorists and certain Islamic sects/schools of thought (the Ahmadiyya being one of the most prominent of them).

(02:35-02:50) - "Many modern scholars and theologians... now seem to doubt the historical accuracy of the gospels" There will always be dissenting views, though admittedly they are more prominent now than they have been centuries before. However, the figures tend to be inflated, and there are still many scholars and theologians who view the gospel accounts as reliable, even inerrant, and can articulate good reasons for believing so (I can give a boatload of names if anybody would care enough to ask me).

(02:55-04:00) - Elaine Pagels, John Dominic Crossan... why do they always pick the most far-left liberal scholars and use them as the spokespersons of "contemporary biblical scholarship?" This kind of skewed presenation is so patently dishonest, especially when considering the expert replies made by less radical scholars who do in fact view the gospels as historically accurate in their reporting of Jesus' story.

The next several minutes features some rather cheap diatribes against supernatural events, such as the miracles. Of course, you have to presuppose Naturalism in order for this tactic to actually work. Now, it's not all without merit, as they are also spot on in pointing out some of the nonsense promulgated by Roman Catholics, particularly the Filipinos who reenact the Crucifixion back home, but the blatant skewing of facts.

(13:15-13:25) - "The gospel accounts of it [the resurrection]... are full of inconsistencies and curious contradictions." The supposed "incosistencies and contradictions" are brought up later in the video (14:08-15:10). The apocryphal ending of Mark is already well known among biblical scholars (both liberal and conservative), so bringing it up is beating the dead horse.

Notice, also that the video doesn't mention actual conflicting details, but only mention how certain stories appear in one or two gospel accounts but not in the rest. If the four gospel writers were intending to complement each other's reports (which they most likely were), then there isn't really a problem with this.

Nevertheless, if anybody is really worried about "inconsistencies and contradictions" in the resurrection stories, why not look up the various harmonies proposed by biblical scholars who actually have taken the time to carefully study the gospel narratives (The best harmony, I think, would be the one proposed by Simon Greenleaf).

As a side note, thank God they put N.T. Wright in there. He's probably the only voice of reason present in this whole documentary.

(17:40-18:00) - Unnecessary tangent on Roman Catholicism's papal claims. Duhh, of course they're spurious, but what's the point of comparing such a questionable belief with the more attestable doctrine of the resurrection?

(19:00-20:50) - Yet another unnecessary tangent. The Toronto "Blessing" is so far out there, it's an embarrassment even for many of the sane(r) Charismatic churches. Also, what does believing in the "literal truth of the bible" have to do with the mania that goes on in the Toronto Airport Church? Tearing down strawman is also a dishonest debate tactic, you know.

(23:00-24:10) - Scare tactics. As though believing in orthodox Christianity somehow automatically placed you in the ranks of those who indiscriminately burned all dissenters as heretics. How does that even affect the accuracy of the gospel stories anyway? Besides, the matter concerning the Cathars isn't as simple as the documentary makes it out to be, but I am not an expert at that particular field of church history, so I will have to pass it over for the time being.

(26:10-26:25) - People come up with conspiracy theories involving the Knights Templar all the time. There isn't really any solid evidence (the actual bones?). Besides, wouldn't this do violence to the Ahmadi theory that Jesus' remains are in Kashmir?

(34:40-35:00) - "The question of clinical death is certainly raised by the fact that the herbs that Joseph of Arimathea took into the tomb with the body of Jesus were aloes. These are healing, not embalming herbs." Admittedly, aloes are indeed used to treat minor burns or wounds. However, The kind of wounds sustained by Jesus during the Crucifixion and the tortures He endured before it are way beyond the capacity of aloes to treat.

Besides, 75 pounds? You do not place 75 pounds of herbs with a person in a burial cloth unless you believe that person to be deceased.

(37:55-38:55) - More beating the dead horse. Stop bringing up the apocryphal ending of Mark, seriously.

Also the Luke reference is authentic: The theory of Western non-interpolations, on which the idea of the Luke passage being a later addition is based, is no longer taken seriously by most biblical scholars (save for a minority). Besides, the author of Luke also wrote about the ascension in Acts 1:9-11, so it's not that far-fetched that he would have had that idea in mind in writing the gospel.

(39:00-40:00) - Does anybody really still take seriously the idea of Jesus having a sexual/marital relationship with Mary Magdalene? Also, who are the "historians" who support this idea? Michael Baigent? Richard Leigh? Give me a break, this kind of crackpot theory is hardly even worth going over, since it's been debunked to death countless times before.

(42:00-42:15) - Questionable relics like this have been floating around for centuries, especially during the medieval period. Even if it was authentic, it is likely to have been transported from some other region of the world. The relics don't really prove much.

(49:10-49:20) "Could Jesus have been taken to India as a child and taught to be a Buddhist?" Problem is, there is no evidence that the magi ever took the infant Jesus with them to India. That is just sheer eisegesis. Jesus' teachings on humanity, salvation, etc. are contradictory to Buddhist principles.

(50:00-50:05) - "Certainly the later teachings and miracles of Jesus have uncanny parallels with the teachings and miracles of the Buddha." LIKE???

(50:05-51:00) - "Loving your enemies and the idea that the meek will inherit the earth have absolutely no tradition or precedent in Judaism, but they are entirely consistent with Buddhism." Try Leviticus 19:34, Psalm 22:26 and Psalm 37:11 on for size. It helps to do some research before spouting off nonsense such as this.

Also, it is quite dishonest to highlight those few places where Christianity and Buddhism do happen to have similarities (which is usually in the moral aspects), and ignore the numerous places where they conflict (which is usually in the theological aspects).

(51:10-52:20) - Finally, we get to the tomb in Kashmir. Surprising... the Ahmadis seem to put a lot of stock into this documentary., yet their beloved Kashmir tomb theory is barely discussed at all in the video, and has been relegated to the very end.

Furthermore, if this theory is as groundbreaking as it is made out to be, why don't scholars actually pay attention to it? Even the crackpot theories in the Da Vinci Code and Talpiot Tomb received some scholarly attention (mostly critical). It is telling that the Ahmadi theory does not get even a peep out of the academia.

(54:05-55:15) - "But this is a sacred site, and short of exhumation, there is no way of discovering whether the body buried here is that of a man who once survived crucifixion." There you have it: Nobody has ever really demonstrated that the person buried in Srinagar is Jesus as we can't even get to the body. The footprint doesn't count for much, as such kinds of things are falsified all the time, and are not considered good evidence at all.

(55:30-End) - "...The end of Christianity as we know it..." It would be indeed, IF the case being made throughout the video had any validity to it. But it doesn't, so better luck next time. PS - Pagels' theory at the end is somewhat...cute... but there are way too many factors that cannot be accounted for by it, such as the sudden change in disposition by the apostles, or the conversions of Jesus' brother James and the apostle Paul.

In conclusion, I was not at all impressed by the documentary. The bulk of it is just plain bad history and skewed information. I am nowhere nearer to being convinced by the Ahmadis' theory that Jesus survived crucifixion than when I first encountered this idea.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Jesus, the Gospels, Gnosticism and Historical Revisionism (Part 2)

(Continued from Part One)

Not many people are aware of the history of the New Testament documents. It is thus not too surprising that skeptics and conspiracy theorists would want to capitalize on the general ignorance of the masses by claiming all sorts of strange, unhistorical ideas regarding the formation of the biblical text. The conspiracy theories center around 1) The books that make up the New Testament, and 2) the actual text of the aforementioned books. So we shall concentrate on these two things

First off, there are two main reasons why we consider the four gospels to be the canonical gospels. First, there is the issue of dating: All four gospels are dated to around the second half of the first century, which makes them very close to the time when Jesus walked the earth, and situates them within the apostolic age. This means that they reflect the actual teachings and beliefs of Jesus' apostles better than any gospel text that has come afterward. By contrast, all of the apocryphal gospels (with the possible exception of portions of the Gospel of Thomas) are dated to later centuries, and some have even been found to be modern forgeries (eg. Secret Mark).

Second is the fact that the first four gospels have an identifiable Vox Dei due to their reflecting what the church has believed all along even before these traditions became "enscripturated." This is in contrast to many of the apocryphal gospels, that contain obvious legendary developments (eg. a talking cross) and lack any historical background (some of these apocryphal gospels don't even have a narrative, but are just "sayings" texts eg. The Gospel of Thomas).

Against this, it is claimed that the four canonical gospels really are on the same level or even inferior to the apocryphal gospels, and that it was only during the Council of Nicaea that they became canonical. First, there is the obvious problem that Nicaea had nothing to say on the canon of scripture. Second, there is plenty of evidence that the ante-Nicene church considered the four gospels to be the canonical gospels.

There is the muratorian fragment, which is widely considered to have been written around the late 2nd century due to internal cues within the text of the fragment itself. The text mentions Luke as the third gospel, and John as the fourth. The names of the first two gospels are cut off from the preserved fragment of the text, though there is very little doubt that it is Matthew and Mark.

There are also the writings second century church fathers Papias, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Papias refers to both Mark and Matthew, identifying them as accepted apostolic writings. Justin Martyr quotes from the gospels, though he doesn't mention them by name, and refers to them as the "memoirs of the apostles" (link). The most explicit statement, however, comes from Irenaeus. In Against Heresies, he writes,

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh.
(Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. III:XI:8)

All of this furnishes abundant proof that the fourfold gospel was already well in place long before the fourth century. There is no historical evidence for the assertion that the four gospels did not become canonical until Nicaea.

Now that we have that out of the way, there is also the claim that the text of the New Testament has been deliberately tampered with, "embellished" as Dan Brown puts it, in order to make Jesus "godlike." Of course, this simply ignores the mountains of manuscript and patristic evidence to the contrary. We have dozens of manuscripts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and all of the major texts asserting the deity of Christ (eg. John 1:1 John 1:18, John 20:28, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 1:8, 2 Peter 1:1, etc.) are there, exactly as we have them in our present day New Testament text.

And even if we didn't have these manuscripts, we can still extrapolate these passages from the patristic quotations. Various early church fathers such as Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, etc. have commented on the scriptures in question and we can validate our current reading of the scriptures from their writings.

Given these two lines of evidence, there is no justification whatsoever for the claim that the modern day Christian New Testament is not the same text that the first and second century Christian Church had received from the apostles.

(Continue to Part 3)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Rant on Word-of-Faithers

"It's not enough to beg, you have to demand what you want from God!"

"God wants us to be healthy and wealthy!"

"You give God permission to do what He wants!"

"Speak what you will into existence!"

"You can get anything you want in Jesus' name if you name it and claim it!"

"Take the Kingdom by force!"

God is good. God is our provider. He knows exactly what we need and has counted all the hairs of our head. But it is easy to misinterpret this and think that we can ask of God whatever we want. This is sort of what happened recently. I had an encounter with a Name-it-Claim-it proponent, and though he didn't necessarily said all the things I just posted above (he said some of them), the mentality that you can just speak whatever you desire and God will grant it was definitely there.

I can never quite understand how this mentality develops in some professing Christians. Yes, God will provide for our needs and will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4), and yes, we need to be persistent in praying and asking God for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). But know this: God is NOT obligated to give you a new car or a paycheck for ten thousand dollars. God will give us riches according to the kind intentions of His will. What about Job? God gave him riches, and God allowed Satan to take them away from him. It all took place according to His plan, and He does make all things work for good in the end (Romans 8:28). His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), so we must not always expect that what we want is what God will provide to us. After all, is it not a mark of faith that we seek His will rather than that of our own carnal desires?

And one last thing: Jesus said that He has overcome the world, and He has promised that we will overcome the world with Him. He never promised though that this overcoming of the world would come in the form of great health and wealth. Our victory in Him comes from our justification and forgiveness from our sins, the inward renewal of the Spirit that comes after, and the persevering grace that keeps us secure in Him forevermore. Do not seek after this "health and wealth" gospel, for it is another gospel, one that is bound to bring on one the anathema pronounced by Paul (Galatians 1:8-9). Be content with what God provided, for as the apostle has also written:

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
(1 Timothy 6:6-10)