Bible Secrets Re-revealed! How Do We Differentiate Between What is Scripture & Other Ancient, Religious Writings?

**How did the ancient church know what to consider Scripture?**

SERIES INTRO: Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous.  Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show.  It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge.  The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface.  So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.

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How do we know the right books are included in Bible?

Often skeptics and TV shows like Bible Secrets Revealed make a big deal about other ancient writings not in the Bible that include Jewish or Christian themes or may even include biblical characteristics or people.  Often the mistaken idea they’re promoting is that these written works are just as worthy of being Scripture but the church excluded them for some unscrupulous reason.

My question is, Why does everything have to be a conspiracy?  (The obvious answer: scandals sell.)  The truth is usually much less scandalous (and exciting).

Think of it this way: If I write a story involving Adam, Eve, Moses, Paul, and the angel Gabriel, and I even include some Christianity-themed lessons in it, does that mean it’s Scripture?  Of course not!  Likewise, just because an ancient piece of writing has biblical elements, it does not immediately make it Scripture worthy of the Bible.

It also should be noted, some of these works not included in the Bible teach flat-out heresy, but others may still be considered faithful books that teach biblical truths, but this still doesn’t make them Scripture.  They may be great reads for historical or religious insight (or just for quality entertainment), and, as I said, they may even include a lot of godly truth.  But they’re still not scripture, any more than works by, say, C.S. Lewis, John Piper, or Tim Keller are scripture. All 3 men are godly men who are wise in the Lord, and reading their books will benefit you, but their writings still do not hold the authority of Scripture.

So, why were some ancient writings considered Scripture and others not?

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THE NEW TESTAMENT

There are primary 3 requirements a written work must meet in order to be considered New Testament Scripture:

1.  Apostolic Authority

2.  Universality

3.  Orthodoxy

Apostolic Authority

First: Is the work written by an apostle of Jesus or by someone closely associated with an apostle of Jesus?  For example, John and Matthew were apostles of Jesus, but Mark was a disciple of the Apostle Peter, and Luke was a close companion of the Apostle Paul.

If a work was written long after the time period when the apostles lived, then it obviously cannot be closely related to an apostle.  No book in the New Testament is more than two persons removed from Jesus; thus, if the writer was not an eyewitness himself, he recorded the teachings of an eyewitness.

Universal & Orthodox

Next: Is the work universal and orthodox?  Do the teachings of the work apply to the whole Christian church, not just to specific sects or denominations (or cults)?  And are the teachings in line with traditional beliefs as given by Jesus and the apostles?

For example, many of the Gnostic Gospels taught things that were contradictory to the four earliest Gospels and the letters of Paul, which are the earliest Christian writings.  The Gnostic Gospels were also written long after the apostles lived, so they obviously don’t have apostolic authority.  (More about the Gnostic Gospels below.)

Likewise, failure to meet these simple standards is one of the reasons (among many) that current, traditional Christian churches consider, for instance, the Book of Mormon heresy.

To give another example, the only reason the TV show Bible Secrets Revealed gives for the ancient work The Protoevangelium of James not being included in the New Testament is that the work focuses on Mary, so it would have to be placed before the Gospels in the New Testament and it would take too much time for a reader to get to Jesus!

This is an absurd assumption!  Even the TV show tells us that The Protoevangelium of James was written 100 years after the life of James.  This alone would exclude it from being written by an apostle or during the time of the apostles.  Further, the teachings aren’t in line with the undisputed works of the New Testament, such as the 4 Gospels and the majority of Paul’s letters.

Interesting to note, we do have a book in the New Testament that meets the requirements for Scripture that was written by James, the brother of Jesus.

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THE OLD TESTAMENT

Why are the “hundreds” of other ancient Hebrew manuscripts not included in the Old Testament, like The Life of Adam and Eve and The Book of Jubilees?

 

The Old Testament was written so long ago, it’s hard to know the exact details, but various prophets of God – like Moses, David, Solomon, and Isaiah – wrote the books of the Old Testament.  If the ancient Jews recognized a certain book to be Scripture, they must’ve had good reason, such as the writer was a prophet.  The Old Testament itself gives us insight on how they recognized prophets:

“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my [God’s] name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

There is no evidence from Old Testament times – or any other times – of any other Hebrew works being considered as authoritative and sacred like the books included in the Old Testament.  Some books that are in the Old Testament were disputed, but the major works never were.  Further, no other books were ever considered to be worthy of placement into the Old Testament canon by the Jews.

Based on the evidence, the only works ever considered to be worthy of inclusion in the Old Testament are in the Old Testament.  Further, Jesus and the New Testament writers only refer to works found in our present Old Testament specifically as Scripture.

Forgery = Pseudepigrapha

Why is Enoch 1 not considered part of the biblical canon, but it’s part of the Ethiopian Orthodox church’s canon?

 

The ancient writing called Enoch 1 is what is called an Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a work attributed to an ancient Old Testament patriarch or important figure who lived long before the work was written.  Thus, it’s a forgery and the author is unknown.  Interestingly, Jude, in his letter in the New Testament, does quote 1 Enoch, but he doesn’t call it Scripture.  Further, there’s no evidence that the Jews ever considered Enoch 1 Scripture.

Thus, it appears the Ethiopian church is incorrect in including Enoch 1 in their Bible.

1 Enoch and other Pseudepigraphaical works are useful in some ways, but they’re still not to be considered on the same level of authority as Scripture.  Other Pseudepigraphaical works, as well as the Apocrypha, have never been considered sacred, divine scripture by the Jews.

The Apocrypha is comprised of Old Testament works (written in Greek) that are included in the Roman Catholic Bible and Eastern Orthodox Bible but not in the Protestant or Jewish Bibles.  In fact, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t make the Apocrypha officially part of their Bible until 1546 in response to the Protestant Reformation.

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New Testament Forgeries

Why is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which is written by Jesus’ brother, not included in the New Testament, but the letters of James and Jude, other writings by Jesus’ brothers, are in the New Testament?  Is it only because the Infancy Gospel of Thomas has “scandalous” stories about Jesus, which the church did not want people to know?

Bible Secrets Revealed makes it sound like the only reason the church didn’t include the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the New Testament is because it has “scandalous” information in it, but notice that the show also dates the writing of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in 125 AD.  This late date alone is the problem and a “deal-breaker” of whether the Infancy Gospel of Thomas should be in the New Testament or not.

All of the New Testament was written by the end of the First Century – by at least 100 AD.  The Gospel of John is widely considered the last Gospel of the New Testament to be written, sometime around 95 AD.  Since the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written around 125 AD, it was written too long after the events to be considered a candidate for inclusion in the New Testament.

Eyewitnesses or close associates of eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry wrote the four Gospels included in the New Testament.  If the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written in 125 AD, it wasn’t written when those who knew Jesus Christ were still alive.  Therefore, Jesus’ brother Thomas couldn’t have written it.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is another pseudepigraphic writing, because it falsely claims its writer is a key figure in Jewish/Christian history.  It’s also considered a Gnostic Gospel.  Gnostics mixed pagan philosophy with Christian beliefs.  They believed the physical world was evil, so God couldn’t have come in the flesh.

Along with the late dates of origin for the Gnostic Gospels, their contents alone illustrate these so-called gospels didn’t belong with the traditional teachings of Christianity.  Finally, no Gnostic document was ever considered worthy for inclusion in the New Testament.

One Last Important Point 

Finally, it must be pointed out that the biblical truths given by the prophets and apostles were confirmed by godly signs and miracles.  To explore this further, two of my earlier articles may help:

Why is God’s Presence So Obvious in the Bible but Not Today?

Is the Bible Any More Accurate than Other Religious Texts?

Other articles in this series:

Did Constantine compose the New Testament?

Did God have a wife?

Could Jesus & the Disciples Read & write?

Was the Oral History Before the Gospels Were Written Reliable?

Has the Bible Been Lost in the Translation?

SOURCE & RECOMMENDED:

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Bible Secrets Re-revealed! Did God Have a Wife?

**Did God have a wife named Asherah? Was she edited out of the Old Testament?**

SERIES INTRO: Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous.  Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show.  It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge.  The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface.  So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.

 

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YAHWEH & HIS ASHERAH

The idea that the Jewish God was believed to have a wife as some point in history exists because some inscriptions on archeological artifacts from the Iron Age appear to connect Asherah, an ancient pagan fertility goddess, with the God of Israel, Yahweh.  The inscriptions ask for blessings from “Yahweh and his Asherah” (or “asherah,” since its unclear if the word is a proper name or not).  The artwork may even depict “Yahweh” with Asherah.  Of course, the writers of the Bible never speak of the immaterial, self-sufficient, self-existent, one-and-only God of the Jews as having a wife (and making idols and images of their God was strictly forbidden… and how do you make an image of an immaterial being anyway?) .  But some have even gone so far as to propose that God’s wife had been edited out of the Bible.

GOD’S NAME

In Exodus 3, when Moses asks God for his name, God replies, “I AM WHO I AM” and “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).  “I AM” in the original Hebrew is “YHWH” or Yahweh.  When you see “LORD” spelled in all capital letters in your Bible, the original Hebrew reads “YHWH,” God’s name as given to Moses.  (God’s “name” is really a description of his eternal, self-sufficient, self-existent nature, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

THE EVIDENCE (OR LACK OF)

Richard S. Hess, professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Denver Seminary, in “Did Yahweh Have a Wife?  Iron Age Religion in Israel and Its Neighbors” in the book Come Let Us Reason, examines the archeological evidence concerning Yahweh, Asherah, and other Iron Age deities.  Examining archeology from such a long time ago is difficult because it’s like having few puzzle pieces of a large puzzle.  For this reason alone, the conclusions the scholars jump to in TV shows like Bible Secrets Revealed about Yahweh having a wife are hasty and based on speculation.

Further, no evidence whatsoever — whether early manuscripts or otherwise — supports the idea that the writers of the Bible at one time taught that God had a wife and that this information was later removed.  This is purely unfounded speculation and sensationalism.

Further, Hess says the evidence never describes Yahweh as having offspring or being connected to fertility religions, and “Asherah’s complete absence in all the blessing formulae of letters and all other Judean references to deity” shows she wasn’t a prominent figure.  In fact, she doesn’t even appear to hold any “clear place in the official cult(s)” of the nearby nations.  Further, the evidence shows Yahweh with unique “chief god” status in Israel, much different from neighboring pagan lands, and the worship of Yahweh was “somewhat” exclusive in ancient Israel and “virtually exclusive” in Judah.

Hess also concludes from the evidence that Yahwah was not generally identified with physical objects, animals, or other images and idols, and Yahweh’s very nature was unique among the Iron Age gods.  Thus, the artwork of Yahweh and Asherah — if that’s what, in fact, it is — and the inscriptions are oddities, not the norm.  Just as it happens today, people try to mix all sorts of false beliefs into the true faith of Christianity.  This is one of the reasons it’s so important that we have written Scriptures, unlike most of the ancient pagan religions, so our beliefs are secure and cannot be corrupted.

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WHAT THE BIBLE TELLS US

Thus, the available evidence supports what the Bible writers tell us: Yahweh was the exclusive God of Israel, but sometimes there was syncretism (the mixing of religions) with neighboring pagan lands.  Within the Old Testament, we see constant warnings against Israel mixing with the religions of their pagan neighbors and Israel’s failure to listen.  We also see references to Asherah-related idols, often in the forms of some sort of trees or “poles.”

For instance, Deuteronomy 16:21 commands, “You shall not plant for yourself an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of the Lord your God, which you shall make for yourself.”  In 2 Kings 21, evil King Manasseh practices idolatry, worshipping other deities other than the one true God, and we’re told he “erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah.”  Then, in 2 Kings 23, King Josiah brings the Hebrews back from idolatry to proper worship of Yahweh by ordering the destruction of pagan idols, including Asherah poles.

THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN

Moreover, the references to “the queen of heaven” in Jeremiah 7:18 and 44:19 may be referring to Asherah, but more likely are referring to a similar fertility goddess (Astarte or Ishtar) of Assyria or Babylon, who was the wife of one of their gods (Baal or Molech).  A pagan religion giving a goddess the title “queen of heaven” is nothing unique and doesn’t automatically connect that goddess to the God of Israel in anyway, especially since “heaven” is a general term for an astral, non-physical realm.  Once again, jumping to the conclusion that Yahweh had a wife from this reference of a pagan “queen of heaven” is a rash conclusion to say the least.

As with many of these unorthodox claims, the idea of “God’s wife” is based on little evidence, ignores the Biblical text, and promotes misinformation based on speculation, sensationalism, and canyon-sized jumps of logic.

Main Source:  Richard S. Hess, “Did Yahweh Have a Wife? Iron Age Religion in Israel and Its Neighbors” in Come Let Us Reason, Digital Edition, v.1, ed. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2012).

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Read this.

Bible Secrets Re-revealed! Did Constantine Control What Books Went into the Biblical Canon? Why Were Some Books Almost Rejected?

** Did Roman Emperor Constantine compose the New Testament Canon?  Why was the Canon closed?  Why were some New Testament books almost left out? **

SERIES INTRO:

Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous.  Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show.  It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge.  The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface.  So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.

 

Constantine

Did Constantine control the decisions about what books were included in the Bible?

So, the popular conspiracy theory goes that Constantine, the first Roman emperor to become Christian, and those at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, decided which books would be included in the Bible.

The Old Testament was set long before Constantine was born.  Moreover, there is plenty of evidence that shows that the books of the New Testament were considered Scripture long before an “official” canon for the New Testament was set.

For example, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul gives two quotes and calls them both Scripture.  The first quote is from Deuteronomy 25:4, and the second quotes Jesus from Luke 10:7.  This illustrates that Paul considered the Gospel of Luke — or at least the words of Jesus — as equal in authority to the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament.  Then, in 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to Paul’s writing as Scripture.  This clearly shows that the first generation of Christians already considered certain written works the new, divine written words of God.

Further, in the writings of the early church fathers – including Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp – in the first half of the second century (about 100-150 AD), they quoted extensively from the works of the New Testament, showing that they found them authoritative, even explicitly calling them Scripture at times.

Early challenges to the traditional teachings of Christianity gave the young church good reason to clarify which writings taught proper Christian doctrine.  For instance, a rich, influential man named Marcion, who believed there were two Gods in the Bible (an evil God of the Old Testament and a good God of the New Testament) attempted to rid the church of anything he perceived as “Jewish.”  This included getting rid of the whole Old Testament and putting together his own version of  the “New Testament,” with only the Gospel of Luke and 10 of Paul’s letters, editing out anything he perceived as too Jewish.  His teachings were official rejected by the church in 144 AD.

Also, Gnosticism, a belief that mixed Christian beliefs with the philosophy of Plato, believed the material world was wholly evil and unredeemable, and because of this, Gnostics believed God never became “evil” flesh.  Thus, Jesus Christ only appeared to have a human body.  The Gnostic produced many false “gospels” written in the 2nd Century and after.

Thus, these situations showed the church a need to be clear what written works were truly Christian.  Lists exist from the early church fathers, dated about 200 years before Constantine, listing authoritative Christian writings, including all four Gospels, Acts, and most of Paul’s letters.

The Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, which was arranged at Constantine’s request, is not where the New Testament canon was made “official” as many people wrongly think.  The Council of Nicaea is where the church worked out the proper biblical understanding of the nature of Christ’s divinity in relationship to the Father, as well as some other odds and ends, like how to determine the date of the observance of Easter.  No evidence of any debates or discussions about which books belonged in the Bible exists from the Council of Nicaea.  The “official,” “closed” list of the New Testament Canon occurred not until 367 AD, a whole generation later.  But, as stated above, the books of the New Testament were long established as the scripture of Christianity long before this, as evident by the “Muratori Fragment,” a list which includes nearly of the book of the New Testament dating from the mid-second century in Rome.

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Why was the inclusion of James, 2 Peter, Jude, 2 John and 3 John in the New Testament disputed?

The Book of James has been questioned because the teachings of James appear to contradict the teachings in Paul’s letters.  James teaches that faith needs to be joined with works, meaning that faith needs to be complimented with actions.  James says, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).  But Paul, in several places in his letters, emphasizes that Christians have salvation only through faith apart from works.  Thus, Christians have salvation through God’s grace alone; only through God’s work, not their own, can sinful man be redeemed.  On a closer reading, we see that James and Paul do compliment each other.  James is stating that works is the outcome of salvation, not the means of salvation – something Paul would agree with.  A person’s actions are the evidence of salvation in that person.

2 Peter is disputed because the written style of 2 Peter is very different than the style of 1 Peter.  Often, ancient letter writers dictated their ideas to scribes, who wrote them down.  We see evidence in Paul’s letters that he used a scribe at times.  It was not uncommon for the scribes to not record the thoughts of the speaker word-for-word, but in their own words.  This means that they recorded the ideas but wrote them out in their own style.  It can be safely assumed the author dictating the ideas would approve of the final product, perhaps signing it or writing some closing sentences in their own hand.  Again, we see evidence of this in Paul’s letters.

Jude, 2 John, and 3 John are so short that some have questioned whether they should be in the New Testament simply because they are so brief.  Can such short letters convey any significant information?  Of course, this comes down to opinion, not factual evidence, and Christians today still find godly wisdom in these three short letters.

Why was Revelation included in the New Testament Canon despite controversy?

Revelation is a notoriously difficult book to understand.  The genre (or style) in which Revelation is written is called apocalyptic literature, which has a lot of strange symbolism depicting spiritual things.  Revelation is unique to other apocalyptic literature because it also includes prophecy and letters to churches.  Despite all of this, the authorship of Revelation by the Apostle John, one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples, is secure, and Revelation meets the requirements for inclusion in the New Testament.

Main Source of information for this post:

Craig L. Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014).

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Interview: Ian J. Keeney (Part 2 of 2) Director of The Meaning & former Satanist on Atheist/Christian relations, conversion

**Can atheists and Christians find common ground?**

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This continues my interview with Ian J. Keeney, director of the film The Meaning, a documentary made by Christians and atheists about the “War on Religion.”  Ian is a former “Satanist” who became a Christian.  This interview discusses his conversion, atheist/Christian relations, and more about his documentary, The Meaning.

(Read Part 1 of the interview here.)             (Watch The Meaning trailer here.)

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Steve: Tell us about your own journey from atheism to Christianity.  I know you used to refer to yourself as a “Satanist,” which isn’t the same as a Satan-worshipper, but an atheist extremely hostile towards Christians.  Why did you come to Christianity and not another religion?  Would you say it was a sudden change or a gradual change?

Ian: It was a gradual thing. 2005 is when I opened my mind, visited some churches and began studying. I was by no means a believer then though. Only mildly curious. Since it was such a gradual process, it’s hard to pin a day on, “this is the day I became a Christian.” I’d say that when I decided I fully believed in Jesus was in 2010. That’s when I decided for sure I wanted to live for Him. I had toyed with the idea, believed but not too seriously. It was then that I saw my life changing, when I really decided to live for Him. Then I had that crisis while making the movie where I went from 100% sure of myself that Jesus is real to nearly becoming an atheist again. I took a break from filming for a while to just get my head straight and recalibrate myself and reevaluated everything. That’s when I decided, yeah. This is real to me. Then on April 8, 2012, I was baptized.

To be quite honest, I’m not even sure how I feel about using the word Christian to define myself. I’ve come to accept Jesus as God for many reasons but it was a process as slow as the continental drift. The reason I’m hesitant about that “Christian” label is because nobody really has a clear picture on what that means, especially people who are not Christian. Does saying I’m Christian mean I’m a Republican? Does it mean I hate gay people? Does it mean I believe the universe is only 6,000 years old? Does it mean I’m intolerant of other people’s religions (especially Muslims) and think all atheists are going to Hell? No. I’m the opposite of all those things. I don’t believe any of that, but often, that’s the first thing that comes to non-Christian’s minds when they hear that word “Christian.”

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Also, what about what Christians think of each other? Is it enough that I believe in Jesus? Well, for Jesus, yeah – it is. For a lot of Christians, no – it’s not. I’ve been told that if I don’t speak in tongues, I’m not a real Christian. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t believe in Evolution if I’m a Christian. I don’t want to be associated with that sort of thinking. It gives Jesus a bad name and Jesus never said anything about the Earth revolving around the sun, the world being created 6,000 years ago, etc. I think throughout history and through today the Church has done itself a lot of harm when it takes a firm stance on these extra-biblical ideas based on things Jesus never said.

Jesus said, “Follow me.” That’s what I do. Does that alone make me a “Christian?” I don’t know. Jesus was Jewish. He said, “Follow me.” He didn’t say, “Be a Christian.”

Now to answer your question as quickly as I can, because I could literally write a novel based on this question alone: I came to Jesus rather than any other religion because as an atheists, I didn’t see a god. With Jesus, I see God. If there is such thing as a God, what Jesus did, that makes sense to me. Why would a God create some universe and then just walk away and have no interaction with it whatsoever? That makes no sense to me at all.

If God made this creation, it only makes sense to me that he would want to show up here at some point. Sure, other religions have their saviors (don’t mistake prophets for saviors), but reading the words of Jesus, it seemed most real to me. People make fun of Jesus about those stories being fantastical. Try reading some other antediluvian holy books, especially those that predate the Bible, like the Egyptian Book of the Dead. They make Lord of the Rings seem more realistic.

I do have a hard time believing the miracles in the Bible, but for me, if they happened or not, they really don’t matter to me today. What matters is what Jesus taught and how those words apply to my life. Even if you don’t believe that Jesus ever existed, if you read his words, he’s not telling you to hate gays and shun science. He’s telling you to love everyone, forget about eye for an eye and learn to truly love one another with forgiveness, he wants us to be good to one another, be good to ourselves and be the best we can be. He’s not someone we should be afraid of or get so angry when his name comes up, but that’s the reaction a lot of people have just like I did for most of my life. Jesus is a cool dude. He revolted against the authority of his day just like so many young people do today, but the irony today is a lot of the revolutionary young people don’t want to hear about Jesus and it’s the elite authorities who want to shove this misrepresented image of Jesus down your throat.

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Once I really opened my mind and focused on who Jesus really was, that’s when I began to think I may be able to believe he was more than a fairy tale. I know there’s Christians shaking their heads at things I’m saying who want to just tell me how wrong I am but rest assured, many Christians have already told me how wrong I am. That’s why so many people are turned off from Christianity. The thing is though, there are many amazing Christians. There are Christians who think more like me. There’s quite a lot actually, but they’re not as boisterous. That, again, is why I chose to make this film – to give a voice to the people who aren’t standing outside with signs saying, “God hates gays,” but saying, “I’m Christian and I love my gay friends,” or even, “I’m Christian and I’m gay.”

Steve: You said a lot here, so let me share some quick thoughts:

I think there’s a lot of wisdom in what you’re saying.  I think it’s difficult for someone who grew up in Christian culture to relate to what you’re saying, so I’m glad you said it.  Someone who is coming from a place of hardcore skepticism, like the two of us, is going to continue to question things and wrestle with the Bible for the rest of his or her life, but I would argue this is what we’re all meant to do as Christians.

I would also say that there are two miracles that one must definitely accept for salvation: That God became flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, and that Jesus died on a cross and returned from death for the atonement of our sins.  Beginning with Jesus’ teachings on how we should live with others is a great way to introduce Jesus to others, but we can’t ignore that he spoke primarily about repentance from sin and salvation through his death.  If we only focus on Jesus as a wise teacher, we’re overlooking Jesus as savior, which is the main reason he came.

So, I understand what you’re saying, but sometimes I get a bit nervous with this talk because it sometimes (not always, but sometimes) leads to this “Jesus is my homeboy” or “Jesus is my hippy friend” mentality.  Whenever I find this attitude towards Jesus, it needs to be pointed out that Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else in the Bible, so Jesus understood the dangers of sin.  If anyone understands the dangers of sin, it’s the person who was tortured and crucified because of it.

Also, I find once you understand Jesus, you start to understand the rest of the Bible more clearly and you start taking it more seriously.  Jesus constantly refers to the Old Testament to prove his arguments, and once you understand who wrote the New Testament, it’s impossible to pit the rest of the New Testament against Jesus’ words.  There’s unity to it.

Finally, I’d like to build on what you said by agreeing that Jesus was totally countercultural.  When I first started reading the Bible on my own, I was struck by Jesus’ anger and harsh words towards the religious leaders of his day.  It struck me how much of what Jesus was saying to them could be said to the modern church today. 

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Did you learn anything about your own faith while making this film?

Ian: Of course. Making this movie was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do; not only because I had to stay awake for days straight and spend my life savings to fly around the country and get interviews, but because it was the biggest test of my faith I’ve ever had. I was going back and forth while filming, sometimes affirming my faith and often thinking I might still be an atheist after all. I was having terrible nightmares just not sure what I believed anymore. I was on information overload.

I’m still not even sure to this day but that’s part of my decision. I’m not really willing to hammer my feet in the sand and say this is what I believe and I’m never budging. As I learn more, I grow more and will move in a different direction on certain things. I’m stuck with Jesus. As far as everything else, I’m a man of science and science is fluid and grows as we learn more things and I want to be part of that growth.

Steve: Some mistakenly think to question and look for answers is a sign of weak faith.  I think it’s the opposite.  Confidence comes from asking the tough questions, and as I learn more, I grow more confident.  Faith doesn’t mean blind, mindless faith.  It means trust.  And trust in God, just like in any other relationship, grows.

Now that I’ve been a Christian for 8 years, I’ve realized just how badly Christians are stereotyped and how little critics of Christianity actually know about what we believe.  I’m not sure about other parts of the country, but this seems to be the case in New Jersey and the mainstream media.  In New Jersey, I would say skepticism is the norm, and Christianity is outside the mainstream.  Do you agree with this assessment?  Since, like me, you have been on both sides of the fence of belief and unbelief, have you made any discoveries you wouldn’t have had otherwise?

Ian: The biggest discovery I’ve made is that as an atheist, I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I knew. I’m never one who is quick to tell people that they are wrong but after doing this study, I’ve come to realize there is just so much misinformation out there. People boldly speak this misinformation with a strong belief that it were true. This happens with both Christians and atheists. That’s why I keep insisting people do their own extensive and balanced research on any topic they want to boldly stand for or against.

Regarding demographics, I have noticed that out here on the east coast, things are definitely much different regarding Jesus than it is in many areas of the mid-west. Jesus seems to be more predominant out there than he is here. There’s definitely no shortage of the hell fire billboards on the NJ Turnpike though. It just gets lost in the noise of everything else. People here seem to look away and just shrug it off. Other places in the country do seem to be more Christian than out here.

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Steve: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Christians in a growing secular culture?

Ian: I think this points to what I said earlier. Christians need to keep up with the times and be willing to educate themselves fully on topics regarding things like stem-cell research, evolution, homosexuality or anything they choose to take a stand against before they speak out against it. I’ve heard so much false information coming from Christians who oppose these hot topics and that only does more harm. Of course they then will try to tell me I’m wrong based on their one source they found on some suspicious page on the Internet. If you don’t have your facts straight and you’re trying to oppose people who do believe these things, it’s just going to make Christianity appear silly and irrelevant.

If someone wishes to take a certain stance on something, just know very well where it is you stand. Read several books from different perspectives, talk to scientists personally (many of whom are Christians), take a class, watch documentaries. Listen with an open mind to what both sides of the debate are saying.

Steve: Is there advice you would give to Christians about interacting with atheists?  Is there any way to share your faith with an atheist without things getting awkward, unfriendly, or preachy?

Ian: Let an atheist tell you about their beliefs or lack there of first. Most atheists will have something negative to say about the Church. Most of the time, it’s something that the Church has done to misrepresent Jesus, such as the choir boy molestations, embezzlement of donations, etc. Then you can address those issues by saying how Jesus actually opposed those things about the church too.

People have more common ground with Jesus then they realize, or at least I know I did when I was an atheist. Atheists blame Jesus for the things the Church got wrong, but they’re willing to hear how Jesus would agree with them that the Church is very wrong for doing these things. You’re never going to “win” an atheist to Christ by having a debate about creation.

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Like I said, you never want to “sell” Jesus. Most (if not all) atheists will not believe the stories. Did Jesus really walk on water? Did he really rise from the dead? I try to avoid these sorts of debates. These are things they have to figure out on their own. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see Jesus walking on water so I have nothing to say about that. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. If he was really God, he could have done whatever he wanted to, including rise from the dead. If he created the laws of physics, he’s obviously able to break them. Before an atheist would even consider these things, I just talk about Jesus and what he taught. He’s not all hell fire and brimstone like the church has made him out to be so often. They like to hear about that stuff.

Be careful not to give misinformation though. Atheists deal in facts. If you start grabbing information from outside the Bible to back up what you’re saying, make sure you know well what it is you’re saying. If there is one hole in your story, the entire thing will unravel. For example, many Christians like to quote Josephus for proof that Jesus existed outside the Bible; however, an atheist will dismiss this immediately – and then probably dismiss everything else you said. Josephus wasn’t even born until about four years after Jesus died. Josephus is not a reliable source for an eyewitness account, if what he wrote about Jesus is even real. It’s possible it was a forgery.

Atheists know a lot more than a lot of Christians realize. In fact, a lot of people become atheists because of how much they know. Keep that in mind. It’s not about winning an intellectual debate over an atheist to convince them you’re right and they’re wrong. It’s just about opening up to each other and getting to know each other. They will find their path without a leash. We need a new approach. The Christian catch phrases and slogans on bumper stickers and billboards are out of style. It’s time to preach with love.

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Steve: When I started looking into Christianity, I was surprised how many good arguments were out there in support of it.  Since I was an atheist for so long, I knew all the reasons to doubt and I really believed there was no way to defend belief in God and Jesus. Now, I’m not saying these are bullet-proof arguments, but neither are the skeptics’ arguments.  But what really struck me was how well Christian scholars could defend their views.  If Jesus and the events in the Bible were just made up from thin air like Zeus or Thor, there would be no way to put together an intelligent, research-based article or book about it.  Can you imagine someone trying to write a historical defense of the existence of Thor?  There are a lot of good reasons argued by people a lot more informed and intelligent than the two of us who believe the Bible is 100% accurate.  If nothing else, they show it isn’t absurd to believe in the Bible like so many skeptics make it out to be.

What advice would you give to someone who is drawn to Christianity but has intellectual reservations about it?

Ian: I would say not to draw any conclusions too soon. You’re certainly going to hear a lot of goofy things from some Christians, and you’re going to read some pretty unbelievable things. If you’re really interested in learning, keep going. The journey is exciting. There’s more to it than I ever realized.

Make sure you get your information from various sources. Don’t just listen to what atheists have to say and don’t just listen to what Christians are saying. Read the Bible but don’t dismiss something right away. A lot of it is hard to understand. To fully understand it, we have to know the culture in which it was written.

If you arrive at something you have a concern about that makes you furrow your brow, write it down and ask someone to explain it. Connect with us on Facebook or email us your question (discoverthemeaning@yahoo.com) and we’ll be happy to get it answered for you by a pastor or scholar. You may be surprised. Often times there is a very reasonable explanation.

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I can’t lie to you though. Even I have a hard time with a lot of the Bible. I don’t take it all literally word-for-word. The Old Testament is especially difficult for me. I know which books to never read again, otherwise they’ll probably make me an atheist again. There’s a few really good books in the Old Testament but I mainly focus on the words of Jesus. Read those. You don’t even have to read it believing that every word is 100% true to what happened, but if you’re curious, start by skimming those red letters (the words of Jesus) in the Bible. Take it from there. You’ll either believe it more as you go or you won’t, but if you’re seriously drawn to Christianity, it’s not a journey you should do alone.

There will definitely be intellectual reservations and you’ll need someone to talk to you about them, preferably someone who’s done extensive study like a theologian or pastor, but be careful to not settle on one answer. Ask a few people. The answers most likely will vary. Then you have to decide what YOU believe.

Steve: Since Christians call themselves Christians because of Jesus Christ, it’s not a bad idea to start with Christ.  But I would say, once you’re familiar with the words of Christ, don’t stop there.  All scripture leads to understanding God.

The Old Testament is definitely difficult, but much of it needs to be understood in context of the time period it takes place and in the context of the biblical story as a whole.  A great book I’d recommend that addresses these difficulties is “Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.”

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What advice would you give to someone who has been wronged or hurt by Christians or a church?

Ian: Who hasn’t been wronged by the church in some way? It’s sad how commonplace that is. Some crimes are definitely worse than others within the church. There’s no worse crime than some trusted man taking a child’s innocence. Jesus has harsh words against that. He has harsh words against everything the church has done to harm people. I would tell them that Jesus is hurt by their actions too and give them his words that speak for that person who has been wronged by that church who strayed from the teachings of Jesus.

Steve: What are the biggest challenges to making an independent documentary and getting it in front of audiences?

Ian: The biggest challenge is financial. People don’t understand how much money something like this takes. Keep in mind, Hollywood spends tens of millions of dollars to make movies. I’ve spent only a fraction of that, but since I’m not a millionaire, I really feel the major dent in my bank account. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to make this film. I was in the process of buying a house when I really felt I had to make this movie. I told the mortgage company and my real estate agent, never mind. I have something to do. I took the down payment for my house and used it to make this film. It wasn’t nearly enough. I live paycheck to paycheck and my account gets overdrawn almost every week trying to keep up with this film. I’ve done a few fundraisers and though we did have a few very generous people, overall, the response wasn’t very big so I have had no choice but to spend my own money.

I think to a lot of people, the process of making an independent documentary is very ambiguous. Just today there were several big and important film festivals I wanted to enter to get this film out there. People keep asking me, “When do I get to see the film,” but I wasn’t able to enter these festivals because I don’t have enough money in my account. Festival application fees vary but could be anywhere around $40 – $100+ a piece. If the movie is not accepted to the festival, these fees don’t get returned. If it does get accepted then I have to print posters and flyers and prepare the media for projection (also costly). That’s been the biggest challenge is trying to get this movie out there without the necessary finances. There are other filmmakers but they’re working stiffs who have obligations and families to take care of. We just don’t have the means to move this forward like it needs to.

I decided it was time for one more fundraiser. To put everything I’ve got into this film only to have it collect dust on my shelf doesn’t make sense. It’s something that’s meant to be seen widely. If anyone is interested in helping us get this movie out there more, they can contribute to our campaign and get some great perks in return.

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Steve: Future plans for the film?  For other projects?

Ian: The future plans for the film is to right now get it in front of as many eyes as we can by whatever means we can. We’re trying to set up more screenings of the film and get exposure through film festivals. As far as other projects go, I’m not quite sure. I just released my second novel A Better Tomorrow and I’m working on some music in the studio.

Sometimes I get very discouraged because I put my entire life, my heart and soul into these projects. It takes a lot out of me, not only financially, but physically and mentally. I’m putting my heart and soul on display through my artistic endeavors. I do have a handful of very hardcore fans and supporters and I wouldn’t have come this far without them. They believe in me wholeheartedly but lately even they seem to be getting frustrated that through everything I’ve done, it still hasn’t broken through into more popularity yet. I say all this because, I’m not sure what lies ahead in the future for other projects. I’m not sure how much I have left in me. I’ve done a lot. Four feature films, two novels, short films, television, poetry and now I’m recording my music. Unless something I’ve already made reaches some level of success, I may not have it in me to go forward with something else. It just won’t be possible anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. When I say success, I don’t mean I’m looking to be a millionaire. I’m not in it for the money. I just want enough to have the basic necessities that everyone needs. I want my work to reach more people. It’s just hard to get noticed these days in such a noisy world. Hopefully with this film people will help me get the word out there and help me get it to a larger audience.

To learn more about The Meaning’s fundraising campaign, click here.

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Steve: Give us info on the upcoming The Meaning showing in Paterson, NJ.

Ian: Our next showing for the meaning is in Paterson, NJ.  All the info can be found on our website here: http://discoverthemeaning.com/index.php/events.html

Steve: How can people contact you or learn more about The Meaning? 

Ian: They can contact me through Facebook/DiscoverTheMeaning or Facebook.com/ianjkeeneypage, find me on www.ianjkeeney.com or through www.discoverthemeaning.com.

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Interview: Ian J. Keeney, director of The Meaning & former Satanist, Atheist/Christian relations & “The War on Religion” (Part 1 of 2)

*Can atheists & Christians have civil discussions?  Is there some middle ground they can agree on?*

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**My interview with Ian J. Keeney, director of the documentary The Meaning, where we discuss his film, how he became a Christian, and atheist/Christian relations **

A review on IMDb describes The Meaning as “a comprehensive study into the lives of people of various belief systems. The pacing of the film runs smoothly, considering the enormity of this project.  Name the last time you saw a film that had this much jam-packed into an hour and forty-five minutes.  In your travels, you come across motorcycle gangs turned “Holy Rollers”, surfers for Christ, rappers in the ‘hood talking about Jesus, university professors who believe God created Evolution, crazed Disney World naysayers, transgendered women, Catholic monks, animal rights activists, and former self-proclaimed “Vegan Satanists”—I mean, my God, Ian out did Geraldo on this one!”

 (Watch The Meaning trailer here.)

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The first time I learned of Ian J. Keeney it was memorable.  It was baptism day at our church, and several people I’ve never seen before were setting up professional movie cameras.  Was a celebrity getting baptized at our small, unassuming church?  Then Ian, who I had never met, stood up to be baptized, and while giving his testimony he tells the whole church that he used to be a “Satanist.”  Later, I would find out Ian worked in the film/TV industry and the people with the cameras were his friends.  I would also find out later that a Satanist isn’t the same as a Satan-worshipper.  Satanist was  a title some atheists who are extremely hostile towards Christianity give themselves.  Ian immediately went on my list of people I’d like to know.

Ian is the one person I know that can truly be labeled a Renaissance Man.  He writes movies, novels, poetry, and music.  Not only that, but he shoots and edits his own films, he records his own music, and he performs his poetry and music live.  You would think someone with this much creativity would be bursting with emotion and exuberance at all times, but Ian is laid-back and reserved – a guy anyone can sit down and have a decent talk with.  Even if the discussion goes into deep waters, Ian’s friendly demeanor and humor never waivers.

The following interview discusses his documentary The Meaning, Christian/atheist issues, and how he went from a Satanist to a Christian.

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Steve: Tell us about your documentary, The Meaning.  What do you hope to accomplish with this film?

Ian: The Meaning is a film about the so-called “War on Religion” in the United States (or even, the world) and what that means for Christians and atheists particularly. What I hope to accomplish with this film is to open some hearts and minds for Christians and atheists to meet in the middle and discuss their concerns, rather than resorting to quips on billboards and bumper stickers.

Steve: It’s great that you worked with people of varying beliefs (and unbeliefs) about God on The Meaning.  It seems the project was a success, but was there any butting of heads on any aspect of the film?

Ian: There was not one time we ever clashed on set. Some of the most interesting conversations happened once the cameras stopped rolling. The whole tone of the movie is to be open, share ideas and never come to the conversation thinking, “I have to make this person believe my point of view.” When people are open to sharing ideas in a non-threatening manner without an agenda, there’s really no reason why there should be any butting of heads. It’s when the Christian starts trying to “sell” Jesus or the atheist tries to belittle your belief, that’s when things get ugly.

Steve: Did you purposely have atheists help make The Meaning to keep yourself honest — so you couldn’t be accused of editing the film in Christianity’s favor? 

Ian: I would not have made this movie if I were not able to include people of varying beliefs because one of my main concerns is that this is never viewed as a film with an agenda slanted toward atheism or Christianity. It’s simply a platform for sharing ideas – something I don’t think Christians and atheists do often enough. If I’m saying atheists and Christians should be more open to discussions with each other for understanding, how could I say that if I didn’t invite others along for this discussion and give them an equal voice?

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Steve: I know one of the big things you want to do is promote an open, honest dialogue between Christians and nonbelievers.  We both agree that people can disagree on “big” topics, but still remain friends and have discussions about things they disagree on without hard feelings and putting down each other.  But why do you think this is so hard for people to do?

Ian: I think there are several factors to this. For one, I think it’s human nature for people to always want to be right. It’s so hard for someone to admit that they’re wrong. Secondly, I believe there are a lot of misinformed people out there on both sides of the conversation just regurgitating something someone heard from someone else who heard something on TV. It’s important before we take a stance on anything that we have our facts straight and know the sources of those facts. Family Guy is not a reliable source.

There is also a conundrum with the fact that the Bible says to go in all the world and preach the gospel. The problem with that is, a lot of people don’t want to hear the gospel. Imagine you’re sitting peacefully at home having your coffee and cereal watching Joel Osteen on TV when there comes a knock on your door. It’s an atheist. He has a booklet and pamphlets to tell you why there is no God. Jesus is a lie and you need to just let it go. You’d probably be irritated by this unannounced guest just as much as most atheists would feel when someone comes like a door-to-door salesman but instead of selling vacuum cleaners, he’s selling Jesus. I think it’s important to try to put ourselves in each others shoes. We can’t communicate with someone we don’t understand.

Steve: Good points.  I’d just like to add no one should watch Joel Osteen.  I’m saying that in a joking manner, but I’m serious.

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Steve: Talk a little about The Meaning’s Facebook page and the interactions on there.

Ian: We have a Facebook page for the movie and I use that as a way to keep this conversation going. I want this to be more than just a movie. If I’m trying to open a dialogue between Christians and atheists, I can’t just show a movie in a dark quiet theater and then say, “Thanks for coming. Now go home.” Whenever possible, we interact with our audience personally after the film and hold a Q&A. I don’t want it to stop there. You can continue to interact with us through Facebook and others who are there to discuss what’s going on in the world today. I try to keep things light and humorous sometimes too because I find value in laughter. These topics can be difficult enough, so a little comic relief is needed.

Steve: I’ve had some really great discussions on the Facebook page with people on both sides of the fence of belief and recommend people visit it.  Unfortunately, the disconnected nature of the internet — the lack of personal, face-to-face connection — sometimes makes people defensive and even rude, and I know this is what you don’t want to promote, Ian. 

This may sound funny, but I would recommend people to jump into conversations on your Facebook page because it’s a great way to discipline ourselves in interacting with people of differing views.  It’s a great way to practice having an honest conversation and not a debate where you’re just trying to one-up the other guy.  It’s a great place to practice being fair-minded and to practice disagreeing with someone with grace and patience, especially if the other person does get rude.  If nothing else, since it takes place in “internet-time,” it teaches you not to respond immediately with your gut or emotion.  If someone writes something you disagree with and you feel yourself getting heated, don’t write back right away.  Take some time to calm down and think clearly, and then think out a rational, fair response.  If you care about the subject, it’s a challenge not to get emotionally involved — trust me — but it’s a great exercise in self-discipline. 

Tell us about your radio show/podcast.

 Ian: The radio show is an extension of The Meaning as well (BlogTalkRadio.com/DiscoverTheMeaning). We have several episodes up now and we have more scheduled for release very soon. On the show I talk with people in depth. You get a half hour long interview with all types of different people from theologians to atheists, musicians to poets.

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NEXT: (PART 2) We’ll get into DEEP waters with Ian J. Keeney about how he went from a Satanist to a Christian, about atheist/Christian issues, and more about his documentary The Meaning.)

IN THE MEANTIME:

For info on the upcoming showings of The Meaning, including one in Paterson, NJ click here.  

Making an independent film and getting it in front of audiences takes a lot of $$$.  Find out about The Meaning‘s fundraising campaign by clicking here.

To contact Ian J. Keeney or to learn more, click one of the following: The Meaning’s Facebook page, Ian’s Facebook page, The Meaning’s official site, Ian J. Keeney’s official site.

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