Morally Schizophrenic: Moral Outrage in a Land With No Moral Compass

**Can you be good without God? Are morals objective truths or personal opinions? Are skeptics morally schizophrenic?**

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Can you do good without God? Certainly. Can you define good without God? No.

Let me explain…

I’ve written about what is often called the moral argument before on GFTM blog (see here, here, and here), but it’s such an important argument that arises so often I decided it would benefit us to look at it one more time. (Note: I’d usually break a long post like this into several posts, but I think it’s best to keep the whole argument together in one place.)

Basically, it goes like this: a skeptic (atheist, agnostic, relativist, post-modernist, naturalist, etc.) criticizes Christianity for something, which – more likely than not – is a moral claim. For example:

  • The God of the Bible is cruel and violent.
  • Christians are intolerant.
  • Believing in a Creator God stifles science and human flourishing.
  • The apostle Paul was sexist and homophobic.
  • Christianity makes people closed-minded.
  • Christianity led to witch hunts and burnings.
  • Believing Christianity is the only true religion is arrogant.

The list can go on (I’m sure you thought of a few yourself), but what I want you to see is this: all of these are moral statements of one form or another. The one making the statement is making a moral claim, which means proclaiming something to be morally “good” or “bad.”

Some of the statements above may not seem like moral statements,  but often the one saying it is implying one. For example, at its core “Believing in a Creator God stifles science and human flourishing” is saying, “Human flourishing and the study of science are morally good, so Christianity is morally bad.” Likewise, the statement “Christianity led to witch hunts and burnings” may be a statement of fact, but again, often someone is also implying that witch hunts and burnings are bad.

At the base of these statement, there are questions that must be addressed: Why are witch hunts and burnings morally bad? Why is human flourishing morally good? The answers to these questions may seem so obvious we take them for granted, but are they really self-evident truths?

Even these following statements about moral statements are making moral claims:

  • No one has the right to make absolute, objective moral claims.
  • You don’t have the right to morally judge anyone.

Those who say such things are actually making moral claims!

And they’re also making self-refuting statements.

And that’s the point: When people make moral claims, and yet their worldview doesn’t provide any foundation for their moral claims, they have defeated themselves. Thus, often they become morally schizophrenic.

 

BY WHAT STANDARD?

Pick any of the moral criticisms from the above list (or elsewhere). For example, perhaps someone accuses the Bible of promoting slavery. Now, I don’t believe this is true (and I will address this in a future GFTM series), but I can respond in two ways:

(1) I could walk through the Bible with him or her and give the historical and theological information needed for understanding the difficult passages of the Bible that deal with slavery.

(2) I could ask a single question: “By what standard?”

In other words: “You’re making a moral claim that slavery is wrong. According to what standard are you saying that? Before we even discuss the Bible, explain to me, according to your understanding of the world (your worldview), why slavery is wrong?”

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Yes, but the question is: Why?

GOOD WITHOUT GOD?

Now, the question of why slavery is wrong seems so basic to us today that it seems like a silly question. But think about it: Can you explain why slavery is wrong? Or are your moral stances simply something you assume? Again, to be clear, we all know slavery is wrong, but why? Follow your train of thought – follow the path of your logic backwards – to the foundation of your beliefs. What is your moral stance standing upon?

To better understand this, ask yourself:

  • What do I believe about humankind?
  • Where did we come from?
  • Are we going anywhere?
  • What makes our purpose important beyond personal preference? (In other words, what makes our purpose real?)

Now, can you explain why slavery is wrong?

Is it wrong because owning a person is wrong? Well, why is that wrong? Do humans have inherent rights? Do you hold “that all men are created equal… with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? Do you believe this simply because our forefathers believed this or for another reason? Do you believe it because you were taught this in school, on TV, or by your peers? Is this really “self-evident” to your worldview? Where do “rights” even come from?

I’ve heard this slogan many times from skeptics: Good without God. In other words, one does not need to believe in God to be morally good. I agree 100%.

But the question is NOT whether skeptics CAN do good. They certainly can (by social standards anyway)! The question is WHY do they do good – and how do they even know what good is? What compels a skeptic to do good?

So, here it is:

  • If there is no God, there is no objective morality. (By “objective” I mean a standard of morality that exists outside of yourself.)
  • If there is no objective morality, all moral claims are only personal preferences and opinions.
  • If all moral claims are only personal preferences and opinions of an individual, then all moral claims can be dismissed by other individuals on the grounds that this is only their opinion.

Only a source that exists outside ourselves can account for a universal, objective moral code. (In fact, only an intelligent, immaterial source can account for an immaterial moral code.) And without an objective moral law, all moral claims can be responded to as follows: So? Why should I care?

If morality is strictly personal preferences and opinions, then why does anyone else have to care about the moral claims you make? If there is no God, all moral claims we make are smoke in the breeze. With no absolute foundation, they float away into nothingness. In fact, they are nothingness. And, then, morals are free to change like fads. What is immoral one day (like eating a baby for fun) can become morally fashionable the next. Without God, a moral claim is a nonsensical statement. Without an unchanging standard outside ourselves, your moral claims have no roots.

Before we continue, let me be clear about what I am NOT saying. In fact, every time I explain this, someone misunderstands me or jumps to a hasty conclusion without hearing me out (or maybe I’m just really bad at explaining it) and accuses me of saying that skeptics have no morals. So, let me say this in all caps. In fact, I’ll even underline it and put it in bold so it doesn’t get overlooked:

I AM CONFIRMING, WITHOUT A DOUBT, THAT SKEPTICS HAVE MORALS! BUT WHAT I AM SAYING IS THAT THEY DO NOT HAVE A FOUNDATION FOR MORALS. THUS, THEY CANNOT MAKE ANY MORAL CLAIM… (WITH ANY CONVICTION ANYWAY).

You might not like what I said above, but I hope at least you understand me accurately.

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K. Chesterton wrote, “[T]he new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. … And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it . . . The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, [the skeptic] is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

Skeptics have to borrow their morals from doctrines and dogmas based on human rights which are in turn contingent upon human value. The skeptic does this without reason. He prefers to think of himself and certain other persons as valuable, but human beings have no intrinsic moral worth if the skeptics’ worldview is taken to its logical end. Therefore, the claims of the rapist are equal to the claims of the judge and the claims of the nicest atheist are equal to the claims of the most tyrannical dictator.

 

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Morality is found in the eternal, unchanging nature of God. We don’t deem something “good” simply because God said so, nor because the Bible says so. In other words, adultery can’t be bad one day and good the next because God changes his mind. Goodness is grounded in God’s unchanging nature; goodness is defined by God’s very character. Good is not good because God says it is so (though he does); good is good because God is good. God is the eternal, unchanging standard of good.

Everyone, including hardcore skeptics, have morals because they have an innate sense of morality, and everyone, including hardcore atheists, have an innate sense of morality because they’re made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). A mindless, directionless force cannot give us the innate sense of morality we all have.

Romans 2:14–15 tells us,

“For when Gentiles [nonbelievers] who do not have the Law [of God] do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”

Yet, though we’re made in God’s image, we suppress his innate moral law because we love our sin.

Romans 1:20-25 tells us,

“For his [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and … they exchanged the truth about God for a lie…”

As Tolstoy said, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.”

 

MORALLY SCHIZOPHRENIC

The skeptic cannot stay consistent with his moral claims, because he’s morally schizophrenic. He’s made in the image of God and has God’s moral law inside him, but he also loves his sin and wants to be his own god, so he also attempts to suppress God’s moral law. On one hand, he says morals are personal opinions, but on the other hand he declares vehemently his moral outrage and he wants us all to listen and agree. On one hand, he overlooks the murder of human life in the womb, but then expresses outrage at the murder of an infant. He declares mutual consent is the only sexual moral rule, yet he’s disgusted by incest by consenting adults. He believes we’re only biological machines evolved to pass on our genes, yet he is morally appalled by rape.

Sometimes skeptics accuse Christians of only being “good” because they fear God’s wrath. First, those who understand the gospel of Jesus Christ know we’re saved not by our own actions, but by the work of Christ. Thus, we don’t fear eternal condemnation, and we don’t (and can’t) earn salvation. Since we are saved by faith in Christ and God’s grace alone, there’s nothing more we can earn with our “good” actions (Ephesians 2:3-9; Romans 6:23, 11:6). Since our salvation is not based on our own works, but the work of Christ, we are secure in our salvation.

Secondly, those who understand the God of the Bible have a proper fear of him, but this isn’t the primary reason we obey his moral law. We obey God because he loved us when we were in rebellion against him and dead in our sins. God became a man and was tortured and killed to free us from sin so we can spend eternity with him. Love of Christ compels a Christian much, much more than fear. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

If there is a God, there are universal, objective morals. If not, all morals are subjective – based on personal feelings, tastes, or opinions. There is no such thing as how things “ought” to be. Without God, it just is what it is.

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EVOLVING MORALS

If naturalistic, materialistic, atheistic evolution is all there is then we have to face this fact: A mindless, directionless force does not and cannot create meaning or morals, nor can it explain our innate sense of morality.

If naturalistic, materialistic, atheistic evolution is all there is, there is no larger meaning than survival. If atheistic evolution is all there is, eat, drink, and be merry because this is as good as it gets. If atheistic evolution is all there is, then life is directionless, random, and pointless. If atheistic evolution is all there is, then – at best – life’s goal is to pass on our genes. And why should we even care about passing on our genes? We’re only here a short time – maybe about 90 years if we’re lucky. What’s it matter if my genes live on after me or not?

In other words, when you give your spouse a Valentine’s Day card, be sure to explain that you only care for him or her because you need him or her to pass on your genes, and the “love” you feel is just an illusion of the chemicals firing off in your brain (and loins). When you tuck in your kids at night, tell them something similar.

An atheistic evolutionist can make all the moral claims he wants, but when you get down to it all he’s giving are the personal preferences that are programmed into the meat computer we call his brain.

“Sexism is wrong,” he shouts.

Who cares. We’re random, happy accidents with only 90 years to live. I got better things to worry about.

“Since we’re here for only a short time, we should allow everyone to make the most of it.”

Why? I’m only looking out for one person: me.

“That guy is a scumbag. He has four kids to different women, and he doesn’t pay any child support.”

Good for him. He’s passing on his genes and enjoying life. That guy has it figured out.

 

FINDING MEANING IN MEANINGLESSNESS

In the past, when I’ve pointed this out to skeptics, I’ve had a few say something like, “I make my own meaning.” But this itself is a meaningless statement. How can you make meaning in a world devoid of meaning? A person’s self-made meaning only extends as far as that person’s self-delusion; don’t expect anyone else to buy into your personal “meaning.” (And if life really is meaningless, then the only way to be happy is to ignore the truth. So is truth the enemy of happiness?)

Everyone’s favorite atheist, Richard Dawkins has said, “There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”

But that same man also wrote, “The universe we observe has … no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”

Mr. Dawkins, sir, you speak so beautifully you can lull a water buffalo to sleep, but you’re a moral schizophrenic. You worldview cannot stand.

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Or, take a moment to watch this 2-minute “Big Think” Youtube video by atheist physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss where he says human life is “more insignificant than we can possibly imagine,” “an accident in a remote corner of the universe,” and he even reminds us of the imminent death of all life in the universe. But then he goes on to explain how this makes humans “more precious” and we should find meaning in life, including in art and music. To be honest, I laughed aloud when I first watched this video.

With Krauss’s atheistic worldview, he can fairly say: Life is meaningless, so enjoy the time you have. No problem there; no inconsistency. But he can’t say: Life is meaningless, so live meaningfully. Do you see the schizophrenia? (Plus, he’s confusing pleasure with meaning. Something can be pleasurable and completely meaningless.)

Krauss — a naturalistic atheist who publicly mocks belief in God — even goes on to use the term “spiritually uplifting”! The image-of-God that is intrinsic in Krauss’s very identity cannot be suppressed. We are designed for worship — and if not God, we’ll worship something else. We see Krauss’s schizophrenic worldview in full-on parade in this 2-minute video.

No meaning = No human value = No morals.

No human value = No meaning = No morals.

No morals = No meaning = No human value.

 

NICE STORY, BRO

Skeptics have attempted to explain morals in a number of naturalistic ways without an absolute, immaterial, unchanging Law-giver. But without an objective moral code with a foundation in unchanging truth, all moral claims crumble under personal preference.

Social Construct – Morals are defined by society.

So, when Nazi Germany proclaimed that it was good to kill Jews, was this morally good because “society” decided this? If the South had won the American Civil War, would slavery be morally good? Was Martin Luther King Jr. immoral for standing up against a racist society? In fact, who decides what part of society defines morals? Does might make right? Does majority rule? Has the majority ever been morally wrong? (Yes!)

Ultimately, saying morals are a social construct still confirms the view that morals are subjective. And if morals are subjective, why do we have to follow them? Peer pressure?

Human Flourishing – Morals Promote Human Advancement

I’ve heard skeptics respond that doing something immoral like, say, eating a baby would doom the human race. But Jonathan Swift’s infamous (satirical) essay A Modest Proposal lays out a compelling argument about how eating babies would actually benefit society. So, who should I believe? Further, if I eat just one baby and no more, will it doom the human race? Absolutely not. Would it be morally wrong still?

Aristotle argued that it was the slave’s nature to be a slave, and thus, it was to the benefit of both society and the slave for the slave to remain a slave. And in ancient Rome, the poor often benefited greatly by selling themselves into slavery. Does this then mean owning a person like property can be morally good?

Also, notice the underlining assumption of this view: human flourishing is good. Why is human flourishing the ultimate good? If we’re just meat machines here by happy accident, what’s it matter if we flourish or not? (But more about that below.)

Good Feelings – Being good is a reward within itself; it makes me feel good.

What if raping others makes someone feel good? Does that make rape for that person morally good? I’m pretty sure most serial killers found pleasure in their work. In other words, what if being “bad” makes me feel “good.” What if what makes someone feel good is stomping on another’s face when she’s grinning after doing something “good”? And again, who defines what is “good”?

Beware of any action justified solely on subjective, personal feelings. And while we’re being morally subjective, let me just ask, Who cares how you feel?

Doing good makes you feel good because you were created in the image of God to honor him.

Evolution – Morals have evolved to help the human species survive.

First, nice story. I’d like to see that proven. Secondly, evolution is based on survival of the fittest. It has no room for niceness. Are you telling me evolution suddenly became a peace-loving hippy?

Christians aren’t going to argue against the idea that working together is better, but without the unchanging moral law of God – again – why should I care? I’m only on this planet for a short time; if ruining other’s lives makes mine better, I’m going to do it. Who can tell me I’m wrong?

You may say some behavior is “best” for everyone – “best” for human flourishing. But how can you be sure? As stated above, Jonathan Swift made a compelling argument on how eating babies, something universally seen as reprehensible, could actually help society. And again, who cares? Who says human flourishing is the ultimate moral good? What if I prefer self-flourishing? Or what if I’m a radical environmentalist and I believe the health of the planet is the greatest good, so humans need to “flourish” less? Or what if passing on my genes most effectively is by destroying a rival society? Survival of the fittest, baby

Philosopher William Lane Craig concludes in his book On Guard, “…if our moral beliefs have been shaped by evolution, then we can’t have any confidence in them because evolution aims, not at truth, but at survival. Our moral beliefs will be selected for their survival value, not for their truth.”

For the Kids – I’m morally good to make the world a better place for my children.

Now, maybe this can make some sense to an atheistic evolutionist because in that worldview passing on your genes may be the only “meaningful” thing someone can do, and making the world a “better” (“better” = “safer”) place will increase the chances of those kids surviving to pass on your genes. But, once again, who cares? If morals are subjective, I can choose not to care for my offspring, and who is anyone to judge me? Making the world a better place is a lot of work and so is raising kids. What if I think it’ll be much easier to pass on my genes if I just impregnate as many women as possible? That seems like a good way to live for many men. Are they wrong? Not according to all worldviews.

 

STABBING BABIES

I once had a hostile skeptic come after me on Twitter. His moral outrage at Christianity was clear, but when I asked him to explain upon what standard he was basing these moral claims, he huffed and hollered but never gave me an answer.

We continued for a while, and for every moral condemnation he made against Christianity, I again asked him why I should listen to anything he had to say if he couldn’t even tell me how he judges anything morally. At closest to explaining, he said it was “complicated.” So, I said I would make it easy for him: “Tell me why it’s wrong to stab a baby.” Yes, this was a bit harsh, but he wasn’t pulling any punches with me either. Again, he hooted and hollered, but he never answered my question despite my persistence.

And that’s the problem. Skeptics can shout all they want about injustice or human rights or bigotry, but they’re not standing on anything. They’re floating up in the air, their legs flailing around, toes pointed, trying to find some ground to stand on, but they have nothing.

Occasionally, you hear of a person who claims to have been a Christian who “lost their faith” because of the evil in the world. Ironically, one of the surest signs that there is a God is the universal outrage we see at evil. If there’s no God, there’s no evil. If there’s no God, it just is what it is.

(Thanks to Jordan Karausky for his feedback, insight, and additions to this article.)

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Related GFTM articles on the moral argument:

Random, Meaningless Morals

Atheists have Morals! (And So Do the Rest of Us)

The Walking Dead & God’s Innate Moral Law

Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog (Part 4) The Ark in Action!

*Is “The army that carries the Ark before it is invincible”? Should Indy have listened to his friends’ warnings about the Ark?*

Read Part 1: What’s a Covenant?

Read Part 2: What’s the Ark Anyway?

Read Part 3: What’s All This Old Testament Stuff About?

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LET THE BODIES DROP

So, Indiana Jones goes on one heck of an adventure to find the lost Ark, but in the Bible the Ark itself participated in some adventures.

CANAAN

When Israel left Sinai and were nomadic in the wilderness, we’re told,

So they set out from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey. And the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them. And the cloud of the Lord was over them by day, whenever they set out from the camp.

And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.” And when it rested, he said, “Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.” (Num. 10:33-36)

After Moses’ death, Israel, led by Joshua, set out to conquer Canaan, the Promised Land. Crossing the Jordan was an important milestone as the beginning of their conquest of God’s promised land, so just like God showed Israel a miracle by parting the Red Sea as they fled from the Egyptian Pharaoh, God showed he was with them by drying up the Jordan and allowing Israel to cross on dry ground. The Ark played a prominent role in this event.

As the feet of the priests carrying the Ark entered the Jordan, the water was cut off. The priests stayed within the dry riverbed holding the Ark until all of Israel crossed, and once the priests’ feet exited the river, the water flowed again. (See Joshua 3-4.)

Later, against the famous walled city of Jericho, Israel marched around the city outside its walls for seven days, once a day, led by seven priests with horns before the Ark. Then, after marching around the city seven times on the seventh day – according to the instructions of the LORD – the priests blew the horns, the Israelites let out a great shout, and the walls of Jericho fell and the city was conquered. (See Joshua 6.)

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But some of the people of Israel disobeyed God and took loot from Jericho, which they were commanded not to do. Thus, later, God allowed them to lose the battle of Ai. When Joshua, in grief and dismay, goes to the LORD in prayer, he “tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening” (Joshua 7:6).

Later, when Joshua renews the covenant between God and Israel, the people stood on opposite sides of the Ark as Joshua read to them all the words of the law given to them through Moses. Then, the Ark with them, Joshua and Israel continued on to conquer Canaan.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones’ colleague Marcus Brody tells the U.S. army agents, “The army that carries the Ark before it is invincible.” Brody is both right and wrong.

Yes, Israel is invincible because they have God’s favor and blessing with them represented by the Ark, but when Israel turns away from God’s ways, God turns away from them. Israel was still carrying the Ark with them at the defeat in Ai, yet because God wasn’t with them, they lost. The Ark has no power within itself; it’s not some magical object like we’d find in a movie with wizards. The power of the Ark is from God. This is a biblical truth Brody overlooks. The Nazis and Indy’s archenemy Belloq make this same theological mistake in thinking they can use the Ark’s power independently from God, and they pay a horrible price for this at the end of the movie.

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Further, Brody also says, “The Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions.” I found nothing in the Bible about the Ark doing any sort of mass destruction like this, nor anything like “lightning – fire – the power of God” shooting from the Ark at Israel’s enemies as depicted in the drawing in the book Indiana Jones shows to the army intelligence agents. The Israelites defeated their enemies with standard ancient combat weapons and techniques. The only exception (and the closest example of mass destruction associated with the Ark) is the falling of the walls of Jericho.

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THE PHILISTINES

But the warnings Indy receives about messing with the Ark do have a biblical basis. Brody says to Indy in a private conversation that his search for the Ark “is not something to be taken lightly.” Indy’s friend in Cairo, Sallah, echoes a similar warning, saying the Ark is “something men were not meant to disturb.” Indy doesn’t appear concerned, but he should be.

In the book of 1 Samuel, Eli served as high priest in the tabernacle in Shiloh where the Ark was housed. Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were wicked and exploited their positions as priests. When Israel lost in a battle against the Philistines, they promptly called for the Ark to be brought to the battlefield.

As soon as Hophni and Phinehas, as priests, brought the Ark into the army’s camp, the Israelites let out a great shout of joy. They knew victory was assured. The Philistines heard the shouts and were afraid and said, “A god has come into the camp… Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness” (1 Sam. 4:7-8).

It wasn’t uncommon for pagan armies to carry idols of their gods into war, but the pagan Philistines are a bit confused here. First, Israel believed in an invisible God, and no idols could be made of him (and even if they tried to make an idol to their invisible God, the making of idols was forbidden by God anyway). Secondly, Israel only had one God, but you can understand why the polytheistic pagans would have their facts mixed up, thinking Israel had “gods.” After all, the Israelites were the weirdoes of the Near Middle East, claiming there were only one God – and an invisible one at that! Yet, notice what the Philistines got right: they fear Israel’s God because they know what he did to Egypt during the exodus. If you really want to see the wrath of God, read Exodus.

But all that fear may have served the Philistines well because, after all of the shouting and woe, they actually win the battle! Hophni and Phinehas – the corrupt priests – are killed. And the Ark is captured. Upon hearing this news, the wife of Hophni lamented, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured” (1 Sam.4:22). The thing is, because of the corruption of the priesthood, God’s favor had already left Israel before the Ark was captured; this is the exact reason why the Ark was captured! Hophni’s wife makes the similar theological mistake as Hitler, the Nazis, and Belloq make in Radiers. Again, the Ark is not a source of power itself, but the source of the power of the Ark is God.

Now, this is where the fun begins.

The Philistines take the Ark to Ashdod and set it in the temple of their god Dagon, beside Dagon’s idol. This was nothing unusual. They had defeated their enemy and captured their God, so they would place their enemy’s God in subjugation to Dagon as a gift for their victory. But when they enter the temple the next day, Dagon is lying facedown before God’s Ark! So, the Philistines stand Dagon up again. The next morning, Dagon is not only prostrate before God’s Ark again, but his head and hands have been broken off!

(This reminds me of a small scene I love in Raiders: when the Ark is alone in a room of a cargo ship and the Nazi swastika on the crate containing the Ark mysteriously burns off.)

Then, God turns a heavy hand against the people of Ashdod and they are afflicted with tumors. So, they panic and move the Ark to Gath, and the people of Gath are now inflicted with tumors. So, they sent it to Ekron, but the people of Ekron weren’t messing with it; they gathered all of the lords of the Philistines and said, Send it back to Israel!

The Philistine priests and diviners said to send it back with guilt offerings, hoping God’s wrath would turn from them. They also told them to put the Ark on a cart led by two milk cows that have never been yoked before. If the cows carried the Ark back to Israel, then they would know Israel’s God had done these things to them – it wasn’t a coincidence.

The cows straight-away carried the Ark back to the Israelites in Beth-shemesh, but even there some Israelite men were struck down in the presence of the Ark because of their sin. (See 1 Samuel 4-7.)

Indy should heed his friends’ warnings.

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MOVING THE ARK AIN’T EASY

After the Ark’s return from the Philistines, it stayed in Kiriath-jearim in the house of Abinadab for 20 years (1 Sam.7:1-2). When David was king of Israel, he wanted to move it into his city, the City of David (Jerusalem), so he had a tent made for it. But they ran into a problem transporting the Ark.

They chose to move the Ark on a cart, celebrating along the way, but the celebration was brought to an abrupt end. A man named Uzzah had reached out to steady the Ark on the cart, and he was immediately struck dead! Understandably, David was afraid but also angry and dismayed. So, David abandoned his mission and moved the Ark to the house of Obed-Edom. After three months of no incidences with the Ark, and actually the house of Obed-Edom reported they were blessed during those three months, David decided to try to bring the Ark to Jerusalem again.

Again, David transported the Ark, along with all of Israel celebrating, David himself dancing “with all his might” (2 Sam. 6:14), but this time accompanied with some sacrifices and peace offerings. And David brought the Ark successfully into his city.

The record of this in 2 Samuel 6 gives no insight into why Uzzah was killed for touching the Ark. Considering what we know from Scripture about God and the Ark, we can make some informed guesses. If the Ark represents being in the presence of the one and only most holy God, death due to our sin should be expected when encountering God. Or perhaps the Israelites were sinning by not giving the Ark (and, thus, God) its proper reverence; maybe they were taking what they were doing lightly (like Indiana Jones).

When we turn to the parallel account of this event in 1 Chronicles 15, we find our answer; we get details we don’t find in the account in 2 Samuel. Before trying to move the Ark a second time, David gathered priests and Levites, the only people who are allowed to handle the Tabernacle, Ark, and other religious objects according to God’s commands, given way back in the day to Moses (and recorded in Exodus). David says to them,

“You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. Because you did not carry it the first time, the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule.” So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel. And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord. (1 Chronicles 15:12-15)

Exodus 25:12-14 says,

You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them.

So, in David’s second attempt, he brought the Ark into Jerusalem with proper reverence and in obedience to God’s directions, and the city celebrated as the Ark was brought into their presence.

NEXT: So, where did the Ark go??

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Read Part 1: What’s a Covenant?

Read Part 2: What’s the Ark Anyway?

Read Part 3: What’s All This Old Testament Stuff About?

New from GFTM Blog: Available in paperback for $9.00 (or less) and Kindle version for $3.50 (or less) on Amazon. Or learn more here.

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Who Jesus Ain’t: Jesus Ain’t a Hippy, Your Homeboy or a Wimp

*Is Jesus a harmless wimp? Is he your best friend? Or is he more dangerous than we imagine?*

**In November 2013, I started a GFTM blog series called “Who Jesus Ain’t.” I always planned on writing more for the series, but was sidetracked by seminary work and other ideas. Finally, I wrote more for the series, but I decided to publish it as a book, Who Jesus Ain’t: Introducing Jesus of Nazareth. What follows is a shortened chapter from that book.**

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(Available in paperback for $9.00 (or less) and Kindle version for $3.50 (or less) on Amazon. Or learn more here.)

It’s easy to see why some people think of Jesus of Nazareth as some harmless hippy. Usually he’s portrayed in paintings with long, flowing hair and sandals. We know Jesus taught a message of peace and love. He even loves children,[1] and he admits he’s “gentle and lowly in heart.”[2]

Because of this, it’s also easy to see Jesus as a wimp. I mean – come on – how tough can that toga-wearing guy cuddling a lamb in the painting be? How many tough hippies do you know? If fact, how tough can someone look while his emaciated body hangs on a crucifix? For God-in-the-flesh, Jesus doesn’t come across all that powerful.

Is this understanding of Jesus accurate?

Jesus’ commands to love your neighbor as yourself,[6] to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,[7] and to even do good for those who hate you,[8] all commands Jesus highlights in the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan.[9]

But Jesus is not your beatnik cousin or your hipster roommate. He’s one of the persons of the Triune God of Scripture, which means Jesus is God. In Exodus 15:3, Moses and the Israelites praise God for destroying the Egyptian army, and they call God “a warrior.”

Here are 3 more reasons why Jesus is a warrior:

 

  1. JESUS AIN’T AFRAID OF CONFRONTATION

A lot of people hate confrontations and do everything they can to avoid them, but Jesus confronted his hostile adversaries not by passive-aggressively talking about them to others or by writing scathing things about them or even by cyber-bullying them over social media, but he confronted them face-to-face. Not only that, he silenced them. These are not the actions of a coward or weakling.

The chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducee were out to get Jesus, but Jesus never avoided a debate with them. Jesus never shied away from speaking the hard truth to them about their hypocrisy and empty religion.

In Matthew 10:16, Jesus warns his disciples,

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

In Jesus’ debates with the religious leaders of his day, we see Jesus model this teaching again and again. For instance, in Luke 20, Luke records three attempts by the religious leaders to outsmart, trap, and repudiate Jesus. After three failed attempts – after the religious leaders being left speechless by Jesus’ rebuttals three times – Luke tells us,

For they no longer dared to ask him any question. (Luke 20:40)

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  1. JESUS AIN’T AFRAID OF DEMONS

Not only is Jesus not afraid of demons, but the demons tremble at the sound of his name! James 2:19 tells us:

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!

It’s convicting to us today to think demons actually understand God with a better sense of fear and reverence than we do. They have good reason. Scripture shows us that casting out demons was a regular part of Jesus’ ministry:

Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” (Mark 3:11)

Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are – the Holy One of God!” And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” (Mark 1:23-27)

Notice how Jesus isn’t even seeking out the demons. His presence is enough to throw them into a fit of panic and terror, and Jesus has absolute control over them. Likely the most famous case of demon-possession within Scripture is probably so because it’s the worst case of demon-possession in the Gospels:

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” (Mark 5:1-7)

The demon-possessed man tells Jesus his name is “Legion, for we are many”[14] presumably because a whole legion of demons are within him. Yet even they fear Jesus, and even this poor, tormented man is freed at Jesus’ command.

Jesus’ disciples were also able to cast out demons in his name (by his authority).[15] As Paul writes to other followers of Jesus in Romans 16:20,

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

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3. JESUS AIN’T GOING TO FORGIVE FOREVER

The person who told his followers to turn the other cheek won’t be turning his cheek forever.

What many don’t realize about one of the most quoted passages of Scripture, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,”[25] is that this open invitation for salvation will not be available forever.

John 3 goes on to tell us,

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

Notice the words “condemned already.” In other words, Jesus isn’t the reason people go to Hell to eternal separation from God; he’s the reason people stay out of Hell. Many people get this backwards when they hear Christians say that Jesus is the only way to salvation. They think what’s being said is, Since you’re not Christian, Jesus is condemning you to Hell. Yet what Scripture teaches is, You’re already going to Hell, but Jesus is the solution. We all have sin and are separated from God by it. God the Son could have chosen to (A) leave it this way or (B) become a man, absorb the punishment we deserve, and snatch us from Hell’s grip by the free gift of salvation. Like all gifts, a person can only benefit from it if he receives the gift. Jesus isn’t the cause; he’s the cure.

But something else many don’t understand about John 3 is that this gift of salvation is not an open offer forever. During Jesus’ First Coming, he didn’t come to condemn but to bring the free gift of salvation. In Jesus’ Second Coming, he’ll come as judge of the living and the dead,[26] bringing judgment and condemnation to all those who haven’t repented and believed in what he accomplished on the cross.

The apostle Paul speaks of Jesus judging the secrets of our hearts,[27] and he writes,

It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:4-5)

The Book of Revelation gives us both a glorious and horrifying vision of Jesus Christ’s return. For those who are of Jesus’ flock, they don’t have to fear condemnation because Jesus has stood in their place and taken their punishment, but those who aren’t of Jesus’ flock will be judged fairly, justly, and perfectly by the perfect, all-knowing Son of God, and apart from the saving power of Jesus’ sacrifice, they’ll all fall short.

As we speak about Jesus’ not being a wimp, there’s no better place to end than in the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. During Jesus’ Second Coming, he will declare war on all evil and destroy all his enemies, including Satan and death.[28] Those who rise up against him, in one last futile attempt at autonomy and rebellion, will meet a grisly defeat.

The Book of Revelation is highly symbolic, so it’s often difficult to know what to understand literally or symbolically. But whether it’s to be understood literally or figuratively, the image painted in Revelation 19 of the warrior Jesus returned to reclaim his creation is not for the faint of heart:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. (Revelation 19:11-21)

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And So…

Jesus is not your hippy roommate or your homie or that pencil-necked nerd everyone used to push around. But Jesus also told his disciples this:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:12-15)

What a beautiful sentiment by the creator of the universe! And it’s one that should deeply humble us – always remembering that God also said, “my glory I give to no other.”[30]

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Available in paperback for $9.00 (or less) and Kindle version for $3.50 (or less) on Amazon. Or learn more here.

[1] Matthew 19:14.

[2] Matthew 11:29.

[6] Mark 12:31 (Also see Leviticus 19:18).

[7] Matthew 5:44.

[8] Luke 6:27.

[9] Luke 10:25-37.

[14] Mark 5:9.

[15] See Luke 10:17, for example.

[25] John 3:16.

[26] 1 Peter 4:5; 2 Timothy 4:1.

[27] Romans 2:16.

[28] Revelation 20.

[30] Isaiah 42:8.

 

Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog (Part 3) What’s All This Old Testament Stuff About?

In the pervious articles we answered: What is a covenant and the Ark? We also learned about the ancient Jewish Tabernacle and Temple and even sacrifices (and not the type in the Temple of Doom). Before we get back into Indy and Raiders, it’ll be helpful to understand what all this ancient Jewish ritual is about…

Read Part 1: Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog (Part 1) What’s a Covenant?

Read Part 2: Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog (Part 2) What’s the Ark Anyway?

Indy_belloq_ark

SO, WHAT’S ALL THIS OLD TESTAMENT STUFF ABOUT ANYWAY?

As Christians, we interpret all of the events written of in the Old Testament in the light of the revelation of God through Jesus Christ, who came not to abolish the Old Testament, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). In other words, the whole of the Old Testament is foreshadowing Christ and preparing Israel, God’s chosen people, for his coming – and through this God will bless the whole world (as we saw in God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. Read more in Part 1.)

The Book of Hebrews (especially chapters 8-9) in the New Testament helps us to understand the significance of the Tabernacle (and later the Temple), the rituals, and the Ark in light of Christ’s work.

The Tabernacle/Temple (and rituals) are a “shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb.8:5). In other words, they are physical representations of spiritual realities. The Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle/Temple represents coming into God’s presence, but there is a separation between God and his people, symbolized by the veil. This separation is caused by our sin, and the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Thus, to enter into the presence of the Holy God will kill us. To atone for sins, the High Priest makes a blood sacrifice as a substitute, enters the Most Holy Place, and sprinkles the blood on the Mercy Seat above the Ark.

Hebrews 9:22 tells us, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” But Hebrews 10:4 also tells us, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” So, why does God make Israel do all this? To point to our need for a sacrifice that can truly take away sin and reunite us with God — to point to our need for a savior — to point us to Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death on the cross. Thus, the answer to the mysteries of the Old Testament is revealed in Jesus Christ.

Jesus said at the Last Supper, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20), and Hebrews 9:15 calls Christ “the mediator of a new covenant.”

Remember, covenants can be mutually binding, and God made a mutually binding covenant with Israel after freeing them from slavery in Egypt in Exodus 19-24. God promised to protect and bless them, and Israel said,

“’All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood [of the peace offerings] and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’” (Exodus 24:7-8)

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But Israel didn’t keep up their end of the deal. Israel rebelled against God; Israel turned from God’s moral law; Israel worshipped other gods. Like a cheating wife, Israel broke their vow, and, thus, the contract was null and void. So, God removed his protection and blessings. He allowed them to be taken into exile; he allowed Jerusalem, even his own Temple — the very way Israel had access to God — to be destroyed.

But he didn’t forget his promises in his earlier covenants, and in his mercy, he promised a new covenant. The writer of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah’s Old Testament prophecy:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34)

And Hebrews 9:11-14 says,

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent [Tabernacle] (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

Christ is our perfect high priest who gave his body — a perfect temple — and became our perfect sacrifice. And in this new covenant, one has only to believe in what Christ did for them and they’ll enter into God’s presence no longer fearing death.

Thus, there’s no more need for the Tabernacle/Temple, the high priest, the sacrifices, or the Ark. The work is finished by Christ’s work, not our own.

Jeremiah 3:16 even spoke of this day, a day when the Ark will not be needed anymore:

And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the Lord, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again.

NEXT: The Ark in Action! Let the bodies start dropping!

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Other related GFTM articles:

Making Sense of Old Testament Laws (Part 1 of 2) Are OT laws arbitrary, offensive & silly?

Making Sense of Old Testament Laws (Part 2 of 2) Why do Christians follow some OT laws & not others?

Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog (Part 1) What’s a Covenant?

 Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog (Part 2) What’s the Ark Anyway?

 

Even More Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: Can Apologetics Get Any More Sexy?

*Are there Undesigned Coincidences between the Gospels & ancient writings outside of the Bible? How can minor details in the Gospels show the reliability of the Gospels? Are you sexy enough to handle this?*

4_Gospels_painting

Series intro: What’s an Undesigned Coincidence?

Where key, major details remain the same when two or more authors write about the same historic event, we find minor details may be added or left out. An “undesigned coincidence” is when one account provides details, but another account written about the same incident by a different author gives more insight into those details. We see “undesigned coincidences” when we have two or more independently investigated accounts of the same event, and we find undesigned coincidences throughout the Gospels of the New Testament.

It’s highly unlikely that such complimentary minor details would be deliberately falsified, and the assurance that they’re based on authentic events is extremely high. In other words, when multiple people retell a true story, they may include minor details without an explanation of those details and others telling the same story may unintentionally fill in those missing pieces. Such non-deliberate cohesion smacks of authenticity.

Read PART 1: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: It Don’t Sound Sexy, But Oh Man It Is

Read PART 2: More Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: Bringing Sexy Apologetics Back

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Yes, by now you’ve probably figured out that I’ve been shamelessly placing “sexy” in every title of this series to catch people’s attention (with a healthy dose of irony). Here are more examples of Undesigned Coincidences:

 

Fixin’ to Fix Some Fish Nets

18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

 

OK, one big question immediately comes to mind when reading this passage: Why were these fishermen so quick to follow Jesus? I mean, would you give up your livelihood and abandon your family simply because some dude tells you to follow him?

Well, we find the answer not in Matthew, but in the much longer account in the Gospel of Luke:

 

5 Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat.

4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; 7 so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink.

8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” 11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. (Luke 5:1-11)

 

So, the reason the fishermen are so quick to follow Jesus in Matthew is because this is not the first time they’ve seen him! In fact, they’d witnessed Jesus teach and perform a miracle before he told them to follow him. No wonder they followed him so quickly in Matthew’s Gospel!

Where Matthew gives us more details of the actual moment of the calling of the fishermen, Luke gives a longer account (which includes the miracle before the calling) but then he simply summarizes or condenses – shortens or telescopes – the events after the miracle by simply telling us the fishermen left everything and followed Jesus. Where Matthew chose to emphasize the actual calling, Luke chose to emphasize the miracle. (Learn more about telescoping in another GFTM article.)

 

Furthermore, notice Matthew uses the word “immediately” twice. Both pairs of brothers — Peter and Andrew and James and John — followed Jesus “immediately” when called to follow. But Luke does NOT tell us they followed Jesus “immediately” after returning to the land, meaning some time could’ve passed between the two events.

Only when we look at Matthew and Luke together can we conclude that some time had actually passed between the return to the shore after the miraculous catch and when the fishermen left with Jesus. How long exactly? We can’t say – but not a lot of time, because we’re told in Matthew’s Gospel that James and John were fixing the torn nets.

And, Yes! That is another Undesigned Coincidence between Luke’s and Matthew’s account of the calling of Peter and the other fishermen:

Matthew tells us in 4:21 that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were “mending their nets.” Why? The detail is fleshed out in Luke. Luke 5:6 tells us during the miraculous catch, “… they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break.”

Perhaps the sons of Zebedee would’ve been more annoyed with Jesus for damaging their nets if he hadn’t done so by performing a miracle.

Christmas_Donkey

External Undesigned Coincidences

Up to this point in this series, we’ve been looking at examples of Internal Undesigned Coincidences — “internal” meaning within the Bible.

To end this series (for now), we’ll look at External Undesigned Coincidences — meaning collaborations between details in the Gospels with information outside of the Bible.

 

Runnin’ from Archelaus

In the Gospel of Matthew, in the birth narrative of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, having been warned in a dream, flee with the newborn Jesus to Egypt from the wrath of Herod the Great. Then Matthew tells us this:

 

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20 “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:19-23)

 

So, who is Archelaus? And why was Joseph so afraid of him? Matthew doesn’t give us one clue, nor does the rest of the Bible!

But we learn about Archelaus from outside the Bible, in another piece of ancient writing. We learn about Archelaus in the writings of Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian (37-100 AD). Archelaus is Herod Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great, who became ethnarch of Judea for a short period after the death of his father.

Due to growing tension between the Romans, the Jews, and the Jew’s Roman-appointed Herodian rulers (who were seen as half-breeds and traitors by the Jews), Josephus reports that Herod Archelaus slaughtered 3,000 Jews at the Temple during the Passover to quell a possible uprising.

So, why were Joseph and Mary afraid of Archelaus? Ancient historian Jospehus gives us the obvious answer in his work Antiquities of the Jews. Thus, Joseph and his family fled from Archelaus to Nazareth in Galilee, a place outside of the territory of Archelaus’s reign.

Herod the Great?

Herod the Great…?

Likewise, many rulers (including kings, governors, etc.) mentioned in the New Testament are also mentioned by Josephus, including Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa, and Antonius Felix. Josephus also wrote about John the Baptist, Jesus’ brother James, and Jesus himself. (Read this GFTM article to learn more about what Josephus said about Jesus.)

In fact, 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of the Book of Acts alone have been confirmed by historical and archaeological evidence outside of the Bible, and in the Gospel of Luke, 11 historically proven leaders appear in the first 3 chapters alone. New archeological discoveries have continually supported the reliability of the biblical record, including the discovery of Jacob’s Well, a building inscription of the name Pontius Pilate, and an ossuary containing the bones of Caiaphas, the high priest who helped orchestrate the crucifixion of Jesus.

Josephus...?

Josephus…?

Related GFTM articles:

Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: It Don’t Sound Sexy, But Oh Man It Is

More Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: Bringing Sexy Apologetics Back

Is the Bible Any More Accurate than Other Religious Texts?

Is There Evidence of Jesus’ Existence (Outside the Bible)?

The Joy & Angst of Four Gospels – Part 4 – The Gospels as Ancient Biography & History & “Narrative Creativity”

Books by GFTM:

Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God

 

 

More Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: Bringing Sexy Apologetics Back

**How can minor details in the Gospels show the reliability of the Gospels? Do multiple accounts confuse us or give us deeper insight? How sexy can apologetics be?**

fish&loaves_mosaic

What’s an Undesigned Coincidence?

Where key, major details remain the same when two or more authors write about the same historic event, we find minor details may be added or left out. An “undesigned coincidence” is when one account provides details, but another account written about the same incident by a different author gives more insight into those details. We see “undesigned coincidences” when we have two or more independently investigated accounts of the same event, and we find undesigned coincidences throughout the Gospels.

It’s highly unlikely that such complimentary minor details would be deliberately falsified, and the assurance that they’re based on authentic events is extremely high. In other words, when multiple people retell a true story, they may include details without an explanation of those details and others telling the same story may unintentionally fill in those missing pieces. Such non-deliberate cohesion smacks of authenticity.

You might think the phrase “Undesigned Coincidence” doesn’t sound “sexy,” but oh man, you’re wrong.

Read PART 1: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: It Don’t Sound Sexy, But Oh Man It Is

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Peter & Trash Talkin’

Peter, arguably Jesus’ most famous disciple, is not known for being perfect, but for being impulsive and brash. He’s also remembered for infamously denying three times that he knew Jesus Christ after Jesus’ arrest.

John is the only Gospel writer to give us an account of Peter being “reinstated” into Jesus’ flock of disciples after his resurrection, where Jesus asks Peter three times (mirroring Peter’s three denials) if he loves him, and then following with three commands for Peter.

During this event, Jesus says a little something that sounds a little odd:

 

14 This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.

15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:14-17)

 

“…more than these”? What did Jesus mean by this? “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” What or who are “these”?

Reading carefully through all of the Gospel of John, we find no answer! Sure, we can make some guesses about who or what “these” are, but how can we be certain?

But if we turn to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, we find our answer. We find the answer during the Last Supper:

 

27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. (Mark 14:27-31)

 

We find the same statement in Matthew 26:33. Did you catch it?

In Mark: Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.”

In John: Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?

When Peter said if “they” all fall away, the other disciples were all around him at the Last Supper; he was referring to them. When Jesus reinstated Peter in John 21, the two of them were with the other disciples. The “these” are the other disciples.

Peter had arrogantly boasted that even if the other disciples (“they”) fall away, he never would. Then, after Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, Jesus asks him, “Do you love Me more than these [other disciples]?”

Ouch. Praise God that he is a forgiving God.

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Pilate & Trash Talkin’

In Luke 23, we find Jesus before Pilate.

 

1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” 3 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” (Luke 23:1-4)

 

This exchange between Pontius Pilate, Jesus, and the Jewish authorities is brief and a bit odd. The hostile Jews accuse Jesus of claiming to be a king, so Pilate straight up asks Jesus if he’s a king. Jesus says, “You have said so,” which sure sounds like Jesus is confirming that fact — or at least not denying it. But then Pilate turns to the Jews and says Jesus is not guilty. Huh? What just happened?

To find the answer, we have to go to John’s longer account of this event:

 

28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.” (John 18:28-38)

 

So, it’s not in Luke, but in John that we see the rest of the puzzle. It’s in John where Jesus says,

“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

Thus, Pontius Pilate concludes Jesus is no threat – not in an armed revolutionary way anyway – or any way that the Romans need to be concerned about. Jesus admits he’s a king, but not one of this world, and his disciples have no intentions of fighting the Roman Empire.

It’s likely Pilate didn’t know what to make of Jesus – perhaps he only thought of him as a harmless religious nut – but he concludes that Jesus is not guilty of any crime against the Roman Empire. Thus, Pilate walks out and announces this to the hostile Jews.

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What we have in Luke is what’s called telescoping, which is a compressed version of the telling of an event. In other words, Luke gives us the short version, leaving out many details. (See the GFTM series “The Joy and Angst of Four Gospels” to learned more about telescoping and other literary devices used in the Gospels.)

But, before we move on, go back and reread John’s longer account, because even John leaves out a detail! He does NOT record anything about the hostile Jews specifically telling Pilate that Jesus claimed to be a king! The Jews only accuse Jesus of “doing evil,” but when Pilate brings Jesus inside, the first thing he asks him is, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

What? Why? Where did he come up with that?

We must go back again to Luke’s shorter account to find that detail:

And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” (Luke 23:2)

Ironically, Jesus was indeed a threat to the Roman Empire, just not in the way Pilate thought.

NEXT: More Sexiness & Undesigned Coincidences — including EXTERNAL ones!

Read PART 1: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels: It Don’t Sound Sexy, But Oh Man It Is

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Books By GFTM:

Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God

Other GFTM series:

The Joy & Angst of Four Gospels

Refuting the Mother God Cult

Bible Secrets Re-revealed

Christians & Marijuana

Judge Not?

The Walking Dead & the Christian Worldview