Monday, June 30, 2014

The Prophecy of Tyre

Shakespeare's, Julius Caesar. Homer's, The Iliad. Tolstoy's, War and Peace.

These are all examples of classic literature that are highly regarded by people all over the world. They are praised for their quality, studied by university students and so beloved that they are placed in personal home libraries alongside other such classic and even modern works.

Is the Bible just another example of classic literature? Is it placed on your bookshelf next to Tom Sawyer, Crime and Punishment, Tale of Two Cities and perhaps even the Koran? 

Or is the Bible the inspired word of God as many believe...and as its own pages attest?

As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and therefore deserves a spot on our desks - open, pages dog-eared, verses highlighted, notes in the side-columns - because it is the one book that should truly guide and govern our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

But why do I elevate the Bible above Uncle Tom's Cabin or Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations? Simply because it says that it's the inspired word of God? Am I blindly making a claim about this book without any evidence to back it up?

Not at all.

There are many evidences of the Bible's inspiration, but in this series of articles, I'm appealing to the general prophecies of the Bible as evidence. So far, I've explained...
In this article, I'd like to focus on Ezekiel's prophecy of Tyre.

The Context of Ezekiel 26
The Babylonian army came against the city of Jerusalem on multiple occasions before finally conquering and destroying the city in 586 B.C. Ezekiel was one of the earlier captives carted off to Babylon. It was during his captivity in Babylon that "the heavens were opened" to Ezekiel and he saw "visions of God" (Ezek. 1:1). It is generally believed that his ministry stretched from about 593-573 B.C.

Ezekiel's job as a prophet of God in Babylon was to admonish and teach the other Jewish captives who were in Babylon (2:2-8) and to serve as a "watchman" for Israel" (3:16-21).

He would have been a contemporary of Daniel, whose prophecies we've already considered. He also would have been in Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar ultimately conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C. - something that, though expected, would have been devastating news for the Jewish captives.

While Ezekiel's ministry was largely focused on the captive Jews, he also made prophecies about other nations and cities. In Ezekiel 26, we find a detailed prophecy of the destruction of Tyre, a Phoenician port city that would have been one of the leading cities in that region at that time.

The Prophecy Itself
Here's the prophecy, from Ezekiel 26:1-14...
"1 And it came to pass in the eleventh year, on the first day of the month, that the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2 "Son of man, because Tyre has said against Jerusalem, 'Aha! She is broken who was the gateway of the peoples; now she is turned over to me; I shall be filled; she is laid waste.' 3 Therefore thus says the Lord God: 'Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will cause many nations to come up against you, as the sea causes its waves to come up. 4 And they shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. 5 It shall be a place for spreading nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken,' says the Lord God; 'it shall become plunder for the nations. 6 Also her daughter villages which are in the fields shall be slain by the sword. Then they shall know that I am the Lord.'7 "For thus says the Lord God: 'Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses, with chariots, and with horsemen, and an army with many people. 8 He will slay with the sword your daughter villages in the fields; he will heap up a siege mound against you, build a wall against you, and raise a defense against you. 9 He will direct his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. 10 Because of the abundance of his horses, their dust will cover you; your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen, the wagons, and the chariots, when he enters your gates, as men enter a city that has been breached. 11 With the hooves of his horses he will trample all your streets; he will slay your people by the sword, and your strong pillars will fall to the ground. 12 They will plunder your riches and pillage your merchandise; they will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses; they will lay your stones, your timber, and your soil in the midst of the water.13 I will put an end to the sound of your songs, and the sound of your harps shall be heard no more. 14 I will make you like the top of a rock; you shall be a place for spreading nets, and you shall never be rebuilt, for I the Lord have spoken,' says the Lord God."
Let's break down the many components of the prophecy itself:
  • Many nations would come against Tyre (vs. 3).
  • The city would be destroyed (vs. 4).
  • The city would become bare as a rock (vs. 4).
  • Fishermen would one day spread their nets where the city itself once was, proving its complete destruction (vs. 5, 14).
  • Nebuchadnezzar would come against the city (vs. 7).
  • The rubble of the city would be cast into the sea (vs. 12).
  • The city would never be rebuilt (vs. 14).
Were these prophecies fulfilled? Was Tyre destroyed in this manner? What about the details of this passage? For example, was the rubble of the city cast into the sea? Is there any way for us to know, historically, whether these things came to pass?


After capturing Jerusalem in 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar (king of Babylon) besieged Tyre for 13 years, until 573 B.C. The people of Tyre fled to an island that was half a mile offshore. 

Later in history, Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) arrived at Tyre after having conquered another Phoenician port city, Sidon. When they refused to grant him access to their city, it was war! Using the rubble from the old city (destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar), Alexander’s men build a land bridge to the island. The siege lasted until 332 B.C. when the Greeks conquered Tyre completely!

This website details Alexander's siege of Tyre in great detail and even explains how he built a land bridge, or "mole," from the shoreline to the island. You can see the picture (at right) for a better understanding of this part of the siege.

So, Ezekiel's prophecy was fulfilled exactly!
  • Multiple nations came against Tyre - Babylon, Greece.
  • Nebuchadnezzar led the first assault.
  • The rubble of the city was cast into the sea - Alexander's "mole."
  • The city was scraped bare as a rock.
  • Fishermen did use the old city foundation as a place for spreading their nets.
  • The city was never rebuilt.
Why This is So Amazing!
One might argue that it wouldn't have been so spectacular for Ezekiel to prophecy about Nebuchadnezzar's offensive against the city of Tyre. Tyre was, after all, a leading city in that region, and the Babylonian forces were conquering that very region. In fact, even though Ezekiel's prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar was stated in terms of what would happen (in the future), one might argue that Ezekiel technically may have been alive when it happened and could have written about it after the fact.

However, that doesn't account for the second half of the prophecy. 

How could Ezekiel have known that a second nation would besiege the city? How could he have known that they would have cast the city's rubble into the sea? These things didn't happen for at least another 200 years. Ezekiel would have been long dead by then!

This is yet another example of a Bible prophecy that is so specific in nature that can be confirmed historically by even reputable secular sources.

As with any powerful evidence such as this, there are always going to be the skeptics and naysayers who try to discredit some aspect of the evidence. This is understandable when we know that many of these skeptics begin with the presupposition that there isn't a God. Nevertheless, let's address these questions in some detail here before we conclude our brief study.

Some will contend that the city of Tyre was rebuilt and therefore, the prophecy falls flat. This is an understandable objection. Here are two possible solutions (I think both are true):
  1. "The modern city of Tyre is of modest size and is near the ancient site, though not identical to it. Archaeological photographs of the ancient site show ruins from ancient Tyre scattered over many acres of land. No city has been rebuilt over these ruins, however, in fulfillment of this prophecy." (Dennis and Grudem, “Tyre,” The ESV Study Bible) 
  2. "In point of fact, the mainland city of Tyre later was rebuilt and assumed some of its former importance during the Hellenistic period. But as for the island city, it apparently sank below the surface of the Mediterranean…All that remains of it is a series of black reefs offshore from Tyre, which surely could not have been there in the first and second millennia b.c., since they pose such a threat to navigation. The promontory that now juts out from the coastline probably was washed up along the barrier of Alexander’s causeway, but the island itself broke off and sank away when the subsidence took place; and we have no evidence at all that it ever was built up again after Alexander’s terrible act of vengeance. In the light of these data, then, the predictions of chapter 26, improbable though they must have seemed in Ezekiel’s time, were duly fulfilled to the letter—first by Nebuchadnezzar in the sixth century, and then by Alexander in the fourth." (Archer, “Tyre,” Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties)
Others will contend that Ezekiel must have written this prophecy after the fact, or that somehow, these prophecies were written by someone else after the fact. To respond, I will quote part of an article from Apologetics Press (click here for the full article). Here are the facts (from the article) regarding the timing of Ezekiel's ministry and writings:
  • "No evidence supports the thesis that Ezekiel’s predictions were penned later than 400 B.C. Moreover, the book (Ezek. 1:1; 8:1; 33:1; 40:1-4) claims to have been composed by the prophet sometime in the sixth century, B.C., and Josephus attributes the book to the Hebrew prophet during the time in question" (The Prophet Motive, Kenny Barfield,1995, p. 98).
  • In addition, Ezekiel was included in the Septuagint, which is the “earliest version of the Old Testament Scriptures” available—a translation from Hebrew to Greek which was “executed at Alexandria in the third century before the Christian era” (Septuagint, 1998,p. i).
  • Simon Greenleaf, the lawyer who is renowned for having played a major role in the founding of Harvard Law School and for having written the Treatise on the Law of Evidence, scrutinized several biblical documents in light of the procedures practiced in a court of law. He noted one of the primary laws regarding ancient documents: “Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise” (1995, p. 16).
How is it that Isaiah, Daniel and Ezekiel had such intimate knowledge of future events...most of which occurred long after they were dead and gone? If I made such prophetic statements today, I would astound the world...and rightly so.

A skeptic might not think much about one such prophecy...but three? Don't you see that a pattern is emerging in this book that claims to be divinely inspired and has been viewed as such for thousands of years by so many people in the world? Doesn't this at least cause you to think?
"And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:19-21).

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Prophecy of Cyrus

Introduction - God's Word
If you were to say that the Christian faith is predicated on Christ, you would be absolutely correct. But how do we know about Christ? What tells us that He died for our sins and was resurrected on the third day? What tells us that He is "the way, the truth, and the life?"
The Bible!

While the Christian faith is predicated on Christ, there is another sense in which it is predicated on the Bible, and specifically, the belief that the Bible is the inspired word of God! Yes, everything that defines me as a Christian - rather than a simple theist - is found in the Bible.
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
"For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe" (1 Thess. 2:13).
Like the Thessalonians, I welcome the Bible as "the word of God." I am a Christian because of the message it contains, and my belief that said message is from my Creator.

But how can I know that the Bible's message is from God? Is this something I accept blindly, or because of tradition? While many Christians do not have solid reasons for their faith, I do. Yes, a degree of faith is essential, but by no means is it a blind faith.

In yesterday's article, I explained Daniel's Prophecy of the five kingdoms. In today's article, I'd like to touch on another very detailed, very specific prophecy from the Old Testament that, once again, illuminates the divine inspiration of the word of God.

The Context of Isaiah 44:28
In just a moment, I'll quote the prophecy about Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28, but first, I'd like to establish some very important context. This will aid us in our understanding of the prophecy.

The prophet Isaiah ministered from about 740-700 B.C. (dates vary slightly depending on the source, but these are approximate). According to Isaiah 1:1, he worked primarily with "Judah and Jerusalem" during the days of "Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah."

During Isaiah's ministry, the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians. This took place in 722 B.C. Isaiah even prophesied of this in Isaiah 10:5-11. Apparently, after they laid waste to the Jews in the north, the Assyrians were planning to take Jerusalem as well. It was a stressful time for King Hezekiah and the Jews in the south, but God intervened and they were spared from war (Isaiah 36-37)

Despite the fall of Israel (in the north), the pressure against Judah and the moral decay of the Jews at large, the city of Jerusalem - the heart of the southern kingdom - was preserved. Even the famous temple of Solomon endured this stressful time relatively unscathed.

The Prophecy
"Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and He who formed you from the womb: I am the Lord, who makes all things, who stretches out the heavens all alone...Who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, 'You shall be built,' and to the temple, 'Your foundation shall be laid.' Thus says the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held - to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings" (Isaiah 44:24, 28-45:1).
There are a few highlights in this passage worth hitting:
  • God would use an individual named Cyrus to accomplish His will.
  • Cyrus would order the reconstruction of the city of Jerusalem.
  • Cyrus would order the reconstruction of the temple.
Did these things come to pass? Was there even a man named Cyrus?


Cyrus was a Persian king who reigned from 559-529 B.C., approximately 150 years after Isaiah's ministry in Judah. He was the king who conquered the city and empire of Babylon in October of 539 B.C. This was during the captivity of the Jews in Babylon. Because Babylon came under the control of Persia, the Jewish people became subjects of Persia. Thankfully, their new king was benevolent. He gave them permission to return to their homeland, rebuild their city and their temple!

There is both biblical and historical evidence that these things really happened!

First, from the Bible:
"Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, 'Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up'" (2 Chronicles 36:22-23).
First of all, the prophecy of Jeremiah that is mentioned here can be found in Jeremiah 29:10. This was a prophecy that God would bring the Jewish people back to their homeland. Cyrus certainly fulfilled that prophecy!

But Cyrus also fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 44:28. As king of Persia, his heart was "stirred up" by God to order the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem!

But there is also historical evidence of this as well.

The Cyrus Cylinder (pictured at right). This is a clay cylinder inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform that records Cyrus' conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C. On the cylinder, Cyrus claimed to have brought relief to the inhabitants of Babylon, return a number of the religious images of the captives to them, and even restore their temples!

Why This is So Amazing!
First of all, Isaiah made the prophecy about Cyrus over 100 years before Cyrus was even born! How did Isaiah know anything about Cyrus? I mean, it would be one thing if Isaiah had prophesied that a nameless "king" would come and help the Jewish people. That would be very generic and we could easily glance over this text without giving it a second thought.

Imagine if I said that, "100 years from now, a president will...rebuild Washington D.C." Okay, that's possible. But what if I said, "100 years from now, a president by the name of Julius Randle will rebuild Washington D.C." Would you be impressed? Absolutely! Note: I picked Julius Randle because I'm a fan of Kentucky basketball.

But not only did Isaiah mention the king by name, he was specific about what Cyrus would do. And remember, both Jerusalem and the temple were standing during Isaiah's time. So Isaiah was implying that they would be destroyed (which they were in 586 B.C.), would therefore need to be rebuilt...and that Cyrus would be the one to give the order.

Here's the question...

How did Isaiah know this? How could he have known this?

There is no human explanation. Not for a prophecy like this that is so specific and that has both biblical and historical confirmation!

An Objection
There is always some kind of objection to information as powerful as this. As I pointed out with the Daniel prophecy, the only viable objection is that Isaiah's prophecy wasn't written during the ministry or time of Isaiah (in the 8th century), but later, after these events had already happened.

The argument is made that Isaiah 1-39 were written by Isaiah during his lifetime, and that Isaiah 40-66 must have been written by various other authors later on. Some will point out that there is a clear transition in the text of chapter 40 - that while the first 39 chapters were written in the land of Israel before its fall to Babylon, the latter part of Isaiah was written from the land of Babylon.

Please note that this is NOT stated in the text.

While it may appear that the events and prophecies of Isaiah 40-66 were written at a later date, this position doesn't take into account the very nature of prophecy and foreknowledge. In other words, the only real reason to assign Isaiah 40-66 to a different author(s) and a later date is because many struggle to believe that Isaiah could have prophesied so accurately about the future.

Furthermore, Jesus assigned the later chapters of the book of Isaiah to Isaiah himself, not to some other author. See Matthew 3:3; 12:17-18; John 12:38-41; Acts 8:28.

An excellent article on this object can be accessed here.

I'd like to think that I'm a reasonable person. If a prophecy is generic or potentially self-fulfilling, I'm not going to present it as strong evidence of the Bible's inspiration (even though, from a Christian perspective, I still view such prophecies as valid).

But the prophecy of Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28 is very specific. Just like the prophecy of the sequence of kingdoms in Daniel 2 was very specific.

In other words, there's a pattern in the Bible. We're starting to see that the authors of Scripture, especially the Old Testament, had special insight into future events. The only explanation for this pattern is that these men were inspired by the God they claimed to serve, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

And just as Daniel's prophecy included details of the kingdom of Christ, Isaiah's writings have a similar impact. If Isaiah 44:28 is impressive, what about Isaiah 53 where we find a detailed prophecy of a man who "bore the sins of many" (Is. 53:12)?

Did Isaiah just get lucky? There's no way.

Can his writings be assigned to a later date? No.

Was Isaiah a prophet of the God of heaven?

I believe so...and if he was...

...there's a Savior named Jesus who is willing to bear your sins.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Daniel's Prophecy - Five Kingdoms

I conclude that there is a God based on my examination of the natural world - its order, beauty and complexity. The Scriptures even indicate that the natural world proves the reality of a Creator (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20). 

However, my Christian faith is predicated, not on the natural world, but the Bible. If it weren't for the Bible, I would be a deist in the very least, but because of the Bible, I am a Christian.

There are a lot of Christians out there who believe the Bible simply because they grew up in a Christian home, or in America, a so-called "Christian nation." Others may have other motivations for seeing the Bible as God's revelation to mankind. 

For me, there is an abundance of both internal and external evidence of the Bible's divine authorship. In other words, my studies and research have led me to believe that the Bible could not possibly have been written by uninspired men.

While there is an abundance of evidence, in this article, I'd like to focus on the evidence of prophecy. To keep it simple, I'm going to discuss one particular prophecy in the Bible: Daniel's prophecy of the kingdoms.

A Succession of Four Kingdoms
In Daniel 2, we learn that King Nebuchadnezzar (a historical figure) dreamed of a statue which consisted of four parts:
  1. A head of gold
  2. Chest and arms of silver
  3. Belly and thighs of bronze
  4. Feet of iron and clay
The prophet Daniel interpreted the king's dream in Daniel 2:36-45. He prophesied that each of these four parts represented a kingdom. This is spelled out in the text.
"You, O king, are a king of are this head of gold. But after you shall arise another kingdom, inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron...(44)And in the days of these kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed..." 

So the "head of gold" is identified in this passage as being the kingdom of Babylon...a kingdom which we know existed. It was the Babylonians who had conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and carried the Jewish people into captivity. Daniel was one of those captives.

The second kingdom that followed Babylon, though not named in the text, is named elsewhere in the book of Daniel. In Daniel 5:26-31, Daniel told the Babylonian king Belshazzar that "Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians." So the second kingdom, the kingdom that followed Babylon, was the Medo-Persian kingdom. This is stated in the book, and this is a well-known historical fact.

What about the third kingdom? 

In Daniel 8, we find the vision of the ram and goat. To make a long story short, a male goat with one horn obliterated a ram with two horns. In verses 20-23, it says, "The ram which you saw, having the two horns - they are the kings of Media and Persia. And the male goat is the kingdom of GREECE. The large horn that is between its eyes is the first king. As for the broken horn and the four that stood up in its place, four kingdoms shall arise out of that nation, but not with its power."

Historically, the Grecian empire conquered the Persian empire. We also know that the Grecian empire was led by a famous king, Alexander the Great. However, Daniel prophesied that the first king would be broken and the Grecian kingdom would be divided four ways. We know, historically, that Alexander died at an early age, following which, his kingdom was split and given to his generals. The two strongest Grecian kingdoms were those of Ptolemy and Seleucid.

And finally, the FOURTH kingdom - the one following Greece - was the Roman empire. We know this is what happened historically, but even within the book of Daniel, there is evidence, I believe, of this. In Daniel 11, as Daniel explains in great detail the downfall of Persia, the emergence of Greece, and the political turmoil that Greece would experience, he eventually makes mention of "ships from Kittim" (vs. 29), which many translate as Rome.

In closing, the sequence of kingdoms prophesied in Daniel are:
  1. Babylon
  2. Medo-Persia
  3. Greece
  4. Rome
Biblically and historically, we know this to be true.

The Fifth Kingdom
You may recall from Daniel 2 that during the fourth kingdom, God would set up a kingdom.
"In the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever."
In Daniel 7, Daniel "had a dream and visions in his head," the details of which correspond to what we've read in Daniel 2. Instead of a statue made up of four parts, Daniel sees a vision of four beasts (lion, bear, leopard, and a "dreadful and terrible" fourth beast) that represent the same four kingdoms that have already been mentioned.

But in the Daniel 7 prophecy, MUCH more attention is given to the kingdom that God would set up during the days of this fourth earthly kingdom (i.e. Rome). I could easily devote a lot of attention to this prophecy of God's kingdom, but here are the highlights:
  • God, the "Ancient of Days" sits in His judgment seat (vs. 9-10).
  • "One like the Son of Man" goes to the Ancient of Days (vs. 13).
  • The Son of Man is given "dominion and glory and a kingdom" (vs. 14).
  • One of the Roman kings (vs.7-8, 11-12) makes "war with the saints" (vs. 21) until God is seen coming in judgment against it (vs. 21-22).
Regarding the fulfillment of these prophecies of God's kingdom from Daniel 2 and Daniel 7, consider with me the following points from the New Testament:
  • Jesus was alive, not during the days of Persia or Greece, but of Rome (the fourth kingdom).
  • His ministry revolved around the teaching that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). When asked by Pilate if He (Jesus) was a king, He answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth" (John 18:38).
  • 40 days after Jesus was resurrected, He ascended "to the Ancient of Days." His ascension is recorded in Acts 1:9-11.
  • Not long thereafter, while preaching the first gospel sermon to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter said that Christ was raised up "to sit on his throne" (Acts 2:30) at the right hand of God (vs. 34). In other words, when Jesus came to the Ancient of Days, He received "dominion and glory and a kingdom."
While some might object on the basis that Christ never set up a kingdom that has filled the earth, the answer is in understanding the spiritual nature of the kingdom. Jesus Himself said the following...
"The kingdom of God does not come with observation...for indeed, the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20-21).
"My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here" (John 18:36).
The kingdom of Christ was/is spiritual in nature. It wasn't going to fill the earth and dominate these other kingdoms by means of war and violence, but by means of salvation and persuasion. In fact, the prophecy in Daniel 7 confirms the spiritual nature of the kingdom because it would be persecuted by the Roman empire (another detail of the prophecy); this wasn't a kingdom that would conquer with a sword. 

From a Christian perspective, the kingdom of God has taken on the form of the church (Matthew 16:18-19; Colossians 1:13-14; Phil. 3:20-21; Revelation 1:9, et al).

What Makes This So Amazing
Daniel's life and ministry in Babylon took place in the sixth century B.C. while many of the Jews were in captivity in Babylon. As historical references, Jerusalem was conquered in 586 B.C. and the temple was rebuilt by 516 B.C.

Regarding the rise and fall of the subsequent kingdoms:
  • King Cyrus of Persia conquered the city of Babylon in 539 B.C.
  • Alexander the Great was born in 356 B.C. in Pelia. He died in 324 B.C. It was in the second century B.C. that a weakened Grecian empire was overtaken by Rome, becoming part of the emerging Roman empire.
  • While Rome existed as a city-state as early as 753 B.C., it wasn't until 338 B.C. that it really began to aggressively assert itself.
What's clear from these dates is that Daniel prophesied in great detail of the rise and fall of these four kingdoms long before these events happened. Granted, Daniel was alive when Persia conquered Babylon in 539 B.C., and it's not hard to believe that he could have seen this coming. 

But how could he have known of the eventual rise of Greece and Rome? Both of these nations were but city-states at the time. It would be comparable to a political analyst today predicting that Mexico will become a dominant world empire within the next 200 years, and that South Africa will conquer Mexico and dominate the world next.

And don't forget that Daniel prophesied, not only that Greece would conquer Persia, but that Greece would be led by a powerful king whose kingdom would be divided four ways following his death. How could Daniel have known these details?

There's no way that anyone can reasonably argue that Daniel just "got lucky." Yes, political gurus today can make predictions about elections and world events based on current trends and statistics, but not only do they often get it wrong, they cannot accurately predict the details of world events that will transpire over the next four hundred years.

With regard to God's kingdom, how could Daniel have known when Jesus would be born? How could he have known of the conflict between Rome and the church?

Objection: The Book of Daniel Was Written After the Fact
The only viable objection that a skeptic can make is that the book of Daniel was NOT written by Daniel or by anyone in the 6th century B.C., but that it was written after the fact. A common "late date" proposed by skeptics is 168-165 B.C. Of course, by this point, the main events of Daniel's prophesied (with the exception of God's kingdom) would have already transpired.

The main problem with this objection is that there is ample evidence for an early date.

First of all, the writings of Daniel were included in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Septuagint was translated between 300-200 B.C.  For the writings of Daniel to have been included, they would had to have been widely known and accepted by the Jewish people.

Also, three scrolls containing excerpts of Daniel were found in the caves at Qumran among what have become known as "the Dead Sea Scrolls." The earliest scroll has been dated to 168 B.C., but again, the ultra-conservative Jews who lived at Qumran would only have accepted the writings of Daniel if they were widely known, trusted and validated.

It has also been observed by scholars and linguists, of which I am neither, that the language of Daniel matches an early date.

Here are two additional articles that delve into the dating of Daniel:

Daniel's prophecies of the five kingdoms are just a sampling of the many prophecies found in the pages of the Bible that were specific, detailed...and fulfilled in history. The question then becomes: how could Daniel and these others have foreknown such information? Any honest observer, after carefully weighing the evidence, will conclude that no human could so accurately predict the future. This is evidence, in my mind, that Daniel was inspired by someone who did know what would come to pass. Daniel is clear - and I think the implication is clear - that He was inspired by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

If the writings of Daniel were divinely inspired, and if he accurately described the sequence of kingdoms that would rise and fall, from Babylon to Rome...what does that say about Daniel's prophecy of God's kingdom and "the son of man?"

The potential impact of these prophecies cannot be understated. If Daniel wrote by divine inspiration:
  • There is a God.
  • He is the God of the Old Testament.
  • Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of God's kingdom.
  • Jesus is King over an eternal, spiritual kingdom.
  • We are subject to the rule and reign of Christ.
Where does that leave you, dear reader?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Top Ten" Bible Contradictions

A good friend of mine who happens to be an atheist recently made the point that the main reasons he abandoned Christianity in favor of atheism was the abundance of glaring contradictions that he uncovered in the Bible. He then proceeded to list 10 of these contradictions. 

In this article, my objective is to show how these apparent contradictions can be reconciled and harmonized.

Here they are...

10. Is god peaceful? According to Exodus 15:3, he is not: 'The Lord is a man of war. The Lord is his name.' Yet when we get to Romans 15:33, we find, 'Now the God of peace be with you all.'

From 27 B.C. to 180 A.D., the Roman empire experienced what has been called "the Pax Romana" (Roman peace), which was a period of Rome's history when its citizens enjoyed relative peace. But this period was not completely devoid of conflict, turmoil, or enacted justice. Rome burned in A.D. 64 during the reign of Nero. Rome fought a war against the Jews not long thereafter that climaxed with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Furthermore, there was conflict within the empire over the emergence of Christianity. Christians and others were being put to death in the Coliseum.

As I have explained in past articles, there is no inherent contradiction between peace and justice, love and war, blessing and suffering.

God is peace in that He offers peace. Paul sums this up well in Philippians 4:6-7 when he writes, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." There may be suffering and conflict in one's life. God is peace, not because He only allows for peace to exist in the world or even in our lives, but because He offers peace (i.e. contentment, hope) to us in the midst of such hardships.

At the same time, God is "a man of war" in that He is just and will punish the rebellious hearts of men.

Throughout the Scriptures, we see God offering peace and blessings to His people (and to all who will accept His will) while simultaneously warning of the consequences of sin and rebellion. In the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 28 illustrates this contrast well. In the New Testament, Romans 11:22 says, "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off."

I will only add that even we as people exhibit these characteristics in our own lives. A person might be very peaceful and a great friend, but if you threaten his family or seek to do Him harm, he will stand his ground. I just don't see how this can possibly be seen as a contradiction.

9. In a similar vein, is God good? Psalm 145:9 says, 'The Lord is good to all,’ and Deuteronomy 32:4, ‘a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he’. Awesome, God is great! Until….. Jeremiah 18:11: ‘Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I frame evil against you and devise a device against you,’ and Ezekiel 20:25-26, ‘I gave them also statues that were not good and judgments whereby they should not live and I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire that openeth the womb that I might make them desolate.’ Oh my.

The word evil in Jeremiah 18:11 is from the Hebrew word ra' ra'ah and is a generic term that can refer to evil, distress, grief, disaster and a number of other things. The NKJV of this verse reads: "Thus says the Lord: 'Behold, I am bringing disaster and devising a plan against you." So this text doesn't describe God as a bully, but as just and wrathful. No Christian denies this. Well, at least I don't.

As I have already proven, there is no inherent contradiction between love and justice. I'd like to think that I'm good to all of my children. And yet when they break the rules, there are consequences. Our government would claim to be benevolent toward its citizenship, and yet we know that the wrath of the government will descend upon the one who exhibits disregard for its laws. Would you, dear reader, call me a hypocrite for claiming to be good to my kids when, at times, I discipline them? I hope not.

Regarding Ezekiel 20:25-26, my friend is taking this passage out of context. In verses 21-24, we learn that Israel rebelled against God's law repeatedly; they made it clear that they had no intention of serving God despite all the good He had shown them over the years. So in verses 25-26, God is making the point that He would allow them to continue down such a rebellious path knowing that such a path would result in their just condemnation. The point is not that God gave them statutes that weren't good, but that He "gave them up to statutes that were not good" (vs. 25, NKJV). If you are willing to do further study here, you might compare this to Matthew 15:14 and Romans 1:28.

8. One of my favorites is who gets punished for sins. Ezekiel 18:20 says, 'The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father.' But then when we look at Exodus 20:5, we find, 'I the lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.'

The key here is in understanding that there are spiritual as well as physical consequences of sin.

In Ezekiel 18, God is making the point that the spiritual consequences of sin are not passed on from one generation to the next. Instead, "the soul who sins shall die" (vs. 4). Of course, all men die, so we're speaking here of spiritual, not physical death. This is clear throughout the chapter.

However, in Exodus 20:5, I believe that God is speaking of national judgments that would have been physical in nature. In other words, if one generation is wicked, the physical ramifications may impact successive generations. Here's an example from the Bible itself...

King Manasseh was a very, very wicked king (2 Kings 21). It even says in verse 16: "Moreover Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides his sin by which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the Lord." As a result, the Lord spoke through the prophets, saying, "Behold, I am bringing such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah..."

Manasseh died, and his son, Amon, reigned in his place. Amon was also wicked. Then Amon died and the people made his son, Josiah, king in his place. In 2 Kings 22, we learn that Josiah was a righteous king who reformed the nation. But notice 2 Kings 23:26...
"Nevertheless the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him..."
Additional commentary from Scripture will reveal that, though Josiah implemented religious and social reform, the people still maintained many of the evil practices that started with Manasseh. Even still, God was "visiting the iniquity of the fathers [Manasseh, in this case, CJH] upon the children unto the third and fourth generation."

So the Ezekiel passage is about the spiritual consequences of sin while the Exodus passage is about the physical and national consequences of sin.

7. Are all sins forgivable? Mark 3:28-29 tells us, ‘I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.' So it seems that there is at least one sin that cannot be forgiven. Yet, 1 John 1:9 says otherwise ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’.

First of all, there is no contradiction between Mark 3:29 and 1 John 1:9 just as there is no contradiction between Mark 3:28 and Mark 3:29. If God says - and I'm paraphrasing - "I will forgive every sin but this one particular sin, that one sin would always be exempt from the hope of forgiveness.

But actually, a deeper study of the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" is in order here.

In what context did Jesus mention the "unforgivable sin," as it's so often called? In the parallel account in Matthew 12, we learn that Jesus was performing miracles and casting out demons (vs. 22-23). The Pharisees, who despised Jesus, responded by saying, "This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons." Jesus was casting out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18), not by the power of Satan. Such an accusation illuminated their dishonest and wicked hearts.

It is my belief that "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" (as defined in the context) was/is unforgivable, not because God won't forgive the person who repents of this sin, but because the person who commits this sin will not repent. Such a dishonest, wicked heart will not soften enough to meet the conditions stipulated for forgiveness to occur (i.e. Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9). This sin will not be forgiven because this sin will not be repented of. I believe the context bears this out.

But again, even if I'm wrong here, there is no contradiction because the exception to forgiveness is stipulated. 

By way of illustration, let's say that the company you work for tells its employees that there is a three-strikes rule for all violations except for stealing; if an employee steals from the company, they will be immediately fired. Now let's say that an employee shows up for work late one day and the boss says to him, "You're late, that's strike one!" but doesn't reiterate the fact that the three-strikes rule doesn't apply to stealing. Did the boss lie to this employee? Of course not!

6. While on the topic of sin, I have often wondered whether anyone had NEVER sinned. Romans 3:23 says, ‘For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ But what about Job? Job 1:1 says, ‘There was a man who name was Job and that man was perfect and upright’. Maybe Romans was written before Job and the authors didn’t get the memo about the update.

Regarding the statement in Job 1:1, the word "perfect" doesn't mean sinless. The Hebrew word is tam and means, "complete; usually (morally) pious; specifically gentle, dear: - coupled together, perfect, plain, undefiled, upright." 

In the New Testament, the Greek equivalent is teleios. It is said in a number of places that Christians can be "perfect" (KJV), or "mature/complete" (NKJV, et al). In Philippians 3:17, Paul writes, "Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind..." In 2 Timothy 3:17, we're told that the Scriptures can make us "complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."

I have no doubt that Job sinned, for all have sinned and fall short of God's glory. But he was a spiritually mature (perfect) man who was committed to a path of righteousness.

The KJV was written during a time when many of these words had a slightly different meaning than they do today. The more modern translations have translated the same Hebrew and Greek words into vernacular that is much more common. So instead of seeing the word "perfect" in the KJV and imposing upon it the 21st century meaning, see the word "complete." This immediately resolves the dilemma.

5. Is it ever OK to seek and celebrate revenge against an enemy? Psalm 58:10-11 says, 'The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.’ But then Proverbs 24:17-18 says this is not true: ‘Do not gloat when your enemy falls, when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice’.

Psalm 58 is an imprecatory psalm, which is a psalm detailing God's judgment (or the prayer for judgment) against the enemies of God's people. Because God is clearly just, and because He promises to care for His people, it is appropriate for God's people to acknowledge this aspect of God's character and to pray for His justice to be implemented.

I know that an atheist may not buy this part of my explanation, but I believe that the people in Psalm 58 are rejoicing, not because they get some kind of sick, twisted pleasure from their enemies' pain, but because they God has vindicated them and come to their aid. In the very next verse, verse 11, David goes on to say, "So that men will say, 'Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely He is God who judges the earth.'"

By way of illustration, let's say that a coworker starts a vicious rumor about you. Others begin to talk, and slowly but surely, you are seen by your coworkers in a very negative light. Eventually, you take this issue to your manager. After explaining and disproving the gossip, your manager fires the coworker who started the rumor and your name is cleared! Are you going to rejoice in the judgment? Yes. Are you going to rejoice that this coworker has been fired? Yes and no. Yes, because justice has been served. No, because a person has lost his/her job and now their family is going to be in a bind. But either way, your main joy is going to come from the fact that your manager cared enough to intervene and that your name has been cleared.

In Proverbs 24:17-18, Solomon is telling us not to be smug and arrogant when our enemy faces hardship. I'm reminded of the spoiled child who enjoys watching his/her sibling get a spanking.

We can ask for God to vindicate and avenge us...and can be thankful when He does, all the while loving our enemies. Paul puts it beautifully in Romans 12:19-21...
"Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. Therefore, 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap coals of fire on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
4. Should we kill? Exodus 20:13 says, ‘Thou shalt not kill’. Seems blunt and to the point; I like it! But then I read a little further on in Exodus 32:27, ‘Thus sayeth the Lord God of Israel, put every man his sword by his side and slay every man his brother, companion, neighbor’. Also, see I Samuel 15:2: 'Thus saith the Lord, now go and smite Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not.’ Of course, let's not forget that killing is never OK, unless you pick up sticks on Saturdays ‘And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones and he died, as the Lord commanded Moses’ (Numbers 15:36).

There is a difference between murder and killing in the Scriptures. In the Ten Commandments (and many other places in the Bible), God is condemning murder. In these other passages, God is authorizing the act of killing in the context of capital punishment and war.

Remember, Israel was both a religious and civil nation. They had laws that governed their worship and religious service, but they also had civil laws, a physical government and national borders. In our country, a person can unlawfully commit murder and as a result be lawfully killed by means of capital punishment; a violent mob is acting unlawfully, but a structured battalion in the military may fight and kill in the cause of war. There is no contradiction.

3. Along with killing, I always thought stealing was pretty bad and was comforted when Exodus 20:15 said, ‘Thou shalt not steal’. But then I remembered Exodus 3:22: ‘And ye shall spoil the Egyptians’. Also lets not forget that time Jesus got a bit crazy and persuaded two of the disciples to steal a horse for him (Luke 19:29-34).

The two examples that are cited here as evidence that stealing may not be wrong (in the Bible) are being taken way out of context.

In Exodus 3:22, only part of the verse is quoted. Notice verses 21-22 together...
"And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go out empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians."
Later, in Exodus 12:35-37, we see the actual fulfillment of this promise. Again, the people "asked from the Egyptians" and had "favor in the sight of the Egyptians."

So God wasn't commanding them to steal from their neighbors in contradiction to the command, "Thou shalt not steal." After all that God had done miraculously to the land of Egypt, the people of Egypt feared God and His people; they willingly gave these things to the Israelites.

In the second passage - Luke 19:29-34 - even a surface reading of this passage will make it abundantly clear that the disciples were stealing the donkey, but borrowing it from people who were willing to let the Lord use it. The parallel account in Mark gives us additional insight into the response of the donkey's owners: "So they let them go."

2. Slavery. Is it OK, and should slaves be obedient? Colossians 3:22 says, 'Servants, obey in all things your masters.’ Even Jesus seems to have thought slavery was normal: ‘And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will shall be beaten with many stripes (Luke 12:47, 48). But thankfully, not everyone in the Bible was nuts ‘Undo the heavy burdens, let the oppressed go free, break every yoke’ (Isaiah 58:6)

I want to first of all address the various instances of "slavery" in the Bible:
  • In the Old Testament, a form of slavery was etched into the Law of Moses. This was not like the slavery of colonial America where humans were forced into (or born into) a lifetime of slavery because of the color of their skin. The slavery of the Old Testament was more akin to indentured service, a form of voluntary slavery where a person willfully became a servant to a master to pay off a debt (Leviticus 25:39). Even then, slaves were to be released every seventh year, in the "Year of Jubilee."
  • There was another form of "slavery" where a conquered nation would be placed in a subservient position to Israel (e.g. Joshua 9; 1 Kings 9:20-22). But again, this wasn't slavery as we generally understand and define it.
  • During the first century, the Roman Empire established a system of slavery as well. In Luke 12:47-48, Jesus is in the middle of teaching the "Parable of the Faithful & Evil Servant." A parable was a story using common, well-understood, earthly language to convey a spiritual lesson. Slavery was common in the first century. Moreover, justice was often meted out within the house of the slave-owner. Jesus uses this societal structure to convey a spiritual lesson about our preparation, or lack thereof, for the Day of Judgment.
  • In the New Testament, Jesus nor His apostles ever authorized a slave system. After all, Christianity isn't a civic entity, but a spiritual entity (John 18:36-37; Romans 13). The rules and commands regarding slavery (Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22, et al) are given to Christians who lived within the framework of a slave system. Christian slave-owners are instructed to show kindness to their servants, while Christian servants are instructed to work hard for their masters.
Regarding Isaiah 58:6, God was condemning social injustice, not a system of indentured service that was properly governed and maintained (under the old law). To say that this is a contradiction is like saying that we cannot allow for employment in this country while also condemning poor working conditions and low pay should they exist

1. Is God capricious? Does he change his mind? Malachi 3:6 says, ‘For I am the Lord; I change not’. Seems clear. James 1:17 says, ‘the father of lights, with whom is no variableness’. OK, all still good. But then………Jonah 3:10: ‘God repented of the evil.’ Genesis 6:6: ‘And it repented the Lord that he had made man on earth.’ Also, remember that crazy time in Genesis 18:23-33 when Gods mind was changed by Abraham….a human, about the number of righteous people in Sodom to avoid destruction? (He was bargained down from 50 to 10 for those keeping track).

In Jonah 3:10 and Genesis 6:6, God changed His reaction to a situation when the conditions changed. In the case of Nineveh (in Jonah), God planned to destroy the city because of its wickedness. When the people repented of their wickedness - when the conditions changed - God changed His reaction. Isn't that the point of preaching?

Likewise, in Genesis, God created man to be in fellowship with Him. Even after the fall of man in chapter three, God provided the means by which the people could serve Him. But when the conditions changed - when mankind as a whole fell so far from God - God changed course and opted for judgment instead of fellowship because of the extent of their depravity.

Finally, in Genesis 18:23-33 - I'll also throw in Exodus 32:30-35 - we do not see God changing His character or nature. I actually love these passages because they illustrate an oft-ignored principle of Scripture. Consider the following verses to see what I'm saying:
"Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you" (John 15:13-14).
"And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' And he was called a friend of God" (James 2:23). 
"The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16).
In other words, God is willing to hear what we have to say. The account in Genesis 18 doesn't weaken the consistency of God's character; rather, it affirms a prevailing biblical truth about God's character, namely, His desire for intimate fellowship with His people.

These are just ten of the many alleged contradictions that skeptics have found within the pages of God's word. It is my firm conviction that these are not contradictions at all because through deeper study, these verses can be reconciled and harmonized with each other.

I do not expect this article to convince atheists that the Bible is God's inspired word, or that it contains a consistent message, or that it is void of error. However, I do hope that this article may soften at least one person's harsh, critical stance against the Bible and lead to a more honest, in-depth examination of the book upon which I build my faith. 

In the very least, I hope that any Christians who may have seen this "top ten" list online - or who have encountered other such objections - may be emboldened in their faith based on my effort to rightly divide God's holy word in this article.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

God is Peace...right?

I attended a meeting of the Secular Student Alliance last night on the campus of the University of Nevada. Actually, it was more of a discussion group than a meeting, and I've taken part in many such discussions over the past 6-9 months or so. This group, which consists primarily of atheists and agnostics, has debated and discussed a wide range of issues, from morality to free-will to the demographics of the atheistic community.

Last night's discussion centered around the question, "Is God peace?" Or, "Is God love?" This question was inspired, I believe, by a bumper sticker someone had seen recently.

Christians, of course, will answer in the affirmative. God is called the "God of peace" in Romans 15:33, and we're told in 1 John 4:8 that "God is love." 

However, from the perspective of an atheist or skeptic, how can God be characterized by peace and love in light of the following observations:

  • Pain and suffering in the world
  • Birth defects and intellectual disabilities
  • The seemingly unchecked advancement of evil and cruelty
  • Atrocities in the Bible (i.e. genocide)
  • The concept of eternal damnation (which seems cruel and unjust)
All of these objections were raised in last night's discussion. I must admit that, being the only representative of the Christian faith, it was a bit difficult to answer the flurry of questions. In this article, I'd like to address some of these objections in greater detail. First, I'll explain the various reasons for suffering in the world today. Then, I'll address the issue of eternal damnation.

Reasons for Suffering
Some questions are straightforward, and the answer is simple. Other questions are very deep and require a much more detailed response. The question of suffering falls into the latter category. There is no one statement that will address all aspects of human suffering. Biblically speaking, there are many causes of suffering in the world.

Ultimately, most suffering is the result of sin, whether directly or indirectly.

Suffering is the direct result of sin in the following cases:
  • Sin often has physical and/or emotional consequences. The sin of fornication may result in venereal diseases or an unwanted pregnancy. Drinking may result in drunk driving accidents, fatalities, extra-marital affairs and damaged relationships (Proverbs 23:29-35). The Bible - especially the book of Proverbs - warns of the consequences of gossiping, losing your temper, falling prey to lust and adultery, laziness, greed, etc. The suffering isn't always physical; it is often emotional. There are long term emotional consequences of sin: shame, guilt, bitterness, and so on. We often suffer because we've chosen to reject God's will, or at least we fail to live by His will. "And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always" (Deuteronomy 6:24).
  • Suffering can also occur when God punishes us individually because of our sin. Hebrews 12:3-7 makes it clear that God chastens His children when they sin. "If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten" (vs. 7). 
  • We also find numerous examples in the Bible where God punished an entire nation or region because of its sinfulness. He rained fire and brimstone down on Sodom, Gomorrah and the other cities of the plain in Genesis 19. He often used one nation to punish another nation (Isaiah 10). The book of Revelation lays out God's judgments against the Roman empire because of its godlessness and persecution of Christians. And believe it or not, the example of genocide (as recorded in the book of Joshua) was actually an expression of God's justice. The 'conquering of Canaan' served a dual-purpose: it allowed the Jews to obtain the land which God had promised to Abraham, while also bringing God's judgment against the Amorites and other nations which inhabited Canaan (Genesis 15:16).
Suffering can also be the indirect result of sin. Consider these points:
  • A person's choice to sin not only impacts them, but others as well. No one lives in a bubble. If I cheat on my wife, I'm going to suffer for it. But my wife and six children will suffer for it as well, not to mention the many others that I would disappoint and let down. On a larger scale, a leader of a country may cause untold suffering by pursuing a course of cruelty (i.e. Hitler). In all such cases, God isn't the cause of the suffering; the suffering is, instead, the result of man's choice to make ungodly choices.
  • Then there are the natural disasters, the birth defects and diseases. In each of these cases, the suffering does not appear to be tied to anyone's sin in particular. What about the tsunami that kills a quarter of a million people? What about the innocent baby that is born with with cerebral palsy, severe autism or a mental illness such as schizophrenia? In response, I will quote Romans 8:18-21...
"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."
The "creation" here is the natural world. When mankind sinned, the natural world was "subjected to futility" and "corruption." Whether God adjusted the system, stepped back from the system or allowed Satan to have more sway over the system I cannot say for sure. But what this passage tells me is that man's sin has corrupted the natural world. If you view sin as a cancer and the natural world as a body, the more that the cancer goes untreated, the more corrupt and infected the earth will become.

In all of this, God allows us to deal with the direct and indirect consequences of sin.

First of all, this is an essential component of free-will. For every cause, there is an effect. If there are no consequences for bad choices, free-will is a game, an illusion.

Secondly, suffering has benefits. "And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:3-4). Even the atheist should agree with this in theory. You've heard the expression, "No pain, no gain." Suffering has a way of building our character.

Third, suffering shows us our need for God. Whether the suffering is the direct result of our sin or the indirect result of others' sin, it reveals our vulnerability and mortality, which, in turn, points us to a God who offers a path to a better life. Jesus says, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

So we can't blame God when we're suffering. We choose to sin. Those around us choose to sin. Sin has consequences. We live in a fallen world, and in this fallen world, our suffering ought to illuminate, if anything, our desperate need for God.

Finally, there are three forms of suffering that cannot be attributed directly or indirectly to sin:
  • Suffering also exists because of Satan's influence. The story of Job illustrates this. While God permitted Satan to inflict suffering upon Job, Satan is the one who did it...and he did it because he wanted Job to curse God and abandon his faith. Even today we're told to "be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom He may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
  • God may allow suffering because He has a greater purpose in mind. In John 9:1-5, we are introduced to a man who had been blind from birth. Jesus' disciples asking Him, "'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.'" There may be times where God allows suffering or even creates adverse circumstances, not because He's punishing anyone, but because He has a greater purpose in mind. In this story, the man was born blind so that one day, Jesus could heal him and bring glory to God as a result.
  • Sometimes, there is no particular reason behind a person's suffering. In other words, God isn't behind it. We're told in Ecclesiastes 9:11 that "the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all." Jesus affirms this in Matthew 5:45 when He says that "your Father in heaven...makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."
Before I move on to my final point about eternal damnation, I want to clarify two things about suffering in the world today. These points are critical.
  1. Rather than look for the reason for each instance of suffering, we ought to react to suffering by recognizing our own mortality and thus our need for God. When asked about a tragedy that had occurred at the hand of Pilate, Jesus responded, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered these things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:2-3).
  2. The question, "Is God peace?" can be answered with a resounding 'Yes!' Likewise, we can all affirm without hesitation that He is love. But this is an oversimplication of His character. While this point really merits much deeper analysis and explanation, suffice it to say that (1) God is also a God of justice (Psalm 89:14), and that (2) In His infinite love, He allows suffering to exist because He respects our free-will and wants us to respond by turning to Him. By way of comparison, I deeply love my children. But I will still discipline them when they misbehave (thus robbing them momentarily of peace) and allow them to suffer the consequences of their actions in hopes that they will learn and grow from it. So there is no contradiction.
What About Eternal Damnation?
One of the most common and effective arguments against the love of God is the concept of eternal damnation in a fiery hell. In the discussion last night on campus, the issue of hell was raised on multiple occasions. In the minds of many, it seems unfair and unjust for God to send seemingly good people to hell where they will burn and suffer for eternity without any hope of escape. Some believe that hell in and of itself is proof-positive that the God of the Bible is unloving. Others will admit that hell makes sense, but that eternal hell is unreasonable and unfair.

Listen, I get it. From a human standpoint, it does seem harsh.

My answer is this: if God created this world and all life in it - if I am the product of His creative power - then who am I to argue with Him about the nature or duration of hell? My faith isn't predicated on the reality of hell. I don't begin with hell. That's not my starting point. Through my studies and meditations, I have concluded that there is a God and that the Bible is His inspired word. Therefore, if the Bible teaches an eternal hell, that's what I'm going to believe.

The fact is, God has made Himself known to all of us (Romans 1:20). The gospel is for all (Matthew 28:18-20; John 3:16). We each have a lifetime to seek God's truth, embrace His will, and grow in His love and grace. We can debate the nature of hell or the cause of suffering, but none of this negates the reality of God, our need for Him, or the urgency of salvation.

I fully understand how an unbeliever can conclude that the God of the Bible is NOT love or peace. From a Christian perspective, it can be very difficult to give a direct, clear answer for every instance of suffering in the world. I'm not God. I don't understand or claim to understand why everything in the universe happens. All I can do is examine the Scriptures and relate what the Scriptures teach about suffering in the world. That has been my attempt in this article.

If you're an atheist or skeptic, I don't expect this article to totally convince you of anything. After all, you don't accept my premise that the Bible is God's inspired word. But hopefully you can have deeper insight into the mind of a Christian and how it is that we reconcile these things.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Telling Homosexuals to "Just Change"

Many are offended and outraged when Christians contend that homosexuals must change who they are to serve Christ. They argue that a person cannot change who they are...who they were born to be.

I do not claim to understand the mind of a homosexual, but I can imagine that it would be very difficult to suddenly curb these desires which, at least in their mind, are completely natural. And I think we have done the homosexual community an injustice when we coldly tell them to "just change." While I do not believe that anyone is "born gay," I do not and will not deny that these desires, though biblically termed "unnatural" (Romans 1:26-27) feel natural to those who have them.

Having clarified that, not only must a homosexual change who they are to follow Christ, it is possible (1 Cor. 6:9-11). But more than that, we're not only calling upon homosexuals to change. If we ARE isolating homosexuals in this way, then WE are missing the point. 

The fact is, ALL OF US are called to change who we are to follow Christ. We all have natural desires. We all have our own struggles with immorality. It may be lust, greed, anger or materialism. A person might be a workaholic or an alcoholic. In all of these cases, traits that are natural and unique to each person make certain things more tempting. And in each of these cases, we must reject what has always defined us and has been natural for us and change who we are to be who God has called us to be.
"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24). 
"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:2). 
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
If you are gay, or if you have homosexual tendencies and/or desires, please know that God loves you very much. Yes, He is calling you to change, but He is calling all of us to change. Will it be easy? Change never is. But you are not and will not be alone in this fight. God will help you. Jesus will help you. The Holy Spirit will help you. And we will help you...just as we hope you will help us as we struggle with our own temptations.

So I'm not telling you that you must all of a sudden find the opposite sex attractive. I am simply pleading with you - as I am pleading with all those outside of Christ - to repent and turn to God...with the understanding that His grace and His word and the support of His people are capable of transforming your life and bringing you incredible joy. As hard as it might be to imagine, this is a sacrifice worth making.
"Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8).

Monday, June 2, 2014

Moderate Drinking: Sinful or Unwise? (Part 4)

Is it wrong for a Christian to have just one beer or a glass of wine? Is it okay for Christians to drink, so long as they "drink responsibly?" It's okay to drink so long as we don't get drunk, right?

These are the questions that I've been striving to answer in this series of articles.
  • In Part 1, I made the point that moderate drinking is unwise.
  • In Part 2, I went on to show from the New Testament that drinking is not only unwise, it is sinful.
  • In Part 3, I explained the meaning of wine in the Bible.
In this fourth and final article, I'd like to address the common arguments that Christians will use in an effort to justify moderate drinking. I would highly recommend that you read the previous articles in this series before reading this one. If you don't have the time to read them all, at least read Part 3 on the meaning and definition of wine in the Bible as it forms an essential foundation for this study.

There are three basic arguments that folks often use to justify drinking in the New Testament. Let’s begin with the most frequently used argument: Jesus’ act of turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana.

Water Into Wine

You know the story. Jesus and His disciples were invited to a wedding in Cana (John 2:1). During this feast, wine was served, but there came a point where “they ran out of wine” (vs. 3). Jesus’ mother suggested that He take care of the problem, and while He put up a bit of a fight, He finally agreed to help. As a result, six waterpots of water (a minimum of 120 gallons) were miraculously turned into wine (vs. 7-9). When the master of the feast tasted the wine which Jesus had made, he said, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now’” (vs. 10).

Many religious people read this passage, and because they have no (or little) understanding of Bible wine, they automatically assume that this was alcoholic wine. If this is true, then we must conclude that it is okay for Christians to drink alcohol. But not only is it okay for Christians to drink – if this interpretation is true – it is okay to attend drinking parties (social drinking) and even manufacture and/or sell alcohol. If not, why not? 

But the fact is, Jesus didn’t make alcoholic wine! Not only can the word wine refer to non-alcoholic wine (as shown in Part 3 of this series), or fresh grape juice, but our understanding of wine in the ancient Jewish culture ought to convince us that the “good wine” Jesus made was indeed unfermented! Remember, the Jews viewed fresh wine as a blessing from God (Isaiah 65:8), and it brought them great joy and merriment (Judges 9:13). So when the master of the feast remarked that Jesus' wine was "the best," he was speaking in the context of the Jewish culture where the preferred wine was fresh, not in the context of 21st century America where the best wine is the most aged and alcoholic.

Think about it. Did Jesus make 120 gallons of alcoholic wine, which is said to be a “mocker” (Prov. 20:1), or the fresh wine, which the Jews viewed as a blessing from God and source of enjoyment? The fact is, if a person is going to assert that Jesus made alcoholic wine in John 2, they must prove from the context that the wine was alcoholic. So even, for the sake of argument, if we cannot prove that it was unfermented, neither can we prove that it was which case no support has been given to drinking today.

Drink at Home

The second argument for drinking in the New Testament is found in Paul’s admonition to “drink” at home in 1 Corinthians 11. Here’s the passage…
“Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?” (1 Corinthians 11:20-22)
Many see the word “drunk” in verse 21 and conclude that some of the Corinthians were actually intoxicated with fermented wine while at church. After interpreting verse 21 in this manner, it is then asserted that the command in verse 22 to drink at home implies moderate drinking (of alcohol) at home.

First of all, the Lord’s Supper was instituted during the Passover Feast when leaven was banned (Exodus 12:19). Not only does this mean that the bread of the Lord’s Supper was unleavened, but that the fruit of the vine was unfermented as well. In a spiritual and symbolic sense, we’re told in 1 Corinthians 5:6-7 that Jesus is our Passover, and that we’re to “keep the feast, not with old leaven…but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” This may not be conclusive, but it does give us reason to believe that the wine of the Lord’s Supper was unfermented...which would mean - or could mean - that the Corinthians weren't getting drunk at all, at least...not in the way we think.

You see, the word “drunk” in 1 Corinthians 11:21 can refer to inebriation, but also to being filled. In defining the Greek word methuo (drunk), consider these scholarly explanations:
  • From J.A. Bass, Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament, page 138: "1. To be drunken or inebriated; 2. Pass. to drink freely and to cheerfulness though not drunkenness, (Jn. 2:10) 3. to be filled, plentifully fed, (I Cor. 11:21)."  
  • Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, pages 1091-1092: "1. of things to be drenched, steeped in any liquid" and its cognate: ‘to be filled with food.’”
  • In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), methuo is used in Psalm 23:5 where David writes, “My cup overflows.” 
This proves that while the word can refer to drunkenness (an excess of alcohol), it can refer to an excess of anything. If, as asserted earlier, this was unfermented wine, the Corinthians were drunk, not in the sense of inebriation, but excess. Rather than focusing on the Lord's death as they should have, they ate the bread and drank the grape juice in if they were eating a common meal.

So by no means was Paul encouraging the Christians in Corinth to drink alcohol at home. He was actually distinguishing between common meals and the Lord’s Supper.

Moderate Drinking: a Christian Liberty

Finally, those who seek to justify drinking will cite some of Paul’s statements in the New Testament which seem to justify moderate drinking. I will cite each of these statements below and then provide a response that ought to address each of them equally.
“It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak?” (Romans 14:21) 
“A bishop then must be blameless…not given to wine…Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine...” (1 Timothy 3:2-3, 8). 
“…the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things…” (Titus 2:3).
Before I respond to these verses, I first of all want to make it very clear that I completely and wholeheartedly understand how good, honest Christians can read these verses and conclude that while “drunkenness” is sinful, moderate drinking is permissible. I get it. And again, if I’m honest, I will say that this is by far the strongest argument for moderate drinking. However, I do not believe that these verses justify moderate drinking. 

This is where our understanding of Bible wine is essential. Again, the word wine could refer to alcoholic wine, fresh grape juice, and everything in between. With this in mind, there are a few plausible explanations of the above three passages:
  1. Because fresh wine was a special and favored drink that cost more and was harder to obtain than water, Paul may have been discouraging materialism. By way of illustration, compare it to Starbucks today. There’s nothing wrong with buying Starbucks, but is it really prudent to spend all that money on coffee? What about the poorer Christians who see you buying $4.00 CafĂ© Lattes while they’re struggling to pay their bills? What about your non-Christian coworkers who constantly see you with a Venti Mocha in your hand all the while hearing you claim that you’re “not of this world?” Paul could merely be encouraging moderation for the sake of influence.
  2. Or it could be that Paul is urging caution when it comes to the varying degrees of weak and diluted wine. Again, the Jews preferred fresh wine, but you can imagine how easy it would have been for even fresh wine to mildly ferment in the course of the day. Elders were to abstain from such wine (in 1 Timothy 3:3, the Greek word paroinos actually indicates that they weren’t to be “near” wine), but the deacons and older women were to be very moderate and careful in their consumption. To put it another way, Paul wasn’t permitting the moderate drinking of ‘strong drink,’ but of the weaker, diluted wines which would have been very common at that time.
It could be that both are true to some extent, but either way, I have provided two very plausible explanations of Paul’s statements. In the very least, it is inconclusive to argue that Paul is justifying moderate drinking. However, I believe it is more accurate to say that these verses, when properly understood, provide no justification whatsoever for drinking today.


Can Christians drink in moderation? Is it okay to have a glass of wine with your anniversary dinner, or a beer with your pizza? Christians all over the world struggle with these very questions. In this brief study, my goal has been to provide a clear, concise response. 

If drinking is merely unwise, we can discourage it, but we cannot condemn it. If it is wrong based on principles alone, it is not inherently wrong. And if this is true, we cannot say that it’s inherently sinful for a Christian to have a 24-pack of Miller Light or bottle of wine in their fridge (for the purpose of recreational or social drinking).

But I believe, based on the full weight of Scripture, that drinking is not only unwise, it is sinful. If this is true, we must take a firm stand against it. This will be very difficult in light of the unfortunate manner in which many Christians have been deceived by the slogan, “Drink responsibly.”

In the end, we must stand with God. If I am wrong in my stance on drinking, I want to know it. Please help me if you believe I have erred. But if I am right, please join me in rooting out the acceptance and tolerance of alcohol in the Lord’s church so that we can be pure and holy in His precious sight.