When Will The Rapture Take Place?

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the major issues surrounding end-time events. In Part 2 we will focus our attention on the rapture.

As mentioned in Part 1, the term “rapture” is never actually used in Scripture, but the concept is. While consoling the believers in Thessalonica concerning their fellow church members who had fallen asleep (died), Paul spoke of the time when “we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…” (1 Thes. 4:17). In this passage, the “we” refers to Paul and all the believers in Thessalonica (and as an extension, believers anywhere). “Them” refers to believers who have already fallen asleep. Therefore, Paul speaks of a day when all believers, whether dead or alive, will be joined together with each other, and most importantly, with Christ. This idea of being “caught up together” is where we derive the concept of the rapture from.

The idea of the rapture is only mentioned a few other places in Scripture. In 2 Thessalonians 2:1, Paul again writes concerning “the coming our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him.” In His Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, Jesus also seems to mention the rapture. In 24:31 He says, “He [the Son of Man] will send out His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” This meshes well with 1 Thessalonians 4:16, where angels and a trumpet are also mentioned. In fact, there are more than 10 similarities between Jesus and Paul’s discussions of the rapture and other eschatological events that can be found in Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 4-5. Paul also mentions trumpet blasts and the raising of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.

As you can tell from the many times it is mentioned in the Scriptures, the event of the rapture itself is not in question. The question is not will Christ rapture His people. The question concerning the rapture is when it will take place. This issue is tied up with what we know as the “tribulation.”

The Tribulation

The discussion about the tribulation begins in Daniel 9:27. Daniel prophesies that the antichrist will make a covenant with God’s people for “one week,” which equates to seven years. Therefore, it is believed that the tribulation will last for these seven years. Daniel also says that in the middle of this week (three and a half years into it), the abomination of desolation will take place in the temple. This seems to speak of a more intensified time of persecution towards Christians. When you fast forward to the New Testament, you find Jesus mentioning very similar things. When asked by the disciples what the signs of His coming and the end of the age will be, Jesus told of persecution, deception, the “abomination that causes desolation,” and even the “great tribulation” (Matt. 24:3-28). Paul also hints at a time of tribulation in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, as does John the Revelator.

Scripture is clear that both of these events, the tribulation and the rapture, will take place. The question is, which will happen first? Will God’s people be raptured before the tribulation, so they will not have to endure it (pretribulationism)? Will they endure the first half of it but be raptured before the last three and a half years of intense persecution (midtribulationism)? Or will believers be present for the entire period and be raptured afterwards (posttribulationism)? There are proponents for all three views…

Pretribulationism
Those who advocate a pretribulation rapture are certainly the most hopeful. If given the choice, who would want to believe Christians would have to endure the tribulation? This hope is specifically based on two main passages: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Revelation 3:10.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 Paul describes the rapture. Then, in 5:1-11, he further explains things, including the mention of “the Day of the Lord,” which possibly refers not to a single day, but to the entire seven year tribulation (according to pretribulationists; based on Old Testament texts). In 5:4, Paul speaks to the believers and says, “But you, brothers, are not in the dark, so that this day would not overtake you like a thief.” The pretribulationist takes this to mean that believers will not be overtaken by the tribulation, suggesting believers will be raptured before the seven year period. But is that what Paul said? He didn’t say that it wouldn’t overtake them at all, he simply said it wouldn’t overtake them like a thief. The point is not that believers will be gone before this day, but that this day will not catch them off guard like a thief in the night. They will be well-prepared, for they are in the light; they have been warned ahead of time that this day is coming.

Revelation 3:10 is part of Christ’s letter to the church at Philadelphia, and it reads, “Because you have kept My command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” Pretribulationists believe that Jesus is referring to the tribulation when He mentions the “hour of testing.” This, though, is debated. If they are correct, they believe the way Christ will “keep” them from this testing/tribulation is by means of the rapture. Yet there is much debate with this translation. Does the Greek word used mean they will be protected by means of removal or that they will be protected though present? Both are possible, leaving the interpretation of this passage at a stand still.

Midtribulationism
Combining texts from Daniel and the New Testament, midtribulationists believe that believers (the church) must be present for some of the tribulation, but not necessarily for all of it. As mentioned above, Daniel 9:27 speaks of a seven year tribulation against God’s people, with the abomination of desolation taking place at the midway point (three and a half years). In Matthew 24:15 Jesus indicates that the disciples and other believers will be around to see this abomination that Daniel spoke of, which suggests they won’t be raptured before the tribulation begins. But for the midtribulationist, this doesn’t mean the church will be around for the entire seven years.

In two scenes from Revelation (6-8 and 14-16) depicting God’s wrath being poured out, midtribulationists see the rapture occurring before the worst of it is released. They say this indicates that the church will be present for the wrath of the first six seals of Rev. 6, but not for the seventh and final seal of Rev. 8. Likewise, before the bowls of judgment are poured out in Rev. 15-16, the rapture occurs in Rev. 14. In both of John’s illustrations, the rapture seems to takes place before the wrath of God is fully experienced. Therefore God’s people, the church, may be present when the tribulation begins, but will possibly be raptured before its completion, prior to Christ’s return.

The evidence for believers being present during the tribulation is strong and reliable (which is tough for pretribulationists to handle). After all, why would Jesus, Daniel, Paul, and others all warn believers about the tribulation if they would be raptured before it took place? But still, the evidence for believers to be raptured in the middle of the tribulation is weak. Before making a decision, we should take a look at the final position: posttribulationism.

Posttribulationism
No believer necessarily wants to hold a posttribulation view and wish seven years of tribulation on themselves. Yet posttribulationists find in Scripture that this might be the case. When Paul mentions the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, he does not mention that its purpose is to escape something such as the tribulation. Instead, he says the purpose of the rapture is for all believers, whether dead or alive, to be joined with each other and with Christ, and to be with Him “always.”

Most people understand the rapture to be an event where believers are snatched off the earth and taken to heaven, but Scripture does not explicitly explain it that way. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says that the Lord will descend and that all believers, whether dead or alive, will meet the Lord in the air. So Christ leaves heaven above, and believers leave earth below, but obviously everyone doesn’t just remain in the air. The question is: Does everyone return to heaven or to earth? We automatically assume heaven, but we should be careful about this. The Greek word used in v17 explaining believers will “meet” the Lord in the air is a word often used in Greek literature to describe a delegation of people going to meet a visiting dignitary before ushering him back to their (the delegate’s) city. Applying this understanding to the word would suggest that believers go to meet the Lord in the air and then they all return to the earth (most likely to begin the millennial reign).

Jesus also gives evidence that believers will not be taken before the tribulation. As was mentioned above, He said in Matthew 24:15 that believers would be present for the abomination of desolation. He goes on in 24:21 to mention the “great tribulation,” explaining how terrible it will be, but says that those days will be limited “because of the elect” (believers). This suggests that believers (the elect) will be present during the entire tribulation; it is because of their presence that it will be limited. Furthermore, Jesus explicitly states in 24:29 that, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days” signs will occur and people will “see the Son of Man coming” and “He will send His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” Jesus clearly states that His people will be gathered (raptured) “after the tribulation.”

Conclusion
Being raised in the Baptist faith, I grew up hearing about and believing in a pretribulational rapture. How could a loving God make His people go through such an intense time of suffering? Why would He not rapture them before pouring out this wrath? The argument makes sense, and it is hard for me to let go of it, but posttribulationists present a very convincing argument that the saints will be on earth during the tribulation yet will be protected through it.

I have long been aware of the eschatological texts such as Daniel 7-12, the Olivet Discourse, 1 Thessalonians 4-5, and Revelation, but have always had trouble reconciling them. Each position concerning the rapture attempts to do this, but posttribulationism makes the most sense. Everything Jesus says in His Olivet Discourse leads me to believe His people will not be raptured and joined together with Him until after the final period of great tribulation. Jesus is clear that His followers (both then and now) will experience persecution, and that the abomination that causes desolation spoken of in Daniel will bring about a time of tribulation that is even worse. The key is that He says all these things, both the general persecutions and the great tribulation, will take place before He comes to rapture His people (in Matt. 24:29-31).

Outside of Jesus and the Gospels, Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5 also lead me to believe the rapture is posttribulational. Contrary to what I used to believe, Paul isn’t saying that believers will escape the judgement, only that the judgment will not sneak up on them like a thief. Both houses will be broken into, only some homeowners will be prepared and some won’t be. Another problem I always had with a pretribulation rapture that is solved by posttribulationalism is the fact that if the rapture precedes the tribulation, Christ has to return twice. He would have to come before the tribulation to rapture believers, then return afterwards to set up His kingdom. The Bible doesn’t speak of a third coming, only a first and second. For all of these reasons and others, I lean towards a posttribulational view of the rapture.

But what if you don’t? What if I haven’t convinced you? Well that’s OK! Let me make it very clear that this is a secondary issue. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it, though. It simply means that whatever you choose to believe concerning this issue will have no effect on your salvation. All we need to believe is that Jesus will return at some point.

But we all want to know when that day will come. We all want to know when we will see our Savior coming to rescue us. The thing is, not even Jesus knows when that day will come. In Matthew 24:36 He said, “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son—except the Father only.” If even Jesus doesn’t know, why should we expect to know? And if we can’t know, then why worry about it?

We have more important things to do than worry. We have a mission to complete. We only have so many days left until Jesus returns, and we need to spend those days sharing the gospel with those who have never received it. In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1:6-8. When they asked about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel in v6, He told them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Will you be His witness until He returns?

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Is Science the Only Way to Know Something?

While talking with non-believers about the beginning of the universe and what caused the universe to begin, they will sometimes say something along the lines of, “Science doesn’t tell us anything about what is beyond the universe and therefore you can’t possibly know anything about it.” I would agree with the first half of that statement. Science indeed does not tell us if there is anything beyond the universe. The view that we can only obtain knowledge via science is known as scientism. Ironically, those who hold to this view arrive at their conclusions using philosophical reasoning (not science), but anyway the question is: Is science the only way to know something?

“There is no reason to suppose that science cannot deal with every aspect of existence.” – Peter Atkins

Empirical Evidence

The physical sciences grant us wonderful explanations about the universe we live in. They offer us great incites on how to manipulate nature to our advantage. Advances in medicine and technology come to mind. Obtaining empirical knowledge through the sciences has greatly benefited humankind. I don’t think anyone would argue otherwise. I don’t think anyone would argue that science is not a very powerful tool. This much is obvious. The problem lies in claiming science has all explanatory power, or is the only reliable source of gaining knowledge.

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins gives an illustration: “Isn’t it enough to believe that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it?” His point is that science can explain things just fine without any philosophical or religious intervention. However, his illustration gives itself away. I would agree that believing fairies are at the bottom of the garden is silly. But is it silly to believe there is a Gardener behind the garden? Of course not. In fact, I would say this is an obvious inference.

Science clearly has its limits, as my atheistic friends are gladly willing to admit. Inherent in the statement Science doesn’t tell us anything about what is beyond the universe and therefore you can’t possibly know anything about it is that science is limited. It follows that if there actually is something to be known about what is beyond the universe, science wouldn’t be the route at discovering it.

Philosophical Reasoning

A short definition of Philosophy would be: the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. Philosophy uses logic and reason to arrive at truth. Let’s look at a few statements made by men who apparently hold to what I have defined as scientism and, using philosophy, we will show why their statements are illogical although they are claiming superior knowledge via science.

“The universe can and will create itself from nothing.” -Stephen Hawking

We could divulge on this statement for eternity, but let’s make a few points using philosophical reasoning.

  1. Hawking confuses two views into one. He seems to simultaneously say that the universe created itself and that the universe came from nothing (probably he doesn’t mean absolutely nothing).
  2. Something cannot come from (absolutely) nothing.
  3. Something cannot create itself because it already exists and therefore doesn’t need to be created.

Hawking could have saved himself a lot of time. But of course Hawking made another ridiculous claim: “Philosophy is dead.” Ironically, how does he arrive at such a conclusion? Science cannot tell you that philosophy is dead. One must use philosophy in order to disprove it. Self-defeating.

“Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.” -Bertrand Russel

One simple question shows the folly of this statement. How does Russel know that statement is true? Did science tell him? Did he discover this truth using the scientific method? According to the statement itself, the statement is false because it wasn’t “attained by scientific methods”. This is called a self-defeating statement. Ironically, Russel was a Philosopher.

Conclusion

Science is a wonderful tool. Philosophy is a wonderful tool. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, empirical evidence coupled with sound philosophical reasoning is our best bet at arriving at what is true. Science tells us that the universe began. Philosophy tells us things that begin have causes. Why be afraid of using philosophy? If our goal is to arrive at truth, we should use all the tools available.

Is science the only way to know something? Is philosophy dead?

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Eschatological Confusion

In the Greek language, the word eschatos means “last.” Hence the theological field known as “eschatology” refers to the study of last things, or the study of the end of time. Now there are many theological issues that create debate, but there is no bigger debate than when it comes to eschatology.

As a Christian, a minister, a seminary graduate, and a PhD student, I am obviously interested in eschatology and am always trying to develop my own scriptural understanding of how things will play out at the end of time. Common questions I often ask myself include the following:

  • When will the rapture take place? Before, during, or after the tribulation?
  • How long will the tribulation last? Will it be a literal seven years, or will it be longer? Could we possibly already be in the tribulation?
  • What about the millennium (1,000 years)? Will it be a literal 1,000 years? Have those years began yet, or are they still in the future?
  • What exactly does the book of Revelation convey to us about these end-time events?

One of the elective courses I signed up for at Criswell College as a part of my Master’s degree was called “Theology Intensive: Eschatology.” The four textbooks for the course were the following: “Three Views on the Rapture” (Blaising, Hultberg, and Moo; Zondervan 2010), “The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views” (Boettner, Hoekema, Hoyt, and Ladd; IVP 1977), “Four Views on Hell” (Crockett, Hayes, Pinnock, and Walvoord; Zondervan 1996), and “Four Views on the Book of Revelation” (Gentry, Hamstra, Pate, and Thomas; Zondervan 1998). You see, there isn’t just one view on any of these eschatological topics. Brilliant scholars, individuals who have devoted their lives to studying the Scriptures, cannot agree when it comes to these things. So why should we, pastors, Christians, and church members, believe that we have it all figured out?

In Part 1 of this blog series called “Eschatological Confusion” I want to lay out for you four major issues, the issues discussed in each of the four books named above. Then, in the following weeks, we will delve further into each of the issues.

The Rapture
Interestingly enough, the word “rapture” is never used in the New Testament. Nevertheless, the word has been used for many years to describe the event Paul discusses in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…”

The major issue when it comes to the rapture is not if it will occur, but rather when it will occur. Will believers be raptured before the tribulation, halfway through the tribulation, or not until after the tribulation?

The Millennium
The “Millennium” is the name given to the 1,000 year span of time mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6. John the Revelator twice mentions that some will reign with the Messiah “for 1,000 years.”

The major issue concerning the millennium is two-fold: (1) Will this be a literal 1,000 year period, and (2) If so, when will it begin?

Hell
What’s so confusing about hell? Isn’t it a fiery place where people will be separated from God for eternity? That’s what the Bible seems to say, but of course, not everyone can agree on that.

There are many debated issues when it comes to hell, including:

  • A literal vs. a figurative place
  • An eternal vs. a temporary place (annihilation)
  • A place of separation/punishment vs. a place of the dead (purgatory)

The Book of Revelation
Jesus, Paul, and others all discussed eschatological issues in their teachings and letters, but when it comes to this topic, Revelation gets the most attention. Because of the nature and subject of the book, there should be no surprise that interpretations vary.

Have all of the events prophesied in Revelation already been fulfilled? Have some been fulfilled? Have none been fulfilled?

What do all of the symbols and numbers mean? Do they stand for specific figures in history?

Will all of the events eventually come to pass? If so, when will this be?

Conclusion
As you can tell, the issues are many, and the answers aren’t simple. Please join me on this journey into eschatology and see what we can learn. My prayer is that we will be challenged and changed by it all!

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Are Science and Faith Enemies?

German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, famously said, “God is dead.” He reached this conclusion because he held to a philosophy that grew out of the Enlightenment known as materialism or naturalism.  Naturalists, or materialists, believe all that exists is the material world. Hence, “God is dead.” Many scientists have adopted this worldview and hold that it is the only appropriate worldview for conducting science.

Over the years it has become common place to believe that science and faith are at odds with one another. Somehow, it is popularly believed that you cannot be a real scientist and a person of religious faith. However, I would argue that historically, faith has driven scientific exploration and that there is no logical reason that science and faith must be at odds. Once we define the terms, it becomes obvious that science and faith are not enemies. In fact, faith becomes necessary for science.

What is Science?

A short definition would be: the study of the natural world through observation and experiment. When I think of science I think of physics, biology, and chemistry – my favorite sciences. Science seeks explanations for physical phenomena. If something goes up, why does it come down? Gravity. Why do certain things react the way they do? Chemistry provides wonderful answers.

You’ll notice this definition does not necessitate one to hold to philosophical naturalism. Naturalism and materialism are not equivalents of science itself. It therefore follows that one not need hold to these philosophical worldviews in order to do science. Science is something we do, not something we believe. Science is a mechanism that we use to better understand the universe we live in. Science’s aim is to arrive at truth. What if the truth is that there is an Intelligent Creator that caused the universe and its physical laws? Philosophical naturalism would never arrive at the truth because it precludes this conclusion a priori. Shouldn’t we hold to a more inclusive method that allows truth, and not assumption, to win the day? Why would you have to hold to philosophical naturalism in order to study science?

What is faith?

My short definition would be: belief based on evidence. I believe Jesus rose from the dead because of historical evidence and philosophical reasoning. The debate about science and faith is largely misleading because of bad definitions. Faith is often touted as being belief in something despite a lack of evidence. This is not how any Christian I know characterizes faith. If faith were believing something despite the evidence then it might follow that science and faith are at odds. However, this isn’t the case.

Faith is something that all people have – even atheists. Yes, I said it. The definition of the word atheism may very well be the lack of belief in God. That’s fine. Nonetheless, atheism as a worldview has many beliefs. Ask an atheist how they think the universe came into existence and I doubt they will say, “I lack a belief in how the universe came into existence.” If all you had were lacks of beliefs then you wouldn’t be able to have a serious dialogue about any of the questions we as human beings value the most.

Faith is necessary for science. 

Furthermore, you must have faith to do science. Before you set-out to do science, you must believe that we as human beings are capable of making sense of the physical universe. You must believe that the physical constants of the universe will hold the same today as they did yesterday. You must believe that your brain can comprehend that which is true. After all, if my mind is only the production of natural selection of random mutations, why would I trust the thoughts that it produces to be true? You might say, “Well, I have good reasons to believe those things.” And that’s exactly my point! We believe things based on evidence. This is what is meant by “faith”. Again, properly understanding faith as justified belief helps one to understand that faith and science are not at odds. Everyone has faith of some sort, and therefore, everyone should be invited to the enterprise of science.

Christian Scientists

“The heavens declare the glory of God.” -Psalm 19:1

So far, I hope I’ve shown that faith and science are not at odds. I would suggest that Christians have all the reason to participate in scientific exploration. The Bible claims that God created the universe orderly and understandable. It follows that natural laws would exist. It is often claimed that you can’t be a scientist and a Christian because of the Christian belief in miracles. However, a belief in miracles necessitates a belief in physical laws. A miracle is a supernatural violation of physical law. But the physical law must exist and be acknowledged in order to believe that it has been violated. It follows that Christians believe in the physical laws of the universe and are just as capable of understanding them as anyone else.

Is the atheist without belief in miracles? It would be one heck of a miracle for the universe to come into existence from nothing. It would be a miracle for the universe to “create itself”. It would be the mother of all miracles for life to come from non-life. And it would certainly be miraculous if accidental causes could account for the genius that is biological life.

I conclude that there is nothing to suggest that science and faith are at odds, or that Christians must stay out of science. Christians have a long history of contributing to the sciences and many have argued that it was Christianity that provided solid footing for the scientific explosion to happen in the first place. Faith should be defined as justified belief based on evidence, and is therefore necessary for scientific exploration and explanation.

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The Church as Apologist

Hello! My name is Travis and I have been asked to become a regular contributor for Help Me Believe. Before I begin my first post, let me briefly introduce myself.

First of all, I have been married for almost five years and am an expectant father! Secondly, I currently serve in two areas of ministry:

•youth ministry in a local church
•research and leadership for Docent Research group

Finally, I am pursuing a PhD in Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I hold both a BA and an MA in Biblical and Theological Studies from Criswell College.

Apologetics is not my strongest subject. My posts will focus more on biblical and theological matters (though I will tackle apologetics from time to time). I want to begin today with some thoughts about the church as apologist.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an “apologist” as “one who speaks or writes in defense of someone or something.” Usually this falls on individuals, but it is also the job of the church as a whole. The “someone” the church is to defend is Christ (or the Godhead as a whole). The “something” the church is to defend is the message of the gospel with which it has been entrusted.

So how does the church serve as an apologist? It begins inside the church, where believers are taught proper doctrines (orthodoxy) and led into proper practice of those doctrines (orthopraxy). This takes place through preaching, Sunday school classes, small group discipleship, and many other avenues, such as the lyrics of the hymns or worship songs being sung.

This then overflows outside the walls of the church with the understanding that the church is not the building but the people—the believers who gather regularly. As followers of Christ, every step we take, every word we speak, and every decision we make is either (1) a defense of Christ, or (2) a protest against Christ. It has often been said that you might be the only Bible some will ever read. How are you representing Christ and His church?

I will conclude with two practical implications. First, in order to preserve its unity and holiness and to serve as a proper apologist for the Lord, the church must keep its membership pure. Only true believers should be allowed into membership, and those who stray should be disciplined. This ensures that the gospel of Christ will not be misrepresented inside the church. The church cannot allow unregenerate individuals to participate; they must only listen and learn, which will hopefully lead to their conversion.

What follows is a second and related implication: believers must remember that at all times they are representatives of Christ and their local church. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers means that every Christian is a minister of the gospel, both with their words and actions. We must live as Christ followers 24/7/365. This will ensure that the gospel of Christ will not be misrepresented outside of the church.

What will you do to ensure that, whether congregated together or dispersed as individuals, your church is serving as an apologist for Christ and His gospel?

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Is The New Testament Reliable?

Critics of Christianity often claim that the Bible is full of errors and contradictions, historically inaccurate, and has been riddled with changes over the many years of translation. However, approaching the New Testament like one would approach any document from antiquity reveals something drastically different.

Dating

Dating the New Testament letters can be difficult and often leads to a difference of opinion among scholars. However, the majority of scholars – even the non-believing – agree that the four Gospels and Acts were written within a few decades (at max a century) of the time of the events recorded. This means the English translation of the New Testament you own is based on a very early recording of the events it tells. So goes the criticism of Christians adding to the New Testament over the centuries.

Number of Greek Manuscripts

We do not have the autographs, or original copies of the New Testament letters. At first, this sounds detrimental, but this is often the case when it comes to literature from antiquity. What we do have are very many early copies of the original. How many? This is hard to say for a few reasons. First, there are many still being discovered. Second, some are destroyed, or lost. Third, there are some in private collections. However, a good estimate would be 5,600+ Greek Manuscripts. There are (tens of) thousands of other early manuscripts in other languages, as well. I attest to the Greek manuscripts here because the New Testament was originally written in Greek.

The earliest Greek manuscript is the John Rylands Papyrus of John (P52) which is dated to 125-130 AD. With this, and the thousands of other manuscripts, scholars are able to piece together this puzzle of antiquity and re-create the original manuscripts as best possible. The more manuscripts the more accurate the re-creation. When compared to other works of antiquity, the New Testament has a far greater (number) and earlier attestation. No work of antiquity even begins to approach the attestation of the New Testament.

Early Church Fathers Quoting the New Testament

Much could be said here so I will summarize. The earliest quotations by Church Fathers (before 325 AD) include enough quotes that we could re-create an outline of the New Testament even if we didn’t have the manuscripts mentioned above. Since we have both the early manuscripts and these early quotes by church fathers – some of whom knew the apostles personally – we have an even stronger attestation to the New Testament. Some of these church fathers include Clement of Rome (AD 95), Ignatius (AD 70 -110), Polycarp (AD 70-156), Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-212), Tertullian (160-220), Hippolytus (AD 170-235), Justin Martyr (AD 133), Origen (AD 185-253), Cyprian (AD 258), and others.  It should be noted that Clement of Alexandria quotes from all but three New Testament Books just a century from their authorship.

Errors in the New Testament

Again, brevity precludes me from divulging too much here. As many have noted, through the years there have been scribal errors in the New Testament text. However, none of these “errors” have a thing to do with Christian doctrine. The “errors” only serve to help us re-create the original text which was error free.

“The purity of text is of such a substantial nature that nothing we believe to be true, and nothing we are commanded to do, is in any way jeopardized by the variants.”

-D.A. Carson, Greek Scholar

Conclusion

There is much more that could be said about the New Testament text and perhaps I will write more in a future article. For now, I conclude that we can re-create the original New Testament documents with astounding accuracy. I have not argued about the historical claims within the New Testament and how they align (or don’t) with extra-biblical sources. I am also aware of many other disputable claims within the text. The purpose here was to show how accurately we can arrive at the original manuscript using text criticism. Despite the claims of some, you can be assured – and reasonably believe – that the English version of the New Testament you own is as close to the original autographs as humanly possible. It is no small thing to contemplate this fact. It is almost as if Someone was watching over the process.

Why do you believe the New Testament is, or isn’t reliable?
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Does Truth Exist?

In today’s pluralistic society, you might often hear this response: “What is true for you is not true for me.” It is often spouted in response to an exclusive claim like, “Jesus is the only way to heaven.” Some people find it offensive that I would make such a claim. However, I would argue that truth exists and it isn’t relative.

  1. Absolute truth exists. To test this statement all you have to do is show the absurdity of its negative. “Truth does not exist” is a self-defeating statement. To illustrate, if someone said to you, “Truth does not exist,” the proper response would be, “How do you know that is true?” Is it true that truth does not exist? You see the problem. Truth does not exist is a claim to truth, thus defeating itself.
  2. Truth cannot be relative. Again, we apply the same logical test to the relative-truth statement, “What is true for you is not true for me.” What if I say That statement isn’t true for me. Then truth would not be relative. Of course, we could continue this back-and-forth until our lungs give out. However, applying the statement to itself shows the same self-defeating fallacy.  Is relative truth true for everyone? What’s more, it isn’t hard to show the bias in such a statement. If I said two plus two equals four, you would never say, “Actually, I believe it equals five. Sorry, what is true for you isn’t true for me.” People only say this when it comes to religion or morality. For them, it is a cop-out.
  3. Absolute truth cannot exist on naturalism. So far, we have used philosophical reasoning to show that truth exists and is not relative. In a purely naturalistic worldview, why would we trust our mind’s ability to reason? The naturalist says that our minds are simply the product of millions (billions?) of years of evolution – natural selection of random mutations. If this is so, my thoughts can be reduced to nothing more than chemicals firing in my brain. Why would I trust that they are true? And if your chemicals lead you to one “truth” and my chemicals lead me to a contrary one, who is to say whose chemicals are producing the real truth? For now, I conclude that truth exists and is best explained by a worldview that isn’t purely natural. I would be interested to hear a naturalistic rebuttal though, so please leave comments!

Chemicals don’t reason, they react. -Frank Turek

Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension (allegedly) happened in space-time history. He made absolute claims. This means that his life and ministry are falsifiable. Either he was a real person, or he wasn’t. Either he performed miracles, or he didn’t. Either he was crucified and buried, or he wasn’t. Either he rose from the dead, or he didn’t. There is no “true for you, but not for me”.

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Is Faith Blind?

When it comes to our belief in God, Jesus, and the Bible, must we “take it on faith”? Not only is this a common accusation made by critics of the Christian faith, but too often many Christians accept this as an answer to critical questions. For example, when asked, Why do you believe the Bible is God’s word? someone might respond, “Well, I just take it on faith.” To be honest, my response would be, “What on earth does that mean?” What does it mean to “take something on faith”? Do you really mean that you believe something is true despite not having (or knowing) any evidence to support your belief? If so, your belief is – by your own admission – not credible. The God of the universe who wants us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) has not left us a gospel with no credibility.

God gives us just enough evidence so that those who want Him can have Him.

-Peter Kreeft

The Bible does not present faith as blind. In Chapter Two of John’s Gospel we find a couple of examples of evidence-based faith in Jesus’ disciples.

“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.”  -John 2:11

“While he was in Jerusalem during the Passover Festival, many believed in his name when they saw the signs he was doing.”  -John 2:23

As you see, the disciples didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah because he said so, or because they “took it on faith”. They believed Jesus was the Messiah because he performed signs and made predictions about His death and resurrection. Was there room for doubt? Absolutely, there always is. However, after examining the evidence, the disciples found it reasonable to believe Jesus was the Messiah and therefore placed their trust in Him. They were so convinced of His resurrection that they laid down their lives for the truth. The point I’m trying to make is that they didn’t “take it on faith” in the sense that faith means belief even though there is a lack of evidence. They believed because of the evidence.

Like the disciples, we too can believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible because of the evidence. There is reason to believe God exists. There is reason to believe Jesus rose from the dead. There is reason to believe the Bible is the reliable word of God. We do not have to “take it on faith”. I encourage you to examine the evidence and make a decision.

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God Never Requires Us to Believe Without Evidence – Dr. Travis Dickinson

 

Why Does God Allow Evil?

The “problem” of evil is probably the most common objection to theism in general, and Christianity in particular. So great is the problem that many books have been written over just this one topic (leave your recommendations below). Therefore, my answer to this question will not be comprehensive by any means. Before I directly answer the question let me preface my answer with some points.

  1. This is not an objection to God’s existence, only His goodness. There’s no reason God cannot both exist, and fail to meet our standard of morality. He would not be a good god (by our understanding), however. Personally, I believe God not only meets our standard of morality, but is the standard of morality. But I feel this point should be made first.
  2. In the naturalistic-atheistic worldview there is no absolute standard for morality. I am not saying atheists cannot act morally, of course they can! They often put me to shame. I am saying (on atheism) there is no explanation for an absolute moral law – which you would need in order to call something evil. Naturalism is bound to determinism. To quote Richard Dawkins, “DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” There is no moral code and therefore no moral accountability. We are simply dancing to our DNA. We have no choice. Before the atheist can object to the morality of God, they must first borrow from a theistic worldview that can account for absolute morals. For something to be truly evil it must violate the standard of good. There can only be an absolute standard of good within a theistic worldview. If evil exists, it only proves the existence God – far from the original objection. Some atheists accept that their worldview cannot account for an absolute standard of morality while others try to explain how it could be possible. Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape was a noble attempt to do just that, but apologists like William Lane Craig and Frank Turek revealed his assumptions and fallacies and left his argument found wanting. You can watch the debate between Harris and Craig here and decide for yourself.
  3. God does not cause evil, He allows it. God is not sitting on a throne thinking of ways to cruelly punish us. However, cruel things are happening and he doesn’t always seem to intervene. Therefore, let us understand that God doesn’t cause evil, but allows it (for the time being).

The following arguments are based on two assumptions: (1) God exists, and (2) The Bible is true. I’ve argued partially for (1) here and I’ve yet to argue for (2) on this blog; however, there are many good articles, books, etc. out there. Now then, some answers:

  1. God made humans with free will. Why? Because he values relationship with His creation. In order for there to be a genuine relationship there must be a genuine choice. If my fiancée had no choice but to say yes to my proposal, would it really be a relationship? Of course not. What makes it a relationship is the possibility of saying no. You can say no to God, but there will be consequences. The Bible traces the suffering of this world back to Adam and Eve when they decided to say no to God. This answer satisfies the general objection of how a good God can exist while there is evil in the world. But what about the particulars? How could God allow this to happen to me, specifically?
  2. It is perfectly reasonable to conclude that an all-powerful, all-knowing God has a plan we cannot always understand. I believe that God is powerful enough to create the entire universe. Surely, a being that powerful cannot be fully understood by a finite human, like myself (Isaiah 55:8-9). Sometimes, God’s reason for allowing us to suffer is clear as day. In other instances, it is not clear what the purpose is. However, the Christian can rest assured that although God is not causing evil, in his sovereignty, He is going to use it for a good purpose (Romans 8:28). A God powerful enough to create the universe is also powerful enough to use evil for a good purpose. We see this most clearly at the cross of Christ. Evil men executed Jesus even though he was innocent. Nonetheless, God used it to save the world from sin. He flips evil upside down on its head and uses it for good.
  3. The Christian worldview promises an end to evil and suffering. One day, God will deal justly with all who have done evil. In our human courts we often get the verdict wrong and let a guilty person go free (or vice versa). This will not be the case with God. All will be made right. Evil and suffering will be vanquished (Revelation 21:4).
  4. The Church should console those who are suffering. Not only is a good God consistent with a world in which we observe evil; not only does this God promise to make good of our suffering; not only does He promise to end evil and suffering; but He gives us consolation in the midst of our suffering right now. In my experience, people are not looking for philosophical answers in the midst of their suffering; they are looking for a loving friend. Christians are commanded to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and to love others like we love ourselves (Galatians 5:14). If you are suffering currently, I’d be more than glad to be there for you, just let me know!

In conclusion, the existence of evil points to an absolute moral code. This moral code only makes sense in a theistic universe. Humankind’s ability to make bad choices results in much suffering. The consequences of disobeying God also result in suffering. God uses this suffering for our good and His glory – sometimes in ways we cannot (yet) understand. There will one day be an end to evil and suffering. In the meantime, we trust God’s good plan, lean on His promises, and console one another. Ultimately, we all have the capacity for evil. Our hearts so easily turn away from God and his good purposes. We can be reconciled to Him by placing our faith in Jesus, who died in our place for this very reason.

Happy New Years everyone! What resolutions are you making?