Acts 27

acts-27.jpgGreetings!  Luke is traveling with Paul (note how he says, “we . . .”).  Thus begins an amazing adventure on his trip to Rome.

Paul Sails for Rome

27     When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. 2 We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.

3 The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. 4 From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. 5 When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. 8 We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.

9 Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast. So Paul warned them, 10 “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” 11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.

They will learn to listen to Paul.

The Storm

13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the “northeaster,” swept down from the island. 15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure. 17 When the men had hoisted it aboard, they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. 18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.

21 After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”

Hopefully that convinced any doubters that what Paul said about God was true. 

The Shipwreck

27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away.

33 Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.

Fourteen days!  How miserable that must have been.  I didn’t remember that it was such a big ship to have 276 people on board.

39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. 40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. 41 But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Poor arguments to make with atheists

warning.gifThere are three ways discussions with atheists get off track rather quickly. 

1. Don’t confuse moral behavior with a foundation for morality.  The claim that atheists don’t have a foundation for morality (a true statement in my view) is often miscommunicated or misinterpreted as saying they don’t have morals (a typically unfair and inaccurate statement).  Some atheists have better morals than “religious” people (and they hang out at this blog ;-) ).

However, the “molecules to man” approach does not provide a foundation for morality. Classic atheist arguments attempt to read one in, but if you pay close attention you’ll see that they always bring some kind of moral framework in the back door.  I think they often do it unwittingly (mainly because it is so hard to get away from moral reasoning).

For example, I’ve seen the line of thinking that says such-and-such is moral because it is good for the perpetuation of the species. But note how that assumes a universal moral good of perpetuating the species. But where is the materialist proof for that? Who cares if the species is perpetuated if we are just a bunch of molecules? In the Darwinian worldview, lots of species have gone extinct – even before these awful, awful humans showed up.

I’m not denying the innate desire to live and help others, and I’m not denying that atheists don’t have the same feelings. I’m just saying that materialistic philosophy can’t provide that foundation.

2. While atheists can’t prove there isn’t a God, that isn’t a sufficient argument for theists to make.  Proving a negative in a rather sizable universe is somewhat difficult.  We can’t prove there isn’t a pink unicorn somewhere in the universe, either, but that is hardly a reason to believe it is true. 

I think it is more fruitful to look at the evidence for and against the existence of God the way we’d make decisions on a host of other issues.  I can’t prove God exists in the sense that I can prove that 2+2=4, but I can point to a whole bunch o’ evidence that I think it rather compelling.  We make lots of important decisions in life based on less than 100.000% surety. 

Check out Probability of Theism and Why God? for some excellent reasoning.

3. Don’t mix up the general concept of God with the specific concept of the true God as revealed in the Bible (i.e., the Trinity).  Sometimes Christians make good points about the existence of God but jump too quickly to him being the God of the Bible.  We believe that is true, of course, but I think it is more productive to approach the argument as follows:

  • Is there reliable evidence for the existence of God? 
  • If yes, did He reveal himself to us?  How so?

It is possible to argue it directly from the Bible, but I think it is useful to distinguish between Biblical and general philosophical arguments.  The Word of God is living and active and accomplishes what God sets out for it to do.  But there are many times when other arguments are necessary. 

Also see Mistakes Christians make when dialoguing with atheists

Roman soldiers in the Bible

sword.jpgA Christian leader I really respect claimed that he couldn’t be a policeman because his faith wouldn’t permit it.  I don’t have a desire to be a policeman, but we need Christians in all kinds of jobs like that. Why would anyone want all the police to be non-Christians?!

The Bible has nothing to indicate that Christians couldn’t hold positions in law enforcement and the military.  Nothing.  Check out Jesus’ reaction to the Roman Centurion’s faith (Luke 7), the story of Peter and Cornelius (another Centurion) in Acts 10 or even John the Baptist’s discussion with soldiers in Luke 3 (“Then some soldiers asked him [John], “And what should we do?”  He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”)

Some might call this is arguing from silence, but it sure seems that those would have been golden opportunities for Jesus or John to recommend a change of profession – especially in the case of John the Baptist where soldiers specifically asked, “And what should we do?”

The real argument from silence would be for someone to imply that being a law enforcement officer or a soldier is in any way a breach of Christian ethics. That is 100% man-made and not in the Bible.  If people want to take other jobs as they live out their faith, that is terrific.  And they could be conscientious objectors if there was a draft.  But it is unfair to dedicated soldiers and police officers to imply that their jobs violate scripture.

I encourage you to read Sheep, wolves and sheepdogs as well.  I think part of the problem is that people don’t realize how crucial “sheepdogs” are for a peaceful society, and that God has given governments the responsibility to protect their citizens.

Acts 26

acts-26.jpgGreetings!  Remember, Paul has been in jail for two years.  And jails were even less pleasant then than they are now.  But what was Paul’s primary goal – to share the Gospel and advance the kingdom, or to win his freedom?

26     Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”

So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: 2 “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.

4 “The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?

So many people are quick to scoff at the miraculous (i.e., that God would enter his creation and do things outside the natural laws He created).  Yet creation is such a miracle itself.  If God created the universe and all life, what would be so hard about raising people from the dead?

9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.

12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.

The good deeds come after the repentance.  They are evidence that people have turned to God.   But it is by faith in Jesus that we are sanctified (made more holy).

21 That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

Paul was obviously very intelligent.  Yet Festus couldn’t reconcile this with Paul’s message.

25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

Agrippa dodged the question.  He knew the answer – or should have known it – but apparently didn’t want to follow it to its logical conclusions.

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

30 The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. 31 They left the room, and while talking with one another, they said, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”

32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Paul was faithful in presenting the Gospel to these leaders and all who listened.  Whether they believed it was between them and God.

Acts 25

acts-25.jpgGreetings!  Paul has been waiting in Caesarea for two years for this trail.  To his credit, Festus is eager to give Paul justice.  The Jewish leaders still want to kill him, legally or otherwise.

The Trial Before Festus

25     Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, 2 where the chief priests and Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. 3 They urgently requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. 4 Festus answered, “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. 5 Let some of your leaders come with me and press charges against the man there, if he has done anything wrong.”

6 After spending eight or ten days with them, he went down to Caesarea, and the next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. 7 When Paul appeared, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many serious charges against him, which they could not prove.

8 Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.”

9 Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?”

10 Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 11 If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

12 After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

V. 11 has an interesting insight to the Bible and the death penalty.  Paul didn’t say that capital punishment was unjust, merely that it shouldn’t be applied to him because he was innocent.

Festus Consults King Agrippa

13 A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. 14 Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: “There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. 15 When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.

16 “I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over any man before he has faced his accusers and has had an opportunity to defend himself against their charges. 17 When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in. 18 When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19 Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. 20 I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. 21 When Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.”

22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear this man myself.”

He replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him.”

Paul was just a novelty to Agrippa and Festus.  Still, Paul must have made the Gospel fairly clear as Festus knew that a central claim was that Jesus had been resurrected. 

Paul Before Agrippa

23 The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 Festus said: “King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. 27 For I think it is unreasonable to send on a prisoner without specifying the charges against him.”

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Weekly roundup

A friend mentioned that his daughter made the following point about capital punishment and abortion so I added it to my post on the same topic. (Thanks, Michelle – what a brilliant and wise freshman you are!)  Here’s a paraphrase:

Actually, I am OK with unrestricted access to abortions . . . provided that the unborn get the same 10+ years of appeals that condemned killers do.

His son won a speech competition in 7th grade defending the pro-life position.  My friend said people gasped when they heard the topic, but his son wowed them with his presentation.  

Worst fake ID ever.  Wonder if Hillary is fer it or agin it?

Good commentary on the PBS special against Intelligent Design

From the Dave Barry “I am not making this up” category: “One [Santa] told the Daily Telegraph he was taught not to use “ho, ho, ho” because it was too close to the American slang for prostitute.”

Acts 24

acts-24.jpgGreetings!  Paul is on trial in Caesarea (named for Caeser), the Roman center of government in Israel. 

The Trial Before Felix

24     Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. 2 When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: “We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. 3 Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. 4 But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.

5 “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect 6 and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. 8 By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.”

9 The Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.

10 When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. 11 You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13 And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14 However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.

17 “After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. 18 I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. 19 But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. 20 Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin— 21 unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’”

22 Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.” 23 He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.

24 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” 26 At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.

27 When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

I forgot that Paul was in prison in Caesarea that long (two years!).  That’s one thing I enjoy about this blog and going through the Bible chapter by chapter.  I noticed all sorts of things in passages I have read many times. 

Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth and they will lash out or react poorly.  Festus was afraid of what he heard.  Paul preached the truth simply and clearly.  That is what are asked to do.  How people receive it is up to God.

The Israelites and me

cross3.jpgWhen reading the Old Testament I often think, “Wow, these Israelites just didn’t get it!”  After all,  God spoke to them, gave them his laws, made and fulfilled promises, etc. but they kept turning away.  The consequences were severe, just as God had warned.  They turned back and God forgave them, but then the cycle started all over again.

While I’m busy piling on the Israelites, it hits me: I do the same things!  I know his rules but break them.  Thanks to his grace and mercy, Jesus paid the debt for my sins once and for all and has given me his spirit to overcome sin and temptation when I avail myself of it.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t slip, that the consequences go away or that I don’t have to confess to God.

You would think that after this happened the first 20-30 times that I would catch on.  I am quicker to catch myself doing this, but it still happens. 

Why the New Testament is Scripture

bible3.jpgNote: This is written more for Christians who deny the validity of New Testament books than it is for skeptics (though all are welcome).   

It is popular to dismiss the following passage as not applying to the New Testament since it had not been officially canonized at that time.  However, many letters were already in circulation in the early church and were accepted as authoritative.  Remember that this was Paul’s last letter, written from prison in Rome before he was beheaded.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

If God “breathes” Scripture then this passage could easily apply to letters not yet canonized or even written.  He’s omniscient, remember? 

Jesus promised that the disciples would testify about him (that could have just been orally, but it seems pretty obvious that it would eventually be written down).

John 15:26-27 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”

In 1 Timothy 5:18 Paul appears to quote Luke 10:7 (“for the worker deserves his wages”) as Scripture, though it is possible that it came from a summary of verses in Deuteronomy.

1 Timothy 5:18 For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

Peter referred to Paul as writing with “the wisdom that God gave him” and considered Paul’s writings to be scripture.

2 Peter 3:15-17 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.

Check out Paul’s letters and note how he claimed to be an Apostle of Jesus.  He obviously thought he was speaking for God.  So either he was speaking for God or he was a big liar or some sort of crazy person.

Some Christians claim that since the Bible didn’t include a specific notation of which 66 books belonged then we can’t be sure of what belongs.  But even if it did make that claim these same folks would probably say it is circular reasoning.  And I’ve noticed that these people are quick to say, “It is God’s word” then launch into 17 bad reasons they think it isn’t.  Credibility factor = zero.

Some people have read too much of the DaVinci Code and think the canonization process was politicized.  But most of the books in the Bible were selected without dispute.  The early church had viewed them as authoritative for some time. 

The same God who inspired the Scripture was quite capable of inspiring which books to include.  If Christians hold a different view then I kindly ask them to let me know what to take out and which books to add - provided they can convince me why their own personal canonization process trumps that of the God of the universe.

Lots more here about how the NT canon was compiled.  Christians who say things like, “But the Bible doesn’t say these 66 books were to be part of the Bible” should read it.  Even if the Bible did mention which books to include then the same critics would cry “circular reasoning.”  And these same critics have no problem quoting the parts they like as being fully authoritative and “God’s word.”

Why the New Testament is Scripture

bible3.jpgNote: This is written more for Christians who deny the validity of New Testament books than it is for skeptics (though all are welcome).   

It is popular to dismiss the following passage as not applying to the New Testament since it had not been officially canonized at that time.  However, many letters were already in circulation in the early church and were accepted as authoritative.  Remember that this was Paul’s last letter, written from prison in Rome before he was beheaded.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

If God “breathes” Scripture then this passage could easily apply to letters not yet canonized or even written.  He’s omniscient, remember? 

Jesus promised that the disciples would testify about him (that could have just been orally, but it seems pretty obvious that it would eventually be written down).

John 15:26-27 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”

In 1 Timothy 5:18 Paul appears to quote Luke 10:7 (“for the worker deserves his wages”) as Scripture, though it is possible that it came from a summary of verses in Deuteronomy.

1 Timothy 5:18 For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

Peter referred to Paul as writing with “the wisdom that God gave him” and considered Paul’s writings to be scripture.

2 Peter 3:15-17 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.

Check out Paul’s letters and note how he claimed to be an Apostle of Jesus.  He obviously thought he was speaking for God.  So either he was speaking for God or he was a big liar or some sort of crazy person.

Some Christians claim that since the Bible didn’t include a specific notation of which 66 books belonged then we can’t be sure of what belongs.  But even if it did make that claim these same folks would probably say it is circular reasoning.  And I’ve noticed that these people are quick to say, “It is God’s word” then launch into 17 bad reasons they think it isn’t.  Credibility factor = zero.

Some people have read too much of the DaVinci Code and think the canonization process was politicized.  But most of the books in the Bible were selected without dispute.  The early church had viewed them as authoritative for some time. 

The same God who inspired the Scripture was quite capable of inspiring which books to include.  If Christians hold a different view then I kindly ask them to let me know what to take out and which books to add - provided they can convince me why their own personal canonization process trumps that of the God of the universe.

Lots more here about how the NT canon was compiled.  Christians who say things like, “But the Bible doesn’t say these 66 books were to be part of the Bible” should read it.  Even if the Bible did mention which books to include then the same critics would cry “circular reasoning.”  And these same critics have no problem quoting the parts they like as being fully authoritative and “God’s word.”

Acts 23

acts-23.jpgGreetings!  The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem are trying to have Paul punished or killed for preaching the Gospel. 

23     Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” 2 At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”

4 Those who were standing near Paul said, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?”

5 Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”

6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.” 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)

Paul may have been using a “divide and conquer” strategy on the Pharisees and Sadducees, as he knew the issues that divided them.

9 There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

The Plot to Kill Paul

12 The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 More than forty men were involved in this plot. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15 Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.”

It is not clear how their protest played out.  Paul lived for several more years so presumably they started eating again. 

16 But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.

I didn’t remember that Paul’s sister and nephew were mentioned.  I’ll bet his family members heard the Gospel a lot!

17 Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him to the commander.

The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.”

19 The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?”

20 He said: “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. 21 Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.”

22 The commander dismissed the young man and cautioned him, “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.”

Paul Transferred to Caesarea

23 Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”

This is part of the way God delivered Paul to Rome.  Paul had wanted to go there for some time.  He’ll finally make it, but as a prisoner.

25 He wrote a letter as follows: 26 Claudius Lysias,

To His Excellency, Governor Felix:

Greetings.

27 This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28 I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. 29 I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. 30 When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.

31 So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. 32 The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. 33 When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. 34 The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Avoiding poverty

money.jpgA trip to the inner cities and/or a quick glance at the statistics of out of wedlock children in poor communities will show just how horrible the War on Poverty was.  If you make unwed motherhood a paying job you’ll have no shortage of applicants (that applies to all races, BTW).  It lead to all sorts of horrible problems – kids without fathers, increased abortions, etc.

Girls who graduate high school, don’t have kids out of wedlock and don’t get married too young are almost never poor (I believe the figure is in the single digits). If youth followed a Biblical model for human sexuality for one generation that would do more to reduce poverty than anything I can think of, especially if they don’t end up divorced.

I don’t expect the government to preach the Bible, but telling kids that graduating high school and not having sex outside of marriage is a great way to avoid poverty would be a start.

Acts 22

acts-22.jpgGreetings!  Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem and had asked the Roman soldiers to let him speak before they took him into the barracks.  He tells the story of his conversion again (from Acts 9).

1 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”

2 When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.

   Then Paul said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.

Gamaliel was well known and highly respected – perhaps the best known rabbi of the 1st century.  Paul had an incredible Jewish “resume” which should have appealed to the listeners.  

Paul was skilled at finding points of agreement with those he encountered.  We should try to do the same. 

 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

6 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

8 “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

10 “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.

‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

17 “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw the Lord speaking. ‘Quick!’ he said to me. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’

19 “‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20 And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’

21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’

There are many Old Testament references to how the Jews were to be a light for the Gentiles, but that wasn’t a focal point for the Jewish leaders. 

Paul the Roman Citizen

22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”

23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”

26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”

27 The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”

“Yes, I am,” he answered.

28 Then the commander said, “I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.”

“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.

29 Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.

There were vastly different standards for Roman citizens with respect to punishments. 

Before the Sanhedrin

30 The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Weekly Roundup

Hi all – hope you had great weeks and are set for a wonderful weekend!  Here are a few links I wanted to share. 

Terrific piece on creating deep intimacy in relationships

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Reason number #832 not to trust the media.  Watch how the AP spun some survery results regarding birth control in schools.

Terrific set of pro-life quotes by church leaders throughout history.  And to think, all of our scientific advancements (e.g., 4-D ultrasounds) help prove out their points.

A simple piece showing how the notion that the Intelligent Design theory isn’t scientific because it can’t be falsified is a myth.

I won the Comment of the Week on Tammi’s blog – check out her post!

Prison ministry in the news

kairos3.jpg

The Houston Chronicle had a big article on the prison fellowship and Kairos ministry I’ve written about before.  After our monthly visit last Saturday there was an event for 42 graduates of the Innerchange Freedom Initiative (IFI) – men who have gone through the program, been released and stayed out of prison for a year or so.  There were also 27 baptisms.

One of the graduates spoke about the challenges and the rejection he faced outside, but encouraged the men to persevere.

One of the baptisms was performed by a leader of the IFI.  He had obviously bonded with the guy he was baptizing because they embraced before he was immersed.  But the man was overcome with emotion afterwards and hugged the IFI guy again, soaking his shirt.  He just put on his jacket and returned to the podium as if nothing had happened. 

The guy in the middle of the picture, James, was at my table at the Kairos weekend earlier this year.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know him.  He is very artistic and sings in the prison choir.

It is great to see a project that works so well – changing lives and dramatically reducing the recidivism rate.  Of course, as the Chronicle article notes:

A lawsuit, filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State against an Iowa prison unit, alleges the faith-based prisoner program is unconstitutional. That case is still pending before the 8th Circuit Court.

Hopefully sanity will prevail in the courts.  This program is voluntary and no tax dollars are used to fund the religious portion.  How that violates the 1st Amendment and how anyone could file suit to stop such a successful program is beyond me.

At the end of the Kairos reunion meetings on the first Saturday of the month it is a tradition to sing Surely the Presence.  It is also a tradition that we sing it first at our church on Sunday mornings.  It is an interesting comparison – two groups of Christians singing the same song but in different ways and in dramatically different venues. 

Radical environmentalism: The Inquisition / Prohibition combo

cox1.gifprohibition.jpg

Gorebal warming advocates are trying to force people to believe (a la the Inquistion) and are trying to stop certain activities and goods (a la Prohibition).

Those two enterprises worked so well the first time that I suppose they should work now.

Then again, we might consider the following:

  • Being a bit more open minded about the claims being made.
  • Taking a look at the motives of those pushing these initiatives.
  • Studying the logical consequences of these initiatives.
  • Seeing how free market principles might help the problem, if there is one. 

Nah!

And as Theobromophile has pointed out, what is the exit strategy of the Greens?  How do they define victory?  Are they aiming to build a global thermostat that they will constantly tweak to their ideal temperature, whatever that is?  Or is it just a big power grab to control more and more of your lives?