Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Newsflash: The Tomb of Jesus Christ is Still Empty

At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. (Matthew 24:23 NIV)

[Update 3/2/07: Now that I've had the chance to see the book The Jesus FamilyTomb- previously I was working from quotes in newspapers by James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici- I've re-formatted the information below and edited some phrases, hopefully making this article easier to follow, more specifically focused on the presentation in the book, and therefore more useful.]

I detest any shoddy historical research. One reason that my reaction is so strong in this area is because I graduated Georgia State University with a history degree. So when I read a book or see information presented on television that I know would have earned me a reprimand if I'd presented it in class, I'm usually motivated to yell at the book or the TV screen in outrage. This general response I have toward bad attempts to report on history is- of course- compounded when the research being presented concerns a facet of history that is personally important to me. So, understandably, my blood pressure is pretty high right now in light of the
recent news concerning what some are claiming to be the physical remains of Jesus Christ.

Of course, if someone did actually find the deceased body or the bones of Jesus, then Christianity would be done for. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins… If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (I Corinthians 15:14,17,19 NIV)

Personally, then, if the statements being made concerning "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" were credible, I'd have to leave the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary- where I'm currently a student- and I'd probably become a Buddhist.

But I don't anticipate that happening any time soon, and certainly not due to the recent claims being promoted by James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici.

Here's a few reasons why, from a historian's perspective, the information being presented concerning "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" is entirely unpersuasive:

1. The archaeological evidence is not persuasive. If the engravings in the tomb are authentic, then they prove nothing except that a certain group of people with names like those found in the gospels were buried near one another. But the fact that people named Jesus son of Joseph, Judah son of Jesus, Maria, Mariamne, Joseph and Matthew were buried close together tells us nothing of who these people were historically. These were all extremely common names in first century Judea. At a time in Judea when Messianic hopes were high due to Roman oppression, Jesus (meaning "God saves") and forms of the name Mary or Miriam (as the name of the sister of Moses- Moses being the deliverer of Israel from the Egyptians) were some of the most popular names. Other people named Jesus mentioned in the New Testament include Jesus Barabbas, Jesus the father of Elymas and Jesus surnamed Justus. There are at least four Marys mentioned: Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the sister of Martha, Mary the mother of James, and Mary Magdalene. Looking at the historical evidence regarding the names found in the tomb, Bar-Ilan University Prof. Amos Kloner, the Jerusalem District archeologist who officially oversaw the work at the “Jesus” tomb in 1980 has said that the names found on the ossuaries were common, and the fact that such apparently resonant names had been found together was of no significance. He added that “Jesus son of Joseph” inscriptions have been found on several other ossuaries over the years.

2. The DNA evidence is not persuasive. The DNA evidence offered by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino concerning the bone fragments that were found has only proven that "Jesus son of Joseph" and "Mariamne" did not have the same mother– nothing more. Jacobovici and Pellegrino assert that this proves Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and fathered a son named Judah. But even if "Jesus son of Joseph" and "Mariamne" can be proved to have been married and that Judah was their offspring, there is absolutely nothing either within the tomb or in the historical record that would connect this Judean family unit to any historical figure presented in the pages of the New Testament. No writing or Christian tradition dating from anywhere near the time of the first century gives any indication whatsoever that Jesus Christ married and had a family- in fact, this idea is directly contradicted by all the evidence. The leap in logic made concerning “The Tomb of Jesus” is indicative of nothing other than reading back Dan Brown style fiction upon what scientists have uncovered.

3. The statistical evidence is not persuasive. The argument being made in chapter 4 of The Jesus Family Tomb is that statistics have proven that the chance of these names found in the tomb– Jesus son of Joseph, Judah son of Jesus, Maria, Mariamne, Joseph and Matthew– occurring together in a sequence is so very small that they must be identified with the historical figures indicated in the only other place these names have been found to occur– that is, the Christian historical tradition. But however small the chance is that these names would be found in a sequence in a tomb from first century Judea, this chance is infinitely greater than the chance that Simcha Jacobovici, Charles Pellegrino or anyone else will find these names in a sequence within either the New Testament or any other document of the Christian historical tradition. In other words, though Jacobovici and Pellegrino are making the claim that they have found the family tomb of Jesus Christ, the list of names being presented does not correspond with any records of Christ's family. We know the names of Christ's earthly family (at least his brothers) from the New Testament. They are recorded in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 as James, Joseph (or Joses), Judas and Simon. You will notice that none of His brothers were named Matthew. Though Matthew was the name of one of Christ's 12 apostles, there is never any assertion within the New Testament that he and the Lord Jesus were family members. So there is no reason to think that a family tomb of Christ would contain a Matthew. Though Judas was the name of one of Christ's brothers, nowhere in Christian history has the assertion ever been made that Jesus Christ had a son named Judah. The name "Mariamne" is not in the New Testament at all, and problems with the Latin form of the name "Maria" as found in the tomb will be addressed in point 4 below. If there was a list of names within the Christian historical tradition that was identical to or nearly identical to the names found in the tomb, then statistics could perhaps demonstrate the probability of one set of names being linked to the other. As it is, similarities between the names in "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" and names actually associated with the historical family of Jesus Christ are merely superficial at best and therefore the statistical analysis is a farce.

4. The linguistic evidence is not persuasive. An important link that those promoting “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” try to establish in order to assert that the tomb they've explored has anything to do with Jesus Christ is the claim that the ossuary with the name "Maria" is that of Mary the mother of our Lord. At James Cameron's press conference concerning “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” it was asserted that, "Maria is the Latin form of Mary, and is how Jesus's mother was known after his death as more Romans became followers." While this assertion is certainly true, the problem is that it was long after Jesus' death that His mother became known by the Latin name Maria- probably long after her death as well. The greatest spread of Christianity in New Testament times was in the Hellenistic Jewish community in Palestine and in Jewish and Gentile communities of Asia Minor (as seen in Paul's letters and the book of Revelation), where the principle language spoken was Greek. That Jesus Christ's mother, living during a time of political strife involving the Romans in Jerusalem, whose Son was crucified by the Romans, would suddenly be called by a Latin form of her name when the language of Christianity was Greek (as seen in the New Testament) is historically unimaginable without a great deal more evidence.

5. The textual evidence is not persuasive. As mentioned above, "Marianme" is not a name-form found in the New Testament. So how do Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino come up with the identification of Mariamne with Mary Magdalene? By their own admission, Jacobovici and Pellegrino base this connection upon the Acts of Philip. But what the authors of The Jesus Family Tomb fail to mention is that the earliest manuscript for this account is from the 14th century, the earliest possible date for the origin of this account being the 4th century. One problem with using the Acts of Philip to prove that Mariamne is Mary Magdalene (besides the dating of the text) is that while there is a Mariamne discussed in the Acts of Philip (she is referred to as Philip's sister), Mariamne is never identified with Mary Magdalene in this text in any way whatsoever, nor is there Mariamne any indication that this Mariamne is married or otherwise intimately involved with Jesus. In the book Jacobovici and Pellegrino claim they come to the conclusion that they reach through a connection between the Acts of Philip and the Gospel of Thomas. The Gospel of Thomas, however, only mentions the name “Mary” twice in passing (in verses 21 and 114) and never mentions the names Magdalene or Mariamne at all. In reality, the only way that Jacobovici and Pellegrino can come to the conclusion they reach is to confuse the Acts of Philip with the Gospel of Philip (a text mentioned on the official website for “The Jesus Tomb”). The Gospel of Philip is an entirely different work, a Gnostic gospel written around the 3rd century, containing arcane theories concerning aeons and etymologies. The Gospel of Philip also refers to Mary Magdalene as the "companion" of Jesus Christ and claims that He "used to kiss her often on her mouth." These statements concerning Mary Magdalene have led to some modern speculation (notably in Dan Brown's DaVinci Code) that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married– a claim also at the heart of the promotion of "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." Notice, however that the Acts of Philip never identifies the character Mariamne with Mary Magdalene and the Gospel of Philip never mentions the name Mariamne at all. Again, the similaries between these works are only of the most superficial nature. Actually, they are only similar in that they both use the name "Philip" and feature a female character whose name begins with the same three letters, "M-A-R..."

6. The methodology is not persuasive. Since when does scientific data that can be interpreted in several ways immediately lead to the conclusion that eyewitness testimony is false? We do indeed have eyewitness testimony to the resurrected Christ. As the Apostle Paul recorded:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (I Corinthians 15:3-9 NIV)

Among other things, the passage above indicates that Christianity has always been open to honest and accurate historical inquiry. Paul wrote that most of the five hundred brothers who saw the resurrected Jesus were still alive, implying that his readers could easily find additional witnesses to give the same testimony he gave that Jesus was raised from the dead. And when Paul gave his testimony of Christ's resurrection before King Agrippa, as recorded in Acts 26, he said that "this thing was not done in secret"- Agrippa could find plenty of witnesses concerning the things Paul was saying. Likewise Luke, in writing his gospel account, testified that he received his information from eyewitnesses and that he researched everything carefully (see Luke 1:1-4).

In order to reach the conclusions they offer concerning the scientific data they are presenting, Cameron, Jacobovici, and Pellegrino must reject all the testimony of the New Testament concerning the risen Lord Jesus Christ. What has led them to reject this testimony? Jesus answered this question saying, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19 NIV).

If you are reading this post and you are not a Christian, I challenge you to look more carefully into these matters. Receive the eye-witness accounts of the sinless life of Jesus and of His death on the Cross as an atonement for sin, then look to the risen Lord Jesus in faith to receive forgiveness and eternal life.

If you are reading this post and you are a Christian, I challenge you to look more carefully into these matters as well, preparing yourself to answer the questions that you are sure to hear in coming days about your faith in Christ's resurrection.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (I Peter 3:15-16 NIV)

For more research on this issue, I recommend the blogs of Michael Spencer and James White.

Update: Some Christian leaders have done an excellent job addressing the claims concerning "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." Notably, SBTS president Albert Mohler has engaged this issue on both Larry King Live and his own radio program; also, Christian apologist and theologian James White has spoken about this on his webcast and on the Way of the Master radio program.

-I plan to update on this issue one more time after "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" airs on the Discovery Channel this Lord's Day.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why is there a need for seminaries overseas? by Abby Lindsey

[Introduction by Andrew Lindsey: Last month, my wife, Abby Lindsey, began studies in the Seminary Wives Institute (SWI) of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). SWI exists for the purpose of educating and equipping the wives of men studying at SBTS so that they may be better prepared for future ministry. SWI offers courses that are designed to give ministers' wives biblically based and practically applied teaching. Courses are taught by SBTS faculty as well as faculty wives and guest speakers. In one class Abby has already completed, she was required to "develop a topical speech in an area of interest." Abby decided to compose a speech on a topic directly related to our primary post-seminary ministry goal. What follows is the content of the speech she prepared. I am posting this article because many people- particularly people from our home town and people we work with here in Louisville- ask why we are here at SBTS. What you are about to read goes a long way toward answering this question.]

WHY IS THERE A NEED FOR SEMINARIES OVERSEAS?

This topic is particularly special to me right now in my life. My husband is currently in seminary preparing, Lord willing, to teach theology in a seminary setting in another country. This has been a dream of ours for several years, and we feel that having seminary-type schools in other countries is essential to the spread of the Gospel and the church. It is my aim in these few minutes to convince you of this as well and to instill in you an excitement about what God has been doing since creation, calling people from all nations to Himself.

Main points:

1. American Christians already realize that foreign missions are important-people must hear the Gospel in order to be saved. What happens after the Gospel is shared and people repent? Where do they go for more knowledge of the Bible? What can they do if they cannot get a personal Bible? Should they grow more mature in Christ after conversion, or should our missions efforts stop at conversion? We have higher expectations in the U.S.; otherwise, we would not attend church every week. We obviously think we need to grow in our knowledge. Thus, we also understand that planting churches is an important function of foreign missions.

2. With that in mind, who should oversee those churches? The missionaries who planted it? They may very well oversee the teaching and functioning of the churches for a long time. Who will step up when for one reason or another the missionaries must return to the U.S. or wherever they came from? We’ve all heard of vibrant churches with great pastors that severely dwindled when the pastor left. That is a common tale on the mission field when the missionaries leave. We do not want this to be the end result of all this labor! Church leadership must rise from the people group where the church is planted. This will better ensure a growing church and one that is more in line with the culture of the people group (i.e. worship in their language, in their music, in their setting). They will feel more ownership of their church and be more likely to serve the body of Christ. [See Acts 14:21-23, concerning when Paul and Barnabas strengthened the church, appointed elders, and left.]

3. These local leaders will need biblical training. We expect no less of our leadership in the U.S. Every church member hopes their pastor knows more about God’s Word than himself. Locals are not ready to take on leadership immediately after their conversion. They need time to learn and study. Equipped teachers for these new leaders are vital. These education settings do not need to be as formal as seminaries are in the U.S. If that is possible, then great, but any setting where sound theology and biblical guidance in matters of preaching and counseling is taught and questions are welcomed is essential.

In closing, I would like to share an example of how this is actually working in Kenya. This story appeared as the top story on the International Mission Board’s website December 4, 2006. The story in its entirety can still be found in the archives. The story highlights Vance and Cherry Kirkpatrick. “Veteran Southern Baptist missionaries, they’ve spent the past 35 years in Kenya. They’re teachers. Vance is a theology professor at Kenya Baptist Theological College. The numbers are intimidating. There are more than 163 million people who haven’t been reached for Christ in Central, Eastern and Southern Africa. That’s 59,000 individuals for every one of the 500-plus Southern Baptist missionaries in the region. In the early 1980s, the Kirkpatricks helped found what today is known as Kenya Baptist Theological College. With just 10 students in its first graduating class, the college today boasts an enrollment of more than 250. Classes range from general theology to Christian music to studies of African traditional religion. Most students graduate with a certificate or diploma in theology; a bachelor’s degree also is an option. Though it’s hard to argue that grounding Kenyan pastors, ministers and missionaries in sound doctrine isn’t a worthy pursuit, what about the payoff? Vance cites a church in Nairobi as a good example. Both the pastor and assistant pastor are graduates of Kenya Baptist Theological College. Church members recently made the decision to send missionaries of their own to an unreached people group about 200 miles away. We checked that one off the list,’ Vance said. ‘More and more of our students are finding ways to be missionaries to unreached (people groups).’ That type of self-motivation and independence is exactly what the Kirkpatricks want to see from the Kenyan church. The alternative, Vance pointed out, can be a crippling dependency. Without theological education, the new church is inordinately dependent on foreign interpretations, applications and emphasis related to their faith,’ he said. ‘We have to make it an African Christianity, not a Western imitation.’”

As the Kenyan church and the Kirkpatricks illustrate, for the spread of the Gospel and the church, for new churches to grow after missionary presence is gone, and for other nations to fan the flame of missions, theological education overseas is vital. I hope you have a new curiosity for this ministry, and I pray this service continues to expand in our missions organizations.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

An Excellent Consideration on the Issue of the Pill by Tim Challies

Awhile back, I posted a critique of Tim Challies reasons for choosing public school over home-schooling. That post received more comments, I believe, than any other article I’ve ever published to this blog. Ever since then, I’ve been looking to post something positive concerning an article Challies has written in order to prove that my disagreement with him on the home-school issue is the exception to the rule and that my intention in the previous post was to attack his arguments on that one issue without attacking him as an individual. This may seem like favoritism toward Tim Challies, because usually when I post a negative article about certain teaching, I do not follow up with an article showing support for other statements by the individual whose teaching is under examination. So, for example, I am not looking to find a point of agreement with Rick Warren to be the subject of an article here. This is for the simple reason that I usually will not post against something unless I believe a core Gospel issue is at stake. So, even though I’m sure both Warren and I agree that lying is wrong; I’m not going to pour through his writings to try to find a statement that ‘lying is a bad thing’ so that I can support it here. My disagreements with Warren’s teachings concern how the Good News of Jesus is presented, so that any agreement I have with him is essentially unimportant.

In the case of Tim Challies, the disagreement I previously mentioned did not concern a proper understanding or presentation of the Good News. Though I feel strongly about the issue of education, and believe it was important enough to write about here, Challies and I are in complete agreement when it comes to core Gospel issues. And so, as I’ve been looking at his blog, trying to find something he’s written to feature on Call To Die, my real difficulty has been that I could pretty much point to anything he has written as being helpful, thought-provoking, and Gospel-centered. I was looking in particular, however, to post on something from Challies that is analogous to the consideration of home-school. That is, I wanted to find something by Challies on an important social topic in which he applies sound biblical reasoning to come to a decision in order to demonstrate his usual way of thinking in contrast to the issue of education, in which I believed his reasoning to be uncharacteristically unsound. So I was very glad to read some recent arguments by Challies considering a biblical view on birth control [part one and part two]. Particularly helpful was his clear articulation on why he and his wife have chosen not to use birth control pills:

The pill is an attractive method of birth control for several reasons:

· Ease of use - No muss, no fuss. A woman need only take a pill once a day to have near perfect protection against pregnancy.

· Effectiveness - The pill is highly effective. When used perfectly, the changes of becoming pregnant are miniscule.

· Convenience - Any couple who has fumbled with condoms or other similar methods of contraception can testify to their inconvenience. The pill also increases spontaneity (which those same couples will admit is a good thing!).

Compared to other forms of birth control, the pill is highly desirable. It offers greater ease, effectiveness and convenience than other methods. It is easy to understand why it has come into such widespread use, even among Christians.

The pill prevents pregnancy by essentially fooling a woman's body into thinking it is pregnant. There are two main types of birth control pills. The first is a combined oral contraceptive that contains two hormones: estrogen and progestin. Estrogen helps prevent ovulation by suppressing the hormones that would cause the ovary to release an egg. Progestin thickens the cervical mucus which hinders the ability of the sperm to travel through the fallopian tubes. It may also prevent the lining of the uterus from developing normally which means that if an egg were fertilized, it would be unable to implant. The second type of pill is known as the minipill and contains no estrogen, so while it does not prevent ovulation, it does inhibit the ability of the sperm to fertilize the egg (both my thickening mucus and by suppressing its ability to unite with the egg) and should fertilization take place, the likelihood of implantation.

It is interesting to note that the "morning-after pill," a pill which can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex to reduce the risk of pregnancy is actually simply a combined oral contraceptive pill that contains both estrogen and progestin. The morning after pill, designed to prevent or terminate a pregnancy is simply a larger does of the birth control pill designed to prevent pregnancy.

A search of resources geared mainly towards women's health, shows that most doctors affirm that birth control does not cause abortions. However, many of these people would not affirm the biblical understanding of when life begins. If life begins at conception, and we believe it does, then preventing implantation is already causing an abortion. The pill will not, apparently, cause an implanted fetus to be aborted. However, having read the warnings that come with the pill, the companies will not guarantee that the pill will not adversely affect a fetus. It is possible that birth defects and other health problems may be linked to the pill.

Recently some qualified Christians have tackled this issue. These are people who have medical knowledge and who affirm that life is inherently precious from the moment of conception. Such people have a credibility in my eyes that exceeds that of doctors who write prescriptions for birth control on Monday and abort children at a clinic on Tuesday. Interestingly, many of these experts seem to be backing the claims of their colleagues, saying that there is no hard evidence that the birth control pill can cause abortions. A friend forwarded me a couple of interesting statements, one from Focus on the Family (link) and one from Dr. Michael Frields (link), a medical expert at John MacArthur's Grace Community Church. Dr. Frields feels that the birth control pill is in no way an abortive method of birth control. The majority of the experts James Dobson spoke to "feel that the pill does not have an abortifacient effect. A minority of the doctors feel that when conception occurs on the pill, there is enough of a possibility for an abortifacient effect, however remote, to warrant informing women about it." So while it seems that the evidence increasingly indicates there is little likelihood of causing an abortion by taking the pill, the jury is still out. I suppose this leaves Christians having to weigh the evidence on their own and attempting to sort out the facts. On a personal note, my wife and I have decided we will not use the pill. Until we can be convinced that there is absolutely no chance of the pill causing abortions, we just cannot, in good conscience, use the pill. And to be honest (and completely open), I have trouble understanding how Christians can arrive at a position that the pill is absolutely, 100% safe.

Though there is no “thou shalt not use the pill” in Scripture, there is a scriptural injunction against murder and a scriptural view of the origin of life that would point to the life of a child beginning at conception. Based on these truths and on the uncertainty of whether the pill causes early abortions, Challies comes to a specific conclusion on the issue. In my opinion, this is the very model of biblical discernment.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Beware the homeschoolers!

See, in my opinion, the following video provides a much better argument for why parents should choose not to homeschool their children than anything in what Mr. Challies posted awhile back.



Think about it: 1. The homeschoolers are taking over the country; 2. They're deceptive in their appearance; 3. They're likely to rob you blind.

Beware the homeschoolers.

HT:: Pyromaniacs

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Tagged.

Tim Brown of the Clay-Pot blog tagged me to complete the latest literary "survey" going around the blogosphere. The rules of this particular survey are as follows:

1. Grab the book closest to you.

2. Open to page 123; go down to the fourth sentence.

3. Post the text of the following three sentences.

4. Name the author and book title.

5. Tag three people to do the same.

At the time when I first saw I was tagged, the book closest to me was Today's Evangelism by Ernest Reisinger. Page 123 is in a chapter titled, "Assurance of Grace and Salvation." The fourth sentence down is in the middle of a quote from Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, in which Edwards is explaining the meaning of Romans 8:14-16. This fourth sentence and the subsequent two sentences read as follows:
Hence they have taken it [the concept of the Holy Spirit bearing witness to us], not to be any effect or work of the Spirit upon the heart, giving evidence from whence men may argue that they are the children of God; but an inward immediate suggestion as though God inwardly spoke to the man, and testified to him, and told him that he was His child, by a kind of secret voice, or impression: not observing the manner in which the word witness or testimony is often used in the New Testament; where such terms often signify, not only a mere declaring and asserting a thing to be true, but holding forth evidence from whence a thing may be argued and proved to be true. Thus (Heb. 2:4), God is said to bear witness, with signs and wonders, and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost. Now these miracles, here spoken of, are called God's witness, not because they are of the nature of assertions, but evidences and proofs.
Finally, I tag Brian Shank, Modern Day Magi, and The World's Most Famous Christian Blogger.