Saturday, December 22, 2007

Truth Bomb Apologetics December Newsletter

A Ministry of Faith Christian Fellowship

“It’s a Wonderful Story”…And so much More!

Stories have the power to communicate profound truths and teach us something different each time we hear them. Such is the case with Frank Capra’s famous Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Each Christmas I view the movie and am reminded of all I have been blessed with.

However, the danger in watching or hearing a great story multiple times is that the story can become commonplace. Before we know it, the story that used to move us so becomes routine and ordinary and we are no longer moved by it. In hearing the story repeatedly, the account seems to lose the wonder it once held. However, the story hasn’t change.

This loss of wonder is the danger the follower of Jesus Christ faces when hearing the account of His virgin birth. The countless Christmas cards, Nativity scenes, and decorations that consume so much of the Christmas season can slowly and subtly create the false assumption that the virgin birth is no more factual than Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey.

However, the Bible not only claims the virgin birth occurred, but that it is vital to the redemption of mankind! This month we examine the credibility of these claims and approach the question, “Can a thinking person really believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?”

Laying a Foundation


The account of the virgin birth of Christ is recorded in two of the four gospels, Matthew and Luke.

Luke provides us with not only the account itself, but also communicates his desire to reveal the truth about the life, events, and ministry of Jesus Christ:

“Insomuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4, ESV, Emphasis mine).

It is also important to remember that Luke provides us with a very unique perspective of Jesus’ story and claims when one considers that he was a Gentile, a physician, and the first historian of the early church. There are many who would scoff and say, “historian? Isn’t the Bible full of fables?”

Sir William Ramsey, an eminent archaeologist, once held that Luke's writings were not historically sound. His own subsequent investigation of near-eastern archaeology forced him to reverse his position and conclude that "Luke is a historian of the first rank." [1]

Further, as Dr. Norman Geisler notes, “Ramsey spent twenty years of research in the area Luke wrote about. His conclusion was that in references to thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands Luke made no mistakes! That is a record to be envied by historians of any era.” [2]

Luke was and is a trustworthy source who paid great attention to detail!

For Unto You this Day is Born a Savior, Christ the Lord


Luke writes of the Virgin Birth:

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:4-20, ESV).

Answering Common Objections to the Virgin Birth

Objection 1
Aren’t Miracles Impossible?

Those who dogmatically reject the possibility of miracles do so for a few different reasons:

1) They believe that because the universe is made up of fixed laws that a miracle would “violate” the very laws it operates on.

2) They believe miracles are unverifiable and/or can’t be repeated in a laboratory, therefore, must be impossible or false.

3) To admit a miracle would be irrational, like believing in unicorns or fairies.

Each of these alleged objections do not hold up to fact and/or logic. Let’s briefly examine each of them.

Miracles violate Scientific Laws


It’s important to remember that before someone can start saying things like, “the order in the universe” or appeal to it’s “fixed laws” they must be able to account for who did the fixing! In a universe so finely tuned, is it not rational to believe that there is a Fine turner?

When one appeals to the fixed laws of the universe to object to apparent miracles, they miss understand the science behind that claim and the nature of the God of the Bible.

Science has revealed that the universe exploded into existence out of nothing at some point in the past. Most often referred to as the “Big Bang,” this is when all matter, time, and space came suddenly into existence out of nothing. Logically, the cause of the big bang could not have been within nature because nature did not yet exist when it occurred, therefore, whatever brought nature into existence must be outside of nature and this is precisely what supernatural means! This is indeed what led astronomer Robert Jastrow to say:

“That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.” [3]

Einstein contemporary Arthur Eddington echoed Jastrow’s conclusion:

“The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural.” [4]

So we can conclude from science itself that miracles are not only possible, but verifiable and necessary to explain the origin of the universe.

Further, if there is a God who exists outside the natural universe, He is not subject to the fixed laws in which the world operates. He is outside of those laws and therefore not bound to them. Logically then, He is able to intervene in the affairs of the universe when He desires.

Miracles are unverifiable and/or can’t be repeated in a laboratory, therefore, must be impossible or false

This statement is rooted in positivism, a view that says science is the only valid way of finding things out.

In his book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism, author David Marshall explains why this view fails in the face of logic:

“Why believe that only truths grounded in scientific evidence are worth believing? That idea itself can’t be proven scientifically!” [5]

There are many things we believe about our worlds history that cannot be repeated in a laboratory. Am I to disbelieve in Napoleon and Waterloo because I can’t repeat it in a lab? Of course not! This type of thinking is absurd and so is the view of positivism.

So, is there any historical evidence for miracles in the past? Aside from the evidence given above for the origin of the universe, let us briefly look at the historical data for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After all, it has been well said that “His first cry in Bethlehem led to His last cry on Calvary…”

Dr. Gary Habermas of Liberty University has read approx. 2,400 pieces of literature (in German, French, and English) on the resurrection of Jesus from 1975 to the present. Dr. Habermas presents the following facts to prove the resurrection by considering only the data that is so strongly supported historically that even the majority of non-believing scholars accept them as facts. Dr. Habermas is able to prove the resurrection historically without having to appeal to the inerrancy or inspiration of the Bible.

These facts are: a) Jesus’ Death by Crucifixion b) The disciples believed that Jesus appeared to them c) The Apostle Paul was converted after being a persecutor of the church d) Jesus’ brother, James the skeptic, became a believer after the resurrection e) There was an empty tomb

These facts, accepted by the overall majority of critical scholars today, point strongly to the resurrection of the Jesus, God‘s own Son. (6)

When one examines these facts no natural explanation can explain the data. Some events or theories can be measured using the scientific method and others have to be considered with the best historical data available and when one considers the resurrection, the best data says: He rose again!

To admit a miracle would be irrational like believing in unicorns or fairies


A very common tactic among modern atheists is to equate belief in God and/or miracles to belief in fairies, unicorns, or, my personal favorite, a “flying spaghetti monster.” However, once again when the evidence is considered, the above comparisons are exposed for what they really are; a dodge:

1) Atheists are not writing books called The Unicorn Delusion, The Flying Spaghetti Monster is Not Great, or The End of Fairies. Why is that? Simply put, the atheists themselves know that this is a ridiculous comparison. This is no more than a tactic to avoid critically examining the wealth of evidence.

2) On average, when a child reaches the age of 10, he or she is able to consider the evidence for Santa Claus, unicorns, or fairies and lose their belief in these fictional beings, however, most sustain their belief in God or a Higher Power.

3) There is no good reason to believe in the mythical figures listed above, however, clearly there is an abundance of evidence of the existence of a Creator if one is only willing to look and, as former atheist Anthony Flew did, “follow the evidence wherever it leads.”

Arguments comparing the existence of God to mythical figures is a great way to avoid examining the evidence, however, they are absurd and intellectually dishonest at best. We will examine this argument further in the January Newsletter.

Objection 2


“Isaiah was not prophesizing about Jesus’ Virgin Birth in Isaiah 7:14!”

Wayne Jackson, of christiancourier.com, shatters this supposed bible difficulty:
“Some, of liberal persuasion, argue that the Hebrew term almah does not mean a virgin, and that this passage refers to some “young married woman known to Isaiah.”
This theory is patently false for the following reasons:

Old Testament usage


The word almah is employed of females seven times in the Old Testament (Gen. 24:43; Ex. 2:8; Psa. 68:25; Prov. 30:19; Song of Sol. 1:3; 6:8; Isa. 7:14).
A study of these contexts reveals that almah is used only of one who is a virgin.

A sign

The conception was to be a “sign” to the house of David. The normal conception of a “young married woman” would hardly be considered a “sign.”

Inspired commentary


The apostle Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 and affirms that the prophecy is “fulfilled” in the virginal conception of Mary. Moreover, both Matthew and Luke go to great lengths to explain precisely the significance of the term “virgin” (Grk. parthenos).

Parthenos
is found fifteen times in the New Testament. It never denotes a “young married woman,” but refers to a sexually pure person. Those who set aside Matthew’s inspired commentary on Isaiah 7:14, in deference to their own theories (which ultimately find their roots in modernism), are guilty of arrogance to an extraordinary degree.” [7]

Clearly the claim that Isaiah wasn’t prophesizing about the virgin birth of Christ holds little weight, if any.

Objection 3


“The Virgin Birth of Christ is taken from pagan myths”

This claim does not hold up to the facts:

1) The NT was written by those who lived during the time of Christ and is not the result of late myth development. Legends do not develop if the stories are written while eyewitnesses are still alive to refute inaccuracies.

2) The virgin birth records do not show signs of being mythical, nor do they include borrowed elements from known pagan birth myths.

3) Persons, places, and events identified in connection with Christ’s birth are accurate historically. Even details once thought to be errors have been vindicated by research.

4) No Greek myth spoke of the literal incarnation of a monotheistic God into human form. In Christianity the second person of the Godhead became human. In pagan religious gods were only disguised as humans; they were not really human. In pagan myths a god and human invariably mated sexually, which was not true in the Christian account.

5) Greek myths of gods who became human came after the time of Christ, so the Gospel writers could not have borrowed from them. (8)

Why the Virgin Birth is Credible and Necessary


Apologist and author Josh McDowell explains why we not only have a credible record of Jesus’ birth, but why the virgin birth was also necessary:

“The virgin birth is set down in the Bible as a historical fact. The writers who recorded the story were Matthew — an eyewitness to the events in the Life of Jesus — and Luke, the doctor, who presents things in the life of Christ from the viewpoint of His mother, Mary.The passages in both Matthew and Luke are authentic, with no evidence at all that they were later additions to the text. The doctrine of the virgin birth has been believed by the church from its beginning.

Ignatius, who lived at the beginning of the second century, wrote to the Ephesians and said "For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived in the womb by Mary, according to a dispensation, of the seed of David but also of the Holy Ghost."There are several reasons why the virgin birth was a necessity. The Bible teaches that the Word who became flesh was with God from the beginning (John 1:1). The fact of the pre-existence of Christ is testified many times in the New Testament (John 8:58, Philipians 2:5–11, Colossians 1:15, 16).

When Jesus came into the world, He was not a newly created individual such as we are, but was rather the eternal Son of God. To be born into this world of the virgin Mary required divine intervention, and this is exactly what the Gospels record.

Another reason why Jesus needed to be virgin-born was because of His sinless nature. A basic New Testament teaching is that from the day He was born until the day He died, Jesus was without sin. To be a perfect sacrifice, He must Himself be perfect — without sin. Since our race is contaminated with sin, a miraculous entrance into the world would be required, hence the virgin birth.

Moreover, if Jesus had been sired by Joseph, He would not have been able to claim legal rights to the throne of David. According to the prophecy of Jeremiah 22:28–30, there could be no king in Israel who was a descendant of King Jeconiah, and Matthew 1:12 relates that Joseph was from the line of Jeconiah. If Jesus had been fathered by Joseph, He could not rightly inherit the throne of David, since he was a relative of the cursed line. The virgin birth of Christ is not only a historical fact, but it was also a necessary historical fact when one considers all the data.” [9]

The virgin birth of Jesus Christ is not only credible, but vital in God’s plan for the redemption of mankind!

Book Reviews

What’s so Great about Christianity? By Dinesh D’Souza

I must confess that from the time I was informed about the release of this book I was excited to get my hands on a copy.

Dinesh D’ Souza, a former White House domestic policy analyst, is currently the Rishwain Research Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is not a theologian or classic Christian apologist, however, he is a respected scholar and has put together a surprising sound argument for the Christian faith.

I feel the strength of this work is that Mr. D’ Souza does not shy away from the difficult arguments that are being put forth by those in the New Atheism camp, but meets them head on, for the most part, and then takes the offensive, exposing the fallacies of the atheist worldview. (Sorry, Mr. Sam Harris, but it’s a worldview whether you think so or not)

D’Souza topples many of the atheist myth stories of the past such as:

a) Science and religion are not compatible.
b) What really happened to Galileo?
c) The violence religion has caused surpasses that of atheism.

D’Souza goes on to crush the alleged new challenges from the atheist camps such as:

d) The world would be better off without religion
e) Man is simply matter
f) Atheists are just as, if not more, moral than Christians

As much as I enjoyed this book, I cannot highly recommend it due to Mr. D’Souza’s sloppy scholarship regarding the evolution vs. intelligent design (ID) debate.
I was impressed with the research, documentation, and evidence this book provided, but when this topic was approached I felt it was dodged or just dogmatically accepted. D’Souza writes of the intelligent design scientists:

“While the debate goes on, it seems improbable that the small group of intelligent design advocates is right and the entire community of biologists is wrong.” [10]

With the many credible arguments coming from the ID camp, I was disappointed that Mr. D’Souza didn’t put forth a more in-depth analysis as to why the ID camp is skeptical of evolution.

Overall, this book is a great tool for responding to the village atheist near you, however, for an atheist who is sincerely seeking truth, I still say the best book out there is I Don’t have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Roman Turek.

Article of the Month

http://www.pluggedinonline.com/movies/movies/a0003536.cfm

An in-depth, eye-opening review of the movie The Golden Compass, the latest atheism evangelism tool.

Website of the Month

http://www.christiancourier.com/search?query=virgin+birth

Wayne Jackson puts forth a great online resource to strengthen Christians in what they believe. I have found the articles on this particular site to be in-depth and easy to understand.
This link will take you to the articles available on the virgin birth of Jesus, however, I encourage you to bookmark this site and use it as a tool to answer questions you or someone you know may have.

Explorefcf.com Apologetics Update

- We added two new articles to our blog: Jesus vs. Giuliani and Agnostic and/or Atheist Evangelism.
- We also added Apologetic Research and Top Christian Scholar link pages to our blog.

Apologetic Verse for the Month

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
- Proverbs 18:13, ESV

If we want others to hear the gospel and consider it, we should be willing to listen to their hurts, failures, and heartbreaks and really try to understand their viewpoint.

Next Month

We take a look at some of the most common arguments coming out of the modern day camp of atheism and how the follower of Christ can respectfully, but boldly, respond.

Prayer Requests

1) Those who don’t know Christ- Please pray for those in your family whom have not made the decision to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation. Pray that God will give you an opportunity to share His love with them.

2) Cancer victims- Please continue to lift-up those who are struggling with cancer. Pray that God will somehow use these situations for His glory, although in our finite, human minds its sometimes hard to imagine how.

3) The homeless- Please pray for those without a home to celebrate Christmas in. Pray that God will provide for them. Let us reach out where we can.

4) Impact Thursdays- Please pray that the Lord will send forth laborers into the harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).

5) Truthbomb Apologetics Ministry- Pray that God will guide us in the material we present and help us to reach those who are truly seeking answers about God, Jesus, and His Word. We must have God leading the way!

6) “Hot Topic” Sundays- Pray for Pastor Vance as he researches and answers questions; that God will minister to and through him.

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad A. Gross

Resources

1) W.M Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament p. 222; quoted in Bruce, F. F. The New Testament Documents - Are They Reliable?, p. 91.
2) Norman Geisler, Alleged Errors in Luke, Bake Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 431.
3) “A Scientist caught between Two Faiths: Interview with Robert Jastrow", Christianity Today, August 1982.
4) Arthur Eddington, The Expanding Universe, p. 178.
5) David Marshall, The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity, p.29.
6) Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection, p. 75
7) Wayne Jackson, Did Isaiah Prophesy the Virgin Birth of Christ?, http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/read/isaiah_714_did_isaiah_prophesy_the_virgin_birth_of_christ, June 2002.
8) Norman Geisler, Divine Birth Stories, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 201-202.
9) Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith, 1980.
10) Dinesh D’Souza, What’s so Great about Christianity?, p. 146.