Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Professor NT Wright on whether the Nativity stories can be trusted

 

There are no accounts of Jesus Christ’s birth beyond Luke and Matthew’s Gospels. So, how can we trust that the Christmas story happened the way they describe? English New Testament scholar NT Wright shares his thoughts. You can hear more on the Ask NT Wright Anything podcast.

Christmas broadcast

About 20 years ago I was phoned up shortly before Christmas by a television station saying they were putting together a program that was going to talk about the birth narratives. They wanted a New Testament specialist to come on and say: “Actually, that stuff probably never happened.”

I said to the researcher on the phone: “Supposing I was to come on and say, ‘actually, there’s quite a reasonable chance that it all might have happened’?” There was a pause, and then she said: “I don’t think that’s what my producer was looking for.”

So, I said: “Thank you, goodbye.”

Cultural Skeptics

That’s how our culture is slanted right now. Our cultural gatekeepers don’t want to hear an ancient historian telling them that, in most of the texts we have from the ancient world, most of the incidents that we know about are described once and once only, whether it be Tacitus or Suetonius or Josephus – or Matthew or Luke.

That doesn’t mean the events didn’t happen. All historians have to say: “Well, there’s a bit of evidence; how do we weigh it, what’s the probability, what’s the likelihood?” When it comes to claims about historical accuracy, I have often read scholars who think that the New Testament writers got certain things wrong and say “maybe Luke was having an off day”.

But time again, later research often shows that we had missed something.

Dodgy chronology?

For instance, there’s the census in Luke 2.2, which is often translated to say:

“This was the first census, at the time when Quirinius was Governor of Syria.”

The problem here is that Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us the dates that Quirinius was Governor of Syria, and it doesn’t seem to square with Luke’s chronology of Jesus being born in the reign of Herod the Great. Many people have fastened on that as part of their case that the birth stories were made up later. (Of course, it’s possible that Josephus got his dates wrong, but that’s another question.)

In my own New Testament translation, Luke 2 verse 2 says:

“This was the first census before the one when Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

Several scholars have made this point but it often gets overlooked. The Greek word, ‘protos’, with a genitive, as in this case, can mean ‘before’ rather than ‘the first’. In other words, there may have been a census before the ‘Quirinius’ one – which would then fit comfortably with Jesus being born in the reign of Herod the Great.

A very different Christmas broadcast

In contrast to my experience with the television producer who phoned me, some years ago the BBC broadcast a four-part series called The Nativity. They commissioned Tony Jordan, the scriptwriter for a popular British soap called EastEnders, gave him the Christmas stories and said: “Do it.”

It was spectacular. And it was thoroughly believable. All the elements were there. It made sense as a narrative. And I thought “people need to see that”. Making sense, after all, is what history is supposed to do.

Hear more from professor NT Wright on the Ask NT Wright Anything podcast.


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Theologian R.C. Sproul on Christmas

"I can’t think of anything more pleasing to Christ than the church celebrating His birthday every year. Keep in mind that the whole principle of annual festival and celebration is deeply rooted in ancient Jewish tradition. In the Old Testament, for example, there were times when God emphatically commanded the people to remember certain events with annual celebrations. While the New Testament doesn’t require that we celebrate Christmas every year, I certainly see nothing wrong with the church’s entering into this joyous time of celebrating the Incarnation, which is the dividing point of all human history. Originally, it was intended to honor, not Mithras or any of the other mystery religion cults, but the birth of our King."1

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

Footnote:
1. R.C. Sproul, "Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?", Dec. 23th, 2016.

Related Posts

Christmas Resources from GotQuestions.org

A Christmas Testimony by Chad Vaughn 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Christmas- Pagan or Not?

Does Christmas have pagan origins or not?  Today's post features 3 short and concise articles by apologist and speaker Lenny Esposito that consider this question historically and with up-to-date scholarship.

Esposito writes:

"The claim that the roots of Christmas are pagan is one I hear over and over again, especially in December. The idea isn't even new. The New England Puritans, who valued work more than celebration, taught such.  Puritan preacher Increase Mather preached that "the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that 'Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian.'

When one digs into the actual history however, a much different picture arises. There are two ways to approach the question: one is to see how December 25 became associated with the Nativity, which is how the early church would have referred to the day of Christ's birth. The other one is to look at the celebrations of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus. Either approach shows the dubious nature of the claim that Christmas has pagan roots."

The articles are as follows:

Pt. 1- No, Christmas Is Not Based on a Pagan Holiday

Pt. 2- The Date of Saturnalia Doesn't Line Up with Christmas

Pt. 3- Christmas, the Solstice, and December 25th

For more on the date of Christmas, see this article by Andrew McGowan, originally published in Bible Review, December 2002.

Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

Thursday, December 10, 2020

BreakPoint: Are We Morally Better Than Our Ancestors?

 



You’re in a conversation and someone says, “It’s the 2020s! Your beliefs are outdated and belong in the past. You’re on the wrong side of history.”

What would you say?

History is not a moral judge, ensuring that justice progresses from one generation to the next. In fact, anyone who thinks they are morally superior to their ancestors probably suffers from some serious moral blind spots of their own.

So, the next time someone says “You’re on the wrong side of history,” here are three things to remember:

First, moral progress is not inevitable.

Second, believing that modern people are on “the right side of history” is chronological snobbery.

Third, modern people have moral blind spots too.

 

Click on the video to hear the entire conversation, or go to What Would You Say to see more like it. 


God Bless,


Thursday, December 03, 2020

Why was it all right for the Magi to follow the stars when the Bible condemns astrology (Matt. 2:2)?

 

In their helpful book Bringing Your Faith to Work, Randy Douglass and the late Norman L. Geisler, address the above question:

"The Bible condemns astrology (Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10; Isa. 8:19), yet God blessed the wise men (Magi) and seemed to even guide them with the stars to show the birthplace of Christ.

First, astrology is a belief that the study of the arrangement and movement of the stars can foretell events whether they be good or bad.  Second, the star (singular) in the biblical story was to announce the birth of Christ, not to foretell it.  God gave the star to the Magi to let them know that the Christ child had already been born (Matt. 2:16).  Third, there are other instances in the Bible in which the stars and planets are used by God to reveal his desires.  The stars declare God's glory (Ps. 19:1-6); creation reveals his existence (Rom. 1:18-20) and will be affected at the return of Christ (Matt. 24:29-30).  So the star guiding the Magi was not used to predict, but to proclaim the birth of Christ."1

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

Footnote:
1. Norman L. Geisler and Randy Douglass, Bringing Your Faith to Work, p. 169.

Related Posts

Five Reasons You Can Trust the Story of Christmas is True by J. Warner Wallace

Christmas- Pagan or Not?

Theologian R.C. Sproul on Christmas

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Book Preview - Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism by Tim Stratton

 

About the Author

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is devoted to answering questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church. Stratton is the founder of FreeThinkingMinistries.com, a web-based apologetics ministry providing supplementary materials to this edition of Mere Molinism. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

About the Book

Does humanity possess the freedom to think and act, or are we always caused and determined to think and act—exactly how we think and act—by things outside of our control? If we are always causally determined to think and act by things outside of our control, then how can humans be genuinely responsible for any of our thoughts or following actions? However, if humanity is genuinely free and responsible for at least some of our thoughts and actions, then how can the Christian rationally affirm the doctrine that God is totally sovereign and predestines all things?

In Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism, Timothy A. Stratton surveys the history of theological thought from Augustine to Edwards and reaches surprising historical conclusions supporting what he refers to as “limited libertarian freedom.” Stratton goes further to offer multiple arguments appealing to Scripture, theology, and philosophy that each conclude humanity does, in fact, possess libertarian freedom. He then appeals to the work of Luis de Molina and offers unique arguments concluding that God possesses middle knowledge. If this is the case, then God can be completely sovereign and predestine all things without violating human freedom and responsibility.

Endorsements

“For years I’ve hoped to see someone take my work, expand upon it, make it their own, and run with it. This is exactly what Dr. Stratton has done in Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism. Stratton makes a systematic case for ‘mere Molinism’ by examining Scripture and history while appealing to metaphysics and perfect being theology. The final chapter connecting Molinism to the cumulative case of apologetic arguments and addressing the problem of evil is worth the price of admission alone.”

—William Lane Craig, author of The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge & Human Freedom

“For more than five hundred years, questions related to the extent God has predetermined one’s salvation and life events have been vigorously debated. Dr. Stratton’s book builds a needed bridge between Calvinists and Molinists, showing quite convincingly that, although a divide remains pertaining to the role of God in one’s coming to faith in Christ, there are important points where Calvinists and Molinists can cross the theological chasm and agree. Thus, Dr. Stratton is a most welcome player in this age-old discussion!”

—Michael R. Licona, Associate Professor of Theology, Houston Baptist University

“Dr. Tim Stratton has the rare and precious gift of taking highly complex issues in philosophical theology and making them easily understandable to laypeople at the same time as he shows their tremendous importance for scholars in the disciplines of philosophy and religion. This book will be profitably and enjoyably read by laypeople and scholars interested in various themes, including biblical exegesis, the history of Christian thought, metaphysics, epistemology, systematic theology, and practical Christian living.”

—Kirk R. MacGregor, from the foreword

You can purchase your copy of Stratton's new book here.

To learn more about Tim and his ministry, go here

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad


Related Posts

Apologist Interview: "The Free Thinking Theist" Tim Stratton

Article: If You Think Racism is Wrong, You Should be a Christian by Tim Stratton

Video: The Big Bang Theory? by Tim Stratton