Witch Hunts and Bible Translation

Witch Hunts and Bible Translation

Many of the atheist diatribes do not try to counter the massive evidence for God’s existence. Instead, they criticize things that have been done by people who claim to be Christians. From the Crusades to inquisitions to witch hunts, people claiming to be Christ-followers have conducted themselves in un-Christlike ways.

King James 1 had a major role in the effort to eradicate witchcraft from 17th century England. The Lancashire witchcraft trials in 1612 were a part of his legacy. Of course, he also commissioned the 1611 King James translation of the Bible into English. There is no Hebrew or early Greek word for “witch,” but because of the cultural climate of the day, the term “witch” was used in passages dealing with idolaters, mediums, or sorcerers.

Denominations who came to America with the King James Bible in their hands used the word “witch” to deal with even such things as a charm or remedy. Galatians 5:20 uses the Greek word “pharmakia” to describe sorcery, which refers to casting spells. It is translated as “witchcraft” in many Bibles. In 1 Samuel 15:23, the Hebrew word “qasam” is translated “witchcraft” in the KJV. A better translation is “divination,” which is the pagan parallel to prophesying.

In the Old Testament, anyone who was into astrology or enchantments was dealt with harshly. (See Exodus 22:18, Deuteronomy 18:10, 2 Kings 9:22, 2 Chronicles 33:6, and Micah 5:12.) When Jesus canceled the old law by “nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14), He did away with the violent retaliation that the law prescribed.

Witch hunts resulted in the terrible things that happened in the witch trials of Salem, Massachusets, in 1692 and 1693. People were tortured and killed because they were accused of witchcraft. Read Matthew 5-7 to see how Jesus dealt with the opponents of His teaching. God is a God of love, full of compassion and care for all human beings. Those who claim to be witches need the same love and care that all humans seek. Instead of condemning them to torture and death, Christians should show them that Christ’s love can meet their real needs.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Jesus Christ an Agent of Change

Jesus Christ an Agent of Change for the New Year 2020

We are about to begin the third decade of the 21st century, and we can sum up the message of the century with the word “change.” We tend to fight change. I have an older friend who says that he has seen a lot of changes in America and he’s been opposed to every one of them. He is also an atheist. When I pointed out to him that Jesus Christ was an agent of change and Christianity is a religion of change, he asked me to explain that. Let me point out five reasons.

#1) The Bible we use is the NEW Testament. Jesus used that term repeatedly using the Greek word “kaimos” meaning new, fresh, recent. (See Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24 and Luke 22:20).

#2) Newness means giving up old ways that either didn’t work or have quit working. Jesus Christ was an agent of change as He consistently gave new and better answers to old ways. In Mark 10:4, some Pharisees asked Jesus about the law of Moses, which allowed a man to divorce his wife for virtually any reason. This made women the property of their husbands. Jesus gave a new perspective on this whole issue by saying, “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two of them shall become one, so then they are not two but one. What, therefore, God has joined together, let no man tear asunder.” This is not a sexual reference, and it made women partners, not property, and radically changed the view of women to a new and critical role. (See Genesis 2:24.)

#3) Newness in Christianity knocked down old prejudices and racial issues, making the walls that divide people non-existent. Galatians 3:28 expresses this new concept beautifully, saying, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” All of this newness was very hard for the religious and political establishment of Jesus’ day to accept, and it is still hard for many today.

#4) Newness involves changing. Christianity is not legalistic and is not run by a bunch of laws. Paul says it well in 2 Corinthians 3:6: “Christ has made us ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.” Hebrews 10:20 talks about Christianity being a new a living way and Hebrews 8:8-12 puts to rest animal sacrifice and other ineffective practices of the past.

#5) Jesus Christ is an agent of change because He has given us a new commandment that replaces the old ways. John tells about it in 2 John 5. Over and over, Jesus talked about love in a way peculiar to Christ, using the Greek word “agapao to describe how the new way of life should function. All of Matthew 5 – 7 emphasizes this new way of living.

People rejected the newness that Jesus brought then, and people fight it now. The fact remains that Jesus Christ is an agent of change, and in Him, all things are made new. (See 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Ephesians 4:24.) As you celebrate the start of a new year, let us urge you to become a new person. Be born again and live in the newness that “looks for new heavens and a new earth” ( 2 Peter 3:13). Ultimately we look forward to the joy of having the best new existence that we can imagine. (See Revelation 21:4-5.) HAPPY NEW YEAR !!

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Atheist In Foxhole Courage Award

Atheist In Foxhole Courage Award and the Ten Commandments

One of the most vocal atheist groups in America today is the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which operates out of Madison, Wisconsin. They present a prize called the Atheist In Foxhole Courage Award. At their Pittsburgh convention in 2016, they gave it to Marie Schaub, who successfully sued the Valley High School in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. The court decision forced the school district to remove a six-foot monument of the Ten Commandments that stood in front of the high school.

The monument was erected during the Eisenhower administration in honor of veterans who graduated from the high school and who died defending America. In her acceptance speech, Schaub said that she was “confused and sickened” the first time she saw the monument. She referred to its removal as “righting a wrong that was committed so long ago.” And she said removing it “will provide a more welcoming environment.”

What is “wrong” with a series of statements about not murdering, not stealing, and not bearing false witness? It is hard to comprehend how removing admonitions to young people about right living makes the environment more welcoming. Reminding young people of their heritage, and that the high school has a history of heroes who defended America seems hard to criticize. If the basis of removing the monument was to avoid offending those who do not accept the historical underpinnings of this country, one might be able to make a case for the removal. Vilifying the Ten Commandments is a very different thing.

So the Atheist in Foxhole Courage Award is given to people who don’t have the courage to see something that makes them “sickened and confused” because they can’t accept what it says. The FFRF and other atheist organizations are dedicated to “removing every historical monument that mentions God from the public arena.” That will obliterate much of America’s history with no reasonable replacement.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

You can read or hear the full text of Ms. Shaub’s acceptance speech HERE.

Confusing Bible and Traditions at Christmas

Confusing Bible and Traditions at Christmas

Every year around Christmas and Easter, various secular publications and websites carry articles that are critical of Jesus and the Bible. This year LiveScience.com published a page questioning, “How Much of the Nativity Story is True?” Often articles like this make the mistake of confusing Bible and traditions. This one is no exception.

The article begins by quoting Brent Landau, whom they refer to as “a religious studies scholar at the University of Texas at Austin.” Landau says, “My overall take on this, which would be the opinion of most other biblical scholars as well, is that there is very little in the Christmas story of the Gospels that is historically reliable.” Mr. Landau is not only stating that the “Gospels” are historically unreliable, but he is going farther by asserting that “most other biblical scholars” agree with that! His statement is inaccurate on both counts.

We have many times before dealt with the historical accuracy of the Gospels and the Bible as a whole in our publications, videos, and websites. Most biblical scholars would NOT agree that there is “very little in the Christmas story of the Gospels that is historically unreliable.” Actually, there is very little of the “Christmas story” in the Gospels. The story has been embellished by traditions resulting in people confusing Bible and traditions. Only Matthew and Luke say anything about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, and their accounts are brief. Most of the gospel narratives tell of the ministry and teaching of Jesus leading up to His sacrifice and resurrection, which is much more important than details of His birth.

To provide some balance, the article also quotes Ben Witherington III, a well-known New Testament scholar who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary. Witherington is author of more than 30 books and is a strong advocate for the accuracy of the Scriptures. He points out that we should apply the same principles of historical investigation to the Bible as we do to the records of other ancient historical events such as Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars. As we have pointed out before, the historical evidence for the biblical events is better supported by documentary evidence than any other event of ancient history.

However, as we said, secular writers often make the mistake of confusing Bible and traditions. The article talks about December 25 not being Christ’s birthday. Of course, it isn’t. The Bible doesn’t give a date for His birth, but it was most likely in the spring. The article also says, “Most scholars agree that Jesus wasn’t born in A.D. 1.” That is true also, but that doesn’t mean the Bible is wrong. No year of His birth can be found in the Bible, but the Scripture does connect it with the reign of Herod the Great. In fact, shouldn’t Jesus have been born in 0 A.D? The A.D. And B.C. designations were assigned years later after people came to understand the importance of His birth.

When Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem to a humble couple from the backwater town of Nazareth, only a few shepherds recognized the significance. Herod was the powerful ruler building monuments to himself. Today, Herod’s structures are in ruins, and nobody bases their calendar on his birthday. By contrast, our calendars remind us of the (approximate) date of Jesus’ birth, and the Church that He established is a monument to His love and sacrifice. The Gospel accounts meet the standards of historical integrity when we avoid confusing Bible and traditions.

— Roland Earnst © 2019

Christmas Traditions and the Bible

Christmas Traditions and the Bible

When I was an atheist, this time of year used to drive me nuts. There was so much about the story of the birth of Jesus that didn’t make sense. I viewed Christmas as a classic demonstration of the foolishness of Christians who would believe any myth that came along. I was confusing Christmas traditions and the Bible.

Then I started actually studying the Bible with the stated intent to prove it wrong. I soon discovered that what I objected to was human traditions and not mistakes in the Bible. Studying Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 2:1-20 told a whole different story than what I saw on TV shows and Christmas cards. Here are some of my confusions that the Bible resolved:

How could a star stand over the place where the baby was? The closest star to Earth is 4.3 light-years away and shines on the whole planet, not a single place. The Bible does not indicate a celestial star. Herod couldn’t see the star and charged the “wise men” to tell him where the baby was. The biblical concept of this kind of celestial object was what is called the Shekinah glory. It is used frequently in the Bible, especially during the Israelite journey in the wilderness. See Exodus 13:21, 24:17, 40:38 and Ezekiel 1:28, 10:18, 11:23, 43:2.

No “Three Kings” would make such a journey to honor anything. Here again, there is a difference between Christmas traditions and the Bible. Matthew indicates they came from the east, and the word used to describe them is “magos,” from which we get our word “magician.” Luke uses the same word to describe a sorcerer in Acts 13:6-8. They were astrologers from Persia or Arabia, and the Bible doesn’t tell us how many there were. It only mentions three gifts. These three individuals arrived first in Jerusalem, not Bethlehem. The Bible doesn’t tell us when they arrived at the location of the child Jesus.

The Bible also doesn’t name the magi, but their traditional names and descriptions are highly symbolic. Tradition describes Melchoir as old, white-haired, and he brought gold – a gift usually reserved for kings. Gaspar, who was young and beardless, brought frankincense – a fragrant gum resin which was often burned to give a balsam odor which symbolized God’s people ascending to heaven. Balthazar, who was black, had a heavy beard and brought myrrh. Myrrh was a fragrant resin from Arabia, frequently used as an embalming material. (See John 19:39.) None of these names and descriptions are in the Bible – it is all tradition.

The “Christmas story” stated in the Bible is credibly simple. The traditions are not, but they are just traditions invented by humans. It took me many years to realize the difference between Christmas traditions and the Bible. Many times there is a vast difference between what the Bible says and what humans say it says.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Do Exoplanets Disprove God?

Do Exoplanets Disprove God?

One of the interesting developments of the past twenty years has been the study of planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. So far, scientists have discovered more than 4,000 exoplanets. Those who believe the formation of Earth and its ecosystem is a product of blind mechanical chance seize upon this fact to affirm that God had nothing to do with the creation. They argue that given enough time and enough planets, life was bound to happen somewhere eventually. Do exoplanets disprove God?

One obvious difficulty with this claim is that the real issue of creation is how time, space, and matter/energy came into existence in the first place. How it got into a form that would sustain life is a matter of whether the creation was designed and planned by an intelligence, or whether it was a product of chance. Astronomy magazine, in its January 2020 issue, carries an article about the summer 2019 discovery of the first planet that exists in the habitable zone of its star. The media at that time made wild claims about the probable existence of life on that planet. Known as K2-18b, the planet orbits a red dwarf star which is about one third the mass of our Sun. What that means is that water could exist on the planet as a liquid.

So could life exist on K2-18b? This discovery highlights the incredible complexity of planet Earth. K2-18b is roughly twice the diameter of Earth and eight times as massive. The mass of the planet means that gravity there would be much higher than Earth’s gravity. That would result in a much deeper and denser atmosphere with pressures and temperatures thousands of times higher than we experience on Earth. Also, red dwarf stars emit powerful flares, and the orbit of K2-18b is twice as close to its star as Mercury is to the Sun. There is no way that life could survive the conditions on this planet, even if liquid water were present.

Remember that K2-18b is the first planet discovered that is located in a so-called habitable zone. The study of exoplanets has shown that the creation of planet Earth is a highly unique and special event. Do exoplanets disprove God? As we have said before, God can create life anywhere He wants to. But as more and more data becomes available on what exists throughout the cosmos, support for God as the creator and sustainer of life on this planet grows.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Power of Faith and Love

Power of Faith and Love

In my atheist days, I ridiculed religious people for believing something that has no power. I didn’t realize the power of faith and love.

“What good does being a Christian do you that I can’t get at my local bar or club?” That was my challenge. I said that I could have fellowship and share love and material blessings without going to church. I pointed out with some validity that going to church is similar to being a member of a country club. I pay my dues and enjoy certain privileges to be a member of the club. For many church attenders, their contribution is their dues, and they get to go to social events and have some name recognition.

This distorted view of Christianity misses the point at many levels. The Church is not a social club, but a service organization. People in the Church serve the community. They provide relief, take care of the sick, educate children, and support good causes.

Even more important is the power of faith that comes by having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus states things in Matthew 5-7 which are ludicrous to an atheist. How can a rational person love those who hate them (Matthew 5:44)? What is the logic of turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39)? How can anyone be willing to go the second mile (Matthew 5:41)?

To answer the atheist challenge, just ask what is causing the problems for most people living in 21st century America. Why do we have such a high suicide rate? Why is drug usage high and growing? What causes so many people to struggle with depression? It isn’t physical needs that are the most significant problem. It is emotional and spiritual ills that push people into behaviors that sometimes take their lives.

Paul describes the power of faith expressed in love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5. People of faith understand the love which surpasses physical needs. “Love is patient and kind: love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing or keep a record of wrongs but rejoices in the truth… Love never ends.”

There is even a particular Greek word “agapao” to describe that kind of love. It’s a love that fulfills the emotional and spiritual needs that we all have, and God’s Spirit brings that love to life in us. The power of faith is available to anyone who will seek it.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

The Concept of Repentance

The Concept of RepentanceOne of the most misunderstood aspects of the Christian faith is the concept of repentance. Many atheists, as well as some Christians, view repentance as a negative, oppressive act in which an individual is forced to verbally deny some pleasure that the religious establishment condemns. The fact is that the biblical concept of repentance is a positive, progressive movement toward the future.

The Old Testament refers to God repenting. Genesis 6:6-7 says, “It repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” Exodus 32:14, Judges 2:18, 1 Samuel 15:11, and many other passages speak of God repenting. There is a Hebrew word “nacham,” which expresses God’s repentance. God is immutable in His being but changes his relationship and attitude.

The concept of repentance in humans uses the Hebrew word “shoob,” describing a positive, progressive change. Second Kings 23:25 says of Josiah that “there was no king before him which repented to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might.” Many versions translate this concept to “turn” from destructive behavior to a positive one.

Repentance is a major theme of the New Testament. Examples are Acts 17:30, Mark 1:4 and 6:12, Luke 5:32 and 24:47. The word is also used in reference to congregations, as in Revelation 2:5,16 and 3:3. The Greek word used to describe this process is “metanoia,” with “meta” meaning change and “noia” referring to the mind. Vine’s Dictionary of Bible Words defines repentance as “a radical transformation of thought, attitude, outlook, and direction.”

Biblical examples give us a clearer picture of the concept of repentance. The city of Nineveh in Jonah 3:5-10 changed from a corrupt, immoral, violent, destructive place to one of peace and care. Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8-9 changed from a corrupt tax collector to an honest and generous supporter of the poor. The Prodigal Son in Luke 15:19-21 changed from a drunken customer of the pleasure industry to a responsible citizen, and the Jews in Acts 2:38-41 changed from hypocritical, selfish legalists to benevolent Christians.

Repentance is not religious enslavement of humans, but a positive change. Jesus said in Matthew 3:8, “Bring forth fruits which prove your repentance.” Ephesians 4:22-24 speaks of “being mentally and spiritually remade … with a new nature made by God’s design.” Colossians 3:9-11 speaks of “putting off the old man with his deeds and putting on the new man which is being remolded in knowledge.” Repentance is not a one-time thing. It is a positive change that we all need to make. Who would not like to see repentance in the politicians and rulers of the world, especially if that change involved the love and peace of Matthew 5 – 7?
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Decline of Faith in God

Praying to God in spite of Decline of Faith in GodOne of the frustrations we face is the decline of faith in God. Along with that is the fact that many congregations and preachers don’t recognize the problem. We were encouraged to see Phil Sanders point out the problem in the November (2019) issue of The Search Light, the newsletter of SearchTV.org.

Here are some of the comments Sanders presented, and to which we say “Amen.” He pointed out the obvious fact that there are atheists who don’t believe in God. But he also noted that there are practical atheists who may or may not intellectually believe in God, but who leave no doubt by the way they live that God does not matter. He reminds us that research has shown that the “nones” are the fast-growing religious group in America today. They are the people who claim to have no religious affiliation and are, therefore, practical atheists.

Sanders also pointed out some disturbing data, including the fact that 26% of the American population has no religious affiliation, up from 17% in 2009. Those who describe themselves as Christians are 65%, down from 77% a decade ago. That trend carries across the board among churches. Congregations of the Church of Christ have lost 192,224 adherents in the past 12 years, an average of 16,000 per year. In 2018 there were 11,965 congregations of the Church of Christ in the U.S., and in 2006 there were 12,963. That is an average loss of 83 congregations per year, or one every 4.4 days. Since 1980 the decline has been 6.3%.

DOES GOD EXIST? has worked to fight this decline of faith in God since this ministry started in 1968. We help people build their faith in God, and we do it 24/7. We encourage you to go to our main website doesgodexist.org and see what we have available to help individuals and congregations. You can read all of Phil Sanders’ article at THIS LINK.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Ancient Torah Scroll in Library of Congress

Ancient Torah Scroll in Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Skeptics often challenge the accuracy of the Bible manuscripts. The idea is that copies have been made of copies, causing errors to creep in as each copier makes mistakes and repeats the errors of previous copyists. Also, words change their meaning. An obvious modern example is the word “gay,” which does not have the same meaning now that it had 50 years ago. It is true that the original documents written in the first century do not exist. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls contain Old Testament documents from before the time of Christ. In January of 2018, the Library of Congress announced that it had obtained the oldest complete ancient Torah scroll sheet totally legible to the naked eye.

So how do we determine the accuracy of Bible manuscripts? We use copies of the biblical manuscripts that are very old and compare them to the documents that were used to produce a particular translation of the Bible. Gary Rendsburg writing in Biblical Archaeology Review (November/December 2019, page 51), said this about the Torah scroll in the Library of Congress: “The document is nothing short of outstanding! Compared to the other old Torah scroll sheets and fragments surveyed, this sheet, composed of five columns of text, is perfectly legible. Every single letter can be read easily.”

So how does this ancient copy of the Torah line up with the five books of Moses found in your Bible? The answer is “very well.” There is nothing in this oldest Torah manuscript that changes anything stated in the Bible you have. The copyists were very careful not to make mistakes. While some paraphrase Bibles might inject modern human bias or error, that is generally not true of the academic translations of the Bible. This ancient Torah scroll validates the Pentateuch, but similar techniques confirm other passages in the Old and New Testaments. We can trust what we read in modern translations of the Bible.
— John N. Clayton © 2019