Seeds Are Alive

Seeds Are AliveWhen you walk into the forest and look up at the trees, it’s easy to realize that all of those structures towering over your head are alive. What you may not think about is that their seeds under your feet are alive also.

Many trees produce seeds to grow new trees. There are maple seeds with their familiar “helicopter” method of blowing in the wind. There are cottonwood seeds that look like “summer snow.” Those seeds and others are carried far away by the wind.

Oak trees produce seeds we call acorns. They’re too heavy for the wind to scatter them, so that’s the job of squirrels. Squirrels gather acorns and store them to eat later. When later comes, the squirrels have often forgotten where they stored their treasure. Instead of being eaten, the acorns grow into new trees to produce more acorns. Both the trees and the squirrels benefit from that arrangement.

The seed of a coconut tree is the coconut. The wind can’t blow coconuts around, and squirrels can’t carry them. They often grow near water, such as a stream or an ocean. A coconut falling into the sea can float to an island thousands of miles away, where it can take root and grow. Cherry trees produce their fruit with a seed we often call a pit. Birds eat the cherries and drop the seeds over a wide area.

The key to a seed beginning to grow is the breaking of the shell surrounding it. Many things can cause that to happen, such as moisture, temperature, fire, mechanical abrasion, or a combination of methods. Some seeds have to travel through the digestive system of birds or animals for them to begin to grow into a new plant.

Most seeds wait a year before they start to grow. Cherry seeds can wait for hundreds of years. Scientists discovered a lotus seed (Nelumbo nucifer) in a bog in China. They cracked the shell and started it growing. When they carbon-dated the shell, they found that the seed had been waiting for 2,000 years to sprout into a lotus plant.

Seeds are alive, waiting in dormancy to grow into what God created them to be. The amazing quality of life shows design by intelligence, not chance.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

What Is Hell?

What Is Hell?What is hell, and why does God threaten to send us there? For the past two days, we have been looking at the challenges of this email we received:
“How can you expect me to believe in a God who created me against my wishes and without my consent, and then because I don’t do things the way he thinks I should, sends me to eternal suffering in hell? That is a product of a twisted mind and is not something I can believe in or serve. I didn’t ask to be born, and I won’t spend my life worshiping an evil, abusive God who rejoices in bringing pain to everything he touches.”

The emailer’s understanding of hell is traditional, not biblical. No one can answer all the questions about hell with authority, because no one has been there and returned to tell about it. Works like Dante’s Inferno have influenced us. Preachers who have used hell as a scare tactic to control their audiences. Misconceptions abound.

So what is hell? We tend to portray hell as a place of eternal punishing rather than a place of eternal punishment. There is a difference. When Jesus talked about hell, He used clearly symbolic words. He spoke of hell as a place of flames and burning sulfur (brimstone). Another time he called it a place of darkness (see Matthew 8:12; 22:13). Sometimes we hear hell explained by the story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus. The description of hell is presumed to be taken as literal. However, no Christian sees it as an instruction to pray to Abraham or that Abraham is the judge. Those things are presented in the story.

What we can say about hell is that it is total separation from God. An atheist who never wanted anything to do with God in life is going to be granted that same wish in hell. God never forces himself on any person. We are always free to reject God if we so choose. The only problem is that we must also suffer the consequences of that rejection of God. God is love, light, good, compassion, justice, etc. All of those things will be a part of heaven. None of those things will exist in hell. Being lost is frequently described in the Bible as “the second death” (see Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). Theologians argue endlessly over what this means, and whether the soul can die. I certainly have nothing to add to the discussion, but I know that being separated from God and all the blessings of God is not something I wish even to consider.

The emailer states everything in diametric opposition to the truth. God is good, not evil. God is love, not hate. Hell is simply the separation from God that the emailer claims to desire. God clearly says that He does not want anyone to be lost, but for all to inherit eternal life (2 Peter 3:9). However, God also allows us to reject Him and all He offers. This is like the parent who painfully releases a child to travel a road the parent wishes they would not travel, hoping they will learn from the wrong choices and return to the parent’s loving embrace. The Prodigal Son story in Luke 15 makes this so obvious that no one can miss it.

Our rejection is not what God desires, and He always is there to welcome us back. What is hell? Our wrong choices can bring us death and eternal separation from God. That is hell, and you do not want any part of it. Come to God, obey His love and blessings. Enjoy eternal life with love, peace, joy, compassion, forgiveness, and freedom from pain that we can only dimly imagine.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

-May/June 2006

Why Does God Tell Us What to Do?

Why Does God Tell Us What to Do?Why does God tell us what to do and punish us for not doing it? Yesterday we began to consider the frustrations of the person who sent us this email:
“How can you expect me to believe in a God who created me against my wishes and without my consent, and then because I don’t do things the way he thinks I should, sends me to eternal suffering in hell? That is a product of a twisted mind and is not something I can believe in or serve. I didn’t ask to be born, and I won’t spend my life worshiping an evil, abusive God who rejoices in bringing pain to everything he touches.”

The emailer’s view of why God tells us to do things is badly misinformed. God does not tell us what to do because God is a control freak. Many people seem to feel that God’s commands are just the reflection of an ego that demands things that make Him feel better.

The first problem here is that these folks have a very poor understanding of what God is. God is not a human consumed with human passions and weaknesses. God does not have self-image problems, ego problems, moods, sexual desires, power struggles, or feelings of envy. God is not a human and is not limited to human emotions and feelings. Furthermore, God does not need us. Over and over the Bible defines God as love, light, a spirit, not flesh and blood, not a man, etc. (see John 4:24; Matthew 16:17; 1 John 1:5; 4:8,12,16; Numbers 23:19; John 1:1). Suggesting that God tells us what to do because He wants to have control over us and satisfy His own power needs is a complete misunderstanding of God’s nature.

Why does God tell us what to do? Even with our limited ability to understand, we can see that everything God tells us to do is for our own good. God’s rules for sexual expression are the right formula to give us the best and most fulfilling aspect of sex. Sexual clinicians agree that a single committed relationship is the best formula for completeness and fulfillment. Nobody questions the fact that STDs will not spread in a monogamous, committed relationship. Even the most radical proponents of alternative lifestyles cannot argue that their proposals for gay marriage, polygamy, or whatever are superior to God’s plan of one man one woman committed to serving each other for life. They argue theirs is as good, and that is an argument that the data does not support. No one questions the wisdom of the biblical instructions that oppose violence, murder, or abuse.

Even those things that God tells us to do in worship are for our own well being. God does not ask us to pray because He needs information from us, or because He needs praise. Prayer is an act which helps us to learn to look to a higher power and reach beyond ourselves. That is something recognized by every 12-step program to overcoming addictions. Interestingly, some groups opposed to the existence of God are now promoting Transcendental Meditation and other similar acts as a substitute for prayer.

Giving is not something God tells us to do because He needs our money. If we believe that God is the creator of all things, then we surely understand that. Giving is something humans need to learn to do for our own well being. The biblical injunction, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) is really a discussion of what benefits the giver, not what benefits the receiver. The person who never learns to give will be unsuccessful in his marriage, in his sexual relationships, in his family, and his friendships. Every act God instructs us to do is for our well-being, not for control purposes.

Why does God tell us what to do? Because He loves us! Tomorrow, we will deal with the emailer’s question about hell.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

I Didn’t Ask to be Born

I Didn't Ask to be BornWe received the following email: “How can you expect me to believe in a God who created me against my wishes and without my consent, and then because I don’t do things the way he thinks I should, sends me to eternal suffering in hell? That is a product of a twisted mind and is not something I can believe in or serve. I didn’t ask to be born, and I won’t spend my life worshiping an evil, abusive God who rejoices in bringing pain to everything he touches.”

Obviously, this email was sent by a person in pain – a person who is angry, frustrated, confused, misinformed, misled, and disconnected from reality. Many of this person’s problems are due to the traditions of human creeds and theories. Much of the frustration is due to assumptions that are not valid or biblical.

There are some questions and challenges in the message that I, too, struggle with, and I make no pretense of having all the answers. What we would like to do is to dissect this email in the hope that it will help some of our readers who may have some of the same concerns and struggles. I am sure there are others with the same complaints but are not willing to be quite as honest in expressing them.

“I didn’t ask to be born.” Have you ever gotten so frustrated with life, and especially with people in your life, that you wished you had never been born? I think that most of us have gone through that. Job certainly radiated that feeling when he said: “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said ‘A boy is conceived’ “(Job 3:3). As an atheist, I said almost those very words in a modernized form and got so far down the road of despair that I attempted in a crude way to end my life. From an atheist perspective, there are times when we feel that life is a worthless, meaningless, painful experience that we would rather not endure.

However, at the end of every night, there is another day, and things do get better. For the Christian, the meaningfulness of life is more easily seen because of the purpose that a Christian has in living. If your only goal in living is seeking selfish desires and pleasures, it is easy to run out of reasons to live. If your life has a bigger purpose, then you have a reason to live, a purpose, and a goal.

Job finally came to understand his purpose in life. He looked at what had happened and what he had endured, and he had a new perspective. He told the Lord that before all these things had happened to him: “My ears have heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5). He then goes on joyously praising God because he sees a purpose in his life.

I am sure Job always had some sobering thoughts and memories of what he had lost. But he was glad to be alive, and God enabled him to see purpose and meaning in his life. Saying “I didn’t ask to be born and I wish I had never been” is a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis. Before we seek a permanent solution to a temporary problem, we should allow God to remind us that we are love, and we have a purpose.

Tomorrow, we will look at a second challenge in that email – “Why does God have the right to tell me what to do?”
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Vibrant Christian Households

Vibrant Christian HouseholdsWhat are vibrant Christian households? The Barna Group is a research and polling organization which specializes in research related to faith and Christianity. They recently surveyed “spiritual vibrancy” within Christian households. The results are interesting.

The factors Barna looked for in Christian households were spiritual practices, spiritual conversations, and hospitality. Spiritual practices included praying and reading the Bible together. Spiritual conversations involved talking about God and faith among the household members. Hospitality refers to hosting non-family guests on a regular basis. They wanted to see how thoughtful, transformative faith can grow in families and be passed down through generations. The Barna Group defined households that practice these three areas as spiritually vibrant. That required spiritual practices every day or two, spiritual conversations every week, and hospitality several times a month.

Barna surveyed more than 2,300 households of practicing Christians “who say their faith is very important in their lives and have attended a worship service within the past month.” Of the active Christian households studied, only 25% were classified as Vibrant. The 33% of the households that exhibited spiritual practices and conversations, but not hospitality, were classified as Devotional. The 14% of households that practiced hospitality only were classified as Hospitable. That leaves 28% of the Christian households classified as Dormant.

This causes us to ask the question, “Which category would my household fit into?” Maybe more important is, “Which category do I want my household to fit into?” That leads to, “What can I do to make my Christian home more Vibrant?” It’s something to think about, and pray about, and talk to your family about. According to the Barna report, “spiritual vibrancy is not determined by unchangeable characteristics, but by things any Christian can improve.”

You can read more details about this survey and get some ideas for developing Vibrant Christian households on Barna’s website. Click HERE for more information.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Importance of Religion and Family Life

Importance of Religion and Family LifeThe Pew Research Center wanted to learn about global views on the importance of religion and family life, so they surveyed over 30,000 people in 27 countries. One set of questions presented was, “Does religion play a more or less important role today than it did 20 years ago, and is that good or bad?” A second query set was, “Are family ties stronger or weaker than they were 20 years ago, and is that good or bad?”

A large majority in most countries agreed on the two questions involving family ties. There is strong agreement that family ties are weakening and that it is a bad thing. Across the 27 countries, 58 percent said that family ties had weakened while 22% said there was no change and only 15% said they had strengthened.

There was less agreement concerning religion. A median 37% said that religion plays a less important role in their countries today, while 27% said it is more important. Interestingly, most of the people surveyed were NOT OPPOSED to religion playing a more important role in their countries. The most significant opposition to religion’s role seems to be in Europe with Sweden (51%), France (47%), and the Netherlands (45%). In the United States, only 18% are opposed to a more important role for religion in the nation. In Canada, the opposition is 29%.

The countries where the largest percentage of people said that family ties are strengthening are Indonesia and the Philippines. The countries where more people said that religion plays a more important role now than 20 years ago include the Philippines, Kenya, Nigeria, and Indonesia. By far, the people of Indonesia said that religion plays a more important role now (83%). Indonesia is 87% Muslim, and Nigeria is evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Kenya is 83% Christian and the Philippines 90% Christian in the broadest sense.

Not surprisingly, in the United States, people who consider themselves to be somewhat or very conservative (to the right end of the political spectrum) are 42% more likely to favor more religious influence in the country than those who are liberal or left-leaning. That attitude is reflected in the positions taken in the current U.S. Political campaign.

For more details on this study of the importance of religion and family life, visit the Pew Research website HERE.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Solar System Design

Solar System DesignAstronomers today use technology to examine areas of the cosmos far removed from our solar system. The fact that they are finding the other systems are very much different from ours should tell us something. In fact, the more we study those other systems, the more we learn about our solar system design and why it is the way it is.

One interesting fact about other systems is that even though some planets are very large and obviously gaseous, they can exist very close to their stars. Astronomers in the past explained the fact that the inner planets of our own solar system are rocky and hard by saying that the Sun burned off the gases and left the rocky material. That may be partially true, but in 2002 astronomers discovered a planet they named OGLE-TR-56b. It is about the same mass as Jupiter but over 30 percent larger. It has to be a gaseous planet to have such a low density.

The surprising thing is that OGLE-TR-56b orbits its star at an average distance of only 2 million miles (3.2 million km). Our innermost planet Mercury is 36 million miles (58 million km) from the Sun. The outer atmosphere of this planet must be around 3000°F (1650° C). It is evident that gaseous planets can exist very close to their stars, so our old explanation of the inner planets in our solar system design is vastly oversimplified.

Most of the planets we see around other stars are very large, which is not surprising since it is easier to see a big planet than a small one. One extra-solar planet is 17 times as massive as Jupiter. The strange thing is that many of the giant planets are closer to the Sun than Venus. Old theories of planet formation suggested that due to the large gravity values of stars, it was impossible for planets to form close to the stars. We now know that is not true.

Science programs on television have delighted in proposing that the cosmos is full of planets and that every galaxy has literally millions of planets. The hope is that if you have enough planets, the chance of having another Earth is improved. We now know that many galactic systems do not have planets at all. The composition and age of galactic systems obviously have a major impact on whether planets can exist, but claims of billions of Earth-like planets in the cosmos are highly exaggerated.

The type of star also has an impact on whether planetary systems can form. Most stars in the cosmos are binary systems containing more than one star. A planet can orbit the stars at a great distance, but shifting gravity fields make planets unlikely if the stars are close together, as most are. How much metal there is in a star system affects planet formation. Metal content varies within galaxies as well as between stars. A part of space dominated by gases like hydrogen and helium are not as likely to produce planets as areas where there are large amounts of iron, manganese, cobalt, and the like. Solar system design requires the right kind of star.

Perhaps one of the most exciting lessons we have learned from other solar systems is that the shape of the orbits of planets in our solar system is very unusual. Most of them have very circular orbits meaning that their distance from the Sun does not vary a great deal. Venus has an orbit that is .007 with 0 being a perfect circle and 1 is a straight line. Pluto has the most elliptical orbit, but even Pluto is less than .3 on the 0-1 scale. Our solar system design is unusual.

Circular orbits like ours are very rare in other solar systems where .7 is a very common orbital value, and virtually all orbits exceed .3. If a planet swings far out from its star and then comes much closer, it should be obvious that temperature conditions are going to be extreme. Not only will such a planet have extreme conditions itself, but it will have a very negative effect on any planets that do have a circular orbit in the system. If Jupiter came closer to the Sun than Earth with each orbit, imagine the conditions on Earth as Jupiter went by us.

We now know that our gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) are essential to us because their gravitational fields sweep up any debris from outer space. Without those planets, comets and asteroids would pound Earth and life here would be difficult if not impossible. The fact that they are outside Earth’s orbit at a considerable distance and in a circular orbit allows us to exist in a stable condition for an extended time. The comets that do enter our system by avoiding the gas giants do not come in along the plane of the solar system called the ecliptic. Coming in from other directions, they have no chance of hitting Earth since they are not in the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun.

Like everything in science, the study of the cosmos and other solar systems speaks eloquently to us about the design and planning that is part of everything in the creation. As we discover more data, other factors will surely tell us how unique our solar system design is. In the twenty-first century, we have more reasons than any humans have ever had to realize the truth of Psalms 19:1.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Definition of Marriage

Definition of Marriage One of the issues that arouse emotional response from many people in our culture is the subject of marriage. The gay community has brought a challenge to western culture by tying human rights to the issue of marriage, and essentially demanding that marriage be redefined to eliminate the biblical concept. The logical outcome of that change is whether there can be an absolute definition of marriage.

Since we live in a culture that is attempting to do away with absolutes, you can expect that to applied to an absolute definition of marriage. If that is the case, then many other forms of marriage will be viewed as acceptable. Polygamy (one husband, many wives) as taught by Islam and many Mormons would have to be condoned. Group marriages, polyandrous marriages (one wife, many husbands), family marriages, and any number of other things the human mind can conceive will become acceptable. There are those in our society who are willing to say that any system a person wants to engage in should be accepted by society at large because that is a basic tenet of human rights.

What is happening in the Muslim world today is a good demonstration of why this kind of thinking will not work. Various cultures practice polygamy, but Islam is the only religion that specifically sanctions it. Mohammed had five wives, and the Koran suggests that is the proper number. Osama bin Laden’s father had 52 children by 16 wives. Not all Muslims embrace polygamy just as they do not all embrace jihad. However, the Koran is very clear in sanctioning polygamy, and Muslim fundamentalists embrace and enforce it among populations where they have control. Mansour al-Nogaidan, a Saudi Arabian dissident, described his own experience in clear terms: “You can’t have a girlfriend in this society, it is too expensive to marry. As a young man, all you are thinking about is sex, so the teachers tell us, ‘Don’t worry, no need now, when you kill yourself you’ll have plenty of girls in heaven.’ “What does this practice do?

William Tucker writing in The American Spectator (June 2004, pages 50-52) summarized it, this way:

“In a society where not all men will be able to reproduce, excess males have very little social value. Therefore it is not surprising to find among this bachelor cohort three major characteristics: (1) an excess of pent-up sexual frustration, (2) an internalized sense of personal worthlessness, and (3) an extremely nihilistic-shall we say suicidal-disposition toward self-immolation and violence. Suicide bombers are easily recruited in these ranks.”

Some people maintain that all religions are equal and that there should be no discussion of why one religion might be in error while another is correct. They should look logically at where the teachings of various religions lead. The gay marriage issue may not produce a gender imbalance, but it does lead to other consequences. The most fundamental problem is that if the definition of marriage changes according to everyone’s personal rights, then marriage becomes meaningless.

The Christian system clearly identifies the concept of marriage as one man one wife for life. That is the ideal and what God intended from the beginning. Polygamy was allowed in the Old Testament, but it was a human modification, not God’s original plan. Genesis 2:24 clearly states that a “man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife [not wives], and they become one flesh.” In the New Testament there is a clear definition of marriage in these terms, and even commands that husband and wife should not separate for any significant time to avoid passion leading to adultery (see 1 Corinthians 7:4-9).

The logic of God’s definition of marriage is clear. A stable marriage between a man and a woman leads to the birth of children who are raised in intact families leading to a healthy society. Since babies are born in roughly equal sexual numbers, there should essentially be a mate for every human. Everyone has the potential right to sexual and emotional fulfillment in marriage according to God’s design. Changing the definition of marriage will ultimately bring misery and unhappiness to humans. All other options lead to disease, problems for children, abuse, and chaos for society. The Christian institution of marriage according to God’s plan is a great apologetic for the validity of the Christian system.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Discrediting Jesus and the Bible

Discrediting Jesus - Romulus and RemusSkeptics have tried for 2,000 years to find methods of discrediting Jesus and the Bible. When Jesus was on Earth, people debated who and what He was. All kinds of mistaken concepts circulated, frequently controlled by the desires and beliefs of His enemies. Things have not changed. Sometimes skeptics have tried to explain away Jesus in terms of ancient pagan cultures or Jewish religious sects.

At one time, people claimed that the source of the stories about Jesus came from the Essenes, a sect of Jews who lived near the Dead Sea and left what are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Essenes wrote about a man known as the “Great Teacher.” Skeptics suggested that this individual was elevated by his followers to be “the son of God,” and that led to the myth of Jesus Christ. Further research on the Dead Sea Scrolls and new archaeological discoveries laid that claim to rest.

People have tried to tie Christ to the ancient Egyptian cult of Isis. There is a story of a “resurrection” in that legend, and skeptics bent on discrediting Jesus claimed that was the origin of the story of Christ’s resurrection. Osiris was the Egyptian god of the underworld, and supposedly was the husband of Isis. In the Egyptian legend, Osiris was murdered by his brother and buried in the Nile. Isis recovered the body, but Osiris’ brother retrieved it, cut it up into 14 pieces, and scattered the pieces around the world. Isis found all 14 pieces and resurrected Osiris.

The story of Christ could not have been borrowed from the cult of Isis because it has none of the characteristics of the story. Nowhere in the resurrection account is there any supernatural battle between equal gods, no sex interest, and no war based on physical skill and intelligence. When Peter used his sword to cut off the ear of one of Christ’s attackers, Jesus healed the ear and told him to put away the sword. There is no struggle for political power in the story of Christ. The contrast between the story of Isis and the story of Christ is so enormous that even the rankest skeptic should be able to see the foolishness of trying to compare them.

Other attempts to explain the virgin birth by stories from pagan myths are even more ludicrous. In one case, the sun-god Apollo became a snake and impregnated the mother of Augustus Caesar, so the baby born was without a mortal father. Not only is this account used by some skeptics of Christ ridiculous in its content, but it was written after the biblical account had been recorded in the gospels. The gospel writers could not possibly have drawn from it.

Another claim was that the founder of Rome, Romulus, inspired the story of Christ. Romulus was supposed to have been fathered by the Roman god Mars. When he and his twin brother Remus were left to die in the Tiber River, a she-wolf adopted and raised them. Later Romulus killed Remus and became the founder and first king of Rome. Once again, one just has to read the account and ask if there is any similarity between this mythical story and the account of the birth, life, and death of Jesus.

Skeptics continue to look for ways of discrediting Jesus and the Bible. Relativism, materialism, selfishness, the total abandonment of morality, and the disintegration of the home make the Christian message unpopular. As people try to justify their lifestyles and selfish exploitation of others, they will resort to almost any way of discrediting Jesus and His beautiful and functional teachings. We need to answer the challenge as we demonstrate the love and service that Jesus commanded His followers to show.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

New Testament Manuscripts

New Testament Manuscripts Trustworthy?We often see challenges to the trustworthiness of the New Testament manuscripts with statements like this from an atheist website:

“The New Testament has been translated so many times and modified by copiers in so many ways over the past 2,000 years, that it is impossible to have any confidence in its accuracy.”

Such statements are usually coupled with the old game where a row of people whisper a story from one to the next until the last person receives something very different. Communication is hard. People make mistakes when they tell someone else what happened. To believe that the New Testament is still accurate after nearly 2,000 years is more than many people can accept.

The problem is that most of us are ignorant about how we got the Bible. When you whisper a story from person A to person B to C, and so forth, you are using linear transmission. The problem with going through 10 linear transmissions is that each person in the chain can add his own error, and the end product gets further and further away from the original.

When I was a kid, my father handed me a board that was the right length for the roof of the chicken coop we were making. He told me to cut ten boards to the same length. I took the one he gave me and marked the second board and cut it. Then I took the second board and marked the third board and cut it. Then I took the third board and marked the fourth board and cut it. By the time I got to the tenth board, I had added a foot to the length of the board. Each cut added its own error. Could the same problem have taken place in the transmission of the New Testament documents?

The transmission of the biblical text was geometric, not linear. What we mean is that the original manuscript was copied many times, not just once. In the previous example, if I had taken the first board and used it to mark each of the ten boards, there would have been no problem. In the New Testament documents, the copiers took the first copy and made 50 copies. Those 50 copies were copied by people at different places producing perhaps 250 copies. This is a geometric progression, not a linear one.

Gregory Koukl in an excellent article “Facts for Skeptics of the New Testament” in Christian Research Journal (volume 27, number 3, page 10) gave a great illustration of how geometric progression can help us determine the actual content of an original document. It is called “Aunt Sally’s Letter,” and it goes like this:

Aunt Sally invents a fantastic recipe. She makes 30 copies of the recipe and gives it to her friends. Each of her friends makes 30 copies of the one they were given and give it to 30 of their friends. Aunt Sally comes home one day and discovers that her dog has eaten the only copy of the recipe she has. She calls her 30 friends she gave the recipe to and asks them to send their copy back so she can remake her own copy. Twenty-seven of the copies are exactly the same. The three that are different have different problems. One has a misspelled word. One has an inverted phrase (“mix and then chop” instead of “chop and then mix”). One has an ingredient that is not in any of the other recipes.

Can Aunt Sally reconstruct her original recipe from what she has? To assume that the copy with the added ingredient is right, would be inconsistent. There is too much evidence that the added ingredient was not in the original with only one out of 30 copies having it. The other two mistakes are common human errors, and it does not make any sense to leave them in the recipe.

That story illustrates in simplified form what scholars call “textual criticism.” It is a careful literary process scholars use on all kinds of documents to correct copying errors. Because the Bible s copied in geometric form, it is a prime candidate for this kind of work. Variations in New Testament manuscripts are greatly exaggerated. Atheist and skeptic websites report that there are 300,000 individual variations of the New Testament text in the manuscripts. They present this seemingly massive amount of variations to show that there can be no confidence in the New Testament manuscripts.

Dr. Daniel Wallace in an article in Bibliotheca Sacra (“The Majority Text and the Original Text: Are They Identical?” 148,590 [1991]:page 157) pointed out that most of the differences are spelling errors and minor phrasing problems equaling a total of about 400 words in about 40 lines of original text. This is out of 20,000 lines of text, meaning that the Greek text of the New Testament is 99.5% pure. There are very few historical documents of any kind which come close to this level of purity.

Biblical manuscript evidence is massive. Here is a conservative summary of textual evidence:

Different Greek manuscripts available: 5,366
Complete New Testament manuscripts from ninth to fifteenth centuries: 34
Earliest complete New Testament date: A.D. 340
Oldest fragment of the New Testament date: A.D. 117-138
Translations into Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian: A.D. 300-400

Much of the support for the accuracy of New Testament manuscripts comes from fragments. A good example is the John Rylands Papyri, which contains all of John 18:31-33. Paleographic dating puts the age of this fragment at “earlier than A.D. 117.” This fragment is about three inches square but gives us a picture of one small piece of the New Testament. The Bodmer Papyri II manuscript contains the first 14 chapters of the Gospel of John. The Chester Beatty Papyri includes most of the New Testament and dates to the middle of the third century. The amount of evidence for New Testament manuscripts is greater than any other manuscript of the same age.

No scholar would discard a secular document of an age before A.D. 1,000 with that much documentation because there was insufficient evidence for it. Skeptics are totally inconsistent when they attempt to discredit the Bible in this way. We can be confident about the validity of the scriptures we have. While atheists might disagree with the teachings of Jesus, they cannot claim with integrity that we do not know what Jesus taught.
— John N. Clayton © 2019