Thomas Jefferson’s Bible

Thomas Jefferson's Bible examined in the book Doubting Thomas
Atheists and skeptics have done a good job of convincing many people that Thomas Jefferson was especially critical of the claims of Jesus being the Son of God,and that he was a closet atheist. I have heard (and repeated I am sorry to say), the claim that Jefferson’s Bible had holes all through it in which he clipped out anything he didn’t like. The story was that a good percentage of the pages of Thomas Jefferson’s Bible were missing. (I have commented that a lot of us do that mentally.) It turns out that most of what we have been told about Jefferson and his religious convictions are not true.

Mark Beliles and Jerry Newcombe wrote a book published by Morgan James in October of 2014 titled Doubting Thomas: The Religious Life and Legacy of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson did clearly state that people should be free to believe or to disbelieve in Jesus, which no thinking American can deny. That view influenced his writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. He also wrote, but did not publish, a work which was designed to help Indians understand the philosophy of Christianity. It was titled The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted From the Account of His Life and Doctrines as Given by Mathew, Mark, Luke and John; Being an Abridgment of the New Testament for the Use of Indians Unembarrassed with Matters of Fact or Faith Beyond the Level of Their Comprehensions. (What a title!) According to Jefferson, this work was to help the Indians benefit from the moral teachings of Jesus Christ. Jefferson stated in a letter to William Canby on September 18, 1813: “Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus Christ.”

When Jefferson was president he regularly attended the Christian worship services held at the U.S. Capitol building. He did not exclude miracles from what is called “The Jefferson Bible.” Matthew 10:8, Luke 14:1-6, Matthew 9:18-25, Matthew 9:20-22 and Matthew 9:27-31 are all in his Bible. However, he struggled with some doctrinal issues which he called “Christology.” He had an especially hard time with the Godhead.

He was not a theologian, but he clearly was a believer. He devoted a great deal of energy and time to understanding the teachings of Jesus Christ as indicated by Thomas Jefferson’s Bible.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Worshiping a Physical Deity

Worshiping a Physical Deity One of the most significant problems people have with God is that they perceive God as a physical entity. That means God is subject to time, as all physical things are. It means that there are confines of space that limit God. It also means that limitations of energy and mass are problems for God. A favorite atheist challenge is, “Can God create a rock so big he can’t move it?” Marshall Keeble used to say, “Yep, and he can create a bulldozer big enough to do the job.” The problem with both the original question and the snappy comeback by Keeble is that they are dealing with a physical being with physical limitations. The problem is worshiping a physical deity.

Creating a physical God makes the process of creation impossible to visualize or understand. A great astronomer once commented that the problem with the big bang theory is that it does not tell us what banged or who caused the bang. That statement is absolutely true, but it also states the question in terms of a physical being. “What banged” means that there was something physical to do the banging. “Who caused the bang?” implies that a physical person created or directed the process. The biblical concept of God and the view of virtually all cosmologists is that the cosmos came from dimensions far beyond our own. Whether one looks for the explanation in quantum mechanics or God, the fact is that the creation process is not a physical process. Worshiping a physical deity is not logical.

Not only do we get bogged down in the creation question, but even our worship of God is impacted by creating a physical God. If your concept of God is physical, then you will do physical things in physical ways to serve God. The building of cathedrals, shrines, monuments, idols, and icons as focal points of worship have grown out of that concept of God. Instead of building structures that serve the needs of people, this kind of created deity infuses a concept of a physical place for God to dwell. Even the phrase “God’s house” suggests a physical limitation to God. We do not need a place to worship God. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). That shows the importance of the nonphysical nature of God. The Bible says we are created in God’s image, but that does not mean a physical image. The God described in the Bible does not possess a face, hands, feet, and does not have an appetite, a sexual identification, or a race. Terms like face and hand may be used to describe how God acts when interacting with humans, but these are not true properties of God.

When someone asks “who created God?” his question is rooted in a misconception of what God is. They think we are worshiping a physical deity. My usual response to that question is to ask the questioner to draw me a four-sided triangle. The point is that the question assumed things about God that are not true. “Who created God?” implies that there was a time when God did not exist. It assumes that space and energy existed without God and before God’s existence. Those are incorrect physical assumptions. God created time, space, matter, and energy. The question is wrong, and so no answer satisfies, just as it is impossible to draw a four-sided triangle.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Theological Objections to God’s Existence

Theological Objections to GodMany times what we present in this daily column is a function of our mail and what we hear from you, our readers. In addition to believers with questions, we also hear from atheists and skeptics who have theological objections to God. They say they simply don’t like the God they read about in the Bible. Here is an example:

“How can I believe in a God who creates people against their will, doesn’t allow them the freedom to live as they wish, and condemns them to eternal hell when they don’t conform to his desires.”

This is a person who is willing to reject all evidence of God and deny any hope of life beyond our physical existence because of his interpretations of the Bible. This person’s theological objections to God amounts to what I call theological atheism. I would suggest that this person has misconceptions and misunderstandings. Let me highlight a few:

#1) This person is assuming that in a previous existence, people could have had a choice as to whether to be created or not. There is no evidence of a prior existence of any kind. Assuming people would prefer non-existence to life is an assumption that is poorly supported.

#2) Bible events that skeptics attribute to God are often actions of humans. The Bible is reporting the events that transpired, not what God desired to happen. God did not tell Joseph’s brothers to throw him into a pit and sell him as a slave. God used an evil action of men to accomplish good. Most of the Old Testament is a record of the events that happened, not what God caused or commanded to happen. Humans consistently do horrible, stupid, violent, abusive, sinful things by choice. The consequences of those bad choices are not the will of God. The Bible honestly reports what happened, and God’s ultimate response to the needs of humanity.

#3) God gives humans complete freedom. You are free to jump off a cliff any time you choose to do so. What God does not do is to step in and remove the consequences of whatever free choice you make. God doesn’t turn off gravity for you no matter who you are. Actions that you choose have consequences.

#4) Hell is not a torture chamber, and physical interpretations miss the mark. The passage that is misused by atheists and some Christians alike to support hell as a torture chamber is Luke 16:19-31. This is a parable in a series of parables with the name “Lazarus” literally meaning” without help.” We have discussed this previously. People who use hell to portray God as an evil demagogue who takes delight in seeing innocent people scream in agony for eternity misunderstand God, human nature, and what is intended by the descriptions of hell. Matthew 10:28 indicates that the soul can die, and that would mean that a person is put back into the non-existence from which they came. That doesn’t deny the judgment and punishment for those who reject God.

Theological objections to God’s existence are poorly thought out, and they are often based on bad theology. We will continue examining theological atheism tomorrow.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Another Reason Why Atheism Makes Sense

Another Reason Why Atheism Makes Sense

Yesterday, we looked at one reason why some people choose atheism. Today we want to examine another reason why atheism makes sense. As I said yesterday, some people seem to think that there are no real atheists. Since I was an atheist for many years, I know that isn’t true. Many people genuinely believe that there is no God and they have various reasons. Here is a second reason:

REASON 2. Some argue that religion causes nothing but trouble, hostility, suffering, and discord. History is full of religious wars. We could point out the Crusades, more recent conflicts in Northern Ireland, and in much of the Middle East spilling over into terrorism in the United States and western countries. Examine the internal problems of religious groups including hypocrisy, bickering, hostility, and abuse. Look at the prominent religious leaders who are guilty of immoral actions. Look at the money raked in by glib, fast-talking con-artists who build religious empires for their own pocket. They exploit the very people they pretend to help. In simple terms, religion does not seem to work.

RESPONSE. Who among those of us who wear the name “Christian” would want to deny all of those charges? We can cry out that these are human errors and not God’s. However, if faith in God does not work for us, how can atheists rationally believe it is going to work for them? Today the body of Christ is afflicted with people who claim to be Christians while they single out other Christians to attack as they display anything but a Christian attitude.

What the atheist is missing in this argument is that hypocrisy is not solely a function of religion. You find hypocrisy at work and on the golf course. There has only been one person who ever lived who was entirely free of hypocrisy, and He was the Son of God. Because one atheist was a murderer, can we legitimately say that all atheists are murderers? Every human falls short of what he should be. The most fundamental difference between atheism and Christianity is that Christianity recognizes that fact and functions in spite of it. Atheism relies on humanism which tries to deny the existence of sin while pointing out the sins of religion.

ADVICE. Those of us who wear the name “Christian” need to do a better job of pointing people to Christ and the Bible rather than to preachers and buildings. As long as we are “preacher-oriented” and “building bound” we will continue to reinforce the arguments of the atheists. When we convince people about Christ and the truth of the Bible, the errors of humans will not be relevant. We must live out the faith we claim to have so that others see Christ in us. Only then can we can show them following Christ brings real peace.

Tomorrow we will look at another reason why atheism makes sense.

–John N. Clayton © 2019

Design Is an Illusion – Not

Design Is an Illusion – Not
If you read our posts and publications regularly, you probably know that we are continually talking about design in the universe, on our planet, and especially in living things. We think that it is impossible to look at life and say that we see no design. However, some people can see the same things and say design is an illusion. They are willing to accept on faith that everything came into existence out of nothing and evolved by pure accident with no intelligence involved.

One person who refuses to see design in nature is a very well-known evolutionary biologist. Richard Dawkins has written several best-selling books that are supposed to be on the subject of biology. However, they are actually books on theology. The high point (or low point) of his books on theology is The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin 2006). He travels the world giving lectures on theology, under the guise of biology.

Dawkins’ field of study is biology, not theology, so we take his pronouncements with a grain of salt. However, even Dawkins has to admit that his biological studies appear to show design. In his book The Blind Watchmaker he wrote, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” However, he then goes into theology by stating that design is an illusion and there is no designer. That means there is no ultimate purpose in life beyond day-to-day survival. In River Out of Eden Dawkins wrote, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good…”

No design, no purpose, no evil, and no good—that’s the way Dawkins describes the living things he has spent his life studying. Life, of course, includes human beings—you and I. If Dawkins is right, why should he study living things, or why should we? What is the purpose of using our purposeless lives to study purposeless things? Perhaps Dawkins has found his purpose in theology as he endeavors to convince everyone that there is no God.

As we think about this, we have to be amazed at how incredibly ironic the Dawkins delusion is. In the meantime, we will continue to admire the design we see in the world and pay homage to the Designer. Faced with the Dawkins challenge that design is an illusion, we choose to believe our eyes–and our common sense.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Christian Atheism and Thomas Altizer

Christian Atheism and Thomas Altizer
The term Christian Atheism seems like a contradiction. However, that was the theology of Thomas J. J. Altizer. On November 28, 2018, Altizer died at the age of 91.

Thomas J. J. Altizer was the theologian who in the 1960s promoted the idea that God was real but had passed away leaving humans to find the sacred on their own. Time magazine on April 8, 1966, gave Altizer’s teachings a boost when they ran a cover that in big red letters said: “Is God Dead?” That issue was devoted to the theology of Altizer which incorporated the teachings of various philosophers including Hegel and Nietzsche. Other religions, especially Buddhism, capitalized on Altizer’s teachings and he gained quite a following.

Altizer himself expressed remorse at the effects of his teaching. Time magazine quoted him in the December 17, 2018, issue (page 11) saying that today people are empty of the joy that we once celebrated. The reason we are empty is that humans cannot find the sacred on their own.

The biblical adage of Solomon certainly applies here: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” When we discard God, we have nothing that can take His place. Materialism doesn’t work. No philosophy works. Christian Atheism doesn’t work. Only the joy that we find in the teachings of Jesus Christ has worked and still does work today.

Some people want to kill God and do so in their own minds. However, the evidence for God’s existence remains strong and continues to grow. Altizer didn’t kill it, and he came to emptiness in his own life. God is a living, moving entity, and the more we learn of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Names for God

Names for God
We have received a number of emails asking why we use various names for God and for Christ. Different translations of the Bible also vary in their use of names. I suspect God is more concerned about how we follow His instructions for living than which of the respectful names for God we use.

David Thurman wrote an excellent article on this subject in his column in Gospel Minutes for March 23, 2018:

“God said to Moses, ”I AM WHO I AM’; and he said, thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14). The name of God is “I Am.” The Jews used the letters YHWH to spell this name. In ancient Hebrew, there were no vowels, so when reading Hebrew in ancient times, the reader had to provide the vowels. Over time, the Jews would not pronounce the name of God, afraid that in doing so they would be taking His name in vain. So, they substituted another word, Adonai (meaning Lord) when they spoke Yhwh out loud. Most scholars today believe Yahweh is the closest we can come to “I AM” from the ancient texts. It was later, in the 6th century that scholars of that time inserted the vowels from Adonai into Yhwh. That resulted in an Aramaic version that was later translated into Latin and then English as “Jehovah.” To this day the original vowels are still unknown. All we know for certain is that God’s personal name was Yhwh. Some insert vowels to make it Yahweh, others, Jehovah, depending on which version of the Bible you use. Either is acceptable as long as we use it with honor and reverence to the Lord.”

“Yeshua” is simply the Hebrew word we translate into English as Joshua. It means “salvation is of the Lord.” The Greek (and English) form of this word is “Jesus.” That is why God told Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus received His name because He was Savior. If you use “Yeshua” to refer to Jesus, you are simply using the Hebrew form of His name. If you call Him “Jesus” you are simply using the Greek and English form of His name. Both are right and apply equally to Lord Jesus.

The Bible in its various translations used various names for God and for God in the flesh. The important thing is that we always use God’s name in a respectful way.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Science and Theology

Science and Theology

There has been a growing trend in the academic community to suggest that science and theology are two separate disciplines that cannot support one another. The position of this ministry has always been that science and faith complement each other and should never be viewed as opponents. The dictionary defines science as “systematic knowledge.” It defines theology as “science dealing with God and His relationship to the universe.” (Webster’s American College Dictionary) Bad science and bad theology are very much the same–systematic knowledge replaced by human opinion.

In the physical world, science is based on a method that precludes human opinion. The scientific method involves testing a theory by experimentation to see if it can be falsified. We can even expand and enlarge our fundamental knowledge. Our understanding of gravity, for example, has undergone several changes since Newton’s day when the first knowledge was derived by the tests available to him. When Einstein gave us an expanded understanding of gravity, it was based on several tests which could be duplicated over and over. Now there is a possibility that Newton’s ideas will be expanded even more as better experiments enlarge our understanding.

Interestingly, Isaac Newton also did experiments in theology. In theology, his experiments did not verify his personal opinions, so they never became science. Like much of astronomy, quantum mechanics, and cosmology, experiments in theology have to be conducted by observation of things we can’t control. Science provides facts about the physical world and our role within it, and many of those facts have theological implications.

Do our understandings in theology change? Certainly! Just as our understanding of gravity has grown, so too our understanding of God has grown. As we experience life and see what has happened in human history and in our own lives, our understanding grows. Even our understanding of the Bible has grown as we learn more of what Jesus and the Apostles taught and how they lived. Knowing that the cosmos is not just the Earth and the solar system has expanded our understanding of God and His power and intelligence. It is bad theology to take the knowledge of 500 years ago and force our understandings of the Bible on that knowledge.

The twenty-first century is an exciting time to be alive. As our scientific knowledge continues to grow, so too our understanding of God is growing and expanding. Proverbs 8:1 and 22-30 shows how wisdom was involved in all of God’s creation. If we use our God-given intelligence and take His Word as truth, we can grow in our faith and in knowledge.
–John N. Clayton © 2017