What Mark’s Abrupt Ending Tells Us About Gospel Historicity

Empty tomb

The last few hundred years have revealed mountains of additional manuscript evidence for the New Testament, as archaeologists uncover more and more ancient scrolls and codices from the earliest centuries AD. This rich collection of manuscript evidence—far more than for any other ancient work—means that modern translators can draw on a clearer composite picture of what the original New Testament manuscripts said. Yet these new discoveries have changed almost nothing of substance between older versions of the Bible, like the KJV, and newer versions which are based on an older and broader collection of manuscripts.

One of the few revisions is the view among most modern Bible scholars that the final chapter of Mark contains verses which were not Mark’s original narrative. As many recent translations note, the best evidence suggests that Mark’s gospel actually concluded at verse 16:8, which records the response of the women to the words of the angel they encountered at Jesus’ empty tomb: “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

The remaining verses of Mark 16 were most likely added within a century after Mark wrote his gospel. They briefly describe some of the same appearances of Jesus (to Mary Magdalene, to the two on the road to Emmaus, and to all the disciples) which are recorded in other gospels.

Read moreWhat Mark’s Abrupt Ending Tells Us About Gospel Historicity

Answering Objections to the Christmas Story, Part 2

Mary, Joseph, and Jesus on the road

Last week I started a two-part series looking at the Christmas story with a critical eye, considering the objections which skeptics often raise to the Gospel accounts. The first article looked at the differences between Matthew and Luke’s genealogies of Jesus, their accounts of which of his parents an angel appeared to, and their descriptions of where Jesus’ family lived. In each case, we saw that different details are not the same as contradictory details—and, in fact, that the varying perspectives of Matthew and Luke reinforce their credibility as independent witnesses testifying based on their own knowledge and research.

Having considered these not-really-inconsistencies between the two accounts, this week we’ll be looking at two more alleged mistakes: An apparent misquotation by Matthew, and what looks like a historical error by Luke.

Read moreAnswering Objections to the Christmas Story, Part 2

Answering Objections to the Christmas Story, Part 1

Nativity scene

The account of Jesus’ birth is one of the most famous and best-loved stories in the Bible. The pathetic little group in a Bethlehem stable would have made an unimpressive scene, but with the hindsight of history we know the instant of Jesus’ birth marked the thunderclap moment when God stepped into a dying world to beat death at its own game. And what an invasion! The Creator of the universe, born as a human infant, dependent on a young mother’s care to survive. On both a cosmic and a personal scale, it is hard to beat the story—and it has the added merit of being true.

Or so we believe. As we head into the season when we particularly celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world, you are likely to hear attacks on the Christmas story, as skeptics argue that parts of it are implausible or contradictory. I hope my articles this week and next week will prepare you with good answers for the most common objections to the historical accounts of Jesus’ birth.

Of the four Gospels, only Matthew and Luke describe the birth of the Savior in Bethlehem. That in itself is an interesting window into the way in which God divinely orchestrated the testimony of four different writers to create a fuller and richer picture than any one author provides. Four parallel birth narratives would have done us little good. In fact, it would have been hard to avoid the suspicion that they were simply copying from one another. Instead, each Gospel’s introduction of Jesus offers a little window into its author’s particular passions and focuses.

Read moreAnswering Objections to the Christmas Story, Part 1

Beyond Historical Apologetics: Reasons for Trusting the Bible

Bible

In 1970, archaeologists discovered a collection of scrolls from the ancient Jewish community of Ein Gedi dating back to the first few centuries AD. Radiocarbon dating and handwriting analysis suggest that the manuscripts were written only a short time after the famous Dead Sea scrolls, making the fragments among the earliest examples of biblical text ever discovered. Unfortunately, a fire had turned the archaeological treasures into charcoal, leaving them illegible until this year, when scientists used sophisticated new techniques to scan and digitally “unroll” the scorched fragments to reveal what had been written inside.

What researchers uncovered were 35 lines of Hebrew from the beginning of Leviticus, offering a small window into the Scriptures of 1,700 years ago. And, remarkably, that snapshot from only a few hundred years after Christ was discovered to be identical with the medieval Masoretic Text from which modern translations of the Old Testament are derived. Not for the first time, a triumph of modern archaeology backed up the Christian conviction that God has supernaturally curated his Word, preserving it across the centuries from distortion and error.

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Evidence for God, Part 6: We Have Minds

The Thinker

As I wrap up my Evidence for God series today, I wanted to finish with an argument which is a perfect illustration of what I said in my first post, more than a month ago: that natural theology arguments weigh the scales in the direction of theism, but by themselves cannot offer an absolute proof. There are always “what ifs” when we are dealing with fallible human observation and induction. If a skeptic is determined to evade the force of any one of these arguments, he will be able to do so. Our job as apologists is not to kill every possible what-if, but to point to the evidence, let the evidence point to God, and pray that our Father would engender saving faith where we and our arguments cannot.

So far, we’ve considered evidence from the existence of the universe, from the appearance of design at the universal and biological levels, and from morality. If even one of these arguments is persuasive, then we need to grapple with the existence of a supernatural, creative being. But there is an additional category of evidence pointing to the existence of a Creator God: what we might call mind, or soul, or consciousness.

Why are jokes funny? Why do we respond to and create beauty like Michelangelo’s paintings or Bach’s music? Why do we fall in love? Why do we wonder about ultimate meaning? And why are we aware of ourselves—a central personality which experiences all our hopes, dreams, fears, desires, ideas?

Read moreEvidence for God, Part 6: We Have Minds

Evidence for God, Part 5: We Know Right from Wrong

Man holding baby

In chapter 6 of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins asks, “Why are we good?” and offers an explanation for the origin of morality without God. He, like most modern atheists, attributes human morality to an evolutionary process which favored altruistic behavior. We try to be “good” because we evolved in an environment in which helping our kin group made it more likely that our genes (either in ourselves or in relatives) would survive long enough to reproduce, carrying this instinctive altruism into the next generation. Today, in a more complex and interconnected world, those inherited ethical instincts still drive us to “do unto others” even when those others are no longer related to us.

So, Dawkins concludes, “our Good Samaritan urges,” such as “the human urge to adopt a child,” are really just evolutionary “misfirings.” However, he immediately adds, in possibly the two most striking sentences in the book, “I must rush to add that ‘misfiring’ is intended only in a strictly Darwinian sense. It carries no suggestion of the pejorative.” What is surprising is not that Dawkins wanted to quickly dispel any thought that he might be dismissing the value of moral behavior, but that he failed to see that those two sentences dynamited the carefully constructed argument which preceded them.

Read moreEvidence for God, Part 5: We Know Right from Wrong

Evidence for God, Part 4: Biology Which Evolution Cannot Explain

This week, my Evidence for God series will take a second look at arguments based on the appearance of design, sometimes called teleological arguments, from the Greek word telos, which means “design” or “purpose.” Last week, we looked at how the essential structure of the universe makes life possible through “fine-tuning” which cannot be explained through mere chance. Today, I want to move beyond the possibility of life to consider the actual life forms we see around us. There are two ways in which biology demands a designing intelligence: First, the complexity of biological information contained in even the most basic life form, and second, the “irreducible complexity” of biological structures which cannot be explained through evolutionary processes.

What About Evolution?

When we talk about the appearance of design in biology, we have to start by considering the theory of evolution. Every scientist would agree that living creatures seem to have been uniquely designed for their environments. In fact, the famous evolutionist Richard Dawkins defined biology as “the study of complicated things that appear to have been designed for a purpose.” The key word in that definition, of course, is “appear.” For the last two hundred years, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has offered a way to explain the appearance of design without requiring a designer. Evolution postulates that natural processes mold species over time, through adaptation and the pressure to survive, so that animals look like they were designed for their particular ecological niche. In reality, though, this “design” is merely the result of a process of natural selection whereby the best-adapted survive and reproduce while the rest perish, removing their less-fit genes from future generations.

Read moreEvidence for God, Part 4: Biology Which Evolution Cannot Explain

Evidence for God, Part 3: Universal ‘Fine-Tuning’ for Life

Equations

Last Thursday we considered how the sheer fact that the universe exists at all is evidence for the existence of a supernatural creator. Today, as part of my continuing Evidence for God series, I want to move from the existence of the universe to its apparent design; what scientists have described as “fine-tuning.”

Arguments that there must be a God since the world appears to be designed are called teleological arguments, from the Greek word telos, which means design or purpose. Such arguments come in multiple flavors. Next week, I’ll look at evidence for design in the development of life and in biological complexity, but first we need to consider design so large-scale, so integral to the fabric of existence itself, that it is easy to miss. In fact, scientists and theologians alike only stumbled upon this evidence for God within the past century.

Read moreEvidence for God, Part 3: Universal ‘Fine-Tuning’ for Life

Evidence for God, Part 2: The Universe Exists

Image of space

Last week I promised that I would be starting a short series on the arguments for God’s existence which are sometimes referred to collectively as natural theology. These are arguments which do not depend upon God’s “special revelation” in Scripture, but instead on his “general revelation” in the created world. Last week’s article discussed why such arguments are useful and what we can expect from them. Because they are rooted in inductive scientific observation, they cannot yield absolute certainty. And because they do not incorporate the Bible’s more specific revelation, they cannot bring someone to saving faith by themselves. But they can highlight the strong evidence that there is more to reality than materialistic atheism can explain; that, in fact, there is some sort of super-powerful, supernatural being who is the cause of everything around us. As a starting place for further evangelism, that’s not half bad!

Today I want to consider one of the simplest and most compelling arguments for God’s existence. It is called the cosmological argument and it comes in many different flavors, all of which center on a simple question: “Why is there something, rather than nothing?” as the philosopher G.W. Leibniz put it. Unlike arguments we will consider later, the cosmological argument does not require that we demonstrate any particular characteristic of the universe (that it appears to be designed, for example). All the cosmological argument needs as a starting place is something; something, rather than absolute cosmic nothingness.

Read moreEvidence for God, Part 2: The Universe Exists

‘The Heavens Declare’: Evidence for God in Creation

Starry sky over a field

Why are you a Christian? On one level, you are saved because God turned your heart to him. Jesus says in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” But on another, equally true level, you are saved because you put your faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That is why Paul could simply tell the Philippian jailer who wanted to know how to be saved, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). And on the human level of belief and unbelief, good arguments are one tool the Holy Spirit uses to cultivate saving faith in our neighbors.

With that in mind, I’m going to be writing a brief “Evidence for God” series, looking at what theologians call natural revelation. Natural revelation is distinct from special revelation, which is God’s direct, inspired communication to man; in other words, the Bible. Special revelation is needed to communicate important truths about God and his relationship to man: things like how to be saved, or God’s trinitarian nature. But the Bible is not the only thing which can tell us about God. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork,” and Paul tells us “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:18-20).

Read more‘The Heavens Declare’: Evidence for God in Creation