CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Companionship and Same Sex Unions

One of the points made by people opposing the blessing of same sex unions by the Christian church comes out of Genesis 2:18. In that verse, God has created Adam, but as has not yet created Eve. In Genesis 2:18, God says: "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." A couple of verses later, God takes the rib of Adam and creates Eve as a suitable helper for him. The Biblical account continues:

The man said,
"This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man."

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." Genesis 2:23-24.

Many view these verses as evidence that God created woman for man and thus marriage should be reserved for people of the opposite sex. In this understanding, it is not good that a man should be alone so God created the woman specifically to be his companion and helper. Thus, man is intended to be joined to a woman to be his companion and his wife. However, not all Christians see it this way.

In Journey Together Faithfully, the Sexuality Study presently being conducted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America ("ELCA"), the study notes that this verse is used by some people in support of the blessing of same sex unions. Specifically in reference to this verse, the study says:

"Some point out that part of God's intent in the creation is to provide for companionship, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner' (Genesis 2:18). While the partnership portrayed in Genesis 2 is a heterosexual one, the basic need for companionship reflected here is one that seems relevant to the lives of gay and lesbian people as well.

In other words, those who advocate the blessing of same sex unions identify the central teaching of this verse the need for companionship--a need apparently recognized and blessed by God. Recognizing that the Bible records that God created woman for man, they argue that God was not being restrictive in doing so. If the central issue of these verses is that it is not good that people be alone, then the need for companionship should be able to be fulfilled by a member of the same sex equally as well as a member of the opposite sex.

First, I find this type of Biblical parsing to be less than convincing. If the argument is that God wants us to have companionship as the good sought, then it seems that Genesis 2:23-24 are meaningless. Those verse say that man is to leave his parents to become one flesh with his wife (which certainly means a woman). It is the fact that woman was taken out of man (as recorded in Genesis 2:21-22) that leads to them becoming one flesh. It is interesting that the ELCA study conveniently ignores these verses.

Moreover, I don't doubt the fact that people need companionship, but does it go too far to say that the only companionship that will suffice is the companionship found in marriage? Is the type of "companionship" that God wants us to have? Consider the following from Marriage Is Not God's Answer to Loneliness by Christopher Ash in Kairos Insight Magazine:

"In the rest of Scripture, God makes it clear that His remedy for human loneliness is fellowship, not (necessarily) marriage. Fellowship with the Father and the Son, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ, this is God's remedy for loneliness. It is a remedy gloriously open to all, including all those for whom marriage is not a possibility--those too young for marriage, the widowed, the divorced, those struggling with homosexual temptation, those who cannot find a marriage partner."(Emphasis added.)

To restate this as I understand it, one of the central thesis of the Bible is that we are part of a humanity than has been alienated from God. God seeks to have us come into communion with Him and sent His only Son to restore that communion--a communion that has been lost since the days of Adam and Eve. As part of His divine plan, He set up His church on Earth which is the physical manifestation of His presence. Each of us are to become brothers and sisters in Christ, caring for each other and loving each other as we love ourselves and as God would love us. This is all of the companionship we need.

Pastor Ash continues:

"Many passages in Scripture speak of love and the fulfillment of human longings; yet very few speak of marriage in this context. For example, in 1 John 4:7-21, we read in wonderful depth about the love of God for His people, the love of His people for God, the love of His people for one another; but marriage and sex are nowhere in sight. In 1 Thessalonians 2:6-8, Paul speaks with great warmth about the sharing of his life with the believers; but again, sex and marriage are nowhere in sight. 1 Corinthians 13, so popular for marriage services, is actually about the love that ought to (but in Corinth does not) mark a fellowship of believers. John 13-16 are all about fellowship love, but again sex and marriage are nowhere in sight. Nowhere in the Psalms are the longings of the human heart related to sexual love (except perhaps Psalm 45, although this focuses more on the joy of a family)." Id.

Here is the question that I think needs to be asked: accepting the fact that God does not believe it to be good that we be alone, why should Adam's need for a companion in Genesis 2 be converted into the need for sexual companionship? Could it be that the need for companionship cited by God in Genesis 2 can be (and is being) met by the love and care given to fellow Christians within the church?

(Edited June 30, 2004 at 8:12 pdt)

Groundbreaking Conservative Scholarship?

In an earlier blog, I wrote about why many scholars do not accept that The Acts of the Apostles was written by a companion of Paul—despite the weight of evidence supporting that proposition. I concluded that there were two likely reasons. The first is a desire to avoid the apologist, or perhaps “conservative”, label. The second, and perhaps more weighty motive, is the desire to avoid confining one’s research and theories to well trampled ground.

One thing I learned in my undergraduate studies of political science and history, and just as well in law school, was that there is little glory (or grants, headlines, professorships, speaking engagements, tenure tracks, lecture invitations, published law review articles) in advocating tradition. It is the new take, the new theory, the debunking of conventional wisdom or sacred beliefs, the novel, that impresses. Unfortunately, conservatives can go to the other extreme. Walling ones’ self in with traditional beliefs and possessing a reactionary skepticism to new ideas can be a basic human tendency, but also can be a considered safeguard against the opposite extreme.

Most people would consider me to be part of the latter group. I am theologically (and politically) conservative. I have a high view of biblical inspiration. However, perhaps due to my charismatic background, I think that the above chasm is a false dichotomy. While Christians do believe that we have been given truth divinely revealed, we should have the humility to recognize that there is still much to learn (and God still has much to reveal). Fresh understandings about old truths and new theories that fill in gaps in our knowledge are not things to be feared. Indeed, well-considered scholarship that adds to our understanding of God’s divine revelation should be celebrated.

There are three examples of this kind of scholarship I want to discuss.

The first is Davis Trobisch’s Paul’s Letter Collection. As Gerd Theissen explains in his forward:

Trobisch demonstrates that it is very likely that the oldest writings of the New Testament—the letters of Paul—already show a unifying tendency. His thesis is that Paul himself collected and edited some of his own letters…. With the publication of this letter collection Paul basically gave birth to the concept of a Christian canon—that is, a collection of books that covers all the essentials that separate Christians from their Jewish mother religion.

You may not agree with every detail of this book, but the idea is fascinating. It offers a completely new picture of the origins of the New Testament.
The idea is well stated, and his discussion of ancient letter writing and editing was very informative. Unfortunately, the book is a mere 103 pages long. It would take a greater exposition of the idea with more references to convince me. I briefly corresponded with Dr. Trobisch about his theory and learned that he was in Germany pursuing another scholarly effort. I also learned that his book earned him much criticism. Not scholarly criticisms from other academics, but more personal criticisms from fellow Christians who thought his theory was somehow unChristian. This is a shame and seemed to genuinely affect him.

The second example has caused less controversy and been more widely read: Richard Bauckham's The Gospels for All Christians, Rethinking the Gospel Audiences. Gathering together contributions by seven leading scholars, The Gospel for All Christian is quite explicit in its goal. From the first paragraph of the Introduction:

The aim of this book is to challenge and to refute the current consensus in Gospels scholarship which assumes that each of the Gospels was written for a specific church or group of churches..... It is a remarkable feature of the history of New Testament scholarship in this century that this consensus about the original intended audiences of the Gospels has come about without any substantial argument.... But this view of the Gospels' intended audiences has never been justified by argument and discussion, and still less has it been established in debate with the other obvious possibility: that the Gospels were written with the intention that they should circulate around all the churches (and thence even outside the churches).
I think this thesis is more firmly established than Trobisch's, even if I do not agree with all of the articles contained in it. It has accepted the more liberal consensus, but with a considered alternative that better explains the facts.

The third example is the one I have found to be the most informative. It has been furthered by Richard Buackham in God Crucified, N.T. Wright in What Saint Paul Really Said and The New Testament and the People of God, and Ben Witherington's Jesus the Sage and The Christology of Jesus. Though with different nuances and emphasis, each of these scholars (and no doubt others) argues that the key to understanding the early Jewish Christian belief of Jesus as God is the first century Jewish understanding of God's Wisdom. To those who have difficulty in understanding the concept of the Trinity, this theory is very informative.

As Professor Bauckham explains about the first century Jewish beliefs about divine Wisdom and Word: "[they] represent Jewish ways of making some form of distinction within the unique divine identity, especially with reference to the work of creation." Bauckham, God Crucified, page 40. They are not, as N.T. Wright describes so well: "Jewish monotheism in this period was not an inner analysis of the being of the one true God. It was not an attempt at describing numerically what this God is, so to speak, on the inside." N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, page 63. Probably, the best introduction to this subject is Bauckham's God Crucified. Online, my own article touches on the subject here. also has a good discussion of the subject here.

In sum, I think that Christianity, and the academic community, need more scholars like these. There is no doubt that Torbisch, Bauckham, and Wright are Christians. But they are also scholars who--despite what others may view as their conservatism--have offered new and fresh understandings of old subjects. I have benefitted from their efforts. And hope that more Christians will.

The Disciples "Coming Out" Party

I just finished reading an article about my least favorite group of academics, the Jesus Seminar, entitled "The Jesus Seminar and Its Critics: Another Take". In the article, Dr. Darrell L. Bock, Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary makes a note that is too often ignored by most agnostics: the disciples believed that Jesus rose from the dead.

"Most scholars in fact do hold that the disciples believed that Jesus was raised from the dead and that their behavior changed radically as a result. The key question is what caused them to form that belief, including a belief in a doctrine that had no real precedent in Judaism or pagan religion, an immediate, bodily resurrection outside of the time of the judgment at the end."

The disciples' decision to come out in favor of their hope in the risen Jesus is a very interesting (and largely incontrovertible) historical fact. Why would a group of Jewish men, who have been raised in a highly monotheistic world, come out in favor of claiming that Jesus rose from the dead and was God? J.P. Moreland raises this same question with respect to James in his book Scaling the Secular City.

"Consider James the brother of Jesus. Josephus, the first Century Jewish historian tells us that he died a martyr's death for his faith in his brother. Yet the Gospels tell us that during his life he was anunbelieversr and opposed to Jesus. Why did he change? What could cause a Jew to believe that his own brother was the very Son of God and to be willing to die for such a belief? It certainly was not a set of lovely teachings from a carpenter from Nazareth. Only the appearance of Jesus to James (1 Cor. 15:7) can explain his transformation." Moreland, J.P. Scaling the Secular City, p. 178-179.

In the all-too-liberal television special "The Search for Jesus" with Peter Jennings, the show closed with a mention of the fact that the disciples certainly believed in the resurrected Jesus. Unfortunately, the show did not spend much time discussing the ramification of this belief. You see, the belief in a bodily resurrection of a man prior to the end times was not a part of Jewish belief. Nor was it a part of Hellenized belief:

"It cannot be emphasized enough [Hellenized, Gnostic or mystery religion] influences are seen by current New Testament scholars to have little or no role in shaping the New Testament picture of Jesus in general or the resurrection narratives in particular. Both the general milleu of the Gospels and specific features of the resurrection narratives give overwhelming evidence that the early church was rooted in Judaism. Jesus, the early church, and its writings, were born in Jewish soil and Gentile influence was minimal." Id., p. 181.

So, how did the disciples become transformed from a group of people who had witnessed the death of their teacher on a Jewish cross to a group who had come out in favor of his bodily resurrection and his identification as the Son of God? Any explanation of Christianity that does not identify Jesus as God but tries to explain it away must have a cogent, reasonable explanation for the transformation of the disciples to a view contrary to their Jewish upbringing or the explanation must necessarily fail.

Till We Have Faces

None of us fully comprehend the depths of depravity into which we have sunk. Paul did, and that is why he referred to himself as the worst of all sinners. Even though he was more in touch with God than most Christians are today, he recognized that he was still far from God. Likewise, Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest Christian thinkers ever, stopped writing after a religious experience where he (according to reports) spoke first hand with God. When asked why he stopped writing his great work, he answered: "Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value." A confrontation with God leads one to recognize that their great works are like straw by comparison.

C.S. Lewis wrote similarly in his (in my opinion) great work Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. In the novel, which is a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche, the main heroine of the story spends her entire life writing a book condemning the gods for their misdeeds. It is her masterpiece. It is her life's devotion and great work. She knows that when she finally has the chance to confront the gods, she will read them the accusations in her book and they will have no answer for her. She finally gets her chance, and when she tries to read from her book, she finds that the accusations are simply gibberish.

When one finally comes before the Lord God Almighty, we recognize how limited we are. We have no right to judge Him, and our accusations and excuses are mere nonsense in His presence.

I pray some of my agnostic and atheist friends would learn this truth.


Why so much skepticism? Acts and the "We Passages"

Despite the significant amount of time I have spent studying the New Testament and interacting with online skeptics, I continue to be impressed by the rigidity of skepticism to the idea that Acts was written by a companion of Paul. In verses 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; and 27:1-28:16, Acts transitions from describing events from the third person perspective ("they") to narrating them in the first person ("we"). Obviously, the author claims that he participated in these events. Many scholars and layreaders recognize this and accept it as evidence that Acts was written by someone who spent some time traveling with Paul. So why does the skepticism persist for so many?

First, some have accepted Vernon Robbin's theory that the we passages are a literary device which were used to describe sea voyages whether or not the author really was present. But this notion has been refuted again and again by contemporary scholars. The commentators who still cling to it (such Burton Mack, Robert Price, and Earl Doherty) have not explored the issue in depth. On the other hand, every scholar who has seriously examined Robbin's argument has discovered that Robbins was wrong--there simply was no such literary convention. Moreover, even if such a convention existed, Acts does not follow it because it narrates much sea travel in the third person and significant events on land in the first person. A devastating critique by atheist Peter Kirby is available online here. My own online critique is available here.

Second, it is argued that the theology of Acts is too different from Paul's own letters for it to have been written by one of his companions. This argument is just as unpersuasive. In his book, Acts in Paul, Stanley Porter gives a point-by-point refutation of the notion that the theologies are dramatically different and demonstrates that the speeches attributed to Paul by Acts find much confirmation in Paul's own letters. But on an even more basic level, why should we assume that everyone who worked with Paul shared his full theological focus? Especially in this case, where the proffered companion of Paul was a Christian before he met Paul, worked apart from Paul for probably the majority of Paul's career, and wrote Acts 15-20 years after Paul's death.

Third, some argue that Acts used a travel diary of a companion of Paul and simply retained the first person. Although this may explain the accuracy and vividness of the we passages, it fails for many reasons. The style, grammar, and vocabulary of the we sections are the same as the rest of Acts. And why retain the first person without any explanation as to whose perspective it was? There are no parallels from the ancient world of using sources in this way. Why take a source, retain the first person, but then use it in such a way that your audience does not know that you are using a source? "And, further, what a marvel it would be for such a diary, kept supposedly by one of Paul's travel companions, to have survived for thirty or forty years and then fallen into the hands of the man who had conceived the idea of writing the history of those travels!." Edgar J. Goodspeed, An Introduction to the New Testament, pages 201-02.

Clearly, these counterpoints (and a few others that are even less convincing) are an inadequate justification for the skepticism of companion authorship of Acts. Renowned classical historian Robin L. Fox has chided more reticent scholars for their attempts to "deny the obvious" and concludes "I regard it as certain, therefore, that he knew Paul and followed parts of his journey." The Unauthorized Version, page 210. E.J. Goodspeed is similarly critical of attempts to deny companion authorship:

Surely it is in the highest degree artificial to turn away from the natural interpretation of the We-narratives and regard them with suspicion and distrust as though the writing of Luke-Acts were a crime, the perpetrator of which had taken great pains to cover his tracks and conceal his identity.

Goodspeed, op. cit., page 204.

But if the objections themselves are so unpersuasive, why does this skepticism persist? For online skeptics the answer is obvious. They have to deny the obvious because their bizarre theories of Christian origins cannot allow Acts to be taken seriously as a source of history for early Christianity. As for more sober scholars, I suspect that there exists a reactionary skepticism to church traditions about authorship and a desire to avoid being labeled an apologist. But as with the online skeptics, perhaps many resist the notion because giving too much credence to companion authorship is a barrier to their own creativity. They may not go so far as to claim that Paul really was not a Jew or that Jesus never existed, but they definitely do not want to adopt the party line. If Acts is to be taken seriously as a source of early Christian history, scholars will have much less wiggle room to advance their own, less traditional, theories. Companion authorship is simply too confining. Too narrow. Too limiting. And, perhaps, too . . . traditional.

Was Jacob (Matthew 1:16) or Heli (Luke 3:23) the father of Joseph and husband of Mary?

(Category: misunderstood the Hebrew usage)

The answer to this is simple but requires some explanation. Most scholars today agree that Matthew gives the genealogy of Joseph and Luke gives that of Mary, making Jacob the father of Joseph and Heli the father of Mary.

This is shown by the two narrations of the virgin birth. Matthew 1:18-25 tells the story only from Joseph's perspective, while Luke 1:26-56 is told wholly from Mary's point of view.

A logical question to ask is why Joseph is mentioned in both genealogies? The answer is again simple. Luke follows strict Hebrew tradition in mentioning only males. Therefore, in this case, Mary is designated by her husband's name.

This reasoning is clearly supported by two lines of evidence. In the first, every name in the Greek text of Luke's genealogy, with the one exception of Joseph, is preceded by the definite article (e.g. 'the' Heli, 'the' Matthat). Although not obvious in English translations, this would strike anyone reading the Greek, who would realize that it was tracing the line of Joseph's wife, even though his name was used. The second line of evidence is the Jerusalem Talmud, a Jewish source. This recognizes the genealogy to be that of Mary, referring to her as the daughter of Heli (Hagigah 2:4). (Fruchtenbaum 1993:10-13)

From: 101 Cleared up "Contradictions" in the Bible by Jay Smith, Alex Chowdhry, Toby Jepson, James Schaeffer. Posted on The Apologia Project.

Relying on the Experts

Obviously, an appreciation of history, culture and language can give us an understanding for what people of the past were trying to convey when they wrote things down. This is true of Biblical studies.

However, I think that one can rely too heavily on experts. In the homosexuality area, for example, my church is presently involved in such a study put out by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As part of the study, the church has issued an in-depth Biblical review of the verses related to homosexuality. If I were to indiscriminately rely upon the arguments made by these august scholars, I would conclude that the Bible has nothing meaningful to say on the subject, but I find that the conclusions that they draw are not really supported by the known facts. In other words, they have done work in the field which gives some light and meaning to the texts, but their biases (as demonstrated by various points they make and omit) make their conclusions unreliable.

So, I think that it is important to know what the Bible says about a subject in light of its original context. That does require some understanding of the culture, the language, the type of writing and other factors which scholars can help us grasp. But simply because a scholar is able to turn up reliable facts on the background on the texts does not mean that the conclusion that the scholar reaches is warranted.

Random Thoughts on the Archaic Nature of Punishment

In response to one of my posts, an anonymous person commented:

"Interestingly, reading this has made me realise that I think punishment is an archaic concept, one that I reject entirely. Henceforth, I recognise that legal systems require consequences in order to operate, but will endeavour to remove the word and concept "punish" from my vocabulary.

- (atheist, whose opinion on the matter is therefore of questionable validity)"

While I am not trying to turn this into a discussion board, I do want to make a couple of comments in return.

First, the poster's closing note that as an atheist, his or her "opinion on the matter is therefore of questionable validity". I want to assure the atheist that his (and from this point forward I will use the male gender as default hoping not to offend) opinion matters. It doesn't mean that it is right, but I love a robust exchange of ideas. Moreover, if I didn't think that an atheist's opinion mattered, I wouldn't be working on these posts.

Second, and more importantly, I don't know how a person can retain the concept of punishment in legal matters and not include them as a moral matter. How is it that punishment is archaic? It remains one of the two primary tools for teaching and the primary tool for rectifying a person's behavior when they act wrongly. Short of punishment, how does one deal with (for example) a child who is bullying other children in school? Short of punishment, how does one deal with a person who is rude and obnoxious? Being socially ostracized is, after all, another form of punishment.

But punishment serves more than the purpose of correcting bad behavior. It also serves to show society's contempt or disapproval of certain actions. Punishment also serves to meet a deeply held emotional belief that we have that a person who has done something wrong deserves some punishment for that behavior. Using an extreme example, isn't it true that if we had captured Adolf Hitler alive, we would have sought to have him punished for the evil he inflicted on the world not as a corrective measure, but because he deserved it?

I don't think punishment is archaic at all, and I worry if people begin to see it as archaic.

A New Look at the Titantic

This is just for fun: Titanic in 30 seconds, re-enacted by bunnies.

L.A. Bends in the Culture Wars, Part Tres

June 8, 2004

"If people want to keep the cross, they need to remove the Democrats,"
says CCF

Los Angeles - Faced with an outpouring of public outrage, three Democrats on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors rejected the cross and the people today when they re-affirmed their decision to strip the cross from the county seal in order to satisfy the ACLU. Voting to remove the cross on the five-member board were Democrats Gloria Molina, Yvonne Burke and Zev Yaroslavsky. Voting to keep the cross were Republicans Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe.

Today's hearing attracted more than 1,000 supporters of the cross, who gathered inside and outside the supervisors' chamber. In the two-and-a-half hours of public testimony, virtually all the speakers favored keeping the cross. Among them were syndicated talk-radio hosts Dennis Prager and Carlos Ortega; local talk-show host Paul McGuire of KBRT; community leaders Jesse Lee Peterson and Mark Isler; and Christian pastors such as Dr. Kenneth Ulmer of Faithful Central Bible Church and Pastor Jack Hayford, founding pastor of Church on the Way in Van Nuys and president-elect of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

* * *

"Those who don't respect the Constitution are doing everything in their power to remove Christian values in society," said Randy Thomasson, CCF Executive Directorm, whose comments appeared this week in the Los Angeles Daily News. "When our founding fathers wrote, 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,' they didn't mean to yank crosses off public property. That wrong-headed philosophy is from Democrat politicians like Yvonne Burke, Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky, not from James Madison and George Washington."

"At the time of our founding fathers," Thomasson explained, "the word 'religion' meant a specific religious denomination, such as Presbyterian, Baptist, Anglican or Catholic. Therefore the First Amendment prohibits Congress from creating an official state denomination, such as in Great Britain where Queen Elizabeth is the formal head of the Church of England. While the establishment clause was narrowly written to prohibit an official "Church of the United States," the free-exercise clause - "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" - was meant to guarantee the free flow of religious expression everywhere else. This freedom includes the right of federal, state, and local governments to respect and promote Christian symbols such as the cross, or other religious values the people hold dear. It's the American way."

"This outrageous vote demonstrates that anti-Christian arrogance is king in Los Angeles," said Thomasson. "Given that Democrats are the only ones attacking the cross, it's obvious that if people want to keep the cross, they need to remove the Democrats."

This could get to be really, really interesting. Could it be that the long-expected backlash to the systematic removal of Christian symbols from public life is beginning?


The Uniqueness of the Biblical Manuscripts has a page of quotes which it can be rather interesting to rummage through. One of the quotes is from Sir Frederick Kenyon about the uniqueness of the Biblical manuscripts.

"In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest extant manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament. The books of the New Testament were written in the latter part of the first century; the earliest extant manuscripts (trifling scraps excepted) are of the fourth century - say, from 250 to 300 years later. This may sound a considerable interval, but it is nothing to that which parts most of the great classical authors from their earliest manuscripts.

We believe that we have in all essentials an accurate text of the seven extant plays of Sophocles; yet the earliest substantial manuscript upon which it based was written more than 1400 years after the poet's death. Aeschylus, Aristophanes, and Thucydides are in the same state; while with Euripides the interval is increased to 1600 years. For Plato it may be put at 1300 years; for Demosthenes as low as 1200."

Sir Frederick G. Kenyon, "Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament," 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1912), p. 5.

It is important to note that the "trifling scraps" mentioned by Sir Kenyon actually move the dates of compostion to dates much earlier than was previously, widely believed. A chart of some of the dates of the early papyri are given in an article here. It is helpful to note that the first five papyri listed are dated before 70 A.D. which is consistent with the early dating that a growing number of scholars are advocating. (It should be noted that the early datings in the link are not the widely accepted datings.)

For more resources on this issue, visit the CADRE page entitled (Re)Dating the New Testament.

L.A. bends in the culture wars--Part Deux

From the Thomas More Law Center:

LA County Sued in Federal Court For Removing Cross From Official

ANN ARBOR, MI - The West Coast regional office of the Thomas More Law Center, a national, public-interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, filed a lawsuit today in federal district court in California, seeking to prevent Los Angeles County officials from removing the cross from the County's official seal. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Mr. Ernesto Vasquez, a County employee, who objects to the removal of the cross because it sends a government-sponsored message of hostility towards Christians in violation of the United States Constitution.

This appears to be a tact similar to what I was suggesting a couple of posts ago. I suspect that the ACLU will argue that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was intended to protect against the endorsement of the religion which is held by a large number of present-day believers, not some dead religion with no (or very few) present day adherents.

Who's Responsible for Sin?

In my most recent discussions on Christianity with skeptics, I have come across a number of people who acknowledge that while moral crimes, i.e. sin, ought to be punished, God, as our maker, has no right to punish us for the sins that he has left us capable of committing. Let me backtrack.

One of the tactics I use when discussing Christianity with people is one that I learned through Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason. In our of his lectures, he talks about speaking to a Jewish prosecutor about the reason that we need to believe in Jesus to be saved. Greg asked (paraphrasing): "Do you believe that people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished?" The prosecutor replied "Since I am a prosecutor, yes." Greg responded, "So do I." He then asked, "Have you committed any moral crimes?" The prosecutor then admitted to having done so and Greg again replied, "So have I. Do you know what I call that? Bad news. We have both just agreed that moral crimes ought to be punished and that we both have committed moral crimes. Do you want to hear about mercy?"

I have personally found this line of discussion to be fruitful in my experience. Most people, when asked, will admit that people who commit crimes ought to be punished. Usually the problem is in getting them to admit that they have committed moral crimes. (Given that they deny the existence of God, they don't see the actions that they have taken in violation of God's law as either inherently wrong or they don't see them as "bad enough" to require punishment.) That usually requires discussions of the Ten Commandments and pointing out how many of them they have probably broken today.

But here is the new counter-tactic I have been discovering (and I am wondering which atheist thought this one up for all of the "freethinkers" to parrot): They acknowledge that moral crimes ought to be punished, but they do not believe that God has the right to punish them for doing so. Why not? Because God made them susceptible to committing the moral crime in the first place. They reason that if God had only made them better, they wouldn't have committed the moral crime (i.e., the sin) and therefore it is God who is responsible for their failure. To use an analogy, they view people as if they are no more than a rock which God set on a hill which will ultimately be pulled down by physical forces. How can you blame the rock for doing what it does as the result of the natural forces acting on it when it was placed on the hill by God. It is God's fault for placing the rock on the hillside in such a way that it is bound to fall down. Similarly, if God made us in such a way that we cannot help but sin, then that is God's fault for having made us that way in the first place.

I don't find this view terribly convincing. My reason is plain and simple: if God made people incapable of going through life without sin, then how could Jesus (who was fully man) be sinless? Jesus went through a fully human life from birth to death without once committing any moral crimes. If he could do it, then it is possible that we could do it as well.

However, let me clarify one point: while it is possible that we can live a sinless life, I have serious doubts that anyone other than Jesus has ever done so. Why? Well, the Bible points out that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. In other words, while we have been created with the capacity to live a sinless life, very, very, very few of us (if anyone other than Jesus) have actually achieved it. And part of the problem is that we don't see exactly how dirty we are. St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest of all Christian theologians, after having a profound religious experience stopped writing because he saw that in comparison to the actual glory of God, all of his works (great though they are by human standards) are "like straw." We fall far short of His glory, and it is only when we see this that we can truly begin to live a sinless life.

I think that most people know that we are more than rocks. We do have the ability to act independently. We do have the ability to choose between good and evil. We are not rocks balancing on the hillside which move depending upon physical forces. We are independent beings who have a part in whether we roll down the hillside. But here's the trick: we can't stay on the hillside by ourselves. God needs to hold us there. We only need to ask.

L.A. County Surrenders to Political Correctness:

Here is a story I picked up from

The hyper do-gooders at the ACLU have successfully pressured the County of Los Angeles into changing its seal:

Los Angeles County supervisors on Tuesday ended an emotional debate over the symbolism of the tiny gold cross on the county seal by deciding to remove it rather than defend it against a threatened ACLU lawsuit. ...

"Where does it all end?" lamented Supervisor Don Knabe, who said that changing the county seal would be tantamount to "rewriting history" in a region shaped by Catholic missionaries. "I do not think we should capitulate. As the largest county in America, if we roll over, what's next?"

Another CADRE member noted:

"To top things off, the center of the seal has some Roman pagan goddess (about 100 time larger than the cross) on it. However, the ACLU found nothing wrong with promoting pagan worship."

It seems to me that a potential line of attack against the silliness being foisted upon Los Angeles County by the ACLU is to force them to explain why the small cross in the background of the seal is an endorsement of the Christian religion while the much larger Roman goddess is not an endorsement. You see, the basis for the objection to the cross on the seal of the County of Los Angeles is that it may be viewed as an endorsement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. If that is the basis for the objection, why isn't the placement of the Roman goddess as the central figure in the seal a violation as an establishment of Roman pagan religion by Los Angeles County?

I can only think of a couple of answers to this question. The first reason (which is probably what the ACLU would rely upon) would argue that Roman pagan religions are such a minority view in this country that it would hardly be seen as establishing that religion. The First Amendment, so the argument would go, is to prevent the establishment of a religion held by a majority of the people. But this would be bringing a new factor into Establishment Law jurisprudence. I am not aware of any Supreme Court decision that makes a distinction between religion of the majority and religion of the minority. Rather, the cases are decided upon whether the religious symbol could be seen as an endorsement regardless of whether it is a religious symbol of a majority or minority population in our country.

The second reason, and the real reason to my eyes, is that the ACLU doesn't want all references to religion out of public life. They are happy if religion is mentioned provided that the religion has no impact on the person's political life or made an impact that caused the adherents to vote for beliefs acceptable to the ACLU. If Christianity took the position that it is a purely personal religion and that the tenets of Christianity should not impact how one approaches their voting, then the ACLU and other such organizations could care less if they were honored. Thus, the ACLU is discriminating against certain religions that impact the political lives of their adherents.

Either way, the ACLU has a difficult hill to climb.


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