Monthly Archives: October 2016

History and the Bible

Did the Bible writers intend to record real history? Not according to some critics. One writer says, “Some stories in the Bible were meant to be history, others fiction…”  And again, “…only some of the stories in the New Testament were meant as history.”  This is a trending perspective on the Bible that is not at all unexpected in the world, but it is still imperative that these kinds of unfounded philosophies not find any foothold in the Church.

The writers of the Bible wrote real facts and real history, and it was important to these men that their readers understood this.  The apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 1:16, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” His fellow apostle, John, also drew attention to the reliability of his own record in 1 John 1:1-2:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us…

And Luke, of course, prefaces his writings as being especially dependable. Luke 1:1-4:

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

These writers’ first priority was to convey the fundamental elements of the Christian faith, but attention to accuracy and credibility was an essential element of this effort.

The New Testament writers intended for their words to be considered as dependable records of real and profoundly important events. Certainly this is equally true of the Old Testament writings where Bible events are often couched in the context of secular happenings with extensive references to specific dates, times, world leaders, and other corroborating evidences.  Not surprising, then, are the ubiquitous extra-biblical references that substantiate the inspired chronicles. David, Ahab, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Hoshea, Jehu, Jotham, and Manasseh are just a few of the dozens of biblical figures described in records other than the Bible. Some of these secular references to biblical people and places are very, very old. A 3,200 year old Egyptian monument mentions the people of Israel in the land of Canaan – a description that agrees with the Bible record. One especially interesting extra-biblical reference to an Old Testament person is the bulla of Baruch the scribe of Jeremiah. Two bullae, a scribe’s equivalent of a signet ring, have been discovered with the inscription: “Baruch son of Neriah,” the very person who worked with Jeremiah and quite possibly wrote large portions of the Old Testament. Examples like this are abundant and more are being discovered each year, but still the world wants us to read the Bible as fanatical religious fiction.

Extra-biblical references to New Testament people and places are practically innumerable. Essentially all of the leaders, political figures, and locations are discussed by contemporary sources outside of the Bible. Because of the volumes of references to Jesus and his Apostles, no one can seriously debate whether or not they existed. At least six different non-biblical sources make reference to Jesus. None of these sources intend to validate the writings of the Bible, but that is definitely the effect.  Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius all mention Christ and his following of Christians. Notably, the Bible records several supernatural events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ, some of which continued to be a discussion outside of the Bible well into the 2nd century. This quotation comes from a man named Julius Africanus (c. 160 – c. 240) who refers to the writings of two other men.

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun…Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth – manifestly that one of which we speak.

Secular references to biblical people and places are not essential for a Christian’s faith, but these observations are still valuable as a plurality of witnesses is always desirable.  Like Moses explained in Deuteronomy 19:15, “…by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.”

 ~ Tad Morris

Religious Cosmetics

“Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?”  (2 Corinthians 10:7).

Much of the denominational world uses the Law of Moses as a reference for its standards and practices.  Often, there is a mix of the ten commandments, buildings referred to as temples or tabernacles, rooms or places accorded a special degree of holiness, ceremonies, special days of observation, votive lights, instrumental music, tithing, and incense. There is even something akin to a priestly caste. This is reflected by terms of respect: Father, Reverend, Doctor, among other things. As members of Christ, we need to beware. We don’t want to unthinkingly absorb these things as a natural expression of faith. Rather, we need to see them for what they are – empty.

The Lord used the example of marriage to show us how the outward display of religion (works of the law), which was important in Moses’ day, is no longer incorporated into our practice of faith.

Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man (Romans 7:1-3).

The Law of Moses was like a marriage which bound God’s people to Himself. The Lord used many external, symbolic things to reinforce this union. To forsake God was a type of adultery. This was committed by worshiping idols, changing the form of worship He gave, or turning away from Him in any other way. Just as the death of the spouse ends the marriage (“she is free from that law”), killing the Son of God, the One in whom dwells the fullness of the Godhead, ended that union with God.

Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God (Romans 7:4).

The good news is that Jesus rose from the dead and offers reconciliation. The result is a people of faith, a people who have accepted responsibility for their sin and have been redeemed to a new life. Our Hebrew brethren had to learn the law did not dictate the terms of the new covenant. The law of commandments and ordinances could not transform man into perfection. The letter of the law was external to man’s spirit, symbolized by tables of stone. In God’s wisdom, the law of Moses was to prepare people for salvation. The faithful of the law were those sinners hungering and thirsting after righteousness. They were not satisfied by the law, but by Christ:

For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:5-6).

Just as the widow dies to the previous marriage (thus becoming available for another marriage), so souls under the law were made free from the works of the law and its bondage of sin, to serve in the newness of the Spirit. The invitation to enjoy that freedom has been given to all, Jews and Gentiles alike. Even though the Law of Moses is over, the Spirit still convicts the world of sin, and the lost are called to repentance and a new life.

Jesus’s sacrifice did not produce a religion of externals; it produced a people alive in Christ: “we should serve in the newness of the Spirit.” Here is a sampling of other scriptures which point to this same thing:

   Romans 8:1-2:  There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

   Romans 8:9-10: But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

   Romans 8:13-15:  For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’

   2 Corinthians 3:2-3:  You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.

   2 Corinthians 3:5-6: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

   1 John 3:24:  Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

There is a practical outcome to serving in newness of the Spirit. It is the walk of success. It begins with the courage to see what needs to be changed in ourselves. It continues in the strength of our Lord Jesus Christ to make those changes. Everything that truly will give us peace of mind and joy is found in the daily walk of faith. The Spirit, given to us through Christ, is the link between us and the Father. The law’s tables of stone impressed itself on the mind but did not change man’s nature. The letter written on our hearts by the Spirit changes our nature – conversion. This is a matter of faith. If we believe what is provided through Jesus the Messiah, then we have hope for a better day here on this earth and the glory of the world to come. The thief will learn not to steal, the adulterer will learn fidelity, the liar will become honest, and the idolater will serve God in Spirit and truth. We will learn to carry our crosses and to become more like Jesus.

If we do not believe what the Lord has done for us, then what is left but no service to God, or the salve of external religion? There is no strengthening power in the religion of man’s invention. A candle, the smell of incense, stained glass, or a spire have no power. They cannot make us more wise, self-disciplined, informed, kind, or loving. Those things can make us religious, but that is not the same as being faithful to God. If we understand these are of no value, then why be zealous for such things? That is apostasy and antichrist.

1 John 4:2-3:  By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

To deny that Christ has come in the flesh is to reject the redemption of Calvary in favor of worldly religion. Worldly religion has a pattern of external appearances to make us feel we are something we are not. There may be crosses abounding, but there is no redemption in these things.

To confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is to have faith that He overcame the world as one of us for our sake, that we might follow Him. There is a great deal of responsibility in this. There is also a great deal of life in being “dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God” (Romans 7:4).

~ Louis Garbi