Category Archives: Bible

Do natural disasters signal the end of the world as we know it?

Natural disasters are not unique to our time. Terrible losses of life and destruction from many natural disasters and epidemics have occurred for millennia.[1] So no one can say for certain that such events mark the end of this “present age.”[2]

Jesus’ disciples once asked Him what would “signal” His return and the end of the world as we know it.[3] In his reply, Jesus cautioned them not to assume that natural catastrophes such as famines or earthquakes or even man-made cataclysms such as wars meant the end of the age was just around the corner. Instead, He told His followers to view such catastrophic events as “the first of the birth pains, with more to come.”[4]

Jesus’ caution is as applicable for us today as it was for His first disciples. Every generation since the time of Jesus has had to deal with disasters of all types and scales. But there is no way for us to know when a recent disaster might signal the end of the world as we know it. Jesus Himself told His followers that only God knows for certain “the day or hour” when Christ will return.[5]

Natural disasters do show us that the earth is not the way it’s supposed to be. It is groaning and longing for the day when Jesus returns and all of creation will be renewed.[6]

[1] Earthquakes: Antioch, Syria, ad 525, 250,000 killed; Aleppo, Syria, 1138, 230,000 killed; Shaanxi Province, China, 1556, 830,000 killed.

Famines: “Great Famine” of Europe, ad 1315–17, millions died; Indian famine of 1896–1902, millions died; Chinese famine under Chairman Mao, 1958–61, 20-40 million died.

[2] In Jesus day, Jewish teachers, (including Jesus Himself) divided history into two ages; the “present age” and the “age to come”—the good news of God’s Kingdom coming to earth as it is in heaven that Jesus preached.  Many who read the New Testament believe that these two ages began to overlap when Jesus rose from the dead, and that the “present age” will come to an end and the “age to come” will come in its fullness when Jesus returns to our present earth. Others believe that the “age to come” will not begin until this “present age” ends at the time of Christ’s return.

[3] Matthew 24:3

[4] Matthew 24:4–8

[5] Matthew 24:26

[6] Romans 8:19–21; Revelation 21:1–5

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Is it wrong to marry someone of a different ethnicity?

Some have tried to use Bible passages like Deuteronomy 23:3[1] and 2 Corinthians 6:14[2] to make a case that people should marry only within certain cultural and racial confines like skin color or nationality. But when these verses are examined in light of their broader biblical context, their case falls short.

While it’s true that passages like Deuteronomy 23:3 prohibited Israelites from marrying individuals outside of the Jewish community, the Bible is full of exceptions to this rule. Joseph married an Egyptian woman.[3] Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute,[4] and Ruth, a Moabite widow,[5] both married into the tribe of Israel and became ancestors of King David and Jesus. And Uriah, the first husband of King Solomon’s mother Bathsheba, was a Hittite.

But the most interesting biblical example of cross-cultural marriage in the Bible is found in Numbers 12. In this account, Moses’ sister Miriam is struck with leprosy for criticizing Moses because he married a dark-skinned foreigner.

“While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he had married a Cushite woman…The Lord was very angry with them, and he departed. As the cloud moved from above the Tabernacle, there stood Miriam, her skin as white as snow from leprosy.” [6]

While the Bible does not condemn what is commonly called interracial marriage, some contexts and cultures make it more difficult than others. Some have even suggested that it should be avoided because of the cultural pressures and potential rejection it invites on couples and their children. Yet the Bible does not address this issue. There are times and places where these concerns might be well considered, but the idea of setting up artificial barriers based on skin color or other ethnic differences is not what ultimately brings the most glory and honor to God.

So, is it wrong to marry someone from another ethnicity? No; neither the Bible nor the spirit of Christ places any such constraints on people who love and care for one another.

[1] No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation (NIV).

[2] Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (NIV)

[3] (Genesis 41:44–52)

[4] (Joshua 2&6; Matthew 1:5)

[5] (Ruth 1–4; Matthew 1:5)

[6] Tyndale House Publishers. (2007). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (3rd ed.) (Nu 12:1 & 9–10). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

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Were the early Christians capable of producing the Gospels?

Skeptics of the historical accuracy of the New Testament often think that first-century Jews living in the Roman Empire were overwhelmingly illiterate and hence incapable of producing an accurate written record of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Some of the reasons given for the low literacy rates within the Roman empire are 1) there was no need for writing among the lower classes, 2) the lack of public education inhibited literacy, and 3) the prohibitive cost of writing materials made it difficult for people to afford to learn the skill.[1]

We now know that literacy within the first-century Palestinian and Roman cultures was much more widespread than these skeptics assume. Literacy was actually highly prized in the first-century Roman Empire. It allowed people to read publicly posted documents, deal with legal matters, and operate businesses.

Many surviving examples suggest literacy levels were relatively high and widespread. These examples include personal letters, legal deeds, divorce certificates, writing on coins, and household inscriptions that were clearly not written by scribes. [2]

But the primary reason to believe that Jesus’ first followers were capable of producing the documents that would later become the Gospels is that the witnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry were not just run-of-the-mill inhabitants of the Roman Empire; they were Palestinian Jews.[3]

Jewish culture, more any other ancient culture, was founded on familiarity with a written document—the Mosaic Law.[4] Every synagogue in every small community, no matter how rudimentary and humble, was a center for religious teaching that included passing on the ability to read and discuss the Scriptures.

Internal evidence within the New Testament reinforces the view that written records were made of Jesus’ teaching long before the Gospels were written. We have good reason to believe that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry were supported by written as well as oral sources from the very beginning.[5] The early followers of Jesus were more than capable of faithfully chronicling His message for future generations to read.

[1] Where literacy exists, people have always been highly motivated to learn to read and write. Just as parents would pass along other skills to children, they pass along any literacy they had gained. Even rudimentary skills in reading and writing are useful, and anyone who wants to learn how to read could certainly find ways of doing so. Within the Roman Empire, even the lower classes were highly motivated to attain a degree of literacy and adept at improvising less expensive writing materials than papyrus and parchment.

[2] (The Jesus Legend, p. 244).

[3] The great volume of writings found at Qumran testifies to a high degree of Jewish literacy. Jesus’ followers “were not all illiterate peasant laborers and craftsmen, as the form critics supposed, but evidently included people who studied the Scriptures with current exegetical skills and could write works with the literary quality of the letter of James. Leaders who were not themselves literate could employ the services of other believers who were” (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p. 287).

[4] “These are the commands, decrees, and regulations that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you. You must obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy, and you and your children and grandchildren must fear the Lord your God as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life. Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.* And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:1-9 NLT)

[5] Luke notes, quite incidentally, that “many” before him had attempted to write accounts of what went on among the early Christians (Luke 1:1). In addition, some of Paul’s sayings in his letters parallel sayings in the Gospel traditions. This may suggest that sayings were written down and circulated well before the Gospels were written. Even more forceful, however, are the strong verbal similarities between Mathew and Luke when recording material not found in Mark. These similarities can be accounted for most easily by supposing that Matthew and Luke shared a common written source (Q). And, as a number of scholars have noted, there is ample evidence of early collections of Old Testament proof-texts (testimonia) in written form that were apparently used in preaching and in apologetic settings in the early church (The Jesus Legend, p. 250).

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Did Jesus really exist?

Considering the historical context, it’s remarkable that Jesus was mentioned at all in non-Christian historical documents. Yet while there is little reason we should expect first- and second-century non-Christian writers to mention Jesus Christ, some of them did. One was Josephus, the most important Jewish historian of the first century.[1] Another was a renowned Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, who referred to Jesus early in the second century.[2]

Numerous second- through fifth-century critics of the Christian faith, including Trypho, Pliny, Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian, questioned what Christians believed about Jesus, but none denied He was a real person.[3] Jewish rabbinical tradition also confirms he lived.[4]

Lee Strobel, a professional journalist and author, points out that there is better historical documentation for Jesus than for the founder of any other ancient religion. Not only did Jesus’ followers worship him as God, but many skeptical historians also affirm His existence and the devotion of His followers.[5]

Even the skeptical participants of the “Jesus Seminar” acknowledge that Jesus was a real, historical person. Given the strength of these textual and historical evidences, it is very likely that Jesus not only lived, but was in fact who He claimed to be.

[1] “When, therefore, Ananus [the high priest] was of this [angry] disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road. So he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.” (Antiquities 20.9.1)

[2] “Therefore, to stop the rumor [that the burning of Rome had taken place by order], Nero substituted as culprits, and punished in the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue.” (Tacitus, Annals, trans. C. H. Moore and J. Jackson, LCL, reprint ed. [Cambridge, MA; Harvard University Press, 1962], 283)

[3] Trypho, recorded in Justin Martyr’s “Dialogue with Trypho,” denies that Jesus was Christ, but acknowledges Jesus’ historical existence. Pliny the Younger, a Roman senator and governor, refers to Christians as “reciting a hymn antiphonally to Christus as if to a god.” Celsus made the claim (echoed in the Talmud) that Jesus was a sorcerer and a bastard.

[4] “The Talmudic stories make fun of Jesus’ birth from a virgin, fervently contest his claim to be the Messiah and Son of God, and maintain that he was rightfully executed as a blasphemer and idolater. They subvert the Christian idea of Jesus’ resurrection and insist that he got the punishment he deserved in hell—and that a similar fate awaits his followers.

“Schaefer contends that these stories betray a remarkably high level of familiarity with the Gospels—especially Matthew and John—and represents a deliberate and sophisticated anti-Christian polemic that parodies the New Testament narratives.” (From the jacket summary of the content of Peter Schaefer’s book, Jesus in the Talmud)

[5] The Case for Christ, Zondervan, p. 260

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Are some sins more wrong than others?

Many of us have a tendency to judge certain sins as worse than others. We say, “I have my struggles, but at least I don’t struggle with that.”

Surely some attitudes and behaviors carry the potential for greater, far-reaching consequences than others. But that does not make one set of sins worse than another. The New Testament calls us to take all sin seriously:

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. (James 2:8–9 nlt)

James, the author of these words, does not seem to be setting up a hierarchy of sins. He wrote to people who were guilty of such things as favoring the rich over the poor,[1] and he is confronting the self-righteous attitudes of those who don’t feel they have sinned enough to need God’s grace. He told his readers that this kind of thinking is not only prideful but also self-deceiving. Everyone sins and needs God’s grace.

The mercy of God is not just for those who commit obvious and heinous kinds of sin. A person who doesn’t murder or commit adultery but shows partiality to the rich while ignoring the poor is a lawbreaker, too.

Sin is a struggle for all of us. And none of us have reason to feel superior to those who sin in ways we don’t. Most of all, let us never forget that our gracious God longs to extend His hand of mercy to all.

[1] James 2:1-4

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