Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What is the Oldest Religion in the World?

Without a doubt, this question is one of the biggest posed to Christians today. Many, out of either ignorance or pre-determined rejection of God’s Word, have stated that Christianity is not the oldest living religion in existence. Instead, they point to Hinduism as the oldest and cite their historical backing to prove its age. Upon hearing such a statement and listening to the evidence, many Christians have left the conversation without knowing how to respond. Is Hinduism truly the oldest functioning religion in the world or have the skeptics been somewhat misguided in their facts? I write the following so that you will be prepared to make a defense to the next person who asks you for a reason for the hope that is within you[1].

Hinduism vs. Judeo-Christianity

First, why do I say Judeo-Christianity opposed to simply Christianity? To clarify, Christianity did not begin with the apostles after the death and resurrection of Christ. While it is true that the name Christian did not originate until Christ’s disciples went to Antioch in the first century [2], the Christian religion is founded and based upon the Old Testament Scriptures of Judaism (Genesis – Malachi). This then takes Christianity’s origin even further back in time than the entrance of Jesus.
Ultimately speaking, determining the exact year and even day of when these religions came into existence can be rather difficult. I have included seven links at the bottom of this blog regarding the arrival of Hinduism. All seven admit that no one really knows exactly when it began; even so, the consensus is placed sometime around the 1500’s B.C.
In contrast, Judeo-Christianity conservatively began at the time God called Abraham when he was seventy-five years old[3] in 1876 B.C. An argument can be made and well defended of a much earlier arrival, but for the sake of word count I will leave it with Abraham. Therefore, there is nearly four hundred years between when Judeo-Christianity began and Hinduism. Thus, Judeo-Christianity is much older.
Those who would still push that Hinduism is the oldest religion would counter with an argument similar to the following well articulated rebuttal quoted from the last sentence in the third paragraph in the article found on http://www.ancient.eu/hinduism/:
It is a mistake to reduce all early Hinduism to Vedic religion: there were many other non-Vedic religious traditions in early Hinduism which have left no early texts and that can be known to some extent by archaeological evidence.
However, the exact same argument could be and is used of Judeo-Christianity. The Bible records many real historical accounts of God interacting with His people long before Abraham. We could look back at the account of Noah[4] who, with his three sons and their wives, repopulated the world after the Great Flood. Noah, like Abraham, was a believer[5] in Jehovah which was Judeo-Christianity in its earlier forms of God’s progressive revelation. The Christian Scriptures record specifics regarding the first man and woman walking with God[6] in truth. As a result, both Biblically and historically we know that Judeo-Christianity is the single oldest religion in the world bar none.
In regards to the Veda scriptures of Hinduism, they were not written until sometime between 1300 and 1200 B.C. On the flipside, the Biblical record of the Holy Scriptures began to be inscribed roughly 150 years earlier during Israel’s wandering in the desert for forty years from 1445 – 1406 B.C. This is yet another example of historical authenticity attributed to the Bible. While it is impossible for believers to have the answer to every question posed on the spot, that should not cause us to shy away from studying and learning about our faith!
Sources regarding Hinduism and its origin are cited from the links below:

[1] 1 Pet. 3:15; ESV, 1016
[2] Acts 11:26; ESV, 920
[3] Genesis 12; ESV, 8
[4] Gen. 6-11; ESV, 5-8
[5] Gen. 6:8; ESV, 5
[6] Gen. 2; ESV, 2

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How the Story of God Collapsed a Nation

A 6-year Barna study produced in partnership with American Bible Society[1] recorded the following:

1.      How non-Christian Millennials describe the Bible:

a.      Story: 50%

b.      Mythology: 38%

c.       Symbolic: 36%

d.     Fairy Tale: 30%

e.      Dangerous Book of Religious Dogma: 27%

2.      Americans who strongly agree that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches:

a.      In 1991: 46%

b.      In 2016: 33%

What is the cause of such troubling statistics?

There can be many reasons for these statistics but I believe one stands out above the rest. Fifty percent of non-Christian Millennials describe the Bible as just merely a story with a message of morality. Do you want to know a big reason why? Perhaps it is because so many of us consistently refer to God’s Word as a story. We say things like:

1.      The Bible tells one story from beginning to end; the story of Jesus.

2.      The story in 2 Chronicles 7 tells us that fire fell from heaven when God’s glory filled the temple.

3.      I suggest you read 1 Kings 8. It tells the story of the grand opening of the first temple.

4.      Acts 2 tells the story of the Holy Spirit invading the lives of those who surrendered to Jesus.

The four examples mentioned above are direct quotes from a book I am currently reading about missions. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very good read and have learned a lot from the author. However, I am less than half way through and the author, who is  a pastor himself, has referred to the Bible using the word story at least four times.

In the past, I myself would sometimes refer to the story of Jonah and the Fish but I have tried to make an intentional effort to remove that adjective from my vocabulary when speaking of God's Word. Referring to the Bible with the word story in today's culture is synonymous with calling it a fairy tale or legend that's akin to Homer’s Iliad. The Bible is not a story — it’s an account! Be careful never to refer to any portion of the Bible, outside of parables, as a story. It is not a story. Rather, it is the account of God and His people. God's Word is real history. It really happened.

On another note, Hollywood movies that are based on real people and events begin with the words, “BASED ON A TRUE STORY.” Are there any Bible movies that begin with those five words?

Why would someone stake their life and eternity on a story? The apostles lost their lives based on the truth of God’s Word. We must be mindful of the words we choose to use to describe and refer to God’s truth. A lackadaisical attitude toward God’s Word will pave the way for the next generation’s rejection of His truth completely. Given the statistics cited earlier, we are already seeing a large wave of millennials doubting the validity of God's Word but these trends can be reversed if reverence for the Bible is restored.


Friday, May 19, 2017

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil

Genesis 2:17 says:

17…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”[1]

Why was man not allowed to eat from this one tree?  What is so significant about the knowledge of good and evil?  What does the knowledge of good and evil even mean?  To start, let us unpack what it does not mean. 

1.      Experiential Knowledge (Gen. 3:22)

Scripture is certain that this knowledge cannot mean experiential knowledge in that they would gain evil by way of experience.  If this were the case, then Genesis 3:22 would indicate that God has experiential knowledge of both good and evil when He says, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us in knowing good and evil…”[2]

2.      Lack of Knowledge (Gen. 3:3)

While there existed at that time a lack of personal experience through sin and death on the part of the man and woman, they were most certainly aware of the fact that disobeying God was an outright act of defiance.  They may not have had time to think through all of the ramifications of their disobedience, but they knew that to go against God’s law was evil and would result in a terrible consequence.

One of the many great things about God is that He is the most effective communicator.  If Adam and Eve lacked any understanding then God would have been aware of that and cleared up any confusion.  Ultimately, He would not have even mentioned death if they were at a complete loss as to what that meant.

Likewise, if they did not understand what evil was, then this would not be a proper test.  Suppose, for example, that a math teacher gave his students a test over material which they had never before been exposed.  The test would be invalid and, although by grade the students would have failed, in reality it would be the teacher at fault for not clearly communicating the subject matter.  Obviously, God was not to blame.

So what is the knowledge of good and evil?  What was gained in partaking of the forbidden fruit?

The answer to the latter question is nothing.  Nothing was gained through their disobedience to God’s command.  On the contrary, everything was lost at that very moment.  They were walking purely with God and had been morally good when they gave up their freedom and sacrificed their lives for a single bite of a fruit.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil did not give anything to the couple that they did not already possess.  The tree was established for the man and woman to make a conscious decision as to whether or not they will follow God.  It presented a choice: Will Adam and Eve trust in God’s definition of good and evil or will they forsake God’s direction and choose to define morality for themselves?  God offered them both life or death through this form of testing.

Concluding Thoughts

As a young man I would read the Psalms and be left confused as to why the writers were all too often praising God for His laws.  I used to think of rules as more of a burden until I began to realize that laws are actually created for my benefit and safety.  God knew that eating from this tree would cause Adam to die  and destroy their perfect fellowship, so He lovingly warned him not to eat from it because He knew the man would suffer from much regret.  God was not holding anything back from Adam.  Rather, He was protecting him and looking out for his well-being.

God is the reference point. He is our reference when it comes to good and evil. What was Satan saying to Eve? That she could know all about good and evil on her own. The temptation was to become independent of God and to seek knowledge and wisdom about these things from another source. James 3:15 tells us that  when we seek out our own wisdom apart from the Lord in an attempt to justify our sinful actions that this quest is unrighteous and evil. Satan seeks to destroy the image of God wherever it is found on the earth by tempting us to define our own identity and morality yet God is the ultimate authority and the source of Truth and it is to Him that we must turn.

[1] Gen. 2:17; ESV, 2
[2] Gen. 3:22; ESV, 3

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Image of God

What is the image of God and how does it relate to salvation?  Genesis 1:26-28 is the first instance where this phrase is found.  It is the clearest passage in all of Scripture regarding the identity of humanity, yet many who spend their lives studying God’s Word will pass from this life without digging further into its meaning.  I hear more speculations these days than I do Biblical truth.  How exactly are you and I created in the image of the eternal Godhead?  Some say it is because we have a will and have been given the ability to reason and think logically.  Others see it as our sense of discovery and constant pursuit to improve the way we do things.  Still, many in the Church simply view it as having specific personality traits and the ability to show love to one another. While all these are all true in part, I would like to go deeper into what it means that we have been made in God's image.

Here is what the Bible says:

26Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”[1]

Notice the characteristics of mankind which God stated in the above passage.  Within these few verses you will find three ways in which man is made in the image of God and, as such, is separated from everything else in all of creation (i.e. animals, insects, angels, etc.).

1.      Genesis 1:26 – Rulership.

God, in His ultimate Sovereignty, established and ordained man with authority over all the earth.  Everything, from fish to birds and livestock to bugs, was placed under the dominion of man.  The Sovereign God decreed a level of sovereign rule to be given to man.

2.      Genesis 1:27 – Plurality.

God created mankind.  He did not just make a singular man.  On the contrary, He designed both male and female.  Adam by himself was not made in the image of God.  This image, as seen in the Genesis passage, is a collective reflection — a corporate identity.  All of us together make up the image of God.  When God looked over all of creation and saw that everything He had made was very good[2], He was not saying that everything was just okay until woman was made.  What He saw when He looked over creation was His image (male and female) manifested.

3.      Genesis 1:28 – The ability to give life.

When God acted, life began.  Not only did it begin, but He specifically designed the human body to bring forth life through the form of an action.  Like God, life begins when we intentionally act in a certain way.

So how does this separate us from the rest of creation?

We are different because nothing else in all of creation functions in all three of these aspects.  For example: the angels have authority to rule[3] and they exist in great numbers[4], but they cannot give life.  They are not capable of having children or creating living organisms out of nothing.  On the flip side, animals and creeping things exist in very great numbers and are continually breeding, but they are all under human dominion and have been given a fear and dread of man by God[5].  Mankind, at this point, rules over all the animal kingdom and will, at some point in the future, rule with Christ over God’s kingdom[6].

Have you ever stood on the shore of a pond or lake and gazed at your reflection in the water?  It is basically a mirror.  The problem, however, is that there is no freedom involved.  The image does exactly what you do.  It goes where you go and jumps when you jump.  It has no will, mind or emotion of its own.  It cannot choose to do something different, nor can it run away and hide like Peter Pan’s shadow.  The Spirit of God, in Genesis chapter one, hovered above the surface of the waters and saw His reflection.  It moved where He moved and did as He did.  If God just wanted a mirrored image, then He could have stopped there in His creative work, but instead He determined that was not good enough.  He desired His image to be able to decide for itself whether or not to seek Him.  He decreed to give His image life and free choice with the conscious ability to make decisions.  God brought His shadow, reflection and image to life in order to pursue Him.

[1] Gen. 1:26-28; ESV, 1
[2] Gen. 1:31; ESV, 2
[3] Eph. 6:12; ESV, 979
[4] Matt. 26:53; ESV, 833
[5] Gen. 9:2; ESV, 6
[6] 2 Tim. 2:12; ESV, 995