The Reliability of the Bible (Part 2)

These are some of the questions I introduced in Is The Bible God’s Word? published on 04/26:  How accurate is the translation of the Bible that you read?  How do you know that it is an accurate transcription of what was revealed to the author?   Did something get twisted in the times before it was written down, when the stories were being carried by oral traditions?  Did editors change the stories to make them more exciting or remove details to save heroes from embarrassment?  And who decided which books of the Bible were the inspired word of God?

To begin to explore the answers these questions, we must recognize the two major parts of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, and examine them separately, because the language, traditions, and times involved vary so significantly from one to the other.  There was a 400 year hiatus between the last recorded prophecy of Malachi in the Old Testament to the revelation of God in Jesus during the Roman Empire.   When Malachi gave his prophecy the nation of Israel was under Persian domination, the Babylonian empire haven fallen to the Medo-Persians during Daniel’s prophetic times (~539 B.C).  For those into dates, Malachi’s prophecy ended at about 435 B.C.  The Persian empire last about 200 years, defeated by Alexander the Great, in about 330 B.C.  His kingdom was short lived falling into many civil wars following his premature death in his mid-thirties.  Eventually the Greek Seleucid empire replaced Alexander’s by about 175 B.C.  This empire was overthrown by the Romans sometime around 100 B.C. which inaugurated Julius Ceasar as their first true emperor around 44 B.C. replacing a Triumvirate leadership of Julius Ceasar, Pompey, and Cassius.

This historical note is just to explain there was a tremendous change in culture from the time of Malachi to the appearance of Jesus “in the fullness of time.” (Galatians 4:4)  Thus the details of record-keeping were greatly different in the recording and transmission of the New Testament compared to such details of the Old Testament.

So let’s begin by examining the reliability of the Old Testament.  How do you know that the books we call the Old Testament is an accurate transcription of what was revealed to the author?  How do we know copyists who transcribed the historical and prophetic writings gave us accurate copies?  After all, the 39 books of the Old Testament were written over a  period of at least a thousand years from 1440BC – 435BC.  Isn’t it likely that between that time and now, errors would have crept in?

We’ve already discussed oral traditions of preliterate times (The Reliability of the Bible-Part 1 – 05/17/15).  But writing became more common even as early as Abraham’s day (2000 B.C.), long before Moses (1400B.C), as is evidenced by archeologists that have excavated thousands of clay tablets from Ur, many from households, as well as large libraries.

Overwhelming proof exists that the collection of books making up the Old Testament are virtually the same today as when they were first written!  Keep these three things in mind when ever you look at any ancient writings:  1) The closer you can get to the time of the original writing, the less opportunity there has been for mistakes to have made their way into the text; 2) The more agreement you have among copies of the text, the more certain you can be of the text’s accurate transcription; 3) Copies that vary greatly in time must not show significant changes.

The Old Testament is the same 39 books accepted by Jews in of the first century and by the early church.  There was no meeting or council in the Old Testament times that met to accept these books.  Josephus listed these same 39 book in his Antiquities of the Jews.  It appears that each book was accepted as its writer presented it.  The books were self-authenticating at the time of their writing.  That which was absurd or unbelievable would not have been preserved.  A prophet was validated by the truth of his words (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)

The Old Testament has come down to us in seven forms:

  1. Samaritan Pentateuch (400 BC)
  2. The Midrash (400 B.C)
  3. Septuagint (translated from Hebrew to Greek around 280 BC)
  4. The Dead Sea Scrolls (225-50 B.C)
  5. Syriac Version (translated 200 AD)
  6. Latin Vulgate (Hebrew translated into to Latin by Jerome in 400 AD)
  7. Masoretic Text (500 A.D.)

The Old Testament has been more accurately transmitted to us than any other ancient writing of comparable age. The textual evidence is greater for the Old Testament than any other historically reliable ancient document of the same periods. The ancient scribes were very meticulous.  As late as 500 A.D., there were only minor variants in the readings in all the copies of the Old Testament, when the Masoretic Text was compiled.

“Probably the Deat Sea Scrolls have had the greatest Biblical impact. They have provided Old Testament manuscripts approximately 1,000 years older than our previous oldest manuscript. The Dead Sea Scrolls have demonstrated that the Old Testament was accurately transmitted during this interval. In addition, they provide a wealth of information on the times leading up to, and during, the life of Christ.”
—Dr. Bryant Wood, PhD archaeologist

There are a wealth of resources online or at any good library that will show this truth:  There is no book in history that has been more reliably preserved and translated than the Bible.  But beware of the resources of which you inquire.  There are many who prefer not to believe what history and scientific evidence provide for faith in God and His Word.  So when you investigate, look for vested interests and weigh the evidence, and love the truth.  If you love the truth, He will guide you to it. (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12)

See June 7, 2015 for the next in this series on The Reliability of the Bible,

Ready for the concrete pour

IMG_3038 IMG_3044IMG_3036            This blog was intended go be up by May 15, but “stuff” got in the way of completing it, mostly working longer days than my old body is used to, having fun with our guest who came on May 13 to help with the construction, and general laziness.

By May 2 we had all the basement wall form up, but everything still had temporary bracing to keep the walls from blowing over in our spring winds that are about a month overdue. .

IMG_3086   IMG_3088   IMG_3089                 Basement walls finally were completed with lots of details to “finish” the forms, including penetrations, reinforcement of potential “blow-outs” from weak places, bracing of doors and windows, and formal bracing of the walls with adjustable braces that can change the leveling of the wall as we pour.  We are renting the formal braces and hope to pour the walls this Tuesday, May 19!

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I mentioned before I would explain ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms) and why we prefer to build this way.  You see, normal US construction of houses is 2″x4″ dimensional lumber.  2×4 is actually incorrect as this is the rough wood before milling, so a dimensional 2×4 is actually 1-1/2 inch by 3-1/2 inches (~ 4cm x 9cm).  When you put insulation in a 2×4 wall you get an R-13 value in heat transfer resistance.  This is a number established by heating one side of a wall and measuring how much heat transfers to the other side.  The higher the R-value, the better the resistance to heat transfer, i.e. the warmer or cooler you house stays without losing or gaining heat to and from the outside.  In a 2×6 wall (6.5cm x 16.5cm) you get an R-30 value, meaning your heat or air conditioning bill should be about one-half that of the same house built with 2x4s.

IMG_3031In ICF construction the walls are R-50!   That is more than three times the R-13 of a 2×4 wall, and almost twice the R-30 of a 2×6 wall!  This easily translates into reduced heating and cooling costs by as much as 1/3 or what the same house built with 2x4s would cost, and about 1/2 of the same house with 2x6s.  The cavity you see in the picture is filled with concrete after being properly braced, and the result is a house that will stand up to an F-4 tornado!

The Reliability of the Bible (Part 1)

Let’s start with the beginning: Genesis.  Moses is the supposed author of Genesis, along with the following four books, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  But Moses obviously was not present at the time of creation, nor was he in the Garden of Eden, nor did he ride in the Ark with Noah, Ham, Shem, and Japheth and their wives.  So how did he get his information?

The natural explanation is by oral history.  Before writing materials were more common (even in Moses’ day these were considered precious and difficult to obtain), stories were passed from one generation to the next by oral repetition.  So critics of the Bible will claim that these stories became inflated and convoluted as they passed from mouth to ear, much in the same way phrases are misconstrued in The Telephone Game.

Telephone GameThe Telephone Game is an American pastime where a familiar phrase is chosen by someone in a group.  He/she then whispers it in the ear of the person next to him, who whispers it to the next, and so on until it reaches the last person in the group.  The last person then says out loud what he/she thinks she heard from the one before her.  It is usually very funny as simple sayings, such as “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” becomes something crazy like “Dirty pans caused the crash of the Titanic.”  So the argument goes that with repeated oral history, each speaker would add details to make the story more interesting until the actual history was lost or so distorted as to be only a myth or legend.

This reflects a modern arrogance that wisdom has somehow become the norm today where ancient cultures were uncivilized, ignorant and easily deceived.  If you care to study the history of oral traditions it will become quickly evident that The Telephone Game is NOT how history was conveyed in ancient times.

First, oral traditions were not viewed as amusement, but as the serious business of educating the next generation.  This was no light matter when writing materials were not available, but likely considered on the level of a doctor’s or lawyer’s oath of today.  And the hearer repeated the history back to his/her teacher to make sure it was correctly learned.

Second, one person was not responsible for the translation of the stories to the next generation, but many sources would report the stories to many students who could compare “notes” on what they were learning.  Inaccuracies and inflation would easily be corrected so that the stories told the truth about what had happened.  For an example of this, one needs only to read the various Flood stories from different cultures that report from a time when no one was writing.  You will find that the stories were relatively consistent over distinct cultures that would not have communicated except by their common oral histories.  That the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh along with Hindu, Chinese, and Aztec mythologies all have Flood stories that closely parallel the Bible’s account suggests that the event really happened, and the only distortions came as people who rejected the truth about Yahweh of the Bible replaced Him with false gods.

Third, only an arrogant person would assume he/she lives in the only generation that is not easily fooled.  Why would someone automatically assign divine reasons for an event they did not understand simply because they did not understand it?  If a man or woman does not have reason to believe in a god, why would he/she “create” a god and proceed to give that deity ultimate power?  Unless, of course, something in history taught that such a GSpaceod existed and interacted with mankind.   As C.S.Lewis has said, “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning;  just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark.  Dark would be without meaning.”  The “creation” of a god who made thunder or earthquakes would not be a reasonable assumption even for a “primitive man” unless he had reason to believe such a being exists.

Finally, the authority of the oral traditions that were recorded by Moses in Genesis are the most consistent with the evidence if one assumes that God exists.  And frankly, with apologies to Nietzsche, Dawkins, and Hawkings, only a “fool says in his heart ‘There is no god.'”  These are not my words, but one of the greatest philosophers and kings to ever live, David, in Psalm 14.    The moral and ethical behavior of Abraham and the ancient Hebrew culture stood starkly apart from the societies around it, and conveyed accurately and adequately the history that predated Moses’ writings.

The first question mentioned in the Bible is from Satan, challenging God’s word to Adam and Eve: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  And the sequel questions of skeptics and atheists continue to mask their choice of unbelief against the evidence that God has spoken clearly through the Bible.  This is not a claim to raw authority but a collation of many testimonies of interlocking claims and evidences that include God speaking directly to those who will listen.

This is not to say questions or even questioning God is wrong, but questions must be open to answers that may not agree with what we have believed before.  In fact, Steve Elliott said this beautifully, “It’s easy to live with answers, but it takes great faith to live with your questions. Remember, no question intimidates God.”  That is conditioned on the idea that the question is honest and open to an answer that might be uncomfortable.

Now, what about transcribing?  How did they copy the Bible before Xerox machines?  Next Sunday, May 31, 2015. 😉

Why God Waits? Part 2

TimeLast week I noted the thinly supported idea that Time is an attribute of God.  I am not sure about this, but it feels right, makes sense, and unless someone corrects me, I do not believe it violates any of the accepted canon of the Bible.  I am open to discussion here if anyone disagrees and has valid evidence that Time is not one of His attributes.

This would make Time immutable, i.e, unchanging, and Why God Waits? is presented with a simple solution: He waits because of who He is.  You could just as easily ask, Why Is God Holy? or Why Is God Loving? or Why Is God Omnipotent?  It is simply who He is as He has revealed Himself to mankind through the ages since creation, The I AM.

God is “unchanging” in character (Psalm 102:24-27, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17), yet He clearly changes in response to His creatures, i.e. angels or you and me, or in His creative ideas.  From His first creative act in Genesis, “And God said, Let there be light . . .” He was changing the stuff around Him, and the entire Bible is His interactive guide to how He has responded to the free-will-creatures He has made, and how He will respond to the changes in us and our times.  Note, times change, but Time does not.

So let’s consider how Jesus learned obedience by what He suffered (Hebrews 5:8).  Jesus was eternally existent with Father in a Father-Son relationship.  He is uncreated (John 1:1-14).  He was present at creation and part of the decision process to produce mankind, “Let us make mankind in our image.” (Genesis 1:26). He appeared in several scenes throughout the Old Testament as a man to reveal something special about the God-head (Genesis 18:1-2, Genesis 32:22-30, Joshua 5:13-15, Judges 6:11-24, Daniel 3:25 to name a few) and prophets predicted He was coming to reveal God on earth (Isaiah 9:6-7, Micah 5:2).

But God had never been a human before the birth of Jesus.  Now some have questioned how a man can be God, but that is not really the issue.  The question is, can God become a man?  He who created DNA, the birth process, and all the molecules of the universe, is not limited by physical laws of the creation, at least not in the way we understand physics.  Realizing that God is who He reveals Himself to be in the Bible, there is no problem to accept that God could create a body inside a woman, using partly her DNA, and partly newly formed DNA, to create a baby untainted by the curse of sin, and in whom He could fully live — God in the flesh, Immanuel or God With Us!  He would not, as some have crudely suggested, need to have sex with the woman, but rather, as He did in Genesis, simply speak the created baby’s body into the woman’s womb.

This is a new experience for God!  He who was uncreated was now living among His creatures, and subject to the same difficulties you and I face.  Was Jesus ever disobedient to Father?  Of course not, but He never had to obey against the inclinations of human desire to avoid pain before.  So God, who never changes, experienced something new in Time; He learned obedience from what He suffered.  He could not do anything else because of who He is, and He could not “rush” the process of learning.

In the same way that He could not rush the process of His learning, He could not rush the process of sin, even though He knows how it will end for the sinner.  When the nations divided after the Flood, the Amorites were a clan descended from Canaan, who shared his father’s sin in Genesis 9 (probably of disrespect for Noah).   When Ham was disrespectful of Noah, it was only Canaan, not Ham nor any of his other clans, who was cursed.  But God was constrained by His justice from punishing sons of Canaan for sins not yet committed.  So He promised Abram in Genesis 15 that his descendants who would be enslaved in Egypt during the next 400 years would return to the land He had promised him, but it would have to wait until “the sin of the Amorites . . . reached its full measure.”   Thus, God is constrained by Time to allow occurrences over time to occur, just as He is constrained by His holiness to punish sin; just as He is constrained by His love to forgive the repentant sinner.

He will not judge unjustly, and so waited for the sin of the Amorites to reach the its full measure.  In the same way, He will not judge anyone unjustly, but will wait for us to reveal what we will become.  And though He “knows the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10), He waits for us to prove Him right and just.

But it is not only sin for which He waits to reach its full measure.  He also is waiting for you and I to reach our full maturity in living for Him, in learning to choose right over wrong, to grow in grace and knowledge and become what He created us to be: sincere worshipers of the True and Living God.

Helen, Hatnaa and Neguun2You know something of what your child will look like as an adult as soon as he or she is born because you know what the parents look like.  But there is no way to rush Time.  We must wait for the growth and development of the child.  And so God waits, and He is waiting for you!  He is waiting for you to make decisions that will bring you closer to Him.  He is waiting for you to read and study the Bible, and to pray and get to know Him better.  He is waiting for you to become the man or woman of God that He created you to be.

“With all wisdom and understanding, He made known the mystery of Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in Heaven and on earth under Christ.”  Ephesians 1:8-10.

A digression into Why God Waits

Last Sunday’s blog, Is The Bible God’s Word?, left us with a lot of questions which I intended to begin addressing this week.  However, in an interesting conversation some ideas came up that require me to digress from this theme for a couple weeks.  I will come back to the evidence of the Bible being the revealed Word of God in a couple weeks, but this seems like the appropriate time to address another concern, Why God Waits.

North Korea Missile RangeNorth Korea has over 1000 nuclear warheads that can reach over two-thirds of the world’s population; Baltimore riots over an unwarranted death of a man in police custody; a new Taliban offensive threatens the northern province of Kunduz in Afghanistan; Iran is on the threshold of a nuclear bomb which the Ayatollahs will not hesitate to unleash on Israel or America; Russia exercises military muscle in the Baltic sea and continues to push into Ukraine while providing missiles to Iran; our president continues to abuse our constitution and act as if it does not apply to him or those he favors; a Chilean volcano erupts for the third time in a week; more that 10,000 people are dead from the recent Ebola outbreak in west Africa, and many of the 15,000 survivors still suffer from ongoing complications from the disease; abortion kills over 1.4 MILLION babies every year just in the U.S, even more in countries where having a male child is preferred; suicide rates which Nepal earthquakecontinue to be vastly under-reported now account for more deaths than auto accidents in developed countries; Nepal’s earthquake victims total more than 6000 and this number is expected to increase as more are discovered while aftershocks continue to rock the country several times a day.

Why does God wait? Why is He mostly silent in the face of these calamities, some man-made, some “natural?”  Why does Jesus not stop all the natural as well as man-made tragedies?

This is more than simply the “problem of pain,” i.e., why do bad things happen to good people?  This question is why an all-powerful (omnipotent) God who “sees the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10) does not just fast forward to the end and render judgement based on His foreknowledge.

This brings into focus our relationship with Father, who limits Himself in His power, actions, and timetable with us, and waits for us to “become” what we will be.  Consider three verses of Scripture: Hebrews 5:8, “He learned obedience from what He suffered;” Genesis 15:16, “for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure;” and Ephesians 1:7-10, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”

The verse in Hebrews suggests there are some things God does not know experientially.  Of course He is all-knowing in the sense that there is nothing beyond His understanding; He designed the universe from the expanses of space to the details of quarks; He created energy, laws of thermodynamics, set the worlds in motion and He colors the eyes of unborn babies with meticulous care to their DNA.  But He stands above and apart from His creation and He is not the same as His creatures, i.e. you and me, or the angels or demons.

Lucifers FallHis joy seems to be in loving and sharing, and here is a mystery of His understanding.  He created angels with this capacity for fellowship with Himself, but some of them rebelled under Lucifer, who wanted to be the Most High, absurdly thinking he could be equal to or even greater than the Creator. (Isaiah 14:12-20)

Next He created the physical universe and mankind on earth.  (He may have created other life in this universe, but that is beyond our knowledge and beyond the scope of this blog.)  In any case, mankind was created “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5) with a limited understanding of his place in creation, of his Creator, and of his relationship to God.  You see, when Lucifer sinned he sinned against all that God was able to reveal of Himself to Lucifer.  In other words, Lucifer (or Satan, for he has many names) understood all about God that he was capable of receiving.  However, when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, they only had a very small understanding of the Creator, much less than they were capable of grasping.  There was a LOT about Himself that He had not shared, requiring them to develop trust, or faith, a characteristic that Lucifer could not understand because he was not created with such a limitation.

Adam and Eve2So God’s plan was to develop in a trust-relationship with Adam and Eve, and gradually reveal more of Himself to them. We have no way of knowing what life would have been like if Adam and Eve had not eaten the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but we know some of what they knew.  That is, we know what is good.  All they knew was what was good!   All that they could learn from eating from that tree was what was evil!!  And so we know the difference as well since we learned it from them.

Now God could have stopped right there, destroyed Adam and Even and started over, but that would have denied His purpose in giving them “free will” which is part of His character, in whose image we are made.  In other words we are like Him in that we have intelligence, emotions, make decisions, and exist in time.  Although I have not worked through this thoroughly yet, I believe Time is an attribute of God, and not subject to His changing any more than His holiness or love are.  These things do not change, and I do not believe Time changes, even into the eons of eternity past or future.

So why does He wait and how is His “learning obedience,” the “sin of the Amorites,” and His purposes “to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment” related to why He is waiting?  Next Sunday, May 11, 2015, we will come to some conclusions about these things.

Slowly but surely the walls go up, much faster with help!

The Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs) arrived on Friday evening, the 17th of April, at 5:00pm instead of in the afternoon.  The plan was to unload the first floor’s 4″ forms at my house and store them in the basement, so we would not be tripping over them nor have them piled at the job site while we assembled the basement.  The guys I had planned to hire did not show up, but my neighbors provided generous help at my house.  But by the time we had carried the 160 forms plus the LiteDeck garage floor, and other details, to my basement, it was already getting late.  We had to unload everything that evening though, so we went to the site to unload the 8″ basement forms, 157 of them, and finished about 9:30!  The last forms were just dumped at the rear of the site.  I was “dead in the water” meaning I was as tired as I had been since my last big stroke.  If it hadn’t been for Anita and Lisa lending extremely valuable help, it would not have been done!  Anita had to drive me home due to my exhaustion.

I was just going to crash on the couch and clean up in the morning, but Anita would not have that.  She wisely told me I’d feel better after a shower, but she had to help me undress; THAT’s how tired I was; I couldn’t even bend over to pull off my trousers!  I braced myself in the shower and got washed up, but only vaguely remember going to bed that night.

IMG_2931IMG_2939With heavy rains on the weekend I had to wait till Monday to organize the forms at the site, and begin some assembly by myself.  With a couple days’ rain and having to work alone, it took me most of the week of 19th to get the first few forms set up.  So by the 23rd, this is where I was.  Got a good start.  One of the fun things about building with ICFs is that it is very similar to playing with giant Legos! IMG_2949

Friday, Mikki was down for the weekend, so we drove to Medway, Ohio, where Holdfast Technologies is based, and picked up a couple of forms that we had neglected to order with the main supply.

Then on Sunday Paul Braun introduced me to David, a former military pilot who is in between jobs, and he has been an amazing help!  In just these four days this week, Monday, the 27th, to Thursday, the 30th, we’ve completed five courses of the basement, with only the top course to go!  Lots of details to “clean up” like reinforcing standing seams and T-walls (where three walls meet), foam sealing the bottom forms, adding vertical rebar (horizontal rebar goes in each course), sealing the brick ledges, cutting beam pockets and any other penetrations (hose bibs and electric access) and replacing the temporary braces with special form bracing for the concrete pour.  So we’ll finish the top course tomorrow, Friday, April 31.   We hope to be ready for the pour by next Tuesday or Wednesday!  And that’s the way the walls are going up. 🙂

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