Monday, May 2, 2016

The Real Face of Jesus; What Did Jesus Look Like?

            The most famous face in human history is always under intense scrutiny. What did Jesus really look like? Was Jesus fair, black or brown? Was Christ handsome?

            The most familiar image that adorns many Christian homes is that of a fair Jesus with long flowing light brown hair and light-colored eyes. Had Christ possessed these facial attributes, HE would have appeared very different from HIS disciples and everyone else in the Galilee-Judea-Samaria region.

            But scholars dispute this version of Christ, for Matthew 26: 48-50 reveals that Christ appeared very similar to HIS disciples. Christ looked so similar to HIS disciples that Judas Iscariot had to kiss Jesus for the Roman soldiers to identify Christ from among HIS other disciples.

            Recently, the media proclaimed that British forensic anthropologists and Israeli archaeologists have apparently recreated Christ’s face. Esquire.com reveals the identity of lead scholar in this project, “Richard Neave, a medical artist retired from The University of Manchester in England…The co-author of Making Faces: Using Forensic And Archaeological Evidence, Neave had ventured in controversial areas before. Over the past two decades, he had reconstructed dozens of famous faces, including Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great, and King Midas of Phrygia. If anyone could create an accurate portrait of Jesus, it would be Neave.”1

            Richard Neave’s team strived to reconstruct Christ’s face through the following steps: 2

            1. They acquired 3 well-preserved Semite skulls from the Israeli archeology experts.  These skulls were excavated from near Jerusalem.

            2. Neave used computerized tomography and special computer programs to study the minute features of these skulls especially with reference to the thickness of soft tissues at key areas of human faces. They then recreated the muscles and skin overlying the representative Semite skull. These results were verified with anthropological data.  

            3. The researchers built a digital 3D construction of the face.

            4. Cast of the skull was created and “layers of clay matching the thickness of facial tissues specified by the computer program were then applied, along with simulated skin. The nose, lips and eyelids were then modeled to follow the shape determined by the underlying muscles.”3

            5. Researchers deduced that Jesus probably had short hair because:

                        Paul had seen Jesus (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:8).

                        Paul criticized men with long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14).

            Hence, Jesus may not have had long hair, for if Christ had long hair, then Paul would not have criticized men with long hair.

            6. Researchers also concluded, in keeping with historical records and Jewish tradition, that Christ probably had dark eyes and was bearded.

            Neave did not believe that he recreated Christ’s face, “Neave emphasizes that his re-creation is simply that of an adult man who lived in the same place and at the same time as Jesus” 4 But Neave’s work is considered as lot closer to the truth than the works of the past.

            But does it matter? Do we need to debate over whether Christ was fair or dark or whether HE had long hair or short?

            Isaiah 53:2 offers an insight into Christ’s looks, “…He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” So Christ need not have been fair or even handsome. Christ was a Jewish male, so HE would have certainly possessed the physical attributes of the Jews. However, Christ’s physical appearance is totally irrelevant to us.

            What then is relevant?

            That outside of Christ there is no salvation for anyone, as it is said in John 14:6, “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

            What then should we do?

            Christianity is true. Christ’s existence and HIS resurrection are proven facts. Very minimally, the Bible is infallible (trustworthy).

            So believe in Christ and be saved, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (Romans 10: 9-10, NIV).

Endnotes:

1 http://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/a40399/jesus-real-face/

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.


4 Ibid.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Is Christianity A Threat To India?

            An article published by Indiafacts.org, “Why Christianity poses a clear threat to India,” accuses Christianity of being a threat to India, so much so that the writer proposes implementing “Ghar Wapsi” (converting Christians to Hinduism).1 

            Why this hatred against Christianity? Are the foundations for such accusations against Christianity legitimate?

Christianity’s Western Connection

            The accuser of Christianity posits America as the chief instigator, as a Christian nation, to impede Hinduism, “Just like the Syrian Christians backed their western co-religionists over the local Hindu and Muslim communities, with whom they had co-existed – and from whose help they had thrived, prospered, and gentrified – modern Indian Christians look up to the West, especially the United States. In their view, America, being the most Christian nation, should help them in keeping India – and thereby Hindus – in line.”(Emphasis Mine). 2 Thus the article presents Christianity as a threat to India.

            Make no mistake; the United States of America was constructed upon the Judeo-Christian foundations. However, any unbiased observer of the present-day USA would concede to the progressive deterioration and the sustained abandonment of the Judeo-Christian foundations. Those who deem USA as a Christian nation have misplaced their facts.

            Christianity is the largest religious group in the USA. But this does not make America a Christian nation. Only a minority of 19% Americans identified America as a Christian nation, whereas 69% Americans identify America as a “Nation of many Religions.”3 Since America is not a Christian nation, the accusation that Christian-America impedes or destabilizes Hinduism is invalid. Therefore, Christianity is not the reason for America to impede Hinduism.

Christianity’s Role in India’s Partition

            The accuser of Christianity posits Christians' alignment with the Muslims during the partition as a destabilizing factor to India’s unity. This is far from being true. Why?

            The Bible – the Word of God – governs Historic Christianity and its adherents. Christianity should be questioned only if the decisions of the Christians are bible-based. If the decisions of the Christians are not based on the Bible, then these decisions are independent of Christianity. Hence, Christianity should not be questioned in these scenarios.  

            The Bible does not make any specific assertions to help the Christian decide whether to align with India or Pakistan. Hence, the decision made by the Christians to align with Pakistan – provided that the narrative of Christians aligning with Muslims during partition was factual – has nothing to do with Christianity. This was not a Christian decision, but a political decision.

Christianity a Fifth Column?

            The accuser of Christianity accuses Christians of being a fifth column in India. Dictionary.com defines “Fifth Column” as a group of people who act traitorously and subversively out of a secret sympathy with an enemy of their country.

            This accusation exposes the extreme hatred of the accuser towards Christianity. Hence, it would be worth one’s while to examine the reasons behind this rather unsympathetic accusation.

            Some Christians Suffer from Foot in the Mouth Disease: To blindly attribute a natural disaster as God’s act against those who persecute the Christians is to speak firmly with both our feet in the mouth.

            While I examined this theme in 2013, I pondered, “On 22nd September 2013, militants killed many Christians at a Church in Peshawar, Pakistan. On 25th September 2013, a powerful 7.7 magnitude earthquake hit the Baluchistan region of Pakistan killing more…Was this earthquake God’s response to the killing of HIS people?”4 Finally, I arrived at this conclusion, “…deficiency of evidences of God’s wrath upon Pakistan should motivate Christians towards a godly and a legitimate reaction. First, pray for those affected whose lives are changed rather irreparably. Second, if we are able, we should offer material assistance, for we are mandated to love our neighbor. Third, if we cannot corroborate our inner convictions with objective evidences, we should refrain from uttering derogatory statements that adds more pain to a burning wound. Many lives need our moral and physical support, so let us be agents of love and comfort in this situation.”5

            Indian Christians are not Stooges of the West: The accuser of Christianity says, “today’s Indian Christians are a means for the West to penetrate the higher echelons of power in New Delhi.”6 The premise for this accusation is predicated on the hypothesis that the Indian NGOs funded by the Americans act against the Indian interests.

            It is a known fact that Americans fund both the Christian and the non-Christian NGOs. A study undertaken in 2010-2011 reveals that Christian NGOs receive 40% of the total American funding to the Indian NGOs.7 So who benefits from the remaining 60% of American funds? Hindu religious organizations such as Mata Amritanandamayi Math could be the beneficiaries of these foreign fundings.

            There is another interesting aspect to this theme. India’s single largest temple trust had a revenue of Rs. 2262 crore (Rs. 22.62 billion) in 2014, which apparently is twice the foreign donations received by 10 biggest Christian and Christian affiliated organizations in India!8 This statistic trivializes the foreign funds Indian Christian NGOs receive.

            Could it be a fact that only Indian Christians are used as a means for the West to destabilize India? No, not by any stretch of imagination!

            Consider the Indian nationals arrested by India for spying for foreign countries, Diplomat Madhuri Gupta, Navy officer Commodore Sukhjinder Singh, Manmohan Sharma, a senior Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officer, 1975 batch Research and Analysis Service (RAS) officer Ravi Nair, Rabinder Singh , Ashok Sathe, RAW officer K V Unnikrishnan and the likes.9 There are more names here.10 I will let you decide who in these lists were Christians and who is not. To the best of my knowledge, none of these were Christians.

            Therefore, it is very unfair to blame Christians of being the stooges of the West.

Christianity’s Proselytization Efforts

            Wasn’t it the renowned atheist and magician Penn Jillette (from Penn & Teller) who said that he respects Christians only if they proselytize (evangelize)? Christianity is an actively evangelizing religion. But Christianity is NOT the only actively evangelizing religion. Hinduism (Asaram Bapu, Murari Bapu, Swami Ramdev, Amma, Satya Sai Baba, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar etc.), Islam (Zakir Naik, Shabbir Ally etc.), Atheism (Dawkins, Harris, Dennett etc.), and Buddhism are actively evangelizing religions as well. Significantly, Indian constitution does not prohibit evangelization.

            Evangelization is not to lure people into Christianity for material benefits. This is not the biblical mode of evangelization.

            Has Christian evangelization been so successful that Hindus or those from other religions ought to be cognizant of Christian evangelization? Christian evangelization, as per the Indian census statistic of 2011, has yielded a mere 2.3% of Indian Christians,11 which is a decline from 2.6% in 1971.

            So much for Christianity’s proselytization efforts!

Christianity Breaking India?

            The accuser of Christianity quotes authors Rajiv Malhotra, Aravindan Neelakandan and Koenraad Elst to accuse Christianity of attempting to delegitimize Hinduism as India’s native religion.12 This seems to be a thought process inhabiting the theoretical realms without actualizing in the existential.

            How so?

            Despite Christianity’s presence in India for almost 2000 years, Christianity has neither established itself as a majority religion, nor has Hinduism tumbled down to a meager state of a minority status. Therefore, the accusation that Christianity is a divisive force fails against this existential reality.

            Has Christianity served India? Yes, absolutely! A cursory glance at the number and the age of Christian orphanages, old age homes, homes for the destitutes, schools, colleges and hospitals reveals the prolonged existence and the magnitude of Christianity’s selfless service to India. Apart from this, Christians and Christian churches serve the poor and the needy in their community.

Conclusion

            The Bible mandates Christians to serve and submit to governing authorities, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong…Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13: 1-7, NIV).

            Moreover, none of the accusations leveled against Christianity is valid. Therefore, Christianity is not a threat to India.

Endnotes:

1 http://indiafacts.org/why-christianity-poses-a-clear-threat-to-india/  

2 Ibid.  

3 http://www.christianpost.com/news/is-america-a-christian-nation-new-poll-suggests-few-americans-view-the-us-as-a-christian-country-142124/

4http://rajkumarrichard.blogspot.in/2013/09/does-god-kill-those-who-kill-christians.html

5 Ibid.

6 http://indiafacts.org/why-christianity-poses-a-clear-threat-to-india/)

7 http://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/why-christianity-failed-in-india/293895

8 Ibid.

9http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/The+list+of+Indian+officials+and+spying+cases/1/95091.html

10 http://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/the-vanished-spies/224695

11 http://www.census2011.co.in/religion.php)


12 http://indiafacts.org/why-christianity-poses-a-clear-threat-to-india/

Monday, April 18, 2016

Why Do Christians Become Atheists?

            If we have had our “questioning-God” moments in our own life, we can most surely empathize with those who convert to Atheism. Atheism is disbelief or lack of belief in God, a minority of atheists do believe in a universal spirit or god.

            On the other hand, if our [Christian] life has been hunky-dory and comfortable thus far, we would be surprised, shocked, and even judgmental at those converting to Atheism. But the fact of the matter is that we ought to empathize with those who convert.

            Today’s younger generation is more resistant to Christianity. 70-80% of young non-Christians believe that Christianity is judgmental, hypocritical and old-fashioned.1

            Why do people convert to Atheism?

            Notable author and columnist Larry Taunton, based on a research conducted in the USA, lists seven characteristics of those who have become atheists: 2

            1. They had attended church.

            2. The mission and message of their churches was vague.

            3. They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life's difficult questions.

            4. They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously.

            5. Ages 14-17 were decisive.

            6. The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one.

            7. The internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism.

            Moreover, proselytes or those who convert to atheism think that Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution adequately explains the origin of the universe and life, respectively. Hence, they see no need for God.

            Then there are those who believe that science offers all answers to their questions. Scientism is a view that any belief should be scientifically proven. If it cannot be scientifically proven, then it should not be believed. So Scientism posits science as the sole source of knowledge and truth.

            But Scientism is not all encompassing. Scientism does not permeate into all domains e.g. how would science determine morality e.g. whether torturing a little child is right or wrong?

            Scientism is also self-refuting. Scientism argues that any proposition, if it cannot be proven by science, should be discarded. But this very proposition i.e. any proposition that which cannot be proven by science should be discarded, cannot be proven scientifically. Therefore, scientism is self-refuting. So we do not need to believe in Scientism.   

            Best selling author Nancy Pearcey considers the unanswered intellectual questions as a great motivating factor for people to abandon Christianity. Churches should take the blame for this occurrence.

            Churches, Pearcey reckons, are good at establishing an emotional commitment but fail to satisfy the young Christians intellectually. Although apologetics resources are freely available on the internet, churches continue to neglect these resources.3

            People are confounded when they try to understand certain aspects of the Biblical narrative such as God killing people or the concept of hell, the virgin birth of Christ, hatred towards homosexuality etc. Since reasonable answers are not forthcoming from the local church the migration towards atheism continues.

            But there is another side of the coin to this predicament. Some people do not want to hear the good answers. It is not that any amount of good answers convinces these people but that these people do not want to be convinced. They consciously reject the perfectly reasonable answers to the biblical conundrums.

            Why do people not want to be convinced by reasonable answers to the difficult questions?  

            Quite a few people embrace Atheism because of emotional reasons such as an untimely death of a loved one, abuse, childhood scars etc. But they would not openly cite these reasons as cause for their conversion; instead they would cite intellectual reasons as cause, since citing intellectual reasons elevates them in their society. These emotional reasons remain unattended and unresolved in their lives plunging them deeper into the realms of warfare against God.

            BBC hosts an article that cites more reasons for people choosing Atheism. The reasons are: 4        

            Lack of evidence

            God is unnecessary

            Arguments for God aren't convincing

            The problem of evil

            Science and the history of thought

            God is meaningless

            God is a psychological factor

            God is a social function

            Karl Marx's criticisms of religion

            God is not apparent

            Christian scholars have debunked every reason to more than adequately claim that Christianity is true. If Christianity is true, then Atheism is false. If Atheism is false, then none need believe in Atheism.

            Consider this from another perspective. What does Christianity offer that Atheism does not? Here are a few salient features of Christianity that demonstrate God’s power upon those who believe HIM.

            First, the salvation (deliverance) offered by the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of mankind, is the most realistic and practical solution. All we need to do is to believe in Christ, love HIM for what HE has done for us, and obey HIM all through the days of our lives. No amount of good work that we may do will fetch us salvation, for we cannot be perfect in this life.

            Second, God offers hope and justice to every Christian – a hope that I will blissfully coexist with God in heaven unto eternity. I know that God will annihilate evil and judge men for what they have done. Hence justice would be upheld, especially to those who did not receive it in this time and age.

            Third, God offers joy to every Christian. I am joyful, for I am wonderfully made in the image of the living God and that I am not alone but God lives in me to help me through life’s painful situations. This joy is neither predicated nor is an entailment of my material possessions, but this joy is a fruit of my spiritual connection with God.

            Lastly, God offers me peace. God overwhelms me with HIS peace especially when I am in distress. This peace transcends human understanding.  

            In a nutshell, God redeems me and offers me hope, justice, joy and peace! These intangible essentials are not linked to our earthly success but God offers it to everyone who believes in HIM, for these are necessary for the successful sustenance of our life.

            In contrast, what does Atheism offer?

            Significantly, some secular thinkers have even reasoned that Atheism is nothing but a farce. Here are the words of one such secular thinker, “I was in fact rather a staunch atheist myself. I tried to be respectful but in private often railed against the “silly” people with their “sky god fairy-tales.” Pretty standard stuff really, the funny thing, the funniest thing is that all throughout this time, decades of life. I was both completely ignorant of the fact that my beliefs themselves were the product of cultural indoctrination of a rather crude variety.. At that stage I also believed that all religious beliefs were the result of indoctrination and that having avoided that my atheism was the natural and correct human response to life on earth.

            Eventually I realised that Atheism, was rather flawed in its confident claim to know that there is no god. It occurred to me that it would be almost impossible to prove or know that there is no god.

            The point about the death of Atheism is not that the existence of god has been proven, the point is that the existence of non-material interactions of many kinds has been proven. The existence of the world beyond the visible physical material world has been proven in dozens if not thousands of ways.”5

            Atheism isolates man by disengaging God from him. An atheist would be lonely. He would be free to act on his own selfish and imperfect counsel or be dependent on the imperfect, selfish and corrupt counsel of fellow men. Atheism neither posits salvation nor offers an eternal hope, joy and peace.

            Atheism is firmly anchored in the temporal and the tentative now. Atheism reduces our life to a mere social activity thereby robbing us of a fascinating and a life changing communion with God. Atheism robs man of the hope and joy of expecting an eternal life post our death.

            In a nutshell, Atheism is a dark phenomenon, for it dumps man into a greater darkness.

            What could we as Christians do when we see fellow Christians embrace unbelief?

            Here’s a very simple thought. If we are in the domain of those abandoning Christianity to Atheism, then we could love and pray for them and offer ourselves as an ever-available option for any discussions or prayers.

            May we be able to present the reason for the hope that we have in Christ. May those who have abandoned God realize God’s presence and offer their lives to Christ. Amen.

Endnotes:

Websites were last accessed on 18th April 2016.

1 http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/watchman-on-the-wall/46618-why-are-so-many-christians-turning-into-atheists

2 http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/listening-to-young-atheists-lessons-for-a-stronger-christianity/276584/

3 http://www.christianpost.com/news/young-christians-spiritually-failing-in-real-world-because-youth-groups-depend-too-much-on-emotional-high-says-nancy-pearcey-cp-interview-1-2-137420/

4 http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/atheism/beliefs/reasons_1.shtml#h10


5 https://crimesofempire.com/tag/reductive-materialism/

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Could Christians Donate Their Organs?

            The second greatest commandment mandates Christians to love each other. Loving each other translates into donating organs to either a loved one or a fellow neighbor. Or does it?

Biblical Objections to Organ Donation

            Some Christians object to organ donation. Their objection is based on passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. This passage per se does not pertain to organ donation, but sexual immorality. Moreover, this passage refers to those living whereas the organ donation happens after the death of the donor.

            The resurrection of believers poses a problem for other Christians. If believers will be given glorified bodies at resurrection, they reckon, it is not appropriate to donate organs, for to donate organs would deprive them of that very organ at their resurrection. This thought smacks of gross theological misunderstanding.

            Dead bodies decompose. The Bible teaches us that our bodies will return to dust or decompose (cf. Genesis 3:19).

            There would be almost nothing left of the believers, who have been dead for 50-100 years. Decomposition or loss of our physical body does not impact the health of our glorious body that we receive during the resurrection of believers of Christ. At the resurrection, believers would receive perfect glorified bodies.

            During our existence on earth, certain individuals may possess certain deficiencies in their body parts e.g. absence of a limb or malfunctioning kidney. These deficiencies would not be carried over to our glorified bodies, for our glorified bodies would be perfect.

            Flesh and blood would not constitute our glorified bodies i.e. the glorified bodies would be imperishable. In other words, our glorified bodies would be complete, but would not be a perishable physical or a material body as we have now.  

            Therefore, organ donation would not deprive our glorious bodies during our resurrection in any manner whatsoever and the Bible does not oppose organ donation.

Killing & Deceiving for Organ Donation

            Beware of bioethicists who justify harvesting vital organs before the donor is technically dead. It is perfectly justified to remove organs from a dead person. But it is a crime to kill the living, even if they are irreversibly disabled or unconscious, so to harvest organs.

            These bioethicists use situational ethics to argue that it is perfectly justifiable to kill those who are irreversibly disabled or unconscious. Those who are irreversibly disabled or unconscious, according to these bioethicists, are dead and have no abilities to lose. Hence, they argue that it is not a crime to remove life support a.k.a. kill these “living dead” so to harvest their organs. A classic case in point is terming the anencephalic neonate (a newborn child, or one in its first 28 days, which is bound to die in a matter of a few days) as an organ donor.

            But the Bible teaches us that man’s created in the image of God. This essentially implies that all lives are of equal value. The multimillionaire doctor and the impoverished sanitation worker are equal in the sight and presence of God. A supremely conditioned athlete and totally paralyzed man are both of equal value in God’s presence and sight. Hence, the lives of the unborn human embryos and the lives of the weak and the helpless have equal value in God’s presence and sight, because God created man in HIS own image.

            Therefore, man does not possess the authority to kill anyone, even if he is irreversibly disabled or unconscious. God forbids murder. So organs can only be taken from those who are dead – which is the state of irreversible and complete loss of heart, lung and brain functions.

            Beware of those who deceive the living organ donors.

            The living donor should be free (not coerced) to either consent or decline to organ donation. These donors must be properly informed about the pros and cons of the procedure involved. Such donations must abide by the strict ethical codes of medicine in general (Hippocratic Oath states: “…Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. Above all, I must not play at God.”), so that the donor is not put in harm’s way. The donor must not be under any pressure or duress to donate his organ.

Christians Should Favor Organ Donation

            A few precautions should be mentioned. Sale and purchase of organs should be discouraged in Christianity because such transactions could entail commercialization of human organs. Human organs are not objects of trade - that can be bought or sold at the right price. The poor should not be exploited to offer their organs in lieu of money.

            Yes, Christians should support organ donations. Organ donations of the living donors are legitimate e.g. donating a kidney. But it is unjust to harvest an organ from the irreversibly disabled or unconscious. Organs should be removed from those who are irreversibly and completely brain dead.  

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Shroud of Turin Is The Burial Cloth of Jesus Christ

            The Shroud of Turin was believed to have been wrapped around Jesus Christ as a burial cloth when HE was taken down from the cross. The shroud is a 14½ foot long and 3½ foot wide linen cloth bearing the image of a crucified man. The image is widely believed to be that of the Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The shroud is the single most studied religious artifact ever.1

            Controversy rages over this shroud. Many scientists and evangelical Christians dispute the historical veracity of the shroud. They claim it is a medieval forgery or a hoax perpetrated by the Church.

            Are there reasonable evidences to indicate that the image of the man in the shroud is that of Christ? If so, the shroud should be the burial cloth of Christ.

Historicity

            Some detractors of the shroud claim that there is no historical data of the shroud prior to the 13th century. If this claim is true, the chance that the shroud was the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth is rather slim.

            But Professor Gary Habermas cites a number of historical references to the shroud prior to the 13th century:2

            1. There are records of a second century historical citation of the shroud by St. Braulio of Seville, a sermon about the shroud by a church official, and painting of Jesus’ face based on the shroud.

            2. An early Christian tradition asserts that a mysterious cloth with the imprint of Christ’s face was carried by Christ’s disciple Thaddeus to Edessa, the modern day Turkey, subsequently this cloth was moved to Constantinople and then to Turin.

            3. At least 6 species of pollen was found by Swiss Botanist Max Frei in the cloth which was limited exclusively to Israel.

            4. The images of coin placed over the eyes of the man in the shroud, a Jewish practice in the first century, were identified as the lepton (coin) of Pontius Pilate, minted from AD 29-32.

            5. The linen material and the weave have been dated by the textile experts as being from the time of Jesus (plus or minus 100 years).

Radiocarbon Dating

            The shroud’s website disputes the claim of the radiocarbon dating in 1988 that declared the shroud as a fake, “Although substantial scientific data now exists that indicates the sample chosen for dating was anomalous and not representative of the main cloth, most of the world and the media still ignore the massive amount of published science that points to the Shroud's authenticity and accepts instead that single dating test as proof of the Shroud's medieval origin. What very few people know about are the events that occurred behind the scenes that further disqualified the 1988 results. Two new videos that reveal just that are now available online from David Rolfe and Francesca Saracino that deal specifically with those issues and we thought they were important enough to let you know immediately via this Special Update.”3

            A video titled “A Grave Injustice” on the website, www.shroudenigma.com reveals that the C14 labs (that determined the shroud as fake) were themselves severely flawed in their dating protocols. 

Jewish Burial Practice & the Gospels

            If the Gospel account of Christ’s burial contradicts that of the shroud, then the shroud cannot be the actual burial cloth of Jesus. Gary Habermas offers insights into this aspect to assert the authenticity of the shroud.4

            Some object that the facial image in the shroud could not be that of Jesus since there would have been a napkin placed flat over the face of Jesus during HIS burial. Hence, the image of Jesus’ face would be on the napkin and not on the shroud.

            But careful investigation reveals that the napkin was folded up and tied around the head to keep the jaw closed (cf. John 11:44 & John 20:7). Interestingly, the image of the man in the shroud reveals that he had a cloth tied around his jaw!

            The man in the shroud was not washed before the burial, hence there were blood stains. Was not Jesus washed before the burial? If Christ was washed before HIS burial, how could there be blood stains on the shroud?

            The code of Jewish law states that people killed by the government would not be washed before burial so to allow the blood to remain on the body as a payment for the person’s acts against the state. John 19:40 states that Jesus was buried according to the Jewish burial customs; hence HE could not have been washed.

            Furthermore, the gospels speak of Jesus buried in more than one strip of linen; the gospels speak of graveclothes in both the singular and the plural. But the shroud is just one piece of cloth, if so, how could the shroud be that of Christ’s?

            Scientific testing of the shroud indicates that the man buried in the shroud was buried in at least four strips of linen. Apart from the single piece of shroud cloth, his head was wrapped around in a napkin as well as having his wrists and ankles tied together (cf. John 11: 44).

            Therefore, the gospel accounts of Jesus’ burial, the Jewish law and the Mishna do not contradict with that of the man in the shroud.

Identity of the Man

            The image of the man in the burial cloth reveals amazing data that’s so remarkably similar to the suffering of Jesus Christ:5

            1. The man in the shroud was beaten severely by the Roman flagrum. There were number of blows to the face, large bruises on the cheeks, twisted nose, one eye swollen half shut and a cut upper lip. He suffered more than 120 whipping wounds.

            2. The large rub marks in the shoulder blades of the man in the shroud indicates that he was forced to carry a heavy object (cross) across his shoulders. There are five major wounds associated to death by crucifixion – puncture wounds through the wrist and through the top of both feet, and a pierce wound in the right side of the chest.

            Therefore, we cannot be absolutely certain that the man in the shroud was Jesus, but we can reasonably infer that this burial cloth is probably that of Jesus, for there are many minute points of agreement and the absence of contradictions.

Evidences for Christ’s Resurrection

            The shroud provides strong evidences for resurrection, asserts Dr. Gary Habermas, who is an expert in the study of Christ’s resurrection, “The man buried in the shroud did not remain in it for more than a few days, since no decomposition is present. Yet the body was not removed or unwrapped because, among other reasons, the blood clots and borders of the stains are intact. And as a grand climax, there is a probable burst of radiation from the dead body. What makes all of this data even more exciting is that it is empirical, scientific evidence that is repeatable.”6

Extent of the Shroud’s Relevance

            Should the authenticity of the Shroud validate Christianity, the Bible, and Christ’s historical existence? No!

            Alternatively, if the shroud is authentic, would the Bible be deemed infallible? No!

            The Bible is inspired, inerrant and infallible. However, the authenticity of the shroud is not a necessary factor to validate the Bible. The Bible and Christ’s existence are validated by other means. The garments or the vessels that Christ used are neither the validating factors of the Lord’s existence nor that of the Bible.  

Conclusion

            The shroud is a fascinatingly miraculous artifact.

            Absolute certainty is impossible when we contend with historical data. If we need absolute certainty of any historical event, we ought to take a time-machine, go back in history to ascertain the validity of that event. But we cannot go back in time. So we can only be reasonably certain about any historical event with the evidences at hand.

            Was the shroud Christ’s burial cloth? Given the plethora of evidences why should we not believe that the shroud belongs to Christ? The shroud is consistent with the biblical data. It is also highly probable that the man in the shroud is Jesus. Furthermore, the shroud has been preserved in history as that of Christ’s burial cloth.

            Given the availability of the evidences, we can be reasonably certain that the shroud was the Lord Jesus’ burial cloth.

Endnotes:

1https://www.shroud.com/

2http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Evangelical_Theological_Soc/Habermas_JETS_Shroud-of-Turin-and-significance.htm

3 https://www.shroud.com/latebrak.htm

4http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Evangelical_Theological_Soc/Habermas_JETS_Shroud-of-Turin-and-significance.htm

5Ibid.


6Ibid.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Why Should We Believe Christ’s Resurrection (Evidences For Christ’s Resurrection)


            Easter is commercialized into eggs and bunny. Although the bunny and eggs are oft associated with pagan connotations such as Eastre (or Eostre), better evidences suggests the contrary. History.com reports that German immigrants were the source of Easter bunny and the eggs were a depiction of Christ’s resurrection.1

            Significantly, if Christ did not resurrect, our faith is useless, says the Bible, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15: 13-14, NIV).

            How could we be reasonably sure that Christ rose from the dead?

Historical Basis Affirming Christ’s Resurrection

            Mike Licona, associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University, offers reasons as to why historians consider Christ’s resurrection as a credible historical event. Historians consider confirmations by independent sources, unsympathetic sources and eyewitnesses as objective and reasonable evidences for Christ’s resurrection: 2

            Confirmation by Independent Sources: The gospels and Paul’s letters are independent of each other, yet they affirm Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The gospels and the Pauline letters were authored by different people from varied contexts.

            Since the gospels and the Pauline letters, being independent of each other, affirm Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, historians trust the authenticity of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Historians term this process of validating a historical account as the “Criterion of Multiple Attestation.”

            Confirmation by Unsympathetic Sources: Publius Cornelius Tacitus, historian of the Roman Empire, was not a friend of Christianity. In his work Annals (15.44), Tacitus referred to Christianity as an evil and a mischievous superstition. However, at the same time, he attested to Christ’s crucifixion by Pontius Pilate (crucifixion was an antecedent event to resurrection).

            When antagonistic sources confirm Christ’s crucifixion, historians trust that Christ was indeed crucified. While Christ’s disciples may have an innate bias to affirm the crucifixion, Tacitus, as the unsympathetic source, had no reason whatsoever to affirm Christ’s crucifixion. This process of validating a historical account is termed as the “Criterion of Unsympathetic Sources.”

            Confirmation by Eyewitnesses: Historians trust both the reports of eyewitnesses and reports written closer to the event described. This is termed as the “Criterion of Early Attestation.”

            Therefore, historians trust that Apostle Paul preserved an oral tradition about Christ’s resurrection that goes back to the early Christian church or the Jerusalem apostles, who were eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection. Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church narrates Christ’s resurrection from the perspective of the eyewitnesses and also as a written record of Christ’s resurrection closer to the time of Christ’s resurrection, For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Corinthians 15: 3-7, NIV, Emphasis Mine).

Minimal-Facts Affirms Christ’s Resurrection

            Furthermore, Dr. Gary Habermas, Distinguished Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University, who specializes in the study of Resurrection-of-Jesus research, states five highly credible historical facts a.k.a. “Minimal Facts” that almost every historian accepts:

            “1) Jesus died due to crucifixion.

            2) His disciples had experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus.

            3) Their lives were transformed because of this conviction.

            4) As a result, they proclaimed this message very soon after Jesus’ death, actually within weeks…

            5) A man named Saul of Tarsus was converted to Jesus Christ by what he also concluded was a personal appearance of the risen Jesus to him.

            These are five tough facts that virtually everyone is going to grant as historical, especially the scholars who have studied this area.” 3

            Moreover, Habermas includes the conversion of Apostle James, brother of Christ Jesus and a skeptic, who became a follower of Christ after HE appeared to him. These historical facts are sufficient to conclude that Christ’s resurrection was factual.

Defeating Objections to Resurrection

            Christ’s Disciples Hallucinated: The detractors of Christianity may argue that Christ’s disciples hallucinated and that they did not see the real Jesus.

            Habermas offers reasonable refutations to defeat the hallucination hypothesis: 4

            1. Hallucinations do not occur to groups. On the contrary, the risen Christ appeared to groups of people (1 Corinthians 15: 5-7).

            2. Those that experienced the risen Jesus were different genders and different personalities – the hardhearted Peter, tender-hearted John, soft-hearted Marys. It is rather implausible for people that are so different (personality, gender, time and place of sighting the risen Jesus) to hallucinate the same risen Jesus. They would not have been in the proper frame of mind to hallucinate.

            3. Hallucinations do not change people, whereas the apostles were thoroughly changed when they saw the risen Jesus. These disciples were so changed that they were gave up their lives for Christ’s sake.

            4. The conversion of Apostle Paul and James, the brother of Jesus, also defeats the hallucination hypothesis. Paul was actively persecuting Christians. James was a skeptic. Neither of them would have longed to hallucinate the risen Jesus. So both these men would not have been in the proper frame of mind to hallucinate the risen Christ.

            Given these reasonable evidences, we could reasonably conclude that those who posited the hallucination hypothesis probably hallucinated this hypothesis.

            Jesus Did Not Die At The Cross (Swoon Theory):5 The Quran states that Jesus did not die on the cross. Other detractors of Christianity state that Jesus merely swooned or lost consciousness at the cross.

            Medical science strongly suggests that Jesus died of asphyxiation. The heart wound inflicted by the soldier upon the crucified Christ confirmed Christ’s death. The sucking chest condition (Piercing of the spear into Christ’s upper thoracic area would have prevented effective breathing and produce sucking sound from the wound. This would have certainly killed Christ) is an added affirmation for Christ’s death on the cross.

            But the supreme defeater to the objection that Christ did not die on the cross comes from the German liberal scholar, David Strauss.

            Strauss asserted that the swoon theory was self-contradictory. If swoon theory was accurate, then Jesus would have been alive. The disciples then would have no reason to preach the gospel, for there need be no forgiveness, no church, and no eternal hope in Christ.

            Finally, we can safely bury the swoon theory for we also have the affirmation of Christ’s crucifixion by non-Christian historians such as Thallus (52AD), Mara Bar-Serapion (70AD), Josephus (93AD), Pliny the Younger (112AD), Cornelius Tacitus (116AD), and Phlegon (140AD).

            Jesus Was Buried Elsewhere: 6 Absence of authentic evidences placing Jesus’ body elsewhere and the earlier source that Mark used for his gospel narrative are sufficient for the historians to believe that Christ was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s family burial cave.

Conclusion

            Be assured that every objection against resurrection could be reasonably defended with the evidences already at hand.

            Habermas’ words constitute the most appropriate conclusion, “Now, if you’re sitting there wondering, “Look, I don’t know. I’m a Hindu. I’m a Buddhist. I’m an agnostic. I’m an atheist.” Sure, you can walk away and not believe in Jesus, but do you know what? I don’t think you can walk away and say there’s no data. I don’t think you can walk away and say that there are no facts. I really wonder if you want to throw out or to ignore these facts because we can get to each one of them independently and for multiple reasons.
            But do you know where all this is going? Paul says that it’s because of the resurrection that death has no sting. It’s because of the resurrection that the grave has no victory. Because of the resurrection of Jesus we have the precious opportunity for eternal life. But we need to say “I do” to Jesus. It’s all in whether we make that commitment…If you don’t say “I do” to Jesus, what do you have? You still haven’t trusted his teachings. “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” [1 Cor. 15:55] I leave you with the words of Jesus: “Because I live, ye shall live also.” [John 14:19]” 7



Endnotes:

Websites cited were last accessed on 27th March 2016.

1 http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/easter-symbols

2 http://www.risenjesus.com/assessment-present-state-historical-jesus-studies

3 http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/EvidenceBook/GaryHabermas_Evidence-for-the-historical-Jesus-Release_1point1.pdf, p54.

4 Ibid, p57-58.

5 Ibid, p65-66.

6 Ibid, p68-70.

7 Ibid, p87.


Monday, March 21, 2016

The Bible Has Errors, What Do We Do?


            Should our faith weaken if the Bible is proven to be with errors? Isn’t the Bible the core of Christianity? If the core of Christianity is erroneous, shouldn’t Christianity crumble?

            If these thoughts resonate in you, you are not totally off the mark.   

            To relentlessly assault the Bible is the fervent passion of many. To rattle the faith of the Christians is their vocation.    

            As if to add to this predicament, quite a few evangelical Christian scholars and institutions are migrating away from committing to inerrancy i.e. the Bible is without errors. But interestingly, they commit to Bible’s infallibility i.e. the Bible is incapable of failing.

            Broadly there are two categories of Christians in the context of Historic Christianity and biblical inerrancy. The biblical inerrantists defend the view that the Bible is without errors with all their intellect and might.1 The other group, the non-inerrantists, is rather lenient in this position. They consider the Bible as a document that is susceptible to errors, but not in the matters pertaining to the redemptive (salvation).

            For instance, the National Association of Evangelicals, in their statement of faith, do not commit to inerrancy of the Bible, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” 2 In this view, biblical inerrancy is limited to matters pertaining to salvation and not the entire content of the Bible.

            The limited inerrancy view offers room for the Bible to err in non-redemptive matters – matters that are not salvific by nature e.g. geographical, historical, scientific etc. The proponents of this view state that the main purpose of the Bible is “spiritual transformation” – to bring the lost man into a saving relationship with God. They then affirm that “If the Bible contains some errors, some discrepancies, that do not affect its power to transform lives through faith-filled communion with God, that is not important.” 3

            But the unlimited or total inerrancy view does not offer any room for the Bible to err. The unlimited inerrancy view affirms that the Bible is true in all its content, be it redemption, history or science.

            Those who defend total inerrancy state, We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science” (Art. 12). It further declares that: “The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own (A Short Statement, 5, emphasis added).”4

            The picture becomes rather clear now.

            Those who believe that the Bible contains no errors or the biblical inerrantists or those subscribing to the unlimited inerrancy view hold the doctrine of biblical inerrancy as an essential doctrine of Historic Christianity.5  The non-inerrantists or those who hold to the limited inerrancy view do not consider the doctrine of inerrancy as a core tenet of Historic Christianity.

            If the Bible is proven to be with errors, you and I could respond in two broad ways. These options are predicated on whether we hold the doctrine of inerrancy as an essential doctrine to Christian faith or not.

            If you consider inerrancy as an essential doctrine, and, if the Bible is proven to be with errors, then your faith could weaken. But if you consider inerrancy as a non-essential doctrine, and, you consider the Bible as a document that is not erroneous in the redemptive but otherwise susceptible to errors, then your faith would not weaken.

            Easier said than done!

            Those who consider the Bible to be without any errors (biblical inerrantists) argue against the argument that the Bible has errors but is infallible (biblical non-inerrantists).6 Their argument is predicated on two very strong facts:

            A. God cannot lie either intentionally or unintentionally. If the Bible is God’s Word, and if God cannot lie, then the Bible ought to be without error.

            B. Christ (God-incarnate) proclaimed that God’s Word is without any errors (cf. John 10:35 & Matthew 5: 18).

            So it is quite plausible that the Bible cannot or should not err.

            But think from another vantage point.

            Would an erroneous Bible entail the non-existence of God? No, not by any chance!

            God exists necessarily. God’s existence is not predicated or intricately linked to the veracity of the Bible. In other words, God will not cease to exist if the Bible is erroneous.

            In fact, God existed even before the Bible was written. It was God who inspired the human authors to write the Bible. Bible reveals God. However, the Bible is not the only source that reveals God (cf. Romans 1: 19-20).

            The Lord Jesus Christ, the means to salvation of mankind, existed independent of the Bible’s veracity. For instance, history affirms Christ’s existence and resurrection.

            Dr. Gary Habermas asserts that Jesus death by crucifixion, HIS postmortem appearances to HIS disciples, and Paul’s vision of the resurrected Christ, are the most affirmed historical facts by both Christian and non-Christian scholars. 7

            Therefore, if the Bible is proven to be with errors, neither would God cease to exist nor would Christ. If history affirms Christ’s resurrection, then salvation through Christ is also a fact that remains independent of the Bible.

            This is not an exercise to undermine Bible’s authority. This is a mere exercise to affirm the independent existence (apart from the Bible) of God, the Lord Jesus Christ and salvation of mankind through Christ.8

            Therefore, even if the Bible is proven to contain errors, it would not and cannot undermine God, Christ and salvation of mankind. In other words, Christianity would not crumble if the Bible is proven to be with errors.

            God is at the core of Christianity. Christ and the salvation that HE offered to mankind are at the core of Christianity.

            But inerrancy of the Bible need not be at the core of Christianity. If inerrancy of the Bible is to remain at the core of Christianity, then it would presuppose that inerrancy of the Bible is far superior in value to God, Christ and salvation. However, since God is the source of the Bible, God ought to be at the core of Christianity and not the inerrancy of the Bible. Inerrancy is the corollary of God’s nature.

            Unfortunately, this is not what Bart Ehrman thought. Bart Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, lost his faith in Christ because he apparently discovered one minor error in the gospels. It seemed Professor Ehrman held the doctrine of biblical inerrancy as the core of Christianity. 

            When a particular passage in the Gospel of Mark befuddled Bart Ehrman, his strong belief in inerrancy of the Bible was shaken. He became a liberal Christian and then ended up as an agnostic atheist after being unable to reconcile the philosophical problems of evil and suffering.9

            So should inerrancy be an essential doctrine of Christianity? Maybe so. However, God who is the source of the Bible ought to be at the core of Christianity and not the inerrancy of the Bible. Disputing inerrancy would not and cannot damage God or Christ or salvation of mankind.

            The theme of this article is intended to touch the scores of ordinary Christians. By ordinary Christians, I refer to Christians who are not into serious Christian pedagogy or academics.

            The full blown wrath of Christianity’s detractors, such as the New Atheists, is aimed to rattle the faith of these ordinary Christians. At the first instance, when you hear the relentless tirades of these detractors, your faith in Christ may shake.

            The scope of this article is only to emphasize that the inerrancy of the Bible is not the beginning and the end of Christianity. The scope of this article excludes a defense of inerrancy.

            So, fear not!

            God is at the core of Christianity. Christ and the salvation offered to mankind are at the core of Christianity. The Bible reveals our triune God. The Scripture cannot be broken. Let us continue to totally trust and study God and HIS Word. Amen.   

Endnotes:

1 http://defendinginerrancy.com/

2 http://nae.net/statement-of-faith/

3 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2015/11/is-the-bible-inerrant-or-infallible/

4 http://defendinginerrancy.com/unlimited-vs-limited-inerrancy/

5 http://defendinginerrancy.com/why-is-inerrancy-important/

6 http://defendinginerrancy.com/roger-e-olsen-is-the-bible-inerrant-or-infallible/

7 http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/southeastern_theological_review/minimal-facts-
methodology_08-02-2012.htm

&

http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm#ch5

8 I personally subscribe to the 3-ins – inspiration, inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible.


9 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bart_D._Ehrman