Scripture Famine

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.” – Amos 8:11-12

One of the hallmarks of biblical prophecy is that it operates on two levels. On the one hand, predictive prophecies came to fulfillment in the not-too-distant future from the prophet’s own time. On the other hand, biblical prophecies find a parallel interpretation that will occur in the last days. This is why so many of the prophecies in Daniel (written in the 6th century B.C.) describe in great detail events that have already occurred during the four centuries before the birth of Christ, but also mirror many of the prophecies in Revelation which have not yet taken place. Biblical prophecy has a more immediate fulfillment, and an end-times fulfillment. The above prophecy delivered by the shepherd-prophet Amos is no exception.

Tracing the history of God’s people beginning with Abraham all the way back in Genesis, we find two 400-year stretches when Israel suffered a spiritual drought. God interacted personally and powerfully with Abraham, who lived around 2000 B.C., and with his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. Much of the book of Genesis is devoted to telling of God’s dealings with Joseph, Abraham’s great-grandson. As we finish reading Genesis and move into Exodus, we find the first 400-year dry period. The people of Israel moved to Egypt because of a physical famine, but there they experienced a spiritual famine that lasted for four centuries. They multiplied greatly, were enslaved by the Egyptian pharaohs, and seemed to have no hope. This was the first 400-year drought.

The spiritual famine ended when God used Moses to act miraculously on Israel’s behalf. This was in the 15th century B.C. Moses and his successor, Joshua, walked closely with God and revealed Him and His Word to His people. The nation then fell into disarray during the time of the Judges, but even then God kept intervening and raising up heroes who rescued the nation with His divine power.

This period of turmoil came to an end with the establishment of the Israelite monarchy, which was established by King Saul about 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus. The kingdom reached its apex with the reign of David, Saul’s successor, and continued through the reign of David’s son Solomon. All throughout this time, God was active and continually gave His Word to the peoples of the world.

After Solomon, the kingdom experienced a civil war and split into two nations, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Every single king of the northern kingdom was wicked, and it only lasted two or three centuries until being overrun by the Assyrians. (Incidentally, when Carolyn and I visited the British Museum in 2006, they had a lot of fascinating ancient accounts of Assyria’s dealings with Israel during this era, told from an Assyrian perspective. The Old Testament is well-attested and documented history, not a collection of fairy tales.) The southern kingdom endured an up-and-down series of rulers, some good and some bad… and some terribly bad. Finally God had enough, and the kingdom fell to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. By the way, the destruction of Jerusalem marked the immediate fulfillment of much Old Testament prophecy.

Babylon’s world dominion was unlike anything the human race had ever seen, but it was also short lived. Before the century ended, they had been conquered by the Medes and Persians. Under the Persian-Median Empire, a remnant of Judah was allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem. This is the period of history in which the story of Esther is set. It’s when guys like Ezra and Nehemiah led the movement to reestablish the spiritual life of Israel, and prophets like Haggai and Malachi challenged the people to return to God.

This is when the second 400-year period of spiritual famine commences. The Old Testament ends with the prophet Malachi, about four centuries before the first Christmas. In our Bible, we simply turn one page to go from Malachi to Matthew, from the Old Testament to the New Testament. But in human history, the space between those pages is one of the most tumultuous ages the world has ever seen. Between Malachi and Matthew, Alexander the Great has conquered the world, then had his empire supplanted by the Roman Empire. Jewish rebellions have come and gone, birthing new commemorative celebrations like Hanukkah.

And all during that time, God was silent. There was no new revelation, no more prophecy, no more mouthpieces for the Lord. After a millennium of God speaking to His people, He fell silent for 400 years. That’s significantly longer than the history of our nation! (To put it in perspective, the Mayflower had not yet arrived 400 years ago.) As Amos had prophesied, people thirsted for new revelation. They ran to and fro, seeking a word from God, but none was to be had. It was a spiritual famine.

That was the first fulfillment of Amos’s prophecy. I have to wonder if we’re starting to see the second fulfillment. There is a spiritual thirst in the West, and people are running to and fro seeking spiritual satisfaction, but so many ears seem completely deaf to the Word of God. In desperation we turn to so many other things, but often neglect what’s right in front of us and has been for many centuries. The Word is there for us to feast upon, yet so many choose to starve. It is a famine of God’s Word, and many are dying of hunger instead of feeding on Scripture.

“I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.” – Job 23:12

Published in: on December 12, 2014 at 5:45 am  Comments (2)  
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Bible Myths Myth #2: The New Testament was not written by eyewitnesses to the events they describe.

Today’s Bible Myth Myth is comprised of several myths working together to undermine confidence in the reliability of the New Testament.  These myths are:

  • The New Testament was not written by eyewitnesses to the events they describe.
  • The New Testament is based on oral legends that were not written down until centuries after Jesus’ time.
  • The New Testament is just another collection of tall tales from a prescientific era.

We’ll take a closer look at these one at a time, in three separate posts.  First…

Myth: The New Testament was not written by eyewitnesses to the events they describe.
Truth: The New Testament was actually authored by eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus Christ in the first century, and a handful of books were written by their associates.

The NT consists of 27 books, and we know who wrote 26 of them.  (We’re not really sure who wrote Hebrews, which has made for some really lively debates among scholars.)  Of those 26 books, eight were written by men who were among Jesus’ 12 apostles.  Thirteen were written by a man who had frequent interaction with the risen Christ and personally knew the original apostles.  Three were written by companions of these men, who may or may not have known Jesus before His crucifixion but were eyewitnesses to the birth of the church and the ministry of the apostles in the first century.  And two NT books were even written by Jesus’ brothers!

Jesus selected 12 men and appointed them as His apostles (Mark 3:13-19).  In our NT, eight books were written by men in this group.  Matthew wrote the Gospel that bears his name.  John wrote his Gospel, three letters (1-3 John), and Revelation.  Peter wrote two letters, creatively titled 1 and 2 Peter.

James and Jude were brothers of Jesus, who each wrote one letter bearing their names.  We know that Jesus had brothers with these names (see Matthew 13:55).  Their authorship of these two letters was attested by the early church.

The apostle Paul was several years younger than Jesus.  He first appears on the scene as a young hater of Christians who assists in their persecution (Acts 7:58).  But after a dramatic encounter with the resurrected Christ (Acts 9:1-19), Paul became a zealous preacher of the gospel of Jesus (Acts 9:20-22).  He traveled the world, spent time with the other apostles (those who were the Twelve; see Galatians 1:18 for one example), suffered terribly for his conviction that Jesus was alive (2 Corinthians 11:24-27), and eventually was martyred.  This is the man who wrote 13 books in our New Testament, a collection of letters: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.

The adventurous life of Paul, recounted frequently throughout his letters, is told in narrative form by Luke.  This Luke is a really interesting guy.  For one thing, he’s the only non-Jew to write a book of the Bible–and actually, he wrote more of the New Testament than anyone else!  He only authored two books, the Gospel of Luke and Acts, but those two volumes together are longer than even all of Paul’s letters combined.  Luke was a brilliant, highly educated man.  A doctor by trade (Colossians 4:14), he was a thorough researcher.  Much of what we know of the events surrounding the first Christmas may very well have come from his interviews with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and others who were eyewitnesses (see Luke 1:1-4 and the events that follow).  We don’t know whether or not Luke knew Jesus before His crucifixion, and in fact it seems unlikely.  But he was a close companion of Paul’s and, as I mentioned, thoroughly investigated the claims of the early church while its founders were still alive.

That leaves us with Mark.  Mark was a young guy in Jerusalem who seems to have observed Jesus from a safe distance, and his mother was actively involved in the earliest days of the Christian church (Acts 12:12).  Mark became an ardent follower of Christ and a traveling companion, at various times, of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas (his cousin).  The best evidence indicates that Mark was Peter’s sidekick; if Peter was Batman, then Mark was Robin.  Mark heard Peter recount his experiences with Jesus many, many times, and when Peter died, Mark wrote them down for us.  That’s how we got the Gospel of Mark, which was arguably the first of the four Gospels to be written.

This post would easily turn into a book if I jumped into all the evidence for authorship I have described above.  There are those who disagree with everything I have just written, but my assertions are all supported–by far–by the weight of the evidence.  When discussing evidence for New Testament authorship, there are two types: internal and external.  Internal evidence is ample throughout the NT, and refers to the claims of the text itself.  For instance, in 1 Peter 1:1, the author begins, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ…”  This is part of the internal evidence of Peter’s authorship of the letters bearing his name.  Internal evidence also includes eyewitness details, of which Peter provides plenty.  The internal evidence for the NT authorship as I’ve described above is so prevalent that if it were not accurate, it would render much of the NT as fraudulent.

But for many people, it’s not enough to simply say, “Well the Bible says…”  And for still others, there’s the question of precise identity.  For example, James claims to be written by James, but which James?  Which Jude?  Which John?  This is where the external evidence puts many arguments to rest.  We have much evidence from outside the Bible in the late first century and early second century that confirms New Testament authorship.  Men such as Clement wrote in the first century, while some of the apostles were still alive, and verified their authorship of the NT books.  In fact, it is the first- and second-century church that labeled the various NT books by the names of their authors.

If you would like more information on evidence for NT authorship, please let me know and I would be glad to help.  For now, suffice to say it’s only a myth that the New Testament was written later on by people who did not even know Jesus or His first followers.  The truth is that the New Testament was written by eyewitnesses to the events it describes.

Published in: on December 9, 2014 at 5:18 am  Comments (2)  
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Bad News Christians

Jesus tells His followers to share the good news. Somewhere along the way some folks have gotten mixed up and decided this means to actually share the gospel (literally “good news”) as though it was bad news. It goes something like this: “People are really messed up and the Bible says it’s only going to get worse until Jesus comes back. So sit back, grit your teeth, and hold on tightly until the ride is over.” Hearing the Bible from this crowd, you would get the impression that Jesus told His people to hide out in caves rather than go out to be salt and light in the world.

Yet we are to proclaim good news, not bad news. You could argue that the bad news must come before the good news, and you would be right. The bad news is that we’re sinners in need of a Savior. The good news is that Jesus Christ is that Savior, and we can be saved by trusting in His sacrificial death for our salvation. But some of us want to be gospel grinches and try to turn the good news back into bad news by saying that the world is going to hell and there’s simply nothing anyone can do to stem the tide until Jesus returns. Shame on us—that is not the gospel! It is true that we cannot build Heaven on earth. But it is also true that we must be about the work of building God’s kingdom on earth.

In Jesus’ own ministry, what role did compassionate justice play? The Bible is not the least ambiguous:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)

A few days ago I sat with a friend who just returned from Africa. She told us of an area where thousands of orphans live on the street. On a regular basis, men from across the border will come with trucks and guns, round up these orphans, and kidnap them by the thousands. They are taken into a different country where they are sold as sex slaves, forced into terrorist militias, sacrificed by witch doctors, or killed so that drugs can be smuggled inside their corpses. According to Bad News Christians, that’s just how it’s got to be until Christ returns. But according to a handful of faithful Christians in that region, the people of God cannot rest while such things occur. This courageous remnant gives everything they have—often including their lives—to sneak into this other country and rescue the orphans. Thousands and thousands have been rescued. In this situation, who is sharing the gospel? The ones who devote their lives to enacting justice, or the ones who sit by and say this is just how it’s going to be until Jesus comes back for us? I’m pretty sure these kids would tell you that Jesus has come for them, and He did it through faithful Christians who see it as their mission to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world.

The very next day after hearing of this situation in Africa, I was confronted by a Bad News Christian who said it’s not realistic to expect progress in the fight against injustice. I wonder what Bad News Christians do with the abundance of Bible passages like Micah 6:8. This verse says: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” This verse could not be more clear: If you turn your back on working for justice, you are outside the will of God. If you have no concern for the poor and oppressed, you are not following Jesus Christ. This was one of Jesus’ major beefs with religious people in His day. Want some evidence from Jesus’ own mouth? Read in full this passage which is a direct quote from Christ:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:31-46)

To sit back, sigh, and despair that the world is getting worse and there’s nothing we can do about it is essentially to say that God is dead. It’s to say that Jesus is still in the grave. It’s to say that God is no longer alive and active in the world. It’s to say that God no longer cares for His creation or that He is powerless to care for it. It’s to say that the church is powerless.

If we try to preach the gospel while shrugging our shoulders at injustice, we preach a powerless message. Do we really think anyone will be attracted to an apathetic savior and his apathetic church? Jesus died for us… but He also rose for us. He breathed the Holy Spirit into His church. Christ is alive and active in the darkest corners of the world. And that’s good news.

Lord, Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 5:31 am  Comments (2)  
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