Monday, July 27, 2015

 

Sermon: Philippians 3:7-4:1


Audio of this sermon is availabe here

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ - yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. 17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. 4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! (NIV)


Any spirituality – whether Atheist, Buddhist or Christian - has three, organically related parts: Beliefs, Attitudes and Actions. To alliterate, spirituality is about the integration of Head, Heart and Hands.

First of all, our minds believe various things to be true or false. For example, we believe that Jesus is the crucified and resurrected Lord who will transform ‘our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.’

Second, our hearts make a response to what our minds believe. For example, we consider everything we once prized to be ‘garbage’ in comparison to ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Christ’. Actually, the NIV is rather tame at this point. The Jubilee Bible 2000 is on target when it speaks more bluntly of ‘my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and do count them but dung’!

This combination of head and heart, of a belief that and a belief in, is what the Bible means by ‘faith’. Contrary to recent New Atheist propaganda from the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christian ‘faith’ is not a matter of ‘blind faith’. Rather, Christian faith is ‘a trust in and commitment to what we have reason to believe is true.’[i] 

Making time to investigate, at an appropriate level, the reasons for believing Christianity to be true is a biblical part of Christian discipleship. Paul not only describes his own ministry in Philippians 1:7 as ‘defending and confirming the gospel’ but in Colossians 4:6 he commands Christians to ‘be ready to give answers to anyone who asks questions.’ (NIV) Listen to Professor William Lane Craig’s impassioned plea for Christians to learn to ‘give answers’ - he says: 

'Christian teenagers are intellectually assaulted with every manner of non-Christian worldview coupled with an overwhelming relativism. If parents are not intellectually engaged with their faith and do not have sound arguments for Christian theism and good answers to their children’s questions, then we are in real danger of losing our youth. It’s no longer enough to teach our children simply Bible stories; they need doctrine and apologetics. It’s hard to understand how people today can risk parenthood without having studied apologetics… It’s insufficient for youth groups and Sunday school classes to focus on entertainment and . . . devotional thoughts. We’ve got to train our kids for war. We dare not send them out to public high school and university armed with rubber swords and plastic armor. The time for playing games is past.'[ii] 

Let me encourage you to look up Craig’s Reasonable Faith website and to consider coming to the next Reasonable Faith? course here at Highfield, which starts on Sunday 11th October.

Third, Christ-centred faith, the combination of Head and Heart, influences behaviour. As James writes: ‘Faith without deeds is dead’ (James 2:26). Thus, to have Christian faith means ‘trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true, in the face of difficulties.’[iii] 

Now, in Philippians 3:7-4:1, Paul takes Christians from ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Christ’ to how we can ‘stand firm in the Lord’ in the face of difficulties. Philippi was ‘a favourite location for settling Roman soldiers whose term of service in the army had ended’[iv], and the Greek term for ‘stand firm’ is ‘the same as that for a soldier standing fast in the shock of battle . . . or a combatant in a Roman amphitheatre fighting for his life.’[v] This is a metaphor for the spiritual warfare of Christian discipleship. As Paul says in Ephesians: 'our struggle is not against human opponents, but against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers in the darkness around us, and evil spiritual forces in the heavenly realm. For this reason, take up the whole armour of God so that you may be able to take a stand whenever evil comes.' (Ephesians 6:12-13, ISV)

Paradoxically, Paul’s Philippian battle-plan for standing firm is a matter of pressing on and ‘straining toward what is ahead’!

As 2 Corinthians 11:24-26 makes abundantly clear, Paul knows a little something about having faith despite external difficulties. As he says earlier in the same letter: ‘this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure’ (2 Corinthians 4:17). Yet the difficulties we face in following Christ aren’t primarily external. Paul knows that having faith means facing-up to the difficult internal realities of our own sinful nature. We must begin by realizing that we have not already obtained all Christ has called us to: 'Striving for perfection through intellectual and spiritual enlightenment was a common religious ideal in Greco-Roman antiquity… Paul had seen such ideas infect the church at Corinth, where some believers claimed that they had already been perfected by their spiritual knowledge...'[vi] 

While disciples of Christ must desire that sinless perfection that is our heavenly destiny, and must pursue both maturity and maturation in Christ in the meantime, discipleship begins with the realization that we can’t gain salvation by perfectly obeying the law of right and wrong, but only through the ‘salvation’ or ‘righteousness’ that ‘comes from God on the basis of faith.’ Taking our stand on this faith we can ‘leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God’ (Hebrews 6:1).

Note that while Paul considers himself to be a mature Christian - ‘All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things’ - he also says ‘I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of [that] for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.’ In other words, while ‘our citizenship is in heaven’ we aren’t there yet! Nevertheless, ‘God has called us heavenwards in Christ Jesus’.

The term translated as ‘citizens’ could ‘refer to a distinct ethnic group that lived away from its homeland and was governed by its own constitution – a “city within a city.”[vii] So, how are citizens of heaven to cope with living in a foreign land? How should we handle the tension of desiring heavenly perfection whilst knowing we are sinners? How can we ‘stand firm in the Lord’, trusting and acting on what we have good reason to believe is true, despite external and internal trials? Paul says we should join together in following his example: 'Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.'

The imagery here ‘comes from the athletic arena… where runners would fix their eyes on the post that marked the end point of the race and winners received a prize’ (a ‘wreath of dry celery’ worn as a crown).[viii] Instead of ‘going for gold’ one supposes that ancient Greeks talked about ‘going for celery’! What Paul means is that we can and should ‘forget’ the difficulties of discipleship in light of ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus’, where ‘forgetting’ isn’t a matter of failing memory, but a deliberate choice to live out the gospel. The Greek translated as ‘forgetting’ can mean to forget ‘in the sense of neglecting… given over to oblivion…’[ix] This ‘forgetting’ is an attitude of the heart to the effect that, on the basis of knowing Jesus, we will live as forgiven sinners; that we will shift our goals from ‘earthly things’ towards our heavenly goal. Indeed, as Nicky Gumbel says: 'Like a runner, the Christian must not look back . . . We cannot live on past successes or rest on former laurels. Nor should we be bogged down by past failures, despair over past sins or bitterness over past wrongs done to us. We are not to dwell on the past.'[x] 

Paul explains that to ‘know Christ’ is to know ‘participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death’. As Paul writes in Romans 8:17: ‘we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.’ (NIV) Again, Paul writes: 'we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives… So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus…' (Romans 6:4 & 11, NLT)

Taking our stand upon true beliefs about our sin and God’s grace, in combination with the appropriate heart response to these truths, we can choose to ‘forget’ what is behind and to ‘press on’ to what lies ahead, ‘the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus.’ And although we can’t experience the fullness of our ‘prize’ until the new heavens and earth, Paul says we can draw ever nearer to God through knowing Christ Jesus as we await the fullness of his coming: ‘As all of us reflect the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, we are becoming more like him with ever-increasing glory by the Lord’s Spirit.’ (2 Corinthians 3:18, ISV)

In sum, to be mature disciples we need to believe our identity lies in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we need to set our hearts upon the prize for which God has called us heavenwards in Christ, and in the light of knowing where we come from – forgiveness - and where we are going – glory - we need to strive to live as citizens of heaven on earth, despite the ‘light and momentary troubles’ (2 Corinthians 4:17) this inevitably involves. As the writer of Hebrews says: 'let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.' (Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV)

So, let’s join together and follow Paul in ‘going for celery’!


[i] J.P. Moreland, ‘Living Smart’ in Paul Copan & William Lane Craig (ed.’s), Passionate Conviction (B&H Academic, 2007), p. 22.
[ii] William Lane Craig, ‘Apologetics: Who Needs It?’, www.reasonablefaith.org/christian-apologetics-who-needs-it#ixzz3fxRxJeqZ
[iii] David Marshall & Timothy McGrew, ‘Faith and Reason in Historical Perspective’ in True Reason (ed.’s Tom Gilson & Carson Weitnauer: Kregel, 2013), p. 125.
[iv] Frank Thielman, ‘Philippians’ in Clinten E. Arnold ed. Zondervan Illustrated Background Commentary: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Zondervan, 2002), p. 45-46.
[v] Nicky Gumbel, A Life Worth Living (Alpha, 2004), p. 92.
[vi] Thielman, ‘Philippians’ in Clinten E. Arnold ed. Zondervan Illustrated Background Commentary: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Zondervan, 2002), p. 63.
[vii] ibid, p. 64.
[viii] ibid, p. 63 & 65.
[ix] Joseph H.J. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Hendrickson, 2012), P 240.
[x] Nicky Gumbel, A Life Worth Living (Alpha, 2004), p. 83.

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Sermon - Mark 4. 35-41


Audio of this sermon is available here 

35 On that day, when evening had come, He told them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the sea.”
36 So they left the crowd and took Him along since He was already in the boat. And other boats were with Him. 37 A fierce windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But He was in the stern, sleeping on the cushion. So they woke Him up and said to Him, “Teacher! Don’t you care that we’re going to die?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 Then He said to them, “Why are you fearful? Do you still have no faith?”
41 And they were terrified and asked one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (HCSB.)






Before immersing ourselves in this passage, it’s worth noting that in the 1980’s a drought exposed a well-preserved first-century fishing boat in the mud of the Sea of Galilee, giving us a good idea of the sort of vessel featured in this story:

Under the direction of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, archaeologists began a race against time to carefully extract the boat from the mud before the waters returned… Pots and lamps found inside the boat dated it to the first century. Carbon-14 testing further confirmed the dating. The design of the boat was typical of fishing boats used during that period on the Sea of Galilee. In the back of the boat was a raised section like the one where Jesus could have been sleeping, as indicated in the Gospel accounts. The boat could accommodate 15 people including crew. This archaeological discovery confirms the description given in the Bible.[i] 

Writing around the middle of the first century, and probably drawing upon the eye-witness testimony of the apostle Peter, Mark presents his account of one of the more unusual miracles of Jesus. The miracle is unusual because it’s not a healing or an exorcism. Rather, it’s a ‘nature miracle’, like Jesus walking on the water or feeding the five thousand, which highlights God’s power over nature.

I’d like to clear aside a traditional reading of this passage that I think is a miss-reading, here represented by the introduction to Mark 4:35 f in William Neil’s One Volume Bible Commentary:

'Four stories are now added showing the power of the Messiah over the demon world. Mark makes no distinction between the stilling of the storm (4: 35-41) and the healing acts of Jesus. All are evidence of his authority over Satan’s domain. Jesus uses the same word: "be muzzled", in exorcising the demon who caused the storm, as he does in the case of the demoniac in 1:25.' (William Neil’s One Volume Bible Commentary, Hodder & Stoughton, 1962, p. 365.)

Jesus’ use of one word several chapters ago is a thin foundation upon which to build an interpretation. It seems to me that in fact only two of the four stories in this section of Mark clearly have to do with Satan (the daemoniac and the woman with the issue of blood). Moreover, there’s no evidence elsewhere in scripture that demons can control the weather.

Finally, Mark’s account simply doesn’t read like Jesus is responding to a satanic assassination attempt! Jesus doesn’t address himself to a demon, but to the wind and the sea: ‘39 He… rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!”’ Yes, Jesus’s command anthropomorphized nature; but who among us hasn’t rebuked a computer when it fails to work?! Our rebuke doesn’t mean we think the computer is demon-possessed and neither does Jesus’ command for the wind to ‘shut up’.

So, if that’s not what’s going on in the calming of the storm, what is happening? I think we can better appreciate Mark’s story if we think about the biblical understanding of miracles. The New Testament uses various Greek words to describe miracles, including:


·      Dunamis – an act of power (‘Dunamis’ is the root of English words such as ‘dynamic’ and ‘dynamo’)

·      Teras – a wonder

·      Semeion – a ‘sign’

Michael Poole brings these terms together when he explains that: ‘Dunamis focuses attention on the cause of a miracle in the power of God. Teras refers to its effect, and Semeion to its purpose.’[ii] As a nature miracle, Jesus’ calming of the storm is clearly an act of dunamis. One effect of this teras is obviously to rescue the boats and their occupants; but another effect of the miracle is to leave Jesus’ disciples as frightened or awestruck of him as they had been of the storm he stilled. You see, the significance – the semeion – of this miracle is definitely not a comforting message about how those who carry Jesus in the boat of their lives can find peace in knowing that he will calm all the storms of life and rescue them from danger (an application William Neil’s commentary unfortunately makes)! For one thing, such a take-home message clearly wouldn’t be true. Plenty of people find life all the stormier, and sometimes shorter, for being a Christian.

So what was it that put the fear of God in to the disciples on this occasion? Jesus’ command of wind and wave would surely have brought to mind the following verses from Psalm 107:

‘Others went out on the sea in ships, they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.’ (Psalm 107: 23-29)

You see, it’s not demons that scripture describes as controlling the sea, but the Lord God of Israel who, directly or indirectly, lifts the waves up high or stills the storm. And here is Jesus, addressing himself to the storm as God. In other words, Jesus’s miracle of calming the storm is an enacted claim to divinity – and one that carries with it powerful supernatural evidence of its truth. And that’s why the disciples end the story as much in ‘fear’ or ‘awe’ of Jesus as they were of the storm he stilled. Amen.




[i] Ralph O. Muncaster, 101 Reasons You Can Believe: Why the Christian Faith Makes Sense (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 2004), p. 72-3.
[ii] Michael Poole, Miracles: Science, The Bible & Experience (London: Scripture Union, 1992), p. 32.

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

 

Just add water? New Scientist article supports Rare Earth hypothesis


An article in the 1st November 2014 edition of New Scientist entitled 'Just add water?' bears the introduction: 'Many worlds harbour oceans - but that alone won't make them as life-friendly as Earth, say planetary scientists Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams.' In the article itself Zalasiewicz and Williams state: 'The more we learn about how Earth acquired and retained its water, the more it seems the situation was incredibly fortuitous. And as we discover how water is stored elsewhere in our solar system, our planet is starting to seem like an outlier. Even in a water-filled cosmos, Earth might still be one of a kind amid water worlds far weirder - and more hostile to life - than our own.' The article also states that 'its already clear that our solar system is not standard' and that 'all the indications are that Earth's long-lived, stable surface oceans are the exception, rather than the rule.' Zalasiewicz and Williams think this makes Earth a 'lucky cosmic jewel', but they don't even consider the competing explanatory hypothesis provided by intelligent design.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

 

Noah's Flood


Genesis 6-9 tells the story of Noah, the Ark, and the Flood. While some Christians interpret the text to mean that the flood covered the whole globe and try to explain the evidence of rocks and fossils in terms of this global flood, others don’t think the text requires a global flood, but one covering the region known to Noah. This reading of the text fits with the majority scientific opinion that ‘The scientific and historical evidence does not support a global flood, but is consistent with a catastrophic regional flood.’[i]



Christian writer Timothy Keller says:

‘I believe Noah’s flood happened, but that it was a regional flood, not a worldwide flood. On the one hand, those who insist on it being a worldwide flood seem to ignore too much the scientific evidence that there was no such thing. On the other hand, those who insist that it was a legend seem to ignore too much the trustworthiness of the Scripture… we should remember that the Bible often speaks of the “known world” as the “whole world” — compare Gen. 41:56,57; Acts 2:5,9-11; Col.1:23.’[ii]






While flood stories abound in ancient cultures from many parts of the world, this doesn’t prove that there was a global flood. Instead, different parts of the world may have suffered floods at various times in ancient history and may have recorded these events, or based stories upon them, from within the perspective of their own religious worldview.

The ancient Greeks and Romans had a story about Deucalion and Pyhrra, who saved their children and some animals in a giant box-shaped craft (such a craft would have been unstable in water; this contrasts with Noah’s ‘floating boxcar’, which would have been stable).

The recently discovered Babylonian ‘Ark Tablet’ was written during the Old Babylonian period, broadly 1900–1700 B.C. In this version a man called Atra-hasıs is instructed by the god Enki to ‘Draw out the boat that you will make on a circular plan.’ Atra-hasis’ Ark is effectively a 230 ft wide reed coracle. However, just as in the Noah story, so in this Babylonian version, the animals are said to enter the Ark ‘two by two’.[iii]

A recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review highlights the existence of several different Babylonian accounts of the flood story:

‘In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the god Enki tasks Utnapishtim to save the world from the flood… Later discoveries revealed that the account was an abridged and modified version of the Akkadian Atrahasis epic, a similar flood myth that was copied and adapted for centuries in the ancient Near East…’[iv]

According to archaeologist James F. Hoffmeier:

‘Given the fact that there were several different traditions from Mesopotamia, and that they have so many points in common with the Biblical story, it might be logical to conclude that all the stories recall a common event that was retold to reflect different social, cultural and theological contexts.’[v]


Noah’s story is related in ‘phenomenological’ terms, that is, from the limited viewpoint of the human observer. Roger Forster and Paul Marston note that: ‘to translate “the whole eretz” as “the whole earth” is really misleading to the modern reader, for we think of “earth” in terms of a “Globe”. To translate it “the whole land”, would much better convey the kind of concept in the mind of the writer – and often it does not even imply the whole of the then known world.’[vi] Moreover: ‘the term tebel, which translates to the whole expanse of the Earth, or the Earth as a whole, is not used in Genesis 6:17, nor in subsequent verses in Genesis… If the intent of this passage was to indicate the entire expanse of the Earth, tebel would have been the more appropriate word choice.’[vii] Indeed: ‘Although the geological record contains ample evidence of widespread, devestating local flooding, most geologists claim to see no evidence of a universal flood.’[viii] As Davies A. Young asks:

‘Given the frequency with which the Bible uses universal language to describe local events of great significance, such as the famine or the plagues in Egypt, is it unreasonable to suppose that the flood account uses hyperbolic language to describe an event that devastated or disrupted Mesopotamian civilization — that is to say, the whole world of the Semites?’[ix]







Davies A. Young concludes that ‘there may very well have been a catastrophic deluge in the Tigris and Euphrates River valleys that severely disrupted the civilization of that area — a civilization that represented the world to the biblical writer — and it may be that this is what the biblical story is all about.’[x]

Noah’s ark has not been found (no wooden structure would survive so long unless buried in glacial ice). Forster and Marston comment: ‘As for the various claims that the ark has been “found” on some or the other mountain… we remain very sceptical. Some are manifestly natural outcrops, others are not the shape described in Genesis, and none is convincing.’[xi] 

cf. Noah’s Ark Search @ www.noahsarksearch.com/

On the basis that a biblical ‘cubit’ was probably about 18 inches, Noah’s Ark is described as being around 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Dutch carpenter Johan Huibers spent three years building what he thinks is a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark:



Michael Lahanas discusses some examples of giant ancient wooden ships in his article, ‘Giant Hellenistic Warships’ www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/GiantShips.htm

A recent article in The Telegraph (April 3rd, 2014) reported that scientists at the University of Leicester:


'have discovered that Noah's Ark could have carried 70,000 animals without sinking if built from the dimensions listed in the Bible. A group of master's students from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Leicester University studied the exact dimensions of the Ark, set out in Genesis 6:13-22. According to the Bible, God instructed Noah to build a boat which was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high... The students averaged out the Egyptian and hebrew cubit measurement to come up with 48.2 cm, making the Ark around 144 meters long... Using the dimensions, the Archimedes principle of bouyancy and approximate animal weights they were astonished to find out that the Ark would have floated.' cf. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/10740451/Noahs-Ark-would-have-floated...even-with-70000-animals.html

That said, the ancient use of numbers in the Old Testament is often more symbolic/numerological than literal, and this may be the case with the dimensions of the Ark.


Recommended Resources

Noah Weiner, ‘The Animals Went in Two by Two, According to Babylonian Ark Tablet’ www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/hebrew-bible/the-animals-went-in-two-by-two-according-to-babylonian-ark-tablet/
Lorence G. Collins, ‘Yes, Noah's Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth’ http://ncse.com/rncse/29/5/yes-noahs-flood-may-have-happened-not-over-whole-earth
Answers in Genesis (global flood advocates) – Flood FAQ’s www.answersingenesis.org/get-answers#/topic/flood
Answers in Genesis (global flood advocates) – Noah’s Ark FAQ’s www.answersingenesis.org/get-answers/topic/noahs-ark
Listen: Unbelievable?, ‘Does the rock and fossil evidence point to Noah’s Flood or Evolution?’ www.premierradio.org.uk/listen/ondemand.aspx?mediaid={6DB9D833-41FD-4433-8549-853D56C3C8FB}
Irving Finkel, The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood (Hodder, 2014)
Roger Forster & Paul Marston, Reason, Science & Faith (Monarch, 1999)
William B.F. Ryan and Walter C. Pitman, Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event That Changed History (Touchstone, 2000)
Valentina Yanko-Hombach, Allan S. Gilbert, Nicolae Panin and Pavel M. Dolukhanov, The Black Sea Flood Question: Changes in Coastline, Climate and Human Settlement (Springer, 2007)
Ian Wilson, Before the Flood (St. Martin’s Press, 2004)
Ian Wilson, The Bible Is History (Weindenfeld & Nicolson,1999)
Davies A. Young, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995)




[ii] Timothy Keller, Genesis: What Were We Put in the World to Do? (New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2006), p. 81)
[v] James F. Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Lion, 2008), p. 38.
[vi] Roger Forster and Paul Marston, Reason, Science & Faith (Monarch, 1999), p. 297.
[viii] The Apologetics Study Bible (Nashville, Tennessee: Holman, 2007), note for 6:17, p. 16.
[ix] Davies A. Young, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 312.
[x] Young, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 252.
[xi] Forster & Marston, ibid, p. 440.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

 

Evidence for the Exodus


Both Egyptian chronology and the chronology of the Exodus are matters of ongoing scholarly dispute. Most scholars think the Exodus under Ramesses II in the 13th century B.C. (the ‘late date’ view). However, many scholars argue for dating the Exodus to c. 1446 BC (the ‘early date’ view - in which case the pharaoh of the Exodus was Amenhotep II) and a few argue for an even earlier date of c. 1525 BC. Archaeologist James K. Hoffmeir comments: ‘Until some firm archaeological or textual evidence emerges to support one of these theories, or an alternative, scholars will continue to disagree about the dating. An accepted time range for the exodus, then, is 1250-1447 BC, sometime during the New kingdom period.’ - The Archaeology of the Bible (Lion, 2008), p. 50.

Egyptologist Kenneth A. Kitchen points out that it is unreasonable to expect much by way of archaeological confirmation of the Exodus story: ‘The mud hovels of brickfield slaves and humble cultivators have long since gone back to their mud origins, never to be seen again. Even stone structures (such as temples) hardly survive… practically no written records of any extent have been retrieved from Delta sites… A tiny fraction of reports from the East delta occur in papyri recovered from the desert near Memphis. Otherwise, the entirety of Egypt’s administrative records at all periods in the Delta is lost… and monumental texts are also nearly nil. And, as pharaohs never monumentalize defeats on temple walls, no record of the successful exit of a large bunch of slaves (with loss of a full chariot squadron) would never have been memorialized by any king, in temples in the Delta or anywhere else.’  - On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003), p. 245.

Archaeology does demonstrate that, consistent with the Biblical story of Exodus: 1) Semitic people lived in Egypt in the 19th century BC, and that 2) the nation of Israel existed in the land of Canaan by 1208 BC:

Joseph’s Canal:

A canal running into lake Quarun has a traditional name that links it with the pre-Exodus story of Joseph in Egypt: ‘between 1850 and 1650 B.C. a canal was built to keep the branches of the Nile permanently open, enabling water to fill Lake Quaran and keep the land fertile. This canal was so effective that it still successfully functions today. There is no record of who built the canal, but for thousands of years it has only been known by one name. In Arabic it's the Bahr Yusef. This translates into English as The Waterway of Joseph.’ – BBC Religions, www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/history/joseph.shtml

Tomb of Rekh-mi-re (15th century BC): ‘A wall painting in an Egyptian tomb in the Valley of the Nobles at Thebes shows foreign slaves making mud bricks, recalling the enslaved Israelites’ forced brickmaking (Exodus 1:14:5:7).’ – cf. www.gci.org/bible/digging cf. Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003), p. 247.

The Soleb Hieroglyph: ‘Among ancient Egyptian designations for types of foreign peoples in the New Kingdom Period (1550–1070 BC), the term Shasu occurs fairly frequently. It is generally accepted that the term Shasu means nomads or Bedouin people, referring primarily to the nomadic peoples of Syria-Palestine. There are two hieroglyphic references in New Kingdom Period texts to an area called “the land of the Shasu of Yahweh.” Except for the Old Testament, these are the oldest references found in any ancient texts to the God Yahweh… The term Shasu is almost exclusively used in New Kingdom texts for semi-nomadic peoples living in parts of Lebanon, Syria, Sinai, Canaan, and Transjordan, and for people groups clearly identified as Semitic herders… The New Kingdom inscriptions which refer to “the Land of the Shasu of Yahweh” are found in two topographical lists. The lists are found inscribed on the walls of temples, one at Soleb and the second at Amarah-West. Soleb, a temple dedicated to the god Amon-Re, was built by the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III around 1400 BC… Amarah-West, which is also located in Sudan, is a construction of Ramses II in the 13th century. The section of the Amarah-West topographical list which contains the reference to “the land of the Shasu of Yahweh,” is not original with Ramses II, and was almost certainly copied from the earlier list at Soleb. Egyptologists in general do not question the appearance of the name Yahweh in these two ancient lists.  For example, Donald Redford writes of the reference to Yahweh at Soleb: For half a century it has been generally admitted that we have here the tetragrammaton, the name of the Israelite god "Yahweh;" and if this be the case, as it undoubtedly is, the passage constitutes the most precious indication of the whereabouts during the late 15th century BC of an enclave revering this god.’ - cf. www.assistnews.net/Stories/2010/s10010053.htm

Israel Stele (13th century BC): ‘The name Israel is inscribed in hieroglyphs on a stone slab found in 1896 at Thebes. It is the only mention of Israel in all Egyptian records discovered so far, and the oldest evidence outside the Bible for Israel’s existence. Israel is listed as one of the peoples in western Asia during the reign of Ramses II’s son, Merneptah (c.1213-1203 B.C.), offering evidence that the Israelites were already settled in Canaan (the Promised Land) by that time.’ – cf. www.gci.org/bible/digging

External Evidence

Many details of the Exodus account ring true when compared to extra-biblical sources.

For example, ‘from the Louvre Roll it is evident that special religious holidays were granted to the workers, and work rosters from the workmen’s village of Deir el-Medineh report men being off work to “offer to their god.” This latter point seems to indicate that Moses’ request for the Israelites to have time off to worship Yahweh was not unprecedented and may have been standard procedure (Exod. 5:1).’ – James K. Hoffmier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 115.

Again, we know that ‘Egyptians regularly practices snake charming that allowed them to put snakes into a kind of catalepsy, whereby they would remain as stiff as a rod until wakened. This trick is still practised in Egypt today.’ – NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Zondervan, 2005), p. 96.


Internal Evidence

There is also internal evidence to take into consideration. The basic story of the Exodus seems to pass both the historical criteria of multiple testimony and the criteria of embarrassment. As Kenneth A. Kitchen argues: ‘the phenomenon of an exodus-deliverance recurs all over the biblical corpus… If there never was an escape from Egyptian servitude by any of Israel’s ancestors, why on earth invent such a tale about such humiliating origins? Nobody else in Near Eastern antiquity descended to that kind of tale of community beginnings.’ – Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003), p. 245.

The Miracles of Exodus

In his book The Miracles of Exodus (Continuum, 2003), Professor Colin J. Humphreys argues that ‘we have a natural scientific explanation for all ten plagues, which follow a logical, connected sequence… that is highly consistent with the biblical account.’ – p. 143.

Egyptologist Kenneth A. Kitchen observes that ‘the impact of various plagues can be understood as devaluing or denying Egyptian beliefs.’ – Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003), p. 253.

For example: ‘A massive unruly and destructive Nile flood, red in hue, bringing death, was the opposite of Hapi (deity of that flood), who was normally bringer of new life by its waters… Frogs were a symbol of abundance (…personified as Heqat), but here again they brought death… the deep darkness eclipsed the supreme sun god, Re or Amen-Re. Pharoah was traditionally entitled “Son of Re,” and his patron was made invisible… Death of so many throughout the land… would probably seem to Egyptians to have negated the power of the gods completely, and the king’s personal and official key role of ensuring their favour.’ – On the Reliability of the Old Testament, p. 253.

How the wind drove back the waters…

‘A new computer modeling study by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research… and the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) shows how the movement of wind as described in the book of Exodus could have parted the waters… a strong east wind, blowing overnight, could have pushed water back at a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with a coastal lagoon along the Mediterranean Sea. With the water pushed back into both waterways, a land bridge would have opened at the bend, enabling people to walk across exposed mud flats to safety. As soon as the wind died down, the waters would have rushed back in… Other researchers have focused on a phenomenon known as "wind setdown," in which a particularly strong and persistent wind can lower water levels in one area while piling up water downwind. Wind setdowns… have been widely documented, including an event in the Nile delta in the 19th century when a powerful wind pushed away about five feet of water and exposed dry land.’ – ScienceDaily.Com, 2010 www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100921143930.htm


Recommended Resources

Video:
‘Internal Evidence for the Historicity of Exodus’ http://youtu.be/hiw5t276QxM
‘The Exodus from Egypt, a Lecture with Dr James Hoffmeier’ http://youtu.be/m2vhrK6Wczs
Lecture - Dr James Hoffmeier – Egyptologist’ http://youtu.be/GBWWO8dCeY0
‘Lecture Q&A - Dr James Hoffmeier – Egyptologist’ http://youtu.be/u3HUJbZsf-w
(DVD) True U, Truth Project – 02 – Is The Bible Reliable? Building the historical case (Tyndale/Focus on the Family, 2011)
Papers:
Gary Byers, ‘The Beni Hasan Asiatics and the Biblical Patriarchs’ www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/09/09/The-Beni-Hasan-Asiatics-and-the-Biblical-Patriarchs.aspx
ScienceDaily, ‘Parting the waters: Computer modeling applies physics to Red Sea escape route’ www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100921143930.htm
Rabbi Ken, ‘Archaeology and the Exodus’ www.aish.com/print/?contentID=48938472&section=/ci/sam
Archaeologist Allan Millard, ‘How Reliable Is Exodus?’ http://fontes.lstc.edu/%7Erklein/Documents/how_reliable_is_exodus.htm
Who Was Moses? (2003) http://youtu.be/IwnrjU67Dag
Books
NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Zondervan, 2005)
Alfred J. Hoerth, Archaeology & The Old Testament (Baker Academic, 1998)
James K. Hoffmier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Lion, 2008)
James K. Hoffmier, Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2005)
James K. Hoffmier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1996)
Colin J. Humphreys, The Miracles of Exodus (Continuum, 2003)
Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003)

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