Saturday, September 12, 2020

Eyewitnesses

 

In the Gospel of Luke’s prologue (Luke 1:1-4) Luke writes in verse two, “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word have handed down to us….” The Greek word translated eyewitnesses is autoptaiRichard Bauckham, in his important work Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, writes that autoptai “does not have a forensic meaning” and that it would be misleading to understand the word as a “metaphor from the law courts” (p 117). Bauckham goes on to say that autoptai  are “simply firsthand observers of the events.” With respect to Buackham, a “firsthand observer” is an eyewitness in the forensic sense. 

 

Bauckham makes the point that the eyewitnesses of Jesus were His followers “from the beginning” (c.f., John 15:27, “and you will bear witness also, because you have been with Me from the beginning”; Acts 1:21-22, “men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken up from us….”). Bauckham provides a translation of autoptai  in Acts 1:2 from Loveday Alexander, “those with personal/firsthand experience: those who know the facts at first hand.” Again, there is no meaningful distinction between an eyewitness in a law court and those “with personal/firsthand experience.” 

 

What if a person knows “the facts at first hand” (Alexander’s rendering of autoptai)? Is Bauckham contending that a person who hears accounts from a percipient witness (i.e., one who personally observes or hears) qualifies as autoptai? I think not, because such a person would be like a juror in a court trial that hears testimony from eyewitnesses. A non-percipient person who hears the accounts is clearly a second-hand source. Law court testimony from such a non-percipient person would be considered unreliable hearsay (“an out-of-court statement used to prove the truth of the matter asserted) and not admissible in a forensic proceeding unless the testimony falls under one of the (many) recognized exceptions to the hearsay rule. What other “personal” or “firsthand” experience is there other than seeing, hearing or touching? 

 

Consider what the Apostle John wrote in 1 John 1:1, 3 that emphasizes the empirical nature of the disciples’ testimony:

 

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life… what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

 

Dreams, visions and feelings are ruled out in courtroom trials as reliable bases for determining what happened or what was said. Generally, only percipient witnesses can testify in a law court, with an exception being expert witnesses who are allowed to render opinions within their area of expertise due to their special knowledge, experience and education. The purpose of the expert is to assist the trier of fact (usually the jury). 

 

Fortunately, Bauckham comes around regarding Luke’s use of autoptai, acknowledging “there is no doubt, from its total context in Luke-Acts, that it carries the historiographic meaning of people who witnessed firsthand the events of Luke’s gospel story.” Precisely a description of what is required for someone to testify in a law court—testimony that involves empirical (experienced by the senses—sight, sound, touch, smell) evidence.

 

Bauckham, citing The Preface to Luke’s Gospel by I. Alexander, mentions the use of autoptai by Josephus and Polybius “with reference to the observation of events narrated in a history or preface or other methodological passage” (p. 117). Polybius, a Greek historian who lived in the 2nd century B.C. wrote The Histories that uncovered the period 264-146 B.C. Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian who recorded Jewish history during the 1st century A.D. in The Jewish Wars and Antiquities. Josephus uses the word autoptai in Antiquities, Book 18, 342, “Anileus, the brother of Asineus, either heard of her beauty from others, or perhaps saw her himself (autoptai) and so became both her lover and her enemy.” In Antiquities, Book 19, 125, Joseph writes, “he came for the pleasure of seeing with his own eyes (autoptai) Gaius lying there dead.” From these accounts of Josephus the 1st century A.D. meaning of autoptaibecomes clear—literally having seen what is being later described. 

 

Moulton and Milligan, in their seminal work The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, provide further insight as to how the word autoptai was used outside of the New Testament. In P Oxy VIII. 1154(late 1st century), “a man, who was perhaps absent on military service, writes to his sister not to be anxious, ‘for I am personally acquainted (autoptai) with these places and am not a stranger here.'” Again, the notion of being an eyewitness in the law court sense is present in this papyrus. 

 

Terms Similar to autoptai

In 2 Peter 1:16 the Apostle Peter writes, “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” The word translated eyewitnesses is epoptaisfrom the word optai from whence comes the word optics (“to see”) which has the meaning of spectator, especially in observing firsthand the mysteries of God. As Thayer’s Lexicon says, “inasmuch as those were called ἐπόπται by the Greeks who had attained to the third [i. e. the highest] grade of the Eleusinian mysteries (Plutarch, Alcib. 22, and elsewhere), the word seems to be used here to designate those privileged to be present at the heavenly spectacle of the transfiguration of Christ.” In other words Thayer sees the term epopotais in 2 Peter 1:16 as being Peter’s reference to being an eyewitness of the transfiguration (cf Matthew 17:1 ff). According to Matthew’s account Peter was present, along with James and John, when Jesus took them to a high mountain and His appearance radically changed (transfigured) before them, and Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Jesus. Thus, Peter was a spectator, i.e., an eyewitness, of Jesus in a transfigured state, and the term epopotais proves to be a synonym of autoptai as used in Luke 1:2.

 

In John 20:25 Thomas is quoted as saying, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Jesus had appeared to the 10 disciples in an upper room after His crucifixion, but Thomas was absent. When the other disciples later told him “We have seen the Lord” Thomas uttered his famous words of doubt as recorded on John 20:25. He wanted to see and feel Jesus, meaning he wanted empirical evidence—not merely the word of his fellow disciples. After being a follower of Jesus for what is commonly understood to be a three-year ministry of Jesus, which included miracle after miracle, and after hearing from Jesus that He would be killed and raised from the dead (cf., Matthew 16:21), how could Thomas not believe the 10 disciples account that the risen Jesus had appeared to them? 

 

The Gospel accounts are silent as to why Thomas was doubting, but clear on the fact that Jesus appeared again when Thomas was present, which prompted him to say to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Thomas had empirical evidence that Jesus had risen from the dead, but Jesus gave a blessing to those who do not have empirical evidence yet believe (John 20:29). This is similar to a law court where, during a trial, the jury has not seen the evidence. Instead, the jury weighs the testimony of percipient witnesses who were present at the event in question in order to render a conclusion (verdict) as to what happened that is binding on the participants of the trial. And the verdict of a jury, in some cases, has life or death consequences.

 

Conclusion

Luke’s use of autoptai in Luke 1:2 is consistent with the common use of the term eyewitnesses as used in a forensic (i.e., law court) sense. There is no reason to hold otherwise. The events of the Gospel of Luke were derived from those who observed the life and teachings of Jesus, and Luke makes clear that he did all he could, after he “investigated everything carefully” (Luke 1:3), to “write [an account of the life of Jesus] in consecutive order” (Luke 1:3), so that the reader might know “the exact truth” (Luke 1:4). Luke, the investigative journalist, makes the case for Jesus being the Messiah (Christ), the Chosen One of God, who died for the sins of the world, and rose from the dead as evidence that He was the Christ. Believing the Gospel accounts of Jesus is similar to believing consistent, multiple eyewitness testimony in a law court, and thereby rendering a verdict based on the testimony. The verdict found in the Gospel record is simple—Jesus is Lord, the Christ who died, rose from the dead, and is coming again. Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.

 

 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Does the White Horse of Revelation 6:2 Involve a Prediction of a Coronavirus Pandemic?

 

When St. Jerome translated the Bible from Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) into Latin, his work is called the Vulgate, which means “common.” It was the standard Bible for the Roman Catholic Church for 1,000 years. When Jerome translated Revelation 6:2, it reads as follows: et vidi et ecce equus albus et qui sedebat super illum habebat arcum et data est ei corona et exivit vincens ut vinceret. The English translation (NASB) is as follows:

I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.



For those who can’t decipher Latin (which is most of us), there may be some words that you recognize, but there is one word you are sure to recognize because you now see it a dozen times per day or more—corona. The Latin word corona means “crown,” and the virus that is currently wreaking havoc is referred to as the coronavirus (which causes the disease COVID-19). The name derives from the appearance of the virus under high magnification where the outer material of the virus has raised, spike-like portions that make it look like a crown. A virus is a microscopic parasite that can only multiply in cells of living hosts such as humans. One type of coronavirus (there are several types) is responsible for the common cold, and one sneeze can emit 20,000 droplets containing the virus particles. All it takes for the cold virus to spread is touching or breathing the droplets, which can enter through the nose or mouth.
 
Back to Revelation chapter six—the first question is, “Who is the rider of the white horse?” He emerges after the first of seven seals is broken and is the first of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Perhaps it helps to determine the identity of the rider if we look at the next three seals that also have riders, and they represent war (red horse), famine (black horse) and death (pale horse). In light of the last three horsemen, it seems the first is likely not Christ, but another conquering force. The rider of the white horse has a bow but no arrows, which could symbolize conquering without conventional weapons (speculation, not certainty). The rider “went out conquering and to conquer.” He has a bow and a corona. With no arrows and no conventional weapons, is it plausible that the rider does not subdue the world through conventional warfare but through something more akin to biological warfare, i.e., the release of a virus that becomes a pandemic? Could the rider’s corona be a clue? 
 
The context of Revelation chapter six is the beginning of events that take place during a seven-year period of tribulation (the events continue through chapter 18, so the heart of the Book of Revelation is the tribulation period). The two-fold purpose of the tribulation is to bring Israel to faith in the Messiah (“Christ”) and to punish unbelief. There are three series of events—the seals (including the Four Horsemen of chapter six), trumpets and bowls. The Book of Revelation, sometimes referred to by the Greek title Apocalypse, describes events that will affect the entire world. Revelation includes symbolic language that depicts two beasts and a dragon that are commonly thought to represent a false religious system, a false prophet and Satan. Multitudes that rebel against God are finally defeated by the return of Jesus (Revelation chapter 19), followed by God sitting on a white throne in judgment (Revelation 20:11ff).
 
The culmination of the Book of Revelation is Jesus’ return to earth, which he foretold in the Gospel of John chapter 14 and verse 3 (“I will come again”). The historic view of the church is that Jesus returns to earth after the tribulation period. An interesting fact is that the church is not mentioned in Revelation chapters 6-18. For this reason, and many others, in the past nearly 200 years the view arose that Jesus will return for the church before the seven-year tribulation period (a pre-tribulation "rapture”). Suffice to say that space does not permit a full discussion of the evidence for the pre-tribulation and post-tribulation return of Christ views. But if, perchance, the current pandemic is related to what John foresaw in Revelation chapter 6, then either the tribulation is about to emerge or, from a post-tribulation perspective, the tribulation has already begun. 
 
The Antichrist
In John’s first two epistles in the New Testament there are four references to “the antichrist” (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7). Jesus spoke of “false Christs” and the Apostle Paul writes concerning a future “man of sin” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Based upon these references many think they are referring to a man who opposes God in the last days, especially the tribulation period. There are many ways to interpret Jesus’ teachings about his Second Coming and the Book of Revelation, including understanding the events as being still future (“futurist”), seeing the events as having already occurred (“preterist”) or thinking that some of the events have occurred (“partial preterist”). The vast majority of evangelical Christians hold to a futurist view of the prophetic teachings of Jesus, Paul and the Book of Revelation. 
 
The Times and Seasons
Jesus promised that He would come again to earth (John 14:3), but made it clear that no one, including Himself, knows the day or hour when He will return (Matthew 24:36). After Jesus told hiis disciples that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed, His disciples asked Him three questions: When will the Temple be destroyed, what will be the sign of His retun to earth, and what will be the sign of the end of the age (Matthew 24:3)? Jesus answers by giving some general signs (wars, falling away from faith in God, earthquakes, famine, false prophets) but adds a specific reference to the Old Testament Book of Daniel (Matthew 25:15 cf Daniel 9:27) that involves an abomination in relation to the Temple. The Apostle Paul mentions that Jesus will not come back until first the “man of lawlessness” is revealed who takes a seat in the Temple and claims to be God. 



The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 by a Roman army lead by Titus the son of the Emperor Vespasian, so those who hold to a futurist view of Bible prophecy regarding Jesus’ second coming expect there will, some day, be a Third Temple. (The first was Solomon’s Temple, destroyed in 586 B.C by the Babylonians, the second temple was begun under Ezra and Nehemiah, and expanded by King Herod around the time of Jesus’ birth, then destroyed by the Romans. Today only the foundation remains, called the “Western Wall” or “Wailing Wall.")



In order for a Third Temple to be build, the Jews would have to return to Israel, become a nation, and control the Temple Mount where the Temple originally stood. There was no nation Israel after 586 B.C., and during the time of Jesus the Jews lived in a colony controlled by Rome. Very few Jews were in the land formerly called Israel until the late 19th century when the “Zionist” movement began and more Jews began to settle in the Palestinian territory. Following World War II and the atrocities committed against the Jews (the “Holocaust”) the world became sympathetic to Jewish suffering and a Jewish homeland, leading up to the rebirth of the nation Israel on May 14, 1948. The Jews did not control the Temple Mount area in Jerusalem, but following the Six-Day War in 1967 the Jews regained control of the Temple Mount, but ceded control back to Jordan to administer the site as a way to placate Arab Muslims (a sore spot for Jews who want to rebuilds the Temple).
 
Thus, in 2020 the Jews again have their own nation Israel, and voices continue to grow louder advocating for the rebuilding of the Temple. The rebuilding could happen at any time, but it could also be years or decades away. But a futurist view of Jesus’ return required the Jews back in the land, which happened in 1948. Therefore, to many who study Bible prophecy, even without a Temple, the stage is set for the rebuilding of the Temple, the events of the Book of Revelation, and the return of Jesus to earth.
 
The Stage Appears to be Set for Christ’s Return
Even though Jesus said that no one knows when He is coming back, Paul wrote that the Thessalonian Christians were aware of the “times and seasons” (I Thessalonians 5:1). This admonition, along with Paul and Jesus providing clues to when Jesus might be coming back, has lead to endless speculation about when Christ will return, including those who were convinced that they knew the date based on some scheme of interpretation they had devised. It is best to be aware of Scriptures that deal with Jesus’ promised return to earth first, and then see whether the prophetic clues have an application to our present age. If one concludes that the stage is set for Jesus to return (meaning nothing has to happen before He comes back for His church), there needs to be a recognition that we best tread softly and show humility rather than proclaim with certitude that we know what Jesus said we don’t know. Thus, when interpreting Revelation and other prophetic passages in light of the current situation, make a case from Scripture but acknowledge that we are putting together a puzzle without all the pieces. 
 
Regardless of whether Jesus is coming back this week, this year, or a thousand years from now, the calling of the church does not change, which is to “disciple all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The return of Jesus is a “Blessed Hope” (Titus 3:15), and in God’s time it will happen. Meanwhile, we need to search the Scriptures, not to decipher the date of Jesus’ return, but to be equipped to defend and proclaim the Good News that Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead as proof He is the Messiah. 
 
Conclusion
There are compelling reasons to believe that Jesus is coming again. Given the rebirth of Israel in 1948, there are reasons to conclude that His return could be soon. Whether the corona is a sign that we are near the end or not, the task of the church remains, and the fear that a pandemic brings creates an opportunity to tell people about the “Blessed Hope.” To quote the lyrics of the song Outlaw” by the late singer/songwriter Larry Norman:
 
            Some say He was the Son of God, a man above all men.
            That He came to be a servant, and set us free from sin.
            And that’s who I believe He was, cause that’s who I believe
            And I think we should get ready, cause its time for us to leave.

 
Why do I believe that Jesus is coming back? Because He said so, and that’s who I believe. Even so “Come Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

It Was Thirty Years Ago



"It was 30 years ago today..." No, not the lyrics from the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper, but August 11, 1988, the day 25,000 people took to the streets In North Hollywood, California. What were these people doing on that Thursday afternoon?  Taking a stand for the historical Jesus and protesting a soon-to-be-released motion picture called The Last Temptation of Christ that defamed and mischaracterized Jesus. I was privileged to be the “tip of the spear” in organizing and leading the protest preceded by a news conference. I invited some of my friends to participate, such as football great Rosey Grier, Jewish broadcaster Dennis Prager and former sportscaster Jane Chastain. I also invited some well-known Christian leaders to participate, such as Don Wildmon from the America Family Association and Bill Bright from Campus Crusade. But first, a little background.

Rumors had spread that MCA-Universal was bankrolling a movie based on pagan writer Nikos Katzanzakis' novel The Last Temptation of Christ.MCA-Universal brought in award-winning director Martin Scorcese to direct the film. Given the controversial nature of Katzanzakis' book, MCA tried to keep the movie script under wraps. However, copies were leaked, and Christian broadcasters began to decry what many considered a highly offensive if not blasphemous portrayal of Jesus. The "Jesus" of MCA's film was lustful and confused person, bearing little resemblance to the Jesus of the Gospels whom two billion Christians worship as Lord and God.

Despite the pleas from multitudes of people to not release the film, MCA turned a deaf ear and wrapped itself in the First Amendment, claiming it had every right to produce the movie. No one questioned whether MCA had such a right—the issue was whether MCA shouldgo forward with a film based on a script that was offensive to millions of people. By late July 1988 it was clear that MCA had no intention of shelving the film despite the outcry. At the time I was the afternoon talk show host on KKLA-Los Angeles, the flagship station for Salem Broadcasting. KKLA’s North Hollywood studios were two miles from the entrance to Universal Studios and MCA-Universal’s headquarters and I had been actively covering the controversy behind The Last Temptation of Christ for monthsThus, I was in the right place to give a voice to the thousands of people who were troubled by the film. I figured the best way to for people to express themselves was to organize a public rally and march. The event was set for noon on August 11, 1988 at the entrance to Universal Studios in North Hollywood, preceded by a news conference at 11 a.m. 



By 11 a.m. on August 11, 1988 several thousand people had gathered at entrance of Universal Studios awaiting the news conference. As I looked out at a dozen or more television cameras and many more print journalists, I began addressing the media by reading an open letter to MCA that expressed the sentiments of literally millions of people. A helicopter buzzed overhead filming the spectacle and I was told that a local Los Angeles News station reported a "13-mile backup on the 101 Freeway" due to a "massive protest" in North Hollywood. 

After my presentation I introduced a relatively-unknown young singer named Steve Gooden. Steve had a recording contract with MCA, but in light of MCA’s funding of The Last Temptation of Christhe decided he could not use his talents for MCA. After referencing Charles Sheldon's book In His Steps,Steve put truth above consequences and tore up his recording contract as the cameras rolled. It was an emotional moment, as Steve, with tears in his eyes, collapsed into the arms of Rosey Grier.



After Steve Gooden came Don Wildmon who was on the front lines condemning the film. Following him was Atlanta Pastor Richard Lee who brought petitions with over 100,000 signatures urging MCA to not release the film. Other speakers included Bill Bright, Dennis Prager, film director Ken Wales, Rosie Grier, radio personality Rich Buhler, Rabbi Chaim Asa, and Jane Chastain. When the news conference was over, it was time for the noon march. By this time, according to the North Hollywood Police’s estimate, there were 25,000 people present, causing the Police Chief to comment that “It looked like a Dodger game was let out on Lankershim Boulevard.”

As we began to march to a nearby park I saw literally thousands of placards, many hand-made, condemning the film with statements such as “The Greatest Story Ever Distorted” and “Don’t Crucify Christ Again.” There were chants of “boycott MCA” and people singing “Amazing Grace.” After about a 15-minute march the throng began to arrive at the park where under sunny skies we sang songs, prayed, and closed with “God Bless America.”  

Up to that point in America the majority of people involved in public protests and demonstrations seemed to be on the radical fringe. On August 11, 1988 it was different. Women pushing baby strollers, senior citizens, children, off-duty police--all came together to take a stand for the Jesus of the Bible. Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Jews and Muslims stood in unity despite theological differences. It was the most unifying event I had experienced in my lifetime, only surpassed by the national unity that followed the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks.

I agreed with the sentiments expressed by Don Wildmon, who said during the news conference, “This is a movement.” For the vast majority of the 25,000 protest participants it was the first time they publicly stood up and spoke up for Jesus. It was a day that showed good triumphs over evil, and it was a reminder that unless Christians speak up and stand up, the secular Hollywood industry will continue to push the envelope with scripts that attack the faith of the majority of Americans. The unified voice of Christians was heard, and many of the largest movie theater chains refused to show the movie. It was a lesson that speaking up and taking a stand can make a difference. Will the next generation of Christians have the same passion and resolve to stand against evil and offensive portrayals of Jesus? I hope so. It was 30 years ago today that 25,000 people showed how it can be done.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court - Why the Nominee Matters




As I write, the White House has indicated that President Trump’s nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will be announced tomorrow, July 9, 2018. Why is this such a big deal?

First, it is the prerogative of a President to nominate people for the Supreme Court when there is a vacancy. The U.S. Constitution says the President’s choice is subject to the “advice and consent” of the Senate. A nominee must receive 50 votes from the 100 Senators (51 if the President’s party does not hold a majority in the Senate) to be confirmed. 

Republicans made 10 Supreme Court appointments between 1969 and 1992 (Nixon to GHW Bush) and another three from 2000 to the present (George W. Bush to Trump). Clinton and Obama, combined, only appointed four Justices. Six of the GOP nominees replaced Justices appointed by Democrat Presidents. With 13 appointments by Republicans, why, then, is there currently a 4-4 split between liberal and conservative Justices rather than a conservative (i.e., strict textualist) majority? Three reasons.

1.     GOP Presidents had to nominate a “moderate” candidate when Democrats controlled the Senate in order to get the candidate approved by the Senate.

In years past, when a Republican President nominated someone determined by Democrats to be “too conservative” (i.e., a strict constructionist, interpreting the Constitution solely on its text), if the Democrats held the majority in the Senate, they could reject the nominee. This happened twice under President Nixon, and once under President Reagan. (Robert Bork was Reagan’s nominee. When he was voted down by the Democrat Senate majority, the now retiring Anthony Kennedy took his place). Thus, despite both Nixon and Reagan trying to create a conservative majority on the Court, Senate Democrats blocked the efforts, and more moderate candidates like Kennedy had to be nominated. In Nixon’s case, the “compromise” candidate was Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion in the seminal abortion case Roe v. Wade in 1973.

2.     Some nominees from Republican Presidents turned out to be liberal once they were on the Supreme Court

Whether it was an “ideological shift” or the candidate was not properly vetted, several justices nominated by Republican Presidents voted with the liberal justices. These included Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens and David Souter. Others nominated by Republican Presidents who were not ideologically conservative sometimes voted with the liberals. These Justices, who had the “swing vote” to break a 4-4 tie among the nine Justices, included Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy was the swing vote in the 2015 case of Obergefell v. Hodgesthat imposed same-sex marriage on all 50 states, finding a right to gay marriage in the Constitution.

3.     No longer is a “supermajority” of the Senate needed for confirmation

Before 2017 the Senate rules required a supermajority of 60 Senators to cut off further debate and bring a vote on a nominee. Without the 60 votes the candidate could be “filibustered,” meaning prevented from ever receiving a yes or no vote. In 2017, following President Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the GOP majority changed the rules so that now only a simple majority (50, since Vice President Pence breaks any tie) is needed to bring a nominee to a vote on the Senate floor. Currently at least three Democrat Senators are up for re-election in November 2018 in states that Donald Trump won in 2016, and all three of them voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch. If the result for President Trump’s next nominee is the same, then it won’t matter if two moderate (“pro-abortion rights”) GOP Senators (Murkowski and Collins) vote for or against the nominee, and it won’t matter if ailing GOP Senator John McCain shows up to vote (he has not voted in many months due to his cancer treatments).

The current Court is made up of four ideologically liberal Justices (Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan) and four ideologically conservative Justices (Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch). If President Trump follows through with his campaign promise to conservatives and evangelicals and nominates another ideologically conservative Justice (as he did with Gorsuch) there will be a reliable conservative majority for the first time. That conservative majority could increase to 6-3 if Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg retires or dies (she is 85 years old and in poor health). A conservative majority would be a firewall against liberal judicial activism, and could even undo some of the damage that the Supreme Court inflicted on America when it imposed same-sex marriage (2015) and abortion on demand (1973). Thus, there will likely be wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Democrats who may stop at nothing to deny President Trump his prerogative of nominating a replacement Justice to the Court. Regardless of the nominee, expect terms and phrases such as “out of the main stream,” “extreme,” “will set back civil rights,” “will set back women’s rights,” “will set back LGBT rights,” and similar predictable allegations. Democrats continue to call “foul” the fact that when Justice Scalia died in 2016, President Obama nominated liberal Merrick Garland as his replacement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted that the Senate should wait until a new President was in place before any replacement nominee would be voted on. Since Republicans held the majority in the Senate, Democrats were powerless to bring Garland to a floor vote. Thus, when Trump was elected, McConnell’s move proved to be genius for conservatives.

Finally, from the purported short list of nominees (Amy Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge) I find all three as ideologically conservative, and expect that each is an originalist/textualist in the style of Justice Scalia who would interpret the Constitution rather than make law based on what they “feel” “ought to be.” 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Not Yet a “Best Seller,” But On the Way

“And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end.”
Ecclesiastes 12:12

  
My book, In Defense of the Gospels, came out during the first week of January 2018, and was immediately available on Amazon. The book is a defense of the reliability of the Gospels as records of of the life and teachings of Jesus. As most authors do, I ordered a bunch of copies to make them available at my speaking engagements. Books bought in this fashion are generally not counted in Amazon’s running tally of book sales. Books ordered through Amazon’s website are carefully tracked, and anyone can find out how a particular book is doing because all books sold through its website are ranked on Amazon’s “Best Sellers Rank” that includes about five million book titles. Of course everyone wants to break into the top 100, but many books never go lower than the top four million.

A few years ago I wrote my only book of fiction, Text Messages From God. After the book had been out several months, in November of 2012, I was invited to be the guest host for Jan Michelson, the popular morning host on WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa, the largest talk station in Iowa (where Ronald Reagan used to broadcast before his television days and his political career).

Let me digress--In lining up guests, talk show hosts reach as high as possible, meaning they try for the most well known guests who will come on the show. The idea behind this is that people tend to listen longer when a guest is a famous person. Like it or not, America has created a cult of personality. What I found, though, is that some of the most famous people do not necessarily make good guests for the kind of show I like to host, namely one that is informative and on the cutting edge of what people want to know about.

For the show on WHO that I was guest hosting, I was able to secure an interview with Governor Mike Huckabee. Mike had recently written a book, Dear Chandler, Dear Scarlett, that included letters to his grandkids about faith and family. I looked up his book on Amazon’s Best Seller’s Rank and found that it had cracked the top 500 in sales. Then I went ahead and checked on my book Text Messages From God and found that I had cracked the top 4 million, coming in at something like 3,897,442. When I interviewed Governor Huckabee, I mentioned to him that his book was doing better than mine, but I only lagged behind his book by about 3,897,000 on Amazon’s Best Seller Rank. We laughed about that, and had a fun exchange.

As I write now in 2018, my book, In Defense of the Gospels, came out on Amazon just a few days ago. The only publicity as of this moment has been mentions on the Intelligent Faith website and the Ratio Christi website, and blurbs on Facebook and Twitter. I thought I’d check to see how the book is faring on Amazon’s Best Seller Rank, and saw that I had already cracked the top million, coming in at 923,472! For fun I checked on Mike Huckabee’s book that I’d interviewed him about in 2012. According to Amazon his book is 972,143 on the current Best Seller Rank. Wow, that means my book is nearly 50,000 ahead of Huckabee!

Of course I expect to promote my book through available channels, including radio interviews and print media. Once I begin promoting the book outside of the two websites where it has been mentioned, the book’s place on Amazon’s Best Seller Rank should continue to improve as the promotions generate sales on Amazon. I will have fun checking the sales figures from time to time, but more importantly, the more books that are sold, the more people are finding out that the Gospels are reliable records of the life and teachings of Jesus. That fact makes me much happier than outselling Mike Huckabee.

If you'd like to order a copy of In Defense of the Gospels, order here. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

In Defense of the Gospels



  • Did Jesus really say the words attributed to Him in the Gospels?
  • Did He actually do the things the Gospels say He did?
  • Is there a way to defend the reliability of the accounts in the Gospels?
  • What do you tell college students who say the Gospel writers are unknown?
  • How would you answer a skeptic who thinks the Gospels are not reliable? 

In 2016 I contemplated writing a book on the reliability of the Bible. It seems that many people have misconceptions about the Bible, including who the writers were, what it says, and whether today’s Bible accurately reflects what was originally written.
The more I thought about the idea of writing about the reliability of the Bible, the more daunting the task seemed. Then I decided to pare the book down to just the reliability of the New Testament. Even the narrower focus seemed unwieldy, if not unnecessary, since few people quibble about the authenticity of most of Paul’s letters. What struck me as most important was whether the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—contain the actual words and deeds of Jesus. Thus, I set out to write about the case for the Gospels’ reliability.
I consulted many sources to get idea on how to approach the subject. Some were written as textbooks that addressed the issue of the Gospels’ reliability in a scholarly manner, while others made claims and assertions about reliability without adducing clear evidence to support the claims. As I thought about how many Christian apologists have used legal themes for their book titles (e.g., “Evidence That Demands A Verdict,” “The Case for Christ,” etc.), linking their approach to what lawyers do in court, it dawned on me—since I’m a trial lawyer, why not write a book about the reliability of the Gospels that is arranged like how a lawyer would argue a case in court?
The idea of taking a trial lawyer’s approach seemed to have merit, so I next had to determine what issues within the broader topic of Gospel reliability needed to be addressed to make the case. This is where my interest in the subject of the reliability of the Bible came in handy, because I’ve tracked the arguments skeptics tend to make when they argue against the reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I knew from my research that many non-Christian polemicists question the authorship of the Gospels, doubt whether they were written when eyewitnesses were still alive, and contend that the original wording has been changed over the centuries of copying and recopying the text. From this background came my decision to address the six main questions people raise about the Gospels’ reliability:
  1. When were the Gospels written? (were they written close enough in time to the events that the details could be accurately remembered and recorded?)
  2. Who wrote the Gospels? (are they “anonymous” as some skeptics claim, or is there solid evidence as to who is substantially behind each book?)
  3. Were the Gospel writers biased? (since the Gospel writers were likely followers of Jesus, is there a way of knowing whether the accounts are sanitized or embellished as opposed to being honest and straightforward?)
  4. Are there “lost gospels?” (were some early records of Jesus kept out of the Bible, meaning that our knowledge of Jesus from the four traditional Gospels might be incomplete?)
  5. Has the wording of the Gospels been changed over the years? (have some accounts been altered or deleted and others added to what was originally written?)
  6. What is the verdict from history and archeology regarding the reliability of Gospel accounts? (are the people, places, titles and customs mentioned in the Gospels confirmed by history as being accurate?) 

The book addresses these “big six” questions, starting each chapter with a list of facts that support the conclusion that the Gospels are reliable. One publisher who looked at my original (unedited) manuscript of the book was quite impressed with the way I listed the arguments and facts at the beginning of each chapter in support of Gospel reliability, followed by a detailed presentation of the evidence. This approach is very close to how lawyers present a case in court, including the “opening statement” (a list of arguments and facts that will be presented) the actual presentation of evidence (testimony from witnesses, experts, documents and artifacts) and a “closing argument” (a summation at the end of a trial that weaves the facts into an argument in favor of the issue before the court). In my case, the main issue was “are the Gospels are reliable?”
When I was well under way addressing the issues it became evident that my focus was defending the reliability of the Gospels as accurate historical records of the life and teachings of Jesus. Thus, a simple title for book emerged: In Defense of the Gospels.
After several months of writing I had a rough manuscript. I was blessed to have Christian apologist James Agresti review the manuscript and provide helpful suggestions. Then, after professional editing, formatting, and finding what I think is a real cool cover (paintings of the four traditional Gospel writers) the book was ready for print. It became available on Amazon on January 5, 2018.

My hope is that In Defense of the Gospels—the Case for Reliability will be a tool that Christians can use to understand the compelling reasons for trusting the Gospels as reliable history of Jesus’ life and teachings. I also hope that non-Christians and skeptics will carefully consider the arguments and evidence set forth in the book and recognize that Christianity is an “intelligent faith” as opposed to a “blind faith,” seeing that our faith in Jesus is founded on facts and reason.