The Truth about the Crusades

Of all the kinds of historical hypocrisy that is attributed to the Christian, none looms as large as the crusades. Thomas Madden, Professor of History and Director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University, sums up the popular conception:

The crusades are generally portrayed as a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics. They are supposed to have been the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilization in general. A breed of proto-imperialists, the Crusaders introduced Western aggression to the peaceful Middle East and then deformed the enlightened Muslim culture, leaving it in ruins.1

Whether this is correct or not, we’ll get to shortly, but first some background.

What Is a Crusade?

The most respected crusading professor today is Jonathan Riley-Smith, the former Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge, and he defines crusades as “war-pilgrimages proclaimed by the Popes on Christ’s behalf and waged for the recovery of Christian territory or people, or in their defense.”2

What Motivated the Crusades?

The First Crusade was called in 1095 by Pope Urban II who proclaimed that the Muslims had,

invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by the sword, pillage and fire; it has led away a part of the captives into its own country, and a part it has destroyed by cruel tortures; it has either entirely destroyed the churches of God or appropriated them for the rites of its own religion. They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they either spread upon the altars or pour into the vases of the baptismal font. When they wish to torture people by a base death, they perforate their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until the viscera having gushed forth the victim falls prostrate upon the ground. Others they bind to a post and pierce with arrows. Others they compel to extend their necks and then, attacking them with naked swords, attempt to cut through the neck with a single blow. What shall I say of the abominable rape of the women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent. The kingdom of the Greeks is now dismembered by them and deprived of territory so vast in extent that it can not be traversed in a march of two months. On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and of recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you? You, upon whom above other nations God has conferred remarkable glory in arms, great courage, bodily activity, and strength to humble the hairy scalp of those who resist you.3

Does this sound impossible to you? If it does, consider that many of those, even today, given over to Jihad have abducted Christian girls, raped them, forced them to sign confessions to Islam and then sent their families letters telling them that they will never see their daughters again. Although Muslims won’t call it rape, the Qur’an doesn’t forbid sex with women taken captive and Muhammad didn’t condemn it in his lifetime.4

Were the Crusades a Just War?

Although a minority of Christians throughout the ages have argued that Christians should be pacifists, for the purpose of this blog I’m going to presuppose that there is such a thing as a just war–I certainly consider fighting against Nazism was a just war–but I’ll blog on whether there is such a thing as a just war another time.  And that brings us to the question, could crusades against the East be considered just wars? Today much of the world still relies on the Just War doctrine formulated by St. Augustine. An abridged version of his Just War doctrine comes down to three things.

Just Wars Require a Just Cause

First, a just war required a just cause and a just cause was to “recover property or to repel attack.” Did the crusades against the East have a just cause? Check. If we take what the popes actually preached when they were calling the people to fight, then they were trying to recover lands that had been taken by force and were trying to repel the Muslims from further assault upon cities and their inhabitants. Crusading professor Thomas L. Madden:

Now put this down in your notebook, because it will be on the test: The crusades were in every way a defensive war. They were the West’s belated response to the Muslim conquest of fully two-thirds of the Christian world. While the Arabs were busy in the seventh through the tenth centuries winning an opulent and sophisticated empire, Europe was defending itself against outside invaders and then digging out from the mess they left behind. Only in the eleventh century were Europeans able to take much notice of the East. The event that led to the crusades was the Turkish conquest of most of Christian Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The Christian emperor in Constantinople, faced with the loss of half of his empire, appealed for help to the rude but energetic Europeans. He got it.5

After September 11, Americans unified in a way they hadn’t been since Pearl Harbor. They wanted tooth and nail retaliation. Even Timemagazine (not known for being the voice of conservatism) issued a special edition which ended with this call to action:

A day cannot live in infamy without the nourishment of rage. Let’s have rage.

What’s needed is a unified, unifying Pearl Harbor sort of purple American fury—a ruthless indignation that doesn’t leak away in a week or two…. In war, enemies are enemies. You find them and put them out of business, on the sound principle that that’s what they are trying to do to you…. The worst times, as we see, separate the civilized from the uncivilized. This is the moment of clarity. Let the civilized toughen up, and let the uncivilized take their chances in the game they started.6

How similar this is to the call for crusades. And this was after the death of a comparatively small number of people and the destruction of a comparatively tiny amount or real estate! By the time the crusades had begun the Muslims had taken over half of the Christian world by force. Now I realize that America often responded poorly to the 9-11 attack. Many mistakes were made and, in fact, many evils were committed. But that doesn’t tell us about the worthiness of the original call.

Just Wars Require Proper Authority

Second, a just war could only be called by the authority of a prince. In other words, families or neighborhoods couldn’t call a just war. Check. The crusades were called by the popes and almost always supported by secular authorities. For example, King Richard the Lionheart personally went off to war.

Just Wars Require Right Intentions

Third, a just war required a right intention. In other words, a war must be the only means of achieving the justifiable purpose. Obviously if a war could be averted through negotiation then the war wasn’t just. Check. The Muslims weren’t going to give back land that they’d taken by force even if they were asked nicely. Europeans of the time, regardless how dark and backward modern skeptics try to color them, were aware of Augustine’s Just War principles and believed that the crusades met the just war criteria. I was asked recently for the origin of the notion that the Crusades were only evil deeds perpetrated by evil men in the name of Christ. The answer is not surprising. As Rodney Stark put it, “Western condemnation of the Crusades were widespread during the ‘Enlightenment,’ that utterly misnamed era during which French and British intellectuals invented the ‘Dark Ages’ in order to glorify themselves and vilify the Catholic Church.”7 Thankfully, today the top experts on the crusades, who are professors at the best universities, uniformly reveal this notion for what it is: anti-Christian propaganda.

But Didn’t the Crusaders do Many Evil Things?

Indeed crusaders did many evil things! Many Crusaders plundered, raped, and murdered. Sometimes they even did this to Jews and other Christians! But, sadly, that’s what people do. Again, however, this is absolutely contrary to the teaching of Christ. As for killing Jews, Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of Social Scientists and Co-director for the Institute for the Studies of Religion at Baylor University, wrote in God’s Battalions, “It is important to note that almost everywhere … bishops attempted, sometimes even at the peril of their own lives, to protect the Jews.”8 Likewise Thomas Madden wrote:

Jews perished during the Crusades, but the purpose of the Crusades was not to kill Jews. Quite the contrary: Popes, bishops, and preachers made it clear that the Jews of Europe were to be left unmolested. In a modern war, we call tragic deaths like these “collateral damage.” Even with smart technologies, the United States has killed far more innocents in our wars than the Crusaders ever could. But no one would seriously argue that the purpose of American wars is to kill women and children.9

Consider that no one argues that the Russians shouldn’t have fought against the Nazi invasion of their country because Russian men later raped hundreds of thousands of German women.10 Sometimes soldiers do evil. We all know that. As I noted in my first post on “Crusades, etc.,” most crusaders weren’t Christians. Regarding the crusader army, Martin Luther wrote that “there are scarcely five Christians in such an army, and perhaps there are worse people in the eyes of God in that army than are the Turks; and yet they all want to bear the name of Christ.”11 Just because crusaders were bearing the name of Christ doesn’t mean they were Christians, and we should rightly suspect that the rapes and murders were committed by non-Christians. But what really upset Luther was that “They undertook to fight against the Turk in the name of Christ, and taught and incited men to do this, as though our people were an army of Christians against the Turks, who were enemies of Christ. This is absolutely contrary to Christ’s doctrine and name.”12 Of course Luther was right: Christians have no business fighting in the name of Christ. I could give many, many examples of the fact that many, even though they bore the name of Christ, weren’t Christians but I’ll just give one more. Consider St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s preaching of the Second Crusade:

For how long will your men continue to shed Christian blood; for how long will they continue to fight amongst themselves? You attack one another, you slay one another and by one another you are slain. What is this savage craving of yours? Put a stop to it now, for it is not fighting but foolery. So to risk both soul and body is not brave but shocking, it not strength but folly. But now O mighty soldiers, O men of war, you have a cause for which you can fight without danger to your souls; a cause in which to conquer is glorious and for which to die is gain.13

Here Bernard preaches to a crowd that he says is guilty of Christian upon Christian bloodshed—he calls it savage, foolish, shocking—but then he promises glorious life (aka eternal life) if these savages would go out and war against Muslims. The indulgence which promised eternal life to the crusaders for their act of crusading is a complete confusion of salvation through grace alone. And, by the way, it was these Crusade indulgences that began the wider practice of indulgences for sin that set the stage for Martin Luther’s proclamation posted to the Wittenberg door.

But Were the Crusades Worth It?

When I hear Westerners unequivocally condemn the crusades, I immediately ask, “But aren’t you glad that Spain, southern Italy, and, for that matter, all of Europe aren’t today under Muslim control?” Make no mistake: that was the alternative. I have yet to hear anyone answer this question in the negative.14

  1. Thomas F. Madden, “The Real History of the Crusades” Crisis Magazine, Available at: Accessed 7 April 2014. I highly recommend this article. []
  2. Jonathan Riley Smith, “Rethinking the Crusades” First Things 101 (7 January 2007): 20-23. Available at Accessed 4-7-2014. I highly recommended this article. []
  3. Urban II, Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095. Available from Accessed 4-3-14. []
  4. See, and:, or:, or For an example of Hindu women being raped and forced to convert to Islam see: []
  5. Thomas F. Madden, “Crusade Propaganda” National Review Online, available through” Accessed 7 April 2014. []
  6. Lance Morrow, “The Case for Rage and Retribution” Time, 15 September 2001. []
  7. Stark, God’s Battalions, 6. []
  8. Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 126. I highly recommended this book. []
  9. Madden, “The Real History of the Crusades.” []
  10. See: Antony Beevor, “They raped every German female from eight to 80″ The Guardian, April 30, 2002. Available at: Thanks to my friend Sue Pearl for this analogy. []
  11. Martin Luther, On War Against the Turk, available from Accessed 3.31.2014. []
  12. Ibid. []
  13. Bernard of Clairvaux, Letter to Eastern France and Bavaria Promoting the Second Crusade, 1146. Available at Accessed 7 April 2014. []
  14. Of course I don’t ask Muslims this question. Thomas Madden sums up the extent of Muslim success: “Muslim conquerors who swept through all of Christian North Africa also crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and established their rule over Spain. By the eight century, Muslim expeditionary forces were crossing the Pyrenees and marching into the heart of Catholic Europe….” Thomas F. Madden, The Concise History of the Crusades (Critical Issues in World and International History) (UK: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), 4. []
Posted in Apologetics, Christian hypocrisy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Crusades, Inquisitions, Witch-hunts, etc.

When I teach on why God allows evil, I include a lengthy discussion on the Crusades, inquisitions, witch-hunts, slavery, Nazi Christians, and the oppression of women (for the rest of this post I’m going to sum this up as “Crusades, etc.”). Although these events aren’t typically a part of problem of evil discussions, it’s important for the Christian to answer them because the question naturally arises: If Christians really have the life-changing Good News, then why do they seem to be such bad news for society?

This has huge implications for our evangelism because many non-Christians today have a “been there, done that” attitude towards Christianity. In other words, especially in the Northeastern United States (where they had witch-hunts) and in Europe (where they had the Crusades, etc.), many consider Crusades, etc., to be the natural outworking of true Christianity. This “been there, done that” attitude is exacerbated by the parade of scandals rocking the Catholic church, especially in Italy, and the embezzlements and sex-capades so frequent among major evangelical leaders.

To this end I intend to do a series of posts answering each of these individually, but for this first post I want to explain something not only misunderstood by Christianity’s detractors, but often also by the average Christian. Don’t be fooled: most of the atrocities done by “Christians” in the name of Christianity weren’t done by Christians at all.

Of course, skeptics will cry foul and accuse me of the no-true-Scotsman-fallacy, and even many Christians will accuse me of being terribly judgmental, but please hear me out.

The Bible unequivocally teaches that a lip-service profession to Christianity is insufficient evidence that one is truly born again.

Here are several principles about what it means to be a Christian:

First, a Christian is, by definition, someone who follows the teachings of Christ. That’s pretty obvious, right? One can’t knowingly reject the teachings of Christ and still call themselves a Christian. I doubt my Christian readers will disagree. However, some village-skeptics have disagreed with me on this point and opine that anyone who calls themselves a Christian is one, regardless of what they actually believe. But that’s dumb. Anyone who knows anything of the Bible and historic Christianity realizes that to be a Christian one must hold to a specific set of beliefs. For the last two thousand years Christians have argued tirelessly and even have given their lives because right doctrine (which is just another word for “teaching”) is essential to right relationship with God

This has an immediate implication for the subject of Crusades, etc.: since the Bible is unequivocal that murder and rape (and more) are acts of rebellion against God, then those who do such travesties, at the very least, do them contrary to God’s will, not because of it. That the skeptic has found hypocrites in the church isn’t shocking—Jesus hated hypocrisy more than any human ever has, and He constantly denounced it (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16; 7:5, 15:7, 22:18; 23:13, 15, 23 and so on). Do not doubt that those unrepentant of their hypocrisies will pay for that for all eternity.

Second, but it’s not just about belief: the Bible tells us that those truly born again will behave differently than the unsaved. The true Christian is someone who is changed from within. The Bible is also unequivocal about this: 1 John 3:9:  “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” In fact, some sins are so contrary to God’s work in the Christian that the Bible tells us that they should be taken as evidence that one isn’t saved. For example, later in the same chapter (v. 15) John writes that “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”1 Here we find that those who hate shouldn’t consider themselves Christians. But more to the point at hand, unrepentant murderers, according to this passage, aren’t saved. Thus crusaders and others who murdered in the name of Christ weren’t saved (by “murder” the Scripture isn’t talking about those who kill enemy combatants in a just war, etc.).

At this point Christian readers may wonder if I’m confusing law and grace. Perhaps some readers wonder if I’ve forgotten about the Protestant Reformation which proclaimed that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone.

I haven’t. Consider the first three of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses which he nailed to the Wittenberg door:

  1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ… willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
  2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
  3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work diverse mortifications of the flesh.

Here Luther argued that real repentance will change the outward person. Thus there is the Reformation maxim: “faith alone saves but the faith that saves is not alone.” It is true that Christians are not saved by how good they are, but it is also true that the saved will be good! Now, let me be clear, I’m not saying that no true Christian will ever commit a terrible sin—that will sometimes happen—but they do it contrary to God’s will, not because of it. Again, though, I argue based on the 1 John passage above that the true Christian will never murder.

Third, Satan sows false believers among the true believers. Consider Jesus’ parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Mat. 13). In that parable Jesus said that a king was told that in his wheat field someone had sowed tares (a weed which looks like wheat). The servants asked if they should immediately pull out the tares, but the king refused for fear that wheat would be pulled up by accident. The king then said at harvest the wheat and the tares would be separated and the tares would be burned with fire. The lesson here is that Satan sows false believers among the true believers—and he sows a lot of them. Thus, we’re told not to try to root out the false believers before the Judgment for fear of accidentally rooting out true believers.2 Obviously, if someone wanted to harm an enemy, they wouldn’t just sow a few weeds in a wheat field—they’d sow many. Thus we can expect many Christians in name only in our churches.

Fourth, contrary to what skeptics often claim, never has there been a majority of true Christians at any age of the church. After all, Jesus said, “For the gate is wide and the way is easy  that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to eternal life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).

This was no less true during the Middle Ages, which skeptics like to call “the age of faith” or “the dark ages.” As Bertrand Russell wrote in Why I Am Not a Christian:

It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked…. In the so called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with all its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burned as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion.3

But that’s not true. As sociologist Rodney Stark put it:

By thinly overlaying pagan festivals and sacred places with Christian interpretations, the missionaries made it easy to become a Christian—so easy that actual conversion seldom occurred. Instead, in customary pagan fashion, the people treated Christianity as an “add-on religion,” and the popular Christianity that eventually emerged in northwestern Europe was a strange amalgam, including a great deal in the way of pagan celebrations and beliefs some of them thinly Christianized, but many of them not Christianized at all.4

Similarly, in his book, The Spanish Inquisition, Henry Kaman wrote that:

There are many parallels to the cases of the Catalan peasant who asserted in 1539 that “there is no heaven, purgatory or hell; at the end we all have to end up in the same place, the bad will go to the same place as the good and the good will go to the same place as the bad”; or of the other who stated in 1593 that “he does not believe in heaven or hell, and God feeds the Muslims and heretics just the same as he feeds the Christians.” When Christian warriors battled against Muslims, they shouted their convictions passionately. At home, or in the inn, or working in the fields, their opinions were different.5

But it isn’t just modern day historians who conclude that Europe was hardly Christian. Consider the words of Martin Luther in his 1528 tract On War Against the Turk where he bemoaned about the Crusader armies that “there are scarcely five Christians in such an army, and perhaps there are worse people in the eyes of God in that army than are the Turks; and yet they all want to bear the name of Christ.”6

Consider that even today, in survey after survey, the overwhelming majority of Americans will self-identify as being Christians. And if the Christian is warned not to try to separate the wheat from the tares because they’d make mistakes, how impossible is it for non-Christian psychologists, sociologists, and historians to determine who is or is not a real Christian.

But, that doesn’t mean that there are no behavioral identifiers which Christians might employ to identify one as a non-believer. When we hear of Crusaders, etc., bearing the name of Christ and committing rape and murder, the Scripture does tell us that those who do such things aren’t Christians. Consider Ephesians 5:5-6: ”For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” What are the empty words to which Paul refers? Are they not things like we might hear from the unrepentant adulterer, “How dare you! I prayed the sinner’s prayer when I was twelve so you have no right to judge my salvation!”? Those are empty words—Paul says that those living in unrepentant rebellion should have no confidence that they are saved. And, as I mentioned above regarding the 1 John passage, when it comes to murder, the Scripture tells us that a true Christian won’t murder.  In fact, Christians are commanded to avoid those who call themselves Christians who are living in various types of rebellion. In I Corinthians 5 Paul told the Corinthians to hand the blatantly immoral man “over to Satan” and commanded the Christians not to associate with him.7

What I’ve written in this post doesn’t resolve all the problems of Crusades, etc., but it does resolve a lot of them! In future posts I’ll examine the Crusades, Inquisitions, witch-hunts, slavery, Nazi Christians, and the oppression of women one at a time. I think you’ll find the results surprising.

Matthew 7:21 23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”


  1. This is a sobering passage for those who call themselves Christians but hate someone. If that is you, you need to repent immediately! []
  2. It may be impossible to tell an immature believer from a Christian in name only. []
  3. Bertrand Russell, Why I’m Not a Christian: and Other Essays On Religion and Related Subjects (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 20. []
  4. Rodney Stark, One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism, (Princeton: Princeton University, 2001), 75-76. []
  5. Henry Kaman, The Spanish Inquisition (Yale: Yale University, 1997), 5-6. []
  6. Martin Luther, On War Against the Turk, available from Accessed 3.31.2014. []
  7. Of course, God can still forgive any sin but the point here is that those who unrepentantly live like hellions will have hell as their eternal abode. []
Posted in Apologetics, Christian hypocrisy, Why God Allows Evil | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Bibliographical Test and the Hunt for the Latest Numbers

In my article, The Bibliographical Test Updated, I updated the number and earliness of manuscripts for the New Testament in comparison to other ancient manuscripts. Since then some apologists have asked whether we need to update our numbers on an annual or even semi-annual basis. The short answer is No. Frequent updating of the bibliographical test is unnecessary and it is virtually impossible to do so. I will deal with each of these in turn. But first, some background.

The Bibliographical Test Defined

The bibliographical test examines the overall number of extant manuscripts (abbreviated to MSS or MS for the singular) and the difference between the date of the original writing, called the autograph, and the date of the earliest surviving, or extant, manuscript. Since we do not possess the autograph of even one ancient document, this test best determines transmissional accuracy for any ancient document. The apologist’s argument is that the New Testament (NT) MSS numbers outstrip the numbers of Homer’s Iliad and every other ancient work, and, since that is the case, if one is going to accept the transmission of these other works as reliable, the consistent scholar must also accept the transmission of the NT as reliable.

Why Frequent Updating of the Bibliographical Test Is Unnecessary

I write that frequent updates of the bibliographical test are unnecessary because the NT manuscript numbers don’t change that much in comparison to other MSS. To try to redo the bibliographical test every six months would be like getting a colonoscopy every six months—unless they’ve found something concerning in the last one, it’s probably not going to be much different 180 later and a colonoscopy is a lot of trouble. Likewise, the NT MSS numbers aren’t going to change much in relationship to other MSS in just a year, or two, or even five. Of course, it’s possible that someone could stumble upon a MSS treasure-trove but the odds of that are so slim that it just isn’t worth searching it out. Perhaps every ten years would be about right? After all, 40 years later the Iliad MSS may have almost tripled but it hasn’t changed the major point—the NT still overwhelms the MSS of every other ancient author.

Why Frequent Updating of the Bibliographical Test Is Extremely Difficult

But more to the point is that it is extremely difficult, and even impossible, to update the bibliographical test very often. And here is where it gets rather technical and only those who teach or write on the bibliographical test are going to want to read what follows (I probably lost most of my blog readers at the title of this post).

The reason I say it is almost impossible, if not impossible, to update the bibliographical test very often is because although apologists may wait breathlessly for the next new NT MSS update; the scholars of Homer, Sophocles, Herodotus, etc., are not breathlessly waiting for their MSS numbers to be updated. And since the NT’s competitor’s MSS aren’t being updated all that often, to only update the NT MS numbers fails then to provide an accurate comparison. The bibliographical test is, in essence, a snap shot of the numbers of the NT and other authors at a particular time. Now, when the Iliad MS numbers are updated again, then it might be a good idea to update the bibliographical test but that’s probably not going to happen very soon or very often. The Iliad numbers provided by the world’s expert on Homeric MSS, Martin L. West of Oxford, were done in 2001 and there may not be another official update for years to come because, as I said, it just isn’t a burning issue for Homer scholars.1

Also, there is a great difference between catalogued MSS and recently discovered fragments that haven’t been catalogued.2   West’s work on Iliad papyri is a catalogue. In other words, each MS is described and given a specific number and for each MS number often several fragments will be listed that have been determined to comprise one particular MS number. Now, if we hear someone say that they’ve just discovered some new Iliad MSS, we can’t just simply add that to the total because when they are yet to be catalogued, we really don’t know how they fit together. If since West’s catalogue, for example, someone finds five previously unknown Iliad MSS fragments, after close examination, it may turn out that all of them might only represent one MS. It is also possible that all five of the new fragments might turn out to actually be a part of an already known MS housed in a library somewhere (unlikely, but possible). In that event all five of them wouldn’t increase the total Iliad MSS count at all! Thus constantly chasing the latest fragment finds to add to the catalogued number is mistaken.

Of course this is also the case with NT MS finds. Thus the actual NT MS count often actually decreases because if the cataloguers decide that seven NT fragments actually are a part of the same MS then the number goes from seven to one. Do you see what I mean?

One example of how this decrease has happened should suffice. Leeds University New Testament professor J. K. Elliott tells of thirty bilingual Greek-Coptic MSS numbered sa 101—sa 130 that “have been built up from over 392 fragments ( = 750 separate sheets) in various libraries (176 in Paris, 83 in Vienna, 52 in Rome, 29 in London, 13 in Cairo, 9 in Oxford, 7 in Berlin, 6 in Leiden, 4 in New York, 3 in Naples, 3 in Strasbourg, 3 in Venice, 2 in Leningrad, 1 in Manchester and 1 in Cheltenham).”3 Why this geographic dislocation? One reason is because antiquities dealers often tear a larger MS into pieces to make more money! A lot more money! Shame on them! Elliott goes on to explain that

The reconstruction of these scattered fragments requires enormous patience and the skills of a detective. Dr Schmitz allowed us to share in some of his pioneering work on sa 105 in the Munster Bericht (1982). There he showed how the bilingual (Greek-Coptic) fragments previously catalogued as 070, 0110, 0124, 0178, 0179, 0180, 0190, 0191, 0193, 0202 all belong together (and now to be known only as 070).4

Thus, the discovery of new MS fragments can’t simply be added to a catalogued total. It takes time for experts to see if they can fit them together with each other or to see if they might fit them into an already catalogued MS. In short, it is very difficult to establish whether two fragments count as separate manuscripts or whether they are two fragments of the same manuscript.5

Most Christian apologists have based the number of New Testament manuscripts on the work of Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland of the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster. In 1995 Aland and Aland reported the following:

The number of New Testament manuscripts has risen among the papyri to p96, the uncials to 0299, the minuscules to 2812, and the lectionaries to l 2281. Of these new reported manuscripts about 1,000 were discovered on research trips organized by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster. The total number of manuscripts now stands at 5,487 according to the official registry of manuscripts maintained by Aland in the Institute for New Testament Textual Research. This is only a nominal figure, however, and the actual number of New Testament manuscripts in existence today is probably more than 5,000. As a heritage of the past certain items have been counted which should not be included; several uncial fragments now identified as parts of a single manuscript have been counted separately; and, furthermore, a great many manuscripts have been irretrievably lost in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries through wars and their consequences and through natural disasters.6

Notice that although the Alands here gave a MS count of 5,487, they knew that as the MSS are pieced together that the number could shrink dramatically.

Therefore, based on the above, it is inaccurate to simply add new MS finds to catalogued numbers, and the results are misleading if we release new numbers of NT MSS without updated numbers for the MSS of the other ancient works to which we are comparing the NT. As soon as new catalogued numbers are released for the Iliad, then it might be wise to again update the bibliographical test.

I welcome your comments, suggestions, or questions.

  1. in 2010 I asked Dr. West if he knew of a more recent update than what he had done and he replied that he did not. And he’d probably know! []
  2. Now it is true that in my article The Bibliographical Test Updated that I did use an estimate of Ethiopic and Sahidic MSS by the experts in those fields but that’s because there hasn’t been a recent catalogue of those works. As for the Sahidic, Dr. Karlheinz Schüssler was working on a catalogue when I wrote him so I had to depend on his estimate. []
  3. J. K. Elliott, book review of F. J. Schmitz and G. Mink, “Liste Der Koptischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments I. Die Sahidischen Handschriften der Evangelien” Novum Testamentum, Vol. 30, Fasc. 2., Apr., 1988, 186. []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. For more see Stanley E. Porter, “Why So Many Holes in the Papyrological Evidence for the Greek New Testament?” The Bible as Book: The Transmission of the Greek Text, John L. Sharpe III and Kimberly van Kampen, eds., (New Castle, DE: The British Library & Oak Knoll, 1998), 167-186. Porter writes that the papyri were literally read to pieces and Porter points out that those we have “survived more through accident than intention” (170). []
  6. Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 2nd rev. ed., Erroll F. Rhodes, trans., (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 74-75. []
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Rejoinder: God Won’t Give You More than You Can Handle

Recently a pastor wrote a very popular blog entitled, “Confronting the lie: God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I’ve seen it frequently “Shared” and apparently it has gotten many thousands of “Likes” on Facebook. In Googling around I found other websites expressing similar sentiments. I don’t want to embarrass the author so I’m not going to name him. But I’m concerned about this notion getting wide agreement because it is terribly imprecise, misleading, and can call God’s goodness into question.

The author calls the idea that God will never give you more than you can handle BS.

He explains that

The past three weeks have been the most difficult I have ever gone through. These three weeks have been filled with illness, the terrible-three’s (the terrible-two’s are an out-and-out lie), a friend suffering the consequence of sin, a ministry I am a part of reeling in confusion and pain, having to cancel a trip to celebrate my parents’ 60th birthdays, and our family experiencing the emotional roller-coaster of finding out we were pregnant only to be told the pregnancy was ectopic and could be life-threatening to my wife if it was not ended.

Needless to say, I have had enough.

But what does it mean that the blog’s author has “had enough”? He writes that he has resorted to asking God questions like:

Why not step in?
Why not act?
Why wouldn’t you make it right?
Why couldn’t you part the clouds and provide a moment for us to catch our breath?
Why everything at once?

So apparently when the author has “had enough,” he asks God questions about why and what God is doing? That’s a strange had enough because usually when someone has had enough they quit whatever it was that they were doing that was more than they could handle. But apparently he isn’t quitting; he’s just asking questions, which isn’t sinful of itself. Thus it sounds to me like maybe he is able to handle the hardships he is going through because he’s not quitting. Do you see what I mean?

Then he writes that “It is easy to spout trite Christian platitudes designed to make people feel better with bumper-sticker theology. But insipid axioms do little in the face of the actual brokenness of the world” (emphasis his). Now I completely agree that when Christians see others struggle they shouldn’t simply spout spiritual slogans (even if they are true spiritual slogans). We are told to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15), and that should be our first response to those suffering. But that doesn’t answer the question of whether God gives us more than we can handle.

The author writes that

This experience forced me to look at one such statement that gets spouted often when people go through a lot: God won’t give you more than you can handle. If I may be so bold, let’s just call that what it is:


Tell that to a survivor of Auschwitz.
Tell it to the man who lost his wife and child in a car accident.
Tell it to the girl whose innocence was robbed from her.
Tell it to the person crushed under the weight of depression and anxiety.
Tell it to the kids who just learned their parent has a terminal illness.

Limp, anemic sentiments will not stand in the face of a world that is not as it should be.

But this is terribly imprecise because I don’t know what it means that these people “couldn’t handle it.” If someone survived Auschwitz and they weren’t insane or physically incapable of functioning normally in society, then in what sense didn’t they handle it? As for the other examples that he gives, which are all horrific to be sure, people seem to handle those all the time. I lost part of my spine to cancer, which was very stressful, and my wife and I shed many tears but, with God’s grace, we handled it.

Then he writes that

Now that I have said how I feel, let me back up this argument with some actual Biblical evidence. This particular statement, that “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” isn’t even in the Bible. There is a statement that sounds like it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, ‘No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.’ But notice that verse is about temptation. That’s it. You won’t be tempted beyond what you can stand up against. This text is not saying that you will not experience more than you can bear. That idea just isn’t Biblical. If anything the exact opposite is true. Look at this text.

Other blogs have made similar comments, but the Greek word for “temptation” in that verse is peirasmos and that is the same word commonly used for “trial” in the NT (e.g., 2 Cor. 8:2, James 1:2, 12). Douglas Moo writes about the use of the word in the James passages that, that pierasmos “refers to any difficulty in life that may threaten our faithfulness to Christ: physical illness, financial reversal, the death of a loved one.”1 Obviously, then, anything that threatens your faithfulness to Christ is a trial and a temptation. Temptations, like the temptation to commit adultery for example, also threaten your faithfulness to Christ. Do you see what I mean?

Further, earlier in 1 Cor. 10 Paul gives examples of temptation/trials like v. 9, “We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.” That specific temptation/trial is found in Numbers 21 where it says that the people complained that there was “there is no food and no water” and the Lord sent snakes among them which killed them. Was a lack of food and water a trial or a temptation? Both! That’s why the words are interchangeable.

Also, Peter wrote in 1 Pet. 4:12-13: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing [peirasmos], as though some strange thing were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” If God won’t allow us to be tried or tempted beyond what we are able to resist, then in what sense can’t we handle those trials or temptations? You see, trials and temptations always challenge us on whether we are going to continue to do God’s will or not—they have a lot in common.

Then the blog author mentions the trials that Paul and others went through in Asia:

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:8-9)” (emphasis his).

He continues that

Later, Paul will write it is when he is weak that the strength of Christ is seen. In other words, when we can’t do it any longer. When we are fed up. When it has become too much. When we have nothing left. When we are empty. When it is beyond our capability to deal with it. Then, in that moment, the strength of the God of resurrection will be seen. Until we get to that point, we rely on ourselves thinking we can handle it and take care of the problem.

I have two things to say about this. First, I absolutely, positively agree that we must seek God for strength! I surely agree that without his help I can do “nothing” (John 15:5), but if I am relying on God, doesn’t He then help me to handle it? If the author’s only point is that we can’t handle hardship without God’s help, then that’s not even slightly controversial, right? And if we can handle things with His help, then why write that it isn’t true that He won’t give you more than you can handle?

Second, in the 1 Corinthians 1 passage, Paul doesn’t say they couldn’t handle it; he only said that they thought they were going to be killed. That’s not the same thing as not handling it?

Then the blog author writes: “Don’t hear me saying I am rejoicing because of the last couple of weeks. I am not. Not once have I danced around our house shouting, “Yeah suffering!” Instead, in the midst of pain and hurt, I am actively expecting God to do something.” But, again, isn’t his “expecting God to do something” handling it?

But I’m also concerned because when people proclaim that they’re not rejoicing it sounds honest, but it also suggests that Christians who do rejoice in their sufferings are really intellectually dishonest (maybe he’s not saying that but it could be taken that way). After all, Peter does tell us to rejoice in trial and in James 1:2-4 we read “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials [peirasmos] of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” In other words, James and Peter say we can rejoice, even in suffering, because of our expectation that God will work it out for our eternal good. It’s about keeping the eternal perspective. By the way, people can feel sad and rejoice at the same time–parents giving away their children to be married do it all the time!

All this being said, let me say again that I agree with the author’s concern that Christians shouldn’t use certain phrases like “it’s going to be all right” or “God will never give you more than you can handle” as quick quips meant to end the conversation so that they don’t have to be burdened by obeying Scripture and weeping with those who weep. We need to be there for and with people who are suffering. We need to come alongside them and allow ourselves to hurt with them. Let me be very clear about something: sometimes people think that crying isn’t handling it. People equate handling it with stoicism. That’s not true! Just because you may shed many a tear doesn’t mean that you haven’t handled it. If you continue to honor God and to do His will through whatever hardship you may encounter, even though you are crying your eyes out, then you have handled it as God would have you and you can look forward to eternal blessings! As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

So, no, God won’t give you more than you can handle as long as you rely on Him. After all, as it says in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

That’s not controversial, though, is it?

1 Cor. 4:7-11: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”


  1. Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 70. []
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The Bibliographical Test Updated

I posted on this previously but now that the Christian Research Journal has made the entire article available online, I’m doing it again.

For more than forty years Christians have appealed to what is called the “bibliographical test” as a means of establishing the New Testament’s (NT) transmissional accuracy. The bibliographical test examines the overall number of extant manuscripts (sometimes abbreviated to MSS or MS for the singular) and the difference between the date of the original writing, called the autograph, and the date of the earliest surviving, or extant, manuscript. Since we do not possess the autograph of even one ancient document, this test best determines transmissional accuracy for any ancient document.

Christians argue that if historians will consider an ancient document to have been accurately transmitted whose manuscripts are few and far between the date the autograph was penned and its earliest extant copy, then they should accept documents as accurately transmitted whose manuscripts are comparatively many and comparatively near their autographs. For many years Christian apologists have employed the bibliographical test to argue that since the NT surpasses all other ancient documents in sheer number of manuscripts and the nearness of the date between the autographs and extant manuscripts that the NT has been accurately transmitted.

The trouble is that the numbers and dates that apologists use for other ancient documents to compare them to the NT are woefully out of date. Christian apologists must be careful to be accurate.

Homer authored the Iliad and the Odyssey and for years apologists have claimed that while there are over 5,500 manuscripts of the Greek NT, there are, by comparison, only 643 manuscripts of Homer’s Iliad. For example, a recent Google query of Homer 643 manuscripts turned up 143,000 results, and a review of the first one hundred of those results revealed that all of them related to whether the NT has been accurately transmitted.1

But things have changed: the more recent number of Iliad manuscripts is 1,757.

Martin L. West, senior research fellow, All Souls College, Oxford, cataloged a total of 1,569 papyri.2 But this is a papyri only count and not a total manuscript count.3 West said that he didn’t believe there was a more recent nonpapyri count than that found in T. W. Allen’s Homeri Ilias, which contains 188 items.4 Thus 1,569 papyri, plus 188 parchment manuscripts, comes to a total of 1,757.5

Although there has been an increase in the number of non–NT ancient manuscripts, nothing has changed regarding the applicability of the bibliographical test. Even Homer’s Iliad, which has seen the greatest manuscript increase, is still dwarfed by the NT, which has more than three times the Greek manuscripts as the Iliad. When one adds the fifteen thousand manuscripts in other languages, and then considers that almost the entire NT could be reproduced by the quotations of the early church fathers, one must maintain that, despite the increase of non-NT ancient manuscripts, the NT remains in a class by itself: it is by far the most attested ancient work.

This troubles skeptics because if they reject the transmissional reliability of the NT, then they must also consider unreliable all other manuscripts of antiquity. As John Warwick Montgomery has often related: “Some years ago, when I debated philosophy professor Avrum Stroll of the University of British Columbia on this point, he responded: ‘All right. I’ll throw out my knowledge of the classical world.’ At which the chairman of the classics department cried: ‘Good Lord, Avrum, not that!’”6

You can read the rest of this article online at the Christian Research Journal.

  1. Conducted on August 26, 2011. []
  2. Martin L. West, Studies in the Text and Transmission of the Iliad (München: K. G. Saur, 2001), 86. []
  3. Even though manuscript literally means handwrite, scholars like West sometimes use manuscript to refer only to nonpapyri manuscripts. Papyri manuscripts they only call papyri. []
  4. Thomas W. Allen, Homeri Ilias (1931; repr., New York: Arno, 1979), 11–55. Personal correspondence with West on October 30, 2010. []
  5. West also lists 142 Homeric papyri (glossaries, commentaries, scholia minora) and 47 witness papyri (“miscellaneous papyri and inscriptions in which verses of the Iliad are quoted”), ibid., 130. []
  6. John Warwick Montgomery, Human Rights and Human Dignity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 139. []
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If You’re Honest, You’re Depressed (or You’re a Christian)

We know that countless people are depressed, and millions are addicted to alcohol or drugs, and millions take antidepressants. And I’m not surprised!


Because honest people—and by that I mean the people not living in denial, the people honest about the human condition—should be depressed! Very depressed.

Consider a truth agreed upon by every agnostic, skeptic, atheist, and Christian: only one thing is going to prevent you from watching every person you know die from murder, accident, or disease and that will be your own death by murder, accident or disease.

That’s absolutely true, right?

But it gets worse. Unless we die young (which most people consider a bad thing) then we will watch ourselves, and those we love, slowly lose physical and mental abilities—in often painful and humiliating ways—until we ultimately watch everyone die from murder, accident or disease.

Bring me another double gin gimlet, STAT!

How do people live with this knowledge? They don’t. At least not very well.

Thus many people rely on drink or drugs, and even then almost everyone denies this grim reality. Of course they will acknowledge the truth of death—but then they try to numb it and push it out of their minds, to ignore it, to pretend like it isn’t so.

That’s the reason I said “honest people” are depressed. Or Christians!1

Ernest Becker, in his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Denial of Death, argued “the idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is the mainspring of human activity—activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny of man.2 To cope with this man tries to “transcend death by participating in something of lasting worth. We achieve ersatz immortality by sacrificing ourselves to conquer an empire, to build a temple, to write a book, to establish a family, to accumulate a fortune, to further progress and prosperity, to create an information society and a global free market.”3 Becker writes that a fellow who may “throw himself on a grenade to save his comrades” must “feel and believe what he is doing is truly heroic, timeless, and supremely meaningful” and says this striving for heroics in “passionate people” is “a screaming for glory as uncritical and reflexive as the howling of a dog.”4 But for most people, for the more “passive masses,” this heroism is “disguised as they humbly and complainingly follow out the roles that society provides for their heroics and try to earn their promotions within the system” which allows them to “stick out, but ever so little and so safely.”5

Becker’s right.

That’s one reason why the godless so often champion political, environmental, and social movements: they need to be a part of something larger than themselves—something meaningful beyond their soon-to-be-eaten-by-worms existence. Although there’s nothing wrong, in itself, with political, environmental, and social movements, or with watching television, listening to music, surfing the net, or reading a book, but most people use them to drown out the bell that tolls for them.

It is fascinating to note that Becker was aware of the way out, but sadly, he didn’t believe it was true (he died of cancer the year his book was published—he was 47). Becker summed up the wonder of the Christian worldview:

When man lived securely under the canopy of the Judeo-Christian world picture he was part of a great whole; to put it in our terms, his cosmic heroism was completely mapped out, it was unmistakable. He came from the invisible world into the visible one by the act of God, did his duty to God by living out his life with dignity and faith… offering his whole life—as Christ had—to the Father. In turn he was justified by the Father and rewarded with eternal life in the invisible dimension. Little did it matter that earth was a vale of tears, of horrid sufferings of incommensurateness, of torturous and humiliating daily pettiness, of sickness and death, a place where man felt he did not belong, “the wrong place,” as Chesterton said…. In a word, man’s cosmic heroism was assured, even if he was as nothing. This was the most remarkable achievement of the Christian world picture: that it could take slaves, cripples, imbeciles, the simple and the mighty, and make them all secure heroes, simply by taking a step back from the world into another dimension of things, the dimension called heaven. Or we might better say that Christianity took creature consciousness—the thing man most wanted to deny—and made it the very condition for his cosmic heroism.6

Even though he missed the truth of it, Becker was right. Christianity does give glorious meaning and purpose to our difficult lives. More than that, Christianity transcends death and promises immortality.

Thus the title of this post, “If you’re honest you’re depressed (or you’re a Christian).” Now I’m not saying that there aren’t other causes of depression—of course there are. Also, I realize that Christians sometimes struggle with depression—this is a hard world after all—but Christians who envelop themselves in the hope of eternal life have much less reason to be depressed. In fact, one reason that some Christians can’t shake depression is that they have a beggarly view of the glory that awaits them forever.

Thankfully, Jesus really was raised from the dead and by believing in Him we can have eternal life!

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”


  1. Other religions do provide some solace to the human condition but, of course, I argue that those religions are false. []
  2. Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York, Free Press, 1973), xvii. []
  3. Sam Keen, “Forward” in Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York, Free Press, 1973), xiii. []
  4. Ibid., 6. []
  5. Ibid. []
  6. Ibid., 159-160. Emphasis his. []
Posted in Apologetics, Eternal Life, Resurrection, Truth | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Killing the Canaanites

Richard Dawkins and other new atheists herald God’s ordering of the destruction of Canaanite cities to be divine “ethnic cleansing” and “genocides.”1 With righteous indignation, Dawkins opines that the God of the Old Testament is “the most unpleasant character in all of fiction.”2 But was the killing of the Canaanites an example of divine genocide? If you think the Canaanites deserved to die because of their own wickedness, Dawkins will zealously compare you to acting like the Taliban.3 A closer look at several key facts will help explain God’s reason for the destruction of the Canaanites and reveal how our own sinfulness demonstrates our incapacity to judge rightly.

That atheists are incapable of judging spiritual matters leads some Christians to wonder why we even need to answer them at all, especially if they lack any objective, moral, or epistemological foundation for their claims. Moreover, most atheists do not customarily condemn the very practices that God condemns, for example, idolatry, adultery, and homosexuality. Predictably so, their values conflict with what God hates.

Concerning the destruction of the Canaanites, atheists especially like to exploit the Christian condemnation of genocide. They reason something along these lines: (1) Christians condemn genocide. (2) Yahweh’s command to kill the Canaanites was an act of divine genocide. (3) Therefore, Christians should condemn Yahweh for commanding genocide.

The second premise is false, however. Part of the goal of this essay is to offer evidence to show that God had good reason to command Israel to kill the Canaanites. In Leviticus 18 and elsewhere, for example, the Bible reveals that God punished the Canaanites for specific grievous evils. Also, this wasn’t the entire destruction of a race as God didn’t order that every Canaanite be killed but only those who lived within specific geographical boundaries (Josh. 1:4). Canaanite tribes (especially the Hittites) greatly exceeded the boundaries that Israel was told to conquer. And since, as we will see, He punished Israel when they committed the same sins, what happened to the Canaanites was not genocide, but capital punishment.

This wasn’t merely punishment, however. God sought to reveal His standards of righteousness to a thoroughly corrupted humankind, and He chose Israel out of the nations to exhibit the requirements for relationship with Him (Deut. 4:5–8). Before He redeemed humankind, He needed to unambiguously demonstrate what exactly He was redeeming them from: a blatant and unrestrained evil that resulted in a worthless, nasty, and cruel existence. God knows what is best for humankind, but He allowed free creatures to rebel and find out on their own that He is right. If Jesus had died to redeem humankind prior to humankind’s comprehending the depth of their sin, then people would question the need for Jesus’ death. Why would Jesus die for basically good folk? God waited to redeem humankind until they had the chance to be, as 2 Live Crew once put it, “as nasty as they wanna be.”

You can read the rest of my article online at the Christian Reserach Journal.

In the resources section of my blog you can read my much more in-depth article “We Don’t Hate Sin So We Don’t Understand What Happened to the Canaanites: An Addendum to Divine Genocide Arguments or you can click here.

  1. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 247. []
  2. Ibid., 31. []
  3. Ibid., 246. []
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What Is the Unpardonable Sin?

The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is called the “unpardonable sin,” a sin that will never be forgiven. The very possibility of even committing it often haunts many Christians. Indeed, as an insecure high school sophomore I once thought that I had committed the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit—and I was distressed! Clearly, our own mood and emotional outlook can affect how we listen to Scripture. In the four decades since, I’ve encountered many Christians who feared that they had committed the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and I’ve always been glad to tell them that they had not.

Jesus’ teaching on the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit—the unpardonable sin—is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but in Matthew we find Jesus’ most thorough and cohesive presentation. In Matthew 12:22 we read that Jesus healed a demon possessed man who was blind and mute. We won’t completely understand the significance of what follows unless we understand the wonder of this moment in first-century Palestine. A blind and mute person was a burden and a blight—someone dirty, someone to avoid—and this one was demon possessed.

But Jesus healed him! Suddenly the man was able to speak and see. In a moment he was able-bodied. He could care for himself and express what was on his mind. The people were “astonished.” What a wonderful thing! What an amazing joy and relief this must have been to those who cared for him.

But in response to this wholesome, restorative, and undeniable miracle—undeniable even to the Pharisees—the Pharisees sneered, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” So the Pharisees attribute this miraculous healing to Satan—the “lord of the flies,” the “Prince of Darkness,” the “evil one.” The Pharisees’ response demonstrates an unequivocal hardness against God.

You can read the rest of my article online at the Christian Research Journal.

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Original Sin: Its Importance & Fairness

It is no surprise that in a 2002 survey almost three-quarters of Americans (seventy-four percent) rejected the teaching of original sin.

After all, Americans want to feel good about themselves. Nathaniel Brandon, whom many consider the father of the self-esteem movement, said, “The idea of Original Sin…is anti-self-esteem by its very nature. The very notion of guilt without volition or responsibility is an assault on reason as well as on morality.” Also, many view this as an idea from the so-called “Dark Ages”; philosopher and historian Ernst Cassirer noted, “The concept of original sin is the most common opponent against which the different trends of the philosophy of Enlightenment join forces.” But, sadly, the survey also revealed that only fifty-two percent of evangelicals held to the doctrine of original sin.

The denial or misstatement of any Christian doctrine not only distorts our understanding of reality, but has grave implications for other Christian doctrines, and this certainly is true for the doctrine of original sin. For example, if there were no “first Adam” who actually was a man who sinned, the parallel to Jesus being the “last Adam” is lost. Also, if nothing happened to human nature when Adam sinned, then it becomes theologically inexplicable why Scripture constantly portrays all of humankind as evil and thus deserving punishment. On the contrary, a robust view of human sinfulness justifies God’s judgment, demonstrates God’s patience, and magnifies the significance of Christ’s sacrifice.

Although Christians define original sin differently, historically for Protestants original sin has two commonly held components: humankind is guilty for the sin of their first parents and humankind inherited a corrupted nature, since they are sexual reproductions of their first parents.

You can read the rest of the article I wrote online at the Christian Research Journal.

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How I Study the Bible… and Love It!

When I first came to Christ I absolutely loved reading the Bible. I would often read it for hours at a time. But, as is the case with most Christians, once I got to know the Bible well, I didn’t have the same passion for reading it. I kept reading it anyway, but I wished I had my former enjoyment of it.

Well, now, I’m very thankful to report, I absolutely love reading the Bible and that is because I’ve changed the way I read it.

There are certainly many different ways to study the Bible (Jean E. has written a similar post), but here’s what I’ve done.

First, I’ve taken every book of the Bible and turned it into a Word doc. So in my Bible folder I have every individual book of the Bible listed by its title. This has been tremendous as it allows me to footnote everything I think is important. This has the added benefit that I don’t lose my notes when I wear out a Bible.

Second, I use Google to find maps and photos which I insert into the text. One valuable site is the Matson collection of photos taken from 1898 to 1946. While not ancient, the thousands of Matson photos reveal a less modern Israel much closer to how it must have looked in Bible times. The maps and photos aid my understanding and imagination. I have included a sample Word doc for you to see what I mean (it’s also on the Resources page).

Third, I almost never set out to read a section of Scripture (e.g., I don’t say, “Today I’m going to read five chapters of Ezekiel,” or “Today I’m going to read Ephesians”). Instead, I dedicate a set time to study the Bible (“I’m going to read for ten minutes,” or “I’m going to read for an hour”). This is extremely important for me because if I decide to read a certain amount of Scripture it too easy to race to my goal and not really spend the time thinking through, reflecting upon, or praying about what I’ve read.

Although some may think this heresy, I discourage people from doing those read-through-the-Bible-every-year plans (I think it’s great to do it once or twice) because it is too easy for Christians to practice their Evelyn Wood while striving to meet that day’s quota. Also, those who read Scripture quickly end up collecting troubling thoughts about Scripture (“God sent an evil spirit into Saul?” or “Jesus called people vipers?” or “Jesus said you should hate your children?” and so on and on and on). As troubling passages accumulate in their subconscious, they hinder their ability to love the Lord with all their minds. But, if you read for a period of time instead of by amount, you can spend the whole time thinking these issues through until you understand them. It is much better that people spend 30 minutes thinking through one verse and asking how it applies to their lives than their being able to say, “Today I read ten chapters in Matthew.”

Fourth, and closely related to the above, except for some prophetic passages that are intentionally oblique, I rarely stop studying a passage until I understand it! And it may take a while but amazingly sooner or later, I understand the troubling passages! As Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:7 “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” I learn much more this way and I thoroughly enjoy the Bible.

Fifth, I read the Bible with at least one excellent commentary next to me (that helps me not leave a passage until I understand it). I’ve heard people say things like, “I don’t need to hear what others think. I only want to hear what the Spirit has to say to me through the Bible.” That may sound spiritual but it’s not. It’s another way of saying, “I can’t learn about the Bible from others.” Frankly, Christians who say that are misinformed, arrogant, lazy or all of the above (I know what you’re thinking: “Come on, Clay, tell us what you really think!”). Using an excellent commentary is no more than learning in writing from an excellent Christian teacher who has probably spent years studying the particular book he’s written on.

Of course commentaries can be expensive but consider how much money you spend on going out to dinner just one time. I now have a good commentary on nearly every book of the Bible (I’ve been doing this a long time) and it makes a huge difference in my enjoyment and understanding of Scripture.

The key to commentaries is to make sure you aren’t wasting your money on the mediocre by using commentary surveys. The first I suggest buying is D. A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey (IVP). Carson is a great commentator himself (his commentary on John is superb) and a deeply spiritual man (I had him as a professor at TEDS).

For the OT get Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey (Baker Academic). These two are indispensable and you’ll save a lot of money by not purchasing mediocre or liberal works.

I don’t recommend purchasing entire commentary sets unless you have money to burn because although many of the individual commentaries will be excellent, in just about every set, others will disappoint. It’s better to pick and choose based on the opinion of experts like Carson and Longman. Newer commentaries are usually more valuable than older ones because the careful commentator will utilize the best material from prior commentaries in his own writing.

Sixth, and this will appeal more to those apologetically inclined, I never leave a so-called Bible contradiction without resolving the contradiction and then carefully footnoting the resolution in the text itself. Often I will try to write it in such a way that I could read my resolution verbatim to those who ask about it. Although a good conservative commentary will help you resolve most of these (often in more detail), two helpful books are Norman Geisler’s When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Baker) and Gleason Archer’s New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan).

Seventh, when I’m reading other books and I find a quote that elucidates a particular passage of Scripture, I stop what I’m reading, turn on my laptop, open that book of the Bible, and insert that comment into the footnotes of the relevant passage. This is huge! I wish I’d started that forty years ago!

Again, check out my example Word doc to see how I do this.

Eighth, I use Bible software. In particular I use WORDsearch (Lifeway) which makes it easy to review dozens of different resources quickly (I didn’t link to one because there are many different versions of it).

Last but certainly not least, when I read Scripture I ask myself if I’m doing what that verse says. This is the most important point of all. It is too easy to read verses, agree with them, but not actually do them. To only hear the word, and even agree with it, without doing it is folly and leads to destruction (Matthew 7:24-27).

John 8:31-32: “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”


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