Why is the Door Red?

The door of our church is red, why?

Actually many, many churches have red doors.  If you Google “Red Door Church” and click “images” you will see a slew of them.

After doing a bit of research on this, there are actually a cluster of reasons why churches have red doors, though no one, clear, resounding answer can be found. 1 Here are some of the more common reasons I discovered:

1. Passover.  A church in Cincinnati, OH, has actually taken “Red Door Church” as their official name.  They have a neat three-minute video which explains the connection between the Red Door and the Passover. 2  In another place a Rev. Linda Strohmeier says:

Anybody read about Passover lately? You remember how the children of Israel were to mark “the lintel of the door” with blood, as a sign for the Angel of Death to pass over? Before modern chemistry and the variety of paint formulae, red paint was made with animal blood (really — I’m not making this up!). “Barn red,” that color so familiar, especially in New England barns, was made with a combination of buttermilk and animal blood — the blood for pigment/color, and the buttermilk as the binder/thickener. (You remember, of course, from art history, about renaissance painters making their paints using egg yolk as a binder…). Anyhow, that’s how they made red paint: blood and buttermilk. It’s a pretty short step from there to red doors, if you are deeply steeped in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and know about marking the lintel of the door with blood to signify that you are among the saved…’

2.  Blood.  It is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ that we enter into the gates of Heaven and eternal life.  A Red Door symbolically portrays this theological centerpiece of the Christian faith: In the words of Christ himself, “I am the way and the truth and the life, nobody comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV). More symbolism was added during the development of elaborate cathedral architecture in the Middle Ages:

The color red, signifying the Blood of Christ, was painted on the north, south and east doors of a church. Such symbolism represented making the sign of the cross — Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Thus the edifice was marked as a sanctuary, identified as a refuge and safety zone from physical or spiritual dangers. The red doors shut out evil. Supposedly an enemy could not pursue his victim across the sacred threshold. 3

Some see the blood of the martyrs which is the seed of the church.  (Originally said by the 2nd century church father Tertullian.) In some traditions blood is connected to baptism as well.  For instance, at an Orthodox baptism, the godparents present the candidate with red shoes as a symbol of walking the way of the cross.  

3.  Sanctuary. Many say that in the Middle Ages in England, a church with a red door represented a place of sanctuary.

In those days, if one who was being pursued by the local populace, shire reeve (sheriff) or gentry could reach the church door he/she would be safe. Nobody would dare to do violence on hallowed ground and, in any case, the Church was not subject to civil law. The red door was fair warning to pursuers that they could proceed no further. One who claimed sanctuary in this way would then be able to present his/her case before the priest and ask that justice be served.”  4

This seems to be just a step away from the theological idea of God’s name being a “strong tower” in which the righteous run in and are safe (see Prov. 18:10; Psalms 61:3).  And in the New Testament the idea of shelter and safety is found in the blood of Christ.

4.  Paid Mortgage.  In the Episcopalian tradition it is said that a red door is a bold declaration that the church mortgage has been paid off.  Maybe there is a connection here again to Christ’s work and his final declaration on the cross “It is finished!” (John 19:30)?

5.  Reformed Church.  One Ken Kruger of Florida proposes:

Doors of mainline Protestant churches, especially Lutheran churches, are red because the doors of Wittenburg Cathedral in Wittenburg, Germany, where Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses were red. The red doors simply symbolize that we are a church of the Reformation. 5

6.  Episcopalian church identification.  Some say the red door is simply a tradition of the Episcopalian church, nothing more.

I’m not sure of any record regarding our church here in South Royalton that mentions why exactly our church door is red.

Perhaps the lack of explanation in any of our historical records gives us permission to treat the door as a kind of tabula rasa (blank slate) and recreate the meaning for today’s church.  If that is the case I would personally like to suggest that #2 (above) would be a beautiful symbolic interpretation of the significance of our church’s red door.  I would like to think that every time one of our members walked through the doors of the church they were reminded of the love and grace of God which grants them access to Himself by the Son’s shed blood on the cross.

  1. One man, Louie Crew says, ‘I suspect that the red doors are much like academic gowns: since there is no authoritative source about what they symbolize, you can have fun finding your own meanings in them.’
  2. To see the video you need to click on “I’m New,” and then “Our Name.”
  3. Mary S. Holley of Rochester, N. Y. as quoted on the Episcopal Life Archives.
  4. Taken from “Why many church doors are red” at ameganfindsartinphilly.wordpress.com.
  5. Taken from the Episcopal Life Archives.

Why Are Christians So Divided?

Countless denominations cause many people today to associate Christianity with division and religious rivalry. The past lends some merit to this association.  Back in the 16th and 17th century, Europe experienced severe religious conflict, one would even say warfare, between Protestants and Catholics. Back then denominational differences were a matter of life and death.

This brings to mind the question: Doesn’t Jesus pray to his Father that his followers “may be one, even as We are” (John 17:11,22)? Doesn’t Paul write that “God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:24-25)? Though the early Jerusalem church “had all things in common” (Acts 2:44), what has happened to this ideal?

Denominations seem to indicate Christian disunity and thus diminish our witness for Christ in the world. But is this necessarily so? Does this call into question the validity of the truth claims of Jesus? How should we think about Christian denominations? Here are some considerations.1

First, not all who declare themselves Christians are true or consistent followers of Christ. A lot of things that have been done in the name of Jesus–the Crusades, the Inquisition, anti-Jewish persecution, neglect of social responsibility, hatred of homosexuals–hardly resemble the attitude of Christ or reveal the Spirit’s fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus has said in the Sermon on the Mount: You will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16). He also says later that “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Just because some people claim to be Christians, that doesn’t mean they are Christians. 

Second, denominations remind us of a common denominator–a “mere Christianity” that different Christian groups share. Think of it in terms of fractions instead of factions (Unfortunately I can’t claim this joke as my own) and the notion of the common denominator. You can have ⅕, ⅖, or ⅗ but the denominator is still the same – 5. When we recite the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed or read books by C.S. Lewis, we are reminded of the basic commonalities that Christians share–despite differences in secondary doctrines.

Third, denominations don’t imply disunity (just like uniformity doesn’t equal unity). Denominational affiliation is not division. Indeed, a spirit of unity and charity that goes beyond external labels is to permeate our dealing with fellow Christians. As an example, Paul chided the Corinthian church for its divisiveness: some aligned themselves with Paul, others with Apollos, some with Cephas (Peter) and apparently the “super-spiritual” ones with their nose in the air aligned themselves with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:1-9). The problem was not doctrinal differences but prideful attitudes and an unwillingness to reconcile that Paul criticizes.

When Christians are dealing with other Christians, we should major on the majors and minor on the minors when it comes to biblical teachings. The church should be, as Kevin Vanhoozer writes, a commentary on God’s Word and a witness to Scripture that is lived before God and a watching world.2

 

  1.  More could be said in this post but I would encourage everyone who wants a more in-depth response to this issue, to consider reading When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics (2008), by Paul Copan. That was the main resource I used to write this post.
  2.  Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, 237.

True Religion

True religion is a funny sort of thing in this world of ours.  It starts as a genuine ache deep down inside the soul, a gnawing sort of restlessness that doesn’t give a person a moment’s rest.  Some might say that it’s the sense of primeval guilt of sin that haunts a soul at these times; others declare it to be the very first workings of God’s mercy and grace calling to the human heart.  But, whether we ascribe the ache to the emptiness of sin or to the whispered promises of grace, we must see that it is the Spirit of God at work, calling ever so persistently, drawing ever so surely.  As St. Augustine wrote in the first chapter of his Confessions:

Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise You.  He bears about him the mark of death, the sign of his own sin, to remind him that You thwart the proud.  But still, since he is a part of Your creation, he is drawn to praise You.  The thought of You stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises You, because You made us for Yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they rest in You.”

Such is the beginning of true religion.  It is of divine origin, coming down from the heavens to reside in a vessel that distinctly bears the imprint and likeness of its Maker.  It is true balm to the soul, and instantly the ache subsides as the power of the Gospel soaks deep within.  Why is it that so many people never allow the full healing to take hold of their souls?  I only ask that because I look around at the Church at large and I see many things that make up its religion, and at times it somehow seems too complex, too rigid and unyielding, too man-made and contrived, not anything like what I know true religion to consist of.

True religion and true love are alike.  Everyone loves to some extent; you can’t help loving if you’re at all human.  But true love, that’s a different story.  It’s hard to explain just exactly what it is, but you know it when it enters your heart.  And once it grips that place within you that is the seat where a person loves and can be loved, you are never the same.  The entire world takes on a new perspective; the mere presence of your beloved brings light and joy to your circumstance.  No strain, no complexity, no facades or barriers, such is true love; such also must be true religion.

When I am confronted with my religion, and find myself needing to define or defend it, words often fail.  Oh, I could conjure up some theological tome, or recite some catechetical answer that fits the question at hand, but that seems so shallow and trite somehow.  Not that it isn’t true.  But truth is often not enough to restore the glow of life to a sin-deadened heart.  Somehow truth cannot be the whole of true religion any more than fond affection or momentary exhilaration can be the whole of true love.  There is so much more to our religion, yet I find it hard to communicate the innermost thoughts that flood my heart as I contemplate the love of God.  I feel like the blind man on whose eyes Jesus put spittle and clay, and when I wash in the pool, my eyes are opened, and I see as I have never seen before.  And immediately people ask me how it has been done.  Some say that my new vision is impossible, others cannot accept it and instead explain it away in terms of some psychological phenomena.

And what can I say to communicate the fullness which courses through my souls on that day?  My words are all too inadequate; they are a poor testimony indeed to the great work which God has brought to pass.  And when words fail, when all the powers of the human soul fall short of divine reality, it is at times such as this that I must content myself with the answer of the man born blind, “Whether thus and such is so, I do not know.  One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  And in that declaration of faith, although in some minds it might pale in comparison to the great creeds or doctrines of our religion, I find that somehow I touch my true religion once more, and my soul seeks out the Man Who anointed my eyes, and I fall at His feet and worship Him.  And everything else seems insignificant in that moment, for my soul has found its rest at last.

The Fruit of Following God – Part 11: Loves Truth

Whether they know it or not, unbelievers live under the influence and the guise of the father of lies, Satan himself (John 8:44). Satan is known as the deceiver (Genesis 3) and loves to keep people in the darkness of falsehood. Yet, the follower of Christ has now determined that God’s testimony of His Son and His verdict against the unbeliever’s sin is true. She repents and believes. With this profound realization, the disciple is now liberated to fully trust God and to watch Him work in her life. She now understands the words that Jesus spoke to the Jews of His day,

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31b-32).

She has discovered that God’s Word is truth and she agrees with Jesus when He prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17). She now knows that God’s word is true and the means to change her heart and life. And not only does she value truth, she realizes that instead of living in a world of lies, she now must make integrity and honestly a defining mark of her walk with God. God knows all, sees all and calls His people to a life of truthfulness. The ninth commandment states, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” She now wishes to hear truth, believe truth, love truth and live truthfully and honestly.

This reality entered my own life just after I became a Christian. Growing up, I had never been a big cheater in the academic world. But I have to admit that I had been a desperate cheater a few times in my life while going through the public education experience. I never felt good about it, but cheating was better than the negative consequences of failing. I cheated on exams a few times in both junior high school as well as in high school Chemistry. When I became a Christian, I was just a few weeks into a difficult transition to college and I had almost quit. A few weeks later, however, I gave (or surrendered) my life to God. Soon afterward, I faced my first exam in Psychology 101. I knew that my assigned seat was situated at the perfect angle to see the exam answers on a classmate (and dorm-mate) of mine by the name of Paul. He made A’s in everything in high school and was quite accomplished intellectually. However, I still remember praying, “Lord, I am not going to cheat on this exam. I know that you do not approve of cheating. It is dishonest, so Lord, I am going to walk by faith and trust you to take care of me no matter what happens on that exam or any other exam in the future. I must live a life of honesty as a Christian.” I don’t recall exactly how I did on that exam. I do recall that I did well and not poorly. I also know that I never cheated in school again and I always looked to God for my success in the classroom, trusting Him for the results of hard study.

The decision I faced that fall day in 1972 was a commitment to Christ’s lordship over my life, an act of obedience and a choice to be true – and not false – before the only One who was really watching, the God of Truth. Trusting God’s word, believing He is truthful and living a life based on truth is an attribute of a disciple of Christ.

The Book of Mormon and the King James Bible

At Red Door Church we’ve been taking a look at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS).  Along the way, we’ve noticed that Joseph Smith quotes directly from the King James Bible (KJV) or paraphrases it in a handful of places in the Book of Mormon (which was allegedly revealed to him by the angel Moroni).

This is a big problem for the Book of Mormon.

The point of this short entry is to cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the BOM (Book of Mormon).  If quotations from a book written some one-thousand years after the BOM’s first edition somehow find their way into the BOM itself, then we have virtually undeniable evidence that the BOM is not in fact the book the LDS church claims it to be.

BOM Plagiarisms From the KJV

On the plagiarisms from the King James Bible, cult expert Walter Martin writes:

“A careful examination of The Book of Mormon reveals that it contains thousands of words from the King James Bible.  In fact, verbatim quotations, some of considerable length [can be found there].  The comparisons of Moroni 10 with 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Nephi 114 with Isaiah 4; and 2 Nephi 12 with Isaiah 2 reveal that Joseph Smith made free use of his Bible to supplement the alleged revelation of the golden plates.  The book of Mosiah, chapter 14, in The Book of Mormon, is a reproduction of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah the prophet, and 3 Nephi 13 copies Matthew 6 almost word-for-word.” 1

While to some this may not seem like a big deal, The Book of Mormon (BOM) claims that the golden plates which are the text from which the BOM is translated, were engraved by two prophet-historians, Mormon and his son Moroni, in the year 400.  But the King James Bible didn’t arrive on the scene until 1611.  So if the alleged dates for the BOM are accurate how did the plagiarisms occur? 2

King James Version Errors

What is more, the BOM quotes sections of the KJV which scholars now know to contain errors.  Jeremy Runnells, a formerly committed Mormon and BYU grad, in his now famous “Letter to a CES Director”, asks at the very beginning of his paper:

“What are 1769 King James Version edition errors doing in the Book of Mormon? An ancient text? Errors which are unique to the 1769 edition that Joseph Smith owned?” 3

One of the more famous KJV errors worth mentioning here that makes its way into the BOM is 1 John 5:7-8.  (This error is found in all editions of the KJV, including the first completed in 1611.)  Scholarly consensus is now overwhelming that this passage is a Latin corruption that migrated into the Greek manuscript tradition in later editions.  Bruce Metzger writes about manuscript 61, the first Greek manuscript discovered which contains this passage:

“The manuscript [dating from the late 15th or early 16th century], which is remarkably fresh and clean throughout (except for the two pages containing 1 John 5, which are soiled from repeated examination of this passage), gives every appearance of having been produced expressly for the purpose of confuting Erasmus.” 4

Another Greek expert and conservative bible scholar, Daniel B. Wallace tells the story of how this interpolation happened:

“[T]he Greek text which stands behind the King James Bible is demonstrably inferior in certain places. The man who edited the text was a Roman Catholic priest and humanist named Erasmus. He was under pressure to get it to the press as soon as possible since (a) no edition of the Greek New Testament had yet been published, and (b) he had heard that Cardinal Ximenes and his associates were just about to publish an edition of the Greek New Testament and he was in a race to beat them. Consequently, his edition has been called the most poorly edited volume in all of literature! It is filled with hundreds of typographical errors which even Erasmus would acknowledge. Two places deserve special mention. In the last six verses of Revelation, Erasmus had no Greek manuscript (=MS) (he only used half a dozen, very late MSS for the whole New Testament any way). He was therefore forced to ‘back-translate’ the Latin into Greek and by so doing he created seventeen variants which have never been found in any other Greek MS of Revelation! He merely guessed at what the Greek might have been. Secondly, for 1 John 5:7-8, Erasmus followed the majority of MSS in reading “there are three witnesses in heaven, the Spirit and the water and the blood.” However, there was an uproar in some Roman Catholic circles because his text did not read ‘there are three witnesses in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit.’ Erasmus said that he did not put that in the text because he found no Greek MSS which had that reading. This implicit challenge—viz., that if he found such a reading in any Greek MS, he would put it in his text—did not go unnoticed. In 1520, a scribe at Oxford named Roy made such a Greek MS (codex 61, now in Dublin). Erasmus’ third edition had the second reading because such a Greek MS was ‘made to order’ to fill the challenge! To date, only a handful of Greek MSS have been discovered which have the Trinitarian formula in 1 John 5:7-8, though none of them is demonstrably earlier than the sixteenth century.” 5

The spurious passage from the KJV can be found paraphrased in 3 Nephi 11:27 (BOM):

“And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto to you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.”

The bolded phrase above is quoted almost verbatim from 1 John 5:7, a phrase which cannot be found anywhere else in the New Testament.  Coincidence?  It appears that Joseph Smith paraphrased the interpolation from the KJV into the BOM not knowing the difference. 6

Runnells provides various other places where KJV errors make their way into the BOM.  You can download the PDF of “Letter to a CES Director” here and see them for yourself.

What’s the Point?

I have in my lap The Book of Mormon.  In the very front it says this:

“The Book of Mormon: An account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi… Translated by Joseph Smith, Jun.”

What we have seen, however, casts serious doubt that the BOM is in fact what it’s opening pages claim.  There seems to be no way around the conclusion that Joseph Smith used the KJV Bible as original source material for parts of the BOM, and not some alleged “golden plates” (or visions) which were revealed to him and later translated.

  1. Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults: The Definitive Work on the Subject (Bethany House Publishers),
  2. The assumption here, of course, is that Joseph Smith simply copied or paraphrased these parts of the BOM directly from the King James Bible and did not in fact translate them from any alleged golden plates.
  3. Jeremy T. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director.” Accessed on 6/23/15. Please see Creative Commons License.
  4. Bruce M. Metzger, “The Text of the New Testament, ” 3rd Ed.  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 62.
  5. “Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible is the Best Translation Available Today.” Accessed on 6/23/15.  Can be found at https://bible.org/article/why-i-do-not-think-king-james-bible-best-translation-available-today.
  6. Christians of course would affirm the truthfulness of the statement, that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one.  But it would be wrong to assume that our affirmation of this truth is dependant upon this single passage.  In the words of James R. White “We are in no way dependant upon the phrase for our knowledge of the Trinity or the unity of the three Persons: Father, Son and Spirit.  The doctrine of the Trinity does not stand or fall upon the inclusion of the Comma.  Beyond this, however, we have a phrase that is simply not a part of the ancient Greek manuscripts of John’s first epistle.”  Quoted from his book “The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations?” (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1995), 61.

Jesus and the Supernatural

Do you believe in the supernatural?

A survey from 2004 showed that thirty-nine percent of those living in the UK consider themselves atheists or agnostics.(1) Yet a more recent poll found that, while many of those in Britain are abandoning Christianity, their interest and faith in spirituality hasn’t gone anywhere. Over half (fifty-five percent) of those surveyed professed belief in the supernatural and superstition; twenty-nine percent claim to be able to see into the future; and a similar number reported that they had knowledge of past lives or possessed telepathic powers. In comparison, less than ten percent attend a Christian church weekly.(2)

In the US we have our own national fascination with the supernatural. A 2007 poll found that a significant number of Americans believe in UFOs (thirty-four percent) or have personally encountered a ghost (twenty-three percent). Lest we think that a lack of education is to blame, Americans with at least a college degree were more likely to believe in ESP (fifty-one percent) than those with a high school education (thirty-seven percent).(3) And of the top ten most popular TV shows last year, five were based on the premise that the supernatural is real and at work in our world.(4) At the same time as more and more of our neighbors are claiming no religious faith (or claiming to be opposed to it entirely), our interest in the weird and bizarre has stayed put. One could even argue that the decline of Christian belief has led to an increased appetite for the paranormal.

Christians shouldn’t be surprised by this, since the Bible reveals our world to be chock-full of beings and realities that transcend the scientific definition of “natural.” Aside from God himself, spiritual beings like angels and demons are unapologetically presented as real and relevant to human life. Heaven and hell are not metaphors, and their inhabitants play as much of a role in the affairs of our lives as flesh-and-blood people — if not more.

Yet that is not to say that the spiritual world is an angelic Wild West. Hebrews 1:1-3 has already shown that Jesus, having accomplished the earthly work necessary to save his people, is now seated in heaven “at the right hand of the Majesty.” In other words — the King is on his throne, and the spiritual world is subject to him:

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
Hebrews 1:4-14 (NIV)

The author of Hebrews affirms what many post-Christendom Westerners believe (and what the overwhelming preponderance of the citizens of the Majority World have always believed): there exists a world that our minds can only barely comprehend. Yet he goes further to say that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rules over it all and directs its affairs. He quotes multiple passages from the Old Testament (especially the Psalms) to show that this has always been true — the eternal Son of God has eternally ruled over angels, who were created through him (1:2).

So are we crazy for believing in the supernatural? Not at all. But more importantly, we have to ask ourselves whether we submit to the rule of the King of the supernatural. Do we acknowledge Jesus, not only as the Ruler of the angels, but as the Ruler of our hearts? We’d be crazy not to.

 


1 – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/programmes/wtwtgod/pdf/wtwtogod.pdf
2- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2590349/God-Were-likely-believe-supernatural-Number-people-think-sixth-sense-higher-regularly-attend-church.html
3 – http://www.christianpost.com/news/how-many-americans-believe-in-ghosts-spells-and-superstition-29857/
4- http://www.imdb.com/search/title?title_type=tv_series

Women and the Resurrection

The resurrection is one of the most central beliefs in Christianity.  It is also one of the most disputed.

Among the unchurched there is a commonly held conviction that the miraculous claims of the Christian faith were non-historical amendments created after the fact by religious zealots “with an agenda.”  For these folks, the resurrection would fall into this category.  It was a hoax; a concoction created to establish some kind of religious power structure.

Most Christians in the world would reject this idea.  For us, the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his crucifixion is historical fact.  We know this because it is recorded in the Bible by eye-witnesses.  Time and space will not permit me to outline an entire defense of this belief, but here I offer one piece of evidence for skeptics to chew on for now: the Bible says that it was  a group of women that first discovered the empty tomb (see Mark 16:1-8).

What significance does this have on whether or not the resurrection is a historical fact?

Two things: First, skeptics have to explain how the belief in Jesus’ resurrection thrived in the very city where he was publicly crucified.  How could anyone have embraced such a ridiculous idea if Jesus’ body still lay in the tomb?  Could not the authorities have produced the body at any moment to silence them?  The belief in the resurrection hinges completely on the fact of the empty tomb.

It is safe to say that such a public and controversial execution as that of Jesus would have been well know in all its details; Jew and Gentile alike would have known where Jesus’ tomb was.  Street preachers declaring that he had risen from the dead would have no doubt induced examinations of the burial site.

Secondly, not only do we have no known record of anyone producing the body of Jesus after the disciples preaching on the resurrection began, but the Bible says that it was women who first discovered the fact of the empty tomb.

To see the significance a person must understand the low status of women at the time this event is supposed to have happened.  In first-century Jewish culture, the testimony of a woman was not considered credible.  Jewish historian Josephus (AD 37–100) wrote in his book Antiquities of the Jews, in a section describing the rules regarding admissible testimony: “Let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of their inconstancy and presumption of their sex.” 1  Paul L. Maier, an authority on Josephus and 1st-century Christianity, adds in the commentary on this section in Josephus’s Antiquities: “None of our copies of the Pentateuch say a word [about not legally allowing a woman’s testimony in courts of justice].  It is very probable, however, that this was…the practice of the Jews in the days of Josephus.” 2   In other words, this practice was not a biblical one, but had its roots in the patriarchalism of first-century Jewish culture.

Here’s the rub: if the story of the resurrection as we have it in the Bible is a product of legendary development or tinkering on the part of Biblical scribes hundreds of years later, why would they depict women discovering the empty tomb?  These women would have been the chief witnesses to the empty tomb, yet their testimony was considered worthless by the culture of the time; so why fabricate a story built upon such a sketchy foundation as this?

Don’t you think that if later writers were trying to amend the facts and make the story more believable they would have placed Peter or John at the empty tomb?

Mark’s placement of women at the empty tomb first can only be plausibly explained if they actually were the discoverers of the empty tomb, and the gospels faithfully record what for them was a very embarrassing fact.  3

This does not prove the whole of the resurrection account, but it does cast some doubt on the claim that the Bible is merely the product of later legendary development.

 

  1. Josephus, Antiquities, IV.8.15.
  2. William Whiston, trans., Paul L. Maier, Commentary, The New Complete Works of Josephus,Rev. (Kregal: Grand Rapids, 1999), 165.
  3. William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 2010), 228-229.

Another Look at Diversity

Today, there is talk of the need for “diversity” everywhere.   Around every corner we see a push for greater diversity in all things.  It is assumed that diversity is always a good thing.  Without going to far, one could probably argue that “diversity” is the mantra of our time and place.

I’m not going to dispute the “goodness” of diversity.  God created a universe full of diversity.  What I wish to dispute in this post is that diversity should be the measure of all things, especially Christianity.

Many young Americans today reject organized religion because it appears narrow and exclusive.  Sadly, this is the impression that many have of Christianity.  Tim Keller in his book The Reason for God writes on the very first page of chapter one:

During my nearly two decades in New York City, I’ve had numerous opportunities to ask people, “What is your biggest problem with Christianity?  What troubles you the most about its beliefs or how it is practiced?”  One of the most frequent answers I have heard over the years can be summed up in one word: exclusivity. 1

Another way of framing the idea of exclusivity is to see it as a lack of diversity.  Christianity is not “open” or “tolerant” of other viewpoints and is therefore, “exclusive”; it is not congenial to a diversity of opinion or practice.

But is this a fair evaluation of Christianity?  Does this claim hold water?

Two thoughts on this matter will be enough for now.  (1) Often when this objection is put forward what the person means is that Christianity claims to be the one true religion; it’s core doctrines do not leave room for a plurality of “true” perspectives.  (Nearly every religion claims this in one way or another.)  For a great deal of people today such a claim sounds ludicrous on the surface.  They might say something like “How can you know the truth?  Nobody really knows whose right and whose wrong.”  Or they might say that it’s arrogant to insist your religion is right and to seek to convert others to it.  These are all common critiques of religion, especially Christianity.  2

These critiques are usually presented by a person who is an advocate of “diversity” and plurality in the marketplace of ideas and perspectives.  But Christianity is just that.  In fact, as we will see in a moment, Christianity is one of the most diverse movements in all of recorded history, and certainly in today’s world.  The real problem with the critiques above however, is that they fall on their own sword.  If a person insists that no one can adjudicate with confidence between one view and another, why should we be persuaded of what they are saying?  Or, if a person says that it’s arrogant to try and convert others to your point of view simply ask them what they are trying to do with you.

In the final analysis, you cannot make “diversity” the measuring rod of all other belief systems, without being exclusive and narrow yourself.

(2) The second thought is simply this, despite the impression that exists in many places in our Western culture today, Christianity is in fact a religion of enormous diversity, inclusion, and breadth.  For one, Christianity the most diverse religion on the planet in many respects, just as a point of fact.  There is no religion, ever, to my knowledge, that has been embraced by so many different cultures and people groups.  Currently, to the surprise of many, Christianity is predominantly a non-Western religion.  The largest numbers of Christians, in fact, live on the continents of South America, Africa, and Asia.  Philip Jenkins writes in his book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity:

If we extrapolate the [current growth model data for Christianity] to the year 2025, the Southern predominance becomes still more marked.  Assuming no great gains or losses through conversion, then there would be around 2.6 billion Christians, of whom 695 million would live in Africa, 610 million in Latin America, and 480 million in Asia… By 2050 only about one-fifth of the world’s 3.2 billion Christians will be non-Hispanic whites.  Soon, the phrase “a white Christian” may sound like a curious oxymoron, as mildly surprising as “a Swedish Buddhist.”  Such a people can exist, but a slight eccentricity is implied. 3

It is difficult to grasp how a “narrow”, “exclusive” religion could be so widely embraced by so many peoples of different backgrounds, language, cultures, and values; the diversity found within Christianity seems to imply otherwise.

Maybe Christianity is not as “exclusive” as some suppose.

 

  1. Keller, “The Reason for God” (Dutton: New York, 2008), 3.
  2. These examples are used by Tim Keller in his book The Reason for God, 9-12.
  3. Jenkins, “The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity,” (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2011), 3.