Tag Archives: apologetics

The Blind Men and a Queer Animal


In the Buddhist version of the , a young man approaches Buddha with a dilemma…. Part of a series on truth.

Dozens of hermits and wandering scholars are making contradictory claims about reality.

Some claim everything is infinite.

Others claim all is finite.

Then some claim just certain artifacts are infinite while other artifacts are merely finite.

Who’s right?

In response Buddha tells a story:

Once upon time a great king told a servant to round up all the blind men in their province and let them feel an elephant.

The servant does so. And each blind man inspects the elephant.

One reports an elephant is like a pot–he inspected the head.

Another reports an elephant is like a winnowing basket–he touched the ear.

Another suggests an elephant is a plowshare–he felt the tusk.

Yet another reported the animal was a plow–he ran his hand along the tusk.

And another said it was a grainery–he made his way over the side of the elephant.

Some held the foot and said an elephant was a pillar. Some climbed on the back and decided it was an overturned mortar.

Others messed with the tail and pronounced the animal a pestle. Then others ran their fingers through the tuft of the tail and asserted the beast was a brush.

It wasn’t long before the blind men fell to blows with each other.

At this point, the king explained to his servant that the preachers and scholars who fight and argue for their limited view of reality are simply blind and unseeing.

And, in typical Buddha fashion the story ends. The student is required to figure out the conclusion on his own.

Not a bad educational strategy. In fact, it’s an exceptional strategy.

The only problem with Buddha’s conclusion is that he doesn’t interact with the original problem: Men argue, yes. But is what any of them saying true?

Just because they are bigoted, blind and quarrelsome doesn’t mean they are wrong.

Buddha’s answer amounts to an attack on character. But not a reply to any of the truth claims presented.

Blind Men and a Queer Animal [Indian Version]

In the Indian version of the Blind Men and the Elephant parable, the conclusion makes another bald assertion: All religions lead to the same God.

You’ve more than likely heard this parable before.

The argument goes like this: each blind man is feeling the same part of the same elephant. All are partly right. But in their limited view, all are wrong.

Another way to say it is like this: All paths lead to the same mountain. Or like this: Religion is a wheel whose varied disciplines are spokes that ultimately lead to the same peace and harmony at the core.

In other words, no one has a superior view of religion.

Here’s my point: This assertion is leveled at Christianity all the time. [Frankly, it’s leveled at pretty much all religions, but since I’m a Christian, I’ll interact with the Christian side.]

It’s meant to convey that we have no right to claim an exclusive hold on truth: Who dares anyone say they have a superior view of religion?

To suggest they do would be inflammatory and offensive.

First off, why should I believe that all religions lead to the same God? Second, isn’t that a superior view of religion–in itself inflammatory and offensive?

While such an assertion is clothed in humility, it demonstrates an undercurrent of arrogance and imperialism.

It says “I have the superior view of religion. Not you.”

It’s an appearance of truth. But that’s all. It’s nothing more than an arrogant claim that needs to be backed up.

In fact, any close inspection of world religions will reveal that all religions DO NOT lead to the same God.

Spelling Out the Uniqueness of Christianity

For instance, in the monotheistic three alone you have vast disagreements about who God is. Judaism and Islam reject Christ as God who Christians embrace as the one part of the Trinity.

While the prevailing slogan might be “Unite or perish!” by those committed to a religious consensus in the name of tolerance, to do so means watering down Christianity [all religions, in fact].

But in the end, it indicates a refusal to interact with the veracity of Christianity’s truth claims.

So, if you are sincerely interested in an introduction to the unique nature of Christianity, read Erwin Lutzer’s . Leslie Newbigin’s . Or Ravi Zacharias’ .

And listen, spelling out how Christianity fundamentally differs from other religions is not an invitation to fight. Rather, it’s an invitation to explore who we feel–based on the evidence–is our only messiah, Jesus Christ.

Your Turn

What other versions of the blind men and the elephant parable have you heard? Can you suggest any other books on comparative religion? On the uniqueness of Christianity?

Russell’s Tea Pot, Snuggies and Talking Frogs

Guest post by Rob Powell. Part of a series on truth.

Bertrand Russell was a genius.

He had a , was a pioneer in several fields and employed a sharp mind–and even sharper wit.

For all his achievements though he may be best remembered in internet culture today for his teapot analogy…

It goes a little something like this:

Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake.

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes.

But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.

His point is well taken, that you can’t prove a negative–but nobody believes there is a vessel of 3 degree Kelvin Earl Gray floating around between the Earth and Mars.

Russell goes on to say that:

If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

Dr. Russell is implying that the only reason we don’t think it’s crazy to believe in God (who’s negation we can’t prove either) and not the teapot is that our parents, pastors and polite society have brainwashed us into thinking God is real.

In reality, Russell would say, God is no more real than a celestial teapot, unicorn, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

He’s just more socially acceptable.

So what’s the difference between God and this imaginary teapot–and where does this cute little analogy ultimately break down? Let’s take a look.

The Brittle Tea Pot Analogy

There are many hidden assumptions to this comparison but a primary one is that if something is real then science should be able to document it.

We’ve talked about scientism before because it has been a perennial favorite amongst the “brights” since the Enlightenment.

So Russell makes his teapot so far and distant that science can’t detect it–but that doesn’t make it God-like.

In theory we could go to the coordinates of the teapot and take it’s picture. Even if we didn’t know exactly where it was we could scour the range of coordinates and given enough time and effort we could find it or rule out its being in a certain area or at the very least based on its size and the volume it’s contained in say we are X% sure it’s not between Earth and Mars.

But since God is unembodied we could know the exact location of every quark in the universe and still not know where God is and He could still be real or at least authentic to the description given to Him in those ancient texts.

What Russell has done is placed on God the burden of being scientifically detectable in order to be real. But he offers no reason why God can’t exist without fulfilling this requirement?

Is God Less God-like If He Is Uncaliperable?

Dr. Russell is also comparing something with no proof for its existence outside of his fanciful testimony meant to be a zinger to something who’s existence we do have good arguments for.

The ontological, teleological, cosmological, moral…these arguments have kept our greatest thinkers busy for over a thousand centuries.

The list of theists is long and illustrious and will make any honest skeptic pause.

This doesn’t make God real but it does mean that you can be a rational human being and believe in God. Not so much for his teapot.

The Tea Pot Is Under Strain

Let’s ask a question: When is lack of evidence evidence of lack?

Suppose you enter a cozy one room cabin and someone asks you if there are any Kodiak bears in the room. If you don’t see, hear, or smell any Kodiak bears you can assert with confidence that there are no Kodiak bears in the cabin.

But what if you enter the cabin and someone asks you if there are any gnats in the room? You can stare and listen but you will have a much shakier foundation to affirm that there are no gnats in the cabin.

In the first case we can go easily from “I don’t see any bears” to “there are no bears”. In the second case we can only go from “I don’t see any gnats” to “I don’t know if there are any gnats.”

The difference between the two is our epistemic situation, which in broad terms is the limits on our ability to know something through our primary sources of knowing (sense, memory and reason).

Using the terms we usually do around here we could say we’re atheistic about bears in the cabin but remain agnostics about the gnats.

Three Reasons for Our Evidence of God

What Russell is trying to do is stretch our atheism about the teapot into atheism about God. But is that a legitimate analogy? In order for that argument to work two criteria have to be met.

1. If God exists then we would expect there to be evidence for God.

2. If there is evidence for God then we would expect to have knowledge of this evidence.

We deny the bears in the cabin because we expect sufficient evidence to know if bears were in the cabin–but we lack it.

We are less sure about the gnats because even though we lack evidence for them we wouldn’t necessarily expect to have any evidence if they were there.

So with respect to God we would have to expect to have evidence of His existence but lack it to affirm atheism.

But should the skeptic expect to have this evidence? Here’s three reasons why they shouldn’t.

1. Sin

People are fallen and flawed and have wilfully and purposefully closed their eyes toward God. We do this because we are proud, licentious, and wicked people in desperate need of a savior.

A crystal clear example of this is atheist Thomas Nagel saying, ” I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers… It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want a universe like that.”

Could a mindset like that cause him to knowingly or not close his eyes to evidence for God?

2. Demands for unreasonable types of evidence

God could better prove His existence by painting a vibrant picture of Jesus in a different color Snuggie up in the clouds every Sunday from 11 to noon.

Or maybe he could cause frogs to say John 3:16 instead of “ribbit”.

Whatever the demand the implication is that God has a moral obligation to people to make Himself more clearly–even ridiculously!–evident because then more people would believe in God and avoid hell.

This leads us to the last reason.

3. Humble versus forced submission to God

God doesn’t desire that people merely acknowledge His reality but that they have a redemptive, meaningful, ongoing relationship with Him. He wants to be every bit of our Lord and Father–not just our acknowledged reality.

Would cloudy Snuggie clad saviors and talking frogs lead more people to this type of relationship? Maybe, but I doubt it. We are still bent toward evil and incapable of doing good on our own.

It might just lead to more people like the demons who acknowledge Him but refuse to submit to his authority.

What separates God from Santa Claus, tooth fairies, teapots, and other imaginary beings is that where we can’t necessarily expect to know about evidence for God we would expect to know about evidence for the others.

But our epistemic situation is better.

Evidence of God Superior to Evidence for Tea Pots

We would expect to find factories at the North Pole, orphans getting quarters under their pillows and astronauts telling us about the teapot they left on the wing of Mariner IV.

Now I’ll admit the other option for the teapot could be that it just spontaneously popped into being from nothing in a solar orbit and while that would be extremely more likely than the entire universe doing the same trick (which atheists also believe) nobody really believes that could happen (which makes you wonder why it’s okay for the universe but not a measly teapot).

Which leads me to one final thought.

The crux of this argument is that there is no good reason to believe in the teapot other than widespread indoctrination. Russell is asserting that blind  puts faith and reason at odds–and reason must triumph.

You knew we would get here eventually but enter Jesus as the anti-teapot. The uniter of heart and mind.

God saw fit to come to earth in the form of Jesus and become very detectable so that we might know Him, repent, believe, and live in redeemed relationship with Him.

The historicity of the life of Christ allows us to have a reasonable faith. We can study His life, His words, and the lives of the people He interacted with.

In Russell’s analogy he’s given us no reason to believe him about the teapot. If the teapot’s creator had authored a now ancient text describing the out of sight teapot we could study it.

If we had reason to believe the author we’d have reason to believe in the teapot. The same must be said for Jesus. But in Jesus’ case, his life, death and resurrection exist not as dogma but as historical evidence. In other words, facts. Not so for the tea pot.

Saint Augustine on Frustration with Pagans

Got this idea in your head that people in the past had it easy? That’s just not true. Take Augustine for example.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got this idea in my head that people in the past had it easy…

That they wrote, thought and taught in a vacuum–free from distractions, objections and frustrations.

Of course we know that’s not true.

What is true is we often read in a vacuum, without the historical context in which a sermon like “” or a book like  is written.

The same is true for Augustine’s , a book that’s part of my morning routine.

In this fat book Augustine is doing two things: One, confronting the accusation that the Christian religion is responsible for the destruction of Rome. And two, defining the city of God.

In  [a chapter called The limit to be imposed on discussion of objections] you sense Augustine’s frustration with those who “are too blind to see what is put before their face, or they are too perversely obstinate to admit what they see.”

Here’s the whole chapter [it’s short and worth reading carefully]:

If the feeble mind of man did not presume to resist the clear evidence of truth, but yielded its infirmity to wholesome doctrines, as to a health-giving medicine, until it obtained from God, by its faith and piety, the grace needed to heal it, they who have just ideas, and express them in suitable language, would need to use no long discourse to refute the errors of empty conjecture. But this mental infirmity is now more prevalent and hurtful than ever, to such an extent that even after the truth has been as fully demonstrated as man can prove it to man, they hold for the very truth their own unreasonable fancies, either on account of their great blindness, which prevents them from seeing what is plainly set before them, or on account of their opinionated obstinacy, which prevents them from acknowledging the force of what they do see.

There therefore frequently arises a necessity of speaking more fully on those points which are already clear, that we may, as it were, present them not to the eye, but even to the touch, so that they may be felt even by those who close their eyes against them.

And yet to what end shall we ever bring our discussions, or what bounds can be set to our discourse, if we proceed on the principle that we must always reply to those who reply to us? For those who are either unable to understand our arguments, or are so hardened by the habit of contradiction, that though they understand they cannot yield to them, reply to us, and, as it is written, speak hard things, and are incorrigibly vain. Now, if we were to propose to confute their objections as often as they with brazen face chose to disregard our arguments, and so often as they could by any means contradict our statements, you see how endless, and fruitless, and painful a task we should be undertaking.

And therefore I do not wish my writings to be judged even by you, my son Marcellinus, nor by any of those others at whose service this work of mine is freely and in all Christian charity put, if at least you intend always to require a reply to every exception which you hear taken to what you read in it; for so you would become like those silly women of whom the  that they are always learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Frankly, this reminds me of my own frustration I defined in An Open Letter to Skeptics and Dead: Our Spiritual Condition Apart from the New Birth.

More importantly it highlights the binding obligation we have of giving a simple, but repeated articulation of the Gospel–to Christian and pagan alike–regardless of our frustration.

Bottom line: The truth of God will be resisted in our world. Jesus said as much–and condemned as much those who resisted it–when he said:

For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them. 

And there is no apology needed on our part for articulating this “foolish and weak” Gospel of Jesus Christ because in the same breath we warn pagan and Christian alike of the coming judgment and offer eternal life to whoever hears our words and believes on Christ.

It’s the greatest act of love.

And so despite our frustration, we continue in our Christian work. Just like Augustine did.

The Enemy [It’s Not Who You Think]

In view of this growing, hostile reaction to Christianity, you need to keep these three things in mind as you hash out your plan of attack–or retreat.

Books supporting evolution are not in short supply.

Stand just inside my local Barnes and Noble and you’ll see what I mean.

Lining a shelf of the new and notable science publications and you’ll see books like .


And .

Nothing unusual.

But it’s that last one–by none other than Richard Dawkins–that did it…

That got the gears going.

An Abundance of Books Easily Amuses Me

What surprised me most about this book was not that he wrote a book on the evidence of evolution…

But that he keeps on doing it. Systematically. Deliberately.

Naturally, his other books are just variations on the theme. The Blind WatchmakerThe God DelusionThe Selfish Gene.

Then there’s the hundreds more published by other authors. It’s a veritable cottage industry breaking into the big time.

But it’s also indicative of a sense of alarm about the future of evolution and the threat of superstition.

So, in the face of this sleepless opposition, what are Christians to do? Enter the Christian apologists.

Soon We Will Resort to Cage Matches

To be fair, neither is there a shortage of books AGAINST evolution.

For example, a month or two down the road Alistair McGrath, Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, David Aikman–someone in the camp–will write a book called Evidence Against Evolution.

Or The REAL Greatest Show on the Earth: Evidence for Design.


Well, I’m banking on history here, because this is nothing more than the thrust, counter-thrust, counter-counter-thrust, counter-counter-counter thrust of our current scientific-spiritual climate.

A climate brewing for the last forty years.

My observation boils down to this: We get our underwear in a wad, convinced our privileged nation is going to hell in a hand basket, and so we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and single handedly stop the steamroller called evolution.

Or atheism. Or pagan spirituality. Whatever you want to call it.

I’m Guilty, Too

Believe me, I hear that same voice every time a new book opposing Christianity is published.

Whether it’s by Ehrman, Dawkins, Young or Tolle.

I want to write the book that saws off the branch that evolution sits on. That pulls out the rug from under higher criticism. That drowns false prophets.

Vicious, I know.

And don’t get me wrong: This competition is healthy.

Yet in view of this growing, hostile reaction to Christianity, you need to keep these three things in mind as you hash out your plan of attack–or retreat.

Three Reasons Why You Should Chill

One, this shouldn’t surprise one thoughtful Christian at all. .

Second, evolution,  like all scientific views, has a shelf life.

In fact, it may surprise many to learn that most biologists at the start of the 20th Century .

Darwinism revived when a handful of scientists merged his theory with Mendelian genetics.

This is not an isolated event. The history of science is full of such turnabouts.

Whatever Happened to These Scientific Theories?

Ever heard of the geosynclinal theory? Of course not. It was buried alive by plate tetonics.

Geocentric view of the universe? Shoved aside by Copernicus and his trusty heliocentric view.

That phlogiston caused heat?  Well, oxidation burned this one at the stake.

Yes, Darwinism remains the consensus. [As do the others.] How long? A lot longer, I believe, than most because it is truly a great idea.

But that’s where it remains. As an idea.

Didn’t See This Coming

My final and third point is this: the –the region that covers South America, Africa and China.

What’s so special about it? It’s a region of the world that’s experiencing unprecedented growth in Christianity.

And here’s the kicker: This is occurring in the face of rigid anti-religious cultures.

It’s really quite astonishing if you think about what’s going on in China, for example.

 in a nation very unkind to Christianity.

And while not the poverty and persecution of the extremely repressive Cultural Revolution in 3 decades China’s gone from 3 million Christians to anywhere from 54 million to 130 million.

Conservately, that’s 18-fold jump in Christians. Go with the liberal number and we’re talking a 43-fold leap.

And get this.

This wave of Christianity is not led by foreign missionaries: Christianity in China spreads from person to person.

Government crackdowns and public scrutiny. Christians beaten, arrested and church leaders jailed. Converts remaining anonymous for fear of persecution.

As much as changed in China, much has remained the same. But Christianity spreads.

So, while we fight for legislation to protect our freedom of speech or prayer or our right to insist marriage should remain between a man and woman, our .

What Gives?

Quite frankly, we could use a little persecution. And not only of the academic sort.

In the West, we have lots of bandwidth to do much with. No surprise that Christianity comes in 356 colors.

And then some.

And neither is it a surprise that most Christians affirm the view that as long as people leave them alone they’ll leave them alone.

We are comfortable and want to stay that way.

Perhaps it would do us well be stripped of our freedoms. To be limited in our movement.

Perhaps creating laws that decreed publishing a book opposing evolution could lead to death. To make a stand against abortion punishable by torture.

I predict that much of what we know as the church today would run for the woods if this ever occurred…

Or commit outright treason against Christ. [I’m sounding rather alarmist myself, aren’t I?]

A Conclusion

In a nutshell, rather than wring our hands over the fear that the sky is falling in, our time would be better spent if we simply rejoiced and made discipleship of the nations a singular and solitary pursuit.

If we first sharpened our sense of sound doctrine and gospel truth.

And that we started with our own people.

Once we get back on that horse, then we can get on with the business of trampling evolution. Whacha think?

How to Deal with Religious Conflict

What beliefs create peaceful behavior and deal with the discord of religion? Here’s the answer. Part of a series on truth.

There’s no getting around it: Everybody has an exclusive set of beliefs.

Moralists look down their noses at unbelievers as filthy, undisciplined misfits.

Secularists snub religious people as psychopathic nut jobs.

And pragmatists demand we shed our religious beliefs when we debate matters of life.

All privileged–but partial–views we hold over others.

Which View Is Right?

What we need to do [and what really matters in the long run] is to discover which set of beliefs create peaceful, inclusive and loving behavior…

…will radically change you into agents of reconciliation for the world…

…and deal with the discord of religion.

I know this sounds counter intuitive, but the set of beliefs that will do that are found in Christianity–and the uniqueness of the Christian gospel.

Here are three major ways Christianity is unique to other religious views.

1. Origin of Salvation

The founder of Christianity is not a human–he is God. God who came in the flesh. All other religious founders are human.

2. Purpose of Salvation

 That God came in the flesh is important. Most Eastern religions tend to teach liberation from the flesh. And most Western religions tend to condemn the flesh.

However, through the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christianity teaches that the flesh will be redeemed and renewed.

3. Method of Salvation

All other religions teach you to perform the truth to be saved. They put salvation in the hands of humans. Christianity, in contrast, puts salvation squarely in the hands of God:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 

Jesus lived the life that we should have lived and died the death we deserved. He suffered for people who didn’t love him. And this is the highest act of love.

Is There One True Religion?

I believe so.

How can I say that in a flat, pluralistic world where every religious flower can bloom? And how does that deal with religious conflict?

In the next post I’ll explain how holding these unique truths of Christianity seals people off from religious superiority, transforms them into agents of peace and produces humble, patient and compassionate behavior…behavior that ultimately shuts down religious animosity.

Pragmatism: Where It Breaks Down [and Why You Should Care]

Pragmatist argue that it’s necessary to check our religious beliefs at the door when we debate issues. Unfortunately, that can’t work. Part of a series on truth.

Richard Rorty, the leading American philosophical pragmatist–who I wrote about in The Problem with Your Personal Testimony post–argues that when you come to the public square to debate issues like divorce, abortion or civil marriage, you should leave your religion at home.

That’s pragmatism.

Unfortunately, there’s a problem with that approach.

The problem exists in the nature of religion. Religion, at its core, is a set of beliefs about the hard questions of life.

Hard questions like what is really real? What is a human being? Why is it possible to know anything at all? How do we know what is right and what is wrong?

What Pragmatism Looks Like in the Public Square

Let’s pretend for a moment that the issue on the table is population control via contraception, abortion and infanticide.

Someone who believes [based upon their religious view] that a person becomes a human at inception would see abortion and infanticide as legislated manslaughter–no matter its practical impact on society or economics.

Yet, a person who doesn’t hold that belief–say, like utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer–might argue that abortion and limited infanticide is a reasonable mechanism to control population and decrease economic strain on the health system.

As you can see, the question becomes, “Who throws out their belief?” Both arguments emerge from their answers to hard questions of life.

Where I’m Going with This

But my point here is not to argue the merits of one case over the other.

My point is simply that it’s impractical to remove one’s religious view from the public square–even if they are controversial and faith based.

In fact, to say “Please, leave your religious views at home” is in itself controversial and faith based.

It smacks of anti-religion. And exclusivity.

It’s equivalent to saying “My views are privileged above yours.” In other words, my beliefs hold sway over yours…

And my beliefs are exclusive to truth.

What Comes Next

So, in the end, it’s not a matter of practicality or exclusivity when we debate issues in the public because we’ve seen that the pragmatic argument is equally indicted as making an exclusive claim to truth…

And we’ve also seen that you can’t determine what’s practical until you determine which world view you hold.

So, in the end, it’s not a matter of who’s views are religious or not. It’s a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong.

And it’s best to decide that with evidence.

With that in mind, tomorrow we’ll explore why it makes sense to embrace Christianity’s exclusive claim to truth.

New Testament Slavery: A User-Friendly Guide

Why you shouldn’t be troubled by the New Testament’s failure to challenge the first century institution of slavery.

Modern readers are often troubled by the New Testament’s failure to criticize the first century institution of slavery.

This concern is often born of the idea that first century slavery is like pre-Civil War American slavery.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

First Century Slavery v. 18th Century: Major Differences

Even though first century slavery was widespread (half of Rome’s approximately  [warning: PDF]), slaves were often highly educated, permitted to own land and could expect emancipation.

Furthermore, slaves and masters were often of the . In other words, they were indistinguishable from each other.

Seneca records that a proposal was put forth to have slaves wear distinctive clothing. The proposal was shot down when someone pointed out that slaves would then see how numerous they were. []

Finally, because slaves supported the personal economy of masters, masters invested in their slaves. Owners often provided medical care and sufficient housing and food for their slaves and family.

This explains why slaves often chose to remain with their masters. A free man couldn’t take those things for granted [ Between Slavery and Freedom, M. I. Finley].

Treatment of Slaves

Naturally, the ideal slave owner was a benevolent patriarch who ruled justly and fairly.  he treated his slaves fairly, going as far as sending one to a friend’s villa on the French Riviera to recuperate from an illness.

Yet, since the treatment of slaves depended on the character of the master, mistreatment was rampant. Emperor Claudius passed laws that limited and forbid masters to punish or kill their slaves.

How to Become a First Century Slave

There were five main ways a person could become a slave during Jesus’ life.

1. Debt. People who couldn’t pay their debts offered themselves as slaves.

2. Retribution. A thief who couldn’t repay what he stole could be sold as a slave.

3. Parents. As a last resort, a  into slavery to pay off a debt.

4. Birth. Children born to slave parents became property of the masters. These children were known as “house born slaves.”

5. Conquest. A person could become a slaved when their nation was conquered by another nation.

Three Ways a Slave Could Buy His Freedom

What’s unique about the first century institution of slavery versus the 18th–especially in the Jewish context–is that a slave could eventually go free. That freedom came in three fundamental ways:

1. After six years, a slave was to be released. For nothing. 

2. In the , all slaves were released, no matter how long they’d been slaves.

3. Finally, slaves could buy their freedom–or someone could buy it for them.

Naturally, . As I mentioned above, there was great incentive for a slave to stay with his master.

Why Paul Didn’t Condemn Slavery

Slavery was such an essential, fundamental part of first century society–much like our current minimum-wage labor–that it was difficult for anyone embedded in the culture to call for the actual abolition of the institution. Instead, more emphasis was put on its reformation.

In that context, rather than call for an out-right rebellion, . But he also urged masters to treat their slaves with compassion.

There’s no doubt about it: Slaves in New Testament times stood at the bottom of the social scale.

Yet, the thrust of the New Testament is a new standing–neither free nor slave–but . In other words, slaves are no longer second class citizens, but brothers and sisters in Christ.

Therefore, even though there isn’t a direct call to abolish slavery in the New Testament, the implication of the gospel–especially it’s ethic of love–stands in opposition to slavery.

Final Thoughts

In the end, Paul was more concerned about people apart from Christ–people who were slaves to sin. He understood: Change a person’s heart and you change the way they treat slaves.

And the beauty of the gospel is that  from the bondage of sin.

All Christians–especially ministers–are servants of Christ. Bondservants. Rather, slaves. Slaves do not manage their lives. Neither do Christians. We acknowledge that the Savior has power over us. And so joyfully embrace this institution of slavery.

Doubt and the Chief Purpose of the Holy Spirit

In which you learn something peculiar about the Cold War Russian Christian’s biblical diet.

Did you know that if you lived in  as a Christian…

Your diet of religious teaching amounted to smuggled Bibles and a state-printed encyclopedia of atheism?

You have to wonder…

In the face of hostile, overwhelming anti-Christian propaganda, how did these Christians NOT abandon Christ?

The answer: The inner witness of the Holy Spirit.

What Is the Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit?

The chief purpose of the Holy Spirit is to provide personal assurance of a believer’s salvation. , ”The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.”

In other words,  with his spirit to secure us for the day when our salvation is complete–the day of redemption.

He stamps us with his official ownership by placing the Holy Spirit upon us. This seal indicates his ownership and authority over us. And our safety and security in him.

the inscription of God’s seal reads, “The Lord knows those who are his.”

When Are We Sealed with God’s Spirit?

At salvation. And every Christian believer is sealed. In fact, even the spiritually immature Corinthians were sealed.

them when he writes that God “set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

The Valuable Role of the Holy Spirit in Apologetics

And because God permanently sealed us with his spirit, we are forever secure as his prized possession. No power on earth or in heaven…now or yet to come…is strong enough to break this seal.

That means our final redemption rests entirely on God and his authority. That means no earthly discouragement or circumstance can change who owns and guards us.

And that means this confidence in the witness plays a valuable role in convincing believers of their own relationship with God.

It’s an indirect confirmation of the truth of the Christian Gospel. That is, in it’s essence, the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.

The Inner Witness Exceeds All Human Testimony

When you become a genuine believer, you experience the Holy Spirit’s presence. It’s an immediate experience of God himself.

And while this is a subjective assurance of Christian truth–and not very helpful in convincing a non-believer–it provides a concrete assurance for the believer.

Thus, as Christian believers we have the testimony of the loving God in us. And this testimony exceeds in force all human testimony.

It’s how Christian believers behind the Iron Curtain survived in spite of tremendous, systematic oppression.

It’s how Luther could stand before an emperor who wanted nothing less than an ironclad recantation and say “…my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me.”

And it’s how a small band of no-names in the first century relentlessly spread the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean knowing suffering and death loomed behind every corner.


The Holy Spirit is a promise to the Christian believer that God will protect him. And provide for him without limit. And that he will keep every promise he inspired in his word.

Religious doubt. Potential . Aggressive ridicule. Threats of violence. Even death. In the end, all these challenges to a believers faith can’t stand against the inner testimony of God himself.

As the old hymn said, “On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.”

Where are your feet planted, friend?

Small-Town Pastor Answer’s Easter Challenge

Remember my post on Dan Barker’s Easter Challenge last month? Well, a few things have happened since then.

Let me fill in the gaps.

In that post I pointed out that even after a few days of research I came up with only two Christian responses to Barker’s challenge.

One by . Another by a small-town [pop. 350] Idaho pastor named Stephen Kingsley.

This post is about Kingsley.

See, Kingsley wrote a small book called …a book, he claims succeeds in answering Barker’s sophisticated challenge.

However, in my original post I complained that Kingley’s book wasn’t on Amazon. Or available anywhere except on his website. Meaning, no reviews. Nothing to objectively gauge his claims.

To make a long story short, Kingsley heard my complaint and was kind enough to send me the book on the promise I’d review it.

I’m cashing in on that promise now.

Why the Resurrection Accounts Seem Irreconcilable

First off, it’s obvious Kingsley did his homework. He super impressed me with the authorities he approached–including the –skeptics he engaged and the time he spent working this challenge out.

And let me note that the issue at hand is not whether the resurrection really happened. The issue at hand is the consistency of the different narratives. That’s all.

If anything, as Kingsley points out, “The accounts prove one another incomplete, not contradictory.”

Kingsley suggests that one of the reasons the accounts may seemed difficult to reconcile is because of our assumption that the writers were writing about the identical trip at the same time. Looking closely, he says, may prove otherwise.

Thus, he spends the remainder of the book proving that the accounts are similar and supplemental rather than identical and contradictory.

One Major Roadblock to Success

Kingsley’s approach is unique in that he isolates all 165 verses Barker demands must be used…and then systematically weaves the story.

Sounds easy, right? But there’s a hitch. Kingsley first has to overcome the very problematic .

The essence of the Matthew 28:1 problem lies in the translation of the Greek word opse. Does it mean “after?” Or does it mean “late?”

Kingsley demonstrates that it must mean “late”–in spite of the current and popular translation as “after”– and with that piece of the puzzle in place, he seamlessly assembles the rest of the story.

Explanation for Her Psychological State Is a Stretch

There is one snag in his theory, though.

He goes into great lengths to explain Mary Magdalene’s psychological state during her second trip to the empty tomb, this time with the women.

What’s at stake is explaining why she behaves as if she doesn’t know the tomb is empty. I mean, she’s already been there. Why not clue the gals in on her little secret?

Kingsley’s explanation is a stretch. But it’s certainly possible. So are a dozen others. Therefore, if critics attack Kingley’s book, this will be one of the places.

However, we have to remember that when dealing with historical evidence, historians, text critics and social anthropologists always have to create a scenario out of the evidence. Otherwise, all you have is a story with people moving from one place to another.

Most unlike life.

In the end, the book proves to be a great commentary on the 165 verses in question. And in addition, I do think that Kingsley’s answer is satisfactory and he does indeed answer Barker’s challenge.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t have remaining questions.

My Lingering Questions

I wonder if Kingsley’s offered his solution to the scrutiny of Christian scholars yet? I know he’s sent Barker the book who, to date, hasn’t read it. Barker did promise Kingsley he would get around to it.

Second, I wonder how many atheists have actually taken this challenge? Seeing that Barker’s Easter Challenge is the atheist  par excellence, you’d think mabye someone would have taken to it. I don’t know of any. Do you?

Finally, why are we really even debating this?

Perhaps what’s important is not that the texts can stand up to this kind of scrutiny…but it’s there if we need it.

And by the way, you can if Kingsley’s done the impossible. Go vote.