Sunday, 15 August 2010

Is the God of Christianity the God of the Bible?

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 15th August 2010.

A prominent Christian, trying to build a bridge with the Muslim community, said, “We worship the same God as you do.”

His Muslim audience retorted, “Our God is the God of Abraham, and Noah, and Jesus – the God Allah.”

This Christian, along with the majority of modern Christians, subscribes to the orthodox ‘Trinitarian’ view of God, which views him as one God in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This view is incomprehensible to Muslims – and also to Jews, and to many Christians.

Another orthodox Christian has said, “The Trinity is not simple to express briefly, and it is impossible to explain fully.” We have to ask the question, is the Trinity the God of the Bible?

Three questions which Trinitarians find it very difficult to answer:

1. Who was tempted in the wilderness?

2. Who died on the cross?

3. Who ‘learned obedience by the things which he suffered’? (Hebrews 4)

Bible passages which are claimed to support the doctrine of the Trinity

Genesis 1 verses 1 to 5. When God created the world, the Hebrew word ‘Elohim’ which the Bible writer uses is actually plural – “In the beginning Gods created the heaven and the earth.”

Is this really talking about a ‘triune godhead’? Genesis is the Jewish Bible, and the Jews have never taken the word ‘Elohim’ to mean a trinity. Instead they generally interpret it as God being addressed in the plural – an idiom of the Hebrew language. (Another explanation is that god is talking to the angels who worked in the creation of the world (Job 38:7).)

John 1 verses 1 to 5: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him …” In the King James version and most of the versions which have followed, this reads very much as though Jesus was the Word. However, the King James version, along with most of its successors, have been translated by people with a distinct Trinitarian bias. Earlier translations such as Tyndale’s refer to the ‘word’ as ‘it’, with apparently no implication that it refers to Jesus.

Jesus was the ‘word made flesh’ (verse 14), i.e. God’s son brought to birth in the purpose of God. See Luke 1:35, John 17:3.

(There is also a school of thought which says that actually John chapter 1 is entirely speaking about Christ, and not at all about the creation of the world. This is another subject.)

John 17 verse 5: “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” Surely this is a reference to Jesus’ pre-existence as part of the ‘godhead’? However, passages such as 1 Peter 1:19-20 teach that Jesus was in the purpose of God from the beginning – he did not exist until he was born.

The history of the Trinity

The Bible itself says nothing even remotely about ‘one God in three persons’.

However, from the early days of the Christian community people were speculating about the nature of Christ, and suggestions soon arose that he was perhaps part of the ‘godhead’. The Nicene Creed in 323 AD was the first time that the idea was formalised. The Creed was steered through by the emperor Constantine in order to head off disunity between opposing theological factions in the church.

Monday, 9 August 2010

What the Bible says about science

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 8th August 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

My purpose this evening as a Bible believer and also a scientist is not to try and give a detailed response to those areas of science which seem to contradict the Bible but rather to show that it is reasonable to believe in the Bible, in a scientific world. I’ll be honest; the Bible says nothing about what we have come to think of as science in the 21st Century. The Bible is only concerned with spiritual things, with winning the hearts and minds of men. The Bible claims that God exists, that he was our creator. It shows God as very concerned for us and that He is always grieved by sin, which is when men follow their own way and not His. He could interfere but does not because that would remove the gift of choice. The Bible lays out God’s purpose, that is, His way of solving the problem of sin and eventually filling the Earth with His Glory. Which is a religious way of saying that God has planned that He and mankind together will live one day in perfect harmony on a perfect planet for ever, with no war, illness pain or death to spoil the perfection.

Let me assure you that the Bible is not against the natural truth about the world that science has uncovered. The Bible states simply that God created the universe therefore its operating principles were also created by Him. Some of these natural truths were actually written into the Bible long before men re-discovered them and called it science. The Creator does not reveal to us the details of how he made everything, it just serves as a background to the working out of His purpose with human beings. God is unconcerned about the physical form of things. He is only concerned about the mind of man. Nevertheless, that background is there, if you look for it. Examples: Ecclesiastes 1 v 5 - 7 In our age we just call it weather. Job 26 v 7 “He hangeth the world on nothing. In our age we call it space/time. Matthew 6 v 19 Rust and Moth doth corrupt, we call these biology and chemistry. There are dozens of other examples. But what’s in a name? The Bible writes about these as fundamental principles built into the fabric of the world; it is not concerned about explaining the mechanisms. Christ says: v 20 “Lay up for yourself treasures in heaven”. The Bible reveals that the failure to see God as the prime cause of nature has consequences and those consequences are what we are going to be talking about.

If then the Bible says nothing about science why are we talking about it?

The point is that unless we are scientists very few of us understand what science is or what it has done to us. We have vague impressions of test tubes and chemical flasks, atomic symbols and the DNA twisted helix. But these are just images for popular consumption. It is paraded as truth but all it actually is, is a current model of the world. The heroic message pumped out is that science is fashioned by the struggle of human reason. From the first taming of fire to the microwave oven the inventiveness of man has made steady progress. It is celebrated in chatty TV programmes and glossy magazine articles and popular books.

This is propaganda and dangerously seductive propaganda. In reality we have been and are deceived by what science really is - a particular way of thinking which has shown itself unable to coexist with any other way of thought. The gadgets it produces and the comforts we enjoy are not what science is about, they are only the side effects. We have forgotten how new science is in human history. Science and technology have not developed gradually over thousands of years as we are informed; it has exploded all about us over the last 400 years.

The traces of the conflict are still there. Let us go to the two times in the Bible when the word “science” is actually used. Daniel 1 v 4 in the Old Testament, that part of the Bible written before Jesus Christ in the Hebrew language and in 1 Timothy 6 v 20 written after Jesus Christ in the Greek language. If you have a modern translation you will notice that the word does not appear, it is only used in what is called the Authorised Version or the King James Bible, a translation completed in 1611. From the context and from later translations we quickly realise that the word ‘science’ does not mean what we think. In the Old Testament, the word means ‘to ascertain by seeing’, and is used to describe ‘knowledge’ which in Daniels case meant he had a good grasp of the facts of any subject. NIV. In the New Testament it is the word ‘Gnosis’ and is always used of the knowledge of God and His salvation. Paul’s use of the word here in I Timothy 6 is about matters of faith as emphasised by the last verse v 21.

Why then is the word in the Authorised version translated as ‘Science’?

The AV was translated and first published at a time when the Church of the day that we now call the Catholic Church was reeling under the impact of something new. It was called in Italy the ‘Scienza Nuova’. The ‘New Knowledge’. The people of 400 years ago had a picture of their world that is very peculiar to our understanding. It was based on the published knowledge of a Greek called Aristotle born in 384 BC, which another man called Thomas Aquinas had incorporated into the Christian faith in 1266. Since that time the science, the knowledge of the day was founded not upon observation and experiment but by the authority of the Church. The celestial heavens were, perfect, unchangeable, pure and refined not made out of the stuff of Earth. It was where God lived together with the immortal angels. Also as obviously, the Earth was diseased and filthy, subject to decay and change, full of sin and death and corruption. The purpose of the whole system was so that man could rise from the cess pit of sin it to the purity of heaven through the salvation offered by Christ. The salvation of Mankind was therefore the heart and cause of the whole observed system from men to stars. It was a model that seemed to fit. It was the truth as seen by men of that age.

In 1609 however a man called Galileo looked through a telescope and saw that the world did not fit the model. He saw that the moon had mountains and plains and was essentially the same as the Earth; it was not made of celestial substance. He saw the moons of Jupiter circling the planet just like the Earth and it’s moon. He saw that Saturn had rings. He saw a super nova and knew it was a new star thus proving that the immutable heavens were also subject to change. He watched swinging lamps and dropped weights from the Tower at Pisa and deduced how principles of acceleration, mass, velocity and time interacted. He wrote “In science the authority embodied in the opinion of thousands is not worth a spark of reason in one man”. The authority of the Church was under threat, and the Catholic Church tried to brutally suppress this New Knowledge of how to look at things without religion. This is the reason that the translators in the Daniel 1 translated ‘to ascertain by seeing’ as ‘science’ and why in 1 Timothy 6 v 20 they used the word ‘oppositions of science’. It was a feeble effort to bolster the authority of the Bible. And it did not work. While the ideas were there since 1543 with the speculations of Copernicus it was Galileo who proved it and marketed it thus becoming the father of our modern world and those who followed him have removed the old certainties one by one. The world’s culture has been progressively overwhelmed and transformed by science. Science more than anything else has made us who we are; it is the unique signature of our age.

Science is a totally different form of knowledge. Take the idea of maps which always had areas unknown on them marked ‘here be dragons’ because mapmakers were only left with imagination when the limits of their knowledge were reached. Then the ‘new knowledge’ cast invisible lines called latitude and longitude over the planet and suddenly by looking at the position of the stars and making a calculation we could know where we were in relationship to everywhere else. It worked. There was no speculation required. This was not simply better knowledge it is utterly different knowledge – and it works with spectacular effectiveness. Straight away the old maps seem na├»ve, the wisdom of the past seems quaint. Those invisible mental lines that science drew, technology has made real with cables, radio and microwave links. We have killed the dragons. This is the power of science and the lure of science and the danger of science.

Science it is claimed is neutral or innocent but it is not. Science has done us terrible spiritual damage and in our day the world at large are only just beginning to realise it. It forces us to separate our values from our knowledge of how things work. It is a spiritual corrosive, dissolving away old traditions and ancient authorities.

All science has, is its effectiveness. What does it tell us about our past; it can only offer theories. What can it tell us about our future; it can only guess. What does it tell us about ourselves and how we must live; the answer is ‘nothing’. One philosopher has written, “We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched.” As we look at news day by day we know that this is true. All the science we know cannot give us peace of mind; the Bible can. Phil 4 v 6 - 7. Science has not stopped war and conflict only made it more destructive; the Bible reveals the end of war Isaiah 2 v 4. Science has enabled women beyond the menopause to conceive and bear children but cannot tell us what love is. The Bible reveals that love is the driving power of the purpose of God. John 3 v 16 1 Cor 13 v 3. Science can explain why a sunset looks red but cannot tell us why it looks beautiful. The Bible does Ecc 3 v 11 or it can explain exactly what the waveform of a musical harmony looks like but cannot explain why the sound can make us weep or tap our feet 1 Chron 15 v 16. Albert Einstein’s wife was once asked if she understood the theory of relativity and replied “Oh no, although dear Albert has explained it to me many times – but it is not necessary to my happiness”. We might ask then what it is necessary for?
Science while it is a distinctively human creation perversely seems to have no room in it for humans.

The authority of the Church has gone, the position of the Earth relegated to an insignificant speck. Space and time have become infinite. Heaven and Hell relegated to myth. We do not even have ourselves. Man has been presented as first a descendant of apes and then as an accident of chance, here for a little while before the impersonal cosmos obliterates us as if we had never been. We are nothing. That is what science has done for us.

In this negative sense the Bible has a lot to say about science. Look at the same book we started with in 2 Timothy 3 v 1 – 7. This is a perfect description of what happens when man has no spiritual hope and it is happening now. The Bible says it is the last days. All though the ages the Bible has been there answering the questions that science does not and cannot answer. 2 Timothy 3 v 15 - 17. It is obvious that there is something in the human condition, which demands a dimension we call spiritual. The true struggle for the vast majority of human beings is to find a basis for goodness, purpose and meaning in life. The Bible gives us the answers but to understand them you need faith. This is not the dirty word that some scientists say it is. We forget that scientists who insist that they are telling us how the world is are also asking for our faith in their current model.

The days of the omnipotent, problem-solving technology is over. Science has been shown to lack a vital human input and looks more and more like a child playing in his father’s workshop full of dangerous and inexplicable tools.

Surely such a major change must have been prophesied and recorded by the Bible if as it claims it is the word of God. Well it does. We have already seen the consequences of having no hope. Look at Daniel 12 v 4. Knowledge shall be increased the old translators missed that one (science) shall be increased. When “at the time of the end”

The Bible is a book of fundamental certainties and we would encourage you to read it and understand what it is saying to you.

Don’t be afraid of a simple faith or be browbeaten by the brashness and certainty of science. Psalm 53 v 1 - 3

Gain the confidence that faith brings. Hebrews 11 v 1 - 3.

Believe that there is a creator who is concerned for this world and mankind. The earth will not be destroyed Ecclesiastes 1 v 4.

Don’t be fearful about war all that will stop when Jesus Christ returns as we have seen in Isaiah. It is certain.

Don’t worry about death. God promises that if you believe in Him and follow His ways you can live forever Romans 6 v 23

He also promises that there will be an accounting. Revelation 11 v 18

The lesson that Jesus describes in Luke 21 which applies just as much to the people of our day, to you and me, as it did to the people of Jesus' day. V 34 – 36.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Marriage is for Life

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 1st August 2010.

We live in an age where marriage is seen to be of no importance. The Bible however shows us why it was introduced, why it is relevant and what it represents.

Genesis 2 v 18 shows us that God made woman to be a helpmeet for man (Adam). The man and the woman would together form one unit. Whilst all of the animal kingdom was made from the dust of the ground, as was man, woman was made from part of man, so man and woman were part of each other, unlike the rest of the animal kingdom.

The Principle of Marriage and the Roles of Husband and Wife

God created man and woman to be two different parts of one unit – together they have different but important roles to carry out in forming that unit.

Following their sin in the Garden of Eden by heeding the words of the serpent and partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, God specified how they were to be punished in Genesis 3. Amongst those punishments, God declares to the man that: “in the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread”. He would have to work in order to provide for himself and his family.

The woman was to be subject to her husband – “he shall rule over thee”. The role of the husband however is not to act as a dictator to his wife, but rather to take responsibility by guiding and caring for his wife and family.

Priorities of the woman include care of the children and those of the man include caring for his household – neither are exclusive to the one or the other, but they are primarily responsible for these roles. The scriptures show us however that the role of the wife is not to be a slave to her husband.

Proverbs 31 v 10-11 shows us that the husband and wife should be able to trust each other, and the relationship should be lifelong. Hebrews 13 v 4 also shows us that a sexual relationship should only be within marriage, and that God will judge those who go against this or commit adultery.

Marriage as a Type of Christ and His Followers

Ephesians 5 v 22–33 again reiterates the importance of the roles that husband and wife have in a marriage, and we see why the roles have been created as they are. It is an example which points forward to the time when Jesus returns to the earth.

The time will come when Jesus Christ will return to earth to set up God’s kingdom and he will be joined together with his faithful followers. Christ is often referred to as the bridegroom and his followers who are found to have been faithful are collectively referred to as his bride. Christ as the bridegroom cares for those who seek to follow his example, and the role of his followers (the bride) when he returns will be to assist him in setting up God’s kingdom on earth.

Revelation 19 talks about the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (the Lamb being another term often used in referring to Jesus Christ, as he was a type of the sacrificial lamb when he was crucified).

The marriage supper refers to the time when Jesus will be united with his faithful followers. If we want to be part of the “bride” that will be chosen to assist him in that time to come, we need to follow the example that he has set for us in the Bible. By doing this, a wonderful hope awaits us as we will have the opportunity to live and reign with Jesus when he establishes God’s kingdom here on earth.