Archive for March, 2007

The Bones Of Jesus

In over fifty years of ministry as a pastor I have seen too many evidences there is a spiritual world not to believe in the supernatural. In reading the most reliable documents of the era-the New Testament, I am confident they are historically accurate. I have studied form criticism, textual criticism and higher criticism and remain convinced.

Now for the fifteenth consecutive year with the approach of the Easter celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a group has unleashed an effort to discredit the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus with another sophism.
Film maker James Cameron and his team claim to have found the bodily remains of Jesus Christ.

Around the time of Jesus the bones of deceased persons were placed in stone boxes called ossuary. I have seen one in the Hebrew Museum in Jerusalem that is inscribed with the name of Caiaphas, the high priest. It was initially offered as proof Caiaphas had been converted to Christianity after the resurrection. There is one on display in Florida allegedly to have been the burial box for James the brother of Jesus. A large cache can be seen in a small building on the Mount of Olives.

Now comes another opprobrious effort to discredit Jesus on the basis of statistics in that there are boxes found along with this most recent revelation with the names of other Bible characters. These names in the period were among the most common.

Finding them together and representing them as statistical proof they contain Jesus’ bones is not statistical proof but a sadistical effort.

The curator of the Israel Museum says of the claims in finding the lost tomb of Jesus, they are more than remote. He concludes “They are closer to fancy.” The boxes were first found in 1980 and beginning with the first expert to examine the boxes, most objective authorities say there is no connection with Jesus Christ.

The tomb in suburban Jerusalem in which the ossuaries were found is known as “the Jesus tomb,” the tomb of Jesus’ family. Tombs were very expensive. Where would a simple carpenter an itinerant preacher get enough money to afford such a tomb? Had He owned a tomb, it would have been the only earthly thing He is known to have had.  Had He owned a family tomb, according to Jewish tradition, it would have been in Nazareth not Jerusalem.

Tombs had to be registered with the Jewish authorities of the day. If a personality as public and popular as Jesus had a family tomb, its registration would have been a thing of note. There was no such tomb registered.

Mary the mother of Jesus is also said to have been buried in the same tomb. From the cross Jesus gave John the responsibility of caring for his mother. Creditable records say that in caring for her he eventually buried her in Ephesus-now a part of Turkey. I have visited her tomb there as have millions of tourists.

Yet, the Discovery Channel documentary was based on statistics and a few critics who aspire to discredit Jesus.

Logic disputes their statistics.

Friends and enemies alike at the time agree on a few things. Both knew Jesus was dead when removed from the cross. The equivalent of a Roman death certificate was issued. They agreed he was buried in a certain tomb. They agreed that three days later the body was missing.

Jesus’ followers declared He had arisen from the dead. If He had not, someone stole his body.

If his enemies had stolen the body, all they had to do was present the body and discredit claims of a resurrection. They very much wanted it discredited.
Because of claims of the resurrection followers of Jesus were tortured and killed in order to get them to renounce their claims. Had they stolen the body they could have simply presented the body and spared themselves. Would they have died for a known lie?

A few days after Jesus’ death Peter preached and condemned those who were responsible for Jesus’ death. He proclaimed the resurrection and charged the people to repent. Of those present at the time of the death of Jesus 3000 repented and were baptized. They were convinced of the resurrection. They had heard and seen enough in the interval between the resurrection event and the sermon to know He arose.

After Jesus’ resurrection, He was seen by 1, 2, 5, 10, 11, and at once by 500 people over a period of forty days to be alive. He was seen indoors and outdoors, on shadowed roadways and sunny beaches. They walked with Him, talked with Him, dined with Him twice, and touched Him more than once. Those of the era believed Jesus to be both dead and later alive. It changed culture and still does.

To settle the issue, the Sanhedrin (the Supreme Court of the era) appointed a special investigator from their number. He was the apple of their intellectual eye named Paul. As a critic he examined the case more than anyone of the era intent upon disproving it. This distinguished jurist concluded “He is risen” and became a follower of Jesus Christ like the legion after him.

This scholar, Paul, was so convinced of the resurrection he endured five beatings of thirty-nine stripes each, three times he was beaten with rods, once stoned, frequently imprisoned, suffered shipwreck, endured hunger, thirst, sleeplessness, cold, nakedness and frequently endured perilous conditions (II Corinthians 12: 25-27) and steadfastly held to his belief in the resurrection based on his investigative research. Such is the proof that the chief investigator who gathered more evidence than anyone was convinced by the evidence of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

We are left to believe either his accumulative evidence along with the witnesses to the event, or persons who 2000 years later are denouncing the resurrection based on their presuppositions and presumptions.

Article Update

Mariamene is rare, and in some early Christian texts it is believed to refer to Mary Magdalene.

But having analyzed the inscription, Steven Pfann, Bible scholar at the U. Of Holy Land in Jerusalem,  published a detailed article on his university’s Web site asserting that it doesn’t read “Mariamene” at all.

The inscription, Pfann said, is made up of two names inscribed by two different hands: the first, “Mariame,” was inscribed in a formal Greek script, and later, when the bones of another woman were added to the box, another scribe using a different cursive script added the words “kai Mara,” meaning “and Mara.” Mara is a different form of the name Martha.

According to Pfann’s reading, the ossuary did not house the bones of “Mary the teacher,” but rather of two women, “Mary and Martha.”

“In view of the above, there is no longer any reason to be tempted to link this ossuary … to Mary Magdalene or any other person in biblical, non-biblical or church tradition,” Pfann wrote.

Pfann also notes ancient Semitic is difficult to read. The name is likely “Hanun,” not Jesus.

When asked if he thought there was a 5% chance these could be the bones of Jesus answered, “No, no, no, no. I deny it completely.”

Professor Amos Kloner, one of Israel’s most prominent archaeologists, the name Jesus was so popular in the period that three other ossary have been found inscribed with that name. He points out that “countless others with Mary and Joseph” have been found.

Simcha Jacobovic, who helped produce the film, has faced criticism much tougher than Pfann’s academic critique. The film has been termed “archaeo-porn,” and Jacobovici has been accused of “pimping the Bible.”

The Carter/Clinton Denomination

Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are undertaking the establishment of a new religious denomination.
I am a member of the imperfect denomination they are leaving in order to establish a more perfect world order. They say their “all inclusive” denomination will fight poverty, work on health care, environmental issues, and eliminate religious and racial conflict.
Both of these men have been critical of Southern Baptists-and we deserve some criticism like most religious bodies. I say most because I met the pastor of and have his calling card with the name of his church in Atlanta: “The Perfect Church.” I always wanted to meet his wife to see what she had to say about that.
In addition to criticizing Southern Baptists, they should take time to observe some of the good the denomination is already doing in the areas they propose to address. They have been so preoccupied with criticism they have failed to take note of attributes and assets with which they could ally and achieve far more than by starting another denomination.
In noting areas in which Southern Baptists are making progress I want to readily admit much progress is yet to be made.
In 1995 Southern Baptists issued a resolution of repentance. The lengthy document stated in part, “…we apologize to all African Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systematic racism….” Implementation of the commitments to work for racial reconciliation are on going.
Peter Wagner of Fuller Theological Seminary, not a Southern Baptist wrote, “At the top of the list in ethnic ministries in the United States are Southern Baptists…. Southern Baptists are the most ethically diverse denomination, worshiping in 87 languages in more than 4,600 language-culture congregations every Sunday.”
It should be noted the denomination works with many diverse racial groups, especially Native Americans.
The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, of which Southern Baptists are a part, has done work in the area of the environment which “would improve the lot of the poor more surely and effectively” than that proposed by many environmentalists groups. Their proposals are believed to be potentially more effective in reducing high rates of disease and premature deaths and have a more positive impact on the poor.
Another area the presidents propose to address is world hunger. Southern Baptists are at the forefront of denominations seeking to provide relief. Much help is needed in that 16,000 children worldwide die daily from hunger related causes. That is one child every five seconds.
Messrs. Presidents, more can be done more immediately by working in programs already in place than reinventing the wheel. By doing so, time, money, and lives can be saved.
Oh, by the way Messrs. Presidents, you have said nothing about such spiritual ministries as Christ commissioned His church to fulfill: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you…”

Amazing Grace

It is impossible to imagine 10 million Africans being crowded aboard slave ships on a journey into injustice, cruelty, and unimaginable human suffering. An estimated 20% of them died at sea.
 In England, William Wilberforce, a quiet 21 year old, was elected to the British Parliament. He admitted he was lazy and rarely spoke.
 Slavery was so accepted that it was unacceptable to speak in public of abolishing it. Before Parliament could be changed to act against the travesty, the hearts of millions in Briton had to be changed.
 About the same time, John Newton, the son of a slave trader, was involved trading in slaves for the East India Company. In 1748, his ship almost sank in a violent storm. He fell on his knees and asked God for mercy. He renounced his trade and became a minister in the Church of England. He wrote a sermon titled “Faith’s Review and Expectation.” It was the basis of what was at first a chant not a song. It became a song that now has 972 arrangements and is found in 1,100 music albums. That song, “Amazing Grace,” compared God’s grace and his own wretchedness.
 As a child, Wilberforce met Newton. Now as an adult he began attending Newton’s church. That, coupled with his own reading of the New Testament changed his life. Compassion flooded his life and his great oratory skills were birthed.  He committed his life to working against a number of injustices such as prison reform, fair care of prisoners of war, improvements in hospitals, the prevention of cruelty to animals, and society reforms throughout the British Empire. None received more effort than slavery.
He knew the improbability amid the existing social climate of abolishing slavery. The slave trade however was the life’s blood of the economy. Tactfully and eloquently he began to speak before Parliament of the impropriety and immorality of buying and selling human beings. His endgame was the abolishment of slavery. Almost imperceptibility the hearts of the British people and then Parliament were changed to see the evil of such conduct.
 Though chronically ill he pursued his efforts which were repeatedly repulsed. His courage and compassion led to him being called “the conscience of Parliament.” He crafted several anti-slavery bills which were defeated. Persistently Wilberforce collected evidence of the injustice of slavery and garnered 390,000 signatures opposing it.
 His tenacity resulted in Parliament approving his abolishment bill in 1807, and ended the travesty that caused millions to suffer. Wilberforce, a man small in statue, stood tall and wept over the victory.
 On this the 200th anniversary of that action, a movie related to the events has been released entitled “Amazing Grace.” It is a must see.
 Globally today there are more than 27 million people living is slavery. The struggle goes on. May those who have experienced amazing grace ever struggle against slavery.