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The Composition Date for the Book of Acts

The book of Acts is essential to understanding the birth and early growth of the first-century church, and for the most part it is straight forward and not hard to understand.  However, some historians and scholars disagree about its historical accuracy and when it was written, and as you research Acts you will be confronted with some of these disagreements.  A major disagreement concerns when did Luke finish writing and publicize the book of Acts. This blog argues that the early date of Acts is the most defensible and reasonable conclusion with respect to when it was written. There are two compelling reasons why Acts should be viewed as having been written before the outbreak of the Neronian persecutions (ca. early AD 65 or early AD 66). First, Luke ended his history of the early church with a description of Paul’s condition, writing that, “For two whole years he lived in his own rented place and welcomed everyone who came to him. He continued to preach the kingdom of God and to teach about the Lord Jesus Christ with perfect boldness and freedom” (Acts 28.30-31). To be sure, if Luke was aware of Paul’s fate and the Empire’s attempt to eradicate Christianity, then ending Acts with such a cheery description would have been unthinkable, if for no other reason that such an ending would make Luke appear completely incompetent since most of his readers would have either already known about Paul’s fate, or would eventually learn what truly happened to him. Some argue, however, that Paul’s inevitable fate was not important to Luke, and that Luke’s purpose was more “theological” than “historical.”  This is not a well defended position simply because the book contains far more historical data than explanations on theological issues. Moreover, the book is titled “Acts of the Apostles” instead of “The Beliefs of the Apostles” precisely because it overwhelmingly focuses upon the activities, accomplishments, and deeds of the early church and its leaders.  Of course it also contains theological content, but this is unavoidable since the focus and purpose of the church is theological in nature.  Nevertheless, if Luke was primarily concerned with the church’s theology, then more content within Acts would look more like what is found in Acts 15 (i.e., the Jerusalem Council), but it does not. Luke’s primary purpose in Acts is clearly more descriptive than prescriptive, in other words he focused predominantly on explaining and documenting the church’s birth and subsequent growth from a small sect within Judaism, to its inclusions of Gentiles, and to its ultimate arrival to the heart of the Empire.

The second reason for concluding that Acts was composed before the outbreak of the Neronian persecutions is that Luke placed a high value upon persecution and martyrdom accounts and included them in the book whenever he could. This is obvious from his inclusion of the martyrdoms of both Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and James the brother of John; as well as various riot accounts found throughout the book.  If Luke had known about the martyrdoms of both Paul and Peter, arguably the two most important leaders of the first-century church, then he would have assuredly provided accounts documenting their deaths, or at least references to them in his history of the church (not to mention the martyrdom of Jesus’ brother James, ca. AD 62). But instead of references to the deaths of these significant leaders, Luke provided travel records throughout Acts (e.g., Acts 27.1-28.10), some of which are rather uneventful.  Additionally, not only does Acts show no hint of the fates of these important leaders, but as Cason and Moo observed, the exact opposite is true, Luke seems to portray a rather positive outlook for the church’s leaders, as well as a healthy relationship between the church and the Roman Empire (CM, 298-300).  Again, such an outlook would have been completely inconceivable if Acts was written any time after the beginning of Neronian persecutions. In fact, once Nero condemned Christianity as subversive and began targeting its leaders for execution, then Christianity became an illegal religion its eyes of the Empire. Moreover, Nero’s ruling against Christianity became the legal basis for all of the Empire’s future persecutions of church over the next couple of centuries. Consequently, if Luke wrote Acts sometime after the cessation of the Neronian persecutions, then his book would not have improved the image of the church, but would have actually endangered it by documenting where it could be found and who were some of its remaining leaders.  Luke should be assumed to have more intelligence than to have written such a potentially dangerous book if he was aware of the Empire’s lethal hostility towards the church.  The Empire had claimed the lives of some of his closest friends, what could he have possibly gained by composing a work that would have only endangered more of them?

Think about it this way, if 3 years ago someone wrote a book about the rise of Isis and its condition, then the book would have concluded with some ambiguity with respect to its future.  However, if one wrote a book on Isis 10 years from now, it would be inconceivable to not explain or at least reference its collapse.  Of course, Isis’ ultimate defeat would not have to be the book’s main purpose, but to completely ignore its current state as an organized geo-political force during the book’s composition would be a rather glaring omission, one that would make the author appear completely out of touch.  Nevertheless, some scholars still make tentative speculations about the book’s date of composition; however, the more reasonable conclusion is that Luke completed the book of Acts near the end Paul’s first imprisonment or soon after his release, sometime in the early AD 60s, probably not later than AD 62.  Additionally, such a date has obvious implications for the dating of his Gospel as well.  Many secular scholars who have a biased against the supernatural and prophetic natural of Luke’s Gospel must date the composition of Acts later since they also date the Gospel of Luke considerably later.  Since Acts was composed after Luke’s Gospel, then in their view the book of Acts must also be dated much later as well.  Just food for thought.

Doc.

Copyright © Monte Shanks, 2010

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Revivial graham preaching

I enjoy driving, maybe not as much as some, but probably more than most.  However, when I was young I wasn’t all that interested in learning how to maintain cars; consequently, I learned some very expensive lessons.  For example, engines must have 3 essential liquids if they are to run very long; they are fuel, oil, and coolant.  When it comes to engines, only having 2 out 3 is a very bad thing.  Of course, if you had to choose one of these essentials to run out of, then the best choice is gas.  That’s because once your run out of it then all you have to do is add more and you’re back on the road.  But if you run out of oil or coolant and keep driving, then your engine will freeze up and be ruined.  That, my friends, is a costly repair, so costly it may even mean that your car is totaled, depending on its value.  When it comes to driving there are some things that are essential if you want stay on the road.  The reality of “essentials” is everywhere in our lives, but occasionally some think it fashionable to challenge their importance, and those who do so inevitably run the risk of ruining the very things they claim to value.

Recently I read the online article titled “10 Church Activities That Need to Go.”  Keeping up with current trends in ministry is important, so this article piqued my interest.  The last item on the list of things that churches need to jettison was “sermons.”  First of all, that someone would make such a suggestion, or that an “online Christian media leader” such as Crosswalk.com would allow it to appear on their website is symptomatic of the spiritual decline and biblical illiteracy of our time. Nevertheless, I can relate to the problem that Millennials are experiencing in many of today’s churches, which is that pulpits are filled with people that they aren’t worth listening to because they really have nothing of significance to say.  Regrettably, what occurs in many pulpits today amounts to little more than religious speeches.  Ironically, the solution promoted by the author, Lindsey VanSparrentak, is to simply get rid of sermons altogether rather than replacing pastors that are ungifted, disinterested, or poorly trained with respect to effectively communicating God’s word.  It’s kind of like what we are experiencing with respect to the NFL and the protests during the national anthem.  Some have actually suggested that the “solution” to this controversy is to stop playing the national anthem before the games.  Now there’s a thought.

Regrettably, VanSparrentak apparently is unaware that she’s attacking God’s primary method for casting vision, educating, evangelism, and discipling the church at large. Paul made it clear that God has ordained the method of preaching to bring people to faith (1 Cor. 1.20-25).  Moreover, the Spirit inspired Paul to tell his disciple Timothy, and by extension all future ministers, God’s charge to “Preach the Word!” (2 Timothy 4.1-4).  God has ordained that preaching the scriptures is a paramount method of communicating His word to His people.  And, at the risk of being obvious, sermons are the product of Christian preaching, plain and simple.  And to be clear, we are talking about preaching, not “sharing,” “suggesting,” “informing,” or “lecturing” about God’s word.  To preach means to “publically proclaim” the good news of the gospel; to forcefully assert with conviction the truth of God’s word; and to implore God’s people to conform to His will.  To put it another way, preaching is not the dissemination of recommendations and suggestions, it is publically announcing the word of God “in and out of season.”

Nevertheless, VanSparrentak’s justifies doing away with sermons in the church in favor of adopting more effective educational methods because apparently even universities are moving away from lecture based education models.  First, writing as a professor I must say that this is certainly not the case, there is no mass movement in higher education away from lectures as a foundational educational tool. Regardless of VanSparrentak’s assertion, even if it were true, she has unfortunately made a category mistake.  The church is not a university, and God has ordained that what may work in secular institutions does not apply to the body of Christ, which is the church.  And is precisely Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 1.20-25.  In this text Paul explained in emphatic detail that God has chosen what the world deems foolish (i.e., preaching) in order prove wrong what it views as wise and erudite (and this includes whatever educational models Millennials are currently advocating). Moreover, the greatest spiritual renewals throughout human history came about with sermons being a major method used by God to reach both his people and the lost.  Moses, the prophets, Ezra, Peter, Paul, Chrysostom, Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards, Moody, Spurgeon, Graham, Criswell, and Falwell all regularly preached sermons and were used greatly by the Lord. And lest we forget, even Jesus preached sermons; so I ask, what would Jesus do?

I must admit, however, I can relate to VanSparrentak’s frustration with the educational ineffectiveness of many of today’s churches.  If you are only listening to one sermon a week, and you are not involved in any relevant small group Bible studies (the operative words being “relevant” and “Bible”), nor are you being discipled by someone of greater spiritual depth and biblical literacy (which is probably the experience of the majority of those attending church), then you are probably seeing very little spiritual impact for Christ in your life, your church, and your community.  And that is especially true if your church is being held captive by weak lay leaders that tolerate inept pastors giving sermons devoid of scriptures.  If that is your experience, then only the Lord can help you.  Nevertheless, the Lord himself used several different educational methods throughout his ministry, one of which was regularly preaching the word of God.  Of course he reached people while also utilizing different instructional methods as well, teaching them both individually and in small groups, as well as engaging in interactive “ask and answer” discussions.  Consequently, if we know how Jesus engaged in ministry, should we excuse ourselves from doing any differently?  Should not our Lord provide for us the educational models that we should practice and master? The problem is not that the time for sermons has expired, the problem is with those pretending to be preachers and/or with those tolerating their irrelevant Bible-less sermons.

Without question, preparing and communicating weekly sermons that are fresh and relevant is a difficult task.  Moreover, communicating God’s will to those living outside of it makes preaching a more daunting task. So daunting that many pastors have become jaded; consequently they provide “sermonettes” that are entertaining, less threatening, and harmonized with the greater dominant culture.  In other words, many pastors tend to sanitize their sermons of things that our unbelieving culture finds offensive.  In today’s churches, pastors dare not sacrifice the world’s sacred cows; consequently, they have unwittingly become cattle protectors instead of shepherds.  The result is that they have ceased being effective spiritual leaders; consequently, they have stopped providing reasons for anyone to listen to them.  I generally do not recommend books in my blogs, simply because I find that most people aren’t all that interested in reading substantive books.  Nevertheless, I’m recommending one that is on my top-ten list of books to read for both layman and those preparing for ministry, and it is Stott’s book Between Two Worlds, and I recommend that you read its first edition (i.e., 1982) instead of its politically correct revision.

Ministry is difficult enough, and it is made even more challenging when people uncritically accept man-made premises about how to do God’s work. There are some things that God has ordained as essential to biblical ministry, and one of these essentials is the preaching of sermons.  To those who have made the mistake of concluding that sermons are no longer foundational for effective ministry, but instead are actually an impediment to building relevant churches, all I can say is that you are building your houses upon sand.  While your “groups” may grow and enjoy the momentary success that comes with being fashionable and popular, they will not last.  They will not endure simply because they are not built upon the foundation of God’s wisdom. As Paul put it, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.”  Ministries built upon man-made wisdom are not biblical ministries, and if your church is not built upon the foundation of God’s word, then one has to wonder if it is truly a church at all.

cutting passages out of the Bible

 

I was in Eddyville Kentucky on August 21st this year (2017).  It was around 1:23 pm when I witnessed approximately 2 minutes and 39 seconds of a total eclipse of the Sun.  It was amazing to see the sun’s rays pass around the moon, giving evidence to its existence.  Nevertheless, during that brief moment I could not see the Sun, it was completely blotted out.  I didn’t even need glasses since the Sun had been completely hidden from view. It truly was a magnificent display of God’s creativity.

Watching that total eclipse of the Sun was a joyful and amazing event, but observing Bible Study Fellowship’s total eclipse of Paul’s description of what happens to a depraved God rejecting person was a startling and disheartening to say the least.  In the past BSF had a reputation for allowing the scriptures to speak for themselves, which involved allowing the central focuses of the passages being studied to provide the meat of the discussions.  That didn’t happen in this week’s lesson, which covered Romans 1.18-32.  Allow me to briefly summarize this passage’s main points: in this text Paul describes the spiritual and behavioral deterioration of some who first reject God, and then abstain from thanking him for the true God that he is, and then finally dedicate themselves to suppressing the reality of holy his existence.  The result of their choices is that God gives them over to their depraved hearts, degrading lusts, and foolish minds.  This digression moves from futility of thinking, to the inappropriate worship of created things, and finally to depraved sexual behavior, foremost of which in Paul’s discussion is homosexuality (vss 26-27). Although in this passage homosexuality is explicated described as the epitome of degrading sexual behavior, any mention of the term is completely absent in BSF’s lesson.  Given our culture’s current battle over this very issue, it is disturbing that there is no focused discussion about it in BSF class wide study lesson.

The closest the lesson gets to describing the sin of homosexuality is by the term “sexual immorality.”  The problem with such a generic term is that in the scriptures this term generally refers sins involving normal sexual appetites.  For example, both fornication before marriage and adultery are sins involving normal human passions; whereas homosexuality is a degrading and unnatural sexual behavior (Rom 1.26-27).  Although there is a small minority that finds it satisfying, it is deviate behavior nonetheless.  And this is precisely the point that the apostle Paul went to great pains to explain; while conversely, it appears that BSF has gone to great lengths to avoid even mentioning.

This glaring omission raises the question of why has BSF avoided addressing such a relevant biblical topic?  Why has a leading international “Bible Study” ministry avoided even mentioning a central focus of this Spirit inspired passage?  Was it so that BSF would not fall out of favor with some of the churches that allow them to use their facilities?  Could it be that those who develop the lessons viewed the subject as too controversial?  Or was it that BSF is committed to attracting a wider audience; consequently, its policy is to make visitors more comfortable their materials?  Whatever the excuse, BSF has chosen to intentionally avoid speaking prophetically to the church and the greater culture where their ministries are found.  Consequently, they have demonstrably chosen to avoid discussing what the scriptures clearly teach.

Given this situation, let’s consider the possibilities of how such a glaring omission of such a relevant topic occurred.  First, BSF’s lessons are reviewed by several layers leadership within the organization.  In other words, some where along the editorial process a decision was made to avoid even mentioning one of the central focuses of this week’s passage.  That kind of a decision is an abdication of spiritual and prophetic leadership. With respect to these kinds of decisions, Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5.20 “Do not despise prophetic utterances”’; Similarly, Jesus also asserted “If anyone loves me he will obey my words” (John 14.23); and finally, the Lord again emphatically warned that “. . . whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8.38).  Somewhere in the leadership at BSF there were a few influential people that made the decision to avoid the clear prophetic instruction of Paul’s focus in Romans 1.18-32, and for this there is no excuse.  A second issue concerns the model this decision provides to all who observe this clear omission within BSF’s lesson.  The example that BSF has modeled to those studying their material is that good Christians don’t discuss this topic, instead they avoid and/or maybe even tolerate it.  This observation is unavoidable, which again speaks to the issue of the spiritual leadership of BSF.  Heaven forbid that someone learns the truth, repents, and trusts upon the Lordship of the risen Savior.  No, apparently it’s more important to not offend anyone at this point, so that by some strange twist of providence God will bless our efforts later on as we can share a message that in and of itself is inherently offensive, which is the gospel.  Fundamentally the gospel is a prophetic message asserting the reality that we are all wretched sinners desperately in need of salvation from eternal damnation, and our only chance if receiving it is graciously found through repentance and faith in the bloody death of Jesus Christ—who bodily rose victoriously from the grave, and now offers eternal life to all who will repent and trust him as their Savior and Lord.  Moreover, this free gift not only secures eternal life with God forever, but also provides victory throughout this life over everyday sins, one of which is the very sin that BSF has decided to avoid discussing.  The irony is staggering.

Natural eclipses are enjoyable to watch.  I can’t wait for 2024.  I’m looking for the Lord’s glorious return before then, but if not, and if he allows me to tarry in a healthy state of affairs, then I hope to be in the path of totality once again.  This next eclipse is estimated to be twice as long, so I’m looking forward to it.  However, one thing that is abhorrent is when men and women chose to eclipse the clear teachings of the scriptures.  Not proclaiming what the word of God clearly teaches is an abdication spiritual leadership and a dereliction of prophetic responsibility.  When we avoid the clear and relevant teaching of the Bible, then we are depriving many who thirst for the unadulterated word of God, which necessarily means keeping them from the soul satisfying truths that the Holy Spirit uses to enable believers to live the victorious Christian life.  We make ourselves out to be fools when we think that we know better than God, and we are deceived if we think he will bless our efforts as we soft-pedaling his life changing holy word.

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What Does Literary Dependence Look Like and What Does It Mean

While researching the topic of the Synoptic Gospels one is often confronted with uncommon concepts, such as “Literary Independence” and “Literary Interdependence.” Consequently, I want to define and explain what these terms mean and their implications with respect to the doctrine of Inspiration.  “Literary Independence” simply means that as the Gospel authors wrote their respective works that none of them relied upon previously “written” material from the other Gospels. Consequently, all of the canonical Gospels are literarily independent of the other Gospels.  “Literary Interdependence” simply means that as the authors of the canonical Gospels wrote their respective works, they that at times utilized (i.e., copied and/or redacted) materials found in the other Gospels that proceeded them. This possible “literary dependence” upon preceding Gospels does not mean that these writers cease to be “authors” in their own right; it only recognizes that there is an observable “literary relationship” in their work(s) to the Gospel(s) that preceded them.

A question some may have at this point is: how does this impact the doctrine of Inspiration? There are some that are of the opinion that if scholars affirm literary interdependence they are impugning the doctrine of Inspiration.  Additionally, if they are unfamiliar with Koine Greek, then some may find it difficult to understand how anyone can detect literary dependence.  I would first like to address the concept of detecting literary dependence; and afterwards tackle the issue of inspiration with respect to this objective phenomenon.  Detecting literary dependence in Greek is not any different that detecting it in English writings.  For example, if one uses different color markers to highlight common words and sentence constructions found in some parallel passages from the Synoptic Gospels, then they will find some evidence of literary interdependence.  However, what maybe observable in English translations of the Synoptic Gospels is extremely more noticeable in the original Greek.  The evidence for a literary relationship is more observable simply because of the idiosyncrasies of Koine Greek, which is a more complex language than our modern English. With this in mind, it is still possible that the Gospels writers were familiar with common oral traditions, and later they were independently inspired to record those same traditions. However, when oral proclamations are transcribed into literature they generally undergo some stylistic revisions; this is generally self-evident simply because no one writes the same way they speak.  I have experienced this first hand with respect to my own sermons, sermons that I later composed into written lessons or blogs.  Unless one is a court reporter (and the Gospel authors did not function as such), no one writes to a group of people the same way they speak to a specific audience.  Nonetheless, some affirm that the Holy Spirit inspired the Synoptic authors to write their respective Gospels independently of one another—Gospels that not only contain the same data, but when compared side by side they are eerily similar because in many cases they record events and speeches with the exact same vocabulary, style, word order, chronology, as well as the same parenthetical statements (e.g., Mark and Matthew’s “let the reader understand” statement, which is something one would not say to an audience as they are listening [Mk 13.14 & Matt 24.16]).

For the purpose of explaining why literary independence is not the best explanation for how the Synoptic Gospels were composed, I have provided 4 English sentences below.  First, please read all four, and then after reading them identify the sentence that appears to be the most likely candidate for being “literarily dependent” upon the first sentence (it is assumed that the first sentence is the original and oldest).

  • The drunken man kicked his Rottweiler after it bit him, and then the dog ran away and never returned.
  • The dog bit a man and then ran away after the man hit it.
  • A vicious dog was kicked by a powerful man that he bit and he immediately ran away and was never seen again.
  • The intoxicated man kicked his Rottweiler after it bit him, immediately afterwards the dog ran away and never returned.

The obvious choice of which sentence is literarily dependent upon sentence number 1 is sentence 4.  Please note, all four sentences describe the same event; however, sentences 2 and 3 do not provide all of the relevant data and are written in entirely different styles.  Additionally, sentence 3 was not well written and is open to some misunderstanding; nevertheless, after comparing it with the other 3 sentences one can more precisely glean its meaning.  The difference between sentences 1 and 4 has to do with the elegance of their vocabulary, not the data they contain.  Moreover, both sentences contain the same basic structure and flow.  However, anyone can claim that all 4 records are dependent upon the same oral account of the event.  Nevertheless, with respect to the question of which sentences are literarily dependent upon one another, the evidence suggests that there is a connection between sentences 1 and 4.  What is obviously to you concerning these English sentences would be significantly more transparent for sentences written in Koine Greek.  The fact is that with Koine Greek it is vastly easier rather than harder to detect literary dependence given the nature, grammar, and peculiarities of the Greek language. For example, in Koine Greek where a word is found in a sentence is of little importance; whereas in English the order of words in a sentence is extremely important (e.g., subject, verb, and direct object).  So, if in a sentence the same words appear in the same order and in the same grammatical construction in two different Greek works, let alone entire paragraphs or chapters, then it is a good bet that one is dependent on the other—the question then becomes, which was written first.  And just as literary dependence is obvious with respect to the two English sentences above, it would be much more obvious if such a pattern were repeated throughout an entire book, such as the Synoptic Gospels. The fact is that much of the material in the Synoptic Gospels employs the exact same vocabulary, grammar, and word order; thus scholars justifiably conclude that there is some degree of literary dependence between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Now to the more important question: does literary dependence jeopardize the doctrine of Inspiration.  Well, let us look at it from Luke’s perspective.  Luke was not one of the original disciples of Jesus, just as he implied in his prologue (Luke 1.1-4).  Consequently, being a sound investigative reporter he prepared to write his Gospel by interviewing those who were closest to Jesus (Luke was a contemporary of the first generation of Jesus’ followers; thus, he personally knew many of the apostles).  Consequently, we should ask ourselves this simply question: once Luke discovered that a biography about Jesus had already been composed based upon the eyewitness testimony and memories of the apostle Peter, would it be inappropriate for the Holy Spirit to inspire Luke to include some of Mark’s material into his own Gospel?  Or do we expect Luke to sit quietly in meditation waiting for the Holy Spirit to inspire him to write specific words in a specific way, only later to discover that in many places what he wrote corresponds precisely with what was already recorded by others?  Luke has already confessed that he was dependent upon oral reports from Jesus followers and the apostles, why should he be any less credible if he also depended upon other literary works based these same eyewitness testimonies? I personally do not see Luke’s dependence upon other trustworthy Gospels as a threat to the doctrine of Inspiration, especially when one realizes that such practices were common fare for ancient historians that composed works on empires or biographies about famous people.  While holding to the position of “Literary Independence” may make the Synoptic Gospels more “magical” for some, it doesn’t mean that those who affirm “Literary Interdependence” with respect to the Synoptic Gospels have some how impugned the doctrine of Inspiration. Moreover, audiences in Luke’s day would have expected Luke to embed other trustworthy literary sources in his biography on the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as include additional material that he had personally gathered from other trustworthy eyewitnesses.

So, could the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke contain common “oral traditions”?  By the term “oral traditions” many scholars are referring to supposedly “anonymous” but well-known stories about the things Jesus said and did.  It is possible but extremely unlikely given what Luke asserted in his prologue, which was he wanted to provide Theophilus with certitude about what he had learned concerning Jesus from others (Luke 1.3-4).  By definition one cannot provide certainty about anything that is dependent upon anonymous hearsay sources.  Moreover, this is clearly not the case with Mark’s Gospel.  The church’s earliest histories objectively document that Mark relied upon the memories and sermons of his mentor—the apostle Peter; thus, Mark’s primary source was anything but anonymous.  And it is especially certain, again as Luke claimed in his prologue, that any oral tradition that was used as material for his Gospel would only come from trustworthy sources.  There is no hard evidence that any of the Gospel writers relied upon hearsay or anonymous sources.  A comparison of the Synoptic Gospels, therefore, provides conclusive evidence that there is to a large degree literary interdependence between them.  Which Gospel was the first or oldest, and therefore the main source for the other 2 Synoptic Gospels is the question that Source Criticism seeks to address and answer.  Consequently, since we know that the authors of the canonical Gospels, as well as their sources, were entirely trustworthy, then we should not feel that the doctrine of Inspiration is in any way threatened by any evidence of literary interdependence.  On the contrary, since we know these sources to be profoundly trustworthy then we should have the utmost confidence in the data contained in all four of the canonical Gospels.  Neither should we unnecessarily assume that the doctrine of Inspiration is threatened because one canonical Gospel has a literary relationship (i.e., containing the same material) to other similarly inspired Gospels.

Doc.

© Monte Shanks Copyright 2014

Q cubeThe Dirty Secrets about “Q” and the Synoptic Question (or Problem)

This blog discusses what is often referred to as the “Synoptic Problem”; however, you may notice that I refer to it as the “Synoptic Question.” Calling it a “problem” implies that there is something is wrong with the canonical Gospels; consequently, I refer to this issue as a question rather than a problem.  I call it a question because basically what we are seeking to answer is the question of which Synoptic Gospel was written first; and what if any literary relationships (i.e., “dependence”) do the other Synoptic Gospels have to that particular Gospel. Consequently, we are dealing with a question or a riddle instead of a “problem.” When seeking the answer to this question, one particular conjecture/theory is always brought up, and it is a theory concerning a source commonly referred to as “Q.” Consequently, in this particular blog I want to briefly let you in on some dirty little secrets concerning controversies about this uncorroborated source. A cautionary note before continuing—not all Christian scholars that believe Q existed are “liberal.” I know many conservative scholars and I have many friends who believe that Q existed, and they are people that I admire and respect. They are not liberal in their theology or view of the canon—quite the opposite, they are conservative. This blog is not to be used as a litmus test for who is a conservative Evangelical and who is not.  You should understand that this blog specifically addresses the biases of scholars who have rejected the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy. So please keep this in mind as you read.

Additionally, you should know that only theological nerds (myself included) generally engage in this debate.  I seriously doubt that in your current or future ministries that you will have many people ask you about Q.  That is not to say, however, that you will not have to deal with the fallout that this controversy often generates.  Some in your church will have been indoctrinated by liberal and/or unbelieving college professors who assume that Q existed, and they also believe that the ancient church has changed this “original and more accurate source” to “create” a Jesus that met the ancient church’s immediate felt needs by the time the canonical Gospels were finally composed. Consequently, the Gospels in the Bible are seriously flawed since they are filled with misinformation and myths.  These scholars will have passed their biases and suspicions on to their students, some of whom will end up in your churches.  Therefore, do not for a minute assume that this controversy is not relevant to your ministries—even if you are never specifically asked anything about “Q.”

Okay, so here are a few real problems concerning Q, as well as any other potential anonymous “source material” that may have been used to compose the canonical Gospels.

Secret #1: “Will the Real Q Please Stand Up?”  If you investigate Q with any depth you will quickly discover that there is a plethora different schools of thought as to what kind of document(s) it may have been.  In fact, there is so much diversity of opinion about Q that it’s difficult to have an intelligent discussion about it.  Ironically, scholars can’t even agree on who originally came up with the idea; but for the sake of this blog, we will go with C. H. Weisse.  When Q was originally conjectured by Weisse in 1838 it was viewed as a Greek document that contained some of the teachings and deeds of Jesus—a type of “Gospel narrative” if you will.  Initially, it was presented as an early Greek pre-Gospel that both Matthew and Luke used along with the Gospel of Mark while writing their respective Gospels (i.e., the Two Source Theory/Hypothesis).  However, there are two very real problems concerning this assertion.  First, it is only a theory that such a document ever existed.  We have no hard historical evidence confirming that it actually existed.  Let me be clear, there is no historical reference to Q in the annuals of church or secular history, and no one has ever produced a physical manuscript or copy of it, not one.  The closest possible reference to Q is found in Luke’s prologue (see Luke 1.1-4).  But Luke did not say that he employed “many anonymous written sources” to compose his Gospel, but rather that he engaged in his own investigation and then wrote his Gospel based upon his interviews of specific eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry and teachings.  He did, however, mention the existence of other written sources.  Nevertheless, since Luke had access to the apostles (i.e., the “eyewitnesses and servants of the word”) he relied upon their testimonies rather than anonymous random sources that he could not verify and corroborate.  Moreover, Luke’s grammar clearly indicates that he was referring to a single group of witnesses, not 2 different groups. Luke did not write that he interviewed one group who were eyewitnesses and then other group that he referred to as “servants of the word.”  Luke’s grammar indicates that the two descriptions refer to a single group.  An example of this would be when a solider describes his squad or platoon in the following manner: “We are soldiers and brothers in arms.”  By stating this affirmation, we do not interpret him as referring to 2 separate groups, one of which are “brothers” and the other of which are “soldiers.”  Instead, we understand that he is describing the same group in 2 different ways.  Similarly, Luke’s grammar indicates that he was referring to only one group of witnesses as his sources, not two.  To put it clearly, Luke wrote in such a way that it is clear that his primary sources were individuals who were both eyewitnesses of Jesus, as well as those that He commissioned to preach “the word”; i.e., the good news about the risen Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ (Luke 24.44-48).  However, the only written sources that the manuscript evidence reveals that Luke relied upon as he wrote his own Gospel are the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, and possibly Jesus’ personal genealogical records (which would have been stored at the Temple in Jerusalem), and possibly court records of the interrogations and trials of Jesus before his crucifixion.  Nevertheless, this evidence clearly indicates that he primarily relied upon the Gospel of Mark (commonly referred to as Markan Priority), which church history indicates was exclusively based upon the remembrances of the apostle Peter (cf. Papias, ca. AD 110, and his testimony concerning Mark’s Gospel).  Consequently, the assertion that Luke has referred to an independent anonymous and mysterious Q document in his prologue is not well defended.

Nevertheless, in spite of this dearth of evidence for Q’s existence, opinions concerning its nature and contents are all over the map.  Consequently, there is no longer any possible way to have a meaningful conversation about Q since there is no real consensus concerning it.  It is difficult, therefore, to have a constructive dialogue about it since there is substantial disagreement as to what kind of document(s) or narrative it might have been.  Additionally, there are even a few scholars who would suggest that Q also contained a “pool” of oral traditions as well.  Ironically, this lack of evidence and consensus concerning Q has never stopped some secular scholars from making wild conjectures that cast suspicion upon the possible sources and historicity of the canonical Gospels.  Given the current environment of this debate, it will be hard for you to adequately answer questions involving the canonical Gospels if you first grant that Q actually existed.  The difficulty of discussing the origins and sources of the canonical Gospels arises simply because this mythical document is an ever-evolving moving target.  Essentially, it will be as if you are trying to knockout your own shadow, no matter how many punches you throw you will never land the first blow.

Secret #2: Q Is Not an Inspired, Infallible, or Inerrant Document!  Here is the biggest problem with granting that Q really existed, let us say for the sake of argument that Q is discovered—should it be added to the list of canonical Gospels?  The answer is no since theoretically speaking no one knows who wrote it (c.f., the test of apostolicity).  However, there exists excellent historical evidence concerning the authorship of all 4 canonical Gospels.  But therein lies the problem, liberal and/or secular scholars will view Q as the most accurate source for information about the man history refers to as Jesus of Nazareth because they will view Q as the more ancient source.  Armed with this very conjecture liberal scholars consistently assert that Q is really the basis from which all of the Synoptic Gospels were composed.  But some might say, “So what, what’s the big deal?”  The “big deal” is this—what if Q contains misinformation concerning Jesus?  For example, let’s assume that several months after Jesus’ crucifixion that the Jerusalem Times published a hit piece on the life of Jesus and what happened during his trials, an expose that was also written by the High Priest and some leading Pharisees.  Liberals will not assert that the writers of the canonical Gospels have corrected the “mistakes” or “errors” contained in the article published in the TimesInstead they will argue that it was the authors of the canonical Gospels that have changed and edited their more primitive source to create the Jesus that we read about in our Bibles.  In other words, the Jesus found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is really just a “media” creation of the early church rather than the most accurate record of the historical person known as Jesus of Nazareth.  They will assert that the best we can know about Jesus is that he was a first-century radical itinerant rabbi that the Roman government executed for some unknown but politically expedient reason.  You can now see the catastrophic problem such a document would create.  It would forever cast doubt on the canonical Gospels, which we assert were composed by Jesus’ closest disciples (i.e., eyewitness of his ministry and resurrection) or their close associates (i.e., Mark the disciple of Peter and Luke an associate of Paul).  Moreover, we believe that the canonical Gospels and only canonical Gospels are the biographies that the Holy Spirit inspired human authors to write.  It is the canonical Gospels together, therefore, that provide us with the truth about Jesus, his teachings, and what he accomplished on behalf of the world.

Secrete #3: “Q Is the Dream of Skeptics Everywhere.”  Finding historical data confirming the existence of a Q document is the hope and dream of all unbelieving scholars who despise the message of Jesus Christ.  They would use such a document to forever cast dispersion on the more accurate historical accounts written by the immediate followers of Jesus; thus proving in their eyes that the canonical Gospels are nothing more than fallacious propaganda created by crazed fanatics who propagated upon a naïve world history’s greatest hoax.  And when liberal Christian scholars engage in baseless speculations involving existence and nature of uncorroborated sources for the canonical Gospels (such as Q), they are unknowingly playing with a raging fire.

The bottom line is this: we do not affirm inspiration and inerrancy upon whatever now lost non-canonical literary sources the Gospel authors may have used to write the canonical Gospels.  We only recognize the reality of inspiration upon the canonical Gospels, and we have solid grounds to do so since we have reliable historical evidence corroborating their authorship and when they were composed.  Consequently, they and they alone are the earliest and most accurate contemporaneous historical biographies on the life of Jesus of Nazareth.   Only the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are inspired, not any non-canonical source(s) they may have used—and this is especially truth with respect to the mythical document often referred to as Q.  This is what we affirm, and this is what the early church affirmed with respect to the canonical Gospels as well.

Doc.

Monte Shanks Copyright © 2013

Synoptic Question pic

 

Are the Synoptic Gospels a Good Thing and

What about Collusion & Contradictions?

Dear Class;

I wish to quickly address the Synoptic “Question” with this blog.

  1. Why having 3 Synoptic Gospels is a very good thing.

Most students fine this topic and its relevance quite perplexing.  I would like to only add that this subject is a never-ending debate in which some people will never be satisfied.  For example, if all three Gospels were virtually identical then some would scream “collusion,” and they would be probably right.  In fact, that charge could still be made with respect to the Synoptic Gospels because they actually do share so much material (as you should well know by now).  However, there are some important differences, differences that provide additional information about Jesus and the events that surrounded him, or that emphasize specific aspects of Jesus’ teachings more than the other 2 Gospels.  So is this a good thing?  Well, as I said, some people are never satisfied; consequently, any difference is an opportunity for some to make a charge of inaccuracy or contradiction.  Regrettably, in our modern and post-modern world some demand unreasonable precision and almost “scientific” accuracy when dealing with historical events documented in the Bible.  However, we are not dealing with modern reporters and audiences; instead we are relying up ancient authors whose audiences had no such expectations with respect to precision of historical events.  Did they expect accuracy? Of course they did, but not the type of precision we today often expect when explaining history or reporting the news (a phenomena commonly referred to as the “CSI Effect”).  Regrettably, some hold the Gospel writers to a far greater standard than other ancient historians such as Josephus or Tacitus.  These scholars (e.g., those of the Jesus Seminar) approach the Gospels with a bias that suggests that if there is any doubt in any area then there must be doubt about everything recorded in the Gospels.  However, ancient audiences were not driven by such modern academic idiosyncrasies.  Consequently, possessing 4 Gospels (including the Gospel of John) was viewed as a good thing for most within the first-century church.  This is not to say that ancient audiences were not at times confused by some apparent differences in the Gospels, but by and large they (i.e., the church) appreciated having three Synoptic Gospels instead of just one, and so should we.  Especially in the predominantly Jewish culture where the testimony of more than one person was necessary to confirm the truthfulness of someone who claimed to be an eyewitness (Dt 19.5; Matt 18.16).

  1. Did Matthew write the first “Gospel,” and was that work “Q,” or was Q a different literary work that is now lost?

The testimony of history tells us that Matthew wrote the first “Gospel” and that it was written in Aramaic (see the testimony of Papias, ca AD 110).  The majority of scholars who argue for “Q” assert that it was a Greek rather than an Aramaic document or Gospel (there is a minority who suggest it was originally an Aramaic document).  What makes this entire discussion concerning Q so frustrating is that today’s scholars seem to think that they can make up their own personal definition for Q and what it contained, and that is sufficient.  To borrow an old joke, “If you put 10 different scholars in a room and asked them about Q, you will get a dozen different conclusions.”  Personally, I do not believe that “Q” ever existed, and if it does exist then it is what we refer to as the Gospel of Mark.  I am also of the opinion that all “L” material is originally from Luke rather than another “L” document, and that all “M” material is also originally from Matthew’s memory rather than another document used by Matthew. Consequently, my research indicates that Matthew first wrote an Aramaic Gospel for Aramaic speaking Jews in Judea (approximate date unknown), while Mark soon afterwards wrote the first Greek Gospel based upon Peter’s eyewitness testimonies and sermons while Mark was in Rome sometime in the mid to late 50s.  Whether these 2 early Gospels looked similar is anybody’s guess.

Mark wrote his Gospel in order to explain the message of Jesus Christ (Mark 1.1) to the Greek speaking churches in Rome after Peter had left the city.  History indicates that the believers in Rome requested that Mark do so since he was Peter’s disciple and partner in ministry.  They felt that they needed an accurate record of Peter’s memories about Jesus in order to understand all that Jesus had taught and accomplished on their behalf.  Since this document was predominately the testimony of Peter it was perceived by the first-century church as the apostolic witness to the Greek-speaking world (to both Jew and Gentile) on the importance and significance of Jesus’ life and teachings.  Remember, Peter was an eyewitness of Jesus’ life, a disciple of Jesus and his teachings, as well as one of Jesus’ handpicked leaders for the church.  In short, Mark basically wrote only what Peter saw and preached concerning ministry and life of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, while Mark was the author and Peter was his eyewitness source, the Holy Spirit was the guiding inspiration as Mark composed his Gospel.

A couple of years later Matthew depended and employed much of Mark’s Gospel in his second attempt at a biography of Jesus; however, this second Gospel was for Greek speaking Jews outside of Jerusalem or Palestine.  Matthew, recognizing and knowing that Mark’s Gospel was predominantly the testimony of the apostle Peter, would have had absolutely no qualms with using Mark’s Gospel as a template while he wrote his new Greek Gospel for his Greek speaking audience (an audience that was also predominantly Jewish and part of the Diaspora).  Remember, this type of plagiarism was acceptable in Matthew’s day. In fact, Matthew would have been expected to employ Mark’s Gospel while writing about the life and teachings of Jesus.  It would have been unthinkable for him to have ignored such a significant and foundational document given his subject matter (i.e., the gospel of Jesus Christ).  However, the Spirit inspired Matthew to include content drawn from his own memories, much of which was of Jesus’ personal instructions to his disciples, as well as his itinerant messages to the masses.

You should know ancient historians often embedded other important preceding historical works into their own histories, and this was normal fare when composing ancient historical works—and they often did so without any direct notation that they were depending upon the work of other authors. This is clearly observable to scholars that have researched Eusebius’s history of the church and other ancient pagan histories as well.  However, as Matthew used Mark’s Gospel he improved upon its grammar and syntax, as well as added much of his own original eyewitness memories, some of which would have also been contained in his first Aramaic Gospel.  That is not to say that Mark’s Gospel contained grammatical errors, but only that his writing style was not as “elegant” as Matthew wished.  Consequently, the improvements in grammar and clarity found in the other Synoptics provide observable support for Markan Priority.  This supports Markan Priority with respect to which was the first Greek Gospel to have been written since it is hard to believe that if Mark had used either Matthew’s or Luke’s Gospels to write his own that he would have purposely employed a less refined writing style while having a better style before him.

Luke, likewise, chose Mark’s Gospel as his foundational source, but he also included some material from Matthew’s Gospel, as well as material from his own investigation and interviews of Jesus’ disciples and apostles. Personally, I have very little use for Streeter’s theory concerning his “M” and “L” literary sources (these designations generally refer to other “written” sources not originating from Matthew or Luke).  And with respect to Q, the truth is that any evidence (and by this I do mean “all evidence”) that can be used to support the theory of Q can also be used to prove that Luke either depended on Matthew as one of his sources for his Gospel, or that Matthew depended upon Luke as a source as he wrote his Gospel as well.  Personally, however, I am of the opinion that Luke had access to Matthew’s canonical Greek Gospel and used it as one of his main trustworthy sources for his own Gospel.  Luke clearly stated in his prologue (Luke 1.1-4) that other historical narratives existed before he wrote his own Gospel.  Consequently, knowing that Matthew was a personal disciple of Jesus means that Luke would have no qualms with viewing Matthew’s Gospel as a reliable source that he could depend upon as he wrote his own Gospel.

  1. Is it possible that Mark could have used another Gospel, whether written in Greek or Aramaic?

There is another consideration that many people (even some scholars) often overlook or ignore, which is that the Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew canon.  While translating their Hebrew canon into Greek, it was important to Jews to make sure that they accurately translated the thoughts and concepts contained in their Hebrew canon into the Greek language (rather than making up new thoughts or teachings).  Sometimes this could be done with a direct word for word translation, but often this required a degree of paraphrasing in order to provide an accurate translation of the thoughts and teachings contained in their sacred Hebrew writings.  Consequently, using the Septuagint as a precedent, there is no logical or rational reason that demands that parts of Matthew’s Aramaic Gospel cannot be contained in portions of Mark’s Greek Gospel – even though some scholars argue that Mark’s Gospel was produced from a “pre-Markan” document that was originally written in Greek.

Additionally, it should be recognized that it is possible that there were other earlier historical records that were “sources” for Mark’s Gospel (e.g., transcripts from Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas and/or Pilate), but these should not be labeled as “Gospels” since they were only “records” and not historical narratives.  Consequently, with respect to the existence of a Q Gospel, this theoretical configuration I seriously doubt.  History plainly indicates that Mark’s Gospel is based upon the personal testimonials of Peter rather than an Aramaic Gospel from the hand of Matthew or an earlier unpreserved Greek Gospel. History is equally clear that Matthew wrote the first Gospel, and that he wrote it in Aramaic. Consequently, my opinion is that Q is an undocumented conjecture that should be given little credibility until corroborated by some physical or historical evidence.  With this in mind, below is my chronology of the composition of the canonical Gospels that were composted from the hands of the apostles or their close associates.

First: Matthew first wrote a Gospel in Aramaic, ca. late AD 40s to early AD 50s.  To date no copy of this work has survived.

Second: Mark next wrote a Gospel in Greek based solely upon the memories of the apostle Peter; it was composed ca. mid AD 50s.  It is my opinion that any Gospel now referred to as Q never existed; consequently, Mark’s Gospel was the first Gospel written in Greek.

Third: Matthew, having moved to another location with a large Greek speaking Jewish population, later wrote his second Gospel; consequently, he wrote his second Gospel in Greek. Matthew relied upon Mark’s Gospel as well as his own memories as he wrote, and he composed this second Gospel ca. mid to late AD 50s.  Being of the tribe of Levi (i.e., a priest), Matthew would have been trained in fashion similar to that of Paul; thus he would have known how to read and write in both Aramaic and Greek so that he could study both translations of the Old Testament scriptures that existed in his day (i.e., the LXX and the Tanakh).  Moreover, being a tax collector from a primarily Aramaic speaking region he would have also been able to keep records in Greek for the Empire; consequently, Matthew would have been very competent in speaking and writing both languages.

Fourth: Luke afterwards wrote the last Synoptic Gospel.  He primarily used Mark’s Gospel, but he also used some material from Matthew’s Greek Gospel, along with his material accumulated from his own interrogation of close followers of Jesus, most of who were apostles.  Luke wrote his Gospel ca. late AD 50s or early AD 60s.  Very soon afterwards he wrote Acts, which was completed while Paul was under house arrest in Rome.

Last: while not a Synoptic Gospel, John wrote his Gospel; probably ca. AD 80s.  John employed very little material from the Synoptic Gospels, although he did use some (e.g., the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on the water).

In short, the historical and literary context in which the Synoptic Gospels were composed was one where shared material was the expected norm rather than the exception (compare 1 & 2 Kings to 1 & 2 Chronicles, as well as 2 Peter with Jude).  Consequently, we should not be surprised that the answer to the “Synoptic Question” (rather than the “Synoptic Problem”) requires literary configurations that involve more than our “modern” minds are willing to consider. Nonetheless, the church and history are far better off for having 3 Synoptic Gospels rather than just one.  Blessings.

Doc.

Monte Shanks Copyright © 2010

Hurricanes Weather

Hurricane season is upon us, and it’s brought us Harvey with his record floods, and now Irma is heading our way. Consequently, there is a worldwide clamor about the sustainability for our world. In particular it focuses on a heighten fear over “man-made” climate change. Governments and private industries are spending billions on research in hopes of discovering cleaner energies that are renewable, but neither has garnered much for this investment. Sure, our cell phone batteries are smaller and last longer, but that’s about it. Don’t get me wrong, if someone discovered how to turn seawater into clean affordable energy, then I would be one of the first to sign up. But our planet’s greatest threat has nothing to do with the energies we currently consume. Before explaining what this threat is, a quick theology about our planet is in order. God designed Earth to support human life. At the beginning of human history he commissioned the first two people to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the Earth, while also properly managing it (Gen 1.26-28). The only creatures that God commissioned to inhabit this entire planet are humans, and we are daily succeeding in making it smaller and less foreign. You don’t find penguins on the Serengeti nor gazelles at Antarctica; there aren’t any camels in the oceans and you don’t find whales in the Sahara; turtles are not found high in the Himalayas and mountain goats don’t do so well the bayous of Louisiana (probably because of the gators). While every other animal has its designed habitation, man can be found all over the face of the globe—even in the most inhospitable places. We even live for months at a time in mobile cities scattered across the world’s oceans, they are called aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. And although apes have not mastered the skies, we have. It is now possible to take a non-stop commercial fight of more than 9000 miles, all within about 16 or 17 hours—there’s no bird that can do that. And lest we forget, the only footprints on the moon don’t belong to cows, they are human. God created and designed this planet for human population. Psalm 104.5 states that God “established the Earth upon its foundations so that it will not totter forever and ever,” and throughout the Psalm the author described how God engineered this world to be beautifully durable. God made us in his image and called us to inhabit this entire planet, and he created it to sustain us as we set about fulfilling his will for humanity. The Earth is our “safe space,” but instead of coloring books, God gave us a water park and it’s called the Pacific Ocean. And instead of dolls and teddy bears, he gave us a real rock-climbing wall that we call Everest.

Nevertheless, there is one real and very great threat to humanity and our planet, and it has nothing to do with fossil fuels or the misuse of natural resources. Instead it has everything to do with humanity’s attitude towards the one true God. God promises fruitful lives for those who devoutly obey him. Near his death, Moses explained that if Israel wholeheartedly obeyed God then he would cause them to prosper in the land (cf. Deut 28.1-14). Even the Lord directed us to look to God for our daily provisions as we obey his will (Matt 6.8-13, 6.25-34). Moreover, should anyone assume that the promises of prosperity in Malachi 3.10-12 are reserved only for Israel? Will not God also bless any nation that sincerely obeys him? The problem is not with the availability of the resources on this planet, it is with humanity’s attitude towards God. If something doesn’t begin to change and change quickly, then things will only get worse for planet Earth.

We will continue to experience increasing environmental catastrophes such as hurricanes and earthquakes, but it won’t be because we don’t drive enough hybrid cars or ride bicycles. If by tomorrow we discover how to turn sand into clean energy so that we never have to use another ounce of fossil fuels again, it will still not prevent the ecological Armageddon that awaits the human race. The apostle John prophesied of the plagues, earthquakes, famines, droughts, and pestilences that will someday befall humanity in the book of Revelation (Rev 6.7-8; 16.1-12). We don’t know when these disasters will happen, but if we don’t take seriously the church’s responsibility to spread the gospel to every tribe and nation on earth, then they will certainly occur a lot sooner than we think.

If humanity could turn this world into a new Garden of Eden, with environmentally friendly policies and ecologically neutral cars, trains, planes, industry, and cities, it will not matter a single iota if humanity continues to reject the Lord Jesus Christ and blaspheme God. Jesus explained all this during his earthly ministry (Matt 24.4-42). The ironic thing about what he said was that no matter how hard humanity tries to live in peace or find ways to responsibly manage our planet, it will not stop the coming global strife and natural disasters that are merely “the beginning of birth pangs” (Matt 24.6-8). These catastrophes await our planet not because we don’t enforce ecologically friendly policies or provide universal healthcare, but because humanity is losing interest in the concept of being accountable to a personal God while also displaying abject hatred for the name of Jesus Christ, who is Savior and Lord over all (Matt 24.9; 2 Thes 1.6-10). And therein is the greatest tragedy. God sometimes uses geological catastrophes and ecological disasters to turn us back to him. But atheists and Human Secularists are brainwashing us into believing that not only is this planet fragile, but that if we aren’t careful then we will inevitably make it uninhabitable. They want us to believe that the only important issue facing humanity is how we treat this planet instead of how we relate to our Creator. For example, if after this week we awaken to find that Irma has wiped out Miami, and the next day Mount Vesuvius has suddenly wiped out Naples, and then a category 5 tornado destroyed half of Kansas City, and a couple of days later a tsunami engulfs Sydney, what do you think the media will report? Would we be blasted with how we are harming the planet or of our need to repent before a holy God that we have ignored for far too long? Ironically, our world will not experience environmental disasters because we have mistreated it, but because we have irreversibly rejected the very God that literally rained down manna from heaven. God is powerful enough to provide for our every need; the issue is do we believe that he exists, and if so are we humble enough to worship him through the Lord Jesus Christ.

If we are truly interesting in seeing our world flourish or if we are concerned about our families, friends, and neighbors, then the first thing we should do is commit ourselves to sharing the gospel. Jesus died not only to save us from this decaying sinful world, but ultimately from eternal separation from God and the inevitable judgment that awaits all who have rejected him. Can we save the planet? Inspired prophecy says no. Someday Earth will experience global catastrophe and judgment, and it will happen because humanity hates Jesus. But if we commit ourselves anew to proclaiming his gospel, then there is the possibility that more and more people will receive Jesus as their savior and Lord. And as more people begin to live for Christ then our planet will become healthier and more prosperous place, making sudden universal judgment less likely. So if you are primarily worried about rescuing our planet from ecological disasters through using only sustainable resources, then you’re focused on the wrong thing. I’m not saying you shouldn’t guard against oil spills, nuclear waste, and toxic dumpsites—that would be irresponsible. But if you call yourself a Christian, then your primary goal should be to participate in efforts that accomplish that for which Jesus is most passionate, which is the salvation of souls. Jesus died and rose again to provide eternal life for all. Consequently, he wants us to be his witnesses for the gospel (Acts 1.8), and to create true worshipers (John 4.23-26), and to make authentic disciples from all of the nations across this globe (Matt 28.18-20). Proclamation of the the gospel should be our primary concern; for only with that focus can we truly fulfill the Lord’s will for humanity.