Why Would They Write That? How Embarrassing Details Support the Bible

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British actress Miranda Hart once said, “Life is a series of embarrassing moments which leave you feeling alone in your confusion and shame.” Oftentimes, our embarrassing moments make us so ashamed that we tend to hide our feelings from the public.

That being the case, why would anyone deliberately publish writings that expose their most unflattering moments, particularly if they were making up a new religious movement? The criterion of embarrassment can help in determining the answer.

History Is Written By The Victors

Churchill once said that “history is written by the victors.” He’s not wrong. Think of ancient kings like Cyrus the Great and the Cyrus Cylinder, which describes the conquest of Babylon. The Cylinder contains descriptions of: Cyrus as the “ruler of the world” (appointed by Marduk); the inhabitants of Babylon as elated that he was their new king; and details of many other positive exploits. In fact, many historians liken the Cyrus Cylinder to an ancient form of propaganda.

At church this past Saturday, my pastor was going over Isaiah 43:22-28 and particularly in verse 27, God says to the Israelites, “From the very beginning, your ancestors sinned against me – all your leaders broke my laws.” (NLT)

My pastor made an off-the-cuff remark about how, if he was going to make up a story, he certainly wouldn’t include information that would make him look bad. That got me thinking about what some in apologetic circles call the Criterion (or Principal) of Embarrassment.

The Criterion of Embarrassment

The criterion of embarrassment is described as a tool employed by some historians to affirm the authenticity of a historical account by determining if the story would in some way embarrass the author. If the story would embarrass the author for publishing it, the probability of the story’s veracity increases.

Does that sound weird?

Let me put it this way: think of the most embarrassing moment in your own life. Now, would you want that story published and distributed to hundreds or thousands of people? Probably not. If there are events in our lives that tend to wound our pride, we usually keep them to ourselves, or go out of our way to diminish those events by puffing up our accomplishments.

Embarrassing Facts

So how does this apply to the Bible or belief in God? Frank Turek writes in his piece for Cross Examined:

 While embarrassing testimony is alone not enough to ensure historical reliability—early, eyewitness testimony is also necessary (which the New Testament has)—the principle of embarrassment is even more pronounced in the New Testament.  The people who wrote down much of the New Testament are characters (or friends of characters) in the story, and they often depict themselves an extremely unflattering light.  Their claims are not likely to be invented.

Vishal Mangalwadi worked through this process of understanding the criterion of embarrassment in his publication, “The Book That Made Your World“:

“…Our folk history told us of great and glorious rulers. This Jewish book, in contrast, told me about the wickedness of Jewish rulers. Why?…”

One could even argue that Christianity itself was an “embarrassing” belief in the first and second centuries . While discussing 1 Corinthians 1:18 and the Koine Greek word “ἐσταυρωμένον” (i.e. “crucified”), Dr. James White pointed out:

“…that verb was almost considered…off-color language by many people in the first century. It conjured up images of such disgust in the minds of so many people, that in polite company, there were some people who would never even use it…I mean, when I hear people talking about how Paul made up this religion and all the rest of this stuff…I just have to laugh. It’s so foolish. It is so foolish for anybody to think that this would be an attractive thing in the days of Paul.”

Not An Exact Science

The criterion of embarrassment isn’t perfect. For example, many believe the story of Romulus and Remus to be mythology. Yet, Romulus was said to have killed his brother. That’s certainly embarrassing, but it certainly doesn’t help establish a case for the story’s historicity. In fact, regardless of “embarrassing testimony” we know the story of Romulus and Remus to be fictional.

In the case of the Bible and the New Testament, however, the case is strengthened by archaeological finds that support the New Testament narrative on a historical level. (See here, here and here for just a few examples.)

To be sure, all by itself, the fact that the Bible recorded embarrassing details about the people within its pages doesn’t prove anything in and of itself. However, it’s just another layer in the cumulative case for the truth of Christianity.

Ep. 109: Analyzing the Shroud of Turin with Dr. Gary Habermas

Image taken from Wikipedia

On this episode:

Nate reads an excerpt from the brand new ACL ebook: Make Christ Clear (:29)
Nate announces the winner of Sharing the Good News with Mormons (10:49)
Analyzing the Shroud of Turin with Dr. Gary Habermas (12:25)

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Ep. 109: Analyzing the Shroud of Turin with Dr. Gary Habermas

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“Day by Day” by Citizens is used with permission. Check out their website: wearecitizens.net

The Multicultural Apologist: Engaging a Diverse World

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diverse men and women standing in a circle looking down at the camera

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit entered the apostles and gave them the ability to speak in other languages (Acts 2:4-8). The Church began with a bang as people from all over heard the gospel preached to them in their native language. About 3,000 were saved that day (Acts 2:41).

From the beginning of the world, God planned for people from all tribes, nations, and languages to worship Him before His throne (Revelation 7:9). As we read through the Bible, we see this plan slowly being revealed as God describes the redemption coming for the Gentiles.

Through the movement of God’s people, the gospel has been spread around the world and continues to reach further. His Church is global and it is growing. As believers, we have an important question to consider:

What does it look like to be an effective ambassador for Christ in an increasingly diverse world?

Multicultural communication challenges

As globalization continues, it’s common to have the nations in your backyard. You likely have neighbors, coworkers, friends, classmates, or even family from other cultures and backgrounds. Ethnic diversity is the norm, not the exception.

Of course, this unique blend of cultures and individual circumstances brings with it some challenges. Clear communication is a huge one.

We’ve all experienced communication barriers. Even when both parties fluently speak each other’s language, frustrating misunderstandings occur. From unspoken expectations to missing the meaning of certain expressions, navigating a conversation can seem like tiptoeing through a cultural minefield. (Wait, did you get that expression?)

When trying to share the good news of Christ, of course, clear communication is crucial! How can we ensure others understand our message?

Stay aware of cultural missteps and common pitfalls

Since we can’t become experts on all the possible cultures we’ll come in contact with, it’s a good idea to brush up on some general guidelines for cross-cultural communication.

Perhaps the most simple is to listen activelyPay close attention to what the other person is saying, and ask questions to check that what you understood is what they actually meant. Summarize and rephrase what you heard. For example, “It sounds like you’re saying religion is closely tied to family relationships for you. Is that correct?” By doing this periodically, you will usually be able to catch misunderstandings much quicker.

Another useful consideration is to check your body language. As you probably already know by now, the meaning and appropriateness of gestures vary widely around the world. Even though speaking may feel unnatural without them, try to tone down your hand gestures in particular. Also watch for the other person’s use of body language. Do they seem uncomfortable or confused?

Regarding your speech, keep it simple. Avoid idioms or cultural references (to your culture or theirs). A cultural reference could be related to politics, current events, media, brands, and more. Resist the urge to use humor to ease the tension, because as we know from Facebook comments gone wrong, it’s all to easy to misunderstand jokes!

Finally, be patient and understanding. Show genuine interest in the other person, and express a willingness to learn from them. Be patient when communication gets challenging, and be flexible.

Different styles of communication in different cultures

About a year ago when I took a course in public speaking, I was amazed to learn just how many different styles of communication are out there. For example, while we’re used to a standard format for essays (intro, body, conclusion), this is by no means universal. Some other cultures tend to prefer a circular/nonlinear format. Similar differences exist in spoken communication styles.

Ideas about what makes good reasoning and logic vary, too. What seems like “cold hard facts” to a Western society may be shrugged off as irrelevant and uncompelling for an Eastern culture.

As apologists, we need to familiarize ourselves with these differences, and adapt our strategies accordingly. To succeed in our goal to make Christ known, we must be prepared to engage with our diverse world.

Tactical Mission: Get to Know Your Weapon

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For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.

2 Cor 10:3-5

BASIC TRAINING

One of the first skills we were taught in basic training was marksmanship. The M16A2 rifle is an extension of the soldier. It is the soldier’s responsibility to become proficient with his weapon. Drill Sergeants aid in this by teaching the basics: How many rounds does the M16 hold? 30. What’s the maximum effective range? 3,600 meters. What do you do if the weapon jams? S.P.O.R.T.S[i]. The most important thing they taught us was the importance of safety. Safety? That word doesn’t seem to fit. Something about placing your head near a bullet being fired at 3,000 feet per second doesn’t seem safe.

Sharing the message of Jesus has the same feel. Like a soldier’s M16, a Christian’s testimony or come-to-faith moment is an extension of himself or herself. Preachers play the role of Drill Sergeants and prepare Christians to share their faith. They teach Bible verses as if it were ammunition: How much does God love you? So much that He gave is one and only begotten son(John 3:16). Of what importance is it that Jesus rose from the dead? If Christ has not been raised then our preaching is without foundation, and so is your faith(1 Corinthians 15:14)? Who did Jesus come to save? Whoever calls on His name (Acts 2:21).

SAFETY

Christianity doesn’t always feel safe; it quite often feels the opposite.

C.S. Lewis is a famous atheist turned Christian apologist. What really impresses me about Lewis is his ability to write effectively in an array of genres. Lewis covered everything from fantasy literature in “The Chronicles of Narnia” to a transcribed radio series in “Mere Christianity” to Dream Vision (Romanticism of Medieval era) in “The Great Divorce”. All of these works were penned with the excellence of a Cambridge professor. In one of his books, “The Screwtape Letters”, Lewis writes from the perspective of a senior demon (Screwtape) writing to a young apprentice (Wormwood). Screwtape explains the methods and tactics that demons use to thwart the plans of “the enemy” (God).

Screwtape writes, “For as things are, your man has now discovered the dangerous truth that these attacks don’t last forever; consequently you cannot use again what is, after all, our best weapon – the belief of ignorant humans, that there is no hope of getting rid of us except by yielding.”

Wormwood is attempting to shake the faith of a Christian. Screwtape identifies that the target is beginning to recognize his power of resistance.

Christians. Apologists.

We often march to the cadence of 1 Timothy 3:15, scouring through our favorite apologetics webpages like Reasonable Faith with William Lane Craig, Stand to Reason with Greg Koukl, Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Walace, or Rob Johnson’s Apologetics 105. We go in search of the support and defense of our faith so that we can provide it to others with gentleness and respect. But in doing so, we miss the power of the personal testimony.

Paul writes in Romans 6:13a, “And do not offer any parts of [yourself] to sin as weapons for unrighteousness.” When Jesus called you to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength” he was saying the whole of your identity belongs to God.

My good friend Tony Vance recently wrote, “I would actually argue that apologetics is a field all believers should be practicing, even if only once in a while.” I agree wholeheartedly, and I’ll offer one more element to that! The greatest weapon in the Christian arsenal is the evidence of Jesus in the life of the believer, a changed heart. Get to know your weapon. Know it inside and out and don’t shy from sharing. For as it is written, “those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness.” (Rom 6:13b)

[i] http://soldiersystems.net/2015/12/31/sports-what-to-do-when-youre-in-a-jam/

Ep. 108: Investigating Mormonism: The Case-Making Approach with J Warner Wallace

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On this episode:

Nate makes an important announcement about the future of A Clear Lens (:29)
Nate explains how you can win a free copy of Sharing the Good News with Mormons (2:20)
Investigating Mormonism: The Case-Making Approach with J Warner Wallace (3:24)

*Congratulations to Chuck Williams who won the free copy of Sharing the Good News with Mormons! The giveaway for this particular book is now over.

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Ep. 108: Investigating Mormonism: The Case-Making Approach with J Warner Wallace

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“Day by Day” by Citizens is used with permission. Check out their website: wearecitizens.net

Worldview Analysis: Jack Ryan

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Do some morals have to be compromised in order to save the greater good? According to the new Amazon Original Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, the answer is a murky “maybe.”

Book Review: Reasoning with the Unreasonable by Matt Smith

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“This little formula, A is A and if you have A it is not non-A, is the first move in classical logic. If you understand the extent to which this no longer holds sway, you will understand our present situation.” Matt Smith writes in his book, “Reasoning with the Unreasonable: A Biblical Case for Presuppositional Apologetics”. Addressing the challenges that face many apologists today, he believes that ineffective communication is due to a “…culture without a shared epistemology.”

Overview

Published in 2001, Matt Smith’s “Reasoning with the Unreasonable” isn’t a terribly recent book. However, at only 88 pages, it’s a short read that really packs a punch and makes you think.

While I don’t consider myself a person who strictly adheres to presuppositional apologetics (I fancy myself as one in the “Classical Apologetics” camp described by R.C. Sproul) Yet, I feel that there is a valid point that many presuppositionalists make and as Smith states in his book, “Undiscussed presuppositions  abound, and people tend to talk past one another.” And this book gets down to the brass tacks of that premise.

Smith starts off by saying, “The main challenge of apologetics in this generation is communication. This is largely due to the impossible scenario whereby two opposing views are unable to communicate their idea to one another through any shared epistemological method.” 

He goes on to say, “Though there is indeed a disagreement about the ontology of goodness or personhood, the problem is that there are no agreed upon parameters by which to settle the issue. Any discussion about ontology is hampered by an inability to communicate through a shared arena of knowing.”

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of all the times that I would try to discuss the cumulative case for Christianity with skeptics and felt like we were talking past each other.

Smith goes on to point out:

“When Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, they agreed upon a shared epistemological test to decide the issue. Though there was an ontological confrontation between two world views, there was a shared epistemological methodology set forth to communicate the winner. This is not so in our culture today.”

Ultimately, Smith urges apologists to follow the Apostle Paul’s method in dealing with other worldviews. He implores us to keep in mind the end goal of proclaiming the gospel.

“Athenian philosophers were not putting their own worldview up for discussion. Rather, they seemed to want to hear Paul’s worldview under the rubic of their own presuppositions…Paul did not simply assert his worldview either. Rather, he deconstructed the presuppositions of their worldview, demonstrating their inability to know true truth regarding the ontological nature of God and man, while he showed the superiority of his own worldview and his own epistemology.”

Recommendation

Considering that the book is only 88 pages long, even if you don’t consider yourself a “presuppositional apologist”, it’s still a great book to pick up. It’s always time well spent getting to know the views of other apologists and their methods and Matt Smith’s book, “Reasoning with the Unreasonable” is no exception. There were so many thought-provoking quotes that it was hard to choose which ones to share. While it does delve into some “philosophical” and “academic” language, the concepts are still kept rather accessible.  I highly recommend it.

Ep. 107: A Christian Pharmacist Stands for Faith, with Andrew Roth

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On this episode:

Nate answers this question: If God is sovereign, why should we pray? (:29)
Nate announces some upcoming interviews with excellent guests (10:04)
A Christian Pharmacist Stands for Faith, with Andrew Roth (11:23)

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Ep. 107: A Christian Pharmacist Stands for Faith, with Andrew Roth

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“Day by Day” by Citizens is used with permission. Check out their website: wearecitizens.net

Is The Resurrection of Jesus Falsifiable?

Christians rightly point out that the resurrection would have been easily falsifiable not long after Jesus’ death. All the opposition had to do was produce the body. Then the disciples would have confirmed that it was Jesus and went back to their day jobs. I wouldn’t be writing this blog, and there would be no A Clear Lens.

What a terrible world we would live in!

But there was no claim that Jesus’ body was ever found, and the first Christians preached the resurrection in the very place where Jesus died. They preached this radically new doctrine because according to them, they experienced the risen Jesus firsthand.

The Question of Falsifiability

Skeptics will point out that the resurrection is not falsifiable today because too much time has passed since Jesus’ death. In other words, if a body was produced today, there would be no way to confirm that it was Jesus of Nazareth’s body.

I agree with this. However, if we discovered an ossuary dating back to the first century that contained the bones of a crucified individual, and it had an inscription on it that read “Jesus of Nazareth,” then that would be a problem for Christianity! 

It seems unlikely that some kind of evidence could be presented that would prove with absolute certainty that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. In the case of the ossuary, there could be several alternative explanations even though they are highly improbable. For example, there could have been more than one Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified in the first century.

Reason to Doubt the Resurrection?

Even if it’s not possible to disprove the resurrection with absolute certainty, it could still be the case that people who believe in the resurrection ought not to do so because of evidence against it.

Here are three scenarios that ought to make Christians doubt the resurrection if they were true.

1. The Apostles Lied about Jesus.

The primary sources of the resurrection are the New Testament documents. Based on these sources, the earliest Christians claimed to have met the risen Jesus. But if it could be shown that the apostles were lying, then Christianity would be based on a lie.

Now this could be done in a few ways, but here’s one possibility: the disciples borrowed from other stories to create a mythical Jesus. Jesus never existed, and all of the facts about his life were made up by the apostles. This would mean even people like Paul were deceived into believing that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

2. The Original New Testament Wording Is Lost Beyond Recovery

Many Christians may not be aware of this, but none of the original New Testament manuscripts exist today. Textual critics compare the manuscript copies we have today to discern the original wording of the text. But if the original wording of the New Testament cannot be recovered, then all of Christianity is in trouble. We would be left with later Christian documents and some mentions of Jesus in a few secular sources.

We wouldn’t know what really happened that Easter morning. We wouldn’t know who Paul really was or what he actually experienced. We wouldn’t know very much about Jesus at all, much less specific details about his resurrection!

3. God Doesn’t Exist.

This one goes without saying but is still important to remember. The central claim of Christianity is that God raised Jesus from the dead. But if God doesn’t exist, then resurrection is impossible. We would then be left with a human Jesus who died and remained dead just like everybody else.

Conclusion

I think one of the greatest strengths of Christianity is that its central claim is a historical event. The resurrection of Jesus is something that we are invited to investigate for ourselves. I encourage you to do so; there might be more evidence for it than you think. 

As I have personally investigated the evidence for the resurrection and continue to do so, I ultimately side with the apostles:

“This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32).

Ep. 106: Quick Tips to Study the Bible Properly

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On this episode:

Nate talks about how Jesus persuaded His audience (:29)
Nate welcomes Gene and Logan (13:25)
Game Time: Fact or Fib? (14:29)
Quick Tips to Reading the Study Properly (24:46)

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Ep. 106: Quick Tips to Study the Bible Properly

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“Day by Day” by Citizens is used with permission. Check out their website: wearecitizens.net

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Is The Resurrection of Jesus Falsifiable?

Since Christians claim that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical event, anyone can investigate the evidence for and against it.