December 2006

Birds in snowOne raw winter night a farmer heard an irregular thumping sound against his kitchen storm door. He went to a window and watched as tiny, shivering sparrows, attracted to the evident warmth inside, beat in vain against the glass.

Touched, the farmer bundled up and trudged through fresh snow to open the barn door for the struggling birds. He turned on the lights and tossed some hay in the corner. But the sparrows, which had scattered in all directions when he emerged from the house, hid in the darkness, afraid.

The man tried various tactics to get them into the barn. He laid down a trail of Saltine cracker crumbs to direct them. He tried circling behind the birds to drive them to the barn. Nothing worked. He, a huge, alien creature, had terrified them; the birds couldn't comprehend that he actually desired to help. The farmer withdrew to his house and watched the doomed sparrows through a window. As he stared, a thought hit him like lightning from a clear blue sky: If only I could become a bird – one of them – just for a moment. Then I wouldn't frighten them so. I could show them the way to warmth and safety.

At the same moment, another thought dawned on him. He grasped the reason Jesus was born. (As told by Paul Harvey)

As a parable (a simple story told to communicate a larger idea) this story isn't perfect; any parable breaks down if you analyze it to death. But the message behind this parable is very powerful. Could God come near? There's no reason why, if God is love, that He could not. Did He? If the Christmas claims are real, then yes, God did, and there is indeed a reasonable basis to have hope!

Further reading:

NativityFigured I should do a Christmas entry of some sort :) So here's a holiday link: Four Christmas Topics by Lee Strobel. Questions answered include When was Jesus born?, Is the virgin birth credible?, Did Christianity copy earlier myths?, and What was the Christmas Star?. The answers for the first three are decent, though Strobel's (really Hugh Ross') attempted answer to the last one seems like a stretch to me; there's no reason why the star had to be a natural phenomenon. A decent article nonetheless.

(The image on the right is by Lu Lan of China, and is part of the Asian Christian Art Association Nativity Gallery.)

Other Christmas related links:

StairsI finished reading Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians by Dr Jeffery Burton Russell, which describes how the Flat Earth myth is historically bogus. (The Flat Earth myth discussed is not the myth that the world is flat, but rather the persistent myth that people in general and Christians in particular during Columbus' time believed that the world was flat). An interesting read overall, though I'm glad the author limited himself to 80 pages. This quote from the last page of the last chapter of the book (where the author describes why the Flat Earth myth persists) caught my attention:

The modern view combining relativism and progress as widely understood is incoherent. A true relativism would assume that no worldview is better than another; a true progressivism would assume that worldviews are moving closer and closer to a predetermined and preferred goal. The two beliefs are mutually exclusive. … The hope that we are making progress toward a goal (which is not defined and about which there is no consensus) leads us to undervalue the past in order to convince ourselves of the superiority of the present. (Russell, 76)

I have commented on this subject before (see A Modern Absurdity: Everything new is good, everything old is bad) but it bears repeating, because I really believe that this mentality is one reason why people are hesitant to seriously consider Christianity, while some unfortunately seem so eager to embrace Scientology. If what is old is bad, then Christianity must be bad, right? That is fallacious thinking. I'm no luddite; I probably spend half my waking life on my computer for school, work, or recreation. But I do recognize that what's "new and improved" often is not 'improved' at all, and what's "new" is often merely what's old wrapped in the fancy new dress of modernity. The fact that something is old is certainly no reason to reject it out of hand.

BookIt is sometimes suggested that the New Testament as we know it did not exist until centuries after Jesus, and that the books comprising the New Testament were not considered divine or authoritative until much later than the first century.

One problem with the theory that the books in our New Testament were not considered Scripture in the first century is that the authors of the New Testament books specifically refer to the other author's books as being Scripture! Take a look at 2 Peter 3:15-16:

Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Here Peter refers to the wisdom found in Paul's letters. Note Peter's wording: He says Paul's letters contain things that are hard to understand just like the other Scriptures. Peter considered at least some of Paul's letters to be Scripture, equal in authority to the Old Testament.

I came across another passage this week that seems to treat other New Testament books as Scripture, 1 Timothy 5:18:

For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages."

The first quote is from Deuteronomy 25:4. The second is not found in the Old Testament, but it is found in the New Testament. Albert Barnes notes in his commentary that "This expression is found substantially in Matt 10:10, and Luke 10:7. It does not occur in so many words in the Old Testament, and yet the apostle adduces it evidently as a quotation from the Scriptures, and as authority in the case. It would seem probable, therefore, that he had seen the Gospel by Matthew or by Luke, and that he quoted this as a part of Scripture, and regarded the Book from which he made the quotation as of the same authority as the Old Testament. If so, then this may be regarded as an attestation of the apostle to the inspiration of the Gospel in which it was found." (Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible, via e-sword)

Kinda throws cold water on the whole "Constantine put together his own collection of scriptures" myth eh? (Sorry couldn't help referencing The Da Vinci Code again!)

There's an interesting book that I haven't been able to finish reading yet called The First Edition of the New Testament by Dr David Trobisch, which posits the theory that the New Testament we know today was first compiled (in a form identical to or very similar to its present form) in the early 2nd century, not in the 4th century as it is often assumed. It's an interesting but somewhat difficult read, probably in part because it's been translated from its original German form. It's also expensive ($45) considering it's only 184 pages. I'll finish reading it next semester when I'm back at the school library. 😉

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