Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What is Apologetics? Pt.2

by Hiram R. Diaz III
§ I. Methodology
Having defined apologetics,[1] we will now turn our attention to considering how we are to intellectually defend the faith. This article, in other words, will be dealing with methodology. We understand that the faith is to be defended defensively and offensively, but how are we to do this? Before answering this question, we must look at the nature of attacks on the Christian faith. After doing this, we will proceed to answer what methodology we must employ when defending the Christian faith against the enemies of God.
§ Ia. Epistemology & Authority
Apologetics is, as we have noted, the intellectual defense of the faith against spiritual opposition to the it. We are engaged in war, and this implies that we are under some commanding authority. Christians are under the authority of God, who teaches us knowledge[2] through his Word. We do not derive our knowledge firstly from any other source than the Word of God. All authorities are subordinate to the Word of God by necessity, as we learn from the writer to the Hebrews. Discussing the assurance believers can have of their inheritance as children of God struggling against outer and inner corruption that seeks to destroy us, the writer states —
…when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.[3]
Here we are assured of our everlasting inheritance by the author’s referencing the fact that while men swear some authority higher than themselves in order to give a “final confirmation,” God “since he had no one greater by whom to swear...swore by himself.” This teaches us that God’s Word is the highest source of authority, for God cannot swear by some other authority which would grant his words a final confirmation.
The above situation regarding Abraham, we must note, is not limited to that one event, for there is no situation in which God’s Word is dependent upon some created and mutable thing for its confirmation. We do not argue to the truth of the Scriptures, therefore, but from the truth of the Scriptures. As believers in him who is the Truth, the unchanging and highest authority who could swear by no one higher, we test all things by his Word, and we subordinate all epistemological pursuits to this one — knowing the Word of God.
While the enemies of God are numerous, their ultimate authority is “self.” As the Scriptures state —
…every intention of the thoughts [fallen man’s] heart was only
evil continually[4]
And
        “…the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”[5]
The evil in fallen man’s heart is always self-serving. This has been the case since the fall. In seeking to sin, therefore, the unbeliever places himself above all authorities, serving as the judge of what is right and wrong, what is useful or useless, what is worthy of worship or not. Even when he is superficially under the authority of some false god, he has put himself there for self-serving ends, thereby demonstrating that his god is his belly.[6] 
And from this we must conclude that fallen man’s thoughts are constrained by the desire to be free from the authority of God. Man’s thinking is inherently self-serving apart from the grace of God. The apostle Paul explains this in detail in his epistle to the Romans, writing —
…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
[…]
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.[7]

Fallen man does not seek the truth; he suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. Fallen man’s desire in all things is to pursue his own fallen interests, namely sin. Consequently, his thinking is always geared toward that end, even in the most mundane of activities. His authority is his self, and he subordinates all epistemological pursuits to his own sin-formed notions of what is good or bad, or wise or foolish, et al.
§ Ib. Asserting God’s Authority Vs. Fallen Man’s Authority
Since fallen man’s objections to the faith arise not from an honest pursuit of truth but the pursuit of his own rebellion against God, we do not subordinate the truth to the mutable and subjective standards that fallen man employs when it seems to best serve his belly (i.e. sinful appetites). Rather, we challenge the basis of his reasoning when he attempts to challenge the Christian faith, knowing that he is simply trying yet again to (a.)suppress the truth in unrighteousness and (b.)justify his past, present, and future rebellion against God — at least in his own depraved mind. We assert the authority of God’s Word over any other supposed form of authority.
Logically, it cannot be any other way. Every doubt raised against the Christian faith rests upon the assumption that some other epistemological means is more reliable/trustworthy than the Word of God. For instance, consider the following —
Person A: I believe that David was the King of Israel not only because of the testimony of Scripture, but also because there is archeological evidence for the existence of a man named David who ruled over Israel during the time period described in the Bible.
Person B: I’m grateful you’re at least trying to factually verify the Bible, but archeological data is hard to interpret sometimes. Statistically speaking, it’s more likely that the supposed evidence belongs to someone else named David, and not the King of Israel.
Person A: So you don’t accept the historical evidence?
Person B: I accept that it exists, sure. But if I’ve learned anything from history it’s that archaeological studies are at best possibly true. There is no archeological study that can absolutely establish any truth of the Bible, or any other book for that matter.
Note that Person A explains that there is extra-biblical support for his belief in David being the King of Israel, as described in the Bible, yet Person B reveals his lack of confidence in the archeological data by stating that his experience over time has revealed something to him that is certain, viz. Archeological studies are at best possibly true. What is true for Person B is the fact that archeology can only teach us what is possibly true. This implies that Person B thinks the conclusions he has reached over years of experience are more certain and, therefore, of higher epistemological authority than the findings of archeologists.
All skeptical attitudes toward any proposition are the same way. There are no universal skeptics. There can be none in reality, for every doubt raised against a particular proposition implies that the doubter is at least sure that he has good ground for doubting the proposition under consideration. The skeptic affirms a hierarchy of epistemological authorities, even if he denies that he does. He holds to a foundational belief or set of beliefs that inform how he looks at and scrutinizes beliefs and knowledge claims from every aspect of life.
In the final analysis, then, the conflict of spiritual warfare in apologetics is between God’s authority and man’s illegally assumed authority. Rather than subordinate himself to his Creator, he seeks to set himself up as a god, as one who defines good and evil. Our methodology, therefore, must be a demonstration that his ultimate authority, i.e. himself, is incoherent, contradictory, and parasitic on God’s general revelation. We must also demonstrate without our ultimate authority, namely the Word of God in general and special revelation, the unbeliever has neither an epistemological nor a moral grounds for objecting to the Christian faith.
[Continued in Part 2b]


[1] See Diaz, Hiram R. “What is Apologetics? Pt.1,” Biblical Trinitarian,
http://www.biblicaltrinitarian.com/2018/07/what-is-apologetics-pt1.html.
[2] cf. Ps 94:10.
[3] Heb 6:13-18. (emphasis added)
[4] Gen 6:5. (emphasis added)
[5] Gen 8:21. (emphasis added)
[6] cf. Phil 3:19.
[7] Rom 1:18-23.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

A Brief Consideration of the Bibliology & Theology of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society

by Michael R. Burgos Jr., PhD

§ I. Introduction
 
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WB&TS) is one of the more prominent theological cults in the United States. It's Kingdom Halls and literature are seemingly ubiquitous in most cities. For this reason, I have provided a brief consideration of two important doctrinal issues to assist you in your evangelism to Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs).

§ II. Bibliology

To begin with, the WB&TS’s New World Translation (NWT) is an erroneous and biased “translation,” which divulges the doctrinal pre-commitments of the Society. The text of the NWT’s New Testament is primarily based upon Westcott & Hort’s New Testament in the Original Greek (1881). However, the NWT contains significant alterations to the text, and this undeniably for theological reasons. The WB&TS claims that their New Testament is the combination of a hodge-podge of sources, many of which are completely irrelevant to the determining to the actual Greek New Testament. In conventional translations such as the KJV, NASB, or ESV, scholars evaluate and weigh ancient Greek manuscripts, engaging in the art and science of textual criticism. While there are stated rules for textual criticism (called “canons”), it appears as though the “New World Translation Committee” made up their own rules. For example, while there exists no New Testament manuscript which contains the Hebrew tetragrammaton (i.e., the divine name Yahweh in the Old Testament), the WB&TS has included what they identify as twenty-three 14-20th century “Hebrew Versions.”[1] Any textual critical methodology which supposes the veracity of 14-20th century Hebrew manuscripts over and against every single ancient Greek manuscript New Testament manuscript is preposterous! The WB&TS has taken to defending this view by claiming nothing short of a monumental conspiracy theory:
Those copying the [i.e., ancient NT] manuscripts either replaced the Tetragrammaton with Kyʹri·os, the Greek word for “Lord,” or they copied from manuscripts where this had already been done.[2]
The WB&TS further claims that the removal of Jehovah from the New Testament “evidently took place in the centuries following the death of Jesus and his apostles”[3] by “so-called Christians…who replaced the Tetragrammaton by kyrios in the Septuagint.”[4] This however, is non-sensical and grossly inaccurate. Because there are manuscripts of the Septuagint which translate the tetragrammaton YHWH as Kurios (i.e., Lord), and these before the New era Testament, the WB&TS has anachronistically argued that “so-called Christians” corrupted the text. The grand difficulty here, aside from the amazing anachronism, is that postexilic Jews had developed a well-documented tradition[5] of substituting the Hebrew term Adonai (“Lord”) for the tetragrammaton, and the Septuagint simply follows that tradition by translating Jehovah (i.e., Yahweh) and Adonai as Kurios (“Lord”). While there are a handful of Septuagint manuscripts which buck this norm by either including the four consonants YHWH, or using some other Greek substitute, the vast majority of Septuagint manuscripts translate the tetragrammaton Kurios, just as the New Testament does every time.

To put the WB&TS theory into perspective, this would mean that the original reading of the New Testament in at least 237 places was lost and that we now must rely upon rely upon versional translations from the “14th-20th centuries” to restore the original text. Such a view thoroughly erodes any reason for believing in the authenticity and veracity of the New Testament. Moreover, it is incredible to assert that every genuine New Testament manuscript that had disappeared without some much as even one copy or church father quotation surviving. Currently, there are about 5,800 extant ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts in existence. Not one of these manuscripts attest to the WB&TS’s claims. Moreover, the WB&TS plainly contradicts itself when it argues for the veracity of Scriptures:

No striking or fundamental variation is shown either in the Old or New Testament. There are no important omissions or additions of passages, and no variations which affect vital facts or doctrines.[6]
And,
Not only are there thousands of manuscripts to compare but discoveries of older Bible manuscripts during the past few decades take the Greek text back as far as about the year 125 C.E., just a couple of decades short of the death of the apostle John about 100 C.E. These manuscript evidences provide strong assurance that we now have a dependable Greek text in refined form.[7]
There are other places within the NWT which unambiguously reject the reading of any New Testament manuscript whatsoever. For instance, Colossians 1:16-20 states,

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

What is Apologetics? Pt.1

by Hiram R. Diaz III

§ I. Apologia: Defensive & Offensive

In 1st Peter 3:15, the apostle Peter commands all Christians to always be ready to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ. The word translated as defense is the Greek word ἀπολογία (apologia), which Frederick W. Danker defines as —
‘response to charges of misconduct’, defense freq. In legal context —a. with focus on speaking in defense Ac 22:1 (legal); 1 Cor 9:3 (general sense). —b. the act of defensive response: in a legal venue Ac 25:16; 2 Ti 4:16; general sense 2 Cor 7:11; Phil 1:7, 16; 1 Pt 3:15.[1]
Peter is, then, commanding Christians to give a defense for the faith. But what precisely does this mean in 1st Peter’s context? If we want to understand what Peter is teaching us, we need to look at the passage in connection with its previous and succeeding verses.

Beginning in 1st Pet 3:8, Peter admonishes Christians to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” Christians are not to “repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless.” We have been “called [to blessing others],” and we will “obtain a blessing,” for God blesses his people when they bless others. Peter goes on to cite Ps 32:12-16 in support of his statements, showing that this is the Christian’s duty according to the Word of God. He then goes on to ask —
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?
Doing good is not grounds for fear, so obedience to God’s law should not be hindered by fear of being harmed/punished by those to whom we show kindness. In fact, the implication of any such harm/punishment coming to us for blessing our enemies is that they are acting unjustly and will, therefore, receive their due punishment in God’s time. Thus, Peter continues by arguing that “even if [we] should suffer for righteousness’ sake, [we] will be blessed.” Whether we are blessed in the present for blessing others, or we receive unjust punishment from those enemies of Christ whom we bless, we are and will be blessed by God for obeying his commandment to love our enemies. There is no justification for fearing or being troubled in our hearts, even in such circumstances, therefore, since we are and will be blessed. Rather, Peter says we are to “honor Christ the Lord as holy,” and “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us].”

In this passage, then, the goal of defending the faith is directly connected to (i.)our lives as Christians being distinct from the world, and (ii.)our enduring in hope in this world, even when we are unjustly persecuted, punished, ridiculed, and mocked by the enemies of God. Why do we continue to trust in Christ and show mercy and love toward our enemies in the world? Why do we not, as Job’s wife once commanded him to do, “curse God and die”?[2] Why not forsake the Lord Jesus Christ’s commandment of love and turn on those who unjustly harm us? Peter commands us to be ready to give a defense of the faith, of the hope we have. And this is what makes the word apologia so significant. We are not called to give a defense of a belief that we understand but do not ourselves embrace; we are commanded to give a defense of the beliefs that we fully embrace, to the extent that our lives are marked by adherence to its precepts and faithfulness to the giver of those precepts, despite what losses we will experience. An apologia, in other words, can only be given by a Christian, one whose hope is fully in the Word of God, and whose life, therefore, demonstrates this in no uncertain terms.

Given that Peter states that we are to be ready to give an apologia in the event that we are asked about the hope we have in Christ, some have taken this to mean that apologetics is only defensive and not offensive. But is this the case?