How long did the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life live?

Towards the end of the video I embedded in my last post,the speaker was asked a question regarding the life span of the eyewitnesses to the accounts told in the NT gospels. Dr. Craig  Blomberg tackles this question in his blog post titled, Did None of Jesus’ Disciples Live Long Enough to Write a Gospel? 

The claim is that the average life expectancy in ancient Israel was about 40 years, which would mean that the disciples would have been long past this age by the time the gospels were written. Dr. Blomberg has this to say:

When was the last time anyone reflected on the meaning of the word “average”? The average age of Denver Seminary students in recent years has been about 29. But we have oodles of people in their thirties, forties, fifties and even a few in their sixties. How can this be? Because the single biggest cluster of students, age-wise, are in their early to mid-twenties. That’s how averages work.

So even if you didn’t know a whit of history about the first-century, you ought to recognize the argument fails right out of the gate. But if you do realize from the study of any culture of any point in time prior to the twentieth-century West, that large numbers of children died in infancy or childhood, then you’d realize that an average life span of forty would mean more people significantly older than 40 than is true in the U.S. today when the average life span of people is late 70s and yet almost no one lives more than thirty years beyond that average.

He then goes on to apportion blame to biblical illiteracy. He uses John 8:57, 1 Timothy 5:9 and Luke 2:36 to show that some people at least had long life-spans, even by today’s standards. What if you don’t trust the Bible? Glad you asked. Dr. Blomberg suggests you type ‘age of Roman emperors’ into your favourite search engine and see how long they lived.

Do read the entire post, and if you’re a Christian, don’t let your faith be shaken by such questions!

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Good reasons to believe the NT gospels are true

Watching the video below was probably the most enjoyable 1-hour stretches of my life this year (oh, what a sad sack I am :))
In it Dr. Peter J. Williams asks and answers the question, “Are the gospels based on eyewitness testimony?” The consensus among Bible scholars, both conservative and sceptical, is that the gospels weren’t written in Israel/Palestine (conservatives, though, are more likely to place Matthew in Israel). Seeing the gospels weren’t written in the land, how much do they know of it?

Dr. Williams puts the gospel writers to the test on their knowledge of:

  • Personal names: The popularity of names changes with time. Do they get the right names and in the right proportions?
  • Geography: Do they demonstrate familiarity with place names?
  • Botany: Do they get the right plants in the right places?

In the first two tests, he also compares the biblical gospels to the apocryphal ones. The results are quite illuminating. To wrap up, he brings the tests together in examining the feeding of the 5,000.

The video includes not only Dr. Williams’ priceless facial expressions, but also his presentation slides. If watching 1 hour of video doesn’t work for you, here’s an audio recording of the same talk at another venue (length 57:00):

You decide: were the writers of the gospels conspiratorially clever or were they simply recording what eyewitnesses had seen and heard?

If you’d like to listen to Peter Williams talk on the correct transmission and translation of both the Old and New Testaments try Can we Trust Our Bibles? from the Next 2011 conference (length 1:29:02).

Public prayer

Public prayer builds on  private prayer, which I touched on last week. By ‘praying in public’ I don’t mean on street corners or in parks, though that could be part of it. I mean praying with other people, be it a few friends at a Bible study or in front of a congregation. Here are some pointers I’ve picked up that may be helpful:

Plan ahead of time

If you know beforehand that you shall be offering a public prayer, prepare for it. A well-ordered prayer isn’t a distraction to those participating and is also more likely not to be exceedingly lengthy.

Use ‘we’ and ‘us’ rather than ‘I’ and ‘me’

You’re speaking both to God and to the people around you. You’re speaking to God on behalf of those around you, so include them in your choice of pronouns.

Avoid the overuse of certain words and forms of expression

Don’t use God’s name as punctuation. Drop the habit of saying ‘just’ every other two seconds.

Vary your use of God’s name

There are so many to choose from: Father, Lord, God, Shepherd, Rock, Refuge, Shelter, Creator, King, Redeemer, etc, etc. Meditate on the psalms for more ideas.

Pray in the language of scripture

Even the people in the Bible pray the Bible back to God, a point I learned while reading Nehemiah 9. Similarly, Mary’s song in Luke 1 echoes Hannah’s in 1 Samuel 2; Jesus on the cross uses Psalm 22:1 and 31:5; The early church in Acts 4:24-30 cites Psalms 146 and 2. Turn key phrases and precious promises into prayers, or adopt the prayers of the Bible as your own (e.g. Psalm 103 as a prayer of ressurance).

Don’t turn it into a soapbox

Don’t use the opportunity to rail against someone or something, or to expound on a point of teaching. That’s not the purpose of prayer.

Start in private

If your private prayer life is unhealthy, that will affect your public prayers as well.

Sources & further reading:

What’s better than wealth?

Here are three things:

Wisdom:

Happy is a man who finds wisdom

and who acquires understanding,

for she is more profitable than silver,

and her revenue is better than gold.

She is more precious than jewels;

nothing you desire compares with her.

(Proverbs 3:13-15, HCSB).

A wife of noble character:

A wife of noble character who can find?

She is worth far more than rubies.
(Proverbs 31:10, NET).

Suffering for Christ:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.
(Hebrews 11:24-26, NIV 2011).

(Via)

Problems in prayer—and possible solutions

I really need to follow the advice in this post. I hope it’s helpful to someone else as well.

Prayerlessness

  • Plan to pray. No one drifts effortlessly into disciplined prayer.
  • Repent of disobedience and unmortified sin. We don’t have to be perfect to approach God, just repentant.

Wandering thoughts

Isn’t it strange that at prayer time your memory suddenly comes alive and you recall all things you need to do and haven’t done?

  • Have a notepad or something similar where you can write down all the things you remember you need to do. Attend to the list after you’ve finished praying.
  • Pray aloud if that helps keep your mind concentrated.
  • Pray the Scriptures. As you read a Bible passage, you can turn the truths therein into prayers. Alternatively, you could adopt biblical prayers as models

Spiritual dryness

There are times when God seems so distant and prayer feels like a futile exercise.

  • Expect periods of dryness to happen.
  • Go on faithfully praying, pouring out your condition before God

Unanswered prayer

  • Read Psalm 77: the psalmist starts out dismayed and ends in worship. Why? Because he reminded himself of all the things God had done in the past for His people (Psalm 77:10-12).

Prayer is a routine and a rut

  • Don’t focus on your performance; focus on God and your relationship

Too tired to pray

  • Schedule prayer time for when you’re at your maximum energy level
  • You may need to get more organised and/or get more sleep

Sources: David Jackman’s talk Problems in Prayer and chapter one of Don Carson’s book A Call to Spiritual Reformation.

Titus & 1 Peter: Why do good

This post is related to How Christians silence their critics.

Christians should always be ready to do good, but why?

  • God made us to be eager to do good works (Titus 2:14)
  • Good works are excellent and profitable (Titus 3:8)
  • Through them we can help in cases of urgent need (Titus 3:14)
  • They keep us from being unfruitful (Titus 3:14)
  • They will cause our enemies to glorify God (1 Peter 2:12)
  • Through them we silence the ignorance of foolish people (1 Peter 2:15)
  • Suffering for doing good brings favour with God (1 Peter 2:20, 3:17)

Be sure to read the books of Titus and 1 Peter to get the proper context!