Were the Gospel authors aware of their own authority?

four gospels

In the previous blog post I pointed out the claim that the pre-4th century church did not recognize the authority of the four Gospels is self-refuting when you consider exactly who the early church was. Their very existence, identification, and organization composed a robust quality control system of the Gospel narrative, consistent with the four Gospel accounts of their origin. In contrast, the Nag Hammadi documents, upon which alternative histories are imagined, represent no identifiable group of people. Therefore, to claim that the early church did not recognize the four Gospels as authoritative, and that the “lost Gospels” were true, is self-defeating. The only authoritative body in existence to make such determination was the very one who produced the four Gospels. If the lost writings were accurate, there would be no Christian church to ask this question of. So again, we see that revisionist history is make-believe.

Gnosticism in the 1st century was not a people, recognizing authoritative documents; rather, it was an amorphous mixture of Greek philosophy and sketchy Christian theology with differing schools of thought that evolved with scarcely recognizable cohesion well into the 2nd century.  In the decades immediately following Jesus, there was no formal Gnostic church with a competitively viable alternative historical record. In the 1st century, the only Christian assemblies were those of apostolic origin.  These churches were committed to what we know as the traditional, historic message of Jesus.

NagHamadi-mapFurthermore, the early church openly opposed those incipient false teachings, and in some cases, the very documents unearthed in Nag Hammadi. In this post, I will take a look at another significant, related aspect of the Da Vinci Code Perspective claim of the church’s recognition of the Gospels’ authority. Borrowing from Michael Kruger’s book, The Question of Canon, he asks in chapter four, “Were the New Testament authors unaware of their own authority?” And in chapter five, “Were the New Testament books first regarded as scripture at the end of the second century?” I think these are great questions to pursue that help us understand why I champion the traditional church record and not the re-constructed historical record. If the Gospel authors understood they were writing authoritatively in the context of a close-knit, organized, message-driven group—which they were—then the claim that the four Gospels were not authoritative until the 4th century is obliterated. Kruger’s book is rather technical, it has to be to pass muster, but I’ll try to hit the highlights. After all, claims have to be supported.

Chapter four argues along similar lines of my previous post, the authority structure of the church. The twelve apostles (Judas Iscariot replaced by Matthias) plus the one “untimely born,” Paul, were the highest office bearers in the first Christian church. These were the men hand-picked by Jesus. When determining who would replace Judas Iscariot, Peter set fort the criteria “Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” Acts 1:21-22.  With the risen Christ ascended, His select men were given authority, demonstrated in the signs and wonders (miracles) that mimicked Jesus’s. Apostolic authority was so highly valued that the copy-cat Gospels, as well as later fringe churches, manufactured apostolic connections to gain a hearing.

Paul’s epistles provide the most straightforward expression of the significance of apostolic authority. As the 12th hand-picked apostle, some two years after Jesus’s resurrection, his authority was the most questioned. Therefore, he defends his credentials in several places. The point here is that the church did not blindly follow anyone or any teaching, apostolic authority was required. Was that authority recognizable within the four Gospels?  is Kruger’s topic. He states, “Our thesis is a simple one: New Testament authors, generally speaking, demonstrate awareness that their writings passed down authentic apostolic tradition and therefore bore supreme authority in the life of the church” (pg. 121). New Testament scholarship has concluded that the Gospel of Mark is a record of the witness of Peter. The Gospel is replete with evidence for this. Kruger adds, “Aside from the fact that Mark’s connection to Peter was well known among the early church fathers and it is attested by other parts of the New Testament.” (pg. 133-34).

Likewise, the historical attestation and internal evidence of the Gospel of John links it to apostolic authority. Whether you hold to its self-proclaimed authorship (John) as the apostle or the later “elder” John, the connection between John 15:27 and 21:24 is clear: In 15:27 Jesus prophesied, “You will also bear witness because you have been with me from the beginning” and in 21:24, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things.” (Kruger pg. 137). Now, let’s briefly consider each of the four Gospels.

Luke’s expressed purpose for writing was to pass along the apostolic, authoritative traditions: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”

The evidence in Matthew is less straightforward but still present. Stylistically, it follows Luke in how it mimics Old Testament scripture. These patterns are deliberate and communicate a connection of continued, divine truth. You will have to read the book to get the nitty-gritty details.

irenaeus

Kruger’s chapter 5 takes the next step from the Bible’s self-attestation of apostolic authority to the recognition of such by the 2nd and 3rd century church fathers. As Kruger notes negatively, “If these books [New Testament] were not written to be Scripture, then we should not expect to see them used as Scripture until a much later time in the life of the church.” (pg. 156.) The historical evidence is positive. We do see the next generations using them as Scripture (as divinely authoritative). Kruger points out that current New Testament scholarship places the date of the church’s acceptance of the books as Scripture in the end of the second century. That is largely based on the writing of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. “Most notable is his affirmation that the four Gospels were so certain that their existence is entrenched in the very structure of creation….”

I will leave the support for my argument there. Considering that even non-Christian scholars recognize the church’s use of the Gospels in the 2nd century,  the Da Vinci Code Perspective of a 4th century date is dealt another death-blow.

My final, upcoming, post not only summarizes and provides some helpful resources for further study, but it also takes on a reflective nature and asks the skeptic to consider his skepticism in light of these very clear historical facts.

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The Fingerprints of God: Proving God Through Science – part 3

Thus far in these blogs I have argued from Stephen Meyer’s position that proving God scientifically requires the use of abductive reasoning. Furthermore, the religious skeptic’s demand that God must be “proven scientifically” or else God does not exist, must be handled judiciously and not taken at face value. The common notion of materialism— Only what is material, what can be seen and measured, is real; therefore, if God cannot be observed, He does not exist—is untenable and myopic. The broad discipline we know as “Science” does not recognize such a limited approach to understanding the world around us. The scientific studies of origins and forensics demonstrate this. If the skeptic is willing to acknowledge the different, but still scientific method of historical science—piecing together present day clues to prove past events—as the right tool for this job, then his demand for scientific proof of God can be satisfied. If our hypothetical skeptic is willing to accept that argument, then we can continue. This blog entry will take the next step by looking at intelligence as scientific evidence for the existence of God.

einstein

We Are All Einsteins…Sort of

Is intelligence a substance? We all know it is not matter. But does it exist? I would like to ask the skeptic if intelligence is real. Perhaps I could make it personal and ask him if he possesses intelligence. If he says “no,” then that is going to be embarrassing for him and we should politely end the discussion. If he says “yes,” then he agrees that intelligence is recognizable, albeit not material. I could go on with him to acknowledge that according to some sectors of the scientific community, intelligence is even measurable (MENSA). Education systems around the world measure intelligence, or its compatriot, knowledge, through assigning scholastic grades. The points of this line of reasoning are to show that immaterial things do exist and that intelligence is particularly important in proving, or recognizing, the existence of God.

Consider the symbiotic relationship between intelligence and information. These two words occupy the same category of thought to the degree that one sub-definition of intelligence is information. For instance, whenever we speak of “military intelligence” we mean “information” about the enemy. Information presumes intelligence. That is, information is data that has a purpose. It is intended to communicate. An intelligent source intends to use that information for a purpose. It either is intended to inform another intelligent being or to control an inanimate object. Again, Stephen Meyer helps here when he defines information as “A sequence of characters or arrangements of something that produces a specific effect” (Signature of the Cell, pg. 91).

detour-ahead

[Just a brief excursion: By contrast, the scientific community has proposed “chance” as the source, or cause of all things—ergo, including intelligence. Ironically, Darwin acknowledged the intuitive rationale for an intelligent designer. Neo Darwinist Richard Dawkins echoes that tenet of Scientism: “The beauty of biology, really, is the illusion of design.” That notion is inescapable. I think back on all of those National Geographic Nature documentaries we watched when our kids were young. Consistently, the narrator would refer to some creature’s distant ancestor “deciding” to change some anatomical feature in order to stay alive: “The great-horned watcha-madoodle grew that horn so that he could better dig for his favorite beetle and survive the ice-age.” It is rampant. In defending science, atheist and religious antagonist Jerry Coyne says, “We [scientists] may reach the limits of explanation for several reasons: because the evidence eludes us…or because our brains aren’t configured to puzzles out the answers” [highlights are mine] (Faith vs. Fact, pg. 227).

To “configure” indicates a configure-ATOR, an intelligent being having a design and purpose. Thankfully, Douglas Axe has written a very helpful book, in layman’s terms, that validates humanity’s common intuition that our world had to be designed purposefully. I HIGHLY recommend it. It is: Undeniable: How Biology Confirms our Intuition that Life is Designed. ]

dna

What do Bill Gates and Teddy Roosevelt Have to do with DNA?

Meyer’s definition of information is patent in the very sentence I am writing and that you are reading. The sentence can exist because there is an alphabet; but the alphabet is not information. It is useless by itself. But it has the potential for a limitless amount of information. The letters become information when they are arranged in a purposed, particular sequence. Mathematician Claude Shannon is considered the originator of “information theory.” His work paved the way for the information age. If Jack Kilby—the inventor of the Integrated Circuit (IC)—is responsible for laying the groundwork for the hardware side of modern computing, then Claude Shannon is responsible for laying the groundwork for the “intelligence” within computers. Meyer says, “Shannon had taken nineteenth-century mathematician George Boole’ system of putting logical expressions in mathematical form and applied its categories of ‘true’ and ‘false’ [Boolean Algebra] to switches found in electronic circuits…His master’s thesis…became the foundation for digital-circuit and digital computer theory.” So, how does all of that relate to our topic? Enter DNA.

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft Corporation and personal computer operating system mogul, once said,

DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created” (The Road Ahead, pg. 228. I found this quote through multiple secondary sources on the internet. The citation is credited to: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/he-said-it-bill-gates-on-the-genome-as-software/ accessed September 5, 2016).

The molecule known as “DNA” (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) is the built-in “operating software” for organic development. Meyer explains the “sequence hypothesis,” whereby “the chemical parts of DNA function like letters in a written language or symbols in a computer code” (Signature, pg. 12). It is pretty much common knowledge in our day that ALL features of ALL living things are the way they are because of DNA coding. That is astounding! What may be even more astounding, if that is possible, is how DNA works to replicate itself. There is no way I can fully explain it here. There’s a great video that simulates the process, embedded on Meyer’s website here. Now, you may be asking yourself, “How can we know if the information got there by natural means or by design?” I’m glad you asked.

mt-rushmore

The proof that the encoded instructions within DNA was intentionally crafted by a designer rather than by chance through natural causes lies in Mt. Rushmore! Okay, not exactly. But Mt. Rushmore provides a great illustration of the proof. Below are two faces observed on Mt. Rushmore. One was formed by chance through natural processes. The other was skillfully crafted by an intelligent designer. Can you tell which is which?

nature-face          roosevelt-2

If you guessed that chance and natural causes formed the face on the left and an intelligent designer caused the face on the right, then you would be correct! Good job. But, how did you know that? Douglas Axe would likely say that it is intuitive. And that would be correct. A more sophisticated response is: “If an object or event is both complex and specified, then we should attribute it to intelligent design…We typically attribute to necessity highly probable events that recur repeatedly in a regular or lawlike way” (Meyer, Signature pg. 354). One face on Mt. Rushmore is convincing enough, but FOUR faces side-by-side just “seals the deal.” Meyer teaches us there is still more to be gleaned from his Mt. Rushmore analogy.

The evidence that Mt. Rushmore was planned and executed by an intelligent designer increases exponentially due to the fact that we can recognize the faces as those of former U.S. presidents. Meyer says,

Observers recognize a pattern in the shapes that they know from an independent realm of experience, from seeing the faces of ex-presidents in photographs or paintings” (pg. 353).

TRoosevelt    We look at a picture of Teddy Roosevelt, then look at  Mt. Rushmore,  look at Mt. Rushmore, and then back at the picture. We observe that the images are of the same person. Therefore, we reasonably conclude that the best explanation for the faces on the mountain is NOT because they happened to appear randomly, by chance from erosion, but they were carved by someone.

From these points we identify three ways to determine if something exists because of intelligent design or by chance. The first is probability. The probabilities of DNA occurring by by chance are low, more like “zero.” Meyer’s research shows, “the probability of producing all the necessary proteins needed to service a minimally complex cell is 1 in 1044 multiplied by itself 250 times, or 1 in 1041,000” (Signature, pg. 213). For reference, the estimated number of protons, neutrons, and electrons in the observable universe is 1080 (Signature, pg. 212)! The 1 in 1041,000 number is the odds for having the bare minimum components of a cell. The complexity found in DNA would far exceed that. Secondly, repeated, complex patterns that achieve a goal or function indicate design. Thirdly, when those patterns have a corollary from a different context, or realm, then we see design.

The amazing functionality of the recurring codes in DNA has such a corollary in computers. I personally find the similarities to be mind-boggling. As if the programming and software likenesses weren’t enough evidence, we also see that both DNA and computers require physical environments in which to carry out their purposes. Organisms and computers have hardware in which to run the software. Imagine your personal computer becoming self-aware. Imagine the computer taking a look at itself and discovering it has systems within itself, a power supply, disk drive, memory cells, and electrical circuits. Then it goes further and learns that its entire computing process is made up of organized, logical, bits of electrical energy arranged in patterns of “1’s” and “0’s.” As 21st Century people, we know that such a computer did not just happen, but is the culmination of the work of Engineers from many disciplines. We humans are like that self-aware computer discovering the marvelous intricacies of how we were marvelously designed.

The next blog entry will continue with this comparative analysis. I will give examples of the similarity between these biological wonders and modern technology, in order to drive home the point that mankind’s science is overwhelmingly obvious proof of the Fingerprints of God in nature.