Dr James White…
I have been confronted recently on the reliability of the Christian Bible. There were several issues that were brought forth to me, and I will try to respond to some of them on this post.
I will start with the “Reliability of the Bible”
– The Bible is 98% textually pure. Through all the copying of the Biblical manuscripts of the entire Bible, only 2% has any question about it. Nothing in all of the ancient writings of the entire world approaches the accuracy of the biblical documents.
– The 2 percent that is in question does not affect doctrine. The areas of interest are called variants, and they consist mainly in variations of wording and spelling.
– The NT has over 5000 supporting Greek manuscripts existing today with another 20,000 manuscripts in other languages. Some of the manuscript evidence dates to within 100 years of the original writing. There is less than a 2% textual variation in the NT manuscripts.
– Some of the supporting manuscripts of the NT are:
1. John Rylands MS written around A.D. 130, the oldest existing fragment of the gospel of John.
2. Bodmer Papyrus II (A.D. 150-200).
3. Chester Beatty Papyri (A.D. 200) contains major portions of the NT.
4. Codex Vaticanus (A.D. 325-350) contains nearly all the Bible.
5. Codex Sinaiticus (A.D. 350) contains almost all the NT and over half of the OT.
Next, “When were the gospels written?”
– None of the gospels mention the death of Peter and Paul (A.D.ish 60-62) nor the Neronic persecution (A.D. 64) nor the destruction of the Jewish temple in A.D. 70–that Jesus prophesied would occur in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. Why would the book of Acts not contain the super-significant events of the death of Peter and Paul and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple since it is a history of the early Christian Church, persecution, and also included Peter and Paul’s accounts and travels? The logical conclusion is that it was written before these events. Furthermore, Luke was written before Acts, and most scholars agree that Matthew and Mark were written before Luke.
Why would the book of Acts not contain the super-significant events of the death of Peter and Paul (A.D. 60?) and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (A.D. 70) since Acts is a history of the early Christian Church and included Peter and Paul’s accounts and travels? Logically, this would infer it was written prior to these dates.
This is significant because Jesus had prophesied its destruction when He said, “As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down” (Luke 21:6, see also Matt. 24:1; Mark 13:1). If they were written after the A.D. 70 destruction, don’t you think they would have included the event?
– Matthew: The various dates most widely held as possible writing dates of the Gospel are between A.D. 40-140. But Ignatius died around A.D. 115, and he quoted Matthew. Therefore, Matthew had to be written before he died. Nevertheless, it is generally believed that Matthew was written before A.D. 70 and as early as A.D. 50.
– Mark: Mark (the disciple of Peter received his information from Peter) is said to be the earliest gospel with an authorship of between A.D. 55 to A.D. 70.
– Luke: Luke was written before the book of Acts; and Acts does not mention “Nero’s persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of the apostle James (Gal. 1:19, A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65).” Therefore, we can conclude that Luke was written before A.D. 62.
– John: The John Rylands papyrus fragment 52 of John’s gospel dated in the year 125-135 contains portions of John 18, verses 31-33, 37-38. This fragment was found in Egypt. It is the last of the gospels and appears to have been written in the 80s to 90s.
An important note is the lack of mention of the destruction of the Jewish temple in A.D. 70. But this is understandable since John was not focusing on historical events and was most probably written 20 or so years after the destruction of the Temple. John focused on the theological aspect of the person of Christ and listed His miracles and words that affirmed Christ’s deity.
– Book of Acts
Similarly, the book of Acts which was written after the gospel of Luke by Luke himself. Acts is a history of the Christian church right after Jesus’ ascension. Acts also fails to mention the incredibly significant events of A.D. 70 which would have been extremely relevant and prophetically important, yet it is not mentioned in Acts. Why? Because it was written before A.D. 70.
Acts does not include the accounts of “Nero’s persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of the apostle James (Gal. 1:19, A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65),” and we have further evidence that it was written very early and not long after Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
“At the earliest, Acts cannot have been written prior to the latest firm chronological marker recorded in the book: Festus’ appointment as procurator (Acts 24:27), which, on the basis of independent sources, appears to have occurred between A.D. 55 and 59.”
“It is increasingly admitted that the Logia [Q] was very early, before A.D. 50, and Mark likewise if Luke wrote the Acts while Paul was still alive. Luke’s Gospel comes before the Acts (Acts 1:1). The date of Acts is still in dispute, but the early date (about A.D. 63) is gaining support constantly.”
If what is said of Acts is true, this would mean that Luke was written at least before A.D. 63 and possibly before 55-59 since Acts is the second in the series of writings by Luke. This means that the gospel of Luke was written within 30 years of Jesus’ death.
– Massacre of the babies
Bethlehem, as far as the Romans were concerned, was an insignificant and very small town located about five miles south of Jerusalem at around 2500 feet elevation. It probably had a population of no more than 500-600 people. Micah 5:2 it says, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah . . . ”
If there were as many as 600 people in Bethlehem, how many children would have been under the age of two? Ten, twenty, thirty? Whatever the number, it would not have been hundreds. It would have been relatively few. Add to this the fact that Herod was known for committing horrendous crimes against people and you could see why this event in an insignificant village in the Jewish area might be ignored.
– Jews wandering in the desert
It may be that the traditional site of Mt. Sinai is incorrect. Gal. 4:25 says “Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.” Present theories dealing with Mt. Sinai’s location have it in the Sinai Peninsula, yet the Bible says it was in Arabia.
– Darkness at Christ’s death
“Circa AD 52, Thallus wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time. This work itself has been lost and only fragments of it exist in the citations of others. One such scholar who knew and spoke of it was Julius Africanus, who wrote about AD 221 . . . In speaking of Jesus crucifixion and the darkness that covered the land during this event, Africanus found a reference in the writings of Thallus that dealt with this cosmic report. Africanus asserts: ‘On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.'”
– Prophecies of the Bible
Odds of Jesus filling the prophecies:
The odds of Jesus fulfilling 48 of the 61 major prophecies concerning Him are 1 in 10157; that is a one with 157 zeros behind it. By comparison, the estimated number of electrons in the entire known universe is about 1079; that is a one with 79 zeros behind it.
– Virgin birth prophecy
Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Note: the Jews who translated the Septuagint (Greek Translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) translated Isaiah 7:14 as the word virgin–not young maiden.
Matt. 1:18,25, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary . . . was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit . . . But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
– Born in Bethlehem
Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Matt. 2:1, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.”
– Preceded by a messenger
Isaiah 40:3, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.'”
Matt. 3:1-2, “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'”
– Side pierced
Zech. 12:10, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one mourns for an only son.”
John 19:34, “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.
Psalm 22:16-18, “a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
Luke 23:33, “When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals–one on his right, the other on his left.”
John 19:33, “But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.”
John 19:23-24, “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes . . . they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did.”
– Scientific Accuracies in the Bible
The spherical shape of the earth (Isaiah 40:22).
The earth is suspended in nothing (Job. 26:7).
The stars are innumerable (Gen. 15:5).
The existence of valleys in the seas (2 Sam. 22:16).
The existence of springs and fountains in the sea (Gen.7:11; 8:2; Prov. 8:28).
The existence of water paths (ocean currents) in the seas (Psalm 8:8).
The water cycle (Job. 26:8; 36:27-28; 37:16; 38:25-27; Ps. 135:7; Ecc. 1:6-7).
The fact that all living things reproduce after their own kind (Gen. 1:21; 6:19).
The nature of health, sanitation, and sickness (Gen.17:9-14; Lev. 12-14).
The concept of entropy, that energy is running down (Psalm 102:26).
The following verses support that God has the right to do with His creation as He desires:
Job: 37: 6-13
6 “For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’
And to the downpour and the rain, ‘Be strong.’
7 “He seals the hand of every man,
That all men may know His work.
8 “Then the beast goes into its lair
And remains in its den.
9 “Out of the south comes the storm,
And out of the north the cold.
10 “From the breath of God ice is made,
And the expanse of the waters is frozen.
11 “Also with moisture He loads the thick cloud;
He disperses the cloud of His lightning.
12 “It changes direction, turning around by His guidance,
That it may do whatever He commands it
On the face of the inhabited earth.
13 “Whether for correction, or for His world,
Or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen.
Psalm 135: 6
6 Whatever the Lord pleases, He does,
In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.
The plans of the heart belong to man,
But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
Mark 4: 11-12
1 And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12 so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.”
21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.
26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
There are many more scriptures to support God’s sovereignty.
Whenever a critic wants to suggest that God does not “predestine” individuals for salvation, you can defend the accusations by citing the following verses, and there are much more than these:
Act 2: 22-23; 22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
Acts 4: 27-28; 27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
Romans 8: 29-30: 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
Ephesians 1: 4-5; 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
Does God love everyone? Scripture appears to contradict itself, or does it?
Read Psalm 5:5 The Boastful shall not stand before Your eyes;
You hate all who do iniquity
Now read 1 John 4:8 “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love”
No God does not love everyone. So what about 1 John 4:8? It reads that “God is love” It is in God’s nature to love. It would be a paramount misunderstanding of the scripture to believe that God loves “everyone”.
He does not give a free pass to everyone. Read Romans 9: 15; For He says to Moses,”I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion”
Here is a good article and good apologetical reference from Kyle Butt of Apologetics Press:
Defending the Bible’s Position on Prayer
by Kyle Butt, M.Div.
In their efforts to discredit the Bible, skeptics often attack its teachings concerning prayer. They claim that certain statements made by Jesus regarding prayer can be proven to be inaccurate, and thus all rational people should reject both Jesus and the Bible. Skeptics routinely quote Jesus’ words, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14). After quoting this verse, the skeptic usually mentions praying parents who asked God, in the name of Jesus, to save their sick children; but the children died in spite of the prayer. The skeptic then argues that the children’s death is proof positive that Jesus was a liar and His statements about prayer cannot be true. In addition to John 14:14, skeptics often use Matthew 21:22 in a very similar way. In fact, Dan Barker, during the audience question and answer period in our debate, quoted this verse: “And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Butt and Barker, 2009). According to the skeptic, if a person asks for a million dollars every day, truly believes in his heart that he will get it, and tacks the name of Jesus on the end of the prayer, then if God does not answer that prayer, Jesus lied and the Bible is false.
Is it true that the Bible’s teaching on prayer cannot be reconciled with what we see happening in daily life? Did Jesus make false statements to His disciples about the efficacy of prayer? Is the skeptic’s interpretation of Jesus’ statements accurate and justified? The answer to these questions is a resounding “No.” An honest, critical look at the Bible’s teachings regarding prayer reveals that its teachings are internally consistent and correspond perfectly with reality.
QUALIFYING A STATEMENT
Most of us understand the concept of attaching qualifying remarks to a statement. For instance, hypothetical syllogisms constructed with “if-then” clauses are good examples of qualification. Suppose a person named Bill makes the statement: “If John works for eight hours, then I will give John $50.” If John demands payment from Bill without doing the work, he has misunderstood the qualifier. He could contend that Bill said: “I will give John $50.” Even though, technically speaking, John’s quotation is correct, his argument would fail because he disregarded the qualifying statement: “If John works for eight hours.” Without the first condition being met, the person making the statement is not responsible for fulfilling the second condition.
The skeptic readily understands this concept, since it must be incorporated to understand the skeptic’s own writings. For instance, Dan Barker, in godless, included a chapter titled “Dear Theologian.” The chapter is a satirical letter supposedly from God to theologians. In that chapter, Dan has God saying: “I created the universe with all kinds of natural laws that govern everything from quarks to galactic clusters” (2008, p. 149). Are we to conclude that Dan really believes that God created the world and its natural laws? Of course not. We must qualify Dan’s statement by saying that he does not really believe in God, and that his “letter” is satire. Again, in godless, Dan made the statement: “What has theology ever provided? Theology has given us hell” (p. 220). From Dan’s statement, should we conclude that Dan really believes in hell and that he credits theology with originating it? Certainly not. Dan does not believe in heaven, hell, God, or Satan. Whatever statements a person chooses to pick out of Dan’s book to “prove” he believes in God or hell must be qualified by other statements elsewhere in his books, other writings, or debates that show he certainly does not believe in the existence of God or hell. In a similar way, even a superficial reading of the New Testament shows that many of Jesus’ statements concerning prayer are qualified by certain criteria that must be met in order for that prayer to be effective.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS
A systematic study of everything the Bible says on prayer is beyond the scope of this article. A look at a few Bible verses on the topic, however, will show that the skeptics’ attack on prayer is ill-founded and vacuous. In truth, John 14:14, one of the skeptics’ favorite verses to quote along these lines, can be used to show one of the primary “qualifying” concepts concerning prayer. In that verse, Jesus told His disciples: “if you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (emp. added). It is extremely important that we understand how the Bible uses the phrase “in Jesus’ name.” The way the skeptic understands this verse, the phrase means that as long as a person puts the words “in Jesus’ name” at the end of a prayer, then God is obligated to answer that prayer positively. Attaching Jesus’ name on the end of a prayer, however, is not what the Bible means when it says that a prayer is to be offered “in Jesus’ name.” The phrase “in Jesus’ name” means that whatever is being said or done must be done by the authority of Jesus. Earnest Bible students have long understood this to be the proper use of the phrase. In fact, Colossians 3:17 makes this clear: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” This verse does not mean that you should proclaim before every action or sentence that what follows is being done “in Jesus’ name.” It means that whatever actions are taken or words are spoken should be in accord with Jesus’ teachings and by His authority.
To illustrate, suppose a man bangs on your door and yells: “Open this door in the name of the Law.” Should you open the door for this man? That depends. If he truly is a policeman who has a warrant and has been authorized by the government to enter your house, then you should. However, if he is a civilian off the street who simply added the phrase “in the name of the Law” to his sentence to make it sound more forceful, then you should not open the door. The phrase “in the name of the Law” only has force if the person using it is actually authorized by the government to perform the action. In the same way, the phrase “in Jesus’ name” (or “in the name of Jesus”) only has power if what is being prayed for truly is authorized by Jesus. For instance, if a person prayed, “Lord, please forgive me of my sins even though I will not forgive others of their sins, in Jesus’ name, Amen,” would Jesus comply with such a request? No, because He explained that God will forgive only those people who are willing to forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15). Including the phrase “in Jesus’ name” does not give a prayer some magical power that allows the request to bypass the authority and teachings of Christ.
In the book of Acts, we see an extremely effective illustration of this truth. Paul, Peter, and the other apostles were preaching and doing miracles “in the name of Jesus.” Their healing activities were authorized by Christ, and their message was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Seeing how effectively Paul accomplished such miracles, “some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying ‘We adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches’” (Acts 19:13). The itinerant Jewish exorcists had fallen into the same misunderstanding as the modern skeptic. They thought that by simply tacking Jesus’ name onto their activities, that would qualify as doing things “in Jesus’ name.” The result of their misuse of Jesus’ name quickly became apparent. When seven sons of Sceva attempted to invoke Jesus’ name, the evil spirit answered: “‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’ Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:14-16). Simply adding Jesus’ name to actions or requests that Jesus has not authorized does not qualify as doing something “in Jesus’ name” as the Bible instructs. [NOTE: Even though the skeptic does not believe the story in Acts to be true, he cannot deny that the story provides a valid illustration and explanatory commentary on what the Bible means by saying or doing something “in Jesus’ name.” If the skeptic is going to attack the Bible’s position on prayer, he or she must allow the Bible to explain itself.]
ACCORDING TO GOD’S WILL
It is inexcusable for a person to attack the Bible’s position on prayer, but then to avoid many of the paramount concepts associated with the Bible’s teaching on the subject. You can know that any person who pulls verses out of context about prayer, and does not turn to primary passages, such as Matthew 6:9-15, is either unaware that such passages are in the Bible, or is intentionally being intellectually dishonest. If you really want to know what Jesus taught on prayer, you simply must consider all that He taught about prayer, not just the few scattered verses skeptics want to rip from their contexts.
In Jesus’ instructions to His disciples regarding prayer, He explained that they should include in their prayers the idea that God’s will should be done (Matthew 6:10). The apostle John, who would have been well-aware of Jesus’ teaching on prayer, stated: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15, emp. added). Notice that if we do not include verse 14 of 1 John 5, we could make the passage say, “whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” Yet to do that would be to leave off the important qualifying statement that the request should be in accordance with God’s will, and should be offered from a heart that is humble enough to accept God’s will—even if that means that the request is denied. When the skeptic pulls snippets of verses from the gospel accounts concerning prayer, he or she is guilty of leaving off just such important qualifying information.
When we consider the idea of praying “according to God’s will,” we can see how important this qualifier is. No requests will be granted that attempt to violate or circumvent God’s ultimate will. For instance, suppose a person were to pray: “God, please save my mother even though she does not believe in Jesus Christ and refuses to repent of her sins, please let her go to heaven anyway, in Jesus’ name, Amen.” Would God grant that petition? The Bible is clear that He certainly would not, because to do so would be to violate His ultimate will that salvation is through the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12).
Furthermore, certain events and actions in this physical world are required for God to accomplish His will on this Earth. For instance, if one of Jesus’ apostles had asked God to spare the life of Jesus and not let Him die on the cross, that request would not have been in accord with God’s ultimate will and would not have been answered in the affirmative. Mark 8:33 provides an excellent example of this when Peter rebuked Jesus for predicting His own death. Jesus responded to Peter, saying: “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Whereas Peter most likely thought his actions were in accord with God’s will, they were not. To further illustrate, the many events in the life of the Old Testament character Joseph may have seemed unfair at the time. No doubt Joseph prayed to be freed from slavery or to be released from jail. But at the end of Joseph’s life, we see that God’s will was to make him a great leader in Egypt and to save the Jewish nation through him. Joseph recognized this, and said to his brothers who had sold him into Egypt: “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph’s slavery and incarceration were the vehicles by which God brought Joseph to power, accomplishing His will.
THE SKEPTIC’S RESPONSE
Knowing that the Bible plainly teaches that prayer must be according to God’s will, Dan Barker has attempted to respond. He stated: “It does no good to claim that many prayers are unanswered because they are not ‘according to his will.’ Even prayers that are clearly in line with the expressed ‘will of God’ are rarely successful. Even if this reasoning were valid, it makes prayer useless as a means of changing nature” (1992, p. 108). First, it should be noted that Dan often conveniently neglects to inform his audiences that he knows the Bible includes statements that qualify Jesus’ statements that Dan and his fellow skeptics take out of context. Second, notice that Dan made sure that he included the phrase “the expressed ‘will of God.’” The question then arises, does God have certain plans that He has not expressed to humans, but that are part of His will on Earth? Absolutely. Moses wrote: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Is there any indication that God revealed to any humans His plans for Joseph before they were carried out? No. Is there any indication that God told any humans about His conference with Satan and His plan for Job prior to the events? None. Is God obligated to express to humans all the various facets of His will? Certainly not. That is one of the points Jesus was attempting to make in His teachings on prayer. Even though we may not know the specific will of God for our lives, we must pray with a heart that is ready to accept the events God allows, understanding that God has a will to which we are not always privy.
Notice that Dan is forced to concede the point, but then attempted to attack prayer from a different angle when he stated: “Even if this reasoning were valid, it makes prayer useless as a means of changing nature” (1992, p. 108; see also Templeton, 1996, p. 147). It is important to be clear that once the skeptic is honest enough to admit that certain qualifications do apply to prayer, he must alter the entire argument against it. Instead of the Bible’s position being internally inconsistent or at odds with reality, the skeptic must drop back and demand that, even though it cannot be proven to be such, it is “useless.”
Again, however, the skeptics’ assertion that praying according to God’s will renders the prayer useless to change nature is groundless. Could it be possible that multiple outcomes to certain events or situations fit into God’s will? Surely. To illustrate, suppose that a father was getting a child a drink from the refrigerator. The father had various nutritious options from which to choose including juice, milk, or water. Could the child request water and that option be according to the father’s will? Sure. If the child requested juice, could that option be equally as acceptable as water? Yes. But suppose the child requested something not in the refrigerator, or something harmful to drink. While those options would be outside the father’s will, the other three choices of milk, water, or juice would all be possibilities. Thus, if the child wanted juice, and asked for it, then the child’s request (prayer) would be effective. [NOTE: The skeptic may attempt to say that since God knows everything, He should know what His children want before they ask. But the Bible articulates this very point in Matthew 6:8. While it is true that God knows everything (Psalm 139:1-6), it is also true that God has instructed His children to ask for what they desire (Matthew 7:7). Numerous reasons could be given for why God wants His children to present their requests to Him. One is simply that God wants humans to understand their dependence on Him (Acts 17:28).]
To illustrate, there are several biblical examples in which God’s will for people involved considerable latitude in what He could allow to happen. For instance, 2 Kings 20:1-11 gives us the story of Hezekiah’s terminal sickness. The prophet Isaiah informed Hezekiah that he was going to die. Hezekiah then turned his face to the wall and prayed that the Lord would extend His life. The Lord listened to his prayer and extended Hezekiah’s life for fifteen years. Here we have an example of two outcomes both of which were consistent with God’s will on Earth: Hezekiah living and Hezekiah dying. Without Hezekiah’s prayer, he would have died of his sickness. Because of his prayer, however, God intervened and allowed Hezekiah to live. Contrary to the skeptics’ false assertion, Hezekiah’s prayer certainly did have the power to “change nature.” It is also interesting to note that Hezekiah’s sickness was healed through natural means. Isaiah instructed the king’s attendants to place a poultice of figs on Hezekiah’s boil. When they did so, Hezekiah recovered. This story provides an excellent example of a person who prayed according to God’s will. That prayer drastically altered nature, and God worked through natural means to accomplish His purpose. [NOTE: While the skeptic may refuse to accept the truthfulness of this Bible story, he cannot refute the fact that the story provides at least a theoretical explanation as to how a person could pray in accordance with God’s will and alter the course of nature.]
BELIEVING YOU WILL RECEIVE
Another widely recognized qualification for effective prayer is that the one praying must honestly believe that God can and will grant the prayer, if it is according to His will. As Jesus stated in Matthew 21:22: “And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (emp. added). Of course, this verse does not mean that believing is the only prerequisite for having a prayer answered. Factors that we have mentioned such as asking by the authority of Jesus and according to God’s will (as well as others we will mention later in the article) are necessary as well. But this verse and others teach us that belief is a necessary component of effective prayer. According to James 1:5-8:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (emp. added).
It is often the case that the skeptic will contend that millions of good Christian people regularly pray for things that they do not receive. The skeptic usually stresses that the people truly believed that they would receive them, and yet their prayers were ineffective. The skeptic claims to know for a fact that the petitioners in question honestly believed their prayers would be answered positively. Yet it must be stressed that the skeptic has no possible way of knowing who, in their hearts, truly believes that God will answer their prayers. Even some who claim to believe in the outcome could be harboring doubts about God’s power and promises in regard to prayer. In truth, a person would need to be able to search people’s hearts and minds to be an accurate judge of belief. And since the Bible explains that only God is capable of knowing the secrets of the heart (Psalm 44:21), then only He would be in a position to gage a person’s true belief. While it is true that other factors such as praying according to God’s will and by the authority of Christ influence the effectiveness of prayer, it is also true that fervent belief in God’s willingness and ability to answer a prayer are also necessary for the prayer to be successful.
THE PRAYER OF A RIGHTEOUS PERSON
The Bible writers stress throughout the text, from the Old Testament to the New, that sinful, rebellious people should not expect to have God answer their prayers in a positive way. Only penitent, obedient followers of Christ are promised God’s listening ear and His active hand in their lives. As James 5:16 states: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (emp. added). Peter stated:
He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking guile; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil (1 Peter 3:10-12).
The unnamed blind man Jesus healed summarized this position well when he stated: “Now we know that God does not hear sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him” (John 9:31). The writer of Proverbs noted: “The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous” (15:29).
The book of Ezekiel provides further evidence that humility before God is a required element of effective prayer. During Ezekiel’s day, the elders and leaders of the Jewish nation had begun to worship idols. Yet, in their troubled times, they also attempted to seek the true God along with their idols. Ezekiel 14:1-4 states:
Now some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them? Therefore speak to them, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Everyone of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him who comes, according to the multitude of his idols, that I may seize the house of Israel by their heart, because they are estranged from Me by their idols.”’”
The Bible clearly and plainly teaches that those who are not faithfully following God are not promised an answer to their prayers. It should also be noted along these lines that, although many people feel that they are faithful followers of Christ, they have not obeyed God’s will (see Lyons and Butt, n.d.). As Jesus stated:
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:21-23).
It is often the case that a bulk of the people that skeptics claim are faithful followers of Christ simply have not obeyed God and, according to the Bible’s teachings, should not expect Him to answer their prayers because of their rebellious lives.
SELFISH MOTIVES AND DESIRES
Suppose that a person prays that God will give him ten thousand dollars every day for the rest of his life so that he can spend that money only on himself to gratify his physical pleasures. Even if he adds the phrase, “in Jesus’ name” to the end of that prayer, and honestly believes that God will answer the prayer, is God obligated to comply with such a request? The way the skeptic has twisted the Scriptures, he or she must contend that God is bound to grant such an absurd appeal. Yet an elementary understanding of the biblical doctrine of prayer quickly sets such a conclusion on its head. One of the key concepts regarding prayer centers on the reason for which the petitioner is making the request. If the one making the request is driven by selfish, impure motives, then he or she cannot expect God to grant the plea. James made this point abundantly clear when he wrote: “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (4:2-3). Selfish ambitions unmotivated by a sense of spiritual concern nullifies the effectiveness of prayer.
Acts 8:9-25 provides an adequate illustration of this truth. In this passage, a man named Simon had been practicing sorcery in the city of Samaria. Many of the Samaritans had been convinced by his deceptive, “magic” tricks. When Philip visited the area, however, and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a host of the Samaritans believed and obeyed the truth, including Simon the sorcerer. After a while, the apostles came to the area and laid their hands on some of the disciples for the purpose of imparting spiritual gifts to them. When Simon saw this power, he offered the apostles money, requesting to purchase the ability to give people spiritual gifts. He had not purged himself of old habits of selfish ambition. Peter rebuked Simon and explained that he needed to repent and beg God to forgive him for the wicked thoughts and intents of his heart. Simon’s request for the power to impart the gifts of the Holy Spirit was denied, not only because it violated the will of God, but also because it apparently was issued out of purely selfish motives.
Jesus further documented the fact that prayers which issue from selfish motivations will not be effective. In the Sermon on the Mount, He stated: “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Matthew 6:5). The hypocrites’ showy prayers designed to garner public approval negated the effectiveness of their requests.
The persistence of the petition is another factor that the Bible indicates has a bearing on the efficacy of prayer. In Luke 18:1, the gospel writer stated: “Then He [Jesus—KB] spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (emp. added). The parable Jesus told in this context was about a widow who made a request to an unjust judge. Her request was noble and right, but the unjust judge did not feel obligated to comply with her appeal. Due to her persistence, however, and her “continual coming” to the judge, he finally granted her petition. Jesus then commented that if an unjust judge can be swayed by persistence, how much more effective is the persistent prayer of a virtuous person when addressed to the righteous Judge of all the Earth.
Additionally, Jesus told of a man who visited his neighbor at midnight requesting bread to feed a guest. Initially, the neighbor refused the request, but eventually he complied. Jesus stated: “I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs” (emp. added). Jesus then coupled this parable with the instructions to be persistent in requests to God (vss. 9-13). In fact, throughout the Scriptures, persistence plays a prominent role in effective prayer (see Philippians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18; Luke 2:37).
THE PRAYER EXPERIMENT
In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins caustically attacked the concept of the effectiveness of prayer to accomplish any real world results. He focused primarily on a “prayer experiment” in which approximately 1,800 heart patients were divided into three groups: “Group 1 received prayers and didn’t know it. Group 2 (the control group) received no prayers and didn’t know it. Group 3 received prayers and did know it” (2006, p. 66). The results of the experiment suggested that the prayers that were offered for groups 1 and 3 did not favorably affect the successful results of their surgery or recovery. Dawkins focused on these negative results, insinuating that such an experiment proves that prayer is useless and the Bible’s teaching on the topic is at odds with reality. Dawkins quoted one of the religious people who had offered some of the prayers, who stated that the results did not dissuade him from his belief in the efficacy of prayer. Dawkins then sarcastically retorted: “Yeah, right: we know from our faith that prayer works, so if evidence fails to show it we’ll just soldier on until finally we get the result we want” (2006, p. 66).
Dawkins assessment of the experiment, however, shows a glaring ignorance of the Bible’s true position concerning prayer, and a complete failure to approach the subject with any type of scholarly rigor. Every critique of a scientific experiment must certainly include a knowledge and understanding of the factors that would “skew” the results of the study. For instance, if the Bible plainly says that the prayers of a righteous person and those of an unrighteous person differ in their efficacy, then such information must be considered in order for an accurate assessment of any prayer experiment to take place. Furthermore, if the Bible specifically details that the motives driving a particular request have a bearing on the answer, then the “experimental” format in which the prayers were offered would itself be called into question and would adversely affect the accuracy of the report. In addition, if the Bible clearly states that those who are praying must truly believe that God, according to His will, will comply with the request, then the level of belief held by each of the members in the “prayer groups” must be factored into the critique of the experiment.
Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. It is impossible to know or compare the faithfulness of a prayer group, much less each individual’s level of belief. Nor would it be feasible to attempt to study the various lives of the ones who were being prayed for and try to systematically document how their health or sickness would factor into God’s will on this Earth. I am not suggesting that the experiment could have been arranged better so that more accurate results could have been obtained. A negative result to prayer cannot prove that prayer is ineffective, but only that at least one of the biblical criteria was lacking. I am suggesting, however, that Dawkins’ failure to comprehensively view the Bible’s qualifications about prayer, and his dishonest (or ignorant) glossing over of the true facts concerning prayer, would not be tolerated in any critique of a scientific experiment, and should be shown to have absolutely no value in discrediting the Bible’s position on prayer. [NOTE: It is unfortunate that even some religious people have so misunderstood the Bible’s teachings about prayer that they would even attempt such an experiment. We would be wise to consider that many people who profess to be defending the Bible’s position on subjects such as prayer are actually doing more harm than good by misrepresenting the truth.]
“TELLING PEOPLE WHAT TO THINK”
In Losing Faith in Faith, Dan Barker discussed a book that he wrote for children that contained these words: “No one can tell you what to think. Not your teachers. Not your parents. Not your minister, priest, or rabbi. Not your friends or relatives. Not this book. You are the boss of your own mind. If you have used your own mind to find out what is true, then you should be proud! Your thoughts are free!” (1992, p. 47). Noble sentiments, indeed!
But as one digs deeper into Barker’s book, it quickly becomes clear that those sentiments do not find a willing practitioner in the person of Dan Barker. In his chapter on prayer,
Don’t ask Christians if they think prayer is effective. They will think up some kind of answer that makes sense to them only. Don’t ask them, tell them: “You know that prayer doesn’t work. You know you are fooling yourself with magical conceit.” No matter how they reply, they will know in their heart of hearts that you are right (1992, p. 109, emp. in orig.).
From Barker’s statement about what should be “told” to those who believe in prayer, it is easy to see that he does not necessarily believe his previous statement that “no one can tell you what to think,” or that a person should use his own mind “to find out what is true.” In fact, what Barker is really trying to say is that a person should only think for himself if such thinking will lead him to believe that there is no God, or that prayer does not work, or that all religion is nonsense. If thinking for himself leads a person to believe in the efficacy of prayer or the existence of God, then that person should be “told” what to believe. It is not the Bible’s position on prayer that is internally inconsistent, but the skeptics’ attack on the Bible that fails to adhere to sound reasoning and rational thinking.
To document the millions of incidents in which people’s prayers have been answered positively would be virtually impossible. The Bible offers a multitude of examples in which the prayers of God’s faithful followers were answered, and modern Christians could detail countless examples of such in their personal lives. It is true, however, that God does not always respond positively to all those who petition him. The skeptic delights in pulling out scattered verses, misrepresenting the Scriptures’ true position on prayer, and demanding that the Bible cannot be God’s Word, since its teachings concerning prayer are “contradictory” and do not accurately represent what occurs in the real world. A critical look at the skeptics’ claims, however, quickly and clearly reveals that much is amiss with their allegations. It is only the feeble straw man built by the skeptic’s own imagination that can be effectively demolished. An accurate representation of the Bible’s position concerning prayer reveals complete internal consistency and perfect correspondence to real world events. The Bible explains that prayer is not a magic incantation that can be spouted out to accomplish selfish ambitions. Instead, the effective prayer comes from a righteous person, who prays persistently, by the authority of Christ, according to God’s will, out of unselfish motives, believing he or she will receive the petitions requested.
Barker, Dan (1992), Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist (Madison, WI: Freedom From Religion Foundation).
Barker, Dan (2008), godless (Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press).
Butt, Kyle and Dan Barker (2009), Butt/Barker Debate: Does the God of the Bible Exist? (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Dawkins, Richard (2006), The God Delusion (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin).
Lyons, Eric and Kyle Butt (no date), Receiving the Gift of Salvation, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/pdfs/e-books_pdf/Receiving%20the%20Gift%20of%20Salvation.pdf.
Templeton, Charles (1996), Farewell to God (Ontario, Canada: McClelland and Stewart)
John 14:25-26; NASB 25 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
John 15:26; 26 “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me
Some critics will say that the above scriptures contradict themselves. However proper exegesis clearly points to God, (both God and the Son and God the Father) had sent the Holy Spirit. If you read John 15:26, it reads that Jesus sent the “helper” “from” through the Father. By clear reasoning both persons were sending the Holy Spirit.
Some critics and skeptics have stated and maintain the opinion that the tomb of Christ was never visited. They claim that Jesus appeared “spiritually” to the disciples and not in body, with the crucifixion scars.
This can be refuted by going to the holy scriptures for evidence.
It was the women that first went to the tomb as we read in Mark 16:1;
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might come and anoint Him.” The women came to complete the burial procedures. Mark 16:4 continues;
4 Looking up, they *saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.
John arrived next and saw the burial clothes, and then Peter entered the tomb and saw the clothes as well as a face linen.
John 20:3-8, 3 So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. 4 The two were running together, and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he *saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.
The guards also made a thorough search of the tomb and reported it to the Jewish leaders.
Matthew 28:11, 11 Now while they were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened.
The guards would not have come to an agreement to lie if they could come up with a viable excuse for the missing body. Saying the tomb was never visited as a theory makes little sense, and certainly does not explain the resurrection appearances and mass conversions of people shortly after that. God be praised!
Here is a list of the Messianic Prophecies that Jesus completed. Remember that all of these prophecies were written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus.
1. Born of a woman (Gen. 3:15; Gal. 4.4)
2. Born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:21)
3 Of the seed of Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; 22:18; Matt 1:1; Gal 3:16)
4. Of the tribe of Judah (Gen 49-10; Luke 3-23, 33; Heb 7-14)
5. Of the house of David (2 Sam 7-:12; Matt 1-1
6. Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matt 2:1; Luke 2; 4-7)
7. Anointed by the Holy Spirit (Isa. 11:2; Matt. 3:16-17)
8. Heralded by the messenger of the Lord (John the Baptist) (Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1; Matt. 21:12)
9. He would perform miracles (Isa. 35:5-6; Matt. 9:35)
10. Would cleanse the temple (Mal. 3:1; Matt. 21:12)
11. Rejected by the Jews (Ps. 118:22; 1 Peter 2:7)
12. Die a humiliating death (Ps. 22; Isa 53)
13. Would rise from the dead (9Ps. 16:10; Mark 16:6; Acts 2:31)
14. Ascend into heaven (Ps. 68:18; Acts 1:9)
15 Would sit down at the right hand of God (Ps. 110:1; Heb 1:3)
After my close call with death last month, it strangely gives more perspective and meaning to life. I as a Christian of course believe in Jesus and His Word, so I don’t have a fear of dying per se, as I know where I will be going after I am gone.
Although I needed to be jolted in the Emergency Room, I did not have any so-called out of body experiences. The only thing besides thanking God to allow me to live, and I have become more unrestrained in sharing God’s Word from the pages of the Bible as to what happens after death.
Here are some of the scriptures associated with the subject of the afterlife. Of course the scripture also speaks of the unimaginable terror of going to hell:
Luke 16:22-23 (NASB)
22 “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.
23 “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.
Revelation 14:11 (NASB)
11 “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
John 14:3 (NASB)
3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
2 Corinthians 5:8 (NASB)
8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
Philippians 1:21–23 (NASB)
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.
23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;