Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas, Paganism, and the Watchtower - Part 1: December 25th

When I was growing up as a Jehovah's Witness one of the strongest arguments I gave against the celebration of Christmas was it's pagan origin. When talking about Christmas, I was a fire and brimstone preacher. People were taking the birth of Jesus...and celebrating it! And they also used things that could be traced back to pagan worship! I was a pioneer from the time I was 16 on, and I used Christmas time to make sure people knew how evil the celebrating of it really was. I took it as my personal mission to let people know that Jesus was NOT born on December 25th, that Christmas trees and lights were pagan in origin, and that Santa Clause was a vicious lie that people told children.

In light of the new Awake this year on the "truth" about Christmas, I thought I would write my own updated views on Christmas and its celebration, and what the Bible says and does not say about its celebration.

The article begins with a major strawman. I did not want to begin this article by being critical, but it begins with the stress and negativity associated with Christmas. It seems that the purpose is to introduce a negative light before the actual facts are discussed. Look at how skillfully the writer introduces the negativity:

"Do you look forward to Christmas? Or does its approach fill you with nervous apprehension? Millions of people ask: "Whom will I get gifts for? What should I buy? Can I afford it? For how long will I be paying off my debt?"

The obvious intention is to cast a negative light before the article even started. The article continues by saying that Christmas is now largely secular and its ads are "blatantly pitched at children". The article claims that "shopping malls...have become the new temples... Could the reasons be connected with the origin of Christmas?"

Now a person interested in coming to a true conclusion will look at both the positive and negatives of any given circumstance. This is at the heart of critical thinking. We should cast off all prejudices and examine all sides of any given issue before coming to a conclusion that makes the most sense. Does this article give the impression that it is attempting to do this? I can't say that it does. If it does, I don't see it. Nowhere is there a paragraph that says something like the following:

"While Christmas has become a secular holiday to much of the world, many Christians are trying to bring a larger awareness to the general public that Christmas should be about celebrating Jesus coming into the world to save us from our sins. They are spreading the message that it is only because of Jesus willingness to come into the world and to eventually die for our sins that we have any hope for salvation today. Are they doing the right thing?"

If something like this was said, I could at least consider that they were trying to examine all sides and come to a reasonable conclusion. But because the negative light has already  been cast, you can be sure that they have an agenda to the article. They are setting out to show that Christmas is an evil and sinful holiday that does not please God.

They next article begins by introducing another strawman fallacy. It asks, "Do you care about spiritual truth?" Now, the answer is going to be "Yes" for just about everyone. It then goes on to ask 5 questions that you must answer if you are interested in spiritual truth. Reading over these questions brought me to an interesting conclusion about the relevancy of the Watchtower in 2010/11. It is this: Most Christians already know the answer to these questions. And the Watchtower will show through the article that it...DOES NOT! While they cast doubt on all of the answers to the questions, they do not have an answer. They do pretend to have a "possible" or "likely" answer, but they cannot say for sure. I will illustrate this later in the blog. Let us consider their questions that all those that "care about spiritual truth" must answer.

1. Was Jesus born on December 25?  Does ANYONE think that Jesus birth was on December 25th? I can honestly say that I have never met anyone that actually believed that. The article begins with an outright misrepresentation. It says, "According to tradition, Jesus' birth took place on December 25." Actually this has never been a Christian teaching. The celebration takes place on the 25th, but it was never claimed to be his actual literal birthday. The article then goes on in the traditional Watchtower fashion of showing the pagan worship that used to occur on December 25. Again, most educated people know about the Saturnalia and the celebration of the winter solstice. The then begin to vilify "Christianizing" paganism. They wrongly say that Pope Julius I declared that December 25 was Jesus birthday. Notice the lack of quotes. Julius was actually a very important man in Christianity. He took a stand against the Arians that said that Jesus was only a human and rejected Christs divinity. He also did not claim that Jesus was born on Decemeber 25, only that since we do not know the actual date, we will celebrate it on that day. They also link the use of the "halo" to paganism although this was not really the case, as claimed by the "Encyclopedia of Religion". According to Notes on Castelseprio (1957), the early church fathers believed God to be the source of all light. They talked about the "light of divine grace", and in art when the is was pictured it came across as a light above the head of those that possessed this light. God being the source of all light was taught FAR before it made its way into paganism.

So what is their solution? Do they have another date? No. They rightly show that Jesus was not born on December 25, which we all should have already have known. But do they give us another alternative? No. They use their "likely" and "possibly" answers. They say, "The Bible does not give Jesus' birth date." Interestingly, the Bible does not directly give us any date. We have to go into history to figure out the actual dates referred to in the Bible. But I digress... They say that he would have to have been born before October. Most historians will agree with that. Their major fallacy here is that they say "Significantly, the early Christians never celebrated his birth on ANY date." Where do they come to this conclusion? Who knows. No source is given. That comment wouldn't even hold up on Wikipedia!!! Where does their argument lay? It lays in the scripture John 4:23 that you must worship the Father in spirit and truth. They also say that we were only commanded to celebrate Christs death...not his birth. 

What they are employing here is what is called "hyperliteralism". Hyperliteralism (or letterism) is an intense devotion to the details of the Bible in such a way that one misses the spirit and essential thrust of a passage. We could make the claim that the Bible does not command the wearing of neckties and so the use of such a fashion is not authorized by God when teaching. We could also argue that buildings should not be dedicated because God did not authorize this in the New Testament. The fact is, NOWHERE and I repeat NOWHERE are we forbidden to celebrate Christs birth (or any other birthday for that matter). In fact, those that are condemning others for choosing to observe a day as holy are to be condemned themselves. Notice Col 2:16-17: "Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ." If one chooses to recognize a day as holy and one does not, we are not to judge either way.

My next post will deal with the issue of its pagan origins and the Awake's next question: "The Wise Men - How Many?" and "What sort of star led the astrologers."

But to conclude this post, is there anything in the Bible that indicates that we should consider Jesus birth as something worthy to celebrate? I truly believe there is. Jesus birth caused a celebration...AMONG THE ANGELS!!! Luke 2:10-12: But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: 11 Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” What would bring great joy? "Today your Savior is born."

Did humans celebrate this birth? Notice Luke 2:15-20: "When the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they hurried off and located Mary and Joseph, and found the baby lying in a manger. 17 When they saw him, they related what they had been told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were astonished at what the shepherds said. 19 But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean. 20 So the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told." Yes the shepherds...CELEBRATED!

Finally, as much as 2 years later, the "wise men" arrived to worship this child and celebrate the fact that he was born into the world. Notice Matthew 2:1-12.

Hence, I come to this conclusion. Christs birth SHOULD be special to us. It is something that is deserving of celebration. It deserves celebration more than any other thing (besides his death). How sad it is that Jehovah's Witnesses will celebrate their own anniversaries, and yet will not celebrate our Lords sacrifice of giving up his divine position and coming to earth to become a helpless baby, grow up around sinful humans, and be put to death for those that do not appreciate him? I cannot help but see that this is one way that the Watchtower has put limits on the importance of Jesus. One of the greatest celebrations in bethel was the graduation of the gilead class. It was a time for good food, wine, and giving gifts to the students. But we are not allowed to do the same in connection with Christ's birth. Even his death, according to the Watchtower, is not a time to be festive. The Watchtower took away Jesus divinity. They took away the importance of his birth. They took away the glory of the cross that he died on. They took away his worship. But they lifted themselves up as the ones we are to follow if we want to follow Jesus. How sad and reprehensible!

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Beatitudes - Written For Christians or For Everyone?

I thought I'd pause from apologetics on this post and write on an upbuilding topic. One of the most important sermons ever given was the sermon on the mount. There are so many different ways of looking at the sermon on the mount that it can be one of the hardest parts of the Bible to read. In another way, it is one of the easiest. You simply read, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" and that seems perfectly clear to us. We read, "Do not murder" and 'Not only don't murder, but also don't be angry with your brother.' It all seems easy and absolutely clear. It says, 'Don't do these things. Do these other things.' So why can it be so difficult to read? The difficulty is that it is so clear to read. There is not a way to shrug it aside or explain it away. People don't struggle with it because it is unclear, or complex. They struggle with it's impossibility.

I think that most people would be perfectly happy if Jesus had just repeated the command "Do not murder" and left it at that. But Jesus went further. He said, 'Don't murder. But also don't get angry with your brother. And beyond that if someone is angry at you then you need to go make peace with them. In fact if someone is suing you, you go and give them a gift!' It gets harder and harder even to the point that he says, "You must be perfect as your Father is perfect." That's when you know you have a problem. It all seems impossible to attain. Again, people don't struggle with it's clarity. They struggle because it is extremely clear.

So how are we to understand the Beatitudes? Are they impossible to live up to? I would have to say in a way they are. In one way they drive us to Christ, like the Law did, and shows us that we need his grace. We are somewhat like Isaiah when realizing the extent of his sinfulness he said, "Woe is me. I am undone."

But there is more to the story, I think. Notice Matthew 5:1,2. It says that this sermon was given to Jesus disciples. It is not given to all people saying that they should try to obey, because it is given to people who already know they can’t obey perfectly. Jesus Sermon is for people who already have accepted Jesus as their Lord and King. It's not for people that are hoping to get into the kingdom or become disciples. It is for the people that are already in. Of course, there were others that were not disciples that were listening and hence at the end of the sermon they were amazed at Jesus teaching. So others can benefit from it. But it was primarily for his disciples.

To expound on this, look at the 1st Beatitude. It says, "Blessed are the poor". To a secular person, this seems absolutely ridiculous. The 2nd says, "Happy are those that mourn." This also would not seem to make sense. However, a Christian would understand this. The would realize that it means "Happy is he who mourns over the right things like sin and death and the state of the world, and is not merely indifferent towards it." It is far better to mourn over your sin that to be proud of it. Mourning over your sin leads to blessings. But to get to that point one needs to be spiritually discerning. That is why it makes sense that the sermon is primarily directed to disciples of Christ.

The Sermon is also meant for those that know that God is their King and Father. Jesus told us to address God as "Our Father". Only believers are allowed to address God in this way. This shows that this sermon is not meant to be something that can bring you in to become a disciple of Christ. It assumes you already are one. To go further, the sermon gives instructions to those that "fast" and those that "pray". Jesus does not say "If you fast" but "When you fast". He does not say "If you pray" but "When you pray". Nor do we read "If you give to the poor" but "When you give to the poor". These are things that believers do, not unbelievers.

Only a believer would be interested in following the command of Jesus when he said, "Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees." They were considered to be some of the most holy people of that time. Only someone that was interested in Jesus reign would try to follow that.

For all these reasons, the sermon was meant for believers. Yes, the crowds can listen in, but it is essentially for those that know God and know the life of the kingdom.

One of the beauties of the Beatitudes is it's invitation for Jesus disciples to become more like him! When you read the Beatitudes, try to see how Jesus is the perfect representation of all that is said.

Consider, Jesus said, "Blessed is he who mourns." Jesus mourned over the lost sheep of Israel. They were like sheep without a shepherd. He wanted to gather them up like a mother hen gathers her chicks and protect them. But they were largely unwilling, so he mourned.

Jesus also said, "Blessed are the meek." Was not Jesus meek and humble? Didn't he say "Come to me all who are loaded down and I will refresh you. For my yolk is easy and my burden light." The greek word for meek, can also mean "humble". And what humility Christ showed!

The 4th Beatitude is "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." Jesus was perfectly righteous and he not only hungered for his own righteousness, but for us, that we should be righteous too. He was so hungry (and meek) that he let himself get baptized, even though there was no clear instruction for this, in order to "fulfill all righteousness".

What a wonderful person our Lord Jesus Christ is. As we read through these Beatitudes it really is important that we, as disciples of Christ, recognize our own spiritual need and how this is fulfilled in Jesus. While the Beatitudes seem so easy to read, as one would read a novel, we should not read through them quickly and avoid all the implications of it. These are to be savored like a fine wine. They should be enjoyed, but also allowed to become part of our hearts. They should strengthen our love for God and our Lord Jesus, and draw us closer to them.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reasoning with the Reasoning Book - Did Jesus Die on a Cross? Part 3: Historical Evidence

In this final part on the cross I want to focus on the historical evidence that Jesus died on a cross and not on a stake.

The Reasoning book claims that the cross did not come to be used by Christians until far after Jesus death. The quote the New Catholic Encyclopedia as saying: “The representation of Christ’s redemptive death on Golgotha does not occur in the symbolic art of the first Christian centuries. The early Christians, influenced by the Old Testament prohibition of graven images, were reluctant to depict even the instrument of the Lord’s Passion.”—(1967), Vol. IV, p. 486.

Were Christians "reluctant" to depict the instrument used in Jesus death? Archeology shows this statement to be false! According to "The first century catacomb uncovered by archaeologist P. Bagatti on the Mount of Olives contains inscriptions clearly indicating its use, 'by the very first Christians in Jerusalem.' A 'head stone', found near the entrance to the first century catacomb, is inscribed with the sign of the cross." See the photo below:

What about other early Christians? Do we have any indication that they believed that Jesus died on a cross? Justin Martyr, who lived from 114 to 167CE believed that Jesus died on a cross. He said: "For the one beam is placed upright, from which the highest extremity is raised up into a horn, when the other beam is fitted on to it, and the ends appear on both sides as horns joined on to the one horn."

The epistle of Barnabas, while not in the accepted NT canon was written around 100CE. It says, ""…the cross was to express the grace [of our redemption]" Keep in mind that this was around the time that the apostle John wrote his letters.

With this in mind, can we believe that the Watchtower was being entirely honest in the November 8, 1972 Awake page27 when it says: "Not until the fourth century C.E. did the cross begin coming into noticeable use among professed Christians. The one primarily responsible for this development was Emperor Constantine, a sun worshiper who is said to have accepted Christianity years before submitting to baptism while on his deathbed."? The cross was used and respected far before the 4th century as can clearly be seen above.

As if we needed more proof, we have the many statements of Tertullian whose writings date from 190CE to about 220CE. He states the following: ""You hang Christians on crosses (crucibus) and stakes (stipitibus); what idol is there but is first moulded in clay, hung on a cross and stake (cruci et stipiti)? It is on a patibulum that the body of your god is first dedicated" (Apologeticus, 12.3).

"For this same letter TAU of the Greeks, which is our T, has the appearance of the cross (crucis)" (Apologeticus, 3.23.6)

"Every stake fixed in an upright position is a portion of the cross; we render our adoration, if you will have it so, to a god entire and complete. We have shown before that your deities are derived from shapes modelled from the cross. But you also worship victories, for in your trophies the cross is the heart of the trophy. The camp religion of the Romans is all through a worship of the standards, a setting the standards above all gods. Well, as those images decking out the standards are ornaments of crosses. All those hangings of your standards and banners are robes of crosses. I praise your zeal: you would not consecrate crosses unclothed and unadorned." (Apologeticus, 16)

So is it reasonable to conclude that the cross was not brought into use until the 4th century by a sun worshiper? This cannot be. The overwhelming proof is that Jesus died on a stake with a crossbeam. As we saw in the last post, Paul did not consider the cross to be something that should be shunned, but as a symbol of God's love for us.

The last question that must be asked is this: Why do Jehovah's Witnesses reject the idea of the cross as something foolish and wrong? What causes them to throw out the abundance of evidence that shows that Jesus died on a cross? The rejection of the cross did not happen until far along in the Watchtowers history. C.T. Russell respected the cross very much and it appeared on the Watchtower magazine for many years. Russell also celebrated Birthdays and Christmas. He recognized blood as a symbol of life and not more important than life itself. But Joseph Rutherford changed many things when he took over. In 1936 Rutherford got rid of the cross. The amount of changes that Rutherford brought in can probably most clearly be understood by the series of articles he wrote in 1925 about "Satans organization vs Gods organization" called "Birth of a Nation". Gods people were to stand out as different from Satans organization (which includes all other religions). He set in motion a massive change in doctrine that completely changed the organization.

In the Watchtower, July 1, 1938, pg 201, Rutherford claimed that Satan had tried to use the 5 man editorial committee to stop the publication of "Birth of a Nation". .The Editorial Committee was dissolved in 1931, after which Rutherford wrote every leading article in The Watch Tower until his death. The 1933 Watch Tower Society Yearbook observed that the demise of the Editorial Committee indicated "that the Lord himself is running his organization"

What is shocking is that many of the organizations most cherished doctrines that are held to in our day were the result of this man.

In conclusion, we all are responsible for our own beliefs and making sure that they are based on the Bible. When Judgment Day comes we may be asked, "Why did you believe this?" Will you be ready with an answer? Or will you have to claim that you made your decisions based on what imperfect men taught?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reasoning with the Reasoning Book - Did Jesus Die on a Cross? Part 2: A Pagan Cross

In our last discussion on the Cross, we examined some of the claims of the Reasoning book to see if the Cross was referred to in scripture. We saw through the reading of John 20:25, John 21:18-19, and Matthew 27:37 that it seems reasonable to conclude, at least due to these scripture, that Jesus was hung on a stake with a crossbeam.

So let us assume, even if we are not thoroughly convinced, that Jesus was hung on a Cross. Is not the Reasoning books claim that the Cross is pagan enough to cause us to want to avoid it? After all, was not its origins connected with early Babylonish thought? Was not some form of it used in the worship of Tammuz? Is it true that Christians worship this object, when the Bible specifically states that we are not to worship any carved image? These are very serious questions since our very salvation is involved.

First of all, DID the cross have some sort of pagan origins? To be "fair" and "honest" as the blog is intended, yes the cross did have pagan origins. It was used by a variety of cultures in different settings to represent false Gods. The Egyptian anch symbol is an obvious example. Tracking the symbol back to Babylon, it was in fact used in ancient worship to false Gods.

However, the origin of the cross should not be relevant to this discussion. Why? One reason is that much of what we use or practice today has pagan origins. For example, the wedding ring has pagan origins. There is absolutely no indication that the Jews of the Old Testament nor the Christians in the New Testament ever wore wedding rings. It was not until 860AD that Pope Gregory issued the declaration that the groom must give an engagement ring as sign that he had the intent to marry the bride. Prior to even this we know that the wedding ring originated in Babylon.  The most ancient ring discovered there is in the shape of the eternal serpent. The image of the serpent biting its tail to form the circle of the ring is an ancient symbol of marriage among the pagans. There are many things that claim to have pagan origins. Did you know that the sacrifice of Jesus, the emblems of the bread and wine, as well as his resurrection have counterparts in paganism? Therefore, we can't reject everything that has a pagan background.

Also, would we not expect the pagan nation of Rome to execute people on a pagan symbol? Would this not have been the most extreme form of punishment to a non-pagan?

But is it not true that we are not to "worship" any carved image? This is very true. 1John 5:21 says,"Little children, keep yourselves from Idols!" Is the cross an Idol? Does the respect of it and its message constitute worship? Do Christians worship the cross?

I must say that I have never encountered a person that has "worshiped" the cross. If I was to come across that sort of person, I would tell them that worship of anything besides God was strictly forbidden by him. So the question is, if Jesus died on an actual cross, then is it wrong to view it as a symbol for Christianity.

As far as the Jehovah's Witness perspective goes, I ask them this: What is the symbol for the Watchtower? Does it have one? Yes, see below:
This symbol or logo is found on every issue of the Watchtower. Is the respect of this symbol tantamount to worship? I will let the reader decide on his or her own. Personally I feel that this symbol represents the Watchtower. Should you pray to it? No. Should you respect it? If you are a Jehovah's Witness, you very much will!

So how about the cross? Does the Bible say to reject it? Does it say that it was just an instrument of torture and should be rejected as if it was a murder weapon? Hardly.

Please notice the importance that the Bible gives on the cross and its message. Paul said there was only one reason for him to boast. Galations 6:14 says, "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." So did Paul view the cross as something detestable? Never! He regarded it as something to boast in.

1 Cor 1:17 states, "For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel — not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." Lest WHAT be emptied of ITS power? The cross. It is a symbol of all the Christ did for us.

In fact, the fact that Jesus was killed on the cross was of such utmost importance that Paul said in 1Cor 2:2 that he decided to know NOTHING but Christ and him crucified. Do any of these scriptures give any evidence to the viewpoint of the Reasoning book when it says, "How would you feel if one of your dearest friends was executed on the basis of false charges? Would you make a replica of the instrument of execution? Would you cherish it, or would you rather shun it?" Did Paul SHUN the cross? Never!

The message of the cross was cherished by Paul. Jesus took something pagan and dishonorable and turned it into something that made people glorify God. He took the most disgraceful way to die, and turned it into the exact opposite of tragedy. He turned it to hope. All that was wrong was set right. All that should've been was corrected. To be hung upon a tree was one of the worst disgraces that could be made upon a person. However, Jesus took it and turned it into something that will never be forgotten.

That being said, we respect the message of the cross. We are not to "pray" TO the cross, nor are we to focus our attention on it alone. But we realize that while it was something that was used by pagan men it now symbolizes everything that imperfect men lost and now have.

One last point to think about. The stake also has nefarious roots as well. It is in the shape of a phallic symbol which goes back to ancient Babylonian religion as well.

So the choice is yours. Will you empty the cross of Christ of its power? (1Cor 1:17)

Part 3 will focus on the proofs given in history and archeology. Do they prove that Jesus died on a stake or a cross? Stay tuned...

Reasoning with the Reasoning Book - Did Jesus Die on a Cross? Part 1: Scriptural Evidence

One of the unique beliefs among modern Jehovah's Witnesses is that Jesus did not die on a cross, but instead died on a upright pole or "stake". They call the cross a pagan symbol that is associated with the worship of Tammuz and originated in ancient Chaldea. They say that even so much as wearing a cross is tantamount to false worship and should be shunned by all true Christians. They have even removed the word "cross" from their Bible translation and replace it with words like "torture stake" or "tree".

Are Jehovah's Witnesses correct in these statements? Did Jesus die on an upright torture stake? Is the cross something that should be shunned by all Christians? Or are they, perhaps, mistaken?

They have an in depth discussion of these issues in the publication "Reasoning from the Scriptures" which is published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and is used regularly in their ministry today. My attempt is to "test all things" that they say about the cross in this book, and see if the claims are accurate and all true Christians should shun the cross. (1 Thess 5:21)

They begin by defining cross as "The device on which Jesus Christ was executed is referred to by most of Christendom as a cross. The expression is drawn from the Latin crux." The begin by saying that "the Greek word rendered “cross” in many modern Bible versions (“torture stake” in NW) is stau‧ros′. In classical Greek, this word meant merely an upright stake, or pole. Later it also came to be used for an execution stake having a crosspiece."

Is it true that "later" or after Christ stauros came to be known as "cross"? No, in fact An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, p.45, says, "Cross--A universal symbol from the most remote times; it is the cosmic symbol par excellence." It was in fact used as an execution device over 100 years BEFORE Jesus. 

They go on to quote The Imperial Bible-Dictionary, saying: “The Greek word for cross, [stau‧ros′], properly signified a stake, an upright pole, or piece of paling, on which anything might be hung, or which might be used in impaling [fencing in] a piece of ground. . . . Even amongst the Romans the crux (from which our cross is derived) appears to have been originally an upright pole.” What they also seem to ignore is the clear historical fact that the Romans commonly executed people on crosses! I wonder why this issue was ignored... The horizontal bar or crossbeam was called the patibulum and it was customary that the prisoner was made to carry the patibulum to their place of execution. Again, this fact is ignored. 

The next quote they give is from the book, "The Non Christian Cross" by J. D. Parsons (London, 1896). They quote him as saying, "“There is not a single sentence in any of the numerous writings forming the New Testament, which, in the original Greek, bears even indirect evidence to the effect that the stauros used in the case of Jesus was other than an ordinary stauros; much less to the effect that it consisted, not of one piece of timber, but of two pieces nailed together in the form of a cross. . . " Is this true? Is there anything in the Bible that gives evidence of Jesus arms being stretched out along a cross beam? 

Please consider John 20:25. Jesus has recently been resurrected and has shown himself to many of his disciples. However, one of his apostles, Thomas,  was not present when Jesus had appeared and refused to believe the words of the other apostles. So in verse 25 Thomas said, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the NAILS were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." If Jesus had been hung on an upright stake with his hands above, there would have only been one nail (see photo below). However, Thomas uses the PLURAL form and says he wants to see IN HIS HANDS the mark of the NAILS.

 Another verse that clearly seems to show that Jesus was hung on a pole with a crossbeam is John 21:18-19. Jesus gave a prophecy to Peter that showed him that he too would be crucified! He said, "when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God." Crucifixtion clearly meant that they would "stretch out" the hands, not "raise up" the hands.

Is there any other biblical proof of a cossbeam being used in Jesus execution? There is! Matthew 27:37 is clear. "Above his head they placed the written charge against him: This is Jesus, King of the Jews." If Jesus was killed with his hands above his head, the sign would have been place above his hands, not his head.

So is it true when the Reasoning book says, "There is not a single sentence in any of the numerous writings forming the New Testament, which, in the original Greek, bears even indirect evidence to the effect that the stauros used in the case of Jesus was other than an ordinary stauros; much less to the effect that it consisted, not of one piece of timber, but of two pieces nailed together in the form of a cross. . ."? No. There is little evidence that Jesus was killed on anything BUT a cross. Does this not seem much more reasonable?

My next post will tackle the next issue that the reasoning book brings up about the cross of Christ. The claim is made that it is a pagan symbol and should be rejected by all true Christians. Is it a pagan symbol? Should it be considered a pagan symbol today? Should true Christians reject it? Should Christians and do Christians worship it

Leaving JWN

I apologize for my absence from this blog over the past couple of weeks. I know there are a few of you that wished to follow this blog.

As some of you know, I decided to stop posting to JWN. There are several reasons for this, and I would like to clarify a few things that I said on the site when leaving.

First of all I am thankful for the amount of support that I've received from many people on that site. My abrupt halt from posting prevented me from letting everyone know how thankful I am that they were there for me when I needed it. While I don't agree with most people on that site, I was happy to be friends with everyone anyway.

There became a point, however, when I didn't find it very healthy to participate any more. Anytime any sort of Christian discussion would come up, the thread would be hijacked by atheists. That too was fine. I am happy to defend my faith and allow others to do the same. The problem came, however, when attacks were made against God and his personality. Nothing was treated as sacred. I got tired of the "Jehoober is a disgusting monster" sort of comments.

There does need to be a certain amount of mutual respect for people to remain being friends. For example, I do not believe in reincarnation and I do not believe that cows are sacred. However, if I was in a land (i.e. India) where the cow was viewed as sacred, I wouldn't act in a way that insulted their view of the cow. If I did, I would expect to get a very angry response.

My God is special to me. My relationship with Him is special to me. It is special in the same way that my wife is special to me. If someone was to call my wife a disgusting monster and that was the general consensus of the group, then I would be genuinely offended and could no longer consider those people friends.

That being said, there are many wonderful people on JWN. It hurts to have to say goodbye to the site, but I also wish to remain friends with those people. There are those on JWN that are atheists and yet are respectful of my beliefs, and to those I genuinely feel friendship for as well. But the repeated attacks on ANYTHING Christian began to get very discouraging for me.

I would like to answer one claim that was made about me personally that I have issue with. I made the comment that I was upset at those that were trying to destroy my faith. My faith has NOT been destroyed. One person commented that I must not have any faith to begin with. Obviously that is not true. But when a person surrounds themselves with those that think they have to attack anything that is not godless, then that can start to get very discouraging.

I am a "new" Christian. I don't have all the answers. One bone of contention that I have had in the past is that Jehovah's Witnesses claim to have all the answers. It reminds me of 1Cor 8:2: "If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know." We all should realize that we are foolish in God's eyes and need to focus on His wisdom. We must always be open to the possibility that something we have held as a cherished viewpoint could be proven to be wrong. That is where I am at in my spiritual life. Reading the Bible without preconceived notions has been incredibly eye opening.

 Another eye opening experience has been seeing the amount of Jehovah's Witnesses that leave the organization, only to be trapt in atheistic thought. They have allowed men to completely destroy their faith. They experienced spiritual shipwreck. They no longer believe in God. They live for themselves. And they seem happy to be accountable to no one besides themselves. I find it so sad. But the Bible did fortell that this would be the result of those that put their trust in men.

Now is the time to put our trust in Jesus Christ. It is the time to throw off the yoke of men made rules and allow God to show us the way. They lead to the best way of life. They lead to true happiness. And they lead to a life with God that will be never-ending.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Introduction to "The Divine Plan of the Ages"

The introduction to the series that would spawn a 7 million plus  person organization impressed me very much. According to the author, there was a very specific focus to this book and its subsequent volumes. The author did not claim any special insight, nor a motive of converting people from their religion to a new religion. In fact, his main purpose seemed to be to make people to feel more secure in as Christians.

In the opening paragraph to this historically significant book, Russell lets it be known that he is disturbed by those that are turning away from God in order to follow the pursuit of atheism. An interesting parallel that I saw to Jehovah's Witnesses today is in his comment that higher education seems to be responsible for this. He also blames High School for the growing disbelief and higher criticism. Even to some of those professing Christianity, he makes this point in paragraph 1, "They believe that Jesus and his Apostles were sincere, though they blundered in quoting from the Old Testament as inspired." I find this true myself to this day. There are many that do not like the character that they perceive God to be in the Old Testament. I myself have heard comments like, "God was a monster for killing children that were not part of the nation of Israel." They view the God of the Old Testament to be a different person from the God of the New Testament.

Russell seemed to want to be a  help in damming the trend of atheism and a corruption of belief in Christianity. In this introduction it seems very clear that he was NOT attempting to start his own religion. He says in the 2nd paragraph of the book that he prepared this set of volumes for "Christian people of all denominations to use in lending a helping hand." He wanted to help honest hearted Christians to answer people that had the question "How do we know that there is a God" and "What proofs have we that the Bible is the inspired Word of God?" These were the questions that he claimed he wanted to answer in these books.

Let me interject here and state that I think it is entirely possible that this is true. Later on in the Bible Students history he rejected the idea to be called anything other than a "Christian". He staunchly refuted the need for an "organization" run by men. God's organization was to be run by Christ Jesus. We shall see his statements regarding this in further blogs. And I personally find this honorable.

The main point I got out of the introduction to this 6 set volume that was written by C.T Russell is what he said in the last 2 paragraphs of this introduction. "Ministers can use this book when composing special sermons and addresses." "We invite Christians of all denominations to join us in...extending these "helping hands" to the rising generation. A single friend or relative helped - rescued from doubt or unbelief - would repay the cost of these studies a thousands times."

To this I say that the introduction to this historical piece of literature is a fine and noble one.

What must be asked by us, however, is did C.T Russell follow the intention of these volumes? Did he stick to the Bible ONLY? Did he help to stem disbelief? Did he help to secure people deeper into true Christianity, no matter which denomination they were in, to see the truth as revealed in God's Word?

This will be the focus of the future blogs.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Welcome to my new Blog

I recently just started reading the 1st book in "Studies in the Scriptures" by C.T Russell. Immediately I found some really good things and some really bad things. I thought it was so profound, especially in light of what this organization would eventually become, that I had to start a blog. I never had the desire to blog. I never thought I had anything good enough to say that would necessitate one.

But I have a reason now. My first posts will be a critical (though not entirely negative) examination of Book 1 of "Studies in the Scriptures - The Divine Plan of the Ages."

I will continue to update this blog regularly (hopefully weekly).

But let me make known my intentions.

The intention of this blog is not the "Witness Bash" or "Watchtower Bash". The intention is to give an honest examination into the historical and cultural implications of this religion. Why, and more importantly, how did this organization evolve to be what it is today? Did the original vision of C.T Russell change? Would he be pleased with the way this organization has turned out today? If so, which parts would he agree with, and which, if any, issues would he have contentions with?

This is neither an "apostate" blog nor a Jehovah's Witness apologetic blog. The tendency in each of these is to try and prove a point, instead of giving an honest examination of the facts. This is NOT apostate in that it is not intended to turn anyone away from God, the Bible, or his son Jesus Christ. This not "apologetic" in that it is not trying to defend any creed or denomination. It is purely for research use only and attempts to compare what has been written to the words of the Bible and the word of reason.

That being said, there are a few assumptions that I will make in writing this blog.

1. The Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. Thus all of our beliefs should be viewed through biblical "glasses" to see if these things are really so.
2. Atheism is not a reasonable conclusion that I personally can accept through my studies thus far (although I respect many Atheists and their viewpoint deeply)
3. While it is not correct to believe something because someone else believed it, there are valuable lessons to be learned by the early Christian fathers and other Christian thinkers.

So if you are interested in an analysis of early Bible Student and Jehovah's Witness material and history, then welcome! If this type of examination causes fear, then remember the timeless quote from Thomas Paine: "It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry."