"THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW" The Kingdom Of Great Value (13:44-46) by Mark Copeland

                        "THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW"

                 The Kingdom Of Great Value (13:44-46)


1. During His earthly ministry, the key theme of His preaching and 
   teaching was "the kingdom of heaven"...
   a. He began His ministry proclaiming it was at hand - Mt 4:17,23
   b. He sent His apostles on the limited commission to proclaim the
      same message - Mt 10:7

2. He taught many parables to illustrate great truths about this 
   a. Through which He revealed many things that had previously been
      secret - Mt 13:34-35
   b. Like the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great
      price - Mt 13:44-46

3. In these two parables, Jesus illustrated the kingdom to be one of
   great value...
   a. So great that one who stumbles upon it sells all to obtain it
   b. So great that one searching for it sells all to buy it

4. In this lesson, I wish to address several questions that come to 
   a. What is this "kingdom"?  
   b. Why is it considered to be of such great value?  
   c. Is it really worth it?
   d. What will it cost us?  

[Let's begin, then, with the first question...]


      1. God's kingship, rule, or recognized sovereignty
         a. The term "kingdom" as used by the Jews often stressed the
            abstract idea of rule or dominion, not a geographical area
            surrounded by physical boundaries
         b. It is used this way by Jesus in Mt 6:10 - "Your KINGDOM 
            come; Your WILL be done..." (note the connection between 
            kingdom and will)
            -- Thus, the "kingdom of heaven" would involve the rule of
               heaven in the hearts of men
      2. This rule of heaven is spiritual in nature
         a. It is not a physical kingdom - cf. Jn 18:36
         b. But one that is spiritual - cf. Ro 14:17
      3. Its visible manifestation today is in the form of the Lord's
         a. For the church is that community of souls in whose hearts
            God is recognized as Sovereign
         b. That the church constitutes the kingdom of God on earth, 
            1) How the term "church" and "kingdom" were used 
               interchangeably - Mt 16:18
            2) Comments made to those who were in the church - Col 1:13;
               1Th 2:12
            3) The description of those in the churches of Asia - Re 1:
      4  It has a future element as well as a present one
         a. Its future aspect is spoken of by Jesus, Paul, Peter 
            - Mt 25:34; 1Co 15:50; 2Ti 4:18; 2Pe 1:10-11
         b. Peter described the coming of its future state in 2Pe 3:

      1. In the present sense...
         a. It is found wherever the sovereignty of God is accepted in
            the hearts of men
         b. It is a spiritual kingdom, for God rules in the hearts of
         c. Its outward manifestation today is the Lord's church
         d. This rule or kingdom of God was "inaugurated" on the Day of
            Pentecost (Ac 2)
      2. In the future sense...
         a. The rule or kingdom of God will be "culminated" with the 
            coming of the Lord
         b. It will involve that "news heaven and a new earth in which
            righteousness dwells", described by Peter and John - 2 Pe
            3; Re 21-22
         c. It will be experienced only by those in the church who are
            submitting to God's will today! - cf. Mt 7:21-23; 2Pe 3:

[Submitting to the rule of God so that we become part of His church is
how one enters the kingdom of heaven, both present and future.  This 
leads to our second question...]


      1. Outside the kingdom, one is in the kingdom of Satan! - Ep 2:
         a. Under his influence
         b. Trapped in various sins
      2. In the kingdom of Christ, we find deliverance and refuge
         a. Set free from sin to serve God - Ro 6:17-18
         b. God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to
            bear - 1Co 10:12-13

      1. Righteousness which comes through faith in Christ - Php 3:8-9
      2. Peace from God through prayer which surpasses understanding 
         - Php 4:6-7
      3. Abiding joy in the Lord, no matter the circumstances - Php 4:4;

      1. It will never be destroyed - Dan 2:44
      2. Of this kingdom there will be no end - Lk 1:33
      3. It is truly an everlasting kingdom - 2Pe 1:10-11

      1. At that time, those who are now "sons of the kingdom" will
         "shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" 
         - Mt 13:41-43
      2. From then on, those in this kingdom will dwell in the presence
         of God - Re 21:1-7

[The value of this kingdom can be seen further as we consider our third


      1. I would ask Stephen to say if he thought it was worth it 
         - cf. Ac 7:54-60
      2. I would ask the early Christians who joyfully accepted the
         plundering of their goods and eventually received the promise
         - Ac 8:1-4; He 10:32-36
      3. I would ask the apostle Paul - 2Ti 3:10-13; 4:6-8,18
      4. I would ask one of your loved ones, a friend or relative, who
         died in Christ
      -- I am confident that they would all say forcefully, "Yes! It is
         worth giving up all!"

      1. Who gave up all to die on the cross - Php 2:5-8
      2. Who became "poor" that we might become "rich" - 2Co 8:9
      -- I am persuaded that as He showed you His pierced hands and
         feet, He would say with love and great urgency, "Yes! My 
         kingdom is worth giving up all!"

[But what exactly must we give up?  To put it another way...]


      1. Of repentance - cf. Mk 1:15
      2. Of being born again - cf. Jn 3:3-5
         a. Involving both outward and inward submission to the will of
         b. A submission that will affect our whole life
      3. Of putting the kingdom first - Mt 6:33
         a. Before our riches - Mk 10:23-25
         b. Before our families - Mk 10:28-31
         c. Before ourselves - Lk 9:23-26

      1. Consider the parable of the dinner - Lk 14:15-24
      2. Are we guilty of the same?
         a. Putting financial concerns first?
         b. Putting family first?
      3. Our actions demonstrate whether we are willing to pay the 
         price; for example:
         a. Our devotion to the Word of God and prayer
         b. Our devotion to others in the church (kingdom) - He 10:
            24-25; Ro 15:1-3
         c. Our devotion to the lost - Col 1:28-29


1. The kingdom is truly one of great value...
   a. It was established through its purchase by the blood of Christ 
      - Ac 20:28
   b. Can we expect the Lord to accept anything less than our utmost
      devotion for the privilege of being in His eternal kingdom?
      1) We are admonished to walk in a manner worthy of the kingdom
         - 1Th 2:10-12
      2) But it may cost us greatly to be considered worthy - cf.
          2 Th 1:4-5

2. Our actions will demonstrate whether we value the greatness of this
   a. By whether or not we obey the gospel!
   b. By whether or not we remain zealous and faithful in our service
      to the God!

3. I hope that in some way I have persuaded you that any price we pay
   is worthy of "The Kingdom Of Great Value"

If you are convinced that it is, and desire assistance in becoming or
remaining a faithful "citizen" of the kingdom, then let us know...
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

"THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW" The Family Of Jesus (12:46-50) by Mark Copeland

                        "THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW"

                     The Family Of Jesus (12:46-50)


1. A wonderful blessing is that of having a family...
   a. A source of love and acceptance
   b. A stronghold of support and encouragement

2. But we are not limited to the blessings of a physical family...
   a. Jesus hinted at the existence of an extended family - Mk 10:28-30
      1) A benefit of leaving all to follow Him
      2) Even if it meant leaving one's physical family
   b. He used another opportunity to describe that family - Mt 12:46-50
      1) As His physical family sought to speak to Him
      2) He described those who made up His "spiritual" family

3. In this study, I would like for us to...
   a. Review what we know about "The Family Of Jesus" (both physical
      and spiritual)
   b. Remind ourselves of the wonderful family we have in Jesus Christ

[Let's start by reviewing what we know about...]


      1. A woman worthy of high esteem
         a. As praised by the angel Gabriel:
            1) "highly favored one...blessed are you among women" 
                - Lk 1:28
            2) "you have found favor with God" - Lk 1:30
         b. As praised by her cousin Elizabeth:
            1) "blessed are you among women" - Lk 1:42
            2) "Blessed is she who believed" - Lk 1:45
         c. As she came to realize herself:  "...henceforth all 
            generations will call me blessed." - Lk 1:48
      2. A mother of several children
         a. As implied in Mt 1:25
            1) Joseph did not "know" (a euphemism for sexual relations)
               with her "until" the birth of Jesus
            2) Jesus was her "firstborn Son", the term firstborn 
               implying there were more
         b. As explicitly stated in Mt 12:46-47; 13:54-56
            1) He had "brothers" and "sisters", the brothers being 
            2) There is no indication in Scripture that these were 
               cousins, or children of Joseph by a previous marriage
      3. A mother who respected her Son
         a. She treasured His sayings in her heart - Lk 2:48-51
         b. She respected His authority - Jn 2:5
         c. She followed Him to the cross - Jn 19:25
         d. She continued with the disciples after His ascension 
            - Ac 1:14 (the last time she is mentioned in the Bible)
      -- She was the "only" person who really knew the identity of 
         Jesus; that she let her Son die on the cross is evidence that
         He was truly the Son of God!

      1. Mentioned in Mt 13:55-56
         a. His brothers were James, Joses, Simon and Judas
         b. He had at least two sisters
      2. His brothers (and likely His sisters) did not believe in Him
         at first
         a. They even challenged Him on one occasion - Jn 7:2-5
         b. They thought Him crazy on another occasion - cf. Mk 3:21
      3. Yet after His resurrection they came to believe
         a. He appeared to James - 1Co 15:7
         b. They continued with the disciples - Ac 1:14
         c. His brother James:
            1) Became a prominent leader of the church in Jerusalem 
               - Ga 1:19; 2:9; Ac 15:6-21; 21:18-25
            2) Is likely the author of The Epistle of James
            3) Is said to have been martyred by being thrown off the
               pinnacle of the temple
         d. His brother Judas is considered by many as the author of
            The Epistle of Jude
         e. His brothers evidently were married and traveled about
            teaching - cf. 1Co 9:5
      -- The conversion of His physical brothers who were at first 
         skeptical is additional evidence supporting the claim of Jesus
         as the Son of God

[It must have been a wonderful privilege to be part of Jesus' physical
family, especially after they came to believe in Him.  But according to
our text (Mt 12:46-50), anyone can become a part of that family which
meant the most to Jesus...]


      1. Jesus used this opportunity to identify the disciples as His
         true family - Mt 12:48-49
      2. He then described anyone who "does the will of My Father in
         heaven" as His brother, sister, and mother - Mt 12:50
      3. Why would Jesus identify His disciples as His true family?
         a. Our physical families are only temporary
            1) Begun at birth, ending at death
            2) Just as death ends the marriage bond (cf. Ro 7:2-3), so
               it ends the familial tie
            -- Emotionally we might resist this notion, but the fact
               remains the same
         b. Physical unions do not always mean spiritual ones
            1) At the time Jesus spoke, His brothers did not believe in
            2) As often happens, family members do not always have the
               same interests, the same concerns
            3) Jesus taught that physical relatives might not accept
               the truth - Mt 10:34-37
   -- Thus the true "Family Of Jesus" are those who do His Father's

      1. Jesus told Peter that His disciples would have "a hundredfold"
         brothers, sisters, and mothers in this lifetime - Mk 10:28-30
      2. This is an allusion to the church, which is now "the household
         (family) of God" - 1Ti 3:15
      3. Jesus therefore offers those willing to "do My Father's will"
         the opportunity...
         a. To be born into the family of God - cf. 1Pe 1:22-23
         b. To enjoy God as our Father, Jesus as our "Elder Brother" 
            - cf. He 2:11-12
         c. To have countless thousands as brothers, sisters, mothers,
            fathers - cf. 1Ti 5:1-2
         d. To join a "family ring" which shall never be broken!
      4. But the key is to "do the Father's will"!
         a. Not only to become a member of the family of Jesus
         b. But to enter the kingdom of heaven in its future glory 
            - Mt 7:21-23
      5. For it is serving God that ties us together in Christ...
         a. Bind us together in love
         b. Uniting us with the same purpose, goals, desires
      -- The church of Jesus Christ, then, is the true "Family Of
         Jesus" today, and forever!


1. Who is our true family today?
   a. If it is only our physical family, we are setting ourselves up
      for a great disappointment
   b. If we want a family that will last for eternity, make sure that
      our bond is a spiritual one
      1) Joined together by a mutual faith in Christ
      2) Working together as we do the will of our Father in heaven
      -- Perhaps we can have the best of both worlds, where your
         physical family is also part of your spiritual family!

2. What have you done for your true family lately?
   a. Have you gotten to know your brothers and sisters in Christ?
   b. Are you growing in your love for them?
   c. Are you encouraging them to do the Father's will?
   -- May the teaching of Jesus in our text remind you who is truly
      your family!

Are you in the family of Jesus?  No matter what kind of physical family
you may have been born into, you have the opportunity by God's grace to
be born into the wonderful family of God...!

Is There a "Missing Quote" in the book of James? by A.P. Staff


Is There a "Missing Quote" in the book of James?

by  A.P. Staff


I have heard it stated that in the New Testament book of James, the writer referred to a quotation from the Old Testament that actually does not exist. Is there a “missing quote” from the O.T. to which James was referring?


In addressing the passage found in James 4:5 (to which this particular question refers), Albert Barnes wrote in his commentary: “Few passages of the New Testament have given expositors more perplexity than this” (1972, p. 70). Those hostile to Christianity often try to find anything they can to discredit the Bible. The slightest “discrepancy” or “contradiction” is considered as solid proof that the Bible is inaccurate and therefore unreliable. The passage in James 4:5 is one such instance where skeptics and infidels have taken a verse and tried to use it to discredit the Scriptures. In context, the passage reads as follows (the highlighted section is the particular portion in question):
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:4-7, KJV).
Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:4-7, RSV).
The KJV and RSV separate verse five into two sections. The first introduces a supposed quote with the phrase “the scripture says,” and draws attention to the second section, which seems to highlight the quotation either via quotation marks (as in the RSV) or by capitalizing the first word of the quote (as in the KJV). According to those attempting to discredit the Bible, this verse “proves” that the Bible is false since the supposed quotation is found nowhere in Scripture. If it were true that there is a missing quote in the Bible, then some would perceive it as bringing into doubt the validity of the book of James. If the Bible is legitimately called into question, then Christianity’s foundation crumbles. Thus, there is a need to answer such charges brought against the Word of God.
With some careful study, one finds that the controversy can be explained fairly simply. When James’ comment is considered in its context, and is translated correctly, it becomes apparent that he did not intend for the second half of the verse to be taken as a direct quotation from the Old Testament. The translations provided by the King James Version, Revised Standard Version, and others that render the verse as a quotation, are incorrect. [It is important to realize that the manuscripts with which translators work contain little or no punctuation. Thus, the translators must exercise some discretion when implementing punctuation marks in the text.]
Such a suggestion raises the question as to what the correct translation is for the passage. Several solutions have been presented, the most likely of which being that James did not intend to quote a specific verse, but instead was referring to ideas and concepts found throughout the whole of the Old Testament. In his commentary on the books of Hebrews and James, R.C.H. Lenski wrote:
Many pages have been written regarding the different interpretations of v. 5 and the discussions of these interpretations. We confine ourselves to two points. We are not convinced that the question is a formula of quotation. Such a formula has never been used: “Do you think that the Scripture speaks in an empty way?” If a quotation were to follow, we should certainly expect the addition “saying that.”
What follows has never been verified as being a quotation; nothing like it has been found in any writing as all admit. The fact that the Scripture does not speak in an empty way refers to v. 4 which presents as a teaching of Scripture the truth that friendship of the world is enmity against God, etc. The idea is not that this is a quotation, but that it is a teaching of Scripture and by no means empty (1966, p. 631, emp. in orig.).
The late Bible scholar, Guy N. Woods, supported the idea of James’ reference being, not to a specific quote, but rather to a general concept within the Old Testament writings. He cited Genesis 6:3-7, Exodus 29:5, Deuteronomy 32:1-21, Job 5:12, Ecclesiastes 4:4, and Proverbs 27:4 as verses where the thought behind James 4:5 is conveyed (1972, p. 214). Several commentators believe that James’ statement represents a “condensation” of the Old Testament rather than an exact quotation—a position that fits the context of the verse, and solves the problem of the “missing quote.”
James Coffman offered another possibility along the same line. He suggested that the verse is referring to the New Testament writings, particularly those of Paul, instead of those from the Old Testament (1984, p. 87). However, it appears highly unlikely that, as Coffman maintains, James’ comment refers to the Pauline epistles, since New Testament Scripture is referenced only twice in the New Testament—once where Paul (in 1 Timothy 5:18) quotes the words of Christ as written by Luke in Luke 10:7, and once where Peter (in 2 Peter 3:15-16) mentions as a whole the writings of Paul. The remainder of the citations in the New Testament come from the Old Testament, except for a quote from an Athenian poet in Acts 17:28, from Epimenides in Titus 1:12, and possibly from a now-lost hymn or poem in Ephesians 5:14.
Whether it is a reference to Old or New Testament concepts, the KJV and RSV both have done an inadequate job of translating the verse. The late, respected Greek scholar J.W. Roberts was correct in saying that the 1901 American Standard Version provides the closest match to the true meaning (1977, p. 129).
Ye adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God. Or think ye that the scripture speaketh in vain? Doth the spirit which he made to dwell in us long unto envying? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore the scripture saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Be subject therefore unto God; but resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:4-7, ASV, emp. added).
Hugo McCord, in his independent translation of the New Testament, rendered James 4:5 very much like the American Standard Version, with a slight updating of language. His translation reads: “Do you think that the scripture speaks emptily? Does the Spirit living in us lust to envy?” (1988, p. 442).
Regardless of which version is used, it appears that James did not intend this verse to be taken as a quotation. The most likely answer is that James did indeed refer to ideas and thoughts expressed throughout the entire Old Testament, rather than quoting a specific verse.


Barnes, Albert (1972 reprint), Barnes’ Notes—James, Peter, John, and Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Coffman, James Burton (1984), Commentary on James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).
Lenski, R.C.H. (1966), The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg).
McCord, Hugo (1988), McCord’s New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman College).
Roberts, J.W. (1977), The Letter of James (Austin, TX: Sweet).
Woods, Guy N. (1972), A Commentary on the Epistle of James (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).

God, Haiti, and Suffering by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


God, Haiti, and Suffering

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

January 12, just before 5 p.m. A massive earthquake, magnitude 7.0, struck Haiti near the country’s capital. United Nations officials estimated 50,000 fatalities, but according to Haitian government figures, the death toll is at 200,000, with 80,000 buried in mass graves. Those left homeless now number in the millions (Carroll, 2010; “Haiti Earthquake...,” 2010; Kates, 2010; Haven and Melia, 2010). Scenes of human suffering—injured children, weeping mothers, the bodies amid the rubble—cannot help but evoke heartfelt sorrow and sympathy. Christians automatically mobilize during such times to provide comfort and assistance to the afflicted (James 2; Proverbs 19:17; 21:13; 28:27). Indeed, those nations (like America and Great Britain) and organizations (like the Red Cross), who historically share the Christian worldview, typically surpass non-Christian countries in benevolent outpouring (Indian Ocean-Earthquake..., 2010; “Tsunami Aid...,” 2005; “Humanitarian Response...,” 2010).
As shocking and heart-rending as this event may seem, many other natural disasters have occurred in human history that compare with the Haiti earthquake in its devastation. In America alone, several earthquakes have exceeded the magnitude of the Haiti earthquake. On December 16, 1811, two earthquakes with approximate magnitudes of 8.0 struck southeast Missouri, followed by two additional earthquakes in the same area over the next two months, measuring 7.8 and 7.4 respectively. New Madrid, Missouri was destroyed, and the course of the Mississippi River was permanently changed, with land on one side of the river shifting to the opposite side of the riverbed (Fleury, 2008a). On April 18, 1906 an earthquake, with a magnitude estimated between 7.7 to 8.3 on the Richter scale, struck San Francisco, killing some 3,000 people and leaving another 250,000 homeless (Fleury, 2007b). On March 27, 1964, Alaska was struck by an earthquake measuring 9.2—the third largest recorded in the world—devastating Anchorage (Fleury, 2007a). On October 17, 1989 an earthquake with a surface magnitude of 7.1 struck 10 miles northeast of Santa Cruz, California, some 60 miles southeast of San Francisco and Oakland. Sixty-seven died, with 3,757 more injured and 12,000 made homeless (Fleury, 2008b).
Throughout China’s history, extensive flooding has occurred countless times as a result of the mighty 3,000-mile-long Hwang Ho River. Several of the most terrible floods, with their ensuing famines, have been responsible for the deaths of more than a million people at a time. The southern levee of the river failed in Hunan Province in 1887, affecting a 50,000 square mile area (“Hwang Ho,” 2004). More than 2 million people died from drowning, starvation, or the epidemics that followed (“Huang He...,” 2004). In contrast, though considered the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, the death toll for hurricane Katrina in 2005 was about 1,600, with 1.7 million people displaced across the country (Janega, 2009; “Hurricanes,” n.d.). According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the earthquake that created the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 is estimated to have released the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs, resulting in more than 150,000 people dead or missing, and millions more homeless in 11 countries (“The Deadliest...?” 2005; “Earthquake and Tsunami...,” 2008).
In reality, such events have occurred repetitiously throughout the history of the world, and continue to do so—constantly: hurricanes, cyclones, earthquakes, tornados, floods, tsunamis, droughts, and volcano eruptions. In fact, natural disasters kill one million people around the world each decade, and leave millions more homeless, according to the United Nation’s International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (“Disasters...,” 1997).
This circumstance inevitably elicits the pressing question: “WHY?” “Why would God allow such loss of life, inflicted on countless numbers of seemingly innocent people?” The number one argument marshaled by atheists to advocate their disbelief in God is the presence of widespread, seemingly purposeless suffering. They insist that if an infinite Being existed, He would exercise His perfect compassion and His omnipotence to prevent human suffering (e.g., Lowder, 2004; cf. Jackson, 2001). Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins sarcastically declares:
We know what caused the catastrophe in Haiti. It was the bumping and grinding of the Caribbean Plate rubbing up against the North American Plate: a force of nature, sin-free and indifferent to sin, unpremeditated, unmotivated, supremely unconcerned with human affairs or human misery. The religious mind, however, hubristically appropriates the blind happenings of physics for petty moralistic purposes (2010).
For rabid atheistic evolutionists like Dawkins, to suggest that God uses natural phenomena for earthly purposes is hypocritical, “evil nonsense.” To them, the material realm has no ultimate purpose or meaning—other than what humans subjectively assign to it. Even for many people who do not embrace formal atheism, the fact that God apparently seems willing to allow misery and suffering to run rampant in the world, elicits a gamut of reactions—from perplexity and puzzlement to anger and resentment.


If the Bible is the inspired Word of God (and it is—see Butt, 2007), then it is the only document on the planet that was superintended by God when it was produced. The Bible, therefore, is the only reliable guide for ascertaining the meaning of life and human existence. Only the Bible can make sense of the circumstances that attend life on Earth. And, indeed, it provides the perfect explanations for the occurrence of earthquakes and other natural phenomena. Its handling of the subject is logical, sufficient, and definitive.

“Vale of Soul-Making”

In order to make sense of various aspects of the created order, like earthquakes, one must ask the logically prior question: What is the purpose of the created order? If the atheists and evolutionists are correct, the physical realm, with its human inhabitants, has no purpose, but rather, is a monumental “cosmic accident” (Gould, 1989, p. 44). As Cornell University professor and atheist, Dr. Will Provine, maintained:
Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear—and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either (Provine and Johnson, 1994, 16[1], emp. added).
If, on the other hand, the God of the Bible exists, He is the Creator responsible for the material Universe. Why did He create the Universe, specifically the Earth, and then create humans to inhabit the Earth?
The Bible teaches that God created the world to be the most suitable environment in which humans are enabled to make their own decisions concerning their ultimate destiny (Genesis 1:27; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). We humans have been provided with the ideal environment in which we may freely accept or reject God’s will for our lives—what Keats called, “The vale of Soul-making” (1899, p. 369). More specifically, the one essential purpose which God had for creating the world was
the creation of a being (who would have descendents like himself) who would be capable of entering into fellowship with him, who would be capable of becoming a son of God, who (thus) would have to be capable of deciding freely to believe him, to love him with all of his heart, to submit to him in obedience, and whom God could love and eventually glorify (Warren, 1972, p. 44).
Such an environment would necessarily have to possess certain characteristics conducive to the accomplishment of this central purpose. Those characteristics would include an environment that would supply man’s basic physical needs (since humans have physical bodies), allow him to be a free moral agent, to be challenged, and to learn the things he most needs to learn (Warren, p. 47). But why would God allow human beings to be subjected to unpleasant, tragic events—like earthquakes, floods, tornados, and hurricanes? A prominent biblical answer to that question is: natural disasters and nature’s destructive forces are the result of specific conditions that are necessary to God’s providing humanity with this ideal environment.
God is not blameworthy for having created such a world, since He had a morally justifiable reason for having done so. Human existence on Earth was not intended to be permanent. Rather, the Creator intended life on Earth to serve as a temporary interval of time for the development of one’s spirit. Life on Earth is a probationary period in which people are given the opportunity to attend to their spiritual condition as it relates to God’s will for living. Natural disasters provide people with conclusive evidence that life on Earth is brief and uncertain (see Warren, 1972; Thompson, 1997). In the face of physical calamities, we humans would do well to contemplate our own fragility and finitude, and be driven to look beyond ourselves to a higher Power Who can inform us as to our raison d’etre—our reason for existing.

Punishment for Sin

But does God ever harness natural phenomena—the forces of nature—as tools of chastisement to punish people for their sins? The Bible answers strongly in the affirmative (see Miller, 2005). Indeed, God did so many times in Bible history. He scourged Egypt with plagues of frogs, lice, flies, animal disease, boils, hail, and locusts (Exodus 8-10). He used seismic activity against Korah and his followers (Numbers 16:31-33; cf. Psalm 106:17). He punished the grumbling Israelites with venomous snakes (Numbers 21:6). He punished Ahab and idolatrous Israel with drought for three and a half years (1 Kings 17:1; Luke 4:25; James 5:17). He sent a hurricane-like wind upon the sea, causing Jonah and his shipmates to fear the destruction of the ship (Jonah 1:4ff.). Nahum announced God’s fury against the Assyrian Empire with the words: “The mountains quake before Him, the hills melt, and the earth heaves at His presence, yes, the world and all who dwell in it. Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him” (1:5-6). Job acknowledged: “He removes the mountains, and they do not know when He overturns them in His anger; He shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble” (9:5-6; cf. Isaiah 2:19-21). The psalmist invites: “Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has made desolations in the earth” (46:8). On the occasion of the giving of the Decalogue, “[t]he earth shook.... Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel” (Psalm 68:8; cf. Exodus 19:18). Indeed, “[i]n His hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; and His hands formed the dry land” (Psalm 95:4-5).
The prophet Joel interpreted a devastating locust plague as indicative of divine disfavor, punishment for sin, and motivation to repent: “It shall come as destruction from the Almighty.” (1:15). He repeatedly referred to the “day of the LORD” (1:15; 2:1,11,31; 3:14) as a point in time when God intervenes in the affairs of men in human history, harnessing the forces of nature, or even foreign armies, to take vengeance on those who need chastisement to bring them to their spiritual senses. In the context of Joel, the nation deserved the “day of the LORD” because of the rampant immorality and wickedness. The natural disaster she suffered was designed to elicit repentance, alter her behavior, and redirect her to spiritual reality.
The great prophet Amos also described the “day of the LORD” (5:18,20) in terms of physical catastrophe, including famine, drought, blight, and locusts (4:6-11; cf. 7:1). He added this chilling warning: “Prepare to meet your God!” (4:12). He declared that the God that formed and controls the constellations in the Universe, and can bring flood upon the land is the same God that “rains ruin upon the strong, so that fury comes upon the fortress”(5:9): “The LORD is His name” (vs. 8). The book of Revelation uses figurative, apocalyptic language to allude to this same feature of God’s activity in history—the use of natural phenomena as tools of chastisement (6:5-17; 8:7-12; cf. Summers, 1951, pp. 143-145,155ff.).
A word of caution: The Bible does not claim to provide humans with complete explanations regarding the forces operating within the physical Universe. But it does offer some clarification regarding natural calamities, shedding light on some of the reasons for phenomena like famines, earthquakes, and floods. It does not claim to offer every reason, and it certainly does not claim to explain every occurrence of a natural calamity. While one occurrence may be the direct result of God’s punitive punishment on people due to their wickedness, another such catastrophe may have no such specific intention. Rather, it could be the result of the entrance of sin into the world, or it may simply be the result of the coincidental, God-ordained physical forces necessary to the operation of the Universe (e.g., Matthew 6:45).
In any case, we are speaking specifically about natural phenomena—features of the created order that operate according to set laws throughout history. Such phenomena are to be distinguished from supernatural occurrences where God has stepped in and suspended the laws of nature that He, Himself, set into motion (e.g., Genesis 19:24; Exodus 7:20; Leviticus 10:2; 1 Kings 18:38). The only way to know when a natural disaster is due specifically to divine retribution is if an inspired prophet sent by God so interprets the event. No such prophets exist today (Miller, 2003a; Miller, 2003b). Nevertheless, we cannot assume that since the age of miracles has passed that God no longer intervenes in history via natural occurrences. God still rules in the kingdoms of men (Daniel 4:17), and it is still true that “[t]he effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16; cf. 1 Kings 18:41-45; McGarvey 1894, pp. 320 ff.). He still controls the forces of nature, “for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Indeed, even now, it is Jesus Who is “upholding all things by the word of His power,” and “in Him all things consist” (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17). “[E]ven the winds and the sea obey Him” (Matthew 8:27). “O LORD God of hosts, Who is mighty like You, O LORD?.... You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, You still them” (Psalm 89:8-9). God declared to Isaiah: “Indeed with My rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness; their fish stink because there is no water, and die of thirst” (Isaiah 50:2). God articulated through Jeremiah that a nation’s iniquities cause it to forfeit the benevolent aspects of the natural order (5:22-25).
There is every reason to believe that God still uses natural calamities as formative influences in the world. While punishment is certainly a proper purpose to such discipline, the fact is that God simply wants defiant people to repent. He gets a nation’s attention by such means to cause the people to reflect upon their life and behavior. He benevolently subjects them to hardship and calamity in this life to prepare them for the life to come. The physical suffering that anyone endures in this life is not worthy to be compared with the eternal punishment awaiting those who leave this life in a state of rebellion against God (cf. Romans 8:18).
Sadly, few throughout history get the message. Most are like those to whom God sent His Old Testament prophets. When the prophet Hosea announced the judgments of God against the people as divine chastisement, he regretfully had to report: “But they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek Him for all this” (Hosea 7:10). When God sent enemies against Israel, Isaiah bemoaned: “For the people do not turn to Him who strikes them, nor do they seek the LORD of hosts” (9:13). Ezekiel described his contemporaries as “a rebellious nation.... For they are impudent and stubborn children” (2:3-4). Jeremiah said, “They are all stubborn rebels, walking as slanderers. They are bronze and iron; they are all corrupters” (6:28)—which brings us to America’s own spiritual condition. If America continues down its present pathway of immorality and defiant rejection of biblical principles, can America expect to suffer increasing instances of natural calamities?


The Founders of the American Republic agreed with the Bible on this point. They believed that while personal sin is addressed by God in eternity at the Judgment, national sins are punished in time, in the course of history. The “Father of our country,” George Washington, articulated this principle in his first inaugural address on Thursday, April 30, 1789:
[T]here is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained (emp. added).
Washington believed that God’s treatment of America depended on America’s recognition of His moral and spiritual principles in her political activities. Disregarding Christian principles automatically means that a nation will forfeit the physical blessings available through God’s providential dealings.
Considered “The Father of the American Revolution,” Samuel Adams wrote a letter from Philadelphia to a friend, two months before the Declaration of Independence, on April 30, 1776, stating: “Revelation assures us that ‘Righteousness exalteth a Nation’—Communities are dealt with in this World by the wise and just Ruler of the Universe. He rewards or punishes them according to their general Character” (2006, p. 212, emp. added). After a passionate admonition to his fellow delegates at the Constitutional Convention to seek the favor and guidance of God in their deliberations, recognizing His providential kindness toward them, Benjamin Franklin insisted:
We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest (see Farrand, 1911, 1:451-452, emp. added).
The “Father of the Bill of Rights,” George Mason, insisted to his fellow constitutional delegates: “Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a Country. As nations can not be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes & effects providence punishes national sins, by national calamities” (see Farrand, 2:370, emp. added). Delegate Luther Martin expressed the same viewpoint:
[I]t ought to be considered that national crimes can only be, and frequently are punished in this world, by national punishments; and that the continuance of the slave-trade, and thus giving it a national sanction and encouragement, ought to be considered as justly exposing us to the displeasure and vengeance of Him, who is equally Lord of all, and who views with equal eye the poor African slave and his American master (see Farrand, 3:211, emp. added).
Also speaking in the context of slavery, Thomas Jefferson warned: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that His justice cannot sleep forever.... The almighty has no attribute which can take sides with us in such a contest” (1832, Query 18, pp. 170-171, emp. added).
The Founders went so far as to claim that the Revolutionary War itself was, to some extent, a punishment from God for the sins of the people. For example, on March 7, 1778, the Continental Congress issued a proclamation to the nation in which they alluded to “the evident tokens of his Displeasure” in permitting “the continuation of a cruel and desolating WAR in our land” (Journals of the..., 10:229). Their stated solution was for all Americans “to acknowledge his righteous Government, confess and forsake their evil Ways, and implore his Mercy” (10:229). On March 20, 1779, the Congress issued a similar proclamation, which commenced: “Whereas, in just Punishment of our manifold Transgressions, it hath pleased the Supreme Disposer of all Events to visit these United States with a calamitous War” (Journals of the..., 13:343, emp. added). Again, the solution was for the citizenry to be “sufficiently awakened to a Sense of their Guilt” and “taught to amend their Lives and turn from their Sins, that so he might turn from his Wrath” (13:343). The Congress felt the same way in March of 1780 when they stated to the nation: “It having pleased the righteous Governor of the World, for the punishment of our manifold offences, to permit the sword of war still to harass our country, it becomes us to endeavour, by humbling ourselves before him, and turning from every evil way, to avert his anger and obtain his favour and blessing” (Journals of the..., 16:252-253, emp. added). A year later, the Congress again called upon the nation to “confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and by sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and through the merits of our blessed Saviour, obtain pardon and forgiveness” (Journals of the..., 19:285, emp. added).
Both the Bible and the Founders of the American Republic stated unequivocally that God can and will allow natural calamities to be inflicted against peoples who commit iniquity and allow rampant immorality to prevail in society. Is it even remotely possible that Haiti is experiencing this phenomenon?


Make no mistake: “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son” (Amos 7:14), and, as stated earlier, have no inspired link to deity by which to declare that Haiti is being punished for sin. No one should “speak falsely for God” (Job 13:7). Indeed, Pat Robertson misspoke when he boldly declared his assessment of the situation (Condon, 2010). Nevertheless, the evidence demonstrates that the country is particularly plagued by religious and moral factors among its population that are counterproductive to a healthy relationship with the God of the Universe. Haiti is notorious for its widespread practice of the false religion of voodoo (Guynup, 2004). Despite a heavy historical influence of Catholicism by way of the French colonials, “voodoo may be considered the country’s national religion. The majority of Haitians believe in and practice at least some aspects of voodoo” (Haggerty, 1989). What’s more, the country suffers from the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS outside of the African continent (Craythorne, 2006, p. 102). A 1989 Library of Congress study found that “[h]omosexual activity has contributed to the spread of AIDS in Haiti. AIDS transmission was also related to female and male prostitution. At least 50 percent of the female prostitutes in the capital city’s main prostitution center were believed to be infected with HIV” (Haggerty). In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international team of researchers concluded that the initial introduction of the aids virus into America came via Haiti: “HIV went directly from Africa to Haiti, then spread to the United States and much of the rest of the world beginning around 1969” (Avasthi, 2007; Gilbert, et al., 2007, 104[47]:18566-18570; cf. Owen, 2006). Meanwhile in Haiti, “[t]he average age for young people to begin sexual relations is 12, with many young boys and girls starting to have sex as early as eight years old” (Caistor, 2003).
In an article titled “Haiti’s Avoidable Death Toll,” George Mason University’s Distinguished Professor of Economics, Walter Williams, insists that the high death toll and national inability to address domestic calamity is due to Haiti’s “self-inflicted poverty”—the result of Marxist inspired “restrictions on economic liberty” (2010). Several of these restrictions are rooted in moral and spiritual degradation. Bribery and other forms of corruption are a way of life for Haitians. Indeed, Haiti has a worldwide reputation for corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) measures the perceived level of public-sector corruption in 180 countries and territories around the world. This index is a synthesis survey based on 13 different expert and business surveys. Haiti has been listed in the top 10 most corrupt nations for several years, taking the top spot in 2006, the number four spot in 2007 and 2008, and ranking 168 out of 180 in 2009 just behind Iran and eight other Muslim countries (“Corruption Perceptions...,” 2009). Williams observes:
Crime and lawlessness are rampant in Haiti. The U.S. Department of State website, long before the earthquake, warned, “There are no ‘safe’ areas in Haiti.... Kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed robberies, home break-ins and car-jacking are common in Haiti.” The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warns its citizens that, “The level of crime in Haiti is very high and the police have little ability to enforce laws. Local authorities often have limited or no capacity to provide assistance, even if you are a victim of a serious crime.” Crime anywhere is a prohibitive tax on economic development and the poorest people are its primary victims (2010; cf. “Protest Demonstration...,” 2005; “Violent Demonstration...,” 2009; “Travel Advice...,” 2010).
While it is tenuous for ignorant, limited man to attempt an overall assessment of a nation’s spiritual condition, sufficient evidence exists to conclude that the moral and religious conditions of Haiti are significantly impaired and contrary to God’s Word. Since, in the words of the Father of our country, “the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on [such] a nation,” what Haiti needs in addition to material aid—and far more desperately—is instruction in the moral and spiritual principles of the New Testament.


Though politically incorrect, it is high time for the peoples of the world, from Muslim nations, Hindu nations, communistic/Marxist/socialist nations, to animistic, superstitious nations like Haiti, who openly acknowledge and envy America’s unprecedented wealth and progress (to the point that many are dying to get here), to likewise understand that America owes her incredible standing solely to the God of the Bible. He has blessed America because her founding principles openly acknowledged the one true God and sought to promote His religion and the moral principles of that religion (Miller, 2008; Miller, 2009). With widespread indications of the decline of Christianity mounting in America, Americans would do well to face reality: the corruption, immorality, and barbaric conditions that characterize many nations of the world will inevitably transform our own society into a nightmarish, immoral, social cesspool.
Do we really think that God will make an exception and exempt America from its own collection of natural calamities? Historical evidence exists to indicate that in 1811-1812, the town of New Madrid, Missouri was notoriously wicked:
Though it was prosperous as a business village and trading post, its inhabitants were noted for their impiety. All the worst elements of a frontier river town were to be found here in this place.... History says but little about the town prior to the earthquake, and that little is not to its credit. It is spoken of as the favorite resort of boatmen, who spent “their Sabbaths in drinking, gambling, and fighting.” Priest and preacher were unheard, or if they were listened to at all, it was with the utmost indifference (Musick, 1897, p. 143, emp. added).
San Francisco at the turn of the century was also widely recognized as a wicked city. The Barbary Coast was rampant with debauchery and every imaginable sexual sin from prostitution to homosexuality (cf. Boyd, 2003; Asbury, 1933). [NOTE: Another striking example is the report of history that at the time Pompey was obliterated by the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79, its citizens were notorious for their rampant immorality (e.g., Connie Gill, 2005; N.S. Gill, 2005).]
Christians understand that no matter how catastrophic, tragic, or disastrous an event may be in this world, it fits into the overall framework of soul-making—preparation for one’s departure from life into eternity. Likewise, the Christian knows that, although the great pain and suffering caused by natural disasters may be unpleasant, and may test one’s mettle, nevertheless, such suffering is neither dysteleological (purposeless) nor intrinsically evil. Nor is it a reflection on the existence of an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God. The only intrinsic evil is violation of God’s will, i.e., sin (1 John 3:4). What is required of all accountable persons is obedience to God’s revealed Word—even amid pain, suffering, sickness, disease, death, and, yes, earthquakes.


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Dying Before Baptism? by Kyle Butt, M.Div.


Dying Before Baptism?

by  Kyle Butt, M.Div.

The New Testament clearly states that water baptism is necessary for salvation (see Lyons and Butt, 2004). But one of the most frequently used arguments against the necessity of baptism for salvation is the idea that “God would not do that.” The question is asked, “What if a sincere believing person is on his way to be baptized and dies right before he gets to the water? Are you telling me that God would send that person to hell just because he did not make it to the water?” At first glance, this argument may seem legitimate. Upon further investigation, however, it is easy to see that it is simply a play on emotions, and in no way disproves the necessity of baptism for salvation.
The “God-would-not-do-that” argument can be used against almost any commandment in the Bible. For instance, the Bible repeatedly says that a person must believe that Jesus is the Son of God (Romans 10:11; John 8:24; et al.). Suppose, then, that a Christian had just begun to tell the story of Jesus to an older gentleman, when suddenly that gentleman has a massive heart attack and dies without getting to hear the rest of the story, and thus did not have the opportunity to believe. Should we, therefore, do away with the biblical command to believe in Jesus Christ, simply because a theoretical scenario can be concocted in which a potential convert dies moments before his compliance? To ask is to answer. Nor, with a wave of the hand, can we do away with the biblical command to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).
Consider also the fact that the Bible plainly states that God wants all people to be saved. In 2 Peter 3:9, the inspired apostle wrote: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel was instructed by God to convey this message to the Israelites on God’s behalf: “‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live’” (Ezekiel 33:11). The apostle Paul told the young preacher Timothy that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). Therefore, if a person truly and honestly wants to become a Christian by being baptized for the forgiveness of his sins as God commanded, then God (Who wants all to be saved and is watchful of each individual human) certainly would provide an opportunity for that person to obey His commandment to be baptized. If no sparrow falls to the ground apart from God’s knowledge (Matthew 10:29), and God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), then we can be sure that His providential care will ensure that each person is given a fair opportunity to respond to His commands.


Lyons, Eric and Kyle Butt (2004), “Taking Possession of What God Gives: A Case Study in Salvation,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2546.

Discovering the Truth About “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” by Dewayne Bryant, M.A.


Discovering the Truth About “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”

by  Dewayne Bryant, M.A.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was written by one of A.P.’s auxiliary staff scientists. Bryant holds two Masters degrees, and is enrolled in Masters study in Ancient Near Eastern Archaeology and Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, as well as doctoral studies at Regions University. He has participated in an archaeological dig at Tell El-Borg in Egypt and holds professional membership in both the American Schools of Oriental Research and the Society of Biblical Literature.]
Reinventing the Son of God is big business. Every year around Easter, Christians can expect to see the latest challenge to the historical picture of Jesus in magazines like TIME and Newsweek. For producers with bigger budgets, movies and television specials provide slick visuals to illustrate these new “truths.” There has been a recent flurry of these productions, ranging from popular novels to announcements about lost gospels, that allegedly will revolutionize how we understand the New Testament. For anyone with an interest in the sensational, the most recent addition to the growing host of heresy does not disappoint.
A new documentary titled The Lost Tomb of Jesus aired on the Discovery Channel on March 4, 2007. At the helm were award-winning filmmakers James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici. The documentary promised to shed new light on Jesus through the earliest artifacts connected to the rise of Christianity. They claimed to take us to the tomb of Christ Himself, showing that He was a historic figure in spite of those who would claim Him to be nothing more than a myth. Are they doing Christians a favor, or are they doing more harm than good?


In the modern Jerusalem suburb of Talpiyot, a construction crew uncovered an ancient tomb while digging for a new apartment complex in 1980. Archaeologists immediately were called in to document the find in a salvage operation, lasting from March 28 to April 14 of that year (Kloner, 1996, 29:22). The find was a rock-cut tomb with 10 limestone ossuaries (bone boxes), six of which bore inscriptions identifying the occupants as Jesus, Joseph, Matthew, Simeon, and two Marys. The names were common ones to the period, so the archaeologists thought nothing of them. No special significance was attached to the tomb. The excavators finished their work, the construction resumed, and the ossuaries were placed in storage. Bone fragments found inside the ossuaries were buried in a cemetery according to Orthodox Jewish custom. The tomb soon lay buried, hidden by modern development.
Twenty-three years later, filmmaker Jacobovici began working on a documentary on the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus. He observed that there were several ossuaries with familiar names, including Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. Could this be the holy family of the New Testament? He explored the work of the original excavators and found the evidence too tantalizing to pass up. After talking with the archaeologists who worked on the dig and writing a proposal, his work began. The fruit of his labor is the new documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which features the hidden tomb that supposedly contained the remains of Christ.
In order to determine the accuracy of the theory presented in the documentary, we first must look at the important idea of convergence. When the historical, archaeological, and biblical evidence is interpreted and weighed, we expect there to be harmony. The three will converge, or come together. There may be cases where evidence from one area might be lacking, but we do not expect the evidence to be in conflict without adequate explanation. This is a key factor in determining whether Jacobovici’s conclusions are right or wrong.

Tales of Tombs and Ossuaries

A typical Palestinian rock-cut tomb
Rock-cut tombs were used in antiquity at least as early as the eighth century B.C. They are artificial underground caves in the bedrock slopes of Jerusalem, nearly always located outside the city walls (Magness, 2005, 124[1]:122-123). They were choice burial sites for those wealthy enough to afford them, while those with less financial means settled for trench graves, similar to those used in modern cemeteries. Families used rock-cut tombs over several generations, a practice which is reflected in biblical phrases such as “he slept and was gathered to his fathers” (2 Chronicles 34:28). They usually appear only in periods where the Jewish people had a measure of political independence.

In Jewish tombs, there were two burials involved for a single individual. In the initial or primary burial, the body would be placed on a loculus or kokh (rectangular burial niche) for the body to decay. About a year later, the bones would be gathered together for a secondary burial, usually in a limestone ossuary (bone box). Ossuaries began to appear during the reign of Herod the Great, dateable perhaps to 20-15 B.C. (Rahmani, 1994, p. 21). Their use continued at least until the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, but may have extended through the early second century.

Archaelogical Evidence

One of the primary problems with connecting the Talpiyot tomb with Jesus Christ involves the expense of owning such a tomb in antiquity. Even modest tombs were outside the price range of most people. Further complicating the matter is the fact that Jesus and His family never are portrayed as wealthy enough to afford a rock-cut tomb. If Joseph died early, as suggested by some who note his absence in Jesus’ adult life, an additional financial burden would have been placed on the family, further decreasing their already minuscule chances of owning a tomb.
On the Biblical Archaeology Society Web site, scholar James Tabor (who supports the idea that the Talpiyot tomb could be that of Jesus) has objected to comments about the default burial of Jesus being in a trench grave along with others who were too poor to own a rock-cut tomb. He argues that it seems only natural that a popular religious leader like Jesus would be given an honorable burial by His devoted followers (Tabor, 2007). However, Rahmani’s Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries notes that the name of Jesus is carved clumsily on the ossuary (labeled as no. 701). If this is the tomb of a popular religious figure, why give Him a simple, unadorned ossuary with only His name shoddily scrawled on the outside? Tabor’s objection clearly does not fit the evidence.
Another problem is that Jesus and his family did not come from Jerusalem. Joseph and Mary originally were from Bethlehem, and settled in Nazareth. While ossuaries frequently have the names of a person’s father or mother, ancient sources also typically make a distinction concerning the place of a person’s origin, as in the cases of Simon of Cyrene and Saul of Tarsus. Ossuaries in Jerusalem have been found that indicate a person’s place of origin when they were not originally from that city. If the tomb were truly that of Jesus Christ, we would expect Him to be identified on the ossuary as “Jesus of Nazareth” rather than “Jesus son of Joseph.” No one in the Talpiyot tomb is identified by place of origin. This evidence strongly suggests that the people buried in the tomb were natives of Jerusalem.
Additional evidence concerning the names on the ossuaries found in the Talpiyot tomb complicates the conclusions drawn by the documentary. The ossuary of the woman identified as Mary Magdalene is problematic, and conflicts with other evidence. First, if the ossuary belonged to Mary, we would expect her to be identified as “Mary of Migdal,” as she is in the New Testament (Luke 8:2).
Second, scholars are divided on how to translate the wording of MARIAMENOU MARA (the name appearing on one of the ossuaries), whether it gives two names for the same woman (“Mary, who is called Mara”) or if it indicates the names of two women—Mary and Martha—meaning that two people were buried in the same ossuary, which was not unknown (there are cases of as many as five people buried in a single ossuary). Stephen Pfann’s piece on the Society of Biblical Literature homepage disputes the reading used by the documentary, arguing that the inscription should be read MARIAME KAI MARA (Pfann, 2007). In this case, the inscription would refer to two women, Mariam and Martha. Most scholars now appear to be accepting Pfann’s corrected reading of the ossuary’s inscription, concluding that the remains of two individuals shared this ossuary.
An additional problem with “Mary Magdalene’s” ossuary is that the inscription is in Greek. According to the documentary, Mary spoke Greek and helped her brother Philip in evangelistic work. In reality, Mary Magdalene came from Migdal, a small Jewish fishing village. Usually in the first century, only upper class Jews spoke Greek. The average Jew would have spoken Aramaic. So why is her ossuary inscription written in Greek? This evidence suggests a Jerusalemite woman named Mary who was from the upper classes, and whose family could afford to bury her in a rock-cut tomb.
The program claims that “Mara” in the inscription means “teacher,” a conclusion with which no reputable scholar agrees. The word is actually a shortened form of the name “Martha.” It is suggested that Francois Bovon, Frothingham professor of the history of religion at Harvard Divinity School, has equated Mariamne with Mary Magdalene (Desmond, 2000). Bovon has denied this claim, however, in a letter sent to the Society of Biblical Literature in which he says the “reconstructions of Jesus’ marriage with Mary Magdalene and the birth of a child belong for me to science fiction” (Bovon, 2007).
One final concern regarding the archaeological evidence: a primary assumption of the documentary is that the James ossuary comes from the same tomb in Talpiyot. The program claims that the 10th ossuary went missing during the original work on the tomb. To rebut this claim, Israeli archaeologist Joseph Zias has posted an excellent “viewer’s guide” to understanding the documentary on his Web site (www.joezias.com). Zias shows that the FBI proved the James ossuary was photographed in the 1970’s because of a criminal investigation against Oded Golan, the ossuary’s current owner (Zias, 2007). If the James ossuary was already in Golan’s possession when the tomb was discovered, it could not be the tenth “missing” ossuary. Zias also shows that he had indeed accounted for the tenth ossuary when the original work was done, and that it had no inscription.

Scientific Evidence

People in the Western world are trained to think that scientific evidence assures the quality of any product. Advertisers make sure the public knows that their work has been “scientifically proven.” This gives the consumer the idea that independent, objective research has gone into its production. The commercials for The Lost Tomb of Jesus did much the same in advertisements leading up to the premiere of the documentary.
The first major area of evidence concerns the DNA testing performed on two of the ossuaries, those of Jesus and Mary. Mitochondrial DNA was tested by the Paleo-DNA Laboratory at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario (Jacobovici and Pellegrino, 2007, pp. 167-174). It was determined that the two individuals in this tomb were not related to each other. Since this was a family tomb, the documentary suggests, the two must have been husband and wife. But the only thing this test proves is that Jesus and Mary did not have the same mother. In addition, there are a number of other possibilities in terms of family relations. Mary could have been Jesus’ daughter, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law through marriage to a brother, sister-in-law from a previous marriage of his father, mother-in-law from a subsequent marriage of his father, or paternal cousins, with more distant relations remaining as further possibilities. To leap to the conclusion that the two must have been married to one another is problematic and prejudicial, to say the least.
Exterior view of a Jewish rock-cut tomb
In addition to the DNA evidence, further proof from statistics is supposed to support the claim that this is the tomb of Jesus. Andrey Feuerverger of the University of Toronto assembled the statistical evidence, shown on the Discovery Channel Web site, which supposedly proves the tomb to be that of Jesus (2007). Unfortunately, the names represented on the ossuaries are extremely common. In his book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Richard Bauckman indicates that the male names in the tomb are among the most popular, with Simon ranking first, Joseph second, Judah fourth, and Jesus sixth, with Mary being the most common female name (Bauckman, 2006, p. 70). This is why archaeologists initially thought nothing of the tomb when it was discovered. While the names corresponded to those of Jesus’ family in the gospel records, they were also the most common names in the first century. The equivalent today would be trying to find a modern cemetery that did not have anyone named Smith or Jones. Taking this evidence into account, the documentary claims that while the individual names are common, the cluster of names is not. After all, how many families in the first century could have people named Joseph, Jesus, and Mary?
While the argument initially sounds convincing, a number of problems persist with the statistics presented on the Discovery Channel Web site. In a letter to his colleagues posted on the Internet, Feuerverger admits that he made a number of assumptions before he performed his calculations. First, he assumed that the Joseph (Yose) of the ossuary and the Joseph, father of Jesus, are two different people—an unprovable assumption. He also assumed that the second Mary refers to Mary Magdalene, forcing a virtually statistical certainty that this is the tomb of Jesus. But this interpretation is impossible, as discussed earlier. A third assumption is that the presence of unknown people, such as Matthew and Judah, do not invalidate the statistical evidence, though that assumption goes against the historical evidence (Feuerverger, 2007).
The statistical evidence is invalid because the names on the ossuaries do not match the evidence for several reasons. First, there are two persons for whom the historical evidence does not account (Matthew and Judah). Furthermore, there are other family members that are missing, including His brothers James and Jude, and sisters Salome and Mary (who are named only in later tradition; cf. Mark 6:3). The documentary contends that Yose (Joseph) is not the father of Jesus. This contention drives the statistical probability higher, yet the documentary never addresses the fact that the Yose in the ossuary and the father of Jesus could have been the same person. Admittedly, this is not certain, but there is no good reason why the father of this Jesus could not have gone by Yose. Actually, a facsimile of the Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries presented on the Discovery Channel Web site shows that Rahmani’s opinion was that Yose very well could be the father of the Jesus in this tomb. Finally, attributing the ossuary to Mary Magdalene further inflates the statistics, though no evidence exists to connect the name on the ossuary to her. It also assumes that the Matthew of the ossuary is a relative of Mary, but not her son, despite a lack of any evidence to support that possibility.
The final piece of scientific evidence involves the use of “patina fingerprinting.” Patina is a thin layer of buildup on the surface of an artifact due to chemical reaction with the environment. According to the program, the makeup of the patina holds clues about the tomb. Though touted as an important piece of information in the documentary, it is completely inadmissible as evidence. The use of the term “fingerprinting” is a misleading description, since it gives the viewer the impression that the science behind the process is exact. The truth is, the procedure is not exact, nor would we expect it to be. The patina evidence is rigged from the start. The patinas from ossuaries discovered in other environments are tested and shown to be different from the ossuaries in the Talpiyot tomb. Those in the Talpiyot tomb were tested and shown to be relatively similar. But these conclusions are to be expected. The real test is whether ossuaries from tombs similar to the Talpiyot tomb are different, which would strengthen Jacobovici’s case. But there is no reason to expect substantial differences in patina evidence from similar environments. No way exists to connect a single ossuary with a specific tomb. The use of this evidence is intellectually dishonest.

Historical Evidence

While the evidence from archaeology and science—the main underpinnings of the documentary’s premise—has been shown to be lacking, the program faces further difficulties in terms of the historical evidence. The basis for the documentary is drawn in part from later, extra-biblical traditions. It is strange, though perhaps to be expected, that the documentary draws on sources centuries later than the New Testament gospel accounts—further evidence of the utter lack of objectivity in the documentary. Rather than using the gospel records of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (which have demonstrated their historical reliability and are accepted even by most non-believing scholars—see Lyons and Miller, 2004, 24[6]:57-63), the documentary is guided by pseudepigraphical works of highly dubious historical value.
The major problem is that no evidence exists to suggest that Jesus had a wife and child. There is no hint Jesus ever was married (Lyons, 2006). While archaeology occasionally fills in gaps left out by historical evidence, this fact would not have gone unmentioned in the earliest sources. The marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene is found nowhere in the ancient evidence.
The statistical probability of the Talpiyot tomb being that of Jesus hangs on Mariamne and Mary Magdalene being one and the same. Yet no early evidence connects the two. The only connection available comes from the Acts of Philip, an uncertain and widely disputed text, whose earliest surviving copy is from the 14th century, though possibly dated to the fourth. The text not only fails conclusively to connect Mariamne with Mary Magdalene, it has a few other discrediting features—including talking animals. Speaking from the historian’s perspective, it is grossly irresponsible to dismiss the best sources and use disputed evidence to support an already-drawn conclusion.

Response of the Early Church

Finally, we must examine the response of early believers to Jesus. In the gospel accounts, after the crucifixion of Christ, the disciples are depicted as a band of disillusioned idealists. They thought their Messiah was dead and gone, buried in a tomb, when He was supposed to save the world. Despite their initial disenchantment, they soon transformed into powerful preachers bent on evangelizing the Mediterranean world. Going on missions that put them directly in harm’s way (cf. Acts 8:1-3; 2 Corinthians 11:23-27), they defied worldly authorities for the cause of Christ. Why the turnaround?
Being a Christian did not bode well for one’s health. History records that all of the apostles but one were martyred. So was James, the brother of Jesus. Even the average Christian at the time could expect to be executed if discovered by the Roman authorities. Of all the religious choices in the first century, why choose the one with the shortest life expectancy? It is hard to believe that such a religion would be the chosen course of people who had put Jesus’ body in the tomb, then later placed His bones in an ossuary. They would have been reminded of the lie every time the next family member was buried, at the very time people were preaching His resurrection. The only explanation for this complete inability to face reality would be insanity.
We are at a loss to find any other explanation for the dramatic turnaround of some of the fiercest defenders of the faith in the early church. There was tension in the family of Jesus, which would have included His brothers James and Jude (Mark 3:31-34). Paul actively persecuted the church (Acts 8:3). It is difficult—if not impossible—to explain such a dramatic reversal of men who were originally skeptics and even enemies of Christ.
In early church history, absolutely no awareness of this family tomb is indicated. During the reign of Constantine the Great, traditional sites of New Testament significance were marked. Churches were constructed over venerated locations, such as the purported burial place of Jesus and the site of his ascension to heaven, and even the site identified as Peter’s house. Before the reign of Constantine, Christians commemorated the final resting place of Jesus’ brother James. Yet, we are supposed to believe that the early church inexplicably lost track of the real tomb, in spite of the fact that it was used for at least four generations, until the end of the first century? Even so, the location never appears in Christian traditions or the writings of the early patristic writers. Christianity shows no awareness of the tomb from earliest times.
Both Roman and Jewish authorities were hostile to the early church. If the documentary is correct, all they had to do was point to the ossuary occupied by the body of Jesus to refute utterly the Christian claims of His resurrection. Yet there was no body to be produced. The fact that the body of Jesus was missing may well be reflected in a stone monument found in Nazareth in 1878, dubbed the “Nazareth Inscription Against Grave Robbing,” possibly dating to the time of the Roman emperor Claudius (A.D. 41-54). The inscription states that tomb-robbing is a capital crime under Roman law. Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in A.D. 49 because of problems generated by the budding Christian faith. He also may have issued this order because of problems concerning the claims that Jesus rose from the dead. This observation is uncertain, however, and so must be weighed with caution (Ferguson, 2003, pp. 586-587).
In the end, the tomb discovery has wide-ranging theological implications. Some of the most basic tenets of the Christian faith hang upon the bodily resurrection of Christ. While the producers of the documentary have downplayed this aspect, claiming that Jesus could have had a spiritual resurrection, their view is yet another instance of failure to understand properly the ancient evidence. The unusual aspect of Christ’s resurrection was not that it was physical—which is what the Jews anticipated. The unexpectedness of it is the fact that it occurred before the end of time. According to Jewish belief, resurrection was physical, as can be seen in the book of 2 Maccabees. In chapter 7, one of several individuals being tortured expresses the belief that his mutilated body parts would be restored in the resurrection. In 2 Maccabees 17:46, a man named Razis, who committed suicide by pulling out his own intestines, called upon God to restore them to him again, presumably in the afterlife. It has been suggested that the point of having an ossuary was to preserve the bones for a physical resurrection (Rahmani, 1981, 44[3]:175-176).

Responses from Experts

While critics of the Christian faith make fun of believers scurrying to do damage control in the wake of the documentary’s premiere, it is not Christians who are leading the charge against the film, but atheists and agnostics. The majority of the archaeologists who have denounced the program are unbelievers. Their ire is not because the program controverts the gospel message, but because it violates standards of scientific and academic professionalism (Thompson, 2007). The established process of presenting new discoveries and interpretations is by means of scholarly venues, such as papers presented at professional conferences and articles published in peer-reviewed journals. By announcing the findings of the program in the popular media, complete with a perfectly-timed news conference to coincide with the release of the book and documentary, Cameron and Jacobovici have stepped on the toes of scholars everywhere.
Amos Kloner, the archaeologist who initially worked on the excavation and later published his findings in 1996, argues that the documentary is nothing more than a commercial enterprise (Nissenbaum, 2007). Kloner’s colleague in the excavation, Joseph Zias (one-time curator of the well-known Rockefeller Museum in Israel), has lamented that the documentary makes a mockery of the archaeological profession (Zias, 2007). From their comments in the popular media, it is readily apparent that both men, who are reputable archaeologists—but unbelievers—are frustrated with the project.
Some of the harshest language about the documentary came immediately after its airing. In a scholarly program that discussed the validity of the documentary’s radical claims, The Lost Tomb of Jesus—A Critical Look, Ted Koppel interviewed two archaeologists. The first was William Dever, arguably the most recognized American archaeologist. The other was Jonathan Reed, a well-respected archaeologist who currently excavates at the site of ancient Sepphoris. Dever, who noted that he was not a believer and did not “have a dog in this fight,” labeled the program a “docu-drama.” Reed was even more hostile in his evaluation, denouncing the documentary as “archaeo-porn.” Reed’s evaluation of the evidence was that the theory is much like a chain made up of links, but one in which each link has a tremendous number of “ifs” that makes the final product difficult to accept.
It must be noted that Cameron and Jacobovici were unable to find archaeological experts to agree with their conclusions. While a few scholars have been sympathetic to the premise of the documentary, no one has endorsed it carte blanche. The vast majority of experts are frustrated, even angry, about it. In addition to the comments by Dever and Reed noted above, other archaeologists have expressed dismay and quickly moved to refute the thesis of the program. Jodi Magness, professor of archaeology at the University of North Carolina, has published articles on the Web sites of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Archaeological Institute of America exposing the shortcomings of the documentary (2007). Joseph Zias’ viewer’s guide posted on his Web site refutes nearly every claim made by the show, giving additional insight into what went into the program behind the scenes (2007). Tel Ilan, the scholar whose Lexicon of Jewish Names was used in providing the evidence for the statistical research presented in the program, has expressed outrage that her work has been connected to the documentary. The Web site of Scientific American has quotes from both Ilan and Magness expressing their anger and frustration (Mims, 2007). The verdict of the scholars? Professionals have given responses ranging from irritation to anger and disgust. Indeed, reaction of the experts is almost unanimously negative.


When one steps back from the documentary and looks to see if filmmakers handled the evidence properly, the result can be described only as pure disappointment. Rather than converging, the scientific, archaeological, and historical evidence are thrown into chaotic disarray. Evidence from one area is pitted against evidence from another. The best sources are dismissed, while disreputable sources are given an undeserved prominence in the conclusion of the program. Jacobovici has been unable to find any expert who will agree with him. The evidence is cherry-picked to create the appearance of the strongest possible case, but the end result is that the chain of evidence is weak at every link.
These artifacts have been known for 27 years, yet no one of scholarly repute has thought much of them until now. As vocal as critics of Christianity are, it is strange that this sleeping giant has lain undisturbed for nearly three decades. This is the kind of ammunition that the Bible’s detractors drool over, yet it never made a blip on the radar despite being published in 1996 and being featured on a BBC special the same year. Apparently, it takes a filmmaker to connect the dots on 2,000 year-old “evidence” that contradicts Christianity.
The Lost Tomb of Jesus has the potential to shake Christianity to its core, but the utter lack of good evidence means the documentary goes forth more with a whimper than a bang. Both Cameron and Jacobovici have admitted that neither is an archaeologist or scientist. They make it appear as if anyone with a budget and a film crew can do archaeology. This is painfully obvious at the end of the program, when Jacobovici goes to find the location of the tomb. He eventually discovers it and removes the concrete slab that seals it shut, essentially committing archaeological “breaking and entering.” Eventually, a representative from the Israel Antiquities Authority shows up to force the intruders to leave. Jacobovici demonstrates a flagrant disregard for proper procedure; the same may be said for the rest of his work.
In the wake of the program’s premiere, it appears that those involved are attempting to distance themselves from the project. In an e-mail to evangelical theologian James White posted on the Alpha and Omega Ministries Web site, Dr. Carney Matheson (the scientist responsible for DNA testing on the Jesus and Mary ossuaries) indicated that his responses in interviews with the filmmakers were manipulated (White, 2007). In a letter to his colleagues, Andrey Feuerverger, the statistical expert from the University of Toronto, emphasizes the assumptions that went into his calculations (2007). Even the Discovery Channel is refusing to promote the documentary, and now appears to be backing away from it. Despite drawing over four million viewers for the premiere, the channel has not celebrated its ratings. Subsequent re-airings of the show were cancelled. The channel scheduled the panel debate in The Lost Tomb of Jesus—A Critical Look quite abruptly, the conclusions of which cast serious doubt upon Jacobovici’s findings.
Do Christians have anything about which to worry? Not at all. The documentary’s conclusion is based on poor use of evidence and faulty statistics. The evidence in the documentary has been skewed, even manipulated—a charge brought by scholars who have no spiritual stake in the program. While the documentary makes for sensational television, it has no scholarly basis. Rather than the evidence achieving convergence, the documentary pits different aspects of the evidence against other aspects. The difficulties in reconciling the scientific, archaeological, and historical data in a meaningful way can be solved by one simple solution: this is not the tomb of Christ.
If we could travel back in time nearly 2,000 years to the territory now occupied by the suburb of Talpiyot in modern-day Jerusalem, we could observe Jesus’ funeral, with mourners dressed in first-century Jewish garb solemnly marching toward a rock-cut tomb. The family of the deceased would gather around sorrowfully to lay their beloved to rest in the cool, stone chamber. A year later, they would put his bones in a limestone ossuary. Our hearts would go out to the family—even though the deceased was not Jesus of Nazareth.


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