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Saturday, 30 March 2013

"Easter Again!" Says the Atheist.

Easter to me is more than seeing off the end of a cold, miserable winter, and seeing and feeling the weather become warmer, the days become longer, and the sun floating higher in the sky rather than briefly hugging the horizon. It is more than putting away the heavy coat, thick woollen jumpers and wellington boots for the next six months or so. Spring brings promises of warmer days, milder nights and the mental images of barbecues on the beach, swimming in the sea, hiking through glorious nature trails and being out in natural surroundings at its best, with the sun beating down as I pull out a bottle of sun lotion from the rucksack...

Except of course, that here in the UK, we Brits need to first head for the airport to fly south to some foreign country to experience all these things. At least this year, the UK winter is prolonged, it's bitterly cold as we are about to enter the month of April, and there are still snow flurries drifting through the air. And the only source of heat is the gas central heating system in our home, the thick duvet over our bed and, not forgetting, my weekly walk to the public sauna.

To the atheist, Easter originated from some ancient pagan festival celebrating the start of new life - the budding of tree leaves, the blossoming of flowers, the lambing season and the promise of fairer weather ahead - and attributed to some god or deity without the scientific knowledge that the two Poles of the Earth are lopsided by some 23 degrees, and as the planet swings around the Sun on its orbit, its tilt being the cause of the seasons.

Little wonder, that deprived of this scientific truth, the ancients worshipped some deity, with the Sun being reborn each day, seen by them as a deity riding across the sky in a fiery chariot.

Therefore what the ancients believed fuels the atheist's opinion of the ridiculous. But unfortunately, this applies to the Christian faith as well. As a matter of fact, the Christian faith has become the target for the sceptical arrows above all other faiths. Only today I was reading in the Daily Mail newspaper an essay about the decline of the Christian faith in Britain, based on Archbishop Carey's criticism of the Government's endorsement for our faith to be obliterated by the secularists, the latter being the end result of the writings of such authors as Simon Cowel and Richard Dawkins.

For me, of course, the Easter weekend is all about the crucifixion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, which makes Easter the most important holiday of the whole year, more so than Christmas (although the retail outlets may not agree on this.) I firmly believe in the historicity of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah who died on the cross to atone for our sins. Indeed, this is tremendous news - about the God whose love for us is strong enough to put his Son through such agonising suffering. Furthermore, God had given me the wonderful privilege to spend time in the Holy Land, a total of 23 weeks in five separate visits spanning 24 years, with my last visit together with my wife Alex in the year 2000.

Orthodox Jews ushering the Sabbath, 1993

Visiting the Holy Land had brought the Bible to life in such a way that one has to be there for the experience. Back in 1993 for example, and as a lone backpacker back then, I felt my emotions deepen as I stood just outside the forecourt of the Western Wall on a Friday evening, and watching Orthodox Jews celebrate the ushering in of their Sabbath, on a Friday evening during and after sunset, as with the Hebrew clock, the new day always begins at sunset. To me it was Friday, to them, Saturday. Then as I walked the next day through the deserted streets of West Jerusalem, the area of city occupied by Jews, not a car was to be seen, let alone buses and trucks, and every shop closed, along with offices and every private and Government institution. The whole city being empty of life certainly looked as if the whole of mankind was obliterated, leaving the planet's population of zero (or just one - myself.) It was an extraordinary experience, yet a testimony of the truthfulness of the Bible.  And yet, believe it or not, shortly after sunset Saturday, the whole city was alive and bustling like any Saturday afternoon here in the UK. It also seemed strange to me that Sunday was a normal working day right across Israel and the West Bank alike, yet still attended a church service while the shops were busy trading alongside.

Modern Israel is a testimony of the Bible's truthfulness. But as a Christian, I somehow feel apologetic to the atheist about my firm belief and conviction of the Bible. Richard Dawkins, for one, calls the God of the Old Testament the most savage and cruel, infanticidal bully he had ever known. It would be natural for any Christian to wonder how anyone could address God in such a manner. Yet how would I feel or re-act if Dawkins approached me, aware of his excellent knowledge of the Bible?

Take, for example, Numbers 16. From verses 27 through to 34, there is a narrative of the destruction of the families of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. It was these three men who sinned against the Lord although their wives and adult sons most likely co-operated and gave their blessings. But in verse 27 there were mentioned of "little ones" - most likely their grandchildren. Dawkins can argue that these were far too young to understand any implication of their transgression, yet perished screaming with the rest of the family by pure divine justice.

Another striking example of infanticide can be found in 1 Samuel 15:3 where God through Samuel, instructs King Saul to annihilate the whole of the Amalekite nation, not just adult men and women but also children, infants and sucklings too, along with all their livestock. Although King Saul did sin in sparing the livestock, he did obey the Lord in slaying every human being - including infants and sucklings.

Dawkins would have the perfect right to ask me where is the justification in such innocent infants to be slain. He would ask, how was it possible for such children to be slain for the sins their ancestors had committed against Israel? All they were concerned were for their mother's maternal love and comfort and to be breastfed. What does the suckling know about some transgression committed by some great grandfather? It is like saying that both my wife, daughters and myself be punished for the crimes of the Crusaders committed 900 years ago, who happen to be my Mum's ancestors. How would I answer Dawkins?

Then American atheist Sam Harris takes up the issue in questioning the validity of the Bible being God's word by calling into question the measurements of the huge circular bath, or sea, constructed by King Solomon to be set up by the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 7:23, 2 Chronicles 4:2.) Both narratives gives the measurements as ten cubits from rim to rim and thirty cubits in circumference. To Harris, this was the most crudest approximation for PI as it could have ever gotten, a strange thing for Almighty God to give through his inspired writer. Even the ancient Babylonians, a thousand years before Solomon, had a far more accurate approximation for PI than what the Bible allows, according to Harris.

Indeed, Harris would be right. Ten cubits times PI would give a result of over 31.4 cubits, nearly one and a half cubits more than what the Bible had given. But if you look carefully at the above pic, (I know it's rather small - there is little I can do about this) - you will notice a recess just below the rim. If this recess was four inches deep, then the diameter would have been eight inches less than the actual rim. Considering that the measurement would be made much easier if taken at the recess than from the rim itself, assuming that one cubit was 18 inches, this would have given a circumference a tad over 540 inches, or almost exactly thirty cubits. The Bible wasn't too far out after all.

I perhaps can give a plausible answer to Harris on the approximation of PI, but in the New Testament there are issues that would have thrown me back, even to this day. For example, Matthew quotes a prophecy which he says that it was from Jeremiah, but it is actually from Zechariah (Matthew 27:9-10 with Zechariah 11:12-13.) If Matthew wasn't able to check his resources properly, then how could this piece of Scripture be inspired of God? So Harris also asks. True enough, Jeremiah did buy a field (Jeremiah 32:6-9, also 19:1) which might have given enough inspiration for Matthew to quote, nevertheless, the actual quote was from Zechariah, not Jeremiah.

Then there seems to be a disagreement between Mark's and John's accounts on the timing of the crucifixion, an issue which bothers me to this day. Mark has Jesus being nailed on the cross by nine in the morning (15:25) while John has Jesus still before Pilate by noon (19:14) when Pilate cries out, "Behold your king!" According to John, by noon Jesus was still with Pilate, while Luke, like Mark, has Jesus not only on the cross by noon, but also the start of the darkness which was to last three hours, i.e. until three in the afternoon. Luke also recorded the meeting of Jesus with Herod. Even if Herod was in Jerusalem at the time, if Jesus was already on the cross by nine in the morning, then his meeting with Herod must have been brief indeed. Atheists by the likes of Dawkins would have a field day. Given credit that the Sanhedrin had delivered the Lord to Pilate as early as six in the morning, with an hour spent with Herod, both quite plausible, it does not solve the discrepancy between Mark's and John's accounts.

I'll be honest here: If Dawkins, Harris or for that matter, Cowel, confronts me with these issues, I must admit that I'll be at a loss on how to answer them. For me, these are serious issues on which my faith in Christ rests upon. In fact, the Bible is the sole authority on which the whole of the credibility of the Christian faith rests. Our salvation depends on it.

In my blog, Good Friday? I'm Confused, written two years ago, I dealt on when Jesus was crucified, and I advocated a Thursday Crucifixion, based on one sole verse, found in Matthew 12:40. It was Jesus' own saying, tying his duration of his burial to that of the prophet Jonas, who was in the belly of a whale for three days and three nights. At the Good Friday service, one of the Elders mentioned in his sermon that in two days time we would be back here (in the church building) to celebrate his resurrection. Two days from Friday. In Hebrew numeracy, there is no zero. Therefore Friday itself would have been counted as day one, Saturday as day two, and Sunday as day three, even if the day began at sundown Saturday, giving a complete first twelve hours of Sunday for Jesus to remain entombed. But even with no zero in Hebrew counting, this does not add up to three nights as well, as there would have been only Friday night and Saturday night (or Saturday morning and Sunday morning, both before sunrise.) A Thursday crucifixion makes better sense, but this does not only go against the grain of my church at Ascot, but the whole of Christian tradition. Another area where the atheist would have had his day.

But also in the Bible there is much to credit for its inspiration. Just read Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 along with Zechariah 9:9 and others. There was no way that these writers imagined the future from their standpoint without divine inspiration. Despite some difficult bits, the Bible is still trustworthy and the Holy Word of God. And because of it we can trust the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation and celebrate Easter as well.

Happy Easter to you all.


Any comments shedding light to the issues mentioned above would be most welcome. True, I have a modification system set up, but this is to keep out advertisers (e.g. Click on this link to see my great product etc.) and it's is not to discourage discussion. God bless.  


  1. Hi Frank,
    Happy Easter!

    Nice post. Regarding the 3 night, 2 days question, I found this perspective helpful:


  2. There are things, certainly in the Old Testament, that are hard to grapple with and hard to understand. God perhaps was hard with the Israelites then because the Israelites themselves at that time were a rough hewn, tough and tribalistic group of people, hardly pious and religious! They were warlike, vindictive, vengeful and filled with the knowledge, however perfectly perceived and understood, that they had a warring and tough God who was on their side. Perhaps God had to approach them in the way they would understand; would a loving gentle God have made much headway with the early tribe of Israel? I doubt it. Another great post Frank. I love the little stories of your travels, makes me itch to get my backpack and passport and head off somewhere exotic...!

  3. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts not our thoughts, and many of God's edicts are difficult for us to understand, such as that with the Amalekites. The atheists would be up in arms about that, yet be perfectly fine with the far greater (numerically) infanticide of abortion going on day after day, a sacrifice to the idol of Convenience and Choice. Science and history continue to substantiate, not disprove, wisdom in the Bible. One of my favorites is that circumcision was to be performed on the 8th day of life. Modern medical research has proven that clotting factors mature during the 7th day of life, so circumcision done at 8 days is safe, but any earlier would result in the infant bleeding out.
    Great post, Frank! Happy Easter to you.

  4. Scripture clearly supports a Thursday crucifixion rather than Friday, and not solely on a single verse. Much of the problem is that tradition has been equated with scripture, just as the Jews did, making God's word of no effect in the minds of people, as Jesus said.

    That Mark, writing from the testimony of witnesses should arrive at a different time than John who was there is not surprising, as we see in many court cases. No two witnesses remember exactly the same details. that they came to the same overall conclusion indicates that the record is true.

    If one is seeking to discredit almost any writing, one can find apparent flaws, it does not necessarily mean the person does not know what he is talking about, and frequently the concern about such details indicates that the attacker could not find substantive evidence and was forced to settle for such details.

  5. Having knowledge of the Bible, as Richard Dawkins may well have, does not guarantee knowledge of the God of Salvation. Until I was born of God's Holy Spirit I had no understanding at all of God's ways. There are many happenings in the Old Testament that my carnal mind would find unacceptable but which are spiritually discerned by the mind renewed in Christ, and which are used to bring about the change necessary in me. The sacrifice that was made for all of mankind to be reprieved from the curse and be reconciled back to God, having no more death and no more tears, shows to me the depth of God's love for His creation. The battles between Israel and their enemies in the Old Testament is a simile of the spiritual battles that God's church, Spiritual Israel, will go through. To the carnal mind God is an historical, fearsome God. To the mind of Christ He is an ever living,ever loving, forgiving Father. God bless you this Easter.