(Updated) About the supposed religious evolution / Περί της υποτιθέμενης θρησκευτικής εξέλιξης

The idolatrous and polytheistic universe described by Homer and Hesiod was not the original world-picture of humankind. Nevertheless, this is an impression often gained from books on science and philosophy (including The Grand Design) that start with the ancient Greeks and rightly emphasize the importance of the de-deification of the universe, yet singularly fail to point out that the Hebrews had vigorously protested against idolatrous interpretations of the universe long before the time of the Greeks. This obscures the fact that polytheism arguably constitutes a perversion of an original belief in the One Creator God. It was this perversion that needed to be corrected, by recovering belief in the Creator and not by jettisoning it. The same is true today.

John Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway? (kindle)

***

Yet in a work dealing with apologetic matters such as this volume discusses, I cannot pass by this fundamental idea of an early fall of man without bringing to the attention of my readers the verdict of one of the greatest scholars and humanists of the last half century, Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, probably the greatest authority on the life of St. Paul, and the writings of St. Luke, in modern times. Sir William Ramsay held the highest scholastic positions his country could offer him, was honored by degrees from universities throughout Europe and in our own country, and wrote books that changed the whole tendency of Pauline literature. His volumes were consulted by every important New Testament scholar in the Western world. After a lifetime spent in the study of the ancient Greek and Roman world, especially the religions of those times, together with an uninterrupted devotion to the writings of St. Luke, and the historical aspects of the work of St. Paul, this is his verdict concerning the necessity for believ­ing in an original departure of man from the truth which once had been given to him:

“Nowadays we are all devotees of the theory of development. It is no longer a theory. It has become the basis and guiding principle of our thought and mind. We must see development everywhere. But it is necessary to be very sure first of all that we have got hold of the right law of development in history; and we are sometimes too hasty. We can easily arrange religions in a series from the lowest to the highest, and we are wont to assume that this series represents the historical development of religion from the most primitive to the most advanced. The fetish, the totem and the sacred animals, and so up step by step to Jehovah and the Ark of the Covenant. Is that the true line? You observe that the assumptions here are very serious. Is the modern savage really primitive? Paul would have said that he represents the last stage of degeneration, that he is the end and not the beginning, that he has lost almost everything that is really primitive, that he has fallen so com­pletely from the ancient harmony with the order of nature and sympa­thy with the Divine as to be on the verge of death, and an outrage on the world and on human nature. Who is right, Paul or the moderns? For my own part, I confess that my experience and reading show noth­ing to confirm the modern assumptions in religious history, and a great deal to confirm Paul. Whatever evidence exists, with the rarest excep­tions, the history of religion among men is a history of degeneration; and the development of a few Western nations in invention and in civilization during recent centuries should not blind us to the fact that among the vast majority of the nations the history of manners and civilization is a story of degeneration. Wherever you find a religion that grows purer and loftier, you find the prophet, the thinker, the teacher,  who is in sympathy with the Divine, and he tells you that he is speaking the message of God, not his own message. Are these prophets all impostors and deceivers? Or are they speaking the truth? Is it not the fact of human history that man, standing alone, degenerates; and that he progresses only where there is in him so much sympathy with and devotion to the Divine life as to keep the social body pure and sweet and healthy?

To quote Professor Ramsay from another volume. “We hold that revelation of the divine to the human is a necessary part of the order of nature, and therefore is, in the strictest sense, ‘natural’; and also that all revelation of the divine to the human nature must necessarily be ‘superhuman.’ The nations had one by one rejected that revelation, or, as we might say, in modern phraseology, their history had become a process of degeneration. After the beginning of learning, of compre­hension, and of improvement, their will and desire soon became de­graded. The result was a steady process of degradation, folly, vice, crime, which St. Paul pens in terrible colors. History justifies this pic­ture of the nations over which St. Paul’s view extended. Where we can trace the outlines of their history over a sufficient time, we find that in the earlier stage and up to a certain point, their religious ideas and rites were simpler, higher, and purer. Sometimes we can trace a considerable period of development in advance. But in every case, the development turns to degeneration, and throughout the Graeco-Roman world the belief was general and thoroughly justified, that the state of immorality in the first century was much more degraded than it had been several centuries earlier. In religion the number of gods had been multiplied, but its hold on the belief of men had been weakened, and its worst characteristics had been strengthened while any good features in it had almost wholly disappeared”.

Wilbur Smith, Therefore Stand, σελ. 144-146.

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The historicity of Acts 17:16, 23 / Η ιστορικότητα του Πράξεις 17:16, 23

The city was so filed with idols that Pausanias tells us it was easier to meet a god or a goddess on the main street of Athens, than to meet a man. / Η πόλη ήταν τόσο γεμάτη από είδωλα, ώστε  ο Παυσανίας μας λέει ότι ήταν πιο εύκολο να συναντήσεις μια θεότητα στον κεντρικό δρόμο των Αθηνών απ’ ότι έναν άνθρωπο.

Wilbur M. Smith, Therefore Stand, σελ. 249.

The reference in the Areopagus address to an altar bearing the inscription “to an unknown God” is in complete accord with the observations of Paul concerning the superstitious religiosity of the Athenians. While no inscriptions containing the precise wording mentioned by the Apostle have yet been found at Athens, such inscribed altars were by no means unknown in various parts of Greece at that period, as indicated by contemporary writers. An altar recovered from the temple of Demeter at Pergamum in 1909 bore a legend somewhat as follows:
“To unknown gods.
Capito,
Torch-bearer”.

R. K. Harrison, Archaeology of the New Testament, σελ. 41.

Περί της δυσνόητης (έως ακαταλαβίστικης) «φιλοσοφίζουσας» γλώσσας / About hard to understand “philosophical” language

Πολλές φορές έχω συναντήσει βιβλία που ασχολούνται με τη Βίβλο, ας τα ονομάσω θεολογικά ή θρησκευτικά, των οποίων οι συγγραφείς χρησιμοποιούν πολύ εξεζητημένη γλώσσα, εξαιρετικά δυσνόητη. Γλώσσα που «φιλοσοφίζει». Ένας τέτοιος συγγραφέας για παράδειγμα, είναι, κατά την άποψή μου, ο κος Χρήστος Γιανναράς (ο οποίος βέβαια είναι φιλόσοφος). Φυσικά, μπορεί εγώ απλώς να μην μπορώ να καταλάβω αυτή τη γλώσσα λόγω περιορισμένων διανοητικών ικανοτήτων, και να την στηλιτεύω άδικα. Ποιος ξέρει…

Ωστόσο, διαβάζοντας το βιβλίο του Wilbur Smith, Therefore Stand, (σελ. xviii), βρήκα την παρακάτω δήλωση η οποία μου έκανε μεγάλη εντύπωση, και την οποία θα ήθελα να μοιραστώ μαζί σας για να βγάλει ο καθένας τα δικά του συμπεράσματα. Γράφει ο Wilbur Smith:

It is with regret that I have been compelled, here and there, to enter into philosophical matters. I have never had any great passion for philosophy myself, and I believe that thousands of pages of philosophical literature contain nothing but the vain speculations of men, contradicting one another, and greatly varying within the lifetime of the philosophers themselves. But philosophy is exercising an enormous influence in contemporary thought, and it has been impossible to avoid some metaphysical subjects. It has especially been necessary to say something about the relation of Kant’s philosophy to religion, and the philosophic implications of the denial and affirmation of the doctrine of creation. Having said this much, I must here add two convictions of my own. The first is that I do not believe when this war is over, and young men return to a life of study and intellectual pursuits, that they are going to discuss the great truths of the Christian faith, either affirmatively or negatively, in the complex and difficult phraseologies of Kant and Hegel. It is paramount that we as Christians present some facts of the Christian faith, and the facts of science, as they relate to creation; and the evidence of history, as it relates to the resurrection of Christ. Though we do not flee from the arena of philosophical discussion, we insist that this is not the only area in which the Christian battle is to be fought. Unbelief can easily entangle young men in a philosophical, technical nomenclature, and make them only realize that they are in a fog. I do not find, e.g., that unbelief today is talking much about the evidence for the resurrection and the necessity for believing in God, as a Creator, yet it is back to these great inescapable realities that we need to go.

It has been the author’s deliberate intention to avoid an irritatingly technical phraseology. Though this volume concerns some of the profoundest problems that can ever engage the minds of men, he hopes that no reasonably educated person, with careful reading, will fail to understand a single sentence in these pages. One of the most justified criticisms of much of our modern theological and philosophical liter­ature is that one frequently is not really sure what an author means. I regret that I have had to read thousands and thousands of lines which are not only vague and indefinite, but which, in themselves, cannot possibly communicate any vital truth. Let me illustrate what I mean. Canon Charles E. Raven, one of the recognized scholars of the Church of England today, in his new book, Science, Religion, and the Future, quotes with strong approval this sentence from the writings of the late Professor Oman: “When Oman summarized his conclusions in the words, ‘Reconciliation to the evanescent is revelation of the eternal and revelation of the eternal a higher reconciliation to the evanescent,’ he stated the principles of a theology in which there could be no ultimate antithesis between nature and grace or between science and religion, in which indeed the words of the scientist and the theologian were seen to be one and the same, their unity being sacra­mentally or incarnationally interpreted.” Now, frankly, I do not know what Oman meant when he talked about “the eternal a higher reconciliation to the evanescent.” And I do not know what Canon Raven means when he talks about the language of the scientist and theologian being incarnationally interpreted.” What is more, I do not think a lot of other people know what these phrases mean, and I am absolutely sure that even if they knew what the phrases meant, they would not, by using them, be able to persuade young men today of the truth and the reasonableness of the great facts of the Christian faith. It is this kind of language I have striven to avoid.

Το παράδοξο της χαράς του Χριστού /The paradox of the joy of Christ

When we come to the public ministry of the last days of our Lord we are face to face with a most astonishing fact, namely that it was in the last twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life on earth, that He spoke more frequently both of peace and joy than He did in all the rest of His three years of preaching and teaching combined, as far as the records inform us. It was on this last night that Jesus Himself was betrayed by Judas, He was denied by Peter, He was hated by the world, He was rejected by His own brethren, He was mistreated by the soldiers, He was about to suffer every indignity physical and mental. He knew within twenty-four hours He would be nailed to a cross, He was Him­self in such agony that He shed as it were drops of blood and cried out that His own soul was exceeding sorrowful even unto death. And yet it was in this very twenty-four hour period, which in many ways may be called the darkest night in human history, that Jesus spoke exclusively of His own joy. I do not find Him speaking of His own joy in any other passage in the New Testament. Let us recall his words: “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” “And ye therefore now have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one taketh away from you . . . Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be made full.” “But now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves.”[1] At the same time our Lord continually referred to His own peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fear­ful.” “These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”[2] After He was raised from the dead it was this peace that He so desired His disciples to possess. “When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had said this, he showed unto them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord. Jesus therefore said to them again, Peace be unto you: as the Father hath sent me, even so send I you . . . And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.”[3] What gave our Lord this peace and joy? I think the same thing that gives us peace and joy. Paul says we have these two precious things in believ­ing. Christ as a Man had them likewise in believing, in the things He knew, in the things He was sure of, in His knowledge of His father, of Himself, His work and of the future.


[1] Ιωά. 15:11· 16:22-24· 17:13.

[2] Ιωά. 14:27· 16:33

[3] Ιωά. 20:19-21, 26.

Wilbur Smith, Therefore Stand, σελ. 470, 471.

What are the implications of the reality of Christ’s Resurrection / Τι συνεπάγεται η πραγματικότητα της Ανάστασης του Κυρίου Ιησού Χριστού;

The Testimony of Christ’s Resurrection to the Truthfulness of His Previous Utterances.

One cannot speak to many audiences concerning the Resurrection of Christ without realizing that, before the message is finished, some will be asking, “Well, if it is true that Christ rose from the dead, what is the practical result of that historical event for us today?” I think there are at least four things which we should always remember that the Resurrection guarantees to us. The first is one which is rarely discussed in works dealing with this subject, namely the truthfulness, the dependability of all of Christ’s utterances. If our Lord said, frequently, with great definiteness and detail, that after He went up to Jerusalem He would be put to death, but on the third day He would rise again from the grave, and this prediction came to pass, then it has always seemed to me that everything else that our Lord ever said must also be true. If the words concerning His Resurrection were true, then when He said that His precious blood was to be shed for the remission of sins, that is true also. When He said that He came down from the Father above, that the words He spoke the Father had given Him, that He and the Father were one, that He was indeed the Son of God, He was speaking the truth. When our Lord said that whoever would believe on Him would have everlasting life, and whoever refused to believe on Him would be eternally condemned, He spoke the truth. That empty tomb, and the fact of the risen Lord, should assure us forever that when the Lord said He was going to prepare a place for us, that He would come again and receive us to Himself, and also that when the dead heard the voice of the Son of God, they would come forth from their graves, and that He will, Himself, be the Judge of all mankind, He was speaking the truth. There are many difficult things in the New Testament, there are many difficult and profound things in the Gospels, but whether we fully understand every phrase in the Gospels or not, and I am frank to say that I do not, I at least believe that what Christ said was true. We can never accept the Resurrection of Christ, and have any doubt about the truthfulness of any utterance that ever proceeded from His lips.

Wilbur Smith, Therefore Stand, σελ. 418, 419.

Πόσο θεμελιώδες ήταν το δόγμα της Ανάστασης για τον απ. Παύλο; / How fundamental is the belief in Resurrection for apostle Paul?

In the Athenian address, as we have previously noticed, two great schools of philosophy are particularly noted, the Stoic and the Epicurean. Now the Stoics were fatalists, and also pantheists; they believed that all the troubles in life came from the body, and that the chief end of life was to subdue every bodily appetite and desire, to live as reasonably and sanely as possible, until the hour of death should arrive, when the troubles of this life would be over, because the body had been left behind Some of the Stoics even went so far as to recommend suicide, so that the soul might escape the body. The Epicureans, on the other hand, “with their thorough-going atomistic materialism would not allow that the soul had any existence apart from the body; on the contrary, they held that the soul came into being at the moment of conception, grew with the body, and at the body’s death was once more dissolved into the atoms from which it first was formed.”

All the best thought of the Greeks and Romans then, agreed in this, that a resurrection of the body was never to be expected and not to be desired. Recognizing then that the resurrection of men would be ridiculous, illogical, and unbelievable to the Greeks of Athens, one might well ask, “Why then should Paul refer to it as he addressed these philosophers concerning the Lord Jesus Christ?” I think that Canon Sparrow-Simpson has given the one true, acceptable answer: “The introduction of such a doctrine into circumstances eminently unfavourable, might seem to be a failure of that insight and versatility with which we know the apostle was usually endowed to a most exceptional degree. His deliberate selection in this instance of a theme unfavourable to his design surely illustrates remarkably his sense of its fundamental character. It could not, consistently with faithfulness to his message, be possibly left out. Bearing in mind what he said about the Resurrection of Christ in 1 Cor. 15, we can well understand why he taught it even in Athens. The fact was that S. Paul had no message without it. He had nothing else to teach. He founded Christianity upon it.”

Wilbur Smith, Therefore Stand, σελ. 417, 418.

Το στοιχείο που συνηγορεί υπέρ της πραγματικότητας της εμφάνισης του Κυρίου Ιησού Χριστού στο Σαύλο / About the actuality of Christ’s appearance to Saul

The late Professor Doremus A. Hayes, in a volume which is exceptionally helpful, The Resurrection Fact, well reminds us of a number of important details concerning the actuality of this appearance: “It was a veritable appearance of the Resurrected One, but it was different in one respect at least from all which had preceded it. Those appearances had been to believers, disciples, and friends only. This appearance was to the most active enemy the Christian church had. Stephen saw the Risen One when he was filled with the Spirit. Saul had been filled with nothing but hate for this impostor and His cause. He was in no psychological condition for apocalyptical revelation. He was at the farthest remove from the possibility of an ecstatic vision. Nothing but a sudden, unexpected, objective, irresistible revelation of the Resurrected One Himself in the majesty of His divine power could convince and convert a man like Saul. It was such an appearance which was given him.

Wilbur Smith, Therefore Stand, σελ.413.

The implication forced upon us by the multiplicity of theories proposed to rationalistically explain away the miracle of the resurrection of Christ / Η σκέψη που γεννιέται αβίαστα από τις πολλαπλές θεωρίες/προσπάθειες αποδόμησης του θαύματος της ανάστασης του Χριστού

No doubt what we are about to say in this brief paragraph has already come into the minds of all my readers. If so many different theories have been proposed to rationalistically account for the faith of the early church in the Resurrection of our Lord, e.g., that it is all a fraud, that the body was stolen either by the disciples or by Joseph, or by somebody else, that after all the Lord was never in this tomb, or that He never died, or that the women went to the wrong tomb, the vision hypothesis, the telegram theory, and all the others proposed at different periods during the last nineteen centuries, by minds of different capacities, and different temperaments, winning followers for a time, and then being laid up on the shelf of the museum of Christological speculation, does not all this really show that no theory has ever been proposed that has been able to win the consent and approval of the great body of men who have predetermined in their own minds that there could not be such an event as the bodily Resurrection of Christ? If after 1.900 years of such theories and hypotheses, beginning with a lie the Sanhedrin concocted that first Easter morning, right down to the present, not one is accepted today as the conception generally held by those who deny the miraculous aspects of Christianity, are we not forced to conclude that no really satisfactory theory is going to be found, even with centuries more of denial, scheming, criticizing, and theorizing? The reason why no theory has ever been proposed, which meets the needs of an unprejudiced, rational person, is because the Lord did rise from the dead, and the evidence for His Resurrection is so overwhelming that by no honorable intellectual device can the evidence be set aside. I do not want to be sarcastic, or mention anything of a fantastical nature, but after looking at this problem myself for about thirty years, I have about come to believe that theories which attempt to explain away the faith of the early church in the bodily Resurrection of Christ are about as foolish as the theory held by a few strange persons in this world that the earth is flat. I do not know how you feel in the matter, but the author, now in middle life, with perhaps not more than a quarter of a century yet to live, cannot afford to take time to read a book attempting to set forth the foolish idea that the earth is flat, and does not see why any of us, after years of study, are under moral obligation to continue to read and study and ponder every new work that comes from a rationalist’s brain that refuses to give honest, full, deserved consideration to this stupendous miracle which has moved the world, established the church, destroyed paganism, quickened the lives of millions, and proved a light that no wind of infidelity has ever been able to extinguish.

Wilbur Smith, Therefore Stand, σελ. 405, 406.

Περί αρχαίας ελληνικής θρησκείας / About the ancient Greek religion

1) Ο Ξενοφάνης (Xenophanes) δήλωσε: Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all things that are a shame and a disgrace among mortals, stealing and adulteries and deceiving of one another.

Ο Πλάτων (Plato) στο βιβλίο του Πολιτεία (Republic) επέμεινε ότι πολλές από τις ιστορίες των θεών δεν πρέπει να λέγονται στους νέους. Wilbur Smith, Therefore Stand, 234.

2) Ο Ρενάν (Renan), ο οποίος ήταν άκρως παγανιστής λέει: “The ancient Greeks had no well determined rule of faith, and their religion, charming when taken as poetry, is, when viewed according to our theological ideas, a mere mass of contradictory fables, the true meaning of which it is very hard to unravel”. Wilbur Smith, Therefore Stand, 228.

The trustworthiness of Genesis in comparison with other creation stories / Αξιοπιστία Γένεσης συγκρινόμενη με άλλες ιστορίες δημιουργίας

“Genesis is the only book of antiquity which is ever considered when discussing the scientific accuracy of ancient literature on the creation of the world. When Darwin’s Origin of Species appeared in 1859, Huxley immediately called it Anti-Genesis. Why did he think that it was the book of Genesis which Darwin’s theory of natural selection confuted? Why did he not say anti-Hesiod, or anti-Timaeus, or anti-Metamorphosis in reference to Ovid’s account of the creation? In the very fact that Huxley spoke of Darwin’s work as anti-Genesis he confessed that the book of all ancient literature that contained an account of the creation of the world worthy of being discussed in our modern scientific age as of any scientific value at all was the book of Genesis. A vast number of books and hundreds of articles, during the past one hundred years have been written, maintaining or denying the scientific accuracy of the first chapter of the book of Genesis, but where are you going to find any books and articles even discussing the scientific accuracy of other ancient accounts of the creation of the world? Whenever you hear anyone speaking disrespectfully of the book of Genesis, in its relation to modern science, remember that this first book of our Bible is the only piece of literature of all the ancient nations which anyone even thinks worthy of discussing, even if condemning in the same breath, with the phrase ‘modern science’. It is of great significance that for two thousand years, men have felt it necessary to consider this ancient Hebrew record when discussing the subject of creation. The Babylonian, the Greek, and the Roman accounts of the same beginning of our universe are, for the most part, counted mythological, and utterly incapable of being reconciled with the conclusions of modern science.’’

Wilbur Smith, Therefore Stand, σελ. 328, 329. (W. A. Wilde Company, Boston, 1945).