Could There Be Life on Mars?

While the Curiosity Rover is busily snapping pictures and taking samples on Mars, scientists are hoping to find evidence that life once existed on the red planet. A photograph this past week revealed smooth stones which may suggest that a river once flowed on the planet millions of years ago.

As a young-earth creationist, I’m skeptical about any conclusion that includes the phrase “millions of years,” but since the scientific community will surely be producing and debating alternate explanations of these smooth stones in the upcoming months, I will delay judgment on the water issue. However, now is perhaps a good time to ask the question: could scientists find evidence of life on Mars? If the creation account in Genesis correctly teaches that the earth was created in six literal days 6-10 thousand years ago, could there be evidence of microbial life on Mars?

Yes. Various forms of microbial life were probably created on days three, five, and six of creation along with the earth’s vegetation, fish, birds, and land animals though microbial life is never mentioned. We assume planets were created on the fourth day (planets are also not mentioned in the Genesis creation account). It is conceivable that God created extraterrestrial microbial life on day four. If we find life now extinct on Mars, the biblical chronology would probably suggest a cataclysm around the time of the fall or flood.

“Root of Bitterness” in Hebrews 12:15

My wife and I are using Rand Hummel’s Five Smooth Stones Scripture Memory Plan in our family devotions. The plan proceeds alphabetically through common sin problems and includes five verses for each topic. The first verse on the subject of bitterness was Hebrews 12:15.

“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15 KJV)

This verse is a very popular text for sermons about bitterness, and I’m not surprised to see it topping Hummel’s memorization list on this issue. Unfortunately, this verse is not talking about an emotional state of bitterness at all. The “root of bitterness” here is an allusion to Deuteronomy 29:18.

“Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit” (Deuteronomy 29:18 ESV)

Hebrews 12:15 is a warning passage to professing Christians that one’s salvation is not a product of the company one keeps. In any Christian assembly, it is possible for there to be some present who have not genuinely believed the gospel. Professing Christians should examine themselves and exhort one another lest anyone fail to benefit from grace of God. While Christians should not be bitter, the “bitter root” in Hebrews 12:15 is an OT allusion supporting the warning against falling away, not a warning about emotional bitterness.

To Rand Hummel’s credit, his second verse on bitterness is dead on. Ephesians 4:31 says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” The inclusion of Hebrews 12:15 exposes a slight problem in Hummel’s approach. The Bible simply doesn’t give us 5+ commands on every important issue for us to obey. Hummel seems a bit stretched on the issue of bitterness. The other three verses are Eph 4:32, Eph 4:26 (which was included in the previous topic of anger), and 1 Peter 2:1-2. When “bitterness” appears as an emotional state in the Bible, the term is usually employed in descriptions of unbelievers. However, the verses Hummel selects are all worthy of memorization (including Hebrews 12:15), and we will continue using this helpful resource despite this minor hiccup.

The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife

Karen King recently discovered a 4th century Coptic papyrus that appears to record Jesus speaking about his wife. King is calling the document The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, which is quite a grand name for a fragment about the size of a business card. In fact, the lack of extant text not only makes genre determinations impossible but also makes King’s interpretation a highly speculative and prejudicial endeavor.

King does not claim this document as proof that Jesus had a wife but rather as proof that Christians as early as the second century believed Jesus to be married. This qualification (almost certainly to be ignored in the popular sphere) asks only that the document be treated as an indirect proof of Jesus’ marital status. Let’s take a look at the fragment.

Assuming the document is neither a forgery nor deliberately cut down to imply Jesus had a wife, five problems still surround King’s claims about the document. First, King argues that the Mary mentioned is Mary Magdalene, who thanks to Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code is popularly believed by some to be Jesus’ wife. However, considering that two lines previously the phrase “my mother gave me life” appears, King must do quite a lot of academic gymnastics to find a reference to to Mary Magdalene rather than Jesus’ Mother.

Second, if we accept the more probable identification of Mary as the mother of Jesus, the reference to “my wife” comes under suspicion as a mistranslation. If this fragment is a Coptic translation of an earlier Greek text as King claims and was written by an untrained and hurried hand as King admits, the possibility of mistranslation must be considered. Since it appears that the fragment is talking about Mary the mother of Jesus, one might suspect that it would continue with a reference one of the few recorded dialogues between Jesus and his mother. John 2:4 says, “And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour has not yet come.” The Greek word for “woman” here can also be translated as “wife.” Perhaps the scribe simply mistranslated.

Third, even if this fragment does depict Jesus speaking of his bride, there is a well-established figurative reference of the Church as the bride of Christ. Since we don’t even have enough of the text to know for sure what was being said, we hardly have enough context to know in what sense it was being said.

Fourth, much of King’s argument depends on the possibility of a female disciple drawn from line five: “she will be able to be my disciple.” This reading hangs on the possibility that the first legible letter of this line functions as a third person feminine singular personal prefix. However, since we do not know what comes before (remember there are no spaces between words), we cannot discount the possibility that the first legible letter is the final letter of another word.

Fifth, at the end of the day, this is at best a fourth century fragment. Much of the significance attached to it relies on the assumption that it is a translation of a much earlier second century document. There is simply no evidence to support this claim.

In summary, the reference to Mary Magdalene is anything but clear. The reference to Jesus’ wife could be a translation error or a figurative expression. Due to the condition of the document, we cannot be sure of the reference to a female disciple, and there is absolutely no evidence to suggest this text was composed any earlier than the fourth century. However, all facts to the contrary, this fragment will doubtlessly be cited endlessly in the popular arena as proof Jesus was married.

[King has posted draft of her article to appear in the forthcoming Harvard Theological Review, January 2013]

HT: Bill Combs, “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” Theologically Driven

“Offensive” Is Not “Damaging”

The Muslim world continues to erupt in protest over a low-budget American film that nobody would ever watch without the media attention resulting from the protests themselves. Obviously the protests are either extraordinary counter-productive or serving some ulterior motive. Regardless of the protesters’ motives, the media flurry around the incidents have begun to employ a dangerous new rhetoric.

The film is being condemned by some as “damaging the beliefs of others.” While the film may be offensive and even insulting to Muslims, it should not be called damaging. How can one “damage” someone’s beliefs? Are we going to curb freedom of speech so that you can say anything you want as long as you don’t say someone else is wrong? What harm can befall someone who hears a voice of disagreement? There is no “damage” so we should not use that word.

Lest someone say, “well, you are not a Muslim….” Let’s look at two images offensive to Christians.

To the left is Andres Serrano’s 1987 Piss Christ in which the photographer submerged a crucifix in a glass of his own urine. To the right is Edwina Sandys’ 1975 Christa in which the Christ on the crucifix is presented as a naked woman. Both images are offensive. Both are insulting. Neither damages my beliefs.

Go to any bookstore and you can find scores of books and DVDs put out by the new atheists who mock and deride both Christ and Christianity. Have they “damaged” the Christian faith? Can they “damage” the Christian faith?

The only real way to “damage” a belief is to restrict its expression and thus hinder its spread. Labeling a contrary belief as “damaging” serves not to protect but to destroy. Something that is “damaging” can be repressed. When we begin to label free speech as “damaging,” we have begun a course that actually could damage the beliefs of others.

New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room

The University of Münster Institute for New Testament Textual Research hosts one of the best online resources for New Testament scholars. Their Virtual Manuscript Room has an amazing digital image collection of New Testament Manuscripts. Not only are the images well cataloged, they have also been transcribed to facilitate reading/comparison.

While you can find slightly higher resolution scans of several manuscripts elsewhere (e.g. APIS for P46), the VMR is the place to go if you want them all in one place and accessible in a user-friendly format.

iPray

Tim Challies recently reviewed three iPhone prayer apps. All three function similarly with users entering prayer requests and the program compiling randomized daily prayer lists. While none of the apps have a feature that enables the user to automatically forward their requests to God via email, the apps do select the users’ prayer requests for the day. Christians should seriously weigh the consequences of automating their prayer life.

Before you accuse me of being some sort of Luddite, I readily admit that there is very little difference between an iPhone prayer app and the printed prayer calendars that many churches distribute. Furthermore, I generally go to prayer after having done my daily Bible reading using Bibleworks on my laptop, and I often have an electronic prayer list open on my computer as I go to prayer. However, I don’t think I’m going to download a prayer app anytime soon.

I constantly have to fight the tendency to coast on autopilot through my prayers, just trying to cover all the things I need to present to God. Remember that Jesus said:

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matthew 6:7-8).

In order to avoid heaping up empty phrases, I have to take time to think about my requests and yield myself to God’s will before I start praying. The more automated prayer aids (printed or electronic) I have around me, the temptation to rush prayer increases.

I’m not arguing that it is wrong to use your iPhone in prayer. However, as with all lawful things, it must be used lawfully. If you pray with your iPhone, remember it can’t prepare you to pray. At best, it can provide moderate assistance to you during prayer and perhaps make you look cool in the process. At worst, it can rush you to prayer unprepared and turn your prayer time into a fashion statement to be seen by others.

 

God’s Fantastically Complex Creation

This short video shows some astounding views of marine animals including a color-shifting cuttlefish, a perfectly camouflaged octopus, and neon light displays from fish who live in the blackest depths of the ocean.

Bill Nye the science guy recently went on record in a YouTube video saying, “Your world just becomes fantastically complicated when you don’t believe in evolution…. If you try to ignore that, your world view just becomes crazy, just untenable, itself inconsistent.”

Nye has joined a growing chorus of atheists arguing that parents who teach creationism to their children are practicing a form of child abuse. Answers in Genesis has put together a detailed response to Bill Nye’s assertions.

Bill Nye forgets how “fantastically complicated” the world gets when you do believe in evolution. Take another look at footage above. Could that really have come about by chance? If so, it must have been a fantastically complicated series of events. One has to admit that Occam’s razor favors believing the world to be the fantastically complex creation of an infinite God.