Why the Dead Sea Scrolls Matter for Christians

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The Dead Sea Scrolls are currently on display at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science through September 3. This is the exhibit’s final display in the US before the artifacts will be taken back to Israel. (More information and tickets here)

Discovered in 1946 in caves on the North-West of the Dead Sea, the Dead Sea Scrolls are made up of 981 different manuscripts dating from the third century BC to 68 AD. They have been called, “the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times,” and it has been said that they have “forever changed New Testament scholarship”1

Why do the Dead Sea Scrolls Matter?

1. They Verify That the Bible Is Reliable and Hasn’t Been Changed Over Time

“The older the copies, the closer we get chronologically to the autographs, the fewer copies there are between the original Old Testament writings and these copies that we have,” explains Ryan Stokes of Southwestern Seminary.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are hundreds of years older than the previously known oldest manuscripts, and they prove that the Old Testament text had been faithfully preserved over the centuries, and that the Hebrew text translated for modern Christians accurately represents the Bible that Jesus read and the Bible as it was originally written.

In at least one instance, the Dead Sea Scrolls helped to solve a mystery which has great theological significance regarding Jesus.

Psalm 22:16 says: a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet.

Christians have always considered Psalm 22 and this verse in particular to be a prophecy about Jesus’ crucifixion, which is all the more incredible since it written hundreds of years before crucifixion had even been invented.

However, there was some dispute historically over whether this was actually what the original text said, since the Masoretic text (the Hebrew Bible preserved from the Middle Ages, and the oldest known version of the Old Testament before the discovery of the DSS) read, “Like a lion are my hands and my feet.”

However, this problem was resolved when scholars discovered that the much older Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed the text indeed should say: “they have pierced my hands and feet.”

2. They Give Us Insight into Jewish Culture at the Time of Jesus

Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the historical veracity of the New Testament was often called into question. From the expectation of the Jews regarding the Messiah, to the world of Pharisees and preachers like John the Baptist, many claimed that the world the New Testament described was purely fictional. However, with the discovery of the DSS, it could be confirmed that the New Testament very accurately described the culture and history of first-century Israel.

Of the nearly 1000 scrolls which have been found, around 700 of them are non-biblical writings. These non-biblical writings include things like community rules and expectations regarding the Messiah. It is from this that we learn that certain Jewish communities practiced baptism for repentance (ala John the Baptist), and that they were expecting two Messiahs: one who would be an priest and the other who would be a king. Jesus ultimately did fulfill this biblical expectation, albeit not in the exact way they expected.

Of the 240 biblical scrolls from Qumran, 235 are written in Hebrew and 5 are in Greek. Of the 701 non-biblical scrolls, 548 are written in Hebrew, 137 in Aramaic, and 5 in Greek. This shows that Jews at the time of Jesus did indeed speak Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, the three languages of the Bible.

Scholars believe that many of the scrolls were originally taken from Jerusalem, when a group of priests who believed that the temple worship and leadership had become corrupt, left Jerusalem, taking with them many of the scrolls from the temple, and formed an alternative “pure” community out in the desert, where they proceeded to make many more copies of the biblical texts.

This parallels exactly what the New Testament describes about the corruption at that time of the office of the high priest and the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

Other scrolls were taken from Jerusalem when the Romans attacked Jerusalem after the Jewish Uprising in 68 AD, and they took them with them as they fled to Masada near the Dead Sea, where they were able to successfully hide some of these scrolls.

The long and short of it: We can trust the Bible.

The Bible stands up to scrutiny, and the more scholarship and archeology discovers, the more the Bible is proven to be accurate and trustworthy.

For more on this topic, listen to this recent sermon I gave at White Fields about whether we can trust the Bible:

As well as this Sermon-Extra addressing a few more proofs of the Bible’s veracity:

#SB50 and #Antichoice Doritos Ad

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This past weekend I watched as my Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50. The last time the Broncos won the Super Bowl I was in high school. They won with their incredible defense, which throughout the year was exciting to watch, especially in the playoffs.

On Tuesday I took my son out of school and went down to Civic Center Park in Denver for the Broncos victory parade. I remember going with my dad to the parade back in 1998, the first time the Broncos won the Super Bowl, now I was taking my kids – it was a cool moment.

Apparently my son was one of an estimated 25,000 students who skipped school to attend the parade. My dad works for the Denver Mint, which is directly behind the City and County Building, where the parade ended and the speeches were given, and he was given liberal leave, not only so that employees could attend the parade, but also because it would have been nearly impossible to even get to the Mint for work.

Authorities verified that over 1 million people attended the parade – and it certainly felt like it. I remember the parade back in ’98, and standing in Civic Center Park, not too far from the stage in the crowd of 650,000. This time the crowd was so much bigger, it was uncomfortable. People packed into the park to the point where there wasn’t even an inch to move.

My wife’s favorite thing about the Super Bowl is that it means that NFL season is finally over and no more will Sundays revolve around Broncos games. For the Super Bowl she decided to give in and wear team colors, so she put on a blue shirt – only to realize she put on Carolina sky blue. Needless to say, we asked her to be the one to take the group photo…

Like many people, Rosemary’s favorite part of the Super Bowl was Coldplay and the commercials. One of our favorite commercials was this Doritos one about an ultrasound:

Kinda creepy, but no creepier than PuppyMonkeyBaby.

I was surprised to see that NARAL, an abortion advocacy group, took issue with the ad, claiming that it was “antichoice” (I didn’t even know that was a word…)

The problem? The ad “humanized” unborn children (whom they refuse to call children…)

What’s next? Will they begin advocating against ultrasounds? Because as ultrasound technology has advanced, we have only found more and more reason to consider yet unborn children fully human: as one spokesperson said:

“If NARAL is scandalized by the notion that a human fetus is human, then they are scandalized by science. We know children in the womb have distinct and human DNA. We also know that they exhibit all sorts of human behaviors in the womb such as yawning, thumb-sucking, and even dancing thanks to tremendous advances in ultrasound technology.

But groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood rely on a denial of these scientific realities better suited to the Dark Ages to maintain their rabid insistence that those unborn babies are undeserving of basic human rights.”  – Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Foundation

For the most part, I think NARAL is shouting into the wind. Trying to take away a person’s humanity is a long-used method for justifying or coping with doing something wrong to another person.

That being said, I highly doubt Doritos was trying to make a political statement. For NARAL, fetal behavior which reflects their humanness is an inconvenient fact – but a fact nonetheless.

Denver City Council Tries to Block Chick-fil-A from DIA

I read this disturbing news report last night from 9News in Denver:

Denver City Council has intervened to stall a lease for a Chick-fil-A restaurant at Denver International Airport, citing that the owners of the restaurant chain have a reputation for opposing same-sex marriage. In light of the recent federal decision on same-sex marriage from the Supreme Court, it would seem that entities, perhaps even individuals, who previously opposed same-sex marriage must either get on board with it, or face consequences such as being deemed discriminatory – and face whatever consequences come along with that.

As a pastor, my thoughts immediately jump to the many churches which lease space from public schools, or who rent out space in public parks or amphitheaters. It seems to me that it is only a matter of time before people start to take issue with it, as they have with DIA. Remember – it’s not DIA itself who is opposing the opening of a Chick-fil-A in the airport, it is Denver City Council!  What about churches who meet in Denver Public Schools, whose bylaws state that they believe that only men can be pastors? Does that constitute a “discriminatory hiring practice”? How long will it be before some crusading council members turn their attention to these organizations?

I do believe that if discrimination or persecution does begin to ramp up against Christians, it won’t be the worst thing that could ever happen to us. It’s happened before, and it has only served to strengthen and purify the church. However, it may be wise for churches who rent to be aware of the changing political climate and start making plans now for the future.

Christian Artists vs. Christians who are Artists

This past Thursday night Lecrae performed a sold out show at the Paramount Theater in downtown Denver along with Trip Lee and Andy Mineo. A lot of my friends went to the show, and I wanted to go, but wasn’t able to make it.

All three of these guys are straightforward about their Christian faith (Trip Lee is a Reformed Baptist pastor), and their music reflects their faith, but at the same time they have wanted to avoid being labeled as “Christian artists”.

Lecrae and Andy Mineo have both won Dove awards, but yet Lecrae especially has been very successful at crossing over into the mainstream market. Lecrae recently performed on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and, most notably, IMO, reached #1 on the Billboard charts with his album Anomaly.

A friend of mine gave me the Anomaly album, and I have to say that I loved it. I’ve never considered myself a fan of hip hop, but what I love about the album is how thoughtful and intelligent it is. Lecrae’s lyrics aren’t shallow and predictable. The topics he covers are deep and sometimes difficult – like in my favorite song off the album: Good, Bad, Ugly.

Today I ran across this video of Trip Lee on the BET website talking about how he doesn’t want to be known as a Christian artist, but as an artist who is a Christian.

Why don’t these guys want to be known as “Christian artists”?   There are several reasons.

One big reason is because they want their music to be heard outside of Christian circles. How can you influence – which is unquestionably one of their objectives – if your only audience is people who already think like you do?

Another reason is because Christian art simply has a terrible reputation for being subpar copycat art, with a capital SUBPAR. If this were not the case, then why do the Dove awards even exist in the first place? Is it not because Christian music is rarely good enough to win Grammys? Sure, the case might be made that “Christian artists” get written off by the pop music community – but Lecrae has done it and so have other Christian artists who are making legitimately good art.

I think it is a much more thoughtful, mission-aware approach to be an “artist who is a Christian”, whether you’re a painter or a rapper or a photographer or a baker.

There are many things about the modern evangelical subculture which are much more cultural than they are “evangelical” in the true sense of the word – and I believe that if Christians are going to be heard by people outside of our own camp, we must distance ourselves from those things.
For example, a friend of mine (who happens to be a pastor) recently recounted a trip to a local Christian bookstore:

My trip to the Christian bookstore on Friday was downright surreal. 10 different Duck Dynasty books, assorted “Christian” candies, a $50 faux pumpkin, a prescription bottle with Bible verses inside and a “legalize prayer” t-shirt…Legalize prayer? Is that a shirt for North Koreans? Wow.
I have to admit I couldn’t bring myself to purchase the embellished Thomas Kincade Painting for $7500:)

These kinds of things, IMO, lend themselves towards an inwardly focused subculture that approaches faith like a hobby rather than a mission from God to save the world. With this in mind, I appreciate the attitudes of those who want to be known as artists who are Christians rather than Christian artists.

White Fields on the Radio

Starting this week, you can hear me on the radio here on Colorado’s Front Range, on 89.7 Grace FM.

White Fields is doing a series of 1-minute devotional messages called “Word from the Field”. Our thought was that instead of just airing our sermons, we could do something a little bit unique, that would also run multiple times per day at different times. This way we can stand out from the crowd and reach people who listen to the radio at different times of the day and week.

We are also uploading these recordings to SoundCloud, so that people can keep up with them online and share them through social media. You can follow us on SoundCloud here, and below you can listen to the messages we’ve recorded so far.

If Your Bible is Falling Apart…

I finally went ahead and bought a new Bible.

My old “go-to” Bible was an NASB that I bought at the Tattered Cover in Denver back in 2002, on my first trip back from Hungary after moving there as a missionary. I read that Bible and preached from it for years. It has coffee stains, ripped pages, and a broken binding, which I superglued back together twice.

I still plan to use it. How could I just put an old friend on the shelf?

There’s a saying, that goes: “If your Bible is falling apart, your life probably isn’t.”

I plan to read this new one until the cover falls off of it too.

 

Marijuana Leglaization Changing Colorado

A few weeks ago I had my first experience meeting someone who had relocated his family to Colorado because of medicinal marijuana. This man, a professing Christian, told me his story of being so sick with intestinal issues and nausea, that he couldn’t eat for several months. During this time he lost about 200 lbs (he was big to begin with), and was unable to work. His doctors from his home state encouraged him to try medical marijuana – he travelled to Colorado and looked into it, then moved here and later brought his family. This man explained to me that he doesn’t drink alcohol and had never gotten high in his life – but that marijuana as medicine has helped him greatly. He’s now able to hold down food and a job.

What are we to make of this – especially as Christians?  Certainly there is a difference between getting high and taking medicine. But is marijuana a legitimate medicine? Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN seems to think so. Not long ago Gupta was outspoken against all forms of marijuana legalization, but has recently come out in favor of medical marijuana. 

I have written before on this blog, that I’m not a supporter of the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes. Interestingly, the man I mentioned above is not a supporter of it either. He moved to Longmont, a city with a moratorium on both medicinal and recreational marijuana sales, because he said he doesn’t want to be in a place with a lot of dispensaries because of all that comes with them. I think there’s a big difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. My teenage son got a prescription for codeine recently after a tooth extraction. There’s a big difference between using codeine (a narcotic) for medical purposes and taking codeine or any other prescription drug recreationally.

On the local news last night, it was reported that Colorado is now a major destination for college kids on spring break. Doesn’t take a lot of guessing to figure out why: Denver has become the Amsterdam of the Americas. Yes, this brings in a lot of tax revenue, so much so that CNN Money reported today that Coloradans may be looking at getting a tax break because of the millions of dollars pouring into state coffers from recreational marijuana taxes, which are only expected to increase as recreational sales increase – but is it worth it?

CNN posted another video this week mentioning a lot of the same concerns that I’ve also expressed: namely that the legalization of marijuana won’t actually kill the black market for marijuana since it is taxed so highly, but will simply increase recreational marijuana use all across the board by making it more mainstream, especially amongst teenagers. Everyone agrees that wouldn’t be good – but in fact, it is already happening.

The encounter I had with the man mentioned above was my first – but I suspect it will not be the last. The legalization of marijuana is changing Colorado.

What are your thoughts on this? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

Marijuana Legalization and the Effect on Kids

One of my most popular posts on this blog so far was one I wrote about marijuana legalization and Christianity.

In that post, I mentioned that one of the greatest concerns I have with legalizing marijuana is NOT that I want to legislate Christian moral values on people who aren’t Christians (read more about that issue here) – but that it will make it more accessible to children, something that no one on either side of the discussion wants.

It seems that my concern is legitimate, and that this is already happening. The Denver Post published an article this week titled: “Pot problems in Colorado schools increase with legalization”. Here are some quotes from that article:

  • [Mike] Dillon… a school resource officer with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department, said he is seeing more and younger kids bringing marijuana to schools, in sometimes-surprising quantities.
  • school officials believe the jump is linked to the message that legalization (even though it is still prohibited for anyone under 21) is sending to kids: that marijuana is a medicine and a safe and accepted recreational activity. It is also believed to be more available.
  • “Kids are smoking before school and during lunch breaks. They come into school reeking of pot,” “They are being much more brazen.”
  • when school officials were asked to identify the reason for students’ expulsions. Marijuana came in first. It was listed as being a reason for 32 percent of expulsions.
  • National statistics also point to marijuana being more prevalent in schools. The National Institute of Drug Abuse found that marijuana use has climbed among 10th- and 12th-graders nationally, while the use of other drugs and alcohol has held steady or declined.
  • “They need to know how destructive it is to the adolescent brain,”

I remember when I was in high school, kids brought pot to school and smoked it at school. I certainly don’t want my kids doing it though, and it seems to me that legalization will only make it more accessible – the facts show that is already happening.

What do you think? Is this something we should be concerned about?